10 or 11 Dimensions? Phenomenological Conundrum. Drunken Risibility.


It is not the fact that we are living in a ten-dimensional world which forces string theory to a ten-dimensional description. It is that perturbative string theories are only anomaly-free in ten dimensions; and they contain gravitons only in a ten-dimensional formulation. The resulting question, how the four-dimensional spacetime of phenomenology comes off from ten-dimensional perturbative string theories (or its eleven-dimensional non-perturbative extension: the mysterious M theory), led to the compactification idea and to the braneworld scenarios.

It is not the fact that empirical indications for supersymmetry were found, that forces consistent string theories to include supersymmetry. Without supersymmetry, string theory has no fermions and no chirality, but there are tachyons which make the vacuum instable; and supersymmetry has certain conceptual advantages: it leads very probably to the finiteness of the perturbation series, thereby avoiding the problem of non-renormalizability which haunted all former attempts at a quantization of gravity; and there is a close relation between supersymmetry and Poincaré invariance which seems reasonable for quantum gravity. But it is clear that not all conceptual advantages are necessarily part of nature – as the example of the elegant, but unsuccessful Grand Unified Theories demonstrates.

Apart from its ten (or eleven) dimensions and the inclusion of supersymmetry – both have more or less the character of only conceptually, but not empirically motivated ad-hoc assumptions – string theory consists of a rather careful adaptation of the mathematical and model-theoretical apparatus of perturbative quantum field theory to the quantized, one-dimensionally extended, oscillating string (and, finally, of a minimal extension of its methods into the non-perturbative regime for which the declarations of intent exceed by far the conceptual successes). Without any empirical data transcending the context of our established theories, there remains for string theory only the minimal conceptual integration of basic parts of the phenomenology already reproduced by these established theories. And a significant component of this phenomenology, namely the phenomenology of gravitation, was already used up in the selection of string theory as an interesting approach to quantum gravity. Only, because string theory – containing gravitons as string states – reproduces in a certain way the phenomenology of gravitation, it is taken seriously.

But consistency requirements, the minimal inclusion of basic phenomenological constraints, and the careful extension of the model-theoretical basis of quantum field theory are not sufficient to establish an adequate theory of quantum gravity. Shouldn’t the landscape scenario of string theory be understood as a clear indication, not only of fundamental problems with the reproduction of the gauge invariances of the standard model of quantum field theory (and the corresponding phenomenology), but of much more severe conceptual problems? Almost all attempts at a solution of the immanent and transcendental problems of string theory seem to end in the ambiguity and contingency of the multitude of scenarios of the string landscape. That no physically motivated basic principle is known for string theory and its model-theoretical procedures might be seen as a problem which possibly could be overcome in future developments. But, what about the use of a static background spacetime in string theory which falls short of the fundamental insights of general relativity and which therefore seems to be completely unacceptable for a theory of quantum gravity?

At least since the change of context (and strategy) from hadron physics to quantum gravity, the development of string theory was dominated by immanent problems which led with their attempted solutions deeper. The result of this successively increasing self- referentiality is a more and more enhanced decoupling from phenomenological boundary conditions and necessities. The contact with the empirical does not increase, but gets weaker and weaker. The result of this process is a labyrinthic mathematical structure with a completely unclear physical relevance

Suspicion on Consciousness as an Immanent Derivative


The category of the subject (like that of the object) has no place in an immanent world. There can be no transcendent, subjective essence. What, then, is the ontological status of a body and its attendant instance of consciousness? In what would it exist? Sanford Kwinter (conjuncted here) here offers:

It would exist precisely in the ever-shifting pattern of mixtures or composites: both internal ones – the body as a site marked and traversed by forces that converge upon it in continuous variation; and external ones – the capacity of any individuated substance to combine and recombine with other bodies or elements (ensembles), both influencing their actions and undergoing influence by them. The ‘subject’ … is but a synthetic unit falling at the midpoint or interface of two more fundamental systems of articulation: the first composed of the fluctuating microscopic relations and mixtures of which the subject is made up, the second of the macro-blocs of relations or ensembles into which it enters. The image produced at the interface of these two systems – that which replaces, yet is too often mistaken for, subjective essence – may in turn have its own individuality characterized with a certain rigor. For each mixture at this level introduces into the bloc a certain number of defining capacities that determine both what the ‘subject’ is capable of bringing to pass outside of itself and what it is capable of receiving (undergoing) in terms of effects.

This description is sufficient to explain the immanent nature of the subjective bloc as something entirely embedded in and conditioned by its surroundings. What it does not offer – and what is not offered in any detail in the entirety of the work – is an in-depth account of what, exactly, these “defining capacities” are. To be sure, it would be unfair to demand a complete description of these capacities. Kwinter himself has elsewhere referred to the states of the nervous system as “magically complex”. Regardless of the specificity with which these capacities can presently be defined, we must nonetheless agree that it is at this interface, as he calls it, at this location where so many systems are densely overlaid, that consciousness is produced. We may be convinced that this consciousness, this apparent internal space of thought, is derived entirely from immanent conditions and can only be granted the ontological status of an effect, but this effect still manages to produce certain difficulties when attempting to define modes of behavior appropriate to an immanent world.

There is a palpable suspicion of the role of consciousness throughout Kwinter’s work, at least insofar as it is equated with some kind of internal, subjective space. (In one text he optimistically awaits the day when this space will “be left utterly in shreds.”) The basis of this suspicion is multiple and obvious. Among the capacities of consciousness is the ability to attribute to itself the (false) image of a stable and transcendent essence. The workings of consciousness are precisely what allow the subjective bloc to orient itself in a sequence of time, separating itself from an absolute experience of the moment. It is within consciousness that limiting and arbitrary moral categories seem to most stubbornly lodge themselves. (To be sure this is the location of all critical thought.) And, above all, consciousness may serve as the repository for conditioned behaviors which believe themselves to be free of external determination. Consciousness, in short, contains within itself an enormous number of limiting factors which would retard the production of novelty. Insofar as it appears to possess the capacity for self-determination, this capacity would seem most productively applied by turning on itself – that is, precisely by making the choice not to make conscious decisions and instead to permit oneself to be seized by extra-subjective forces.

Husserl’s Melodies of the Absolute Flux. Note Quote.


Husserl elaborates the basic problem of time-consciousness by taking the simple example of a melody. Observing that what we perceive endures – i.e., a melody is experienced as a unity of discrete tones, with each tone and the melody as a whole grasped as unified enduring objects – he sets out to examine how this can occur. Clearly, more than one tone must be retained in consciousness, since if each disappeared entirely after it had sounded then their succession, and therefore the melody as a whole, could never be grasped: “in each moment we would have a tone, or perhaps an empty pause in the interval between the sounding of two tones, but never the representation of a melody.” And each tone must also undergo some form of modification in consciousness, enabling it to appear “as more or less past, as pushed back in time, as it were,” since otherwise “instead of a melody we would have a chord of simultaneous tones, or rather a disharmonious tangle of sound, as if we had struck simultaneously all the notes that had previously sounded“. It is in order to account for our ability to experience such temporally extended objects as temporally extended that Husserl takes an immanent tone as his phenomenological datum.

In the characteristic phenomenological move Husserl proposes, at the outset of his lectures, “the complete exclusion of every assumption, stipulation and conviction with respect to objective time”. This suspension of the “natural attitude” towards time leaves – as the phenomenological residue – the indisputable immanent time (succession and duration) of lived experience (erlebnis). And immanent temporal objects within the immanent time of the flow of consciousness will enable reflection of the phenomenon of temporal experience free of all transcendent presuppositions. Husserl can therefore declare his task as being to “exclude all transcendent apprehension and positing and take the tone purely as a hyletic datum”.

Posing the question of “How, in addition to ‘temporal objects,’ immanent and transcendent, does time itself – the duration and succession of objects – become constituted?” Husserl points out that these are “different lines of description….” For example: “When a tone sounds … [we] can make the tone itself, which endures and fades away, into an object and yet not make the duration of the tone or the tone in its duration into an object”. Focusing on the latter, we can observe that the tone appears in “a continuity of ‘modes’ in a ‘continual flow'” – that is, appears in the mode of (as) ‘now’ or as ‘immediately past’ – even though “‘Throughout’ this whole flow of consciousness, one and the same tone is intended as enduring, as now enduring”. Because the tone itself is the same but the manner in which it appears is continually different, then description of the tone itself must be distinguished from description of “the way in which we are ‘conscious’ of … the ‘appearing’ of the immanent tone”. It is this latter that the phenomenology of time-consciousness will analyze.

Husserl accounts for our experience of the duration of the tone by distinguishing the intended temporal determinations of ‘now,’ ‘just-past,’ and ‘about-to-be’ from the consciousness that intends them: the impressional, retentional and protentional consciousness which constitute present, past, and future, respectively. As he describes it, the “source-point” (Quellpunkt) of the enduring object in the flowing stream of consciousness is the “primal impression” – consciousness of the (constantly changing) “tone-now” (Tonjetzt). And as this ‘tone-now’ is modified into ‘something that has been,’ so the primal impression passes over into retention: “the tone-now changes into a tone-having-been; the impressional consciousness, constantly flowing, passes over into an ever new retentional consciousness”. Retention not only “holds in consciousness what has been produced and stamps on it the character of the ‘just-past'” – ensuring that consciousness is always “consciousness of what has just been and not merely consciousness of the now-point of the object that appears as enduring” – but each retention is also retention of the elapsed tone retention, including in itself “the entire series of elapsed intentions in the form of a chain of mediate intentions”. In this way, retention “extends the now-consciousness” such that the “now-apprehension is, as it were, the head attached to the comet’s tail of retentions”.

This description of the extended moment is completed with the addition of protention as the symmetrical futural counterpart of retention. Protention, the intuition of the immediate future, is “just as original and unique as the intuition of the past,” Husserl writes. “Every process that constitutes its object originally is animated by protentions that emptily constitute what is coming as coming”. Retention and protention together combine to form “the living horizon of the now,” for every primal impression “has its retentional and protentional halo” ensuring that “The now point … [always] has for consciousness a temporal fringe”. The punctual now is therefore only an ideal limit, which cannot be phenomenologically given or encountered. And this description of the now as an ideal abstraction therefore applies equally to the primal impression of which it is the correlate: “In the ideal sense … perception (impression) would be the phase of consciousness that constitutes the pure now…. But the now is precisely only an ideal limit, something abstract, which can be nothing by itself”.

The temporal phases of the immanent object are, then, on a different stratum of analysis than the consciousness of those phases; the impressional, retentional, and protentional consciousness which, in intending the object as ‘now,’ ‘just-past,’ or ‘about-to-be’ “constitute the very differences belonging to time”. Husserl reaches the heart of his phenomenological account of time-consciousness with his description of how these “acts that create time” – primal impression, retention, and protention – “can be understood as time-constituting consciousness, as moments of the flow”. The ‘flow’ is made up of these partial intentions which are not fully fledged acts as such because their correlates are not objects but the temporal phases of objects. Retention, for example, “is an intentionality” but it “is not an ‘act’ (that is, an immanent duration-unity constituted in a series of retentional phases)”. The intentionality of these elements of the primal flux differs from that of apprehending or perceptual acts – they in fact constitute as a unity the apprehending act: “In perception a complex of sensation-contents, which are themselves unities constituted in the original temporal flow, undergo unity of apprehension. And this unitary apprehension is again a constituted unity”.

Husserl can therefore distinguish and outline the three levels of his analysis of time and consciousness as follows: Firstly, “the things of empirical experience in objective time”; secondly, “the constituting multiplicities of appearance … the immanent unities in pre-empirical time”; and lastly, “the absolute time-constituting flow of consciousness” which, as that which “lies before all constitution,” is the ultimate stratum of the constitutive process. This absolute consciousness “is not itself content or object in phenomenological time”. It is a ‘flow’ of “continuous ‘change'” which cannot be described as having constancy or duration, nor even as a ‘process,’ since the concept of process presupposes persistence and a ‘something’ that persists and endures through change. However, the flow does possess, in a sense, something abiding: “What abides, above all, is the formal structure of the flow, the form of the flow”. This unchanging form of the absolute flux is the retentional/impressional/protentional structure by which “a now becomes constituted by means of an impression and … a trail of retentions and a horizon of protentions are attached to the impression”. The question remains, of course, of how we can know this flow which is neither content nor object:

Every temporal appearance, after phenomenological reduction, dissolves into … a flow. But I cannot perceive in turn this consciousness itself into which all of this is dissolved. For this new percept would again be something temporal that points back to a constituting consciousness of a similar sort, and so in infinitum. Hence the question arises: How do I come to know the constituting flow?

To deal with this question Husserl recalls the ‘double intentionality’ of retention. One of these is the “‘primary memory’ of the (just sensed) tone” which “serves for the constitution of the immanent object”. But there is also the other, the second retentional intentionality which “is constitutive of the unity of this primary memory in the flow”. This “retention of retention” ensures that “each past now retentionally shelters within itself all earlier stages” and also therefore that “there extends throughout the flow a horizontal intentionality [Längsintentionalität] that, in the course of the flow, continuously coincides with itself”. By means of this, the unity of the flow becomes itself “constituted in the flow of consciousness as a one-dimensional quasi-temporal order”. The absolute flux is, therefore, self-constituting. It constitutes the unity of immanent objects in a unitary immanent time and thereby, “as shocking (when not initially even absurd) as it may seem,” also its own unity:

two inseparably united intentionalities, requiring one another like two sides of one and the same thing, are interwoven with one another in the one, unique flow of consciousness. By virtue of on limits of language of the intentionalities, immanent time becomes constituted…. In the other intentionality, it is the quasi-temporal arrangement of the phases of the flow that becomes constituted…. This prephenomenal, preimmanent temporality becomes constituted intentionally as the form of the time-constituting consciousness and in itself.

And it is this second retentional intentionality that gives us our oblique self-awareness of the flux, removing the problem of infinite regress whilst simultaneously resolving the difficulty of knowing the flow. “The self-appearance of the flow does not require a second flow: on the contrary, it constitutes itself as a phenomenon in itself”. It requires no second flow because this is a non-objectivating awareness – experienced in the same way as we experience acts, in a perceptual objectivation, without thematizing them. Unlike such acts, however, it cannot itself be made an object of reflection. Because there is no object or substance that endures, and no ‘time’ here as such, our ability to speak of the absolute flux runs up against the limits of language and conceptual thought. “We can say nothing other than the following: This flow is something we speak of in conformity with what is constituted, but it is not ‘something in objective time.’ It is absolute subjectivity and has the absolute properties of something to be designated metaphorically as ‘flow’.” Husserl is blunt about the inescapable inadequacy of his vocabulary here: “For all of this, we lack names”.

In a sense Husserl’s project in the lectures on time-consciousness can be understood as an inquiry into the constitution of constitution; into the way in which intentional acts of consciousness are constituted as temporal unities able to have as their correlate the transcendent temporally extended object. As he observes: “It is certainly evident that the perception of a temporal object itself has temporality, that the perception of duration itself presupposes duration of perception, that the perception of any temporal form itself has temporal form”. Yet Ricoeur writes that “The fact that the perception of duration never ceases to presuppose the duration of perception did not seem to trouble Husserl“, implying that Husserl was blind to the significance of his own observation. This rather offhand remark plays little role in Ricoeur’s argument for the conflict between Kant and Husserl’s respective treatments of time, but given that Husserl was clearly sorely troubled by this ‘fact’ – that it is arguably the very observation that led him beyond Kant’s standpoint to explore the temporality of the constitutive act itself.

Dance of the Shiva, q’i (chee) and Tibetan Sunyata. Manifestation of Mysticism.

अनेजदेकं मनसो जवीयो नैनद्देवाप्नुवन्पूर्वमर्षत् ।
तद्धावतोऽन्यान्नत्येति तिष्ठत् तस्मिन्नापो मातरिश्वा दधाति ॥

anejadekaṃ manaso javīyo nainaddevāpnuvanpūrvamarṣat |
taddhāvato’nyānnatyeti tiṣṭhat tasminnāpo mātariśvā dadhāti ||

The self is one. It is unmoving: yet faster than the mind. Thus moving faster, It is beyond the reach of the senses. Ever steady, It outstrips all that run. By its mere presence, the cosmic energy is enabled to sustain the activities of living beings.

तस्मिन् मनसि ब्रह्मलोकादीन्द्रुतं गच्छति सति प्रथमप्राप्त इवात्मचैतन्याभासो गृह्यते अतः मनसो जवीयः इत्याह ।

tasmin manasi brahmalokādīndrutaṃ gacchati sati prathamaprāpta ivātmacaitanyābhāso gṛhyate ataḥ manaso javīyaḥ ityāha |

When the mind moves fast towards the farthest worlds such as the brahmaloka, it finds the Atman, of the nature of pure awareness, already there; hence the statement that It is faster than the mind.

नित्योऽनित्यानां चेतनश्चेतनानाम्
एको बहूनां यो विदधाति कामान् ।
तमात्मस्थं योऽनुपश्यन्ति धीराः
तेषां शान्तिः शाश्वतं नेतरेषाम् ॥

nityo’nityānāṃ cetanaścetanānām
eko bahūnāṃ yo vidadhāti kāmān |
tamātmasthaṃ yo’nupaśyanti dhīrāḥ
teṣāṃ śāntiḥ śāśvataṃ netareṣām ||

He is the eternal in the midst of non-eternals, the principle of intelligence in all that are intelligent. He is One, yet fulfils the desires of many. Those wise men who perceive Him as existing within their own self, to them eternal peace, and non else.


Eastern mysticism approaches the manifestation of life in the cosmos and all that compose it from a position diametrically opposed to the view that prevailed until recently among the majority of Western scientists, philosophers, and religionists. Orientals see the universe as a whole, as an organism. For them all things are interconnected, links in a chain of beings permeated by consciousness which threads them together. This consciousness is the one life-force, originator of all the phenomena we know under the heading of nature, and it dwells within its emanations, urging them as a powerful inner drive to grow and evolve into ever more refined expressions of divinity. The One manifests, not only in all its emanations, but also through those emanations as channels: it is within them and yet remains transcendent as well.

The emphasis is on the Real as subject whereas in the West it is seen as object. If consciousness is the noumenal or subjective aspect of life in contrast to the phenomenal or objective — everything seen as separate objects — then only this consciousness can be experienced, and no amount of analysis can reveal the soul of Reality. To illustrate: for the ancient Egyptians, their numerous “gods” were aspects of the primal energy of the Divine Mind (Thoth) which, before the creation of our universe, rested, a potential in a subjective state within the “waters of Space.” It was through these gods that the qualities of divinity manifested.

A question still being debated runs: “How does the One become the many?” meaning: if there is a “God,” how do the universe and the many entities composing it come into being? This question does not arise among those who perceive the One to dwell in the many, and the many to live in the One from whom life and sustenance derive. Despite our Western separation of Creator and creation, and the corresponding distancing of “God” from human beings, Western mystics have held similar views to those of the East, e.g.: Meister Eckhart, the Dominican theologian and preacher, who was accused of blasphemy for daring to say that he had once experienced nearness to the “Godhead.” His friends and followers were living testimony to the charisma (using the word in its original connotation of spiritual magnetism) of those who live the life of love for fellow beings men like Johannes Tauler, Heinrich Suso, the “admirable Ruysbroeck,” who expressed views similar to those of Eastern exponents of the spiritual way or path.

In old China, the universe was described as appearing first as q’i (chee), an emanation of Light, not the physical light that we know, but its divine essence sometimes called Tien, Heaven, in contrast to Earth. The q’i energy polarized as Yang and Yin, positive and negative electromagnetism. From the action and interaction of these two sprang the “10,000 things”: the universe, our world, the myriads of beings and things as we perceive them to be. In other words, the ancient Chinese viewed our universe as one of process, the One energy, q’i, proliferating into the many.

In their paintings Chinese artists depict man as a small but necessary element in gigantic natural scenes. And since we are parts of the cosmos, we are embodiments of all its potentials and our relationship depends upon how we focus ourselves: (1) harmoniously, i.e., in accord with nature; or (2) disharmoniously, interfering with the course of nature. We therefore affect the rest: our environment, all other lives, and bear full responsibility for the outcome of our thoughts and acts, our motivations, our impacts. Their art students were taught to identify with what they were painting, because there is life in every thing, and it is this life with which they must identify, with boulders and rocks no less than with birds flying overhead. Matter, energy, space, are all manifestations of q’i and we, as parts thereof, are intimately connected with all the universe.

In India, the oneness of life was seen through the prism of successive manifestations of Brahman, a neuter or impersonal term in Sanskrit for divinity, the equivalent of what Eckhart called the Godhead. Brahman is the source of the creative power, Brahma, Eckhart’s Creator; and also the origin of the sustaining and supporting energy or Vishnu, and of the destructive/regenerative force or Siva. As these three operate through the cosmos, the “world” as we know it, so do they also through ourselves on a smaller scale according to our capacity. Matter is perceived to be condensed energy, Chit or consciousness itself. To quote from the Mundaka Upanishad:

By the energism of Consciousness Brahman is massed; from that: Matter is born and from Matter Life and Mind and the worlds . . .

In another Hindu scripture, it is stated that when Brahma awakened from his period of rest between manifestations, he desired to contemplate himself as he is. By gazing into the awakening matter particles as into a mirror, he stirred them to exhibit their latent divine qualities. Since this process involves a continuous unfoldment from the center within, an ever-becoming, there can never be an end to the creativity — universal “days” comprising trillions of our human years, followed by a like number of resting “nights.”

We feel within ourselves the same driving urge to grow that runs through the entire, widespread universe, to express more and more of what is locked up in the formless or subjective realm of Be-ness, awaiting the magic moment to come awake in our phase of life.

Tibetan metaphysics embraces all of this in discussing Sunyata, which can be viewed as Emptiness if we use only our outer senses, or as Fullness if we inwardly perceive it to be full of energies of limitless ranges of wave-lengths/frequencies. This latter aspect of Space is the great mother of all, ever fecund, from whose “heart” emerge endless varieties of beings, endless forces, ever-changing variations — like the pulsing energies the new physicists perceive nuclear subparticles to be.

In the Preface to his Tao of physics Fritjof Capra tells how one summer afternoon he had a transforming experience by the seashore as he watched the waves rolling in and felt the rhythm of his own breathing. He saw dancing motes revealed in a beam of sunlight; particles of energy vibrating as molecules and atoms; cascades of energy pouring down upon us from outer space. All of this coming and going, appearing and disappearing, he equated with the Indian concept of the dance of Siva . . . he felt its rhythm, “heard” its sound, and knew himself to be a part of it. Through this highly personal, indeed mystical, experience Capra became aware of his “whole environment as being engaged in a gigantic cosmic dance.”

This is the gist of the old Chinese approach to physics: students were taught gravitation by observing the petals of a flower as they fall gracefully to the ground. As Gary Zukav expresses it in his Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics:

The world of particle physics is a world of sparkling energy forever dancing with itself in the form of its particles as they twinkle in and out of existence, collide, transmute, and disappear again.

That is: the dance of Siva is the dance of attraction and repulsion between charged particles of the electromagnetic force. This is a kind of “transcendental” physics, going beyond the “world of opposites” and approaching a mystical view of the larger Reality that is to our perceptions an invisible foundation of what we call “physical reality.” It is so far beyond the capacity or vocabulary of the mechanically rational part of our mind to define, that the profound Hindu scripture Isa Upanishad prefers to suggest the thought by a paradox:

तदेजति तन्नैजति तद्दूरे तद्वन्तिके ।
तदन्तरस्य सर्वस्य तदु सर्वस्यास्य बाह्यतः ॥

tadejati tannaijati taddūre tadvantike |
tadantarasya sarvasya tadu sarvasyāsya bāhyataḥ ||

It moves. It moves not.  It is far, and it is near. It is within all this, And It is verily outside of all this.

Indeed, there is a growing recognition mostly by younger physicists that consciousness is more than another word for awareness, more than a by-product of cellular activity (or of atomic or subatomic vibrations). For instance, Jack Sarfatti, a quantum physicist, says that signals pulsating through space provide instant communication between all parts of the cosmos. “These signals can be likened to pulses of nerve cells of a great cosmic brain that permeates all parts of space (Michael Talbot, Mysticism and the New Physics).” Michael Talbot quotes Sir James Jeans’ remark, “the universe is more like a giant thought than a giant machine,” commenting that the “substance of the great thought is consciousness” which pervades all space. Or as Schrödinger would have it:

Consciouness is never experienced in the plural, only in the singular….Consciouness is a singular of which the plural is unknown; that; there is only one thing and that, what seems to be a plurality is merely a series of different aspects of this one thing, produced by a deception (the Indian Maya).

Other phenomena reported as occurring in the cosmos at great distances from each other, yet simultaneously, appear to be connected in some way so far unexplained, but to which the term consciousness has been applied.

In short, the mystic deals with direct experience; the intuitive scientist is open-minded, and indeed the great discoveries such as Einstein’s were made by amateurs in their field untrammeled by prior definitions and the limitations inherited from past speculations. This freedom enabled them to strike out on new paths that they cleared and paved. The rationalist tries to grapple with the problems of a living universe using only analysis and whatever the computer functions of the mind can put together.

The theosophic perspective upon universal phenomena is based on the concept of the ensoulment of the cosmos. That is: from the smallest subparticle we know anything about to the largest star-system that has been observed, each and all possess at their core vitality, energy, an active something propelling towards growth, evolution of faculties from within.

The only “permanent” in the whole universe is motion: unceasing movement, and the ideal perception is a blend of the mystical with the scientific, the intuitive with the rational.

Geometric Structure, Causation, and Instrumental Rip-Offs, or, How Does a Physicist Read Off the Physical Ontology From the Mathematical Apparatus?


The benefits of the various structuralist approaches in the philosophy of mathematics is that it allows both the mathematical realist and anti-realist to use mathematical structures without obligating a Platonism about mathematical objects, such as numbers – one can simply accept that, say, numbers exist as places in a larger structure, like the natural number system, rather than as some sort of independently existing, transcendent entities. Accordingly, a variation on a well-known mathematical structure, such as exchanging the natural numbers “3” and “7”, does not create a new structure, but merely gives the same structure “relabeled” (with “7” now playing the role of “3”, and visa-verse). This structuralist tactic is familiar to spacetime theorists, for not only has it been adopted by substantivalists to undermine an ontological commitment to the independent existence of the manifold points of M, but it is tacitly contained in all relational theories, since they would count the initial embeddings of all material objects and their relations in a spacetime as isomorphic.

A critical question remains, however: Since spacetime structure is geometric structure, how does the Structural Realism (SR) approach to spacetime differ in general from mathematical structuralism? Is the theory just mathematical structuralism as it pertains to geometry (or, more accurately, differential geometry), rather than arithmetic or the natural number series? While it may sound counter-intuitive, the SR theorist should answer this question in the affirmative – the reason being, quite simply, that the puzzle of how mathematical spacetime structures apply to reality, or are exemplified in the real world, is identical to the problem of how all mathematical structures are exemplified in the real world. Philosophical theories of mathematics, especially nominalist theories, commonly take as their starting point the fact that certain mathematical structures are exemplified in our common experience, while other are excluded. To take a simple example, a large collection of coins can exemplify the standard algebraic structure that includes commutative multiplication (e.g., 2 x 3 = 3 x 2), but not the more limited structure associated with, say, Hamilton’s quaternion algebra (where multiplication is non-commutative; 2 x 3 ≠ 3 x 2). In short, not all mathematical structures find real-world exemplars (although, for the minimal nominalists, these structures can be given a modal construction). The same holds for spacetime theories: empirical evidence currently favors the mathematical structures utilized in General Theory of Relativity, such that the physical world exemplifies, say, g, but a host of other geometric structures, such as the flat Newtonian metric, h, are not exemplified.

The critic will likely respond that there is substantial difference between the mathematical structures that appear in physical theories and the mathematics relevant to everyday experience. For the former, and not the latter, the mathematical structures will vary along with the postulated physical forces and laws; and this explains why there are a number of competing spacetime theories, and thus different mathematical structures, compatible with the same evidence: in Poincaré fashion, Newtonian rivals to GTR can still employ h as long as special distorting forces are introduced. Yet, underdetermination can plague even simple arithmetical experience, a fact well known in the philosophy of mathematics and in measurement theory. For example, in Charles Chihara, an assessment of the empiricist interpretation of mathematics prompts the following conclusion: “the fact that adding 5 gallons of alcohol to 2 gallons of water does not yield 7 gallons of liquid does not refute any law of logic or arithmetic [“5+2=7”] but only a mistaken physical assumption about the conservation of liquids when mixed”. While obviously true, Chihara could have also mentioned that, in order to capture our common-sense intuitions about mathematics, the application of the mathematical structure in such cases requires coordination with a physical measuring convention that preserves the identity of each individual entity, or unit, both before and after the mixing. In the mixing experiment, perhaps atoms should serve as the objects coordinated to the natural number series, since the stability of individual atoms would prevent the sort of blurring together of the individuals (“gallon of liquid”) that led to the arithmetically deviant results. By choosing a different coordination, the mixing experiment can thus be judged to uphold, or exemplify, the statement “5+2=7”. What all of this helps to show is that mathematics, for both complex geometrical spacetime structures and simple non-geometrical structures, cannot be empirically applied without stipulating physical hypotheses and/or conventions about the objects that model the mathematics. Consequently, as regards real world applications, there is no difference in kind between the mathematical structures that are exemplified in spacetime physics and in everyday observation; rather, they only differ in their degree of abstractness and the sophistication of the physical hypotheses or conventions required for their application. Both in the simple mathematical case and in the spacetime case, moreover, the decision to adopt a particular convention or hypothesis is normally based on a judgment of its overall viability and consistency with our total scientific view (a.k.a., the scientific method): we do not countenance a world where macroscopic objects can, against the known laws of physics, lose their identity by blending into one another (as in the addition example), nor do we sanction otherwise undetectable universal forces simply for the sake of saving a cherished metric.

Another significant shared feature of spacetime and mathematical structure is the apparent absence of causal powers or effects, even though the relevant structures seem to play some sort of “explanatory role” in the physical phenomena. To be more precise, consider the example of an “arithmetically-challenged” consumer who lacks an adequate grasp of addition: if he were to ask for an explanation of the event of adding five coins to another seven, and why it resulted in twelve, one could simply respond by stating, “5+7=12”, which is an “explanation” of sorts, although not in the scientific sense. On the whole, philosophers since Plato have found it difficult to offer a satisfactory account of the relationship between general mathematical structures (arithmetic/”5+7=12”) and the physical manifestations of those structures (the outcome of the coin adding). As succinctly put by Michael Liston:

Why should appeals to mathematical objects [numbers, etc.] whose very nature is non-physical make any contribution to sound inferences whose conclusions apply to physical objects?

One response to the question can be comfortably dismissed, nevertheless: mathematical structures did not cause the outcome of the coin adding, for this would seem to imply that numbers (or “5+7=12”) somehow had a mysterious, platonic influence over the course of material affairs.

In the context of the spacetime ontology debate, there has been a corresponding reluctance on the part of both sophisticated substantivalists and (R2, the rejection of substantivalist) relationists to explain how space and time differentiate the inertial and non-inertial motions of bodies; and, in particular, what role spacetime plays in the origins of non-inertial force effects. Returning once more to our universe with a single rotating body, and assuming that no other forces or causes, it would be somewhat peculiar to claim that the causal agent responsible for the observed force effects of the motion is either substantival spacetime or the relative motions of bodies (or, more accurately, the motion of bodies relative to a privileged reference frame, or possible trajectories, etc.). Yet, since it is the motion of the body relative to either substantival space, other bodies/fields, privileged frames, possible trajectories, etc., that explains (or identifies, defines) the presence of the non-inertial force effects of the acceleration of the lone rotating body, both theories are therefore in serious need of an explanation of the relationship between space and these force effects. The strict (R1) relationists face a different, if not less daunting, task; for they must reinterpret the standard formulations of, say, Newtonian theory in such a way that the rotation of our lone body in empty space, or the rotation of the entire universe, is not possible. To accomplish this goal, the (R1) relationist must draw upon different mathematical resources and adopt various physical assumptions that may, or may not, ultimately conflict with empirical evidence: for example, they must stipulate that the angular momentum of the entire universe is 0.

All participants in the spacetime ontology debate are confronted with the nagging puzzle of understanding the relationship between, on the one hand, the empirical behavior of bodies, especially the non-inertial forces, and, on the other hand, the apparently non-empirical, mathematical properties of the spacetime structure that are somehow inextricably involved in any adequate explanation of those non-inertial forces – namely, for the substantivalists and (R2) relationists, the affine structure,  that lays down the geodesic paths of inertially moving bodies. The task of explaining this connection between the empirical and abstract mathematical or quantitative aspects of spacetime theories is thus identical to elucidating the mathematical problem of how numbers relate to experience (e.g., how “5+7=12” figures in our experience of adding coins). Likewise, there exists a parallel in the fact that most substantivalists and (R2) relationists seem to shy away from positing a direct causal connection between material bodies and space (or privileged frames, possible trajectories, etc.) in order to account for non-inertial force effects, just as a mathematical realist would recoil from ascribing causal powers to numbers so as to explain our common experience of adding and subtracting.

An insight into the non-causal, mathematical role of spacetime structures can also be of use to the (R2) relationist in defending against the charge of instrumentalism, as, for instance, in deflecting Earman’s criticisms of Sklar’s “absolute acceleration” concept. Conceived as a monadic property of bodies, Sklar’s absolute acceleration does not accept the common understanding of acceleration as a species of relative motion, whether that motion is relative to substantival space, other bodies, or privileged reference frames. Earman’s objection to this strategy centers upon the utilization of spacetime structures in describing the primitive acceleration property: “it remains magic that the representative [of Sklar’s absolute acceleration] is neo-Newtonian acceleration

d2xi/dt2 + Γijk (dxj/dt)(dxk/dt) —– (1)

[i.e., the covariant derivative, or ∇ in coordinate form]”. Ultimately, Earman’s critique of Sklar’s (R2) relationism would seem to cut against all sophisticated (R2) hypotheses, for he seems to regard the exercise of these richer spacetime structures, like ∇, as tacitly endorsing the absolute/substantivalist side of the dispute:

..the Newtonian apparatus can be used to make the predictions and afterwards discarded as a convenient fiction, but this ploy is hardly distinguishable from instrumentalism, which, taken to its logical conclusion, trivializes the absolute-relationist debate.

The weakness of Earman’s argument should be readily apparent—since, to put it bluntly, does the equivalent use of mathematical statements, such as “5+7=12”, likewise obligate the mathematician to accept a realist conception of numbers (such that they exist independently of all exemplifying systems)? Yet, if the straightforward employment of mathematics does not entail either a realist or nominalist theory of mathematics (as most mathematicians would likely agree), then why must the equivalent use of the geometric structures of spacetime physics, e.g., ∇ require a substantivalist conception of ∇ as opposed to an (R2) relationist conception of ∇? Put differently, does a substantivalist commitment to whose overall function is to determine the straight-line trajectories of Neo-Newtonian spacetime, also necessitate a substantivalist commitment to its components, such as the vector d/dt along with its limiting process and mapping into ℜ? In short, how does a physicist read off the physical ontology from the mathematical apparatus? A non-instrumental interpretation of some component of the theory’s quantitative structure is often justified if that component can be given a plausible causal role (as in subatomic physics)—but, as noted above, ∇ does not appear to cause anything in spacetime theories. All told, Earman’s argument may prove too much, for if we accept his reasoning at face value, then the introduction of any mathematical or quantitative device that is useful in describing or measuring physical events would saddle the ontology with a bizarre type of entity (e.g., gross national product, average household family, etc.). A nice example of a geometric structure that provides a similarly useful explanatory function, but whose substantive existence we would be inclined to reject as well, is provided by Dieks’ example of a three-dimensional colour solid:

Different colours and their shades can be represented in various ways; one way is as points on a 3-dimensional colour solid. But the proposal to regard this ‘colour space’ as something substantive, needed to ground the concept of colour, would be absurd.


Third Space Theory of Postcoloniality. Note Quote.


Writers, such as Homi Bhabha and Salman Rushdie, who proceed from a consideration of the nature of postcolonial societies and the types of hybridization these various cultures have produced, proposed a radical rethinking—an appropriation of the European thinking by a different discourse. Whereas in European thinking, history and the past are the reference point for epistemology, in postcolonial thought space annihilates time. History is rewritten and realigned from the standpoint of the victims of the destructive progress.  Hybridity replaces a temporal linearity with a spatial plurality. Salman Rushdie  makes this obvious when commenting on the message of his controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, in an essay called “In Good Faith” as follows:

The Satanic Verses celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling, the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, songs. It rejoices in mongrelization and fears the absolutism of the Pure. Melange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world. It is the great possibility that mass migration gives the world, and I have tried to embrace it. The Satanic Verses is for change-by-fusion, change-by-conjoining. It is a love-song to our mongrel selves.

Even though on the surface postcolonial texts may contain race divisions and cultural differences, they all contain germs of community which, as they grow in the mind of the reader, they detach from the apparently inescapable dialectic of history. Thus, postcolonial literatures have begun to deal  with problems of transmuting time into space and of attempting to construct a future. It highlights the acceptance of difference on equal terms. Now both literary critics and historians are recognizing cross-culturality as the possible ending point of an apparent endless human history of conquest and occupations.  They recognize that the myth of purity or essence, the Eurocentric viewpoint must be challenged. The recent approaches show that the power of postcolonial theory lies in its comparative methodology and the hybridized and syncretic view of the modern world which it implies.

Of the various points in which postcolonial texts intersect, place has a paramount importance. In his dialogism thesis, Mikhail Bakhtin emphasizes a space of enunciation where negotiation of discursive doubleness gives birth to a new speech act:

The  hybrid is not only double-voiced and double-accented . . . but is also double-languaged; for in it there are not only (and not even so much) two individual consciounesses, two voices, two accents, as there are [doublings of] socio-linguistic consciousnesses, two epochs . . . that come together and consciously fight it out on the territory of the utterance.

Also, Homi Bhabha talks about a third space of enunciation, a hybrid space or a new position in which communication is possible. Third Space theory emerges from the sociocultural tradition in psychology identified with Lev Vygotsky. Sociocultural approaches are concerned with the “… constitutive role of culture in mind, i.e., on how mind develops by incorporating the community’s shared artifacts accumulated over generations”. Bhabha applies socioculturalism directly to the postcolonial condition, where there are, “… unequal and uneven forces of cultural representation”. For Bhabha, such negotiation is neither assimilation nor collaboration as it makes possible the emergence of an “interstitial” agency that refuses the binary representation of social antagonism. The “interstitial perspective” as Bhabha calls it replaces the “polarity of a prefigurative self-generating nation ‘in-itself’ and extrinsic other nations” with the notion of cultural liminality within the nation. the liminal figure of the nation-space would ensure that no political ideologies could claim transcendent or metaphysical authority for themselves. this is because the subject of cultural discourse – the agency of a people – is spilt in the discursive ambivalence that emerges in the contest of narrative authority between the pedagogical and the performative, which is to say, between the peoples’ status as historical objects of a nationalist pedagogy and their ability to perform themselves as subjects of a process of signification that must erase any prior or originally national presence. Hybrid agencies find their voice in a dialectic that does not seek cultural supremacy or sovereignty. They deploy the partial culture from which they emerge to construct visions of community, and versions of historic memory, that give narrative form to the minority positions they occupy: “the outside of the inside; the part in the whole”.

This “new position” Bhabha proposes is closely related to the “homeless” existence of post-colonial persons. It certainly cannot be assumed to be an independent third space already there, a “no-man’s-land” between the nations. Instead, a way of cultural syncretization, i.e. a medium of negotiating cultural antagonisms, has to be created. Cultural difference has to be acknowledged: “Culture does imply difference, but the differences now are no longer, if you wish, taxonomical; they are interactive and refractive”. This position emphasizes, contrary to the too facile assumption of world literature and world culture as the stages of a multicultural cosmopolitanism already in existence, that the “intellectual trade” takes place mostly on the borders and in the border crossings between cultures where meanings and values are not codified but misunderstood, misrepresented, even falsely adopted. Bhabha explains how beyond fixed cultural (ethnic, gender- and class-related) identities, so-called “hybrid” identities are formed by discontinuous translation and negotiation. Hybridity, liminality, “interrogatory, interstitial space” – these are the positive values Bhabha opposes to a retrograde historicism that continues to dominate Western critical thinking, a “linear narrative of the nation,” with its claims for the “holism of culture and community” and a “fixed horizontal nation-space”. We must, he argues eloquently, undo such thinking with its facile binary oppositions. Rather than emphasizing the opposition between First World and Third World nations, between colonizer and colonized, men and women, black and white, straight and gay, Bhabha would have it, we might more profitably focus on the faultlines themselves, on border situations and thresholds as the sites where identities are performed and contested. Bhabha says, “hybridity to me is the ‘third space’ which enables other positions to emerge”.