Another Stupid Physics Question

From what I understand we are all made of atoms. Atoms are neutrons surrounded by floating protons and electrons, or something like that. (or is it protons surrounded by neu . . ah forget it)

These objects, according to physics, do not touch- permanantly. The building blocks of matter . . . just FLOAT or spin around one another.

Does this mean I and all the Straight Dope readers are nothing but a bunch of a trillion perticles that really do not touch each other? Does this make us . . ghosts? Apparitions?

Does this mean that if I bang my head against the wall (you know- like many of you reading this are doing now) that I am really NOT banging my head against a wall???

Then how do we get the sense of touch? Or that throbbing headache from banging our heads against a wall?

Again, no smart ass comments please. I already knocked you all out by admitting this question sucked ass.

This is not a stupid question.

Yes, things are mostly empty space.

But it’s protons and neutrons in the nucleus, with electrons flyig around. Not that it matters any.

You get the sense of touch, and your head doesn’t simply disappear into the wall, because of the electrical force, IIRC. Sure, you, and the chair you’re sitting on, and your computer, are probably always losing a few atoms here and there, and exchanging some electrons. But it’s the nuclear and electrical forces that keep you together and make solid objects solid.

I always liked the illustration (by Feynman?) of how strong the electrical force was compared to the supposedly overwhelming gravitational force. Jump off the top of a 20-story building. Gravity will accelerate you to a pretty high speed pretty quickly, but the electrical force will stop you at the ground a LOT more quickly.

“It’s my considered opinion you’re all a bunch of sissies!”–Paul’s Grandfather

If your head was small enough to fit in that area of the atom where things spin around, yep, you would not feel much.

Sounds more like a Zen Buddist question, though.

“Things” really consist of relationships between things. At the bottom, there is no meaningful differentiation between “thing” (particle) and “process” (wave). Although you tend to think of yourself as a noun, and of the brick wall as a noun, both you and the brick wall are verbs.

The interaction between you and the brick wall when you beat your head against it is a verb, too, but it will still feel like a noun.

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To echo what pldennison said, and “object” is really more than just the sum of it’s particles, it’s the sum of it’s particle and the forces between them. In the falling off the building example, you indeed can have your atomic particles “merged” into the atomic particles of the ground - as long as your body accelerated to relativistic speeds.

No, the atoms are not really touching but that doesn’t make things weak.

Remember, it takes 20 or so years of eating to arrange the molecules of your body in the formation they’re in. That means it took a lot of energy to put you together. If you wanted to push your hand (or head) into the wall you’d have to put in enough energy to undo those 20 years of growing. That’s a lot more energy that you have when you’re running at a wall. (Of course most of the energy from food doesn’t go into growth, but you see the point.)


Gadzooks, that may just be the best, simplest, most straightforward physics analogy I’ve ever heard. Hear, hear.

In relation to this question, I once had a physics teacher go on for a good half hour explaining that even the slightest touch of any thing to any thing produces a dent because of the atom make-up.

Of course he had to define “dent” rather strictly, but it was still one of the few things that really stuck in my head from the class.

I guess it was more interesting a discussion than what I am offering here.

There are three kinds of people: Those who can count and those who can’t.

Think about an Irishman with a shillelagh. Think about hime swinging that shillelagh around his head really fast. you could shoot a bullet through that area of where he is swinging it and probably not hit it, because even though you see it through the whole area, it really only occupies a small part of that space. Now, picture it without the irishman and with the shillelagh swinging so fast that it sort of does occupy the whole space at once. You could still probably shoot a bullet through it, but you certainly couldn’t occupy that space. Now, picture a whole lot of shillelaghs spinning without their irishmen. You could shoot a bullet through one of them, but would probably hit one sooner or later. That’s why photons don’t go through most solids. Etc… ad nauseum.
(BTW, the shillilaghs are the electrons. And i just used that analogy because i love the word shillelagh.)


“C’mon, it’s not even tomorrow yet…” - Rupert

If you need a graphic solution, http:\\Piglet

If you took all the matter of the earth and squeezed it, you’d get something the size of a football, I suppose.

The last time I asked this sort of question, the answer, from a physicist/philosopher, went something like this: It’s true that most of what we think of as solid matter is empty space. The concept of solid matter may be an illusion. However, there are tremendous forces inside every atom. The forces holding the subatomic particles together constantly fight the centrifugal force of the spinning bits. The balance of these forces is such that you can’t simply squish out the empty space. That’s why you can’t push your finger or a screwdriver through a steel beam that you know is mostly empty space.
If you need more detail, you’ll need a real physicist. That’s not me.


Ancient joke:

A guy on death row is reading an early book on nuclear physics and comes to the conclusion that if he can get the spaces between atoms in his body to line up just right vs the spaces and atoms in his cell wall, he could simply walk through the wall.
He’s got nothing left to lose, so he starts walking into the wall. Day after day he walks into the wall. Every waking hour he backs up and walks into the wall. His nose is battered and swollen; his forehead and chest are permanently bruised; the guards all taunt him and call him nuts. Day after day and hour after hour he continues. On the evening before his execution he simply doesn’t go to sleep and spends the whole night walking into the wall. In the morning, he hears the gates rattle as the parson and warder start unlocking doors to come get him and suddenly he makes it!
Every atom lines up correctly and his body flows right through the wall, whereupon he fall three stories and breaks his neck.

Any thread in which someone says I’ve provided the “best, simplest, most straightforward physics analogy I’ve ever heard” is not permitted to be pruned.


AHunter, I realize you mean well, but PLEASE stop bumping old threads. Just let them die, man. Let them die.


*Originally posted by BigRoryG *
**Think about an Irishman with a shillelagh. Think about hime swinging that shillelagh around his head really fast…

What the hell is a shagligligag?

A shillelagh is a ceremonial Irish warhammer made from blackthorn wood. Alternatively, it’s a walking stick made by the same process from blackthorn, which just happens to conveniently have a large, heavy head on the end, where the hammer head would be, but it’s absolutely not a weapon, it’s a walking stick, so those damn English bastards don’t have any excuse to confiscate it.

Y’know, I like that analogy for electrons…