Contributions to Self Clarity, Wholeness, & Health

Chapter 4: The Key to a New Understanding of Nature (The Elements)


How do you begin to develop a deeper understanding of nature than that which science has already given us? You need a notion of the elements of reality. Physics gives us a notion of the elements as being the elementary particles. But reality is more than things; it is also events or changes, and also the underlying causes of these.

Elements must be both irreducible and comprehensive, and they must together comprise all of reality. This implies that they cover both the parts and the whole, as well as intermediate wholes and how all these work together.

I propose that structure, change and tendency are genuine elements of reality, at least some of them. Structure and change are material, but tendency, although affecting material things, may not be entirely material; it may have an ingredient that transcends time and space.

To treat these as elements of reality, we must understand them in a general way. A structure consists of things separated and connected by something real. Things arranged in space constitute a structure; they are separated and connected by space.
Anything that happens to a structure is a change.
Tendency is what defines the probabilities of the next possible changes or events.

Understood in this way, these categories are very general. There are some who are sceptical about all ontological concepts, but if one is not sceptical about the existence of things separated and connected by space, that they undergo events, and that events are affected by tendencies, then I think one will see that the category of space and time is characterized by structure, change, and tendency. I argue that there is also an entity not in space and time without which there would be no real tendencies. But I begin with just structure, change, and tendency.
I am not proposing that these are the only categories with which one can understand reality, only that they are especially powerful ones that permit deductive reasoning to be carried to surprising lengths.
There are two levels of reasoning in this account of nature and of our nature. The argument for the foundations (Appendix A and the identification of necessary patterns in Appendix B) is, as far as I can see, rigorously deductive. The account of the analogues of the necessary patterns, of the importance of individuality, of ethics and self-validation, and of culture is less rigorous and depends as well on empirical observations.