“Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of Nature. And it is because in the last analysis we ourselves are part of the mystery we are trying to solve.” – Max Planck.

After twenty-six blogs we are now ready to summarize the scientific perspective on ultimate reality. It seems to me this comes down to the intersection of the very small – that is what makes up the substances of the universe – and the incomprehensibly large – that is the entirety of its substances. At the composition end we find two modes: (1) structural – including the theoretical strings of energy in multiple dimensions, elementary particles, atoms, and the elements of the periodic table plus more obscure components such as dark energy and dark matter, and (2) dynamic – including fields, quantum uncertainty, observer effects and decoherence, the four forces, the interchangeablity of matter and energy, wave/particle duality, and the dubious prospect of panpsychism. At the other pole we likewise have two modes: (1) structural – the universe or the multiverse, its instantiation in all light, matter, and events, and space-time itself, and (2) the transcendental –  unity, uniqueness, order, subtotal accessibility, infiniteness, cosmic evolution, and perhaps macroscopic consciousness.

But many scientists extend the transcendental further. There is the issue of dimensions beyond the four known to us. There is Neil Bohr’s complementarity of the subjective and the objective. We have Carl Sagan’s formula of three proper nouns: Universe = Nature = Reason (is anyone else reminded of the Christian Trinity?). There is Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “great chain of being,” reflexivity of in-ness of the universe and of ourselves, and the stimulation of spirituality. And of course there is Einstein’s unexpected ‘comprehensibility of reality’ where through a leap (of faith or of intuition?), the “rationality manifest in existence” brings one to an intangible, impersonal deity.

If we assemble all of the pieces into a single understanding of ultimate reality we are left with not only awe of the physical, but a near mystical understanding of existence that has been “sensed” by the great thinkers and the great spiritualists in human history. Perhaps they were never far off the mark, only limited by vocabulary and knowledge needed to fully express it. We will come back to this intriguing possibility in our synthesis of this section after we examine descriptions of ultimate reality by philosophers and theologians that follow. Stay tuned.


The second type of argument for panpsychism is analogical. Here the proponent starts by suggesting that plants are too close to animals to deny them a psyche – consider they both need nutrition and water and share vital processes such as growth and reproduction. Even movement applies to plants: the opening and closing of a flower and the turning of a branch toward the sun. If there is correspondence of visible processes, there may be correspondence of invisible processes. By comparison a plant is little different than a hydra, and the hydra little different from other invertebrates, and so forth. After all, Paulsen points out, the inner processes of a plant are no more inscrutable than those of a jellyfish.11

Stretching further, the panpsychist notes the border between animate and inanimate is blurred, they share the same world, and they constantly interact. Matter is not inherently and absolutely passive – consider the complexity of an atom with its continuous internal motion. A stone is “in constant interaction with its immediate surroundings as well as the remotest system of fixed stars,”12  Paulsen concludes it is entirely plausible that “corresponding to this wonderful play of forces and movements” there is a system of inner psychic process analogous to that of living things.13

Finally let’s consider the thoughts of the contemporary physicist, Paul Davies. In one essay he argues that consciousness is inexplicable on the plane of physics. Life is a ‘holistic’ concept, whereas the reductionist perspective is that we are made up of only inanimate atoms. “Similarly mind is a holistic concept, at the next level of description. We can no more understand mind by reference to brain cells than we can cells by reference to their atomic constituents.” 14 However this concept of ‘holistic’ seems obscure enough that one might in theory apply it to non-organic aggregates of matter.

In another work  Davies entertains (albeit reluctantly) panpsychism as espoused by the physicist Freeman Dyson who writes, “I think our consciousness is not just a passive epiphenomenon carried along by the chemical events in our brains, but an active agent forcing the molecular complexes to make choices between one quantum state and another. In other words, mind is already inherent in every electron.”15 Davies’ goal in referencing Dyson is to “affirm the reality of mental events and to show that they comply with his proposal that each new level of organization and complexity in nature demands its own laws and principles.” 16 But again he seems to be opening up the possibility that ‘mental’ events might occur at the molecular level based on laws different from those of human consciousness.

Of course none of these arguments is proof or even substantial evidence for panpsychism. I suspect most readers will reject the theory of panpsychism and assume that consciousness and mind are emergent features of complex interactions of mindless matter. There just does not seem to be a logical pathway back from organically derived consciousness to a reasonably similar process at the atomic level. Only by equating atomic energy and motion with mental energy and motion by definition can the panpsychist sustain his position and this seems logically fallacious.


11Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.   Volume 6, page 27.

12Ibid., page 28.


14Davies, Paul, God and the New Physics. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1983. ISBN 0-671-52806-8, page 92 .

15Davies, Paul, The Cosmic Blueprint. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1988. ISBN 0-671-60233-0, page 190.

16Ibid., page 191.


We ended last time with the theory of panpsychism formulated as monadology and now must examine what justification exists for its assertion. Allow me to start with this extended quote by the German physicist, philosopher, and experimental psychologist, Gustav Fechner (1801-1887):

“I stood once on a hot summer’s day beside a pool and contemplated a water-lily which had spread its leaves evenly over the water and with an open blossom basking in the sunlight. How exceptionally fortunate, thought I, must this lily be which above basks in the sunlight and below is plunged in the water – if only it might be capable of feeling the sun and the bath. And why not? I asked myself. It seemed to me that nature surely would not have built a creature so beautiful and so carefully designed for such conditions, merely to be an object of idle observation…I was inclined to think that nature had built it thus in order that all the pleasure which can be derive from bathing at once in sunlight and in water might be enjoyed by one creature in the fullest measure.”5

This is not mere wistfulness on Fechner’s part, rather he believes panpsychism is the “best, clearest, most natural, and most beautiful account of the facts of the universe.”6  Biologist Wilfred Eade Agar (1882-1951) seems to agree admitting that while there is “no coercive demonstration” of panpsychism, it “leads to a more consistent and satisfying world picture than any of the alternatives.”7  William James offers added support  arguing that evidence from psychology and his study of religious experience establishes a “formidable probability in favor of a general view of the world almost identical with Fechner’s.”8

Beyond such observations are two general arguments: (1) genetic and (2) analogical. Genetic arguments come down to the premise that mental facts can be casually explained only in terms of other mental facts. German philosopher, Friedrich Paulsen (1846-1908), believes a newly developing life could not create feelings out of nothing any more than the matter composing living things could come from nothing. Biologist Conrad Hal Waddington (1905-1975) offers a more extended argument: “Something must go on in the simplest inanimate things which can be described in the same language as would be used to describe our self-awareness.” Although we know nothing of its nature, we are forced to accept it by “the demands of logic and the application of evolutionary theory.”9 The phenomenon of self-awareness is a ‘basic mystery’ because it cannot be constructed theoretically from our current science, but we know it exists from experience. Thus we can infer that the mode of our experience “evolved from simple forms which are experienced by non-human things.”10

(final continuation next post)


5Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.   Volume 6, page 22.

6Ibid., page 23.


8Ibid., page 24.

9Ibid., page 26.



“There is a continuum of cosmic consciousness.” – William James.

In the last two blogs we examined two possibilities for a cosmic consciousness: (1) decoherence of the quantum physicist and (2) non-organic consciousness emerging from cosmic structures. This leaves a last form for consideration, panpsychism defined by Dagobert Runes as “a form of metaphysical idealism, of which Leibniz’s theory of monads is the classical example, according to which the whole of nature consists of psychic centers similar to the human mind.”1 In effect, the panpsychist asserts that every component of the material world has a kind of consciousness.

While panpsychism appears in different guises throughout history, it seems logical to begin our discussion with the more developed thoughts of the philosopher-scientist Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. The solution to the mind-body problem, that is how a non-material mind can control a material body, is, according to Leibniz, that all matter is endowed with a ‘substantial form’ analogous to a mind. For the simplest matter this “mind,” which he calls a monad, is only capable of “perception,” but through perception all matter expresses what goes on in the universe. This is demonstrated by the fact that all material substances have a degree of elasticity and of hardness which mirror what they encounter in the world. But the monad also reflects the law of continuation of the series of its own operations, its history, and its future as well as a primitive force akin to Aristotle’s entelechy which is combined indissolubly with its primary matter.2 Extension of primary matter and aggregation of monads leads to higher level consciousness and derived forces or vis viva as for example in animals and humans.3

Monadology then is “the theory that the universe is a composite of elementary units…the real atoms of nature, the elements of things… the substance of a monad must be conceived as force, as that which contains in itself the principle of its changes. The universe is the aggregate, the ideal bond of the monads, constituting a harmonious unity.”4 Here we have our third concept of universal “consciousness” – particulate “minds” aggregated into cosmic consciousness. The theory appears interesting, even credible, but we still need to consider if there is evidence to support it.

(continued next post)


1Runes, Dagobert D., Dictionary of Philosophy. Philosophical Library, New York, 1960, page 223.

2Leibniz’s thoughts are by no means unprecedented. Hindu philosophy breaks substances into prakrti  (matter) and purusa (spirit or consciousness).

3Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.   Volume 4, pages 422-431.

4Runes, Dagobert D., Dictionary of Philosophy. Philosophical Library, New York, 1960, page 201.


We ended last time with a mess on our hands related to reality, as seen through the lens of quantum physics, possibly being dependent on an unlimited sequence of observers. This paradox is best solved by asserting either (1) that any conscious being can collapse the wave function point blank, in which case the universe prior to creature consciousness remains unexplained or (2) there is an ‘Ultimate Observer’ who collapses the wave functions of all serial conscious observers at some future ‘Final Observation.’ For me it seems the first of these two options is more credible and returns us to the Copenhagen interpretation where the complex quantum system underpinning the universe constitutes “a kind of incessant self-measurement system that allows the system as a whole to display fixed and definite properties even though the underlying quantum state is in constant flux.”11 This process called ‘decoherence’ suggests the cosmos may meet Kaku’s definition of consciousness.12

An entirely different approach can be distilled from the musings of Fred Adams and Greg Laughlin who imagine ‘life’ and ‘intelligence’ in the distant future of the cosmos. They begin, with a disclaimer that they offer no general theory of life noting “Even in the one environment where we have direct experience, our home planet Earth, the ascent of life is not understood.”13 Nonetheless they entertain the notion of a second class of life based on the hypothesis of Freeman Dyson wherein abstract life forms are possible at any temperature with the qualification that energy use (metabolism, consciousness, and experience of events) would be slowed proportional to its lower temperature. In that case, “the ultimate basis for consciousness lies in the structure of the life form and not in the matter that makes it up.”14 The implication is that there may exist non-organic life and consciousness that is subject to entirely different laws from organic life (most likely involving dramatically slower processes).

Adams and Laughlin speculate that in the distant future during what they call the ‘black hole era’ a collection of black holes could create a self-gravitation system that might function as a kind of computer if they configure in such a way as to permit binary logic gates. They also postulate a different form of life from the familiar might be possible on the surface of these black holes again with processes occurring at an infinitesimal fraction of the speed of terrestrial life. However it doesn’t take a great leap to argue similar effects may be emergent from the stellar, black hole, or galactic structures that occupy our era or from the galactic web itself. What is clear is that should such ‘life’ or ‘consciousness’ be possible, we are painfully unequipped to know how to identify or communicate with it.15

Thus we have two very speculative scientific models of ultimate reality as a consciousness of the universe utterly distinct from our own and refractory to confirmation. As such they are little better than traditional metaphysics. But before leave this topic, we have one last alternative which is the subject of the next blog – panpsychism. I hope you can join me then.


11Lindley, David (introduction) in Werner, Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2007. ISBN 978-0-06-120919-2, page xxix-xx. See Teleology – Uncertainty- Part II on this website published 11/22/2012

12The possibility of a ‘Final Observer’ will come back when we get to theological possibilities where God fills that role.

13Adams, Fred and Laughlin, Greg, The Five Ages of the Universe. The Free Press, New York, 1999. ISBN 0-684-85422-8, page xxix.

14Ibid., page xxx.

15A similar, but distinct, possibility would be the configuration of subatomic particles in space of the Higgs field.


So how does the astrophysicist think about consciousness and its implications at the cosmic level. We begin with Michio Kaku who proposes a theory he calls ‘the space-time theory of consciousness’ and which he asserts is “testable, reproducible, falsifiable, and quantifiable.”5 Kaku claims that consciousness is “the process of creating a model of yourself using multiple feedback loops – for example in space, in society, or in time – in order to carry out a goal.”6 In that case animals, plants, and machines can be conscious; starting say with a photocell (measuring temperature or light) with a single feedback loop, followed by for instance a flower with perhaps ten such loops (measuring temperature, moisture, direction of sunlight, gravity, etc.).

In his theory, Level 1 consciousness entails models of oneself in space (e.g. reptiles or insects) and Level 2 consciousness entails social place within a group. Humans have a still higher consciousness in that we understand time and our position within it which permits planning into the future and imagination of an indefinite future. This future-directed function is in Kaku’s opinion the origin of the large human memory which it projects into the future. Self-awareness in his model is “the ability to put ourselves inside a simulation of the future, consistent with a goal.”7 Of course Kaku’s point in this description is to understand how machines such as computers or robots might achieve higher levels of consciousness, but it seems consciousness might be attributed to the cosmos itself if such conditions apply, to wit creation of a model of itself through feedback loops in space and/or time.

From there we turn to John Barrow and Frank Tipler who analyze the similar question of how the universe came to be the way it is when quantum mechanics requires an observer for events to take place as indicated by the collapse of Schrodinger’s wave function.8 In their words, “…physical reality does not exist independently of the observer and his experimental apparatus.”9 By interposing a second observer who collapses the original observer’s observations and the observed event, Eugene Wigner showed that “the wave function does collapse during a measurement, and that it is the interaction of human consciousness with the physical system that is responsible for the collapse.”10 But Hugh Everett III points out that one can extend this paradox to an infinite series of observers leading to an unwieldy view of reality.

(final continuation next post)


5Kaku, Michio, The Future of Humanity, Anchor Books, New York, 2018. ISBN 978-0-525-43454-2, page 129.


7Ibid., page 130.

8Very briefly, the wave function which describes for example a beam of electrons hitting a photographic place is large, but each electron actually hits that plate at a localized point. In the Schrodinger interpretation this is seen as a sudden instantaneous ‘collapse’ of the wave function into a single point on the plate during measurement. This ‘collapse’ according to Max Born is the consequence of a human observer, but the ultimate implication is the strange but now generally accepted fact that no event can occur in space-time without an observer to instantiate it.

9Barrow, John and Tipler, Frank, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. Oxford University Press, USA, 1986. ISBN 9780198519494, page 464.

10Ibid., page 467. This conclusion follows from Wigner’s Friend Paradox.


“The ultimate stuff of the universe is mind stuff.” – Sir Arthur Eddington.




We have now analyzed five interpretations of the universe as ultimate reality involving (1) unity, order, and uniqueness, (2) instantiation in particulars such as light waves, atoms, and events, (3) constitution of space-time, mass-energy, and natural logic, (4) comprehensiveness in rationality, size, components, and autonomy and (5) participation in an evolving multiverse. There remains one last ultimate designation for our consideration, perhaps the most speculative of all – consciousness. Is it possible that the universe itself has consciousness? If so would that not be the ultimate reality? In the next few blogs we will review some astrophysicists’ attempts at a cogent answer to this question.

Regular readers of these posts will know that I have already expended numerous words on the subject of consciousness including the pantheistic hope that the universe as a highly complex entity might, following complexity theory, have the emergent property of consciousness, not unlike that of the animal brain. In general these have been philosophical or religious speculations rather than the scientific ones we will now consider.

The word ‘consciousness’ is itself ineffable – we all seem to know what it is but like the concept ‘time’ never quite can grasp in words its full meaning. We begin with some preliminaries borrowed from Ian Glynn. Consciousness is first and foremost the result of neural processes occurring in the brain. However, along the chain of neural events responsible for sensations the neuroscientist loses his or her way to the destination of understand the feelings and thoughts that make up consciousness. Thus the “neural correlates of consciousness…seem as elusive as the crock of gold at the end of the ranbow.”1 The best explanation, according to Glynn, comes from Francis Crick and Christof Koch who argue that “synchronous firing of nerve cells concerned with the different features of an object also make us conscious of the object.”2 In that case it may be that no extra process beyond recognition and response to an identified object is at play, hence “any machine with analysis and recognition comparable to our own would necessarily be conscious.”3

An alternative model offered by Ned Block distinguishes between two concepts of consciousness; phenomenal-consciousness – equivalent to our normal idea of consciousness and particularly involves sensations, and access-consciousness where a representation of content is available for use in reasoning, rational action, and speech. The example given is the individual with a petit mal seizure who maintains phenomenal-consciousness but loses access-consciousness needed for sophisticated discrimination. 4

(continued next post)


1Glynn Ian, An Anatomy of Thought. Wiedenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1999. ISBN 0-297-82002-8, page 361. (His italics.)

2Ibid., page 364. (His italics.)

3Ibid., page 383.

4Ibid., page 398.


“Truly, all we know of good and duty proceeds from nature; and none the less so all we know of evil. Visible nature is all plasticity and indifference, – a moral multiverse, as one might call it, and not a moral universe.” – William James, Is Life Worth Living?1

We might reasonably expect cosmologists to assert that the universe is the ultimate structure in reality, but it turns out that many experts believe that our universe may be merely one of many or even an infinite number of universes. In effect this more expanded notion of the cosmos, known as the multiverse, includes unimaginable numbers of universes of different sizes, ages, and physical laws akin to holes in a piece of Swiss cheese. Of course, we cannot observe other universes, confined as we are in our own, but there are four surprisingly strong arguments for their existence.

First is the ‘fine tuning argument.’ Scientists know that even small changes in a few fundamental constants or physical laws in our universe would have made stars, planets, and life impossible. It appears naïve to say that our universe just happened to be conducive to our existence, and as such this improbability serves as the basis of the modern cosmological argument for the existence of a deity who presumably made sure the universe would comport with intelligent life. The more satisfactory scientific argument however is that there are many universes and of course we must be in one of those which permits life in order for us to exist to wonder about it; a stance known as the anthropic principle.

The second argument for the multiverse is its ability to explain what existed before the Big Bang origin of our universe. By this reasoning the multiverse is eternal and our universe like so many others began in a Big Bang event arising most likely from another universe. This explanation gives us the best of both worlds – our universe has a finite life dating back to the fairly well established Big Bang, while the multiverse has no creator, instead an infinite history.

The third argument is a consequence of quantum physics, that is the theory that  our universe arose spontaneously in the quantum vacuum. Presumably in the timelessness of quantum space, if one universe can appear spontaneously, there should be an infinite number of instances of like ‘creation’ making ours not the only universe, but one among an infinitude. In short if the quantum physicists are correct that we can get a universe from nothing, then there should be an unlimited number of them.

The final argument is based on string theory and complicated. Einstein showed that the universe is a huge expanding bubble. If the string theory is correct, and it is the best current theory for the nature of matter, than there are 10 or more dimensions and a multitude of string equations that can describe versions of reality. Michio Kaku explains the implication: “String theory indicates other bubbles out there, each a solution of the string equations. In fact there is a bubble bath of universes, creating a multiverse.”2 Many of these are microscopic and short-lived, but in total they would make up Steven Hawking’s ‘space-time foam.’

(continued next post)


1This passage represents the first known use of the word, ‘multiverse’ (bold in the quote is mine).

2Kaku, Michio, The Future of Humanity, Anchor Books, New York, 2018. ISBN 978-0-525-43454-2, page 300.


Strongly influenced by Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson grew up to become perhaps the most well-known living astronomer. In his book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, he presents this challenging subject in a highly comprehensible way to nonscientists. Here are some of his indications of the universe as ultimate reality.

We start with the following: “…however big the world is – in our hearts, our minds, and outsized digital maps – the universe is even bigger. A depressing though to some, but a liberating thought to me.”2 It appears the sheer size of the universe, for Tyson, is one feature of its ultimacy. There is a corollary to this: the fact that the universe does not center on or revolve around us, ultimate reality transcends any single center, even us clever humans.

Another feature of its ultimacy is the immense numbers of the constituents of the universe. He offers some examples:

  • “There are more molecules of water in an eight-ounce of the stuff than cups of water in all the world’s oceans.”3
  • “A single breathful draws in more air molecules that there are breathfuls of air in Earth’s entire atomosphere.”4
  • “There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on any beach, more stars than second have passed since Earth formed, more stars than words and sounds ever uttered by all the humans who ever lived.”5

But we are not insignificant by virtue of these facts; another component of the ultimate nature of the universe is that while we and no other creature is master of space and time, we all participate in “a great chain of being.”6 And he tells us that this ultimacy is reflexive, “We do not simply live in this universe. The universe lives within us.”7 From all of this (and more – dark energy, dark matter, the universality of physical laws, etc.) comes Tyson’s ‘cosmic perspective’ where he truly shows how ultimate is the reality of Sagan’s Universe: “The cosmic perspective is spiritual – even redemptive – but not religious. The cosmic perspective enables to grasp, in the same thought, the large and the small.”8

From these last two astronomers I think we get a final formulation of the universe as ultimate reality. The cosmos is rationale, comprehensive, large and single but numerous in parts, un-centered and autonomous, external and internal to us, and even spiritually simulating. Do we dare suggest that science is straying dangerously close to the boundary line of religion?


2Tyson, Neil deGrass, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2017. ISBN 978-0393-60939-4, page196.

3Ibid., pages 201-202.

4Ibid., page 202.


6Ibid., page 199.

7Ibid., page 203.

8Ibid., page 206.


“What a wonderful and amazing scheme have we here of the magnificent vastness of the universe! So many suns, so many Earths…” – Christian Huygens.

We have now seen three interpretations of the universe as ultimate reality: (1) propositional – its unity, order, incomplete accessibility, and uniqueness, (2) representational – its instantiation in particulars such as light waves, atoms, and events, and (3) constitutional, i.e. space-time, mass-energy, and evolution (or natural logic). Our last model comes from two recent astronomers: Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson. I think it is fair to say that neither of these brilliant men believes a deity is behind the universe, rather I suspect they would say the universe is the ultimate manifestation of reality. Let’s review some of their more lofty thoughts.

Starting with Sagan, I should say that I do not have a copy of his most famous book, Cosmos, but I do have his last book Billions & Billions with its portentous subtitle Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium written as he faced what turned out to be terminal cancer. Near the end of the book, we read perhaps his last written words describing his understanding of the universe. He begins by admitting one disagreeable ‘by-product’ of the scientific revolution was its undermining of many of the traditional beliefs that comforted humans in this apparently indifferent universe, but then he offers this insight:

“..I see the emergence in our consciousness of a Universe of a magnificence, and an intricate, elegant order far beyond anything our ancestors imagined. And if much about the Universe can be understood in terms to a few simple laws of Nature, those wishing to believe in God can certainly ascribe those beautiful laws to a Reason underpinning all of Nature. My own view is that it is far better to understand the Universe as it really is than to pretend to a Universe as we might wish it to be.”

I reproduce this quote exactly as it appears because I believe Mr. Sagan chose his capital letters carefully. Four words – Universe, Nature, Reason, and God – are capitalized, and thus I believe as he approached death, he perceived that these are the four different nuances of ultimate reality as  apprehended by most people. Of course, he does not embrace God as a deity or as the biblical creator, but as a misunderstood characterization of the other three which are better revealed by scientific study than by religious scripture.

(continued next post)


1Sagan, Carl, Billions & Billions. Random House, New York, NY, 1997. ISBN 0-679-41160-7, page 213.