ANIL MITRA, © November 2014
The idea of a worldview begins with the thought that it is a view of the universe as a whole and of the place of its various forms in it. The ‘place’ of these forms includes questions of origins, of their relations to one another and to the whole—i.e. to the universe.
The forms include what we call physical as well as the living and sentient; the universe is itself a form and by the term universe I understand ‘all being’ rather than particular kinds such as the material or the living or the sentient.
The term being will refer in this book to all that exists over all extensionality (e.g. spatial and temporal extension that we can call extension and duration, respectively).
Our modern version of naturalism begins with our sciences of nature—i.e., sciences of the physical, the living, and the sentient. These sciences are generally expressed in theories constructed to explain our experience.
A variety of attitudes toward the natural sciences is possible. Some people reject them uncritically. However, the interesting range of attitudes concerns the questions of whether they are complete with regard to what they purport to describe (nature consisting of the physical, the living, and the sentient) and whether nature itself constitutes the entirety of being. These questions contain subtleties, especially (a) even if present conceptions of the natural kinds are inadequate to cover all being it does not mean that future conceptions will not and (b) whether the extent of the universe just that of the known cosmos or is the known cosmos simply the extent of what we know.
Modern naturalism is the view that the natural kinds are adequate to describe all being. However, even naturalism is open to the question of the extent of the cosmos. There are however more than a few scientists who seem to hold that the natural and empirical cosmos is the universe. And for many people, scientists and others, this is the default and tacit if not entirely strict view.
While the concept of naturalism is rather recent in human history and is significantly the result of the successes of the sciences, I imagine that even in past ages there must have been individuals, even those living in religious communities, for whom it was tangible and so natural experience that counted as what was most essential in their experiential world. However, as a more or less explicit view and as common default view among scientists and non-scientists alike, naturalism became ascendant—as one view—only in the twentieth century.
Is the extent of the cosmos just what is revealed in the big bang cosmology? For some, it is. But there are sources of naturalistic doubt regarding this conclusion. There is the question of what came before the big bang and the perhaps related question of what lies outside the edge of the observed cosmos. Some might argue that what came before is not relevant because any information from ‘before’ must have been destroyed in the initial singularity; and that what lies outside is irrelevant because it can have no effect on us on account of the limit of the speed of light (this does not limit future effects)? But what was the initial singularity a true one—its necessity is a consequence of laws of physics that might have been inadequate at the immense matter densities of a near singularity and that might not have held at all. Some physicists argue for bubble cosmoses outside ours as an approach to explaining what is not explained by our laws and empirical knowledge; and as to interaction with these cosmoses, in considering the larger system its formation should well reflect origin of the laws themselves and therefore non universality of such things as the ‘speed of light’. And what is the significance of the many worlds interpretation of quantum theory? Are these artifacts of explanation of the problem of measurement in quantum theory and if so why should measurement be special over all other kinds of interaction? And if the many worlds are real, what is their significance? Are they quantum worlds or a vestige of a more general system that reduces to the quantum under certain conditions?
Even if we accept naturalism as a theory, it leaves open the extent of the universe and its variety outside our cosmos.
But if we accept naturalism only as pragmatic—and we do not have strict grounds for more than this, then it leaves open the very nature of the immediate cosmos itself.
But to propose naturalism as theory is mysticism on the grounds of naturalism itself: to reject the supra-natural is just as mystical as it is to propose specific supra-natural existence.
A common naturalistic explanation of sprit worlds is that they give comfort. However, that an idea is comforting is not disproof. Further, the history of conceptions of spirit reveals that many such concepts are far from comforting.
Is there more to the world than revealed under naturalism? Properly understood, naturalism and reason together have no answer to this question. They do not have even a probabilistic answer to it for it for on standard non-mystical naturalism there is no estimating the size of the probability space outside the natural.
There is another naturalistic explanation of the spirit. It is that a true myth is one that leads to a higher good in human behavior. Under this interpretation, it is not a specific religious belief that counts as the true myth but the form of the belief.
However, the question whether such true myths have ‘literal content’ remains open. Precisely what is this question? It is whether there are ‘higher’ forms of existence—ones that are neither established nor disproved under naturalism (so far and regarding this, disproof under naturalism is impossible whereas proof remains possible under some future understanding of naturalism that is an improvement on naturalism so far).
There is an extensive history / anthropology of human intuition of the spirit from hunter-gatherer to the modern religions that had roots in what is called the axial age: the ideas that are accorded to individuals such as Confucius, Lao-Tzu; Buddha, Mahavira, and the writers of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Vedanta; Zoroaster; the Hebrew, Christian, Islamic, and Sikh prophets. I believe that the new axial religions are in some ways retrogressive but that their forms contain better intuitions of the spirit. That is the truth of their mythical forms contains improved intuitions of the spirit. I am not arguing that the axial religions are better than the myths of earlier cultures; and I am not arguing here that mythic truth is or is not truth of existence. However, as said above, it is impossible to show that mythic truth of form is not truth of existence while it may be revealed later that the truth of the former is a truth of existence ((and this would be most likely an improved naturalism rather than an anti-naturalism or a-naturalism).
What are some of these intuitions of spirit? Are there higher all powerful beings or gods—though not impossible, this seems counter to reasonable naturalism. Does the universe go through phases of great articulation and even awareness and do individuals participate in this? The best naturalism—the pragmatic one—does not suggest element of Vedantic thought but it does not seem inconsistent with it. But perhaps we are being too specific with our choice of spirit ideas. What is the most general and reasonable form of spirit idea?
It is that if naturalism is simultaneously a description of a phase of the real and a limit on the possible, then the greatest world—natural andor supra-natural—is the world of possibility (i.e. a world in which the only unrealized ideas are those that are impossible because they violate realism—either fact or logic). Under such an enhanced naturalism our cosmos would, in the present cosmic era, present substantially as it is but parallel to it and outside it there would be no limit on worlds and beings (except that there would be the constraint of realism on understanding).
Is the actual universe this universe of possibility? If it is, then it is far greater than the modern naturalist-empirical cosmos. I give brief proof below and leave more complete resolution to later in the narrative.
However, it has become clear that such a universe would be far greater than is conceived either in the secular-naturalist accounts or the trans-secular naturalist-cum-supra-naturalist accounts (but, truly, would be a revised and immensely enhanced naturalism rather than a supra-naturalism; it would be so enhanced that the difference in degree would constitute a difference in kind; but, if we were able to demonstrate it, it would still deserve to be described as a naturalism).
The cosmology of a possibilist universe would be one in which (a) the universe has being and identity in acute, diffuse, and non-manifest phases (b) the extension, duration, identity, peaks, and variety of these phases would have no limit (the constraint of realism would apply to understanding); particularly there would be cosmoses without limit to form or number, all against a void and transient background (which might be a repository of spirit and of communication across the phases) (c) the individual inherits the power—has the phases of being—of the universe (different individuals would inherit this being without contradiction for, in doing so, they would coalesce as one), (d) while this being of the universe and individual are given, they are enhanced in their lower phases by incremental process through relatively stable, mutually adapted, near symmetric forms which would in turn be enhanced and enjoyed in its higher forms by commitment and intelligence applied at both lower (what we now call natural) and higher (what we would perhaps today call supra-natural but which is, truly, natural) levels by a combination of the new understanding of the possibilist universe and tradition, (e) while enjoyment and efficiency would be enhanced, pain (suffering) would but would be given amelioration and significance in relation to the good revealed, (f) from tradition and the new understanding regarding the possibilist universe, it is possible and effective to develop a program of realization, and (g) from these ideas an effective program—and template for its phases—has been tailored and is presented in the narrative.
The reader may note some similarity in the detail above to the Noble Truths of Buddhism.
I will report on and improve this program as I execute it. This entire development may be adapted by others in their own endeavors.
A relatively formal development of the possibilist cosmology (and metaphysics) is desirable because it is this that gives us its truly greatest understanding as both knowledge and instrument. However it will be useful to here provide a very brief proof. The advantages of the proof below are (a) it exhibits the form of the proof and (b) it is accessible without significant formal preliminary and parallel developments.
Brief proof of the possibilist cosmology. All natural laws pertain to the manifest universe: in the void—defined as the absence of being or, more precisely, as the null domain or object—there are no laws and therefore there are no limits of being (all realistic forms are realized) to the void or, consequently, to the universe. More simply, the universe has no natural limits because the void has no natural laws and therefore no natural limits.
Modal logic was originally conceived as the logic of modal or qualified truth—i.e. of possible and necessary truth and is thus alethic or existential (rather than, say, an ethical modality) in nature. Today’s modal logic has gone beyond that (AiML: Advances in Modal Logic).
However, modal realism is the position that all possible worlds exist (the idea of a possible world seems to have originated with Leibniz in analyzing the concepts of necessity and possibility; and modal realism is a view put forward by David Kellog Lewis that all possible worlds are as real as the actual world). Thus Kellog is perhaps not saying that all these other worlds exist. But he argues that they are as real as sets. Thus he seems to be saying that at least as abstract objects they exist. However, my views above have been the basis of a theory of abstract objects that sees those objects necessarily of abstracts of more concrete things in the universe: abstract objects are real and exist.
Except that it is not proved in the literature, modal realism is similar to the ‘realization of possibility’ above.
It seems possible that there are isolated worlds. However, the fact of their limitation also seems to be a violation of possibility. Therefore the issue is not problem-free. The problem also applies to the formulation above except when stated in the form that the universe is the realization of possibility.
Given our world, an annihilator cosmos is possible. This is not a paradox but it suggests further analysis is needed.
The most common alethic (sub) modalities are physical, logical, and metaphysical. A state is logically possible if its description entails no violation of logic. A state that violates no physical law is physically possible.
Another kind of possibility is metaphysical: for example it may be the case that a thinking being must have a body and experience passage of time without regard to physical law. But this is not clear. If thought requires form then perhaps the possession of form is bodily and if passage of time is part of the constitution of thought then the connection between thinking and passage of time is logical. In an unusual physics, however, the bodily requirement could be infinitesimal and the ‘passage of time’ infinitesimally close to instantaneous.
The point to these thoughts is to connect with the wider literature and, importantly, to show that there are issues with the very meaning of my assertion that ‘the universe is the realization of possibility’. This question of meaning continues to allow that, whatever the meaning, the implication for reality is that it is much greater than naturalism or common spiritualism but there are questions, probably deep ones, at least at the edges of how much greater and how greater and of the relations among logical, metaphysical, and physical (and perhaps other) possibility.