Friday, October 8, 2010

Matter doesn't exist. Everything is energy.

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

The title of this article is a no-brainer for those with some understanding of Einstein's theory of relativity, which states that matter and energy are equivalent. The highly condensed matter is energy that can be released, as the atomic bomb unfortunately showed us. The path of science has more or less followed this course: from matter it came to the atom, from the atom to subatomic particles, from subatomic particles to energy 'wave packets', from wave packets to vibrating superstrings in eleven dimensions or more, represented as music and color. Thus an electron vibrates more or less half a billion times per second. The vibration produces sound and color. The universe would be a symphony of sounds and colors then. From the superstrings, it finally arrived at background energy, at the quantum vacuum.

In this context, I always remember a phrase spoken by W. Heisenberg, one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, during a semester course he gave at the University of Munich in 1968 in which I participated, and which still rings in my ears: "The universe is not made of things but of vibrational energy networks, emerging from something even more profound and subtle." Therefore, matter lost its central focus in favor of the energy that is organized into fields and networks.

What is this "something deeper and more subtle" from which everything emerges? Quantum physicists and astrophysicists call it "background energy" or "quantum vacuum", an inappropriate phrase because it says the opposite of what the word "vacuum" means. The quantum vacuum is the fullness of all possible energy and its possible densification in beings. Hence today the terms "pregnant void" or "original source of all being" are preferred. It is not something that can be represented in the conventional categories of space-time, it is something prior to all that exists, before space-time and the four basic energies -- gravitational, electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear.

Some astrophysicists imagine it as a kind of vast ocean, borderless, boundless, ineffable, indescribable, mysterious, in which, like in an infinite womb, all the possibilities and potentialities of being are hosted. From there emerged, without our being able to know how or why, that extremely energetic, unimaginably hot little point which then exploded (big bang) giving birth to our universe. Nothing prevents other points from having burst forth from that background energy, giving birth to other entities and other parallel universes or ones in a different dimension.

With the emergence of the universe, space-time simultaneously irrupted. Time is the movement of the fluctuation of energy and the expansion of matter. Space is not the static vacuum in within which everything happens, but that continually open process that allows energy networks and beings to manifest themselves. The stability of matter implies the presence of a powerful underlying energy that remains in that state. In fact, we perceive matter as something solid because the energy vibrations are so fast that we fail to perceive them with the bodily senses. But this is why quantum physics helps us, precisely because it deals with particles and energy networks, which open up this different view of reality to us. Energy exists and is in everything. Without energy, nothing could survive. As sentient and spiritual beings, we are a very complex creation, subtle and extremely energy interactive.

What is this background energy that manifests itself in so many ways? There is no scientific theory that defines it. We also need energy to define energy. There is no escape from that redundancy, observed already by Max Planck.

This energy is perhaps the best metaphor for the meaning of God, whose names can vary, but always point to the same underlying energy. And the Tao Te Ching (§ 4) said the same of the Tao: "The Tao is empty, impossible to fill, and therefore, inexhaustible in its action. In its depth lies the origin of all things and it unifies the world."

The uniqueness of the human being is being able to come into conscious contact with this energy. He or she can invoke it, accept it and perceive it as life, irradiation and enthusiasm.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful!

    Thank you.

    I just had a speach like that...