Unraveling Reality {40} Epistemology


“What you see depends on how you choose to look.” ~ American physicist Frank Wilczek

There are 3 methodologies for comprehending Nature: religion, natural philosophy, and science.

“To respect a mystery is to make way for the answer.” ~ American poet and philosopher Criss Jami

Religion is traditional dogma, often involving supernaturality and faith. Beyond mythologies of gods and the afterlife, religion is a universal touchstone of human culture: infusing belief systems and infecting other methodologies.

“I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand. For I believe this: unless I believe, I will not understand.” ~ Anselm of Canterbury

Natural philosophy is the study of Nature from a holistic perspective, interpretively accepting what is experienced to build a conceptual realm that constitutes a worldview. Natural philosophy was the norm of analytic inquiry until shunted aside by the Scientific Revolution, which gained momentum in the 17th century.

“Knowledge is nothing but perception.” ~ Plato


“Science is not a body of facts. Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of Nature or not.” ~ American geophysicist Marcia McNutt

Science descended from natural philosophy, but in doing so adopted the assumption that actuality and reality are synonymous: naïve realism.

6th-century-BCE Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus set the tone for scientific inquiry in seeking unchanging, unifying principles of Nature. Thales posited that Nature derives from a single, ultimate substance, thus establishing the philosophic school of matterism which reigns to the present day. For Thales, the essential substance was water.

“A strict matterist believes that everything depends on the motion of matter.” ~ James Clerk Maxwell

Francis Bacon propounded the scientific method in 1621: a formal proposal for the experimental approach adopted by Galileo decades earlier, and first suggested by Thales. For his part in experiencing the scientific method, Bacon died of pneumonia in 1626 after an experiment producing the first frozen chicken.

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” ~ Arthur Conan Doyle

The scientific method denigrates what cannot be confirmed – anecdotes need not apply. By circumscribing its data set, science curtails its inquiry to comfortable facts.

“No part of the aim of science is to call forth new sorts of phenomena; indeed, those that will not fit in the paradigmatic box are often not seen at all.” ~ American philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn

Dropping the holism inherent in natural philosophy, science moved to its modern perspective by ignoring systemic complexity and focusing on individual components in isolation. While adding vastly to man’s database, it simultaneously cemented ignorance of reality.

“Science may be described as the art of systematic oversimplification.” ~ Austrian philosopher Karl Popper

Empiricism is the conviction that understanding existence is entirely amenable to observation. This implicitly assumes full trust in the senses to accurately perceive Nature.

“The senses deceive from time to time, and it is prudent never to trust wholly those who have deceived us even once.” ~ René Descartes


“Observations always involve theory.” ~ American astronomer Edwin Hubble

Today’s consensual acceptance of matterism by scientists is an expansive extrapolation from classical physics. Matterists studiously ignore what physicists most crucially learned in the 20th century: that matter is made of energy. Accepting that fact inexorably leads to energyism, which is unacceptable, as it places reality beyond empirical science’s reach.

Matterism is a doctrine befitting scientific knowledge in the 18th century, before Maxwell’s 1865 unifying field theory. Einstein’s 1905 equation of matter-energy transmutability terminated the idea that matter is the end of Nature’s story.

Validated 20th-century quantum field theories – which confirm extra-dimensionality and characterize matter as energy gyres – axed matterism as antiquated. If matter is not elemental, matterism is bunkum. By the 21st century, it was abundantly clear that science had reached the limits of empiricism to answer how Nature is derived.


Scientists are often accused of a bias toward mechanism or matterism, even though believers in vitalism and in finalism are not lacking among them. Such bias is inherent in the method of science.

The most successful scientific investigation has generally involved treating phenomena as if they were purely matteristic, rejecting any metaphysical hypothesis as long as a physical hypothesis seems possible. The method works. The restriction is necessary because science is confined to physical means of investigation and so it would stultify its own efforts to postulate that its subject is not physical and so not susceptible to its methods. ~ American paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson

Another axiom underlying empiricism is determinism: a misplaced sense of surety in causality. Determinism affords a tidy framework for explaining Nature as resolving to material cause and effect. Determinism ignores the uncertainty found throughout Nature.

Very few areas of science are uncontaminated by the pseudo-certainty of statistical conclusions describing individually uncertain events. ~ American biomechanist Steven Vogel

“Within science, all causes must be local and instrumental. Purpose is not acceptable as an explanation. Action at a distance, either in space or time, is forbidden. Especially, teleological influences of final goals upon phenomena are forbidden.” ~ English-born American physicist Freeman Dyson


“One of the principal objects of theoretical research is to find the point of view from which the subject appears in the greatest simplicity.” ~ American scientist Josiah Willard Gibbs

Riding shotgun on the stagecoach of science is reductionism: the conviction that Nature’s infinite complexity may be understood by comprehending the constituent components involved.

“We would not have got from the ancient view of the world to the modern without ignoring the overall complexity of the universe and focusing on individual components of it, in isolation from all others.” ~ Australian economist Steve Keen

Reductionism views Nature as nothing more than the sum of its parts. In banishing synergy, reductionism implicitly considers Nature mechanistic. As this underlying assumption is unreal, reductionism is nothing more than a convenient tool for atomistic study, while missing the proverbial forest for the trees.

“The widespread adoption of this reductionist approach to scientific enquiry was to have a profound impact on the shaping of thought generally. It inevitably led to a fragmented view of the world – to a focus on the individual parts of a system rather than on the organic whole. It led to an emphasis on the way in which the constituent elements operated separately, rather than the ways in which they interacted. This tendency was reinforced by a mechanistic approach to natural phenomena.” ~ English historian Clive Ponting

The success that reductionism had in explaining some of the furniture in the world gave it outsized credence. But reductionism cannot grasp gyres: the nonlinear dynamic systems which are the heart of Nature. For instance, the ecological gyres that characterize life cannot be accounted for under reductionism. Reductionism looks at the universe as distinct particles, when it is instead a web of energy waves. In accounting for existence, reductionism hits a dead end, yet suggests that there is more to the story.

“If we follow scientific reductionism all the way down, we end up with stuff that certainly does not look like tiny pebbles or billiard balls, not even like strings vibrating in a multidimensional space, but more like what pure mathematics deals with. The moral to draw from the reductionist scenario seems to be that either what is fundamental is not material, or that nothing at all is fundamental.” ~ German British philosopher Jan Westerhoff



Genes no longer mean just DNA sequences to geneticists. Epigenetics has swaddled the study into a web of subtle interactions. The seeming certainties of reductionist genetics in the 20th century look like simplistic assumptions now.

We inherit more than just genes from our parents. Acquired environmental adaptations are passed to our offspring. ~ Italian geneticist Nicola Iovino

Another aspect of genetics is often overlooked: that the study is almost as abstract as modern physics. What is understood about genetics is entirely deductive, without any direct observation.

“We know that genes – the units of heredity – are made of stuff called DNA. We know a great deal about DNA, and how it works. But you can’t see the details of what DNA looks like, even with a powerful microscope. Almost everything we know about DNA comes indirectly, from dreaming up models and then testing them.” ~ Richard Dawkins in 2011

Geneticists only surmise that DNA creates outcomes. That inheritance involves an energetic system (egenes) – with genetics as its physical correlate – is infinitely more likely than presuming that DNA somehow transfers precocious knowledge to offspring. In every science, assuming matterism consistently yields an incomplete story in getting to the root of Nature.


In trying to portray Nature, conventional science painted itself into a corner with its insistence on matterism. Convention itself is a problem.

In all academic disciplines, tradition is a heavy draw. The bedrock of beliefs that underlie the ivory towers of academia are those that align with those who already have tenure. Skeptics are often denied a seat.

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. ~ Max Planck

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Science is a system of idealised entities: atoms, electric charges, mass, energy and the like – fictions compounded out of observed uniformities, deliberately adapted to mathematical treatment that enable men to identify some of the furniture of the universe, and to predict and control parts of it. ~ French philosopher Georges Sorel

The preeminent problem of modern science is its false premise of matterism, to which scientists religiously cling because they believe it is the only basis for objectivity, upon which the scientific method relies. This is a failure of logic. The scientific method is only a platform for collating facts. Knowledge necessarily involves inference, which goes beyond evidence.

If phenomena are only proximate, and materiality ultimately illusory, science itself seems undermined. But that is not so. By its very method of inquiry, science undermines itself, if its intention is to suss Nature.

If the province of science is confined to the observable, shunning the inferable, then science can never have anything to meaningfully state about reality. Even science’s characterization of phenomena is woefully incomplete: a cartoon of what is really going on. In short, for getting to essentials, science is no substitute for natural philosophy.

The scientific revolution of the 17th century depended on a crucial limiting step at the start: it depended on subtracting from the physical world as an object of study everything mental: consciousness, meaning, intention, or purpose. The physical sciences as they have developed since then describe, with the aid of mathematics, the elements of which the material universe is composed, and the laws governing their behavior in space and time.

The physical sciences can describe organisms, but they cannot describe the subjective experiences of such organisms or how the world appears to their different particular points of view. A purely physical description, however complete, will leave out the subjective essence of the experience, without which it would not be a conscious experience at all.

So, the physical sciences, in spite of their extraordinary success in their own domain, necessarily leave an important aspect of Nature unexplained. Further, since the mental arises through the development of animal organisms, the nature of those organisms cannot be fully understood through the physical sciences alone.

“Biological evolution must be more than just a physical process, and the theory of evolution, if it is to explain the existence of conscious life, must become more than just a physical theory.” ~ American philosopher Thomas Nagel


The enormous irony of empirical science is that its power is firmly grounded in abstraction and the imagination. All logical reasoning involves counterfactual thinking for its assessment: the ability to imagine what does not exist.

“Innocent, unbiased observation is a myth.” ~ Brazilian-born British biologist Peter Medawar

Science often stumbles into 2 major pitfalls: making unwarranted assumptions and wrongly attributing causality. An assumption is taking something for granted, a supposition. In an open inquiry about reality, nothing should be assumed.

“Sit down before a fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly and to whatever abysses Nature holds, or you shall learn nothing.” ~ English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley

The other common error in science is mistaking correlation with causality. This readily arises from the innate way our minds work, as shown in childhood learning.

There is a natural propensity to induction – reaching broad conclusions from a small pool of observations – that both drives us toward deeper truths, and, through a desire for simplification, forms the basis of false beliefs.

“Why should things be easy to understand?” ~ American novelist Thomas Pynchon

Throughout history, astute observers have sensed that there is more going on than first appearances convey; so there has been a restless search for general principles and the foundations underlying Nature. This was the thrust of natural philosophy that was inadvertently abandoned by science in its embrace of empirical matterism.

Therein sits an open secret. Science has provided ample evidence which may be drawn upon to understand Nature and its derivation, but refusal to step beyond the phenomenal blocks the way. Behind this obstinacy is the religious belief that actuality is reality. Ignorance is learned, and then insisted upon (smug ignorance); whence the myth that the sensate world is all that there is.

“It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” ~ American astronomer Carl Sagan