I was reading about non-duality (spirituality / philosophy) that discusses the idea that everything in reality is one, since any matter can become any other matter, (a tree can become a chair and a human can become worm food...)

So this leads to my question, is it true that all matter (including all of the atoms / strings you and I are made of), will always exist, that the smallest particles that comprise us and everything around us will always exist in one way or another?

If so, then aren't we all basically immortal? If not, how can matter become nothing?

  • 1
    Nonduality is not the idea that matter is persistent but that matter is an object in consciousness or is consciousness taking the form of matter, and matter would be not truly real. Time and space would not be truly real and the unreality of matter follows. Nonduality states that nothing 'really' exists or ever happens, albeit that appearances are real enough as appearances. On nonduality and its description of consciousness and matter I'd recommend Rupert Spira's new offering 'The Transparency of Things'. .
    – user20253
    Aug 23, 2017 at 11:38
  • You also have the special relativity theory (by Einstein) that says energy is the same thing that mass in movement i.e. you can create a lot of matter with a little bit of very speed matter (it's what particle colliders/accelerators do). That's why I wouldn't say that only matter is conserved. It might help you thinking about our possible "immortality".
    – user28330
    Aug 23, 2017 at 15:33
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    You seem to have an odd mixture of non-dualism with physicalism. In non-dualism we are not "made of" matter, matter (and spirit) are one-sided abstractions from nondual consciousness, which is "immortal", or more precisely non-temporal. In physics elementary particles, and presumably strings, can be "annihilated" and new ones created in their place. Even if they couldn't be, like atoms of ancient atomists, we still would not be immortal because we are their composites, and composites can be dismantled without annihilating their parts. In both cases matter "existing forever" is moot.
    – Conifold
    Aug 23, 2017 at 20:18
  • Shouldn't this question be moved to physics.stackexchange.com?
    – ejQhZ
    Aug 27, 2017 at 2:18

6 Answers 6


There's an interesting angle that Aristotle came up with in the wake of the discovery/invention of atoms by Leucippus & Democritus. According to them atoms are indivisible, permanent elements of reality that retain their identity from the beginning of time to its end, or simply throughout time. All substances arise from their collisions, or their configuration, and dissolve when these disperse.

A asked what happens when two atoms collide at their point of collision. Imagine them to be hard, impermeable balls of matter, like for example the balls used in snooker or a game of billiard; now, if their boundaries are apart, that is their boundaries are not touching, then they have not yet collide or, it is after they have collided; if their boundaries are touching at some point such that there is no gap between them then we cannot say that they have preserved their identity. Hence atoms as conjectured by Democritus/Leucippus cannot exist in the way that they imagined them.

Epicurus thought well enough of this argument that he conjectured a minima for their approach; one could think of this as some kind of inter-atomic force, a very similar argument can be made to work in classical physics, ie Newtonian; the other possibility of course is that atoms do not retain their identity under all conditions. Then matter is not permanent in this sense.


Probably no.

The proton decay, not yet proven but rather probable, will destroy all structures of atoms, i.e., of what we call matter. There will remain particles like leptons and structures like positron-electron pairs.

  • To say 'no', don't we need to know/consider/imagine the boundary of this world? Aug 25, 2017 at 13:39
  • The proton is not a fundamental particle as it is made of quarks, so I don't see how it's answering the question. You are just saying that some particles are changing. And I dont get why you are saying "there will remain particles like leptons". Do you mean the baryonic number is not conserved ?
    – JSFDude
    Aug 25, 2017 at 13:56
  • In case of proton decay there will no atoms survive. That means: what we understand by matter will disappear. Of course quarks and leptons are not concerned. But if matter and antimatter are equally distributed, all can over short or long transform into radiation.
    – Hilbert7
    Aug 25, 2017 at 18:21

Matter can also theoretically become energy, in which case it would cease to exist as matter. Even if that energy were condensed back into matter somehow (which may or may not be feasible), it still wouldn't be the particles it once was.

  • Then again, by those same theories, matter is just captive energy, so who says it ever went away? Vocabulary fails science, a bit.
    – user9166
    Aug 25, 2017 at 21:20
  • @jobermark: Nature does seem to evade every attempt to cleanly define it. :) But identity's the pain here. To bring up an analogy...an ice cube won't last forever. Sure, the water it's made of may stick around for millions of years, and you could make ice with it. But even if you managed to round up every particle that was in the original, pair/team them up exactly as they were when the ice was frozen, and then refreeze it into the exact same shape with all the molecules in exactly the same places, do you have the same ice cube that melted?
    – cHao
    Aug 25, 2017 at 21:37
  • "Theoretically"? You realise that the energy that powers the computer/phone you are writing this on was (at least in part) created from matter, in a nuclear reactor. When you split an atom, the parts that remain weigh less than the atom did before it was split. The difference in weight has become energy, in accordance with Einstein's famous formula: E=mc^2.
    – MichaelK
    May 18, 2018 at 8:24
  • @MichaelK: I don't know the gory details of how fission works. I just know you start with matter and end with different matter and some energy.. The matter hasn't obviously ceased to exist. So yes, theoretically.
    – cHao
    May 18, 2018 at 12:39
  • @cHao Oh yes, the matter has ceased to exist as matter. It is not physical matter any more, it is energy... it has been converted to photons... heat.
    – MichaelK
    May 18, 2018 at 12:47

No/yes, and no

Does all matter exist forever?

No, because matter can become energy, in accordance with Einstein's famous formula E=mc2.

Nuclear power demonstrates this. If you weigh the fuel as it goes into the reactor, and then weigh the fuel and all of its waste products as it comes out again, the used fuel and the waste weighs less than the unused fuel. The difference in mass is the energy that has been released.

Another example is annihilation. When an antiparticle meets a particle, they are destroyed and their mass becomes energy.

So no, mass does not need to exist forever.

But if we then modify the question:

Does all mass and energy exist forever?

Yes it does, in an isolated system.

The question is if we can consider our universe an "isolated system", since it is constantly expanding, but it is rather safe to say that mass and energy cannot be destroyed.

Does that mean we exist forever?

No, it does not. Our mass and energy may always exist, but in the end they will be useless. Because every spontaneous action increases entropy.

Entropy may be a difficult concept to understand but put very simplistically: entropy is a measure of how much waste energy there is. Energy is considered "waste" when it cannot do any useful work.

By contrast, energy that can do useful work is called exergy.

We humans need exergy to function. The physical processes that drive our bodies and our minds require exergy. Without exergy, we cannot exist. We would just be lifeless matter, completely lifeless even down on a very basic physical level in that we could not even affect any kind of chemical or nuclear reaction to happen.

And this is what eventually will happen. It is one of the basic laws of physics that — in an isolated system — the amount of exergy can only decrease, and the amount of entropy can only increase. This process cannot be reversed. In the end, all exergy will be spent, and only entropy remains. This this state is called the heat death of the universe.

And when we reach that state, we will be no more.


I was reading about non-duality (spirituality / philosophy) that discusses the idea that everything in reality is one, since any matter can become any other matter

Please note, non-dualism is not monism. Also, to realize it, a non-dualist must transcend intellectual level. And 'there', your atom, string etc have no meaning at all. When you say one, you treat all things as one and you as another. So to avoid this, non-dualists use this term -- non-dual.

And the word 'become' also becomes meaningless when viewed from the highest level.

Pure consciousness (it is one and undivided) is the only 'thing' that is immortal. All other names and forms are mortal. In Non-duality, basically (if it is the utmost base) there is no difference in you and I. The Bhagavad-Gita doesn't agree the idea of creation from nothingness. See: Chapter 2, Verse 16

Of the transient there is no endurance, and of the eternal there is no cessation. This has verily been observed by the seers of the truth, after studying the nature of both.

The following interpretation of a prayer can clear your doubts.

O, God! You are indeed the very process of creation of the Universe. You are the creator of the Universe. And You are yourself the entire creation too. Again, You are the prime source material out of which the entire creation are so produced.

Three words are often mentioned as attributes of the Supreme God: Omni-potent, Omniscient, Omni-present. God is all Powerful; was always there and pervades everything in the universe. Before this universe came into being, God was there. He will be there even after this Universe disintegrates – after period of time. So, he is Endless. God created the Universe as a result of His will; not because of any external influence, nor using any material outside Himself. Thus, the concept of creation was in Him. He is the creator of the universe; He did not need any outside help. And, whatever is created by Him, is also manifestations or various forms of He Himself! And hence, He is present in everything in the universe; and there is no place where He is absent.

The essence of this is the realization that ‘I’, ‘ This Universe’ and ‘God’ are not different entities, but different aspects of one and the same – the ‘Brahmam’ – Supreme Godhead.

The underlying idea conveyed is that there is only One God for the entire Universe. And, this God fills the entire Universe as well. Hence, you and I and each one of us are all part and parcel of that supreme God.

  • And God would be Consciousness, just in case this comes across as a naive monotheism.. Matter would not become nothing, It would always be nothing except an appearance in consciousness. This would be why the existence of matter as more than appearance is unverifiable. If it were not nothing we'd have to explain how it came into existence from nothing, which is clearly not a practical project.
    – user20253
    Aug 23, 2017 at 15:49
  • I wonder why this answer was down-voted. A comment to explain would have been interesting.
    – user20253
    Aug 26, 2017 at 12:54
  • @ PeterJ: We experience the three states viz., Jagrat (waking), Svapna (dreaming) and Sushupti (deep sleep or dreamless sleep). Most often we don't try to 'investigate' the witnessing consciousness of all the three states. Treating the two states as non-sensual (I mean nonsense) or ignoring them, we try to disintegrate everything that we see in this material world into atoms, strings etc. It is not recently discovered that there are particles that are influenced by the observer. We should consider that also while answering this question. Aug 27, 2017 at 10:15
  • I didn't stick to metaphysics only. Instead I tried to clear the doubts that arouse while combining the two--metaphysics and non-duality. Comparatively almost all people ignore that big portion (Svapna & Sushupti). Until one tries to direct their thoughts towards those two states down votes are normal for these types of answers. Thanks :) Aug 27, 2017 at 10:15
  • Oops. I meant 'question' and not 'answer'. I wondered why the question was down-voted. On your point, I find that this site is more forgiving for folks who hold our view than most, and I've been surprised by how well represented it is.
    – user20253
    Aug 27, 2017 at 11:26

To your first question, "Is it true that all matter (including all of the atoms / strings you and I are made of), will always exist, that the smallest particles that comprise us and everything around us will always exist in one way or another?," I will say, "Yes, it is factually true." The universe, by definition, is the largest container of matter. Science tells us that we are made of stardust.

To your second question, "If so, then aren't we all basically immortal?," I will say, "Yes, if you mean by immortality the differing configuration of matter."

Why are your questions philosophically relevant? The reason is that your way of reasoning is the source for the idea called eternal recurrence. While the idea has been organic in the Eastern world view (e.g., Buddhism with the reincarnation and retribution (Karma) theories of the universe and human existence), it also gained some popularity in the 19th century in Europe. Heinrich Heine, from whom Nietzsche is believed to have borrowed the idea of eternal recurrence, explains the idea like this:

Time is infinite, but the things in time, the concrete bodies are finite.... Now, however long a time may pass, according to the eternal laws governing the combinations of this eternal play of repetition, all configurations that have previously existed on this earth must yet meet, attract, repulse, kiss, and corrupt each other again...

Nietzsche regarded eternal recurrence as a burden of the heaviest weight. But why should it be? It could be the source for the delightful lightness of being, like the happy Sisyphus of Camus.

  • 2
    If the universe continues to expand, we will eventually reach a state where energy is nowhere dense enough to constitute matter for any reasonable length of time. The only matter will be temporary flurries of virtual particles, which will happen less and less often. So there is a question as to how literally to interpret the word 'matter' if you want to claim this is 'factually true'.
    – user9166
    Aug 24, 2017 at 0:06
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    How exactly can we know that a statement like "everything around us will always exist", which is a speculation about indefinite future, is "factually true"? There are cosmological models under which the universe has an end, or time is a derived notion so "always exist" is meaningless. I also do not see how OP's reasoning involves eternal recurrence, there is no mention of any kind of recurrence there.
    – Conifold
    Aug 24, 2017 at 1:13

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