By Dr Tan Chin Yong
The world appears to be filled with things that are solid. Mountains, earth, buildings, cars, tables, cups, people, animals, trees and so on are all apparently solid things. People have been contemplating what all things are made of since the beginning of civilization. Modern science has determined that everything is made of atoms arranged in different ways. Further investigations have revealed that these atoms are made of even smaller constituents such as electrons, protons and neutrons, which are composed of even smaller constituents called quarks.
Atoms are tiny-winy particles made up of electrons circling around a nucleus made of protons and neutrons. If you imagine the nucleus to be the size of a marble, then the space taken up by the electrons would be the size of a football stadium. Furthermore, according to quantum mechanics, instead of a like marbles whizzing around the nucleus in fixed orbits, electrons behave more like a cloud within this stadium space. In effect, almost the entire volume occupied by an atom is literally empty.
Zooming further into the electrons, protons and neutrons, they are made up of quarks which are in turn either thought of as point particles (no volume) or unimaginably tiny vibrating energy waves (strings) as postulated by String Theory. Either way there is nothing solid and is totally just empty space! Our perception of solidity comes from the way the particles’ energy fields interact with each other causing obstructions to each other. Those particles that do not interact simply pass straight through like light passing through glass or the billions of neutrinos from deep space passing right through us and the earth without anyone the wiser.
It has been established that 95% of the universe is made up of dark matter and dark energy which has almost no interaction whatsoever with the 5% visible matter that we can see in the whole of the universe in the form of galaxies, stars and planets.
Our perception of things being solid is but an illusion and we would be well served to remember that from time to time. As the Heart Sutra says, emptiness is form and form is emptiness!