A question of stature

What does it mean to exist?  What is our place in existence?  What makes nature ‘necessarily so’, perceptible, or an ‘it’?  What makes us think that we can capture it in our concepts any more than we can lay claims upon the world through the possession of bodies?  What if it is all transitory and our temporary presence is but a faint speck in the ‘cosmic panoply’ – an integration of ‘material’ and ‘mental’ dimensions in which notions of ‘our time’ and ‘our experiences’ furnish vain illusions of self-importance?

However, just as time extends space and vice versa, so the various perceptible dimensions – such as energy, matter, life, consciousness and thought – may be seen to co-exist ‘in nature’ as an extended reality that is simultaneously one thing and another.  Hence we cannot specify ‘being’ in terms of the way things are or were, nor ourselves for that matter, any more than we can know the extent of the mind in terms of our contemporary thinking – since there is more to existence than we can find ‘in existence’.

Mike Laidler

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Vital factors

No fact exists alone.  Every perceptible fact is the manifestation of a state of existence relative to the existence of other facts.  Thereby every fact is distinguishable by what it is and isn’t, including the ‘fact of existence’.  Then life is and is not a prominent feature of the way things are – because reality amounts to a continuum of changes that can be traced backwards as a convergence upon what was and forwards as a divergence from the past.  Consequently, whatever importance can or cannot be attached to the nature of ‘things in themselves’, it remains a fact that the difference they make is set within a wider reality.

In every case, we may perceive a fact in terms of its origins in something else – that is, relative to some other fact identifiable as its cause.  But even then we can never see an ‘original cause’ as it is, on its own, since every cause is manifestly incomplete in the absence of an effect.  In turn, effects are seen to make a difference when it becomes apparent that things differ from the way they were – a difference which at first contrasts with the state of ‘the cause’ as it was and afterwards with ‘the effect’ as it furthers a succession of changes.

However, causes do not explain existence.  For instance, we do not find the nature of life in the non-living states of its precursors; and it is only after its appearance that we can begin to look for its causes there.  So we perceive life as a fact that is wrapped up in a continuum of factors which we cannot explain fully in terms of the way things were – because of the essential ingredient of change. Therefore we can neither explain this vital factor retrospectively as an ‘originating cause’ nor in terms of the difference ‘it makes’, which becomes consummate only in the wake of things yet to be.

Mike Laidler

Elephants and Feathers

My left leg and a light bulb don’t equal two of anything even though one plus one surely equals two – except there is always scope for an active imagination to find a connection. Indeed no branch of mathematics is without its imaginative dimension – especially when we take a mathematical equation to stand for an equalisation of differences, so to prove that mathematics not only shows how the universe works, it also shows how it is. However, reality is bigger than our explanations, which is why an active imagination remains an essential requirement for doing science. And it takes an active imagination to say that all things are really one thing because the differences disappear at atomic levels.

Therefore, whilst it is true that an elephant equals a feather because their differences disappear when comparing their behaviour under gravity, nevertheless such convergences in reality have nothing to tell us about the emergent divergences – whereby realities come to differ from one another. Meanwhile, our scientific equations rely on differences that can be equated. Yet even at an elementary level there remains a functional difference between energy and matter, otherwise we would have no basis to start looking for their equivalence. And despite all our proofs there are other phenomenal differences that pertain – because life is an unnecessary divergence within material reality, and consciousness marks a fundamental departure of a different sort, whilst the brain provides only secondary evidence of the existence of a thought.

Mike Laidler

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

Dialectical diversions

Our understandings lay claim to the facts on the understanding that those facts can be characterised by their consistency – inferring that even as things can be seen to change over time, the nature of that change forms a pattern of consistencies underpinned by a natural lawfulness and immutable truth. However, it is our conceptualisations of fact, rather than the facts themselves, that require ‘their truth’ to be free of contradiction. Meanwhile, the everyday is replete with factual contradictions that we purposely overlook in favour of a perceived logical integrity – a logic we claim to inherit from a nature that apparently has no purpose in it. Likewise, life is seen to be a derivative of an unliving nature that is both changed and unchanged – a contradiction that remains embedded in the very stuff of our DNA, understood as the unliving stuff of life. Furthermore, quantum mechanics reveals that our world is built upon, indeed depends upon, a raft of stark factual anomalies.

Normally, we habilitate the factual contradictions by making them inter-personal – by supplementing our observations with theories and opinions by which we variously agree or disagree with one another. And the more we expect the truth to be either one thing or the other, the more those perspectives tend to polarise. So the paradoxes holding truths in contradiction get assimilated as factors of ideas in opposition. Then, by rationalising different points of view, we move to mould the facts and ideas into an intellectual consistency, albeit hypothetical – as if, from a synthesis of our contentions and disputations, truth might emerge to resolve contradiction and uphold our reasoning. Thereby we affirm, in applying that synthesis to our observations of reality, that the facts show us truths that cannot be inconsistent – one thing and another – lest we abandon sound reason in countenancing a nature that can be both mindless and aware, or an earth beneath our feet that is both round and flat.

Mike Laidler

Goldilocks retold

Once upon a time Goldilocks chanced upon a baby bear’s bowl of porridge that was just right for the eating.  Sometime later, scientists took a fresh look at the fact of a universe that happened to be just right for the emergence of life, and recognised that the necessary fine tuning of the manifold preconditions, the ‘physical constants’, seems more like a contrivance than a coincidence – a conspiracy of coincidences – so named the ‘Goldilocks enigma’ because there is no settled evidence for it beginning other than by chance.  But what if both scenarios are true: chance and non-chance – the evidence for the co-existence of chance and non-chance possibilities being everywhere in the world that surrounds us?  Then perhaps the enigma is actually a paradox which reflects the true state of existence – something we cannot reduce to our logical truths by which we demarcate the facts as either right or wrong, true or false, possible or impossible.  Paradoxically, there is more to the fact of existence than the prerequisite of an explanation that requires itself to be logical.  And it is logic, not truth, that requires the facts to be logical.  Perhaps our belief in logic is holding us back – believing that logic gives us exclusive access to the ultimate truth – a truth to withstand all contradiction.

Perhaps paradox is nearer to ‘the truth’ than the logic that demands its resolution.  So let’s begin with three truisms: ‘the universe’ is vast, ‘everything’ and ‘contains’ life.  Given the scale and scope of it all, together with the potential diversity of planetary environments, then the right conditions for life on more than one of these planets becomes a loaded possibility.  And though we see life as a novel possibility, it is explained as an effect of causes that subsist within existing boundaries of possibility.  Yet the effect causes profound changes.  It looks like non-living causes determine the mix of possible preconditions, but, ultimately, it is the potential for life that sets the limits.  Furthermore, that potential remains a defiant mystery, regardless of how much we learn about the preconditions for life on earth, or indeed the preconditions for different types of life on different kinds of planet.  Moreover, no amount of causal analysis explains how effects ratchet up the course of change, beginning in the observable differences between cause and effect.  Indeed the paradox at the heart of existence is the pre-existence of its possibilities, despite their probable absence in certain forms at certain times – subsequently to ‘emerge’ in the times and events an observer chances upon, in the form of co-incidence called ‘reality’.

Mike Laidler

Horizons

Whatever else we can know about the beginnings and becomings of the universe, we know it hosts, in us, a reality quite unlike the nature we can find by looking to a universe without – that reality being the fact of our awareness. It is as if the universe has evolved to incorporate something extra, through us, which we know to be real enough simply because we are aware of the fact of awareness in existence – a fact that now seems to exist in addition to everything else. And if that fact only seems to be the case, then the fact of that seeming is still enough to make the case.

Mike Laidler