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Existence is the natural state of the universe.

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Nature of something.

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Nature of space

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Creation of event cells

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Topology of event cells

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The universal organising principle

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Determination of the curvature of space

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Cumulative effects of event cells

mass and weight
The creation of ‘gravity’ and ‘mass’

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The dynamic patterns of space

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The production of ‘matter’ from energy

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12 February 2015

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The nature of something . . .

We have been putting the word ‘something’ in italics because it is this something the nature of which we are investigating, because accepting that the something has existed forever does not begin to answer why it exists, what it is that exists or the way in which it is organised.

At least from the time of Thales, thinkers have been concerned about what might be the fundamental substance of the world. Depending on the context in which it is used, the word ‘substance’ has a number of meanings so, to avoid confusion, for the present we will use the word ‘something’ as equivalent to the expressions ‘fundamental substance’ and ‘fundamental entity’, the existence of which is the natural state of the universe.

From the Ancient Greeks to the end of the 19th Century, it was hypothesised that space was filled with an ether, also known as the ‘aether’, that was essential to, among other things, support the transmission of light. The ether in space view was widely accepted until, in 1881, Albert A Michelson (1852–1931) used a very accurate interferometer to try and determine the effect of the Earth’s motion through this supposed ether on the observed velocity of light. Michelson concluded, ‘The interpretation of these results is that there is no displacement of the interference bands . . . The result [is that] the hypothesis of a stationary ether is thus shown to be incorrect.’ Michelson and Edward Morley (1838–1923) repeated the experiment in 1887 with an even more accurate interferometer with similar results . . . still null.

As indicated, the null result was thought only to have demonstrated that the hypothesis of a stationary ether was incorrect. However, when Michelson and Morley carried out the experiment, Einstein had not yet proposed the special theory of relativity so they could not have known that their results also showed that, because Einstein’s own theory of special relativity requires that light is the same speed in all reference frames, if their result had been anything but null it would have required a revision of the theory or further repetitions of the experiment. Because the results of the experiments are regarded as the underpinning of the special relativity theory, Michelson was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1907.

However, Einstein later acknowledge the need for an ether. In a lecture he presented at Leiden (Leyden) University on 27 October 1920, entitled ‘Ether and the Theory of Relativity’, in the closing paragraph he says:

Recapitulating, we may say that according to the general theory of relativity space is endowed with physical qualities; in this sense, therefore, there exists an ether. According to the general theory of relativity space without ether is unthinkable; for in such space there not only would be no propagation of light, but also no possibility of existence for standards of space and time (measuring-rods and clocks), nor therefore any space-time intervals in the physical sense. But this ether may not be thought of as endowed with the quality characteristic of ponderable media, as consisting of parts which may be tracked through time. The idea of motion may not be applied to it.

The first sentence in this quote is ambiguous, in that Einstein first says ‘space is endowed with physical qualities’, which seems to mean that space itself has the properties. This would be agree with the idea which I am proposing, however, in the second part of the sentence he says, ‘in this sense, therefore, there exists an ether.’ It is not clear whether he means that the ether is space itself or in space? If Einstein had been unambiguously understood to mean that the ether is space, his words would surely have provoked many active research programs into that idea, but I can find no record of any.

Moreover, if we understand the words ‘ponderable media’ in the usual way we must infer that Einstein meant that the ether as a medium is not endowed with the characteristic of weight or mass and that it was not material in the normal sense. That is, the ether is not something we can sense in any way.

His final sentence is also ambiguous. It could mean that the ether cannot move to a new location, that is, if the ether is everywhere in the Parmenidean sense, it would have nowhere to move to, or it could mean that the ether itself cannot be moved, for example by being vibrated by something passing through it or that it might be displaced by particles of dust.

There are two types of change involved here, the change from place to place (location), and change within, and it is not clear whether Einstein meant either or both. The ability of space to change within is important for our hypothesis and also for the thousands of physicists and astrophysicists who are spending billions of dollars on building detectors, both terrestrial and space based, to measure gravitational waves. These are ripples in the fabric of space, which are predicted by Einstein’s own general theory of relativity. Therefore, if Einstein meant that it could not change within, the ambiguity creates a contradiction between his two theories. If he meant the ether could not move from place to place, it is difficult to see how it could be anything but space, in which case it would support the hypothesis we are developing. Although there is still controversy, it is now generally accepted that the ether does not exist.

Let us take from this somewhat confusing passage the words, ‘according to the general theory of relativity, space is endowed with physical qualities’, and move on to what these ‘physical qualities’ might tell us about something.

The nature of something
If you hold your two hands in front of you, palms inwards, you will see that there is space between them. Of course there are other things in that space including air, perhaps a few specks of dust, light and other electromagnetic waves—if you held you mobile phone in that space it would detect a signal—but what if you did the same thing in deep space? There would be no air or dust but there would still be light—we are able to see the stars—and other types of electromagnetic radiation—radio telescopes work—and, of course, there would be space.

Now, move your hands further apart. There is obviously more space between them, but did you create it by moving your hands or did you just move your hands to new positions in space that already exists? Your answer will indicate whether you, along with Leibniz, hold the relational theory of space, that it is just the relation between objects or, along with Newton, the absolute theory, that space is a real entity. The relationist regards space as the relation between objects—without objects there would be no space; while the absolutist regards space as being real—empty, a void, but nevertheless real.

The relational theory of space
Investigating the relational theory of space first; if you move your hands further apart you are actually creating space that did not exist before. So far so good, now move your hands together and clasp them tightly to form a single object . . . you have reduced space! Of course you could argue that your hands, having extension, would require space in which to have room to exist, but how far can you reduce the distance between two objects before you eradicate space altogether? The point is this, according to the relationist, it is the relation between objects that creates space, so there must be more than one object to create space. If there is no space in which a single object might exist it seems that the only single “object” that might exist would be a dimensionless point. Take away the dimensionless point and a state of the complete absence of everything—that is, nothing—would be created.

Although we concluded earlier that it could never have been the case that a state of nothing existed, it would be a large step further to say that such a state is impossible, however, just the fact that it could never have been the case that a state of nothing ever existed creates an insurmountable problem for the relational theory of space.

The problem is this, without even advancing to the question of what that object might be made, there would be no space in which to create just one object to start a universe. The “big bang” hypothesis may be seen as an attempt to surmount this problem by supplying the creation of space along with matter as part of the package of the creation of the universe, in much the same way that batteries are sometimes supplied with a new electric toy.

Furthermore, it would be impossible for space which depends for its existence on relations, a relational space, to have the physical properties that Einstein proposed that it must have and, as we will see later, it does have.

Quite a few highly respected philosophers have championed the relational theory of space, and many still do, but it seems to me to be repugnant to common sense and little more than a desperate attempt to explain something that is difficult to perceive or comprehend. There is a vast literature on the subject with an excellent bibliography and reference list online here.

The abolute theory of space
Since the relational theory of space does not appear to satisfy the requirement for a space with the degree of substantiality necessary to bear at least some of the properties attributed to space, we will investigate more closely the absolutist hypothesis. From a natural perception point of view, the absolutist idea of space does seem more acceptable, however, whichever view of space is held there are problems with it. The relationist view has the problems mentioned earlier. The absolutists have the problem of describing just what they mean by space as a vacuum, a vast empty void but which, according to a perusal of the literature, has ascribed to it a comprehensive catalogue of properties including: shape, density, mass, isotropy, homogeneity, elasticity, rigidity, magnetic permeability and electrical permittivity, impedance, capacitance and conductivity, transparency, rigidity, flexibility, expansion, discreteness, continuity and age.

Without going into detail about each property, it is fair to ask if all or any of these properties could be borne by a complete void. Obviously they cannot, because, apart from the consideration of a complete void having any properties at all, some of the properties listed contradict others. For this reason alone we are obliged to ask what might comprise the void and we will come to that question soon.

Let us start with some ideas about the nature of something and how it might come into existence.

Considering again the views of space, we see in the figure at the top of the next column that the graphical symbol (a) is a representation of the relationist view of space in which objects somehow emerge from something, denoted ‘?’ and space is created by the relations between these objects.

Space/objects

space objects3(a)

(a)

space objects 3(b)

 

(b)

space objects3(c)

(c)

The graphical symbol (b) depicts one version of the absolutist view that space just exists and objects emerge from something, indicated by ‘?’, of a different nature from space and independent from it. Graphical symbol (c) represents another version of absolutist space, which has emerged from something, and objects which have emerged from another something which is different and independent from the first.

Although some absolutists deny that absolute space is substantial stuff, other absolutists require that space be substantial. This view is usually called ‘substantivalism’. According to Simon Le Poidevin, the word ‘substantivalism’ means that ‘objects are embedded within a space whose existence and nature is independent of those objects’. Presumably he means that space and objects are ontologically independent, that is they have independent natures. If we take this at face value, as shown in (b) and (c) above, it entails a palpable dualism.

Analysing the first claim made by Le Poidevin, ‘objects are embedded within space . . .’, we see that it unambiguously means that space exists without objects. It could also be taken to mean that objects can exist without space, although it is difficult to see how this might be the case . . . well, if there is no space, unless we take the relationist position, where will we put the objects? The second claim, ‘. . . is independent of those objects’, is that the nature of space is independent of the nature of the objects embedded in it. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the nature of space is different from that of the objects embedded in it, just that they are independent of each other.

If the fundamental natures of space and the objects embedded in it are different from each other, as well as them being independent of each other, we are faced with the task of trying to work out what might be the nature of two different but fundamental substances instead of one, this is the palpable dualism I pointed out. It is also difficult to see how two different substances might both lay claim to being fundamental. Therefore, although Le Poidevin’s claim that ‘objects are embedded within a space whose existence and nature is independent of those objects’ may be part of a definition of substantial space, we don’t have to accept that it applies in all possible hypotheses of what a substantial space might be. For example, it would not apply in an hypothesis about the nature of space that held either that there is something prior to space and space emerges from that something and objects emerges from space, or that space itself is the fundamental substance and objects emerge from that space.

Looking beyond Le Poidevin’s view, if the fundamental nature of space is not necessarily different from that of the objects it contains, just that they are independent of each other, this creates the possibility that there is a fundamental substance from which both space and objects emerge in apparently entirely different forms so that, while they are not independent of the source, they are completely independent of each other.

Applying Occam’s Razor to the above states of affairs requires that we choose the hypothesis that makes the fewest assumptions, that is, given the choice of two entities whose nature and existence are independent and different from each other, or one fundamental substance from which two entities emerge, we should choose the latter, the concept of which is shown in below.

Space/objects
space objects 4

One fundamental substance from which two entities emerge

As the graphic symbol shows, space and objects both emerge ontologically from some fundamental entity, the nature of which is the obscure ‘?’, and then, because they have emerged by different paths, they exist independently and differently from each other.

This all seems simple enough, however it could be even simpler. While the way shown above for space and objects to emerge from a fundamental substance and yet still be independent and different from each other requires only one fundamental substance, it requires two separate and independent pathways. It would be simpler if only one pathway was required. In the figure below, (a) graphically symbolises space emerging from the fundamental entity and then objects emerging from space, requiring only one, two-stage pathway. However, we see that it is possible for there to be an even simpler process; as shown in (b) space itself is the fundamental entity and objects emerge from it.

Space/objects

space objects 5(a)

(a)

space objects 5(b)

(b)

As yet I have not conjectured either what the fundamental entity may be or the type of processes that the pathways might follow, simply that, in (a), space emerges from some fundamental entity, the nature of which is obscure, as indicated by the dashed line and ‘?’, then objects emerge from space in a way that is also obscure, with the obscurity and apparent independence being indicated by the double dashed line.

It is also possible, as indicated above, that since we do not have a clear idea of what space is, since there is no apparent reason why space and objects must be ontologically independent of each other, it may well be the case that space is the fundamental entity from which objects emerge. That is space itself may be the fundamental entity as shown in (b), in which the idea that space itself may be the fundamental entity is indicated by the ‘?’ alongside the word ‘space’. In this state of affairs objects emerge from space in a way that is obscure, with the obscurity and apparent independence being indicated by the double dashed line.

This is certainly the simplest hypothesis and, according to the principle of making the minimum assumptions, it should be favoured because it assumes both the minimum number of entities (1) and the minimum number of pathways (1). Moreover, it is more probable, as demonstrated by the following simple example: if I toss one coin fairly, the probability of it landing tails up is one half, the same as the probability of it landing heads up. If I toss two similar coins fairly, both together, the probability of them both landing tails up is one quarter, the same as the probability for them both landing heads up. According to this example, the occurrence or existence of a ‘single fundamental entity’ to comprise the universe is more probable than the occurrence or existence of two or more kinds of entity requiring two or more pathways. Putting this in terms relevant to the forgoing reasoning; it is more likely that only space (1 entity) exists rather than space plus objects, plus ether (3 entities); or space plus objects (2 entities). In other words, it is reasonable to conclude that it is more probable that the simplest system of only space is the one that actually exists.

We will use the graphical symbol in (b) of the last figure and remove the ‘?’ as shown below.

Space/objects

space objects 6

Objects emerging from space

In our search for the nature of something, by a process of elimination of entities we have reached the stage where we can substitute the word ‘space’ in place of the word ‘something’.

Some progress has been made but we still have no idea what the nature of this space might be. Once we do have some idea of what space is, we will have a clearer view of which path we should take to move from that point to discover a universal principle according to which space is organised into objects that appear to be different from and independent of space and each other. So we move on now to the nature of space.

KEY IDEAS

  • There is something, the nature of which we are investigating.

  • Thinkers have always been concerned about what might be the fundamental substance of the world.

  • An ether in space was postulated from early times but shown to be incorrect by Michelson and Morley in 1881.

  • Ether is reinstated by Einstein as necessary for general theory of relativity, but is not ‘ponderable media’.

  • The relational theory of space is that it is just relations between objects.

  • The absolutist regards space as real, empty, a void but real.

  • By a process of elimination of entities, we hypothesise that space is the fundamental something and objects emerge from space.

Space is real and substantial and changing incessantly. Things are patterns of space which retain their identity because the patterns persist.