Three centuries ago, Newton thought that reality had 3 basic components: time, particles and space. This model didn’t explain everything. Soon other forces that govern movement of particles came along like electromagnetism. Photons, gravitons and gluons emerged yet the essential ingredients of reality remain a mystery.
To explain gravity, Einstein merged space and time into a composite, space-time. Michael Faraday added the concept of a classical field that carries forces through empty space. Quantum Theory showed that all mass and energy are really excitations of underlying quantum fields. Quantum fields and space-time are incompatible, so perhaps there is a more basic component hidden beneath.
In the late 1990s, String Theory was proposed. I don’t understand it fully but basically it says that elementary particles emerge from the vibrations of one-dimensional strings. Therefore, an electron is not really a point, but a tiny loop of string. If it oscillates one way, we see an electron. If it oscillates in another way, then we call it a photon, a quark, or a …
Julian Barbour, a British physicist believes that space and time, united by Einstein must be uncoupled. The only way to define space is to consider it as the geometric relationship between observable particles. He argues that the universe is a set of possible configurations of the 3D geometry of space. He believes that these configurations or ‘snapshots’ exist in a space of possibilities. Time is not real but merely something we perceive – an illusion that comes about because the universe is constantly changing from one snapshot to another.
Spiritual masters have been teaching the concept of everything being an illusion for thousands of years. Physics seems to be catching up.
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
– Albert Einstein