Physicists speak of the world as being made of particles and force fields, but it is not at all clear what particles and force fields actually are in the quantum realm. The world may instead consist of bundles of properties, such as color and shape. It stands to reason that particle physics is about particles, and most people have a mental image of little billiard balls caroming around space. Yet the concept of “particle” falls apart on closer inspection. Many physicists think that particles are not things at all but excitations in a quantum field, the modern successor of classical fields such as the magnetic field. But fields, too, are paradoxical. If neither particles nor fields are fundamental, then what is? Some researchers think that the world, at root, does not consist of material things but of relations or of properties, such as mass, charge and spin.
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