This is the first in an ongoing series of articles that will shake up your worldview and get you thinking in different directions.
But instead of focusing on spiritual insights, it will feature essential ideas of contemporary physics and philosophy.
Ideas that everyone should know. (But almost nobody does.)
It’s been a recurring theme around here that our spiritual worldviews tend to be grossly outdated.
But that’s not a failing of spirituality itself.
Spiritual worldviews nurture some insightful sentiment… And point the way to a deeper way of being…
They inspire us to explore distant horizons.
And those are all good things!
But the underlying metaphysics and basic style of thinking are often hundreds (or even thousands) of years behind the curve.
And there’s a lot to be gained by setting ancient ideas and tradition aside—and continuing our explorations from what we know now…
Instead of what we knew at the dawn of written history.
Spirituality can survive without the mantle of tradition.
More than survive actually…
I believe the greatest, most profound, spiritual insights are yet to be discovered.
Best to give this series a pass if you’re easily offended…
Sacred Cows are Sacred
Before we jump in, I think it’s important to set some expectations…
There’s been a resurgence of interest in merging spirituality and physics in the past few decades.
Ever since a few enterprising authors realized that the debates around early quantum mechanics tended to sound a lot like New Age philosophy.
It’s made for some fascinating stories… (And some very lucrative book deals.)
Unfortunately, what usually happens in these “paradigm changing” stories… is that the actual paradigm changing ideas get set aside…
And the authors cherry-pick the parts that fit their pre-existing worldviews.
I think most of them mean well…
They’re trying to find a point of connection.
A world in common.
But the takeaway is always that the spiritual traditions already knew what physicists have only recently discovered.
That physics is finally “catching up” to what spiritual folks have been saying all along…
And that’s not what’s happening.
Some of these ideas are radically elegant and new…
Like nothing in the history of human thought.
And it’s a great injustice to the brilliant men and women who created them to pretend that some ancient spiritual icon already understood their discovery.
Because they really, really didn’t.
I know it’s tempting to hold tight to our cherished beliefs and assumptions.
To look for common ground.
And build a world together.
But we can’t do that if we don’t listen to each other.
Or suspend our own belief long enough to hear something new.
These are ideas worth knowing.
I hope you’ll give them the understanding they deserve.
And let your own worldview grow and change. And evolve into something new.
Who knows what new things you’ll discover if you do?
So, with all that out of the way…
Here’s Essential Idea #1…
The Universe isn’t made of “Energy”
Everyone knows the name Albert Einstein. And the famous equation E=mc2.
Unfortunately, we never learn what that equation means to our understanding of reality…
One popular takeaway is that Einstein discovered that “matter is just another form of energy.”
That energy is a fundamental substance, from which all things are created…
An eternal ground of being, which is neither created, nor destroyed—but merely changes from one form to another…
It’s you… It’s me… It’s the whole world around you…
Everything is energy.
Sounds familiar right?
The idea has been around since the time of ancient Greece!
Einstein’s legacy is much more profound…
We’ve all heard the story that energy and mass are just two sides of the same coin…
Two forms of the same underlying stuff.
Supposedly, that’s what E=mc2 is telling us…
But that’s not exactly right.
That’s just the story that lets us keep our ancient worldviews intact…
Energy and mass are not on equal footing…
Energy and momentum are.
Mass is just the combination of the two.
Now, that seems like a pointless distinction to make, right?
Like the popular story is close enough?
Well, stay with me… Because the cows are getting nervous…
Remember playing dodgeball in school when you were young?
Everyone lining up and pelting each other with those red rubber balls?
Of course you do.
Well, when that jerk on the other team beaned you in the chest with that ball, you felt it.
Physically I mean…
You felt the ball’s energy. And it’s momentum…
And the harder he threw it, the more you felt. (And the bigger jerk he became.)
But you didn’t imagine that the ball actually transfered a substance called momentum into your body…
You didn’t stop and say, Ewww! You got momentum all over me!!
No. Because momentum isn’t a substance.
Well, neither is energy.
Energy and momentum are the same.
Two sides of the same coin… the twin faces of mass.
In a sense, mass is more real.
(Different observers in relative motion will have different ideas of how much energy or momentum a system has. But the combination of the two will always be the same.)
And yet, mass is nothing but the combination of energy and momentum.
So if momentum isn’t a substance…
Then neither is energy…
And neither is mass.
The essential takeaway from Einstein’s idea isn’t that matter is just a more tangible form of “energy.”
Or that matter and energy are made of the same stuff.
The essential takeaway is that there is no stuff.
It is the unification of energy and mass and momentum.
And the foundation to eliminate the concept of substance altogether.
Take a look at the world around you…
Take a look at you…
You aren’t seeing energy in all its forms.
The universe isn’t made of “energy.”
Any more than it’s made of momentum.
Nor is it illusion. (The old mystics who said that the world is an illusion were talking about something completely different.)
By continuing to think in terms of substances, we limit our ideas and imaginations.
We limit our creations to the ways we expect substances to behave. (Which, ironically, makes them behave more like classical substances.)
We even limit our spiritual practices.
And that’s unfortunate, because that’s not the world we live in.
The universe is much more interesting than the lingering specters of common sense and ancient philosophy.
The unification of energy and momentum isn’t even the most interesting part of Einstein’s paradigm changing insight!
That’s just a symptom of a far more beautiful symmetry…
Another Essential Idea.
But we’ll save that one for another time…
Up Next: The Mother of Modern Physics.
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About Zach Herbert
I teach people to do cool things with their consciousness, and break their brains with beautiful ideas.
Professional heretic. Unlikely mystic. Host to rebels, misfits and independent thinkers.
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