On Permanence

Physics tells us that everything in the universe might be a wave. But if you look around you don’t see any waves. The walls, the trees, the body all look solid. Stars are made of hydrogen fusing into helium, smaller objects in space are made of stone, iron, ice et cetera. There’s a lot of waves, infrared, radio waves, maybe even gravity is a wave (not a scientific proposition), but the rest of the tangible universe is made of atoms. Matter is colloquially atoms. 1% is supposed to be matter, 30% dark matter, 70% dark energy, whatever that means. Either way, we perceive these objects, stars, planets et cetera, as fixed objects. Each day we wake up assuming the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, the stars are still there. We assume that the bed has remained in the same spot as when we fell asleep, that the trees next to the path we walk everyday are still there and that our bodies remain the same. We assume that the North American continental plate has not split in half. Isn’t this a bit strange?

Atoms (meaning indivisible) are divisible. They’re not fundamental particles. They’re not permanent, therefore matter is not permanent. They’re mostly empty space. But, in this empty space is a structure similar to the solar system. A gathering of mass in the centre with a few satellites orbiting it. We might think of our solar system as stable but it is both moving on the inside as the planets and gravel circle the Sun as well as moving relative to the galaxy it’s in, the Milky Way, and relative to other galaxies. Just like the stars and planets, each quark and electron in an atom spins around it’s own axle. So, both at the galactic scale and the subatomic scale we see that what appeared to be stable on a human scale is in fact in a state of constant flux. Everything is moving, ever-changing and non-permanent.

String theorists say that everything is in fact motion, that particles are made up of two-dimensional waves. To me, this explains how an atom can be solid and at the same time ever-moving. (Btw, no motion = vacuum = 0 degrees Kelvin = does not exist in the universe, neither by definition nor inductively.) Imagine a ball with a 1 mm diameter. Hold that ball between your thumb and index finger and move it around in a circle at the speed of light or somewhere near there. Then shoot another ball at the circling ball but at a normal speed. The ball will bounce off, because regardless of where on the circular path you shoot it, the circling ball will have time to get to that point before the comparatively slow-moving ball moves past. What you’ve created here is essentially a circular piece of metal that is no longer a ball but a ring and will act as a ring in every similar experiment and as such is for all practical purposes not a ball but a ring. It’s almost gained an entire dimension of existence. This is how I imagine that all matter gains its solidity purely out of motion. (Einstein says that an object moving at the speed of light (like a photon) gains infinite mass. Dunno if that’s just a side-note or vital to the understanding of the relation between motion and matter.)

In our personal lives, this gives us perspective on what we think of as permanent. Continents are not permanent, instead they change over millions of years. Stars are not permanent, instead they change over billions of years. Bodies are not permanent, instead they change over a hundred years. You are not permanent, your body is constantly changing. Just look at a picture of yourself at the age of 2. And what do you think all the food you put in your mouth becomes if not a new you, while the old you comes out the other end? The body, and therefore the self if you’re a materialist, is constantly changing, there is no permanent self. The idea of a soul is a reaction to the discrepancy we experience between the watching of the body changing and the feeling of mental continuity, i.e. the feeling that every consecutive thought is connected as on an indivisible, permanent string. But the thoughts do not belong to a permanent soul, they are electrochemically generated (bottom-up) anew each moment and it’s only memory/the neural network that keeps each new thought connected to the previous ones creating an illusory sense of continuity and permanence and a sense of time passing. For really, time is just a metaphor for motion.

When we look at an object and say it is a tree, the condition of this being true is a matter of time. Look at it some years later and it might be a book and not a tree at all. Heraclitus said 500 B.C. “No man ever steps in the same river twice”. He also said “the path up and down are one and the same”, saying all things are pairs of opposites, but indirectly also that all things are relative. One cannot be tall unless there is also a short one. The tree is only a tree if it’s not a book, i.e. time (motion) is the condition of existence, which we already knew since motion = matter. Nagarjuna says all things are dependently-arising. This to me means relativistic bottom-up creation. How can we imagine what this means? How can we imagine a completely relative (arbitrary) existence?

Let’s first accept that there are no “things” in the universe, all atoms are collections of energy moving around very fast in relatively stable paths. The entire universe is one giant movement. How can one wave of energy differentiate into so many different shapes? I think the answer might be found in the key idea of oneness. 1 is a mathematical axiom. Axiom means it can’t actually be proven, instead it is assumed to be true, which is why math works. Math works as long as 1 is true. But we’ve just seen that not even a tree is a tree. And I feel like I should clarify temporality before I move on, so, let’s imagine some more.

Imagine the universe as a pot of boiling water without the pot, just imaging the water being boundless. The heat energy in the water causes molecules to speed up, they speed up so much that they escape the water in the shape of gas, water vapour. The energy is locally random (well, apparently random to us who don’t see everything), the molecules that become gas are at random locations. Even in room temperature local molecules will occasionally become 100 degrees Celsius worth of speed and escape the water, which is why even in room temperature all the water in a bowl will eventually evaporate. Now, in the boiling water a lot of bubbles of gas will form as the energy is randomly concentrated to certain areas of the water. The bubbles will move, burst, escape the water. The bubbles are atoms, stars, galaxies. They form, they move, they burst. If you’re a really tiny creature living a relatively short life, you might grow up next to a bubble thinking it’s 3000 billions times as big as you and lives 1 billion times as long as you. For you, the bubble is permanent, the bubbles around it are the stars in the sky. So the tiny creature will step on the same bubble all his life just like we think an atom remains the same all the time because its lifetime is 10^33 years. To us, the Sun has always been there and will always be there, but from a different perspective the Sun is just the fleeting existence of a bubble that has come into existence and just after it is created it will explode again and yet during its short life time it has time to gather a solar system of dust particles around itself and this is indicative of everything from every perspective that ever has or will have existed.

Ok, so back to math and oneness. According to our math, there is 1 universe and it is infinite. Possibly it’s only infinite because it’s 1 and thus has to be everything. But if there is no permanence in objects, how can an object be one? If each object is constantly changing (the quark spins fast so even if a quark rotation is not the smallest unit of time, it’s still so small we can never measure a state of an object well enough to define it properly,) how can we speak of objects? Isn’t it more appropriate to speak of a flow? Oneness is an ideal, abstract, artificial idea, it doesn’t exist in nature unless you freeze time, but freezing time is freezing motion and since motion is matter, there would be no matter (O degrees Kelvin is impossible since matter = energy). Let’s try to think of oneness instead as a bell curve of probability or energy. A bell curve stretches from 0 to 1 without ever reaching either end. Now, imagine the wave of the universe as a graph. It will have the shape of a bell curve, being almost one, and if you look closer at the line, like a fractal, each bit of the line will be another bell curve. Each local maxima, each bell peak, is one “thing”, each “thing” almost being one. But they’re nothing on their own, they exist because of the combination of their almost-existence and their relationship to each other, itself a new dichotomy. Just like sunyata is sunyata, so is this description constructivist, relative and dependently-arising.

We can now use this description in practice; Everything is a local maxima on a fractal bell-curve. Each species in evolution is a local maximization of adaptation to its environment and needs a series of nudges to evolve towards a new local maxima. Any chemical compound needs a catalyst to reach a new level of excitement. Any thing is relative and can be defined only in relation to something else. We can use logic to highlight the importance of relativism. In logic a conclusion is deducted from two premisses. Both premises need to be true for the conclusion to be true. This means that any conclusion relies on its premises. Any premise is itself a conclusion of another set of premises, meaning they all rely on an infinite series of premises until we reach a premise that is a priori true, which is impossible, the myth of the urtrace. So, any logical truth during any discourse is wholly dependent on context. The context being a predefined set of premises that have been predetermined to be true.

Another side of the same infinitely-sided coin is niches. A believer in a finely-tuned universe might say there are niches in nature and they are all filled by different species, but not all are filled and more importantly, the niches don’t exist intrinsically in nature, they are created in relation to animals. The niches don’t exist on their own, there needs to be an animal potential for a niche to exist just like there needs to be a niche potential for an animal to exist. Taken alone, a tree is, among other things, a cylinder. A cylinder can be used for any number of things ranging from weapon to food to home et cetera. There’s no limit to the potential of a cylinder which gives the tree an infinite niche potential. Of course, a tree is itself a life-form, but the same reasoning works for a stone. There’s no permanence in niches, they are dependently-arising. Firstly, without life, there is no such thing as a niche. Individuals acquire random traits. If those traits work, a niche is created and filled simultaneously. Any unfilled niche is never defined (definition = epistemological existence as opposed to ontological existence).

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