Standing stones

There is more to a memory than its physical traces.  And despite the importance of libraries, a book recedes into oblivion until someone opens it.  The same applies to the data filed on the ‘world wide web’ – for just like our books, artworks or machines, and even the ancient stone circles, it represents ideas and memories that cannot be realised or revived without an act of recognition.  Indeed, as with the world itself, all such devices remain essentially oblivious to the fact that theirs is a reality of oblivion.  Together with the universe at large, they simply function as temporary storage devices for the information built into them, which scientists read as the laws of physics.  Nonetheless, this physical memory is active at its own level – because everything exists in active form.  Thus the physical world ‘behaves’ lawfully.  However, there are other sorts of activity that build into different realities – where information translates into knowledge, meanings and understandings that act both within and upon the laws of physics.

Of course anyone can set a stone rolling, and the physical world happens to resonate with our activities.  The computer is a more sophisticated example which appears to take on a life of its own; but in terms of that ethereal thing called awareness, or its ephemeral counterpart called intention, it is more like the rolling stone.  And of course, only physical forces can upend stones, though no one is in any doubt that these stones were put there intentionally. As such they represent a part of nature that is more than just natural.  They represent an intentional shaping of reality located in a nature that acts without intention or awareness.  They remind us of a fact that physics does not teach – of things we are apt to forget.  Meanwhile, scientists hang onto the idea that it is always possible for the standing stones to have fallen into place by chance.  But where in nature do we find the ‘thingness’ of intention and awareness except as resonant features of our beliefs, theories and ideas?

Mike Laidler

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Self-consciousness

Think about it – a cause of consciousness.  What does it mean?  Does it mean that the cause is operative in the identification of itself?  Or does it mean that the cause and effect work in some kind of relationship brought about by a difference occasioning an interaction?

But how are we to identify a difference without a point of comparison that is particular to the nature of consciousness?   And how can the observation of parallel changes in the operations of consciousness and its physical support processes prove sufficient to explain any differences or show that they are one and the same thing?

Mike Laidler

What is reality?

Scientifically speaking, the lesser reality is the greater – assuming that an underworld of physical processes will provide a ‘theory of everything’.  But that ‘everything’ is not everything – because experience reveals that a universe which subsists beneath the threshold of self-perception is not the whole thing.  However, experience might be confined to a world of its own with no inkling of a ‘bigger picture’ beyond the images that happen to hold our attention.

On the other hand, whatever else reality may or may not be, we can know without further ado that it includes the perception of ourselves thinking.  And if our capacity for reflection is the thing that distinguishes our thinking, albeit in the absence of a definitive knowledge of anything else, then at least we can know that thinking exists as a feature of the way things are, though the wider reality may not be tied to the way we think about it.

Even so, this would be sufficient to tell us that we inhabit a sentient reality, as augmented by a power to be, which we can know but incompletely by its instantiation in the vagaries of our understandings.  And we can know as much because of the reflective experience of the vagaries of our understandings.  Then again, even if we could know everything in terms of ‘something else’ identifiable as the source, we would still need to ask ourselves: have we really identified the whole, or explained the something else?

Mike Laidler

Hidden thresholds: The subtle fact of change

Change presents the eye with a paradox – because things can be seen to change without changing – because the flow of change reveals nothing of the step to come – because a fact may be seen as one thing and another.  Consequently, change raises more questions than answers.  Some famous examples from antiquity include the paradoxes of Theseus’ ship and the heap: A heap of grains can be reduced to nothing by removing one grain at a time, but there is no definite point of change – unless one grain constitutes a heap.  The paradox of the ship is more challenging: by systematically replacing every piece of the original it ceases to be the same ship, and yet it is.  In sum, these puzzles carry an enduring message because they point to a fundamental problem of explanation that we would rather not think about – that there is more to change than its observable causes.

Shifting to the modern era, we see the same problem redefined.  Science shows us that the universe is constituted of sub-atomic particles – a fact that includes ourselves – but there is no point at which we can see those particles becoming conscious.  Indeed we do not see consciousness as a feature of the physical world until we rely upon the end result as a means of observing a world that is constituted of nothing but physical processes.  So we observe the change as an effect that may be regarded for the sake of explanation as a variation on what is – which means that things do yet do not really change.  Either way, the putative cause, namely the changing configuration of physical processes, doesn’t actually explain the untypical nature of the result – even though, logically, it must if there is no other cause to be found.

Mike Laidler

Vital factors

No fact exists alone.  Every perceptible fact is the manifestation of a state of existence relative to the existence of other facts.  Thereby every fact is distinguishable by what it is and isn’t, including the ‘fact of existence’.  Then life is and is not a prominent feature of the way things are – because reality amounts to a continuum of changes that can be traced backwards as a convergence upon what was and forwards as a divergence from the past.  Consequently, whatever importance can or cannot be attached to the nature of ‘things in themselves’, it remains a fact that the difference they make is set within a wider reality.

In every case, we may perceive a fact in terms of its origins in something else – that is, relative to some other fact identifiable as its cause.  But even then we can never see an ‘original cause’ as it is, on its own, since every cause is manifestly incomplete in the absence of an effect.  In turn, effects are seen to make a difference when it becomes apparent that things differ from the way they were – a difference which at first contrasts with the state of ‘the cause’ as it was and afterwards with ‘the effect’ as it furthers a succession of changes.

However, causes do not explain existence.  For instance, we do not find the nature of life in the non-living states of its precursors; and it is only after its appearance that we can begin to look for its causes there.  So we perceive life as a fact that is wrapped up in a continuum of factors which we cannot explain fully in terms of the way things were – because of the essential ingredient of change. Therefore we can neither explain this vital factor retrospectively as an ‘originating cause’ nor in terms of the difference ‘it makes’, which becomes consummate only in the wake of things yet to be.

Mike Laidler

Certainty and doubt

A point of view affords but one certainty, that there will be others who beg to differ.

It is a fact that money really doesn’t make money even though lots of people can testify to the converse.

‘Certainties’ are intellectual over-compensations for a world we do not understand.

Doubt is the only certainty, the only anchor-point for reflection.

Doubt is a signal to ourselves that we are thinking for ourselves.

Certainty in the absence of doubt is like a cause in the absence of an effect (incomplete).

Every legitimated certainty entails the suppression of a legitimate doubt – evident only when we bother to think about it for ourselves.

Faith has no integrity without a doubt to be vanquished.

It’s not the philosophical musing over certainty and doubt that wastes our time and efforts, but our failure to do so.

Of ‘known unknowns and unknown unknowns’ we can be more certain of the latter.

We make of experience statements of fact which we make do with until we know better.

The fact of what someone has said about a fact is our least certain measure of it.

Assurances of certainty are dubious – firstly by the fact that they need to be given and then by the fact that they are taken as sureties.

Certainty is our attempt to reduce the unimaginable to the imaginable.

Morality is a conviction made of a wish.

In practice, certainty and doubt have more to do with the meaning of a fact than the fact of it.

History is shrouded in uncertainties, even as we witness it unfolding before our eyes.

Logic is a pact with certainty that we impose on the world.

Contradiction is the only certainty to be made of language.

We receive no certainties from experience that we do not first offer-up to it.

Certainty involves the suspension of doubt – and despite appearances, no one can truly furnish you with a certainty any more than they can do your doubting for you.

Without doubt it is easy to think that there is no more to us than the fact of the brain thinking for us.

We identify with images of ourselves by looking upon ourselves in order to discover who we are.

The world of perception is bounded by what perception brings to it and reshaped by what we think about perception.

‘I think therefore I am’.  I doubt therefore I think.

Mike Laidler

Needing to know

Green is the colour of nature (photosynthesis) in reflecting the one colour it doesn’t need.

Things seen as causes of consciousness depend on an eventuality that is conspicuously more than those causes.

We know by the fact of knowing as much as of the fact of the facts known.

The fact that an objective world can be separated from our subjective world in an act of knowing owes to the fact of the subject, not the object.

It is a myth that science can explain the bigger picture by subtracting everything from the picture in order to identify an original cause.

Causality is a contextual reality in a context that now includes our line of sight.

The universe is incomplete in all its objective causes and states – which can now be seen as a prelude to the presence of an extensive subjective dimension.

Facts speak to us only insofar as we select them for that purpose.

Science remains a natural philosophy insofar as it doesn’t exist without the need to know – which an objective world doesn’t seem to share with us.

No fact exists on its own, especially a known fact – and the world alone is not enough to account for the fact of knowledge.

Science changes the world through the thinking by which the world became more than it was.

Every perceived fact is a fact made of perception.

It is not the facts that generate a truth or falsity, but our values – our vested interests held in a point of view.

It seems unthinkable that we need to think outside the world that ‘science has given us’ in order to see a world in which science represents but one form of thinking – in which thinking makes science what it is.

We become victims of our own prejudices in judging ourselves by the scientific standards we impose on the world.

Mike Laidler