THE VACUUM (At the border of being and nothingness)

Elementary fields

At the most basic level there are fields. Fields permeate each point of our space-time. Examples of basic fields are: gravitational, electromagnetic, the strong and the weak nuclear interactions. Particles like photons, electrons, quarks etc. are excitations of the basic fields. We can imagine the excitations as drops which jump out of a smooth lake surface. Also they can be envisioned as waves along a guitar string when the string has been picked (i.e. excited). Each excitation (particle) has its own basic field. Some of them, like electrons, photons and quarks are stable elementary field excitations. Most of the excitations are unstable and decay to stable ones. Nucleons (protons and neutrons), atoms, molecules, organeles, cells, organs, our bodies and the world at large are build out of these stable excitations (particles) and their interactions.

Vacuum: At the edge of Being

Vacuum is the state of the fields with lowest possible energy. It is the state of the field that is not excited. A state with no measurable particles formed. However, it contains, so called virtual particles (i.e. excitations). They last for a very short time, too short to be measured directly. These excitations (particles) are considered as fluctuations of the vacuum.  At the scale of our perceptual abilities these fluctuations are averaged out to zero, so we don’t perceive them (see Figure 1). The fluctuations have some measurable effects, though. Also, for example, the field of interactions between electrons and protons in atoms consists of virtual photons. Because our bodies, trees, rocks, rivers and oceans are formed by atoms, it can be said that all of them, at basic level, are permeated by a field of virtual photons (excitations). Our bodies are mostly a field of virtual photons.

Figure 1. A.  Vacuum fluctuations (i.e. virtual particles) exist on atomic and smaller spatio-temporal scales. They are transient occurrences of antagonistic pairs of excitations (particles). The antagonism between the pairs may be represented as + and -. On panels A and B the antagonistic  pairs of excitations (particles) are represented as light (+) and dark (-) places. B. As we zoom-out at larger spatio-temporal scales the fluctuations tend to form a dense soup of antagonistic pairs.  C. At even larger spatio-temporal scales we perceive a non-differentiated continuum because antagonistic pairs average out to zero. We perceive “nothingness”. This state of “nothingness” may be poetically called “The Thundering Emptiness” or “The Empty Plenitude”.

The Metaphysics of the state between Being and Nothingness

What is the substance of the basic fields? What are they made of? This is a metaphysical question.

We may say that the substance is non-mental matter. Then, these material, non-mental clumps, form aggregate and ever more complex systems. Mentality only emerges at some level of complexity of the material substrate. This approach faces the hard problem of consciousness.  If this is our view, then we belong to the campus of materialistic metaphysics. 

However, we may also say that the basic fields are mental and conscious, i.e. they are basic forms of experience. In this view, the Universe is mental and can be called the Great Consciousness. The elementary excitations (i.e. particles) can be seen as elementary thoughts of the Great Consciousness. These elementary thoughts further form more complex thoughts with emergent properties. In this view everything in the Universe (including what physicalists call matter) is its conscious experience.   If we believe that fields exist even when we do not perceive them, then we belong to the campus of objective idealism.

If we consider basic excitations (i.e. particles) as rudimentary conscious beings themselves, then we are of the panpsychist metaphysical breed. Objective idealism and panpsychism views seem friendlier to the hard problem of consciousness.

One has to notice that, concerning the scientific understanding, these metaphysical issues do not matter. No matter to which metaphysical campus we belong, the mathematical theories and the explanation of processes will remain the same.

Robert Hristovski

21. 12. 2020