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Start To Be or Not to Be: That is the Question
02 September 2013

To Be or Not to Be: That is the Question

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Some things exist and others do not. This may seem a truism, but the difference is huge. All things that exist, however varied they may be, have a common denominator, one unifying feature: existence, which leads them out of the abyss of not-being.

To exist and to be are synonyms of the same idea, but for “existence” to exist – pun intended – “something” must exist. Existence, as an abstract idea, is eternal, but needs to be reflected in a concrete reality to acquire “corporeality”. Existence, or the eternal being, for believers is identified with God, to which, in His capacity as a Creator, they equate at the same time with absolute reality. Others identify the Creation with the life force of Nature, the energy of the Cosmos, Chance, etc. All these concepts are equally questionable or optional, because the issue is rather semantic.

Being eternal and Creation are two sides of the same coin. If the eternal Being has always existed, “something” must have also always existed. That something, in Current Physics, is the quantum vacuum, which is not the same as nothingness. In general relativity, gravity is the cause of the spacetime curve. If we remove the objects floating in space due to mutual gravity one by one, in the end we will not have a sort of empty box but there will simply not be a box. This is nothingness. The absence of anything.

Quantum mechanics, however, tells us that nothingness, absolute zero, does not exist because it is incompatible with the principle of indeterminacy and uncertainty or the “fuzziness” of any magnitude, which can only be measured in terms of probability. The quantum vacuum fluctuates, vibrates and somehow boils. It is a permanent source of particles and anti-particles (electron-positron) that cancel each other out as soon as they are created, without there being enough time to measure them. They are called virtual particles and are perfectly real. In this sense the quantum vacuum is an enormous reservoir of potential energy. Being involves energy or, in the words of a believer, God is energy.

The quantum vacuum is in constant fluctuation and our universe emerged from one of these “quantum vacuum fluctuations”, via the now famous and universally-accepted “Big Bang”. The great primordial explosion occurred in two phases 13.7 billion years ago. The first lasted tiny fractions of a second and produced the ultra-fast inflation of matter, to reach the size of a football. The second, which has lasted until today, gave rise to “our” world. The initial inflation is needed to explain the thermal homogeneity of the Cosmos, demonstrated by the homogeneity of the cosmic microwave background, which in any direction that it is measured or analyzed is always about 3 kelvins (above absolute zero).

There is no reason to assume that our primordial explosion was the first or the last, but it is “ours”, in the sense that it produced a Cosmos that has allowed us to exist. Other earlier or later Universes may not be as tolerant or permissive.

We know that the composition of our universe is approximately just under 5% of visible matter (i.e. all we can see by the most advanced means), 20% dark matter (that we can only detect by its gravitational effect) and 75% of so-called dark energy – that we do not know what it is – but it pushes all the galaxies to move away from each other at increasing speeds. The initial explosion, logically, should have produced similar amounts of matter and antimatter (which is equal to matter, but with the electrical charges swapped: the proton would be negative and the electron positive). When matter and antimatter come into contact, they annihilated each other, becoming pure energy. There was only a small excess of matter that today makes up all our material universe. The energy produced by the mutual annihilation of matter and antimatter may somehow be related to the mysterious dark energy that drives us to destruction… or the rebirth of a new world.


We know that we exist. We have some knowledge about the mechanics of creation that brought us here, thanks to the discoveries in the fields of physics and cosmology in recent decades. However, in terms of the future we are, like Christopher Columbus in his time, before a “mare tenebrosum”, in which there is and will continue to be struggles between giants (gravity versus dark energy), cataclysmic collisions between galaxies (Milky Way versus Andromeda), black holes that devour entire galaxies, cosmic loneliness increased by the disappearance of distant worlds behind the wall of the speed of light, etc.

Fortunately the time horizon of these events is, for our purposes, virtually unlimited or infinite. We can enjoy our existence without fearing anything but ourselves. The end of the Blue Planet will rather come about as a result of human activity (wars, pollution, resource scarcity, intolerence, etc.). As Hobbes said “homo homini lupus”. It would be sad if he were right.


Ramón Reis

Economist, Madrid (Spain)

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