Stefan Hlatky and Philip BoothThis chapter consists of four dialogues. This page contains Dialogue 1.
Please use the following links to view the other dialogues:
Dialogue 1: Existence, activity and the original cause
The Being and consciousness
Philip: The first chapter, 'Understanding reality: a basic human need', is my attempt to summarize your views. In later chapters we have other articles written by you, in which you present your ideas more fully. Where do you think we should start with these dialogues*?
Stefan: I think we should start with the concepts of 'the Being' and 'consciousness'. These are the two most difficult concepts to understand, and they lead to the most confusion.
P: They are used differently by different traditions, aren't they? Could you define how you use them?
S: By 'the Being' I mean the original, non-created, unitary, unchangeable, concrete and conscious reality that I hypothesize as being behind the changeable reality that we experience. The changeable reality I view as 'creation', since I view it as created by the power of the whole non-created, conscious Being - which I call 'God'.
P: Sometimes you use the term 'relative Being' to refer to creation.
S: Yes, in which case the non-created Being is 'the original Being', or 'the absolute Being'.
P: And your definition of consciousness?
S: 'Consciousness' I view as the absolute quality* of the original Being, and the only quality that we - whom I view as original parts of the Being - can experience. Consciousness is primarily the ability to experience, interpreted as an ability in itself, independent of that which we experience. It is also, but secondarily, the ability to act purposefully in response to what we experience - which requires a body to act with, and, for the original parts who act in creation with a created body, also memory of earlier experiences and thinking.
P: We will need to come back to your idea of consciousness, which is radically different from the modern idea of consciousness...
S: Yes, the modern idea is linked to the secondary ability of consciousness, the ability to act on the basis of memory-based thinking.
P: ...but for the moment I would like to understand your idea of the Being. I know that in your conversations over the years, you have found your concept of it a difficult one for people to grasp. Why do you think that is?
S: I think it is because historically - that is, in the theological traditions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and in the pantheistic and pantheistic-like traditions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism - concepts of the Being have usually been based on our experience in creation, rather than on philosophical reflection* on that experience. Confusion has arisen from the fact that we can have two mutually exclusive experiences of creation: the everyday experience and the so-called transcendental, or, as it is also called, the mystical, experience, which is available through the turning of our awareness within. The confusion has been caused by the fact that the transcendental experience has been interpreted by every tradition, not as experience of another level of creation, but as experience of the non-created, original Being. This 'original Being' has then been interpreted as the cause of 'creation' - with 'creation', in this view, restricted solely to what we experience in our everyday experience of life.
Because in the transcendental experience there is no experience of solid objects, as there is in our everyday experience, this original Being was considered to be 'abstract'. The everyday experience - 'creation' in their view - was considered by contrast to be 'concrete'.
P: Whereas in your view the whole original Being is concrete, and is the cause of the whole creation, both of what can be experienced transcendentally and of our everyday experience?
S: Yes. Their 'original Being' - what I think of simply as what constitutes the transcendental experience of creation - is, seen mechanically, only the created precondition for our everyday experience of creation, in my view. The original Being, as I construe it, is both the conscious - that is, the purposeful - and the mechanical cause of the whole creation - that is, of the reality that it is possible to experience either transcendentally or in an everyday way. In contrast, it must be impossible to have an experience in creation of both the original reality - the Being - and the created reality - creation - mixed together at the same time. Creation has to substitute for its cause.
P: So this question of whether the original Being is concrete or abstract is a central one.
S: One of the most central, because there is a lot of confusion with the words 'concrete' and 'abstract', both in philosophy - which has to do with the question of the whole reality's identity* - and in psychology - which has to do with the question of the human being's identity. Everyday experience of creation is generally regarded as based on matter, and matter is generally interpreted as something 'concrete' - in spite of the fact that it is changeable, and so can't fundamentally be concrete. This so-called 'concrete', 'existent' matter is then seen as expressing innumerable activities, which are interpreted as qualities or properties of different forms of matter, such as light, sound, copper, and so on, or even life - whereas in fact these are, along with all forms of matter, different forms of activity that exist only in creation. And this visible and tangible matter is regarded as being experienced in different densities, on a continuum from solid, to liquid, to gaseous, with it finally being imagined as 'abstract'. This last - 'abstract' - is generally used to describe a quality or property that we imagine neither as an activity nor as the quality of something concrete, but rather as an existent thing in itself, though an existent thing that we can't experience with our senses. In philosophy and psychology, 'spirit' and 'soul' are the most important examples of what are generally considered to be such 'abstract' existent things.
P: So, in contrast to your view, theories of the Being have usually seen the Being as 'abstract', based on this interpretation of the two experiences it is possible to have of creation: the everyday and the transcendental?
S: Yes, with only one exception, and that relates to the other typically human way of investigating the background of creation.
I am referring to the investigation that even children undertake, based on the dissection of every tangible part of creation. In contrast to mystical or transcendental or spiritual science, it is called matter-based science - or simply science - because it is a straightforward extension of the knowledge or science that everybody has, based on light and on tangible matter. This tangible matter is experienced and interpreted as the opposite of the intangible, 'the intangible' being the absence of resistance, the 'experience' of which gives rise to the feeling of emptiness. In relation to the total visible manifold*, this boundless emptiness is spontaneously interpreted via language as an 'abstract', existent whole, an endless, empty space.
P: What is your interpretation of this 'empty space'?
S: The impression of empty space is necessary because the distanceless, coherent, continuous original reality can't be present in our experience at the same time as the distance-based perspective on creation. It is the same practical problem we have in being unable to sleep, dream, meditate and be present in our daily activities all at the same time. If the necessity for the impression of empty space is not philosophically understood this way, but instead is interpreted in a spontaneous, unconsidered way, then the final aim of the external investigation of creation - by which I mean going behind the surface of creation by dissecting things, rather than by meditation - becomes to find the original cause of all changeability in a definitively resistant part behind all the destructible parts.
This was the aim before Democritus, and not only after him. All that Democritus did was to give a name to such indestructible parts - atoms - and to create the first known philosophical tradition based on the idea of mechanical necessity. This was expressed in his theory by a combination of invisible atoms, invisible empty space and an original cosmic whirl, which were seen as the mechanical origin of all movement. The practical problem before the invention of the microscope and telescope was that this matter-based investigation, which had been realized since time immemorial, couldn't verify the spontaneous, general belief in non-created, indestructible, concrete parts, because it ran up against the natural limits of the senses.
It has been easy, therefore - also since time immemorial - to move the philosophical question of the original cause from the tradition of 'concrete', matter-based science to one of the other contradictory, disunited traditions based on the impression of an intangible, non-concrete reality only visible to a mystical inner sight. This other reality can't be compared with what matter-based science investigates. As I've said, it was interpreted as the original background to the whole creation - but in different, incompatible ways. Theology, for example, introduced the idea of a non-created, original reality – which they called Heaven – but seeing God as a part, a participant, a perfect outsider in it. And pantheism operated without the idea of a non-created reality, considering there to be only developable parts, developable outsiders.
P: You mentioned the invention of the microscope and telescope. Are you saying that the question of the original cause was moved from these other traditions back to our matter-based science after the invention of these means for expanding the natural limits of the senses of sight and touch?
S: Yes, that's what I mean. The start of modern thinking is generally related to Copernicus. But he only corrected an old mistake made by Ptolemy. The first attempt to move back to our everyday experience was made by the Greek philosophers, but they couldn't free themselves from the other traditions. Since the beginning of the seventeenth century, everybody has been engaged in the expansion of these two senses - sight and touch - and in the development of a new technology based on this expansion. The philosophical problem nowadays is that the spontaneous, original aim of discovering Democritus' atoms has been changed to the theory of energy and quanta, mathematically formulated as an ambivalent relation between matter and movement - in place of matter and empty space, and without Democritus' hypothesis of a cosmic whirl.
P: Do you mean that the theory of quanta and energy is a reversion to pantheism?
S: Yes, the idea that everything is in flux. But pantheism is founded on the transcendental experience of creation - rather than, as in external science, on the experience of the sense-impression of empty space and matter. Pantheism sees the transcendental experience as an 'abstract', intangible original of the tangible, 'concrete' matter that constitutes our everyday experience of creation. And it interprets it as a non-created, 'abstract', but existent, potency that is active out of itself - similar to Einstein's 'energy' - and as the original Being - similar to the way scientists started seeing energy as indestructible from about 1840 onwards, when Mayer defined the first principle of thermodynamics. In contrast to Einstein's energy, however, pantheism's original Being, its original endless flow, is ruled not only by impersonal mechanical laws, but also by some of its developable parts. These developable parts, these gods in the making, are governed by the impersonal mechanical laws and, in relation to each other, also by ethical laws.
Science introduced the idea of the Big Bang as the origin of space, matter and time, instead of Democritus' whirl, which was in relation to existent space, matter and time.
P: Whereas your interpretation of the so-called original, 'abstract' reality...?
S: In my view, everything in creation is activity. That means that the whole creation - as it is experienced both concretely and transcendentally - with its constructive and destructive changeability, is abstract: it can't exist in itself, without something that is active, that is, without something that expresses the movement that creation is.
P: So your view is radically different from all three views: the pantheistic, the monotheistic and that of modern science?
S: Yes. In my view, it is the original Being, and not creation, that is concrete. The original Being is existence: it is existent, in the sense of unchangeable. It doesn't even change as a result of its activity, creation. This is in contrast to activity, which is changeable and which does not in itself have an existence, that is, it does not exist in the sense of 'exist unchangeably'.
In my view, the word 'abstract' should be understood as referring only to activity - that which is going on, and which gives rise to our idea of changeability, temporariness and time. So creation, the relative Being, is in my terms abstract, because it is only activity - whether we are talking about our everyday experience of it or the transcendental experience of it. There is nothing truly concrete in it. Nothing in it has in itself a concrete, unchangeable background, nothing remains recognizably the same, everything changes all the time.
Activity can't be separated from the concrete, from existence. It should, therefore, always be seen as relative to, that is, as caused by, something concrete, something unchangeable, something absolute. The original reality can't change, develop, be more or less, produce or reproduce itself, become something else over time - otherwise we would not be able to have a basis, a start, for our understanding.
P: So where does the idea of the Being come from?
S: Like all language-based human ideas, it comes to us through language. It's up to us whether we use such ideas or not, or how we use them. So the phrase 'the Being' was either used or not used by people responsible for tradition. In German now, for example, 'das Sein' is used more, and is therefore more familiar, than 'the Being' in English. And the term can be used in different ways. It means 'that which exists', 'what is'. But even then, it can be used to refer to both objects and activities that 'exist' within creation as a meaningful* illusion for our senses.
P: The illusion being that objects appear permanent?
S: Yes... the impression which objects, bodies, existent things give that they are objects, bodies, existent things. That is the illusion - the impression they give of being permanent, non-active, still, showing the opposite of movement, the opposite of activity. That is the illusion - because creation is activity, creation is in flux.
P: Which brings us back to the distinction between concrete existence and abstract activity again - which I know is an important distinction for you.
S: Yes, it's quite crucial. In my interpretation, I distinguish existence - an existent object or matter or mass - from its ongoing activity. It is important, however, to understand philosophically the relationship between existence and activity or movement. It is an axiom, it is self-evident, that activity can't exist by itself, but only as the activity of something existent. But because activity can begin, can exist for perception as long as it goes on, and can end, but is not tangible in itself, activity is relative to, is caused by existence. In contrast, existence can never be relative to, can never be caused by activity. So activity is all that can ever be created. In other words, something existent cannot arise out of activity.
And modern physics has confirmed that creation is only activity, after Einstein's introduction of the idea that energy is the origin of what we experience in creation as matter. This reality that we experience day to day - as living bodies and objects of different densities - is only activity.
P: So are these examples of the way you use the axioms that I referred to in the first chapter to argue your hypothesis?
S: Yes, they are. I argue that science has shown that the whole creation is activity, and I argue for the belief that the cause of creation must be existent on the basis of the axiom that activity in itself cannot be a cause, and so cannot be the cause of creation. That's why I say that the reality that we experience transcendentally cannot be the original cause of our everyday reality, but can only be its 'cause' in the same way that the manifold appears to be the cause of its own interaction.
I argue that the original cause must also be conscious on the basis of another axiom: that existence can create activity only if existence is conscious. It is our experience in creation that only conscious beings are capable of originating activity.
P: Which means that the conscious beings in creation must be existent. Yet you have said that creation is only activity.
S: It is the created bodies of the conscious beings that are only activity. The non-created conscious part behind the body is existent. This original, existent, conscious part of God's Being becomes connected to a body in creation. This is my view.
P: So, reiterating: the Being is concrete existence, whereas creation is activity, and, therefore, intangible in itself. So creation is abstract, the opposite to concrete.
S: Yes. We experience creation, either in an everyday way or transcendentally, and creation is activity. What is confusing for us is that we don't experience the concrete, existent source of creation: the whole conscious Being of the creator. We don't experience it because we can't experience a whole that we are parts of, that we are inside. We can't have the relation to the whole that activity, movement in creation, allows us to have to creation.
P: And we must be inside it, if it is the whole?
S: Yes. So only the whole can experience and use the Being as a whole, as its own existence.
P: If we agree then with the axioms you are proposing, the activity that is creation can't be understood on its own. There has to be an existent, conscious being that is its source. But isn't it also confusing that in our everyday lives we don't actually experience creation as activity?
S: Yes, without philosophy, it can be confusing. We experience creation starting from a manifold that seems to our senses to be existent. But if we understand, philosophically, that the manifold, the diversity*, the multiplicity*, is not existent in a real sense - which means that creation is only activity - the confusion falls away.
P: So for you the Being and existence are the same thing?
S: Yes. And the Being or existence is not changeable. It has the same identity all the time. In contrast, activity is ever-changing: it has no identity in itself.
P: And creation goes on inside the Being, in your view?
S: Yes. Because creation is activity, and activity can't be separated from the thing that is active. And if the thing that is active is the whole, then the activity must be going on inside the whole.[See also the extensive discussion of this theme in Chapter 3, p.173ff.]
P: Your usage of the word 'abstract' to describe activity is unusual, nonetheless, isn't it?
S: Yes, it is, but I think that the general usage is illogical. Generally, 'abstract' is considered either the opposite of 'concrete' or the alternative to it.
When 'abstract' is used as the opposite of concrete, it means 'the absence of matter'. Then 'abstract' is just another term for 'nothing', 'the absence of everything' - both the absence of activity and the absence of existence. This is the confusing idea of 'empty space'.
When 'abstract' is used as the alternative to concrete, it creates another confusion, due to the fact that we have no unequivocal experience of the concrete - because of creation being basically activity. As I have said, 'concrete' is regarded as being experienced as solid, liquid or gaseous. Taking this further, 'abstract' is regarded as something finer than gaseous: as neither a solid nor a medium, but as between 'something' and 'nothing', as an existent yet immaterial something - a contradiction in terms, in my view. Because this notion of 'abstract' is illogical, it couldn't be discussed.
P: You mean that because it is illogical, it couldn't be rationally discussed so that people could agree upon it? It just had to be asserted?
S: Yes. That's why the claim, made by both the pantheist and the theological traditions, that the original cause is abstract - in the case of pantheism, an abstract original reality, in the case of theology, an abstract God in a community with abstract beings - had to be upheld in an authoritarian way. It is no surprise then that priests say that their abstract God is beyond human understanding, and the pantheists that their transcendental experience - which, as I've said, they interpret as experience of an abstract original reality - is beyond description.
P: But - if I can just be clear about this - you use the word 'abstract' as a general term to describe every activity. Are thinking, remembering and imagining, for example, 'abstract'?
S: Yes, because they are activity. The whole creation, in my view, is abstract. It is only to our senses that it appears to be concrete, as a temporarily existent, meaningful activity intended to create for us the illusion of permanence - because we couldn't experience it as only activity. In my view, only the non-created, original Being, including the parts, is concrete. So 'abstract' also means 'created' - with reference to creation, as a meaningful activity created for our created senses by the concrete, non-created Being.
Science - inner and outer
P: I would like to discuss other traditions more now, because ideas about the Being, God and creation are there in different forms in different religions, and have a long history.
S: Yes. People have grappled with these ideas throughout history in their efforts to explain the whole reality - which means explaining the whole of causality, how everything is caused. The tradition of modern science has tried to explain the whole reality, too, though in the beginning it consciously restricted itself to mechanical causality and left aside the problem of life and the question of why creation came about. Its original aim - which became actual after the construction of the microscope in 1590 and the telescope in 1609 - was to use Democritus' theory of mechanical necessity to explain the mechanical construction of the whole visible reality behind the mystery of life on Earth.
P: So at its inception, modern science didn't seek to explain the mystery of life, only the background of the mechanical laws in the whole universe?
S: Yes, the mystery of life was left to the Church - at least at that time.
P: How would you characterize the main differences between the approach taken by modern science and the explanations of the pantheist and theological traditions?
S: With modern science, the idea arose throughout Europe that it is possible empirically to discover the mechanical background of everyday reality completely and to describe it precisely with the language of mathematics. After the construction of the microscope and telescope, external investigation of the background of everyday reality was no longer restricted by the natural limit of the human senses. For the first time in history we could go beyond that limit and, with the help of technical* instruments, extend the development of externally-orientated, or extraspective, mechanical science. Objective science - as it then came to be called - had always been developed before then, but only up to the limit of the senses. Before then inner, introspective science - the traditions whose research methods were based on meditation - was always regarded as the real science. That was because of its claim to be able to experience directly the original background of everyday reality, through transcendental experience. In other words, it already claimed to be able to go behind the surface things that the unaided human eye could investigate. This inner, introspective science was continuously developed, in every generation, by initiates.
It was always a problem, however, that it is impossible to communicate the experiences generated by introspection in everyday language - by which I mean the language that we use to communicate our common, everyday experience of reality. So the 'inner scientists' were forced to develop a special language, which others regarded as mystical. When the new or modern science began its development, more and more investigatory technology was invented. The more that was invented, the further it was possible to see beyond the natural limit of the senses. So extraspective science hoped to be able to explain the whole of reality in this way, and it hoped that its precise, mathematical language could replace the mystical jargon of introspective science.
P: But modern science hasn't achieved its aim of explaining the whole of reality, has it?
S: No - in spite of its continuous growth and development. It hasn't been able to find the origin of matter, nor the origin of life, nor the origin of the Big Bang. But in my view, introspective science hasn't achieved its aim of explaining the whole of reality either. Unlike modern science, however, it believes it has. As I have said, in my view, the reality to which the inner scientists gain experiential access 'transcendentally' is not the original reality, but another part, an earlier, more original, state, of creation - one that is, seen mechanically, the precondition for our meaningfully realized part of creation, but not its original cause. In my conception, the original cause of both parts - of the transcendental part and of the part of creation we experience in our everyday consciousness - is the unchangeable, original reality: the Being.
P: What about those people who say that they 'meet God'? Isn't that rather similar to those who believe they have experiential access to the original reality?
S: Yes, it is. Theologians and religious people - those who believe in one God - say we can 'meet God'. They claim he can be met in Heaven, of course, but also even while we are still on Earth, in so-called mystical experiences. I view this as simply another interpretation of the transcendental experience of creation.
Many people say 'I have met God'. What I say to such people is: 'If you really believe that we are participating in God's creation, everybody meets God all the time' - if, that is, you believe in God in the way I am suggesting: as the whole inside which we live, as the Being of which we are parts. Obviously, if you don't have this belief - as theologians and religious people don't - then all you think you are meeting when you meet creation is this general picture of the multiplicity or manifold that creation is, without God directly behind it.
P: Well, you don't believe we really meet God directly in creation, do you? Isn't it that you see creation as God's expression, so that we meet God indirectly through creation?
S: Yes, yes. And we meet each other indirectly too, mediated by the same creation. We meet God as the whole, the whole Being, indirectly through the whole creation, and we meet each other as parts of the Being indirectly through created human bodies. I think that if we want to have a proper understanding of what 'meeting God' and what meeting each other means, we have to imagine my conception of the Being - the unchangeably existing reality, God's 'body', behind creation - and to regard that Being as the kind of whole we find in creation in every living body, that is, a whole in which there is a constant, distanceless relation between the whole and its parts [See also 'Types of whole', p.151ff].
Theology and pantheism: abstract original causes
P: You talked earlier about the European development of extraspective science. But if we look globally, what was going on in parallel in the rest of the world?
S: The situation was the same in the rest of the world as it had been in Europe before the invention of the microscope and telescope. People everywhere have always tried to develop an understanding of the whole reality. And there have always been two different ideas of the whole reality.
One is the belief in a non-created, 'unbegotten' creator: God. That view is some form of theology. In theology, our everyday reality is seen as 'creation' and as starting from one existent, that is, concrete source, but considered 'concrete' in an 'abstract' form - with again this contradiction in terms.
P: Whereas God is really concrete, in your view?
S: Yes, though that is not the only difference from my view, as I am sure we will come on to.
The alternative to theology has been the belief that there is no creator, and therefore no 'creation', but only activity. This activity has never started, but it has been and is endlessly ongoing, and it is governed by impersonal laws. This view is some form of pantheism. In pantheism, both the original reality or Being, out of which our everyday reality is fashioned, and our everyday reality itself, are interpreted as abstract. Within this view, created, born, 'divine' human beings have to construct their own meanings, and a corresponding social order, out of the basically meaningless activity that is determined only by the impersonal laws.
Variations and combinations of these two contrasting theories - the theological and the pantheistic - have been developed throughout history.
P: I think this is an important point, because one rarely finds a pure form of either belief these days: there are many theologians who have pantheistic elements in their beliefs, and many pantheists who talk about God.
S: Yes, this is so. But I think it makes it all the more important to be clear about what you call the 'pure forms', so as to be able to contrast them in a clear way with my hypothesis.
P: Does your idea of a concrete, conscious Being that is the starting-point of creation represent the main difference from these historical ideas?
S: Yes. Historically, the original cause was interpreted in every tradition as abstract. In theology, God is seen as conscious and existent, but existent in an abstract way rather than in a concrete way. In pantheism, the Being is seen as impersonal and basically non-conscious and abstract, but out of this Being consciousness is seen as being able to emerge and develop further. The contrast I am making - between those views of the original cause and my view of a conscious, really concrete Being as the original cause - has never been made in history in the way I am making it.
P: But if we accept the axiom you put forward earlier - that activity can be caused only by something existent, something concrete - these ideas of an abstract original cause can't logically explain the activity of creation. Theology's God is existent yet abstract; and pantheism says activity is existent, in other words, the abstract is concrete. How did they get round this problem?
S: Because of the illogicality of their views, they both had to create the idea of a potential power - which is what the term 'potential energy' means - a sort of dormant force or potentiality, a pre-existing activity that is for the moment non-active, but which can start to be active. In theology, this is regarded as an undetermined living potentiality, God. In pantheism, it is regarded as a non-conscious potentiality determined by impersonal laws, and is interpreted as different interacting, abstract 'elements' representing different types of non-conscious potentiality. In theology, God is regarded as almighty. That means he has all power and his power is not ruled or bound by anything. In pantheism, the elements or powers were seen as being controlled objectively by pre-existing, impersonal physical laws, and in human societies, by pre-existing, impersonal ethics* and moral laws.
P: Today we are familiar with the idea that impersonal, physical laws for objects can pre-exist, without any originator of them, because we have such an idea in modern science. Pantheism's idea of impersonal, pre-existing ethics and moral laws for subjects is less familiar, at least in the West.
S: It was needed because all the old traditions - unlike modern science - also had responsibility for organizing people in society. They couldn't, therefore, avoid having moral laws, in order to control people's behaviour. But the pantheists couldn't do what the theologians, with their idea of God, could do and say that God was the origin of those moral laws. The pantheists had to say that the moral laws just pre-existed in the same way that the objective laws pre-existed.
P: You say that in the theological view God was seen as abstract, but most people's idea of God is very concrete. Isn't God also referred to - in the Bible, at least - as a person whom people meet, so that the image of him there is of something concrete?
S: Yes, but you use 'concrete' there in terms of our experience of the 'concrete' in creation, not in my sense of a non-created existence. That idea leads to all these human images of God. Children - before they are given the ideas of 'abstract' and 'death' - always imagine God as something 'concrete'. But they imagine him as another part like themselves or anybody else, only with a different external appearance. But they don't imagine him as the only whole. In other words, they imagine him in the way we experience parts as 'concrete' wholes in creation. They imagine him as a 'concrete', if absent, being - somewhat similar to their parents, with the difference that God cares for everybody.
P: But you think that we need to distinguish between what children might think and what the theological traditions themselves say?
S: Yes. The theological traditions actually consider God to be abstract in some concrete, existent way. They talk about him as a basically spiritual being, in the way that we talk about humans and angels as spiritual beings. I think it is this idea of God as 'abstractly existent' that forces those who hold the idea to say that God is beyond human understanding.
Can God be understood?
P: Whereas you think God can be understood?
S: Yes. I think that it is their particular idea of God as concrete, existent, in an abstract way and as having also a completely free will that is not understandable - for several reasons. The first is that we can't imagine a living being that is abstract - because all the living beings that we experience manifest a meaningful relationship between a visible, living whole and its invisible parts. The second is that we can't imagine that anything abstract - that is, a thing that is not in any way concrete - has power. And the third is that we can't understand an existence that has a free, arbitrary will to act - that is, whose will to act is not determined or constrained by a need and the need to satisfy that need practically. Such an existence could change its mind at any moment.
P: So we couldn't count on its purpose remaining the same?
S: That's right. I think that when children are told that God is an almighty spirit and beyond human understanding, they lose their first belief in him as something real, without being given the correct idea of 'concrete' that I mean: that is, of an unchangeable existence. Children are also taught that not only God but also human beings are spiritual beings - that is, they are not just a body, but that they are basically a spirit and have an imperfect, developable soul. God is then imagined as a part, like other human beings, and not as the whole - but a part whom, if so-called mystical experiences are excluded, we can only meet in Heaven.
P: Let me be clear. You think that children are very open to your suggestion that God is a really concrete whole, but because they are told that God is an almighty spirit, they either give up their belief in God as 'concrete' and think of him as some kind of ghost, or they hold on to an irrational idea of him as an outwardly 'concrete' - in the mistaken sense of 'concrete' - basically spiritual part, whom it might be possible to meet from the outside?
S: Yes. And that goes with the idea they are given that the whole creation is 'concrete' and that we are created as 'concrete', spiritual beings who are different from one another - as opposed to my idea that we are similar conscious parts of the original, non-created Being. What they are taught about us being created in this way contradicts the axiom that only activity can be created.
P: There is also the idea that humans, though created, are at the same time permanent, existent, because it is believed that we live on, in some spiritual, 'abstract' form, after our death.
S: Yes. It's always the same mistake: because we interpret creation illogically as concrete, we have to make, in language, irrational ideas as to what the reality behind creation is.
S: Unconstrained by some need, the almighty God of the theological traditions can't be a starting-point for rational thinking. But he can easily be a starting-point for irrational imaginings, leading to anxiety.
P: ...such as that God is angry with us, punishes us, and has all the intentions that we humans can have, that he could destroy me or the world whenever he fancied?
S: Yes, those would be examples. In my view, God is concrete - which means he can be the personal originator of activity. As a whole - the whole Being - he has all power, but that power means power over himself, over his own existence, and it is bound by the need for love, which is the need to be understood by the parts of his own existence.
S: Because he is a conscious being, and every conscious being needs company, needs to be understood as a precondition for being loved. This is another axiom. Nobody wants to be hated or unnoticed.
P: So you think that the idea of God having that need makes God understandable?
S: Yes. In my view, not only God, but also creation can be understood, can be thought about rationally - if, that is, one thinks of God as concrete, as the invisible, non-created, original, conscious whole, and of ourselves as invisible, non-created, original, conscious parts of this invisible whole; and if we also think of God's power as bound by the need for love; and, finally, if we think of God as having created creation so as to fulfil his need to be loved by his conscious parts.
P: Why, in your view, does he need to create creation in order to fulfil his need for love?
S: Because in the Being, the parts can't be conscious of God, because of the original distanceless relation that they have to him in the Being. Through creation God gives us the experience of distance, and an indirect perspective on the whole, on himself. Without the experience of creation, we couldn't be conscious of God.
P: Would you say that children lose interest in the question of why God creates, and in other questions about God, too, because they don't get a logical answer on this point of why God creates?
S: Yes. If you can't answer logically the question as to why God creates, you can't answer logically any other question about God.
Hlatky's view of God, the Being and creation
P: I think we need to hear more about your view of the relationship between God, the Being and creation.
S: God, in my view, is the Being. That is, the Being is his non-created 'body' - though obviously not the kind of body that we have in creation, with organs and so on. Logically, as a conscious being he must have an immediate, subjective relation to the Being, similar to how we generally experience our own created body, that is, without distance. But God can't get distance from the Being, he can't get free of it, in the way we can become free from our created body - at night, or when we die, or in some exceptional situations such as near-death experiences or meditative states. He is primarily dependent on the Being, which he experiences as his own existence. That means practically that he experiences us and has the same feeling for each of us - undivided love* - as we are parts of his existence. As a conscious, living being, he must have the need, as we have, to be understood, as the necessary precondition for the full experience of love.
P: You have talked several times now about the need 'to be understood'. You don't mean that phrase in the way that modern psychology uses it, which involves understanding the particular peculiarities of a person, do you?
S: No. I mean quite specifically understanding God as like: as like us who are also conscious, living beings - and not as definitively unlike, so not as the almighty creator.
P: What difference does it make to understand God as like us or unlike us?
S: You can understand that somebody is unlike, but that 'understanding' is not the same as the understanding of somebody as like. The first gives rise to feelings of anxiety, or fascination, or admiration, or to feelings of inferiority or superiority. The second gives rise to the feeling of love. The question is: is it possible for us to understand God and each other as likes? There is a difference depending on whether we think of God as the whole and ourselves as parts, or whether we don't take this view. If we suppose that the whole has the same nature as the parts, then we have to regard God as having basically the same nature as we ourselves basically have, that is, the ability to experience, and the need to be understood by other conscious beings as like in this respect.
Having said that, there is, in my hypothesis, a categorical difference or unlikeness between God and the parts, and that is in respect of the ability to create: only the whole, with its unlimited potentiality, can give out, can create creation. But this definitive unlikeness is not alienating, because we can understand God's meaning with creation. Creation is not then foreign to us.
On the other hand, if we believe in God, but not as the whole with the need to be understood by its parts, then the only alternative is the theory that God is a mystical* part without relation to a whole, or a mystical whole without relation to parts, and in both cases alone, before creation, as a mystical being. He therefore creates other parts in order to have company. In that case, we don't regard God as basically being in an original, living relation to his parts, and as having the need to be understood, but as an independent, perfect, almighty, mystical existence, who basically has the ability to create anything, independently of any purpose - also out of nothing or out of his mystical self. With such a being we can never experience likeness. We can't experience likeness with each other either, because we don't then see ourselves as basically conscious, living, experiencing beings who have the need, in common with God and each other, to be understood as like.
The only alternative then is to see our ability to experience as our ability to create expression, either perfectly or imperfectly, without any other background than moral rules*, that is, without experiencing the common need for love as the practical background. This leads to the idea of development - towards some conception of perfection. Within theology, the development is moral development. Within non-theological - that is, pantheistic - views, it is the development of knowledge and creativity*, with the aim of becoming like God: independent, perfect, almighty. Either way, the idea that we can develop means that we cannot be like. On such a view, we can only be like when our ability to develop has been fully developed, when our development is complete - in other words, when we are perfect.
P: So God wants us to understand him as like, and thereby love him?
P: And to be understood comes first, because...
S: ...you can't love something you don't understand. You can perhaps admire it, and you can certainly be afraid of it. But if it is alien to you, you can't love it. And because God is the whole reality, he has nothing outside himself, and can only be understood, therefore, by the conscious parts inside him. God has the need, therefore, to give out creation for the purpose of giving the parts the opportunity to understand their relation to him, the whole, and their relation to each other - both relations that never change. In this way, he is also, but only secondarily, dependent on creation. God's creation, God's activity, is determined by the purpose creation serves - so God can't be arbitrary in his activity, otherwise creation won't serve its purpose, it won't be perfect for its purpose.
Differences from theology
P: Your interpretation of the Being as God's existence, God's 'body', seems to me an important difference from other views.
S: Yes, it is the most important difference. Another difference is that, rather than saying, as the theologians do, that God creates out of 'nothing' or out of himself, I argue that he creates using the potentiality of the whole original reality, this Being. The original Being, including its parts, is the only thing that is concrete, non-created, unchangeable. Everything else is activity originating from this Being.
P: When you say God is creating 'using the potentiality of the whole original reality, this Being', how is this different from creating 'out of himself'?
S: Because in the theological view, the Being that God creates out of is interpreted as abstract. God is interpreted as creating out of his abstract self or out of nothing. In my view the Being is concrete. There is a concrete relation of the whole to its parts.
P: And the relationship between the Being and creation is different too in your interpretation and theology's - even though theology also has a God and talks of God's creation?
S: Yes. In the theological explanations the creator is not directly connected to his creation, as he is in my view. In theology, creation is seen as a separate, concrete Being or reality created by God, at 'the beginning of time', outside his own non-created, yet abstract - which, as I have said, is to my mind contradictory - Being. In my view, God, as the whole reality, is creating all the time, out of himself but within himself, in the same, permanent, ongoing way. And in my view he can't create anything concrete, only activity. So creation in my view gives the experience of a relative, abstract Being - relative to the original Being, that is - rather than the separate, concrete Being of the theological view.
Also, if God is a mystical, independent, abstract part outside creation, as theology suggests, then we can only think of God as we generally - but mistakenly, in my view - think of each other: as another conscious object or body not bound to any need, not even to the need to be understood. That is different from my idea of him as the whole, in the way I interpret 'whole' - that is, like the wholeness of a living body in creation, in which there is a constant, distanceless relation between the whole and its parts. In such an 'organic'* whole - as distinct from the totality* that an object in creation represents - the whole needs the parts, just as the parts need the whole, and the whole is forced to satisfy the needs of the parts, just as the parts are forced to satisfy the needs of the whole.
There is a crucial difference, however, between the organic wholes we find in creation and the living whole that God is: the non-created whole, God's Being, doesn't have any existential needs - that is, for light, warmth, air, water, food, movement, reproduction, and so on - because it is not a body like our bodies. God has only the need for mutual love, which is common to every conscious being, and which can't be satisfied by force, that is, from one side.
P: You said a moment ago that theologians see God as a 'conscious object'. This is an odd combination of words.
S: Yes, but both subjects and objects are represented in creation by a seemingly existent, objective totality that we call a body - in the case of subjects, a whole, where there is a meaningful relation between the whole and its parts, and in the case of objects, a sum of similar parts. An object is the idea of a body that has no needs and no experience of relation, either to itself - its own parts - or to its surroundings. Theologians see God as living, as conscious, but the idea of 'conscious object', rather than the idea of 'subject', does apply to their conception of God. In their view, God has no original relationship to any parts, nor to any surroundings. If God is outside his creation as a mystical, abstract something and creates us, as the theologians say, then God cannot experience us before creation in the way I suggest: as conscious parts of his conscious existence.
The whole and its parts
P: And in the theological view, God is without a body of any kind - since he is abstract or spiritual?
S: Yes. It is possible - if we take as the basis our relative ideas of solid, liquid and gaseous - to imagine an 'abstract' something, a spirit, that in practice represents a potential power. But then it is as a sum of similar parts, rather than as a whole in the way I am suggesting. And then you don't have the idea of something that experiences, receives and has needs - as I think of God. Instead you have the idea of something that only expresses: expresses power and has the power to do anything.
But the main point is that in theology God is seen as an independent part in itself without a surrounding whole - which doesn't make sense. What is a part without a whole? And yet he is also seen in theology as a whole, which makes him a whole part - if such a thing could exist - who is originally alone, without any relation, and without any other parts, conscious or material. That doesn't make sense either. What is a whole part or a whole without parts? In reality, a whole and its parts are indivisible.
P: You mean that the word 'whole' is used only of something that has 'parts', and the word 'part' implies a whole that the parts belong to, that the parts are part of?
P: Don't we experience parts by themselves in creation?
S: But not - as we generally see them - independently either of the whole or of other parts. The parts in creation are dependent both on their own parts and on other parts in the surroundings. There are no real parts in creation. In creation - which is just activity, activity that doesn't reveal its origin - we can experience existence as separable, because of the experience of space. We can't experience the whole creation as a whole, only as 'parts' seemingly separated by space. But the 'parts' themselves we can only actually experience as wholes: we can never actually experience them as parts.
P: So, for instance, when we meet another human being, we experience them as a whole, and not as a part of the whole creation?
S: Yes. We can interpret them as a part of the whole creation, but our actual experience of them is that they are a whole. And if we try to find the original part of the original Being that the human being with its created body represents, we can't find it - because it must be impossible to find the non-created part as a part in itself separated from the non-created whole. In its origin the part is a part of the Being. But in creation we don't actually experience existence proper - that is, the original existence, the Being - either as a whole or as a part. In creation we experience only the quality of the original Being, which is the ability to experience - which is what makes the whole Being, including the parts, alive, active. But generally we believe we are experiencing existent parts in creation - though, as I've said, if we think about it properly, this is an illusion, since nothing in creation is existent, that is, unchangeable.
P: But God, on the theological view, is alone?
S: Yes, because the theologians don't see God's Being as a living whole which has a relation to its living parts. They see God as only a part without any relation. So then he has to create parts, in order not to be alone. But as soon as he is seen as creating parts, he himself becomes a non-created, 'eternal' part, among other created parts. In theology, these other parts are imperfect, developable and mortal. Thus, according to this theory, God made imperfect parts who have to become perfect parts like God. This idea gave rise to the problem of theodicy: Why does a perfect, almighty being create imperfection?
P: And it is a further difference in your view that, as you said earlier, you do not think God creates us?
S: That's right. In my view, he creates only our bodies, and we, as conscious parts with the ability to experience, are, like God, non-created.
P: Why do you think that?
S: Because the hypothesis that we are original, non-created parts of God is the only alternative to the hypothesis that God created us. And, from my point of view, it makes God's need and purpose behind creation understandable. It also makes the whole creation understandable for us - because it's only possible to understand an activity if we understand its purpose. [For discussion of this point, see Dialogue 4, 'Philosophical logic'.]
P: Do both theology and you see God as eternal?
S: Yes, but 'eternal' is a time-based concept. In theological explanations, creation, as a separate Being, was made in time - in a single period of seven days. Since then it has been running outside God, in time, as our creation. For me, creation occurs inside God's Being, where time is not relevant, because time implies 'changing', and according to my view, neither the Being nor the meaning of creation ever changes.
P: I am confused. Do you mean that if the Being didn't change, but God's purpose with creation did, that would give rise to an experience of time?
S: No. The experience of time derives from our experience of ongoing activity - in other words, from our experience of certain things as changing, as active, against a background of our experiencing everything else for a time, temporarily, as not changing, as non-active.
The question is what we identify with. We generally identify with time, history - that is, with our memory of Nature's activity - because we are identified with creation as a contradictory, meaningless happening, and because we don't understand God's purpose with creation. If God changed his mind, we couldn't understand God, and that has nothing to do with time. So if we woke one morning and God had changed the purpose of creation, then we would have to understand everything again as something new. If God was free to change his mind and kept changing it - in other words, if he had free will, that is, if he wasn't bound by anything and could do whatever he wanted, and therefore could also act in an arbitrary way - then we would never understand him, we would never understand the original cause. That's also why we don't understand each other: we live with the idea that we have free will and can change reality, rather than understand it. It's as impossible to live with a God who has free will as it is to live with people who are constantly changing their minds.
Time is simply the idea we use within creation for practical purposes. It derives, as I've said, from our experience in creation that things change, and from our need and ability to remember how things can change, that is, our need and ability to understand causality within creation.
Doesn't 'eternal' anyway just mean 'non-created', 'unchangeable', 'concrete'? The theologians don't use this formulation, as I do, because they don't talk about God's original Being, the original existence, as concrete in the way I do.
Theology and philosophy
P: Earlier you contrasted your view of creation with theological views...
S: Yes, some theologians followed St Augustine's theory of emanation and said that God created out of himself.
P: ...which, as you've said, is different from your idea of God creating out of his own existence, the Being.
S: Yes, because Augustine believed in an abstract God, and not, as I do, in a concrete, existent, living God who has a relation to his living parts. Augustine's theory of emanation, which originated from Brahmanism, dominated Christian thinking until the introduction of Aristotle's ideas through Aquinas in the 13th century. Other theologians said God created out of 'nothing'. That is, instead of my idea of a concrete potency, the Being, they say God took its opposite, 'nothing', and made something - a separate Being - out of it.
P: And you think that both these theological views are illogical?
S: Yes. Both views make creation mystical, incomprehensible: Augustine's, because creation is activity, and activity can only arise from something existent, and Augustine considers God abstract; and the other, because nobody can imagine creating out of nothing. So the theological traditions can't answer children properly - that is, logically. But the theologians maintain that everything is possible for an almighty God. Therefore, you have to believe that God can create out of nothing. 'You can't create out of nothing,' they say, 'but God can create out of nothing.' But because nobody can imagine how God does this, they then say that we can't understand how God makes creation. The last part of that I agree with, though I say that we can at least understand that the absolute whole's creation must logically start as three-dimensional activity - what we call 'vibration' - since it creates within itself. That's the only rational way we can imagine it.
P: Three-dimensional as opposed to...?
S: As opposed to the one-dimensional movement in Euclid's system of movement. Euclid's system starts with an absolute part seen as a point without dimension, that is, as an abstract, not-existent part which can only move ahead as a line or a ray in empty space, in relation to something else. But as the absolute part of the idea of absolute nothing, it cannot vibrate immanently, in itself, as an existent three-dimensional whole - like an earthquake, for example. The absolute whole can move one-dimensionally but only in time - Einstein's fourth dimension - but not in relation to something outside itself, nor towards its own parts.
In practical life, one-dimensional, 'linear' activity is represented by the movement of objects. Then there is the two-dimensional activity represented by the movement of a surface, such as waves on the surface of water.
But how the whole's three-dimensional activity culminates in what we experience in creation as objects, that it is impossible to reconstruct. All we can say is that creation is created in such a way that the invisible whole Being's three-dimensional movement - what we regard as Nature, or, since Einstein, as energy - must become focussed into 'matter', energy-potencies, that further partly organize and partly disorganize matter. These energy-potencies, seen from the outside as matter, then build up the universe as one absolutely interacting order, simultaneously creating and destroying the meaningful picture of the manifold.
P: But though we can have only this limited understanding of the 'how?' of God's creation, you think we can understand the 'why?'
S: Yes, on the basis of this hypothesis of a non-created whole. Then, out of this understanding of 'why' the whole creation is being created, we can also logically understand why the surface of creation, the universe, is made the way it is.
The need for mutual love
According to my view, it is self-evident that God must love the parts of his own existence. Because everything belongs originally to God, God can experience only undivided love, that is, he loves the whole of himself, which includes the parts. It is natural* for everybody to love the parts of their own body.
P: But some people come to hate parts of their body, or even the whole of their body.
S: Not without some idea that makes them hate it. And for people there can be many reasons, because our body doesn't belong to us in the same way that God's belongs to him. We can have the idea of changing parts of our body or the whole of our body, because our body is part of creation and not part of the original existence. We can then have the idea of changing it for the better, and so not love what we have.
But God must also, as I have argued, have the need to be loved by his parts. That's why God must give us, through his creation, the opportunity to understand the unchangeable relationship between him and us. In my view, God doesn't want to be adored as an incomprehensible, almighty technician: he wants to be understood as like, as a conscious being with the need for love. And I think that God's need to be loved and the necessity he has to create creation make him understandable, and not in any way less perfect.
P: Your idea that God has the need to be understood, as a precondition for being loved, makes your view radically different from the theological view.
S: Yes. The theological traditions did not have this conception of the need for mutual love between conscious beings, so they had to order people to love - to love God and to love each other. But ordering people to love makes the idea of love one-sided, and it reinforces the generally accepted, but, in my view, mistaken, idea of love as something that we give and take. It's impossible to love on command anyway - which everyone can check against their own experience. In my view, love is a question of understanding each other as like. And we are like if we consider each other, not as mortal parts in a mystical creation, but originally as immortal, conscious parts of God's conscious Being. In my view, only if we have this understanding - that we belong inseparably together in this way - can love function, as a constant understanding of God and of each other.
A further difficulty for me with the theological view of love is that I don't see how we can love God if we don't understand him. Just as, if we don't understand each other, how can we love each other?
P: But every tradition talks a good deal about love. For example, the theological traditions say that God created us 'out of love'.
S: Yes, it is said that God makes us and creation out of love for us. But is it logical for God to love us before he has created us, as this formulation implies? It's self-evident that it's impossible to love if one is alone: one can't be loved just by one's own existence. But if one says that God makes, creates human beings so that he can love them and be loved by them, this makes it like when children imagine they are loved by their man-made dolls or stuffed animals. Children do imagine that as an enjoyable game, but I think they know very well that what they imagine is not love. They know that they are just imagining the precondition for love.
P: In other words, that the dolls or stuffed animals are alive?
S: Yes. From their own experience children can remember that they experience love in relation to conscious beings who love them. So if they imagine this in relation to their dolls or stuffed animals - that the dolls or stuffed animals are conscious and love them - children can feel love towards them. But if the grown-ups reinforce the idea that what the children imagine is really love, by telling children, for example, 'Teddy loves you' or 'you love Teddy', children can become confused about the difference between imagined love, based on their memory of the precondition for love, and love itself. The theological traditions, too, confuse people about what love is by creating, in my view, an irrational belief about the relationship between God and creation.
P: By saying that God created us?
P: What about the idea that God created once, 'at the beginning of time'?
S: This leads to the problem of whether God is interfering in creation or not. If we take the Christian view, God has the same relation to his creation as we have to the things we ourselves create - that is, he is outside it. According to my view, God's creation and what humans create are not comparable. That's why I have the idea of the non-created reality, the Being, as the 'material' that God uses for his creation, whereas we can only use for our creating what God provides in creation.
S: Yes. Mutual love is possible only if we can agree that God is present through his creation. Only in this way can it be experienced that creation is a meaningful whole - in the sense I have described - and only in this way can creation be loved as a whole, that is, undividedly, as the creation of one conscious being - even if you are suffering, which is the story of Job in the Bible.
If you don't understand reality as one whole, you see it as parts, and then you can only prefer one part to another part. Then you can experience love only in relation to the things and relationships that you prefer. That makes the idea of love comparable. Love becomes connected in our mind with particular things and situations. This makes us think we can give and take love: we remember the things we connect to love and the situations in which we loved, and we give or we want to own those things, or we try to recreate those situations. This makes love 'rememberable', because it is bound to these preferences*, which you have to remember and which you see as various preconditions for love.
P: Whereas, if you love the whole undividedly, as a living unity, love is always present, so there is nothing special to remember?
S: Yes. We don't then have to remember the things we connect to love and the situations in which we loved. It's only because we don't love undividedly that we can have an experience of the absence of love at all, and hence can have the idea of recreating love, using our memory of situations in which we were able to experience love.
Love can't be made, because the ability to experience can't be made. The ability to experience is the basic state of existence, of the whole Being, and love is the basic quality of the ability to experience. Not even God can create or make the ability to experience, and not even God can make love. It's impossible to create anything other than activity. Love is not a thing, a substance. There is no thing that one can give or take. Love can become actual only through meeting another conscious being. As long as there is no reservation - that is, fear or anxiety - on either side, then love is the natural feeling of this relation, independent of any objective activities the conscious beings express or don't express. Either we experience love spontaneously when we meet another conscious being, or we don't experience it because another temporary feeling overshadows the basic feeling of love. When we lose the feeling of love, we then experience the need for love, the need for the natural state. But we can't make love happen. In order to experience undivided love, we have to create its precondition, by philosophically reconstructing the original cause and meaning of creation.
God's problem, and the problem we have in common with God, is that we can only believe in God, but can never meet him in creation in the same way we meet each other in creation, through one unitary body. So love between God and us can function only when we understand God as, like us, a conscious being, and as behind his creation, which we meet all the time.
P: And what about love between human beings?
S: Its the same problem with love between humans. The difference is that we humans aren't forced to be conscious of the fact that God - that means, another conscious being - is behind the whole creation. We can deny this. In other words, we can deny that it is a meaningful creation. But we can't deny that we meet another conscious being when we meet another human being.
P: On the other hand, when we meet other human beings, we're not forced to be conscious of the fact that we are meeting our likes in them.
S: That's right. We can be confused by the fact that we just meet men and women - and can think that we have to get to know each other as different species. If we let the division of the sexes confuse us, we begin to see human identity in every form of possible unlikeness and in the development of every possibility for difference. In doing that, we can only become, individually and collectively, more and more alienated from one another - which makes love, a meeting without any reservations, impossible.
P: Just as we become alienated from the whole reality, too, if we don't conceive of a similar consciousness behind it?
S: Yes. Love can only be experienced between conscious beings who understand that they are likes.
P: So why does God create our human bodies as different, then? Is it because we couldn't tell each other apart if we all looked the same?
S: Yes, on practical grounds. We wouldn't know whom we were talking to otherwise. And, of course, it's also because we can't be joined to creation in the unchangeable way we are joined to God's non-created reality as powerless parts.
Science and the old traditions
P: Can we return to the relationship between science and the old traditions?
S: Yes. The two old traditions' explanations - theology's abstract God and pantheism's abstract Being - existed before modern science. And then came modern science, at the start of the 17th century, with a total revolution. The ability to go beyond the natural limit of the senses - principally the senses of touch and sight - and to see things that humanity had never been able to see before, made people completely hubristic. The old tradition based on introspective science was regarded as absolutely insignificant compared with the new science. 'Now we can begin to discover and explain the background of reality, the whole of causality, in everyday consciousness, not in the old mystical way.' The historical belief in traditions - the past - was suddenly turned into a hubristic belief in the future. This led to the century of the Age of Enlightenment: 'Now the true Enlightenment starts. We don't need to believe in these inward-turned, introspective scientists any more.' And this enormous revolution became global. So it confronted every old tradition in the same way, wherever it went: Africa, Asia, America, all over the world.
P: So the theological traditions and the pantheist traditions were all confronted by this new science?
S: Yes, but in the beginning only theoretically, as a dream, since the new science hadn't realized its hoped-for goal of explaining the whole causality on the basis of invisible, indestructible parts.
P: But no one doubted that it would be able to do that?
S: That's right. So though the confrontation with all the old theories - which were all originally based on introspective science - was only theoretical at first, it was immediate. There was an immediate break with the past. Even the Church was paralysed, because it talked about the original cause in an authoritarian way, which science threatened. And yet the Church believed in science. It was only later - as more and more highly refined technical instruments revealed new forms of microscopic life, and as the idea became current that life originated from so-called non-living matter, and was not, as the Church held, created by God - that the confrontation with the old theories became a practical confrontation. Unless we understand all this, we will never understand our time. We have to see our time in the light of this enormous technological* revolution arising from science, a revolution that is still going on.
The Big Bang and the problem of the original cause
P: So is the theory of the Big Bang science's attempt to replace God and all the other old theories of the original cause?
S: Yes, but not a satisfactory attempt - in spite of a widespread public opinion to the contrary and the views of some scientists within astronomy who interpret the Big Bang as a theory of the original cause. The Big Bang in my view is just a theory of an event: it doesn't offer any explanation of the original cause. I heard scientists talking on a television or radio programme about the Big Bang, and a 10-year-old boy asked: 'Who made this explosion?' And the scientists answered: 'It was so far back in time that we can probably never reconstruct what the cause of this explosion was.' Stephen Hawking writes: 'As far as we are concerned, events before the big bang can have no consequences, so they should not form part of a scientific model of the universe. We should therefore cut them out of the model and say that time had a beginning at the big bang.' [A Brief History of Time, Bantam Press, 1988, p.46.]
P: Hawking allows, then, for events preceding the Big Bang, but says that their effects don't extend past the Big Bang, and so as a scientist he is not interested in those earlier events? In other words, he is not interested in the original cause?
S: Yes, that's right. Scientists today say that time and space started with the Big Bang, that our whole reality came about through an explosion. But though they don't say anything about an original, non-created reality that might have caused the explosion, they do operate with the ideas of space and time following the Big Bang as representing something of an existent reality in themselves. But 'space' is simply the word given to our experience of distance, and 'time' simply the word given to our ability to remember everything that changes. Neither of them represents an existent reality. If they are interpreted as existent, space is then the irrational idea of an existent 'nothing'...
P: ...'irrational' because the idea of a 'nothing' that is 'existent', that is, a 'nothing' that is 'something', doesn't make sense?
S: Yes. And 'time' is the irrational idea of the one-dimensional movement of the three dimensional empty space and of the ever-present, and at the same time ever-moving, ever-changing, creation from a non-existent 'future' to an 'existent' past - that is, from a mystical, non-realized state into a realized state in our memory, which we then form, using human language, into history. This one-dimensional movement of empty space and creation - time - is then imagined as something in itself, because the supposedly existent background to creation - the three-dimensional, 'ever-present', non-moving, empty space or 'nothing' - is also imagined as something in itself. This moving 'nothing' - time - is seen as going on infinitely, alongside changing creation...
P: So time and 'nothing' are seen as equivalent?
S: Yes, time is seen as the one-dimensional representation of the three-dimensional empty space. So while 'time' - the movement of this 'nothing' and of creation - goes on infinitely, empty space, 'nothing', itself remains the inactive, non-moving background to the ever-present, seemingly existent, not obviously* changing, but active, moving creation.
But 'nothing' does not exist, and neither the future nor the past is a really existent reality. So how can 'nothing' and 'time' be the original reality and the cause of 'something', or of movement, or of activity?
And, to come back to the Big Bang, what is the explosion in itself - that is, if you don't take into account how it started, its cause?
P: Yes, what is it?!
S: It's ongoing activity, enormous activity - activity that creates what seems to our senses to be existence, what we call 'matter'. Some scientists say that the activity comes from the other side of the Big Bang, from an original atom that detonated. This is again some sort of idea of an original cause. So are the ideas of anti-matter and black holes, which scientists also talk about. Black holes, for example, are seen as absolutely, or almost absolutely, dense matter. This is a mechanical version - that is, one that excludes consciousness - of my idea of the absolute Being.
P: Don't some scientists think of energy as a sort of original cause of creation?
S: Yes, that is another idea. Since Einstein, science has talked about energy as an abstract original cause of everything that appears concrete to our senses, that is, of all matter. This is similar to the pantheistic interpretation of ancient introspective science, which also referred to energy and vibrations as the original reality.
S: That it's wrong to think that it's an explanation of reality. The Big Bang offers only a limited, technical, mathematical or other symbolic description of creation. It excludes not only the question of what gave the explosion, what released the energy - that is, the question of the original cause of creation - but also the question of why it is given - the question of creation's meaning. It is only children who ever ask about these questions nowadays - without getting any answers. Scientists merely refer to the agreement, suggested by Francis Bacon in the 17th century, not to deal with the philosophical question of meaning, but to concentrate solely on describing every purposeful activity in Nature as a mechanical process. Modern science came to be based on this agreement, and it is used globally nowadays as a common system of thinking. The result is that we have as many individual searchers after the meaning of life as there exist people. That is because, if we don't yet know the cause and meaning of creation, each of us has to create a meaning for his or her own life - since it is impossible to live without meaning.
P: So you think that a different agreement is needed?
S: Yes, we need a common agreement about the original meaning, instead of a spontaneous, unconsidered agreement that there is no original meaning. We need to agree that there is an inseparable connection between the original cause of the objective universe, which is the problem that global science addresses, and the original cause and meaning of life on Earth, which generally is viewed as each person's private, subjective problem. It's my view that you can't understand the meaning of your own life without understanding the original cause and meaning of creation.
Science and 'Why?'
P: But I thought you said that modern science was not interested in the original cause, whereas just now you have said that it's the problem that global science addresses?
S: Yes, let me be more precise. From its inception, modern science hoped that it could solve the question of the original cause, but only in the future. It saw the dissection of creation as the method by which the question 'how?' - how everything is constructed or made - could be answered. It hoped to be able to get down to Democritus' indestructible atoms. The hope was that, when the answer to the question 'how?' was found, we would also understand 'why?' So only the question 'how?' needed to be pursued for the time being. [For a modern reference, see the quotation from Hawking, p.41.]
P: So modern science managed to put off the question of the origin of creation, both as regards the ultimate 'how?' and as regards the 'why?'?
S: Yes. Before modern science, the question couldn't be avoided. All this creating by life on the Earth's surface, all this activity that is moving all the time, must have started somewhere. Every child asks about its start. So every tradition had to give an answer. And either the answer was that 'God' was the original cause - but then in the irrational, therefore authoritarian, way I have pointed out. Or it was thought that the original cause was what was experienced in inner, transcendental science. That experience is available to anybody who meditates systematically and was regarded as giving omniscience or wisdom. But it requires you to accept the authority of initiates - you have to believe that they can lead you to this omniscience. At the same time, you have to accept the idea that activity can exist by itself and the idea that activity can be a cause. The problem common to both theories was that neither could give a rational answer to the questions of how or why creation started.
P: Modern science is also concerned now with how or whether creation will come to an end, isn't it? It doesn't know whether the expansion of the universe will just continue indefinitely, or stop, or turn around and end in a big collapse, the 'big crunch'.
S: Yes. All theories, even those predating modern science, had to be concerned with this question. That's because everything that starts is activity, and all activity can end at any moment. Can it be otherwise? But only the theological traditions - and, in certain interpretations, Brahmanism too - had to answer this question about the end, because only they talked of a start.
P: Are you thinking of the idea of the final judgement in theology?
S: Yes. But the pantheistic traditions could avoid answering the question, because for them there exists only infinite activity, which has neither a start nor an end. They symbolized this sometimes as an open circle, that is, a spiral.
The other logical question that always arises is: can an activity start without there being a conscious potency who can start the activity and who can stop expressing it? And because a conscious potency is always purposeful in its activity, every child asks logically what the reason for the start of the activity is and what the reason for stopping expressing it could be. But from the theologians and the pantheists they get only authoritarian answers, and from modern science, no answer at all: 'Nobody knows'. And this makes further checking by logical thinking impossible.
P: If activity is what starts and stops, would you say that existence doesn't start or stop, it just is?
P: But isn't the idea that there is something existent that never started impossible to imagine too?
S: Generally, we tend to think of either 'nothing' or activity as the original cause. We think of 'empty space' or 'space' as being the background to everything that we experience as existent. Because of this, we tend to say that 'nothing' is the cause of everything. But we can't actually defend this, either philosophically or scientifically. Alternatively, we can think that activity creates existence, or that existence creates activity, and ask which is more logical. We can only think that activity creates existence from the example of human beings being able to make objects. We can even think that our activity brings about reproduction, via insemination - in other words, that we create human beings. But this assumes that what is created is existent, which we know it is not. And it ignores the question of what caused us, or what caused the sperm and the egg. It ignores the fact that Nature's ability to create cannot be compared with the ability of animals and human beings to construct and make objects - in other words, it ignores the question of the original cause.
P: I remember you saying that you got stuck on this point when you were talking to a group of farmers, who were insistent that humans create life.
S: Yes, even when I asked them whether, therefore, they were also the creators of calves when they artificially inseminated cows!
As long as we leave out the question of the original cause, then everything in creation can be regarded as a cause, or as an effect, that is, as being caused by something else. So humans can be regarded as the cause of both insemination and reproduction, for example.
P: That explains how the alternatives to something existent as the original cause are impossible, but isn't it still difficult to imagine something that has never started and will never end?
S: Don't people who believe in 'nothing' as the original cause in fact imagine that that 'nothing' is an existent oneness, a oneness that never started and will never end?
P: Yes, that's true.
S: And if you imagine 'activity', not as something going on from one point to another point, but as cooperation or interaction, then can't you also imagine activity as an ongoing oneness, which has neither a start nor an end?
P: That's true too. So the traditions give either, in the case of theology, the idea of God, an active creator - but without a logical reason for creating...
S: ...and therefore with only commandments or rules for behaviour.
P: And by that you are implying that, if we understood God's purpose in creation, we would know how to relate to creation, including other people - we would know how to behave and wouldn't need rules? [See Dialogue 2, 'Human will and Nature's will' and 'The problem of identity' for elaboration of this point.]
P: ...And in the case of pantheism, the traditions offer the idea of infinite activity ruled by non-conscious, unchangeable physical and moral laws that bind humans but that don't operate out of a particular purpose?
S: Yes. And without a logical reason for creation, both frameworks leave humans free to create their own purposes and to seek to adapt creation to those human purposes.
Modern science and philosophy
P: I would like to come back to the relationship between philosophy, as you conceive philosophy, and modern science. Could you say more about that?
S: Before modern science, the answers to all philosophical questions were regarded as being in the past, in tradition, and as given by the founders or reformers of the different traditions. After the invention of the microscope and telescope - that is, from the late 1500s onwards - the answer has been regarded as being in the future, dependent on the development of modern technology. In my view, the answer is in the present, in space - where reality is - and not in time. We can solve the problem of the original reality, but to do so requires us to discuss the original reality, and not just - as is generally the case today - the experiences that people have of all the causality in creation. The philosophical problem is just the problem of the original Being as the original cause.
P: So philosophy doesn't deal with the mechanical causality that is going on as cause and effect in creation?
S: No. That is a scientific problem. In general life, everything can be a cause and everything can be regarded as an effect from a practical point of view, from the scientific point of view. Philosophy is concerned only with the original cause, which must be the cause of everything, the whole creation. But - and this is the main point in philosophy - this can't be done from the position of an outsider, that is, from the position of a neutral observer of mechanical relations.
P: ...which is the position that modern science adopts?
S: Yes. Philosophical considerations require a constant consciousness of our immediate, subjective relation to the whole creation. This immediate, subjective relation is what gives us, firstly, the subjective feeling of the natural need for love - love being the feeling of community, of belonging together - which every conscious being has; and, secondly, the subjective feeling of the equally common, natural needs of the human body. This immediate, subjective relation to the whole creation is what gives us the opportunity, through philosophical reflection, to understand God's unchangeable relation to us in the original Being.
P: Why can't we understand the original cause if we see ourselves as outsiders in creation?
S: If we entertain the idea of the original cause at all, it must be as something conscious, because only a conscious being can act by itself. But if we see ourselves as outsiders in a basically 'dead' creation, we see consciousness as being present in creation only in ourselves and other so-called 'living things'. Then we can only have the idea of other relative conscious parts within creation, not the idea of a conscious whole we belong to as conscious parts. And then we are interested only in the causality in creation, which we separate into two categories, 'living' and 'non-living'.
P: I want to come back to what you were saying about the Big Bang. When you said that modern science had been unable to find the origin of the Big Bang, were you using that as an argument against the scientific view?
S: No, I just wanted to point out that scientists have consciously limited themselves with the declaration - which marked the start of the discipline called new or modern science - that they are not concerned with the question of meaning, 'why?', or with the traditional theories of the original cause. They are interested in mechanical, technical functions, the question 'how?': 'How is visible reality constructed?'
As regards the Big Bang, scientists never ask philosophically how it was caused. They put the question only technically - if at all. For example, Stephen Hawking, as I quoted earlier, and others say that even the technical question is irrelevant, since space and time - that is creation, what science is dealing with and wants to describe - started with the Big Bang. Other scientists ask 'why?' only technically: what preceded the Big Bang and what technically caused it?
P: But you are not saying that they should continue to pursue the technical question?
S: No, not in relation to the original cause - because it is impossible to discover technically the origin of creation if the whole is that origin. We could never 'meet' the whole. We have to be separate from something if we are to be able to meet it.
P: So you're saying that scientists should ask philosophically, 'What caused the Big Bang?'
S: Yes. We have to explore whether it is possible to reconstruct through philosophical considerations the creator's meaning, motive and aim in creation, without our being able technically to meet the creator and ask him. The technical answer does not solve the philosophical question. Stephen Hawking is dreaming when he says in the last lines of his book: 'However, if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason - for then we would know the mind of God.' [A Brief History of Time, Bantam Press, 1988, p.175.] It is a very nice dream, but it is a dream - because a mechanical theory can never be a complete theory of creation: it can never answer the question 'why?'
P: Is time something technical, rather than philosophical?
S: The idea of time comes from Nature organizing things so that we are able to remember earlier experiences: time and remembering are the same thing.
P: As an aside: are you personifying Nature there?
S: Yes, because I interpret Nature as creation and, therefore, as God's purposeful activity.
So - going back to time - we just make of memory a theoretical idea: the past. And then we have a problem with the future. History is remembering. What we can know about history is as much as people can remember from their earlier experiences, and that is what people read about. It is the communicated memory of reality. Then we have the immediate experience of reality, which is the truth. The immediate experience of reality always represents the truth. If the stars were to start moving in a 'stupid' way, you would have to take it as the truth. But if we live instead in the past and in the future, we leave out the problem of philosophy, which deals with the question of the meaning of the whole present - I would say, ever-present - reality. Only if we know the purpose of creation can we understand it as a purposeful order, a purposeful interaction. Otherwise, creation would be - as the pantheist theories say - just like an abstract, ever-changing, running river without origin or end. That notion leads to the idea of time.
Science can never answer the philosophical question 'why?', and is therefore bound to the idea of time, and to continually examining the past in order to try to foresee the future. I say that I can in principle foresee the future the moment that I understand creation as a purposeful order, an order that is changeable on the surface but not fundamentally.
P: You mean that, because the purpose of creation never changes, the basic order never changes?
S: Yes ...no matter how much we interfere with creation on the surface, by polluting it, destroying forests and so on. We can confuse the order on the surface, but the order will always eventually reassert itself, from the very moment that we stop confusing it with our own creativity that is blind to Nature's creativity.
P: But if we don't think creation has an unchanging purpose...?
S: Then two different sets of principles rule the future. The first set of principles is that which actually rules the order of Nature. This set is determined by God's need to be understood and therefore by his purpose in creation. The second set of principles derives from the meanings created by human beings, who have to organize themselves in some way - since life is always interaction, which includes interaction with other human beings.
P: And as people nowadays are generally educated by modern science without any agreement about the order of Nature, they can't see the virtue of being ruled by the order of Nature?
S: That's right. And in that case they can't avoid having to agree about and be ruled by the different meanings or purposes human beings create, even though that process invariably brings endless conflict - which is why it was always said that wars are inevitable. And nowadays such competition about meanings - which is inevitable when there is no agreement about Nature's meaning - has even been made into a virtue by the ideology of the market economy.