Welcome to the first Audio Issue of the SHAPE Journal. This new form of publishing will feature podcast-like content alongside lectures, videos and some written-word content, transcribed from audio recordings.
Philosopher Jim Schofield's eyesight has deteriorated rapidly in the last year, making traditional writing and editing impossible for him. This new format for the journal should allow him to continue working and communicating his ideas via this website.
It is also an opportunity to investigate new ways of disseminating content and finding new audiences for the work. Some of our most successful outputs have been YouTube videos in the past, and this shift will place focus on that kind of content over traditional academic papers.
In the first of these new editions Jim Schofield goes back to basics, looking at how previous work on the Substrate Theory of Subatomic Physics and the recent series on Systems Theory might affect how we see the nature of reality...
Mick Schofield JANUARY 2023
This issue looks at a rather unusual way of doing philosophy. I want to talk about the true nature of reality - and that will include seeing how reality itself is constantly developing. To approach reality isn't a matter of defining fixed things that you can then explain everything with. Most of the things that we're going to be talking about will be constantly on the move, will be changing, will be developing.
I've been writing on Marxist philosophy and science for 16 years or so, but it is only in the last year (that's 2022) I began to realise that it could never be a matter of adding together laws and facts in more and more complex mixes, to try and explain reality. Reality is in fact a self evolved system. There will have been a time long, long ago, when there was no life, no plants, no animals, just substances of various kinds, and exactly how those substances came together and evolved into everything we see today, is truly significant to our question on the nature of reality.
Out of pure matter, everything else (including consciouness, and this very essay) has evolved - and that is a bit of an amazing thing. Reality evolves, at every single stage, the emergence of the wholly new. The nature of reality is not just a matter of a summation of fixed laws, as they always talk about in my original subject discipline, which believe it or not, is physics. If you approach scientific investigation in that way, you've actually put a wall around a certain area of reality and your work is wholly within that wall. This can work well if all you're trying to do is produce some item, or develop some technological solution, because you can control the situation to make sure that only that and nothing else will happen. But if you want to understand reality and the way things actually emerge all by themselves - it doesn't work. You've got to take into account the fact that things must be naturally varying, quantitatively. But all things are all varying differently, different rates, different amounts. And it's when these different rates and amounts come together and affect one another, that the interesting things start to happen.
Indeed, reality is never purely additive. What happens when you get different things coming together, is that, to begin with, don't affect one another at all. The rates may be wildly different, and the sizes is maybe wildly different. So they just pass one another in the night, and things carry on as they before. But there will be instances where things have fairly similar tempos and fairly similar sizes, and they do interact with one another and cause something new to occur. Now that new thing may only be temporary. In fact, in most cases these comings together will be just an incident. Something will happen and then it will go away again. But you can get the tempos coming together, until they're almost in step. Then different things, at different sizes, and in different tempos can change, whenever it can be linked together to make something different. That is the important change and if we're going to talk about this transition, from total emptiness to a world full of life, including human beings and thought, we're not going to find out anything by treating it like the physicists do, and don't forget, that was my main subject. Physics.
To understand something important about the nature of reality, we've got to look into how things come together and create new things. The first important thing that we've got to understand when we do this, is that things in the world will not all be very similar. They can be at very different sizes. And if they change in in any way, it can be at very different tempos. And one of the things that stands out is that when you get things with very different sizes and tempos, they don't tend to affect one another at all. And we assume - from our vantage point, trying to study them - that their properties are fixed, probably forever - eternal intrinsic properties and laws. It's not so, but that's what we've assumed. However, what is likely to happen, is that when things do get in step - similar tempos: twice, three times, that sort of thing - you do get something slightly different occurring. Now that is only two, that's never really very significant. But the world is not made up of just two things. It's made of trillions of different things, perhaps more. Some of them will be as big as galaxies, and some of them will be smaller subatomic particles - and the subatomic particles won't affect the galaxies and vice versa.
So you're going to get levels created. And this is very important, if you really want to look at reality as it is. It is not all-of-a-piece. It has these levels - and the features which determine what's in our level of reality is tempo and size, because otherwise, the things won't affect one another. But if they have a similar enough tempo and size, it is very likely that they might.
So the world gradually self-organises, from its beginning, whatever it was, it will self-organise into a series of coherent levels, which can affect one another, within the level but not outside of it. And they'll be literally millions of levels. Now they're not like the levels that we're used to, in a building, in a map, or in a country or in space - not at all - not 3d or 2d. But levels of reality which fill the whole of space, but will only be occupied by the limited number of things that are similar in size, dimension and oscillation speed.
Now, one of the things that becomes evident, is that if you get three or more things in a given level, oscillating at different speeds, and they manage to get in step with one another, once there's more than two, things are different. We move towards something I like to call the crisis, you get a little peak when they come together, and then back so the norm. You can get things going up in little hills, and you can even get them getting so big that the result of all of them adding together and making something new, jumps completely out of the level, and enters another level - and thereafter exists in that other level.
Now, you may wonder why I'm talking about this! But it turns out that this way of looking at reality was only really discovered at the beginning of the 19th century - by the philosopher Hegel. He was an idealist, so of course, he only dealt in ideas and thoughts. He wasn't a scientist or a physicist. But he found out that thoughts were never fixed. They always developed. And he found out that they developed in a very similar way to what I've been talking about matter interacting. You get oscillations. You get them interacting and therefore are in little periods of a peak of something happening. And can you get several coming together, which can cause such a cataclysm, that it jumps out of its usual level and into a new level. And the names that came to be associated with these - the biggest we call an emergence or revolution. And the small ones we might call crises or just changes. Now, Hegel was only talking about ideas in people's heads. But he had a follower, called Karl Marx, who was primarily a historian who studied the development of societies. And he realised in looking in detail at past societies, that the same changes took place at the social level. You could get things that were oscillating, things that were coming together to cause crises. And occasionally - but very, very rarely - you could get them all getting in step, and causing a really big bang - a revolution. And Marx began to use these categories not about individual things, but about development itself, and his change to the science or philosophy was named after him: Marxism.
Now perhaps surprisingly, though the world is full of people who call themselves Marxists, I've never met one who actually takes this particular view. So I'm a Marxist who disagrees with pretty well all other Marxists. The problem is of course, that neither Marx nor even Lenin, took the philosophy beyond a certain level of reality. Marx never, in fact, investigated any of the sciences. He called his conclusions from his investigations, when applied to society, an image of "scientific socialism", but what he meant by science isn't the same as what the scientists talk about when they do physics, or chemistry, or biology. It's not the same at all. What I think he meant was that he knew objectively that the way he was approaching reality was sound. His ideas did reflect reality as is. But when he claimed to be scientific, all scientists disagreed, because it's not what they do.
But of course, there is a possibility of Marxism becoming scientifically-based. It was never done by Marx. And though Lenin made a very profound addition to it, late in the century - sufficient to be able to lead the Russians to a revolution - a social revolution wasn't the last word by any means. And when I look at Marxism, in my time, it seems there was three key steps towards the nature of reality. Hegel's, Marx's, and Lenin's. But since then, I'm afraid, not a lot has been achieved. And yet the world is full of political groups who are sure they know Marxism, and thus how to explain the world. But the very number of them tells you that they don't explain the world - aspects of it certainly are analysable by their means, but because they don't take the dialectical side of dialectical materialism, as it really is - concerning the importance of change, and particularly the emergence of the wholly new, they don't get anywhere. Because you cannot explain the wholly new in terms of lower levels, you can't do it. That's why physics isn't like Marxism. It believes that you can explain all higher levels in terms of lower levels, exclusively. And it's not true.
surprises me (and probably surprises you) is that this approach to philosophy, which you would have expected to have been developed many years ago, at least a century ago, is actually new. It hasn't been developed until this work, in what is embodied in what I have been writing, in the last 16 years. And most of that crucial work didn't really get to the nitty gritty, but it did lead, in the middle of 2022, to me beginning to ask the question, what is the nature of reality itself? What are the mechanisms, dynamics of its development and changes, that can explain what has arisen, from what was seemingly inert matter, over billions of years?