On dark summer nights, away from city lights, I love to stargaze and imagine that I am dancing with the stars. I pretend to be one of the Constellations—Orion or Perseus—and imagine myself dancing with the other stars. In this state of reverie, I feel the truth of astronomer Carl Sagan’s words “we are all made of stardust.”
According to the latest theories in physics, there are four fundamental forces in nature--gravity, electromagnetism, strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force. So, what is a force? A force is the interaction between particles. It is how particles interact or relate to one another. Positively charged particles (protons) attract negatively charged particles (electrons), but positively charged protons repel other positively charged particles and similarly electrons repel other electrons.
Gravity is an attractive force, it is weak relative to other forces and it acts over long distances. Gravity is the most familiar of forces, it is what keeps us from flying off the face of the earth, and is responsible for maintaining order in the universe, as it were. Gravity is what accounts for planetary motion. Einstein showed gravity is distortion of space-time caused by the mass of an object. The more massive an object the greater the distortion of space around it.
Electromagnetism works over infinite ranges in the macro world and at subatomic levels too. All charged particles in motion create an electromagnetic field (or exchange photons with other charged particles). Electromagnetic forces are what binds electron to a proton to form atoms. It is electrons which attract protons from a neighboring atom to form the force that keeps us from walking through walls or falling through our chair. Electromagnetic force is what gives us electricity and magnetism.
Gravity and electromagnetic forces are the ones we are familiar with in our daily lives. The other two forces—strong and weak nuclear forces—act at the subatomic level. Strong nuclear force keeps the nucleus of an atom together, that is, binds protons with neutrons. Weak nuclear force is responsible for nuclear decay.
Thus, it is these four forces of nature which regulate all interactions between matter. All phenomena in nature are the result of this cosmic dance between energized particles and the forces of gravity, electromagnetism, strong and weak nuclear forces.
All that exists and all that happens in nature is explained by the interaction between matter and forces. All scientific equations are mathematical representations or precise quantification of the action between particles and forces. Mathematical equations are the notations of the choreography of the cosmic dance. The choreographers are the physical laws of nature.
Life is a cosmic dance. It is as if every particle in nature is reaching out to every other particle and engaging in a beautiful cosmic dance. Shiva’s dance.
The cosmic dance is not random motion but is beautifully choreographed and the movements obey laws of nature. The most fundamental laws of physics are the conservation laws--conservation of mass, conservation of energy and conservation of momentum. These laws control all movement, interactions and transformations in the universe. The laws are inviolate regardless of where in the universe one looks.
Nothing new in the universe has been created, since the Big Bang, but only transformed from one form to another. What appears as creation or destruction is only a transformation from one form to another in accordance with physical laws. The laws are fixed but the dancers and the dancing change. The dance never stops.
Since Newton, four hundred years of progress in science has led us to understand that our universe is not capricious or ruled by demons and monsters of nature, but instead it is an elegant universe governed by laws. Thanks to science we do not fear thunderstorms or cure diseases through exorcisms. We do not believe that the earth is flat or that we are at the center of the universe.
Science has unmasked nature to reveal that behind the many forms everything is alike. Every electron, proton or neutron is the same as every other electron, proton and neutron. All forms are made of the same building blocks which are connected and interact through forces. “We ourselves are a mere collection of fundamental particles of the universe.” ~ Stephen Hawking
At a fundamental level (particles) there is no separation between us and what is outside of us. It only seems this way, because of the limitations of our senses. If we had X-ray vision, we would see that there is no separation between a chair and the person sitting on the chair.
“About 99 percent of your body is made up of atoms of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. We also contain much smaller amounts of the other elements that are essential for life.
“While most of the cells in your body regenerate every seven to 15 years, many of the particles that make up those cells have actually existed for millions of millennia. The hydrogen atoms in you were produced in the big bang, and the carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms were made in burning stars. The very heavy elements in you were made in exploding stars.
“The size of an atom is governed by the average location of its electrons. Nuclei are around 100,000 times smaller than the atoms they’re housed in. If the nucleus were the size of a peanut, the atom would be about the size of a baseball stadium. If we lost all the dead space inside our atoms, we would each be able to fit into a particle of lead dust, and the entire human race would fit into the volume of a sugar cube.
“As you might guess, these spaced-out particles make up only a tiny portion of your mass. The protons and neutrons inside of an atom’s nucleus are each made up of three quarks. The mass of the quarks, which comes from their interaction with the Higgs field, accounts for just a few percent of the mass of a proton or neutron. Gluons, carriers of the strong nuclear force that holds these quarks together, are completely massless.
If our mass doesn’t come from these particles, where does it come from? Scientists believe that almost all of our body’s mass comes from the kinetic energy of the quarks and the binding energy of the gluons. We are not this solid, substantial looking mass, but instead we are empty space and particles in motion. In reality, instead of being made of flesh, muscles and bones, as our senses have us believe, we are primarily empty space and particles engaged in the cosmic dance. In this dance there is no separation between what is inside of us and what is outside. Our skin which separates us from the outside is itself particles interacting with particles on the outside, or dancing with the particles outside itself. The particles do not “know” what is inside and what is outside. It is only our senses that make the distinction between inside and out.” (from The Particle Physics of You)
We are entangled with everything around us in a cosmic tango. Every atom in every cell in our body is entangled with atoms in other bodies and objects in the universe. The dance is fluid, the movement continuous, the partners (atoms) changing positions at every opportunity. The dance is endless and the music never stops.
When I look up at the sky and see the stars against a dark sky and imagine that my body is not solid as it appears, but, is full of “twinkling” atoms, buzzing around dancing in the vast empty space inside and outside of me, I am Nataraja the dancer. My body is not separate from all that is outside it. It only seems so to my senses. I am entrained with everything around me in a cosmic dance. The ups and downs in my life are just the high and low notes of the song that I was born to dance to.
Sunil Mehrotra has an MS in Aeronautical Engineering from Purdue University and an MBA from The University of Chicago. He has held senior executive positions at Fortune 500 companies and has been a CEO and founder of two start-ups. He has also taught at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. You can read more about his book, Shiva's Dance: A Scientist Dances with the Sages, at https://shivasdance.org.
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