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Why Are We Here?

I thought to let you know that the 4 part series I have been making is now finished and available in most parts of the world (including, it now seems, the UK) on Curiosity Stream.

The series is called “Why are We Here?”

Roughly the series asks if ideas of meaning and morality are compatible with a purely reductionistic view of our material universe? I co-present the series with Prof. Ard Louis who is a physicist at University of Oxford. He is a believer and thinks the only way to honestly hang on to meaning and moral absolutes is to believe in God. I, as a non-believer, tried to explore if meaning and morality can be defended by searching for a different, less reductionistic, but still purely material world view.

The people we interviewed are a who’s who of great thinkers from physics, biology, mathematics and philosophy. And so far the feedback we’ve had from them is that they all, both sides of the argument, believers and non-believers, really liked and respected what we have done. So in case any of you are interested, there are some links below.

You might also be interested to know that none of the UK or US broadcasters took the series. They all said it was too highbrow. It isn’t. It’s just thoughtful. What it doesn’t do is pretend that there are easy answers to any of the questions.  The series doesn’t provide easy certainties and glib answers. At least I don’t think it does. Our aim was not to convince either side but hopefully to engage in a far more nuanced and interesting conversation than the usual Television fare.

The series was funded by the Templeton Foundation. Which might  concern some of you. Initially, before I took the job, it concerned me too. But the Foundation said they would give us (read me and Ard and the production company Tern Television) complete editorial control.  And they were as good as their word. The gave us the funding and not one word, not an email nor a phone call came from the foundation. They saw no cuts of the series nor any scripts before it was finished and delivered.

Ard and I, David Strachan and Mark Tanner, who were the production team set out to make a series in which all sides were given the chance to fully put their argument. And given that Ard and I disagreed from the outset about God, I think we managed.

Perhaps some of you will agree. I hope so.

The four films are:

1) Meaning Seeking Beings

2) The Reality of Ideas

3) The Animal Within

4) The Moral Compass

Here is the link to the first part.

There is also a brilliant web site that contains all the complete, raw interviews broken down by person and topic. It will be on-line in a couple of weeks. It’s still being finished off. So anyone interested in any of the people we interviewed or wishing to hear more of what was said on any particular topic will be able to find it all at their finger-tips on the web site.

I’ll post the link to the website as soon as it’s online.

I would be glad to hear any reactions or thoughts you might have about the series, good or bad.



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103 Responses to Why Are We Here?

  1. Spartacus Rex January 3, 2017 at 8:22 am #

    Happy New Year David

    Best wishes for you & yours
    in 2017


    • Golem XIV January 3, 2017 at 9:33 am #

      The same to you Spartacus Rex.
      We are coming to it aren’t we? All the signs are around us. The end of a social economic form. Confusing,painful but also hopeful times.

  2. Kevin (Kavy) January 3, 2017 at 4:50 pm #

    I’m very rational and find believing in God difficult, but I also find a world without spiritually difficult too. Going for a mindful walk one night recently and feeling a bit overwhelmed with stress a bird suddenly flew out of some bushes and nearly went into me and then it shot back into the bushes again scared out of its wits. But I felt compassion for it and there was a connection between us as I was upset and worried too. I felt we were both troubled souls living in a harsh and difficult world that neither of us chose to be in.

    I’ve been reading books on Buddhism recently and I read about the interconnection of all living creatures and that separation is an illusion. When I felt compassion for the bird I felt that everything was connected. Then I suddenly felt I could have a spirituality too and that the world was not meaningless. I felt joy and happiness. It was a rainy night and I love the rain, it was magical. I had been depressed but now I felt some small enlightenment.

    The buddhists say that faith brings on its counterpart which is doubt. But through a lifetime of much inner work the Buddhists don’t have faith, they have knowing. That fascinates me. You see, I can’t have faith either, but could I learn to know? I’m going to explore more Buddhism.

    • Gemma January 3, 2017 at 5:42 pm #

      Faith is only part of the path to knowing, and doubt is that which shows us what we might want, but isn’t real. Establish one element of reality in your life and you will find that this knowledge is what makes faith redundant – and the certainty you found will grow with the happiness of knowing the blessing of rain.

      I want to add that the interconnectedness you speak of is not something that you can even touch. The blackbird scattering the leaves to find seeds is part of this: plants have more than one seed that life may exist through eating them.

    • April January 4, 2017 at 12:54 am #

      Yes. I feel like that, too, Kavy. What a lovely experience you had there. Actually, I think knowing and kindness are interlinked. Real, truly felt kindness, not one borne out of obligation or guilt or peer pressure. And that kindness enables us to feel and know the connection, that, indeed, we are all interconnected parts of one vast knowledge, and co-creators of our own fate. Without kindness, to my mind, there can never be meaning, and as kindness and love are much of the same, well, to me the meaning of life is much about the ability to give and receive love as co-creative base. Good luck with your Buddhism journey, if I HAD to choose between religions, I’d choose Buddhism, but as I don’t have to I just concentrate on what I feel within and try my best. And meditate when I know I’m getting lost.

      • Kevin (Kavy) January 4, 2017 at 2:02 am #

        Thank you, April. Yes, it seemed that compassion joined everything together, and for a moment I understood Buddhist bliss. I saw how compassion negated fear. It’s hard for me to understand now, but I felt it in an inspirational moment, so much more inner work is needed. But no rush as striving is not part of the Buddhist tradition either. They learn to non strive and yet slowly achieve things. After a lifetime of hectic rushing around, that appeals to me too. I might one day go to a Buddhist group, but I’m quite happy doing my own thing and being part of the Quakers. The Quakers are liberal and very gentle. I’m much impressed with them.

        • Golem XIV January 4, 2017 at 11:13 am #

          Hello Kevin (Kavy),
          Thought I’d just mention that I am a Quaker. A non-theist Quaker. So I don’t believe in a god but do think the spiritual and those feelings and needs that the spiritual points at, are real and important to who and what we are.

          • Kevin (Kavy) January 4, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

            That’s amazing, David. I go to Purley Meeting, Surrey, near Croydon. I used to be a Quaker but I let it lapse, but now I’m back again. It’s as good as ever.

            I’m non theist too, but I’m working on a spirituality. That would be the icing on the cake.

            It amazing how modern physics, like the Holographic Universe, and that ‘all time is here at once’, adds to the mystery of life. And some of it fits in with Buddhist spirituality. That the world is an illusion.

    • timbo614 January 6, 2017 at 12:10 am #

      This connectedness does exist. I have a (very bad) phone video of proof. A pair of Dunnocks nested in the bank opposite my office window. I’m certain one of them stopped to ask me to go with them when they moved on. The chicks were raised, his(her?) job done. “Our job” actually, I shooed off the cats, put up a cat scarer eventually. My reward was seeing the fledling chicks tumble down, scramble up and down and eventually (took a couple of days) fly off. One of them ( let’s say her) would stop now and again and tap on my window to say hello.
      Then one day a big “hello” display(or actually goodbye/it’s time to go, are you coming?) tapping on the window, marching up and down the cill, the bird also went around to another window and repeated the procedure for the benefit of my wife!
      Next day she was back, loooking at me and marching up and down the cill “talking” to me (I have over 1Min 20 sec video of this display). I now know this display was “are you coming or not?”. Well, I can’t fly. Never saw the pair again unfortunately, I waited for them in November, I think, when they should have returned. They didn’t. but they don’t live very long either.

      My First Comment. been lurking for years – a great Blog David. Thanks.

      This was supposed to be a reply to Kevin!

      • Golem XIV January 6, 2017 at 1:54 pm #

        Hello Timbo614,

        Thank you for your comment. What a lovely experience. Kindness between species. And I am glad you decided to comment. The people who comment are the life of this blog. They (you) give me hope that in a world where righteous intolerance seems to be rising on every side , there are still people who remember how to be civilised and compassionate in their thoughts,discussion and most of all with those with whom they disagree. To be kind to your friends is rather trivial. To be kind to your enemies is a lot harder. But that is what has made this bog such a pleasure for me. People of very different opinion managing to talk openly and without rancour.

      • Kevin (Kavy) January 17, 2017 at 2:47 pm #

        Excellent article, Tim. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Gemma January 3, 2017 at 5:37 pm #

    Firstly a thankyou for having a go at what is an extremely thorny issue.

    You say, “He is a believer and thinks the only way to honestly hang on to meaning and moral absolutes is to believe in God. I, as a non-believer, tried to explore if meaning and morality can be defended by searching for a different, less reductionistic, but still purely material world view.”

    On my own blog, I have looked at this from a practical, day to day point of view. Not with an interest in answering the problem you have posed yourself, but rather to arm those who can, to be able to engage with others and so clearly determine their own viewpoint on the world.

    One issue that is lacking in most approaches today is the understanding of the subconscious from a practical point of view. That is to say, how it manifests itself and how we can come to perceive that which cannot even be smelt, leave alone imagined.

    I will add that without a clear understanding of what one’s own subconscious is will lead to a great number of riddles. It is for this reason that so many have backed off from reasoning it out for themselves. Without this clarity that comes with understanding what your own subconscious actually is, the meaning of life will remain a subjective, intellectual opinion. Rather than something established out of the veracity of the world we live in.

    The link to my website will take you to the category titled ‘Our Subconscious’ which has my publicly published posts. There are as many more on my private blog for those who can demonstrate that they understand the concepts involved.

    • Golem XIV January 3, 2017 at 8:33 pm #

      Thank you Gemma. I agree about the subconscious. I would like to take a look at your blog. You forgot to add the link. Also be interested to know if you have read Iain McGilchrist’s book “The Master and his Emmissary”. And if so, what you think of it.

      • Gemma January 3, 2017 at 8:56 pm #

        I didn’t forget the link, it’s from my name; I chose that link when I signed in. That is to say, click my name and you’ll be taken there.

        I haven’t read The Master And His Emmissary, but it looks like I’m going to.

        [Edit] I took a peek at the review on Google Books and it says “not just this or that function, but two whole, coherent, but incompatible ways of experiencing the world [regarding the two brain hemispheres]” – at a first glance I would say that wasn’t true. However, the book takes a very different standpoint to my own which given its approach to the subject has my ears pricked.

        Now I would say that the two hemispheres deal with two different areas of our lives, which need not interact. That doesn’t mean that they cannot…

        … ordering book now (give me ten seconds to close this window, okay?)

      • Gemma January 3, 2017 at 9:56 pm #

        Please bear in mind that I haven’t read it yet; I have a nice long train journey to Berlin to enjoy the book if it arrives in time.

        I want to suggest that what the book is about is a phenomenon I dubbed ‘the disconnect’ – where feeling and thinking are separated. From the things McGilchrist has written on his website, it seems that he is approaching this from the standpoint of the workings of the brain.

        That, however, will take one only so far. My main interest is how to reunite these two disparate realms of our inner life.

        I forgot that I had published a post on the subject of the subconscious a few days ago. Here’s the link, it’s a little easier to find this way.


  4. Joe Taylor January 3, 2017 at 8:50 pm #

    Signed up to Curiosity Stream and just watched ‘Why Are We Here’. What a shame this series won’t be broadcast in the UK. No worries, will watch it pre-armed after watching all the raw interviews. Congratulations David.

    Cheers, Joe

    • Golem XIV January 3, 2017 at 11:33 pm #

      Thanks Joe. I will be really interested to hear any thoughts and reactions you care to share.

      • Joe Taylor January 4, 2017 at 6:36 pm #

        I’ve watched all four episodes and will do that again before long. There’s too much for me to absorb in one sitting – and I want to fully absorb everything contained. .

        Two brief points:

        (1) It’s the most interesting and instructive documentary I’ve ever seen. The clarity of expression by the interviewees on such profound topics was remarkable. The death of the chimpanzee from a broken heart was particularly moving.

        (2) On signing up to Curiosity Stream to see the series (at trivial cost) I discovered a platform containing lots of similar documentaries – most welcome in this era of ‘false news’.

        David, I’ll also post you off the blog.

        • Golem XIV January 4, 2017 at 8:49 pm #


          thank you mate. I’m hoping the series gets an audience from Curiosity Stream because the terrestrial broadcasters have turned their back on this sort of thing. Even BBC4 said no.

  5. Janus January 3, 2017 at 9:42 pm #

    “separation is an illusion”

    In 1982 a remarkable event took place. At the University of Paris a research team led by physicist Alain Aspect performed what may turn out to be one of the most important experiments of the 20th century.

    Aspect and his team discovered that under certain circumstances subatomic particles such as electrons are able to instantaneously communicate with each other regardless of the distance separating them.

    It doesn’t matter whether they are 10 feet or 10 billion miles apart. Somehow each particle always seems to know what the other is doing.

    Bohm believes the reason subatomic particles are able to remain in contact with one another regardless of the distance separating them is not because they are sending some sort of mysterious signal back and forth but because their separateness is an illusion.

    He argues that at some deeper level of reality such particles are not individual entities but are actually extensions of the same fundamental something.

    According to Bohm, the apparent faster-than-light connection between subatomic particles is really telling us that there is a deeper level of reality we are not privy to, a more complex dimension beyond our own.

    And, he adds, we view objects such as subatomic particles as separate from one another because we are seeing only a portion of their reality.

    Such particles are not separate “parts” but facets of a deeper and more underlying unity.

    If the apparent separateness of subatomic particles is illusory, it means that at a deeper level of reality all things in the universe are infinitely interconnected.

    From: “Does Objective reality Exist, or is the Universe a Phantasm?” by Michael Talbot

    • Gemma January 3, 2017 at 9:50 pm #

      Objective reality most certainly does exist: it is no illusion to hurt your foot if you kick a stone with your bare feet.

      The point here is that this is a subjective experience… but if you argue with this, can you tell me anything that isn’t a subjective experience? Just because everybody in the room sees the rainbow form as white light is poured through a prism does not mean that this is an ‘objective’ experience. Each person experiences that sight in their own mind.

      They only claim it to be objective because they each see the same phenomenon.

      I would, however, question the scientist’s ability to test two sub-atomic particles ability to communicate over 10 billion miles. Few – if any – spacecraft have yet travelled that distance.

      What is really needed here is not experiments, but the kind of thinking Plato used. He reasoned things through for himself, using his own imagination, and that without flying into the realms of fancy.

      • Kevin (Kavy) January 3, 2017 at 10:23 pm #

        I think Bohm did use his imagination, and probably got it right.

        • Gemma January 3, 2017 at 11:19 pm #

          Kevin, you use the word ‘probably’ that tells me that you’re not an expert in sub-atomic physics. You’d have to be one to know if he actually did get it right.

          Either that or you understand the world well enough to know if atoms actually exist at all…

    • Golem XIV January 3, 2017 at 11:18 pm #

      My dad bought me Bohm’s wonderful little book “Wholeness and the Implicate Order” when I was a lad and it had a big influence on me. A brilliant book.

      • Gemma January 3, 2017 at 11:20 pm #

        David, do atoms exist, then?

        Just askin’ 😉

        • Golem XIV January 3, 2017 at 11:31 pm #

          Certainly. We don’t quite know how to describe how they exist, as quantum entities wave and particle, as in twister theory (Penrose) or as in string theory. But they certainly exist. We also don’t really know what exactly matter entails. I know of no proof that pan-psycism is impossible. Though I don’t find it attractive. So for me the material is real, and is ‘out there’. But i don;t think we have more than a provisional understanding of it.

          • Gemma January 4, 2017 at 2:25 am #

            So it’s certain that they DO EXIST, it’s just that there’s a certain problem with describing the actuality of well, quite how they exist.

            I have a series of posts in preparation that deals with this issue from a direct, observational point of view.

            What I will say is that whilst pan-psychism isn’t impossible, there might just be another explanation for the phenomenon, one that is close to the quantum computer in which all the answers are to be found at once (which means its very, very fast),

            The problem isn’t that atoms exist or not… after all, they’re rather small. It’s not as if one of them is going to make an adequate breakast. For that you need countless zillions of them. And you do it every time you drink a glass of water.

            Well, that is if you believe the scientists. But they’re all left-brainers who believe that quantums exist in the world around us. If you’re a right brainer, you’ll know that it’s the left brain that needs to isolate things to work with them: thus the concept of the quantum arises.

            If you have a balance between the two hemispheres, you will know how the right brain comes to a decision, and you’ll be able to use that when needed – and the yes/no decision of the left brain when it comes to the traffic light that’s just turned red.

            Let’s just say that if you can get your head around my post on the subconscious, you might have a chance of getting your head around my thoughts on how quanta arise out of left-brain thinking.

            Because if you see someone trying to count something, you know they’re in for a hard time when it comes to reality.

            Because as you know, the reality is that there are no two snowflakes that are ever the same. The truth is this: in nature, NOTHING EVER HAPPENS TWICE.


            You really need some right brain thinking to grasp something like this, because if no two snowflakes are ever alike, how can we have two of ANYTHING? Leave alone zillions of the same atoms! That’s just left-brain thinking trying to force itself onto reality.

            If it’s complex, it’s because someone is thinking with their left brain. That means reality is difficult for the left brainer to understand. But that’s not the point: we have to learn how to employ each hemisphere at the appropriate moment, because using the wrong one will lead to one colossal mess!

        • james January 4, 2017 at 11:34 pm #

          @Gemma – Truth be told it appears that two snowflakes can be indentical


          Also for those who still believe in left right/brain ? It seems to be somewhat of a popular myth. We may have an inclination but all of us seem to need both sides to be working and they are far more connected and linked.


          I hope you don’t perceive either of those to be any criticism of you personally, I assure you they are not. I like the term Kevin used ‘probably’ as either of the two things you raised could be correct and the studies questioning them incorrect. But I think probably based on the evidence the articles are correct.

          • Gemma January 5, 2017 at 10:38 am #


            thirty five different manners of forming a snowflake only means that a snowflake in its individuality will form according to one of these patterns.

            If you are unhappy with the thought of unique happenings, that is up to you.

            When you say, “I like the term Kevin used ‘probably’ as either of the two things you raised could be correct and the studies questioning them incorrect. But I think probably based on the evidence the articles are correct.”

            Evidence is very much a right brain phenomenon. Whatever the arguments over left-right, there is a style of thinking that uses pure reason rather than observational experimenting and the evidence this yields.

            It is essential that if one is to have a realistic view, one balances the one against the other. Without the observational powers of the right brain, the left has nothing to stop it imagining any number of things.

            The link from my name will take you to a series of posts that deal with the shortcomings of a science that is based on evidence alone.

  6. David Morey January 4, 2017 at 9:04 pm #

    David Malone well I will watch your new documentary then, I too am a non-believer, but I also suspect we need to improve our thinking about matter and materialism, science needs to embrace the dynamic, the open, the felt, over and beyond the extent to which causality is regular and patterned, some processes if not all processes in our cosmos are active, open, feeling, meaningful and alive.

    Too high brow – the shame of it!

    • Golem XIV January 4, 2017 at 10:35 pm #

      Thanks. I shall look forward to hearing your thoughts. i agree the acceptance of the open and dynamic is still patchy.

  7. Kevin (Kavy) January 4, 2017 at 9:13 pm #

    David Bohm interview. This is something like how I experience the unity of everything recently:

    Omni: Can you recall when you first experienced the sense of the wholeness that you now express as the implicate order? Bohm: When I was a boy a certain prayer we said every day in Hebrew contained the words to love God with all your heart all your soul, and all your mind. My understanding of these words, that is, this notion of wholeness–not necessarily directed toward God but as a way of living–had a tremendous impact on me. I also felt a sense of nature being whole very early. I felt internally related to trees, mountains, and stars in a way I wasn’t to all the chaos of the cities.

    When I first studied quantum mechanics I felt again that sense of internal relationship–that it was describing something that I was experiencing directly rather than just thinking about.

    The notion of spin particularly fascinated me: the idea that when something is spinning in a certain direction, it could also spin in the other direction but that somehow the two directions together would be a spin in a third direction. I felt that somehow that described experience with the processes of the mind. In thinking about spin I felt I was in a direct relationship to nature. In quantum mechanics I came closer to my intuitive sense of nature.

    Interview with David Bohm:


  8. David Morey January 4, 2017 at 10:57 pm #

    Such a great first episode, great structure, perfect talking heads. I am totally with you, yes science is fantastic, but so much more to life and existence, because so much of life is not patterned, it is full of contingency and context, there is only one you, only one me, each born in a unique time and place, such is meaning and history, and what is possible but never becomes actual is full of meaning to us too. Yes we are a bubble from one abyss to another, such is transience, but it is life, full of meaning, becoming, being, begoing. Looks great, well done. Will a DVD be available in the future? What should we call our kind?Joyously devout nihilists? Plato started the meaning equals stasis and permanence rubbish, down with all the fundamentalists I say, let us value openness, kindness, etc. And let us realise our judgement comes down to values, the fundamentalists can go their way if they like, they think they have no choice, but we embrace the open and know that we are freely chosing our values. Openness over closure, in the end, is politically key. Then you know we can print money, we can have a UBI, we can retire at 50, we can fully fund the state and its services, etc.

    • Golem XIV January 4, 2017 at 11:14 pm #

      I’m with you. Openess over closure. Uncertainty over certainty. If you can bear it please let me know your thoughts ohh any further episodes of the series. Thanks David.

  9. James January 4, 2017 at 11:13 pm #

    Happy New Year to you and your family David. Thank you for your latest work, I always find your documentaries to be challenging and interesting, and in the ‘contest towards the lowest denominator’ often put to us all as entertainment, a welcome antidote.

    I find the ‘too high brow’ critique to be both comedic and patronising to the general public, who are largely and deliberately kept uneducated, stressed and given little opportunity to think without duress. I am quite sure you have gone ahead with this project in your own unique way and see your explanation of the funding to be refreshingly honest.

    Clearly some who have finance and integrity, also find them interesting. As to “believing in God” I am very open but think there is within all of us some type of deep question or calling, which we may dismiss as being anxiety in the face of our mortality. Personally I think as we question the world we live in rationally, through science and mathematics we open ever more questions. For me they are questions that cannot be answered through logical analysis alone.

    In that regard, I very much feel there may be more than meets the eye in what we are experiencing. I look forward to seeing these. Take care and warm regards.


    • Golem XIV January 4, 2017 at 11:23 pm #

      Thank you James. You’re right about the patronising.

  10. David Morey January 4, 2017 at 11:18 pm #

    God, well God is everything, everything human beings have projected onto the world and the abyss, God is the meaning of all the process, all the becoming, being and begoing. Where do things come from, why, and where do they go? And such is the transcendent, mathematics, the possible, the beyond. Call it God, call it the abyss or the nothing (as I prefer), but it is both nothing and everything, the possible and impossible, ruleless yet full of all rules, totally open, all possibility. But us, we have to live with the finite and the actual, where much but not all is possible, and much is impossible, but beyond the actual there is nothing, unbound, but explorable non-physically as mathematics and imagination show. God perhaps is possible but not actual, at least not yet.

    • Gemma January 5, 2017 at 10:55 am #

      “we have to live with the finite and the actual” That is the world from the exclusive point of view of the right, reductionist, brain.

      That doesn’t make it any less true; only it forgets something we do every day. Which is the left brain stuff: the way in which we do things. Like the old music hall song “it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it.”

      That way will be unique to you. Develop that and you will find that the day to day realities of the world come to have a different meaning.

  11. David Morey January 4, 2017 at 11:39 pm #

    Nope nothing high brow that I could spot, but what do I know, I am just a Millwall supporter, I did not do PPE at Oxbridge, as we say in Peckham: plonkers!

  12. steviefinn January 5, 2017 at 1:33 am #

    Hmmm, hoping to dive in tomorrow if the chaos that is my usual environment allows. Judging by the appetiser provided by the comments, it sounds like a feast to look forward to.

    Quantum physics has been mentioned, which is something I do not pretend to understand, but it’s mystery fascinates me. I listened to Edward Witton’s explanation of basic string theory & although most of it was lost on me, I very much liked his analogy of the strings to those of a violin or a piano & how they & the theory work in terms of harmonics.

    I like the thought of the everything being an unimaginably sized & complex symphony, from which we & blackbirds etc, arrange & create tiny & in comparison very simple threads. Perhaps that is why that what we call music can stir such deep feelings within us, as these compositions are tiny echoes of fundamental creation, born out of a magnificent all encompassing mother,

    • Gemma January 5, 2017 at 10:49 am #


      when you understand the right brain from the point of view of the left, you will understand why when anybody speaks of a ‘quantum’ they have imposed right-brain thinking on reality.

      The problem with our modern world is that we are taught from very early on to see the world through the lens of our right, logically based, brain. The capacities we have from our left brain are then forgotten, to be lost in the subconscious (see my link above). Getting these back is no easy matter, especially if one thinks that right brain thinking is all there is, and more importantly, all there can be.

      The things you describe using string theory – and it is very much a right-brain theory that takes no account of their capacities to balance this point of view with the generalizing rationality of the left hemisphere – have other and far more meaningful explanations that are far more satisfying.

      After all, music affects us through left brain thinking.

      I do hope I got my terminology right… or the right brainers will fall on me like a pack of wolves! The right brain, discrimination and intolerance all go hand in hand.

      That doesn’t mean we don’t need it: we all need a filing cabinet where right brain thinking rules. That doesn’t mean it’s healthy when it comes to conversing with others. Especially the others that a right brain thinker will have already decided are beneath them.

      • Kevin (Kavy) January 5, 2017 at 2:10 pm #

        Could David Bohm be saying the same thing here? He rejected quantum physics like Einstein did, but where Einstein remained very much cause and effect, Bohm took a different view. He viewed the universe as holistic and filled with meaning

        ‘Bucking this tide of modern physics for more than 30 years, Bohm has been more than a gadfly. His objections to the foundations of quantum mechanics have gradually coalesced into an extension of the theory so sweeping that it amounts to a new view of reality. Believing that the nature of things is not reducible to fragments or particles, he argues for a holistic view of the universe. He demands that we learn to regard matter and life as a whole, coherent domain, which he calls the implicate order.

        Most other physicists discard Bohm’s logic without bothering to scrutinize it. Part of the difficulty is that his implicate order is rife with paradox. Another problem is the sheer range of his ideas, which encompass such hitherto nonphysical subjects as consciousness, society, truth, language, and the process of scientific theory making itself.’

      • steviefinn January 5, 2017 at 5:01 pm #

        I think you are generalising using something which in itself is only a theory & as far as I can tell from what i have looked up, someone like Witten & probably many other scientists could fit many aspects of both sides.

        In any case the work on ST is part way up a ladder which has been built on a carefully constructed largely accepted physics, unless of course one happens to think the whole thing is hogwash.

        As I said….I like the idea, but it is only, if at all valid as being part of the story, something into which many things could be added, like a planter of the seed, a composer, mystery or just pure reductionism, but Witten & others are just doing a job, & as far as I am concerned they are the best people for it, assuming that it is considered that the job needs or should be done.

        The problem it seems is when people want to push there own interpretation of what is basically mechanics, at the expense of other viewpoints as being the only valid choice, through whatever tools of justification they have used to build their set beliefs on.

        I am not certain of very much, but some things appear to chime more for me than others & I like it that way as I think it gives me freedom to be sometimes wrong, sometimes right, hardly ever painted into a corner & therefore adaptable within a universe of multiple shades.

        • Golem XIV January 5, 2017 at 8:37 pm #

          Your last paragraph sums up my feeling and view perfectly.

          Hope you are well and happy Stevie.

          Your Friend,


          • steviefinn January 5, 2017 at 9:54 pm #

            I am both, in as much as this world & my age allows – am just about to start parts 3 & 4…..a tour de force matey.

          • steviefinn January 6, 2017 at 12:05 am #

            Which for me gets even better.

  13. David Morey January 5, 2017 at 1:45 am #

    3 experiencial facts challenge us to make sense of the actual in the context of what lies beyond the actual, the fact of becoming (the non-being of future things now and in the past) , the fact of begoing (death and everything past) and that we have to make moral choices, some events we will to occur, others we leave to never occur, how to make choices? On what basis? We care about all events, whether that caring feels good, evil or indifferent.

    • Gemma January 5, 2017 at 10:51 am #

      Speak with anybody and everybody you have the time to speak with. Listen to what they have to say and consider their viewpoints as valid.

      That, if considered fully afterwards, will teach you all you need to know. It’s why we need a society – and the lack of conversation is what has led to its being torn apart.

  14. Bill January 6, 2017 at 5:45 pm #

    Hi David

    I look forward to seeing the film.

    “No finite point has meaning without an infinite reference point”

    . Jean-Paul Sartre

    I’m not sure you can win me over to your side without my head exploding.

    Happy New Year

    • Golem XIV January 6, 2017 at 11:54 pm #

      Happy New Year Bill. It turned out my point of view was the least logical. Several of the interviewees told me off. I rather enjoyed it.

  15. Bill K. January 6, 2017 at 10:11 pm #

    As did C.S. Lewis , on your quest , may you find Joy By Surprise !

    Thank you for your hard work on this blog .

    • Golem XIV January 6, 2017 at 11:55 pm #

      Hello Bill K,

      Funnily enough that is pretty much what did happen. I was surprised and it was a joy.

      As for y hard work I wish I could find the energy and time to write a lot more than I have done. Perhaps this year I will.

  16. steviefinn January 7, 2017 at 2:00 pm #

    Prompted by that profound section within the work named ” A Tale of Two Brothers “, I thought I would post this interview from a series called ” Of beauty & Consolation ” made for Dutch TV, by the journalist Wim Kayser which features that very bright light, who goes by the name of Jane Goodall.

    It is 1hr 28 in length, the intro is all Dutch to me & the rest is in English, with some occasional chimpanzee. including a very impressive pant-hoot from Jane. Magical in my opinion & it seems it kind of takes us back to an earlier state of being for mankind within the once forest. It also struck a chord with me in terms of what might be described as mystical experiences she had after suffering a bereavement, of which I had my own version. It also I think strengthens by comparison with the chimps, the case for success through cooperation.

    There are around 20 interviews in English of the series on youtube, of which i have found many to be fascinating, including part of an interview with neuroscientist Gary Lynch, particularly when he talks about mystery in terms of Art, as in the case of his visit to the caves of Altamira in Southern France to view the 20,000 year old cave paintings, which according to him have to be experienced directly, as they are designed to to flow with the form & contours of the cave walls, which brings them almost alive, something I imagine that would be even more pronounced if viewed by the flickering light of tallow candles.

    Here’s that sweet Jane :


  17. Ian Glendinning January 8, 2017 at 10:58 am #

    Hi David,
    For sheer breadth of covering all the issues, without slipping into all the technicalities (metaphysical, scientific or theological) or attempting to be decisive or definitive, this is a great piece of work and a great resource. Give the scope, lots of points for constructive criticism and possible improvement if you get future opportunity.

    Rather than being “high-brow” my guess is that the lack of conclusive “message” is probably why it didn’t appeal to mainstream media channels.

    My own initial rough notes here: http://www.psybertron.org/archives/10497
    But I will also try a more coherent critique and suggestions for where next?


    • Golem XIV January 10, 2017 at 1:57 pm #

      Really glad you liked what we did. Yes, films 3 and 4 were much less directly science and more about morality and ideas. I wondered when we were making it how people would react to the inclusion of the idea of narrative.

      Thank you both for watching as closely as you evidently did and for putting it on your blog. The life of the series will depend almost entirely on word of mouth.

      Thanks again.

      • steviefinn January 11, 2017 at 2:48 am #

        Thanks to you David for creating it & doing so in a way which was informative, surprising, beautiful to look at & challenging. I am not surprised that the BBC & C4 didn’t take it on as in my view their science & other documentaries have it seems to me, to have increasingly become more based around the personality of the presenter(s) rather than the subject & in some cases I feel that there has been a certain amount of dumbing down – perhaps it has to do with an attempt to boost ratings.

        I watch ( or listen to ) a lot of BBC docus on i-player & they do still I think produce some great work & some of the regular presenters do a very good job, but as in one example of a series I was watching recently, I felt that the whole effort was undermined by a lady professor declaring that humans never bred with neanderthals because she didn’t think she would fancy any of them. I think I am right in saying that since then, DnA has proved that there was inter-breeding, which might illustrate the fact that, perhaps some females didn’t have much say in the matter.

        I get annoyed particularly in terms of an obviously media trained chatty, happy smiley couple do the presenting, but in the case of WAWH, you & Ard showed that a couple could work really well, if there is as I think was the case, a natural & largely comfortable meeting of two open minds who with honesty, struggled with huge & important subjects.

        I suppose it is with a sense of wonder that i am interested in science, which I also suppose is like how early man might have viewed the stars & nature, which was perhaps in the ultimate sense of the sublime, a total mystery to them. I think that the mystery has simply expanded with our reach & is still sublime.

        I hope it stays that way & I simply cannot accept that I am not receiving a reality that comes from a perceived whole, that should be described as mine & everybody else’s self generated illusion. I believe that this position is based on information very cleverly picked from the currently available fruit on the tree of scientific knowledge in order to suit a certain narrow point of view. Some of it based it seems on the current state of neuroscience, but I do think it is foolish to be so certain on such things & hopefully science itself will bring forward a new crop to dispel what I see as a form of reductionism in what it means to be human.

      • Ian Glendinning January 11, 2017 at 7:29 am #

        Hi David, just to be clear I am absolutely fine with the idea of non-scientific, but nevertheless real, truth in fictional narrative. My concern with 3 and 4 was not that they were less scientific and more subjective (direct empirical experience), but that the argument as to why this was real and valuable didn’t seem to be made clear to anyone new to that idea.

        The other “omission” for me, for those believing in God, was that other than Ard and others “witnessing” their own conclusions for beleving, there didn’t seem to be any “expert” theological input – or maybe I missed it. As I say I intend to go through again and more constructive and coherentg criticism. Thanks again.

        • Golem XIV January 11, 2017 at 10:42 am #

          Hello Ian,

          No you didn’t miss it. We did not interview any theologians other than Nottingham who is more a philosopher. We made this decision because we felt the argument was not about the specifics of any particular kind of belief requiring any articular theological expertise. It was more a philosophical argument with scientism. It was about kinds of knowledge and ways of defining what counts as truth. The arguments ranged around the relative value of proof, truth, belief, meaning. Fro me the centre of the series was meaning.

          But it is such a deep and extensive subject that I have n doubt we ignored a great many very important ideas and approaches. Which is why I remain saddened that there are not more of these sorts of series being made by more people with different outlooks.

          I would be delighted to learn more about your thoughts. If you have the time or inclination.

  18. Roger Lewis January 8, 2017 at 3:52 pm #

    Thought provoking as ever David. I started a comment and ended up writing an essay. I should be decorating.

    • steviefinn January 9, 2017 at 8:16 pm #

      Interesting stuff Roger & you mention Rupert Sheldrake who must be the antithesis of scientism – a debate between him & Rosenberg would I think be worth the entrance fee. The RS experiments on dogs appearing to know when their owners set off for home are I think fascinating, & I have had some personal experience of this through my late wife’s journeys home from work, in the form of the reaction of our then companion, a golden retriever, who went by the name of Jesse – not to mention our then raggamuffin cat’s always disappearance before a vet visit.

      I am half way through my 2nd journey through the series & my conclusion for what it is worth, is that the goal of achieving ‘ A theory of Everything ” is from just a mechanical point of view an enormous undertaking & is perhaps beyond the abilities of those even with the aptitude for such a massive effort. Add to this all this pesky stuff about mystery, the soul, God, Art, Love etc, which it could be said, would be even harder to explain than the mechanics, perhaps it is simply convenient for certain people to dismiss all this as airy-fairy rubbish & place it in a big bag labelled illusions, therefore ( they think ) ensuring that the fuzziness doesn’t fog up the expected nice clean workings of the machine.

      I checked out the comments on an AR article & it seems that hard core atheists are just lapping it up.

      Liked your poems mate & I will add this line nicked from Eden Ahbez :

      ” The greatest thing you will ever learn, is just to love, & be loved in return “.

      • Roger Lewis January 10, 2017 at 3:08 pm #

        Hi Stevie,
        Love is the thing, on the science and all the clever stuff who really knows could be a bunch of snake oil, may be may be not?
        I am a fairly practical sort of chap and do like to speak as I find I am a great Fan of Wal Thornhill who has a different take on the elemental basis of the Universe.
        Heres one of Wals lectures on Stars in the electric Universe.

        Now wal is not the only one who gives the String Theory boys a bit of a leg pull, Claes Johnson , Swedens own bad boy of applied mathematics has a fresh take on these things avoiding the faith based statistical imaginings necessary to hold up the current institutionalised eddifice.


        I would not bet against Wal, Claes or Maurice Cotteral, in fact I would back them over the likes of Hawking, Penrose and any of the Establishment crowd.

        Rupert Sheldrake is great, I also like Graham Hancock who also had a talk banned on Ted at the same event as Rupert.

        The Science republic point from Polyani is very real there is lots of examples of how the Establishment protects its own pet theories. Institutions are just not set up to adapt to new or opossing views, taking one self seriously and demanding that others take you seriously involves a sort of solidification of thought.

        When it comes to electricity and Electro Magnetism we know very much less than we should or would have if Bohr had not succeeded in shutting down scientific enquiry way back when. Of course Science consensus has only got worse 97% of scientists and all that??

        Try this talk about Electro Magnetism , fascinating guy Eric Dollard.Its long at 3 and a half hours, but it really is a very good talk from a brilliant man who hardly anyone has ever heard of.


        • steviefinn January 10, 2017 at 11:53 pm #

          Thanks for the links & the article Roger, the latter I’m afraid is above my pay scale, like complex equations which might as well for me be written in Arabic. Will watch, or rather listen to the videos though & if i get a foothold, will repeat in the hope that I can reach the summit.

          I am fortunate in my work that I can listen to videos while working, so repeating the dose isn’t a problem as i have the time. I have a long list of favourites which I often watch, in an effort to keep some of the mud that has stuck from repeated viewings from falling away – some of them are ones that you have previously provided.

          As for ‘ String Theory ‘, i really have no idea how valid it is, but what grabbed my attention was how Witten described it in terms of harmonics issuing from a single perfect note, which as with a tuning fork, sounds as he said as being garish, but it is the overtones that are interesting as is i think the case with music. – maybe it is an illustration of how the symmetric works with the asymetric ????

          He also drew a diagram in chalk of how the strings split & branch out, which it seemed to me formed a pattern that is seen throughout nature, as with the branches of trees, their roots, cracks in ice, the blood vessels in our bodies etc – Anyhow, it was that aspect which appealed to me…kind of the seed of a fractal sort of thing.

        • steviefinn January 16, 2017 at 8:00 pm #

          Hi Roger – Curiouser & curiouser……especially the Thornhill presentation, perhaps it explains the confusion that the elder statesman Weinberg is fretting about. Also perhaps as has always been the case of many scientists who were left out in the wilderness, as their work did not fit the existing paradigm, if the theory is valid, at some time in the future this might be recognised as such & some great minds who are currently lost in a labyrinth will be able to add their shoulders to the cart, but as we know in many fields, many do not easily give up on their ” Precious “.

          Thank you…..my uncertainty has increased as have the possibilities.

          “All is a procession,
          The universe is a procession with measured and perfect motion “.

          Walt Whitman – ” I Sing the Body Electric “.

    • Golem XIV January 10, 2017 at 3:02 pm #

      You point about the either/or choices I completely agree with. If you haven’t read AN Whitehead’s essays on Science and philosophy you might really enjoy them. They are from a by-gone age but he too is deeply concerned – it was the centre of his own philosophy – with finding an alternative to the either/or. In his case the either or of process and object.

      A lot of what you write reminds me of his views.

      • Roger Lewis January 10, 2017 at 3:19 pm #

        Hi David, I haven´t read whitehead, but have encountered bits of him given how influential he was and still is. Ken Wilbers Integral theory has probably influenced me most of all regarding multiple view points , All Quadrants All Levels, its the opposite to adversarial debate , sadly in propagandised science the process becomes adversarial, I do not think is advances human thought or scientific enquiry it does though support vested interests and hierarchical power structures.
        Pierce is the one that floats my boat more than most others, him and Epictetus, both would know the world today as well as they did their own very little has changed in what matters to quality of life, I do wonder if they would be rejected as to high brow as well? I think the problem the BBC have with the series David is not high browness but truthfulness. Your films raise consciousness the Establishments Job has become to dull it.

  19. Jane Sinclair January 10, 2017 at 11:50 pm #

    Hi David,
    Just watched the first episode and sitting here assimilating it all. Now for EP 2.
    Wonderfully done and thought provoking.
    In a way, it’s better viewing uninterrupted from ads, which would have been the case on mainstream TV, even if they did think it’s too highbrow.
    Best wishes for the coming year,

    • Golem XIV January 11, 2017 at 10:44 am #

      Thank you Jane Sinclair. Next I am oping to write a book. I have started it and just need to find the discipline and inspiration to see it through.

      Best to you and yours Jane.

  20. Jacques Redou January 11, 2017 at 4:38 am #

    Discussions about God are useless because nobody EVER defines what
    that word actually means. If someone actually did define the word, then others would disagree with the definition. So the word “GOD” either has no definition or too many definitions which is the same thing as NO DEFINITION.

    ONE definition of a BELIEVER is someone with a closed mind.
    ONE definition of a NON BELIEVER is someone with a closed mind.

    So why waste time discussing the UNDEFINED with the CLOSED MINDED?

    • Golem XIV January 11, 2017 at 10:18 am #

      Hello Jaques Redou,

      I agree if you can’t have any definition with the person you are discussing with then it does seem a bit pointless. We didn’t define what Ard meant by God at the very outset mainly because we hoped to draw along with us, a broader range of people who might, as you say, be open minded enough to be interested in the discussion even if it was not of their own particular definition. There’s little point in only talking to those who already agree with you.

      Ard and Rosenberg did eventually spell out what kind go God Ard was talking about when I asked Rosenberg directly how he defined Theism. Which is the kind of god Ard believes in.

      But beyond that question, of what kind of god, the series was not really dependant on an agreed definition of god. The series was more concerned with meaning, purpose and the basis of moral beliefs. In those debates what-kind-of-god, is not really important. What both Ard and Rosenberg agreed on, and disagreed with me, was that for them, to be rigorous, you had to believe in God if you wanted to have meaning purpose and a firm basis for moral belief.

      I was left trying to defend those things without God.

      In the end we offered no QED pat answer. The point was to explore the ideas not insist on any one view or answer. And the main thing is none of the people in the film were so closed minded that they could not contribute to the discussion. We did not interview the closed minded for exactly the reasons you mentioned.

      Where I think I might disagree with you is on defined and undefined. I am less concerned to define things. It seems to me that few things can really be defined in that “this and only this” way. Most of the really important things can’t be defined in that way and I wonder if that is part of their importance.

      Anyway, thank you for commenting. I hope you will again.

      • Gemma January 11, 2017 at 12:22 pm #

        Isn’t the point about God that it’s impossible to define him/her/it???

        If someone needs to define things, isn’t this then part of the problem? That the left (intellectual) brain is trying to establish its viewpoint on a world where such definitions rarely exist?

        The right brain doesn’t need this kind of delineation, but lacks the ability to make useful decisions.

        You say, “The point was to explore the ideas not insist on any one view or answer.”

        The problem is that no one person can define the truth… therefore to those who need definitions, all definitions are equally valid. That’s left brain thinking allowed to go feral.

        We have to recognize from within ourselves where we allow our left brain to rule.

  21. Stephen Cook January 11, 2017 at 1:16 pm #

    I, like you David, consider myself to be an atheist who, nevertheless, also considers that the underlying matter on which we are built does not, in itself, explain the complexity of what we are and so I am inevitably drawn to theories of emergence as an apparent route out of this paradox. But, I have always simultaneously felt uneasy about this since it still doesn’t allow escape from the ultimate trap of causality and, after watching the first episode of your outstanding documentary, I am even more confused than I was before.

    Thank you.

    • Golem XIV January 12, 2017 at 5:30 pm #

      Hello Stephen Cook,

      What a brilliant real! Thank you. Causality has, of course, to still be there. But I wonder if the emergence , not just of new levels of organisation, but of new rules which govern those levels, means causality is not completely reductive?

      I cannot really see how it could be otherwise. For me, if one insists on complete reductionism, then surely Natural Selection does;t really happen. It would all be being ’caused’ and determined at the level of atoms. Not at the level of any competition between animals.

      I think Dennis Noble’s point is something like mine when he talks about the new level constraining the level from which it emerges. His new book goes in to more depth and so far is splendid. I have also been reading A.N. WHItehead, the great British mathematician and philosopher. He talks about Process and Reality and I think much of his philosophy, though expressed in very different language, strikes me as offering another way through the same questions.

      Anyway thanks for your wonderful response.

  22. Phil January 12, 2017 at 5:49 am #

    Did even the chap who gave you a really hard time like it?

    • Phil January 12, 2017 at 5:49 am #

      Rosenberg was it?

      • Golem XIV January 12, 2017 at 10:59 am #

        Yes, it was Rosenberg. Told us all off in no uncertain terms. In the cutting room his nickname was ‘The Shark’. It’s his predatory smile that does it. But we got an email to say he was watching it and loved it. So given that the arch reductionist and atheist likes it and the Templeton people like it, I feel we must have got something right.

        • Phil January 12, 2017 at 5:03 pm #


  23. steviefinn January 13, 2017 at 12:29 pm #

    It is fortunate that there is seemingly solid ground on which to base alternatives to this theory of reductionism, else I for one would consider that there would be no point in continuing with what is for me, mainly a constant struggle. It certainly wouldn’t help anyway if I were to realise that I am basically just a collection of nuts & bolts & that everything I hold dear & motivates me is a mere fiction, & of course there are many millions who are in a worse position than me, for whom the so called illusion is there only consolation.

    I cannot understand how someone can describe something as an illusion, & then declare that these things can still be enjoyed as if they were something real. R appears to have no problem with weeping along with the ” Ode to Joy “, but surely believing that what produces the tears is illusory, at the very least would add a taint to the experience That piece of music has never done anything for me which is fortunate due to what I would describe as the taint added to that work by it’s appropriation by the EU. Perhaps it means joy to those running the show, but to an increasing amount of the not welcomed to the party, maybe the adagietto from Mahler’s 5th might have been a more apt choice.

    I would also worry very much about R’s assertion that it will all be fine, as people are basically pretty good to each other. From a comfortable ivory tower perhaps that is perhaps believable, but except I think within small communities, in a world where people are increasingly being valued only as commodities, where there is constant warfare in many parts with the constant threat of more of it, on a planet where decreasing resources will likely lead to more competition for ever diminishing returns, all tied to an economic system that is shaky to say the least – I believe that is more likely a recipe that we are following has the potential to produce that historical dish of us collectively hacking each other apart.

    I don’t think that abandoning religion would change much, as the bad people who tend to run the major shows, do not follow there own handbooks but rather twist them to their own ends & as someone who has seen a person nearly kicked to death just because he supported another football team thirty miles down the road, I am sure people would find plenty of other things to fight over. Judging from what I have read over the last few days on various religious & atheist blogs where the fight against & for scientism is raging, those with the most extreme views will not give an inch & that fight will continue, despite any evidence to dispel either sides position, especially one which simply writes of many persons nearest & dearest as being nothing but an illusion.

    I suppose that my main worry about scientism is that it could if read in a sort of way be used by the powerful to bolster what increasingly strikes me as their feeling, that the lower orders as mere cogs in a machine would become in their estimation, even more expendable & unlike the rulers of old, who had at least some sort of moral code as given by religion with it’s fear of possible consequences, their own moral behavior without restraint would inevitably worsen – probably unlikely as in my view, they are now for the most part a bunch of snakes of whom the only important variation seems to be how big they are & how much venom they carry.

    At the end of the day, after many hours of fretting about the above & being worried that my window on the cosmos had been reduced to nothing but it’s mechanical parts, I have come to the conclusion that I am OK, because ironically, I cannot imagine that everything besides the machinery is an illusion…..it is all just too real for me.

    • Golem XIV January 13, 2017 at 5:20 pm #

      Me too Steve.

      For me meaning is something we make. The fact that we make it doesn’t for me, lessen its value one jot. The fact that we are able to make meaning is what makes me feel a great sense of hope and wonder.

      I also don’t need my beliefs or my meanings to be certain. I am happy that they are shifting and contested. For me contested also means shared. And I would rather share my uncertain beliefs than be merely renting certainties from God.

      Take care Steve.

      Your Friend,


      • steviefinn January 13, 2017 at 7:10 pm #

        You nicely summed up my ramblings there.

        I remember lying in an ambulance staring through the skylight at what appeared to be an infinite beautiful sky in a kind of morphine soaked Prince Bolkonsky moment ( a story i re-discovered with a shock afterwards after having forgotten it ) & thinking that it would be nice to just drift away, no more troubles & pain etc.

        There was no fear at all during those two hours or so & I never once thought of God or prayed during that whole period, but the things that I subsequently hung onto which shone through as being the only matters worth living for, were the meaning of why I wanted to survive & are my continuing conclusion to why it was & is important that I am here.

        I have no idea whether it helped to get me through, as without the paramedics, I would now be yesterdays toast.

        I am taking care……just getting grumpier,

  24. philco January 14, 2017 at 6:52 am #

    I have only watched ‘Meaning-Seeking Beings’ so far, and expect that some of these themes will be continued in the next 3 films. It’s difficult to dip your toes into the pool of deep questions through the medium of film, but you manage it remarkably well, without it becoming a kind of ‘Open University’ programme. Arguments for and against reductionism were well aired and hopefully all the protagonists felt that their views were properly represented in the clips that you showed.

    What also came across was the passion with which the protagonists made their arguments, and the notion that this might just be a dry debate between scientists was quickly dispelled. My background is psychology and it is reassuring to see that the same debates about free will, the existence of a self, and the role of evidence in establishing ‘truth’ are as alive in the hard sciences, as they are in psychology. For the record, I don’t agree that psychology is a science but I do think that it is an area of study which is capable of being studied scientifically – or not.

    Reductionism has its adherents in psychology, as summed up in the proposition that the mind IS the brain, ie that, once we have the techniques to prove it, all phenomena of mind will be shown to have a physical correlate in brain structure and function. Opponents of this view rely on the concept of emergent properties, which cannot be reduced to the sum of their parts. Despite a big surge in the influence of neuroscience in recent decades, many areas of psychology continue to flourish without making any reference at all to brain processes, eg social psychology, organisational psychology, developmental psychology, and so you could argue that the influence of reductionism is quite limited. Indeed, you could widen the scope to consider anthropology, sociology, economics and history to appreciate that there are many levels of explanation. ‘Reality’ turns out to contain many different kinds of pattern at different levels, and surely the level of explanation that is required is the one which is best suited to answer the particular questions that are being asked.

    What can be annoying is when a scientist steps out of his discipline to make an assertion which properly belongs to a different level of enquiry. For example, Dr Rosenberg stated ‘You think you have a self but this has no foundation in the nature of psychological reality’. Here is a physicist claiming that he knows the nature of psychological reality! Had he used instead the expression ‘physiological reality’, he might be standing on firmer ground, although that could still be contested.

    Maybe the debate could do with an injection of philosophical thinking, most especially philosophers of science who have wrestled with these ideas for ages. They may well be featured in the other 3 programmes. I very much look forward to watching these. Again, thank you for a most interesting introduction to the topic.

    • Golem XIV January 14, 2017 at 10:46 am #

      Hello Philco,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I look forward to reading your thoughts on the others.

      So far all those in the film have indicted they are happy with how they came across. As you will have noted we avoided cutting people’s contributions and instead chose to let people put their views avoid at length. The whole way we did the interviews was designed to make them much more conversational and avoid cutting in the now sadly normal Discovery channel style.

      Although I do not agree with Rosenberg’s very reductionist position I felt he was in many ways the star of the series and hugely enjoyed his contributions. I think he was definitely one of the interviewees who most engaged with the conversational style. For me some of the best bits are those when he challenges Ard or me and tells us off.

      I am now just finishing off a theatrical release version of the series – i.e. a single 104 minute film. In many ways I like it best of all. It uses much of the same material as the series but does also use some very important bits of interview which were not in the 4 part series. The single film manages to tell a somewhat different story. I am hoping that it too will be made available on Curiosity Stream.

      I think you might find film 2 to move nearer to your own area of particular interest. Rosenberg is especially gracious in admitting that major problem of his Scientistic position – though in his usual robust way.

      Thanks again for commenting.

  25. Roger Lewis January 14, 2017 at 9:52 am #

    T’is hard the kinds of Knowledge are but two,
    The One erroneous, the Other true.
    The former profits nothing when ’tis gain’d,
    The other’s difficult to be attain’d.


    Hi Philco,

    I enjoyed your comment and it brought to mind an old philosopher friend now sadly, no longer with us. Jud was a Positive eliminatiivist, which is way out there in the reductionist spectrum but even with that Juds position was very nuanced and strangely un dogmatic.


    In this first link JUd explains his eliminativism.

    And in this second Link is to Juds discourse on Ethics.

    I often recall this bit of the series of posts he made in a philosophy group I used to participate in.

    ´´In the limited sense that morality is an illusion of course I agree with Ruse’s comments.

    Where I disagree strongly with Ruse regards his suggestion that our genes fob us off with our concept of ‘morality’ in order to conceal an underlying carnal agenda or sexual dimension of good behaviour. I do not believe that our genes have developed stratagems designed to falsely present human reproduction as morals.

    Evolution is an unconscious, incognisant, uncaring, unplanned process. If it were true, that genes used morals as a cloak for sex then ironically it would position the very advocates and organisations which urge decent moral behaviour upon us as the very ones promoting strategies leading to sexual behaviour – that such sexual intercourse should remain within the parameters of couplings sanctioned by the church makes little difference to the incongruity of such a situation for the Rusean message:

    ‘Be nice to others and you will get more nookie,’ has the same message whichever way you look at it.´´


    • Golem XIV January 14, 2017 at 10:53 am #

      I agree with your friend’s critique of the gene centred view. The ‘Selfish Gene’ was an immensely powerful metaphor which in many ways, in its day, served as a clarifying idea for thinking about the purely genetic level. But it did also bring with it a confusion about what genes can be said to do at the level of behaviour. And has in the later years of the 20th century been, I feel, more of an impediment than a help.

      I have felt this particularly in the unthinking habit of assuming that if we have a word for something this word will map on to a gene for that behaviour or trait. A gene for homosexuality or a gene for maternal love. All silly and leading to endless confused argument.

      Back in 1982 I tried in a course I was taking on Sociobiology, to offer a critique of the selfish gene idea. Was told by my professor to drop the critique and concentrate on applying the idea to animal behaviour. I should have been braver and stuck to my critique.

      Hope you are well.

      • Roger Lewis January 14, 2017 at 11:00 am #

        Grappling with Man Flu David. Otherwise mooching along in mid winter low gear.Trying to get back into the voice I have chosen to write my Novel The Conquest of Dough, As it ends in contemporary time and events I am waiting to see if and When Trumps inauguration takes place and take that as my full stop.

      • Kevin (Kavy) January 14, 2017 at 11:32 am #

        They tried to apply the gene theory to mental illness and personality. Hans Eysenck, a leading psychologist in the 1960’s who wrote the book, The Inequality of Man, said that our personalities are 99% inherited. The Over Class loved him because he said that they had superior intelligence and skills which is the reason they had climbed to the top, the fact that they might be more cooked, and some psychopathic, was not considered. Later research of neuroplasticity and epigenetics (our genes our programmable) showed that Professor Eysenck got his theories 99% wrong, but he is still widely esteemed by the Over Class and intellectuals who want to believe in his theories.

        • steviefinn January 14, 2017 at 2:14 pm #

          That is the problem with science, that it can be twisted to suit an agenda. I read an article the other day which I wish i had saved, which basically made the case that the word racism has no real meaning, as genetically we are all pretty much all the same & that our differences besides appearance, are cultural. I cannot verify the information as I do not know enough about it, but the conclusion was that there is only one race for mankind, that of course being the human race.

          It strikes me that race is being used by certain interests as a part of Identity politics to divide & conquer & to avoid identity being replaced by class. After all working class people, to which I personally include all of those who have to work for a living, are a mixture of different colours, religions, sexuality or whatever & keeping them in a situation that accentuates their difference, is obviously a good thing for the parasitic class.

          In terms of religion – I watched an i-player documentary about a man I was first aware of in the 70’s when I was working on a construction site. He had received a 2 year sentence for basically trying to get something done about the then appalling accident rate within that industry. I can remember the posters that went up on the site, which stated that one man died for every day of the year, due to a total lack of health & safety. This was partly due to the men themselves who resented the enforcement, when it finally began, & to counter this, there was a health & safety office equipped with a trials bike & binoculars, who would spy from a distance & on spotting an infraction of the new rules, would speed over & deliver an on the spot fine.

          Anyhow – the man in question later became famous as the actor Ricky Tomlinson, which meant he was considered interesting enough for an episode of ” Who do you think you are “. but the history of his family would be very similar to that of very many people. It turned out that he came from a long line of Carters, whose job it was to shift the produce from the Liverpool docks, which was for part of that period, one of the busiest on the planet.

          Ironically it turned out that 2 of his ancestors were killed through accidents, leaving their families destitute. When these workers finally through unions, managed to put up some sort of fight, because they were split by trades & later when the Irish arrived who had to take the worst job, of being a docker, they were even more divided, but more so due to the addition of a sectarian divide.

          Things didn’t change until around 1910, with the arrival of Tom Mann, who succeeded in uniting both sides, which then led to an improvement in conditions, but only after Churchill had sent troops to break a strike, which led to 2 dead & I think 12 injured when hussars opened up on strikers. It mirrors to a certain extent what was happening at the time with James Connolly’s efforts in Belfast to unite workers across the sectarian divide, but that was always likely to be a much harder task & fell apart due to the setting up of paramilitary groups from both sides in Ireland, as a reaction to the home rule bill. Ironically most of both these groups volunteered to fight in WW1, where maxim machine gun bullets, didn’t give a damn about youe religion, rank or anything else.

  26. steviefinn January 14, 2017 at 6:22 pm #

    The latest from Steven Weinberg – confusion apparently still reigns :


    • Kevin (Kavy) January 14, 2017 at 9:45 pm #

      Interesting stuff, Stevie, although I rather like quantum physics and it’s strangeness. I hope it stays that way.

      • steviefinn January 15, 2017 at 12:55 am #

        I don’t think it will go away, but the article appears to strengthen my suspicion that the universe is something of a trickster.

  27. Kevin (Kavy) January 14, 2017 at 9:48 pm #

    I thought this fitted in very well with this topic at the moment. It’s quite funny in places too.

    Banned TED Talk: The Science Delusion – Rupert Sheldrake at TEDx Whitechapel


  28. John Souter January 14, 2017 at 9:55 pm #

    All the best David- surely faith or without faith; the worst blight of life is to allow the despair. of failure to quench the embers of hope.

  29. David Morey January 15, 2017 at 12:49 am #

    Dupre and Rosenberg on physicalism, might be of interest:


  30. philco January 15, 2017 at 5:01 pm #

    I’ve just watched the ‘Reality of Ideas’. There’s so much in it, and, with contributions from a range of scientists and writers, it must have been quite tricky to edit it so that it coheres. Here’s what I got out of it –
    – the structure of our brains constrains what we know.
    – our brains’ preference for narrative, for example, is a constraint on knowledge.
    – non-narrative kinds of thinking such as mathematics offer the possibility of transcending the brain’s limitations, and enable us to know truths that would exist irrespective of the humans who discover them (ie aliens would also have to discover these truths whatever their physical makeup, in order to understand the universe)
    – mathematical thinking has no subject-matter and can be thought of as pure abstraction.
    – the existence of mathematical thinking presents a difficulty for reductionism, in that it admits of non-physical entities such as imaginary numbers.
    [-however, I think that this only applies to certain kinds of mathematical thinking, eg the use of a base 10 notation surely relates to the fact that humans possess 10 digits]
    – the beauty/order/symmetry of mathematical thinking can be appreciated by those who are capable of such higher order thinking as a kind of religious experience.
    – the ‘reality of ideas’ can also be demonstrated in the accounts of writers and artists when talking about their own creative processes. Quite often, they talk as if they were translators rather than creators, seeking to transpose what they ‘see’ and ‘hear’ into poetry/prose/music/painting. They speak as if they have access to a reality which has no counterpart in everyday reality, ie a separate realm of ideas.

    I expect that there is a lot that I missed, too, but what a fascinating film!

  31. Foucalt Tudoux Wimay January 15, 2017 at 5:36 pm #

    I believe there is a fight between good and evil, it goes on forever and we have to maintain eternal vigilance. That is a big enough reason to be alive.

    I don’t need there to be a God to make enough sense out of life for me, in fact my understanding of other peoples’ faith is that their God has to be a fallible God. If he was infallible, he didn’t need to make any of us at all, unless it was to relieve his boredom.
    If his brilliance passeth all understanding, and he made each of fallible in a clever way, then we are no longer individual, just pawns in a game.

    Our free will would therefore not really free. Individually, we cant save the child, eradicate the hunger, or make any difference to the major traumas that beset each and every one of us during the course of our lives. We can only make a tiny contribution to something bigger -while we dodge what look like random bullets.

    Why should I be selected to have a relatively blessed time on this planet, and other family members or neighbours get horrible deals out of life?

    On balance of course, maybe 5% of the world’s people since the dawn of time have had a good draw (and most of them as Western and lived in the past 100 years). The rest have had what they call a short and brutal one.

    If God was infallible and all-powerful, he didn’t need to make all the world’s religions incompatible, and the root cause of most misery. The “many mansions” message relayed to the Christians, wasn’t very clear to everyone else.

    In the little sect I was brought up in, we were told we could talk direct to God, didn’t need a trained middleman, and we were responsible for our own actions. Couldn’t get free weekly out of jail cards when we backslid. The clergy were chosen from among us, and were to be considered as no more ‘chosen’ than we were. But by the same token, we weren’t, individually as smart as we thought we were. Oh, and life wasn’t a punishment, but a gift. The rest was mostly tolerance and forgiveness.
    I thought that was a good start.

    I hope to find your programmes, I am sure they will be uniformly excellent.
    Staggering to find that the mainstream channels don’t admit that they have an obligation to broadcast to minorities (like highbrow) just as to other audiences. They have enough channels for goodness sake.

    and glad to see you have managed to squeeze in a couple of posts lately. Much missed.

  32. philco January 18, 2017 at 4:55 pm #

    I’ve just watched the ‘Animal Within’. This was a trenchant examination of the Selfish Gene hypothesis, showing that what you see in the natural world depends on the lens through which you look- if you expect selfishness, selfishness is what you see.

    if on the other hand you factor co-operation into a mathematical model of evolution, as Martin Novak does, you get an increasing emergence (and dominance) of co-operation over time.

    We see community and altruism in the fossil record – cells cluster together, coral reefs form, fish shoal, and land animals group together in herds. We cannot of course infer altruism from this. We need to look at living animals. Franz de Waal’s observations of a chimp refusing a grape until a fellow chimp also gets one demonstrates empathy/altruism. We might call it a sense of fairness, although we don’t want to be accused of anthropomorphism!

    It was interesting to get Molly Crockett’s take on the famous Stanley Milgram experiments of the 1960’s, which are generally taken to illustrate just how easy it is to get people to obey authority, a conclusion which she challenges. She is also known for her work using an experimental paradigm called the Ultimatum Game. In this, Player A (the Proposer) is given a set amount of money and must decide how much to share with Player B (the Responder). Player B knows how much money Player A started with, and must decide whether to accept or decline the offer. If B chooses to decline A’s offer, then neither party gets anything. It is found that Responders frequently choose to reject unfair offers, even if this means they lose out on money which they would otherwise have received for free.

    A sense of fairness, therefore, seems to be as much a part of human psychology as selfishness. It is quite possible that a sense of unfairness motivated Brexit voters’ decision. If they believed that the way the country has been run is basically unfair, then they voted to reject the status quo – even if it involves costs to them and their communities in the future (eg Sunderland with its Nissan factory).

    Is this sense of fairness an emotion or a cognition? I think it is the former. Current psychological thinking is turning towards a view of the human as a feeling being that thinks, rather than a thinking being that feels. The model of rational economic man that neo-classical economics promotes is a myth that has been crumbling for a long time, but the profession of economics has a hard time in accepting this – despite the fact that the Nobel committee awarded psychologist Daniel Kahneman the prize for ECONOMICS for his work on decision-making.

    • Kevin (Kavy) January 19, 2017 at 10:21 am #

      I saw a good documentary once, but I have never been able to find it again. It was made by some liberal scientists who showed how the plants in the rainforest all cooperated with each other. Some grew their roots low to dig up nutrients, some grew tall to get energy from the sun. All of this energy and nutrients would feed back into the top soil supplying all the plants with what they need. All the plants had their own unique ways of contributing to the biosphere, making a fertile place for plants to grow. The scientists showed that the world was not all competition, and that cooperation was very important too.

  33. Roger Lewis January 18, 2017 at 8:36 pm #

    https://consentfactory.org/about/ an amusing read,https://consentfactory.org/2017/01/13/why-ridiculous-official-propaganda-still-works/
    ´´The primary aim of official propaganda is to generate an “official narrative” that can be mindlessly repeated by the ruling classes and those who support and identify with them. This official narrative does not have to make sense, or to stand up to any sort of serious scrutiny. Its factualness is not the point. The point is to draw a Maginot line, a defensive ideological boundary, between “the truth” as defined by the ruling classes and any other “truth” that contradicts their narrative.´´
    I am glad its not just me, I have become almost despairing of the level of mindless incantation of crap by people I know to be caring thinking people, A freind of Facebook the other day deleted some posts I made saying he felt it would deter other people from joining the discussion, I know his real concern was that he may be associated with my heretical views on Brexit and Climate Change that do not chime with his freinds and neighbours in one of the posher parts of Cardiff ( I do not blame my old school freind and we continued our conversation in private, I do worry how that makes a person feel inside). My reaction is just concern that a climate of fear is so apparent now that mere suspicion of associating with those of unclean or im pure thoughts is enough to be drummed out of the Scouts.

  34. Golem XIV January 19, 2017 at 12:07 pm #

    Just finishing off a cinema release version of the series – running at 105 minutes. It’s a joy.

    The funny thing is, while it uses much of the same material, with some really brilliant new pieces of the interviews that weren’t in the series, this film tells a really quite different story. And I like it better.

    I’m not sure where we will get to show it. I’m hoping some smaller independent cinemas will take it and maybe they will be interested if we/I can offer to do a Q&A afterwards. Do you think that might be of interest?

    Other than that I am hoping that eventually we will put it too, up on Curiosity Stream. But after we have entered it into various festivals. You never know. Even to be short listed would be great.

    • steviefinn January 19, 2017 at 12:48 pm #

      Sometimes reduction works very well with the addition of some added spice – good luck with the new concentrated sauce.

      • Golem XIV January 19, 2017 at 12:56 pm #

        Thanks Stevie. It’s been a joy not to have a broadcaster involved and not to have a length we have to hit.

    • Kevin (Kavy) January 19, 2017 at 12:54 pm #

      Sounds excellent to me. I’ll look out for it.

  35. philco January 19, 2017 at 11:14 pm #

    In the fourth and final part ‘The Moral Compass’, the case for/against God was evenly set out. What was particularly reassuring to see was two people (AL and DM) disagreeing about the existence of God without any rancour and clearly respecting one another’s arguments. The subject of religion has become so polarising that there is an understandable reluctance in polite (and not so polite) society to even broach it. I have to admit that some of the discussion went over my head (eg the difference between deism and theism).

    The problem is succinctly stated: where does morality come from? Dr Rosenberg is unequivocal – there are no universal moral values. He accepts that the human race would not have survived evolutionarily speaking if co-operation had not been a basic driver of life, but he is unwilling to concede more than that. Ard Louis points out that morality has to include both selfishness and co-operation, faced with the fact of unspeakably cruel acts meted out to those who are not members of the tribe (the out-group). What the Christian has to acknowledge is the retribution and punishment that seems to be justified by God in his commands to the Hebrews in dealing with their enemies in the Old Testament.

    In this context, David, your belief that it is possible to create a common good (and morality) without recourse to God seems eminently sensible. ‘Why can’t I just make it up?’ you ask. The problem with that approach is that you can easily fall into a kind of cultural determinism that is no more satisfying than the scientism that you’re criticising. One can’t just make up one’s own morality without acknowledging the powerful force that one’s socialisation has hitherto exerted.

    Where you both agree is that it is one thing to have moral values but it is another to have the motivation to care enough to ensure that everyone (in-group and out-group) falls within their remit. This reference to motivation brings psychology into the picture, and the role of emotions in human motivation. Jonathan Haidt postulates 5 innate (ie universal) foundations for morality (1) care and harm (2) reciprocity (fairness) (3) in-group loyalty (4) authority/respect (5) purity and sanctity. The claim that these are universal across cultures is one that needs to be empirically tested. The other thing to say is that these are foundations of morality and not absolute values in themselves, and each can lead to either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ outcomes. To illustrate this, look how Trump used care and harm to elicit sympathy for the alleged rape victims of ‘undocumented migrants’. The Daily Mail does this all the time, using emotional appeals to support political agendas.

    The basic point is that the place to look for a moral compass is in the emotions, and I think that this came through somewhat in the contributions of Franz de Waal. You did poke fun at the absurd idea of morality as somehow being the invention of some clever French philosophers, and generally the amusing exchanges and glances between you made for entertaining viewing.

    It was also pleasing to see Ben Okri have a chance to put forward the writers/artists viewpoint that stories can be a way to understand the lives and thoughts of others, and are a way to expand our minds and our sympathies. It reminded me of Raymond Chandler’s distinction between the truth that lights the way (science) and the truth that warms the heart (art).

    Thanks for this brilliant series of films, David. I look forward to seeing the cinema release of the shorter version. I know it’s not going to have mass appeal, but there is definitely a hunger for an honest examination of fundamental questions – treated in a way that respects a variety of different views. In this increasingly ideological age, the search for truth is becoming increasingly important.


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