Is “Everything Light?” Can We Describe the Universe By Considering only Electromagnetic Energy?
Nikola Tesla was said to have said “everything is light.” That is potentially correct. In theory, the universe could be explained by electromagnetic energy… with this being the case even though Tesla likely never said this.
After-all, the energy of a system is equivalent (but not exactly the same) as the mass of a system, and we are hard pressed to find anything in the universe not explained by mass-energy (either directly or as an effect of it or in relation to it.) Likewise, the standard model can largely be explained in terms of photons, and photons, like electromagnetic energy, like light, are all just different names for the same thing. Further, “grand unification” theory (the idea that strong, weak, and electromagnetic force existed as one at some point) and other theories and phenomena (like the Higgs boson, quantum field theory, and quantum electrodynamics) understood correctly all strongly point to a single idea, which can be expressed in laymen’s terms as “everything is the light” (where to be clear “light” is electromagnetic radiation within a certain portion of the electromagnetic spectrum; thus “light,” photons, electromagnetic energy, vibrations in the electromagnetic field, etc all fundamentally the same thing and all fundamentally equivalent to, although not exactly the same as, mass.)
Of course the above is just theory, and a number of qualifiers are needed to make that claim anywhere near plausible. With all the idea that there are a number of asterisks and caveats to be considered alongside this claim in mind, below we explain how the idea that “everything is the light” isn’t as far out as it seems.
“We can explain everything about the universe (aside gravity and nuclear force) by understanding electromagnetic energy. Even the laugh of the audience when I say that statement can, if our theories are correct, likely be explained this way.” – Paraphrasing Richard Feynman speaking on Quantum Electrodynamics (the study of energy on the quantum level).
TIP: On this page we are using “light” as a synonym for electromagnetic force in any state. We are not only talking about our perception of light as electromagnetic radiation within a visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, we are talking about all electromagnetic force, “energy,” photons, electromagnetic force bound in electrons, electromagnetic force in fermions, photons stored as potential and kinetic energy, virtual photons, etc (which, if Tesla did actually say “everything is light,” is what he would have been talking about, and in the Feynman quote above, this is what he is talking about). Thus, the page could just as easily be discussing the idea that “everything is energy” or that “everything is photons” or that “everything is electromagnetic energy,” etc. We aren’t looking at semantics, we are looking at a metaphysical aspect of theoretical physics.
What Is Light? Or, a less complicated question, “what isn’t light?”
Why the Theory that “Everything is Light” is a Rational Theory
For Tesla’s theory (or perhaps more correctly “speculative hypothesis”) that “everything is light” to be taken seriously, the following logic needs to be considered:
First off, the Nikola Tesla interview from which the quote supposedly comes is almost certainly fake. Despite this, Tesla was clearly interested in electromagnetic energy and the takeaway still has merit (let’s not get into the discussion of the origin of that “interview” here, let’s just examine the claim at face value… as it is arguably more interesting than the story of “the interview” likely being part of a play about Tesla from Eastern Europe).
Second off, from one perspective “light” is what we call certain wavelengths of electromagnetic that our eyes can perceive as different colors…. However, for the claim “everything is light” to be taken seriously at all, we have to consider “light” to be a synonym for all electromagnetic force (where photons, light, electricity, magnetism, electromagnetic force, that which arises like electrons, etc is all the same thing).
Further, some form of electroweak theory (that weak force and electromagnetic force existed as one at some point) has to be correct, and some form of “grand unification” theory (that strong, weak, and electromagnetic force existed as one at some point) has to be correct.
Meanwhile, qualities like mass, phenomena like gravity and the graviton, and even spacetime have to be an effect of electromagnetic force (they can’t themselves be things independent of electromagnetic force, at least not initially), and unknowns like dark energy need to be able to be explained by electromagnetic force…. and that is a lot of “ifs.”
If any of the above is not true, then we can say “that which we call electromagnetic force/light/photons can explain a lot, as we can see with quantum electrodynamics, but it doesn’t alone explain everything.”
With the above in mind, the standard model of particle physics shows us that all fundamental quantum particles each only have a few properties. Those properties include things like mass, charge, and spin (see chart below, those are key properties, not the only properties). Those properties are feasibly all explained as mass-energy in motion in relation with other mass-energy in motion (like countless magnets moving at light speed in different geometric relations sharing energy), and therefore feasibly explained by light.
TIP: Imagine strong force (gluon) and weak force (Z and W bosons) are really just types of magnetic force… now imagine that is true for gravity and the Higgs. Well, in terms of forces, that leaves us with the photon, does it not? Now meanwhile all the quarks and leptons charged up and spinning and passing photons back and forth. I’m not saying those forces which glue together and push apart are magnetic, and i’m not saying the only thing going on with particles can be explained in terms of electromagnetic mass-energy, I’m just saying “smells like chicken, looks like chicken, tastes like chicken.”
Now, if we note that: 1. Mass is potential energy (which can be released as kinetic energy as photons), 2. charge is kinetic energy (which can be released as photons), and 3. spin is a type of motion (a quality, and one of the only qualities, of electromagnetic energy is that it always travels at light speed unimpeded), we can see that everything a given quantum particle does can potentially be explained by photons.
Further, when particles exchange energy, they do so via the four force particles, by exchanging “virtual particles.” Virtual particles are all essentially “virtual photons” despite there being many different types.
Now consider, all standard model particles are essentially composite particles made from massless energy particles (although to be fair the can also all be thought of as wave-particle vibrations in their given quantum fields; which is strange enough on its own… is that vibration always electromagnetic at its core, or is it not?).
Moving on, and to the above point, the only two massless energy particles are the photon (the carrier of electromagnetic force) and gluon (which “glues” quarks together). Here we can note that the photon mediates electromagnetic force, the gluon mediates quarks (a quark is a composite particle that contain electromagnetic force).
Now consider, everything in the universe is made from atoms, atoms are made from composite particles, and composite particles are made from massless particles, and thus are made from gluons and photons (AKA being made of star stuff).
If it is that gluons and photons can be explained by a grand-unified force, then there simply leaves little-to-nothing left that can’t be explained by photons as electromagnetic mass-energy in motion in relative position in spacetime (… with the caveat that we don’t know about “dark” energies and such.)
In other words, if we use “light” as a synonym for all electromagnetic force, and then we assume a bunch of theories related to electromagnetic force, we can say “all known standard model particles” can be explained by photons to some extent (in theory).
Thus, the theory that Tesla is said to have said but probably didn’t… is plausible. In fact, I’d say it is more plausible than any other theory that suggested that there was one single substance from which the universe is created. Clearly, electromagnetic force is at the core of everything to some extent, but is it the ONLY thing… that is a question we can’t answer for sure.
Potentially we could explain the universe in terms of quantum fluctuations in the electromagnetic field where everything is an affect of electromagnetism at its core (even if one effect is “breaking off into particles not explained by photons shortly after the big bang“)… but, we are far enough away from a Grand Unification theory to note that “also, it could be that not everything is light” (in other words, at this point we are mashing up knowns with pure speculation and educated guessing!)
We know we are made of star stuff, we know photons are central to the universe as understood by the standard model, we know that we can explain the core of all real systems of one or more particles with theories like “energy equivalent to the mass of a system with the relation of motion considered” (Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence), and we know all quantum particles can be explained by mass, energy, and motion, so its not to far out to ponder the idea that “everything is light.”
TIP: If everything is light, then the only thing that isn’t light is “nothing.” Oddly though, one can’t look in the universe and actually find nothing.
The One-Electron Universe | Space Time.
FACT: Another strange theory is the idea that there isn’t “photons” but rather “one single electron that makes up our entire universe. Odd theories like the single electron theory, the idea that everything is made from massless particles, and the idea that of that everything and nothing it can perhaps be explain by light are in the realm of theory. That means this is the realm of areas of metaphysics like cosmology which use theoretical physics. In other words, “could be” not “is.”
The One-Electron Universe | Space Time.
Meh, I’d still have to say that light is only electromagnetic energy in the human visible range. Other than that quibble, I don’t have any problems with this.
For sure. I am using a the term light very broadly here to encapsulate everything photon. Visible light would only be a small part of what I’m referring to in this article. Here I’m doing this to show that the [almost certainly fake] Tesla quote isn’t as strange as it seems.
Your quibble is justified though.
There are no “particles” per se. Light doesn’t really “move”, either — it propagates where it is unimpeded and reflected, and decays where surrounding sympathetic vibrations cause it to be absorbed more readily than reflected. Actually, none of it is as real as most people think.
As far as I can determine, the entire thing is happening inside the dreams or imagination of a powerful mind. Put simply, our personalities are the only things that are truly real, and they are largely the result of our interaction with this imaginary state of things (not imaginary to us so much — rather, the universe is imaginary for the one mind imagining it). To all of us, it seems real, but consider this:
What if all of your senses were taken away? No sense of touch, eyesight, hearing, taste, or smell. What is left? You could still be alive, but without the ability to perceive any of those things, what would life consist of? I don’t even think I could form a legitimate thought without the ability to associate something from one of the five senses. If I had never had any of them, then it would be impossible to be aware of any part of the universe.
This fact should tell us one thing for certain: We are an integral part of the idea of physical existence at the most fundamental level. There is literally nothing to think about that doesn’t involve our senses — all of which exist only as a function of our interaction with some other physical thing. It also hints at an answer the “afterlife” question. Maybe you’re alive from a technical standpoint after your body dies, but if you don’t have any way to perceive anything, then how would you know?
Really cool thoughts. Thanks for sharing.
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