from The Psychology of Liberty
by Wes Bertrand © 2000, copylefted 2007

Identity And Causality, And The Use Of Logic

As stated earlier, the most basic concepts are axiomatic concepts. Consciousness, identity, and existence are implicit in everything we experience. Since we have dealt with the properties and aspects of consciousness extensively, we now turn to identity and existence. Doing so allows us to gain the broadest understanding of objective reality. Objective reality implies that consciousness is distinct from external reality. Thus, consciousness perceives objective reality; consciousness does not create it.80

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the fundamental or underlying nature of entities or existence in general. Entities (as well as the energy derived from them) comprise the entire universe, which makes the term “universe” all-encompassing. Hence, the question “What is outside the universe?” is a nonsensical one, because the universe is everything.

Because logic is the method by which we identify reality in a noncontradictory fashion, we can apply it to whatever aspect of reality we want to scrutinize. In order to make logic fully understandable, though, we need to grasp the two most basic laws of reality involved in its use. These laws are tied directly to the Law of Non-Contradiction; essentially, the Law of Non-Contradiction follows from them.

The two fundamental laws of the universe are the Law of Identity and the Law of Causality. The Law of Identity was formalized by Aristotle and was clarified by Ayn Rand over 2,300 years later. In condensed form it means that A is A; A is not non-A.82 An entity can never be different than what it is, by virtue of what it is; it can never be itself and not itself. Entities are what they are—in accordance with their inherent actions, properties, attributes, and structure.

Every entity in the universe, including the innumerable relationships of these entities, has a certain identity. From its certain identity, an entity will act accordingly—which is the Law of Causality. An entity will behave only in ways consistent with its nature (its identity). Nothing will ever act in contradiction to its particular identity. For something to act in opposition to its nature is—metaphysically—impossible.

The laws of Identity and Causality obviously require each other: By determining what something is, we can determine what it will do; by observing what something does in relation to other entities, we can begin to grasp what it is. So, the two Laws are inseparable. One is always involved in the other. Necessarily, any attempt to deny or undermine either of these two fundamental laws is contradictory—it does not follow from valid reasoning, and it is an impossibility given the facts of reality.

All this may seem simplistic, somewhat like ordinary common sense. But applying and utilizing these laws in the realm of complex abstractions and psychological processes can be demanding. Logical epistemology, which involves the noncontradictory identification of concepts (especially in philosophical knowledge), depends on the two Laws. The laws of reality enable us to determine what can and cannot be validly claimed as fact, truth, and knowledge. Therefore, they enable us to attain certainty—which is important for scientific knowledge.

On account of this, we need to make a slight digression to address the state of modern science. Science today regularly endorses philosophical skepticism, not certainty. To be skeptical is to subject claims about human beings or nature to the scrutiny of scientific methods; before one can accept such claims, demonstration and empirical investigation are needed for validation. However, skepticism maintains that all scientific knowledge must be accepted on a provisional basis—because what is known about reality now may be overturned by future discoveries.

Granted, discoveries in science at times invalidate past hypotheses and theories. Sometimes our interpretations of reality may be flawed on account of various oversights, or our present conclusions may be tentative on account of limited available evidence. Yet this should imply nothing about objective reality. We can know for certain that objective reality will be the same in the future: it cannot contradict itself. Skepticism errs by confusing interpretations of reality (i.e., contextual scientific knowledge) with reality itself.

As a consequence, rather than recognizing logical metaphysics and epistemology, skepticism results in having to investigate every sort of postulate people make—in spite of what we already know about reality. Of course, science needs to investigate events of nature. A task of science is to discover things. When someone postulates an event concerning entities—also called existents—based on verifiable evidence or proof, it is definitely worthy of inspection. However, when someone claims an occurrence that defies the nature of the existents involved, a logical (and metaphysically untenable) problem arises.

Naturally, what is to be discovered by science must be in the realm of what is possible, given the identity and the causal relationships of the entities involved. Investigation of allegations of impossible phenomena is therefore unnecessary.

As an example in this matter, let us analyze claimed instances of the parapsychological (e.g., telepathy, clairvoyance, extrasensory perception, out-of-body experiences, precognition, psychokinesis, etc.) and the paranormal (e.g., spirits, ghosts, goblins, witches, warlocks, etc., including “miracles”). Scientists need to point out that these are overt denials of the laws of Identity and Causality.

The parapsychological and the paranormal are metaphysically impossible. They are not just physically improbable, or impossible “so far as we currently know.” Scientists need not continually endeavor to disprove all the various claims about these phenomena as they arise. The list of falsifiers and charlatans is far too long (although many sincere people make claims too).

In these matters, science must consult two absolutes: reality is what it is (i.e., things are what they are, act in accordance with this, and do not change on an ineffable whim); and, every concept must have a definite meaning in order to be valid (i.e., a logical definition specifying its distinguishing characteristic(s) from all other concepts). Reality is solid and knowable, and science’s goal is to show us that everything is explicable in some form or fashion.

Here, we will not pursue in detail the debate about atomic theory and some of the quantum theoretical views about the nature of matter (and the universe) being postulated today. Plainly, Newtonian physics is unable to explain subatomic events, and quantum mechanics is required for precise models. Yet, real existents and energy forces are involved. Since no contradictions can exist in reality, any apparent metaphysical conflicts in quantum theory are necessarily contradictions in conceptualizations, that is, problems in understanding the nature of the existents and processes involved.

With logic, let us briefly refute parapsychological phenomena, starting with mental telepathy. Being telepathic purportedly means that one can communicate without one’s senses. With a little inspection, the stolen concepts in this idea stand out. Communication in this context is defined as the transmission of meaning (be it perceptual or conceptual) to another living entity. This can only occur by some kind of sign or movement of the organism in such a way as to convey something. Necessarily, the only way a communication can be received is through the senses. Reception entails detection. And detection is the registering of an event by means of a sensory apparatus; the opposite of detection is to remain concealed, to not be registered.

This method of clarification emphasizes that concepts must be clearly defined and noncontradictory in order to be properly understood. Also, their proper referents in reality must be explained. To claim that thoughts can travel from one person to another without some form of sensory communication (note that the phrase “sensory communication” is redundant) is to reject the fact that thought is an attribute and process of the human brain. Thoughts arise from neural synapses via bioelectrical/chemical transfers among brain cells. By what means do telepathists proclaim that thoughts can travel through air molecules and enter the mind of another if they are not first transformed into language (elicited and received either by visual, auditory, tactile, or bodily, means)? Their answer is usually a quite mystical one: Blank out.

ESP (alleged perception without one’s senses) and clairvoyance (alleged perception of things beyond one’s senses) are just variations of such concept-stealing. They deny that the senses are the only means of acquiring percepts and then knowledge about reality—while they simultaneously rely on the senses to make the denial. ESP and clairvoyance dismiss reason as the process that identifies and integrates sensory and perceptual material.

So, given their definitions, both phenomena are invalid. We cannot sense things without our senses. As beings with finite and hence limited sensory mechanisms, we cannot directly sense many things (e.g., subatomic particles, infrared light, radio waves, microwaves, etc.). But we know that such things exist by virtue of the fact that we can sense them through indirect methods. People design instruments for indirect perception using their conceptual faculty in concert with their sensory-perceptual mechanisms.

Precognition (alleged perception of future experiences)—in the vernacular, being “psychic”—is yet another contradictory concept. In essence, it ignores the nature of time. Time is fundamentally the measurement of motion (of entities).81 Such measurement presupposes a standard of motion. A few specific standards of motion have been commonly used in civilization: two astronomical time scales—the orbit of Earth around the sun (ephemeris and solar time) and the apparent motion of a distant star (sidereal time); and, two more modern and accurate time-calculating inventions—the quartz crystal oscillator and the atomic clock (which is based on the microwave resonance of certain atoms in a magnetic field). Thus by these standards, we have microseconds, milliseconds, seconds, minutes, hours, etc.

The present is the current position things, and the past is the former position of things. The future is where all existents will be after a specified time (depending on their particular identities). Knowledge of the future position of existents can only be achieved through scientific prediction (based on analyses of past and present motions). One needs an understanding of the characteristics of the particular existents involved. Knowledge of the future thoughts and experiences of volitional beings, however, is incalculably more difficult. In most instances it is impossible. We cannot move ahead of time (in time) to acquire such knowledge of people’s futures. For the same reason, we cannot go back in time (in time) to acquire knowledge of the past (e.g., via a “time machine”). Both are illogical: either going backward in motion that has already happened, or going forward in motion that has yet to happen.

These conclusions may raise a few questions about the space-time continuum related to Einstein’s theory of relativity. Some scientists contend that “worm holes” connect black holes in space. From this, they postulate that one could theoretically travel through one and emerge in a former time. Assuming that such things as worm holes can and do exist and that alleged black holes give rise to them—and that one could remain physically intact during a journey through one—the idea of going “back in time” is of course metaphysically impossible.

Regardless of the standard of motion and one’s relative velocity, time always moves “forward” at some speed, which is to say that things are always in motion; time is merely the measurement of entities moving. If nothing moved anywhere in the universe, there would be no time (and perhaps, for that matter, no universe). Scientist Eric Lerner related his physics perspective on this subject:

So temporal irreversibility derives from system instability. But all real systems evolve so slowly that we can treat them as stable, but only abstract systems, isolated in our imagination from all other influences, can be absolutely stable. The problem of ‘reversible time,’ then, arises because scientists improperly abstract reality and believe their highly accurate equations to be absolutely, infinitely precise. It is reversible time that is subjective, an illusion, not irreversible time. The real world is continually coming into existence, created by an infinitely complex web of instabilities and interactions. As Prigogine [a Nobel prize-winning theorist] puts it, ‘Time is creation. The future is just not there.’54(p.321))

Probably only a small number of psychics have sufficiently studied the nature of their subject. An understanding of the concept of time might cause a few to rethink the credibility of their activities. Nonetheless, people continue to pay millions of dollars annually for psychic services. While some patrons may see psychic readings as just amusing fun (like horoscopes), many people are consciously or subconsciously looking for someone to give them answers. And, they are willing to believe a variety of outlandish claims in the process.

Psychokinesis (alleged movement of objects with only one’s mind) represents another variation of the idea that wishing will make it so. When we are unsatisfied with the limits nature places on us (due to our identity), we may long for this power. Just as thoughts themselves do not travel through air molecules, neither can they move external matter. Thoughts have certain causal properties that make them thoughts. That is why they are not cars, or elevators, or excavators, or dump trucks.

Out-of-body experiences and the large variety of alleged paranormal phenomena are further creations of individuals’ imaginations. Even though some experiences may be personally compelling, they still defy the Law of Identity and the Law of Causality. Again, the mind is the attribute of the brain, which is integrated with the body. It can only do certain things that its nature allows. Having an unbridled imagination is definitely one of these things. Angels, spirits, ghosts, goblins, witches, and warlocks may be important and interesting characters in fantasy or horror genre of films and books, but they have no place in reality as such. Alleging the actual existence of such things conflicts with what is real.

If such claims have a purpose, it does not involve clarity and scientific discovery. Rather, it involves obfuscation and disintegration of conceptualization. Whoever lends credence to these arbitrarily postulated phenomena is faced with the huge intellectual problem of incomprehensibility. These claims portray reality to be different than it is—something mysterious and unexplainable—especially at one’s whim.

A million dollars has been offered as a prize for those who can prove their allegations to James “The Amazing” Randi and his associates. Randi is a former magician who scientifically debunks alleged parapsychological and paranormal phenomena. The prize money will continue to collect interest, because such phenomena are impossible. And potential participants will continue to say that their powers cannot be subjected to Randi’s experimental biases (i.e., the rigors of the scientific method).

Entities cannot perform feats that defy reality. Future advances in nanotechnology notwithstanding, a boulder cannot turn into a tablecloth. A dog cannot sprout wings and fly. A television cannot turn into a pillow. A cow cannot jump over the moon.

Yet, skepticism holds that such events are astronomically improbable, but not impossible. It sometimes considers reality to be merely an amorphous, statistical flux of molecules—that is, a place where entities have no definite identity. A version of quantum theory following from the Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle, for instance, entertains the possibility (albeit a very remote one) that a person could dissolve and reappear somewhere else, or walk through a concrete wall. After all, a person is basically a conglomeration of atoms.

Ultimately, modern science needs to promote the fact that some things are an impossibility. Clearly if everything were possible, then the concept itself would make no sense. Possible is simply that which is not impossible. Scientist Carl Sagan had some important words on the topic of strange claims and the proper stance of science with regard to reality:

If I dream of being reunited with a dead parent or child, who is to tell me that it didn’t really happen? If I have a vision of myself floating in space looking down on the Earth, maybe I was really there; who are some scientists, who didn’t even share the experience, to tell me that it’s all in my head? If my religion teaches that it is the inalterable and inerrant word of God that the Universe is a few thousand years old, then scientists are being offensive and impious, as well as mistaken, when they claim it’s a few billion.

Irritatingly, science claims to set limits on what we can do, even in principle. Who says we can’t travel faster than light? They used to say that about sound, didn’t they? Who’s going to stop us, if we have really powerful instruments, from measuring the position and the momentum of an electron simultaneously? Why can’t we, if we’re very clever, build a perpetual motion machine ‘of the first kind’ (one that generates more energy than is supplied to it), or a perpetual motion machine ‘of the second kind’ (one that never runs down)? Who dares to set limits on human ingenuity?

In fact, Nature does. In fact, a fairly comprehensive and very brief statement of the laws of Nature, of how the Universe works, is contained in just such a list of prohibited acts. Tellingly, pseudoscience and superstition tend to recognize no constraints in Nature. Instead, ‘all things are possible.’ They promise a limitless production budget, however often their adherents have been disappointed and betrayed.92(p.270)

The metaphysical idea of Primacy of Consciousness resides in most parapsychological claims. This idea is basically the philosophical counterpart to the psychological theory of constructivism. It holds that consciousness creates reality; in a sense, “perception is creation.”

Granted, things are created in the mind by perception. But Primacy of Consciousness takes this observation an irreconcilable step further by claiming that all of reality is perception. This view therefore places no limitations on the mind, while disavowing the mind’s specific traits and attributes. As a consequence, those who conjure all sorts of incredible claims stand by them with a stubborn indifference to the facts. The “facts” are something they have designed to their own liking.

By understanding the laws of Identity and Causality, we can apply them to claims that should have been dismissed long ago. By trusting our judgment and heeding our own rational perceptions of reality, we can stop such claims from overtaking civilization like a mind-crippling plague. Exactly when a claim should be dismissed is determined both by the acquisition of broad philosophical concepts (e.g., Identity and Causality) and by specific scientific knowledge (e.g., knowledge of brain physiology or elementary physics). As scientific knowledge continues to expand, we will gain more insights about the entities under inspection. This will further augment our ability to determine what is in the realm of the possible (and impossible).

Philosophical thinking must determine the limits and validity of scientific endeavors, because only it can outline a logical epistemology. We all must clearly grasp the awesome fact that we live in a real reality (if one will excuse the tautology)—from which we will one day vanish forever. Fears about this vanishing need to be confronted. Otherwise, they can impel one to make reality incomprehensible, distort truth, and wish for mysterious dimensions to “other realities”—that is, to make the unreal real and the real unreal.


A main way to use the method of noncontradictory identification is to begin by examining one’s conscious ideas. From there, one can see how they are affecting feelings and actions. The fact always remains that contradictions are inherently anti-life both in thought and in action, to the extent that they are perpetuated and not corrected. Anti-life does not mean that a single contradiction, or even many, will kill a person. It simply means that contradictions tend to work against an individual’s well-being and psychological health when they are not examined and learned from. Since contradictions are misrepresentations of reality—be they introspective or extrospective, conscious or subconscious—they cannot enable us to survive. Instead of open more possibilities for our existence by making things comprehensible, they unavoidably work to narrow our view of things. They can create a situation in which undefined terms and unresolved conflicts are considered “the way life is.”

Of course, to have held no contradictory thoughts is impossible, because it would defy the nature of volition. Since we are born without any ideas about the world, many logical thoughts will not come automatically for us, especially those that are more complex (abstractions from abstractions, from still other abstractions). Unfortunately, our current culture of ideas and behavior does much to thwart the method of logic (e.g., by lending credence to parapsychological and paranormal phenomena).

Conceptualization is a hierarchical and expansive process. Life can be viewed as a gigantic learning process with various phases and stages, in which conceptual mistakes must come as naturally as correcting them. This by no means trivializes the nature of contradictions. Though the process of correcting them provides us benefit, if contradictions are held to be more important than the search for truth, then the mind begins to languish.

All contradictions start out as incorrect identifications or evaluations. For any number of reasons (cognitive, emotional, or experiential), a person can reach an incorrect conclusion. This is simple enough. As a normal part of the process of abstraction, one has to properly differentiate and relate units among a very large array of particulars and conceptual possibilities. Yet a crucial turning point is reached when one halts the logical process after a false conclusion has been reached, or proceeds without examining the error (building errors on top of errors). Soon, what began as simple mental mistakes can metamorphose into willful evasions or rationalizations to defend certain contradictory chains of thought.

This leads us back to the choice to concentrate on thoughts immediately recognized as implausible, in order to promote the practice of resolving contradictions. Yet this choice can be affected by how one feels about the situation—how one feels about changing ideas that seem to help or comfort, but have obviously deterred one from truth and new possibilities.

The comprehension of tens of thousands of words indicates that an individual has already done an extraordinary amount of logical thinking. Actually, we use logic on a daily basis. Identification of facts either at work or at leisure is virtually inescapable. Solving a mathematics problem, viewing an educational program, and even ordinary interaction with others, all involve noncontradictory identification. In this regard logic is somewhat all-encompassing. Many of these activities involve simple or basic abstractions. Logic can tend to lose its power, however, when concepts become more complex, and especially when ideas begin to take on a personal tone that touches on deeper parts of one’s self-concept. After this happens, emotions and the belief systems connected to them can start to short-circuit the logical process.

At any time we can decide to value truth, and therefore reality and our own life, enough to override our sometimes uncomfortable feelings about doing this. We can let rational thoughts annul mostly irrational subconscious thoughts. The degree to which we strive for self-respect, honesty, and courage will determine how far we go. As noted, because the mind is such a vast continent, aspects of one part of it may be easier to reflect on than others. Nevertheless, resolution of subconscious contradictions about who we think we are, what we think is possible to us, and what we think we are capable of, can definitely alter how we approach this internal continent.

Has the chosen persistence of contradictions been the key factor in retarding human development personally and socially? Or is this too simple? Should we say that complex psychological factors and processes within any person might encourage him or her to form and hold contradictions, which in turn can impede his or her development? Further, does the fundamental choice to use logic lead to a pattern that encourages enlightenment personally and politically? All of these questions ask us to use logic to sort out the correct from the incorrect. Ultimately logic empowers us to draw definite conclusions about the ideal and proper society.

Since we cannot logically identify and integrate reality automatically like a fictitious robot or Mr. Spock (or Commander Data) from Star Trek, we have to rely on our ability to focus diligently. By the way, the Star Trek character Spock (or his counterparts in the present Star Trek serials), displayed an inconsistent trait: If he were to logically and objectively integrate the meaning of his existence, he would have to evidence a pure joy in being alive (the sort of sense of life discussed in a later chapter).

As mentioned, a conceptual being must experience life as good for it physically. Emotions are tied to sensual experiences. A person must be capable of pleasurable feelings of some sort to encourage survival and maintain optimal psychological health. To portray the use of logic as an emotionally neutral, passionless, or impersonal practice is to overlook the value and purpose of this faculty—which is illogical. Contrary to typical dogma, the use of logic allows one to align oneself with reality and, thus, to experience uplifting emotions. In other words great emotions can be direct effects of the utilization of logic.

What happens when we relate the knowledge of the previous chapters to society at large—politically? How can we apply logic to human rights and form a political philosophy? As we employ the principles that Homo sapiens is the only species in the world that possesses rights, and the only way to violate these rights is by initiating force against them, we necessarily have to examine more closely the ever-present legal institution known as government.

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102 Tzu, Lao (Translated by Lau, D. C.). Tao Te Ching. London: Penguin Books, 1963.

103 Wollstein, Jarret B. Society Without Coercion [located in Society Without Government. New York: Arno Press & The New York Times, 1972.]