(Epistle to Stephen Hawking c.1993)
When all that is possible
When all that is now
There still holds the potential
in a time to begin again.
When all that is possible
When all that is now
There still holds the potential
in a time to begin again.
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.
“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
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.’
Nature: the great unknown
‘known’ to everyone.
– 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’.
What are we waiting for? Is it not here already? Or is it not yet powerful enough to match our expectations? But what do we expect – programmes for perception, language, memory, cognition, action and intention – plus a socio-emotive awareness? So what has been achieved to date? Has the technology managed to mimic the full range of abilities of an insect, fish or bird – or will it all follow naturally from the development of a hyper-intellect? Then, if AI can simulate these motivated abilities, and duplicate the purposive dynamic that gives intelligence its thoughtful meaningful aura, will this automatically settle another hypothesis yet to be proved – that life’s ‘vital spark’ may also be replicated as a virtual cog in an algorithmically-driven machine?
Is consciousness an illusion generated by the brain? But how would we know it without the overview that enables our recognition? So consciousness ‘looks on’. And there can be no scientific discoveries without a sentient faculty of realisation. Hence the dawning of awareness heralds a new kind of reality in which facts become identified as perceptual objects. Likewise, self-awareness marks a new kind of realisation – evocative of ‘a self’ as the object of its own perception.
However, reality is not necessarily limited to that which is framed by perception. And there is something odd about the nature of self-discovery because it involves the perception of facts that had hitherto escaped recognition – even when the recognisable element of such facts obtains imaginatively of the subjective realisations of insight. Then what of science’s embrace of an ‘objective reality’ of things natural – is it inclusive enough to show that scientific knowledge represents nature’s insight into itself?
The brain is us
– so it says?
But how little is known
– how much to discover
about ‘how we tick’
– about ‘us’
looking for ourselves.
Then who is looking
and of what angle?
Is it us
or looking out
– or looking away
to something else?