A Fresh Look at Reality

By Jay B Gaskill

cropped-FutureRome2.jpgWe are living through a seemingly endless intellectual war between two competing worldviews. One dominates the intelligentsia (with important exceptions) and the other prevails in the world of common sense.  The first view goes by several names, naturalism, metaphysical naturalism, materialism, scientific materialism and reductionism, among others. Put starkly, its adherents purport to believe that absolutely everything there is, seen and unseen, can be fully accounted for by the physical sciences, chemistry, physics, biology, and so on.

In the materialist worldview, even psychology and anthropology can be reduced to their physical, scientific descriptions. Our values, our aspirations, our perception of beauty and of the mysteries of the soul, all of it and more, are “just matter, energy, electrons and other stuff.”

The adherents of this view rarely put it so starkly, but  Richard Dawkins, the atheist biologist, gave us a clear preview when he wrote that “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”

I said “purport to believe” because few materialists live out their lives as if the atoms, electrons and other physical features of our existence are the sole reality. Do they actually think that our most cherished loves, hopes and moral verities are merely illusions?  Or that we are actually self-deceived robots without will or authentic being?  They have too much common sense for that.  They cling to their materialism in self-defense; they fear an onslaught of fundamentalism.

I submit that the available evidence, in its totality, carries a message. It points to a universe that not only “self organizes”, but generates hierarchies of ordered systems that are novel. These systems represent emergent creative order, an outcome that is not physically required. …And these new systems in turn facilitate the emergence of new levels of ordered systems, the mutual interactions of which led to the emergence of the first living organisms. These developments staged the emergence of decision-capable organisms, then conscious, intelligent organisms, endowed with creative capacities that can generate useful novelty at a hugely accelerated rate.

What are we to make of a universe that generates meaning, beauty and goodness, and the beings endowed with the capacity to create and appreciate these things…and each other? Our universe long ago transcended the cramped, mechanistic narrative of reductive naturalism advanced by a faith-phobic intelligentsia. Materialism survives, but as a narrow, useful methodology.

Given the bankruptcy of the grand materialist worldview, what are we to make of the emergence of caring, meaning-seeking intelligence on the stage of a “dead’’ universe? Was life “there” all along, much as Plato imagined the eternal shapes of geometric forms?  If not, where was it? Were the archetypes and designs of mammals and their precursors, the DNA code nestled in some updated version of Plato’s realm of forms, alongside the streamlined engineering solutions that resulted in the fin and the wing? Or were they just the lucky hits in nature’s casino?

Plato was a visionary who lacked our actual vision. Seen from our expanded perspective, it is almost as if a lifeless, pitiless universe has been gradually colonized.  In science fiction scenarios, we accept such notions as at least plausible.  The clever, highly advanced aliens seed a planet with mysterious germs/cells/nanoparticles that contain the self-replicating plans for an entire invading race; then, over time these invading bio-tech agents mature into life-sized creatures who take over.

This sort of thing is readily accepted for purposes of the story for a couple of reasons: [1] Clarke’s Third Law. The iconic science/science fiction writer, Arthur C Clarke, wrote that our encounter with any sufficiently advanced technology (as in well beyond human abilities at the moment) will be perceived as magic.  Because the alien “invasion” takes place via a materialist form of ultra-high tech, it is threatening in a ‘this is a cool movie’ hypothetical way; but it does not challenge the essential materialist world view. [2] Conventional Threat. We intuitively understand that a material threat can be countered by a material response, as in the last scenes of the alien colonization movie when the heroic earth people blow up the invaders.

But what if the colonization takes place via something essentially non-physical, as in pure information?  That notion threatens the materialist worldview at its very core. There are now three powerful ideas in play that will upset the foundations of narrow materialism, and they are closely interrelated:

a)       Active information. This notion warrants more explanation than space allows, so here is the elevator version.  Information in its most comprehensive sense includes data, instructions and meaning, depending on its complexity.  Our lives seethe with it, carried electronically in the web and in our devices. Information is “carried” or “stored” via various physical media, like electrons, light waves, optical digital storage magnetic, media storage and so on.  Here’s the takeaway point: Information, as such, has neither mass nor energy.  Imagine different electronic or electromagnetic waveforms, each of which is carrying information – or not: one is carrying random garbage; one is carrying no information at all; and one is carrying truly meaningful information.  There will be no measurable mass/energy differences between them based on the message carried or lack thereof. Yet the information content of an input makes a huge difference in physical systems.  NOTE FOR FURTHER READING: Many physicists and philosophers are now beginning to notice that the creative processes in nature are utilizing active information.

b)      Latent information. The laws of physics and the form-order manifest in mathematics consist of information that is somehow stored in the universe without any discernible physical media.  The “rules” that governed the unfolding of the entire universe from the “singularity” to the present wonderful, expanding tapestry of stars, worlds and living, thinking creatures existed before the unfolding, as if the universe utilized infinite information storage in a point. {NOTE FOR FURTHER READING: The pre-Big Bang singularity and aspects of quantum physics hint that this could indeed be the case.}

c)      Integration of reality and information. The scientific enterprise, the monotheistic religions and the spiritual seekers of unity among us are working from the same playbook: It is the faith-assumption/insight that all reality is integrated, including our own reasoning selves, such that seemingly irreconcilable dualisms and seemingly arbitrary breaks in reality are always reconcilable in a larger context.  This is why, as Einstein mused, the most remarkable thing about the universe is that its workings are intelligible to the human mind (my paraphrase).  …And this is why Einstein and other scientist-philosophers have described their task as discerning “the mind of God”.  The professed atheism of some of these (Einstein was a deist in the tradition of Spinoza, not a true atheist) was directed at a specific class of ideas about God, the primitive notions of deity, a fearsome, arbitrary being, not just creative agency/presence, but a micromanager, controller.

Let me return to the colonization metaphor.  It is almost as if a lifeless, pitiless universe has been gradually colonized by life, employing a vast archive/repertoire of forms, design relationships and parameters: It began with the initial anthropic conditions, encoded in the universe’s physical laws; then the more life-favorable environments as star systems generated planets with water; then the reproducing systems emerge and take hold, followed by cells and whole organisms. Eventually, the patterns/plans/architectures of biological intelligence and even the forms and design features of working civilizations…all of these elements of the vast portfolio of creation were and remain poised to emerge whenever opportunities present themselves over the vase reaches of space-time.

But, if we accept the colonization metaphor as instructive, we are led to several obvious questions, among them: Colonized by what? …Or by whom? …And why?

The evidence of colonization presents the picture of a focused, but opportunistic force/tendency/enterprise, seeking beachheads when and where they present themselves.  To appreciate the explanatory power of the colonization insight, we need to examine more closely the operation of the creative processes that have brought humanity into being from a mere possibility in a cloud of exploding energy into thinking, feeling persons who are now able to ponder the “first questions”.

The creative processes in nature represent the appearance/emergence of novelty, often incremental and gradual, but sometimes more dramatically.  The designs that emerge are no different in functionality than the plans, designs, blueprints and algorithms that human inventors come up with. But a materialist like Richard Dawkins prefers that we call them ‘designoids’, since he has determined, a priori, that there is no designer.

These competing design-forms are sorted by seemingly hidden criteria, as if the environment were doing the heavy lifting.  But fitness to an immediate environmental challenge is not really sufficient to explain our existence.  Long after the fact, we can detect that particular early designs (thinking of, say, the cell and early precursors of DNA) were essential to further the continued advancement of life. …And do notice that the emergence of compassionate, creative intelligence also serves that goal.

The fine tuning of this universe for life’s emergence is a well-known problem for the materialist-naturalist school of Dawkins and others of like minds. These thinkers have advanced the claim that the wildly improbable combination of life friendly features of this universe is readily explainable because there are an infinite number of universes and we just happen to be in this one.  But this claim is unprovable. As the physicist, turned theologian, Dr. John Polkinghorne, has pointed out, the leap of faith against evidence to assume that there really are uncountable other universes is by far the longer stretch compared to the inference from evidence that this universe evidences an emergent purpose.

Of all the possible universes, ours is clearly one of a group (if there even is a group), or perhaps the only one, that was sufficiently prepared for the emergence of information-receptive, meaning-seeking beings.

The term teleology is used to describe a universe that has a purpose.  For obvious reasons the materialists reject teleology altogether. But what would a reasonable observer expect to happen when the distinct possibility of a particularly fecund emergent novelty (as in the first living creatures) is coupled to an immense reservoir of probability?  Think of a universe that squanders vast possibilities of variations over vast spans of space-time; think of this unfolding in a universe pre-equipped with fundamental conditions felicitous to life – referring to the  anthropic ‘wiring’ of this universe.  In such a scenario, a mere possibility becomes a virtual inevitability given enough billions of years.  And that is our scenario.  It is hard to ignore the implication: That the evidence points us to the conclusion that our emergence was in some sense destined. (FURTHER READING: The Fine Tuning of Physical Laws Favoring Life – The Anthropic Principle.)

Many scientists and philosophers have now concluded that the materialist/naturalist worldview is fatally incomplete; that all of the evidence cannot be satisfactorily explained unless there really is a non-material, non-physical aspect of reality in the mix. If that is the case, then who are we to assume that this expanded realm of the real does not hold meaning, beauty and goodness, as well as the sterile rules that regularize orbits and power stars?

It is time to revisit Plato’s forms, updated to include the very life-forms that sustain living, consciousness, the venue of meaning.  I propose that we recapture the ancient insight that the beautiful and elegant forms that appear in nature are not arbitrary accidents in a chaotic universe, but the instantiations of a deeper, form-aspect of reality that exists alongside the realm of flux, change, and apparent random chance. The very term emergence suggests a “coming out” of that which was obscure or hidden from our view; this is a description of the appearance of aspects of the ‘other’, non-mechanical level of reality, something very much like Plato’s realm of forms.

The universe is not dead, nor unconscious, nor uncaring; and this is the case because it is our birthplace, and because we are the region/sector/component of the universe that can apprehend meaning, and because our arrival was virtually inevitable.  To put it differently, we are the universe come awake. One might even describe us as the colonists of intelligent life who are awakening to our role.

If we are the colonists of awareness, meaning, compassion, beauty and accelerated creativity, who or what might be the Colonist?  For my part, after decades of careful reflection, certain inferences are inescapable:

I.            Do we represent the emergence of early versions of the Master Archetype, the design template who is the Designer?

II.            Are we the children of the Deity who cannot be named, whose fecund seeds are scattered across all the possible realities, including those that are unreceptive (the hard, infertile spaces) and the others like our (possibly unique) universe that has the nurturing early conditions?

III.            If we were sent to this universe to fill it with intelligent, caring life, is that not a compelling basis to revisit the foundational questions of morality?

My answers, based on reflection and personal experience are yes, yes and yes.

So to my overly skeptical friends, I pose this question: What if it’s not all just “made up?” What if our grandparents were more right than wrong? Of course, that is up to you and your conscience.

Deism is the idea of G-d[1] as the originating force/cause/agency, the creator-designer, who thereafter remains out of the causal picture.  In our working metaphor, this is the Colonist in Chief who is now out of touch.

Theism is the apprehension of G-d as creator, as engaged in ongoing creativity; as present always in spirit; and as mysteriously and subtly engaged in every moment of our lives. The “why?” question is partially answered – we are partial, flawed, but beloved instantiations of G-d as Parent.

Fair disclosure: I am a theist as a result of experience and introspection.

Which, if any, of these reality models best fits your worldview?  That is left to you, to your experience and introspection.


More ▼



Active Information

One of my favorite sources is the physicist, turned Anglican priest, the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, who wrote, “As embodied beings, humans may be expected to act both energetically and informationally.  As pure Spirit, God might be expected to act solely through information input.  One could summarize the novel aspect of this proposal by saying that it advocates the idea of a top down causality through “active information.” Belief in God in an Age of Science, Does God Act in the Physical World? – John Polkinghorne (Yale 1998) at p 63. A winner of the Templeton Prize for theology, Dr. Polkinghorne has written scores of books and essays, most of which are still in print. As one reviewer put it, “If C S Lewis had a doctorate in physics, this is how he would write about God.”

[See also – “Active Information in Physics” Warwick University, Coventry CV4 7AL, by Pickering at this LINK: .]


Latent Information

“The Omega Point Theory by Tulane University professor of physics and mathematics Frank J. Tipler is what he maintains is a proof of God’s  existence according to the known laws of physics. The theory is an integral part of the Feynman –Weinberg–DeWitt quantum gravity/Standard Model  Theory of Everything (TOE) which Tipler also holds is required by the known physical laws.

“The Omega Point is a term used by Tipler to designate the final cosmological singularity, which he contends is a physically-necessary cosmological state in the far future of the universe.

“According to his Omega Point Theory, as the universe comes to an end at this singularity in a particular form of the Big Crunch, the computational capacity of the universe (in terms of both its processor speed and memory storage) increases unlimitedly with a hyperbolic growth rate as the radius of the universe goes to zero, allowing an infinite  number of bits to be processed and stored before the end of spacetime. Via this supertask, a simulation run on this universal computer can thereby continue forever in its own terms (i.e., in “experiential time”), even though the universe lasts only a finite amount of proper time.

“Tipler states that the known laws of physics require there be intelligent civilizations in existence at the appropriate time in order to force the collapse of the universe and then manipulate its collapse so that the computational capacity of the universe can diverge to infinity. Due to the increasing temperature of the universe during the collapse phase (wherein the temperature diverges to infinity), Tipler says that life will have to transfer its information processes to higher energy states, eventually using elementary particles to directly compute on via traveling waves  and standing waves.” LINK:


The Anthropic Principle

The minute alteration of any one of a score of physical laws, many of which are not obviously required by logic to be the way they are, would have made the evolution of life impossible. See Michael J Denton, “Nature’s Destiny”,1998 Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-684-84509-1. …And John D. Barrow and Frank J Tipler, “The Anthropic Cosmological Principle” 1988 (1st Ed 1986) Oxford U. Press ISBN 0-19-282147-4 (paperback)


The Unity Principle

The seminal book was by the physicist, David Bohm, “Wholeness And  The Implicate Order, 1980 Routledge ISBN 0-7448-0000-5. But I believe the most important contribution was made by a somewhat obscure British scientist, who consulted with Albert Einstein on unified field theory, Lancelot Law Whyte. He who proposed the “Unitary Principle” as a universal, applying to science and everything else.  Whyte’s works, now out of print, are all available on Google Books.  Among them, the three most interesting are “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 (hard); and “The Unitary Principle in Physics and Biology” LINK – .

In the major world religious traditions, the commitment to metaphysical unity, a feature of monotheism, is also described as monism. [See the Wiki article at –]

Unity is a core value of Sufi metaphysics. [See] And of Hinduism – “At the metaphysical level is absolute unity; everyone is nothing but Brahman. Consequently, there is no notion of the other in Hinduism. This leaves no place for hostility towards anyone.”  Ashok Vohra, Department of Philosophy, University of New Delhi. [See]

The quest for and belief in unity is the a priori commitment that drives the scientific enterprise. See the article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at] Also see the article by William Bechtel and Andrew Hamilton of the University of California, San Diego at –


First published on The Policy Think Site <> and the linked Blogs

The author is a California Attorney, writer, consultant and lay theologian.

Copyright © 2013 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law // Contact:

[1] The vowel ‘o’ is dropped in deference to the Jewish and other traditions that resist fully naming deity, on several grounds, chief among them that a name imposes an implied limitation. See the author’s essay at –

Leave a Reply