Sunday, 9 April 2017

THE RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX or The Theory of Everything

The following is the gist of a  topic currently featured in the 21st  revised edition of V.H. Ironside, Behold! I Teach You Superman (see below):

“The Sphinx must solve her own riddle. If the whole of history is in one man, it is all to be explained from individual experience.” 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

            “It would have to be something that was neither subject nor object, neither force nor matter,
neither spirit nor soul: but shall I not be told that such a thing will resemble nothing so much as a phantasmagoria? ...Of course, it must resemble that and everything else which exists, and not only a phantasmagoria! It must have that dominant family likeness by virtue of which all that is recognizes itself as related to it.” (The Will to Power)
            Here before us, in the unsuspecting tones of the nineteenth-century philosopher, is the entire Theory of Everything. There is a consummate completeness about it. In fact, Nietzsche may have expressed the inexpressible better than the physicist. For whatever the physicist may have to say of it, everyone knows that once he sets himself to construct  by pure mathematics, and without appeal to any empiricism, a theory which aims to be the only complete and essential form of knowledge, that it ‘must have that dominant family likeness by virtue of which all that is, recognizes itself as related to it.
            The theoretical physicist sees this as a long-term cosmological challenge. I see it as a short-term conceptual fallacy. A Brief History of Time, of course, expressed this fallacy rather less technically: “Then we shall know the mind of God.” - in Stephen Hawking’s famous last words. Be that as it may, the entire scientific establishment is premised on the ability to reduce an immeasurable miscellany of intricate effects to
the simplest possible cause. Indeed, it is the irreducible predicament of a major technological species in its highest stages of intellectual development, that its powerful urge to comprehend is somehow causally related to its own mode of being. Nor can one determine the absolute constituents of reality by means of a system which  refers only to itself and is therefore incapable of making independent statements about itself.  Or is it within the bounds of possibility that astro-physical code-breakers should simply read the shifting ciphers of the riddle of creation by working out how they are encrypted and then devise a theorem that reverses the process: Disorder, counter-order, order?

            It won’t do. For what, then, is left for the Sphinx to prophesy? In truth, this is the only grand theory epistemologists have never had. Indeed, nothing could better illustrate the unreality of human thinking, or the essential simplicity of its scientific presumption that the Riddle of the Sphinx can ever be explained. Its solution is determined less by the will and reason of men, as by circumstances set in motion and bound to run their course. And in that respect there is no distinction between the nature of the investigator and the thing investigated. Call it ‘metaphysical’ if you want, but herein lies the ultimate, for us unfathomable, secret. Speculative, hesitant and ignorant of itself, “it chases the cause to infinity, content,” in Arthur Eddington’s perceptive words, “that the laws of nature - the relations between contiguous parts of the world - are satisfied all the way.”[1] 
            Indeed, there can be few instances of Pythian complexity more remarkable than that Man and God should have crystallized into one inseparable, indivisible whole. For here we have beginning and end (or mind and matter, if you will), colliding with each other in the last profanation of the metaphysical by the mathematical. In the collision of facts with truths, the two halves of a puzzle that will neither understand nor recognize one another. 'Everything', then, in the most absolute sense, does not easily identify with the most fundamental theorem in physics, since such a theorem invariably requires an a priori view upon which its analytical method can operate; and that is a view incapable of being actualized. The timeless, in other words, may never come into contact with time. Throw in the fact that any knowledge which is strictly a priori must in every epistemological analysis be independent of experience, and the natural answer is that it will tell us nothing about the particular world in which we live.  My own conviction, hence, is not that the consummate state of affairs is everything, but that it is nothing; that only the timeless is truly a priori. That it rests not on an accumulation of the sum of its parts, but on an unconditional disregard of them. From which it follows that the Theory of Everything will be arrived at not by adducing arbitrary magnitudes, but by removing unnecessary assumptions and to persist in so doing until it has reached the ultimate -  the truth of the truth itself: namely das Ding an sich.
          For here experience ends.      
            Can the physicist then, unlike the Sphinx, solve the great questions, or can he merely pose them? The irrefutable answer is, that once all metaphors and associations are removed, the meaning of everything is bereft of all its customary anthropomorphous connotations, and the physicist is left, not with a secret to end all secrets, but with an equation that has no meaning at all. For if it did, his theory would in some measure be limited to being a necessary consequence of our own essential nature, rather than this unique all-inclusive totality which Spinoza called “God or Nature” (Deus sive Nature), and which Kant referred to as “the thing in itself” (Das Ding an sich). Nor can such a ‘thing’ possibly be conceived at higher levels of continuity than continuity in our thoughts, for it is useless to attempt a qualitative analysis of the  concept of nothing - the only complete and unassailable form of Everything.               

[1] Sir Arthur Eddington, Opus cit. p. 158


VH Ironside is the author of  the fabled Willers of the Will, first published in 1996, now out of print!


Anonymous said...

Nearly a decade ago, still an impressionable teenager, I picked up a copy of 'Willers of the Will' in a charity shop. It influenced me greatly, not least in leading me to Nietzsche and thence to reading philosophy for my first degree. Over the years, I've periodically searched online for information about Mr Ironside, for a sign that any other person on the planet even knows - let alone cares - about this book, and found... nothing. Today, I find this blog. I can't even guess as to what esoteric secrets of the google algorithm hid it from me until now, but I look forward to reading it greatly...

Anonymous said...

"Here, however, is my domain and jurisdiction; what may ye be seeking in my domain? Perhaps, however, ye have found on your way what I seek: namely, the Higher Man."

Nietzsche, Zarathustra