Could there be truth to the idea that our solar system is much like atoms on a vastly larger scale? “As above, so below,” the Emerald Tablet states.
“That which is above is like that which is below, and that which is below is like that which is above,” states the ancient tablet.
It’s intriguing to think that the Sun and the eight planets (plus Pluto) could be behaving like an atom. Conversely, it sounds incredible to contemplate that an atom could be like a smaller-scale solar system.
As it turns out, the fact that Pluto is no longer a planet has an interesting correlation to atomic structure, as we’ll see. And the idea of atoms mirroring the planets goes back centuries.
Theory of the Universe and Atoms
Where did the first talk atoms come from? Surprisingly, it goes back to Ancient Greece, where the word atomos roughly meant ‘indivisible.’ Around 460–370 BC, philosophers Democritus and his mentor Leucippus discussed a “theory of the universe” that matter is composed of tiny unseen atoms. Between them, there was space, but atoms were solid and different in size, shape, and weight for each substance.
From there, it would take two thousand years or so before English chemist John Dalton picked up from there in the 1800s. Dalton’s Solid Sphere Model was remarkably similar to Democritus but was incomplete since we now know that atoms have smaller subatomic particles.
Neils Bohr and an Ancient Concept
Skipping ahead to Neils Bohr in 1913, we arrive at a Planetary Model of atoms. First, a little interesting background on Bohr.
Bohr, the Danish physicist, was considered second only to his contemporary Albert Einstein among 20th-century scientists.
“Nobody knows how the stand of our knowledge about the atom would be without [Bohr],” Einstein once said.
Notably, Bohr was aware of another ancient concept seen in many ancient cultures, that of duality. When he won a prestigious Order of the Elephant from the King of Denmark, Bohr designed his coat of arms featuring a yin and yang or taijitu symbol. The accompanying motto: contraria sunt complementa, “opposites are complementary.”
The physicist later introduced the word “Complementarity” as fundamental to early quantum theory.
The Copenhagen Institute for Theoretical Physics, directed by Bohr in 1920, was compared to the “school of Plato” by Dr. John Wheeler of Princeton. Bohr and Wheeler later collaborated on a theory of nuclear fission in the United States that informed early work in atomic energy. (Bohr worked to use atomic energy for peace and was opposed to the Nazis.)
A scene between Einstein and Bohr shows how they were at odds when it came to quantum physics by National Geographic:
Planetary Model of the Atoms
Building on the work of Joseph John and Ernest Rutherford, with whom he worked, Bohr devised a Planetary Model of the Atom. To create the model, he had to “invoke quantum theory” to describe how electrons move around the larger nucleus of an atom.
Of course, this was long before quantum theory, as it is known now. But he arrived at this model because Rutherford’s model couldn’t explain how electrons remained stable rather than eventually crashing into the nucleus. Rather than spiraling around in an unstable manner, electrons were fixed in discrete orbits, in “stationary states” of fixed energy levels or shells.
It’s like the Sun orbiting planets. Unlike planets, Bohr’s theory includes that electrons can change orbits. They could move to another energy level if they absorb or emit energy.
To see more, you can watch this video from Aasoka:
The Solar System as Oxygen?
As mentioned before, Pluto, once considered a planet, was demoted to a big asteroid or “dwarf planet” in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union. This fact brings us to an interesting comparison between our Solar System and a molecule of Oxygen.
Oxygen has 8 electrons orbiting the nucleus, like our Solar System. That makes the third electron the one that would be Earth in the comparison. But what about Pluto?
“Just as an extra electron in orbit around the Oxygen nucleus would make the atom an ion, so too would the extra asteroid rotating around the Sun make the Solar System a form of ‘solar ion’ or such,” writes physics educator Ron Kurtus.
Using the imagination, Kurtus explores the idea that our Solar System is but one Oxygen molecule making up the larger universe, perhaps even a massive living being. However, when it comes to atoms behaving like planets, that’s where things get tangled or “spooky,” as Einstein famously described quantum entanglement.
“If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet,” Bohr once said.
There seems to be a separate set of rules at the quantum scale. Electrons may form clouds or strings, and particle behavior can differ based on observation. Like photons, electrons have wave-particle duality, which means every atom of our bodies and everything else we observe. On a larger scale, this means the planets, so it’s mind-blowing to consider what this all means.
Today, Bohr’s Planetary Model of the Atom is still prevalent in some school textbooks as a simple example. Later, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s Quantum Model refined the model to include that electrons are never in a fixed position. They are more unfixed and cloud-like.
Experiments starting from 200 years ago have also demonstrated that electrons change behavior depending on observation.
Video by AllRealityVideo:
Two Sets of Laws for Atoms at Micro or Macro Scales?
Current physics laws suggest entirely different laws for atoms versus solar systems.
“The conduct of matter and energy is completely different in these two regimes,” says Neil deGrasse Tyson.
While the macroscopic world responds to classical physics, the microscopic world responds to quantum physics. Two sets of rules seem at odds with the “As above, so below” concept.
According to Tyson, there aren’t tiny lifeforms at the atomic scale, at least not that we have yet defined.
Video by Star Talk:
The Absolute In the Simulation
On the other hand, how can we observe what’s going on when the scale becomes infinitesimally small? Or vast, even with the James Webb Space Telescope? Who can observe it?
Much less, how can we ever observe what happens when matter enters into multiple dimensions? Scientists say that if our universe was in 4-D, the Earth would crash into the Sun due to an unstable orbit, much like the electrons in the atomic model by Ernest Rutherford. (see video below)
What we perceive as reality in our 3-D world depends on the observer at the atomic scale. Does it apply to what we observe at all scales, from atom to galaxy?
According to Scientific American, Neil deGrasse Tyson has given some “credence by repetition” to the idea that the entire universe is a simulation. Researchers have suggested evidence for the simulation, an always constant “hardware artifact” like a computer’s limited processing speed.
What is the absolute? The constant speed of light.
“We can see now that the speed of light meets all the criteria of a hardware artifact identified in our observation of our own computer builds. It remains the same irrespective of observer (simulated) speed; it is observed as a maximum limit, it is unexplainable by the physics of the universe, and it is absolute. The speed of light is a hardware artifact showing we live in a simulated universe,” writes Fouad Khan.
Thus, the absolute speed of light remains the same regardless of the observer. It’s like the processing speed of the simulated universe. Meanwhile, light behaves both as a wave and as a particle and changes by observation. It suggests the experience of all observers; consciousness defines and shapes everything in existence, both big and small. But who is it all for?
“So here we are generating this product called consciousness that we apparently don’t have a use for; that is an experience and hence must serve as an experience. The only logical next step is to surmise that this product serves someone else,” says Khan.
Many ancient beliefs describe this too, one consciousness from which all consciousness originates, experiencing themself through the experiences of everything in existence, from atoms to planets, to a cosmic web of spiraling galaxies.
Video by Scientific American: