What I learned by reading Collingwood
By Pierre Berrigan
The term «metaphysics» has certainly been badly mistreated
in the last few decades (centuries?), and has come to
designate the lot of all types of weirdness, off-this-world
and wacky ideas. As such, the entire discipline tends to be
ridiculed and dismissed by scientists as useless and
unintelligible nonsense, the makings of wild and unbridled
imaginations, fruitless and endless arguing, akin to
enquiries about the afterlife, spiritism, extra sensorial
perception, numerology, astrology, the sex of angels and how
many of them can fit on the top of a needle.
In my opinion, R.G. Collingwood did a pretty good job at
straightening things out in «Essay on Metaphysics» ,
although one can wonder if science (or anyone, for that
matter) even bothered to take note. If I have not totally
wasted my time reading, what I retain is that
metaphysics is the discipline that studies absolute
presuppositions through cultures and history.
As defined by Collingwood, absolute presuppositions are
- cannot be proven or disproven
- have one and only one opposite which is its negation,
and which also cannot be proven or disproven
- about which no question can reasonably be asked
- in the case where more than one is propounded, are
consupponible (complete without resulting from) among a
set of absolute presuppositions
Anyone who (still) views metaphysics as the arena of
intellectual wanking is probably violating one or many of
the above rules that define absolute presuppositions.
Endless debates among otherwise intelligent people, that see
no possible hope of outcome or settlement, is a good
indication that maybe questions are being asked about some
absolute presupposition, or that attempts are being made at
proving or disproving some absolute presupposition.
Whether scientists like it or not, a set of absolute
presuppositions underlie, orient and to some extent govern
all science and how science is done. Whatever is their
endeavour, enquiry or accomplishment, scientists,
consciously or not, whether they will admit it or not,
necessarily made a prior assumption of one or its opposite
of each absolute presupposition that makes up the set of
absolute presuppositions underlying their discipline.
Newton’s « Hypotheses non fingo » was hiding a secret
Although I can in no way pretend to be a metaphysicist
myself, what I did next is an attempt at a list of absolute
presuppositions that specifically apply to modern physics,
and more specifically to cosmology:
1) Infinity: The universe is
spatially and temporally infinite.
2) Conservation: Matter or
energy cannot be created or destroyed.
3) Isotropy: On a
sufficiently large spatial and temporal scale, the
universe appears the same at all locations, in all
directions, and at all times (cosmological principle).
4) Causality: every event
has a cause.
5) Rationality: there exists
an intrinsic coherence, elegance, logic and purpose in all
of nature's processes and entities.
physically real entities are defined by measurements, but
measurements alone do not necessarily define physical
Examples of predictions from theories that are widely
accepted today as scientifically valid, will show which
metaphysical choices underlie modern physics:
- Age of the universe: thinking of the universe
as having an «age» implies that the universe did not
exist at some point in time. The concept of «age», when
applied to the universe, is contrary to the absolute
presupposition of «Infinity» (temporal).
- Black Holes: objects that are surrounded by an
«event horizon» singularity beyond which time and space
interchange one another, that have no inside, and at the
center of which exists a punctual mass of infinite
density are absurdities. This is contrary to the «Rationality»
- Big Bang: according to the theory, the universe
was denser in the distant past. This is contrary to the
«Isotropy» absolute presupposition.
- Big Bang event: the theory posits that
everything that exists in the universe suddenly
appeared, forcibly, out of nowhere, and suddenly started
expanding at a rate incoherent with the known laws of
nature, and for no purported reason. This is contrary to
the «Conservation» and the «Causality»
- Quantum fluctuations: the occurrence of
particle-antiparticle pairs spontaneously popping into
existence and vanishing into the void is contrary to the
«Conservation» and the «Causality»
- Superposition of states: the idea that cats can
at the same time be dead and alive is an absurdity, and
contravenes to the «Rationality» absolute
- Spacetime curvature: the object defined by
measurements of distances as “space”, and the object
defined by measurements of durations as “time”, combine
to form a third object, “spacetime”, with properties of
being stretchable, squeezable and bendable. This is
contrary to the absolute presupposition of “Subjectification”.
There are more examples. But these are sufficient to
determine which absolute presuppositions are assumed in
1. Finity: the universe is
both spatially and temporally finite. It has a beginning,
therefore an age, and a size, i.e.: a spatial limit beyond
which nothing exists, not even space, and a temporal limit
before which time did not exist.
matter/energy can spontaneously be created, and can be
3. Anisotropy: the average
density of the universe, on very large spatial and
temporal scales, varies with time, and is not the same at
4. Acausality: events may
have no cause.
5. Absurdity: objects with
absurd properties may exist and absurd events may happen
in physical reality.
6. Objectification: whatever
can be measured or inferred from measurements is a
It is my humble opinion that there is reason to critically
examine science's actual metaphysical choices, and ponder on
whether or not these choices are commendable, and if the
results and implications of said choices are desirable.
There is no getting around the fact that metaphysical
choices (assumptions of absolute presuppositions) orient the
way science is done. For example, astrophysics are, as I
write, looking for new star formation theories and alternate
galaxy dynamics (new physics) to explain XMM-2599 ,
because of their prior assumption that durations superior to
13.8 billion years are not permitted. With a metaphysical
choice of temporal “Infinity”, the addition of a few
trillion years to the “age of the universe” makes the
existence of XMM-2599 no longer a mystery. General
relativity led to black holes; quantum mechanics led to
alternate realities; galaxy rotation curves led to dark
matter; supernovae brightness-distance relationships led to
accelerated expansion of space and to dark energy; and so
on. The mathematical prediction of absurdities or the
empirical observation of unexplained phenomena should lead
further research in the direction of realistic science, and
not towards the objectification of imaginary concepts and
the easy way out of “new physics” that have no hope of ever
being falsified, such as dark energy, virtual particles,
superior dimensions, stretching space, or alternate
universes, as if any of these could ever be considered
Given these metaphysical choices, scientists nowadays act as
if they had lost the ability to distinguish between the
absurd and common sense, with blessings from the Copenhagen
Interpretation. And as long as such a mentality prevails,
physics, and science in general will keep loosing
credibility among the general public, now in an increasing
struggle (pop-science writers not helping) to make sense out
of things that intrinsically don’t (“What was before the Big
Bang?”; “What does space expand into?”; “Could the Big Bang
be the result of two universes colliding with each other?”).
Such a trend can easily be taken to a logical and extremely
dangerous outcome: if the rising popularity of flat-earthism
can be considered harmless, the anti vaccine movement, on
its part, has already made fatal victims, not to mention
possible long-term outcomes of climato-scepticism. Believers
want to believe. If faith in science is lost, the masses
will turn their beliefs towards political or religious
precepts, with their irrationality and dogmas, and where
history relates massacres by the millions in the name of
A critical examination of mainstream physics is more
important than it seems!
Pierre Berrigan, B.Sc.
for A Cosmology Group
The author is grateful to Louis Marmet, Bud Rapanault and
Glenn Borchardt whose ideas and input were essential to the
elaboration of the present article.
 Collingwood, R. G. (1940). _An Essay on Metaphysics_.
Oxford University Press.
 An Extremely Massive Quiescent Galaxy at z=3.493:
Evidence of Insufficiently Rapid Quenching Mechanisms in
Theoretical Models, arXiv:1910.10158
© 2020 Pierre Berrigan