The Field: The Reality of Things
The following is excerpted from The Basic Code of the Universe: The Science of the Invisible in Physics, Medicine and Spirituality, published by Inner Traditions.
Mechanistic thought conceptualized solid particles moving in a vacuum. Then came field physics, and prevailing notions were shattered once again. In the mid-nineteenth century, Michael Faraday introduced the idea of a field as "a space around a source of electromagnetic energy." Opposing the concept of "full and void" from atomism, Faraday suggested the idea of "matter and force diffused in space," according to precise lines of force. His was a nonmaterial vision of physical phenomena! It is with Faraday that fields became defined as physical dimensions in zones of temporal space. In the following century, Einstein extended the field principle with the inclusion of gravity: the universe is thus considered held in a single gravitational field that curves in proximity to matter.
Of the four elements of Pannaria, the field is the least studied but the most interesting. Mass could be matter combined with energy, which is an expression of the field. In that case mass would be the formation through which the senses perceive the field, the reality that the "veil of Maya" hides, as some insightful sages of India, along with some Western philosophers, have put it. Plato contrasted the truth (alètheia) with fiction, opinion, illusion (doxa). The senses fall under the category of doxa, projection, the shadow of the alètheia. The senses enable us to perceive only impressions, while the truth of the universe is unknowable. "Nature loves to hide" (ϕύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ), writes Heraclitus of Ephesus.* But a philosopher must try to reach it somehow, because truth is very sublime.
Plato used the "myth of the cave," in which he describes a scene of slaves chained in a cave, who are forced to watch a strange "film" of speaking shadows on a wall. They believe what they see is real until one slave escapes and discovers an unexpected world: what the prisoners think are people are only the shadows of statues of humans and animals being carried on the shoulders of real men and women passing by; the slaves were hearing only their voices.5 The freed slave met the other side of things. Centuries later, the neo-Platonist Giordano Bruno of the Renaissance wrote De Umbris Idearum (The Shadows of Ideas), and indeed Platonic thought has also been revalued by some quantum physicists. The physical bodies that we can touch, see, and hear are only the shadows in the cave. Their fields, though they elude our senses, are in fact the true reality of the bodies. A researcher has to leave the cave in order to explore the other side of things.
Every physical body can be seen as an event that is constantly changing on the world stage, and the director of the changes is precisely the field, which the ancient sages identified with fire, a great natural alchemist. The quantum field is everywhere. The particles are not corpuscular, but local condensations of the field. Solid? No. They are quanta, but they are packets of energy of the field's vibrations. The protons are vibrations in the field of the protons, electrons in that of the electrons, and so on. It is revolutionary in the history of human thinking to imagine that the world is not built with solid bricks, but rather with vibration, energy. Matter is a particular vibration of its own field, which overturns everything so far studied in school.
Since our childhood we have wanted to humanize the world, and we imagine even the microscopic driving energies of life as solid objects. But things are not like that. The Italian doctor and physicist Massimo Corbucci writes that the atom is an abyss filled with electrons and the particles of the nucleus.6 The harder you search the abyss, the more you realize that mass itself does not exist. What exists is a game of attraction and repulsion (therefore a balance) between different polarities of charge, between "breathing emptiness."
The field is pulsation in the emptiness, that is, vibrating emptiness, a pulsating vacuum. The particles that make up mass might actually be disturbances of the field, ripples in the vacuum. We are not far from the discourse of the strings. Now consider that the first description of matter, as being like "the crest of a wave, curling like the sea," was written as early as the hermetic treatises of the second century C.E.! It is only these disturbances that are perceived by the senses, which then turn them into perceptions-visual, tactile, auditory-namely feelings from forms, bodies, heat, sound, light.
What appear to us as particles are probably field fluctuations, in which some of a field's regions oppose one another (for example, the protons and the electrons). In physics' "double slit" experiment, an electron sent toward a plate with two parallel slits close to each other passes through both simultaneously, suggesting that the electron is traveling more like a wave than a particle. Actually, an electron can be in either wave or particle form, a variation of field fluctuation.
During our journey, we will discover further that the fields of physical bodies have extraordinary properties, that they are "organized masses" and that to date nobody has been able to uncover what organizes them and how. The physical, chemical, and biological sciences continue to largely ignore these questions. In fact, the field may not only be the result of what happens to mass, but rather the director of what happens to mass. To begin to understand how this can be, we are aided by the concept of morphogenetic fields, which offer us insight into fields with organizing disposition.
The existence of morphogenetic fields was postulated by a group of botanical embryologists in the past century in order to explain the growth processes of plants and animals, and the differentiation of their individual parts. According to their concept, the morphogenetic field may have informational characteristics that contribute to invisible planning, which gives form to the organisms as they develop. They may also help explain the ordering functions responsible for group actions and behaviors in many animal species. The raw building material remains the same; what changes is the design itself: it is this that "decides" shape, proportions, and limits with respect to growth. Only the morphogenetic field can explain why a person's arms and legs are different, despite the fact that they contain the same proteins encoded in the same genes.
One of the first to describe ordering fields was Harold Saxton Burr, who taught anatomy and neuroanatomy at the Yale School of Medicine. For at least two decades, Burr conducted research into the shapes of plants and animals, and also on hypothetical living fields that he called vital fields (V-fields). Each organism follows a pattern of planned growth, led by its electromagnetic field. Burr discovered, for example, that the electric field of a sprout has the shape of the adult plant. In an unfertilized egg, he discovered an electrical axis corresponding to the future orientation of the adult brain, serving as a guide to place the cell in the right place.7 According to Richard Gerber, "It is highly likely that the spatial organization of cells is intended to be a three-dimensional map of the finished version: this map or matrix is a function of the energy field that accompanies the physical body."8
Burr was convinced that the fields could dominate and control the growth and development of every living form. He writes, "The molecules and cells of the human body are constantly being demolished and rebuilt with fresh substances from the food we eat. But thanks to the controlling V-field, new molecules and cells are rebuilt as before and are arranged in the same way as the old ones. When we meet a friend whom we haven't seen for six months, there is not one molecule in his face that is the same as it was at the last meeting. But, thanks to the controlling field, the new molecules are placed exactly in the old familiar layout and so we can recognize his face."9
Biologists are struggling to explain how our bodies maintain their shape despite the continuous replacement of substances. The particle affects the field, but it in turn is conditioned, points out Burr. "The design and the organization of each biological system are determined by a complex electrodynamic field which dictates the behavior and the ordering of components. It has correlations with growth and development, degeneration and regeneration and orientation of the component parts of the entire system. It can control the movement and the position of all particles within the entire system . . . Science believes that the electrical variations in living systems are the consequence of their biological activity, but I believe that there is a primary electrical field in the living system that is responsible."10
When Burr talks about forces, he imagines "superregulatory systems" governing physiology. According to him the condition of the mind influences the state of the field. These words sound like Buddha's: we become what we think. For Burr life does not happen by chance, but is rather the result of an organization delivered through electrodynamic fields that rule the positions and movements of all particles: "Vital fields impose a plan and organization of the material components, throughout the constant changing of all the living forms, forcing an acorn to grow until it becomes an oak, and only an oak. . . . Vital fields are influenced by larger fields in which our world is included (solar spots, for example), subject to a higher authority that forces them to change in various ways."11
The experiments conducted by our research group (see chapters 5 and 6) also suggest the existence of informed structures, which are able to build and organize physical bodies and put them in communication. But these structures are invisible, not perceivable with the naked eye or with equipment. And there we run into the limitation of current science, which is almost a certainty of knowledge. Almost because the senses are subjective and fail to capture dimensions different from our own: parallel universes are perhaps only one step away from us, but they may as well not exist. What exists for us is all that exists, at least as far as the logic of senses. Reality for us is all that we imagine.
Imagination draws the limits of our world. Ancients depicted the earth as flat, as was suggested by the senses. Today we can think of the earth in its roundness because we have seen the curvature of Earth from space. However, it is with difficulty that we imagine the solar system, especially the farthest planets. The galaxy is unimaginable, even more so, the universe. Distant galaxies are billions of light years away from our understanding. How can we imagine billions and billions of miles? Consider how the ancients thought of a fixed Earth at the center of rotating spheres. It took Galileo's telescope, the Copernican revolution, and satellites to replace this picture of reality. And we still don't know if our new images are the right ones . . . but this is another matter.
Under the microscopic lens, we have the same dilemma. Where does the world end? In quarks?* Beyond? The limit has been moved so many times! Research into the components of matter has involved generations of physicists who always review the previous theories. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, experiments carried out by Dalton† suggested that everything was made up of atoms and nothing else. But before the century ended, Thomson‡ discovered the electron; from there on, during the early twentieth century, physicists described all the components of the atom. The particles seemed to be the new frontier, but then came Paul Dirac, who proposed the idea of antimatter. He was mocked for thirty years until antiparticles were discovered, and the scientific community tried to correct its mistake and the insult it caused by awarding Dirac the Nobel Prize. Fortunately for him, Dirac was still alive. Then quarks were discovered, and once again the frontier was moved forward. Physicists constantly change the image of the universe, and sometimes they discard it completely to start all over again.
The progression of numbers is an example of how the world has only limited representation on the mental screen. If I read 0.1, it is easy to imagine a tenth part of something, one of ten slices of a cake. But with 0.0000001 the mental effort is enormous. Imagine if there are tens of zeros after the decimal point! The most famous irrational number is π, academically approximated to 3.14: an understandable number that in reality would be 3.14159265358979323846. I wonder how many people even read all the numbers one by one; this confirms how useless it is to try to imagine something beyond our limits.
We are dealing with a world of representations suggested by the senses and the imagination, not a sound foundation on which to base dogmas and doctrines. Nothing is certain. Objective reality is unattainable. What shall we do? Stop searching and abandon this powerful passion? No. We should extend the research field to regions forbidden to the senses, into the void, and redefine what our senses declare to be "empty."
Teaser image by arenamontanus, courtesy of Creative Commons license.Tweet