Causal conundrums

3. Cosmology

Where is the evidence to show that the whole of existence condenses into an atomic or sub-atomic level of reality, or that the physical universe defines and explains existence because that level of reality is somehow ‘more real’?  What makes us believe that the broader cosmos exhibits a singular nature rather than a unified plurality of natures?  Surely, we need only look inwards at ourselves to see a nature that differs fundamentally from the universe we look out upon?

Isn’t it obvious that there is more than the laws of physics at work in the universe, since things determined by those laws do not determine what can be done with them – for instance, could the Eiffel Tower put itself there?  Then isn’t one such event on one insignificant planet sufficient to redefine the nature of the whole?

What is existence?  What does it mean to exist?  Is change the determining factor – so to exist is to undergo change?  Is energy the common denominator – but what kind of explanation reduces things to less than they were?

How do things change?  Do causes generate their own possibilities, or is there some additional possibility making causality possible?  Is ‘causality’ another name for possibility-in-action?  But what is the spur to action?  Why do causes-in-action make things possible only when the circumstances are right – what makes an outcome ‘necessarily so’, what is the nature of possibility and its relationship to necessary consequence?  Do the characteristics of the cause predispose the characteristics of the effect, or is it the converse?  Ultimately, is every ‘outcome’ a convergence of factors that bind the past, present and future?  Then can possibilities-yet-to-be affect the course of events; is the greater scheme of things built ‘into’ or ‘upon’ the lesser?

Even though experience shows us that anything can’t happen, what makes us believe that what does happen must already be built into the cause?

Are we misperceiving reality by subsuming our observations to the theory that the future remains entirely predictable from a comprehensive knowledge of the past?

Is explanation biased towards the confirmation of ‘the explicable’ – as if the observable causes must explain all when there is nothing else to see, whilst any discernible gaps in knowledge are to be understood in terms of causes yet-to-be-discovered?

Do the parameters of the cause set the parameters of the effect; if so, how is change possible; if not, how is explanation possible?  That is to say, if there is a difference between a cause and its effect, then how does the cause explain it by being different; but if there is no difference, then what are we trying to explain?  In short, how does causality explain change – for either the effect is the same as the cause and nothing changes, or the effect goes beyond the cause and, therefore, the cause doesn’t explain the difference?

Do causes induce change through their divergence?  But what causes the differentiation? And even if causes were seen to cleave into effects, how would that explain the emergent differences?

Does a causal explanation of existence amount to no more than an edifice of ‘pseudo-explanations’ unless we can explain the putative ‘uncaused cause’ on which it is based?

Has the recent discovery of quantum uncertainty finally confirmed an established fact of life – that there is more going on than all we can presume to know for certain?

Is there more to ‘being possible’ than all that ‘is possible’ for the time being.  Is there more to change than all we can discern from the singular characteristics of the cause in a given time and place?

Is the material presence of the universe explained by another material presence?  Is this a sufficient explanation, or was the ‘original cause’ different enough to rank as an immaterial presence by present standards?  Then is it not possible for further material associations to bear immaterial insignia which do not necessarily begin or end with the beginning and ending of our universe – and what might this say about the overall state of existence – is the physical universe but a branch of something bigger than itself –extending into a mindful cosmos?

What counts as more or less real in the bigger picture of what is, can be or might be?

Is there nothing more to existence than an all-inclusive ‘sciencescape’ as enunciated by the scientific theories laying claim to it?

What do we really know of ‘reality’ apart from our narrow plane of perception, occasionally punctuated with explanations hailed for the time being as matters of fact?

Can words, theories and numbers, in aspiring to nothing but the truth, ever capture a truth that stands for the whole truth, as if it is within our gift to oversee existence in a godlike fashion?

To be in order to become, that is the question – whether there more to becoming than simply being – whether a cause stands on the threshold of something bigger than itself?

To be continued…

Mike Laidler



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

Where are we?

Evidently, we owe our existence to the presence of a smallish planet orbiting a medium size sun in a named galaxy, the Milky Way, existing among many billions of unnamed counterparts.  But that knowledge isn’t sufficient for us to recognise ourselves or place the universe in existence.  Indeed, the sheer insurmountability of the problem has encouraged us to adopt an alternative approach, by acknowledging that everything exists ‘in  nature’, which we identify as the ‘all encompassing fact of existence’ – as if we can become familiar with the bigger picture by generalising from the details.

However, this introduces another problem.  Whereas everything in existence can be represented as a feature of a micro reality, sometimes called the atomic flux, that’s not where we find the reality of things that transpire.  In short, we are alive and dynamic in a different way.  Nevertheless we presume to gain explanatory depth by tracing our existence back to causes operating at successively lower levels – and our ‘findings’ are taken to be all the more robust when there is nothing else to be found.  But the upshot is not realistic, namely that the atoms are living our lives for us.  Something else is happening.  Something else exists that can’t be found at that level.

So the observation that there must be somewhere for existence ‘to be’ doesn’t prove that everything condenses into its causes in a ‘first place’ – even when there is nothing else to see at that point.  And this paradoxical fact carries on up the scale to include the fact of our thinking – seen as located in the brain ‘because there is nowhere else for it to be’.  But we could ‘see’ our thoughts long before we sought to ‘find’ them objectively.  And our scientific explanations are as much the result of our thinking.  Therefore, the ‘discovery’ that the brain is thinking for us doesn’t do justice to our awareness of the fact or the place of sentience within the very real phenomena of change.  In fact, only a misplaced awareness would deem to identify itself as a mere superficiality that makes no real difference.

Mike Laidler

Links:     ‘Mindless Replicants’: A ‘Point of View’ by Will Self:

‘Science Stories’: The ‘uncanny valley’ of AI:


Hologram universe

Evidently, the universe is observable to us because of a chain of consequences which science endeavours to explain with laws of nature. However, our understandings are not passive representations of the truth, and whilst knowledge might be said to reflect its place in nature, its transformative presence also influences the tide of events. Even so, our intellectual axioms may not give us the final word on the bigger picture in a continuum of change where rules gain exceptions and predictability rubs shoulders with unpredictability. Indeed, behind all the industrious investigations of the ‘open-minded’, we find that every thesis can attract its antithesis. Furthermore, every attempt to ‘get to know’ begins with some idea of what we want to know, in order to recognise a result – so we might expect the same with a knowledge of the universe, which begins with the notional idea of its beginning.

Superficially, all the prominent theories share a common theme or paradigm – that nature is a thing in action. The problem is that the more we analyse it, the less of the ‘thingness’ we find. Instead, we discover that ‘reality’ is a projection of something else, but so is the reality of the ‘something else’. Then is the bigger picture of existence more like a hologram – a projection of another dimension which apparently ends up as the beginnings of the more familiar nature of our universe? And might this question give rise to an exceptional discovery – that we don’t really know what we are talking about in the first place, nor do we actually get to know what we are referring to in the second place – especially if different universes can accommodate different ‘laws of nature’ within the wider ‘reality’ of ‘a multiverse’ yet to be defined.

Mike Laidler (2nd May 2018)

A question of stature

What does it mean to exist?  What is our place in existence?  What makes nature ‘necessarily so’, perceptible, or an ‘it’?  What makes us think that we can capture it in our concepts any more than we can lay claims upon the world through the possession of bodies?  What if it is all transitory and our temporary presence is but a faint speck in the ‘cosmic panoply’ – an integration of ‘material’ and ‘mental’ dimensions in which notions of ‘our time’ and ‘our experiences’ furnish vain illusions of self-importance?

However, just as time extends space and vice versa, so the various perceptible dimensions – such as energy, matter, life, consciousness and thought – may be seen to co-exist ‘in nature’ as an extended reality that is simultaneously one thing and another.  Hence we cannot specify ‘being’ in terms of the way things are or were, nor ourselves for that matter, any more than we can know the extent of the mind in terms of our contemporary thinking – since there is more to existence than we can find ‘in existence’.

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

Goldilocks retold

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’.

Mike Laidler


Whatever else we can know about the beginnings and becomings of the universe, we know it hosts, in us, a reality quite unlike the nature we can find by looking to a universe without – that reality being the fact of our awareness. It is as if the universe has evolved to incorporate something extra, through us, which we know to be real enough simply because we are aware of the fact of awareness in existence – a fact that now seems to exist in addition to everything else. And if that fact only seems to be the case, then the fact of that seeming is still enough to make the case.

Mike Laidler

Seven wonders of existence

It is little wonder, in the light of what we know, that our cause to wonder changes, indeed grows, in the light of what we come to know. It should be of no surprise then to find that official listings of the ‘Seven wonders of …’ remain inadequate despite their range. Fortunately, Wikipedia offers a suitably democratic forum for further resolution; after all, ‘a wonder’ can only belong to the mind that wonders, and cannot be prescribed by an authority that tells us what to wonder about – a point emphasised by no less of a mind than that of Albert Einstein.

It is with some bewilderment then, that I find cause to wonder about a conspicuous omission from Wikipedia’s coverage. Despite all the interest, I can find no listing for the wonders of the universe or existence? Nor can I find evidence elsewhere for the topics being addressed separately. Therefore I am moved to fill the gap with some interim suggestions, in humble recognition of the fact that this is not a task I can accomplish on my own. So I would like to get the ball rolling by making the following tentative suggestions for a provisional listing of the ‘Seven wonders of the universe’, which I see as being a subset of a bigger issue, namely, the ‘Seven wonders of existence’ – a topic which I felt a little more able to expand upon below:

Seven wonders of the universe

1. The ‘big bang’/ inflation
2. Space-time
3. Gravity/ strings/ branes
4. Stars, galaxies and black holes
5. Dark matter/ energy
6. Quantum uncertainty
7. Lawfulness/ order

Seven wonders of existence

Preamble: In compiling this list I am mindful that the notion of ‘wonders of existence’ evokes the related idea of a mystery. And in this centenary year of Einstein’s enduring masterwork, it might be fitting to defer to the master’s insight – that although wonder is the driving force of inquiry, no amount of discovery is likely to prove sufficient to do away with the need for ever more discovery, or our underlying awe of the persisting mystery of it all. Suffice it for me to add the following observation: that we cannot dispel the mystery of existence by finding out how it works, since the facts can show how it works only because it exists.

1. Energy: The universal presence, prime mover and perpetuator. The formless former. We ‘understand it’ as ‘a thing’ in transition – a beginning with no discernible beginning, the progenitor of other beginnings – the ‘sub-thing’ at the source of all things, which we associate with things as they are and then as they change again to become more than they were.

2. Matter: The form of ‘the thing’ seen as its substantive nature and explained as a conversion of energy. A locus of space and time wherein the physical earth exhibits dimensionality whilst being one thing and another in a relativistic state of reality – massive yet diminutive, solid yet filled with space, inert yet brimming with life – risen of a darkness and oblivion that is now filled with light and thought.

3. Life: The synergy of structure, function and organisation within a motility appearing as a radical change in the nature of nature – re-animating it with need, drive, motivation and purpose – adorning the material universe with properties that were hitherto absent from and alien to its character and reflecting the inexplicable fact that every living thing is made of stardust coming to life, yet it all remains as it was beneath the surface, unliving and unchanged.

4. ‘Being’: The pivot of reality. The larger character of things. An evolved state. The perceived nature of ‘reality’ manifest as a pattern of activity built upon previous patterns. We see the process of becoming in the shaping of reality; but it is not possible to predict the shape of things to come by examining the possibilities obtaining beforehand – as if the nature of dust can reveal the nature of life.

5. Awareness: Sight seeking insight. The subject of subjectivity – vacillating between awareness ‘of’ and awareness ‘in’. Being beholds itself in awareness, forming the sense of ‘I’ and locating its recognition in a source seen as giving rise to the perception, which is also the way regard is paid to an outside world. Nevertheless, there is more to awareness than its rendition as a ‘self’ contrived in the desire for its own perception; but to the extent that we obsess over ‘self-awareness’ we lose the ability to see perception as anything other than a fact owing to its object – which is, in the case of ourselves, ‘ourselves’ – in a self we feel obliged to look for as a part of a world that apparently doesn’t know it is being observed.

6. Mind: The font of meaning and belief. The differentiation of awareness into conscious thought. The purposive selector. The arbiter of the arbitrary. The agent of knowledge, deliberation and realisation known to itself as the person. Knowledge introduces the paradox of the knower choosing to know whilst deferring to the facts for an authority they do not have – as if the facts tell us what to know – a stratagem that breaks down spectacularly in the bid to know ourselves. In the same vein we try to reduce our ethical deliberations to independent matters of logic and reason, as if to put them in charge. However, the expansion of the mind (and reality) involved in getting to know suggests that our minds are adumbrated by something bigger, which doesn’t belong to the facts that remain oblivious to what is known about them.

7. Power: The capacity to be. The possibility for there to be possibilities. The ineffable isness that is simultaneously one thing and another, nothing and all things. The dynamic fulcrum of stability and change moving between nothing and something, chaos and order, cause and effect, chance and synchronisation, oblivion and knowledge. Things in existence occupy a power in being which we tend to ascribe to the process of becoming, yet in everything we know of ourselves and the rest of existence, we discover that it is all remains a mere reflection of a greater power to be – an holistic power that is at least sentient, because we are.

Mike Laidler