Today I’d like to talk about change. We live in a changing world. And yet most people seem to be very afraid of change…
When people talk about ‘change’, it’s usually on ordinary time scales: milliseconds, seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months and years.
Unless you’re a scientist, you rarely talk about change on timescales involving decades, centuries or millennia. Do you?
I’ve noticed most people don’t like change. People get all anxious whenever anyone speaks of change. We get anxious about changes outside of our control. We get anxious too about changes that are self-imposed.
Here’s the thing: most people are afraid of change when it is too great for them to cope. So they block it out, go into denial and distract themselves by doing something else like watching TV.
What is change? What is the definition of ‘change’? Change implies something happening with time. Change means the change of some quantity or quality in time. So we make measurements and the properties of an object will be different when we look at it over a certain amount of time.
Today I’m going to argue that everything changes, no matter how slight. Everything that ever existed, exists or will exist is in a state of flux. Everything. Indeeed, that should probably be a new law.
Atoms are vibrating. Molecules are moving. Raw metals oxidise, even inert ones. The stock market goes up and down. Stars and planets move. Galaxies move. Things become smaller or grow with time. They shrink and shrivel and fade. Colours can fade or they can become more intense. Beings live and die. Not one single thing I can think of stays still. I can think of no valid exceptions.
I have tried to think of an example. The best I can come up with is this — the most immovable, immutable object I can think of is a cube of solid iridium, the most inert metallic element in the universe. But even though it is essentially ‘inert’ and may look as though it could last forever “as is”, internally, at the atomic level, it is actually still changing form and composition, (albeit extremely slowly).
What? How? The light hitting it is not constant. Condensation may form on the surface. Then evaporation takes place. Even if you were to make the most pure iridium imagineable with absolutely no defects in its microstructure, and then you were to take that iridium cube and suspend it in outer space where it isn’t exposed to the weather, erosion and corrosion, then believe it or not, but after quadrillions of years had passed you would find that all the iridium atoms would transmogrify (change) into other elements, like lead and iron.
I hate to be the one to tell you this, but –no– a diamond is not forever.
So nothing with any physical presence stays constant, even though it may seem to be within a human context. Change is everywhere, nothing stays still in the grand scheme of things.
Not one thing in the Universe is static. And we know that the entire universe is changing. Not one thing sits still. So we must realise that change is a part of life, learn to cope with small changes first, understand how they affect us, then learn and adapt so that we can deal more easily with bigger changes (when they happen).
Beyond this range, which represent some 18? or so orders of magnitude, (jumps of ten) we can’t fully appreciate. But on the uber scales, into the exa, zeta and yotta, new things will be found to happen. And on the shortest of short scales, the femto, acto, zetto and yocto, again, new things will be found to happen. If and when we have the tools to be able to measure on these scales, when the precision of machines increase, we will have new discoveries.
But what about temperature? The hotter things are, the faster the atoms and molecules move. That’s the basic definition of temperature. There is apparently no limit to temperature. As you go from cold to hot, substances go from solid, to liquid, to gas. If you heat something to millions of degrees, atoms themselves are moving so fast, they split up and form a state known as ‘plasma’. Temperature is supposedly ‘infinite’. It’s one of the few things in the Universe that is (whatever that means).
But if we go the opposite, if we cool things down as much as we possibly can, we find that we cannot stop matter. Can we? At -273°C, 0 Kelvin as Scientists like to refer to it, atoms are still vibrating. Electrons are still orbiting nuclei. If electrons stopped moving, they would spiral into their respective nuclei and you’d get an antimatter explosion! Sort of like when sharks stop moving they sink. Imagine it like this: if a shark’s body were to hit the ocean floor, it would explode with the only trace being a hell of a lot of energy given off.
Possibly there is another state of matter. We do not really know as we can not get colder or hotter than a certain temperature.