The Secret Self

(A Tale of Two Worlds)
© 2004 James Naylor Watson

Jim Watson


The Secret Self
(A Tale of Two Worlds)

Jim Watson

INSIDE FRONT COVER The author at work, As seen by his daughter



This is a book about an ancient mystery that has occupied philosophers (including a few scientists, who, of course, are also philosophers in the strictest sense of the word) throughout recorded history. The mystery concerns the validity of the concept of the self – an expression that for some of us conveys the reality of our being, our sense of identity, our awareness of the world around us, our subconscious control of the marvellous processes that keep our bodies alive, and our powers of thought, speech and action. Others, meanwhile, regard the idea of the self as nothing more than a figment of the imagination, a “ghost in the machine”, as Gilbert Ryle put it. There is clearly no middle ground between these positions – the self as we shall be talking about it in these pages (language, as ever, is a huge obstacle) is either a feature of ‘the real world’ or it isn’t. The self has made many halting appearances on the stage of history. It has been thought of as the caveman’s dawning self-awareness in his far-off world, as Atman, the manifestation in the individual of the Ultimate Reality of the Hindu religion, as the Aristotelian ‘soul’ that has dominated Western thought for over 2000 years, as the ‘mind’ whose thinking provided Descartes with the certainty of his existence, as the complex, tripartite ‘personality’ postulated by Freud – and as the self more recently recognised as the participative observer of modern physics. It is only in the last of these roles that the self has finally appeared as an autonomous individual with whom the rational thinker can identify: in the others it has been seen essentially as an aspect or feature of the human being, loosely related, perhaps, to what we now think of as ‘consciousness ‘. It will already be obvious to the reader that I believe implicitly that the living self is a concrete reality, and that in my case it is the whole of me rather than merely a part. I also believe that it makes sense to think of individual members of other species as ‘selves’, because they can also be observed to exercise some degree of autonomy, whatever their physiological limitations. It seems to me that ‘physicalism’ (the popular philosophic position that holds that mental activities, like everything else in the real world, are merely physical processes), has actually compounded the difficulties of understanding the mystery we are addressing in this book. That position – which is, incidentally, the one that underwrites the pursuit of artificial intelligence – strikes me as completely sterile: the physical processes are there all right, but the real problem is to explain not how they work but what it is that makes them do so – and the physicalist philosophy cannot deal with that question. Any coherent explanation, moreover, will have to make sense for every species of living creature, including the vast majority that manage perfectly well without a cerebral cortex. A propos of what it is that initiates these processes, there is a nice American story about a worried student who approached his professor after listening to a lecture on the nature of reality. “Please tell me”, he begged, “Do I actually exist?”. The professor looked at him thoughtfully. “Who wants to know?”, he enquired. It seems to me that that answer, acknowledging the existence of our virtually unknown inner selves, provides a better starting point for our exploration than others that may be more familiar – the purely physiological approach, the various psychological theories, or the arguments based on religious beliefs. Whatever else we may be, we know perfectly well that we exist as separate autonomous selves – the real problem being to understand what that means – and, as the story suggests, we are aware that we have individual needs (the student sitting next to our worried friend, for example, may not have felt any need to find out whether he existed or not). We also know (though the matter doesn’t often arise in discussions about the self) that we are surrounded by uncountable myriads of other living organisms, most of which share large numbers of our genes and seem to cope with their needs at least as successfully as we do with ours.

If we are to feel confident in believing in the reality of the self, however, we must deal with the question of why so many distinguished thinkers are so passionately opposed to its existence. There are probably three main reasons for this. First of all, the real nature of the self is extremely difficult to recognise and describe because we are only dimly aware of the majority of the mental and physical processes that go on inside us – which, of course, is another way of saying that the problem is inextricably bound up with the much debated question of the nature of consciousness. We shall be distinguishing later in this preface the several ways in which we commonly use the word ‘consciousness’, but for the moment we shall define it as the self’s total awareness of itself and its surroundings. Consciousness in this sense includes not only the content of the conscious mind, but also the much greater amount of material that is stored and processed at subconscious levels. The thing that makes it so difficult to grasp the idea of the self – never mind to describe it – is that we cannot pin it down in our conscious minds. David Hume, searching his mind for evidence of a self, said: “I can never catch myself at any time, without a perception” – not recognising that the presence of those perceptions was actually the evidence he was seeking. Consciousness, in short, is not so much an item missing from our picture of the world as it is the self’s capacity to see the picture in the first place. The second reason for the lack of support for the concept of the self is that we have been accustomed to debate its existence – when we have done so at all – solely in terms of human consciousness; This has limited the scope of the discussion, at least since the fathers of the early Semitic Churches adapted the ideas of Aristotle to proclaim a special relationship for the human soul (but sadly, nothing similar for the rest of the living world) with the God who was to be worshipped and obeyed. For myself (and I suspect for many other people) I find it quite impossible to accept that I am not confronting a self of some kind when I look into the eyes of my dog – or, indeed, those of my daughter’s goldfish – which greatly widens the scope of the debate. The third – and probably the most important – reason why so many people reject the notion of the self is that any conclusions we may reach about its nature are bound to depend largely on our perception of the wider reality of which it is a part – in other words, on how we see the world as a whole – and contemporary Western views of that can hardly be described as ‘self friendly’! The prevailing Western paradigm of reality, in fact, is in some ways very old and tired, and a number of imaginative people now feel that it requires urgent revision. Most of them, unfortunately, are seeing the issue largely in terms of physical reality, and that is actually part of the problem. Our overall view of the real world (or of the real Universe, for that matter) is not simply a picture that we perceive with our ‘normal’ senses: it also embraces all kinds of abstract derivatives of our sensory experience – opinions, beliefs, theories and so forth – that are just as real to us as the elements of the concrete world to which they relate, and are often considerably more influential as determinants of our day-to-day behaviour. Abstract items, however, are not generally considered to be a respectable part of our view of reality, which also goes back well over 2000 years – to the theories of the Greek Atomists and their eventual development into a vision of a mechanistic world, firmly under the control of an external deity, that a human observer could ‘stand away from’ in order to study its separate parts ‘scientifically’. This picture of the world as an object and the observer as a detached subject in search of scientific ‘truth’ was hardly questioned until the 1920s, when the findings of both relativity theory and quantum mechanics confirmed, among other startling things, that the observer’s circumstances have a profound effect on his observations, and that he himself is an integral part of the system he is observing. This realisation, however, did little to persuade us to look beyond the sciences for a more balanced interpretation of our experience of living, and I believe, in fact, that the weaknesses in our Western attitude to reality today stem largely from our


failure to consider the great variety of ‘non-scientific’ information that fundamentally affects it, including our perceptions of the ontological nature of things, the validity of our knowledge about them, our value judgements, our images of ourselves, our attitudes towards other living creatures, and so on – matters that are usually discussed (if at all) under the general heading of metaphysics. Metaphysics, sadly, has acquired an evil reputation over the centuries, because the word is used loosely to cover all kinds of non-rational things, from religion to fortune-telling, and from spiritualism to magic. This is a great pity, because ‘authentic’ metaphysics is a practical and wholly rational business, using the same ‘scientific method’ as the sciences, but applying it to data obtained from within our own minds rather than from direct observation of the outside world. It seems to me, in fact, that any really complete picture of reality must reflect the findings of metaphysics as well as those of science, and, indeed, that we should risk incurring the wrath of the scientific community by treating both subjects as complementary parts of philosophy (which, in any case, is usually defined simply as ‘the pursuit of knowledge’). The scientific bias in our view of reality (which, incidentally, has never been shared in Hinduism and the other Vedic belief systems) has led to two major impediments to our understanding – one, the apparent physical incompatibility of the submicroscopic world of quantum theory with the large-scale ‘classical’ or relativistic world, and two, the unresolved philosophic argument about the nature of mind and consciousness. As these two impediments, moreover, are almost certainly interrelated, it is very sad that physicists and philosophers, for the most part, have long since ceased to talk constructively to one another – the philosophers regarding the physicists as dealing with only a part of reality, and the physicists seeing the philosophers as not dealing with it at all! (In this stalemate, as the reader will see, I am very much with the philosophers.) Our ability to comprehend the totality of our experience of reality is further limited by the exponential growth of knowledge in general and by the fragmentation that arises inevitably from academic specialisation, with the specialists being often no better able than the rest of us to join in the wider discussion. This is a particularly serious problem for anyone who wishes to study what it is that gives living organisms their unique status in the scheme of things, because the available evidence lies inconveniently on the boundaries between the disciplines of all sorts of interested parties – psychologists, psychoanalysts, physicians, biologists, neurophysiologists, physicists, philosophers, mathematicians, logicians, linguists and theologians, in addition to the large and growing number of people involved in one way or another with Artificial Intelligence. It occurred to me some years ago that it might be a useful thing for a non-specialist to attempt to put together a rough overview, in language comprehensible to the reasonably well-informed general reader, of what all these different disciplines have to say about the inner nature of the living organism in its environment, and this book is the result. The Secret Self, however, is not a textbook in the usual sense, being written in a fairly light-hearted and very personal style. It has endpapers drawn by my daughter, for example, and even an MRI scan of my brain! There is no reason, of course, why it should not be used as a textbook in any school or college where the ethos is to deliver holistic education, as distinct from providing learning in separate disciplines. Whatever its other features, I think it must be the only book available that discusses the tricky notion of the self and its relation to consciousness in the context of such disparate matters as the contrast between Eastern and Western attitudes to knowledge, the distinction between the concrete world we live in and our abstract perceptions of it, the wave/particle ambiguity that underlies the puzzles of quantum mechanics, the neurophysiology of the brain and the rest of the central nervous system, the celebrated mind/body conundrum, the degree to which self-awareness


may exist in other living organisms, the extent to which we can hope to develop intelligent machines – and, perhaps most importantly, the implications of all those things for moral behaviour. As for the book’s general approach, I believe that any writer who has the temerity to set out to discuss fundamental questions about ourselves and the world around us ought to try to utilise the specialised tools that have been developed by Western philosophers for such an examination. Epistemological and ontological discussions, however – when they take place at all these days – tend to focus in narcissistic fashion on their own internal affairs, rather than on being put to practical use, which is a pity, because they can be powerful aids to understanding, as I hope to be able to show in subsequent pages. I have started by sketching the historical development of human knowledge in order to try to establish a reasonably sound epistemological foundation for the somewhat contentious discussions that follow, including how the knowledge we obtain via our senses is stored, processed and employed – consciously and subconsciously – in our daily lives. I have then used simple ontological analyses to categorise some of the entities that make up our ‘real’ worlds, to distinguish the real concrete from the real abstract, and to clarify the nature of the material and non-material entities that crop up repeatedly in the book. I ought at this point to define and illustrate some of the ontological terms I have used above. Real entities exist in the real world in their own right, either as physical or as related mental phenomena. Fictional entities are also mental phenomena, but relate to entities that do not exist in the real world. Real concrete entities (or their effects) can be perceived by the senses – often by several people at the same time. Thus a chair and a magnetic field are both concrete entities (the magnetic field is non-material, like all forms of energy, but its effects are easily perceived). Real abstract entities (like a mental picture of a chair or a theory of magnetism) exist uniquely in the mind of a single ‘observer’, and cannot be shared by other people except insofar as the observer can communicate his ‘private’ experience of them. All abstract entities, of course, are non-material. The distinctions between the real concrete and real abstract worlds (and between material and nonmaterial entities, for that matter), are very rarely addressed in any field of knowledge, but they are so fundamental that to categorise reality on the basis of those distinctions is to do much more than merely to suggest another theory within the classical framework. We are actually approaching an ancient mystery from the standpoint of a completely new set of assumptions, which is equivalent to thinking within a new paradigm. I have proposed, therefore, that we refer to this ontological approach as the ‘Two Worlds’ paradigm (not to be confused, of course, with the so-called ‘Many Worlds’ interpretation of quantum mechanics), and I hope to show that this paradigm offers a framework for the fresh thinking about reality that some of us now feel to be urgently needed. I mentioned earlier that the two main impediments to the development of a better understanding of reality in Western cultures seem to be interrelated, and I think that the connection between them will become clear if we now consider each one in the light of the Two Worlds paradigm.

The Problem of the Nature of Reality The irrational nature of the submicroscopic world as it appears to emerge from quantum theory is almost universally accepted today for various reasons, but especially because the theory predicts practical events with such fantastic accuracy that the greater part of modern science and technology is now based upon it. The implications of the theory, however, make a few people (including me!) very uncomfortable, because the equations describing the fundamental ‘wave/particle’ ambiguity that appears to lie at the heart of quantum ‘events’ seem to lead to the staggering conclusion that


the world (and the whole Universe, for that matter) has no concrete reality except when someone is present to observe it. The Universe is held to consist only of an infinite number of wavefunctions (‘probability waves’, describing the evolutionary options available for each wave/particle), which ‘collapse’ when an observation is made, leaving only one of the probabilities to become a concrete reality. The ‘Copenhagen interpretation’ of quantum mechanics, as this conclusion is called, is somewhat similar to the “esse est percipi” enunciated nearly 300 years ago by the celebrated Bishop Berkeley, but the quantum theory seems more convincing to us today because of its sophisticated mathematical foundation – which also gives it its astounding predictive powers. The difficulties of reconciling quantum theory with relativity and other ‘classical’ physical theories worried even some of the brilliant people whose work had helped to lay its foundations. Albert Einstein himself never abandoned his belief in “a world of real objects”, and debated the implications of the Copenhagen interpretation with Niels Bohr for many years, while Erwin Schrödinger, the ‘father’ of wave mechanics, was never happy with some aspects of the ‘uncertainty’ implied by the theory. In spite of the results of the so-called ‘Bell-Aspect’ experiments, which are widely considered to support Bohr’s position, some physicists nowadays actually prefer another version of quantum theory which in a sense incorporates the Copenhagen interpretation. This is Hugh Everett’s ‘Many Worlds’ interpretation, which holds that the wavefunctions of the wave/particles concerned do not after all collapse when an observation takes place, but continue to exist in separate ‘worlds’ as future probabilities. What the observer sees as his ‘real’ world is the probability that he selects when he makes his observation, while other observers see different ‘real’ worlds (and exist in them) in a similar way. I believe that these intellectual gymnastics have emerged largely because the components we are dealing with at the submicroscopic level are so small that we cannot observe them directly, and we therefore have to rely on mathematical representations of them to help us to imagine their physical nature. And there are dangers here – it was Sir Arthur Eddington who said: “In physics everything depends on the insight with which ideas are handled before they reach the mathematical stage.” The interpretation of mathematical findings, moreover, is probably equally important, and I think that the Two Worlds paradigm helps us to see that the popular interpretations of quantum theory may still be open to question. The Universe of quantum wavefunctions, after all, is an abstract construct that cannot exist except in someone’s mind, and it is the components of that Universe, rather than those of the concrete ‘original’, that disappear when their wavefunctions are ‘collapsed ’ by an observer. The mathematics associated with the theory describes what the wave/particles do rather than what they are, and the Two Worlds paradigm reminds us that the entities that are manipulated in quantum theory – or, indeed, in any other theory – are purely symbols that should never be mistaken for the concrete realities whose behaviour they are chosen to describe. As for the pedigree of the mathematics itself, the Heisenberg and Schrödinger equations that underpin quantum mechanics are both based on mathematics developed by William Hamilton a century earlier to describe the behaviour of a wave and a particle at the same time – and it follows that the quantum equations based on his ‘Hamiltonians’ will always express the reciprocity of any pair of related variables to which they are applied (such as the position and momentum of a particle). There is nothing in the mathematics itself, in other words, to suggest that the ‘wave/particle’ is not relativistic in character, or that its ‘wavefunction’ has any concrete reality. The counterintuitive picture presented by quantum mechanics, therefore, may well be a misinterpretation of the nature of the events that take place at submicroscopic levels in the concrete world of our actual experience. It seems to me to be at least equally reasonable to conclude,


especially in the light of E=mc², that a ‘fundamental’ particle – whether photon, electron, proton or any other – can ‘flip’ under certain ambient conditions from ‘particle mode’ to ‘wave mode’ (or vice versa) without losing its relativistic character. I suggest, incidentally, that if we were to call all these submicroscopic entities ‘energons’ (a name with a nice Greek pedigree!) we could get rid of the wave/particle and matter/energy circumlocutions at a stroke, and perhaps help to put an end to the assertion that the world at those levels is not relativistic in character – which is one of the things that seems to make it so difficult to harmonise quantum and relativity theory. The energon, in short, may always remain a concrete entity – though in wave mode it becomes non-material – and is certainly not to be consigned to an abstract world just because it is too small to defend itself! This relativistic view of the energon, incidentally, fits in very comfortably with some of the interesting developments that have occurred in physics in the 75 years or so since quantum theory was formulated. ‘String theory’, for example, which suggests that the fundamental constituents of matter may be tiny (relativistic) vibrating strings whose different modes of vibration determine the structure of individual atoms, may well prove to be a key part of a ‘post quantum theory’ picture of the nature of reality. The notion of a relativistic submicroscopic world, moreover, is entirely compatible with affairs on the cosmic scale, where a relativistic Universe can usefully be seen as a ‘self determining system’ of the type envisaged by Ernst Mach – that is, one whose various components are maintained in dynamic equilibrium by the interaction of the forces between them, rather than by an external control such as the one implicit in the deterministic Aristotelian model. The idea that any really satisfactory theory of the nature of reality will have to be developed far beyond what we have at the moment, probably incorporating the phenomenon of consciousness in some way, has been reiterated several times in the last few decades, and this can be seen as supporting our belief that the two impediments we have highlighted are inextricably intertwined. Two of the most notable thinkers who pursued this idea are Geoffrey Chew, whose ‘bootstrap’ Universe contains no fundamental particles or fields, but consists only of interacting events, and David Bohm, who envisaged a Universe possessing an ‘implicate order’ and having both mind and matter as constituent elements.

The Problem of the Nature of Consciousness There seems to be no great difficulty in reconciling at least some of these radical ideas with quantum theory if we remember that the Two Worlds paradigm implies that we obtain our concrete experience in one world but do our theorising, so to speak, in another. I think it is worth repeating that I see our consciousness, in other words, not as a structural component of the concrete world, but rather as the human level of cognition – the living organism’s ability to be aware of itself and its surroundings and act accordingly. As we suggested earlier in this preface, we ought to make sure that we know precisely what we mean when we refer to some aspect of the problem of ‘consciousness’, because the word is commonly used to describe several quite different states of awareness. The first of these, which we can label Consciousness A, is what we might call a ‘species awareness’ – the total awareness, however simple, that can be regarded as typical of a given organism in normal circumstances. The human version of Consciousness A therefore embraces all the information contained in our conscious and subconscious minds, as well as the opinions, attitudes, beliefs and so forth that arise from that information, and the conscious and subconscious processes involved in dealing with it.


The second meaning of ‘consciousness’ that is relevant to our present purpose is the one that appears to correspond closely with the goals of the Artificial Intelligence movement, and refers to the workings (conscious as opposed to subconscious) of the cerebral cortex. We might call this Consciousness B, the limited state of human awareness concerned mainly with communication (the use of language), reasoning (the use of logic) and computation (the use of mathematics) – in other words, with what have come to be called ‘computational’ activities. Because Consciousness B does not include subconscious activities, it is only a part of Consciousness A. A third way in which we use the same word (Consciousness C) is to distinguish the waking state of people or animals from sleep, coma and the like. And this is not a trivial meaning, because, as we shall see in Chapter 3, the distinction is intimately related to our developing understanding (from the findings of neurophysiology) of the deep-seated mechanisms that keep our bodies alive. My contention, therefore (which is supported later in this book by a good deal of psychological, biological and neurophysiological evidence) is that every living creature can be regarded as being (not having) a non-material but autonomous self whose concrete nature can be confirmed on wholly rational grounds by observing its effects on the world around it. Most of the activities that are indicative of life, moreover (whether in human beings or in less complex organisms), do not require any appreciable assistance from a cerebral cortex. My own self, for example, is occupied most of the time in doing things that involve little or none of my conscious attention. It carries out, almost effortlessly, a host of semi-automatic actions such as breathing or riding a bicycle, and it controls, entirely without my knowledge, the complex neuroendocrine processes that keep my body alive (most of which are managed via the older, more ‘primitive’ structures of my nervous system, which bear a ‘family resemblance’ to the nervous systems of many less differentiated organisms). When René Descartes, early in the 17th century, suggested the famous ‘mind and matter’ dichotomy that is now part of what is usually called ‘Cartesian dualism’, he equated ‘mind’ with an incorporeal ‘thinking substance’ that was capable of existing without a body, and could respond to events with a subtlety that was beyond the capabilities of other animals. He was never able, however, to explain how a pure thinking mind could experience bodily sensations, and this, of course, is simply a re-statement of the insoluble mind/body problem that has haunted philosophy for centuries. Moreover, his preoccupation with thinking – which actually plays a relatively minor part in the overall management of our lives – has been an unhelpful feature of most of the theories of mind (or consciousness) that have emerged since his day. I believe that here again the Two Worlds paradigm comes to our rescue. When I (a concrete self) think about what I am, the thing that appears in my conscious mind is no more than an abstract ‘self image.’ All my thoughts, in fact, are abstract entities, and as such cannot interact directly with my body – or, indeed, with any other elements of the concrete world. The issue, moreover, is further complicated by the fact that what we call ‘the mind’ is itself an abstract entity, and one that is usually not defined, so that a good deal of confusion exists around what we mean by the mind in relation to the self and the brain. The easiest way to deal with that part of the problem seems to me to be to regard the brain (together with the rest of the central nervous system) essentially as a physical ‘apparatus’ that is under the control of the autonomous self. This then allows us to use ‘mind’ to mean the several closely related abstract things for which we actually use the word in our everyday speech – the self’s capacity for awareness (“She has a brilliant mind”) and the content or state of that capacity (“His mind is full of nonsense”, “My mind is made up”). On this analysis it seems fairly clear that whatever it is that is moving my limbs, and interacting in other ways with the world around me, it certainly isn’t my mind! The real actor in the ancient


mind/body drama, beyond question, can only be my concrete autonomous self, which sends subconscious signals to the brain that initiate conscious thought and/or conscious or subconscious action (including speech). In other words, conscious thought is not the instigator of bodily action, but is part of the output of the concrete self that controls every aspect of our daily lives – the same self that “wanted to know” in the story at the beginning of this Preface. There has never been any doubt, in fact, about the existence of the living self – only about its nature. There is no ‘ghost in the machine’ – the ‘machine’ is actually the (material) bodily instrument of the non-material self! The self, therefore, has to be thought of as something external to the material body, though not in the spatial sense. In the spatial sense it does ‘operate’ within the body, but as a sort of ‘owneroccupier’ rather than as an integral part of it. We have evidence, in fact, that it can sometimes leave the body temporarily as well as departing when the body dies. It seems to me that the case for a concrete but non-material self is entirely consistent with everything we know about the physiology and behaviour of our own species and of the vast armies of living things with which we share our planet. The logical implication – which will certainly be fiercely rejected in many quarters – is that the selves of all living organisms are actually autonomous individual manifestations of something with the general character of a ‘global self’, existing independently of their bodies but interacting with the material world through their individual sensory capabilities. The idea of a global or universal ‘awareness’ has surfaced many times and in many forms, from the ‘great spirit’ of the ancient animistic belief systems and the Brahman of the Vedic religions to more modern ideas such as Hegel’s Geist, Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’, De Chardin’s ‘nöosphere’, Bergson’s ‘élan vital ’ and Lovelock’s ‘Gaia hypothesis.’ My ‘global self’, however, is none of those things – not a ‘supreme being’, not a goal-directed spirit (unless the goal, perhaps, is learning) and not a vestigial universal memory. It is something that activates not only the human animal, but also the rest of the living world, influencing (and being influenced by) the selfinterested actions of its individual ‘satellites’. The idea of a global entity should not be too lightly dismissed – it may be that it persists so stubbornly in practically every culture on Earth because there have always been some people (and animals) who can sense the activity of such an entity, if only dimly, at a subliminal level. It seems likely, to take the idea one step further, that an individual member of such a global community might be able to make some measure of direct contact with others – at least with some of its own kind – and in some cases might even be aware of its own ‘centrality’ in the scheme of things. This possibility echoes the unique perspective of the individual observer in Einstein’s relativity theory, and suggests that such an organism might see others as extensions of itself, which could have very interesting secular implications for moral behaviour. I have in fact suggested a new ‘Extended Self Imperative’ in Chapter 5 as an alternative to the ‘Categorical Imperative’ of Immanuel Kant. Such metaphysical excursions have usually been regarded by scientific theorists as a waste of time, though mercifully there have always been a few towering exceptions – people like Ernst Mach, Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger – whose horizons extended beyond the purely scientific. We badly need to see the connections between science and metaphysics today, and I have tried hard to make some of those connections in this book. I hope that the rather journalistic notion of the ‘secret’ self will have some appeal, and that the ‘Two Worlds’ paradigm will offer a useful framework in which to reconsider a few of the hoary old problems of philosophy. I'm not sure that the book contains many answers, but I hope that it may at least raise a few new questions!
Jim Watson, Ashington, West Sussex, February 2002 – August 2004.


Table of Contents
1 One More Time - What Is Philosophy?..................................................................................1 The Unknown Philosophers .......................................................................................................3 Early Records .............................................................................................................................5 The Athenians and After ............................................................................................................7 Lost World..................................................................................................................................9 Other Perspectives....................................................................................................................10 Two Hurdles.............................................................................................................................12 Knowledge in Order .................................................................................................................12 The Absentees ..........................................................................................................................15 Return to Metaphysics..............................................................................................................20 2 Being and Knowing in the Real World.................................................................................21 Time for a New Paradigm? ......................................................................................................25 Thinking In Two Worlds..........................................................................................................28 Away with the Old… ...............................................................................................................30 Changing Truths.......................................................................................................................31 Matter and Energy....................................................................................................................32 Uncertain World.......................................................................................................................33 The Mystery Remains ..............................................................................................................35 The Struggle to Understand......................................................................................................36 The Field and the Void.............................................................................................................38 Enter the ‘Energon’!.................................................................................................................40 Einstein Uneasy........................................................................................................................42 Cat in a Hot Tin Box!...............................................................................................................43 The Common Thread ...............................................................................................................45 Uncertainty Rules, OK? ...........................................................................................................47 Strings and Superstrings...........................................................................................................48 Bootstrap and Variations..........................................................................................................49 Another Ontology! ...................................................................................................................50 The Eastern Perspective ...........................................................................................................52 Paths to the Absolute................................................................................................................52 Twin Realities ..........................................................................................................................54 Forces at Work .........................................................................................................................55 A Little Knowledge…..............................................................................................................55 Mach and His ‘All’...................................................................................................................56 Freedom or Illusion? ................................................................................................................58 The Self in Two Worlds ...........................................................................................................60 3 The ‘Secret’ Self .....................................................................................................................63 Searching for the Self...............................................................................................................63 The Swiss Connection!.............................................................................................................65 ‘Consciousness’ and the Self....................................................................................................66 The Behavioural Scene.............................................................................................................67 Cognition for All!.....................................................................................................................68 It Depends What You Mean.....................................................................................................69 The Inside Story .......................................................................................................................70


The ‘Open’ Self........................................................................................................................72 Living and Learning .................................................................................................................74 Self, Mind and Body ................................................................................................................76 Neurons at Work ......................................................................................................................77 The Endocrine Scene................................................................................................................79 The Power House .....................................................................................................................80 Division of Labour ...................................................................................................................85 In a Nutshell .............................................................................................................................88 Flesh on the Bones ...................................................................................................................89 Calls to Action! ........................................................................................................................92 Mind/Body Revisited ...............................................................................................................94 Needles in Haystacks! ..............................................................................................................96 Living… ...................................................................................................................................98 …and Dreaming .......................................................................................................................99 Out of Nowhere!.....................................................................................................................100 The Intelligent Self.................................................................................................................101 Artificial Selves? ....................................................................................................................102 The Self in Embryo ................................................................................................................103 Knowing and Doing ...............................................................................................................105 Through a Glass Darkly… .....................................................................................................106 …And Then Face to Face! .....................................................................................................108 A World of ‘Selves’ ...............................................................................................................109 4 Inside - Looking Out!...........................................................................................................111 East is East… .........................................................................................................................113 …and West is West!...............................................................................................................113 The Other Internet ..................................................................................................................115 Watching You Watching Me?................................................................................................116 Exploring the ‘Global Self’ ....................................................................................................117 A ‘Feelings’ Network? ...........................................................................................................119 The Self Disembodied!...........................................................................................................120 Undiscovered Country............................................................................................................121 Déjà Vu?.................................................................................................................................121 5 Living in Two Worlds ..........................................................................................................123 One More Time…!.................................................................................................................124 Self Knowledge ......................................................................................................................125 The Covered Self....................................................................................................................127 The Quiet Mind ......................................................................................................................128 ‘Fitting In’ ..............................................................................................................................130 The ‘Relativistic’ Self ............................................................................................................132 Another Imperative?...............................................................................................................134 Old Problems - New Look .....................................................................................................135 The Sociopolitical Dimension................................................................................................138 The Search for Justice ............................................................................................................141 The Aesthetic Self ..................................................................................................................144 An ‘Extended’ Future.............................................................................................................146 Envoi ...............................................................................................................................................147


APPENDIX I ..................................................................................................................................150 Acknowledgements ........................................................................................................................151 Index................................................................................................................................................153



One More Time - What Is Philosophy?

This is another book about the human condition – about what we are and how we relate to the world around us. In other words, it is another attempt to explore a fundamental mystery that has preoccupied philosophers since the earliest times. The word ‘philosophy’, meaning ‘love of wisdom’ in the original Greek, is now usually defined as ‘the pursuit of knowledge.’ This is a nice definition, separating the pursuit from the knowledge (or the process from the content, as the psychologists would say), and conjuring up the romantic – if rather hackneyed – picture of the philosopher sitting alone in his cell, surrounded by his books and struggling to make sense of his existence.

The philosopher as seen in Western cultures. Albertus Magnus (1206 - 1280) wrote extensively on science, theology and philosophy, and was one of the teachers of St. Thomas Aquinas.

We ought to remember right at the beginning, however, that not all philosophers are pursuing the same kind of knowledge. Like the rest of us, their aspirations are heavily influenced by their backgrounds. Over the years, indeed, the title ‘philosopher’ has been applied freely to scientists, metaphysicians, mathematicians, theologians and specialists from many other disciplines, to say nothing of those who (like the present writer) are quite properly classed as enthusiastic amateurs. Not all philosophy, either, traces its ancestry back to the justly celebrated Milesian Greek thinkers who pioneered, around 550 BCE, what we now regard as the Western rational tradition. Millions of people in Eastern countries today adhere to belief systems rooted in the Hindu mythology that developed in India many centuries earlier, and regard the acquisition of knowledge in quite a different light. Mahayana Buddhism, to take one example, distinguishes absolute knowledge, obtainable only through direct mystical experience, from relative knowledge, which is the (inferior) practical kind that most of us require for everyday living.


The stereotype of the Eastern philosopher, too, is very different from that of his Western counterpart: he tends to be withdrawn, ascetic, and preoccupied with attaining a personal state of bliss, rather than with discussing the nature of reality or the distinguishing features of a moral life. There is much to be done in the busy modern world, however, besides achieving a personal nirvana, and many distinguished thinkers from Oriental countries – including a number of Nobel Prize winners – are engaged in enterprises conceived in the Western tradition, especially in the sciences. It is that tradition, moreover, that we shall be following in this book, partly because it is the rational (rather than the mystical) aspects of philosophy that we are anxious to explore, and partly because the former are the only ones that we feel competent to pursue! When we exert ourselves to think of philosophy as a subject for rational examination, rather than simply as an attitude to everyday living, our minds turn towards what we may know about the celebrated thinkers who have left their mark on it in the past. It is true, as we said above, that it is the Greeks of Miletus who are usually credited in the West with the first truly philosophical thinking about the nature of the world around them, and the step they took away from their predecessors was indeed a very long one. Their special contribution to world history was to challenge the religious and magical beliefs that were accepted at that time as explanations of the age-old mysteries surrounding the nature of reality and of human life. Their new and questioning attitude to the world was part of an amazing flowering of many aspects of Greek culture – especially in the arts – whose origins are not easy to disentangle. The Greeks of Mycenae had absorbed the once great and highly cultured civilisation of nearby Crete, as well as elements of Asian thought acquired mainly through their energetic trading activities – including what still remained of the comparatively advanced knowledge of mathematics and astronomy that had been assimilated in Mesopotamia and Egypt. But perhaps, in addition, the Greek religion and mythology of the time, with its vast array of wilful, immoral and hardly believable gods and goddesses, had simply come to appear slightly ridiculous to educated minds. Whatever the reasons for the change of climate, the habits of rigorous thinking and careful observation of natural phenomena that were to become the hallmark of these talented people combined to establish the foundations of Western philosophy – and in particular those of modern science – and also to precipitate a long, slow process of questioning orthodox religious beliefs that still continues today. As things have developed, however, science and philosophy themselves have not always sat happily together. Competition, rather than collaboration, has been the order of the day, with science usually running out the winner. The marvellous achievements of science and technology, and the brilliance of those who have made the great theoretical advances, have convinced most of us that the scientific model of the Universe that is widely accepted today is ‘the only one in town’ – though we have had a few major surprises in the last hundred years or so, and only time will tell whether or not Nature still has others up her sleeve! When it comes to our knowledge of ourselves, however, the picture is not so convincing. Every now and then we have to confront realities, both on the social and on the personal level, that science seems to find it hard to explain: we have uneasy feelings that something may be wrong with our picture of the world, and we feel strangely unfulfilled. Religion, for most people in the West, has increasingly failed to fill the ‘spiritual’ gap, and many strange and wonderful alternative theories and belief systems have sprung up in consequence. It seems pretty certain that our knowledge of these elusive aspects of ourselves is incomplete, and that science, moreover, can provide only some of the answers we seek. This, in a nutshell, is the incomplete picture that lies behind the writing of this book. If we are really going to be able to get to grips with the relationships between our ‘inner selves’ and the world around us, we are clearly going to have to ignore some of the boundaries that have been


drawn between science and philosophy – or, more precisely, between science and metaphysics, because that is where the real lack of comprehension lies. Our instinct, therefore, is to get back to basics, so to speak, and re-examine what we really mean by philosophy, in the hope of developing what the psychologists usually call a ‘world view’, expressed in rational terms. Such a view of the world, if it is to meet our requirements, will have to accommodate not only those aspects of our experience that are normally dealt with by the sciences, but also some, at least, that are not. Before we are finished, we shall clearly have to tackle virtually all of the classic philosophical problems – especially the nature of reality, the nature of the living self, the validity of what we take to be our knowledge of such things, and the basis of moral behaviour. We shall not be venturing into the territory of theology, however (in spite of the fact that many theologians have been thought of as distinguished philosophers), because our definition of philosophy restricts us to pursuing knowledge, which can be based only on data for which we have concrete – if not always material – evidence. Neither shall we be trying to find words for those concepts of Eastern philosophy that are said to be beyond expression (“The Tao that can be spoken is not the Tao”, as Lao Tzu wrote at the beginning of the Tao Te Ching). We shall hold on as firmly as we can to the idea that philosophy is really nothing more than our own thinking, and for that reason we feel that the most sensible way to start our journey may be to look back in time to see if we can understand how we have acquired the habits of thought that we regard as normal in the West today. We shall, of course, be re-visiting historical developments that have been catalogued many times before, but we may be seeing them this time from a slightly different point of view.

The Unknown Philosophers To begin with, it seems certain that the enduring questions that crop up over and over again in most philosophic discussions must have been asked many thousands of times before the ideas of the Milesians came to be recorded. The dimly sensed precursors of those issues must already have been present in the consciousness of our earliest ancestors as they confronted a mysterious – and often frightening – world perhaps half a million years ago. It is hard to believe that, as they foraged for food and shelter against the background of the incomprehensible and often violent forces of Nature, they would not begin to imagine unseen beings hidden in the surrounding trees, rocks and rivers, and believe them to be capable of good and bad actions. Looking at the skies above them, moreover, they would personify the blazing Sun and the cold and mysterious Moon rising and setting on their daily journeys among the stars. It is still possible in the 21st century, for some of us at least, to feel a momentary thrill of emotion in a dark forest or during a Solar eclipse, and one can easily imagine the gradual growth of beliefs of a magical nature and of patterns of behaviour aimed at acknowledging and propitiating all manner of unknown forces. As simple forms of language developed between members of the hunting group, and later within the tribe, some of the outstanding deeds and events of recent interest, together with reports of attempts to placate or otherwise influence natural forces, would be spoken of and to some extent remembered, and the seeds of religion and myth would have begun to take root in the tribal consciousness alongside the practical activities of finding food and making fire, clothing and tools. It will be important to us in later chapters to notice here that both the material and the ‘spiritual’ (for want of a better word) aspects of our ancestors’ requirements were now being catered for, at least in simple ways. As the centuries wore on, the developing awareness of these early people would begin to manifest itself in two alternating attitudes to life, which many centuries later would


culminate in two very different views of reality, coupled with two equally different concepts of the self. When food supplies and other physical comforts were good they would be inclined to see the things around them as them – as external objects and events separate from themselves but manageable, at least to some extent. When life was not going so well, however, especially if they were being threatened by forces beyond their understanding, they would be more inclined to see themselves and all the elements in their surroundings as us – occupants of an incomprehensible world in which the distinction between living and non-living things had disappeared in the face of the common danger. Their perceptions, in other words, would fluctuate between one world composed of things to be discovered, examined and used, and another more challenging world of which they themselves were actually a part, so that the two streams of thought that would eventually lead to the technological civilisations of the West on the one hand and the mystical cultures of the East on the other – together with their very different views of the nature of the self – would already have begun to emerge in embryonic form. Magical elements, meanwhile, would gradually begin to be aggregated into early religions, and animistic and totemistic beliefs were very well established in various parts of the world – especially in southern Africa, Australia and south-western Europe – in Upper Palaeolithic times. The most fascinating evidence we have, by and large, consists of the stunning French and Spanish cave paintings from Lascaux and Altamira, dated about 20,000 BCE, and those in the Grotte Chauvet, some of which were executed as much as 10,000 years earlier. Many of the widely distributed miniature Earth Mother goddess statuettes, such as the famous Venuses of Willendorf and Lespuges, are also dated around 30,000 BCE.

The Chauvet cave, in the Ardèche gorge in southern France, was discovered in 1994. Some of its marvellous rock paintings have been dated as far back as 30,000 BCE.

It seems highly probable, moreover, that oral legends and reports of ‘supernatural’ happenings would by now have begun to be incorporated into the ‘culture’ of the tribe, and that key individuals would gradually have become recognised as possessing special knowledge, and eventually special powers, in connection with supernatural affairs. With the advent of these shamans or priests, the structures of organised religion would have begun to develop, and local ‘gods’ would have appeared on the scene. Later, as tribes developed into larger social units, these minor gods would have been integrated in one form or another into the image of a greater god seen as common to all


the earlier tribal groupings, though the local gods would usually still have their special places in the hierarchy. Around 4000 BCE Mesopotamia and Egypt both had many settled towns and villages, and 1000 years later urbanisation had proceeded so far that the great city states of Sumeria, Assyria, and (subsequently) Babylon had been established, each having its king and great god, positioned at the head of a pantheon of the lesser gods who were still worshipped in the towns and villages that had now been absorbed into the state.

Impression made by a Sumerian cylinder seal, dated about 3,000 BCE, and used to authenticate legal and other documents imprinted on tablets of wet clay.

By about 1500 BCE we see the development of complex but fairly characteristic religious patterns in many of the civilisations of the ancient world: in Egypt the remains of the totemistic traditions of the Pre-Dynastic provinces along the Nile co-existed with the worship of the all-powerful Sun god Amun-Re and the cult of Osiris; Chinese religion was still widely based on the worship of dead ancestors, transformed by death into spirits who were believed to have tremendous power over the fortunes of their descendants; Hinduism was emerging from the integration of the ancient Vedic religion of the Aryan settlements along the Indus Valley with elements of Dravidic and other Indian traditions; Hebrew Monotheism, which was by then the principal surviving religion of Western Mesopotamia, was shortly to give rise to Judaism – the religion of Israel that had its origins in the Sumerian faith of ‘the house of Abraham’.

Early Records The period around the 6th century BCE saw cathartic changes in religious beliefs and observances in the Eastern as well as the Western world. Judaism, true to the Western Semitic tradition, enshrines a belief in an external Creator God who controls the Universe and is to be worshipped and obeyed, whereas Hinduism, stemming from Vedantism, is based on the worship of an Ultimate Reality (Brahman) which is inherent in everything in the Universe, animate and inanimate, and therefore exercises internal control. The distinction between the two conceptions of the self is now even clearer: the Semitic self, in essence, is expected to behave obediently in accordance with a predetermined (and widely accepted) set of Divine laws, while its Oriental counterpart is allowed to follow its own instincts (up to a point!) in response to the ebb and flow of the processes of the natural world of which it is seen to be an integral part. The trends that were occurring at roughly the same time in a number of Eastern cultures were mainly towards secularisation, associated with the emergence of charismatic leaders who had to a greater or lesser degree become disenchanted with established religion. Buddhism and Jainism, which originated during this period, are both related to Hinduism, though neither preserves the


theistic Hindu tradition. Confucianism and Taoism, which developed about the same time in China, both embody the essentially practical nature of the Chinese character, though they are very different in emphasis. Confucianism has developed essentially as a code of personal and social behaviour, rejecting some of the more barbarous surviving rituals of ancestor worship, while Taoism is much more a mystical belief system, based on following the patterns exhibited in the yin/yang polarities of the natural world, which in their turn follow the Tao (or Way). Taoism, like Buddhism, is highly sceptical of the value of rational thinking, and both systems are less concerned with religion in the strict theological sense than with helping the seeker after enlightenment to find his own way to approach the Ultimate Reality through direct mystical experience. Meanwhile, the challenges to religious thinking that were being offered by the early Greeks were proving to be very different in character from those that were emerging in India and China. The shadowy world in which the Greek gods and humans, as depicted in the ancient legends, played out their destinies in ambiguous and complex relationships with one another was beginning to be illuminated, at least in the urban centres, by a more questioning – and, above all, more rational – culture. The main preoccupations of the Greek intellectuals, moreover, were not so much with how the heroic figures of the past had lived their lives as with the nature of the world itself. One of the earliest theories – of which only a few written fragments remain – was that of Heraclitus of Ephesus, who presaged some of the ideas of modern physics, in a vein somewhat similar to that of Hindu mythology, by asserting that the whole of reality is in constant flux, arising from the balancing of opposites in a dynamic unity he called the Logos. He also mirrored modern thinking in his belief that the senses are incapable of perceiving the world as it really is.

Heraclitus (ca. 540-480 BCE)

This view of the fallibility of the senses was shared by Parmenides of Elea, who was also much concerned with the nature of reality and the validity of our knowledge about it, but his philosophy – surviving in what is the earliest recorded example of a systematic deductive argument – envisaged a world that was radically different from that of Heraclitus, existing like his as a unified and clearly defined whole, but being composed of a single unchanging and indestructible substance. Later attempts to reconcile the views of Heraclitus and Parmenides led to a compromise in which the underlying reality was held to consist of a number of unvarying substances whose relationships with one another were constantly altering to produce the changes that could be seen to be taking place in the world around us. From there, of course, it was a fairly short step to the atoms of Leucippus and Democritus, so named because they were conceived to be tiny uncuttable particles of matter, moving around in an infinite void under the influence of an external force – though the nature of that force, unfortunately, was never very clearly defined.


The Athenians and After The next important phase of Greek philosophy developed in Athens, where Socrates and the Sophists were largely responsible for shifting the primary emphasis of the debate from ontological questions about the nature of the world (how things are) to what we now call ethical ones – questions about the way human life should be lived. Plato and Aristotle, the greatest and widestranging of all the Greek thinkers, produced voluminous writings on many aspects of philosophy, but their most influential ideas, which gained wide currency through their famous Athenian schools, harked back to the theories of the Atomists. Plato held that the force that produces the motion of atoms must have mind, and postulated the existence of a ‘Demiurge’, a sort of craftsmandesigner of the Universe, while Aristotle envisaged a deterministic world in which everything stems from a ‘First Cause’ or ‘Prime Mover’ that ‘remains itself unmoved’ (though it was also a world in which the human being had a ‘soul’ as well as a body). The concept of an omnipotent external God controlling the workings of the Universe was now firmly rooted in Western philosophy, and was seized upon eagerly – along with the idea of a separate soul – by the leaders of the Christian Church. When Muhammad founded Islam – the other great Semitic religion – some 600 years later, he placed even greater emphasis on obedience to Allah and His word (as revealed to Muhammad and subsequently recorded in the Qur’an).

Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

Aristotle, whose wide-ranging interests included many aspects of science, also taught that the Earth sits motionless at the centre of what we would now call the Solar system, a concept subsequently developed by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy, in the 2nd century CE, into a geocentric model that served the Western world adequately until the early 16th century. At that time the Polish priest Nicholas Copernicus suggested – very cautiously, because of the heretical implications! – that it was more likely that the Earth moved around the Sun, and in the next hundred years or so evidence accumulated that he was right. The Italian Galileo Galilei and the German Johannes Kepler, equipped with the new telescopes, were able to show that the Copernican theory gave much better agreement with the observed movements of the planets than did the Ptolemaic one. In 1687, however, a scientific event of monumental importance occurred. It was in that year that the controversial English genius Isaac Newton published his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which contained a revolutionary theory of the way in which material objects – from heavenly bodies to the famous falling apple – exert forces upon one another and move accordingly through a fixed framework of space and time. Newton’s theory of ‘gravitation’ quickly rendered


the Copernican theory obsolete, and has continued to serve science with such precision that it enabled men to be landed on the Moon almost 300 years after it was published.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

It is sometimes thought that Albert Einstein’s relativity theories have replaced those of Newton, but that is only the case in situations involving bodies moving at or near the speed of light, when the differences between the predictions of the two sets of theories become significant. The theories, however, are based on very different premises. Einstein’s 1905 Special Theory of Relativity – actually anticipated a few years earlier by Henri Poincaré (see page 100) – rejected the Newtonian assumption that space and time provide an unchanging framework for the occurrence of physical events, proposing instead that they are experienced differently by each observer, depending on his position and relative motion. The Special Theory also produced the famous equation E=mc2, which expresses the equivalence of mass and energy, and was derived from the proposition that the speed of light would appear to be the same to any observer, whatever his circumstances.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)


There was one serious difficulty, however, with the Special Theory. It was not consistent with the fundamental principle of Newtonian physics that maintained that the gravitational attraction between two massive bodies was dependent on the distance that separated them. It followed from that principle that any change in that distance should produce an instantaneous change in the magnitude of the attractive force, and that clashed with the contention of the Special Theory that nothing in the Universe – including information – should be able to travel faster than light. Einstein worked very hard on this difficulty for a number of years, and in 1915, adopting the concept of a four-dimensional ‘space-time’ articulated in 1908 by Hermann Minkowski, published his General Theory of Relativity, demonstrating that if gravity, instead of being treated as a ‘classical’ force (one that follows Newton’s laws), is treated as a ‘curving’ or ‘warping’ of spacetime caused by the presence of the massive bodies in the immediate neighbourhood, the theoretical predictions give better agreement with observation. Bodies like the Earth or the Moon move along geodesic (shortest possible) lines in this space-time continuum, but their paths appear to us to be curved because they follow the warping. The General Theory also predicted that time itself should run more slowly in the vicinity of a massive body like the Earth, and this prediction has since been verified many times (and is in daily use all over the world in connection with such modern scientific developments as satellite-based navigation systems).

Lost World The picture of the world that was familiar to most educated people in Western countries up to – and even including – the time of Einstein’s revolutionary proposals thus had its origins 2500 years earlier in Greece. Science and the Judaic, Christian and Muslim Churches had all played a part in adapting the doctrines of Aristotle, themselves derived partly from the ideas of the Atomists, to reflect a world composed of particles of matter and created and controlled by an omniscient and omnipotent external God. But one insight of great importance had been lost right at the beginning of that long history – namely, that we ourselves are an integral part of our experience of reality. The world of Western thought was pictured as something the human observer could ‘stand away from’ to study its separate parts, and it was tacitly assumed, moreover, that he could do this without affecting the status quo. There was no room, in any case, for him to alter the course of history by exercising free will. Even Einstein, who had shown how the position and motion of an observer affects his observations, never really abandoned his belief in determinism – the doctrine that everything that happens is ‘caused’ by an earlier event – and in the existence of a God who had set the whole history of the Universe in motion at the time of its creation and had prescribed the laws that still govern its operation. The reductionist route of Western philosophy has never been followed in Hinduism, where the cosmos has always been seen as an indivisible whole, with the individual ‘self’ (Atman) as a manifestation of an all-pervading ‘Ultimate Reality’ (Brahman). There is comfort for the individual, of course, in the hope that the self can ultimately be united with Brahman, though from a Western point of view Hinduism and its derivative belief systems are open to the criticism that regarding the human condition as an endless cycle of suffering and rebirth can tend to deflect the believer from living life fully while on Earth. It is certainly true that most modern social and technical advances (together, of course, with their negative consequences) have been made within the Western philosophical paradigm, but it also has to be remembered that for the great majority of people who embrace Hinduism, or other belief systems with Vedic roots, there is a huge gulf between the formal content of their spiritual beliefs and the ways in which those beliefs – nurtured typically in the family setting – are adapted in practice to the rough-and-tumble of daily life.


The Western perception of the world as an object and the observer as a subject persisted as ‘received wisdom’ until the 1920s, when its validity was called into question by the findings of quantum mechanics. These confirmed, among other startling things, not only that the observer’s circumstances affect his observations but also that he himself cannot be divorced from the system being observed. This momentous discovery suggests that the instincts of our caveman may not have been so far from the mark all those centuries ago, when he thought of his world – especially the parts of it that he believed were alive like himself – as us! Nevertheless, the fact that the observer can observe anything at all illustrates a fundamental dichotomy that had been clearly and influentially expressed by René Descartes early in the 17th century – the separation of mind and matter that is part of what is usually referred to as ‘Cartesian dualism’. We shall be coming back to the views of Descartes in Chapter 3 (page 64), but for the moment we need only note that he tried to develop a comprehensive philosophy on the basis of the one thing of which he felt he could be completely certain – namely, that he must exist because he was aware of his own thinking. The crux of the whole ‘mind and matter’ problem (and, for that matter, that of the current debate about the nature of the subjective experience of ‘consciousness’, lies with the identification of the nature of the ‘self’ that has appeared in so many different guises in the pages of history – the Atman of the Vedic religions, the Semitic ‘soul’, the “thinking substance” of Descartes, the tripartite ‘personality’ of Freud and Jung (see page 65) and, eventually, the participative observer (above) as rediscovered by the findings of modern physics. Each of these concepts, after all, has emerged as an attempt to explain the nature of the same mysterious entity we are pursuing in these pages!

Other Perspectives One of the more tiresome things about discussing philosophical problems in Western cultures is that there are so many schools of thought that one has to choose (or one will surely be given!) a label to indicate one’s ‘academic’ affiliation. We should therefore do our best now to make our position clear. The approach we shall adopt in this book, though hopefully rational, is not to be thought of as rationalism, which is the view that the mind contains certain a priori knowledge – i.e. knowledge that is present from birth rather than derived a posteriori from experience. Neither is it any form of idealism, which is the family name for theories that assert that the ‘real’ world – in fact, the whole Universe! – exists only in our minds. Our position, as far as one can tell, appears to have little or nothing in common with logical positivism, nominalism, fictionalism, epiphenomenalism, anomalous monism, eliminative materialism, logocentrism or any of the rest of the astounding array of philosophical ‘schools’ that might have provided the family affiliations we seek. It is, however, related to empiricism, the school usually associated with the name of the English philosopher John Locke, which maintains that there actually is a real world ‘out there’, and that all knowledge comes in the first instance from sensory perceptions of it, integrated as they happen – if they are of sufficient importance – into the infinitely complex impression of it that already exists in the thinker’s mind. Are we then going to think of ourselves as empiricists for the purposes of our present investigations? Sadly, things are not so simple. Our declared aim in this book is to look at ourselves as well as at the world around us, and to do this properly we shall have to indulge in introspection – the activity of thinking hard about our beliefs, attitudes, feelings, aspirations and whatever else we can isolate from the constantly changing contents of our conscious minds. These things arise, after all, from our experience of the world, and are therefore considered to be a


legitimate source of data by some empiricists, though they are regarded as generally inadmissible by others. We shall be pursuing them energetically in this book, however, because, as we shall see, they also reflect the content of our subconscious minds, where the sensory stimuli that produce them are first detected and subsequently processed according to their nature and importance.

John Locke (1632-1704)

The data acquired by introspection are useful in two different ways – as evidence of what is in the mind of the thinker concerned, and as an indication of what may be typical of the thoughts of people in general, though the knowledge of ourselves that we can gain by examining our conscious minds will never be more than a small part of the vast store that lies hidden at subconscious levels. It is also possible that there may be material ‘in there’ that has not been acquired by the classical mechanisms of sensory experience: it is difficult not to be uncomfortably aware of the huge quantities of anecdotal ‘evidence’ from many different sources that suggest that some unusually sensitive people – and almost certainly some animals – are able to communicate with one another at what appear to be subliminal levels. This possibility, of course, is often treated with scorn, partly because no-one has yet succeeded in giving a convincing demonstration of such a thing under controlled conditions, but also, one suspects, because the idea is simply difficult to accept for people brought up in the Western scientific tradition. Watson’s Law, however (stated here for the first time!), says: “Subconscious processes cannot by definition be examined at conscious levels”, and we readily accept, after all, that there are many other strange things about living organisms that still defy explanation. It seems to the writer that it is lacking in the spirit of true scientific enquiry to adopt any philosophical stance that prohibits a priori the possibility that at least some awareness of the contents of one subconscious mind – especially feelings – can be transmitted to another without the use of any of the traditional five senses. These considerations, then, lead us to adopt a position that aims to be less restrictive than true empiricism in the matter of what sources of knowledge we can accept as legitimate – though, as we pointed out above, we cannot take refuge in either rationalism or idealism. It is not easy to think of an appropriate label for such a philosophy, but perhaps experientialism, a form of empiricism that ‘leaves the door open’ to every kind of experience, will serve until something better turns up (see page 110). With a bit of luck we shall not need such labels very often!


Two Hurdles This is probably a good moment to try to dispose of two difficulties that have haunted all seekers after knowledge throughout the centuries. The first arises directly from the seemingly innocent definition we quoted on page 1, the trouble being that the pursuit (the method or process used to examine the question in hand) and the knowledge (the substance or content of the question and its answer) can never be separated entirely from one another. As we have pointed out above, subatomic physics shows us quite clearly that the activities of the observer always distort the observations he is trying to make, and studies in psychology suggest the same thing – from a very different point of view. This seems to be an amazing and immutable ‘law of Nature’, when seen from the classical Western perspective, though our hypothetical caveman might not have been entirely surprised by it if only he had been able to conceive the idea! The problem, for the Western philosopher, leads to ambiguities even when he is thinking about apparently verifiable data from the external world (as in matters of science), but the difficulties are multiplied when he is looking inward for data – which, though existing only in his own mind, are equally valid as material for rational argument. He is then ‘thinking about thinking’, which obviously makes the separation of process and content even more difficult, besides getting philosophers a bad name! Another ever-present problem in philosophy stems from the stupefying complexity of the legacy of its past. As we said earlier, philosophers emerge from many different backgrounds, and they bring with them their idiosyncrasies, preoccupations and prejudices. The situation is not improved, either, by the way in which the subject is normally taught in our schools and colleges. The hapless beginner is usually required to study the convoluted, contradictory and often obscure thinking of those who have gone before him, and this sometimes produces disappointing results. Georg Hegel, one of the most influential philosophers of all time, said, famously: “Philosophy is the study of its own history” – but he neglected to add that approaching the subject in that way can be confusing, to say the least. The main interests of the great thinkers of the past have been very widely different, and the student who tries to follow them all soon acquires so much intellectual ‘baggage’ that he may no longer be able to keep comfortably in touch with his own priorities.

Knowledge in Order For our own part, since we regard philosophy as being concerned with the whole of human knowledge, we suspect that we shall make better progress with our present task if we start over again, so to speak, from first principles. Table 1 has been constructed with the object of providing an intellectual framework within which some of the many complexities that have grown ‘like Topsy’ in Western philosophy can be laid out and considered. It is based on a 19th century idea first enunciated by the French philosopher Auguste Comte, who founded what he called positivism, a school of thought which held that only the sciences were capable of providing insights of any quality for the development of society (theology and metaphysics both being considered by him to be useless – indeed downright dangerous – for practical tasks of such importance!). Comte arranged the ‘sciences’ of his day in the order mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology and sociology – this last being his own invention – and pointed out that in that order each of the disciplines in the sequence makes a contribution of knowledge to those that follow it, but not to those that go before.


Table 1: Spectrum of Human Thought

Sources of Data Sounds Axioms Concepts Observations of the External World

Activity Language Logic Mathematics Astronomy Physics Chemistry Geology Palaeontology Biology Anthropology Medicine Psychology Sociology Political Philosophy Ethics Aesthetics Self Knowledge Epistemology Ontology Theology Mythology

Description of Activity Means of Communicating Discipline of Thinking and Reasoning “ “ Number and Measurement Science of ‘Heavenly Bodies’ “ “ Matter and Energy “ “ Elements and Compounds Study of the Earth’s Crust “ “ Extinct Life Forms “ “ Living Things “ “ Man as an Animal “ “ Human Health “ “ the Human Mind “ “ Human Society “ “ Government “ “ Moral Conduct “ “ Beauty Exploration of Own ‘Identity’ Theory of Knowledge “ “ Being Expression of Religious Beliefs “ “ Historical Fiction

Classification ┐ ├ Instruments ┘ ┐ │ │ │ │ │ │ ├ │ │ │ │ │ │ │ ┘

Notes ┐ ├ Tautological ┘

Science (Uses Maths, Logic and Language) ┐ │ Elements of ├ Both Science │ and Metaphysics ┘


Metaphysics (Uses Logic and Language)

Introspection Introspection

Spiritual Search History Substitute

No Observed Data Data Nonexistent


Auguste Comte (1798-1857)

Comte’s idea – leaving aside his strictures on metaphysics – is extrapolated in Table 1 to cover key activities of modern Western thought, though of course many other academic disciplines, such as archaeology, history and engineering (to pick only a few at random) could be added – at the risk of obscuring the main point of the exercise. The most radical feature of the table – and one that may not be warmly received in some quarters! – is that it suggests that the whole of philosophy can usefully be regarded as a combination of science and metaphysics. This, in one sense, may look like a step backwards rather than forwards, because it is not so long since physics – and before that almost the whole of science – was known as ‘natural philosophy’. There is nothing in our present view of philosophy, however, that is not strictly in line with the definition of the subject we used on page 1, and that is surely not a bad start in a field that teems with disagreements and ambiguities. The alternatives to our suggestion are to regard philosophy as a part of science, which doesn’t really make much sense when one considers the problems of ethics or epistemology, or to dismiss the whole of philosophy as nothing more than meaningless nonsense – a proposition that may not be entirely without its supporters, in spite of the fact that to do so would be much the same thing as to dismiss the whole of human thought! The activities shown as part of philosophy in Table 1 form a ‘ladder’ of the type suggested by Comte, stretching all the way from astronomy to ontology. The only entry that may be unfamiliar is the one we have called ‘self knowledge’. We have used this label – in the absence of a better one – to describe what we are seeking when we ask ourselves questions like “Who am I?”, “What do I want to achieve in life?”, “How do I feel about abortion?”, “Do I believe in God?”, and so on, which are questions we find ourselves interested in when we are exploring our personal relationships, both mental and physical, with the world in which we live. Any answers we may have to such questions can only be found by introspection – by searching through the ragbag of facts, memories, aims, attitudes, beliefs, opinions, prejudices and so forth that can be found in our conscious minds. All those things have been built up over the years from our experiences, and, even if they have become distorted, feeble or confused in the meantime, they are still the raw material for our answers, and are part of the self knowledge we are seeking. It is necessary at this point, however, to make a very important distinction. My self knowledge is my knowledge of everything concerning myself that is retained in my mind, and being a part of my


experientially based ‘world view’, it is no less reliable as a basis for argument than any other knowledge I may have acquired during my lifetime. One of the things I know about myself, for example, is that I may believe some things that have no empirical basis – in other words, things that cannot be classed as knowledge in the sense that we are thinking about it here. Two such areas of belief appear at the foot of Table 1 under the headings of Theology and Mythology. Whether or not I believe that Atlantis existed, for example, is a piece of self knowledge that has become an experiential reality in my mind, but the same cannot be said for the substance of any vision of that fabulous city that I may have built up over the years (see ‘The Absentees’, below). Descending the first column of Table 1 indicates a gradual diminution in the dependence of each activity on data obtained from the external world via the traditional five senses, and a simultaneous increase in importance of data arising from introspection. The ‘raw data’ for sciences like astronomy and physics, for example, come mainly from external observations (though the ‘scientist philosopher’ may ‘process’ them mentally afterwards in various sophisticated and imaginative ways), while activities like the study of ethics or the pursuit of self knowledge depend almost entirely on data that can be found only inside our own heads. Judgements, attitudes, beliefs and other things present in our conscious minds, as we have said above, have probably been generated subconsciously over long periods of time by a multitude of external and internal factors, but it is only by ‘crystallising’ them at a conscious level that we can become sufficiently aware of them to be able to use them for practical purposes. For this reason, philosophers engaged in activities that appear towards the foot of the ladder – i.e. the metaphysicians – are less likely to agree with one another than are those working in the sciences (where the opinions of different people tend to be more alike, being based, as a rule, on well documented external observations that can be compared and repeated if necessary). Moving downwards through the activities in Table 1 does not, incidentally, imply a gradual decrease in the need for rational thought – sound reasoning being just as important in the pursuit of self knowledge as it is in, say, the study of astronomy. The position of each activity is determined primarily by the ‘mix’ of external and internal information on which it normally draws.

The Absentees Before we go any further we must address the fact that four of the most venerated areas of study that are usually associated with Western philosophy – namely language, logic, mathematics and theology – do not appear under that umbrella in Table 1. Can such apparent oversights be justified? We must certainly try to show that they can. There are good reasons for considering language, logic and mathematics together. Although they are all indispensable aids to rational thinking, they are not included in our ‘ladder’ because they are primarily instruments for articulating and manipulating data within any field of knowledge, rather than sources of new knowledge – except, of course, where they are themselves the object of study. Language, logic and mathematics have all fascinated thinkers of many different persuasions over the years, and have been associated in various ways with attitudes to such fundamental concepts as the nature of reality, meaning and truth. Language is a means of communication that is closely related to the formation of human thought, though there is no doubt that rudimentary forms of language are also used by other animals. Logic consists of sets of rules for sound reasoning, based on axioms that are considered to be self-evident, while mathematics is essentially the logical


manipulation of numerical and spatial concepts derived from our experiences of the objects and events we encounter in the natural world. All three, therefore, are based on concepts and assumptions that are generally recognised in some way – whether as words, rules or symbols – in advance of their being used, and, although they are quite indispensable for the handling of facts, figures and ideas encountered in the pursuit of other disciplines, they cannot by themselves produce information that is not implicit in the data to which they are being applied. In other words, their conclusions are essentially tautological in character, which raises the slightly unsettling thought that this must then apply to all the knowledge we have! Perhaps this might be a good starting point for another book! The dependence of philosophy on language, logic and mathematics is suggested in a slightly different way in Figure 1. The figure indicates how all types of initial data, whether obtained by external observation or by introspection, are then processed by the philosopher, using these three basic instruments to help him to incorporate the information into the totality of his existing knowledge, and how, as Comte pointed out, the knowledge gradually accumulating in this way in any discipline may make an important contribution to the one that appears above it in the ‘ladder’.

Figure 1: The Rational Foundations of Western Philosophy

Geological Data Chemical Data Physical Data Astronomical Data Mathematical Concepts











Human Thought


*Geology is chosen for illustration only. We could use other disciplines, and extend the ladder towards the metaphysical end of the spectrum of knowledge as in Table 1.


The intimate relationships between logic and mathematics, and their central role in the processing of knowledge in general, have occupied thinkers since very early times. Some of the most interesting developments in the field took place in the 20th century, associated mainly with the names of Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell and Kurt Gödel. Frege, who founded what is called mathematical logic, tried to show systematically that numbers are what he called ‘useful logical fictions’, describing ‘classes of classes’ (the number 3, for example, representing the ‘class’ of trios), and that mathematics is actually a part of logic. His large and meticulous body of work was virtually destroyed just before publication, however, when Russell discovered a possible class that invalidated the premises on which his theory was based.

Gottlob Frege (1848-1925)

Frege’s system would have allowed the existence of the so-called class of all classes that are not members of themselves, which, as Russell pointed out, creates a logical paradox. (If that class is a member of itself it is not a member of itself, in short, and vice versa!). The attempts to derive mathematics solely from logic (a project that Russell himself worked on for a long time without success) were finally put to rest when the mathematical logician Gödel showed that any selfconsistent logical system (such as arithmetic) will always be liable to contain truths that are not provable within the system itself – which would be inconceivable if it were a part of logic. The sad thing about this rather esoteric series of events is that, although Frege’s mighty effort to demonstrate that mathematics is a part of logic was probably ill-conceived, there is something to be said for his other premise – that mathematical entities, such as numbers, are concepts that have been generalised in our minds by experience. We differ from him, however, in regarding them not as fictional, but rather as having the same recognisable reality as other concepts acquired in the same way. Our perceptions of the sweetness of sugar, the ‘twoness’ of a pair of apples and the shape of a triangle, for example, can all, when needed, be put to practical use in our daily lives, and they can all be described in ontological terms as Real Abstract Particulars (see Table 3 on page 24). Turning now to the fourth discipline whose absence from Table 1 calls for explanation, it is fair to say that theology, though still a subject of fundamental importance to many thoughtful people, has not been generally regarded as a branch of philosophy for something like 300 years. Indeed, it has never seemed entirely at home in that context, in spite of the fact that many of the great churchmen of the past were regarded as philosophers because much of their time was devoted to thinking and writing about the human condition. The premises accepted in theology, however, (and therefore the conclusions derived from them), depend wholly on acts of faith, and there is an important


difference between the goal of the philosopher – to reach a greater understanding of the nature of the world of his direct experience – and that of the theologian, which is more a matter of refining a conceptual framework that takes account of his spiritual ‘longings’. It seems to me, moreover, that ‘spiritual’ feelings do not necessarily require interpretation in religious terms, and that their presence may be capable of being explained in an entirely rational way (see page 118). There is, however, one important respect in which religion and philosophy do seem to overlap. Speaking for myself – hopefully for clarity – introspection may reveal to me that I still believe in God. Since my philosophy cannot include any belief I cannot justify on empirical grounds, I must conclude that my belief in God is one of the many things that I accept for other reasons. But, after all, I am only a part-time philosopher – I am perfectly free at other times to believe all kinds of things for which I have little or no experiential evidence! I may well believe in telepathy, for example, or in a ‘global self’. I may believe in the efficacy of complementary medical techniques, or in the theory of evolution, or even in the Big Bang! I don’t have much in the way of empirical evidence for any of those things, but I may nevertheless have feelings that make me reluctant to discard at least some of them.

Muslim pilgrims worshipping around the Kaaba in the holy city of Mecca. Those who are able must try to make the hajj at least once in their lives.

This, indeed, seems to me to be the key to the matter: we believe things for reasons that may be quite weak on rational grounds, but very strong on feelings. My religious beliefs (if I have them) are based not on my concrete experience of the world around me, but on a complex mixture of abstract responses to living in it – feelings of love, loyalty, admiration, respect, longing for perfection, fear, loneliness, self doubt, and so forth, depending on my temperament and background. All these things may find indirect expression in theological argument, and it is hardly necessary to add – especially in today’s troubled conditions – that my religious beliefs may mean a good deal more to me than anything for which I do have empirical evidence, and may even be among the most powerful motivational forces in my life (consider the photograph above).


This brings us to the second way in which religion has a bearing on philosophy. We shall see, in Chapter 5, that we believe that ethical behaviour has to be based on our personal values, and that these are partly inherited and partly conditioned by experience. It has to be admitted, however, that in Western societies at least those values are still heavily influenced by the religious teachings of the Semitic Churches – though, in fact, we may find that our own internal standards and those that originate from external sources are actually in fairly close accord. So much, then, for the disciplines that we have not admitted as part of philosophy in Table 1. Considering what has been included, however, may help us to focus briefly on two enormous questions that were regarded for centuries as theological/metaphysical – namely, the origin of the Universe and the origin of life on Earth. These fascinating mysteries are today firmly in the hands of the cosmologists and the biologists respectively, and only a minority of fundamentalist theologians now consider them to be essentially other than scientific. The difficulty with both of these questions, of course, is that experimental evidence is very hard to come by, in spite of the wonderful ingenuity of those who work in those fields, and as a result it is very difficult to develop theories that seem to the lay person to be acceptable at both the intellectual and intuitive levels. The importance of intuition – even that of the ‘man in the street’ – should never be underestimated: it can operate to prevent the acceptance of conclusions that might otherwise seem inescapable on rational grounds, and may even be necessary for the full comprehension of some ideas. The classic case in point for many people today would be the ‘Big Bang’ theory of the origin of the Universe, which is widely accepted by those who can understand the formidable mathematics involved, but leaves many other people extremely uncomfortable with the idea of a Universe that was both infinitesimally small and infinitely dense at the moment of its birth. The non-scientist, in fact, who generally relies largely on his intuition for guidance, cannot wholly rid himself of the suspicion that in this case the mathematical tail might be wagging the cosmological dog! Curiously enough, today’s cosmologists (or some of them, at any rate) seem to be edging gradually towards a rapprochement with the theologians. There is now a substantial body of theory that asserts the possibility that the Universe emerged out of nothing, because (to oversimplify things a great deal) ‘absolute nothing’ is unstable, and will therefore always ‘collapse into something’! The parallels with the world’s creation myths are immediately evident. A rather less poetic treatment of the subject, however, discussing how modern physics sees the relationship between what used to be thought of as ‘matter’ and ‘the void’, appears on page 39. The eminent cosmologist Stephen Hawking, one of the foremost searchers for what is often called a ‘Theory of Everything’, has said: “…If the Universe…is completely described by a unified theory, that has profound implications for the role of God as Creator”. Professor Hawking, incidentally, regards the question of why (as distinct from how) the Universe came into being as a ‘philosophical’ question, rather than a scientific one, and he may be in very good company, because Isaac Newton, who once held Professor Hawking’s Chair at Cambridge, is alleged to have said: “I’ve told you how – don’t ask me why!” Professor Hawking’s suggestion, however, may really be a case of passing the buck, because the ‘why’ question can only be answered at present by an assumption or an act of faith, whereas philosophy – which as we are now defining it includes science – has to proceed on the firmer foundations of observational evidence. Mercifully, however, this book is not about the origins of the Universe or of the creatures that live in it, but about the relationships between them – and that, certainly, is a matter that concerns metaphysics as well as science.


Return to Metaphysics It is probably desirable, if we are to carry the reader along with us, to end this chapter by saying something more about our division of philosophy into science and metaphysics. It will be seen that in Table 1 we have indicated that both are important in the activities that fall in the middle of the ladder – from anthropology, say, to political philosophy. Metaphysical questions – about feelings and values, for example – are often of great interest to anthropologists, and, although the study of government and related matters draws widely on ‘science-like’ activities such as sociology, economics and demographic analysis, it also raises other issues, such as the making of just decisions and the preservation of individual freedom, that fall squarely into the territory of metaphysics. Resurrecting metaphysics in this way, however, probably calls for further explanation, the subject having been a virtual battleground throughout the history of philosophy. Most of the unhelpful (and often childish) things that scientists and philosophers sometimes say about one another stem from a widespread misunderstanding of the meaning of the word. Metaphysics has acquired a bad reputation because the name – originally coined to identify those works of Aristotle that were catalogued ‘after physics’ – is often used loosely to refer to a wide variety of non-rational preoccupations, from religion to fortune-telling, and from spiritualism to magic. This is a great pity, because ‘authentic’ metaphysics is really a wholly rational undertaking, relying, like the sciences, on what is usually called ‘the scientific method’ (question, hypothesis, theory, testing, answer) in its search for knowledge. The principal difference between metaphysics and the sciences, in fact, is the one that is emphasised in Table 1: the former obtains its raw data by looking within the metaphysician’s mind – while the latter (including the behavioural sciences) get theirs by observing what is going on in the ‘external’ world. Part of the problem, of course, is that metaphysics – now usually defined as ‘the theoretical philosophy of being and knowing’ – is in itself a genuinely complex area of intellectual inquiry, dominated by the difficult and rather intangible subjects of ontology and epistemology (and usually including ethics for good measure). Metaphysics is regarded by many people as synonymous with the whole of philosophy, but the above simple definition, whatever its shortcomings, does confirm it in its proper place as only one part – though a very important one – of the wider subject. The effect that this will have on us in the forthcoming chapters (because we shall be dealing with both scientific and non-scientific matters) is that we shall have to be ready to switch back and forth between scientific and metaphysical habits of thought, according to the nature of the subjects we encounter. We may be on a rocky road, but it could be an interesting journey!



Being and Knowing in the Real World

Our re-evaluation of philosophy so far should have made it clear (but it is probably worth repeating) that in probing further into the nature of the self and its relationships with the rest of reality we shall be concerned not only with scientific questions, but also with issues that are usually regarded as metaphysical. Hopefully, however, we shall be endeavouring to use only impeccably rational arguments, and taking care to avoid words like ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’, which are sometimes regarded as synonymous with ‘self’, but have connotations of religious and other somewhat insubstantial beliefs that we feel would be unhelpful at the moment. (We are not here professing atheism, but we range ourselves – at least while we are trying to be philosophers – alongside the Marquis de Laplace, who, on being charged by the Emperor Napoleon that he appeared to have left God out of his philosophy, is alleged to have replied: “Sire – I have found no need for that hypothesis”!). As we explained in Chapter 1, this book is squarely – though, perhaps, not always recognisably – concerned with philosophy as we understand it in the Western empirical tradition, and, though we shall have something to say from time to time about aspects of Eastern thought, the route we shall follow in this chapter is to look at the world in terms of ontology and epistemology, the activities that lie at the very bottom of the philosophical ladder in Table 1. The intimacy of the connection between these two subjects can be seen when we realise that it is possible for an entity to ‘be’ without knowing, but not to ‘know’ without being. It therefore makes sense to discuss them together – indeed, it would be very difficult to make a case for approaching them separately. Probably the first thing to say about ontology is that ontologists are metaphysicians who specialise in studying the nature of being, which is a difficult enough idea for the lay person to grasp as it stands. They do this, moreover, within the context of the metaphysician’s world, which is quite a different thing from the world of ordinary experience. It extends, in fact, even beyond the boundaries of the physical Universe, because, unlike the world that is revealed by science, its characteristics are limited only by the imagination of the metaphysician himself. Whether or not something in the world is good or beautiful, for example, or whether a decision is just or unjust, are questions of a kind that science is not able to answer, though they may be of great interest to the metaphysician, and also – which is much more important – to the ‘man in the street.’ The ontologist’s approach to his subject is to categorise the world, as he sees it, in one of a number of possible ways to suit his particular purposes. He steps boldly into the semantic jungle that surrounds the concept of ‘being’, striving to distinguish things (‘entities’, ‘existents’, ‘objects of the mind’) from their properties (‘qualities’, ‘attributes’), real things from fictional, concrete from abstract, material from non-material, and particular (‘individual’) from universal. These are by no means all the categories that have been used by ontologists, and different people prefer different ways of dividing up the categories they select. One of the best known of such systems was devised by Bertrand Russell, who postulated that anything that can be thought of – even a false proposition, for example – can be categorised as a being or entity, whereas existence is the prerogative of only some of such things. Reindeer (real ones) exist, therefore, but those belonging to Santa Claus do not! In other words, ‘existence’ is denied to fictional entities. Our own preference (see Table 2) is for a system of categories that regards ‘beings’, ‘entities’, ‘existents’ and ‘objects of the mind’ as equivalent terms, but categorises ‘entities’ – the term we

Table 2: An Ontology of the Metaphysician’s World, with Examples of Entities in Each Category This is only a demonstration ontology: many other Universals and innumerable other Particulars could be added in each category, depending on what the ontologist is trying to achieve. Here our principal purpose is to exemplify the distinction between Real and Fictional entities.

THE METAPHYSICIAN’S WORLD Real Concrete* Universal The Universe (Noumenal) Human Beings Particular The World (Noumenal) Mother Theresa Universal Concept of the Universe (Phenomenal) Concepts of Qualities of People Images of Material Things Memories of Nonmaterial Things Feelings (Emotions) Abstract† Particular Concept of the World (Phenomenal) Concept of Goodness Universal Mythical Animals Fictional‡ Abstract Particular Unicorn

Literary Characters

King Lear

Material Things

Mount Everest

Image of Mount Everest Memory of a Heat Wave Annoyance

Fictional Places


Non-material Things

A Heat Wave

Fictional Events


Feelings (Sensory Events)

Pain of A Pinprick

* † ‡

Entities in the ‘Real Concrete’ columns exist in the noumenal world. They can be perceived by the senses, but never known completely as they actually are. Entities in the ‘Real Abstract’ columns, which exist in the phenomenal (mental) world, relate in some way to Real Concrete entities. Entities in the Fictional columns also exist in the phenomenal world, but relate to entities that do not exist in the noumenal one.


shall usually prefer – according to whether they are real or fictional, concrete or abstract, material or non-material. (We may, of course, also want to use ‘being’ as a verb, which is quite a different matter). In our system, which is illustrated with a few examples in Tables 2 and 3, the noumenal or Real Concrete world means the world that exists independently of any observer (and cannot be perceived except through the filters interposed by the senses). Kant’s phenomenal world (the mental world of the metaphysician) is shown as a Real Abstract entity, because it is a world that is real in the mind of the observer concerned – so much so, indeed, that it has persuaded the idealist philosophers (as well as many physicists and mathematicians) that it is the only world that exists! Underlying our categorisations are two primary assumptions. The first is that the Real Concrete World ‘exists’, for which we can offer two pieces of supporting evidence – the fact that it is grossly perceptible to our ‘five’ senses, which means that we can interact with it in physical terms, and the fact that we can discover physical ‘laws’, but can’t change them (which means that the relationships they describe exist whether we are here or not). The second assumption is that all knowledge, whatever its source, is abstract (although derived primarily from concrete experience), an assertion to which we shall be returning later, when we shall be looking at conflicting epistemological arguments. These assumptions are sufficient to allow us to categorise some ontological features of the Real and Fictional worlds as in Tables 2 and 3. It will be evident from Table 2 that the number of recognisable Real entities we can list is much greater than that of the Fictional ones. The latter, in fact, are included only to remind us of the difference between what has reality for us (whether concrete or abstract) in terms of our actual experiences in the world, and what, on the other hand, emerge only as the result of an unnatural juxtaposition of real or unreal elements – such as those that occur in dreams or mythology, or are manufactured in a deliberate effort to create something hitherto unknown, as in science fiction. The distinction that concerns us most at present is the one between Real Concrete and Real Abstract entities, and it will recur often in this book. The classic metaphysical questions, about the nature of reality, the nature and limitations (if any) of our knowledge, and the considerations that govern our behaviour as responsible inhabitants of our planet, are all concerned primarily with entities that appear in the Real Abstract columns, because, in spite of their importance to us, they are all matters that have no existence except in our minds. Moreover, although concrete reality exists independently of our presence, the concept of reality is a ‘man-made’ abstraction. We could obviously add many more categories to these tables, according to what we wanted to establish, but it is only too easy to continue any analytical process until the main point of the operation is lost – to do what some humorist once described as “filling in the background until the foreground goes underground”! There is one further step we must take, however, for reasons that will shortly become apparent: we must distinguish Real Material entities from Real Non-material ones. A few examples in each category are shown in Table 3. It should be re-emphasised here that not all concrete entities are material. ‘Concreteness’ in a nonmaterial entity is indicated when we can perceive its concrete effects – as, for example, when (nonmaterial) lightning strikes a tree or when a (non-material) smile reduces tension in a room. When we perceive such a thing, we have witnessed a concrete event, and, as Einstein put it: “…the event is the only reality”. This insight will be helpful to us later, but in the meantime it might be interesting to test it out, with the help of Tables 3 and 8, on one of the most famous ontological debates of all time – namely, the one about the nature of numbers. The issues surrounding this intriguing and ancient question have divided mathematicians and philosophers at least since the appearance around 500 BCE of the shadowy figure of Pythagoras of Samos, who is alleged to have


Table 3: An Ontology of the Real World, with Examples of Material and Non-material Particulars

THE REAL WORLD Concrete Material Particulars The World (Noumenal) Submicroscopic World (Noumenal) Footballer Sugar Non-material Particulars Nature of the World Material Effects Interacts In Classical Manner Interacts In Ambivalent Manner Scores Goals Sweetens Things Abstract* Non-material Particulars Physical Theories

Nature of the Submicroscopic World Skills of a Footballer Sweetness

Theory of Quantum Mechanics Love of Football Memory of Sweetness of Sugar Theory of Magnetism Concept of ‘Twoness’ Love of Music Fear of Pain


Magnetic Field The Number ‘Two’

Attracts/Repels Charged Objects Defines Sets of Two

Any Two Entities Orchestra Injury to Bodily Tissues Experience of Living

Music Neural Stimulus

Produces Emotion Produces Pain

Value Judgements

Provides Criteria for Making Choices

Guilty Feelings


All the things that emerge in the Abstract (Non-material) column in this table stem from knowledge of one kind or another. It is important to remember, however, that all knowledge is personal – even when the content is widely accepted. No two people, for example, have exactly the same view of football or quantum mechanics.


believed that numbers were the key to the structure of reality. That, however, is not in itself sufficient to help us to form an opinion about their precise ontological status. We have mentioned the work of Frege, who held that numbers are fictional entities, leading to tautologies rather than to fundamental knowledge about the world. Our view is that Frege was right about the tautological nature of mathematics (see page 16), but that he was wrong about the reality of numbers themselves. Numbers, in fact, are Real Concrete Non-material entities rather than Fictional ones, doing concrete jobs for us in the course of our daily lives, and identified by familiar experience in the same way as we identify other concrete entities. They are rather like names, necessary if we are to be able to describe succinctly our experiences of objects and events encountered in recognisable groups (or ‘sets’, as mathematicians call them). If we consider, say, a pair of apples (or pears, for that matter!), the concrete (though non-material) reality of the number two is confirmed by the fact that it defines the particular concrete situation that has been arisen because of the grouping together of the separate entities, and its meaning is instantly recognised. The ‘twoness’ of a pair, of course, is an abstract idea, completely independent of the nature of the items making up the set in question, but it is nevertheless a real entity because it exists as a concept in its own right. We all have in our minds a clear conception of ‘twoness’ – or, for that matter, a well defined ‘picture’ of what constitutes a triangle (whether equilateral, isosceles or scalene) – those images having been implanted there by encountering countless examples of sets of two and of triangular things (or three-point relationships) in Nature, in the schoolroom and elsewhere (compare the ‘Platonic horse’ discussion on page 28). The concrete nature of numbers is to some extent obscured by the way in which we actually use them in ordinary speech. “Give me two apples, rather than three”, for example, seems a bit like “give me green apples rather than red”). The word “two” sounds like an adjective, but it isn't. In the sentence above it means “Select an apple, then do the same again, and then give me what you have selected”. The other thing that complicates matters (though not so seriously) is that both the number 2 and the word “two” can also be Concrete Material entities if they are written down, or indicated in a ‘neon’ sign, or rendered perceptible by the ordinary senses in some other way.

Time for a New Paradigm? Relatively comfortable philosophical discussions like these, however, pale into insignificance if we step back to consider the full implications of what we have been saying. Looking at ourselves as creatures living in a concrete world but thinking in an abstract one, we are now beginning to develop theories that belong to a new and unfamiliar paradigm – a new set of assumptions about the nature of reality as a whole. Any system of knowledge is built on agreed basic assumptions or ‘axioms’, and when an old paradigm is replaced by a new one it is the axioms that change – not the data to which the axioms are applied. We have referred several times already to ‘two worlds’ – one concrete and one abstract – and we are certainly going to have to do so many times more. This departure cannot be looked upon simply as a new concept or theory within the traditional Western view of reality – it is an approach to the question of the nature of reality from a completely different starting point – and as we shall be dealing with many of its implications in the following chapters, and contrasting the new assumptions with those that are more commonly accepted today, we shall need a distinguishing name for it. The best thing is probably to label it the ‘Two Worlds’ paradigm (not to be confused,


of course, with the so-called ‘Many Worlds’ interpretation of quantum mechanics): we shall see later that thinking within that framework seems to throw a completely new light on a number of problems that have concerned both scientists and metaphysicians for a very long time. The more we consider the world in the way the metaphysician sees it, the more we realise that the secret of its inscrutability is largely epistemological. The age-old arguments about the nature of reality are only partly ontological, being also closely bound up with the question of how far we believe that all our knowledge is based ultimately on sensory perceptions. We know very well that there are serious problems here – problems that Immanuel Kant was grappling with when he coined the antithesis between the ‘noumenal’ and ‘phenomenal’ worlds that we have used already in this chapter (see Table 2). Kant maintained that what we can learn through our senses is partly ‘conditioned’ by various kinds of a priori knowledge that is ‘built into’ our minds independently of experience, which is really a compromise between empiricism and rationalism. Our own philosophy is resolutely empirical: we much prefer to found our view of learning on the Aristotelian idea of the tabula rasa – the empty mind of the new-born infant waiting to be filled with data from sensory experiences. It seems to us to be abundantly clear that all our knowledge, both of the world that surrounds us and of the part that we ourselves play in its affairs, accumulates gradually in our minds as a result of the sensory experiences that we encounter from the moment of conception. We have to bear in mind, moreover, the degree to which that knowledge is subjective. Every living creature has its own set of sensory equipment and its own ways of interpreting what it observes, and its ‘world view’ will vary accordingly. What we have been calling ‘the metaphysician’s mind’, in fact, is meant to be shorthand not only for the mind of the metaphysician, but also for the minds of the ‘man in the street’, the child, my dog and even – presumably – my dog’s fleas! All these creatures have their own ‘operating maps’ of the world as they experience it, and because they are no more than composites of subjective perceptions, those maps can never contain the sort of ‘truth’ that many Western philosophers (and particularly scientists) have been encouraged to seek. There are many factors that influence the content of the conclusions we draw from our observations. The most obvious, of course, is the level of cognition that is regarded as normal for each animal species. The effect that a beautiful sunset has on me, for example, is presumably very different from the effect (if any) that it has on my dog. With individuals of the same species, moreover, the effect can vary a great deal: my experience of the sunset is obviously very different from that of my one-year-old granddaughter or that of the blind man next door. The net result, in fact, depends on both perception and interpretation – both of which are highly subjective, as one can see from the astonishing differences that often appear when different witnesses attempt to describe the same car accident. There is also another way in which what we learn about the world is very much conditioned by what is already in our minds. As human beings in a developed society we tend to be creatures of our education and training, which means that when we are trying to understand the world in any given situation we may be asking very different questions – and the answers we then get will depend at least partly on the questions we have chosen. Looking out at the same world, for example, scientists, by asking science-type questions, will tend to preselect science-type answers, which may bear little resemblance to the answers typically obtained by the moral philosopher or the artist. Equally esoteric results, of course, are just as likely to be obtained by other living creatures when they ‘ask’ their questions – in whatever modes of communication they use. We are reminded once again that no two abstract worlds are the same: we are all looking at the same concrete world, but our individual abstract versions of it are always going to be to some extent different.


It may be worth pausing here for a moment to look at the ontological nature of knowledge itself – to produce an epistemological ontology, so to speak! We need first, however, to realise that although the word ‘knowledge’ is often used to mean only the information that is readily available to us in the form of conscious thoughts, that information is only a small part of what we actually know. All our knowledge is actually stored subconsciously in our memories, and only a tiny fraction makes an appearance – and usually a temporary one at that – in our conscious minds. Some of it arrives when we try to remember it, a task that can be anywhere between very easy and totally impossible, while other items appear to ‘swim’ into our consciousness unasked – though they probably appear there as the result of stimuli of which we are unaware. It may be helpful here to think of contextualised knowledge – knowledge which we have ‘processed’ and stored subconsciously in an appropriate context – as distinct from the so far unexamined data that is flooding in through our senses at any one moment. In addition, it is worth re-emphasising that all knowledge is abstract – everything that has been retained from what we have learned during our lives exists in our minds as some form of mental record, based on data obtained from sensory experience or introspection, and then integrated to a greater or lesser degree into the infinitely complex pictures that comprise our ‘world views’. Those pictures that appear when we think about ourselves, of course, are that part of our world view that we are calling our ‘self image’. These points are presented in ontological terms in Table 4.

Table 4: An Ontology of Knowledge Knowledge (Abstract Contents of Conscious and Subconscious Mind) Obtained via the Senses Knowledge of External World Raw New Sensory Data Processed ‘Contextualised’ Knowledge of World Knowledge of Self Raw New Sensory Data Processed ‘Contextualised’ Knowledge of Self Obtained via Introspection Knowledge of External World Raw New Knowledge of World Processed Revised ‘World View’ Knowledge of Self Raw New Knowledge of Self Processed Revised ‘Self Image’

Table 4 calls for a certain amount of explanation. As we have said above, what we mean here by knowledge includes not only the thoughts, impressions, relations, connections, comparisons, judgements, opinions, theories and the like that we recognise as typical (if ephemeral) contents of our conscious minds, but also the huge quantities of raw data received both from the outside world and from within our own bodies and then sorted, contextualised, stored and possibly acted upon at subconscious levels. Introspection later reveals how our conscious knowledge of different aspects of the external world has built up into an integrated ‘world view’. ‘Knowledge of Self’ follows a similar pattern, from sensory data to a conscious awareness of the state of one’s body and mind, which again produces the cumulative picture that we are calling our ‘Self Image’. It has to be remembered, too, that although all knowledge is abstract in nature, the processes by which we acquire it – observation, sensing, and so forth, are concrete in nature, and the same thing applies to


the processes that go on subsequently inside our heads, even if we are not consciously aware of them. We are dealing here with the old process/content dichotomy that we mentioned on page 1 – a dichotomy that will reappear many times in the course of this book. It was very much in this context, incidentally, that Plato outlined his famous Theory of Forms. His Forms were idealised representations of things that he believed we had known in some other existence, and of which we still retained some memory. In the midst of all the imperfect examples of things that we encounter in our daily lives – whether concrete like horses or abstract like justice – Plato felt that we could still remember something of the perfect Form of the horse or the perfect Form of justice that we once knew, and that these memories provided us with understanding and guidance for living. The Abstract world of our Two Worlds paradigm is reminiscent of the Theory of Forms, as Table 4 suggests. When we see a horse, for example, the sensory data is processed in a huge and unknown number of ways within our brains (as we shall be discussing in Chapter 3) but it is perhaps useful here to isolate four key items that figure in the process: 1) 2) 3) 4) the noumenal horse that exists whether we are looking at it or not; the raw image of the horse we perceive through the filters of our senses; the contextualised image of the horse that is related to our previous experiences; the ‘generic’ horse that occupies its place in our ‘World View’.

Item 1) is the only one that exists in the Real Concrete world of the Two Worlds paradigm: the other three belong in the Real Abstract, the ‘generic’ image changing almost imperceptibly with each new noumenal horse we encounter – though, naturally, it never matches the hypothetical perfection of the Platonic Form. What the simple ontology in Table 4 shows is that all knowledge, in the words of the old metaphor, is “grist to the mill” – the mill in this case being our ‘learning machinery’, grinding away more or less reliably throughout our lives. We are reminded that the learning process is never-ending as long as we are alive and possessed of our faculties, and perhaps also that learning can be hard work – even if we find it a pleasant experience at times. The self image and world view that appear in the figure are psychological jargon for our constantly changing abstract impressions of the concrete realities – namely, our selves and the world around us – whose scientific and metaphysical interrelationships we are trying to clarify in this book

Thinking In Two Worlds So, armed now with the new perspective of our Two Worlds paradigm, we can proceed to examine how we interpret the abstract world we create from our sensory data in order to survive in the other one – the concrete world in which our vulnerable bodies exist along with those of every other living creature. It is worth emphasising again that the world which forms the basis for all our plans and judgements is not the real concrete world, existing as Planet Earth in its place in the Solar system, but only our mental picture of it. Moreover, we have to remember that each of us has a different picture of it in his head, modified by his own unique set of sensory filters, and that every living creature, for that matter, has a ‘world view’ of its own, however unlike ours it may be. The concrete world is there all right – ask anyone who has ever fallen off a bicycle! – but it cannot be reached by rational thought, and our theories about it have to be developed on the basis of the material we have accumulated in constructing our personal vision of it. The best we can do when


we want to obtain information from the outside world (which includes our own bodies) is to observe it as carefully as we can, either with our naked senses or with the help of instruments, record what we think we have found, and work with that data to create theories that we can then test on the external reality. Even when we can perceive the data without too much distortion, however, they will be subjected in our minds to some degree of processing – or reprocessing – on their way to being integrated into the appropriate ‘bigger picture’, and it is hard to imagine that the conscious part of the operation will always be free from non sequiturs and other nasty logical errors. To make matters worse, sensory observations of submicroscopic events are usually almost impossible to make, and we are then forced to base our theories on mathematical representations – a situation that contains traps for the unwary theorist (see page 37). When we want to extract data from our own minds by introspection, moreover, we run into a similar set of problems. The concepts, images and feelings we cherish are notoriously liable to misinterpretation. In spite of the fact that the logicians describe them as ‘incorrigible’ (which means that they can't be disputed because no-one else has access to them), our assessments of our own strengths, weaknesses and so on are even more unreliable then our perceptions of the outside world, and can often strike others as seriously – and even hilariously – wrong. When I think I’m exercising admirable caution, for example, others may be finding me unbearably slow, and when I’m trying to be the life of the party I may be coming across as an insufferable bore! The bad news, then, is that scientists and metaphysicians are both condemned to work only with the worlds that exist inside their heads, but the good news is that the abstract theoretical structures that they build in their minds appear to be almost as effective as predictors of the consequences of our actions as they would be if they were the concrete entities from which they are derived. In other words, to labour the point further, we find we can ‘do’ scientific experiments perfectly well in spite of the fact that all the planning has to be done with subjective interpretations of the experimental reality involved, the reality itself being then manipulated in order to test the concrete results. This is the fundamental situation for everyone engaged in any search for knowledge, but scientists in particular seem to have a lot of trouble with the idea of a separate metaphysical world, which is perhaps not so surprising when we remember that for at least 2500 years the whole scientific ethos has been to support a never-ending pursuit of the ‘truth’ about the ‘real’ world, a truth that it was thought should emerge progressively from careful observation and scientific thinking. Many scientists, as we have said, are rather impolite about metaphysical knowledge, which they declare to be either meaningless or at least not related to the ‘truth’ that they themselves are seeking. Such arguments, however, as we said on page 26, simply do not stand up to the sort of rational examination to which scientists themselves are expressly committed. The fact of the matter is that no sort of ‘truth’ (unless we include tautologies) can ever be arrived at by rational processes alone, though of course we can give the name of truth to whatever shifting body of knowledge we wish – as long as we can obtain a sufficient consensus from those whose opinions count in the matter. In other words, the concepts and theories of any activity of human thought are clearly Real Abstract entities in ontological terms (or simply mental constructs if we are now tiring of the rather restrictive ontological vocabulary), and it follows that they can never be anything more than subjective and interim representations of what actually exists ‘out there’ in the ‘real’ world, however effectively we may be able to use them to predict events in practice. It should be pointed out here that the position we have been outlining above is not to be confused with that of the idealist philosopher Bishop George Berkeley, who maintained stoutly that what is inside our heads is the only world, with nothing existing outside it in any material sense. To be,


according to Berkeley, is to be perceived (“esse est percipi”) – by God if no-one else is around! This (to the writer’s amazement) is virtually the position to which many physicists adhere today, as we shall see later, when we discuss the implications of what is called ‘the Copenhagen interpretation’ of quantum mechanics.

Away with the Old… What we might call the ‘one world’ paradigm of ‘classical’ Western thinking (of which conventional scientific thinking is a part) leads inevitably to the fundamental dichotomy of opinion that has existed at least since the 18th century – empiricists like Locke and Newton believing that the world is (in our terms) Real and Concrete; idealists like Berkeley, Bohr and Heisenberg insisting that only the Real and Abstract version in our minds has any meaning. The ‘Two Worlds’ paradigm, as we shall see, instantly resolves the empiricist/idealist dichotomy, making room for both of those worlds together – if not for either school of thought. It also appears to the writer to be able to accommodate both Einstein’s relativity theories and the confusing findings of quantum mechanics, though this remains to be discussed later. The main assumptions of the Two Worlds and ‘classical’ Western paradigms are compared and contrasted, for convenient reference, in Appendix 1 (page 150): we shall be discussing both paradigms, of course, in later chapters. In addition to the need to distinguish the noumenal and phenomenal worlds, the scientist faces a number of other epistemological hazards. For one thing, as Heraclitus pointed out so long ago, the real world from which our mental images are derived is in a state of constant – and even violent – flux. Stars are born and die, holes appear in the Earth’s ozone layer, people murder each other in politically unstable countries (and even in stable ones), bacteria become resistant to drugs. The scientist’s quarry is not only partly hidden, but also very much on the move. And as we have noted more than once above, the observer is an integral part of the observations he makes, and it seems that he cannot obtain information from the system he is examining – at least at the microscopic level and below – without causing it to change. If we also remember that congenital disabilities, carelessness, earthquakes and faulty equipment can all lead to distorted observations, and that most theories are built on a posteriori data by induction (which is a dubious business at the best of times), we might begin to wonder if it is only the questions about reality that are real! Those of us who find these uncertainties troubling, however, may be able to take comfort from the fact that observation combined with the use of reason is not the only way to arrive at a new hypothesis. There is another way that seems to be as good – if not better. In short, we can simply guess a hypothesis, and then test it afterwards! There are excellent precedents for this, some of them associated with very famous names. Richard Feynman, one of the most brilliant and creative physicists of the 20th century, was absolutely insistent on this point, and went so far as to say that guessing a new hypothesis was sometimes the best way to extend existing theory. It is even possible that it may be the only way! The great mathematicians Jules Poincaré and Karl Gauss both quoted cases where significant theoretical insights seemed to come to them by completely non-rational means, and Albert Einstein said about discovering the theory of General Relativity: “There are no logical paths to such natural laws – only intuition can reach them.” None of the foregoing, let it be said, is to be construed as attempting to minimise in any way the awesome achievements of modern science. There is no doubt whatever that scientists can manipulate the world very effectively by working on what amounts to a set of subjective perceptions of the real thing. The whole familiar sequence of the ‘scientific method’ – observing


the situation, defining the issue, forming a hypothesis, theorising by induction, devising ‘experiments’ to test the theory (very much as in the highly simplified learning cycle shown in Figure 6 on page 75) – has demonstrated its value on countless occasions and in almost every conceivable situation. The procedure is carried out, however, right up to the point where the experiments are set up, not on the ‘real’ concrete world (which is always out of reach), but on the observer’s abstract perception of it. It is then the ‘real’ world that reacts – or fails to do so – to the changes made by the experimenter, whereupon the cycle starts once more, with new observations that are again interpreted in terms of the ‘phenomenal’ rather than the ‘noumenal’ system.

Changing Truths This cyclical learning process, of course, is never-ending, and also moves from one researcher to another, especially where the subject in question happens to be a fashionable one at the time. It follows, too, that the pursuit of ‘truth’ will depend largely on which theories are generally considered to be the most promising. Those judgements, in turn, can change, even among specialists who ‘speak the same language’, and will always be heavily influenced by the opinion formers in that particular field, and by the cultural and other social factors that are dominant in that place at that time. The question of truth, interestingly enough, doesn’t arise until someone makes an assertion. To put this in another way, things and events don’t need explaining in order that they should be able to exist. “Things”, said the mathematician and philosopher A.N. Whitehead, “are what they are!”, and “Things maun be some wey!”, echoed someone in Scotland, plaintively and even more expressively. Fortunately or unfortunately, however – depending on your point of view – the human mind has never been able to leave it at that. Many of us enjoy testing our ingenuity by playing with puzzles, and there is undoubtedly a pure pleasure to be derived from trying to solve problems that have so far defeated other people. This is a sufficiently strong motivation to ensure that the research laboratories and debating halls of the world remain filled with practical workers and theoreticians of all persuasions, busily engaged on their own esoteric fragments of some greater mystery of current interest, and all standing, like Isaac Newton, “on the shoulders of those who have gone before” – even if some of those shoulders later turn out to be a little wobbly! There are plenty of celebrated examples, of course, of newer and more useful theories – not only in scientific fields – gradually supplanting older ones, very often in the face of the most implacable opposition, and sometimes even with threats to the lives of the innovators. (It was the political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli who observed, some 500 years ago, that a new system will always be resisted by those who have profited under the old one). The theories we are mainly interested in at present, however, are those that deal with the nature of the world around us, so we must now turn our attention to how the physical sciences have developed over the last century or so. Until the 1920s the general outlook of ‘classical’ Western science was still rooted in the familiar paradigm, developed in Greece some 2500 years earlier, that took it for granted that human beings could ‘stand back’ from the ‘real’ world, as it were, examining it in all its diversity and describing its separate elements with increasing accuracy as the years went by. It seemed natural, until fairly recently, to assume that reassembling these elements from time to time would give scientists an ever clearer picture of what the world was really like. Even Einstein’s relativity theories, though presenting a new kind of world in which perceptions of reality were dependent on the observer’s circumstances, were still ‘classical’ theories in the sense that they included Newton’s laws as a


special case, and still regarded the ‘real’ world as something that could be treated as an ‘object’ of study. In other words, they were still theories typical of what we are now calling the ‘one world’ paradigm. The advent of quantum mechanics, however, was to strike this reductionist assumption a series of shattering blows that are still being felt in the scientific world today. The metaphysical implications, too, are very interesting, and it should be well worth while to consider them after we have looked at the principal developments that have taken place in the last century in the sciences.

Matter and Energy The first signs that something momentous was afoot appeared in 1900 when Max Planck proposed a startling solution to a well-known theoretical problem concerning hot appliances like ovens. Existing theory held that heat (like other forms of electromagnetic radiation) was produced by the vibrations of ‘excited’ electrons, and that the energy of the radiation emitted by a hot body should increase without limit in proportion to the increase in its frequency, which meant that anything like an oven, which would contain radiation of all wavelengths, should tend to become infinitely hot! Planck suggested that this effect – the ‘ultra-violet catastrophe’ – didn’t happen in fact because the energy was emitted in tiny packets, or quanta, which would require more energy at the higher frequencies than the hot body could provide. He then went on to calculate that the energy contained in each quantum would be equal to the frequency of the radiation multiplied by the unimaginably small number (now called Planck’s constant) 6.63 x 10-34 Joule seconds. Einstein was much impressed by Planck’s work, and proposed that the quantum concept could be applied to all forms of electromagnetic radiation, including light. This suggestion conflicted with the existing view, based on the experimental demonstrations of Thomas Young about a century earlier, that light was propagated as waves rather than as particles, but Einstein contended that the wavelike patterns observed in diffraction experiments were simply due to the additive effect of huge numbers of the invisibly small quanta (later called photons) hitting the screen. His 1905 paper, which also suggested ways in which the Planck concept answered a number of other questions that had been troubling physicists for some time, was extremely inventive – as well as daring in terms of what was then accepted theory – and it was that paper, rather than his more famous ones on relativity, that earned him the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics. It took a number of years for the implications of the quantum concept to produce further developments. In 1913 the young Danish physicist Niels Bohr, working with Ernest Rutherford, applied it somewhat incongruously to Rutherford’s new – and not then widely accepted – theoretical model of the atom, which consisted of a tiny nucleus with even tinier electrons circling around it rather like planets around a star. This model was based on the principles of classical physics, and by rights should have indicated an unstable atom, because the negatively charged electrons would be expected to be dragged into the positively charged nucleus. Bohr, however, proposed that the evident stability of the atom could be explained on the assumption – this time from ‘quantum’ theory – that the electrons were held in fixed orbits from which they could depart only if they gained or lost energy in precise amounts related to the necessary quanta. Each of the ‘permitted’ orbits would correspond to an angular momentum equal to an exact multiple (0, 1, 2 and so forth) of Planck’s constant. The innermost orbit was envisaged as the unexcited or ‘ground’ state of the electron, and those outside it as states to which it could ‘jump’ if supplied with the required amounts of energy. The electron could then return to a lower energy state by emitting energy, again in amounts fixed by quantum theory.


Bohr’s hybrid model of the atom not only provided a plausible explanation of its stability, but also explained something else that had been a theoretical problem for some time, namely, the occurrence of fixed lines in both the absorption and the emission spectra of elements. He was able to show, for the hydrogen atom at least, that the wavelengths of the spectral lines corresponded closely to those calculated from the values of the energy quanta involved in the ‘jump’ of the electron from one energy level to another. Bohr’s early version of quantum theory was at its best in its representation of the hydrogen atom: it gave less convincing agreement with observation when applied to the atoms of heavier elements. In the years that followed, however, he was able to elaborate his picture of the ‘electron shells’ of the atom to provide a forerunner of the ‘periodic’ theory of the elements (developed by the Russian chemist Mendeléev) that is still used today to explain how atoms of elements combine with one another by exchanging electrons. Bohr’s intuitive skills, in short, had enabled him to derive a large part of the foundation of modern chemistry from his less than thoroughbred premises! A refinement of the Bohr model, which already included three ‘quantum numbers’ characterising the angular momentum of the electron, the shape of its orbit round the nucleus and the orientation of the orbit, is credited to Wolfgang Pauli, who adopted the idea of adding a fourth number, describing the elusive property now called ‘spin’, to help to explain the ‘splitting’ of spectral lines. The spin of a particle in quantum theory is not the same thing as the spin we are familiar with in everyday life, though it is sometimes called ‘intrinsic angular momentum’. This momentum has a fixed value that is characteristic of the particle in question, though it may spin in either an ‘up’ or ‘down’ direction, which gives it an orientation with respect to the observer. The property distinguishes fermions (‘matter particles’ like the proton or the electron), which have a spin of a multiple of half an integer (whole number) – 1/2, 3/2, 5/2, and so on – from bosons (force-carrying ‘messenger particles’ like the photon or the gluon), which have an integer spin – 0, 1, or 2. Pauli also used the idea of the fourth quantum number to establish the so-called ‘Pauli exclusion principle’, which says that no two matter particles can share the same set of quantum numbers for any length of time. This means that no electron, for example, can enter an atomic ‘shell’ that is already full, which is the sanction that prevents that atom from collapsing inwards. Another landmark development in quantum theory arose from an insight of Louis de Broglie, who had observed that physical phenomena exhibiting integer variables like those now associated with the orbits of electrons were invariably wavelike in nature. De Broglie set out to develop a mathematical treatment that would describe how matter – like light – could be propagated in the form of waves, and even suggested how the proposition could be tested by diffracting a beam of electrons by means of a crystal. De Broglie’s work was published in 1925, but was not verified experimentally until it was taken up and embodied by Erwin Schrödinger in the wider-ranging theory that became famous as ‘wave mechanics’.

Uncertain World What we call quantum mechanics today is a highly sophisticated body of mathematical physics (or physical mathematics?), based largely on a brilliant synthesis by Paul Dirac of Schrödinger’s wave mechanics and the ‘matrix mechanics’ developed independently about the same time by Werner Heisenberg under the supervision and guidance of Max Born. One of the central features of Dirac’s treatment of quantum mechanics anticipated Heisenberg’s ‘uncertainty principle’, which can be stated in a variety of ways, but essentially implies that at atomic and subatomic levels the values of both members of a pair of ‘conjugate’ (interdependent) variables – such as the position and


momentum of a ‘particle’, or the time and energy involved in any atomic event – can never be determined accurately at the same moment. To try to measure either property, whatever the method employed, disturbs the system so much that it affects the variable concerned, and, in addition, these pairs of properties appear to be connected intrinsically in such a way that the more precisely we can measure one member of the pair the less accurately we can determine the other. It is interesting to note that in some ways these paired variables recall the interacting opposites of the ‘Logos’ of Heraclitus (see page 6) and the even more ancient yin-yang polarities of Chinese thought.

Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961

The world that is represented to us by quantum mechanics – and we hope to show that, like the mental constructs of all scientific theory, it is only a representation – is so different from the ‘classical’ world of our sensory experience as to be almost completely counterintuitive. Our traditional view of the ‘particles’ that have been regarded for over 2000 years as the substance of all the matter in the Universe has had to be abandoned. Einstein’s relativity theory had shown that matter and energy, under the appropriate conditions, are interconvertible, and Dirac, focusing originally on the electron, showed how particles could be ‘created’ from energy, and predicted the existence of the ‘positron’ – the positively charged ‘anti-particle’ of the electron – which was subsequently discovered in studies of cosmic rays. Particle physics, as it stands today, is virtually founded on Dirac’s original equations, and the huge ‘atom smashers’ used for particle research have produced hundreds of new particles (most of them unstable) in high-energy collisions where they are formed and destroyed again as they absorb and liberate energy. The ‘matter/energy’ interconvertibility of relativity theory appears to be closely related to the ‘particle/wave’ problem of quantum mechanics, and the comfortably stable world of Newtonian physics has been replaced in our minds by a restless Universe whose tiniest components are as much like constantly changing concentrations of interacting forces as they are like material particles. In fact, all matter is now regarded in quantum theory as consisting of relatively stable energy patterns that can be related probabilistically to one another according to well-defined quantum principles. This picture, of course, is almost uncannily like the mystical one inherent in many Eastern belief systems (discussed later on in this chapter), and, when we stop to consider the picture of subatomic perpetual motion that is presented to us from both sources, we can hardly avoid wondering about the mysterious solidity of ordinary matter. Does Bohr’s model of the atom really explain why the attractive forces between its positively charged nucleus and its negatively charged electrons don’t cause all matter to collapse? What about the vastly stronger forces in the nucleus? The assumption


from quantum mechanics is that the wave/particle electrons, being pulled inwards by nuclear forces, react to their confinement by whirling around in their tiny environments at such frantic speeds (about 600 miles per second) that they create the atom’s mechanical rigidity. Within the nucleus, moreover, the much heavier nucleons, which are confined by the ‘strong force’ in only a minute fraction of the already tiny volume of the atom, are believed to attain almost unthinkable speeds of the order of 40,000 miles per second! Any theories designed to deal with nuclear phenomena, therefore, will have to contain relativistic elements, because these speeds are significant in terms of the velocity of light (186,000 miles per second). There is no doubt that uncertainties are everywhere apparent at subatomic levels in the concrete world. No-one has yet discovered why a radioactive atom will suddenly ‘decay’ – forming an atom of a completely new element – while the atoms around it remain stubbornly unchanged. The electron, to take another fundamental example, turns out to be neither a wave nor a particle, but a mysterious entity, hitherto undefined, that appears to act in appropriate circumstances like either. The tendency to exhibit this schizophrenic behaviour (which is also observed in the case of other subatomic ‘wave/particles’), can be described by means of Schrödinger’s equations in what is known as a ‘wavefunction’, a mathematical representation containing information about the ‘state’ of the entity concerned, but only in terms of the probabilities of its future development. The wavefunction can tell us, in suitably constructed experimental situations, where an entity like an electron is likely to be found, but not precisely where it is, nor whether (until we carry out a physical observation) it will ‘choose’ to present itself in the form of a wave or of a particle. At the almost completely unfamiliar level of this micro-world, in fact, although matter seems to obey Einstein’s famous relativistic equation E=mc2 by displaying its equivalence with energy, it also appears to behave in thoroughly non-relativistic ways that troubled him deeply, in spite of the fact that some of his own work had helped to lay the foundations of quantum mechanics. The thing that Einstein, with his deterministic view of the nature of the Universe, found it most difficult to believe was that, in addition to the apparently random nature of some of the changes that occurred at subatomic levels, others could be precipitated by the deliberate intervention of an observer. He could not accept the implication that the idle whim of a human being – or, as he pointed out on one occasion, even the intervention of a mouse – could alter the pre-ordained plan of the Creator. “The Old One doesn’t play dice”, he said, with his usual economy of expression. Einstein’s deeply held feelings in the matter led him to spend the last 30 years of his life in a search for an even more fundamental theory that would explain what were, for him, the dubious implications of quantum mechanics, and would unify quantum theory and relativity theory. He never found one, however, and gradually became more isolated in the world of physics, to which he had made such stupendous contributions, as the years went by.

The Mystery Remains Quantum theory has now been around for 100 years or so, but in spite of the efforts of some of the most brilliant scientists in the modern world there is still a remarkable lack of agreement on some of its central issues. The most fundamental of these disagreements verges on the territory of philosophy, and concerns the question: "What it is that quantum mechanics represents – the real world or only our knowledge of it?" There are two diametrically opposite views about the answer to this question, and they are related to the epistemological point we have already made several times in this chapter – namely, that the world in which the scientist, or any other seeker after knowledge, does his thinking can never be more than a mental representation of the concrete world


that exists beyond his conscious grasp. This, as we have said, is always an important issue, but in the sub-microscopic world of quantum theory it assumes gigantic proportions. The majority view on this matter is that quantum mechanics reveals the real world – Real Concrete in terms of our Table 2 – so that what are called the ‘probability states’ of the wavefunction, for example, are actually present in the real entity being considered. The minority position, in which the writer finds himself once again, is that the quantum mechanical description, like all other theoretical descriptions, is only a construct of the mind (a Real Abstract, in fact), so that the aforesaid probability states are not concrete properties of the noumenal entity in question, but merely abstract expressions that describe its uncertain behaviour in rational terms. This leads us to draw attention once more to our ‘Two Worlds’ paradigm, in which there is room at submicroscopic levels for the existence of both a concrete and an abstract world – the former being the noumenal ‘reality’ and the latter being the one described by quantum mechanics (and, for that matter, by all other theories dealing with the structure of physical reality). What we are saying, then, is that a great deal of uncertainty does appear to exist in the real world below the limits of our powers of observation, but we may also be paying a price for the imaginative capabilities of our highly developed cerebral cortices. Other creatures, after all, don’t seem to notice the problem, and it seems at least possible that our craving for knowledge, coupled with our intellectual abilities, may be leading us to construct complicated theories about what might exist at those levels, and then to fall into the celebrated trap of ‘mistaking the map for the territory’!

The Struggle to Understand There is no doubt that the development of quantum mechanics has been far and away the most important scientific advance of the 20th century, if we are thinking of it in terms of its direct effect on our lives. Its theoretical predictions agree to astounding levels of accuracy with practical experience, and quantum theory lies at the base of the whole of electronics, much of chemistry, and many other parts of science and technology, while the insights of relativity, though at least equally penetrating in theoretical terms, make a comparatively tiny impact on our day-to-day living. Many people who happily make use of quantum findings, however, freely admit that they don’t understand why the theory works as well as it does. Bohr himself, in fact, is reported to have said: “Anyone who isn’t confused by quantum mechanics hasn’t understood it!” (or something rather similar in Danish). Writers on science subjects have found a huge variety of ways to express their amazement at what appears to be the counterintuitive behaviour of quantum systems, but we are still waiting for someone to produce a description of the quantum world with which we can feel comfortable – and, in particular, one that is reasonably compatible with relativity theory. Part of the problem, of course, stems from increasing specialisation and the exponential growth of scientific knowledge in areas outside quantum mechanics. What we have already seen in this chapter as we have looked back over scientific history is a long procession of wonderful discoveries – all made within the classical ‘one world’ paradigm – which seem to have been getting harder and harder to understand as we have progressed! There are many reasons for this, including the one enshrined in the old joke about the specialist and the generalist. The specialist, you may recall, is someone who learns more and more about less and less until eventually he knows everything about nothing! (You can work out the description of the generalist for yourself if you haven’t heard it before). This is not as silly as it sounds: it tells the sad truth that even those who are working in the same discipline today are often unable to understand one another.


We all tend to keep our knowledge in ‘boxes’ whose contents are based on the way we learned things at school or in college, which gives us, to some extent, a compartmentalised view of the world. Mercifully, however, we do not live our lives on the basis of those compartments, because the real world is not structured along academic lines. The subconscious store of knowledge that we draw on for practically all our ordinary purposes is the integrated total of our experience of the world to date – our ‘copyright’ summary of reality as we see it. This unique possession helps us to assess the possibilities that are open to us at any given moment, but at the same time places limits on what we can actually achieve. There is also a more specific reason why scientific theory seems to become more and more difficult for most of us to understand as time goes on, and this has to do, surprisingly, with mathematics. The argument, in the terms we are now using, goes like this…Mathematics is a wonderful set of instruments for symbolising and organising information, so that we can simplify it, relate it to other things, and see what it implies in order to help us to understand the concrete world, and perhaps make predictions about it. Mathematics does not provide us with any new data about the world, but it often clarifies the implications of the data we already have, so that it can ‘improve’ the abstract pictures on which our understanding is based, and it is such a versatile and powerful tool that it sometimes surprises us by providing insights about areas we hadn’t even thought of. Eugene Wigner, in a celebrated paper, called this “unreasonable”, though one might think that if a given set of circumstances is represented mathematically – i.e. in a language that is virtually universal, and independent of the content of the circumstances being described – it is not so unlikely that the resulting description might have parallel applications elsewhere. This argument may even have some bearing on the fact that we can’t explain the values of fundamental physical constants like the velocity of light or the mass of the electron, or calculate them from existing theory, because, although the necessary mathematics is available, the initial data are not. (It is possible, of course, that we may never be able to explain them: as someone has pointed out, there are probably untold numbers of other ‘constants’, most of which will never be discovered!). We have to be extremely careful, therefore, to keep an eye on the role we accord to mathematics. As Sir Arthur Eddington said: “…in physics everything depends on the insight with which the ideas are handled before they reach the mathematical stage…”. The fundamental ‘answers’, in other words, are not as likely to be found in mathematical representations of the world as in nonmathematical ones. Mathematics can express the interrelationships of things, and describe the ways in which they may be able to behave, but, because mathematical equations are reversible (and events in Nature are not) they cannot predict how situations will actually develop. In addition, because mathematics tends to simplify observations, the mathematical description of an entity can sometimes fail to distinguish it from that of other entities with similar features. The mathematics of a ball bearing, an orange and the planet Earth, for example, have much in common, but that tells us very little about what they are made of, what they taste like, or, indeed, what they are! The problem is exemplified by the concept of the wavefunction in quantum theory, which does not describe by any means every property of the entity to which it relates. The root of the ontological difficulties we encounter with quantum mechanics lies in the fact that, although mathematical constructs may be easy enough to understand and use when related to things we observe around us in everyday life, they depend more and more on guesswork and assumptions as the scale gets smaller. (This also applies, to some extent, when the scale gets unrecognisably large, as in astronomy). Intuition, in these matters, is shaped by experience at the ‘classical’ level: it is relatively easy to see the relationship between the flight of a cricket ball and the mathematics of its trajectory, but where can we go to obtain an intuitive feel for the hectic motion of a nucleon (a proton or neutron) or the definitive modes of vibration of the tiny superstrings (if there are any!) in


a ‘fundamental’ particle? (see page 48). And this matter of the intuition, as we suggested in Chapter 1, is extremely important. We know now that theories can’t always be proved, so that our intuitive responses are sometimes critical: in the absence of sensory evidence, for example, we may find ourselves looking very suspiciously at anything smaller than a molecule. And yet, of course, there is no a priori reason that we know of why entities below molecular dimensions should not exhibit concrete properties, and certainly no excuse for consigning them to the Abstract world just because they are too small to defend themselves! We can now photograph individual atoms, after all (see below), and it may be, in spite of the fact that quantum theory seems to have been so successful in describing the behaviour of the submicroscopic world, that we should no longer allow it to persuade us that the ontological nature of concrete reality at that level is qualitatively different from that of the ‘relativistic’ world of classical dimensions.

Scanning Tunnelling Microscope images (courtesy of IBM). Left: nickel atoms on a copper surface. Right: a molecule consisting of 8 caesium and 8 iodine atoms.

The Field and the Void Although we can now observe certain structural characteristics of some of the larger entities that exist at molecular levels, we know that matter at those levels does not always seem to behave according to the laws of classical physics, and that individual ‘particles’ do appear to exhibit the schizophrenic character we referred to on page 35, so that we have been reduced to calling them ‘wave/particles’. It strikes us as a curious thing, by the way, that no-one seems to have coined a special word to embrace all these related hybrids. It is probably our nostalgia for Newtonian physics that leads us to cling tenaciously to names like ‘matter particle’, ‘messenger particle’, ‘fundamental particle’ and the like, although physicists have devised at least two other ways of classifying these submicroscopic entities. One of these classification systems is the one we described briefly on page 33 (the distinction between fermions and bosons on the basis of their ‘spins’) and the other focuses on the fact that all matter particles are nowadays considered to interact with one another by exchanging ‘virtual’ – i.e. non-material – ‘messenger particles’ (also called ‘force carrying particles’), rather than by ‘acting on one another’ in some mysterious way at a distance. It has been shown, moreover, that matter particles and messenger particles are interconvertible under suitable conditions. Particles that interact via the ‘strong nuclear force’ are called hadrons, and are subdivided into baryons and mesons, the baryons including the protons and neutrons of the nucleus and the mesons acting as their messenger particles. The most familiar messenger particle – the one that carries the much


weaker ‘electromagnetic force’ that holds the outer structures of atoms together and participates in chemical reactions – is the photon. These ‘particle’ interactions are seen in modern physics in terms of what is called ‘field theory’. Electromagnetic fields are effects of charged bodies that are felt as forces by other charged bodies within range, travelling outwards in the form of various kinds of electromagnetic wave. Gravitational forces are produced by the gravitational fields of massive bodies, and are felt by other massive bodies in a somewhat similar way, though, unlike electromagnetic forces, they never repel one another (as far as we know). The Atomist/Newtonian distinction between ‘matter’ and ‘the void’, moreover, has now disappeared. General Relativity equates the field with the ‘space’ around the ‘matter particle’, and Einstein regarded ‘particles’ as ‘condensations of energy’ at the points where the field is strongest. “There is no place…”, he said, “for the field and matter, for the field is the only reality.” This, roughly speaking, is still the accepted position of most physicists. The ‘void’ (insofar as the word still has any meaning) has assumed a character very different from that of the inert and empty space of Newtonian theory: it is now seen as a ‘vacuum’ seething with ‘virtual’ particles that are constantly being created and destroyed. The interconvertibility of matter and energy, indeed, can be observed every day in experiments in high-energy physics laboratories. The field produces matter ‘particles’, each of which is thought to be surrounded by a ‘cloud’ of virtual messenger ‘particles’ of the appropriate type – virtual mesons in the case of nucleons and virtual photons in the case of electrons – and forces are regarded as interactions between matter particles that occur when messenger particles are exchanged between them. Gravitons, incidentally (which might mediate the force of gravity), have not yet been discovered. The combination of classical (relativistic) field theory with quantum theory is usually called – predictably! – ‘quantum field theory’, and it deals with interactions involving the exchange of ‘messenger’ particles. Such interactions are often represented in ‘space-time diagrams’ – like the one in Figure 2 showing the exchange of a pion or pi-meson – each diagram being accompanied by a corresponding mathematical expression indicating the probability that the event may occur. The

Figure 2: A Space-time (Feynman) Diagram (from The Tao of Physics, by Fritjof Capra)

p p



Two protons exchanging a pion. The pion is a relatively massive particle, and can be created only during the very short time allowed by the Uncertainty Principle. It is therefore a virtual particle, and will have only a very brief existence.

mathematics was developed by Richard Feynman as part of his work on electrodynamics – which deals very accurately with electromagnetic interactions – and the diagrams have accordingly come to be called ‘Feynman diagrams’. Another field theory called quantum chromodynamics, however, (developed later in an attempt to extend the theory to hadrons, whose interactions, as we have seen, are mediated by the strong nuclear force) has so far been much less successful.


Enter the ‘Energon’! In view of all these confusing names and classifications – not to mention the fact that literally hundreds of other ‘particles’ (mostly very short-lived) have been discovered in recent years – it seems to us to be high time to look for another name for Einstein’s ‘condensations of energy’ that will express their ‘matter/energy’ and ‘wave/particle’ ambivalence. The word that strikes us as the ‘number one contender’ is energon (with a hard ‘g’ to show off its Greek pedigree!), and we shall use it in these pages from now on. This name should be helpful as a mnemonic for the relativistic equivalence of mass and energy, as well as reminding us that we are now talking about something that should not be thought of as a particle that can somehow imitate a wave, nor as a wave that can imitate a particle, nor yet as a particle with a wave moving in front of it, but as an entity that permanently possesses wave and particle characteristics as part of its essential nature, and can ‘flip’ from one mode to the other according to the conditions surrounding it at the time. We shall have to retain a distinction, however, between ‘matter’ energons and ‘messenger’ energons, because although they are both concrete entities that have the wave/particle character in common, and although they appear to be interconvertible under suitable conditions (the material/non-material dichotomy has little meaning at subatomic levels), they behave very differently in other ways. Matter energons (fermions) obey the Pauli exclusion principle, which, as we indicated on page 33, states that no two ‘matter particles’ can exist in close proximity to one another for any length of time. Messenger energons (bosons), on the other hand, can and do crowd together in their billions of billions, as in the streams of photons emitted by any source of light. The numbers of different energons that have been identified run into hundreds, but only the proton and the electron (and in certain circumstances the neutron) are sufficiently stable to be useful – in the way that photons are – for experimental work in the physics laboratory. The mysterious neutrinos (of which there are three) also appear to be stable, but are almost impossible to examine because they can pass through any thickness of virtually anything in the world without reacting in any way. All the other energons are highly unstable, having mean lifetimes measured in millionths of a second or in some cases much less. They are known to us, nevertheless, because they leave brief and beautiful traces in bubble chambers as the result of high-energy interactions in giant accelerators, usually ‘decaying’ almost instantly into other short-lived entities.

Three of a Kind We should now have enough information about subatomic particles in general to enable us to return to the question of the ontological status of quantum mechanics, and start thinking about some of the puzzles that still divide physicists and philosophers – and physicists and physicists, for that matter – 75 years after the theories were formulated. Three of these puzzles are of outstanding interest. The first of these celebrated cases concerns what is usually called the ‘two-slit’ (or ‘double-slit’) experiment. Most introductions to quantum mechanics nowadays begin with a study of this experiment, and Richard Feynman, who won a Nobel Prize for his work in quantum electrodynamics, and was one of the most original thinkers in the field of quantum theory in general, said: “It contains… the basic ‘peculiarities’ of all quantum mechanics!” The experiment, which is a comparatively simple one to set up, has been described in hundreds – if not thousands – of texts, always accompanied by diagrams like those shown below in Figures 3a and 3b. The ‘peculiarities’ to which Feynman referred begin when a beam of equal-energy electrons (or, in


another version of the experiment, a beam of photons from a source of monochromatic light) passes through one of a pair of slits cut in an opaque barrier onto a suitable screen and produces a familiar

Figure 3a: The Two-slit Experiment (One Slit Open)

No Interference


Figure 3b: The Two-slit Experiment (Two Slits Open)



pattern of ‘hits’ like the one in Figure 3a – which is typical for any stream of particles. If both slits are open, however, the pattern resembles the one shown in Figure 3b, which exhibits ‘interference’ effects like those created by a beam of waves, though it is still composed of the dots that confirm the arrival of separate particles. This is a strange enough result for anyone brought up in the traditions of Newtonian – or even Einsteinian – physics, but, to make matters worse, when the intensity of the beam is cut right down until the electrons (let us say) are hitting the screen one at a time, they still (gradually) build up the same characteristic interference pattern. How is such a

thing possible? A single energon, travelling alone through one slit or the other, has surely got nothing to interfere with? Already, then, we are faced with one of the ‘mysteries’ that have accompanied the development of quantum mechanics. The sub-atomic entities we are dealing with here seem to be neither waves nor particles as we understand them in classical physics, but are clearly capable of behaving like either, depending on the circumstances. And this is where it may seem that we have to begin to question our views of reality, to take account of the fact that Nature appears to conduct herself, at these very unfamiliar submicroscopic levels, in ways that we have never considered before – unless, of course, we happen to be particle physicists! In spite of Einstein’s demonstration of the interconvertibility of mass and energy, most of us still tend to think of particle theory and wave theory as dealing with two different ‘commodities’ (matter and energy) instead of two different aspects of the same thing. The latter view, however, is the one we are now advocating – and hoping to clarify – partly by introducing the concept of the energon. So where does this leave our understanding of what we can call the quantum world? Does the single energon (in this case the electron) perhaps have the astounding capacity to divide itself between the two slits in such a way that it can still, without assistance, contribute to building up an interference pattern on the screen? And to make things even more confusing, the two-slit experiment still has another surprise for us: when both slits are open, and the experimenter places a particle detector (a bright light) behind either of the slits – in order to try to establish whether or not a ‘complete’ energon is actually passing through – the interference pattern disappears! The single energon does seem to be able to make its way through both slits at the same time, but only if it is left alone! It is almost as if it knows when it is being watched, and isn’t then prepared to continue to display its ambivalent nature! But this is anthropomorphism gone wild – we shall return to this mystery (and hopefully suggest a rather less fantastic explanation) when we have considered how the two-slit experiment relates to the other two famous quantum mechanical puzzles.

Einstein Uneasy The second member of the trio is usually known as ‘the EPR paradox’ – though it isn’t really a paradox at all. It was designed as a so-called ‘thought experiment’ by Einstein and two of his coworkers to demonstrate that the existing theory of quantum mechanics, which implied that the future state of a quantum system could be determined by the intervention of an observer – or even by chance – was flawed, or at least incomplete. The great man, fresh from his triumphs with relativity, was never able to believe that the workings of the Universe could depend on human actions or random events. He wasn’t the only person, either, who was feeling unhappy. Erwin Schrödinger, in spite of being the ‘founding father’ of wave mechanics, was never comfortable with some of the implications of the indeterminacy that seemed to follow from quantum theory. He still saw the atom as a concrete entity, with its real (wavelike) electrons switching from one wave pattern to another, rather than as an abstract one, with hypothetical particle-like electrons ‘jumping’ in and out between two of the suggested orbits of the Bohr atom. Of the ‘jumping’, in fact, he is reported to have said – after discussing the problem in Denmark with Bohr and failing to find a satisfactory solution – “I don’t like it, and I’m sorry I ever had anything to do with it!” The EPR gedankenexperiment was based on the idea that a pair of particles, starting off by interacting with one another (thus becoming ‘correlated’ or ‘entangled’) so that their total momentum and their relative positions could be measured, should then be allowed to fly apart,


conceivably to an enormous distance. Measuring the momentum of one of the particles, said Einstein, should then instantaneously determine the momentum of the other (because the total for both particles must remain the same), and, similarly, the observed position of one particle should make it possible immediately to deduce the precise position of the other. The fact that the choice of which property to measure first need not be made until after the particles had departed on their separate ways, however, would mean that in order to give the above results both the position and momentum of the second particle would have to have had their determined values before the observations were made – something prohibited by the ‘uncertainty principle’. The only other explanation would appear to be that the results of the first measurement could be transmitted instantaneously to the second particle – and nothing, according to relativity theory, can travel faster than light. Einstein claimed that “no reasonable definition of reality” could accommodate instantaneous ‘non-local’ effects of this kind, so that quantum theory must therefore be in some way flawed or incomplete as it stood, and he spent virtually the rest of his life searching for a more fundamental theory that would accord with his belief in a ‘local realistic’ Universe. The most vociferous proponent of the validity of quantum theory at the time was Niels Bohr, and he and Einstein entered into a long – and in many ways rather sad – argument on the subject. Bohr championed the so-called ‘Copenhagen’ interpretation of quantum mechanics, which asserts that any quantum system can be described mathematically by a wavefunction that expresses the totality of its possible futures (called its ‘probability states’), and that the wavefunction can be ‘collapsed’ at any time by a physical observation that forces the system to settle for one of those probability states at the expense of all the others. The observer, therefore, is an inseparable part of the system. The EPR experiment, said Bohr, did not invalidate quantum theory, because the apparatus set up to measure either property of the correlated pair of particles would be a different quantum system from that used to measure the other, which would render the theory inapplicable. In the 1980s, moreover, a number of delicate and ingenious experiments (especially those conducted in France by Alain Aspect) measured the properties of particles generated in set-ups of the EPR type, and produced results that appear to show that the properties of the second particle do depend on those measured for the first, suggesting that ‘non-local’ effects do occur, and thereby supporting Bohr’s side of the argument. Most modern physicists seem now to have concluded that Einstein’s opposition was ill-founded, and the consequences of the Copenhagen interpretation, which implies among other things that the submicroscopic world is real only when it is being observed (see below) are now widely accepted. This writer, for one, is not convinced. The EPR experiment clearly failed in its purpose, but there is still something more that can be said about the interpretation of the results of the Aspect experiments (and, indeed, about the Copenhagen interpretation in general). We shall discuss this matter later – after we have examined our third problem, which deals with the distressing predicament of Schrödinger’s cat!

Cat in a Hot Tin Box! Schrödinger, in his turn, invented another ‘thought experiment’ which sought to illustrate his discomfort with the Copenhagen interpretation of the theory that he had helped to develop. A cat (what did Schrödinger have against cats?) was imagined to be enclosed in an impenetrable box along with a radioactive atom, a phial of cyanide and a mechanism that would break the phial if the atom decayed. After the time required for the atom to have a fifty-fifty chance of decaying, the cat – according to the Copenhagen interpretation – would be left hovering in a superposition of the


‘probability states’ of life and death until an observer made an intervention by opening the box, thereby collapsing the cat’s wavefunction into one or other of the two possible outcomes. Thousands of pages have been written about this little fiction, partly about how and when precisely the collapse of the wavefunction would take place, but more importantly about whether or not the two probability states can be regarded as having any reality at all before the box is opened. Bohr held implacably to the view that neither would have any reality before the observation was made, and that it follows by extrapolation that nothing in the world is real unless it is being observed. This position, of course, is virtually identical with the “esse est percipi” of Bishop Berkeley (see page 29), and represents one of the rare cases where physicists and philosophers have arrived in the same place from very different starting points! Again, however, the writer finds himself with the minority opposition, preferring to follow the intuition of Einstein and his ‘world of real objects!’ At this point, armed with the perspective of the Two Worlds paradigm, we propose to tabulate the three puzzles (Table 5) to see if we can find any ‘common factors’, so to speak, that may help us to

Table 5: Three Quantum Puzzles Feature Experimental Set-up Schrödinger’s (Real) Cat* Cat in Box (Radioactive Atom and Cyanide) Cat Either Alive or Dead The ‘EPR Paradox’ Correlated (Entangled) Energons Action Either Local or Nonlocal {Action Local, Action Nonlocal} Measuring a Property of Nearer Energon Measuring a Property of Distant Energon (in Theory) ‘Distant’ Results Appear to Depend on ‘Nearer’ Action Non-local‡ (Wavefunction has Collapsed – Disturbance Seems to Have Determined Results) ‘Two-Slit’ Experiments Slits and Energon Beam

Nature of Uncertainty

Energon Either Wave or Particle, or Both {Energon Wave, Energon Particle, Energon Both} Illuminating the Energon Beam Inspecting the Screen for Interference Interference Suppressed

Probability States

{Cat Alive, Cat Dead}

Disturbance (Random or Deliberate) ‘Collapsing’ Observation

The Radioactive Atom May Decay Opening the Box

Result of Observation

Cat Alive ±


Feed It! ± (Only the Wavefunction has Collapsed – Not the Cat!)

Energon is Both (Only the Wavefunction has Collapsed – Not the Energon’s Duality)

* †

Schrödinger’s Cat is a Fictional animal, but unless we treat it as Real, the uncertainty has no meaning. The other probability state is just as likely, so we don’t have to consider both!

‡ This is the generally accepted conclusion. We think it is wrong: it seems more likely to us that the random or deliberate disturbances indicated in the table may in each case have interfered with an ‘Action Local’ reality, which would therefore invalidate the results of the experiments.


increase our understanding of the unfamiliar implications of quantum mechanics. As three very different sets of experimental conditions are involved, the table may help us to see where we are going by comparing and contrasting some of the key elements of the problems. One of the first things to notice about Table 5 is that the Schrödinger’s cat puzzle is different from the other two in one important respect, namely, that in the ontological terms we were using at the beginning of this chapter the unhappy cat – unlike the entities in the two-slit and EPR experiments – is a Fictional rather than a Real Particular. The significance of this for our present deliberations is that, unless we redefine the ‘thought experiment’ in terms of a real cat, the puzzle can be allowed to have either of the two outcomes included in the wavefunction – according to the preferences of the person who is doing the thinking. There is therefore no lesson to be drawn from the exercise: we are simply dealing with an unreal situation from which no useful conclusion can be drawn. In the unthinkable event that the cat is imagined to be a real one, however, things are quite different. The set-up is again a hypothetical one, but this time it involves a Real rather than a Fictional system. The wavefunction, however, is still only a mathematical construct, expressing certain theoretical ‘probabilities’ about the future state of a system involving a Real Concrete cat, and belonging in the Real Abstract world with all the observer’s other mental concepts. The wavefunction is ‘collapsed’ – in the mind of the observer – when he sees what is in the box, but this is simply because the ‘menu’ of possible outcomes will always appear to ‘collapse’ to the one that matches what his observation tells him. If the animal’s life has been ended by the decay of the atom, that sad event will have taken place before the box was opened, and without any participation by the observer. If not, of course, there is a happier outcome! The collapsing of the wavefunction, in other words, is purely a mathematical representation of a second event that takes place only in the observer’s mind, after the quantum system itself has been altered by something else (or left unaltered, as the case may be), and only when the observer can see what the first event has produced. Moreover, the ‘something else’ could just as easily have been designed as a deliberate intervention by the observer instead of as a random happening like the radioactive decay of an atom. What the puzzle does bring to our attention, however, is that events at the subatomic level – though not, of course, only at that level – are often governed by chance as well as by deliberate action (or by ‘natural’ processes that are currently beyond our ability to predict, like earthquakes, tornados and heart attacks). This last conclusion, of course, would not have been welcomed as an answer by Einstein, who believed deeply in a Universe under Divine control, and was resolutely committed to the task of discovering a single fundamental theory that would harmonise and describe the deterministic forces involved. The Common Thread The case of Schrödinger’s cat seems to the writer to be the least confusing of our three puzzles, probably because the role of the item producing the uncertainty (the decay of the atom) is more familiar than those of the corresponding items in the other two cases. These are shown in Table 5 in the row labelled ‘Disturbance (Random or Deliberate)’, to remind us that a quantum system can be altered by either sort of event – or that it can remain unaltered if the ‘threatened’ disturbance doesn’t come about. The two-slit experiment is more complex, because it presents two puzzles in one, as it were. The first, which concerns the energon’s astonishing ability to ‘drift’ through both slits at once and exhibit interference effects entirely on its own, strikes the writer as something that we should regard simply as an unfamiliar but genuine property of such sub-microscopic entities in their wave-like forms (a property that they would possess whether or not we had attempted to


explain it in quantum terms) rather than an indication that the world at those levels has no reality. The word ‘counterintuitive’ usually appears in these discussions, but our intuitions, after all, are largely determined by our sensory experiences of events at the ‘classical’ level, and the meaning of ‘counterintuitive’ is really closer to “experience hasn’t prepared me to believe this” than it is to “this is unreal”. The behaviour of supercooled liquid helium, or the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly, might be considered to be just as counterintuitive when first observed! The second of the two-slit surprises appears when we switch on the detector light to try to ‘see’ the path of the single energons, thereby creating the disturbance that appears to cause the ‘wavelike’ energon to ‘retreat’, as it were (almost as if one slit had been closed), into ‘particle-like’ behaviour. Again, it seems to the writer to be far more likely that this is something real that energons actually do, rather than that they don’t exist unless we are watching them! Whatever the nature of any mathematical representation of the two-slit experiment we may construct, it seems to be an independent fact that the wave/particle ‘equilibrium’ – at least for some energons in some circumstances – is rather easily upset, and that in the case of the two-slit experiment the wave ‘character’ returns gradually as the intensity of the detector light is again reduced. It is worth remembering, too, that interpretations of observations are not the same thing as the observations themselves. The energon in the two-slit experiment, for example, may be observed as a ‘wave/particle’ but not understood as such. In other words, we find its behaviour incredible because we think it is either a wave or a particle. When we illuminate the slits, the energon shows us what it is (an energon behaving as a particle), not what we think it is (a ‘particle’ that we were expecting to remain a wave)! This basic particle/wave uncertainty at the quantum level can be seen as another aspect of the matter/energy ambivalence that is expressed in the E=mc2 equation, which reminds us that the conversion can proceed in either direction, depending on the (external) conditions prevailing at the time. These conditions, moreover, don’t have to be as extreme as those that obtain in high-energy physics laboratories. The energon seems to be able to switch between particle and wave form quite readily when disturbed by an observer (as the two-slit experiment makes clear), and it might even be a useful idea to emphasise this instability by renaming Heisenberg’s ‘uncertainty principle’ the ‘ambivalence principle’. In the EPR experiment, as long as no disturbing factor is introduced, the separating energon pair might be expected to retain their original ‘correlated’ properties. The Aspect experiments, however, appear to show that measuring those properties after separation gives results that accord closely with the Copenhagen interpretation’s claims that wavefunctions are actual (concrete) features of the real world, and that in the particular case of the EPR experiments non-local effects can actually be observed in the laboratory. We believe these conclusions to be unjustified: there is little doubt that the laboratory observations record what is actually happening in the noumenal (concrete) world, but they are recording the state of a system that has been disturbed by the experimental intervention. If the separating energons had not been disturbed, in other words, there is no a posteriori reason to believe that the properties they had acquired when they first became entangled would not still determine their values at the time the observations were made. It seems to the writer, however, that Einstein was probably bound to lose the EPR argument, because he didn’t choose to debate the ontological nature of his hypothetical particles (which is Concrete), but tried instead to deny the intellectual legitimacy of their ambivalent (apparently nonclassical) behaviour. This was a tactical error, because wave/particle ambivalence – as we have said above – appears to be a genuine feature of concrete reality at sub-microscopic levels, and he might well have been able to defend his belief that “the Universe consists of separate parts joined by local connections” on that basis. The quotation, in any case, is not really a fair representation of


his views. He saw ‘local connections’ not as bonds but as interrelationships, which is not at odds with modern views of the Universe as a dynamic system consisting of interacting concentrations of energy, nor with some of the most interesting ‘post quantum’ developments in physics. The ‘counterintuitive’ picture of submicroscopic reality that is presented to us by quantum theory appears to defy rational explanation, yet the theory predicts practical events with such fantastic accuracy that physicists and engineers feel comfortable in using it every day in their calculations. The result is that key features of the theory, like the wavefunctions of the systems concerned, seem to be widely accepted as actual elements, rather than simply representations, of reality. This seems to be a good example of the danger Sir Arthur Eddington might have had in mind (see page 37) when he said: “In physics everything depends on the insight with which ideas are handled before they reach the mathematical stage.” It is no coincidence that the Heisenberg and Schrödinger equations are both based on mathematics developed by William Hamilton a century earlier to describe the motion of waves and particles at the same time, and as his equations were designed to describe the total energy of any closed system containing two interdependent variables it is hardly surprising that the quantum equations derived from them should express the reciprocity of the values of any such pair of variables – the feature that is central to the ‘uncertainty principle’.

Uncertainty Rules, OK? Another thing that Table 5 shows rather clearly is that events at the sub-microscopic level are sometimes influenced by deliberate actions (and not only those of human beings – consider the mouse that eats the insulation on the electric wiring!) – and sometimes apparently by sheer chance. It should be remembered, too, that ‘quantum’ effects are also present on the macroscopic scale at which we normally observe the world, though they are usually far too small to be noticed – with perhaps the exception of Brownian movement (the agitated movement of the minute particles in a colloid under the impact of the molecules of the medium in which they are suspended). It is always possible, of course, that deterministic explanations will be found for events that are today regarded as purely random occurrences, but for the moment it seems wise to pursue our lives on the assumption that we cannot predict everything that is going to happen to us. Even our most careful strategic plans are subject to dislocation: “Life”, sang John Lennon to his son, “is what happens to you while you’re planning something completely different!” Finally, it has to be said that the writer finds it quite extraordinary that many physicists today are still comfortable with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, which depends on the confusion that exists between Real Concrete and Real Abstract Particulars (see page 23). The Copenhagen interpretation does not seem well equipped to explain the excellent photographs of atoms that can now be obtained with the Scanning Tunnelling Microscope (see page 38), or to describe what the ontological state of planet Earth would be if every one of the creatures living upon it were to die tomorrow. One cannot help wondering if Niels Bohr really believed that he would have ceased temporarily to exist if he had fallen asleep in a room where no-one else could detect his presence, and, although Bishop Berkeley maintained that in such circumstances God was available to save the day by acting as an observer, this is not a view that seems convincing today. One wonders, too, how the mind could contain a quantum picture of the world (or a picture of any other kind) if it had no real existence of its own – even the idea that nothing exists is an idea, which means that the mind must exist in order to entertain it. This seems to be vaguely related to Heidegger’s famous question “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, which is sometimes


put forward as being rather profound. But is this really so? ‘Nothing’, after all, is also ‘something’ – in the sense of being an entity (it can be conceived, named, and so forth). So one meaning of Heidegger’s question is “Why are there any entities?”, which gets a tautological answer like “Entities are things that are!”, or “Entities are things that are, and one of them is ‘nothing’, and is different from all the others”! No wonder philosophers often get a bad Press! All in all, it looks to the non-mathematician as if the elegance of the famous equations, and the amazingly accurate representations of subatomic phenomena that they continue to deliver for so much of modern science and technology, may have mesmerised even some of the founders of quantum mechanics into believing that it is quantum theory itself, rather than the world to which mathematicians are applying it, that is the concrete reality. Paul Dirac, after all, who developed “the most complete form of what is now known as quantum mechanics”, and has been called “the most brilliant English theorist since Newton”, went on record as saying: “The state of a quantum system is some definite but abstract thing” (a Real Abstract, in our terminology), thus locating it squarely in what we have been calling our ‘metaphysician’s world’. It may even be that one of Albert Einstein’s greatest contributions to human thought is the encouragement he has given to those who have come after him by his stubborn insistence on “a world of things existing as real objects”, even at those sub-microscopic levels where we cannot directly perceive them. There seems to be no a priori reason, after all, why the apparently astonishing world described by ‘quantum’ physics should not be found to exhibit concrete (and therefore relativistic) characteristics – it would exist exactly as it is if quantum theory had never been developed.

Strings and Superstrings We have spent a lot of time discussing quantum mechanics, principally because the basic ontological issue of what is ‘concrete’ is central to our investigation of what is ‘real’, but also because quantum theory affects our lives more than any other scientific development since the work of Isaac Newton. If, however, our energons are indeed Real Concrete entities, and even if they are interconvertible under suitable conditions, we still have to face the obvious question of their finer structure. The protons and neutrons of the nucleus are thought to be composed of even smaller items called quarks – though these have never been isolated in any concrete form, and may perhaps be most usefully thought of as concentrations of energy, confined within the nucleon by the gluons (hypothetical messenger particles of the ‘strong force’) so that they can never be separately observed. They are useful theoretical ‘building blocks’, however, and on present evidence it looks as if all the matter in the Universe may be built up from only three ‘fundamental’ entities – the first two of the six known varieties of quark to be ‘discovered’ (called the ‘up’ quark and the ‘down’ quark) and the electron, which forms the outer ‘atmosphere’ of every known atom. Many physicists, however, feel that quarks and electrons, too, may consist of even tinier components. One of the most promising of the ‘post quantum mechanics’ theories about the finer structure of matter, and one that may conceivably turn out to be capable of describing the nature of the world in even more fundamental terms, is called superstring theory. The idea behind the theory is extremely simple, though developing a useful mathematical treatment of it has so far proved to be nearly impossible. Strangely enough, it was a mathematical curiosity that first suggested the idea of ‘string theory’, when it was discovered in 1970 that various subatomic interactions observed in the great particle accelerators could be described surprisingly well – by means of a 200-year-old formula devised by Leonhard Euler – if the energons were regarded as being composed of tiny vibrating strings, all resonating with different frequencies and amplitudes. The strings, which were


seen as replacing the ‘point particles’ of the ‘Standard Model’ of particle physics as the smallest constituents of matter, would be so fine as to be virtually one-dimensional, and they could be openended or closed in the form of little loops. After a number of practical ups and downs it was shown in 1984 by John Schwarz and Michael Green that the theory could be consistent with the known properties of both fermions and bosons, giving rise to the notion of supersymmetry, which in turn led to the name ‘superstring theory’. Supersymmetry is the name given to a fifth ‘symmetry’ of Nature – the others expressing the ‘invariance’ (constant value) of measurements depending on time, space, velocity of motion and orientation with respect to the observer – and it refers to an invariance with respect to the very tricky quantum notion (once again!) of ‘intrinsic’ or unchanging spin (see page 33). By 1995 the work of Edward Witten had become instrumental in launching what subsequently became known as the ‘second superstring revolution’, which envisages the possibility that the strings may actually be able to exhibit more than one dimension, and, in spite of the uncertainties and complexities of the theory as it stands today, the more optimistic specialists in the field see signs that it may be making some progress towards the long-awaited unification of relativity and quantum mechanics. A very attractive feature of the theory is that one of its many resonant vibrational patterns seems to define exactly the properties of the graviton, the energon (so far undiscovered) that is required, in theory, to act as the ‘messenger’ carrying the gravitational force. What is of special interest to us here, however, is that it provides theoretical support for the findings that matter and energy, in the shape of fermions and bosons, appear to be interconvertible in the particle accelerators, presumably because the experimental conditions cause alterations in the modes of vibration of their component strings. The writer is not competent to pursue this description much further – or perhaps even as far as this! – and in any case the position is very fluid, with work going on in many different locations, and judgements varying widely. At the time of writing (early 2002) the theory envisages a Universe of no fewer than eleven dimensions (ten spatial dimensions and one for time), and attention is focused on five different but related ‘supersymmetric’ string theories, which, together with a sixth theory called ‘eleven-dimensional supergravity’, are seen as variants of a mysterious overarching ‘Mtheory’ that relates in some ways to certain elements of both relativity and quantum mechanics.

Bootstrap and Variations Superstring theory is not by any means the only area of ‘post quantum mechanical’ thinking in subatomic physics. Another one that should be mentioned here, particularly because of its philosophical implications, rejoices in the name of ‘bootstrap theory’, and is associated especially with the name of Geoffrey Chew. One of its ancestors is what is called ‘field theory’, which originated over a century ago in the work of Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell on the transmission of electric charges. Bootstrap theory itself emerges from what is known as ‘S-matrix theory’, which was suggested originally by Heisenberg as a way of describing the nature and behaviour of hadrons. These energons – like all the others – can undergo transformations into one or other of their force-carrying ‘relatives’, and the many possible changes open to each type of energon can be expressed in matrix form and represented in S-matrix diagrams like the one shown in Figure 4. The S-matrix diagram shows the most likely reaction probabilities for the hadron in the circumstances concerned, there being no material ‘building blocks’ in S-matrix theory – only welldefined patterns of energy flow (which are reminiscent of the ‘flow patterns’ of Taoism).


Another interesting point about S-matrix theory is that it implies that all energons, in spite of their apparently rather unstable nature, must possess some internal structure (at least in their ‘particle mode’) because otherwise they would not be perceptible to an observer. Chew later developed his bootstrap theory on a much wider scale, to describe a Universe that contains neither ‘fundamental particles’ nor fields – nor even laws! – but only interacting events whose character develops from their interrelationships with one another rather than from any external source (compare Einstein’s remark on page 108). This makes ‘bootstrapping’ seem difficult to reconcile with Chew’s use of S-matrix theory to describe the behaviour of hadrons, but as he also envisaged the extension of his theory to include human consciousness as an element of reality, it seems to sit comfortably enough with our own views below (see pages 57 and 58).

Figure 4: An S-matrix Diagram (from The Tao of Physics, by Fritjof Capra)





S-matrix theory emphasises the likely reactions between particles rather than the particles themselves. Here a neutron connects the reaction between a proton and a negatively charged pion with a subsequent reaction producing a negatively charged sigma and a positively charged kaon.



One more theory that should be mentioned here was developed by David Bohm, who was also responsible for an ‘electron spin’ variant of the EPR experiment. Bohm believed that the Universe should be seen as a holistic entity, rather than as the sum of separate parts, and that there is a sense in which every part contains the whole – rather as each part of a hologram can exhibit the whole image. Bohm talked of the Universe having an ‘implicate order’ – of movements rather than structures – and believed that further understanding of that concept might lead the way to a reconciliation of quantum theory with relativity theory. Among the elements Bohm saw as interdependent are mind and matter, and his thinking therefore shares with that of Chew the notion that consciousness will have to be included in any comprehensive theory of the nature of reality. We ourselves share a somewhat similar opinion, as we shall try to explain in Chapter 3.

Another Ontology!
At this point it may provide another perspective on what we have been saying about some of the more interesting developments in modern physics if we relate them to the ontology of the world we suggested at the beginning of this chapter (Table 2). A few of the main entities to which we have referred, for example, can be categorised as shown in Table 6.


Table 6: A Partial Ontology of the World – Some Entities of Modern Physics

THE WORLD Real Concrete Universal Universal Gravitation Components of Physical Reality Structure of ‘Fundamental’ Particles Nature of Physical Reality Nature of Physical Reality Particular Gravitational Field of a Massive Body Energon Universal Theory of General Relativity Quantum Mechanics Abstract Particular ‘Warping’ of Space and Time ‘Wavefunction’ of Energon Defines Properties of the ‘Graviton’ Consciousness as Part of Reality Consciousness as Part of Reality Quantum Descriptions of Fictional Animals ‘Wavefunction’ of Schrödinger’s Cat Universal Fictional Abstract Particular

Vibrating ‘Strings’

String Theory

Interacting Events

‘Bootstrap’ Theory

Enfolded Patterns

‘Implicate Order’ Theory


The Eastern Perspective
Well before these latest developments became established as respectable new areas of physics – in fact, ever since the world that was being revealed by quantum mechanics began to look very different from the one to which we were then accustomed – philosophers (and a few scientists) were struck by its apparent similarity to the nature of reality as portrayed by some of the principal ‘belief systems’ of the East. On the face of it, the ‘world view’ of Western philosophy, which has provided the backdrop for scientific thinking for over 2000 years, has begun to revisit the roots from which it departed in Greece in the fifth century BCE. The investigation of the submicroscopic world has ‘moved downwards’ in the last century from molecules to atoms, thence to nucleons and electrons, and now to the hypothetical quarks and superstrings. Modern physics is currently exploring a micro-Universe consisting of different sorts of interacting ‘condensations of energy’ vibrating with characteristic frequencies and amplitudes. Fermions vibrate as constituents of matter, conferring stability by the enormous (relativistic) speeds generated by their confinement in spaces of subatomic dimensions, and bosons are exchanged between fermions as carriers of atomic and inter-atomic forces. All energons, moreover, with their ‘clouds’ of ‘messengers’, appear to be in a state of frenzied motion, the interactions increasing in intensity at higher temperatures and also proclaiming by their nature the identities of the individual energons involved. It has been pointed out by Fritjof Capra (in his The Tao of Physics) that this picture of the nature of reality, emerging as it does from modern particle physics, has many similarities with those of Vedic belief systems like Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism – especially the last of these. Capra’s case is a very attractive one, founded on excellent and accurate accounts of physical science, and its influence will be apparent in our discussions below. First, though, we should say a word about the differences between Hinduism and the two other systems mentioned above. (It is very difficult to find an expression to replace ‘belief systems’, because Buddhism and Taoism, preoccupied with their search for an ‘Ultimate Reality’ rather than an all-powerful Deity, and for ‘absolute’ rather than ‘relative’ knowledge, are strictly speaking neither religions nor philosophies).

Paths to the Absolute
The Hindu religion, with its ancient Vedic roots, has never contained anything resembling the omnipotent Semitic God who directs the affairs of the world from outside. Instead it retains the older, almost animistic belief in an Ultimate Reality (Brahman) that embraces everything in the Universe and exercises control from within. Hinduism sees the individual ‘spirit’ (Atman) as an integral part of the Universe, and the Western concept of a separate ‘self’ as ignorance – an illusion (maya) that must be dispelled in the process of achieving the blissful liberation (moksha) that comes from realising that everything is united in the Ultimate Reality. It is sometimes said that Western thinking differentiates, while Eastern thinking unifies. Maya is also used to describe the ‘mistaken’ view that the concrete things that surround us are real, whereas they should ‘actually’ be seen as no more than mental images (compare our Two Worlds paradigm, which regards them as both!). A big gulf exists, of course, between the often profound thinking of the Hindu scholars and the more naïve but highly practical attitude to religion as it is practised on a daily basis in the home of the average Indian family. Hinduism’s most striking parallel with the findings of subatomic physics is its mystical vision that everything in the Universe is engaged – pace Heraclitus! – in the ‘cosmic dance’ of Shiva, the god


of creation and destruction, whose dancing is the force that maintains its ever-changing rhythms and patterns. This is a very evocative metaphor for the cascades of interactions and transformations of matter and messenger energons that have been revealed by research in particle physics, and one that is in tune on the intuitive level with many of the implications of quantum mechanics and the more recent theories we have mentioned above.

The ‘cosmic dance’ of the Lord Shiva, which in Hindu mythology sustains the endless cycle of creation and destruction in the Universe

Buddhism and Taoism, though not primarily theist in character, nevertheless retain much of the mythology of Hinduism, and in particular the picture of a dynamic Universe, controlled by an inner Reality that can be experienced directly by contemplation. Buddhism is principally concerned with improving the human predicament, and with ways of achieving ‘enlightenment’ by following the teachings of the Buddha. It has around 300 million followers today in various countries in the Far East, and its central themes of the impermanence of the world and the suffering caused by holding on to material things and fixed ideas – and in particular its emphasis on love and compassion – have also made it very attractive, if only at a superficial level, to many people in the West. Taoism, too, is concerned with liberating the individual from the burdens of the world, but is much more mystical in character. Its primary focus is on the Tao, which means ‘the Way’ (with overtones of the Truth, the cosmic process and the Ultimate Reality). Taoism emerged in China, alongside Confucianism, in the 6th century BCE – about the same time as the Greeks were forging a very different tradition in Milesia – and its approach, incorporating the ancient Chinese view of a Universe in constant flux, is to focus on contemplating Nature and try to live in harmony with her flows and patterns. The founder of Taoism was Lao Tzu, who may or may not have been the sole author of the Tao Te Ching – a wonderful little book, embodying much of the wisdom of Taoism – which teaches that the processes of Nature hold the key to wisdom and happiness. “Those who follow the natural order flow in the current of the Tao”, says the Taoist sage.


All three of the above systems place great reliance on what the Mahayana Buddhists call ‘absolute knowledge’ – the knowledge that can only be acquired by direct mystical experience, usually sought in meditation. Taoism, in particular, places little value on rational thought, except, of course, in so far as it is necessary for the unavoidable demands of day-to-day living. What all of these systems have in common, in spite of their differences in detail, is their vision of the Universe as a totality of interconnected and interacting entities and events of which we ourselves – the external observers in classical Western thinking – form an integral and inseparable part. This is for many people a very attractive feature, rejecting as it does the artificial barrier between human beings and their surroundings that has been in many ways an obstacle to understanding since it was erected in Greece more than 2000 years ago on the foundations laid by the Atomists. It is interesting, in the light of what we are trying to do in this book, to note that the Eastern belief systems in general also contain elements that are strongly reminiscent of the concrete and abstract worlds of our Two Worlds paradigm, though in the last analysis their assumptions differ from ours in the rather critical matter of which of those two worlds is real! It ought to be instructive to take a little time to examine both the similarities and the differences.

Twin Realities
Taking the worlds of the Two Worlds paradigm first, the concrete version corresponds very closely with the classical ‘one world’ view that is commonly accepted in Western cultures by scientists as well as by the rest of us, and also with the concept of a world of ‘relative knowledge’ that is regarded in the East as adequate for ordinary day-to-day living. These familiar worlds contain both material entities (like stones and the bodies of living creatures) and non-material ones (like heat waves and magnetic fields), all of which we know to be concrete because we can detect them by means of our senses. We know perfectly well, too, that these concrete worlds exist whether we are observing them or not, and they bear little resemblance, therefore, either to the preferred world of the quantum physicist (which, like Bishop Berkeley’s, exists only when someone is watching it), or to that of the Vedic philosopher, who regards the familiar world we see around us as mere illusion. The abstract world of the Two Worlds paradigm, on the other hand, is similar in some ways to the quantum and Vedic worlds above, though it differs fundamentally from both because, though not itself concrete, it is just as real as the familiar concrete and abstract ‘originals’ on which it is based. A unique and incorrigible version of this ‘world view’ (however different from ours) also exists as a reality for every living creature, containing some degree of awareness of everything, material and non-material, that it encounters in the concrete world – including, for our own species at least, an image of a concrete self. We shall return to the significance of this later. Our discussion about these two worlds, as far as we can understand their nature in terms of both the limited amount of concrete data available and the significance of the related abstract theory, has been concerned mainly with the world of the very small, and this theory has not yet been reconciled with current theories of the very large – partly (but not entirely) because of the inconceivably great differences of scale. It is useful to remember, however, that it is not the small and large concrete realities themselves that have so far proved to be irreconcilable, but only the corresponding theories. We believe – as we have now said more than once – that the ambivalence observed in the laboratory at submicroscopic levels is probably a concrete property of the energons concerned, and that mathematicians may yet be able to find ways of describing this tiny world satisfactorily in relativistic terms.


Fortunately, the fact that no-one has yet been able to do this does not mean that we cannot proceed with our current investigation – there is nothing to prevent our looking in non-mathematical terms at what the relativistic and quantum worlds have in common. Indeed, we might take comfort from Eddington’s point (see page 37) about the handling of ideas "before they reach the mathematical stage", and, if we can reshape our ‘world views’ to take account of both concrete and abstract realities, we may be able to find some interesting new assumptions for the theoreticians to work on.

Forces at Work
The purpose of any physical theory, in essence, is to describe some aspect of the world in a useful way. It is sometimes said that a good theory is one that enables us to make predictions, but that is not always the best criterion. It is often possible to predict from theory that something that ‘already is’ can be discovered (like the existence of the planet Neptune or the positron), but no theory can really foretell future events (like the winning lottery numbers, or even tomorrow’s weather). This is probably the main reason – along with complexity – why we have very few good theories about a surprising number of the large and small things that affect our daily lives. Some of these things are merely difficult to determine, like calculating the resultants of complex systems of interacting forces, or interpreting the results of an opinion survey, while others, like predicting when a radioactive atom will decay or an earthquake will occur, are (certainly at present) completely beyond our powers – even with the help of weapons like ‘chaos theory’. There are just too many forces interacting in cases like these, and it is apparent that both the living and non-living systems of our world – the real concrete one, this time! – exist in many kinds of equilibrium that are constantly changing as a result of their mutual interactions. A quantitative treatment of our world’s equilibrium systems, however, is not necessary for our present purposes: we can make some progress merely with qualitative considerations, and we can start by thinking for a moment about some of the forces that bring about change in the concrete world of our experience.

Table 7: Some Forces Affecting Equilibria in the Concrete World Category Interactive Classical Interactive Submicroscopic ‘Random’ Classical ‘Random’ Submicroscopic Action By Living Creatures Example Gravity Magnetism Tectonic Shift Radioactive Decay Mouse Chews Insulation Effect Attracting Massive Bodies Affecting Charged Bodies Causing Earthquake Forming New Element Causing Power Failure

A Little Knowledge…
In the above examples, it is noticeable that we know – at least to some extent – what is likely to happen when such changes occur, but what we don’t know is when, or even if, the equilibria in question will show any alteration – except on those occasions when we ourselves play a leading


part in the event. In the case of human affairs, in particular, unpredictable situations can emerge from the mutual interplay of our actions. One rather famous example of the way in which a large number of apparently innocent individual choices can produce an unfortunate outcome is called ‘the tragedy of the commons’. This arises when a number of shepherds, all entitled under the law to graze their sheep on ‘common’ land, and each pursuing his own interest in doing so, eventually produce a situation in which there is no grass left for any of them. (This flies in the face, incidentally, of the famous ‘invisible hand’ of Adam Smith, who alleged that the self-interested actions of large numbers of participants will always tend to produce situations of economic benefit to all concerned.) Another case beloved of American psychologists is known as ‘the Abilene paradox’. This time we have a group of bored young people, sitting in a bar in Texas and unable to decide what to do next, each one agreeing that, of all their options, the stupidest one would be to make the hot, dusty drive over to Abilene, probably just to buy a few more beers. Two hours later they all find themselves sitting in a bar in Abilene, though no-one can really explain why ... Situations like these can be studied up to a point using statistical methods and behavioural theories, but the results are usually disappointing because external frames of reference are lacking. In spite of this difficulty, however, there are often insights that can help us to make reasonably useful predictions in such cases – ignoring the trivial ones, of course! We have learned, in our discussions about quantum mechanics, that there always seems to be uncertainty in the real world at subatomic levels – though it may not always be apparent – and we know, too, that the observations we make will always produce unplanned disturbances that will be important if the scale is small enough. There are also situations, however, where the interplay of apparently unconnected events – whether physical or psychological – can be seen to produce something in the nature of a resultant force or a shift in a ‘centre of gravity’ whose characteristics can help us to understand at least some of the changes that are taking place.

Mach and His ‘All’
One rather unusual man – the Austrian physicist Ernst Mach, of Mach number fame – had some very interesting things to say on this subject, at least where physical forces are involved. He produced a paper, as long ago as 1883, attacking Newton’s concept of absolute space and time, and greatly influencing Einstein in the latter’s early thinking about relativity. Some physicists (though not all) even think that his ideas are actually perceptible in relativity theory. Mach’s central proposition, though not very clearly stated, was that because all the bodies in the Universe must attract one another according to their masses and distances apart, the inertia of moving bodies (their tendency to continue in the way they are going) must be “a motion relative to the stars” – i.e. relative to one another rather than to the fixed spatial framework postulated by Newton. His prediction that the ‘law of inertia’ would prove to involve an average of all the significant masses in the Universe was actually named ‘Mach’s principle’ by Einstein, and the name has stuck, in spite of the fact that – to quote Richard Feynman again – “inertia has no known cause”. Mach’s principle, unfortunately, is one of those things that is supported qualitatively by various pieces of evidence, but is fiendishly difficult to use quantitatively in practice because of the mathematical complexities that arise with the large numbers of variables that are usually involved. The language in which Mach presented his ideas, moreover, went beyond the straightforward descriptions that are customary in mathematics and physics, and betrayed a rather romantic philosophical approach that coloured much of his thinking. He spoke of “the overpowering unity of the All”, for example, and in some ways it is this haunting vision of ‘the All’, with its overtones


of Eastern mysticism, that helps us to understand the peculiar importance of the legacy left by a thinker of great vision who was actually a very practical and productive working scientist.

Ernst Mach (1838-1916)

We have resurrected Mach’s principle here because it provides a useful insight into many of the processes that occur in the concrete world around us (besides the cosmic ones that he had in mind), and particularly because it enables us to think about situations where there are no external frames of reference. Looking back at Table 7, for example, we can see that our lives are likely to be just as significantly affected by submicroscopic forces as by cosmic ones, and as much by the actions of living creatures as by ‘random’ events involving inanimate things. Some unexpected happenings, like earthquakes and heart attacks, appear to be random events, and though we do not always accept their random character entirely at face value, and invest large sums of money in trying to find out how to predict them, the record shows that our success rates are low. The most we can usually do is calculate the statistical probability of their occurrence, as we do with the ‘half lives’ of radioactive atoms, or the demographic probabilities used by the life insurance companies. Another type of uncertainty – very interesting at both the classical and quantum levels – arises from the fact that all living creatures (including human beings) are able to make choices within the limits imposed upon them by their genetic inheritance and the events that occur around them. It is in this category that we find ‘disturbance related’ uncertainties (see page 45) varying from that caused by the observer making a measurement in a quantum system to the classical-scale disaster that can ensue when a house is infested by termites. The ‘disturbance’ caused by the termites is not a random event like an earthquake, but the result of a host of purposeful individual actions arising from the ‘felt needs’ of the creatures concerned. Irrespective of the degree to which those actions are instinctive, they are not so different from many that we perform ourselves – some of which, at least, are the result of deliberate choices. We can see, therefore, that all living creatures are responding constantly to a multiplicity of stimuli, that they have a measure of freedom to determine the nature of their responses, and that the resultant of any given set of actions will accommodate the performance of the efficient and the inefficient, the energetic and the lazy and the bright and the stupid (in the case of human beings), and will therefore represent a consensus for the total population involved. The overall lesson we draw from this is that it seems likely to be useful if we ‘generalise’ Mach’s principle into a universal principle applying to all ‘self-determining equilibria’ – including those that are the resultants of the interactions of living creatures as well as those that stem from inanimate sources. We are thereby provided, as a bonus, with insights into the ancient metaphysical problems of free will and determinism. This brings us back once again to the idea that consciousness must have a part to play in any really satisfactory theory of the nature of reality, and it seems entirely possible


that physicists might find it interesting to join the biologists in looking more closely at the concrete physical effects that the actions of living creatures often have on the stability of the natural world.

Freedom or Illusion?
We noted in Chapter 1 that it was around 500 BCE that Heraclitus of Ephesus – according to the few fragments of his thought that survive – asserted that the world is in a state of constant ‘flux’, and we see that his assertion seems to be supported all these years later not only by the descriptions of a restless world of ever-changing interrelationships suggested to us by Eastern mystical philosophers, but also by the very similar picture that has emerged, to our astonishment, from quantum mechanics and other areas of modern physics. What interests us most at the moment, however, is that our view of reality – originating partly from the sensory signals that the world presents to us and partly from our interpretations of them – is also undergoing constant change, because neither the world as we know it nor its living passengers are standing still. We are faced again with the inescapable fact that, although we are real creatures observing a real world, the only image of it we can ever perceive is the shifting subjective one we are constantly re-creating for ourselves. It is worth reiterating, too, that in spite of the fact that we have a highly developed capacity for interpreting our surroundings, our ‘world views’ can never be identical with those of other people – never mind those of individuals of other species – because we cannot escape our genetic and experiential differences (see page 73). What this all seems to amount to, then, is a Universe in many and various kinds of dynamic balance (could we think of an Equilibrium Universe, or even an Unsteady State Universe?!) in which everything, animate and inanimate, is able to act or react – consciously, subconsciously or even unconsciously (like Mach’s stars and planets) – to changes in its environment, as if in an attempt to optimise its own circumstances in a sort of Universal homeostasis. The net result of these events, of course, is unlikely to be a return to the status quo (as it often is in homeostasis), but instead a marginally altered equilibrium, and the idea, though it still does nothing to help to explain the origin of the Universe, does seem to offer an acceptable description of its ‘mode of being’. This view of reality, as we have suggested, has something in common with the ‘bootstrap’ theories of Geoffrey Chew and the ‘implicate order’ of David Bohm (see page 50), both of whom have pursued visions of a Universe with the character of a cosmic network of energy interrelationships in which ordered patterns of movement – rather than structure – can be detected, and in which the presence of human consciousness may eventually be seen to be a key factor. One is reminded again of the fundamental beliefs of Taoism, which holds that the way to live can be discovered by observing the constantly changing interactive patterns that emerge spontaneously in Nature. If our ‘self-determining’ equilibria are entirely the resultants of the interplay of our own actions with other animate and inanimate forces that exist in the world around us, there is clearly no longer any need to invoke the controlling powers of an external Deity. Instead, we return in essence to the view of reality that predated the separate ‘uncuttable’ particles of the Atomists. This, of course, has dramatic consequences for the ancient arguments about determinism. ‘Hard line’ determinists believe, simply, that every event (including every human choice) is caused by another event, leading directly to a regression that goes all the way back to Aristotle’s ‘First Cause’ (which was the ‘Prime Mover’ of the world rather than its Creator), and those determinists obviously have to hold that there is no such thing as free will – or moral responsibility, for that matter.


There are, however, various shades of ‘soft’ determinism, which take the view, broadly speaking, that, though the processes of the world are generally deterministic, we ourselves are not compelled to follow causal chains in every circumstance, and that we can therefore act – or avoid doing so – in a morally responsible way. Many celebrated scientists and metaphysicians – Thomas Hobbes, Isaac Newton, David Hume and Albert Einstein, for example – were determinists, though their precise positions on the ‘hardness’ scale (and in particular the extent to which they regarded events as predetermined by Divine law) were not always clear. It seems to us, however, that there is a third philosophical position that is not only considerably more plausible, but also restores the individual’s moral responsibility. This position, which is the one we prefer, is that free choices can be made by all living things (within, of course, whatever may be possible for a given species), but that we are deceived into thinking that this is not so by the ways in which our lives are constrained by the actions of other creatures and by the effects of random events – so that we find ourselves wondering if we do indeed have any real freedom. (“Not even a ‘bus – just a tram!”, in the words of the famous limerick!). Deciding where we stand in the determinism debate – as in so many others – becomes a matter of choosing between the promptings of rational thought and those of intuition. The basic doubts that strengthen the case for a deterministic world represent the rational side of the argument, which holds that we can neither prove that our actions are not determined by past events, nor avoid completely the ‘mind/body’ problem, which leads us to the intellectual conclusion that no amount of mental effort can enable us to ‘lift a finger’. Our intuition, however, tells us a different story. When we turn to introspection as a basis for our reasoning we can actually see ourselves at work, so to speak! We know perfectly well, for example, that we have ‘chosen’ to lift that finger, and we are able to watch our decision being implemented, even if we do not know how we are doing it. People who believe in ‘free will’ and moral responsibility are obviously not supporters of determinism, and are called libertarians. Many ‘closet libertarians’, who had previously seen no alternative to determinism, heaved a sigh of relief when they first heard of quantum mechanics. They tried to seize the opportunity presented by the new knowledge – and especially by the descriptions of the uncertainty that was now accepted to exist in the behaviour of subatomic particles – to assert their belief in a world (a Universe by that time!) whose future could not be predicted on the basis of past events, and which therefore offered the individual the possibility of making moral (and other) choices. Sadly, however, more mature reflection revealed that their position was in no way improved, because if our actions are governed by sheer chance – the thing about quantum mechanics that worried Einstein so much – such choices obviously cannot be regarded as any more moral than before. The Two Worlds paradigm, however, enables us to see how the concrete world is affected by the ‘free will’ of countless trillions of living creatures, exercised on the basis of their individual desires and perceptions. It will become clear in Chapter 3 (if it is not so already) that the writer is some kind of libertarian, but one who is quite happy with the idea that his freedom to influence the course of the events that affect him is constrained, not only by inanimate forces, but also by the corresponding freedoms of his fellow human beings and the much more limited – but sometimes significant – freedoms of other living things. We can perhaps christen the philosophical position we are now espousing ‘constrained libertarianism’! The deterministic tradition is continued, if not explicitly, in the search by today’s physicists for a TOE – a Theory of Everything – based on the attempt to unify mathematically the four ‘fundamental forces’ that seem to hold the Universe together (the gravitational force, the so-called


‘electroweak force’, the electromagnetic force and the ‘strong nuclear force’). But are these the only forces that are important in the real world we are seeking to describe? Could the ‘life force’ be a fifth fundamental force, especially as we keep wondering about a role for consciousness? This suggests (maybe just for fun!) another way to look at the matter of ‘fundamental’ forces. There is nothing to stop us grouping these mysterious entities in a different way, as long as we can avoid rational flaws in the argument. It seems quite possible, for example, that in view of the enormous differences in strength we observe in these forces they might sit more comfortably with one another if they were re-grouped under only three ‘fundamental’ headings, instead of four! 1. 2. 3. Gravity; The three intra-atomic forces (already ‘unified’); and The ‘life force’.

We know already that gravity can only be ‘unified’ with the electromagnetic forces under nearimpossible conditions – and it is surely significant that it only attracts – while the life force also looks to be a very unpromising candidate for any kind of formulation in electromagnetic terms. In this scenario, then, we could imagine the ‘functions’ of the above ‘forces’ to be as follows: 1. 2. 3. maintains the structure and ‘function’ of the Universe (repulsive force neither observed nor needed) – without it nothing material would have been formed; maintain the structure and function of the energon – matter and energy remain interchangeable; maintains the structure and function of the living cell – and makes evolution possible (perhaps operating against the Second Law of Thermodynamics?).

We could speculate even further, of course. Could such a grouping of forces have a bearing on the EPR debate about non-locality? Does the gravitational force, for example, act instantaneously ‘at a distance’, in the way that worried Einstein? (If a supernova explodes, to take a case in point, its gravitational pull on any other body presumably changes instantaneously, whereas it still remains visible to an observer for an interval dependent on the velocity of light). Is the ‘instantaneous’ action of the gravitational force related to the inertia of moving bodies? Does switching on an electromagnet similarly produce an instantaneous field? And what about the vexed question of telepathy? Could the ‘life force’ be providing living creatures with a usable global communications field? Could all these fields be the media for the interactions that take place within all selfdetermining equilibria, animate and inanimate? Do they exist, in fact, as the space/time continuum is assumed to do, whether they are ‘in use’ or not? These are fanciful notions, of course, but a genuine TOE – if we can really envisage one – would surely have to be able to deal with questions of this degree of abstraction, whether they seem to make any sense or not. In any case, a TOE would almost certainly be essentially tautological, and would therefore be highly unlikely to be of much help to us in our dealings with familiar things.

The Self in Two Worlds
It is time now to come to the other main part of our task – to look within the context of our Two Worlds paradigm at the nature of the self Before we embark systematically on the task in Chapter 3, however, it may be a useful exercise to use our ontological skills to consider how the self that is


responsible for our interactions with the rest of reality may itself relate to the two worlds of our suggested new paradigm. The first thing to realise, perhaps, is that the whole concept of “I”, “me”, “my self”, and so forth, is merely an abstraction that has no existence outside the human mind. What does exist in its own right, however, is the concrete entity to which these terms refer – a living presence that is actually doing things. We know that we are lifting our arms, for example, but because we know so little about what goes on inside us we can’t explain who or what is making such things happen. Once again, as in the case of Einstein’s EPR paradox, we have to question not the behaviour of the entity concerned, but its intrinsic nature. It is, certainly, a Real Concrete entity – we can perceive its concrete effects, like the movement of my limbs or the sounds of my speech – but the ‘inner’ self that is making these things happen is clearly Non-material, like life itself. We also have to remember that when we refer to the self in everyday speech we are often talking about two other completely different entities – our familiar ‘flesh and blood’ physical self, which, of course, is also Real Concrete (sometimes “too, too solid” at that!) and our Real Abstract ‘self image’, which we can summon up in our conscious minds when required. Before we begin Chapter 3, therefore, it seems advisable to consider carefully the characteristics of the three different entities for which we use the same word. We shall start by giving them different names and detailed descriptions, and after that we shall assign them – together with some other items for comparison purposes – to their proper ontological categories (see Table 8). This may strike the reader as a rather ponderous procedure, but it seems wise to proceed cautiously in this very tricky area.

‘One’s Physical Self’: This is the most readily recognisable of the three different entities we commonly call ‘the self’. It exists in the Concrete world of our Two Worlds paradigm, and is Concrete Material in ontological terms, consisting of our body, brain and the rest of our nervous system. It is therefore in the same ontological category as the physical ‘being’ of a motor car or a dandelion, and as such it is the ‘self’ that is constantly interacting with our physical surroundings. What makes it do so is something to which we shall return in the next chapter. ‘One’s Self Image’: This ‘self’ is also familiar to us, but this time as the ever-changing and highly subjective mental picture that we conjure up according to how we happen to be thinking about ourselves at the time. This ‘self’ is how we see ourselves in the Abstract world of the Two Worlds paradigm – in much the same way as we see anything else – and it is the elusive entity that people usually have in mind when they are discussing the nature of the ‘self’ and the thorny matter of how it relates to the body (the infamous ‘mind/body problem’). ‘One’s Inner Self’: This is actually the ‘secret self’ we are searching for in this book. It is a circumlocution for “I” – the familiar individual that we know ourselves to be – but we have so far established very little about what it is because it is a non-material entity that operates almost entirely at subconscious levels. We do know, however, that it is ontologically Concrete, like ‘One’s Physical Self’, because we can see many of its effects all around us in the real world. These effects, moreover, tell us a good deal about its nature. It is clearly an autonomous agent, exercising control over the whole fantastic array of the processes that mark us out as living creatures – maintaining our ‘vegetative’ bodily functions, detecting and processing sensory data, memorising some of it, acting on other parts of it, and so on, largely without our conscious knowledge. From now on, then, it probably makes sense to drop the ‘secret’ label and call it simply the self.
To emphasise the significance of the above ontological categorisations, and to illustrate how they can be applied to some more familiar entities in the real world, we have compared and contrasted all three of these ‘selves’ with a number of other Non-material Particulars in Table 8.


Table 8: Concrete Non-material Particulars (Including the Self) With Some of Their Concrete and Abstract Associations (Compare Table 3)

THE REAL WORLD (Following the Two Worlds Paradigm) Concrete World Non-material Particulars Artistic Talent Affection Heat Wave Magnetic Field Illness ‘One’s Inner Self’† Associated Material Particulars Human Being Fellow Creatures Weather Magnet Healthy Body ‘One’s Physical Self’‡ Material Effects Quality Artefacts Happy Lives Hot Entities Attraction/Repulsion of Charged Bodies Symptoms of Illness Actions (Physical and Mental) Abstract World Non-material Effects* Love of Art Desire to Reciprocate Responses to Hot Weather Theory of Magnetism Misery of Illness ‘One’s Self Image’+

* The Abstract Non-material Effects are responses to the Material Effects of the corresponding Concrete Non-material Particulars † This is the self – the concrete ‘secret’ self that we are pursuing in this book ‡ This is our “too, too solid” material self, comprising body, brain and the rest of the nervous system + This is the familiar abstract ‘picture of ourselves’ that is available in our conscious minds



The ‘Secret’ Self

Having considered the nature of reality in terms of our proposed Two Worlds paradigm, we are now in a position to consider the implications of our findings for the nature of the self, and to look for empirical evidence to develop our knowledge further. There are two main sorts of data that should be helpful in this endeavour – the psychological (which helps us to understand the nature and contents of the mind) and the neurophysiological (which deals with the structures and processes of the central nervous system). It seems hardly necessary to add – but perhaps it will do no harm to do so! – that here we are again facing the same mind/body dichotomy that haunts every discussion about the nature of the self. We should also note that the psychological data we shall be seeking comes both from the ‘external’ observation of the behaviour of other individuals and from introspection – the ‘internal’ examination of the contents of our own conscious minds. Before we go to those sources, however, we shall start, as usual, with some premises of our own, and probably the best way to do that is to look back at the ontological categorisations shown in Table 8. As we can see from that table, our bodies and brains are also part of the ‘external’ world – Real Concrete Material entities that can be studied using many different scientific disciplines. Our ‘selves’, on the other hand, though equally concrete (their interactions with the rest of the Real Concrete world can be observed by others as well as by oneself) are Non-material entities. But studying the self is a much tougher proposition than studying other Concrete Non-material entities like, say, a magnetic field or the talents of a human being, because the ‘inner’ self we are searching for here is not only non-material, but is also the one non-material entity that is itself doing the studying! Jean-Paul Sartre was probably thinking of something similar when he said: “Consciousness is what I is not, and is not what it is” – which, of course, is the sort of remark that gets philosophers into trouble! As one last attempt to re-state this rather difficult point, we could say in our own terms: “When I am thinking about my self, my concrete inner self (which is I) has actually focused my thoughts on my abstract self image (which is certainly not I).” We shall be grappling shortly with the very intractable problem of consciousness, but first we ought to look at what has already been said about the self over the years by other people.

Searching for the Self
The literature on mind and self is voluminous, but not, for our purposes, very encouraging. We have not found it easy to locate theoretical studies (let alone systematic research material) that attempt to explore the relationships between the conscious and subconscious processes of the human mind, but we can at least look at some of the more notable thinking that has been done on the subject. We shall return later to what has been gleaned in recent years from neurophysiological work (including some information on neurochemical processes), but we should first look briefly at the older and more speculative psychological theories that have been influential in the field. Probably the first thing the investigator notices is that most theories of mind and self are heavily biased – perhaps not surprisingly – towards conscious mechanisms. The conscious mind, after all, is the place to which we have privileged access when we indulge in introspection, and it is also

where we can recognise in ourselves at least some of the processes that seem to be going on in the minds of other people. It is the natural hunting ground, in short, for the psychologist. The dictionaries and textbooks are not as helpful on the definition of ‘self’ as they are on those of most other philosophical terms, which probably reflects the ambiguities inherent in the subject. Words like ‘personality’, ‘psyche’, ‘ego’ and ‘identity’ don’t take us very far forward, and even expressions like ‘capable of thought’ and ‘capable of deliberate action’, though probing a little deeper, are really somewhat superficial descriptions of what a self can do – rather than how it does things or what it is – and are obviously incomplete at that. Leaving aside theological discussions about the possible existence of the soul (denied to non-human creatures, in any case, by Western religions), and postponing for the moment any attempt to approach the subject from the mystical perspectives of Eastern cultures, we have to say that there seem to be very few really convincing theories about the nature – or even the existence! – of the self. The framework for most Western thinking on the subject was firmly (and in some ways unfortunately) established early in the 17th century by René Descartes, whose differentiation of his material body and his non-material mind became the foundation for later ‘dualistic’ or ‘mind and matter’ theories. Descartes, who was preoccupied with finding something of whose existence he could be certain – in a world where he knew that his senses were always liable to deceive him – finally decided that he had found it in his awareness of his own existence, guaranteed by the fact that he knew he was thinking. His Cogito Ergo Sum (“I am thinking, therefore I exist”) has come to be known affectionately by philosophers as ‘the cogito’, and is usually taken to support Descartes’ ‘proof’ that he existed. Strictly speaking, of course, what he had ‘proved’ to exist was only a disembodied thinking capability, and he knew very well that there is much more to a living person than that. He discussed the fact that he also possessed a body, which registered pain and other feelings, but as his body was manifestly a physical entity and his ‘thinking self’ was an incorporeal one, he left us with what amounts to a re-statement of the apparently insoluble ‘mind/body’ problem – how the non-material ‘mind’ and the material body can possibly interact.

René Descartes (1596-1650)

Descartes’s investigations, in other words, stopped short of the question of whether or not there might be something else underlying the conscious mind – perhaps some kind of essential ‘self’ –


that might be actually instigating the thinking as well as all the other activities of the living organism. We shall try to show in the following chapters that that is exactly what is going on, and that the self (with its capacity to do these things) is not something we have, but something we are. If we are dualists, then – and we clearly are – we are not Cartesian dualists! (see page 109). Most philosophers since Descartes have followed his lead, largely without question, and it is therefore not unusual to find the self described as ‘a thinking subject’, ‘a conscious entity’, or something similar. But even a glance at the literature confirms that accepting the Cartesian form of dualism leads invariably to confusion. Questions like “Can the self see itself as an object?”, “What is the ‘content’ of self-consciousness?”, and the like, are evidence of the inherent difficulties.

The Swiss Connection!
One of the most elaborate bodies of theory purporting to describe the nature and functioning of the mind was formulated by the celebrated psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, usually regarded as the founder of psychoanalysis. Freud saw the human mind as having a conscious level, a ‘preconscious’ containing memories of past experiences, and an ‘unconscious’ level, deeply hidden and largely unknown. His theory of personality was also based on the premise of a conscious self, but a self of a rather stylised kind. He saw the human personality as consisting of three elements, two of which were hidden in the unconscious – an id, impelling the individual to follow his ‘baser’ instincts, and a superego, pulling in the directions that the individual believed society would prefer him to take, and often ‘overcorrecting’ in the process. The id and the superego, however, were both ‘supervised’ in the mature mind by a conscious ego, whose function was to maintain a reasonable balance between the urgings of the two less responsible partners. Freud’s theories were based on extensive clinical practice, and were very influential for a long time, though they have largely lost support today.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

Over the years, Freud came to place increasing importance on the content of his patient’s dreams, which he believed could reveal deeply repressed memories and desires, often very damaging to the patient, and frequently expressed in various forms of sexual symbolism. Carl Jung, initially one of Freud’s disciples, later parted company with his teacher over their different interpretations of clinical data exhibiting this same kind of sexual imagery, and developed a substantial dream theory of his own, believing that dreams revealed ‘genetic memories’ and ‘archetypes’ common to people of many cultures, thereby suggesting the existence of a universal ‘collective unconscious’. These

two distinguished psychoanalysts are historically important because they drew attention to the workings of the deeper levels of the mind, but their insistence on the predominant role of the conscious self seems to the writer to be in some ways a misreading of their own clinical data.

‘Consciousness’ and the Self
There are many contemporary views about the phenomenon of consciousness, the most widely accepted being what is described as materialism or physicalism, which holds that mental activities, like everything else in the real world, are merely physical processes, and that there is no room in theories of consciousness for entities like disembodied ‘selves’. Once again – as we shall be seeing later (see page 69) – we can only disagree: the physical processes are there all right, but the real problem is to explain not how they work but what it is that makes them do so – and the physicalist philosophy cannot deal with that question. There is, in fact, a massive amount of evidence that our behaviour – and, for that matter, the behaviour of all other species in their own ways – shows every living organism to be something that can perfectly well be regarded, for want of a better word, as a ‘self’ (though only human beings can know what that means) busily engaged in keeping itself alive, and in our own case handling many more important functions than just thinking! When one considers that we are continuously engaged in responding to internal and external stimuli of which the conscious mind is mostly unaware, that we are still working away at our chores when we are asleep, and that we often have to struggle hard at the conscious level to recover information that has been stored – perhaps for a very long time – in the depths of our memories, there can be little doubt that the essential continuing self that gives us our identity and defines our existence is not predominantly a conscious entity. My conscious mind, then, is clearly not the primary controlling influence in my life, but instead an intermittent player on my personal stage, available on demand (provided I haven’t fallen asleep!) to perform specific tasks like helping to retrieve wanted items, associating them with new experiences, reasoning, calculating, producing scenarios, and sometimes preparing material for communicating to other people. Thinking, in other words, rather than being a key function of the human self, seems instead to be only a part-time activity, carried out in the conscious mind, but initiated at subconscious levels by the self to supplement its more fundamental life-support processes. What this means, of course, is that the conscious ‘self’ that many people have set out to find simply doesn’t exist, except as a slightly out-of-focus abstract ‘moving image’ of those limited activities of the ‘real’ concrete self that show themselves at the conscious level. The justification for such a bold claim, moreover, is not too difficult to find. The various components of my ‘self awareness’, so to speak – my talents, aspirations, beliefs, attitudes, current state of mind, emotions and all the rest – are not actually present in my consciousness until I think about them. Yet they are continuously present somewhere else in my mind, stored until needed, together with my memories and my integrated view of the world around me, like artefacts hidden in the basement of some great museum. It does not seem to be going too far, in short, to think of my self as the ‘proprietor’ of Jim Watson plc – or my dog’s self as the proprietor of Jim Watson’s dog plc, for that matter – ‘managing’ all our fundamental life processes, reserving the right (in the case of Jim Watson at least) to assign ‘thinking’ tasks to a subordinate conscious mind, and retaining the authority to accept or reject the answers and advice it receives! If this sounds a preposterous suggestion, we present it in that way for dramatic emphasis, and can only hope that we shall be able to support it convincingly as we go along.


The Behavioural Scene
How much, then, can we hope to find out about the nature and functions of the self now that we have categorised it as a concrete non-material entity? We have to face the fact that we can learn more about it only by looking at its material effects, and we have to remember that what we perceive – as with any sensory perception – will be an abstract (and probably only approximate) representation of the thing we are studying, whether we are looking at our behaviour from outside, as it were, or at our self image by introspection. We can test the validity of these perceptions, of course, by observing what happens (if anything!) when we do things, and the results will help us to judge if our assumptions are soundly based, but we can never hope that rational thought will reveal our selves as they really are – we are left, again, with the Buddhist’s ‘relative knowledge’! We can sometimes obtain additional information, however, by looking at the behaviour of other people, and Bertrand Russell was of the opinion that we can even discover a great deal about ourselves by studying other animals. We might do well, then, to take a brief but careful look at the appearance and behaviour of all kinds of living organisms, human and otherwise. It is probably too early yet to insist that we should now see the individuals of other species as selves, but many of them do act very much as we do in similar circumstances, and one can’t help feeling that as good philosophers we ought to ‘leave the door open’ for the possibility that being a self is not going to turn out to be a condition unique to homo sapiens! One of the first things we observe about living organisms is that most of them have a cellular structure, which enables us to distinguish entities that are dead (i.e. were once alive) from other inanimate things that exist in less organised forms – like solids, liquids or gases. We can also see that living organisms generally exhibit some form of active behaviour. Most of them do things like eating, moving and reproducing, though the precise criteria for being alive – which mercifully need not detain us here – are notoriously difficult to determine. Living organisms seem to be able to sense external stimuli, judging by the ways in which we can see them react, and some – at least some animals – give every appearance of having feelings that verge on emotions. Most living things are also able to move in various ways, their abilities ranging from the typical limited movements of which plants are capable, through a wide spectrum of what appear to be semi-automatic movements exhibited by more complex organisms, to the huge variety of multifaceted and often deliberate actions that are included in the repertoires of highly differentiated organisms like ourselves. Many kinds of living creature, too, can be observed to communicate, at least with members of their own species. This may be so even at very simple levels of organisation, but becomes a highly sophisticated area of activities in creatures with more complex structures, even involving a degree of inter-species contact in some cases. At the level of the human being we reach written and spoken communication of fantastic complexity, making possible the familiar trappings of ‘civilised’ living (including some that may be of very doubtful benefit!) and leading to the keeping of historical records and thus to the advancement of all kinds of knowledge from one generation to the next. The observed ability of human beings to ask and answer questions, moreover, is evidence of their ability to reason. It is also apparent to the observer that most of our fundamental life processes, such as our reproductive and metabolic mechanisms, although highly specific in character to our own species, nevertheless have parallels throughout the living world, even in organisms where those processes are controlled by the simplest of nervous systems. There are many behavioural features, moreover,


that are exhibited by almost every species – the amazing vitality of all young animals, for example, or the rapidity with which practically all living things react to danger. Looking at the myriads of life forms around us, all following their own cycles of birth and death, it is almost impossible not to believe that they are animated by a ‘life force’ similar to ours, and to feel completely justified in regarding each individual organism as essentially some kind of separate ‘self’, however strange that organism may appear to us because of its genetic inheritance and the circumstances of its existence.

Cognition for All!
It may be helpful to compare the nature of human consciousness with what – if anything – other species can be said to possess in this regard. Once again, we can use our ontological skills to categorise the main groups of living organisms by their different ‘modes of being’, their ‘cognitive’ levels and one or two of their other distinguishing properties. The groups are categorised in Table 9, together with two classes of inanimate entities for comparison purposes.

Table 9: Properties of Selected Universals in Different Modes of Being Universal Humans Morphological Vertebrate Bipedal Opposable Thumb Vertebrate Bipedal Vertebrate Quadrupedal Vertebrate Reproductive Sexual (Copulatory) Behavioural Manufacturing Farming Herding Hunting Gathering Hunting Grazing Hunting Gathering Cognitive Reasoning Thinking


Sexual (Copulatory)

Thinking Knowing Knowing Feeling Knowing Feeling

Other Mammals Birds Reptiles Fish Invertebrates

Sexual (Copulatory)

Sexual (Egg-laying)

Exo- and Hydrostatic Skeletons

Sexual and Asexual

Hunting Gathering Stationary Metabolising Nutrients Responding to Stimuli Reacting to Stimuli Reacting to Stimuli Affected by External Forces

Feeling Sensing Sensing


Mainly multi-celled

Sexual and Asexual (Seeds or Spores) Asexual (Binary Fission) Asexual (Binary Fission) Replicating (in host only)

Amoebae Bacteria Viruses Non-living Things

Single-celled (Nucleate) Single-celled (Anucleate) Aggregates of DNA Crystalline Amorphous Liquids Gases Manifested as Field

Aware Aware ‘Aware’ ‘Being’


Affecting Other Things



All the living species in Table 9 could be regarded as Real Concrete Particulars of the Universal called ‘Living Beings’, but they can also be re-categorised for our present purpose as Real Concrete Universals in their own right, where as ‘Humans’ they could be seen to include Particulars like Henry Ford, or as ‘Other Mammals’ my dog. All this merely illustrates once more how ontological categorisations can be chosen to suit the immediate purposes of the designer. In Table 9 it is not the physiological data in which we are mainly interested (they are playing a supporting role on this occasion), but the categorisations in the column headed ‘Cognitive’. The reason that this column is important to us at this juncture is that it compares, in a naïve way, what we can think of as the differing degrees of what we might call ‘species awareness’ that we find at different levels of being in the world. Cognition is here taken to have its dictionary meaning, embracing not only ‘knowing’, but also what we have called ‘feeling’, ‘sensing’, ‘being aware’, and so on. Psychologists and ‘cognitive scientists’ have hijacked the word in recent years to denote the more limited area of human consciousness comprising only thought, reasoning, computation and similar rational processes (see below), separating these completely from the activities that occupy the ‘sensing and feeling’ end of the spectrum – which seems to us to be a rather shortsighted development, given that both those groups of specialists are presumably trying to gain a better understanding of all the workings of the mind. Investigating such things, of course, is not an easy job, because the question of the nature of consciousness, which is currently the subject of much discussion, lies inconveniently on the territorial boundaries between the disciplines of a host of interested parties – including psychologists, psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, physicians, biologists, neurophysiologists, physicists, philosophers, mathematicians, logicians, linguists and theologians, in addition to the large and growing number of people pursuing Artificial Intelligence.

It Depends What You Mean...
Many of the difficulties that arise in connection with consciousness, like those we find in so many other areas of metaphysics, stem from our habit of using the word with several different meanings. The first of these, which we shall call Consciousness A, is the one referred to above – for want of a better name – as ‘species awareness’, by which we mean the level of awareness, however high or low, and however complex or simple, that can be regarded as being typical of the organism in question under normal circumstances. Our (human) version of Consciousness A, therefore, embraces not only our continuing sensory awareness of self and surroundings, but also the conscious and subconscious processes involved in dealing with the resulting information and the individual opinions, attitudes, feelings and so forth that arise from it. . The second meaning of ‘consciousness’ is the one that appears to match most closely the specific goals of the AI enthusiasts. What we might call Consciousness B deals mainly with communication (the use of language), reasoning (the use of logic) and computation (the use of mathematics) – in other words, with the more or less familiar ‘processing’ activities of the conscious part of the human mind. The information it deals with, moreover, is either ‘supplied’ by the subconscious, or acquired as new sensory data, perceived in the context of what the subconscious already contains. Consciousness B is therefore only a small part of Consciousness A, corresponding exactly to the disciplines we left out of Table 1 (see that table and the discussion on page 15) – and, as we have said above, it is therefore a much more limited area for research than is Consciousness A, though perhaps not every worker in the AI field will wish to think so!


A third way in which we use the same word (Consciousness C) is to distinguish the ‘waking state’ of people or animals from sleep, coma, and the like, and this meaning is not as trivial as it might seem at first glance, because there are groups of nerve cells in the upper brain stem (see page 86) that we now believe to be of vital importance in the subconscious management of all our fundamental life processes (i.e. those embraced by Consciousness A), as well as playing the critical role in determining whether we are asleep or awake. Other common uses of the word ‘consciousness’ that may be mentioned here – purely for completeness – are ‘consciousness of (the need for) something’ and ‘self-consciousness’ (in the sense of feeling embarrassed). If we now look at the ‘Cognitive’ column in Table 9, we can see that it implies that human beings possess not only the ‘properties’ of thinking and reasoning (which require the presence of a cerebral cortex), but also the human version of the properties of knowing, feeling, sensing, being aware and just ‘being’ that are shown for other entities in the table. The ways in which these properties are manifested in every species, of course, are not by any means the same. The words themselves are in any case only rough labels, and the most superficial observations suffice to show that they represent very different capabilities in different organisms. One need only think of the ‘homing’ instincts of birds or salmon, the ‘radar’ of bats, the sense of smell of dogs or the jumping powers of fleas – to say nothing of the astounding abilities of bacteria to reproduce their kind under suitable conditions – to realise that many other forms of life are easily outperforming the human species in all sorts of ways. Where we still retain vestigial traces of such important powers, moreover, it is clear that many of them are largely – if not totally – subconscious, and we shall see later that this is connected with the fact that they are mostly dependent on those parts of the brain that are regarded as ‘older’ in evolutionary terms than the cerebral cortex. It is hardly necessary to point out that we can sleep or otherwise suspend our conscious actions without in any way interfering with our ability to perform in our normal waking manner when the interlude is over. Our bodies continue to function satisfactorily during the period of rest, and in fact appear to welcome it. This shows fairly clearly that the possession of Consciousness B is not the key to the sustaining of human life: in fact, we now know that what are usually called our vegetative bodily functions (involuntary mechanisms like heartbeat and endocrine control) do not depend to any appreciable degree on the operations of the cerebral cortex, and that sleep, for example, is vital to the health of most ‘higher’ organisms. In other words, all the evidence points to the fact that the processes that are really necessary to sustaining our lives are managed primarily at subconscious levels, with conscious interventions being added only when required.

The Inside Story
Everything we have mentioned above about the general nature and functioning of the self can be observed (or deduced from observation) by looking at the behaviour of human beings and other living creatures. As we have said earlier, however, there is other evidence available inside our heads that can throw additional light on the matter. This evidence itself is of two different kinds: the comparatively accessible things we know (or think we know!) about the purely personal attitudes, values, prejudices and so forth that we have developed over the years – which can sometimes have a profound effect on our views of reality – and similar information, existing in the minds of others, which can only be obtained by careful (and hopefully sensitive) questioning. Neither of these two conscious sources, however, will furnish direct data about the actual nature of the selves who are providing it (because they have an incomplete record of events and relationships that make their impact mainly at subconscious levels), but both will nevertheless supply tell-tale evidence of the distinctive ways in which those selves have actually been functioning, and what the


concrete effects of that functioning have been. The data the investigator discovers, in his own mind or in the minds of the people he is studying, will tell him – if he is ‘objective’ enough and skilful enough – something of the genetic and experiential factors that have made those selves what they are. When the sample of individuals is large enough, moreover, he can begin to ‘generalise’ his findings into theory. Such observations, by the same token, can indicate ‘norms’ of behaviour as well as deviations from those norms that can be helpful as points of reference in clinical psychiatry, but we are more interested here in what they can tell us about the nature of the self in general. The data we obtain by introspection, naturally enough, are just as likely to be distorted by errors of interpretation as the data we collect when we are observing the external world, but (with the exception that they may tend to fade over time) they are generally no less reliable than the latter as starting points for any process of reasoning. All knowledge is abstract, after all, whatever its source, and the thoughts and feelings already present in our minds – whether they concern the outside world or our selves – are largely an aggregation of sensory impressions and conclusions arising from past experience, which will have been compared with related information already existing in our memories before being ‘accepted’ as part of our ‘world view’. It is the blending of our ephemeral impressions of the present with our memories of the past, in any case, that is largely responsible for maintaining our feelings of continuing personal identity, or self-awareness, throughout our lives. The primary sources we ‘tap into’ during introspection, as we have said, are our conscious minds, where we can easily reach information that is still retained – or can quickly be retrieved – in a form we can use for the tasks with which we are currently occupied. But we rarely stop to consider how that information gets there, in spite of the fact that it comes from the private ‘library’ on which our lives depend. If we didn’t think about it, we might easily assume that our experiences and impressions were stored away in our heads in a simple one-step operation – but that assumption would be very wrong. Our brains are actually buzzing during most of our waking hours (and even while we are asleep) with a mixture of ‘raw’ sensory data and other material that is being ‘processed’ in operations of Byzantine complexity – involving analysis, comparison, reflection, and so forth – that seem to take place almost entirely on their own. The impression that we have no control over these operations, of course, is an erroneous one, because most of the control is exercised by the self at subconscious levels. We are reminded occasionally of the work that is actually going on in there when we have to struggle to remember something, or perhaps when we feel exhausted after an unusually strenuous mental effort, but the nature of the neural processes that handle this enormous flood of information, arising from internal as well as external sources, is virtually unknown territory as far as our conscious minds are concerned. As we shall see later in this chapter, everything that gets into our minds makes its entry at a subconscious level (see Table 10 on page 72). The subsequent ‘processing’ we refer to above actually involves a huge variety of different operations, interacting among themselves in ways that fluctuate according to the prevailing circumstances, and it is therefore impossible to make any kind of simple ‘flowchart’ of what ‘normally’ happens. It may be useful for our present purposes, however, if we suggest the thresholds that appear to exist between the arrival of the initial stimulus and its conversion to conscious thought. Whatever we are doing, whether it involves physical action, pursuing an interesting idea or simply daydreaming, the mental processing starts when some kind of signal registers in our subconscious minds. It may not go further (and may or may not leave any trace of its ‘visit’) or it may be sufficiently strong to reach a second level of awareness, in which we are ‘half conscious’ of its presence. “It began to dawn on me”, we say. Some signals,


however, are strong enough to push themselves (or be pushed deliberately by the self) into our conscious minds, where the resultant thoughts may then lead to considered action. Introspection, broadly speaking, is of two main kinds. The first is what we might call ‘operational’ introspection, which is the quick check on the image, recollection, idea, intention, or whatever we ‘had in mind’ a moment or two earlier, that we now need in a hurry as a guide to our current action. “What was it I wanted from my desk?”, we ask ourselves wordlessly (and perhaps angrily). The other kind of introspection, however, which we could call ‘creative’ introspection, is more interesting for us at the moment, because our present objective is to find data that will help us to build a more complete (and hopefully a more accurate) picture of what the self is doing, so that we

Table 10: The Formation of Conscious Thought Situation Cocktail party Subconscious ‘Perception’ ‘Buzz’ of conversation Half-conscious Awareness Catching sound of familiar name Conscious Thought “That was my name – should I go over there?” “I’m sitting on a bump – I must move!” “There’s a pedestrian - I must stop the car and tell him off!” “What is the nature of my ‘self’? I must think about that, and maybe even write a book about it!”

Sitting on uneven ground Driving a car

Awareness of being there

Vague feeling of discomfort

Unthinking reactions to road conditions Perception of existence

Awareness of pedestrian stepping off pavement Awareness of individuality

Being alive

can hope to obtain a better understanding of a non-material entity whose nature and function we can only assess on the evidence of its material effects. This entity is the ‘inner self’, of course, about whom we are seeking ‘self-knowledge’. “I’m beginning to find out who I am!”, says the person in psychoanalysis, happily – though perhaps prematurely!

The ‘Open’ Self
There are many and subtle reasons why the individual members of a species differ from one another, and the differences seem to be greater in the species that are organically more complex. There are times when one finds people astonishingly similar, and others when they seem extraordinarily different. We do not propose to get into the ‘nature/nurture’ argument here, however, except to say that both genetic and environmental influences are usually important – to different extents, of course, in different contexts. Figure 5 is a naïve illustration of this as it applies to human beings, using somewhat arbitrary factors to make the general points. It could be amusing to consider this figure for a few moments in terms of one’s own self in comparison with the selves of other people with whom one is in fairly close contact – there are probably surprising differences. Given that one’s genetic inheritance is important, the Aristotelian tabula rasa – the blank slate of the infant mind – is the initial state of awareness of the self, whose development can be affected

profoundly by the presence or absence of loving relationships in early childhood, and by intellectual and social stimuli later on. Once again, it is worth emphasising that intellectual development, which is usually considered to be critical in those models of the human self that might be described as consciousness-centred, is generally far less important to the nature and wellbeing of the adult person than emotional and social influences, which would be expected to predominate if one’s model of the self were oriented more towards feelings. We are here considering the self as an open system, which means that it is seen in effect as a set of interacting ‘sub-systems’, each one of which indicates the developmental influence of a particular

Figure 5: The Self as an ‘Open System’


H ea lth Fr ie n ds



Genetic Inheritance



e at

Notes 1. No individual self can be represented adequately in a two-dimensional model. The sub-systems above, and the words chosen to identify them, are largely a matter of taste. 2. All the sub-systems interact with one another, and with day-to-day changes in the environment. 3. All the boundary lines should be considered to be permeable in a healthy individual, thereby making continuous development possible.

factor – within the wider environment of the surrounding culture – on the genetic ‘package’ inherited from the parents. The boundaries of the sub-systems should be thought of as permeable to influences from one another and also from the external environment.

ea W lth




The figure is intended only to make a general point – some people would prefer to select more or different sub-systems, and we can easily see how some of the ones we have included might assume varying degrees of importance in the opinions of different people. One thing that is clear from the figure, however, is that most of the factors shown are capable of exerting considerable influence on such enduring things as attitudes, beliefs, values, aspirations and the like, which can be regarded as key elements, crystallised over the years, that help to define the unique character of any given self. There are many mysteries, of course, associated with the self as we are now considering it – such as when it is acquired, what it is and what it does. It seems to be consistent with our model, however, to think of the new self as being ‘created’ at the moment when the zygote is formed by the gametes of the parents – or by cell division in ‘simpler’ species – and to assume that as a separate living entity it will start almost at once to develop a rudimentary awareness, and thus to take its first steps along the learning path that it will follow for the rest of its life. In addition – as we shall see later – it is its awareness of feelings rather than thoughts that will always be the primary source of its learning and the main determinant of its actions. Meanwhile, it will begin to play its part in the processes of further cell division and the production of the hormones necessary for its early development, and will share to an increasing extent in the critical tasks of developing the structure of the organism in accordance with its DNA blueprint and initiating the process of replacement of its body cells in line with their pre-planned and different schedules. From its earliest moments, too, the self will have its own autonomy and integrity, and in the case of a mammalian embryo it will gradually take over the management of its material body from the self of the mother – until it finds itself in sole charge after the cutting of the umbilical cord. It is then ready to step up its learning rate – starting with how to achieve a measure of guidance and control of its body – but this is also the time, in the case of a human baby, when the new self can begin to develop its ‘mental muscles’ by exercising its free will. The results, for the next three years or so, are likely to be chaotic! The ‘terrible twos’, in particular, are the period when the free will of the immature self is experiencing its first clashes with the free wills of others, and when the foundations of ethical behaviour (see Chapter 5) are – hopefully – being laid. The way in which the infant self is gradually modified throughout life by factors such those shown in Figure 5 reminds us of the dynamic nature of our existence – in fact, of the existence of every living organism on the planet. It is abundantly clear not only that the world around us is in a state of constant change, but also that we, the observers, are changing at the same time. We know, too, as we saw in Chapter 2, that as observers we are an integral part of the observations we make, so that the changes that occur in ourselves and in our worlds (note the plural) affect each other reciprocally. We are back, of course, with the idea of the ‘self-determining Universe’ first conceived in physical terms by Ernst Mach, and with the possibility that seeing his surroundings in that way may make the nervous individual – like his caveman ancestor of whom we spoke in Chapter 1 – feel impotent in the face of the powerful forces that may be bearing down upon him!

Living and Learning
Certainly, the self does not remain unaltered by these environmental forces, even when they are benign. It is constantly learning, with everything being ‘grist to the mill’. Moreover, as each day brings its new crop of experiences, its perceptions and what it makes of them gradually change. We grow to like garlic, learn to tolerate pain, develop an interest in Etruscan antiquities! We get older, in fact, and the physiological activities of our ceaselessly energetic selves replace most of the


cells in our bodies every few weeks – in spite of which our families and friends still recognise us, and perhaps even still love us! The only cells that are not replaced – though a lot of those, too, are lost every day – are our brain cells, which is probably why we can remember so many of the things we learn for as long as we do. The self, in short, seems to have a ‘vision’ of its own in the matter of how it develops – presumably inherited at least in part from its parents – in spite of the fact that it is bombarded all the time by new and sometimes disruptive experiences. Most of these are thrust upon it in the course of normal living: some (in spite of Einstein’s celebrated mouse!) are the result of the actions of living creatures, and others appear to be due to entirely random happenings. As individuals, however, we can also seek out new experiences by making deliberate choices – as in arranging a first parachute jump, or by setting up ‘scientific’ experiments to investigate interesting sets of circumstances. Whatever the nature of the experiences, however, although our perceptions and the impressions we gain from them – i.e. our new knowledge – are no more than abstract interpretations of the noumenal ‘originals’, it is only by contact with the concrete world that learning can take place. Continuous learning – over a lifetime, for example – can be thought of as following a constantly advancing cyclical process like the one illustrated in Figure 6.

Figure 6: The Learning Cycle

First Intervention

Second Intervention

Assimilate Results Test Hypothesis

Observe New Data Form Hypothesis

Assimilate Results Test Hypothesis

Observe New Data Form Hypothesis

Most of the time, of course, we are quite unaware that such processes are taking place. The greater part – or all – of them proceed almost instantaneously at subconscious levels. Young children and animals, for instance, learn very quickly to avoid actions that have uncomfortable consequences, though they obviously cannot know how they are doing so. Indeed, life would be quite impossible for all of us if we had to carry out such tedious mental routines every time we received sensory signals from inside or outside our bodies. We might note in passing, however, that in the research laboratory, or in the corporate planning unit, it may be valuable at certain times to articulate each stage in such a sequence and study it in depth. Science and strategic planning, like ‘living and learning’, are essentially iterative processes, however quickly and superficially the learning may be advancing along its cyclical path. The circumstances in which we learn things, too, can be very important. The great Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, working with illiterate peasant farmers in South America, showed clearly that the educational processes that really succeed are not those where the visiting ‘expert’ dispenses chosen morsels from his store of wisdom to the ‘learners’, but rather those where the educator and the learners study together, looking at familiar material and exchanging views about their widely different perceptions of it. The local (and usually vastly underrated) knowledge and intuition of the


peasants, and sometimes the contributions of their families, proved to be very important in the learning process, greatly enriching the understanding of everyone present – including Freire himself – and always increasing the acceptance of the new insights because they were shared by all those who had participated. Even when there were serious language barriers, Freire found that excellent results were still possible using only pictorial material, and it was clear that a substantial proportion of the learning was taking place – as always – at subconscious levels. We have ample evidence, indeed, that the bulk of our learning doesn’t require much assistance from the conscious mind. Apart from the fact that children can generally learn far more easily than adults – watch them on computers, for example – it can proceed very well by rote, by absorbing norms of behaviour, by exposure to ‘subliminal’ advertising, and so forth. Learning, in fact, is something that the self apparently can’t help doing as long as we are alive, and the best we can hope for is that what we do find ourselves learning may turn out to be harmless as well as useful!

Self, Mind and Body
Having given some thought to the ‘psychology’ of the self, we are now ready to move on to a more detailed investigation of what we might call the ‘operational’ problem – namely, how we can better understand the role of our selves in relation to the working of our ‘minds’ and bodies (and therefore, in effect, to the day-to-day management of our lives). But we must first clear the ground, as it were, by taking a brief look at the ambiguities (some of which, as usual, are linguistic) that surround the relationships between the self, the mind and the brain. Of these, the last is the easiest to define, though we should remember that when we talk of the brain in this context we are really referring to the central nervous system, which consists of the brain and the spinal cord. As the brain is a part of the material body, moreover, any clarification we can achieve concerning the relationship between the mind and the brain should also help with the classic mind/body problem. Unless we are scientists, doctors, teachers, psychologists or (perhaps?) philosophers, we probably tend to take our brains for granted, allowing them to get on – more or less in peace – with the business of running our lives. If we do stop to think seriously about them, however, we may soon begin to get the feeling that those marvellous physical structures, which at first sight appear to be in charge of everything we do – are actually being ‘managed’ by something else – something that we know almost nothing about! If we then struggle a little further to identify the ‘something’ in question, we begin to get caught up again in that same old jungle of questions about who is thinking about whom! The problem is nicely illustrated by a story about a philosophy student at an American university, who, after attending a lecture about the nature of reality, approached his professor with a very worried look on his face. “Please tell me”, he begged, “Do I actually exist?” The professor looked at him thoughtfully. “Who wants to know?”, he enquired! Some theorists still follow Descartes in thinking of the entity that controls our ‘living’ as the mind, and this shows up in many definitions in dictionaries and textbooks – “That which thinks, knows, feels and wills”, suggests one of the very best English dictionaries. Others give the mind a more limited role. “Memory”, says another highly respected reference book. In our opinion, however, both of these views of the mind are unhelpful, to say the least, and we feel it makes better sense (as well as a more coherent picture of this whole difficult area) to think of the self as performing the ‘executive’ role – the ‘thinking’, ‘knowing’, and so on – that enables us to live our lives in the first place. We can then use ‘mind’ to mean the several different ‘non-executive’ things for which we actually use the word in everyday speech – namely, the capacity of the self to be aware of things at


both conscious and subconscious levels (“She has a brilliant mind”), and the content or state of that awareness (“His mind is full of childish ideas”, “My mind is made up”). In the second sense, therefore, the word describes what our selves are actually feeling and thinking (as well as knowing, remembering, willing, and so forth) at any given moment. The complexity of the mind in this sense is mirrored in the many aspects we try so hard to put into words – our instincts, beliefs, attitudes, preferences, needs, drives, doubts, worries, premonitions, and so on – which are mostly reflections of things that originate partly from hereditary factors and partly from a lifetime of good and bad experiences. As the content of our minds consists of abstract entities, of course, it cannot be inspected by anyone else, but its general ‘state’ may sometimes become very obvious to other people, because they can see the concrete effect on our immediate behaviour – and, indeed, this is the fundamental basis of various schools of ‘behavioural’ psychology. Once again, we find ourselves dealing with a non-material entity whose concrete nature is revealed to us – at least to some extent – by the impact of its effects. It may be of some help in this connection to picture the mind as being something like the population of a country, which is another non-material but concrete concept whose ‘content’ is the aggregate of concrete material individuals that are constantly being born, dying, visiting briefly and leaving again, with some making very little impression, while others stay and rise to positions of power and influence. In this simile the mind appears as a dynamic, living, unbounded whole, whose individual ‘inhabitants’ are abstract ideas rather than concrete human beings, and, like the population, having a certain ‘corporate’ identity that affects the world around it in its own distinctive way. Translating all this into ontological language (at the risk of being boring again!) we have a Concrete Non-material self using a Concrete Material brain (and the rest of the nervous system) which enables it to experience the Abstract Non-material thoughts, feelings and the rest that flash in and out of the Concrete Non-material mind (or stay there for a while), and to use them to determine the Concrete Material and Non-material things we think, say and do. All this may strike the reader as a little eccentric, although it seems to be entirely consistent with the conclusions we have reached elsewhere in this book, reinforcing the conviction that the self that is in control of the organism cannot be primarily a conscious entity. What we have said so far, however, is based mainly on psychological considerations, tested almost entirely by the observation of human behaviour. We need now to compare those conclusions with the laboratory findings of neurophysiology. In other words, in order to consider what is known about the relationships between our minds and our brains – and also to become familiar with the esoteric language that is commonly used to describe these things – we should now try to examine what has been discovered about the ‘physical’ nature and functioning of the body’s nervous and endocrine systems.

Neurons at Work
The cerebral cortex has long been thought to be where most of the brain’s real business is conducted (and indeed, it does do miraculous things), but we now know that some of the subcortical structures, buried deep inside the brain, play a much more fundamental role in keeping us alive. Our understanding of how they are employed (subconsciously) by the self is gradually increasing, thanks mainly to the development over the last few decades of modern brain scanning techniques, which have dispelled many of the egregious myths about brain function that grew up before such things became possible. It has also become clear that the fast-acting electrical signals transmitted by the nervous system and the slower chemical processes of the endocrine system,


previously regarded as two quite separate mechanisms for the control of our bodily functions, are in fact very closely related – so that it often makes sense to consider them together under the heading of the body’s neuroendocrine system. In order to begin to understand both of these mechanisms a little better it is necessary to look at a typical nerve cell or neuron. (There are several different types of neuron in the normal vertebrate body, but the one shown in Figure 7 will serve our present purpose). When activated by an external or internal stimulus of sufficient strength, a neuron will ‘fire’, sending an electrical impulse, or ‘action potential’, along its axon – which in the case of the longest nerves in the human body may be a distance of nearly two metres – to where the tiny tendrils of the axon approach the body of another neuron, leaving a small gap called a synapse. The signal is then transmitted via the synaptic knob on the axon terminal of the presynaptic neuron across the synaptic cleft to a dendrite of the postsynaptic neuron (or sometimes directly to a site on that neuron’s cell body or axon). The transmission of the signal across the synaptic cleft is facilitated by chemical substances called neurotransmitters. Molecules of these substances, manufactured in the neurons themselves and stored in their synaptic vesicles, are liberated into the synaptic cleft when the vesicles are caused to open by the incoming nerve impulse, and they then combine with receptor molecules on the surface of the dendrite of the postsynaptic neuron. It has also been found that at some synapses electrical signals are transmitted directly (and almost instantaneously) from one neuron to another, and that modified synapses sometimes occur between the synaptic terminals of motor neurons and the surface of muscle fibre cells. These synapses are called neuromuscular junctions, and they enable neural impulses to pass from a neuron directly to a muscle fibre (again with the aid of neurotransmitters), thereby enabling the muscles to exhibit ‘synaptic reflexes.’

Figure 7: Signal Transmission Between Neurons

Neuron Body Axon Dendrites

Axon Terminal of Presynaptic Neuron Synaptic Knob Synaptic Vesicle Postsynaptic Neuron Neurotransmitter Molecules crossing Synaptic Cleft

Neurotransmitter Receptor Site


A given neuron may be receiving many signals from others at the same time, and these may be either excitatory or inhibitory, depending on their effect on the electrical polarity of the interior of the cell. Whether or not the neuron takes any further action itself depends on the net effect of those signals – if the cell interior is sufficiently depolarised (made less negative) it will fire, thereby sending signals to other neurons (probably numbering many thousands) with which its axon has synaptic connections. Meanwhile, in order to terminate the effect of the incoming signal, which cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely, any surplus neurotransmitter molecules are quickly broken down by enzymes, or diffused away from the site where they were released. Neurotransmitters are produced in different parts of the nervous system, and despatched to different sites. Two main excitatory neurotransmitters – acetylcholine and noradrenaline – are found fairly widely in the peripheral nervous system, along with a variety of others, produced in the brain itself, that have more selective effects on our mental and physical states. Gamma aminobutyric acid, for example, has inhibitory effects on the brain in general, dopamine produces feelings of sexual pleasure and general euphoria (and is used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease), and serotonin seems to generate comfortable feelings of being relaxed and in control of things. Many of the well-known ‘mind-altering’ drugs appear to work by interfering with the functions of the neurotransmitters, usually by inhibiting or enhancing their action. Some tranquillisers, for example, inhibit the action of dopamine, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) interferes with the action of serotonin, and stimulants like amphetamines or caffeine appear to be able to displace other neurotransmitters at certain synapses. Nicotine ‘mimics’ the action of acetylcholine, while curare and atropine both block its effects. Research on opiates like heroin, morphine and codeine has revealed that they alleviate pain by combining with ‘receptors’ on neurons deep inside the brain, and the brain itself produces many morphine-like substances – the endorphins – which have somewhat similar abilities to relieve pain and to produce varying degrees of euphoria.

The Endocrine Scene
The functioning of the endocrine system, as we have said above, is generally a much slower process, but also much further-reaching in terms of its effects on the body. This system, too, depends on the action of a variety of chemicals, this time the hormones, which are produced in specialised clusters of cells called glands, and mostly (but not exclusively) carried in the bloodstream to their destinations. Exocrine glands are those that discharge their secretions onto body surfaces – like tear ducts, sweat glands or the glands that deliver digestive secretions onto the lining of the stomach – but we shall be more interested here in the functioning of the endocrine glands, whose secretions enter the blood to help to keep the body in homeostasis. Most hormones are extremely potent substances, the organism being preserved from disaster by the speed with which they are broken down after they have done their work, as well as by the negative feedback effects that arise from the presence of the substances whose production they stimulate. Their arrival at the ‘target site’ causes subtle changes at the cell level, which signal when no more is required. Hormones are involved in the control of practically all of our bodily processes, and their production is co-ordinated with neural activity by the hypothalamus, which itself receives neural and chemical signals from other parts of the brain and body, and ‘co-ordinates’ the whole complex operation via the nearby ‘master’ gland, the pituitary (see Figure 9). This is the mechanism the self uses to deal with its less urgent problems – like feelings of hunger or the need to prepare the female body to give birth.


The pituitary produces a number of hormones that have a direct effect on bodily processes, like growth hormone, which stimulates the growth of bone, and prolactin, which stimulates milk production, but it also manufactures what are known as tropic hormones, which act on other endocrine glands to regulate the hormones that they produce. Tropic hormones from the pituitary stimulate the thyroid gland, the adrenal cortex, and the reproductive organs. The hypothalamus itself produces oxytocin, involved in uterine birth contractions and the accumulation of milk in the breast, and the antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which reduces the secretion of urine. The thyroid produces thyroxin, which regulates metabolic rate, and calcitonin, which inhibits the release of bone calcium, while the adrenal glands and the pancreas are concerned with the metabolism of glucose. The adrenal cortex produces steroid hormones that include cortisol, which promotes the formation of glucose from fats and proteins, and the adrenal medulla is the source of the very important hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline – the latter, as we said above, being also a neurotransmitter. These two hormones both act to increase heart rate and blood pressure, and promote the breakdown of glycogen to glucose, as well as preparing the body in a number of other ways for ‘fight or flight’. The pancreas is the source of both insulin, which lowers blood sugar, and glucagon, which increases it. The other hormones that should be mentioned here are the male and female reproductive hormones testosterone, which develops male characteristics, and oestrogen, which performs a similar function for female characteristics, as well as acting, along with progesterone, to develop the lining of the uterus.

The Power House
What we have said above gives an idea of some of the chemical resources that the self has at its disposal in its continuous task of keeping the organism alive, healthy, and able to pursue its aspirations in the ever-changing world around it, though we have not ventured to discuss the many other related processes that the self also contrives to keep simultaneously in balance – at least for most of the time. The digestive system, the cardiovascular system, the mechanisms of reproduction, and – in some ways the most astounding of all, because of the fantastic complexity of its workings at the molecular level – the immune system, with its wars to the death between the bacteria and viruses that invade our bodies and the white blood cells that defend us against them, are all worth a book on their own. But our primary objective is to look at those processes that have a direct bearing on the working of the brain, and that is surely a big enough task for the moment. It is now time, then, to turn from the role of chemicals in the management of our physical and mental affairs to the neural mechanisms involved – to look in some detail at what is known about the structure of the brain and its functions as the self’s ‘control centre’. Before we get into the neurophysiological complexities, however, it is probably worth making the point that those who work in any part of this field are dealing with particularly intractable problems – first, because the mystical associations of the human brain make it seem almost immoral to experiment with it, and second, because the range of experimental methods that can safely be employed is naturally limited (though there have been big advances with non-invasive techniques in recent years). We cannot usefully describe the brain, of course, without reference to the functions of its parts, any more than we could a motor car – though we must be careful not to fall into the reductionist trap of believing that the further we can fragment the brain the better we shall be able to understand it. To call a car an empty box sitting on four round things can be said to be (very roughly!) accurate, and it can be seen as a partial description that, say, a sculptor could use, but it is not very helpful if we want to understand the essential nature of the car, or how to relate our own actions to its being in


the world. To achieve those things in material terms – to say nothing of addressing the problems it raises in ethics or aesthetics – it is necessary to describe something of the car’s structure and how it works. We shall try to do something similar now with the human brain. The first significant attempts to relate human behaviour to the structure of the brain gave rise in nineteenth-century Europe to a pseudo-science that came to be called ‘phrenology’, a name derived, curiously enough, from the Greek word for ‘midriff’, which was once thought to be the seat of the passions. Phrenology was practised by studying the bumps and hollows on people’s heads, and some astounding maps purporting to locate personality traits in the most improbable cranial areas can still be found in medical libraries. The later years of the century, however, saw the tentative beginnings of neurophysiology, and some notable early work, which indeed still remains useful today, was carried out by two neurologists called Broca and Wernicke, who identified areas of the cerebral cortex – named after them – that are involved in the formulation and comprehension of speech.

Figure 8: The Human Brain

Central Sulcus Frontal Lobe Motor Cortex Somatosensory Cortex

Parietal Lobe Broca’s Area Wernicke’s Area Prefrontal Cortex

Occipital Lobe

Temporal Lobe Cerebellum Brain Stem

Wernicke’s area, which lies on top of the left temporal lobe (see Figure 8), is involved with the understanding of words, and Broca’s area – further forward on the left side of the frontal lobe – with speaking them. These areas (and others that are known to be involved in other sensory transmissions) are connected by nerve fibres that form part of an internal ‘bundle’ with the almost impossible name of the arcuate fasciculus, and if this connection is damaged the sufferer can lose the ability to articulate things he may still be able to understand. No two brains, of course, are exactly similar, but even in the same brain the number of different neural pathways that can be employed (and sometimes substituted if necessary) is so vast that the way the various structures are seen to behave during any particular brain scan can be very different from the way they are observed to behave at another time in what would appear to be identical circumstances.


The pioneering Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, working in the late 1940s with epileptic patients, was able, using direct electrical stimulation, to identify a large number of sensory and motor regions of the brain, and most of his work is considered to be valid today. His researches also gave some of the first significant insights into the functioning of the area now called the upper brain stem (see Figure 9), which, as the police often say, is going to play a central role in helping us with our enquiries! The view prevailing in Penfield’s time – and still surviving in some quarters – was that our ‘consciousness of self’ originates from the activities of our highly developed cerebral cortex, but his work led him to suspect that the key to the ‘implementation’ of conscious action might lie instead with the upper brain stem structures (though different areas of the cortex would also be involved according to the specific nature of the action required).

Wilder Penfield (1891-1976)

Somewhat similar views about consciousness were advanced by Magoun and Moruzzi, whose research, carried out about the same time with animals, showed that the activity of a part of the upper brain stem then known as the reticular activating system appeared to be always associated with its owner being awake rather than asleep. The conclusions reached by all three of these early workers are largely supported by the results of modern research, and we shall be returning later in this chapter with evidence from current work that seems to confirm that the upper brain stem structures play a key part in the self’s subconscious control of our lives. Happily for our understanding of the workings of the brain, it is no longer necessary to wait for surgical opportunities or cases of disease or brain damage in order to pursue such investigations further. In the last 30 years or so there have been enormous developments in technical ‘scanning’ methods that reveal a great deal of helpful information. Positron Emission Topography (PET) uses a radioactive marker, injected into the bloodstream, to indicate which parts of the brain are working hardest, as shown on the screen by their consumption of oxygen. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) produces Computerised Tomography (CT) scans that show multiple slices through the brain – rather like a succession of high-grade X-ray pictures. The newer Functional MRI offers a very rapid scanning process that can photograph the continuing activity that is taking place in different parts of the brain (again on the basis of the amount of oxygen being consumed) while its owner is actually performing various selected tasks. Other techniques, based on magnetic emissions, infrared spectroscopy, and different combinations of the above methods, are also currently under investigation, and, all in all, a fairly consistent body of knowledge about the mysteries of the working of our brains is at last beginning to accumulate. It must not be forgotten, however, in the excitement of studying the fascinating pictures produced by such techniques, that one must be careful about jumping to conclusions. Some of the areas and structures that are seen to light up on the screen when the brain is carrying out a given task may be doing so only because they are


associated with it in some secondary fashion, while another area may actually be more directly responsible for ‘handling’ the operation in question, or at least playing a more important part in it.

Publishing coup! - A genuine MRI scan of the author’s brain!

Although some of this activity can be watched by means of scanning techniques, the observed patterns are extremely complex and often convoluted, as the signals are seen to involve and reinvolve different structures. It appears, moreover, that even the same brain never handles a given input twice in exactly the same way, presumably because its options are so plentiful. The evidence from the scanning studies agrees, however, with the conclusions we reach by introspection – namely, that only a fairly small proportion of our bodily actions stem from conscious thought. In order to introduce some of the esoteric terms used by neurophysiologists, and also to provide us with simple ‘maps of the territory’, we have adapted some excellent illustrations from sources acknowledged below. Figures 9 and 10 are simplified diagrams showing longitudinal and transverse sections of the human brain, and Figure 11 is a sketch of the limbic system, or ‘mammalian brain’, which embraces the diencephalon and basal ganglia. The left and right halves of the brain are superficially similar in structure – though there are interesting differences in function – and every one of the brain’s ‘sub-structures’ (except the pineal body, a deeply buried endocrine gland which secretes hormones that affect our bodily rhythms) is ‘twinned’ in both halves. For that reason, the vital limbic structures shown in Figure 11 do not appear in the centre of the brain where indicated in Figure 9 – the longitudinal ‘slice’ passes midway between them, missing everything except a small part of the hypothalamus.

The thin convoluted outer layer of the cerebrum – the cerebral cortex or ‘grey matter’ – contains something like 100 billion (1011) neurons, and encloses the ‘white matter’, consisting of massive quantities of nerve fibres that connect the various parts of the brain in a labyrinth of impenetrable complexity. The cerebellum – which, along with the brain stem, is sometimes called the ‘reptilian brain’ because of its antiquity in evolutionary terms – has a somewhat similar structure, and about one trillion (1012) glial cells surround the neural networks in both the cerebral and cerebellar cortices, appearing to act as a supporting medium (though they may yet turn out to have other functions, such as providing nourishment). Many of the sensory impulses received from the body’s peripheral nervous system (external stimuli from the somatic and internal signals from the autonomic) are routed via the thalamus (Figure 11) – which acts as a kind of ‘sorting office’ – to various destinations: some to limbic structures (which are where our emotions are generated), some via the hippocampus and putamen to memory storage in the cerebral and cerebellar cortices respectively, and a large proportion to areas of the somatosensory cortex in the parietal lobe. Sensations caused by smells, curiously enough, seem to by-pass the thalamus, travelling directly to other parts of the limbic system.

Figure 9: Longitudinal Section of the Human Brain Central Sulcus Motor Cortex Somatosensory Cortex

Corpus Callosum Frontal Lobe Anterior Cingulate Cortex Dorsolateral Prefrontal Prefrontal Cortex

Section misses bi-lateral structures of Diencephalon and Basal Ganglia (see Fig. 11) Superior Colliculus Inferior Colliculus Occipital Lobe Visual Cortex

Upper Brain Stem Nuclei Cerebellum Pons Medulla Spinal Cord Basal Forebrain Pituitary

Orbitofrontal Cortex

Ventromedial Cortex




The bulk of the somatosensory information is ‘processed’ in the mysterious depths of the association cortex (roughly speaking, those considerable areas of the cortex that are not specifically named in Figure 9), where it is ‘analysed’ in many complex ways along with other sensory inputs and material already in the memory. Depending on its nature, it is finally stored, discarded or transmitted for action (much of it via our friend the arcuate fasciculus) around the central sulcus to the motor cortex in the frontal lobe. Impulses from the motor cortex may then be passed to different parts of the body, where the appropriate motor neurons will fire in their millions – if ‘ordered’ to do so by signals from the brain stem nuclei – to produce ‘selected’ thoughts, speech or bodily actions. Many neural pathways that do not involve the cerebral cortex, however, are also in frequent use, and we shall be touching later on what is known about the mechanisms of such processes – all of which, after all, are part of the brain’s astounding repertoire. We can now turn (with at least some degree of certainty) to considering what is known about the involvement of the various brain structures shown in Figures 9, 10 and 11 in the processes that the self uses to ‘manage’ the life of the human organism. Much of what follows is based on the evidence of the various types of scanning work that takes place in clinical as well as experimental situations, and most of it has been confirmed by results obtained over the last decade or so. It should not be forgotten, however, that these functions are highly complex operations that will usually involve the collaboration of other neural structures to a greater or lesser extent, especially in the brains of different individuals, and also – generally speaking – that the processes in which each structure is concerned are ultimately ‘triggered’ by signals from the upper brain stem nuclei.

Division of Labour •
The spinal cord carries sensory impulses from all parts of the body (including its internal organs) to the brain, and transmits responses in the opposite direction. It also initiates simple spinal reflex actions without involving cortical structures. The medulla contains very important neural nuclei (aggregates of neurons) that regulate vegetative (‘life maintaining’) bodily functions like breathing, heartbeat and digestion.

Figure 10: Transverse Section of the Human Brain (Adapted from Mapping the Mind, by Rita Carter)

Caudate Nucleus Thalamus Putamen Hypothalamus Amygdala


Figure 11: The Limbic System of the Human Brain (Adapted from Mapping the Mind, by Rita Carter)

Diencephalon Thalamus Hypothalamus

Caudate Nucleus Putamen

Basal Ganglia

Hippocampus Amygdala

The pons joins the left and right halves of the cerebellum, and contains other groups of key neural nuclei (formerly lumped together with those in the medulla under the name of the ‘reticular activating system’) that appear to be responsible for the switching on and off of ‘Consciousness C’ (see page 69). The upper brain stem nuclei, in the pons and midbrain, are the focus for the maintenance of the body’s fundamental life processes, and also appear to work in conjunction with the appropriate parts of the limbic system and the cerebral and cerebellar cortices in dealing with sensory data and initiating conscious and subconscious actions – both mental and physical. The nuclei concerned with controlling consciousness show no activity during sleep, but the facts that the sleeper can still move (even violently), and can often remember something of his dreams when he awakes, indicate that at least some of these nuclei are continuing to activate brain structures while he is ‘unconscious’. Other nuclei in the brain stem are concerned with the production of neurotransmitters, especially those that directly affect the workings of the brain itself, and it looks increasingly likely that these several groups of tiny structures, at the heart of the most ancient part of the brain, act together in their different ways as the body’s ultimate control centre, activating other parts of the brain and precipitating thoughts, speech and actions that have been ‘prepared’ in the frontal cortex and elsewhere. The hypothalamus controls homeostasis, correcting physical and chemical disturbances in conjunction with the endocrine functions of the pituitary gland. It contains a number of tiny nuclei that respond rapidly to neural and hormonal signals – precipitating the ‘fight/flight’ sequences, for example – and is also the centre of the body’s responses to needs like hunger (adjusting blood sugar levels), cold (instigating shivering) and other urges (including sexual desire). The basal forebrain collaborates with the brain stem and hypothalamus in the maintenance of critical body states, and also contains a number of neural nuclei that participate in the production of neurotransmitters.


The amygdala registers negative emotions, like fear and anger, and it can ‘trigger’ activity in other structures, including the above-mentioned fight/flight response of the hypothalamus. Positive emotions, however, like feelings of pleasure and wellbeing, seem to be very different in origin, depending largely on the liberation of dopamine, serotonin and other neurotransmitters. The diencephalon is the name given to the sub-cortical structures in the centre of the brain, consisting of the thalamus (see below), the hypothalamus, and neural connections with other parts of the limbic system. The pineal body lies centrally above the thalamus. The basal ganglia are part of the limbic system (see Figure 11), wrapped around the diencephalon and intimately linked to it. They are involved in the downward transmission of information to the upper brain stem, and include structures that react strongly to dopamine – notably the caudate nucleus, which is connected to areas of the pre-motor cortex that are involved in generating action, and the putamen, which is known to stimulate areas of the cerebellum (see below) that are concerned with responses to proprioceptive stimuli (those arising from subconscious and semi-automatic body movements like standing on one leg, for example) that could never be handled with such dexterity by conscious processes. The superior and inferior colliculi are sensory reflex centres that have been shown to react to visual and auditory stimuli, respectively, to cause the observer’s eyes and ears to be directed towards significant sights or sounds. The thalamus acts as a ‘relay station’ for sensory information travelling backwards and forwards between the various parts of the central nervous system, sorting and processing it in its several specialised ‘compartments’ before passing it on to other structures. Much of its ‘traffic’ is on its way to different regions of the somatosensory cortex (see below), but it also has important connections with limbic structures, containing neural nuclei, for example, that seem to work together with the hippocampus to establish information in long-term memory storage. The hippocampus is a limbic structure operating (along with the medial thalamus) to consolidate, and probably retain for some time, short-term memories which may later be transferred, if they have created a sufficiently strong impression, to various parts of the cerebral cortex for long-term storage. The cerebellum is stimulated by the putamen (see ‘basal ganglia’ above) to store information that governs the amazingly delicate and accurate subconscious adjustments that are needed to control balance and other bodily movements, including the semi-automatic performance of complex ‘learned’ routines like those involved in riding a bicycle or playing tennis. The corpus callosum consists of an extended body of nerve fibres that provides lateral two-way communication between the hemispheres of the cerebrum. The somatosensory cortex, as mentioned above, receives sensory information from the spinal cord via the thalamus (and also directly from limbic and other structures), and passes on most of it for processing in other parts of the brain. Information ‘intended’ for action is transmitted to the motor cortex, where it forms signals that are then dispatched to appropriate groups of motor neurons all over the body for ‘firing’ on receipt of a signal from the brain stem nuclei.

• •


The various parts of the frontal cortex have different functions, some connected with memory, some with thinking, and some with what the psychologists call ‘interpersonal skills’, including the inhibition of too-violent emotional responses originating in the limbic system. Many of the activities that distinguish the capabilities of the human self most clearly from those of other creatures go on in the prefrontal cortex (see Figure 9). ‘Rational’ thinking and planning appear to take place mainly in the upper (dorsolateral) areas, while more ‘fundamental’ processes, involving the control of emotional impulses from the limbic system and the initiation of conscious actions that depend largely on the operation of free will, are handled in the underneath (orbitofrontal) part of the cortex (see the case of Phineas Gage on page 93) and the basal (ventromedial) forebrain. The anterior cingulate, inside the longitudinal fissure that separates the two halves of the cerebral cortex, shows immediate activity when stimulated by pain or strong emotion, and seems to be concerned with focusing ‘conscious’ attention on events that have just happened. It seems reasonable to conclude that these precious and well protected cortical areas, with their multiple neural connections to the diencephalon and brain stem, provide the ‘highways’ that the self uses, in association with the upper brain stem nuclei, for its general management of our basic life processes. The pathways concerned are observed to work in both directions, so that the (concrete) external world influences the (concrete) self, and the self, in return, influences its surroundings. We are speaking, in short, about how the organism and its environment interact on a physical level, which is another way of describing the reciprocal relationship that lies at the heart of the highly intractable mind/body problem. The occipital cortex – though strangely far from the eyes – is the part of the cerebrum that receives visual signals, whereas it has long been established, as Broca and Wernicke showed, that areas of the left frontal and temporal cortices deal with auditory ones. The parietal lobe, which, apart from its somatosensory function, is also involved with manual skills, has another strange role: it appears to be able to identify sensory signals that belong exclusively to its owner, and can produce astonishing effects if it gets damaged. One patient with a parietal lobe injury was reported to be found trying to push one of his legs out of bed, apparently under the impression that the limb in question belonged to someone else!

In a Nutshell
This long list of the principal brain structures (there are many others!), together with what seems to take place in and between them, gives us once again some conception of the almost indescribable complexity of the material and non-material activity that the self is ‘managing’ in our minds and bodies at every instant of our lives, and perhaps some understanding of why we have been arguing about matters like consciousness for well over 2000 years! It may be useful now, bearing in mind our suggestion that the mind can usefully be regarded as the quality and ‘content’ of the self’s ‘awareness’, to summarise the activities of the various structures that enable the self to acquire the information that goes to form this content and subsequently to organise it and process it according to the needs of the moment (see Table 11).


Table 11: Conscious and Subconscious Activities of the Central Nervous System

Structure Somatic Nervous System Autonomic Nervous System Spinal Cord

Activities • • • • • • • • • • Sensing external stimuli Sensing internal stimuli Responding to sensory stimuli with reflex actions Carrying sensory signals to and from upper brain stem Carrying sensory signals destined for cerebral and cerebellar cortices, both directly and via limbic nuclei Carrying sensory signals from cortical motor areas to sites where they will initiate action Monitoring vegetative functions (breathing, heart beat, peristalsis, etc.) Activating other brain structures (and thus initiating thought, speech and action) by means of upper brain stem nuclei Generating neurotransmitters Controlling waking/sleeping states Maintaining homeostasis by neural and endocrine control of blood sugar, digestion, body temperature, etc., in conjunction with the pituitary gland Implementing complex emotional urges Registering fear, anger and other ‘survival’ emotions Storing information for controlling precise muscular movement, including the execution of semiconscious (learned) routine actions Storing information at subconscious levels for voluntary and involuntary thought, speech and action, including memories, dreams, attitudes, values, beliefs, ‘self image’, ‘world view’, etc. Processing sensory data for thought, speech and action, and transmitting it to the motor cortex which is then activated by the brain stem nuclei Thinking – e.g. analysing, comparing, reorganising, reasoning, calculating, planning, theorising, and so on, at the conscious level Placing restraints on impulses originating in the limbic system

Brain Stem


• •

Amygdala Cerebellum

• • • • • •


Flesh on the Bones
Above, then, in the form of a rather lifeless catalogue of activities, is a rough summary of the processes that supply the mind with information (mainly subconscious) that the self can ‘digest’ and use in the preparation of the activities that it chooses to carry out at any given time. The processes themselves, however, can sometimes be very interesting. We can try now to get an idea of how the self works with the physical resources at its disposal, by suggesting how the various structures and their functions might come into play in real life situations. It should be helpful, in particular, to contrast the ways in which the self might deal, first, with sensory signals received from an event in the ‘outside’ world and, second, with a task arising within the mind itself – in other words, with stimuli originating in both the concrete and the abstract worlds of the Two Worlds paradigm.


We can start by trying to establish what actually seems to happen when we receive a sensory impression. The fact that the signal is received at a subconscious level is attested to in many ways – by studying reflex actions, for example, or by laboratory experiments that make it clear that we actually begin to say something or make physical movements about half a second before we think we decide to do so. Our somatic (external) and autonomic (internal) nervous systems both respond very quickly to subconscious stimuli, and we have to conclude that what appear to be conscious perceptions seem so only because of the rapidity with which we can isolate and interpret their salient features. The pathways along which the processed data are transmitted for long-term storage are also subconscious, whether or not the data have been registered in the conscious mind. We are quite accustomed to the effort involved in trying to recall something from our ‘store’ of memory, and we realise on reflection that there must be a great deal of material ‘in there’ of which we are not consciously aware, but to which our subconscious selves must have access in order to be able to find and choose the appropriate information they need for managing our daily lives. In order, then, to try to follow the general way in which the self would probably deal with a sensory event, let us suppose what may at first appear to be a rather trivial occurrence – the pricking of a finger with a pin left in an armchair. Careful consideration of the event suggests that it probably sets in motion two separate and quite different chains of consequences, which actually occur, in metaphysical terms, in the two different worlds of our Two Worlds paradigm. In the Real Concrete world, we might experience a sequence of events such as stimulus, reflex action, injury, infection, suppuration, septicaemia – even amputation and death! – a sequence that mercifully could usually be interrupted by applying a small dab of antiseptic! Simultaneously, in the Real Abstract world, we are likely to be reacting to the unexpected event along part or all of a totally different kind of sequence such as registering pain, recognition of the reason for pain, anger, conscious thought, memory, concepts, theory, strategy for treating injury and for corrective action, future avoidance, retribution, and so on, depending on the circumstances, the ensuing events and the character of the owner of the finger! The self is involved in very different ways in the two sequences outlined above. Beginning from the moment the pin penetrates the skin, there is an initial somatic stimulus that normally causes the self to produce a fast reflex action, withdrawing the finger sharply. Responses of this type do not immediately involve the brain itself: they are mediated by the spinal cord and are called spinal reflexes. The first response, in other words, is wholly subconscious. A number of other things may then ensue: there may be a greater or lesser element of shock, which may produce an autonomic disturbance of some kind involving the medulla – perhaps a slight increase in pulse rate or blood pressure – though this may soon return to normal. Meanwhile, the experience will be leading to the processing of the sensory data in other ways – still at subconscious levels – such as recognising it as a familiar experience and storing it in memory. There may also be ‘semi-automatic’ thoughts (“I’m a fool!”, “Who left that there?”), speech (“Damn!”), and conscious action (removing the object containing the pin, or, depending on the circumstances, perhaps even preparing to have a row with whoever left the pin in the chair!). The help of the pre-frontal cortex may now be needed to ‘cool down’ the limbic urge to make a fuss, and other parts of the cerebrum may then become involved in thinking about the experience and comparing it with concepts already in store. The self might now undertake a variety of more deliberate actions like formulating a theory about the nature of the event, choosing strategies that might be appropriate for treating the injury and ensuring that the incident is not likely to be repeated, and, finally, selecting and implementing one or more of the chosen strategies. (The ingenious human self, of course, is well able to draw out the sequence almost indefinitely in terms


of other possible consequences. The injured person might decide to sue someone, for example, or even write an article about the dangerous injuries that can be caused by leaving pins in armchairs!). The various conscious and subconscious processes outlined above sound tremendously ponderous when detailed in that way, but they are not an unreasonable sketch, nevertheless, of the sort of thing the self is doing – continuously, rapidly and largely without our knowledge – when we receive and handle sensory information. It should be remembered, too, that the self has to make all its decisions on the basis of its perceptions of what is happening in the concrete world around it, and that these are liable to error. We are protected, of course, by a variety of subtle and effective neural filters that exclude vast quantities of data that are not important to us at each passing moment, but as we move along through life we record subconsciously a proportion – some people believe a very large proportion – of what we have experienced. It is this material, superimposed on the characteristics we inherit from our parents (see Figure 5 on page 73), that is constantly shaping our developing selves, and contributing to the ‘world views’ and ‘self images’ that provide us with the personal frames of reference that govern practically everything we think, say and do. The example above is a rather fanciful account of how the self might react, in both worlds of the Two Worlds paradigm, to an experience of an involuntary nature. But a substantial amount of our time – assuming that we aren’t too lazy! – is spent dealing with situations that we create intentionally. Suppose we take as an example my decision to write this book. It isn’t too difficult to imagine a couple of sequences, along the lines of those in the pinprick example above, that will illustrate what might be different in a case where the initial action is a voluntary one. I had wondered for a long time if I might have anything worth saying on a subject that has been a battleground for centuries, and finally decided (after reading Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics and Roger Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind) to write something and see what it looked like. After some more thinking, and a great deal of reading, I must have embarked on a sequence of concrete actions that looks something like this: articulating initial aims, considering pros and cons, checking out a few ideas, writing something, researching questions arising, following up interesting developments, beginning a draft, and so on. The sequence is unfinished at the time of writing: it may well continue along the following lines: complete the draft, edit the text, check doubtful points, consult friendly experts, look for a publisher, and so on again. I don’t have to have the imagination of an H.G. Wells or a Terry Pratchett, either, to think of dozens of other items that I could add to the series! But I shall not be doing that, because we need to look now at the ‘other’ sequence – the abstract one that my self is dealing with (largely subconsciously) at the same time! The mental events in the corresponding abstract sequence, as we also saw in the pinprick example, are quite different in character. They probably began more or less as follows: feeling desire to create something, recognising idea, feeling uncertainties, resolving fears, feeling ready, having ‘inspirations’, still feeling doubts, enjoying writing, and so forth. One very significant feature of this second sequence is that it seems to be full of feelings: looking back at the other example, in fact, we can see that this one contains far more feelings and far less conscious thought. At first glance that seems to be rather strange. Surely the pinprick would give rise to more feelings (and not only feelings of pain) than deciding to write a book? The answer is that there are feelings and feelings! (see next page): the high proportion of feelings in the abstract sequence of the second example stems from the fact that writing a book is an enterprise full of complex emotional issues, and driven more by those than by rational thinking – though, hopefully, a small amount of rational thinking will also creep in! Painting a picture or writing a symphony, by all accounts, tend to involve an even bigger preponderance of feelings over thoughts.


We all live lives that are made up of experiences of both the involuntary and the voluntary kind, with the former bombarding us all the time, and the latter – for most of us, at any rate – cropping up much less frequently. It is not only with creative activities, of course, that our feelings are intimately concerned – the majority of our actions owe much more to subconscious processes than they do to rational thought. It’s probably just as well, in any case, because to think about everything we do would be impossibly stressful, as well as being much less effective in general than the way the self deals with its business at present. This is not a textbook on stress management, however, and we have included the above scenarios for quite a different purpose – namely, to illustrate once again how much our lives depend on the versatility and unceasing activity of our subconscious selves. We can also see rather clearly how the self is operating simultaneously in its ‘two worlds’, working in the one and observing itself at work in the other! We could say, in fact, that we are now looking squarely at the philosophical question we set out to examine in the very first sentence of Chapter 1 – namely, “what we are and how we relate to the world around us”. The only thing that has changed is that we are now thinking about our selves rather than ourselves!

Calls to Action!
We have considered some of the fundamental relationships between the self (the ‘controlling authority’), the brain (the ‘operating equipment’ – working with the rest of the nervous system) and the mind (the quality and content of our awareness, which provides the background information the self uses to determine our behaviour). This brings us to the point where we can reasonably hope that, by looking more closely at that behaviour – both voluntary and involuntary – we may be able to learn a good deal more about the nature and functioning of the self. Some of the behaviour that gives a guide to the nature of an individual self can be observed fairly easily: you might blush, for example, if I tell you a risqué story – though then again, of course, you might not (you might hum a nervous little tune instead)! Moreover, such exchanges work both ways – I might have betrayed quite a lot about myself by telling such a story in the first place. Looking at the evidence from the two detailed examples we have outlined above, we can see that the actions of the self seem to fall roughly into three categories. Some of those actions are conscious activities like thinking, speaking or making deliberate bodily movements, and some are wholly subconscious responses, like reflex actions or the formation of scar tissue over an injury. There are also many other kinds of behaviour (fairly plentiful in the book-writing example), like daydreaming, ‘doodling’ on a piece of paper, surrendering to emotions, and the like, that seem to hover somewhere on the borderline between the conscious and the subconscious. Subconscious thoughts and semi-conscious (cerebellar) actions, in fact, form the overwhelming majority of the things we do in the course of normal living, greatly outnumbering the conscious ones. A large spectrum of our actions, from simple ‘learned’ routines like walking or drinking tea to those that arise far less frequently – when we are falling in love, for example, or wondering about changing our jobs – are ‘masterminded’ by the self mainly on the basis of stimuli arising from the prevailing circumstances, but mediated by our previous experience and the characteristics we have inherited from our parents. Many of these stimuli, moreover, are recognised by us as feelings. It might be advisable to clarify what we mean when we talk about ‘feelings’. As is usually the case with metaphysical issues, we employ one word to mean several different things. We can distinguish four of these without much difficulty. The first (Feelings 1?) concerns ‘feeling’ as one


of the five senses – the one concerned with things touching our skin. Feelings 2 can then be the ‘feeling’ of other sensory experiences, like, say, a headache – or, indeed, experiences resulting from Feelings 1! That leaves Feelings 3 to do duty for emotions, like love or anger, and Feelings 4 for ‘inclinations’ – “I feel like writing a book” (or “stopping writing my book!”). There are several other shades of meaning of the word that don’t concern us much at this point – “I feel powerless”, “I feel you may be wrong”, “I feel it may happen tomorrow”, and so forth, where elements of “I believe” are included – but for the moment we are concerned principally with how we handle Feelings 2, 3 and 4. By far the greater part of the self’s decisions are really responses to these three sorts of feelings, emanating either from the autonomic nervous system (Feelings 2), or from inside the brain itself (Feelings 3 and 4). All three sorts may or may not emerge at the conscious level (though Feelings 2 often will), and it was Freud and Jung who pioneered the understanding of some of the consequences that are likely to be observed if Feelings 3 and 4 are ‘repressed’ (remaining unacknowledged in the subconscious). It is clear, of course, that the actions that the self will take in any given set of circumstances will be determined largely by the initial nature of the stimulus – as is apparent in the two detailed examples we considered above. If (like the writer), however, we don’t believe in a deterministic world, we will hold that the self can exercise its free will at key points in any sequence of events, producing an outcome that is chosen rather than predetermined (including a chosen outcome that envisages no action at all!). Exhaustive studies have been made of what we usually think of as human emotions, and the work has suggested that there are really only six primary ones – fear, anger, disgust, surprise, happiness and sadness. The work has shown that various more subtle emotional states are probably best understood as being combinations of those six. Attempts to find how these ‘basic’ emotions affect (or are affected by) different parts of the brain have had some success, the best results so far being with studies of fear and anger. Scanning techniques and work with brain-damaged patients have both shown that stimulating certain areas of the amygdala (see Figures 10 and 11) produces these two negative emotions, and that activating another part of this same small structure leads to a desire to be friendly and submissive. This limbic organ, therefore, seems to be intimately concerned with a complete ‘kit’ of emotions, namely, those that may be useful to an animal confronted with an attacking enemy. Two different neural paths, moreover, seem to be available when that happens – a direct one via the thalamus that enables the self to react swiftly to danger if required, and a longer one, via the prefrontal cortex, which provides the self with opportunities to ‘consult’ the conscious mind, as it were, and then to take defensive action in a more measured way or, if necessary, to ‘instruct’ the hypothalamus (via the pituitary gland) to despatch hormones to damp down the initial hasty response. When people have suffered injury to this area of the cortex, or where it is not fully developed, as in young children, the individual often exhibits a noticeable lack of emotional control. A classic case of damage to the frontal cortex happened many years ago to one Phineas Gage, an American railway worker who was unfortunate enough to have a massive steel rod blown into his skull by an explosion (see next page). Astounding as it may seem, he made a remarkable recovery from what looked at first like a mortal injury, but it soon became clear that his previous steady character had disappeared completely. He took to making large numbers of plans of action that he seemed unable to carry through, and he exhibited an inability to control his passions that was so marked that ladies were warned not to ‘stay in his presence’ thereafter!


Phineas Gage survived this amazing accident – though with an altered personality

There seems to be a case, incidentally, for regarding ‘pleasure’ (which is not the same thing as happiness) as a seventh basic emotion, because it is possible to produce pleasurable feelings by electrical stimulation of part of the brain. On the whole, however, the chemical and neural complexities that may accompany the rest of our emotional lives – liking and disliking, loving and hating, feelings of low self-esteem, and so forth – are still only dimly understood, partly because the causes are usually multi-faceted, and partly because of the complexity of the emotions themselves and the discrepant patterns they generate during scanning processes. The thing that is most interesting for us, perhaps, is that there is another huge area of mental activity here in which our conscious thoughts play a very small part. It is as if our selves are working for most of the time – perhaps all of it? – in a frantically busy world of feelings that we really know very little about, and generating from them the never-ceasing output of thoughts and actions that enable us to survive in collaboration and competition with uncountable billions of other ‘selves’, all pursuing their own very different agenda! It may be worth mentioning one sub-set of Feelings 4 that is a fairly common experience for people who are racking their brains to create – or discover – something. One of the best descriptions of how the discovery process can be encouraged in practice was given by Robert Pirsig, in his Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “... Just ‘live’ with it for a while”, he said (speaking of being stuck with a motorcycle problem), “... and before long ... you’ll get a little nibble, a little fact asking in a timid, humble way if you’re interested in it ...”! This seems to us to be a rather nice description of how the self can nurture a vague feeling that might lead to the desired solution if given a chance, and it ties in well with the discussion of creative inspiration that appears on page 100.

Mind/Body Revisited
Both the psychological and the neurophysiological evidence, then, indicate that the self, operating within the Two Worlds framework, develops all its actions from subconscious stimuli – whether they originate from new experience or from revisiting old data already stored in the mind. The neurophysiological processes outlined above suggest that, though the precise nature of conscious

action is usually determined in conjunction with the complex processing that is taking place in the cerebral or cerebellar cortices, the final ‘signal’ to contract a muscle (or form a thought or speak a word, as the case may be) is almost certainly provided by the subconscious self ‘triggering’ the activating nuclei in the upper brain stem. All in all, we can see that even the words and thoughts that appear in our conscious minds – however we polish them up for public consumption – have their origins at subconscious levels. The movements and gurgles of any young baby make it clear, moreover, that we are able to invoke the ‘processes’ for doing these things long before our developing bodies and our experience of living will provide us with the ‘content’ they will later exhibit. It is surely not a coincidence that the activities that are mediated by the upper brain stem include all the fundamental processes that keep us alive. Without being awake for a substantial part of each day we would be vulnerable to all kinds of dangers (to say nothing of being unable to procure our food or build our shelters); without being able to feel pain and react to it we could easily be fatally injured; without the processes of homeostasis our bodies would soon cease to function altogether. These, in fact, are the key activities that the self must carry out in order to discharge its primary task of protecting the organism in what is often a hostile environment, and it seems to be established beyond reasonable doubt by the scanning evidence that the upper brain stem nuclei are the ‘buttons’ it pushes to mobilise its resources as required. The above view of how the self does its business, of course, throws a completely different light on the vexed but fascinating question of the nature of consciousness. We have tried (see page 69) to disentangle the several meanings of that word, and have decided that for the moment we are interested mainly in what we have called Consciousness A – the self’s total awareness of itself and its surroundings. The unknowable ‘inner’ self, in other words, is aware of its own concrete ‘physical self’ and of the abstract ‘self image’ present in its conscious mind in the same way as it is aware of other concrete and abstract entities – namely, as subjective perceptions of them. The thing that makes it so difficult to grasp the idea of the self is that it can never appear in our conscious thoughts. David Hume, searching in his mind for evidence of a self, said: “I can never catch myself at any time, without a perception” – but he did not see that those perceptions were evidence that the self he was looking for actually existed. Consciousness, in other words, is not an item missing from our picture of reality, but the self’s capacity to see the picture in the first place. Discussions about the ‘human’ version of Consciousness A have always been highly controversial, partly because the questions that arise have a high metaphysical content, with all that that implies in terms of entrenched positions and consequent failures of communication. The primary cause of the difficulty, however, is that almost any attempt to explore this kind of consciousness leads very quickly to the notorious mind/body problem, which raises such questions as where in the body consciousness may reside, and how an abstract thought can be capable of moving a ‘physical’ limb. Posed in such terms, of course, the mind/body problem is insoluble, but in our Two Worlds scenario the issue simply doesn’t arise, because thinking about moving a limb is merely an abstract visualisation of the movement concerned, incapable of having any kind of direct impact on anything in the concrete world. The entity that actually causes the limb to move, of course, is the subconscious concrete self that “wanted to know” in the story on page 76 – the ‘inner self’ whose true identity will always remain hidden from us. In fact, it would really be more helpful to think of the mind/body conundrum as the self/brain problem! (There is nothing improbable, incidentally, about the assertion that one’s non-material subconscious self has the power to move one’s material arms – we happily accept the moving of material things by other non-material entities like gravitational or magnetic force, although we don’t really understand those phenomena either!)


We have to abandon the popular idea, then, that all our ‘deliberate’ actions (including our thoughts and speech) are under our conscious control. It is the unknown processes of the subconscious self that move our muscles when we are awake, in much the same way as they do when we are asleep. The concrete reality of the self is further confirmed by the fact that our bodies frequently exhibit monosynaptic reflex reactions, and respond to a constant stream of semi-automatic (cerebellar) interventions that enable us to move about in the world almost without thinking. It is even a distressingly familiar experience to find that there is something inside us – but certainly not something completely conscious – that can induce us to eat that last forbidden chocolate! The differences between the relationship that is usually implicit in traditional mind/body discussions (X) and the one that appears when we look at the matter within the framework of the Two Worlds paradigm (Y) can be illustrated in the following manner (remembering that ‘mind’ in its traditional context means ‘conscious mind’, and ‘self’ means ‘subconscious self’):

X: Thought (conscious but abstract) appears to be able to ‘trigger’ concrete action (muscular or otherwise, including thought and speech). Hence the mind/body puzzle. Y: Self (subconscious but concrete) ‘triggers’ upper brain stem nuclei to initiate thought (conscious) and/or action (muscular, including speech). In other words, thought is no longer the instigator of bodily action, but instead part of the ‘output’ of the working self.

In X, the abstract contents of the mind appear to activate a material body, which has always (predictably) tied philosophers in knots. A common escape route for Western thinkers is into some form of determinism, which makes it possible to claim that the body’s actions are not initiated by the mind at all, but are part of the predetermined plan of some form of external (Semitic) God. In Hindu philosophy, too, all our actions are believed to be ultimately determined by forces of Nature inherent in the totality of the Universe, rather than resulting from human choice. People in many cultures, in other words, are driven to accept deterministic philosophies largely because it seems impossible to find any more satisfactory answer to the mind/body problem. In Y, on the other hand, the mind/body question does not arise, because we have the Real Concrete self interacting with the Real Concrete body (to produce thoughts and actions, including speech). The actions, in other words, are not being ‘triggered’ by the abstract thoughts of the mind – which is the proposition that is really impossible to believe – but by the autonomous choices of the concrete non-material self, which we already know can (and does) activate muscles even when we are asleep. We also know that what passes for the ‘self’ in organisms with only the most rudimentary nervous systems performs similar functions without any apparent difficulty, which gives further support to the view that in the case of human beings the impulse that causes a thought to form, a limb to move, or a voice to speak cannot originate in the conscious mind.

Needles in Haystacks!
In summary, then, we all seem to act as individual autonomous non-material selves, each carrying on the business of keeping the organism alive on the basis of an awareness of the world and of itself. Our parents had this same capacity, and our children will have it too. We have looked at the psychological and neurophysiological evidence, and have obtained some idea of how the self does


this – how it manages the ‘processes’ that go on in our minds and bodies – and we have noted the apparent ‘division of labour’ in the human brain between the brain stem, the limbic system and the cerebral and cerebellar cortices. We now have some feeling for how those structures seem to work, and how they are stimulated in the first place, though we have said very little about the actual material – or, rather, the ‘non-material’! – that they are processing. As soon as the self is stimulated into activity by an internal or external signal, the stimulus will require to be ‘considered’ (unless it is to be dealt with instantly by means of a spinal reflex reaction – and even then, perhaps, further examined a few moments later) in terms of anything that may be relevant to it in the memory. Describing these processes in such terms, of course, might lead us to forget that the stimuli we are talking about are actually electrical signals of which we cannot be consciously aware unless they lead to thought, speech or action. The self, however, has no such problems, and is able to interpret and use the incoming signals to initiate appropriate neural and/or endocrine responses at lightning speed, first perceiving the arrival of the signal, then recognising it for what it is, then ‘contextualising’ it in some way in order to evaluate it, decide action and act, meanwhile retaining as much as may be appropriate in the memory. The incoming stimuli, of course, may be so complex that ‘recognition’ may involve wholly subconscious activities in the reptilian and mammalian brains, in addition to half-conscious and conscious processes in the cerebellar and cerebral cortices respectively. It is hardly surprising, then, that scans of the working brain can show such frenzied activity – and indicate so much ‘coming and going’ between different areas – when it is engaged on a complex task. The autonomous self, moreover, may or may not choose to implement the results of all this labour. “I decided at the last moment not to go through with it”, we say, apologetically. The reader may have noticed, incidentally, that the whole of the above sequence follows the route that produces the generic mental forms of things we mentioned on page 28. There (as a special case of the process) the resulting product is an abstract image rather than a muscular movement. When we think of the staggering powers the human brain has attained, largely because of the degree to which the cerebral cortex has developed, it is sad to realise that it doesn’t always seem to be able to tell us what is good for us! In fact, it appears that our best interests are often served when the self simply accepts the promptings of the brain stem (the functioning of the ‘reptilian’ brain), or follows the emotional responses (‘mammalian’) of the limbic system – in spite of the fact that it is often necessary for restraints from the prefrontal cortex to be applied. When we ponder such things in terms of Darwinian theory we are reminded of what someone once asked the editor of The Times of London: “Dear Sir, have we progressed? If so, in which direction?” The question of how and where the things we remember are ‘stored’ is a complex and difficult one, but there is little doubt that memories of our experiences, both of the world around us and of our own relationships with it, are retained for varying lengths of time in groups of neurons in the cerebral and cerebellar cortices. What are known as semantic and episodic memories (memories of things and events respectively) are laid down, with the help of the hippocampus, in various parts of the cerebral cortex, while procedural memories (memories of learned routines) appear to be stored mainly in the putamen and the cerebellum. The example that is usually quoted in the latter connection is riding a bicycle – the sophisticated skills of the cerebral cortex being required only while learning, and the cerebellum gradually ‘taking over’ thereafter. The self then has to involve the cerebrum again only if the rider hits a pothole, has a puncture, meets an oncoming car, or experiences something similar. The intervention of the conscious mind, in fact, can have negative consequences – one is reminded of the centipede that was quite happy until someone asked him “which leg comes after which?”! – and these cerebellar processes, in general, operate with a


subtlety, speed and precision (think of catching a ball or standing on one leg) that the measuring and computing skills of the cerebral cortex cannot match. This point is also worth thinking about in connection with the debate about Artificial Intelligence – see page 102. It is even more interesting, from the point of view of the ideas we are arguing in this book, that the movements that are governed by the cerebellum – though satisfactory for most human purposes – are often far surpassed by their counterparts in the repertoire of other animals. Think now of how easily a cat leaps onto a wall, or how a parrot’s head stays rock-steady while its body is swinging on a perch. Both of these creatures have cerebral cortices that are relatively tiny compared with those of a human being, but their cerebellar cortices are much larger pro rata, and the same thing goes for their brain stems. It seems clear that the key muscular movements of both animals and humans are controlled largely from the deepest and ‘oldest’ levels of the brain.

Many thick books have been written about the nature and significance of memory, and many more are probably still to come, but we shall make just a few points here. The memories we have been speaking of above are the data, accumulated from the perceptions of a lifetime (as far as it has already been lived!), that we use as a reference book and a yardstick for all our new experiences. As we have said, these records are highly idiosyncratic, having been acquired by sensory observations that may have been inaccurate for many reasons, or interpreted in the light of eccentricities in our beliefs and values. On top of this, it may sometimes be difficult to recall the data we want as readily as we would wish, yet these memories are all we have to help us to make sense of the world as we find it – and to deal with the threats and opportunities it presents. We have to remember that the activities of the self, as it handles our memories, are concrete functions – perceiving, evaluating, storing, retrieving and so forth – whereas the contents of the memories themselves are abstract. Again, we are observing the difference between ‘process’ and ‘content’, which is an ever-present hazard when we are thinking about mental activities. But how does the self ‘home in’ on the particular items it may require at a given moment? About 100 years ago a philosopher called Franz Brentano developed the idea of what he called intentionality, by which he meant that all mental phenomena – perceptions of physical objects, beliefs, attitudes, emotions or anything else – must have some object (not necessarily a material one) to which they are directed. This may suggest how the self is able to recover more or less what it needs from the vast storehouses of our memories – libraries without retrieval systems, as it were! The congregations of neurons associated with one particular memory connected in some way with the incoming sensory signal may ‘trigger’ other groups that have recorded related material, and the process may then ‘snowball’ until the self has acquired the information it needs. Brentano, of course, was speaking only of the contents of the conscious mind, whereas we know that the self spends a majority of its time on problems that also involve subconscious inputs – how to react ‘instinctively’ to danger, whether or not to eat another chocolate, how to spend the next half hour, when to give up trying to solve a crossword clue, and so on. But subconscious memories are equally bound to be about ‘something in particular’, and the self presumably makes use of neural connections here, too, along with the prompting of any feelings that may be present in the brain’s limbic structures at the time – feelings such as guilt or affection, for example, which are not perceived via the five ‘normal’ senses, but (like strongly held beliefs) can nevertheless be powerful


motivators. In any case, however they are put together, and whether they are accurate or not, these are our memories, and the shape they take will play a key part in the course of our lives. Our memories, then (like our minds – see page 76), are both the ‘storage’ and the ‘stored’! A large proportion of what is judged to be worth keeping at first, however, is gradually dissipated as new circumstances develop and the neurons make new connections with other groups, though we know that some of the material may remain there for many years, perhaps even for the rest of our lives. When the self is interrogating the brain for information about the past, of course, it can recover only what is available at the time of searching. The current records may amount to no more than fading memories of things that happened long ago, or they may be the latest refinements, as it were, of our slowly evolving images of entities like a triangle or a generic horse. The comparative stability of our ‘self image’, which gives us our mysterious sense of continuing identity, is probably connected with the fact that our brain cells, as we have noted before, are the only cells in our bodies that are not replaced every few weeks.

…and Dreaming
Another subject that is intimately related to what we retain in our memories from the hurly-burly of our daily experience is the well-worn one, familiar to both neurophysiologists and psychologists, of the nature of dreams. This is certainly a very puzzling area: although dreaming occurs during sleep – i.e. when the upper brain stem nuclei that produce ‘Consciousness C’ are inactive – one can still be aware, in a way that is sometimes hard to distinguish from being awake, that ‘things are happening’. One always seems to be ‘present’, so to speak, in one’s own dreams! The subconscious self appears to be ‘playing’ with a motley collection of memories (especially those recently acquired), and doing so conscientiously five or six times a night – though many of us remember very little about it all in the morning. This activity seems to be something that the self finds it necessary to do, possibly to help with sorting and storing the events of the day, and possibly also as a way of easing mental stress. As a subconscious process, it is almost certainly going on all the time, but is no doubt masked by conscious thoughts when one is awake. As we pointed out earlier (page 86), some of the groups of nuclei in the upper brain stem are not primarily concerned with the sleeping-waking mechanism: it is presumably with the help of some of these that the self is able to carry on processing the day’s memories when the conscious mind is out of action. The main thing that distinguishes dreams from concrete experience is that they often contain fantastic elements – or rather, familiar elements in fantastic combinations. The self appears on occasions to have the ability to grasp some of these and re-arrange them in new and often exciting forms that we sometimes recall on awakening. It then seems to be a very natural thing to wonder if the dream has any meaning. There is nothing, after all, to stop us trying to evaluate even the most irrational scenarios by rational means, and throughout recorded history, indeed, there have been people in practically every culture who have made a reputation (and frequently a decent living!) by doing so. Similar – if usually less dramatic – mental adventures can also be experienced during ‘day-dreaming’, though it is usually only after a period of sleep that an ensuing rearrangement of ideas can produce a solution to a hitherto unsolved problem, or in memorable cases a creative inspiration, sometimes ‘worked out’ in astonishing detail. The results of such an experience are often very surprising, probably because they embody a vision that the conscious mind sees as a ‘quantum leap’ from its previous thoughts. Once again, we are dealing with a well-established phenomenon, which makes sense only if we see it in terms of a subconscious and autonomous self – a conscious one would presumably be unable to discover anything new once it had fallen asleep!


Out of Nowhere!
The occurrence of creative inspiration, and its relation to dreams and the experience of other ‘altered states’ of the mind, is one of the most interesting areas of the self’s subconscious activity. Thinking of the situation when one is trying to solve a problem, and looking back at our picture of the way in which the self can ‘access’ the material stored in our minds during both our waking and our non-waking hours, it seems fairly clear that anything it can retrieve at the conscious level is likely to be very much of the familiar ‘been-here-before’ variety. This, then, is unlikely to produce a solution that would deserve the adjective ‘creative’, and many of our ‘answers’, sadly, seem to fall into this category. When someone produces a really exciting solution, however, the feel of the situation is quite different, and we ask ourselves: “Why didn’t anyone think of that before?”. What has happened in terms of our model, of course, is that the self has contrived to recover data from the subconscious mind, and has come up either with something that was forgotten but highly relevant, or with a juxtaposition of elements related in some way that had not been spotted before – in other words, with an ‘inspiration’ that may owe very little to rational thinking. In most of the cases where this happens, there has typically been a longer or shorter period of intense thinking around the problem, which seems to have a sort of ‘brainstorming’ effect that leads to a fairly large mass of related material being collected, ready, as it were, for a new perception to emerge. The actual arrival of the inspiration, however, is not part of this ‘preparatory work’, and is often referred to as an “Aha!” experience, or pictured as a light being switched on suddenly over the thinker’s head. The other remarkable feature of these cases is that the person concerned usually knows immediately that the problem has been solved. One famous example of this was recorded by the great mathematician Poincaré, who was actually boarding a bus in the country when he suddenly hit on the solution to an esoteric mathematical problem that had occupied him for some time. “I felt a perfect certainty”, he said, “and I verified the result at my leisure”.

Henri Poincaré (1854-1912)

These mysterious capabilities of the subconscious self are quite fascinating in their own right, but they are doubly interesting inasmuch as they appear to be responsible for the creation of many of the world’s great works of art. They often seem, too, to impart a special element of ‘strangeness’ to the artist’s work, which is presumably related to the fact that the various fragments that the self has dredged up from its subconscious store have appeared together in a synthesis that would never have been created if the artist had been working at a wholly conscious level. In some ways it seems as if


the subconscious self ‘takes over’ the creation of the work: more than one novelist, for example, has testified that the characters themselves seem to be determining the way in which their story progresses, and many other examples exist of works that appear almost to have ‘written themselves.’ This applies, moreover, as much to the complex doodles on my writing pad as it does to Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, and it seems fair to conclude that the stimuli that ‘set the ball rolling’, when a work of art of any kind is being created, are feelings rather than conscious thoughts, which means that the immediate source of the inspiration is often unknown to the artist himself. (Sometimes, of course – as, for example, with Picasso’s Guernica – the work may develop from an idea that occurred originally at the conscious level: genius, after all, was once described memorably by Edison as “one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration!”).

The Intelligent Self
Creativity, therefore, is probably not directly related to what we normally call ‘intelligence’. This is no place to attempt an exhaustive study of that thorny subject, but there are one or two aspects of it that have a special bearing on what we are talking about in this book. We are astounded, for instance, by the almost miraculous mental feats that can be performed by a relatively small number of people – feats that are not just a bit beyond the powers of the rest of us, but of a completely different order of magnitude. A few such people, like Mozart or the mathematician Gauss, had altogether outstanding minds, and are fairly described as geniuses, but there are others – usually called ‘savants’ – who display amazing powers in a very narrow field, while their mental powers in other directions are often well below average.

St. Paul’s cathedral, by the autistic savant Stephen Wiltshire, who has been making such drawings since he was a child. He often draws from memory, or after only a few minutes’ study.

History records many cases of people – often poorly educated and sometimes also slow-witted – with ‘photographic’ memories and almost unbelievable calculating powers, and in more recent years some autistic children have shown wonderful capacities in other fields, like the ability to reproduce complex music after a single hearing, or to glance at the facade of a cathedral and sketch it quickly and accurately without looking back at it again (see Stephen Wiltshire’s drawing above).


There may be a ‘scientific’ explanation for this, however. It is known that very young children often have near-photographic memories, which usually fade as brain cells die off in the normal ‘thinning’ process called apoptosis. It may be that random failures of this process in parts of the developing brain can result in the abnormal survival of these amazing mental powers. Conscious thought, in any case, clearly has little bearing on such cases. Intelligence as we usually understand it, however, seems to have a connection with being able to perceive relationships that escape other people. This is the aspect that has given rise to that other rather neat definition of genius – “The ability to point out the obvious”. The ‘obvious’, of course, isn’t always so obvious to other people – otherwise, we should never paint ourselves into a corner of the room, or turn off the cold water for the plumber without saving some for making tea, or fail to remember that the clocks changed last night from winter to summer time! Some people, as we know, seem to be able to make these connections more readily than others. One rather good example occurred some years ago when someone’s foot became trapped between the entrance step of a London underground train and the edge of the platform. It was easily released, however, when a quick-witted passenger suggested that everyone in the carriage should get up and move over to the far side. Living without incurring disasters rarely calls for the application of knowledge we don’t already possess, but it quite often depends on assembling the fragments of what we know in an unusual way. This is certainly one aspect of what we recognise as intelligent action, and, like the other things we have been talking about above, it owes very little to rational thought, which makes us realise, amongst other things, the magnitude of the challenges facing those who are trying to create machines with artificial intelligence (AI).

Artificial Selves?
Many thousands of people are currently working in various parts of the AI field – if it can be regarded as a single field – and there is no doubt that a good deal of exciting progress is being made in areas like robotics and ‘thinking machines’. We already have artificial systems that can far outperform the human brain in terms of its powers of computation, reasoning (in logical steps) and the manipulation of language – and the applications of ‘cognitive science’ and its related technologies offer other possibilities that seem limitless at present. The above ‘thinking skills’, however, as we have seen earlier (page 16), are all conscious activities, tautological in nature, and capable of being programmed algorithmically like any other rational process. The self as we understand it now, on the other hand, exists in a totally different world from the machine. It is a non-material entity whose awareness of reality comes with the gift of life itself, so that it not only does things, but perceives that it does them. The self, in any case, uses conscious processes for only a very small part of its activities, and a machine that could replicate – or even imitate – normal human intelligence seems to us to be an a priori impossibility, because, as we have seen above, the nature of the self’s output is frequently determined more by subconscious feelings than by thought. The ‘content’ of a given problem, as we know, often calls for the assistance of the machine, but choosing the problem in the first place (except if following a set of rules) cannot be delegated to any ‘operator’ who doesn’t have free will. Even in the case of the interesting current research on the control of machines by thought alone, our analysis of the mind/body problem (see page 96) reminds us that thoughts are the output of a concrete process ‘triggered’ by the self in the same way that it triggers actions, so that controlling the machine by deliberate thinking is simply an ‘operational’ alternative to doing the same thing manually.


The work of the self is hectic, multi-faceted and continuous, and we are consciously aware of no more than a small fraction of it – and probably the least important fraction at that, certainly in terms of its primary task of keeping us alive. Most of its activities, in other words, have very little to do with language, logic or mathematics, and are consequently outside the scope of even the most sophisticated machines. In the last analysis, machines tend to give the same output for the same input, which living creatures most certainly do not. The living self, in short, does what it wants to do, and it is very difficult to imagine that any machine could ‘desire’ to do anything on its own, except in the sense of selecting something that it had already been programmed to ‘prefer’. It seems to the writer, furthermore, to be illogical to hold that truly intelligent machines can be created at all unless one believes in a deterministic Universe. We have argued (and we need not do so again) that the moment-to-moment state of the Universe is defined by a variety of ‘self determining’ equilibria, including those that result from the free actions of every kind of living creature, and it follows that living organisms have to be able to change their plans according to changing circumstances, and be capable of at least some actions that are surely beyond the powers of machines. It is difficult to imagine a machine, for example, that could even begin to maintain the predator/prey relationships in a food chain – which calls for the possession of free will and the ability to ‘second guess’ other autonomous creatures, capabilities that could hardly be provided by ‘randomised choice’ programmes or any other type of external intervention. The nature of intelligence, then, is partly a matter of definition, but it is probably less about what the mind can do than about the mysteries of how it does it. The long-running debates that persist over ‘intelligence testing’, for example, are illuminating in this respect. It has proved almost impossible to devise tests that are not so ‘culture bound’ that they are reliable when administered to people from significantly different backgrounds, and this makes the difference between intelligence and habituated reasoning power fairly clear. Intelligence, in fact, however we define it, depends at least partly on the self’s subconscious evaluation of the relevance and quality of its own conclusions, whether rational or intuitive. It seems to the writer that the construction of a machine – Turing or otherwise – that could experience such feelings (as distinct from imitating them algorithmically), could make judgements about their relative importance, and could then select and implement actions on the basis of those judgements, would by definition be practically equivalent to the making of a human self – or to re-introducing the ‘ghost’ into Ryle’s ‘machine’!

The Self in Embryo
The ‘making’ of the self, in fact, may be something worth returning to here. As we said on page 74, the new self inherits the germ of its awareness and autonomy from its parents. Many of the materialist philosophers who are currently struggling with the mind/body problem support a branch of non-reductive physicalism called ‘emergentism’, which is the doctrine that non-physical properties such as consciousness – or even life itself – can emerge from physical structures of a sufficient degree of complexity (such as the bodies of human beings or other ‘higher’ animals). The nature of such properties, moreover, is usually held to be determined (‘supervenience’) by the physical characteristics of the organism concerned, and a good deal of thought, therefore, is being given to ways in which neurophysiological processes may be able to give rise to our familiar subjective experience of consciousness. The writer believes, however, that all these efforts (including those that are directed towards the possibilities of quantum effects) are doomed to failure, because the question of the nature and


functioning of our neural processes is still part of what ‘philosophers of mind’ often call ‘the easy problem’ – in other words, something that can be studied without going beyond the parameters of the Western scientific paradigm. The problem of consciousness, as we have argued earlier in this chapter, is in quite a different category, and it seems to us that the physicalist approaches are examples of the desperate refusal of Western thinkers to accept life as a non-material but concrete phenomenon that pervades our planet – and perhaps the whole Universe – in a manner that parallels the ubiquity of gravity or magnetism. The ‘gift of life’ does not emerge from complex inanimate structures: it is received by living organisms from their parents. It is fairly obvious that whatever it is that causes the embryo to develop, it cannot be the mother alone – because it can continue to develop in vitro if necessary – nor can it be Dawkins’s ‘selfish genes’, because the foetus begins quite early to show signs of possessing free will, which is something that genes simply don’t have, in spite of the fact that they set biological limits to the self’s development. We also know that the living organism cannot possibly be controlled by the abstract thoughts of the self that will later appear in the mind of the child, and though we can accept the idea of a ‘life force’ that animates all living things – indeed, we can hardly avoid doing so – it is inconceivable that any sort of energy field alone could exercise free will, control sensory processes, feel ashamed of itself, and so forth, in the way the self learns to do as it matures. It seems clear that the self, though associated with a material body, is a completely separate non-material entity, external to the body, though not in the spatial sense. In that sense it ‘resides’ within the body, making use of a ‘life force’ from ‘outside’, as it were, to initiate action in the organism it inhabits. What can it mean to talk of ‘a life force from outside’? Energy exists in many forms, and does many kinds of work, but the new self appears to have access to a source of power that enables it to begin at once to interact with elements of the world around it. Its initial energy input to these interactions, of course, is minute, consisting of the tiny electrical impulses that are produced when it causes the appropriate neurons to fire – and this still adds up to a very small amount of energy even if millions of them fire together – whereas the output it ‘triggers’, in terms of muscular or mental effort, involves an energy expenditure (fuelled by the body’s metabolism, and ultimately by sunlight) that is many millions of times greater. The world, however, is full of living and nonliving systems in which large amounts of latent power are set to work by relatively tiny impulses. The elephant is prodded into action by the mahout, the demolition charge is set off by a spark, and engineers are very familiar with servomechanisms, which are constructed so that a small separate power input can release a very much larger output. Logic seems to force us to conclude, therefore (and remember what Richard Feynman said – see page 30 – about the value of guessing!), that the self – as distinct from the body it inhabits – functions throughout its lifetime on an energy input from some kind of external reservoir, and there appears to be no reason to doubt that the same ‘global life force’ is the power that animates every other living organism. This proposition, to which we shall shortly return, is somewhat similar to the various ‘vitalistic’ doctrines that were popular in nineteenth-century Europe – particularly Bergson’s élan vital, a force that he believed to be driving the evolution of living species to ‘higher’ ends – but the life force as we see it is different because (though it obviously accommodates evolutionary developments) it does not share the teleological or religious elements of Bergson’s ideas. It is also a narrower concept than the all-embracing ‘Ultimate Reality’ of Eastern thought, because it relates only to the living world. Whatever its source, the energy available to the mature self enables it to carry on with its two basic activities – maintaining its conscious and subconscious awareness of the ‘host’ organism’s condition, and instigating thought, speech and bodily movement as required on the basis of that


awareness. All forces interact with the material world in their own unique ways, and the life force is no exception, though we do not normally think of it as serving such varied purposes because the great majority of its activity takes place without our conscious knowledge.

Knowing and Doing
Ontological categorisations, as we have emphasised, are usually only rough classifications, made for a specific purpose, and any given categorisation can therefore contain entities that differ greatly from one another, as we can see in Table 3. Sugar and footballers, for example, are both Concrete Material entities, while magnetic fields and music are both Concrete Non-material, in spite of the lack of recognisable similarities between them. If we look again at Table 8, and consider everything we have now suggested about the nature of the individual self, it seems clear that we have no option but to categorise the self as a Concrete Non-material Particular – in spite of the fact that some of its bedfellows are entities as disparate as artistic talent and magnetic fields. But just as we can describe a football or a heat wave in greater detail than we do when we simply allocate them to an ontological category, so we may now try to do something similar for the self. We have already stressed several times that concrete material ‘effects’, as detected by our senses, are sufficient to guarantee the existence of a non-material entity – but they can also provide us with additional knowledge because they help to define that entity’s nature. Beautiful works of art, for example, not only demonstrate that the artist has talent – at least in the beholder’s opinion – but they also tell us a good deal about what sort of talent it is. Watching the behaviour of pieces of iron in a magnetic field not only shows that the field exists, but can even lead – in the right hands – all the way to the development of a theory of magnetism. Arguing along similar lines, we can say that the ways in which our bodies and minds behave under the control of a subconscious self not only confirm its presence, but also reveal a considerable amount about its nature and capabilities. The idea of a non-material self being able to do material things may raise the eyebrows at first, but one can point to many other non-material concrete entities that do their own amazing things in the concrete world. We are familiar, of course, with the definitive material contributions that living creatures make to the changing scene – bees make honey, lions eat antelopes, footballers score goals, maniacs assassinate presidents – and these interventions seem easier to understand, on the whole, than those of the non-material entities around us, though some of those, at least, have material effects on our lives that are every bit as dramatic and often far more important. Gravity moves massive objects, for example, and keeps us from floating off into space; electricity does many kinds of vital work; sunlight energises plants (and, indirectly, the rest of the living world). What many of these ‘effects’ have in common is that they are brought about by individual manifestations of non-material things – the gravitational field of the massive body, the skills of the footballer, the hunting instinct of the lion. Gravity, for example, is a non-material Universal entity that manifests itself in the gravitational fields of individual bodies that can be seen to be exerting a gravitational force of their own. What we are arguing here is that the individual self behaves in a similar fashion, displaying its capability to do the things – perceiving, ‘contextualising’, choosing, implementing action, and so forth – that we recognise as its familiar concrete ‘effects’. (The point may be made somewhat clearer by the comparisons shown in Table 12). The slightly confusing thing about the above discussion is that we can regard the lion, for example, in three different ways – as the familiar ‘one world paradigm’ animal that can be seen by others to


be eating an antelope, as the Two Worlds paradigm ‘self image’ of the lion (seen only by himself) enjoying his dinner, or as the Two Worlds paradigm ‘self’ of the lion (not perceptible to him at all at a conscious level) actually doing the things that are necessary to lead to the consumption of his food – i.e. living his life. Table 12 attempts to show the Two Worlds self in comparison with five other concrete non-material entities – chosen because they are familiar to us on a global or universal basis – and to clarify the differences between the nature of the entities themselves and their concrete effects.

Table 12: The Self Compared With Other Concrete Non-material Entities

Item General Manifestation

Gravity Universal Presence of Gravitation Gravitational Fields of Separate Bodies Massive Body

Magnetism Universal Presence of Magnetic Energy

Heat Universal Presence of Heat Energy Heat Output of Hot Bodies Hot Body

Music Global Occurrence of Music Pieces of Music

Love Global Occurrence of Love Expressions of Love

The Self Global Self (?)

lndividual Manifestations

Magnetic Fields of Separate Bodies

Individual Selves

Associated Material Entity Associated Energy Concrete Effects



A Mother

A Living Organism

Gravitational Force Attracting Other Bodies Maintains Equilibria of Physical Systems

Magnetic Energy Attracting/Repelling Other Bodies

Heat Energy Heating Things

Sound Waves Pleasing, Soothing, Inspiring Enriches Life

Emotional Output Comforting, Giving Love

‘Life Force’

Perceiving, Contextualising, Acting Maintains Equilibria of Living Systems

Overall Contribution

Maintains Magnetic Equilibria

Increases Metabolic Rates

Maintains Loving Relationships

Through a Glass Darkly…
One particularly confusing thing about discussing the nature of the self is that it is the self ‘itself’, so to speak, that is doing the discussing! The consequence of this is that – instead of giving up the argument as too difficult – we are faced once again (ad nauseam?) with the fact that the virtually unknown subconscious self whose nature we are trying to establish is a completely different entity from the conscious ‘self image’ that appears whenever we stop to think about personal matters. It is clear, in fact, that the subconscious self is able to look at itself, but that what it ‘sees’ (just as when it is looking at anything else) is only a subjective – and therefore to some extent imperfect – image. What I perceive when I think consciously of ‘myself’, therefore, falls far short of what I ‘really’ am, and in a sense my own ‘self image’ has no greater claim to validity than the subjective impressions of ‘me’ in the minds of other people – or even (if we are hoping to see the bigger picture) the one in the mind of my dog! Shades of relativity theory!


We shall usually be talking of human experience, of course, when we use the first person in these pages, but there is a grammatical point that sometimes leads to confusion. We have already identified three meanings for the word ‘self’ (page 61), and the pronoun can introduce three different sorts of message accordingly. If I (my self) report that I have fallen off my bicycle and broken my arm, the sentence “I have a broken arm” should mean, talking about my physical self, that the break has been verified (perhaps by X-ray) in the concrete world. Referring to my ‘self image’, it means only that I perceive (perhaps wrongly) that I am a person with a broken arm. The deeper meaning of the statement that I am making, however (i.e. what it means to me – my ‘inner self’), may be something like “My somatic nervous system is telling me that ‘my’ arm is broken. I am consciously trying to bear the pain, and have instigated the necessary subconscious processes to begin to repair the damage, but I have also decided to report the incident to as many people as possible because I feel that I need to get some medical attention and perhaps even some sympathy!” We may find it shocking to think of our ‘inner’ selves as non-material, and we may even feel a sense of loss – if we can bring ourselves to believe that the self is the one distinguishing characteristic we share with every other living creature. But what, if anything, have we really lost? Certainly not the bodily pleasures and achievements that we may feel make life worth living, because it has always been our inner selves that have experienced and appreciated those things, using our bodies as the means of doing so. Or perhaps our godlike stature? We may have persuaded ourselves that we are noble creatures, and created great institutions to mark our brief appearance on the planet, but in fact most of us come and go almost without trace, and our lives only find meaning, generally speaking, in terms of our relationships with the rest of the living world. Who knows, it may even be good for us to think of ourselves as non-material beings, in a world that is heavily and increasingly preoccupied with material things! It is not easy to rid oneself of the mountains of ‘baggage’ that have accumulated around ‘one world’ ideas of the nature of the self. This is understandable up to a point, because (speaking here for all of us) I have not really considered my ontological nature. What I am consciously aware of, of course, (and this, as far as one can tell from the literature, has been the position for centuries) is my ‘physical self’ together with my ‘self image’. I know, in other words, what it feels like to have a physical body and mind – my senses tell me about those things because my self reads the signals – and I am also familiar with the self image that I frequently summon up by introspection. From now on, however (to hammer the point home one more time!), we shall be using ‘I’ or ‘me’ to represent my real, concrete, non-material self, rather than either of the above – or, for that matter, what I do, or my capability to do it, or my energy, or my ‘spirit’, or my ‘soul’, or my Cartesian ‘mind’, or my Atman, or my Freudian ‘ego’, or my personality, or what others think of me, or what I think of myself (my ‘self image’), or any one of a number of other things that have been advanced over the years to represent ‘the self’ as a part of me, or a feature of me, or something I possess! There is little we can now add to our knowledge of what the self can do. We have obtained a picture of an entity with what the psychologists call a ‘distinctive competence’, consisting essentially of an awareness of itself and its surroundings, and a capacity for taking the action that is required to preserve its continuance in a hectic world of self-determining equilibria. We are left, perhaps, with the additional question of how the self ‘decides’ what to do in the many cases where there is obviously more than one option. When we use such language, of course, we are ‘personifying’ the self, but it is probably becoming apparent to the reader that we are in any case gradually working our way towards some sort of transmogrification of the view of its nature we have been putting forward until now.


…And Then Face to Face!
What has happened, in a nutshell, is that the ‘self’ of the Cartesian ‘one world’ paradigm, which has always been seen as some kind of property of the individual, or sometimes a possession, has been transmuted in the glare of the ‘Two Worlds’ paradigm from ours into us! What used to be mine under the old regime has now become me, and I now realise that it is no longer my body that is conscious, so to speak, of having a ‘resident’ self, but my ‘resident’ self that is now conscious of occupying a body (and, for that matter, having a ‘Consciousness A’). Moreover, I actually am my ‘resident’ self, and I am a non-material being, although (greatly to my non-Cartesian surprise!) I am also a concrete entity! You may find this proposition very hard to take – I am asking you to accept, after all, that I, as a non-material writer, am addressing you, as a non-material reader. But that is exactly where logic takes us, and, if you are prepared to struggle with the idea a little longer, you may come to agree that there is a concrete I – the I that can cause these words to be typed for the preparation of a book for the concrete you to read. We are both non-material entities, ‘resident’ in (and ‘managing’) the bodies we have known ever since we were conceived, and the good news for both of us is that the ancient mind/body problem that arises when I type and you read has now disappeared! Moreover, we are now both exercising our ‘free will’, which is something that I equate with being ‘I’ in the first place. I spend my whole life interacting (via my body) with the concrete world, constantly monitoring my internal and external situation, and acting to cope with whatever I find – to say nothing of pursuing the occasional opportunity if one comes along! It is surely inconceivable that I could perform this punishing task for a lifetime without possessing free will – and why on Earth, if I didn’t possess it, would I sometimes feel that I am enjoying the struggle? What do we reply, however, to someone who says: “Your so-called ‘self’ is just another name for a ‘person’!”? The answer has two parts, the first being: “The self is the person, identical with the non-material entity we know to be that person’s essential being.” The second, however, is: “It is not, on the other hand, the person we usually think of, consisting of a body and a brain, nor the ‘self image’ that we can conjure up in our minds. Those are merely features of the organism, which the self – or the person, if you prefer it – takes care of for as long as it can and uses for its own (so far inscrutable) purposes – much as the owner maintains and uses his car.” What about: “Your ‘self’ is just another name for a ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’!”? The answer this time is that the self is not a Semitic soul, because it has no religious connotations – neither a compulsion to obey Divine law, nor a provenance that denies it to termites or sunflowers. It is not a spirit, either, in the sense of an indestructible entity that can ‘cross over’ to cause an over-population problem in another ‘dimension’: it makes more sense, in fact, to think of it as being dissipated in some kind of overall ‘global consciousness’ fairly soon after it becomes disembodied (see page 121). If I want to be still clearer about what I am – and of course I do! – I can turn again to Albert Einstein, who, besides being a scientific genius, seems to have produced a memorable quotation in connection with most of the really difficult questions we have been discussing in this book. “It is neither the point in space, nor the incident in time, at which something happens, that has a physical reality,” he said somewhere, “but only the event itself.” (He didn’t shout that last bit, of course – the italics are mine!). This insight has a profound bearing on our present argument, because when one considers the implications of my birth as a living organism on planet Earth it can hardly be denied that I – like the occurrence of the heat wave in Table 8 or the dropping of the first atomic bomb – am an event


with a concrete reality (which we describe in our ontological terms as ‘Concrete Non-material’). The fact that I have lasted more than 70 years makes no difference: I am still an event in the history of this planet, as is every goldfish, every hurricane and every subatomic energon that pops in and out of existence around me.
This may strike the reader as another rather dubious idea, but it is not wholly without support. Some scientists would think of the living organism as a ‘temporary system’, which may live or die according to circumstances, and Erwin Schrödinger, who was a considerable philosopher as well as one of the founders of quantum mechanics, believed that human beings are all “aspects of a single consciousness”, and that every person that is born and later perishes is “in the nature of ‘the same event’ repeated over and over again throughout eternity”.

A World of ‘Selves’
This seems to be a fairly natural point at which to pause to summarise what we think we may have achieved so far. Probably the first thing to say is that it feels that we have made some headway towards our original objective, whatever the reader may think of our conclusions. The words we used in Chapter 1 were “another book ... about what we are and how we relate to the world around us”, and we have tried to stick to that objective, though we have found ourselves touching on issues that are usually discussed in more specialised works in the context of a variety of different disciplines. It seems to make sense, however, that any worthwhile discussion of our chosen topic should necessarily range fairly widely across the spectrum of human thought, because – as we said earlier – the world does not present itself to us in the separate compartments in which it is usually studied in our schools and colleges, and because the synergy that is available when we employ scientific and metaphysical approaches together can often operate to produce valuable new insights. In the course of our ontological thinking we have discovered not one but two ‘worlds’, a concrete one that we live in but can never really know, and an abstract one – unique for every observer – that we build up from the ‘evidence’ supplied by our senses. This suggests what we have called the ‘Two Worlds’ paradigm, which offers new ways of looking at reality that are very different from those of the ‘one world’ paradigm that obtains in Western thinking today. We have also distinguished three ‘selves’, two concrete and one abstract, and have reasoned that one of the concrete ones is the ‘secret self’ of our title, and that it can be seen as precisely equivalent to the I – the complete identity, conscious and subconscious – of every individual living organism. This entity, which we are now calling simply ‘the self’, is non-material, and therefore separate from the body, but we are also aware of its concrete nature because we can observe it at work, in our own species as well as in every other – exercising its (constrained) free will in making use of the body’s physical capabilities to interact with the rest of the concrete world. This view, of course (using the formal language of modern ‘philosophy of mind’), is substance dualistic, because it holds that the non-material self and its material body are ontologically different in nature. Descartes was also a substance dualist, but he was (understandably) unable to explain how an incorporeal mind could interact with a material body, whereas my dualism is based on the concept of a non-material but concrete self that controls both the mind and the body at the same time. Descartes saw the mind as a ‘thinking substance’, but my model regards thinking as merely one of the self’s conscious activities, the subconscious ones being actually far more important, including as they do the miraculous interplay of the mental and physical processes that keep us all alive. On this model the brain is simply the physical ‘apparatus’ that the self uses to do these


amazing things, which allows me to use the word mind – as we all do in normal conversation – to mean both the character of the self’s awareness (“She has a brilliant mind”) and the state or content of that awareness (“My mind is made up”, “It may have slipped his mind”). Looking around us like the responsible observers we hope we now are – that is to say with open minds and an empirical approach! – we can see (as we have already noted) that the other living creatures with whom we share our planet all seem to have agenda rather like our own, largely concerned with protecting themselves, procuring food and seeking opportunities to reproduce their kind. Some can perform feats of astounding complexity, culminating, with the human animal (see Table 9), in the ability to reason. It is not the ‘higher’ functions of the mind, however, that keep us alive, but those that are controlled by the living self, deep in the ‘older’ parts of the brain, and it is at those levels that our neural processes come closest to those of other species. There seem to be excellent a posteriori reasons, in other words, to regard every creature on the face of the globe as being (not ‘having’, you will observe!) a ‘self’, and employing the same ‘life force’ as we do while it follows its own genetic blueprint, however inconsequential its affairs may seem to us. Although the concrete self is a subconscious and non-material entity, moreover, it has the subtlety and strength to interact with the world around it in near-miraculous ways, whether through the brain of an Einstein, the muscles of a cheetah, the metamorphosis of a butterfly, or even the astounding ability of a plant to make sugar from carbon dioxide and water. There does not seem, either, to be any evidence to suggest that the perceptions of themselves held by other living organisms (within the limits of their different versions of Consciousness A) are any less satisfactory for their purposes than ours are for our own. If we are going to retain logical consistency in the way we extrapolate our concept of the self, we must regard each one, even down to those of plants (and probably viruses) as being aware of an ‘I’ of their own in some way that is totally beyond our comprehension. The American philosopher Thomas Nagel has written a muchquoted article entitled: “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”, in which he argues that there is ‘something that it is like’ to be a conscious being, but ‘nothing that it is like’ to be an inanimate object. He goes on to connect that idea with the intractability of the mind/body problem and the fact that the sciences cannot help us to understand the mystery of consciousness. His initial idea fits in nicely with what we have been saying in this book, but it seems to us that the question he asks is largely answered when it is reconsidered within the framework of the Two Worlds paradigm (see the discussion of consciousness on page 69). In short, what it is like to be a bat is something that is very widely understood – but only by bats!



Inside - Looking Out!

We have now reached a point where there is probably little more that we can say about the nature and functioning of the individual self, and where the evidence we have considered is causing us to suspect that all the selves on the planet may in fact be ‘manifestations’ of something vastly greater – an entity that it seems natural to call a ‘global self’. The existence of such a thing, of course, is not a new idea. It has appeared in many guises, from the ‘great spirit’ of the animistic belief systems and the Brahman of the Vedic religions to more modern variants such as Hegel’s Geist, Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’, De Chardin’s ‘nöosphere’, Bergson’s ‘élan vital ’ and Lovelock’s ‘Gaia.’ The ‘global self’ I am talking about now, however, is none of those things – not a deity, not a vestigial collective memory, and not a goal-directed spirit (unless the goal, perhaps, is learning). It is a non-material entity that may connect not only with the human individual, but also with every other member of the living world, rather as non-material forces like gravitation or magnetism interact universally with individual concrete objects. No version of a global consciousness, however, has yet managed to gain widespread acceptance as a feature of reality, and the whole notion is so controversial that we ought perhaps – as we are now suggesting another variant – to check what we think we have established so far, looking at where the last three chapters have taken us and considering the significance (if any) of those findings in terms of the task we outlined at the beginning of this book. We have considered a number of fundamental questions in the last three chapters, and have made some assertions that are not likely to be received with widespread enthusiasm, yet, where we have disagreed with more widely accepted views, we do not think we have tabled any impossible ideas or any irrational arguments. Here and there, certainly, we have ventured to pursue a few ‘hunches’, because our subject matter has sometimes required us to think about things that do not respond to testing by the scientific method, and because ‘guessing’, as we have noted, is a route that can lead to exciting new ideas. If, in spite of this, the scenario we are developing seems hardly believable to the reader, it is probably worth pointing out that we are dealing here with questions that have tantalised thinkers of every persuasion for centuries, and it seems highly probable that if any easier ‘rational’ answers existed they would have been discovered long ago. Our principal contention is that there is a great deal of evidence, neurophysiological as well as psychological, that supports the case for the existence of a subconscious non-material self (though Ryle dismissed any such thing scornfully as “the ghost in the machine”, and Dennett, Dawkins and other influential thinkers are equally scathing today). As we have already pointed out, however, Ryle’s ‘ghost’ was an abstract one – the equivalent of our familiar ‘self image’ – and therefore one that could not possibly produce any concrete results unless it were assumed to have ‘supernatural’ powers. Our ‘ghost’, on the other hand, is the concrete self, the ‘I’ that is aware of itself and its surroundings and is the real controller of our actions. Its detailed nature is not known to us because it operates mainly at subconscious levels, but there is nothing supernatural about it, and its existence is confirmed by its concrete effects, which – like those of many other non-material entities (see Table 12) – are happily accepted as part of our everyday experience. We are also driven to believe that all living things, however simple in structure, can be thought of as being ‘selves’, at the level of what we have called their ‘species awareness’, and that all these selves possess at least some degree of freedom of action (see again the Cognitive capabilities suggested for the different species that appear in Table 9).

Thomas Nagel’s point that there is ‘something that it is like to be a bat’ is helpful in this connection. The awareness of being anything at all, in fact, belongs exclusively to living creatures, and it is therefore not only legitimate but also useful to use the word ‘self’ to characterise any individual living organism, even if its level of awareness appears to us to be no more than a ‘programmed’ reaction to its environment. We rarely think of the self, of course (especially in Western cultures), in connection with anything other than a member of the human species, and we tend to use the word (when we do so at all) to mean either the ‘physical self’ (consisting of the body and the central nervous system) or the personal ‘self image’ (the ‘object’ of our awareness) that exists only in our minds, but all the evidence indicates that both of these things should be seen only as separate aspects of the whole complex reality of the human organism, and that the concept of the autonomous individual self is equally valid across the rest of the living world. It is clear that this ‘inner’ self, with its awareness of itself and its surroundings, cannot be known to us directly, because it is ‘non-material’ – like gravity, magnetism or even life itself. We know, however, that those phenomena are concrete entities because we can detect their concrete effects, and the self reveals its presence in similar ways, whether in the elaborate mental and bodily activities (including speech) of the human animal, or in the apparently ‘simple’ responses made by bacteria or plants to environmental stimuli. We also experience the concrete reality of the self, incidentally, in the continuance of the identity of the child becoming an adult or of the caterpillar becoming a butterfly. I believe that this view of the self as our central but largely unknown inner being is a better foundation for our present exploration than others that may be more familiar – the purely physiological approach, the various psychological theories, or the arguments based on religious beliefs. The “Who wants to know?” story on page 76 reminds us that – whatever else we may be – we are individual living creatures with individual needs (the student sitting next to our worried friend, for example, may not have felt any need to find out whether he existed or not, but he would undoubtedly have other needs of which no-one but himself was aware). We also know (though the matter doesn’t usually arise in discussions about the self) that we share our world with uncountable myriads of other living organisms, which, however simple in structure they may appear, share large numbers of our genes and seem to cope at least as successfully with their needs as we do with ours. Needless to say, the idea of our planet being inhabited by many trillions of selves, all possessing their own brands of ‘free will’ and therefore exerting their individual effects on all sorts of global equilibria, is completely foreign to what we are calling the existing ‘one world’ paradigm. The ‘souls’ or ‘spirits’ with which our caveman peopled his world, however, have lived on in different forms in both the Semitic and the Vedic belief systems (with parallels in many of the so-called ‘ethnic’ religions of small-scale societies in North and South America, Africa, Australia and elsewhere), and various deterministic ‘world views’, theistic and otherwise, have been built around the premise that all human beings (but, sadly, no other animals!) share attributes of a transcendental nature and in most cases a common destiny. We have already mentioned a few of the more interesting attempts that have been made to extrapolate this idea of ‘a world of selves’ to encompass the notion of a shared ‘global awareness’, and there are variations on that theme in almost all of the world’s cultures. The ‘spiritual’ dimension in our make-up is so strong, in fact, that most of those who have struggled with such ideas have found themselves unable to relinquish them, and have ended up, consequently, in one of two camps – either with the Semitic God who has to be worshipped and obeyed, or with the ubiquitous ‘Inner Reality’ of the Hindus and the mystics.


East is East…
The nearest parallels to the ideas we are advancing in this book occur in the belief systems of Eastern countries, and it may be useful – at the risk of being boring – to look at them once again, but this time with a particular focus on their conceptions of the ‘self’, which are different from ours. Hinduism and the other Vedic derivatives see humanity as part of an over-arching psychic entity that embraces the whole of ‘creation’, including inanimate matter. The so-called ‘Ultimate Reality’ or ‘Inner Controller’ of the Universe is Brahman, an entity utterly beyond human comprehension but manifested in the individual as a ‘soul’ or Atman. Atman, which is immortal and not subject to the limitations of the body, can retain its identity on Earth through many painful reincarnations, but can look forward to an eventual and blissful union with Brahman. “Tat tvam asi” (“That art thou” – “That is Reality”) – say the Hindu scriptures. Buddhism, as befits an offshoot of Hinduism, also recognises a ‘self’, but it is a self that is constantly renewed. The impermanence of all things is a fundamental Buddhist tenet, and the immortal Atman of Hinduism itself has disappeared. Instead, the Buddhist self is seen to be a composite of elements of body, mind and feelings that is put together afresh with every new birth Human lives are filled with suffering caused by adhering to futile desires, and the cycle of rebirth ends only when enlightenment is attained and the individual enters nirvana – a blissful state beyond human understanding which can only be attained by acquiring ‘absolute knowledge’, generally by mystical revelation occurring during meditation. Although Buddhism does not assert a Divine presence, its emphasis on love and compassion has made it very attractive to many Western minds. Taoism and Confucianism are also ‘belief systems’ rather than true religions. Confucianism is not so important for us here, as it deals essentially with social affairs, codes of behaviour, and the like, but Taoism, as we shall see later, has overtones that are compatible with the nature of the self as we have been envisaging it. Like Confucianism, Taoism displays the intensely practical nature of the Chinese character, but it is much more mystical and ‘self centred’, being basically concerned with finding happiness by using one’s intuition to follow the Tao – the ‘Way’ that can be discerned in the ebb and flow of the changing patterns of Nature. This emphasis on intuition is reminiscent of the fundamental importance we have been attaching to the activities of the subconscious self.

…and West is West!
The ‘one world’ philosophy that is familiar in Western cultures today developed, as we said in Chapter 1, from the ideas of the Greek Atomists, via the external Deity of the Semitic religions, to the deterministic paradigm that later came to incorporate Newton’s mechanistic model of the Universe. In this paradigm, of course, the human being, nursing his Cartesian mind/body dualism and his God-given immortal soul, was a detached observer who could hope to discover eternal truths by applying the scientific method to the minutiae of the (one) world around him. The resultant mind/body/soul/spirit confusions are still with us today, in spite of the agonised efforts of Western philosophy, which in some ways can be seen as a centuries-long struggle to avoid accepting the idea of a non-material self. These themes of both Eastern and Western thought, however, have been refined in many cultures over thousands of years, and are firmly implanted in the minds of millions of people, where they can be powerful determinants of behaviour. Some of the principal differences between these various belief systems are summarised very briefly in Table 13.


Table 13: Differentiated Elements of World Belief Systems Caveman • Mysterious powerful forces • Self part of world Animistic • Gods in animals, mountains, rivers • Self part of world Vedic • Brahman in everything • Self part of Ultimate Reality Semitic • External God to be feared and obeyed • Self created to stand apart from world Current Western ‘One World’ Paradigm (far from unanimously agreed!) • God may exist • Deterministic Universe ‘formed out of nothing’ • Reality can be understood but exists only in human mind • Self separate from world, separate from other selves, separate from the body, and possessed only by human beings Suggested ‘Two Worlds’ paradigm (agreed by no-one so far!) • Universe exists in ‘self determining’ equilibria • Reality includes a concrete Universe (of which every living creature has its own abstract image) and concrete (non-material) individual selves, of which every creature also has an abstract image. • Self part of ‘living’ world. All selves have free will (though constrained), and individual abstract images allow every creature to ‘understand’ the concrete reality in its own way, and to manipulate it to some extent according to its needs and abilities. All concrete selves are part of a shared ‘global self,’ but each regards itself as occupying a central (relativistic) position within the whole.


Our subconscious self, like the Hindu Atman, is separate from the body, but it differs radically by being autonomous, by being temporal, and by being present only in living things. The idea of a new self being created with the conception of each new offspring is a little like the ‘rearrangement’ envisaged in Buddhism, though in our model the characteristics inherited from each of two parents (or from a single one in the case of species that reproduce by cell division) give greater continuity. Our assumptions about the ultimate ‘destiny’ of the self, moreover, involve neither a Heaven/Hell alternative, as envisaged in the Semitic religions, nor a ‘state of bliss’, as in the Vedic traditions, though we shall be saying something more about its ‘prospects’ shortly. My feeling of ‘being me’, of course, is a mysterious aspect of consciousness that may possibly ‘reappear’ at a later date as part of the awareness of a different self (see pages 121-122).

The Other Internet
Comparing belief systems leads us inevitably to the questions that reflect mankind’s curiosity about what are usually called ‘spiritual’ matters, which cannot be ignored in any reasonably balanced discussion about the self. The choice of the adjective ‘spiritual’, of course, raises immediate ambiguities. Once again, we are dealing with a word that contains a number of poorly resolved meanings. In a religious context it usually implies the existence of a human ‘soul’, but we often use it about wholly secular matters that seem to imply qualities that we feel to be noble, beautiful, or in some other way related to ‘higher’ things. We need the word, in fact (or perhaps some synonym like ‘transcendent’ or ‘sublime’), to suggest nothing more than that the self can sense – and ‘longs to enjoy’ – a dimension of life that is somehow finer and more desirable than the ones it normally experiences. Whatever the semantic difficulties, there is no doubt that this longing is very real to many of us, and it is worth remembering that, although it may have only the haziest of empirical justification, we are still likely at times to act on it, just as we are on any other feelings. Perhaps the biggest issue that arises in the category of ‘spiritual’ problems (and this one is regarded by many people as a religious matter, except perhaps in the beliefs of Buddhism and Taoism) concerns the possibility of the self ‘operating’ beyond the confines of the material body. There are two separate questions here – one about its ‘connections’, if any, with other selves, and the other about ‘survival’ – what happens to it when the body dies. Both of these questions, of course, have been argued unceasingly for centuries, and there would be little point in going over the old ground again in this book except if the problems look different in the light of our Two Worlds paradigm. Most species, after all, have been on the planet far longer than we have, and many of them look likely to be able to enjoy a safer future! The thing that strikes one most forcibly, perhaps, is the amazing number of physiological elements that even widely differing species appear to have in common: it has been calculated that we share 98 per cent. of our 3 billion genes with chimpanzees, and 57 per cent. of them with cabbages! The goals of every species, too, seem to be so similar that it is tempting to believe that the individual self may be following an ‘agenda’ shared in some way outside the organism it inhabits. Thinking within the Two Worlds framework, we start from the assumption that the self, being a non-material entity, must exist separately from the material body. We also know that it is surrounded by what appear to be trillions of other ‘selves’ that exhibit varying degrees of similarity. The immediate and obvious questions that now arise are concerned with whether or not these ‘selves’ may be related and able to communicate with one another. At first glance, we feel intuitively that they must all be intimately connected in some way. The offspring of many species


are ‘born’ in millions at a time (think of the teeming clouds of eggs that are poured out by sea creatures); they look virtually identical; they all seem to be animated by the same life force; and they all appear to share similar goals – namely, to protect themselves and to reproduce their kind. Much the same agenda, moreover (with the exception of the size of the family!), is seen to apply throughout the whole of the living world. When we consider the question of how far individual selves may be able to communicate with one another, it seems significant that the nervous systems of organisms of the same species are so similar that doctors and veterinary surgeons can learn practically all there is to know about them by dissecting only a few individuals. It is very hard to believe that these almost identical neural structures are not capable of communicating with one another at subliminal levels – perhaps even across species boundaries.

Watching You Watching Me?
Underlying all our thoughts about the relationships between selves – unless we are idealist philosophers or physicists who accept the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, which suggests that the existence of the real world depends on the presence of an observer – is the premise that you and I (and my dog, for that matter!), are actually looking out of different pairs of eyes at the same realities. We observe one another interacting with our surroundings, recognising people and things, understanding and learning in our separate ways – in fact, learning from much the same experiences – though the content of what we learn, and our responses to it, may be ours alone. It is difficult not to conclude that we are all, broadly speaking, participants in the same drama, even if our abstract perceptions of the parts we are playing are very different. And this brings us to another threshold: our relationships with other living creatures may be even closer than that. We established in the last chapter that ‘I am my self’, so that it has begun to dawn on me that I may not be a wholly separate entity at all, but may instead be an individual manifestation of some kind of global consciousness that permeates the whole of the living world! My conscious perceptions of what is going on, of course, do nothing to suggest to me that I may be sharing my identity in that way, but the challenging idea that I may have been mistaken in this, and that I may have unsuspected links with other selves at subconscious levels, opens up the possibility that I may actually be a fragment of a ‘global self’, and suggests plausible answers for some of the questions that have occupied philosophers for many generations. The thesis that everything that lives is a self of its own kind, connected to every other, is, of course, not such a novelty – other well established belief systems (especially, as we have seen above, those with Vedic roots), make similar assumptions. It always amazes people in the West to discover that some Jains (whose philosophy of non-violence inspired Mahatma Gandhi) care so much about the sanctity of the life of every species that they are often prepared to wear cloths over their mouths to prevent them from inhaling small insects. Our own ethical compulsions, however, do not go so far (see Chapter 5), though we share with the Hindu and Taoist philosophers – and for that matter with a large majority of modern physicists – the assumption that the whole of the natural world operates as a single dynamic reality. While we also share the view that all matter and energy appears to form an interacting unity at subatomic levels, however, we differ from the majority by drawing a firm boundary around the living world, partly because we have long ago lost the feelings of kinship with mountains, rivers and clouds that were part of life for our earliest ancestors, but mainly, of course, because the phenomenon of life itself is evidently a mystery of an entirely unique nature.


All living creatures have some awareness of their existence, and some freedom – however small – to change the world, and we, as the only species with the mental equipment to investigate such things (as well as the time to do so) would surely be betraying our inheritance if we failed to take up the challenge they represent. To be ‘aware’ of another living creature, in the sense in which we have been using the word, means more than just being able to sense its presence. There is a higher degree of awareness that implies the ability to respond to others at the emotional level. There are many ‘one-to-one’ situations in which we may be dimly aware that feelings shared with another person involve much more than the experiencing of a similar response to the same stimulus by two individuals of the same species. The world’s literature is full of attempts to describe the transcendent feelings of being in love, both when the feelings are returned and when they are not! Many of these descriptions struggle to express the sensation of being ‘one’ with the beloved – echoing the accounts of religious and mystical experience that seem to be common in all cultures – and suggest, moreover, that the feelings that develop between the two parties appear to be mutually reinforcing. The hypothesis that all selves are somehow connected is also supported by our experience of loneliness. It is often said that loneliness is the greatest unhappiness of all – witness what it feels like to be sick or in prison. “Why me?”, we ask. “Everyone else is well/free.” Young people (who haven’t yet learned to suppress their emotions) value their ‘relationships’ above everything else. We seem to regard being alone as the ultimate disaster – ‘a part of the self’ has been lost, and we long to rejoin our fellows (see the quotation from John Donne on page 133). Looking beyond the human experience, too, it is evident that the powerful bonds of feeling and wordless communication that exist between mother and child in our own species also exist in many others, and that an astonishing closeness very often develops between people and their pet animals. The annals of psychic research contain many well-documented examples of a significant degree of ‘extrasensory’ inter-species communication – often of the “My-dog-knows-when-I-am-on-my-wayhome” variety, but sometimes of a considerably more complex character. There are several cases on record where a pet (frequently a dog) warns its owner regularly of an impending epileptic seizure or some other approaching crisis, and, because an initial loving relationship appears usually to be a factor, it seems more likely that there is some kind of subliminal communication taking place between pet and master than that the animal is merely picking up sensory clues.

Exploring the ‘Global Self’
We are probably now ready – or as ready as we shall be – to return to the question of a ‘global self’, which seems to have ‘sneaked up’ on us as we have gone along. The objective is essentially to try to see how you, I and my hypothetical dog (the original died a few years ago, to our great distress) can somehow fit into a Two Worlds scenario in which we are related to all other selves, and are perhaps able to exercise a vestigial capability for ‘extrasensory’ communication. To begin with, our infant selves inherit their individual natures from their parents, and we can therefore allow ourselves to imagine that if the parents had been sharing a relationship with other living creatures as ‘members of a global club’, as it were, we ourselves would probably be admitted too (in the separate section, perhaps, for members of our own species!), which would mean that we should then have to accept the responsibilities as well as the privileges that membership of any respectable club normally entails.


From the moment we became members, although we should still have our autonomy, we would effectively be part of a ‘global network’, with perhaps even a shared objective. This suggestion, of course, remains a supposition with little or no empirical support, but if there is anything in it, it would seem that it is not Dawkins’s celebrated ‘selfish gene’ that is likely to be directing affairs in the living world, but rather the global self, operating through a network consisting of the selves of every individual organism, and using their bodies (with all their genes in place!) to further its own ‘global purpose’ – whatever that might be! It follows, of course, that, because of our individual freedom, such a global self – unlike the Deity of the Semitic religions – could never be either omnipotent or omniscient, because each individual self would constantly be making autonomous decisions and acquiring knowledge as a consequence of its own experience ‘at the perimeter’, so to speak! A global entity, however, could well be the central focus of the ‘life force’ that animates each individual self, and could also act as a sort of ‘global librarian’ – a repository for the latest knowledge acquired by all these disparate ‘satellite’ selves. Indeed, it is difficult to see how the integrity of ‘species consciousness’ could be maintained so precisely from generation to generation without some such global ‘secretariat’. We all build our own abstract worlds, after all, by observing the concrete one, and it looks at least possible that our common objective could well be to learn, in our different ways, from our unique experiences, and to communicate the results in some way to a central point. We could speculate, indeed, that the incredible diversity of living species maximises the opportunities for global learning, and that learning may in itself represent a purpose for living, valid for them all, which is an idea not very far from the core of Taoist philosophy, with its repeated emphasis on learning from the ebb and flow of the processes of Nature. We are no longer thinking, then, of individuals that are separated physically from one another in the ways we have always taken for granted, able to communicate only by methods dependent on the laborious processes of conscious thought, with all the ambiguities of expression and interpretation that conscious processes can involve, but of beings that may actually be connected to one another in a subconscious network in the concrete world. It would seem to be easier, quicker and more reliable for subconscious communication to take place between members of a shared global network than between selves that are totally separate entities. We have already suggested that the selves of all living creatures must influence one another indirectly (because their actions affect global self-determining equilibria), but it seems possible that they may also be able to do so directly, as autonomous parts of a single ‘self-regulating’ system. Any ‘messages’ that could be transmitted in that way, after all, wouldn’t have to fly across a void to reach the recipient, because a shared communications network would already exist! Could it be possible that the ‘spiritual’ feelings we mentioned on pages 18 and 115 arise because we are subconsciously aware of being part of a global self? Such feelings have been recognised in practically every culture in history, and some animals (especially insects) seem to exhibit an instinctive awareness of belonging to a wider community. There does seem to be something lurking there at a subliminal level, perhaps some dimly felt form of global consciousness that touches us, too, from time to time. It may even be giving us, in our quieter moments, an occasional tantalising glimpse of the existence of dimensions and ways of being that reach higher and farther than those of our familiar experiences, and leave us and our blunted sensibilities with uneasy feelings that there may be greater goals to which we could aspire if only we could find the way! The picture we are painting in this book is clearly not a religious one in the usual sense of the word. It is certainly based on a belief that our lives are managed by a non-material entity, but in this case the entity is not an external Deity but the individual autonomous self – the ‘I’ that is the essential


concrete ‘being’ of every living creature, possibly existing in a shared ‘network’ relationship with some form of ‘global self’. It seems possible within that scenario that the ‘spiritual’ feelings mentioned above may be the vestigial remains of a wholly secular awareness that human beings have all but lost, but which may still persist on the purely instinctive level in some other species.

A ‘Feelings’ Network?
It may be worth spending a few moments on considering how such a global network might work. It would clearly have to employ ‘extrasensory’ subconscious processes, because the information we receive through our normal senses cannot be transmitted to others except by mechanisms that involve conscious thought, and thinking calls for a cerebral cortex, which is something that is not possessed by the vast majority of life forms on the planet. ‘Thought transference’ in the laboratory, in fact – such as the attempts to transmit mental impressions of symbols on cards that were used by J.B. Rhine and by the researchers who have since tried to develop his work on ‘extra-sensory perception’ – has a very poor track record. There is a good deal of anecdotal evidence, on the other hand, that feelings can be communicated much more easily – frequently, in fact, without conscious effort – at least between identical twins and other individuals who are fairly close to one another. Much of this evidence, of course, is very unreliable, but there does appear to be a residual amount – especially in cases where unusually powerful emotions are involved and where numbers of people are experiencing the same feelings simultaneously – that leaves one reluctant to ‘close the door’ completely to the possibility that some forms of extrasensory communication do exist. It seems likely that subconscious contacts should be easiest to observe in species whose physiology is relatively simple, but the behaviour of ants and bees (collaborating miraculously in their ‘work’), and even the group behaviour of fish, birds, lemmings, wildebeest and many other species, seems to display some rudimentary communication of this kind. Moreover, there are also aspects of human behaviour that suggest that vestigial traces of an extrasensory ability to communicate can still be observed in our own species, especially in moments of high drama. Anyone who has been present during a demonstration of mass hysteria or mob violence, or even been part of an excited football crowd, may remember the frightening and slightly eerie feeling produced by the power of the shared emotion. All in all, there seems to be no good reason to doubt that at least some people can occasionally communicate feelings, even at a distance, by extrasensory means. But as we have probably lost the greater part of any such abilities that our distant ancestors may have had, and because the processes involved are by definition subconscious, it is not surprising that they are not well understood, and that the possibility that they exist is not taken too seriously in many quarters. There is one general area, however, where the reality of the transmission of feelings cannot be denied. Creative art of all kinds is both produced and appreciated largely at subconscious levels, and often appears to make its most powerful impact when the artist is not deliberately trying to transmit a ‘message’. There are exceptions, of course – like Picasso’s Guernica or Munch’s The Scream – where the desire to make a recognisable statement was clearly part of the stimulus behind the work, but most conscious messages are received more clearly via media like the written word than by, say, painting or the dance. Nevertheless, it does seem that some of us, especially if we have some degree of artistic talent, may be able to act both as transmitters and as receivers of feelings, even if the technical quality of our ‘communications equipment’ is not so very high!


The Self Disembodied!
The Two Worlds concept of a self that is controlling a material body, but is not an integral part of it, throws a whole new light on the vast quantity of anecdotal ‘evidence’ that persists in every culture for so-called ‘paranormal’ phenomena of many kinds – though one can argue that the use of an adjective like paranormal is as much an indication that one is in the presence of closed minds as it is a rational attempt to categorise a mysterious part of our ‘normal’ experience of the world. (No such phenomenon, either, should really be described as ‘supernatural’). This is hardly the place to attempt an exhaustive study of paranormal ‘happenings’ (even if the writer were sufficiently well informed to do so), but we ought to spend a few moments on some of the more interesting types. The commonest examples of paranormal phenomena that appear to involve only a single self – communication with other selves not being necessarily a feature of the event – are usually called ‘Out-of-Body Experiences’ (OBEs) and ‘Near Death Experiences’ (NDEs). Both are reported to produce the sensation (to put it no more strongly than that) that one feels oneself – we should now say ‘one’s self’ – departing from one’s ‘physical self’, and in many cases looking down on it (curiously enough, often from the ceiling of the bedroom or hospital ward). It is in what happens next that the differences between the two types of experience lie. OBEs seem to differ a good deal from one another, producing fairly widely varying ‘recollections’ of flying, visiting significant people and places, and even just ‘hanging around’ for a while! The experience is rarely frightening, frequently enjoyable, and often not easy to relate to one’s conscious life. In many cases it seems almost as if one just felt like taking a short holiday! – which makes one wonder if the OBE is essentially another way (like dreaming) for the self to ‘recharge its batteries’, perhaps at a time when the stresses of daily life are more severe than usual. NDEs, of course, are a much more serious matter. They are almost always reported by people who are very ill or badly injured – ‘near death’ in reality. Remarkably, perhaps, they often seem to start off like OBEs, with the self looking down on what may be a frantic spectacle of doctors and nurses desperately trying to resuscitate its dead ‘physical self’. Typically, the next stage involves a longish journey along a tunnel towards a light that becomes brighter as the self goes forward. The tunnel then opens into a luminous (and often beautiful) place inhabited by anyone from dead friends and relatives to an imposing presence that may appear to be God (or perhaps, in our model, the Global Self?). Invariably, around this point, someone tells the ‘visiting’ self to go back to Earthly life, a message that is often reported to be unwelcome. Always, however (since the individual concerned is able to report the experience!), the command is obeyed, and the self finds itself back in a body that is still close to death and frequently in much pain and distress. What are we to make of such reports? It is easy enough to imagine a variety of physiological and psychological ‘explanations’, though most of them are rather tentative. Considering our hypothesis of the separate non-material self, however, there seems to be no difficulty at all in assuming that it can become ‘disembodied’, given the appropriate circumstances, and especially if its ‘physical self’ is on the point of death. It even strikes one as quite plausible that the ‘self-managing’ self might ‘decide’ that the time had come to start to leave its Earthly residence. Why its decision should be reversed in the case of the NDE, however, is a matter for speculation – perhaps it is ‘advised’ that the ‘dying’ body is capable of supporting life after all! The case of the OBE, of course, is different – one can only guess what other reasons might exist for the self to indulge in such an adventure. Maybe this time it is responding to something as uncomplicated as the impulse that persuades some of us now and then to take a relaxing holiday! (We have established that the self seems to be motivated in everything it does by subconscious feelings of one kind or another).


Undiscovered Country
The above discussion leads us naturally to one of the biggest questions of all – namely, whether or not the self can survive the death of the body. It remains intact, after all, throughout a lifetime of cell replacement and ageing, and it survives the loss of body parts and can even feel the presence afterwards of ‘phantom limbs’! There are really two parts to the basic question – first, what happens to those selves (the majority) who appear to depart from their bodies without trace?, and, second, what is behind the startling reports that appear from time to time, in practically every culture, involving ghosts, poltergeists and the like? (We are not including in this category ‘flying saucers’, crop circles, Loch Ness monsters, and other things not directly related to the question of the nature of the self, but we should clearly pay attention to phenomena of a ‘ghostly’ nature.). Looking first at what we might think of as the ‘normal’ case – the more or less uneventful severance of the self from the body – we can start from the premise that the self, whatever the species of organism concerned, has been learning throughout its ‘lifetime’, until the process is terminated by death. We might then imagine that the autonomous self, aware that its work in that body is finished, would ‘return to source’, as it were, taking with it what it has learned. We can even conceive of some kind of global learning community in which recently disembodied selves can participate by exchanging their experiences – retaining their individual identities at least until that task is completed. It goes without saying, of course, that this is a highly anthropomorphic fantasy, but it seems to be at least a logically consistent possibility, and it has the great merit of dealing satisfactorily with the ancient problem of the ‘overpopulated spirit world’. The much smaller number of ‘departed selves’ who are alleged to bring themselves (sometimes forcibly!) to our attention is another matter entirely. The classic Western picture of the way in which human ghosts and poltergeists are reputed to behave fits in rather well with our version of the notion of the separate self. The ‘unhappy’ ghost, moaning and roaming the corridors, might plausibly be a self that feels it has been unable to put its affairs in order, as might well be the case when a life has been unexpectedly (and even violently?) terminated, while the poltergeist – often reported as being active in the presence of children – could well be the self of a child, displaying by its obstreperous behaviour all the immaturity that might be expected of someone that had died so young. Such an ‘explanation’, after all, is reminiscent of the suggestion that appears in ‘ghost stories’ from practically every culture – that a self with ‘unfinished business’ is likely to hang around for a shorter or longer period in the hope of being able to settle things. As a concrete nonmaterial entity, of course, it would not be able to materialise in solid form, but it should be capable of causing perceptible concrete ‘events’ like non-material visual sensations, strange noises, and even ‘flying saucers’ – at least of the domestic crockery type!

Déjà Vu?
There is also one more question about survival that strikes the author as worth discussing, though it is extremely elusive and difficult to formulate. It is a question that makes fewer assumptions than the reincarnation hypotheses of the belief systems of the East, but it is in some ways ‘parallel’ to them. If we consider – looking back over the millennia of our human past, and forwards over those that may be yet to come – that there is only this one little 70-year ‘slot’ during which we – and everyone else who happens to be alive at the time – are able to look out of our bodily prisons at the miraculous world that surrounds us, it is very difficult to avoid the feeling that there must be something very important about the nature of our human existence that we should continue to


struggle to understand. This can only be an instinctive feeling, of course, but we have discovered already that instincts should not be lightly dismissed. Speaking personally for a moment (which seems to be the best way to make the point) I have this almost indescribable feeling that I am seeing the world from a place and a time that cannot be experienced in precisely the same way by any other human being, past, present or future, though others will undoubtedly have similar feelings of their own. It is, indeed, the knowledge that every living thing around me is in much the same position that convinces me that my unique awareness cannot possibly be confined to only one being for only one brief moment in the whole history of the planet! What can we say about this abiding mystery? It is very difficult to talk sensibly about periods of time of which we have no knowledge, but there is perhaps one rational experience that may give us a useful clue. It is often observed that patients waking up after having an anaesthetic tend to think that their surgery has not yet taken place, and indeed, we rarely have any recollection of the passage of time when we have been asleep in the normal way. In both cases, of course, we can remember what had happened to us before the interruption of consciousness, because our memories of those events are stored securely in our brains. If now – purely for argument’s sake – we consider that ‘we’ might somehow become aware of being in a completely different life at some time after the end of this one, it seems likely that the new self would know nothing of any previous existence, because our memories of the past, unlike those we retain during sleep or anaesthesia, would have disappeared with the disintegration of the brain. There seems to be nothing intellectually unacceptable, therefore, in the idea that on some future occasion we could again feel that it is we who are alive at that time (though our new selves would presumably start life without any recognisable memories of the past), and that we may, in fact, have felt the same thing an unknown number of times already! It should be observed that such a possibility does not assume, as the Vedic beliefs do, that the same self is reincarnated repeatedly in the endless cycle of karma, but instead that on each new occasion a different self, with its own feeling of unique identity but ‘no strings’ connecting it with any previous existence, would be beginning a new future. All of this, of course, is compatible with the implications of the Two Worlds paradigm and the capacities of the non-material self. For a new self to emerge at some time in the future – perhaps finding it difficult (as I do now) to believe that this cannot be the only experience of living that ‘I’ will ever know – would seem to explain some of the above feelings, and would also, of course, fit very well with the idea that the non-material self is something quite independent of the material body. There is nothing here, either, that conflicts with the notion that there might be some sort of ‘global centre’ to which selves might return for ‘de-briefing’ after they have finally finished their current Earthly assignments. We hardly need, for our present purposes, to speculate any further about paranormal affairs. We may perhaps have gone too far for the reader already! Much the same pattern of debate will no doubt continue to rumble on for the foreseeable – or unforeseeable? – future, complete with stories about ghostly apparitions, ‘remote viewing’, psychokinesis, experiences with mediums and the rest. It is reasonable to expect that a small percentage of genuine psychic experiences might continue to lie buried in the mass of untestable claims, but as long as sceptical onlookers insist on having rational proofs that these things have really occurred we can be certain that very little further progress will be made (see Watson’s law, page 11)!



Living in Two Worlds

“…the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.” T.S. Eliot (Four Quartets ‘Little Gidding’)

We now come to what is probably the final question that we ought to consider in this book – namely, whether or not the conclusions we have reached so far have any implications for the way we live our lives. Having established that it is useful to regard ourselves as existing as three ‘selves’ in two ‘worlds’, it seems sensible to take a look at how we actually perform this trick, and see if considering the human condition in terms of the Two Worlds paradigm may throw a new light on some of our widely accepted values and assumptions about life in general. This, in essence, brings us back to where we started our inquiry. It may seem strange that an attempt to consider “what we are and how we relate to the world around us” should end up dealing with three meanings of the word ‘self’ and two kinds of world. As we said at the beginning, this has been a venture into philosophy, which, in its strictest and most useful sense, cannot avoid embracing both science and metaphysics. This is why our thinking about our selves and our worlds has led us into aspects of both, and why, if we give them a chance, scientific and metaphysical viewpoints – however far apart at first sight – can usually illuminate one another in relation to most of the major issues. It is almost impossible, for example, to study what has been discovered about the physical nature of matter without becoming absorbed in the metaphysical aspects of the nature of reality itself, and the deeper one goes – as into the complexities of quantum mechanics or string theory, for example – the more obvious this becomes. Similarly, if we turn to the findings of psychiatry and neurophysiology in an attempt to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between self, mind and brain, we find ourselves almost immediately entangled in the classical ‘mind/body’ problem and the mysteries surrounding the nature of consciousness. The interdependence of science and metaphysics is further illustrated by the fact that the traditional ‘one world’ paradigm does not accommodate some of the aspects of reality that present themselves quite readily to our imagination, but still await satisfactory explanation. We have encountered a few of them already in this book – whether the world in which we live is ‘real’ or ‘imaginary’, for example, and how it is that we can move our limbs when we choose! Science (and particularly physics) does not take full account of the large quantities of data that are available inside the heads of the scientists themselves – in the ‘abstract’ world of the Two Worlds paradigm – in spite of the fact that it is in that same mental world that they do all their thinking! Scientific ‘explanations’ of concrete phenomena, based on theories and mega-theories developed from sensory data, can sometimes lead the scientist – especially when he is dealing with living creatures – to miss insights that he might have obtained if he had made full use of introspection in his thinking. The raw data are often of only limited use – or can sometimes even be misleading – without the experience and imagination of the person who has collected them. Isaac Newton wasn’t the first person in history, after all, to see an apple falling! Even ‘obvious’ explanations usually require the formulation of a good question followed by a thoughtful ‘contextualisation’ of the observed data.

History, in fact, provides many examples of widely accepted beliefs that were finally abandoned in the face of the radically different perceptions of unconventional thinkers. We mentioned a few such cases in Chapter 1, in connection with outstanding scientific advances, but, as we shall see shortly, the same sort of thing can also occur in other fields, notably when someone ‘marching to the beat of his own drummer’ challenges the behavioural ‘norms’ of the society around him.

One More Time…!
It may be worth turning at this point from how we obtain knowledge to why we pursue it at all. Quite a number of otherwise sensible thinkers (including some very distinguished ones) have declared all philosophy to be rubbish – though it seems silly to say such a thing about what is, after all, only a name for our natural urge to theorise about the world and the phenomenon of our existence in it. One can also argue that in order to come up with such a crushing verdict it is necessary to think like a philosopher in the first place! To ask why we indulge in philosophical speculation really amounts to asking two questions – one dealing with what makes us do it, and the other with what use we make of what we find. There is little doubt that we seek to learn largely because we can’t help it – the drive to find out about things is very strong, being perhaps at its most obvious in human babies and other young animals. This natural ‘need’ for learning probably stems from many things – the developing of the organism, selfpreservation, personal gain, plain curiosity (though this alone takes many forms) and from time to time even a vague conviction that there is something waiting to be discovered just around the corner! The centrality of this inbuilt ‘drive’ to learn is confirmed by the pleasure – even elation – that we can feel when we discover something important (or even, perhaps, when we solve a stubborn clue in a crossword puzzle), and its relative importance, indeed, is sometimes brought home to us by the very strength of those feelings. It is almost as if there were some kind of reward waiting for us when we make a discovery, and the slightly mystical quality of such experiences might lead us to wonder if – as we said earlier – the never-ending process of learning itself could even represent our main ‘purpose for living’.

We learn from the moment we are born - and almost certainly before that.


This seems to lead us on to the second question, about the ‘uses’ of philosophy, where the debate revolves, eternally, around the problem of whether the philosopher should aim to change things (as Marx and others believed) or be content simply to understand them (the majority view). Now that we are looking at such things within the framework of the Two Worlds paradigm, we can come to a firm conclusion of our own. Our position (not for the first time) is in a way an intermediate one – it is not easy to avoid using our knowledge in some way, especially as the vast majority of what we ‘know’ is manipulated freely by our autonomous selves without our conscious permission!

Self Knowledge
In the long run, in any case, whether we finally set out to change the world or not, we have to go on living in it. In other words, as we have now satisfied ourselves that we have free will, we know that we cannot avoid making choices – consciously or subconsciously – to deal with the momentby-moment eventualities that occur in our lives. And, even if we don’t think so highly of ourselves and our opinions that we wish to tell other people what to do, we may still feel that we would like to be in a better position to make the most appropriate choices (whatever that means!) in our own affairs. That suggests that it might sometimes pay us to try to improve our understanding of our own idiosyncracies as they have developed over the years, and then use our free will to try to act consciously in accordance with what we find, rather than trusting to our instincts alone. This corresponds, more or less, to what we were saying in Chapter 3 about the restraints that the frontal cortex can exercise on our limbic impulses, though there is usually a balance to be struck between impulse and restraint. There are times, in other words, when our instincts may serve us – and others – better than conscious judgements, because the latter may be based on attitudes that are out of date, or prejudiced in some way, or otherwise inappropriate to the circumstances. The difficulty, of course, is to know which voice to listen to! The overwhelming majority of the actions we take, as we have already said in various ways, are not based on conscious choices. Our selves are constantly at work, controlling at brain stem level the multitude of subconscious processes that keep us alive, and interpreting limbic signals and information stored in the cortices and elsewhere to prepare the actions that we perform ‘semiautomatically’. Our conscious judgements, however, which (if not ‘overridden’ by the self!) also play a part in our behaviour, are heavily influenced by the ‘values’ we have acquired during our lives, as well as by the norms of the society around us. Those norms, of course, are themselves influenced by the values of that society’s members (using the word ‘values’ as shorthand for values, aims, attitudes, beliefs, prejudices, and all the rest). It is worth remembering, too, that social norms also contain the input of previous generations, and that they are sometimes affected profoundly by the values of a single outstanding individual. Most of us find that we can normally go about our business fairly comfortably without consciously considering whether or not our values are consonant with the way we behave, though our everyday speech betrays how deeply the notion of ‘personal responsibility’ is embedded in our psyches. “Be yourself!”, “Do your own thing!”, “March to the beat of your own drummer!”, “To thine own self be true!”, and so on, slip easily from our lips, especially when someone seems to need a bit of help. Sometimes, too, we may ourselves be faced with having to make a difficult decision, or we may be looking back (perhaps with a twinge of conscience) at something we have already done. In either case our values are obviously involved, and there are broadly speaking two things we can do. We can choose to ignore any uneasy feelings we may have, and simply press on as if nothing had happened, or we can decide it is time to drag some of our values out of hiding in order to inspect


them, and find out if this will help us to decide what to do next. This can’t be done, of course, in isolation from everything else that we think about ourselves, and, if we decide to examine our values in the context of that ‘bigger’ picture, we are embarking on a serious exercise in self analysis (or an attempt to ‘find out more about who we are’, as the behavioural science jargon has it). These days – in Western countries at any rate – we tend to see ourselves predominantly in terms of a combination of how we earn our living and how we appear to other people. Now and then, however, we catch ourselves wondering about other aspects of our identities, and perhaps about the possibility that those may be being starved of attention, particularly because of the social pressures that lead us to structure our lives in terms of our jobs (if we have one). “I’m a nuclear physicist”, says the chap at the party – and, of course, he is. But when he goes home at night to his family he becomes something much more complex – a normal human being. All of us, whatever our occupations, have our private views of the world, and our feelings about where we fit into it, which determine the extent to which we can feel comfortable about how we are doing in our ‘public’ roles. We should pay attention to these feelings, moreover, because they are messages from our subconscious selves, which do not have to see things through the conditioned filters of our conscious minds. If I am being prodded by conscience, for example, I can imagine that my self – in terms of the Two Worlds paradigm – is looking sadly at my somewhat unsatisfactory ‘self image’, and telling my limbic system that we must work harder together to bring me a bit closer to its blueprint of the ‘exalted’ creature it feels I could be if I tried! But the conscious mind also has its contributions to make. We do not live, whatever our circumstances, in complete isolation from the rest of the living world, and there are many times when the help of the conscious mind will be required to ensure that the interests of others are taken into account – not only for their sake, but also for our own. In any given situation, then, the self may reach a perception of what is the ‘best’ thing to do, either by making an immediate subconscious judgement or after ‘referring’ the matter to the conscious mind for rational consideration. If it chooses too hastily, however, or elects to ignore the conscious ‘advice’, it may later experience the feelings of regret we call ‘conscience’. We all live what appear to be entirely self-contained existences at the conscious level, but it may be, nevertheless, that in the abstract world of the Two Worlds paradigm our selves are measuring our performances against the untainted standards they have known ever since we were conceived – standards to which we may no longer adhere, but which may still be perceptible to our ‘secret selves’ in the behaviour of other creatures who have contrived to preserve more of that lost innocence! For the self to be able to observe its own ‘self image’ is not as weird as it sounds at first. We do it all the time, in fact, without thinking about it. All it means is that we have the capacity to turn our attention to our own nature and our own performance, and to assess both. The self is aware, in a manner of speaking, that, in addition to its material self, it has non-material presences in two different worlds, and it can distinguish between their roles. In other words, it is aware of the work it has to do, observing what needs attention and acting accordingly, but it can also ‘stand back’ from the action to contemplate its own nature and evaluate its own behaviour. To use everyday language, we are quite accustomed to feel (and it is significant that we are again talking about feeling rather than thinking) that as individuals we are better or worse, or brighter or more stupid, than other people, or that our behaviour is more helpful, more selfish, more amusing or in some other way noticeably different from what is regarded as normal in the society in which we live. It is the capacity to make judgements of this kind – especially the moral judgements – that cannot be built into any machine, because they depend not only on the facts of the situation, but also (and more importantly) on the individual’s emotional responses to the constantly changing – and largely unspoken – values of the surrounding society.


The picture the self ‘sees’ when it tries to understand more about itself is a rich and complex one. It contains conscious and subconscious elements of various kinds – some recently engendered emotions that are still demanding impatiently to be dealt with, others that have had time to mature into thoughts, speech or action, others surrounding secret desires and ambitions, and many of longer standing, crystallised into more or less rigid attitudes and values. Some of these elements, of course, are not immediately obvious, and may even be more visible (because they affect one’s behaviour) to other people. They can begin to become clearer, however, as the self seeks to probe more deeply into its own nature. There may be some points of interest here, incidentally, for psychiatry. It appears to us, for example, that traditional psychoanalysis may tend to concentrate too much on the past, and that the sorts of clinical symptoms that Freud often attributed to early traumatic sexual experiences (afterwards damagingly suppressed) may be due as often as not to current feelings of anger or despair. The key to such problems may lie at least partly in present circumstances, and it seems possible that it might often be better therapy to help the patient to examine his current ‘self image’ than to focus his attention on his early years, which always carries the risk of implanting iatrogenic impressions in his mind. Similarly, it seems possible that Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’ may actually be a manifestation of subconscious communication between selves of the same species in the present, rather than some form of tribal memory rooted in the distant past. The often quoted case of the Japanese macaque monkeys that suddenly began to wash their food in the sea, for example – they were apparently copying instinctively the behaviour of another innovative group hundreds of miles away – seems to us to be more likely to be evidence of telepathy than of a collective tribal unconscious. One might well feel, too, that sudden changes of group behaviour in human populations – such as the extraordinary demonstrations of shared grief that followed the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, which were reported to have astounded many of the mourners themselves, as well as those who observed them – could also be indications of a measure of subconscious communication between selves sensitised by the impact of such a shocking event. Much the same thing applies to the worldwide wave of sympathetic feeling that resulted from the horrifying air attacks carried out on New York and Washington in September 2001.

The Covered Self
We are not concerned at the moment, however, with trying to establish whether or not telepathy exists between human beings, but rather with considering available ways of finding out more about our individual selves – the psychological characteristics, in fact, that distinguish us from other people. It might be helpful to us at times if we knew our idiosyncrasies well enough to be able to make allowances for them in the situations we encounter in our daily lives. The self, however, is a very tough (non-material!) nut to crack, because for most of us its existential nature is fairly well covered up – buried in a lifetime’s accumulation of values, norms, opinions, attitudes and so on that may or may not fit comfortably with its genetic inheritance. The writer once knew a very unhappy man, a member of a distinguished military family, who was virtually ostracised by his parents because he couldn’t face the idea of killing people. Not every kind of psychological mismatch, of course, is likely to have such serious consequences, but the effects of the sorts of influences that appear in Figure 5 (page 73) can be very deeply ingrained, and ignoring them can often be very confusing to the individual concerned, as well as wasteful of natural talent.


Improving our understanding of our selves, as we said above, is usually a very difficult task, and virtually the only way to begin to achieve it is to struggle by one means or another to remove the inhibiting blanket of the conscious mind – or at least lift one corner of it! – in the hope that we may be able to assess more accurately the nature of the self ‘hiding’ beneath it. We are still, even at the beginning of the 21st century CE, surprisingly ignorant of the extent of the self’s hidden capabilities, partly because we have little knowledge of how to release them, and partly because the thinking habits that are characteristic of the traditional ‘one world’ paradigm simply don’t allow for the existence of a separate self with a concrete but non-material nature. The fact that the self is separate from the body, however, can often be extremely good news. The more ponderous operations of the conscious mind show up very clearly, for example, in the area of psychological testing methods. On the whole, the more highly structured ‘expert instruments’ used for ‘self assessment’ usually produce rather disappointing results, compared with less formal group situations in which people are allowed to help one another to think about themselves in whatever ways seem natural at the time. While this is going on, moreover, the self, which seems to be so capable and skilful when not being inhibited by the conscious mind, is probably working away with equal efficiency at the deeper ‘visceral’ levels of the body, and this may be why meditative practices like yoga are so effective in maintaining and improving both mental and bodily health. Many different approaches to a better understanding of what has been thought of as the ‘self’ have been tried over the years, and fashions – as with so many other things – change from time to time and from place to place. There are, of course, specific intervention techniques that have their uses in certain situations. Counselling methods, in the hands of a competent person, can often be helpful (especially in Western cultures) in enabling the troubled individual to identify such things as groundless fears, habits that should be changed, ‘baggage’ that needs to be discarded, hidden talents that can be developed, and so forth. Many of the world’s cultures have long traditions of the use of hypnotism to probe beneath the surface of the conscious mind, and astonishing results have been reported when expert hypnotists have been working with exceptionally susceptible people. Orthodox medicine is quite familiar – though not entirely comfortable – with cases where surgeons can perform operations on hypnotised patients without anaesthetics, and ‘regression’ procedures, where the patient can apparently be ‘taken back’ to earlier times, are commonly used to help people to obtain a better understanding of the circumstances that may have influenced them then. The results, however, seem to vary a good deal in quality, and there is no doubt that we still have much to learn about what may be useful (and safe!) in this area. The other main line of ‘assisted’ approach to uncovering some of the secrets of the subconscious involves the use of a wide variety of ‘mind altering’ drugs, some of which have been known since very ancient times. We are aware, of course, that such experiments can produce results that are very frightening (witness the interesting books of Carlos Castaneda, describing his experiences with the Yaqui mystic Don Juan), and, as those drugs are in many cases highly addictive, their use is often felt to be wicked as well as dangerous. A key question here, moreover, is how far the ‘selves’ revealed during such experiences may be distortions created partly by the drugs themselves.

The Quiet Mind
Hypnotism and drug usage are not by any means the only ways of exploring the self that are regarded by many people as ‘invasive’, at least of one’s privacy. Psychiatry itself, highly


structured ‘encounter groups’, ‘facilitated’ workshops and the like are viewed with suspicion and distaste in some cultures, especially in the Far East. But there is one ancient and abiding approach to self-discovery that has been a well-established part of life in Eastern countries for many centuries, and has also become fashionable in the West in more recent times.

Meditation, one of the least threatening experiences that one can explore, has become for many people an almost indispensable aid to understanding at least something about their inner selves, as well as to finding peace among the stresses and strains of the modern world. The reason why meditation has this ‘liberating’ effect seems to be related to the fact that it allows the subconscious self to ‘search’ its stores for forgotten experiences, happy memories, ways of doing things, unfinished plans, and so forth, which are likely to be very much one’s own, free for the moment from ‘contamination’ by the demands of other people and the general pressures of living.
The huge increase in interest in Oriental belief systems – particularly Buddhism – that sprang up in the West in the 1960s has given a wide exposure to meditation techniques and to the study of Zen teachings in particular. Buddhists believe, as we have said, that ‘absolute knowledge’ can be achieved only by direct experience – i.e. by ‘realising’ it during meditation – and the Zen masters are fond of using koans to help to bring this point home. Koans are short verbal paradoxes intended to show the futility of reason (“When a tree falls in the forest, with no-one there to hear it, does it make a sound?”) and they are designed to shock the student out of his customary habits of rational thinking. The parallels with other ways of trying to reach the self through the inhibition of conscious thought are not difficult to see.

A Zen master and his pupils meditating in Zazen (seated meditation), which is the core of zen practice

It is interesting to notice that in the practice of meditation – as in so many other areas – the Eastern and Western objectives again differ substantially. The Western emphasis is on understanding the ‘self’ as a detached conscious entity – what someone has described (perhaps unhelpfully) as ‘the skin-encapsulated ego’ – while the Eastern objective is to try to understand it in its inseparable relationship with the rest of the Universe. To meditate on the ‘secret self’ as we have characterised it in this book, on the other hand, would seem to require a third starting position – namely, to try to understand it as something we share with the rest of the living (but not the non-living) world. This approach, however, would probably horrify the Buddhist sage, and anyone else who has become


committed to Eastern attitudes to searching for ‘truth’, because it would be seen as being largely dependent on rational thought, and therefore unable to deliver anything but ‘relative’ knowledge – the lesser kind of knowledge that is useful only for the purposes of everyday living. Most meditation, alas, (for those of us at least who are not expert practitioners) stops far short of providing us with what the Buddhist masters would regard as a satisfactory result, but for many people it remains a good way to get in touch with their deeper feelings, as well as to relax and find a modicum of peace in a turbulent world. It goes almost without saying, of course, that pursuing ‘self knowledge’ seriously is a continuous process – indeed, a potential lifetime occupation. The self does not reveal all its secrets at once, whatever the method we are using to explore it, and its nature, in any case, is constantly being modified in small and subtle ways by our changing experience of the world around us.

‘Fitting In’
There seems to be very little more that we can now add to our general picture of the self, and we therefore propose to conclude this chapter (and, indeed, the whole book) by looking at the practical implications of the Two Worlds paradigm for how we live our lives – in other words, for how it may affect our standards of ethical behaviour. This has been one of the main themes of Western philosophy, at least since Socrates and the Sophists shifted the primary focus of Greek thought from the nature of reality to the rights and wrongs of human conduct. Plato and Aristotle replaced the wilful and dangerous gods of earlier Greek culture with a single all-powerful ‘external presence’, and the Semitic churches were then able to develop the concept of a God, perfect in every respect, to Whose image mankind could be exhorted to aspire. The nature of such a Deity, pondered, debated, and refined over the centuries, clearly encapsulates everything that Western believers (and non-believers, too, for that matter) see as the attributes of the persons we long (collectively) to be, and can therefore be used – whether we are religious or not, and provided we can avoid being paralysed by fear of Him! – as a ready-made guide to ethical behaviour. Many of us need something more, however, to stand up to the subtle problems of moral choice we encounter in the modern world, and we shall be saying more about this below. The actions we don’t take, of course, can also have far-reaching ethical consequences. The Semitic ethic that labels man a sinner may have done us a great deal of damage, in the sense of stopping progress, because our instincts, instead of being unworthy, are really our inbuilt personal guides to how we should behave, in relation to both our own development and our treatment of our fellow creatures. It may not be going too far to suggest, in fact, that allowing legitimacy to our subconscious promptings – instead of regarding them always with suspicion – may actually be the key to understanding some of the great mysteries of existence, though of course we can never predict their effects on our actions with any certainty. In any case, self interest is really all we have to follow when we are making free choices, and it is therefore the main factor that determines the nature of our unique contributions to the various selfdetermining resultants that are affected by our behaviour. It seems very likely that all creatures are struggling – without knowing about it, except perhaps in our own case – towards a ‘better life’, especially for their offspring. Perhaps, then, instead of worrying about the purpose of individual existence, we should be thinking about the purpose of shared existence. There seems to be some support for this idea, too, in that some selves, at least, may be able to relate to one another at a subliminal level. “All you need is love”, sang the Beatles memorably, and, although that is probably a vast oversimplification, there is a huge rag-bag of things that seem to support their view


in one way or another – love (perhaps even promiscuity!), altruism, claims about telepathy, esprit de corps, seeking safety in numbers, social clubs, societies for protecting the weak (including animals), and so on almost ad infinitum. If we look at the classical virtues – kindness, gentleness, honesty, courage, and the rest – it is clear that the ‘good’ life is definitely felt to be ‘other-centred’. Happiness, indeed, is in some ways like monetary profit – not a ‘good’ in itself, but a consequence of sharing good things. Moral philosophy, then, can be seen as the third of the three central areas of knowledge we have considered in this book: in Chapter 2 we dealt with the ‘sciences’ of being and knowing – ontology and epistemology – and we are now going on to look at the meaning of doing (and in particular at how the choices we make are determined). The main emphasis of moral philosophy is on ethics (which is the ‘science’ of moral behaviour), but, as we shall see, other subjects like aesthetics and what we have called political philosophy in Table 1 soon begin to intrude into the picture. These things are variously defined, of course, but the main reason why they often become involved with one another is that they all depend largely on the unique personal values of the individual and the choices he makes. The whole concept of personal responsibility and everything surrounding it is meaningless, in other words, unless we assume that the individual possesses free will.

Homo sapiens has derived many benefits from living together in tribes and settlements, but one of the consequent disadvantages is that his freedoms are curtailed by the need to consider the preferences of others. The child becomes aware of this (often in uncomfortable ways) at a very early age, and in some circumstances the effects on his psyche – which we might now call his self – can be substantial. But, as we suggested in Figure 5, our different inherited and environmental histories create for each of us a unique set of values, exhibiting subtle differences even between people as close as identical twins. As we grow older and more experienced, most of us adapt gradually to the norms of the society around us – though a minority never quite make it! We never completely lose the awareness, however, that our personal values can often be slightly different from the norm. “I suppose I’ll have to agree to this”, we grumble – probably to ourselves. This loss of freedom, however, does not usually strike the individual as a very serious problem, certainly not when compared with the constraints that can be imposed by such things as congenital disabilities or apparently random events like earthquakes or car accidents. In other words, all our actions – moral or otherwise – are constrained in a variety of ways, and most of us accept, without thinking much about it, that this is an inescapable part of life. It is, in fact (as we have seen), how the ‘self-determining’ world works, and it is because of the mutual interactions of these widely differing forces that its equilibria – including the ‘societal’ ones – are constantly changing.
It is often difficult in practice, however, to obtain agreement about when the introduction of something that may appear to be socially desirable would result in an unacceptable loss of individual freedom. A variety of issues of this type arose in the aftermath of the September 2001 airborne assaults on New York and Washington, and many beleaguered administrators found their plans of action being vehemently opposed by organisations concerned with civil liberties. On the personal level, too, although most of us learn fairly soon to conform in large measure to the accepted norms of our society – or at least appear to do so – we cannot always avoid situations where the norm may strike us as unacceptable. For one thing, we nearly all live our lives as members of different groups – some of which appear in Figure 5 – and acceptable behaviour can vary greatly from one situation to another. We wouldn’t normally sing ‘rugger club’ songs to our grandmothers, for example, or dress for dinner at a barbeque. But sometimes much weightier issues are involved, and we may then find that our personal values are so seriously at odds with the norms of the group we are in at that time that we feel we must take a different stance and act accordingly, even if that brings us into conflict with those around us.


The problems that are hardest to deal with, of course, are the ones that involve moral choices, and when it comes to the crunch it is once again our feelings that count, rather than our intellectual acceptance. History is full of attempts – many within religious frameworks – to construct sets of exhortations designed to provide guidance for the individual in distress, but most of them are based on rational arguments, and lack the emotional appeal that would help to make them really effective. In addition, such ‘commandments’ tend to be ‘blanket’ prescriptions, which diminish the element of moral responsibility called for by the autonomy of the self of the Two Worlds paradigm. To try to impose ethical standards on others, apart from being presumptuous, is usually a waste of time, because people’s autonomous selves tend to reject ‘transplanted’ values in much the same way as their physical selves react to transplanted organs. The rates at which attitudes to moral issues change are generally extremely slow. Western values in ethics, for example, have hardly altered in the last 2000 years: the existing standards are very much the same as those established by Socrates and Aristotle. It is unusual for the values of individuals, however challenging and deeply felt, to have a significant effect on society during their lifetimes, though occasionally a Gandhi or a Nelson Mandela will emerge, exhibiting an inner vision that compels large numbers of people to adjust theirs, and as a result altering the prevailing norms of behaviour to an appreciable extent, sometimes irreversibly. Such people do for ethics what Newton or Einstein did for scientific thought.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), whose values changed the world. He was greatly influenced by Jain tenets of purity and personal responsibility.

The ‘Relativistic’ Self
It is at the threshold between our perceptions of how things are and how we feel they should be that ethics arises. This, moreover, is a threshold that concerns us only because we have free will. If the nature (and hence the behaviour) of all our selves is determined by what Dawkins has christened our ‘selfish genes’ we do not need ethics, because our selves have to do what has been laid down for them. If, on the other hand, we have freedom of choice, we become responsible for our actions, and thus for how we relate to other living creatures. Our admiration for the actions of extraordinary


individuals like Gandhi and Mandela is an acknowledgement, in fact, of the vision and fortitude required for the choices they made and of the influence of those choices on the rest of humanity. For those of us, then, who are not determinists, it becomes necessary to consider how our selves relate to the trillions of others who share our world with us. There seem to be three basic ways to see the relationship of a given self to every other, and we can look back at Table 13 (page 114) for comparative purposes. The oldest and simplest view is of the self as part of the natural world, developed by the Hindu scholars into Atman – the immortal and recurring ‘self’ whose life is constrained by past actions. The current Western concept of the self has overtones of the ‘soul’ of the Semitic religions – created in each of us by God, and preoccupied with our personal struggle for lost perfection. Selves, on this concept, are totally separate entities that interact with the rest of the world in a sort of Newtonian continuum – still under Divine control – and are thus consonant with most of the ‘global consciousness’ models we have mentioned above. Neither of these two perceptions, however, lays particular emphasis on the idea that each self acts autonomously on the basis of its own unique point of view, and that this may be a definitive guide to ethical behaviour. It seems to us that the nature of a world of such interdependent selves (among which an occasional ‘mould-breaking’ individual may appear), calls for a third model that accords with Mach’s Principle and with Special Relativity. In this model each self, whatever the organism, is in a position similar to that of Einstein’s relativistic observer, ‘perceiving’ itself as the central one in any given totality, and all others as extensions of it. Its actions, of course, are inextricably bound up with those of all other selves, thereby contributing along with them to a variety of selfdetermining equilibria, both local and global. Its relationships with its neighbours cannot be assessed objectively by any outside observer, but the self can observe the effects of its actions on others – as well as some of the effects of theirs – from within its own unique frame of reference. It therefore seems as if it should be helpful, from the point of view of ethical behaviour, to think of each individual as an ‘extended self’ – i.e. a self which, while pursuing its own interest, is always concerned to protect the interests of other selves, seen as part of its own. The global self, on this model, can thus be regarded as the ‘home’ of trillions of ‘extended selves’, each concentrating on its own affairs, but capable of acting ‘morally’ by giving differing degrees of importance to the interests of what psychologists call ‘significant others’ when deciding its actions. Each extended self, though part of the shared global entity, is of course free to act on its own initiative – and will do so – the Ghandis and Mandelas of the world being supreme examples of the moral use of that freedom. In other words, it is always a mistake to presume to judge the relative value of someone else’s contribution to the status quo – it is the resultant consensus, which includes every shade of opinion, that finally matters. The idea of the extended self brings to mind John Donne’s famous words on the nature of the human condition. “No man is an Island,” sang Donne, “entire of it self.” The fact that his beautiful lines, written nearly 400 years ago (note the separate ‘self’), are used so often by other writers shows that they touch something of great importance inside us, and that, in spite of the fact that we feel it so strongly, they say something that no-one else has found possible to express with equal clarity and conviction. The theme of the extended self is so central to our arguments in this book that we feel the need to discuss the quotation a little further. Although Donne was a cleric, and the quotation is from one of his Devotions, the metaphor is not drawn solely from Christianity, or indeed from any of the world’s religions, which all see human beings as possessing a ‘soul’ that longs for eventual union with some kind of divine being. Donne’s Christian beliefs undoubtedly formed the background to what he was saying, but much of


the appeal of these lines comes from the fact that we can also see the metaphor as a secular image, in which each person’s identity is pictured as a fragment of a greater whole, in the way that the identity of a continent depends upon the individual pieces of land of which it is composed. “Any man’s death diminishes me”, the passage continues, suggesting among other things that our lives are individual parts of a continuum shared with those of the rest of humanity. “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls;” it concludes, “it tolls for thee.” It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suspect that the haunting quality of Donne’s words may stem from our intuitive understanding that our selves – and probably those of other living creatures (though a Christian churchman could hardly have conceived such a thing at that time) – not only share a global identity, but ‘feel’ themselves (as far as they may be able to feel such things) extending outwards towards others. It may be our awareness of these extensions of the self that causes us to feel pleasure when we are giving pleasure to others – as when romping with the baby, for example, or stroking the dog. The idea of the extended self, in fact, suggests a number of new philosophical questions – to some of which we shall be returning shortly – and throws a rather different light on many of the old ones. In particular, by suggesting a redefinition of the relationship between the individual and the rest of the living world, it provides a new criterion for thinking about moral philosophy and other questions involving our values.

Another Imperative?
All of the world’s ethical systems invoke some form of Golden Rule – “Do unto others…” and so forth – with most of them recommending that we look on other people as ‘neighbours’ or ‘brothers’. The self, however, if it appears at all, is usually presented as something to be rather ashamed of – or even (if indicating the bodily self) as flesh to be mortified! Perhaps the most often quoted ethical guideline in Western thought is Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative, which he stated in a number of ways, all embodying the basic notion that one should always choose to act as if the principles behind such actions were to be seen to be acceptable as binding universal laws. The Categorical Imperative does not seem to be inconsistent with the concept of a global self, but most of those who try to use it in practice find that the criteria to be employed when deciding whether or not a given choice would make a good universal law are often difficult to determine, especially in cases – like the morals of eating meat, for example – when the interests of vast numbers of non-human creatures are also involved. The extended self, however, sees other selves (and, indeed, those of the whole of the living world) in a completely different way – not as neighbours or brothers, but as individuals that are actually part of one’s own identity, albeit with varying degrees of closeness, and this makes their interests, as we hope to show later, not only more important, but also somewhat easier to assess. This is a novel perspective from which to make moral judgements, and it suggests a new Extended Self Imperative as an alternative to that of Kant. Such an imperative could be expressed as follows: “Moral actions are actions that one believes to be in one’s own best interests, provided those are extended to include what one sees as the best interests of other living things.” Although using this imperative as a basis for judging the moral content of a proposed action still leaves difficult moral choices to be made, the criteria for making them seem generally a good deal easier to find than those that are called for by the Categorical Imperative, and we shall work through a few familiar ethical problems in a moment to try to demonstrate that they do not, on the whole, have the same monolithic quality – “lying is always wrong”, for example, according to Kant.


The Extended Self Imperative immediately seems to throw light on the ancient mystery of altruism. (The word – altruisme in French – was invented, curiously enough, by our old friend of page 12, Auguste Comte). Why should we ever act in the interests of anyone other than ourselves? Weeping for a fictional character – the Hunchback of Notre Dame, for example – is evidence of our capacity for altruistic feelings, because the tears obviously bring us no material gain. The notion of the extended self, however, seems to make altruistic behaviour quite understandable: we can imagine that a ‘global self’ acting through us will be very much aware of the interests of all the other ‘satellite’ selves that may be affected by the action in question, though the key to the matter is that the extended self, while sharing that awareness, has its own autonomy, and will make its own judgements only after taking into account its assessments of the interests of others involved. The ‘best interests’ of the self, in short, will always include the ‘best interests’ of others, and the result is that the Extended Self Imperative will always tend to encourage and justify what appears to the onlooker to be altruistic action. One appealing feature of this way of looking at our concerns for others is that the Extended Self Imperative gives us – far from any kind of pity or condescension – a compulsion to take care of others in order to preserve, nourish and develop the ‘outlying parts’ of one’s self. In an increasingly selfish modern world, Oriental cultures come closer to this ethic than those of the West, embodying as they do the idea of the ‘extended family’, in which each generation has an authentic role to play and the interests of each member are to a large extent the interests of all. This extends very widely in Japan, where the interests of the working group, or even of the community, are considered to be paramount. Perhaps most striking of all, in this context, is the culture of the Jains, in India, some of whom – as we have noted – even extend their caring to the humblest of living creatures. These examples not only demonstrate standards of behaviour that we might think of as ethically admirable, but also seem to be in tune with the Extended Self Imperative, with its insistence that the individual, in pursuing his own best interests, must always include the interests of others who are likely to be affected by his actions.

Old Problems - New Look
We might now try to test out the Extended Self Imperative, by investigating whether or not it can offer any practical help with a few of the moral problems that tend to crop up in the textbooks. One of the classics is the question of the ‘white lie’. Is it ‘wrong’ to pretend that I think an ugly hat is beautiful? Is it ‘right’ not to tell my wife’s friend that I know that her husband is having an affair? In both these cases Kant’s Categorical Imperative (acting according to principles which we would regard as having unconditional moral force) gives the wrong answer, whereas the Extended Self principle gives the right one. Using Kant’s Imperative in the case of the hat, to tell the lie solely to protect the interests of the hat owner hurts my own interests, because the Categorical Imperative tells me that lying is always morally wrong. I may therefore choose instead to hurt the hat owner by telling the truth, thereby hurting myself into the bargain (because my interests include hers!). We are both hurt, therefore, because of the guidance of the Categorical Imperative. Using the Extended Self principle, however, I am led to act in my own best interests by telling the lie, because (see above) to tell the truth would hurt my extended self (which includes the self of the hat owner). Neither of us is now hurt, because to lie in this particular circumstance is not wrong! Considering the interests of the extended self, in short, seems to make the moral choice considerably easier. In the case of the errant husband, similarly, I say nothing on the grounds that to tell the secret would also hurt my self, because my interests extend from myself to my wife, her friend and the


husband. To remain silent discharges my moral responsibility – what they all do after that is up to them, and in a world of self-determining resultants I have to be prepared to live with any hurt that may later appear amongst us as a consequence of my decision and their subsequent actions. How does the Extended Self principle help us to judge a cruder problem like, say, the rights and wrongs of stealing money? This does not seem too difficult a matter – after the two above! Stealing someone’s money is immoral because I can be certain that I will hurt my self more (by hurting him) if I take his money than if I refrain from doing so. Similarly, if I have had a mince pie and my neighbour (or my dog!) has had none – and I feel he (or she) needs one – it is morally wrong to take the one that remains, not because I am treating another being in a way I should not wish to be treated myself, but because the other’s need is actually a part of my own. In short, to hurt another living thing is to hurt myself, and to hurt myself is to hurt the other. So far so good – though I might weaken and choose differently if I hadn’t already had the other mince pie! Suppose we extend the notion of hurting oneself to killing an insect. The Extended Self principle helps to distinguish the unnecessary killing of the insect – it’s merely going about its business without doing me any harm – from defensive killing (the anopheles mosquito is biting me, I cannot get it out of my room, and I have not been taking any anti-malaria drugs). If I kill the mosquito I am hurting myself by hurting another living creature, but the interests of my family are also involved, and, as in many circumstances in life, the hurt to me that is precipitated by killing the insect is unavoidable except by allowing a greater hurt (to my family and myself) to supervene. The similarities to Utilitarian arguments are rather obvious here, but the main difference is that in this instance it is only the hurt to the extended self that has to be assessed, instead of the multiple and complex assessments that usually make Utilitarian judgements impossible in practice. A parallel (if more frightening) set of circumstances arises in the case of the mad axeman who is about to kill my wife, when the only way I can stop him is to shoot him. It is clear that, by the Extended Self principle, if I cannot restrain him I have to kill him, because otherwise he will hurt me, my wife and himself (by hurting my extended self). The fact that he may be a very sick man, which is sometimes raised as a consideration, is part of another argument. I cannot allow him to hurt all three of us on the offchance that he may be sick. It must be emphasised here that I can claim no greater right to act on my best moral judgement than the axeman can – or the mosquito, for that matter! To be consistent with the Two Worlds scenario it is necessary for every extended self to make its own moral choices and act accordingly. There will therefore be conflicts of interest, as under any moral code, but the fact that a conflict exists is not in itself a moral problem for any of the participants. What is required is simply that each individual acts exclusively in what he sees as the interests of his own extended self, and the outcome, in many cases at least, will depend on the various tiny accidents of chance that constantly affect everything that goes on around us. Again, the outcome has no bearing on the moral argument, which is concerned solely with the choices that preceded it. Even if my judgement turns out to be a bad one it still doesn’t matter in moral terms – we always have to work on the principle that it should ‘seem a good idea at the time’! In other words, my action was moral because I did the best I could with the information available, and made my best effort to take all interests into account and ‘read’ the results properly. Errors of observation and of judgement are normal in ordinary life, and perhaps even count as random events, like the small accidents referred to above. It is sometimes said that the toughest moral problem of all arises from the eating of meat, but there is a strong case for believing that the problem is less about eating meat than about behaving in a cruel or thoughtless manner. Vegetarianism in human beings is totally incompatible, in any


number of ways, with human life as we observe it, but it provides a ‘fallback’ position for those who cannot deal with the real issues – in much the same way as people who cannot believe in a non-material self have to retreat into determinism. Vegetarianism – as distinct from the natural habit of the herbivore – has its origins (one is tempted to say its ‘roots’!) in modern urban societies, and is completely foreign to many other belief systems – quite apart from those of people for whom meat is a rare commodity. At the other end of the scale, the argument about eating fish and meat must strike the Inuit, for example, as rather academic, and the same thing applies to the Native American tribes and their former reliance on the bison. It is hard, too, to see how eating meat can be thought of as fundamentally immoral when we look at carnivorous animals in the wild. Human beings don’t have metabolisms adapted to vegetarian diets, as do cattle, rabbits or pandas – it really seems that the vegetarian is not only misguided in terms of ethical argument, but also eccentric with regard to physiological matters. Here again the idea of the Extended Self puts a very different complexion on the matter. My interests in this case are best served by eating meat if I feel I need to. (The case has much in common with the killing of the mosquito). This dilemma illustrates the point mentioned in the case of the ugly hat (what a title for a Sherlock Holmes story!), namely, that practically all moral problems have particular rather than general solutions. We cannot say, for example, either that it is always right to eat meat or that it is always wrong, just as we do not feel comfortable with the inflexible constraints of the Kantian Imperative. The question of what I need, however, obviously calls for further elaboration. I have not only physiological needs, like my need for water or oxygen, but also psychological needs, like my need for affection, and to starve myself of either is to hurt my extended self – though, of course, in very different ways. Accordingly, there appear to be two situations in which I feel morally justified in eating meat, both involving a judgement about how much I need it. Those two situations would be, first, the rather unlikely event that I need meat for physiological reasons, and, second, when I feel that my desire for meat is so strong that it amounts to a psychological need on a par with my need for affection. (This second example, incidentally, illustrates the fact that many of our needs are largely conditioned by experience). As in the case of killing the mosquito, I am sometimes prepared to injure my extended self (in the shape of the self of the animal whose meat I propose to eat) because not to do so would result in the greater hurt of a psychologically damaging deprivation that could hurt other people in consequence. It follows that I shouldn’t eat meat if I don’t feel an over-riding need for it – though I may sometimes find this degree of moral rectitude hard to maintain! This analysis seems to fit in quite happily with what happens at every level throughout the natural world. The feeding habits of ‘higher’ carnivores, in particular, are determined largely by their metabolic needs – though there are exceptions, as any chicken farmer who has been visited by a fox knows only too well! We should not forget, either, that for human beings, even in our urban societies, the very business of staying alive means that we are constantly hurting our extended selves to some degree because we cannot avoid killing either animals or plants. It goes without saying, of course, that vegetarians, cattle, mosquitos and parsnips would all make choices that differed from ours, if they could – and we would have no right to say they were wrong! – because our freedom within the Two Worlds paradigm means that every living creature will make the choices that seem best for it at the time. There is no rational dividing line between the interests of humans and those of animals, or even between those of animals and those of vegetables. Cabbages have their own agenda, which we shouldn’t treat as if they were of no importance! The ethical questions on which passions run highest today often seem to be those that surround the exploitation of animals in laboratories, mainly for medical research and the development of


cosmetics. There is little doubt that there is an uncomfortably large amount of uncaring behaviour in these areas, inflicted on the animals for reasons that are at least arguable in the former context, though hardly so in the latter. Once again, the Extended Self Imperative seems to be helpful. I may judge the testing of a new drug on an animal to be morally defensible if I feel I will hurt myself more by denying the potential medical benefits to humanity than I will by accepting the hurt to my self that will arise from the hurt to the animal. In this case, however, I must be careful to procure the relevant facts, which – unlike the position in most of the examples above – may often be very difficult for me, as an outsider, to establish. Such activities, for obvious reasons, are usually shrouded in secrecy and clouded by prejudiced reporting, special loyalties and commercial interests. Here, then, I may have little to go on other than my concerns about some of the practices that seem to be common in the cosmetics industry, but that is not the fault of the Extended Self Imperative! It is not always possible, in other words, to achieve moral certainty. The current arguments about abortion and euthanasia can perhaps be considered here together. In both cases the question is whether or not it is morally acceptable to end the life of another person, and in both, moreover, the primary responsibility rests with an ‘outside’ agent – the doctor, whose extended self should be able to guide him. In the case of abortion, where there is no rational dividing line between the zygote and the baby, the ‘secondary’ self that has to be considered is obviously that of the mother, with the selves of the father and the unborn child one further step removed, and the surgeon can hardly choose to do serious hurt to his own extended self – via the hurt to the mother – by refusing to perform the abortion when his patient (after appropriate discussion) finally feels she must have it. (As usual with metaphysical questions, the definitive criterion is a feeling). The hurt to the other participants (and therefore to himself) can hardly be claimed to be as great, and the arguments that are frequently advanced on religious grounds do not carry true philosophical weight, because they are based on ‘external’ sanctions rather than on personal value judgements. The same difficulty arises with the arguments against voluntary euthanasia – religious objections may well prevent the changing of existing laws, but there can be no rational dialogue if one side of the discussion is confined to an assertion of Divine command. The Extended Self Imperative is helpful here because it reminds us that we should always try to guard against arguing the rights of a whole species, whether human or otherwise. Rights (if they exist) are for individuals – the extended selves. Voluntary euthanasia is “waiving the right to live”, which can be looked at against the background of the Extended Self, as well as in the light of free will and the sovereignty of the individual over how he lives his life. Provided that all the necessary safeguards have been met, the moral choice for the doctor appears to be to accede to the dying person’s request, because it relieves his own suffering by relieving that of the suffering patient without hurting the selves of the other people involved – family members and other medical staff – to anything like the extent that he and the patient would be hurt if he refused. (The doctor, of course, will probably not choose to take the action that he may feel to be morally justified because he knows that he would be breaking the law of the land, but most people will agree that he is entitled at least to argue against the implications of the law in cases where he feels that its strictures are – for him – morally wrong).

The Sociopolitical Dimension
At or about the point where communities become big enough to require some form of institutionalised government, we come to the territory of what we described in Table 1 as Political Philosophy. The title is no more satisfactory than others we have been forced to use in this book,


suggesting as it does that it may help us to distinguish good government from bad, justice from injustice, and efficiency from inefficiency, always operating within a framework of tolerance and respect for individual differences. But, of course, no government has ever lived up to such a challenge, however good the intentions of those who designed it and those who served in it. Apart from the shortcomings that arise from human frailty, there is an inherent inflexibility in even the best bureaucratic organisations that limits their effectiveness, not only from the point of view of those who govern, but also from that of those who are governed. This, moreover, applies even to organisations that have been created with the highest motives: many systems that appear at first sight to be enlightened have actually been designed to serve the interests of a powerful elite, but even those that begin life with a clean bill of health eventually begin to show signs of the sickness that comes from the negative aspects of an aging bureaucracy. Political theorists, in their efforts to design structures that will overcome some of these difficulties, tend to start from one of two premises – either that human nature is basically to be trusted (which gives rise, at least on paper, to democratic systems) or that it is not (which breeds totalitarian alternatives). At a higher level of abstraction, however, it looks as if people – especially in more sophisticated societies – may in a certain sense be actually ‘ungovernable’, because democracies in culture after culture, even when they are not being manipulated, can be perceived to become progressively less effective by submerging themselves in seas of bureaucracy, while authoritarian societies, in their turn, seem destined to become repressive, unjust and finally unstable. People, nevertheless, have to live and work together, so this unfortunate state of affairs cannot be ignored. It therefore gives rise to a number of intriguing social and political questions that have tended to be collected together as a separate branch of philosophy, partly because the issues differ from those of ‘pure’ moral philosophy by involving the often conflicting interests of many individuals, and partly because the behaviour of people ‘in the mass’ has always had a special kind of fascination for some commentators. This is as true of Plato, who envisaged his ideal Republic in the 5th century BCE in Athens, as it is of Niccolo Machiavelli, whose writings reflect the political intrigues of the noble families of 15th century Italy, or of Karl Marx, who developed his worldshaking theories of radical socialism in 19th century England. It is probably useful in today’s world, then, to think of ‘sociopolitical’ rather than political philosophy. Politics, of course, is as old as the hills, because people learned to wield power in their communities thousands of years before it occurred to anyone that it might be interesting to find out why people in groups behave as they do. This latter question is a much larger – and for many people much more interesting – subject than debating over and over again the limited ways of organising a state that were already ‘old hat’ 7000 years ago in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Political philosophy, in the sense that it appears in the writings of Plato and Karl Marx, tacitly assumed the presence of powerful legislatures and executives that could determine the shape of the state as well as providing justice and efficient administration, but no-one has that sort of power today – and perhaps no-one ever really had! The habit of obedience to authority that had been accepted as normal by both the powerful and the powerless in most countries until it was called into question in Europe during the convulsive social changes that followed the French Revolution still survived partially intact until about the 1950s. That acceptance, however, has now largely vanished (at least in large parts of society in Western countries) under the influence of new attitudes – especially among the young – which have been fuelled by foreign travel, anti-war sentiments, the drug culture, the information media, the decline in religious observance and the influence of the ‘social sciences’. In countries where these changes


have not yet taken place, moreover, the pursuit of ‘sociopolitical’ philosophy is in any case an almost meaningless (not to say risky) undertaking.

Whatever happened to the friendly British ‘bobby’? Riot police in London in the 1990s - a powerful symbol of the loss of respect for authority.

Power, in a nutshell, has been largely transferred in the last 50 years or so from the authority figure – whether parent, priest, doctor, teacher, policeman, employer or politician – to the individual, and in most cases the recipient has not yet discovered how to handle his newfound freedom in a ‘civilised’ fashion. By the same token, however, it may be that this transfer, if properly understood, can offer us the possibility of new and better organisational structures – structures that will be more in tune with the desire of the individual to play a larger part in managing his own affairs and with the better utilisation of his talents. There is no doubt whatever that the hierarchical forms of many traditional organisations – especially the larger ones – contain communications barriers and other features that lead to their energy being dissipated in unproductive activities, and where attempts are being made to remove these barriers in order to involve more people in the decision-making processes of the organisation it is necessary not only for the individuals whose power has increased to learn to handle it, but also for those whose power has diminished to learn to relinquish it. In the longer term, in any case, it may that many big bureaucracies will gradually find themselves being replaced by more effective structures of a totally different kind. Sociopolitical organisations, like any other form of human groupings, have to have at least a few identifiable focal points – a charismatic leader, perhaps, and some kind of minimal secretariat. From the point of view of survival, however, there are many advantages to having no identifiable structure. This became starkly apparent when the Western coalition embarked on its punitive enterprise in Afghanistan in 2001, because, although the military might of the coalition forces was overwhelming, the impartial observer could see at once what has become clear in a number of other confrontations in the last century or so – namely, that bureaucratic organisations, like national governments or other highly structured civil and military institutions, are much easier to disable than informal networks. The former are at an enormous strategic disadvantage because the identities of their top management teams, the location of their headquarters, their logistical arrangements and so forth are widely known, whereas networks, which are largely unstructured as


well as geographically diffuse, are incomparably more difficult to attack. There are valuable lessons to be learned here, indeed, for all kinds of organisations, in peace as well as in war – the ‘self-determining’ network (which is also the norm for many other species) may turn out to be the most effective organisational structure of all, and the one with the best chances of survival.

The Search for Justice
The aim of all respectable political philosophy has always been to try to develop societies that provide justice for all their members as well as overall efficiency. This, of course, is a difficult and controversial task. The central problem is that justice, like beauty, is ‘in the eye of the beholder’. The justice meted out by well meaning administrators, for example, may not feel like justice to those who receive it, though the difficulty generally stems more from the different aims and backgrounds of those concerned than from any unworthy intentions. The situation is reminiscent of the example quoted by the brilliant educator Paolo Freire (see page 75), when the well-meaning foreign agronomist is mortified to find that his professional advice is not followed by the peasant farmers he has come to help. The trouble, of course, is that his prescriptions, though technically impeccable, run counter to some of the cultural imperatives of the peasant society concerned. The making of a just society, in other words, is a collaborative enterprise, which has to develop from inside. The main sociopolitical challenge that exists today – and it exists in most populations, though the acceptable solutions, if we ever find them, will probably be many and varied – is to help people to develop structures in which they can all play a part, however small, in making their communities good to live in, at the local, national and (increasingly) the international level. The ultimate problem for all forms of administration, in a world in which information is becoming ever more widely available, is that everyone’s opinion is felt to be as good as everyone else’s (and in our philosophy, it may be remembered, it is, because living systems, as well as inanimate ones, exist ultimately in self-determining equilibria – which means that they are changed interactively by forces inside them). The realisation that this is so is seeping gradually into the national psyche in many countries. The fall in the numbers of people who turn out to vote at general elections is a worldwide phenomenon, the respect in which politicians are held seems to be diminishing fairly rapidly, and it is beginning to look unlikely that representative government as we know it will be seen in the long run as the best way to provide acceptable social conditions for all the people. It is not part of our intention, however, to follow in the footsteps of those who have attempted to design sociopolitical systems. We now know that there is no way that such structures can be built in advance, because self-determining systems – by definition – cannot be shaped by outside forces. As someone has said: “The world cannot be changed, because no-one has the necessary knowledge”. There is, however, a strategy (with Taoist overtones) that does increase one’s chances of fitting in with whatever structures do evolve – namely, to ‘go with the flow’, rather than to resist what seems to be inevitable. The first step, as in all interactive situations, is to accept things as they are – to act, in fact, on the basis of what is happening, rather than what we think should be happening. This applies, moreover, every bit as much to politicians as it does to the rest of us. Thinking afresh about these matters in the context of the Extended Self and the Two Worlds paradigm, it becomes clear that sociopolitical morality has its roots in the same soil as ethics – namely, in the values of the individual self. From this vantage point, if in the meantime it is still necessary to create sociopolitical structures, practically everything else is ‘methodology’ – and the choices, whether in selecting data, designing structures, casting votes or signing treaties, must


ultimately be based on our personal values. There seems to be very little difference in kind between sociopolitical problems and the problems we encounter, or the criteria we need, when we are seeking to live a moral life on the personal level. Besides, we know that social norms are built by consensus on the values of individuals, and we can therefore afford to act in what we judge to be the best interests of our extended selves in any sociopolitical situations we may encounter, and then, having discharged our personal responsibility, simply wait with interest to see how our collective actions turn out. In spite of this, however, sociopolitical judgements do differ slightly from personal ones, in two main ways: first, the interests of much larger numbers of people are involved, and, second, the task is primarily to achieve social justice – in the sense of fairness – rather than to pursue individual morality. What this means for the extended self is that the ‘extension’ goes ‘much further out’ – to whole communities, in most cases, or even across continents. We are then adjusting our ‘extended’ perspective to include what we know about the interests of those communities in general. This is not nearly as difficult as it sounds at first – we have a very fair idea of what would amount to at least a measure of justice for, say, low caste workers in India, old age pensioners in England or children starving in Somalia. Problems of this kind are already very familiar to people of conscience, but the way of looking at them suggested by the Extended Self principle is substantially different. The fact that we can see our own selves as being damaged by the plight of any ‘disadvantaged’ population removes much of the judgemental quality of our concern, and makes it easier for us to join in efforts to improve the situation without patronising the people concerned. This is where the egalitarian insights of Paolo Freire are again well worth bearing in mind. The habit of considering others as ‘extensions’ of the self is appealing, too, in that it acts as a force for the creation of social groups based on friendship and respect. The people whose interests are most important to each individual are primarily those where ties exist of blood or of affection, though duty, of course, can be a factor as well. Groups formed in this way obviously make for a more cohesive society – to say nothing of a more pleasant one – and their general character is liable to be attractive to other people, thereby encouraging a further coming together in the larger population outside. Here, in other words, we can imagine an additional role for our extended selves – as the ‘building bricks’ for various types of wider society. The Extended Self concept is also helpful in another aspect of modern life. It is understandable, especially in times of international tension (are there any other times?) that people should feel pride in their origins, loyalty to the country of their birth, and a certain amount of distaste for the habits of others, all of which produce pressures for the secession of ethnic groups from larger countries and the establishment of separate states. This in itself is problematic enough, but the situation is rendered more complex (and more unstable) by countervailing pressures, arising largely from economic considerations, for the formation of bigger groupings – with the consequent need for new and superordinate government structures. To see our personal interests in terms of our extended selves should help, to some extent at least, to reduce the temperature of some of these conflicts, and, hopefully, help us to realise that the foreigner is not an enemy, but another human being whose interests are an intrinsic part of our own, and who should therefore be given the opportunity to become a partner and friend, however unattractive his beliefs and his ways of living may appear when we first meet him. All this may strike the reader as quite unoriginal – not to say Utopian and unrealistic – but it is at least consistent with the implications of the Extended Self principle, and that, after all, is what we are currently examining. The fundamental insight in all of this is that the interests of others have to be considered as they are – not as we think they ought to be. Even if my brother is a religious


maniac (which, in any case, may be only my opinion), that is his problem rather than mine – unless, of course, he is trying to destroy me or those close to me. I have to accept his religious eccentricities, in the same way as I accept any others he may have (and expect him to try to accept mine), because I have to consider things as I perceive them, and decide my behaviour accordingly. The ensuing conflict, of course, may be very unpleasant (as in the case of the ‘wars’ in Afghanistan and Iraq), but from the point of view of the Extended Self Imperative my choices still have to be based on how I see my own extended interest. The same argument suggests a different way to regard the problem of the existence of evil. Whether we choose to regard evil as a real (concrete) entity, present in the world in its own right, as it were, or whether we prefer to think of it merely as our own (abstract) judgements of people and the consequences of their actions, the Extended Self Imperative tells us that we have to accept it as we perceive it, whether our judgements are right or wrong. Those abstract opinions are the only data we have to serve as a starting point for considering any situation, whatever we finally decide. We cannot afford to align ourselves, in other words, with the celebrated commentator who said: “If I wanted to get to Canterbury, I wouldn’t start from here!” The need to accept the realities of evil, however, does not mean that we should not confront them in every way that may seem appropriate. The world around us exhibits many distressing features – and not all of them are new. The seven deadly sins have been around since people first began to notice them, but they do seem to have been joined by a few others in more recent times. The decline in respect for authority of which we spoke above, though in some ways a long-overdue improvement in social attitudes, seems to have brought with it some negative aspects as well – such as the apparent growth in violence, especially in the big cities, and a more selfish and dishonest attitude in general in many areas of society. There are two very different ways to interpret these unpleasant trends, and they have very different implications. The pessimistic view – which is supported by the Biblical concept of original sin and is by far the more widely held – is that we all have an evil streak in us that appears when there is no form of authority to restrain it. The more optimistic position (which is really a rehash of our ‘extended self’ scenario) is that every living thing, having free will, will always choose the purely selfish option unless it possesses the ability to see that its own interests are better served by taking the interests of others into account. It is becoming increasingly obvious in many societies that selfish and violent behaviour rapidly becomes a norm that is never likely to be changed by the efforts of those who make the law or of those who try to enforce it, and that a better approach to the problem is to try to teach children – especially while they are young – to understand that they are an integral part of the society they live in, and that selfish behaviour can actually hurt them personally in the long run. This, obviously, is a tough task, but that does not mean that we should not try to do it. If it can be achieved, even to a moderate extent, it is certainly a much less costly approach to a huge problem than relying on ever-increasing external ‘control’ by policing and imprisonment. Perhaps the saddest social trend of all, and the most widespread in so many societies, is the headlong rush to materialism. This also has overtones of selfishness, but the value most societies now place on material possessions goes far beyond the question of how much of them we can get our hands on. Human beings, from the earliest times, have acknowledged the instinct to acquire things, from food and shelter to large numbers of children, but a major element of what we like to think of as civilisation consists in the valuing of personal relationships (and, to some extent, relationships with all living things) above mere possessions. Relationships, of course, cannot be owned, but the question of ownership is central, because at one extreme of materialism comes the desire to own people, whether bodily as slaves or merely in the sense of psychological dominance,


whereas the manifestation of materialism that we see increasing around us today – the drive to acquire what are usually called ‘worldly goods’ – seems by comparison to be a much less serious matter. And yet, if we have come to love our possessions more than we do our fellow creatures, the implications are probably more sinister, because what we are allowing to wither away is the one thing that distinguishes us from every other species – our precious humanity. There doesn’t seem to be much more that we can usefully say about ethical judgements. Once again, like T.S. Eliot, we seem to have arrived “where we started” – namely, to realise that it is only by acquiring the habit of using our feelings to help us to decide what is ultimately in the best interests of our extended selves that we can hope to live reasonably happy and productive lives.

The Aesthetic Self
The last area of philosophy (or living, if that seems to be a better way to think about things) that we might look at again in the light of the Extended Self principle is aesthetics, defined in my dictionary (rather narrowly, perhaps) as “the principles of taste and art”. As usual, the derivation of the word is interesting: the Greek root means “to feel, or perceive” – a sense that is retained in the word ‘anaesthetic’. The aesthete, too, (if we leave aside the derogatory implication that his aestheticism is sometimes not genuine) is someone whose lifestyle is arranged as far as possible to enjoy contact with things and experiences that he ‘feels’ to be beautiful or otherwise desirable for their own sake. Once again, of course, his feelings will be based largely on the personal values that he has developed over his lifetime (which is why we tend to associate aesthetic sensibilities more with older than with younger people). The criteria of aesthetic quality are elusive, to say the least. It is not necessarily the intrinsic attributes of the thing itself that count, but our response to them. Beauty, in itself, really is ‘in the eye of the beholder’ – once again, we are alone with our feelings and our values – but, in addition to that, many things that might not be thought to be beautiful in the ordinary sense of the word nevertheless have undoubted aesthetic appeal. The French word chic expresses one aspect of this, and such widely different things as veteran cars, good manners, simple cooking, honesty and unconditional love also have aesthetic qualities. It is as if there is always an element of vita brevis in aesthetic living – a feeling that life is too short to be wasted on inferior things. What we call ‘beauty’, however, remains the central mystery of aesthetic experience. No-one has yet succeeded in defining it, though we all ‘know what we like’ when we see it. We also recognise without difficulty the descriptions of some of the effects that beauty has on us – “breath-taking”, “heart-stopping”, “staggering”, “ravishing”, “dazzling”, “entrancing”, “alluring”, “moving”, “awesome”, “to die for”, and so forth – one can hear the desperation as we struggle to find the words, but the actual criteria that identify beauty still escape us. We can be certain, however, that they are to do with feelings: we feel an immediate attraction – usually a sense of wonder, a measure of excitement, and often, in different ways, a desire to try to make the object of our feelings part of our lives. One obviously cannot ‘own’ a Mozart opera – or a wonderful sunset or a beautiful stranger, for that matter – but one can buy the recording, photograph the sunset, or try to develop a relationship with the stranger, in response to the instinctive desire to possess (or at least stay close to) the thing that has generated the emotion. This idea is reinforced by the fact that the desire to ‘possess’ beauty can also imply selfishly excluding other people (think of the private art collections) – unless, of course, the desired item is something in plentiful supply!


Whatever the semantic problems, there is no doubt that an appreciation of beauty is a keystone of the aesthetic life. The earliest artefacts that show definite traces of such feelings go back at least 30,000 years, and the sheer artistic maturity of some of them, particularly of the stunning wall paintings in the Spanish and French caves (see Page 4), suggests that gifted individuals probably lived long before that. The first recorded comments that we would now include under the general heading of aesthetics, however, did not appear until the flowering of the amazing civilisation that sprang up in ancient Greece, and no really important attempts to discuss the subject systematically were made until Kant published his Critique of Judgement in 1790. Since then millions of words have been written on the subject – though, as we have discovered with much of the other material we have examined, not many of them turn out to be really illuminating. Most children begin to be conscious of ‘self’ before they are two years old, and their individual tastes in food, clothes, toys and so forth soon begin to show themselves. Taste, however, in the wider sense of aesthetic preferences, usually takes at least a couple of decades to settle down, and depends very much on the influence of what the psychologists call ‘significant others’ in the child’s life – it takes time and experience to develop a taste for caviare, orchids or Picasso! Being moved by the beauty of a sunset, however, is a sign that we also have aesthetic responses that are largely independent of the preferences of other people – though, of course, they may nevertheless be widely shared. We are again dealing, in other words, with personal values, and this time we should probably be grateful that we do not all have the same feelings. One has only to glance at the other man’s tie, or his garden – or his wife! – to realise that one cannot seriously contemplate making any important choices that are based on values other than one’s own.

Gaudí’s unfinished church of La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, has taken a long time to gain the approval of the Spanish public.


Inevitably, however, there are many situations where the differences between what people feel to be beautiful or in good taste can have more serious consequences. Architecture seems to be the discipline that causes most trouble, probably because buildings are harder to ignore than paintings or people! A few notable architectural examples that have caused a certain amount of consternation are the Sydney Opera House, the extraordinary works of Gaudí in Barcelona, and the Pyramid outside the Louvre. But taste, of course, is also ‘created’ by avant garde designers, as any student of women’s fashions or motor cars knows very well. Retreating to a higher level of abstraction, it becomes apparent that at least some of the trouble in matters of taste is caused by the fact that it is usually very difficult to procure the involvement of people before the event in experiences that will affect their aesthetic sensibilities. It is not always easy to make arrangements to try to achieve the desirable consensus, and with architecture, for example, the speed with which a new building appears on the skyline is such that the changes in public taste that may follow in the longer term are often conspicuously slow to arrive. In questions of taste, just as in ethical questions, one is conditioned to some extent by social norms, and the aesthetic values of communities that have little contact with one another can be surprisingly different. These differences, in fact, can often be much more marked than the ethical ones that characterise the same communities, and they usually cause more friction. Clearly, therefore, tolerance of aesthetic preferences is an important factor in achieving the sort of community relations that can themselves be thought of as ‘aesthetically satisfactory’ for all concerned. Most of us admire and wish for a tolerant society, and we can contribute to creating one if we can bring ourselves to think of the aesthetic ‘values’ of other people in the same way as we may now try to accept their moral values and their sociopolitical behaviour – namely, as reflections, however unwelcome, of the nature of our own extended selves.

An ‘Extended’ Future
It looks, then, as if we are indeed right back where we started, with each of us determining his own criteria for ethical, sociopolitical and aesthetic judgements ‘from first principles’, as it were, on the basis of the subconscious stirrings that guide everything that goes on in our lives, from our autonomic physiological processes to our freely made conscious choices. Inanimate forces can sometimes threaten our security, but they remain morally neutral – there is nothing outside the living world, in other words, that can be morally good or bad. It follows inexorably that it is a waste of time to search outside ourselves for any absolute standards – there are no guidelines carved in any stone that can tell us what is beautiful or ugly, right or wrong, or just or unjust – although each of us can usually recognise the differences that have meaning for ourselves. There should be nothing to worry about, therefore, in living according to our personal values, provided that we don’t try to impose them on anyone else! We certainly need not despair. We may have lost the comfort that comes from being able to let someone else make our decisions for us, and we may therefore be experiencing unaccustomed feelings of uncertainty and loneliness, but we can handle the new situation in the way that homo sapiens always has – by huddling together against the threat along with those we can now think of as part of our extended selves. “Love the world as yourself”, says the Tao Te Ching, and if we do try to adjust our lives to follow that ancient admonishment – and learn to trust our deepest feelings – we should be able to experience the reality of a new and wonderful freedom for ourselves and our children, mapped out for us by the intuitive wisdom of our ‘secret selves’!



Ending a book with an Envoi is rather unfashionable nowadays, but it seems to me that it may be worth while in this case, because we have been talking about a number of philosophical puzzles that are rarely discussed in a single volume. What we have done, then, is essentially as follows. We have suggested, for a start, that both science and metaphysics can usefully be seen as complementary parts of philosophy, capable, if used together, of giving us a better understanding of the real world than we can obtain from science alone – and we have tried to illustrate this by considering, at a fairly superficial level, what the sciences tell us about the natural world (including our own bodies), and examining that information with the help of metaphysical tools like ontology and epistemology. This modus operandi has produced a number of rather interesting insights. The first of these is that the ancient debate about whether the world is real or imaginary, which is common to both Eastern and Western philosophy (though in different forms), resolves itself fairly easily when we recognise that we are conscious of both kinds – a real concrete world that exists in its own right as part of a real concrete Universe, and an equally real, but abstract, world that exists (separately for each of us) in our minds. (Real, incidentally, means that the thing in question is not fictional, and concrete means that it is registered by our ordinary senses). Physical reality, in other words, exists in its own right, but the concept of reality is a man-made abstraction. A great deal of confusion, both in science and in philosophy, arises from the fact that we interact physically with the concrete world but think about it in the abstract, and this has led many people to mistake the theory for the concrete reality, especially when thinking about submicroscopic events. This ontological dichotomy is so fundamental that we have proposed that we should revise our philosophy in terms of a new ‘Two Worlds’ paradigm. The concrete world is relativistic, with objects behaving in familiar ways at the ‘classical’ level, but exhibiting increasing matter/energy ambivalence as the scale gets smaller. We believe that this ambivalence is a real concrete property of ‘matter’ at submicroscopic levels, and that relativistic as well as quantum descriptions should still apply – indeed, the astounding speeds reached by entities moving within the atomic nucleus require both. We see the particle/wave ambivalence that underlies quantum mechanics as a manifestation of the same matter/energy duality, and have suggested that we should acknowledge this by adopting the name ‘energon’ to describe any submicroscopic entity capable of behaving either as a particle or as a wave. We think it is possible that string theories, or something of the kind, may eventually be able to identify vibration patterns that will distinguish the different structures of the energons concerned. In spite of the fact that subatomic phenomena are described with amazing accuracy by quantum theory, we cannot see the strange world that the theory appears to present as anything but an abstract representation of reality. The ambiguities that seem to defy logic stem from the fact that the fundamental equations of quantum mechanics are a product of the original (Hamiltonian) mathematics upon which the theory is based, and it strikes us as astonishing, therefore, that the failure to distinguish theory from reality – as, for example, when discussing the ‘collapse of the wavefunction’ (see page 45) – has led so many scientists to accept that the real world exists only when it is being observed! Einstein, who showed that matter and energy are theoretically interchangeable, regarded ‘particles’ as “condensations of energy at points where the field is strongest”. In recent years, moreover, his

vision of “a world of real objects” – apparently rendered obsolete by the majority view of quantum mechanics – seems to have had its credibility at least partially restored by doubts about how the wave/particle data have been interpreted, by the emergence of significant ‘post quantum’ theories about the nature of reality, and in the laboratory by the development of the Scanning Tunnelling Microscope, which has produced beautiful images of individual atomic structures (see page 38), and even enabled those structures to be moved about on the surface of the specimen! Both modern physics and psychology make it clear that the observer is an integral part of the world he is observing, and it seems to us to follow that his freedom to choose how he wishes to interact with it is incompatible with the idea of a deterministic Universe, operating in slavish obedience to a Divine plan. In our opinion the free will of the individual is just one of the multitude of constantly interacting forces that maintain both living and non-living systems in what we have called ‘selfdetermining equilibria’, along the lines postulated for astronomical bodies by Ernst Mach. Another thing that emerges when we consider how scientific and metaphysical thinking can enrich one another is that the combination may enable us to understand the long-standing mystery of the nature of the human self. We use the word ‘self’ to mean three different things – two concrete and one abstract. One of the two concrete ‘selves’ is our familiar body, complete with its brain and the rest of its nervous system, and the abstract one is our ‘self image’ – the many-sided picture that we have in mind when we think about ourselves. Both of these are controlled by the other concrete self – the one we have called ‘secret’ because its operations take place almost exclusively at subconscious levels. This third self, the self that is moving my fingers as I type and doing the talking (via the body, of course) when I say “I”, is who I ‘really’ am. Although this self is non-material, we know that it is real and concrete because we are aware of its impact on the concrete world of our direct experience. The fact that it is concrete enables it to control both our bodies and our minds at the same time, which provides the answer to the longstanding mind/body problem (see page 96). Paradoxically enough, the realisation that we are totally unaware at the conscious level of the vast majority of its mental and physical activities is the key to understanding the part played by consciousness in the natural world: traditional theories of the mind appear to assume that our lives are controlled largely by conscious processes, but all the evidence points, instead, to the autonomous self as the entity whose subconscious awareness and ability to control our bodies provide the actual and continuous management of our lives, with the conscious mind playing only an intermittent (and generally subordinate) role. The relationship of the self to the mind and the brain needs careful definition. The simplest way to avoid confusion (and the way that comes closest to our use of these words in everyday speech) is to regard the brain, with the rest of the nervous system, as the concrete ‘apparatus’ that the self uses to control our minds and bodies, and the mind as both the faculty and the content of the self’s abstract ‘awareness’ at any one time. It goes almost without saying, of course, that the awareness of being anything at all is something that belongs only to living creatures, and it is therefore not only legitimate but also useful to use the word ‘self’ to characterise any individual living organism, even if its level of awareness appears to us to be no more than a ‘programmed’ reaction to its environment. The fact that all living things have ‘selfhood’ in common, moreover, makes it difficult not to believe that they may share some degree of ‘global’ awareness, however modest, and consequently, in some cases at least, an element of ‘extrasensory’ contact with other selves. The possibility of some such ‘global self’ suggests very strongly a relativistic scenario in which each individual self is in a position similar to that of Einstein’s individual observer in the Special Theory – namely, seeing itself ‘at the centre’ of the


whole of the living world, and the interests of all other selves as related in various degrees to its own. This leads on to the idea of an autonomous ‘extended self’, which, when making moral choices, will always consider the interests of ‘significant others’ as part of its own interests, and this idea, in turn, suggests a new ‘Extended Self Imperative’ as an alternative to the Categorical Imperative of Kant. A view of our essential nature revised in this way enables us to look afresh at some of the ancient questions that have preoccupied philosophers in every generation and culture, and may eventually show us – to our surprise – that we already have a subconscious knowledge of most of the answers!


The ‘One World’ and ‘Two Worlds’ Paradigms Element Real world ‘One World’ Paradigm Concrete world ‘known’ ‘Two Worlds’ Paradigm a. Concrete world ‘unknown’ b. Abstract world ‘known’ Part of observed world Internal self-determining Describes reality Relativistic ‘energons’ with finer structures (possibly ‘superstrings’) existing in the concrete world Describes the behaviour of reality at submicroscopic levels a. Real concrete nonmaterial entity (‘inner self’)* b. Real concrete material entity (physical body)* c. Real abstract entity (mental ‘self image’)* Upper brain stem nuclei (subconscious) with input from cortical structures Possessed by all creatures* (therefore constrained by a variety of secular forces) ‘Extended’ self (shared with all living creatures* - and with ‘global self’?) Self may survive death with possible ‘global self’ contact Based on own feelings and applied against Extended Self criteria Not possible in fullest sense

Observer ‘Control’ of world Relativity theory Elements of submicroscopic world

External to observed world External deterministic Describes reality Quantum probabilities existing only in the observer’s mind

Quantum mechanics

Describes the nature of reality at submicroscopic levels Conscious identity (human only – may or may not include a ‘soul’)


Self’s ‘control’ located

Cerebral cortex (conscious)

Free will

None (or limited to making choices within the plans of the Creator)

‘Extent’ of self

Individual only

After death

a. Self dies with body b. ‘Soul’ goes to Heaven/Hell Based on religious teachings

Ethical and other values

Artificial Intelligence


* Within the physiological and psychological limitations of the organism concerned



One of the most difficult problems I have encountered with this book is to try to identify the sources from which I have derived my various bits of information and the opinions that are based upon them. As a young man I obtained Science and Arts degrees from Glasgow University, and this dual background has been reinforced by my working experience in the oil industry. A good deal of what I have observed about how we relate to one another comes from the years when my job was to try to help people to work more effectively together in their organisational settings, which taught me how profoundly our behaviour is affected by our feelings. I suppose I must have been interested for a long time in the things I have discussed here, and I must have picked up many ideas over the years from sources that I cannot now remember, but it is only in the last few years that I have considered venturing to write anything down. While doing so, I have found the following books particularly useful, and have drawn upon a few of them fairly freely – though I have not always agreed with the conclusions of the authors. Those marked with an * contain excellent bibliographies.

The cultural development of mankind History of Mankind, vol.1, by Jacquetta Hawkes and Sir Leonard Woolley. Allen & Unwin, 1963 * Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire. Penguin, 1972

Science and the nature of reality The Born-Einstein Letters, by Max Born. Macmillan, 1971 The Character of Physical Law, by Richard Feynman. MIT Press, 1967 The Tao of Physics, by Fritjof Capra. Flamingo, 1982 * In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat, by John Gribbin. Black Swan, 1998 * The Collapse of Chaos, by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart. Viking, 1994 * The End of Time, by Julian Barbour. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999 * Strange Beauty, by George Johnson. Jonathan Cape, 2000 The Elegant Universe, by Brian Greene. Jonathan Cape, 1999


Philosophy The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ed. Ted Honderich. Oxford, 1995 Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu. Wildwood, 1972 Mahayana Buddhism, by B.L. Suzuki. Allen & Unwin, 1959 The Human Condition, by Hannah Arendt. Chicago, 1958

Science and the nature of the mind The Emperor’s New Mind, by Roger Penrose. Oxford, 1989 * My View of the World, by Erwin Schrödinger. Cambridge, 1964 Mapping the Mind, by Rita Carter. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989 * The Feeling of What Happens, by Antonio Damasio. Heinemann, 2000

Living now in retirement, I have not been fortunate enough to have many people with whom to discuss my ideas, so I cannot follow the customary practice of crediting others with all the good bits and accepting responsibility myself for the rest. I am, however, very grateful to my friend Professor Mike Williams, who has made free with his excellent private library as well as with his wide knowledge of physics and physicists, and to my son-in-law James Watson-Saunders, who has masterminded the necessary desk-top publishing operation and made some very helpful critical comments.