In Part 1. of this series (which starts here), I introduced you to Elementary Particles and I flirted with the notion that all matter is, essentially, energy. But that’s just the beginning of the weirdness. Among the most mysterious and, frankly, illogical behaviors of Elementary Particles is that they are not fixed in a way we normally consider matter to be…

Elementary particles are subject to “quantum fluctuations.” When we look for them, they “show up” not in exact places, but in ranges of space. They usually show up where they should—but sometimes they don’t. They behave in probabilistic ways and these probabilities—the possible places where they may show up—spread out across the entire universe with the odd result that even empty space is permeated with particles popping-in and popping-out (this is know as the Casimir Effect). The particles in our bodies sometimes show up in unexpected places—sometimes “my” particles show up in you and “your” particles in me—and sometimes particles from both our bodies show up in galaxies far, far away…

Even weirder is that these probabilistic characteristics only seem to happen when we look at Elementary Particles. Otherwise they don’t. Otherwise particles in our bodies don’t really exist as particles—but merely as the probability of a particle, and that probability is shaped like a wave.

Yeah, I know, seems like I’m just stringing words together with no regard to making sense, but the way I’m explaining this reflects our best understanding of the dual “wave-particle” nature of matter at the “quantum” level.  This non-fixed, probabilistic behavior is what led Heisenberg to establish his Uncertainty Principle. Matter behaves wave-like when we do not observe it, but “collapses” into particle behavior when we do–and this collapse prevents us from knowing certain properties; observation conceals part of matter’s nature.

Now you may be wondering, why am I taking the time discuss all this weirdness when what I really want to do is build a model of how everything works? Well, for two reasons: first, to establish that the way we experience the world is fundamentally different than the way the world is; and second, to begin the discussion about why such differences matter.

As we sketch more and more of the Model of Everything, we’ll discovery that our experiences do not exist in the component parts of things—and we will have to confront the question: can we say that such experiences are “real”, and more importantly are all such experiences equally real?

NEXT: Part 3. The Emptiness of Things, Large and Small