Phenomenalist: ‘You began by saying that you were responding to the claims made by others. However, beliefs on all sides of the debate leave room for doubt.’
Realist: ‘It doesn’t mean that fairies are real because someone believes in them.’
P: Sir Isaac Newton believed passionately in alchemy, angels and demons – but it didn’t prevent him from being a great scientist.
R: Are you saying it’s realistic to believe in fairies?
P: I’m suggesting that there may be more than one form of understanding, and people retain an intuition that there is something more than the ‘hard facts’ of science, so they look to different forms of expression.
R: It is one thing to entertain fiction and fantasy, but it’s quite another to think that it adds up to a deeper explanation of existence.
P: And yet that deeper explanation eludes all.
R: It doesn’t mean that science is wrong.
P: It doesn’t mean that scientific truths say it all.
R: Although science is nearer the truth.
P: Even when a physicist states that ‘all pathways lead to physics’?
R: What’s wrong with that?
P: It’s true only so long as we are prepared to believe that everything is explicable at an elementary level.
R: But you can’t deny the facts.
P: Does it mean that there is only one way for the facts to be, that the true facts of science reveal the whole truth, that the atoms are more real than our humanity, or that any other pathway is an affront to science and logic because ‘the truth’ is above contradiction?
R: Surely a logical approach to the facts is essential, otherwise explanation would descend into a muddle of meaningless gibberish.
P: As any language sounds to one who is not versed in it.
R: Then please tell me what language you are using.
P: I am referring to the language of explanation in its various colourful and contrasting forms – whether it is couched in terms of scientific and mathematical logic, or the creeds and dogmas of religion, or even the divinations of mythology and magic. They all serve, in their own way, as frames of reference for comprehending reality. And it’s not simply a matter of fact versus belief – for there is no understanding that is not referenced to ‘the facts’ via our beliefs. My point is that explanation is more apparent than real and its conclusiveness is illusory – though we don’t see the shortfalls once we allow it to become the dictator of the known. Indeed, any explanation boils down to a form of expression about what we think and believe on the assumption that the criteria we have adopted are showing us the way things really are. But in reality, and despite all the evidence, explanation deals with the unknown by perching itself precariously on top of it.
R: How does that make fairies real?
P: Despite what we might think, facts cannot speak for themselves and ‘the evidence’ remains subject to judgement and interpretation. Most people accept that nature is weird and wonderful; and the fact that the possibilities have not been exhausted keeps our imagination alive. So you might not be able to debunk a belief in fairies until you can demonstrate their implausibility under all possible circumstances – even as aliens in disguise.
R: So it’s OK for people to believe that they have seen fairies dancing in the woods?
P: There are rational people who would swear to having seen a ghost. Indeed there are many rational reasons for being wrong. So we need to look at how far our ideas stretch the boundaries of possibility, bearing in mind that modern science has some novel ideas of its own in that respect – about multiple versions of each one of us co-existing in undetectable parallel universes.
R: Except science draws the line at things supernatural.
P: Based upon an assumption about what nature amounts to.
R: Based upon a realistic assumption.
P: That being the assumption that everything has to have a scientific explanation.
R: Are you saying that science is unrealistic?
P: I’m merely inviting you to shift your frame of reference from the idea of scientific truths as the only frontier of knowledge. Imagine a frog that knows the world only in terms of its own froggy perspective – being all the more certain about the reality it perceives because it finds that there is nothing else to see. That’s not to say that scientific knowledge cannot evolve; indeed, current ideas of reality and normality might prove to be as narrow as the frog’s compared with what scientists might be saying in a thousand years time.
R: Are you saying that reality is what we make of it – depending on who’s doing the looking and what they are looking for?
P: Everything we know suggests that there are boundaries of possibility in operation. However, it is not the whole story because things can change – additional boundaries come into play, whilst retrospectively it just appears as one continuum. Nevertheless, the outcome is extraordinary – ‘matter’ is now apparently perceiving itself.
R: You’re inviting me to imagine boundaries within and beyond boundaries, so give me a chance – I’ll need a more down-to-earth example.
P: There are many. I have given examples already, so let’s try another tack. A work of art is and is not made of its constituents. That is to say, there is a component that cannot be seen in terms of its physical properties, yet there is nothing but its physical presence to go on. To be precise, a Michelangelo statue straddles the boundaries between the explicable and the inexplicable, even for Michelangelo. It is not explicable as a work of nature just because he can visualise the form in the stone before he starts – and, paradoxically, although the carving might faithfully replicate the natural contours of the human body, it is something that nature cannot replicate in the stone by natural processes.
R: As you say, a work of art is nothing without its physical presence. But you are also saying that things are impossible for nature even though they become possible only through nature. So let me try another tack since, by your own argument, you need to show it would be impossible for a computer to generate the works of Shakespeare by pure chance, given infinite time?
P: Now who’s toying with fiction and fantasy?
R: It’s not so far fetched in the realms of the distant future that you had alluded to.
P: Except, in the first place, there’s no example of nature creating by chance anything resembling a computer. And contrary to popular belief, even radical evolutionists can’t prove that ‘natural computers’, namely brains, evolved by pure chance.
R: So what’s your conclusion?
P: Not so much a conclusion as a reflection on ‘the nature’ of ‘things’: Reality is bigger than the limited explanations we can attach to ‘it’ in the name of being realistic or logical. There is no safe harbour for explanation in fact or truth. The nature of nature changes inexplicably. Evolution and chance are not the causes we make them out to be. Evidence is subject to what we are capable of knowing and proof is neither absolute nor ‘down to earth’ – because the elements are not concerned with matters of self-proof. Furthermore, our presence in the universe is not definable from an atomistic perspective – this being a perspective introduced by the ghostlike presence of objective observers of an otherwise blind naturescape. In fact, the evidence for the existence of ghosts, can be derived from the ‘atomistic viewpoint’ of science – since we exist as phenomenal beings who, by comparison, haunt the atomic reality with our ethereal purposes.
P: Ghosts don’t have to be things that jump out of cupboards just because someone reports that ‘experience’. On the other hand, science isn’t mature enough to dictate what nature must do. The point is that the scientific criteria are not in control of the facts – and the shortfalls in explanation leave plenty of room for speculation; hence even accomplished scientists can find room to retain their supernatural beliefs.
R: I’m not going to let you away with that answer. Where is the evidence that ghosts have a scientific basis?
P: Science supplies the evidence inadvertently – in terms of its explanatory criteria. It’s not unreasonable to consider that we already exist as ghostlike entities by comparison to an atomic reality said to form the scientific foundation of everything. We move about within the atomic flux as superficial perturbations that don’t affect the way things are. At this level we are less than ideas, because ideas don’t exist and there are no purposes in existence. Compared to the state of atomic reality these perturbations are no more real than chance occurrences that do not change the nature of those atomic events. This raises valid questions, such as which is ‘the more real’ and what is the actual difference between the so-called ‘animate and inanimate’?
R: But those atomic principles cause and sustain our existence, so we are directly connected.
P: We are directly connected but not explicable in terms of the causal links – which rather dilutes the cosmologists’ claims to be in pursuit of a theory of everything at that level. Though it’s obvious why scientists maintain this claim, because they believe that their various theories can connect-up, to leave no gaps in explanation – belief being the operative word – all for the sake of imagining that nature, observable as a physical reality, must be more real, indeed the only reality.
R: Well if everyone is a slave to belief, how can we get to know anything?
To be continued…