Loaded dice: The chances of a ‘theory of everything’.

If the mystery of existence is that it exists, then that mystery carries through into every aspect of it, including our observations of necessity and all the explanations built upon them. 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? Meanwhile, the mystery deepens in the knowledge that everything can be observed to come down to something less than itself – indeed explanation seems to rely on this fact.

On the other hand, things can be seen to change to become more than they were – such as when the universe takes form, or chemicals constitute bodies that become alive, or thoughts emerge with knowledge to frame ‘the facts’. Yet things don’t change, remaining as they were beneath the surface, everything being reducible to the basic elements. So change is at the centre of the mystery of existence – being shrouded in the paradox that things change without changing in a universe that appears to grow from nothing in the same way – because everything is traceable to something less than it becomes, which remains unchanged beneath it all.

In short, explanation doesn’t do justice to the facts that are simultaneously one thing and another. For example, to claim that we are just atomic particles because ‘in reality’ that’s all there is, neither represents the reality of atomic particles nor ourselves, and does not instate atomic particles as the source of feelings, intentions and purposes. So a ‘reductionist’ explanation of the origins of the universe cannot count as ‘a theory of everything’. Neither can we expect knowledge, as part of the universe, to encapsulate the reality in which it is encapsulated – for it seems that realities, like dice, turn on outcomes and inevitabilities bigger than themselves in which the ‘laws of necessity’ get redefined. Meanwhile explanation is fated to chase perpetually the facts that outstrip it.

Furthermore, a theory of chance neither explains itself nor the necessities that come to overlay it, or how causes lead to change. Nor can explanation pin its authority on the consistency of causes – since the observation of a ‘necessary outcome’, in providing a premise for explanation, doesn’t yield an adequate explanation of its beginning in something less. Thus, in the paradoxical reality of fact, everything reveals the fact of itself in a reality bigger than itself; and reality presents ‘itself’ as a plurality of realities: in unity and diversity, stasis and change, explanation and contradiction – the plural ‘it’ encompassing the living and the unliving, chance and design, action and inertia, possibility and limitation, inevitability and uncertainty, coincidence and intention, necessity and choice, knowledge and oblivion, meaning and irrelevance. Then if there is more to reality in its outcomes than its origins, the ‘absolutes’ remain definitive only of truths that are incomplete truths in a reality bound to change, together with its mantle of explanation.

Mike Laidler

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Being Realistic

Who can claim that there is no such thing as truth without affirming the truth of their denial? Who can attest to the absence of meaning without upholding what they mean? Whose experiences can lay claim to the facts? Who can countenance the mind of God, or know by default that there is nothing to behold? How can we know what is ours, even of our thoughts – does it suffice to think that that our brains are doing the thinking for us? Can we see the bigger picture in its elements, by recognising the greater in the lesser or the end in its beginning? Does reality reveal to us its beginning and end in our realisations?

Mike Laidler