Abstract by John Kapp


by Reginald Kapp (1885-1966)
280 page book published by Methuen in 1940.

Abstract by his son, John Kapp, 22, Saxon Rd, Hove, BN3 4LE
Tel: 01273 417997,           Email: johnkapp@btinternet.com

The book addresses scientifically the age-old question about the nature of reality: ‘do non-material influences exist?' This question divided the ancient Greeks, and still divides the modern world into those who answer ‘no’ and ‘yes’, as follows:


Name 1

Name 2

Name 3

Today's typical adherents





Scientists, doctors, psychologists


Animist (1)

Dualist (2)

Vitalist (3)

Theologians, philosophers, alternative practitioners (4)

(1) Latin for soul.
(2) Mind/spirit and body.
(3) Latin for life.
(4) Those who believe in holism, or the holistic approach of mind, body, and spirit

The subject is a ‘no mans land’, falling between the disciplines mentioned above, plus biology and recently, artificial intelligence and consciousness studies. It. was always, and still is, bedevilled with emotion, predjudices and vested interests, which prevent people from speaking their truth. The power struggle that started between church and state is just as fierce today as ever it was, but is now called political correctness, and still determines how research grants in all those fields are allocated.

Although Reginald Kapp was a professor of engineering, he was unusual in that he was not dependent on grants, so could write freely. He had no axe to grind for anyone, and applied himself to the question with rigorous logical scientific argument. He discussed the view of the protagonists of the many schools (eg emergent) on both sides of the argument in a dispassionate way, showing that many of their hypotheses are ill-considered and even absurd. (eg.the monkey at a typewriter producing the works of Shakespeare)

He concluded that those who answer ‘yes’ cannot be proved right, but those who answer ‘no’ can be proved wrong. He showed convincingly that matter unaided cannot produce specifications, nor follow them when produced. Non-material influences must therefore exist which control and order the structure and behaviour of every living organism.

He defined matter to include atoms, molecules, particles, waves, fields, energy, in short, everything which has location. For non-material influences (including life, mind, soul, spirit, higher self, noumen, elan vital, God, Demiurge, Entelechy, life force, prana, chi, etc) without location, a new word is needed to collectively define them scientifically, which is free from misleading emotional associations. He coins the word ‘diathete’ for this, which comes from the ancient Greek language, meaning ‘capable of disposing to a specification’, literally dia at intervals, tithena’ to place. (see page 263)

With this new word, he conveniently divided all reality as being comprised either of matter, (with location) or diathetes (without location). The all-important attribute by which diathetes may be distinguished from matter is their power of discrimination, selection and guidance. They cannot be detected except by their effect on matter, which gives it life and sometimes purpose.

He showed how materialists have always vacillated between two theories: either there are no diathetes, or matter is a diathete. He demonstrated the absurdity of both these theories, and shows that materialism cannot be maintained without the use of one of them. Nevertheless, he acknowledges the intellectually uncomfortable conclusion pertaining to the vitalist belief, namely that diathetes act from nowhere. Even if you can conceptualise angels dancing on the point of a needle, it is harder to imagine that the needle is nowhere. All of us habitually attribute some diathetic attributes to matter, and some material attributes to diathetes.

He contrasted the non-life and life sciences. The physicist’s inorganic ‘rough untouched world of lifeless things’ is singly determinate, obeying only the laws of physics, which result in chaos. The organic world of living things is doubly determinate, obeying also the biological laws of life, which create order. Human beings are trebly determinate, also obeying the laws of mind.

Materialist have used belief in a ‘Cosmic Specification’ and a ‘Cosmic Statute Book’ to determine how living organisms were programmed to behave. However, this is becoming an increasingly meagre document as discoveries in physics and relativity are made. However, our knowledge of the specifications of living creatures is increasingly fulsome, as discoveries in biology and life-sciences are made.

Although the book is mostly about the metaphysics of life, (the microcosm) he digresses in an 8 page chapter (26) to address the question of the origin of matter. (the macrocosm) Even materialists do not hope to prove that matter created itself. This question has rightly been called ‘the skeleton in the philosopher’s cupboard’ by William James.

While pursuing the implications of Occam’s Razor, he postulates that there can only be two theories about the permanence of matter, which he calls ‘Once Upon a Time’ (since called the ‘Big Bang’) and the ‘At Any Time’ theory, namely that matter is continuously being created and extinguished. He published this 8 years before Hoyle, Bondi and Gold published their theory of ‘continuous creation’ in 1948. (He always regretted that they never included continuous extinction.) He showed that the minimum assumption is the 'at-any-time' one, and that it is free of the absurdities of the ‘once upon a time' theory.

He developed this theory in a later book 'Towards a Unified Cosmology' published by Hutchinson in 1960, (see section 8) calling it ‘the symetrical impermanance of matter’. From it he concluded that matter has a half-life (which he estimated to be between 300 and 400 million years) He also explained gravity as being caused by the curvature of space when matter disappears, and logical explanations for the formation and rotation of nebulae, galaxies, stars, the solar system, continental drift, and evolution including man.

He ended Science versus Materialism with the question: ‘how can a diathete control matter?’ He answers this 11 years later, in his book 'Mind, Life, and Body' published by Constable in 1951 (213 pages)

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