The last of the three famous Milesian philosophers was a student of Anaximander known as Anaximenes (circa 586-526 B.C.E.). He incorporates the oneness and infinity of his predecessors with a definite material principle, air, the elusive and the invisible. The constituents of the world differ in their nature by rarity and density; the finest is fire, the most dense is stone. He is the first thinker to recognize that qualitative differences reduce to differences in quantity; i.e. there is no separation. Change is due to eternal motion. Thus infinite air is God and the principle form which all things are becoming. Aetius summarizes his philosophy elegantly, “…air is the principle of existing things; for from it all things come-to-be and into it they are again dissolved. As our soul, he says, being air holds us together and controls us, so does the wind and air enclose the whole world.”2

What I find most fascinating about the Milesians is their attempt to define a fundamental explanation of reality based on only inchoate or primitive science. They astutely reflect on their experience of the world to extract and propose limited, but scientific explanations. They also are the first to Western thinkers to acknowledge the real world as the only world, while positing a primeval ‘substance’ or ‘principle’ as its origin. Their theory of God is a more sophisticated concept than we expect of their epoch – no longer taking human form, but a more abstract and expansive configuration. Thales appears to be the first recorded pantheist, and his thinking anticipates the idea of the universe as organism as developed by Alfred North Whitehead. Anaximander’s ‘indefinite’ seems remarkably similar to the modern concept of the quantum flux of modern physics. Anaximenes air seems to me to be the quantum void or perhaps space which sets up the intriguing possibility that his infinity might be time creating the earliest notion of Einstein’s space-time.

Next we will see how the later Greek atomists built on the thoughts of the Milesians to arrive at a prophetically modern view of ultimate reality. Join me then.


We continue now with consideration of the multiverse as the cosmologist’s paragon of ultimate reality. The first implication of a multiverse as proposed last time is that our notion of nothingness must be permanently altered. In that case, it turns out nothingness is not empty, but teeming with universes themselves in motion within a super-cosmic void possibly even colliding with each other. Brian Greene waxes poetic: “Imagine that what we call the universe is actually only one tiny part of a vastly larger cosmological expanse, one of an enormous number of island universes scattered across a grand cosmological archipelago.”3 He goes on to explain how Andrei Linde suggests the mechanism of this ultimate geography may be crucial bursts of inflationary expansions in isolated regions peppered throughout the cosmos.4

Alternatively and even more thrilling, Lee Smolin proposes that on the other side of the event horizon of each black hole may be the origin of a new universe. The consequence of this theory is extraordinary; universes budding from black holes may carry some of the physical laws of the parent universe combined with sufficient modifications that a form of cosmic evolution may ensue bringing into existence progressively more black hole-producing or more habitable universes. We stumble across a type of cosmic natural selection which may explain our own fecund universe and offer hope for even more fertile universes to follow. The mind is boggled by the repercussions.

But we are not done. Michio Kaku positions the multiverse as corroborating the two great religious cosmogonies; those of the East and the West. In the Hebrew, Christian, and Islamic traditions, there is an instant of creation which corresponds with the Big Bang origin of our universe. In the Eastern traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism, the cosmos is eternal and infinite which corresponds to our understanding of the multiverse. Kaku surmises that the Nirvana of Buddhism then is the timeless hyperspace of parallel universes in 10 dimensions where creation is incessant.5

In a sense, the theory of the multiverse is little more than the latest iteration of metaphysics. Still the arguments are cogent and the Copernican-like displacement of our universe from the center of reality fits with our prior experience that reality is always larger and Earth-bound humans more remote than we thought. Perhaps we cannot be further displaced, though I suppose some future scientist may suggest that there are an infinite number of quantum vacuums or hyperspaces making an infinite number of multiverses possible. In the meantime, it seems most prudent to assume that if our universe was not created by an ultimate being or deity (as seems increasingly unlikely), it is most likely the evolutionary product of a multiverse.


3Greene, Brian, The Elegant Universe. Vintage Books, New York, NY, 1999. ISBN 0-375-70811-1, page 366.

4Ibid. (paraphrased).

5 Kaku, Michio, The Future of Humanity, Anchor Books, New York, 2018. ISBN 978-0-525-43454-2, page 302.


Harlow Shapley, we have seen, considers ultimate reality as five fundamental constituents of the universe – space, time, matter, energy, and cosmic evolution. He assures us that this latter term can explain the appearance of ‘protoplasmic life’ via a long chain from ‘mystical hydrogen’ without the need for supernatural forces or divine miracles. It is true that through cosmic evolution humans appear with an advanced brain that permits us to seek distant goals beyond individual fate, but social insects duplicate some of our mores, and life elsewhere may be more ‘perfect’ than Homo sapiens.

He then asks; “Where and why does religion come into the cosmic picture?”5 Referencing anthropology he notes that all human societies have religion of some sort usually to explain the logically unexplainable often with magic or an appeal to spirits. He asks us to advance our distant goals by appealing not to our animal origins, but the angelic or spiritual “in the broadest sense,” that is, by adopting a ‘religious attitude.’ He proffers a modification of Albert Schweitzer’s religion as the ‘reverence of life.’

To me it is a religious attitude to recognize the wonder of the whole natural world, not only of life… why not go all the way and avow reverence for all things that exist, all that is touched by cosmic evolution, and reserve the greatest reverence of all for existence itself”6

But reverence alone may not be enough, Hapley cautions, our creed should be “effective participation in universal evolution.” 7

“Would we be true to the galaxies and the stars, to the vegetation and animals, all of which evolve, if we willfully refused to participate?” 8

At last he brings us back to the domain of human action,

“It is a magnificent universe of incredibly glorious space, time, and energy. Let us go proudly along! Our social and spiritual evolution appears to be in our own hands; it does not await the slow flow or vast amounts of time, such as out bodies would require for a significant step in evolution.”9

Analogous to the fundamental entities of the universe are perhaps five fundamental entities in the cosmopolis of humanity – respect for human life, humility, charity and altruism, reverence for the grand phenomena of existence, and growth in knowledge and spirit. He thinks these parameters lead us to a lifetime of service, world citizenship, world-mindedness, a human bill of rights, and respect for the individual.10

Mr. Shapley’s metamorphosis is complete – no longer mere astronomer, he is both philosopher and theologian. His distillation of key facets of the universe as ultimate reality and his principle of ethics as cosmic are as cogent as any I have encountered.  Full stop.


5Shapley, Harlow, Beyond the Observatory. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, NY, 1967. Page 121.

6Ibid., page 123.

7Ibid., page 171.

8Ibid., page 172.

9Ibid., pages 172-173

10Ibid., pages 173-178.


The sixth most confident proposition of ultimate reality is I am a part of something larger (the unity of the universe). Unless one denies the existence of an external world and other people, one is only a part of a whole. Participation in and identification with that whole is a fundamental understanding for a person seeking a meaningful life. In its extreme form we get the wonderful ancient Hindu truth atman = brahman; your inner self is the same as the ethereal self of the cosmos.

Next is Something always existed. This is perhaps more accurately a metaphysical principle based on the logic that something cannot come from nothing. It is echoed in our own being: while we “know” nothingness as that state before our birth, we concede, nonetheless, that our existence was caused by something else. The corollary is of a lower degree of certainty, but remains the most rational explanation of eternal existence – Somethingness is necessarily existent. No other explanation offers equal justification and plausibility.

Eighth in order is Nature and others should be respected. Since nature and others are that portion of the cosmos with which we make contact and we are undeniably one with the cosmos, this follows as a mixed ultimate and ethical principle.

Ninth is I sense the divine at times. Most of us will have at least transient experience of an ethereal realm of beauty and oneness, which phenomenologically we recognize as integral to the human condition. Only the strictest materialist will deny this experience, and here I follow Husserl in bracketing the source of that experience.

Last of the top ten is Contemplation is one means to participation in ultimate reality. This proposition is far too vague to stand up to rigorous philosophical or scientific scrutiny, but is subjectively true. Detachment from the everyday and internal meditation on the fundamental nature of reality brings one to the ultimate, but its internal origin means this truth cannot be shared directly with others. Readers will have to discover this on their own.

We are ready now to tabulate our results again with addition of a few additional propositions important in thinking about practical philosophy.

1 The cosmos is a unity 99.6+
2 There is a state of nothingness. 99.5+
3 God defined as the origin of the universe or the universe itself exists. 99.4+ Other characterizations of God are of low certainty.
4 The cosmos is governed by rational laws. 99.3+ Mixed empirical and ultimate principle.
5 Creativity is an element of the universe. 99.1+
6 I am a part of something larger (the unity of the universe). 99.0
7 Something always existed. 97.9 Somethingness is necessarily existent.
8 Nature and others should be respected. 97.8 Mixed ethical and ultimate principle.
9 I sense the divine at times. 96.9 Others’ mystical experiences are less certain.
10 Contemplation is one means to participation in ultimate reality. 96
What is, is supposed to be. 92 There is no alternative possible world.
I am here for a reason. 91
World religions incorporate authentic ultimate reality. 80


1See the section on God on this site, especially blogs dated 3/18/2019, 3/20/2019, and 3/22/2019.

2See blogs this site dated 7/20/2020, 7/22, 2020, 7/29/2020, and 7/31/2020.


Sternglass, a physicist, takes a different approach in this book. He develops Georges LeMaitre’s original theory of the ‘primeval atom’ as an extremely heavy and rapidly rotating electron-positron pair within which the mass of the universe is contained by virtue of its energy (think E=mc2). The origin of the this pair is hypothesized as coming from a ‘vortex ring’ or superstring that vibrates so violently that it pinches itself in half with the two ends rotating at 180 degrees relative to each other creating the first pair of charges.

Subsequently 270 divisions of this original pair over about 15 trillion years led to the Big Bang and the mass and structure of the universe with all parts still rotating and including some ‘seed pairs’ – clusters of more massive electron-proton pairs that divided later to become galaxies and stars.

One advantage of the theory is its explanation of the stability of the universe as the balance of the centrifugal force of the rotating universe (Einstein’s “cosmologic constant”) to the gravitational attraction of its parts. It also relies on simpler factors than the standard theory – just the mass and charge of the electron, the speed of light, and Planck’s constant. It may also explain Guth’s inflation, quasars, continued star formation, dark matter, and the relative small size of distant galaxies detected by the Hubble telescope.

However Sternglass’ theory has not been readily accepted by cosmologists who see it as inconsistent with the body of astronomical knowledge. It counters the prevailing opinion that the universe began as a singularity. It depends on the vortex occurring with an ether like one proposed by the ancient Greeks, but dismissed by modern science. There is little evidence the universe is actually rotating. And it does not predict the more recently identified Higgs particle as foreseen with the standard model.4

It is not the purpose of this post to attempt to resolve the issue of what preceded the Big Bang, rather to reconcile scientific thinking with the concept of a divine creator. Perhaps not surprisingly Flam does not use the word God in her article, but God as creator appears five times in Sternglass’ book. Once when speaking of Robert Millikan who tried to reconcile science and religion by saying matter is still being formed as evidence that “The Creator is still on the job.” A second when referring to rotation as having meaning only relative to a pre-existing ether that Isaac Newton regarded as ‘the body of God.’ The third appears when he is thinking about the specificity of Newton’s gravitational constant as unlikely to have come about by chance and the design of the universe as both elegant and understandable by humans – mentioning Albert Einstein’s famous quotes: “I cannot believe God plays with dice with the universe,” and “God is clever, but he is not malicious.”

The other two times he alludes to God are in the first and last chapters when he tries to come to terms with his own theory. His closing paragraph starts, “The architect of this design and the energy required to bring this about remain a source of mystery, awe, and wonder beyond the ken of science.” He gives the philosopher and the scientist a lot to contemplate.

1 Sternglass, Ernest J., Before the Big Bang. Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1997. ISBN 1-56858-087-8.

2Hoyle, Fred, The Nature of the Universe.  Harper & Brothers, New York, 1950, p. 124. Fred Hoyle argued in the 1940s for a cosmology based on the Steady State theory in a series of BBC radio broadcasts in which he gave the moniker “Big Bang” to the competing theory held by Georges Lemaitre.

3Flam, Faye, Sky and Telescope. F+W Media. Volume 137, No. 2, pages 16-21.

4 www.news.pitt.edu/news/pitt-scientists-unified-theory-origin


February 22, 2018

Before The Big Bang by Ernest J. Sternglass1


“Continuous creation…can be represented by precise mathematical equations whose consequences can be worked out and compared with observation. On philosophical grounds I cannot see any good reason for preferring the big bang idea. Indeed it seems to me in the philosophical sense to be a distinctly unsatisfactory notion, since it puts the basic assumption out of sight where can never be challenged by a direct appeal to observation.”2 – Fred Hoyle.

While meeting up with my daughter in Fairfield, IL (population 5029), I went to the local library and purchased this book almost in passing. I had not opened it until I noticed the February 2019 issue of Sky and Telescope with the cover line, “What came before the Big Bang?” I thought this would be a fantastic opportunity to think through scientific thoughts on the origin of the universe.

In the Sky and Telescope article by Faye Flam, she notes that traditionally it was thought impossible to determine the origin of the Big Bang. But now cosmologists posit that it occurred in existing space, another universe, or a multiverse. Specific proposals on the setting of the Big Bang include:

1)  a sea of rapidly expanding space,

2) a bland expanse of empty space,

3) a comeback of a contracting universe (Big Bounce), or

4) a collision of two existing universes in a higher-dimensional space.

Many cosmologists accept Alan Guth’s theory of inflation whereby shortly after the Big Bang, the universe expanded extremely fast and extremely briefly due to a peculiar and perhaps inexplicable repulsive force. But increasingly cosmologists consider the possibility that inflation preceded the Big Bang. Some cosmologists, for example Andrei Linde, see patches of inflating space emerging from an existing chaotic universe creating a ‘pocket universe.’

Meanwhile two other theories are developing. First the bouncing universe of Paul Steinhardt offers a solution without the inexplicable inflation or need for a multiverse. Another is Sean Carroll’s theory that empty space at the highest level of entropy (disorder) contains formless ‘vacuum energy’ which can generate an occasional baby universe based on the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics.

Of course untestable speculations of this type border on metaphysics rather than science though Flam concludes by discussing some recent attempts to sort through these possibilities using observable data.

(continued next post)


“Shall I teach you what knowledge is? When you know a thing, to recognize that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, to recognize that you do not know it. That is knowledge.”  – Confucius


Unfortunately before we can reasonably move forward to outline the path to philosophically based happiness and meaning, we need more than makes up the  broad outline on the tiers of reality and ethics. If they are the highways on a cross country drive, the ‘special problems’ are the roadside stops on that journey. Each of the special problems will require careful analysis as part of developing one’s concepts of reality and ethics. A short cut now may divert one from the correct route or lead through a maze of confusing dirt roads. They require separate analysis and are distinct from lesser problems in that one’s view in these areas will color one’s personal philosophy at every level.

The key special problems I will discuss include, in logical order:

1.    Good and evil

2.   The existence and nature of God

3.   Body and soul

4.   Death and immortality

5.   Free will and fate

6.   Teleology

7.   Suffering

During my discussion, I will focus on defining terms, providing context, reviewing traditional viewpoints and debate, and choosing the most reasonable resolutions. I will search for means to accommodate rejected alternatives in order to minimize the consequences of error. This may be done by identifying common elements, exploring metaphorical meanings, or assigning likelihood of truthfulness.

As always we cannot expect certainty, nor can we wait for it; rather we must make choices and live life within a framework of informed uncertainty. Following this phase we will be ready to draw up a blueprint for living a flourishing life.


The Philosopher’s Magazine1

“Philosophy is not a theory, but an activity….”– Ludwig Wittgenstein.


While perusing the incredibly useful book, The Philosopher’s Toolkit2, by Julian Baggini and Peter Fosl, I noticed that Mr. Baggini had founded a quarterly philosophical magazine and decided on a whim to subscribe for one year. What a delightful decision! I received my first issue in December and thought it might be interesting to blog about its contents.

I’ll begin by noting the quality of the publication is excellent with a thick glossy cover and heavy stock paper. This issue has 120 pages of content with about 10% being aesthetically produced photos and illustrations. The advisory board consists of four women and eleven men; five of the twenty-four essays are written by editors or advisory board members.

There is a medley of subject matter starting with an editorial essay memorializing a British philosopher by the name of Mary Midgley who at age 99 wrote a book titled What is Philosophy For?, wherein she tries to “make sense of this deeply puzzling world”. Then come additional articles such as ones on fake news, sustaining the planet, and the esoteric What is dirt? There is also a challenging article on time as conceived by Henri Bergson and reflected in Doctor Strange.

This issue’s forum is on neuroscience, looking at some philosophically relevant features of that field including neuroexistentialism, transcendence, free will, utilitarianism, and the relationship of neuroscience to philosophy of consciousness. I enjoyed the book review on Iddo Landau’s Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World, written by Kirsten Egerstrom, a philosophy professor whose research focuses on the topic of meaningfulness in life, an area of particular interest to me. The final piece is an interview of Matt Teichman, whose podcast is known as Elucidations, but who also refers readers to The History of Philosophy podcast which is one of his favorites.

However my favorite essay is Philosophy as a Way of Life, by John Sellars, professor of ancient philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London. In the article his stated goal is to move philosophy away from modern concerns of what we can know and how we know it to philosophy as a guide to living. He discusses Pierre Hadot’s book (of the same name as the essay) which starts with Socrates’ emphasis on “care of the soul” and traces that approach to three later schools of thought. The first is developed by Epicurus whose efforts to explain natural phenomena scientifically is directed at alleviating unwarranted fears to bring about ataraxia, or untroubledness. The second is the stoicism of Zeno which identifies philosophy as the “art of living,” with a focus on control of the emotions, and seeing nature as a unified whole. The third is Pyrrhonism which renounces all beliefs, and suggests cogent counter-arguments lead us to ‘equipollence’ (the midpoint between two sides of a debate), and an involuntary confusion, resulting in an unexpected tranquility. Cicero, Seneca, and Epictetus progressively refine these Hellenistic philosophies into approaches to real life problems and emphasis on deeds over words. Later philosophers such as Montaigne and Nietzsche also adopt the principle of philosophy as a guide to living rather than a simple mental exercise.

Overall the material in this periodical covers an amazing spectrum of philosophy in a succinct yet robust fashion. I found it very helpful in learning about current approaches to philosophical questions and for comparing my own thoughts with those of some academic experts. My only caution is that the content is by and large most appropriate for more advanced readers.

1Garvey, James (editor), The Philosopher’s Magazine. Issue 83, 4th Quarter 2018.

2 Baggini, Julian and Fosl, Peter S., The Philosopher’s Toolkit. Blackwell Publishing. 2003. ISBN  978-0-631-22874-5.


Second, external and cultural reality require care to avoid misperception and overcome bias. Observation of external reality requires caution – the world does in fact appear flat and the Earth does not seem to be moving, which is why it took millennia to get even intelligent people to believe otherwise. Multiple sources of data and detailed knowledge of history will reduce the chance of error in understanding society or how we got here.

Third, acknowledge the power of science. Whatever religious or personal beliefs you have, science has consistently proven to be the most reliable means to truth. It must be studied to avoid blatant error and to fully understand the physical world and cosmos. While much of science is designated as ‘theory’ (such as the ‘theory of evolution’), the real world utility and astounding predictions of science are proof of science’s validity (think of the technology in your cell phone or of the success of medicine in treating illness). Denying or dismissing science is done at great risk – consider the possible death of your child from refusal to vaccinate her.

Finally, accept that absolute certitude will not be possible in most or any of these areas. The degree of confidence should be a factor in how strongly any given notion of reality is embraced. For instance, in politics, recognizing the uncertainty of most political views is essential to social virtue. The less secure you are in an area, the more you will have to develop an ethical approach that minimizes the consequences of potential error, while accommodating the largest number of possibilities. Wisdom is not intrinsically dogmatic; rather adaptive and balanced.

Ernest Becker in his book Escape From Evil and J. Bronowksi in his towering television series and book, The Ascent of Man, highlight the horrific consequences of mistaken certainty. Ethical behavior requires an open mind in dealing with others and pursuing a better world.

If the goal is a meaningful life, errors due to a rush to judgment, denial of science, and over-reliance on imperfect perception and pre-existing bias are among its greatest dangers. In addition, there are some special problems that need to be worked out before we can finalize a pathway to that end. The reader is advised to review the following chapters to complete his or her preparatory work.


“The ancient precept ‘Know thyself.’ and the modern precept ‘Study nature.’ become at last one maxim.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson



In the last thirteen sections, we have defined and examined the nature of reality and the philosophy of human conduct. The big picture of philosophy then distills into thinking about the five tiers of each of these  two basic components:

REALITY                                                       ETHICS

Internal                                                            Self-Mastery

Proximate                                                      Conduct to Others

Cultural                                                            Societal Duty

Cosmic                                                            Relationship to the Ultimate

Ultimate                                                          Supererogatory Duty

As you begin your process of sorting out these 10 areas, a few principles may be helpful to keep in mind.

First, internal reality and ethic will require intense self-examination. You are likely to find the self consists of three parts: external, internal, and primal. The external self is that which makes up your visible persona, the person you present to others; it is likely to be least important. The internal self is the psychological and mental self, most of which you share with very few others or no one. The primal self is the ineffable being Heidegger calls dasein and the Vedas call Atman– the ‘you’ that exists without adjectives, your newborn self that you have carried since before your first coherent memories; it is the being or identity which exists independent of participation in the world.

Each of these parts of the self needs defining and understanding. Phenomenology with its concept of ‘bracketing’ of the uncertain elements offers an excellent tool in this exploration.

In addition self-mastery will require long periods of reflection and lifelong commitment. Its five components of self-discipline, selflessness, self-knowledge, self-improvement, and self-actualization will accompany the journey that makes up the meaningful life. The importance of humility cannot be over-emphasized; one simply need look at the large number of historical figures brought down by hubris. Another crucial factor in the ultimate worth of life is to be guided by a strong moral compass. But in the end, the greatest reward may be the final connecting of your primal or ontological self with the unity of the cosmos in a transcendental act of enlightenment.

(continued next post)