Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.4, 451-454
Published Online November 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access 451
Triple-Aspect Monism and the Ontology of Quantum Particles
Gilbert B. Côté*
Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
Received August 22nd, 2013; revised September 22nd, 2013; accepted October 1st, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Gilbert B. Côté. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
An analysis of the physical implications of abstractness reveals the reality of three interconnected modes
of existence: abstract, virtual and concrete. This triple-aspect monism clarifies the ontological status of
subatomic quantum particles. It also provides a non-spooky solution to the weirdness of quantum physics
and a new outlook for the mind-body problem. The ontological implications are profound for both physics
and philosophy.
Keywords: Triple-Aspect Monism; Abstractness; Virtual; Timelessness; Non-Locality; Entanglement;
Quantum Particles; Ontology
A recent analysis of the properties of infinity (Côté, 2013) led
to the conclusions that 1) infinity is abstract and real, 2) concrete
space-time is finite, 3) mathematical Platonism is a logical ne-
cessity, and 4) quantum particles lie at the interface between the
abstract and concrete aspects of reality.
I now intend to expand these conclusions with an analysis of
the properties of abstractness. This should help clarify the on-
tological status of subatomic quantum particles and shed some
light on the closely related mind-body duality problem.
Properties of Abstractness
On the premise of mathematical Platonism we affirm that in-
finity and mathematical statements constitute an abstract part of
reality and exist independently of rational observers. This im-
plies the reality of abstractness as a mode of existence distinct
from space-time, i.e. without any embodiment, in sharp contrast
to concrete reality. By definition, the existence of abstractness
apart from space-time not only means that it occupies no space
(and is therefore non-local), but also indicates that it is timeless.
Timelessness, or atemporality, is defined here as the absence
of time and should not be confused with eternity (endless time,
infinite time) or paused duration. In turn, the absence of time
entails the total absence of change (because change can only be
measured along a time scale). Abstract infinity, its mathematical
arrangements and its infinite amount of information are thus
unchangeable, immutable, fixed, permanent and unalterable.
From the point of view of timelessness, past, present and future
all exist together as one entity.
In abstractness and timelessness, abstract space is infinite and
continuous, contrary to concrete space-time which is finite and
discontinuous (Côté, 2013). Accordingly, in quantum field
theory, the answers to calculations of the density energy of the
vacuum have infinite values while astronomical measurements
of supposedly the same density in large expanses of curved
space-time yield small positive values close to zero (Rugh &
Zinkernagel, 2002; Baez, 2011). This huge discrepancy—a
long-standing unsolved problem in physics—is due to the fun-
damental difference between the properties of the continuous,
abstract space of quantum theory, and those of the curved
space-time of relativity. It is therefore important to examine the
physical implications of abstractness in greater details.
Virtual Particles
We already know that quantum particles lie at the interface
between the abstract and concrete aspects of reality (Côté, 2013).
Virtual particles, in particular, have a very elusive nature. They
are called virtual because they pop in and out of the vacuum so
quickly that they do not even last long enough to be directly
observed and hardly seem to exist at all. However, their exis-
tence has consequences that are physically measurable. One
example is the Lamb-Retherford shift of energy levels within
atoms of hydrogen (Lamb & Retherford, 1947) due to the in-
teraction between virtual particles and the hydrogen atom’s
single electron. Another example is the Casimir effect between
two metal plates (Casimir, 1948) due to the difference between
the restricted number of virtual particles that can pop into the
small space between the two plates and the larger number of
particles that freely pop up outside, thus resulting in a net pres-
sure on the plates. The physical reality of virtual particles more
recently received additional support when a dynamic Casimir
effect was used to extract real photons out of empty space
(Wilson et al., 2001).
In quantum field theory, virtual particles are viewed as tran-
sient fluctuations, perturbations, excitations or vibrations in
various quantum fields (e.g. photons in the electromagnetic
field). The fields themselves can also be understood in terms of
hybrid, virtual entities at the interface between abstractness and
concrete space-time: their mathematical formulation is abstract
but includes space-time variables. They appear to be neither
fully abstract, nor completely concrete.
From our point of view in concrete space-time, one of the
basic characteristics of a real photon (as opposed to a virtual one)
is the significant amount of time spent between its emission and
detection (from less than a second to more than 13 billion years).
However, both types of photons are discrete packets of pure
energy without concrete substrate, both lie at the interface be-
tween the abstract and concrete aspects of reality, and both are
interpreted as excitations in the underlying electromagnetic field.
This prompts us to expand the notion of virtuality and consider
both types of photons as virtual (i.e. neither abstract nor concrete)
until they either 1) get annihilated with their antiparticles and
return to abstractness, or 2) get detected and integrate concrete
space-time. Once annihilated or detected, they no longer exist as
separate, virtual entities.
This expanded notion has significant philosophical implica-
tions, as illustrated below with Thomas Young’s (1804) famous
double-slit experiment.
Timelessness and Non-Locality
As it is performed today, Young’s double-slit experiment
starts with the emission of one or more real photons in the di-
rection of a screen where two parallel slits have been cut. The
well-known wave function of the electromagnetic field describes
photonic interference along all possible light paths before and
after the slits, as well as different probabilities of photon detec-
tion at various discrete points on a second screen positioned
behind the first screen. Whether photons are emitted singly or in
large groups, the predicted and observed distributions of de-
tected particles on the second screen show a pattern due to wave
interference. Photons therefore seem to be waves as well as
particles, a conclusion that stands as a flagrant contradiction.
This paradoxical state of affairs has now been baffling scientists
for more than a century (Gilder, 2008). However, the calcula-
tions of quantum physics are so accurate that physicists learn to
use them without asking too many philosophical questions. This
may be technologically sufficient, but it is philosophically and
scientifically unsatisfactory.
If we use the expanded notion of virtuality (as presented
above) to analyse these results, we view each photon as a virtual
excitation in a virtual field. Essentially, each photon becomes a
set of possible solutions to a wave function, and as such, it does
not physically travel in space-time during the experiment. The
eventual detection of a quantum of light on the second screen
corresponds to the random selection of a particular solution to
the wave function at the moment the experiment ends. The
photon then—and only then—integrates space-time and loses its
separate, virtual existence. Between emission and detection, the
set of possible solutions (i.e. the photon) remains timeless and
non-local (i.e. it stays out of space-time) in accordance to its
virtual existence. This interpretation retains the wave functions
as they stand today in physics textbooks, but it enhances the
philosophical status of mathematics. Physicists need not worry,
and mathematicians may cheer.
By recognising the distinct reality of abstractness and virtu-
ality, we avoid the historical paradoxes and weirdness of quan-
tum physics. We do not have to wonder how a single photon can
travel through both slits at once because it does not travel. We do
not have to be puzzled by its being both a wave and a particle
because it is neither. We are dealing instead with a wave func-
tion that describes how a quantum of energy changes locations
timelessly, from its location at emission to its location at detec-
tion, without any intermediate location. The double-slit ex-
periment is no longer mysterious and the wave-particle duality
no longer puzzling. This solution is a welcome consequence of
the logical necessity of mathematical Platonism.
Virtual Entanglement
Once subatomic particles are interpreted in terms of virtual
entities, it is easy to solve further quantum paradoxes. The next
example is that of the mysterious entanglement of elementary
particles, imagined by Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen (1935) to
claim the incompleteness of quantum theory, and derided by
Einstein as a “spooky action at a distance”. Their paradoxical
prediction was later confirmed by Aspect et al. (1982) as well as
several other groups: experimental results on pairs of entangled
particles emitted with opposite properties (such as polarisation,
spin or electric charge) show that the detection of one member of
the pair immediately fixes the indeterminate properties of both
members, even when they are separated from each other by any
distance. In terms of space-time, the consequences of entan-
glement can only be explained if information travels at least
10,000 times faster than the speed of light between the two
members of the pair (Salart et al., 2008). However, such a speed
is impossible according to the theory of relativity.
Results explained strictly in terms of space-time become even
more mysterious for delayed-choice experiments where the
decision on how and what to measure is chosen after the parti-
cles have taken a particular path along the experimental set-up.
In such cases, the measurement seems to show a retroactive
adjustment of the particles’ behaviour in the past (Peruzzo et al,
2012; Kaiser et al., 2012).
If we include the reality of abstractness, timelessness, and the
virtual nature of entangled particles in our interpretation, we see
again that the probability function that describes the system is
only solved (for all particles involved) at the time a measure-
ment finally takes place. The solution is then applied to all en-
tangled particles together, not only faster than the speed of light,
but in no time at all, i.e. timelessly (with no speed involved).
Until the measurement is made, the quanta under investigation
exist virtually (i.e. timelessly and non-locally) and do not phy-
sically travel through concrete space-time. According to this in-
terpretation, there is no longer any need for a “spooky” expla-
nation that endorses a speed faster than the speed of light, no
need for a backwards time influence or backwards causation
(Garisto, 2002), and not even a need for a backward correlation
or an Everettian many-worlds hypothesis (Gaasbeek, 2010). In
addition, the proposed interpretation is non-local, it preserves
causal order, and it holds whether the detection is made at ran-
dom or on purpose, by an instrument or a conscious observer,
whether it involves a single pair of particles or any number of
fields or particles. Einstein was right on at least one point in this
debate: spookiness is unnecessary.
Three Modes of Existence
To summarise so far, the detailed consideration of abstract-
ness in quantum physics has led us to define three distinct modes
of existence: abstract, virtual and concrete, each with its own
characteristics. Abstractness is infinite and timeless; this implies
that it does not change, does not evolve, plan, or make decisions,
and it contains an infinite amount of information. Concrete
Open Access
space-time is finite and discontinuous; it is subject to gravity; it
follows the rules of general relativity and evolves constantly.
The hybrid realm of quantum physics forms a virtual bridge
between the other two modes: it consists of abstract probability
functions that include space-time variables.
There are relentless exchanges between the three modes of
existence. We already saw above that abstractness contributes a
constant flow of particles to the virtual mode of existence.
(These particles can be interpreted as minute subsets of infinity.
Since abstractness does not plan anything, their production is
necessarily random and inevitable.) We also know that quantum
particles combine to form concrete objects. Interestingly, the
relation between the virtual and concrete modes of existence is
not limited to the subatomic level. For instance, migrating birds
seem to respond to the effects of the earth’s magnetic field on the
entangled electrons in molecules at the back of their eyes
(Gauger et al., 2011), and quantum energy transfer is used in
photosynthesis (Engel et al., 2007) at ambient temperature
(Collini et al., 2010). Quantum particles return to abstractness
when they get annihilated with their antiparticles; concrete stars
produce astronomical amounts of quantum particles; abstract
principles and the laws of physics determine the evolution of
concrete entities (such as galaxies and living animals), and
concrete people definitely have access to abstractness. In brief,
there are bidirectional exchanges between all three modes of
On the theoretical side, Hawking (1974) made the important
suggestion that concrete black holes could gradually lose their
mass and eventually vanish completely due to quantum effects
near their event horizons. From the point of view of the three
modes of existence, such black hole evaporation is a return of
space-time to abstractness or, to use a different but equivalent
wording, a return of concrete matter to abstract information. This
interpretation is in keeping with the increasingly supported view
in contemporary physics that the entire universe can be ex-
plained in terms of information, that information is never lost
and is mathematically related to energy (S = −Σpi log pi) (Seife,
2006; Umpleby, 2007; Vedral, 2010; Gleick, 2011), just as
energy is mathematically related to concrete space-time (E =
mc2). In other words, studying the inter-relationship between
abstractness, virtuality and concrete space-time is just another
way of looking at the known physical equivalence of informa-
tion, energy and mass.
In conclusion, the three modes of existence can be academi-
cally studied by both philosophers and physicists, all three
modes are real and interconnected, and all three are ontologi-
cally essential for the Universe to exist.
Triple-Aspect Monism
This world view has a direct impact on the famous mind-body
problem. Having defined three interrelated modes of existence,
we can no longer speak of two exclusive essences, like Plato and
Descartes did. In fact, the concept of dualism has gradually lost
most of its appeal among present-day philosophers, psycholo-
gists and neuroscientists who mainly support the idea of a
dual-aspect monism (Pereira et al., 2010) and perceive mind and
matter as two interdependent aspects of a single essence. Given
the conclusions reached above in this article, we must further
expand the notion of monism to include all three modes of ex-
istence into a triple-aspect monism.
This expanded framework has profound implications for
physics and philosophy. For example, it enhances the reality of
abstractness and timelessness, and will necessarily lead to the
formulation of updated definitions of mind and body, with sig-
nificant repercussions in science, philosophy, theology, religion
and ethics.
The analysis of abstractness presented in this paper reveals the
reality of three interconnected modes of existence: abstract,
virtual and concrete. It clarifies the ontological status of sub-
atomic quantum particles, it provides a non-spooky solution to
the weirdness of quantum physics, and it presents a different
outlook on existence and on the mind-body problem. It also
sends a clear message of co-operation to physicists and phi-
losophers who deal with ontological problems.
The constructive criticism and the encouragement of Prof.
Lucien Pelletier of the Department of Philosophy, University of
Sudbury (Ontario) are gratefully acknowledged.
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