Chapter 1
Nothing makes sense in isolation
[...in progress...]

I want to see the skeleton of weather

Alan Moore

This book attempts to clear up the mystery of money in its social aspect. With the monetary system of the whole world in chaos, this mystery has never been so carefully fostered as it is today. And this is all the more curious because there is not the slightest reason for this mystery. This book will show what money now is, what it does, and what it should do. From this will emerge the recognition of that which has always been the true role of money. The standpoint from which most books on modern money are written has been reversed. In this book the subject is not treated from the point of view of the bankers – as we call those who create by far the greater proportion of money 1 – but from humanity’s.

The above paragraph, barring a few cosmetic changes, was written in 1934 by Frederick Soddy. It opens his work The Role of Money. I chose to open my own attempt to lift money’s veil with his words because of how resonant they still are, how they humble me, reminding me from across the decades of the enormity of this task. “The Money Power” (as 8th American President van Buren dubbed it) is mighty indeed, and I am but an ordinary citizen. Soddy was a Nobel Prize winning chemist and yet effortlessly ignored.

This time it’s different. The Meaning of Money – available for free electronically – is one of a growing number of intelligent and insightful works addressing this topic2, and we now have the internet disseminating ideas more quickly than ever before in human history. It is not, therefore, ‘Toby Russell against The Money Power,’ but change against resistance to change. I am no lone soldier: there’s you, and you, and that other guy, and those folks, and so on.

My fascination with money began with the onset of the 2007-? financial crisis. As I struggled to understand what had happened, it became increasingly clear that money itself, or its design, lay at the very heart of the crisis. My studies have led me to believe that any thorough understanding of this crisis – and the hundreds of others that litter recent history –, any useful and pertinent understanding of money and banking and economics etc., requires a corresponding understanding of almost everything else, as tall an order as that is. The same conclusion would have been reached had the focus of my interest been almost anything else, for somehow, when we drill down far enough, we reach a place that connects to all others. Indeed, it is this systems, or ‘web-of-life’ approach that I have recently found most insightful and instructive. I adopt its reasoning here and have throughout Capra’s definition of a system in mind: “an integrated whole whose essential properties arise from the relationships between its parts” (Capra 1997:27). But complexity theory – in my view one of systems theory’s offspring – adds needed refinement, as suggested by Gadda’s more nuanced definition:

We therefore think of every system as an infinite entwining, an inextricable knot or mesh of relations: the summit can be seen from many altitudes; and every system is referable to infinite coordinated axes: it presents itself in infinite ways…3

There is an unavoidable catch 22 when pursuing the systems view, especially at the depth I am attempting here. Using language, we cannot communicate anything without drawing distinctions, an ingrained process that must erect boundaries, delineate, isolate. Systems theory, as modified by complexity theory, blurs boundaries, attempts to bring into relief the interconnectivity and interdependency of all things, is a scientific-philosophical tradition or discipline that calls on its students to let go of prior assumptions such as ‘separate self’, ‘object’, ‘building block’ and so on. For example:

[T]he recognition of wholes as wholes is the result of applying a particular filter. Filters remove information [such that] the resulting wholes are what is left after much of reality has been filtered out – oddly enough, what remains after the filtering process is what is often referred to as ‘reality’. So, molecules do not emerge from atoms, as atoms are only an idealized representation of that level of reality (a level which is determined by the filter applied) and as idealizations are not sufficient in themselves to account for the properties of molecules (which represent another idealization).4

Systems structure perception, from biological to psychological to ideological. Language, concept, mood, paradigm, methodology, a person’s unique psychology and biology all co-determine how each one of us sees and understands what we encounter and can perceive of reality. The systems-theory term for this is “structural coupling” and is discussed in depth below. In attempting to compensate for this inescapable subjectivity, this book is not without considerable complexities whose full import emerges from their interrelationships. This chapter sets out the base framework that governs or undergirds my approach to the other chapters and topics, and sets out the terms in which they are couched. My hope is that its almost non-linear structure, especially the web version, does best justice to the very rich and subtle meaning of money and its role in our thought and action. Life is not linear, only our language and thinking have become so, as reflected in the institutionalised processes we have established to keep economies growing and moving. Unlearning then overcoming this socialised tendency to see life linearly presents quite a challenge for author and reader alike.

So, this chapter does not only lay out the book’s background reasoning, it also serves to prepare the soil for the seeds that bloom to fuller meaning later on, sometimes in unexpected ways. My humbly offered advice is to treat reading this work as an ongoing, and perhaps nonlinear process that may (or may not) require repeated run-throughs. The whole, as ever, cannot be anticipated from the sum of its parts. Buckle up.

I don’t know

What is “electric charge”? We haven’t a clue. Why are [particles’] spins quantized in half-integer values? No idea. Where do they get their immense, anomalous angular momentum? Beats us. And how on earth do they manage to pack all this into a zero or near-zero radius?
D. L. Hotson

Suppose you and a friend play virtual tennis at an arcade. You don your helmet and bodysuit, and find yourself in Roland-Garros stadium, home of the French Open. After admiring the clay court and stadium, you serve to open the first set, and are soon immersed in play. The stadium, court, net, ball, and racquet that you experience are all, of course, part of a sophisticated user interface [...] When you hit a killer drop volley, it might appear that the head of the racquet caused the ball to sneak across the net. But of course the racquet and ball are just pixels in the user interface[.]
Donald Hoffman

Full recognition of the reality of experience [...] is the obligatory starting point for any remotely realistic version of physicalism.
Galen Strawson

Aesthetics, perception, causality, are all almost synonyms.
Timothy Morton

Matter is what we can see of spirit.
Charles Eisenstein

The pervasive mood of fatalism across the ‘civilised’ world, the formerly accepted platitudes that there are no viable alternatives to capitalism or ‘free-market’ economics, the end-of-history resignation and the somewhat unimaginative notion that we mere beasts are condemned by our clockwork biology to ultimately predictable behaviours and outcomes have been slowly unravelling for some time now, I suspect behind the curtain as well. There is growing pressure for radical paradigm change building from the fringes that is less and less containable by the orthodox structures resisting it. At the depths of this paradigm change is the very nature of reality. Is it physical? What is physical? And if not physical, then what?

Money’s significance in this deepest of sea changes is pivotal, not peripheral. On the one hand, its addictive utility as an exquisite tool of control perpetuates the status quo’s systemic and defensive inflexibility, an inflexibility that is still more or less concealed behind slick public-relations adroitness, though this too is now diminishing. On the other hand and somewhat paradoxically, money’s current design exacerbates the elite’s inability to stem the loss of control that multiple institutions are experiencing: without radical change to the money system, they simply cannot adapt and survive. Like all systems, they too must adapt over time; change cannot be kept at bay forever. But they cannot adapt at sufficiently radical depth without experiencing a kind of cultural death. So, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea while also holding all the obvious power, these watchful vested interests can generate plenty of societal turbulence as they resist5.

It is, I suspect, a quietly mounting uncertainty about orthodoxy across the entire institutional spectrum that is sustaining this process: a paradigm shift as fractious and contested as it is profound. And yet this pattern is as old as the hills: “Systems prepare their overthrow with a preliminary period of petrification” (Tawney, 1922: 75). As systems defensively stiffen, sensing their imminent demise while refusing to acknowledge it, they lose the adroitness and easy authority with which they previously reacted to opposition. This lapse creates the space in which the new can begin to find coherent shape. The prevalent, non-inquisitive attitude to money (though this is changing quite quickly now (end 2016)) and multi-faceted manner in which financial institutions resist challenges to their hard-won control of societal value definitions are more than redolent of this cultural friction between old and new; money is the (artfully concealed) red line. Hence, because there is today almost nothing left untouched by money’s controlling hand, and because it quickly became apparent to me that our mechanical, materialist paradigm is directly responsible for the money system we have and thus that only a new paradigm can generate and sustain a sufficiently new money system, the areas covered in this work range wide and deep indeed.

We therefore begin with a classical approach that is the hallmark of all philosophical endeavour: I don’t know anything for sure. To the extent I am able, I shall now drill down to the bedrock of my understanding and subject the deepest assumptions of our mechanical paradigm to an invasive examination. Omitting this foundational exploration risks failing to properly address how and why money came into being, and thus failing to make viable suggestions for remedying our precarious situation. The depth this inquiry dares will leave some readers confused. Bear with me and at least allow yourself to consider how little is certain. What I am going to develop below is a position held by a small but growing number of thinkers, physicists and mathematicians, namely that consciousness is fundamental to reality, not matter. In other words, matter is somehow an emergent property of consciousness, not the other way around6.

Is interaction perception?

Conventionally speaking, because everything does, so too must money emerge from consciousness-energy-force-matter relationships. But how did these relationships come to be in the first place, and how do they work? My position is that matter is ‘made of’ or the result of consciousness interactions, where conscioussness interactions are a primal nexus that is simply there, somehow uncaused. The uncaused aspect is also present when we assert that matter is primary. Either way, something miraculously uncaused and stubbornly undefinable somehow causes something apparently fundamentally different and also stubbornly undefinable: mind -> matter or matter -> mind. Expressed less controversially and within the terms of contemporary orthodoxy, matter appears to be the result of relationships between ‘atomic particles’ that themselves are not made of anything ‘substantial’. Indeed, subatomic particles are sometimes defined as manifested probability (‘chance collapsed to actuality’), to crudely paraphrase the vast literature on this topic. Probability is not real, it is a set of potentials. Matter is therefore not made of anything ‘physical’. Rather, it emerges from interactions between somethings that somehow come to donn form (gaseous, liquid, solid), that is, become and remain ‘physical’ as a result of continuously interacting and changing networks. Matter – be it gaseous, liquid or solid – is therefore an emergent property of patterns of insubstantial or potential ‘particles’ with ‘waves’ and ‘forces’ as they relate to and interact with (bump into) other such patterns. Alternatively, as I see it, consciousness discovers itself, evolves over time through increasingly complex relationships with itself through a process of self division, and via this self-dividing, fractal evolution develops what we call physical reality: the universe we inhabit. The common concept between the two positions is “relate”. One way or another, meaning and function, and indeed all properties of ‘things’, emerge as a consequence of relationships. That the first, matter-based scenario will seem more plausible to most is due to its familiarity, not any superior veracity. It is a hotly contested debate. Indeed, some materialists call themselves panpsychists, a position that asserts all matter, right down to the tiniest particle possible, is imbued with vitality or life force or consciousness and thus capable of rudimentary perception. In other words, whether we adopt an orthodox or unorthodox position, explaining the existence of matter and consciousness is notoriously difficult.

Emergent properties are not intrinsic properties in the sense of being internally present in the systems giving rise to them. For example, if you were to search for the colour of gold with an electron microscope, you would not find it. You would not find shininess either, or solidity. Indeed, is there such a thing anywhere in the universe as an intrinsic property absent some kind of an observer, absent an Other with whom or which an interaction can occur? I’ve tried, but can’t think of one. As far as I can tell, nothing makes sense in total isolation. “Ultimately—as quantum physics showed so dramatically—there are no parts at all” (Capra 1997: 37). Consequently, the way in which we perceive determines (indeed is) what we experience of reality. Sure, there’s ‘something’ there to observe and be observed, but asking what ‘it’ really is in itself, is futile. How ‘it’ is experienced (its reality) depends both on how it is perceived and how it perceives. Generally speaking, this perspective weakens our sense of an objective reality ‘out there’ that is independent of any perception of it, especially when we notionally extend perception to be synomous with interaction.

If it is reasonable to posit synonymy between perception and interaction (as we must both from the materialist and consciousness-first positions), it follows that perception, while (perhaps) not everything, lies at the foundation of humanity’s mechanical ideas about reality like an uninvited guest. If, as materialist logic requires, consciousness is an illusion born of complex interactions between various particles and energies, then perception is physical interaction between those particles and energies. If, on the other hand, we inhabit a consciousness-first reality, then we are equally justified in seeing all interactions between “conscious agents” (a term I borrow from Donald Hoffman) as perceptual. This synonymy has a number of consequences that yield an all-pervasive role for subjectivity.

First, we can only come at the world as humans with human senses. Indeed, even the tools we use to peer beneath the surface of things – e.g. logic and abstract reasoning, experimentation, falsificationism, intuition, telescopes, microscopes – are inextricably bound to those senses. Furthermore, we are governed and constrained by language, culture and education when we struggle to make sense of, and share with others, the ‘cleanest’ data we can generate:

In order to introduce experimental conditions into a calculation, one must make a version that replaces the language of concrete observation by the language of numbers; in order to make the results which the theory predicts into something observable, one needs a theme to transform a numerical value into an indication formulated in the language of experiment7.

Second, if interaction is fundamental to reality by virtue of there being only emergent properties rather than independently discreet and valid objects, atoms, building blocks, indivisbles, etc. (“there are no parts at all”), are we then logically obliged to accept consciousness – perception as interaction as relationships – as fundamental? In other words, is reality fundamentally subjective? I believe so.

No matter how dedicated to objectivity we are, no matter how perfect our tools, how sound the predictive power of any theory we derive from our data, how peer reviewed our work, how rigorously checked our findings, not only can our findings neither exist nor make any sense in isolation, we can have no control over their impact on others (unintended consequences). We are inescapably at the mercy of the vagaries of communicating what we have uncovered, both to ourselves and others, through the filters of language, existing ideas, cultural prejudices, political realities, etc. And at every step of the way there is translation, interpretation, subjective perception. Life is beautifully, wildly messy through and through, an incessantly active dance of interactions all the way down.

Given this, it doesn’t matter in the foundational way that many want it to that there are objectively true statements such as “I was at home watching TV”, “you are reading these words”, or “1 + 1 = 2”, or minutely accurate predictions such as “The cannonball will take 12.029875312 seconds to reach the ground”. Such statements, experiments and falsifiable predictions emerge from an ever changing context and cannot be experienced the same way twice. This is inescapably, always the case. What is unearthed are not independent objects in a universe of independent objects that together demonstrate the independent existence of an objective and physical reality beyond reasonable doubt, but rather events emerging from a universe of ever changing events. Hence all facts and laws we discover are both objectively true yet simultaneously subjective at the point of perception/interaction. Adding to this, if we do indeed inhabit a virtual reality as growing numbers of (digital) physicists are asserting, then what is “I”, what is “home”, what is “watching TV”, or a falling cannonball? Computed pixels? Graphical representations of processed code in a vast simulation? In other words, the very stuff about which we can make objectively true statements and predictions is fundamentally unknowable to us, in addition to it being ever changing and context bound. So if there are universal truths such as the laws of physics and constants such as the speed of light, they are because they can be experienced, perceived, because they make interdependent sense as nodes of interacting networks of systems; in short, are only possible/meaningful in interaction with Other. Being perceived, being part of interactions, all phenomena take on a subjective aspect. The objective requires the subjective, and vice versa.

Let us unpack these bold, as yet unjustifed assertions and see if we can inch our way towards a fundamental role for perception (consciousness) that would make them plausible. What I develop below is divided into two stages. The first sets out a logical argument for the fundamental nature of complexity and hence of interaction between the nodes of that complexity – this in contradistinction to the idea that reality is built atop discreet indivisibles or elementary building blocks –, the second sketches an origins story based on the logic of the first stage. My origins story is both similar and fundamentally different to Big Bang theory and also borrows from any number of other myths. I have chosen to use the terms perception, consciousness, awareness and interaction as almost synonyms. In another context, this would be sloppy. Here it is a semi-poetic or literary device intended to blur boundaries and promote a sense of fruitful or fertile uncertainty. In other words, I mean it as an invitation to humility.

A logical case for consciousness

Mine is a non-dualistic (monistic), consciousness-first position in which the mind-body/matter-consciousness split is a false and very misleading dichotomy. Consciousness is not inside matter, nor is matter inside consciousness. To the extent that the words have any meaning, I suggest that the ‘physical’ is as ‘non-physical’ as the ‘non-physical’ and vice versa. Mine is neither a humanist nor solipsistic position. I am not arguing that reality ceases to exist if humans are not perceiving it, rather that there can be no (inter)existence without perception. What I hope to demonstrate as a reasonable proposition is that perception, as it synomously relates to interaction or relationships, is logically fundamental to existence as a logical consequence of the logical truth that nothing can exist or make sense in total, unitary isolation. Because relationship is fundamental as a necessary quality of complexity, so too must interaction or perception be fundamental.

For some single elementary, fundamental thing to exist in isolation there could be no vacuum in which to situate it: in standard terms, a vacuum requires a boundary between it and the not-vacuum that creates the super-low pressure of the vacuum and keeps it free of radiation. Including the boundary, that makes at least three things: vacuum, boundary and not-vacuum. If we begin with Relativity’s quantum vacuum and situate a single elementary particle within it, we have the problem of the particle’s constitution, where it came from, as well as the vacuum’s creative power (see note 8 below). To pursue my line of reasoning, we need to imagine a single, pure, uniform somethingness. The element we might imagine, say an electron made of pure electron-ness, could have no mass or dimensions or shape as there would be no scale, nothing Other in which it could be situated, and there could be no forces, such as gravity, to act on it. There would be only its electronness (whatever that is absent Other by way of contrast). A necessarily meaningless, unperceivable, undiscernible, indivisible something. Utterly uniform across no possible span as there can be no distance, no relationship between different things. Indeed, it is simply not possible for reality to begin from a totally pure, uniform and singular somethingness, an atom, a uniform building block. From this pure simplicity, how can there be change? How can anything happen or develop if there is no change? How can there be the required second thing for change to occur: time? And even electronness plus time is not sufficient. Time would be meaningless absent the potential for change. Without change – which requires some basic complexity of factors – time cannot be perceived, cannot have an effect, cannot, in short, exist. Unitary isolation of a wholly pure somethingness is impossible. By logical extension, such a thing cannot exist because it also cannot be created.

Equally, imagining nothingness as our starting point yields a similar logical train of thought. Nothingness cannot exist by definition, either in isolation or otherwise: existence cannot be a property of nothingness. The idea of nothingness can exist, nothingness itself cannot. So, how then can change proceed from nothingness, how can anything occur or evolve if there is no time, no stuff, no potential, no existence whatsoever? How can reality proceed from nothingness? It cannot8.

As you can see, if we start either with a wholly pure single somethingness or with nothingness, the result is the same: an impossibility. It follows, then, that if we cannot start with either one or zero, we need relationships between some greater-than-one number of things for there to be existence at all. We have to start with complexity. (This may imply that we do not inhabit a strictly binary universe.)

The Big Bang happens to something complex: the original singularity that is all reality compressed down to an unimaginably small point. This tiny point-of-everything exists uncaused within something that is not nothing, logically speaking, a something that we might conceive as a framework or medium that permits existence and change, permits the Bang to occur (spacetime). The singularity is not uniform, it contains the potential for all things, is all the energy of all existence as a complex point in which change occurs. Then, the point-singularity suddenly explodes for unknowable reasons and the rest is history – ultimately predictable history given sufficient computing power. One of the many things the Big Bang caused is human consciousness.

The theory describes a dead process that just is (uncaused) and that is governed by dead physical laws that are inherent properties of existence because they are. The laws themselves are not quite uncaused, they are chance properties of the nature of the universe’s foundational, uncaused elementary materials and forces that populate the singularity, though precisely how they come to be is not explained. As a theory, its predictive power is very high in many domains (cosmology, physics, chemistry, etc.) but it does not necessarily follow that it describes the foundations of all reality, only that it contains sufficiently true observations to describe and predict many (not all) events in the reality we humans experience: ‘physical’ reality. But as is abundantly clear by now, what this physical stuff is, is uncertain. Materialist science, which essentialy states that livingness is an emergent property of non-living matter-energy constellations of sufficient complexity (chemical <--> bio-chemical <--> biological), therefore rests atop or proceeds from this stuff called matter. Really, because we know matter is neither one thing nor another and is ‘composed of’ currently unknowable elements (to the degree this network (or linear chain) of compositional, reductive causalities even makes sense), what materialism rests atop is a dead universe, an unknowing, blind universe devoid of purpose. Life and knowing and consciousness are beautiful happenstances we should cherish because they are so profoundly unlikely when calculated forwards from the Big Bang. It is their astounding improbability that gives them their value. Life is the universe’s rarest diamond, not its progenitor. Big Bang did not say with divine authority, “Let there be life”, life (biology) just turned up by chance out of dead material a few billion years along the probability trail. In essence then, life is in fact dead. There is only death. Life is a dead whirring of chemicals and electrical messages and energy exchanges. We, and all other living things, are thus dead robots made of dead stuff, operated into predictable behaviours by the matter of which we are composed and the multitudinous forces acting upon and within us. We just think we are alive, it merely seems to us that we have free will, make choices, know things, know that we exist. Consciousness and all its effects are illusions. Only the physical and measurable exists, composes reality, can be trusted. We have been deceived into feeling like we are conscious. What puzzles me about this asserted illusion is what exactly it is that is being deceived: dead matter or (non-existent) consciousness?

This paradigm, this mechanical worldview, cannot explain all phenomena and rings oddly in the mind, in the heart. Somehow, it just does not quite resonate as true. Is this because we do not want it to be true for psychological reasons (have fun explaining that one all the way down!), or because what we tend to intuit when confronted with this all-pervasive deadness is somehow and meaningfully true? These last questions bring us neatly to perception.

Let’s define perception. Earlier, I mentioned so-called objects bumping into one another. For our purposes here, I will begin by suggesting that these interactions are the stuff of perception. I’m going to argue, initially, that perception is all interaction between and within the emergent phenomena we traditionally call objects. In this way, I hope to demote perception a little, take it out of its airy humanist topography and situate it in a fundamental position as the bedrock of existence. In short, because there is necessarily complexity for there to be existence (as set out above), there must also necessarily be interaction between the various nodes of this complexity network. Absent interaction, the complexity ‘knows’ nothing of itself, cannot change or be subject to change, cannot be confronted by challenges and is thus not complexity in any meaningful way. Without interaction, complexity would be merely random, non-interacting stuff. Patternless, unchanging, non-interactive somethingness is not complexity as we require it. Relationship implies interaction.

We therefore require change to be present right at the roots of reality for evolution to be possible. That I am writing this means evolution exists. So, the interactions that are a necessary quality or consequence of complexity constitute, in my line of reasoning here, rudimentary perception, or experience, or opportunities to learn and change and develop (evolve). Cumulative change (evolution) has caused perception to become far more versatile and varied (e.g. sight and thought) over great tracts of time.

So far though, this is has been a subtle rephrasing of the materialist position with a redefinition and repositioning of perception tossed in. But, I assert, the implications are profound. Let’s recap the logic in list form to get a better sense of it.

First, reality is necessarily complex right at its outset. Reality cannot have proceeded either from pure nothingness or from some pure, wholly isolated, elementary somethingness. Reality is necessarily about change, and for change to be possible there needs to be relations between nodes of some network or other. There needs to be interaction.

Second, there can be no existence without interaction, without perception. An absence of any and all interaction is an absence of events or change. If nothing at all happens, there is or may as well be nothing for all immeasurable, unperceivable timelessness. For, were all action to stop, what entity or thing would be free to act to restart existence?

Third, what we call matter is an emergent property, a network effect arising from interactions between perceiver and perceived. Both parties to the co-creation of the experience of matter are themselves co-created in the same way. As Varela puts it, “mind and world arise together”9. Or to dissolve the dichotomy implied by “mind” and “world”, perceiver and perceived arise together. Each is necessary to the other, sustains the other, causes the other’s existence; perceiver and perceived interact each other into inter-existence, into mutual objecthood. Dead matter cannot do this, only perception as consciousness can. For example, imagine a virtual elementary billiard ball interacting with another virtual elementary billiard ball in an act of sustained co-creation. The concept is nonsensical on multiple levels. (The origins story develops this in more detail below.)

Fourth, there is no centre – no puppet-master god – in relation to the ever changing events involved except for the unifying commonality of interaction, or experience, or perception. In other words and to repeat an earlier statement, this is not a solipsistic interpretation of the nature of reality. What ‘centres’ All That Is is the commonality or foundational aspect of interaction, which I am here calling perception. A potentially infinite number of centres unified by the commonality of perception (consciousness). Infinite vatierty giving rise to unity giving rise to infinite variety.

Fifth, perception is both subjective – in that it is always changing and point-of-view oriented – and objective – perception is non-arbitrary, not omnipotent, requires an object, is necessarily consensus-based as a logical consequence of its compositional diversity being meaningful rather than random or chaotic. It therefore permits, indeed gives rise to good-enough predictability and order. Subjectivity and objectivity, couched in these terms, are not mutually exclusive but necessary properties of perception.

We say humans are meaning makers. More deeply or generally, we could say that perception is pattern creating, pattern seeking, pattern bound. Chaos (maximal entropy, minimal pattern) is its death, its dissolution. In pure chaos (which below I will develop as unrealised potentiality), perception cannot be, it can only be on the cusp of being, the seed in the soil of emergent complexity. Perception needs a coherent, lasting ‘object’, a pattern, an Other to perceive. In the same way we ask an hysterical person to look into our eyes so he can make a coherent connection, calm down and come to himself, so perception needs stable, recognisable constancy in the form of the perceived object to be, to exist for long enough to also know/experience itself as something coherent. In other words, to be aware of self via an object. This dynamic is a little reminiscent of Narcissus gazing into his own reflection to experience his selfhood and know love. The subject-object split is thus the very stuff of perception yet unifies perceiver and perceived into an interdependent whole.

All of the things by which we specify the object are not the object. By we I mean humans, lavatory brushes, quasars and durum wheat, and the object in question itself. We have a very strange situation then, in which there are objects, and there are qualities and relations between these objects and other objects. There is a chörismos, an irreducible gap. Qualities and relations are much the same thing, since they are born in interactions between the object and 1+n other things. A cinder block is hard and cold to a fly, it’s stubbly to my finger, it’s fragile to a well-placed karate chop. It’s invisible to a neutrino10.

And the neutrino is invisble to the cinder block; they do not exist for one another! Timothy Morton, author of the above quote, may not be stating explicitly that perception and interaction can be argued to be synonymous, but I believe the logic is implied in his observations and reasoning. “Qualities and relations are much the same thing” because qualities are emergent properties that cannot inhere within an object. Objects, therefore, do not have qualites, they are co-creators of qualities in interaction with whatever is perceiving them, or, in Morton’s words, interacting with them. A rock falling into water generates a different set of experiences or perceptions or effects than a rock crashing through a pane of glass or being heated by the sun. Furthermore, a rock is itself a very persistent emergent effect of the relations or interactions of its constituent events that are in continual, perceptual interaction. And it cannot exist alone, is not capable of totally solitary existence. It is a network of information or relations of information sustained by environmental networks of further information such as temperature, pressure, gravity, geological history, etc. For the rock to be, it has to interact both with itself and its environment, with Self and Notself. In a newfangled word, it inter-exists, it inter-is. It cannot do it alone, and neither can any‘thing’ else.

An origins story

Have I made a reasonable case for my insistence on perception’s foundational role? Well, if we were to argue otherwise, we would have to assert its emergence at some point down the probability trail as per the Big Bang theory, as in materialism. We would need for everything to be dead and for perception to begin with the emergence of ‘life’, where ‘life’ is in fact the complex interactions of dead materials and forces. We would also have the problem of determining where interaction becomes perception. At the amoeba stage? Perhaps in the biochemical soup that engendered it? Too close a call to be certain that the universe is dead and that life is death. And while it’s true that emergent properties cannot be predicted from the interoperations of their underlying system, this would be taking that principle too far, by my lights. And finally, where is the solid, irrefutable case that reality starts with matter, that indefinable je ne sais quois? The problem of explaining consciousness is not called The Hard Problem for nothing.

Now for an alternative origins story that has a foundational role for perception. We’ll begin with my layman’s attempt at a fundamental ‘formula’ (more graphical than mathematical) that hopefully crystalises the dynamic behind the origins of what we call reality. Bear in mind throughout that what I am here calling cosciousness is very different to our human experience of self-awareness, thinking, having ideas, feeling emotions, etc.

P ↔ (2 ↔ 1) ↔ ∞

Very simply, P represents both perception and the potential for perception to occur, and thus serves a dual function. As potentiality, it is somewhat similar to the Big Bang’s initial singularity and General Relativity’s vacuum in that it implies or entails the potential for an infinite variety of events or interaction-based experiences. P is not, strictly speaking, an object containing objects, nor is it quite process; it is formless, unbounded potentiality that is both complex and subject to constant change. As change is present, so too is time as a required property of change. P is the closest reality can get to non-existence.

As in emergent-complexity theory, pattern can spontaneously emerge within P. In the version I am presenting here and in contradistinction to complexity theory, pattern can emerge and be sustained over time from potentiality precisely because potentiality is also, necessarily, the potential to perceive; P is the paradoxical state of nascent perception absent a pattern (object to perceive), a pattern that can then cohere reality towards cumulative change or, more popularly, evolution. As potentiality, P is planless, quasi-existent and unaware: a blind, clueless demiurge, a nascent drive towards life, order, evolution, inter-being. As perception, it develops plans and preferences as we would expect of any living system. (The bidirectional arrows imply entropy (leftwards) and negative entropy (rightwards).)

(2 ↔ 1) denotes the noticed emergence of a pattern, the crudest beginnings of awareness: P’s state-change from blind potentiality to ‘sighted’ perception. It counts perceiver and perceived notionally – not in mathematical/binary terms –, where perceived is part of – not fundamentally separate from – perceiver (2 as 1). Let’s say what is initially perceived is a state of being, some crude, noticed quasi-emotion such that we now have a non-language experience of “I am this” (as denoted by 1)11. Subjectivity and objectivity are thus both required: the objective fact of existence as conscious awareness that is the undeniable felt experience of the perceived thing, as well as the inescapably subjective nature of thereof: Self and Other in mysterious, self-born (autopoietic) symbiosis. Illusion-and-reality-as-one baked into the cake of existence, the blind spot that sustains sight and engenders knowing.

denotes the infinite variety of evolution that can proceed from the interdependent complex of components described in the preceding definitions. The long process of evolution that precedes our ‘physical’ universe begins in earnest once the initial moment of P’s wakeful awareness has become coherent and stable enough to sustain self-experimentation. Any number of false starts and full forgettings/restarts are possible (as indicated by the bidirectionality) before evolutionary/fractal processes become stable. Why experimentation occurs is not fully answerable, but I think it sufficient to posit it as an urge or function that attends awareness as a necessary corollary of the drive towards life – fractally-evolving, coherent patterning – P represents; just as babies are irrepressibly curious, so is our baby consciousness. Equally unclear is exactly how P (awareness) is able to create and retain information (or accumulate retrievable memory), and thus learn and evolve. My best guess is that this facet of perception is itself a facet or corollary of how focus interrelates with pattern and structure. As in systems theory, perceiver and perceived arise together, lift themselves upwards into inter-being as symbiotic results of perception’s functional ability (i.e. as a necessary property of perception) to focus on pattern and thereby create structure – stable pattern or persistent information12 – via that focus. As an analogy, we might compare this to how an act of will can tense a muscle and hold it tense. This complex dynamic, sustained successfully for a sufficient length of time, generates experience, where experience is what we might call non-physical matter in the sense that it is retainable and accessible information. Remember, the ‘physical’ we tend to picture has not yet been satisfactorily defined. My definitions here are deliberately mythic or evocative rather than scientific, though they borrow from relevant scientific study.

Along something like these lines then, our new self-born consciousness-reality plays at inter-being and in playing creates experiences from which it learns. One early wisdom might be that love is healthier – more conducive to survival and improving/evolving/developing coherence, and better at satisfying, however temporarily, infinite curiosity – than fear. Fear diminishes coherence, inhibits Self-Other interaction by eroding trust, damages retained experience, and, run wild for long enough, undoes what has been accomplished. And yet it also teaches as failure teaches, by encouraging improvement and increasing skill at this curious game of inter-being. Extend this process cumulatively across great tracts of time and you get All That Is, you get reality as consciousness-based, ever changing process, some of which may be virtual, or something like computer simulations as digital physics posits13. My rendering here is sketchy at best and straddles, or falls between three different ideas about what reality might be: panpsychism, conscious realism and Tom Campbell’s virtual-reality theory. My own money is on some combination of the latter two, as they make a better fist of escaping dualism in my view. The interested reader may pursue each of these as they see fit.

I have not presented my crude origins story to convince you of its veracity, but rather to persuade you that viable alternatives to the various materialist positions, alternatives that better handle the Hard Problem of consciousness, are being developed. There is much work to be done. Further, as mentioned above, I want to disclose my position on this issue, keep nothing relevant hidden. Materialist origins stories are equally unfinished in that they simply assert matter, cannot define it properly, and cannot satisfactorily explain life, perception and consciousness (see note 14 below). Tom Campbell’s virtual-reality theory is in my opinion a sound alternative; mine draws very heavily on it. Digital physics also posits that what we experience as reality is in fact a computer simulation, a virtual reality of mind-boggling complexity. Its proponents, sadly, shy away from taking on consciousness itself, though I am confident that will change in due course. The panpyschism theory of Galen Strawson is also interesting, as is Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance, as is Donald Hoffman’s conscious realism. And, like all other consciounsess-based propositions I am aware of, mine has holes, needs improvement. I consider it impossible to know for sure how reality starts or what it is (the linear, causal nature of this line of inquiry may necessarily lead to dead-end thinking), but helpful to play with origins stories by way of accepting “I don’t know” as fundamentally insoluble when it comes to how All That Is came to be and persists. Mind and reason just cannot penetrate some mysteries. How can consciousness (non-physical) be an emergent property of physical neurons14? No one really knows. Where did the singularity come from? Ditto. How can the experience of matter be an emergent property of consciousness? That’s also a mystery though a more plausible one in my view. The fact that we experience is beyond dispute. Reasoning inductively out from that fact to posit the possibility that consciousness lies causally behind our experience of physicality seems more plausible to me than its converse, in which matter is not in fact a certainty. It also has the significant advantage of explaining a multitude of phenomena – both experimentally verified and anecdotally consistent across human experience – the materialist position simply has to deny is possible. ‘It isn’t true because it can’t be true’ is not good science.

All in all, I like it this way: irreducible mysteries keep me young and humble, flexible rather than fatalistic when it comes to pondering what humanity might be capable of. “I don’t know” is the stuff of adventure.

Cohesion is survival

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Now we take one step back from the rather abstract philosophical inductive reasoning of the preceding section, return to our infamous real world, and consider what it is for systems to persist over time. One notional level above information patternings (or systems of matter and energy) is cohesion of those patterns over time. Without cohesion over time, we would have random occurrences of meaningless patterns that quickly dissipate. No one would ever know about them, for there would be no one or thing to conduct any lasting observation. In more familiar terms, there would be no objects to speak of. By extension, without cohesion and increasing complexity, we cannot have biological life, whether that be virtual (simulated pixels) or not. Without increasingly complex life forms and systems, I wouldn’t be writing this book, nor would you be reading it, nor would there be such a thing as money. How all this cumulatively develops is of central importance to our objectives here.

At its most prosaic, ‘survival’ is a system continuing to be what it is, or, continuing to do what it does, including dealing effectively with ‘external’ and ‘internal’ challenges and upsets. The precise how of this is as complex in variety as there are different types of systems, but the basic dynamic is consistent. To survive, systems need to exchange or process energy/information with or from other systems such that all matter-energy is in a constant state of change via recycling and repatterning. These exchanges can be either in competition or cooperation (where competition is a form of cooperation, more on which later), or in perhaps other ways and in all the variety of expression possible within those modes, but always by successfully staving off entropy: sustaining informational complexity over time and perhaps increasing it.

  1. See e.g. Steve Keen’s “The Roving Cavaliers of Credit” for evidence of this. As to banks creating money, this is a little-known/well-known fact that I address in detail in Chapter 4.

  2. E.g. David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011), Nigel Dodd’s The Social Life of Money (2014), Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics (2011) to name but three, and work by organisations such as Positive Money, not to mention central-bank publications and newspapers such as The Financial Times all variously addressing this vital topic.

  3. In Bassnett, S. (2001), Translation Studies. P3

  4. Richardson, K. (2004a), Systems theory and complexity: Part 1. In E:CO, Vol. 6 No. 3, pp75-79.

  5. My bold assertions here are developed in Chapter 5. For a more nuanced handling of what I mean by “status quo” and “elite”, see Chapter 0.

  6. I believe that consciousness (though I am unable to define what it ‘is’) precedes matter, and not vice versa as materialist science asserts (as in e.g. ‘consciousness is an epi-phenomenon of brain that disappears upon brain death’). Below, I attempt to construct a reasonable argument in support of this position. My decision to do so is about seven parts disclosure and three parts necessity. Many of the positions I adopt in this book stand well enough without recourse to my beliefs around consciousness, but with them included they stand more solidly, more fully, more richly. In the end, it is the deeper paradigm that is changing, and with it our relationship with money and value, not the other way around. That deeper paradigm change includes, at its root in my opinion, a new understanding of the nature of consciousness and therefore of reality.

  7. Duhem in Cassin (2013), Dictionary of Untranslatables. P1151.

  8. General Relativity predicts the emergence from empty space of virtual particles. All experimentation confirms this. Empty space is thus not nothingness in the logical sense I require it here. Furthermore, do we not, logically speaking, have an action-at-a-distance problem when virtual particles pop magically into and out of existence uncaused? And where do they actually come from?

  9. Varela in Capra (1997), The Web of Life. P262.

  10. Morton, T (2013). Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality. P27. Emphases in the original.

  11. This idea of the first perceived object as a state of consciousness is from Tom Campbell’s My Big TOE.

  12. “Information is the amount of formal patterning or complexity in any system.” Swanson, G. A. and Miller, J. G. (2009). Living Systems Theory. Systems Science and Cybernetics. Vol I. EOLSS Publications. Retrieved from https://www.eolss.net/Sample-Chapters/C02/E6-46-01-03.pdf
    My use of terms like structure and stability are at slight variance with traditional systems theory in this section as I am grappling with what orthodox systems theory would call non-physical patternings. Should we indeed inhabit a virtual, simulated reality, then what orthodox systems theory describes would be manifestations of the ruleset that generates the simulation. My focus is on what precedes the simulation and is thus correspondingly speculative.

  13. I may develop this more fully in another work – this is just an initial sketch. To do so here would be to stray too far from this work’s purpose.

  14. “There is in fact no known mechanism by which physical processes in the brain – or anywhere else – can produce non-physical things like thoughts, perceptions and memories.” Greyson, B. (2011). Cosmology and Consciousness Conference - Mind and Matter. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPGZSC8odIU.
    “The origin of life is a total mystery, and so is the existence of human consciousness. We have no clear idea how the electrical discharges occurring in nerve cells in our brains are connected with our feelings and desires and actions.” Dyson, F. (2011). How we know. The New York Review of Books. LVIII (4): 8-12. Seen in http://opensciences.org/blogs/open-sciences-blog/232-consciousness-why-materialism-fails, 19 December 2016.
    “I see no way for the divide between unconscious and conscious states to be bridged by bigger brains or more complex neurons.” Koch, K. (2014). Is Consciousness Universal? Scientific American, 1 January 2014. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-consciousness-universal/ on 2 January 2016.
    “In short, the scientific study of consciousness is in the embarrassing position of having no scientific theory of consciousness.” Hoffman, D. (2008). Conscious Realism and the Mind-Body Problem. Mind and Matter Vol. 6(1), pp. 87–121. Retrieved from http://www.cogsci.uci.edu/~ddhoff/ConsciousRealism2.pdf