International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 99 21st February 2005


I. 'Criminal Justice, Causation, and Society' by Charles Hlavac

II. 'The Man From Whom God Hid Nothing' by Arthur Brown

III. 'The Matter-Information Duality and Quantum Physics' by Dick Stoute



If anyone wanted a demonstration of the breadth and scope of the interests of philosophers, they could do no better than read this issue of the Philosophy Pathways electronic journal, the last before we hit triple figures.

The Philosophy of Law, or Jurisprudence, is one of the areas of philosophy which arguably has the greatest practical impact on society. An example is the famous controversy between Lord Devlin and philosopher H.L.A. Hart over the right of Society to enforce prevailing views about morality - e.g. codes of sexual conduct - by means of legislation. Charles Hlavac in his well researched essay looks at a number of issues in the field of criminal justice which are a matter of continuing controversy today.

One of the vexed issues in the Philosophy of Religion, or Philosophical Theology is the role and place of mysticism and mystical experience. Johannes Eckhart is a famous Christian mystic whose doctrines, as Arthur Brown observes in his moving tribute, bear a surprising resemblance to themes from Hinduism and Eastern Philosophy, raising deep questions about the nature and possibility of a Personal God.

The Philosophy of Physics is one of the fastest growing topics in the Philosophy of Science. One issue that has challenged physicists and philosophers is the strange phenomenon of 'quantum non-locality', where separated particles appear to 'interact' simultaneously, contradicting the fundamental law that nothing travels faster than the speed of light. Dick Stoute in his non-technical and surprisingly readable piece, outlines his explanation for this phenomenon in terms of the duality of 'matter' and 'information'.

Geoffrey Klempner




This paper was written as a review/ critique of various articles in a textbook used at some California State Universities (Philosophy and Contemporary Issues by John Burr and Milton Goldinger). I selected articles on "criminal justice", and later decided to include other papers in the textbook which are relevant to criminal justice issues (determinism vs. free will, morals, mind and consciousness, etc.) and integrated these into this paper. My conclusion is generally that what constitutes a "criminal" act is defined by the society in which the act is committed and this also applies to "punishment". While the issue of "responsibility" (free will vs. the automaton theory of human nature) is discussed here, the end of the paper illustrates how a specific social/ cultural climate can itself define what is "criminal", and that as a society changes, so does the definition of the term "criminal act" change.


I took the liberty of combining three chapters and three contemporary issues for this paper: From Chapter One, the issue of "The Responsibility of Criminals" (Burr, 66-80), seems to be tied to many of the questions raised in discussions of "Mind and Body", Chapter Five, specifically Christopher Evans' "Can A Machine Think?" (358), which addresses what some writers have expressed as a view of the 'human mind as an organic computer', with all of the deterministic issues that that phrase implies. The issues of 'mind' and 'self', as seen in other introductory philosophy texts often link 'automaton' theories of mind with 'illusions of moral responsibility' and 'mind as a form of behavior' with the dilemmas of 'freedom' and 'necessity' (Edwards and Pap; Titus). 'Justice' must decide when (and if) a person is 'responsible' and whether it is right to impose "The Enforcement of Morals", one of the issues in Chapter Four, "State and Society", as discussed by Devlin in "Morals and the Criminal Law" (304) and H.L.A. Hart's "Immorality and Treason" (316). These three Chapters present related opinions as to the meaning of 'justice', and all bear on the issue of the meaning and purpose of 'punishment' as applied to criminal behavior.

Some Definitions

The word 'criminal' has to do with an act that is considered to be a 'crime' by the society in which the act occurs. 'Crime' can be defined as 'an act committed in violation of a law prohibiting it, or omitted in violation of a law ordering it'. Secondarily, it has been defined as 'an offense against morality: sin', or as 'something regrettable or deplorable' (Webster's New World Dictionary). 'Justice', according to the Oxford Companion To Philosophy, pps 433-434, (Honderich), has to do with receiving 'benefits' or 'burdens, good or bad things of many sorts', from the society in which one resides, often without reference to specific acts. 'Criminal justice' is then understood as a system whereby 'criminal acts' are dealt with, when proven true (guilt), with certain 'burdens' upon the agent(s) of the act(s), for violating a law, i.e., some form of 'punishment'.

Social and Cultural Differences

Every culture has had unique ways of defining and administering 'justice'. The day I arrived in Izmir, Turkey, in 1961, the former President, Adnan Menderes, had just been hanged, and most Turkish cities were under martial law. He had been accused of stealing from State funds.

This event would be unimaginable in Western Countries. Clarence Darrow, in his "Address Delivered to Prisoners in the Chicago County Jail" (Burr, 66), could have been hung himself had he been a Turkish citizen publishing his opinions on criminal justice at that time. In fact, in the USA , his words are not too well taken by law enforcement officers, the penal systems, or by the courts as a whole.

Darrow's issue was not so much with the 'act' of crime as its causes. Working from effect to cause, he concluded that 'there is no such thing as crime as the word is generally understood' and that criminals are 'in no way responsible' (Burr, 68-69). To Darrow, there were small crimes and larger crimes, the larger crimes being the inequalities in society that allow 'big' criminals, such as the industrialists and capitalists, to take control of whole economic sectors to their advantage, a crime in itself, according to Darrow (and Marx, of course). These unfair practices of the 'big criminals' then breed the sort of petty crimes that lead to the imprisonment of the economically disadvantaged few who opt to 'steal' or commit other crimes to create an 'equal balance' of opportunity. Darrow's view creates a paradox in that it is the 'society at large' that is to 'blame' for the criminal acts of individuals, yet it is the individuals themselves who receive the punishment. In doing this, he removes most of the 'responsibility' for criminal behavior from the person and onto the local society: there are no 'criminals', only people who broke a law.

Further Definitions of Justice and Punishment

C.S. Lewis, in his criticism of 'The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment' (Burr, 74), sees justice and punishment as a 'deserved... deterrent' to such behavior. To be punished is to 'be treated as a human person made in God's image' (Burr, 78). Deterrence is contrasted with the idea of a 'cure', according to which the acts, regardless of cause, which are deemed to be crimes, must be 'treated' as a 'disease' in which the criminal is forced to be cured. These 'diseases' must be treated by 'experts' (e.g., the police and penal system), and not on the 'grounds of justice' (Burr, 79). Simply stated, the idea opposed by Lewis is of criminal behavior as a sickness, not something that asks for 'justice', but for cure, and the cure is punishment. To make an example of one criminal's acts via a system of prescribed punishment also acts as a deterrent to other similar acts, much as a flu shot prevents the flu.

To what extent are certain 'acts' punishable, and why, is a topic raised by Sir Patrick Devlin in his "Morals and the Criminal Law' (Burr, 304). While he spends considerable time on the issues of private vs. public morality (specifically homosexuality), he finally asks whether the 'law' should punish 'immorality' if it is 'private'? In doing so, he leads us to the idea that 'criminal law' 'cannot justify any of its provisions by reference to the moral law' (Burr, 305). But he concedes that if a society as a whole has such strong ideas and vehement abhorrence of certain behaviors, then these behaviors must be made illegal to 'protect' the shared morality.

Devlin was wise in stating that 'The limits of tolerance shift' (Burr, 312), giving us a platform for a more pragmatic view of justice, and maintaining that 'privacy should be respected' , but then he capitulates to 'moral standards... come from divine revelation... so they do not shift' (Burr, 312), and goes on to say that 'the extent to which society will tolerate... departures... varies from generation to generation'. This is a confusing mix of 'absolutes' and 'relativistic' moral standards. The only guide to what is really 'moral', according to Devlin, comes from the 'clergy', who are the 'guardians of public morality', and that the system of criminal law is there for one reason: To determine what will happen to those who 'do not behave' in public. I wonder what would happen to two homosexuals whose 'private' behavior suddenly came 'out of the closet', and into a society who he says, 'has a general abhorrence of homosexuality'? Perhaps they would be listening to Darrow's speech in Chicago while sitting out their prison terms or being 'cured' in some form of 'deterrent treatment' facility?

H.L.A Hart's "Immorality and Treason" (Burr, 316), brings to light the basic fault in the use of 'morality' to define what is 'criminal' and what is not: He quotes John Stuart Mill: 'to prevent harm to others' is the sole use of 'justice', and adds that 'private not the law's business'. (Burr, 317). All of the 'moral laws' are based on 'feelings' of indignation, intolerance, disgust, ignorance, superstition, or misunderstanding and thus become 'feelings... supported by law'. There is a special risk in democracies, he says, where 'the majority may dictate how all should live'. A sort of a 'hyperdemocracy' could exist where we are forced to be equal, whether we like it or not... and if you do not act the same as everyone else, well, you could be accused of treason: 'private immorality' equals 'private treason'.

Causation, Free Will, and Determinism

But, going back to Darrow, do criminals even think of the nature of their acts, or are they just responding to the social forces they find themselves in? Are they 'acting' immorally or are they mere cogs in a cultural machine that produces priests, paupers, and pilferers alike? Are they responsible or not?

Christopher Evans' "Are Men Machines?" (Burr, 358) reviews several options, the primary issue being whether the behavior of a machine/ computer/ human is 'predictable', and is the outcome 'determined' (programmed)? Of the many objections to the idea of a 'thinking machine', the main one is that only the idea of a machine with 'self-knowledge', with feelings, and with some degree of 'curiosity' would seem to come close to being 'human'. But that a machine is not biological is no reason to assume that it cannot think. Computer programs, especially the new 'adaptive' programs, with streams of subsets of sub-programs, come close to emulating what we think we see when we encounter a 'human' mind. Yet, according to Evans, there is the 'feeling' that only the human thinking machine can be creative, produce and enjoy art, language, games, and all of the signs and symbols that go with them, including the emotions one has when responding to these signs. There seems to be, among rationalists and artificial intelligence gurus, a forgetfulness with respect to the biological and evolutionary status of the human nervous system: It is not just the 'brain', it is a limbic system, a spinal cord, a heart beating, and hormones flowing, all of which influence and color the thoughts and impressions received by and created by the brain, which itself has a non-linguistic side to it.

So perhaps criminals 'feel' more than they think, react more than they act... So, they may not be totally rational... and therefore not responsible? Can the limbic system be programmed? Is it responsible? Can a mistreated animal be cured of its fear of others? Will it retreat or will it attack?

In "What The Human Mind Can Do", (Burr, 370) Morton Hunt speaks of the limbic elements of human consciousness and feeling and that the 'awareness of self is what the essence of being alive means to us'. He extrapolates from this that somehow culture, art, and politics evolve from a 'moral wisdom' based on this consciousness, and that computers need to be regarded only as tools to extend our capabilities, just as microscopes or video-teleconferencing.

One of Hunt's remarks applies to the issue of 'criminality', and that is the idea of being 'conscious of alternatives'. There are many alternatives to any behavior, so why do we choose one over the other? Darrow would suggest societal necessity. Lewis would propose a lapse of morals - a deviation from what is 'right' and 'proper'. Evans would suggest 'bad programming'.

Responsibility and Action

Being conscious of one's self does not necessarily imply an understanding of the reasons for all of one's actions, as Freud and psychiatry have demonstrated. Consciousness of 'self' therefore is no guarantee of 'responsibility'. Without complete 'self-knowledge', one cannot be said to be fully aware of all of the alternatives to 'deviant' behavior, nor capable of making the 'right choices', considering the 'unconscious' factors prevalent in human life (family, social and cultural conditioning, early traumatic experiences, chemical imbalances, etc.). Not to disregard the DNA factor: Machines are for all purposes mechanical. Humans evolve and reproduce though DNA, which itself can change (mutate). Except for identical twins (biological 'clones'), no two humans look alike. Why then should we suppose that we all have the capacity to perceive, feel, and think alike? There may be limitations among us all. You're short, I'm tall. I can't play a note, but I can speak five languages. You have an IQ of 180, but I can't repair a leaky faucet. I think, you feel. I'm serious. You're playful.

Whatever 'self' you are born with and develop, it is your 'self' . As a 'self', as a causal agent, you do things in the world around you. Whether you feel free to do them or not, or whether you have deliberated long and hard or not, it is 'you' who 'act' upon the world. Your sense of being an 'agent' is what counts. You cannot, unless you are not aware of anything 'you' do, claim otherwise. It is "I" who am writing this, not some other "I".

While there is always a struggle for freedom vs. 'order and security' (Titus, 461) and that these two form the basis for Rules of Law, there should always be room for the 'unorthodox', whether considered immoral or not by the larger society.

Democratic justice, unlike some other systems, tries not to penalize nonconformity, but encourages criticism (Henry Steele Commager in Titus, 465), and does not attempt to wield arbitrary power. The 'selfhood' of individuals is thus maintained, and freedom along with personal responsibility and choice are all enhanced and amplified. Whether human actions are really free or determined in this case is not the point. They have the potential to be free. They 'feel' free. There are no threats to your ability to make your own choices. 'You are free to do whatever you want. You only have to face the consequences'. (Kopp)

The responsibility of criminals lies in knowing that they chose to act in a certain manner that is considered to be against the law of the society they live in. The majority of these laws are there for the protection of the other 'selves', the other "I's", in that society, whose rights and freedoms are taken from them by the actions of the 'criminal'. This taking away of the rights of another is an offense. Taking away the rights of the offender is the 'punishment' and a deterrent to all who would also choose this course of action. Removing the offender from society or punishing him (in financial ways, or others) and dispensing 'justice' upon him is the way we 'protect citizens at large ' from any further injury or loss.


So it is not a matter of morality, conditioning, cures, diseases, private or public treason, nonconformity, or arbitrary power or willfulness. Criminal justice defines (in each society) what 'will happen to them if they do not behave' (Devlin in Burr, 314) and by behave we mean not doing harm or injustice to others. These are the 'laws', for better or for worse.

And, as Sir Patrick reminded us, the 'laws' may change from 'generation to generation... to the extent to which society will tolerate... departures..." (Burr, 312).

Postscript - An Example of a Social Definition of Criminal Behavior

I recall being a young Air Force trainee in 1961 Biloxi, Mississippi, walking down the street with another Airman (both of us from New York City), who happened to be black. A Biloxi police officer reminded us sternly that it was 'illegal' to do that - for a black and a white to walk together side by side.

We were headed for the Biloxi 'Free Public Library', where there was a sign posted: 'No Coloreds'. I insisted sarcastically that my friend was not "Colored", that he was Black and that "color" is green, purple, blue, etc. My humor was not received too well. We were both arrested for two counts of 'disturbing the peace' and returned to the Air Force Base gate in a patrol car. So, whose 'peace' were we disturbing? Who was being 'protected'? Of course, our actions were deliberate and designed to snub the 'arbitrary powers' in a segregated South, but it was a matter of personal morality and public treason, not the other way around.

To paraphrase Andre Malraux:

     "Man's fate is his laws."[1]


1. "Man's fate is his character."


Burr, John R. and Philosophy and Contemporary Issues, 4th Edition Goldinger, Milton New York: Macmillan, 1984

Edwards, Paul and A Modern Introduction to Philosophy, 3rd Edition Pap, Arthur, eds. New York: The Free Press, 1973

Nagel, Thomas  What Does It All Mean? New York: Oxford University Press, 1987

Titus, Harold H.  Living Issues in Philosophy, 5th Edition New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1970

Honderich, Ted, Ed. The Oxford Companion To Philosophy New York: Oxford University Press, 1995

Neufeldt, Victoria, Ed. Webster's New World Dictionary New York: Prentice Hall, 1994

(c) Charles Hlavac 2005

Windsor, CA, USA 95492




Today, I am to write about one of the greatest Christian mystics ever, a man who was forgotten and left behind for too long. A soul that lived long before the rise of modern western science yet penetrated the deepest depth of being. A man from whom God hid nothing, even the nothingness beyond God himself was to him revealed.

Johannes Eckhart was born around 1260 A.D to a knight. He entered the Dominican order when he was about 15. He taught in Paris, Strassburg and Cologne, held numerous responsible provincial offices, and was a great preacher.

Eckhart seldom taught in Latin. Except for official occasions where Latin was almost a must, Eckhart used to speak to his German fellows in their homeland language. This is quite expected, for Eckhart had nothing to hide. While other preachers hid their repetitive sermons and sterile systems beneath enigmatic Latin terms, and even before the ecclesiastical authority executed William Tyndale (1492-1536) for translating the bible to English, Eckhart wanted everyone to know God, to know God the same way he knew God. He thought that spiritual knowledge was made available for everyone by the Lord, from the theology master to the naive layman.

Eckhart's language is in every aspect superb. It is without exaggeration the text analog of a Steven Spielberg film! Eckhart used to write in such a vivid language, his writings are full of fruitful parables, mind-wrecking paradoxes, colorful images and mysterious symbolism. Eckhart's language raises the reader's soul to the highest of all heavens, makes him feel as a pure angel standing next to the Lord and glorifying him eternally. One moment later, it sails the soul through the turbulent seas of the confused human's thoughts, just before it dives the soul to the depths of the calm oceans of divine knowledge, the desert of the Godhead where everyone is spiritually naked, unattached and undesirous. It was thus no surprise that Eckhart inspired German thought after him, whether mystical or not.

Unlike most other theological scholars at his time, Eckhart did not talk about things that he learnt from books. Eckhart taught nothing but his own personal experience. It is quite evident from his writings that he does not write theology that he was taught to believe, that was abstract and aliened from his everyday life. He taught what he himself lived. Definitely Eckhart was greatly influenced by the neoplatonic thought as well as the teachings of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, yet he didn't naively repeat anyone's words. Eckhart embraced those teachings because he was in accordance with them. It is not strange that Eckhart's thoughts are also in extreme accordance with most oriental systems. D.T. Suzuki, the famous Zen philosopher, was perplexed when he read Eckhart, it seems that he never expected to see one of the 'dualist westerners' talking about the mystical oneness in a manner parallel to or even exceeding expert Zen masters! In his book 'Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist' he says:

     'When I first read - which was more than a half century
     ago - a little book containing a few of Meister Eckhart's
     sermons, they impressed me profoundly, for I never expected
     that any Christian thinker ancient or modern could or would
     cherish such daring thoughts as expressed in those
     sermons... As far as I can judge, Eckhart seems to be an
     extraordinary "Christian"... He stands on his own
     experiences which are emerged from a rich, deep, religious
     personality. He attempts to reconcile them with the
     historical type of Christianity modeled after legends and
     mythology. He tries to give an "esoteric" or inner meaning
     to them, and by so doing he enters fields which were not
     touched by most of his historical predecessors.'
Eckhart's religious philosophy is based on the one impersonal reality that is empty of any form, yet penetrates every form, The Godhead. Godhead can never be known in the same way all things are known, because it is not a 'thing'. The Godhead is deprived of any form, it is just when we negate everything that the light of the Godhead is born in our heart. Thus we can find him teaching that 'God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.' Eckhart usually speaks of this spiritual enlightenment as 'the inner birth of the Christ'. This potentiality of divine knowledge, according to Eckhart lies at the depth of every human, thus he teaches, 'The seed of God is in us. Pear seeds grow pear trees, nut seeds into nut trees, and God seeds into God.' It is to be noted here that he here didn't only affirm our ability to know God, but even to be God, and to realize the God that is in us, more wood to the fire that was later to burn Eckhart's fame for centuries.

Eckhart was astute enough to differentiate between Godhead, the impersonal reality and God the personal God of the scripture. He was even able to differentiate between the empirical self 'the ego' that loves, hates and remembers and the transcendental self, that white sheet on which we write our personalities, 'the atman' in Hinduism. He gives them different names: the soul and the apex of the soul 'the spark', or the inward man and the outward man. This quote is an excellent example:

     'God and Godhead are as different as earth is from heaven.
     Moreover I declare: the outward and the inward man are as
     different, too, as earth and heaven.'

To shift to a more detailed paragraph explaining the same thing we can quote:

     'I have occasionally spoken of a light in the soul which is
     uncreated and uncreatable... This light is not satisfied
     with the simple, still and divine being which neither gives
     nor takes, but rather it desires to know from where this
     being comes. It wants to penetrate to the simple ground, to
     the still desert, into which distinction never peeped,
     neither Father, Son nor Holy Spirit. There, in that most
     inward place, where everyone is a stranger, the light is
     satisfied, and there it is more inward than it is in
     itself, for this ground is a simple stillness which is
     immovable in itself. But all things are moved by this
     immovability and all the forms of life are conceived by it
     which, possessing the light of reason, live of themselves.'
     (Sermon DW 48)

It seems that the apex of the soul itself is just a 'spark' of Godhead. This spark, as the Godhead, doesn't possess any form. And being formless it is even above the most sacred of forms, that is God himself, thus Eckhart talks about the spark as,

     'a force in the soul; and not only a force, but something
     more, a being; and not only a being, but something more; it
     is so pure and high and noble in itself that no creature can
     come there, and God alone can dwell there. Yea, verily, and
     even God cannot come there with a form; He can only come
     with His simple divine nature.'

Godhead is definitely what is meant by 'his simple divine nature' so Eckhart here is teaching that only like knows like. We, being of form, know forms, yet since we can also 'know' the formless Godhead, then we must possess something that is of no form, this is our 'Spark' that is formless and is nothing other that the Godhead that is in us. We can summarize it all by this phrase 'When God made man, the innermost heart of the Godhead was put into man.'

It must be mentioned that Eckhart usually misnamed the Godhead as God many times, maybe he was cautious in using such a strange term as the Godhead, or maybe being surrounded by 'normal' Christians somehow confused him. Yet it seems that he usually meant the Godhead by 'God' and not the personal biblical God. He had a sublime concept of God other than the naive concept of a 'superman that stands in front of you and talks to you'. He says, 'Some simple folks think that they will see God as if He were standing there and they here. It is not so. God and I, we are one.'

One of the most famous sayings of Eckhart is that of the eye. He said:

     'The eye by which I see God is the same as the eye by which
     God sees me. My eye and God's eye are one and the same - one
     in seeing, one in knowing, and one in loving.'

Plotinus provides a similar passage:

     'No doubt we should not speak of seeing, but instead of
     seen and seer, speak boldly of a simple unity. For in this
     seeing we neither distinguish nor are there two. The man...
     is merged with the Supreme... one with it.'

This is the classical Advita Vedanta the two are preaching. I am God, God and I are one, when 'I' is no longer the narrow 'I' of the ego, another 'I' emerges, that is the universal self. And it is that universal self that is 'really' me. Although being deprived of any particular information that would give me a separate identity than others, and despite its belonging (or better still not belonging!) to every creature to the same extent that it belongs to me, it somehow describes me better than my 'personal' ego does. This is the corner stone of genuine mysticism. This is the paradox of non-duality.

Eckhart goes too far about one's detachment from not just the world, but also everything even God himself. Thus he says, 'I beg God to void me of God, for my essential being is above God, insofar as we take God to be the beginning of creatures.' (Sermon 32) and also 'Man's last and highest parting occurs when, for God's sake, he takes leave of God.'

Eckhart did think of creation in a very different manner than what Genesis had to offer. God did not create the world in a certain time at the past and had a rest. Eckhart sees creation as an eternal action thus he says,

     'God is not only a Father of all good things, as being
     their First Cause and Creator, but He is also their Mother,
     since He remains with the creatures which have from Him
     their being and existence, and maintains them continually
     in their being. If God did not abide with and in the
     creatures, they must necessarily have fallen back, so soon
     as they were created, into the nothingness out of which
     they were created.'

It is here quite clear that creation is an eternal action, God is in an everlasting process of creation, of sustaining creatures in their being that is his being, for without him they would return to pure nothingness.

It was a long time before Eckhart was accused of heresy. It was his exemplary ethics, high theological position and the people's love that helped him stay away from the court. Yet he received the sad news only a couple of years before his death. The man whom Buddhists, Hindu, Taoists, theosophists, Sufis and others strive to prove being one of them, was rejected by the medieval church.

Eckhart finally had the honor to stand before the Catholic court, accused of heresy. I will try to spotlight the first two points of disagreement between Eckhart and the church to illustrate how the church misunderstood Eckhart due to the different grounds of reasoning between the two.

Let's start with the first point on the papal condemnation. Eckhart said, 'God created the world as soon as God was.' 'Oh! How daring! This means that God is not eternal, that he was brought to existence at a certain point in the past just like the world, this is heresy!' Cried the orthodox literal mind. In fact, Eckhart has always stressed more than anything else that God is eternal, where is the trick here? Eckhart meant that the personality of God was first perceived by us, who in our personality personalize God. It is through the filter of my own personality that we comprehend God as personal and it is through our human projection of personality onto God that he - or better it - evolves personhood.

Number two: 'In every work, bad as well as good, the glory of God is equally manifested.' Here Eckhart is stressing that the divine light that shines from beyond all is capable of transforming even the bad to goodness. Bad is seen as good at this mystical experience although being still bad as it is. Rudolf Otto had a very nice statement regarding this paradox, he says, 'This results in the peculiar logic of mysticism which discounts the two fundamental laws of natural logic, the laws of contradiction and excluded middle. As non-Euclidean geometry sets aside the axiom of parallels, so mystical logic disregards these two axioms; and thence the "coincidentia oppositorum," the "identity of opposites," and the "dialectic conception" arise' and Otto more boldly states, 'Black does not cease to be black, nor white white. But black is white and white is black. The opposites coincide without ceasing to be what they are in themselves.'

It seems that his being accused of heresy deeply shocked Eckhart. He was so internally grieved at the news that it is possible that his death around that time was somehow produced by the bitterness he felt seeing his angelic, heavenly-like works investigated for 'Satanic doctrines'. I can imagine him walking in circles in his cell, quasi-madly talking to himself with words such as 'Okay, say I am a heretic, hate me or even burn me alive. But you can't say that this is heresy I am saying, this is the naked truth, if it was something that I concluded by mind or even logic I can say that I was somehow mistaken, but this is something that I personally felt, this is something that I did live deeply in my heart. All this love, calmness, faithful silence and tear-evoking sanctity just can't be illusion.'

I cannot have the least sympathy for the church accusing Eckhart with heresy. I can somehow 'understand' the medieval church's fear of science and its skepticism regarding scientists like Galileo. Yet, the church condemning Eckhart was something more than resisting science, it was resisting spirituality. A defender can say that the church is a 'spiritual organization' not a scientific community, thus we should forgive it for misunderstanding science. Yet, if the church misunderstood Eckhart, then it was not even spiritual. It had nothing left to claim!

Fortunately, on the 27th of March 1329, when the pope was reciting his condemnation, and the opponents chanting their 'Anathemas', Eckhart was not listening, he was doing a better job; he was resting peacefully in his final trance, in his eternal sleep of silence. Wasn't it him who has said, 'You could not do better than to go where it is dark, that is, unconsciousness'?

(c) Arthur Brown 2005



This paper looks at quantum effects from an informational perspective. It asks how an information/ matter theory of the world may address the conceptual problems associated with quantum effects. The information/ matter theory is outlined in my thesis, "The Metaphysics of Information" (MOI). It holds that the world we are sensitive to is composed of a duality of matter and information.

Information is associated with changes in the physical world. When a signal light flashes to generate a coded message, this code is composed of periods of darkness and periods of light. The message cannot be considered to be contained in the light, as without the dark periods in between the flashes there would be no message. Similarly the message cannot be considered to be contained in the dark periods, as without the light there would be no message. Both dark and light periods are needed. This leads to the conclusion that the information is transferred by "changes" and is completely abstract.

Information has no physical properties and so cannot be located in space, but in addition to other properties it does have a "quantum" nature. The smallest bit of information that can be conceived is that associated with a two-position on/off, true/false switch. Similarly, quantum physics holds that measurable physical processes take place in discrete quanta. It also suggests that information about these physical changes is only available in discrete quanta. This leads to some conceptual problems associated with the quantum theory. According to Alastair Rae in Quantum Physics Illusion or Reality?

     The two main conceptual problems: non-locality which means
     that different parts of a quantum system appear to
     influence each other even when they are a long way apart
     and even although there is no known interaction between
     them, and the "measurement problem" which arises from the
     idea that quantum systems possess properties only when
     these are measured, although there is apparently nothing
     outside quantum physics to make these measurements
     (Rae, 1986 ix).

As both the material world and the informational world have quantum effects we can assume a relationship and investigate it. Consider the following:

     * Because energy conversions (of a particular type) are
     needed to generate information and because information has
     a quantum nature, there is a definite minimum quantum
     change of energy that is needed to generate information
     from a physical system.
     * Energy conversions/exchanges may occur in a physical
     system below the threshold for generating information, but
     these are not measurable, because they do not generate
This limit of information that can be obtained from the system produces the measurement problem outlined above in the first extract from Rae. The locality problem is dealt with by pointing out that information is abstract; it does not have physical properties, and therefore cannot be located in space.

Rae comments to the effect that:

     Quantum theory tells us that nothing can be measured or
     observed without disturbing it (Rae, 1986: 3).

This is very similar to the basic premise of the matter/information duality theory, which asserts there that each measurable physical change is associated with the generation of information. When no measurable change takes place, no information is generated. Measurable change, by definition, must be generated by physical/ energy change and must extract energy from the source system. It must also generate information. This thesis holds that one cannot take place without the other.

This would make the statement, "Measurable change takes place when information leaves the system," equivalent to the statement, "Nothing can be measured or observed without disturbing it." These are two different ways of looking at the same process. One approaches from an informational perspective and holds that information is generated whenever there is a measurable physical change and the other approaches from the physical perspective and states that measurements cannot be made unless the (source) physical system loses energy and generates information.

"The Metaphysics of Information" argues that in addition to the physical changes that take place when a switch is closed to energize a light, an informational event occurs that is represented by the logical statement, "If A (the switch closes) then B (the light comes on)." This informational event is non-physical. The information generated does not interfere with the physical processes. No energy is (or can be) absorbed by this information.

Just as this simple circuit generates information, the physical (neurological) changes, which take place in our brain, generate information. Our thoughts are informational and our consciousness is a consciousness of information (sensations relayed by our senses or generated internally). The mind/ brain duality, discussed in philosophy, is a reflection of the information/ matter duality that is characteristic of our world. The informational effects of the physical changes taking place in the brain create mind. This theory (of a relationship between information and matter) seems to be supported by the quantum effects referred to above.

If we assume that a relationship between matter and information exists, it can be argued that information appears to have a quantum nature because the physical world is characterized by quanta. Since information is generated by physical/ energy changes of a certain minimum magnitude, this quantum effect must be present in both the informational and the physical/ energy worlds. This is essential because the smallest bit of information that can be generated must be associated with the smallest energy change that can be measured. There is no "smaller" measurable physical change so no "smaller" bit of information can be generated. Hence, since the physical world is characterized by energy quanta this automatically requires that information quanta are also present. This suggests that information is a continuous regime that is cut up into discrete quanta because of the physical characteristics associated with the generation of information.

On the other hand, we know that the minimum quantum of information is the logical "yes/no." No smaller piece of information has been detected. This suggests the alternative argument; that the quantum effect of information imposes itself on the physical. This transfers the "cause" of the quantum effect to the information realm. This approach would investigate the possibility that the information quantum imposes restrictions on the physical world and creates the quantum effect. It would hold that since information can only be generated in quantum bits, we can only be sensitive of and measure those physical changes which are capable of generating this quanta of information. This suggests that the physical realm may be characterized by physical changes that are "big" enough to generate information and others that are not capable of generating information. Alternatively it can be argued that both energy changes and information are generated by the same event and cannot be separated. One does not cause the other; both result from the same event. This argument is pursued here.

In describing the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, Rae comments as follows.

     One of the consequences of wave-particle duality is that it
     sets limits on the amount of information that can ever be
     obtained about a quantum system at any one time
     (Rae, 1986: 9).

It would appear that the energy changes that generate information are also associated with the conversion or transfer of energy from the source system (photon) to some other mode of existence (energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed). Quantum physics seems to be saying that, unless the energy/ matter system is capable of transferring a certain minimum quantity of energy, it retains that energy. If energy is transferred out of a source system (say electro magnetic radiation), this energy leaves in discrete quanta and is no longer available within the source system. This thesis argues that, at the same time that the energy leaves in its discrete quanta, an abstract quantity (that contains no energy) called information is also generated.

We can speculate about what happens in the physical system described by Rae, but as outlined in the quotation above, we can only measure one event as this measurement extracts energy from the system and so "disturbs" it. Because of this quantum effect, there is a limit to the things we can be aware of in a physical system. This is a restatement of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Rae continues:

     At high enough energies a photon can be converted into a
     negatively charged electron along with an otherwise
     identical, but positively charged, particle known as a
     positron, and electron-positron pairs can recombine into
     photons. Moreover, exotic particles can be created in
     high-energy processes, many of which spontaneously decay
     after a small fraction of a second into more familiar
     stable entities like electrons or quarks. All such
     processes can be understood by an extension of quantum
     ideas in a form known as quantum field theory. An essential
     feature of this theory is that some phenomena can be
     explained only if a number of fundamental processes occur
     simultaneously: in the same way as light passes through
     both slits of an interference apparatus, even though it
     apparently consists of discrete photons, so a number of
     fundamental quantum-field processes add together in a
     coherent way to create the observed phenomenon
     (Rae, 1986: 14).

An information quantum theory can account for this by maintaining that the individual sub processes that add together to create the observed phenomena are not associated with information generation (or energy loss from the system) and so cannot be detected. This supports the suggestion that physical/ energy changes that occur below some threshold (or which are contained within the source system) do not generate information. The "quantum-field processes" that "add together in a coherent way to create the observed phenomenon," are below this threshold (or do not encounter the conditions necessary for them to give up energy) and so do not generate information. Because these do not generate information, they cannot be detected.

This easily combines with ideas on entropy. When information is generated through a physical change, "something" is lost and the system loses entropy. When this happens the system processes are irreversible. The converse of this suggests that when no information leaves the system the changes that take place in the system are likely to be reversible, but also un-measurable.

Entropy is the measure of a system's energy that is unavailable for work. This gives entropy the characteristics of energy. It can also be defined in a way that gives it the characteristics of information.

     In one statistical interpretation of entropy, it is found
     that for a very large system in a thermodynamic equilibrium
     state, entropy S is proportional to the natural logarithm of
     a quantity W representing the maximum number of microscopic
     ways in which the macroscopic state corresponding to S can be
     realized; that is, S = k(ln)W, in which k is the Boltzmann
     constant (Encyclopedia Britannica 2003: Entropy).

Because entropy can be defined in these two ways, it suggests that there is a fundamental association between energy and information. This lends support to the thesis that there is a clear relationship between information and energy.

Rae describes the ideas put forward by Einstein and his co-workers, Boris Podolski and Nathan Rosen in 1935 and generally denoted as EPR. When photon pairs are generated and one of these is found to have (say) a horizontal polarization the other is always found to have a vertical polarization. This happens even when the measurements are some distance apart, far enough that one measurement cannot influence the other. Because this always happens, it suggests that both measurements are effectively generating the same information. Physicists have looked for, but not found (or their findings have not been widely accepted), a chain of causal events that would link these two measurements.

Rae quotes from Einstein:

     If, without in any way disturbing the system, we can
     predict with certainty (i.e. with probability equal to
     unity) the value of a physical quantity, then there exists
     an element of physical reality.

And then continues:

     We therefore seem to be left with a choice: either the
     ideas of quantum measurement can be extended so that an
     apparatus affects a photon a long way from it, or there is
     a deterministic hidden-variable theory underlying quantum
     physics (Rae, 1986: 31).

Rae then describes attempts to find the hidden variables and some aspects of the Aspect experiment, the results of which reinforce quantum theory, but leave us with, what many scientists consider, a dilemma. The results of one set of measurements indicate that it is being affected by the results of the other set of measurements, even though these measurements are taking place far enough from each other to prevent information from one experiment, traveling at the speed of light, being received by the other measuring apparatus in time to affect the results of the measurement. A clear relationship has been established, but no explanation of the relationship, in terms of known physical laws, has been accepted.

A possible information theory explanation of this is that the same information is being measured by both pieces of apparatus. The properties of information indicate that although it is transported by physical changes, it is different from those physical changes. An abstract "entity" such as information cannot be said to have a location as it does not have physical properties and so cannot be located in physical space. Something that has no physical dimensions, or which cannot be represented as a point, cannot be located in physical space.

This suggests that the speed of light, which is generally regarded as the maximum speed at which information can be transported, while being relevant to our ability to detect information, is irrelevant to information itself as information does not have a location.

If information exists independent of physical change we could not be aware of it and similarly, we cannot measure physical changes, which do not generate information. Speculation about information existing independent of the physical can lead to spiritual concepts. Some argue that incorporeal souls exist just as an abstract "I" exists. On the other hand the existence of physical changes, which do not generate information, seems to be necessary to support the experimental findings of quantum physicists. We can speculate that there is a wholly informational world and a wholly physical world and a material/ informational world that bridges the two.

We seem to occupy the world that bridges these two.


Rae, A. Quantum Physics Illusion or Reality? Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1986

Stoute, D. A. "The Metaphysics of Information," unpublished.

(c) Dick Stoute 2004


© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020