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G Klempner

International Society for Philosophers
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PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS electronic journal


P H I L O S O P H Y   P A T H W A Y S                   ISSN 2043-0728

Issue number 152
27th April 2010


I. 'Philosophy, Science, and Consciousness' by Tony Fahey

II. 'Is Nature Complementary?' by Peter Barab

III. Conference: 'Ways of Living: Culture, Identity and Difference in
today's world'



I am very pleased to welcome Tony Fahey, formerly of Dublin City
University and the National University of Ireland Maynooth, to the
Board of the International Society for Philosophers. For this issue,
Tony has contributed his article 'Philosophy, Science and
Consciousness' which looks at the much discussed problem of
consciousness from the standpoint of the theory of evolution by
natural selection.

Tony Fahey has a particular interest in the philosophy of
Giambattista Vico (1668-1744). He has written a book Vico's Road to
Postmodernism details of which can be found on the Pathways Features
Page at https://philosophypathways.com/index2.html. He has also
written an article on Vico, Joyce, Beckett and Yeats which is
earmarked for the next issue of Philosophy Pathways.

Another book which has been added to the Pathways Features page is
The Complementary Nature of Reality by Peter Barab. For this issue,
Peter has written an overview of his theory, which ambitiously
extends physicist Niels Bohr's complementarity principle regarding
the wave-particle duality of light to the whole of nature. According
to the author, it is only as a result of accidental historical
circumstances that the phenomenon of complementarity has not found
far wider application.

The Philosophical Society of England is organizing a one-day
conference to be held at City University, London on 22nd May. Entry
is not restricted to members of the Philosophical Society of England.
Topics for the symposia are: 'Culture, Religion and Identity: the new
Toleration Debate', 'Is diversity really something to celebrate
rather than merely tolerate?', and 'Urban fears and global terrors:
citizenship, multiculturism and belonging'. If you have the chance to
get to London it promises to be a very interesting day out.

Geoffrey Klempner




Whilst it is fair to say that since the seventeenth century
philosophers such as Descartes, Hegel, Brentano, Husserl and Bergson,
to name but a few, have dealt, in one way or another, with the issue
of human consciousness, it can be argued that none have dealt
adequately with the question of the origin of consciousness: how
consciousness arises. In the prologue to his book, The Universe in a
Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, the Dalai
Lama suggests that where scientific discoveries expose weaknesses in
long held traditional beliefs, these beliefs should be abandoned, and
the scientific discoveries embraced.[1] Taking the view that a
convergence of science and philosophy can lead to a greater
understanding of consciousness, and to the dissolution of some of the
more traditional views on this issue, this paper sets out to discuss
the scientific view that consciousness is not some kind of mysterious
entity that evades all forms of scientific analysis, but a 'biological
phenomenon' that is the result of the evolution of human mental

 What is meant by 'consciousness?

From the outset it is important to say that, in this paper, what is
meant by consciousness is a particular state of subjective sentient
awareness which, whilst species specific to human beings, is rarely
recognised for what it is. Let me explain: very occasionally, perhaps
in the quietness of morning, as we awake, we may, for a brief moment,
experience the sensation of 'just being': the feeling that 'I am'.
Almost immediately this experience passes as thoughts intrude to
attach all kinds of appendages to it: 'I am late', 'I am hungry', 'I
am a doctor' and so on. However, before these intrusions occur, in
that fleeting moment, it is possible to enjoy the unique experience
of what it is just to be. It is the contention of this paper that
this state of awareness is an a priori mode of perception which is
species specific to homo sapiens -- and which has developed through
the evolution of mental development. John Searle supports this view
when he describes consciousness as,

     ... the central fact of specifically human existence because
     without it all other specifically human aspects of our
     existence -- language, love, and so on -- would be
In a sense, this is a polemic against the Cartesian view that takes
this a priori condition and attaches to it the predicate 'thinking',
thus concluding that because 'I am thinking, therefore I am', not
realising that thinking is not in itself being, but an activity which
occurs as a consequence of being: to think, first one must be.

To develop further the view that, without consciousness, all other
aspects of being would be impossible, I would argue that there is a
case to be made that thinking is a posteriori: it occurs as a result
of empirical experience or sensory perception (one's potential to
think is another thing altogether, and is associated with an innate
instinct to structure language in an ordered fashion -- an issue
addressed in the next section). In other words, in conjunction with
one's ability to see, touch, smell, hear, and speak, thinking allows
one to make sense of the phenomenal world. But it is not one's
essential being, it is not what I am. It is important to realise that
the claim is not being made that human consciousness is in any way a
'mystical' or 'other worldly' experience. What is being argued is
that each individual possesses, a priori, the experience of being: of
I am -- and that this experience has developed over the course of
human history through the process of natural selection.

 Consciousness as a product of evolution

The modern theory of biological evolution begins in 1859 with Charles
Darwin's 'Origin of the Species by means of natural selection'.
According to Darwin's theory, as random genetic mutations occur
within an organism's genetic code, beneficial mutations are preserved
and inherited by the next generation. This process is called 'natural

Natural selection, then, acts to preserve and accumulate advantageous
genetic mutations. For example, if a member of a species were to
develop a functional advantage its offspring would inherit that
advantage, which in turn it would pass on to its offspring. In short,
natural selection is the preservation of a functional advantage that
enables a species to compete more effectively in a complex and often
an alien world. The basic concept of natural selection is that
'nature' (the physical and biological environment) 'selects'
variations in characteristics or traits which improve individual
survival and reproduction (adaptive traits) and selects against
unfavourable traits which burden individuals (maladaptive traits).[3]
As long as environmental conditions remain the same, or similar
enough, the trait's adaptive values will remain unchanged, and when
traits are heritable, adaptive traits will become more common and
maladaptive traits rarer over generations. Sudden or gradual physical
or environmental changes alter the adaptive value of the trait
regardless of the trait's previous evolutionary history. Organisms
that exist today are those that have survived to pass on their genes
to the next generation. As Richard Dawkins explains:

     Every generation is a sieve. The genes that will exist
     after a million generations of sieving have what it takes
     to get through sieves. They have participated in the
     embryonic structuring of a million bodies without a single
     failure. Every one of these bodies has survived to
     adulthood... [and] every single one of them proved capable
     of bearing or begetting at least one child.[4]
According to Dawkins, the Darwinian explanation for why living things
are so good at what they do is very simple: they are good because of
the accumulated wisdom of their ancestors. However, this wisdom is
not something that is learnt or acquired; rather it is something that
first arose in virtue of some random event -- some alteration of
physical or environmental conditions -- that was then selectively
recorded in the genetic database of the species.

One of the arguments against natural selection was that since it was
only a theory it might contain gaps for which there was no factual
evidence. However, the discovery of the double helical structure of
DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953, and for which, along
with Maurice Wilkins they were awarded Nobel Prize in 1962, led to
the definitive verification of the principle advanced by Darwin
almost one hundred years before.[5] The 'double helix' structure of
DNA consists of two interlinked spirals of biochemical units called
nucleotides (hence the name). There are four nucleotides, known by
their initial letters G, A, C and T. In a molecular model of DNA,
they resemble a twisted stepladder. Now, all living creatures have
the same genetic code. This code translates the sequence of DNA
nucleotides into amino acids, the corresponding building blocks of
proteins. Random mutations in DNA, together with the genetic mixing
that takes place through sexual reproduction, make possible the
variations that drive evolution.

Recent studies by a team of researchers at Trinity College Dublin,
adds further weight to reliability of Darwin's theory. According to
the team's findings, a random genetic mutation some 100 million years
ago helped to deliver the yeast species that allows us today to enjoy
bread and wine. The research, which was published in the prestigious
journal, Nature (16/03/06), describes how a progenitor yeast living
some 100 million years ago mutated by producing an extra copy of its
entire genome. The result was a collection of new yeast species
including the important Sacchromyces cervisiae, the yeast used to
make bread and wine. According to Trinity's Smurfit Institute of
Genetics professor Ken Wolfe, this research helps to explain one of
the most difficult things to explain in genetics: 'it teaches us
something about the process through which new species can be
formed'.[6] As Wolfe explains, an organism evolves by gaining or
losing genes. If genes are duplicated they tend to be dropped as
extra copies are no longer required. These genome changes either help
the organism to survive, thus increasing the chances that they will be
passed on to the next generation, or work against survival and cause
the organism to die off.[7] In the same way that the yeast we find in
bread and wine has evolved to its present form over the millennia, so
too, for Searle, is the evolution of human consciousness the result
of a long history of increasing human mentality.

According to Searle, consciousness, or 'the sentient awareness' of
one's own existence, is a 'neurobiological phenomenon' that
privileges us human beings with the wherewithal to understand the
world in which we live, and our place in that world.[8] It is the
sensory experience of one's own existence. It is an experience that
precedes experience of the outside world, but upon which experience
of the world depends. As Christof Koch and Francis Crick say:

     Consciousness is a property of the human brain, a highly
     evolved system... The function of the neuronal correlate of
     consciousness is to produce the best current interpretation
     of the environment -- in the light of past experiences --
     and to make it available, for a sufficient time, to the
     parts of the brain which contemplate, plan and execute
     voluntary motor outputs'.[9]
In this context it might be thought to be something akin to Kant's
'space and time' and the categories of quality, quantity, modality
and relation, or Chomsky's 'universal grammar' in that it is an a
priori condition of the human mind. But it is more than this. Before
we can experience space and time, causality, and before we order
language grammatically, we must have consciousness. While Kant and
Chomsky may give plausible explanations for the existence of a priori
conditions in the human mind, they do not succeed in explaining how
these conditions arise.

To understand just how these 'conscious states' come about we must
return to Darwin's theory of evolution. As Ken Mogi says, it is
highly probable that the fundamental principle behind the origin of
consciousness corresponds to 'random mutation' or 'natural selection'
that was so instrumental in the Darwinian theory of the origin of the
species.[10] Where Mogi infers a probable connection between Darwin
and the origin of consciousness, for Searle there is no ambiguity.
Conscious states, he says, are the result of lower level neurological
processes in the brain which are themselves higher level features of
the brain. As far as we can tell, 'variable rates of neuron firings
in the different neuronal architectures cause all the enormous
variety of our conscious life'.[11]

What should be understood is that while the lower level neurological
processes lead to consciousness, the conscious states that arise from
them are not themselves some added substance or entity, but a higher
feature of the whole system.[12] In essence, the lower level neuronal
processes in the brain lead to consciousness, and consciousness is
just a higher level feature of the system that is made up of the
neural and lower level neuronal elements. Thus, when it is said that
certain conscious states are a priori, it should be said that they
are a priori not because they were implanted in the human mind since
the creation of the species by some divine architect, rather they are
a priori modes of perception which have, over the history of
humankind, proven beneficial to the continuing evolutionary
development of the species. One has only to consider how vulnerable
human beings are in the physical world to realise how essential it
became for the evolutionary process to provide humans with a form of
consciousness that is species specific. In a world in which the
development of human beings from infant dependency to adult
independency is amongst the slowest in the animal world, it became
imperative that the human mind should develop a mental dexterity that
would allow them to anticipate, to negotiate, and to overcome
obstacles; to consider the consequences of their circumstances and,
where necessary, to modify their responses and reactions accordingly.

 So how does it work?

According to Searle, the stimuli the brain receives through sensory
experience are converted by the nervous system into 'variable rates
of neuron firings at synapses'.[13] Neurons are the basic information
processing structures in the nervous system, synapses are connections
between neurons through which 'information' flows from one neuron to
another. Neurons process all of the 'information' that flows within,
to, or out of the central nervous system.[14] Robert Stufflebaum
tells us that absolutely all of the motor information through which
we are able to move; all of the sensory information through which we
hear, see, smell, taste and touch; and all of the cognitive
information through which we are able to reason, think, dream, plan,
remember, and do everything else with our minds is processed in this
way. Processing so many kinds of information requires many types of
neurons. It is estimated that there may be as many as 10,000 types of
neurons. It is also estimated that there are as many as 200 billion
neurons in the brain alone. Since each of these is connected to
between 5,000 and 200,000 other neurons, the amount of ways that
information flows amongst neurons in the brain is greater than the
number of atoms in the universe.[15]

Ken Mogi gives us an example of how this process operates on a
practical level: Let us suppose, he says, that one is watching a dog.
One sees that the dog has white hair, that the ground below the dog is
covered with violets, and that the dog's ears are triangular. Here,
one presumes that the dog, hair, violets and so on are out there, and
that one is perceiving them as a result of the causal connections that
begins with the reflectance of sunlight from the surfaces of these
objects, via the photoreceptors in one's retina, and finally the
firing of the neurons in one's brain.[16] However, Mogi goes on to
point out that while in one sense the statement 'one perceives
something outside one' may be true, in another sense it is
misleading. Everything one perceives: the dog, the white hair, the
violets, are but phenomenological 'apparitions' caused by the neural
firings in one's brain. Thus, ultimately, the perceived dog is not
'outside' one, but 'within one'. Everything one perceives, even the
image of a star billions of light years away seen through a
telescope, is nothing but the result of neural firings in one's
brain. Even if there is a dog standing in a field of violets, if the
neurons in one's brain do not fire in an appropriate way, one would
not perceive the dog or the violets. Conversely, even if the 'dog'
and 'violets' were not there, if the neurons in one's brain were
stimulated in the appropriate manner, one would have a perception of
the dog and the violets. 

Hence, the entities outside one, and one's perception of these
entities, are in principle separate things. It is only that in normal
circumstances, a highly reliable correlation is expected between the
external entities and one's perception of them. In principle, one's
perception could be independent of the actual external objects that
normally invoke it.[17] It must be said that while Mogi clearly makes
a valid point, it still remains that the neurons must be triggered by
some external stimuli, either in the present or from the past, and
that the images one perceives will always be those that have their
source in sensory experience: one cannot have a perception of a dog
if one has never seen a dog at one time or another. This particular
feature of consciousness is called intentionality.


Intentionality is that feature of consciousness by which the mind
brain contemplates states of affairs in the world. As a feature of
consciousness, intentionality is like a screen onto which objects and
acts are projected; without this screen objects and acts would not
exist. It is important to realise that this does not imply that the
real world does not exist; rather that it is only realisable in
virtue of this particular feature. It should be stressed that
intentionality is a feature of consciousness and not consciousness
itself. Without consciousness, nothing else is possible. It is before
all acts and objects; and before all other a priori modes of
perception and all other evolutionary mental developments.

That intentionality has arisen as a development of evolution is well
aired by Darwinian scientist Harvey Whitehouse who, in his paper
entitled 'Darwin and the Scientific Study of Religion'[18] explains
that through the process of natural selection the human brain has
evolved to a stage at which it became 'naturally biased to
creationism'. 'Obsessed with intention', says Whitehouse, 'we seek to
identify order and design in the world we see around us'. Allied to
this 'intention' to design is a tendency towards 'narcissism': the
tendency to project human characteristics onto inhuman things. These
characteristics can include not only physical attributes such as
heads, hearts, eyes and so on, but attributes such as compassion,
intelligence, justice, beauty, as well as their opposites. It is from
this property of the mind that religious beliefs arose. The human
brain, says Whitehouse, 'has evolved hazard precaution mechanisms':
faculties or perhaps, more accurately, instincts that warn us against
dangerous substances, occurrences, and events. These 'warning signs'
become crystallised in our minds into notions of 'right' or 'wrong'
behaviour. Those which threaten the harmony or wellbeing of the
individual or his or her environment are deemed to be wrong, whilst
those that are deemed advantageous are good. For Whitehouse, science
can show that human consciousness did not derive from some
metaphysical source or realm; rather it arose in virtue of a random
beneficial mutation that was preserved and passed on to successive
generations by natural selection.

 The instinct of equilibrity

Consciousness, then, privileges us with an awareness of our
existence. Intentionality, as a feature of consciousness, privileges
us with the wherewithal to contemplate affairs of the world. However,
in order to order phenomena, nature, or natural selection, has
furnished the mind/ brain with another, equally important, feature
which I will call the instinct of equilibrity: an innate sense of
equilibrium which is essential in the making of judgement calls
necessary for our safety and development. It is this essential
feature or element that allows us to intuit that which may serve us
best in our struggle of the survival of the fittest. It is in virtue
of this feature that we recognise those qualities in others that are
worth borrowing for our own evolutionary purposes. It is in virtue of
this feature that we turn away from that which we feel may affect us
negatively, and turn towards that which we feel may benefit us. It is
in virtue of this feature that we have developed our sense of beauty,
justice, goodness, and truth, and their opposites -- qualities
indefinable in themselves but essential in establishing an
environment in which human beings can live and prosper. It could be
argued that when Keats said that 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty! --
that is all/ Ye know and all ye need to know' it was this sense of
balance of which he spoke: at its most refined beauty is truth, and
truth is beauty. But it is also justice and goodness; and together
they are but manifestations, even interpretations, of the unique
feature which is the instinct of equilibrity.

Allied to this faculty is another faculty which evolutionary
biologists call reciprocal altruism. Reciprocal altruism has its
roots in what scientists call biological altruism. At base, then,
there is biological altruism. That is, it is found that an organism
may behave altruistically when its behaviour benefits other
organisms. Now it seems that there are selfish genes and altruistic
genes. While selfish genes can, on a one versus one basis, destroy an
altruistic gene, where two or more altruistic genes come together,
they will gain dominance over a selfish gene. Without going into
scientific detail, this process is found to through different
species: there is biological altruism (as shown above), kin altruism
which runs through the animal kingdom, and reciprocal altruism which
is more evident in humans. This predisposition manifests more
recognisably in family or group solidarity, but can extend on a wider
scale, particularly where there exists some form of empathy with these
other individuals, groups, societies etc. It is held that a society
where the majority of people are genetically predisposed to be
altruistic will exhibit more caring tendencies, even to the extent
that one may be prepared to sacrifice one's life so that the group
will survive -- it is said that this tendency is also evident at
biological and kin altruistic level (For a more detailed account of
this see Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at


Whilst the oldest human related fossil -- the Sahel Man from Chad --
dates back 7 million years, most anthropologists agree that Homo
erectus began to evolve into Homo sapiens about 500,000 years ago, at
the very last instant, of the 4.5 billion year history of our
planet.[19] If we consider the life of the planet in terms of a
twenty four hour clock, it can be said that human beings have only
been around in the last few minutes. Thus, it follows that, for the
greater part of its existence, the earth has managed perfectly well
without us. On this evidence it can be argued that human beings are
contingent to the existence of the planet upon which they live: the
earth just doesn't need us. Even if we accept that, at the time of
our appearance, nature had decreed that there was need for such a
species of animal, recent evidence of man's impact on the world
supports the view that that need may well be long exhausted. Given
that human beings could well be the dinosaurs of the present age, and
that we too, due to some physical or environmental change in the
climate, will outlive our usefulness (if we ever had any, and if we
have not outlived it already) and become extinct, the argument must
be made that human consciousness, since it is a neurobiological
phenomenon, will disappear with us -- and so will the paradigms, the
ideas, and the dogmas we have devised, over the course of human
history, in our attempts to understand the world, and our place in it.

Philosophy has given much attention to the roles human mental
intuitions, modes of perception, and faculties play in the formation
of concepts and ideas. One of the most influential of these thinkers
was Immanuel Kant who held that in order to have a recognisable,
discussable experience it must fall into a pattern. The very order or
form of this experience, he said, belongs to the mind, and not to the
outside world. We neither have nor can conceive of any possible
experience except in through the a priori modes of perception of
space and time, and the categories of quantity, quality, relation,
modality, existence/ non-existence, and necessity.[20]

However, whilst Kant turned things around by arguing that knowledge
of the world depends on certain a priori conditions, since we cannot
assume that the human mind has always been privileged with such
conditions, it must be argued that he fails to satisfactorily answer
the question as to how these conditions may have arisen. In this
paper we have seen that there is strong 'scientific' evidence to
support the view that consciousness is a neurobiological phenomenon
that has arisen in the human brain/ mind as a result of the evolution
of mental development; and that it is through the process of natural
selection that human beings have developed the mental tools which
have allowed them to survive, to compete, to develop, and to evolve
in a complex and often alien world. As a consequence of this
evidence, those who remain convinced by the view that ideas,
religious or otherwise, derive from some transcendent realm, and/ or
that certain states of consciousness have always existed, may find
that it is time to measure their own views on these matters against
the discoveries of science. As mentioned in the introduction to this
paper, the Dalai Lama holds that where scientific discoveries prove
conclusively that some of our beliefs to be false, we must be
prepared to eschew these beliefs in favour of science. If philosophy
is to come to a greater understanding of consciousness and its
manifestations, it must be at least prepared to put its own
prejudices in parenthesis and examine the discoveries science has
made in this area. For philosophy to ignore the inroads science has
made into the area of consciousness is to risk reducing philosophy to
just another form of dogma.


1. Dalai Lama, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of
Science and Spirituality (New York, Morgan Road Books, 2005, p. 13)

2. Searle, John: Minds, Brains & Science, (London: Penguin Books,
1984) p.16

3. See Darwin, Charles: The Origin of the Species, (Ware: Wordsworth
Literature, 1998), pp 61-86

4. Dawkins, Richard: Climbing Mount Improbable, (London: Penguin
books, 1997), p. 76

5. See Carmisoni, Penni: 'From Darwin to the Human Genome',
California State University

6. Wolfe, Ken: in 'Demonstrating the origin of the species' by Dick
Ahlstrom, The Irish Times, 16/03/06, p.17

7. See ibid.

8. See Searle, John: 'The Problem of Consciousness';

9. Koch, Christof and Crick, Francis: '116 Consciousness, neural
basis of' from Commentary on 'The Mystery of Consciousness'
University of California, Chico, Nov 4, 1999

10. Mogi, Ken: 'Qualia and the Brain', Nikkei Science, Tokyo, 1997,

11. See Searle op.cit.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. See Stufflebaum, Robert: 'Neurons, synapses, and
neurotransmission: An introduction

15. Ibid.

16. Op.cit.

17. Ibid.

18. Whitehouse, Harvey: 'Darwin and the Scientific Study of
Religion', Trinity College Dublin, 10/02/06

19. See Raven, Dr Peter: "Our Planet" (UNEP's magazine for
environmentally sustainable development), Vol 6, No 4, 1994

20. See Kant, Immanuel: Critique of Pure Reason, trans by Norman Kemp
Smith, (London: Macmillan Press, 1996), pp. 65-91

(c) Anthony Fahey 2010

E-mail: fahey.anthony@gmail.com



Could it be that there is a pattern of nature which pervades the
universe, but which physics treats as mostly a niche phenomenon that
only applies to a limited realm?

The thesis being proffered here is that the notion of complementarity
represents precisely that most pervasive pattern of nature, and can
therefore serve as the centerpiece for a new model of science. This
means, of course, that we are talking about something which goes well
beyond a set of subtle phenomena in the micro world, most notably the
wave-particle duality, which is described in terms of Niels Bohr's
principle of complementarity. The new approach being put forth here
is that complementarity can be understood in a much broader way, such
that it is able to encompass all phenomena, regardless of whether we
are talking about the micro or macro world.

Yet how could this be, and why would we all not know it -- if indeed
such a pattern pervades the natural world? Consider two different
answers, one outside and the other inside of physics.

Regarding the former, the argument would be that most people simply
do not think in terms of complementarity. While we are all aware of
common patterns like light vs. dark, male vs. female, or awake vs.
asleep, we tend to construe these phenomena in terms of the
particular characteristic or relationship, rather than in terms of
the broader pattern of complementarity which they represent. Part of
the explanation may be cultural, in the sense of different western
vs. eastern ways of perceiving the world -- which includes modes of
thinking that are more, and less, associated with modern science.

This brings us to the inside answer, which concerns how our theories
of science get built and what criteria should apply. Put succinctly,
the argument would be that an expanded principle of complementarity
is not needed because all the many realms of nature where it might be
applied already have conceptual frameworks in place which account for
the phenomena in question. Not only would the new precept be
unnecessary, it is also hard to see how it could be applied in broad
terms which satisfy the cardinal rule put forward by Karl Popper --
namely, that any theory of science must be subject to falsification,
in the sense that it should make specific predictions which are
subject to disproof.

Obviously, then, we have some explaining to do, as to just why a
general principle of complementarity should even be subject to
consideration -- given that most realms have already been dealt with
theoretically, and the present approach does not go further in making
better predictions that are subject to falsification. And since that
criterion is at the heart of the phenomenal success which the
established paradigm has enjoyed lo these many years, then why should
we allow ourselves to get sidetracked with spurious speculation?

It should be quite evident that there is no way of dealing with these
issues without reexamining the theory-building strategy of modern
science -- which is why we devote considerable discussion to the
topic, in a paper that is about complementarity. Thus, valuable as
the scientific method has long been in countering the more lax
approach to construing the patterns of nature which preceded it, this
strategy has its own limitations. One of these is that our constructs
and our models have been largely developed in a kind of wild west
manner -- in the sense that once some phenomenological territory has
been tamed or accounted for by a given set of logical structures, in
terms of making accurate predictions, then that phenomenological
domain is 'owned' by the associated conceptual framework and is very
difficult to dislodge.

Given that many realms of nature were already owned by one or another
conceptual framework before complementarity came onto the scene in
modern physics, the construct was only required to account for a
fairly specific subset of phenomena which could not be otherwise
accounted for. One might argue that had a fully-developed concept of
complementarity been put forward earlier in the historical cycle, it
would have represented the basic conceptual overlay. Of course, the
western mode of thinking which underlies modern science would hardly
have been receptive to such an intrusion, and even today there are
many scholars who reject the complementarity interpretation even in
the limited realm where it is generally applied.

One serious problem with the shotgun approach to theory-building is
that we end up with different sets of phenomenological territory
being owned by different conceptual frameworks -- and while each may
be individually justified, in terms of the falsification criterion,
taken together they do not fit with one another. The resulting
melange amount to arbitrary cross sections of nature which cannot be
brought together in a coherent manner.

One way of discussing the issue is in terms of two different criteria
for building our theories of nature -- the usual one of prediction, as
opposed to the more controversial one of understanding. The position
being put forward here is that these amount to narrow vs. broad ways
of construing the patterns of nature -- and while the former are
appropriate to particular domains, the latter are suitable for the
larger whole; and that if we are ever to develop a coherent model of
nature, then the latter must come into play. And for that to happen,
we need the broadest of concepts that are widely applicable, rather
than only the narrower ones which currently reign. Obviously, the
position here is that complementarity fits the bill.

Not only that, but there is another factor regarding the broad-based
approach to theory-building which complementarity represents -- and
this concerns the implicit assumption that any conceptual framework
which is bolstered by the prediction criterion automatically
establishes such outcomes as representing immutable facts of nature
which are (at least provisionally) not subject to dispute. But the
reality is that any 'fact' only exists within some context or
framework of interpretation, and it can appear differently when cast
within some other framework of interpretation. These issues
inevitably lead to questions about unprovable assumptions and
underlying metaphysics, which is a point that we will return to below.

With all this background, it's time to consider some of the different
ways in which complementarity is applied in the new approach. And this
is an important point to reiterate; for it should be obvious that the
whole idea here is not merely to take the standard principle of
complementarity, as it is usually understood in physics, and simply
declare that it describes everything in nature. Rather, we are
talking about an expanded principle of complementarity which goes
beyond that which came before it.

How? We might start by saying that there is a complementary
distinction between what might be called being and what might be
called seeing, with the former consisting of 'what is out there' (to
speak simply) as opposed to 'how we see' what is out there. And while
each factor has subsidiary complementary components, consider first
just the seeing part. There are two fundamentally different ways of
construing or perceiving a given pattern of nature, which will yield
a very different outcome in each case. One way of seeing can be
described in terms of the narrow and precise, as opposed to the other
way of seeing in terms of the broad and diffuse; or one could speak
about the part as opposed to the whole, or the focus/ figure as
opposed to the background. Everything in nature is subject to these
two complementary perspectives -- and both are required in order to
comprehend the phenomenon in question.

Indeed, our concepts and theories about nature can be treated in
precisely these terms, as ways of seeing the world. And that is also
why we can describe the prediction vs. understanding criteria as
narrow vs. broad ways of construing the patterns of nature. What we
can add here is the rather obvious point that prediction and
understanding can themselves be considered as complementary
modalities for achieving this end, with both being essential for a
satisfactory outcome.

But now let us turn to the other side of the being-seeing pair. There
are various ways in which the new model would describe the world that
is 'out there' in complementary terms, but one way would be in terms
of two different abstract orientations -- vertical and horizontal.
The vertical orientation can, in fact, be understood in terms of
another basic construct, that of hierarchy. After all, any hierarchy
is ultimately composed of something akin to a top and something akin
to a bottom -- or at least a corresponding upward vs. downward
direction or ordering scheme -- and these two are complementary to
one another. Then what about the horizontal orientation? These would
consist of particular levels of the hierarchy, each of which would
have its own complementary components.

Now consider some other general ways that complementarity would come
into play, in terms of a set of basic natural characteristics -- and
these are admittedly somewhat nebulous in the brief manner that they
are listed here. To start with, we can say that a given phenomenon or
broad situation (e.g., a 'frame of reference') can be stable or it can
be changing. Similarly, we can talk about a relationship or situation
as having an inside orientation or an outside orientation. Then there
is a complementary pair as between matter (e.g., objects -- or
particles) and medium (e.g., emptiness -- or waves). Finally here,
there is that most central of characteristics which we also describe
in complementary terms -- stasis vs. motion. And to be clear about
the distinction between stable and static: the former does not mean
the latter, given that something can be moving in a stable (i.e.,
uniform) manner.

What the new model attempts to do is bring these (and other)
complementary parameters together into a coherent framework, which is
then applied to a wide range of topics and phenomena in nature. Along
the way, many commonly accepted provisions of the established
paradigm become subject to reinterpretation. The easiest way to
describe this in general terms is with an argument about
one-sidedness: many of the most basic constructs in modern physics
are arbitrarily one-sided in their composition, and these one-sided
conceptions distort the nature of reality -- for in principle they
could just as easily have been framed with the opposite orientation,
and also not falsified; which brings us back to the unprovable
assumptions or underlying metaphysics mentioned earlier. Again, the
'facts' have been interpreted within a framework that is one-sided,
when they could just as well have been interpreted in a framework
which is other-sided.

Yet because the conceptual frameworks (in which these one-sided ideas
are couched) have not been dislodged by means of falsification, they
continue to be embraced as ipso facto representations of reality. Of
course, the basic assumption of the new model is that these
constructs should not be interpreted in terms of either side alone
(whichever it is, in the given instance), but rather in terms of both
(complementary) sides.

'So what?' someone might protest. 'Does it really matter? As long as
the established theories work to do the job at hand -- make accurate
predictions -- then arguments like these should not be given much
credence. Unless some new approach makes better predictions than the
existing one, then the rules of science disqualify it as a contender
-- it simply does not matter, and only acts as a distraction from
what should be the proper business of science. Not only does it not
help in conducting science within the field, but it confuses and
misleads the general public -- both in terms of how science should be
done, as well as in terms of what the accepted outcome of that process
is in the dominant theories of the day. And there are already enough
problems getting people educated about science without slipping
backwards like this.'

Actually, leaving the dogma aside, that last point crystallizes the
issue and the problem. Thus, why is there so much scientific
illiteracy or ignorance among the larger population, a point that is
frequently bemoaned by the science community? It is suggested here
that the source of the difficulty does not lie in a failure of the
general public (the learners) to be motivated or interested -- nor
does it even lie with the techniques or drive of the scientists
themselves (the teachers). Rather, it is a problem with the content
-- with the concepts and theories themselves. Far too many of these
ideas, especially in physics, make no sense to people and have no
apparent relationship to their everyday lives -- so why should they
be expected to embrace them? And how could they anyway, given that
the ideas are not coherent; in both senses of the term? That is, the
various conceptual components do not fit together into a coherent
whole, and the resulting patchwork is not coherent in terms of being

Prediction is not enough, for by itself it also represents a
one-sided approach to nature -- yet the other side of understanding
is also essential. Complementarity is the key to grasping this
overall relationship, as it is to so many other aspects of our work
to comprehend the patterns of nature.


For a full discussion of the essential thesis, see the new book
called The Complementary Nature of Reality, by Peter Barab. Published
in 2010 by Open Way Press (http://www.openwaypress.com). ISBN

(c) Peter Barab 2010

E-mail: openwaypress@gmail.com



A Day-Conference and Colloquium arranged by the Philosophical Society
of England.

Venue: City University, Northampton Square, London EC1V OHB

Date: Saturday, 22nd May, 2010, 10.30a.m. - 6.30 p.m.

Questions about religious and  cultural  identity in today's changing
world mean that liberal democracy faces a new toleration debate. While
democracy requires being able to see the world from other people's
perspectives, there is no longer a consensus about what this entails.
Does it mean approving as well as permitting? Is it incompatible with
moral judgement? Is tolerance something that is due to people
themselves or to their views and opinions? And what is to be done if
it turns out to be impossible to tolerate one group or viewpoint
without discriminating against another? These are some of the
questions that will be addressed at this conference.


Saturday 22nd May

10.30 a.m. Arrival, registration and coffee


11.00 a.m. 'Culture, Religion and Identity: the new Toleration Debate'

     Brenda Almond
     Emeritus Professor of Moral and Social Philosophy,
     University of Hull.
     Lawrence Blum
     Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Education and
     Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts,
     Michael Bavidge
     Chair of the Philosophical Society of England

1 p.m. Lunch


1.45 p.m. 'Is diversity really something to celebrate rather than
merely tolerate?' 

     David Conway
     Civitas, formerly Professor of Philosophy at Middlesex
     Chair and Respondent:
     Jane O'Grady
     Philosophy lecturer, writer and reviewer.

3.15 p.m.  Tea


3.45 p.m. 'Urban fears and global terrors: citizenship,
multiculturism and belonging'

     Victor Seidler
     Professor of Social Theory and Philosophy, Goldsmiths
     College, University of London.
     Chair and Respondent:
     Professor Christina Slade
     Dean of Arts and Social Sciences, City University, London.

5.45 p.m. - 6.30 p.m. DRINKS AND NIBBLES

Registration charge, including morning and afternoon tea and coffee,
lunch and evening reception is £35.  Early application is recommended
as places are limited. Cheques made out to 'The Philosophical Society
of England' should be sent to the Honorary Secretary of the Society:
Dr. Alan Brown, 9 Olney Court, Oxford OX1 4LZ. e-mail

Web-page of the Society: http://www.philsoc.co.uk



The Philosophical Society of England

Ways of Living: Culture, Identity and Difference in today's world

A Day-Conference and Colloquium arranged by the Philosophical Society
of England at City University, Northampton Square, London EC1V OHB.

Saturday, 22nd May, 2010 10.30a.m. - 5.30 p.m.

To register, please fill in the following form:



Phone number:

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(We would prefer to have this if available, to help us communicate
further details and information.)

Member of the Philosophical Society of England: Yes/ No 

(Please delete what does not apply.)

I wish to register for the Philosophical Society Day-Conference and
enclose a cheque for  £35 made out to 'The Philosophical Society of


Please post this form, enclosing payment of £35 to the Hon. Secretary
of the Philosophical Society, Dr. Alan Brown, 9 Olney Court, Oxford
OX1 4LZ.

E-mail: alanbrown236@hotmail.com

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