yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal
riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned like a liberation.”
Many physicists, including
Einstein, have been inspired by the hope that under the complexities of this vast, observable Universe we might find something
simple. One discovery after another, in the long history of our physics, has seemed to indicate that we were moving in that
direction. Richard Feynman once remarked that some of us regard it as good physics if what was to be explained is complex
and the explanation is simple. Yet, since this search has been attended by a certain measure of frustration, I should like
to address myself to what I see as a very serious problem: Is there any basis for thinking that the reality underlying our
physics might be simple?
An enormous simplification
in our understanding of the Universe came when Mendeleev and others reduced the number of building blocks to some 92 chemical
elements of the periodic table, and Prout even suggested, in 1815, that all the other elements might be made from hydrogen.
But by the time Burbidge, Burbidge, Fowler and Hoyle had shown that, with the possible exception of some
of the helium, all the other elements could be produced from hydrogen by nucleosynthesis in the interiors of the stars and
in stellar explosions, the number of elementary particles was beginning to compete with the number of elements in the periodic
Another great simplification in our understanding
was the reduction of the energies of the Universe, by the ancient Hindus, to the five great elements of antiquity, gravitational
energy, kinetic energy, radiation, electricity and magnetism, perceivable by our five senses.1 We have had to add
the nuclear energies to their list, but the list is still small and getting smaller. Maxwell's equations reduced electricity
and magnetism, and optics, to electromagnetism, and we now have the electroweak of Glashow, Weinberg and Salam which loosely
connects the weak nuclear force with electromagnetism. Now the aim is to reduce the list still further with the grand unified
theories and supergravity. But thus far, none of these efforts has turned up something simple.
It is in the face of this frustration that I suggest a search for fossils,
cosmological fossils. If an underlying simplicity does exist, should it not have left its traces in what we see? After all,
we know of the existence of the dinosaurs from the traces which they left in the rocks before the advent of the flowering
plants. Can we find fossils of an underlying simplicity?
Usually, when we think of fossils,
we think of evidences, in the rocks, for life forms that existed long ago. We think of such things as petrified wood or trilobites
or the petrified bones of dinosaurs. But our question here is this: Can we find evidences, in our physics, for the existence
of a simple reality behind the world which we see? Is there a way of looking at this thing which allows us to understand that
the nature of such a reality would have to leave its traces in the behavior of matter, just as the dinosaurs have left their
traces in the rocks?
Needless to say,
I think there is. I think that such a way of looking at things lies hidden in Einstein's special theory of relativity,
and it is his equations and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle which we shall use
as the tools for our excavation. It is my opinion that the full consequences of the Einsteinian revolution
have not yet hit the fan.
So first let's
take a look at our tools. What is Einstein's special theory of relativity, and what makes it so different from the rest
of our physics? And why are the details of our physics always blurred by Heisenberg’s breath of uncertainty?
All through my youth Einstein’s relativity theory was presented
as a great mystery. In those days it was said that there were only five people in the world who understood
it. And every time I looked at the equations there was the square root of minus one. Now that I am older, I think I understand
why it was presented as a mystery. It is because it was presented by the mathematicians, and Einstein himself is said to have
said, “Ever since the mathematicians have started on relativity, I myself no longer understand it.”
But the reason that relativity fell into the hands of the mathematicians
is because it is a geometry theory, not something else, and that is what makes it so different from the rest of our
physics. Most of our physics is about the behavior of matter and energy in the framework of space and time, but special relativity
theory is about the framework itself.
physics, like our genetic programming, saw time as independent of the three dimensional framework of space, which it took
to be Euclidean. Most of us have been exposed, somewhere along our educational careers, to Euclid's geometry in two dimensions,
and in three. I was galvanized by it, and the instructors of my youth would call on me only when no one else in the
class could answer the questions. But Euclid's geometry is a theoretical geometry about a
theoretical space which does not in fact exist, and what Einstein pointed out in 1905 was that some of the problems of
our physics were connected with a misunderstanding of the space‑time framework against which we see them. He suggested
that the geometry of the real world is 4‑D rather than 3‑D and that time is the fourth dimension.
But time does not come into Pythagoras' equation (for four dimensions) like another dimension of space. It comes
in with a minus sign, because space and time are opposites. Although all four dimensions come into the equation squared, time
comes in squared with a minus sign. And that's where the mystery began. Because it is easier for mathematicians to handle
all four dimensions squared with plus signs, Minkowski put the square root of minus one in front of the time dimension and
put a plus sign in front. Although that wouldn’t confuse a mathematician, it certainly confused the
general public, and helped to make of relativity a great mystery. I believe it also kept people from noticing that space and
time are opposites. To quote Gerard Pardeilhan, “We owe this extravagance to the First Church of Minkowski.”
Space and time come into Einstein's equations as a pair of opposites
in the sense that if the space and time separations between two events are seen to be equal, then the total separation, in
space-time, between those two events, will be seen to be zero. And this is true for all observers, regardless of their states
of motion. Although the observers may disagree on the time separation and on the space separation between the events, they
will all agree on the total space-time separation. The ones who see the bigger distance between the two events will also
see the bigger time.
Now this changed
geometry sees the emission and absorption of a single photon as adjacent events in space-time, and the problem of how the
photon gets from one event to the other, is seen as a Newtonian problem in an Einsteinian Universe. This geometry sets the separation
between the perceiver and the perceived at zero, whether the message comes by photon, graviton, meson or neutrino. (We see an event
away from us in space by seeing it in the past.)
in 1905 Einstein changed the physics as well as the geometry. In the appendix to his relativity paper he pointed out that
what we call mass is just potential energy (E = mc2). And when we found that mass and energy are the same thing
we had a problem. We had two units for the same thing, the gram and the erg. Now one gram is the energy of an atomic bomb,
and one erg, as someone has pointed out, is the kinetic energy of a two‑gram beetle walking one centimeter per second.
So the c2 in Einstein’s equation tells us that carefully handled, the kinetic energy of 9 x 1020
two-gram beetles walking one centimeter per second would vaporize Berkeley.
But if what we see as mass is simply potential energy, as suggested by Swami Vivekananda to Tesla in
1896, (and it's 500 atom bombs per pound), then what kind of energy is it? There are three answers. The astronomers see
it as gravitational. The particle physicists see it as nuclear. And we all see it as electrical. These are the two sides
and the edge of the same coin. The particles are wound up against their electrical fields by being so small. They are wound
up against the gravitational field by being so dispersed. And they are wound up against the uncertainty principle because
we can know where they are in space and time.
Ernst Mach felt that inertia here must
somehow depend on inertia there, i.e. the inertia or mass of nearby matter must somehow be influenced and determined
by the inertia or mass of distant matter. But before we understood that inertia or mass is simply energy, and before we understood
what kind of energy it is that makes this Universe massive, it was difficult to connect Mach's principle to the rest
of our physics. Einstein tried to build Mach's principle into relativity, but it is generally conceded that he failed. But when we see that
the electrical wind-up of the particles against their smallness, and the gravitational wind-up of the particles against their
dispersion are two sides of the same coin, the
connection between Mach's principle and the rest of our physics becomes obvious. The particles have gravitational rest
energy (or inertia) by being spaced out, in the gravitational field, from all the rest of the matter in the observable
Universe. So we see that the inertia of a particle is not determined by the proximity of nearby matter but by the remoteness
of distant matter.
In order to appreciate what
has happened to our physics at the hands of Einstein's equations and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, let's
look back to a time before 1900. The world view of classical physics saw the Universe as consisting of real particles with
real mass and real energy, moving through real space in real time, and we may represent it by a diagram.
mass, energy, space and time were still considered to be separate and independent entities. Although as far back as 1896 it
had been suggested to Tesla by Swami Vivekananda that what we call mass is simply potential energy, it did not immediately
become part of our physics. (It did not become part of our physics till Mileva Einstein, who was a close friend of Tesla,
put it in the appendix to the relativity paper in 1905.) It was then that Einstein's geometry took out the line between
space and time, and his physics took out the line between mass and energy, leaving us with a mass‑energy discontinuum
in a space‑time continuum. But we have already seen that the line comes out between the continuum and the
discontinuum because the wind‑up of the particles is geometrical. The particles are wound up against
gravity by being spaced out, and they are wound up against electricity by being small (space in). And finally, they are wound
up against the uncertainty principle if we can know where they are in the continuum.
Now with the lines of demarcation between mass, energy, space and time obliterated, we
are not left with a new model of the Universe. We are left with a question mark, and with the suggestion that whatever it
is, it must be beyond space and time, and perhaps, outside of our physics. That might go a long way toward
explaining why we have not been able to put our fingers on an underlying simplicity. But we can still say something
about it. If it's beyond space and time, it must be changeless, infinite and undivided, since the smallness and dispersion
of the particles can be only in space, and since their changes can be only in time.
If this suggestion is correct, and thus far it's only a suggestion, then why do we
see the changeless as changing? Why do we see the infinite as minute electrical particles? And why do we see the undivided
as dispersed through the far reaches of space and showing gravity and inertia? It is conceivable that, through a breath of
uncertainty, we might see the changeless as changing without producing any change in it, and that we might see the
infinite as minute particles without dividing the undivided. After all nothing happens to a rope when you mistake it for a
snake. But why should the minute particles be electrical? Why should the dispersed particles fall together by gravity? And
why should the changing resist every change in its state of motion?
I believe it is because
you cannot mistake a rope for a snake without seeing the rope. Otherwise you could mistake it for a Chevy. It is the length
and diameter of the rope that are seen as the length and diameter of the snake. And that is where I see fossils. We have no
other explanation for gravity, electricity and inertia except as fossils of what I see as an underlying simplicity beyond
space and time and outside of our present physics.
I see it, gravity, electricity and inertia are fossils. It is a fossil of the undivided that makes the dispersed particles
fall together. It is a fossil of the infinite that makes the minute particles electrical. And it is a fossil of the changeless
that makes what we see as matter resist every change in its state of motion. The gravitational energy of the Universe could
go to zero only if the dividedness of the Universe could go to zero. And the electrical energy of the particles could go to
zero only if the size of the particles could go to infinity. As I see it, if the nature of the underlying reality had been
different, the fossils would have been different, and our physics would have been different. Recently, after one of my lectures
in Calcutta, someone asked me, “How do you know it's not superimposed on nothing?” “No, no, no!”
I said, “Then the zero would show in our physics.” That's not what shows. It's the infinitude that shows
as electricity. It's the undividedness that shows as gravity. It's the changelessness that shows as inertia. And that's
why the Universe is made of electricity, gravity and inertia and not of something else.
Now if these things are fossils, and if this Universe is apparitional rather than actual,
then we should see the evidences for it elsewhere in our physics. Is that the significance of the conservation laws? The Universe
cannot be actual. It cannot have arisen through any process of our physics without completely violating the conservation laws.
The energy at the end of such a process is always equal to the energy at the beginning. Only the form of the energy changes,
never the amount. Energy cannot arise by any such process. It cannot be actual. It must be apparitional, a fossil. Only its
changes could be actual. (Only its changes could arise by action.)
But if the Universe which we see is made of pairs of opposites, it represents no actual change, just as when you
mistake a rope for a snake, it represents no actual change. We see space against time, the gravitational plurality against
the electrical duality, plus against minus, and spin-up against spin-down, and it all balances out. If the momentum of the
Universe in one direction is balanced by its momentum in the opposite direction, and if the angular momentum of the Universe
in one direction is balanced by its angular momentum in the opposite direction, and if the positive charges are balanced by
the negative charges so that the total charge of the Universe is zero, then the Universe represents no change in the changeless.
(Are there any other evidences that the first cause of our physics is apparitional? I think so. I see Pauli's Verbot
and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle as such evidences. If the first cause is apparitional, and if the Universe which
we see consists of an electrical duality seen against a gravitational plurality, then there should be some mechanism for preventing
the demise of the one in the presence of the other, lest the dancer disappear and leave a pirouette behind. As I see it, the
uncertainty principle prevents the demise of the duality in the presence of the plurality, and the exclusion principle prevents
the demise of the plurality in the presence of the duality. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle prevents the electron
from sitting on the proton in the hydrogen atom because the proton is gravitationally different from the positron,
and Pauli’s exclusion principle prevents the neutrons from sitting together in a neutron star because each of them has
only half a unit of spin, only half of the spin duality.)
It is a little difficult to say what these suggestions predict in the way of physical measurements,
but I suspect that they predict that the protons will not decay. If hydrogen is the primordial apparition, then, it seems
to me, that neither the protons nor the electrons should decay.
If the first cause of our physics is apparitional, and we have seen that it cannot be
actual, and if the Universe is like the snake for which a rope has been mistaken, then we can understand why everything
we see is blurred by this ‘breath of uncertainty,’ and why the observer is always mixed up in what is seen. When
a rope is mistaken for a snake, although the length and diameter of the rope are seen, there is always an uncertainty in the
nature of the snake, and the observer participates in what is seen. The observer participates in the perception of the snake.
As John Archibald Wheeler has suggested, we live in a “participatory Universe.”
We are all genetically programmed, along with the seagulls and the dogs, to
see the Universe through a classical, Newtonian bias. All I am suggesting is that we lay that bias aside, take Einstein's
equations a little more seriously, and take a long, hard look at these cosmological fossils and the evidence that the first
cause of our physics must be apparitional, to see if there could really be some basis for thinking that under the complexities
of this vast, observable Universe there might be something simple.
1. Our orientation in the gravitational field is sensed by the saccule in the ear. Kinetic energy, as temperature, is sensed
by the skin. Radiation is sensed by the eye. Electricity and magnetism are sensed by the tongue and the nose. (Protons taste
sour and the molecular structures sensed by the nose are held together by magnetic bonds.)