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Ten Principles

A new account of the role of mind in nature is based on several principles taken to be universal, some of which exist already in today’s science.

Starting with Substance and Form in Multiple Levels

To summarise briefly the starting position, consider the following points:

  1. Particular objects in the world exist, and all are composed of some substance in some form. Pure forms without substance cannot exist, whether they be information, mathematics or functions (after Aristotle).
  2. All existing things have irreducible causal powers: probabilistic dispositions or propensities are an essential part of the nature of everything existing.
  3. For simplicity, take the substance of a thing not as something unknowable, but as the underlying disposition or propensity from which, according local structures, all its other dispositions and causal properties may be derived.
  4. Every microscopic operation consists of generative ‘discrete degrees’ (read > as ‘gives’):
     propensity itself > propensity in a distributed form > event.
  5. Each stage or degree is like a ‘part,’ and exists in its own manner.

The above principles are arguably the foundation of a realist interpretation of quantum physics, as discussed elsewhere and below. The essential dispositions of an elementary particle are the propensities characterised by the charges, masses and other quantum numbers that determine its capacities and probabilities for interaction.

New Principles

Now for what is new: 

  1. Each stage of a generative triple is itself composed of parts with this three-fold structure. Thus we have a recursive structure of embedded details like a fractal. The next level of detail, for example, would be an ennead of nine sub-degrees.
  2. Physics and nature as we know them are not the whole picture, but are in fact ‘merely’ the ‘event stage’ of a bigger picture operating with the same structural principles.
  3. The ‘big picture’ has a triple that is more commonly known as:
    ‘soul’ (propensity itself) > ‘mind’ (propensity in a form) > ‘body’ (visible events).
  4. At this global level, the ‘propensity’ should, if you are happy with this terminology, be more accurately termed ‘spirit’ or ‘love’, and only the ‘body’ stage regarded as ‘natural’ and visible to physics.

Perhaps scientists imagine that there is no need for this kind of scheme, but we are already suffering from a lack of precisely such universal ideas from philosophy. This so far is a relatively simple vision that, like a fractal, points to expanding vistas of complexity on closer examination. Unlike a fractal, this scheme points to expanding ranges of quality within. Let us see some details. 

All stages are individually objects composed of some propensity (substance) in some form. This applies to ‘soul’ and ‘mind’ as well as to the natural world. Each is a really existing object (by principle 5) with causal powers (by principles 1 and 2), at one of the following stages:

  • The soul itself (by principle 6) has itself three ‘heavenly’ sub-degrees:
    ‘spiritual love’ > ‘wisdom’ > ‘faithfulness in action’.
  • The mind itself (similarly) has three ‘mental’ sub-degrees:
    ‘interior mind’ > ‘scientific discursive mind’ > sensorimotor mind.
    • Each of these has three parts, very probably as Jean Piaget1 and Erik Eriksson2 have begun to describe in their stages of cognitive and affective development.
  • The natural body itself has three ‘physical’ sub-degrees:
    pre-geometric processes > virtual processes > actual processes.
    • ‘Pre-geometric processes’ have themselves three parts:
      but as yet only speculation, in for example loop theories of quantum gravity.
    • ‘Virtual processes’ have themselves three parts:
      Lagrangian variational > virtual fields > coherent virtual events.
    • ‘Actual processes’ have themselves three parts:
      Energy operator (Hamiltonian) > wave function > decoherent actual events.

The above is a structure of recursively embedded discrete degrees that could be expanded upon in much more detail. Consider some degrees as examples.  

Quantum Physics

The final triple for ‘actual processes’ shows the operation of the Schrödinger equation and decoherence, the most basic dynamism of quantum physics. Physical energy is active, so is represented as a mathematical operator which generates the space and time distribution of the wave function as constrained by initial conditions. This distributed wave function, after some finite time, produces actual events as the selection of one outcome among many ‘decoherent alternatives,’ as constrained by previous selections. The precise nature of these selection events is so far only known in rather extreme cases involving medium and large objects, so there is new physics to be discovered here.   

The overall structure of the ‘physical degree’ is currently much debated among physicists. There is general agreement that the energy and wave functions appearing in the ‘actual process’ degree are not simple, because kinetic energy from mass and potential energy from interactions are both dynamically generated by the virtual processes of quantum field theories. However, there is no good agreement about the most fundamental stage of what gives rise to these virtual processes, and, especially, what gives rise to the space-time background for virtual events. I mention loop quantum gravity, as one attempt to explain how space-time areas and volumes might be produced. There are many speculations about quantum gravity, and how space-time might be dynamically generated, but there is little agreement even about what such a theory should look like. I hope that my present scheme would enable some general principles to be elucidated that might guide theory formation, and enable eventually a realistic interpretation to be found. 

Mental sub-degrees

The triple for ‘mental sub-degrees’ shows the steps by which deep motivational principles in the interior mind – purposes – lead to action. These purposes come to fruition by means of discursive investigation of ideas, plans and alternatives in the more exterior ‘scientific discursive mind’, as constrained by existing intellectual abilities. The actions by the sensorimotor mind select one outcome among many, as constrained by bodily conditions. Moreover, psychologists who have investigated perceptive and executive processes within the sensorimotor stage realise that these are far from simple. What we see, for example, is very much influenced by our expectations and desires, as well as being constrained, of course, by what is in front of our eyes. They would agree that there are subsidiary degrees of expectation, presentation of alternatives and resolution even during ‘simple’ sensations.

In order to encompass the above examples of operation in both physics and psychology, let me postulate the following dynamical principle to apply universally at all levels.  The basic principle could be called ‘conditional generative causation’, according to which:

  1. Changed propensities in each degree are generated by prior propensities that act according to what is already actual in both the current and subsequent degrees.

Each degree is therefore activated by ‘influx’ from prior stages, while the present range of actualities constrains what influx is possible, and also how propensities change at those prior degrees. The new science of purposes sees, therefore, a whole multi-level structure linked everywhere together asymmetrically: by influx from ‘above’, and by constraints from ‘below’. The propensities (loves) of the very first degree are constant. The final degree of actual selections in nature has no potentialities for changes to itself, so it is the cumulative ‘bottom line’ that is fixed and permanent as history, and therefore acts as kind of ultimate container to all previous degrees.

Dynamical Origin of Correspondences

Note that there are detailed constituent events in both of any pair of prior and produced degrees. Because of all these microscopic events, there will be successive influx from the prior degree reciprocating with sequential constraints by the produced degree, and this alternation will repeat itself longest if the patterns of the constituent events are most similar in the two degrees, and they do not get out of step. By a sort of survival of the fittest, this in the long term gives rise to correspondences of function between adjacent degrees. We may conversely say that the functions in distinct degrees sustain each other in a kind of resonance when they are most similar in the patterns of their constituent events. Our minds and brains sustain each other by influx and constraint, for example, when psychological and neural processes are most nearly isomorphic to each other in their functional description. There is much detail here to be learned by derivation and observation, not just in mind-brain functioning but throughout living organisms. Discrete degrees are not of a continuous substance with each other, but, we see, have functional relations that make them ‘contiguously intertwined’ at all stages, and at all levels of detail at each stage. 

How Mental Purposes Influence Physics

How, in this vision, do we link with the physical degrees, and how do purposes work in the apparent face of physical laws? Here, they do not squeeze through any gaps in our explanations, but work through the normal processes by means of which physical propensities are all originally generated from prior loves. They follow this flow of influx, modifying it as allowed by the constraints of what is already fixed at each stage.  

For physics, this means that the ‘deepest principles’, such as the Lagrangian subject to variations, and presumably the even deeper theories of quantum gravity, will have certain parameters that depend on prior discrete degrees in the rational and sensory minds.  This is a new result in our science of purposes. Does it break physical laws? First note that, on the realist position here of objects being composed of all their propensities, physical laws are identical with the description of how these propensities in fact operate. Quantum electrodynamics, for example, describes how electrons of certain masses and charges interact with each other and with photons. We need another law to say how the propensities may themselves vary, or not vary. The details are part of the general theory, still to be found, of pre-geometric processes. Do we know for sure that the electron charge is constant? Physicists have in fact imagined slow variations of this (the fine structure constant), but are we allowed to speculate about local more rapid variations on neurological time scales? The meaning of the laws of conservation of energy and momentum would have to be reconsidered in such a situation. Presumably, physicists would conclude that the system in question could not be considered sufficiently isolated.

Some General Considerations

A good new theory must allow a natural world that is not an illusion, nor just the product of human minds. It should also be consonant with our best accounts of psychology and theology. The power of purpose is not omnipotent, as in some New Age stories, for in fact there is often resistance to the elaboration of purposes. A good theory must explain the phenomenon of ‘contrary tendencies’: of limitations as well as of empowerments, and of bitterness as well as love. 

Purposes, in this vision, are produced by particular forms of love – particular affections – as these generate the next stage of thought, and begin to be worked out in particular forms or ideas in the mind.  We would thus distinguish the loves of good things from the purpose or intention that works towards achieving them.

Purposes therefore become powerful by working through, and modifying, the normal routes by which loves and thoughts work through all of the pre-geometric and virtual stages towards actual effects. Depending on what has already actually happened in ourselves and in nature, purposes generate thoughts and plans, and then also physical potentialities for the desired actual outcomes. Sometimes historical actualities facilitate purposes by providing the materials for the accomplishment of the end. At other times, they may slightly (or sharply) limit the range of possible actions, and thwart the working out of prior purposes. Such frustrating situations must be worked around, or limited cooperation sought, since history cannot be abolished.


  1. J. Piaget. The Language and Thought of the Child, Harcourt, Brace & World. 1926;
    J. Piaget, Play, Dreams, and Imitation in Childhood, Norton, 1962.
  2. E. Erikson. Childhood and Society, Norton, 1963.

Ian Thompson, October 2004.


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