“What is truth?”

Philosophy asks questions in pursuit of truths – a principle that is also the driving-force of science.  Divisions arise over which questions are potentially answerable; although answers don’t stem the flow of questions, nor does a recognised truth come with a full-stop, as if to put our questions to rest – as if the truth is definable by its defiance of contradiction.  In fact, reality greets us with an avalanche of contradictions: the earth is and isn’t solid, the universe is and isn’t infinite, gravity is and isn’t a force, life is and isn’t just chemical activity, we are and are not merely stardust, a thought is and is not the same thing as a brain process, causes do and do not explain effects, change is and is not more of the same, the present does and does not shape the future, the governing constants and absolutes do and do not control what happens next.  Furthermore, change proves to be more fundamental than any ruling truth.  It means that the truth-content of our answers doesn’t negate the fact that change can be radical, that there can be wholly different answers in different contexts, that those contexts stand out as different dimensions of existence which we partially understand as energy, matter, life, consciousness and thought.  And doesn’t life show us that the facts can defy reason?  Indeed, there is more to existence than we can reduce to the axioms of our logical explanations.  Then if there is to be a resolution that applies to everyone, might it not be this: don’t dismiss ‘the impossible’ simply because it contradicts your aspirations to countenance possibility on your terms – don’t dismiss as impossible the truth that changes to become more than it was.

Mike Laidler

“Life, the universe and everything”: 42 unanswered questions

Why existence?  (Tweet: Pub. Jan 22, 2015)

How is the universe possible?  How is possibility possible?  Of what possibility ensues the chance to wonder?  (Tweet: Pub. April 4, 2018)

What makes nature ‘necessarily so’, perceptible, or an ‘it’?  (A question of stature.  Pub. Sept 24, 2017)

What gives us the idea that there must be ‘a beginning’ that is the beginning of everything – that everything had an absolute beginning ‘once upon a time’? (Once upon a time.  Pub. Nov 6, 2018)

Did life come to earth from another planet?  But what explains the origin of alien life – what accounts for the birth of life in the universe?  Are planetary environments enough to explain its emergence?  Can its evolution explain its existence?  (The Pinocchio factorPub. May 2, 2018)

Perception, in common with everything else, involves the coming-to-be of things that were not – and this raises a question of change which we cannot resolve ‘at source’ either by looking for a first cause or by attributing the form of the effect to its cause.  (Before and after.  Pub. Nov 14, 2017)

So what can we understand about the extent of a universe that apparently expands to exceed itself in the evolution of appearances and understanding?  (True coloursPub. Jan 28, 2016)

Is humanity more than a passive cog in the mechanism of nature?  (Tweet: Pub. Sept 28, 2018)

Is our delineation of nature just a crude metaphor for the inexplicable phenomenon of existence?  (Phases of knowingPub. May 27, 2018)

And isn’t our brand of intentional action something alien to nature?  (Surviving deathPub. Jun 11, 2017)

Then can we, in general, unlock the mystery of change by looking for a primal cause, as if all can be explained by unpacking the nature of nature at its inception?  Or does the answer come from evolution, which is change by another name, diffusely portrayed as the explanation of itself – that is, things change because they evolve?  (Changing things.  Pub. Aug 25, 2018)

Also, the question of necessity persists despite all the revelations of observation and explanation – since we still don’t know how the universe came to be as a necessary fact, and if not, why it came to be at all?  (Loaded dice: The chances of a ‘theory of everything’Pub. Nov 28, 2015)

Then are we to imagine some form of pre-existence of chance behind the origins of everything – if not God, then some no-thing that ‘plays dice?  (In sight of the supranatural: Part 4 – Beyond ourselvesPub. Mar 26, 2018)

However, our causal mythology portrays it as a bottom-up chain of events in a temporal succession, as if the effect was somehow embedded in the preceding sequence of causes, just waiting to be released, as if nature already contains a rudimentary consciousness – otherwise, logically, where else might it come from?  (Changing things, Pub. Aug 25, 2018)

So, as things change, we find that not everything is explicable ‘naturally’, unless we are prepared to broaden our definition of nature.  But do we know what we are doing?  (Tooth fairiesPub. Jan 8, 2016)

How does a knowledge of the universe emerge from facts that know nothing in themselves?  (Tweet: Pub Aug 9, 2018)

Does the idea of a universe that remains devoid of thoughts and intentions do justice to the facts?  (Tweet: Pub. Jan 21, 2018)

What is the presence of mind that enables us to look out upon reality and see ourselves there?  (Demonstrating the transcendent. Pub. April 13, 2018)

Is reality a plurality of realities?  (The way things are.  Pub. Mar 9, 2016)

Are we inside nature looking out, or outside nature looking in, and what does the idea of an outside amount to?  (Tweet: Pub. Feb 8, 2016)

Is reality actually a hologram – a projection of something else which ends at the beginning? (Tweet: Pub. May 27, 2018)

How is it that some things are impossible for nature even though they become possible only through nature?  (Tweet: Pub. Feb 24, 2018)

What makes us believe that possibility becomes explicable by observing its incidence?  What makes us believe that life would be explicable if only we could observe the transition from the non-living to the living?  (The Pinocchio factor.  Pub. May 2, 2018)

Is a living being really like a Pinocchio waiting to be fashioned out of the raw materials?   (Tweet: Pub. May 2, 2018)

What is the arena in which the brain appears ‘before us’ as a cause of observation?  (Private correspondence)

As if we could ever be satisfied by the knowledge that the mind is really a thing, namely the brain, which does the asking then provides the answer.  (In sight of the supranatural: Part 4 – Beyond ourselves.  Pub. March 26, 2018)

But where in nature do we find the ‘thingness’ of intention and awareness except as resonant features of our beliefs, theories and ideas?  (Standing stones.  Pub. Sept 11, 2017)

Doesn’t a sentient presence add a new dimension to reality – so that, even as consciousness remains embedded in the physical world, it also occupies a mental space of unprecedented possibilities?  (Demonstrating the transcendent. Pub. April 13, 2018)

Question: “Seriously, what is the transcendent?”

Answer:  “The transcendent is instantiated by any effect that differs from its cause, nor is this fact explained by observing the evolution that ensues.”  (Private correspondence)

Can everything be traced back to a first cause – if not do we have to rewrite all the theories and theologies? (Tweet: Pub. Aug 25, 2018)

Does nature give us a heart or do we give a heart to nature?  (HeartstringsPub. Sept 15, 2016)

What if the self – the recognisable continuum of our being – is but a psychological device for creating a recognisable continuum?  (Tweet: Pub. Jul 23, 2018)

Does the brain work like the world works – apart from us?  (Tweet: Pub. Jul 3, 2018)

Do intelligent genes explain intelligence? (Tweet: Pub. June 12, 2018)

Does the prowess of AI prove that an intellectual initiative is just a mechanical response in disguise?  (Tweet: Pub Jun 20, 2018)

Then, in some distantly future world populated by intelligent machines, might they be left to wonder how their components came together in an act of creation?  (Could Artificial Intelligence supersede us and spell the end of the human race? Pub. Dec 5, 2014)

If the universe is defined by the laws of physics, does it mean that the mind is really a material state that thinks it is something else and consciousness makes no difference?

Is the ‘objective truth’ a diversion with facts appointed to be the only truth?

Must God exist in the way we believe in order for us to make sense of existence – and if not, does it prove that God doesn’t exist?

Are belief and disbelief two sides of the same coin – squandered upon the vain circumspections of our presumptions to categorise the truth?  (Countenances (edit).  Pub. July 23, 2018)

Have we discovered or invented the truth-so-far about the origins of everything? (Tweet: Pub. Nov 6, 2018)

If all our questions could be answered would there be no remaining unknowns, would reason have finally conquered paradox?

Mike Laidler

Once upon a time

What gives us the idea that there must be ‘a beginning’ that is the beginning of everything – that everything had an absolute beginning ‘once upon a time’?  Isn’t it patently obvious that beginnings are context-specific?  Then are we thinking of some kind of generalised capacity or potential for things ‘to be’– a pre-universe which we understand in the context of what ‘comes to be’ by supposing some kind of cause that pre-exists everything else?  But that opens up the idea of another kind of causality in another kind of reality.  The problem is that we can’t reconcile our idea of everything ‘as caused’ with the existence of a preceding uncaused cause.  It would seem that existence as a whole is bigger than all the causes we can place ‘in existence’.  Also, ideas about the cause of the universe amount to theories that go beyond the empirical evidence.  And doesn’t our capacity for contemplating the nature of existence necessitate the existence of a thinker in addition to the natural causes under consideration – suggesting a nascent context of a different order?  Or do we think that nothing really changes – that an unchanging core of existence explains all: that all things are really one thing, that nature contains the blueprint of itself, in itself, for itself – because the potential was ‘there’ all along?

Is a definitive cause an explanatory myth?  Could ‘once upon a time’ be the stuff of a scientific fairy tale in which everything is explicable in terms of a singular beginning as something else?  Doesn’t the reality of change reveal a succession of beginnings that are distinguishable by their specific differences from the way things were?  Or is our perception of change an illusion?  Some say that the universe was already alive in its primordial state, so that when primitive life ‘appeared’ and subsequently evolved it was really nothing new.  And does the evidence not show that life equates to the material properties of a pre-existing nature, therefore it isn’t all that different after all?  But why then would we contemplate the event of life as a special case, possibly with its own unique beginning on this planet, if we are of the mind that everything shares a universal beginning in the same fundamental properties?  Perhaps there is more to existence than our linear logic can make of it in retrospect, in thinking from effect to cause?  Alternatively, the observable divergences and convergences could be joint aspects of a non-linear continuity that encompasses life, us and everything else – so it is no co-incidence that ‘the beginning of everything’ remains as problematical today for the scientific mind as it was for the ancients – because origins aren’t everything.

Mike Laidler

 

Ghosts of the past and future

It is said that where there is a will there is a way, but where does the will get us without a way?  That is, how can ‘the will’ make a real difference in a universe where matter is seen to be more real than morality – in which the future is not an open book or the past a closed chapter?  Then what can be so special about our lives in ‘the now’ to make the present seem more real than the past and future?  It would seem that we judge reality, including ourselves, on the basis of appearances in a universe that changes around the unchanging.  And in our lives the past can be seen to be more real than the future inasmuch as we know it existed.  Indeed, spectres of the past can be seen to haunt the present in a sea of consequences.  But where might it all lead?

In our rationalised reality of the present, in a universe that doesn’t need a moral compass, there are no benevolent or malevolent states of nature and no errant influences emanating from an insidious past.  Be that as it may, our descendants might not look kindly upon the decadence of our selfish consumerism, especially if they have to live with its crippling legacies manifesting in forms of environmental or economic collapse.  Then might the spectre of the future be beckoning us now, to indulge less, not more, for the sake of the unborn?  Or do we suppose that science will somehow cure our blindness and save humanity from its excesses?  Meanwhile, Nobel prizes continue to be dished out to economists who extol the virtues of macro-economic growth as the mainstay of our wealth which, so it is believed, can also pass on and consequently ameliorate our debt to posterity.

Mike Laidler

 

Magical thinking

Facts are never simply ‘the facts’, except that’s how we prefer to picture them.  Indeed, ‘the world of facts’ becomes an extension of our selective perceptions, referred to as ‘the evidence’, in a reality framed by our recognitions and understandings.  And even though reality is constantly slapping us in the face, the ‘objective facts’, so-called, can neither tell us what to think nor show us how to draw conclusions.  That’s because ‘the truth’ is a product of our thinking in a parallel universe – in which the idea is fundamental.  To that extent, all thinking is magical thinking.  Even in the hard core sciences, thoughts about ‘the way things are’ rely upon ideas that are developed into theories and supported by beliefs as they get pitched against rival interpretations.  So whether we happen to believe or disbelieve, we are utilising beliefs.  But there is one thing for sure: the manner of our beliefs and the contents of our theories continue to change whilst, lo and behold, the facts continue to pour in.

Mike Laidler

Tweet:

“No man is an island”

It’s a fact that we might be loath to accept, but the act of experience changes the constitution of reality.  Indeed, no fact exists in glorious isolation – even as an act of self-knowing that seeks no other point of reference: “I think therefore I am”.  Tellingly, there is an artificial objectivity in this rank subjectivity: to set thought apart as a ‘thing in itself’.  Furthermore, there is an underlying subjectivity in our ambitions to know the world objectively – for the idea of a factual firmament existing apart from our knowledge requires a momentous act of imagination.  The point is that neither the subjective nor the objective does justice to the knowledge that is now a blend of both, and anything we purport to know outside of that ‘now’ amounts to a speculative abstraction.  Similarly, it is unrealistic to say that the truth must be ‘one thing or another’ – since all the evidence tells us that ‘the reality’ is both one thing and another, and there is no static world that sits in the middle – except when construed as a point of reference for the understanding of what has become.  How else are we to understand the fact of an insensible universe that is knowable by a part of it, a lesser part at that, but which is nonetheless sufficient to confirm that the reality is now both conscious and unconscious?  Then what might a greater ‘reality’ or ‘truth’ amount to?  What might make humanity more than a passive cog in the mechanism of nature?  Alternatively, what technical possibility allows a biological ‘mind machine’ to deceive itself with its beliefs?

The trouble is we are inclined to hang onto truths as representatives of the whole truth, as if our experiences cannot fail to guide us – as if change is wholly predictable from the fact of what is.  However, change also bewilders us.  For instance, are we to assume that the biological facts, in making us what we are, actually recognise this fact of themselves without the intervention of ‘our assumptions’?  On the other hand, ‘the whole’ that is more than the sum of its parts remains nothing apart.  So what gives the biology beliefs and ideas about itself?  What allows us to imagine that there is more to thinking than the physical functions of the brain – even though there is nothing else to see when we stay focused on the brain alone?  And what obliges us to believe in ourselves, to see nothing beyond the empire of our humanity in the facts of culture and biology?  But where would culture be without imaginative thinkers like William Shakespeare or John Donne?  Therefore, whilst it remains true that Shakespeare drew inspiration from his surroundings, it doesn’t mean that we can explain his contribution analytically – as if his creativity is no more than a summation of mindless causes that can reproduced by a suitably programmed machine or replicated at random by the antics inside a suitably equipped ‘infinite monkey cage’?  Likewise, the immortal meaning in John Donne’s dictum is both distorted and diminished in being detached from its original context of belief which reaches out to the wholly inexplicable possibility of a yet higher purpose.

Mike Laidler

 

Defining democracy

It is said that actions speak louder than words, but the subtleties of context and meaning are honed to perfection through the power of language as it channels ideas into deeds.  Indeed, civilised life relies upon words taking control of muscles, and to this day politics manages the delicate balance between the two – with various persuasive methods serving to manipulate mass action in the cause of adopted truths.  Even liberal democracies institute systems of leadership and control to curtail freedoms in the name of ‘the greater good’.  In the event, democracy is legitimated by the idea of it, which doesn’t necessarily translate into bowing to the voter’s express wishes.  A crude example surfaced with ‘Boaty McBoatface’.  In 2016 the British Government’s Natural Environment Research Council invited the public to name a new polar research vessel, but the Council couldn’t countenance the outcome when ‘Boaty’ topped the list of chosen names by a wide margin, so they demoted the public’s choice by deciding to assign it to one of the on-board submersibles.  This democratic slight is significant precisely because it is so trivial, because the Council stood to lose nothing by acceding to the popular vote – except for the loss of face.  The name finally chosen, The Sir David Attenborough, was selected by the Council in allowing itself the final say.

Governments govern in the same fashion.  Voters in ‘proper’ elections are given the impossible task, made ‘possible’ because they accede to it, of being required to assent to a raft of issues loosely held together by manifesto pledges that ‘their’ elected government will deliver on its promises.  But governments are subject to their own internal politics which can lead to changes in their policies, priorities and captainship – sometimes leaving the electorate with a leader they didn’t vote for.  In reality, votes count most when they reflect societal norms and values carried by an ‘implicit manifesto’, usually defined by the language of money – the reality being that governments and the electorate alike find that their choices are curtailed by ‘their’ spending power in a world where borrowing money is a fact of life and investment (qua money) is seen to make money.  Consequently, successive governments have taken the liberty of borrowing mountains of money over the years in the name of necessity – defined on an ad hoc basis by the rule of ‘as and when’.  Afterwards, the public are left wondering why their taxes never seem to stretch whilst forgetting that substantial amounts have to be spent on servicing the wealth of lending cartels and other vague repositories of virtual money which can hold the ‘wealth of nations’ to ransom.

The occasional referendum appears to give voters exactly what they vote for.  The UK’s ‘Brexit’ referendum asked people if they wanted to ‘remain’ in the European Union, or ‘leave’.  The choice was clear cut, but complicated by the government’s expensive publicity blitz which described the EU as ‘reformed’ – a nuanced misnomer suggesting the EU had changed when it hadn’t.  The issues were shrouded in dubious delineations from the start, although the electorate applied their own interpretations and voted to leave.  The ‘apple cart’ was really upset when the unprecedented skirmishing continued after the vote, after it transpired that there was no formal policy on what leaving was supposed to mean – so the idea of a second referendum was mooted.  Also it was rumoured that Brexit could become Brino (Brexit-in-name-only).  Some politicians claimed that the existing referendum had been legitimated by the encompassing general elections, when the public had two opportunities to vote-out the whole idea.  Throughout this political wrangling the electorate had been assured that ‘Brexit means Brexit’.  Of course the word was absent from the dictionary, but then the dictionary has yet to be written in which every word simply means itself.  Meanwhile voters are constantly being reminded that ‘the right thing to do’ is, by definition, the right thing to do – implying they don’t need to be asked to vote on it.

Mike Laidler