SUFFICIENT & NECESSARY?

Scientists, philosophers and even theologians build models in an attempt to explain phenomena they’ve observed, whether results of laboratory tests, recurrent patterns in nature or prayer experience. The first test of any such model is whether it actually succeeds in accounting for the phenomena it seeks to explain: Does it work?

If a theory does indeed account for the phenomena in question, we say that it is “sufficient”, i.e. it is sufficient to explain the phenomena. But the Holy Grail for model builders is to create models that are not only sufficient but also ‘necessary’.

Consider the Ptolemaic model of the Solar System. Within a certain tolerance, it was sufficient to account for the motions of the Sun and its planets. But was it necessary? Galileo and Copernicus showed that it was not. They built an alternative model that accounted even more closely for the same phenomena but that differed in fundamental ways from the Ptolemaic model.

Of course, the Copernican model is not necessary either. There may be an unlimited number of ways to explain the motions of the planets. We tend to favor the Copernican model, not because it is necessary but because it is relatively simple and aesthetically pleasing. (Model builders believe that simpler, more elegant models are superior to tortured, ugly Rube Goldberg contraptions.)

In another essay in this collection, Beauty and Truth, we accept the conventional view that no model can be proven to be ‘necessary’ if it references any real world phenomenon, i.e. if it contains ‘synthetic propositions’. Models that do not refer to real world phenomena but only to themselves are said to consist entirely of ‘analytic propositions’. A model is analytic if its truth value relies entirely on an understanding of its terms. For example, “a square has 4 sides” is an analytic proposition. 4 sides is part of what makes a square a square. It doesn’t tell us anything about the actual world.

This conventional view sets a significant upper bound to our ability to assign truth value to the models we create. However, in Beauty and Truth, we ‘got around’ this limitation by invoking a new criterion, Beauty, as a substitute for Necessity when evaluating a certain family of models, i.e. models that propose to be universal in scope, so-called ‘theories of everything’ (or TOEs). Essentially, we took the model makers’ relative preference on aesthetic grounds for Copernicus over Ptolemy and made it an absolute preference when the model in question is a TOE. We posited that the most beautiful model, provided it is sufficient, is functionally ‘necessary’.

In this essay, we will reconsider the conventional view that models containing synthetic propositions cannot be necessary. Is that view even correct? Or are there models that contain synthetic propositions but are in fact ‘necessary’? Once again, we will limit our attention to models that are ‘theories of everything’ (TOEs). The best place to find candidate models for our inquiry is the field of theology. Theological models are by definition TOEs; furthermore, they all purport to say something true about the real world.

The First Letter of John in the New Testament ends with a model that attempts to account for nothing less than the most fundamental phenomenon: existence. I perceive that something exists; how do I account for that? (And when I say “something” I don’t just mean some particular something; I mean any possible something.) To put the matter traditionally, and more eloquently, 1 John asks, “How is it that there is something rather than nothing?”

Outrageously, the author of 1 John does not just propose an answer to this ancient conundrum, he proposes the answer. In the nomenclature of this essay, 1 John is not satisfied to offer a model that is sufficient to account for the phenomenon of existence; it seeks to develop a model that is necessary to account for existence.

What does it mean to say that a model is necessary? It means that there is no alternative way to account for the phenomena in question or, to be more precise, that any model that does account for those phenomena must turn out upon analysis to be structurally equivalent to the initial model.

Let’s begin with the text itself (1 John 5: 1-13) and then reframe that text more explicitly in the form of a model:

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God…(and) whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith…that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the one who came by water and blood, not water alone but water and blood. The Spirit (wind/breath) is the one who testifies and the Spirit is truth. So there are three that testify, the Spirit, the water and the blood, and the three are of one accord…Now the testimony of God is this: that he has testified on behalf of his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has this testimony within himself…And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life and this life is in his Son. Whoever possesses the Son has life…I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God.”

The ontological model proposed in 1 John, Chapter 5, verses 1 -12 (1 John 5: 1-12) consists of just seven propositions:

(1)   Everyone who believes that ‘Jesus is Christ/Son of God’ is ‘begotten by God’.

(2)   Everyone who is ‘begotten by God’ ‘conquers the world’.

(3)   The conquest of the world is the faith that ‘Jesus is Christ/Son of God’.

At first glance, it seems that the author of 1 John might just as well have written the tautology, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is Christ/Son of God believes that Jesus is Christ/Son of God.” But this is not the proposition that the author is setting out to prove and, as we’ll see below, the two middle terms (‘begotten of God’ and ‘conquers the world’) play a crucial role in the overall proof.

(4)   There are three witnesses on earth: Spirit (wind/breath), water and blood and the three are of one accord (i.e. give common testimony).

(5) The testimony of God is (a) that he testified on behalf of his Son, (b) that God gave us eternal life and (c) this eternal life is in his Son.

(6) Whoever believes that ‘Jesus is Christ/Son of God’ has this testimony within himself.

(7) Whoever possesses the Son has life!

The author places a helpful summary sentence at the end of this sequence of propositions. It is the theological equivalent to QED in logic: “I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God.”

Hold on! What does ‘eternal life’ have to do with ‘existence’? Only everything!  If you have eternal life then you exist and if you exist then other persons and other things may exist. Potentially, 1 John does account for the phenomenon of existence.

Did the author succeed? Did he build a model with the 100% truth value required for the reader to “know” that the propositions are true?

The proof pivots on the 4th proposition. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to understand so let’s begin our analysis there. The 4th proposition sets forth the testimony from the witnesses on earth, Spirit (breath/wind), water and blood. Spirit (breath/wind), water and blood symbolize the essential nature of the world (cosmos): Change. As such, they do indeed give testimony that is “of one accord”; it could not fail to be given its content. All you can ever say of change is that it is, well, change. But why does this testimony matter?

To understand, we need to step back. The Apostle John, founder of the Johannine school, was also the Bishop of Ephesus in Asia Minor. 1 John, traditionally attributed to the apostle himself, is almost certainly the work of someone from that school. As it happens, Ephesus was also home to another famous philosopher, Heraclitus, almost 500 years earlier. The Biblical writings attributed to the Johannine school show a thorough familiarity with Heracletian ideas. For example, the concept of logos, so central to the Gospel of John, is a fundamental Heracletian category.

The central thesis of Heraclitus’ teaching as we know it is the concept of ubiquitous change. His ideas have been summarized on a bumper sticker, “Everything flows”, and on a billboard, “No one can step into the same river twice.” As far as we know, Heraclitus never actually made either statement but they are reasonably accurate popularizations of his views.

Therefore, the testimony on earth, i.e. Spirit (breath/wind), water and blood, is testimony of change: Spirit, the life force (or breath, the rhythm of life or wind, Gaia’s breath), water, the unceasing flow of events, and blood, the ultimate and inevitable morality of all that is.

But the doctrine of continuous change has a flaw. If everything is in constant flux, how can we say that anything actually is? If everything flows, what is it that flows?

Consider the problem in terms of time. If time is a continuum (or nearly so), then everything is either past or future; nothing is ever truly present. But past and future exist in memory and imagination only and memory and imagination can only actually exist in a present. But if there is no real, actual present, then what is there?

Again, according to the doctrine of universal process, there is no room for a beginning or an end. Unless process is infinite (or at least unbounded), the doctrine lacks internal consistency. But if change is infinite, do the accidental, finite structures that seem to crop up along the way have any real value…or even existence. If I die, did I ever really live?

But human experience is quite different from this Heraclitean model. The world of our experience is made up entirely of discrete events and these events all have extension in space and/or time (duration). Such discrete events are apparently impossible inside Heraclitus’ model. So the testimony on earth, as related by the author of 1 John, is inconsistent with the actual data of experience. It fails radically to account for the phenomenon of existence; it is not sufficient, much less necessary.

Yet the author of 1 John accepts the testimony on earth as valid (“the Spirit is truth”). After all, who can find something in cosmos that is not subject to cycles, to ongoing change, to death? So we have a paradox. The testimony is true but the verdict is false. The propositions are true but the model is neither necessary nor sufficient.

This paradox cannot be resolved inside the Heracletian world view; in the words of Gödel, the Heraclitean model is “incomplete”. There are self-evident truths (e.g. “something exists”) that cannot be deduced form the Heraclitean model and that, in fact, contradict that model. Something beyond the Heraclitean model is required. So the author of 1 John posits something Heraclitus never dreamed of: another dimension to reality, an atemporal/aspatial dimension, a dimension in which process is not change but emanation (‘begetting’).

The author of 1 John adds a ‘divine dimension’ (at right angles so to speak) to the ‘cosmic dimension’ of Heraclitus.  In the divine dimension, process is not about differentiation but about harmonization, identification, and inter-penetration. The divine dimension negates the cosmic dimension but it negates it without cancelling it. A is conserved in Not-A. In fact, A is an improper subset of Not-A. To put that another way, all elements of A belong to Not-A and vice-versa. We are not talking about two realities, two sets of entities, but one reality, one set of entities, two sets of dimensions.

A contemporary of Heraclitus, Parmenides, spoke of two “ways” in Nature: ‘the way of truth’ and ‘the way of appearance’. Parmenides’ way of appearance has something in common with the Heracl1tean model while his way of truth has something in common with the divine dimension proposed by the author of 1 John.

Now let us apply these insights to the main argument. The unanimous testimony on earth is perpetual and ubiquitous change. The testimony of God directly contradicts the testimony on earth. The testimony of God is “eternal life”. Yet the author of 1 John suggests that we accept both testimonies as true. If the world is change then there must also be a real present (a here-now outside the spatiotemporal continuum) if we are to account for the phenomenon of existence; we need a ‘way of truth’ as well as a ‘way of appearance’. Or, in the words of Ezra Pound, “the grove needs an altar”.

In the cosmic dimension, ‘events’ are related according to the mode of succession (we sometimes call it ’cause and effect’). Relation in the mode of succession is a process of decay and eventual death. Process in the mode of succession is entropy. Heraclitus was in fact the first philosopher to propose an entropic model of reality.

In the divine dimension, however, all events co-exist in a common, eternal now. Therefore, there can be no decay and certainly no death. Events cannot be related by succession because there is no such thing. Nothing comes to be, nothing ceases to be. Instead, events are related to one another according to the mode of emanation.

Relation in the mode of emanation is a process of growth and generation (vs. decay and death). Events are embedded in other events and ultimately, all events are embedded in the whole, itself an event. When one event emanates from another, it retains that other within it; and when one event begets another, it is immanent in that other. Emanation and begetting are flip sides of the same coin, they are templates; where there is one, there is the other.

According to the testimony of God, the divine dimension, eternal life, is “in the Son”. To believe that Jesus is ‘Christ/Son of God’ is to believe the testimony of God on behalf of his Son that eternal life is “in the Son”, i.e. in Christ Jesus.

So far so good…bet we’re not home yet. There is still one hurdle we have to overcome. There is eternal life and it is in the Son of God, Christ Jesus, but what does that have to do with us? We seem to live in the world according to the mode of succession; we see ourselves aging and we expect to die. Perhaps there are two worlds, one eternal, one transient, and we have the misfortune to live in the later. If so, what is Christ/Son of God to us?

He is precisely “the one who came through water and blood…not by water alone but by water and blood”, that’s what Jesus Christ, Son of God, is to us! Jesus is a product of the same ever changing cosmos as we are. Yet Jesus is begotten (Son) by God. Therefore, Jesus links the cosmic dimension and the divine dimension.

And further (and this is why the first three propositions are important after all), believing that ‘Jesus is Christ/Son of God’, we too are begotten by God. And by the nature of begetting (see above), God is therefore in us and we are therefore in God.

So we conquer the world: we are not doomed to perpetual change and ultimate death; we have eternal life. We have God’s testimony to that effect because God testified on behalf of his Son and that testimony is actually within us; and God’s testimony is that eternal life is “in the Son”.

The virtuous noose is tightening but it’s not yet taut; something is still missing from the model. God testified on behalf of his Son that eternal life is in his Son and we have that life if we possess the Son. But we have not demonstrated yet that we do in fact possess the Son.

To close this gap, we need once again to understand the context of the argument. Today, we viciously segregate the speaker from the speech and the speech itself from its denotational content (if any). This epistemology was unknown, or at least unaccepted, by the members of the Johannine school. Thinking according to the mode of emanation, they understood the speaker to immanent in the speech and they did not separate the speech itself from its denotational content.

Consider the opening verses from the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh…and we saw his glory as of the glory of the Father’s only Son…” Clearly, God is one with his Word (testimony) and that testimony (Word) is one with the Son.

Now apply this to our argument. The testimony of God, given on behalf of his Son, is within us and that testimony is eternal life and that eternal life is in the Son. We possess the testimony (word) both on behalf of the Son and in the Son and therefore we possess the Son as well. Therefore we have eternal life.

We have constructed a logical system capable of demonstrating what we already know experientially, namely that ‘something is’ (e.g. that we are, the we really and truly exist, that we are not just an eddy in a whirlpool of perpetual change). We have solved the paradox of existence; we have demonstrated how it is possible that things that perpetually change can yet exist.

So 1 John is undoubtedly sufficient to account for the phenomenon of existence. But is it necessary? Or is it possible that another model could equally well account for this same phenomenon? Of course it is! But would that other model be structurally different from the model set out in 1 John? Or will it turn out that any possible alternative model is the same as our model?

Let’s strip the model of its First Century theological vocabulary and distill it down to its essential components: (1) Things that exist must emerge from the flux of perpetually change (succession, entropy). (2) Things that exist must exist atemporally (i.e. eternally). (3) Things that exist atemporally must be related to one another according to the mode of emanation (rather than succession). (4) Relations in the mode of emanation are characterized by mutual immanence (otherwise succession would enter back through a back door). (5) All entities that exist in the mode of emanation must together constitute an entity, a whole. (6) That whole must be immanent in each of its parts (elements).

I propose that this model accounts for the phenomenon of existence (‘sufficient’), tells us something meaningful (‘synthetic’) about the totality of its universe of discourse (i.e. it is a TOE) and that any model that similarly accounted for the phenomenon of existence would have to include the same elements and structure as this model.

Let’s test our theory. Let’s examine three classes of alternative models and see how they stack up.

The first class consists of models designed to prop up Heraclitus and explain away the apparent short comings in his theory. The first person to engage in this enterprise was none other than Heraclitus himself: “World…an everliving fire, being kindled in measured and put out in measures.” (Fragment 30)

According to this model, and all others like it, the discrete entities we experience are actually the result of variations in the rate of change in various spatiotemporal regions. At first glance, this seems attractive. Entities obviously have varying extension in space and time relative to one another yet ultimately all must pass away. But is this model internally consistent and, if so, is it really sufficient?

First, it is not consistent. Hawking proposed that time and entropy are synonymous. If so, local variations in the rate of entropy would have to correspond to deformations of the temporal dimension. According to Einstein, such deformations, while possible, can only be a function of variations in mass/energy density (or acceleration). However, it is not our experience that greater mass corresponds perfectly with larger spatial volumes or slower rates of decay.

Second, it is not sufficient to account for the phenomena in question. Relative variations in the rate of change are not the same thing as absolute suspension of the phenomenon of change. Real entities require a real Present without past or future. A slower transition from past to future does not a Present make. Ultimately, rate of change is absolutely irrelevant to our critique of the Heraclitean model.

The second set of models we will test purport to account for existence via a totally different framework. For example. British philosopher and mathematician, Alfred North Whitehead addressed exactly the same issues as 1 John. He developed a model based on ‘actual entities’. Each actual entity inherits an actual world consisting of other actual entities. It aims (‘subjective aim’) to transform that actual world consistent with freely chosen values (‘eternal objects’) and a freely chosen objective (‘proposition’). Accordingly, it prehends the entities that constitute its actual world and through a process of concrescence transforms those entities into a novel entity (‘satisfaction’) which thereby becomes an entity (‘superject’) in the actual worlds of other actual entities.

Through prehension, the entities in an actual world are immanent in the novel entity that prehends them and that novel entity is immanent in the actual entities that prehend it. The entire process constitutes a single actual entity which Whitehead calls “God”. While each actual entity is entirely free to select its own values and shape its own objective, it is through God that values are available and objectives are possible.  God, the totality, is present in every actual world and in the subjective aim of every novel entity. Every novel entity prehends God in its inheritance and in its satisfaction. Therefore, God is immanent in every actual entity just as every actual entity is immanent in God. No God, no entities; no entities, no God.

What can we say about this model? Is it sufficient? Definitely! Is it necessary? Possibly! Then does it disprove the necessity of the model we found in 1 John? It does not…because Whitehead’s model is fundamentally (structurally) the same as the model from 1 John. In a surprising way, it demonstrates the argument that any model that succeeds in accounting for existence, no matter how imaginative and complex, must ultimately boil down to a restatement of 1 John.

Finally, let us consider a third set of models that invoke a singularity to explain existence. The first chapter of Genesis provides us with just such a model: “…Earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters. Then God said, Let there be light and there was light…”

Is this model sufficient? Definitely. It is necessary? Perhaps. So what’s wrong? The model set forth in Genesis does not contain synthetic propositions, only analytic propositions; it doesn’t tell us anything about its universe of discourse. How can that be? In the history of Western civilization, no passage has been more controversy than Chapter One of Genesis. How can it possibly be that so much heat has been generated, and so much ink spilled, over mere analytic propositions. Not since first grader Sally O’Leary told the class that 2 + 2 = 5 has an analytic proposition generated so much angst.

The problem is that the first term of the argument, God, is an undefined term. As the old Baltimore Catechism states, “Who is God? God is the Supreme Being who made all things.” So the Genesis model simply states that the being who made all things made all things. (Please be careful not to misunderstand this argument. Genesis gives us an immense amount of information about the process of creation;  but it tells us nothing about creation, i.e. existence, per se.)

I can hear you, dear reader: “Genesis, really, can’t you find something more contemporary…and relevant?” Ok, how about the Big Bang Theory (the theory itself, not the lame TV show by the same name); does that work for you? Same problem: it describes, beautifully, the process of creation…but it doesn’t account for it. BBT is just another name for God…an undefined term.

So now that we have successfully defanged three groups of alternative models, have we then established the necessity of the Johannine model? Of course not! Can we? That question is beyond the scope of this essay and well above the pay grade of this essayist. But I think we have at least made the case that a certain class of model (TOE) may be relevant to the actual world (i.e. contain synthetic propositions) and still stake a claim to ‘necessity’.

 

THE INTELLECTUAL HISTORY OF TIME

In an earlier essay in this collection, The Perpendicular Present, we showed conclusively that the experiential Present has nothing whatsoever to do with the linear phenomenon we call “time”.

In that essay, we discovered that the world consists of present events which relate to one another in various ways that can ultimately be described by the language of geometry (or topology). We found that events do not necessarily follow one another like conscripts boarding a warship; rather they overlap one another and are embedded in one another in ways that ultimately give rise to Universe encompassing structure.

We discovered that the serial relationship among events we call “time” is really just a special case within a much more fundamental mode of connectedness: embedded hierarchy.

This  more fundamental relationship among events essentially runs perpendicular to the common sense notion of time as a linear continuum. In fact, that linear concept of time is the result of a highly practiced, abstractive mental process which has been reinforced since the dawn of mentality by its spectacular pragmatic results (e.g. measurement). But the great William James notwithstanding, what works is not necessarily what is.

A cosmology that reduces spacetime to a mere tool (like a child’s grade school ruler) and replaces it with Universe encompassing, atemporal structure consisting of co-present, overlapping and embedded events seems, well, crazy. But it turns out that it is precisely this concept of reality that underlies Western Civilization’s three great intellectual traditions (Greek philosophy, Judeo-Christian theology and Science); and it precisely this concept that constitutes the primary intersection of those traditions.

Our story begins with the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Anaximander. We only have a single fragment of his teaching (though we can verify it through the influence he exerted on students and rivals alike). According to that fragment, he believed that there neither would be nor could be Being without the phenomenon of Presence. Being ‘begins’ when beings are present to one another.

Anaximander’s successor, Parmenides, arguably the true father of Western Philosophy, expanded on his teacher’s thesis. In his great ontological poem, On Nature, he distinguishes between a “Way of Truth” which is featureless and without extension but eternal and a “Way of Appearance” which is richly varied but incurably transient. The Way of Truth admits no concept of sequence, location, identity or causality. According to the Way of Truth, Being has no origin and no terminus; it is outside the concepts of space and time.

Parmenides offered us no key to help us understand the relationship between these two “ways”. Perhaps he considered them complementary interpretations of experience in a way that anticipated by millennia the wave-particle duality of quantum mechanics.

According to the Way of Appearance, space and time and relations among objects, events and qualia abound; but the Way of Truth admits none of this. From that perspective, Being is eternal, not in the sense of everlasting, but in the sense of being outside of time.

Later on, we will explore the scientific phenomenon known as Quantum Entanglement. In 2013, Ekaterina Moreva et al. (Turin) showed that Universe would look static (like Parmenides’ Way of Truth) to any external observer; but they also showed that Universe would appear to evolve or change (like Parmenides’ Way of Appearance) from the perspective of an internal observer interacting with ‘entangled quanta’. 2500 years after the fact, Parmenides’ great insight has been proven by an unlikely ally, modern science.

Western Civilization is heir to another great tradition, the Judeo-Christian legacy. Improbably, we can find a similar intuition at the base of that tradition as well. Indeed, we find it in the opening lines of Genesis.

This supposed “creation narrative” should be read more ontologically. Here we confront primal reality, “without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind…” This is proto-being, Being without Presence and therefore without order, variety or intensity.

The transition from absolute chaos to a massively ordered Universe depends on just 6 basic structural elements and these elements are catalogued in spell binding specificity in Genesis’ first 31 verses:

First, separation: light from darkness, earth from sky. The former is “time like”, the raw material of rhythm, the later is “space like”, the raw material of locality.

Then, gathering: as water was “gathered into a single basin…dry land appeared”. This is the genesis of form and ultimately of objects.

Generation (“Let the earth bring forth vegetation”) introduces the phenomenon of relatedness and its special case, causality. It is instructive that relatedness emerges from just two structures (separation and gathering) and precedes (ontologically) the emergence of a stable spacetime. This consistent with the conclusions of Morea et al. cited about.

Spacetime comes next. From three primal structural elements (separation, gathering and relatedness), the rhythmic pattern we know as spacetime emerges: “the seasons, the days and the years”.

Then, in a leap worthy of Darwin and his successors, the interplay of the generative urge with rhythmic stability immeidately leads to life and even speciation. With life, the world is enriched with multiple experiential foci, multiple independent actors, multiple co-presents.

Finally, consciousness: “human beings in our image, after our likeness”. Just as God is consciously aware of his creation (“God saw that it was good”), so now mankind. With this final step (recursive reflection), Universe becomes self-aware through its elements; and through those elements it now has the capacity to act upon itself (“…fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion…).

And so, God “…rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken”. The implication is that creation is complete and the universe itself will now be responsible for its own evolution.

It is traditional to read the six days of Genesis as unfolding in linear time. But the authors of Genesis knew nothing of Big Bang Cosmology or Paleontology or Biological Evolution. It makes more sense to understand this creation narrative as an unfolding in the Perpendicular Present. The various stages of “creation” correspond to an ever widening Present characterized by events of ever broader duration. The six days are a linear analogy for the hierarchic reality.

The Greek philosophical tradition of Anaximander and Parmenides and the Judeo-Christian tradition of Genesis meet again in the New Testament Gospel of John. John was entirely familiar with both traditions and clearly saw the vast common ground.

Using the language of Greek philosophy, he retells the Genesis “narrative”. Once again, the opening verses tell us what we need to know.

Standard English translations of John’s Gospel usually begin, “In the beginning was the Word”, an enigmatic phrase to be sure. But John’s “beginning” has more a sense of foundation than initiation and his “Word” is actually the Greek word “Logos” which means order, structure, relationship, etc., the syntax of Being as we saw it in Genesis.

A more accurate but less poetic translation might be, “At the foundation lies order.” This “order” or logos has all the characteristics of the eternal, Perpendicular Present we have been discussing in this essay. In just 5 verses, we learn that all things come to be through Logos, that nothing comes to be without it, including life, the light of the human race.

John’s ontological narrative is more spare than what we found in Genesis (5 verses vs. 31) but it manages to hit all the high notes: light (contrasted with darkness), entities (things), life (the multiplication of experiential foci) and humanity (the capacity for self-reflection).

In verse 6, we meet another John (“The Baptist”) who “testifies” to (i.e. reflects on) the light. As in Genesis, we have gone from the mere principle of order (Logos) to the reality of self-reflection (exemplified by John’s testimony).

Here the parallel between John, Genesis and the Pre-Socratic Greeks ends. In following verses, John goes on to add a uniquely Christian dimension to his concept of Presence: Incarnation. “Logos became flesh and dwelt among us.” Via incarnation, the ever widening Universal Present reappears as one of its own elements: the whole becomes one of its parts. We have moved from the mere self-reflection of Genesis to self-actualization, an incredibly radical step.

Gensis presents 6 structures of Presence; each new structure raises exponentially the potential for order. In just a few quick jumps (“days”), we go from the mere separation of light from darkness to the incredible array of qualia, events, experiential foci and reflective consciousness that constitutes our world. The transitions are truly breathtaking.

But in Genesis, “…the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. On the seventh day, God completed the work he had been doing; he rested…” And why not? Surely, once we arrive at the capacity for self-reflection, the journey is at an end; we can go no farther.

Yet John is not satisfied. Incredibly, he proposes one more step: Incarnation. He demands that the Present not just reflect on itself but enter into itself, physically and historically. The Universal Present, the whole, is not just the sum of its parts; with John, the whole is one of its parts.

The formulations of Anaximander, Parmenides, and Genesis ignore the elephant in the room: Why is there a Universal Present and why is it structured the way it is? Answering this question has been the Holy Grail of ontology since the dawn of reflective consciousness.

Anaximander talks of spontaneous mutuality, Parmenides invokes the Greek gods, Genesis relies on a divine creator. All ad hoc appeals to outside agencies.

But John presents us with a model of self-generation. Being becomes a process and that process constitutes a feedback loop. The mechanism of Incarnation makes John’s system totally self-generative. There is no need of outside agency. John’s system is entirely self-contained and self-explanatory.

Incarnation reveals a perpetual symbiosis between the eternal Present and its temporal, historical elements. The eternal Present is both the transcendent sum of all its parts and a single atom among the multiplicity.

In the end, we are left with the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “On Earth as it is in Heaven”.

In “The Perpendicular Present”, we were content to leave Universe exempt from the ontological requirement that every actual event must be embedded in at least one other event. Our logic: there is no event outside Universe, therefore there is no event into which Universe could be embedded.

John suggests that we may have quit too soon. Even if you grant that a self-contained Universe does not contradict the Principle of Universality spelled out in our earlier essay, John shows that things do not necessarily have to be that way. In John’s cosmology there is at least the possibility that Universe could be embedded in itself.

This would permit Universe, the whole, to maintain a full spectrum of relationships with each of its own elements. Universe could be sequential or serial with respect to other events; it could overlap with some events and be embedded in others.

And yet we are still not done. We are the happy heir to yet another intellectual tradition, Science! Traditionally, Science has been viewed as the enemy of both philosophy and theology…and for many centuries it may have been just that. Science nibbled away at the dogmas of philosophers and theologians; it enticed folks to reject faith-based cosmologies with the hope that some future, reason-based system would resolve all mysteries. Sadly, many still understand Science this way.

Yet nothing could be further from reality. Over the past 100 years, Science (including mathematics and logic) has been the main engine in the utter destruction of the positivist fantasy. Science is today the chief cheerleader, often unwittingly, for philosophy and theology. Without the recent advances in Science, it would be hard indeed to accept the cosmologies of Anaximander, Parmenides, Genesis and John; with those advances, these cosmologies seem almost self-evident.

This essay cannot be a survey of the past 140 years of scientific discovery. Such an effort would require volumes and is entirely beyond the expertise of this author. A brief skip across the peaks of recent discovery should be sufficient to make our case: Science now supports a view of reality that is far more consistent with our Perpendicular Present than with the notion of linear time.

Begin with Einstein (you could go back further). Space and time no longer exist absolutely; they do not constitute the building blocks of Isaac Newton’s famous “Receptacle” in which all material and energetic events play out, as on a stage. Instead, space and time form spacetime and are relative to one another and to different observers; spacetime is an epiphenomenal function of events, not their pre-existing condition.

Move to Quantum Mechanics (QM) and Quantum Field Theory (QFT). Consider just one theorem from this treasure trove: Bell’s Theorem. John Bell proved that under certain circumstances, events totally outside each other’s light cones could nonetheless be related. Learning something about event A would tell us something about event B without our ever having to measure B (and without any signal travelling from A to B). “Spooky action at a distance,” Einstein called it.

In Bell’s model, event A and event B are “entangled”. Earlier we discussed Moreva’s 2013 demonstration that time (i.e. change) is an emergent property of Universe from the perspective of an internal observer. Moreva’s demonstration was based on the phenomenon of Quantum Entanglement first proved by John Bell 50 years ago.

End our brief tour with Roger Penrose. His Conformal Cyclic Cosmology (CCC) suggests that the heat death of one Universe constitutes the Big Bang for another Universe. Though Penrose would probably chafe at the analogy, his model is remarkably reminiscent of John’s Incarnation proposal two millennia earlier.

These peaks testify to a much broader trend at the base of modern science. QFT shows that the concepts of space and time vanish for very small entities while CCC suggests they vanish once the expansion of the cosmos has eliminated the possibility of measurement. Even more devastating for our linear brethren, contemporary mathematics suggests that the Commutative Principle we all learned in elementary school may not apply to the topology of Universe. And worst of all, it now seems possible that the topology of Universe is not even orientable. If that were to be verified, we would need to reconceptualize Universe as a loop where fundamental relations such as handedness, orientation (up/down), charge, etc… are indeterminable and reversible.

Even our Intellectual History of Time is a metaphor for the universal processes we have been describing. Far from a linear journey with a fixed orientation, we find ourselves perpetually lead  back to our starting point. From whatever vantage we begin, we end with the realization that linear relations in spacetime do not form the substructure of Universe. Instead we live in a more magical world that is fundamentally characterized and unified by the phenomenon of Presence.

THE PERPENDICULAR PRESENT

At first glance, our lives seem to be strings of bead-like events. No sooner have we experienced one sensation, one thought, one feeling, one action then another takes its place. We have a vague, naive sense that we can string these events along a timeline and label it by section: past, present, future.

But on further reflection, it is clear that this is absurd. Events overlap. I am all at once aware of many sensations, thoughts, feelings, and acts; it is hardly ever clear when one stops and another begins.  Events are not points…or beads. Events have duration and different events have different durations.

The human nervous system is attuned to a certain “event wave length”, somewhere between one second and one-tenth of one second. If an event has duration of less than one-tenth of second, we normally don’t notice it; if it has duration of more than a second, we normally try to break it up into multiple, sequential events.

Of course, there are exceptions to this generalization. Mystics report event experiences lasting minutes, even hours. But the more important point is that our naïve sense that events normally last a second or less has everything to do with our perceptual apparatus and nothing to do with the nature of events themselves.

There is absolutely no theoretical reason why event duration should be confined within a single order of magnitude. On the contrary, we know that there are events with durations dozens of orders of magnitude less than a second and there is no good reason to think that there are not other events with durations dozens of orders of magnitude more than a second.

Confining the event wave length within a single order of magnitude reinforces our tendency to categorize events as past, present or future. We need to ask a different question: What are the ways in which the myriad events that constitute our lives relate to one another? Are they always neatly laid out more or less neatly along a timeline like clothes drying in the sun or are more complex species of ordering possible?

It turns out that events may relate to one another in a number of different ways:

(1)   They may be sequential (or “tangent”): this is the paradigm for what we call “causality”. A billiard ball rolls across the felt with a certain momentum; it touches a second ball and imparts momentum to that ball, sending that ball in motion. The momentum of the first ball “causes” the momentum of the second ball.

(2)   They may overlap. While listening to a particular melody, a memory occurs which lingers long after the melody has played out.

(3)   One may be entirely embedded in another. While a thought is composing, I suddenly hear a bird chirp. I am aware of the chirp but the thought process is not interrupted.

(4)   Or they may be entirely disjoint, neither embedded, nor overlapping nor touching one another.

Two events, though disjoint, may nonetheless relate in two different ways:

(5)   There may be a third event (or string of events) that overlaps the two disjoint events. As such, the events may be thought to exhibit seriality. This is the “special case” of relatedness which gives rise to the notion of “past, present, future”: when three events are so connected, one is commonly thought to be in the past and one in the future of the median event.

(6)   Or there may be no sting of events that connects the two disjoint events in which case the events are said to be simultaneous: they inhabit the “same time” (simul-taneous). In the language of physics, they “lie outside each other’s light cone”.

But even simultaneous events may enjoy certain species of connection:

(7)   Two events may lie outside each other’s light cone but both may lie in the light cone of a third event. In this case we can say that that there are strings of events connecting each of our two initial events with a common third event. They are simultaneous with respect to each other but serial with respect to the third event. (This is an expanded case of #1, above.)

(8)   It is also possible that two events which lie outside each other’s light cones may both be embedded in a common event (This is an expanded case of #3, above).

(9)   Finally, two events that lie outside each other’s light cone may nonetheless constitute a third event. This is the case with event pairs that exhibit “quantum entanglement”. The existence of this mode of connectivity was proven by John Bell (“Bell’s Theorem”) and has since been verified by repeated experiments.

Here’s how quantum entanglement works. Two quanta interact strongly with one another, e.g. ‘at birth’. They then move apart from each another. When a certain operation (e.g. measurement) is performed on one quantum, that operation causes the wave function of that quantum to collapse, thereby displaying a certain value. Simultaneously, the wave function of the other quantum collapses, displaying a related value.

We may look at this phenomenon as two events taking place simultaneously on two quanta outside each other’s light cones. Or we can view this phenomenon as a single event that spans a significant distance in space.

Is this list of possible modes of connection exhaustive? Suppose there are two events that do not enjoy any of these modes of connectedness. They are not sequential, they do not overlap, nor is one embedded in the other; they are not connected by a single series of events, they are not connected to a common third event by separate series of events, nor are both embedded in a common third event. Finally, they do not constitute a third event via the phenomenon of quantum entanglement. What can we say about such an event pair?

We must say that such an event pair does not exist! Or at least we must say that two such events do not share a common universe. (I do not use the word “universe” in the astronomical sense of the word; I use it to mean the entirety of all experience.) They do not exist for one another and there is no conceivable third event for which they both exist.

At best, we could say that they existed in entirely separate and utterly disconnected universes. But since we do not have any reason to believe that such disconnected universes exist (or any idea what it would mean to say that disconnected universes existed) and since, even if they did, we could never have any knowledge of them and they could never impact our universe in any way, such event pairs are non-existent for us. (Recent cosmological considerations of multiverses, bubble universes, etc. do not conflict with this conclusion.)

We may now state the tautological “Principle of Universality”: all actually existing events exist within a common Universe and no event exists outside that Universe.

We may now generalize our conclusions. For any pair of events, one or more of the following must be true:

(1)   The events are sequential.

(2)   They overlap.

(3)   One is embedded in the other.

(4)   They are connected to one another by a series of events.

(5)   They are connected to a common third event by two distinct series of events.

(6)   They are embedded in a common third event.

(7)   They constitute a common third event.

Looking more closely at these modes of relatedness, we can see that they fundamentally resolve into just two modes:

(1)   Serial Connectedness: #1, 4 and 5, above.

(2)   Embedded Connectedness: #3, 6 and 7 above.

(Note that #2 is an intermediate case that shares aspects of #1 and #3; #7 is a special case of #6 in which the third event consists of just the two embedded events.)

This result prompts further reflection. Is one mode of connectedness more fundamental, more sub-structural than the other? In general, an event that exhibits serial connectivity can also exhibit embedded connectivity and vice-a-versa. If we could find a phenomenon that exhibited one of mode of connectivity and excluded the other mode, that would go a long way toward establishing one mode as the more general, more substructural mode. I believe we can identify such a phenomenon but to do so we need to wade into the realm of Quantum Mechanics.

A fundamental principal of Quantum Field Theory (QFT) is that the nature of a single event is not deterministically caused and therefore in some situations is not even knowable. Rather, what does behave deterministically is a system of events which events do not exhibit causal connectedness among themselves.

The 7th mode of connectedness (above) is an example of such a phenomenon. It is a single event comprised of just two embedded events. The two embedded events are entirely disjoint but they are embedded in a common third event. The nature of the third event is perfectly determined but the nature of each of the two embedded events is perfectly undetermined.

The phenomenon of quantum entanglement described here requires as an absolute condition that the two disjoint but embedded events not connect (serially) with any other events. Such connection would collapse the wave packet and destroy the embedding entity.

Any sort of serial connectedness would destroy the embedding event (or prevent its occurance in the first place). But without an embedding event, the two embedded events would not exist in a common universe (since they would lack any connection to one another). Therefore, without quantum entanglement, Universe as we know it would not exist.

While we can observe the effects of quantum entanglement only under very specialized laboratory conditions, we should not conclude from that that such events are rare. I would speculate that Universe consists of more event pairs with “entangled connectedness” that with serial connectedness; but that is mere conjecture.

In any case, the example of entangled connectedness is sufficient to prove that serial connectivity is not a universal characteristic of all events in Universe. Embedded connectivity therefore must be the more general case of connectivity and therefore the sub-structural mode!

Applying the Principle of Universality, we can go further! No event or hierarchy of events may exist outside the universal hierarchy of events. Therefore, every event is embedded in at least one other event except Universe itself. Universe is exempt from this requirement (without contradiction) since by definition there can be no events outside it. (See The Intellectual History of Time in this collection for an alternative approach to this last point.)

How does universal embedded connectivity impact the past-present-future model of time? In a word, it destroys it!

Every event has its own duration. That duration can be dozens of orders of magnitude less than a second…or it can span the entire history of Universe. The duration of each event is that event’s own unique Present. These presents are not primarily arranged according to sequence along a timeline but are embedded in one another according to a hierarchic scheme.

Event A is embedded in Event B which in turn in embedded in Event C. A, B and C each has its own Present but these presents are not related sequentially; they are related hierarchically.

So the present is not a specific region of time. Each event has a Present proper to itself. Sometimes those presents happen to be sequential (tangent), sometimes they happen to overlap, but every present is embedded in the present of at least one other event, unless all presents are embedded in it (i.e. unless it is Universe).

The naïve notion that Present is a point or region of time located somewhere between past and future on a linear continuum turns out to be a fairy tale. It is better to understand Presence as perpendicular to linear time. From any point on the past-future timeline, we can draw a series of concentric semi-circles, each including broader and broader segments of that timeline, each potentially corresponding to the Present of some event.

The perpendicular axis appropriate to the hierarchy of embedded events measures the duration of the event, not its serial order relative to some other event. As we measure magnitude along the hierarchic axis, we subsume larger and larger segments of serial time in single events. single presents.

Ultimately, the timeline itself, Time itself, is embedded in the uber-present we call Universe.

What holds the universe of events together is not a linear sequence of temporal events; it is the hierarchical embedding of events in an ever broadening Present. As our theoretical scheme demonstrates (above), all events ultimately participate in a single, common Present that constitutes the unity of all that is.