Why the number 137 is one of the greatest mysteries in physics

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Why the number 137 is one of the greatest mysteries in physics

by Paul Ratner

Quote:Does the Universe around us have a fundamental structure that can be glimpsed through special numbers?
The brilliant physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988) famously thought so, saying there is a number that all theoretical physicists of worth should "worry about". He called it "one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man".

That magic number, called the fine structure constant, is a fundamental constant, with a value which nearly equals 1/137. Or 1/137.03599913, to be precise. It is denoted by the Greek letter alpha - α.

What's special about alpha is that it's regarded as the best example of a pure number, one that doesn't need units. It actually combines three of nature's fundamental constants - the speed of light, the electric charge carried by one electron, and the Planck's constant, as explains physicist and astrobiologist Paul Davies to Cosmos magazine. Appearing at the intersection of such key areas of physics as relativity, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics is what gives 1/137 its allure.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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(2018-11-06, 12:14 AM)Sciborg_S_Patel Wrote: Why the number 137 is one of the greatest mysteries in physics

by Paul Ratner

I remember reading the story of Wolfgang Pauli's obsession with the fine structure constant and the number 137 and his dread upon discovering that his hospital room was 137. He reportedly said that he would never leave the room and he did indeed die in it.
I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.
Freeman Dyson
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  • Sciborg_S_Patel, tim, Stan Woolley
I'm going with 196 (base 10).

~~ Paul
If the existence of a thing is indistinguishable from its nonexistence, we say that thing does not exist. ---Yahzi

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