The Burden of Proof

I   The ‘big bang’ of change

If ‘everything is stardust’ then stardust does more than replenish the universe with lumps; yet even if we could see it all unfold before our eyes, into a living, conscious intelligence, we might gain no more than a cursory overview – courtesy of those somehow ‘enabled’ lumps perceiving themselves – otherwise the stardust isn’t everything.  In fact, we don’t understand these changes, despite all their conspicuous causes.  For instance, the emergent properties of life do not ‘boil down’ to its unliving chemistry – something changes, but it is not germinal to the chemistry, which enables, supports and sustains a difference by remaining as it is.  These dualisms pose problems for proof and explanation that show up in the reasoning we apply to the perception of change – either by identifying a ‘transformative event’ with things as they are, so ‘nothing really changes’, or by differentiating it from things as they were, which taxes logic and leaves the explanation wanting.  In other words, we cannot explain a fundamental change in terms of the properties of a cause without begging the question; and whenever causes are found to diverge, the ‘explanation’ runs into a convolution of uncertain proofs – which is why scientific conclusions are ever prone to error.  Thus no one can prove that order in the universe was caused by ‘the big bang’ or that energy gives definition to form any more than the properties of stardust cause consciousness or the nature of existence comes from the pre-existing nature of its causes.  Indeed, every explanation carries inferences based upon the form of our reasoning in excess of the facts – with the result that facts considered to be self-evident, such as: ‘everything is a part of nature’ and ‘everything has a cause’ lead into explanatory quagmires over ‘the cause of everything’, the necessity of change and the primacy of possibility.  So, if nature is the ‘bedrock of our being’, and everything remains a part of ‘nature’, then our faculties, like everything else, function as natural effects of natural causes, to the extent that nature is now ‘perceiving itself through us’.

II   The ‘little bang’ of chance

Proof begins in the imagination, by imagining that the world is explicable by its causes, as if we can find the nature of one thing in another because an effect is derived from its cause, with the same being true for acquired states of knowledge.  However, such explanations diminish the very fact they purport to explain, namely the fact of change.  Neither do the laws of nature prove that everything has its beginning in the pre-existence of a master cause that provides a blueprint for the universe becoming what it is from what it wasn’t, or otherwise changing from what it was to become more like itself.  Nor can we make the inexplicable explicable by presuming that chance changes the boundaries of possibility when, as a matter of fact, the evidence points to the converse.  Nevertheless, our acknowledgement of a causal continuum serves us well in rationalising our place in existence, as proved by the prerequisites for survival; except that our nature and evolution provide only the semblance of an explanation of the course of change towards an agency that is deliberate intentional and inquisitive – properties that are alien to their ‘primal causes’ in nature as it was.  In fact, all we know is that change introduces new properties – new boundaries of possibility by which we can also see that we differ from our origins in the oblivious morass enough to be threatened by it.  And we can also see that nature is more than a ‘chance engine’ for creating and shaping these possibilities – since chance has no internal mechanism for transcending itself – to become more than itself by chance – whereas ‘nature’ diverges to become a plurality of natures containing meanings, purposes and necessities that stand in stark and inexplicable contrast to things without.  Furthermore, we do not explain change simply by observing it then determining that our observations must explain it if there is nothing else to discern; and no perspective can be big enough to prove the necessity of change by way of the necessities we import into our proofs in order to make them logically tight, and ours.

III   Effects as causes

‘Seeing is believing’ when belief stands in for proof – and the question of proof confronts us once we try to look beyond appearances, to seek the reality behind ‘the seeming’.  Even so, we don’t look to the resolution as amounting to a difference of our making; instead, we experience it as coming through the perception in the same way as we experience perception as coming to us from the world.  Yet there are realities within realities – as when perceived sounds and colours come to transcend their primary causes.  Also, the vast array of our self-conscious perceptions mark a step-change in reality, just as perception marks a step-change from its causes in an oblivious world.  And all the evidence points to the same fact – that our knowledge of the world, even as perceived to be caused by it, is not necessarily the same thing, though we may wish to presume there is no ‘real’ difference for the sake of its validation.  Likewise, we see necessary connections between causes and effects, but it is not the cause that turns first to make the difference real.  That is, the perceived difference ‘arrives’ with the appearance of the effect, there being no change till then, and the fact that the ‘effect’ is as much of a cause in such transitions is known in the event that it becomes a necessity for any further ‘causal changes’ to be perceived, otherwise its existence is superfluous.  Nevertheless, we expect that the change can be explained by identifying it with a preceding cause, as if the cause now belongs in two versions of itself – to be better known in retrospect, for what it ‘really is’ in prospect.  Unfortunately, original causes aren’t amenable to explanation, but undaunted by this, we prefer to perceive the universe, qua existence, as a developed property of an ‘original cause’, as if the possibilities remain defined by this ‘fact’ – thereby proving to ourselves that all subsequent changes are somewhat less than original, and that our perception of everything as a version of stardust goes to show that we are perceiving reality ‘as it is’.

Mike Laidler


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