A Random Fragment on the Philosophy of Biology

Randomness is a concept that Dawkins usually attempts to qualify and differentiate. The process of adaptation within his neo-Darwinian paradigm of selfish genes and natural selection is not random at all–it is driven by the brute physical agency of the Natural Selector. What is random are the mutations, which he apparently conceives of as happening one nucleic acid at a time in a fragmentary and fundamentally non-directed, non-vitalistic, non-holistic way. His approach is a consequence of Crick’s central dogma of a one-way flow of information from DNA to mRNA to protein, a paradigm blind to the work of the whole living cell to maintain, repair, and (re)generate the order of the crystalline molecules in the nucleus of each of our cells. I do agree with Stephen J. Gould‘s sense of the contingency of biological history; there are many other adjacently possible worlds. I don’t think contingency is the same as randomness, though. The history and development of life on earth, or of protons and electrons in space-time, can be full of adjacent possibilities and still display a clear directional tendency in its large scale dynamics. An Omega Point is not necessarily the imposition of an artificial design that determines the free play of nature, but can be an erotic lure embedded in the dynamics of nature itself (as in Teilhard de Chardin and Whitehead).

Stuart Kauffman talks about “exaptations,” when an organ used by one generation for one task begins to be used by another generation for entirely new, perhaps adaptive, behaviors (as with the first fish to use air bladders as lungs). This sort of mutation is not random, but the result of a sort of Baldwinian evolution through learned behavior.

I think Whitehead’s conception of Creativity is actually very close to the concepts of randomness and chaos. Chaos just needs a dancing partner, rather than conveniently and irrationally being imagined as the sole source of reality.  It’s not “God v. not God,” “theistic creationism” v. “atheistic chaosism.” It’s the presence of God and Purpose and Order mutually conditioned by the abyss of creativity and the pure, relentless renewal of nature. Randomness is always on the verge of spilling over into order, which is to say that pure novelty–absolute randomness–cannot manifest or enter into actuality but as the head of a ouroburos eating its own tales and memories, driven by the desire for the immortality of its own experiences.

In other words, randomness is the womb and the tomb of order, its creator and its destroyer. Randomness is a compost heap made of dead ideas and decaying bodies that nourishes and provokes the ongoing adventure of life and rationality.

Article on Physics and Philosophy

Article | First Things.

” As Hawking and Mlodinow occasionally seem to recognize, far from philosophy being dead, having been killed by science, the deepest arguments in this area are not scientific but philosophical. And if the philosophical reasoning runs in the direction I have suggested, it is not only philosophy but also natural theology that is alive and ready to bury its latest would-be undertakers. “

From Means to Ends, From Work to Play, From Number to Pneuma

When was the day that money became an idol instead of an instrument? Was it August 15, 1971, when Nixon shocked the world by erasing the Gold Standard, thereby unilaterally making the value of the US Dollar the standard of the world economy? Or was it in the waning months of 2008, when the central banks of the industrialized nations purchased $2.5 trillion of debt from certain corrupt institutions operating in the private sector (the largest single transfer of wealth in the history of the world)? When was it, exactly, that money became the lifeblood of our civilization? I ask not to condemn this elevation of the symbolic above the material, but only to wonder at what will become of it once the material can no longer provide what the symbols demand of it. The human economy has almost entirely detached itself from the earth economy. Economics has been designed as if human civilization were a closed system capable of perpetual motion. In reality, the technoindustrial machine within which our daily lives take place must seek out ever-increasing amounts of exergy (usable energy) extracted from the non-human and human environment (in the form of oil, coal, minerals, labor, knowledge, etc.) in order to sustain its constant growth. The earth system is not “external” to the human economy; the human economy is within the earth economy.

Perhaps it does not matter when money became an idol. It may be more important to recognize how it is that such a fetish is able to take root and sustain itself in the collective psyche. To do this, let us examine the categories through which we perceive the world we live in. Most fundamentally, the postmodern person relates to the larger world and greater society mediated by monetary instruments. This mediation takes place primarily in the workplace. Work, above all else, defines the individual’s life in the techno-industrial capitalist system. Among the first questions asked in polite conversation among newly aquatinted strangers is “what do you do?,” as in “what do you do for work?” Work is what earns us money, and money is what makes the world go round. Or so it seems.

Even in physics, the very stuff, or process, out of which everything is “made”–that is, energy–is defined in socioeconomic terms as the ability to do work. Wouldn’t it make more sense–and in fact, wouldn’t it have world-shaking effects–to redefine energy as the ability to play and to creatively reproduce?

Why would it make more sense to say this? Because energy, as Blake put it poetically, is eternal delight; which is to say that energy is not merely the mechanical transfer of force, but the spiritual and emotional conveyance of value.

How would an economy of play work? This has always been the question, if energy is truly disporting in its own light. The human economy has never truly separated from the earth, though it may have made the pretense of such a separation the basis of an imperial fantasy. How can money continue to breath life into the human adventure if its value is detached from the cosmos, from something alive and real? How can merely working for a living motivate us to wake up and bring forth civilization each morning? The ends of all work should always be to secure more time to play. Money is not an end in itself, unless it has become an idol. Working for money is worshiping a false idol. No amount of money or number of notes will ever buy us the pneumatic gnosis we seek.