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Owen Barfield and the Nature of Reality

Owen Barfield, British philosopher and close friend of C. S. Lewis, said once that Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, his famous work about the evolution of consciousness was his own personal favourite. First published in England in 1957, and in the United States in 1965, the book explores in two hundred pages approximately three thousand years of history. Barfield argues that there must be an unknown underlying base of reality from which our senses draw conclusions which we call ‘phenomena’. This is supported by physics, he says, where experimental hypotheses of a subatomic world have shown that there is no such thing as an independently existing ‘particle’ or, therefore, an unseen colour, or an unheard sound, or unfelt solidity. Modern particle theory says, basically, that there are no ‘particles’, just suppositions.

There is therefore a contradiction between physics on the one hand, and on the other, sciences that offer an account of things before life and consciousness evolved, like geology or as in the theory of evolution. Instead of pretending that there was and is an independently existing world, Barfield argues, we should be looking at the evolution of phenomena that first begins at the point w