Sunday, November 24, 2013

Of Paradox - Huxley's Islet

Pencil drawing of T. H. Huxley done by his daughter Marian Collier

(last updated 9 February 2022)

This is the place where I explore the big picture—the nature of reality itself—the soil in which the roots of human philosophy, science, and theology grow—the context that we live in and what it means.

First and fundamental point. The answer I propose is a very simple one. It’s not “42”, but it does boil down to one single word.

What word? Not some annoying philosophical jargon. Throughout human history our best thinkers have coined ever-more-complicated words—and probably burned out millions of brain cells—trying to figure out what’s going on. Terms like ‘eschatology,’ ‘ontology,’ and ‘epistemology’ got invented and people agonized about ‘solipsism’ and ‘coherentism’ and ‘the anthropic principle.’ They endlessly agonize over the inherent conflict between any being or conception that is ‘necessary’ and our observed ‘contingent’ universe.

The simple answer is Paradox. Paradox with a capital “P”.

This is *not* a cop-out or a joke. I’m dead serious. Paradox is what these deep thinkers incessantly bang their heads against in an effort to try to rationally explain our reality.  When will they finally realize that it is the answer to the problem, not the ‘devastating contradiction’ that prevents them from finding an answer?

Think of Paradox as a 'thing'—as a real physical object. As a place. Envision it as the ambience in which “the thing beyond which no greater thing can be conceived” is housed.

By its very nature, Paradox plays this role perfectly. It is the something that nothing begat. It is the ultimate uncaused cause.

Paradox is the venue where all things contradictory converge; and it is all around us.  It is the unstructured Chaos that we call “the vacuum,” out of which the universe appeared, and in which everything we observe remains immersed today.

Put simply, Paradox sits in the position of unassailable primacy.  It is THE essential attribute of reality.

Note well that reality can have no meaning without a mind, whatever that entails—i.e., a consciousness, a sensor, an observer. And therein lies the ultimate philosophical paradox. It is not possible to declare whether the mind creates reality or discovers it; and it is not possible to determine whether the mind emerges from a (subjective) reality or vice versa.'

St, Anselm of Canterbury, in 1078 appears to have been the first Western thinker to write about that “greatest thing beyond which no greater thing can be conceived.”  He used the concept to argue for the existence of the Judeo-Christian God. His faith made him insist that this biggest-picture thing could think the way humans think. The Reader’s Digest version of his argument is that if the big guy can be conceived in the mind, then an even bigger guy would be one who encompassed physical form too. Therefore God exists.

Well, maybe the short version of St. Anselm’s ontological argument doesn’t do it justice. But I think my buddy Paradox can help. Can Paradox serve as a 'creator'?  The answer was given (somewhat inadvertently) by Thomas H. Huxley, who called himself "Darwin's Bulldog" when he wrote, in 1887:
“The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land, …”

As the ambience in which all things are contained, Paradox must encompass both the unknown, inexplicable sea as well as our islet of well-ordered and familiar stuff.  But here's where Huxley provides the inspiration to this perspective.  It is the inexplicable realm that is fundamental, all-encompassing.  The explainable 'islet' is little more than an overblown random fluctuation therein.

The essence of Paradox is unrestricted Chaos.  I often use the terms interchangeably.  Our connection to the Chaos is through the vacuum—a restless frothing 'field' of conflicting properties of practically infinite variety which constantly create and destroy themselves and each other.  As a simple example, it is the 'I am/I am not' declared by the pairs of particles that zip in and out of being in the reference frame in which we exist.

Physics theory and experiment have shown that what we call a 'vacuum' is far from empty. It is actually a seething, restless, yet entirely random and indifferent field full of dynamic events and processes.  From what I understand, the energy density of the tiny bit of this Chaos that can be detected within our limited reference frame is only one part in 10 to the 120th power of all that's out there.  The Chaos is a potent force indeed.

A key property of this random indifferent Chaos is that localized, temporary self-organization can occur within it, and that self-organization is not prevented from becoming self-sustaining.

Paradox has no law but the law that there is no law.  Indifference has no reason or desire to prevent a self-organizing 'tumor' to grow and expand within its belly.

As a simple example, imagine a random number generator that is pumping out an endless string of Arabic numerals, 0 through 9. Somewhere in that field there exists an arbitrarily long string of nothing but the number 5, as far as the eye can see.  If one lives in that particular patch of 'space' one would observe an exquisite, mysterious order to the universe—an inexplicable 'fine tuning'.  This patch of 'all fives' is Huxley's Islet.

I could elaborate, but I think you get the idea: We are dependent on the realm of 'all fives'—the Islet—within which the universe has allowed meaning to emerge for us.  Furthermore, since we cannot tolerate the encroachment or appearance of 'fours' or 'sixes', which would corrupt our reality, it is in our best interest to do anything we can to preserve and propagate the 'all fives.'  Thus not only does (localized, temporary) meaning emerge from nothing (the primordial vacuum of pure Paradox), but so does purpose.

Here's where I suggest an amendment to Huxley's statement, quoted above.  Not only is our business (our purpose) to try to claim new territory, we must also tirelessly struggle to preserve the land we hold - against the relentless eroding effects of the battering ocean waves.

Far more importantly, we must learn to swim.

The ocean of inexplicability is a place where faith can help us.  Do not be afraid of the water.  Embrace the 'fours' and 'sixes'.  As Bruce Lee once said, "If you want to learn to swim, jump into the water.  On dry land no frame of mind is ever going to help you."

Why seek to swim this ocean of the unexplained?  The human psyche craves it.  We do not exist on reason alone.  If we immerse ourselves in the Chaos and learn something of the ways of the battering waves, we may better preserve our shores.

Just as our coherent universe emerges spontaneously from the Chaos, so does the abstract concept of morality, and all its basic tenets, as espoused by the great messengers such as Jesus and Buddha.  I've devoted a separate exploration of this subject here--Morality, as it emerges even in an uncaring universe.


Elaboration on the natural philosophy introduced above.

Below I revisit this subject with much more explicit detail about our real 'All Fives' world and how it came into being from out of pure Paradox.

This is a follow-on of the stuff above.  It provides as simple an explanation as I can produce of a physical process that appears, to me to be a logical, defendable, scenario that explains where we all come from.  Read and enjoy, or scoff and ignore as you see fit.  Discussion is always welcome.

The Tenth Power of a Trillion Possibilities

“In the Beginning …”

Simple words that run deep.

Beginning is everything. Without it, in the realm without time, the Chaos rages like an infinite roiling sea. But within it “… God Created.” Creation is our island. Because we came from the Chaos, and because the Chaos remains all about us, we sense pain and squalor—the agony of destruction and annihilation. And so the Beginning is our most precious possession. The Beginning is God.

The proof that God lives is self-evident. Creation is ongoing. Time unfolds it before our eyes in an intricate ballet, and we are called to dance. God insists on our participation. Without our good works, the Chaos wins. It will swallow the Creation and the world will end.

It has happened before—a beginning that the Chaos destroyed. It is happening now. Watch the vacuum of space and you see it—the particles being created and destroyed. The vacuum is our window into the Chaos.

This is the cautionary tale I come to tell. We know of only one particle that hasn’t yet been swallowed by the Chaos—our Beginning.

What is the Chaos out of which we were molded? What is the nature of this magnificent Beginning such that it has not yet been swallowed? There are some simple answers. T.H. Huxley proposed that the Chaos is the sea of the infinite unknown and our reality is an island of firm ground.

How many waves are in that mysterious sea, waiting to wash away our island? A trillion? Nay, the tenth power of a trillion. And here’s the frightening mystery. Our little island was once just another wave.

When the sea rises up and washes an island away, all that remains of it are the waves that reflected off its tattered shores. Yet our Island persists. It seems worlds away from the ephemeral particles we see in the froth of the vacuum. How did it emerge so virulent? How does it cling to its existence and defy the Chaos?

Because the Chaos is indifferent. It cares not. Within it the waves come and go. Sometimes, as with the pairs of particles popping into existence out of nothing, the waves have substance.

Substance—the ‘Library of Possible Things’—is one of just four ingredients needed for our Creation. The others are the Oscillator-Distorter (time), the Carrier-Container (space), and the Slicer-Dicer (the quantum field).

Within the Chaos there are surely many other ingredients, perhaps as many as there are waves. Those others we cannot see, though evidence suggests that their number may be that mind-boggling trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion—the tenth power of a trillion, or ten to the one-hundred-twentieth power. It is a vast sea indeed.

But we needed only four. In the Beginning the four ingredients mentioned above came together. Within the vast sea of ingredients the odds of four particular waves combining to produce a rogue mega-wave would seem prohibitive, but within the indifferent timeless Chaos, what is possible is inevitable.

Here I must pause to make a point of personal perspective. For most of my life I argued that the Creation did not require a pro-active God. But it got one. Despite my protestations God appears by default—by definition. It is the paradox of the chicken and the egg. What happened before time is eternal. The Chaos is God’s antithesis and nemesis and I believe it is necessary to have such a Yin-Yang for either to be relevant. The roiling sea of inexplicability is timeless and senseless and so I argued that there is no point in naming “the wind that moves the waves.” But Yin and Yang are inseparable equals, so if I name one the Chaos, I must also name the other. How did God get to be pro-active, conscious, and personal, while the Chaos remained insensate and indifferent? The answer is straightforward. It is the result of the miracle of self-replication. The Chaos would call it ‘trial and error’ but the Chaos doesn’t name things. Only we self-replicating beings do that. So we win. But will we win in the end? The purpose of the rest of this document is to explain and elaborate.

Okay, so in defiance of nearly insurmountable odds, the four ingredients in the recipe converged. The four waves produced a great rogue mega-wave. The one property that distinguished it—the property that leads to us—is that the crest of this wave became a fountain. It was self-replicating. It was what physics calls a ‘false vacuum’—a gushing font of ‘big bangs’.

Without time self-replication is impossible, meaningless. The Oscillator-Distorter contributed the property of motion to the mega-wave. It would not have continued, though. Time would have reversed and the mega-wave would be gone in a fleeting instant without the other three ingredients.

The Container-Carrier provides a space for oscillations and distortions to operate. Without an aspect of space there would have been no dimension for time’s arrow to traverse. And still, together, time and space would have come and gone without consequence.

Substance provided the spark. Before the ephemeral box of space-time dissipated a particular ‘thing’ from among the Library of Possible Things entered. The ‘thing’ that appeared in this event was a particularly improbable one. Though its net energy was zero, as it must be, its two components had enormous energy. Still, as we observe regularly in the big safe vastness of space-time that we now enjoy, this is not enough. All the particle pairs that appear out of the vacuum quickly disappear again.

The Slicer-Dicer provided the final ingredient. In the fleeting instant of time provided within the tiny box of nascent space, a quantum fluctuation sent one member of this pair of energetic particles across a threshold of instability. It amplified its energy enough to trigger a run-away fountain of ‘big bangs’—of nascent universes.


In the Beginning four ingredients came together to create an explosive universe generator. But these universes were without form and void. Though the space-time within them expanded immeasurably beyond the ephemeral germ that created them, these ‘germ-baby’ universes lived and died without consequence.

How many trillion-trillion-trillion universes gushing from the unstoppable font came and went without consequence, no tale tells. But the Library of Possible Things now had vast playgrounds in which to experiment. Is it really any wonder that within the lifetime of one of these germ-baby universes a matter-antimatter imbalance emerged? I think not. The Slicer-Dicer is all about creating random imbalances.

But another more unlikely event was still required. Once upon a time in a universe far, far away, a particle of matter and a Slicer-Dicer wave made love and a baby universe was born out of an existing universe. Just like in the creation of the original font of all universes, the creation of a new baby universe from the matter of a parent universe required a highly energetic particle of matter to cross the energy threshold and create a germ of false vacuum.

Self replication. The baby universe carried with it the properties of the matter particle from the parent universe. Quantum fluctuations provided the mutations. Further generations refined the process until a genealogy of reliably self-replicating universes had established.

And so we come to the next great break-through, though I believe it is not the last. Matter from the Library mixed and matched until it produced the first reliably self-replicating molecule—DNA—and life was born.

The first early universes were void of matter. When matter began to contaminate some of them, universes began to have babies carrying the physical constants from the parent universes. When life began to contaminate some of these, simple microbes found a way to influence the reproduction of universes, and universes began to have babies that transmitted the formula favorable for life.

We call it fine tuning. The degree of improbability that our universe could be so finely tuned speaks to the journey we’ve made to get where we are here in this universe. Just as it took DNA trillions of generations to produce Homo sapiens, Our universe descends from a genealogy that probably goes back trillions and trillions of generations.


  1. Pete -

    I am reading David Brooks's tome The Social Animal, and a lot of what he says resonates with your insights. He argues that to claim the job of the mind is to make emotion subject to reason is to get it nearly backwards.

    I was also struck by your comment that as you developed the religion for your fictional land you began to see the wisdom in it. There are some--myself included, that believe that God is so large that creating our own conception of Her, or Him, and trying to forge some kind of relationship with it, is all that is necessary.

    Of course, I am reminded of the distinction and the concreteness of belief versus faith. My first lesson in the difference occurred when I was 18 and on the verge of joining the Children of God. A woman said, "Don't tell me what you believe. Tell me what you do all day and I'[LL tell you what you believe.

    I am glad you demanded I read this. It was worth my time.

    1. Great comments, Jack - some very quotable and thought provoking ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Interesting! When I became disillusioned with my born into religion in my mid 30's, I decided to make researching religion mine...all the way back as far as it is written about. I'm still doing research going on 40 years.

    I had some early childhood "spiritual" experiences and several though out my life and I still have no idea what they were all about. All they did were make me positive there is another realm "out there" somewhere. I've also become certain that no one on earth knows or has ever known who or what created humanity. That unknown has always compelled men to seek and create ideology's, most based on the culture and location they lived in. The problem with that becomes when they start trying to force others to believe them...then we get Crusades and Jihads that reek havoc on earth. Agnostic pretty well fits where I'm at also...I simply don't know... but I'm not willing to say some kind of creative God isn't. Looking forward to reading your book.

    1. Thanks for the thoughts, Anna. The way I see it, when we stop questioning and growing we might as well be dead, because the world around us is not going to stop evolving. Any religion worth its salt ought to be constantly adapting and amending its practice if not its canon. The religion in 'Ice King' does just that.

      Regarding the problem of Crusades, forced conversions, Jihads and the like, I prefer to believe these are not rooted in the teachings of the 'parent religion' but are racism-nationalism-based perversions thereof.

      Thanks so much for your interest and your comment.

    2. I agree with your last comment re pperversions of teachings. They are the cobblestones of the road to hell. In my experience crewing cargo ships, a very diverse work environment, I have found that if you put observant believers of any faith together with agnostics and atheists, and give them a vital and necessary job like lowering the lifeboats, they work together to get the job done. I wish the rest of the world could do the same. I believe wars and hatred are part of this Chaos thing.

  3. Very interesting and clearly articulated understanding of part of the challenge of human existence. I look very forward to reading your book.

    A couple of things, to play devil's advocate. First, what if it is the very nature of the "number 5," to use your example, that is seen by some as fundamentally flawed? For example, one would prefer the universe to exist as all 4's. Second, what guarantees that everyone is "seeing" the same number? I think the first is a problem of conception, while the second is a problem of perception.

    I'd like to chat more about these issues.

    Matthew Peters, author of Conversations Among Ruins (forthcoming through ATTMP)

  4. Matthew, these are good points. I look forward to reading your book, as well as PJ's. I would say, as well, that the word "pure" as in "pure Chaos" and "pure Paradox" raises another question. If Chaos is pure, or absolute, it would never allow anything to be attached to another, but would always repel and disrupt. Even chance stings of numbers would quickly break up. Chaos and Paradox are best as slightly corrupted forms - just as there is no pure Energy, there's always a bit of matter involved, and no absolute mass or Matter without energy. This would give Chaos the ability to morph to some degree into Order (or organization), and Paradox into Concord.

    1. Thanks to Matthew and MC for your stimulating comments. Is the 'all fives' universe 'pure' or fundamentally flawed? Of course it is the latter. It is temporary and vulnerable and in desperate need of protection by us, the beings who have somehow emerged within it.

      But is the Chaos 'pure' or slightly corrupted? This is a deep question.

      My response is that purity is a property that requires some pro-active enforcement. I probably shouldn't have used the term 'pure'. Chaos and Paradox wield no enforcement and respond to no laws, including the laws that they must remain 'pure'. Thus they do not prohibit the localized and temporary impurity from emerging.

      Remember that time is one of these emergent properties. So the length of time that one of these impurities might persist is also unrestricted and unenforced. It might be a milli-second or a trillion-trillion years.

      So here we are, 13.7 billion years into the life of a Chaos-defying impurity. I see no conflict with this posited theory.

      Chaos surrenders to Order in a finite locality, but retains its purity in the larger frame of reference. Paradox yields to Concord where the emergent forces heroically struggle to hold it at bay. But the over-riding principal of random decay still prevails.

      On our human time-frame it might seem that we've achieved some incredible victory, because we have emerged into conscious awareness of this astounding Concord. But if we are to Sustain this, and Impel it into the future, my novel suggests that we need a higher level of support, capable of allowing us to Transcend the limitations of our current reference frame.

      And that support is forthcoming. The Strongmother who begat our universe, wants nothing more than to elevate the human experience to Her level. We must walk with the Gods.

    2. As we only know 0.1 to the 120th of what's out there, all speculation about what the rest is is just that--speculation. If it is indeed all Chaos, then it is truly a gold mine for artists, writers and musicians to mine and forge into meaning.

  5. Good answer to the purity of Chaos and Paradox, or for that matter/energy the purity of Order and Concord. I agree that our being conscious of these things gives us some possibility of creating a way to preserve and maintain our little corner of More Order Than Chaos, but I balk at the thought of Unifying Principle(s). The leap into "transcendence" is always a risky one. I've written about such an attempt recently and was reminded that I might be over-reaching. But we humans have that impetus" to over-reach. Where does it come from? So your answer is worth exploring. Mary Clark, author of ATTMP's Tally: An Intuitive Life

  6. Dear Mary,

    You are exquisitely in tune with my "message", and I thank you for these comments, which cut to the heart of my philosophical musings.

    Let the reader here be sure to note that my 'Unifying Principle', which takes a leap into 'Transcendence,' is in some measure a fictional construct. But it is also rooted in science.

    At the risk of giving away a bit of the 'punch line' of my six-volume novel, there is currently accepted Physics that describes the "transcendence" that provides the climax of my epic tale.

    Obviously I don't want to elaborate further because it would spoil the climax of my story. But this much the reader of my series can know: The Strongmother Dalle (or whatever you choose to call our universe's demiurge) craves this Transcendent process as much as us mortals do within our greatest spiritual visions.

    So we work as one to achieve it - God and man, unified, in the ultimate quest.

    Stay tuned ...


  7. Interesting comments, these. I look forward to the books. You might wish to check out Robert Axelrod's The Evolution of Cooperation, if you haven't already done so.

    1. Matthew - thanks so much for this insightful reference. I was going to reply here, but my reply grew so long that I decided to post it as a new entry.

      You can find it here: