The way things are

Realists say that they respond to the facts as they are and reality as it is; however, truth, reality, fact and possibility can outdo all our expectations and logical understandings.  For instance, scientific explanations of life raise as many questions as answers; nevertheless, we tend to presume the kind of answer we are looking for by regarding life as a minor rather than a major part of an expanding universe.  On the other hand, a universe without life is conceptually less than one that is imbued, and the same applies to a living universe without the power of conceptualisation.  That being so, it is up to us to ask ourselves whether, in the fullness of possibility, reality is potentially bigger again than us and our powers of conceptualisation – just as we happen to be by comparison to the insentient fabric of the universe that subsists ‘apart from’ us.  Even so, the questions keep on stacking up, such as: is the universe expanding within different dimensions of possibility; does the power to be encompass more than one reality, and if so, are we qualified to define that power and pronounce upon the way things must be or should be according to our parochial ideas and ideals?  In short, to what extent can we get to know the nature of existence, its limits and possibilities, on the basis of the way it is for us?

We like to think that logic entreats us be realistic, whereas, in fact, logic takes its starting point from our initial presumptions about the facts.  So what can we presume about this thing called reality?  We take for granted the fact that we live in a world of things that come to be, which also suggests that things are subject to change.  Yet does it mean that things can change radically?  Is reality itself subject to change?  Is everything necessarily the same at one level yet different at another?  Can things be one thing and another?  Is reality a plurality of realities?  Must all possibilities conform to logic?  Not surprisingly, there remain fundamental questions about the nature of change that the facts as they were and are cannot answer for us, and which science struggles to explain by filling-in the gaps with a logic that states what must be the case in order for the explanation to remain logical – that is, in order to preserve the logic.  But what if it is possible for ‘the real’ to be transformed by facts to come?  What if things that are impossible in one context become possible in another – because of change – as when the chemicals that make up our bodies become a part of a knowing reality that thinks, perceives and wonders about itself?  What if change builds on chemistry, extending it into the reality of thought wherein the chemicals in our brains are and are not the cause of our capacity to consider the nature of reality, truth and logic?

The rational mind draws on logic as an absolute truth in a world it struggles to understand.  So is truth the servant of logic or logic the servant of truth?  If the latter, it would be wrong to conclude that the truth must conform to logic in order to be true – as if to restrict the nature of truth to our logical conceptualisations of what must be the case.  However, if the truth is indeed something grander and stranger than we can make it out to be, might this not alert us to the limits of logic for resolving the factual contradictions of a universe that is grander and stranger than the imagination?  For instance, it may be perfectly true to say that the space-dust of which we are constituted is and is not the cause of the living mindful panoply that is known to us and occupied by us – since the evidence shows the physical world achieving sentience rather than supplying it.  But logic continues to nag at us and aver that the facts as they were must be the ‘real’ cause.  And whilst it is true to say that an effect, such as a thought, is a particular consequence of causes identifiable in non-thinking physical states, it is not possible to say thereby that the difference between cause and effect can be explained by that fact or any number of causal convolutions, or that the cause is capable of saying anything to us unless we put the ‘words into its mouth’, with a meaning that never belonged to the facts as they were, or nature as it was.

Mike Laidler

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