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

Knowing Belief

Reality may be seen as a plurality of the physical and metaphysical, more especially because the ‘thinking makes it so’ – for whilst the physical world remains essentially insensible and objective the metaphysical becomes personal and subjective. This form of metaphysics is evident in the nature of thought thinking about itself: ‘I think therefore I am’ – knowledge being a state of mind discernible in the recognition of its own inferences. However, our obsession with the inference of a reality beyond inference leads us to infer that real knowledge belongs to external facts that know nothing, as if they can also explain for us the transition to a knowing universe and demonstrate that the fact of the knowing is a change of less significance than ‘the facts’, in the greater glory of their objective oblivion.

It seems, to those who care to look, that knowledge is a minefield of assumptions beginning with the mind’s inferences about itself. Not surprisingly, popular forms of factual knowledge purport to minimise the need for inference – so in knowing for sure that Paris is the capital of France we may also rest assured that other forms of factual knowledge will not lead us astray. But such knowledge masks its own deficiencies and our ignorance of a deeper truth – that all ‘knowing’ is built upon inferences fashioned into beliefs. Indeed it is belief, rather than fact, that is the patron of knowledge, actively tuning the known by turning and pitching one understanding upon and against another; and no matter whether it ends in agreement or disagreement, that end is mediated by belief because the facts can’t tell us what to know.

Belief and knowledge are more alike than we might imagine, yet we tend to believe that knowledge displaces belief, which is why the ‘knowledgeable’ are dumfounded by what others are prepared to believe in disregard of the ‘known facts’. However, the knowing adds something to those facts, and the conclusions we draw go beyond the facts, entering into the realms of belief by the fact that we are drawing conclusions, and in particular because we feel the need to do so. So whether or not we are ‘in the know’ we are all using beliefs of one sort or another to put that knowledge in perspective, and it is the perspective that determines what we are prepared to make of ‘the facts’. Of course belief and knowledge are not static, then it is a matter of belief whether we take the facts to be static – and in every discipline the basic facts are open to reinterpretation, or not, depending the beliefs upon which that discipline is founded, and by which means the discipline gains its purpose. Indeed, to know is to believe we know, but to truly know is to know we believe and that we ‘believe in order to understand’, knowing that knowledge is built upon the myths by which we ‘explain the inexplicable’.

Mike Laidler