Sublimity of Structure:
The Hydrogen Atom
In process philosophy’s social conception of reality, even atoms are social beings.
Consider the simplest case: the hydrogen atom with its one proton and electron. Did you ever stop and wonder what holds such an atom together—that is, what holds the electron and proton together, and at the same time apart, in dynamic and elegant unity? The new physics has revealed that what holds atoms together are virtual photons that are said to “carry” a fundamental force called the EMI or ElectroMagnetic Interaction.
The photons are called “virtual” because they arise on the electron and, after an incredibly brief life-journey, almost instantaneously vanish, thereby creating “a tie that binds.” How many photons are busy at work “holding together” a hydrogen atom? Physicist John Jungerman places the number at a mind-boggling trillion billion each second: that’s “1” followed by 20 zeroes!
And so the hydrogen atom, far from simple, is a buzzing hive of social activity. It takes astonishing creativity, from almost countless micro-entities, for a “simple” hydrogen atom just to be a hydrogen atom.
If this is the case for a mere atom, pause for a moment and consider the underlying “social activity” required for you . . . just to be you.
Each task of creation is a social effort,
employing the whole universe.
Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 233.