Here is my 2004 view of the world, organized along traditional subject lines with my answers to the fundamental questions in those subject areas.
A. Philosophy -
1. What is there? (Ontology)
There is only one real thing that exists, and that is a consciousness with its thoughts. I agree with Bishop Berkeley. Contrary to Berkeley's (and most everyone else's) view, I think it would be misleading to call this consciousness 'God' because the term 'God' has almost universally been used to denote the attributes of perfection, infinity, omnipotence, omniscience, completeness, and immutability. I think none of these attributes applies to the primordial consciousness. Nevertheless, not only is this consciousness the most powerful, supreme, and superlative thing in existence, it is the only thing in existence. It deserves our utmost awe and respect. I am at a loss to give a name to this consciousness, (in keeping with many religions which have the same reluctance) but for the purposes of this essay, I'll coin the term PC (Primordial Consciousness) to refer to my notion of God, or the closest thing to it.
2. What can we know? (Epistemology)
Since knowing is a capability of consciousness, and since there is only and exactly one consciousness, (i.e. PC), that is the only possible seat of knowledge. What we seem to have as individual human consciousnesses, and individual human capability to know, is an illusion. And, the conscious entity that is "fooled" by this illusion is one and the same PC which is the only thing that exists. Human bodies and brains (whose ultimate constituents like all other physical things) are composed only of patterns of thought in the PC. The brains act much like cell phones which allow two-way communication between the sense organs and muscles of the body and the perception and will respectively of the PC. So, this breaks the question of knowledge into two parts: What can PC know? and What can a human know? The answer, as explained by Socrates, is that PC can know everything known, and humans can know everything that they have not forgotten. If humans are reminded, then they can know the forgotten things too. In this view, humans (and indeed all other life forms) are physical structures used as remote instruments to experience and influence the thought-structure known as physical reality. PC is the "driver" or "operator" of each of these instruments. Note that "everything known" is not the same as "everything knowable". So PC is continually learning more as the cosmos evolves. At no time is PC omniscient.
3. What should I do? (Ethics)
What I should do is fairly obvious. Since we are all in this together, i.e. the conscious part of each of us is one and the same PC, it would not be in the interest of PC or of any particular individual human to hurt another. We would only be hurting ourselves (more correctly "oneself"). Admonitions like "walk a mile in the other guy's moccasins", "do good to those who hurt you", "do unto others as you would have them do unto you", and so on, make obvious sense when we realize that we are all one in the sense that PC is the one and only consciousness.
B. Religion - In view of the multiplicity of religious doctrines on Earth, now and in the past, the only reasonable pertinent questions are:
5. Which, if any, religious doctrines represent the truth?
They all represent truth at a naive allegorical level. Since humans are much more severely limited in their capacity to know (as vicarious agents of PC) than is PC, and PC is limited in knowledge due to incompleteness and inexperience, there is no way that humans can apprehend truth in total. The best we have been able to do prior to recent scientific inquiry is to develop devices like allegories, parables, poems, and beatitudes. These are OK but they are far from the literal truth.
The important true notions, held by almost all religious doctrines, are that PC is omnipresent, good, and loving, and that we humans should be good and loving too.
6. Where are the errors in those religious doctrines which do not represent truth?
There are many. Most of them, by count, are in the specific details (that's where the devil is). But the most significant errors, which do the most damage in impeding our progress toward the meaning of life, are, 1. The notion that humans have individual and distinct souls. (In reality, there is only one soul and that is PC's), and 2. The notions that PC is perfect, complete, immutable, omnipotent, omniscient, and infinite.
C. Cosmology -
7. What constituted the "beginning" of reality?
Since it is clear, to paraphrase Leibniz, that there is something rather than nothing, it is reasonable to ask what the original "something" was. In my view, the original "something" was the conscious ability to know. Other popular candidates for this "something" are matter, space-time, and some sort of principle or other.
Matter as the original stuff has received a considerable amount of scrutiny for the past several centuries. The materialist theories have evolved rapidly for the past century revealing first atoms, then protons and electrons, then quarks and leptons, then force fields with perturbations and carrier particles, and now strings and branes. These theories have converged toward a depiction of reality as nothing but patterns in sets of numbers (quantum numbers) associated with certain coordinates in a space-time continuum behaving according to certain rules. Space-time coordinates are numbers themselves. Rules can all be encoded in numbers, either as mathematical equations or as statements in some language. So ultimately, in materialism, reality consists only of patterns of numbers.
The second candidate view is that reality is a set of fields in space-time (or ultimately just one comprehensive Higgs field) with patterns in the perturbations of the field. Here again, the ultimate reality is nothing but sets of numbers.
The third candidate is a principle or set of principles. All these cases - numbers, patterns, or principles - are concepts. It makes no sense to talk about concepts in the absence of a conscious mind. Concepts are by definition mental constructs or simply, thoughts. So it does not seem unreasonable at all to posit that a consciousness with the capacity to know is the fundamental primordial entity. The other options seem to lead directly to that conclusion anyway.
8. How did reality get to be what it is?
The typical, and most studied, view of this question takes the form of, How did our universe get to be what we see that it is? We see a certain physical universe, and the Inflationary Big Bang theory is the current popular explanation for how it came to be. I think that explanation is very nearly correct as far as it goes. It has two shortcomings.
First, it deals only with the universe we can see and access. I think there is vastly more than that which is inaccessible to us because it resides in higher spatial and temporal dimensions. Secondly, the very beginning is not explained by the theory.
In my view, the very beginning was PC in an extremely simple state of knowledge. Even though the capacity to know was present, there was, at the very beginning, nothing to know. Somehow, one bit of information became known. It might have been the realization that nothing was known, or it might be that a bit was imagined in the form of an audible click, or some other way. From this starting point, additional information could be generated simply as patterns in previously known information. PC would be aware of the emergence of these new patterns and thus iteratively and successively know more than before.
In addition to novel patterns being generated, time itself would be a consequence. Time is nothing more than the concept of a spectrum on which the various states resulting from the changes could be thought to be placed or found. Thus, PC would begin operating in a dimension of time as soon as the first bit of knowledge became known.
I think the weakest part of my view of cosmology is the function of memory. We could simply posit memory as another capability of PC along with the capability to know, but I would rather there be some kind of logical explanation for memory based solely on consciousness and the ability to know. So, I just have to suppose that there is some mechanism to allow PC to remember the acquired knowledge.
Having some form of memory, we may differentiate between knowledge and information. Information is simply the pattern of bits. Knowledge is the apprehension of the pattern by PC. So it is possible that the memory mechanism deals only with the information and that PC is not necessarily aware of, or does not know about, patterns that are stored in memory but not being actively accessed by PC.
Nonetheless, PC has the ability to access or apprehend the information in the memory and thus to know it. There are several possibilities for how this might work. (Our experience with computer technology helps us understand some of those possibilities.)
One simple possibility is that the memory is like a delay loop in which the information is accessible to PC serially and repeatedly and PC is only aware of, or only knows, the information being accessed at one moment in time. We could think of this as similar to listening to the same song repeatedly.
Another possibility is that PC can summon specific subsets of the information in memory at will. This would introduce a new capability which we call free will. It is easy to imagine a logical scenario in which this capability might develop. If PC noticed some patterns in the known information, then the knowledge of the pattern, since it is new knowledge, would enter the memory as additional information that was known. As the information was repetitively replayed, PC might attend to parts of it differently. In other words, PC might pay attention to certain aspects of patterns one time differently from another. Just as when we listen to a performance of a piece of music, one time we might listen for the melody while another time we might pay attention to the rhythm. The recognition of this pattern of discrimination would constitute the beginning of the capability of will. PC would know that by attending to knowledge in different ways, new patterns can be created and noticed. Thus specific patterns of information could be deliberately composed and played back.
So we have PC able to imagine novel bit patterns, remember them, and play them back. That is, to access remembered patterns and attend to them later. This is sufficient capability to compose, play, and enjoy music - literally. (I think Pythagoras might have had some divine insight -- remember he was just another vicarious agent of PC who had forgotten most everything, and somehow vaguely remembered -- leading to his idea of the music of the spheres.) From music, it is a short leap to mathematics which could also be done by PC. Remember that by human standards there were enormous lengths of time available for this evolution and development.
Once mathematics was sufficiently developed, models of sets of numbers could be investigated with varying structures and evolving using different sets of rules. Among them could be the very structures and rules that the Inflationary Big Bang theory requires in order to produce what we see in our universe as a subset of a larger reality which we cannot see.
It has been demonstrated to my satisfaction that any system based on numbers and which follows consistent rules, must obey the laws of physics as we know them so far. In my scenario, PC developed what we call physical reality under those conditions. The upshot is that the physical universe must obey the laws of physics and PC is powerless to disobey them if consistency is to be maintained. But those laws of physics are not strictly deterministic as 19th Century scientists thought they were. Instead, there is a degree of uncertainty that is fundamental to the behavior of physical systems. Current scientific thinking has it that the uncertainty manifests itself as random behavior which is in principle unpredictable. In my view, nothing would prevent PC from consciously and deliberately choosing specific outcomes for some of these apparently random actions. The laws of physics would not be broken and the actions would still appear to be random to our measurements.
With the exception of the difficulty of explaining a memory mechanism, this sketch completely explains how reality got to be what it is.
D. Physics -
9. How do we explain phenomena?
Of all the fundamental interesting questions, this one has enjoyed the greatest success here on Earth. With one exception, Physics has explained all phenomena to a great degree of precision. This precision allows us to exploit nature in order to produce our seemingly miraculous technology. (But if miracles are extraordinary material behaviors wrought by God -- er, I mean PC -- then our technology is miraculous by definition, since the intellect of all the scientists and inventors was that of PC's all along.)
There are some non-ordinary phenomena, such as the very large (e.g. black holes), the very small (e.g. quarks and gravitons), the nearly imperceptible (e.g. dark matter and dark energy), and the very old (e.g. the moment before the Big Bang) which science has yet to explain. But I think the best hope for an explanation of these things is simply to wait until science discovers the explanations.
My prediction for these is that a flavor of M-Theory will be found in which there is a hierarchical evolution of the cosmos starting with zero-branes in a 1-brane memory substrate of some sort, (This would be PC composing and listening to music) and evolving to successively higher dimensional branes as the constituents of the cosmic information set. Patterns in the information could form fractals which would effectively construct additional spatial and temporal dimensions at each level as evolution proceeds. With each increment of dimension, a huge increase in the possibilities for structures would be available. If we think about the complex structures existing in 3D space (e.g. brains) it is literally mind-boggling to try to imagine the possibilities available in 5, 6, or 10 dimensions. From several indications, from Plato to String Theory, the cosmos is currently at 11 dimensions. And my prediction is that all of these dimensions will be found to be astronomically large, nearly flat, of finite size, and closed on themselves so that none has a boundary except maybe for the temporal dimension(s). And, I think there is no reason to suppose that the cosmos will stop at 11 dimensions. I think it will continue to evolve.
The only ordinary phenomenon which Physics can't explain, -- and in fact makes almost no comments on at all -- the one exception, is the phenomenon of conscious experience.
So, my answer to the question of explaining phenomena is that I'll take science's answers and my predicted extensions to the question for everything but consciousness experience. And for consciousness experience, my answer has already been told. Conscious experience, whether in humans, dogs, or nematodes, is the result of a configuration of matter (brains or equivalent) which allows for the vicarious operation of the organism by PC by providing a two-way communication path between PC and the organism. It is PC, and only PC, which has conscious experiences.
E. Biology -
10. Why do animals sleep?
The apparent need for sleep in animals, in my opinion, ranks second only to the mystery of consciousness as the most interesting, baffling, and probably significant mystery of all. It is interesting to me that these two seemingly profound mysteries go largely ignored by ordinary people and scientists as well. Science is now facing the mystery of consciousness after ignoring, or at most dabbling with, the subject for so long. Science is still only dabbling with the mystery of sleep.
To illustrate the significance of the mystery of sleep, imagine that science had no explanation for why animals need to eat. It would be utterly baffling why animals are compelled to stuff organic material into their bodies. It would be even more baffling to realize that not only do all animals eat, but they die if they don't.
Sleep should be even more baffling. We know that all animals need sleep and they die if they can't sleep, but even more mysterious is the fact that animals spend so much time sleeping.
Hibernation is a separate phenomenon from sleep and there are good and obvious reasons for hibernation. But sleep seems to fly in the face of evolution as an explanation for the development of animal function and behavior. Sleep provides no known survival advantages (except that it is required for some mysterious reason) and it presents many obvious survival disadvantages. In light of this, animals which require sleep should have been selected out and extinguished long ago. Instead, we find the requirement for sleep ubiquitous among animals.
In my view, the purpose of sleep is a straightforward and logical consequence of the idea of animals as vehicles being driven by PC. The reason animals sleep is the same as the reason your car is parked. The reason (generally) has nothing to do with the car or the animal. Instead it has everything to do with the driver's intentions. If the driver is occupied with some activity which does not involve driving the car, it sits parked. We needn't know what that other activity is in order to understand why the car is parked. The reason is that it simply isn't being used at the moment. Similarly, I think that during periods of sleep, PC simply isn't driving that particular animal at that time.
F. History -
11. What has happened?
Here again we have the benefit of a great amount of scholarship. Unless we are interested in considerably more detail than is currently known, I think we can be satisfied with the answers provided by Cosmology, Geology, Evolutionary Biology, Anthropology, and History. We have the Inflationary Big Bang producing the various particles and fields which eventually coalesced into galaxies and planets. We understand the geologic processes which transformed the earth into a habitable place for life forms to develop and thrive. Evolutionary Biology describes the succession of life forms that have developed here. Anthropology does a credible job of explaining how hominids broke with the pattern established by other animal species and began using intellect to a greater degree in competing for survival necessities. History has documented the major events marking the pattern of human activity, as well as myriad minor events. The picture is fairly comprehensive and complete.
12. Why did what happened happen?
This is where it starts getting juicy. There are a number of very mysterious events in the answer to question 11 which raise a number of sub-questions. I'll start at the beginning.
a How did it happen that all those delicate constants necessary for the Big Bang evolution to produce what it did get determined?
In my view of cosmology the answer is easy and obvious: PC picked them either after trying a bunch of others, or after mathematically working things out in advance to see what works. Or, it could have involved a combination of both.
b. How did life originate?
First we need to define 'life'. If you take 'life' to include a conscious, willful entity, then life originated with PC. If you define 'life' to mean the organisms living on earth, then it's a little more murky. The current answers offered by science are too sketchy to be credible in my opinion. But any of them is plausible if you allow that PC could consciously and deliberately intervene in some of the critical chemical reactions along the way. Even though PC cannot break the laws of physics, quantum randomness, as I explained earlier, provides a way in which PC can deliberately choose the outcome of some critical quantum processes. This could go a long way toward explaining some chemical processes that would otherwise seem highly improbable and which were crucial for the origin of life.
c. How do we account for the vast diversity of life forms on Earth?
The processes of Darwinian Evolution explain the broad outline of the development and many of the responsible processes. But in my view, there was not enough time available for the mechanisms of random variation and natural selection to account for the current complexity and diversity of flora and fauna on earth. Two particularly difficult periods to explain were the origin itself and the Cambrian explosion. But if you agree with me on the existence of PC, then there are some reasonable ways in which some conscious and deliberate intervention could speed up the process of evolution as I have already explained answering the previous question. In addition to facilitating critical processes at the very beginning, it may be that PC has directly and deliberately intervened in the evolutionary processes at many points along the way. In my view, this may be happening as frequently as the special folding of protein molecules in the ordinary processes of each and every cell alive today. If so, then this answer would give a complete accounting of the diversity of life that we see.
d. Why did Human history follow the course that it did? -
In my view, there were three crucial factors: 1. the geography of the earth, 2. the driving need for food, protection, and reproductive success that is common to all organisms, and 3. the unprecedented degree to which PC's mental capabilities can act through human brains as opposed to those of other animals. I suppose you could call this last one unprecedented conscious bandwidth but let's just call it superior mentality just to make this answer easier to agree with for some people.
Once hominids emigrated from Africa, the geography of the earth determined where they would go, roughly when they would arrive, and how successful they would be when they got there. In the order of increasing difficulty would be Sub-Saharan Africa, (easiest because that's where they started), the Middle East and North Africa, Europe, Central Asia, India, Southeast Asia, China, Mongolia, Australia, North America, and finally South America. (I may have Australia out of place and maybe some other errors, but the important point is that the route to South America is the longest.) So, just because of the difficulty in getting there, the Americas and Australia were populated later than the rest of the world.
The other major influential feature of geography is the fact that Eurasia spans more longitude than latitude while the opposite is true for the Americas and Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to the head-start already mentioned, this difference explains why the development of human societies advanced faster in Eurasia than it did in the Americas. Here's why.
Eurasia lying more or less east and west means that there are many areas with essentially the same climate. Thus, successful strategies for food production could be learned and spread across many populations, giving a boost to the advancement of all. In the Americas, the continents lie more or less north and south. That means that as you travel north or south, you encounter greater differences in climate. This means that developments in the production of food cannot as easily be transferred from one group of people to another. I don't remember the numbers, but the number of types of grain grown by early Eurasian people was dozens or less, while the number in the Americas was in the hundreds. This meant that each locality had to have a specialty for producing food that fit their particular climatic niche. Development was slowed as a result. So we have Eurasia setting the pace in human social development because of an accident of geography.
Zooming in just a little tighter and looking at Eurasian social development, we see that the next major influence determining the course of history was the juxtaposition of two different strategies for producing food. In the fertile river valleys of the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Indus, the Yellow River, and possibly some of the rivers of Southeast Asia, the strategy for producing food was raising grain crops. These were the farmers. By contrast, in the steppes running parallel to the farm areas at somewhat higher latitudes, the strategy for food production was the herding of large animals. Clashes between the nomads and the farmers were inevitable and the outcomes predictable in broad outlines. The farmers, with their cities and wealth attracted the attention of the nomads with their superior military strength. These clashes determined the course of history from about 500 BC until 1500 AD. After that, the nomads and their lands were systematically taken over by the farmers and the westernmost civilization began inexorably spreading to all corners of the world, the final stages of which we witness today. Because of the causal factors, history had to unfold pretty much the way it did.
G. Politics - What is the best form of government?
I agree with Winston Churchill's ranking of governments. He ranked the U.S. government to be the worst, except for all the others. After a couple of ugly centuries of experimentation with alternative forms of modern government, the American system has proved beyond a doubt that it is the most successful when it comes to economic and military strength. Time will tell, but these strengths should translate to longevity as well. There is also a strong case to be made for the moral superiority of the American system. The U.S. has been, for the past 60 years, in the absolutely unique position in all of history of being able to take over the entire world by force, and yet it has made no moves to do so. This restraint is absolutely unprecedented in history.
These important features of the U.S. government can be traced to ideals that had their origins in ancient Greece and which were developed in a more-or-less continuous fashion in Europe from that time until the 18th century when the U.S. was founded. The idea of individual freedom, which is probably the most important of these ideals, appeared nowhere else in the world to the extent it did in Europe after getting its start in ancient Greece.
H. The Future - What is likely to happen to the world in the next century?
I think that the spread of freedom and democracy in the pattern of the U.S. form of government will continue until virtually all lands and all people will enjoy the prosperity that comes with it. Resistance, such as we see today in various parts of the world will probably be ever present, but it will not stop the progress. Major changes in the way resources are produced, distributed, and consumed will occur as the huge populations of Asia westernize, and major changes and disturbances will undoubtedly happen as Africa solves its many problems and joins the westernized cultures. But I don't think that any of these negative consequences will match the horror of the first half of the 20th century. We will see horrors and atrocities on much smaller scales get much wider publicity and they will get corrected before they get too far out of hand. All in all, I think that the future for the next hundred years looks very bright indeed.Please send me an email with your comments.
©2004 Paul R. Martin, All rights reserved.