9 Manifestation

If all fundamental particles in existence — considered by themselves, apart from their relations — are identical in the strong sense of numerical identity, we are in a position to account for the coming into being of both matter and space in a manner that is elegant and economical by any standard. All we still need is a name for the one substance that every fundamental particle intrinsically is. We shall call it Ultimate Reality and abbreviate it to UR, mindful of the fact that the prefix “ur-” carries the sense of “original.” Here goes:

by entering into spatial relations with itself, UR creates both matter and space, for space is the totality of existing spatial relations, while matter is the corresponding apparent multitude of relata — “apparent” because the relations are self-relations.

If fundamental particles are formless, we are also in a position to understand the coming into being of form.

Forms in the most general sense are sets of spatial relations in more or less stable configurations. They come into existence through aggregation — the formation of composite objects or bound states. Because they “exist” in multi-dimensional configuration spaces, as probability distributions, they cannot be visualized (or cannot be visualized except as multi-dimensional probability distributions).

The smallest structures that can be visualized consist of the mean relative positions of a molecule’s constituent nuclei — the sticks of your chemistry teacher’s balls-and-sticks models. What makes these structures visualizable is the fact that the fuzziness of the relative positions of the nuclei (as measured by the standard deviations of the corresponding probability distributions) is generally small compared to the relative positions themselves (as given by their mean values).

For at least twenty-five centuries, theorists — from metaphysicians to natural philosophers to physicists and philosophers of science — have tried to explain the world from the bottom up, starting from an ultimate multiplicity and using concepts of composition and interaction as their basic explanatory tools. And to this very day it does not seem to strike them that the attempt to model reality from the bottom up — whether on the basis of an intrinsically and completely differentiated space or spacetime, out of locally instantiated physical properties, or by aggregation, out of a multitude of individual substances — is at odds with what quantum mechanics is trying to tell us: that reality is structured from the top down, by a self-differentiation of UR that does not bottom out.

The reason why this does not bottom out is that the distinctions we make — be they of a spatial or a substantial kind — are warranted by nothing but property-indicating events, and these do not license an absolute and unlimited objectification of our distinctions. If we conceptually partition the physical world into smaller and smaller regions, we reach a point where our distinctions between the regions no longer correspond to anything in the physical world, and if we go on dividing material objects, they lose their individuality by ceasing to be re-identifiable.

The idea that reality is structured from the top down is traditionally associated with the concept of manifestation: there is an Ultimate Reality (UR), which manifests the world, or manifests itself as the world, without losing its intrinsic unity. It does not get divided by the existence of space, for if space is an expanse, this is undifferentiated, and if space is the totality of existing spatial relations, the corresponding ultimate relata are numerically identical.

Manifestation is a transition from numerical identity to apparent or effective multiplicity, from indefiniteness to definiteness, from indistinguishableness to distinguishability, from UR to the macroworld. Quantum mechanics affords us a glimpse “behind” the manifested world at formless and numerically identical particles, non-visualizable atoms, and partly visualizable molecules, which, instead of being the world’s constituent parts or structures, are instrumental in its manifestation.

The fact that the microworld is what it is because of what happens or is the case in the macroworld, rather than the other way round, thus presents itself in a new light. For the indefinite and indistinguishable cannot be described — nor even defined — without the help of probability distributions over events that are definite and distinguishable, and such events only exist in the macroworld. What is instrumental in the world’s manifestation can only be described in terms of the finished product.

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