The following is an essay written for a course called “post-secular Jewish emancipatory thought,” taught by Richard Shapiro in the Social and Cultural Anthropology department at CIIS.

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In May of 2010, the Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Middlesex University, Ed Esche, informed the philosophy department that its funding had been permanently revoked. Despite being widely recognized as one of the leading research centers on Continental philosophy in the world (and the only such center in the UK), the University administration determined that greater revenue would be generated if its financial resources were more efficiently allocated. The Dean remarked that, despite its excellent academic reputation, the department made no “measurable” contribution to the University.[1]

It seems that thinking has little role left to play in a hyper-capitalist society, where knowledge is a commodity and culture is sculpted by social engineers to entertain and persuade us. The advance of civilization marches onward, as Alfred North Whitehead put it, “by extending the number of important operations we can perform without thinking about them” (Introduction to Mathematics, 1911). Thinking is aimed at the negation of the given, the status quo: philosophy must strive to break free of the custodial role prescribed for it by the dominant culture. “Official philosophy,” where it is still permitted to exist as a legitimate “occupation,” is supposed to aid the scientist’s accumulation of instrumental knowledge by “[preventing] the waste of mental energy” (Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1987, p. 202). Genuine philosophy cannot produce standardized knowledge to be packaged and sold for the corporate sponsored “enrichment of the mind” (Eros and Civilization, 1974, p. xxiii); rather, philosophy is a thinking which “refuses to capitulate to the prevailing division of labor and does not accept prescribed tasks…[It is] an effort to resist suggestion…[by giving] voice to the contradiction between belief and reality” (DE, p. 202). If education is now a business, philosophers no longer belong in universities. Philosophy is truth telling, not truth selling.

Industrial capitalism has not only come to disregard and downplay the disruptive effects of thinking. The free expression of Eros has also been undermined. Despite the much-vaunted sexual revolution of the 1960s, any release of instinctual energies is prescribed by the requirement that it be “satisfied within the framework of commerce and profit” (EC, xxiii). As a young person seeking liberation through education and the love of wisdom (philosophy), I am compelled by nature to construct a sensuous rationality capable of bringing forth a non-repressive civilization. Those in society granted the privilege of “spending” their time doing “nothing but” thinking are shrinking in number, so there is a special urgency to my present inquiry. What does it mean to do philosophy in a corporate economy happily perpetuated by a well-fed, well-entertained populace? Thinking is precisely thinking about nothing—thinking what is not, and so discovering what remains possible. Thinking is an activity without meaning within the context of consumption and production, since it emerges from the memory of an entirely different way of being. Thinking is the attempt to step outside the repressively comfortable circle of life-so-defined.

I aim to think the possibility of reconciliation between Logos and Eros, between thinking and feeling. This will require more than the intellectual revolt of philosophical imagination against abstraction, but also the instinctual rebellion of youthful eroticism against repression. Capitalist society cannot be successfully countered by the explosive release of orgiastic impulse alone, since such explosions already find their approved expression in a multibillion dollar pornography industry; nor can even the most penetrating critiques of commodity fetishism outpace the wit of advertisers and the allure of personal electronics. Instead, mind and body must reunite for a new kind of fight against an enemy who has already penetrated the inner sanctum of our own soul. The enemy is not the government bureaucrat or corporate executive, but the machinations of “the system” of which they, too, are victims.

Philosophy must therefore join forces with psychoanalysis in order to liberate our human potential for joyful life from the surplus-repression of industrial capitalist civilization. Following Herbert Marcuse, psychoanalysis must be extended beyond the individual to include society, since today “the cure of the personal disorder depends more directly than before on the cure of the general disorder” (EC, p. xxvii).

What are the lessons of psychoanalysis for philosophy; which is to say, what has the thinking ego to learn from the unconscious soul? Freud would remind the philosopher that his supposedly logical thought processes originate in the memory of bodily gratifications and are driven forward by the impulse to recollect these same past gratifications (EC, p. 31). Because the ego is perpetually frustrated in its attempts to fully recall the past, it becomes increasingly offensive and antagonistic in pursuit of its objects (EC, p. 109). Thinking is not entirely free, but seems to act out of the unconscious necessity of the pleasure principle.  Thought must come to recognize its embodied context and to except the instinctual ground from which it emerges. But psychoanalysis, the science of the psyche, also has something to learn from philosophy, the art of the psyche.

The soul, says Aristotle, is the form of the body, and the body a broken version of the whole. The body is ruled by necessity, the death drive always drawing it back into blissful extinction in the inorganic realm. The soul still enjoys the pleasures of the dying body, but it also has a taste for something higher: the integral freedom of imagination, where desire can be made to coincide with gratification. The psyche exists midway between the freedom of the spirit and the feelings of the body. Its task is to integrate the ideas of the former with the reality of the later.  The imagination is the site of this integration, and its cultivated expression can transform unconscious necessity into conscious freedom.

Though Western philosophy has long championed Logos, Reason, or Spirit as the essence of Being, and therefore privileged production and mastery of nature over receptive participation, the Platonic tradition offers an alternative.  In the Symposium, Eros is described as the desire for wholeness and wisdom, rather than dominance. It reminds the ego of a time when subject and object had not yet split, and promises an eventual return to paradise. Similarly, in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, the highest form of Reason is the opposite of the prevailing, Enlightenment conception of a subject always attempting to progress over and against an object. For Hegel, absolute knowledge is the result of a cyclical development culminating in “attained and sustained fulfillment, the transparent unity of subject and object” (EC, p. 116). Unfortunately, this fulfillment is spiritual, a freedom won only in the Idea and not in reality. “In reality, neither remembrance nor absolute knowledge redeems that which was and is” (EC, p. 119).

Marcuse argues that philosophy, despite its great spiritual protests, has been unable to overturn the dominant reality principle of Enlightenment rationality[2]. The sought after transformation of society requires more than the ontologization of Eros along side Logos; it requires a higher form of participation in nature won by the re-enchantment of culture, defined not as the rigidly enforced deflection and methodical sacrifice of libido (EC, p. 3), but as its fullest expression.

Enlightenment, according to Horkheimer and Adorno, “has always aimed at liberating human beings from fear and installing them as masters” (DE, p. 1). “Yet,” they go on, “the wholly enlightened earth is radiant with triumphant calamity.” The liberation promised by the Enlightenment was to be accomplished by the disenchanting effects of an instrumental rationality capable of explaining and controlling nature (inner and outer) for the good of society. Directing our ever-increasing intellectual and material forces toward collective benefit, so the story goes, requires repressing the pleasure-seeking and boundary-dissolving instincts of our individual organism. This “social contract” of voluntary repression is supposed to be in service of life against death, freedom against slavery; but the contract is signed under duress, since neurotic guilt, rather than conscious love guides the forced choice. The rationalization of our organism by the dominant culture is accepted more as a punishment than a present. Having been thus “scientifically managed” (EC, xii) by society, we become thoroughly alienated from our labor, our pleasure, and our cosmic ground. Human life has been made into a mere means to the end of economic progress—progress measured in terms of the consumption of a resource base organized so as to artificially enforce scarcity (an issue to which I will return below).

If the world wars of the 20th century were not shocking enough to dispel the sacrificial myth of mythlessness underlying the rationale for industrial civilization, the worsening socioeconomic and ecological crises of the 21st century have all but fully exposed the madness of its attempt to scientifically master the life of the psyche and the earth.

The philosophical inquiry to follow will revolve around two related questions: 1) Can there be civilized life without repression? 2) Can there be scientific knowledge without disenchantment?

 

Approaching an answer to the first question will require unpacking the sociological implications of psychoanalysis. Marcuse’s philosophical reconstruction of Freud’s theory of “primary narcissism” will provide the conceptual basis upon which to critique the latter’s assumption that sociality begins only with human civilization. On the contrary, it will be argued that sociality is basic to nature, and that therefore civilized life need not be based upon a traumatic break within the individual psyche between the pleasure principle of the id and the reality principle of the super ego.

The second question is related to the first, in that the surplus-repression[3] governing industrial civilization objectifies both the human psyche and the natural world. Whereas mythical consciousness participates in an inherently meaningful cosmos no less animated than the human soul, scientific rationalism has separated meaning from intelligibility by transforming nature into a “mathematical manifold” (DE, p. 19) awaiting technological manipulation. In light of Marcuse’s discussion of the mytho-poeic and aesthetic dimensions of the psyche as potential avenues to overcoming the opposition of man and nature enforced by the instrumental rationality of the performance principle, it will be argued that any psychological reconciliation between the id and the super ego remains superficial without a concomitant cosmological reconciliation between the soul and the cosmos.

Instead of domination and mastery, civilization can be founded upon playful participation. Through the liberation of Eros and the emergence of a sensual rationality, the industrial performance principle and its image of ourselves and of nature as mere means can be challenged and transformed.

Can there be civilization without repression? Or, as Freud’s corpus suggests, is the “free gratification of man’s instinctual needs…incompatible with civilized society” (EC, p. 3)? Marcuse argues that the human civilian need not be made into an instrument of labor, forced to delay self-gratification in order to toil for the survival of the whole. Such instrumentalization of the individual represents one possible, and particularly alienating mode of industrial enculturation. Nietzsche exposed the conceptual roots allowing for the perpetuation of this mode, which grow out of the “gigantic fallacy on which Western philosophy and morality [are] built”: that which mistakes contingent facts for essences, thereby making metaphysical principles out of historical conditions (EC, p. 121).

Freud’s reading of the relationship between the pleasure and reality principles is built atop the Darwinian notion of a “struggle for existence” resulting from the scarcity inherent to natural life. Freud offers a devastating critique of the idea of an rational individual so crucial to liberal political theory, but he nonetheless describes the origins of civilization through the emergence of a social contract based upon the idea that the human individual’s selfish desire for immediate gratification must be checked in order to safeguard the future happiness of society (EC, pg. 13). Civilization is deemed necessarily repressive, since unrestrained individual gratification would quickly lead to the collapse of the labor force that secures the resources vital to social organization.

However, Darwin’s understanding of scarcity and the struggle of each against all can be shown to have more to do with the capitalist economic conditions holding sway in 19th century England than it does with nature.[4] Scarcity, and the competitive model of social relations in which it results, is not rooted in the natural world, but is the result of an artificially controlled distribution of resources. What Freud and Darwin took to be the essence of nature was actually the result of a contingent form of economic organization. Rather than a war of each against all, post-Darwinian biology has come to recognize symbiosis as the rule, rather than the exception, in the natural world.[5]

Regardless of whether or not the state of nature is truly an out and out struggle, Marcuse argues modern technological advances have now made it possible to all but eliminate scarcity and scale back the need for industrial toil. That billions of people still go hungry and billions more sell their labor and leisure time to corporations can no longer be legitimated by the naturalization of scarcity and competition.

If scarcity is the result of capitalism, rather than its justification, the surplus-repression of civilization must also have historical, rather than biological causes. Marcuse unpacks Freud’s own understanding of instinct to reveal how Eros contains within itself the germ of a reality principle all its own. Unlike in some of Freud’s formulations, the performance principle of capitalism need not be understood as the only possible reality (EC, p. 45). As the example of artistic production proves, there may indeed be a “work-instinct” (EC, p. 84) that avoids alienation. Sociality, too, can emerge instinctually, through the still gratifying sublimation of aim-inhibited sexuality (EC, p. 82). A non-repressive civilization is possible, since there is a psychic force empowered by the pleasure principle of the id that is nonetheless capable of being made conscious: the imagination (EC, p. 140).

Imagination, says Marcuse,

links the deepest layers of the unconscious with the highest products of consciousness (art), the dream with the reality; it preserves the archetypes of the genus, the perpetual but repressed ideas of the collective and individual memory, the tabooed images of freedom (EC, p. 141).

The performance principle of industrial civilization divides the psyche into an ego interested in the usefulness of rationality, geared toward truthful representation and skillful manipulation of nature, and an unconscious id caught up in the useless daydreaming of imagination, absorbed in the childish fantasies of the pleasure principle. The birth of a truly free civilization will require the cultivation of imagination as an organ of perception, capable of giving intelligible and realistic form to the archetypal desires of the psyche. The split between the pleasure ego and the reality ego must be overturned so that the image-making capacities of the id are consciously granted their constitutive role in the formation of reality.  Contra Freud, the notion of a reality principle that avoids repression is not retrogression to an impossible subhuman past (EC, p. 147). The restoring of imagination to its proper role in the psychic construction of reality signals the coming of civilization’s most mature phase (EC, p. 150).

It is not simply that imagination must begin to play a role in our perception of reality; it is that the rational ego must come to recognize the freedom it already exercises in bringing forth a society dominated by the performance principle. The current structure of society is a contingently imagined product, not the natural and necessary result of trying to civilize unruly instinct. The implementation of the performance principle’s repressive norms has occurred slowly over the course of many generations, and so few individuals are aware of being subjected to it.  The primordial trauma responsible for characterizing the modern subject’s alienated way of being is normally buried in the collective unconscious.

“In the ‘normal’ development,” writes Marcuse,

the individual lives his repression ‘freely’ as his own life: he desires what he is supposed to desire; his gratifications are profitable to him and to others…Repression disappears in the grand objective order of things which rewards more or less adequately the complying individuals and, in so doing, reproduces more or less adequately society as a whole (EC, p. 46).

Only sustained contemplation and cultivated imagination can dig up what has been repressed, namely the existence of “an undifferentiated, unified libido prior to the division into ego and external objects” (EC, p. 168). Freud’s discovery of this pre-egoic stage of “primary narcissism” forced the retraction of an earlier theory claiming the primacy of the self-preservation instinct. As Freud described it, “the ego-feeling we are aware of now is…only a shrunken vestige of a far more extensive feeling—a feeling which embraced the universe” (ibid.).

Marcuse argues that the re-activation of this primary stage of libidinal identity with the universe, given the formation of a mature ego capable of integrating it, would produce a re-sexualized body no longer satisfied with being used as a “full-time instrument of labor” (EC, p. 201), and a sensualized reason, no longer satisfied with the objectification of nature. Through the process of the conscious cultivation of imagination, regression is made progressive (EC, p. 19), the entire personality becomes eroticized, and reality itself is transformed. This re-emergence of libido is more a spread than an explosion, according to Marcuse, “a spread over private and societal relations which bridges the gap maintained between them by a repressive reality principle” (EC, p. 202).

The narrow confines of acceptable sexual desire dictated by the performance principle are opened up, and sexuality is transformed into a cosmic principle: Eros. As in the Symposium, Eros is ontologized in recognition of the fact that “Being is essentially the striving for pleasure” (EC, p. 125).  This new way of inhabiting an eroticized body in a fundamentally pleasure-seeking world undoes the historically enforced repression responsible for the antagonistic separation between the spiritual and physical parts of our organism (EC, p. 210). The transformation of sexuality into Eros allows the pleasure principle to begin its own process of realization towards ever-more refined receptivity and sensuousness. These aims lead inevitably to “the abolition of toil, the amelioration of the environment, the conquest of disease and decay, [and] the creation of luxury”—all those effects long assumed to be impossible without severely restricting our natural inclinations (EC, p. 211). Work, defined by the performance principle as a necessary means to an end, is replaced by play, which takes pleasure in an activity for its own sake, even where its content is no different than work (EC, p. 215).

The ontologization of Eros has further consequences for modern science’s understanding of the universe. Contemporary physics defines energy as the ability to do work. This is no mere metaphor; it reveals that the established performance principle has infected the theories of even the hardest of the sciences. To the extent that nature is granted any “inner life” at all, its activity is believed to be that of forced, mechanical labor. Philosophical reflection upon the revelations of psychoanalysis leads not only to the liberation of man, but to that of nature, now free to display the wealth of its many forms before a more receptive subjectivity (EC, p. 190). Energy, as Blake put it, is no longer trapped in endless toil, but understood to be celebrating existence in eternal delight.

Thinking need not only be in the service of rationalization. It can also liberate. When the soul is freed to imaginatively perceive the natural possibilities of its existence, civilization is not imperiled, but greatly improved. If it were true that “the price of progress in civilization is paid in forfeiting happiness through the heightening of the sense of guilt” (EC, p. 78), then the grand venture of our species would not be worth it. Only the unconscious memory of a promised paradise could have kept us toiling for so long. It is time this potential be made conscious.


[2] What Marcuse calls the “performance principle.”

[3] For Marcuse, surplus-repression refers to “the restrictions necessitated by social domination,” and is distinguished from basic repression, or “the modifications of the instincts necessary for the perpetuation of the human race in civilization” (EC, p. 35).

[4] “The theory of natural selection, it is said, could only have originated in England, because only laissez-faire England provided the atomistic, egotistic mentality necessary to its conception. Only there could Darwin have blandly assumed that the basic unit was the individual, the basic instinct self-interest, and the basic activity struggle. Spengler, describing the Origin as ‘the application of economics to biology,’ said that it reeked of the atmosphere of the English factory … natural selection arose … in England because it was a perfect expression of Victorian ‘greed-philosophy,’ of the capitalist ethic and Manchester economics.” -Himmelfarb, G., Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, W.W. Norton, New York, p. 418, 1962.

[5] See The Symbiotic Planet by Lynn Margulis (1999).

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.

My time at Schumacher is drawing to a close, and the whole experience has been quite formative for me. Preparing meals, washing dishes, and weeding the garden provided unexpected opportunities to reflect upon the value of simple work with others. This morning I spent about an hour in the kitchen chopping the stems off about 300 gooseberries with Delphine, an older woman whose exuberance seems to have grown with age. We discussed the life of Ram Dass (Richard Alpert), especially the powerful film about his life “Fierce Grace,” and tried to understand the relationship between psychedelic experience and spiritual awakening.

Later in the day, Rupert Sheldrake discussed his theory of morphic resonance. I was already convinced that the proper metaphor for understanding the universe was as an organism, rather than a machine, but hearing Rupert express the specific reasons why he arrived at such a view was fascinating nonetheless. He believes that cosmologists are mistaken in conceiving of nature as being governed by fixed laws that somehow exist beyond space and time. Instead, he posits a radically evolutionary picture of the universe, where supposedly constant laws are actually habits which have, over great spans of time, worked themselves into groove-like patterns. Mathematical formalisms, like Newton’s inverse square law or Einstein’s E=MC2, work because they are good approximations of these habits, which are stable enough for physicists to make reasonably accurate predictions about physical processes. A deeper look, however, reveals that supposed constants like the speed of light, or the melting point of various crystals, have changed over the years, sometimes drastically (Sheldrake gave the example of aspirin, whose melting point has risen 12 degrees celsius since the 19th century).

Sheldrake also discussed the historical significance of the Scientific Revolution which brought about the reigning mechanistic conception of the universe, arguing that many of the more organic Aristotelian ideas that Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, and Newton rejected should be reconsidered. Chief among them is the idea of formative causation, which Sheldrake’s theory of morphic fields redresses in modern scientific language. Aristotle wrote of various levels of soul which work in nature, including the vegetative, sentient, and intellectual souls. Plants grow with the patterning influence of the vegetative soul, which is at work in all higher forms of life as well. It is the wholeness not reducible to the sum of its parts. Animals have the added influence of the sentient soul, which gives them emotion and a higher degree of purposive mobility. Human beings are distinguished from the rest of the animal kingdom by the intellectual soul, which provides for the ability to think abstactly and to ponder the meaning of existence.

For Aristotle, the soul was not in the body, but the body in the soul. This seemingly counter-intuitive way of thinking about the soul-body relation gets at the elusive nature of Sheldrake’s morphic fields. They are invisible spheres of influence that guide the formation of physical systems. From such a perspective, the genome would not be the cause of an organim’s morphology, but the visible molecular trace of the field’s higher dimensional activity. Sheldrake insists that morphic fields are still spatial phenomena, but speculates that they exist in dimensions not directly captured by our 3D sensory experience.

He also believes that morphic fields have a temporal dimension, a morphic resonance that establishes an influence on future members of the same species (be they atomic, chemical, or animal species). In this way, physical systems are related to a non-local memory bank, so that, for example, when the genome of one member of a species mutates, other members might be simultaneously effected through a kind of subtle resonance. The punctuated evolution of species begins to become more plausible in this context, as a purely Darwinian explanation (where mutation is an isolated event effecting only individuals) seems to require too much time to account for the speed at which entirely new kinds of organism emerge.

Mechanistic materialists will of course reject all of this as unnecessary, claiming that even if molecular biologists don’t understand everything yet, complete knowledge based on reductionistic analysis is just around the corner. Sheldrake says he has lost count of how many times his more holistic biology has been dismissed by such materialistic promissory notes, which amount to nothing more than an act of faith in what is ultimately a metaphysical view. Indeed, if direct observation is supposed to be the basis of science (rather than abstract speculation), then the sort of Aristotelian organicism that Sheldrake proposes seems far more coherent with our actual embodied experience than those views which suggest we are nothing but sophisticated robots.

When it comes to phenomena like consciousness, who is more metaphysical and other worldly: someone like Daniel Dennett, who posits that our immediately felt-sense of being conscious persons with rich inner lives and spiritual longings is but an illusion because, in reality, we are but computers made of many insentient mechanical components, or someone like Sheldrake, who suggests that we are among the more complex manifestations of a living universe whose behavior is orchestated by the nested relationships between sentient spheres of influence? It seems clear to me that the latter view–if only we can overcome the fallacy of misplaced concreteness that has produced the deadened industrial ideology preached in universities–is the more adequate to our actual day to day experience. One only needs to take a walk in the woods to remember that we live upon an animate earth and to feel themselves embedded within the psyche cosmu.

I commented to Sheldrake that perhaps the real tragedy was not that such enchanted views of the universe were dismissed out of hand by the intelligentsia of mainstream culture, but that such dismissmal prevented human beings from futher developing still latent capacities (such as clairvoyance and telepathy). He agreed, but suggested that in his experience, very few reductionistic scientists and philosophers actually carry their metaphysical views over into their personal lives. On the weekdays, while they are researching and writing papers, they say what they need to in order to maintain respectability within their institutions. Our industrial economic system requires that its intellectual leaders continue to re-enforce the reigning mechanistic worldview. But on the weekend, most of these same arch-mechanists become romantic nature lovers amazed by the mystery of existence.

The problem, then, seems to be integrating scientific knowledge and personal experience, so that the two can co-exist harmoniously within a single cosmology. Sheldrake’s new science of life is a step in the right direction. Part of the necessary transformation would seem to me to require re-thinking the current hierarchy of scientific disciplines, where physics currently ranks supreme. Perhaps biology ought to replace physics as the most fundamental science. Of course, Aristotle’s physics (in Greek “φύσις,” or physis, referring to the way plants grow), was already based on a conception of the universe as living. So perhaps we just need a more adequate understanding of the physical, not as dead particles in motion according to eternal laws, but as living tissue developing within a cosmic embryo.

Sheldrake still has one more lecture for us this evening, so I will probably have more to say…

A link to my first comment (also pasted below):

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/02/criticism_deferred_but_buildin.php#comment-2256674

You’ll have to refer to the link above if you want to see the other comments I am responding to below, though I do repeat them in brief in my own responses.
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# 168:

I’ve read the entire thread and wanted to toss a few thoughts into the mix for whatever they are worth. In light of Darwin’s own admission that variation under natural selection was by no means a complete account of speciation*, I think Fodor’s criticisms would be better directed at neo-Darwinists like Dennett and Dawkins, whose absolutist attitude seems to distort via over-extension Darwin’s more modest proposal. Fodor seems to want us to consider the role of endogenous organization in the evolutionary drama, instead of assuming that all form is imposed from without by the environment. Not only evo-devo, but complexity theory have gone a long way in providing insight into the role played by endogenous organization. It seems that most biologists are well aware of the gaps that need filling, and Fodor doesn’t give them enough credit. I would like to defend his apparently “consequentialist” reasoning, however. Evolutionary psychology (especially Pinker) is filled with ad hoc explanations that really cannot be separated from political ideology. Hume’s too easy “is” v. “ought” dichotomy may hold for physics (though even there, it is apparent that research into nuclear weapons technology blurs the boundary), but in biology and especially psychology, when science begins to study the very life processes that generate our own cognitive capacities, core philosophical issues quickly rise to the surface. The knowing scientist, after all, is a part of the universe he or she is trying to understand. Moral considerations cannot be treated as if they exist outside the facts of nature. Morality IS a fact of (human) nature. All too often, those with a scientistic bent treat such philosophical considerations as if they were irrelevant: now that the scientific method has been formulated, they believe all that is left for us to do is fit our theories to the data**. The consequences of over-zealous reduction of evolution to a Darwinian algorithm (a la Dennett), when unreflectively applied as a “universal acid” to other fields like psychology–while certainly generating lucrative research grants–cannot be ignored unless we mean to uphold the sort of Cartesian dualism between the human soul and the rest of the natural world that Hume assumed to construct his “is”/”ought” dichotomy. The way humanity thinks of nature (whether scientifically or philosophically) is not at all separate from the sorts of social forms and ecological policies we adopt.

In closing, as a final defense of the importance of philosophy even in our technophilic and scientistic age, I’d like to recommend a book by Evan Thompson (Univ. of Toronto): “Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Science of Mind.” He has plenty of criticisms of Fodor’s approach to cognitive science, as well as Dennett and Dawkins approach to biology. Most relevant to what has been discussed on this thread is chapter 7 (starting on page 166). Most of it is on google books and can be read here: http://books.google.com/books?id=OVGna4ZEpWwC&lpg=PA170&ots=4madrcfcui&dq=evan%20thompson%20evolution&pg=PA166#v=onepage&q=&f=false

Thompson argues that Darwin’s mechanism assumes without explaining the self-production of biological individuals (which is logically prior to reproduction). Self-production (or “autopoiesis”) cannot be accounted for in Darwinian terms, and may require re-thinking the mechanistic ontology of nature that has gained ascendency since the Scientific Revolution. I’ve written a lengthy essay about this which also attempts to break down the “is”/”ought” dichotomy by showing how the modern conception of the biosphere in terms of competition and mechanism has more to do with capitalist social relations than it does with empirical facts.

The essay:http://www.4shared.com/file/167360855/ca8c5526/Towards_an_Integral_Economics.html?

*Darwin spoke of “evolution” only once in the 6th edition of “Origin.” The concept arose in Romantic philosophy long before Darwin. Lamarck (even if his proposed mechanism turned out to be misguided) was really the one who first made the idea plausible as an account of phylogenic change. Darwin wanted to avoid it because he wanted his theory to be strictly empirical, mechanistic, and therefore non-directional. Evolution implies the unrolling of something enveloped, and is therefore somewhat teleological. Romantic philosophers (Kant, Goethe, Coleridge, etc.) employed the concept to counter the mechanistic forms of thought that gained prominence in the late 18th and early 19th century. A good anthology on this: http://www.amazon.com/Romanticism-Evolution-Bruce-Wilshire/dp/0819143839

** Thomas Kuhn’s working out of the underlying perceptual re-orientations responsible for paradigm shifts should clue us into the fact that what makes science so successful is the plasticity of its method. Data and evidence are not the only relevant factors in scientific investigation. Facts are underdetermined by theories.

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# 169:

Also, I’d be curious to here what Pharyngulites think of this other NS article on horizontal gene transfer. It seems to me to present a much stronger case than anything Fodor has to say for the eclipse of Darwin’s mechanism as the most important factor in evolution:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20527441.500-horizontal-and-vertical-the-evolution-of-evolution.html

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# 176:
Nerd of Redhead,

Sorry, not the peer reviewed scientific literature, which is the only thing that counts to science.

Let us hope that science never ceases to deeply engage with the philosophical underpinnings of its method. Once it severs its ties to philosophy, there is nothing to prevent it from becoming another unreflective form of dogmatism. Do not forget that the epistemological basis and ontological conclusions (if there be any) of scientific investigation are not themselves amenable to empirical investigation.

Scientific journals are where the nitty-gritty experimental work is hashed out, no doubt. But we will always need philosophy to put all the pieces together into some coherent picture of the universe and our place in it. This is especially true in light of the proliferation of scientific fields and the fragmentation of knowledge which has resulted.

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# 209:

I have to make a confession. I don’t do any of my thinking inside a laboratory–unless, that is, you are willing to grant me a metaphorical use of the term. Perhaps systematically thinking about thinking, and about thinking’s relation to our bodies, to other thinking bodies, and to the world, is a sort of scientific investigation. Except in my case, the laboratory is the Universe.

The relationship between science and philosophy has and will inevitably remain an intimate one. I will quote Alfred North Whitehead below because he seems uniquely positioned to provide insight into the turf war that always plays itself out here on Pharyngula. He lived through the quantum and relativistic revolutions as a physicist and came to realize their implications would require totally re-imagining the philosophical foundation of Classical physics. The classical relationships between space-time, energy/matter, and observation/consciousness that Galileo and Newton had assumed to be true could no longer serve as the metaphysical background of the scientific worldview. The results of scientific investigation, in this case, lead Whitehead deeper into philosophy.

From “Adventures of Ideas” (1933), chapter 9: ‘Science and Philosophy’, p. 143:

The emphasis of science is upon observation of particular occurrences, and upon inductive generalization, issuing in wide classifications of things according to their modes of functioning, in other words according to the laws of nature which they illustrate. The emphasis of philosophy is upon generalizations which almost fail to classify by reason of their universal application. For example, all things are involved in the creative advance of the Universe, that is, in the general temporality which affects all things…

Philosophy is concerned with the most universal aspects of human experience. Science is after the details. In the end, though, science must assume the imaginative background that the great philosophers have intuited and systematized (it is usually not the same philosopher to do both). There have not been many great philosophers, as has been pointed out several times on this thread already. Perhaps all of Western philosophy is simply footnotes to Plato, as Whitehead suggested. But when a particular field of science tries to trace back its ideas to their basic notions, it eventually reaches a point where further pursuit of their source is no longer relevant to its immediate purposes. They must hand the baton of knowledge to the philosophers. As Whitehead says, These basic notions [of science] are specializations from the philosophical intuitions which form the background of the civilized thought of the epoch in question… The collapse of nineteenth century [Classical] dogmatism is a warning that the special sciences require that the imaginations of men [and women] be stored with imaginative possibilities as yet unuitilized in the service of scientific explanation.

Philosophy provides this great service to human ideas, that it keeps them fresh and free to re-imagine the world when, as a result of ongoing experimentation in the laboratory of the Universe, old world-conceptions fail the tests of empirical adequacy and logical coherence.

To recap, philosophy is concerned with the universal aspects of experience, some examples of which are space, time, and consciousness. Physicists cannot measure or observe any of these three, because they are universal forms of intuition and not particular sensory objects. Space, time, and consciousness are pre-conditions for special scientific investigation into this or that corner of the natural world. We can only approach these categories philosophically.

None of this is to say that philosophy somehow provides us access to the ultimate truth. Knowledge is an evolving process, and I’d offer that balanced constructive competitiveness between scientific and philosophic attitudes will best allow our civilization to continue its historic adventure.

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# 212:

Raven,

Perhaps we can agree then that evolution is indeed more complicated than we currently understand, and that while vertical transfer of variation under natural selection may be the norm for higher taxa, evolutionarily prior to that (i.e., for roughly 3 billion years) the rules were very different. Evolution itself seems to have evolved.

To all,

It seems like Pharyngula is more concerned with the cultural implications of our biological origins than with the specific details of evolutionary theory (though of course I’ve read some fantastic scientific blogs by PZ here, too). While I agree that the fact of the common descent of species MUST be integrated into our self-conception as human beings, I tend to think that the materialism taken for granted here is just as misguided an understanding of the complexity of our universe as intelligent design. Neither takes seriously the implications of a thoroughgoing evolutionary philosophy. Yes, complexity emerges from simplicity over time without the need of an external designer. But when put in a cosmological context, the mechanistic assumptions of both materialism and intelligent design fail to adequately account for our current experience as self-conscious animals. Traditional religion is indeed dead, and has no better explanation for our existence;, but dead, too, is the clock-work conception of the universe that initiated the Scientific Revolution and inspired Darwin’s attempt to find a mechanistic law working to produce living phenomena. I’m not suggesting his theory is incorrect; it is demonstrably true. But its truth is conditional, not universal.

Perhaps we might take a step back and consider for a moment the larger arc of the history of ideas. It seems to me, from such a view, that we should remain ever-vigilant for the sort of hubris which leads us to suppose our age is the first to see clearly, whereas all prior ages were living in the dark. Humanity has deepened its understanding in light of modern science, but that doesn’t mean there is no longer any room for imaginative speculation and appreciation for the mystery of the sheer fact that such a beautifully ordered universe should exist at all. Pre-modern answers to spiritual questions no longer inspire us–and so we must go in search of our own. But search we must. Scientific certainty about this or that particular fact will never be enough to keep the human spirit alive.

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# 216:

Rorschach,

I fail to see how this universe is beautifully ordered, wouldn’t thermodynamic equilibrium actually mean the universe was dead ?

Define those terms [Truth and Goodness], otherwise this is just the mother of all ambiguous statements.

The expansionary model of the universe, as well as the seeming infinite potential of the quantum vacuum, calls into question the idea that it is all destined for heat death.

I hold, as Plato did, that Truth and Goodness cannot be finally defined, but only approached through ongoing dialectical struggle. That they exist as ideal forms is an assumption I seem unable to avoid. But that I might once and for all define them for you in abstraction from the concrete actuality of the always new particular situations in which they are to be applied is hardly possible. It is a bit like what Augustine said about time, that he knew what it was (the very essence of the life of his soul!) only until he was asked to define it. All but the most poetic language fails us in these situations, but unless we buy into the relativism of our intellectually impotent age, we cannot avoid the conclusion that we have at least intuitive access to these ideals.

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# 219:

John Morales,

You use the terms, yet you claim they’re ineffable. Do you see the oddity in this?

Not at all. Language allows us to approach intelligibility, but not to arrive at it in the form of fixed definitions. Inquire seriously into the meaning of most words and you’ll find you eventually reach an aporia. The ground of language is speech, which at its root is a matter of communication between persons. When we talk about Truth and Goodness, we are attempting to share attentional ‘space’ about ideas which do not in fact exist anywhere in our sensory experience of the physical world, but rather come to us as spiritual intuitions. I use the loaded word “spiritual” because our own self-conscious capacity to think (i.e., our spirit, or “I”) doesn’t appear to exist anywhere in the spatially extended world of material objects. Rather, it is that which is able to conceive of the world as a spatiotemporal manifold in the first place. Space and time, like Truth and Goodness, are ideas. You’ve never literally seen space. You’ve only seen shades of color. Nor have you seen time, only motion. You intuit space-time and can never be quite sure what it might be independent of your intuitions. Said otherwise, you can never be quite sure what the words “space” and “time” actually refer to; though of course this doesn’t mean we can’t have meaningful conversations about them so long as we are willing to take the imaginative leap necessary give them content.

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# 222:

I don’t mean to create some dualism between the mind and the extended world of nature here (a la Descartes). The challenging thing about a thoroughgoing evolutionary philosophy is that it requires we articulate how it is possible for mental experience and material process to share a common origin. The universe doesn’t do what it does because of some extra élan vital; rather, the expansion of space-time and organization of matter/energy constituting our ongoing cosmogenesis was from the beginning in possession of interiority or mind. To speak of “matter” (or exteriority) as if it might exist in abstraction from “mind” (or interiority) is to employ a form of substance dualism. Unless our concepts of both mind and matter have a necessary relation to one another such that the one requires the other for its meaning, they sink into incoherence. We cannot conceive of them as separate substances requiring nothing but themselves in order to exist, even if, like many here at Pharyngula, we chose to ignore mind in favor of explanation by way of material substance alone.

All this is to say that while thinking, ideas, and intuitions cannot be outwardly sensed or weighed, they remain integral to the universe. They are not immediately evident anywhere “out there,” perhaps, but they nonetheless require and participate in the becoming of the world. Only by becoming real does the ideal complete its mission.

Language is itself a feature of the outside world, and so it cannot entirely contain the inwardly experienced meaning of our ideas–certainly not as abstract definitions. But we seem nonetheless able to change the world with our words, because by speaking with each other we give rise to shared networks significance, to entire civilizations.

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#225:

Agreeing on use of terms is important, but it is only because we can never quite agree that culture evolves by continually realizing new forms of language that give insight into our relationship to the physical world. We can only know the world, whether through judgement or otherwise, because of our relations to other people. I can conceive of perspectival space, for instance, only after taking into consideration the fact that others see the world from a different angle than myself. Truth and Goodness are not entities in the way that the apple I hold in my hand is an entity. They are ideal forms. As soon as I speak and give them a name, they become mere abstractions unless in some concrete encounter between myself and other people an immediate intuition is shared concerning their participation in our given situation. These ideas could be thought of as strange attractors guiding our complex interactions with one another in the world.

As for an account of self-consciousness as epiphenomenal to the brain, I refer you to my reasoning (#222) concerning the incoherence of any definition of matter in abstraction from mind. Yes, we are both material objects; but so are we spiritual subjects. Otherwise we would not be capable of the sort of knowledge science claims we have of the spatiotemporal world.

Human beings are not the only creatures with an interior perspective on the world, and so if we went extinct, space-time would still be realized by other beings.

I don’t think it is so easy to distinguish between perception and intuition. We always already perceive the world in terms of the concepts of space and time. These are the very conditions for the possibility of experience in the first place. We do experience a real world, certainly. But the constitution of this world includes both a mental and a material pole and can’t be reduced to one or the other.

This all sounds awfully Kantian, and I think his approach fails in the end to overcome Descartes dualism, but so far as it goes I think he successfully destroyed any hope for a materialistic account of thinking and self-consciousness.

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# 227:

Kel,

It’s not so much that there is something “beyond” the material. It’s that within matter itself there lies the capacity to think, to be aware, to know. This has implications so far as our general conception of the universe is concerned, the sort of implications that force us to wonder if perhaps the modern scientific notion of a dead, mechanistic universe–rather than the pre-modern one of an organic, living universe–is the mistaken projection. Science has corrected much that was wrong with ancient cosmology and totally reoriented us in the universe based on empirical observation, no doubt about that! But the total sterilization of the universe by reduction to exterior matter in motion according to deterministic law has turned out to be a bit premature. Such a picture leaves the human observer entirely out of the picture. Since relativity and quantum theories over-turned the Classical conception of the physical world, such an oversight is no longer excusable even within science, much less philosophy. We are in need of a metaphysical scheme that ties mind and matter together into a single evolutionary process. There’s no doubt they are intimately wed. But it is a huge leap to the assumption that we can hope to account for our very ability to give an account of anything (Plato referred to this ability as our participation in Logos, which could be translated as mind) in terms of external brain mechanisms alone. To do so is to ignore the significance of our own thinking activity.

On the Matter of Life: Towards an Integral Biology of Economics

Table of Contents

Preface

Introduction: What is Life?

I. The Irruption of Time

II. Ancient Biology

III. Modern Biology

IV. Teleology as a Regulative Principle of Living Organization

V. Autopoiesis: Teleology as Constitutive of Living Organization

VI. Concrescence and Bodily Perception

VII. Concrescence and Autopoiesis

VIII. Mechanized Life and Spatialized Time

IX. Integral Thought-Perception and Market Cosmology

X. Integral Enaction of a Gaian Polity

Conclusion: On the Soul and Spirit of Life

Works Cited


“Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of the creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy. Every man’s condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put. He acts it as life, before he apprehends it as truth. In like manner, nature is already, in its forms and tendencies, describing its own design. Let us interrogate the great apparition that shines so peacefully around us. Let us inquire, to what end is nature?” –p. 7, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays and Lectures

Preface

The relative success of the human endeavor, measured in terms of population[1] and technological mastery, has been won at the cost of widespread suffering for much of the rest of the community of life on earth. Life is not just a quantitative affair, but is everywhere striving to deepen the qualitative intensity of its existence. Industrial civilization has emerged amidst this vital striving, violently shifting the biosphere into the terminal phase of the Cenozoic era by initiating the first mass extinction event in 65 million years.[2] In the deep geological past, saurian giants and cycads flourished where long stretches of highway now carry automobiles fueled by their fossilized remains. Should our species continue to ignore the psycho-spiritual wounds responsible for instituting and maintaining our ritualized techno-industrial sacrifice of future generations, we will soon find ourselves joining the dinosaurs.

This essay is my attempt to reveal the metaphysical causes and energetic effects of industrial capitalism such that its inhumane and ecologically ignorant foundations are brought fully into consciousness. Consciousness is our most creative human capacity; but in its fragmented and anxiety-ridden deficient mental mode, it has become the agent of the most powerful strategy of thermodynamic gradient dissipation the planet has ever known. Should human consciousness fail to awaken in time to forestall the inevitable conclusion of the industrial process, not only will capitalist profits continue to be squeezed out of the alienated labor of workers and commoditization continue to homogenize cultural expression, but earth will become a toxic wasteland eaten alive from the inside out by the mechanical transformation of extropy[3] into the fetishized value of money and use-and-dispose consumables.

The emergence of life on earth around 4 billion years ago can be understood as an expression of the same natural tendency to dissipate free energy that is driving the extractive economy of industrialism. The complex activities of living creatures on earth’s surface work to bring the extreme temperature gradient between sunlight and space toward equilibrium by radiating back more heat than would an inert planet, as per the 2nd law of thermodynamics (p. 46, Margulis, 2002). The industrial organism has brought this process of gradient reduction to new heights by technologically freeing exergy trapped in places no other form of life could reach (like hydrocarbons and radioactive elements).[4] But as has been learned from the many identity crises to come before on this planet (i.e., five prior mass extinctions) more of the same leads eventually to extinction because conditions are always evolving: humanity must mutate or perish. Our industrial presence to the biosphere represents a deficient and so unsustainable relationship between mind and life, culture and nature, humanity and earth.

Unless the as yet unrealized spirit of integration lying dormant in human consciousness can blossom, our species will continue to instinctually play by the entropic rules of thermodynamics[5] by devouring the remaining resources of the earth. Like the ever-optimistic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I am hopeful that we will learn to “give [our lives] to [being and to knowing], rather than to [possession],” because though “human vision is still diffuse in its operation, mixed up with industrial activity and war…it will not be long now before the noosphere finds its eyes” (p. 280, 1955).  Only with the full emergence of the noosphere can humanity become integral with the earth, achieving what Jean Gebser has referred to as a transparent aperspectival a-waring of human and universe together in a space-time-free presentiation of origin (p. 312, 1985).

Humans and their societies are not inherently exploitative and selfish, nor is the rest of the biosphere a pitiless struggle for existence guided only by the invisible hand of natural selection. We have not always been capitalists. As Alf Hornborg has argued, “…there are undoubtedly social metaphors that transfer meanings from relations in the human world to relations with the nonhuman one, committing societies to specific trains of thought” (p. 197, 2001).

I will argue in this essay that our integral potential has been ideologically distorted by dualistic ontologies and fetishized mythologies. These forces of cultural habit have deceived us into tirelessly slaving for the alienating and spiritually empty ends of techno-industrial accumulation. This ideological distortion of our human-human relations is the psycho-social precursor that primed scientific consciousness for the reductionistic study of living systems and their evolution (which lead, consequently, to the mechanistic study of the “rational animal,” the human consumer, as scientific metaphors migrated back into economic policy).

Mechanistic biology typifies deficient mental thought concerning human-earth relations. I will try to draw ideological links between mechanistic sciences of life and industrial economics to make clear that, while not the only cause of current social and ecological injustice, mainstream biology’s dismissal of soul (formal cause) and spirit (final cause) gives ideological steam to the hegemonic industrial parade noisily marching the planet’s living population to the edge of extinction. I will attempt to deconstruct the biological bulwarks guarding the economic status quo so that more integral human-human/human-earth relationships might be brought forth.

Introduction: What is Life?

“Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result” –p. 12, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays and Lectures

Life, for Sri Aurobindo, is the mutual commerce connecting matter and mind in the manifest universe, an

“intermediate energizing of conscious being [that] liberates into sensitive action and reaction a form of the creative force of existence which was working subconsciently or inconsciently, absorbed in its own substance; it supports and liberates into action the apprehensive consciousness of existence called mind and gives it a dynamic instrumentation so that it can work not only on its own forms but on forms of life and matter” (p. 186-187, The Life Divine).

The knowing mind is always supported by embodied experience. Any scientific stories told to explain the cosmos must have some relation to our personal and inter-personal experience of living and dying on earth. Philosophers since Plato and Aristotle have struggled to adequately articulate this metaxic, commercial concept. The reflective human being is always already in life, thrown between matter and mind, and so cannot entirely breach the eternal realm of unchanging ideas, nor totally fathom the depths of material flux and impermanence—at least this side of death. But Aurobindo is not wrong when he writes that “the natural opposition we make between death and life is an error of our mentality” (p. 176, ibid.). He urges us to become aware of a more integral life, which

“is nothing else than the Force that builds and maintains and destroys the forms in the world…that manifests itself in the form of earth as much as in the plant that grows upon the earth and the animals that support their existence by devouring the life-force of the plants or of each other” (p. 177, ibid.).

Death is a part of life’s dynamic wholeness, a life present “everywhere, secret or manifest, organized or elemental, involved or evolved, but universal, all-pervading, imperishable; only its forms and organizings differ” (p. 179, ibid.). How are we to conceive of life’s integrality? An overly reductive definition distorts life’s cosmic import, painting too tragic and meaningless a picture of existence; an overly expansive definition obscures life’s fragile beauty, ignoring the fact of death given by the birth of every living creature. Each living creature is a moving image of eternity, embodying both temporal and eternal ingredients.

I will endeavor in the following pages to coherently define every actual occasion, from atom to Eve, as a living creature. The reason is that no scientific account of the biosphere can, without incongruence, explain the emergence of life in a physical universe that is otherwise devoid of feeling, meaning, and purpose.

My exploration of the issues surrounding the pursuit of an organic ontology will require a thorough critique of mechanistic biology, whose aim is the reverse of my own: to define life such that it is reducible to a “mindless, purposeless, algorithmic[6] process” (p. 320, Dennett). This definition will be shown to be entirely inadequate. It makes of our human experience an aberration, severing all roots whatsoever between our own intentionality and the evolutionary dynamics that carried us here. If we are going to attempt a scientific account of life, it must recursively include the knowing mind of the living scientist in its explanations.

The process metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead, as well as the phenomenological biology of Francisco J. Varela, will aid my critique[7] of mechanistic biology and industrial capitalism. Varela’s account of life in terms of autopoiesis will be compared with Whitehead’s analysis of the process of concrescence in the hopes that the affinity of their ideas becomes clear. It will be argued that Varela’s science demands a new metaphysical scheme not available within the confines of mechanistic materialism. Whitehead’s philosophy of organism, I suggest, is up to the task.

The approach of these two thinkers represents what cultural philosopher Jean Gebser has called the “irruption of time consciousness” (p. 380). It was not until the 20th century that life could be properly understood, as prior to this historical moment, time itself had not fully entered the consciousness of human beings. Gebser’s account of the irruption of time will aid us throughout this text.

I. The Irruption of Time

“The supersession of dualism in biology begins to occur in this science at the moment when the ‘time’ factor is taken into consideration.” –Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin, p. 384

In The Ever-Present Origin, Gebser elegantly enacts a still nascent structure of human consciousness, the integral, and distinguishes it through comparison to the other structures uncovered in his phenomenological study of the evolution of consciousness. The structures he discovered include the archaic, magic, mythic, and mental, each with its own dimensionality and sensory emphasis. Most important for my task—that of bringing forth a living cosmology to replace the dominant mechanical, market cosmology—is the ongoing mutation from the deficient mental to the integral structure, with special attention paid to the resulting transformed awareness of time.

The efficient mental structure of consciousness is described by Gebser as having been “already shaped in the Mediterranean world of late antiquity” (p. 11) by such figures as Parmenides, Plato, and especially Aristotle. The full mutation from psyche to mind[8], however, did not take place until 13th century Europe, revealed in the intensely personal poems of the Troubadours and the revival of Aristotle in the work of Thomas Aquinas. Gebser’s account of the mental structure suggests it was responsible for producing “the visualization of and openness to time with a quantifiable, spatial character” (p. 12), and offers as an example of this new attitude toward time the erection of the first public clock in 1283 in the courtyard of Westminster Palace.[9] From this moment forward, the mind became increasingly deficient, a growing impediment to integral space-free, time-free awareness.

Gebser is clear that this rising of time into consciousness is both a gain and a loss: a gain because it allowed humanity to think, to understand, to reflect, to calculate—in short, to recognize its capacity for rationality (p. 74); a loss because, with the invention of clocks, time became falsely spatialized, thereby occluding the transparency of the whole for the sake of rampant quantification of the parts.

As Gebser puts it,

“…our fathers [dominated by the mental structure] had no sensorium for the phenomenon of time. Living in a spatially frozen world, they considered the temporal world to be a disturbing factor which was repressed, either by being ignored, or by being falsified by measurement into a spatial component” (p. 284).

The implications of the obsession with measurement in a world experienced as “spatially frozen” will be explored in depth below, but it suffices to say for now that such factors played a central role in the formulation and widespread acceptance, whether explicit or not, of the substance dualism that continues to plague much of mainstream mechanistic biology (whether it be the dualism between consciousness and earth, or that between genetic information and somatic realization). Only once the mutation into integral consciousness commenced could humanity begin to appreciate time, not as a quantity or magnitude, but as a qualitative intensity (p. 285). Before exploring the crucial significance of qualitative time in an integral biology of economics, I must first examine the beginnings of biology itself during the birth and development of the mental structure.

II. Ancient Biology

“Biologists cannot study their subject in abstraction from matter, since nature always acts for the sake of an end, which involves studying the relation of what is potentially something to its full realization” – p. 641, Aristotle, De Partibus Animalium

Gebser recognizes Aristotle as among the first in antiquity to display an unquestionable tendency toward mental, as opposed to mythic, consciousness (p. 408). It is not surprising then that Aristotle is widely seen as the originator of both the science and philosophy of biology (p. xx, Lennox). Whitehead, however, famously wrote that philosophy “consists of a series of footnotes to Plato,” (p. 39, 1978), and indeed, Aristotle is indebted to him, even where he diverges. Whitehead credits Aristotle with correcting Plato’s tendency to “separate a static spiritual world from a fluent world of superficial experience” (p. 209, ibid.). In Timaeus, Plato lays out a cosmology that is structurally similar to what would today be called intelligent design. The universe is described as something made, though is imbued with intelligence and soul by its designer, a divine craftsman, who orders it based upon a changeless, ideal model to bring about the most beauty and goodness possible (p. 228, Lennox). Aristotle, on the other hand, tried to find a less theological middle ground between atomistic reductionism and Plato’s still mythic artifactual idealism, being careful not to scrub away nature’s purposes in the process. Though he still made use of the metaphor of the craftsman to understand organic form, Aristotle recognized an important difference between artifact and organism that was blurred by Plato’s cosmology (despite the fact that in Timaeus Plato describes the cosmos as a living thing—its soul was inserted from outside):

“For the artist is source and form of what comes to be, but in another; whereas the movement of nature is in what is coming to be” (p. 735, Generation of Animals).

Aristotle here distinguishes the work of an artist from the form of an organism by pointing out that artists shape their crafts from the outside, while organisms form from within. The core difference between Plato’s understanding of life and Aristotle’s is that Plato finds it necessary to import purpose into nature from beyond nature (by demiurgic design), while Aristotle finds it immanent in the movement of natural things themselves.

It might be helpful here to introduce Aristotle’s four αιτίες (roughly translated as causes, or reasons) for the sake of which every living organism exists. I will revisit these causes in a later section (VII) on Whitehead, where a slight reworking of them will aid our understanding of concrescence. The material cause is the potentiality necessary for formation, and the efficient cause this formative movement’s agent of initiation. The formal cause is movement directed toward an end, the final cause being the attainment of that end. Aristotle viewed the matter and form of a creature as intimately related: matter provides the potential for the actualization of form. The difference between Aristotle’s immanent and Plato’s demiurgic understanding of teleology is extremely significant, as this distinction has influenced nearly every philosopher of biology since, as well as every economist.

The separation and valuation of man and his labor over and above the surrounding natural environment goes hand in hand with the separation and valuation of a divine architect allied with eternity over and above a created world that is a mere imitation, “a thing that has come to be as a shrine for the everlasting gods” (37d, Timaeus). The mythic enchantment still informing Plato’s cosmology would eventually be cleansed and anthropocentrized by more modern thinkers, who used its logical structure in support of what Donna Haraway has called “productionism”: “Productionism and its corollary, humanism, come down to the story line that ‘man makes everything, including himself, out of the world that can only be resource and potency to his project and active agency’” (p. 297, 1992). I will discuss productionism in connection with mind/matter dualism in section VIII.

III. Modern Biology

“…if one accepts the evolutionary perspective, attempts to discuss science (or any other sort of conceptual activity) become much more difficult, so difficult as to produce paralysis.” – p. 299, David Hull, The Naked Meme

Charles Darwin, idolized by many contemporary materialists as the slayer of teleology and champion of the mechanistic paradigm, was a student of William Paley, whose natural theology and argument from design can be traced back directly to Plato (p. 228, Lennox). Paley held that certain artifacts, including organisms, could not be explained without recourse to an intelligent artificer due to their obviously designed features. Darwin was inspired to respond to Paley, and so devised the theory of natural selection to explain how the apparent design of organisms could be the result of a purely mechanical process working over immense geological time (p. 68, Dennett). Darwin’s response to Paley is difficult to disprove by weight of empirical evidence alone,[10] but when one realizes the implicit assumptions that both make, it becomes clear they are working from within the same paradigm: both Darwin and Paley understood organisms to be nothing more than especially sophisticated machines. They differ only in the reasons given for this sophistication. Paley’s argument from design required a transcendent deity for nature to have any purposes. Once Darwin called the logical necessity of that deity into question, the biological world was left sterile and purposeless, the result of chance, necessity, and an unfathomable amount of time.[11] Plato’s demiurge and the wisdom it had ensouled the universe with had been vanquished, leaving only the undirected flux of nature in its stead.

This is not the whole story, however. Darwin’s was a biology constructed to comply with and reduce to Newtonian physics. Newton conceived of the universe in a way reminiscent of (demythologized) Plato: nature was a clockwork machine constructed by God according to certain transcendent laws. Darwin was compelled to find a place for life within this framework, a framework Whitehead describes as “the doctrine of Imposed Law” (p. 113, 1967). The only way to make room for life in Newton’s universe was to erect a radical division between the contingency of biological evolution and the necessity of physical law. While Darwin correctly replaced Paley’s deist natural theology of creation with his evolutionary narrative, he failed to recognize that the laws of physics themselves also had to be evolutionized.[12] But because he was still firmly rooted within the mechanistic paradigm, Darwin could not understand how the biosphere’s miraculous beauty and harmonious organization might have arisen without recourse to the arbitrarily imposed, deterministic order of Newton’s laws.

Immanuel Kant, who died more than 50 years before Darwin wrote The Origin of Species (and so also lived in the shadow of Newton), heavily criticized the view that organisms can be understood as machines/artifacts. His view is reminiscent of Aristotle, in that it affirms natural purposes without recourse to supernatural designers. Why the Anglo-American world paid so little attention to his critique of mechanistic biology is an historical curiosity worth exploring.

British colonialism (and later, American capitalism) has had no better apologist than Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution by variation under natural selection can be read as the animistic projection[13] (through metaphorical transfer) of the socio-economic models of Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus[14] onto natural processes. England was at the height of its global empire while David Ricardo, Smith, and Malthus were writing their treatises on market economics. His own national history and enculturation no doubt presented Darwin with a sense of moral obligation to explain natural history and biological evolution in such a way that they not contradict sanctioned norms of colonial and capitalist power relations.

Biologist Ernst Mayr has suggested that “Kant’s acceptance of teleology…greatly affected German evolutionists in the nineteenth century”[15] (p. 82, 2001). Nonetheless, Mayr felt that any use of final causation in biology was doomed to failure (ibid.). We can only assume that Mayr had other philosophical[16] (and perhaps ideological) commitments that prevented him from investigating Kant’s understanding of teleology in more depth. We turn now to explore Kant’s account of life, one that would almost two centuries later resurface in the scientific guise of Varela’s theory of autopoiesis (p.136, Thompson, 2007).

IV. Teleology as a Regulative Principle of Living Organization

“An organized being is then not a mere machine, for that has merely moving power, but it possesses in itself formative power of a self-propagating kind which it communicates to its materials though they have it not of themselves; it organizes them, in fact, and this cannot be explained by the mere mechanical faculty of motion.” –Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment

In The Critique of Judgment, Kant ridicules the very idea of a purely mechanical account of life:

“…it is quite certain that in terms of merely mechanical principles of nature we cannot even adequately become familiar with, much less explain, organized beings and how they are internally possible. So certain is this that we may boldly state that it is absurd for human beings even to attempt it, or to hope that perhaps some day another Newton might arise who would explain to us, in terms of natural laws unordered by any intention, how even a mere blade of grass is produced” (p. 282-283).

Many materialists have argued that Darwin was exactly the “Newton of the grass blade” that Kant thought would never come. But this confuses an important distinction between ontogeny and phylogeny. Darwin’s theory was exclusively an account of the phylogenic diversification of species.

As Evan Thompson makes clear,

“Kant’s concern was the definite organization of living beings, but the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection does not provide any account of organization at the level of biological individuals. On the contrary, the theory must presuppose biologically organized individuals that reproduce” (p. 131).

To suppose Darwin’s theory banished the immanent purposes of particular beings, one must commit Whitehead’s fallacy of misplaced concreteness by mistaking a general law about the abstraction “species” for an account of the nature and origin of concrete individuals. Further, because Darwin had to presuppose reproducing organisms for his theory of speciation to work, modern biology cannot look to his work for anything approaching a complete account of life.

Kant’s genius was to recognize that “some products of material nature cannot be judged to be possible in terms of merely mechanical laws” (p. 267, CoJ). To understand life, according to Kant, final causality must be employed. Like Paley, Kant also thought artifacts were impossible to explain without the application of some teleological principle. Material and efficient causes were not enough to account for the design of a bicycle, for instance. But unlike Paley, Kant understood organisms as “natural products,” not artifacts of divine design (p. 133, Thompson). A natural product is generated immanently by a natural purpose, in contrast to an artifact, which is given its purpose by an external, intelligent agent.[17] A natural purpose is found in “a thing [that is] both cause and effect of itself” (p. 249, CoJ).

It will be helpful to explore the relationship between artifacts and organisms a bit further. Both are organized in a purposeful manner, which means they are incomprehensible without an idea motivating their production. Further, the structure of any organized thing, machine or organism, is such that each of the parts composing it exists for the sake of the whole (i.e., each of the components conforms to an overall idea).

But this is not enough to understand the natural purposes of organisms, as Kant explains:

“…we must think of each part as an organ that produces the other parts (so that each reciprocally produces the other)… Only if a product meets that condition…will it be both an organized and a self-organizing being, which therefore can be called a natural purpose” (p. 253, CoJ).

Again, an artifact is purposeful because it is caused by an idea, but it is an idea that “resides outside the entity in the mind of an intelligent designer” (p. 134, Thompson). The idea informing an organism is, in contrast, “both cause and effect of itself.” Kant’s coining and elucidation of the term “self-organization” is strikingly similar to Varela’s theory of autopoiesis, but an important complication remains for us to discuss before I can move on to this more recent formulation. Kant saw the natural purposes of organisms as merely a regulative principle of our own human epistemological limitations. Regulative principles, in contrast to constitutive principles, do not tell us what a thing is, but only what we can know about that thing (p. 137, ibid.). Kant held that we needed both mechanical and teleological modes of thought to investigate nature, but was agnostic as to these concepts’ ultimate relation to things. This is a necessary result of the Kantian dualism between the phenomenal realm of experience and the transcendent realm of noumena.[18]

Even so, Kant comes very close to admitting that self-organization is constitutive of living organisms (and not just a regulative principle), but backs away from this position for reasons that are extremely significant considering the overarching aim of our current exploration (to reverse the disenchantment of nature that sustains the instrumentalist attitude so characteristic of techno-industrial capitalism).

It is worth quoting him at length:

“In considering nature and the ability it displays in organized products, we say far too little if we call this an analogue of art, for in that case we think of an artist (a rational being) apart from nature. Rather, nature organizes itself… We might be closer if we call this inscrutable property of nature an analogue of life. But in that case we must either endow matter, as mere matter, with a property (hylozoism) that conflicts with its nature… Or else we must supplement matter with an alien principle (a soul) conjoined to it. But if an organized product is to be a natural product, then we cannot make this soul the artificer that constructed it, since that would remove the product from (corporeal) nature. And yet the only alternative would be to say that this soul uses as its instrument organized matter; but if we presuppose organized matter, we do not make it a whit more intelligible. Strictly speaking, therefore, the organization of nature has nothing analogous to any causality known to us” (p. 254, CoJ).

Kant here attempts to reconcile the possibility that organisms are intrinsically self-organizing (and therefore purposeful) with his philosophical commitment to Newtonian science.[19] He finds that he must either endow matter with life-like properties (hylozoism), or admit a dualism whereby an intelligent soul either constructs or inhabits organized matter (vitalism). He rejects both on the grounds that they conflict with Newton’s view of nature as composed of inert and unfeeling atoms shuffled around by transcendentally imposed laws. Self-organization, therefore, is seen as an entirely irrational principle that is nonetheless indispensible for any human understanding of living creatures.

Kant’s understanding of the nature and scope of science was lacking due to no fault of his own. In the time since his death, both the study of physics and the study of self-organization in biology have advanced beyond the wildest dreams of the 18th century imagination. Kant, like most of his generation, was mesmerized by the mathematical magic displayed in Newton’s Principia.

But as Gebser points out,

“This form of mathematics permits calculation with infinitely small variable quantities. These quantities…are merely mathematical quantities…[and]…render causal processes measureable by mathematically fragmenting intensities. These spatialized ‘quantities’ of intensity…will continue to exert a negative effect until we clearly recognize this rational falsification” (p. 311).

Gebser is here attempting to explain that calculative systems like Newton’s are clumsy abstractions, basing their measurements of space and time on “so-called ‘ideal quantities’” (p. 310) that are actually falsely spatialized intensities. The significance of this will not become clear until Whitehead’s process metaphysics are unpacked, but for now I will allude once more to the tendency of the deficient mental structure of consciousness to spatialize and quantify everything, leading to

“an extreme dualistic form of thinking which recognized only two antithetical and irreconcilable constituents of the world: measurable, demonstrable things, the rational components of science which were valid; and the non-measureable phenomena, the irrational non-components, which were invalid” (p. 285, ibid.).

Kant falls victim to this extreme form of dualism, and so is forced to understand self-organization as merely an appearance necessitated by the structures of our understanding. Life, for Kant, was self-organizing and purposeful, but only because the human mind is unable to experience and describe it any other way.[20]

This deficient mental dualism between what is rational/measurable and what is irrational/non-measurable will be explored later in connection with capitalism’s tendency to wedge general-purpose money between all human-human and human-earth relations (see sections VIII, IX, X). Such decontextualization erases the qualitative diversity of cultural meanings and natural purposes, replacing them with abstract and homogenous quantities assigned arbitrary value by the short-term whims of the market.

“Like all structures,” says Hornborg,

“the biosphere is composed of differences. If it is humankind’s mission to devise a coded system of signals to integrate this most inclusive of living systems, our monetary system must recognize those differences or continue to annihilate them” (p. 174, 2001).

Mechanistic biology quantifies living organization by reducing its essential nature to the replication of genetic algorithms. A living organism, from the perspective of such a paradigm, is defined as “anything that can use the resources of the world to get copies of itself made” (p. 15, Ridley, 1999). It is a small step to the defacto attribution of vital existence to money itself, which feeds off the mineral and organic mass of the planet to turn a profit (i.e., make copies of itself).

V. Autopoiesis: Teleology as Constitutive of Living Organization

“…autopoiesis proposes an understanding of the radical transition to the existence of an individual, a relation of an organism with it-self, and the origin of ‘concern’ based on its ongoing self-produced identity.” –p. 116, Francisco J. Varela, et al., 2002

The resurrection of Aristotelian teleology in modern biology is a matter of great controversy (p. 1, Colin et al., 1998).  Some biologists, such as Richard Dawkins, deride any mention of it, as natural selection is deemed to have explained away any requirement of a purpose or aim behind the purely mechanical process of reproduction.[21] This view can be easily dispensed with, as Darwin’s theory concerned phylogenic change, having nothing to say whatsoever about the self-organization and goal-directed behavior of individual organisms.[22] Indeed, Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection is applicable only given an already self-organizing creature intentionally operating and reproducing within its environment.

Other biologists have adopted a new term, “teleonomy,” to describe the as-if property of purposes evident in the behavior and organizational dynamics of life. Biologist Jacques Monod goes so far as to say that “it is indispensible to recognize that [teleonomy] is essential to the very definition of living beings” (p. 9, 1972). Here, he echoes Kant by pointing out that life cannot be understood without purposes, though also like Kant, he understands these purposes to be a projection of the human observer. This is as far as most biologists are willing to go, as they feel obliged to respect the epistemological dualism of the mechanistic paradigm. Hornborg points to the cognitive science of Varela and Humberto Maturana in an attempt to deconstruct this dualism, suggesting that their approach “…[downplays] the distinction between human intention and other forms of systemic directionality in living systems” (p. 179).

Whitehead similarly notes that “no biological science has been able to express itself apart from phraseology [that] refers to ideals proper to the organism in question” (p. 84, 1978). Whitehead goes on to credit Aristotle with having impressed this fact on the science of biology, and relates how the overstressing of final causation during the Christian medieval period probably provoked the equally overstressed reliance on efficient causation in modern science.

When Varela and Maturana originally developed the theory of autopoiesis, they were undoubtedly influenced by this scientific tendency to overstress efficient causes: “Living systems, as physical autopoietic machines, are purposeless systems” (p. 86, 1980). By machine, they did not intend to confuse organisms with artifacts, but meant that the system was determined by its structure and organization (p. 141, Thompson). Any purposes attributed to it were considered projections: regulative, as opposed to constitutive features.

In one of the last essays he authored before his death, however, Varela proposed a revision of the understanding of purposes present in his earlier work with Maturana. He recognized that an autopoietic organization of the living implies the emergence of “an autonomous center of concern capable of providing an interior perspective” (p. 97, 2002). To understand why, it is necessary to explore in more detail the theory of autopoiesis:

“…an autopoietic system—the minimal living organization—is one that continuously produces the components that specify it, while at the same time realizing it (the system) as a concrete unity in space and time, which makes the network of production of components possible” (p. 115, ibid.).

To understand this rather abstract definition, let us ground it in the paradigm case from which it is drawn: the cell. A living cell is engaged in a continual process of self-production and repair, wherein each of its organelles participate in the production of one another, as well as in the production of the membrane defining them as a unity. Though an autopoietic system is also a self-organizing, dissipative structure,[23] it should not be reduced to these more general categories. What distinguishes an autopoietic system is its “self-produced identity,” or “instauration of a point of view” (p. 116, ibid.). An autopoietic entity is one that can be studied empirically (from the outside), but that also requires one to appreciate the horizon of experience brought forth by its continual self-production (from the inside). It is here that an immanent teleology finds its way back into biology, not as a regulative principle of our study of organisms (teleonomy), but as constitutive of life itself.

“…self-production is already and inevitably a self-affirmation that shows the organism as involved in the fundamental purpose of maintaining its identity”  (ibid.).

Varela’s analysis of the experiential component of autopoiesis involves more than just recognizing the identity arising due to an organism’s internal circular dynamics, but also the surrounding Umwelt[24] emerging from its “sense-making” abilities, allowing it to “change the physiochemical world into an environment of significance and valance” (p. 147, Thompson). In this way, intentional movements directed toward ends become the very basis of life. Both formal (the identity, or idea, actualized in the movement of the organism and its organs) and final (end-directed behavior) causality are here implicated in the organization of the living.

But can the Kantian dilemma be so easily resolved? Kant, as was discussed earlier (p. 19), did not understand how self-organization of the autopoietic variety could be possible naturalistically. In the last century, however, our understanding of the physiochemical make-up of organisms has increased significantly. We are far better equipped than Kant to cope with organic form (p. 140, Thompson; p. 101, Varela, 2002). But how, exactly, does an autopoietic account of life establish that the activity of an organism is intrinsically purposeful? How do we know that a teleological element is behind life when it could just as well be a projection of our own “…perspective on an otherwise completely neutral behavior” (p. 108, Varela, 2002)?

“It is actually by experience of our teleology—our wish to exist further on as a subject, not our imputation of purposes on objects—that teleology becomes a real rather than an intellectual principle. Thus causality, as it is perceived by us as sentient beings, may be subsumed under the more general principle of life” (p. 110, ibid.).

Varela here inverts the whole tradition of natural philosophy since at least Descartes by reminding us that, “before being scientists we are first living beings, and as such we have the evidence of our intrinsic teleology in us” (ibid.). The mechanistic paradigm could begin only after Descartes had firmly established a metaphysical rift between thinking and extended substances. The Kantian difficulty over whether to embed teleology in organisms themselves, or to recognize it as a heuristic principle of human judgment, can be traced back to this division between mind and matter.[25] Descartes decreed that the extended substance was purely mechanical, ruled by efficient causes alone. This included our own living bodies.

Once it is understood that experience is rooted in bodily processes, and not in some invisible mental substance existing beyond it, attributing genuine interiority and teleology to other living bodies is simply a matter of generalizing our own embodiment. We need not, as Whitehead warns, “relapse into the tacit presupposition of the mind with its private ideas which are in fact qualities without intelligible connection with the entities represented” (p. 76, 1978).

But how far can this generalization of our own experience be taken? Varela, while he grants that teleology is more than an artifact of the human mind, only re-establishes it as a necessary phenomenological fact about our own embodied experience. To firmly root teleology, and therefore formal and final causes, in organisms generally, Varela must establish an ontological principle, not merely a phenomenological description. It appears he is willing to do just that:

“To speak of [autopoiesis] thus directly links the biological sphere with a teleological account of ontology. On a material, concrete level we can observe in the organism the flip side of mechanical causality, a final causality as the basic process of life itself—the establishment of an identity. But this happens not by revising physical laws for particle-interactions in special application to organisms, nor by imposing an extra-mechanical entelechy. It is rather the ‘subject-pole’ that is the organism in its autonomy, which changes linear causality by structuring matter in the process of self-realization to maintain itself as this very process” (p. 119, 2002).

Exploring this process of the formation of a “subject-pole” (or mental-pole) requires connecting Varela’s biology to Whitehead’s metaphysics, where an analysis of the general character of experience in terms of concrescence provides us with the conceptual platform necessary to understand how organisms don’t need to “transcend the neutrality of pure physics” (p. 118, Varela, 2002) because there never was a purely neutral physics to begin with.

VI. Concresence and Bodily Perception

“The philosophy of organism aspires to construct a critique of pure feeling, in the philosophical position in which Kant put his Critique of Pure Reason. This should also supersede the remaining Critiques required in the Kantian philosophy.” – p. 113, Whitehead, 1978

All of the mechanistic ways of thinking thus far critiqued habitually commit the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, due in large part to inherited patterns of thought dating back to the Greeks. Aristotle can be praised for ushering in the mental mutation by recognizing the immanence of nature’s purposes, but he can be damned for having introduced the substance-quality logic that entranced the European intellect for much of the medieval period, eventually leading to the deficient sensationalist doctrine of modern scientific materialism. The sensationalist doctrine mistakes a high abstraction—universals derived from bare perception of sensory data (perception in the mode of presentational immediacy)—for the most primitive, concrete element of experience: “sense-reception” (perception in the mode of causal efficacy). This confusion of the concrete with the abstract allowed for the unchecked spatialization of time, with all its rigidifying and alienating effects, discussed in a prior section (see I). Whitehead adopts Bergson’s “admirable phraseology” to explain why: “Sense-reception is ‘unspatialized,’ and sense-perception is ‘spatialized’” (p. 114, 1978). The sensationalist perspective collapses the unspatialized continuum of experiential intensity connecting actual occasions through time, and so entirely ignores the immanent teleology found therein.

This ignorance of what Whitehead calls sense-reception, or causal efficacy, prevents mechanistic paradigm from accounting for sentience of any grade, whether the motile sensitivity of flagellating bacteria or the discursive consciousness of human beings. The sensationalist doctrine lead Hume to deny the soundness of induction, for with only sense-perceptions of the outer world of surfaces to go on, the best he could do was correlate sequential observations that tended to arise together into bundles of general association. Causation, as Kant would later declare (based on Hume’s empiricist premises), was merely a regulative principle projected on experience by the structure of our intellect. Whitehead blames this misplaced concreteness on the Greek overreliance on visual perception[26] (p. 117, p. 121, ibid.), which Gebser also points to as the dominant mode of sensory experience in the mental structure. Sense-reception, or causal efficacy, can be described as the temporally-ordered experience of one’s own living bodily presence, such that the past and the future are both constitutive elements in every passing moment, concretely and meaningfully making each one transparent to the whole. The immanence of past and future in a mandalic present provides us with a direct link, Whitehead argues, to the real becoming of the universe.

“It is the accepted doctrine in physical science that a living body is to be interpreted according to what is known of other sections of the physical universe. This is a sound axiom; but it is doubled-edged. For it carries with it the converse deduction that other sections of the universe are to be interpreted in accordance with what we know of the human body” (p. 119, ibid.).

Here, Whitehead is attempting to generalize our experience as human beings, especially our non-sensuous perception of time, to all other occasions in the universe. Concrescence is best understood as the most general analysis of the phases of becoming of every actual occasion in the universe, though it should be remembered that these phases are not sequential in time, but always already growing together into an integral whole.

The simplest way to explain the phases of concrescence is to begin with Aristotle’s four causes/reasons. So long as we remember “the passage from phase to phase is not in physical time,” we will avoid oversimplification due to a false spatialization of the process (p. 283, ibid.). Aristotle uses the example of a house to elucidate the meaning of the causes, which was fitting for the mental structure’s preference for static categories. It is important to emphasize process in an integral account of experience; but for simplicity’s sake, the causes involved in concrescence will be introduced in relation to another artifact, a sailboat adrift at sea.

The material cause, for Whitehead, is the creative potential underlying all actuality: “It is that ultimate notion of the highest generality at the base of actuality” (p. 31, ibid.). In my sailboat analogy, this cause is the wind and the water, as well as the very structure of the boat itself. This entire nexus of occasions emerges each moment out of the satisfactions of the actual occasions that have perished before it. The efficient cause is “the transition from attained actuality (satisfaction) to actuality in attainment,” such that the prehensive acquisition of the satisfied occasions becomes the datum for the next phase (p. 214, ibid.). This prehensive phase is represented by the sails of the boat catching the winds of prior creative expressions, feeling their potential, and endeavoring, in the next phase, to make something of its own with them. This next phase is associated with the formal cause, wherein the valuation of future possibilities informs the reshaping of past actualities. The winds of inherited expression caught by the sails form a contrast between what is already given and what might yet become. As the saying goes, “You cannot change the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” The final cause is the ideal of satisfaction luring the sailboat in the direction formed by the adjustment of its sails. It is here that the analogy begins to break down, as the sailboat, like Aristotle’s house, is an artifact. Its purposes are imposed on it from without, and so it attains no satisfaction of itself in the final phase of concrescence. This extremely simplified analysis of concrescence must be extended to the more complex occasion of the living human body.

The first thing to remember is that the emergence of each occasion of experience is partially conditioned by the entire past unfolding of the cosmos. The material cause, as described above, contains within it the subjective aims of countless actual entities that have come into being and perished. They gain objective immortality as they “[pass] over into the ‘given’ primary phase for the concrescence of other actual entities,” (p. 85, ibid.). This givenness is the efficient cause as experienced directly through the body’s non-sensuous perception (or causal efficacy) of the immediate past. Rather than understanding efficient causes as mere mechanical effects lacking emotive agency, Whitehead reconnects mind and matter by interpreting them as affects, or feelings directly prehended through bodily experience. As Whitehead puts it, “…sympathy…is the primary ground for the continuity of nature” (p. 183, 1967). The emotive forces of the past, aptly referred to as the physical-pole of concrescence, situate our immediate experience “…as a fact in history, derivative, actual, and effective” (p. 72, 1938).

Whitehead describes the transition to the mental-pole:

“In the formation of each occasion…the swing over from re-enaction to anticipation is due to the intervening touch of mentality…the occasion arises as an effect facing its past and ends as a cause facing its future. In between there lies the teleology of the Universe” (p. 194, 1967).

This swing from re-enaction to anticipation is the subjective form of concrescence, which, after integrating physical feelings related to actuality, opens to the ingression of eternity into time as the possibilities of definiteness available for shaping the future. Without this “intervening touch of mentality,” every actual occasion would be entirely determined, destined to passively repeat the past without any hope for novel expression or valuation of the future.

As was mentioned earlier in relation to Kant (see p. 17), the defining characteristic of living organisms is that they are cause and effect of themselves. The importance of such reciprocal causality becomes evident when considering the role played by the mental-pole of concrescence. The initial phase of the mental-pole is the self-formation of the organism, wherein the determined effects of its past are evaluated in light of future ideals. This contrast between feelings of givenness (physical prehensions) and feelings of potential (conceptual prehensions) constitute the autonomous subjective form of each occasion of experience. The completion of each occasion is reached when the subjective comparison of affects reaches satisfaction, perishing into objective immortality by becoming the efficient cause of subsequent occasions. This continual process of death-life-rebirth, of “derivation from without [physical prehension],…immediate enjoyment within [conceptual prehension],…and transmission beyond [final satisfaction],” is continually taking place within what would be recognized empirically as a single living organism. The phases of concrescence should shed light on what it means for organisms to be their own cause and their own effect. If Kant was able to analyze the organization of the living without having mistakenly assumed his sensuous perception (presentational immediacy) was most primitive, he might have recognized in himself, as an instance of living matter, an analogue of the teleological process of organic formation in nature.[27]

Varela realizes just this when he writes that “causality, as it is perceived by us as sentient beings, may be subsumed under the more general principle of life,” which for Varela and Whitehead is intrinsically teleological. I will now explore the close ties between Varela’s biological account of autopoiesis and Whitehead’s metaphysical account of concrescence.

VII. Concrescence and Autopoiesis

“[The] wholeness [of an organism] is self-integrating in active realization, [its] form is not the result but the cause of the dynamic arrangements of matter, and hence the process at the same time is the form.” – p. 21, Hans Jonas, 1992

“It belongs to the essence of all occasions of experience,” contends Whitehead, “that they are concerned with an otherness transcending themselves” (p. 180, 1967). As Hosinski says of this contention, it implies that “subjectivity is derivative from objectivity” (p. 56). In other words, each occasion receives from the objective world the ground of its [the occasion’s] subjective enjoyment and the motive for its own subsequent (logically, not temporally) individual expression.

Similarly, Varela says of organisms that

“…because there is an individuality that finds itself produced by itself it is ipso facto a locus of sensation and agency, a living impulse always already in relation with its world” (p. 117, 2002).

The relation of an organism to its Umwelt is one of care and concern, as Whitehead says:

“The occasion as subject has concern for the object. And the ‘concern’ at once places the object as a component in the experience of the subject, with an affective tone drawn from this object and directed towards it,” (p. 176, 1967).

Varela is in agreement, in that “there cannot be an individuality which is isolated and folded into itself,” (p. 117, 2002). Instead, organisms have

“…[a] precarious existence…always menaced by concern, the need to avoid perishing, and to do this, [they are] again dependent on matter whose characteristics are the reason for [their] concern” (p. 113, ibid.).

The constant threat of perishing referred to by Varela is a result of every organism’s dependence upon flows of matter and energy, which mechanistic science tells us inevitably tend towards entropy. But as Whitehead’s metaphysical scheme allows us to grasp, the notion of “dead matter…is an abstraction from the full complexity of concrete actuality” (p. 62, Hosinski, 1993).  Life is defined by its continual self-production, maintaining its form by remaining far from thermodynamic equilibrium riding atop a wave of negentropy (or extropy). As Varela says, “this entails that teleology is a primordial tendency of matter manifest in the form of organisms,” (p. 114, 2002). An organism’s material struggle to avoid death will not ultimately succeed, but in temporarily achieving its ongoing life via autopoiesis, it brings forth a subjective form, “[enjoying] its decisive moment of absolute self-attainment as emotional unity” (p. 177, 1967) before perishing, becoming an immortal object to be prehended by subsequent occasions of experience.

To account for the natural purposes inherent in living forms, both Varela and Whitehead are forced to reject the materialist doctrine that defines matter as inert and passive.

As Varela puts it:

“The emergent causality of the reciprocal passages between the local elements [physical-pole] and the global emergent identity [mental-pole] are not a caprice, but inscribed and endogenous to nature itself, a tendency rather than an irregularity” (p. 114, 2002).

And Whitehead:

“…what has vanished from the field of ultimate scientific conceptions is the notion of vacuous material existence with passive endurance, with primary individual attributes, and with accidental adventures…the concept is useless as an ultimate notion in science and in cosmology” (p. 309, 1978).

A materialist may here protest that I have run roughshod over the established empirical facts concerning objective nature. But from Whitehead’s perspective, the dualism between subject and object established by Descartes is in conflict with the “organic realism” he sought to establish. Descartes dualism lead to the uneasy doctrine of primary and secondary qualities, a dualism Whitehead rejects, pointing out that “what [Descartes] described as primary attributes of physical bodies are really the forms of internal relationships between actual occasions, and within actual occasions” (p. 309, ibid.).

For Whitehead, primary qualities, which are supposed by the materialist doctrine to be the final real things existing independently of subjective experience, are but abstractions, for

“…we can never survey the actual world except from the standpoint of an immediate concrescence…actuality means nothing else than this ultimate entry into the concrete, in abstraction from which there is a mere non-entity,” (p. 211, ibid.).

Both the primary and secondary qualities of the experienced world must be understood in a relational, ecological way, rather than in a Cartesian, representational way. The mind does not make an internal picture of the world based on subjective ideas and perceptions corresponding to its objective, pre-existing features, but participates through the process of concrescence in the bringing forth of intersubjective worlds.

This return to the evidence of concrete experience leads to a further parallel between Varela’s theory of autopoiesis and Whitehead’s process of concrescence. Concrescence can be defined as “the real internal constitution of a particular existent” (p. 210, ibid.).

More technically, concrescence is

“the name for the process in which the universe of many things acquires an individual unity in a determinate relegation of each item of the ‘many’ to its subordination in the constitution of the novel ‘one,’” (p. 211, ibid.).

Though it is true that “every entity in the actual world of a concresent actuality has some gradation of real relevance to that concrescence” (p. 41, 1978), in order to attain its unity of subjective satisfaction, the concrescence must simplify the multiplicity of its feelings with negative prehensions. A negative prehension is “the definite exclusion of that item from positive contribution to the subject’s own real internal constitution” (ibid.).

Varela account of the autopoietic process of self-realization is similar: “stimuli from outside enter the sphere of relevance…only by their existential meaning for…the process of self-establishment,” (p. 117, 2002). Any element of the actual world incompatible with the subjective aim of an organism is negatively prehended, such that its role becomes negligible, though still actual enough to affect the emotional complex involved in the final satisfaction of the concrescence (p. 41, 1978). In Varela’s terminology, organisms bring forth their own domain of cognitive significance; or, in Whitehead’s: “Each actual occasion defines its own actual world from which it originates” (p. 210, ibid.).

Before exploring the cosmological significance of this metaphysical account, it is necessary to elucidate the relation between form and matter that has been tacitly assumed so far. The classical materialist account is that matter has a fixed essence, cannot evolve, and has no intrinsic potential; it is determined entirely by exterior forces. The emergence of life out of such material would therefore require a miracle, as there is no way to account for individual self-formation without a yearning for organization and enjoyment present in matter from the beginning. Accounting for the ontological status of biological identity—for the “ever existing gap between the realization of the living and its underlying matter” (p. 119, 2002)—requires moving beyond the mechanistic understanding of organisms as substances informed with genetic qualities (traits) through passive selection by a pre-given environment. Not only does this ignore the reciprocal role played by organisms in the selection of their environment, it fails to fully consider an organism’s moment-to-moment task of having to produce its identity out of a continual flow of matter and energy. The neo-Darwinist claim is that genetic algorithms are responsible for the formation of the organism, but as has been pointed out numerous times already, one cannot account for the teleological organization and meaningful experience of individual living organisms (ontogeny) by reduction to a mechanical process operating at the level of whole species (phylogeny). To do so is to commit the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

Accounting for the natural purposes of individual organisms does not require that we reject the reality of physiochemical constraints. On the contrary,

“the organism has to remain in the field of physiochemical laws to maintain a ‘coupling’ with the underlying energetical structures [i.e., entropy, autocatalyzing reactions, etc.] whose regularities assure that it can maintain coupling through the course of its life” (p. 118, 2002).

In other words, “the environment gives the basis for the organism’s behavior precisely by establishing a continuous challenge to it” (ibid.). This point is similar to the one made earlier about the object-subject structure of experience (see p. 45). The basis of subjectivity is a concern for that which transcends it. This subjectively immanent concern for objective transcendence is equivalent to the desire to exist for one’s own sake, or as Varela puts it, “Subjectivity is the absolute interest the organism takes in its continued existence” (p. 119, ibid.).

Varela continues:

“Necessary…are the material compounds of an organism, their incessant input and their unhindered supply. But this necessity…is governed by a principle of autonomy: the fact that a living system is able to become an ontological center, that it is able to organize itself into a form that is not explainable by the features of the underlying matter (the pure necessity) alone. This autonomy then is nothing other than true teleological behavior” (p. 119, ibid.).

To understand how purposeful living forms could arise from matter, an evolutionary tendency toward increased intensity of autonomous experience and planetary interconnectivity must be attributed to it.

“The doctrine [of evolution],” says Whitehead,

“cries aloud for a conception of organism as fundamental to nature. It also requires an underlying activity—a substantial activity—expressing itself in individual embodiments, and evolving in achievements of organism. The organism is a unit of emergent value, a real fusion of the characters of eternal objects, emerging for its own sake,” (p. 107, 1925).

The “substantial activity” Whitehead refers to could be called Eros. Eros is the “the soul stirring itself to life and motion” (p. 66, 1967) to “endow with agency all ideal possibilities” (p. 210, ibid.). If matter/energy is imbued with self-enjoyment and the desire to evolve (as in a Whiteheadian cosmology), it should be possible to give a thermodynamic account of the work of Eros in the universe, on earth, and in human society. The next section will unpack the implications of thermodynamics for both the biosphere and the noosphere, looking at how Gaia and the global techno-industrial economy relate materially and semiotically.

VIII. Mechanized Life and Spatialized Time

“Blessed be you, mighty matter, irresistible march of evolution, reality ever newborn; you who, by constantly shattering our mental categories, force us to go ever further and further in our pursuit of truth.” –Teilhard de Chardin’s Hymn to Matter

The tremendous temperature gradient[28] between space, the surface of the earth, and light from the sun generates the far from equilibrium conditions necessary for organic life to emerge. The gradient produces a tremendous amount of free energy, allowing autopoietic beings “to spontaneously create new patterns of order and organization by dissipating entropy” (p. 32, de Quincey, 2002). A thermodynamic account of living organization demonstrates the planetary basis of life. It is the material earth who is in the first pregnant with the energetic possibility of life, which quickly spreads around the planet to become a biospheric phenomenon. Lovelock hypothesizes that life, should it exist on Mars today, will not exist much longer; without pervading the entire planet with their metabolic presence, isolated organisms remain unable to activate the self-regulatory effects displayed by Gaia and so quickly perish.[29]

“Life,” says biologist Lynn Margulis, “is a gradient-reducing system” (p. 46). Living organization does not contradict the 2nd law of thermodynamics, as was once thought.[30] Instead, it feeds on extropy produced by the generous sun and receptive earth in much the same way as the industrial organism[31]; though in the case of industrialism, the rate of gradient reduction via exergy extraction has become so accelerated that it threatens to upset Gaia’s ability to self-regulate climate and sustain biodiversity.

Hornborg distinguishes between “biomass” and “technomass” to make transparent the difference between Gaia’s growth/maintenance strategies and the industrial machine’s:

“For biomass, growth is a morally neutral reward granted by nature itself, whereas for technomass it is a reward resulting from human ideologies and generating unequal global relations of exchange” (p. 17).

He goes on to remind us that technomass and biomass are currently competing for energy with one another on a planet with finite resources. Technology and economics, according to Hornborg, are not unrelated, independent levels of reality; machines do not magically create “growth,” “progress,” and “development” at the industrial centers out of nothing, but are animated by land and labor that has been exploited in the periphery (p. 147). Economics, like ecology, is a zero-sum game. Hornborg urges us to adopt wiser cultural concepts through which to engage with the rest of the community of life on earth. Mechanistic biology functions politically as a pseudo-scientific apology for contemporary industrial capitalist human-human and human-earth relations, and so my critique of its metaphysical foundations and reconstruction of biology in light of Varela and Whitehead is not a mere definitional nicety, but a political and eco-spiritual revolt. A mutually enhancing future human-earth relation will require more philosophically nuanced and spiritually mature discourses about the complexities of life and living.

As was suggested earlier (p. 2-3), the tremendous (and perhaps cancerous) growth of technomass can be understood as an extension of thermodynamic law to human economic activity. But this does not imply that the total dissipation of the planet’s energy via industrial extraction is inevitable. Consciousness can and must awaken to its integral, planetary role by overcoming the deficient mechanistic thinking currently polluting the noosphere. It might be helpful here to unpack, with Gebser, the process of mutation in the evolution of consciousness.

Gebser describes the mutation from the mythic to the mental structure as an “earth-shaking” event: it pierces the womb of the psyche—where all was pregnant with imaginal meaning and polar congruence—birthing the directed, dualistic, and discursive thought of the mind (p. 75).  “The ring [of his protective psychic circle] is broken, and man steps out of the two-dimensional surface into space, which he will attempt to master by his thinking” (ibid.). Gebser describes this process as “a fall from time into space,” as the sheltering cyclical temporality of the mythic structure gives way to the three-dimensional, alienating vacuum of space (p. 77). Efficient mentality, first exemplified by the thought of Aristotle (as well as Socrates and Plato before him), was a momentous achievement of the human spirit. It broke the mythic circle of temporality and aligned humanity with a purposeful, historical evolution. But after more than two millennia of increasing conceptual and colonial conquest of space, a growing sense of anxiety is alerting the mind to its deficiencies. Despite all our conceptual systematicity and technoscientific mastery, it seems the health of the earth has rarely been in so precarious a state (see p. 1).

“The environmental crisis,” says Hornborg,

“forces upon us the insight that Descartes expelled from view, that the human subject, with its bundle of concepts, anxieties, and aspirations, is recursively interfused with the planetary landscape” (p. 160).

The mutational task of integral consciousness is to free time from the spatial containers the mind has attempted to trap it in. The alienating struggle to spatialize time so characteristic of a deficient mentality turns dynamic and intentional life into static and inert material. This disembodied perspective on a disenchanted cosmos evoked the psycho-spiritual mood that allowed the towering empirco-mathematical system of Newton—not to mention the global techno-industrial system first gaining ideological steam in 18th century England[32]—to stand for several centuries, “but at last the Newtonian cosmology has broken down” (p. 156, Whitehead, 1967). Erecting such systems was possible only after Descartes had “decisively [separated] ‘mind’ from ‘nature’ (p. 210, bid.). This separation allowed Newton to conceive of atoms as “devoid of self-enjoyment.” Mind was deemed present only in the human, who through its unique access to conscious deliberation imposed upon a dead material cosmos the clarity and distinctness of its innate ideas (p. 212, ibid.).

As Gebser puts it,

“In the process of consolidating space-consciousness man has precariously placed himself at the outermost reaches of all manifestations. He brought about the isolation of the human, leaving it with only matter as its valid support….” (p. 310).

Whitehead recognizes that “human mentality is an extreme instance…of those happenings which constitute nature,” but refuses to exempt humanity from the course of natural events by imposing an artificial dualism. He argues that humanity must generalize its own conscious experience so that the phases of concrescence discovered therein become applicable to the descriptions of all other species of occasion in the cosmos, including God (p. 184-5, 1967; p. 110, 1978).

Failing to overcome the human-nature duality leads to a rigidification of culture wherein, as Gebser says,

“…consciousness increasingly empties itself of the ‘time’ it has negated, which, as a result of this attitude, itself becomes a lifeless spatial component. And the quantified motoricity of the machine and its lifelessness are in turn merely another expression of the spatialized concept of time [emphasis added]” (p. 310).

The danger in falsely spatializing time, of which we have given so much attention, is not only that it replaces the transparency of our experience with a opaque dualism, but that this dualism results in the attempt to make measurable and predictable every phenomenon one is faced with, even when such measurement, as in the case of a living organism, fractures its qualitative intensities of feeling, meaning, and purpose into abstract, homogenous quantities of matter and energy[33] (p. 311, 383, ibid.).

“If technology is the verification of modern scientific thought,” says Hornborg, “its social and ecological failures pose a challenge to that mode of thought” (p. 130). The global techno-industrial machine will continue to hollow out the heart of the earth until the human organism regains its own alienated labor.[34] Land (earth), too, must come to be experienced as more than a mere spatial extension of property or standing reserve of raw materials awaiting manufacture. The living earth is the primordial producer of life whose generativity is overshadowed only by the radiant generosity of the sun (p. 123, Hornborg). The humanist productionism discussed earlier (see p. 12) is a gross distortion of our species’ actual energetic relation to the biosphere.

Hornborg goes on to suggest that “…a more profound understanding of the machine must rest on the recognition that ‘technology,’ ‘society,’ and ‘cosmology’ are inseparable: as a socio-technical artifact, the machine simultaneously embodies and reproduces a specific configuration of cultural categories” (p. 127).

These deficient cultural categories are dominated by the notion of materiality. Hornborg argues that the word “material” is used prescriptively in modern Western discourse to refer to those aspects of life that are unquestionable (p. 130).[35] The result of this materialistic obsession is that thought begins to obediently kneel before the power of the machine (p. 116, ibid.), helpless to avert its thermodynamic trajectory toward ever more efficient conversion of exergy into entropy for the sake of disproportionate monetary accumulation.[36] The machine is “a material object of our own making which we seem to have lost control” (p. 147).

Nonetheless, “intensities, unless we mistake them for pressure or tension, are not measureable” (p. 310, Gebser), and so cannot be successfully mechanized/monetized. The materialism and mechanization still in vogue in contemporary economics and biology are, in part, a result of a failure to assimilate the transformation occurring in physics over the past century.

As was discussed earlier (p. 13), Darwin’s reduction of the apparent design of species to the accidental mechanism of random variation under natural selection was based on the fundamental assumption that space, time, and matter were Newtonian in nature. While his theory was undoubtedly empirically sound, it is often the case that “we have to rescue the facts as they are from the facts as they appear” (p. 155, Whitehead, 1967) by metaphysically reorienting the mind in its relation to things. Darwin selected from among the facts appearing to him only those most salient to his thoroughly Newtonian and bourgeois mind. As a result, the animate presence of the creatures he sought to understand was ignored, overlaid by the abstract rationalizations favored by the deficient mental structure of consciousness (p. 387, Gebser).

Time, for Newton as for Darwin, played merely a quantitative role: it was the space, conceived as a fourth dimension of extension, that allowed one moment, a fixed instant, to pass into the next, equally as instantaneous and having no intrinsic relation to the one prior to or following it but for the exchange of forces by way of efficient causation.[37] This collapse of time into a spatial sequence, each snap shot externally and accidently related to the next, vanquished the concrete temporal intensity required to understand how formal and final causes participate in living organization.

As Whitehead puts it:

“…the old conception  [of time] allows us to make an abstraction of change and to conceive the full reality of nature at a given moment…an abstraction is made of all temporal duration” (p. 195, 1934).

From Darwin’s point of view, the admission of teleology in evolution was absurd because it implied that the future had causal influence on the past. Time, conceived as purposeless and entirely accidental renders the future a mere result of forces determining it from the past—an aggregate of instants piled one on top of the other, species gaining their form along the way from the accumulation of chance mutations surviving the differential selection of a pre-given environment. This may be a partial explanation for the diversity of species[38], but not for the origin of life itself (see p. 16: the process presupposes self-organizing creatures that reproduce). This inadequate explanation retards a full account of life by neglecting the formal and final causes of autopoiesis, which become occluded when the “opposed doctrine of internal relation [is] distorted by reason of its description in terms of language adapted to the presupposition of external [i.e., spatial] relations of the Newtonian type” (p. 157, Whitehead, 1967). It should be noted in Darwin’s defense that his theory of variation under natural selection wasn’t designed to explain anything but the origin of species. The neo-Darwinism of Dennett, Dawkins, Ridley, and others is the source of the epistemic over-extension of Darwin’s more modest proposal.

Darwin imagined that all relations between occasions were external, but concrete/integral time is not decomposable into the static and exclusionary categories of past, present, and future—nor space into “here” and “there”: every point is the center.[39] Teleology is not a matter of the future causing the past, but of the future and the past being immanent in the concrescence of every occasion. Formal and final causation are relevant only for the internal relations within and between organisms and their environments, which Darwin assumed could only be related externally because of his commitment to mechanistic materialism.

“Evolution for the materialistic theory,” says Whitehead,

“…is reduced to the role of being another word for the description of the changes of the external relations between portions of matter. There is nothing to evolve, because one set of external relations is as good as any other set of external relations. There can merely be change, purposeless and unprogressive. But the whole point of the modem doctrine is the evolution of the complex organisms from antecedent states of less complex organisms” (p. 107, 1925).

The doctrine of matter as merely externally related “stuff” in a continual process of purposeless re-arrangement according to arbitrarily imposed preconditions is no longer tenable, for reasons discovered in both the biological, as well as the physical sciences. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, though its discoverer does not take it this far, was the first crack in the foundation of Newton’s cosmological edifice.

The final sentence of Darwin’s Origin reads:

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved” (p. 384).

Darwin’s mistake was to assume that the law of gravity is fixed. He fails to extend the formative influence of evolution far enough. But worse for the implications of his theory within his own field of biology, he assumes that living organization is just an anomaly in nature[40], having been imposed upon matter from without by a capricious God, “breathed…into a few forms or into one” at the dawn of life. Darwin’s book, “The Origin of Species” tells us nothing of scientific value about the origin of life. For natural selection to be of any use as a theory of biological form, we must presuppose the self-creation and natural purpose of individual organisms. Only given self-organizaion and Eros does Darwin’s theory shed any light on the subsequent development and diversification of the biosphere. Mechanistic attempts to account for the organization of the living fail because they employ too abstract and disembodied a conception of space, time, and matter, mistaking the quantities of Newtonian equations for the durations of lived experience, where each actual occasion, though continuous with the past, can anticipate novel futures. Newton’s conception of space and time was that each was a vast container indifferent as to what filled it, and even indifferent one to the other. Matter shuffled through, blindly obeying arbitrarily imposed laws.

But contemporary physics no longer understands time and space, nor matter and energy, as separate or absolute. Each shares a common history, having co-emerged and reciprocally conditioned the other throughout the process of cosmogenesis. Matter, similarly, is intimately related to the development of space and time—not in space-time as a kind of inert “stuff,” but integrally woven with it into a physio-psycho-spiritual process of inconscient yearning gradually flowering into luminous awareness, compassion, and bliss.

Emerson suggests there is “a necessity in spirit to manifest itself in material forms” and that “The visible creation is the terminus or the circumference of the invisible world” (p. 25). Matter is not lifeless, but intrinsically animated by an enfolded spiritual destiny always and everywhere calling it toward higher forms and ideals. Its motion is not accidental or imposed upon it from without, but manifest by an indwelling spiritual longing for wholeness.[41]

Most contemporary physicists are still unwilling to grant that spirit pervades matter because the deficient mental structure of consciousness prevents its presence from being transparently apprehended. Having gained a better handle on the potential for the emergence of thermodynamic order found throughout nature, however, physics is now in a position to supplement the “aimless, aloof, and external power of natural selection” with the “willful, self-sufficient, and internal power of self-organization” (p. 128, Barlow). Evolution really is what arch-mechanist Daniel Dennett calls a “universal acid” (p. 63). It leaks out of biology and dissolves traditional ways of thinking in every field it comes in contact with. But it cannot be understood as a “mindless, purposeless, algorithmic process” unless we somehow exempt the Cartesian/Newtonian paradigm (Gebser’s deficient mental structure of consciousness) from evolution’s transformative reach. Evolution is a theory that points to the common origin of the many forms of matter, life, and mind—not just at some distant moment in the past, but as a present reality, as every living creature owes its continued existence to its ecological (material-semiotic) relationship with others. Evolution (in a more cosmological sense than Darwin intended) is incompatible with the doctrine of external relation, which is the foundation of materialism.

The progress in the field of thermodynamics over recent decades, specifically the work of Ilya Prigogine, has established that the irreversibility of time is essential to the emergence of order in nature. This is a direct break with all of the mechanistic attempts to account for time, which did not recognize anything essential whatsoever about its direction. Newton’s equations give the same results no matter which direction time flows. This is also true for all equations expressing relativistic or quantum mechanics. Einstein himself once remarked that “time [as irreversible] is an illusion.” For Prigogine, however, the directionality of time is essential for any account of non-equilibrium systems and the creative advance into novelty that they make possible.

Whitehead’s notion of concrescence, derived from the Latin verb meaning “growing together,” is, according to Prigogine, an attempt to “reconcile permanence and change” (p. 59). Whitehead recognizes the essential role played by time in the creative unfolding of the universe, and his analysis of concrescence allows us to understand what was said at the outset (p. 6), that life is a moving image of eternity. Living organization cannot be accounted for in terms of the stuff of which it is made because its processual and experiential essence always transcends the mind’s attempt to decompose it into a spatially rationalized mechanism or totalized system.

Life perpetually recedes from the mind’s attempts to conceive of it materially because the mind’s materiality (i.e., its life) is the very source of its limiting spatialized modes of conceptuality. Life sustains the dynamic and evolving interplay of mind in matter, liberating mentality from its material slumber by increasing the sensitivity and reactivity of its concrescence. Only integral consciousness becomes aware of life as a transparent and purposeful whole, whose autonomous individual parts naturally tend toward symbiotic mutuality. Deficient mental consciousness, disillusioned by the disembedding forces of the techno-industrial market, is forced to explain life away as the naturally selected product of accumulated genetic algorithms. This supposedly scientific story about the reduction of life to DNA only carries metaphorical weight when imbued with mythological significance in the biological guise of Dawkins’ capitalistic “selfish genes.”

Logically, the neo-Darwinian mechanism is tautological: it says only that genotypes continue to survive today because they survived in the past. The only way to turn this from a meaningless non-statement into the founding principle of deficient mental biology is to mythologize it by metaphorically transferring English socio-economic ideology onto natural processes. Self-interested genes compete for resources in order to reproduce themselves indefinitely, much like middle-class industrial consumers and corporations compete for money (via sale of labor, land, products, and ideas) in order to generate the highest possible profit. Each instance ignores the concrete reality of its situation: the notion of selfish genes is a fetishized reduction of the teleology of whole organisms, just as the notion of general-purpose money and profit are fetishized reductions of the purposes of interpersonal relationship.[42]

Transparently apprehending the spiritual meaning underlying nature’s evolutionary unfolding requires new modes understanding and perception. Only an integral way of seeing and being can break the ideological spell techno-industrial capitalism has cast upon the human imagination. In the next section, I will recount Gebser’s attempt to bring forth understanding as systasis and perception as synairesis, comparing these to the deficient modes caused by what Heidegger has called the “enframing” of nature.

IX. Integral Thought-Perception and Market Cosmology

“Integral reality is the world’s transparency, a perceiving of the world as truth: a mutual perceiving and imparting of the truth of the world and of man and of all that transluces both.” –Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin

In the Ever-Present Origin, Gebser introduces two terms he feels exemplify the transparency and wholeness typifying the integral structure of consciousness. The first is systasis, “the conjoining or fitting together of parts into integrality” (p. 310). Gebser contrasts systasis with system, not to imply that they are opposites (as a thesis to its antithesis), but rather to make explicit the fact that systematization is still the method of a consciousness stuck in the three-dimensional, predominantly spatial world of parts. When one refers to a system, he describes the effect of some quantitative process of addition, thereby draining that process of any intrinsic life. Viewing an organism as a system converts it into a lifeless collection of objects, whereas systasis grants the parts a transparency allowing the organism to be understood as a subject perpetually becoming whole.

The second term, synairesis, refers to the mode of perception adequate to the integrality of reality. Gebser says that synairesis

“fulfills the aperspectival, integrative perception of systasis and system…[and is] a precondition for diaphany, which is able to be realized when, in addition to systasis and system, the symbol—with its mythical effectivity—and magic symbiosis are included, that is to say, present” (ibid.).

Varela and Whitehead display a clear understanding of the need for a synairetic mode of perception that breaks free of the spatial categories and systematization endemic to the mental structure. Whitehead’s analysis of concrescence is precisely an attempt to come to terms with living organization systatically. Systasis is Greek for “put together,” with the connotation of “forming” (Gebser, p. 292), linking it closely with the meaning of concrescence.

As Whitehead says,

“We have to discover a doctrine of nature which expresses the concrete relatedness of physical functionings and mental functionings, of the past with the present, and also expresses the concrete composition of physical realities which are individually diverse” (p. 157, 1967).

The related processes of concrescence and autopoiesis bring together each of the structures of consciousness in their attempt to make clear the organization of the living, uniting the systematic categorization and empirical attention to detail of the mental (through an appreciation of the dynamics of genetic inheritance), the circular polarity of the mythic (through an appreciation of cellular autopoiesis), and the vital synchronicity of the magic (through an appreciation of the concresent interpenetration of subject and object) without becoming fixated upon any in particular. The transparency of the whole is thus made evident.

It was not until the 20th century that time became fully apparent to human consciousness. Whitehead, a mathematician and a physicist, participated directly in the scientific revelation that our sensory experience of the heavenly bodies is delusory until we have an appreciation of eternity. That is, because light takes time to travel from distant stars and galaxies to our eyes, we can only appreciate them as actual occasions if time has become transparent to us. Then we presentiate them without having to see them, bringing forth a “[reality] in which the present is all-encompassing and entire” (Gebser, p. 7).

Gebser continues:

“The synairesis which systasis makes possible integrates phenomena, freeing us in the diaphany of ‘a-waring’ or perceiving truth from space and time. Space and time are, after all, merely conditional realities and as such realities with a double relation. They are in the first place ‘objective’ as the transitory structure of our universe, and in the second, ‘subjective’ as the transitory structure and mirroring of our consciousness. This transitory character refers us to origin, which, with respect to consciousness, becomes space-and-time-free when we fulfill and complete synairesis, the aperspectival imparting-of-truth. In this are consolidated the clarity and transparency of man and universe in which origin becomes present, inasmuch as origin, which ‘lies’ before spacelessness and timelessness, manifests itself in consciousness as space-time-free present” (p. 311-12).

Absent such integration, those fixated within the mental structure will continue to reduce all factors of living organization to spatial-material components, thereby negating not only the natural purposes of the organisms around them, but “denying [their] own status as sentient beings who have a right to the pursuit of an undisturbed life” (p. 111, Varela, 2002). We cannot afford to ignore what Whitehead, after Shelley and Wordsworth, refers to as the “values [arising] from the accumulation of the brooding presence of the whole on to its various parts” (p. 88, 1925).

Thinking nature as concrescence and bios as autopoiesis prepares the conceptual alembic necessary for an integral cosmology that not only re-ensouls the world, but makes the ideas at work in the heart of the universe transparent to the human spirit. Human and universe are an anthropo-cosmogenesis, a whole in the process of intelligently forming itself; in its human mode, the universe not only forms, but performs the story of its evolution through cultural expression and civillizational ideals.

“Our image-building,” says Hornborg, “actively participates in the constitution of the world…Our perception of our physical environment is inseparable from our involvement in it” (p. 10). Market cosmology conceives of the world as a fragmentary heap of raw materials awaiting technological production, a standing reserve of objects devoid of instrinsic worth or self-enjoyment. This leads to the mistaken idea that industry produces real value, when in thermodynamic fact, it operates deceptively by generating symbolic value (money) with no intrinsic relation to the actual earth processes it is degrading at evermore efficient rates (p. 32, ibid.). An integral perception and understanding of human-earth-cosmos relations grasps the inseparability of mind and nature, as “the whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind” (p. 24, Emerson). Space-time is not an objective container to which the rational human mind is subject, but the outermost reaches of the living tissue of an evolving consciousness.

The systematicity so characteristic of techno-industrial capitalism drains the earth of its vitality by fragmenting its symbiotic diversity of eco-semiotic valuations into a uniform, general-use currency such that “resource nations are economically forced to trash their ecologies to promote foreign exchange” (p. 174, W. I. Thompson). “Money in itself,” says Hornborg, “is merely an idea about the interchangeability of things and about the mutability of the rates at which things are exchanged” (p. 10). Hornborg understands general-purpose money (especially fiat currency) to be an “algorithm of destruction” because it is symbolically accumulated at the industrial centers even while the actual means of production underlying its profits on the periphery systematically render useless the truly generative potential of the planet.[43] “Industrial sectors of world society,” says Hornborg, “subsist precisely on that discrepancy between the material and the symbolic” (p. 47). This exploitative techno-socio-economic situation has resulted from a dissociation of human symbolic valuation from earthly productivity, and is principally responsible for the ecological crisis. Deficient mental attempts to commodify the ecopoietic processes[44] of nature (biosphere) and culture (noosphere) are given traction by abstract, quantitative measures of energy. Such hyper-perspectivalism severs all lines of possible contact between the raw state of natural energy and the qualitative and purposive temporality of human life.[45] In the next section (X), Lockean notions of labor, property, and the common state of nature will be re-imagined in an attempt to enact an integral “Gaian politique” (p. 174, W. I. Thompson, 1985).

A systatic understanding of earth as a whole awakens the knower to his or her participation in a complex physio-bio-noospheric concrescence that is intrinsically purposeful and generative. Integral consciousness perceives synairetically the co-emergence of ideas and images in a living cosmos that always already involves the human being in processes beyond his or her ability to rationally dissect and control (though spending great amounts of energy “tying nature to the rack”[46] may temporarily make the mechanization of life seem possible –witness the so-called Petroleum Interval[47]).

Energy has become a concept of central importance for the current ecological crisis. Cries abound for sustainable sources of energy, for technologies that extract energy for human consumption without destroying nature. But technology can never extract energy from the earth in a sustainable way, because the mechanistic conception of energy already systematically enframes nature, such that it becomes a mere standing-reserve awaiting human use, a means to our monetary ends.

Nature conceived of as a source of energy enframes nature in that it “puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such” (p. 320, Heidegger, 1977).  Technology seems to be the means to this end.  However, Heidegger argues that the essence of technology is not its instrumentality, but its mode of revealing by enframing. To reveal by enframing is to challenge-forth “energy” in the abstract, as something separable from the life of the earth. Heidegger contrasts this mode of revealing with that of poïesis, which brings-forth of itself. The best example of such bringing-forth is physis, “the irruption belonging to bringing-forth, e.g., the bursting of a blossom into bloom, in itself,” (p. 317, ibid.). Physis reveals the way in which energy and nature are originally united as the self-generating capacity of the living earth. A conception of “energy” independent of earth, extractable from earth, is the result of an enframed way of thinking only interested in quantifying what can be challenged-forth from nature.  The danger in relating to earth in such a way—as a “calculable coherence of forces” (p. 326, ibid.)—is that, eventually (if not already), even the human being becomes the standing-reserve of industry[48], which “[drives] on to the maximum yield at the minimum expense (p. 321. Ibid.).

Energy becomes, for the mechanistic attitude, the most neutral of names for the essence of nature. Nothing could be further from the truth. The earth does not originally show itself as a resource, as a standing-reserve, but becomes so only because of the technological way of being that forcibly reveals it as such. That technology nonetheless reveals is what makes it so dangerous, as all revealing (aletheia) is truthful. Energy does show itself as a quantifiable substance, but only after the earth’s poïesis has been falsely monetized and thermodynamically exploited. Both the revealing that is poïesis (or physis) and the revealing that is enframing provide a kind of truth; but enframing goes on for the most part unconsciously, because everyone assumes that the essence of technology is merely instrumental, that it is neutral but for how the human being puts it to use.

Humanity seems afraid to recognize that its technological presence on the earth has the potential, not only to forever forestall self-generating capacity of nature, but to forever alter human nature, as well. Ours is a crisis not only of the environment, but of the human souls dwelling within it. If the essence of technology remains hidden, and nature continues to be used up as mere energy, human beings will become batteries bio-powering the machines that have enslaved us, homeless upon a dying earth.

Heidegger warns not only of the dangers of technology, but after Hölderlin (“…where danger is, grows/the saving power also…” -p. 340, ibid.), heralds also its potential to re-establish our being-on-the-earth, though in sublated form. This saving power is realized only if the essence of technology is understood. For Heidegger, scientific materialism owes its existence to the technological method of enframing. This reverses the commonsense idea that science brought forth technology. The great success of the empirico-rational disciplines is not the result of their metaphysical truth or correspondence to reality, but rather of the practical, economic value of their methods. These methods, made possible by the enframing of the earth as mere energy for instrumental use, have depleted its body of the life-giving qualities that created and provide for humanity’s, and all life’s, continued existence. It is the shock of this near suicide, however, that has given our species the opportunity to truly stand watch over the earth as the only home we’ll ever have.

The mythical fall from grace and eviction from the Garden of Eden can only be overcome by taking to an extreme the alienating way of inhabiting the earth that caused the fall to begin with. Humanity cannot turn back—we cannot put humpty dumpty back together again. Our destiny has had to be lived out—our process of maturation cannot be reversed. In a typical enantiodromic reversal, our rush to remake the planet technologically has lead to an opening that, if seen synairetically, will allow us to remember our original identity as earthlings, now capable of saving the earth from the techno-industrial monster that has been strangling it. For the first time, the noosphere can truly become aware of and responsible for the ground beneath its feet.

As Heidegger says, being-on-the-earth already means being beneath the sky (p. 351, ibid.). And to be beneath the sky means to behold the stars and the sun, whose diviner energies grant life to we mere earthly mortals. But instead of energy, we may find “something waiting inside [the things themselves], like an unplayed melody in a flute” (p. 167, Rilke). Only a way of thinking/dwelling upon the earth that grants such melodies their say (i.e., systasis and synairesis), and that safeguards their becoming, can save us from the total annihilation of ourselves and the rest of the community of life upon this planet.

X. Integral Enaction of a Gaian Polity

“The revolution cannot come in time for us to quit out jobs or cancel our debts, and the end of the world cannot come in time to eliminate the mess we have made of history; nothing smaller than the earth is large enough to express the revelation, and nothing smaller than this instant is vast enough to contain all the future that we need” -p. 182, W. I. Thompson

John Locke articulated the social foundations of market cosmology by defining property as anything human labor has taken out of “the state nature leaves it in” (p. 330, 1965). Human labor is said to produce property and value, the first of its proclaimed properties being itself. Once I have monetized my own ability to do work, the reduction of nature to a standing reserve of raw materials to be exploited is an afterthought (see pgs. 12, 44, 48, and 57).

“In our informational society,” says William Irwin Thompson, “property is no longer simply land; it is consciousness” (p. 177). Thompson suggests we think with Gregory Bateson by understanding matter, not as a “state of nature” awaiting human production, but as “unconscious Mind, or Gaia” raised to consciousness by the labors of the soul (ibid.). Such a shift in economic ethos reverses the relationship between mind and matter currently informing industrialism: the former is epiphenomenal to the latter. In a Gaian polity, Mind is understood to be united with the living earth, whose value is determined by the intensity of consciousness associated with the particular product in question (179, ibid.).

Thompson continues:

“If autonomy is the fundamental recognition of the distinction of life, and if autopoiesis is the fundamental narrative process of life, then the biological politics that derive from these descriptions are radically different from sociobiology or scientific socialism. This is what I see as the Gaia Politique, a politics that is radical in the sense that it is deeply rooted in the understanding of life [and] is truly…ecological and not simply the old industrial Marxist critique newly decorated with sun-flowers and green paint” (p. 180, ibid.).

Thompson goes on to suggest that, autonomy being essential to life and consciousness, the evil of market cosmology consists in its “failure to recognize the [distinct] living [performances] of autonomous unities” in their “narrative process of self-description” (p. 179). A Gaian polity would evoke the “counterdrive to total commoditization” that Hornborg identifies as culture (p. 172). Culture’s main resistances to the homogenizing tendencies of market exchange are the processes of singularization and sacralization that reverse money’s “tendency to render social [and human-earth] relations increasingly abstract” (p. 166, ibid.). Sacred or spiritual forms of culture are also abstract, but still rooted in narratives of “local resonance,” unlike the disembedded abstractions of science and money (p. 171, ibid.).

“The ecological crisis of modern society,” says Hornborg,

“has two connected aspects: one objective and generated by the general-purpose market and its axiom of universal inter-changeability, the other subjective and founded in the alienation of the disembedded, modern individual” (p. 160).

The challenge of enacting an integral cosmology hinges upon a transformed sense of narrative and the construction of meaning, which, according to Hornborg (p. 120) and Thompson (p. 101), is motivated by a fear of chaos and the desire to establish order through the ritualized performance of myth. Even the culture-eating techno-industrial worldview is made to function ideologically by way of deficient mythic narratives depicting the march of progress toward total control and rationalization of life.

Thompson defines narrative as a uniquely human way of responding to time, “an attempt to escape the infinity of the present as duration by reifying time into a past” (p. 100). Our narratives bring forth the worlds we inhabit, and enacting worlds of ecological resilience and diverse cultural expression requires respecting the autonomy of both Gaia and her many children. While only humans seem capable of knowing they tell stories, all creatures unconsciously bring forth their own cognitive domains of significance. The reduction of human consciousness to wage labor (measured by falsely spatialized clock-time) is a symptom of modern technology’s tendency to dissociate formerly integrated facets of reality, “namely tool/body, physical work/mental work, means/ends, work/agency, use/meaning, production/art, and work/life” (p. 130, Hornborg). Techno-industrial life leads to meaninglessness and existential anxiety precisely because money (and the social relations it establishes) alienates consciousness from its own powers of creative response to the overflowing meaning of each and every moment. Money is understood by Hornborg to be a “communicative disorder”; empty signs of arbitrary value are shown to be the very heart of market cosmology (p. 170-171). While general-purpose money can reinforce power relations, it cannot itself convey meaning, which depends on difference (p. 167, ibid.).

Thompson sees “the recognition of differences as the consciousness of the unique that contributes to the understanding of the universal” (p. 163), which is to say that cultural diversity is paramount to the establishment of resilient forms of meaning capable of providing spiritual nourishment for the whole human family. “Regional devolution,” says Thompson, “is part of planetary evolution; so it is the larger entity that nourishes the emergence of the smaller identity” (p. 166). Hornborg recognizes the need for a similar return to local valuation to “domesticate the market,” calling for the creation of dual currencies “so as to render local subsistence and global communication two parallel but distinct and incommensurable domains” (p. 34).

The living earth is the new stage upon which all human interaction must take place, but not in the decontextualized fashion typical of global capitalism. The move to a Gaian Politique deconstructs the Western division between person and thing, human and nature (p. 195, Hornborg).[49] Hornborg points out that, the more tied up with global networks of exchange we become, the less “outreaching” we become as persons. A return to local material and cultural subsistence would involve taking up forms of reciprocity that have been increasingly marginalized by market forces. Marshall Sahlins (1972) has articulated three forms of reciprocity, including generalized reciprocity (a “pure gift” with no expectation of return), balanced reciprocity (a fair trade), and negative reciprocity (an impersonal exchange where each party seeks to get something for nothing via symbolic persuasion) (p. 201, Hornborg).

An integral cosmology functions on “the basic intuition [of a] shift from industrial work, abstraction, and materialism to play [and] sensual consciousness” (p. 161, Thompson). Enjoyment of subjective community becomes the primary value of life, replacing the market cosmology of atomistic competition of each against all to accumulate quantities of money whose value is appraised based upon how successfully it can disembed meaning and material from its local, inter-personal and inter-bodily instantiation. A return to the experiential depth of the places where we live and the faces who we live with is the only way to reverse industry’s destruction of earth and money’s inversion of the Sacred (p. 171, Hornborg). The disenchantment and alienation resulting from the monetized mechanization of life are rectified only through a renewed authenticity capable of bringing forth the specificity and non-interchangeability of individual expression and inter-personal relation that resists being appropriated by the abstract and impersonal values of the market.

Conclusion: On the Soul and Spirit of Life

“The problem of restoring to the world original and eternal beauty, is solved by the redemption of the soul. The ruin or the blank, that we see when we look at nature, is in our own eye. The axis of vision is not coincident with the axis of things, and so they appear not transparent but opaque. The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is, because man is disunited with himself [and with woman and humanity]. He cannot be a naturalist until he satisfies all the demands of the spirit.” –p. 47, Ralph Waldo Emerson

Aurobindo lists death and mutual devouring, hunger and conscious desire, and the struggle to increase, expand, conquer, and possess as the basic truths of Darwin’s theory of natural selection (p. 199). But this theory defines life only by its relation to the mechanisms of matter, forgetting the arc of evolution extends also toward mind and spirit. As mind emerges to overtake the vital striving of life, the “law of love” replaces that of death, and the fittest become those “who harmonize most successfully survival and mutual self-giving” (p. 203).

Mind, according to Aurobindo, “does not need to devour in order to…grow; rather, the more it gives, the more it receives and grows” (p. 204). The global economy has thus far been guided by Darwin’s overemphasis on the aggressive principle of life, devouring the very vitality of the planet it depends upon for its continued existence. Humanity is struggling to give birth to the higher principle of mind, to the love of conscious joining and interchange that might forestall our entropic rush to convert the common earth into private property.

The biosphere is experiencing the pains of labor as it struggles to give birth to its enfolded destiny, the noosphere. “We can hope for no progress on earth,” says Teilhard, “without the primacy and triumph of the personal at the summit of mind” (p. 297). Teilhard reminds us that even an interiorized and involuted universe labors, sins, and suffers (p. 313). Such are the demands of the spirit working through this anthropo-cosmogenesis, which, as Teilhard says, even from the perspective of a biologist, “resembles nothing so much as a way of the Cross” (ibid.).

“Eros (love) does not occur only in the human soul,” says Eryximachus in Plato’s Symposium,

“It is a significantly broader phenomenon. It certainly occurs within the animal kingdom, and even in the world of plants. In fact, it occurs everywhere in the universe. Eros is a deity of the greatest importance: he directs everything that occurs, not only in the human domain, but also in that of the gods” (186b).

The personalization of earth and the cosmos is essential to any renewed engagement of humanity with its ecological context, as “persons and landscapes are mutually constitutive [and] co-evolve” (p. 3, Hornborg, 1998). The deficient mental separation of mind from nature has shattered the wholeness of the biosphere and of human society by translating the living intensity and particularity of the relationships holding each together into quantities of money and raw materials.

“Driven by the forces of love,” says Teilhard, “the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being” (p. 264-265). Teilhard urges humanity to overcome the “anti-personalist” complex paralyzing our techno-industrial civilization, and to at least grant the possibility, under the heightened pressure of our infolding world, that the earth has a face and a heart (p. 267). Life is not a machine, nor the human being a consumer. A human being, like all creatures, is alive because a great cosmic creativity stirs its very atoms into autopoietic e-motion.

“Whatever happens on the earth,” says Gebser,

“man [who is the consciousness of earth] must share the responsibility…On its great journey across the millennia it hastens through the changing landscapes of ‘heaven,’ transforming its own countenance and man’s” (p. 541).

An integral biology of economics brings to light the wholeness of life and makes transparent the law of love luring even the materiality of the earth toward its center. The mutation of consciousness into its integral mode requires enduring a violent birth, as the industrial process has made quite evident. But the end of consciousness’ unfolding is not the annihilation of earth—rather, it is to participate with earth in the regeneration of Eden by learning to face the universe with an open heart and a mind transluced by the spirit of origin.

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[1] ~6,798,504,820 on Nov. 21st, 2009 according to the US Census Bureau. High population is hardly an adequate measure of success, just a reflection of unsustainable rates of resource consumption. And even if population were the true gauge of success, surely insects and bacteria would be the real winners in this world.

[2] The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN.org) estimates that 21 percent of all known mammals, 30 percent of all known amphibians, 12 percent of all known birds, 28 percent of reptiles, 37 percent of freshwater fishes, 70 percent of plants, 35 percent of invertebrates assessed so far are under serious threat of extinction.

[3] i.e., energy available to do work.

[4] Lynn Margulis goes so far as to argue that “[Technological evolution], whether [expressed in the] human, bower bird, or nitrogen-fixing bacterium, becomes the extension of the second law to open systems” (p. 47, 2002). She means to imply that the proliferation of entropy producing techno-industrial products and their social ramifications is the result of natural law.  I will argue in this paper that she is correct only if consciousness fails to become integrally transparent to itself, liberating humanity from the tamasic impulse toward increasing entropy production.

[5] Ilya Prigogine defines thermodynamics as “the study of the macroscopic properties of a system and their relations without regard to the underlying dynamics” (p. 205, 1996).

[6] For Dennett, an algorithm is any set of conditions tending to produce a certain outcome. He sees Darwin’s conditions (random variation under natural selection) as completely explanatory of the present state of the biosphere. Dennett argues that a “cascade of mere purposeless, mechanical causes” is entirely responsible for the “gradual emergence of meaning” (p. 412).

[7] Criticism is not my only task, however. Like Emerson, I desire “an original relation to the universe” and to behold God and nature face to face, rather than through the eyes of tradition (p. 7).

[8] Gebser characterizes the mythic structure as predominantly psychic and spaceless, as the intimate bond between soul and nature had not yet been severed. As a result, “Man’s lack of spatial awareness is attended by a lack of ego-consciousness, since in order to objectify and qualify space, a self-conscious ‘I’ is required that is able to stand opposite or confront space, as well as to depict or represent it by projecting it out of his soul or psyche” (p.10).

[9] In the closing centuries of the 2nd millennium, the mechanical clock would become the dominant model used by science to understand the physical world (quantitative, symmetrical time), the biological world (organisms are gene survival/propagation machines), and the economic world (“Time is money” –Ben Franklin). See also p. 122, Hornborg: “The clock has been advanced as the prototype for all machines…The idea of the machine has…generated a web of cross-references by which nature and the machine are engaged in a reciprocal metaphor.”

[10] Darwin’s book, The Origin of Species, is littered with observational evidence in support of the plausibility of his theory. No scientists can deny what Darwin found without first reworking his metaphysical assumptions.

[11] Time, in this context, is to be understood as the falsely spatialized time of the mental structure: as quantitative magnitude, rather than qualitative intensity as for the integral.

[12] “…a thoroughgoing evolutionary philosophy is inconsistent with materialism. The aboriginal stuff…from which a materialistic philosophy begins is incapable of evolution” (p. 107, Whitehead, 1925).

[13] “Descola (p. 88, 1996) defines animism as the use of ‘the elementary categories structuring social life to organize, in conceptual terms, the relations between human beings and natural species” (p. 200, Hornborg, 2001).

[14] “In October 1838, that is fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus’ Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence [a phrase used by Malthus] which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favorable variations would tend to be preserved and unfavorable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be a new species. Here then I had at last got hold of a theory by which to work.” –Charleas Darwin (The Zoology of the Beagle, 1840).

[15] Karl Marx, through Hegel, was certainly influenced, even if he rejected Kant’s critical system.

[16] Such as a tacit acceptance of Hume’s sensationalist doctrine (see p. 29).

[17] Kant’s Aristotelianism is evidenced here. Darwin and Paley were more influenced by Plato’s dualism between form and matter than Kant, who was able to conceive of the purposes of an organism as immanent, thereby avoiding the machine/organism analogy. However, Kant imposed a dualism of a different sort, which will be explored below.

[18] This is a variation of Plato’s separation between spiritual and superficial experience mentioned on p.10 above.

[19] Kant’s bourgeois ethos no doubt also influenced his reluctance to imbue nature with life or soul (as constitutive), as capitalism depends upon a fetishized productionist account of value where nature is worth only what human labor and inventiveness can add to it. An ensouled earth could not be as guiltlessly exploited.

[20] In his last philosophical text (Opus Posthumum), Kant realized that his thinking on this matter was incomplete. Varela (after Jonas, 1973) argues that “without invalidating the a priori categories that had been the possibility of all knowledge, Kant finds an entirely new foundation for them: the lived body. The moving forces of matter—prime subject of natural science—are not deduced from or ‘dictated’ by the a priori categories of reason but themselves are a basic experience underlying all a priori categories” (p. 109, 2002). Thus we know an organism is intrinsically purposeful and self-organizing because we extrapolate as much from our own experience as organisms.

[21] See The Blind Watchmaker, 1986

[22] As has already been discussed on p. 16.

[23] A dissipative structure is an energetically open system that emerges in non-equilibrium conditions (ex: tornado, whirlpool, etc). The key difference between a dissipative structure and an autopoietic system is that the former usually does not produce a boundary that establishes it as a unity, nor does it produce the components on which it depends. Instead, it is more structurally dependent on its local environment and so lacks a degree of autonomy present in organisms.

[24] This concept was first developed by Jakob von Uexküll (1940). Hornborg writes that “Each organism lives in its own subjective world (Umwelt) largely defined by its species-specific mode of perceiving its environment…The implication is that ecological interaction presupposes a plurality of subjective worlds…ecological relations are based on meaning; they are semiotic” (p. 183).

[25] Descartes needn’t take all the blame: We could also point to Plato’s dualism of form and substance, to Aristotle’s subject-predicate logic, to Parmenides’ separation between being and non-being, or indeed to more the modern separation between culture and nature.

[26] “Philosophers have disdained the information about the universe obtained through their visceral feelings, and have concentrated on visual feelings” (p. 121, 1978).

[27] Indeed, as we already mentioned (see footnote, p. 21), Kant recognized this possibility late in his life, but was unable to rework his entire philosophical system to reflect it prior to his death.

[28] Incoming solar radiation is approximately 5800 Kelvin and outer space approximately 2.7 Kelvin (p. 46, Margulis, 2003).

[29] While Lovelock was working with NASA to detect life on Mars, he had “a gentle discussion with Carl Sagan, who thought it might be possible that life existed in oases where local conditions would be more favorable. Long before Viking set course from Earth I felt intuitively that life could not exist on a planet sparsely; it could not hang on in a few oases, except at the beginning or at the end of its tenure. As Gaia theory developed, this intuition grew; now I view it as a fact” (p. 6).

[30] Margulis points to the “geometry of the universe’s expansion” to account for its ever increasing creative possibilities for gradient reduction (p. 48), while Whitehead suggests “…the expansion of the universe in respect to actual things is the first meaning of ‘process’; and the universe in any stage of its expansion is the first meaning of ‘organism’” (p. 214-15, 1978).

[31] “…both biomass and ‘technomass’ represent positive feedback processes of self-organization, where the system’s use of harvested resources is ‘rewarded’ with new resources in a continuing cycle. Both are dissipative structures, requiring inputs higher than outputs and subsisting on the difference. A crucial difference is that biomass is a sustainable process whereas technomass is not. For biomass, energy resources are virtually unlimited, and entropy—in the form of heat—is sent out into space. For technomass, resources are ultimately limited, and we are left with much of the entropy in the form of pollution” (p. 17, Hornborg).

[32] “The neoclassical concept of growth was borrowed from…Newton, to whom it would simply have meant a process of aggregation. Whereas natural science has moved on to a more organic or systematic perception of growth, that is, as appropriation of order (Schrodinger, 1944), mainstream economists remain confined within the old, mechanical version” (p. 94, Hornborg); “Nineteenth-century scientists materially constituted the organism as a laboring system, structured by a hierarchical division of labor, and an energetic system fueled by sugars and obeying the laws of thermodynamics” (p. 97, Haraway, 1997).

[33] And money (see p. 23). The whole world is supposed in the capitalist scheme to be encompassable, at least in promise, by a sufficient quantity of general-purpose money.

[34] “The relationship between human labor and technology is clearly ambiguous in terms of which serves which” (p. 103, Hornborg).

[35] Rudolf Steiner had a similar understanding of the psycho-spiritual causes of materialism: “The concept of matter arose only because of a very misguided concept of time. The general belief is that the world would evaporate into a mere apparition without being if we did not anchor the totality of fleeting events in a permanent, immutable reality that endures in time while its various individual configurations change” (p. 174, 2000).

[36] Hornborg suggests that “general-purpose money was the universal solvent that gave Western industry access to the resources of its global periphery” (p. 105).

[37] Henri Bergson refers to this way of understanding time as the “cinematographical method.” “Instead of attaching ourselves to the inner becoming of things, we place ourselves outside them in order to recompose their becoming artificially” (p. 204).

[38] Though Margulis’ theory of the origin of species via symbiogenesis may provide more robust an account, as the mere accumulation of chance mutations, even given billions of years, does not provide a means of phylogenic change quick and resilient enough to have done the necessary organizational work (see Acquiring Genomes, 2003).

[39] “God is an intelligible sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere” –Corpus Hermeticum, 3rd century; “Nature is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere” Blaise Pascal, 1670. In a Whiteheadian metaphysics, both God and nature participate in the integral becoming of every actual occasion.

[40] i.e., accidental, rather than essential.

[41] “…when, following the invisible steps of thought, we come to inquire, Whence is matter? and Whereto? many truths arise to us out of the recesses of consciousness. We learn…that spirit creates; that behind nature, throughout nature, spirit is present; one and not compound, it does not act upon us from without, that is, in space and time, but spiritually, or through ourselves: therefore, that spirit, that is, the Supreme Being, does not build up nature around us, but puts it forth through us, as the life of the tree puts forth new branches and leaves through the pores of the old” (p. 41, Emerson).

[42] “Fetishism is about interesting “mistakes”—really denials—where a fixed thing substitutes for the doings of power-differentiated lively beings on which and on whom, in my view, everything actually depends…Without question, contemporary genetic technology is imbricated with the classical commodity fetishism endemic to capitalist market relations” (p. 135, Haraway, 1997).

[43] “An item produced from oil and metal ores must be priced as if it were more valuable than the oil and the ores that were destroyed in making it, or the process could not go on. This in turn amounts to a constant rewarding of the continued destruction of oil and ores by giving industry access to increasing amounts of oil and ores to destroy” (p. 14-15, Hornborg).

[44] “In one of his articles Lovelock uses the term ecopoiesis to describe Gaia (Lovelock, 1987). This term seems just right for conveying both the resemblance and difference between Gaia and the autopoietic cell. The resemblance is due to the ecosphere and the cell being autonomous systems, the difference to the scale and manner in which their autonomy takes form” (p. 122, E. Thompson).

[45] The implications of the mathematical formalisms of quantum mechanics were so contrary to mechanistic expectations, that Niels Bohr once remarked, “It is wrong to think the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we say about nature” (p. 291, McEvoy, 2001).

[46] “My only earthly wish is… to stretch the deplorably narrow limits of man’s dominion over the universe to their promised bounds… [Nature will be] bound into service, hounded in her wanderings and put on the rack and tortured for her secrets”(p.viii); “I am come in very truth leading you to Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave… the mechanical inventions of recent years do not merely exert a gentle guidance over Nature’s courses, they have the power to conquer and subdue her, to shake her to her foundations” (p. 21, Francis Bacon, 1980).

[47] “’The Petroleum Interval’ [is] the brief interlude of 200 years where we extracted all of this amazing material from the ground and burnt it” (p. 20, Hopkins, 2008).

[48] Hornborg makes similar aspects of technology transparent: “Industrial technology does not simply represent the application of inventive genius to nature but is equally dependent on a continuous and accelerating social transfer of energy organized by the logic of market exchange” (p. 45).

[49] “Such a distinction…is alien to hunter-gatherer groups like the Algonquian-speakers of northeastern North America, who tend to view all living beings as undivided centers of awareness, agency, and intentionality” (p. 195, Hornborg).

The following was posted on PZ’s blog, Pharyngula, in response to this entry: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/10/nicholas_wade_flails_at_the_ph.php

Evolution. Theory, fact, or both? I don’t think answering these questions is as simple as PZ or Wade make it seem. It involves more than science and philosophy, and forces us to deconstruct notions of a pure science uncontaminated by politics, culture, industry, and the happenstance of history.

“Fact” comes from the Latin, “facere,” meaning “to do,” or “to make.” In this sense, technoscientific facts are constructed not only by what scientific heroes do in the laboratory, but by the larger socioeconomic context determining which questions are worth asking and which research programs provide the best opportunity for investment returns to shareholders. The production and protection of facts costs money. If someone wishes to contest a fact, it also costs money to set up a counter-laboratory. Take a look at Bruno Latour’s book, “Science in Action” if you’re interested in how scientists and their networks of human and nonhuman allies construct facts.

As for theory, it is difficult to know where to start. Perhaps with PZ’s statement that theories “integrate a collection of facts into a useful model in our brains.” It is difficult to articulate how mysterious the work of theory is precisely because we must already have assumed a theoretical background to say anything at all about the world. Contrary to PZ’s assumption that facts pre-exist theories, I’d argue that the theory (or paradigm) within which one operates determines what counts as a fact. This is only partially true of course, because scientists inevitably begin to notice after a while the unexplained “noise” which builds up around a once favored theory. Given enough world-class scientific experimentation, the history of science clearly shows that revolutions occur and theories collapse, leading to gestalt shifts in the way scientists perceive the world (see Kuhn, 1962). What was once the highest and most authoritative scientific fact can come to seem in a single generation to be the silliest sort of pseudoscientific superstition. Theories change everything, even facts.

This is not a metaphysical claim about reality. I’m not saying human theoretical frameworks literally create nature. I am making phenomenological claim by saying that in every attempt to know the world, the world changes us as we change it. Knowing is not passive observation, but active participation.

So… evolution. Fact, theory, or both? I’d say both. But there is a history behind the word “evolution” which makes it a problematic choice in this context. As much as I’d like to get into the various reasons Darwin refused to use the word anywhere in “Origin of Species” (until he entered it once in the 6th edition), for lack of time I’ll just sum up: There are many evolutionary facts (like the genetic unity of all life), just as there are many evolutionary paradigms (neo-Darwinian, DST, Teilhard, Aurobindo, etc).

Several weeks ago, I posted a blog about my entry to Discover Magazine’s “Evolution in Two Minutes” contest. Developmental biologist and outspoken atheist PZ Myers is judging the entries (still no word on the winner), and out of curiousity, I decided to visit his blog Pharyngula. Though it is supposedly a science blog, Myers posts little about his field of study: evolutionary development. The few posts he did make over the past month about biology were fascinating, and I learned quite a bit. Evo-Devo is a research program attempting to fill in the gaps in neo-Darwinism, which originally assumed the development of organisms had little to do with the evolutionary process. I’m quite interested in Evo-Devo, as it calls neo-Darwinism out on its greedy reductionism. Organisms cannot be understood based only on the differential survival of genes. But Evo-Devo isn’t in any way in opposition to the basic approach of theModern Synthesis, unlike Developmental Systems Theory, which aims to totally overthrow the neo-Darwinian paradigm in favor of a more holistic account. Not genes or isolated organisms, but whole organism-environment systems become the focus. All this takes us far afield from the point of this blog, but suffice it to say that Myers’ biological work fascinates and excites me. The point of this blog, however, is about Myers’ (and the watchdogs policing his blog’s) militant brand of atheistic materialism. I can understand the frustration many scientifically-educated people express concerning the widespread denial of the common descent of species among fundamentalist Christians in America. But accepting evolution, and all of contemporary science for that matter, does not necessarily religate all forms of spirituality to a superstitous past. For me and a growing number of others, the scientific cosmological story provides a more numinous background to earthly existence than any ancient religious cosmogony to come before it. Matter, energy, space, and time have been on a 14 billion year adventure that has inexplicably lead to the creation of an intelligent species of ape capable of knowing so. It’s quite astounding.

The most pressing challenge of the 21st century is to develop a planetary mythos, a global spiritual worldview that allows all human beings to become integral with the ongoing process of creative expression that brought us into existence. Science must play a central role in any such development. Myers and his cheerleaders seem to go wrong not in their enthusiasm for science, but in their dogmatic insistance that the observations of science must be interpreted in a materialistic fashion. There are many complex arguments for a materialistic or physicalist interpretation of scientific facts, but none that I am aware of can coherently account for human consciousness. There is plenty of hand-waving, plenty of “just-so” stories pretending to explain how an entirely mechanical process could lead to sentience and volition, but so far as I know, no convincing solutions to the hard problem of consciousness have yet been devised. If anyone disputes this, please comment below and fill me in!

Many materialistic atheists would dispute the idea that our species still needs myth in a scientific age. This amounts to saying that consciousness can exist entirely independent of the unconscious. There is no hubris greater than this conceit, and none more dangerous. As William Irwin Thompson writes, “That shoreline where the island of knowing meets the unfathomable sea of our own being is the landscape of myth,” (The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light, p. 87). Science is an epistemic activity, a way of knowing. All our human attempts to rationally know the full extent of our cosmic existence are limited for the simple reason that we are that which we are attempting to know.

Alfred North Whitehead expressed a similar sentiment: “Every philosophy is tinged with the coloring of some secret imaginative background, which never emerges explicitly into its train of reasoning.” No amount of scientific progress will ever change this basic fact about human psychology. Knowing is not a disembodied, purely rational activity. What we know is always already shaped by our imaginative and intuitive faculties.

The danger of supposing science can totally rationalize our society is already apparent. The mechanistic model of nature has made possible the current global religion (at least in the West): capitalist consumerism. It’s a myth that has grown out of the assumption that the only truly real, truly powerful thing in the world is money, and that the non-human earth community is ours to exploit as we see fit (since it is nothing but blind matter in motion, anyways). There can be no solution to the current ecological crisis until this self-destructive mythos is totally re-imagined.

But the mechanistic/materialistic myth is not only dangerous because of its ecological implications; it also degrades human life. Prior to the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, humanity had a system of values based on more than a merely horizontal scale. As E. F. Schumacher explains in his wonderful little book A Guide for the Perplexed, this flattening of value reverses the vertical conception humanity has held for the vast majority of its existence. The result is moral relativism and/or utilitarianism. The Good is measured solely upon what feels good at the time for me, so long as it doesn’t prevent others from getting their cheap pleasures, as well. Schumacher outlines the Great Chain of Being, which begins with matter and progresses through the plant kingdom, the animal, the human, and continues to God, the ideal Person. Natural science focuses only upon the material level, and so long as it doesn’t overstep its legitimate bounds by claiming to explain all other levels by reduction to matter, it remains a tool of utmost value to the human endeavor. Science is an empirical enterprise, and so fittingly studies only that aspect of nature that is visible. As Schumacher makes plainly evident, however, all of reality above the material level is invisible. To know anything about these higher levels, we must become internally adequate to them. This is where the vertical chain of being becomes so important. If you want to know what life is, or what consciousness is, or what self-consciousness is, you’ve got to develop your instrument of knowledge. The reason science is so successful and produces so many incontrovertable theories about the physical world is that any normal adult with fully functioning senses is adequate to understand it. When it comes to truths about higher levels of being, something more than simple logic and sense perception becomes necessary: namely, wisdom.

Schumacher writes:

“There is nothing more difficult than to be aware of one’s thought. Everything can be seen directly except the eye through which we see. Every thought can be scrutinised directly except the thought by which we scrutinise. A special effort, an effort of self-awareness is needed – that almost impossible feat of thought recoiling upon itself: almost impossible but not quite. In fact, this is the power that makes man human and also capable of transcending his humanity,” (p. 54).

Science is one of the most valuable tools the human spirit has ever developed, but if all human knowledge is reduced to the empirically verifiable sort, most of reality is placed entirely beyond our reach. Further, a reductionistically naturalistic picture of the universe puts the cart before the horse by forgetting that all knowledge of the cosmos comes through experience (therefore, attempting to derive experience from nature conceived of as entirely physical is incoherent from the get go; read my essay Unearthing the Earth for a more developed explanation as to why). There is no conflict between faith and reason, nor between science and religion. The only conflicts arise when science is adopted as a religion, thereby becoming scientism, or when religion begins making scientific claims, thereby becoming creationism.

As Galileo put it: “The Bible [<—insert your spiritual tradition of choice] shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.”

And Kant: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”

Let us not obscure the difference.

Daniel Dennett says biology is engineering. He argues that living organisms are machines, flattening the classical Aristotelian difference between natural and artificial. For Aristotle, natural things had their form and purpose internal to themselves, while artificial things were designed from without for a purpose other than themselves. Of course, the beauty of human art (film, painting, poetry, music, …) is also of itself so, and in this sense participates in the autopoiesis of nature (Plato was suspicious of the muse precisely because it brings the soul back in touch with the body). But can manufactured technologies, like computers, really explain living systems, like us? Is biology engineering, or is Dennett conflating science (i.e., theoretical knowledge) with technology (know-how)?

If my body is the product of a purely mechanical process “as patient as it was mindless” (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, p. 188), out of what did this process make the psychological existence that I am? Why was the early earth in such a rush to come to life? How did molecules begin to feel? And why is it that metazoa evolved eyes in at least 40 distinct hereditary lines? It is as though nature’s evolutionary adventure has an aim: seeing clearer in order to feel more intensly. Patient it may be, but now that nature has grown muscles and nerves, innovation has become a regularity.

Darwin wasn’t trying to account for the wholeness of organisms, but for specific differences between them. Dennett has turned this useful heuristic into a “universal acid,” thereby conflating a phylogenetic theory for a theory of ontogeny. In other words, Dennett tries to explain the immanent purposes and holistic form of individual organisms entirely in terms of the differential survival of replicating genetic algorithms. He doesn’t seem to find the question of how a living body continually produces itself particularly relevant to biology, or perhaps assumes Darwin’s anecdotes somehow explain self-organization and production. Certainly, variation and competition are necessary for evolution to occur; but they are not sufficient as an explanation for life. Darwin assumes the existence of autopoietic organisms that can reproduce–they are the underlying momentum powering his theoretical analogy between the domestication of animals via human selection and the entire history of life. The reductionist explanation for living organization cannot come out of a theory that already assumes it exists.

[Also, see my essay On the Matter of Life for the reason the Design paradigm fails from the beginning to approach biology from the proper angle (as physis, rather thantechne — for more on this distinction, see this essay: Unearthing the Earth). This is true whether we’re talking about Supernatural, or Natural selection/design.]

Anyone interested in following the thread I’ve been participating in over on Myers’ blog, here’s the link:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/07/i_was_wondering_about_that.php

A little taste of what’s been going on there (one of my posts):

@ 201 John Morales writes: “those assumptions (of science) are that there is an external reality, and that it is consistent, and that only the senses can convey information about that reality.”

You must have left out the other necessary assumption on accident? I mean, that there be in addition to external reality, an internal consciousness capable of consistently observing, measuring, and formalizing all that sensory data into meaningful scientific theories? I would never deny the existence of the external world, but I would argue there is absolutely no sense (reasonable or empirical) to be made of any supposed pre-given, objective material world. The external world is always already together with the internal. Consciousness wasn’t parachuted into a sterile, mindless universe as if from outside; it grew right out of the center of what is actually more of an organic universe still in the process of creating itself. Based on my understanding, our scientific knowledge of the universe not only doesn’t disprove, but actually supports the idea that it is a directed (not “designed,” but lured by recognizable laws, like entropy or Teilhard’s complexity/consciousness), experiential universe, which is all that I am arguing for here (not for the existence of “God”).

John Morales writes: “you claim not to be a dualist, yet you refer to “spirituality”. Q: What is this ‘spirit’ concept (presumably you don’t mean mind), and why do you apparently consider it is not amenable to scientific scrutiny?”

I don’t bring up spirit because I want to annul matter, nor because I think the two are irreconcilably enemies or ontologically distinct substances. To tell you the truth, I don’t think we need to talk about anything but matter—but I think matter is more than brute stuff devoid of self-enjoyment. I think all organized material bodies feel the rest of the universe in an increasingly intense way depending on their complexity (I didn’t add above that we also need to talk about time, which is where this “increasingly complex” business comes from). Hydrogen feels gravitational gradients, stars feel magnetic fields, bacteria feel nutrient gradients, human beings feel the need to understand the universe. I think these feelings are leading the universe somewhere: time’s influence on matter is not merely accidental; to argue that it is to contradict the plainly evident pattern of natural history. If we had to separate matter and spirit for the sake of metaphor, I’d say that “spirit” describes what we call “matter” is evolving toward. We might also swap “novelty” for spirit and “habit” for matter, so long as we see that the two are really part of a single process called the universe and that no actually existing thing/event is ever one or the other exclusively. The universe is creative process–it is not entirely determined by the past but has spontaneously emerged to higher states of order on multiple occasions. I can only assume it will continue to do so. Science cannot scrutinize the idea that ours is a reasonable, a purposeful universe. If it were not such a universe, the scientific enterprise would not be possible. Reason has emerged in our universe—this is a fact. I do not think mechanistic materialism can account for this, other than to say it is a complete fluke. This leads us to the anthropic principle.

@216 John Morales writes: “you’d better look up anthropic principle, for I suspect you don’t understand it.”

Perhaps I don’t understand it. I’ve yet to hear it described by any two people exactly the same way. When I say that our universe can’t help but be human, I mean only that we necessarily exist in a universe whose processes were potentially, and are now actually intelligent.

John Morales writes: “the scientist says ‘there is no evidence of telos when examining the universe’. Note that to say something is a value judgement here is trite; any expression of a conclusion or judgement is de-facto a ‘value judgement’.”

As I said above, for the scientific enterprise (which I believe to be a cultural activity—I’m not sure where you’d begin arguing otherwise? More below) to be possible, human beings must be rational creatures in a universe which conforms to certain reasons (ie, purposes, causes, laws). Even Darwin’s theory of evolution invokes telos. Natural selection only does theoretical work if we take the analogy of human and natural selection quite literally. The scientist has every reason not to deny the universe is reasonable and purposeful. If he/she does, I don’t see how he/she can avoid erasing causality itself from the picture. It is only the materialist who argues based on any number of non-scientific motivations that the universe lacks all telos.

John Morales says: “Science is a self-correcting, bias-annulling and iterative process for acquiring knowledge about reality;”

Yes, science is that cultural institution which has proven itself to be the most progressive yet devised by the human spirit, at least in terms of technological advance. I don’t think this means civilization can thrive without other value spheres having a share of power, however. For instance, we have pressing moral decisions to make about how scientific knowledge ought to influence the way we relate to the rest of the non-human earth community. A materialist response to these moral issues (I think materialism is as much a moral, as a scientific stance) is usually either supportive of or indifferent to industrial growth capitalism, which is pushing us into the largest mass extinction since the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs according to E.O. Wilson. Science can and should help us make moral decisions about human-earth relations; a materialist wouldn’t seem to have a stake in the matter, because how can one argue that non-human nature has value independent of human desires if it is all just a blind mechanism? Economics becomes just another science concerned with objective facts with no ethical implications.

John Morales writes: “every person has experienced it (atheism)— it is the tabula rasa, or normal state before religious indoctrination/imaginative wishful thinking occurs.”

Actually, recent developmental psychology might show otherwise, that children are originally quite open to spirituality, and only as adults become self-described atheists: http://www.science-spirit.org/article_detail.php?article_id=128

I’ll admit this is open to debate, mostly for semantic reasons concerning how you prefer to use the word “atheist.” You say it means the lack of a belief in deities, but when a child says “God did it!,” I don’t think they mean the same thing that, say, Jerry Falwell did.

Preface

“Like the meridians as they approach the poles, science, philosophy and religion are bound to converge as they draw nearer to the whole.” –Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, p. 30

“To see and to make others see” (p. 31)—such is the mission of Teilhard’s masterwork, The Human Phenomenon. But what is it he wishes for us to see? Condensed to its essence, it is the “whole which unfolds,” (p.35). The whole he speaks of is the cosmos, whose unfolding is the process of evolution. Catching sight of this cosmogenesis, for Teilhard, requires facing not only its myriad surfaces—its material aspect, but also its unified interior—its spiritual aspect.

What kind of seeing is it, though, that reveals not only the surfaces of things, but also their within?

This question forms the axis around which the current essay will revolve. Entangled with this question is a further one: does evolution, as we see it, have a purpose, “an absolute direction of growth” (Writings in Time of War, p. 32); or, as is commonly held by most intellectuals, is it merely the meaningless playing out of chance and necessity? These dual uncertainties—how the within is to be seen and whether evolution has an aim—are intimately related. We cannot comprehend the latter until we have gazed into the heart of the former. We must “focus our eyes correctly” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 33) so that the haze separating each reveals a harmony concealed beneath.

“The whole of life lies in that verb,” says Teilhard of seeing (ibid., p. 31). His answers to the questions posed above are careful and deliberate, as he tries his utmost to avoid only seeing half the problem: evolution is “a consciousness gradually waking by way of countless fumblings,” (The Vision of the Past, p. 181). Teilhard admits, with the materialists, that chance has undoubtedly played a role in the unfolding of the cosmos. But this cannot be all, for “the world does not hold together ‘from below’ but from ‘above,’” (Christianity and Evolution, p. 113). The process of waking up is a movement from lesser to fuller being, from isolation to closer union (The Human Phenomenon, p. 31). “Union,” says Teilhard, “increases only through an increase in consciousness, that is to say in vision,” (ibid.). The trend of evolution is a growth toward awareness and richer sight, “trying everything so as to find everything” (ibid., p. 110). The end of this groping process is an embracing of each by All, and All by each.

For Teilhard, “the most telling and profound way of describing the history of the universe would undoubtedly be to trace the evolution of love” (Human Energy, p. 33), defined as “the affinity of being with being” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 264). This is, of course, a mystic’s view of cosmic evolution, a story of the e-motion of spirit from initial fragmentation into ultimate communion. The typical positivist story, in contrast, concerns itself only with locomotion, with the collision of particles and their exchange of physical forces. The universe as studied by this kind of science is viewed as a machine, having everything to do with the determinisms of matter and nothing whatever to do with the spontaneities of thinking and feeling. The latter two qualities, usually only associated with human consciousness (or at most the consciousness of animals), have been deemed by materialist science “queer exceptions,” “aberrant functions,” and “an epiphenomenon” (ibid., p. 55).

From Teilhard’s point of view, there can be no single and coherent explanation of the totality of the cosmos if human consciousness is considered “an erratic object in a disjointed world” (ibid., p. 34). “Man, in nature, is a genuine fact falling within the scope of the requirements and methods of science” (ibid.). This, for Teilhard, is the reason why the within of things, and all that it entails, must become visible to science. Nature becomes conscious in the knowing scientist, in the one who sees. The within can no longer be ignored once the scientist has reflected upon being human, on “the object of a direct intuition and the substance of all knowledge” (ibid., p. 55).

But science, since Immanuel Kant’s critique of the organ of knowing, has become the measurement of phenomena, of the movement of matter as it appears to the mind through the senses (or their extensions). Knowledge of things themselves has been deemed impossible, as the knowing subject is experienced as an alien presence in the world, having access to reality only by way of the outward facing senses. For this reason, the scientific establishment has primarily focused only on the external, empirical aspect of nature. What goes on within things, the place where value and meaning grow, has been deemed too intangible to admit into science. Though Teilhard calls his attempt to “make others see” a purely scientific project, his phenomenology nonetheless reaches beyond mere appearances to the within of things themselves. By attempting to place human consciousness “within the framework of phenomenon and appearance” (ibid., p. 31), Teilhard is turning the mirror upon the act of knowing itself. In this way, he hopes to “break through and go beyond appearances” (Letters from a Traveler, p. 70) to the very source of our seeing.

Teilhard’s is a science of science, an attempt to see how it is that sight is possible at all. We must explore exactly how this way of seeing differs from the empiricism of the typical scientist.

Part 1: Science and Seeing

To fully appreciate the established meaning of empiricism for the scientific enterprise, we must briefly review the history of thought since the 17th century. Although not himself an empiricist, probably the most influential figure of this era was Rene Descartes. His dualism between the thinking and extended substances, or between mind and matter, was crucial for the further development of science and technology. Viewing matter, even organic forms, as essentially mechanical allowed science to measure, and thereby master, most of the external world. Unfortunately, hewing such an ontological rift between the mind and the body (and its senses), when taken to its logical conclusions, lead David Hume to argue that much of what we assume we immediately observe through our senses is actually a latter construction of perception.

The world itself, according to Hume’s skeptical brand of empiricism, shows us mere patches of sensation that come to have meaning only after perception has ordered them. But even then, because our inner world is only composed of a selfless bundle of perceptions derived from barren sense data, we can never be sure that any of our beliefs about the world are true. The value of our beliefs and actions rests purely on custom. Based on sensory experience alone, Hume could find no reason to believe in the reality of a necessary connection between any two events taken in isolation. Both the ontological status of causality and the theoretical validity of induction were thereby called into serious doubt. This left science, and the pursuit of knowledge generally, in a rather tight spot. The only option was positivism, wherein “the task of science is explained to be merely the formulation of observed identities of pattern persistent and recurrent in each stream of experience,” (Adventures of Ideas, p. 125). A science that only reveals persistent patterns of experience can still lead to technological innovation, but it fails to satisfy the human desire to understand what the patterns mean. In other words, positivism doesn’t hinder progress in the practical realm of engineering; but by assuming a gap exists between knowledge and the thing known, it makes a deep intuitive and participatory understanding of reality impossible. Kant recognized the enormity of this problem, and his ingenious solution was to examine the mind itself, the instrument of knowledge, in order to discover the inviolable principles that ground the findings of science on something more than mere assumption. Kant argued that reality necessarily appears to us already ordered by certain a priori forms of intuition, such as space and time. Causality is similarly a necessary principle structuring our judgment. Without these structuring principles, knowledge of the world would be impossible, as the world itself is unknowable. It is here that Kant agrees with Hume. Where he differs is in his assessment of the knowing subject, which he views as more than a mere bundle of perceptions, but as a transcendental unity out of which the whole phenomenal world is projected.

Though each of these philosophers is quite different, a common strand of thought runs through each of them: the ultimate separation of mind from matter. For Descartes, thought and the body were entirely distinct; in Hume, a similar dualism arose as the uncertain relation between the diversity of sensory impressions and the apparent unity of perception; for Kant, it became the gap between phenomenal experience and reality itself. The trend in this series of thinkers is toward greater isolation from the cosmos as a result of further retreat into solipsism. Although Teilhard no doubt inherits his general understanding of the scope of science from these philosophers, his own approach is quite unique.

As Thomas King says,

“In placing man [in the framework of phenomenon and appearance] Teilhard does not mean the flat veneer of colors that strike the retinas. Rather he wants to show the meaning that haloes man when he is placed in the context of a vast cosmic movement,” (Teilhard’s Mysticism of Knowing, p. 46).

Teilhard sees more than the bare sensory impressions of Hume. His vision of the cosmos is one where every body (whether atomic, molecular, cellular, etc.) has an “internal propensity to unite,” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 264). The meaning of our perceptions is in the movement of things themselves, as “the subject is unquestionably no longer the human monad, but the world,” (Toward the Future, p. 50). In other words, instead of cutting the mind off from reality, Teilhard nearly identifies the two by showing that one can come to know the world only “by being co-extensive with it,” or by “becoming to some degree one body with it,” (Christianity and Evolution, p. 61, 100).

Though he goes to great lengths to assure the reader in The Human Phenomenon that the theory he lays out therein is not a work of metaphysics, a case can be made that Teilhard is turning the typical scientific approach on its head. In stead of bare and meaningless sensory impressions (patches of color, shapes, etc.) being the most primitive form of experience from which all our knowledge is derived, he recognizes within the human being a “Cosmic Sense,” or feeling of deep connection between what is interior and personal, and what is exterior and supposedly impersonal. The human being is “the universe…become conscious of itself” (Human Energy, p. 102). A kind of non-sensuous perception is produced by the whole history of the universe coiling up or folding in upon itself within each individual. But this is not “a solitary introspection in which things are only looked upon as being shut in upon themselves in their ‘immanent’ workings” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 53). Rather, every granule is constituted “by that which is commonly called the ‘beyond it’ rather than by its center,” (Let me Explain, p. 185). In other words, the immanence of the feeling of the within is part of a perpetual movement, or transience, which takes the granule in question beyond itself “to become part of a growing common movement of life,” (King, p. 26).

Teilhard might be said to be correcting a “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” (as A.N. Whitehead called it) in the thinking of Descartes, Hume, and Kant. Instead of seeing the world only as it appears through the highly conceptualized, abstraction-prone mind of the philosopher, he returns to the concreteness of experience itself, “to the deepest recesses of the blackness within” (ibid., p. 92). He discovers there that “It is through that which is most incommunicably personal in us that we make contact with the universal” (Christianity and Evolution, p. 97-98).

This is not to say that we ought to discount the sensory knowledge offered us by traditional science—quite the contrary. Teilhard recognizes the important role played by the without, as until one has “[proceeded] out of himself into the immensity and dangers of the universe, onto the ‘sacred circumference,’” one cannot really feel the awakening within of the Cosmic Sense. Though it is difficult if not impossible to visualize, one can begin to feel through the process of going out of oneself to find one’s true center by imagining a circle of infinite circumference. Because its circumferal edge would appear nearly straight, an interesting paradox takes shape: the interior and exterior of such a circle would be, for all intents and purposes, identical. In this way, it is possible to begin to see how the mind, or the within of things, is co-extensive with the without. Knowledge isn’t so much of the world as it is with the world. The assumption that true knowledge is a pure and objective model of reality lead Descartes et al. to abstract the act of knowing (the mind) out of the network of relationships constituting it (nature). Teilhard, in contrast, sees how “Object and subject marry and mutually transform each other in the act of knowledge” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 32). Teilhard’s is a participatory epistemology, while the typical scientific approach is to remain as distant from the thing known as possible.

This admittedly mystical way of relating mind to matter by bridging the gap between the within and the without only became possible once the theory of evolution had been articulated. Only in a universe in process—a cosmogenesis—can one can begin to see how subject and object “hold together and are complementary” (ibid., p. 63). Teilhard proposes that “all energy is psychic in nature,” though he adds that this energy has two distinct components: tangential, or mechanical energy; and radial, or spiritual energy. Rather than conflict, these two energies combine to give rise to Teilhard’s explicitly teleological evolutionary cosmology. But before exploring his adaptation of the evolutionary paradigm, its origins must briefly be recounted.

Part 2: Transformism: Darwin and Lamarck

Although Darwin is usually credited with having discovered the theory of evolution, he rarely if ever used the word. In fact, “evolution” never appears in The Origin of Species (until the 6th edition) or in The Descent of Man (Gilson, p. 49). Evolution, from the Latin evolvere, means “the un-rolling of the in-rolled, the de-velopment of the en-veloped,” (Gilson, p. 50). Until at least the mid 19th century, evolution was usually discussed by naturalists only in reference to what is today called ontogenesis, or the development of an individual from a preformed seed or egg (Gilson, p.51). The main problem was how to account for the development of individual living beings without violating the theological truth that God’s act of creation took place only once. This early doctrine of evolution held that every developing organism was merely the “unrolling of something already given” (Gilson, p. 50). The notion that species themselves changed in any way over time was not considered.

The theory of evolution familiar to most 21st century students of biology, while being prefigured in the speculative writing of Descartes, Comte de Buffon, and Kant did not gain widespread acceptance until Lamarck and Darwin gave it a more secure theoretical and empirical basis. Better termed “transformism,” the general theory “affirms that animal or vegetable species have changed in the course of time, no matter how these changes are explained” (Gilson, p. 41). Only the proposed mechanism underlying this change separates Darwin and Lamarck, who are otherwise in complete agreement against fixism/creationism.

Lamarck developed his theory in a time when scientists were not concerned that presenting their work in a philosophical manner would in any way discredit them in the eyes of their audience (Gilson, p. 42). Darwin, in contrast, avoided the expansive reasoning characterizing such works, and instead focused only on what could be derived from specific facts. Nonetheless, Lamarck must be credited with having first made the idea of transformism plausible.

In the review of chapter 6 given in the table of contents of his main work, Zoological Philosophy, Lamarck writes:

“…since all living bodies are productions of nature, she must herself have organized the simplest of such bodies, endowed them directly with life, and with the faculties peculiar to living bodies. [And] by means of these direct generations formed at the beginning both of the animal and vegetable scales, nature has ultimately conferred existence on all other living bodies in turn.”

Lamarck, having recognized that species are not fixed essences, but constantly (even if slower than we can directly observe) changing, attempted to explain the reason for the changes in terms of a variation in the surrounding environment. Here, he and Darwin are in agreement. However, Lamarck

“…does not mean that the environment acts directly on the organism, but that it forces the organism to modify itself in order to adapt to the new surroundings” (Gilson, p. 44).

Darwin’s theory of natural selection, in contrast, appeals only to a pre-given environment to explain the changes seen in organisms. The only quality Darwin saw as intrinsic to organisms themselves was the desire to survive and reproduce. Unlike Lamarck, who thought an organism adapted by making “more frequent use of some of its parts which it previously used less, thus greatly [developing] and [enlarging] them” (Zoological Philosophy, p. 235), Darwin attributed little if any evolutionary autonomy to organisms. A change in the form of a species was the result, for Darwin, of a series of random variations selected for by a completely externally imposed and mechanical process.

Lamarck’s attempt to explain evolution by way of acquired characteristics, which are learned within the single lifetime of an individual due to its needs and then passed on to offspring, is without doubt a teleological view of life. It is similar to Aristotle’s understanding of organisms, which

“…working from within by their substantial form, progressively shape their matter according to the type of perfected being which they tend to become” (Gilson, p. 46-47).

Lamarck’s is a view which, while dispensing with the idea of each species having being created ready-made by a transcendent God, instead “has caused the finality of God’s thought to descend into the interior of nature” (Gilson, p. 48-49).

We see here an affinity between the thought of Lamarck and Teilhard, as each sees evolution as a progression motivated by some inner drive toward perfection. Darwin’s theory of natural selection left little room for progress or for an efficacious within helping guide the development of the without, though the mechanism of natural selection he discovered was in no way denied by Teilhard.

The issue is quite simple:

“Rare are those mechanists who admit that there may be teleology in nature, but exceedingly rare—if they have ever existed—are those finalists who deny mechanism and its natural function in natural beings” (Gilson, p. 105).

As was discussed at the end of the last section, Teilhard recognizes two forms of energy at work in nature: tangential and radial. Mechanists, like Darwin, admit only one form of energy, the tangential variety, which of itself knows no direction (other than that given it by the 2nd law of thermodynamics) and desires only to return to equilibrium. It can be explained entirely in terms of efficient causation, without any recourse to finalism. Or at least that is what mechanists suppose, even while, in biology, the adaptationist paradigm attempts to give reasons for the particular traits observed in organisms based on a kind of teleological reasoning.

“Thus it is that, contrary to what we most often imagine, the substance of finalist reasoning is exactly the same as that of mechanist reasoning,” (Gilson, p. 107).

Mechanists, to understand how organisms have adapted purely by way of natural selection, must make use of their own conscious ability to think teleologically. They thereby fall into the trap Teilhard wants to spring them from by separating the human mind from the rest of the natural world.

The biggest problem for Neo-Darwinists is accounting for the presence of consciousness in nature. If evolution can be explained purely in mechanical terms, not only is there no role for consciousness to play, but there is no way to account for how it could have arisen in the first place! This is why Teilhard says, given consciousness is present in human beings, “therefore, half-seen in this one flash of light, it has a cosmic extension, and as such is surrounded by an aura of indefinite spatial and temporal extensions” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 56). If we do not assume that the within of things has such cosmic extension, we are left wondering how a trait such as consciousness (which only deserves the name if it is, in varying degrees, capable of spontaneity) could have been selected for in a biosphere determined entirely by mechanical law. One can of course always resort to saying that consciousness and free will do not exist even in human beings, but such a suggestion is patently absurd unless one has fallen into the most egregious kind of “misplaced concreteness,” putting the abstractions of one’s logic prior to the directly experienced reality of life.

Indeed, what “would the mechanical energies themselves be without some within to feed them?” (ibid., p. 149). Teilhard is at a loss to understand, even from a purely scientific perspective, how the trajectory of evolution, whether cosmic or biological, could progress without accepting some kind of “fundamental impetus” driving it forward from within (ibid.). But again, Teilhard does not deny Darwin’s mechanisms; he merely finds that they alone are incapable of explaining the plain facts.

Teilhard explains:

“In various quarters I shall be accused of showing too Lamarckian a bent in the explanations which follow, of giving an exaggerated influence to the within in the organic arrangement of bodies. But be pleased to remember that, in the ‘morphogenetic’ action of instinct as here understood, an essential part is left to the Darwinian play of external forces and to chance. It is only really through strokes of chance that life proceeds, but strokes of chance which are recognized and grasped—that is to say, psychically selected. Properly understood the ‘anti-chance’ of the Neo-Lemarckian is not the mere negation of Darwinian chance. On the contrary it appears as its utilization. There is a functional complementariness between the two factors; we could call it ‘symbiosis’” (ibid.).

As was discussed at the outset, Teilhard’s evolutionary cosmology is explicitly teleological. He sees that the within of things acts as the impetus driving matter toward greater forms of complexity, which in turn deepens the within and leads to a snowballing of progressively more complexity and consciousness. The impetus from within toward complexity is “driven by the forces of love,” such that “the fragments of the world seek each other, [joined] by what is deepest in themselves” (ibid., p.265). The only remaining question to ask is where this urge toward union is leading. Teilhard, by extrapolating upon what he has seen in the past, foresees a future where the “object of love” is made clear by “… [assuming] a face and a heart, and so to speak [personifying] itself” (ibid., p. 267). What exactly can be said, short of an explicitly theological revelation, about the nature of such an Omega Point?

Part 3: Synchronicity and The Omega Point

As we have seen, consciousness is the very center of Teilhard’s cosmology. “It is impossible to deny,” he says, “that deep within ourselves, an ‘interior’ appears at the heart of beings, as it were seen through a rent” (ibid., p. 56). It was not until the 20th century that our species began to gain the level of self-reflection necessary to truly begin a study of the psyche. The development of depth psychology, beginning with Freud and brought to new heights by Jung, opened up a hitherto unknown world for thought to explore: its own within. In order to better see what Teilhard means by the Omega Point, that “absolutely original center in which the universe reflects itself in a unique and inimitable way” (ibid., p. 261), we will try to relate his thought to that of Jung’s, specifically concerning the collective unconscious and synchronicity.

Teilhard writes of the many “fibers” of instinct “coming up from far below,” each with its own “story to tell of the whole course of evolution” (ibid., p. 180). He sees the human being as having “the essence and the totality of a universe deposited within,” and calls this within the “the inner face of the world” (ibid., p. 95). This “inner face of the world,” we believe, is akin to Jung’s collective unconscious, which could be described as that reservoir of instincts, archetypes, and experiences built up over the entire past evolution of life (and indeed, pre-life ). Teilhard argues that the fibers of this living past also extend into the future, “stretching beyond and above us” (ibid., p. 179) to the goal and summit of the evolutionary journey. Evolution, as Teilhard sees it, is realizing its potential in humanity through greater personalization, not just of the individual, but of the collective. In The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Jung writes that “in some way or other we are part of a single, all-embracing psyche, a single ‘greatest man’” (p. 175). We see here the similarity of these two men’s intuitions. But the connections run deeper.

Traditional science, as we discussed above, has not troubled itself with the within of things, as it considered this dimension of reality to be a rare and improbable exception to the natural rule. Teilhard, in contrast, sees consciousness and nature as so interrelated that he wonders if biologists really discovered evolution by studying the outside world, “or quite simply and unconsciously…recognized and expressed themselves in it?” (The Vision of the Past, p. 69). The typical scientist studies nature by way of analysis, which we might identify with the conscious ego’s attempt to colonize the unconscious. Teilhard praises the method, calling it a “marvelous instrument…to which we owe all our advances,” but points out how in “breaking down synthesis after synthesis… [it leaves] us confronted with a pile of dismantled machinery and evanescent particles” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 258). “Modern man,” says Teilhard, “is obsessed by the need to depersonalize all that he most admires” (ibid.). He does this because of the discovery of the “sidereal world, so vast that it seems to do away with all proportion between our own being and the dimensions of the cosmos around us” (ibid.). But rather than feel oneself an isolated ego, trapped in “a prison from which we must try to escape” (ibid.), Teilhard invites us “to discover the universal hidden beneath the exceptional” (ibid., p. 56). By this he means that human consciousness, rather than a fluke, is actually the leading edge of a billion year process rushing toward its final consummation. This is a view of humanity as “the key of the universe” (Christianity and Evolution, p. 105).

It is here that the connection between the Omega Point and synchronicity becomes apparent, as Teilhard appears to be pointing to some kind of acausal coincidence of the within and the without, the human psyche and the cosmos. But before exploring this connection, we must see that when Teilhard refers to “something greater than ourselves moving forward within us and in our midst” (Activation of Energy, p. 392), he is speaking of what Jung would call the archetype of the Self, guiding us from within toward the full realization of our cosmic personhood. The entire groping process of evolution, from simpler to more complex granulations, is guided by the same archetypal energy, as each granule represents a further achievement of wholeness secured by the Self. Of all the archetypes Jung discusses, the Self seems unique in that it emerges not only from the accumulation of past experiences, but appears also to pull the psyche forward into the future, “all the time urging us to overcome unconsciousness” (Aziz, p. 21). Jung writes that the Self “cannot be distinguished empirically from a God-image” (On Synchronicity, pg. 531), which, for Teilhard, is experienced as the image of Christ, the “principle of universal vitality… [directing and superanimating] the general ascent of consciousness” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 294).

We may return now to the question of the connection between Teilhard’s Omega Point and Jung’s principle of synchronicity.

Teilhard asks:

“..what happens when chance directs [our] steps to a point of vantage (a cross-roads, or intersecting valleys) from which, not only in [our] vision, but things themselves radiate?” (ibid., p. 32).

Teilhard is here trying to show us the significance of the current moment of evolution, as human beings begin to become conscious of evolution’s trajectory. This process of waking up—of coming to see—represents the moment when the within and the without cross paths to produce a point of infinite radiance. Once we have come to see the “inner face of the world” by feeling the “presence of the Absolute (the Self),” the synchronistic Omega Point is upon us.

“In that event the subjective viewpoint coincides with the way things are distributed objectively, and perception reaches its apogee. The landscape lights up and yields its secrets. [We] see.” (ibid.).

Jung himself could not have defined synchronicity better himself. But trying to describe what the Omega Point might actually look and feel like is difficult. Luckily, Jung provides us with a wonderful picture of this sense:

“At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ch.8).

This Omega Point represents, for Teilhard, “the momentary summit of an anthropogenesis which is itself the crown of a cosmogenesis” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 34). As we have seen throughout, the human being, rather than an anomaly, represents the pinnacle and purpose of evolution itself. This realization is a radical shift away from the “science of man as marginal to the universe” (The Vision of the Past, p. 162), where “the scientist himself stands apart from the objects of science” (Human Energy, p. 20). Instead, the scientific gropings of humanity are seen to link up directly as part of a single evolutionary continuum with the gropings of life itself. “Thus man is not seen as alien to the universe; he is seen as integral to it” (King, p. 48).

Teilhard believes that science and religion are “two conjugated faces or phases of one and the same complete act of knowledge—the only one which can embrace the past and the future of evolution so as to contemplate, measure and fulfill them” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 285). Teilhard’s mysticism is scientific, and his science is mystical. Only with such a union of reason and heart is a full appreciation of our cosmos possible, as “the same life animates both” (ibid., p. 284).

“In short,” says Teilhard:

“as soon as science outgrows the analytic investigations which constitute its lower and preliminary stages, and passes on to synthesis—synthesis which naturally culminates in the realization of some superior state of humanity—it is at once led to foresee and place its stakes on the future and on the all” (ibid.).

Works Cited

• Aziz, Robert. C.G. Jung’s Psychology of Religion and Synchronicity. New York: State University of New York Press. 1990.
• Gilson, Etienne. Transl. by John Lyon. From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species, and Evolution. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. 1984.
• Jung, C. G.
o Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Vintage. 1989.
o The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man. C.W. Vol. 10.
o On Synchronicity. C.W. Vol. 8.
• King, Thomas. Teilhard’s Mysticism of Knowing. New York: The Seabury Press. 1981.
• Lamarck, J.B. Transl. by Hugh Elliot. Zoological Philosophy. New York: Bill Huth Publishing. 2006.
• Teilhard de Chardin.
o Activation of Energy. London: Collins.1978.
o Christianity and Evolution. New York: Harvest. 1974.
o Human Energy. London: Collins. 1969.
o The [Human] Phenomenon. New York: Harper Perennial. 1975.
o Let Me Explain. New York: Harper and Row. 1966
o Letters from a Traveler. New York: Harper. 1962.
o Man’s Place in Nature. New York: Harper and Row. 1956.
o Toward the Future. New York: Harcourt. 1975.
o The Vision of the Past. New York: Harper and Row. 1966.
o Writings in Time of War. London: Collins. 1968.
• Whitehead, Alfred North. Adventures of Ideas. New York: The Free Press. 1967.

The following is an exchange I had on YouTube with cosmanthony21 about the nature of “awareness.”

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cosmanthony21’s original message:

Ok, lemme give it a shot. This is an interesting topic for discussion, so if you’ll humor me, Id like to write some thoughts coming to mind on the topic of awareness you had brought up.
Awareness as a recepticle of information-the capacity for containment of sensate data. Embodiment. Throwing around words I think are descriptive enough…Awareness is sensation. Awareness is pain, heat, sunlight, and color. It is heavy and light. Its not these typed words, but what they are pointing to.
If awareness were a container of sensations, it must be a physical, material thing like a cup would be filled with liquid. Are there boundaries to awareness? Just as far as my eyes can see and the lowest tonal threshold my ears can hear. It is the quality and quantity of what an organism can process. It can be measured. Awareness is dull, it is sharp.
I am aware of the pressure the pen between my finger creates. It is the pressure of impression on these living, tactile appendages. Is there a physical location in the brain that is responsible for awareness, thats what you are trying to figure out I think.
You may say awareness is a process, an emergent property of physiological alchemy. Is it located Everywhere? Not bound and confined to the span of my arms and legs, or even a portion or organ of the brain…It still seems that if this were true, awareness being everywhere, I would have no distinct way of experiencing that a part from this condensed packet of information and systems that is me.
Anything within the boundary of my physical body that is alive is subject to awareness, save hair and such. Maybe not so much my toenails or kidneys, but my fingers have sensitive nerve ending so them, yeah. What if awareness was only a product of a nervous system, a system with the capacity to be impacted by pressure, heat, wetness and relay that impression to the brain which does its damnest to recreate and mimick what the actual “external” stimuli is. Perhaps our experience of reality is second hand and lesser than that which is the responsible stimulative.
Its like a painting of a landscape. Although we cant compare the two entirely, we can say that if the artist intended to paint the mountainscape Realistically, the mountainscape he is seeing will always remain superior on this basis because it is the primary, direct source, yet that requires a belief in an objective world. That out there coming in here, in the painters eyes I mean. So the best the painter can do is the best his nervous sytem can recieve, process and recreate the mountainscape reflecting light intowards his eyes.
OK, so what if Whats being seen is no more than a mock up of what is impressing the rods and cones of the retina. The image of the mountainscape has to go through a few medium conduits until he sees the mountainscape. Is what we call seeing just the awareness of this process? Oh wow, thats an interesting thought! Ok, let me finish up my jumble of thoughts. So, what is awareness? My best guess is that awareness is aliveness, sensation, and feeling. Slightly recursive to say feeling feelings, sensing sensation…thinking thought. Awareness is just this? Anyway, I presume this isnt the kind of stuff you Usually respond to as its rough and tumble, but theres some good thoughts in here and make of it what you will.

Taylor

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my (0thouartthat0’s) response:

Hey Taylor,

Great thoughts, let me see what I can unpack here…

The relationship between awareness and information is a good place to start. In standard, mechanistic biology, they talk about the genome containing information. But they do not mean the kind of information that requires “awareness” to be processed. What they mean is mechanical information. Like the digital sequences of computer code, it is all based on the formal structure (syntax) of the symbols (in this case, sequences of nucleic acid bases) and requires no “interpretation” or semantic awareness of their meaning. All that is required is the transfer of energy from one entity (DNA) to another (mRNA, followed by interaction with ribosomes to produce proteins). It can all be described mechanically, one inert molecule interacting with another based solely on their electromagnetic properties, etc. So in this reductionistic sense, “information” really has no meaning. In other words, the syntax can perform a task (transcription and translation of DNA into proteins) without the need for semantic interpretations of each symbol. Now, this all rests on the standard neo-Darwinist understanding of evolution, which has it that “performing a task” (ie, the apparent teleology of biological systems) is accomplished purely by chance as the result of billions of years of random mutation and environmental selection. The corollary of this approach in the cognitive sciences is representationalism, where what we think of as “consciousness” is explained as just the result of the mechanical interaction between syntactical structures in the brain. “Information” comes in from the objective structure of the world through the senses and is processed in much the same way that my computer translates each of my key strokes into a pixelated letter on the screen. Further syntactical processing, based on evolutionarily instincts embedded in brain structure and experiential changes reflected by synaptic connections, then leads to an appropriate motor response. While this may pass as an explanation for animal/human behavior, it isn’t an explanation of consciousness. It makes our subjective awareness completely superfluous at best (if it doesn’t deny that it exists all together!). Now obviously, we all know we are conscious. We feel pain, we see color, we experience emotion and insight, etc. So it can’t be that consciousness simply doesn’t exist (claiming that it doesn’t is absurd, so far as I can tell, though many neuroscientists/cognitive scientists still claim this for theoretical purposes). So we are left with the idea that consciousness is superfluous, like “the whistle on a train,” as T.H. Huxley put it. It serves no mechanical purpose (ie, has no effect on sensation or behavior, which means free will is a complete illusion). Now to my mind this creates a HUGE explanatory problem for the mechanists/reductionists, because how and why would consciousness have evolved if it served no adaptive function (and so could not be selected for like other beneficial traits)? If consciousness has no role to play in the way information is processed in the brain syntactically, then it should not exist at all and we should all be zombies. Of course, we aren’t! So…?

Well, this is why I think panexperientialism (consciousness goes all the way down) might solve a lot of these conceptual difficulties. It requires a complete shift out of the mechanistic paradigm and into an organic paradigm, where semantics (awareness of meaning) is primary and syntax is a later evolutionary advance which human beings have devised (but which also may have already been devised by our cells in the form of DNA, which acts as a kind of digital memory storage adding to the analog capacities of non-genetic cellular dynamics). The molecular biologists who say the DNA contains “information,” even though they see translation and transcription as entirely mechanical processes, have been heavily criticized by semioticians, who point out that the notion of information necessarily implies awareness (meaningful interpretation) of that information. So it appears that even mechanistic/reductionistic science has been unconsciously assuming some form of consciousness exists at the molecular level, because otherwise they never would have been able to conceive of a reliable theory for how the process works. The paradigm shift is a bit easier, then, because all it involves is that science become aware of what has already been implicit in its “Central Dogma” about how organisms use DNA.

So again, the existence of “information” requires more than just syntax. It requires a semantic meaning to an interpreter. So the neo-Darwinists who see DNA translation/transcription as entirely mechanical cannot have it both ways: either molecules are sentient in some fashion, and so can “understand” information exchange, or the notion of “information” in the genome must be scrapped (and as a result, most of what we know about genetics would have to go as well). I think the former option makes more sense : ), but of course it requires a complete reconceptualization of the relation between mind and matter, which makes a lot of materialist scientists uncomfortable for some reason.

The reason your awareness seems restricted to your own body (you can’t feel my pain, at least not directly) has to do with the difference between pantheism and panentheism. For the time being, lets just assume “theism” is equivalent to “sentience.” Pantheists see the whole world as the mind of God, and so we are at somewhat of a loss to explain why it is that I (as God) feel only my body and not yours. If all is equally God, why am I seemingly restricted to awareness of my own body? Pantheism seems to ignore the reality of how material bodies organize and distinguish themselves from others (not separate, just distinguish). Panentheism seems to correct for this oversight, as each material body then becomes the focusing point for God’s mind, such that God is One Mind/Body only transcendentally, while immanently, God is Many Minds/Bodies. God is made far more vulnerable in the panentheist model, as he is fully embodied in each and every one of us (not only humans, but animals, plants, cells, molecules, atoms, electrons, photons, etc). This is not to say that God is truly separated into many pieces, but only that God has devised a way to differentiate aspects of One into Many (by way of involution). The Many are of course compelled to reunite (by way of evolution). If the universe is infinite (circumference is nowhere), then each sentient being is at the center (center is everywhere). The awareness of each organism (whether you or I, or single cells, or atoms, etc) is God’s way of incarnating and experiencing Its own creation. This is certainly a paradigm shift, as no sober-minded materialist scientist is going to accept it easily considering all this mention of God. But I don’t think the concept of “God” can ever be gotten rid of. There simply is no other way to understand consciousness but to admit the existence of such an ultimate principle. It is not that we have to “believe” in God once again. That entirely misses the point. You cannot believe in that which allows you to believe to begin with. We must realize God experientially, not merely believe in the idea of It. Taking the strictly materialistic approach to explaining the universe is a dead end. It makes our own conscious experience obsolete and all but non-existent, just a persistent illusion which for whatever reason colors the otherwise mechanical behavior of our bodies.

Anyways, hope this isn’t too long for ya! Thanks for the message.

Peace,
Matt

I am a little more than half way through Daniel Dennett’s book about how evolutionary biology provides you with the only meaning your life needs (or at least the only meaning it can have, regardless of what you may think otherwise). Thoughts are, after all (after Dennett waves his material wand), just the side effects of your history, which can be reduced without greed to the result of adaptation due to natural selection. That is, the molecular development of the stuff of which you are made has arisen in such a way that absolutely no intentional autonomy on the part of any one was ever required. There are no “thoughts,” no “I’d like it to be sos.” Unless by thought you mean the purely mechanical reaction of one atom colliding with another.

There are only atoms. Or in the case of your body, only macros (Dennett’s word for the molecular algorithms responsible for building you). Macros are what atoms become in spacetime. But that’s the rub.

“Spacetime.”

What could we mean by the “environment” when we say it selects the fittest organisms? What could we mean by the “space and time” in which atoms collide? What is an atom but an act of mental significance upon the stage of life?

Hold on now, I’m going to take off from a discussion of atoms (the figure) and soar up into a discussion about spacetime (the ground). The motion and distance of the empirical world are ephemeral manifestations reflecting off the invisible intensity of time, the spiritual world.

Aristotle saw the world as made up of things. Darwin discovered that it was made of doings. Dennett wants to shift our attention from nouns to verbs. He wants to say that the mind is an emergent property of the brain, the process instead of the product. We are our history.

I want to say that this is not enough. We must go not only from nouns to verbs, but from grammar to nature, to our actual embodiment.

We are process and product, as well as producer, all rolled into one. That is, we are body, mind, and spirit.

Reality is not composed of words, whether they are nouns or verbs. Reality is without space and without time. Words are the world of consciousness, communication, and fabrication. Words are for the actors on the stage, the separate interactions of particles in space. The functions of their waves can be computed and arranged. But in reality, the whole production is but a show. When it’s over, the curtain is drawn as the darkness envelopes the participants. They become as one, as though uncreated. With no conflict, there’s no story to tell.

History does not eliminate essence. It merely swallow it, assume it. Order is derived from the mindless interaction between many “seeds” called atoms. But within what fruit do the seeds grow? Dennett hasn’t eliminated mind from his metaphysics, he’s just turned it into a unit of information (a measure of work done). An algorithm. He wants everything to admit it has a mother except atoms, which are virgin births of transcendental import.