From Subcorporeal Physics to the Rediscovery of the Corporeal

28 January 2021

Wolfgang Smith

A quarter of a century ago I argued that there is an ontological divide between a corporeal  object X and its associated physical  object SX.  By “corporeal” I mean in essence the perceptible — visually, in the first place — and by “physical” I understand the measurable. There are thus two realms, two “worlds” one might say: the corporeal — in which in a sense we “live, and move, and have our being” — and the physical, which can only be accessed by the modus operandi  of physics.

It has long been assumed, however, by the physics community at large, that the actual object of sense perception is in fact the physical. In terms then of the “apple” metaphor — which seems to have gained some prominence since my controversy with Dr. Alec MacAndrew1See The Vertical Ascent  (Philos-Sophia Initiative, 2021), ch. 1.— the point on which we differ with the physics community at large reduces thus to the fact that whereas they recognize only “one apple,” we insist that there are two:  a corporeal apple X which is red, plus a physical apple SX which is not. The two are of course closely related, which is to say — again — that the corporeal object X determines an associated physical object SX, which is simply X as conceived by the physicist.

It is to be noted that this projection S from the corporeal to the physical plane defines a subclass of physical objects of the type SX, which we will refer to as subcorporeal. The question arises now whether this subcorporeal domain, which we have defined on the basis of an ontological — as opposed to a physical — distinction, is also distinguishable on physical grounds. Or to put it another way: does our ontological  distinction have physical  implications?  It is of course obvious that subcorporeal entities are large-scale physical systems:  macroscopic  one might say.  But what about the inherent physics: is there a significant difference — a category difference perhaps — between subcorporeal physics and its complement in some appropriate sense, what might thus be referred to as basic  physics?  The prevailing view appears to be that there is not: that there is in truth one fundamental physics which in principle describes the physical world, from the small to the exceedingly large, from the simple to the hypercomplex — right up to what we term the subcorporeal. It happens, however, that in very recent times this status quo  presumption has been severely challenged. It appears, namely, that there does exist a bona fide  divergence between the physics of the subcorporeal and the basic.

Read More...

*   *   *

One of the leading figures in this ongoing research is the physicist George F. R. Ellis, widely recognized for major contributions in cosmology, and perhaps best known to the general public as the co-author, with Stephen Hawking, of The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time.  Based on a conjecture that the quantum measurement quandary might conceivably be resolved on the basis of “contextual effects operative within realistic measurement contexts,” Ellis initiated a systematic inquiry into what is tantamount to the physics of the subcorporeal, which is bringing to light a plethora of amazing facts. It is not my intention in the present article to survey these findings, but rather to propose an interpretation arrived at from a fundamentally different point of vantage: an ontological  as opposed to a physical, namely.

Let me begin with the Abstract to one of the major articles by George Ellis:

This paper is based upon four assumptions:  1. Physical reality is made of linearly behaving components combined in nonlinear ways.  2. Higher level behaviour emerges from this lower level structure.  3. The way the lower level elements behave depends on the context in which they are imbedded.  4. Quantum theory applies to the lower level entities. An implication is that higher level effective laws, based in the outcomes of lower level linear interactions, will generally not be unitary, hence the applicability of quantum theory at higher levels is strictly limited. This leads to the view that both state vector preparation and the quantum measurement process are crucially based in top-down causal effects, and helps provide criteria for the Heisenberg cut that challenge some views on Schrödinger’s cat.2George F. R. Ellis, “On the limits of quantum theory: Contextuality and the quantum classical cut.” Annals of Physics, 327(7), 2012.

Let me first of all assure the reader unfamiliar with the technical jargon of physics that the key points I wish to make in the present article do not hinge upon such expertise. What needs to be grasped is simply the fact that the physics of a subcorporeal entity breaks into a hierarchy of levels exhibiting a pronounced increase in complexity as one ascends from lower to higher strata, and that — contrary to what might still be the commonly accepted position — quantum theory applies only to the so-called “lower level entities.”

But whereas we most assuredly accept these findings, a fundamental difference of outlook makes its appearance from the start: we disagree, namely, with claim (2) that “higher level behaviour emerges from this lower level structure,” i.e., from the “linearly behaving” stratum. The issue is crucial: for once we have come to realize that the integral universe embodies a hierarchic order — that it distinguishes between “higher” and “lower” planes — the question arises from which extremity these different levels originate: is it from above, or from below?  And what Ellis tells us under point (2) is that they originate from below.

I would add that this judgment is scarcely surprising, given that it concurs with the dogma of “evolution,” which, as I have argued recently, comprises the presiding paradigm of our contemporary Weltanschauung.3The Vertical Ascent, op. cit., chs. 8 and 11. What this dogma asserts in effect is that all existent things arise ultimately from an aggregation of fundamental particles: the Democritean atoms basically, out of which all existent things are supposedly compounded. But whereas this tenet has been refuted by the leading philosophers of antiquity, it was reintroduced in the Western world in the wake of Galileo and Descartes to become the presiding scientistic dogma.

I differ, thus, from the scientific community at large in that I concur with Plato and Aristotle to the effect that the evolutionist premise is misconceived: that it has in effect turned the world upside-down. And I propose now to view the very discoveries of Ellis, et al., in this new light, which is thus tantamount to turning the world right-side up again. There are then these two opposing views; and what finally tilts the scale in favor of Plato and Aristotle, I claim, are the facts. We need however to start at the beginning: i.e., from where we presently stand.

*   *   *

I will get right to the point: what differentiates the physics of the subcorporeal from the basic is the manifestation of irreducible wholeness  by way of a corresponding mode of causality, which I term vertical  and the physicist refers to as “top-down.” As I have argued at length,4See ibid., chs. 1 and 2. physics per se  is based upon a radical fragmentation of wholes, which amounts to a decomposition into an aggregate of virtually infinitesimal parts. And this fragmentation, in turn, entails that the only causality physics as such knows — and  can  know — is what I term horizontal:  a causality, that is, which arises from minute parts and acts upon such in turn, and which propagates through space and acts over an interval of time. Vertical causation, on the other hand, operates in a radically different manner: as the causation of wholeness it acts as a whole itself. In contrast to horizontal causation, thus, VC does not “break into parts,” which is to say that it does not propagate through space, nor does it act over an interval of time. Its action, then, may be described as “instantaneous,” and as affecting primarily wholes. The crux of the matter is that vertical  causation is the etiological counterpart of ontological wholeness.

So-called “top-down” causation, on the other hand, is something quite different: one might say it captures as much of vertical causality as can be comprehended from the physicist’s point of view. It could thus be termed an “effect” — or better said, a physical  effect — of vertical causation. The point is that vertical causation is something incurably metaphysical, and hence is not comprehensible in physical terms. Yet even so, I claim, it is needed to make sense of physics in the subcorporeal realm. And this should surprise no one if one recalls that the subcorporeal realm is in fact defined by an  ontological  discrepancy: the distinction, namely, between a corporeal  object X, and the physical  object SX — a distinction, thus, which is likewise incomprehensible from the standpoint of physics as such.

What is it, then, that distinguishes the corporeal from the physical? As we shall come to see, it is above all being,  which can equally well be characterized as indecomposable wholeness. The crux of the matter is that whereas this wholeness is not to be found in the physical object SX — for the very simple reason that it is inconceivable from the standpoint of physics — its effects  manifest even so on the level of SX: in the form of “top-down” causation, to be precise. What primarily distinguishes subcorporeal from basic physics can thus be understood as a manifestation of irreducible wholeness, which derives — not “from below” — but precisely from the corporeal plane. The point is that even as there exists a causality emanating from parts, so also there exists a causality emanating from unbroken wholeness, which in turn proves to be “unbreakable” itself. And let us not forget that from a premodern — and pre-evolutionist — point of vantage it is clear that even as the whole has precedence over the parts, so vertical  causation has precedence over horizontal.  But this leads ineluctably to the conclusion that whereas physics is able to detect the resultant stratification of the subcorporeal, it is incapable of understanding the nature and origin of that stratification — for the simple reason that this cannot be accounted for in terms of horizontal causality. Physicists have admittedly begun to speak of “top-down” causation, without however comprehending its nature and its origin.

Yet there it is, whether we grasp it or not: along with the manifestations of ontological wholeness in these so-called “higher level” structures, there is likewise the manifestation of a causality no longer arising from parts. Properly understood, the admission on the part of physicists that the causality responsible for quantum measurement is “top-down” — and thus what I term “vertical” — squares evidently with my position: it was in the context of quantum measurement, namely, that I first came upon the concept of “vertical” causation.5The Quantum Enigma  (Angelico Press, 3rd ed., 2005). As I put it then:

Let it be said apodictically that state vector collapse is not the result of a temporal process, be it deterministic, random or stochastic. A higher order of causality enters the picture, which needs to be distinguished categorically from temporal causality in any of its modes…6Ibid., p. 110.

The very fact that there is an ontological  discontinuity between the corporeal and the physical domains entails moreover that the causality responsible for the act of measurement cannot transpire “in time” but must of necessity act instantaneously.7Physics and Vertical Causation  (Angelico Press, 2019), pp. 26-9. This happens however to be an ontological  fact, which cannot be discerned from the physicist’s point of vantage

It appears the physicists are clearly edging towards a rediscovery of the corporeal  as an ontological stratum “above” the physical, but it is as yet unclear just how far in that direction they can proceed on rigorously scientific grounds. It appears that even the best physicists are committed to the notion that higher level behavior emerges from lower level structure, as Ellis states explicitly,8Point (2) in the Abstract, op. cit. which is to say that theirs is yet an “evolutionist” outlook: it is the lower, supposedly, that gives rise to the higher. The metaphysician, on the other hand, perceives the matter just the other way round: it is — in principle and by force of necessity — the higher that engenders the lower, as the great traditions of mankind have always understood.

My point, then, is that the metaphysician is right: the whole does have primacy over the parts, even as the causality of wholeness — the vertical — has primacy over the horizontal. And when it comes to the empirical test, so it is: in the act of measurement, to give perhaps the most striking example of all, it is vertical causation which — literally in an instant — overpowers the horizontal by “collapsing the wavefunction,” as the expression goes.9On the primacy of vertical causality I refer to The Vertical Ascent, op. cit., ch. 9.

*   *   *

Vertical causation is a causality the physicist as such can in principle only half understand: for whereas he can discern its physical effects, he is — qua  physicist — incapable of comprehending its nature and origin. And I might mention that Albert Einstein was not slow to grasp the point in the context of what physicists term nonlocality,  which turns out likewise to be an effect of VC: “eine spuckhafter Fernwirkung”  (“a spooky action at a distance”), he called it. And aptly so: from the physicist’s point of vantage, VC cannot but seem “spooky” inasmuch as it literally transcends the world as physical science conceives of it. On the other hand, if Einstein meant “spooky” in the sense of “unreal” or “imaginary,” then to be sure, we demur.10There is strong reason to suppose that he did so, seeing that nonlocality is incompatible with Einsteinian relativity. It happens, moreover, that the so-called EPR experiment proposed by Albert Einstein (in company with two other physicists named Podolsky and Rosen) in a bid to disprove nonlocality turned out to accomplish just the opposite: it was Einsteinian relativity — and not quantum mechanics — that failed the test. It has in fact been a central thrust of my writings to convey that there are in truth “more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” — which is to say not simply that “there are more things,”  but that the very quintessence of the “things below” derives actually from above:  from the things, thus, not “dreamt of in your philosophy.”

It is perhaps beginning to emerge that the corporeal is not only ontologically distinct from the physical, but proves to be in a sense superior. Not only thus does the integral cosmos break into ontological strata or “planes,” but as we have noted, it is endowed with what might be termed a vertical axis  which distinguishes “higher” from “lower” planes. I am moreover persuaded that we have thus far taken just the first “upward” step on this cosmic Jacob’s Ladder: from the physical  to the corporeal  plane, that is. But the progression does not end there, and I am persuaded that the coarsest ontologically feasible subdivision entails two more strata above the corporeal, corresponding namely to what are traditionally referred to as  anima  and  spiritus  in the human microcosm.11I have dealt with this issue at length in The Vertical Ascent, op. cit., ch. 2. It will presently suffice, however, to consider only the first ontological discontinuity: the one that enters the picture in the physics of the subcorporeal by bringing vertical causation into play.

One more point needs to be touched upon in this attempt to rough-sketch the big picture: in the final count, namely, the physical as such is in fact sub-existential. It is not just “quantum particles” that stand “midway between being and nonbeing” as Werner Heisenberg points out, but the same holds true for physical entities12The term “entity” is of course inappropriate. at large.  Consider the case of a subcorporeal object SX, which per se  stands at the furthest remove from quantum particles: from a realist point of view it is evident, first of all, that SX is in potency to the corresponding corporeal object X. What concerns the physicist, of course, is the fact that SX can be “actualized” on the corporeal plane by various other means as well. The point is that the physical object SX is knowable not only by way of its corporeal prototype X, but also by innumerable corporeal effects resulting from measurement and display.13An example of “display” would be the graph on an oscilloscope which “corporeally” represents, say, an oscillation of voltage or some other physical variable. But it is not knowable in itself!  It is something, in other words, that can be known only in other things. And this is, of course, the defining characteristic of potentiae:  the very thing that makes them potentiae  is the capacity to become something they are not. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the physical as such is something midway between what the Scholastics termed materia prima  and corporeal being, which appears moreover to answer to the Thomistic conception of materia quantitate signata.14See The Vertical Ascent, op. cit., pp. 19-21.

*   *   *

It has by now become abundantly apparent that physics per se  cannot discern the corporeal: that by its very nature it is in effect constrained to reduce the corporeal to the physical, which is by definition the measurable. The measurable, on the other hand, reduces to the antithesis of the veritable whole, which may be characterized by the fact that it does not  reduce to a sum of its parts. But whereas physics is thus by nature “blind” to authentic wholeness, it can recognize the effects thereof in the form of vertical  causation discernable by certain measurable effects. What the corporeal may be in itself, on the other hand, proves to be categorically beyond its ken for the obvious reason that this “more” turns out not to be quantitative.

The physics of the subcorporeal has brought us thus to the threshold of the corporeal world, which however it cannot cross. To fully grasp this basic and crucial fact, we need to avail ourselves of a few fundamental conceptions pertaining to primordial philosophy. One is apt to say “Aristotelian,” and it may indeed have been Aristotle who has given us the most efficient terminology to characterize what it is, precisely, that distinguishes the corporeal from the physical. Yet it should be understood that one could likewise characterize that distinction in the language of Plato or of Indian Sānkhya. To do so, however, we need to talk — not physics — but ontology:  the language we choose, on the other hand, is optional.

To put it then in Aristotelian terms: what distinguishes a corporeal object from a physical is the fact that the corporeal constitutes a substance, whereas the physical does not. The corporeal, therefore, has being,  which also the physical does not: what the physical has instead is a certain aptitude  for being,  which — again in the language of Aristotle — is precisely what renders it a potentia. What makes a corporeal object a substance, moreover, and gives it being, is a form:  a so-called substantial form, namely. And it is this substantial form that bestows upon it a “wholeness” which does not reduce to a sum of its parts. Being and wholeness, therefore, are intrinsically synonymous: as a Scholastic dictum declares, “Ens et unum convertuntur.”  But whereas the substantial form itself evidently cannot be conceived in quantitative terms, it nonetheless entails an inherently quantitative implication: i.e., the fact that the resultant wholeness is “irreducible” in the sense that it cannot be conceived as a sum of parts. And this proves to be key: it entails, namely, that this wholeness is incomprehensible to the physicist. Think of it: to the physicist per se,  the corporeal world is both invisible and inconceivable!

It is at this juncture that another fundamental discovery awaits us: the recognition that quantities  do not stand alone, which is to say that qualities  too are needed to make a corporeal entity, and that in fact they hold primacy even as a whole holds primacy in relation to its parts. That primacy of qualities  relative to quantities follows moreover from that of wholeness itself: for as Aristotle may have been the first to note, the defining characteristic of a quality  as such resides in the fact that it does not  reduce to a sum of parts, that in truth it has no parts at all.

*   *   *

It may be expedient — even at the cost of a certain redundancy — to pursue these reflections a bit further. The fact that being  derives from a substantial form entails at one stroke that it derives “from above,” to put it in terms of the previously mentioned verticality  which accuses the contemporary Zeitgeist  of having turned the world upside-down. And this inversion explains in a way why the idea of “evolution” — the notion that everything derives “from below” through a more or less unguided aggregation of parts — presently dominates in virtually every sphere, despite the fact that bona fide  evidence for this tenet is altogether nonexistent. It explains why even Heisenberg’s recognition to the effect that the presumed Democritean building blocks constitute “a strange kind of physical reality just in the middle between possibility and reality”15Physics and Philosophy  (Harper & Row, 1958), p. 73. has apparently fallen on deaf ears. My point, then, is that when it comes to the Zeitgeist — the Weltanschauung  of an entire era — one must not suppose that it is founded upon strict logic or on scientific grounds. It pretends to be, of course; yet as I have argued elsewhere,16I have touched upon this issue in The Vertical Ascent, op. cit., ch. 11. here we are dealing with things that belong ultimately to quite another sphere.

Meanwhile the fact remains — whatever “the spirit of the times” may declare — that existence, properly so called, derives not from the physical substrate, but from “above” via substantial form, and manifests not primarily in quantities, but in  qualities  above all.  This, as we have argued, is what renders the physical per se  sub-existential: a mere potency or receptivity for being, which however it has not yet received. And this entails, furthermore, that the measurable  cannot measure itself, but is in fact measured through an interaction with a corporeal instrument. It needs to be clearly understood that the act of measurement is effected by a corporeal  entity in which it terminates as a  perceptible  state.  Not only, therefore, must there be a red  apple in addition to the physical, but it is the red  apple — and not the physical — that actually exists.

What distinguishes the corporeal from the physical are its manifestations of unbroken wholeness, grounded in substantial form. And that is precisely why the physical exists only “in potency”: it lacks being  and thus wholeness.  The fact, moreover, that the physical lacks wholeness should surprise no one: as the measurable it answers evidently — not to the question “what?” — but rather to the query “how much?” or “how many?” The physical as such, therefore, has no “what,” which is to say that it “is” not anything at all.

What however differentiates the corporeal from the physical most clearly — and indeed visibly — is the fact that it is endowed with qualities. In light of the preceding ontological considerations, thus, it is simply absurd to maintain that these qualities constitute a Cartesian res cogitans — a mere “thing of the mind” — when it is in fact these very qualities that render the entity in question corporeal!  What in the end reduces most assuredly to a res cogitans  is the Cartesian Ansatz  itself. One is of course amazed that this fantasy — verging upon insanity — could have dominated our Occidental Weltanschauung  ever since the Enlightenment. Yet, having now exposed the Cartesian ontology as the fraud it most assuredly is, one is at liberty to rediscover what philosophers term “realism,” and at times even “naïve” realism. We stand presently on the verge of rediscovering this perennial truth, which we normally take for granted anyway: after all, it hardly requires a Ph.D. in anything to realize that the apple in our hand is red.

*   *   *

There is no reason, moreover, to suppose that just because physics is blind to qualities, science per se  must be so as well. That blindness on the part of physics springs from its specific modus operandi:  its definition, hence, as “the science of measurement.” It springs thus from the fact that what one measures  are inherently quantities, which is to say that qualities are per se  unmeasurable. But as we have pointed out repeatedly, this does not imply that they do not exist, and I mean — objectively! Nor in fact does it entail that the unmeasurable is ipso facto  beyond the range of scientific inquiry. There are in truth no valid grounds to suppose that science itself must of necessity reduce ultimately to physics. It happens to be the Cartesian axiom that entails this conclusion: but only in a world consisting exclusively of res extensae  does physics rule supreme. By default, namely: for it happens that in a Cartesian universe everything that might challenge the hegemony of physics has been excluded — by fiat, as it were.

The definitive characteristic of “natural” science, I say, is not that it reduces to physics, but that it rests upon controlled observation to the point of being  falsifiable  in the precise Popperian sense. It is this falsifiability that inherently defines empirical science as such, and keeps it from sliding into a pseudo-science of some kind. Inasmuch however as “controlled observation” is not restricted to measurement, empirical science does not reduce to physics. This presumed reduction of natural science to physics — imposed upon us by the Cartesian axiom — needs now to be jettisoned: for not only has it impeded the natural progress of bona fide  empirical science, but has given rise to a plethora of pseudo-sciences which presume to quantify what by its very nature is not quantifiable. In the hallowed name of Science we have mandated quackery!

*   *   *

It happens, in fact, that — like the white spot in the black field — there exists a bona fide  empirical science explanative of visual perception, which stands squarely on the side of realism: of so-called “naïve” realism no less. We are referring to what is termed the “ecological theory of visual perception” discovered by a cognitive psychologist named James J. Gibson in the last century.17For a first encounter I would suggest James J. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception  (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986).  A collection of papers, published in 1982 under the title Reasons for Realism  and republished by Routledge in 2020 (with copies selling for $160!), is of special interest. The adjective “ecological” signifies that what is actually perceived — so far from being “in the head” — pertains in truth to what Gibson terms “the environment,” which proves to be tantamount to what I term the “corporeal” world. Here then we have an authentic empirical science which recognizes qualities — color, for example — as actual ingredients of the environment, that is to say, the perceptible world. Unbelievable as it may seem to the contemporary “educated” mind, Gibson has put the “red” right back into the apple — not as a capacity to reflect light of certain frequencies — but indeed as the color we behold.

There is however a second wonder to report: for not only has Gibson disproved the Cartesian axiom — and thereby “sinned against the spirit of the age which will not let itself be trifled with,” as Carl Jung declares18Modern Man in Search of a Soul  (Harcourt Brace, 1933), p. 175.— but he has not been subsequently banished from the halls of academia and consigned to oblivion. On the contrary: James Gibson has in fact been honored as an elected member of the American Academy of Science and as the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh, to mention just two facts. Quite frankly, I am puzzled by the accolades accorded someone who has so grievously “sinned against the spirit of the age.” Could it be that Gibson’s scientific confreres have not yet grasped what his “ecological theory of visual perception” actually entails? Possibly so.

The fact, in any case, is that Gibson seems to have succeeded — on rigorous scientific grounds no less — to disprove an axiom which has bedeviled Western civilization for almost four centuries. He has done so by way of an empirical science not destructive of irreducible wholes, and therefore capable in principle of accounting for the visual perception of the corporeal world. What validates the Gibsonian theory is simply what validates any scientific theory: i.e., the fact that it comports with the empirical findings.

There also exists, of course, a status quo  theory of visual perception, based on the paradigm of a “retinal image,” which actually goes back to the days of Descartes. It happens, however, that early on in his career, Gibson discovered that this “retinal image” theory proves to be untenable.19It turns out, namely — on careful examination — that the retina does not contain enough information to determine, for instance, the “aiming point” of a complex motion (which can however be perceived). And it was in fact this discovery that motivated the young Gibson to search for a new paradigm. Let me note, moreover, that he proceeded in this quest — not as a philosopher or metaphysician, with “preconceived ideas” — but, step by step, as a “no-nonsense” empiricist. It was thus on empirical grounds that Gibson came upon the key notion that enables one to understand how a subject can know an object outside of itself.

The crucial idea goes back at least to Aristotle: the fact is that Gibson has in effect rediscovered hylomorphism. What in truth enables a subject to perceive an object — visually, let us say — is what is traditionally termed a form. How, for example, can we know the redness  in a corporeal entity? We can evidently do so only if that same redness can subsist in us as well. And this is where forms  enter — and must  in fact enter the picture if we are ever to see  the external world. Given that the external object is made of hyle — which in itself is nothing but potentia,  a mere receptivity — plus  morphe  or form, one can in principle know the external object by way of that morphe  or form.  The point is that morphe  is not in itself a thing — not an actual entity — but something rather that can subsist in a thing, somewhat as the form of Socrates can subsist in a block of marble. We can thus know “external objects” through forms  by virtue of the fact that a form is something which can be actualized in hyle, and that the form of “red,” for example, can thus be as well in us as in the apple or the rose. And this is, in principle, why we can see the actual red present in an external entity as distinguished from a mere res cogitans.

Getting back to the “ecological” theory, it remains now to indicate how Gibson conceives of these “forms”: how exactly do they enter into the theory? The fact is they enter as  invariants  in what he terms the ambient optic array,  which is simply the bundle of incoming light rays converging to a “point of observation” O, with the proviso however that it is ambient  light.  By “ambient” Gibson means reflected  as distinguished from radiant  light.  And this distinction proves to be crucial: for it is evidently the ambient  light — as distinguished from radiant light coming directly, say, from the Sun — which carries the information for visual perception of the “environment.” What, then, are  these “invariants”? Gibson gives us a clue when he says that they are to be “picked up” from that “ambient optic array.” This implies that the invariants are something “carried” by that ambient optic array, which do not however coincide with the array itself — if they did, they obviously could not be “picked up.” This strongly suggests that these invariants actually constitute forms  embodied in the ambient optic array, which as such can likewise be embodied in other entities as well — ranging from roses to creatures endowed with “eyes to see.”

The Gibsonian theory of visual perception is thus manifestly based upon a transmission of forms  from the external object via ambient light to the percipient, who as the seer  then embodies the very forms that constitute the seen. I submit, moreover, that this is not only the authentic paradigm upon which visual perception is actually based, but that it is in essence the only  paradigm in terms of which a realist  perception can be conceived: the only way, namely, one can perceive — not an image of any kind — but the actual environment itself.

A number of conclusions present themselves immediately. The first, if you will, is that the ambient optic array does not reduce to the conceptions of physics: how can it, if it carries “invariants” such as the redness of a rose? Inasmuch as that redness does not reduce to a light frequency — does not reduce in fact to anything quantitative — it proves to be ipso facto  invisible to the physicist. One sees in retrospect that Gibson was wise when he proposed what he termed “ecological optics” as a science transgressing the bounds of physics.

It turns out, thus, that the ambient optic array is not, strictly speaking, a physical  object inasmuch as it carries qualities and is in a sense visible. We need therefore to enlarge our conception of the corporeal to include these other, in a way “perceptible,” entities. In addition to corporeal objects in the usual sense — e.g., red apples — the corporeal consequently includes entities such as the ambient optic array, which by virtue of a qualitative content transgress the physical. The ambient optic array defines therefore in principle a branch of subcorporeal physics. One wonders, moreover, whether here too so-called higher level structures, along with “top-down” effects, may emerge. To me, at least, this appears likely, given that this ambient optic array carries within itself an entire visible panorama!

Getting back to what we were saying: a second key recognition obtrudes from the fact that forms  evidently constitute irreducible wholes. What is termed their “pickup” cannot therefore be effected by way of horizontal causality, nor by means of a perceptual system that reduces to a mechanism of any kind. Only an irreducible wholeness can “pick up” what is itself such a wholeness. The authentic visual system cannot therefore be conceived as an assemblage of corporeal — let alone, physical — organs or parts, but must be viewed as inseparable from the living percipient, whose wholeness resides finally in his substantial form, traditionally known as his anima  or soul.

From this point of vantage, moreover, one recognizes the fallacy of the “retinal image” theory at a glance: for that theory is obviously based upon a decomposition of the presumed process into a complex scenario defined in terms of parts, beginning with the rods and cones of the retina and ending apparently in about twenty or more so-called visual centers in the cerebral cortex — at which point the trail goes cold, leading one of the experts to observe that “we can see how the brain takes the picture apart, but do not yet see how it puts it together.”20Sir Francis Crick (of “double helix” fame), The Astonishing Hypothesis  (Simon & Schuster, 1995), p. 159. Sir Francis is obviously trying to understand visual perception on the level of neurons, which makes about as much sense as attempting to comprehend a piano recital by investigating the hammers and strings of the Steinway. The “retinal image” theory of visual perception is not only untenable — as the young Gibson discovered soon enough on technical grounds — but proves from an ontological point of vantage to be actually incongruous.

Finally, let us not fail to note that the Gibsonian theory of visual perception hinges incurably on vertical  causation:  wholes can only be transmitted via wholes to recipients who are wholes as well. The entire process is therefore categorically incomprehensible on the basis of horizontal causation.21To be sure, this does not mean that the “retinal image” theory is no longer taught in universities as the authentic “scientific” theory of visual perception. Nor does it imply that this incurably fallacious theory is without use whatsoever: it works perfectly well, for instance, in the prescription of spectacles.

*   *   *

It appears that the threshold to which subcorporeal physics has brought us can indeed be crossed not only on metaphysical grounds, but on a rigorous scientific basis as well. James Gibson was doubtless ahead of his time — but not perhaps by that much. The discovery of subcorporeal physics betokens not only what we have captioned “the end of quantum reality,” but hopefully the emergence of a broader and deeper conception of science as well. We seem actually to be nearing the end of what might be termed the Cartesian era, what René Guénon referred to as “the reign of quantity.” That reign, I have argued, was based upon a systematic fragmentation of wholes, an atomization imposed by the modus operandi  of physics itself. One generally supposes — in proportion to the amount of “higher” education one has received — that such is simply the way things are, but this happens not to be the case: demonstrably so, I claim. What our experts have left out of account proves in fact to be incomparably greater than what has been retained: they have in effect jettisoned the whole  for the parts — which in truth, moreover, do not exist in separation from the whole. Worse still: they have compounded this ontological blunder with an etiological fallacy: the notion namely that the world is ruled by horizontal  causality alone.

The significance of subcorporeal physics, as I see it, resides not only in the fact that it brings us into “higher level behaviour,” but that it takes us near to the boundary where physics per se  is superseded. We appear presently to be approaching the moment of truth where both the existence and the primacy of indecomposable wholeness — along with the resultant primacy of vertical causation — can no longer be denied with impunity. What stands at issue is the end of nothing less than the Cartesian hegemony, which is also however the end of physics as the foundational science itself.

This, it seems to me, is what is now beginning to play out in the physics of the subcorporeal: the physics of an SX associated with a corporeal object X. The salient fact is that this physics is in truth stratified, and that a previously unknown causality named “top-down” has made its appearance. From an evolutionist point of view, to be sure, one is bound to conceive of these higher levels as emerging from the lower, and to interpret even “top-down” causality in “bottom-up” terms. For my part, on the other hand, I am persuaded on metaphysical grounds that the matter actually stands the other way round: that there does exist, for example, a “top-down” causation which in veritas  acts “top-down,” even as there exist wholes  which do not reduce to a sum of any kind. I would find it unsurprising, moreover, if it should turn out that subcorporeal physics cannot be understood on a “bottom-up” basis: that somewhere a discrepancy is bound to remain. What is ultimately called for, I am persuaded, is a new understanding of physics itself, freed of old prejudices ranging from Cartesian bifurcation to the rejection of metaphysics per se. It is time to get over the Enlightenment and rediscover the authentic world.

Read Less...


Dr. Smith’s latest book, The Vertical Ascentis now available, as is the Initiative’s feature documentary chronicling his life and work, The End of Quantum Reality.

ORDER THE BOOK

RENT/BUY THE FILM

JOIN THE INITIATIVE

1 See The Vertical Ascent  (Philos-Sophia Initiative, 2021), ch. 1.
2 George F. R. Ellis, “On the limits of quantum theory: Contextuality and the quantum classical cut.” Annals of Physics, 327(7), 2012.
3 The Vertical Ascent, op. cit., chs. 8 and 11.
4 See ibid., chs. 1 and 2.
5 The Quantum Enigma  (Angelico Press, 3rd ed., 2005).
6 Ibid., p. 110.
7 Physics and Vertical Causation  (Angelico Press, 2019), pp. 26-9.
8 Point (2) in the Abstract, op. cit.
9 On the primacy of vertical causality I refer to The Vertical Ascent, op. cit., ch. 9.
10 There is strong reason to suppose that he did so, seeing that nonlocality is incompatible with Einsteinian relativity. It happens, moreover, that the so-called EPR experiment proposed by Albert Einstein (in company with two other physicists named Podolsky and Rosen) in a bid to disprove nonlocality turned out to accomplish just the opposite: it was Einsteinian relativity — and not quantum mechanics — that failed the test.
11 I have dealt with this issue at length in The Vertical Ascent, op. cit., ch. 2.
12 The term “entity” is of course inappropriate.
13 An example of “display” would be the graph on an oscilloscope which “corporeally” represents, say, an oscillation of voltage or some other physical variable.
14 See The Vertical Ascent, op. cit., pp. 19-21.
15 Physics and Philosophy  (Harper & Row, 1958), p. 73.
16 I have touched upon this issue in The Vertical Ascent, op. cit., ch. 11.
17 For a first encounter I would suggest James J. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception  (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986).  A collection of papers, published in 1982 under the title Reasons for Realism  and republished by Routledge in 2020 (with copies selling for $160!), is of special interest.
18 Modern Man in Search of a Soul  (Harcourt Brace, 1933), p. 175.
19 It turns out, namely — on careful examination — that the retina does not contain enough information to determine, for instance, the “aiming point” of a complex motion (which can however be perceived).
20 Sir Francis Crick (of “double helix” fame), The Astonishing Hypothesis  (Simon & Schuster, 1995), p. 159.
21 To be sure, this does not mean that the “retinal image” theory is no longer taught in universities as the authentic “scientific” theory of visual perception. Nor does it imply that this incurably fallacious theory is without use whatsoever: it works perfectly well, for instance, in the prescription of spectacles.