The ‘dark matter’ of science

There is more to existence than can be captured by that part of it called explanation, because explanation is merely a part of it.  Accordingly, there is a dark matter in science that science attributes to the ‘dark matter’ of the universe – the 95% of the ‘known’ universe that remains inexplicable.  This inexplicability is currently described as the problem of ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’, as if the problem lies with the facts of nature.  However, the problem of explanation does not rest with the facts of nature, for science’s inability to explain is actually explanation’s inability to explain.

Explanation is a selective statement of fact that reveals, upon reflection, a fact about itself – that there are many ways to look at reality, but no way to see it as a whole.  And the selectivity in explanation creates the parameters of the inexplicable – in terms of what is necessarily excluded.  It doesn’t matter whether this is intentional or unintentional, the result is the same – explanation carries a cost that we accept as a fair trade, a price that we are willing to pay to find out what we want to know.  And so long as the knowledge we glean accords with the facts we know about, we are content to claim that the facts can’t be wrong, as if the facts are the source of their explanation, indeed as if knowledge belongs to those facts.  Factual knowledge becomes the agency of its own ignorance.

The relative nature of explanation highlights a longstanding problem of what it actually explains, for explanation has to be more than a matter of faith or acceptance, indeed it purports to be more.  But the whole basis of explanation sits on a point of faith – that one thing explains another – so the universe owes its explanation to something else – facts that we deem ourselves privileged to know from a position of neutrality.  However nothing is altogether neutral, not even the ‘nothingness’ of dark matter, and especially the urge to know.  Everything known is relative to a point of reference.  We tentatively proceed to commission explanations as ‘objective’ observers of reality, but objectivity is a subtle version of subjectivity, for there can be no objective point of view without a point of view – objectivity owes its existence to a subjective presence.

All knowledge attests to a fact that objectivity tries to preclude – the inexplicable nature of subjectivity in the fact of the known, in the nature of existence itself.  Explanation has much to do with what is said to be the fact of the matter, on the premise that it is the ‘objective’ facts that are saying something about themselves.  We like to think that the fact of a mental entity sitting in the midst of the universe has no relevance to the place or form of explanation, so we believe that the place of explanation is outside us, thereby giving credibility to explanation – and to make doubly sure that our explanations are not misunderstood as belonging to us, we claim that they belong to science, as if science is out there waiting to explain things for us.

Unfortunately this view of explanation is a myth and its fault lines are evident once we stop keeping faith.   The myth is built on a false belief in what causality explains.  We believe that everything has a cause and that causes explain how things change.  But there is a problem; whereas we can see how this works in reality, in our perceptions of reality, it fails as an explanation of how ‘existence got here’ – that is, in the realities outside our participation as subjective entities, where the explanation of the universe and existence is meant to be found.  Our view on causality represents our predilection toward the idea of what comes first – first being a fact of elevated psychological significance in our partial viewpoint on reality.

Explanation doesn’t work as an explanation of existence if explanation implies that everything owes its existence to something else – for the evidence we uncover as a validation of that paradigm merely pushes the problem back one stage, into the realms of dark explanation, currently manifesting as the ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’ of science.  And the problem gathers momentum with the observation that everything has a definitive cause – as if the change, of which causality is the vehicle, is explained by hitching a ride.

Paradoxically, the energy invested in the elevated status of explanation is the true dark matter awaiting its enlightenment in the realisation that explanation neither explains things for us nor ourselves in the bargain.  Science sees the problem otherwise, in terms of a shortage of facts, in terms of the dark matter out there in nature, on the premise that matter is a conversion of energy explicable by the fact that it happens.  But how are we to calculate a conversion of energy, such as we are, to exist in the midst of the universe in a form that is animated to explain itself and the rest of existence in the process?   Are we not deluding ourselves that existence is inherently explicable because it happens, in the same way that our explanations are intrinsically viable because they ‘explain’.


Mike Laidler


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