Phases of knowing

We are stardust – it’s a fact, but what does it mean? Is the stardust the explanation of our awareness? What causes this shift in the reality – to knowing? What do causes explain? Can a chain of causality explain the incremental changes in its causes? In practice, we glibly refer to the ‘thing known’ as the source of our knowing and seek to validate this truth objectively by attributing the knowledge to the facts. But what if there is a categorical difference between ‘things’ and their acknowledgement? That is to say, what if the knowing introduces a new and different phenomenon – assuming that the stardust doesn’t know anything? Or can we avoid crossing a line by naturalising the events, on the assumption that ‘the facts’ are actually imparting the knowledge to us – under the auspice of an all-embracing nature seen as the ultimate source of information about ourselves and the world? Yet, when all is said and done, is our delineation of nature just a crude metaphor for the inexplicable phenomenon of existence?

Don’t we claim to experience the world as a part of ‘nature’? But what does it mean? Would we need to collate the experiences of every creature on earth in order to know what experiencing the world is really like – and what about those yet to evolve? Though is not every experience beholding to its cause, which can be traced back to more original causes, as embedded in the ‘memory of the stardust’? Then does it not go to show that ‘nature’ is the self-sufficient cause of its own evolution. Indeed, does it mean that all the information in the universe comes down to ‘a first cause’, acting alone – because ‘nature’ was already pre-eminent in the properties of its primitive foundations – ‘the origin of everything’? Also, don’t the plants know when it is spring – prompting the conclusion that knowing is diverse and ubiquitous, whilst all we claim to know amounts to no more than a mere extract, a species-specific caricature of understandings and experiences that do yet do not actually belong to us?

Mike Laidler

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)

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

Towering Foundations

We can’t pretend not to care much about the nature of belief, or who believes what, when everything we know and care about is entwined with our beliefs. Belief is ubiquitous; nothing is immune from its influence, indeed it forges our understandings of reality and recognisance of the facts since it provides the frame of reference in which we turn to fact and reason. But if we are to glean anything from the observation of one another – about the interplay of belief and reason – it is that belief is more accomplished at making its way without reason than is reason without belief. And in this world of beliefs, if we are to discern anything about the basis of knowledge that forms opinion, it is that there is no such thing as a neutral fact.

Mike Laidler

The Silent Truth

There is a simple truth that defies all explanation because it forms the basis of all explanation. It towers over our philosophies, religions and sciences, dwarfing the edifices of knowledge by which we claim to know. It can’t be magnified by theory, refined by belief, or preserved in tablets of stone. Neither is the ratification of discovery or reification in fact sufficient to define its boundaries. Nor can it be captured by the finesse of the artist, or the subtleties of scholarship, or the trappings of authority. Indeed, it empowers knowledge by stripping away all authority in what we can claim to know – for the knowledge that needs to be bolstered by authority is not true knowledge. And history shows that it is not with the mouth of truth that the facts are said to speak for themselves.

In the name of reason, we reject the possibility of a knowledge beyond the reach of our understanding, except as we allow it to be held in trust for us by others believed to know better. Thus we entertain proxy truths in relying upon the edicts of appointed authorities to tell us what we can and cannot know – as if personal knowledge is a recipe for ignorance, contradiction and delusion – as if reason can resolve the paradox of existence – as if paradox is the antithesis of truth. So we try to overrule the simple truth, believing that it must give way to the necessity of explanation. Yet the more we come to know, the more we come to realise the sheer scale of what we don’t know. Meanwhile, the fact of existence remains a mystery and the simple truth remains silent within the paradoxical pre-existence of possibility.

Mike Laidler

Knowing Belief

Reality may be seen as a plurality of the physical and metaphysical, more especially because the ‘thinking makes it so’ – for whilst the physical world remains essentially insensible and objective the metaphysical becomes personal and subjective. This form of metaphysics is evident in the nature of thought thinking about itself: ‘I think therefore I am’ – knowledge being a state of mind discernible in the recognition of its own inferences. However, our obsession with the inference of a reality beyond inference leads us to infer that real knowledge belongs to external facts that know nothing, as if they can also explain for us the transition to a knowing universe and demonstrate that the fact of the knowing is a change of less significance than ‘the facts’, in the greater glory of their objective oblivion.

It seems, to those who care to look, that knowledge is a minefield of assumptions beginning with the mind’s inferences about itself. Not surprisingly, popular forms of factual knowledge purport to minimise the need for inference – so in knowing for sure that Paris is the capital of France we may also rest assured that other forms of factual knowledge will not lead us astray. But such knowledge masks its own deficiencies and our ignorance of a deeper truth – that all ‘knowing’ is built upon inferences fashioned into beliefs. Indeed it is belief, rather than fact, that is the patron of knowledge, actively tuning the known by turning and pitching one understanding upon and against another; and no matter whether it ends in agreement or disagreement, that end is mediated by belief because the facts can’t tell us what to know.

Belief and knowledge are more alike than we might imagine, yet we tend to believe that knowledge displaces belief, which is why the ‘knowledgeable’ are dumfounded by what others are prepared to believe in disregard of the ‘known facts’. However, the knowing adds something to those facts, and the conclusions we draw go beyond the facts, entering into the realms of belief by the fact that we are drawing conclusions, and in particular because we feel the need to do so. So whether or not we are ‘in the know’ we are all using beliefs of one sort or another to put that knowledge in perspective, and it is the perspective that determines what we are prepared to make of ‘the facts’. Of course belief and knowledge are not static, then it is a matter of belief whether we take the facts to be static – and in every discipline the basic facts are open to reinterpretation, or not, depending the beliefs upon which that discipline is founded, and by which means the discipline gains its purpose. Indeed, to know is to believe we know, but to truly know is to know we believe and that we ‘believe in order to understand’, knowing that knowledge is built upon the myths by which we ‘explain the inexplicable’.

Mike Laidler


You can learn about wisdom by studying the wisdom of others but you can learn wisdom only by studying yourself.
Wisdom knows the limits of knowledge in knowing that it depends upon the nature of knower as much as the facts known.
Wisdom is a paradox to itself, knowing the one thing we may be sure about is that all we know remains dwarfed by the magnitude of the unknown, which, by definition, we do not know. Meanwhile all the confidence and certainty in the known merely serves to divert our attention from the great unknowns upon which the entirety of knowledge is built and continues to grow.
Wisdom gives to knowledge doubt, knowledge gives to wisdom the cause to doubt.

Mike Laidler

Cogito ergo est

I think about thinking and find that it is more than all I can think about.

Thinking represents a bigger change for the universe than it does for us – because we represent that change.  The big changes for us come of what we think.  In any case, there is something unique about thinking, something that we know about uniquely from the inside.

That we think locates thought, not as a subjective retreat but as a substantive presence in existence; and if we are to assume anything about a universe that is bigger than us, it is that it begins for us in the presence of thought – a presence of which we are a part – a thinking presence that is more than all we can think about by reference to ourselves alone.  We are internal to all that is not confined to us

And the clearest view of ‘external reality’ is not by the assumption of an extended physical realm as a matter of primary necessity, but by way of a wider reality that embraces us as a fact of inevitable distinction – a facilitating mental realm.  For we do not awaken to the panoply of a sentient universe in the belief that it has merely awakened in us, or as something that is secondary to a ‘real’ universe that is devoid.

Mike Laidler

Believing in Belief

What is truth?  How do we know that we know?  Is it all a collection of beliefs?  Even science may say one thing today and another tomorrow, so an individual who follows yesterday’s precepts might now seem ridiculous – as if today’s explanations are closer to the truth.   Then does that make the truth, even factual truths, belong indefinitely to tomorrow’s understandings?

Then how do we truly know that we know?  Should we stick to our senses, or is there more to know?  We live and learn, and form opinions based upon experiences that lead to differences of opinion, even among experts.  Facts can be inconclusive, but they can’t make our decisions for us in any event.  Experiences are far from simple and those we take to be conclusive are usually filtered through tacit decisions about what counts, the primary filter being belief.  Our confidence in the facts is really a confidence placed in our tacit beliefs about the facts, certainty playing second fiddle to these beliefs.  Hence belief enables us to make decisions when we don’t know any better, the belief supplying the feeling of knowing better.

Knowing anything strikes a balance between the knowing and the knowing otherwise. The balance point is determined by belief.  Beliefs fabricate our certainties based upon images of reality.  Beliefs are the active mental screen on which those images are projected, together with the elaborated images of our senses.   Sometimes we recognise our beliefs, seeing belief as a form of thinking for tidying-up our thinking.  But if belief is a power we exert over our own minds, it is also a power exerted over us by the collective mind of our culture.   Often we can’t tell the difference or don’t bother to try.

We see as we believe, believing we see as we see.  Believing in belief flourishes amidst the urgency to know.   In a paradoxical world, belief is the possibility inviting us to entertain impossibilities that just might be true.  Not knowing is the only restraint we can exercise, but the exigencies of decision making may not allow us the scope for this luxury.  And the various forms of disbelief, non-believing and unbelieving all function as forms of belief serving as alternative social co-ordinates bearing an aura of superior neutrality.  Meanwhile the question about what is truth converts into an issue over what may stand as proof – as if proof is the unequivocal imparter of knowledge that remains independent of what we believe.

If it is ‘true’ to say that belief is the last refuge of the individual, then knowing that we believe is the last refuge of our integrity as individuals.  Then what of truth?  Perhaps belief affords a more pragmatic approach to truth – in accepting that truth is greater than our knowledge, and that the truths we make do with reveal more about our tacit systems of belief than we can ever discover by looking to the facts as absolutes, as decisive matters of fact.  But the same applies to the truth about our beliefs, for we cannot find an absolute in their content simply by believing in our beliefs.

Thus it may be true to say that knowledge is power, especially within our various spheres of influence and cultures of belief, including the religious, the political, the economic and the ‘factual’, but who can say that knowledge is truth?  Alternatively it might be more prudent to consider a more basic truth about knowledge:  knowing that we believe is the safest form of knowledge, believing that we know the most dangerous.

© Mike Laidler 2015

What God Where?

Who can say there is no power of being in existence or deny that the power takes the form of a sentient reality? Who can say that the power of personal being belongs to something else, wherein it is absent? What is the evidence to show that consciousness can be understood better as something unconscious? And how do we discover the origin of consciousness in something else, as if to say that consciousness is really an after-effect? Is not everything seen as an after-effect? Is that not how power appears to be?

Do we not avail ourselves of consciousness in order to begin to look for it as something else, said to be its cause? So how can we say that it is explained by tracing its nature to a different, unconscious nature, as if to say that the one reality reduces to the other? And in the process do we not underrate the very thing we are looking from whilst attending to its preconditions in the lesser reality we are looking at? Then by what criterion do we identify the change to awareness, which we are eminently qualified to recognise of ourselves, as a fact of something less, deemed to be more substantive in being the cause?

Is it not time to re-evaluate the evidence we look to when we claim that sentience and subjectivity, knowledge and understanding are merely after-effects of something more real – that things are more real when reduced to something less? Is it any less realistic to regard change as a fact of what can be, of something more – a power-to-be?

Mike Laidler