The Atoms Wearing Out Thread

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From this comment, in a non P&C thread:

I don't think you have the science to support such a statement, and I'd welcome the opportunity to discuss that with you in a dedicated thread.

Okay, LarryC, would you like to demonstrate how atoms wear out? Go nuts.

Well, this looks like a thread that is starting on the right foot.

Well really, it depends on how you define atoms. Or wearing out. Or defining.
A-tom means indivisible, there's absolutely nothing in the term that would suggest them wearing out or otherwise!

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A-tom means indivisible, there's absolutely nothing in the term that would suggest them wearing out or otherwise!

I believe that's true, but LarryC was the one to ask for a new thread and insist that I didn't know what I was talking about, so let's let him make his case that atoms wear out.

Here's the full relevant part of the conversation:

Malor said:
You know, it's interesting, when you think about it, that atoms and molecules mostly don't wear out. Some are unstable and, thus, radioactive, but most are not, and will stay the way they are the next closest thing to forever. A macroscopic magnet can easily wear out by having its individual charge carriers randomized, but the atoms that carry the charge will have a charge forever. It'll become a macroscopic magnet again as soon as they're all lined back up.

Larry said:
That's not true. Most molecules on the Earth's surface are atoms being combined and recombined in various forms and states continuously, most obviously by the process we refer to as "life."

Atoms themselves flux from being hydrogen to helium to more complex atomic formats like oxygen, nitrogen and iron in stars, and those convert from gas to plasma phases, too. Most atoms on the surface of the Earth are more or less stable, but I wouldn't make such a statement about the universe in general, and certainly not for all time.

Malor responded:
Okay, to be more precise, non-radioactive atoms don't wear out. Molecules can break apart and be made into new molecules, but their component parts keep working for the next closest thing to forever. I think there's some phenomenon where atoms disappear over unimaginably huge periods of time, but the Universe will long since have reached steady state (aka, total death) long before that happens.

And Larry said:
I don't think you have the science to support such a statement, and I'd welcome the opportunity to discuss that with you in a dedicated thread.

Personally, reading this, I notice that there are two levels of discussion here - molecules, and atoms. Possibly a third, the "component parts" of atoms. Also, the idea of radioactive decay as atoms "wearing out".

I also wonder if Larry was reacting to the idea that atoms will "disappear" over time, or more generally to the statement that atoms don't "wear out".


Well really, it depends on how you define atoms. Or wearing out. Or defining.
A-tom means indivisible, there's absolutely nothing in the term that would suggest them wearing out or otherwise!

Remember, though, we now know that atoms are actually made up of smaller component parts. Some of them are made up of smaller parts in turn. or =8-0 depending.

There is indeed a process by which we expect atoms and even photons to eventually go poof but as Malor said the timescale is enormous. Specifically along the lines of a googol years (10^100 contemporary Earth years), our species will be extinct long before that so it's not exactly a concern.

Exit mundi of all places has a decent summary along with some conjecture on what may come after that point.

My key objection to your statement, Malor is your saying that most atoms (presumably in the universe) are in stable form and will remain as they are essentially forever.

What I said is that you don't have the science to back that up, not that I had the science to prove the converse.

First you have to determine what most atoms in the universe are, what the phases and states are, and to show that they are stable. Then you have to show that this is a temporally significant stability, and to create bases to expect continuance for the time you stipulate (basically forever).

In our own solar system, the most massive object is the sun and it is powered by fusion reactions that are changing its atomic makeup on a daily basis. We don't know what's happening (atomic stability-wise) inside our own Earth, let alone inside Jupiter and Saturn, the two other most massive objects in our solar system, which is a very small part of the universe.

What happens to atoms in black holes? Do we know?

No, we don't. We can make assumptions, but that's all they are.

I'm not claiming that most atoms in the universe are changing. I don't know enough to make that kind of a claim. Your own claim is very presumptuous, Malor. I'm asking you to substantiate it.

Ah, so it's "science can't prove universals" assertion rearing its head, then?

It's possible that atoms may behave in ways our current theories don't predict, either in edge cases (like black holes), or due to shortcomings in our theoretical frameworks. What is certainly true is that, for all observable cases, atoms behave in the ways science predicts. When that is no longer the case, we will need to come up with new theories.

Science sidesteps a lot of epistemological challenges by proceeding along the a priori and a posteriori tracks simultaneously. That is to say, the strongest theories not only provide a framework for explaining observable phenomena, but also make predictions about the universe (Einstein's 1916 prediction of gravity impacting light which was not observed until three years later during the solar eclipse is a classic example here).

Okay, let me restate the claim just very slightly:

You know, it's interesting, when you think about it, that atoms and molecules mostly don't wear out. Some are unstable and, thus, radioactive, but most are not, and will stay the way they are, absent extremely energetic reactions, the next closest thing to forever.

You're flipping out about stupid, irrelevant sh*t. My little bit of wonder was that atoms don't wear out on their own. If they're a stable isotope, they keep doing whatever they do the next closest thing to forever. If they're little machines, they are nearly perfect, and do not exhibit wear.

Then you come along and start talking about fusion and fission, in which molecules are exposed to really extreme energy levels, and lo and behold, they change. Sure, okay, fine. But it's irrelevant to the central observation, which is that they don't wear out on their own.

So, no, you haven't demonstrated that atoms exhibit wear. You haven't even really demonstrated that molecules wear out, although I know that many are inherently unstable, and break apart. Some molecules, however, like those in ceramics, are remarkably resilient, and will last for prodigious amounts of time... millions of years at least.

Again, this is barring external intervention by high energy events -- with molecules, the necessary events are much less extreme than with atoms, and therefore much more likely. But at least some molecules are nearly impervious to low-energy events. Perhaps they wear out on their own at astronomic timescales, but that's not terribly relevant to the human perspective on materials science.

LarryC: you're not being asked to prove a negative, though.

Dimmerswitch:

Actually I am. It's very basic logic, and it's the same situation. Malor has posted a claim, and I have asked him for the science to back it up. To prove his claim, he is asking me to prove a contrary claim. It is precisely the same thing.

LarryC wrote:
It's very basic logic.

This much, we agree on.

Should we turn the attention away from the atoms, and instead focus on the energy? Energy is neither created nor destroyed. It just changes form. Just after the big bang, there was a LOT of energy, but no atoms, and then hydrogen and helium started to coalescent (or do whatever atoms do).

Another way of putting it:

"Wow, if you don't f*ck with them, atoms don't wear out."

"Yeah, but what if you f*ck with them, Mr. Smartypants? And can you prove that atoms will never be f*cked with for the life of the entire universe? You've got no business making statements like that, you ignorant chucklehead."

Wear out = a form of change
f*ck with things = changing

Ergo, if nothing ever happens to change an atom (including internal mechanisms), it won't change.

It doesn't seem to be a particularly awesome piece of concept.

I'll add that parsed this way, this seems to be true of everything.

EDIT: It was self-evident, but I think it bears reiteration that you have not attempted to substantiate the claim scientifically, thus far.

Malor, out of curiosity, how many times have you heard, when you challenge a Christian to prove that God exists, that they challenge you to prove that He doesn't? Does that seem to you to be beside the point?

LarryC wrote:
Wear out = a form of change
f*ck with things = changing

Ergo, if nothing ever acts to change an atom, it won't change.

It doesn't seem to be a particularly awesome piece of concept.

Goddamn, Larry, for a guy who's supposedly a trained medical professional, one who's quick to heap scorn on all those you consider lesser lights, you really don't do a very good job of understanding what people are saying.

Atoms don't wear out. They don't show wear. You can use them and use them and use them, put them into molecule after molecule after molecule, essentially forever. They remain the same, and function the same, over and over and over, no matter how many times they bond or debond to other atoms to make molecules. That's pretty f*cking amazing... you could have an oxygen molecule bind with two hydrogen atoms, and then be debound by an external energy source, and then rebind again, for a number of times that exceeds human comprehension, without ever ceasing to be an oxygen atom.

And you just keep deliberately misunderstanding and misstating that argument. "But, but, fusion! And black holes! And you can't predict the future of an atom for all eternity, so you've got no business posting this."

Atoms don't show wear. Unless you apply extremely intense energies to them, they will never change, and you can apply lesser energies to them an uncountably finite number of times without changing them.

I don't expect this, since you seem constitutionally incapable of admitting error, but the graceful thing to do at this point would be to say, "Gee, Malor, maybe you did have a better understanding of physics than I thought."

Define "wear," and tell me why I should expect it to apply on an atomic level. By being amazed, it implies that you expect atoms to show "wear."

I am not deliberately misunderstanding the statement. You made an incredibly general statement that could be applied to the Earth's skin environment, to the atoms that could be said to exist there. That is a very small part of even the solar system, the bulk of which's atoms are in the sun undergoing fusion.

If you're going to talk science, then I think you ought to expect (and be delighted by) scientific discussion.

What you refer to in this paragraph:

Atoms don't wear out. They don't show wear. You can use them and use them and use them, put them into molecule after molecule after molecule, essentially forever. They remain the same, and function the same, over and over and over, no matter how many times they bond or debond to other atoms to make molecules. That's pretty f*cking amazing... you could have an oxygen molecule bind with two hydrogen atoms, and then be debound by an external energy source, and then rebind again, for a number of times that exceeds human comprehension, without ever ceasing to be an oxygen atom.

is that atoms are not changed by molecular changes. That does not strike me as being particularly amazing, since atoms and molecules are different things, and the things that modify them are also different, which still does not say anything about how many atoms will remain in the same configuration for whatever amount of time you want to define as "forever."

Yep, I didn't expect you to admit error. I don't see any reason to continue any further.

That's disappointing. I was expecting better discourse, Malor. At least an attempt to prove the statement rather than engage in semantic gymnastics would have been nice.

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Larry, all you have to do is demonstrate an atom wearing out. If you have access to super-expensive equipment, you can demonstrate breaking and remaking one, but I don't think you can wear any out. No matter how many times you run them through chemical bonds to other atoms, and then break them loose again, they will not change in any appreciable way, nor will they fail to work. (and if you don't find that amazing, that just means you're trying to win an internet argument, not actually looking at the reality of what's going on.) You could break and remake the bonds of a water molecule a hundred million times without changing any of the atoms involved.

I can't logically demonstrate an atom never wearing out, because that will take infinite time. The burden of proof is on you; show that stable atoms undergo wear and degenerate from use.

Okay, to avoid bullsh*t, let's say an oxygen atom. Wear out an oxygen atom for me, by binding it to hydrogen to make water. We'll wait.

I bet God could do it.

krev82 wrote:

Exit mundi of all places has a decent summary along with some conjecture on what may come after that point.

For someone who is amused by studying the various ways people think the world is gonna end, how did I not know about this site! Nifty.

Malor:

See above.

"I can't possibly prove my thesis, so you have to prove the contrary thesis to show that what I say isn't true."

"I can't prove that God exists so you have to prove that He doesn't or else I'm right."

For someone who rails against this sort of fallacy, you seem to be very insistent on using it, yourself.

All available evidence, LarryC, says that what I'm saying is true. We have never seen an atom show any sign of wear whatsoever from use, and we have really looked. We have used the same atoms over and over and over again, knowing that they will continue to function in exactly the same way, and that all atoms of the same type will all behave identically, within the limitations of quantum uncertainty.

You accuse me of semantic games, but you're the one who's playing them. I have a lot of evidence that says what I'm saying is true. It may not be true, and you can absolutely change my mind by demonstrating that atoms do, in fact, wear out.

But I don't think you can, because all available evidence is that they don't.

Over and over and over again, you demonstrate that you're more than willing to tear apart the posts and positions of others, largely by playing semantic games like this ("well you can't PROVE it's forever, so you're WRONG!"), but you don't generally take positions of your own, even when pressed. I believe this is because you know your ideas won't survive cross examination, so you subsist by carping at mild inaccuracies by others.

Two points:

First, there is a case to be made that Malor hasn't provided any evidence to back up his claim that, barring extremely energetic reactions, non-radioactive atoms remain stable and do not degrade. This is a fairly trivial objection (and easily rectified), since the entirety of Chemistry and materials science is predicated on this being the case. As Malor pointed out above, you could combine the same oxygen and hydrogen atoms into water (and back apart again) until the heat death of the universe, and they would continue to function exactly the same.

Second, it's possible to raise the objection that Malor's disclaimer is unfairly constraining the discussion and that environments conducive to extremely energetic reactions should be viewed as the norm, not the exception. Given the distribution of mass within our own solar system, this argument is less trivially dismissed:
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I'm not sure these are the arguments LarryC was intending to make, but found it an interesting exercise, regardless.

Mild inaccuracies? Not at all. Robear's initial posting shows the exchange and my objection. You've yet to define "wear," so I've used "will stay as they are indefinitely," as the more precise wording of your statement.

You also made the initial statement about both atoms and molecules, not just atoms. Excising molecules isn't being more precise - it changes the statement dramatically, since many of the atoms we interact with on a daily basis are in molecules.

You mention "all available evidence." Please cite. I'll be so gracious as to accept textbook references, which are ordinarily class E information.

I have already conceded that molecular changes do not, in general, affect atoms, though that strikes me as not being particularly amazing, since we could call them atomic changes if they did.

If you're going to make a general statement about atoms, then it strikes me as consistent to include all atoms, including the ones in the sun, particularly because a substantial fraction of atoms in our locality are in it. If you plead special perspective, you'll have to show how the initial statement included it.

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