My three questions concerning certain fundamental facts of the universe generated some interesting answers both on this blog and on facebook. Someone mentioned Richard Feynman’s notion that perhaps all electrons are the same electron. (It was actually John Wheeler who suggested it to Feynman who immediately shot the idea down. Or maybe not. Depends on whose version of the story you believe. As with all things to do with quantum physics, there’s a certain amount of uncertainty.)
The thing about electrons is that they are all the same. You pick an electron out of a deck, put it back in and shuffle the deck, and you have no idea which was your electron. There is absolutely no way of telling one from another.
For all we know, the electrons of the universe are forever swapping places with each other, like identical twins in a cheesy Whitehall farce. They could be mocking us – having a laugh at our expense. We have no way of telling.
And that’s the point of my asking why there is more than one electron. Somehow the universe manufactured zillions upon zillions of the little buggers without deviating from the original blueprint in any way whatsoever. If you’re not staggered by that fact, you should be.
We have factories that produce supposedly identical goods over and over again, and yet they’re not actually identical. Take a look at two Mars bars that have come off the same production line. They’re made by the same process according to the same recipe, yet even a cursory glance can spot differences between the two.
Not so with electrons.
Which is why it’s tempting to think that all electrons are the same electron popping up all over the universe at the same time. After all, in the world as we experience it, nothing is 100% the same as anything else. If you pardon my Zen, things that aren’t the same thing will always be different in some way.
Well then, supposing we follow our logic and accept that there is indeed only one electron. How do we explain the multiplicity and ubiquity of that one particle?
I have two possible explanations. (I actually had three until I sobered up.)
Let’s suppose there’s a huge multidimensional particle bigger than the entire universe which I shall call the super electron. Most of it exists in dimensions beyond the four we can directly experience. The bits that poke into our reality are identical because they’re bits of the same thing constrained by the same laws and parameters. These bits are what we call electrons.
This is a variant of string theory, whereby instead of each electron being the manifestation of its own unique string, they all arise from one string.
If this were true of the electron, it would hold true for all particles. And that would explain quantum entanglement.
My second explanation posits that the universe is a hologram, a projection of some other reality which is 2-dimensional in nature. (The idea of a holographic universe has been around for ages and is worth Googling should you be so inclined.) Suppose in this other reality there is only one electron (and one neutron and one proton and one of every other subatomic particle). If that electron is projected into our universe once, it can be projected many times over in the same way that a picture can appear on millions of television screens at the same time.
This is, of course, just idle speculation on my part and should be totally ignored. Maybe one day someone who knows what they’re talking about will give me a satisfactory explanation as to why there’s more than one electron. In the meantime, I’ll go on pondering the imponderable.