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Theorizing From Fundamental Reality

Updated on November 5, 2014
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Nikki Alberta has a Master of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Alberta. She is a freelance article writer, novelist and blogger.


Reductive materialism implies that reality is made of inert matter. The mind then can be reduced to a system of neural connections and computational functions. Consciousness seems to arise out this neural network, working memory gives us a sense of identity, and emotions are behavioral responses to our environment. This framework not only demystifies the mind; it also reduces all of nature and all organic beings to mere matter. Perhaps we should inquire into the nature of that matter. By taking our cue from quantum physics we find that matter is not merely inert mechanistic building blocks that construct reality from the bottom up. And if reality at the micro level is not as we once thought how does this alter how we conceive of reality at the macro level? In particular how does this affect our conception of the mind, body and relations to other organic beings?



Materialism as it is so often conceived stems from Isaac Newton. Newton’s doctrine of materialism created the view of the ‘clockwork universe’. In this framework we have absolute space and time, and everything working in a mechanistic and deterministic fashion. The theory of relativity replaced Newton’s concept of space and time as containers and “the very arena in which the clockwork universe acted out its drama was now exposed as a subject to shifting and warping.” (p.14 Matter Myth). Following this breakthrough the quantum theory further changed the view of inert matter. It was replaced “by a shadowy and paradoxical conjunction of waves and particles, governed by the laws of chance rather than the rigid rules of causality.” (p.14 Matter Myth). In the world of quantum physics we become aware that matter has far less substance than we previously believed and this consequently undermines materialism. Recently postulated in the hypothesis of quantum field energy “ in which solid matter dissolves away, to be replaced by weird excitations and vibrations of invisible field energy.” (p.14 Matter Myth). A materialist would no doubt agree that there is equivalence between matter and energy, so would have no residence to modern theories of physics. However, it is the materialists’ conception of matter at the macro level that may take some reconsideration. Quantum physics suggests a holistic framework at the most basic level of reality. On a larger scale physicists seek a grand unifying theory to explain all the forces in the universe.

The term enery is a considerably vague term commonly used in different contexts. In physics it is the ‘stuff’ in which reality is composed. Force and energy are what space-time is composed and created of. In this context it is not meant to imply essences, since two electrons, identical in all properties, do not have distinct essences. Each form of energy such as a gravitational field or matter combined with force interacts in different ways. Energy was first hypothesized in order to have theoretical calculations work, and due to its vagueness it can be considered in some sense still a theoretical entity that plays a significance role in how he interpret the world. For the contexts of this paper energy can be considered more fundamental than matter but also less analyzable and distinct. We often make such statements as ‘matter is composed of energy’ and ‘energy is neither created nor destroyed, only changes form’ without having a firm grasp on what energy in fact is. What becomes apparent is that reality is reducible to energy, not matter.

First we must confront the notion that reality follows the rules of the clockwork universe. In quantum mechanics we have the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which states, “That everything we can measure is subject to truly random fluctuations.” (p.32, Matter Myth). This undermines the thought that the universe is utterly deterministic, since we are unable to even measure the present state of the universe precisely. In addition we have the concept of chaos which stipulates that predictive errors rapidly increase leading to the conclusion that “infinite precision is impossible.” (p.40, Matter Myth). From this it has “been discovered that so-called nonlinear effects can cause matter to behave in seemingly miraculous ways, such as becoming ‘self-organizing’ and developing patterns and structures spontaneously.” (p.15, Matter Myth). Chaos is a case of this “it occurs in nonlinear systems which become unstable and change in random and totally unpredictable ways.” (p.15 Matter Myth). One example of this self-organizing aspect is “chemical mixtures that grow shapes or pulsate with patterns of color in cooperative ways.” (p.47 Matter Myth). From here we glimpse the in deterministic nature of reality that has the ability to spontaneously create patterns and structures in co-operation.

Commonly with the big bang theory we are informed that it produced all matter, in which all the cosmic material of the universe was previously condensed into an infinitely dense point. The big bang also produced space-time itself. It was this “primeval energy that originated all the matter which went to build the cosmos, and all the energy which still powers the universe today.” (p.8, Matter Myth). As previously stated we cannot think of matter as inert material. It is better to think of matter as a form of condensed energy, which can then be converted to other forms. As such quantum mechanics permits energy to appear, spontaneously from nothing, as long as it rapidly disappears. (p.142, Matter Myth). If we can imagine a perfect vacuum of empty space, naturally it is empty of all particles. But in fact the “fluctuating quantum energy of the vacuum causes the temporary creation of all manner of ‘virtual’ particles - particles that exist only fleetingly before fading away again.” (p.142, Matter Myth). These ‘virtual’ particles lack enough energy to exist for long, but illustrate that empty space contains these entities popping into existence as if out of nothing. Therefore, “Real particles can be created in a similar fashion only by supplying a large enough source of energy.” (p.145, Matter Myth). What we consider to be solid matter is in fact further reducible to energy, which is not a restrictive concept. Particles are not as stable as we ordinarily think matter is. They can appear out of empty space, are created out of energy and decay into many smaller particles.

It also appears that subatomic particles can also behave like waves. The wave Schrodinger equation states that there is a wave associated with each particle. This wave function spreads throughout the universe, being stronger with the position of the particle and weaker the farther it expands from the particle. When we measure a particle the wave function it is said to collapse and we can determine the position of the particle. When we are not measuring the particle the wave function spreads out once more interfering or combining with a network of other wave functions from other particles. These wave functions can combine enabling for example “large numbers of electron pairs to adopt the same wave configuration effectively creating a gigantic electron superwave.” (p. 206, Matter Myth). In principle, even “macroscopic objects such as people and planets have their individual quantum waves,” (p.207, Matter Myth). These effects at the macro level are not noticeable since “the greater the mass of the object involved, the shorter the waves,” (p. 207, Matter Myth). The possibility that physical objects can have distinctive quantum waves demonstrates that subatomic reality can manifest qualities even at the macro level. This particle-wave duality depends on the circumstances and is considered “complementary aspects of a single reality.” (p.208, Matter Myth). And the particle wave functions that encompass the universe combing and interacting with other wave functions implies interconnectivity to reality; a holistic network of energy relations.

Particles also exhibit an ‘awareness’ of other particles. When experiments are done the particle seems to ‘know’ “where it belongs in the interface pattern that builds up from the flow of thousands or millions of individual particles.” (p.212, Matter Myth). Again we see a holistic element going on here, where particles shape into patterns that reductive Newtonian mechanics cannot account for. An interesting problem arises when trying to measure a particle; we find we cannot measure both the position and the momentum of a particle. In fact, it appears a quantum particle does not possess both a definite position and momentum simultaneously. Since subatomic particles of the same kind are identical in properties, the problems with measurement and the unifying wave behavior blur distinctions and identity among particles. Einstein suggested the problems with measurement was due to fallibility of our measuring instruments, and devised a way to measure both these aspects. In this method you take two twin particles and shoot them outward, you can then measure the position of one and the momentum of the other. However, even once they have separated off this strange effect persists so that once you measure the first, the other responds in kind and we still lose information on the momentum or position. This again implies that once two particles have “interacted with one another they remain linked in some way, effectively parts of the same indivisible system.” (p.224, Matter Myth). This is not to suggest that particles of this nature are ‘thinking’ but that they are more connected than they appear in a relational system; which gives them an ‘awareness’ of where they are in the system and what other particles are doing.

One of the most profound mysteries seems not how matter was created but how life was. Fundamentally there is “no sharp division drawn between living and nonliving systems.” (p, 285, Matter Myth). Definitions of life entail certain properties such as the ability to procreate, respond to external stimulus and grow. The problem is other inanimate systems have the same properties. (p.285, Matter Myth). The origin of life is regarded as just “one step along the path of the progressive complexification and organization of matter.” (p.285, Matter Myth). Thus “If matter and energy possess an innate tendency to self-organize, then one would expect to find life arising again and again, given the right conditions.” (p.285, Matter Myth). The fact is that matter itself is energy and energy in a complex relational system, life may be a different manifestation of arrangement of energy and matter. Life, it may turn out, is another manifestation of matter, in which energy and its ability to create systems and self organize becomes apparent at the macro level.

To conclude this section we can see that subatomic reality is not a firm and set structure. Of first importance is that quantum reality is not covered by strict deterministic rules but probabilities and can be quite unpredictable. Secondly, even apparent chaotic systems seem to have the ability to self organize. The ability to self organize into systems and structures gives us an understanding of how reality that is so unpredictable can compose itself into something more stable. Thirdly, matter is just contained energy and particles have wave formations that interact with other systems and other particles at any distance from them and even combine to form superwaves. This interaction of particles displays a unity and holistic impression.

Quantum consciousness

Quantum Consciousness

A review and update "of a controversial 20-year-old theory of consciousness published in Physics of Life Reviews claims that consciousness derives from deeper level, finer scale activities inside brain neurons. The recent discovery of quantum vibrations in "microtubules" inside brain neurons corroborates this theory, according to review authors Stuart Hameroff and Sir Roger Penrose. They suggest that EEG rhythms (brain waves) also derive from deeper level microtubule vibrations, and that from a practical standpoint, treating brain microtubule vibrations could benefit a host of mental, neurological, and cognitive conditions." Science Daily
The theory, "called "orchestrated objective reduction" ('Orch OR'), was first put forward in the mid-1990s by eminent mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose, FRS, Mathematical Institute and Wadham College, University of Oxford, and prominent anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff, MD, Anesthesiology, Psychology and Center for Consciousness Studies, The University of Arizona, Tucson. They suggested that quantum vibrational computations in microtubules were "orchestrated" ("Orch") by synaptic inputs and memory stored in microtubules, and terminated by Penrose "objective reduction" ('OR'), hence "Orch OR." Microtubules are major components of the cell structural skeleton." Science Daily
Evidence has "now shown warm quantum coherence in plant photosynthesis, bird brain navigation, our sense of smell, and brain microtubules. The recent discovery of warm temperature quantum vibrations in microtubules inside brain neurons by the research group led by Anirban Bandyopadhyay, PhD, at the National Institute of Material Sciences in Tsukuba, Japan (and now at MIT), corroborates the pair's theory and suggests that EEG rhythms also derive from deeper level microtubule vibrations. In addition, work from the laboratory of Roderick G. Eckenhoff, MD, at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that anesthesia, which selectively erases consciousness while sparing non-conscious brain activities, acts via microtubules in brain neurons." Science Daily

If it is possible that Quantum Consciousness could exist then it is possible that consciousness could exist after death outside of a religious context. This fascinates me because this is thinking outside of the materialism box of this reality and being open to other possibilities within science. I was astonished to hear about it as well as fascinated. I hope they progress with this sort of research.

Debate about consciousness


Materialism restricts how we view the world, what we consider impossible and possible. However, physics as illustrated above may demonstrate how a mystical worldview may accurately portray reality at a micro level and how this can broaden our exploration of reality at the macro level. Although no one would describe a chair based on its atomic construction we are informed that this underlying structure is what reality is composed of. And if reality is composed of inert lumps of matter, then that leads to seeing everything as distinct entities that are not connected. If, however, we conceive of reality as composed of energy and matter we are led to see the possible interactions of things we consider distinct. Perhaps this view is a paradigm shift that is needed to create a less harmful understanding of our place in the world. In fact some physicists “have emphasized the close parallels between quantum physics and oriental mysticism, with its emphasis on the unity of existence and the subtle relationship between the whole and its parts.” (p.226, Superforce).

The mystical experience can be defined as having characteristics of ‘no ordinariness and profundity’ (p.49, Brainard). Certainly definitions of the mystical can be vague and refer to many conventional experiences, but then experiences of pain can also be subjective and difficult to describe. We can say then the subjects’ identification of his experiences as mystical “entails the belief that it cannot be exhaustively explained in naturalistic terms.” (p.55, Brainard). Experiences that are no ordinary or ineffable refer to the inability to be explained ‘in conventional, naturalistic context’ (p.55, Brainard). It is suggested here that is we align our investigations with modern physics such ‘mystical’ phenomena may be analyzable instead of outright discredited.

The mystical experience often entails an experience of unification with the divine or the cosmos. This experience of oneness necessarily requires a different level of awareness. We should not disregard ‘potential forms of consciousness entirely different’ from our normal waking consciousness. (p.56, Brainard). If it is true that ninety percent of our consciousness is unconscious, including some rational thought processes, then it is possible that at some level we are aware of the unity in reality, of interactions in reality that we are not normally, perhaps more so when we are in a theta brainwave states associated with deeper meditation. Part of this more subtle awareness is illustrated in our ability to subconsciously read the minute facial changes in someone’s expression, which give us a feeling about what is actually going one with that person contrary to verbal evidence or more obvious behaviors. Similarly, there is ‘intuition’ that gives us a feeling about a situation or person, which is also contrary to other evidence. These suggest we are more in tune with our environment than we might be consciously aware of. The mystical experience is a magnification of this awareness, which is considered more profound and meaningful to the person. Given the connectivity and holistic elements found in the subatomic realm we should not outright discount the awareness of unity we may find at our level of being.

In mysticism there is an emphasis on the unity of all things. This is reflected in physics with the very fact that everything is reducible to energy and that particles interact at a distance with each other creating a holistic network of interactions and patterns. Other mystical philosophies, such as Buddhism, emphasize the more transitory element of reality. The Buddha “stressed the impermanence of phenomena and the absence of any enduring nature in ‘compound’ things.” (p.72, Brainard). And really matter is not as solid or enduring as we might sense visually. There are virtual particles appearing and disappearing from apparently empty space. Matter is created from large quantities of energy, but those particles inevitably decay into smaller particles. Therefore we have a unity-in-difference theory. Everything is a unity in that it is all composed of energy, but there is also flux and difference as energy has many forms, interactions and instabilities.

Mysticism often reflects the notion of appearance and reality. The contract between appearance and reality can be found in many systems of thought, from physics to philosophy. In physics the contrast is dramatic; the subatomic realm being one that is foreign and invisible to us. Reality becomes multi-layered with only the macro level being open to our senses, and thus believing reality is stable and inert via our senses is reflective of appearances when reality is far from that. Objects that appear to be solid are in fact mostly empty space and particles. Our sensation of time passing and the distinction between past, present and future is not in accord with the theory of relativity where time and space are relative and time is often understood to be a static block with no real distinction. The reality we live in is uniquely defined by our biological senses and perceptions, so our view of reality is limited and thus we are comfortable believing reality is as we perceive it to be not thinking we are basing our theories firmly in appearances and ignoring the reality. Buddhism, as in the theory of relativity, there is no personal ‘now’. In Buddhism the “Enduring entity is appearance only.” (p.74, Brainard). In fact, “What we might conventionally take to be an enduring object is presumed to be a temporal sequence of discrete presences with each present contingent on the one before.” (p.74, Brainard.)

It is not merely that certain accounts of our reality may mirror more closely subatomic reality, but that they may also describe how to think of mind and body. If we follow reductive materialism the mind becomes somewhat like a side effect of the physical and certainly not a real entity. With dualism we theorize two distinct substances, the thinking substance and the material substance but are at a loss to explain the connection. If however, we support a monism of energy that does not conceive of matter as inert we are open to new possibilities. One could even speculate the mind, the thinking substance, is energy that can connect with the environment more fluidly and can reach beyond the confines of matter. As outlined previously life may be a different development of matter and energy. Under this account we may have more energy produced than the particles we are composed of, energy fields and waves that are created by our unique matter configuration. We still have the brain with all its evolutionary advantages gained by living in the context we do. We can still have a connectionist view of how the brain operates, but those neurons firing are electrical impulses and matter combined in a unique way. The brain does not have to be the center of all consciousness and awareness. As in Eastern medicine it is the entire body, the lived body, that is of importance. The ‘chi’ or energy runs throughout the body in a pattern of meridians, much like blood flows through the veins and capillaries. This energy is not independent of the body or vice versa. Each is dependant on each other and make what it is to be an organic entity, with each affecting how the other operates. This can be seen as vital force or essence but also as energy or wave function of our material composition.

Taoism not only reflects the unity of the cosmos but also of this energy in matter theory. Taoism reflects the idea that all matter is energy: “The vital essence of all things:/ It is this that brings them to life./ It generates the five grains below/ And becomes the constelled stars above./ When flowing amid the heavens and the earth.” (p.12-13, Roth). There is also the suggestion that this energy creates unique features of life such as thought: “The vital essence: it is the essence of the vital energy./ When the vital energy is guided, it (the vital essence) is generated,/ But when it is generated there is thought.” (p.60, Roth). Thirdly energy is seen to be directly related to the body; in that there is a direct link between your mental wellbeing, to the flow of this energy and therefore your physical wellbeing. The idea that your mental state, your thoughts themselves, affect your physical wellbeing is becoming scientifically documented via research into biofeedback and cognitive behavioral therapy. Finally there is the suggestions that there is a relation between your energy and the environment: “if you are in a bad mood people will react to you with hostility.” (p.119, Roth).

Taoism suggests a framework for understanding this postulated matter/energy relation. Our body is seen as material energy and vital energy in a balance that can be disrupted by our lifestyle. This is why Eastern medicine deals with trying to maintain a balance in the body via preventative measures and correcting imbalances with holistic remedies. If a particle can have a wave function that spreads throughout the universe surely we can have a similar wave function that at the least interacts with our environment and the physical matter we are composed of.

Now if I were to suggest something like astral walking is possible would your reaction be along the lines of ‘that’s not science, that’s flaky mysticism and impossible’? Why would that be? Is it because you are coming from the presupposition that what is ‘real’ is concrete and matter is inert and distinct from all other matter? Therefore it is impossible that an awareness, the mind, can extend beyond the confines of the physical body? A paradigm shift is not necessary because I want to posit astral walking, but because if we look at reality as only what our senses suggest at this level of being, despite evidence to the contrary, we are not availing ourselves to all the possibilities.



It is my belief that materialism is a limiting paradigm in the way that we generally conceive of it. Only because materialism tends to believe that matter is inert, reality is composed of distinct, concrete objects and consequently none of the subatomic anomalies affect matter at the macro level. If we do not explore ways that it can, then how would we know this to be false? This paper is also founded on the presupposition that ontologically we gain understanding of our reality and bodies by looking at the fundamental reality we live in and the subatomic realm. A framework that reflects quantum reality would be less limiting that standard materialism. It is not as though physics and mysticism have not mixed early on in its history, or today even, in those that postulate quantum mysticism. There seems to be this impulse to shove aside anything that suggests ‘mysticism’ when in fact, perhaps fundamental reality could indeed have those elements. There are many benefits to looking at the world as composed of energy in a relational system rather than inert building blocks. The possibilities when constructing an ontological theory are staggering and fascinating.

There is an extensive gap between the subatomic reality and our physical reality. Therefore, we cannot reasonably say that just because electrons are interchangeable indistinct entities that we are likewise. Rather we should explore and analyze how the subatomic reality works and extend that understanding to how systems operate even at the complex level. Subatomic reality reveals to us its self-organizing and unifying nature. Physical reality is built up from there into complex systems. Although we are composed of these particles fundamentally at each level of organization we become more complex and more distinct from other things. Therefore, we are not living in a world that is unified or related as closely as the subatomic level of reality, but that is not to say there may not be aspects of our reality, the mind for example, that have more fluidity and connection, hypothetically.

Due to this self-organizing nature of particles and matter, we can assume that this process continues into each level of complexification as we see evidence of it in the natural world. There is the difference between the one and the many. Subatomic reality can represent the unified energy theory that becomes diversified into the many. To say that life itself is a unique combination of matter and energy may entail that life has the ability to extend itself into the environment and make connections. Certainly all life undergoes the process of evolution, where a species changes due to its environment, and this process itself can be seen as the organization of life into systems that interact and respond to other systems. This interrelation of organic entities can be described as the Gaia Hypothesis. In the Gaia Hypothesis the entire world is considered one entity. Each group of species would be a sub-system to the whole. This hypothesis is useful for understanding the interrelation of all entities in the worldly environment. Perhaps we can say matter has organized itself into one collective entity, in which each component is not entirely independent.

We might even speculate that this interaction with our environment is even on a deeper level. In that sense our energy states would affect the energy states of those around us, on some level. It is speculated that all life forms emit an electromagnetic field, some might call an aura, that may very well interact with our immediate environment and perhaps affect our physical state. We do now that waves emitted by cell phones and Wifi can affect a person, so it is conceivable that the reverse is true. It is an interesting thought that our electromagnetic fields are affected and effect other fields, even beyond our awareness. However, our conscious awareness is only a very minute part of our brain. The brain takes in a vast amount of sense date, even interprets that data, entirely without our conscious awareness. Receiving information is not something we have any control or awareness of, no matter the source. Since we are not aware of this we can have intuitions and gut feelings and not know where the feeling came from, even if it is accurate. This bodily interaction would be due to the unique nature of life itself, giving us an awareness beyond our sense, and would not be limited to humans. It would be dependant on our physical composition, evolutionary adaptation and sense organs. A plant’s awareness of its environment, such as turning towards the light, knowledge of competitive species around it and even an awareness of plants of the same species, is profoundly different than our awareness via our senses.

Our interaction and subconscious awareness with out environment can be seen as a factor arising from the matter/energy combination in organic beings. In humans we might refer to these being in the domain of the mind or lived body. Part of this combination is reflected by the matter of the brain combined with the electrical impulses that gives us conscious awareness via brain activity. Many other facets of our mind, such as reason, emotions and memory can be attributed to our brain and its evolutionary development. The mind does not arise out of matter nor reduced to it but is a product of this matter/energy relation. We then have an account of the lived body. Whether it is considered to be a dualism of energy and matter, or a monism of energy alone, is a matter for the distinctions you would allow in your theorizing, but it implies that organic beings are different in kind from inorganic beings. We might want to dismiss the “ghost in the machine - not because there is no ghost but there is no machine.” (p.309, Davies).

The idea that the body is infused with energy greater than contained in its particles does not exclude mind over matter experiences. The mystical experience may be an altered awareness of the interconnectedness of reality. Likewise mind of matter experiences may illustrate interconnectedness of energy and matter in the lived body. Experiences under this heading are like mystics being able to control their heartbeat and even halt it. As well as people under hypnosis developing blisters when they are told they are being burned by an ordinary object. Finally, this would include biofeedback techniques that help people to control blood pressure, ADD and even chronic pain.

We find reality is not as modern materialists want to believe. By changing our framework and how we understand matter we are open to explore many more facets of existence. We are then not outright denying certain phenomena as impossible simply because it implies a world that is more changeable, less tangible and more interconnected than we were led to believe.


Brainard, Samual F. Reality and the Mystical Experience. (Pennsylvania State University Press 2000)

Catalana, Joseph S. Thinking Matter (Routledge, NY, NY 2000)

Davies, Paul & Gribbin, John The Matter Myth (Simon & Schuster, NY, NY 1992)

Davies, Paul. Super force (Simon & Schuster, NY, NY 1984)

Roth, Harold D Original Tao (Columbia University Press: Chichester, West Sussex, NY 1999)


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