States of existence

IdeogramsObjectiveUniverseI have been thinking about the various qualities and channels of our interactive experience. We can perhaps speculate about the processes and motivations that generate our experience. Now we need to consider the way human experience influences and is influenced by thought.

There is no doubt that the familial personality starts to form very early on in a child’s development through parental interaction and developing social activity. The familial ethos is thus close to the centre of what we are as human beings.  It can also be regarded as a state of existence.  It is a state we share with many of the other primates and other highly developed animals of different kinds.  If we try to look at ourselves from the outside, considering humanity objectively and as an integral part of a wider reality, we will start to appreciate that there are fundamentally different states of existence for the various entities and systems that make up that reality.


One view of the objective universe
One view of the objective universe

Traditionally we have distinguished between the living and the nonliving, the animate and the inanimate. Within this distinction we easily align ourselves with the animate. Within the animate category we traditionally see plants, animals and ourselves. Within an evolutionary tradition, biologists designate humans as primates and we are clearly social animals, apparently closely related to chimpanzees and gorillas.  However, long tradition and self interest has lead us to set ourselves apart, even from the higher primates. We will explore whether this is justified later, but in the first instance let us postulate that it is our capacity for communication through language, abstract reasoning, self-awareness and our capability to develop a complex symbolic culture that sets us apart.


We may effectively identify five states of existence, nested one within the other:

The inanimate or physical state

The animate or biological state

The social or cooperative state

The sentient or emotional state

The cognitive or rational state


To which some would add a sixth, the spiritual, or state of separate mind.  Scientists may have a problem with the idea of this sixth state, which makes it is truly metaphysical.  Evolutionary biologists would suggest that the simpler of these states has begotten the more complex without any hint of anticipation. Scientists have a convenient notion of ‘emergent’ characteristicsThe logical corollary to which is a presumption that we as Homo sapiens are merely a late development of the biological continuity and thus not different in kind from other products of evolution. The further presumption of this line of thought can be that cognition, thought its self, is a development from external communication and simply a self-sustaining technique of social behaviour. While the states of existence defined here are intuitively recognizable in our everyday experience and as a consequence we tend to value and empathize with each of them differently, it is quite difficult to define their boundaries. They are, however, important to many debates about value and morality, but before we can explore this line of thought we must clarify our ideas about some other aspects of experience.


Let us follow our intuition that the inanimate or physical state is the simplest and look at this first.  Simple is of course a relative term and those parts of our experience that seem to exist only within the physical state appear to be almost infinite in their variety. Science has concentrated on bringing more and more of this physical reality into our experience through the use of technologies such as the optical microscope and telescope and their more sophisticated progeny. An awe inspiring vision has unfolded of interstellar space and of great galaxies; the thrilling environments of the planets; the drama of the geology and mineralogy of the earth; the magic of inorganic chemistry and the power and complexity of sub atomic and nuclear physics are all manifestations of the physical state. On the face of it, this inanimate spectacle seems to dominate the cosmos with its vast dimensions, its aeons of time and on the other hand its manifestation of unimaginable swiftness and breathtaking minuteness.


It is possible, however, to view all of this diversity of physical reality as comprised of five elements that we directly experience and a sixth that we infer:




Material          Motivation




Material and space are the two elements that we experience most directly. They are respectively the resistance to and absence of resistance to our physiological probing of our environment. Material is that which occupies space whenever it is occupied. Through the probing of space and consequently our appreciation of material occupying it we perceive form: the arrangement of material and space within our experience. Rarely is form static however, it is usually in a state of flux, which is the element of dynamic. It is important to distinguish between ‘dynamic’ and ‘time’. Time is actually the calibration of flux and as such is a metric, rather than an entity of experience. We can sense movement and change directly along with space, material and form. We also appreciate a vital quality associated with change that we call energy. Energy is manifest in things that we directly experience such as the force of a fast flowing river, the acceleration of a projectile and the capacity of our own bodies to do work. What, however, we cannot sense or probe is the motivation behind the particular manifestations of this physical reality that we experience. What it is that moves or configures things in ways that might have been otherwise.   Some agency must motivate each particular manifestation of form and dynamic otherwise there would be neither difference nor change. There seem to be only three different kinds of motivation:






The third category of motivation might equally have been labeled will or design, either way with the inference of purpose or judgment entering into the equation. A fundamental question is whether there is any intrinsic difference between these three categories of motivation or whether they are made of the same stuff. Motivation through chance suggests unpredictability and so without some constraint leads us directly to chaos. There may be unadulterated chaos, but what may appear chaotic initially may be subject to statistical law. Law suggests predictability through restriction of outcomes within some predetermined (inevitable?) pattern. Even if laws are generated by chance it is likely that simple ones will be the most apparent.


Choice implies anticipation of an outcome or at very least feedback and regulation. We believe we exercise choice or free will but the extent that our human activity is bounded by laws that we do and do not appreciate is not too clear.  Determinism suggests that laws hold above all and chaos theory sees a relationship between chaotic and ordered activity. Choice is the cornerstone of what we believe about the human capacity for self determination through free will. The self-conscious exercise of human will may be only the tip of an iceberg of motivation that also includes emotions and instincts.


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