Surveying the Integral Cosmos: A Review of Physics & Vertical Causation

25 February 2019

John Trevor Berger

According to the experts of standard cosmology, we live in a universe which is uniformly egalitarian — a meaningless homogeneous mass of subatomic particles — and this so-called “cosmological principle,” we are told, holds true from the furthest observable reaches of the universe to the ordinary moment of lived experience. For over 35 years Wolfgang Smith has been gradually chipping away at this cosmological impasse, and his project has reached its zenith in Physics and Vertical Causation: The End of Quantum Reality  (Angelico Press, 2019) — the latest and likely final work of the author, whose life and thought is the subject of the Initiative’s upcoming documentary film, The End of Quantum Reality. In many ways the true sequel to the author’s paradigm-shifting 1995 monograph, The Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key — picking up precisely where the latter left off, namely the discovery of “vertical causality” — Physics and Vertical Causation  explores the presence of this hitherto unrecognized form of causality with respect to several spheres of inquiry. While it may not be readily apparent by its title, this work is fundamentally a study in cosmology; the title is simply a recognition of whence cosmology must, in our time, take its point of departure. And if, as the author maintains, quantum mechanics is the  foundational science — physics, as it were, “come into its own” — then our entire cosmological vision is necessarily affected by how we interpret quantum theory. Indeed, Smith’s interpretation has implications for every domain of science.

Presenting us with concise overviews of both quantum theory and the theory of relativity, and situating them in their historical context, we are presented, in turn, with Smith’s epochal solution to the quantum reality problem and his devastating critique of Einsteinian physics. In addition, Physics and Vertical Causation  surveys the implications of Smith’s “ontological distinction” between the physical  and the corporeal — the basis upon which the quantum reality problem is resolved — as well as the resultant “etiological distinction” between horizontal  and vertical  causality. Whereas in previous works the author has demonstrated how the ontological distinction applies in, and makes sense of, nearly every field of science, he here delineates the pervasiveness of vertical causation throughout the cosmos at large, as well as in the microcosm — that is, in man himself. Since, however, the recognition of vertical causation hinges upon the distinction between the corporeal and the physical domains, we need first to examine that ontological distinction.


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What most distinguishes Wolfgang Smith from the host of other philosophers of science is his unique philosophical background as well as his professional position. For while, as a professor of mathematics with a life-long interest and experience in theoretical physics, having access to the technical literature in those fields, he nevertheless remains the “outsider” by virtue his deep roots in the great metaphysical traditions — those “antiquated” doctrines banished in the West since the Enlightenment. In his confrontation with the quantum reality problem, therefore, he saw something that others could not see: namely the fact that the enigmas of quantum theory stem not from the side of physics, but from a long-forgotten and deeply sedimented philosophical  presupposition — the principle of bifurcation postulated by René Descartes.

Cartesian “bifurcation” — a term coined by Alfred North Whitehead — constitutes a dichotomy which spuriously divides the perceived (res cogitans)  and the extended (res extensa), giving rise to the notion that external reality can be fully characterized in quantitative terms. In light of the aforesaid “ontological distinction,” this amounts to the reduction of the corporeal  to the physical:  the qualities we perceive via sensory perception are taken, in the Cartesian paradigm, to be mere mental ideation, while the quantitative or “extended” (i.e., measurable) aspects of the world are taken to be what is truly fundamental. In other words, the quantitative is understood to have ontological priority over the qualitative, insofar as the latter is merely a “figure of thought.” What is left in the “external” world are entities which can be accounted for without residue in mathematical terms. The world in which we find ourselves, wherein the grass is green and the bird sings its song, has thus been reduced to a fantasy.

Now Smith’s philosophy of physics rests squarely upon the rejection of bifurcation, and indeed he has demonstrated that quantum paradox is itself a by-product of this Cartesian presupposition. It is this assumption, at once ontological and epistemological, which underlies and in a way defines the contemporary scientific Weltanschauung, and it is this — not some conundrum inherent in physics as such — that renders the quandaries of quantum physics insoluble. Remove that philosophical fallacy, however, and the resolution stares one in the face. Nothing authentically scientific  is given up in doing so; rather, what is jettisoned is a false philosophical  dichotomy. It turns out that the physicist is in truth dealing not with the corporeal world — “the world” in which we find ourselves via cognitive sense perception — but with a subcorporeal  domain which has been discovered, and in a sense “created,” by the intervention of the physicist himself: the procedure which brings what Smith calls the physical universe  into the sphere of observation. With respect to the latter, the author has in effect confirmed the claim that physics deals actually with what John Wheeler calls the “participatory universe.”

The ontological distinction, as indicated above, necessarily entails a corresponding “etiological” discernment: for if there be these two ontological “strata” in the order of being — these two “worlds” if you like, namely the corporeal and the physical — there must be a mode of causality operating between the two. And this defines a causality which is in fact unknown to modern physics: a mode which is not field-based but acts instantaneously,  and therefore not “in time.” One thus arrives at the distinction between what Smith terms horizontal  and vertical  causality: “horizontal” causes being those which may be broadly considered “physical” — the well-known efficient causality which operates in time — and a previously undiscovered mode of causality which does not act in time, i.e., the “vertical.” Smith has therefore discerned a mode of causation whose field of action turns out to vastly exceed that of horizontal causality. And the central objective of Physics and Vertical Causation, as one might expect, is to bring to light the scientific and cosmological implications of this discovery.

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Once the existence of vertical causation is acknowledged, its effects come into view on all sides, even from the strictly “operational” viewpoint of the physicist — in the fact, for instance, that pebbles do not “bilocate,” or that cats cannot be simultaneously “dead and  alive.” So too the recognition of vertical causation demystifies J. S. Bell’s celebrated theorem, insofar as so-called “nonlocal” interactions, far from constituting an inexplicable anomaly, can now be understood as effects of a bona fide  and indeed ubiquitous causal mode.

Smith also argues for the crucial role that vertical causation plays in biology, which for nearly two centuries has been effectively reduced to physics, for no better reason than that the Cartesian axiom necessitates such a reduction — res extensae  are, after all, governed by horizontal causation alone. And here the author demonstrates the invalidity of this reduction: specifically, he argues that a physicalist biology — by virtue of its inability to recognize vertical effects — is in principle incapable of comprehending the physiology of a living organism. In other words, a physiology based upon the contemporary paradigm is able to comprehend an organism only to the extent that it is not  alive, is not actually a living  but a merely physical  entity. As he ascends the scala naturae  to the level of the anthropos, moreover, Smith discerns the effect of vertical causality in several ways, beginning with man’s ability to produce what has been termed complex specified information  (or “CSI”). Indeed, it follows on the strength of William Dembski’s 1998 theorem that CSI cannot in fact be produced by means of horizontal causes alone: our very ability to generate CSI necessitates the existence of vertical causality.

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What constitutes perhaps the most astonishing realization — especially to those unschooled in metaphysics and classical philosophy — is the author’s analysis and appropriation of what he calls the “tripartite cosmos,” manifested, in its respective ways, in both the macrocosm and the microcosm. His analysis of the “cosmic icon” (shown on the book cover) presents us with a symbolic depiction that effectively encapsulates the author’s entire cosmological vision. The magisterial final chapter (“Pondering the Cosmic Icon”) brings into full view this fecund symbol to which he has referred several times in his previous works as a kind of primordial archetype whose presence reverberates throughout the history of traditional cultures, but whose meaning and import has apparently not been articulated in any surviving sources.

The decoding of the cosmic icon constitutes the rediscovery of the “integral cosmos,” a conception which vanished from the Occidental worldview centuries ago. Basing himself upon traditional sources, Smith maintains that the cosmos consists of three tiers, or domains — the corporeal, the intermediary, and the spiritual. What differentiates these domains are their “bounds”: whereas the corporeal world is manifestly subject to the conditions of space and  time, the intermediary is subject to time alone, while the spiritual is subject to neither space nor  time. And one should note well that the corporeal domain in its entirety constitutes but the lowest stratum  of the tripartite cosmos.

This paradigm proves to be the key to the major worldviews of antiquity, what some refer to as the cosmologia perennis. The author strenuously contends — not only in the present work but ever since his 1984 classic, Cosmos and Transcendence — that it is high time to break through the barriers of our contemporary prejudices, our intellectual “provincialism.” For what actually confronts us in the architecture of the cosmic trichotomy are rudiments of a long-forgotten wisdom, a higher knowledge which is, in a sense, not man-made — truths which, since the advent of the so-called Enlightenment, have been decried as mere vestiges of “prescientific superstition.” The blame for this predicament, of course, falls upon us: for inasmuch as we have reduced all causation to its horizontal — and in fact its lowest — mode, the traditional cosmology has become incomprehensible to the contemporary mind. We need to realize that our vaunted differential equations simply do not apply above the corporeal plane, for the simple reason that they presuppose the spatial bound. Whereas vertical causality acts from the highest reaches of the ontological hierarchy, physics — by virtue of its modus operandi — is restricted to what might be dubbed the “lower third” of the integral cosmos.

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What is also new in Physics and Vertical Causation  is the author’s final and decisive break with the physics of Albert Einstein. Whereas in previous decades Smith posited that while the theory of relativity did not pertain to the corporeal world but only to the physical, he now maintains that it does not hold true even in the latter. And it happens that the theory of relativity falls on shockingly simple theoretical grounds. Moreover, by way of additional confirmation, the author gives a brief overview regarding little-publicized falsifications of relativity on empirical grounds.

There are several spheres of inquiry in which ideological scientism has instigated, as Smith puts it, a “war on design” — and thus, by extension, a war on the concept of a Designing Intelligence. Now this warfare has assumed two principal forms: Darwinism — certainly the more familiar of the two — which denies design in the origin of biological species; and relativistic physics, which negates design on a cosmic scale. For as Smith goes on to prove, classical physics, in conjunction with Mach’s principle, is supportive of geocentrism, a basic fact which seems never to be mentioned in the scientific literature. In the final count, Einsteinian relativity, far from being necessitated by authentic scientific considerations, is in fact tantamount to a denial — founded upon an ideological rejection of cosmic “design” — of a physics-based geocentrism.

Thus, beginning with a careful analysis of Einstein’s original 1905 paper, Smith finds that the Einsteinian “principle of relativity” is based upon nothing more substantial than the fact that it explains, on a priori  grounds, why the Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887 failed to detect the orbital velocity of the Earth in its postulated rotation around the Sun. But whereas in truth this fact does nothing to substantiate the Einsteinian premise, in the eyes of a confirmed heliocentrist it goes a long way toward validating the new physics. And this explains why, despite adverse empirical findings, the theory is to this day declared virtually sacrosanct by the physics establishment at large. In this connection, Smith also brings to our attention the fact that the celebrated formula E = mc2, which has all but converted the world to Einstein’s theory, can actually be derived from classical physics just as well as it can from relativity.

Finally, Smith illustrates, by way of the aforementioned cosmic icon, how the very conception of Einsteinian “space-time” is invalidated on metaphysical grounds. In light of the cosmic trichotomy, the author shows that the “bounds” of space and time, being ontologically incommensurable, simply cannot be intelligibly combined into a space-time: “the ultimate example of mixing apples and oranges,” he calls it. Smith also shows on metaphysical grounds that an ontological “now” or “absolute simultaneity” is in fact defined throughout the corporeal world, notwithstanding that such a “now” cannot be identified in Einsteinian space-time.

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A final note: The phrase “the end of quantum reality” has been met with much skepticism. Is Wolfgang Smith suggesting we abandon quantum physics, after all the technological wonders it has wrought? Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Smith is perhaps the most rigorous defender of quantum physics alive. What, then, does this “end” refer to? It refers to the end of a spurious cosmological vision which reduces the corporeal world to the physical universe, the popular notion that the corporeal substances with which we are in continuous contact are no more than “aggregates of subatomic particles” — to wit, the idea that reality is fundamentally a quantum  reality. But quantum physics is one thing, while “quantum reality” is something else entirely. There is thus no “pseudoscientific obscurantism” here. Quite to the contrary: Smith’s cosmological vision is one which renders pseudoscientific — or at any rate untenable — the “pop cosmology” which has been propagated for decades by the likes of Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, et al. It is this false picture which comes to an “end.” After absorbing Smith’s insights one realizes to what extent authentic science has been contaminated by fallacious philosophical presuppositions which de jure  have no place in scientific inquiry. That is to say, by drawing a clear distinction between physics and philosophy, the author brings the true nature of physics into optimal clarity. Moreover, once this task is achieved we find that the genuine “operational” findings of quantum physics fit like a glove into the ontological hierarchy and the perennial wisdom of mankind.

What emerges from the considerations of Physics and Vertical Causation  is an incomparably enlarged worldview: a cosmos vast enough to encompass not only all of modern science — from the distant stars to subatomic particles — but also the quintessential patrimony of antiquity, with its higher spheres inhabited by allegedly “mythical” beings. The discovery of vertical causality has reopened the door to the wisdom of ancient cosmologies, which, far from being “prescientific superstitions,” refer to truths higher than those discoverable by way of physics. Wolfgang Smith has shown that a radical expansion of our Weltanschauung  is not only scientifically admissible, but is in fact absolutely necessary for a proper understanding of physics.

John Trevor Berger is PSIF Director of Philosophical Outreach.

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