FUTURE SHOCK: Isn’t this new picture of the universe one gigantic, fanciful, unnecessary thought upheaval?
No, it is a large upheaval, but it is neither “fanciful” nor “unnecessary”. There have been many necessary “gigantic thought upheavals” in human history. As when the Greeks discovered that the Earth was spherical, not flat —it had been assumed to be flat for untold ages. As when Copernicus discovered that the Earth goes round the Sun, not vice-versa. It is self-evident, isn’t it, that the Sun moves across the sky each day? As when Newton discovered that gravity is not confined to ordinary objects, but is the massive force needed to keep the Moon in its orbit round the Earth, and the Earth in its orbit round the Sun. As when Rutherford and Henry Moseley discovered that the atoms of solid matter consist mostly of tiny bundles of electricity surrounded by much empty space.
Unsettling conceptual thought-summersaults such as these were par-for-the-course whenever our ancestors made serious efforts to understand the universe. They make most sense when misapprehensions resulting from mistaken assumptions become unbearable. This is the kind of situation in which we find ourselves today. It has become more and more evident to perceptive people during the last five “post modern” decades that something has gone badly wrong with the Official Story about the universe-and-us. The common reaction has been to switch off. Sleepwalking has been the name of the game. This was only to be expected, because knowledgeable people realised that the mathematicians had given up trying to understand set theory, and the scientists had given up looking for a model of the universe which allowed us to have freewill, creativity, authenticity, genuine relationships or hope for a better world. You need a strong belief in reason to keep asking questions, when the best experts have given up.
The new worldview is revolutionary. It is another giant thought-summersault, a mental upheaval. But it has several great features, (1) it is grounded for the first time on sound, logical, fundamental epistemology. This means that it is not trying to use concepts cavalierly outside the areas where they make sense. (2) it fully accepts the values of pure science —as the uniquely important, primary inquiry into truth. Indeed it pushes the values of science to the limit, recognising that science is always provoked by finding unexplained regularity —of every kind. This provocation will only cease when a deconstructive model has been found which fields terminal, regularity-free (random) final objects. (3) it offers us a new EUREKA feeling because a model of the universe has been found at last which, amazingly, takes care of its own existence, something —with credible detail— which is quite new in human history (though the principle was first suggested by Kant in the 18th century), (4) it carries hugely promising research vistas for the future, including many opportunities for fielding feet-on-the-ground mathematics. (5) it offers a way at last of understanding humankind’s historic attachment to religion, as reflecting a sense of deeply personal involvement in reality.
This, then, can be the shining light at the end of our tunnel. It can renew our faith in reasoning.
BUT: Isn’t actimatics in the end, just another kind of tedious, oppressive, slightly different mathematics? It might look like that at first sight, but actually it is quite different. The real significance of mathematics is that it clarifies the implications of complex situations based on known regularities. This is predictive. Latterly it has been cynically misused by shady operators to try to lend bogus credibility to very oppressive online rules.
Actimatics is not in this ball park, i.e. it is not primarily a predictive discipline. Indeed it is based on the most unpredictable things (forms) we can conceive, and it offers us a picture of the universe which includes both surprising predictability (the amazing discovery is that a predictive element can emerge) and unpredictability. In this way it models the physical world realistically, including building-in a limit to predictive precision. It predicts, if you prefer, that there will be a large ambiguous zone of things: the numinous. This is all part of showing that the world is ourworld, not an intrinsically alien place.
BUT: How could the vast structures of the distant cosmos possibly be a mere product of human thought and willpower? Well, the first thing to remember is that today’s cosmological picture is based on the tiniest traces of evidence magnified by extrapolating them far beyond the levels anyone would normally trust in ordinary life. If light bent as much in outer space as we know it does on Earth, the light from the nearest star would have gone round in a complete circle before reaching us! This is a timely warning that the massive routine extrapolations done in cosmology could be massively misleading. Second, modern mathematics similarly studies vast —actually in this case infinite— intricate structures. These theoretical conglomerations have undoubtedly been created by the willpower of disciplined human thought. Third, we are surrounded on all sides by gadgetry, infrastructure and “built environment” which we know came about as a result of human intentionality over many years.
It is important to be clear: it is not being suggested that the distant cosmos is in any way unreal, simply that we don’t know where its “reality” comes from. It is being interpreted here as being the huge counter-weight needed to enable a relatively small special zone of reality to exist —the habitat for intelligent creatures (us).
So, putting these understandable questions aside, where does the new mental summersault leave us? How does it affect human society and personal life in ordinary, colloquial terms?
Human values trump material values.
Other human beings are essentially very like us.
Humankind is a family of intelligent beings who share their most important, semi-godlike quality —of being the final under-pinners of material reality.
Logical consistency is King. Nothing exists in a universe built on chaos unless it is wholly logically consistent. There is no alien material agency out there compelling reliable structure to exist: weultimately create whatever reliable structure there is, by means of our will-to-survive and consistent intentionality.
(The notion that there might be an AI singularity incidentally loses any credibility, because if it takes a universe to create the conditions for the human mind, what chance has a few million microchips?).
Truth and logic are thus the primary values.
The historic inquiry into how the universe works is a cause which we can all get behind. It confers meaning and purpose onto our essentially transient lives. Trying to live with merely acquisitive, egoistic, affluent and personal goals has been tried on a massive scale in the rich nations for more than fifty years. The unmistakable verdict: these goals are not genuinely satisfying, because they lead to satiation, ennui and listlessness. If they are pursued with a kind of ideological fervour… they become obsessive.
We need to realise that this level of egotism is pathetic. Understanding the universe and the human condition is —can only be— the primary goal. There is still an ocean of ignorance to be tackled, because —although it is absolutely clear in principle that structure can be imposed by willpower onto chaos— it is far from clear how this is happening in detail in the real world. We don’t know how many levels of deconstruction may lie between quarks and basic sequences. It may take 200 or 300 years before we really understand in detail how the universe and the human brain work. When this happens the human race will become godlike.