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

Candles in the dark

Certainty is a candle that shines in a darkness of its making.

Normality is an artificial measure of reality calibrated by the fact of what we find ourselves doing.

Ignorance is the fact of what we don’t know created of what we choose to know.

Answers are the prescription narcotics of a thorough education.

AI was invented long before the computer – through our ambitions to define intelligence as IQ.

We are apt to forget that a simulation, which is just like the real thing, is still a simulation.

Just as logic offers no antidote to madness, so science contains no cure for bad philosophy.

If the quantum world is real, it does and doesn’t follow that the real world is quantum.

‘All pathways lead to physics’ so long as we keep on walking backwards – down the chain of being.

We look upon a universe that is more than us only to see everywhere the evidence for what is obviously missing.

There is a world of difference between an objective fact and our knowledge of it.

We see as we believe, believing we see as we see.

Equality is the image of a sameness made from the perception of a difference.

Politics is a balance of powers which pivots upon how much unfairness can be tolerated in the name of necessity.

Contradiction is a fact of life we are happy to accept so long as we can avoid being caught in the act.

Mike Laidler

The advent of Artificial Intelligence

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?

Mike Laidler

Subject to oneself

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?

Mike Laidler

Before and after

We see ourselves perceiving the world on the basis of things ‘as they are’, ‘out there’, ‘in existence’, but there is a problem with this ‘world view’ because 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.

In addition, knowledge and explanation contrast radically with an external reality of objective facts now drawn into the realms of observation – but we believe that the logic and language of proof can iron out the difference.  Indeed, the grammar of explanation begs the question of a ‘deep structure’, holding everything in place, whereby all ensuing differences are seen to evolve as a result of secondary shaping influences.

However, even though causes are seen to underlie effects, those effects are not merely embedded in their causes like sculptures waiting to be released from blocks of stone.  So there is more to change than the nature of the underlying preconditions, just as there is more to the shaping influences than pure chance.  That is not to say that chance doesn’t have a part to play, but it means that evolution by chance is not the explanation.

Accordingly, whilst it may be said that everything happens by co-incidence, there is more to co-incidence than blind chance.  And whilst we rightly remain wary of accident, we know that all eventualities are contained within prevailing boundaries of possibility – anything cannot happen at any time.  In fact, no cause explains those prevailing boundaries even though we come to explain outcomes as effects belonging to causes operating within them.

Consequently, perception maps the world with contours of its making whilst perceiving itself as the effect of an objective reality.  But the very presence of perception shows that reality is subject to change – with effects arising as modified causes.  And despite our aspirations to explain change causally, causality remains subsidiary to the changing boundaries of possibility.  Then who can say that we too are not instrumental in ‘the shape of things to come’ – beginning with ourselves as mere causes on the threshold of change.

Mike Laidler

As if in fact

Here we are.  It’s a fact, except our knowledge of the ‘here’ and the ‘we’ is incomplete and compromised by our understandings of the ‘isness’ of it all – as is, indeed, our understanding of the ‘isness’ of understanding.   In fact, we know precious little, but that’s not how we play the game of knowing.  And it is a game insofar as we interpret ‘self and reality’ using theories borrowed from others appointed to do the understanding for us.

So what does knowing that we live in ‘this universe’ tell us about ‘who or what we are’ or even ‘what we are about’?  The first mistake is to believe that knowledge tells us anything – as if there were two sides to it which we can understand as ‘the facts’ conveying a message.  But we only think about it that way because that’s how we convey ‘the facts’ to one another – as messages to be understood.

And the message we receive is that reality must be ‘out there’ in the nature of the universe – as if our nature is reducible to that nature – as if objectivity is more than a way of looking because it is also a fact of existence in which objects are paramount – as if we might understand this ‘for ourselves’ once we defer our understandings to those who say that they are more ‘conversant with the facts’.

Mike Laidler

Sceptic or cynic?

If a sceptic can be seen as a liberal thinker, a challenging doubter and a seeker after truth, then the cynic is something else: a contemptuously abrasive, dismissive and pessimistic type – a wanton disrupter, even an extremist who poses a threat to civilised life – a troublesome pariah who would shun the very truth for the sake of it.  Not surprisingly, in our ‘enlightened times’, hardly anyone wants to regard themselves as a cynic or be characterised as such.  Even the label ‘mildly cynical’ carries pejorative overtones now that we have alienated the notion, debunked its respectability and popularised forms of post-cynicism through our modern brandings of virtue, truth, justice, authority, civility and tolerance.  However, the lip service paid to ‘the right thing to do’ may conceal a Freudianesque veneer of righteous indignation –‘noble’ prejudices against the incursion of ‘inferiorities’. In sum, scepticism is seen as acceptably productive, progressive and illuminating, whereas cynicism ‘is’ unacceptably morose, dogmatic and subversive; but there is a fallacy behind these stereotypes that is hidden away within the ‘dark horses’ of human nature.

Apparently it’s fitting to confront cynicism with cynicism, whereas being sceptical about scepticism smacks of a counter-productive contradiction.  Perhaps the inverted cynicism – the negative stereotyping and demonisation – serves to burnish our tarnished virtue.  Yet, historically, the cynics were seekers after truth and virtue – ‘God’s’ watchdogs who stood as vanguards against the hubris of human pretentiousness.  But now it’s valid to see ourselves as ‘OK alone’, complete in our self-appointed nature as ‘Homo sapiens’.  So reason, once ‘a slave of the passions’, is now a liberator, enabling us to test the truth with logic, even to bring the unconscious mind into line and raise us to the authority of ‘the Gods’ – because the intellect is supreme and logic is infallible.  But this gives rise to the fallacy that all is subject to the higher truths of logic, which defy contradiction – so rendering any dissent illogical and a futile throwback to more archaic now ‘displaced philosophies’ that are riddled with personal points of view, such as the uncivil cynic might indulge in for the sake of being noticed.

Mike Laidler