“Life, the universe and everything”: 42 unanswered questions

Why existence?  (Tweet: Pub. Jan 22, 2015)

How is the universe possible?  How is possibility possible?  Of what possibility ensues the chance to wonder?  (Tweet: Pub. April 4, 2018)

What makes nature ‘necessarily so’, perceptible, or an ‘it’?  (A question of stature.  Pub. Sept 24, 2017)

What gives us the idea that there must be ‘a beginning’ that is the beginning of everything – that everything had an absolute beginning ‘once upon a time’? (Once upon a time.  Pub. Nov 6, 2018)

Did life come to earth from another planet?  But what explains the origin of alien life – what accounts for the birth of life in the universe?  Are planetary environments enough to explain its emergence?  Can its evolution explain its existence?  (The Pinocchio factorPub. May 2, 2018)

Perception, in common with everything else, involves the coming-to-be of things that were not – and this raises a question of change which we cannot resolve ‘at source’ either by looking for a first cause or by attributing the form of the effect to its cause.  (Before and after.  Pub. Nov 14, 2017)

So what can we understand about the extent of a universe that apparently expands to exceed itself in the evolution of appearances and understanding?  (True coloursPub. Jan 28, 2016)

Is humanity more than a passive cog in the mechanism of nature?  (Tweet: Pub. Sept 28, 2018)

Is our delineation of nature just a crude metaphor for the inexplicable phenomenon of existence?  (Phases of knowingPub. May 27, 2018)

And isn’t our brand of intentional action something alien to nature?  (Surviving deathPub. Jun 11, 2017)

Then can we, in general, unlock the mystery of change by looking for a primal cause, as if all can be explained by unpacking the nature of nature at its inception?  Or does the answer come from evolution, which is change by another name, diffusely portrayed as the explanation of itself – that is, things change because they evolve?  (Changing things.  Pub. Aug 25, 2018)

Also, the question of necessity persists despite all the revelations of observation and explanation – since we still don’t know how the universe came to be as a necessary fact, and if not, why it came to be at all?  (Loaded dice: The chances of a ‘theory of everything’Pub. Nov 28, 2015)

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?  (In sight of the supranatural: Part 4 – Beyond ourselvesPub. Mar 26, 2018)

However, our causal mythology portrays it as a bottom-up chain of events in a temporal succession, as if the effect was somehow embedded in the preceding sequence of causes, just waiting to be released, as if nature already contains a rudimentary consciousness – otherwise, logically, where else might it come from?  (Changing things, Pub. Aug 25, 2018)

So, as things change, we find that not everything is explicable ‘naturally’, unless we are prepared to broaden our definition of nature.  But do we know what we are doing?  (Tooth fairiesPub. Jan 8, 2016)

How does a knowledge of the universe emerge from facts that know nothing in themselves?  (Tweet: Pub Aug 9, 2018)

Does the idea of a universe that remains devoid of thoughts and intentions do justice to the facts?  (Tweet: Pub. Jan 21, 2018)

What is the presence of mind that enables us to look out upon reality and see ourselves there?  (Demonstrating the transcendent. Pub. April 13, 2018)

Is reality a plurality of realities?  (The way things are.  Pub. Mar 9, 2016)

Are we inside nature looking out, or outside nature looking in, and what does the idea of an outside amount to?  (Tweet: Pub. Feb 8, 2016)

Is reality actually a hologram – a projection of something else which ends at the beginning? (Tweet: Pub. May 27, 2018)

How is it that some things are impossible for nature even though they become possible only through nature?  (Tweet: Pub. Feb 24, 2018)

What makes us believe that possibility becomes explicable by observing its incidence?  What makes us believe that life would be explicable if only we could observe the transition from the non-living to the living?  (The Pinocchio factor.  Pub. May 2, 2018)

Is a living being really like a Pinocchio waiting to be fashioned out of the raw materials?   (Tweet: Pub. May 2, 2018)

What is the arena in which the brain appears ‘before us’ as a cause of observation?  (Private correspondence)

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.  (In sight of the supranatural: Part 4 – Beyond ourselves.  Pub. March 26, 2018)

But where in nature do we find the ‘thingness’ of intention and awareness except as resonant features of our beliefs, theories and ideas?  (Standing stones.  Pub. Sept 11, 2017)

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?  (Demonstrating the transcendent. Pub. April 13, 2018)

Question: “Seriously, what is the transcendent?”

Answer:  “The transcendent is instantiated by any effect that differs from its cause, nor is this fact explained by observing the evolution that ensues.”  (Private correspondence)

Can everything be traced back to a first cause – if not do we have to rewrite all the theories and theologies? (Tweet: Pub. Aug 25, 2018)

Does nature give us a heart or do we give a heart to nature?  (HeartstringsPub. Sept 15, 2016)

What if the self – the recognisable continuum of our being – is but a psychological device for creating a recognisable continuum?  (Tweet: Pub. Jul 23, 2018)

Does the brain work like the world works – apart from us?  (Tweet: Pub. Jul 3, 2018)

Do intelligent genes explain intelligence? (Tweet: Pub. June 12, 2018)

Does the prowess of AI prove that an intellectual initiative is just a mechanical response in disguise?  (Tweet: Pub Jun 20, 2018)

Then, in some distantly future world populated by intelligent machines, might they be left to wonder how their components came together in an act of creation?  (Could Artificial Intelligence supersede us and spell the end of the human race? Pub. Dec 5, 2014)

If the universe is defined by the laws of physics, does it mean that the mind is really a material state that thinks it is something else and consciousness makes no difference?

Is the ‘objective truth’ a diversion with facts appointed to be the only truth?

Must God exist in the way we believe in order for us to make sense of existence – and if not, does it prove that God doesn’t exist?

Are belief and disbelief two sides of the same coin – squandered upon the vain circumspections of our presumptions to categorise the truth?  (Countenances (edit).  Pub. July 23, 2018)

Have we discovered or invented the truth-so-far about the origins of everything? (Tweet: Pub. Nov 6, 2018)

If all our questions could be answered would there be no remaining unknowns, would reason have finally conquered paradox?

Mike Laidler

“No man is an island”

It’s a fact that we might be loath to accept, but the act of experience changes the constitution of reality.  Indeed, no fact exists in glorious isolation – even as an act of self-knowing that seeks no other point of reference: “I think therefore I am”.  Tellingly, there is an artificial objectivity in this rank subjectivity: to set thought apart as a ‘thing in itself’.  Furthermore, there is an underlying subjectivity in our ambitions to know the world objectively – for the idea of a factual firmament existing apart from our knowledge requires a momentous act of imagination.  The point is that neither the subjective nor the objective does justice to the knowledge that is now a blend of both, and anything we purport to know outside of that ‘now’ amounts to a speculative abstraction.  Similarly, it is unrealistic to say that the truth must be ‘one thing or another’ – since all the evidence tells us that ‘the reality’ is both one thing and another, and there is no static world that sits in the middle – except when construed as a point of reference for the understanding of what has become.  How else are we to understand the fact of an insensible universe that is knowable by a part of it, a lesser part at that, but which is nonetheless sufficient to confirm that the reality is now both conscious and unconscious?  Then what might a greater ‘reality’ or ‘truth’ amount to?  What might make humanity more than a passive cog in the mechanism of nature?  Alternatively, what technical possibility allows a biological ‘mind machine’ to deceive itself with its beliefs?

The trouble is we are inclined to hang onto truths as representatives of the whole truth, as if our experiences cannot fail to guide us – as if change is wholly predictable from the fact of what is.  However, change also bewilders us.  For instance, are we to assume that the biological facts, in making us what we are, actually recognise this fact of themselves without the intervention of ‘our assumptions’?  On the other hand, ‘the whole’ that is more than the sum of its parts remains nothing apart.  So what gives the biology beliefs and ideas about itself?  What allows us to imagine that there is more to thinking than the physical functions of the brain – even though there is nothing else to see when we stay focused on the brain alone?  And what obliges us to believe in ourselves, to see nothing beyond the empire of our humanity in the facts of culture and biology?  But where would culture be without imaginative thinkers like William Shakespeare or John Donne?  Therefore, whilst it remains true that Shakespeare drew inspiration from his surroundings, it doesn’t mean that we can explain his contribution analytically – as if his creativity is no more than a summation of mindless causes that can reproduced by a suitably programmed machine or replicated at random by the antics inside a suitably equipped ‘infinite monkey cage’?  Likewise, the immortal meaning in John Donne’s dictum is both distorted and diminished in being detached from its original context of belief which reaches out to the wholly inexplicable possibility of a yet higher purpose.

Mike Laidler


Defining democracy

It is said that actions speak louder than words, but the subtleties of context and meaning are honed to perfection through the power of language as it channels ideas into deeds.  Indeed, civilised life relies upon words taking control of muscles, and to this day politics manages the delicate balance between the two – with various persuasive methods serving to manipulate mass action in the cause of adopted truths.  Even liberal democracies institute systems of leadership and control to curtail freedoms in the name of ‘the greater good’.  In the event, democracy is legitimated by the idea of it, which doesn’t necessarily translate into bowing to the voter’s express wishes.  A crude example surfaced with ‘Boaty McBoatface’.  In 2016 the British Government’s Natural Environment Research Council invited the public to name a new polar research vessel, but the Council couldn’t countenance the outcome when ‘Boaty’ topped the list of chosen names by a wide margin, so they demoted the public’s choice by deciding to assign it to one of the on-board submersibles.  This democratic slight is significant precisely because it is so trivial, because the Council stood to lose nothing by acceding to the popular vote – except for the loss of face.  The name finally chosen, The Sir David Attenborough, was selected by the Council in allowing itself the final say.

Governments govern in the same fashion.  Voters in ‘proper’ elections are given the impossible task, made ‘possible’ because they accede to it, of being required to assent to a raft of issues loosely held together by manifesto pledges that ‘their’ elected government will deliver on its promises.  But governments are subject to their own internal politics which can lead to changes in their policies, priorities and captainship – sometimes leaving the electorate with a leader they didn’t vote for.  In reality, votes count most when they reflect societal norms and values carried by an ‘implicit manifesto’, usually defined by the language of money – the reality being that governments and the electorate alike find that their choices are curtailed by ‘their’ spending power in a world where borrowing money is a fact of life and investment (qua money) is seen to make money.  Consequently, successive governments have taken the liberty of borrowing mountains of money over the years in the name of necessity – defined on an ad hoc basis by the rule of ‘as and when’.  Afterwards, the public are left wondering why their taxes never seem to stretch whilst forgetting that substantial amounts have to be spent on servicing the wealth of lending cartels and other vague repositories of virtual money which can hold the ‘wealth of nations’ to ransom.

The occasional referendum appears to give voters exactly what they vote for.  The UK’s ‘Brexit’ referendum asked people if they wanted to ‘remain’ in the European Union, or ‘leave’.  The choice was clear cut, but complicated by the government’s expensive publicity blitz which described the EU as ‘reformed’ – a nuanced misnomer suggesting the EU had changed when it hadn’t.  The issues were shrouded in dubious delineations from the start, although the electorate applied their own interpretations and voted to leave.  The ‘apple cart’ was really upset when the unprecedented skirmishing continued after the vote, after it transpired that there was no formal policy on what leaving was supposed to mean – so the idea of a second referendum was mooted.  Also it was rumoured that Brexit could become Brino (Brexit-in-name-only).  Some politicians claimed that the existing referendum had been legitimated by the encompassing general elections, when the public had two opportunities to vote-out the whole idea.  Throughout this political wrangling the electorate had been assured that ‘Brexit means Brexit’.  Of course the word was absent from the dictionary, but then the dictionary has yet to be written in which every word simply means itself.  Meanwhile voters are constantly being reminded that ‘the right thing to do’ is, by definition, the right thing to do – implying they don’t need to be asked to vote on it.

Mike Laidler

Changing things

Nature is said to act without design or deliberation – then along comes consciousness.  Consequently, intentions get deposited in objects, and things on the surface begin to change, with surfaces serving as active interfaces in a succession of levels.  For instance, when a naturally formed pit is turned into a primitive animal trap set by our early ancestors, the investment of intention becomes a manifest extension to the nature of nature.  Likewise, albeit at a lower level, the instinctive behaviour of the spider, in building its web, doesn’t so much define what can happen in nature as redefine it.  Nowadays, things are vastly more developed – static features, machines and smart devices serve artificial purposes, and computers are being designed to mimic a conscious rational intelligence.  Yet the underlying natural events remain oblivious: unchanged, un-living, unconscious and unintended.  In effect, things become more than they were.  Indeed, an ‘unconscious reality’ becomes recognisable only via its conscious counterpart – a paradox of change overlaid by the rational illusion that we can always explain occurrences retrospectively, as if the answer is tucked-away in the way things were.  However, it might be more realistic to accept change for what it is rather than searching endlessly for the ‘holy grail’ of an original cause.

The dawning awareness in nature, of nature, is an event centred in a ‘from-to’ reality.  However, our causal mythology portrays it as a bottom-up chain of events in a temporal succession, as if the effect was somehow embedded in the preceding sequence of causes, just waiting to be released, as if nature already contains a rudimentary consciousness – otherwise, logically, where else might it come from?  Then can we, in general, unlock the mystery of change by looking for a primal cause, as if all can be explained by unpacking the nature of nature at its inception?  Or does the answer come from evolution, which is change by another name, diffusely portrayed as the explanation of itself – that is, things change because they evolve?  The problem with explanations of change is that they don’t do justice to the ‘quantum leaps’, unless we put them down to chance – how else did life emerge?  And though reality is seen to unfold by one event preceding another, we can’t explain the emergence of causality without postulating an exceptional origin in an event that independently triggers everything, but which does not equate to pure chance if it so much as contains a seed of an intentional intelligence to become manifest when the right conditions materialise.

Mike Laidler


Chicken and egg

Cause or effect – which is first?

The cause, obviously

 – until you discover

that every cause is also an effect

of something that happened beforehand,

in obscuro.

Then we live in a world of effects

which we presume to observe

as a chain of causes

by relegating the truth

to an original cause

that defies explanation.


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