In sight of the supranatural

Part 1

Realist:  ‘I don’t see a place for God in the universe.  There is no supernatural meaning to life, no divine purpose to existence, no celestial antidote to the finality of death, no sublime answer to those heart-felt ‘why’ questions – and we are quite capable of deciding matters of right and wrong for ourselves.’

Phenomenalist:  ‘How do you know you are right?’

R:  It’s obvious.  Show me otherwise.

P:  Do you regard yourself as a product of nature?

R:  Of course, and that’s why I can see things for what they are.

P:  Then what makes you begin to consider the status of meaning, purpose and the supernatural in the first place?

R:  I’m simply responding to what others claim.

P:  But wouldn’t you agree that all manner of events take place within nature?

R:  What’s your point?

P:  Well, things change and either nature represents everything through a plurality of natures or because it hosts a supranatural reality that goes beyond the parameters of the purely mechanistic.  Either way, the idea of a universe that remains devoid of thoughts and intentions doesn’t do justice to the facts.

R:  That doesn’t prove there is a meaning to existence.

P:  Nevertheless, the presence of a mindful, meaningful overview represents something of a larger reality than that portrayed by the blind workings of nature in its biological forms.

R:  Aren’t you are jumping the gun by claiming that this proves there is a meaning to life itself?

P:  Perhaps it is you who are failing to address the facts, because you want to say that the reality can be explained in terms of its ‘building blocks’.

R:  Well it can.

P:  Only by redefining the facts to suit.

R:  It is you who are doing that, by implying that mental life is something more than the physical properties of the brain.

P:  Yet, without a sentient dimension to reality the physical functions of the brain would not be observable.

R:  But there is nothing to see except the workings of the brain.

P:  However, you wouldn’t expect the brain to display anything else.

R:  That’s because there is nothing else.

P:  Only at the level of brain processes.

R:  Don’t be ridiculous.  You are contradicting the accepted findings of science.

P:  It was once thought that the brain changes colour when we perceive different colours, but now we know that brain processes differ from the properties of light in the outside world.  Likewise thoughts differ in kind from the biological properties of the brain.  The evidence suggests that effects, like perceptions, are not simple copies of their causes, otherwise nothing would change.

R:  But causality is in control.

P:  Although we can’t be sure what it amounts to.

R:  What do you mean?

P:  Causality is a transitional process – causes change, effects redefine causes and the tide of change raises questions about how to address the evidence – how do we find a basis in fact, and is it right to start by assuming beforehand what must constitute an acceptable candidate?  In short, what we find is that the cause doesn’t tell us everything.  We can’t even be sure about what nature is and whether we can explain it as a thing that explains other things – the cause of all causes.

R:  So what are you saying?

Mike Laidler

To be continued…




Nature myth

Nature: the great unknown

‘known’ to everyone.

The first-known

– too big to be a thing

– too general to be a cause.

The omnipresent godforce of science

– the putative power to be

– the archetypal source of everything.

A ghostly presence inhabiting every happening

– the orderer of orders

and progenitor of necessity.

The grand non-explanation

defined of itself

in being as it is

‘for no purpose’.

Mike Laidler

The nature of everything

We are a part of a universe that is ‘everything’ and from which we ‘inherit’ all our characteristics, yet it doesn’t appear to be all that we are because, unlike us, its nature isn’t characterised by thinking sensibilities.

Undeniably, we are a part of something bigger than us, but neither the evidence nor our reasoning is sufficient to resolve the conundrum that ‘nature’ does and does not include those thinking sensibilities – that the resultant ‘everything’ turns out to be more than its beginnings.

Perhaps ‘the nature’ we take to be ‘the starting point’ of existence is, in fact, a plurality of natures, which is why our observations of causality don’t give us all the answers we so willingly ascribe to it – especially when there happens to be so much more to the nature of the effect than we can find in the cause.

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








– being natural,

‘nature’ redefined.








– being otherwise,

‘being’ redefined.

©Mike Laidler


Does nature give us a heart or do we give a heart to nature?  Does a genetic basis to our being mean that the genes can show us what we are like?  If we can find a genetic cause for the things we do, does it mean that the genes are doing it for us and the ‘doer’ doesn’t really change anything?  Is the fact of change identifiable beforehand in its precursors?  Does the attribution of change to its causes allow us to equate new facts to old?  Does a physical foundation to everything show us everything there is to see, or do we live in a universe of parallel realities – of planets and persons, objects and subjects, bodies and minds, causes and effects – in a universe becoming more than it was?

Then what about hearts and stones – what about the emergence of compassion amidst the consolidations of dust that makes up the fabric of ‘things in existence’?  How do the impersonal facts of nature become personal?  Are we compassionate because of our biological make-up, because it features first in biology, as biology – and does this explain the anomalous fact of compassion in nature?  Is nature pulling our heartstrings, or has a change come about through the person of the doer – a change that gives the push-pull of genes and environments something to work on – a change that becomes evident in the accompanying facts and causes, but only because they are accompanied, because the doer must first occasion the fact of the doing, seeing or feeling.

Mike Laidler

Nature Watch

Nature baffles us – it is so ingrained in the imagination that we can’t help but to see ‘it’ as ‘a thing’ ‘out there’, and so we claim to know things as ‘nature shows us’. However, ‘nature’ shows us different things that confound logic with facts that change the character of the truth we are able to discern. For instance, it is evident, on the one hand, that nature has no grand design or purpose for life, and there is no goal to evolution – yet we act with purposes as a part of nature and work towards artificial goals that nature does not have, therefore cannot give us – though, on the other hand, ‘it must’ if we truly ‘belong to nature’. And even when the truth is as definitive as X = Y, it doesn’t mean that we don’t need to take account of the observable difference. But the logic of explanation avers that one thing can be seen as a form of the other, as if the difference is superficial and amounts to no real difference – as if the change can be accounted for by the underlying sameness.

Seeing one thing in terms of another begins with the observation of a difference that explanation then tries to lose with the claim that everything is really one thing – so ‘we are really nothing more than chemical entities’ – mere versions of the common fabric of the universe. These causal extrapolations also get applied to observable differences within the living world, such as between our sentient thoughts and brain functions – so that ‘thinking is nothing more than something the brain does’. Nevertheless, we continue to wonder what it means for thinking to exist at all, knowing that the abstract truths of explanation don’t amount to the whole truth – knowing that awareness is alien to the ‘nature of nature’ in a universe ‘explicable’ by its physical laws – in a universe that doesn’t aspire to know or explain itself, yet does, through us, since we exist as a part of that universe – a universe in which the possibilities for life, thought, meaning, purpose and perception equate to a larger truth in which ‘blind nature’ and the physical laws add up to a lesser fact.

Mike Laidler