“It’s has been a mystery ever since it was discovered more than fifty years ago, and all good theoretical physicists put this number up on their wall and worry about it” – Richard Feynman 1985
“And all ‘brilliant’ ones put it up and laugh at it!” – Danny Hurley 2018
1/137.035… and that’s the magic number! 😀
Famous physicists like Richard Feynman think 137 holds the answers to the Universe.
- The fine structure constant has mystified scientists since the 1800s.
- The number 1/137 might hold the clues to the Grand Unified Theory.
- Relativity, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics are unified by the number.
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.
Physicist Laurence Eaves, a professor at the University of Nottingham, thinks the number 137 would be the one you’d signal to the aliens to indicate that we have some measure of mastery over our planet and understand quantum mechanics. The aliens would know the number as well, especially if they developed advanced sciences.
The number preoccupied other great physicists as well, including the Nobel Prize winning Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958) who was obsessed with it his whole life.
“When I die my first question to the Devil will be: What is the meaning of the fine structure constant?” Pauli joked.
Pauli also referred to the fine structure constant during his Nobel lecture on December 13th, 1946 in Stockholm, saying a theory was necessary that would determine the constant’s value and “thus explain the atomistic structure of electricity, which is such an essential quality of all atomic sources of electric fields actually occurring in nature.”
One use of this curious number is to measure the interaction of charged particles like electrons with electromagnetic fields. Alpha determines how fast an excited atom can emit a photon. It also affects the details of the light emitted by atoms. Scientists have been able to observe a pattern of shifts of light coming from atoms called “fine structure” (giving the constant its name). This “fine structure” has been seen in sunlight and the light coming from other stars.
The constant figures in other situations, making physicists wonder why. Why does nature insist on this number? It has appeared in various calculations in physics since the 1880s, spurring numerous attempts to come up with a Grand Unified Theory that would incorporate the constant since. So far no single explanation took hold. Recent research also introduced the possibility that the constant has actually increased over the last six billion years, even though slightly.
If you’d like to know the math behind fine structure constant more specifically, the way you arrive at alpha is by putting the 3 constants h,c, and e together in the equation —
As the units c, e, and h cancel each other out, the “pure” number of 137.03599913 is left behind. For historical reasons, says Professor Davies, the inverse of the equation is used 2πe2/hc = 1/137.03599913. If you’re wondering what is the precise value of that fraction – it’s 0.007297351.
Cynthia McKanzie – MessageToEagle.com – What do you think when someone mentions the number 137? Most likely, not much. It’s just one of many numbers, right? To us ordinary people the number 137 doesn’t seem to be of great importance, but to physicists it’s a very mysterious number that may hold the answers to the universe.
Prominent scientists have discussed the significance of number 137 since the the 1800s. it has been suggested it can hold the clues to the Grand Unified Theory and unlock some of the greatest secrets of the Universe.
The Grand Unified Theory is a vision of a physics theory that can combine three of the four fundamental forces into one single equation.
One of the greatest physicists of all time, Richard Feynman (1918-1988) said we must pay attention to so-called “magic numbers” he said that 137 is “one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics.!
Nobel Prize winning physicist Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958) spent most of his life trying to solve the riddle of 137.
The number 137 is 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.
When Pauli held his Nobel lecture in Stockholm on 13 December 1946, he expressed his goal was to establish a theory “which will determine the value of the fine-structure constant and will thus explain the atomistic structure of electricity, which is such an essential quality of all atomic sources of electric fields actually occurring in nature.”
Pauli worked hard to solve the riddle and he once said – “When I die my first question to the Devil will be: What is the meaning of the fine structure constant?”
Unfortunately, Pauli died without accomplishing his goal in the Red Cross Hospital of Zurich in Room 137—and he was aware of that synchronistic irony before he died.
According to Secrets In Plain Sights, “the great psychotherapist Carl Jung helped Pauli in his quest to find a mathematical basis for the fine structure constant by interpreting more than 400 of Pauli’s dreams, published in Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy. Jung believed that Pauli unconsciously comprehended “some grand cosmic order.” Arthur Miller wrote a book about their collaboration entitled, 137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession.
British astronomer Sir James Jeans once said that “God is a pure mathematician!” The truth is that the physical Universe does seem to be organized around elegant mathematical relationships. In the article Divine Knowledge – Is God A Mathematician? published by MessageToEagle.com we discussed how philosophers and mathematicians have been arguing for centuries whether math is a system that humans invented or if it is of cosmic origin, perhaps even a divine knowledge that we simply discovered.
According to the mathematical Universe hypothesis, all structures that exist mathematically also exist physically.
“If you believe in an external reality independent of humans, then you must also believe in what I call the mathematical universe hypothesis: that our physical reality is a mathematical structure.
In other words, we all live in a gigantic mathematical object- one that is more elaborate than a dodecahedron, and probably also more complex than objects […] which appear in today’s most advanced theories. Everything in our world is purely mathematical – including you,” Max Tegmark, Professor of Physics says.
Physicist and astrobiologist Paul Davies wrote in Cosmos magazine that “one number above all others has exercised an enduring fascination for physicists: 137.03599913.” Davies points out that alpha is 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.
“Alpha also raises some profound theoretical questions. If it is compared to another fundamental force, gravitation, the ratio is a huge number – about 1040 – which expresses the weakness of gravity compared to the electric and magnetic forces. Physicists and cosmologists have long wondered where these numbers, 1/137.03599913 and 1040, come from. Are they arbitrary, or do they flow from some deeper theory of the Universe?” Professor Davies wrote.
According to Big Think, “one use of this curious number is to measure the interaction of charged particles like electrons with electromagnetic fields. Alpha determines how fast an excited atom can emit a photon. It also affects the details of the light emitted by atoms. Scientists have been able to observe a pattern of shifts of light coming from atoms called “fine structure” (giving the constant its name). This “fine structure” has been seen in sunlight and the light coming from other stars.
Physicist Laurence Eaves, a Professor at the University of Nottingham thinks we can use the number 137 to contact extraterrestrial civilizations. An advanced alien civilization should be aware of the scientific importance of number 137. By using this “magical” number we can show extraterrestrial species we are familiar with quantum mechanics and are not a primitive society.
Many modern physicists are occupied with solving the enigma of this curious number. According to recent research it appears that the constant has actually increased slightly over the last six billion years.
The number 137 is all around us, but physicists do not know nature insists on this number.
Many scientists have tried to come up with a Grand Unified Theory that would incorporate the constant, but so far, no single explanation took hold.