Reading the comments on Ethan Siegel’s blog “Starts with a Bang” about his piece on dark matter this morning made me once again aware of the limitations our ingrained mental models generate when we try to look at ideas and concepts in a different way. Over all the discussions lay the shadow of “matter”, light, dark, and invisible. Just as Einstein saw time as a 4th spatial dimension, we , in our matter-based conceptual constructs see “dark matter” as some mysterious substance in the same way that Richard Massey sees dark matter as scaffolding for the creation of new stars and Frank Wilczek sees the ether as a “grid”. I have tried to address this domination of “mind models” in my own work. The following passage from my book, “the picnic at the edge of the universe”, offers another interpretation, but requires us to abandon, or seriously modify, some of our cherished mental concepts, from quarks to clusters of galaxies.
“(On the other hand), if the universe and the cosmos that surrounds and contains it is itself an electromagnetic field, and the presence of “electrons” or other disturbances in the field that we sense as “particles”, are simply organized distortions of that field, then the apparent contradiction is eliminated. The phenomenon that we call a “magnet” can then be seen as a small but extremely concentrated distortion of the cosmic field, a lens that, like a magnifying glass, is able to focus the energy of a particular range of wave lengths and do the work we ask it to do. The energy required to maintain its form and do its “work” is being drawn continuously from the surrounding field. We can see an electric motor as a deliberate distortion of the field and the current it generates a clever manipulation of the substance of the universe to draw out and focus its energy for our own local use.
The more concentrated detectable magnetic field surrounding a “magnet” can be then be seen as synonymous with the description of “dark matter” (in the book), where it is indirectly detected surrounding cosmic “objects” such as stars, galaxies and clusters. We see its effects in the curvature of light paths in and between observable “objects” and deflections of the paths of those same objects. This invisible power can be shown at a small scale here in the ZMD, where we live, by a simple demonstration. I carry in my pocket a pair of small “refrigerator magnets”, 1-1/2 ” long prolate spheroids like little footballs, that normally cling tightly to each other side by side since their magnetic poles are across the short dimension (as opposed to the standard definition of a prolate spheroid). If I separate them by a small distance, say 5 or 6 inches, by placing one down on a non-magnetic surface like a kitchen table top, hold the other one above it and rotate it with my hand, the one on the table top itself rotates because of the “magnetic field” between them. If you imagine the room as the cosmos, the table top as “a universe” and the two magnets as “galaxies”, one can easily see the space between as “dark matter”. It is invisible, one’s hand can be passed through it without interrupting the observed effects or engendering any sensory perceptions in the hand. The space between the magnetic objects, the otherwise invisible space, is clearly distorted and this distortion exerts a force on the other magnet. Astronomers are astonished to see these same effects through their telescopes and call the distortion of the cosmos between stars and galaxies “dark matter”, but are they not the same thing?”