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Registered: Dec 2003
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Physics and the Perennial Philosophy, part 1

There are two kinds of truth. The common kind of truth is temporary, changing, imperfect, uncertain, and relative.

Then there is an uncommon kind of truth, which is the subject of The Perennial Philosophy:

"The Traditionalist School was founded in its current form by the French metaphysician René Guénon, although its precepts are considered to be timeless and to be found in all authentic traditions. It is also known as Perennialism, the Perennial Philosophy, or Sophia Perennis, and as a philosophy it is known by Aristasians as Essentialism. The term Philosophia Perennis goes back to the Renaissance, while the Hindu expression Sanatana Dharma - Eternal Doctrine - has precisely the same signification."

The book The Perennial Philosophy: An Anthology of Eastern and Western Mysticism by Aldous Huxley is one of many works that chronicles in great detail the various cultural expressions of the Eternal Truth underlying Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and most other religions and philosophies throughout human history.

But I am not Hindu, Taoist, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. Nor are many of my peers. We live in a modern, secular, scientific, technological world, and we are modern, secular, scientific, technological people. We don't entertain the notion of "Divine Truths" with any more sincerity than the reality of fairies and hobbits.

This raises the question:

Will the Eternal Truths of the Perennial Philosophy, which have occurred over and over again throughout history, skip a culture with strong scientific values?

The Perennial Philosophy has occurred to me, as the result of contemplations on physics. So I know, from first hand experience, that science is entirely capable of producing the Perennial Philosophy.

I also know, from first hand experience, that these strange accounts of my experience aren't going to convince my contemporaries with strong scientific values. And I know, again from first hand experience, that going through a radical change in worldview doesn't happen because you were convinced by someone's words, but instead as the result of a difficult and personal journey.

So while it is my intention to introduce you to the scientific mask of the Perennial Philosophy, a full view of the face behind cannot be provided here.

With that said, Huxley provides one of the most clear and concise descriptions of Perennial Philosophy:

"In other words, there is a hierarchy of the real. The manifold world of our everyday experience is real with a relative reality that is, on its own level, unquestionable; but this relative reality has its being within and because of the absolute Reality, which, on account of the incommensurable otherness of its eternal nature, we can never hope to describe, even though it is possible for us to directly apprehend it."

Here he distinguishes relative reality, physical nature commonly understood and experienced, from a more fundamental, absolute Reality, much the same way this essay begins by distinguishing relative truth from absolute truth.

In providing the foundation for all of physics, Sir Isaac Newton wrote about the same distinction of the relative and absolute realities:

... it will be convenient to distinguish [time and space] into absolute and relative, true and apparent, mathematical and common.

I. Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external, and by another name is called duration:

relative, apparent, and common time, is some sensible and external (whether accurate or unequable) measure of duration by the means of motion, which is commonly used instead of true time; such as an hour, a day, a month, a year.

II. Absolute space, in its own nature, without relation to anything external, remains always similar and immovable.

Relative space is some movable dimension or measure of the absolute spaces; which our senses determine by its position to bodies; and which is commonly taken for immovable space; such is the dimension of a subterraneous, an aerial, or celestial space, determined by its position in respect of the earth."

While it is well known that Einstein's contribution to physics modifies the mathematics put forward by Newton and others that preceeded him, his general view of space and time are in agreement with Newton's and thus the Perennial Philosophy.

For example, his definition of time, from Relativity chapter 8:

"Under these conditions we understand by the 'time' of an event the reading (position of the hands) of that one of these clocks which is in the immediate vicinity (in space) of the event"

Here time is defined in the terms of the moving hands of a clock, which is nearly exactly Newton's definition of relative time:

"Relative, apparent, and common time, is some sensible and external (whether accurate or unequable) measure of duration by the means of motion"

On the question of absolute time, Einstein acknowledged that it isn't observed, but made the point that his theories aren't founded solely on what we observe.

"But you don't seriously believe," Einstein protested, "that none but observable magnitudes must go into a physical theory?"

"Isn't that precisely what you have done with relativity?" I asked in some surprise. "After all, you did stress the fact that it is impermissible to speak of absolute time, simply because absolute time cannot be observed; that only clock readings, be it in the moving reference system or the system at rest, are relevant to the determination of time."

"Possibly I did use this kind of reasoning," Einstein admitted, "but it is nonsense all the same. Perhaps I could put it more diplomatically by saying that it may be heuristically useful to keep in mind what one has actually observed. But on principle, it is quite wrong to try founding a theory on observable magnitudes alone. In reality, the very opposite happens. It is the theory which decides what we can observe."

It seems the greatest physicists in history, Newton and Einstein, were Perennialists of some kind. But the vast majority of contemporary scientists are not, because of their strong scientific values, particularly the position that the metaphysics and philosophy behind a mathematical theory is largely irrelevant compared to the mathematical hypothesis itself and the observations that support or deny it.

In that case, the specific relation of Newton's and Einstein's respective mathematics to the Perennial Philosophy should be examined. Newton, from his definitions of space and time, clearly suggested that the absolute is the mathematics, and with a little imagination, we can see how the rest falls into place. Einstein took a different route by explicitly noting that his mathematics are not representative of absolute space and time, but instead relative space and time. With a little imagination, it is possible to see how his mathematics fits into the Perennial Philosophy like a puzzle piece. In both the case of Newton and Einstein, the mathematics represents just a piece of the Perennial Philosophy, a single reality rather than "a hierarchy of the real".

In light of that, it is easy to understand why contemporary physicists are focused on a single reality, and find it difficult to conceptualize a hierarchy like the Perennial Philosophy, resisting such strange ideas with their strong scientific values. It is also easy, from my perspective, to understand what must be done before their focus can adjust from a single nature of space and time to something a little more sophisticated.

What is needed is a new mathematical hypothesis that explicitly represents the hierarchy of the real in the Perennial Philosophy.

In addition to Newton and Einstein's mathematics, there is a third possible framework for creating a mathematical hypothesis which is, un-coincidentally, exactly what is needed, an explicit representation of a hierarchy of the real. This is no coincidence because the third framework was put forward by Newton's contemporary, Gottfried Leibniz, the man often credited for coining the term "Philosophia Perennis".

Leibniz's framework, called Monadology, has never been successfully converted into a mathematical hypothesis primarily because it is far too complex, in the sense that complexity on the order desired requires far too much information than poor 18th Century mathematicians could manage without something like a computer. Un-coincidentally, Leibniz is also credited with laying the foundations for computing.

Now that computing is upon us, so is the time to re-examine Leibniz's work.

Fortunately, while not widely known nor acknowledged, Leibniz's work has not been completely ignored since his time. (As Chaitin points out, nobody actually learns about Leibniz's work and understands it. Instead, over and over again, someone comes up with a fantastic revolutionary idea on their own, only to discover Leibniz had anticipated them long before.) The primary Leibnizian figure after Leibniz is most likely Whitehead, whose "Organic Realism", now known as "Process Philosophy" has many themes in common with Monadology.

Though difficult to crack, in a nutshell Monadology says that the Universe is made of "monads", which are not ordinary physical atoms of matter, but instead metaphysical absolutes. These monads are simple substances that arrange into compounds, compounds that eventually reach the order of complexity as being capable of making observations of themselves. Physical reality (relative space and time and matter) emerges from that system in the form of the measurements made by the observer, for example the information encoded in a neural network connected to sense organs.

This was stated by Leibniz almost 300 hundred years ago, but using the language and lexicon of his day, which make its less accessible to us. Fortunately, this same notion is blossoming in our modern epoch, at the leading edge of various fields from physics to biology:

"Just as Einstein banished the ether as a medium for electromagnetism we must now complete his work by banishing space-time as a medium for string theory. The result will be a model in which space-time is recovered as a result of the relationship between interacting strings. It will be the first step towards a reconciliation of physics and philosophy. Perhaps it will be quickly followed by a change of view, to a point from where all of our universe can be seen as a consequence of our possible experiences just as the old philosophers wanted us to see it. What other ways will we have to modify our understanding to accommodate such a theory? Not all can be foreseen. "
Phil Gibbs

"Physical reality begins and ends with the animal observer."
Lanza, R. (2007) "A New Theory of the Universe", Spring 2007 The American Scholar

While I feel I've established that there is a tradition of the Perennial Philosophy throughout the history of physics, including in the present day, thus far I've only discussed metaphysics and history by appealing to the great authorities on the subject, rather than documenting my original scientific research.

My original scientific research will be the focus of Part 2.

Information Science, Neuroscience, Quantum Mechanics, and Leibniz

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David Brown

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T. S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley, and Stephen Wolfram

T.S. Eliot's, Aldous Huxley's, and Stephen Wolfram's insights all united together might form an extremely valuable philosophy.
You are the music while the music lasts. - T.S. Eliot
After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. - Aldous Huxley
According to Wolfram's Principle of Computational Equivalence, human music is computationally equivalent to a gentle shower, a thunderstorm, or any other form of weather.
Both Eliot and Huxley appreciated the element of truth in the following observation:
Take away God and religion, and men live to no purpose, without proposing any worthy end of life to themselves. - John Tillotson
However, Eliot and Huxley might have differed substantially on another of Tillotson's observations: Our belief or disbelief of a thing does not alter the nature of the thing.
In an attempted placebo cure, does belief or belief profoundly alter the nature of the placebo effect?
Consider some of Eliot's ideas:
(1) Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.
(2) Business today consists in persuading crowds.
(3) Art never improves, but ... the material of art is never quite the same.
(4) All significant truths are private truths. As they become public they cease to become truths; they become facts, or, at best, part of the public character; or at worst, catchwords.
(5) If you are not in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?
(6) Let's not be narrow, nasty, and negative.
(7) Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
(8) We know too much and are convinced of too little. Our literature is a substitute for religion, and so is our religion.
(9) Where is all the knowledge we lost with information?
Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
(10) Where there is no temple there shall be no homes.
Consider some of Huxley's ideas:
(1) An unexciting truth may be eclipsed by a thrilling lie.
(2) Beauty is worse than wine, it intoxicates both the holder and the beholder.
(3) Children are remarkable for their for their intelligence and ardor, for their curiosity, their intolerance of shams, the clarity and ruthlessness of their vision.
(4) Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead.
(5) Dream in a pragmatic way.
(6) Everyone who wants to do good to the human race always end in bullying.
(7) Experience teaches only the teachable.
(8) Hell isn't merely paved with good intentions; it's walled and roofed with them. Yes, and furnished too.
(9) Man is an intelligence in servitude to his organs.
(10) Maybe this world is another planet's hell.
(11) Orthodoxy is the diehard of the world of thought. It learns not, neither can it forget.
(12) Proverbs are always platitudes until you have experienced the truth of them.
(13) That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.
(14) There's only one effectively redemptive sacrifice, the sacrifice of self-will to make room for the knowledge of God.
(15) To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs.
(16) To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.
(17) We are all geniuses up to the age of ten.
(18) Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.
Can Wolfram's Principle of Computational Equivalence somehow unify insights about cellular automata with the philosophies of Eliot and Huxley?
According to Theodore Geisel, "Adults are obsolete children." Shall future generations realize that the multiverse is a Fredkin-Wolfram information process that computes M-theory?

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