My sister just came upstairs and looked at me with really really wide eyes and shouted she actually shouted “NOTHING EVER REALLY TOUCHES ANYTHING! QUANTUM PHYSICS! HOLY SHIT!” and then ran back downstairs
that was so weird I’m a little bit scared
Okay so the whole thing is that atoms repel each other when they’re close together. But that’s “close together” on an atomic level, so like when you touch the surface of a table with your fingertip you can’t perceive distance between them.
And you feel the tabletop because the atoms of the table repel the atoms of your finger, and vice versa, and your body’s tuned to perceive that force.
So the electrons of the finger atoms aren’t actually knocking into the electrons of the tabletop atoms, they’re just repelling each other from a distance, kind of like how magnets do.
Things are really weird at the atomic level, though, because we’ve adapted to perceive everything at the human-size level. Electrons aren’t little marbles, they’re more like little clouds of energy.
So to say “things don’t REALLY touch” because they are actually just repelling at an atomic level is TOTALLY WRONG!! BECAUSE
repelling at an atomic level
is what touching IS
Let me add that there’s a lot more than just atoms repelling each other going on. The way some things feel smooth or slick or sticky…there are actually molecular interactions going on there. Like, just the other day, Michael Aranda asked me what “wetness” really is. Wetness is water molecules arranging themselves to cling to other polar molecules, like the ones on the outside of your skin cells. The sensation of wetness has a ton of other stuff thrown in, like evaporative cooling, dissolved body oils, and thermal transfer.
But all of that molecular / atomic interaction is much weirder than just “these two things never touch.” They’re actually interacting all the time.
Which isn’t to say that quantum mechanics isn’t mind blowing…what’s much more mind blowing (to me, anyway) is that everything is made of particles that have no volume…the only things that imbues matter with volume are the forces that act between them. And those forces are likewise created by volumeless particles.
Pretty freakin’ cool.