The Freeze-frame Universe

A new description of reality that fits the deepest findings of science

8th Edition. Copyright © 2021 by David Stringer. https://www.eobar.org

(1st Edition published 2010)

What Exists: a Freeze-frame Universe

The theories of science contain empirical and abstract 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. Abstract content is any concept that has been added to give explanatory power. Empirical content comes to science from nature; Abstract content comes to science from the human mind. The Freeze-frame Universe is an interpretation of science that supplements its abstract 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 explanation of what exists should address. These were discussed in the previous chapter. The key conclusions are re-stated again here.

Think of a celluloid movie film, the old-fashioned sort that was used to project images onto cinema screens. Each frame is a separate static picture. As the roll of film passes through the projector, the rapid sequence of pictures goes so fast that we see a continuously moving scene. In a normal movie, the roll of film is produced by movie cameras pointing at actors on set. But there are now many films where the frames are produced by computers. This set up: some kind of process producing content as a sequence of frames, provides a useful analogy to help explain how I think our universe works.

Frame sequence produced by a process
Image of film and process

Of course, I am not saying that the universe is some kind of projected image. That will become clear soon. But the idea of a sequence of frames coming one at a time, with different content in each, nicely portrays what is probably the key feature of this universe: fundamental time. Each frame represents one moment of time. The content of each frame is static; nothing moves in a frame, hence the term freeze-frame. Fundamental time is not the same as clock time. More on that later. For now, we start with fundamental time which is like a sequence of freeze-frames.

The universe is the process that produces the sequence of frames, the sequence of moments of fundamental time, each with its different content. The laws of physics show that the content of subsequent frames or moments are fairly predictable consequences of the content of earlier frames. The process can therefore be thought of as manipulating the content of past frames to produce new frames. The process does not need all of the past frames. Content of more recent frames will already account for the consequences of yet earlier frames. What the process needs is a sort of melting pot of the remaining consequences of past frames plus the one current frame (the present moment). It produces this frame anew from its melting pot of consequences. The content of the frame is then re-absorbed into the melting pot so that its consequences can have their effects on future frames.

Frame regenerated by a cyclic process
Image of frame and process

The process/melting-pot/frame system is "made of" active information. There is no computer or memory store. Active information is self-storing and self-acting. Note that active matter particles such as electrons and photons are self-perpetuating and self-acting. There isn't a big machine that moves the particles about or tells them how to interact with each other. They do whatever they do all by themselves. Of course there are forces but they are just more active-material elements. Active information is an alternative concept to active matter. It is all that exists. Everything emerges from active information.

Now we come to the content of the frames. A frame is a batch of quantum events. If you don't know what a quantum event is: the emission of light from a lamp, its reflection off a mirror and its absorption by your eye are three examples of quantum events. They are called quantum because they are separate individual occurrences, each involving a quantum (one chunk) of energy. These events are not happening to something. There is nothing material in this universe. The events are things that happen, not things that materially exist. They are a form of active information. For those more in the know: photon emission, photon absorption, pair-production and pair annihilation are examples of quantum events. But there are no photons!. Everything that happens in our universe can be reduced down to quantum events. Thus each frame is everything that happens in the universe in one moment of fundamental time.

The melting pot is different. While any quantum event can be shown to be the consequences of one or more past quantum events, what goes on in the moments between is not so straightforward. It includes something called superposition. While a quantum event is one definite thing, its consequences are a complex mix of potential values that expand their scope wave-like as each moment passes. Yet ultimately, these dispersed potentialities become the cause of definite things in later frames: individual quantum events. Superposition is what makes us think that quantum particles can be in several places at once. The important thing is to recognize that the melting-pot is about "potential" consequences of past events. It is an intrinsic part of the process. We live in the world of "actual" quantum events. Quantum experiments measure the content of the frame, not the melting-pot. Whatever we deduce about what goes on between measurements is about potential events. The distinction between the potentiality of the process and the actuality of each frame of events is another key feature of the freeze-frame universe.

In an early phase of the universe, one frame or moment may have been much the same as any other. The laws of physics would not have developed to the way they are now. Quantum events would have been determined by the consequences of past events but the process was virtually random. Also, in any one frame, only a fraction of valid potential events would have become actual quantum events. Again, the rules for determining which of the valid potential events become actual would have been virtually random. Any structure or patterns of events would not have persisted beyond a few frames.

The early universe: random events
Image of random events

At some period in the universe's development, stable patterns started to emerge. An event pattern will persist over many frames if the potential consequences of its events lead to a self-similar event pattern in later frames. Thus a pattern continues as a self-similar entity over many frames. But what we call a physical object is a self-similar pattern of quantum events that persists over passing time. What had emerged were nascent objects.

A stable pattern will have events whose consequences lead to events of the same pattern in later frames. Looking back, a stable pattern will have events that come from potential consequences of events that were part of the same pattern in earlier frames. We can define such events as "internal". The internal events of an object and their potential consequences within the process are therefore, in every sense, the object. Objects therefore exist not only as quantum event patterns but also as the potential consequences of their internal events within the process. But the potential consequences of an object's internal events are, like all potential events, undergoing superposition as they expand their scope in each passing cycle. I propose that they do so coherently so that a whole object has properties that are in superposition.

Objects emerge as stable event patterns
Image of event patterns

Objects have behaviour; they interact, sometimes combining to form more complex objects and sometimes exchanging energy through forces. I have defined the events that give an object its stability and identity as "internal events". Inter-object behaviour is due to "external events". An external event of an object is one that is a consequence of at least one event that was not part of the same object's event pattern. Likewise, an event that is part of an event pattern but whose consequences, to any extent, and at any moment, cannot be part of the same pattern, is also an external event. External events lead to changes in an object.

Objects interact via external events
Image of external events

So far, the freeze-frame universe has quantum events and stable event patterns that can interact over fundamental time. There has been no mention of space or Einstein's spacetime. That is because, I suggest, they did not exist in the early universe. Space and clock-time are something that emerges along with or soon after (in fundamental time) interacting stable patterns. Space and clock-time are not a necessary background for active information as they are for active matter. In the freeze-frame universe, space and clock-time emerge as concepts that affect how event patterns interact and change state.

Ignoring gravity for the time being, spacetime is not something that has quantum events. Even in the active-matter worldview, there are no spacion or clockion particles. Spacetime is a sort of conceptual reference frame that depends on objects and which objects in turn respond to. Spacetime has no quantum events so it only exists in the process, affecting how potential consequences change from moment to moment of fundamental time. It might be useful to think of it as a virtual network. This network is of course a form of active information just as potential consequences and actual events are. The network, if that's what it is, comes from stable event patterns. Event patterns exist not only as internal events but as their potential consequences within the process. Thus the structure of the spacetime network is determined by objects. But the network exists within the process so it affects ALL potential consequences, not just those of objects.

Space and clock-time give objects spatiotemporal properties including shape, size, location and velocity. But they don't just affect how objects move. All physical processes involve change over time. In a spaceship that has accelerated to near light speed, clocks run slower but the astronauts on the spaceship don't see that. From their perspective, everything inside the ship, including the clock, is happening at its normal rate. This is because every physical process on the ship is going slower, including the astronauts. It is important to distinguish clock-time from fundamental time. In freeze-frame universe, "the clock is going slower" means the clock is taking more moments of fundamental time between one tick and the next. All physical processes on the ship are taking more fundamental moments than they would have back at base. One way of looking at this is to say that an event pattern can only change by so much per moment. If most of that change is taken up with relative motion, there is little left for other changes. But, like the network idea, I'm only offering that for the purpose of illustration. Similarly, it might be helpful to think of an event pattern as collectively having spacetime properties. These object properties, such as velocity, change at clock-rate. Speed is metres per clock-second, not metres per moment. We experience time at clock-rate, not frame-rate. The time that physics refers to, including that of spacetime, is clock-time.

Spacetime emerges as location and motion
Image of motion

Gravity emerges later than flat spacetime and is a modification of spacetime's structure or network if you like. Gravity has no quantum events because spacetime has none. The spacetime network has acquired shape. It has a sort of landscape that is determined by the relative concentrations of energy across spacetime. In turn, the expanding scope of potential consequences from moment to moment is affected by the shape of this landscape. Much as water flows downhill in an actual landscape, the spacetime-dependent properties of consequences are accelerated down the landscape's slopes. But note that spacetime only exists within the potentialities of the process. It is a form of active information. It is not out there as a physical volume of space. You never need to ask "where is this active information"? Active information is not inside space: Space is "inside" active information, as an active-information structure.

Gravity waves are not the wave-nature of gravitons. There are no gravitons or graviton-like quantum events. Gravity waves are disturbances in the structure of spacetime. The spacetime network, or whatever it is exactly, exists entirely within the process. It is created by event patterns and their consequences. An extreme mass/energy event will distort the structure and cause gravity waves to propagate out through the structure itself. We already know that gravity is a very weak effect which implies that it takes a lot to distort the structure of spacetime. Hence gravity waves are only detectable from the most extreme gravitational disturbances.

Gravity emerges as a spacetime landscape
Image of gravity

Simpler objects will have fewer external events. There will be many frames when a simple object has no external events at all. It was already noted that a whole object has properties that are in superposition in the process. Consider an object that has perhaps many internal events in a frame but no external events. Such an object would be undergoing superposition relative to other objects but not relative to its own internal events. Thus the object is stable within itself but is only loosely connected to its wider environment. We might think of objects with few external events as quantum objects because they will exhibit typical quantum behaviour. By contrast, objects that have so many external events that there is rarely if ever a frame when it has no external events, will exhibit negligible quantum behaviour. Such objects are tightly connected to their wider environment. They have a stable presence in the domain of frames, the domain we inhabit. This leads them to behave much more like Newtonian or Classical objects. Clearly there will be whole classes of objects somewhere between these extremes. Classical objects will also tend to be a pattern that itself includes many quantum objects. Thus there is a sort of hierarchy of classicity. Classical objects will exhibit classical behaviour but will be constituted of lesser objects that may be exhibiting some quantum behaviour. In this way, no object is entirely free of the uncertainty that is due to superposition, but complex objects will behave classically at everyday scales.

External events increase classicity
Image of Classical object

The freeze-frame universe is our universe. For we beings who sense and measure quantum events (seeing involves quantum events) there seems to be a real volume of space with actual objects moving about in it. To call it an "illusion" would imply some sort of trick, as if we are being fooled. It is better to say that the space/object worldview is the one that makes a brain's owner most likely to survive. It represents the world according to things that happen at our scale. Our experiences and thoughts deal with a simplified view of reality and therefore we can react quickly and appropriately. Perceiving a sequence of Freeze-frames of quantum events would obviously not aid survival. So now we come to the question of "what is experience"? What is thinking? How does freeze-frame universe explain what it is to perceive, cogitate and be self-aware?

A brain is a network of interacting neurons. A whole brain and each of its neurons are surely classical objects yet overall, made of atoms that are stable patterns of quantum events. I now propose that a different kind of event pattern, not the same as those that are object-like, emerged at some time in the universe's past. This very special kind of event pattern can be produced by complex brains. The events that make up these special "mental" patterns are quantum events. They are produced by brains and therefore they must be produced by atomic, molecular or neural activity. But they are not part of the normal dynamics of these entities otherwise thinking would be universal. The patterns may be correlated with neural firing in some way but they are also probably more than that. Mental patterns are almost certainly not confined to any special brain region but are probably a cross-brain phenomenon. Complex brains somehow produce widely separated (but within the brain) quantum events such that, while the events themselves are not special, the pattern is. Juvenile brains learn how to match mental patterns with sensory inputs and thus build an internal model of the experienced world. This is highly speculative, of course, but mental patterns make much more sense as a form of active information than of active material. Thoughts are information-like.

Like all event patterns, mental patterns have a presence in the process and undergo a degree of superposition. A thought stream often has a relatively consistent flow, a sort of direction in which it is heading. But superposition provides the opportunity for thoughts to go in unexpected directions too. The directions are constrained to be toward mental patterns that the brain can produce but given the complexity and plasticity of brains, this leaves a lot of scope for "freedom" of thought. Mental patterns seem much less constrained than object patterns but are certainly constrained by the brain that generates them.

Mental patterns emerge in complex brains
Image of Mental patterns

Recap and Review

What follows is a brief summary and review of the the Freeze-frame Universe

Time and Space

A cyclic process with one batch of quantum events per cycle provides a real sequence of moments. However, we neither measure nor sense this sequence. We and our measuring apparatus are "made of" quantum events. 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, because it is not cycle time. The clock-time and space that we sense and measure are abstract concepts that constrain quantum events and their potential consequences. 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 events. Potential consequences are the as-yet unresolved history of the universe and it is they that provide a definite direction of time because they are the causes of events in later moments. Metaphorically, potential consequences are the past and its expanding potential contributions to the unfolding present.

A batch of quantum events 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 event patterns, specifically their potential consequences within the process. Second, Einstein's relativity is a part of the rules that govern the evolution of states of potential consequences in each cycle. Third, Relativity is also part of what determines whether any potential quantum event is valid. Thus every quantum event, whether part of an object or not, will be seen to conform to Einstein's relativity. These rules apply directly within the process. They are influences that affect quantum events and 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. Simultaneity in fundamental time does not lead to simultaneity in clock time. Physical processes are free to proceed at different clock-time rates from moment to moment, and they do.

Space is not an actual volume and nothing moves as such. Quantum events and their potential consequences 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 universe-wide patterns of quantum events.

Gravity

In this universe, gravity is not a force field. That is, there are no graviton-like-events among quantum events. Instead, gravity works as a geometry of spacetime. All the arguments given above for spacetime apply equally to gravity. Where flat spacetime is determined by the relative extensional properties of event patterns, the gravity "landscape" of spacetime is determined by their relative energy properties. The march of potential consequences from moment to moment is influenced by their relationship to their local spacetime structure. This structure is a form of active information and is part of the process. The rules that govern this structure's shape and its effects include 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 a quantum event that is part of the star's event pattern. In following frames/moments, the light continues as a component of the potential consequences of that quantum event within the process. It increases its superposition of "states" (potential contributions to future quantum events) over a vast number of following cycles. This evolution of states is affected by the local shape of the spacetime landscape encountered and in the same way as photons would have been affected. The light ends as a quantum event that is part of the event pattern of an observer's eye, say. The rules that determined what constituted a valid "emission" event, how the potential consequences were affected by spacetime and what constituted a valid "absorption" event include General Relativity. Thus General Relativity applies to the evolution of states of potential consequences (what we think of as the light in flight) and to the rules that determine what constitutes a valid actual quantum event (what we would call the light emission and light absorption events).

Note that spacetime and gravity are features of the process that have no quantum events themselves. They are a part of the way that the process works. The process of forming a quantum event is a process of quantization. In this universe, spacetime and gravity are not quantized. There are no spacetime or gravity-like events. Spacetime is an abstract structure within the process. It might help to think of it as a network that links event patterns, created by them and affecting them in turn.

Cosmology

In the early universe, there was no spacetime and therefore no clock time. There was still moment time: the sequence of cycles of the process, each with its batch of quantum events. There must have been a significant change in physics that allowed event patterns to become stable. We might say that it was a reduction in temperature but the concept of temperature would have been different before spacetime, rate of state-change per cycle say. I suspect that this phase change is what we call the period of superluminal expansion just after the big bang. But there would have been no big bang. Expansion from big bang implies that initially, events had virtually no separation in space or clock time, just what we would expect from an emergence of spacetime. Lightspeed would have had no meaning initially so we would expect it to have been converged upon, hence the early expansion rate seeming to be superluminal. The emergence of spacetime is the start of clock time and therefore looks to us like the beginning of time. But fundamental time already existed before clock time. We cannot say that expansion and whatever preceded 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 universe had time to develop in the first place. It did not appear miraculously in a Big Bang but developed gradually over a virtual eternity. We clock-time dwelling entities are constrained to see only what has happened since the emergence of spacetime.

Immediately after expansion, gravity may not have existed. Early event patterns would only have been relatively stable. Simple patterns might survive indefinitely but nothing as complex as an atom would survive long enough to be relevant. The universe would have been a hot plasma of subatomic events. A second change in physics occurs when a real drop in temperature, due to the slower luminal expansion, allows event structures that we call atoms to become stable. This period is a phase change. The condensation of the plasma into a universe of atoms caused a burst of light that we now detect as the cosmic microwave background. Gravity had no relevance before atoms formed. The distibution of plasma was so even that there were no concentrations of energy, no classical-physics type objects to influence and be influenced by any spacetime landscape. Therefore, in effect, whether the potential for gravity was already present or not, gravity did not exist as we know it until well after spacetime came into existence.

In short, the Freeze-frame universe 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 came before stable event patterns could form.

Quantum Measurement

Freeze-frame 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. Freeze-frame 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 event pattern) has been emitted, it has no more external events until it is absorbed on the far side of the two-slit screen. Whilst "in flight" the Internal events of the atom relate to and are therefore located relative to the whole atom, not the apparatus. At these same moments, the whole atom's location relative to other atoms is 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 events, will have been influenced by both slits. Any attempt to detect an atom "in flight" must involve an external event which will commit the atom to a location relative to the detector. By the way, I have given the example using atoms because the case that equates to photons has, for each photon, only one event at the emitter and one at the absorber. That case is much simpler because there are no "in flight" events as there are with atoms. The distinction between internal and external events 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. Freeze-frame offers a different explanation. What we call wave function collapse is the coalescing/condensing of some potential consequences (which are active information, part of the process) to form a quantum event. Potential consequences are not contained within a volume of spacetime. Quite the contrary, spacetime is an abstract concept contained within the process and is created by potential consequences. Two or more potential consequences that contribute to a new quantum event are not spatially separated. Their spatiotemporal (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 quantum events. The distinction between actual events and their potential consequences answers the wave-collapse conundrum. Light speed is abstract in the domain of potential consequences. Signals are real things in the domain of quantum events. The process produces quantum events that conform to the laws of physics. There is no requirement that the internal workings of the process itself are constrained by those laws.

In short, Freeze-frame overcomes the measurement problem.

Mind

Everything we know about the universe has come to us through our minds. Our mental experience is the one fact that we can all be absolutely sure about. Thoughts are real. They may not be accurate (more on that in a moment) but they definitely exist. Yet the active-material world-view, which expresses so much certainty about the existence of "things", tells us nothing about thought. The best that it offers is that thought is an illusion. What kind of inverted logic is that? "I think, therefore I am" is distorted into "I think, therfore I am not". However strongly we may be convinced that the universe is material stuff distributed throughout a volume of space, we should be even more convinced that our thought patterns exist.

I believe that active-material is so convincing because we evolved to think this way. We would not be here if our ancestors could not respond quickly to an approaching tiger. We are probably hard-wired to view the world in the way that we do. Yet it is known that our experience of the world is not generated by our senses directly. The brain, complex as it is, cannot possibly compute all of our sensory inputs in real time in the detail that we seem to perceive them. Instead, the brain generates our mind-picture much as it generates dreams but with far more clarity and detail than any dream. Senses are mainly used to detect errors in this reality-dream so that corrections can be made to it. Part of the evidence for this is that sense organs have similar numbers of neural signals going out to them as they have coming in. The brain makes the senses focus on what seems to matter most so that it can ignore the rest. The senses only dominate when they detect significant change or when we are focussed in on something in detail. So the mind-picture we experience of a world of material parts in space is generated by our own brains. What use would we have for a mind-picture of the world as "frames" of quantum events? It takes a huge leap of faith to consider that The Freeze-frame Universe might be possible. The first step is to recognize that whatever our flow of mental patterns are made of, our belief that they exist should outweigh our beliefs about whatever else exists. Therefore, any explanation of what exists must explain what information-like thought patterns are made of, not dismiss them as an illusion.

The essence of the universe in Freeze-frame 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. Yet mind and matter both emerge from the same essence and the same process. Mental patterns are enduring self-similar patterns of quantum events just as objects are. But mental patterns, the actual patterns as opposed to the events in the patterns, are very different. They are not atom-like in any sense. Mental patterns are produced by brains so the quantum events that make up a mental pattern are quantum events that are part of a physical atom-based brain. But they are patterns that are cross-brain structures to which many relatively distant atoms must contribute to.

We can see that the physical brain produces our thoughts but is there any way that those thoughts can, in turn, influence the brain and thereby influence the direction of a thought stream? Mind patterns, just like object's event patterns, exist within the process. To be stable, a mind pattern must have internal events that maintain its structure. But to maintain the structure of the mental pattern, the consequences of a mental pattern's internal events must lead to quantum events of the physical brain. Thus there is a feedback link from mind to brain. The brain affects thoughts and thoughts affect the brain. Metaphorically speaking, there is a degree of mind over matter but only within a brain. Couple this with the fact that just one neuron firing or not can make a very large difference to a neural firing pattern and it seems that the influence of mind on its own thought flow is not only possible but can be significant. Thus there is a means for free will to operate. DesCartes' mind-body dualism is avoided and yet a thought stream nevertheless requires a brain. It's just that, in Freeze-frame, mind and brain emerge from the same fundamentals: quantum events.

Active information provides a more conceivable source of thought and subjective experience. Thought is an intimate connection with the essence of the universe. We might go as far as to say that it is the universe knowing itself. It is hard to see how this could be said of active matter.

Process

The Process proposed in Freeze-frame puts a great deal of the universe behind quantum events 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 the process. Indeed, these active-matter concepts make good mathematical models of some features of the process. The process is not an alternative to current physics. It is a new home for them. Active material can live on but as an abstract concept, useful for everyday life and classical physics but not as the answer to "what exists".

Active matter is one story that fits many of the facts though certainly not all and not without raising paradoxes. Freeze-frame 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 the "clock-time" domain 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.

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Appendix (The Details)

The freeze-frame universe, as presented above, illustrates my ideas in what I hope is a fairly readable form. However, in making it accessible I had to exclude details that don't make for light reading. I present those details here, in the appendix, in the hope that there may be some readers who are interested enough to study them.

The Essence

The essence of the freeze-frame 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.

Active Information:

The Process

The process is presented here as four layers of order, numbered one to four. The lower numbers list features of the universe that emerged earlier than those in higher numbers. The higher numbered layers are assumed to depend on the lower numbered layers and to augment their features. In other words, the layers represent a hierarchy of order in the universe. However, I don't mean to imply that there are distinct boundaries between the layers or that the features of any layer emerged fully formed instantaneously.

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 quantum events such as: particle emission, particle absorption, particle-pair production, particle-pair annihilation.

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, higher layers can augment these rules.

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 a coherence of its Actualities and Consequences behaving as one whole entity. It is constrained by Layer 1 but also augments Layer 1 rules. 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 spatiotemporally located by its recent external Actualities and to whatever extent those Actualities defined spatiotemporal location. In cycles with no external Actualities, it is in a superposition of possible states (including location) relative to its last state 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 higher layers in that it has rules of Objective Space and how a whole Objective Structure behaves in that space. From the perspective of higher layers, the process now has whole Objective Structures, their behaviour and their interactions.

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 a coherence of its Objective Structures behaving as one whole entity. It is constrained by Layer 2 but also augments layer 2 rules. This influence allows a Classical Structure to have properties and behaviours not found at Layer 2.

The properties and behaviours of a Classical Structure also 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.

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 coherence of some of the Classical and/or Objective Structures of a brain behaving as one whole thing. Which Classical/Objective Structures are taking part in this coherence may change on very short time scales but are part of the same brain. Layer 4 is constrained by layer 3 but also augments the rules of layer 3.

A Subjective Structure has properties and behaviours not found at Layer 3. These properties and behaviours are not object-like but are mind-like. 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, perception, 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.

There is nothing special about the constituent Classical and Objective Structures of a brain that create and maintain 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.

Consciousness, self-awareness, the experience of observing one's own existence and thoughts, might be a further layer, a more sophisticated type of subjective structure or might just apply to all brains that can operate at layer 4.