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Wednesday, July 22, 2009


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I'm honoured to be featured on your blog. Your main suggestion, it seems, is that the Principle of Conservation only applies to energy, and therefore not neccessarily consciousness. For the Principle of Conservation to apply to consciousness, it would have to be a form of energy.

I which case, I would propose a rather bolder principle that applies not only to energy, but to reality itself. Let's call it 'The Law of Permanence'. It goes:
'All real things are permanent things, and all permanent things are real things. Temporary things are only fragmented signs of the permanent ones.'

Simple, eh? But why believe it? I would argue that this is a rational, a priori principle rather like other 'modes of cognition' (Kant's phrase), including space, time, causation, order and so on. I'd also argue that the Law of Conservation of energy is but the Law of Permanence applied to energy; it has wider uses. But why should we believe it in the first place? I'll try to explain my views.

Why would scientists get so excited about qualities like 'energy' and 'mass'? Because they are the qualities that remain the same. Consider equations. We use them to create models of the world that are consistent; that is, timeless and permanent. The more timeless and the more permanent, the better. The whole project of science is implicitly one of overcoming temporality and reaching an understanding of the changeless, permanent underlying substance, whatever that is. We believe in these things because they are permanent, not the other way around. Permanence is the implicit criterion underlying all of science; no-one claims that the Grand Unifying Theory is one of change. To my mind, that is to postulate a kind of 'mad God' at the centre of everything.

Why are Brahman, God, good art, the Grand Unifying Theory and so many other ultimate objects of our contemplation permanent? It seems more than a coincidence. Searching for the permanent, and believing that it is there, seems inextricable from being human.
(Yeah, I know, preachy stuff, eh?)

Some might argue that there is actually empirical evidence that the 'Law of Permanance' is true, too. Look at how useful it's been for us, for instance. Being rather the rationalist, I'd argue that while it's nice that this is true, it's not required for the rationality of the belief. This doesn't seem very important, though. Let's just be glad that there are a priori AND empirical reasons to believe it.

So long as the Law of Permanence is true (or rational, perhaps) I think it can be applied to us, whatever we are, so long as we ARE. I think it follows that 'whatever I am is permanent.' Of course, this leaves wide open the question of what I am, but I can be sure that I am not nothing, because my existence, if nothing else, it transparent to itself. Besides, if I'm not allowed to believe that I exist, what CAN I believe?

Of course, it may be that I am not what I think I am. If I think I am bound to the body, I may be wrong. If I think I am conscious, this may be an illusion. My point is only that identity cannot fully be an illusion, because nothing can be. All appearances tell us something, however little, about reality. I don't know what I am, but I know THAT I am.

This seems to overlap with the doctrines of every afterlife theory. According to Christianity, for instance, you are your soul. This is the reason that it is permanent and transcends death. I am arguing, it seems, for something similar, a kind of I-know-not-what that transcends apparrent annihilation. And no, I don't think that not knowing what something is makes us unable to say THAT it is.

This kind of thinking also supports the idea that death is a time when illusions are stripped away and we become (or return) to a simpler, truer self. Exactly which parts of our experience are the illusions remains to be seen. Whatever the case, it seems that I have nothing to fear except the loss of my illusions.

I'm confident of one thing, at least; the talk from most mortalists of expecting to be 'annihilated' seems misleading at best.


I can see from your response that there is no point in discussing this further with you. But I did want to give you a chance to respond.

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