The illusion of control, existence and everything

4 min readNov 18, 2018

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Long ago, as a young man (I’m an old fart now), I heard or read that matter, everything that we see, is mostly empty space. The number I read was that matter is 99% empty space. Every once in awhile I revisit that topic in my mind, to remind myself to…

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream

In my house, I have Google Home devices. I like them because I can use them to play music on demand, get trivia answers on demand and play a game of blackjack. I have only scratched the surface of their utility.

And yes, I know there are some who fear that Google Home is being used for surveillance. Maybe, maybe not. But despite all that data gathering, somebody still has to review the data and determine if it’s actionable. That, I think would be an incredibly boring job, even with artificial intelligence helping you out.

Anyway, I was just putting around and I asked Google:

What percent of matter is empty space?

The response?

99.9999999999996% of matter is empty space.

There are 13 decimal places to the right of the decimal point in that number up there. I had thought it was just 1% of mass and the rest is empty space. It’s so much smaller than I ever thought: 4 ten-trillionths of one percent of everything we see and touch we see as matter has any substance at all. In scientific notation, that looks like this:

4 x 10^–13 of one percent

I just had to use the superscript notation. I love that I can finally get that stuff to work because for a long time, that was the hardest thing for me to do in Markdown or HTML (on, anyway). But I digress.

What is interesting here is that matter occupies such a tiny, tiny fraction of the world we see today. That image at the top of this post? It’s definitely not to scale. To get a true sense of the scale of the atom, consider the proton at the center of a hydrogen atom as being the size of a basketball. The electron buzzing around that proton would be in “orbit” some 20 miles away from the nucleus.