The Living Cosmos

‘ve been struggling with how to bring teleology back into scientific cosmology (by which I mean the development of the entire universe, from the birth of matter and energy, to stars and planets, to cells and animals…). It is difficult, because we are so used to seeing the world as a collection of blind atoms. Denying this basic dogma is seen as necessarily unscientific. But rather than deny it, I sought to incorporate it into a wider picture of what the whole cosmos is doing, where it’s going, and where it’s been. It is a rough sketch, as the idea I am trying to convey is still distant. I have not yet fully arrived at the place I am trying to describe, so forgive me if I cut corners.

Mechanistic biology is neglecting the non-entropic principle of self-organization (complexity does not necessarily contradict entropy, but entropy fails to adequately account for its emergence). When an organism is viewed as nothing but a collection of parts, the only part that seems to matter is the nucleus, where the genome resides. The genome is the part that “makes” all the other parts; the mechanic, the engineer. We must be aware of the ways that this metaphor can deceive us. Through reductionism, we have sought out and found the essential ingredient, and with a quick inference we have arrived at the Central Dogma: genes make proteins, proteins make the body. The DNA itself is said to be “self-replicating,” But again, do not be fooled by the metaphor. In actuality, the DNA contains little information outside the intracellular environment. One could just as easily say that the cell makes the DNA. Viewing the organism as a heap of parts, as a set of genes, is a mistake. The really essential thing about organisms is that they function only as a whole. To function as a whole implies that each of my parts contribute to some global activity which only emerges at the level of the system formed by my entire adaptive organism and the ever-changing environment it is embedded within.

So not only is there a material world running down, releasing energy, blindly falling… there is a biological world, running up, producing energy, consciously exploring.

What are we to make of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics? it seems to apply only to the world of atoms. Not that atoms aren’t what compose my body, but once they participate in the emergence of my sentience, they are forever changed. They partake in a dance toward immortality. Whether they actually make it or not depends on us, the noosphere, the next emergent self-complexification of this organic explosion, this “Big Birth.” The point is that atoms have the potential–even the proclivity– to become living bodies (no single set of atoms gets to be a body; rather the collective metabolic action of a nearly infinite array of atoms flow through the tube-like morphic field guiding the development of my organism), and once they do, a new dimension of reality emerges. No longer is the cosmos just a bunch of dead stuff being shuffled around by blind winds. It lifts itself into a more energetic state, turns outside-in, and has a look at itself.

I am atoms. That is where I begin, at least. I next become stars and planets, then cells and soon after plants. Then I become fish and frogs, then lizards and birds, then mice and monkeys, then humans with a mind.

I am the cosmos, I share myself with you.

Welcome home.

What’s Going On?

I didn’t know where else to start…

But now I see I can’t! To say what is going on, I need to know how it all began. Problem is I have access only to the present. I have memories, sure; but these are not the past. And I plan, but for a future which never arrives. I experience only a moment, within which all memories and thoughts occur. Beginning and Ending are just my ideas of where and when, of what and how. While in this moment, I am only who I am.

So let’s jump in.

Kant had an idea:

“The mind must do three kinds of synthesis. It must generate temporal and spatial structure (Synthesis of Apprehension in Intuition). It must associate spatio-temporally structured items with other spatio-temporally structured items (Synthesis of Reproduction in the Imagination). And it must recognize items using concepts, the Categories in particular (Synthesis of Recognition in a Concept).”
-Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

So we’ve got intuition to couple us to spacetime, imagination to display ideas, and intelligence to recognize concepts.

“Concepts without intuitions are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind”
(Kant, CPR)

Are we stuck in between?

“… the I that I think is distinct from the I that it, itself, intuits …; I am given to myself beyond that which is given in intuition, and yet know myself, like other phenomena, only as I appear to myself, not as I am …”
(Kant, CPR)

So I am, but I only seem to know it. That’s what gets this whole show kicked off. You know, the knowledge quest. The I we are goes beyond itself and appears before us. The mind is coupled to the structure of reality through intuition, but somehow is able to appear outside itself though conceptualization.

So that’s what’s going on. Well, at least it was… maybe we’ll be able to find it again?

Biology Culture Wars

From Wonderist:

First I want to say that the closest I’ve heard to a serious shift in thinking is with epigenetics, for which there is *actually* evidence that it occurs in life.
With that out of the way, I’ll boil down my point. Let’s say you have a well-known metaphor A, and a lesser-known metaphor B. A has gaps, sure, but B does not actually fill those gaps. The things which A cannot explain *would* be explained by B *if* B had evidence to support its claims. But, as tested by the scientific process, not just speculated by a few scientists, no clear evidence has been found to support B’s claims.
Now, someone comes along, saying “You know, A isn’t all that great. It’s got all these enormous gaps and really is pretty useless and wrong. But so-and-so has proposed B which explains all these gaps.”
Can you see why I objected? Selfish gene does not have all the gaps you initially claimed (you claimed it fails to account for non-sexual species), and those legitimate gaps that it *does* have (fail to account for origin of genes themselves, for example) are *not* successfully explained by competing ideas, because they have not been tested properly and do not have enough evidence to support them above-and-beyond selfish gene/neo darwinism.
I object strongly precisely because your videos undermine a legitimate scientific perspective in very much the same way the ID proponents try to undermine science. For example, HaleyMary after watching your video commented “I think the environment itself also influences evolution.” Presumably, she thinks that selfish gene does not consider the influence of the environment, which is flat out wrong.
It is such campaigns of misinformation (whether intended or not) that contribute to the public’s distrust of evolution and cause people to say things like, “There’s a darwinist conspiracy. How can they think that we just randomly popped into existence?”
When we have to deal with things like climate change and pollution, we need to improve the public’s ability to detect valid science from speculation and/or pseudoscience. Muddying the waters by casting unwarranted doubt on a well-supported theory, especially modern evolutionary theory which is under attack by ID, is just irresponsible, in my opinion. I have no problem with speculation about alternatives to the selfish gene interpretation, but you went further than that, first of all misrepresenting it, and second implying (probably unintentionally) that there’s some kind of dogmatic conspiracy rejecting superior explanations out-of-hand.
This is a serious issue, which is why I’m taking it so seriously. Check out this link:
Creationists are directly assaulting neo darwinism, equating it with Hitler and Stalin. Your framing of neo darwinism doesn’t help the situation. With some kinds of people, you add credibility to the claims of people like Ben Stein.


My response:

The ID vs. Darwin debate is a culture war, I don’t think it has much to do with real science. It has to do with the emotional attitudes that people take toward life. for short we can call these attitudes “faith” and “doubt.” A certain mature relationship between each is required to do science, but in the culture at large you must either be one or the other, theist or atheist. to have scientific knowledge, we need to have gone through a process of doubt in search of the truth. But if doubt never becomes faith, if the truth is never clearly perceived, then no knowledge is ever attained.

I am not a Bible believer and I think Creationism and ID are a serious risk to the health of our culture. But I also think Darwinism does it’s fair share of harm. By saying Darwinism does harm, I mean specifically the popular interpretation of Darwin which has it that evolution is completely explained in terms of gene replication and natural selection, that absolutely nothing else plays a significant role in the process of life. Darwin never said anything like this, but he has been made the figurehead of something entirely new, something cooked up to serve entirely political/cultural aims rather than science. Now like I’ve said many times, natural selection is indeed a source of some of the variation we see in biosphere. But I think there is every reason to doubt that only this kind of selection is responsible for the majority of variation.

So to review, Darwin had a lot of very important things to say. He didn’t say everything, though. I think (neo)Darwinism has about as much to do with Darwin as modern Christianity has to do with Jesus.

HaleyMary’s comment is unfortunate, I agree. But I would rather try to make sure the public knows that science isn’t always synonymous with reductionism or materialism (of the metaphysical kind). Science can also acknowledge wholes and qualities. Reality isn’t just a collection of objective facts, it is also a relationship between subjective perspectives. Science (which is to say “scientists”) are learning to understand this, and as they do the kinds of descriptions of nature that they take seriously begin to change. Any evidence I offer you which contradicts or supplants the metaphors used by selfish gene theory will probably not seem relevant unless you are willing to understand what science does in a slightly more expanded way.

What do you think would change about society if the majority of the public, theist and atheist alike, were exposed to and influenced by the Gaia hypothesis instead of Dawkins ideas?

Oh, and all that talk about you not accepting evidence and predictions from systems biology was just an assumption on my part. If you want to talk strictly science (at least the kind of science I take seriously), then we can certainly go there.

Happy Friday,

Being No One


Love your videos, Love your comments,

I’m a giant Alan Watts fan my self

I’ve found Thomas Metzinger to be a great addition to his ideas, have you read Being No One?

The functional boundary between a supposed internal and external world seems to me nothing more then a evolutionary tool which can not be justified outside of human experience (whatever it is that might lie outside our phenomenal reality).

I’m fascinated by case studies where individuals lose this feeling of disconnectedness with there representations (or representandums?).

Anyway, I’m not going to get to carried away here, I’m still arranging this information in my mind.

Also, I’d like to get on your friends list if you wouldn’t mind.


Hey zach,

thanks for your interest, if you love watts I’m sure we have much in common!
I have not read Metzinger’s book, but I did watch him present the basic idea in an hour long google video. the notion that inside and outside are necessary illusions (for what we call consciousness), and that reality is somehow neither, is very interesting. I wonder what we could possibly mean, though, by saying there exists something outside phenomenal reality. without there being something that appears, how could there be anything that exists? to appear, the world must be phenomenal, it must be seen by a body.

think of newton’s experiments on color. he supposed that color was an illusion created by a prism. the prism analyzes the light, breaks it up into a vivd rainbow. the light itself is actually white (or so-called “pure electromagnetic energy”), or so he assumed. he made the claim that light was something that existed independently (or “outside”) of the human eye (and therefore “mind”). he has no real proof that this interpretation is warranted, he is merely making the assumption that light exists independently of his eyes (and being, mind, soul…). In actuality, all his experiment showed was how light appears to our eyes under certain conditions. to suppose it exists independently of how it appears to us phenomenally as color (or white light) is a sneaky way of bringing metaphysics into science. the only reason it works and is believed by many smart people is because it is backed up by mathematics. We have no way to imagine what “electromagnetic energy” or “pure objective light” look like, we can only work them out mathematically. the equations about this energy which supposedly exists independently of our awareness amount to syntactical relationships between symbols which a particular mathematic community has agreed to memorize. experiments are designed to prove that light really is the way they have modeled it. what is only now (by people like metz and other embodied philosophers) being realized (it seems) is that science cannot transcend experience. to suppose we could know of a world independently of ourselves (and therefore, be able to control it) is no more than metaphysical madness, blind agreement with axioms which in the end may lead us down a rather self-destructive path. in fact, i think the notion that reality is out there, and that our subjectivity is merely a distortion of it, has been the sole cause of most of that peculiar type of suffering that only humans manage to find, that animals have barely the capacity to create or comprehend. This duality is a rift in being, it separates us from ourselves, keeps what we want perpetually out of reach. I know of no better situation for evolution! however, it may be time for involution (for consciousness to awake from its self-torture). I’m not sure how it will all work when and if this happens…. I don’t expect lion to actually start laying down with lamb as the bible says. maybe nothing at all will really change, i mean, how could it? reality is exactly as it appears, isn’t it?! (well, if you’ve followed and agreed with me so far, you might agree… if not, shoot me back a reply and straighten me out!).

peace for now,

Curing Philosophy

Wittgenstein’s model philosopher would act like a physician, though instead of trying to cure physical ailments, he would attempt to relieve metaphysical tension. The philosopher is a doctor of the mind, more commonly known as a psychologist. His task is to keep the language from misunderstanding itself. This, in turn, prevents people from becoming insane.
Insanity is not a measure of a person’s deviancy from normal. Insanity is an imbalanced soul. Entire cultures can be insane. Normalcy is currently insanity.

Playing a language game wherein subjects are necessarily separate from objects, and causes from effects, leads to insanity. The world cannot be made sense of when it is broken into two domains, irreconcilable one with the other. Out from another body comes our body, kicking and screaming. Soon enough it is taught to speak and acquires a mind all its own. We may not be born alone, but after internalizing our own name, we surely die alone.

A lonely death was Wittgenstein’s worst nightmare. This sickness unto death, the sickness of philosophy, causes one to question their own being, which immediately throws the whole enterprise of thought backwards over one’s head up into the air. The symptoms of this condition include nausea and alienation, even suicidal feelings in some. The cause is confused thinking.

As the old story goes, there is me and there is you, and an impossible to leap gap between us. You have private sensations and ideas unreachable by me, and I hide the same from you. We cannot share our lives, nor can we share our deaths.

But is it true? is there a you separate from me, or a me from you? Speaking, even writing, is addressing an other. Language implies dialogue. The question, however, is whether there is such a thing as a thought before a word.

I am.

The ‘I am’ is God consciousness. God is the thought that gives rise to all other thoughts. The story of Genesis is the invention of time, the codification of language, the construction of culture and the meaning of Man. History is a thought in dialogue with itself: history is reading and writing, thinking and speaking, remembering and willing.

But where and for who does history really exist? In the mind of each individual? Hardly a trace of it could possibly exist there! History is a common agreement, a shared story we must all participate in telling. No single person could know history without telling it to all.

Our supposedly private thoughts have no meaning until they are pronounced. Until we communicate, not even we know what we mean.

Is it really necessary to draw such a sharp line between meaning and truth, between the mind and the world, between appearance and reality?

How could a reality ever appear? By definition, it seems out of our reach. As beings with minds, we perceive only appearances. The structure of reality itself remains hidden.

But wait. What could we possibly mean by “reality” in this sense? Why is it that we would even posit something that is impossible to know? Is it because it appears to exist? Well then reality is “only” an appearance!

Everything is exactly as it appears; the world is all that is the case.
How on earth did an animal gain a conscience? When did we start hearing voices in our head? When did we become mortal souls in need of divine salvation?

When the thought “I am” was uttered, all other things followed.

It took only 1600 years for Descartes to make explicit what had been implied all along: I think, therefore I am. I do not have to speak or live with others to exist–I can stand alone. The meaning of my mind is my own.

This, of course, is insane. The body cannot live on doubt or the measured knowledge it provides.

Wittgenstein sought a cure. It was to view all thought as public. Everyone already knows your secrets, because your secrets are the same as the people you talk to. What they don’t know, you don’t know.

(Telepathy becomes impossible. There are no comprehensible thoughts that could be silently transfered from my mind to yours. If there were comprehensible thoughts, speaking them would accomplish the same “trick.”)

This is all very difficult for the ego to accept, no doubt. It enjoys its suffering, because its short releases of pain are intensely pleasurable. To release completely, though, amounts to the ego’s death; so it’s no wonder it returns endlessly to suffering.

Being a thinking thing trapped in a body that is decaying daily is no mind’s idea of a good time!
We need the cure. We need to locate the drain, unscrew it, and squeeze all the me juice out until privacy and secrecy become, not embarrassing, but impossible.

Embody Your Soul

Honesty is only possible if one agrees with oneself. If an inner conflict persists, one can only delay the truth, or lie. If we can befriend ourselves, speaking the truth becomes a possibility. Telling the truth consists in carrying the inside, out. Truth reveals what is of itself so, but which had prior to its showing remained hidden. We are honest when we reveal who we are without pretense, without prior deliberation with oneself. If we begin to deliberate, to debate with ourselves, truth has already been canceled. Conflict in the mind only conceals the truth, it reveals nothing save confusion.

Why does the truth need to be told before it is unveiled? Maybe because prior to its pointing out, we are unaware of our inner birth…?

Everything begins within, say the mystics.

Everything begins without, say the materialists.

An organism exhibiting intentional behavior is conscious. That means it has awareness. it not only moves, it senses. One does not come before or give rise to the other. The two arise together.

Sensation is not a byproduct of motor control. Consciousness is not secreted by the brain. The nervous system puts the inside on the outside, and the outside in. It allows our soul to feel with our body, and our body to think with our soul.