Author Archives: Meta Capitalism

About Meta Capitalism

Passion for studying history, philosophy, science, and religion and everything in between.

A Universal Science of Man?

The medieval Roman Catholic priesthood conducted its religious preaching and other discussions in Latin, a language no more understandable to ordinary people then are than the mathematical and statistical formulations of economists today. Latin served as a universal language that had the great practical advantage of allowing easy communication within a priestly class transcending national boundaries across Europe. Yet that was not the full story. The use of Latin also separated the priesthood from the ordinary people, one of a number of devices through which the Roman Catholic Church maintained such a separation in the medieval era. It all served to convey an aura of majesty and religious authority—as does the Supreme Court in the United States, still sitting in priestly robes. In employing an arcane language of mathematics and statistics, Samuelson and fellow economists today seek a similar authority in society.

Economics as Religion: From Samuelson to Chicago and Beyond by Robert H. Nelson

This is a book about economics. But it is also a book about human limitations and the difficulty of gaining true insight into the world around us. There is, in truth, no way of separating these two things from one other. To try to discuss economics without understanding the difficulty of applying it to the real world is to consign oneself to dealing with pure makings of our own imaginations. Much of economics at the time of writing is of this sort, although it is unclear such modes of thought should be called ‘economics’ and whether future generations will see them as such. There is every chance that the backward-looking eye of posterity will see much of what today’s economic departments produce in the same way as we now see phrenology: a highly technical, but ultimately ridiculous pseudoscience constructed rather unconsciously to serve the political needs of the era. In the era when men claiming to be scientists felt the skull for bumps and used this to determine a man’s character and his disposition, the political discourse of the day needed a justification for the racial superiority of the white man; today our present political discourse needs a Panglossian doctrine that promotes general ignorance, a technocratic language that can be deployed to cover up certain political aspects of govenmance and tells us that so long as we trust in those in charge everything will work itself out in the long-run. (Pilkington 2016, 1-2)

But the personal motivations of the individual economist today is not primarily political—although it may well be secondarily political, whether that politics turns right or left—the primary motivation of the individual economist today is in search to answers to questions that they can barely forumulate. These men and women, perhaps more than any other, are chasing a shadow that has been taunting mankind since the early days of the Enlightenment. This is the shadow of the mathesis universalis, the Universal Science expressed in the abstract language of mathematics. They want to capture Man’s essence and understand what he will do today, tomorrow and the day after that. To some of us more humble human beings that fell once upon a time onto this strange path, this may seem altogether too much to ask of our capacities for knowledge…. Is it a nobel cause, this Universal Science of Man? Some might say that if it were not so fanciful, it might be. Others might say that it has roots in extreme totalitarian thinking and were it ever taken truly seriously, it would lead to a tyranny with those who espouse it conveniently at the helm. These are moral and political questions that will not be explored in too much detail in the present book. (Pilkington 2016, 2)

What we seek to do here is more humble again. There is a sense today, nearly six years after an economic catastrophe that few still understand and only a few saw coming, that there is something rotten in economics. Something stinks and people are less inclined than ever to trust the funny little man standing next to the blackboard with his equations and his seemingly otherworldly answers to every social and economic problem that one can imagine. This is a healthy feeling and we as a society should promote and embrace it. A similar movement began over half a millennia ago questioning the men of mystery who dictated how people should live their lives from ivory towers; it was called the Reformation and it changed the world…. We are not so much interested in the practices of the economists themselves, as to whether they engage in simony, in nepotism and—could it ever be thought?—the sale of indulgences to those countries that had or were in the process of committing grave sins. Rather we are interested in how we gotten to where we are and how we can fix it. (Pilkington 2016, 2-3)

The roots of the problems with contemporary economics run very deep indeed. In order to comprehend them, we must run the gamut from political motivation to questions of philosophy and methodology to the foundations of the underlying structure itself. When these roots have been exposed, we can then begin the process of digging them up so we can plant a new tree. In doing this, we do not hope to provide all the answers but merely a firm grounding, a shrub that can, given time, grow into something far more robust. (Pilkington 2016, 3)

Down with Mathematics?

(….) Economics needs more people who distrust mathematics when applying thought to the social and economic world, not less. Indeed, … the major problems with economics today arose out of the mathematization of the discipline, especially as it proceeded after the Second World War. Mathematics become to economics what Latin was to the stagnant priest-caste that Luther and other reformers attacked during the Reformation: a means not to clarify, but to obscure through intellectual intimidation. It ensured that the common man could not read the Bible and had to consult the priest and, perhaps, pay him alms. (Pilkington 2016, 3)

(….) [M]athematics can, in certain very limited circumstances, be an opportune way of focusing the debate. It can give us a rather clear and precise conception of what we are talking about. Some aspects—by no means all aspects—of macroeconomics are quantifiable. Investments, profits, the interest rate—we can look the statistics for these things up and use this information to promote economic understanding. That these are quantifiable also means that, to a limited extent, we can conceive of them in mathematical form. It cannot be stressed enough, however, the limited extent to which this is the case. There are always … non-quantifiable elements that play absolutely key roles in how the economy works. (Pilkington 2016, 3-4)

(….) The mathematisation of the discipline was perhaps the crucial turning point when economics began to become something entirely other to the study of the actual economy. It started in the late nineteenth century, but at the time many of those who pioneered the approach became ever more distrustful of doing so. They began to think that it would only lead to obscurity of argument and an inability to communicate properly either with other people or with the real world. Formulae would become synonymous with truth and the interrelation between ideas would become foggy and unclear. A false sense of clarity in the form of pristine equations would be substituted for clarity of thought. Alfred Marshall, a pioneer of mathematics in economics who nevertheless always hid it in footnotes, wrote of his distress in his later years in a letter to his friend. (Pilkington 2016, 4)

[I had] a growing feeling in the later years of my work at the subject that a good mathematical theorem dealing with economic hypotheses was very unlikely to be good economics: and I went more and more on the rules—(1) Use mathematics as a shorthand language, rather than an engine of inquiry. (2) Keep to them till you have done. (3) Translate into English. (4) Then illustrate by examples that are important in real life. (5) Burn the mathematics. (6) If you can’t succeed in (4), burn (3). This last I did often. (Pigou ed. 1966 [1906], pp. 427-428)

The controversy around mathematics appears to have broken out in full force surrounding the issue of econometric estimation in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Econometric estimation … is the practice of putting economic theories into mathematical form and then using them to make predictions based on available statistics…. [I]t is a desperately silly practice. Those who championed the econometric and mathematical approach were men whose names are not known today by anyone who is not deeply interested in the field. The were men like Jan Tinbergen, Oskar Lange, Jacob Marschak and Ragnar Frisch (Louçā 2007). Most of these men were social engineers of one form or another; all of them left-wing and some of them communist. The mood of the time, one reflected in the tendency to try to model the economy itself, was that society and the economy should be planned by men in lab coats. By this they often meant not simply broad government intervention but something more like micro-management of the institutions that people inhabit day-to-day from the top down. Despite the fact that many mathematical economic models today seem outwardly to be concerned with ‘free markets’, they all share this streak, especially in how they conceive that people (should?) act. (Pilkington 2016, 4-5)

Most of the economists at the time were vehemently opposed to this. This was not a particularly left-wing or right-wing issue. On the left, John Maynard Keynes was horrified by what he was seeing develop, while, on the right, Friedrich von Hayek was warning that this was not the way forward. But it was probably Keynes who was the most coherent belligerent of the new approach. This is because before he began to write books on economics, Keynes had worked on the philosophy of probability theory, and probability theory was becoming a key component of the mathematical approach (Keynes 1921). Keynes’ extensive investigations into probability theory allowed him to perceive to what extent mathematical formalism could be applied for understanding society and the economy. He found that it was extremely limited in its ability to illuminate social problems. Keynes was not against statistics or anything like that—he was an early champion and expert—but he was very, very cautious about people who claimed that just because economics produces statistics these can be used in the same as numerical observations form experiments were used in the hard sciences. He was also keenly aware that cetain tendencies towards mathematisation lead to a fogging of the mind. In a more diplomatic letter to one of the new mathematical economists (Keynes, as shall see … could be scathing about these new approaches), he wrote: (Pilkington 2016, 5-6)

Mathematical economics is such risky stuff as compared with nonmathematical economics, because one is deprived of one’s intuition on the one hand, yet there are all kinds of unexpressed unavowed assumptions on the other. Thus I never put much trust in it unless it falls in with my own intuitions; and I am therefore grateful for an author who makes it easier for me to apply this check without too much hard work. (Keynes cited in Louçā 2007, p. 186)

(….) Mathematics, like the high Latin of Luther’s time, is a language. It is a language that facilitates greater precision in some instances and greater obscurity in others. For most issues economic, it promotes obscurity. When a language is used to obscure, it is used as a weapon by those who speak it to repress the voices of those who do not. A good deal of the history of the relationship between mathematics and the other social sciences in the latter half of the twentieth century can be read under this light. If there is anything that this book seeks to do, it is to help people realise that this is not what economics need be or should be. Frankly, we need more of those who speak the languages of the humanities—of philosophy, sociology and psychology—than we do people who speak the language of the engineers but lack the pragmatic spirit of the engineer who can see clearly that his method cannot be deployed to understand those around him. (Pilkington 2016, 6)

Natural selection of algorithms?

If we suppose that the action of the human brain, conscious or otherwise, is merely the acting out of some very complicated algorithm, then we must ask how such an extraordinary effective algorithm actually came about. The standard answer, of course, would be ‘natural selection’. as creatures with brains evolved, those with more effective algorithms would have a better tendency to survive and therefore, on the whole, had more progeny. These progeny also tended to carry more effective algorithms than their cousins, since they inherited the ingredients of these better algorithms from their parents; so gradually the algorithms improved not necessarily steadily, since there could have been considerable fits and starts in their evolution until they reached the remarkable status that we (would apparently) find in the human brain. (Compare Dawkins 1986). (Penrose 1990: 414)

Even according to my own viewpoint, there would have to be some truth in this picture, since I envisage that much of the brain’s action is indeed algorithmic, and as the reader will have inferred from the above discussion I am a strong believer in the power of natural selection. But I do not see how natural selection, in itself, can evolve algorithms which could have the kind of conscious judgements of the validity of other algorithms that we seem to have. (Penrose 1990: 414)

Imagine an ordinary computer program. How would it have come into being? Clearly not (directly) by natural selection! Some human computer programmer would have conceived of it and would have ascertained that it correctly carries out the actions that it is supposed to. (Actually, most complicated computer programs contain errors usually minor, but often subtle ones that do not come to light except under unusual circumstances. The presence of such errors does not substantially affect my argument.) Sometimes a computer program might itself have been ‘written’ by another, say a ‘master’ computer program, but then the master program itself would have been the product of human ingenuity and insight; or the program itself might well be pieced together from ingredients some of which were the products of other computer programs. But in all cases the validity and the very conception of the program would have ultimately been the responsibility of (at least) one human consciousness. (Penrose 1990: 414)

One can imagine, of course, that this need not have been the case, and that, given enough time, the computer programs might somehow have evolved spontaneously by some process of natural selection. If one believes that the actions of the computer programmers’ consciousness are themselves simply algorithms, then one must, in effect, believe algorithms have evolved in just this way. However, what worries me about this is that the decision as to the validity of an algorithm is not itself an algorithmic process! … (The question of whether or not a Turing machine will actually stop is not something that can be decided algorithmically.) In order to decide whether or not an algorithm will actually work, one needs insights, not just another algorithm. (Penrose 414-415)

Nevertheless, one still might imagine some kind of natural selection process being effective for producing approximately valid algorithms. Personally, I find this very difficult to believe, however. Any selection process of this kind could act only on the output of the algorithms and not directly on the ideas underlying the actions of the algorithms. This is not simply extremely inefficient; I believe that it would be totally unworkable. In the first place, it is not easy to ascertain what an algorithm actually is, simply by examining its output. (It would be an easy matter to construct two quite different simple Turing machine actions for which the output tapes did not differ until, say, the 2^65536th place — and this difference could never be spotted in the entire history of the universe!) Moreover, the slightest ‘mutation’ of an algorithm (say a slight change in a Turing machine specification, or in its input tape) would tend to render it totally useless, and it is hard to see how actual improvements in algorithms could ever arise in this random way. (Even deliberate improvements are difficult without ‘meanings’ being available. This inadequately documented and complicated computer program needs to be altered or corrected; and the original programmer has departed or perhaps died. Rather than try to disentangle all the various meanings and intentions that the program implicitly depended upon, it is probably easier just to scrap it and start all over again!) (Penrose 1990: 415)

Perhaps some much more ‘robust’ way of specifying algorithms could be devised, which would not be subject to the above criticisms. In a way, this is what I am saying myself. The ‘robust’ specifications are the ideas that underlie the algorithms. But ideas are things that, as far as we know, need conscious minds for their manifestation. We are back with the problem of what consciousness actually is, and what it can actually do that unconscious objects are incapable of — and how on earth natural selection has been clever enough to evolve that most remarkable of qualities. (Penrose 1990: 415)

(….) To my way of thinking, there is still something mysterious about evolution, with its apparent ‘groping’ towards some future purpose. Things at least seem to organize themselves somewhat better than they ‘ought’ to, just on the basis of blind-chance evolution and natural selection…. There seems to be something about the way that the laws of physics work, which allows natural selection to be much more effective process than it would be with just arbitrary laws. The resulting apparently ‘intelligent groping’ is an interesting issue. (Penrose 1990: 416)

The non-algorithmic nature of mathematical insight

… [A] good part of the reason for believing that consciousness is able to influence truth-judgements in a non-algorithmic way stems from consideration of Gödel’s theorem. If we can see that the role of consciousness is non-algorithmic when forming mathematical judgements, where calculation and rigorous proof constitute such an important factor, then surely we may be persuaded that such a non-algorithmic ingredient could be crucial also for the role of consciousness in more general (non-mathematical) circumstances. (Penrose 1990: 416)

… Gödel’s theorem and its relation to computability … [has] shown that whatever (sufficiently extensive) algorithm a mathematician might use to establish mathematical truth — or, what amounts to the same thing, whatever formal system he might adopt as providing his criterion of truth — there will always be mathematical propositions, such as the explicit Gödel proposition P(K) of the system …, that his algorithm cannot provide an answer for. If the workings of the mathematician’s mind are entirely algorithmic, then the algorithm (or formal system) that he actually uses to form his judgements is not capable of dealing with the proposition P(K) constructed from his personal algorithm. Nevertheless, we can (in principle) see that P(K) is actually true! This would seem to provide him with a contradiction, since he ought to be able to see that also. Perhaps this indicates that the mathematician was not using an algorithm at all! (Penrose 1990: 416-417)

(….) The message should be clear. Mathematical truth is not something that we ascertain merely by use of an algorithm. I believe, also, that our consciousness is a crucial ingredient in our comprehension of mathematical truth. We must ‘see’ the truth of a mathematical argument to be convinced of its validity. This ‘seeing’ is the very essence of consciousness. It must be present whenever we directly perceive mathematical truth. When we conceive ourselves of the validity of Gödel’s theorem we not only ‘see’ it, but by so doing we reveal the very non-algorithmic nature of the ‘seeing’ process itself. (Penrose 1990: 418)

A Pragmatic View of Truth

[William] James argued at length for a certain conception of what it means for an idea to be true. This conception was, in brief, that an idea is true if it works. (Stapp 2009, 60)

James’s proposal was at first scorned and ridiculed by most philosophers, as might be expected. For most people can plainly see a big difference between whether an idea is true and whether it works. Yet James stoutly defended his idea, claiming that he was misunderstood by his critics.

It is worthwhile to try and see things from James’s point of view.

James accepts, as a matter of course, that the truth of an idea means its agreement with reality. The questions are: What is the “reality” with which a true idea agrees? And what is the relationship “agreement with reality” by virtue of which that idea becomes true?

All human ideas lie, by definition, in the realm of experience. Reality, on the other hand, is usually considered to have parts lying outside this realm. The question thus arises: How can an idea lying inside the realm of experience agree with something that lies outside? How does one conceive of a relationship between an idea, on the one hand, and something of such a fundamentally different sort? What is the structural form of that connection between an idea and a transexperiential reality that goes by the name of “agreement”? How can such a relationship be comprehended by thoughts forever confined to the realm of experience?

So if we want to know what it means for an idea to agree with a reality we must first accept that this reality lies in the realm of experience.

This viewpoint is not in accord with the usual idea of truth. Certain of our ideas are ideas about what lies outside the realm of experience. For example, I may have the idea that the world is made up of tiny objects called particles. According to the usual notion of truth this idea is true or false according to whether or not the world really is made up of such particles. The truth of the idea depends on whether it agrees with something that lies outside the realm of experience. (Stapp 2009, 61)

Now the notion of “agreement” seems to suggest some sort of similarity or congruence of the things that agree. But things that are similar or congruent are generally things of the same kind. Two triangles can be similar or congruent because they are of the same kind. Two triangles can be similar or congruent because they are the same kind of thing: the relationships that inhere in one can be mapped in a direct and simple way into the relationships that inhere in the other.

But ideas and external realities are presumably very different kinds of things. Our ideas are intimately associated with certain complex, macroscopic, biological entitiesour brainsand the structural forms that can inhere in our ideas would naturally be expected to depend on the structural forms of our brains. External realities, on the other hand, could be structurally very different from human ideas. Hence there is no a priori reason to expect that the relationships that constitute or characterize the essence of external reality can be mapped in any simple or direct fashion into the world of human ideas. Yet if no such mapping exists then the whole idea of “agreement” between ideas and external realities becomes obscure.

The only evidence we have on the question of whether human ideas can be brought into exact correspondence with the essences of the external realites is the success of our ideas in bringing order to our physical experience. Yet success of ideas in this sphere does not ensure the exact correspondence of our ideas to external reality.

On the other hand, the question of whether ideas “agree” with external essences is of no practical importance. What is important is precisely the success of the ideasif the ideas are successful in bringing order to our experience, then they are useful even if they do not “agree”, in some absolute sense, with the external essences. Moreover, if they are successful in bringing order into our experience, then they do “agree” at least with the aspects of our experience that they successfully order. Furthermore, it is only this agreement with aspects of our experience that can ever really be comprehended by man. That which is not an idea is intrinsically incomprehensible, and so are its relationships to other things. This leads to the pragmatic [critical realist?] viewpoint that ideas must be judged by their success and utility in the world of ideas and experience, rather than on the basis of some intrinsically incomprehensible “agreement” with nonideas.

The significance of this viewpoint for science is its negation of the idea that the aim of science is to construct a mental or mathematical image of the world itself. According to the pragmatic view, the proper goal of science is to augment and order our experience. A scientific theory should be judged on how well it serves to extend the range of our experience and reduce it to order. It need not provide a mental or mathematical image of the world itself, for the structural form of the world itself may be such that it cannot be placed in simple correspondence with the types of structures that our mental processes can form. (Stapp 2009, 62)

James was accused of subjectivismof denying the existence of objective reality. In defending himself against this charge, which he termed slanderous, he introduced an interesting ontology consisting of three things: (1) private concepts, (2) sense objects, (3) hypersensible realities. The private concepts are subjective experiences. The sense objects are public sense realities, i.e., sense realities that are independent of the individual. The hypersensible realities are realities that exist independently of all human thinkers.

Of hypersensible realities James can talk only obliquely, since he recognizes both that our knowledge of such things is forever uncertain and that we can moreover never even think of such things without replacing them by mental substitutes that lack the defining characteristics of that which they replace, namely the property of existing independetly of all human thinkers.

James’s sense objects are courious things. They are sense realities and hence belong to the realm of experience. Yet they are public: they are indepedent of the individual. They are, in short, objective experiences. The usual idea about experiences is that they are personal or subjective, not public or objective.

This idea of experienced sense objects as public or objective realities runs through James’s writings. The experience “tiger” can appear in the mental histories of many different individuals. “That desk” is something that I can grasp and shake, and you also can grasp and shake. About this desk James says:

But you and I are commutable here; we can exchange places; and as you go bail for my desk, so I can bail yours. This notion of a reality independent of either of us, taken from ordinary experiences, lies at the base of the pragmatic definition of truth.

These words should, I think, be linked with Bohr’s words about classical concepts as the basis of communication between scientists. In both cases the focus is on the concretely experienced sense realitiessuch as the shaking of the deskas the foundation of social reality. From this point of view the objective world is not built basically out of such airy abstractions as electrons and protons and “space”. It is founded on the concrete sense realities of social experience, such as a block of concrete held in the hand, a sword forged by a blacksmith, a Geiger counter prepared according to specifications by laboratory technicians and placed in a specified position by experimental physicists. (Stapp 2009, 62-63)

Quantum Mechanics and Human Values

We do have minds, we are conscious, and we can reflect upon our private experiences because we have them. Unlike phlogiston … these phenomena exist and are the most common in human experience.

Daniel Robinson, cited in Edward Fullbrook’s (2016, 33) Narrative Fixation in Economics

Valuations are always with us. Disinterested research there has never been and can never be. Prior to answers there must be questions. There can be no view except from a viewpoint. In the questions raised and the viewpoint chosen, valuations are implied. Our valuations determine our approaches to a problem, the definition of our concepts, the choice of models, the selection of observations, the presentations of our conclusions in fact the whole pursuit of a study from beginning to end.

— Gunnar Myrdal (1978, 778-779), cited in Söderbaum (2018, 8)

Philosophers have tried doggedly for three centuries to understand the role of mind in the workings of a brain conceived to function according to principles of classical physics. We now know no such brain exists: no brain, body, or anything else in the real world is composed of those tiny bits of matter that Newton imagined the universe to be made of. Hence it is hardly surprising that those philosophical endeavors were beset by enormous difficulties, which led to such positions as that of the ‘eliminative materialists’, who hold that our conscious thoughts must be eliminated from our scientific understanding of nature; or of the ‘epiphenomenalists’, who admit that human experiences do exist, but claim that they play no role in how we behave; or of the ‘identity theorists’, who claim that each conscious feeling is exactly the same thing as a motion of particles that nineteenth century science thought our brains, and everything else in the universe, were made of, but that twentieth century science has found not to exist, at least as they were formerly conceived. The tremendous difficulty in reconciling consciousness, as we know it, with the older physics is dramatized by the fact that for many years the mere mention of ‘consciousness’ was considered evidence of backwardness and bad taste in most of academia, including, incredibly, even psychology and the philosophy of mind. (Stapp 2007, 139)

What you are, and will become, depends largely upon your values. Values arise from self-image: from what you believe yourself to be. Generally one is led by training, teaching, propaganda, or other forms of indoctrination, to expand one’s conception of the self: one is encouraged to perceive oneself as an integral part of some social unit such as family, ethnic or religious group, or nation, and to enlarge one’s self-interest to include the interests of this unit. If this training is successful your enlarged conception of yourself as good parent, or good son or daughter, or good Christian, Muslim, Jew, or whatever, will cause you to give weight to the welfare of the unit as you would your own. In fact, if well conditioned you may give more weight to the interests of the group than to the well-being of your bodily self. (Stapp 2007, 139)

In the present context it is not relevant whether this human tendency to enlarge one’s self-image is a consequence of natural malleability, instinctual tendency, spiritual insight, or something else. What is important is that we human beings do in fact have the capacity to expand our image of ‘self’, and that this enlarged concept can become the basis of a drive so powerful that it becomes the dominant determinant of human conduct, overwhelming every other factor, including even the instinct for bodily survival. (Stapp 2007, 140)

But where reason is honored, belief must be reconciled with empirical evidence. If you seek evidence for your beliefs about what you are, and how you fit into Nature, then science claims jurisdiction, or at least relevance. Physics presents itself as the basic science, and it is to physics that you are told to turn. Thus a radical shift in the physics-based conception of man from that of an isolated mechanical automaton to that of an integral participant in a non-local holistic process that gives form and meaning to the evolving universe is a seismic event of potentially momentous proportions. (Stapp 2007, 140)

The quantum concept of man, being based on objective science equally available to all, rather than arising from special personal circumstances, has the potential to undergird a universal system of basic values suitable to all people, without regard to the accidents of their origins. With the diffusion of this quantum understanding of human beings, science may fulfill itself by adding to the material benefits it has already provided a philosophical insight of perhaps even greater ultimate value. (Stapp 2007, 140)

This issue of the connection of science to values can be put into perspective by seeing it in the context of a thumb-nail sketch of history that stresses the role of science. For this purpose let human intellectual history be divided into five periods: traditional, modern, transitional, post-modern, and contemporary. (Stapp 2007, 140)

During the ‘traditional’ era our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to Nature was based on ‘ancient traditions’ handed down from generation to generation: ‘Traditions’ were the chief source of wisdom about our connection to Nature. The ‘modern’ era began in the seventeenth century with the rise of what is still called ‘modern science’. That approach was based on the ideas of Bacon, Descartes, Galileo and Newton, and it provided a new source of knowledge that came to be regarded by many thinkers as more reliable than tradition. (Stapp 2007, 140)

The basic idea of ‘modern’ science was ‘materialism’: the idea that the physical world is composed basically of tiny bits of matter whose contact interactions with adjacent bits completely control everything that is now happening, and that ever will happen. According to these laws, as they existed in the late nineteenth century, a person’s conscious thoughts and efforts can make no difference at all to what his body/brain does: whatever you do was deemed to be completely fixed by local interactions between tiny mechanical elements, with your thoughts, ideas, feelings, and efforts, being simply locally determined high-level consequences or re-expressions of the low-level mechanical process, and hence basically just elements of a reorganized way of describing the effects of the absolutely and totally controlling microscopic material causes. (Stapp 2007, 140-141)

This materialist conception of reality began to crumble at the beginning of the twentieth century with Max Planck’s discovery of the quantum of action. Planck announced to his son that he had, on that day, made a discovery as important as Newton’s. That assessment was certainly correct: the ramifications of Planck’s discovery were eventually to cause Newton’s materialist conception of physical reality to come crashing down. Planck’s discovery marks the beginning of the `transitional’ period. (Stapp 2007, 141)

A second important transitional development soon followed. In 1905 Einstein announced his special theory of relativity. This theory denied the validity of our intuitive idea of the instant of time ‘now’, and promulgated the thesis that even the most basic quantities of physics, such as the length of a steel rod, and the temporal order of two events, had no objective ‘true values’, but were well defined only ‘relative’ to some observer’s point of view. (Stapp 2007, 141)

Planck’s discovery led by the mid-1920s to a complete breakdown, at the fundamental level, of the classical material conception of nature. A new basic physical theory, developed principally by Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli, and Max Born, brought ‘the observer’ explicitly into physics. The earlier idea that the physical world is composed of tiny particles (and electromagnetic and gravitational fields) was abandoned in favor of a theory of natural phenomena in which the consciousness of the human observer is ascribed an essential role. This successor to classical physical theory is called Copenhagen quantum theory. (Stapp 2007, 141)

This turning away by science itself from the tenets of the objective materialist philosophy gave impetus to, and lent support to, post-modernism. That view, which emerged during the second half of the twentieth century, promulgated, in essence, the idea that all ‘truths’ were relative to one’s point of view, and were mere artifacts of some particular social group’s struggle for power over competing groups. Thus each social movement was entitled to its own ‘truth’, which was viewed simply as a socially created pawn in the power game. (Stapp 2007, 141-142)

The connection of post-modern thought to science is that both Copenhagen quantum theory and relativity theory had retreated from the idea of observer-independent objective truth. Science in the first quarter of the twentieth century had not only eliminated materialism as a possible foundation for objective truth, but seemed to have discredited the very idea of objective truth in science. But if the community of scientists has renounced the idea of objective truth in favor of the pragmatic idea that ‘what is true for us is what works for us’, then every group becomes licensed to do the same, and the hope evaporates that science might provide objective criteria for resolving contentious social issues. (Stapp 2007, 142)

This philosophical shift has had profound social and intellectual ramifications. But the physicists who initiated this mischief were generally too interested in practical developments in their own field to get involved in these philosophical issues. Thus they failed to broadcast an important fact: already by mid-century, a further development in physics had occurred that provides an effective antidote to both the ‘materialism’ of the modern era, and the ‘relativism’ and ‘social constructionism’ of the post-modern period. In particular, John von Neumann developed, during the early thirties, a form of quantum theory that brought the physical and mental aspects of nature back together as two aspects of a rationally coherent whole. This theory was elevated, during the forties — by the work of Tomonaga and Schwinger — to a form compatible with the physical requirements of the theory of relativity. (Stapp 2007, 142)

Von Neumann’s theory, unlike the transitional ones, provides a framework for integrating into one coherent idea of reality the empirical data residing in subjective experience with the basic mathematical structure of theoretical physics. Von Neumann’s formulation of quantum theory is the starting point of all efforts by physicists to go beyond the pragmatically satisfactory but ontologically incomplete Copenhagen form of quantum theory. (Stapp 2007, 142)

Von Neumann capitalized upon the key Copenhagen move of bringing human choices into the theory of physical reality. But, whereas the Copenhagen approach excluded the bodies and brains of the human observers from the physical world that they sought to describe, von Neumann demanded logical cohesion and mathematical precision, and was willing to follow where this rational approach led. Being a mathematician, fortified by the rigor and precision of his thought, he seemed less intimidated than his physicist brethren by the sharp contrast between the nature of the world called for by the new mathematics and the nature of the world that the genius of Isaac Newton had concocted. (Stapp 2007, 142-143)

A common core feature of the orthodox (Copenhagen and von Neumann) quantum theory is the incorporation of efficacious conscious human choices into the structure of basic physical theory. How this is done, and how the conception of the human person is thereby radically altered, has been spelled out in lay terms in this book, and is something every well informed person who values the findings of science ought to know about. The conception of self is the basis of values and thence of behavior, and it controls the entire fabric of one’s life. It is irrational, from a scientific perspective, to cling today to false and inadequate nineteenth century concepts about your basic nature, while ignoring the profound impact upon these concepts of the twentieth century revolution in science. (Stapp 2007, 143)

It is curious that some physicists want to improve upon orthodox quantum theory by excluding ‘the observer’, who, by virtue of his subjective nature, must, in their opinion, be excluded from science. That stance is maintained in direct opposition to what would seem to be the most profound advance in physics in three hundred years, namely the overcoming of the most glaring failure of classical physics, its inability to accommodate us, its creators. The most salient philosophical feature of quantum theory is that the mathematics has a causal gap that, by virtue of its intrinsic form, provides a perfect place for Homo sapiens as we know and experience ourselves. (Stapp 2007, 143)

One of the most important tasks of social sciences is to explain the events, processes, and structures that take place and act in society. In a time when scientific relativism (social constructivism, postmodernism, de-constructivism etc.) is expanding, it’s important to guard against reducing science to a pure discursive level [cf. Pålsson Syll 2005]. We have to maintain the Enlightenment tradition of thinking of reality as principally independent of our views of it and of the main task of science as studying the structure of this reality. Perhaps the most important contribution a researcher can make is to reveal what this reality actually looks like. This is after all the object of science.

— Lars Pålsson Syll. On the use and misuse of theories and models in economics (Kindle Locations 113-118). WEA. Kindle Edition.


How can our world of billions of thinkers ever come into general concordance on fundamental issues? How do you, yourself, form opinions on such issues? Do you simply accept the message of some ‘authority’, such as a church, a state, or a social or political group? All of these entities promote concepts about how you as an individual fit into the reality that supports your being. And each has an agenda of its own, and hence its own internal biases. But where can you find an unvarnished truth about your nature, and your place in Nature? (Stapp 2007, 145)

Science rests, in the end, on an authority that lies beyond the pettiness of human ambition. It rests, finally, on stubborn facts. The founders of quantum theory certainly had no desire to bring down the grand structure of classical physics of which they were the inheritors, beneficiaries, and torch bearers. It was stubborn facts that forced their hand, and made them reluctantly abandon the two-hundred-year-old old classical ideal of a mechanical universe, and turn to what perhaps should have been seen from the start as a more reasonable endeavor: the creation an understanding of nature that includes in a rationally coherent way the thoughts by which we know and influence the world around us. The labors of scientists endeavoring merely to understand our inanimate environment produced, from its own internal logic, a rationally coherent framework into which we ourselves fit neatly. What was falsified by twentieth-century science was not the core traditions and intuitions that have sustained societies and civilizations since the dawn of mankind, but rather an historical aberration, an impoverished world view within which philosophers of the past few centuries have tried relentlessly but fruitlessly to find ourselves. The falseness of that deviation of science must be made known, and heralded, because human beings are not likely to endure in a society ruled by a conception of themselves that denies the essence of their being. (Stapp 2007, 145)

Einstein’s principle is relativity, not relativism. The historian of science Gerald Holton reports that Einstein was unhappy with the label ‘relativity theory’ and in his correspondence referred to it as Invariantentheorie…. Consider temporal and spatial measurements. Even if temporal and spatial measurements become frame-dependent, the observers who are attached to their different clock-carrying frames, like the respective observer on the platform and the train, can communicate their results to each other. They can even predict what the other observer will measure. The transparency between the reference frames and the mutual predictability of the measurement is due [to] a mathematical relationship, called the Lorentz transformations. The Lorentz transformations state the mathematical rules, which allow an observer to translate his/her coordinates into those of a different observer.

(….) The appropriate criterion for what is fundamentally real will (…) be what is invariant across all points of view…. The invariant is the real. This is a hypothesis about physical reality: what is frame-dependent is apparently real, what is frame-independent may be fundamentally real. To claim that the invariant is the real is to make an inference from the structure of scientific theories to the structure of the natural world.

Weinert (2004, 66, 70-71) The Scientist as Philosopher: Philosophical Consequences of Great Scientific Discoveries

Reply to Sam Harris on Free Will

Sam Harris’s book “Free Will” is an instructive example of how a spokesman dedicated to being reasonable and rational can have his arguments derailed by a reliance on prejudices and false presuppositions so deep-seated that they block seeing science-based possibilities that lie outside the confines of an outmoded world view that is now known to be incompatible with the empirical facts. (Stapp 2017, 97)

A particular logical error appears repeatedly throughout Harris’s book. Early on, he describes the deeds of two psychopaths who have committed some horrible acts. He asserts: “I have to admit that if I were to trade places with one of these men, atom for atom, I would be him: There is no extra part of me that could decide to see the world differently or to resist the impulse to victimize other people.” (Stapp 2017, 97)

Harris asserts, here, that there is “no extra part of me” that could decide differently. But that assertion, which he calls an admission, begs the question. What evidence rationally justifies that claim? Clearly it is not empirical evidence. It is, rather, a prejudicial and anti-scientific commitment to the precepts of a known-to-be-false conception of the world called classical mechanics. That older scientific understanding of reality was found during the first decades of the twentieth century to be incompatible with empirical findings, and was replaced during the 1920s, and early 1930s, by an adequate and successful revised understanding called quantum mechanics. This newer theory, in the rationally coherent and mathematically rigorous formulation offered by John von Neumann, features a separation of the world process into (1), a physically described part composed of atoms and closely connected physical fields; (2), some psychologically described parts lying outside the atom-based part, and identified as our thinking ego’s; and (3), some psycho-physical actions attributed to nature. Within this empirically adequate conception of reality there is an extra (non-atom-based) part of a person (his thinking ego) that can resist (successfully, if willed with sufficient intensity) the impulse to victimize other people. Harris’s example thus illustrates the fundamental errors that can be caused by identifying honored science with nineteenth century classical mechanics. (Stapp 2017, 97)

Harris goes on to defend “compatibilism”, the view that claims both that every physical event is determined by what came before in the physical world and also that we possess “free will”. Harris says that “Today the only philosophically respectable way to endorse free will is to be a compatibilist—because we know that determinism, in every sense relevant to human behavior, is true”. (Stapp 2017, 97-98)

But what Harris claims that “We know” to be true is, according to quantum mechanics, not known to be true. (Stapp 2017, 98)

The final clause “in every sense relevant to human behavior” is presumably meant to discount the relevance of quantum mechanical indeterminism, by asserting that quantum indeterminism is not relevant to human behavior—presumably because it washes out at the level of macroscopic brain dynamics. But that idea of what the shift to quantum mechanics achieves is grossly deficient. The quantum indeterminism merely opens the door to a complex dynamical process that not only violates determinism (the condition that the physical past determines the future) at the level of human behavior, but allows mental intentions that are not controlled by the physical past to influence human behavior in the intended way. Thus the shift to quantum mechanics opens the door to a causal efficacy of free will that is ruled out by Harris’s effective embrace of false nineteenth science. But what Harris claims that “We know” to be true is, according to quantum mechanics, not known to be true. (Stapp 2017, 98)

Evo-Devo and Arrival of the Fittest

The molecular mechanisms that bring about biological form in modern-day embryos … should not be confused with the causes that led to the appearance of these forms in the first place … selection can only work on what already exists. (G. B. Muller and S. A. Newman 2003: 3, Origination of Organismal Form: Beyond the Gene in Developmental and Evolutionary Biology)

Cited in Minelli and Fusco 2008: xv. Evolving Pathways: Key Themes in Evolutionary Developmental Biology.

The evolution of organismal form consists of a continuing production and ordering of anatomical parts: the resulting arrangement of parts is nonrandom and lineage specific. The organization of morphological order is thus a central feature of organismal evolution, whose explanation requires a theory of morphological organization. Such a theory will have to account for (1) the generation of initial parts; (2) the fixation of such parts in lineage-specific combinations; (3) the modification of parts; (4) the loss of parts; (5) the reappearance of lost parts [atavism]; and (6) the addition of new parts. Eventually, it will have to specify proximate and ultimate causes for each of these events as well.

Only a few of the processes listed above are addressed by the canonical neo-Darwinian theory, which is chiefly concerned with gene frequencies in populations and with the factors responsible for their variation and fixation. Although, at the phenotypic level, it deals with the modification of existing parts, the theory is intended to explain neither the origin of parts, nor morphological organization, nor innovation. In the neo-Darwinian world the motive factor for morphological change is natural selection, which can account for the modification and loss of parts. But selection has no innovative capacity; it eliminates or maintains what exists. The generative and the ordering aspects of morphological evolution are thus absent from evolutionary theory.

— Muller, Gerd B. (2003) Homology: The Evolution of Morphological Organization. In Origination of Organismal Form: Beyond the Gene in Development and Evolutionary Biology. (eds., Gerd B. Muller and Stuart A. Newman). The Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology. MIT Press. p. 51.

What is evo-devo? Undoubtedly this is a shorthand for evolutionary developmental biology. There, however, agreement stops. Evo-devo has been regarded as either a new discipline within evolutionary biology or simply a new perspective upon it, a lively interdisciplinary field of studies, or even necessary complement to the standard (neo-Darwinian) theory of evolution, which is an obligate step towards an expanded New Synthesis. Whatever the exact nature of evo-devo, its core is a view of the process of evolution in which evolutionary change is the transformation of (developmental) processes rather than (genetic or phenotypic) patterns. Thus our original question could be more profitably rephrased as: What is evo-devo for? (Minelli and Fusco 2008: 1)

(….) Evo-devo aims to provide a mechanistic explanation of how developmental mechanisms have changed during evolution, and how these modifications are reflected in changes in organismal form. Thus, in contrast with studies on natural selection, which aim to explain the ‘survival of the fittest’, the main target of evo-devo is to determine the mechanisms behind the ‘arrival of the fittest’. At the most basic level, the mechanistic question about the arrival of the fittest involves changes in the function of genes controlling developmental programs. Thus it is important to reflect on the nature of the elements and systems underlying inheritable developmental modification using an updated molecular background. (Minelli and Fusco 2008: 2)

Biology and Ideology

Why should we be concerned about biology and ideology? One good reason is that the use of biology for non-biological ends has been the cause of immense human suffering. Biology has been used to justify eugenic genic programs, enforced sterilization, experimentation on living humans, death camps, and political ambitions based on notions of racial superiority, ity, to name but a few examples. We should also be concerned because biological ideas continue to be used, if not in these specific ways, then in other ways that lie well beyond science. Investigating the past should help us to be more reflective about the science of our own day, hopefully more equipped to discern the ideological abuse of science when it occurs. (Alexander and Numbers 2010)

Not so many decades ago science represented the antithesis of ideology. Indeed, science rested securely on a pedestal, enshrined as the very “norm of truth.” According to the founding father of the history of science, George Sarton (1884-1956), the “main purpose” of science, pursued by disinterested scholars, was “the discovery of truth.” Convinced that science was the only human activity that “is obviously and undoubtedly cumulative and progressive,” he described the history of science as “the story of a protracted struggle, which will never end, against the inertia of superstition and ignorance, against the liars and hypocrites, and the deceivers and the self-deceived, against all the forces of darkness and nonsense.” (Alexander and Numbers 2010)

By the late nineteenth century, practicing scientists, as well as science educators and popularizers, were increasingly attributing the success of science to something called “the scientific method,” a slippery but rhetorically powerful slogan. In the words of the distinguished American astronomer Simon Newcomb, who devoted considerable thought to scientific methodology, “the most marked characteristic of the science of the present day … is its entire rejection of all speculation on propositions which do not admit of being brought to the test of experience.”‘ (Alexander and Numbers 2010)

To such devotees, science was not only true but edifying, totally unlike the “grubby worlds” of business and politics. As Harvard president Charles W. Eliot, an erstwhile chemist, declared at the opening of the American Museum of Natural History in 1878, science produced a “searching, open, humble mind … having no other end than to learn, prizing above all things accuracy, thoroughness, and candor.” Many of its practitioners, asserts the historian David A. Hollinger, saw science “as a religious calling,” “a moral enterprise.” Those who used science for ideological purposes often found themselves denounced as charlatans and pseudo-scientists. (Alexander and Numbers 2010)

Until well into the twentieth century neither scientists themselves nor the scholars who studied science linked science with ideology, a term coined in the late eighteenth century and typically employed pejoratively to designate ideas in the use of particular interests. Among the first to connect ideology and science were Karl Marx and his followers, who identified “ideologies” as ideas that served the social interests of the bourgeoisie. Western historians of science first encountered the linkage between science and ideology at the Second International Congress of the History of Science and Technology, held in London in 1931, when a delegation from the Soviet Union contrasted “the relations between science, technology, and economics” under the capitalist and socialist systems. The Russian physicist Boris Hessen, under intense political pressure at home to prove his Marxist orthodoxy, delivered an iconoclastic paper on “The Socio- Economic Roots of Newton’s Principia,” which described Newtonian science in the service of the ideological (that is, industrial and commercial) needs of the rising bourgeoisie. Despite his bravura effort, he died in a Soviet prison five years later, falsely convicted of terrorism. (Alexander and Numbers 2010)

Such “vulgar Marxism” exerted little influence on the writing of the history of science outside the Soviet Union. It was not until the 1960s that Marxism penetrated Anglo-American historiography, largely through the efforts of Robert M. (Bob) Young, an expatriate Texan working in Cambridge, bridge, England. In 1970, at a conference on “The Social Impact of Modern Biology,” he delivered a paper on “Evolutionary Biology and Ideology,” in which he “treated science as ideology.” He acknowledged that the term “ideology” traditionally had derogatory and political connotations that were connected with its popularization by Marx, who concentrated his use of it as a term of abuse for ideas that served as weapons for social interests. But Marxists were soon subjected to their own critique, and this led to Young’s general definition of ideology:

When a particular definition of reality comes to be attached to a concrete power interest, it may be called an ideology…. In its early manifestations the concept of ideology conveyed a sense of more or less conscious distortion bordering on deliberate lies. I do not mean to imply this…. [T]he effort to absorb the ideological logical point of view into positive science only illustrates the ubiquitousness of ideology in intellectual life…. We need to see that ideology is an inescapable level of discourse.

In contrast to earlier Marxists, who had damned ideology as inimical to good science, Young argued that all facts are theory-laden and that no science is value-free. The late historian Roy Porter described the efforts of Young and his fellow New Marxists as concentrating on “exposing the dazzling conjuring trick whereby science had acquired and legitimated authority precisely while claiming to be value-neutral.” Their goal was to liberate humanity from the thrall of science by demoting it from its privileged intellectual position and relocating it on the same level as other belief systems. Thus, at a time when some observers were declaring “the end of ideology,” a small group of historians of science was rushing to embrace it.

Meanwhile, scholars of a less radical persuasion were also undermining the notion of science as a value-neutral enterprise. In 1958 the philosopher Norwood Russell Hanson, who would soon found the Indiana University program in the history and philosophy of science, published Patterns of Discovery, which described all observations as “theory-laden.” Influenced in part by Hanson, the historian of science Thomas Kuhn published his best-selling The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), by far the most influential book ever written about the history of science and one of the most important books on any topic published in the twentieth century. In his slight monograph, Kuhn challenged Sarton’s cherished notion that science was cumulative, arguing instead that scientific paradigms are incommensurable mensurable and therefore that science does not progressively approach a truthful description of nature. Although he insisted that “there is no standard higher than the assent of the relevant community” in determining the boundaries of good science, he shied away from equating science and ideology. In fact, he used the latter term only to dismiss a commitment to the cumulative nature of science as “the ideology of the scientific profession.” Some critics denounced Kuhn’s work for promoting “irrationality and relativism”—and many postmodernists and other denigrators of science drew inspiration from it in their attempts to undermine the privileged status of science—but Kuhn never joined the revolutionaries. He took pride in the description of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions as “a profoundly conservative book.”

(….) The most influential blow to the traditional separation between science and ideology came in the 1970s and 1980s from a group of scholars in the Edinburgh University Science Studies Unit dedicated to creating a thoroughgoing sociology of scientific knowledge. Unlike such pioneers in the sociology of science as Robert K. Merton, who explored the impact of social factors on the growth of scientific institutions but left scientific knowledge untainted by ideologies, the Edinburgh scholars advocated a “strong programme” that treated science like any body of knowledge, vulnerable to psychological, social, and cultural factors. These “constructivists” insisted on treating “true” and “false” scientific claims identically and on exploring the role played by “biasing and distorting factors” in both cases, not just for unsuccessful or pseudo-science. Contrary to the claims of some of their critics, they never asserted that science was “purely social” or “that knowledge depended exclusively on social variables such as interests.” “The strong programme says that the social component is always present and always constitutive of knowledge,” explained David Bloor, one of the founders of the Science Studies Unit. “It does not say that it is the only component, or that it is the component that must necessarily be located as the trigger of any and every change.”‘

(….) In the early 1980s a young historian of science at Edinburgh, Steven Shapin, collaborated with Simon Schaffer on a landmark book that dramatically illustrated the applicability of the “strong programme” to the history of science. In Leviathan and the Air Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life, which the authors described as “an exercise in the sociology ology of scientific knowledge,” Shapin and Schaffer sought to identify the role played by ideology in establishing trust in the experimental way of producing knowledge about the workings of nature. As good constructivists, they treated the views of Thomas Hobbes (the loser) symmetrically with the opinions of Robert Boyle (the winner). In the end they concluded that “scientific activity, the scientist’s role, and the scientific community have always been dependent: they exist, are valued, and supported insofar as the state or its various agencies see point in them.”

By the 1990s the sometimes acrimonious debate over ideology and science was dying down. Although a few historians of science held out for value-free science, the great majority, it seems, had come to accept a moderate form of constructivism-not so much for ideological reasons but because the evidence supported it. While rejecting the radical claim that science was merely social, they readily granted the propriety, indeed the necessity, of exploring the constitutive role of ideologies in the making of science. Ideologies had morphed from antiscience to the heart of the scientific enterprise.

But the flow has gone both ways, not only “outwards” from biology into the worlds of politics, philosophy, or social structures, but also “inwards,” with whole scientific programs being shaped by ideological concerns…. At other times there is more of an iterative process of “co-evolution,” as occurred in theories about “racial hygiene” …, whereby the ideology shaped the biology, which in turn was used to prop up the ideology.

(….) [I]deology provides an interpretative framework that serves a social purpose, motivated by ethical, religious, or political convictions. The history of biology does certainly evince ideologies as either motivating or as being justified by certain kinds of scientific research and declaration, and most of the contributors investigate episodes in the history of biology in which biological science has become thoroughly entangled with social causes.

(….) [F]irst systematic investigations of the natural world in the early modern period attracted prestige by their support for natural theology and for the moral order. Even Descartes’ idea of animals as machines without souls, invoking thereby a sharp demarcation between human and animal, was employed as part of the argument for design. (….) Biological ideas connecting life and matter played a central role in the materialistic arguments of the French philosophes, which in turn were employed in the subversion of the social order. (….) [T]he eighteenth century also saw something of a reaction against the mechanistic analogies that had proven so influential in the natural philosophy of the preceding century, reformulating an “Enlightenment vitalism” that sought to revive ideas of nature ture as a dynamic system. This renewed emphasis on the internal driving forces and systematic organization of living things was used to generate a new science of humanity, which in turn was deployed to argue for particular economic and political structures. From the structure of organisms to the structure of societies has often been a short step in the history of biology.

One of the striking insights highlighted by this [history] is the way in which the ideological application of biological concepts is shaped by place as well as time. In some cases the same biological ideas have been used during the same period for quite opposite ideological purposes in different countries. The biology that in France was utilized by the philosophes to subvert the social order was in Britain used as a key resource for natural theology, whereas in Germany it was being used politically as an analogy for the structure of nation states.

Pilot Light

The Primal Light the whole irradiates,
And is received therein as many ways
As there are splendors wherewithal it mates.

Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, canto 29.136-38

The lamps are different, but the Light is the same: it comes from Beyond.


I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye beholds thee.

Job 42.5

A VOICE WHISPERED to me last night: “There is no such thing as a voice whispering in the night!”

Haidar Ansari in Idries Shaw’s Wisdom of the Idiots.
Religious Literature on Presence of Light

Around the age of fifteen I began a spiritual search. Having already encountered Christians who were quick to try to convert me with their theology of divine child abuse — aka the atonement doctrine, at which I could only laugh — I wanted to answer a simple question; if there is a God (or gods) I wanted to know, for myself, who or what this God was. I started my search studying what I call popular Buddhism. I thought that Buddhist esoteric practices where the way to enlightenment and set out to find this experience for myself. Along the way I encountered some interesting phenomenon, such as internal flashes of light and viewing my own internal neural network. I quickly learned that this was not the path to enlightenment.

Having rejected the esoteric, popular “new age” pop-religions filled with pseudo-religious truth, I turned to the study comparative religion, psychology, science, and philosophy to find the answer. I read widely in psychology, from Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy (Man’s Search for Meaning and The Unconscious God), from Carl Jung’s collected works to Freud’s psychoanalysis to B.F. Skinner’s behaviorism. I read William James (The Varieties of Religious Experience, etc.), Eric Fromm (The Art of Loving and You Shall Be as Gods, etc.), which in turn led to Abraham Heschel’s classics (God in Search of Man and The Prophets).

At one point I finally reached the question, “Who is this person called Jesus? What did he really teach?” Having rejected traditional Christian theology, but nevertheless impressed with truth-insights contained in Jesus’ parables and with the Jewish prophetic tradition as revealed by Heschel’s The Prophets, I began my study in earnest of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

One day, while making my periodic search of the bookstores1 for the latest scholarly works, I stumbled across a big blue book — The Urantia Book — sitting on the shelf. I read the table of contents and my first thought was it was just another work of “new age” pseudo-religious pop psychology full of “I feel good, you feel good” platitudes. Then my eyes fell upon the section of the meaning of the death on the cross. I read it; I was stunned; it confirmed everything I had thought about the atonement doctrine and more. I purchased it and took it home to my little migrant shack I was living in at the time. I read that book all night long, and the next morning when I went to work at the local YMCA where I was teaching gymnastics, I had a revelatory experience in the steam room while meditating on what I read the following evening.

It was in studying the Urantia Book that references to the indwelling divine mind I had been reading about, which in Buddhism is called the ‘Buddha mind’ or ‘true self,’ in Islam is called the spirit of Allah, in the Judeo-Christian traditions is called the indwelling spirit of God or Christ, and in the Bhagavad-Gita is termed the ‘atman,’ or ‘inmost timeless self’ which is at the same time Brahman, became personally and experientially real. Prior to this experience I was attempting to meditate, which I was learning through the Buddhist scriptures, but not to any great success. And prior to meditating I had experimented with attempting to use my mind to achieve astral projection, but had some experiences that quickly taught me this was not an effective way to achieve spiritual growth.

At that point in my life my concept of God or Deity was of some great IT or impersonal Absolute, or some mysterious ‘non-self’ reflected in Zen Buddhism. I had only vague inklings of what this thing called true self might be or how I might approach finding and experiencing for myself this reality. In my studies I surely could see common threads of what I perceived to be truth running through them, but I didn’t want to just intellectually know; I wanted to experience God personally. But my dilemma was, how does one ‘know’ an impersonal Absolute, or realize one’s ‘non-self?’ It was through concepts and teachings in the Urantia Book that this gulf between the idea of an Absolute and a personal God of infinitely loving and divine parental affection was bridged and synthesized into one and the same reality. Of course now I see clearly that this dual concept of the Divine is harbored in all the great traditions.

The next day I went straight to the YMCA, and while meditating in the steam room as was my habit, and reflecting on what I had learned the night before regarding the life and teachings of Jesus, the indwelling presence of the Adjuster and Jesus’ Spirit of Truth, the simple truth of my faith sonship with God, and the joy of knowing salvation, I experienced the presence of a Inner Light. I cannot describe with mere words this experience. It was not a presence outside of me, but within me. When I saw this light (not with my physical eyes) I clearly remember thinking it was like staring into the sun, but only infinitely brighter. And then, not of my own doing, I was enveloped in this light, which I can only describe as the presence of the divine love of God. I don’t have words to describe what transpired. I don’t know how long it was, or god forbid what I looked like sitting there naked in the steam room communing with God, but when I opened my eyes I was overwhelmed with this profound sense of peace and joy, even to the point that tears were streaming down my cheeks — I was in a steam room so it was not too obvious. I went home immediately and searched the Urantia book for anything referencing light, and found the following two statements:

There is a characteristic light, a spirit luminosity, which accompanies this divine presence, and which has become generally associated with Thought Adjusters…. this Paradise luminosity is widespreadly known as the “pilot light”; … it is called the “light of life.” … this phenomenon has sometimes been referred to as that “true light which lights every man who comes into the world.”

Urantia Book, 107:4.5


이 신다운 계심에 따르는, 특징이 되는 빛, 영의 빛남이 있는데, 이것은 생각 조절자와 일반적으로 관련되어 왔다. 네바돈 우주에서 이 파라다이스 광채는 널리 “표시등”으로 알려져 있다. 유버르사에서는 이를 “생명의 빛”이라 부른다. 유란시아에서 이 현상은 때때로 “세상으로 오는 모든 사람을 비추는 참 빛”으로 언급되었다. (유란시아서)

Most of the spectacular phenomena associated with so-called religious conversions are entirely psychologic in nature, but now and then there do occur experiences which are also spiritual in origin. When the mental mobilization is absolutely total on any level of the psychic upreach toward spirit attainment, when there exists perfection of the human motivation of loyalties to the divine idea, then there very often occurs a sudden down-grasp of the indwelling spirit to synchronize with the concentrated and consecrated purpose of the superconscious mind of the believing mortal. And it is such experiences of unified intellectual and spiritual phenomena that constitute the conversion which consists in factors over and above purely psychologic involvement.

Urantia Book, 100:5.4


이른바 종교적 감화와 연결된 대단한 현상의 대부분은 전적으로 심리적 성질을 가졌지만, 영적 기원을 가진 체험이 이따금 일어난다. 영적 달성을 향하여 정신적으로 발돋움하는 어떤 수준에서도 절대로 온전히 정신을 기울일 때, 신다운 개념에 인간이 충성하는 동기가 완벽할 때, 믿는 필사자의 상의식(上意識) 지성의 목적, 집중되고 거룩하게 된 목적과 시간을 맞추려고 그 깃드는 영이 갑자기 내려와서 잡아채는 일이 무척 자주 생긴다. 통일된 지적ㆍ영적 현상을 그렇게 체험하는 것이 순전한 심리적 관계를 초월하는 요인에서 생기는 감화를 구성한다. (유란시아서)

Religion, the conviction-faith of the personality, can always triumph over the superficially contradictory logic of despair born in the unbelieving material mind. There really is a true and genuine inner voice, that “true light which lights every man who comes into the world.” And this spirit leading is distinct from the ethical prompting of human conscience. The feeling of religious assurance is more than an emotional feeling. The assurance of religion transcends the reason of the mind, even the logic of philosophy. Religion is faith, trust, and assurance.

Urantia Book, 101:0.3


종교, 인격자의 확신과 믿음은, 믿지 않는 물질 지성에서 태어난 논리, 표면상 모순되는 절망의 논리를 반드시 이길 수 있다. 속에서 나오는 참되고 진정한 목소리, 바로 “세상으로 태어나는 모든 사람을 비추는 참된 빛”이 정말로 있다. 이 영의 인도하심은 인간의 양심(良心)에서 우러나는 윤리적 재촉과 다르다. 종교적 확신을 가진 느낌은 감정보다 더한 것이다. 종교가 주는 확신은 머리로 따지는 이치, 아니 철학의 논리조차 뛰어넘는다. 종교는 믿음이요, 신뢰요, 확신이다. (유란시아서)

The Koran has a most beautiful description of what I experienced upon realizing this divine presence:

Allah is the Light
Of the heavens and the earth.
The parable of His Light
Is as if there were a Niche
And within it a Lamp:
The Lamp enclosed in Glass;
The glass as it were
A brilliant star:
Lit from a blessed Tree,
An Olive, neither of the East
Nor of the West,
Whose Oil is well-nigh
Though fire scare touched it:
Light upon Light!

Surah 24:35

Over time I collected various scripture from the Torah that speak of this inner light and still small voice:

There is a spirit in man; therefore stand in awe, sin not; and commune with your own heart upon your bed, and then be still; and your ears shall hear a small voice behind thee, saying, ‘This is the way, walk you in it.’ When you go, it shall lead you; when you sleep, it shall keep you; and when you awake, it shall talk with you. You shall make your prayer unto him, and he shall hear you; your eyes shall see thy teacher, and his light shall shine upon your ways. Behold, the Almighty shall be your gold, and you shall have the silver of his spirit for strength. Says the Lord, ‘My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.’ For you gave your good spirit to instruct us, and to show us light, and the way wherein we should go. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye beholds you. Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes of the soul to behold the presence of our Father.

Torah on Inner Light

All the world’s great religious traditions have prophets, seers, and teachers who speak through poetry of this inner light, this pilot light, the true light that lights every child who comes into the world.

Dharma-body’s wheel of light is without bound,
Shining on the blind and ignorant of the world.

The light of wisdom exceeds all measure,
And every finite living being
Receives this illumination that is like the dawn,
So take refuge in Amida, the true and real light.

Every being is nurtured by this light.
So take refuge in Amida, the one beyond conception.

The light of purity is without compare.
When a person encounters this light,
All bonds of karma fall away;
So take refuge in Amida, the ultimate shelter.

The light of compassion illumines us from afar;
Those beings it reaches, it is taught,
Attain the joy of dharma,
So take refuge in Amida, the great consolation.

The light dispels the darkness of ignornace;
Thus Amida is called “Buddha of the Light of Wisdom.”
All the Buddhas and sages of the three vehicles
Together offer their praise.

The light shines everywhere ceaslessly;
Thus Amida is called “Buddha of Uninterrupted Light.”
Because beings hear [and apprehend] this power of light,
Their mindfulness is enduring and they attain birth.

The majestic light, transcending form, is beyond description;
Thus Amida is called “Buddha of Inexpressible Light.”
All the Buddhas praise this light.

The Collected Works of Shinran, 325-328

Tasdiq is to recognize a truth, to appropriate it, to affirm it, to confirm it, to actualize it. And the truth, in each case, is personalist and sincere…. [F]aith is then the recognition of divine truth at the personal level. Faith is the ability to recognize truth as true for oneself, and to trust it. Especially in the Islamic case, with its primarily moral orientation, this includes, or makes primary, the recognition of the authenticity, a moral authority, of the divine commands. Thus there is a recognition of the obligatoriness of moral obligations; and the acceptance of their obligatoriness as applying to oneself, with the personal commitment then to carrying them out.

Again: it is the personal making of what is cosmically true come true on earththe actualization of truth (the truth about man).

More mystically, it is the discovery of truth (the personal truth) of the Islamic injunctions: the process of personal verification of them, whereby, by living them out, one proves them and finds that they do indeed become true, both for oneself and for society and world in which one lives.

Tasdiq is the inner appropriation and outward implementation of truth. It is the process of making or finding true in actual human life, in one’s own personal spirit and overt behavior, what Godor Realityintends for man.

And with many a passage strongly insisting that faith is more than knowledge, that it is a question of how one responds to the truth, one may also render the proposition ‘faith is tasdiq‘ as ‘Faith is the ability to trust, and to act in terms of, what one knows to be true’. (Smith 1981: 150-151)

(….) Faith, then, is the positive response to God’s initiative. It is not merely knowledge: it includes knowledge, but is something else as well. That something additional, the men of kalam came to agree, is tasdiq. Huwa (that is al-tasdiq) amr za’id ‘ala al-‘ilm.

We turn, then, from faith to tasdiq… We can now see that it designates not belief, but knowledge; and not merely knowledge, but knowledge of the truth plus something else. (Neither of these two componentsneither that of knowing the truth, nor that of the something additionalis found in the current Western translations …). (Smith 1981: 155)

(….) What, then, is tasdiq? Clearly, it lies in the realm of activist sincerity. Sidq … designates truth at the personalist level, of recognition and integrity: the second form of the very designates an activating of this.

Fundamental for understanding one of the prime meanings of tasdiq in this connection is a remark such as the following of al-Tabari:

al-qwam kanu sadaqu bi-alsinatihim wa-lam yusaddiqu qawwlahum bi-fi lihim.

Obviously this is not ‘to believe’ but rather to confirm, to actualize the truth. They ‘… spoke the truth with their tongues, but did not corroborate what they were saying with their deeds’. Or one might use such verbs as ‘authenticate’ or ‘validate’. An older usage in English would legitimately appear here if one translated by: ‘… they were not faithful to what they were saying, in their deeds’. (Smith 1981: 156)

The actualizing aspect of tasdiq is illuminated, again, in the oft-cited statement, al-iman ma waqara fi al-qalb, wa-saddaqahu al-amal. ‘Faith is that about which the heart is firm, and that deeds validate (authenticate, corroborate).’

Again, and more theologically, the fact that God Himself is called mu’min is also explained, by al-Baghdadi, as His being actively faithful in this sense:

wa-Allah mu’min li-annahu yusaddiqu wa’dahu bi-al-tahqiq.

(It would be ludicrous to translate either iman or tasdiq as ‘believing’ in any of these casesand I feel, in any cases at all).

The difference, then, between knowledge and tasdiq lies in the sincerity and in the operationalist addenda denoted by the latter term. Knowledge is the perception of the truth outside oneself; tasdiq is the personal appropriation of that perception. It is the inner reordering of oneself so as to act in terms of it; the interiorization and implementation of the truth in dynamic sincerity. Tasdiq means not ‘to believe’ but rather to recognize a truth and to existentialize it. (Smith 1981: 156)

(….) All this is especially relevant to, and leads to a consideration of, the second of the two fundamental orientations that we averred to be characteristic of Islamic life and significant for its faithnamely, the moral. For the truth to which the Muslim must respond is largely a moral truth. The knowledge conferred by revelation is largely a knowledge of moral requirements, of commands, of duties: awamir, ahkam, fara’id. In the moral life especially, as all of us recognize, knowledge is not yet virtue. The recognition of that something out to be done is not yet the recognition that I ought to do it, not yet the resolve to do it, not yet my personal decision to act. Involved in the moral life is a particular quality or act, more than and other than knowledge and its awareness of objective truth, a quality that brings one to the point of committing oneself to act in terms of what one has recognized as right. This is tasdiq, and to have it is to have faith. (Smith 1981: 157-158)

(….) One of the compelling expositions of the matter comes in the fuller elaboration of a statement by the later writer al-Kastalt …: ‘Al-tasdiq does not mean knowing the truth …; no, it is rather a yielding to what is known and a letting oneself be led by it, setting aside recalcitrance and stubbornness, and constructing one’s actions in accordance with it’. (This is a beautiful example of a passage that Christian theology could be happy and proud to take over word for word ….) (Smith 1981: 158)

Wilfred Cantwell Smith, On Understanding Islam

So as we can see from the teachings of Islam, faith and belief are not the same thing and mere knowledge is not wisdom, but knowledge plus something else; the divine light and love of God infusing knowledge with true cosmic insights that transcend the mere knowledge of men.2

The keys of the kingdom of heaven are: sincerity, more sincerity, and more sincerity. All men have these keys. Men use them—advance in spirit status—by decisions, by more decisions, and by more decisions. The highest moral choice is the choice of the highest possible value, and always—in any sphere, in all of them—this is to choose to do the will of God. If man thus chooses, he is great, though he be the humblest citizen of Jerusem or even the least of mortals on Urantia [earth].

Urantia Book, 39:4.14


하늘 나라의 열쇠는 성실(誠實)하게, 더욱 성실하게, 또 더욱 성실하게 사는 것이다. 누구나 이 열쇠를 가지고 있다. 사람은 결심하고, 더욱 결심하고, 또 더욱 결심하여 이 열쇠를 사용한다―영적 지위가 올라간다. 가장 도덕적인 선택은 가능한 가장 높은 가치를 고르는 것이요, 언제나―어느 구체에서나, 모든 구체에서―하나님의 뜻 실행하기를 택하는 것이다. 사람이 이렇게 선택하면, 비록 예루셈에서 가장 비천한 시민이라도, 아니 유란시아에서 지위가 가장 낮은 필사자라도, 그는 위대하다. (유란시아서)

Over time, I have come to understand meditation to be an attempt to achieve unbroken communion with the indwelling presence of God through balanced prayer and worship, and an inner dialogue with the divine presence. I also have found in my experience that loving service brings one closer to God through actualizing divine love in our lives through wise service to one’s fellows; I view them as two sides of the same coin. I understand this inner communion as my attempt to attune my mortal mind to the indwelling divine mind of God (finding, realizing, and choosing to align my will with the divine will); to realize the spiritual values of truth, beauty, and goodness, and to actualize them in my life. I think any sane and balanced practice, if it leads one to a closer relationship with God, is worthy of our attention. And I certainly will take a warm loving hug any day, and find it easy to see God in the love and compassion of others.

Note: At first, before entering the light, I observed a purple pulsating orb, within the center of which was a was an expanding golden light in the shape of what I would learn later was the corpus collosum. Within the center of the golden expanding light was a white light which as I seemed to pass through the golden light I found myself, metaphorically speaking, in the presence of without a body, only in mind, observing rather objectively. Upon realizing I was in the presence of the divine light I merged with the light in worshipful reflection. How long I was in this state of reflective worship I cannot say. The Urantia Book speaks at great length about the indwelling Thought Adjuster and its relationship to the human brain-mind:

Adjusters should not be thought of as living in the material brains of human beings. They are not organic parts of the physical creatures of the realms. The Thought Adjuster may more properly be envisaged as indwelling the mortal mind of man rather than as existing within the confines of a single physical organ. And indirectly and unrecognized the Adjuster is constantly communicating with the human subject, especially during those sublime experiences of the worshipful contact of mind with spirit in the superconsciousness.

— Urantia Book, 110:1.1


조절자는 인간 존재의 물질적 두뇌 속에서 산다고 생각해서는 안 된다. 조절자는 그 영역에 사는 육체적 인간의 유기적 부분이 아니다. 생각 조절자는 단일 신체 기관의 경계 안에서 존재하기보다 사람의 필사 지성에 깃든다고 상상하는 것이 더 마땅한 듯하다. 간접으로, 눈치채지 못하게, 조절자는 항상, 특히 상의식(上意識) 속에서 경건하게 지성이 영과 숭고한 접촉을 가지는 동안에, 그 인간 주체와 교통하고 있다. (유란시아서)

From the two-hemisphere type of the Urantian cerebral cortex you can, by analogy, grasp something of the one-brained type. The third brain of the three-brained orders is best conceived as an evolvement of your lower or rudimentary form of brain, which is developed to the point where it functions chiefly in control of physical activities, leaving the two superior brains free for higher engagements: one for intellectual functions and the other for the spiritual-counterparting activities of the Thought Adjuster.

Urantia Book, 49:5.14


유란시아인이 가진 두뇌 피질의 두 반구(半球) 종류로부터 유추함으로 너희는 한 골 종류에 대하여 무언가 파악할 수 있다. 세 골 서열이 가진 셋째 골은 너희의 작은 골, 곧 기초 형태의 골이 진화된 것이라 상상하는 것이 최선이다. 이것은 주로 신체 활동을 통제하는 기능을 가지는 점까지 발전되며, 상위의 두 골이 더 높은 일에 종사하도록 해방하는데, 하나는 지적 활동이요, 다른 하나는 생각 조절자에 대응하는 영적 활동을 위한 것이다. (유란시아서)

1 Of course, this dates me, as this was the pre-Internet and pre-Amazon age and the only way one could find good books was to physically travel to a bookstore or library.

2 The Urantia Book in Paper 108 Section 8 titled Faith and Belief teaches:

Belief has attained the level of faith when it motivates life and shapes the mode of living. The acceptance of a teaching as true is not faith; that is mere belief. Neither is certainty nor conviction faith. A state of mind attains to faith levels only when it actually dominates the mode of living. Faith is a living attribute of genuine personal religious experience. One believes truth, admires beauty, and reverences goodness, but does not worship them; such an attitude of saving faith is centered on God alone, who is all of these personified and infinitely more.

Belief is always limiting and binding; faith is expanding and releasing. Belief fixates, faith liberates. But living religious faith is more than the association of noble beliefs; it is more than an exalted system of philosophy; it is a living experience concerned with spiritual meanings, divine ideals, and supreme values; it is God-knowing and man-serving. Beliefs may become group possessions, but faith must be personal. Theologic beliefs can be suggested to a group, but faith can rise up only in the heart of the individual religionist.

Faith has falsified its trust when it presumes to deny realities and to confer upon its devotees assumed knowledge. Faith is a traitor when it fosters betrayal of intellectual integrity and belittles loyalty to supreme values and divine ideals. Faith never shuns the problem-solving duty of mortal living. Living faith does not foster bigotry, persecution, or intolerance.

Faith does not shackle the creative imagination, neither does it maintain an unreasoning prejudice toward the discoveries of scientific investigation. Faith vitalizes religion and constrains the religionist heroically to live the golden rule. The zeal of faith is according to knowledge, and its strivings are the preludes to sublime peace.

Urantia Book, 101:8.1-4