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

John Trevor Berger

According to the experts of standard cosmology, we live in a universe which is uniformly egalitarian, a homogeneous mass of subatomic particles. And this purported ‘cosmological principle’, we are told, holds from the furthest observable (and unobservable) reaches of the universe, to the ordinary moment of lived experience. The problem is that this world-picture completely contradicts what seems to be manifest to us, self-evidently, by our five senses as well as our shared, ‘common’ sense of things. If what the experts are telling us is true, then we really are living in an illusion—and many of them have no qualms about telling us just that.

For the better part of four decades, Wolfgang Smith has been gradually chipping away at this impasse, and his project breaks new ground in Physics and Vertical Causation: The End of Quantum Reality.

First published by Angelico Press in 2019—and now available exclusively from the Philos-Sophia Initiative—the book is an indispensable companion to the Initiative’s feature documentary on the life and work of Prof. Smith, released in 2020, The End of Quantum Reality. It is also the true sequel to his paradigm-shifting 1995 monograph, The Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key—now also available from the Philos-Sophia Initiative.

Physics and Vertical Causation (PVC) picks up just where The Quantum Enigma (TQE) left off: namely, the discovery of ‘vertical causality’ (VC). Yet while TQE was primarily restricted to VC’s relevance to the resolution of the measurement problem in quantum mechanics, PVC probes widely and deeply into the presence of VC throughout the cosmos en masse—not to mention the ‘microcosm’, man himself. Indeed, while it may not be readily apparent by the book’s title, the work is, fundamentally, a study in cosmology; the title simply indicates whence cosmology must, in our time, take its point of departure. For if, as Smith maintains, physics is the foundational science—and quantum mechanics “physics come into its own”—then our entire view of the cosmos is necessarily affected by how we interpret quantum theory.

One should take special note, incidentally, that the author’s decades-long project reaches its summit in his last work, Physics: A Science in Quest of an Ontology (soon to be re-released in a second, Revised and Expanded edition). And these three books—The Quantum EnigmaPhysics and Vertical Causation, and Physics: A Science in Quest of an Ontology, in this order—form a kind of ‘trilogy’, each one building upon the breakthroughs of the previous: a journey from the bare bones of quantum physics to a full-fledged renascence of Neoplatonist cosmology, wherein one finally sees how physics generally, and quantum mechanics specifically, fits into an ordered cosmological hierarchy.1Recall that, in the original Greek, the word for cosmos is the antithesis of chaos. If the universe really were just a homogenous amalgam of ‘quantum stuff’, no model of it could meaningfully lay claim to being a bona fide ‘cosmology’.

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Devoted readers of Wolfgang Smith know only too well the great care he takes—in the formulation of his position on a given issue—to articulate his ontological distinction between the ‘physical’ and the ‘corporeal’: to the world “as conceived by the physicist,” versus the world as originarily manifest to sensory perception. In PVC, he takes a great stride forward by the introduction of his etiological distinction between ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ causation. But since the etiological distinction hinges upon the ontological, let’s first take a look at the latter.

Owing in large part to his tremendous philosophical prowess—a rarity among contemporary scientists—when first confronted with the quantum reality problem, Smith saw something to which other theoretical physicists seem to be completely myopic: the conundrums and ‘paradoxes’ of quantum theory never stemmed from the side of physics in the first place. Rather, the origin lay in a deeply sedimented philosophical presupposition—one postulated by the likes of Galileo Galilei and John Locke, but most closely associated with René Descartes.

Cartesian ‘bifurcation’—a term coined by Alfred North Whitehead, which Wolfgang Smith has put to good use throughout his authorial career—constitutes a dichotomy which divides the world into two substances, namely Thought (res cogitans) and Extension (res extensa). This gives rise to the belief that the ‘objective’ world can be wholly described in quantitative terms. In light of Smith’s ontological distinction, this is tantamount to the reduction of the corporeal to the physical. Therefore, qualitative attributes—such as color, sound, or taste—are taken, in the Cartesian paradigm, to be mental or subjective. On the other hand, the quantitative attributes—the  ‘extended’ (i.e., measurable) aspects—of the world are taken to be the ‘really real’. Quantities are thought to have ontological priority over qualities, insofar as the latter are merely ‘in our heads’ (res cogitantes). What is left in the external world, then, are objects which can be accounted for, without residue, in mathematical terms (res extensae).

Smith’s philosophy of physics rests squarely upon the rejection of bifurcation, and indeed he has demonstrated that quantum paradox is itself a byproduct of the Cartesian partition. It is this unexamined assumption which underlies and, in a way, defines what is commonly reckoned as the ‘scientific outlook’, and it is precisely this—not, that is to say, some remaining ‘incompleteness’ in quantum mechanics—that renders the quandaries of quantum theory insoluble from a technical standpoint. Remove this epistemological fallacy, however, and foundational physics starts to make sense. Nor is anything scientific sacrificed in so doing: what is rejected, rather, is a false philosophical dichotomy. The physicist, then, is not, in the strict sense, dealing with the corporeal world—that world in which we find ourselves via cognitive sense perception—but with a subcorporeal domain: one which has been discovered, and to a certain degree ‘constructed’, by the interventions of the physical scientist. And these procedures are what brings into the sphere of observation what the author identifies as the physical universe—the world, once again, “as conceived by the physicist.”

Now the ontological distinction, as mentioned above, necessarily entails a complementary etiological distinction. For if there are these ‘strata’ in the order of being—these two different ‘worlds’ so to speak, the corporeal and the physical—then there must be some mode of causation which is capable of traversing between the two, on pain of not being able to conduct the business of physics to begin with. And this defines a causality which is unknown to modern physics: a causal mode that is not field-based, but acts instantaneously—‘above time’ as it were. Hence we have a distinction between horizontal and vertical causation. Horizontal causation may be generally thought of as ‘physical’—the well known relation of ‘cause-&-effect’ operating in space and time—whereas vertical causation is supra-spatiotemporal. The author has thus identified a causal mode whose field of action vastly exceeds that of physical causation. And the central objective of PVC is to bring out the immense scientific, cosmological, and philosophical implications of this discovery.

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Although first recognized within the context of resolving the quantum measurement problem, Smith found that VC is ubiquitous; its effects come into view on all sides, even from the strictly operational viewpoint of the physicist. It makes sense of the fact, for instance, that corporeal objects do not ‘multilocate’; or that cats cannot be, at once, dead and alive. The intelligibility and stability of form that we find in the corporeal world owes precisely to VC. Smith also shows how VC demystifies J. S. Bell’s celebrated interconnectedness theorem: the phenomena of ‘nonlocal’ interactions become perfectly intelligible once we see that there can in fact be cause-to-effect relations which do not involve a transfer of energy through space. It is worth pointing out, in this connection, that the ‘instantaneity’ of VC is truly atemporal—not just ‘super-fast’.

PVC argues as well for the crucial role that VC plays in biology, which for nearly two centuries has been basically 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. Smith demonstrates the invalidity of said reduction, specifically, in arguing 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 inorganic!

Finally, as he ascends to the anthropic level, the author explains how VC accounts for man’s ability to produce ‘complex specified information’ (CSI). Indeed, it follows upon the strength of William Dembski’s 1998 theorem that CSI cannot be produced by means of horizontal causality: our very ability to generate CSI—or, if you prefer, intelligible forms—necessitates the existence of VC.

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What is perhaps the most astonishing about PVC—especially to those unfamiliar with premodern thought—is Wolfgang Smith’s analysis and appropriation of what he terms the ‘tripartite cosmos’, manifested, in its respective ways, in both the macrocosm (the world) and the microcosm (the human person). His analysis of the ‘cosmic icon’2Impressively featured in The End of Quantum Reality—but not fully explained! Again, the book and the film are complementary. gives us a concise symbolic depiction which effectively encapsulates the cosmic tripartition. The book’s magisterial final chapter, “Pondering the Cosmic Icon,” brings into full view this fecund symbol—to which the author has referred in previous works as a kind of primordial archetype whose presence reverberates throughout traditional cultures—and we find in following Smith’s decoding of the icon the rediscovery of an integral cosmos.

But the author really breathes new life into the cosmic icon, and what it depicts, insofar as his reflections on the import of modern physics play an important role in his definitions. First basing himself upon traditional sources, Smith posits that the cosmos consists of three tiers or domains: the corporeal, the intermediary, and the spiritual.3Readers familiar with his more recent work will note that the ‘spiritual’ (or ‘celestial’) is now customarily designated by the term ‘aeviternal’. For all intents and purposes one may take ‘spiritual’, ‘celestial’, and ‘aeviternal’ as interchangeable. What makes Smith’s account of the cosmic tripartition unique is that he differentiates these three domains vis-à-vis their spatio-temporal ‘bounds’. That is to say, whereas the corporeal world is bound by the conditions of space and time, the intermediary is bound by time alone, while the spiritual is bound by neither space nor time. One should note well here that the corporeal domain—the sensorily perceived world in its entirety—is actually the lowest stratum of the cosmic hierarchy. From the latter it follows that the physical, or ‘subcorporeal’, is technically ‘below the bottom’ of cosmic reality; hence the author’s characterization of physical objects as ‘sub-existential’. The architecture of this trichotomy, then, is accompanied by the realization that our vaunted differential equations simply do not apply above the corporeal plane, for the simple reason that said equations presuppose the bounds of space and time. Whereas VC acts from the highest reaches of the ontological hierarchy, physics—by virtue of its modus operandi—is restricted, once again, to the ‘lower third’ of the tripartite cosmos.

As for man himself: the microcosm is constituted by the tripartition of body (corpus or soma), soul (anima or psyche), and spirit (spiritus or pneuma). Inasmuch as the human person is a true ‘cosmos in miniature’, whatever can be said of the macrocosm is echoed in the microcosm. For instance, while the body is bound by space and time, the soul is bound by time alone, and the spirit by neither space nor time. But it’s crucial to remember that, just as the macrocosm is one, integral being—whose tiers are distinguishable, but not separated, by particular bounds—so the human person is one, integral being. Neither macrocosm nor microcosm is ‘three beings’, but rather one being with three ‘levels’.

The cosmic icon, in any case, depicts human nature as well as the cosmos at large.

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What is also new in PVC—and which will no doubt come to the surprise (and consternation) of many—is Prof. Smith’s final and decisive break with the physics of Albert Einstein.4More accurately: with how Einstein is conceived in the popular imagination, viz. in association with his theory of relativity. Einstein in fact made two major discoveries having nothing to do with relativity, one on the photoelectric effect (for which he duly received the Nobel), the other on Brownian motion. That these are bona fide contributions to the field is beyond dispute. While in previous decades Smith suggested that while the theory of relativity may well pertain to the physical universe, it does not, strictly speaking, pertain to the corporeal world. PVC, however, tells a new tale. Smith now lays it down categorically that, even on purely physical grounds, Einsteinian relativity is a no-go. And it turns out that relativity falls on shockingly simple theoretical grounds. The author also provides a brief exposé on several little-publicized falsifications of relativity on empirical grounds.

Upon analysis of the basic premises of Einstein’s original 1905 paper on special relativity, Smith finds that Einstein’s Principle of Relativity is based upon little more than the fact that it offers a reason why the Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887 failed to detect any orbital velocity of Earth. That the principle of relativity preserves the Copernican cosmological principle may explain why—even in spite of adverse empirical findings from Einstein’s time to the present day—the theory remains sacrosanct by the physics establishment. Intriguingly, we also learn that the renowned formula E = mc²—perhaps the most celebrated ‘proof’ of Einstein’s theory—is derivable from classical electrodynamics. Smith contends that, in the final count, Einsteinian relativity is founded on ideological grounds, not empirical ones.

Of the many areas of inquiry wherein ideological scientism has instigated what the author characterizes as a “war on design,” two in particular stand out: (1) Darwinism, which denies design in the origin of biological species; and (2) relativistic physics, which negates design on a cosmic scale. Apropos the latter, Smith’s argument is that the equations of classical physics, in conjunction with Mach’s principle, actually imply a geocentric cosmos—and this is surely the epitome of design ‘on a cosmic scale’.

The possibility of Einsteinian space-time is, furthermore, ruled out on rigorous metaphysical grounds, in light of the author’s reflections on the tripartition of the integral cosmos. For if the bounds of space and time are ontologically incommensurable, there simply cannot be—as a matter of principle—any such intelligibly combined phenomenon of ‘space-time’. Moreover, Smith demonstrates that an ‘absolute simultaneity’, a universal Now—categorically absent from the notion of Einsteinian space-time—is globally defined throughout the corporeal cosmos.

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A final note: The epithet “the end of quantum reality”—the subtitle of the book and title of the documentary film—has been met with some unwarranted prima facie skepticism. Is Wolfgang Smith suggesting we abandon quantum physics, after all the technological wonders it has wrought for instance? Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Prof. Smith is among quantum mechanics’ strongest defenders.

What, then, does this ‘end’ refer to? It refers to the end of a spurious cosmography which would reduce the corporeal world to the physical universe: the popular notion that all those corporeal entities 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: we are here presented a cosmological vision which renders pseudoscientific—or at any rate untenable—the pop-cosmology peddled 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 just to what extent authentic science has been contaminated by fallacious philosophical presuppositions which have no place in scientific inquiry. By drawing a clear distinction between physics and philosophy, the author brings the true nature of physics into optimal clarity. On seeing this, 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 all of modern science—from the distant stars to subatomic particles—as well as the quintessential patrimony of antiquity. The discovery of vertical causality has reopened the door to truths higher than those discoverable by empiriological means. Wolfgang Smith has shown that a radical expansion of our worldview is both scientifically admissible and absolutely necessary for a proper understanding of physics, not to mention our own human nature.


John Trevor Berger is Editor of PSI Publishing. A writer and musician from Atlanta, he is a graduate of Georgia State University, where he studied Philosophy, English Literature, and Art History.


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The third, revised edition of Physics and Vertical Causation is now available, as is its companion piece—the Initiative’s feature documentary chronicling the life and work of Wolfgang Smith—The End of Quantum Reality.



1 Recall that, in the original Greek, the word for cosmos is the antithesis of chaos. If the universe really were just a homogenous amalgam of ‘quantum stuff’, no model of it could meaningfully lay claim to being a bona fide ‘cosmology’.
2 Impressively featured in The End of Quantum Reality—but not fully explained! Again, the book and the film are complementary.
3 Readers familiar with his more recent work will note that the ‘spiritual’ (or ‘celestial’) is now customarily designated by the term ‘aeviternal’. For all intents and purposes one may take ‘spiritual’, ‘celestial’, and ‘aeviternal’ as interchangeable.
4 More accurately: with how Einstein is conceived in the popular imagination, viz. in association with his theory of relativity. Einstein in fact made two major discoveries having nothing to do with relativity, one on the photoelectric effect (for which he duly received the Nobel), the other on Brownian motion. That these are bona fide contributions to the field is beyond dispute.