AOH :: SCIBND03.TXT|
"Science Without Bounds" - Science's domain of knowing
This is 03SCIDOM.TXT, chapter 3 of
Science Without Bounds
A Synthesis of Science, Religion and Mysticism
The author invites comments and criticism,
and may be reached at email@example.com.
"Science Without Bounds" is copyrighted by Arthur J. D'Adamo and
may be freely redistributed.
- Science's Domain Of Knowing -
The topic of the previous two chapters was science and religion's
ways of knowing. The topic of this chapter and the next is
science and religion's domains of knowing. The idea of domain of
knowing is simple, as an illustration will show.
Suppose you ask a medical doctor how to treat sore a back. The
question is in medicine's "domain of knowing." Therefore, the
doctor can answer, speaking as a doctor. On the other hand, if
you ask the doctor to recommend a good mystery novel, the doctor
can answer as an individual, but not as a doctor. Sore backs are
in medicine's domain of knowing, good mystery novels are not.
So, the domain of knowing of a field is simply its subject
matter. Biology's domain of knowing is living things. Geology's
domain of knowing is the earth. Religion's domain of knowing
includes theology and morals.
Science's domain of knowing is related to 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. All the fields
science studies (physics, chemistry, but not theology) constitute
the scope of its way of knowing. But all the fields science
studies also constitute 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 in the first place?
The object of these first six chapters is to show how to apply
science's way of knowing to a new area, to ultimate questions.
Applying science's way of knowing to a new area - any new area -
enlarges science's domain of knowing. Why? Because when science
studies an area it hasn't studied before, the sum total of what
it studies is enlarged.
Now, it's obvious that a builder first studies a house before
enlarging it. The builder checks the foundation, the walls and
roof before adding a new room.
In the same way, before attempting to enlarge science's domain
of knowing we should first understand it, as it is today.
The situation with religion is different. We won't enlarge
religion's domain but rather attempt to bring part of it into
science's domain. To continue the analogy, it's wise to inspect
the site before building a new room.
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
religions 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
What Science Studies
What is science's domain of knowing? That is, what does science
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 (,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 four general
categories: social science, biological science, physical science,
and mathematical science, though mathematics is sometimes
classified as an independent discipline, not a science itself but
the "queen of sciences." Like mathematics, philosophy is often
thought to be something different from science, though philosophy
originally gave birth to science. In fact, an early term for
science was "natural philosophy" - the philosophy of the natural
world as distinct from religious, theological, or metaphysical
philosophies. Perhaps philosophy should be called the "mother of
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  vividly illustrates these
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.
Basis of the Physical Universe
Do science's many branches have anything in common? Are they
actually branches of a single tree? Or are they unconnected
fields of study?
True, 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. (,3).
But this just says each field uses science's way of knowing. Do
science's many branches have anything in common, other than their
way of knowing?
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,
If all physical object were 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 out of one substance?
The question is ancient. Centuries before the rise of science,
philosophers argued for and against monism. Monism is the
. . . there is only one basic substance or principle as
the ground of reality . . . that reality consists of a
single element. (,862).
The search for the one single substance which composes all
things started in ancient Greece, if not before. In fact, physics
takes its name from a Greek word which indicates a single,
In the ancient Greek schools in Ionia and Elia, the
essential essence of all things . . . (,148)
. . . the "physis," from which our word "physics" is
derived . . . (,148).
Though 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 interesting 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
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 composed all the
sub-atomic particles. Their search was not successful.
Yet even if physicists had found the ultimate particle - an
infinitesimal unit which makes up sub-atomic particles which
compose atoms which constitute wood and all other matter - the
particle would not be the basis for everything. For even the 19th
century knew of something which isn't in the periodic table and
isn't 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, 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. (,31).
Schrodinger was a bit more emphatic. (As always, italics are in
. . . particles have now turned out to be quanta of
energy, because - as Einstein discovered in 1905 - mass
and energy are the same thing. (,54-5).
So there is, in fact, a single basis for the entire physical
world. In the words (,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.
So even though there's much 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
The Table Illustration
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 starting with 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
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.
Like the table, wood also consists of parts: various atoms -
such as carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen - which form wood molecules.
And, like the table, the atoms must have a particular relation to
each other to make a wood molecule.
Things that are produced 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, word themselves are component objects. The word "are",
for instance, is a component object because it's formed by a
particular arrangement of its components, its letters. Rearrange
its letters and we get "era", an entirely different word.
Similarly, rearranged wood's atoms and we get a different
molecule. We'll see much more about component objects later.
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
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. (,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, (,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
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 the 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 the
particles' energy was rearranged, then the particles cease to
exist and other particles are formed.
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.
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 shows 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 start at each and travel 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 that 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.
A question the illustration raises is 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 his claim. 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
Is the universe eternal? Or did it begin during the big bang?
First of all, what is the big bang?
Ten to eighteen thousand million 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 were breathing.
Was the universe created in the big bang? A college astronomy
text describes the big bang and 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. (,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 what the universe was like before the big bang.
Physical laws seem to break down in the cosmic egg.
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. (,434).
Science knows nothing about what form and shape the universe took
before the big bang, but about its substance science knows this:
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 and packing sand
together creates a sand castle. But in each case the basic
"stuff" isn't created. It already exists. The table parts exist
before the table is created, the snow and sand exist before the
snowman and sand castle are created. Similarly, energy existed
before the big bang created matter. Therefore, in another sense
the big bang doesn't create the universe because - as far as
science knows - the big bang doesn't create energy. Energy exists
before the big bang. So, as Asimov claims, the universe is
eternal. It was never created.
Turning to Philosophy
In one sense the universe was created during the (last?) big
bang. In another sense it was not, because its basis is eternal.
Both answers are correct. Yet scientists often favor the first
and ignore the second. They usually think 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 such a fundamental
entity be ignored, even if someone wishes to do so? We'll return
to those questions soon, after we've discussed the ultimate
source a bit more.
The universe's fundamental entity will prove fundamental to
coming chapters, as well. Because it forms part of 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. Next, we'll turn to philosophy and see what it has to say
about the universe's fundamental entity. And in the next chapter,
we'll see what religion has to say about the eternal substance.
In our philosophical exploration we'll meet many names and
ideas which 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
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 has always existed. Similarly,
something that can't be destroyed has no end and will therefore
last forever. Since the word "eternal" is defined as
. . . lasting forever; without beginning or end; always
it follows 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
Finally, 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
Philosophy has many other names and ideas that apply to the
eternal substance. Let's briefly examine some. Many ideas fall
into one of the three categories we just discussed. That is, many
express uniqueness or eternal existence or substantive existence.
We'll begin with names and ideas that concern eternal existence.
The Eternal Substance
Ideas that express eternal existence include uncreated,
unoriginated, unborn, and unformed. Let's see how each applies to
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, when we see "unborn" it will mean
something which exists but was never born, originated, or created
at anytime in the past.
Energy is also unformed. Why? "Formed" has a meaning similar to
created and 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, since there was never a time
when energy was created, it is unformed.
Energy is unformed in another sense, as well, because "form"
has another meaning:
1. The shape or contour of something as distinguished
from its substance . . . (,523).
Energy is "unformed" because it has no shape or contour. Since
form is the opposite of substance, it's appropriate that the
eternal substance is unformed.
The terms we just discussed - uncreated, unoriginated, unborn
and unformed - refer to the past. What about the future? Ideas
that express future eternal existence include indestructible,
enduring, lasting, persevering, permanent, and undying. Let's
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.
The Eternal Substance
Philosophy has other ideas which 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 base and ground of
existence. If the wood ceases to exist then the table stops
Wood is the table's ground of existence. But the table isn't
wood's ground of existence because if the table ceases to exist,
the wood can still exist. For example, if the table top and legs
are cut into pieces, the table - as a table - ceases to exist.
But the wood still exists.
Wood, however, has its existence grounded in molecules, which
in turn have their existence grounded in atoms, etc. 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 independently, 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
1. the basic or necessary constituent of a thing
and that which is root and source is obviously a basic and
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 which express
substantive existence. Some - such as mother, father, 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" and "mother" of everything.
Moreover, picturing energy in this way makes the universe appear
as a child, an eternal son of an eternal father, an eternal
daughter of an eternal mother.
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
1. the state or fact of remaining the same one or ones,
as under varying aspects or conditions . . .
What of "self"? One definition is
1. An individual known or considered as the subject of
his own consciousness. (,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 (,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 he Joe or
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, the identity and self of the table and every
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 which 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 remain. 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?
It's easy to feel that a person's identity and self must have
some distinctive qualities - otherwise the person's identity and
self would be no different from anyone else's. Only appearances
would differ. We'll return to the question of personal identity
in a later chapter.
What of energy? 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 which 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
Philosophy has many other names and ideas for the ultimate
ground of existence. We'll see a few more after we pause to
consider a question we raised earlier.
Decades ago, science finally discovered the universe's eternal
basis. Physics at last found the essential essence of all things.
Yet, not very much is made of this. 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
Historically, science has ignored the universe's ultimate basis
and 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 over facts of the natural
world, for instance, the earth's journey 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
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). (,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).
So, 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 useless
discussions. Because the explanation of the universe and our
place in it fell within the domain of religion in medieval
Europe, 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
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.
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. (,215-6).
Scientific disciplines carved out a fixed portion of the
natural universe as their domain of study and ignored any
relation to the larger whole. Heisenberg believed that even
though such a restricted scope risked
. . . the danger of losing sight of the totality, the
interconnected unity of the whole. (,215),
it was, at the same time,
. . . precisely the reason for the abundant
fruitfulness of the new natural science. (,215).
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.
Independent, Uncontingent, Unconditional, Uncaused
Let's return now to our discussion of 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 discuss in this section mean almost the same thing. We
discuss them all because we'll see them in coming chapters. Let's
begin with the terms self-sufficient, self-existent, independent,
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
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.
On the other hand, the ultimate ground of existence is its own
ground of existence. It depends on nothing else for its
existence. Therefore, it exists independently.
At one time, an educated person might have imagined many
independent 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. 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. (,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
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, as we'll see.
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.
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 once more
to consider a question.
The Cyclic Method
We've seen some historical reasons why science has traditionally
ignored the eternal substance as well as 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 () 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. (,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 refer to each other, and 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. (,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.
The Eternal Substance
We've finally reached our last group of philosophical terms which
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 also 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 was
not simple, if it was composed of elements, then we would have go
at least one more 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. But 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
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.
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! (,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.
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, is subject to
correction and improvement. It's a living, growing set of ideas,
capable of change, adaption, improvement, and correction - not
the last word, the final, frozen, ultimate and absolute truth. If
it needs some revision then let it be revised. No problem.
We've finally reached the last two philosophical ideas which
apply to energy. Both ideas express energy's uniqueness and
completeness. They are "absoulte" 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.
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. (,v1,50).
. . . all-comprehensive; there could not, even in
theory, be anything outside it . . . (,v1,50).
Is energy the absolute? We've already seen it's timeless,
eternal, self-caused, the all and the one. We'll see how only
energy is fully real in a later chapter. 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
I'll use absolute in the first sense, as a synonym for energy,
and use "cosmos" or "universe" to indicate all levels of
Our final concept is "perfect." The word has many meanings,
among them are
2. excellent or complete . . . 7. pure or unmixed . . .
8. unqualified; absolute. (,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 science
acknowledges that energy is "the fundamental entity of the
universe." Therefore, science's many branches (at least, the ones
that study physical phenomena) actually study various
manifestations of energy. Moreover, 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 which 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
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 the eternal
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 simple, three-letter word. God.
The entire AOH site is optimized to look best in Firefox® 3 on a widescreen monitor (1440x900 or better).
Site design & layout copyright © 1986- AOH
We do not send spam. If you have received spam bearing an artofhacking.com email address, please forward it with full headers to firstname.lastname@example.org.