# Is mass a number?

... there's an intuitive understanding....
But intuitive understanding is often wrong.

I would suggest that university physics courses don't try to define distance or time, because both concepts are so intuitive, Measuring intervals of time or distance is generally not considered to be something deep and meaningful, rather it's the simple end of experimental physics.

And since humans have been trading goods for a long time, there's an intuitive understanding of weighing as a form of measurement, and how length area and volume can measure quantities (of tradeable goods). What's hard about any of that? The operational version of mass has been around for a lot longer than Newton because the weights of amounts of materials stay constant, conveniently, for humans. So the (approximately) constant acceleration of gravity is part of the measurement, of mass. The other part is usually a displacement, in space and in time.

Intuitive because , at least for the concept of time , its been around us since we used time for music . Hence becomes ingrained in our thinking . Take away time zones on our planet , then you will find that in every time zone evertything happens at the same moments .

arfa brane,
I prefer to believe that the quantity exists before I conceive of it, there is no real difference between mass and matter except that you can choose a standard weight made out of your choice of matter. That's all there is to it.
You're equivocating again, between the way that the word "mass" is commonly used (to mean "matter") and between how it is defined in physics (e.g. as a quantitative measure of the amount of matter in something or as a quantitative measure of an object's resistance to acceleration).

If you can't have an honest discussion about the distinction, there's no point in my engaging with you further on this topic.

On the other hand, if you're actually so stupid that you haven't understand the distinction that I have explained to you many times now, then there's similarly no point in my engaging with you further on this topic.

Either way, I think we're done here.
What physics says about what you should think a distance, or a time interval "really is", amounts to nothing, really.
What a strange thing to say on a science forum.

I mean, fine, if you want to throw physics out the window and just make up your own ideas about stuff, that's your prerogative, up to a point. But if you want to engage with the practice of science, you have to learn some of the conventions and principles.

No, physics is about theories, and about experiments. Numbers are just the values, in physics, that we attach at our convenience to physical quantities.
You speak as if the numbers used in physics are arbitrary. They are not, although the choice of units is.

The rest mass of a proton will always be 1836 times more than the mass of an electron, no matter what units you use to denote the mass (as long as your units are self-consistent and have a sensible definition). That number 1836 is a feature of nature. It is not a matter of convenience (i.e. arbitrary).

There are lots of numbers like that in physics - ones that remain the same in any system of units. Most of them are ratios.

You speak as if the numbers used in physics are arbitrary. They are not, although the choice of units is.
James, the numbers are arbitrary when humans choose them.
The units used in physics aren't chosen arbitrarily; they have to reflect actual physics. The unit in a unit of distance is arbitrary because for humans it's human-sized. Distance itself isn't a thing that humans get to choose.

You come across as a person who tries to find contradictions that aren't there. You make a bottle into a windmill. Nothing about putting things in bottles gets you close to actual physics. Bro, you need to switch donkeys.

And I've noticed how, over and over, you appear to start out agreeing with something I say about physics or about numbers, then you go off accusing me of not answering questions about what can or can't go in a bottle. Now you're saying something about a number which is a ratio of the electron mass to the proton mass. You've said this mass is a concept, it wasn't around until humans came along.

I've said no, that's complete crap. It's not true. And you're still going, still seemingly unaware of how bad your idea is, how physically untrue it is. You haven't admitted anything yet. Not one jot or tittle.

Last edited:
What a strange thing to say on a science forum.
?? Strange, because . . .
I mean, fine, if you want to throw physics out the window and just make up your own ideas about stuff, that's your prerogative, up to a point.
Where do you get your idea about putting things in bottles from? Why is it some kind of experimental test of reality?
Why doesn't the idea, as you would have it, of mass being a number get more airtime? I haven't seen it getting any, except here.

Sure there's a connection between a number and a quantity; but which one is real? Which one is physical? Can physical quantities be independent of numbers, and why would you want to know the answer to that question? What would the answer mean?

All I said was Physics doesn't tell you why real distances are given real number values, or why the same thing happens with time intervals. You can figure it out for yourself. It doesn't tell you what to think about what they are.

Last edited:
James, the numbers are arbitrary when humans choose them.
No. Even on the other side of the galaxy, an alien race will find that it takes 1836 electrons to balance out one proton on a scale. It is an objective feature of the universe.

The rest of your post seems to have little to do with the topic, so I'll let it be.

Last edited:
No. Even on the other side of the galaxy, an alien race will find that it takes 1836 electrons to balance out one proton on a scale. It is an objective feature of the universe.
So therefore, humans don't get to choose numbers arbitrarily?
As I said, numbers are arbitrary, when humans choose them. You and James say, no, there are numbers that aren't arbitrary.
I say, so what, what does that really say about choices for humans?

So do humans get this choice, or don't they? I bet nobody actually cares, right?
James R chimes in with "It looks as if you think numbers are arbitrary in physics".

I do think that, because they are mostly. One example of a number that is just a number, a ratio, doesn't mean humans can't choose any numbers they like.

But this isn't a discussion. It isn't anything, really. Is it?

But this isn't a discussion. It isn't anything, really. Is it?
I dont know. That seems dependent on whether you want to discuss.

DO you acknowledge that a proton masses 1836 times that of an electron, with or without humans, or no?

DO you acknowledge that a proton masses 1836 times that of an electron, with or without humans, or no?
Ok, it does. Or very nearly does since the actual ratio has some decimal places.

Now what? A discussion of why this ratio exists? Maybe when it first existed. or something?

arfa brane,

James, the numbers are arbitrary when humans choose them.
My point, which apparently you missed, was precisely that there are many numbers in physics that humans don't get to choose. Nature decides for us. I used the ratio of the proton and electron masses as an example.
You come across as a person who tries to find contradictions that aren't there.
Sometimes I don't think you have a good grasp on what I'm saying. When was the last time I pointed to a supposed "contradiction"? Other than in yours posts, I mean. A contradiction in physics? What are you talking about?
You make a bottle into a windmill. Nothing about putting things in bottles gets you close to actual physics. Bro, you need to switch donkeys.
It looks like you're trying to import a grudge you hold from another thread into this, unrelated, one. Can we keep discussion about your misunderstandings about mass in the one thread, please? You don't need to spam it to a whole bunch of other threads as well.
And I've noticed how, over and over, you appear to start out agreeing with something I say about physics or about numbers, then you go off accusing me of not answering questions about what can or can't go in a bottle.
It is a fact that you have consistently avoided addressing the main point I put to you in the other discussion. Either you're stupid and don't understand the point, or else your ego won't let you take the hit by admitting that I have a valid point. Either way, your avoidance is obvious to all. Don't think you're fooling anybody.
Now you're saying something about a number which is a ratio of the electron mass to the proton mass.
Try to work out what was the exact "something" I said. What was my actual point? It's not hard. Look past your personality clash and your rage and try to be objective for a moment, if you can. Forget it's me - the guy you hate - who said it. Ask yourself, instead: is this right or wrong? You might find that you can think more clearly when you let go of your anger.
You've said this mass is a concept, it wasn't around until humans came along.

I've said no, that's complete crap. It's not true.
Blah blah blah. If it wasn't true, you'd be able to give a coherent reason why. Do it in the other thread, if you can. It's been hundreds of posts there and you've got nothing, so far. Just these empty assertions.

Try to work out what was the exact "something" I said. What was my actual point? It's not hard.
You said the ratio of the electron mass to the proton mass is a ratio, it isn't an arbitrary number.

I said numbers are arbitrary in physics, that's generally true; obviously it isn't true for fixed ratios like the one you mentioned.

So what? How does a concept, btw, become a fixed ratio? You've claimed repeatedly that mass is a human concept, it wasn't around until humans evolved.
I say that idea of yours is wrong. It's also misleading. It's also useless. It says nothing meaningful about physics or about why humans can find arbitrary numbers of physical objects, or about why they can tell a difference between different (arbitrary) objects because of their mass.

Or is it because you can't put arbitrary numbers in a bottle? What's so great about an idea that says "you can't put that in a bottle, so . . . "?
So what? So, that's another completely useless idea? Don't accuse me of making empty assertions, you goddam flake.

Where do you get your idea about putting things in bottles from?
It's a metaphorical bottle that I made up - a kind of analogy to try to get my point across to you.

So far, there's no sign from your that you understood the point. Or that you understand it even now.
Why doesn't the idea, as you would have it, of mass being a number get more airtime? I haven't seen it getting any, except here.
Because most of the time physicists don't spend their time worrying about fine philosophical distinctions. They want to get on with their science research/studies etc. Pragmatically, it doesn't usually matter if people incorrectly conflate the idea of mass with the idea of matter. As I have pointed out many times, this is so common that it usually goes unmentioned.
Sure there's a connection between a number and a quantity; but which one is real?
Real? I'd say both are real. What does "real" mean to you?
Which one is physical? Can physical quantities be independent of numbers, and why would you want to know the answer to that question?
"Quantity" derives from the word "quantum", I think, an a quantum is an amount of something. A "physical quantity" would be an amount of something physical. In a very approximate way, we can denote quantities such as "one", "a few", "a lot", "a small amount", "a large amount" etc. All of those measures are formally independent of numbers (apart from "one", arguably). In science, we usually want to be more specific than these vaguely-described categories, so we define specific units of measure that involve numbers, to "count up" the (more) "exact" quantities we are interested in.

None of this should come as a surprise.

You said the ratio of the electron mass to the proton mass is a ratio, it isn't an arbitrary number.

I said numbers are arbitrary in physics, that's generally true; obviously it isn't true for fixed ratios like the one you mentioned.
Great! We have agreement on one thing, at last. It's a start, I guess.
So what? How does a concept, btw, become a fixed ratio?
A ratio is a concept.
You've claimed repeatedly that mass is a human concept, it wasn't around until humans evolved.
I say that idea of yours is wrong. It's also misleading. It's also useless. It says nothing meaningful about physics or about why humans can find arbitrary numbers of physical objects, or about why they can tell a difference between different (arbitrary) objects because of their mass.
You're still posting in the wrong thread. I'm not going to address your argument twice just because you decide to spam it to two threads rather than one. Not that you've actually made an argument.
Or is it because you can't put arbitrary numbers in a bottle? What's so great about an idea that says "you can't put that in a bottle, so . . . "?
Try - in the other thread - putting my point into your own words. I want to see that you understand what has been put to you. Otherwise, there's no point continuing.

A ratio is a concept.
You mean, actually dividing the proton mass by the electron mass is a concept, right?

But you've also said mass is a concept, you said before humans existed mass didn't exist either.
I've tried correcting you. I've tried pointing out that electrons and quarks interact with a scalar field and that's the reason they have a rest mass--nothing to do with humans evolving, or not evolving.

I don't know if you can argue "you can't put electron mass in a bottle" either. That is a useless argument that says absolutely nothing.
So I'm asking myself why, why would anyone think your version of physics is any good? I certainly don't. I want you to stop. I want you to realise you know FA about physics and should just shut the hell up. But then again this is sciforums where even moderators get to trot out complete bullshit and pass it off as science.

This forum is a joke, It has been for some time. You are a joke. I'm a joke for posting anything at this bloody useless forum.

Pragmatically, it doesn't usually matter if people incorrectly conflate the idea of mass with the idea of matter. As I have pointed out many times, this is so common that it usually goes unmentioned.
But according to you, that's a mistake. It's a mistake because mass and matter aren't the same thing?
Except that, since Newton, an amount of matter--a volume of matter--has been called a mass density, in kg per cubic metre these days.

Mass and volume aren't the same thing. Matter and volume, well, what can anyone say about those being the same or not? Why is it wrong to think mass is an amount of matter in a volume? Why is it wrong to think matter necessarily occupies a volume?

And why are you saying, at the end of your post above, that quantities, or their measurements, are independent of numbers? How did you work that out?
How can any quantity, or any measurement be independent of numbers? Jesus you are one strange dude, dude.

You mean, actually dividing the proton mass by the electron mass is a concept, right?
Dividing two numbers is a mathematical process. Mathematics is all conceptual, when it comes down to it.
But you've also said mass is a concept, you said before humans existed mass didn't exist either.
You're still trying to muddy the waters, obviously. I have said clearly that matter existed long before humans did. Mass, on the other hand - being a concept - has only existed as long as there have been minds to conceptualise it.
I've tried correcting you.
First, you need to demonstrate that you understand the argument that has been put to you. There's still no sign you have any such understanding, especially because you keep misrepresenting it, over and over again. There are only two options: you're either actually stupid, or else you're trying to "win" by pure bloody-minded repetition, despite knowing that you're wrong. Which is it?
I've tried pointing out that electrons and quarks interact with a scalar field and that's the reason they have a rest mass--nothing to do with humans evolving, or not evolving.
A "scalar field" is about as conceptual a thing as you can get. Do you know that "scalar fields" are part of various physical (mathematical) models? You seem utterly unable to distinguish a map from the territory it describes. Stupid, or trolling? You tell me.
I don't know if you can argue "you can't put electron mass in a bottle" either. That is a useless argument that says absolutely nothing.
Whatever. I have never made any such argument. That's a crude attempt by you to erect a straw man.
So I'm asking myself why, why would anyone think your version of physics is any good?
What are you talking about? I haven't suggested any "version" of physics that differs from what is accepted or debated by mainstream physicists. Do you adhere to some "version" of your own that differs from that?
I certainly don't. I want you to stop.
Of course you do. You think, for some reason, that if I stop responding, you'll have "won" this silly argument by default. The bad news for you is that it is abundantly clear to anybody with "arfa brane" who has "won", already. Frankly, it has been a pretty uneven contest.
I want you to realise you know FA about physics and should just shut the hell up.
This discussion we have been having isn't even about physics. You've completely missed the point, it seems.

Besides, it's a ludicrous suggestion that you would be in any position to make a qualified judgment on what I do or do not know about physics. Pull your head in.
This forum is a joke, It has been for some time.
It's people like you who make it what it is.
You are a joke.
You're just a sad old guy who never learned manners, as far as I can tell. You imagine that personal insults are a substitute for reasoned arguments, for some strange reason. I'm here to tell you that they are not. Best you start learning that now, even if it's a little late in life.
I'm a joke for posting anything at this bloody useless forum.
Well, here you are. Being a clown with the rest of us.

But according to you, that's a mistake. It's a mistake because mass and matter aren't the same thing?
*sigh* How many more times do we have to walk you through this? Stupid, or trolling? You tell me.

Matter is, approximately, stuff you can put in a bottle. Mass is a concept in your head.

See if you can repeat that back to me in your own words, just so I can see whether you understand the point that I have put to you.
Except that, since Newton, an amount of matter--a volume of matter--has been called a mass density, in kg per cubic metre these days.
Now you're getting yourself even more confused. Volume and density aren't the same thing, silly. They even have different units. Check it out.
Mass and volume aren't the same thing.
Indeed. Different units, again.
Matter and volume, well, what can anyone say about those being the same or not?
One can say what I've said over the past 245 posts. Or one can make some kind of stupid non-argument, and throw around some ad hominems, like you've been doing.
Why is it wrong to think mass is an amount of matter in a volume?
You still don't know, 245 posts into the thread? What have I been telling you? Try to express my position in your own words. I'll let you know when you've got it. So far, you're just failing over and over again. You keep trying to put up straw men to knock down, all the while ignoring the simple point that has been put to you with copious examples and explanations.
Why is it wrong to think matter necessarily occupies a volume?
That doesn't sound wrong to me, as long as we understand "volume" to mean something like "space". Of course, we could follow the "volume/space" distinction down the same winding path that we've been exploring for the "mass/matter" distinction. But you'd probably just wind up even more confused that you currently are (if we're to take you at face value).
And why are you saying, at the end of your post above, that quantities, or their measurements, are independent of numbers? How did you work that out?
I explained it.

If I say to you "There are a few apples in that barrel over there", is that dependent on numbers, or independent? If you think it's dependent on numbers, tell me how many apples are in the barrel.
How can any quantity, or any measurement be independent of numbers?
I literally just explained it to you in my last post before this one. What didn't you understand, specifically, about my explanation/examples?
Jesus you are one strange dude, dude.
And, of course, you end with another rude, pointless ad hominem. Will you ever grow up?

A "scalar field" is about as conceptual a thing as you can get. Do you know that "scalar fields" are part of various physical (mathematical) models?
Jesus Christ. You actually believe that particles in the Standard Model get mass, which is a concept, from a field which is also a concept. I feel kind of sorry for you, you dipshit.