by Simon Smith
Part 6: Don’t Stop Now! We’re Almost There!
The universe may, indeed, not be a thing; it is, perhaps, in Farrer’s somewhat ‘antiquated slang’, ‘one damned thing after another’. Nevertheless, this ‘cosmic hurly-burly’ cannot be quite what it seems. If it were, Einstein’s diagrams would be nothing but psychological projections with little empirical flavour. But the enormous success of the sciences belies this; their theories and predictions have proved accurate and reliable, more than ‘servicable,’ as Farrer put it, ‘for finding our way among those live points of process in which alone the world is actual’. In devising such seemingly faithful maps of the cosmos, scientists have clearly demonstrated that it is, in some crucial sense, rational, coherent, unified; sufficiently so, at least, to ensure the laws of physics admit of universal application.
Two such incompatible pictures of the universe cannot be permitted to stand. Fortunately, our mistake is obvious; it is a realist one. All our fine talk of analogies and maps notwithstanding, we have forgotten Farrer’s first metaphysical commandment: ‘the real order of things is diagrammatisable not diagrammatic’. Such is the moral of Heisenberg’s uncertainty; at least, we think it is.
We have, it seems, returned to the metaphysics of the nursery wherein our child’s imagination owlishly regards the cosmos as ontologically independent. A shameful regression; for it was just such juvenilia that action-concepts and analogies were meant to overcome. We cannot now sensibly claim to know anything about the cosmos apart from our interactions with it. This is the foundation-stone of speculative cosmology and philosophical psychology. ‘No physical science,’ insists the empirically inclined metaphysician, ‘without physical interference’; ‘no personal knowledge,’ adds the metaphysically mindful psychologist, ‘without personal intercourse’; indeed, they chorus, ‘no thought about any reality about which we can do nothing but think.’ Thus, Farrer’s ‘highest possible generalisation of the empirical principle’ coincides with his - and our - basic metaphysical principle, esse est operari. Intelligible thought about what things are requires some interactive potential because what things are is given in and as what they do.
Elsewhere, he put the point like this: ‘[i]t is not plausible that we should be able to talk about types of things, about which we can do nothing but talk’. We take from this a double reminder. Besides the interactive requirements of “real being” and intelligible talk, language, lest we forget, is a most powerful mode of human activity. Words may heal and harm with divine or devastating effect; they may even create consciousness along with all its gods.
Here, then, is the end of our story; but it is also, in one important sense, just the beginning. The unity wrought by science from the constant collision of forces, which is, in truth, our universe, cannot belong to the universe per se any more than it belongs to consciousness in se. Scientific laws, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder, Huxley reminds us: ‘their generation requires the participation of human minds and their interactions with objects.’ “Coherence” and “unity” are, likewise, modes of participation shaping the transactions wherein the universe and consciousness are actualised. The processes and activities which constitute consciousness and the cosmos are, therefore, not only physical, they are also descriptive, projective; in short, personal. Transacted as they are between consciousness and its “objects”, those conceptualising participations are co-constitutive, better still, inter-constitutive, of the agencies there enacted. In the prescient words of Carl Sagan, ‘[t]he cosmos is… within us; we are made of star-stuff.’
Damn, that’s nasty! Oh yeah! Transactions and star stuff! Mmm. Things. Uh huh! Really struggling to keep up the illusion that this is in some way sexy when it clearly isn’t. It’s not even a little bit mucky. Oooh. Nevertheless, don’t forget to come back next time for the finale of our philosophical dirty business…
Let’s Arrive Together!
Mirror of the Cosmos: Farrerian Reflections on Mind and Nature
 Farrer, ‘Transcendence and “Radical Theology”’ in Reflective Faith, ed. Charles Conti (London: SPCK, 1972), 174.
 Farrer, Faith and Speculation, 169.
 Farrer, Faith and Speculation 150.
 Farrer, Faith and Speculation, 22; my emphasis.
 Farrer, Finite and Infinite, 74.
 Huxley, J. New Bottles for New Wine (London: Readers Union Ltd., 1959), 122.