Demonstrating the transcendent

What is the presence of mind that enables us to look out upon reality and see ourselves there? Whence becomes this consciousness of which we are aware? Are we passive receptors, or active participants? Is it wholly identifiable as a brain function, or does its ‘virtual reality’ transcend the physical? Either way, what is our basis for recognition – by what event are we able to detect its presence and recognise its effects?

But what constitutes ‘the real? In being conscious, how do we tell the difference between the real and the imaginary, or know that we have an imagination? In fact, how can we tell that our explanations are not another source of delusion? For instance, what makes us so sure that nothing can be larger than its physical causes, or proof equates one fact to another and explanation finalises the truth?

Then what makes something ‘more or less real’? Doesn’t a sentient presence add a new dimension to reality – so that, even as consciousness remains embedded in the physical world, it also occupies a mental space of unprecedented possibilities? And what other fact could render this evidence demonstrable without the transcending fact of our awareness? Thereby, we engage in a reality that is enlarged by the conscious phenomena of its perception, even though explanation portrays the action the other way round.

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

Cogito ergo est

I think about thinking and find that it is more than all I can think about.

Thinking represents a bigger change for the universe than it does for us – because we represent that change.  The big changes for us come of what we think.  In any case, there is something unique about thinking, something that we know about uniquely from the inside.

That we think locates thought, not as a subjective retreat but as a substantive presence in existence; and if we are to assume anything about a universe that is bigger than us, it is that it begins for us in the presence of thought – a presence of which we are a part – a thinking presence that is more than all we can think about by reference to ourselves alone.  We are internal to all that is not confined to us

And the clearest view of ‘external reality’ is not by the assumption of an extended physical realm as a matter of primary necessity, but by way of a wider reality that embraces us as a fact of inevitable distinction – a facilitating mental realm.  For we do not awaken to the panoply of a sentient universe in the belief that it has merely awakened in us, or as something that is secondary to a ‘real’ universe that is devoid.

Mike Laidler

Aristotle or bust?

Two astronauts visit a distant rock strewn planet and stumble upon a rock that is an exact three-dimensional effigy of the philosopher Aristotle. There is nothing else remotely like it and no evidence of prior habitation or visitation.

Is the astronaut who supposes it must have been created naturally, by chance, more realistic than the one who supposes the opposite? And if it could be created naturally, who would believe the mountaineer on earth, who happened to stumble across an equivalent example?

So how far does chance go towards the explanation of things natural, or vice versa? More particularly, how far does nature go in the explanation of things artificial, or vice versa?

Mike Laidler

Nature trails

Ideas of nature once pitched it as something apart, something different from us, but now we regard ourselves and our theories as having evolved as a part of that nature, so we can’t be that different in reality because there is only one nature – in which case our theory of evolution is really a theory of nature about itself, about a nature that now observes itself.

So what does this say about the differences we can see between a nature that thinks and one that doesn’t? Does it mean that one side of the difference, namely the nature that can’t see the difference, is more real than the side that can, or vice versa; or is this double-sided coin of nature created by a difference so startling that we can’t understand the one in terms of the other – as observers of something that is and is not something else?

Mike Laidler

The Meaning Well

There is no meaning to existence to be found without the meaning in existence. And we know there is meaning in existence, even in our deficient quest for it, even when our quest for it is rendered deficient by our expectations of what we want to find.

Yet our commitment to the quest is enough to change the reality, and gird our failures along the way, for how else would we judge our own failure without a sense of what we are looking for – which is our hidden strength.

Only sometimes we hide that strength from ourselves – sometimes by giving in to failure, sometimes by reducing it to serve our ill-judged wants, which never satisfy. Thereby we forget how much more is to be gained when we stop looking for it as something to get, and see it instead as something to give, thereafter to be refreshed from the fathomless depths of its creative abundance.

Mike Laidler


The mind is unbounded. Thought travels further than the voyaging spacecraft. Our ideas see beyond the most powerful telescopes. The imagination takes us to places the body cannot follow. Perception illuminates the half-born light. Experience transforms the oblivious firmament. Knowledge transforms the unknown. Wisdom transcends the not-knowing.

No library is big enough to contain human wisdom, and it has always been so. But then we imagined limits to the imagination in the wake of technological advances once unforeseen; and we imagined that the mind of technology could overtake us, as if thought belongs to the thingness of the universe.

So the mind did to itself what nothing else could do – it bound itself in thoughts of its own limitations. Thus we stole our attention away from the wisdom of our ancestors who looked to powers extending beyond themselves – powers seen to transform the thingness of existence within a larger universe that expands into thought, then beyond within realisations we catch as figments of the imagination – a universe that is incomplete in all that is of the time being – a universe with a future that is more than all that it is in the present, that always was more than all that is, because of the enduring potential to be.

Mike Laidler