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The Structure of Matter and Attempts to Create a Unified Theory of Matter

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THE STRUCTURE OF MATTER AND ATTEMPTS TO CREATE A UNIFIED THEORY OF MATTER The possibility of giving a uniform description of matter is a question that was posed in ancient times and has been stirring the minds of scientists and all of mankind ever since. The history of science shows that at times there are unifying, synthesizing tendencies that predominate in physics, when it appears that the world picture has been fundamentally constructed on some particular basis, and that it only remains to fill in the "fine details". During some other phases in the evolution of science analytical tendencies prevail; physicists then investigate new fields and discover new facts, and most scientists are not concerned with any general picture of the world.

For instance, at the end of the 18th century, at which time the fluidic conceptions prevailed, it would have been idle to try to formulate a unified world picture. Similarly, when in the late 19th and early 20th century physicists started probing into the atom and the atomic nucleus, when the old concepts of classical mechanics and electrodynamics were beginning to fail and the new relativistic, quantum, and atomic ideas had not yet been developed, the question of producing a unified picture was relegated to the background. Now, on the other hand, with the quite recent discovery of a large number of elementary particles that are found to be related to each other in a variety of ways, a marked trend may be noted toward developing a unified theory of matter.

If we dwell on the significance of the Leninist assertion on the "inexhaus tibility of the electron", and thus of all other particles, we derive the fact that any unified world picture, no matter how successful, will inevitably prove to be temporary and transient. Further developments in the theore tical and experimental investigation of matter, and in space research, are certain to yield facts that do not fit within any given unified picture, thus breaking it up, until new trends toward unification on some higher level arise.

In order to clarify the point under discussion, we will give a brief historical survey of the way in which matter has been interpreted and of the various attempts made to construct a unified picture of the world.

As is known, the science that aimed at reducing every substance to a few, specifically four, elements (water, air, earth, and fire) first appeared in ancient Greece and in the East, in India and China. Plato even assumed

that there exists some"protomatter"(the fifth element or quintessence), of which the four elements are the manifestations. Similar ideas have been expressed in the Indian Vedas, where the fifth element was alternatively represented either as protomatter or as space.

According to Democritus's hypothesis, supported by Epicurus and some other thinkers, all forms of matter are ultimately reducible to very minute particles, or atoms. However, being an opponent of Democritan science, which showed a pronounced materialistic bias, Plato worked out his own particular brand of atomism, in which the atoms of the four elementary substances were identified with the regular solids (a cube, a tetrahedron, etc. )*, and also assumed that it was possible for one element to be trans formed into another.

The following important phase in the attempts to construct a unified world picture occurred with the inception of the new physics, at the time of Galilei. The successes achieved in classical mechanics (i. e. , nonrela tivistic and nonquantum mechanics), whose principal propositions were formulated by Newton, naturally engendered the idea that it must be possible to reduce the laws of motion and of interaction, and all the laws in general, to classical-mechanical laws. This idea was universally held for a long time. Even in the middle and the second half of the 19th century, virtually all the great physicists, among whom were Maxwell, Kirchhoff, Helmholtz, and Kelvin, considered themselves mechanists, at least at the beginning of their scientific career, and elevated the mechanical treatment of real phenomena to the level of an ideal. In point of fact, however, the discovery, back in the middle of the 1 9th century, of the electromagnetic field as a new form of matter that did not possess a rest mass and did not lend itself in any way to description by the laws of mechanics, requiring, as became subsequently clear, a relativistic treatment, dealt a decisive blow to mechanism. In other words, it was proved that a universal classical mechanical world picture was not feasible.

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