Don’t Touch That

Throughout life we are told what to do, and what not to do, even on tiny trivial things. One of the main things we are told as children, and also more subtly in adulthood is, ‘do not touch things.’ Every parent, teacher or general authoritative adult (who isn’t) has told a child not to touch something. That something could be the cooker, the fire or a prickly plant. And there is good reason to say, ‘do not touch these things,’ as they will hurt, which every child finds out, as they touch it anyway. However, what if i told you, you have never touched anything in your life, would you believe me? Well the answer should be ‘Yes, I do believe you.’

Firstly lets define touch. In our classical, large(we struggle to see the small), human way of thinking, touch is a  sensation of feeling something. Touch to most humans is typing on the keyboard, picking up the kettle, or holding a knife and fork. To them that is touching, they can feel the item, and can feel its texture, temperature and other qualities. But these are all sensations. What i am talking about, is actual physical contact with the item. And now you might still be saying that you do, and that according to your eyes, you are. But actually, you are not, not in a real sense anyway.

As i said, what we experience as touch, and see as touch, is a sensational thing or feeling. But touch in its natural meaning is two bodies physically contacting. And there is the problem, your body has never physical made contact with anything, not even one finger feeling the other. Let me explain.

Your hands, the fork, the chair and everything in the universe is made of atoms. As we know atoms are made up of a nucleus and a shell. What these are are quite simple, the nucleus is commonly Protons (+) and Neutrons(N), (with the exception of hydrogen which is just a Proton) and the shell is a collection of orbiting electrons (-). As you can see the proton is positively charged, and the neutron neutrally charged, or no charge and the electron negatively charged. This understanding of their charge is important for the next bit.

Electrons are negatively charged and that means they are attracted to positively charged things, like the proton. However, what they aren’t attracted to are each other. Electrons despise each other, purely because of their charge. In an atom the electrons avoid each other by spinning in their own shell, and if there is more than one electron to a shell, they keep away form each other in that shell.* This hatred of each other isn’t confined to just the atom, but to all neighbouring atoms. What this causes is atoms not wanting to come together, as the electrons are pushing against the other electrons. This is what happens to you when you pick up the fork. The electrons in the atoms of the fork despise the electrons in the atoms of your hands, and repel each other. They hate each other so much, that they refuse to come together. This means that there is an extraordinarily small gap between you and the fork. Not enough for you to see, but enough for it to keep the fork away.

A simple example of this is magnetism, as that is basically what is going on. Magnets get their magnetic field by what the electrons and atoms are doing. Magnets are created by the alignment of the atoms in such a way, that the charge of the electrons is combined, and a once crazy set of small fields from many electrons becomes an organised set atoms with the electrical charge combined to create the magnetic field.* When you get two North ends of a magnet they repel, never wanting to touch, as the two electromagnetic fields push on each other. All this repulsion, is caused by electrons, which as i said earlier, are everywhere in your body. Now in a body like ours, the electrons and atoms aren’t arranged nicely and uniformly like a magnets, but the individual magnetic field of the electron is there. So when they get close to another electron, say the electron in the fork, they repel leaving a tiny gap.

Since there is this tiny gap, where the electrons are creating a repulsive force, it means that you cant touch anything, because the gap will always persist. This can be seen with static electricity, which is where the atoms in your hair have become charged, by having the electrons rubbed off. Since your hair atoms are now positively charged, they repel each other on a much larger scale. But this happens every second, when you are sitting, eating or walking, and all because of negatively charged electrons.
This persistent gap caused by electrons is also necessary for stars, as the electrons push out from each other, stopping the star from collapsing in on itself under its own gravitational weight. And just another thing to add, most of the atom is empty, with a tiny nucleus in the middle, and the electrons spinning around the outside, incredibly far away. As a result 99% of the space that an atom occupies, is empty, which means that 99% of you is empty space. But now i hear you ask, if we are 99% empty, how come we don’t pass through things, or fall apart? The answer again is the electron refusing to let you, or anything else be touched, so stopping you passing through the wall.

*Slightly simplified for easier understanding.

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