Wednesday, December 2, 2015

There's Nothing There - Part 4


The universe is a place defined by interaction between things that aren't really there.

That is, the forces of nature, and what are forces, anyway?, and a handful of particles that only do anything because of the forces and according to Quantum Theory's godfather, Niels Bohr, aren't really there in the way that we think things ought to be there. Or anywhere. Which is another option - they not only aren't there, they could be anywhere or everywhere. Or not.

In fact, it seems likely that the universe began with an interaction. General Relativity tells us that the universe began from an infinitely small point called the Singularity, and Quantum Mechanics tells us that if the Singularity is small (as it was, since it had no size at all), then Big Bang had to start with an interaction. In this case, an observation of the Singularity by something capable of observing. An observer.

An observer. Since Big Bang produced Space and Time, an observer outside of Space and Time. Outside of four dimensions of Space and Time. Outside of the Laws of Physics. An observer.

Because in Quantum Mechanics, nothing ever happens without an observation or a measurement. Nothing. Ever. Not even a universe.

I read the following the other day on, written by Margaret Wertheim (

"Such a view appalled many physicists, who fought desperately to find a way out, and for much of the 20th century it still seemed possible to imagine that, somehow, subjectivity could be squeezed out of the frame, leaving a purely objective description of the world. Albert Einstein was in this camp, but his position hasn’t panned out. 
"Forty years ago, the American theoretical physicist John Wheeler proposed a series of thought experiments to test if an observer could affect whether light behaved as a particle or a wave and, in 2007, the French physicist Alain Aspect proved that they could. 
"Just this April, Nature Physics reported on a set of experiments showing a similar effect using helium atoms. 
"Andrew Truscott, the Australian scientist who spearheaded the helium work, noted in Physics Today that ‘99.999 per cent of physicists would say that the measurement… brings the observable into reality’. 
"In other words, human subjectivity is drawing forth the world." 

Let's define what that says and means. It means that human interaction with the universe actually creates the reality that we live in. Without human interaction, there is no universe, no space and time, no laws of physics. No reality.

So the universe starts with an interaction. And then it becomes defined by interactions. Gravity is an interaction between matter and space-time. Matter is a quantum interaction between forces and particles, between the Higgs boson and energy. Stars are a gravitational interaction between matter and space-time. The elements you need for life come from that interaction, cooked up in the interior of stars or in the death of stars.

Everything in the universe, including the universe itself, is bound up and defined by interactions. You are made of stardust, made of space-time, made of particles and forces, all interactions.

Even humans and human relationships. You interact with the Strong Force and the Electromagnetic Force in order to exist. That is, your atoms do. You are made of space-time, sitting in space-time, affected by space-time, interacting with space-time. You interact with the universe - gravitationally, quantum mechanically.

And you interact with the biosphere, with plants and animals and air and water and bacteria and parasites and ecosystems and weather, as everything interacts with everything else.

And you interact with humanity. Love, hate, friendships, adversaries, random people on subways and buses and trains and planes and automobiles. With family. Loved ones. Lovers, wives, husbands, children.

All of life is an interaction. It starts with sperm and egg interacting, preceded of course by a certain interaction between mother- and father-to-be. Embryo with mother. Newborn with mother, father, doctors, nurses, midwives. Family. Friends. All of life is an interaction, starts with an interaction, proceeds via interactions, ends with an interaction.

Some interactions are infinite. Gravity, the weakest of the universe's interactions, is infinite in its reach. The Strong Force, clearly the strongest, is limited to the size of an atomic nucleus.

At the human level, the word "interaction" is analogous to "relationship". In fact, it could be said that this is true at every level. It is an interactional universe. It is a relational universe.

At the human level, that relationship ideally starts in an act of love.

Now we make a tiny little philosophical leap. Maybe ... theological. To wit:

The highest form of relationship is love.

All of our human relationships are defined by love in its varying levels. Indifference, hatred, fondness, disgust, dislike, lust, ignorance, passion, anger; a bell curve of love. We each hate a few, we are ignorant of most, we tolerate many, we like some, we love a few. What we want most in life seems to be two things, one of which is to be loved, to belong, to be accepted, and in its purest form, this love is unconditional.

The other is that we want to matter, to have made a difference, to have left the world in a better place, to have been a part of something greater than ourselves. It is probably just a variation on love - we want to be loved and admired for what we did as much as who we were.

That is, we want our interaction with the universe and our own personal version of the universe to have mattered. And we want to have loved and to have been loved along the way.

Watch this space.

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