“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Subtle Energy and Machines

I wonder if electronic devices are a form of “captured” subtle energy…. Machines are not alive, but what does it mean to be alive? Life grows itself. Machines must be built by an outside agency. Because life grows itself, it is always following some hidden inner law or creative principle. Henri Bergson called this the elan vital, but we don’t need to try to revitalize vitalism to legitimize subtle energy. Vitalism and reductionism, while on the surface appearing to be exact opposites, are actually mirror images of one another. They are both the product of a dualism between spirit and matter. Biologist, Ernst Mayr: “It would be ahistorical to ridicule vitalists. When one reads the writings of one of the leading vitalists like Driesch one is forced to agree with him that many of the basic problems of biology simply cannot be solved by a philosophy as that of Descartes, in which the organism is simply considered a machine…..The logic of the critique of the vitalists was impeccable. But all their efforts to find a scientific answer to all the so-called vitalistic phenomena were failures…. rejecting the philosophy of reductionism is not an attack on analysis. No complex system can be understood except through careful analysis. However the interactions of the components must be considered as much as the properties of the isolated components.” Mayr is here suggesting a new approach to the scientific method. Traditionally, the biological sciences have been thoroughly Cartesian. The observing scientist studies organic life as though he/she were in the privileged position of having a mind and intelligence, while the organism itself is reduced to nothing but the mechanistic playing out of causal events based on elementary chemistry and physics. The dualism here should be obvious. For according to the scientist’s own method, he/she has no basis to objectively determine the meaning of the structure of an organism because he/she, too, is nothing but an organism. As such, his/her brain is just like the “machines” being studied. How can one purely material process come to know and understand another purely material process? This being understood, we should not reject dualism completely. It has been a useful method for a science not yet conscious enough of itself to realize the deception inherent to such a scheme. But as the evolution of consciousness has unfolded, the distinction between mind and body has grown increasingly unstable. Such a situation calls for a new formulation of the scientific perspective. Science can no longer look at organisms as though they were machines. To do so is to reify an event into a noun. Life, and indeed it seems all of manifest reality, is in a perpetual state of becoming. When traditional mechanistic science tries to understand life, it inevitably conceptualizes (i.e., makes separate, cuts off, dissects) a model with little direct relation to the perpetual growth and change of the organism as it exists holistically. In other words, it turns a process into an idea, or becomingness into being. An analogy may be of help here: when a mechanic deals with a car engine, he/she can remove parts indefinitely without fear that the car itself will fail to work once the necessary components are reinstalled. A surgeon, in contrast, must make haste to repair damaged organs and cannot work with the body as though its parts were responsible for separate tasks. Every organ in the body functions together on one task: preserving life. Removing the stomach from the body would surely result in immediate death; in the case of a car, however, removing the gas tank may prevent the car from starting… but reinstall it and the car will run as good as new. So while it may be true that a running car and a living organism contain distinguishable components, that neither will function without each of these components in proper working order, there remains a crucial difference between the two. An organism has an ongoing “life force” (subtle energy?) that sustains its process of growth and maintenance. If this autopoeisis, or loop of self-creation, is broken, the organism will die. A car has no loop, and so it can be taken apart and rebuilt an infinite number of times. It is not as tied to the ongoing passage of time as an organism. We may find a more appropriate framework for studying such a reality of becomingness in the work of A.N. Whitehead. His process philosophy says that reality is composed of “occasions of experience.” It follows from this that everything that exists is in a perpetual state of change and that cause and effect have only relative explanatory power. Nothing causes anything else to happen, strictly speaking, because everything is connected. Each occasion of experience influences every other, past, present, and future. This certainly opens many doors toward a better understanding of synchronicity. My original question asked whether machines were somehow cages that humans have built to trap subtle energy. I suggest this because it seems that organic life contains subtle energies naturally, and that these energies are the guiding principles of growth, intelligence, consciousness, empathy, etc. The body is a gift of Spirit… might machines be humanity’s stolen goods?







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