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First, I'm not a physicist in any way, shape, or form. My knowledge of physics is high-school level, at best, meaning it at one point was high-school level, that point being in high school, but it's been a few years, so, you know. Still, I'm trying to understand something physics-related and am humbly seeking a bit of truth from people in the know, people like you all, an answer to a question I've Googled the bejesus out of but can't find an answer to, probably because I'm not familiar enough with the terminology and using terms that are too generic for a Boolean search to generate the hits I need, but I digress... or deGrasse, as the case may be, a bad pun that'll make sense in a moment.

You see, I saw this interview of Neil deGrasse Tyson some time back on one of the late-night shows, I'm 85% sure it was Colbert, and something he said has been rattling around my head and nagging me with questions. He said that people often imagine the stuff that makes up atoms — electrons, protons, neutrons — are these things with hard surfaces, which is how I'd always imagined them, somewhat like electrons were miniaturized planets in orbit around a nucleus that was like a sun, believing that quantum physics was just a reflection of astrophysics, that drilling down smaller and smaller or expanding out larger and larger, it was just the same patterns of spinning objects in orbit repeating themselves, but apparently, that isn't the case, though. He said that there is no surface or anything but just these formless clouds of charge, like a Hydrogen atom, for example, is just a formless cloud of negative charge swirling around a formless cloud of positive charge.

If that's the case, matter is just clouds of charged energy, how does mass even exist? If on one hand, energy isn't mass and doesn't have mass, but if on the other, the so-called particles of matter that give matter mass are really not particles at all but just these formless clouds of nothing but positively or negatively charged energy, isn't that a tautology? How does matter have mass if energy doesn't have mass and matter is just made of particles that themselves are just formless clouds of energy? What's the difference between matter and energy that gives energy organized into matter mass and not energy itself mass?

By the way, when I look at the other questions asked here, I see that mine is mind-numblingly lowbrow, embarrassingly so, so if this is the wrong forum in which to ask this, like there's a StackExchange site called Physics for Dummies or something, kind of like there is for English, please feel free to let me know and migrate this question. Know that I did look for one, but I just couldn't find it, so if it exists, I do apologize for having wasted your time.

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Charge, mass, energy, these are just properties of physical objects. You could compare them to colors. If you say "protons are clouds of charge", it sounds similar to "cherrys are spheres of red". "red" is not some kind of material which you could use to constitute a cherry, similarly, charge is not some kind of material you could use to constitute a proton. A proton has the properties charge, mass, energy, position, momentum etc, the same way a cherry has the properties color, taste, mass, size etc.

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How does matter have mass if energy doesn't have mass and matter is just made of particles that themselves are just formless clouds of energy?

But energy does have mass associated with it, about 1.1e-17 kg per Joule. This is due to the famous Einstein relation between energy $\Delta E$ acquired by a body when absorbing EM radiation and the corresponding increase in mass of the body $\Delta m$:

$$ \Delta m = \frac{\Delta E}{c^2}. $$

However, particles are not "just formless clouds of energy". The "particles are actually probability clouds" notion is a bad science communication. The probability cloud or "wave function" are a conceptual device we use to describe state of whole microscopic systems such as atoms and molecules, not just single particles. And these clouds or functions aren't the atoms or molecules or particles; they are just tools to describe them.

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  • $\begingroup$ You know, that is not the way most people write that equation. $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2021 at 23:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Malvolio how is that relevant to the original question? $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2021 at 11:35
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It's not a hard ball but a probability cloud of where that mass would be. I think maybe because these particles carry a charge it causes confusion as that they are a 'cloud of energy's but that isn't the case.

Maybe something that will help visualize the 'cloud' would be looking up atomic orbitals and the shape of these to see where the probability of finding an electron orbiting a nucleus.

Also, electric charge does not equal energy.

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