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November 16, 2009


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It seems to me the laws of nature as they spontaneously occur, fall short of being all they're capable of being. Absent man, what nature seems to lack is an intellect capable of understanding her laws, which is capable of providing specialized conditions, that do not spontaneously in nature, to bring out the latent potential inherent within those laws.

Sure, we can give the laws of nature credit for bringing an intelligent being about. But I'm not quite as sure we can ascribe the selection and initiative (volition) needed to bring out all the magnificence and potential within nature's laws, to the laws per se. The laws can't choose to act or not act, nor act here but not there, yet through man's intelligence and volition he can select where, if and when the laws operate.

If we cede that, "emanation from the One cannot terminate until everything that has possibly come into existence has done so," then it seems we're forced to conclude that termination could never be reached without, a) the laws, and b) an intelligence with the volition capable of bringing all the potentialities within those laws into existence.

Now, I can't attribute the generation of volition to the laws, nor the generation of the laws to volition. Likewise, I can't conclude volition is part of the laws, nor the laws are part of volition, so I'm left with either two wholes 'or' two parts of a whole. Unless of course 'integral' is another way of saying monistic duality, which I believe is popular among the totalitarian anarchists.


John, I'm not sure what you mean what you say that humans "can select where, if and when the laws [of nature] operate." How is it possible to turn off and on the laws of nature? I'm not aware of any demonstrable evidence that this ever has been done.

For example, turning off gravity would have some marvelous effects. As would turning lead into gold, or whatever.

So I think we should be cautious about assuming that human intelligence and volition is something separate from the laws of nature. Is animal intelligence also distinct from these laws? And the whole issue of free will is decidedly unsettled. It isn't obvious that people have the ability to choose to do anything of their own volition.

That said, you raise some interesting questions. My big one about the laws of nature is, "where do they reside?" If the entire physical universe were to disappear completely, would the physical laws of nature still exist? Perhaps. Or they could be part and parcel of materiality, which is closer to Wilber's conception of holons and the Buddhist notion of "emptiness."

Hi Brian,

Sorry for the confusion. I didn't mean to imply that we have control of the laws, just some control over where, if and when they manifest. When I pass a magnet across a wire, I have control over the manifestation of the law electromagnetic induction insofar as I can choose to do it or not, along with where or when to do it.

That choice or volition is what I was referring to in regard to bringing out the potential inherent within the laws. And if we're working off the assumption that termination cannot be reached until potential is actualized, knowing what we know now, I can't see termination occurring without the intelligence and volition man brings to the equation.

I hope this isn't coming across as esoteric, because I don't see it as such. But if we're to take potential as a real factor of causation, the actualization of potential is certain once the requisite conditions are provided. The point I am hoping to make is that certain conditions can only be provided by an intellect with volition, and hence, certain potentials can only come into existence, or discharge if you will, through man's assistance.

As to:
"If the entire physical universe were to disappear completely, would the physical laws of nature still exist?"

Nearest I can follow the current arguments and theories, within the 'singularity' the laws as we know them do not apply: there's no particles; there's no space; and there's no time. The problem, as I see it with attributing the laws as part and parcel of materiality, is we're basically ceding the point to the nominalists. Not that there's anything wrong with their metaphysical position, because we really don't know, but nominalism is diametrically opposed to the form of realism put forth by Plotinus and in fact denies the existence of universals altogether. So I don't know how one could claim to adhere to Plotinus on the one hand, yet attribute the laws to matter or holons.

But I'm quickly getting out of my depth with the deeper philosophical issues and physics. However, if you're so inclined David Bohm posits the concept of 'quantum potentiality' and his book, "Wholeness and the Implicate Order," provides a framework to see the whole (The One) as true reality and the many particulars as relative relations.


John, I understand you better now (that's the point of this whole blogging and commenting thing). Yes, Plotinus isn't compatible with the notion that the laws of nature are part and parcel of the physical world.

However, I have no idea if Plotinus is correct about this. I used to be more of a Platonist than I am now. Currently (and probably permanently) I'm into not being sure, unknowing.

I've read Bohm's book, and some others about his approach to quantum physics (didn't David Peat co-author a book with him?). It's an appealing approach. But again, who knows if it is true? The universe seems way beyond our ability to comprehend it. That's one thing I feel confident about.

Sorry to bring this back up, but your essay is very useful in something I'm writing.

I'd first of all like to thank you for it. Whether you happen to agree with Plotinus yourself or not, I think you outlined his views admirably.

Secondly, I've been unable to find any reply to you from Wilber. Did he ever address the points you raised? Or am I entitled to say he ignored you?


Jason, I've never communicated with Ken Wilber. I have no idea if he ever has read my essay, so I can't say that he has ignored me. From what little I know about Wilber, I suspect that someone like me is beneath his attention, unworthy of responding to, since I lack his "integral vision."

I'm glad the essay was useful to you. I still find a lot to like in Plotinus. I've just lost much of my passion for organized philosophy of the Neoplatonist sort. Or any sort, really. Now I'm fine with mystery remaining mysterious. Not sure if this is good, bad, or indifferent. Which is a relief, really.


Not to revive this topic, but I'm doing my own reading on Plotinus right now and in particular, I'm trying to get a sense of the actual meditative practices in which Plotinus engaged. What I've read so far is very nonspecific. Did platonists at the time engage in breath meditation? visualization? is any of it comparable to Buddhist practices?


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