Chapter 1: Spacetime

Ontology

What is? It is the most basic question of ontology, and has occupied philosophers and scientists ever since man first began plumbing the depths of reality. In its purest form, the question concerns the nature of sub-stance—literally, that which is presumed to “stand under” all that exists. This is the stuff that makes something real, to which, in some way, an object’s properties adhere. It is the existence beneath the thing, stripped of its particulars and accidental characteristics. Through the ages, any number of substances have been proposed. There are mental substances, physical substances, divine substances, mathematical substances, composite substances, and ideal substances, among others. They are frequently described as perfect, atomic, uniform, indivisible, or undifferentiated. Some thinkers, particularly of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, have denied the whole notion of substance. We can’t directly experience this hypothetical stuff, they argue, but only the superficial properties that objects show to our senses. What, then, justifies the claim that there is something beneath what we experience?

Though a great deal of effort has been expended on this question, it is far from obvious that we have made any headway whatsoever. Ask a physicist what the fundamental substance is, and you will likely get a description of energy, either in the guise of multidimensional strings, or as something that corresponds to the E and the m in E=mc2. But if you press the issue, ask him what this stuff really is, where it came from, or why it behaves as it does, you will discover there is nothing more to the story. It’s just a mysterious quantity that makes the equations work. Ask a contemporary philosopher, and he will gladly regale you with the history of substance from Heraclitus to Heidegger. But, ask him which theory is correct, and you will get a blank stare. As different as the various concepts of substance are, they have one thing in common. They are all utterly impotent. It is impossible to take any particular notion of substance (Leibniz’s monads, for example) in hand and apply it to something that exists. One might hope that, if a given substance had anything of value to say about the beings it comprises, we could extrapolate from its characteristics to figure out how objects actually work. Unfortunately, that simply isn’t the case.

Without exception, concepts of substance are beholden to the workings of the human mind. How we think and perceive, and what we believe we know, always inform, even determine, our judgments about the nature of reality. Man thinks, “My mind is logical and mathematical, hence reality must be as well.” These restrictions on the nature of substance are certainly understandable; if we can’t think, perceive, or know something, it can’t be expected to form the basis of a concept. And yet, it is not at all axiomatic that reality, outside of our own heads, is similarly circumscribed by human frailties. Restricting ourselves to substances that can be perceived by the senses or formulated in rational terms, just because those are the skills we have, is reminiscent of the drunk who searches for his car keys under the lamp post, because that is where the light is good. With nothing to go by, it is just as likely the fundamental substance is irrational and imperceptible, and yet exists just the same.

None of the substances proposed through the ages has ever been successfully applied to reality in order to explain the nature of physical objects. Invariably, the definition of the substance itself is the end of the project. It’s as if the philosopher in question believed an intrepid scientist of the future would pick up the ball and run with it, even without an instruction manual or any tangible examples of how to use it. By contrast, the current volume is exactly that second book, the instruction manual. Instead of presenting the philosophical thought that got me to this point, I will instead jump ahead and demonstrate how the substance I’ve uncovered actually works. I decided to do it this way because it occurred to me that the world quite simply doesn’t need another painstakingly derived but otherwise useless substance. Yes, many fascinating insights were required in order to get here, and I may write about them some day. But a demonstration is always vastly superior to an argument; it may even turn out in retrospect that no one much cares where it came from. So, for the time being, this book can be thought of as volume two of a one-part series.

The audacious title I’ve chosen is The Law of Physics. As such, my aim is to explain all that is, the totality of physical reality. But that means I have nothing with which to get started. I can’t very well assume the existence of any substance if it is substance I hope to explain. It appears, then, that the only way to begin this discussion is to assume nothing, and so that is what I will do.

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