As we know, in the universe an infinite amount of dispersed matter, exists, agglomerated and grouped under the most diverse forms. Equally, in the reality of our world Earth, all matter occupies a place in space (extension), including the Earth itself, which is constituted of matter. It is perceived directly by our physical senses. Matter, in spite of inert, can present itself in movement, activated by the Force. Of the absolute point of view, nothing is immobile in any part of the universe: everything is in continuous and permanent movement. Thence, we can say that there is a dynamic harmony in the entire universe. We’ll examine, to proceed, the matter under two points of view or different visions: the scientific vision and the philosophical vision. Characterizing it as one of the components of the universe, we shall write the initial of its name with capital letter.
1. The Scientific Vision of Matter
Since the most remote ages to the present time, man comes using his mental resources and his creativity to conquer the forces of nature and use them in his benefit. On the discovery of the objective and essential reality of the matter, it was not different. At about 2,400 years ago, at the time of Pythagoras on Earth, the entire knowledge about matter was still reduced to the four fundamental elements: air, water, earth and fire. It was Democritus of Abdera (Thrace), disciple of Leucippus and Pythagoras, pre-Socratic philosopher (460 – 370 B.C.) of encyclopedic wisdom, who taught us the first knowledge about the true nature of matter by means of his Atomistic Theory. For him, matter was constituted of minuscule particles, indivisible and invisible to the naked eyes, to which he gave the name of atoms (in Greek: without division). This belief, which stayed in latent state during more than 2,300 years, only came to spring up in the first half of the 20th century, when the secrets of the atomic nucleus were discovered by science.
We saw therefore that, until then, the atoms, essential basis of matter, were considered indivisible, without structure and immutable. But, well before that, the chemical science worked with the atoms, as primary elements of the matter, invisible and indestructible. The atoms could unite, separate and change its position inside the specific space of their structures, thus determining all the qualitative and quantitative diversity of numerous substances and products that they could create. In this way, the idea of the immutability of the atoms identified itself with the idea of matter as one of the basic components of the universe. In favor of that universal view of the matter, the chemist Antoine Lavoisier (1743 – 1794), in 1774, verified experimentally that, in a closed chemical system, the total reacting mass remains constant. Based on his experimental demonstrations, he established the chemical and philosophical general principle, which received the name of the Law of Conservation of Mass, also known as the Law of Conservation of Matter: “In the nature nothing is lost and nothing is created, all is transformed” or “In the nature matter couldn’t be created or destroyed, but instead is conserved.” This universal principle confirmed the indestructibility principle of the atom, established by Democritus´ Atomistic Theory, 2,300 years ago!
To have an idea of the infinitesimal size of the atoms, let us examine a minuscule wire of copper that is used in the electrical facilities of your house and let us divide it into parts every time minors. You should know that, even if you use a microscope and continue dividing this piece of wire into microscopic parts, you will still be very far from seeing one atom of copper. Then, which is the size of one atom of copper? Well, imagine that, if you could align atoms of copper one after the other, along the extension of one millimeter, there would contain 10 millions of atoms! Another example: a small solid sphere of copper of two centimeters in diameter contains about 25 sextillions of atoms, or say, the number twenty-five followed by twenty-four zeros! This means that, if we maintained the same proportions and we enlarged the diameter of the atoms to the same diameter of the copper sphere (two centimeters), this would now have 200 million centimeters of diameter or 200 kilometers! That is why we call this small world inside the atoms of microcosmos, in opposition to the macrocosmos that is the whole extension of the universe. (23)
Even so infinitesimal as it is, the atom is constituted of much smaller particles that have great utility for us. Several atomic models preceded the actual, as the one of the English John Dalton (1803), the one of the English Joseph J. Thomson (1903) and the one of the New Zealander Ernest Rutherford (1911). Nowadays, since 1913, the basic model is adopted, which was created by the Danish physicist Niels Henrik David Bohr, and it is represented by a small central nucleus involved by one or more layers of particles placed in orbits. In the orbital layers, similar to the planets, particles that have the name of electrons and possess negative electrical charge rotate. In the center, the fixed nucleus, as if it was a small Sun, is much more stable than the orbital layers and contains particles heavier than the electrons, namely: protons, with positive electric charge and neutrons with neutral charge. In the atoms, the number of protons equals the number of electrons, varying their quantity from one type of atom to another, thus determining the atomic number of the element. Atoms, in their normal state, are stable and their charges are electrically balanced. To facilitate the study, the atoms were disposed in a table – known as the Periodic Table of the Elements – formally and logically organized in accordance with their atomic numbers, in which the Hydrogen is the simplest, located in the first place and, the atom of Uranium, numbered as 92 and occupying the last place in the natural atomic table of the elements, is the more complex. With the advent of the atomic energy, this table prepared for the natural elements was extended to also include the transuranium elements, which counts now 21 elements, so that the New Atomic Table of the Elements is composed of 113 elements. In order to have an idea of greatness, a typical atom has a diameter of 10 raised to the power of minus 8 of centimeter and its nucleus has a diameter of 10 raised to the power of minus 13 of centimeter, or say, the entire atom is 100,000 (one hundred thousand) times larger than the nucleus. However, more than 99% of the mass of the atom is inside its nucleus. (1, 3)
All the atoms possess properties, some generic and others specific ones, giving them their own identity. The atoms can agglomerate with one or more identical or different atoms, constituting the molecules that, by their turn, are the smallest portions of a certain substance. Chemistry and its derived technologies refer to the reactions and phenomena that use the matter and, therefore, the atoms and molecules, in their more varied forms, to produce substances and products of great utility in our modern life. To get that, this science only needs to interact in the most external orbital layer of electrons, called the valence layer.
On the other hand, another set of atoms properties that derives from the existence of free electrons, is object of classic physics and activities to it connected. These electrons, supplied by certain materials like the copper of our previous example, and generated by excitement of the referred layer under certain conditions, are used to produce electricity, electrical and electromagnetic fields, as well as, numerous other phenomena that interrelate Force and Matter.
Regarding the interference in the atomic nucleus, the result is much more complex and very expensive, any that is its purpose – researches, electricity generation, production of atomic bombs and production of radioisotopes for use in Medicine. To reach those objectives it is necessary to get knowledge on nuclear physics, presently a technology under rigorous control of the United Nations.
We should still consider the elementary particles which, with exception of the electron, interact in the nucleus or possess independent lives. Nowadays, they were already discovered about three hundred different elementary particles. To the majority of the known particles exists antiparticles (opposed to them in virtue of their electrical charges and other properties), as for example, to the electron (negative charge) it exists the positron (positive charge), and to the proton, it exists the antiproton (negative charge), etc. There are subtle differences among particles and antiparticles that affect only some partial properties of matter, as the signal of the electrical charge, the magnetic momentum, etc., but most of their properties are equal. Possibly, the laws applied to the matter are also applied to the antimatter, such as, the nuclear, electromagnetic and gravitational reciprocal action, and consequently, the laws that govern the formation of the different chemical combinations, of the cosmic systems, etc. Perhaps, instead of using the term antimatter to designate this hypothetical form of matter, it would be more correct to use the term “matter of antiparticles,” because, it is the mass itself in rest that characterizes the substance that also exists in all the antiparticles, except for the antineutrino mass.(2)
More specifically, it is not possible to include in the category of matter elementary particles such as the neutrino and the antineutrino of different types, because its reciprocal action with the matter is weak, but those particles possess a very strong penetration capacity. Neutrinos absorb a considerable amount of energy from the stars and fill up the entire space that surrounds us. Their role in the general transformation of matter in the universe should be of great importance, although science is still very distant of discovering their secrets. And, what should we think about the antineutrinos particles?
2. Philosophical View of the Matter
Many daring thesis and some even deep were formulated along History about Matter. The materialistic conceptions looked for, in the scientific development, their inspiration source being firm in the fundamental properties of Matter (field of study of chemistry) and in the laws that govern the physical movement (field of study of physics). They were the French materialists of the 18th century who argued in favor of the thesis that Matter and the movement are inseparable – in the attempt to bury up the dualism Force and Matter, introduced by Renée Descartes – and that the movement is a very important inherent attribute, a form of existence of Matter. The fundament of the movement inherent to the Matter generated enormous controversies. Then, among so many conceptions of the materialistic philosophy with foundation in Matter, we should present only two.
3. Mechanicist Materialism
Isaac Newton’s (1642 – 1727) laws of mechanics were considered universal laws of the nature and also, the human being’s fundamental principles that condition all the other laws of the nature and of society. These laws constituted the basis of the existing materialism at that time – the mechanicist materialism, which preceded the dialectic materialism of Marx and Engels. The great scientific progress occurred in the Natural Sciences (Theory of Evolution, by Charles Darwin), in the second half of the 19th century (1859), and in physics and chemistry discoveries, were extended along the 20th century. In this period, with the development of the theory of the magnetic fields, the discovery of radioactivity and of the complex structure of the atoms, and many others, the fundamentals of the mechanicist vision of the world were challenged. Therefore, while it didn’t find a wide explanation for the radioactivity phenomenon, used as a proof that Matter disappears, the Law of Conservation of Mass, established by Lavoisier, seemed to have fallen to earth. (2) In spite of these new discoveries, the defenders of the dialectic materialism continued affirming that the destructiveness of the atom, its inexhaustibility, the mutability of all forms of Matter and of their movement were always the pillar of the dialectic materialism.
Then, they appeared many currents of materialistic philosophy with the most varied conceptions; all of them, however, making restricted use of our physical senses and of the instruments created by man himself. The materialists try to explain the world that surround us through the activity of one material organ, the human brain, affirming that even the ideas and the most abstract concepts are produced by the cerebral activity. This way of thinking intend to pass us the idea that the world that surrounds us is nothing else than a concrete form of Matter, a certain state or property of it, one product of its constant and regular mutability. The followers of that concept get to affirm that Matter is the unique universal basis of all that exists, of all the objects and phenomena of the reality and that Matter express the most general essence of the world. (2) Thus, they think and base their justifications in the reality observed in the development of science along man’s History, mainly in the technological use of the last century.
Matter and all the infinite quantity of the most different objects that exist and move in the space and time have inexhaustible diversity of properties. Our sensorial organs can only perceive an insignificant part of all the forms of Matter really existing; however, thanks to the construction of apparatus and measurement instruments more and more perfect, man enlarges the limits of the known world continually. Thus, the elementary particles that science discovered in the 20th century differ qualitatively by their properties in the macroscopic bodies with which man interacts during his daily life and this deepens, in essential manner, our notions of Matter.
4. Dialectic Materialism
For the dialectic materialism, which impregnated the Marxist Socialism adopted by the Soviet Union and satellite countries during the major part of the 20th century, the concept of Matter as objective reality has a wide meaning and characterizes Matter and all their properties, general laws, movement, living laws, etc., to it associated. These “atachés” are, before this concept, true inherent accessories to Matter, as for instance, a certain law of its existence, a movement type, etc., inseparable of Matter, but not identical to it and, therefore, it cannot be considered as Matter itself. Thus, the movement, the space, the time and the laws of the nature possess an objective reality, but we cannot consider them made of Matter itself. Matter exists in the form of an infinite variety of objects and concrete systems, each one of them possessing movement, structure, concatenations and space-time interactions, etc. Matter does not exist out of the objects and systems and, in this sense, there is not “matter as such”, “pure” matter, objectively, as primary and amorphous substance. The dialectic materialism admits the substantiality of Matter, however only in the sense that it is exactly as the only universal base, the substratum of the several properties, concatenations, movement forms and laws. Any form of Matter (included the micro objects) possesses a complex structure, an infinite of internal and external concatenations, as well as, the faculty of changing itself in other forms.
The dialectic materialism (2), that refutes the existence of the “primary Matter” as the ultimate and inalterable essence, recognizes the substantiality of Matter only in the sense that it is precisely (and not the conscience, nor something supernatural) the basic universal faculty of the different properties of the phenomena, and that it determines the unit of the surrounding world. The dialectic materialists affirm that the successive development of the knowledge will allow, without doubt, to penetrating in the inner structural levels of Matter, without invalidating its philosophy. Therefore, the substance concept changed qualitatively its meaning in the Marxist philosophy.
The dialectic materialism and the laws from it derived serves as methodological basis to make scientific investigations, to elaborate a scientific and materialistic conception of the world and to interpret the discoveries of science according to the reality of the world Earth. We should notice that this doctrine improves continually, it deepens itself, it advances with the progress of the scientific knowledge and new categories and laws are formed to reflect, in a degree every time bigger, the reality, which will always be more complex than all our current notions, including the more perfect ones. (2)
However, the dialectic materialism fails when affirming that Matter is the universal substantial base of all the phenomena, it was not created by nothing, it is indestructible, eternal in the time and infinite in the space, it has an objective existence and it is independent of conscience In our understanding, one deals with a vain philosophy that doesn´t resist to a deeper analysis.