Sometimes other people say it best

I am the outcome of a trillion coalescing possibilities...
That's a quote from PZ Myers; go read the whole thing.


Apples and protons

So here's the deal.  This apple, the one we can't decide whether it's real or not, isn't just an apple.  It's a proton - or electron, or neutron, or really any particle of matter in the universe.

Most people imagine particles as little tiny marbles  - mainly because this is how they're presented in chemistry and physics classes.  That's the old model, though, and even the "new" model - developed with the rise of quantum physics - is becoming more and more suspect.

You see, just like our first apple, particles don't really exist.  They're not physically "there" with any exact properties we can determine.  Everything we know about them we know indirectly by how they interact with other matter (of course), but since we don't know that the other matter exists either, we're in a bit of a conundrum.

We do know that the idea of little marbles doesn't work for a variety of reasons.  Again, that's not new.  One basic flaw is with the electron, which doesn't exist like a moon orbiting a planet but more like a shell of potentiation around the nucleus (and no, there's not really a simpler way of saying it).  What we didn't know then that is rapidly being suspected now is that the nucleus is the same: a mass of potential rather than bunch of marbles stuck together.  When we "knock a neutron out", it's more like the properties of a neutron being separated out of the miasma rather than a billiard-ball action.

It gets "worse", though.  Even a separate, distinct free-floating particle like a neutron isn't "whole" - it's made up of smaller particles, or seems to be.  However, these particles - such as quarks - don't seem to be able to exist by themselves for any practical length of time.  So, whether they really exist independently or are merely the "shards" of an "exploding" particle, we don't know.

And then we get into the matter/energy conundrum: how can two things with no common physicality be interchangeable?  The answer, of course, is that they have to have some common physicality - some mechanism or particle or something - that is matter when grouped like this but energy when grouped like that.  Such is part of the search for the mystical Theory of Everything, which is looking to be more and more mythical as time goes on.

So, we don't know what anything is, we can't fundamentally describe anything, and we're not even sure we'll ever be able to.  Yet, matter exists (or seems to).  How?

This is our second apple - the average, the concept, or in physics terms, the superposition of the combined wave functions.  Detectable matter, to the best of our perception, only exists as an average - even on subatomic scales.  We can categorize things loosely, describe fuzzy margins with inherent leeway, but we can never state exactly what something is or isn't.  When we look for something, it seems to be there, but if we study its effects and and try to pinpoint it, we can't be sure.

Luckily, "fuzzy margins" are good enough to a lot of things - in fact for pretty much any applied science, such as engineering or nuclear physics.  However, the fuzziness places an accuracy limit on what we can know at this point.  Unless we can find some more fundamental principle that can eliminate the fuzziness, we're rapidly coming to a wall in our understanding of basic existence.

So, the next time you sit in a chair, try to understand that the only reason you don't fall to the floor is that the average of your existence can interact with the average of its existence.  And the next time you eat an apple, try to picture it as a superposition of potentials, not just a piece of ripe fruit.


Every apple is a real apple.

Take every apple that ever existed, whether real or imaginary. Combine them all into a single structure - not exactly by averaging, but by overlaying the different pieces of information together to get a cohesive whole. The result would be something that, basically, averages out to an apple in theory but doesn't necessarily resemble a physical apple.

That's okay, though, because we're not after a physical apple. We're after a potential apple - in essence, a kind of mathematical function that defines the limits within which "apple" exists. The limits are fuzzy, just like the edges of our structure: some characteristics don't start and stop so much as fade, and fractal math states that such edges must be infinite in gradiation. In linguistic sense, you're left with a bunch of traits that are "apple", a bunch that are "apple-ish", and some that "tend to be apple" at this end but gradually become less apple-y at the other.

Now, let's use that structure - that equation or description, however you want to think of it - as our definition of "apple". Suddenly, every apple is a real apple, because we're not looking for specifics so much as trends or patterns.

This is hard for a lot of people to grasp: we've traded something hard and explicit for something vague, but in doing so end up with a better definition and, in actual fact, a better understanding of that to which we're referring. Whereas before nothing could be said to be an apple (and thus the definition useless), we can now define with reasonable precision what is or isn't an apple and use that data for further explorations (such as defining what is or isn't an apple pie).


There's no such thing as a real apple.

Most of us had those silly kid's books with a picture for every letter of the alphabet; almost always, "A" is represented by "apple" - generally a picture of a bright red shiny apple, sometimes including a happy-faced worm poking out of it. That picture - or some other like it - became the foundation of the concept of "apple" we associate with the word "apple" for the rest of our lives. Over the years, we've added to it, modified it slightly. We've encountered real apples and other pictures, and so the mental image gets a little distorted from that original. However, when we think "apple", we see the picture.

The problem is, it doesn't exist. No apple ever looked like that. Even if your mental image is of the last physical apple you ate, your image is incomplete as well as tainted by other memories.

Simply put, the image in your head - the concept of a "real apple" - doesn't exist, and any real apple that does exist won't exactly match the image in your head. So, there's no such thing as a real apple - just the approximations of "apple" to varying degrees.