Physics was a requirement for the first two years when I was an undergrad. That introduced me to The Feynman Lectures on Physics, three heavy red volumes (© 1963, 1964, 1965). The preface in each volume had a picture of Feynman playing the bongo drums.
And then the early morning physics labs. Two of the experiments I remember were Millikan’s Oil Drop and the Double-slit. The later was a continuation of the particle-wave narrative about light and other atomic particles (which had been introduced in high school physics). My takeaway was “okay, light acts as both a particle and a wave — what’s next?” Must be something else at a deeper level; but no big metaphysical deal, eh.
“A wave is sort of a vibration in a field.” So, the debate was really about particles and fields. Quantum field theory was next.
But it was a big deal. Physicists had spent decades debating the primacy of one theory or the other. And in decades since. That’s why I was interested in Sean Carroll’s Faraday lecture at the Royal Institution of Great Britain on October 17, 2012. I highly recommend viewing the three videos on his site (the link in the previous sentence).
The first video is titled after his book The Particle at the End of the Universe. In that lecture he develops an answer to the question, “What is more important — the particle aspect of reality or the field aspect of reality?”
After some background, he just outright says, “It’s fields — that’s the answer, it’s not a mystery.” I was struck by a brief aside that he went decades of his life without an answer … “The reason why the Higgs boson is a concept that’s hard to grasp is that you need to stop thinking of the world as particles. … That’s the secret we physicists have never told you.” Watch the video for more.
But that was the “wow!” moment. I’d been thinking about whether there are any square waves in nature and Fourier transforms — how adding waveforms (sinusoidal oscillations at various wavelengths) produces other waveforms, and how waveforms can be decomposed into component waveforms . Sure enough, Carroll explains that space is full of fields, “at every point in space, there’s dozens of little vibrating fields … when you look at the fields closely enough they resolve into individual particles.” (Can we say particles are contextual realities?)
As far as the LHC and Higgs boson (“the last piece of the puzzle”), read his book.
The second video is a 30 minute Q&A with the audience. The third video is a 7 minute individual Q&A which was done ahead of the lecture.
 Here’s a slide from another lecture “Quantum Field Theory and the Limits of Knowledge” which illustrates the concept of particles from fields.
3 thoughts on “Reality is fields”
Space.com‘s Spaceman1 on May 5, 2017, wrote that:
 Paul Sutter is an astrophysicist at The Ohio State University and the chief scientist at COSI science center. Sutter is also host of Ask a Spaceman, RealSpace and COSI Science Now. He contributed this article to Space.com’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
In this YouTube video of David Tong’s lecture “Quantum Fields: The Real Building Blocks of the Universe” 1 published on Feb 15, 2017, in The Royal Institution’s channel, he echoes Sean Carroll’s portrayal of the universe:
 Tong is a professor of theoretical physics at Cambridge University, specialising in quantum field theory.
What’s really happening during an LHC collision?
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