Well, we think so. We aren’t sure.
What we are sure of is that the interactions between quanta tend to burn themselves out, that is, without other impulses to sustain them, they gradually settle down into a state where the very least amount of energy is exchanged. The principles of entropy are what drive this tendency towards the least energetic state. And that law, to us, appears to be immutable. Even though quanta interact in wavelike ways to form matter, which is what creates the universe, they apparently have a perverse tendency to try not to do that at all times, and to do with as little as possible, as if there were a clock that was determined at all costs to allow itself to wind down no matter how many times the attendants come back to turn the key. Based on this idea, the universe will eventually cool itself down until everything just sits there doing nothing.
If we want look at this from the point of view of identity alone, we can imagine it as a room filled with an infinite number of people, absolutely none of which ever talk to each other, look at one another, or even acknowledge each other’s existence. Every single human in the room, all infinity of them, simply sit there, perfectly still, staring straight ahead. They have, furthermore, ceased to do anything that humans do: they don’t breed, they don’t eat, they don’t think. No fart breaks the air.
This image of a perfect, absolutely still and Zenlike end to the universe is appealingly mysterious, but it doesn’t bear any relationship whatsoever to what we see around us today: an insanely interactive, extremely energetic universe, in which we have not only suns that emit unimaginable amounts of energy, but also neutron stars and quasars that pump out even greater amounts of energy that make stars look tiny by comparison.
We can apply all the theories we want to; from today’s point of new, quanta don’t look like they have any intention of shutting down the interactive waves they ride, and the universe we see is nowhere near a state of heat death. Not even close. Instead there is, looked at from the point of view of identity, a powerful wish for identity — an impulse towards interaction — that transcends the tendency to isolate. Matter, in other words, is not only perpetually created and concentrated in ways and through means we do not yet come close to understanding, it also has a powerful tendency to interact, and furthermore, to find ways to do with it more and more complex wave forms.
Let us understand matter, then, in terms not just of the particles which it isn’t, but the waveforms which it is. Matter is a form of energy in movement that finds periodic expression in superficially static conditions. Those superficially static conditions are what we observe as a material universe; and what we call identity.
Yet the identity lies not in the nodes that form as the waves move and touch one another, but in the wholeness of the waves themselves. It is the movement that produces identity, not its static nodes.
This principle of superficial static behavior—a static state, a state of “sameness” that appears to have a continuity and consistency to it—is important, because it reminds us that every apparently identifiable independent entity is nothing more than a snapshot summary of incremental change. The incremental change is persistent and eternal, and furthermore has an evolutionary quality to it. In the sense of the material world, this evolutionary quality has tended to produce, especially in the state of life, ever more complex wave structures that interact in ever more complex ways. We might think, for example, of the DNA molecule, whose lattice is folded in astonishingly complex ways — completely unlike, for example, the lattice of silica and oxygen found in quartz crystals, which is highly regular and relatively non-interactive.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.