Vertical Ascent

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* Book: THE VERTICAL ASCENT. From Particles to the Tripartite Cosmos and Beyond. Wolfgang Smith. Angelico Press,



"What distinguishes this book from other contemporary treatises touching upon cosmology is its conception of the tripartite cosmos. This conception proves to be crucial to resolving three of the most baffling questions of contemporary science, beginning with the measurement problem of quantum theory. What is perhaps most astonishing of all, however, is the fact that this treatise is comprehensible to the educated layman."


1. Wolfgang Smith:

"The universe presents itself as extended in space and changing in time, and its spatio-temporal locus can be represented mathematically in terms of three spatial coordinates and one temporal: the familiar quadruple (x1, x2, x3, t). The “container” is thereby decomposed conceptually into an infinite aggregate of punctual loci, which define a corresponding decomposition of the “content”: and this twofold conceptual atomization constitutes the foundation upon which physics as such is based. The fact that it operates by way of differential equations is thus predetermined, as is presumably a major part of what we normally take to be its “empirical findings.” What needs to be grasped is that physics deals not simply with the universe as such — as almost everyone assumes — but is descriptive rather of the cosmos as “atomized” by way of the aforesaid spatio-temporal fragmentation. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the manifestations of authentic wholeness — from the simplest to the most profound — prove as a rule to elude its grasp.

Metaphysics, on the other hand, would know that which precedes this fragmentation both ontologically and epistemologically. It is possible of course to suppose that there is no wholeness at all — that the “atomized” universe is all there is — and ontologies of that kind have been enunciated, time and again, beginning perhaps with Heraclitus. Yet the fact remains that the great sapiential traditions, both of the East and the West, have emphatically declared the contrary: i.e., that wholeness precedes division — not temporally, to be sure, but in veritas. What is transcends both space and time: and it is upon this very recognition, precisely, that authentic ontology rests.

Given thus that the primary cosmic reality is both supra-temporal and supra-spatial, one might imagine that the spatial and temporal bounds definitive of the cosmos, as it normally presents itself to mankind, are imposed upon that antecedent wholeness “at a single stroke” as it were. There are however cogent grounds to conclude that such is not the case, and that in fact the bound of time precedes the bound of space — not temporally, to be sure — but in a metaphysical sense: the integral cosmos proves thus to be ontologically tripartite. Between the pre-temporal wholeness and the spatio-temporal world, namely, there exists a domain subject to the bound of time but not of space; and let me note that this metaphysical fact has scientific implications, the most evident being that it disqualifies Einsteinian physics at a single stroke. For in thus distinguishing categorically between “time” and “space,” the given trichotomy affirms the existence of a universal temporal “now”: an absolute simultaneity namely, defined throughout the length and breadth of the corporeal universe — which the Einsteinian construct of “space-time” rules out.

I would note that the concept of a tripartite cosmos is indigenous to the sapiential traditions of mankind, and has apparently received its most explicit formulation in the Vedic, where the cosmos thus conceived is known as the tribhuvana or “triple world.” Inasmuch, moreover, as the discernment of the anthropos as a tripartite microcosm — composed of corpus, anima, and spiritus — was current in Europe right up to the Enlightenment, the conception of a tribhuvana is in a way indigenous to the West as well. This isomorphism between man and cosmos taken in their integrality — which proves likewise to be indigenous to the sapiential traditions — entitles us to designate the primary cosmic domain as the “spiritual,” and the third as the “corporeal.” The second could of course, by the same token, be termed the “animate,” yet for reasons which need not detain us, we shall refer to it as the “intermediary” domain.3 But whereas the concept of the tribhuvana proves to be well documented in the traditional literature, its specification in terms of spatial and temporal bounds, as given above, seems to be extant neither in ancient nor in contemporary sources. What primarily concerns us, however, is not the historical origin, but the scientific and ontological implications of the given trichotomy.

The most basic and indeed most obvious conclusion to be drawn is that physics as such is restricted to the lowest of the three cosmic domains: to the corporeal namely — for inasmuch as both ontological domains above the corporeal are no longer subject to the spatial bound, they are “invisible” to the physicist, restricted as he is in his purview to regions within space and time. Or to put it another way: inasmuch as physics deals with functions f(x1, x2, x3, t) defined in terms of spatial and temporal coordinates, it ceases to apply above the corporeal plane.

Having thus recognized its proper domain, we need to take note of the fact that physics entails further restrictions, that in the final count it “has eyes” only for spatio-temporal bounds: for the “container” namely, as distinguished from its “content.” And what is that “unperceived” content? It follows from our conception of the tripartite cosmos that this content pertains ultimately to the spiritual realm: the primary reality from which both the intermediary and the corporeal domains derive. The true “substance” of all entities — be they corporeal or intermediary — pertains thus to the spiritual order. In another sense, however, it can also be said that the “substance” of a corporeal entity pertains to the intermediary domain: the “subtle”4 world which transcends the spatial but not the temporal bound. But inasmuch as the “substance” of a subtle entity pertains evidently to the spiritual domain, there is in fact no contradiction between these respective conceptions."


2. Scientific Inquirer:

"Smith’s argument begins with what he refers to as the “Tripartite Cosmos.” In his explanation, he describes a “two apple ontology.” In essence, he says that physicists assume that there is, categorically, only one apple, i.e., the apple that reduces to quantum particles, that can be described completely with mathematical equations. Smith asserts that there are two categories of the apple, one that can be described scientifically and one that is perceived. However, it is the observable world that is the true world. Although scientists describe red as the frequency of a light wave, and this is definitive of the color’s quantitative attribute, that is not the perception of redness. The perception, the experience, is something categorically (ontologically) different than something purely quantitative.

Smith stresses that, as far as science knows today, the only way that a quantum system comes into being (attains a position or momentum) is when it comes into contact with a “real” object, in the case of experimentation, a measuring device. This fact establishes the primacy of real objects (classical objects), over and above quantum objects.

The quantum world, though it can be described with equations, cannot be experienced because it lacks qualities, such as those we experiences through the senses. On the other hand, the corporeal (classical) world, contains qualities, thus can be experienced.

With the ability to experience an object central to his argument, Smith argues that a conscious experience cannot be explained only by a material brain with its neurons, electricity, and chemistry. The brain, being a material thing, can be exhaustively described by physics in terms of mass, amplitude, charge, etc., all of which, by definition, are things that are not conscious. To assume that a combination of such non-conscious materials can cause conscious perception, is similar to believing that if one were to write the perfect recipe for a birthday cake, the food would appear ready to be eaten. Smith suggests that assumptions such as these are category errors which occur because of a misunderstanding of the difference between quantity and quality, the sub-corporeal and the corporeal. It’s a familiar argument often presented by intelligent design advocates, though he arrives at his conclusion with a few extra twists and turns than normal.

To borrow ideas from the discourse surrounding evolution, Smith’s vertical causation essentially reinstates a directionality to existence that quantum mechanical uncertainty stripped from it, only this time, rather than progressing horizontally (from simple to complex), it progresses vertically from the creator to the created, real world form, to the quantum particles Werner Heisenberg famously described as “entities between being and non-being.”

Wolfgang Smith’s notion of the Tripartite Cosmos as presented in The Vertical Ascent is in keeping with the times, to be fair."