What is science?

Is everything a fact of science?
Do scientific necessities tell us all there is to know
or is there more to knowledge than science can explain?
Can a “Theory of Everything” be more than a theory
or a scientific understanding amount to an omniscience?
Indeed, is science the only reality making us realistic
or is it really a philosophy that doesn’t recognise itself?

Mike Laidler


What can we say

about what we say?

Do the limits of our language

delimit our world,

or meanings

our understandings?

Must a certain meaning

preclude its opposite

of necessity

– to avoid contradiction

and place logic in charge

of truth?


Mike Laidler




A question of knowing

What do we know?  Is it just a matter of remembering?  Does the memory do it for us?  Is it entirely a state of the brain?  What if the brain is but a staging point with its own quantitative and qualitative limits?  Whichever way we look at it we seem to arrive at a less than satisfactory definition – ‘the known’ could be tainted by its incompleteness, and how would we know?  Laying claim to our experiences doesn’t seem to get us any further forward; yet, for the sake of our sanity, we rely upon our impressions and ideas of an external reality, together with what we are told about things.

Therefore, despite its shortfalls, it seems that equating the known to an external source appears to be the most tactical way of proceeding.  However, our ability to consider this move raises a more fundamental question: is knowledge something else, something more than the facts by which we seek to measure it?  Does the act of knowing appertain to another nature beginning with an awareness which we subsequently fragment in attaching it to the things we are aware of for the time being, apparently on the outside, believing that our awareness belongs there because it has to be an ‘it’ that is like everything else?

Also, don’t we find that the more we know the more we become aware of how little we know – that factual knowledge can harbour deep uncertainties?  Even scientific knowledge advances on the basis of a constantly revisable awareness – knowing now that 99% of the universe doesn’t seem to be knowable in the same way as the 1% known as its observable dimensions.  But in order to consider what that fact means, scientists will need to do something that the facts cannot do for them – consider the meaning in the broader context of an expanding awareness which they can attach to the facts, but cannot find there.

Mike Laidler

Phases of knowing

We are stardust – it’s a fact, but what does it mean? Is the stardust the explanation of our awareness? What causes this shift in the reality – to knowing? What do causes explain? Can a chain of causality explain the incremental changes in its causes? In practice, we glibly refer to the ‘thing known’ as the source of our knowing and seek to validate this truth objectively by attributing the knowledge to the facts. But what if there is a categorical difference between ‘things’ and their acknowledgement? That is to say, what if the knowing introduces a new and different phenomenon – assuming that the stardust doesn’t know anything? Or can we avoid crossing a line by naturalising the events, on the assumption that ‘the facts’ are actually imparting the knowledge to us – under the auspice of an all-embracing nature seen as the ultimate source of information about ourselves and the world? Yet, when all is said and done, is our delineation of nature just a crude metaphor for the inexplicable phenomenon of existence?

Don’t we claim to experience the world as a part of ‘nature’? But what does it mean? Would we need to collate the experiences of every creature on earth in order to know what experiencing the world is really like – and what about those yet to evolve? Though is not every experience beholding to its cause, which can be traced back to more original causes, as embedded in the ‘memory of the stardust’? Then does it not go to show that ‘nature’ is the self-sufficient cause of its own evolution. Indeed, does it mean that all the information in the universe comes down to ‘a first cause’, acting alone – because ‘nature’ was already pre-eminent in the properties of its primitive foundations – ‘the origin of everything’? Also, don’t the plants know when it is spring – prompting the conclusion that knowing is diverse and ubiquitous, whilst all we claim to know amounts to no more than a mere extract, a species-specific caricature of understandings and experiences that do yet do not actually belong to us?

Mike Laidler

In sight of the supranatural: Part 4 – Beyond ourselves


Phenomenalist:  ‘It is said that seeing is believing – although, in reality, we might be seeing as we believe, believing we see as we see.  However, that’s not all there is to it – our capacity for awareness manifests a deeper intentionality acting as an interface between perception and belief.  And our faculties exhibit an imaginative outlook in juxtaposition to the oblivion of an ‘external universe’.  So it is no play on words to talk about our realisations as a part of reality in that new and wider sense of the term, with belief as a factor to take into account – the remarkable thing being our ability to do so.’

Realist:  ‘It doesn’t prove that existence is anything other than physical.’

P:  Nor does a physical universe begin to explain the presence of awareness in existence.

R:  Neither can you.

P:  It doesn’t mean that awareness cannot be different or make a difference.  And what makes us think that it can be better understood by being explained away on the premise that it equates to some oblivious physical process?  Nevertheless, I am not dismissing the reality of the physical or your appeals to the ‘hard facts’; but it’s fair ask, what does it prove – what counts as evidence of change or its absence and where is the proof or disproof that can apply without the overview of our acknowledgements?

R:  That’s why we need to trust the objective facts.

P:  The objective facts are not the only issue – it’s the knowing which remains inexplicable, which we then put down to the facts being incomplete.

R:  But knowledge is nothing without the facts.

P:  It’s not the facts that drive knowledge, it’s the residual awareness of their shortcomings.

R:  Yet, as you say, we can know only as we are capable of knowing.

P:  Though it’s not the end of the story – because ‘knowing that we don’t know’ is a paradox we have yet to come to terms with.

R:  And how do you go about that?

P:  By understanding that the known is a sublimation of a deeper unknown which we may or may not choose to recognise – that the highest mountain of factual knowledge conceals a bottomless chasm of unknowing.   Thus, we know we are alive, but how do we recognise the fact?  All our investigations begin with the realisation that there is something we don’t know – which is why, despite all the answers, our questions about the origins of life keep on coming.  Nor is our belief in causality the answer – for either a particular cause ‘explains’ an effect because there is no ‘real’ difference and nothing to explain, or the effect differs and there is everything to explain.  And this residual gap in explanation gets bigger when it comes to the reality of the mind – as if we could ever be satisfied by the knowledge that the mind is really a thing, namely the brain, which does the asking then provides the answer.

R:  So you are an advocate of the mystery of existence?

P:  I would call it the paradox of existence, which can’t be circumvented by our logical analyses of the facts in the belief that explanation dispels mystery, and the truth can be preserved by avoiding contradiction.  Indeed, we push language to the limits simply by trying to describe the ‘it’ of existence.

R:  Because we can only see what there is to see, so the logical way forward must be to stick to the facts of perception.

P:  However, perception is not just a copy of the ‘thing perceived’, and the difference is crucial.  At a more advanced level, we can look ahead, beyond the particulars, using the imagination, knowing that the fact of perception in existence – the change to perception – is evidence, at all stages, of a new and different kind of reality.

R:  But how can a person see beyond themselves?

P:  It happens to be the charter of inductive science.  And it’s not so far fetched to imagine a nature that is now imbued with meaning, purpose, intention and self-knowledge, or to consider where it might lead – especially when you see how science is now trying to plug the gaps in explanation with extrapolations from quantum physics about the possibilities of plural realities existing within an infinite array of parallel universes – something that scientists openly admit to not understanding.

R:  Obviously, we’ll just have to wait and see.

P:  You’re expecting that the facts will sort themselves out, but if we can take a lesson from the fact of evolution, it is that we might have to wait a very long time.  And if perception can afford an overview, it is by way of looking beyond the facts – if we want to see what’s in store.

R:  You said the facts weren’t the problem.

P:  Not if we come to terms with their paradoxical implications.  The problem lies with the theories we use to embellish the facts and the rationalised beliefs we invest in them in the name of explanation.

R:  Then how are we to manage our theories?

P:  It requires a disciplined imagination – something that science alludes to in the formulation of scientific hypotheses and thought experiments.

R:  To what end?

P:  To see the bigger picture in which reality changes by being known – in which the capacity to know is more than a property of the things known, and that it also works like that with ourselves.  We can only see beyond ourselves in this way by imagining our place in a reality that turns out to be more than all that is in the present form – a present that is inextricably a part of a future yet to be.  So we are and are not ‘just ourselves’, no matter how alone we may feel in the mist of it all.  Indeed it is the rationale of believing that we can only be ourselves that generates a very real, yet unrealistic, feeling of being alone – something that we do to ourselves for the sake of what we are prepared to believe.

R:  Then what should we believe?

P:  We should understand that belief is both a help and a hindrance.  This is what children learn in growing out of their childish beliefs.  We need to learn that belief is not everything – it is but the temporary staging point of what we take to know in a wider, paradoxical, reality where what we believe and know is subject to change but is also a part of the scene – in which realities become unrecognisable in terms of one another – just as change may render our former or future selves unrecognisable to us as we are now.

R:  How do you expect anyone to accept that they are better off in trying to be other than themselves?

P:  You keep falling back onto the logic of ‘either/ or’, when the reality is ‘both/ and’.  In fact we already know that expectation, knowledge and understanding change how we perceive the world – because perception always was more than the object perceived – and that it turns the perception of ourselves into a paradoxical fact.  It is a difficult lesson to learn about the nature of perception – that there is more to it than meets the eye; and it is even more difficult to appreciate that there is more to us than meets the inner eye – because these paradoxes place reality outside of the grasp of logic.

R:  But you are simply replacing a logical explanation with a paradoxical one – namely that things are and are not as we think they are – which seems to be a dodge that enables you to say whatever you want, no matter how irrational and contradictory.

P:  But where is the realism in the alternative idea – that a rational explanation will prove that things are limited to the logic of our explanations?

R:  Because when the facts are incomplete, logic is all we have to go on.

P:  Except we misuse logic by subsuming it to the pre-logical belief that existence is explicable by its causes – as if we have closed the gap in explanation because causality is a self-evident truth and there is nothing else that we need to know – as if there can be no other template for the way things are, and the paradox of the first cause can be consigned to the abstract ruminations of philosophy.

R:  Are you saying that things are regulated by events beyond their causes – by things ‘yet to be’– by some kind of entelechy?

P:  As can be imagined to have been in store for the universe at its inception, and seen to happen in ‘real time’ by way of effects that systematically differ from their causes. The alternative is that there are no supranatural templates and change is governed by unbounded chance.  Then are we to imagine some form of pre-existence of chance behind the origins of everything – if not God, then some-no-thing that ‘plays dice’?  And what does it entail, given that forms of order can be seen to ensue?  Either way it doesn’t rule out the possibility of alternative realities.  Indeed, the ‘rule of chance’ poses the possibility that anything can happen, and anything that can happen will happen, given infinite time.  Therefore, a supranatural reality is not such a fanciful alternative to the fickle ‘power’ of ‘pure chance’ or the less understood postulates about quantum events within infinite domains of reality poised to overturn all our experiences about what can and cannot be.

R:  It sounds like your philosophy is counter-factual.

P:  I would call it post-categorical in that it challenges the conventional wisdom because the accepted facts are not the anchor points we would like them to be.  ‘Mother nature’ is paradoxical, becoming quite unlike itself – self-knowing and perceiving.  ‘It’ has fashioned a voice in the name of science and shown us facts that confound our concepts – even of ourselves.  So who knows what epitomises ‘the truth’, or what else ‘the real’ constitutes?  We barely understand ourselves.  We imagine that we are nothing without ‘our’ capacity for awareness, which we then struggle to master.  We don’t understand the power to exist or its translation into the growth of order and faculty. Apparently, everything exists as a form of existence with dependencies on what came before and potentials for what comes next in the furtherance of the bigger picture.  Along the way, possibility frames change in the shape of things to come.  Likewise, personal existence is a process of becoming and a constant source of self-amazement as we strive to come to terms with the co-existence of possibility and impossibility in ourselves, whilst pondering whether humanity means anything more than we mean to ourselves as individuals. And our experimental philosophy but touches upon the wonder of it all – that from the realms of the indefinable hails a power to shape our lives, which we are able to recognise only in terms of what we can make of it in ourselves, knowing that nothing stands still and we remain incomplete in all our self-approved accomplishments.

R:  Then your ‘answers’ just raise more questions.

P:  That’s as it should be, since the knowledge that relieves you of questions will steal your mind.  Equally, we deceive ourselves through our ambitions to regulate knowledge with rules ‘for knowing’.  However, there is no knowledge in the world without a knower to construe a perceived ‘reality’ of the world – even to imagine an ‘out there’ that shows us the ‘real thing’ (ad lapidem).  The problem is, existence confronts our minds with the paradox of its expanding inclusiveness – which behaves like no meagre replication of some other cause.  Nor can we find an independent place or time in which to locate its ‘coming-to-be’.  So how are we to explain a nature that apparently evolves to look upon itself from within, through us – through another kind of becoming?  It would seem, insofar as ‘the seeming’ might vivify a new genus of facts in ‘mental space’, that existence presents us with the paradox of interchanging possibilities and impossibilities – of things that become, thereby to change the fact of what is – something that we are intimately bound up with as ourselves.  And ‘the answer’ provided by a paradox is always another question, just like the questions ensuing from the recognition that there is more going on in the universe than we can attribute to its underlying oblivion or our short excursions into a personal awareness.

Mike Laidler

“To describe the beginning of the universe … ordinary real time is replaced by imaginary time, which behaves like a fourth direction of space.”  Stephen Hawking

https://www.popsci.com/stephen-hawking-neil-degrase-tyson-big-bang. 02/3/2018


Life: as we know it

Reporter: ‘What makes life alive?’

Professor: ‘All the things that constitute a living organism.’

R:  ‘But those things started out as non-living chemicals – so what makes the difference?’

P:  ‘Well, we now know that life evolved gradually and became more and more sophisticated.’

R:  ‘So did evolution make life?’

P:  ‘Not exactly.  It may be that life arose by chance to begin with – in a very primitive form – and evolution took over’.

R:  ‘And does evolution work by chance?’

P:  ‘Not exactly, but evolution makes the difference that enables life to change and become more complicated.’

R:  ‘Then can we understand life better in its simplest forms?’

P:  ‘As it happens, evolution tells us more about how life works, even at a basic microbial level.’

R:  ‘So what is the difference between a living organism and a non-living thing?’

P:  ‘The clue is in the name – in the way a living thing is organised.’

R:  ‘How does this show that chance might be the original cause?’

P:  ‘Because there’s nothing else to see.’

R:  ‘Does it mean that chance is organised?’

P:  ‘All we can say is that something happens.’

R:  ‘But how does not seeing a cause mean that it can be identified as chance?’

P:  ‘You need to understand that science is based upon a combination of observation and reason, and scientists are always ready to change their conclusions when new facts are observed.

R:  ‘So we can conclude this interview in the knowledge that evolution does and does not explain life, and chance may or may not be the cause – because the fact of an explanation does and doesn’t mean that the facts are explained.’

P:  ‘As it happens, there is no better explanation than the scientific one.

R:  ‘Is it the observation of life as different that causes the problem for explanation, especially when it is scientifically plausible to look at it in terms of something else – as if the problem can be reduced by identifying its non-living causes?  Is that why some scientists want to regard viruses as alive and computer viruses as forms of life created by us?’

P:  ‘Who knows what we might discover in the future.’

R:  ‘But surely it all goes back to the fact of life as something different, otherwise we would have no idea of what to look for or explain?’

P:  ‘Perhaps we will find new forms of life in the universe which will completely change our ideas about what life is’.

R:  ‘Except you must be able to spot a vital difference in order to identify it as alive, and we can’t avoid the problem of explaining that difference by finding out that life is really something else – it just shifts the burden of explanation onto something else.’

P:  ‘That’s the fun of doing science – we just never know for sure where the evidence might lead us.’

R:  ‘Then we will have to conclude by admitting that we don’t even know what amounts to a conclusion.’

P:  ‘Exactly.’

Mike Laidler


Improbable possibilities

It’s a moot point that, despite our technical prowess in ‘getting to know’, a very basic knowledge of ourselves remains sufficient to rival science’s most sophisticated and influential understandings of the nature of existence – not because scientific theories are patently untrue, but because they are not true enough to do justice to a universe that commands a conscious presence.  And whenever we attempt to understand the nature that ‘surrounds us’ we are doing something that is unnatural according to the scientific definition of the nature we are trying to understand.  So when scientists build upon their understandings with rigorous explanations, they introduce a layer of knowledge that is quite unlike the world they are explaining – since it marks a step change amidst a nature that isn’t supposed to know anything.  Indeed, when scientists determine that there is no meaning and purpose in nature, they are making a comparison by way of a criterion that remains larger than the natural causes said to make it all happen – causes that cannot explain for us the change to being conscious.  Thereafter, knowing that knowledge necessarily proceeds knowingly, we can see that an objective reality, unaccompanied by a subjective counterpart, constitutes a lesser fact of ‘a nature’ now redefined by the presence of awareness.


We like to think that our understandings of the world mirror its objective reality, as if the presence of consciousness makes no real difference to the way things are in ‘nature at large’, or in a brain that evolved to ‘think for us’.  On the other hand, the question of whether or not our faculties are just brain processes highlights a point of change of fundamental importance, not just for our understanding of ourselves, but for an understanding of what existence amounts to – and precisely because it is an issue that couldn’t be raised without a subjective point of comparison.  Indeed, only a sentient entity could see that the nature of nature is transformed by a conscious thinking dimension.  It is rather ironic, therefore, that the contribution of our subjective nature gets underrated – as if subjectivity does not sit as a proper fact within an ‘objective’ universe, and consciousness merely subsists in a superfluous world of its own, unable to influence or change the course of events within the ‘true nature of things’.  Yet reality remains bigger than science’s best attempts to know ‘it’ and dominate knowledge by stipulating how ‘the real thing’ should be defined and explained – because the changing possibilities are neither defined by the way ‘things are’, nor explained in retrospect by the way they were.


We struggle to understand the nature of possibility, even as we see it unfolding in a world that ‘makes it all happen’.  Furthermore, logical incongruities plague our attempts to rationalise the interaction between intention, necessity and chance.  Nonetheless, and with great ingenuity, we invent devises to display the workings of chance, but they cannot function independently of their design and intended use.  Also, with eloquence and alacrity, we use words and numbers to affirm our grounding in a ‘definable reality’, but they gain no bearing without our subjective faculty for recognition.  Likewise, there is no knowledge without the capacity for knowing, which we cannot detach from the knower, even though we may devise artificial means of storage and retrieval.  In effect, knowledge introduces a change in reality which feeds back into the course of events and the development of further possibilities within and beyond our immediate purposes.  So things change, including states of awareness, though it is frequently said that ‘we can’t change the world, we can only change ourselves’.  However, by changing ourselves we also change the world – since knowledge transcends the blind facts to open up possibilities in a reality that is no longer characterised by an oblivious inertia.  But first we need to divest ourselves of the false belief that these facts are telling us what to think.


There are numerous examples to remind us that by deferring to ‘the facts as they are’ we are apt to unrealistically discount the importance of change.  Of course we tend not to look to a state of affairs that might be other than we are inclined to see it – that is, until we are confronted by events that rudely defy all expectation to expose disparities in our perceptions of basic matters of fact or the categorical mistakes we make when believing that ‘the truth’ cannot possibly be subject to change.  Consequently, in a world of perceived facts that may not be ‘real’ enough to complete the ‘bigger picture’, the lesson is that the facts aren’t everything until the possibilities have played out, but we can’t assume how the possibilities will play out on the basis of the facts as they are.  Yet that’s just what we do in the name of ‘being realistic’.  So our shared beliefs in ‘the real’ may be the main source of a collective delusion, especially if we live in a universe of multiple realities.  And if we are prone to categorical errors over simple and calculable matters of fact, then how much more might we deceive ourselves about the facts arising within a complex and incalculable universe of possibilities – in a universe that continues to build on change.


Of all things, it takes an American game show to demonstrate how possibilities can change implausibly, even though, as in the world at large, they are actually changing as a result of what we know and decide.  Here’s the nub: Monty Hall hosted a game show that gave contestants the opportunity to win a star prize concealed behind one of three doors.  The lucky contestant chooses – the odds being one in three that they might win.  Then the host opens one of the two remaining doors to reveal a booby prize.  That leaves the star prize behind one of the two unopened doors.  But the odds now shift against the contestant’s choice, which was based on a one-in-three chance, whereas, on the surface, the odds are now clearly 50/50 – although these odds don’t apply automatically in the contestant’s favour.  However, the contestant is given the option of shifting their choice at this point, all against a background of cleverly contrived bribes – because the host knows where the prize is.  On average, contestants gain a better chance of winning by shifting from their original choice, because the odds actually shift, for them, to a massive ⅔ chance of the prize being behind the other door.  However, there followed a fury of angry exchanges between various experts over the possibility of this being so.


The dispute was finally settled using experimental simulations of the outcome, which proved that   the odds do change to ⅔ – whereas, to someone who walks onto the scene ‘cold’, when the choice lies between the two remaining doors, the odds confronting them are strictly 50/50.  Nevertheless, the controversy rolled-on for years in the media, in part because subtle variations in behaviour are sufficient to change the odds, but mainly because the experts couldn’t agree among themselves over the mathematical probabilities – different approaches to the problem seemed to yield different answers.  In addition, their most notable opponent, a gifted woman columnist, was vilified for her stupidity in the face of ‘the facts’.  She had to defend her impeccably correct reasoning against a backlash of ridicule for holding onto her personal opinion in defiance of those who professed to know better by flaunting their professional and academic qualifications.  The stand-off was all the more surreal because the calculation needed to work-out the answer is ridiculously simple, yet it took so long to resolve, and to this day there are dissenters who regard the whole thing as nothing more than a dupe, quirk or distraction of no real consequence.  But what if such ‘quirks’ begin to affect people’s life chances based upon the decisions they are prepared to make, the risks they are prepared to take and the certainties they take to be their guide?


In the bigger picture, it is no longer true to say that reality amounts to no more than the fact of what’s ‘out-there’.  Reality is a dynamic mix of possibilities that interact and change according to what we know and decide, or otherwise ignore.  Possibilities also change on a grander scale, as states of awareness occupy a universe that was previously devoid – the active ingredient at every level, being change.  Further down the line, chance, accident, co-incidence and inevitability in the ‘real world’ become shaped by intentions which were previously absent in ‘nature’.  These intentions are big enough to divert rivers or alter climates – and now there is talk about the possibilities of terra-forming Mars.  Nevertheless, when thinking objectively, things still seen to ‘just happen’ irrespective of what we think – but objectivity does not belong to the world of objects, since it very much a version of thinking made possible by a change that we cannot observe neutrally – so we do not get reality in perspective by perceiving the ‘objective facts’ as the ultimate truth.  Nor is the greater reality compressed, embryonically, inside the lesser – as if it is more realistic to explain things as they were, before the appearance of change.  In the event, a sentient reality introduces a potency of its own – it is a difference that makes a difference.  It means that thought doesn’t exist in the things that don’t think, including all the codes, formulae and algorithms we use as aides to thinking.  This places a responsibility upon us to think about thinking, to be prepared to reflect and doubt, especially when certainty, in a changing world, becomes a restriction that can amount a dangerous delusion.


Thinking commands an exceptional place in nature which the objective facts cannot usurp by ‘telling us what to think’.  In fact, there is something self-contradictory in the expectation that thought and consciousness will one day be identified properly as properties that currently remain hidden within the laws of physics until the facts are uncovered – which raises awkward questions about what uncovers what, what recognises what, and facts hidden from themselves?  Indeed, every so called ‘objective fact’ is actually a perceived fact that comes packaged up with a point of view already attached to it – for in reality, ‘objectivity’ is nothing if it is not a way of thinking.   In other words, we must start with consciousness in order to begin to look for it in the brain, or the laws of physics, where we are bound to find the ‘it’ of it as something else.  Therefore, we need to be ever vigilant and prudent in our considerations of what the ‘objective facts tell us’, especially when eminent thinkers tell us that the facts are telling them what to think.  For instance, here’s some advice on taking risks from a professor of risk, based upon an objective overview of external risk factors: Apparently it’s comparatively less risky for an elderly person to take up sky-diving than it is for a younger person – because, on balance, the older person has to contend with so many additional age-related, often fatal risks, that the particular risks of sky-diving, or swimming with sharks, don’t feature nearly so prominently for them.  But don’t expect to persuade your granny that these ‘hard facts’ can benefit her more than her personal doubts.


Mike Laidler

The Silent Truth

There is a simple truth that defies all explanation because it forms the basis of all explanation. It towers over our philosophies, religions and sciences, dwarfing the edifices of knowledge by which we claim to know. It can’t be magnified by theory, refined by belief, or preserved in tablets of stone. Neither is the ratification of discovery or reification in fact sufficient to define its boundaries. Nor can it be captured by the finesse of the artist, or the subtleties of scholarship, or the trappings of authority. Indeed, it empowers knowledge by stripping away all authority in what we can claim to know – for the knowledge that needs to be bolstered by authority is not true knowledge. And history shows that it is not with the mouth of truth that the facts are said to speak for themselves.

In the name of reason, we reject the possibility of a knowledge beyond the reach of our understanding, except as we allow it to be held in trust for us by others believed to know better. Thus we entertain proxy truths in relying upon the edicts of appointed authorities to tell us what we can and cannot know – as if personal knowledge is a recipe for ignorance, contradiction and delusion – as if reason can resolve the paradox of existence – as if paradox is the antithesis of truth. So we try to overrule the simple truth, believing that it must give way to the necessity of explanation. Yet the more we come to know, the more we come to realise the sheer scale of what we don’t know. Meanwhile, the fact of existence remains a mystery and the simple truth remains silent within the paradoxical pre-existence of possibility.

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