FACTS AND FAITH

THE DUAL NATURE OF REALITY

by     Reginald O. Kapp

3 - A DUALISTIC PHILOSOPHY


Alternative Hypotheses about Order
THERE are three possible views about the incidence of order. The first is that all events are ordered, even though some of them appear to be random. The second is that all events are random, even though some of them appear to be ordered. The third, which accords with appearances, is that some events are ordered and some random.

If the first view were tenable, if order prevailed throughout the whole material universe, if it were manifest wherever the laws of physics operate, I should have no reason to doubt the materialist when he asserts that all order is wholly the result of the operation of those laws. But I have shown in the last lecture that the materialist's faith in the ability of the laws of physics to create order is unsound and refuted by facts. We have to conclude that there is no order in the rough untouched world of lifeless things.

I propose to show in this lecture that the second view, the doctrine of universal randomness, is equally untenable. So we are left with the third view, according to which some things are ordered and some not. My immediate task will be to consider the nature of order and to show why a philosophy cannot be sound in which the reality of order is disregarded. But before I do this I must define what order is.

Of several objective and scientifically valid criteria by which one can distinguish between random and ordered systems or events I shall have time to mention only three. They are based respectively on considerations of probability, on the second law of thermo-dynamics, and on the ways in which predictions are made about random and ordered systems.

Considerations of Probability
When one knows that the components of a given system have a random distribution one can calculate the probability of certain events in the system. If one knows, for instance, that a pack of cards has been well shuffled one can calculate the probability with which a certain pattern of hand will occur on each deal. Experts have made such calculations for bridge hands and have used them as a basis for rules of bidding and play. Ordinary players, who do not possess the necessary mathematics for precise calculations make, nevertheless, an instinctive assessment of the probability that a given player will hold a certain number of cards of any particular suit. The foundation of their assessment is the assumption that the disposition of the cards in the pack was a random one, that the pack has been properly shuffled.

In this example one may judge from results whether a principle of randomness or a principle of order has applied to the sequence in which the cards were dealt. When a deal shows a freak distribution players often draw the conclusion that the pack was not well shuffled. If a poker player has the best cards in his hand whenever he is the dealer one may justifiably suspect that a selective principle has replaced a principle of randomness. Thus card players are quite familiar with the first criterion for distinguishing between order and randomness. It is the frequency with which certain specific configurations occur, in the above example the configurations presented by the hands dealt.

In the absence of any selective laws all things have a random distribution; they are like a well-shuffled pack of cards, and Eddington once used that analogy for the whole material universe. To do so is but another way of saying that there is no such thing as a Cosmic Statute Book. In physics many conclusions depend on the assumption that it is so. Atomic physics provides some striking examples. Work is based on the assumption that the particles composing the materials handled are in random distribution and in random motion. But any other field of study within the untouched world of lifeless things would provide equally good examples. Events there always justify the assumption that things merely fly about and eventually shake down.

But in the other world, the world that is touched by life, events do not justify any such assumption. Selective principles do operate. A motor-car may serve as our first example. Its assembly cannot be attributed to a principle of randomness. The components are not arranged in the factory like cards in a well-shuffled pack. Their movement from the store to the assembly shop cannot be described as just flying about. They do not merely shake down into the finished vehicle. If the assembly of a motor-car depended on a principle of randomness it would be a very rare event, rarer than any freak hand at bridge. Even if we did not know that the assembly was the work of workmen who select, control, guide the course of events, the simple fact that motor-cars are not at all rare would lead us to the conclusion that their assembly did not come about by chance.

This argument is not new, but it is sometimes woefully misunderstood. Earlier in the present century it was rather fashionable to misapply it. The favoured illustration at that time was not a motor-car but the works of Shakespeare. It was customary to say that, given time enough, a monkey at a typewriter, tapping the keys at random might produce the complete works of that poet. The argument was used in support of the theory that all order results from the operation of physical laws that themselves are non-selective and represent only a principle of randomness. More recently analogous theories about the way the human brain works have gained some favour. The notion is that the brain incorporates a principle of randomness, a principle that, like the monkey in the other illustration, is incapable of selecting, guiding, controlling anything, and that this random element is required to produce the ordered performance of the brain. The theory is a little surprising to an engineer; for no designer of man-made machinery would expect to improve his design by incorporating a principle of randomness into it. However, I doubt whether that effort to present order as created by a random environment will be any more long- lived than previous similar theories have been. Some very simple facts will, I think, prove too strong for that very simple faith.

The facts are, let me repeat, the frequency with which specific configurations occur. The monkey of chance would deal any bridge hand one might care to specify once in a . while. But it would deal every conceivable other hand as well. It might perhaps type out Shakespeare's works once in a while during the whole of eternity, but it would produce every other combination of the letters of the alphabet as well. Now we do have all conceivable bridge hands and identical hands are very rarely repeated; so we conclude that they result from randomness. We do not have every conceivable combination of letters in the books that appear and publishers do print off thousands of identical volumes in one edition. Here again the repetition of identical sequences of letters and the absence of all the alternative sequences would suffice to prove that the works of Shakespeare have not, in fact, been produced by the monkey of chance.

Those who introduced this monkey into the argument did not use it to explain the works of man but the occurrence of living organisms. But that does not make it any more logical. To say that once in the remote past atoms of the elements that constitute protoplasm would, if in random motion, reach every conceivable configuration including, once in a long while, that of living substance would explain perhaps the occurrence of one morsel of protoplasm. But that is not what has to be explained. There are more oak leaves in the world than motor-cars. They are all very much alike. If one were to calculate the probability that atoms in random motion would form such a configuration one would reach a figure vastly less than the probability of any particular hand at bridge. It is because of the frequency with which oak leaves occur that they cannot be attributed to a principle of randomness. The rule for applying this criterion can be expressed quite simply. Estimate the frequency with which an observed configuration would occur on the assumption that it was the product of randomness. Then estimate or count the frequency with which the configuration does occur. If the latter is much greater than the former, one has to conclude that a selective principle operates. By this criterion all organic structures are ordered and all structures in the rough untouched world of lifeless things are random.

Order and the Second Law of Thermo-Dynamics
The second criterion is based, as I have said already, on the second law of thermo-dynamics. According to this law every material change is accompanied by a decrease in the total potential energy in the system that undergoes the change and a corresponding increase in the total kinetic energy. As potential energy can more easily be converted into work than kinetic energy, the total quantity of energy available for doing work decreases with every change. A measure of unavailability is a physical quantity called entropy and so the second law also states that every change in a system results in an increase of entropy.

Water in a mountain lake, for instance, contains potential energy by virtue of its position. It loses this as it flows down the valley, and what appears in its place is kinetic energy represented by turbulence in the water. Similarly steam under pressure in a boiler contains some potential energy. If the steam is blown off to atmosphere it loses this and what appears instead is kinetic energy in the form of turbulence in the air. In these examples the conversion from one form of energy to another is immediate. And it is almost complete; If the water is not allowed to spend its energy in creating swirls and eddies, but is guided through a water turbine, the conversion is delayed and incomplete. Some potential energy can be retained, though in another form, perhaps as electricity. The same thing can be made to happen if the steam is guided from the boiler to a steam engine. In both examples the reason why a rather large fraction of the initial potential energy becomes available is that the working fluid is not allowed to move entirely at random but is guided, controlled, subjected to order.

Such considerations have led some physicists and philosophers to identify order with potential energy. But the reasoning that has led to this identification is very loose. To treat order and potential energy as synonyms leads to such absurdities that its implications cannot have been thought out. Two stars that are widely separated have, by virtue of their distance from each other, more potential energy than two stars that are close together. But no one would maintain that they represented a more ordered configuration. Mere distance is certainly no criterion of order. The same absurdity can be shown in a slightly different way. To say that a thing has potential energy is to say that it exists in a field of force. When it moves under the influence of that field it loses potential and gains kinetic energy. But fields of force may be arranged in any manner. In man-made machines their arrangement is ordered; in the rough, untouched world of lifeless things it is random. To say that potential energy is the same as order is to ignore this difference and to claim that any arrangement of fields, even a random one, constitutes order. There is certainly some connexion between order and potential energy, but those who so glibly identify the two concepts obviously do not know what the connexion is.

The above examples will help us to find it. When a system is left uncontrolled, as when a mountain lake discharges along a river bed or when steam from a boiler escapes into the air, the conversion of energy was seen to be such that very little potential energy is left; the rate of increase of entropy is high. When guidance, selection, control, order is introduced into the system, or what I prefer to call by the more general name 'diathesis', the proportion of potential energy that is retained is larger, the rate of increase of entropy is less. In a steam turbine the useful energy is rarely as much as one-third of the total energy, even when the most careful guidance is given to the steam. The reason is that the guidance is only applied to the steam in bulk; individual molecules are not guided; they are not subjected to any diathesis; they fly about in random motion. All that the steam pipes and turbine blades can ensure is the predominant direction in which the molecules shall move. So some of them are moving in the direction needed to push the turbine wheel round and others are not. The energy in these latter is not converted into useful work but has to be rejected as heat; it remains kinetic energy and adds to the entropy of the system.

Clerk Maxwell showed that this energy could also be used if each individual molecule could be guided in the wanted direction, or, as I should say, subjected to a diathesis. He imagined a demon capable of controlling each molecule in the same way as men, with their clumsy fingers, can only control larger objects, and he showed that more of the total energy in the steam would then become available. So we see that by the second law of thermo-dynamics the amount of available potential energy left after any change is negligibly small when the system is subjected to no diathesis, fairly large when the diathesis is such as engineers can apply to steam, and larger still when the diathesis has the intensity that would be applied by a Clerk Maxwell demon. This consideration leads us to a true appreciation of the connexion between potential energy and order; for diathesis is but another name for order. What we have found makes it possible to give the second law of thermo-dynamics a new and very general form as follows: The rate of increase of entropy in any given system undergoing change is an inverse function of the intensity of the diathesis to which the system is subjected. This definition, incidentally, provides a means of expressing diathesis in quantitative terms.

It will be noticed that order is not linked with potential energy as such but with the process by which it is converted to kinetic energy. If those who have said so carelessly that potential energy is the same thing as order had spoken instead of its differential coefficient in respect to time they might perhaps have arrived at a more correct statement.

Be that as it may it will be seen that the second law of thermo-dynamics provides an objective criterion of order. One can calculate for any given system the rate at which entropy will increase. Engineers do that whenever they design steam plant. They know that the rate depends on the amount of control to which they can subject the steam, in other words on the degree of order that they can introduce. If the system is a random one, as in the rough untouched world of lifeless things, the rate of increase of entropy is high, as has just been pointed out. The more order is applied to the system the lower the rate becomes. So a criterion of order is the rate of increase of entropy. This rate is something that can be measured. It provides a second objective criterion.

In all living substance, vegetative as well as conscious, the rate is far too slow for a random system. It is slower than could be achieved in any man-made machinery designed to perform similar functions. It is consistent only with the intense diathesis that would be applied if the controlled component parts were individual atoms; it is what might be achieved by a Clerk Maxwell demon. Biologists have often pointed this out; but they have been singularly slow to draw the obvious conclusion, which is that, by the criterion of the second law of dynamics, all living substance provides examples of highly detailed order.

Predictions in Physics and in Biology
The last of the criteria for which there is time is provided by the methods that prove successful in making predictions. Let us consider first what methods are employed in physics and then what are employed in biology.

First be it noted that most of the observations made by physicists are not on random but on ordered systems. Scientists would not get far if their only laboratory were the rough untouched world of lifeless things. In a laboratory in which useful work can be done there must be order. And this is the reason why precise predictions are made there. One may predict, for instance that in a given circuit the ratio of current to voltage will confirm Ohm's law; but only if the materials have been properly selected and the circuit carefully constructed to give that result. In a laboratory all random events that might affect readings are excluded; circuits are shielded from stray magnetic fields; chemical substances are so prepared as to be free from chance impurities; temperatures are controlled; draughts are excluded. The predictability of a result in a laboratory experiment is a measure of the degree of order maintained. The precision with which experiments are repeatable does not prove that it is in the nature of matter to behave in an orderly manner but only that it is in the nature of scientists to do so.

This is why we cannot use methods of making predictions as a means of distinguishing between order and randomness if we consider only predictions about systems subjected to the order of a laboratory technique; we must consider random systems. So let us turn our attention to some examples. Neutrons in a lump of uranium may serve. They move in all directions, undergo many random collisions, and yet what happens in that lump can be predicted with great accuracy. The reason is in what is called the law of averages. There are so many neutrons in a sizeable lump that their average behaviour is consistent. A freak distribution is possible, just as a freak distribution of cards at bridge is possible. But it is so improbable that one need not reckon with it.

It is the same with the individual molecules of a substance in a test tube. The substance has been submitted to a diathesis; it has been carefully prepared, measured into the test tube in a specified quantity, mixed with measured quantities of other pure substances, maintained at a specified temperature. But the individual molecules are uncontrolled; they are in random, erratic motion. Yet a chemist who knows what the substances are can predict what will happen in the test tube with great accuracy. This is only because he relies on the law of averages. His prediction will only be confirmed if the behaviour of the molecules is random. A Clerk Maxwell demon who got inside the test tube and introduced some sort of order into the behaviour of the molecules would falsify the prediction; unless, of course, the chemist knew what the demon was up to.

The point of these illustrations is that one can predict the result of the average behaviour of a number of particles in random motion if one has selected the particles and knows what they are. But can one predict the paths that will be taken by individual particles? Can one predict the configuration that they will assume at any future moment of time? One can, of course, if the movement is not random and if one knows the kind of order that is applied. Thus a skilful billiard player can predict with reasonable accuracy what configuration will be assumed by a selection of billard balls after he has propelled them. But can one do the same when things are merely flying about? The answer is neither a simple 'no' nor a simple 'yes'.

An eclipse can be predicted with great precision and I fear that some will take this as proof that the movement of the stars is ordered and not random. But that is not the true reason. The system in question includes virtually only three bodies: the sun, the earth, and the moon. For the effect of other heavenly bodies is very slight. These three bodies move in only one kind of field of force, a gravitational one. They vary greatly in size, so that the sun's field has a predominating effect and the effect of the moon on the earth's orbit is no more than what calls for a small correction to the orbit that would be followed if there were no moon. The three bodies are widely separated, so that the gravitational field near each is almost symmetrical around a centre; it is, in other words, an almost uniformly divergent field. The three bodies are too far apart ever to collide.

All this means that the system composed of sun, earth, and moon is a peculiarly simple one; it is close to what might be called an ideal or a formal system; in this exceptional instance a system is to be found in the rough untouched world of lifeless things of the kind that scientists must usually construct laboriously for themselves. The solar system has, moreover, been studied for a long while and the fields in which the bodies move have been charted with great accuracy. Those are the reasons why an eclipse can be predicted with precision. The reason is emphatically not that the solar system conforms to any principle of order. Indeed it can be shown that if there is no principle to prevent the three bodies from following a random movement they must follow the observed orbits.

Let now some different system be imagined; one in which the number of heavenly bodies is increased ever so slightly, be it only from three to four. Let their sizes be approximately equal. Let them be so close that collisions can occur. Then their relative positions at any moment of time are still determinate; but no human mathematician could calculate those positions. When many particles are jostling and colliding in many kinds of field of force and when they are subjected to indiscriminate influences from neighbouring bodies the configuration that they adopt at any given moment may still be virtually determinate, at least if the particles are large, but in practice it is very, very far from being predictable.

This is why a meteorologist, for instance, can at best foretell the weather a few days ahead and then only with considerable uncertainty. He may be fairly sure that the sea will be rough at a certain place and a certain time. But he could not say when a particular wave will break at a particular spot along the beach. He may know that there will be clouds in the sky. But he cannot predict their exact sizes, shapes, or number. The physical sciences are rightly said to be precise sciences. But one must understand correctly what that statement means. Its justification is only very rarely provided by any observation outside a laboratory. In the physical sciences predictions are very precise about things that have been made by man, such as the experimental gear that he sets up in his laboratories; they are usually very imprecise about things that are only found in rough nature, such as clouds and ocean waves.

Let us now turn our attention to another illustration of prediction. Take a physicist to a place in the country and tell him that where he stands the ground contains an object with a specific structure; it is not man-made; it has been found there. Its millions of small component parts can move and change their relative positions. It is surrounded by earth, water, and air. Nothing will be done to shield it from its environment. Then ask the physicist to examine and measure the object carefully and to predict what configuration its components will adopt after a stated passage of time. The answer that he must give as a physicist is obvious. He will say that it is difficult enough to predict the future configuration of only three bodies when they are moving under the influence of the forces exerted by each on the other two and that when there are millions of them the task is quite beyond him. He will remind you that you cannot even tell him what the unshielded influences are going to be that may bring sundry forces to bear on the component particles of the object and he will insist that these will have a decisive effect.

Now let us imagine that you have brought another companion with you. He is a botanist and recognizes the object as an acorn. He can tell you that an oak-tree is quite likely to stand in that place in ten years' time To make this prediction he does not need to examine the relative positions of the atoms of which the acorn is composed; the method by which an astronomer predicts eclipses is not a part of his technique. He has not measured out the ingredients of the acorn as a chemist measures the substances put into a test tube when he is making a repeatable experiment. The botanist may hardly know what all the substances in the acorn are and he does not use such knowledge as he may have about them when he predicts that it will grow into an oak-tree. The botanist does not say, as the physicist must, that he can make no prediction without knowledge of the forces that will be brought by the environment to the delicate and complicated system that he is studying. He knows that the effect of these forces is not usually decisive. The basis of predictions made in botany is totally different from that for predictions in the physical sciences.

The predictions are also more detailed and precise. While a meteorologist can predict vaguely that there will be some clouds and a geologist that a landslide will produce a heap of debris at the foot of a cliff, the botanist can predict exactly what the shape and size of the oak leaves will be. He knows how the branches will grow, what the bark will be like, how the leaves will unfold from their buds in the spring, when flowers and new acorns will appear. He can even predict what minute detail of structure will be observed if any morsel of leaf, bark, or stem is looked at under a microscope. He knows what chemical substances will be found in each kind of structure, how many chromosomes each cell will contain, how chains of amino-acids will be orientated.

Here we have on the one hand the extremely imprecise predictions made in meteorology and geology; the most apt generalizations that can be made about clouds and heaps of debris is that they represent random configurations. On the other hand, we have the extremely precise predictions that can be made in the biological sciences. Between these extremes, but with a wide gap on each side, are the predictions that can be made in a laboratory or an engineering shop. They are, as I have said already, about things made and not about things found. When a substance has been carefully prepared, a certain degree of purity ensured, and the temperature and other experimental conditions are controlled, a chemist can, for instance, predict that a certain kind of crystal will precipitate out of a solution. When an engineer is shown the blueprints and specification for a motor-car he can predict what will come off the assembly line. To do so he does not have to calculate the forces that will propel the cover on to the cylinder and each nut on to its bolt. He knows that the fitter will bring the right kind of force into action. The knowledge that enables the engineer to predict that a motorcar will come off the assembly line is basically unlike the knowledge that enables an astronomer to predict an eclipse and basically like the knowledge that enables a botanist to predict an oak-tree. It is not knowledge of forces, movements, masses. It is not detailed knowledge of existing configurations. A motor-car will result whether the bolts were stored in bin A or in bin B or came from a neighbouring town. The acorn will germinate whether the earth was a little dryer or a little wetter, whether the wind that brought its carbon as carbon dioxide in the air blew from the west or from the south. The configurations presented by motor-cars and oak-trees are not critical to external circumstances as those presented by bodies in random movement are. This is the reason why it is possible to predict those configurations correctly without precise knowledge of the external circumstances. The knowledge that enables a person to predict a motor-car or an oak-tree is knowledge of the laws, the rules, the specification, whatever one likes to call the principle that must be met so that the observed order may occur.

The third criterion by which to distinguish between random and ordered systems and events can now be stated. If an event can only be predicted with the help of knowledge of the positions and motions of the particles concerned and of the forces brought to bear on those particles the event is a random one. If it can be predicted without that knowledge the event is an ordered one. This criterion is as objective as the other two. It does not depend on any subjective judgement. By this criterion all living substance reveals order; and this order is more complete, more detailed by far, than the order ever found in the world of man-made machines or even in the best conducted laboratory.

Outline of a Dualistic Philosophy
The ground that we have been exploring together belongs, be it well noted, wholly to the domain of science. The considerations that have led us away from monism and in the direction of dualism have been entirely objective. They have not been religious, ethical, aesthetic. They have not depended on personal judgement. They have had no place in the world of values, but in the world of hard facts. Let us attempt to picture the kind of reality to which these considerations point. The picture differs in several particulars, I think, from the conventional one usually associated with a dualistic universe. Some may not find it attractive. But I have said already that the criterion of attractiveness must always yield to the criterion of truth. It is only too true that few things in this world are to be had for nothing. If we want a thing we can usually only get it at the cost of some work and some sacrifice. A coherent philosophy is no exception to this rule.

One cannot achieve a coherent philosophy by assembling all the theories that one thinks nice and rejecting all that seem unattractive or troublesome. If one does that one may have a philosophy that can be called comforting but not one that deserves the epithet coherent. To achieve coherence one must test each theory for its consistency with the others and one must sacrifice every one that fails in the test. The present study has revealed that several traditional and possibly cherished theories fall into the category of those that must be sacrificed as the purchase price of a coherent philosophy. Their brief discussion will provide a convenient means of recapitulating the conclusions that have been reached.

Four such traditional but, I venture to suggest, untenable theories can be listed. They are: firstly, the theory that the laws of physics make for order; secondly, the theory that the whole of reality conforms to one single unifying principle; thirdly, the theory that space is the container of all active reality; fourthly, the theory that a non-material influence necessarily acts consciously. I should like to give the short remaining time to a few words about each of these.

I can understand those who do not like to have to believe that the vast untouched world of lifeless things is lawless, uncontrolled, chaotic. It is more comforting to believe that it is guided and cherished in all its remotest corners, be it by a personal God or by a less personal Nature. But I cannot see that the more comforting notion is for that reason either more Christian or more scientific. In religion there is the choice between the theory that God, in his capacity as Lord of the universe, controls everything and the theory that He only controls those things that matter. It is similar with the theological concept of God as the Creator. Those who adopt this concept have the choice between regarding matter as their God's raw material and therefore random until it comes under control, or as His finished product, and therefore ordered at all times. I cannot believe that religion is basically affected by the choice. Nor can I believe that either alternative has any moral implications. Does it make men more moral to believe either that their deity does or does not concern himself with the orbit of a star somewhere beyond Sirius? In religion and ethics, I feel sure, such questions are irrelevant.

In science they are not. Physicists, as I have shown, act on the assumption that events are ordered in their laboratories, where they themselves introduce the order, and that they are random in the rough untouched world of lifeless things. Their methodology is based on this assumption. To abandon it would be to abandon science for mysticism.

Let us turn to the second of the theories often found attractive. The number of people who like to think that the whole of reality conforms to one single basic principle may not be great; but again I can understand such a point of view. If it were true the universe would be agreeably simple, comprehensible. We might hope, once we had discovered that single, unifying principle, that we should know everything, a thought that flatters human vanity. Progress in physics, moreover, has raised men's hope that it may be so. In the rough untouched world of lifeless things there is probably one such basic principle. I explained in the second lecture that since the time of Newton a great simplification and unification of physical science has been achieved. We know now that it is not correct to think that there is one law for pendulums, another for the falling of apples, another for planets, yet another for rain clouds. All those statements that are called laws in physics are special cases of more basic principles. I also suggested that they can probably all be unified as expressions of the most basic principle of all, a principle that might be formulated as the law that there are no laws.

It is among things that are touched by life, among plants and animals and among the many things that man, the tool-using animal, produces that this great, simple, unifying, negating principle does not hold. In this other world things do conform to laws. And the laws are not of the unifying type, be they man's or Nature's. The rule of the road differs between countries; each town council makes its own by-laws; each school of painting follows a different aesthetic principle; each species of trees grows in a different way. The notion of uniformity has its attraction. The popular appeal of totalitarianism in politics proves it. I can understand why it is so often supported by faith. But it cannot be supported by any facts that I have been able to discover.

The third of the cherished beliefs, namely that space is the container of all active reality is certainly held by that most fallible instrument, the judgement of common sense. Another way of formulating it is to say that what is must be somewhere. The notion that I had to put before you in the first lecture of a non-material influence without location is probably by far the biggest obstacle to acceptance of any dualistic philosophy. That diathetes, be they called God, life, mind, or the soul, can be nowhere and yet do things is a most puzzling concept. It does provide the theologian with a difficult problem. But it is not one of doctrine, it is one of presentation. It arises, as I said in the first of these lectures, because religion has to be conveyed to ordinary persons, who have but little philosophical training. The theologian may be able to refute but he is not allowed to ignore the judgement of common sense. Though this judgement is such a slender reed, religion must often lean on it.

This is why a preacher may himself not think it necessary to regard space as the container of all active reality and yet find it difficult to answer the question where God is. He often seeks an easy way out of the difficulty by declaring that God is everywhere. But if one of his parishioners, old Mrs. Smith say, asks him where her own soul is will he tell her that it is everywhere? Does he mean literally that God is everywhere, that like a tenuous gas He is spread evenly over the whole of space? Of course not. I am sure that the trained theologian does not interpret the word 'everywhere' literally. He is well aware of the distinction between being everywhere and acting at every place. When he says that God is everywhere he means that God is capable of exerting His influence everywhere. And when he says that old Mrs. Smith's soul is in her body he means that it can control every part of her body. It is not relevant in religion whether this control is exercised from a particular place, or from every place, or from no place.

In science it is easier today to abandon the conviction that space is the container of all active reality than it would have been at the beginning of this century. For many of the views about space that are held by common sense have had to be rejected. Among them is the notion that it is something absolute, something conceptually distinguishable from matter. To a modern physicist space itself has physical properties. He no longer thinks it quite precise to say that matter is in space; he prefers to regard it as coincident with space. To a physicist space is not a container at all. He thinks of space as something more limited, in concept as well as in extent; and that allows him to think of realities that do not form a part of space. But to accept all that is not to deny that the notion of an active influence without location calls for a very substantial intellectual effort. As I have said before one cannot achieve a coherent philosophy without working for it.

Lastly there is the theory that a non-material influence necessarily acts consciously. This view is very ingrained. The growth of a tree is a completely unconscious process, and from this it is often concluded that it is not controlled by any non-material influence, but is the result of the unaided action of matter on matter. A similar conclusion is often reached about the instinctive behaviour of man and the lower animals. When a bird builds a nest or a man performs some involuntary movement the act is said, even by those who support some form of dualism, to be caused in the same way as the orbit of a planet, the falling of a stone, a storm at sea, the passage of water in a mountain stream. Dualists, oddly enough, often agree with monists that there is no basic distinction between events in the rough untouched world of lifeless things and the great majority of events to be observed in the organic world. Only on the rare occasions when an action is performed consciously, they say, does it reach a level where it can only be explained as controlled by a non-material influence.

Such a view may pass the test of religion; for religion is only concerned with actions for which the individual can be held responsible. But I have shown in these lectures that it cannot pass the test of science. A sense of proportion might have led us to the same conclusion. Mind, at least conscious mind, is a very late arrival in the history of evolution. It controls but a minute fraction of the organic world. Even those of man's activities that are fully deliberate are by no means fully conscious. When a person raises an arm, though it be a quite voluntary action, he has no conscious knowledge whatever of the behaviour of the millions of component parts of that wonderful mechanism, the human brain; he does not know what signals reach his muscles through what nerves; he does not consciously select, co-ordinate, control the thousands of muscle fibres that perform their complicated drill so that his arm may come to be raised. Even when we are conscious of what we do, we remain profoundly unconscious of how we do it. Besides, when we raise an arm the action is far more often unconscious than conscious. Even in man consciousness is but a fitful affair. Our basic condition is unconscious.

It is irksome to have to admit this; for we like to think that we know much more about our actions than we can ever hope to know. It is also unflattering to human vanity to have to regard man's most distinctive possession, his conscious mind as important only to himself and as no more important in the general scheme of things than any feature of some lower form of life that has proved its survival value.

The notion that any process that is completely vegetative, like the growth of an oak-tree, can be controlled by an influence that is wholly devoid of consciousness is also incompatible with the judgement of common sense. To that superficial arbiter it seems impossible that any influence could achieve, without being conscious of its activities, what no man could do when fully awake and alert. So common sense prefers to assume that the growth of an oak-tree is not controlled at all.

Such are among the reasons why a philosophy in which consciousness is presented as of cosmic significance and every unconscious process is attributed to the unaided action of matter on matter is more comforting than the more austere, but I venture to claim also more coherent, philosophy that I have put before you. In conclusion let me summarize this in as few words as possible.

There are cogent, indeed irrefutable, reasons for the assumption that some events are random and others ordered. Matter is, by its nature, incapable of creating order. So only the random events can be attributed to the unaided action of matter on matter. When order is observed, its cause must be some non-material influence. A convenient collective name for all the non-material influences that may have to be postulated is diathetes. As space is inseparable from matter, diathetes cannot have their existence in space. A number of purely objective facts provides evidence of the reality of one particular class of diathete, often called life. The evidence shows that this exercises so detailed a control over living substance that the arrangement of individual atoms is subjected to a specified order. Except in the rarest instances the diathete life operates completely unconsciously. The exceptions are a small fraction of the activities of man and, perhaps, of some of the higher animals.

As a palliative to the emotional and intellectual unattractiveness of some features of this philosophy let me, in conclusion, add one consoling thought. If consciousness has but little cosmic significance, it has at least done for Man something more and finer than to ensure his survival in the struggle for existence. It has provided for him a window, though it be but a little one, through which he can look on another world, on a world that differs from the one that is presented by his organs of sense perception; and through that tiny square Man gains what has never been seen before in the whole long history of evolution, a fleeting glimpse of self.

Top of Page

 Title Page      Contents      Lecture 1         Lecture 2         Appendix         Index