The Formation of Physical Reality

I think I will use the word formed instead of words like created, evolved, or designed for describing how physical reality came into existence. This is because I think that the formation of physical reality has two aspects, potentiality and actuality. Potentiality is the capacity for the coming into existence of some form of actual physical reality. Let me get my explanation off to a rather presumptuous start by considering the forming of the universe.

The universe is the place where physical reality exists. This seems obvious, but what is not so evident is that the universe is the product of two potentialities. The first potentiality is for something that contains everything and the second potentiality is for what is contained. The finding of large amounts of dark energy and dark matter in the universe will most likely change our thinking about many things but will not eliminate the necessity of a container for all the energy and matter in the universe. This container is, of course, the space-time continuum. The vast amount of energy contained in the singularity of the Big Bang did not come from the potentiality of the space-time continuum. Nor was the space-time continuum at the moment of the Big Bang an empty vessel of some kind just waiting to be filled. The space-time continuum had to be actualized to provide the first instant of time and first volume of space as the place for the Big Bang to occur.

Just as the space-time continuum and the Big Bang resulted from paired potentialities, so also particles and electromagnetism became actualities. The next step, after all kinds of particles had been set to doing their thing was the formation of matter. When the potentiality for the first hydrogen atoms became actuality, quantum mechanics was also actualized along with the formation of the strong and weak forces. You can begin to see already that potentialities and actualities allow us to avoid thinking that quantum physics was brought into existence simply by the existence of atoms and the other particles. The matter that came into existence actualized an additional potentiality of the space-time continuum. As matter came into existence it deformed the space-time continuum thus causing physical things to come together—this, of course, is what we call the force of gravity. This coming together of objects caused consequences which required the actualization of two other potentialities—nuclear and chemical interactions.

The nuclear reactions in the stars formed by gravity produced larger atoms from particles and smaller atoms and these eventually filled the periodic table—the picture of atomic potentiality. Atoms of all types then interacted in the ways for which they had potential and the actuality of the molecules that form ordinary matter came into existence. You can see that the existence all of the basics of physical reality is a really remarkable coming into being and it took a stirring of the pot over a very long time to get all the matter and energy where it needed to be so that other things could be actualized.

The potential for what could come into existence in physical reality was not exhausted by the formation of molecules and inorganic compounds. It continued on to the actualization of organic chemistry and from there to the formation of organisms. If the name archaea (derived from the Greek for ancient things) truly means that the domain Archaea is the oldest form of life then these single-cell organisms are the first instance of cellular existence. The coming into being of these (if they are) original cells involved many other subsidiary actualizations. These include cell walls, cell membranes, DNA and RNA, genomes, a genetic code and perhaps the most marvelous thing of all—a way to duplicate themselves by cell division.

The other two types of cells that were actualized later are those of bacteria and those of multicellular organisms. These cells share some of the formations of archaea but differ in many respects from archaea and from each other. The multicellular organisms are objects of mind-boggling diversity and complexity. Each of the “boggles” represents the actualization of several capabilities. Blood, for example, is not a homogeneous liquid but a mixture of many types of molecules and cells. Nerve cells are not only differentiated in their form from other cells but came to have unique capabilities so that minds could come into existence. It seems minds are not an accidental property of organic chemistry but were the result of an intentional potential before they came into existence.

The actualization of minds takes us outside physical reality and into a different realm. This is the area of immaterial things—the realm of inventions. Your computer is the result of a large number of inventions. Each one of which was an immaterial idea in a person’s mind before it was physically actualized in some device. It is appropriate that a light bulb is the symbol in cartoons of a person getting an idea. Thomas Edison had the idea for a light bulb some 1,000 attempts before he made one that was satisfactory. Art and literature are also inventions as they have their origin in someone’s mind. The thoughts that produce immaterial things such as politics, economics, cultures, languages and all the rest are inventions as they bring into being what had not existed before.  Our minds are thus the carriers of potentiality. What is actualized by us has the possibility of almost infinite variety, just as molecular biology has resulted in more than a million species of living organisms.

I think the best explanation for our potentialities is that we received them from the Creator God who formed all the potentialities that brought physical reality into existence. I hope my understanding, such as it is, will encourage you to look deeper into the nature of all things.