The Pending World-View Realignment, An Optimistic Sketch

The Pending World-View Realignment

An Optimistic Sketch


Jay B. Gaskill

NOTE: A PDF download of this article with graphics and live links is available from the Policy Think Site at this LINK:

The late Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (See footnote[1]), wrote about an impossibly powerful computer – “Deep Thought” – that was tasked by mice to discover the “secret of life the universe and everything”. After performing prodigious calculations over eons, Deep Thought finally came up with an answer: The number 42. (See footnote[2])

Adams was telling us the importance of asking the right question.  And Deep Thought’s answer was revelatory. The computer was “at 6’s and 7’s” because the question asked it was ultimately beyond the power of any algorithm or non-living thinking device to answer.

We need to break into the territory where the answers our questions about life the universe and everything are located. In other words, we need to break out of the intellectual trap of arch-materialist thinking; this is the conceit that absolutely everything in and out of our minds can be fully accounted for by material processes.

We humans are stuck at the fault line caused by our own release of acidic skepticism about two and a half centuries ago. The doubt acid was unleashed on the world (I tend to think of Pandora’s Box or the Sorcerer’s Apprentice) by well-meaning intellectuals bent on bringing down entire archaic and oppressive social institutions. When the well-meaning intellectuals unbottled the magic solvent, their main goal was to weaken the support systems of the royalist-clerical autocracy that these intellectuals despised.

Their strategy worked…and then some. An early success (the American Revolution) was followed by an epic cascade of unintended consequences. Once out of the bottle, the acid of comprehensive doubt began dissolving everything of value; the damage went well beyond the targeted institutions.  By the time the doubt virus had infected the modern and postmodern mind, churches were on the ropes, ethics itself was in disarray and the entire civil order was left defenseless.

Human nature so abhors a moral vacuum that something, no matter how repugnant, will always fill it. Without the firewall of faith-anchored morality, invented “scientific” doctrines swiftly gave rise to virulent mass movements.  Among them, Nazi race theory and Marxist human-nature transformation theory filled the moral vacuum with toxic ideologies.  These were faux scientific ideologies, deeply irrational to the core.  Marxism and Nazism acquired the patina of moral authority by default – the great acid flux of doubt had disabled or crippled everything else that we believed in. (See footnote[3])

The entire skeptical project was founded in a false premise: the notion that the material realm holds all of reality’s secrets. But that very premise, the arch-materialist’s vision – that there exists nothing other than the physical-mechanical – was never deeply examined nor carefully questioned.  It generated a world view that was as fiercely held and doggedly defended as any fundamentalist religion. For a plurality of the dominant intellectuals in the academy, it is still the glorious paradigm of the current age…but not for much longer.

Arch-materialism makes outrageous claims on its face, something akin to the lie that the naked emperor of the fable was clothed in splendorous raiment.  The notion that everything that is or can be is completely reducible to mere “stuff”, to matter and energy, and their processes and interactions, with nothing “left over”, leads to a series of absurdities in which, for example, Mozart’s Requiem can be fully and completely reduced to air pressure fluctuations that induce brain electro-chemical responses in some subjects.

The claims of arch materialism are bankrupt. There is no room in arch-materialism for the “I am” or the “I love” or for the “I ought”, except as you or I might arbitrarily decide. In the world of arch-materialism, our decisions themselves are a sort of ephemeral gloss on the biochemical, bioelectrical fluctuations that we “really” are, and our very consciousness, the sense of being, is a mirage.

This was the single greatest fraud perpetrated on the human family of all time.

More and more of the intelligentsia are coming to their senses; one by one, they are returning to the older, more balanced and more integrated wisdom traditions.  As these newly awakened minds recover from the spell of arch-materialism, a realization dawns:  The mechanistic part of reality, the subject of the physical sciences of measurement and prediction, is just that, a part or phase of the greater scheme.  Meaning cannot be redacted from the picture.  Meaning is not a measurable property of physics, chemistry or the other physical disciplines; nor is it “just made up”.

The recovery from the grip of arch-materialism is almost like waking up from a spell.

The Secrets of Life, the Universe and Everything can be unpacked only when we acknowledge the deep and enduring reality of ongoing creative emergence (See footnote[4]), the essential ontological link between the material and the not-material phases of reality, and the role of our own minds as the bridge state between these two. (See footnote[5]) The gifts moral intelligence and esthetically tuned awareness are among the cognitive tools that were issued our species.  Arch materialism has temporarily disabled us from using these tools to discover the nature of reality and the reality of nature.

If the esthetic is real (and it is), but cannot be captured in the narrow confines of comprehensive materialism; then so it goes for the ethical aspects of reality. And if the esthetic and ethical are real, then so is the spiritual. If meaning exists at all (and it does), then meaning, qua meaning, necessarily exists outside the confines of narrow materialism.  It follows that Reality naturally includes both the material realm of energy, matter and space and the non-material realm of meaning.

Reality in its totality can neither be defined by nor limited by the material realm.

For those of us who believe that acts of faith can be both reasonable and heuristic[6], these recovered insights have truly infinite implications, among them: A universe that generates creatures that are capable of apprehending meaning and purpose; is a universe that has meaning and purpose.

To the blind followers of arch materialism, we can do worse than repeat the words of Hamlet – “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

A Working Bibliography

Barrow, John D. and Tipler, Frank J.

The Anthropic Cosmological Principle

1988 (1st Ed 1986) Oxford U. ress ISBN 0-19-282147-4 (paperback)

Bohm, David

Wholeness And The Implicate Order

1980 Routledge ISBN 0-7448-0000-5

Buber, Martin

The Eclipse of God

1952 Harper and Brothers

Davies, Paul

About Time

1995 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-79964-9

The Cosmic Blueprint

1988 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-60233-0

The Mind of God

1992 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-68787-5

Denton, Michael J.

Nature’s Destiny

1998 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-684-84509-1

Einstein, Albert

Out Of My Later Years

1950 Philosophical Library

Kant, Immanuel

Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals

1964 Harper & Row (1st H & R Ed 1948, German Ed. @1788)

Monod, Jasques

Chance and Necessity

1971 Alfred Knopf  ISBN 0-394-4661-5-2

Penrose, Roger

The Emperor’s New Mind

1989 Oxford U. Press ISBN0-19-851973-7

The Large, the Small, and the Human Mind (Editor & contributor)

1997 Cambridge U. Press ISBN 0-521-56330-5

Shadows of the Mind

1994 Oxford U. Press ISBN 0-19-853978-9

Plantiga, Alvin C.

God, Freedom, and Evil

1994-1996 W.B. Eerdmans ISBN 0-8028-1731-9

Polkinghorne, John

Belief in God in an Age of Science

1998 Yale U. Press ISBN 0-300-07294-5

Beyond Science, the Wider Human Context

1996 Cambridge ISBN 0-521-62508-4 (paperback)

The Faith of a Physicist

1996 First Fortress Press ISBN 0-8006-2970-1

Reason and Reality, the Relationship Between Science and Theology

1991 Trinity Press ISBN 1-56338-019-6

Serious Talk, Science and Religion in Dialogue

1995 Trinity Press ISBN 1-56338-109-5 (paperback)

Prigogine, Ilya

The End of Certainty, Time Chaos and the New Laws of Nature

1996 Simon and Schuster ISBN 0-684-83705-6

Searle, John

Mind, Brains and Science

1984 Harvard U. Press ISBN 0-674-57631-4 (cloth)

Schweitzer, Albert

The Philosophy of Civilization

1960 Macmillan Paperbacks

Vermes, Pamela

Buber on God and the Perfect Man

1994 Littman Library of Jewish Civilization ISBN 1-874774-22-6

Whyte, Lancelot Law

The Next Development in Man

1948, Henry Holt and Company

The Universe of Experience

1974, Harper and Row 06-131821-3 (paper)/ 06-236143-7 (hardback)

By Jay B Gaskill

Escaping the Dead Universe Paradigm

Renaming the Universe

A New Social Compact

{ – }

Among the most influential authors, I would strongly recommend any of the books by the physicist, the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne and the somewhat obscure scientist-philosopher Lancelot Law Whyte, (he was a correspondent of Albert Einstein, who wrote a recommendation for the cover of Whyte’s “Next Development of Man”).  L. L. Whyte’s prediction in that book (that the next century would represent the collapse of the remaining dualisms in thought, mind-body, among them) is being borne out as I write this.

Copyright 2012 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Author contact:

[1] Adams whimsically described the series as a “trilogy in five parts.”

[2] Deep Thought was a computer that was created by the pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent race of beings that appear in our universe as mice. As to the answer 42, Adams (through a character) said, “I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question was.”

[3] I exaggerate for effect.  But the intelligent religious ones among us were marginalized and in some instances imprisoned by both Hitler and Stalin.

[4] Stay in touch with this concept.  Emergence represents the seemingly spontaneous appearance of order in otherwise less ordered systems.  Think of bird flocking behavior and the seeming self-assembly of the constituent molecules essential for living organisms. The phenomenon is well studied, but less comprehensively applied than it can be.  For example, conscious awareness can be understood as an emergent state of higher order in a neural system.  Creative leaps, whether in evolution or thought are examples of emergence.  Of course, much more remains to be said on the topic.

[5] In effect, the entire non-physical realm (thinking of the realm Plato’s forms as a stripped-down precursor) and the realm of physical processes can be understood as phases of the same encompassing reality (i.e., the share the same ontological status, much as matter and energy of solid and gas represent phase states of the same “stuff”.  This is very condensed version of a longer discussion by the author.

[6] Heuristic systems are capable of learning from experience.  Similarly, the necessary faith-exercises  that enable us to rationally deal with the unseen, including the inferential and the partially known, allow us to detect important aspects of reality that arch-materialism conditions us to ignore. For example human trust always requires an exercise of faith. In this sense, arch-materialism is anti-heuristic; it even rejects the faith of scientists that the universe will be intelligible to human reason. The scientist/theologian John Polkinghorne is excellent on this question.

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