This one’s more sciencey, but you’ll be able to follow it.

Albert Einstein theorized that matter and energy are variations of the same thing.  It is increasingly evident that energy is the building block of the universe, and matter is only a small variation of energy.  This insight has the potential to transform our understanding of everything.  But not until we get past our common sense focus on matter.

I remember when I was still in high school, standing in church with both hands holding the pew in front of me, when it hit me that there was nothing there in my hands.  Scientists had already found that matter was 99.99% empty space, with the 0.01% being protons, neutrons and electrons.  That thought and being in church made me remember the words in the first chapter of Genesis that God said let there be, and it was so.  It hit me that scientists were never going to find matter.  I thought they would only find laws, not matter, the laws being what God said and it was so. 

I believed scientists would look inside protons, neutrons and electrons and find they are not elementary particles, but that they are also 99.99% empty space around even smaller particles.  And I thought that those smaller particles would also turn out to be empty space. 

Soon I learned I had been partly correct.  Scientists had already found that protons and neutrons are mostly empty space surrounding much smaller particles called quarks. 

Leptons, quarks and bosons are the elementary particles in today’s Standard Model of physics, with electrons being one type of lepton.  So scientists haven’t found anything smaller inside of those.

However, solid material as we perceive it has still not been found in any particle of matter.  The anvil in my shop is at least 99.9999% empty space, and there is no expectation that the other .0001% is anything other than empty space.  (Though empty is not absolute.  The space occupied by my anvil is filled with energy fields and the interactions of those fields.) 

I had been wrong about laws being what the universe is made of.  The universe is made of energy.

The most accepted theories today are that all particles of matter are actually vibrations, a vibrating string (String Theory) or an excitation within a field (Quantum Field Theory).    

Different particles are vibrations with different qualities.  You can think of frequency and wave length as two examples of differing qualities in vibrations, but scientists have given the differing qualities crazy names like colors and strange, because they can detect the differences, but don’t know what those differences look like.  The differing interactions or lack of interactions between the different vibrations create different forms of energy, with matter being one of those forms.  All the energy vibrations and the way they interact or don’t interact with each other result in the universe. 

Makes no sense to me, and I am sure it makes no sense to you.  It goes beyond my common sense, because it goes beyond my experiences in life.  I credit Albert Einstein for taking science beyond common sense.  Common sense is pretty limited.

But the universe being made from vibrations is no more ridiculous than the idea that life even exists.  By logical reasoning, everything that exists and occurs in the universe is impossible. 

String Theory has tremendous theoretical potential.  It requires several dimensions beyond the four our common sense can recognize.  Computer models love string theory. 

If you have followed The Big Bang Theory TV show, you probably are aware the character Sheldon Cooper is a theoretical physicist who was a champion of String Theory.  He suffered repeated derision about it (particularly from fellow theoretical physicists Leslie Winkle and teenage genius Dennis Kim.  Eventually he gave up String Theory as having no future because it cannot be tested.  There is no expectation of being able to test any of its theorems in the forseeable future.   

According to quantum field theory the forces in the universe (strong force, weak force, electromagnetic force, and possibly gravity are fields that exist throughout the entire universe.  The electromagnetic field is the most well-known and easiest to picture because we experience it.  Magnets work because of the electromagnetic field around them.  A compass works because of the magnetic poles and the electromagnetic field around the Earth.  Despite Einstein’s theories, we understand gravity the least; and we can’t reconcile gravity with the other forces.

According to quantum field theory, the elementary particles are actually excitations (vibrations) in these fields, and matter as well as the way matter behaves are the result of the different types of excitations in the fields interacting. 

You can visualize the different qualities of vibrations and how they interact or do not interact with other types of energy by thinking of waves.  You see energy moving in a wave of water.  You hear it in a sound wave.  You feel it in a tremor.  The different qualities of each interact with some of your senses and not with others.  None of your senses detect gamma radiation, though it can kill you.  Neutrinos go flying through you without you sensing them or them sensing you.

The different vibrations interact similarly with each other, altering, combining, or having no effect on each other, then these new versions of energy (created from the interactions) interact and alter, combine or have no effect on each other, over and over creating new and more complex varieties of energy until the universe exists not only of matter, but all the forces and activity that drive the universe.

The matter we see, including the stars and galaxies, is a very small part of the energy that makes up the universe.  We are being self-indulgent and naïve to believe the universe is primarily the matter we see and interact with, just as we were self-indulgent to believe the universe revolves around the Earth.  We know dark matter and dark energy make up the vast majority of the universe, and those tell us there is far more to the universe than the tiny part we can observe. 

If every vibration simply interacted the same way with every other vibration, the universe would not work. 

It is interesting how often the best explanation we have of why the universe behaves in a certain way is that the universe would not exist otherwise.    

The types of energy in the universe are in near perfect balance.  Near, but not quite perfect.  Which is why the universe is still changing and expanding.  If the different types of energy were in perfect balance, the universe would not work. 

That is another oft repeated and important aspect of the universe, near but not perfect symmetry.  Scientists love and search for “elegant” theories in which everything is simple and in perfect balance.  But very often, near but not quite perfect is what was and is necessary for the universe to exist. 

A good example is The Big Bang (not the TV show, the real one).  Energy and matter did not distribute evenly and symmetrically.  The distribution was scattered and irregular.  Why, when there was nothing there (zero resistance and zero irregularity) to cause the dispersement to be uneven?  The best answer we have is that the universe could not have worked if everything had distributed in balance. 

Black holes provide an interesting twist to how the universe works.  They present a new set of parameters.

The scientific laws with which we are familiar are not universal, as we historically told they are.  The known laws of science only work within certain parameters.  The science of Isaac Newton worked well as long as you were calculating things on Earth.  The calculations were close enough to get us to the moon.  But Einstein discovered that Newton’s science did not work when taken into warped time and space or at the speeds at which things travel when you get away from our tiny little world on Earth.   Newton’s science works within certain parameters, and works so well that it is still used today within those parameters.

The same is true of Einstein’s science and advanced nuclear science when taken into a black hole.  They no longer hold true.  Black holes are not unusual, freak occurrences as we thought not long ago.  There are billions of them, including supermassive black holes at the center of and holding every galaxy together.  A supermassive black hole is at the center of our Milky Way, holding it together.  That is a lot of places for Einsteinian and nuclear science to not be true. It is assumed those laws were not true before the Big Bang, but that they came into existence because of it. 

The fact that the scientific laws we know are not universal is so intriguing that many scientists have proposed that not only could there be many other entire universes, but that each universe could have entirely different scientific laws.  That is not theory; it is only speculation.  Yet it reflects how much we do not know, and how naïve we are about what we think we do know.   

However, scientists believe there are two scientific laws that hold true even inside a black hole, perhaps the only scientific laws we know that are universal.  Scientists believe the conservation of energy is still true inside a black hole—energy can never be lost or gained.  They also believe the conservation of information continues to hold true—information can never be lost.  Those two are believed to be true even in a black hole. 

The two things in the universe that appear to be certain and eternal are energy and information.  (Note that there is no law of conservation of matter.) 

A great debate in philosophy from ancient times until now is whether dualism exists, a physical world and a separate mental world.  Is consciousness an existence separate from physical existence?  If so, how can a physical existence and a consciousness existence interact?

Plato believed that the physical world is like a smoke screen that keeps us from seeing the real world, which we can only understand from concepts (the physical world is an illusion).  Aristotle (sometimes referred to as Plato’s rebellious student) believed the physical world is the real world, and observation and measurement are the tools to understand it.

The problem with the debate over dualism today is that it is still argued based on 19th century physics.  The argument is based on Newtonian physics and the concept that the physical world, matter, is something solid and inherently incapable of interacting with anything nonphysical.  Scientifically we now know that is not true.  Energy in the form of matter certainly can interact with energy that is not matter, otherwise the universe would not work.

If the physical world is constituted of energy, and consciousness is constituted of energy, then energy can interact with energy.  Dualism does not exist because the physical world and mental world would both be energy, they would be the same world.

This understanding still does not prove whether consciousness is something more than the workings of the brain.  But it does provide a completely different perspective on both the brain and consciousness.  The brain is energy within larger fields of energy.  Consciousness is energy within larger fields of energy.  It does not prove that consciousness is more than just a product of the brain, but it does allow for that possibility. 

Quantum physics has established that information can travel great distances between different particles instantly.  In other chapters I will address the evidence that information can travel across both space and time.  This opens many theoretical possibilities that may impact the concept of consciousness. 

It may have occurred to you that the scientific debate regarding dualism sounds very similar to the religious question of whether there is a physical world and a separate spiritual world. 

William James postulated that the religious question is whether the universe (the energy that constitutes the universe) exists with purpose or without purpose.   If the energy that makes up the universe has purpose, then intelligence is at the heart of the existence of that energy.  If the energy in the universe has no purpose, then there is no intelligence behind its existence.

The chapter God? focuses on that question.

The scientific theory that information can never be lost, that both information and energy are eternal is intriguing from a religious theory standpoint.  The concept that the entire universe is energy and information has immense potential for theories about god and the relationship between god and the universe. 

(I would once have been offended by the suggestion that religion is a theory.  But the most devout religious leaders I have known each had their own ideas about certain things.  Every major religion has denominations or sects as a result of the differing theories within those religions, even though most major religions try to discourage or even prohibit independent thinking and theorizing.)

The idea that everything in the universe, including each of us, is just a piece of the whole, has been batted about in religious thinking throughout history.  Scientifically, that is obvious.  Every particle in my body is star dust; it was once part of a star.  Every particle in me has traveled across the universe and been part of so many wonderful things before me.    

To that scientific fact, add that throughout the time those particles have existed neither energy nor information were ever nor ever will be lost, and the potential for theoretical advancement for both science and religion has the potential to be transforming. 

Energy is exciting.  Pun intended.