I posted this on FaceBook in a thread about humanities departments needing to get over Aristotle’s biology and was told to stop spamming, so I suppose I’d better just post it here instead.

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If contemporary biology is going to throw out “purpose” and “essence” as concepts, it needs to throw out correlate concepts like “accident,” as well. I’d want to affirm that individual organisms were not planned in advance by God’s envisionment of the eternal forms as divided into a particular array of genera and species. By definition, a unique individual exists in excess of any abstract universal, whether at the special or general level in the chain of being. Even if there is such a Platonic God envisioning eternal objects, this envisionment could not determine the playing out of cosmic evolution. If time is truly evolutive–if it is a creative advance and not just a collision of particles–then even an all-knowing, all-powerful Laplacian God could not have known in advance (on “the first day”) what the physical universe would become in the last (today). We can’t think the realities of earth and sky in Aristotle’s terms anymore. No more purposes or essences determining species, but no more “accidents” or “mutations” determining them, either.

Organisms are negentropically powered homeodynamic systems that emerge, transform, and go extinct in the course of historical time. They live only by surfing thermodynamic gradients in their local environments. When these physical energy currents shift courses, organisms can either adapt or die. But so long as organisms meet the minimal entropic requirements of their energy environment, they are ‘free’ to evolve creatively. They can drift and are not simply shaped by pre-existing niches. Niches emerge alongside the creative decisions of organisms and are the not one-way causes of speciation. Random mutation and natural selection alone cannot account for the current or future biosphere (as Stu Kauffman is fond of repeating in ever-more convincing terms: http://www.necsi.edu/video/kauffman.html).

This doesn’t mean organisms are pre-programed by eternal forms, this means there is a non-random, non-programed “creative” aspect to the evolution of life. So gone are the ancient concepts of Creator and creature, Mind and matter, Essence and accident, Purpose and perversion, etc. What we need now are mediating concepts like Creativity, Imagination, Emergence, Expression, etc.

See also this essay on Whitehead’s ontologization of evolution.

English: Ludwig Wittgenstein / Pencil on board

There was a period of about 3 months back in college when Wittgenstein was all I could read (this essay emerged out of that period). His genius had infected me. I was sure his solutions had dissolved all my philosophical problems (indeed, I thought he’d cured me of philosophy). Of course, back in college, I had only just begun to construct philosophical problems for myself. At that point my collection was minuscule. The most confusing of my two or three problems was the so-called “mind/body” problem–a problem that Wittgenstein’s words seemed to be working therapeutically upon like a sore knot in my semantic musculature. In time, however, I came to learn of many new problems… like the “body/body” problem, and the “zombie” problem, and of course the “I/me” problem… Wittgenstein was never refuted or surpassed for me, far from it! But his solutions began to fade from memory as unforeseen philosophical problems continued to multiply. Even if Wittgenstein did in some sense solve the “mind/body” problem for me, the new problems which emerged began to seem less like stiff muscles and more like the growth of new appendages or new organs of perception.