I first met Philip Franses in 2009 as he began a new chapter in his life, taking up a new role of lecturer in complexity at Schumacher College. Having worked with Brian Goodwin for some years, this would be the first year where Philip would first teach what he called Transition Science.
Philip had already been writing his book about Transition Science for some years, and so I also had the honour of being one of the Holistic Science students with whom Philip shared his early manuscript. One of the central aspects of his book was the conception of the three foundations of a process as described by physicist Basil Hiley:
- A participative commitment separates from the old order;
- A transition traverses though an ambiguous phase;
- Holistic arrival realises a coherent integrated aggregation
So here we have the three elements from Philip’s acronym PATH – participation, transition and holism. These three elements of a new science are also the three elements we also discover in the experience of a pilgrimage, a concept which Philip would since build on with Basil Hiley, Henri Bortoft and Satish Kumar amongst others, to become his great project Process and Pilgrimage.
But it would be another five years before Philip’s manuscript would fnally reach its present form, which was recently published by Floris Books as Time, Light and the Dice of Creation: Through Paradox in Physics to a New Order.
Philip introduces his work as “an attempt to recover wholeness” and this is a theme which I have also been contemplating these last few months. A recent and extremely lively thread on the influential Systems Thinking Network group (Systems thinking is not the same as holistic thinking) shows just how timely this discussion and exploration is required, given that there is still an unresolved tension in discussions exploring the relationship between systems thinking and holism.
Philip explores wholeness through some extremely deep reflections on the following paradoxes (which here should not been seen as simple dichotomies):
division <—> unity
darkness <—> light
past <—> future
chance <—> order
potential <—> expression
emptiness <—> form
These six paradoxes form the dice of creation, which themselves are located in the conception of energy and time. This framework itself has transformed the insights from Philip’s years of thinking into a deeply compelling narrative which I feel can be seen as a spiritual successor to the foundations laid down by Fritjof Capra in his seminal The Tao of Physics, first published in 1975, in which he explored the relationships between Western physics and Eastern spiritual scripture.
Time, Light and the Dice of Creation is by no means a pop science book, and even readers well versed in quantum physics and other scientific disciplines will certain be challenged in the metaphor of the transformational journey which Philip has chosen to frame his narrative. What this narrative does do is to take us into the realm of creation, potential and the pre-expression of matter, and this is where Philip’s radical approach to holism is resolved in the various paradoxes he explores:
Our effort has been to shift the foundation of physics from the fixity of conceptual interpretation to the dynamic distinguishing of active meaning. In this latter approach, the nucleus is no longer something fixed that we have to control, and whose threat rules over us in fear. The nucleus is about holding the dynamic freedom of the world through the names by which we address wholeness.
What I like about Time, Light and the Dice of Creation is the way in which Philip brings alive the often tempestuous disagreements between the world’s greatest scientists as they have battled to understand the meaning behind their scientific construction of reality. These scientists have spent lifetimes battling the paradoxes which reality throws at those willing to dive deepest into the secrets of the universe, and it is only through undergoing an intense transition, that we can arrive at a new conception and resolution.
Although we are still a long way off from resolving the paradoxes of science, Philip’s conception of wholeness, derived and inspired from conversations with many of the most profound thinkers on the mater provides us with a dynamic articulation of the journey to the conception of wholeness. By addressing the problem of wholeness through an exploration of zero and one in science, Philip challenges us to rethink the notions of time, light, matter, energy and electromagnetism, and in doing so, it may well be that we realise that those closest to the deepest spiritual insights humanity can know, are in fact, physicists.
Time, Light and the Dice of Creation Through Paradox in Physics to a New Order (2015) by Philip Franses is published by Floris Books, Edinburgh.