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:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b6pjh5

‘Science Stories’: The ‘uncanny valley’ of AI: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06vy2jd/episodes/downloads

 

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

In sight of the supranatural – Part 1: Out of oblivion

Part 1

Realist:  ‘I don’t see a place for God in the universe.  There is no supernatural meaning to life, no divine purpose to existence, no celestial antidote to the finality of death, no sublime answer to those heart-felt ‘why’ questions – and we are quite capable of deciding matters of right and wrong for ourselves.’

Phenomenalist:  ‘How do you know you are right?’

R:  It’s obvious.  Show me otherwise.

P:  Do you regard yourself as a product of nature?

R:  Of course, and that’s why I can see things for what they are.

P:  Then what makes you begin to consider the status of meaning, purpose and the supernatural in the first place?

R:  I’m simply responding to what others claim.

P:  But wouldn’t you agree that all manner of events take place within nature?

R:  What’s your point?

P:  Well, things change and either nature represents everything through a plurality of natures or because it hosts a supranatural reality that goes beyond the parameters of the purely mechanistic.  Either way, the idea of a universe that remains devoid of thoughts and intentions doesn’t do justice to the facts.

R:  That doesn’t prove there is a meaning to existence.

P:  Nevertheless, the presence of a mindful, meaningful overview represents something of a larger reality than that portrayed by the blind workings of nature in its biological forms.

R:  Aren’t you are jumping the gun by claiming that this proves there is a meaning to life itself?

P:  Perhaps it is you who are failing to address the facts, because you want to say that the reality can be explained in terms of its ‘building blocks’.

R:  Well it can.

P:  Only by redefining the facts to suit.

R:  It is you who are doing that, by implying that mental life is something more than the physical properties of the brain.

P:  Yet, without a sentient dimension to reality the physical functions of the brain would not be observable.

R:  But there is nothing to see except the workings of the brain.

P:  However, you wouldn’t expect the brain to display anything else.

R:  That’s because there is nothing else.

P:  Only at the level of brain processes.

R:  Don’t be ridiculous.  You are contradicting the accepted findings of science.

P:  It was once thought that the brain changes colour when we perceive different colours, but now we know that brain processes differ from the properties of light in the outside world.  Likewise thoughts differ in kind from the biological properties of the brain.  The evidence suggests that effects, like perceptions, are not simple copies of their causes, otherwise nothing would change.

R:  But causality is in control.

P:  Although we can’t be sure what it amounts to.

R:  What do you mean?

P:  Causality is a transitional process – causes change, effects redefine causes and the tide of change raises questions about how to address the evidence – how do we find a basis in fact, and is it right to start by assuming beforehand what must constitute an acceptable candidate?  In short, what we find is that the cause doesn’t tell us everything.  We can’t even be sure about what nature is and whether we can explain it as a thing that explains other things – the cause of all causes.

R:  So what are you saying?

Mike Laidler

To be continued…

 

 

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

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

Surviving Death

Will systematic organ replacement do the job?  Or even a head transplant?  Do we need to remain biological, or could synthetic body parts take over?  Setting aside the ‘hardware’ questions, would it be sufficient to transfer the memory into a suitable receptor – real or artificial?  Ultimately, could we liberate ourselves from our physical encumbrances?  Might this constitute some form of rebirth – or should we accept our lot and patiently await the redemptive intervention of an insuperable supernatural presence?  In any case, is it immoral to cheat death?  Is it not ethically appropriate to strive for self-improvement, both physical and mental and isn’t modern technology a benign means to a desirable end?

But do these scenarios use up all the options?  Are we definable by our embodiments?  If not, by what extra-bodily capacity are we able to recognise the difference?  And isn’t our brand of intentional action something alien to nature?  Also, doesn’t consciousness introduce a real difference that is neither evident in the stark biology nor definable by what we happen to be conscious of?  Likewise, what if there is more to us than a life we can call our own?  Then what if we are more than a personality forged by circumstance – because personal being transcends our individuality and we retain the flexibility to be more than we can become in any number of biological lives?

Mike Laidler

 

The nature of everything

We are a part of a universe that is ‘everything’ and from which we ‘inherit’ all our characteristics, yet it doesn’t appear to be all that we are because, unlike us, its nature isn’t characterised by thinking sensibilities.

Undeniably, we are a part of something bigger than us, but neither the evidence nor our reasoning is sufficient to resolve the conundrum that ‘nature’ does and does not include those thinking sensibilities – that the resultant ‘everything’ turns out to be more than its beginnings.

Perhaps ‘the nature’ we take to be ‘the starting point’ of existence is, in fact, a plurality of natures, which is why our observations of causality don’t give us all the answers we so willingly ascribe to it – especially when there happens to be so much more to the nature of the effect than we can find in the cause.

Mike Laidler

The Burden of Proof

I   The ‘big bang’ of change

If ‘everything is stardust’ then stardust does more than replenish the universe with lumps; yet even if we could see it all unfold before our eyes, into a living, conscious intelligence, we might gain no more than a cursory overview – courtesy of those somehow ‘enabled’ lumps perceiving themselves – otherwise the stardust isn’t everything.  In fact, we don’t understand these changes, despite all their conspicuous causes.  For instance, the emergent properties of life do not ‘boil down’ to its unliving chemistry – something changes, but it is not germinal to the chemistry, which enables, supports and sustains a difference by remaining as it is.  These dualisms pose problems for proof and explanation that show up in the reasoning we apply to the perception of change – either by identifying a ‘transformative event’ with things as they are, so ‘nothing really changes’, or by differentiating it from things as they were, which taxes logic and leaves the explanation wanting.  In other words, we cannot explain a fundamental change in terms of the properties of a cause without begging the question; and whenever causes are found to diverge, the ‘explanation’ runs into a convolution of uncertain proofs – which is why scientific conclusions are ever prone to error.  Thus no one can prove that order in the universe was caused by ‘the big bang’ or that energy gives definition to form any more than the properties of stardust cause consciousness or the nature of existence comes from the pre-existing nature of its causes.  Indeed, every explanation carries inferences based upon the form of our reasoning in excess of the facts – with the result that facts considered to be self-evident, such as: ‘everything is a part of nature’ and ‘everything has a cause’ lead into explanatory quagmires over ‘the cause of everything’, the necessity of change and the primacy of possibility.  So, if nature is the ‘bedrock of our being’, and everything remains a part of ‘nature’, then our faculties, like everything else, function as natural effects of natural causes, to the extent that nature is now ‘perceiving itself through us’.

II   The ‘little bang’ of chance

Proof begins in the imagination, by imagining that the world is explicable by its causes, as if we can find the nature of one thing in another because an effect is derived from its cause, with the same being true for acquired states of knowledge.  However, such explanations diminish the very fact they purport to explain, namely the fact of change.  Neither do the laws of nature prove that everything has its beginning in the pre-existence of a master cause that provides a blueprint for the universe becoming what it is from what it wasn’t, or otherwise changing from what it was to become more like itself.  Nor can we make the inexplicable explicable by presuming that chance changes the boundaries of possibility when, as a matter of fact, the evidence points to the converse.  Nevertheless, our acknowledgement of a causal continuum serves us well in rationalising our place in existence, as proved by the prerequisites for survival; except that our nature and evolution provide only the semblance of an explanation of the course of change towards an agency that is deliberate intentional and inquisitive – properties that are alien to their ‘primal causes’ in nature as it was.  In fact, all we know is that change introduces new properties – new boundaries of possibility by which we can also see that we differ from our origins in the oblivious morass enough to be threatened by it.  And we can also see that nature is more than a ‘chance engine’ for creating and shaping these possibilities – since chance has no internal mechanism for transcending itself – to become more than itself by chance – whereas ‘nature’ diverges to become a plurality of natures containing meanings, purposes and necessities that stand in stark and inexplicable contrast to things without.  Furthermore, we do not explain change simply by observing it then determining that our observations must explain it if there is nothing else to discern; and no perspective can be big enough to prove the necessity of change by way of the necessities we import into our proofs in order to make them logically tight, and ours.

III   Effects as causes

‘Seeing is believing’ when belief stands in for proof – and the question of proof confronts us once we try to look beyond appearances, to seek the reality behind ‘the seeming’.  Even so, we don’t look to the resolution as amounting to a difference of our making; instead, we experience it as coming through the perception in the same way as we experience perception as coming to us from the world.  Yet there are realities within realities – as when perceived sounds and colours come to transcend their primary causes.  Also, the vast array of our self-conscious perceptions mark a step-change in reality, just as perception marks a step-change from its causes in an oblivious world.  And all the evidence points to the same fact – that our knowledge of the world, even as perceived to be caused by it, is not necessarily the same thing, though we may wish to presume there is no ‘real’ difference for the sake of its validation.  Likewise, we see necessary connections between causes and effects, but it is not the cause that turns first to make the difference real.  That is, the perceived difference ‘arrives’ with the appearance of the effect, there being no change till then, and the fact that the ‘effect’ is as much of a cause in such transitions is known in the event that it becomes a necessity for any further ‘causal changes’ to be perceived, otherwise its existence is superfluous.  Nevertheless, we expect that the change can be explained by identifying it with a preceding cause, as if the cause now belongs in two versions of itself – to be better known in retrospect, for what it ‘really is’ in prospect.  Unfortunately, original causes aren’t amenable to explanation, but undaunted by this, we prefer to perceive the universe, qua existence, as a developed property of an ‘original cause’, as if the possibilities remain defined by this ‘fact’ – thereby proving to ourselves that all subsequent changes are somewhat less than original, and that our perception of everything as a version of stardust goes to show that we are perceiving reality ‘as it is’.

Mike Laidler

Is science never right?

Is it true, as said, that ‘science is never right’?† Then is there something that goes beyond the fact of the ‘scientific facts’, calling into question their propriety, which might also call into question scientific findings in fields of study ranging from medicine and psychology to economics and climatology? Does it mean that there is more to knowledge and discovery than science can offer and that our scientific methodologies have their limits? Or does it mean that science is above reproach – because it has already taken account of its fallibilities and has dispensed with belief, especially the dogma of believing totally in itself? Might this allow scientific opinion to form the bedrock of opinion about matters touching upon explanations of fact, including the nature of existence; therefore we can be assured that non-scientific opinions are inferior – for what can those opinions amount to if even the rational sciences can’t profess to being absolutely right – ever? But is it possible that there is more to the universe than its scientific firmament, and who is qualified to say? Who is the impartial questioner of the facts? – not science, if science deems that those questions can be valid only when they are framed scientifically. 

If physicists are ‘never right’‡ then does it mean that governments are being approached to fund scientific projects on false pretexts, with promises of results that cannot be trusted? Does it mean that the famous Higgs boson is not necessarily real just because physicists say it is, or that it may be when they believe otherwise – because the evidence to contradict or redefine their findings is always round the corner? Are scientists claiming that the evidence tells them what to think, when it is their thinking that directs their attention to ‘the evidence’ and its selection? How important is the weight of evidence if it stands to be overturned by facts that hitherto weighed lightly in the minds of scientists? Perhaps explanation is but a technical way of expressing theories loaded with meanings that cannot be finalised – meanwhile discovery involves something more than a factual retrieval exercise. Perhaps it means that the real world is bigger than science and that science remains as it was at the outset – a methodological philosophy of nature. Perhaps ‘nature’, so called, amounts to a theory about something that is bigger than our grandest ideas about what it is – including the idea that it is a thing in existence definable by advantage of its observation.
Mike Laidler

† Interview with the scientist Brian Cox on BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, 16 June 2016. (Vide: ‘The science paradox’.)
‡ Per Professor Brian Cox speaking on ‘Start the Week’, BBC Radio 4, 19 December 2016.