It’s entirely possible that everything we know about how things happen will remain purely academic until we find out how existence happens.

The fact of change is the big event of the ‘big bang’ and beyond, which we incorporate into our explanations as if to explain it – as if by taking it into account we have accounted for it.

Evolution, as it happens, is the effect that we presume to identify as the cause of change.

Despite our collective faith in the infallibility of logic as ‘true’ in itself, logic provides no guarantees that it will ‘externalise’ to show us truths about the world at large.

It’s a mass delusion tantamount to madness: the belief that logic cannot fail to show us the truth.

If science can admit to the incredible yet ‘finite calculable probability’ of a person being able to pass through a solid wall under certain circumstances – because objects are and are not solid – then what about the certain circumstance in which the earth is both flat and round?

We talk about consciousness as a phenomenon to be explained by the fact of life, as if we have already explained the fact of life.

We know of the phenomenon that is existence only because of what knowing brings to it.

In all the sightings of ghosts throughout the ages, duly attired in the dress of their time, has anyone ever wondered how the clothing manages to gain an afterlife?

Can a scientific explanation of the universe explain its most curious feature – its evolution, through us, of a curiosity about itself?

How can an objective account of nature, by precluding the subjective elements of conscious sensation and understanding, show us a greater truth in the lesser fact of existence?

Strictly speaking, we are but ghostly manifestations in the midst of an essentially physical universe that knows nothing of our existence – since, in the scheme of its absolute reality, our presence amounts to nothing more than a negligible flurry within an all-engulfing tide of atomic flux.

Does a mathematical proof of the universe not reflect more upon the enlarged particulars of mathematics than the particulars of the universe at large?

Presumption is the ancestor of all myth and a living part of all we take to know.

Mike Laidler

In sight of the supranatural – Part 2: A cosmic consciousness

Phenomenalist:  ‘The question is, either science is observing nature objectively, by looking at or upon it, or it is nature observing itself – because science acts in nature.  Either way something different is happening to the way things change in nature, since perception now has an active role.  So how are we to understand ‘the fact’ of nature?’

Realist:  ‘You seem to have overlooked the fact that perception is explained as an evolved capacity that assists survival, which is the same reason why thinking evolved with all its inherent meanings and purposes.’

P:  The utility of perception and intelligence for survival is without question, but it doesn’t prove that evolution is the explanation.  Evolution is observable as the result of change, but it amounts to a description, not an explanation – although the theory is generally regarded as if it is the cause of those changes.

R:  That’s because the theory proves what actually happens.

P:  There is no doubting the assiduous detective work that goes into piecing together the facts of evolution, but proving a fact is not the same as explaining it.

R:  You’re splitting hairs.  It’s the same thing.

P:  The distinction is not trivial.  The explanations are theoretical, hence it is properly called ‘the theory of evolution’.  Evolution appears to make things happen, but ‘it’ has no capabilities – it is no determinant of possibility – so we can’t explain the capacity for things to evolve by noting their evolution.  In other words, evolution doesn’t supply an answer to the question of how things are possible.  It is neither the beginning nor the end of possibility, nor does it give us an overview of what is possible.  In short, evolution is not the cause that we read into it, though it’s easy to see how the mistake arises, given the belief in underlying causes as the foundation of all explanation.  However, all the information in a picture doesn’t explain the change to its perception even though changes in one state of reality produce changes in the other.  Furthermore, in the bigger picture, we see that causes build upon causes in the constitution of different realities existing in parallel, but it doesn’t allow us to claim that one difference is the explanation of the other or that the unfolding direction of change is explained by the first cause.

R:  Nor does the idea of parallel realities help to explain anything.

P:  I’m not pretending that there is an explanation for everything.  It’s as basic as this: a book is filled with information but nothing is recollected until a reader comes along – so a book is and isn’t the source or explanation of knowledge, it just seems so when using it as a point of reference – but we don’t make the mistake of believing that the book knows anything.  The same applies to our observations of cause and effect as an explanation of change.   The explanation is in the mind, not in the cause.  Nor can we validate those explanations by claiming that they are direct effects of our observations – as if that explains what we see.  The same mistake arises when we believe that the brain does our thinking for us.

R:  It doesn’t mean that the theory of evolution is wrong.

P:  It does and doesn’t – it is wrong to believe that evolution provides a ‘missing link’ that explains change.  The theory is not self-explanatory, rather the explanation is an embellishment we attach to the observation that things change – which we presume to evolve that way because the changes are useful in the struggle for survival.

R:  So you accept that evolution has a place?

P:  However, it’s not the facts of change that owe their origin to the theory of evolution, rather it is the theory of evolution that owes its origin to the facts of change.

R:  Nevertheless, natural selection explains those changes as adaptations in life.

P:  Except the nature behind it all has no need to be selective.  That is, according to the laws of physics, there is no need for life to emerge, no necessity for there to be additional ‘evolved’ states of existence.

R:  But there it is – identifiable as a process of natural selection, which is also the explanation of how evolution works.

P:  I am not denying the fact of natural selection in evolution, but I am questioning its status as the definitive explanation of change in nature.

R:  There is no better explanation.  Also you are raising your objection in defiance of all the accumulated evidence.

P: The process of natural selection is but one unexplained change to the nature of nature, and it is not the end of the story.  The evidence indicates that things change, and the ensuing difference reveals properties that exist in addition to the observable cause – hence the laws of physics contrast with the relatively extraneous functions of biology, psychology and survival.  Nor can we explain away those differences as superficial versions of their underlying causes.  At the same time, we see the face of nature being transformed through the activities of a host of shaping influences, which we interpret variously and retrospectively as the marshalling of order, organisation, necessity, need, purpose and design.  Of course, science does not associate all of these factors with ‘things natural’.

R:  Because the explanation that things exist by design has been discredited scientifically.

P:  However, design exists in the real world – so where are you going to place it, or its agents, if it is not in the course of nature as defined and explained by science?

R:  But where’s your evidence that nature turns into something else?

P:  Remember, I am talking about a plurality of inexplicable natures, compared to a single version which is equally inexplicable.  In fact, things diverge in extraordinary ways from a reality seen to be unified by insensible natural causes; but you want to solve the problem by predicting that the facts will one day show us that it is all one and the same, so we might as well start believing it now.

R:  Then how would you approach the problem?

P:  Despite nature having been described as a ‘blind watchmaker’, implying a non-designer of ‘things natural’, we still have to explain the presence in nature of real watchmakers and their purpose-built designs.  To put it crudely, nature works as nature works, with the mind working as the mind works – bear with me on that for the moment – but the fact that thought fails or alters if the bio-chemical system fails or alters doesn’t prove that thought is just biochemistry, or that consciousness is explained by the cells of the brain becoming conscious.

R:  So is consciousness floating about in a world of its own?

P:  Yes and no.  Consciousness is different from other natural states – though we see it as growing out of those states.

R:  So how do you define consciousness?

P:  By the fact of what we know in being conscious.  But there is a reason why we cannot equate it to something else, thereby to explain it, because it means becoming conscious of it as something in addition to itself – the cause of the becoming – which nudges our awareness of the original fact out of the frame for the sake of a non-conscious fact that we claim to be more original.  Alternatively, if consciousness is a property of nature, albeit incomprehensible and inexplicable at present, then nature is both conscious and unconscious – something that we wrestle with in ourselves.   Either way, it is the definition of nature that gives way, not the fact of consciousness.

R:  You still haven’t defined consciousness.

P:  You’re missing the point – which is, the moment we try to relate consciousness or thought to something else, ostensibly in the name of explanation, we stand to lose sight of the features we are talking about – since we are now talking about them as features of something else.  This is why I asked you to bear with me earlier – because beneath it all, we can see that everything remains unchanged.  So, apparently, things change and don’t change – we really are stardust – however, the preconditions for change don’t explain the inception of change, or where it leads.  The point is that we need to alter our approach to the way we define things – beginning with our definition of ‘things natural’ – and we can make a start by accepting that we don’t have an adequate understanding of ‘things natural’ or ‘things explained’ or, indeed, ‘things conscious’.

R:  Then would you say that the problem is solved by the idea of a grand design within it all and a grand designer behind that?

Mike Laidler

To be continued

Standing stones

There is more to a memory than its physical traces.  And despite the importance of libraries, a book recedes into oblivion until someone opens it.  The same applies to the data filed on the ‘world wide web’ – for just like our books, artworks or machines, and even the ancient stone circles, it represents ideas and memories that cannot be realised or revived without an act of recognition.  Indeed, as with the world itself, all such devices remain essentially oblivious to the fact that theirs is a reality of oblivion.  Together with the universe at large, they simply function as temporary storage devices for the information built into them, which scientists read as the laws of physics.  Nonetheless, this physical memory is active at its own level – because everything exists in active form.  Thus the physical world ‘behaves’ lawfully.  However, there are other sorts of activity that build into different realities – where information translates into knowledge, meanings and understandings that act both within and upon the laws of physics.

Of course anyone can set a stone rolling, and the physical world happens to resonate with our activities.  The computer is a more sophisticated example which appears to take on a life of its own; but in terms of that ethereal thing called awareness, or its ephemeral counterpart called intention, it is more like the rolling stone.  And of course, only physical forces can upend stones, though no one is in any doubt that these stones were put there intentionally. As such they represent a part of nature that is more than just natural.  They represent an intentional shaping of reality located in a nature that acts without intention or awareness.  They remind us of a fact that physics does not teach – of things we are apt to forget.  Meanwhile, scientists hang onto the idea that it is always possible for the standing stones to have fallen into place by chance.  But where in nature do we find the ‘thingness’ of intention and awareness except as resonant features of our beliefs, theories and ideas?

Mike Laidler

The Trickster

Paradoxically, no one can convince themselves that there is no such thing as free-will without taking a position that involves an act of will. Likewise, no experience can deliver a meaning or truth without an act of recognition.

So we cannot meaningfully say there is no meaning in the world without taking a position in meaning from which to make the observation.  Also, there is no denying the existence of truth without appealing to the manifest truth of the denial.

Yet what do we know except that we believe it to be so? Then belief becomes the paradoxical gatekeeper of our reasons – the tacit trickster that can divert our attention and confound all recognition by feeding upon itself – especially when we believe that the facts are speaking for themselves or when we allow ourselves to think that we are entitled to believe what we want.

Mike Laidler

Towering Foundations

We can’t pretend not to care much about the nature of belief, or who believes what, when everything we know and care about is entwined with our beliefs. Belief is ubiquitous; nothing is immune from its influence, indeed it forges our understandings of reality and recognisance of the facts since it provides the frame of reference in which we turn to fact and reason. But if we are to glean anything from the observation of one another – about the interplay of belief and reason – it is that belief is more accomplished at making its way without reason than is reason without belief. And in this world of beliefs, if we are to discern anything about the basis of knowledge that forms opinion, it is that there is no such thing as a neutral fact.

Mike Laidler

The God of fact

Belief is our consolation in the face of uncertainty.  It is nice to believe that the truth is out there and that the facts can move us along towards its realisation, yet the path is long and tortuous and fraught with uncertainties, and dogma can easily intervene with the answer that requires us to look no further.   It is in the realms of dogma that belief comes face to face with disbelief; and though it might seem that disbelief has freed itself from a particular delusion, the disbelief upholds nothing more than an alternative belief about an issue that continues to test our understanding – a fact that passes unnoticed by those who continue to believe otherwise.  The resultant disgregation of beliefs occurs because ‘the truth’ remains the most unbelievable uncertainty of all – a bastion of contradictions accommodating panjandrums of belief – only it is the dogma of professing to have possession of the definitive facts that prevents us from knowing it.

  • We are given to believe things when we do not know, we take to know things when we don’t see the belief.
  • We like to believe that the truth is out there, but it remains a belief, and we can know it only as our version of truth, based upon what we are prepared to believe.
  • If disbelief is a form of belief, then we can’t disbelieve in belief, despite believing otherwise.
  • There is more of dogma than fact in the belief that truth will rid us of contradiction.
  • Dogma exchanges the realistic anxiety of uncertainty for an unrealistic illusion of certainty.

Belief is bigger than religion.  We don’t need religions in order to believe in God,  except that shared beliefs give people an increased feeling of being right.  The same is true of atheism, despite its focus on a form of disbelief; and the fact that atheism is no antidote to religion is evident in the influence of Buddhism as a renowned atheist religion.   In fact, belief is the common denominator in all things we profess to know, and despite all the shared dialogue we continue to perceive the truth as a dichotomy between right and wrong, which we then resolve to our own personal and cultural satisfaction in terms of what we happen to believe, aided by the facts we recruit to our cause.   Meanwhile science holds on to its own belief that the facts will tell us what to know and show us the way – as if factual knowledge is sufficient to do away with belief.

  • Whereas an ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’, we have nowhere to look in the absence of a frame of reference in what to believe?
  • We can’t avoid belief by not believing in it.
  • Belief sustains the image of factual certainty that the fact cannot supply.
  • Belief is the God we worship in the name of fact.
  • Knowing that we know is more a fact of belief than knowledge.

Mike Laidler

Tooth Fairies

We tell children that the tooth fairies take their teeth away, but are we being any more realistic in believing that nature gave us teeth in the first place – that nature is the place where everything comes from – because everything has to come from something and belong somewhere, because we know for sure that this is how things work, because everything is traceable to something else which acts as its cause, because it all comes down to nature and because natural events can properly explain ourselves and existence at large? In fact, despite ‘its’ apparent prepotency, there is no thing called ‘nature’ that exists apart from the events that happen, which means that there is no cause called ‘nature’ to precede those events and explain them. ‘Natural causes’ are a myth of explanation, not because they can’t be seen to exist, but because they don’t provide us with an explanation. Our ideas of nature are in need of a Copernican revolution.

The funny thing about our knowledge of nature is that we are immersed in an abundance of factual events showing us what it is like, yet we know nothing about what ‘it’ really is. Indeed, the identification of nature as the essential origin of everything amounts to no more than a creation myth, whilst our concept of ‘natural facts’ amount to no more than an approbation of our ignorance. Nor can we account for the evolving state of reality by calling it ‘natural’ or ‘evolved’. Meanwhile, our certainty about what we know underlines the fact of our ignorance by what it prevents us from acknowledging above the line – for if we can be certain that we know nature for what it is, thereby to account for things as ‘natural’, then what else might we be certain about in our ignorance?

Consider our knowledge of the evolution of teeth and what this says about the ‘nature of nature’. There is no doubt why certain species of animals needed to evolve teeth, because if they can’t eat they soon perish. But still we don’t know why some animals, namely ourselves, acquired perishable teeth. And even though we now have the resourcefulness to outlive our teeth by artificial means, evolution isn’t assuaged by the fact that we might be able to ‘intervene’ in such ways – it simply adds another turning point to the process, as also happened when our ancestors took to wearing furs. Seemingly, we can’t escape ‘nature’ – we remain in the throws of a constant evolutionary pressure to change; nonetheless, the shift in reality is now marked by the fact of its artificiality – an artificiality now existing as a part of nature. So, as things change, we find that not everything is explicable ‘naturally’, unless we are prepared to broaden our definition of nature. But do we know what we are doing?

Ultimately, it is our ignorance of what is to come that proves to be the real obstacle to understanding – a problem that is exacerbated by what we purport to know for certain. Nor can we pretend to solve the problem with a knowledge of what is needed. We know that animals need teeth and chickens need eggs, and though we may be able to artificially engineer things so that we no longer need real teeth, or chickens no longer need to lay eggs, it still does not give us more than a retrospective knowledge of what can happen. But it is now an ‘artificial reality’ that occupies the threshold of what happens next, and one that is skewed in its own way by the artificiality of what we presume to know. Then, just as we remain certain about something called ‘nature’, which we really don’t understand, so we presume to understand ourselves on that basis – by explaining away the facts in the same vein – by claiming to know that our existence really comes down to something explicable in terms of something else acting as its cause – having adopted ‘natural causes’ as our explanatory fairy godmother. ​

Mike Laidler