Chapter Summary: This chapter explores what science studies. It finds that energy is the basis of everything science studies in the physical world. After discussing if the universe is eternal, it examines the term “the eternal substance” and explores ideas that are fundamental to the rest of the book.
Ways of knowing was the topic of the previous two chapters. Domains of knowing is the topic of this and the next chapter. Two questions arise immediately: What are domains of knowing? and Why discuss them?
The idea of domain of knowing is simple, as an illustration will show. Suppose you ask a medical doctor how to treat back pain. Because the question is in medicine’s “domain of knowing” the doctor can answer, speaking as a doctor. If you ask the doctor to recommend a good mystery novel, however, the doctor can’t answer as a doctor, only as an individual. Why? Because back pain is in medicine’s domain of knowing, but good mystery novels are not. So, a field’s domain of knowing is simply its subject matter. Religion’s domain of knowing includes theology and morals. Biology’s domain of knowing is living things. Geology’s domain of knowing is the earth.
What’s science’s domain of knowing? We can describe it (somewhat abstractly) in terms of an idea we’ve already seen, the scope of science’s way of knowing. In the last chapter, we met the idea of scope twice: we saw that theories have scope and that science’s way of knowing has scope. What is the scope of science’s way of knowing? We said it’s all the fields science studies (physics, chemistry, but not yet theology). But all the fields science studies is also its domain of knowing. Therefore, the scope of science’s way of knowing is identical to science’s domain of knowing.
But why discuss domains of knowing? The object of these first six chapters is to apply science’s way of knowing to the field of ultimate questions. Applying science’s way of knowing to a new field enlarges science’s domain of knowing, because it enlarges the sum total of what science studies. A builder first studies a house before enlarging it, checking the foundation, the walls, the roof before adding a new room. Similarly, before attempting to enlarge science’s domain of knowing we’ll explore it, as it is today. And the builder examines the land the new addition will rest upon. Similarly, we’ll explore religion’s domain before attempting to bring part of it into science’s domain.
Therefore, this chapter discusses science’s domain of knowing, and the next discusses religion’s domain of knowing. Both chapters emphasize a common area upon which a scientific religion can be built. The fifth chapter discusses how a scientific religion could provide itself with observational and experimental data. The sixth builds on all that has gone before when it discusses the application of science’s way of knowing to ultimate questions.
What is science’s domain of knowing? That is, what does science study? Science studies the flow of blood in the body, the flow of thoughts in the mind, the flow of water in a river, the flow of the planets in space, the flow of electrons in a semiconductor—and more. Its domain of knowing is vast and includes a number of branches. In 1964 there were ([M04],75) 620 recognized branches; today there probably are more.
There are ways of classifying, of bringing order, to science’s many branches. One way is by dividing them into social science, biological science, physical science, and mathematical science, though mathematics is sometimes thought to be an independent discipline, not a science itself but the “queen of sciences.” Like mathematics, philosophy is also thought to be something different from science, though it originally gave birth to science. In fact, an early term for science was “natural philosophy”—the philosophy of the natural world as distinct from the type of philosophy that treats religious, theological, or metaphysical issues. Perhaps philosophy should be called the “mother of sciences.”
Another way to classify science’s many branches is by the size of the phenomena they investigate. On the largest scale, cosmology investigates the entire universe, its origin, evolution, and future. On a smaller scale, astronomy deals with galaxies, stars, and planets. Geology’s focus is the earth, its continents, mountains, and rivers. There’s a group of sciences—medicine, psychology, sociology, etc.—which study human beings. Biology’s concern is living entities in general. Chemistry deals with phenomena on the molecular scale. And, finally, nuclear physics probes the heart of matter, atomic and sub-atomic phenomena. (Powers of Ten [M17] vividly illustrates these different scales.)
Not all scientific fields can be classified by size, however. The study of nuclear reactions in stars, for instance, concerns two widely differing scales. And some disciplines investigate phenomena that have no scale, that is, phenomena which don’t exist on the physical level. Psychology studies emotions and mental states; mathematics investigates concepts and ideas, as does philosophy. This suggest yet another way of classifying scientific disciplines: by the type of phenomena they investigate—physical, emotional, or intellectual.
Do science’s many branches have anything in common? One commonality is that in each field it studies science strives to uncover and understand the objectively true.
[S]cience articulates, in a self-conscious and methodologically explicit manner, the demands of objectivity over a staggering range of issues of natural fact, subjecting these issues continuously to the joint tests of theoretical coherence and observational fidelity. ([S03],3).
But this just says each field uses science’s way of knowing. Do science’s many branches have anything in common aside from their way of knowing? Are they actually branches of a single tree? Or are they unconnected fields of study?
To see what science’s branches all share, let’s begin with what physical objects all share. What can one physical object have in common with another?
Shape is one possibility. For example, imagine two chairs. Though they’re different from one another, they have enough in common (their shape) to be recognizable as chairs. Though they may differ in composition (one wood, the other metal), color, height, weight, etc., they’re still recognizable as chairs. Substance is another possibility. Imagine a desk, a table, and a chair, all made of wood. Though their shape differs, they are recognizable as distinct manifestations of a single substance, wood.
If all physical objects are ultimately made from the same substance, then science’s many branches (at least, the ones that study physical objects) have something in common, aside from their use of science’s way of knowing: they all study various manifestations of one and the same substance.
Are all physical objects ultimately made of one substance? The question is ancient. Centuries before science existed, philosophers debated the idea that
. . . there is only one basic substance or principle as the ground of reality . . . that reality consists of a single element. ([R01],862).
This belief is called “monism”, from the root “mono” which means one. Philosophers in ancient Greece, and perhaps before, searched for the one single substance that composes all things. In fact, physics takes its name from a Greek word that indicates a single, universal substance.
In the ancient Greek schools in Ionia and Elia, the essential essence of all things . . . ([W10],148)
. . . the “physis,” from which our word “physics” is derived . . . ([W10],148).
While some Greek philosophers hypothesized a single, universal substance, Aristotle taught that all things are made out of not one, but four, basic elements: fire, earth, water, and air. His four-element theory was wrong, but was nonetheless believed for centuries. It’s remarkable that the “elements” correspond to energy and the three states of matter—solid, liquid, and gas.
The search for the physis continued in 19th century Europe, where chemists discovered that all physical objects are composed of atoms. Eventually, about 92 different kinds of atoms were discovered and arranged in the “periodic table,” which many high-school students study. Physicists soon discovered that atoms themselves are composed of sub-atomic particles such as protons, neutrons, and electrons. True to their name, they searched deeper for physis, the one ultimate basis of matter, the essential essence of all things. Physicists hunted for a smaller particle that composes all the sub-atomic particles. Their search was not successful.
Yet even if physicists had found an ultimate particle—an infinitesimal unit that makes up that sub-atomic particles that compose the atoms that constitute wood and all other matter—they would not have found the basis of everything. For even 19th century physicists knew of something that isn’t in the periodic table or composed of sub-atomic particles. Energy. In the 19th century, there were two laws of conservation: one said matter couldn’t be created or destroyed; the other said energy couldn’t be created or destroyed. It seemed matter and energy were two forever separate and distinct entities, and “never the twain would meet.” Science had replaced Aristotle’s four elements with two irreducible elements: matter and energy.
In the early 20th century, however, Albert Einstein showed in his famous equation, E=mc2, that matter is a form of energy. As Nigel Calder writes in Einstein’s Universe:
Einstein’s formula E=mc2 expresses the equivalence of mass and energy. In it E is energy, m is mass and c2 is the square of the speed of light. The c2 comes in only because of the conventional ways in which physicists reckon energy and mass. You could just as well, and more simply, write E = m and adjust your units of measurement to suit. ([C02],31).
Schrodinger is a bit more emphatic. (As always, italics are in the original.)
. . . particles have now turned out to be quanta of energy, because—as Einstein discovered in 1905—mass and energy are the same thing. ([S06],54-5).
So there is, in fact, a single basis for the entire physical world. In the words ([J01],176) of physicist James Jeans, energy is “the fundamental entity of the universe”. The age-old search for the ultimate basis of the physical universe has ended. Though there’s much more to be discovered and understood, physics has finally fulfilled its original mission. It’s finally discovered the essential essence of all things, an essence which underlies everything science studies. And it’s answered an ancient philosophical question: monism accurately describes the physical universe.
The things we see around us all have a common basis. They are all different manifestations of the same “fundamental entity.” Yet they all seem very different from one another. Wood seems very unlike water; metal seems very unlike oil. They certainly don’t appear to be different manifestations of a single substance. How can wood and water, metal and oil, all be manifestations of a single universal essence? We’ll illustrate by taking a simple physical object, a wooded table, and following the path to its essential essence.
Imagine a wooden table.
What is it? - A table.
How old is it? - Let’s suppose you recall the date the table came into existence. Suppose you made the table on your last birthday. So the number of days the table has been in existence can be counted.
What’s the table made of? - “Wood” is one answer. In one sense the table is made of wood. In another sense, it’s made of its parts, its components—a top and four legs. But more than components are needed to make a table. The components must have the proper relation to each other. Disassemble the table—cut the top in half and pile on the legs—and the components no longer form a table. They merely form a pile of wood. True, the pile contains the pieces of a table. But the pile is not itself a table. The parts are still wood, however.
What is it even if it’s rearranged? - Wood.
So what is it? - A table made of wood.
How old is it? - Let’s suppose the tree was cut, the lumber created, a month before your last birthday. As a table, it has existed since your last birthday. As wood it has existed a month longer.
What is wood made of? - Once
. . . it was thought that the content of a solid was what determined its characteristics: what made diamonds hard, leather tough, iron magnetic and copper conductive. . . . Today we know that many of the properties of a solid are determined by its structure: by the way the material’s basic building blocks—its atoms—are ordered, and by the way they join together. ([L02],99).
Like the table, wood also consists of parts: various atoms (such as carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen) form wood molecules. And, like the table, the atoms must have a particular relation to each other to make a wood molecule.
Things like the table that are created by a particular arrangement of components are called “component things” or “component objects.” The table is a component object because it’s formed by a particular arrangement of its components or parts. Wood molecules are component objects, too. In fact, words themselves are component objects. The word “are”, for instance, is a component object because it’s created by a particular arrangement of components, its letters. Rearrange the letters and we get “era”, an entirely different word. Similarly, rearrange the atoms in wood and we get a different molecule. Furthermore, a component object ceases to exist when its components are rearranged. Rearrange its letters and the word “are” ceases to exist. Rearrange its atoms and a wood molecule ceases to exist. Yet the atoms continue to exist.
What is it even if it’s rearranged? - Atoms.
So what is it? - A table made of wood made of atoms.
How old is it? - Most of the atoms have been in existence for millions or billions of years. Most atoms were created in supernova explosions a long time ago, and have existed as atoms ever since.
What are atoms made of? - Atoms are made of components, various subatomic particles, such as neutrons, protons, and electrons.
Every atom has the same basic internal structure, and the protons, neutrons and electrons in any one atom are identical to those in any other atom. ([L02],10).
Again, the components—the protons, electrons, neutrons, etc.—must be in proper relation to each other to form a particular kind of atom. If the atom’s subatomic particles are rearranged, then that atom ceases to exist and other atoms are formed. For example, ([L02],170) if the subatomic components of an uranium atom are suitably rearranged, the uranium atom ceases to exist and two barium atoms come into existence.
What is it even if it’s rearranged? - Subatomic particles.
So what is it? - A table made of wood made of atoms made of subatomic particles.
How old is it? - While it’s possible to create protons and neutrons, most of the table’s neutrons, protons, electrons, and other subatomic particles are billions of years old.
What are subatomic particles made of? - Neutrons and protons are composed of fundamental particles; the electron is itself a fundamental particle. In 1990, there were three known families of fundamental particles. Moreover, just as family members may be male or female, fundamental particles in any of these three families may be classed as quark or lepton.
What is it even if it’s rearranged? - Fundamental particles.
So what is it? - A table made of wood made of atoms made of subatomic particles made of fundamental particles.
How old is it? - Perhaps billions of years.
What are fundamental particles made of? - Energy. The E of Einstein’s famous E = mc2 composes fundamental particles. If a particle’s energy is “rearranged”, then the particle ceases to exist and other particles are created.
What is it even if it’s rearranged? - Energy.
So what is it? - A table made of wood made of atoms made of subatomic particles made of fundamental particles made of energy.
How old is it? - Isaac Asimov, a well-known science writer:
In a way, of course, we might argue that the energy of the universe (including matter, as one form of energy) has always existed and always will exist since, as far as we know, it is impossible to create energy out of nothing or destroy it in nothing. This implies, we can conclude, that the substance of the universe—and therefore the universe itself—is eternal. ([A11],184).
What is energy made of? - As far as we know, energy has no components, no parts which compose it. It’s not made of any other thing. It’s made of itself.
What is it even if it’s rearranged? - Energy, as far as we know, cannot be disassembled or rearranged.
So what is it? - Energy.
How old is it? - It’s eternal.
The table illustration demonstrates what science’s many different branches have in common, other than their way of knowing. They all study various manifestations of a single entity, energy. After all, we can do for wood and water, metal and oil, what we did for the table. We can take each and follow the path to its essential and eternal essence, energy. Therefore, science’s branches—at least the ones that study physical objects—all study different manifestations of the same thing. What about scientific disciplines which study emotions and thoughts? Are emotions and thoughts also manifestations of the single essential essence? For now, we’ll assume they are. A later chapter discusses the question in more detailed.
The illustration also raises the question of the age of the universe. Asimov makes an unusual claim: the universe is eternal. Other scientists say the universe was created in the big bang. Perhaps that’s why Asimov hedges. He begins “In a way, of course, we might argue” and continues:
That, however, is not what we really mean. We are concerned with more than the mere substance of the Universe. ([A11],184).
Is the universe eternal? Or did it begin during the big bang? First of all, what is the big bang?
Billions of years ago, scientists currently believe, the universe was in an extremely dense, hot, unstable state called the “cosmic egg” or “primeval fireball.” A tremendous explosion, the big bang, started the universe expanding. It continues to expand, even today. Will the expansion ever stop? Some scientific theories say no. Others predict the universe will eventually stop expanding and start to contract. They predict the universe will someday collapse upon itself, form another cosmic egg, and undergo another big bang. If such predictions are true, then the big bang isn’t unique. The universe regularly expands and contracts, as if it’s breathing.
But was the universe created in the big bang? A college astronomy text claims it was.
Some unique explosive event must have occurred 10 to 18 billion years ago, apparently creating matter and sending it flying out on its expanding journey. Many astronomers refer to this time as the age of the universe, marking the creation of the universe as we know it. ([H01],428).
Of course, the universe was hardly “as we know it” after the big bang. It took millions of years for stars and planets, minerals and life to develop. Perhaps the writer meant “marking the creation of the universe that we know” because nothing is known about any universes that may have existed before the big bang. Physical laws seem to break down in the cosmic egg. The text continues:
What existed before the big bang? No one is sure that this question has meaning or that any observations could reveal an answer. . . . [T]he mysterious explosive event at the beginning is assumed to have mixed matter and radiation in a primordial soup of nearly-infinite density, erasing any possible evidence of earlier environments. ([H01],434).
Science knows nothing about what form and shape the universe may have taken before the big bang, but about its substance science knows this: it’s eternal.
So, does the big bang create the universe, or not? In one sense, it does; in another, it does not. The big bang creates the universe just as joining pieces of wood together creates a table. The big bang creates matter just as packing snow together creates a snowman, or packing sand together creates a sand castle. The table parts exist before the table is created, the snow and sand exist before the snowman and sand castle are created. In each case the basic “stuff” isn’t created. It already exists. Similarly, energy existed before the big bang created matter. Therefore, in another sense the big bang didn’t create the universe because—as far as science knows—the big bang didn’t create energy. Energy existed before the big bang. So, as Asimov claims, the universe is eternal. It was never created.
In one sense the universe is created during the (last?) big bang. In another sense it is not, because its basis is eternal. Both answers are correct. Yet scientists favor the first and ignore the second. They speak of the big bang as the time of creation and don’t often acknowledge the universe’s eternal essence. Calder, Schrodinger, Jeans, and Asimov are exceptions, though Asimov mentions it only in passing and even calls it the “mere” substance of the universe. Other scientists and science writers fail to mention it at all.
Why is the universe’s ultimate essence so rarely acknowledged by scientists and science writers? And how can they ignore such a fundamental entity, even if they wish to? We’ll explore those two questions after we’ve discussed the ultimate source a bit more.
Because the universe’s fundamental entity will prove fundamental to coming chapters, too, because it’s the foundation upon which coming chapters are built, we’ll need to understand it in as many ways as possible. We’ve seen what science says about it. Now, we’ll turn to philosophy and see what it has to say about the universe’s ultimate essence. The next chapter explores what religion has to say about the eternal substance.
In our philosophical exploration we’ll meet many names and ideas that apply to energy. Our purpose in examining them is to lay a foundation for coming chapters, where we’ll meet the pronouncements of saints, sages and mystics who experienced the essential essence. Not being scientists, these men and women described their experience in the language of philosophy and religion rather than science. Discussing philosophical and religious terms for energy will help us better understand what they said.
So, let’s turn to philosophy and see what it has to say about the essential essence. We’ll begin with the phrase “energy, the eternal substance.” The phrase expresses three ideas about energy. One, that it’s unique, “the eternal substance” not “an eternal substance”. We’ll discuss uniqueness last. Second, the phrase says that energy is eternal. Lastly, it says energy is a substance. Are these claims true?
Is energy actually eternal? As we’ve seen, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Obviously, something which can’t be created has no beginning and therefore has always existed. Similarly, something that can’t be destroyed has no end and will therefore last forever. Because the word “eternal” means
. . . lasting forever; without beginning or end; always existing ([R01],453),
it follows that energy is eternal.
Is energy actually the substance of the physical universe? The word “substance” comes from the Latin “sub stantia” which translates “that which stands under.” Since the table is made of wood, wood “stands under” the table, that is, the table’s substance is wood. Similarly, wood is made of wood molecules, which therefore “stand under” wood. Molecules are made of atoms which are made of subatomic particles which are made of fundamental particles which are made of energy. Therefore, the table’s substance is wood; wood’s substance is molecules of atoms; etc. But neither table, wood, molecule, atom, or particle is eternal. Energy, however, is eternal. Therefore, energy is an eternal substance.
But is energy the eternal substance? It seems to be. Modern science, as far as I know, says only energy is an eternal substance. Therefore, energy is the eternal substance rather than one eternal substance among many. Energy is the unique eternal substance.
Philosophy has many other names and ideas that apply to the eternal substance. We need to briefly examine some. Many ideas fall into one of the three categories we just discussed. That is, many express either uniqueness or eternal existence or substantive existence. We’ll begin with names and ideas that imply eternal existence.
Ideas that express eternal existence include uncreated, unoriginated, unborn, and unformed. Let’s see how each applies to energy.
Since energy is eternal, it was never created, originated, or born at anytime in the past. Since it was never created, originated, or born, it’s uncreated, unoriginated, and unborn. The term “unborn,” of course, has another meaning: that which is not yet born. However, I’ll only use “unborn” to mean something that exists but was never born, originated, or created at anytime in the past.
Energy is also unformed. Why? A meaning of “formed” is created, originated. An idea is created when it’s formed in the mind; a business corporation is formed when a few people come together and create it. Therefore, energy is unformed because there was never a time when it was created. It’s unformed in another sense, as well, because “form” has another meaning:
1. The shape or contour of something as distinguished from its substance . . . ([F08],523).
Energy is “unformed” because it has no shape or contour. Form is also the opposite of substance, so it’s appropriate that the eternal substance is unformed.
The terms we just discussed—uncreated, unoriginated, unborn and unformed—concern the past. What about the future? Ideas that express future eternal existence include indestructible, enduring, lasting, persevering, permanent, and undying. Let’s discuss them
Something that’s eternal will never cease to exist in the future. Therefore, it can’t be destroyed. It’s indestructible. As the only eternal, indestructible entity known to science, energy is “the indestructible.” In a similar sense, it may be called “the enduring,” “the lasting,” “the persevering,” “the permanent,” and “the undying.”
The next set of ideas we’ll discuss refer both to past and future eternal existence.
That which is eternal is unaffected by time, either past or future. Though mountains wash to the sea and continents change their shape, the eternal remains, untouched by time, beyond time, and, in this sense, “the timeless.” Moreover, it’s not finite in time, not bounded or limited by time. Therefore, it’s infinite, unbounded, and unlimited with respect to time.
Philosophy has other ideas that express not eternal existence but substantive existence. “Ultimate ground of existence” is an important one. What does it mean? Let’s begin with the simpler idea “ground of existence.”
The table exists but doesn’t exist independently. Rather its existence depends on wood. Therefore, the table is based on and “grounded” in wood. Wood is the table’s ground of existence. If the wood ceases to exist then the table stops existing, too. Though wood is the table’s ground of existence, the inverse it not true: the table is not wood’s ground of existence because if the table ceases to exist, the wood can still exist. If the table’s top and legs are cut into pieces, for example, the table—as a table—ceases to exist. But the wood still exists. But if the table is not wood’s ground of existence, what is? Wood’s existence is grounded in wood molecules, which in turn have their existence grounded in atoms, which in turn are grounded in subatomic particles, etc. The process of taking “the ground of existence of the ground of existence of the . . .” doesn’t go on forever. When it ends we’ve arrived at the table’s ultimate ground of existence—energy. Wood, molecules, atoms, etc. are all grounds of existence for the table, but only energy is the table’s ultimate ground of existence.
By the way, the process of taking the ground of existence indicates dependence. The table depends on wood for its existence, which depends on wood molecules for its existence, etc. Energy, however, as ultimate ground of existence, depends on nothing else for its existence. It has independent, self-sufficient existence. We’ll return to the idea of independent, self-sufficient existence soon.
Other philosophic terms which express the idea of ultimate ground of existence include core, center, root, source, primal, fundamental, the first, and essence. Let’s examine them.
As we look deeper into the table—to wood, to molecules, to atoms, etc.—as we get closer to its ultimate ground of existence, we get closer to its “core” and “center.” Therefore, energy is the table’s center and core. But the table isn’t unique. For any other physical entity we’d arrive at the same core and center. We’d find the same ultimate ground. Therefore, energy is unique; it’s “the core” and “the center.”
That which is the core and center is also “the root.” Because an entity derives its existence from energy, it’s “rooted” in energy, just as a snowman is rooted in snow, a sand castle in sand. As root, energy is also “the source” since the table “flows” from its root and source, down through fundamental, subatomic, and atomic particles, molecules, and wood to finally become a table. As the root and source, energy is also primal and fundamental, the first. Finally, it’s the essence because essence is
1. the basic or necessary constituent of a thing ([R01],451),
and that which is root and source is obviously a basic and necessary constituent.
The terms we’ve seen suggest inanimate objects: apples have cores, circles have centers, plants have roots, and rivers have sources. Philosophy has many other names and ideas that express substantive existence. Some—such as mother, father, creator, identity and self—express almost person-like qualities. Others—such as isness and suchness—deny all qualities, person-like or not. We’ll discuss both types.
The root and source of all that exists can be pictured in a personal way, as the “Father,” the “Mother,” the “Creator” of everything. Moreover, regarding energy in this way makes the universe appear as a child, the son of an eternal Father, the daughter of an eternal Mother, and a creation of the Creator
What of identity and self? A son or father, a daughter or mother, is a person with an identity, a self. Does the idea of identity and self also apply to energy?
First of all, what do the words mean? A dictionary defines “identity” as
1. the state or fact of remaining the same one or ones, as under varying aspects or conditions . . . ([R01],659).
What of “self”? One definition is
1. An individual known or considered as the subject of his own consciousness. ([F08],1218).
A later chapter discusses awareness of one’s own consciousness. A better definition of “self” for what we’re discussing now is
5. being the same throughout ([R01],1193).
Let’s see how these definitions apply to people.
Imagine an actor in costume. The question “Who is that?” has two senses. The first sense refers to appearance. “Who are they playing today? Macbeth? Caesar?” The second refers to the underlying identity and self. “Who is the actor? Is that Joe or John?”
So, identity and self refer to the person who “stands under” various appearances. Our clothes change and, over the years, our body changes. That which remains the same in all those different appearances—which “stands under” the appearances—is our identity and self.
Now, let’s generalize the idea of identity and self to inanimate objects. Imagine (once again!) a table. The question “What is that?” also has two senses. In the sense of appearance, the question means “What is the wood ‘playing’ now? A table? Yesterday it was just a pile of wood. Today, however, I see that someone has fashioned it into a table.” In the sense of standing under, however, the question refers to identity and self. “What is the enduring reality underneath the appearance of what was yesterday a pile of wood and is today a table?” We can even ask, “What is ‘playing’ the table?”
The answer is that energy, the ultimate ground of existence, is “playing” the table. Energy is the enduring reality behind the table’s appearance. It’s the identity and self of the table and every other entity.
Mother, father, identity and self express personal qualities. Isness and suchness, on the other hand, express an absence of all qualities, personal or not. Nonetheless, isness and suchness are loosely related to the ideas of identity and self. Let’s see how.
Something that remains the same under different appearances and conditions is independent of appearances and conditions. Appearances come and go, conditions change, but the identity and self remains. But does something that’s independent of particular appearances and conditions have any appearances and conditions to call its own? Does it have any qualities of its own? For example, a person’s identity and self is independent of particular appearances and conditions. A person is born with a tiny body that later increases to ten or more times its original weight. A person today may be cheerful whereas yesterday they were sad. Yet we feel the same person exists underneath the different bodies and moods. Therefore, the person’s identity or self must be independent of appearances, such as body, and conditions, such as mood. If it is, can identity and self have distinctive qualities of its own? We return to that question in a later chapter which discusses the question of personal identity.
What of energy, the identity and self of physical objects? Does it have any distinctive qualities? A persuasive philosophical argument says no. It’s as follows.
As we go toward center, physical characteristics are lost. A table may have a smooth finish but the idea of “smooth finish” doesn’t exist on the atomic level. A bell may have a nice tone, but tone (nice or otherwise) has no meaning on the subatomic level. Diamonds are hard, but the carbon atoms which compose them are no harder or softer than the carbon atoms that compose soot. Therefore, as we get closer to center we lose distinctive qualities. If we take this process to the limit, we reach pure energy, which therefore has no specific qualities. We reach undifferentiated existence, existence itself. If this argument is true, then energy is “pure isness” or “pure suchness”—pure existence, devoid of particular qualities.
Some writers put it differently: they say that pure existence has all qualities in a latent state. Just as sunlight has all colors of the spectrum (as passing it through a prism demonstrates), they say that pure suchness contains all qualities in an undifferentiated state.
We’ve just examined philosophical concepts that express eternal existence and substantive existence. We’ll discuss a few more philosophical concepts after we pause to consider a question we raised earlier.
Decades ago, science finally discovered the universe’s single, eternal basis. Physics at last found the essential essence of all things. Strangely, not very much is made of this discovery. One reads innumerable popular science books and rarely sees it expressed. Why not? Why does science so often ignore or overlook what seems a significant find? Historically, science has ignored the universe’s ultimate basis, along with questions of ultimate purpose, for two reasons: fear, and a desire to avoid useless discussions.
We’ve already discussed the well-known difficulties early science experienced with religion about physical facts, for instance, the earth’s path around the sun. In those times, “Eternal Substance” and similar phrases concerned the supernatural world—they were applied to God. If scientists had been so foolish (or daring) as to include the Ultimate Ground of Existence (God) in their discussions, they might have suffered much more drastic persecution from religious authorities. Science might not have survived. So science from its earliest days has included only the natural world in its scope. As early as 1663, Robert Hooke, curator of the Royal Society, one of England’s foremost scientific societies, wrote:
The business and design of the Royal Society is—To improve the knowledge of naturall things, and all useful Arts, Manufactures, Mechanick practices, Engynes, and Inventions by Experiments—(not meddling with Divinity, Metaphysics, Moralls, Politicks, Grammar, Rhetorick or Logick). ([G05],122).
And it’s probably no accident science went by the name natural philosophy back then. Newton, for instance, labeled his landmark work Philosophia Naturalis Principia Mathematica (The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy). When religion could have crushed science, scientists adopted the attitude: “We are only trying to understand the natural world. We have no intention of intruding on religious questions. So please leave us in peace.” Science’s domain was limited by prudence, if not self-preservation. By fear.
The second reason is more positive: a desire to avoid fruitless discussions. In medieval Europe, the explanation of the universe and our place in it fell within the domain of religion and much (perhaps too much) had already been said about it. Scholasticism, a philosophical system based on theology, had examined such questions in detail. As Nobel physicist Werner Heisenberg wrote:
So much had already been said about the larger scheme of things by philosophers and theologians that there was no longer much new to say about it; scholasticism had produced weariness of thought. But the details of natural processes had as yet been scarcely looked into. ([H03],216).
So, in certain scientific circles
. . . it therefore became an absolute principle that only observed details should be discussed, not the larger connection of the whole. ([H03],215-6).
Heisenberg believed that even though such a restricted scope risked
. . . the danger of losing sight of the totality, the interconnected unity of the whole. ([H03],215),
it was, at the same time,
. . . precisely the reason for the abundant fruitfulness of the new natural science. ([H03],215).
Even today, scientific disciplines carve out a fixed portion of the natural universe as their domain of study and ignore any relation to the larger whole. Because science intentionally ignores connections to the larger whole, most scientists, speaking as scientists, can say nothing about our place in the universe and our relation to the eternal basis of everything. For the two reasons we’ve seen, and perhaps others, science ignores such questions.
But the historical conditions which fostered this tradition no longer exist. True, scientists are still opposed by religious people who dispute the theory of evolution or some other scientific idea. But such disagreements no longer threaten science’s survival. If it wished, science could investigate our place in the universe and other questions of ultimate meaning. In a few chapters we’ll discuss how it might do so.
Let’s return now to discussing philosophical terms we’ll see in coming chapters. We’ve already discussed names and ideas which express energy’s eternal and subsistent existence. Next, we’ll discuss independent, self-sufficient existence, an idea that’s related to ultimate ground of existence. All the terms we’ll explore in this section mean almost the same thing. We discuss them because we’ll see them in coming chapters. Let’s begin with the terms self-sufficient, self-existent, independent, and sovereign.
We saw earlier that taking “the ground of existence of the ground of existence of the . . .” indicates dependence. Because wood is the table’s ground of existence, the table can’t exist without the wood. But the wood can exist without the table. Saw the table into pieces and the wood still exists. Wood’s existence, however, depends on wood molecules, whose existence, in turn, depend on atoms, whose existence, ultimately, depends on energy. Therefore, the table depends on each of its grounds of existence for its own existence. If the wood, the molecules, the atoms, or energy cease existing the table ceases existing, too. In general, an entity that has a ground of existence in something other than itself depends on that other thing. The ultimate ground of existence is its own ground of existence, however, therefore it exists independently and depends on nothing else for its existence.
At one time, an educated person might have imagined entities that were their own grounds of existence. For instance, they might have believed that Aristotle’s four elements, earth, water, air, and fire, really are independent elements, existing in and of themselves, independent of any lower-level entity. Today, however, modern science knows that each and every material entity is ultimately based on energy. Today, science recognizes only one self-sufficient entity, existing independent of anything else. Energy is its own ground of existence and depends on nothing else for its existence. Therefore, it’s self-sufficient, self-existent, independent, and sovereign.
Uncontingent and unconditioned are two more terms we’ll see in coming chapters. They, too, express independent existence. To see how let’s begin with their opposites, contingent and conditioned existence, taking contingent existence first. What is contingent existence? It’s a kind of existence an entity has when it
. . . must be considered as dependent for its actual existence on some being other than itself. ([C11],47).
For example, a snowman depends on snow for its own existence—it can’t exist unless snow exists. So, the snowman exists contingently. It has contingent existence.
Something which has dependent, contingent existence also has conditioned existence. Why? Because a contingency or dependency is also a condition. Because the snowman depends on snow for its existence, it exists contingent upon snow. So, it exists on the condition that snow exist. It has dependent, contingent, and conditioned existence.
Now, let’s discuss the opposite of contingent, conditioned existence: uncontingent, unconditioned existence. Something which exists independently, without any contingency or conditions, has uncontingent, unconditioned existence. Energy has such existence. And, as the only known entity with such existence, it’s “the unconditioned” and “the uncontingent.”
Cause is the last concept we’ll discuss in this section. A cause is similar to a dependency, a contingency, and a condition. So, dependent existence, existence with contingencies or conditions, is also caused existence. Let’s discuss an example.
What causes a snowman to exist? It’s initial existence is caused by snow existing and by the person who builds it. It’s continued existence is caused by snow’s continued existence. If any cause were absent, the snowman would not exist. For a snowman, snow is a dependency, contingency, and condition. But it’s also a cause. Snow causes the snowman to continue existing. In general, something’s dependency, contingency or condition is its cause, as well.
But if something was never created then it has no initial causes. And if it exists independently, if it is its own ground of existence, then it has no cause which keeps it in existence. Therefore, it’s “uncaused” because nothing causes it. Or it may be thought of as causing itself, as “self-caused.” And if it’s the cause of anything else, it’s an “uncaused cause” and “first cause” as well. Because energy is free of dependency it’s free of cause. Therefore, it’s all of the above: uncaused, self-caused, an uncaused cause, and the first cause.
We have yet to discuss philosophical names and ideas which express energy’s uniqueness. We’ll do so after pausing to consider another question.
We’ve seen some historical reasons why sciences ignore the eternal substance and questions of ultimate meaning. But if the root and source is as central and important as it seems, how can it be overlooked, even if a science chooses to do so? Physicist Sir Arthur Eddington described one method, which he calls “the cyclic method.” In ([E01]) The Nature of the Physical World, Eddington presents a lengthy example of the cyclic method where Einstein’s potentials are defined in terms of intervals are defined in terms of . . . are defined in terms of potentials. Here’s another, shorter example.
Electric force is defined as something which causes motion of an electric charge; and electric charge is something which exerts electric force. ([E01],264).
Electrical force is defined in terms of electrical charge; electrical charge is defined in term of electrical force. Wood is what the table is made of; the table is made of wood. The definitions are cyclic: they refer to each other. Therefore, there’s no need to discuss anything deeper. Eddington concludes:
And you can see how by the ingenious device of the cycle[,] physics secures for itself a self-contained domain for study with no loose ends projecting into the unknown. All other physical definitions have the same kind of interlocking. ([E01],264).
There is, however, one science for which the cyclic method fails to work, sub-atomic physics. This science looks deep down into the very heart of matter. It can’t avoid reference to the universe’s ultimate basis. Its investigations have uncovered the universe’s eternal source, and proven Einstein’s claim that matter and energy are one.
We’ve finally reached our last group of philosophical terms that apply to energy. We’ve examined terms which express its eternal, substantive, self-sufficient existence. Now, let’s examine names and ideas which express its uniqueness. Some of the terms we’ll discuss are the one, the pure, the unmixed, the unadulterated, and the simple.
Because energy is the single, unique root and source of all that exists, it alone exists on the ultimate level. On the level of everyday objects there are many different things. On the atomic level there are only about ninety-two different kinds of atoms. But on the ultimate level nothing exists but energy. On that level, energy is “the one.” Moreover, because nothing else exists on that level, there is no possibility of mixture. There is nothing else there for energy to mix with. Therefore, energy is pure, unmixed, and unadulterated.
Energy is simple because it’s composed of only one substance or element, itself. Entities which aren’t simple are compounded of two or more elements. Water, for example, is composed of two components, hydrogen and oxygen. If energy wasn’t simple, if it was composed of elements, then we would have go at least one level deeper to arrive at the ultimate level. In this case energy wouldn’t be the ultimate ground of existence because its existence would be grounded in its elements. But, in fact, energy is its own ground of existence. Therefore, it’s simple. Moreover, it’s “the all” because all things and everything is ultimately energy. All it’s also “the one”. Therefore, it’s “the all and the one.”
As the ultimate substance of everything that exists, energy pervades every corner of the cosmos, as matter, electromagnetic radiation, etc. Therefore, it’s present everywhere, it’s omnipresent, because where anything exists, energy—as ultimate ground of existence—also exists. That which is omnipresent is also “unbounded” and “beyond space” in the sense that space does not limit or confine it to any particular place. It’s not finite or limited in space. It is therefore infinite and unlimited with respect to space.
But is energy actually omnipresent? After all, it’s usually considered different from space. Wouldn’t a region of space in perfect vacuum, free of electromagnetic radiation, also be free of energy? To be omnipresent, the “all and the one,” shouldn’t energy somehow include space, too? And what about time? Energy is eternal, it knows no time. But if energy is the “all” shouldn’t it include time?
The two questions aren’t different if relativity theory is correct, because that theory says space and time aren’t two distinct things. Rather, they’re two sides of one entity, space-time. Energy is infinite, unbounded, and unlimited with respect to space-time. But is it also the ultimate ground of existence of space-time?
It may be. In quantum theory, “empty space” is known to be neither. For example, the ABC’s of Quantum Mechanics, in the section There is No Emptiness!, has
. . . vacuum or void or emptiness is generally nonexistent. Only matter and fields fill all of space. ([R09],248).
And another writer, explaining the discoveries of the famous physicist Paul Dirac, says:
What we call “empty space” is actually a sea of negative energy electrons! ([G04],125).
So space-time may be a manifestation of energy.
Or it may not. Space-time may be entirely different and independent of energy. If it is, the world view this book presents will need some revision. No problem.
If this book’s world view claimed to be absolutely true and revealed by God, then we’d have to insist that energy is somehow the ultimate basis of space-time. We’d have to treat our world view like religious dogma, demanding acceptance regardless of any evidence to the contrary. But what we’re discussing is a tentative world view that, I hope, is compatible with science and, I’m sure, can be corrected and improved. It’s a living, growing set of ideas, capable of change, adaptation, improvement, and correction—not the last word, the final, frozen, ultimate and absolute truth. If it needs some revision then it will be revised. No problem.
We’ve finally reached this chapter’s last two philosophical ideas. Both ideas express energy’s uniqueness and completeness. They are “absolute” and “perfect.” Let’s take “absolute” first. What does it mean? It has
. . . two chief uses: as a adjective it is used in contrast with relative, comparative or conditioned; as a noun it is used by philosophers to denote the universe conceived as a single whole or system. ([N04],v1,49).
In subsequent chapters, we’ll see “absolute” used as an adjective, often as the opposite of relative or conditioned. Now, we’ll discuss its use as a noun, as “the absolute.” What is “the absolute”? The
. . . ultimate whole is the Absolute . . . Only the Absolute is fully real . . . It is timeless or eternal . . . It is causa sui, self-caused; for there can be no cause or ground outside itself. ([N04],v1,50).
. . . all-comprehensive; there could not, even in theory, be anything outside it . . . ([N04],v1,50).
Is energy the absolute? We’ve already seen it’s timeless, eternal, self-caused, the all and the one. In a later chapter, we’ll see how only energy is fully real. If we assume for now that only energy is fully real, then it deserves to be called “the real,” the eternal and the ultimate reality. And if “all-comprehensive” is taken in the sense of “all that ultimately exists,” then, on the ultimate level, energy is all-comprehensive, too. Thus, energy is the absolute.
However, the phrase “all-comprehensive” may be taken to mean all levels of existence. Besides the ultimate level, there’s the sub-atomic level; the emotional and intellectual levels where we experience feelings and thoughts; and the level of sense experience, the level we live on much of the time, sensing people and objects. Words which suggest this sense of all-comprehensive are “cosmos” and “universe.” In this sense, energy isn’t the absolute. I’ll use absolute in the first sense, as a synonym for energy, and use “cosmos” or “universe” to indicate all levels of existence.
Our final concept is “perfect.” The word has many meanings, among them are
2. excellent or complete . . . 7. pure or unmixed . . . 8. unqualified; absolute. ([R01],986).
We’ve already seen energy is the absolute, the pure, and the unconditioned. Since unqualified has a meaning similar to unconditioned, we may say energy is “the perfect.”
In this chapter, we surveyed what science studies. We saw that science recognizes energy as “the fundamental entity of the universe.” So, science’s many branches (at least, the ones that study physical phenomena) actually study various manifestations of energy. Therefore, energy, the universe’s ultimate ground of existence, is itself a valid object of scientific study, because it’s the basis of everything science studies.
Then, we turned to philosophy for a deeper understanding of the universe’s fundamental entity. We examined philosophical names and ideas that apply to energy. We saw that many express either uniqueness or eternal existence or substantive existence. In coming chapters, saints, sages, and mystics will use those terms to express their visions and insights about the universe’s fundamental entity.
But saints and seers use more than philosophical ideas to express their intuitions and visions. They use the language of religion as well. Therefore, we’ll now turn to religion for a yet deeper understanding of the universe’s uncaused cause. We’ll examine religious names and ideas that apply to the eternal substance. Of the religious terms we’ll discuss, one stands out above all others. It’s a simpler, less philosophical, and more emotional idea that the ones this chapter discussed. Children learn this idea on their mother’s knee. Yet saints and the wise ponder its meaning throughout their lives. It’s an idea that has moved men and women to heroic acts of mercy and self-sacrifice. It has also moved them to inhuman acts of violence and torture. The idea is expressed with a simple, three-letter word. God.