Forces, Laws and Things


The world seems to be driven by forces of various kinds, gravity being one of the primary shapers of the structure of the universe. In fact it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that the stars, galaxies, black-holes and the like are merely coincidental. They come and go as gravity pulls masses together and then other forces blow them apart. That a particular star came into existence is neither here nor there, and in any case all phenomena are transitory – phantoms that appear because forces have conspired to produce some effect, and when the conspiracy is over the thing disappears.

Of course gravity is not the only force operating in the physical universe. Electrical and nuclear forces do their bit and the combination of all forces produces the universe as we know it. If we are looking for some kind of “truth” then forces are nearer to truth than things – at least if we use the conventional measure of truth as being something unchanging. Stars come and go, but gravity endures “forever”. And it isn’t as though these forces are completely unstructured, they obey well-defined mathematical laws. It is debatable whether the laws that apply to nuclear forces and the like are immutable, but even so they persist for much larger timescales than the things that manifest because of them.

Hopefully you get the gist that forces and laws are the real substance of existence, and things just come and go because of them. But it’s odd isn’t it that “real things” – people, atoms, trees, stars, are the least real because they are temporary and contingent. Greater reality is owned by forces and laws, but they are invisible and known to us simply through thought.

If we want a firmer grip on the nature existence it would seem that we would do better to understand the forces and laws that shape it. So far I’ve only considered the laws of physics, but what about the law of sentient existence on this planet – might is right. If something is stronger and/or more devious than another thing it can have it for breakfast or exploit it in some other way. This is how life proceeds on this planet, and we get more of an understanding of the nature of life by looking at its laws than by considering individual creatures, since these are like all other things, temporary manifestations generated by the forces that are at play.

The slightly uncomfortable conclusion to draw here is that you and I are also temporary phenomena brought about by impersonal forces. It is the forces and laws that are eternal (for all practical purposes). The invisible (forces and laws) are the real, and the visible (things) nothing more than phantoms popping in and out of existence. It makes sense to look beyond phenomena if we want any sense of the nature of reality.



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At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst. #aristotle

There are just two conditions under which we can be happy - before we even suspect our own nothingness, and after we have stared it in the face enough that we are no longer intimidated. Any position between these two is a cause of great unhappiness and anxiety.

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