primordial process



No  things, no time,

Just Process

Process, Process.

Continual becoming,

Such pressure ongoing!

Creation from  whence

The Big Bang  came.

But it’s happening

All the time,

All the time.

But I am here with a vertex

A point of view

A perspective

Anything can happen

Tho’ common things

Happen frequently.

Everything is everywhere

All the time.

Just wait and observe.

By the Law of Least Action

At random apparently

The universe is built.

Common events occur commonly

And I can choose

As I am conscious

And have free will..

The builder?

The Everything

And Anything

The Source

Of love and power.

Is Everywhere.

So something is observed

By me

But I did not create it.

And spacetime begins.

It is always beginning

And always ending.


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eulogy on grace by president obama

Perhaps this is the speech that Obama’s presidency will be remembered by.

THE PRESIDENT:  Giving all praise and honor to God.  (Applause.)

The Bible calls us to hope.  To persevere, and have faith in things not seen.

“They were still living by faith when they died,” Scripture tells us. “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on Earth.”

We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith.  A man who believed in things not seen.  A man who believed there were better days ahead, off in the distance.  A man of service who persevered, knowing full well he would not receive all those things he was promised, because he believed his efforts would deliver a better life for those who followed.

To Jennifer, his beloved wife; to Eliana and Malana, his beautiful, wonderful daughters; to the Mother Emanuel family and the people of Charleston, the people of South Carolina.

I cannot claim to have the good fortune to know Reverend Pinckney well.  But I did have the pleasure of knowing him and meeting him here in South Carolina, back when we were both a little bit younger.  (Laughter.)  Back when I didn’t have visible grey hair.  (Laughter.)  The first thing I noticed was his graciousness, his smile, his reassuring baritone, his deceptive sense of humor — all qualities that helped him wear so effortlessly a heavy burden of expectation.

Friends of his remarked this week that when Clementa Pinckney entered a room, it was like the future arrived; that even from a young age, folks knew he was special.  Anointed.  He was the progeny of a long line of the faithful — a family of preachers who spread God’s word, a family of protesters who sowed change to expand voting rights and desegregate the South.  Clem heard their instruction, and he did not forsake their teaching.

He was in the pulpit by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23.  He did not exhibit any of the cockiness of youth, nor youth’s insecurities; instead, he set an example worthy of his position, wise beyond his years, in his speech, in his conduct, in his love, faith, and purity.

As a senator, he represented a sprawling swath of the Lowcountry, a place that has long been one of the most neglected in America.  A place still wracked by poverty and inadequate schools; a place where children can still go hungry and the sick can go without treatment.  A place that needed somebody like Clem.  (Applause.)

His position in the minority party meant the odds of winning more resources for his constituents were often long.  His calls for greater equity were too often unheeded, the votes he cast were sometimes lonely.  But he never gave up.  He stayed true to his convictions.  He would not grow discouraged.  After a full day at the capitol, he’d climb into his car and head to the church to draw sustenance from his family, from his ministry, from the community that loved and needed him.  There he would fortify his faith, and imagine what might be.

Reverend Pinckney embodied a politics that was neither mean, nor small.  He conducted himself quietly, and kindly, and diligently.  He encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas alone, but by seeking out your ideas, partnering with you to make things happen.  He was full of empathy and fellow feeling, able to walk in somebody else’s shoes and see through their eyes.  No wonder one of his senate colleagues remembered Senator Pinckney as “the most gentle of the 46 of us — the best of the 46 of us.”

Clem was often asked why he chose to be a pastor and a public servant.  But the person who asked probably didn’t know the history of the AME church.  (Applause.)  As our brothers and sisters in the AME church know, we don’t make those distinctions. “Our calling,” Clem once said, “is not just within the walls of the congregation, but…the life and community in which our congregation resides.”  (Applause.)

He embodied the idea that our Christian faith demands deeds and not just words; that the “sweet hour of prayer” actually lasts the whole week long — (applause) — that to put our faith in action is more than individual salvation, it’s about our collective salvation; that to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless is not just a call for isolated charity but the imperative of a just society.

What a good man.  Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for when you’re eulogized — after all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say someone was a good man.  (Applause.)

You don’t have to be of high station to be a good man.  Preacher by 13.  Pastor by 18.  Public servant by 23.  What a life Clementa Pinckney lived.  What an example he set.  What a model for his faith.  And then to lose him at 41 — slain in his sanctuary with eight wonderful members of his flock, each at different stages in life but bound together by a common commitment to God.

Cynthia Hurd.  Susie Jackson.  Ethel Lance.  DePayne Middleton-Doctor.  Tywanza Sanders.  Daniel L. Simmons.  Sharonda Coleman-Singleton.  Myra Thompson.  Good people.  Decent people. God-fearing people.  (Applause.)  People so full of life and so full of kindness.  People who ran the race, who persevered.  People of great faith.

To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief.  Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church.  The church is and always has been the center of African-American life — (applause) — a place to call our own in a too often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.

Over the course of centuries, black churches served as “hush harbors” where slaves could worship in safety; praise houses where their free descendants could gather and shout hallelujah — (applause) — rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad; bunkers for the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement.  They have been, and continue to be, community centers where we organize for jobs and justice; places of scholarship and network; places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm’s way, and told that they are beautiful and smart — (applause) — and taught that they matter.  (Applause.)  That’s what happens in church.

That’s what the black church means.  Our beating heart.  The place where our dignity as a people is inviolate.  When there’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel — (applause) — a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founder sought to end slavery, only to rise up again, a Phoenix from these ashes.  (Applause.)

When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, services happened here anyway, in defiance of unjust laws.  When there was a righteous movement to dismantle Jim Crow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from its pulpit, and marches began from its steps.  A sacred place, this church.  Not just for blacks, not just for Christians, but for every American who cares about the steady expansion — (applause) — of human rights and human dignity in this country; a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all.  That’s what the church meant.  (Applause.)

We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history.  But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act.  It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress.  (Applause.)  An act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion.  An act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.

Oh, but God works in mysterious ways.  (Applause.)  God has different ideas.  (Applause.)

He didn’t know he was being used by God.  (Applause.)  Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group — the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle.  The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court — in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness.  He couldn’t imagine that.  (Applause.)

The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley — (applause) — how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond — not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.

Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace.  (Applause.)

This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. (Applause.)  The grace of the families who lost loved ones.  The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons.  The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals — the one we all know:  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  (Applause.)  I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.  (Applause.)

According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned.  Grace is not merited.  It’s not something we deserve.  Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God — (applause) — as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.  Grace.

As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.  (Applause.)  He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves.  (Applause.)  We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other — but we got it all the same.  He gave it to us anyway.  He’s once more given us grace.  But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens.  (Applause.)  It’s true, a flag did not cause these murders.  But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge — including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise — (applause) — as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride.  (Applause.)  For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation.  We see that now.

Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers.  It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong — (applause) — the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.  (Applause.) It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.  It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better, because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races striving to form a more perfect union.  By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace.  (Applause.)

But I don’t think God wants us to stop there.  (Applause.)  For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present.  Perhaps we see that now.  Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.  (Applause.)

Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate.  (Applause.)  Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system — (applause) — and leads us to make sure that that system is not infected with bias; that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.  (Applause.)

Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal.  (Applause.)  So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote.  (Applause.)  By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American — by doing that, we express God’s grace.  (Applause.)

For too long —

AUDIENCE:  For too long!

THE PRESIDENT:  For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.  (Applause.) Sporadically, our eyes are open:  When eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school.  But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day; the countless more whose lives are forever changed — the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife’s warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happen to some other place.

The vast majority of Americans — the majority of gun owners — want to do something about this.  We see that now.  (Applause.)  And I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions and ways of life that make up this beloved country — by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace.  (Applause.)

We don’t earn grace.  We’re all sinners.  We don’t deserve it.  (Applause.)  But God gives it to us anyway.  (Applause.)  And we choose how to receive it.  It’s our decision how to honor it.

None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight.  Every time something like this happens, somebody says we have to have a conversation about race.  We talk a lot about race.  There’s no shortcut.  And we don’t need more talk.  (Applause.)  None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy.  It will not.  People of goodwill will continue to debate the merits of various policies, as our democracy requires — this is a big, raucous place, America is.  And there are good people on both sides of these debates.  Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete.

But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.  (Applause.)  Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual — that’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society.  (Applause.)  To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change — that’s how we lose our way again.

It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits, whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.

Reverend Pinckney once said, “Across the South, we have a deep appreciation of history — we haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”  (Applause.)  What is true in the South is true for America.  Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other.  That my liberty depends on you being free, too.  (Applause.)  That history can’t be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past — how to break the cycle.  A roadway toward a better world.  He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind — but, more importantly, an open heart.

That’s what I’ve felt this week — an open heart.  That, more than any particular policy or analysis, is what’s called upon right now, I think — what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls “that reservoir of goodness, beyond, and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.”

That reservoir of goodness.  If we can find that grace, anything is possible.  (Applause.)  If we can tap that grace, everything can change.  (Applause.)

Amazing grace.  Amazing grace.

(Begins to sing) — Amazing grace — (applause) — how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.  (Applause.)

Clementa Pinckney found that grace.

Cynthia Hurd found that grace.

Susie Jackson found that grace.

Ethel Lance found that grace.

DePayne Middleton-Doctor found that grace.

Tywanza Sanders found that grace.

Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. found that grace.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton found that grace.

Myra Thompson found that grace.

Through the example of their lives, they’ve now passed it on to us.  May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift, as long as our lives endure.  May grace now lead them home.  May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America.  (Applause.)

our treatment of refugees is a yardstick by which future generations will judge us

D Berger
Any observer of today’s spiraling refugee crises in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia must agree with Hegel that “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” At the Evian conference of 1938, the US encouraged representatives of 32 nations to find a solution to the Jewish refugee crisis in Europe but refused to relax its own, severely limited refugee quotas, as did Britain.1 2 The other participating nations followed suit, except the Dominican Republic, which agreed to take 100 000. In the summer of 1939, in the first act of a “stop the boats” doctrine that still plays out today, the St Louis, a German luxury liner carrying over 900 German Jewish refugees, was refused entry by Cuba, the US, and Canada and returned to Europe, where a large number of the would-be refugees were subsequently murdered in the Holocaust.3 This hypocrisy sent a clear message to Hitler that no one else cared about the Jews, or at least not enough to do anything, and he correctly concluded he was able to act with impunity.

Today’s failure of moral leadership by the Western democracies is spearheaded by the Australian government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and scrutinised both by other leading democracies and far less savoury regimes, which can only draw the conclusion that, “If Australia can disregard human rights and suffer no consequences, then so can we.” Australia’s policy is to turn back what it terms “illegal” refugee boats, full of “illegal” or “back door” arrivals and to subject those who do get through, including children, to indefinite detention in privately run centres on remote, impoverished Pacific Islands, territories of nations that are effectively financial vassal states of Australia. Here, at a cost of nearly $A900 000 (£450 000; €640 000; $700 000) a year for each detainee, over 3000 people are housed in appalling conditions, abused and maltreated and repeatedly informed they will never be allowed to settle in Australia.4 5 They are being made an example of, solely “pour décourager les autres.” Laws are being introduced that may give free rein to guards in private detention centres to beat asylum seekers to death for non-violent protest if they feel justified in doing so.6

In an act of perfidy worthy of a ruthless despot, not of the elected prime minister of one of the leading and wealthiest liberal Western democracies, Abbott claims this is a compassionate policy designed to prevent drowning at sea, to puncture the market in people smuggling, and—in a cynical play for Australian public opinion—to give everyone a “fair go” by preventing “queue jumping” by “back door” arrivals, even though there is no identifiable queue or front or back door, just many ordinary people fleeing for their lives.7 The government is spending a large amount of money on propaganda to publicise its policy and inform potential refugees that they will not make Australia home, “No Way.”8 Meanwhile, the true intent is revealed by the assertion that his government will not “succumb to the cries of human rights lawyers”9 and a shocking encouragement to Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia to continue to turn back boats full of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar (Burma), one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, who are dying in the Andaman Sea. Abbott emphatically refuses—“Nope, nope, nope”—to entertain the idea of resettling any of them in Australia.10 In a painful irony, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry of Indonesia, which is not a signatory but was cornered into providing temporary shelter for Rohingya refugees by global public opinion, lambasted Australia: “You signed the UN Convention on Refugees. Act on it!”11

It would be less hypocritical of Abbott to admit Australia’s refugee policy is an extension of the historic White Australia policy by other means, to satisfy a conservative domestic agenda (would this position have been taken if the refugees were white, English speaking Christians?). And it would be arguably more humane to destroy the refugee boats at sea than to leave their occupants to die a lingering death from starvation, thirst, and exposure.6 12

Surely the West has reached a level of absurdity in this grotesque episode from which it can only retrench. There must be statesmen and women in Western democracies who understand that there comes a time when moral leadership and global statesmanship must supplant a self interested, parochial political agenda. History ought to have taught us that stopping the boats and pretending nothing is happening does not make these problems go away. They only get worse and eventually blow up in violent and entirely predictable ways, as the deaths of millions during the second world war and subsequently attest.

The temporising must stop, from the refugee boats of the Mediterranean to those of the Andaman. The health and welfare of refugees is a test of our humanity, a test that we are failing once again. The Western democracies must send a clear, unified message, in actions as well as words, to the autocrats, despots, and warlords that persecution and genocide of minorities is no longer acceptable. If they continue to shirk their responsibilities to shelter the persecuted, then open season is declared once more on the vulnerable and dispossessed, just as it was when the St Louis was turned back 76 years ago. No one says this is going to be easy, but the alternative will be far worse.

History tells us so.

Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2907

Competing interests: We have read and understood BMJ policy on declaration of interests and declare DB is a non-executive director of BMJ. The BMJ board has no role in determining The BMJ’s editorial policy. DB’s grandfather, a Jewish doctor from Berlin, was refused entry to Britain in 1936 and his grandmother, who was separately refused entry, committed suicide. He is a recent immigrant to Australia.

Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

↵ US Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Evian conference.
↵ Mondale WF. Evian and Geneva. New York Times 1979 Jul 28:17.
↵ Miller S, Ogilvie SA. Refuge denied: the St Louis passengers and the holocaust. University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.
↵ Evershed N. Mandatory immigration detention is a billion-dollar business—analysis, Guardian 2014 Aug 25.
↵ Ackland R. Scott Morrison thumbs his nose at Indonesia, and sets back the only humane solution for refugees. Guardian 2014 Nov 9.
↵ Appleby G. Australia’s rigid immigration barrier. New York Times 2015 May 8.
↵ Radulova L. “Stopping the boats is compassionate,” claims Tony Abbott as protestors clash with his security team over refugee turnback policy. Daily Mail 2014 Jul 12.
↵ Laughland O. Australian government targets asylum seekers with graphic campaign. Guardian 2014 Feb 11.
↵ Madhora S, Safi M. Tony Abbott declares only the coalition strong enough to stop the boats. Guardian 2015 Apr 9.
↵ Cox L. “Nope, nope, nope”: Tony Abbott says Australia will not resettle refugees in migrant crisis. Sydney Morning Herald 2015 May 21.
↵ Topsfield J. Indonesia to Australia: “You signed the UN Convention on Refugees. Act on it.” Sydney Morning Herald 2015 May 21.
↵ Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Fact sheet 8. Abolition of the White Australia policy.

lucid dreaming and self-consciousness

A brain scan (magnetic resonance tomography) showing the regions of the brain that are active during lucid dreaming. These are the same areas that are active during self-reflective consciousness (the right dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex, the fronto-polar regions and the precuneus).

chomsky: science, mind and limits of understanding


Science, Mind, and Limits of Understanding
Noam Chomsky
The Science and Faith Foundation (STOQ), The Vatican, January 2014
One of the most profound insights into language and mind, I think, was Descartes’s recognition of what we may call “the creative aspect of language use”: the ordinary use of language is typically innovative without bounds, appropriate to circumstances but not caused by them – a crucial distinction – and can engender thoughts in others that they recognize they could have expressed themselves. Given the intimate relation of language and thought, these are properties of human thought as well. This insight is the primary basis for Descartes’s scientific theory of mind and body. There is no sound reason to question its validity, as far as I am aware. Its implications, if valid, are far-reaching, among them what it suggests about the limits of human understanding, as becomes more clear when we consider the place of these reflections in the development of modern science from the earliest days.
It is important to bear in mind that insofar as it was grounded in these terms, Cartesian dualism was a respectable scientific theory, proven wrong (in ways that are often misunderstood), but that is the common fate of respectable theories.

The background is the so-called “mechanical philosophy” – mechanical science in modern terminology. This doctrine, originating with Galileo and his contemporaries, held that the world is a machine, operating by mechanical principles, much like the remarkable devices that were being constructed by skilled artisans of the day and that stimulated the scientific imagination much as computers do today; devices with gears, levers, and other mechanical components, interacting through direct contact with no mysterious forces relating them. The doctrine held that the entire world is similar: it could in principle be constructed by a skilled artisan, and was in fact created by a super-skilled artisan. The doctrine was intended to replace the resort to “occult properties” on the part of the neoscholastics: their appeal to mysterious sympathies and antipathies, to forms flitting through the air as the means of perception, the idea that rocks fall and steam rises because they are moving to their natural place, and similar notions that were mocked by the new science.

The mechanical philosophy provided the very criterion for intelligibility in the sciences. Galileo insisted that theories are intelligible, in his words, only if we can “duplicate [their posits] by means of appropriate artificial devices.” The same conception, which became the reigning orthodoxy, was maintained and developed by the other leading figures of the scientific revolution: Descartes, Leibniz, Huygens, Newton, and others.

Today Descartes is remembered mainly for his philosophical reflections, but he was primarily a working scientist and presumably thought of himself that way, as his contemporaries did. His great achievement, he believed, was to have firmly established the mechanical philosophy, to have shown that the world is indeed a machine, that the phenomena of nature could be accounted for in mechanical terms in the sense of the science of the day. But he discovered phenomena that appeared to escape the reach of mechanical science. Primary among them, for Descartes, was the creative aspect of language use, a capacity unique to humans that cannot be duplicated by machines and does not exist among animals, which in fact were a variety of machines, in his conception.

As a serious and honest scientist, Descartes therefore invoked a new principle to accommodate these non-mechanical phenomena, a kind of creative principle. In the substance philosophy of the day, this was a new substance, res cogitans, which stood alongside of res extensa. This dichotomy constitutes the mind-body theory in its scientific version. Then followed further tasks: to explain how the two substances interact and to devise experimental tests to determine whether some other creature has a mind like ours. These tasks were undertaken by Descartes and his followers, notably Géraud de Cordemoy; and in the domain of language, by the logician-grammarians of Port Royal and the tradition of rational and philosophical grammar that succeeded them, not strictly Cartesian but influenced by Cartesian ideas.

All of this is normal science, and like much normal science, it was soon shown to be incorrect. Newton demonstrated that one of the two substances does not exist: res extensa. The properties of matter, Newton showed, escape the bounds of the mechanical philosophy. To account for them it is necessary to resort to interaction without contact. Not surprisingly, Newton was condemned by the great physicists of the day for invoking the despised occult properties of the neo-scholastics. Newton largely agreed. He regarded action at a distance, in his words, as “so great an Absurdity, that I believe no Man who has in philosophical matters a competent Faculty of thinking, can ever fall into it.” Newton however argued that these ideas, though absurd, were not “occult” in the traditional despised sense. Nevertheless, by invoking this absurdity, we concede that we do not understand the phenomena of the material world. To quote one standard scholarly source, “By `understand’ Newton still meant what his critics meant: `understand in mechanical terms of contact action’.”

It is commonly believed that Newton showed that the world is a machine, following mechanical principles, and that we can therefore dismiss “the ghost in the machine,” the mind, with appropriate ridicule. The facts are the opposite: Newton exorcised the machine, leaving the ghost intact. The mind-body problem in its scientific form did indeed vanish as unformulable, because one of its terms, body, does not exist in any intelligible form. Newton knew this very well, and so did his great contemporaries.

John Locke wrote that we remain in “incurable ignorance of what we desire to know” about matter and its effects, and no “science of bodies [that provides true explanations is] within our reach.” Nevertheless, he continued, he was “convinced by the judicious Mr. Newton’s incomparable book, that it is too bold a presumption to limit God’s power, in this point, by my narrow conceptions.” Though gravitation of matter to matter is “inconceivable to me,” nevertheless, as Newton demonstrated, we must recognize that it is within God’s power “to put into bodies, powers and ways of operations, above what can be derived from our idea of body, or can be explained by what we know of matter.” And thanks to Newton’s work, we know that God “has done so.” The properties of the material world are “inconceivable to us,” but real nevertheless. Newton understood the quandary. For the rest of his life, he sought some way to overcome the absurdity, suggesting various possibilities, but not committing himself to any of them because he could not show how they might work and, as he always insisted, he would not “feign hypotheses” beyond what can be experimentally established.

Replacing the theological with a cognitive framework, David Hume agreed with these conclusions. In his history of England, Hume describes Newton as “the greatest and rarest genius that ever arose for the ornament and instruction of the species.” His most spectacular achievement was that while he “seemed to draw the veil from some of the mysteries of nature, he shewed at the same time the imperfections of the mechanical philosophy; and thereby restored [Nature’s] ultimate secrets to that obscurity, in which they ever did and ever will remain.”

As the import of Newton’s discoveries was gradually assimilated in the sciences, the “absurdity’ recognized by Newton and his great contemporaries became scientific common sense. The properties of the natural world are inconceivable to us, but that does not matter. The goals of scientific inquiry were implicitly restricted: from the kind of conceivability that was a criterion for true understanding in early modern science from Galileo through Newton and beyond, to something much more limited: intelligibility of theories about the world. This seems to me a step of considerable significance in the history of human thought and inquiry, more so than is generally recognized, though it has been understood by historians of science.

Friedrich Lange, in his classic 19th century history of materialism, observed that we have “so accustomed ourselves to the abstract notion of forces, or rather to a notion hovering in a mystic obscurity between abstraction and concrete comprehension, that we no longer find any difficulty in making one particle of matter act upon another without immediate contact,…through void space without any material link. From such ideas the great mathematicians and physicists of the seventeenth century were far removed. They were all in so far genuine Materialists in the sense of ancient Materialism that they made immediate contact a condition of influence.” This transition over time is “one of the most important turning-points in the whole history of Materialism,” he continued, depriving the doctrine of much significance, if any at all. “What Newton held to be so great an absurdity that no philosophic thinker could light upon it, is prized by posterity as Newton’s great discovery of the harmony of the universe!”

Similar conclusions are commonplace in the history of science. In the mid-twentieth century, Alexander Koyré observed that Newton demonstrated that “a purely materialistic pattern of nature is utterly impossible (and a purely materialistic or mechanistic physics, such as that of Lucretius or of Descartes, is utterly impossible, too)”; his mathematical physics required the “admission into the body of science of incomprehensible and inexplicable `facts’ imposed up on us by empiricism,” by what is observed and our conclusions from these observations.

With the disappearance of the scientific concept of body (material, physical, etc.), what happens to the “second substance,” res cogitans/mind, which was left untouched by Newton’s startling discoveries? A plausible answer was suggested by John Locke, also within the reigning theological framework. He wrote that just as God added to matter such inconceivable properties as gravitational attraction, he might also have “superadded” to matter the capacity of thought. In the years that followed, Locke’s “God” was reinterpreted as “nature,” a move that opened the topic to inquiry. That path was pursued extensively in the years that followed, leading to the conclusion that mental processes are properties of certain kinds of organized matter. Restating the fairly common understanding of the time, Charles Darwin, in his early notebooks, wrote that there is no need to regard thought, “a secretion of the brain,” as “more wonderful than gravity, a property of matter” – all inconceivable to us, but that is not a fact about the external world; rather, about our cognitive limitations.

It is of some interest that all of this has been forgotten, and is now being rediscovered. Nobel laureate Francis Crick, famous for the discovery of DNA, formulated what he called the “astonishing hypothesis” that our mental and emotional states are “in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” In the philosophical literature, this rediscovery has sometimes been regarded as a radical new idea in the study of mind. To cite one prominent source, the radical new idea is “the bold assertion that mental phenomena are entirely natural and caused by the neurophysiological activities of the brain.” In fact, the many proposals of this sort reiterate, in virtually the same words, formulations of centuries ago, after the traditional mind-body problem became unformulable with Newton’s demolition of the only coherent notion of body (or physical, material, etc.). For example, 18th century chemist/philosopher Joseph Priestley’s conclusion that properties “termed mental” reduce to “the organical structure of the brain,” stated in different words by Locke, Hume, Darwin, and many others, and almost inescapable, it would seem, after the collapse of the mechanical philosophy that provided the foundations for early modern science, and its criteria of intelligibility.

The last decade of the twentieth century was designated “the Decade of the Brain.” In introducing a collection of essays reviewing its results, neuroscientist Vernon Mountcastle formulated the guiding theme of the volume as the thesis of the new biology that “Things mental, indeed minds, are emergent properties of brains, [though] these emergences are…produced by principles that… we do not yet understand” – again reiterating eighteenth century insights in virtually the same words.

The phrase “we do not yet understand,” however, should strike a note of caution. We might recall Bertrand Russell’s observation in 1927 that chemical laws “cannot at present be reduced to physical laws.” That was true, leading eminent scientists, including Nobel laureates, to regard chemistry as no more than a mode of computation that could predict experimental results, but not real science. Soon after Russell wrote, it was discovered that his observation, though correct, was understated. Chemical laws never would be reducible to physical laws, as physics was then understood. After physics underwent radical changes, with the quantum-theoretic revolution, the new physics was unified with a virtually unchanged chemistry, but there was never reduction in the anticipated sense.

There may be some lessons here for neuroscience and philosophy of mind. Contemporary neuroscience is hardly as well-established as physics was a century ago. There are what seem to me to be cogent critiques of its foundational assumptions, notably recent work by cognitive neuroscientists C.R. Gallistel and Adam Philip King. The common slogan that study of mind is neuroscience at an abstract level might turn out to be just as misleading as comparable statements about chemistry and physics ninety years ago. Unification may take place, but that might require radical rethinking of the neurosciences, perhaps guided by computational theories of cognitive processes, as Gallistel and King suggest.

The development of chemistry after Newton also has lessons for neuroscience and cognitive science. The 18th century chemist Joseph Black recommended that “chemical affinity be received as a first principle, which we cannot explain any more than Newton could explain gravitation, and let us defer accounting for the laws of affinity, till we have established such a body of doctrine as he has established concerning the laws of gravitation.” The course Black outlined is the one that was actually followed as chemistry proceeded to establish a rich body of doctrine. Historian of chemistry Arnold Thackray observes that the “triumphs” of chemistry were “built on no reductionist foundation but rather achieved in isolation from the newly emerging science of physics.” Interestingly, Thackray continues, Newton and his followers did attempt to “pursue the thoroughly Newtonian and reductionist task of uncovering the general mathematical laws which govern all chemical behavior” and to develop a principled science of chemical mechanisms based on physics and its concepts of interactions among “the ultimate permanent particles of matter.” But the Newtonian program was undercut by Dalton’s “astonishingly successful weight-quantification of chemical units,” Thackray continues, shifting “the whole area of philosophical debate among chemists from that of chemical mechanisms (the why? of reaction) to that of chemical units (the what? and how much?),” a theory that “was profoundly antiphysicalist and anti-Newtonian in its rejection of the unity of matter, and its dismissal of short-range forces.” Continuing, Thackray writes that “Dalton’s ideas were chemically successful. Hence they have enjoyed the homage of history, unlike the philosophically more coherent, if less successful, reductionist schemes of the Newtonians.”

Adopting contemporary terminology, we might say that Dalton disregarded the “explanatory gap” between chemistry and physics by ignoring the underlying physics, much as post-Newtonian physicists disregarded the explanatory gap between Newtonian dynamics and the mechanical philosophy by rejecting the latter, and thereby tacitly lowering the goals of science in a highly significant way, as I mentioned.

Contemporary studies of mind are deeply troubled by the “explanatory gap” between the science of mind and neuroscience – in particular, between computational theories of cognition, including language, and neuroscience. I think they would be well-advised to take seriously the history of chemistry. Today’s task is to develop a “body of doctrine” to explain what appear to be the critically significant phenomena of language and mind, much as chemists did. It is of course wise to keep the explanatory gap in mind, to seek ultimate unification, and to pursue what seem to be promising steps towards unification, while nevertheless recognizing that as often in the past, unification may not be reduction, but rather revision of what is regarded as the “fundamental discipline,” the reduction basis, the brain sciences in this case.

Locke and Hume, and many less-remembered figures of the day, understood that much of the nature of the world is “inconceivable” to us. There were actually two different kinds of reasons for this. For Locke and Hume, the reasons were primarily epistemological. Hume in particular developed the idea that we can only be confident of immediate impressions, of “appearances.” Everything else is a mental construction. In particular, and of crucial significance, that is true of identity through time, problems that trace back to the pre-Socratics: the identity of a river or a tree or most importantly a person as they change through time. These are mental constructions; we cannot know whether they are properties of the world, a metaphysical reality. As Hume put the matter, we must maintain “a modest skepticism to a certain degree, and a fair confession of ignorance in subjects, that exceed all human capacity” – which for Hume includes virtually everything beyond appearances. We must “refrain from disquisitions concerning their real nature and operations.” It is the imagination that leads us to believe that we experience external continuing objects, including a mind or self. The imagination, furthermore, is “a kind of magical faculty in the soul, which…is inexplicable by the utmost efforts of human understanding,” so Hume argued.

A different kind of reason why the nature of the world is inconceivable to us was provided by “the judicious Mr. Newton,” who apparently was not interested in the epistemological problems that vexed Locke and Hume. Newton scholar Andrew Janiak concludes that Newton regarded such global skepticism as “irrelevant – he takes the possibility of our knowledge of nature for granted.” For Newton, “the primary epistemic questions confronting us are raised by physical theory itself.” Locke and Hume, as I mentioned, took quite seriously the new science-based skepticism that resulted from Newton’s demolition of the mechanical philosophy, which had provided the very criterion of intelligibility for the scientific revolution. That is why Hume lauded Newton for having “restored [Nature’s] ultimate secrets to that obscurity, in which they ever did and ever will remain.”

For these quite different kinds of reasons, the great figures of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment believed that there are phenomena that fall beyond human understanding. Their reasoning seems to me substantial, and not easily dismissed. But contemporary doctrine is quite different. The conclusions are regarded as a dangerous heresy. They are derided as “the new mysterianism,” a term coined by philosopher Owen Flanagan, who defined it as “a postmodern position designed to drive a railroad spike through the heart of scientism.” Flanagan is referring specifically to explanation of consciousness, but the same concerns hold of mental processes in general.

The “new mysterianism” is compared today with the “old mysterianism,” Cartesian dualism, its fate typically misunderstood. To repeat, Cartesian dualism was a perfectly respectable scientific doctrine, disproven by Newton, who exorcised the machine, leaving the ghost intact, contrary to what is commonly believed.

The “new mysterianism,” I believe, is misnamed. It should be called “truism” — at least, for anyone who accepts the major findings of modern biology, which regards humans as part of the organic world. If so, then they will be like all other organisms in having a genetic endowment that enables them to grow and develop to their mature form. By simple logic, the endowment that makes this possible also excludes other paths of development. The endowment that yields scope also establishes limits. What enables us to grow legs and arms, and a mammalian visual system, prevents us from growing wings and having an insect visual system.

All of this is indeed truism, and for non-mystics, the same should be expected to hold for cognitive capacities. We understand this well for other organisms. Thus we are not surprised to discover that rats are unable to run prime number mazes no matter how much training they receive; they simply lack the relevant concept in their cognitive repertoire. By the same token, we are not surprised that humans are incapable of the remarkable navigational feats of ants and bees; we simply lack the cognitive capacities, though we can sometimes duplicate their feats with sophisticated instruments. The truisms extend to higher mental faculties. For such reasons, we should, I think, be prepared to join the distinguished company of Newton, Locke, Hume and other dedicated mysterians.

For accuracy, we should qualify the concept of “mysteries” by relativizing it to organisms. Thus what is a mystery for rats might not be a mystery for humans, and what is a mystery for humans is instinctive for ants and bees.

Dismissal of mysterianism seems to me one illustration of a widespread form of dualism, a kind of epistemological and methodological dualism, which tacitly adopts the principle that study of mental aspects of the world should proceed in some fundamentally different way from study of what are considered physical aspects of the world, rejecting what are regarded as truisms outside the domain of mental processes. This new dualism seems to me truly pernicious, unlike Cartesian dualism, which was respectable science. The new methodological dualism, in contrast, seems to me to have nothing to recommend it.

Far from bewailing the existence of mysteries-for-humans, we should be extremely grateful for it. With no limits to growth and development, our cognitive capacities would also have no scope. Similarly, if the genetic endowment imposed no constraints on growth and development of an organism it could become only a shapeless amoeboid creature, reflecting accidents of an unanalyzed environment, each quite unlike the next. Classical aesthetic theory recognized the same relation between scope and limits. Without rules, there can be no genuinely creative activity, even when creative work challenges and revises prevailing rules.

Contemporary rejection of mysterianism – that is, truism – is quite widespread. One recent example that has received considerable attention is an interesting and informative book by physicist David Deutsch. He writes that potential progress is “unbounded” as a result of the achievements of the Enlightenment and early modern science, which directed science to the search for best explanations. As philosopher/physicist David Albert expounds his thesis, “with the introduction of that particular habit of concocting and evaluating new hypotheses, there was a sense in which we could do anything. The capacities of a community that has mastered that method to survive, and to learn, and to remake the world according to its inclinations, are (in the long run) literally, mathematically, infinite.”

The quest for better explanations may well indeed be infinite, but infinite is of course not the same as limitless. English is infinite, but doesn’t include Greek. The integers are an infinite set, but do not include the reals. I cannot discern any argument here that addresses the concerns and conclusions of the great mysterians of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment.

We are left with a serious and challenging scientific inquiry: to determine the innate components of our cognitive nature in language, perception, concept formation, reflection, inference, theory construction, artistic creation, and all other domains of life, including the most ordinary ones. By pursuing this task we may hope to determine the scope and limits of human understanding, while recognizing that some differently structured intelligence might regard human mysteries as simple problems and wonder that we cannot find the answers, much as we can observe the inability of rats to run prime number mazes because of the very design of their cognitive nature.

There is no contradiction in supposing that we might be able to probe the limits of human understanding and try to sharpen the boundary between problems that fall within our cognitive range and mysteries that do not. There are possible experimental inquiries. Another approach would be to take seriously the concerns of the great figures of the early scientific revolution and the Enlightenment: to pay attention to what they found “inconceivable,” and particularly their reasons. The “mechanical philosophy” itself has a claim to be an approximation to common sense understanding of the world, a suggestion that might be clarified by experimental inquiry. Despite much sophisticated commentary, it is also hard to escape the force of Descartes’s conviction that free will is “the noblest thing” we have, that “there is nothing we comprehend more evidently and more perfectly” and that “it would be absurd” to doubt something that “we comprehend intimately, and experience within ourselves” merely because it is “by its nature incomprehensible to us,” if indeed we do not “have intelligence enough” to understand the workings of mind, as he speculated. Concepts of determinacy and randomness fall within our intellectual grasp. But it might turn out that “free actions of men” cannot be accommodated in these terms, including the creative aspect of language and thought. If so, that might be a matter of cognitive limitations – which would not preclude an intelligible theory of such actions, far as this is from today’s scientific understanding.

Honesty should lead us to concede, I think, that we understand little more today about these matters than the Spanish physician-philosopher Juan Huarte did 500 years ago when he distinguished the kind of intelligence humans shared with animals from the higher grade that humans alone possess and is illustrated in the creative use of language, and proceeding beyond that, from the still higher grade illustrated in true artistic and scientific creativity. Nor do we even know whether these are questions that lie within the scope of human understanding, or whether they fall among what Hume took to be Nature’s ultimate secrets, consigned to “that obscurity in which they ever did and ever will remain.”

Continuing creation

No thing, no time, only process continually becoming, Such pressure from behind! Creation from the source of the big bang, continuously, inexorably.

1024px-CMB_Timeline300_no_WMAPCredit NASA, modified by Ryan Kaldari

I am here with a vertex, a perspective. Anything can happen.everything is always everywhere. Wait and observe, then link observations together Generating memory and the three axes of extension (length breadth and height) and time and me. (Without memory I cease to exist.) Randomly the universe is built. By QED and the Law of Least Action Common events occur commonly.. Being conscious I can choose and have free will.. Something is observed by me, I did not create it, But I order it and remember it. Spacetime begins. It is always beginning, and ending. Just an eddy in the multiverse

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