The philosophy of the bloody obvious has been carefully named and it has an honourably long pedigree. I will tell you something of its history.
My name is Obvious Leo and I call myself a Natural Philosopher. This title is no longer fashionable nowadays, but it dates back to the time when philosophy and science were regarded as two sides of the same coin. Sadly this is no longer the case. However to a Natural Philosopher they are inseparable, since both science and philosophy have assigned themselves the common goal of seeking to explain the nature of our physical universe. My philosophy is an ambitious project because such an explanation is the very task which I have set myself. Thus the re-unification of science and philosophy is the primary unification which I make in the philosophy of the bloody obvious, but it is only the first of many conceptual unifications which I seek to consolidate in this work, so in the tradition of the Blues Brothers you might say that I’m trying to put the Band back together. Leo is a unifier.
My journey of the mind began in my adolescence, a time when minds are naturally inclined towards contrarianism, and perhaps I never grew up because I’ve always been something of a nay-sayer ever since. I was a geeky sort of kid and I was interested in science from as early as I can remember. I didn’t really become interested in philosophy until my late adolescence, but I can’t seriously claim to have known all that much about it until I was well into my adulthood. Philosophy is both rich and dense, but it takes a hell of a lot of eclectic reading, and even more of lateral thinking, to extract much useful meaning out of it. I’m now approaching my dotage so my voyage of discovery has been a long one, and often not a fruitful one, but I’ve always been a voracious reader and a compulsive thinker whose only meritorious character trait could best be described as a stoic doggedness. I’ve dabbled in writing throughout my life and my writing style reflects both my personality and my method. I learned to think by talking to myself and I learned to write by writing letters to myself, and in matters of the self I’ve learned to take no prisoners. This duologue technique forced me to apply the blowtorch to the soles of my own feet at the slightest hint of self-delusion, and therefore I have no tolerance for casuistry, particularly when reflected in my own words. Thus I am part preachy pedagogue and part recalcitrant contrarian, which could equally well be explained by the fact that I’m an Australian man. Australian men are men of opinions who have a well-deserved reputation for taking bullshit from neither man nor beast, and I hope I’ve succeeded in extending this worthy characteristic to my own process of self-analysis. Specifically, I am an inveterate trouble-maker but a selective one, and once I took to philosophy it didn’t take me long to find some serious trouble to make.
I always knew that one day I would sit down and write my own philosophy, because I encountered something at quite a young age that shook me very deeply. I had always been fascinated by the science of physics, and over the years I had learned quite a lot about it. With all due modesty, I felt that I could describe myself as a very knowledgeable layman in the field. I wasn’t much good with the equations but I had read an awful lot of physics and I felt that I understood the underlying principles of its various epistemic models very well. To my horror I discovered that these models described a universe which made no fucking sense, and I was determined to find out why. This was to become my life’s work.
Once I’d arrived at the conclusion that physics made no sense I quickly came to another one which was predicated on my growing love for philosophy. It seemed impossible to me that our cosmos could be the complex mathematical entity which our physicists were claiming it to be. If philosophy were to have any validity at all it was simply inconceivable that the comprehension of our cosmos would not be the birthright of Everyman. Whatever our universe might be, she could not be any of the host of impossible entities speculated about in the popular science literature, because these absurd universes are only comprehensible to a handful of super-geeks who speak in tongues, the fascinating but inscrutable language of mathematics. I felt that the comprehension of our universe should be intuitively obvious to anybody, and I decided that this assumption would form the central plank of my entire philosophy, and thus of my life’s quest. The philosophy of the bloody obvious was born and named and I could clearly define its objectives. Either I would find the problem with physics and make our cosmos comprehensible or I would die in the attempt. As you can see I never lacked self-confidence, although oftentimes this was merely a veneer concealing an angst-ridden self of hubristic bravado, but it was only my stoic doggedness which kept my nose to the grindstone. Leo was stubborn. One might well wonder why I never took up physics as a career but I somehow knew that joining this priesthood would be a mistake. Although mathematically competent I was never an adept and I didn’t kid myself that I could ever be one. Furthermore, my arrogance notwithstanding, I was never self-delusional and I knew damn well that these physicist blokes were in all likelihood a hell of a lot smarter than me. If the problem of physics were actually a problem of physics then they would have found it long ago, and for almost a century after realising that they had such a problem they hadn’t even managed to lay a glove on it. I didn’t for a moment entertain the possibility that I could do what they had been unable to do with their magnificent mathematical toys. As I saw it, this had to be a problem of a different nature which required a radically different approach. The problem of physics had to be a conceptual problem, and conceptual problems are accessible to reason. This was a task for a Natural Philosopher, for whom conceptual problems accessible to reason are all in a day’s work.
For a Natural Philosopher the problem with physics took only about a nanosecond to discover, because 20th century physics is riddled with metaphysical absurdities. It is inconsistent with the teachings of all of the major philosophical schools of both east and west, dating back to the pre-Socratics and beyond. Its models make several basic metaphysical blunders by conflating the physical with the non-physical, and also by conflating a physical model with its mathematical representation. These blunders went largely unpunished by the philosophical community when they were first presented to a bewildered public. The history of 20th century physics will be much written about from many different angles, but the question which puzzles me the most is this: Where were the philosophers while all this was going on? The navel-gazers were safely locked away in their ivory towers writing learned dissertations, which nobody ever took the trouble to read, about the meaning of other people’s words, which nobody ever took the trouble to try and understand for themselves. So intimidated were they by the mathematical virtuosity of the geeks that barely a one of them had the courage to poke his head above the parapet to voice a word of protest. Meanwhile the physicists, purporting to be on the same mission as the philosophers to discover the nature of physical reality, were parading around a cock-and-bull story about the nature of space and time which back in Plato’s day would have had the whole fucking lot of them sold into slavery. Hardly a squeak of outrage was heard from the hallowed halls of philosophical academia about this gratuitous insult to millennia of diligent scholarship.
However Leo, the contrarian Natural Philosopher, sets a higher benchmark for truth than the academic navel-gazer, and Leo grows impatient at a science which has been stalled for a century. I reckon Everyman has now earned the right to say “Hang on a minute, you blokes. You’ve had your chance at doing it your way but what you’re trying to sell us still makes not the slightest lick of sense. Maybe you should consider a different line of attack.” (I visualise my Everyman as an Australian because Australians generally have little difficulty in adhering to the principle that if it sounds like bullshit it almost invariably is).
The biggest problem with the challenge I faced is that what the physicists are trying to sell us makes astonishingly accurate predictions about the behaviour of matter and energy in the universe, even though the models themselves make no sense. This actually made the nature of my line of attack a little clearer by enabling me to pose the problem of physics as a question. How is it that our canonical doctrines of physics are so bloody useful and yet they describe a universe which makes no sense? I felt sure that this was a question which must have an answer, and when I finally sat down to look for it I found it. I was right. As I had suspected all along it turned out to be bloody obvious, but it wasn’t easy to find because my answer was hidden in plain sight. The problem of physics has existed since physics began, but it took me decades to find it.
The problem of physics dates back to its founder, Isaac Newton. Isaac was a prick of a bloke, and a metaphysical dunderhead, but he was a mathematical whizz-kid of lofty genius who lobbed into the world in the right place at the right time, as is often the case with those who launch great scientific breakthroughs. A more unlovable misanthrope was never born, and Isaac’s mind was host to a vast suite of crackpot notions and primitive superstitions which had their origins in the Dark Ages. This was the millennium of ignorance instituted by the Roman church as a tool of oppression, and much of this ignorance still resonates throughout our world today, contributing mightily to the general misery of the human body politic. Newton’s universe was founded on his a priori assumption that it was the creation of a divine being, and it was thus predicated on the notion of Intelligent Design.
The Natural Philosopher is much attracted to the general principle that Simplicity is Truth, elegantly expressed in the Latin motto:
“simplex sigillum veri”….. The simple is the seal of the true.
In honour of this principle I decided to refute Newton’s a priori assumption on the grounds of Occam economy. To a logician this is a slam dunk, because positing a universe with an external causal agent is to place it beyond the reach of scientific and philosophical enquiry. In other words it’s a cop-out, which if it were true, means that all the scientists and philosophers may as well pack up their crap and go fishing, because it implies that the nature of our universe is unknowable. To a Natural Philosopher the unknowable does not exist, so instead Leo concluded that our universe must be one which is sufficient to its own existence, which means it requires neither a creationary algorithm nor any divine intervention from the invisible hand of the supernatural. This was by no means an epiphanic moment for me because I’d already sacked god as an angst-ridden boy, but the relevance of god to physics had thus far escaped me.
Like Steven Jay Gould I had assumed that god and science belonged in different conceptual magisteria, but I was now becoming convinced that this was not necessarily so. This was the way that Newton saw his world and we see the world the way we want to see it, or more precisely, we see the world the way we expect to see it. This was to become a recurring theme as I delved ever deeper into the problem of physics.
If we rule out the possibility of a universe with a creator we are left with only a single alternative. Binary options are manna from heaven to a philosopher of the obvious, to whom Boolean logic is the under-structure of all other logics. The only available alternative to a created universe is one which has always existed, since existence cannot spring from non-existence. So ubiquitous is this latter principle in every major philosophy that it is unnecessary to advance the arguments in support of it here, but these arguments are many and various1. Once we can adopt this different mindset and accept the notion of an eternal universe we can begin to place ourselves correctly in our relationship to the physical world around us. When we can conjure up in our minds an image of a universe which has always existed we place reality in its correct metaphysical context because the notion of eternity is an entirely temporal one. Instead of thinking of our world as a place we can think of it as an EVENT. The universe is an eternal event which had no beginning and will have no end. By embracing this slightly different world-view I had already achieved a significant unification of concepts for my philosophy, because from this temporal angle the words “universe”, “reality” and “existence” are entirely synonymous terms. To say that the universe exists or that reality exists becomes a tautology because the only thing that can truly be said to exist eternally is existence itself. This was no great philosophical breakthrough because many of our modern metaphysical constructs have their roots in the philosophical traditions of the ancient Greeks, and the old Greeks were much exercised in their thinking by the notions of Being and Becoming. They didn’t surmise the necessity for A Being as the causative agent for reality because to them the universe was simply Being itself in the process of Becoming. Dead Greeks, it seems, have a more sophisticated understanding of the tenses of their verbs, as did Baruch Spinoza who revived many of these ideas two millennia later. In our modern language usage it’s not at all difficult to define the existence of any physical entity solely in terms of itself, in its current state of Being, in the process of Becoming itself in a different state of Being. After all, how could we define our own existence in any other way? This point is central to my entire philosophy so I’ll restate it more explicitly. I am Leo. I am Myself in a particular state of Being engaged in a continuous process of Becoming Myself in a different state of Being and so I am always an ever-changing Leo. I am in and of this universe so it is utterly impossible to define the universe itself in any other way. The universe is simply Itself in a particular state of Being becoming Itself in a different state of Being and is thus an ever-changing universe Newton’s notion of a one-off creation event is supplanted in my philosophy by the more intuitive notion of continuous self-creation, which defines reality as a PROCESS.
“What is the universe, Opa?”
“The universe is itself becoming, Mitchy, just like you.”
My philosophy honours this ancient Greek tradition of defining reality as a process of Being and Becoming, but this intuitive world-view is incompatible with the canonical doctrines of modern physics.
“Time is a deliberate and persistent illusion”…..Albert Einstein
The passage of time is not a valid construct in our epistemic models of physics, but a process of becoming is only definable as a temporal phenomenon, which means that my philosophy heretically acknowledges that time PASSES, exactly as our every innermost intuition is telling us. The truth of time is a truth of which our absent teeth, missing hair and creaking joints never fails to remind us daily. The entire reason why physics makes no sense is because it continues to insist that the passage of time is illusory, but this is pure unvarnished bollocks. In my stripped-to-the-bone philosophy time is exactly what it appears to be, an infinite sequence of moments, and therefore the universe of the bloody obvious is simply a universe which is Itself Becoming and at any given point in time it is simply in a state of Being.
“Itself becoming What?” I hear the physicists roar in their reductionist confusion, thereby revealing their allegiance to Newton’s Intelligent Designer. They may as well ask that question of my grandson, Mitchy. “It doesn’t work that way”, replies Leo, calling on the wisdom of no less a metaphysical giantess than Doris Day herself. “Que sera sera”. The universe will be whatever the universe will be. The future’s not ours to see because it hasn’t been MADE yet. The very fact that a sentient mind exists capable of making this statement is a complete and adequate proof of its persuasiveness because minds are future-makers. In the spacetime paradigm of modern physics the future has already been made, and this makes physics a bankrupt doctrine which reduces a human life to an exercise in Sisyphean absurdity indistinguishable from the theism on which it is predicated. Just as theism obliterates the notion of the human will so too does physics, a conclusion which Einstein was able to instantly draw from his own paradigm and one which disturbed him greatly. No amount of casuistic sophistry, which merely conflates reasoning with rationalising, can accommodate the notion of free will in either theism or physics. Newton’s world is one of objects moving in space but mine is one of events occurring in time. My philosophy will show that these two disparate world-views are mutually exclusive and that Isaac and I can’t both be right. Einstein wanted to have his cake and eat it too, and thus he represented time and space as interwoven, but I will demonstrate that physics ever since has made no sense because time and space simply cannot coexist. I will also show that this conclusion restores the notion of the human will to the nature of the human experience and once again renders meaningful the existence of the individual.
Newton won an argument with Gottfried Leibniz about the existential nature of space and time, and this was an argument which he should have lost because he was fucking WRONG. On the face of it this was just an argument about which of these blokes had invented the calculus, but when we scratch beneath the surface of their two different approaches to the use of this mathematical tool a stark metaphysical distinction is revealed. Newton was wrong because he had swallowed the dualist bullshit of Rene Descartes, and Descartes was wrong because he had swallowed the theistic bullshit of Thomas Aquinas, the official apologist to the papal court. Descartes was another clever mathematician who didn’t know his epistemological arse from his ontological elbow and thus he should have stayed well away from the philosopher’s playpen.
Once we assume that the universe has been created by an external causal agent then some very strange anomalies begin to accrue for physics, and these anomalies are entirely to do with the observer. The observer is the most misunderstood bloke in the history of science, and a bloke who Descartes places beyond the physical universe in the realm of his creator. Descartes’ observer is a little immortal man who lives inside our heads and knows the mind of god. Aquinas had defined this little homunculus as the soul and the soul was a being of a different order than the observer himself. This wee bloke operated independently of mind and could see the real world as revealed to him by his creator. I know all this sounds like a load of shit nowadays but I kid you not when I say that even educated men of this era fell for this sort of crap in droves. Newton followed Descartes’ lead and thus Isaac’s observer observes his world from the outside looking in, a god’s-eye referential frame which is forbidden to the Natural Philosopher, for whom the term “outside” has no meaning when applied to the universe as a whole. Leo’s universe is everything that exists, which means the observer must observe his world from the inside looking out, and looking “out” in the case of an eternal process means looking backwards down the arrow of time. Almost all of the counter-intuitive absurdities of modern physics are rooted in this notion of Cartesian dualism where mind and soul are two different things. This was Newton’s assumption but it needn’t have been thus. Not only did Leibniz have a deeper understanding of the nature of space and time, he was also a monist and thus better understood the existential nature of the observer. To Leibniz, the observer was merely an emergent property of the stuff of the cosmos itself, and thus the observer is embedded within his observation. Rather than observing reality directly, as Newton’s observer could do in the company of his god, in Leibniz’s world-view the observer merely constructs his own version of reality within the confines of his own consciousness. Mind and soul were one and the same thing. This Leibnizian perspective constitutes a fundamentally different way in which he and Newton saw their respective worlds and this fundamental difference in world-views was to have profound consequences for the science of physics which Newton founded. In other words Newton fucked it up because of god.
Physics has been founded on a false foundational assumption ever since its ignominious birth at the hands of one of the greatest arseholes in the history of science. It’s all too easy to say that if Leibniz had won the chocolates in his argument with Newton then our 21st century world would be an entirely different place. It’s easy to say but it’s rather analogous to saying that if your auntie had balls she’d be your uncle. Although it’s quite true in its own quaint way it’s simply not the way it happened, and attempting to derive meaning from a counter-factual event is an unworthy exercise for an examined mind. Like Newton, Descartes was a piss-poor philosopher but a very capable mathematician. Leibniz was both a very capable mathematician and a deeply insightful philosopher, a combination of talents unseen in our modern world. Gottfried was thus the quintessential role model for any aspiring Natural Philosopher, and I adopted him without hesitation as my primary Muse, although by no means my sole one.
Newton assumed the existence of a physical space which could be mapped by Descartes’ three mathematical dimensions. This space was assumed to constitute an arena in which the divine creator could reveal the majesty of his wondrous works. Almost everybody was either a theist or a deist in these god-infested times, and Leibniz was no different, but Leibniz had a far more sophisticated understanding of his god’s nature and thus he had a far deeper understanding of the Cartesian space.
Gottfried saw three-dimensional space as a solely mathematical entity with no metaphysical provenance whatsoever, a prescient notion which Einstein would have done well to heed a couple of centuries later. Einstein’s attempt to put lipstick on a pig was no more than a finely crafted embellishment on the Newtonian space which managed to render our universe utterly incomprehensible, as if it wasn’t already incomprehensible enough. However Leibniz was by no means the only one over the centuries who had differed from Descartes’ peculiar slant on things. The Persian philosopher/mathematicians had known many centuries earlier that our spaces were mathematical objects and not physical ones. They were unburdened by the constraints of Aquinas-thought and could see that a universe that has always existed has no need of a physical space because its journey is through TIME alone. The Persians knew all about reality as a process and they also knew all about the ancient Greek concepts of Being and Becoming. Baruch Spinoza knew all about these things too but Newton was an Englishman, and Englishmen of his era saw no need to consider the views of dead Greeks, inscrutable Dutchmen, godless heathens, or miscellaneous other wops and dagos. Newton had god in his corner, and thus only took notice of people who agreed with him, a human foible from which none of us is entirely exempt.
What Newton did was to mistake the map for the territory, a problem which the “science” of physics inherited and which by the 20th century had evolved into a full-blown art-form reminiscent of Ptolemy. By conflating a physical universe with a mathematical one, Newton had ensured that the “science” of physics was misnamed from the start. Physics was never a science from the day it was born, but rather a branch of mathematics which can make very accurate predictions about the behaviour of matter and energy in the universe.2 Despite what Newton may have thought about the ontological validity of what he was doing that’s all that physics was ever designed to do and that’s all it’s ever been capable of doing. It is a predictive “science” only which makes it only half a science. A true science must be both predictive and explanatory, and once Newton had conflated the physical with the non-physical he had stripped his ingenious mathematical portrait of the world of any possible explanatory authority. It was no longer possible to see the wood for the trees because Newtonian reductionism immediately became the operational methodology for physics.
By the time our 21st century dawned, the non-science of physics had been constructed into a mathematical edifice of spectacular virtuosity and mind-boggling extravagance. It has now proven its worth again and again, and it has brought us to the brink of a technological Super-age, and yet physics is still unable to tell us what our universe is. The philosophy of the bloody obvious does not seek to declare these epistemic models valueless, despite the fact that they make no sense, because this would be to chuck out the baby with the bathwater. What I seek to do is offer an explanatory ontology which can underpin the epistemology of physics and render these models accessible to the tools of human reason.
Mistaking the map for the territory has been a subject dear to the heart of every philosopher in history because it is an aspect of human perception integral to our make-up and one which has meaning at a great many levels. Entire rainforests have been laid waste for the purpose of producing literature which explores the distinctions between subjective and objective reality, and thus the role of human consciousness in our understanding of the world around us. Indeed our very notion of the word “understanding” is a meaningless one in the absence of the consciousness of he who understands.
Specifically this means that the notion of a comprehensible universe is meaningless in the absence of a consciousness to comprehend it, a truth which Einstein found thoroughly mystifying and one which he pithily expressed in this enigmatic statement.
“ The most incomprehensible thing about our universe is the fact that it is comprehensible”…. Albert Einstein
Albert had a bad habit of over-thinking things from time to time because in philosophy the word “comprehensible” in this context simply means that effects are preceded by causes in an orderly and generative fashion. All the scientist or philosopher does is to attempt to unravel this causal chain and model the underlying order. To a philosopher a comprehensible universe isn’t in the least bit mystifying because a non-causal reality imposes no order and comprehensibility therefore becomes an oxymoron. Not only would the philosopher be unable to exist in a universe which was constituted non-causally, he would regard it as the antithesis of philosophy to even contemplate such a thing. Poor Albert could have saved himself a hell of a lot of problems if he’d been a bit more ruthless in the wielding of Occam’s razor, but such is the price of genius, I guess. The student of the obvious is uncluttered by the burden of genius and thus simply accepts that less is more. Comprehensibility is nothing more than a function of causality to anybody with the smarts to unravel the causal connections.
Logically true statements need not always be meaningful, thus it may seem perfectly logical to suggest that the universe can exist with or without observers. Incidentally this is a logic claim which I deny but one which most physicists seem to accept a priori. However the physicists and I are in perfect agreement that an observer-less universe is one that has no meaning. Unsurprisingly most physicists therefore conclude that our universe is meaningless and that the existence of the observer within it is a monstrous cosmic accident. My philosophy unashamedly ridicules this preposterous proposition and asserts that any explanatory paradigm for physics which fails to account for my own existence is a vacuous facsimile of truth and an egregious outrage to human reason. A universe which is sufficient to its own existence must also be sufficient to the existence of any complex entities which emerge within it. The notion of a cosmic accident is anathema to a man of science and a flagrant affront to philosophy, so I reject it. I reject it utterly and I have the bloody obvious with which to replace it. I offer a universe which mandates its own comprehensibility in accordance with a single organising principle which is beholden to only a single meta-law, the universal doctrine of causation. The mysterious “laws of physics”, whose origins lie in the realm of the unknowable, are the construct of the physicist and not an intrinsic property of reality. The mathematical tools which we use to elucidate these so-called divine “laws” are not an intrinsic property of reality either, so I have no qualms in declaring that Newton was a metaphysical dunderhead as well as an arsehole of a human being. These two conclusions are not unrelated but that’s a story for another day.3
In my philosophy I seek to explore the world of the observer, who I earlier described as the most misunderstood bloke in the history of science. After Einstein dropped his conceptual bomb on the unsuspecting world of human reason with his Special Theory of Relativity (SR), there was much anxious hand-wringing amongst the new high priests of physics, and much of this anxiety was centred on the mysterious role of the observer.
Max Planck’s insightful but erroneous thoughts on the nature of the quantum were immediately enfolded within the new SR paradigm and a century of confusion lay in store for the hapless geeks who swallowed it. Once Werner Heisenberg came along and successfully passed off a simple statement of the bloody obvious as a message of profound truth the damage was almost irreparable. We can’t specify both the location and the momentum of a sub-atomic particle simultaneously. Big deal, Werner, we can’t do that for a jumbo jet either, for the simple reason that it can’t have both simultaneously. What the hell did Heisenberg think “momentum” meant? Newton had his problems but at least he understood that momentum referred to a change in location over time. An observation is a snapshot and to specify the momentum of anything at all we need at least two snapshots and a clock, which means two locations and a time interval. In any event Einstein had already satisfactorily demonstrated that our notions of simultaneity were entirely an observer-dependent myth anyway. Minkowski’s co-ordinate time was undoubtedly a clever mathematical ruse but in the real world it meant fuck-all. The philosophers were conspicuous by their absence throughout this troubled period of science history and none of these blokes was ever seriously called to account for either his crappy logic or for any of his other metaphysical inconsistencies.4 In fact the very word metaphysics became synonymous with unscientific thinking under the anti-philosophical paradigm of logical positivism, a chilling doctrine which eliminates the role of human reason from the conduct of human affairs. Inasmuch as physics had any underpinning ideology at all logical positivism was it. This bizarre system of thought essentially denied the validity of millennia of philosophy by acknowledging no distinction at all between a subjective and an objective reality, an expression of Cartesian dualism writ large which had been mandated by the models themselves. Logical positivism is simply a religion of equations where the map is assumed to be synonymous with the territory and reality simply has to conform to observation by brute mathematical force, a perversion of logic with consequences which resonated throughout the 20th century and now into the 21st.
All of this unnecessary confusion was attributable to a single unresolved problem, namely the problem of the observer. At various times this problem has also gone under such aliases as the “measurement” problem, and I’ve even seen it referred to as the “consciousness” problem, a label which sails impressively close to the truth. The physicists were smart enough to realise that the consciousness of the observer was inextricably woven into his observation but they weren’t smart enough to realise how, a shortcoming for which Newton must shoulder the bulk of the blame. After a seminal Solvay conference Niels Bohr offered his science a brilliantly pragmatic solution to circumvent the observer problem, a solution which everybody immediately proceeded to ignore.
“It is not the role of the physicist to determine what the universe IS, but merely to determine what he can meaningfully say about its behaviour.”… Niels Bohr.
This was to become the central plank of the new operational methodology for physics, the paradigm of model-building, also known as “physics is what works”, which was later neatly summed up in the pithy epithet “shut up and calculate”. It would have worked just fine if they’d left it at that but unfortunately physics became a safe haven for a number of self-designated know-alls who just wouldn’t shut up, and thus each ridiculous explanation came hot on the heels of another, up to and including cats that could be simultaneously dead and alive. The hubris of physicists is unparalleled in science and thus Bohr’s cautionary warning went unheeded.
The poor layman, trying to follow what the physicists were banging on about, was thus treated to a century of bullshit from blokes who could change their stories as routinely as their socks. None of these stories made any sense but under logical positivism the notion of making sense was no longer regarded as applicable to the cloistered priesthood of physics. If the equations were pointing to a universe which made no sense then so be it. We must live in a universe which makes no sense. The idea that their equations might not be describing the real universe was simply inconceivable to these blokes and thus to the physicist a universe which made no sense was nothing more than a trivial inconvenience. As I said earlier, in Plato’s day the whole fucking lot of them would have been sold into slavery. Pulling an oar in a war galley would have been seen as a golden opportunity for them to reflect on their sins and an important step on their path to enlightenment.
In the philosophy of the bloody obvious I don’t sidestep the observer problem, as Niels urged his colleagues to do. Instead I confront the observer problem head-on and examine exactly HOW the observer can be so intimately interwoven into his observation, and for this we need the modern sciences of psychology and neuroscience. These sciences define an observation totally differently from the way that physics does with its invisible homunculus. To a psychologist or neuroscientist all that the observer actually observes is information which his consciousness is able to access via his senses. It is his mind which then constructs this information into a comprehensible image of his external environment and it does this on the basis of previously acquired and stored information, which necessarily includes whatever a priori assumptions the observer has already made about the nature of this external environment. This is mainstream orthodox science and not in the least bit controversial. The physical mechanisms by which this information is transmitted to the mind via the senses are well understood and the physical mechanisms by which this information is then processed by the mind into a mental MAP of our surroundings are becoming steadily better and better understood. The neuroscientist takes it as a given that the observer does not observe reality at all but merely constructs a facsimile of it in his consciousness from the information which his senses have received. Thus to a neuroscientist this central pillar of Immanuel Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” is nothing more than a long-winded statement of the bloody obvious. Kant observed the honourable German tradition of ensuring that his philosophy was unreadable but he summed the problem of the observer up quite succinctly in this arresting proclamation:
“(…) Truth, it is said, consists in the agreement of cognition with its object. In consequence of this mere nominal definition, my cognition, to count as true, is supposed to agree with its object. Now I can compare the object with my cognition, however, only by cognising it. Hence my cognition is supposed to confirm itself, which is far short of being sufficient for truth. For since the object is outside me, the cognition in me, all I can ever pass judgement on is whether my cognition of the object agrees with my cognition of the object”.
It wouldn’t win Manny any literary prizes but his point is nevertheless well made. We imagine that our objects are determining our cognition but in fact the reverse is true. In reality it is our cognition which is determining our objects and the consequences for physics are profound because it means that all of our objects are actually subjective, including the objects of physics. This notion of the observer’s cognitive map is nowadays so ubiquitous in science as to qualify as a truth in its own right.
For various reasons this truth hasn’t managed to shake the eternal verities of the physicists, but whether they like or not this means that mathematical physics does not model what’s going on in the universe. Mathematical physics models what the observer thinks is going on in the universe.
“Mathematics can be used to prove anything”…Albert Einstein
“It is the theory which determines what the observer will observe”….Albert Einstein
If what the observer thinks is going on is correct then the mathematics are the physicist’s best friend and invaluable tool. However if what he thinks is going on is crap then the mathematics are the physicist’s Mephistophelian agent in a Faustian pact of self-delusion. It is precisely in this way that the physicist mistakes the map for the territory and the author of this dodgy methodology was no less a dignitary than the unlovable sociopath himself, Isaac Newton. If we design our mathematical models specifically to predict what the observer will observe then we can claim only a Pyrrhic victory when the observer duly goes ahead and observes what our models have predicted. Even in principle, by using this methodology no statement can ever be made about the objective authenticity of the observer’s map. However the predictive power of these astonishingly successful models is thus easily explained because it simply couldn’t be otherwise. The physicist’s cognition of his objects is merely confirming his cognition of his objects, Higgs bosons and all, and Kant would immediately declare that this is insufficient for truth. The underpinning explanation for WHY the observer observes what he does is absent from this “what works” paradigm solely because of its methodology, a flaw which Bohr was instinctively aware of but one which he was never able to adequately express. Naturally the logical positivists regard all such “why” questions as the domain of dead Greeks, deranged priests, and under-employed navel-gazers, but how they expect to offer a comprehensible model of our cosmos without addressing them is beyond the wit of a simple country lad like Leo, who reckons the logical positivists are simply self-delusional dickheads in a class of their own.
We must now examine the nature of the observer’s observation in the light of a well-established physical fact. The speed of light is finite, a fact already known in Newton’s time but one which Isaac didn’t seem to grasp the significance of. The information which the observer receives via his senses, the information from which he constructs his mental map, is information pertaining to events which exist no longer. In the language of the obvious this means that we can’t observe something until after it’s happened, by which time it’s too late to do anything about it. ( Incidentally, physics denies that this is true!!).5 The finite speed of light is the limiting truth which demands that the observer can only observe events which lie in his own past. Not only is his cognition of his object merely confirming his cognition of his object, he intuitively assumes that he sees his object as it is whereas the truth is he can only ever see it as it was. On the cosmological scale this simple fact is easily understood, however at the sub-atomic scale this truth is less intuitively obvious because these objects are unobservable. Nevertheless this truth is equally valid on this scale. Quasars are some of the most “distant” objects observable with our gee-whiz modern telescopes, but to think of these objects as only being found a very long way away is completely wrong-headed because our universe is isotropic. Quasars cannot be found nearby because they are simply features of an earlier phase in the history of the universe and exist as such no longer. When we observe a quasar we are looking back in time.
I’m not suggesting that these things aren’t a long way away from us but merely point out that our separation from them is solely a temporal one which we have chosen to spatialise. The quasars have simply evolved into other cosmological entities and what is true for the quasar is equally true for every “object” of our observation at every scale. The tree across the road has undergone countless trillions of changes at the sub-atomic level by the time I imagine I am seeing it as it is. So has my own hand if I hold it in front of my face.
I look through my imaginary telescope at a planet 60 “light-years” away and experience quite a shock. I see an alien bloke looking at me through a telescope but he sees an alien philosopher being born. Which of us is observing the real world? Because the speed of light is finite this means that neither of us can ever observe the real world on any scale, even in principle. The real world exists only in its own place in time because the real world is continuously being made at the speed of light.
In our modern language we have a very precise word which defines the nature of the observer’s observation. It is called a HOLOGRAM. . Because the speed of light is finite it is impossible by definition to watch any event being enacted “live”. Even if we go to the stadium to directly watch our football team play we are actually watching a delayed broadcast. Because the speed of light is so bloody fast the temporal delay in this case is negligible but in our language “negligible” is not synonymous with “irrelevant”. It is an inescapable fact that the observer can only observe events which exist no longer and this has important metaphysical consequences for our understanding of Newton’s three-dimensional space.
Q. If A is an empty point in space and B is an empty point in space then what meaning can we attach to the distance AB?
“What is empty space, Opa?”
“Empty space is Nothing, Mitchy”
“But Nothing does not exist, Opa”
“Have a chocolate, kid, but don’t take up a career in physics”.
To put it both simply and crudely, the notion of a “space” separating an observer from a no-longer-existing event is metaphysical horseshit. The observer is merely spatialising time, exactly as Minkowski did with his mathematical sleight-of-hand. Since all three pillars of modern physics are predicated on Minkowski’s nonsense we can easily arrive at the only logical conclusion. These physical models are not modelling the real world at all but instead are modelling a HOLOGRAM and it is precisely this that is the “problem of the observer.”
Note carefully that I do not claim that the universe is a hologram, a thought bubble floated around by a few of the geeks in the past who took their logical positivism far too literally. What I’m merely saying is that the observer observes a hologram and it is this hologram of the observer which our physical models are modelling. This is perhaps the most important thing to understand in my entire philosophy and thus I propose to repeat it and stress it often.
I regard it as a proposition of the bloody obvious that by the time I’ve observed an event, let alone by the time I’ve become aware of having observed it, the event I’ve just observed exists no longer. I am mapping my own past and observing a holographic representation of it.
I will state this as a formal axiom, one of the very few which my philosophy needs and one which must be taken entirely literally. I regard it as satisfactorily proven by simple rules of logic and easily provable by empirical experiment, a point I’ll get to later.
Three-dimsenional space is an artefact of human consciousness and not a physical property of the universe.
Newton was too malignantly stupid to understand the deeper philosophies of the Persian philosopher/mathematicians, although it’s probably fair to say that he’d never been exposed to them. Nevertheless the Persians had had all of this worked out many centuries before he was born. This from one of the greatest of them, a poet of subtle and solemn truths:
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
From “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam”
Omar is telling us a deeply intuitive truth, namely the truth of the Moving Finger of time. We physically exist in a continuous self-creation and our consciousness perceives only the wake of it. Kant’s noumenon is bringing forth our observed phenomena at the speed of light and thus always places them tantalisingly beyond our direct perception.
“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”….William Shakespeare
As You Like It (Act II Scene VII)
When the bard offers up these immortal words he makes a profound truth-claim about the nature of the human experience. What’s done is done. Indeed we are both observers and players in a cosmic drama being continuously enacted, but the notion of the universe as a fixed stage on which the players play their roles is an entirely illusory one. Both players and stage are transient flickers being reflected from the walls of Plato’s Cave, which means our objective reality exists only at the fleeting nexus between an immutable past and an unknowable future, the elusive moment Now, shrouded forever beyond our scrutiny by the finite speed of light. Our poets know what our physicists do not, that our cosmos has a boundary and that boundary is the moment Now. Not only does such a boundary exist, it’s the only “place” where the universe can be said to objectively exist at all and the reason we can’t see it is because we’re on it, looking forever backwards down time’s arrow at the inerasable Words which the Moving Finger wrote. Some of these Words are of our own writing, so like Lady Macbeth we can waste our Tears and fears in an attempt to launder out our old damn spots or we can suck it up and Move On to tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Macbeth (Act V Scene V).
Shakespeare is both right and wrong. The idiot struts on an ever-moving stage full of other strutting idiots but all of it signifies Something, because thus and so is the future made.
Newton was one such strutting idiot who thought that truth could be found on the stone tablets of mythology and in various equations of supernatural origin instead of in the understanding of the nature of the human experience. Existence is a journey and not a destination and journeys have no need of a place. He was merely following the traditions of his culture but he established the methodology for generations of physicists who were to follow in his footsteps. Newton ignores the fact that the speed of light is finite and thus he places his drama on a fixed stage in which the players move independently of their fixed background, and he then links all his players together by instantaneous action at a distance. It was a pretty crappy idea but I’ll need to cut Newton a bit of slack because he knew damn well it was. He could see that the gaping hole in his own logic left him with a model for gravity without a mechanism. Like the can-do man of action he was he simply plugged this hole with a constant, G, presumably hoping that somebody would come along and sort it all out later. Instead what happened was that everybody thought that this was such a good idea that they’ve been doing it ever since. Every time the sums don’t work out they just bang in a constant derived from observation and press on. I used to have a car which was held together with sticky-tape and string in a rather analogous manner. Needless to say it eventually fell to bits.
Of all the various constants used in physics the one that presents the wordsmith with the most fertile comedic opportunity is the cosmological constant. Albert Camus would have loved it and Kurt Vonnegut would have had a ball with it if he’d had any interest in physics, because the cosmological constant is strictly for absurdists. This constant was first invented by Einstein to account for the fact that the universe wasn’t “expanding”. Some years later Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe was in fact “expanding” so Albert had to chuck his constant in the bin, calling it his biggest blunder in physics. (No it wasn’t, mate, you made far bigger ones.) Yet further down the track it was discovered that the universe wasn’t “expanding” at a constant rate but rather at an accelerating rate. Oh Shit! Out came the very same cosmological constant from the dusty attic and they simply shoved it back in. Problem solved. They could use exactly the same constant to explain why the universe is “expanding” as well as why it isn’t. If it wasn’t so hilarious you’d have to slash your wrists.
“Mathematics can be used to prove anything”….Albert Einstein
Undoubtedly Einstein’s geometric embellishment on Newton’s fixed background space is an epistemic improvement on Isaac’s original effort because it takes into consideration the finite speed of light.
Albert’s players move on a background which is also moving and the action-at-a-distance dilemma is then supposedly resolved by attributing physical properties to a non-physical entity, namely three-dimensional space. Empty space could expand and contract and bend and twist and curve. This was also a pretty crappy idea because a non-physical entity with physical properties is an oxymoron. Nobody ever really fell for this crap in the early days of relativity physics, including Einstein himself, although later on many were to fall for it hook, line and sinker. The pioneers of relativity physics knew perfectly well that they had a serious problem, and Einstein himself took pains to stress that spacetime should never be regarded as physically real, but sadly the logical positivists carried the day. The hunt for quantum gravity was on because Einstein’s model for gravity was every bit as non-mechanical as Newton’s. Albert never got another decent night’s sleep in his life, haunted forevermore by spooky action at a distance. It goes without saying that non-physical entities do not belong in a physical model, so the hunt for quantum gravity within the spacetime paradigm was always bound to end in tears, despite the fact that Newton would have taken no issue with Einstein’s simple ploy. Newton’s Gothic world was infested with non-physical entities performing all manner of miraculous feats but Albert should have known better because he was supposedly living in more enlightened times. His most basic of screw-ups in simple logic would have earned him an F in any Phil.101. course in the academic world of his time, but absolutely nobody had the decency to point this out to him because he had them all bluffed. However it goes from bad to worse because Albert makes a further false assumption. By once again conflating the map with the territory he assumes that because the speed of light is observed to be a constant it therefore actually is a constant, an assumption which Kant would disallow and one which the logical positivists would claim as an a priori truth. The fact that a constant speed of light is logically impossible is a fact that should have given Einstein pause, but sadly logic and physics make for unsuitable bedfellows. By this time Albert had fallen in love with his equations and even the impossible could be forced to yield to arithmetic. In the Fitzgerald-Lorentz contraction theory he was offered an ingenious solution to the impossible which was one of magnificent Pythagorean grandeur. His truths could be accommodated to conform to his assumptions by yet another simple act of mathematical legerdemain. Physics was going from the sublime to the ridiculous because Newton’s non-existent “objects” could now be length-contracted by Einstein’s non-existent “spaces”. Albert had lost the plot.
Any wordsmith worth his salt loves making up his own new words and I’ve confected one to describe this hubristic way of thinking. I decided to conform to the modern fashion of turning nouns into verbs, whilst at the same time honouring the genius of an ancient cosmologist named Ptolemy, by adding the word “epicycle” to our language with a slightly different meaning from the original. From the lexicon of the bloody obvious:
Epicycle (to). v.t. To attempt to prop up an absurd hypothesis with one or more supplementary hypotheses of escalating absurdity.
(Example: The spacetime paradigm, as modelled in Special Relativity, General Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics, the three pillars of modern physics, together with every single bullshit hypothesis which derives from any of the above.)
Since Newton the physicists had ranked only behind the theists as the master epicyclists of their era, but after Einstein this practice was elevated into a high art form which even the theists stood in awe of.
Absurdity was piled onto absurdity with a reckless licentiousness which paid not even the remotest lip-service to the dictates of human reason and Everyman could do little more than shake his head in bewildered dismay. The geeks had lost the plot and alienated the common man from the world of science in such a way as to make it indistinguishable from a religion, a development in human society which resonates most strongly in our modern era and one of which the consequences come at enormous cost. . Scientific propositions have nowadays become widely regarded as faith-based claims which we are free to disbelieve or believe in accordance with our own conceptual taste. This has opened the door for creationists, climate-deniers and crackpots of every stripe and it was physics which offered these fruitloops the template for their ignorance. The towering achievement of 20th century physics was to construct a reductionist manifesto of such mind-boggling mathematical complexity that not a soul in the world could ever have a hope in hell of understanding it. It was peppered with internal contradictions, held together in a fragile mess with the sticky tape and string of mathematical constants derived from observation, and utterly valueless as an explanatory paradigm for the physical world. Not only could such a universe never be explained to Albert’s barmaid, or to the man of common sense, but the effete physicists couldn’t even explain it to each other. The science of physics fragmented into a coterie of specialised sub-disciplines where everybody got to make up their own stories to suit their own agenda and then change them as often as they chose. None of these stories had to make any sense as long they were mathematically consistent and yielded testable predictions, and half the time this latter important obligation wasn’t even regarded as important any more. None of these cock-and-bull stories needed to pay any heed to what the geeks in rival specialised fields were concocting, which meant that not only were they doing science backwards, they were doing it in fragments without any real attempt at an organic synthesis of ideas. The protocols of academia were largely to blame for this atrocious affront to the scientific method. As prestigious institutions competed with each other for both funding and talent, the system of peer review ensured that the doctrinal orthodoxy of the three pillars was rigidly safeguarded. The model-building paradigm could brook no heresy and the maverick physicist with a mind of his own never even got a chance to become a despised renegade because he couldn’t get beyond first base. So pervasive was the groupthink in this so-called “science” that there was even a time when physics undergraduates in many universities were forbidden to study mathematics lest they have their minds polluted by non-Newtonian blasphemy. “We’ll teach you what you need to know”, chanted the high priests in chorus, “physics has its own mathematics”.
“Give us your boy by the age of seven and we’ve got him for life”
Ignatius of Loyola. (Founder of the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits.)
Meanwhile the supine philosophers cowered behind the walls of their ivory towers with their snouts securely buried in the public trough, diligently writing scholarly papers about the meaning of other people’s words which nobody ever bothered to read. The nerds had the navel-gazers well and truly bluffed by their mathematical adroitness and everybody simply toed the line for fear of making dickheads of themselves and thereby distancing themselves from the gravy train of public largesse. Our political overlords, charged with the responsibility of dispensing this largesse, knew about as much of science as the average aardvark, so to suggest that the system was dysfunctional would be an understatement of lofty calibre. Much will be written about the chequered history of 20th century physics but more than anything this history was a reflection of the mindset of the times.
This was a turbulent geo-political era and our prestigious houses of learning had become beholden to the demands of global societies in transition to a technological world. It was also the dawn of the information age, which became a powerful tool of the plutocracy in its quest for wealth and power. The plutocrats wielded this tool with relentless efficiency and the most gifted minds of our developing societies had little option but to fall into line. Humanity had enslaved itself to Mammon when philosophy died. Philosophy finally died when even making sense was forced to play second fiddle to making money and our scientists became mere technocrats. Our children and our grandchildren will be forced to reap what 20th century science has sown and we will be judged harshly for our sins. The world of truth was plunged into a new Dark Age by materialism, aided and abetted by its ideological handmaiden, Newtonian reductionism, the operational archetype of all of modern physics which in turn gave birth to logical positivism. A paradigm shift in the way we think our world, as demanded by Thomas Kuhn, is desperately needed before we self-immolate. The bitter truth is that science has handed us the means of our own destruction while philosophy has neglected to keep pace with the changing times. A 21st century world predicated on bullshit is far too dangerous a place for a species which has so successfully outsmarted itself. Our stone-age approach to human spirituality is that which informs our medieval approach to science and both have ventured well past their sell-by date.
“Why are all the polar bears dying, Opa?”
“Because we killed them, Mitchy”
“But why did we kill them?”
“Buggered if I know, mate, ask Gina Rinehart”.
I offer the philosophy of the bloody obvious as the paradigm shift that physics has been looking for. It is an even bigger unification than anyone could possibly have imagined because a spaceless universe stripped of its superfluous dimensions is one of exquisite simplicity, a compelling feature for a philosopher who holds that Simplicity is Truth. Albert Einstein once said that it should be possible to explain the universe to a barmaid, and thus it should also be possible to explain it to my mates down the pub. John Archibald Wheeler, a towering figure in 20th century physics, and a true genius in every sense of the word, often declared that the universe would ultimately reveal itself to be an entity of the most sublime austerity. Well listen up, Bertie and Jack, because it doesn’t get much more Spartan than the bloody obvious.
You can carry on as you were. Just keep pulling beers and flirting with the punters because the whole fiasco was a false alarm. I got things arse-about and nailed my colours to the wrong mast. All along it was space that was the deliberate and persistent illusion, not time as I originally and foolishly claimed, and the speed at which time passes truly can be measured by clocks. I’m fucked if I know how I missed it, but after all the silly nonsense it turns out that the universe is exactly what it appears to be, an infinite sequence of events. The overwhelming majority of these events will occur without need for you to bear any responsibility for them. A tiny few, however, are events which you can cause to occur and these events will have permanent consequences for the future. I therefore suggest that you carefully consider the choices that you make. Other than that there’s not much to report from oblivion, but I do sincerely apologise for all the trouble I’ve caused.
I think you’re being too hard on yourself, mate. You knew bloody well from the beginning that spacetime was crap, and so did most of your contemporaries. You revealed this in your own words throughout your life and you did your level best to undo the harm caused by that jackass, Minkowski. With the benefit of hindsight you might have done better to jump down that particular dickhead’s throat from the outset, but isn’t it all just so easy to be wise after the event and haven’t we all got similar stories? Shit happens, mate, and we shouldn’t allow such misadventures to interfere with our oblivion.
Rest in Peace Helga
I make no apology for describing all of modern physics as a pack of silly nonsense, a word which incidentally has its origins in the word non-science. I’ve explained why physics has no explanatory authority and must therefore be regarded as only half a science, but we don’t have to chuck out the baby with the bathwater, as I said earlier. Our beautifully crafted mathematical models of 20th century physics will continue to serve us well for ever and a day, as will Newton’s earlier pioneering work. Even this odious arsehole gets some grudging recognition in my philosophy because without Newton there would have been no industrial revolution and thus no exponential advance in human civilisation. Epistemology has its uses, even when founded on unsound ontological principles.
The physics of the 21st century will be founded on an entirely new paradigm which is both metaphysically kosher and mathematically expressible. However when we sack Newton’s ideas on metaphysical matters we sack them completely, which means we need to chuck his mathematical tools aside as well. These are tools which are specifically designed to model a divinely created three-dimensional universe. However an eternal universe exists only in the time dimension and time is not a Cartesian dimension, regardless of what Hermann Minkowski might have to say on the matter. Unsurprisingly the great man Einstein himself eventually came to the realisation that after 25 years of fruitless effort in quest of a unification model it was almost certain that he was using the wrong mathematical tools. He revealed as much in a conversation with John Kemeny not long before he died, but he also conceded that it was all too late for him to do anything about it. My reverence for the genius of Albert Einstein is beyond hyperbole but in many ways his life in science was a tragedy bordering on farce. If he’d taken up philosophy instead of physics he could well have been the uber-mensch that his society was so resolutely determined to portray him as. In fact Albert was a humble bloke all too aware of his own shortcomings and the uber-mensch most emphatically wasn’t the way he saw himself. Some of the self-promoting media stars of modern physics could benefit from his example.6
Physics has been wandering in the conceptual wilderness from the outset and the past century of epicycling has illustrated this point more than adequately. The philosophy of the bloody obvious seeks to make this important non-science accessible to Everyman by filling in the missing half of the picture, the explanatory Why to accompany the predictive How. Since the physicists had already been floundering around for 70 years with their nonsensical models before I came across them I was quickly able to draw a rather obvious conclusion.
Although there are some notable exceptions, who I’ll politely decline to name, physicists are generally fairly smart. This meant that their problem could not be a physical one, or even a mathematical one, or else some prodigy or other would have turned up the answer by now. The investment in treasure and intellectual endeavour which has been assigned to the problem of physics has been unprecedented in human history, and all to no avail. As a philosopher I had little difficulty in concluding that the problem of physics had to be a metaphysical one, and thus also a meta-mathematical one, because Newton’s created universe was allegedly brought into existence with a ready-made suite of laws and a generous array of mathematical constants. No explanation for these laws or constants is accessible to Newtonian science because they are entirely derived from observation, but in a spaceless and eternal universe no such laws and constants can exist and neither are they necessary. The spaceless and eternal universe requires only a single meta-law to account for its entire and wondrous complexity, including the existence of the observer within it. This meta-law is the universal doctrine of causation, which simply mandates that no effect can occur without a cause. Thus one of the most elemental unifications which my philosophy achieves is that between time, change and causation, which I simply regard as three different ways of expressing the same meta-law.
In the absence of space Einstein’s great genius is truly revealed. Despite the handicap of his dodgy spacetime paradigm he succeeded in uncovering some major unifications in physics. He was an adequate physicist with only a mediocre fluency in mathematics, but he was a young man with balls and ambition who was simply in too big a hurry to publish. He actually admitted this when he revealed that others would quickly be able to understand his model better than he could understand it himself, which partly explains why he let his former maths teacher wipe any last vestiges of sense out of it. However I can’t really understand why he ever trusted the bloke, because Minkowski had openly declared some years earlier that Einstein would never amount to anything as a scientist. Einstein’s magnanimity was his undoing because his true genius lay in his exceptional intuitions, the ultimate repository of human truths, and right from the outset Einstein had deep reservations about Minkowski’s hanky-panky. I reckon he could have made an outstanding philosopher/mathematician, in the tradition of Leibniz himself, if only he’d been a bit more patient with himself and a bit more trusting of his own instincts. He should have paid closer heed to the findings of Michelson and Morley, which were open to a far simpler interpretation, and his understanding of Brownian motion was slipshod, despite the fact that he won a Nobel prize for his work in this field. Nevertheless I reckon that the potential for him to resolve these conceptual anomalies lay comfortably within his grasp if only he hadn’t shot so instantly to fame and glory. In a way the poor bugger was just in the wrong place at the wrong time in history because at that time the Germanic cultures were sitting ducks for the insidious anti-philosophy of logical positivism. The disastrous consequences of this appalling doctrine were to resonate throughout the community of physics for decades but it could all so easily have been different. Just as our world would be a different place today if Leibniz had won the argument with Newton, so too would it be a different place today if Albert had sought out Henri Poincare for his mathematical guidance instead of the metaphysically-challenged Hermann Minkowski. In many ways Poincare was the true father of relativity and he was the real deal, a modern Persian and a genuine polymath with deep insights into the teachings of all the major philosophical schools. He was also a very accomplished physicist and an intuitively creative mathematician of rare insight, who understood far better than Einstein did that a physical model was not the same thing as a mathematical representation of a physical model.
His pioneering work on the three-body problem of relativistic gravitational motion opened the door to a brand-new way of modelling a physical system mathematically by exploring the concept of the topological spaces first explored by Leibniz. Where Albert saw Randomness and the dice-playing god Henri saw Chaos, its temporal mirror-image.
The grim reaper snatched Poincare away just as he was reaching the peak of his powers and he never saw the publication of GR, a model from which he would have recoiled in horror, just as he did from SR and the eternalism implied by Minkowski’s 4D manifold. However Poincare’s topological approach to the modelling of physical systems was more than just a different way of doing sums. It was an entirely new way of thinking the world and a complete re-definition of determinism, a re-definition foreshadowed some decades earlier by Charles Darwin. Darwin had replaced the linear determinism of Newton, predicated on Intelligent Design and the created reality, with the non-linear determinism of the chaotic system, predicated on the reality which makes itself. Darwin understood that shit happens.
Darwinism is itself riddled with conceptual flaws, which are a legacy of the Newtonian reductionism which Darwin couldn’t really shake off, and neo-Darwinism did nothing but make these flaws more apparent, for which we have the likes of Mendel, Watson, Crick, and Dawkins to thank. However Dawkins has come a long way since he gave us the reductionist horror of the selfish gene. Nowadays he defines life far more broadly and puts “life as we know it” in its correct metaphysical context as simply a part of the bigger picture. Evolutionary science has itself now evolved into a mature discipline and it offers us an exciting new word to define a dynamic and evolving reality. This word was the confection of a remarkable pair of Chilean blokes called Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela and the word is AUTOPOIESIS, (from the Greek, “self-creating”). An autopoietic reality is not one which is made according to a suite of laws but rather one which simply makes itself according to the simple law of cause and effect, known in the vernacular as “shit happens”. Autopoiesis introduces such notions as multi-causality and causal domains predicated on the principles of emergence, where causation in dynamic systems operates both top-down and bottom-up, the precise antithesis of Newton’s mechanistic world where all of reality simply unwinds from the bottom like a gigantic mechanical alarm clock. Autopoiesis is a model closely related to the “Gaia” paradigm of Lovelock and Margulis, and it regards evolution as a far more holistic process than does the Darwinian paradigm, with its emphasis on natural selection. Natural selection is still central to heredity, but the entire biosphere is seen as evolving in harmony with its non-living environment, so gene adaptation is seen as a far more significant factor in the evolutionary process than gene selection. Darwinian evolution is essentially Newtonian and linear, where genes are simply regarded as instructive blueprints for the replicated organism. However, autopoiesis is a far more nuanced model and essentially Lamarckist and non-linear in its emphasis. Genes have a far more significant role to play than simply encoding for successive generations of whole organisms because evolution is continuously taking place at the level of our cellular biology and also within the tens of thousands of organisms which exist in symbiosis with us. In other words the individual organism is both an organism and an ecosystem. The genetic code is thus regarded as an operating system which operates across the whole network and maintains this living network in a homeostatic balance by continuously adapting itself to changing circumstances. Genes do this by subtly changing the structure and morphology of the proteins they encode for in the mitosis of the living cell as well as throughout the entire symbiotic web of our cellular biochemistry.
The same genes can therefore encode for a vast suite of different proteins depending on a host of different causal factors, both internal and external to the organism itself. In a metaphorical sense we must think of our entire planet as being alive and evolving and of our planet as also evolving within the broader evolving domain of cosmic events.
Autopoiesis is a complex paradigm and to explain the finer details of it is a task way above my pay grade.7 The entire science of biochemistry is one of such breathtaking complexity that even those who devote their entire lives to the study of it are routinely struck with awe at its intricacies. However autopoiesis is an exquisitely organic model which implies that our bodies continuously evolve throughout our lives in exactly the same way as our minds do, (or at least are supposed to!). In fact mind and body evolve together which gives us the notion of an embodied mind, a notion which would make Descartes turn in his grave and pray to his homunculus. Autopoiesis is to biology as relativity is to physics. It replaces the fixed and static background of Darwin with a dynamic and ever-changing one, just as Einstein did to Newton’s space. Once understood it has such an unmistakable ring of truth about it as to be bloody obvious because it explains absolutely everything that neo-Darwinism is unable to explain, such as cancer, or even peanut allergies. The model has many parallels in other sciences but perhaps its most striking similarity lies in the fact that it can only be modelled topologically with tools such as the Julia sets and the Mandelbrot set. These are the mathematical tools of every science except physics and they introduce us to the intriguing notion of the self-similarity. There are so many different self-similarities within the various sciences and also a striking self-similarity between autopoiesis itself and every other science, both physical and sociological, that Everyman must scoff at the notion of coincidence. Naturally the philosopher of the bloody obvious is instinctively attracted to a paradigm such as this because it accords so closely with his own life’s experience.
”Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans”…John Lennon.
Once I had explored some of the “big picture” details of Maturana and Varela’s work, along with that of Lovelock and Margulis, I didn’t hesitate. I immediately proceeded to explore what our universe might look like if the autopoietic paradigm were to be extrapolated from biology and extended across the entire realm of our physical reality. This was to become my grand Pauline epiphany, and the culmination of my life’s work, because herein lay not only a resolution to the problem of physics but also an explanation for my own existence. The end of my quest was in sight.
It had always struck me as demonstrably absurd that physics should attempt to model our cosmos whilst steadfastly ignoring its most astonishing feature, the existence of life and mind within it. Clearly it struck Max Planck as absurd as well.
“Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature because in the last analysis we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery we are trying to solve”…..Max Planck.
I agree with Max that science alone cannot solve such a mystery but science remarried to philosophy most certainly can. It’s time to put the Band back together.
Under Newton’s Intelligent Design paradigm the existence of life and mind can be easily accounted for by appealing to the invisible hand of the supernatural. However in the absence of a divine creator the emergence of life and mind within our cosmos is utterly inexplicable within the narrow constraints of our current models of physics. Nor for one moment was I ever buying into the concept of the gigantic cosmic accident, neatly expressed in Stephen Hawking’s dismissive notion of life as a “random chemical smear”. To Leo the cosmic accident explanation is the antithesis of an explanation because it could just as easily be applied to all observed but unexplained phenomena, a “science of the gaps” cop-out which makes science indistinguishable from theism. In a self-causal reality randomness is just as ludicrous a proposition as god, an observer effect which becomes apparent when the observer observes a chaotic system by looking backwards down the uni-directional arrow of time. As a lifetime disciple of Gottfried Leibniz I accepted his Principle of Sufficient Reason as a given and so essentially what I sought for my philosophy was an explanatory framework for reality which could account for my own existence. I found it in Buddha, Omar Khayyam, da Vinci, Shakespeare, Leibniz, Spinoza, Goethe, Darwin, Poincare and many others. Above all I found it in the host of 20th century investigators who began exploring the intrinsic truths that lay buried in non-linear dynamic systems theory.
Autopoietic systems have a unique property which Newtonian ones lack. Through the operation of no underpinning law beyond the meta-law of causation they evolve increasingly more complex informational sub-structures within themselves over time, a truth from which the phrase “complexity from chaos” derives. This is the great truth of our cosmos reflected so poetically in the eastern concepts of yin and yang. In physics we have such notions as thermodynamics and entropy which require that all informationally complex entities must disintegrate over time, and as a counterbalance we have gravity which re-integrates the disparate components into increasingly more complex informational sub-structures. Essentially this is evolution in the making. I call this the Humpty-Dumpty model of the universe and it is roughly analogous to the bang/crunch paradigm which is rapidly gaining acceptance in the modern world of physics. The autopoietic cosmos is a Universal Turing Machine, the cyclical reality maker which programmes its own input. We may think of the big crunch as the event which smashes Humpty to smithereens and of gravity as the over-arching cause which assembles a brand-new Humpty with which to replace him. In this way reality can never repeat itself, so in a totally unintended way Max Tegmark makes a valid point. I’ve not kept pace with Max’s latest stories so I’m not sure if he’s currently in the spatially infinite universe camp or in with one of the other various multiversalist fraternities, but either way he’s a bold and lateral individualist who’s not frightened to stick his neck out in a cloistered priesthood where such things are generally frowned upon. If we replace Max’s infinity of universes with a temporally eternal one, we effectively finish up with the same result. Everything that can happen will happen (or has happened!), but I wouldn’t recommend that we twist our minds into pretzels by dwelling on such things. We need simply accept that reality is an eternal process which had no beginning and will have no end. Naturally to contemplate the notion of a “first cause” in an eternal universe is a frivolous act of intellectual masochism and an unworthy exercise for the examined mind. That existence should spontaneously spring from non-existence is a construct even more ridiculous than the divine creator, an a priori proposition in philosophy which I would recommend to the particular interest of Larry Krauss. This sort of crap can simply be dismissed on the grounds of Occam economy, an analogous principle to Leibniz’s Principle of Sufficient Reason, which itself is nothing more than a nuanced re-statement of Aristotle’s universal doctrine of causation.
Nothing can occur unless it has been caused to occur, except in the case of the universe itself, a refreshing statement of the bloody obvious which physics has yet to come to grips with,
Without doubt it was the notion of the big bang as the beginning of the universe which I regarded as the most confronting of all the conclusions drawn from GR. To a committed contrarian this simply had to be bollocks. Offering such a convenient proof for an external causal agent for our universe struck me as far too glib and contrived, and that it should emerge so naturally from the tools of differential geometry which Einstein used in his model smacked of a put-up job to me. These tools all derive spontaneously from Descartes’ and Newton’s classical mathematics, a system of thought specifically designed to model a created universe, so once again we see an example of our cognition of the object confirming our cognition of the object. The universe with a beginning was predicated on the singularity, and the singularity was clearly a violation of both common sense and Cantorian set theory, which specifies that an infinite entity cannot be contained within a finite one. Chucking out the first law of thermodynamics in such a cavalier manner also struck me as an entirely unwarranted leap of faith. There was obviously something seriously amiss with the GR model, but perhaps the single most metaphysically unsustainable conclusion drawn from it was its violation of a cornerstone principle of the philosophy of mathematics, the principle of self-validation. If a=b then b=a. What I understood from the self-validatory principle as applied to cosmology was this. If our universe was to be mathematically expressible in a sequence of equations, a proposition which I regarded as being as necessary then as I do now, then this sequence of equations must meet two critical criteria. Firstly our chosen sequence of equations must specify for the universe we live in and no other, and secondly the universe we live in must be specifiable by our chosen sequence of equations and no other. Einstein’s field equations fail to meet either of these limiting criteria which in my book meant they were at best an approximation. I’m gratified by the fact that the limits of applicability of these equations, a limitation which has been imposed by gravity, has finally been acknowledged by physics and that the singularity conclusion has by and large been relegated to the status of a dodgy hypothesis. In the absence of a singularity the universe cannot have had a beginning because in the absence of a singularity time cannot stand still. It can still slow down but it can’t grind to a complete halt. This saves us from having to invent a divine creator to kick-start time off and it also spares us from the unseemly spectacle of any other creationary hypotheses, all of which are immoderate speculations and completely unverifiable, even in principle. In the philosophy of the bloody obvious I simply conclude that the big bang had a “before” and luckily in the modern day I no longer find myself trying to defend a minority position. However in my model the big bang was more like a little whimper, which I prefer to call the New Awakening. Rather than exploding into existence in an inflationary instant my cosmos just gradually woke up from a long slumber as its information slowly leaked out of a universe-sized black hole and then started organising itself. If we look backwards down the arrow of time, as physics does, this process would appear to happen in temporal reverse, as in cosmic inflation. The fact that this information leakage would have taken aeons in terms of our human years is of course meaningless in the context of an eternal universe. Stephen Hawking managed to prove that this was possible, although he had a cockamamie way of going about it. The universe with a beginning is rapidly going the way of phlogiston and the luminiferous aether, into the historical wastebasket of dodgy ideas, there to join string theory and a host of other metaphysically unsustainable notions. Such is the way of science and we must not mourn the passing of these outdated ideas. . Even crappy ideas can be useful ones as long as we remember to chuck them out of the pantry and into the trash once they reach their “sell-by” date.
The current best guess for the age of this particular cycle of our universe is around 13.7 billion of our years. In my New Awakening model this guess doesn’t stack up, and actually it must be far older, but in the absence of a co-ordinate time we can attach precious little significance to the question of how long ago the last big crunch took place. Co-ordinate time is absolute time is god’s-eye time is bullshit. Since it is this big crunch which must be regarded as the alpha point of the new cosmos then relativistic proper time is the only time there is and thinking of this event in terms of our years is both confusing and wrong-headed. Einstein’s models are not relativistic enough.
With this proviso I offer a thought experiment which should clarify what I’ve been saying about the observer’s spatialisation of time. Our latest gee-whiz telescopes can peer almost all the way back to the “beginning” of the universe, to a region of “space” known as the CMB (Cosmic Microwave Backgraound). This radiation has a wavelength far longer than that of visible light but by using sophisticated software the geeks have managed to offer us a visual picture of the CMB. This is a truly beautiful image of what our universe looked like when it was only 380,000 years old (according to them.) It’s like an egg with lots of spots on it, these spots representing the galaxies. One of these spots is our own Milky Way so there’s a lot not to like about this picture, although I don’t quibble with its authenticity. The Milky Way can’t be here and 13.7 billion light-years away at the same time so what I don’t like about this picture is that I’m not in it. What we’re looking at hasn’t existed for almost 13.7 billion years and the idea of a space stretching endlessly out to something that’s not there is one that my philosophy refuses to entertain. If we come back to our telescope in a billion years time the CMB will be 14.7 billion light-years “away” but it’ll still look exactly as it does now. So is our universe “expanding” at the speed of light or merely aging at the speed of light? The question is a rhetorical one because the answer is bloody obvious.
It is estimated that the CMB came into existence about 380,000 years after the big bang (according to them). Prior to this time our cosmos was a place of Stygian darkness with no light in it at all, thus it will always remain impossible, even in principle, to peer further back in time than this. Except for Superman. Superman has eyes which can see all the way back to the alpha point itself. What would he see? Would he see the universe suddenly burst into existence from a point, a claim made by the physicists? Pig’s-arse he would. These blokes are looking at the world back to front because Superman would see the universe sucking itself back into a point and he’d have to stand at his telescope for a hell of a lot longer than 380,000 years to see it vanish altogether because this process would appear to him to be getting slower and slower and slower. How long would he have to stand at his telescope to see the universe disappear? I’m buggered if I know. Be it millions, billions, trillions, or gazillions of years it honestly doesn’t matter because this question is truly meaningless. Only proper time is meaningful and proper time is determined by gravity.
Co-ordinate time is a mathematical idea and not a physical one. SR has two definitions of time in the same model which violates a primary rule of logical deduction. In any form of logic known to philosophy we must always be able to clearly define the terms we use and apply those definitions consistently throughout our argument. Time is either one thing, or another thing, or nothing, but what it can’t be is two different things. By using two different ontologies for time SR essentially concludes that time is nothing and therefore the physicists can do what they like with it. Is it any wonder that their models make no sense?
Extrapolating the Universal Turing Machine from my autopoietic paradigm was hardly an intellectual tour-de-force because no other conclusion was possible in an eternal universe.
It seemed to me that Alan Turing had offered the perfect model for a cyclical universe which programmes its own input and which could thus be defined as a reality maker. That physics had a viable analogous archetype in the form of the bang/crunch model didn’t hurt either, but my conclusion allowed me to establish another axiom for reality in the form of a self-organising principle. This is my axiom.
Evolution towards informational complexity is the fundamental self-organising principle of the universe.
It is well past time for humanity to stop farting around with the theory of evolution. We need to understand what evolution is, how it works, and exactly what it implies. So far we have merely scratched at the surface of this Copernican Revolution in human thought because evolution is what is happening all around us in every facet of our existence. We’re not living in Newton’s world.
The notion of a self-organising principle is absent from the three pillars of physics although the fact that our cosmos is evolving, and thus must be defined as self-organising, has not gone un-noticed. Whether this is regarded as yet another gigantic cosmic accident or merely just a question for the too-hard basket is a subject on which physics has remained discreetly silent. My philosophy scoffs at cosmic accidents and discreet silences are regarded with grave suspicion. Since the autopoietic paradigm is a self-consistent and unitary information theory it is completely sufficient to the existence of the universe itself and can thus determine the evolutionary trajectory of the entire cosmos. However by its very nature this evolutionary trajectory can never be predicted, even in principle, thus autopoiesis is the very antithesis of Newtonian reductionist determinism. In physics the big bang is correctly seen as a state of minimum informational complexity or maximum informational disorder. Note carefully that I use the words minimum and maximum in this conceptual description of the big bang and not the word infinite. In my philosophy infinity is an unrealisable mathematical abstraction with no physical analogue in the real cosmos, as is zero. The New Awakening had a minimal non-zero order. The evolutionary history of the universe is well understood by physics and I take no issue with the way that physicists model this process apart from in the nature of the big bang itself. They got this bit arse-about by looking at their hologram backwards down the arrow of time. In the New Awakening we can easily imagine a diffuse ball of ionised plasma (information with minimal order) gradually leaking from the primordial black hole and then self-organising under the influence of gravity into the emergent sub-atomic particles, each of which has different physical properties. It is these emergent properties which in turn then cause the sub-atomic particles to self-organise into simple atoms as the emanating universe cools down. The majority of these atoms were the simplest atoms of them all, hydrogen. Hydrogen atoms have emergent physical properties which cause them to coalesce under the influence of gravity and initiate the process of nuclear fusion. Stars are then born as a yet higher order of emergent informational complexity and the stars then coalesce under the influence of gravity into galaxies, which are yet more complex informational entities. My model is entirely a topological one so this can all be visualised as a nested hierarchy of different causal domains of informational complexity. The processes of stellar evolution are extremely complex but they are well understood and make perfect sense.
Over the course of billions of years increasingly more complex atoms with increasingly more diverse emergent properties come into existence as a result of stellar evolution and these more complex atoms are then distributed throughout the galaxies. Eventually there are enough of these atoms for newly minted stars to have a few mates in the form of planets to keep them company for their immensely long existence. Certain planets will orbit their host stars in the appropriate zone to facilitate the evolution of life and mind. Anybody who fails to appreciate the majesty of this process has neither music in his heart nor poetry in his soul because all this happens entirely automatically because of gravity. Any additional “laws” which physicists, chemists or biologists might elect to invent in order to model this process are every bit as emergent as the entities they are applied to.
Atoms are extraordinary inventions of human ingenuity. They come in various forms with a wide range of different physical properties and are able to combine with other atoms of their own kind as well as with atoms of a different kind in a number of different combinations which is to all intents and purposes infinite, although not literally so. Consequently we have molecules and therefore chemistry, yet another integrated form of self-organising informational complexity. Of all the different atoms which stellar processes can generate easily the most interesting of them all is carbon. Carbon is a relatively simple atom and it was one of the earliest to emerge in the cosmic evolutionary process, which means that carbon has been present in our universe for a very long time. The carbon atom has a suite of emergent physical properties which allow it to combine with other carbon atoms, with hydrogen, and with various other more complex atoms in a number of different ways which is truly mind-boggling. So staggeringly complex is the chemistry of the carbon atom that its entire index of possibilities may never be known by any intelligent mind. However what is known is this. By processes yet to be elaborated, under certain unknown physical conditions, certain unknown carbon-based molecules have the ability to combine in such a way that the resulting more complex molecules are able to replicate themselves. From this process an entirely new order of informational complexity emerges in the form of life. The only requirement necessary for life to be off and running from this self-replication process is that the replication cannot be perfect. Some of the replicated daughter molecules must be more chemically stable than others, and thus more likely to self-replicate in turn. Once life is up and running its continued evolution towards informational complexity is inexorable. As long as the appropriate environmental conditions obtain life just keeps getting more and more complex, until eventually we find ourselves here having a chat about it. Although the very beginnings of this process are still infested with unknowns, these are definitely known unknowns. In our Rumsfeldian world a known unknown eventually becomes a known known, since the notion of an unknowable unknown is abhorrent to a man of science.
The notion of life emerging from non-life is a deeply mysterious one to many folk steeped in the traditions of Cartesian dualism and all the intellectual flakiness thereby implied. However to a biologist the notion of a “life essence” is nothing more than a conceptual relic from a bygone age. The biologist scorns the notion of a line in the sand between life and non-life, just as he ridicules the line-in-the-sand distinction between sentient and non-sentient life. Biologists see life and mind as spectrum phenomena because biologists make extensive use of the principle of EMERGENCE, whereas physicists pay scant regard to this principle. Emergence simply means that the properties of the whole are not definable in terms of the properties of its constituent parts, and although life is an obvious example it is just as applicable to non-living systems as it is to living ones.
The properties of any given atom are not definable in terms of the properties of its sub-atomic constituents, just as the wetness of water is not definable in terms of the properties of its component atoms. Emergent entities cannot be defined by what their ingredient parts are but only by what these ingredient parts do. Therefore, to think of an atom as an object is truly wrong-headed, because an atom is a process, every bit as much as life is a process. Accordingly it is the behaviour of the sub-atomic particles which determines the behaviour of the emergent atoms for which they encode, which determine the behaviour of the emergent molecules etc. Newtonian reductionism does not accommodate the notion of emergent behaviour and therefore it defines determinism in a very narrow and linear way solely in terms of programmed bottom-up causation, rather like a basic computer programme. However emergence is here to stay and its implications are profound because it means that causation operates both top-down and bottom-up in dynamic systems and no pre-determined programme is therefore necessary. Because of god Newton conflates determinism with pre-determinism and thus gives us a vision of the cosmos as a big unwinding clock with its divinely-given physical laws. SR compounds this myth yet further by making the clock illusory and freezing all of reality into a single Parmenidean block, thereby implying that everything that ever existed still exists in its emergent form, as does everything that ever will exist. If this all sounds like outrageous bullshit to my Everyman then he can set his mind at ease. It absolutely is outrageous bullshit because SR is not a model of a physically real universe. The physicists have committed the cardinal error of ontologising their epistemic toolbox.
Life is nothing more than an emergent property of self-organising chemistry and in the latter half of the 20th century much progress was made towards understanding how complex chemistry can self-engineer into living structures. Molecular evolution is now a prominent science in its own right which has spawned its own sub-disciplines, such as nanotechnology and synthetic biology. Once again the details of all this lie beyond the scope of this essay but the pioneering work of Ilya Prigogine into dissipative structures is regarded as a seminal breakthrough in this field, and for his groundbreaking insights he was awarded a Nobel prize. Ilya was no dummy and we ignore his work at our peril because he deals with evolutionary mechanics in non-living systems, an important step towards proto-life itself. The life from non-life question has yet to be conclusively answered in all its intricate detail and dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s is likely to take a long time yet. However this is a mature science with a rigorous methodology and nobody seriously doubts that this will eventually be done. Craig Ventner reckons all this will occur sooner rather than later but Craig has a well deserved reputation for gilding the lily in an effort to keep the dollars flowing into his already well-resourced Institute. I salute the bloke for doing so because I regard his work and that of many others in this field as of critical importance to the future of all the biological sciences, and indeed to the future of our species. Just as chemistry was the science of the 19th century and physics was the science of the 20th, I reckon biology will come to be regarded as the science of the 21st century because biology is first and foremost an information science and we are heralding the dawn of the information age.
I need to stress here that the term “autopoeisis” has thus far only been applied to biological systems and the idea of extending the concept across all of physical reality is largely my own.
We use our minds in the way we’ve been conditioned to use them, but if we extend our understanding of the theory of evolution beyond its originally intended scope it’s not all that hard to see that our universe has been evolving since long before life had a role to play in it, ever since the New Awakening, in fact. Evolution towards informational complexity must thus be seen as the fundamental organising principle of the very cosmos itself, along with everything in it, and this means that we can simply define the universe as an evolving information system with evolving biological systems embedded within it. An autopoietic system cannot be embedded within anything other than another over-arching autopoietic system, although I’ll freely grant that this is by no means self-evident in the case of non-living systems. If all this were self-evident for all non-living systems then Fritjof Capra would be the bloke writing this story instead of me, because he knows a shitload more about both physics and autopoiesis than I do. Instead I have to write it in my own inept way because it’ll kill me if I don’t.8
The evolution of sentient mind is an inevitable outcome of an evolutionary process, given that the appropriate environmental conditions obtain. Mind has an evolutionary trajectory of its own, which defines it as a higher order of informational complexity than non-sentient life, and also as a self-similarity in the Mandelbrot set. This means that, in an appropriate environment, a single species of mind must inevitably claw its way to the top of the tree of sentience and establish itself as the uber-predator of the planet. The uber-predator cannot become so without simultaneously becoming the uber-mind, capable of passing information from generation to generation through the agency of language and culture. The uber-mind is the universe within the universe which comprehends all of reality whilst remaining only a part of it. Such a mind is one which can linearise the non-linear. It can’t force reality to conform to its assumptions by the clever use of equations but it can shape the future of reality through the agency of its words and deeds. It goes without saying that there is no reason whatsoever to suggest that homo sapiens should have been this uber-mind on planet earth, so I guess we should concede that we just got lucky by being in the right place at the right time. When the tropical rainforests of central Africa receded due to climate change 5 million years ago, to be replaced by the grasslands savannah, a number of hominin species climbed down from the trees to exploit the new habitat. By eating all the dumb ones Homo eventually won out over his rivals in a culture war which became a fight to the death. It was a war which lasted for millions of years but one which accelerated exponentially in far less than the past 100,000 generations, the mere blink of an evolutionary eye for any species. In this astonishingly brief time our species managed to triple its brain size and vastly increase the structural complexity of its neural architecture and other information processing networks. We did this to ourselves without any need of a set of divine instructions because living autopoietic systems evolve towards informational complexity entirely spontaneously. They simply cannot do otherwise because the alternative is extinction. In living systems nature is red in tooth and claw.
“Homo hominis lupus est”….Plautus….”Man is the wolf of man”
Of course, Plautus was a playwright and not an evolutionary biologist, so he probably imagined he was composing a metaphor for the human experience rather than offering a literal explanation for human evolution. In fact he was doing both. Homo clawed his way to the top by becoming both predator and prey of his own kind, a process which is known in evolutionary biology, and also in control theory, as a self-reinforcing feedback loop.
Only self-predation is able to account for all the distinctly human characteristics which distinguish homo from the other higher-order primates, because the only real predator that a smart ape has to fear is a smarter one. Hitting your neighbour over the head with a lump of wood has got to be a lot easier than running around the tropical savannah all day chasing after a speedy antelope. It’s not hard to see how the idea could catch on. Our unique hairlessness and talent for long-distance running was the result of trying to escape a bloke with a knife and fork. However it was our evolution of complex language which finally sealed the doom of our last major rival in the homo genus, the unfortunate Neanderthals. They never stood a chance in the long run but they had most of Europe to themselves for half a million years. Until Sapiens showed up. Self-predation seems to be a hard habit for us to shake but that it’s got us to where we are today is unquestionable.9 In complexity theory such an event is known as a bifurcation, an event which drives an exponential advance in informational complexity within a non-linear dynamic system. In Homo Sapiens we can see that Darwin’s survival of the fittest paradigm was supplanted by one of the survival of the smartest, so in every sense of the word we can say that man was his own genetic engineer. Linearising the non-linear doesn’t get much more subtle than this, when the Intelligent Designer unwittingly designs itself.
The embodied cognition of the human mind makes it a non-linear computer of staggering informational complexity and it is entirely autopoietic. The human mind is the quintessential self-similarity, a non-linear computer embedded within a non-linear computer, because it is literally true to say that our own minds are absolutely and completely an entity of our own creation. Such minds are only capable of very rudimentary non-linear computation but such is their capacity for learning that they can devise tools to do it for them and then invent myths which describe fundamental reality to them in this way. Thus they begin to shape the future by shaping Chaos itself and thus begins the journey of the mind towards the ultimate cosmic self-comprehensibility. The evolution of the uber-mind is easily the most extraordinary bifurcation in the Universal Turing Machine.
The mind is an autopoietic system embedded within an over-arching autopoietic system, the body, which is embedded within yet a higher over-arching autopoietic system, the biosphere, which is embedded within the autopoietic granddaddy of them all, the cosmos. This is not exactly what Gottfried Leibniz intended three hundred years ago with his philosophy of monadology but this is what monadology means in the light of our 21st century knowledge of evolution. It isn’t exactly what Buddha and Spinoza were banging on about either but these blokes didn’t know then what we know now. They were merely reaching for a depth of human spirituality which can transcend the supernatural, a truth bigger than god being one way of putting it, and I am willing to suggest that the self-creating cosmos is exactly such a truth. A good way to think of this hierarchical embeddedness is in terms of the Russian matryoshka dolls nested within each other, a metaphor I use often in my model. Our truths are like concentric circles, like the layers of an onion, each contained within a single over-arching truth, this being the cyclical and evolutionary journey of our cosmos in the eternal odyssey of information through time.
I’ll sum this up and get back to physics, because all these strands of thought can be brought together.
In my philosophy I simply say that sentient mind is an emergent property of biology, just as biology is an emergent property of chemistry, just as chemistry is an emergent property of physics. What we’re witnessing here is simply a trajectory of evolution towards informational complexity which is traceable all the way back to the big bang itself, which allows me to extend my matryoshka dolls metaphor across the entire domain of physical reality.
However in my information-centric paradigm I go yet a step further than this. I assert without reservation that physics itself is an emergent property of the over-arching science of computation, which I regard as the only science which can truly be regarded as fundamental. I don’t suggest, as many have before me, that the Theory of Everything will spell the end of physics, any more than physics could ever spell the end of chemistry or chemistry could ever spell the end of biology. These are reductionist myths rooted in a Newtonian world-view which is now obsolete. However I do assert that if my new conceptual paradigm is validated then physics will need to undergo some subtle re-definition. Throughout history this is how science has always progressed, so the physicists’ complicity in their own redundancy is the sign of a job well done.
I love nothing more than taking the piss out of physicists, but deep down I honour and revere them all for the remarkable bequest which they have bestowed on humanity. Even Newton, with his malignant personality and his Dark Ages ideology, was able to propel our species kicking and screaming towards the light. So I’m sorry, Isaac, I may get a bit carried away with my own rhetoric from time to time but you did a fair job with the limited information you had to work with and with the crappy assumptions you adopted as your starting point. I find it hard to extend the same generosity of spirit to the modern breed of physicists, but when we sack the philosophers then things are bound to go pear-shaped. However I won’t dispute the fact that the philosophers deserved the sack because the dopey pricks were asleep at the wheel.
Given the sheer size of our cosmos we can safely conclude, even from a sample size of one, that our universe has now come to life. To suggest that homo sapiens is the unique inheritor of the uber-mind in our cosmos is to advance a proposition which beggars belief, thus the alternative proposition must be accepted by default. Sentient mind is the natural outcome of the cosmic evolutionary process and therefore has been, is, and will be ubiquitous throughout the cosmos. Exactly how ubiquitous is anybody’s guess, but given that the universe contains in the order of ten billion trillion stars distributed throughout at least a hundred billion galaxies, then even if we assume only one uber-mind per galaxy at any particular time then this means that a total of a hundred billion species at least as smart as us are out there somewhere right now having a rather similar sort of conversation to this one. (Not that “right now” is particularly meaningful in this context. We can think of “right now” as having an abstract conceptual meaning but it has no analogous physical meaning.) When we combine this arresting statistic with the fact that our cosmos probably has many tens of billions of good years left in her then the existence of other uber-minds could hardly be described as a reckless leap of faith, even though no evidence yet exists for it. However it does force us to a fascinating conclusion. It means that this self-organising evolutionary mechanism is one that ensures that the universe mandates its own comprehensibility. Many philosophers of many ages have been attracted to the idea of life being definable as the means by which the universe can come to know itself, an anthropomorphic generalisation which I personally find unappealing.
However, whichever way we choose to look at it in accordance with our own conceptual taste, if a universe which mandates its own comprehensibility can’t keep the philosophers gainfully employed for the next few millennia then they should consider a more prosaic line of work.
Here’s another question which the philosophers of the future might like to write learned dissertations on. We can speculate until kingdom come about where we evolved FROM, and we can accumulate ever more evidence as we inch closer and closer to the truth, but imagine all the words we can waste by speculating about what we’re evolving INTO, because this is a question which has no answer. Evolution doesn’t work that way, does it? Or maybe it does, for a species which has become its own Intelligent Designer.10 Even a Theory of Everything will ask more questions than it answers and no man of science or philosophy would ever wish it otherwise.
Emergence is a cornerstone principle in every science except physics, which strikes me as no coincidence since every science except physics makes sense. Emergence is simply the holistic principle which states that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It broadens our understanding of determinism from beyond the reductionist approach of Newton and expands it through the notion of nested causal domains. For example we can say that the combination of two hydrogen atoms and one of oxygen determines the wetness of water and thus determines the behaviour of this emergent molecule with respect to this specific property. Water has a vast suite of such emergent properties and the way I describe this here is a gross over-simplification, because it is the behaviour of a large number of such molecules in aggregate under specific external conditions which determines its wetness. However these properties of the emergent molecule also define it as a causal agent which then determines the behaviour of its constituent atoms. Atoms behave differently in liquid water than they do in solid or gaseous water. Consequently so must their component sub-atomic particles. We must therefore say that the molecule is maintained in a stable state of wetness by this dual process of top-down and bottom-up causation. In biology this notion of an emergent entity being maintained in a stable state is known as homeostasis and its exact analogue in non-living systems is simply known as thermodynamic equilibrium. In information theory such stable emergent entities are defined as informationally open, because they depend on a continuous exchange of information (energy) with their external environment in order to maintain their stability. Once such an information exchange is no longer possible they simply fall to bits, in accordance with the second “law” of thermodynamics. Thus matter is held together by a dynamic informational web, in other words a process.
The principle of emergence refines Newton’s notion of the “object” by obliterating it altogether. The objects of physical reality are only definable as processes because all entities with physical properties can only be defined as emergent, and thus as entities being maintained in a stable state by bi-directional causation. This necessarily includes the sub-atomic particles, each of which has different emergent physical properties such as mass, charge and spin. Without the concept of emergence the origin of these properties lies beyond explanation, as do the so-called “laws” which we invent to model the behaviour of whatever particles we’ve chosen to define. Clearly the emergent properties of the sub-atomic particles are being specified for by a more fundamental underlying process.
In a nutshell this is about all that’s wrong with the Standard Model of Particle Physics, but it’s a gigantic conceptual hole in an otherwise very successful model. Instead of trying to model a process the physicists are trying to model an object, but the truth of the Standard Model is that it’s actually the model of a computation, and computations are processes that occur only in TIME.
Physicists are perfectly well aware that they’ve got themselves stuck in a conceptual hole with the Standard Model and the epicycling string theorists have wasted decades in trying to plug it with their linear mathematics. They’ve got more chance of flying to Mars by flapping their arms than they have of plugging a non-linear round hole with a linear square peg. Newton’s world cannot be made to work at the sub-atomic level any more than it can be made to work at the cosmological level and the Standard Model is infested with mathematical constants derived from observation, just as Einstein’s relativity models are. These constants can be adjusted according to the dictates of the mathematics, so how the hell such models could ever be expected to explain anything at all is utterly beyond me. In an effort to eradicate infinities from their Standard Model equations, the geeks even resort to the alluring practice of renormalisation, an exercise in obfuscationist mathematical chicanery which can only be described as the highest expression of the epicyclist’s art. The Standard Model is thus the starkest example in physics that it is possible to imagine where the map is being mistaken for the territory. In my opinion the entire source of all this conceptual confusion lies in the fact that physics is inerasably wedded to Newtonian reductionism, which ignores the principle of emergence and thus misrepresents causality.
In philosophy the principle of emergence has its origins in Plato’s notion of the two worlds of Ideals and Forms, a notion which was differently elaborated by Kant in his own terminology when he spoke of the noumena and phenomena. These blokes saw the world entirely differently because Plato’s Forms were of supernatural origin whereas the phenomena of Kant were the construction of the consciousness of the observer. Newton was a Platonist because Aquinas was but Plato was a smart bloke with a lot of useful ideas nevertheless, most of which both Aquinas and Newton failed to understand in their theistic confusion. In the perceived dichotomy between these two world-views my model is essentially Kantian but I borrow a few of Plato’s ideas as well. In Kant’s model the Phenomena are simply patterns of organisation specified by the observer which obscures the behaviour of its underpinning Noumena. For instance the “chair-ness” of the chair is a property conferred on it by the observer of the chair and not a property of the various bits and pieces which are assembled to define it as such. In other words we define a chair in terms of its function and not in terms of its structure, exactly as we would the “wetness” of water or the “living-ness” of a geranium. This idea can be extended all the way down through the nested causal domains to the very sub-atomic particles themselves. The “quark-ness” of the quark, definable only in terms of its emergent properties, is entirely the construct of the observer, and since the behaviour of the quark is entirely determined by its quarkness the so-called “laws” which determine this behaviour must also be the construct of the observer. This means that the very “laws of physics” themselves are emergent. To the sensitive New Age physicist becoming sick of all the Intelligent Design bullshit this is not at all a controversial conclusion, even if he can’t grasp its full implications. However Newton would turn in his grave if his divine creator were to be made redundant in this way. Plato illustrates this concept of emergence quite poetically in his allegory of The Cave, where the observer constructs his world from reflected truths which lie beyond his perception.
As I pointed out, Kant explores exactly the same idea rather differently in his inscrutable Teutonic way, but instead uses the terms noumena and phenomena, where the noumena is represented as the unknowable truth which underpins all phenomena. However, perhaps the most explicit expression of this concept is revealed in the words of the great man himself.
“It is the theory which determines what the observer will observe”…..Albert Einstein.
Albert didn’t put it in this way because he pre-dated the Standard Model, but this statement simply means that emergent sub-atomic entities are the invention of the physicist, and that’s exactly all they are. They are processes which the physicist has erroneously defined as objects and from this conceptual fallacy we get such things as wave/particle duality, particle superposition, “quantum” randomness, etc. Trying to model a process occurring in time as an “object” moving in space is simply impossible. Albert can’t have his cake and eat it too and Werner needs to bone up on the definitions of his words.
In my philosophy I have no difficulty in taking such visionary thinkers as Plato, Omar, Leibniz and Kant at face value because they all describe a universe which in the 21st century is easily recognisable as an information entity. In other words the universe is a computer, a statement which I intend to be taken absolutely literally, although the cosmic computer is nothing like the Newtonian contraptions we have sitting on our desktops. The linear computer can only execute a programme which has been entered into it but the cosmic computer is non-linear and thus requires no programme. The non-linear computer programmes itself and I have offered the human mind as an example. However I take pains to stress that I do NOT define the universe as a mind, any more than our biosphere can be defined as a mind, an important clarification which must be made in case the nutcases get hold of this idea and try to twist it into something which it is designed to negate. If we were to define the universe as a mind then we’d have come full circle back to Newtonian reductionism and theism again, with their inherent complications of reverse causation, where reality unfolds retrospectively as the programme of such a mind. In information theory this would be called a simulation, or a virtual reality, exactly like the world of the theist which exists as an artefact of the disembodied mind of the creator. Such a creator is nothing more than a primitive construct confected in the polluted mind of a bronze-age Egyptian psychopath named Akhenaten. It soon caught on with a minority of his subject population and it has served its purpose well as a tool of human oppression. However the malign god of vengeance, who is to be feared and obeyed, can have no role to play in the examined mind of 21st century man.11
“Why are people smarter than sheep, Opa?”
“The jury’s still out on that one, Mitchy.”
Those with a taste for Spinozan pantheism might like to think of the universe as becoming a mind but I personally have no need of such an anthropomorphic description of a state of maximum informational complexity. Einstein was a thinker of this ilk and if you were to ask Albert nowadays if he believed in god he’d probably answer: “Not Yet”. Frank Tipler is also a thinker of this ilk and he would call Einstein’s god the Omega Point. Although I don’t think much of the rest of Frank’s quasi-mystical cosmology I salute him for at least recognising the inevitable nature of an informational cosmos which is evolving.
Frank’s anthropomorphic efforts to look into the future of a self-organising cosmos are creative, but ultimately they are infantile because evolving systems are unpredictable by their very definition.
“Prediction is difficult, particularly of the future”….Yogi Berra.
Yogi was a master of the pithy understatement and he also had a wife. Thus he would have been aware that trying to predict what a single sentient mind might do tomorrow was impossible enough without trying to do it for a trillion trillion trillion of them over the next hundred billion years. Tipler would have been better advised to heed Yogi’s wisdom and keep his guesses to himself, but his omega point wouldn’t have been such a crackpot idea if he hadn’t tried to define its trajectory of evolution. An informationally closed and finite universe cannot evolve indefinitely so the cosmic informational complexity must reach a maximal state from which it then transitions to the minimal, the New Awakening, which Frank would most likely call the Alpha Point. I tend to think of this as a phase shift, rather like flipping over on a Moebius ribbon, but the crunch/bang model of physics is a good enough analogy if we replace the bang with a whimper.
From this computational perspective of the cosmos the emergence of life and mind from an initial state of maximum informational disorder can best be understood topologically and it is modelled quite exquisitely by John Conway in his Game of Life. This model is a natural extension of earlier work done on self-replicating machines by John von Neumann, a polymath of rare insight and one of the founders of modern information theory. The mathematical details of von Neumann’s work are not for the faint-hearted but the basic principles are very simple and eerily familiar to a lay student of both physics and biology. Claude Shannon explored many similar principles with his notion of Shannon entropy, which has a physical analogue in the principles of statistical thermodynamics, which basically deals with the relative distributions of energy within physical systems. In my information-centric paradigm I simply equate information and energy as two different expressions of the same thing. Thus I can say that the cosmos itself is informationally closed, in that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but that any emergent substructure within the cosmos is informationally open, in that it exchanges energy with other substructures external to it. This is basically the mechanism for “complexity from chaos”, and it obtains at every physical scale, but the details of this mechanism lie not only beyond the scope of this essay but also well beyond the scope of my own expertise. It forms the basis of an entire science which goes under the generic name of non-linear dynamic systems theory, commonly abbreviated to simply systems theory, but it also goes under various other guises such as complexity theory, control theory, information theory, cybernetics, game theory, evolutionary theory, chaos theory etc. Various aspects of these theories inform every science except physics, an anomaly which I earlier stated should be regarded as no coincidence and one which prompts the question: Why not? Are we to believe that every observable phenomenon in nature is a non-linear dynamic process and yet the cosmos itself is not? Those with the balls to make this claim may be interested in an Eiffel Tower I have for sale. My main heretical claim in this philosophy is that to understand physics we first need to understand biology, the science of life, because life is clearly the most complex emergent property of any physical system known to the broader realm of physical science. Biology is first and foremost an information science, which forces us to only a single possible conclusion.
Physics must also be first and foremost an information science, and therefore it should be using the same mathematical tools as all the other information sciences, which specifically and categorically means all the other sciences, both physical and sociological. The philosophy of the bloody obvious is both a metaphysical paradigm shift and a meta-mathematical paradigm shift because it re-defines determinism.
This is what I mean when I say that to understand our universe we need simply change the way we think the world, and it is indeed the epiphany which Thomas Kuhn foreshadowed. Once we see the world as a chaotic system then Newton’s reductionist model will never again make sense to us. This is a genuine Copernican Revolution because once this world-view is embraced it will forever after be utterly impossible for us to think the world in any other way. We’ll see reality creating itself everywhere we look. We’ll see it in the orbits of the planets and the motions of the galaxies. We’ll see it in the changing of the seasons and the eternal cycle of life and death. We’ll see it in the history of our planet and know that its future lies in our hands. We’ll see it in our own autopoietic grandchildren as they create their own minds and make their way into the world which we’ve bequeathed them. We’ll see it in the actions of the jihadis beheading innocents in this very same world and in the responses of our overlords as they struggle to understand. But above all we’ll see it in ourselves Becoming ourselves anew because reality is what’s happening right fucking NOW.
“What should I be when I grow up, Opa?”
“You should be an adult, Mitchy”
Leo sees all this as a blindly obvious truth and yet physics continues to deny it because they have models which say otherwise. That these models make no fucking sense is of no concern to them because they’ve empowered themselves to redefine sense. Brother and sister philosophers, heed my call to arms and put a stop to this shit once and for all. Kick these Pharisees and Sadducees out of the temple of truth. The high priests of physics may have succeeded in brainwashing themselves but they’ll never succeed in stealing the truth from Everyman and they must not be allowed to so recklessly spurn the wisdom of our forefathers. In their overweening cleverness they’ve fused their own neurons together with their hubris but for as long as they draw breath they’ll never get the common man to buy their bullshit. What they are doing is NOT science.
I’m glad I got that little hysterical rant off my chest; it’s been churning up my troubled soul for many years.12 It had to be said but nevertheless I’m grateful that burning heretics at the stake is no longer fashionable these days. All the same I’d better practise my Italian, just in case. “Eppur si muove”.
That Einstein was almost immediately placed onto a pedestal of genius after the publication of his relativity models was as much an accident of history as anything else. I reckon if he’d been a generation earlier or a generation later with SR it would never have seen the light of day because no publisher would have touched it. However this is just another “auntie’s balls” statement because neither would he have cooked it up. Ideas are as much a function of the times we live in as the creation of the artist who conjures them into existence, so relativity was an idea whose time had come.
Albert lived in an era which for the common man was in many ways the dawn of the scientific age, when it was widely held that science would provide all the answers to humanity’s deepest questions and the solutions to all its most intractable problems. Einstein did not share this world-view and was embarrassed by the attention lavished on him by a fawning populace in the dawning information age. He was surrounded by an aura of almost supernatural mystique which persists into the present day, so he was a victim of the cult of celebrity when he knew bloody well that his spacetime paradigm was beset with flaws. Spacetime failed to resolve Newton’s world-view of the cosmos as a vast collection of objects interconnected by instantaneous action-at-a distance. Spacetime was non-mechanical because empty space has no physical properties and an entity with no physical properties cannot be regarded as physically real. Replacing Newton’s physical space with his own geometric one was indeed an inspired work of genius but Einstein himself was fully aware of the fact that this mathematical trickery could only ever offer him an “as if” model of reality. Matter and energy respond to gravity “as if” they were following the trajectory of a curved space. If we extend this cautionary warning to the rest of the discoveries of 20th century physics we can say that the universe “appears to be” expanding, or that sub-atomic particles “appear to” behave randomly, or “appear to be” both wave and particle, etc. In fact none of the early pioneers of 20th century physics seriously claimed to have an ontologically sound model of the universe. Not only Einstein took pains to stress this point. So too did Bohr, Planck, Heisenberg, de Broglie, Eddington and many others. Wolfgang Pauli was arguably the deepest thinker of them all and he understood the epistemic nature of his own work perfectly well. Erwin Schrodinger also knew perfectly well that his dead and alive cat was nothing more than a piss-take at his own expense. Physicists in these times had a far better grounding in the basic principles of the philosophy of knowledge than do their modern counterparts, so mistaking the map for the territory with respect to the spacetime model was to become a later adornment imposed on it by the world of academic physics. Nowadays most physicists make no distinction between a physical model and its mathematical representation, a legacy of the logical positivists which has led to all manner of ridiculous speculations about the nature of reality. That the universe can only be understood in the language of mathematics is a proposition which has clearly been proven false, since the mathematical approach is obviously moving us further away from an understanding than closer towards one. The epicyclists are getting cleverer but nevertheless they’re still steadily losing ground.
“What is the world, Opa?”
“The world is a place of tensor calculus and non-commutative polynomials, Mitchy.”
“Ohh…. ..Will they make me sick?”
“Yes mate, if you believe that they’ll kill you.”
In spite of his metaphysical shortcomings, for as long as humans continue to explore the nature of their physical world Albert Einstein will always be acknowledged as the sage who gave us our two greatest unifications in physics. In SR he showed us that matter and energy are simply two different expressions of the same thing, the universal mass/energy equivalence principle so elegantly expressed in the simplest of equations, E=mc2. In my spaceless informational paradigm I’ve stated that energy and information are analogous constructs, and thus I model all of physical reality as an informational network where energy can be regarded as the fundamental informational unit. However, significant though the matter/energy unification was, it was in General Relativity (GR) that Einstein revealed the true depth of his genius and inadvertently disclosed his greatest unification in physics.
I say inadvertently, and I call this unification the elephant in the room, because its true significance has gone unrecognised for a century. This unification has remained a truth hidden in plain sight because of Minkowski’s oh-so-clever mathematics and Newton’s metaphysically unsustainable picture of the world. In GR, Einstein shows us that time and gravity are also two different expressions of the same thing because they bear an inversely logarithmic relationship to each other which obtains all the way down to the quantum level. Thus they can be quantised equivalently in a single unit of physical reality which must be regarded as a time interval and one which is absolutely fundamental. This is quantum gravity, the holy grail of physics and the central plank of the Theory of Everything which I present as the philosophy of the bloody obvious. My model replaces the epistemic paradigm of the spacetime continuum with its far simpler ontological underpinning, which is a continuum of time and gravity. It is this which the observer observes as a continuum of time and space and it is in the grav-time continuum that we find Plato’s Ideals and Kant’s Noumena. It is not a “place”, but rather it is a boundary, the ever-moving nexus between past and future where an informational reality is continuously being MADE and then being reflected from the walls of Plato’s Cave, awaiting only an observer to construct it into a meaningful representation of his world. . The observer then becomes the decoder of his own hologram by observing the wake of passing Time, the Moving Finger which stands still for neither man nor quark.
The philosophy of the quantum is perhaps the simplest and most exquisite truth in the entire history of philosophy, and one which was unsurprisingly handed down to us by the ancient Greeks. They cannot be held to blame for the fact that this useful word has been misappropriated since by all and sundry and re-defined to suit the agenda of their choice. It is regrettable that Max Planck chose this particular word to found the science of particles, because sub-atomic particles are not quantum entities. 20th century physics made the same false assumption as Democritus had made millennia earlier with his original atomic theory. They thought they’d got to the bottom of it all with the sub-atomic particles, and every counter-intuitive absurdity inherent in quantum mechanics can be sheeted home to this single false assumption. On the sub-atomic scale the idea of describing the momentum of a particle in terms of a number of successive locations in “space” simply doesn’t work anymore, just as it never worked for planetary orbits without invoking action at a distance. Particles only move in time, just as planets do. However the original quantum theorists were wrong because the true quantum scale is at another layer of reality which lies beneath these particles, at a scale so small as to defy the human imagination. The analogue of this scale in modern physics is called the Planck scale, but the Planck scale in the grav-time continuum is a rather different beast from that which Max was envisioning in his non-existent spaces.
The true philosophy of the quantum specifies simply this: In order to be definable as physically real a physical entity cannot be infinitely divisible. The buck must stop somewhere so a physically real entity must have a smallest possible bit. This notion is simply illustrated by Zeno’s paradox and it had its apotheosis in Democritus’ concept of atomism. It was further elaborated into a formal mathematical doctrine by Georg Cantor, the founder of set theory, who was much intrigued by infinities. Georg eventually went barking mad, a sad outcome for a smart bloke, and I have no doubt that his obsession with orders of infinities, along with his relentless mysticism, was largely to blame for this. Cantor was easily able to prove that an infinite set cannot be contained within a finite one, a mathematical truth which the physicists would have done well to ponder when Einstein’s field equations appeared to point to the existence of a singularity.
This alone should have been enough to convince them that Newton’s mathematical toys did not belong in the sandbox of reality, but in their blind infatuation with their own mathematical virtuosity the poor physicists blundered headlong into a conceptual cul-de-sac. They well knew that they were in such a cul-de-sac but they had no map to navigate their way out. The map they had was a beguiling work of beauty but all they could with it was to confirm their own cognition, like the frog in the bottom of the well. They eventually came to realise that a deeper order of reality must lie beneath the sub-atomic particles and the string theorists wasted decades in searching for it. They toiled in vain because such a deeper order of reality cannot be encompassed within the spacetime model, no matter how many extra spatial dimensions they invent. It’s a smart trick but all it can achieve is to produce an infinite number of universes other than the one we’re privileged to inhabit, and this makes a complete mockery of the self-validatory principle. I wasted twenty years of my own attempting the same futile exercise from the totally different referential standpoint of the Natural Philosopher, but all to no avail. As a metaphysicist I should have known better, but as they say in the vernacular, shit happens.
In the grav-time continuum the philosophy of the quantum is re-instated into its rightful place of honour as the pinnacle of human reason. Physical reality does indeed have a smallest possible bit, and this fundamental unit is a time interval which is very easily defined.
It is the smallest possible interval of time in which we can meaningfully say that something has actually happened. For example, if an electron either emits or absorbs a photon this instant constitutes an event, and thus occupies its own unique location in time. Literally trillions of trillions of trillions of such moments occur every second of our lives and this clearly defines time and change as two different expressions of the same thing, namely the principle of causation. No philosopher worthy of the name would dare attach any metaphysical meaning to the notion of a time interval in which nothing has occurred, and neither in fact does physics, to its credit. My smallest possible unit of time is roughly analogous to the Planck interval, but not precisely so, so in the interests of clarity I’ve opted to give it a name of its own which honours Gottfried Leibniz, the bloke who first came up with the notion and the true winner in the biggest clash of ideas in history. In the grav-time continuum the fundamental unit of physical reality will be called the Monad. The monad can be thought of as the “bit” in Wheeler’s “it from bit” paradigm and it can also be thought of as a “bit” as used in the more conventional language of computation. “Bits” are spaceless.
I stressed earlier that my model of the universe as a non-linear computer is one which must be taken literally in the strictest Boolean sense. This universe is quite literally defined as a reality MAKER and the monad quite specifically operates as a binary logic gate. The monad is the only entity in the universe which can be defined as physically real in an objective sense and all the various emergent physical entities which we’ve devised to model its behaviour are merely subjective descriptions of the emergent properties which this behaviour displays. Rather than observing an objective reality the observer observes this emergent behaviour and then constructs a subjective reality within his own consciousness on the basis of how he interprets what he sees. This then becomes the observer’s cognitive map. Thus we must say that an electron, for instance, is not an objectively real object any more than a chair is. We define an electron by its emergent function and not by its intrinsic structure so an electron is simply an entity created by the human mind to model the behaviour of the monads which encode for it. It is even meaningless to think of the electron as having an intrinsic structure at all in this model.
What it has instead is an intrinsic process which maintains it in the specific pattern of organisation which we ourselves have defined. The same can be said for all the various particles, waves, fields and forces which physics uses to construct its models, the various epistemic “laws” of physics. These are not physically real things but constructs devised by the human mind to render its observations comprehensible.
These are not easy concepts to grasp for a western mind brainwashed in the traditions of Newtonian reductionism and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. Nevertheless they are completely uncontroversial conclusions drawn from the most ancient of philosophical first principles. These ideas are as old as Sanskrit and have been expressed uniformly across all of the major philosophical schools in history. Many of the great poets and countless other wordsmiths throughout history have spoken of these truths. Physics has no authority to declare them bullshit, and it stands on very shaky ground if it dares to make the attempt, because above all else we must never allow ourselves to forget that physics makes no sense.
“One should never allow one’s education to interfere with one’s learning”….Mark Twain
“It is a miracle that human creativity can survive a modern education”…..Albert Einstein
“Neurons that fire together wire together”…..DragonFly
Newton’s world of immutable physical laws, whose origins lie outside the cosmos, is an anthropomorphic myth, and Newton’s world of objects is the same. In the grav-time continuum there’s no such thing as an object because a dynamic reality is only definable in the language of its changes. In a world where every infinitesimally small interval of time effects a change in the electron this so-called “object” can only be defined as an emergent entity being maintained in a state of thermodynamic equilibrium by the behaviour of the monads which encode for it. This is a starkly different approach to that taken in the Standard Model of Particle Physics, a timeless and gravity-less paradigm of non-existent objects moving in a non-existent space. How the hell can the particle physicists ignore gravity when GR itself clearly implies that the electron ages more quickly than the nucleus of the atom it “orbits”? If the arrow of time/gravity is incorporated into the Standard Model it simply becomes the model of a computation and a computation is only definable as a process. Reality isn’t something which is simply “out there” but rather something which is continuously being MADE. The speed of light simply becomes the speed at which this process occurs at the fundamental level of the monad. The speed of light and the speed of emerging time are thus one and the same thing, the processing speed of the non-linear cosmic computer.
Defining the monad as a binary logic gate offers us Wheeler’s dream of a universe of sublime austerity. Wheeler’s “bit” is the smallest possible interval of time and it has only two physical properties, these being its information/energy content and the duration of its existence in this state. We can think of the monads as mathematical points on a grav-time wave which is continuously coming into existence at the speed of light, which means that each and every monad exists solely in its own temporal referential frame. Although I venture well above my pay grade in suggesting this, I strongly suspect that this continuum may best be represented mathematically as a two-dimensional topological space.
However the monads must be regarded as both mathematical points in such a space as well as physical entities in the real universe, where each monad simply becomes its own next monad with a slightly different information content. In this way the universe is simply itself Becoming. Whether the information content of any given monad goes up or down is entirely determined by the behaviour of all the other monads which are temporally nearby, the extent of this influence being proportional to both the temporal separation between monads and the information content of the neighbouring monads in the continuum. We can simply visualise this as a network of causal interconnections and here again the cellular automata of Conway’s model, with their sequential iterations, can give us an approximate topological image of how the sub-atomic particles are encoded for by monads. However, which particular topological model might be used to derive the particles we observe is a question some orders of magnitude beyond my authority to guess. For all I know it may be necessary to invent some more matryoshka dolls as different hierarchies of order which lie between the monads and the particles. Nevertheless the informationally open “knot” has a simple elegance to it which is compelling, despite the fact that visualising such a thing existing only in the time dimension is no conceptual bargain. Its elegance is amplified by the fact that knot theory is now being explored in biology as a possible mathematical tool for describing protein folding in the process of gene transcription and expression. This process is the primary driver for biological evolution in the autopoietic model, which is rapidly superseding neo-Darwinism as the over-arching paradigm for living systems. Self-similarities are everywhere to be found in the natural world and to find such a striking one at such a fundamental level in two different descriptions of an evolving reality is unlikely to be serendipitous. However I offer it as no more than a dilettante’s guess because the mathematics is way beyond me.
The emergent sub-atomic particles, with their variety of different emergent properties, then go on to encode for the higher orders of emergent informational complexity, such as atoms which encode for molecules, etc in the hierarchy of causal domains which I compared to the Russian dolls. This offers us a picture of reality as a causally-connected energy density projection of the cosmos. However it is the second property of the monad which brings our universe to life with all its subtlety and nuance. Along with its information content the monad has a precise duration of existence before it becomes its own next monad and this duration of existence is entirely determined by gravity, the aforementioned elephant in the room of physics. Although I define a “field” as a solely man-made epistemic abstraction, for the purposes of this explanation the notion of a gravitational field is adequate. In this context, and with this proviso, I tend to think of gravity as the cosmic metronome, in that the duration of the quantum interval is being determined by the strength of the gravitational “field”. However this is an entirely arbitrary way of thinking this through because it is equally meaningful to say that the strength of the gravitational “field” is being determined by the duration of the quantum interval. In the grav-time continuum gravity and time are inextricably linked in such a way that to suggest that one determines the other is logically spurious since one is simply the inverse function of the other. Even Newton would be forced to agree with this because it was the great creationist himself who gave us the notion of reciprocal action. This gravity/time reciprocity leads to some rather odd conceptual conclusions which at face value might seem like something of a head-spin. For instance it means we are bound to the surface of our planet because our heads are aging faster than our feet, or more precisely, our heads are coming into existence more quickly than our feet. Likewise the electron “orbits” its host nucleus because electrons come into existence more quickly than protons and neutrons do.
Once again we see a major unification for the Standard Model because the mass of the sub-atomic particle can simply be defined in terms of the speed at which it is coming into existence. For instance neutrinos are almost massless and thus come into existence at very close to the speed of light. Just like photons they are information carriers but they carry information at an emergent level whereas photons carry information at a fundamental level because a photon is a monad. This emergent quality of mass thus determines the speed of computation at the emergent sub-atomic level of informational complexity, a speed which is necessarily less than light-speed.
All of the observable phenomena in nature are entirely attributable to this homeomorphic relationship between gravity and time at the quantum level, and thereby the consequential information flow which this relationship mandates both bottom-up and top-down throughout the causal domains of the nested hierarchical levels. This is literally the mechanism of reality at the fundamental level and it is a mechanism of breathtaking simplicity. There was a time when I recoiled at the populist phrase “The Theory of Everything”, believing this to be an arrogant reach too far. Of course it’s entirely an arrogant reach too far, but “everything” to a physicist encompasses only a very small world, and in a sense quantum gravity truly does achieve everything that the community of physics expected it to achieve. It explains absolutely every counter-intuitive absurdity in physics and it will set the science onto an entirely new path. However this is not all it does. I have high hopes that it may also have the power to set humanity on an entirely new path because a vastly simpler cosmos allows for a far more significant role for sentient mind. The random chemical smear pursuant from the monstrous cosmic accident is revealed as bollocks.
Albert Einstein was a gentleman with a robust sense of humour and was never one to deny himself a good belly laugh at his own expense. Albert would be enchanted by my grav-time continuum because it implies that the speed of light is the most inconstant speed in the universe, being variable all the way down to the quantum level. His entire house of cards is predicated on the opposite assumption, which means that my model brings this house of cards crashing down around his ears. No doubt there are many physicists of our modern era who will mourn this shifting of the tectonic plates in physics, but I also suspect that there are many who will not. After all, we mustn’t forget that a constant speed of light is a logical impossibility, and I reckon I could name most of the more prominent physicists of today who still secretly harbour a nostalgic reverence for logic, despite the fact that their own discipline refutes its validity. Sadly nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.
Perhaps the most simplifying of all the unifications which this model manages to achieve is that it equates the speed of light with the speed of emerging time, inextricably interwoven with gravity. It is this fact which defines the universe as a computer answerable only to the laws of Boolean logic. It was the observed constant speed of light which originally sent Albert and his mates into their conceptual cul-de-sac. They failed to realise that the observer was simply observing a holographic representation of a reality which exists no longer, so mistaking the map for the territory was in a sense inevitable. Minkowski had spatialised time out of existence and thus physics acknowledged no metaphysical distinction between the past, present and future. The universe as a frozen Parmenidean block was born and all the counter-intuitive and paradoxical bullshit which came with it was therefore unavoidable.
The thing which I find the most disturbing about all this is the alacrity with which so many eminent scientists were willing to accept the absurd and the deafening silence of the philosophers in failing to call them to account for it. However, once spacetime had come to be accepted as official dogma, the pervasive ambience of groupthink became effectively impenetrable. Those in the lay community were given to understand that physics was simply too complex a subject for a non-physicist to understand, while all along the physicists couldn’t understand a word of it themselves.
In the non-linear computer which I quite literally adopt as my model for the cosmos the speed of light can simply be regarded as the processing speed of the cosmic computer, because the grav-time continuum quite specifically defines reality as a PROCESS. To be fair to Einstein, it would have required an extraordinary leap of intuition for him to arrive at my conclusions because he didn’t have any of my advantages. Leibniz had foreshadowed Charles Boole’s laws of thought which gave rise to Boolean symbolic logic, a form of first-order logic more fundamental than the classical logic of Aristotle. Charles Babbage, an underrated polymath of rare insight, had laid much of the mathematical groundwork for the future science of linear computation, but information science as such did not exist in Einstein’s day. Essentially it was Claude Shannon who synthesised the work of Boole, Babbage and others into the binary logic system which underpins all of modern information theory. These guys were all mathematicians first and logicians second, but it needed the insight of a non-mathematician to see how a Boolean logic system could be either linear or non-linear. Charles Darwin had shown how the Newtonian linear paradigm of Intelligent Design was not applicable to living systems, but its mathematical alternative, non-linear dynamic systems theory, lay almost a century in Darwin’s future. Poincare had ventured into the world of Chaos with his entirely novel approach to the three-body problem of physics, but to most his work was merely a mathematical curiosity with no real physical consequences. Even to this day it is understood by only very few that systems theory is more than just a more nuanced approach to solving a specific class of physical problems. It is an entirely different way of thinking the world, what Thomas Kuhn would have called a conceptual paradigm shift, because it completely redefines determinism. Although Einstein would have been aware of Alan Turing’s work on linear computation in the later years of his life, he can hardly be blamed for failing to appreciate the philosophical connection between this work and his own. Turing himself had more pressing concerns, such as saving his nation from annihilation at the hands of the Nazis and avoiding persecution at the hands of a society which presumed the right to instruct us in whom we might be free to love. Although he was one of the greatest thinkers ever to grace the annals of human thought, Alan was neither physicist nor philosopher and the implications of his Universal Turing Machine went unrecognised, even by himself. Although it formed the central philosophical plank of the entirely new science of computation it was only ever regarded as a hypothetical mathematical construct. In my philosophy I propose the Universal Reality Maker as the new “Copernican Revolution”, a literally precise metaphysical template for our literally real physical universe. Turing’s informationally closed eternal and cyclical computer is the quintessentially non-Newtonian representation of Spinoza’s self-causal cosmos, a philosophical ideal to which Einstein had been intuitionally attracted throughout his entire life and one which also resonates strongly with the forgotten myths of many ancient non-western cultures.
From the Way come the myriad creatures
Yet it imposes no authority
It gives them life without possession
It benefits them but asks no thanks
It does its work but claims no merit
Because it claims no merit
Merit is never lacking in it.
However it wasn’t until the 1980s that the conceptual dam was finally broken. It was breached by a lateral thinker of rare brilliance, a bloke called Benoit Mandelbrot, who rediscovered the mandalas of Leibniz and the eastern mystics and he showed them to be intrinsically real models of our physical world. Benoit’s mandalas are my Russian dolls. To know truth we should watch the awe in the eyes of a child when he first peers into a kaleidoscope and sees the majesty of Russian doll reality. This simple toy holds the key to all of physical reality in a way which illustrates the ancient Greek philosophical traditions of truth in beauty and beauty in simplicity. Humans are pattern-recognisers and I owe much of my interest in fractal patterns to an old university mate called Andrew Leary. Andrew was something of a mystic in his younger days, as many of us were in the heady days of the counter-culture, but he had the most eclectic mind of any human being I’d ever met before or since. These were pre-Mandelbrot days but it was he who introduced me to the mandala and the kaleidoscope and thus it is he who must carry the can for my ensuing decades of existential angst. For reasons which I will never be able to explain I knew for certain that Andrew was onto something profound. The physics of the kaleidoscope is stunningly simple but this uncomplicated gadget shows us that our physical world is capable of organising itself into complex patterns of organisation without any need of an external organising principle beyond the law of cause and effect. As a wannabe New Age hippy with a fascination for psychedelia I had no idea what the fuck this meant, but by the time I approached my middle years I was equipped with vastly more knowledge tools with which to explore it. When I finally discovered Benoit’s Mandelbrot set, and saw that I could regard it as a simple extension of Conway’s and von Neumann’s models I felt certain that I had nailed it. Our physical universe is a Mandelbrot set and thus exists in a fractal dimension.
Unfortunately by this time I’d already learnt quite a lot of physics so my epiphany was of precious little use to me. I’d managed to work out that the reason why physics made no sense was a simple consequence of Minkowski’s representation of time as a Cartesian spatial dimension, but this was hardly breaking news to a Natural Philosopher. Cartesian dimensions are bi-directional mathematical objects, which means that if we represent time as one of them then the models thus derived will be time invariant, which our cosmos is patently not. Ergo these models are not modelling the real world. In the traditions of Leibniz and Kant I hold that truth can only be arrived at by deductive reasoning from first principles and not by inductive inference from observation, a methodology which I call doing philosophy backwards. Therefore the equations of physics do not describe a real universe for the simple reason that the arrow of time is uni-directional. The first principle in this case is that the present can be influenced by the past but the past cannot be influenced by the present, a simple statement of the bloody obvious from which no geek on earth was ever going to be able to dissuade me.
Fractal dimensions are uni-directional and I entertained not the slightest nuance of doubt that a true ontology of time could only be represented in this way. However neurons that fire together wire together and my futile efforts to project a fractal time dimension onto a three-dimensional Cartesian space were simply laughable in hindsight. I had the same problem as everybody else did, namely: Where the hell was gravity supposed to fit in? Although I’d sacked god in my adolescence I hadn’t completely excised Plato’s realm of universal mathematical laws from my mind. I was trying to force a square peg into a round hole by overlaying a self-creating world onto a created one. Newtonian thought had become so deeply embedded into my consciousness that I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. I stared right through the elephant in the room of GR, as so many had done before me, solely because I was looking at the world the way Newton had been looking at it, in terms of objects moving in space instead of solely in terms of events occurring in time. I was at my wits end and close to psychological collapse when eventually I rediscovered the science of human perception and finally saw daylight in the form of a resolution to the observer problem. This resolution meant that time and space are mutually exclusive and that three-dimensional space is solely the construct of the observer. To say that I was euphoric would be a prodigious understatement because I was now equipped with an axiom which would make every counter-intuitive notion in physics simply vanish and every ridiculous paradox definable simply as an observer effect. I was in no doubt whatsoever that I had indeed stumbled across the Theory of Everything and Everything turned out to be a shitload bigger than anything I could possibly have imagined.
I shall restate this axiom and I offer it as one of only two central axioms for my entire philosophy. My first axiom is that evolution towards informational complexity is the fundamental self-organising principle of the universe and my second axiom, the one that busts the problem of physics wide open, is that three-dimensional space is an artefact of human consciousness and not a physical property of the universe.
This essay is only an extract from a far broader and more all-encompassing philosophy which is still a work in progress. I knew, as many others knew before me, that a resolution of the problem of physics would open the door to an entirely new way of thinking the world we live in. It most certainly does. The bulk of my philosophy is devoted to exploring the implications of this new way of thinking, for both the individual human and also for homo sapiens as a species. These implications are profound, and will provide intellectual fodder for generations of philosophers to come, but my quest has been more than a convoluted exercise in philosophical navel-gazing. I’m not a physicist and do not presume to offer any new physics, although new physics is certainly implied by this metaphysical model. All I’ve attempted to do is to provide an ontological underpinning for the physics we already have. I have no idea what manner of new physics may emerge from this paradigm shift, although I’m reasonably certain that whatever this new physics may be it will only be elaborated mathematically with the tools of fractal geometry and non-linear computation. I’m not a mathematician either, so I wouldn’t know where to start, but I do know that if I’m right then every physics book ever written will need to be re-written from scratch. Newton was wrong from the very outset because his created world is NOT.
Despite the fact that I write from the point of view of a layman in science I expect the philosophy of the bloody obvious to be taken seriously, notwithstanding its irreverent title. I offer it as a genuine scientific hypothesis because it meets the stringent requirements necessary for a theory to be so designated. It yields a testable prediction which would unequivocally refute the spacetime model, and testing this prediction would fall comfortably within the budget and competence of most university physics departments. When I first seriously began to write up my philosophy I had no such prediction and I couldn’t really imagine how I was ever going to unearth such a thing. I assumed, as Kant did, that the Noumenon was unknowable, and in a sense it is. The existence of my monads can only be inferred from the behaviour of the emergent entities they encode for within the nested causal domains of the Mandelbrot set, and these emergent entities are solely constructs of the human consciousness by definition. Only epistemic truths are accessible to the human mind which means that no attempt at an ontological underpinning for these epistemic truths can ever be proven absolutely true, even in principle. I wasn’t overly concerned about this because Absolute Truth is the jurisdiction of priests and not the jurisdiction of scientists or philosophers.
I accept without qualification that it is impossible to prove the truth of any scientific hypothesis whatsoever, but it must always be possible to falsify a dodgy one. All that is necessary for this is to ask the right question of your suspect model, and as I saw it the right question had yet to be asked of the spacetime confection. As always I turned to my greatest muse in physics, Albert Einstein, in my search for such a question. Albert revealed much about his deepest innermost thoughts in his enigmatic quotes and in his philosophical musings. His existential angst about the dice-playing god and spooky-action-at-a-distance was genuine and deeply felt. These deep misgivings were to haunt him throughout his life and he died an unrequited man. Here are a couple of his quotes which got me thinking hard.
“The more successful quantum mechanics is, the more ridiculous it looks”
“It is the theory which determines what the observer will observe”
The fractal paradigm which defines the time dimension as a grav-time continuum could very simply explain such paradoxical phenomena as gravitational lensing and an “expanding” universe. The speed of light is not a true constant but merely an observed constant in the referential frame of the observer, and this settles the matter of gravitational lensing. We can’t see light when it’s moving but only after it’s already moved, so the apparent bending of light by gravity is no different from the apparent bending of a stick in water, which is the simple high-school physics of refraction, where light moves at different speeds in different media. Light from a distant cosmological entity travels only through time and thus slows down in the presence of a gravitational “field”. The observer observes this as bent light and the fact that such a “field” is entirely fictitious and not a “medium” at all is irrelevant to this explanation. Light slows down because time slows down and light cannot travel faster than time. Instead of thinking of our universe as “expanding” we must think of it as merely aging at the speed of light, just like the rest of us, and that it ages more quickly between galaxies than it does within them, in accordance with GR. Thus we see the galaxies moving apart from each, as indeed they are. They’re moving apart in time. It’s far too simple not to be true because this also explains why this apparent “expansion” appears to be accelerating. Goodbye Dark Energy and good riddance to the cosmological constant.
“Quantum” randomness, wave-particle duality, particle superposition etc can all be easily accounted for as observer effects consequent on the fact that the observer is looking backwards down the arrow of time and the fact that sub-atomic particles are not quantum entities. Randomness does not exist in a causal universe but if we look at Chaos in a temporal mirror it appears to, just as our left hand is indistinguishable from our right if we hold it up to an ordinary mirror. It’s an illusion. All we need to do is remember that the observer is aging at the speed of light, just as his observation is, because that’s how fast everything is changing at the fundamental level. This may seem like an odd way of looking at things but it’s perfectly true and contradicts no so-called physical “law”. The philosophy of the bloody obvious is entirely about looking at the same things in a different way, just as Copernicus did and just as Kuhn suggested we must if we were ever to understand our cosmos.
It will come as a blessed relief to many that Schrodinger’s cat can be dead OR alive but it can’t be dead AND alive. Unsurprisingly this experiment has never been performed because everybody actually knows that QM is bullshit. This is a revealing insight into the bizarre world of the mathematical physicists since almost all of their most ridiculous speculations about the nature of the universe are based on quantum mechanics, a model universally accepted as having no explanatory authority. I don’t doubt that in the future a different perspective on quantum mechanics will yield a considerable suite of testable predictions which would also refute the spacetime model, but I feel that my mathematical fluency is not up to the task of searching for them. Alas QM is a mathematical model of dazzling extravagance which yields little sense to the dilettante amateur and remodelling it fractally must remain a task for others. However the phenomenon which really gave Albert his sleepless nights was the problem of “quantum” entanglement, the spooky-action-at-a-distance which was largely a problem of his own making. With two colleagues he found this problem in what became known as the EPR paradox (Einstein, Rosen and Podolsky) and the paradox emerged perfectly naturally as a consequence of the spacetime paradigm. It was later fully formalised by Erwin Schrodinger and others, and thus quantum entanglement became an integral component of the QM model. However it always struck me that entanglement didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the QM bullshit. Its similarity to the spatial “wormhole” paradox of GR is striking because both invoke the spectre of superluminal information transfer, an assumption which violates a central tenet of the mass/energy equivalence principle as well as being an abomination to the man of common sense. Since superluminal travel is even more nonsensical in a spaceless universe than it is in spacetime my instincts were telling me that the long-sought synergy between GR and QM was to be found in an explanation for this mysterious phenomenon of quantum entanglement. My gut instincts have always been good to me and it turned out I was right. Faster-than-light (FTL) information transfer is an observer effect.
This is an explanation for quantum entanglement in a spaceless universe and if anybody can punch a logical hole in this explanation I’ll gladly eat my entire manuscript. I’m not a physicist but I have great confidence in the validity of the prediction it yields. However, this experiment needs to be performed by somebody who has the right academic credentials and the right professional expertise to correctly formalise the precise experimental protocols required. In all likelihood such an expert would be taken seriously, whereas I would almost certainly not be, which is fair enough. In fact it is more than probable that a physicist could concoct many variations of this experiment which would be equally definitive.
In the grav-time continuum all motion is in the time dimension only, including of course the motion of light. A beam of photons does not travel through space but simply travels into the future, which means a “light-year” is just a year like any other, but one which we’ve elected to think of as a spatial “distance”. Entanglement is observed when a photon of a given wavelength strikes a semi-silvered mirror and splits into two daughter photons, each of which has a wavelength double that of the original photon. The analogous way of saying this in my non-linear computational model is that each of the daughter photons has exactly half the information content of its parent photon. It is only at the precise instant of this split that we can say that the two daughter photons occupy the same “location” in time and are thus perfectly entangled. They are momentarily fused monads. Thereafter they go their separate ways into the future and will slowly move apart in time, gradually becoming less and less entangled. The apparent action at a distance is NOT instantaneous, but in a benign gravitational “field” it is very nearly so. In inter-galactic “space”, for instance, the gravitational “field” is almost perfectly homogenous which means that the daughter photons will remain very closely entangled for a very long time indeed, perhaps even for millions of our years, so long as one of the daughters doesn’t venture near a black hole. However, no matter how close to uniform the gravitational “field” may be, it can never be perfectly so, and thus the daughters will inexorably move away from each other within the continuum. Naturally information can pass between the two daughters by moving through time at the speed of light, in exactly the same way as massless information can pass between any two physical entities. However in the case of the entangled daughter photons the information doesn’t have very far through time to go and the observer in his spatial confusion construes this as superluminal travel. It is no such thing because in my model the speed of light and the speed of emerging time are one and the same thing. The implications of this thought experiment shouldn’t be too difficult to grasp. The co-efficient of entanglement between the two daughter photons is nothing more than a function of their temporal closeness and this is entirely determined by their relative speeds into the future from a temporal point of common origin. These speeds cannot possibly be identical because of the quantised inverse relationship between gravity and time, and this inverse relationship obtains all the way down to the quantum instant, the fundamental unit of physical reality which I have called the monad. This is quantum gravity, as I have already claimed.
Since ALL motions of physical entities are in the grav-time continuum only this means that not only sub-atomic entities can exhibit this apparently paradoxical phenomenon. In principle we could entangle two elephants, if we could only get them to co-operate, but for my definitive experiment I’ve chosen to entangle two automobiles, whose behaviour can be more scrupulously controlled. All we need is two cars, preferably operable by remote control, some simple radio transmitters and receivers, and a very accurate clock, one which can measure the speed of passing time to an accuracy of a millionth of a second. Such clocks cannot be bought at the local hardware store but they are routinely used in physics experiments. We need a long stretch of straight flat road at least 3 km long, such as a disused airport runway and its approaches. At the midpoint along this road we place our clock and also a radio transmitter/receiver. I denote this point as point G (Ground Zero). The two cars, which I’ll simply denote as A and B, are positioned at opposite ends of the runway, facing each other. Now comes the tricky part. The two cars, A and B, must set off simultaneously and approach each other at precisely the same speed. It doesn’t matter what this speed is as long as both cars can maintain it as accurately as possible.
The object of the exercise is to ensure that A and B are equidistant from G at all times, and I allow 500m of wriggle-room at each end of the runway for the cars to synchronise themselves. The experiment proper does not take place until the cars are 2km apart from each other and thus each 1km apart from G.
To establish a baseline for our measurement, when car A is 1 km from G we send a radio signal to it and time how long it takes to receive a ping response. We can simply call this the time for a signal trajectory GAG. My prediction will match that of the sceptical physicists standing beside me. In Voltaire’s best of all possible worlds this signal should take 0.0000067 seconds to traverse its 2km journey, since the speed of light in a vacuum is near enough to 300 million metres/sec. We can safely ignore the fact that we’re not conducting our experiment in a vacuum and we may also regard the fact that the car is moving as having a negligible effect on our result. Our best of all possible worlds’ prediction will not be precisely confirmed but it’ll do because we know why not. Naturally, since A and B are equidistant from G if we go through the same ritual with B then we can expect the same answer. GAG=GBG. The sceptical physicists and I can reach a mutual agreement on this point and needn’t bother to confirm it in the case of car B. So far so good, but now we’re going to do something slightly different. This time we send a radio signal to A, which re-routes the signal to B, before B sends the return signal to G. We can call this the signal trajectory GABG. Once again my prediction will tally with that of the scoffing sceptics because this response should take twice as long to be received, an idealised time interval of 0.0000133 seconds, the time it takes for light to travel a distance of 4km.
Finally I’m getting to the point of my story. The cars continue to approach each other at identical speed and therefore they should arrive at G simultaneously. We allow them to simply pass each other as closely as possible and just keep going at the same speed. When they are once again 1km away from G and 2km away from each other we repeat the above measurements. Once again a signal which follows either trajectory GAG or GBG will be seen to take 0.0000067 seconds to register a response. However on this occasion my prediction for the time taken for the GABG signal will differ starkly from that of the physicists, who by this time will no doubt be rolling around on the grass, beside themselves with mirth. They have a canonical doctrine which tells them that the GABG interval will be exactly the same as before, when the cars were on the inward leg of their journey, namely 0.0000133 seconds. However this time the dilettante philosopher with too much free time on his hands is daring to say something different. The philosophy of the bloody obvious boldly claims that on this occasion the GABG signal will occupy the SAME time interval as either the GAG or the GBG signals, namely 0.0000067 seconds. The cars have been entangled and the AB component of the signal is almost instantaneous, although not precisely so.
( As an incidental aside. I searched the literature high and low for a comparable experiment to no avail. To the best of my knowledge this question has never been asked of the spacetime paradigm. When I laid out the above scenario in an online physics forum I was mercilessly mocked, hooted into submission, and ultimately banned from the forum. Physicists stand willing to safeguard their eternal verities at all costs, it seems. When I meekly pointed out that this question had never been asked of the spacetime model I was told quite unequivocally that it didn’t need to be asked because my prediction contradicted physical law.
I wept for the future of humanity when we can hold in such high esteem persons who don’t know the difference between a physical law and a physical model, and yet dare to call themselves scientists. However I digress, comfortable in the knowledge that he who laughs last laughs the longest.)
Some important qualifications and caveats must be taken into consideration in the analysis of the above experiment. I conduct this experiment in Voltaire’s best of all possible worlds and there are a number of uncontrolled variables in this scenario which simply cannot be allowed for, even in principle. In the prosaic world of a real reality my prediction of 0.0000067 seconds for the GABG signal on the outward leg of the cars’ journey will not be confirmed. It must inevitably be greater than this value and how much greater it will be is impossible for me to calculate or even to sensibly estimate. My instincts have served me well to date and on this occasion my instincts tell me that the measured value will probably lie somewhere between 0.000008 and 0.00001 seconds. I don’t want to be held to this totally fabricated guess because in all truth it makes not the slightest difference. If the measured time interval for the GABG signal on the outward leg is any value whatsoever less than 0.0000133 seconds then the spacetime model is dead. It is dead, it will stay dead and no amount of mathematical tinkering will resurrect its rotting corpse. The epicylists will simply have to read ‘em and weep because all their furious pedalling on the mouse-wheel will be in vain on this occasion.
(Another interesting aside for those with a taste for science fiction. If this prediction is confirmed it will lead to some remarkable new technologies, including the “star-gate” beloved by many. We wouldn’t be able to send matter through such a wormhole but we could certainly create one to send phone calls through. In principle we could have almost real-time conversations with a bloke many light-years away. Arbitrage brokers might even see this as a way of stealing other folks’ money even more quickly than they currently can, but I don’t think it can be made to work in this way over any appreciable distance on the planet’s surface. This finding should also have enormous consequences for “quantum” computing, which in fact is nothing like what the geeks imagine it is. They are experimenting with light-speed computing, not FTL computing, but the computational potential of this technology would nevertheless be truly staggering.)
The philosophy of the bloody obvious will become the new paradigm for physics, of this I have no doubt, because it has the unmistakable ring of truth about it. Many of the greatest minds in 20th century physics, including Einstein and Wheeler, openly expressed the view that when quantum gravity was finally understood it would have an intuitive truth value associated with it which would make it immediately recognisable as such. The “bloody obvious” is my own cheeky turn of phrase but that’s exactly what these thinkers meant. It’s also what all the major philosophies in history are conveying with their notions of simplicity, elegance, unity and beauty as being the essential elements of truth. Above all else the Universal Reality Maker is beautiful. It invokes an immanent sense of awe at the magnificence of existence which far transcends the supernatural and thereby redefines the very nature of human spirituality. The autopoietic cosmos offers a paradigm for human spirituality which makes the Abrahamic monotheism look like an impoverished doctrine for intellectual troglodytes. Our cosmos is a mindless non-linear automaton on an eternal journey through time and thus cannot be said to have a purpose. However it has a self-organising principle which derives spontaneously from its cardinal Boolean mechanism.
It is this organising principle which has brought about the evolution of the human mind, a mind with the capacity to comprehend all of physical reality whilst remaining only a self-similar part of it, and a mind with the power to shape the course of the future. In doing so the cosmos has bequeathed a purpose to homo sapiens as a species, as well as to every single human being privileged to be a member of this exclusive brotherhood. Herein lies the true definition of human freedom because this purpose is entirely our own to discover and define, both at the individual level and at the level of humanity as a whole. We are each free to define our own sense of purpose in our own unique way, and in our inter-subjective togetherness we can thus define a common purpose for the future of our species. This is the truth of freedom which Socrates intended to convey when he spoke of living an examined life, but with this freedom comes a grave burden of responsibility. We only get one crack at it so it behoves us not to fuck it up.
Johann de Jong (aka Obvious Leo) January 2015.
For Chad and Mitch
Who must one day know
That Opa was fair dinkum
The Ultimate Truth is Lennon’s Truth
And it all fits in five syllables
Love is all there is.
My philosophy is more of a collection of essays than a magnum opus, but all of these essays relate to the same central theme which I have outlined in this synopsis. These essays are in varying stages of completion but they number in the hundreds and range in length from 2,000 – 20,000 words. Many of them are little more than repetitious practice exercises to tighten up my language of expression and will never see the light of day. Some are just crap. Some are comedic interludes to lighten up my day and could best be described as piss-takes. However some are significant explorations into specific aspects of the philosophical implications of this new paradigm for physics, and it is these which will form the basis of my ongoing work. In the above synopsis I refer to a number of specific subjects which I have developed at greater length in these separate essays but which I felt could be excluded from the body of this text without significantly detracting from its central theme. I attach the titles of these essays along with a brief overview of their content. Whether they ever get finished or not will remain to be seen because writing is an evolutionary process, which means that the future for the wordsmith is a blank page.
1. Why not NOT? Why is there something rather than nothing? The most ridiculous waste of words in the history of philosophy, and I’ve been guilty of wasting many such words myself. Something exists because nothing does not exist. An existing nothing is an oxymoron, as is a non-existent something.
2. Mathematics. Invented or Discovered? An ancient argument which leads to two entirely different ways of thinking the world. In my philosophy I place myself squarely in the “Invented” camp.
3. Bacon, Newton and Hitler. How the predatory minds of individual sociopaths can shape the world we live in.
4. Science without Philosophy. Is like a bath without soap. It’ll get you soaking wet but it’ll never scrub the crap off you. Is the acquisition of truth a process of deduction from first principles or a process of inference from observation?
5. Collapsing a wave function. A fancy way of saying “having a look” which looks in more detail at how physicists mistake the map for the territory in QM
6. Science and the media. Saying something silly will always make you look like an idiot but saying “I don’t know” can often make you look clever. “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”…Ludwig Wittgenstein
7. The Systems view of Life. This is not my story but it is a MUST READ. It is the story of Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi. It is a masterpiece which sets out most of the major principles of non-linear dynamic systems theory as applied to living systems. It also has an extensive bibliography which pretty much covers the entire field of complexity dynamics. Without some basic grounding in this field my philosophy will not be easily understood.
8. Doubt, Contrarianism and Truth. How to die slowly from existential angst. A stop-start autobiography which is far too self-revealing and will almost certainly never see the light of day.
9. Language, culture, agriculture and the evolution of society. The uber-mind becomes the Intelligent Designer and the noble savage transitions to the ignoble after he learns how to build a fence. That’s when the shit hits the fan because his tribe begins to exceed Dunbar’s number. This essay links closely to another one called A template for a new social contract. These are the questions which will occupy most of my future navel-gazing.
10. Whither homo? Explores a quote from Michael Crichton. “The survival value of human intelligence has never been satisfactorily demonstrated.” This essay links with another called Galactic colonisation. A highly speculative look at how a species might go about colonising its galaxy through the use of the entanglement telephone.
11. The Evolution of Ignorance. A blasphemous essay on the origins and rise of monotheism and the inherent immorality of this appalling ideology. Strictly R-rated because of its excessive gratuitous violence and bloodshed.
12. The vacuum of empty space. How the Bloody Obvious came to be as an idea whose time has come. Ideas do not spring into existence from nowhere but rather evolve into existence to emerge at the appropriate place in time. The artist who formalises them into coherent concepts is no more than a contrarian nay-sayer who dares to be different. He might also be a little bit mad.