The Meaning of the World

An Introduction to Differential Ontology (Normalism), also Known as thephilosophy.

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The issue is souls, their possibility, and pain.

Philosophy, as personality, has its obsessions. Happiness is self-sufficient, but misery demands an antidote, response, cure, which may or may not be at hand. Our supreme virtue is truth, to which consolation must conform. Fantasies, fictions, and mythologies, religious and scientific, may serve imagined or presumptive needs, but the question must first be answered, What is truth? (or, less enigmatically and more consistent with truth-functional and linguistic analysis, What is true?). Religious traditions consent, as in Christianity's insistence that 'the truth shall make you free,' and science knows no other god.

The thought allows us to say: 
The devil has had his day. 

What is philosophy, and why should anyone care? The four 'D's: Disease, Despair, Death, Dating. Plus, an alphabet of other concerns. In fact, philosophy is the one field that deals with everything, and so can address big issues, including 'the meaning of things.' Now, what is that, and why should anyone care? Let's define it operationally, at least for now. Let's say that, whatever 'meaning' means in this context, it at least aspires to something of extraordinary power--the power to solve human problems. All human problems. Even intellectual problems. Even torture. 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' We could broaden it more, but this is enough, I think, to make it worth investigating.


Normalism and differential ontology mean mathematically, pointing to the logic of generality. A normal is perpendicular to a line or surface (mutually perpendicular to the coordinate axes of n-dimensional space). Ascending the perpendicular, as a tower over a plain, affords a 'view' of the conceptual landscape. Metaphorically, the perspective of generality. We understand something by putting it into a broader, more general context--of physical law, Christian eschatology, or other patterns, mythologies, fantasies, or dreams. To cognize 'being' we seek the perspective of the normal. And so, Time tells what being is. (Differential ontology indicates the process by which philosophical normals are constructed, generalizing over possible worlds.)


The thought explains how religions console. The thought achieves the same levels of consolation independent of any direction the future may take, independent of the most general conditions of futurity.

1. The riddle of the world is an object.

2. The meaning of the world is its most general representation.

3. The image of generality is futurity.

4. Time tells what being is.

Religions are elaborations of simple ideas. Christianity--that God in human form sanctifies human life. Buddhism--that nothing lasts. Ours--that there is a future.

The future is indeterminate.

It cannot be known.

It can always disappoint expectation.

The sun may not rise tomorrow. Causality does not demand it. Statistical mechanics does not demand it. Philosophy does not demand it.

The dead may return.


Philosophy reduces us to certainties.

Certainties--not theories--take the measure of death.

Say what we will, we can be wrong about the future.

Say what we will, we cannot know we will die.

To an old woman: Tomorrow you may wake up young again, and we will call it death.

As St. Augustine: We know nothing of God--or tomorrow.

Anything can still happen.


Meaning (the meaning of the world) relates to (r) Generality (a logical concept) r Multiplicity (numbers) r Possibility r Time, implying Futurity, deciding Ontology (the nature of things), and supporting Pain, Fear, Suffering, and their elimination or transformation into voluntary experience.

The formulation contains the solution to the riddle of the world, humanly understood, and the problem of mortality. The thought, in its power to answer pain, can substitute for messiah (not a person but a principle, the face of futures in the glare of generality). So as to say, God is the generality of time, the unanticipated future.


Even as to the holocaust: Conceive, as possibility, that it never occurred, that, so to say, God could have such power--to undo the past.

Can omnipotence extend so far? As far as futurity.

If the meaning of the world relates to everything, it makes contact with other efforts that claim similar breadth. In particular, religious traditions. The development of these traditions has paralleled the scientific, artistic, and political in a movement towards greater generality of representation. The impulse to monotheism can be understood in this way. The singular God who, or that, replaces a coterie of rivals expresses a convergence of values. One conceptual entity now ranges over all existence, like an operational variable, engaging everything else logically and ontologically. As a concept more general than any it replaces or subsumes, more general even than 'being and non-being,' it gains power to embody the world's meaning. Whatever is in the nature of a spiritual revelation approaches the thought asymptotically.

To know God, doubt everything. You will fall into his arms.

To doubt everything, understand time: That the past cannot guarantee the future, and that the future decides the past.


In his final words before parinirvana, the historical Buddha, in Ashvagosha's account, emphasized that 'nothing lasts.' In my end is my beginning. Siddhartha's declaration summarizes the content if not the implications of Buddhist enlightenment. The power of Buddhism to assuage or extinguish human suffering is the result of its incorporating a temporal dimension into an ontological claim. The claim, however,over-reaches, raising descriptive and epistemological problems for the tradition.

Fortunately, there is a better (simpler, less presumptive) way. We do not know, and cannot categorically claim, that nothing lasts. Quarks may last, as may souls, which may even turn out to exist. What we can claim, and gain equally satisfying results, is that we can be wrong about the future. That, and three minutes of undistracted thought to draw consequences, are enough to resolve the riddle of the world to the point of consolation. But thought is difficult, and three minutes a very long time. But nothing more is needed.


Science Simplifies. Simplicity is predictive.

From Aristotle to Newton to Einstein to contemporary Grand Unified theoreticians, physics derives its prescience from increasing generality of natural representation. The concept of such a representation can be illustrated more fruitfully than it can be defined (the definition requiring a formulation in set theory). Newtonian mechanics generalizes Aristotle through the intuition of mass that obviates physical distinctions between heaven and earth, celestial and terrestrial substances. Einsteinian concepts of relativity (laws of physics apply in all reference frames, regardless of motion) and spacetime generalize Newtonian ideas of space, time, and motion. Much as God generalizes over Babylonian and local polytheisms.

And there is good reason for the relation. Western science has roots in Greco-Judeo-Christian-Islamic preconceptions of natural unity, the power of abstraction (evident in Greek philosophy and Judaic theology), and temporal linearity. The Jewish myth of Genesis, with its presumption of creation out of unity progressing to multiplicity and complexity, is what the Big Bang and evolutionary theory elaborate.

The medievalism of science is prediction, the implication of essence.

Points of singularity, where laws of physics cease to apply, are a current topic of speculation. Within a singularity anything is possible, including the elaboration of a non-denumerable infinity of universes at our fingertips. What else shows infinite phenomenological possibility? Futurity. The coincidence is not accidental and suggests that time is the logical aspect of a singularity. A world such as ours with a temporal dimension can be theorized to have come from a singularity, bearing time as its legacy. If black holes spawn singularities, we rose and live in such a hole.

Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle: Epistemology and Ontology

Heisenberg's celebrated principle of indeterminacy can claim an attendant stature as one of the most abused elements of modern science. Amid strained interpretations and applications, the principle nevertheless displays an important epistemological motif: the--at least--heuristic value of not assuming more than one can (theoretically) know. Parenthetically, since today's theoretical limitations are often tomorrow's parameters of a quaint but ultimately onerous nostalgia. And there is no more generally effective heuristic than the denial of the presumed and assumption of the contrary, the principle of generality operating conspicuously here. In a world of time, what can we not claim to know? What must come next.

Molecular Biology and Biomedicine

From Considerations, Book Two, Section II (1986), in which the conceptual structure of the (biological) sciences is dissected. To demonstrate the fertility of the thought beyond philosophy, an application was made to cancer research, and the results documented and disseminated, primarily at UCLA (where the author had gained background as a medical student and doctoral candidate in molecular biology).

223. Function is a criterion of complexity.

224. The human mind is the elaboration of functional criteria.

225. Function is directed activity.

226. Life is function.

227. Function expresses biological necessity.

228. Biological understanding is 'a priori synthetic.'

229. The 'a priori synthetic' component of biology: We are living forms.

230. Function and simplicity decide biologic meaning.

231. The response to disease demands the logic of function.

232. To illustrate: Cancer's ideal antagonist has the form of a virus.

233. The form of a problem prescribes the form of its solution.

It is possible to go further and stimulate cells to produce viruses against themselves.

Some Principles

A central aspect of normalism is its focus on the implications of the concept of an indeterminate future--what it means to live in a world of time. Here enters Hume. His famous attack on causality implies, simply and profoundly, that anything can happen next. Anything. Beyond even our powers of abstraction to imagine. That is to say, The future is the set of all possible worlds (imaginable or otherwise). The link to generality, and meaning in turn, may be discerned.

Equally important is a second principle--that the past and present are contingent on the future. What something is depends on what it becomes. The consequence is surprising. The past is not inviolate but can transform into a countless range of ontological possibilities decided by what comes next . Which in turn is indeterminate vis-a-vis futurity. In 6 words, The future can change the past. Even that we suffered.

Psychology and Psychotherapy

The implication is simple. All fear, rage, pain, and despair involve presumptive and logically inadequate claims against future experience. In what sense logically inadequate? We are free to claim whatever we like about what is to come, but no logical argument can force such assertions. They exceed the phenomenology of our situation, elude the significance of temporal life, and guarantee our vulnerability to suffering. What we describe as 'the human condition' is a string of such claims. We suffer when we imagine ourselves in worlds other than our own, outside of time. Worlds like movies, in which we think that the future is already fixed as grooves in a DVD. It may be so, but we cannot know it is, so long as we live with anything like our present concept of time. Suffering, even unto death, is a voluntary act of presumption, summed over lifetimes, excruciating to resist. We oppose powerful tendencies of mind, and so the thought is difficult. We suffer that we presume more than we know, to the end of time.


Humor, as the miracle, thwarts expectation.

Why do we laugh? What does laughter signify?--not psychologically, biologically, or socio-economically, all of which involve heuristic but logically arbitrary claims concerning reproducibility and controls--arbitrary because of extremely general features of space and time (two points against different grounds are distinguishable) that eo ipso add confounding variables to every experimental situation. No, what does laughter signify philosophically? What is its relation to the meaning of the world? For Buddhists, laughter breaks the tension that precedes enlightenment, and the laughter of the Greek gods choruses the music of the spheres.

Philosophy clears the ground for comedy. A joke means as tautology and logic mean--through denial of expectation. (Tautology, e.g. , A rose is a rose: We anticipate other predicates.) The set-up, via tone, imagery, and pacing, engineers a reality that the punchline derails. Expectation averted, as in a team winning down 20-0 in the ninth, we laugh, perhaps deliriously, at the expression of fate denied.

Art Theory

From A Manifesto: Meaning and Time, Section II.

53. Art: To summarize the world's meaning in an object.

54. Artistic development inclines to generality of form.

55. A work of art explicates modes of contrast.

56. Contrast generalizes concept.

57. Art contrasts its environment.

58. Environment includes the legacy of art. Our paintings therefore move.

59. We seek perspective in seeing upside-down.

60. Michelangelo, Picasso, and the requirements of surface: We paint inside-out.

61. That we stand upright, elongated: The vertical generalizes human form.

63. We encapsulate art in shadow.

64. Art, in stillness or shadow, is a metaphor of time.

68. The light that blinds, darkness that effaces, both conduce to generality of form.

69. We aspire to the sense of works in progress.

70. Catharsis: Art invokes other worlds, hypostatizing futurity.

71. Art states times value. The mystery of art is time.

Acting (Theatrics)

Act as if the future were not known.

Bad acting is easy to see. It is unnatural, as if the dialogue were read and not spoken. And so to differences between life and the stage. It is the script, it is the script, my soul. In an individual case any difference may be decisive, but here one is conspicuous: Life has no script, so the actions of others are imperfectly predictable. We react spontaneously to the unexpected. Effective acting recreates the experience of an unscripted world.


In the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Kierkegaard emphasized that the most brutal and prolific killer could, through the Christian sacrifice, achieve a place in heaven. Christianity is a marvelous leveler. So is Zen: Die while alive and be completely dead. Then do whatever you will. All is good. Grace, as nirvana, breathes generality.

Ethics presumes ontology, of which we cannot say. Not knowing what is to come, we do not know what we are. Not knowing what we are, we do not know our best interests. Choice, even as to life and death, pleasure and pain . . . victory and defeat, becomes arbitrary. We may as well flip a coin, or do whatever we will. If salvation is beyond fear.

Writings (Excerpts)

From A Manifesto: Meaning and Time, Section I.

12. We presume more than we know, as if there were no time.

13. We wallpaper the future with images from the past. We then marvel at our dissatisfactions.

14. We live vicariously, through crystal balls.

16. We suffocate under premature senses of reality.

17. Philosophy enables us to breathe again.

From Disquisitional Simulacra, Book 3.

527. The dying is the test of thought. The thought is winning.