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

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.







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