by Adam J. Pearson
Adam Pearson: Our common sense notion says that space divides things. I suggest, instead, that it connects them, helping us to recognize relationships. Matter is not separate from space; this is most obvious at the level of massive bodies like planets, which are so large that they curve the fabric of spacetime around them and give rise to gravity. As Einsteins’s general relativity tells us, matter curves space, which itself shapes the trajectory of matter within it. I see space as connected with the objects that move within it. Space is an invisible line that connects things, not a great gap that splits them apart.
Stephanie DaSaro: The connecting line can still form a huge (although relative) gap between connected objects though, can’t it?
Adam Pearson: In a relative sense, yes. Space helps us to identify things with distinct properties and draw ‘the lines’ or ‘boundaries’ of things in useful ways . This cognitive boundary-drawing is useful because it allows us to deal with pieces of reality in chunks that our brains can handle and to develop concepts, which are useful in daily life and in theoretical and technological applications. Of course, in reality, none of the lines or boundaries is solid; all are permeable — nothing exists in isolation. Everything is interconnected with everything else on every scale.
On most length scales, though, the ‘gaps’ are not empty. Between people, there are countless gas particles in the ‘gaps,’ and countless quantum reactions of particles being annihilated and created in collisions are taking place. In space, the ‘gaps’ between planets are filled with cosmic microwave background radiation, small particles, dark matter and dark energy, and so on.
Image of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation that fills outer space as photographed by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP)
Even on the level of the atom, where it seems that there is a tiny nucleus at the center and mostly empty space around it, that empty space is filled with the probability wavefunctions of the ‘orbiting’ (sic) electrons (see Chapter 4 of Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos for a very clear explanation of how this works). Of course, space can subjectively and psychologically feel like it divides us when, for instance, we are miles away from our beloved. With that said, though, there are many ways in which it can be seen as connecting us on countless levels of our being as well.
Model of the Atom according to quantum mechanics: The electrons exist in concentric probability wave forms that define where the electron could possibly be at any moment in time. When we measure a given electron, we find it int a particular location; prior to measurement, it has no definite location — we can only define the probability that it will be found in a given place. Electrons at one ‘energy level’ can be bumped up to a higher level by being excited by energy (entering what is called an ‘excited state,’ e.g. by shooting it with a photon) after which they can give up their excess energy and return to their original state (‘ground state’ or ‘base state’). Because the probability waves are spread out through the space inside the atom, there is a sense in which even this, is not totally ’empty.’