in all things the one, in the one all things
Neutrinos are subatomic particles that have just a hint of mass yet can move at light speed. They are created by radioactive decay in the sun, supernovae and some other radioactive processes like human made reactors.
Here’s the question that interests me: Do we exist in the same universe?
Neutrinos were first suggested by Wolfgang Pauli (whose exclusion principle is primarily why we can’t have two atoms in the same time and place i.e. why things seem solid when we know atoms are empty for the most part). It was known that in a kind of radioactive decay (beta decay) the momentum and spin of particles did not appear to be conserved, even though momentum and spin were known to be conserved in every other process. Hmmm. Conservation of something (like momentum and spin) in physics means that the total is unchanged before and after something happens, even if distributed differently (say one object looses momentum, but another gains it). As I wrote in earlier blogs, if you can’t tell if something changed after you messed with it, it is a symmetry. For example, if I close my eyes and you rotate a circle, it looks the same to me when I open my eyes. That’s rotational symmetry. If I close my eyes and you move it, the circle itself looks the same when I open my eyes. It is symmetric to translation.
Now, the symmetry of momentum and spin in beta decay seemed like something that better not be violated. Pauli did the math and suggested a new particle. People were a bit shook up by that, and it took 20 years to find the neutrino experimentally, but they did and it worked! This is the kind of thing that excites physicists who suggest we should trust the math: sometimes it works!
Anyway, this was part of the discovery of one of the main forces, the weak nuclear force, which has been unified with the electromagnetic force (the electroweak force) and so is a big deal.
Neutrinos have no charge, but like the electrons they are related to (which have charge) they have spin. Spin is weird. Point particles can’t literally spin around (there is no axis or lateral extent to spin around the axis; they’re points!), but the term spin is used because the particles behave like spinning particles would (like how they move in magnetic fields). Well, something is weird with neutrinos; they have a preference and they shouldn’t! Neutrinos are “left handed” and anti-neutrinos “right handed” (the direction of spin) and that is weird. Unlike the other situations mentioned above, we can’t just flip the terms and it is just how we say it, it doesn’t matter which you call which. It isn’t symmetric. It may not seem it, but that is really unique!
When they measured how many neutrinos/second came from the sun, it was less than expected. It turns out there are 3 flavors of neutrino that can change into each other. They “oscillate.” Other particles don’t do this, at least not in the same way. It was once thought that maybe all three types (flavors) of neutrinos don’t have mass. That was wrong. They have mass. But we don’t know the masses of the three neutrino flavors; we only know the differences in the mass between them. Anyway, neutrinos interact differently with the Higgs field (which gives mass) compared to other particles. So it seems all three have some really tiny mass, way below other particles with mass, but tiny as the mass is, they are not massless like photos and gluons.
I have seen various estimates for how many neutrinos pass through you, but it is something like 100 trillion per second, every second you are alive.
Why don’t we have any effect from them? You don’t hear about putting neutrino sun block on. In fact, if you could see neutrinos, it is said the sun would be as bright as the full moon. That is neutrinos from the sun wouldn’t be as “bright” as photons (regular light), but it would be plenty.
It’s because they interact very weakly with matter. We are invisible to them and they are invisible to us.
How weak is this neutrino interaction with stuff? According to one estimate, neutrinos interact with atoms so weakly that it would take about four lifetimes for one to interact with an atom in your body despite the trillion going through every second. Askel Hallin in Scientific America wrote that in the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, a 1000 ton heavy water solar-neutrino detector picks up about 1012 (1 with 12 zeros after it i.e. a trillion) neutrinos each second. About 30 neutrinos per day are detected, say about one per hour). There are 3600 seconds in an hour, so about it seems that almost 3,600 trillion are “picked up” in the detector (his word, I believe that means passes through) for every one neutrino detected (that is, that interacted sufficiently with their apparatus to be detected).
The universe of the neutrinos is: be created, have a tiny bit of mass, and exist in a vast empty universe. Most will go light years without interacting with anything, cruising through planets, dust clouds, people, whatever.
If neutrinos could somehow put together all the vast neutrino “data” of the rare and random neutrino/matter (subatomic) interactions throughout space and time, some objects would have enduring patterns and become “visible”, or perceived in the sense of registering interaction/o interaction, yes/no, 0/1 information. That is, an interaction event happened that changed the information content of the universe that could be considered a “perception.” If enough events/perceptions were gathered over time, there would be entities that would be denser to neutrons than their surroundings and persist long enough to be present in the neutrino universe. Perhaps stars and planets and nebulae would be large and persistent enough to exist in the neutrino universe.
But neutrinos wont ever “perceive” you or me. The neutrino world of can’t resolve us as anything but a single data point that would be lost in the noise of other random and rare interactions, if we as individuals have such an interaction at all. Remember that most of us (3 of 4) wont ever interact with neutrino world; we are truly invisible. If there are four of us, yeah one of us was “seen” but at such low resolution (a single 0/1 for all space and time, just one data point, one interaction with one neutrino and one atom) that in neutrino universe he or she would be no different from a falling leaf, the air or water in a mountain stream or a wandering cosmic particle in empty space. Just a bit of noise, if even that.
As a small practical issue, if some genius advanced aliens did have neutrino vision, the neutrino data, the “perceived” patterns that persist through a sufficient time at neutrino interaction scale (many, many, many human lifetimes) on a planetary level that could resolve say our planet, would require supercomputers to even approach giving any real image. After all, our planet is a moving target; around the sun, then around the galaxy with the sun, then the galaxy rotates and moves and space expands. Just looking at an area in space would be useless. Any object would be gone.
We are invisible to neutrinos; we simply do not exist.
Are neutrinos invisible to us? Well, they were until a few decades ago. Certainly they are without huge and expensive detectors. They pass through us (and our planet) with impunity, the rare interactions too weak and isolated to have any abiding effect on any macroscopic entity. They are without direct effect and certainly in that sense non-existent.
Now, here is a neutrino universe we have discovered and added to (with nuclear reactors), the neutrino universe of radioactive processes, the sun, supernovae, our reactors on earth, that through science we can “perceive”, but barely, that interacts so rarely that we as individuals can never exist in that neutrino universe.
And despite having mass a neutrino travels at the speed of light (some scientists thought they saw evidence of faster than the speed of light neutrinos, but so far doesn’t seem true. Information in entangled particles can transcend time and space, for example, but it doesn’t seem neutrinos can). As I have written elsewhere, travelling at the speed of light means the ultimate n space contraction (there is no here to there, only start then place of interaction, no here to there) and time dilation (the next tick of the clock never comes, just start and time of interaction, no then to now.)
A neutrino universe is our universe, but then again, it isn’t.
All of this about neutrino world as written sounds a bit like pantheism or maybe just bad “anthropormorphizing” if you take it that I mean literally that the neutrinos are self aware and communicate these interactions. But in math and science you can talk about a space of states. Here what I mean is the space of neutrino states as encoded in 0-1, neutrino yes/no, interaction/interaction with a subatomic particle, exists independent of our experienced universe.
And here is my point:
In that neutrino space of states I do not exist. Literally. I do not, I cannot, exist. I am in a space of states (e.g. momentum and energy) that interacts too rarely with neutrinos to register as more than noise, if it registered at all. The sum of neutrino universe interactions would not be sensitive or specific enough to detect that I exist.
Neutrinos do not exist for you and me, even if we look them up on Wikipedia. You may trust me as I trust the physicists, but there is no consequence to you of the vast number of neutrinos that pass through you undetected that they truly do not exist for you except as a rumor that you have. If you aren’t a physicist or part of a team researching neutrinos, they don’t exist but as a story.
Really, they just don’t exist.
But…they do exist, these children of the stars.
And whatever space of states neutrino world evolves through, you don’t exist.
But…you do exist, a set of various spaces of states, whether or not it “matters” to neutrino world.
In Buddhist sutras there is a category of what neither exists nor does not exist. Not Aristotelian, trying for non-dual logic.
Neutrinos: You bet.