One can trace contemporary physics back to the suggestion, or intuition, of certain ancient Greeks, especially Democritus and Epicurus, that at bottom reality is composed of atoms, minute indestructible ‘bodies’ that combine with each other to form  objects. The most important addition to this ultra-reductionist picture of reality was Newton’s idea of particular forces operating between bodies composed of atoms, both short-range contact forces and long-range non-contact forces. And forces could only operate because of ‘mass’.  So what exactly is ‘mass’? Newton originally defined it as the “quantity of matter within an object”, an intuitively clear definition but one that physics has largely discarded today. And Newton himself obviously envisaged  mass as something much more elusive and more metaphysical than a mere question of numbers of atoms and how densely packed together they were. Inertial mass was a property that objects possessed which could be measured by their capacity to resist forces that attempted to change their state of motion. And gravitational mass measured a body’s capacity to respond to a particular kind of force operating at a distance.

Now, the starting point of Ultimate Event Theory is the notion that ‘objects’, which are relatively stable and permanent things, consist, not of smaller relatively stable and long-lasting objects such as atoms, but of what I call ‘ultimate events’. And ‘ultimate events’  are inherently unstable in the sense that they appear and disappear almost as soon as they have appeared; also, while some ultimate events occur again and again at successive instants, i.e. repeat, most do not. Instead of being a collection of solid objects, physical reality, according to this view, is rather a sort of cosmic kaleidoscope or cinema show where the successive stills are run through so fast that we can’t keep up and perceive them as continuous movement. In effect, instead of basing our notion of physical ‘reality’ on our perception of solidity and permanence around and inside us, Ultimate Event Theory appeals rather to our  sense of the transience of everything and everyone. Time thus becomes the basic dimension rather than space. This mode of perception seems to be more ‘Eastern’ than ‘Western’ since two of the chief religions/philosophies of the East, Buddhism and Taoism, emphasize transience, indeed make it the cornerstone of the entire conceptual system.

Now, it is my contention, or ‘intuition’ if you like, that a system of physical science could have been developed on such premises especially by certain Indian Buddhists during the first few centuries of our era. That it was not can be ascribed on the one hand to the greater difficulty of experimenting usefully with transient items such as ultimate events (the dharmas of Hinayana Buddhism) rather than relatively permanent solid objects. But there was also a cultural reason:  Buddhist thinkers did develop a sophisticated kind of psychology (Abhidharma) and a form of logic but this was mainly because both these disciplines were useful in making converts and in making sense of their own meditative experiences. But these people had very little interest in the physical world per se, tending to view it, if not as a complete delusion, as at any rate a barrier to ‘deliverance’ and ‘enlightenment’. There was thus insufficient motivation within this particular intellectual milieu for developing a branch of knowledge devoted exclusively to physical matters as happened in the West during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.


In any case, all such speculation about what ‘might have happened if…’ is irrelevant. The question I ask myself  is, “Can any sort of a coherent physical system be developed from the premise that the basic elements of existence are not ‘things’ but ephemeral ‘ultimate events’?” And one of the very first sub-questions that arises is: “What is the equivalent of ‘mass’ in this system?”
Returning to the ‘classical’ Newtonian concept of inertial mass, we see that it tends to ‘keep things as they are’, hence the term ‘inertia’ with its largely negative overtones. In Ultimate Event Theory (UET) there can, of course, be no question of ‘keeping things as they are’ in the usual sense, since the innate tendency of ultimate events, is, by hypothesis, to disappear at once, not to remain. But there must, seemingly, be some similar or equivalent ‘property’ for there to be a ‘physical world’ at all, or indeed anything observable and perceptible whether ‘real’ or ‘delusory’.

In UET it is supposed that some ultimate events, by processes at present unknown but probably involving chance repetition, form themselves into event-chains and repeating event clusters. It is the latter, i.e. identically repeating event clusters, that we perceive as objects. The equivalent of ‘mass’ would seem to be persistence since ‘persistence’ is not so strongly associated with continuous existence as mass (Note 1). Note that, in contrast to mass which in the Newtonian system is everywhere, persistence is not a property possessed by all ultimate events but only those of  a certain class ─ though these are the ones we are normally interested in. However, once an ultimate event acquires persistence, it seems to retain it, if not indefinitely at least for a considerable length of time, thus giving rise to an impression of solidity and permanence. And repeating event clusters’ (‘objects’) usually remain ‘where and as they are’ unless interfered with in some way, i.e. made subject to an external ‘force’. Following Newton, one is thus tempted to define ‘force’ as something that stops a persistent  event or event cluster from carrying on repeating identically in the same manner.

Note, however, that in UET, everything is, as it were, pushed one stage further back : it is thus necessary to assume some sort of ‘existence-force’ for event-chains without which there would be nothing but a chaos of momentarily existing ‘ultimate events’.

Elementary or ‘Static’ Persistence

 An ultimate event, then, for reasons unknown ─ but which may have something to do with the pre-occurrence of identical or similar events within a neighbouring region of the Locality ─ repeats identically once and keeps on doing so thus forming an event-chain. Now, since the ‘repeat event’ is not, strictly speaking, the ‘same thing’ as the original ultimate event, there is an extra variable which comes into play in UET and which does not appear in the classical concept of an object, namely the re-appearance rate of an event-chain.

Suppose an ultimate event that has occurrence at one ksana and repeats at the very next ksana. It does not necessarily keep repeating at the same rate which in this case is 1/1 or one appearance per ksana. It might shift to a rate of one appearance every three ksanas, one appearance every five ksanas and so forth, or it might have an irregular repeat rate but for all that still keep repeating. Since ksanas, the ‘ultimate’ temporal intervals, are so small compared to ‘macroscopic’ time intervals, a different repeat rate on the ‘ultimate’ level would not be distinguishable to our senses, or perhaps even to our most accurate current instruments. Nonetheless, in order to keep things simple, I shall start by assuming that an event chain has a 1/1 reappearance rate even though there are all sorts of other possibilities. So the basic ‘persistence’ of an event within an event-chain is set at one occurrence per ksana unless stated otherwise.

In matter-based physics, an object can ‘move’ relative to some other stable easily recognizable object, or relative to a recognizable spot considered the ‘origin’ if we are dealing with a co-ordinate system. But an object cannot meaningfully be said to move ‘relative to itself’ : it is always where it is when it is. However, since an event-chain is by definition discontinuous, being composed of a succession of discrete ultimate events, perhaps with appreciable gaps between such appearances, the situation is rather different. Can we meaningfully consider that a particular ultimate event’s reappearance is shifted to the right or left of its previous position? One’s first inclination is to say, yes, but this immediately gets one into difficulties. An ultimate event is conceived as ‘appearing on’ a backdrop, the Event Locality, or perhaps is better viewed as a ‘localized concretisation’ of this backdrop. Since, by hypothesis, this backdrop (the Event Locality) is ‘neutral’ with respect to what occurs in or on it and is not itself endowed with directions, it makes little sense to speak of the trajectory of an isolated event-chain being ‘straight’ or ‘crooked’ or ‘curved’ with respect to this backdrop ─ although it does still make sense to speak of an event-chain having a certain re-appearance rate. If each ultimate event in an event-chain were conscious, it would consider itself and the entire chain to be ‘at rest’, to be stationary, just as we conceive of ourselves as being stationary and the countryside drifting by when in a train (if it is smooth running). So, if we are to speak of ‘lateral drift’ to right or left at successive ksanas, i.e. to introduce the notion of ‘speed’ into UET, this ‘’lateral  shift’ must be related to some real or hypothetical event-chain which is itself regarded as ‘stationary’, i.e. as composed of ultimate events repeating identically at an equivalent spot at successive ksanas. This issue is by the way not specific to UET since it comes up in classical physics : even in Newton’s own time there was considerable, and often heated, discussion about whether one could meaningfully talk of a body isolated in the middle of space as being ‘at rest’ or ‘in motion’ (Note 2).

Now, although there is no such thing as velocity in the continuous sense usually implied in normal physics and everyday speech, there is in UET a perceptible ‘lateral drift’ of successive ultimate events relative to an actual or hypothetical ‘landmark event-chain’ whose constituent ultimate events form a ‘straight line’, or are supposed to do so. If the successive constituents of an event-chain are randomly situated to right and left relative to this landmark event-chain, the event-chain in question does not have a proper displacement rate ─ though nonetheless the ultimate events are somehow bonded together, one bringing into existence the next. But if there is a clearcut displacement pattern, the event-chain can be said to have a ‘velocity’, or the UET equivalent. And if the pattern of successive appearances resembles a straight line, we have an event-chain with a constant lateral displacement rate. In such a case, we can say that not only does the event-chain have ‘persistence’ but that its displacement rate also has persistence. An event-chain can thus have two kinds of ‘persistence’ : ‘existence persistence’ and ‘lateral displacement persistence’,  roughly the equivalents of the ‘rest mass’ and ‘kinetic energy’ of a particle in Newtonian mechanics. A single ultimate event cannot, of course, have ‘displacement persistence’ if it does not already have ‘existence persistence’ ─  though it can have the latter without the former, i.e. be the equivalent of stationary.

And if we take over Newton’s Laws of Motion and re-state them in ‘event’ rather than ‘object’ terms, we can define ‘force’ as that which affects an event-chain’s persistence, either its ‘displacement persistence’ alone or its ‘existence persistence’. In the latter case, an event-chain is replaced by another event-chain or simply annihilated. The doctrine of the ‘conservation of mass-energy’, if taken over into UET, would forbid complete annihilation without replacement, i.e. the simple disappearance of an event-chain without any sequels. It may, however, turn out not to be the case that event-chains must always be replaced by other ones : at any rate the question is left open. If we do introduce the equivalent of a conservation principle, this would mean that as soon as even a single event-chain formed, there would be an endless succession of events since each time one chain terminated it would give rise to another. Such an ‘event-universe’ would thus be endless, ‘infinite’ if you like. However, my feeling is that nothing physical is endless and that not only can event-chains terminate without giving rise to other ones, but that this must happen eventually for all event-chains, i.e. the ‘event-universe’ will simply disappear and, as it were, return to what gave rise to it in the first place. Indeed, according to the ‘Anti-Infinity Principle’, nothing can continue for ever except the background or origin.


 There does not seem to be any obvious equivalent of ‘energy’ in UET ─ though one must remember that the notion only really entered classical physics during the middle of the 19th century. ‘Energy’ cannot be perceived directly anyway, only inferred, and is, in the framework of Newtonian physics, simply the  “capacity to do work”. One could perhaps view an ultimate event’s  capacity to repeat (or give rise to a different event) as the UET equivalent of ‘energy’, and the reality of repetition as the equivalent of mass ─ though I am not sure this is a meaningful distinction. Clearly, if an ultimate event does not possess the capacity to repeat, it cannot give rise to an  event-chain, while if it does in point of fact repeat, clearly it had the prior capacity to do so. One might also envisage a more general ‘existence capacity’ which covers the two cases of an ultimate event repeating exactly and alternatively  giving rise to a different event (an eventuality we have not treated yet). This would correspond to the generalized notion of ‘energy’ in normal physics where ‘energy’ always exists and passes through different forms. But basically it would seem that there are no obvious exact parallels to the dual concepts of mass and energy in matter-based physics. Had an ‘event-based’ physics ever been developed, or were one to evolve now, it would require  its own concepts and categories, not all of which would necessarily correspond to the familiar ones we have and which themselves required centuries to evolve.          SH   1/1/15

 Note 1  Spinoza apparently believed that the most essential feature of anything real is its ‘striving’ to remain what it is. “Each thing, as far as it can by its own power, strives to persevere in its being….The striving by which each thing strives to persevere in its own being is nothing but the actual essence of the thing” Spinoiza, Ethics Part III quoted by Sheldrake, The Science Delusion.
This is interesting because a ‘striving to persevere’ is not the same thing as a capacity to persevere.

 Note 2  Bishop Berkeley, in criticising Newton, wrote that

Up, down, right, left, all directions and places are based on some relation and it is necessary to suppose another body distant from the moving one… that motion is relative in its nature, it cannot be understood until the bodies are given in relation to which it exists, or generally there cannot be any relation if there are no terms to be related. Therefore, if we imagine everything is annihilated except one globe, it would be impossible to imagine any movement in this globe” (quoted in Rosser, Introductory Relativity p. 276)