Looking Deeply At So-Called Permanent Things With Science

[When a piece of seemingly solid matter—a rock, a human hand, the limb of a tree — is placed under a powerful electronic microscope], the electron-scanning microscope, with the power to magnify several thousand times, takes us down into a realm that has the look of the sea about it.

In the kingdom of the corpuscles, there is transfiguration and there is samsara, the endless round of birth and death. Every passing second, some 2.5 million red cells are born; every second, the same number die. The typical cell lives about 110 days, then becomes tired and decrepit.

There are no lingering deaths here, for when a cell loses its vital force, it somehow attracts the attention of macrophage.

As the magnification increases, the flesh does begin to dissolve. Muscle fiber now takes on a fully crystalline aspect. We can see that it is made of long, spiral molecules in orderly array. And all of these molecules are swaying like wheat in the wind, connected with one another and held in place by invisible waves that pulse many trillions of times a second.

What are the molecules made of? As we move closer, we see atoms, the tiny shadowy balls dancing around their fixed locations in the molecules, sometimes changing position with their partners in perfect rhythms.

And now we focus on one of the atoms; its interior is lightly veiled by a cloud of electrons.

We come closer, increasing the magnification.

The shell dissolves and we look on the inside to find… nothing.

Somewhere within that emptiness, we know is a nucleus. We scan the space, and there it is, a tiny dot. At last, we have discovered something hard and solid, a reference point.

But no!

As we move closer to the nucleus, it too begins to dissolve. It too is nothing more than an oscillating field, waves of rhythm.

Inside the nucleus are other organized fields: protons, neutrons, even smaller “particles.”

Each of these, upon our approach, also dissolves into pure rhythm.

These days they (the scientists) are looking for quarks, strange subatomic entities, having qualities which they describe with such words as upness, downness, charm, strangeness, truth, beauty, color, and flavor. But no matter.

If we could get close enough to these wondrous quarks, they too would melt away. They too would have to give up all pretense of solidity. Even their speed and relationship would be unclear, leaving them only relationship and pattern of vibration.

Of what is the body made?

It is made of emptiness and rhythm.

At the ultimate heart of the body, at the heart of the world, there is no solidity.

Once again, there is only the dance.

[At] the unimaginable heart of the atom, the compact nucleus, we have found no solid object, but rather a dynamic pattern of tightly confined energy vibrating perhaps 1022 times a second: a dance.

The protons—the positively charged knots in the pattern of the nucleus—are not only powerful, they are very old.

Along with the much lighter electrons that spin and vibrate around the outer regions of the atom, the protons constitute the most ancient entities of matter in the universe, going back to the first seconds after the birth of space and time.

By George Leonard, one of the founders of the Human Potential Movement in the 1960s and 1970s, has been a leading figure in understanding the convergence of Eastern wisdom and Western science. His book, The Silent Pulse, from which the following passage is adapted.