MASS, MATTER, CROWDS, CONSCIENCE
Antonio Ramos Membrive
A NOTE OF CAUTION: THIS IS NO TWITTER
This magazine is no Twitter so its editor has given me free rein to write a long essay about some complex issues pertaining to our age. So – God and the Reader forgive me- I have obviously obliged and bowed to his anachronistic whim. I am also perfectly aware of how scarcely predisposing towards its reading this essay’s title is. ‘Mass’, ‘matter’, ‘crowds’ and ‘conscience’ are big and cumbersome words. They reek shamelessly of philosophy, sociology, or physics. At the same time their contours can somehow end up being blurry. It is difficult and slightly annoying to know what one really means when one panders to using any of those terms in an ordinary discourse or conversation. What is mass anyway? If you look it up in Google, a large definition will instantly appear on your screen, showing a whole array of related and nonetheless disparate meanings: mass is a large body of matter with no definite shape, a pile, a heap, a stack, a bundle. Mass can simply design a majority of things, the lion’s share of an inheritance, let us say. But mass can mean as well “the ordinary people”, the rank and file, the crowd, the public, or if we go back in time, the populace, the third estate, the plebeians. If we turn to physics, mass is technically the quantity of matter, which a body contains, as measured by its acceleration under a given force or by the force exerted on it by a gravitational field. In other contexts, more simply, mass can pass for a synonym of weight.
So, again, what is mass? On the one hand, it seems oddly similar to matter. And matter can be defined –God bless Google- as a physical substance in general, as distinct from mind and spirit. Pointing in the same direction, science decrees that mass is in principle inimical to weightless energy. But then, mass is also connected to large numbers of people, who by definition –especially according to our present time standards- are entitled, despite their reunion, to having a mind and a spirit, also weightless. Some even say that a mass can be beset with collective feelings, or even with a collective –sorry for letting the ‘S’ word slip in here- soul. So, albeit reluctantly, one might be prone to thinking that mass refers to contradictory entities.
Matters get worse if we then turn our eye to the origins of the word matter –no pun seriously intended-. The Spanish physician David Jou, in his interesting work Materia y materialismo tells us that materia, matter, comes from the Latin mater, something that suggests a filiation relationship with regard to observable reality. Subsequently, he goes on to discuss three different types of matter: cosmological matter, technological matter, and unsurprisingly, alive matter. And yet, after 296 pages of dissecting the most modern theories about quantum vacuum, dark energy, entropy, or synthetic biology, seasoned with frequent (and sound) references to philosophy and religion, he concludes: ‘in spite of what was believed at the end of the XIX Century, matter is not the indisputable and clear-cut basis that explains reality, for it constitutes in itself a source of questions’. So… What is matter?This content is for members only. If you have a membership, please log in. If not, you can definitely get access! Our membership plans.
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