Universals and particulars

What is existence?

Can we capture it in a word?

An ever-flowing presence

replete in its transformations,

particular to everything?


But where is this everything?

Is it more than our universe

– too big to be seen at once

spanning all pasts and futures,

the seeming we cannot see without?


Mike Laidler

The hylozoism hypothesis

Is explanation the final factual frontier?  When we come round to thinking that something ‘requires’ an explanation we base the project on our idea about what might count as such.  But once we assume that we have our explanation we are inclined to forget that the idea of it is grounded in the hypothetical.  Consequently, we move away from the fact that we are relying upon assumption by assuming that we are not, because the fact is now ‘explained’.  And without doubt, the prevailing assumption of our scientific age is that ‘hard facts’ provide the real explanations – that causal explanations rationalise those facts and a joined-up knowledge puts things in their place – with scientific proofs standing at the summit of the known.  In other words, we assume that a real knowledge of the world seeks to explain it and anything ‘known’ in the absence of an explanation is inferior and incomplete.  It follows logically that our knowledge of ourselves, reality, life, the universe and indeed existence in general, must remain incomplete until we find the ‘final’ explanation?  But in what way might we expect it to finalise things?

  • If our presence in existence reflects the power and capacity of the universe as a whole, then is the universe both alive and not alive, thinking and unthinking, chaotic and organised, logical and irrational – and ultimately self-aware, self-justifying and self-explanatory?
  • If life is a material property is matter basically alive?

Despite all our scientific advances and achievements we still can’t account for the ‘isness’ of being.  Then how do we explain ourselves?  All we can do is refer one state of being to another – so life is  basically chemistry and everything is bound up with comings and goings that symbolise the impermanence of the ‘power to be’ within the overwhelming embrace of the ‘law of entropy’.  However this generalisation is more apparent than real and its logical premise merely adds to the confusion.  Confused means ‘fused with’ – for instance, the logic of explanation equates the mind to the brain as if their entirely different states of being are scientifically and, by implication, factually irrelevant.  This resembles the premise of the now defunct ‘hylozoism’ hypothesis: that life is an intrinsic property of matter since there is nowhere else for it to be.  Undaunted, science remains bent on explaining everything into-existence from some primal state – certified as the original cause of any change.  But when the child asks about life and death – that is, really asks – we find ourselves juggling with these conceptual confusions – hoping that our bodies and brains might hold the ‘material’ answers, somewhere.

Mike Laidler



The climate change challenge

It is said that ‘time and tide wait for no man’.  Then what is the extent of our reputed ‘God-given’ dominion over and ethical responsibility for the planet?  Do we actually know?  For decades it was largely thought that the facts on climate change were ambiguous and independent of human activity.  There is still ambiguity – because that is the nature of the facts.  And what is reason’s purview when so much of perception is tied to the image of what we want to see?  Indeed, despite the growing consensus that something needs to be done, plus the acknowledgement that actions speak louder than words, the notion of ‘necessary and sufficient action’ still remains a source of controversy.  Nevertheless, it is possible to cut through all the ideation and procrastination to test the true sentiment behind our stated wish to do something – bearing in mind that there is no scope for ‘doing a deal’ or reaching a compromise with the forces of nature.  In reality, climate change may be a symptom of a bigger problem and it is not nature that needs to be fixed.

Doesn’t ‘globalism’ mean that China’s emissions are also our emissions?  What if the time for making comparisons and apportioning blame is over?  Even the checked advance of climate change could mean that the ordinary and the everyday are destined to become the exceptional and occasional.  Or is it just a matter of hanging on until science and technology find the solution?  But isn’t our predicament also due to our insatiable desire for more technology?  Perhaps we need to be honest with ourselves.  If we are to be serious about climate change and its threat to civilisation, then is it not time to re-evaluate the social and economic priorities of the ‘good life’ with its rude incarnations in our vain and excessive indulgences in wasteful luxury and lazy convenience?  If we can’t rise to that challenge and begin to moderate our extravagances right now then all other measures, adjustments and innovations could be compromised.  This problem beggars the imagination and demands a radical redefinition of our civil responsibilities.  Something needs to be done, but it may be the one thing that we can’t expect the authorities to do for us?


‘Philosophy Alive’ examines the relationship between our thinking and the facts.  This involves questioning our assumptions about what the facts mean.  For instance, if climate change poses an immanent threat of global disaster, then there is no doubt that we will need to take urgent and drastic action.  Some critics might point out that the ‘Armageddon scenario’ is still hypothetical, even in the long term, but there is a double consideration here – if the potential consequences are so daunting then we can’t afford to play ‘Russian roulette’ with the lives of our children, so to be pragmatic, we might need to treat the possibility as an inevitability and act accordingly.  Then, even if science has over-estimated the impact of climate change, the error is a good thing if it acts as a spur to positive reform.  Meanwhile, given that science is not infallible, let us hope that we have not already passed some unforeseen point of ‘no return’. 

Mike Laidler



Explanations: ‘joined-up facts’ and ‘the God of the gaps’

In the nature of things, if everything is constituted of something else, then is nothing fundamentally itself – but if everything is essentially itself, then what is explanation?

It is now ‘evident’ that the laws of physics had a beginning, as with the fact of life, although we don’t know how since both beginnings remain unexplained; but it is also evident that there are unknown beginnings ‘hidden’ within the regressions of our causal definitions – because causes introduce something else to be explained: namely the source of their originality.

Does consciousness defy explanation because we know of no cause that is similarly aware?  (Tweet pub. March 23, 2019)

In theory, explanation links the ‘facts of life’ to their evolution, but there is a missing link:  the origin of that evolution is linked to a fact of life it doesn’t explain – the origin of life.

If the ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’ then science and religion may be seen to hold a belief in common – in the unverified presence of the ‘knowable fact’.

Without a superstructure of belief, can the fact that ‘speaks for itself’ be validated by the supposition to have found it?

If, the emergence of an ‘objective universe’ introduced a real difference into existence – a new reality defined by the laws of physics – then the emergence of a ‘subjective universe’ may have yet to make its mark – to be defined by a parallel nature yet to be fully realised.

Can a cause explain an effect without the uncanny intervention of a thing called ‘explanation’?

Of all the strange things in the universe, the presence of a questioner is stranger by far than any ‘answer’ to be singled-out from an original cause in the ‘hard’ (insensible) facts.

The day organisms began to think was an equally transformative event for nature and the universe at large – even when confined to those organisms thinking about themselves.

Aside from all the bogey-man stories, there is real evidence for a supernatural level of activity that emerges by way of the capacity for some things in nature to be self-aware.

Time passes: there was a time when ‘the truth’ was the exclusive province of religion and its revelations; now science offers-up a truth we cannot see beyond.

Is science struggling explain the basic fact of life because there is a world of difference between the physical world gaining and giving life – because there are no tiny seeds of life and consciousness to be found in the laws of physics?

Does the causality in existence prove that existence is caused – if not, then is the discovery of a ‘God particle’ any less of an abstraction than that of the ‘God notion’?

Beyond the ivory towers of AI, is it not evident that intelligence becomes of consciousness and not the converse?

Just because virtual reality has become a real experience for us, does it mean that the virtual consciousness and intelligence of AI is a real experience for the machine?

We live in at least two worlds, one of them being ‘a world of our own’, namely the world of thought; however, if that isn’t so, then the reality is even stranger than we picture it – because it is one in which nature is also thinking for us.

Mike Laidler



Brexodus: the exit from Brexit compromise

Extracts from “Defining democracy” (first published Sept 9, 2018)

It is said that actions speak louder than words …. In the event, democracy is legitimated by the idea of it, which doesn’t necessarily translate into bowing to the voter’s express wishes. ….Voters in ‘proper’ elections are …. 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 …. 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 …. issues were shrouded in dubious delineations from the start …. The ‘apple cart’ was really upset when the unprecedented skirmishing continued after the vote …. it was rumoured that Brexit could become Brino (Brexit-in-name-only). …. 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 …. ‘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


Life factors

  1. Is the universe fine-tuned for life or does life supply the fine-tuning? (Tweet published March 2, 2019)
  2. Do we need science to find the cause of life before we can know for sure what it really is?
  3. Can we gain a window into life by ascribing it to nature?
  4. Is the ‘secret of life’ eluding science simply because none of the candidate causes are ‘alive’ in the way that life is? (Tweet pub. March 11, 2019)
  5. Where does evolution take us when it has to take the existence of life as its starting-point? (Tweet pub. March 10, 2019)
  6. What makes scientists think that the undiscovered cause of life holds the key to the deeper mystery of consciousness? (Tweet pub. March 5, 2019)
  7. If intelligent life is a state of nature, what does it say about the nature of nature? (Tweet pub. March 13, 2019)
  8. Given the gaping gap in explanation, it might just be possible that the mystery of life is deeper than the laws of nature as we know them, that the evidence indicates something pivotal at the heart of nature – to the point that intelligent life enables nature to behave differently. Consequently, the physical processes that enable intelligent life now yield uncharacteristic patterns of behaviour because they have become integral to a new kind of nature – in being able to sit up and think about what they are about.
  9. In what realm of possibility do we rank as overseers of the possibility or impossibility of things?
  10. What organisational principle will explain the existence of consciousness no matter that even a disorganised consciousness can still be conscious?
  11. Could the new evolutionary evidence for species ‘fuzzyness’ and inter-breeding indicate something very basic about the theory of evolution – that it might never catch up to the facts?
  12. Can the origin of consciousness be attributed to its evolution when the origin of life cannot? (Tweet pub. March 15, 2019)
  13. If thinking is a physical effect of physical causes, is it a power that has been ‘held in trust’ for us by the laws of physics? (Tweet pub. March 18, 2019)
  14. Do the things that life can’t do without show us very much about what life can do?
  15. If conscious intentional action is a part of a physical universe, what else might be ready to evolve from the stardust? (Tweet pub. March 16, 2019)
  16. Do we actually get to know what our thoughts are really like by observing them as brain processes?
  17. How do the brain’s operations manage to convince us that there is really no additional ‘us’ to be convinced?
  18. Is the fact of life any less mysterious in terms of its known effects than its unknown causes?
  19. Might we get to know life better by finding its cause – where it comes from – or by observing its diverging properties as an effect – where it leads?
  20. What if biology gains rather than gives life? (Tweet pub. March 12, 2019)

Mike Laidler