What is this ‘thing’ called life
which carries us forwards
Was it there at the beginning
when the universe was new
Was the stardust reborn
with fresh possibilities
– now animated
with needs and purposes
both a part of
yet apart from
the cosmic dawn?
Perhaps there is more to it than any unbounded extension in the dimensions of matter, space and/or time – for even the galaxies are not necessarily infinite, let alone the timeless tracts of primordial possibility. And we can also encounter ‘it’ as a diverse property of content and form in number, geometry, language, music, art, literature and thought.
Then perhaps the indeterminable limits of our concepts hold the key to the ‘redefinition’ of infinity as an infinity of differences, which science now posits, in part, with the theory of a multiverse.
Nonetheless, the concept of infinity presents the mind with a paradox, since the definition of infinity, by definition, defies definition.
Our understandings lay claim to the facts on the understanding that those facts can be characterised by their consistency – inferring that even as things can be seen to change over time, the nature of that change forms a pattern of consistencies underpinned by a natural lawfulness and immutable truth. However, it is our conceptualisations of fact, rather than the facts themselves, that require ‘their truth’ to be free of contradiction. Meanwhile, the everyday is replete with factual contradictions that we purposely overlook in favour of a perceived logical integrity – a logic we claim to inherit from a nature that apparently has no purpose in it. Likewise, life is seen to be a derivative of an unliving nature that is both changed and unchanged – a contradiction that remains embedded in the very stuff of our DNA, understood as the unliving stuff of life. Furthermore, quantum mechanics reveals that our world is built upon, indeed depends upon, a raft of stark factual anomalies.
Normally, we habilitate the factual contradictions by making them inter-personal – by supplementing our observations with theories and opinions by which we variously agree or disagree with one another. And the more we expect the truth to be either one thing or the other, the more those perspectives tend to polarise. So the paradoxes holding truths in contradiction get assimilated as factors of ideas in opposition. Then, by rationalising different points of view, we move to mould the facts and ideas into an intellectual consistency, albeit hypothetical – as if, from a synthesis of our contentions and disputations, truth might emerge to resolve contradiction and uphold our reasoning. Thereby we affirm, in applying that synthesis to our observations of reality, that the facts show us truths that cannot be inconsistent – one thing and another – lest we abandon sound reason in countenancing a nature that can be both mindless and aware, or an earth beneath our feet that is both round and flat.
Once upon a time Goldilocks chanced upon a baby bear’s bowl of porridge that was just right for the eating. Sometime later, scientists took a fresh look at the fact of a universe that happened to be just right for the emergence of life, and recognised that the necessary fine tuning of the manifold preconditions, the ‘physical constants’, seems more like a contrivance than a coincidence – a conspiracy of coincidences – so named the ‘Goldilocks enigma’ because there is no settled evidence for it beginning other than by chance. But what if both scenarios are true: chance and non-chance – the evidence for the co-existence of chance and non-chance possibilities being everywhere in the world that surrounds us? Then perhaps the enigma is actually a paradox which reflects the true state of existence – something we cannot reduce to our logical truths by which we demarcate the facts as either right or wrong, true or false, possible or impossible. Paradoxically, there is more to the fact of existence than the prerequisite of an explanation that requires itself to be logical. And it is logic, not truth, that requires the facts to be logical. Perhaps our belief in logic is holding us back – believing that logic gives us exclusive access to the ultimate truth – a truth to withstand all contradiction.
Perhaps paradox is nearer to ‘the truth’ than the logic that demands its resolution. So let’s begin with three truisms: ‘the universe’ is vast, ‘everything’ and ‘contains’ life. Given the scale and scope of it all, together with the potential diversity of planetary environments, then the right conditions for life on more than one of these planets becomes a loaded possibility. And though we see life as a novel possibility, it is explained as an effect of causes that subsist within existing boundaries of possibility. Yet the effect causes profound changes. It looks like non-living causes determine the mix of possible preconditions, but, ultimately, it is the potential for life that sets the limits. Furthermore, that potential remains a defiant mystery, regardless of how much we learn about the preconditions for life on earth, or indeed the preconditions for different types of life on different kinds of planet. Moreover, no amount of causal analysis explains how effects ratchet up the course of change, beginning in the observable differences between cause and effect. Indeed the paradox at the heart of existence is the pre-existence of its possibilities, despite their probable absence in certain forms at certain times – subsequently to ‘emerge’ in the times and events an observer chances upon, in the form of co-incidence called ‘reality’.
Is science defined by scientists or is it the other way round?
Scientists proceed by trying to prove their hypotheses wrong and can be certain only when they know they are wrong: ‘ … we make measurements, we make models and we try and give some answers. The key thing to understand is science is never right. It’s the one discipline where you can be absolutely wrong, you can be shown to be wrong, but it’s just the best we can do given our current knowledge – that’s very important.’ (Interview on BBC Radio 4 Today Programme on 16th June with the scientist Brian Cox.)
So is science identifiable as the set of scientists who can never know for sure when they are right – and can those scientists be right in saying: ‘science is never right’? For like the barber who shaves everyone who doesn’t shave himself and therefore can and cannot shave himself, these scientists can and cannot be right. But there is a deeper paradox at the heart of science, namely science does and doesn’t owe its presence to the work of scientists – being populated and popularised by scientists who do not know whether their current state of knowledge is right, yet who strive assiduously to prove that it is by doing the opposite.
Consciousness is bigger than anything we can set-up in consciousness as the form of our awareness.
We are certain that we are conscious and yet we cannot discern its nature in any preconscious state of nature. Nor can we prove that such preconscious states relate to the fact of consciousness without relying implicitly on the very fact we are trying to establish explicitly in terms of those other facts. In other words, we can know the essential nature of consciousness only from within and must start from that knowledge in order to assess any fact about its nature and origin.
Furthermore, every time we probe the form of our consciousness in order to find out something new about it we alter the state of our awareness in the wake of our discovery – we generate a new state of consciousness, so ensuring that there is always something new to learn. And if, as it would seem, consciousness remains bigger than any fact we can determine about it, then our awareness of that paradoxical fact holds the key to expanding our horizons.
The past may be seen to predict the future for all solid-state elements in a mechanistic universe. This excludes the sub-elements of the quantum universe and the supra-elements of the sentient universe.
However, what is known of the quantum universe, in the context of the everyday physical reality that is ‘more real’ to us, is that the peculiarities of the former support, but don’t resemble the nature of the latter, which can be seen to exist in addition, ‘on top’ – in a supra-reality that now includes the fact of the seeing.
Only it seems that we have yet to learn this lesson with respect to the sentient universe regarding itself, a lesson that can only begin by recognising it as a reality known to be peculiar to the nature of itself – a reality as real as the peculiar nature of solid rock, which we also know is really not solid in a different reality.
Perhaps the difference is due to the diverging nature of reality, whereby what is and what ‘is next’ simultaneously occupy different realities. And as we learn that there is more to existence than either quantum or Newtonian physics can explain, we know that we can know it because of our first-hand experience of a peculiar reality of a different order – of knowing, learning and explanation in a reality that simultaneously occupies the physical universe, yet is not peculiar to it.
We all know what luck is, most of us have seen it in action and some of us may claim to have benefited from it, but it is no ‘it’.
In fact luck doesn’t exist, yet it does. It exists as a state of knowledge about the world and the facts in that world. It exists in the world as known, and in that world we see people being lucky and unlucky to varying degrees. However, knowledge is another ‘none-it’ in existence. Coincidentally, we can talk about what we know, point to the books that have changed what we know, and learn from what we are told. Nevertheless, things are not as they seem – yet so they are, given that the seeming is now a fact in action.
In fact luck, like the knowledge by which we assess it, operates in a metaphysical reality of existence and non-existence – a dual reality where there are both facts and non-facts, according to our comparisons – facts that are so different from one another that they bear no point of comparison, except by way of contrast. So it is also true to say that we make our own luck, knowing that, in truth, there is more to existence than all we can make of it.
In the same vein, there can be more to coincidence than all we can attribute to luck, chance or our knowledge of it, just as there is more to knowledge than all we can know of it at any one time. Perhaps we are ‘lucky’ to be able to know anything at all, given the reality of oblivion and ignorance in which it operates on the way to becoming something more than it was.
And who dares say what is real and not real in the world of coincidence, a world in which opposites come together.
The most momentous pronouncement of human thought relates to the recognition of thought as itself, in the recognition that ‘ideas are bigger than the brain that hatches them’.
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?