It So Happens

The New Ontology

The theories of science contain empirical and metaphysical content. The distinction is not well defined but in general, empirical content is obtained from measurements and observations but includes equations etc derived from this data. Metaphysical content is any abstract concept that has been added to give explanatory power. Empirical content comes to science from nature; metaphysical content comes to science from the human mind. The new ontology is an interpretation of science that supplements its metaphysical content, providing a broader picture that lets us see existing science, unaltered, in a new light.

There exist a number of persistent enigmas that any new ontology should address. These were discussed in the previous chapter. The key conclusions are re-stated again here.

The Essence

Fundamental particles such as photons and electrons might be thought of as active matter, "active" because they have behaviour; somehow they have in-built rules of how to act and the ability to do it consistently. If these particles are not individual objects but features of an underlying process, the process can be thought of as active information, information with in-built rules of how to act and the ability to do it consistently. It is proposed that the essence of the universe is Active Information defined as follows:

Active Information:

The Process

The essence of the universe is Active Information. There is no real distinction between the actions being performed and the information that is affected by the actions. However, we have no language to describe a process other than as actions and information as if they were separate. One should take care not to think of the process as an algorithm running on a processor and acting on stored data.

The process is presented here as four layers of order, numbered one to four. Each layer constrains the order of layers above it (higher number) and exerts influence on layers below it. The boundary between layers is not necessarily distinct. That is, there may be information and actions that fit between two layers but they are less relevant.

The process operates in cycles. That is, the process goes through a suite of actions then repeats it, on and on. Each cycle is a moment of fundamental time.

Layer 1

This is the Quantum layer. It has the following informational concepts:

Note that there is no spacetime at this layer. What follows is what happens at Layer 1 in each cycle.

The process advances Potentialities once per cycle. That is, it moves them on to a new state. One can also think of this as an advancing and superposing of Consequences. This advancement is a change in what could happen next in the universe before anything does actually happen. The more cycles that a Consequence has existed, the more it will have changed and the more it will have expanded its superposition of possibilities.

We cannot access this layer so we cannot tell what, if anything, the states of Potentialities change with respect to. We might guess that the simplest universal thing is cycle count. Thus we could speculatively model the advancement of Potentialities at Layer 1 using something like a Schroedinger equation but with cycle count in place of time or spacetime.

After the advancement of Potentialities, the new state of the universe is one that offers different potential Actualities. The next step within a cycle is therefore the transformation of some parts of some Consequences into new Actualities.

An Actuality is, so to speak, made out of transformed Potentialities. Think of the creation of an Actuality as the coalescing, condensing or collapsing of parts of one or more Consequences and the transformation of that body of Active Information into a new form. It might help to think of the parts of Consequences that make a new Actuality as being informationally particle-like. Thus a new Actuality can then be thought of as equivalent to a quantum event.

The actions of Layer 1 determine what constitutes a valid potential new Actuality. Only an extremely small proportion of valid potential Actualities in any one cycle go on to become Actualities in that cycle. However, Layer 1 has no rules for determining which potential Actualities become Actualities. The "selection" made by Layer 1 is totally random although higher layers may influence or override this Layer 1 selection process.

After Actualities have been created in a cycle, Layer 1 then transforms the Actualities back into Potentialities. Each Actuality becomes a new source of Consequences within Potentialities. Where an Actuality was created from parts of Consequences that had advanced and superposed their properties over many cycles, it now becomes focussed, unsuperposed, concentrated. Thus the creation and re-absorption of Actualities is a counter to what would otherwise be the uncontrolled growth of possibilities in Potentialities.

Layer 1 constrains Layer 2 (and above) because, in each cycle, there is a limited range of potential Actualities. The limit is due to the Layer 1 rules that determine what constitutes a valid potential Actuality. However, Layer 1 allows Layer 2 to influence which valid potential Actualities it "selects" to be actually created.

If the universe only had Layer 1 (as it might have had in an early phase) there would be random quantum events with no enduring structure in the ongoing pattern of events.

Layer 2

This is the Local layer. It has the following informational concepts:

The properties and actions of an Objective Structure result from the cooperation of its Actualities and Consequences working together as one thing. It is constrained by Layer 1 but also has influence in that it can "select" among valid potential Actualities in each cycle. This influence allows an Objective Structure to have properties and behaviours not found at Layer 1.

Layer 2 emerges when event patterns become stable. These patterns have their own behaviour but, because an Objective Structure is a pattern of Actualities and their Consequences, this behaviour feeds back into Potentialities. Thus the behaviour of Potentialities also changes and as a result affects all Consequences, not just those of Objective Structures. Most notably, when Consequences advance within each cycle they now do so with respect to spacetime. Objective Space is the structure of spacetime. It is created and maintained by Objective Structures so it is essentially a local reference frame. Spacetime has no Actualities of its own. It is a reference that Consequences change with respect to.

The properties and behaviours of an Objective Structure introduce the concept of extension. Every Objective Structure creates and maintains its own Objective Space. This is its own local space to which its internal Actualities and their Consequences relate. The apparent spacetime properties of internal Actualities of an Objective Structure are not shared with other Objective Structures.

Objective Structures also share a mutual concept of extension. Every Objective Structure contributes to the creation and maintainenance of a shared Objective Space and maintains its own relationship to that space. The spacetime properties of the external Actualities-and-Consequencies of an Objective Structure are shared with other Objective Structures. Thus an Objective Structure is only spatio-temporally located by its last external Actuality. In following cycles, until its next external Actuality, it is in a superposition of possible locations (and other properties) from the perspective of other Objective Structures.

Adding together the concept of a partially shared extensional spacetime among Objective Structures and the internally shared wholeness of each individual Objective Structure, what emerges is a nascent universe of objects, in the sense that there are complex event patterns that exhibit object-like behaviour. However, due to the predominance of Internal Actualities, these objects still exhibit a great deal of quantum behaviour and Layer 1 randomness.

Layer 2 constrains Layer 3 (and above) in that it has rules of Objective Space and how a whole Objective Structure behaves in that space. Layer 3 is also constrained to influence only the external Actualities of Objective Structures. From the perspective of Layer 3, many external Actualities-and-Consequences of Layer 2 are interactions between Objective Structures. Note that the constraints of Layer 1 also apply to Layer 3.

If the universe only had Layers 1 and 2 (as it might have had in an early phase) there would either be a virtual gas of quantum and mostly sub-atomic objects or, at lower temperatures, a universe of stable atoms. The phase change that happens to the universe when atoms become stable leads to the emergence of Layer 3.

Layer 3

This is the classical layer. It has the following informational concepts:

The properties and actions of a Classical Structure result from the cooperation of its Objective Structures working together. It is constrained by Layer 2 but also has influence in that it can "select" among valid potential external Actualities of its Objective Structures in each cycle. This influence allows a Classical Structure to have properties and behaviours not found at Layer 2.

The properties and behaviours of a Classical Structure augment the concept of extension in layer 2. Every Classical Structure contributes to a shared Classical Space. This is a space to which its constituent Objective Structures relate (externally) but is also visible to other Classical Structures.

The concept of a fully shared extensional spacetime among Classical Structures, one that includes gravity (and possibly other undiscovered extensional concepts) leads to a large-scale universe of classical objects which are actually complex event patterns that exhibit classical-object-like behaviour. However, due to their underlying Objective Structures, classical objects are not totally divorced from quantum behaviour and randomness.

Layer 3 constrains Layer 4 in that it has rules of Classical Space and how a whole Classical Structure behaves in that space. Note that the constraints of Layers 1 and 2 also apply to Layer 4.

If the universe only had Layers 1, 2 and 3 (as it surely had in an early phase) there would be the objective world of planets, stars and galaxies but no subjective world of thinkers of thoughts.

Layer 4

This is the subjective layer. It has the following informational concept:

The properties and actions of a Subjective Structure result from the cooperation of some of the Classical Structures of a brain working together as one thing. Which Classical Structures are taking part in this cooperation may change on very short time scales but are part of the same brain.

A Subjective Structure is constrained by Layer 3 but also has influence in that it can "select" among valid potential external Actualities of the Objective Structures that constitute the Classical Structures of the brain. This influence allows a Subjective Structure to have properties and behaviours not found at Layer 3.

The properties and behaviours of a Subjective Structure introduce the concept of Subjective Space. Every Subjective Structure creates and maintains its own Subjective Space. This is not an extensional space but an experiential space that is qualitative in nature. It is the stuff of thought, experience, qualia, awareness etc.

Subjective Space is not shared with other Subjective Structures but is local and private to its own Subjective Structure. The brain patterns that result in Subjective Structures are learnt and memorised during a brain-owner's development so that the mature brain correctly matches perceptions etc to appropriate subjective experiences and thoughts.

Layer 3 constrains Layer 4 in that a brain can only be made of Classical Structures, ones that obey all the same laws of physics as other Classical Structures. Note that the constraints of Layers 1 and 2 also apply to Layer 4.

There is nothing special about the constituent Classical Structures of a brain that creates and maintains Subjective Structures. It is the patterns of Actualities that are special. These patterns are created by brains; not all brains but only ones complex enough to produce, memorise and recall such patterns.

Given that the essence of the universe (in this ontology) is Active Information, it is much more conceivable that the universe can contain thought and subjective experience. Think of it as a sort of direct connection with Active Information or as Active Information feeding back on itself.

Consciousness might be a further layer but might also be just a more sophisticated type of subjective structure.


What follows is a brief summary and review of the the new ontology

Time and Space

A cyclic process with one batch of Actualities per cycle provides a real sequence of moments. However, we neither measure nor sense this sequence. We and our measuring apparatus are "made of" Actualities. Take a clock for example. One tick could take a few cycles or trillions of cycles. Clock time and therefore the time of spacetime is not tied to the cycle rate. Clock time can vary just as Einstein's relativity shows, independent of cycle time. The time and space that we sense and measure are extensional constraints on Potentialities and Actualities. They are features of a process, not an actual flow, an actual volume or an actual four-dimensional spacetime block.

The sequence of cycles provides a direction of time. The present moment is the current cycle. The process is always in the moment. It is never in a past or future cycle. The past exists only in the sense that it is the remaining Consequences of past Actualities. Potentialities are the as-yet unresolved history of the universe and it is they that provide a definite direction of time. Metaphorically, Potentialities are the past and its expanding potential contributions to the unfolding present.

A batch of Actualities all happen in the same moment (cycle of the process) but this does not raise any problem of universal simultaneity. First, spacetime is essentially local, created and maintained by each Objective Structure and Classical Structure. Second, Einstein's relativity is a part of the rules that govern the evolution of states of Consequences in each cycle and determine what constitutes a valid Actuality. These rules apply directly within Potentialities. They are influences that underlie Actualities and therefore affect quantum event patterns without having quantum events of their own. They guarantee the spacewise and timewise boundaries of every event and the correct order of events for all observers.

Space is not an actual volume and nothing moves as such. Potentialities and Actualities are all interconnected as one process. They are not inside space or clock time in any sense. Space and clock time, together as spacetime, are only features of the process that constrain the unfolding patterns of Actualities.


In the new ontology, gravity is not a force field. That is, there are no graviton equivalents in Potentialities or Actualities. Instead, gravity is deeply embedded in the concept of extensionality. This is akin to the geometric view of gravity. Classical Structures maintain a shared Classical Space which includes gravity. The rules that govern this space will be exactly those of Einstein's General Relativity or its successors.

For example, consider a star whose light passes close to a large mass on its way to us. The light starts as an Actuality of a Classical Structure that is part of the star. The light continues as a component of the Consequences of that Actuality in Potentialities. It increases its superposition of "states" (potential contributions to future Actualities) over a vast number of following cycles. This evolution of states is affected by the shape of the spacetime landscape wherever and whenever (in clock time) and in the same way as photons would have been affected. The light ends as an Actuality of a Classical Structure of the observer. This latter event is an Actuality "selected" from a range of Potentialities that conform to the rules of Layers 1, 2 and 3, rules that include General Relativity. Thus General Relativity applies to the evolution of states of Consequences (what we think of as the light in flight) and to the rules that determine what constitutes a valid Actuality (what we would call the light emission and light absorption events.)

Note that spacetime and gravity are features of the process that have no Actualities themselves. They are a part of the way that Potentialities works. The process of forming an Actuality is a process of quantization. In this ontology, spacetime and gravity are not quantized. There are no spacetime or gravity-like events. Objective Space and Classical Space are created and maintained by Objective Structures and Classical Structures. It might help to think of them as networks that link those structures within Potentialities. The evolution of states of Consequences within Potentialities are changes that occur with respect to the networks. The networks are in turn affected by those state changes. I offer this network analogy only as illustration.


Layer 1 has no spacetime and therefore no clock time. It still has moment time which is the sequence of cycles of the process, each with its batch of Actualities. Thus there is a significant change in physics as Layer 1 develops into Layer 2. This change occurs when event patterns begin to form and is therefore probably due to the universe cooling (or some Layer 1 equivalent) to a temperature where such patterns can remain stable. Layer 2 might also be related to the period of universal expansion. If so, Expansion is associated with the emergence of spacetime. For us, this would seem like the effective beginning of time because we live by the clock-time of spacetime.

Layer 1, having no spacetime, is beyond our clock time. We cannot say that it was the first few seconds or fractions of seconds of the universe. In terms of cycle count, it could be any length, probably much longer than the cycle count between then and now. Thus the new ontology explains how the universe had time to develop Layer 1 in the first place. It did not appear miraculously in a Big Bang but developed gradually over a virtual eternity.

Layer 2 has no gravity or at least not gravity as we know it now. There is a second dramatic change in physics as Layer 2 develops into Layer 3. This is the period when atoms formed and, as a consequence, the cosmic microwave background was emitted. Looking back in time (by looking further in space) we can see this microwave background but we cannot see beyond it.

In short, the new ontology interprets and thereby explains the two dramatic cosmological events of the "early" universe as periods of significant development of the laws of physics. Note that while it is possible that these changes to the laws of physics were already inevitable before they occurred, they need not have been inevitable throughout the virtual eternity that Layer 1 took to develop.

Quantum Measurement

The new ontology re-sites the links between causally related quantum events. Traditionally, we think of matter and forces as real and the interactions between them as abstract. The new ontology reverses this picture. It has quantum events as real and has matter and forces as abstract features of a process from which the events unfold. This is much more consistent with the results of quantum experiments.

Take, for example, atoms in a two-slit experiment that exhibit interference. After an atom (a stable Objective Structure) has been emitted, it has no more external Actualities until it is absorbed on the far side of the two-slit screen. Whilst "in flight" the Internal Actualities of the atom relate to and are therefore located relative to the private Objective Space of the whole atom, not the apparatus. At these same moments, the atom's public Objective Space has the atom in a superposition of possible locations. These locations are affected and constrained by the apparatus and will therefore include the possibilities offered by both slits. Such an atom arriving at the absorber, without any intervening external Actualities, will have been influenced by both slits. Any attempt to detect an atom "in flight" must involve an external Actuality which will commit the atom to a location relative to the apparatus. By the way, I have given the example using atoms because the case that equates to photons has, for each photon, only one Actuality at the emitter and one at the absorber. That case is much simpler because there are no "in flight" Actualities as there are with atoms. The distinction between internal and external Actualities is key.

The argument has been made before that we need not be concerned about the faster-than-light collapse of the wave function because it offers no way to send signals faster than light. Still, the very notion of anything acting instantaneously across vast distances of space has always been hard to accept. The new ontology offers a different explanation. What we call wave function collapse is the coalescing/condensing of some Potentialities to form an Actuality. Potentialities are not contained within a volume of spacetime. Quite the contrary, spacetime is an abstract concept contained within Potentialities. Two or more Consequences that contribute to a new Actuality are not spacially separated. Their spacio-temporal (clock time) separation is as abstract as if it were variables in an equation. That separation is a real volume for us because we experience, measure and are made of Actualities. The distinction between Actualities and Potentialities answers the wave-collapse conundrum. Light speed is abstract in the world of Potentialities. Signals are real things in the world of Actualities.

In short, the new ontology overcomes the measurement problem.


The essence of the universe in the new ontology is Active Information. Thought, experience and consciousness are informational. It is easier to accept that mental experience can emerge from active information than from active matter. In the new ontology, Subjective Structures (mind) and Objective/Classical Structures (matter) are alike in that they are enduring self-similar patterns of Actualities and their Consequences that maintain their own abstract spaces. Mind and matter both emerge from the same essence and the same process. DesCartes' mind-body dualism is avoided and yet a thought stream nevertheless requires a brain. It's just that, in this ontology, they are not so different fundamentally.

A Subjective Structure is produced and maintained by a brain which is in turn based on Classical and Objective Structures. One can see from this that Objective has influence over Subjective. Metaphorically speaking, matter has influence over or constrains mind. The new ontology also shows a means for mind to influence matter. A thought stream has directionality. That is, it is not a sequence of isolated static thoughts but is a kind of flow where what follows is continually related to or influenced by what went before. Subjective Space includes this concept of directionality. The tiniest tweak in directionality can lead to a very large difference in the thoughts that follow. Couple this with the fact that the same is true of neural networks. Just one neuron firing or not can make a very large difference to the neural firing pattern that ensues. Putting these ideas together, Subjective Space only needs the subtlest of influence to affect the direction of a thought stream. This influence is to select from many valid potential Actualities at any moment, ones that have been constrained by Layer 2 and Layer 3 but which still leaves a range for Layer 4 to select from.


The Process proposed in the new ontology puts a great deal of the universe behind Actualities which are the only things that we can sense and measure. This does not mean that the underlying process is out of the reach of science. We can deduce many details about the workings of the process from consistencies within the patterns of quantum events. Of course, we already do this.

We measure quantum events and deduce properties and behaviours of active matter, whether as particles, waves, quantized fields or superstrings. These things are no less abstract or metaphysical than Potentialities and Objective Structures.

Active matter is an ontology, one story that fits many of the facts though certainly not all and not without raising paradoxes. The new ontology is intended to fit all the facts and to avoid paradoxes.

By the way, don't be put off by the amount of processing that has to go on in each moment. We live in "Actualities world" where time is the amount that things change per moment. There could be a virtual eternity between two moments and we would be none the wiser because there would be the same amount of change per moment for us. The process can take as long as it needs.

A Prediction

I predict that physics will discover, as it goes to ever finer time scales, that a maximum frequency of vibration will be reached. We measure oscillations in clock time so the boundary will occur at different frequencies in different frames of reference. This boundary will be due to the cycles of the Universal Process. Note that I am not saying that there is a limit to the smallness of steps in clock time. After all, light effectively carries a notional clock that is stopped. If I am right and the process has discrete cycles, no oscillation can go faster than the universal cycle rate.

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