“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”
Up until recently organized religion has always had a hand in establishing the orthodox answers to questions. In the past few hundred years, however, more and more people have begun to turn to science for answers. What follows is a construction that attempts to answer a lot of questions. It is not orthodox, but it does follow (however imperfectly) scientific methods for seeking the truth.
I believe all questions are good, but that many are poorly conceived. In questioning the first four sentences of the Bible, we could find ourselves asking “who created God?” and “what came before the beginning?” These questions start an infinite regress. When that happens you have to consider the possibility that there is something wrong with the question itself, or perhaps with one of its concepts.
My belief is that asking questions that start an infinite regress, or ones whose answer can never be shown to be right or wrong, is like being a child in a room full of toys, and instead of playing with the toys at hand, the child thinks about a possible room on the other side of the wall and wonders what kind of toys it might contain. I think the child who spends more time playing with actual toys is the one most likely to develop the superior imagination as well as the superior understanding of reality.
Following the symbolism of these first sentences of the Bible, let’s build up similar constructs with slightly different words. Let’s first try to visualize a universe that is completely deep, dark, and void, but which is somehow fundamentally akin to the one in which we now find ourselves. The introduction of light is the first step of creation, but let us not be concerned here with how and when the universe began, or even if it had to have a beginning. Perhaps “in the beginning” refers to a starting point for our journey to understanding.
We find ourselves in a three dimensional universe. These three dimensions contain the Spirit of God that moves upon the face of the waters. The Spirit of God symbolizes everything that is or can happen in our universe. The “face of the waters” symbolizes a surface upon which there is some kind of wave action. Initially (fundamentally?) that wave action would be light. Or, to be a little more precise, it would be the sum total of all the energy in our universe in the form of electromagnetic vibrations, or photons.
Let’s look into this metaphor. What are we really dealing with? A void, infinite in extent, containing nothing. Introduce a single photon. The photon is a ripple on the face of the void. It does, and can do, nothing more than travel at the speed of light in a perfectly straight line forever. A photon is a quantum of energy. It isn’t contained in space, a photon is simply a moving deformation of space. It’s a ripple on the surface of space. It propagates over the surface at exactly the speed of light. If one photon is a ripple, lots of photons can make the “face of the waters” quite choppy. Each individual photon is constrained to travel on the surface of this chop. The chop, in turn, affects the path a photon takes, and how much actual surface it has to travel between two distant points. Remember, each photon adds its own contribution to the chop, so it can also have an effect on itself. Space, empty space, is the substance of reality. Photons are simply vibrations induced onto its surface.
Let’s take a moment to consider the language you might use to describe reality. Reality consists of phenomena. Some phenomena are the most basic. I will call the less basic phenomena derivative. The evolution of one phenomenon into another is a transformation. A transformation involves one or more interactions, or basic transformations. An instance of a phenomenon is an object. An instance of a transformation is an event. The purpose of this language is to show that there is a sequence to events, and that the complex can be derived from the basic.
The ripple on the surface of space that we call a photon is a phenomenon derived from the basic phenomena of space itself. Configurations of matter and energy and their behavior are phenomena that are derived in turn from photons. The most fundamental object is a photon. The most fundamental event is a photon-photon interaction. We, ourselves, are a huge collection of derivative phenomena that continue to defy a good and complete explanation. Let’s save the most derivative phenomena until later. I only bring them up now because the interaction between ourselves and more fundamental phenomena cannot make direct contact. We must deduce the nature of space by observing derivative phenomena. No one has the slightest idea of how we might make a direct observation of a fundamental phenomenon.
So, what observations lead us to deduce the nature of space? Nearly all of them were made over a century ago. They all have to do with the nature of a photon, not the nature of space. One observation is that photons appear to travel in a vacuum exactly at the speed of light, regardless of the relative motion between the source of the photon and the observer. A second observation is that photons have properties like waves. They can interfere with each other, and even with themselves.
As wavelike as photons are, they are discrete quanta. Each photon is an individual packet of energy in the form of a ripple on a three dimensional surface. The existence and nature of this surface have been topics of lively debate among physicists for over a century. Here is a qualitative description that takes a somewhat unorthodox approach. I offer it partly for what it’s worth, and partly because in reading the works of a dozen or more physicists I observe them still tripping over aspects of their orthodox theories after more than a hundred years of reflection. Here, I shall sort out everything with a somewhat different approach.
If space contained but a single photon, that photon would travel forever in a perfectly straight line. Put a second photon in space, and each photon will be subject to the effects of the other. The path taken by a photon is perfectly straight only if the space over which it travels is perfectly flat. Space in the vicinity of a photon is not perfectly flat. Two photons will each be deflected toward the other. This deflection will never cease, but it would become less as the photons spiraled away from each other forever. When all the photons in a given region of space are added up and divided by the volume of space that contains them we get a measure of their density.
As the density of a given volume of space increases, the photons within it cease spiraling away from each other and begin to spiral in. I shall call this the critical density of a given volume. The critical density becomes less as the volume gets larger. Thus, as volume goes to infinity, critical density goes to zero. Given a fixed amount of energy, there is a volume that exactly produces the critical density. A volume of space that encloses a critical density is called a black hole. That is, if you happen to be on the outside of it. If you happen to be on the inside, you call it your universe. In this way we discover the possibility of nested universes, and that our universe might be nested in a larger one. We also see that all universes are finite in volume, and have no edge or boundary, at least with respect to the natural paths of photons.
Questions still remain — at least for some readers. How long has the universe existed? Is it expanding or contracting? These questions have to do with distance and time. These phenomena are derived from the universal constant C, or the speed of light. Time has absolutely no meaning in a universe without quanta. Because each individual quantum has clock-like properties, it relates in an absolutely fixed way to every other quantum. If these clocks were ever stopped, there would be no time. Thus, they have literally been running for all time. Likewise, with distance. It too, is measured by the travel of photons. The basic properties of space keep phenomena like distance and time in a perfect lockstep. If the value of C ever changed, we would have absolutely no way of knowing or detecting it.
There are only two ways that anything propagates through space. One is the ripple of a photon on its surface, the other is the transmission of stresses that are involved with the existence and propagation of photons. An analogy would be the motion of molecules when a wave is present in some medium. An individual molecule of water moves up and down, and very slightly forward and backward when a wave passes over the surface of water. A wave on the water is like a one dimensional line traveling on a two dimensional plane. In a sound wave, molecules of air move forward and backward in the direction of the wave. A sound wave is like a two dimensional plane traveling through three dimensions. In both cases the molecules transmit local stresses that are involved with the existence and propagation of the waves. The waves themselves are a derivative phenomenon in their own right.
A photon is pretty much unlike either of these types of wave; it’s more like a snake wriggling across the surface of the sand. In the next installment we’ll look into some of the basic physics of a photon.