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Frequently Asked Questions

The idea for Anything Goes metaphysics first emerged in 2003, but it is mainly over the last five years that it was developed into the form that it is in today.  As part of a process of checking that it is robust, it has been compared and contrasted with many other world views and I hope that it now stands shoulder to shoulder with its peers.  

That being said, it is important to consider any challenges that may not have been addressed in the book, or elaborate on any ideas that may not have been explained clearly enough.  Please do let me know if you have any challenges or questions at and I'll consider adding them to the FAQ.  

Is Anything Goes an idealism?  

Yes, if what you mean by idealism is something other than scientific realism.  But given that scientific realism can be so easily exposed as dogmatic and unsupportable, the question this raises is how it came to be the dominant view amongst philosophers and philosophers of science that it is today.  

The best explanation for this, is perhaps the immense influence of the early Analytic philosophers on the whole of Anglophone philosophy. Russell and Moore became household names, even kind of revolutionaries, through their rejection of British Idealism - a kind of Hegelian school that endorsed a sort of absolute idealism.  Perhaps also, it strikes at a fear of the unknown.  We desperately want to believe that we can get to know the universe as it really is. 

When they do stop to think about it, philosophers of science, such as Peter Godfrey-Smith, argue that seeing science as modelling some kind of additional layer of phenomena (rather than the real objects of reality directly), doesn't really add anything - they argue that we may as well just apply Occam's Razor and say we are modelling real objects that exist independent of our perception of them.  Except that this characterisation of idealism doesn't apply to Anything Goes ('AG'), which talks about modelling experience.  And so it does add something - we can answer questions about

  • the existence of God

  • the nature of consciousness

  • the coherence or otherwise of solipsism

  • the interpretation of quantum mechanics

  • brains in vats

just to cite those issues covered in the book.  Now, AG still allows room for 'weak' realism - you can say 'it might be the case that the universe really is the way I think it is' (See Trendelenburg's Alternative in chapter 9).  But it is this realist idea that doesn't add anything.  Since everything that is meaningful is part of our model, there is no value to be added in supposing that Trendelenburg's Alternative may be true.  

So it is well past time to shout out loud what everyone can clearly see - the emperor of scientific realism has no clothes!  

Anything Goes is just an assertion.  Nothing has been proved

All philosophies make assertions.  The question is whether or not these assertions are reasonable.  Scientific realism groundlessly asserts that the objects of our experience correspond to 'real objects' that exist independently of us.  Those realists who have studied some philosophy are aware that this assertion is unjustified and exposes them to the sceptical challenge of how we can know this to be the case.  They ask us to accept it on faith anyway, on the basis that we have no reasonable alternative!  Anything Goes methodology is the more reasonable alternative, because not only is realism unprovable, but it overreaches itself in terms of what it is purported to be able to deliver - a fact that is exposed by its inability to deal with questions such as the existence of God and the Hard Problem of consciousness.  See chapter 10 of the book.  

What will happen after I die?

You say that if I believe in God, then he exists.  And this means life after death is guaranteed, right?  

Er, no.  AG gives us a framework within with to understand our experiences, but it does not mean we have certain knowledge of the future.  And who can know the mind of God and the plans he has for us?  See chapter 10 of the book.  

Despite everything you've said about consciousness, you can't get away from the fact that for any object, there either is someone in there looking out or there isn't.

Well yes and no.  From the perspective of your model. indeed there either is a conscious person in there looking out or there isn't.  So how can you tell?  Well the ambulance service does it by clicking their fingers in your face (I assume).  They might also call your name or shine a light into your eyes.  But the idea that there is a 'fact of the matter' outside of the way you model it is a chimera.  There are no disembodied facts; only models.  

The giant invisible pink ghost unicorns that maraud through the cosmos appeared when I was trying to illustrate the point that there could be many entities that exist out there that we don't interact with, such as neutrinos or dark matter but more so.  And if we cannot interact with them in any way, we don't know how outlandish they might be.  For me, it is still funny(!)

What is the background to Anything Goes?

In 2003, I was planning railway timetables for a living, having spent too much time at university in the pub, rather than thinking about a future career.  I was renting a small room in a small house in Swindon with temperamental heating and I was awake at three in the morning thinking about Big Questions, as I'm sure a lot of us do in our early twenties.  I had recently finished a Philosophy of Science course and I was greatly impressed by the idea that no scientific theory can ever be proved to be true, as well as the instrumentalism/realism debate about whether the objects of scientific models are real things or just useful ways of seeing things.  I had been reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig which has a few pages on Kant, so I was aware that this applied not just to scientific theories, but to our whole way of seeing the world.  And so it also applied to God.  


I rushed out and told my friends, and some of my railway colleagues who wouldn't think I was too weird, that I had solved the problem of whether God exists, and they all listened politely and nodded in the right places.  I needed to talk to people who were well read on these issues but how?  I enrolled on the Swindon College 'A' level philosophy course, but it was cancelled due to lack of take-up.  The same thing happened the following year and the year after that.  I eventually persuaded my wife to let me spend £150 of our hard earned cash when we were young and skint on joining an Oxford University philosophy of religion online course in 2008.  I excitedly set down my ideas in the final essay of the course, which was unfortunately limited to 500 words.  Despite nearly doubling this with a lengthy appendix, I clearly was not able to articulate my ideas as well as I had hoped.  My tutor, Peter Wright, commented "Well, this is a lively argument, but it too often collapses into obscurity and incoherence".

I knew I needed to state my case more clearly and build it up from first principles. But my attempt at writing this up in a long format failed.  My efforts at writing entertaining and engaging prose were just too cringeworthy and so I put it on the back burner.  I decided to concentrate on my career and trained as an actuary (the 3-step method on this website is inspired by the 5-step method to stochastically determine the no arbitrage price of financial derivatives).  But there was never any doubt that this idea had to be put out into the world at some point.  It was unfinished business.  

After moving to the Scottish Highlands in 2019, I began again.  Firstly I needed to take on all the criticisms with which Peter had marked up my essay.  This meant I had to do my homework.  I had to study Kant properly and learn more about the main ideas of Western philosophy.  Through this I encountered Wittgenstein, who gave me what I needed to better cover off the problem of error.  This was something I knew my detractors may try to attack me with, and in anticipation of this, I addressed it in the appendix of my 2008 essay.  Now here was Wittgenstein with some well rehearsed and widely accepted arguments to cover my back.  I encountered anti-realist religious thought, especially in the work of Welsh philosopher of religion D. Z. Phillips.  It had always puzzled me why I had not encountered anyone else saying what I was saying - it was so obvious and intuitive, once you got it.  Well, these philosophers were saying similar things.  Except they only seemed to be talking about half the puzzle.  They were talking about using language in a similar way to the way I was talking about using models.  But without addressing why there is any need to do this, they were exposed to the charge of fictionalism (see Chapter 2 of the book).   You don't need to put a new world together if the real world isn't broken.  Phillips defends his position by relying on Wittgenstein, stating that 'metaphysics is the product of confusions over the meaning of terms in our language', and occasionally referencing Kant, but doesn't seem to feel the need to go into this in any detail.  

By the end of 2021, the book was in good shape.  I needed an editor who knew about both philosophy and publishing.  Happily, I found Martin Cohen, who went through the manuscript line by line.  It was one of Martin's comments that convinced me that I needed to reconsider how other people fit in to the AG approach.  Kantian methodology requires you to start from the first person perspective, but I couldn't ignore other people (as Kant largely did), as they are an important part of establishing standards of correctness.  We start by thinking that the objects of our experience are anchored to the 'real' entities that cause them.  Hume and Kant break this link.  But instead of floundering around in a sea of uncertainty, Wittgenstein comes along and helps us anchor these objects to usage instead.  And for this, really we need other people.  We're looking for coherence, rather than correspondence.  So I started by conceiving of other people like Kant's first person - each of us ships of perception ploughing the foggy seas of mystery and occasionally coming into view of each other's searchlights.  But when I tried to connect this back to the core tenets of AG, I realised that this conception was dogmatic and incompatible.  So what were other minds?  This was when I re-ran the aeroplane thought experiment with zombies and everything fell into place.  

Some might argue that nothing is bigger than the question of whether God exists, and indeed, this is the application of AG that has been in my head for the past twenty years.  But issues about consciousness and other people's or creatures' inner sensations are things that we deal with every day, so having a better conception of this is arguably just as important. I like to think that it is the ability of AG to address this wide variety of thorny issues that makes it so powerful.  

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