In its present state, Ultimate Event Theory falls squarely between two stools : too vague and ‘intuitive’ to even get a hearing from professional scientists, let alone be  taken seriously, it is too technical and mathematical to appeal to the ‘ordinary reader’. Hopefully, this double negative can be eventually turned into a double positive, i.e. a rigorous mathematical theory capable of making testable predictions that nonetheless is comprehensible and has strong intuitive appeal. I will personally not be able to take the theory to the desired state because of my insufficient mathematical and above all computing expertise : this will be the work of others. What I can do is, on the one hand, to strengthen the mathematical, logical side as much as I can while putting the theory in a form the non-mathematical reader can at least comprehend. One friend in particular who got put off by the mathematics asked me whether I could not write something that gives the gist of the theory without any mathematics at all. Thus this post which recounts the story of how and why I came to develop Ultimate Event Theory in the first place some thirty-five years ago.

 Conflicting  beliefs

Although scientists and rationalists are loath to admit it, personal temperament and cultural factors play a considerable part in the development of theories of the universe. There are always individual and environmental factors at work although the accumulation of unwelcome but undeniable facts may eventually overpower them. Most people today are, intellectually speaking, opportunists with few if any deep personal convictions, and there are good reasons for this. As sociological and biological entities we are strongly impelled to accept what is ‘official doctrine’ (in whatever domain) simply because, as a French psycho-analyst whose name escapes me famously wrote, “It is always dangerous to think differently from the majority”.
At the same time, one is inclined, and in some cases compelled, to accept only those ideas about the world that make sense in terms of our own experience. The result is that most people spend their lives doing an intellectual balancing act between what they ‘believe’ because this is what they are told is the case, and what they ‘believe’ because this is what their experience tells them is (likely to be) the case. Such a predicament is perhaps inevitable if we decide to live in society and most of the time the compromise ‘works’; there are, however, moments in the history of nations and in the history of a single individual when the conflict becomes intolerable and something has to give.

The Belief Crisis : What is the basis of reality?

Human existence is a succession of crises interspersed with periods of relative stability (or boredom). First, there is the birth crisis (the most traumatic of all), the ‘toddler crisis’ when the infant starts to try to make sense of the world around him or her, the adolescent crisis, the ‘mid-life’ crisis which kicks in at about forty and the age/death crisis when one realizes the end is nigh. All these crises are sparked off by physical changes which are too obvious and powerful to be ignored with the possible exception of the mid-life crisis which is not so much biological as  social (‘Where am I going with my life?’ ‘Will I achieve what I wanted?’).
Apart from all these crises ─ as if that were not enough already ─  there is the ‘belief crisis’. By ‘crisis of belief’ I mean pondering the answer to the question ‘What is real?’ ‘What do I absolutely have to believe in?’. Such a crisis can, on the individual level, come at any moment, though it usually seems to hit one between the eyes midway between the adolescent ‘growing up’ crisis and the full-scale mid-life crisis. As a young person one couldn’t really care less what reality ‘really’ is, one simply wants to live as intensely as possible and ‘philosophic’ questions can just go hang. And in middle age, people usually find they want to find some ‘meaning’ in life before it’s all over. Now, although the ‘belief crisis’ may lead on to the ‘middle age meaning crisis’ it is essentially quite different. For the ‘belief crisis’ is not a search for fulfilment but simply a deep questioning about the very nature of reality, meaningful or not. It is not essentially an emotional crisis nor is it inevitable ─ many people and even entire societies by-pass it altogether without being any the worse off, rather the reverse (Note 1).
Various influential thinkers in history went through such a  ‘belief crisis’ and answered it in memorable ways : one thinks at once of the Buddha or Socrates. Of all peoples, the Greeks during the Vth and VIth centuries BC seem to have experienced a veritable epidemic of successive ‘belief crises’ which is what  makes them so important in the history of civilization  ─ and also what made the actual individuals and city-states so unstable and so quarrelsome. Several of the most celebrated answers to the ‘riddle of reality’ date back to this brilliant era. Democritus of Abdera answered the question, “What is really real?” with the staggering statement, “Nothing exists except atoms and void”. The Pythagoreans, for their part, concluded that the principle on which the universe was based was not so much physical as numerical, “All is Number”. Our entire contemporary scientific and technological ‘world-view’ (‘paradigm’) can  be traced back to the  two giant thinkers, Pythagoras and Democritus, even if we have ultimately ‘got beyond’  them since we have ‘split the atom’ and replaced numbers as such by mathematical formulae. In an equally turbulent era, Descartes, another major ‘intellectual crisis’ thinker, famously decided that he could disbelieve in just about everything but not that there was a ‘thinking being’ doing the disbelieving, cogito ergo sum (Note 2).
In due course, in my mid to late thirties, at about the time of life when Descartes decided to question the totality of received wisdom, I found myself with quite a lot of time on my hands and a certain amount of experience of the vicissitudes of life behind me to ponder upon. I too became afflicted by the ‘belief crisis’ and spent the greater part of my spare time (and working time as well) pondering what was ‘really real’ and discussing the issue interminably with the same person practically every evening (Note 3). 

Temperamental Inclinations or Prejudices

 My temperament (genes?) combined with my experience of life pushed me in certain well-defined philosophic directions. Although I only  started formulating Eventrics and Ultimate Event Theory (the ‘microscopic’ part of Eventrics) in the early nineteen-eighties and by then had long since retired from the ‘hippie scene’, the heady years of the late Sixties and early Seventies provided me with my  ‘field notes’ on the nature of reality (and unreality), especially the human part of it. The cultural climate of this era, at any rate in America and the West, may be summed up by saying that, during this time “a substantial number of people between the ages of fifteen and thirty decided that sensations were far more important than possessions and arranged their lives in consequence”. In practice this meant forsaking steady jobs, marriage, further education and so on and spending one’s time looking for physical thrills such as doing a ton up on the M1, hitch-hiking aimlessly around the world, blowing your mind with drugs, having casual but intense sexual encounters and so on. Not much philosophy here but when I and other shipwrecked survivors of the inevitable débâcle took stock of the situation, we retained a strong preference for a ‘philosophy’  that gave primary importance to sensation and personal experience.
The physical requirement ruled out traditional religion since most religions, at any rate Christianity in its later public  form, downgraded the body and the physical world altogether in favour of the ‘soul’ and a supposed future life beyond the grave. The only aspect of religion that deserved to be taken seriously, so I felt, was mysticism since mysticism is based not on hearsay or holy writ but on actual personal experience. The mystic’s claim that there was a domain ‘beyond the physical’ and that this deeper reality can to some degree actually be experienced within this life struck me as not only inspiring but even credible ─ “We are more than what we think we are and know more than what we think we know” as someone (myself) once put it.
At the same time, my somewhat precarious hand-to-mouth existence had given me a healthy respect for the ‘basic physical necessities’ and thus inclined to reject all theories which dismissed physical reality as ‘illusory’, tempting though this sometimes is (Note 4). So ‘Idealism’ as such was out. In effect I wanted a belief system that gave validity and significance to the impressions of the senses, sentio ergo sum to Descartes’ cogito ergo sum or, better, sentio ergo est :  ‘I feel therefore there is something’.

Why not physical science ?

 Why not indeed. The main reason that I didn’t decide, like most people around me,  that “science has all the answers” was that, at the time, I knew practically no science. Incredible though this seems today, I had managed to get through school and university without going to a single chemistry or physics class and my knowledge of biology was limited to one period a week for one year and with no exam at the end of it.
But ignorance was not the only reason for my disqualifying science as a viable ‘theory of everything’. Apart from being vaguely threatening ─ this was the era of the Cold War and CND ─ science simply seemed monumentally irrelevant to every aspect of one’s personal daily life. Did knowing about neutrons and neurons make you  more capable of making more effective decisions on a day to day basis? Seemingly not. Scientists and mathematicians often seemed to be less (not more) astute in running their lives than ordinary practical people.
Apart from this, science was going through a difficult period when even the physicists themselves were bewildered by their own discoveries. Newton’s billiard ball universe had collapsed into a tangled mess of probabilities and  uncertainty principles : when even Einstein, the most famous modern scientist, could not manage to swallow Quantum Theory, there seemed little hope for Joe Bloggs. The solid observable atom was out and unobservable quarks were in, but Murray Gell-Mann, the co-originator of the quark theory, stated on several occasions that he did not ‘really  believe in quarks’ but merely used them as ‘mathematical aids to sorting out the data’. Well, if even he didn’t believe in them, why the hell should anyone else? Newton’s clockwork universe was bleak and soulless but was at least credible and tactile : modern science seemed nothing more than a farrago of  abstruse nonsense that for some reason ‘worked’ often to the amazement of the scientists themselves.
There was another, deeper, reason why physical science appeared antipathetic to me at the time : science totally devalues personal experience. Only repeatable observations in laboratory conditions count as fact : everything else is dismissed as ‘anecdotal’. But the whole point of personal experience is that (1) it is essentially unrepeatable and (2) it must be spontaneous if it is to be worthwhile. The famous ‘scientific method’ might have a certain value if we are studying lifeless atoms but seemed unlikely to uncover anything of interest in the human domain — . the best ‘psychologists’ such as  conmen and dictators are sublimely ignorant of psychology. Science essentially treats everything as if it were dead, which is why it struggles to come up with any strong predictions in the social, economic and political spheres. Rather than treat living things as essentially dead, I was more inclined to treat ‘dead things’ (including the universe itself) as if they were in some sense alive. 

Descartes’ Thought Experiment 

Although I don’t think I had actually read Descartes’ Discours sur la méthode at the time, I had heard about it and the general idea was presumably lurking at the back of my mind. Supposedly, Descartes who, incredibly, was an Army officer at the time, spent a day in what is described in history books as a poêle (‘stove’) pondering the nature of reality. (The ‘stove’ must have been a small chamber close to a source of heat.) Descartes came to the conclusion that it was possible to disbelieve in just about everything except that there was a ‘thinking  being’, cogito ergo sum. To anyone who has done meditation, even in a casual way, Descartes’ conclusion appears by no means self-evident. The notion of individuality drops away quite rapidly when one is meditating and all one is left with is a flux of mental/physical impressions. It is not only possible but even ‘natural’ to temporarily disbelieve in the reality of the ‘I’ (Note 5)─ but one cannot and does not disbelieve in the reality of the various sensations/impressions that are succeeding each other as ‘one’ sits (or stands).

Descartes’ thought experiment nonetheless seemed  suggestive and required, I thought, more precise evaluation. Whether the ‘impressions/sensations’ are considered to be mental, physical or a mixture of the two, they are nonetheless always events and as such have the following features:

(1) they are, or appear to be, ‘entire’, ‘all of a piece’, there is no such thing as a ‘partial’ event/impression;

(2) they follow each other very rapidly;

(3) the events do not constitute a continuous stream, on the contrary there are palpable gaps between the events (Note 6);

(4) there is usually a connection between successive events, one thought ‘leads on’ to another and we can, if we are alert enough, work backwards from one ‘thought/impression’ to its predecessor and so on back to the start of the sequence;

(5) occasionally ‘thought-events’ crop up that seem to be  completely disconnected from all previous ‘thought-events’, arriving as it were ‘out of the blue.’.

Now, with these five qualities, I already have a number of features which I believe must be part of reality, at any rate individual ‘thought/sensation’  reality. Firstly, whether my thoughts/sensations are ‘wrong’, misguided, deluded or what have you, they happen, they take place, cannot be waved away. Secondly, there is always sequence : thought ‘moves from one thing to another’ by specific stages. Thirdly, there are noticeable gaps between the thought-events. Fourthly, there is  causality : one thought/sensation gives rise to another in a broadly predictable and comprehensible manner. Finally, there is an irreducible random element in the unfolding of thought-events — so not everything is deterministic apparently.
These are properties I repeatedly observe and feel I have to believe in. There are also a number of conclusions to be drawn from the above; like all deductions these ‘derived truths’ are somewhat less certain than the direct impressions, are ‘second-order’ truths as it were, but they are nonetheless compelling, at least to me. What conclusions? (1) Since there are events, there  must seemingly be a ‘place’ where these events can and do occur, an Event Locality. (2) Since there are, and continue to be, events, there  must be an ultimate source of events, an Origin, something distinct from the events themselves and also (perhaps) distinct from the Locality.
A further and more radical conclusion is that this broad schema can legitimately be generalized to ‘everything’, at any rate to everything in the entire known and knowable universe. Why make any hard and fast distinction between mental events and their features and ‘objective’ physical events and their features? Succession, discontinuity and causality are properties of the ‘outside’ world as well, not just that of the private world of an isolated thinking individual.
What about other things we normally assume exist such as trees and tables and ourselves? According to the event model, all these things must either be (1) illusory or irrelevant (same thing essentially) (2) composite and secondary and/or (3) ‘emergent’.
Objects are bundles of events that keep repeating more or less in the same form. And though I do indeed believe that ‘I’ am in some sense a distinct entity and thus ‘exist’, this entity is not fundamental, not basic, not entirely reducible to a collection of events. If the personality exists at all ─ some persons  have doubts on this score ─ it is a complex, emergent entity. This is an example of a ‘valid’ but not  fundamental item of reality.
Ideas, if they take place in the ‘mind’, are events whether true, false or meaningless. They are ‘true’ to the extent that they can ultimately be grounded in occurrences of actual events and their interactions, or interpretations thereof. I suppose this is my version of the ‘Verification Principle’ : whatever is not grounded in actual sensations is to be regarded with suspicion.  This does not necessarily invalidate abstract or metaphysical entities but it does draw a line in the sand. For example, contrary to most contemporary rationalists and scientists, I do not entirely reject the notion of a reality beyond the physical because the feeling that there is something ‘immeasurable’ and ‘transcendent’ from which we and the world emerge is a matter of experience to many people, is a part of the world of sensation though somewhat at the limits of it. This reality, if it exists, is ‘beyond name and form’ (as Buddhism puts it) is ‘non-computable’, ‘transfinite’. But I entirely reject the notion of the ‘infinitely large’ and the ‘infinitely small’ which has bedevilled science and mathematics since these (pseudo)entities are completely  outside  personal experience and always will be. With the exception of the Origin (which is a source of events but not itself an event), my standpoint is that  everything, absolutely everything, is made up of a finite number of ultimate events and an ultimate event is an event  that cannot be further decomposed. This principle is not, perhaps, quite so obvious as some of the other principles. Nonetheless, when considering ‘macro’ events ─ events which clearly can be decomposed into smaller events ─ we have two and only two choices : either the process comes to an end with an ‘ultimate’ event or it carries on interminably (while yet eventually coming to an end). I believe the first option is by far the more reasonable one.
With this, I feel I have the bare bones of not just a philosophy but a ‘view of the world’, a schema into which pretty well everything can be fitted ─ the contemporary buzzword is ‘paradigm’. Like Descartes emerging from his ‘stove’, I considered  I had a blueprint for reality or at least that part of it amenable to direct experience. To sum up, I could disbelieve, at least momentarily,  in just about everything but not that (1) there were events ; (2) that events occurred successively; (3) were subject to some sort of omnipresent causal force with  occasional lapses into lawlessness. Also, (4) these events happened somewhere (5) emerged from something or somewhere and (6) were decomposable into ‘ultimate’ events that could not be further decomposed.  This would do for a beginning, other essential features would be added to the mix as and when required.                                                                             SH

Note 1  Many extremely successful societies seem to have been perfectly happy in  avoiding the ‘intellectual crisis’ altogether : Rome did not produce a single original thinker and the official Chinese Confucian world-view changed little over a period of more than two thousand years. This was doubtless  one of the main reasons why these societies lasted so long while extremely volatile societies such as VIth century Athens or the city states of Renaissance Italy blazed with the light of a thousand suns for a few moments and then were seen and heard no more.

Note 2 Je pris garde que, pendant que je voulais ainsi penser que tout était faux, il fallait nécessairement que moi, qui le pensais, fusse quelquechose. Et remarquant que cette vérité : je pense, donc je suis, était si ferme et si assure, que toutes les autres extravagantes suppositions des sceptiques n’étaient capables de l’ébranler, je jugeai que je pouvais le reçevoir, sans scrupule, pour le premier principe de la philosophie que je cherchais.”
      René Descartes, Discours sur la Méthode Quatrième Partie
“I noted, however, that even while engaged in thinking that everything was false, it was nonetheless a fact that I, who was engaged in thought, was ‘something’. And observing that this truth, I think, therefore I am, was so strong and so incontrovertible, that the most extravagant proposals of sceptics could not shake it, I concluded that I could justifiably take it on  board, without misgiving, as the basic proposition of philosophy that I was looking for.”  [loose translation]

Note 3  The person in question was, for the record, a primary school teacher by the name of Marion Rowse, unfortunately now long deceased. She was the only person to whom I spoke about the ideas that eventually became Eventrics and Ultimate Event Theory and deserves to be remembered for this reason.

Note 4   As someone at the other end of the social spectrum, but who seemingly also went through a crisis of belief at around the same time, put it, “I have gained a healthy respect for the objective aspect of reality by having lived under Nazi and Communist regimes and by speculating in the financial markets” (Soros, The Crash of 2008 p. 40).
According to Boswell, Dr. Johnson refuted Bishop Berkeley, who argued that matter was essentially unreal, by kicking a wall. In a sense this was a good answer but perhaps not entirely in the way Dr. Johnson intended.  Why do I believe in the reality of the wall? Because if I kick it hard enough I feel pain and there is no doubt in my mind that pain is real — it is a sensation. The wall must be accorded some degree of reality because, seemingly, it was the cause of the pain. But the reality of the wall, is, as it were, a ‘derived’ or ‘secondary’  reality : the primary reality is the  sensation, in this case the pain in my foot. I could, I argued to myself, at a pinch, disbelieve in the existence of the wall, or at any rate accept that it is not perhaps so ‘real’ as we like to think it is, but I could not disbelieve in the reality of my sensation. And it was not even important whether my sensations were, or were not, corroborated by other people, were entirely ‘subjective’ if you like, since, subjective or not, they remained sensations and thus real.

Note 5 In the Chuang-tzu Book, Yen Ch’eng, a disciple of the philosopher Ch’i  is alarmed because his master, when meditating, appeared to be “like a log of wood, quite unlike the person who was sitting there before”. Ch’I replies, “You have put it very well; when you saw me just now my ‘I’ had lost its ‘me’” (Chaung-tzu Book II. 1) 

Note 6 The practitioner of meditation is encouraged to ‘widen’ these gaps as much as possible (without falling asleep) since it is by way of the gaps that we can eventually become familiar with the ‘Emptiness’ that is the origin and end of everything.

 

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