QR1.4.3. Null Processing

Figure 1.4 A physical ether

Physicalism can’t explain why light travels at a fixed speed in empty space. The speed of a water wave depends on the elasticity of water, and wave speed varies with the medium, so nineteenth century physics expected light to be the same. The speed of light should depend on the elasticity of an ether that fills space. But as the earth orbits the sun at 108,000 km per hour, and the sun goes round the galaxy even faster, we can’t be stationary relative to that ether (Figure 1.4). It follows that the speed of light should vary with its direction, but in 1887 Michelson and Morley discovered that it was the same in every direction, so light didn’t travel in a physical ether.

Einstein then traded Newton’s absolute space and time for an equally absolute space-time where:

“…absolute space-time is as absolute for special relativity as absolute space and absolute time were for Newton …” (Greene, 2004, p51)

He changed the question from how light vibrates empty space to how it vibrates a space-time matrix, even though the latter gives no basis for elasticity either. In an example of modern reverse logic, the speed of light is now said to define the elasticity of space, so a wave can define its medium of travel. The theory was fitted to the facts, but that is not what science is supposed to do!

To understand the problem, imagine a space that contains objects as an ocean contains fishes:

1. Any object in that space needs a not-that-object boundary to exist as an object.

2. Unless there are only objects, there must also be a “not-any-object”, i.e. empty space.

3. If that space is nothing at all, then only objects exist, so there is no basis for movement.

4. If that space exists as objects do, the logic returns to #1, so it needs another “space” to exist in.

An object needs a not-object boundary to exist but if that is nothing, then it can’t move, or if that space isn’t nothing, how can it exist? The buck of thingness must stop somewhere and for us space is it. The paradox is that space can’t exist as the objects it contains do, nor can it be nothing. In a purely physical world, space is nothing at all, but both Einstein and Newton realized that was impossible:

“According to the general theory of relativity space without ether is unthinkable; for in such a space there would not only be no propagation of light, but also no possibility of existence for standards of space and time …” (Einstein, 1920, in May 5th address at the University of Leyden)

Einstein’s “ether” isn’t the physical ether that Michelson and Morley dismissed, but describes a medium that acts like nothing. While a physical ether has been discredited, a non-physical one has not:

Since 1905 when Einstein first did away with the luminiferous aether, the idea that space is filled with invisible substances has waged a vigorous comeback.” (Greene, 2004) p76

It follows that while space physically acts like nothing, it must actually be something, as the Casimir effect, that space exerts a pressure, suggests.

In contrast, a computer that does nothing doesn’t sit idle but runs a null process [1]. Even if one isn’t pressing keys or moving the mouse, a 4 GHz computer still processes at about 4,000 times a second. If empty space is null processing, it is nothing in the sense of having no output but it is still an activity. Empty space that is null processing doesn’t need to exist in another space because it is something itself, namely quantum processing.

In these terms, empty space is the null element that materialism doesn’t have. Quantum processes can output an electron or a photon, or the null output of “empty space”. A screen works the same way, as it can show an image or not, but a blank screen, with no images on it, is still active when switched on. To turn a screen off, to see it in itself, would destroy the images on it, so if the screen of space turned off, our entire physical universe would disappear instantly, and humanity with it.

It follows that empty space is not empty but full of null processing.

[1] Null processing is the program that a processing unit runs when it is doing “nothing”.