the stuff of stuff

LEGO blocks LEGO consists of interlocking plastic pieces that can be assembled to make toy buildings and other objects. All LEGO objects are made of the same stuff -- LEGO pieces.

Reality consists of interlocking pieces of matter assembled to make real buildings and other objects. All real objects are made of the same stuff. Every real object is made of assemblies of matter -- molecules, which are made of pieces of matter known as atoms.

How strange it is that the very same, identical thing that causes objects to feel "hot" to the touch also causes objects to feel “cold” to the touch. How can all the complexity and richness of the universe be produced by the simplest, most basic of building materials: the electrons that form that outer shell of atoms that make up the molecules that make up everything there is?

All human sense perceptions –- including sight, sound, smell, touch and taste –- are derived from the shape and structure of the molecules of the objects that we perceive through our senses. The molecules are made of atoms, which in turn are made of electrons and other sub-atomic particles.

But the really strange part is that every electron in the universe is identical* to every other electron. It's as if there's only one electron in the whole of reality, and it's very, very busy. There are no red electrons or blue electrons or soft electrons or hard electrons. Just electrons -- each one the same as all the others. And yet we do see blue as well as red.

If every electron in the universe is identical to every other electron, if everything is made of the same monotonously identical building blocks, how does difference enter the world?

A dog is made of the same stuff as a house or a person. Real dogs, LEGO dogs and LEGO pieces alike are all made of the same stuff: matter. The question is how can things made of the same stuff be so different from each other?

Water, for example, comes in at least three different main states or flavours: liquid, solid and gaseous (ice, steam, water). Yet the electrons that make up water are the same as those that make up ice or steam.

We experience ice as "solid" and "cold" to the touch, and steam (water vapour) as "gaseous" and "hot" to the touch. We can wave an arm through a cloud of gas, but not through a block of ice. Yet these two very different experiences -- solidity vs gassiness -- are produced by the same efficient cause in each case: the arrangement of atoms within a particular molecular structure.

What we experience as "heat" is simply molecules vibrating. What we experience as "cold" is simply molecules vibrating (at a slower rate, ceteris paribus). "Hot" and "cold" are basically the same thing at different points on the temperature continuum.

Everything we experience is molecular structure, including the feeling of "furriness" we get from stroking a cat, "wetness" from touching water, and "grittiness" from a handful of sand.

Where does "softness" come from? Touching electrons. "Hardness"? Touching electrons. "Slipperiness"? Touching electrons. Remember though that every electron is totally identical in all material respects to every other electron. There are no hard electrons, soft electrons, slippery electrons or wet electrons. Just electrons.

What we see "through our eyes" is the interaction between the human visual apparatus and fundamental particles of light, called photons. And like electrons, every photon in the universe is identical ceteris paribus to every other photon in the universe.

What's happening when we see the color "red"? Photons. "Green"? Photons. Round objects? Photons. Black? No (ie zero) photons. All the different things we see are the product of fundamental particles, photons, and each photon is identical to every other. There are no red photons or green photons or round photons or square photons. Just photons.

How does difference enter the world? Where does all the complexity, richness and diversity of life and the human experience come from? The complexity comes from simplicity; the richness comes from poverty; the diversity comes from homogeneity. The human experience comes from the interaction between human physiology and psychology, on the one hand, and the monotonous simplicity of fundamental particles on the other.

So, is reality lumpy or smooth? You'd have to say lumpy.

* Electrons are identical to each other except for such attributes as location and momentum, etc.


eBooks by Cosmic Rapture:

NIGHTMERRIES: THE LIGHTER SIDE OF DARKNESS This so-called "book" will chew you up, spit you out, and leave you twitching and frothing on the carpet. More than 60 dark and feculent fictions (read ‘em and weep) copiously illustrated by over 20 grotesque images you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley.

AWAREWOLF & OTHER CRHYMES AGAINST HUMANITY (Vot could be Verse?) We all hate poetry, right? But we might make an exception for this sick and twisted stuff. This devil's banquet of adults-only offal features more than 50 satanic sonnets, vitriolic verses and odious odes.

MANIC MEMES & OTHER MINDSPACE INVADERS A disturbing repository of quotably quirky quotes, sayings, proverbs, maxims, ponderances, adages and aphorisms. This menagerie holds no fewer than 184 memes from eight meme-species perfectly adapted to their respective environments.

FIENDS & FREAKS Adults-only Tales of Serpents, Dragons, Devils, Lobsters, Anguished Spirits, Gods, Anti-gods and Other Horse-thieves You Wouldn't Want to Meet in a Dark Kosmos: 4th Edition

HAGS TO HAGGIS Whiskey-soaked Tails of War-nags, Witches, Manticores and Escapegoats, Debottlenecking and Desilofication, Illustrated