Doubt and Dogma (Homage to William James)

Content and Conclusions

Introduction: Reason and Dream…7

Dreams as counterparts of Reason, Irrationalism as its enemy…8

When fish dream…10 

The immoderate measuring of the World…13

Part I: The Three Paramount Dreams of the last Millennium…17 

The Middle Ages: a Metaphysical Dream17 


The Renaissance: a Dream of Beauty26

The Industrial Revolution: the Dream of God-like Power over Nature36

Conclusions Part I

Part II: The Fight against Freedom and Dreams…49 

The Scientific Worldview – a dream?50 

Descartes’ delusive compromise…56

Holbach does not mince his words…60

The attack of Benjamin Libet…63

Libet’s results even more significant than determinism in outward nature…64

Karl Marx – caught in the old worldview…67

A Working hypothesis elevated to the rank of Dogma…72

Conclusions Part II

Part III: The Rebellion against Dogma: Nonconformists and Heretics…77

David Hume…77

Romanticism: the Worship of Freedom78


German Romanticism…82

A fresh source…84

Idealists as World Designers85

Leibniz builds a universal clock…85

Kant invents the thing-in-itself…87

Fichte’s absolute, breath-taking freedom…92 

Hegel’s philosophy became as popular as it was averse to clear thinking…96

Popper, Schrödinger, Jaspers…101

Paul Watzlawick, or the return of the idealists…102

Cautious Philosophers, prudent Scientists105

Werner Heisenberg and quantum physics…105

As if nothing had happened: 200 years of impotent protests108

Return to Oracles – Farewell to Common Sense110

Martin Heidegger as a prophet…111


Franz Kafka and Albert Camus…115

Conclusions Part III

Part IV: Four Proofs for Freedom in Man and Nature…119 

The Error of Neurologists119

The Radically New in Evolution121 

1. Freedom Proof: evolutionist (regarding nature)125

The theory of layers…126

2. Freedom Proof: axiomatic (regarding man)131

3. Freedom Proof: axiomatic (regarding nature)132

A beam of light in the middle of darkness…133

Experiments – or why Science insists on Freedom…134

Necessity and Freedom are twins – why there can be no Universal Formula…135

The limits of causality…136

No Experimental Evidence for or against Freedom…137

4. Freedom Proof: contradictional137

Why it is impossible to think and define the content of freedom…140 

Conclusions Part IV

Part V: The motive behind the denial of freedom…143

The inside view of freedom…144

Conclusions Part V

Part VI: Brain and Consciousness…147 

Conclusions Part VI

Part VII: A World ruled by Natural Laws? Why not a World ruled by Dreams?…155

The Moral and the Mechanical World155 

The Middle Way: How to break out of the Ideological Prison167 

Miracles Redefined…173

Conclusions Part VII

Part VIII: Creative (free) and Replicating knowledge…175

The Twofold Foundation of Human Cognition…176 

Bacon and Descartes – pioneers blind on one eye…177 

Culture and Civilization180 

The Hierarchy of Creative Knowledge181

Art and Creative Knowledge…183 

One more glance at culture and civilization…191 

A Sistine Chapel dedicated to Evolution?194 

Where Facts end and Dreams begin…198 

False Dreams…200

Conclusions Part VIII


Register …211


Part I: The three great dreams of the past thousand years

The first chapter is intended to give the reader an intuitive impression of what freedom means in the emergence of a society – for only in becoming, in change, in self-formation can freedom manifest itself. The range of necessity is easy enough to pin down. Farmers in India and in Europe exposed to pre-industrial agriculture were subject to quite similar natural constraints, which directly determined their everyday actions. But this external determination did not extend to their respective worldviews where freedom so visibly manifests itself. The mental cosmos of an Indian and a European peasant differed fundamentally. And this intercultural diversity demonstrates but half the truth. For although the conditions of material life between the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the early stages of industrialization showed no fundamental cleavage – the constraints imposed by nature remaining largely unchanged – profound transformations occurred within the general interpretation of life, changes which cannot be explained by nor – a fortiori – derived from prevailing material conditions. In his sociological essays Max Weber rightly insisted on this point thus providing a major correction to Marx. There are areas of human activity where being largely determines consciousness, there are others where consciousness produces mental realities that cannot be explained by the former. With unmistakable evidence this truth is demonstrated by the genesis of the Industrial Revolution: as a mental reality, it came into being two hundred years before it achieved its material realization.

Part II: The modern struggle against freedom and dream

The world as a machine – its complete scientific mensuration – was the project of modern times, for which the French mathematician Laplace invented the formula. A perfect intelligence would be able to calculate the entire future from its unlimited knowledge of the past. Under this presupposition, freedom naturally had to degenerate into nothing more than a mere subjective illusion. It is interesting to note that theology, especially in the hands of Augustine, preceded science in its endeavor to drive freedom out of the world. God had to know the entire future, otherwise he would lack omniscience, for that reason the future had to be predestined. Science and philosophy readily adopted the dogma – and just as among theologians, there were few dissenting votes as the denial of freedom had similar roots. Science would not be able to fully foresee and anticipate the future on the basis of a more and more thorough knowledge of natural laws – in other words, it would not be theoretically omniscient – if freedom (that is, the unpredictable) could be allowed to limit its scope. To acknowledge freedom would mean in fact mean that its knowledge, however vast, will nevertheless remain limited and thus imperfect. This the dogmatists would and could not accept. They therefore framed the metaphysical dogma of determinism with ultimate logical inexorability and applied it to the whole range of nature (see Laplace). It was only in our time that Benjamin Libet specifically investigated the human brain, where he believed to prove that freedom was incompatible with the facts of neurology.

It is all the more surprising that in the West the denial of freedom did not lead to the logical consequence of paralysing thought and action – a result to be expected from a doctrine that transforms man and nature into a machine governed by inexorable impersonal laws. Paradoxically, the West responded to a doctrine of fatalism with a historically unrivalled activism – a contradiction that no one seemed to notice.

Part III: Rebellion against dogma

German idealism gave a new importance to freedom but was subsequently repudiated for its allegedly reactionary tendencies since it rebelled against determinism so intransigently defended by science. Kant took this path with extreme caution, but not so Fichte, who made freedom the cornerstone of his philosophy. While the dealing with outward nature had transformed the world into a mechanism, idealists turned their eyes to the inward nature of man where they believed to uncover the very origin and fountainhead of freedom. Their attempt was not really successful, but the enthusiasm elicited by idealism not only in Germany clearly demonstrates how many people felt the need to break out of the so-called mechanistic worldview.

A real breakthrough was brought about by the subsequent advance ot science itself: the discovery of chance in quantum physics. However, chance is, so to speak, nothing but a waste product of science, accepted only with utter repulsion as it constitutes an unchartered spot on the map of scientific knowledge: a residue of unpredictability.

Philosophic existentialism went far beyond chance. It gave freedom the same prominent place as did idealism more than a hundred years earlier. But it did so only in a dogmatic appeal without logical justification. Existantialism was in fact unable to provide such logic as it found freedom exclusively in man; it had no concern for nature. Thus the universe was divided in two totally unconnected halves: on the one side living man with all his existential freedom of self-realization, on the other side nature being as dead as a machine.

Part IV: Four proofs of freedom in nature and man

The four proofs of Part IV are meant to dismantle determinism showing that it would – when consistently applied – entail irreconcilable contradictions. It is true that freedom may not be proved empirically, just as its opposite pure determinism – both represent metaphysical propositions as understood by Karl Popper. But the philosopher, by illuminating the logical foundations of empiricism, can unmistakably prove that science could not even be conceived without freedom. In order to do so, the philosopher must, however, shun that lazy compromise called ‘soft determinism’, which is but another word for getting around the problem by turning off one’s own thinking. He must give an unequivocal answer to the crucial questions why there must be freedom, where it is to be found and how its existence may be proved.

Part V: The motive behind the denial of freedom

Science is looking for laws, i.e. she explores the world in terms of its predictability. Science thus represents a systematic way of fulfilling man’s basic desire for safety. The more and the better we are able to calculate and predict the future from facts of the past, the more security we obtain in our dealings with nature and man alike. The complete computability of the world thus constitutes a working hypothesis, which science may not easily circumvent. Why should the scientist look for further laws if he did not presume, in the first place, that he will possibly find them?

The search for security does, however, contradict an equally forceful and elementary human need, namely that for self-design and self-development, which both demand an open, undetermined future. I may only create another and better world if and to the extent that the future is not determined by things past. These two needs – our need for security and our need for freely shaping our future – rival each other since the beginning of human history. Any philosophical or scientific theory which elevates one of the two to exclusive validity, that is to the rank of a dogma, while belittling or suppressing the other, impoverishes and constricts reality as well as man’s psychological wants.

Part VI: Brain and consciousness

In the eyes of modern physicists analyzing the tiniest components of the material world the latter has become more and more immaterial. Today, abstract concepts such as energy and information describe the deeper-lying characteristics of physical reality. In other words, mind and matter are approaching each other ever closer.

Neurology, however, rightly insists that acts of the mind are always accompanied by measurable material transformations within the brain. For this very reason neurology is not only capable to establish a strong relationsship between mind and matter but may even derive specific mental states from specific neurological events.

This parallelism does, however, by no means prove that human thought may be fully explained by physiological laws. In Part IV we have shown that material processes themselves can not be understood in this way without incurring logical contradictions. The question which up to this day opposes materialists and idealists namely whether the mind directs the atoms or vice versa, will have to be answered in a neutral way: Neither this nor that. For mind as well as its neurological manifestations are but the two manifest planes depending on a more deep-lying one which I termed ‘preconscious will’. Here again mind and matter seem to fuse into unity.

Part VII: The world governed by causal laws? Why not by dreams?

If it is true that reality can not be thought of without contradiction unless it is ruled both by necessity and by freedom, then two competing world-images are available to man, both one-sided – one based on the concept of freedom, the other based on the concept of necessity. Before the seventeenth century, i. e. before the beginning of European modernity, the moral view prevailed throughout the world. Nature and man were thought to be governed by spirits and gods, who used their freedom to shape things and beings under their jurisdiction. The moral categories of good and evil provided the fundament of their choices as man himself followed their lead. In the moral view of the world, people did not care about impersonal laws, because these would necessarily confine the freedom of spiritual beings. Miracles, as a possibility to sovereignly defy apparent necessity, were considered a self-evident expression of such freedom.

With the seventeenth century – but as an abstract mental alternative much earlier – the machine vision of reality achieved prominence. Freedom and morality were declared subjective illusions just like all those spirits and gods of yore. Impersonal law was now established as the only hardcore reality. But in fact both images of the world – the mechanistic as well as the moral – do violence to reality because of their one-sidedness. They are partial truths which, for that very reason, can only partially satisfy the human mind.

Part VIII: Creative and reproducing knowledge

This last chapter throws a new light on the theory of knowledge, which in the modern tradition, became wrongly equated with reproducing knowledge as it was based on the denial of freedom. But reproducing knowledge only describes the human ability to trace the regularities of nature in the past and to foresee the future in so far as these regularities or laws are reproduced in the latter. Completely ignored was creative knowledge based on the concept of freedom, which opposes mere possibilities to the actualities of the world – a knowledge that shapes the future by transcending (not contradicting) the realm of necessity. Creative knowledge encompasses the domain of freedom in nature and man. Freedom in nature, may, of course, only be recognized in retrospect, namely, by looking at what originates by „fulguration“, most convincingly described by the ‘theory of layers’ (Part IV). But we recognize freedom in man when looking into our own self where the new constantly comes to the fore. Creative knowledge consists in the invocation and realization of possibilities – the radically new -, through which each individual becomes a force of evolution to however small a degree. On the other hand, everybody is nowadays well aware that mankind as a whole is a force of destiny for the planet. By using its freedom it may either transform it into paradise or into hell.