BreakPoint Columns

The Riddle of Reality: Conclusion

All Things Examined

In Part 1 and Part 2, we found that when we plunge down the rabbit hole of reality and enter the realm of photons, electrons, and quantum wave functions, what we discover is weirder than we ever could have imagined.

Among the things that strike us peculiar are things in identity crisis -- things that act sometimes as particles and sometimes as waves. And try as hard as we may to discern what they really are, their schizophrenia thwarts our every effort.

What’s more, if we fine-tune our looking glass, we find not a solid assortment of detached and distinct particles, but a murky lattice of objects that defy precise description. To be sure, quantal objects and their behaviors upturn everything we thought we knew about the world and how it works.

In the world we know, the laws of Newton reign, allowing us, for instance, to determine the complete trajectory of a baseball once we know its initial conditions and all the forces acting on it. But that’s in the world we know.

Quantal space

Once we cross the quantum threshold, Newton’s laws are useless in telling us anything about an electron in that same baseball. If we try to zero in on its location, its speed can have any value from zero to infinity. And if we try to dial in on its speed, quantum uncertainty allows the particle to exist anywhere in the universe!

Such is the nature of quantal space -- the innermost region of nature where properties like energy, position, and speed do not possess explicit values at any moment in time, but fluctuate wildly and unpredictably.

Because of quantum uncertainty, an electron associated with the baseball may exist, in any instant, inside the baseball, at the edge of the cosmos, or any point in between. Maddeningly, and against all reason, common sense, and everyday experience, the further in we drill, the less clarity and the more turbulence we encounter.

But if we are not so greedy in obtaining precise knowledge, we can guesstimate the position of the electron within a fuzzy shroud around the nuclear structure of the baseball. We only need to back off and examine it, a bit removed.

A Seething Sea

Imagine taking a skydiving plunge 10,000 feet over the ocean.

In your initial glance down, you would see the “big picture” -- a textureless stretch of blue with shorelines, contours of landmasses, and small footprints of ocean vessels. As you descend, you would eventually distinguish the features of large waves and white caps.

Further down in free fall, you would make out smaller waves and currents. And, finally, after you popped your chute and approached the surface, what appeared as a serene body of water from 10,000 feet, would become a tumultuous seascape of activity.

If you were to take a gnat’s-eye view on a small patch of water you would lose all perception of the “big picture.” You would only see the wild undulations of water creating waves, bubbles, and foam as it was pummeled by wind, tidal forces, and subsurface currents.

The innermost stratum of nature is much the same. Up close and personal, the quantum world is a seething sea of energy and particles, where exotic things like muons, mesons, neutrinos, positrons, and electrons incessantly “foam up” and dissipate in harmony with the quantum potential. However, at the 10,000 feet level, the quantum foam smoothes out, allowing the “big picture” of books, leaves, keyboards, and SUVs to be apprehended by sentient beings.

The quantum potential is conjectured by many theorists as an all-pervasive force field that energizes the entire quanta-sphere. Provocatively, the theory suggests some sort of inter-cosmic region of creative activity.

It is a suggestion bolstered by established principles of quantum physics, which show that the strength of this field is colossal. So colossal, that physicist David Bohm once noted, “If one computes the amount of energy that would be in one cubic centimeter of space . . . it turns out to be very far beyond the total energy of all the matter in the known universe.”

What all this implies is that there is something within the infrastructure of the cosmos that is creative, omnipresent, and omnipotent. But there is another intensely provocative feature of this mysterious entity.

An integrated fabric

Remember that things, as we think of them in a classical sense, do not exist in the quantum realm, and what is apprehended by our senses depends on how we conduct our observation.

If we use a particle accelerator (or “atom smasher”) in a certain way to probe this realm, we see electrons -- if in another way, we see muons. But in the end, our effort to understand what is really going on is frustrated.

It is like trying to figure out how a Swiss watch works by riddling it with an Uzi and examining the flying debris. In each case, the reductionism upon which our experiment is founded is flawed, because the quantum world, like the movements of a Swiss watch, is more than the sum-total of its parts, or the material that comprises it.

Indeed, the non-local behavior of quantum phenomena gives evidence, as discussed in Part 2, of a fundamental interconnectedness. Recognizing the logical end of this implication, physicist John Wheeler once remarked to Richard Feynman, “Feynman, I know why all electrons have the same charge and the same mass . . . because they are all the same electron!”

Accordingly, many theorists conceptualize electrons (and other quantal entities) not as separate and distinct, but as localized excitations of the infinitely extended quantum field where “wholeness” shatters our usual conceptions of space and time. In essence, this field is thought to be the warp and woof of a gossamer-like cosmic fabric.

The otherworldly features of quantal space once prompted Lawrence Berkeley physicist Henry Pierce Stapp to remark, “Everything we know about Nature is in accord with the fundamental process of Nature that lies outside of space-time.”

So what is it that lies outside of space-time?

Implications at quest’s end

Pulling back the layers of nature and peering deep into its interior, we encounter a substructure of infinite potentials rather than infinitesimal particles. Instead of discovering details about things “in there,” we are left pondering the deep mysteries of Something in, and beyond, “there.”

At the end of our investigative quest is the hint of an interface between space-time and beyond space-time, between the material and immaterial.

The border region between the natural and supra-natural appears to be an interstitial well-spring supercharged with Something, which -- as it pours into space-time -- fuels the cosmos with matter and energy arranged in simple and complex forms according to Its organizing principles.

The answer that fits

So what does this all tell us about reality? It tells us, consistent with the Christian worldview, that reality consists of both the physical and non-physical, of things seen and unseen. It also suggests, in line with Spinoza, that ultimate reality is of a more basic substance than either mind or matter.

Although the ardent scientific materialist might associate this with the quantum potential, he is challenged to explain how an impersonal, non-conscious entity displays the extraordinary creative power and genius that is rife in the universe.

The only thing befitting the data emerging from the new science is not something, but Someone. Someone who is unbounded by space-time, and yet is able to penetrate space-time to shape it and sustain it. The identity of that Someone is revealed through the most startling proclamation in all of literature -- the simple self-introduction of Him who told a desert refugee, "I AM!"

Within those three English letters are all the attributes of omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience. It is the declaration that in whatever form or substance reality is manifested, it is ultimately realized in the One Who IS!

Indeed, the riddle of reality is answered in Him in whom “we live and move and have our being.”

Regis Nicoll is a freelance writer and a BreakPoint Centurion. His "All Things Examined" column appears on BreakPoint every other Friday. Serving as a men’s ministry leader and worldview teacher in his community, Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at