The Unit-Particle Universe

The non-objective existence of a lonely unit-particle

Johnny R. O'Neill


This article is adapted from the book, Life, the Universe, God, and All That Stuff, available on Amazon

Imagine an object that lives all by itself in an infinite universe. Lonely existence. Call it a ‘unit-particle,’ a particle composed of nothing but itself, existing in a universe composed of that unit-particle, and nothing else besides.

The question is, how big is this unit-particle? It’s not that it matters, so much, but is there any way to know how big it is without making the lonely nature of the unit-particle’s existence less so?

Wouldn’t we need to introduce some other object of known length against which to measure the unit-particle before we could know how big it is? Even using a sophisticated laser or radar scheme would involve introducing electromagnetic waves to the universe. If, for whatever reason, we are unable to introduce anything to this unit-particle universe, is there any way to ‘know’ how ‘big’ our unit-particle is?

Similar question, but how about motion? Is our unit-particle moving? Can we know? What is it moving in relation to, to call it moving?

Does this particle have a ‘charge’? Can we know? There are no other objects in this universe to generate an electrical potential between them, so how could we know?

And mass? Does it have any? How do we know? There is nothing to pull or push it. No force can be exerted on it. Nothing to be attracted to it by gravity.

It might seem that this unit-particle could possess all kinds of qualities, but because there is only the unit-particle in this universe, it’s simply a case of not being able to experience those qualities; it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have those qualities.

It might seem so, but just because your mom, for example, never showed you the birthmark she had on her rear-end, so you never were able to ‘experience’ the birthmark — not that you wanted to — that doesn’t mean that she didn’t have the birthmark. Certainly, just because you haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it’s not there. But if no one has seen it? Including your mom? Including anyone or anything at all? Does ‘it’ ‘exist’ then?

Put another way, if you, or anyone or anything, has no experience of a cat on your lap, is there a cat on your lap?

If there is no experience of a thing, at all, does it exist? Can it exist?

Can a ‘thing’ of no experiential qualities, of no qualities that can be experienced, with no relationship to any other ‘thing,’ exist at all?

That’s the point. Unless we assume that there is existence outside of experience, there must be actual experience of anything for it to exist. And that experience implies a relationship.

To sum up, qualities of an individual object are not intrinsic to the object, rather, the qualities ‘exist’ in terms of the relationship between different objects.

Objects, on their own, don’t have qualities. Relationships have qualities.

“The more we have studied it, the less the world seems comprehensible in terms of something that is. It seems to be a lot more intelligible in terms of relations between events”

— Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time (Riverhead Books, 2018)