We’ve had a century in which philosophy and its life-long partner, metaphysics, have been divorced. The result has been an abandoning of the big questions and the age of nihilism that had to be a necessary consequence of such a rupture. In fact we could define nihilism as a condition in which the big questions are not allowed to be asked. What we gain from this separation is a certain liberation from theological speculations and so many of the absurd dogmas and superstitions that religions propagate, but- what we lose is a serious vision of existence and our direction forward. In short, we lose our meaningfulness in the deep sense. “Vanity of vanities” was the great nihilistic statement.

Nevertheless, metaphysical thinking hasn’t ceased, in fact it’s healthier than ever in what are the most unlikely places: in the halls of science. It is the scientists – the quantum physicists and cosmologists – who are now speculating on the origin of things and all the multiplicity that has grown from that origin like never before. An example of this can be seen in this TED talk by Brian Greene:


or this other by Martin Rees:

It is this scientific community now who are obsessed with the big questions: what are we?; where have we come from?; where are we going? Ideas of fine tuning in the universe, or multiverse, leave fertile ground for religious thought, but the new ideas are usually coming forward from atheists who see no real, scientific reason for wavering from their godless universe conceptions. A multiverse idea implies that if there have been endless amounts of universes, eventually one of them will have to work. In an infinity, our existence is a mathematically certainty.

But this reduction, or expansion, of our necessary reality created by the mathematical necessities of infinity doesn’t have to diminish the meaningfulness of our existence. Even if purpose is accidentally formed, when we find it we must not only acknowledge it, but embrace it and rejoice in it.

Real purpose may lie in something as simple as: Being is in our perception of it. Philosophy has always hovered around this point: a point that became quickly confused and obfuscated by the idea of God.

For philosophy to be able to think metaphysically again God had to be removed from the equation. Metaphysics had to be separated from God not annihilated along with God’s elimination.

However, it seems that metaphysics is a stronger element than 20th century philosophy credited it to be and new metaphysical and teleological theories are being born in quantum and cosmological discoveries. This metaphysical renaissance of meaning into the fabric of science must bring about a return to the idea of philosophy in its purest form… the pre-Socratic purity of the big questions.



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  2. As an antitheist I have always seen a deity as confusing the issue. Philosophy and metaphysics requires no deity. Physics, chemistry and biology push back the boundaries of knowledge. I believe it is important that we develop a universal philosophy for human beings and all living creatures on this planet, foster our enquiring minds and appreciate what wonders we have around us.
    Thanks for your blog – It is definitely not a pipe – not even a painting of a pipe.
    Best wishes

    • “I believe it is important that we develop a universal philosophy for human beings and all living creatures on this planet, foster our enquiring minds and appreciate what wonders we have around us.”

      Seems contradictory to being an antitheist, because that’s pretty much exactly what a theist does.

      • Yes, but I think a theist puts God into the equation. If you can imagine a theist without God, or an atheistic theist, then you’re right.

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  4. >> Being exists in our perception of it. <>Being exists in our perception of it<< would best be fine-tuned as "Being is our perception of it." And then of course you're now confronted with immensely gargantuan task of justifying the very empirical assertion :).

    That said, thank you for the follow, I'm glad I found your blog, lots of delicious stuff – I enjoyed this article too, just that one statement jumped out! 🙂

      • You’re very welcome Paul! For whatever reason a good chunk of what I had written got effaced in the upload, maybe the quantifier symbol threw wordpress for a loop 🙂 Anyway, looking forward to your posts (I also downloaded the pdf of the Foucault article you had in footnote on heterotopia, thank you for that reference!).

      • As an amateur, self-taught pseudo-philosopher, I’m flattered that a “real” philosopher has seen some value in what I’ve been posting. I also enjoyed your entry on Perfection (the only thing I’ve had time to read on your site so far). I’d never thought about the way mathematics cheats before, so it has been enlightening and I look forward to reading more of your work.

      • Oh yes, and one more thing, analytic philosophers could get even more persnickety with ‘being _is_ x’ and say even that’s a redundancy, of which case the statement ‘Being exists in our perception of it’ would most safely be condensed to ‘we perceive Being,’ or another objection could be raised that ‘being _is_ x’ is equivalent (ontologically-logically) to ‘x exists,’ of which case the rewording of ‘Being exists in our perception of it’ would be something like: ‘we make existence assertions based on perception, therefore being-as-such is inferred as the condition and source of all perceptions’ (or something like that). Phew! 🙂 Indeed metaphysics is a sticky wicket!

  5. Thank you for the kind comment Paul … and if you’re a thinker, as _you_ are, you too are a bona fide real philosopher, and in my opinion far more real than many of the stuffy academics I’ve encountered hitherto. Kudos my friend.

  6. It’s difficult to avoid metaphysics and existentialists have subjectivized it to transcendent experiences.

  7. Hi Paul

    Agree with much of what you wrote and all that Don wrote.

    A few things I see as relevant and missing.

    It seems that there are three different realms that are usually distinguished only as one by most people, and being able to distinguish them as 3 separate realms with their own characteristics is very powerful.

    First it seems that there is a physical reality, and it has various sets of attributes at various scales of organisation. At the scale of normal human perception it seems to very closely approximate a causal system – effects following from causes most of the time. And at the scale of the very small, that is not so, the system is much more loosely constrained, and seems to be random within certain probability distributions. That mix of the random and the lawful is very important, as it allows for the possibility of acausal action (choice, freedom etc) within certain very specific sets of conditions.

    The second thing is our experience of reality. This seems to be a domain very distinct from reality itself. It seems beyond reasonable doubt that our experience is of a very slightly predictive model of reality (about 200ms usually) model of reality created by our subconscious brains, that is the only access our consciousness has to reality. It seems that the model is assembled from experience (past and present) and is under normal circumstances very accurate, and kept entrained to reality by sets of predictor neurons using current sense data.

    The third thing is meaning (or significance). Meaning is very important to human beings, it allows us to quickly navigate through the choices presented by both the model of reality and the possibility spaces we see as being present. It seems that both the model and the possibility space are constructed and conditioned by past experience, which experience includes information from our deep genetic past carried in our genetic make-up and the way it conditions experience, information from our cultural past in all aspects of culture, and our choices and declarations. It seems that the entire system of human cognition usually has between 12 and 20 levels of interconnected systems, often with many instances of competing and cooperating systems at each level, and with information and influence flowing both between and within each level. It is very complex (in complexity theory terms) and is dispositional rather than causal in many contexts.
    It seems that evolution has developed the heuristic of meaning to allow near real-time response to complex situations that if we had to stop and rationally think about them to make a decision would result in us either starving from inaction or being killed by some looming threat.
    It seems that reality is complex in ways that requires a lot of familiarity with mathematics to be able to make sense of, with numbers like 10^7, 10^10, 10^22, 10^40, 10^50, 10^220 all being very significant, in very different ways. Yet to most people those numbers are simply big, if they are understood at all. So it seems clear that long before such numeric notation existed, operational heuristics were required to navigate reality.

    Thus it seems that:
    Reality exists, but we have no direct access to it;
    We can experience only our model of reality, which is usually a close fit to reality itself at the scale of normal human perception; and
    Reality itself is devoid of meaning, it has only existence, and we bring meaning into our models of reality as a necessary survival heuristic.

    And for most people, throughout most of history, these three things have been collapsed into one. Existence, our perceptions of it, and the meaning it has for us, all wrapped up together as a whole.

    Unbundling that package is an essential step on the path to building a more useful model of the reality within which we appear to find ourselves, and the classes of options and possibilities available to us.

  8. Thanks for your detailed comment, Ted.

    “Reality exists, but we have no direct access to it”, but we do have access to it through our experience of it, and through the use of our Sapiens capacities.

    I prefer to see reality in two states of existence, that which knows and is known (the Sapiens, perceiving universe), and that which is incapable of knowing and is unknown (the unperceiving, inanimate or non-organic universe).

    Purposefulness (and existence itself) lies in the “acts” of knowing and being known.
    I emphasise this here in order to demonstrate my own conviction that reality is meaningful through the development of consciousness. As Sapiens organisms, we are therefore, a vital element in the meaning and purposefulness of existence and reality itself. As such, a purpose and meaningfulness is implicit for all human beings, as long as they are willing and allowed to develop their consciousness.

    I agree with you that there is a survival heuristic involved in our models of perceiving reality, but this has become very distorted in societies that have been cultured by the anti-humanity interests of wealth that in fact create social, cultural and ecological scenarios that threaten extinction rather than facilitate perpetuation.

    I think you yourself see the dangers when you say, quite rightly, that: “Unbundling that package is an essential step on the path to building a more useful model of the reality within which we appear to find ourselves, and the classes of options and possibilities available to us.” But I would put more emphasis on the “usefulness” turning it into a necessity and meaningfulness. We need to build a more necessary and meaningful model of reality, in order to ultimately fulfil ourselves as the “knowing” element in the tremendously complex fabric of the cosmos.

    • Hi Paul,

      I don’t see any evidence for any sort of “knowing” aspect of the cosmos, except as a set of complex systems capable of recursively modeling self (using their brains).

      I do see a lot of evidence for levels of complexity, and emergent properties from many levels of complex systems evolving and interacting.

      I see evidence for really complex behaviours coming from organisms with brains.

      For organisms with brains that create predictive models of reality, that then have language evolve, there appears to be strong evidence for the existence of self aware software operating within such brains that experience the ability to be consciously purposeful. But nothing more fundamentally different than that, and that is very different from one perspective, and from another perspective it is “just” the next logical level of emergent properties from a particular class of complex systems.

      I see evidence that we have choice about interpretation and purpose, and in the absence of active choice, such voids are filled by cultural defaults, the stories and implicit assumptions of the language and culture we happen to be born into (whatever that may be).

      I’m a long way from my cultural defaults on most such issues. I have been actively questioning and challenging many of them for well over 50 years.

  9. Hi Ted,
    You wrote:

    “I don’t see any evidence for any sort of “knowing” aspect of the cosmos, except as a set of complex systems capable of recursively modelling self (using their brains).”

    Yes, but the brains are in the cosmos, created by the cosmos, and there is probably no other consciousness in the Universe except in these complex configurations. In these Sapiens brains, therefore, lies the consciousness of the cosmos. Or, in a more down-to-earth expression, “we are the brains of the Universe”.
    This relationship cosmos-consciousness via Sapiens-consciousness must be a vital one, especially as the existence-conscious-of-itself-as-existing (what Heidegger called “Dasein”) is itself fundamental to existence itself. Nothing exists if nothing knows its exists.

    This is a metaphysical conclusion based on a scientific diagram of reality.

    It is my view that by bringing this vital conclusion to the forefront of our consciousness we immediately add a more purposeful, eschatological viewpoint to our lives which sees the whole of humanity (as Sapiens) as a vital part of the Universe.

    After we know the science thought bifurcates in two potential directions. The reality presented to us is either determinate in some way or it is accidental.

    However, if we ask the question “what do we do next?”, which implies “Is there a purposeful way forward?” and our conclusion is “Whatever the answer is we need to have a purposeful way forward” then the bifurcation of the determinate or accidental Universe folds back in on itself. If it is determinate then we have to pinpoint what that determinateness really is (“Why would the Universe create consciousness?”) and if it is accidental we need to invent a determinateness that would allow for purposefulness. And because we want to do this in a scientific way, then we need to find a way of looking at reality in a scientific and a metaphysical way.

    Of course, the alternative is that everything is accidental. But this creates nihilism and the kind of society we have today that is dominated by a lack of “great, Universal purpose”.

    That is my argument so far.

  10. Hi Paul,

    The statement “Nothing exists if nothing knows its exists” is just bunkum.
    Just consider the reductio ad absurdum of it.
    If nothing can exist with something knowing it, then how can knowing come to be?
    If one accepts that premise, then it tautologically proves the existence of awareness as a primary, but it is nonsense in that sense, as it proves nothing except where logic applied to ill founded assumptions can lead.

    It is simply a statement without grounding in reality. A false set of assumptions.

    One needs to be very clear between the distinctions, existence and perception.
    If you look up at Betelgeuse (the second brightest star in the constellation of Orion) then you become aware of the existence of that giant sun some 625 years ago, and no entity there could possibly have any knowledge of your or my existence as yet (not for another 565 years will my birth be observable from there).

    Existence just is.

    Our awareness of it, the occurrence of a model something within the subconsciously created model of reality that is our experiential reality, is something else again – it is a beast of a very different nature.

    As to choice.

    If reality is wholly deterministic, then choice is illusion, all talk of morality or value just empty words determined in the first instant of the “big bang”.

    Fortunately, the evidence from the study of the very small is that this reality in which we seem to find ourselves is not strictly causal (which is great news for morality and discussions where individuals such as ourselves think we have some degree of choice in what we do).
    It seems clear that at the lowest levels, reality is a complex system, a stochastic system constrained by sets of probability functions.

    Fortunately, such a system does allow for free will, for actions that are not entirely determinant, yet has some levels and contexts approach determinism to such a high degree that the difference is less than the measurement error of our best available tools. So we get the best of both worlds – engineering and choice.

    The evidence is clear to me, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that mathematics and logic are great modeling tools, and given that our perceptual reality seems to be a model of something, making our qualia of experience a model of a model, it is not surprising that we find these tools useful. However, it is a mistake to think that they necessarily describe reality as it is, and they do seem to deliver the best descriptions we have available (limited as they probably are). And I get that there are a few twists in that mobius loop of logic, and it has taken me close to 6 decades to come to that conclusion with confidence.

  11. Thanks again Ted,
    Reading through your comments now, it seems that the point of the post has drifted away from the divorce between philosophy and metaphysics toward the divorce between science and philosophy, I say this because your last comment seems to come from the scientific-naturalistic perspective rather than the philosophical one.

    The Idealist dilemma “Nothing exists if nothing knows its exists” can never be bunkum from a philosophical point of view, but yes it is nonsense from a naturalistic, scientific or a laymen’s one. But that is precisely where the beauty of philosophy lies.

    “Esse est percipi” is a paradox, and the paradox is philosophical poetry, just as other great paradoxes: “All I know is that I know nothing,” “God is dead”, Wittgenstein’s duck drawings or even Schröder’s “The cat is alive and dead at the same time” are philosophically poetic statements. Paradoxes defy logic and to understand them one needs to think beyond the vicious circle.

    To call the paradox bunkum then is to deny philosophical poetry and to do that, I suggest, is to deny philosophy itself.

    Science would like to do it – Stephen Hawking already has (please see my article “Philosophy is Dead (?)” ) about that )

    Berkeley’s “Esse est percipi” has been the basis of the metaphysical thinking of such thinkers as Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Husserl and Heidegger (who tried to avoid the term “existence” precisely because of all the pointless “bunkum” statements thrown at the mention of it, and used Dasein instead). Even Nietzsche wrestled with it (he begins Zarathustra with it).

    So, your arguments are naturalistic and non-philosophical because they lack an understanding or appreciation of this philosophical poetry. Your arguments are therefore closer to science. But even scientists have a propensity at times to drop their naturalistic logic and indulge in paradox or absurdity in order to explain the profoundly difficult thought. Schröder’s cat is paradoxical poetry Should we demonstrate the logical inadequacies in that proposal? No… and mainly because I wouldn’t be able to understand Scröder’s defence any way.

    To say that Esse est percipi is bunkum by using logic is tantamount to exclaiming that E=mc2 is humbug because one cannot square an alphabetic symbol.

    But all of this is diluting the point of the original argument which is: We have to keep asking the “Big Questions”. Where are we going? Why are we here?

    Our culture is nihilistic and absurd. A Universe without perception exists but it is absurd and that absurdity makes it possible to say that it might as well not exist.

    Multiverse theory speaks of an infinite amount of multiverses. As far as we know, most of them, of all of them except this one, have failed. This one hasn’t failed because we perceive it and through that perception we affirm its existence. But, without any possibility of that affirmation (either explicitly or intuitively) then all the other multiverses have failed and may as well be considered as not existing at all. The existence of the non perceived is an absolutely absurd existence, without purpose.

    We however can be purposeful, and should be because we can. My purpose of writing this blog is to try and open purposeful doors for our profoundly nihilistic civilisation. Where are we going? if we are headed for annihilation then esse est percipi is a meaningful cry of caution. If we destroy the capabilities of maintaining life on this planet before we have had a chance to emigrate to other worlds, the universe (with apologies to extra-terrestrial life forms) will be rendered absurd, and, in purposeful terms (because an absurd universe has no purpose) may cease to exist.

    To make our existence purposeful again we have to know where we are going. The problems with humanity are created by a lack of human purpose. When we are constantly asking “where am I going?” we forget to ask “where we are going?”. It is the lack of will to ask “where are we going?” that has created the nihilist civilisation we have today. And that is why I wrote this post.

    • Hi Paul

      Thank you also for being willing to state your case so clearly.

      You commented that “the point of the post has drifted away from the divorce between philosophy and metaphysics toward the divorce between science and philosophy” which is in one sense correct, and in another sense couldn’t be further from the what I see as the closest approximation to truth that I have.

      For me philosophia – the love (or more closely tending towards friendship, but with passion and commitment) of wisdom, is what this is all about.
      Metaphysics, is about the nature of being in the world, and is a part of philosophy.
      All of science, came out of the philosophical tradition, of enquiry, and to me saying anything about the human condition requires a reference to the best knowledge base that we have, which is science.

      It is now clear to me that all understanding is based on sets of distinctions, abstraction, and relationships.
      This understanding has come to me from studying many different domains:
      the development of philosophy, of history, of the context of thinking, from many different traditions;
      the development of the understanding of logic, of complexity, and the types of relationships that are possible;
      the development of our understanding of the physical world, from cosmology to chemistry, quantum mechanics to computers;
      the development of our understanding of living systems, evolution, RNAs, cells, multicellular systems, evolution of control systems;
      the development of understanding computation, algorithms, the distinctions between probabilistic and deterministic domain spaces.

      I have grown up and had intimate experience with all these many different domains simultaneously.

      From a very early age (as early as I can recall – age 3) I was rewarded for challenging accepted wisdom and creating new ways of doing things.
      I have never been particularly constrained by social acceptance, at any level.

      Sure it is nice when social acceptance and agreement happens, and it has been such a rare thing in my life that I am very used to living without it.

      So it is in this context, that I see the modern distinctions many claim between philosophy, metaphysics and science as being completely illusory, as they are all part of the same system.

      And sure, as every individual must traverse the space from simple approximations (binaries) to more complex approximations (large sets more closely approximating the infinities that are being modelled), then every individual has to pass through stages of simple approximations to understandings and beliefs, there is no other way possible in either logic or practice. And with adequate intention on developmental contexts, it should be possible to reduce the time individuals spend in such simple domain spaces from the currently norm of decades to something more closely approximating minutes. And that will be a major change in pedagogy (educational practice) at all levels – which being part of a highly interconnected system implies changes in culture, economics and politics that very few have yet contemplated – and (as is not unusual) I jump many steps to what is clear logical consequence for me, but may not be at all obvious for anyone else, who has not challenged the cultural assumptions that I have.

      So it is in this sense, that most of what has passed for metaphysical thought over the last few centuries may be true enough within the implicit assumptions that all engaged accepted, but is to me essentially irrelevant, because of the results of enquiry into the very fine structure of physical reality, and enquiry into the nature of complexity and computation more generally, have clearly falsified that unexamined set of implicit assumptions.

      It it now very clear to me, that the universe within which we find ourselves is not founded on hard causal rules.
      Sure, much of what we experience, much of what we see and test, seems to be a very close approximation to following causal rules; except that when we get down to the scale of the very small, the rules seem to change, and the level of complexity present seems to deepen beyond the binary, and into the stochastic, within probabilistic boundaries. There are rules, but not the hard rules of true and false without exception. It seems that in some domains there may be infinite gradations of truth values.

      The thing to get, the most difficult thing to get, is that both science and logic have proven, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that Idealism itself is Bunkum. It is such a simplistic model, it is kind of like trying to build a functioning space ship, complete with computer guidance and rocket motors, using only Lego bricks.

      The assumption set of Idealism is not how reality works. That much is clear.

      The thing to get about paradox, is that the presence of paradox is an indication that the existing explanatory framework has come to the end of its utility and it needs to be transcended. Paradox is an indication that one must go back to foundational assumptions, question them, and start again.
      It is always an uncomfortable process, but after doing it a dozen or so times, one starts to get used to it, and one starts to see that life is likely to consist of some approximation to an infinite set of such experiences, should one be fortunate enough to live long enough to experience them.

      Having been involved in both developing computer systems, and in understanding how the human brain works, for over 40 years, I have a different perspective on Wittgenstein’s duck/rabbit drawings. Nothing particularly profound there for me, just an aspect of pattern recognition, distinction and association. Many different algorithms available to deliver the same functional outcome.

      To give a feel for what I am getting at (and what I believe Hawking is getting at), just consider the simplest possible non-trivial set of cellular automata. If we have a simple one dimensional array of cells (of potentially infinite length),and we allow only two states (present and absent) and we say that the state of any cell in the array in the next iteration is some function of the state of the cell in the last iteration, and the states of its two neighbours at that instance, then that is 3 cells of two possible state, of 2^3 which is 8 possible states. There are 2^8 possible combinations of those states which amount to the total domain space of system rules for that system.
      That is a really simple system space. A 1 dimensional array, 256 possible rule sets.
      One would think that such a system would deliver simple outcomes.
      But rule 30 doesn’t.
      Rule thirty delivers a system where starting from just a single present cell, the pattern that develops is very complex. The left side is quite regular in a sense, the right side less so, but with still some degrees of pattern emergent, but the centre region is essentially without pattern – a very useful approximation to random.
      So from very simple systems, it is possible to get behaviour that is not predictable.
      How much more so from systems as complex as us?

      It seems to me that it is perfectly fine to investigate any system of logic. That is a possible use of ones time in existence.
      It does not seem to me to be valid to try and apply the results of any such speculation to reality without the use of the tools of science, and the deeper exploration of the tools of domains of logic and domains of computation.

      David Snowden is a complexity theorist who has developed a wonderful little simplification of complexity that he calls the Cynefin (pronounced Kin-evin) framework. He does a great introduction to it in a youtube video:

      When one marries that, to Feynman’s approach to quantum mechanics, and Wolfram’s approach to the exploration of domain spaces and algorithm spaces more generally; and then brings all of that back to an understanding of evolution in biological systems, working in both the genetic space of molecular systems, and in the more abstract mimetic space of computational and behavioural systems, working within the very complex systems that are the human brain, then one begins to get the shadows of an understanding of just what we might be, and just how infinitely complex and unpredictable and creative we can be, if we are able to transcend the limiting assumptions that were required to get us to each stage of awareness (as Nietzsche spoke of with his ladder, but he had no real idea of brain structure or function and no real glimmerings of understanding of computational spaces more generally).

      For me, I love the old Zen Buddhist saying, that for a master, on a path worth walking, for every step he takes forward, the destination gets two steps further away.
      I get that.
      An understanding of infinity (any infinity, let alone an infinite set of infinities that are all interrelated) is like that.

      I also get very clearly what was meant by the saying “it is never too late to have a great childhood”.
      Aspects of my childhood were not at all pleasant, but I can see clearly now, that I would have been highly unlikely to be what I am now, had I not had that set of experiences at that time. And that is not any sort of acknowledgement of Karma or anything even remotely similar, it is just acknowledging complexity and probability and the evolved systems that are a human being in a human culture in an ecological context.

      So your assertion that my “arguments are naturalistic and non-philosophical because they lack an understanding or appreciation of this philosophical poetry” do not ring true for me. To me, that sort of argument is an attempt to avoid doing the hard work of going back to the assumption sets that lead to paradox, and questioning them until one finds a way of eliminating the paradox.

      And after one has done that a few times, one gets to accept that there is highly unlikely to be any end to such a path. It seems highly probable that all any of us will ever have is “currently useful approximations that have not yet been falsified by any context we are aware of” – and that is about as close to truth as anyone can reasonably expect to get. And it seems entirely probable that most people engaged in the enquiry will have far more open questions than they will have “useful approximations” (it’s just that to those earlier on the path, the possibility of those questions hasn’t even occurred yet, so they just see the answers they seek).

      To me “Schrodinger’s Cat” was a clear attempt by Erwin Shrodinger himself to identify that the paradigm then in use had come to the end of its utility and needed to be replaced. He knew that much (and for that he has my greatest respect), and he was also clear that he had no useful candidates for a replacement at that time.
      So much misinterpretation has resulted.

      For me, the big questions are similar:
      How did we get to be what we are?
      What might be possible?
      What set of criteria or values could one use to reliably choose between any sets of possibilities one can distinguish and influence?

      In one sense, those questions can be interpreted as “Where are we going? Why are we here?” but not in the sense of any sort of pre-existing purpose in being, but rather in the sense of a choice of a self aware and self determining entity, in as much as self awareness and self determination are possible, and acknowledge many levels of influence and the necessity of much simplification in building any model of understanding.

      So for me, there is a clear set of answers to those questions.

      Where are we going? Where the intersection of the probabilities resulting from our choices, mixed with the fundamental stochastic nature of reality take us.

      Why are we here? This seems to be an oft confused question. In the sense of how did we come to existence in this instant, it seems to be the result of evolution by natural selection at ever recursive levels involving every greater levels of cooperation, initially at the genetic level, and then in the realm of mimetics, until we each individually achieved bootstrapping into existence as a self aware entities in language. Once we achieved such self awareness, and once we became capable of choice, we each became capable of choosing a “why” for our existence. And in the absence of such an active choice, cultural parameters will fill the void.

      To me, it seems clear that I do exist, and that existence has merit, and that it seems both sensible and logical to maintain existence. That leads me to a set of values which value individual sapient life as the highest value, and the freedom of such individuals to responsible action (where such responsibility includes reasonable efforts constrain ones actions to those that preserve the life and liberty of others), which applies to all sapient life forms, human and non-human, biological and non-biological.

      And freedom in this sense is not a licence to follow whim, it is a responsibility to consider the effects of ones choices in the larger contexts of space and time and all the occupants thereof, in as much as one reasonably can, and acknowledging the uncertainties that must exist, the simplifications one must make and the mistakes that must happen occasionally.

      In this sense, the work of Elinor Ostrom, on the sort of limits on system of commons access that do work long term, and the need for mitigating strategies to punish cheating within very narrow limits, neither too harsh nor too lenient, are critical to stability in such a high level cooperative contexts.

      Cheating strategies can always evolve, and we must always be alert and searching for them. And my father had a very powerful saying “never ascribe to intention that which can be adequately explained by incompetence”.
      So detection of cheating is not a trivial issue, it is profoundly complex.

      Our culture is based on market values.
      Markets require scarcity to generate value.
      When most things were in fact scarce markets made sense.
      Now that we have the technical capacity (through automation of robotic systems) to deliver universal abundance of a large and exponentially growing set of goods and services, the market based system of values now works against the interests of most human beings.

      Our culture is neither nihilistic nor absurd, and it can seem like both to a reasonable first order approximation.

      Our culture is the result of many levels of evolution, many levels of historical trends, sets of assumptions (once useful, now no longer so, but so accepted as to be unquestionable truths for many).

      It seems we are all capable of asking such questions, and we have many social institutions that actively work against such questions being asked by most people.

      I’m not going to go down the multiverse scenario, because reductio ad adsurdum demonstrates the infinite energy requirements of such a system. It obeys nothing approximating conservation laws. Doesn’t make any sort of sense in way. It’s about the most non-sensical interpretation anyone has ever come up with.
      Far easier to go back to the basic assumptions and question them.
      But most people would rather accept infinite expansion of energy and mass than question the assumption of truth itself.
      And I can see why that is so – as our existence requires we believe in the idea of truth in order to bootstrap our awareness.
      And while such a belief is necessary to a stage of existence, it is also a limiting factor to further advancement, and needs to be put aside once used.

      In a sense I can agree with your statement “it is the lack of will to ask “where are we going?” that has created the nihilist civilisation we have today”. And as explained earlier, it is holding tight to an untenable set of simplistic assumptions that forces people into nihilism, rather than letting go of such assumptions and claiming the infinite creative potential that is the birthright of every human being.

      And most would rather be “right” about not having such choice, than to leave the certainty of such righteousness for the uncertainty of a fully creative existence.

      And it seems clear that it’s all models.

      Reality, it seems, whatever it is, is what it is.

      And it seems very probable that we are human beings, apes with brains, with animal natures, cultural natures, and infinite creative potential as individual rational agents in an uncertain existence. And, as such, our experiential reality seems to be the model of reality that our subconscious animal brains create for us.

      And this seems to be the matrix within which all of philosophy (which for me recursively includes science) exists.

  12. Thanks Ted. What you are presenting is fascinating and I thank you for it. I’m neither a philosopher nor a scientist (I make my living in the arts) so much of what you explain is fresh to me and is useful stimulation.

    Nevertheless, you have not been able to successfully explain to me why Idealism is bunkum (for I assume you are saying that it is bunkum for everyone, not just yourself. I can understand why it would have no usefulness for you or for many others, but I cannot understand why it is nonsense for me or for everyone else).

    As for your analogy between Idealism and making a rocket ship with lego bricks makes no sense to me. How is that the same?

    You were right in saying that Idealism is a very basic idea with little to say. Yet, its beauty is in its simplicity. What Idealism does do, is place Sapiens minds in the centre of the universe, as that which is able to perceive and know the universe. It indicates the beauty of the Sapiens mind and points to the unifying matter of humanity. We are all Sapiens and our great potential and our authentic place in the universe is in our minds. Humans fail when we lose our authenticity and human authenticity is that we are Sapiens.

    Is that bunkum?

    The homo sapiens has evolved, or more correctly, has been dragged into the skin of the homo economicus. The all-consuming Wall-Street mega whale hell bent on accumulation and the subsequent shameless excretion of its waste. The homo economicus wants to expand and it is suffocating the planet on which its existence depends. The homo sapiens is swallowed up by the homo economicus. Homo economicus has no purpose other than accumulation. This purpose, however, is unauthentic and for that reason, absurd and nihilistic. If we are driven by a motor built along a paradigm that depends on continual growth, then that paradigm is absurd, its dynamic is internecine and because of that it is profoundly unauthentic and nihilistic.

    As an affirmation of Sapiens, therefore, Idealism should not be considered b.s. but rather an inspirational tool that can be used to centre ourselves in our authenticity in order to act purposively.

    Idealism and cosmological fine tuning imply that Sapiens is a reason (accidental or wilful) behind cosmological evolution.

    This assumption might be true or false… it may be impossible to prove it, perhaps we needn’t try, but what it does provide is a positive pointer toward what our purposive relationship is with the universe. It is pointer that is non-nationalistic, with no scriptures to prove or disprove it other than cosmological data or quantum calculations. Its ideology is holistic, binding authentic sapiens humanity with the universe. One does not even need to think too much about the Idealism of it. But the principle is there: we are the centre of the universe and we have a partnership with the universe.

    As for my earlier mention of a determined universe: please don’t confuse what I’m saying with a wholly determined universe which makes everything pre-destined and takes away all our freedom (I am not talking about that at all). I use determined in the sense of wilfulness. Albeit: how an inanimate universe could possibly be wilful and purposeful is beyond me… but… does this mean we should not consider the option?

    Yes, wilfulness and purpose are human notions that are only our human-subjective view point of reality… but, yes, we are human beings, and outside of the capabilities of the human viewpoint there is no other viewpoint that we can turn to. Our Sapiens perception and analyses is all we have got and to get into reality we have to objectify our subjectivity the best we can.

    As for my Sapiens purpose in writing these blogs it is to find reasons for purposeful human progress; for envisaging a better way of life; a better partnership between humanity based on authenticity; a better partnership between ourselves and the world/universe we exist in and would not exist if we did not.

    Cosmological fine tuning (science) and Idealism (philosophy) make this purposeful search for purpose easier and (from my own humble Sapiens’ artists point of view) more meaningful.

  13. Hi Paul

    This is all to do with how we model the world in a sense.

    When you look at the numbers that science gives us, the world is amazingly complex. The smallest mote of dust that the human eye can see still contains many billions of atoms. So our native understanding of reality is of huge collections of atoms, which are themselves large collections of quarks etc.

    So when each of us is developing as very small children, and our neural networks are making sense of the world around us, and making distinctions about the things that exist, and populating our mental models of reality with predictions of how those distinguished things will be in the next few milliseconds, they make those models, those predictions, based upon trends learned from experience.

    It seems clear that all of our experiential reality is of this subconsciously assembled model, not of reality itself.

    This aspect of experiencing the model is important to understanding higher level abstractions that we use to make sense of the model.

    Idealism seems to assert that the mental model is reality, rather than accepting that the mental model is our model, and delivers our experiential reality.

    That distinction is very important.
    There is another layer present, that few people who are not both neuroscientists and computer programmers find intuitively obvious.

    A couple of years ago I created a diagram that gives a rough visual guide to how I see experience and reality being related:

    How that relates to using Leggo bricks to make a rocket ship is, that leggo bricks are great tools for making models at certain scales of accuracy, but when higher resolution is required for full functionality, they fail completely.

    One of the hard things to get is that it seems clear to me now that all modelling tools, all mechanisms of understanding, are like that. They are fit for purpose at certain scales, but fail if pushed past that particular scale, or used outside of the context within which they have been proven.

    Idealism is like that.

    People noticed that perceptions of reality varied. They made some assumptions about the nature of reality, and the nature of understanding, and came up with the idea that reality requires consciousness. Which is sort of partly correct.

    What now seems to be clearly the case, based on the understandings available from the use of modern tools (both mental and physical) is that our experiential reality is in fact a model of the physical reality beyond. We consciously have no direct access to physical reality. Our only access to physical reality is via our experiential reality, which is a subconsciously created predictive model of reality itself.

    Kant, Hegel etc had no idea about neural networks, or computer models, or subatomic physics, so what seemed intuitively obvious to them was something very different to what seems obvious to someone immersed in the concepts and distinctions of computer systems, biochemistry and neurophysiology.

    The bricks they used worked at the scale they were working at, but don’t work at the scale I’m working at, and in that sense, they are bunkum from the context of the biochemist/neurophysiologist/computer-geek. To me, using those conceptual tools to try and build an understanding of what we are, is exactly like trying to build a fully functioning rocket out of leggo bricks. Can’t be done. Trying will build something that from a distance looks exactly like a rocket, but there is no chance at all of it ever flying into space.

    For me, the idea of placing sapient minds in the centre of the universe is exactly like the old idea of having the earth at the centre of the universe. It sort of makes sense when you first consider it loosely, as in when we look up, we see the sun and the moon and the stars going around us. But then, as we look more closely, the model starts to make not so much sense, as things start to have odd relationships to each other. Eventually we come to Einstein’s gravitational distortion of the space time continuum, which is a more useful approximation for certain purposes than the earth being at the centre of the universe.

    For me, as a student of evolutionary biology, putting sapient awareness at the centre of the universe makes as much sense as putting the earth at the centre of the universe does to a modern cosmologist.

    I can understand the appeal of the notion in days past, but am clear that it is falsified beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt by modern evidence sets.

    There are other ways to secure purposefulness, that are aligned with a modern understanding.

    I am all for self declared purpose.
    I am all for individuals owning their creative abilities.
    I am all for individual life and freedom, in a context of social responsibility – demonstrating respect for the life and liberty of others and for the ecosystems within which we find ourselves.

    And for me, those things most powerfully emerge from a context of complex systems in a recursive process of evolution by natural selection, where the role of cooperation exponentially expands as each new level of complexity emerges. So at the lower levels the process seems to be all about competition and survival of the fittest, and at the higher levels it is more nearly all about the levels of attendant strategies present in the cooperatives that prevent invasion by cheating strategies.

    To a good first order approximation, all major developments in the complexity of evolved systems are the result of new levels of cooperation that are stabilised by new levels of strategies to prevent invasion of the cooperative by “cheating” strategies.

    It seems that there are about 20 levels of such things present in the average human being, from the atomic level, up through the molecular, to several levels of cellular, through social groups, and then through many levels of behavioural systems within our brains and our cultural contexts.

    We are very complex entities.
    I have been over 50 years in the enquiry as to how complex we are, and I am profoundly aware of my ignorance of the detail, though I have some very useful tools that let me see very tiny parts, I am aware that to look at all the parts in detail would take far longer than the universe has existed – it just is not a physical possibility.

    To me, idealism was an approximation of something, the usefulness of which has been superseded, and the assumptions sets underlying it have been invalidated, replaced by models that deliver greater utility in a far broader context.

    For me, the idea of idealism hides much more than it illuminates.
    For me, it is clear that reality contains sufficient complexity for us to evolve from a sorted random walk through the space of possible strategies (evolution by natural selection). In a space where sets of strategies can come together to create new spaces of possibility (where recursion folds the process back on itself at the new level).

    For me it is clear that from that complexity, self awareness can emerge, as a software entity within a software model of reality, and it can claim both choice and creativity, for both are in fact its natural birthright – as are such experiences as compassion and wonder and joy and love.

  14. Too much science, and too much reality, is very good for the homo economicus but it is lethal for humanity. Any direct transition from the homo economicus to Sapiens would create abominations. This trans-humanist leap forward is already underway and this is why I am convinced that humanity has to discover its authenticity before it is lost in a nightmarish dystopia. You are enlightened Ted, and you walk in the field of Sapiens, but it’s hard to see a systemic leap forward into your field bringing about anything but more social injustice, a greater gap in the distribution of wealth and resources, and a greater loss of liberties.
    Biomechanics tells us that before we leap forward it is necessary to take one step back. Before we can go forward unto Sapiens we have to find the Human world that we have never had. Philosophy and science are needed to seduce humanity beyond the homo economicus and into the Human, but, with the exception of great humanists like Albert Einstein, science is too enamoured by the Sapiens to do that.
    Let me repeat: any direct transition from homo economicus to Sapiens without establishing Humanity will be lethal for human beings.

  15. I’m sorry Paul, I have no idea what you are talking about.
    Can you spell it out for me as explicitly as possible.
    Biomechanics tells me that the best way to leap a long way is to build up as much speed as possible then leap as high as possible, and let your momentum carry you as far as it can in the time you manage to stay airborne (strap on some wings, add a little motor and some fuel, and you can go quite a long way). Most of the things that limit us are the cultural assumptions that we fail to challenge.

    What do you mean by – “establishing humanity”? What does that mean for you?
    As far as I am concerned we have been human for millions of years, we are just upgrading our operating systems more frequently now. We are going post cultural, and culture is still there, it just doesn’t have the degree of influence it once had.

    What I see as lethal is a devotion to money and markets that is an article of faith to so many, when clearly, logically, it is now the greatest danger we face.

    • When we keep scratching the surface eventually we get down to the essentials. But this is probably not the right place to debate those essentials, as in order to do so we need to explain everything from scratch. That, I am trying to do in a series of books, the first volume of which I hope to publish before the summer (northern summer). Basically though, in order to comprehend what I’m talking about in my previous comment you have to understand that I think we have endured an anti-human historical process, retarding the idea of any human identity, separating us through anti-human identity processes of tribalisms, classisms, nationalisms, racisms, etc.. that have been geared to operate in the interests of Wealth. This anti-human historical process has defied our identity as homo sapiens, in its place creating a non-authentic form of humanity that we call the homo economicus (or global capitalism if you prefer). The direct shift from this homo ecomicus identity being to the advanced technological identity of Sapiens would, I believe, be a fatal one for humanity as a whole. Technology would continually be used for the purposes of accumulating wealth for the wealthy/powerful and the herd nature of the masses as mindless consumers would be exploited to its fullest, fabricating nightmarish dystopias. To avoid these dystopias in the evolution towards Sapiens, we need to transcend the anti-human historical process and establish an authentic human purpose for the global village.

      • Hi Paul

        I agree, in a very real sense, yet I understand it from a very different set of paradigms. I see an “an authentic human purpose for the global village” as being on of freedom and security, that empowers diversity by giving individuals to both the material needs and the personal freedom to do whatever they responsibly choose, which includes the individual choice of purpose.

        For me, it is all about evolution, and most particularly about the evolution of our understanding of evolution both as a process, and as a practical reality.

        For me that involves exploration of concepts like recursion and abstraction and infinity – particularly all three of those applied together in the general space of paradigms of understanding.

        When one is able to start to see that what we see as valuable is very much determined by the sets of assumptions we are willing to accept, something changes.

        When one is able to see that there might be a possibility of long term self interest (not in the abstract sense of survival of our descents, but in the personal sense of living for thousands of years), the paradigms and pay-offs change.

        When one can see the reality of strong exponential signals in real abilities, and the possibility of security that those signals offer for the far future, it more than offsets any discount rate that historical experience shows one ought to apply to benefits in the far future.

        So yes, all the things you say are true in a sense, and in the sense of the sorts of strategies that are available in the general space of possible strategies, starting from the simplest, and working out through greater levels of complexity, what we see in history is precisely what a random walk through such a strategic possibility space would deliver.

        So to me, rather than being any sort of grand conspiracy (and life often does have various levels of conspiracy in it, so I don’t entirely discount conspiracy), it seems most likely to be a very complex system, which may yet be capable of delivering security and freedom to every individual. And it is often a very difficult process breaking people out of their current paradigms space. It is a very human thing to become strongly emotionally invested in the paradigm space one has available.

        Being human is a very complex thing.
        It seems we are composed of quarks and molecules.
        It seems we are composed of cells and organs.
        It seems we have culture and experience.
        It seems we have the possibility of infinite complexity, and ever expanding recursively abstract levels at which we can increase our abilities to choose and to influence.

        It seems we have all of these natures, simultaneously.

        It seems we are complex, in the deepest sense of complexity theory, many orders of magnitude beyond our ability to consciously comprehend in detail.

        We have no option but to find heuristic shortcuts that seem workable to us in particular contexts. That is an essential part of being human.
        We must each make our models of the world in which we find ourselves, to the best of our abilities. Such seems to be reality in the deepest of senses.

        And we all have to start from simple paradigms like right and wrong, true and false – and work from those to ever closer approximations to the infinite spectra that seem to actually be possible in this reality within which we find ourselves.

        So I agree, we need to transcend ideas like family, tribe, village, district, club, nation, class, race etc and acknowledge that we are all far more alike than we are different, however profound our differences, and if we want security and freedom for ourselves, then appears to be beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that the greatest probability of that is delivered by creating systems that deliver those things universally.

        This is the point at which the exponentially expanding abilities of computation and automation that can deliver such things, intersect with the paradigm of market value that served us so well in historical times of real scarcity for most things.

        The abundance that automation is capable of delivering is now directly in opposition to the abstract notion of market value, and the association that many have between markets and freedom. It takes some intellectual rigour to separate the idea of freedom in practice from the idea of value determined by markets.

        Hayek pointed the way. His understanding of markets as part of an information processing system allow us to see clearly how to replace that system with one that far more effectively delivers the freedom and security and prosperity that most of us seek.

        And such freedom comes with responsibility. It is not the childish freedom to follow whim or fancy, it is an adult freedom that has a responsibility to take reasonable measures to mitigate any identified adverse impacts on others. It is a very complex and very dimensional set of probabilities.
        In this world of responsibility there is little that is simple, little that is easy, very little that is black and white.

        It requires ideas like compassion, acceptance, tolerance and forgiveness etc.

        And it does in fact seem to be possible, for all of us.
        And it has to start small, and grow.

  16. Pingback: The Purpose of the Universe | pauladkin

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