The Nature of Objects
In my glossary entry for objects I left out a lot of information.†By three minutes after the Big Bang the basic constituents of ordinary matter, some relatively heavy particles called
and some relatively light particles called
had settled out at their final number.† In the entire universe there are about 1080 of each.† The protons and neutrons that make up atomic nuclei are baryons.† The electrons that fill the atomís shells following the laws of quantum mechanics are leptons.† The total mass of all the atoms in existence is carried by these primordial articles.
Now consider a massive object, a rock for instance.† The
baryons and leptons from which it is made have been around since near the
beginning of time and will be around forever barring some cataclysmic end of
the universe.† Those baryons and leptons have been organized into the atoms of
the rock in the process of stars being assembled by gravity and destroyed in
explosions called supernovae.† Rocks are literally made of stardust.
There is nothing special about the baryons and leptons from
which the rock is built.† It is their arrangement into atoms and the
incorporation of those atoms into the structure of the rock that gives the rock
its character.† Mass in the form of baryons and leptons is permanent.† The
specific arrangement of the baryons and leptons is temporary.† Eventually the
rock will be ground to dust by its environment, and perhaps dispersed into space in some kind of upset.† A bit later the dust will be gathered up by gravity into a
star.† The star may explode at the end of its life cycle and the dust may be
grabbed up by gravity and used in constructing a new planet, to become rock again.
Everything I said about the rock applies to living creatures as well. All are a particular arrangement of stardust. In the case of living beings though there is something there in addition to an arrangement of raw materials. The arrangement has been infused with an animating principle the origins and nature of which we do not know. Living creatures have something extra that inert matter does not. They respond to stimuli by influencing the future state of the universe. Human beings seem to take this an additional step and make willful changes in the future of the universe based on a better sense of the future than other animals.†