The Science of Existence (44-3) Antimatter


The discovery of antimatter was perhaps the biggest jump of all the big jumps in physics in our century. ~ Werner Heisenberg

Matter theories have long proposed a negative twin. English physicist William Hicks, via the then-popular vortex theory of gravity, proposed negative gravity in the 1880s.

Along the same lines, in 1886 English mathematician Karl Pearson posited that the gyral flow of cosmic aether had sinks and sources (“squirts”). Squirts were normal matter, whereas sinks represented negative matter.

German-born British physicist Arthur Schuster whimsically proposed anti-atoms and antimatter solar systems. Schuster coined the term antimatter in 1898 and hypothesized matter and antimatter as mutual annihilators. Schuster conjectured that antimatter possessed negative gravity.

Paul Dirac formulated quantum electrodynamics (QED) in 1920. A relativistic quantum field theory of electrodynamics, QED modeled how radiation and matter interact. Essentially, QED theorizes perturbation of the ground state, which, instead of being nothing, as the term implies, formulates to have massive latent energy.

QED theory was the first to harmonize between the otherwise incongruous schools of relativity and quantum mechanics. This bridged a huge theoretical gap. But the infinity issue cropped up. Dirac’s early equations led to predictions of infinity, which were considered unacceptable by other physicists. Dirac denied adjustments that washed infinity out of his equations.

This is just not sensible mathematics. Sensible mathematics involves neglecting a quantity when it is small – not neglecting it just because it is infinitely great and you do not want it! ~ Paul Dirac

In 1928 Dirac produced a relativistic quantum mechanical wave equation, now termed the Dirac equation, which characterizes the spin of normal fermions (those with mass and charge). Dirac cast this equation to explain the behavior of a moving electron, thereby allowing an atom’s quantum behaviors to be treated in a manner consistent with special relativity.

Yet the Dirac equation created conditions expanding the natures of both material existence and time. Dirac’s formulations of quantum mechanics led to a perspective that allowed each subatomic particle its own proper time, escaping relativistic coordinate time.

At the time, this created an apparent dichotomy between quantum and relativity equations. But any theory of relativistic kinematics allows a particle to have an energy such that E = –mc2 as a complement to E = +mc2, Einstein’s original equation. Dirac necessarily found that his model gave negative as well as positive energy solutions.

A many-body reinterpretation by Dirac of his basic 1928 equation founded quantum field theory (QFT). Many-body problems attempt to characterize a physical system comprising a stupendous number of interacting particles.

Dirac’s many-body interpretation involved quadratic equations, which often have 2 solutions: 1 positive and 1 negative. These quadratics predicted antimatter: every particle of matter having a mirror antimatter particle.

There was no evidence for the existence of antimatter at the time Dirac constructed his QFT model, but the concept of antimatter was less objectionable to theoretical physicists than infinity.

American physicist Carl Anderson liked to play with cosmic rays. In doing so, in 1932, 4 years after Dirac equation formulation, Anderson discovered antimatter. His discovery was the positron, the antimatter equivalent of the electron. The term positron is a contraction of “positive electron” (electrons carry a negative electrical charge).

Interpretation of the solutions presented by the Dirac equation has always been controversial. Dirac’s own idea was that all the negative energy levels are physically filled in the ground state, while the positive energy states are empty. This is the physics equivalent of double-entry accounting: matter only appears 4d if balanced by energetic opposites extra-dimensionally; existence as a conjuring trick.

This Dirac sea idea contradicts the common-sense view of vacuum as a state in which matter is absent. But the ground state has been found to be unimaginably energetic, with substantive material contributions.

Condensed matter physics sails on the Dirac sea as reality. And QFT – which has substantial evidentiary backing – is scuppered if the Dirac sea does not exist.

Another phenomenon depends on the Dirac sea: chirality, which has been observed experimentally in the decay of subatomic particles. Chirality is the handedness (left or right) of a particle’s spin.

In 1949, American theoretical physicist Richard Feynman mused that positrons were not like holes in a negative energy sea of electrons, like the holes in semiconductors. Instead, Feynman proposed positrons as electrons moving backward in time. An electron moving backward in time would be indistinguishable from a positron puttering forward in time; a negative charge bouncing backward equivalent to a positive charge flying forward.

Though the Dirac equation, and indeed any relativistic theory, requires negative energies and time in reverse, the convention of time vectored in a forward direction was too formidable for Feynman’s flaunting of time to be acceptable. Antimatter became treated as a raft of temporally progressive particles; mirrors of matter.