4 The four forcesIf you were given the task of trying to teach how the universe works to an eager young person, where would you begin?
You might try to tease them with things like "the sun is a giant star that burns 600 million metric tons of material every second."04_01. This was my father's approach at any rate and it seemed to have worked on us, but then he had the advantages of a captive audience and a lot of opportunities for repetition.
In the Internet age we lack those luxuries so I am going to head for the meat and potatoes end of the buffet.
The Four Siblings?Life seems to be made up of four forces:
- electro-magnetism04_02, already a unity of electricity and magnetism by James Clerk Maxwell (who I named part of myself after). Also known as "the one we see and use every day in every way, unlike the next two".
- the strong force04_03, that holds the nucleus together, or something.
- the weak force04_04, that is responsible for radioactive decay, or something.
- and bringing up the rear...the slightly lethargic force known to her friends as gravity04_05.
We are all intimately familiar with gravity, but why can't she learn to be more assertive like her three magnetic and more forceful brothers?
Will We All Ever Get Along?Except those that profit by war and chaos, most of us like peace and harmony.
Apparently physicists are even more harmony-hearted than the average as witnessed by a hundred or more years of effort to unify the four forces.
While most of us struggled to grasp concepts like relativity and quantum mechanics, the greatest physicists have devoted countless hours to such a unification.
So How Are They Doing?Pretty good, actually. At high enough energies, they have been able to show that electro-magnetism, the weak and the strong forces are all the same. And let me add that I just saved you a ton of math by saying that in a single sentence.
Cool! How about gravity, then? Are they almost there with Cinderella's makeover?
Depends who you talk to. We have super gravity04_06, quantum gravity04_07, gravitational lensing04_08... Ah, who am I kidding, they have no idea.
Newton thought that the gravitational force travelled instantaneously, but he was wrong.
After firing off his relativity missives, Einstein proceeded to devote the rest of his life to unifying the four forces. Yet in the end he wasn't even sure if the universe was expanding or not04_09.
And this is where we were at...until now.
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