Reinventing the Sacred

Mentioned earlier I was reading Stuart Kauffman, and was impressed by his extending the story of life beyond the ubiquitous focus on DNA and genes. After that it’s been a bit of a roller-coaster, as this biologist covers psychology, philosophy and fundamental physics in his quest of Reinventing the Sacred – a common fault I find. Someone with “my theory” out to prove anyone else’s theory  is wrong by comparing the narrowest definitions of theirs with the broadest of his own. Cultured human nature these days in this world that focusses on disproof by criticism and fault-finding. Winning arguments by defeating the other. So sad.

Anyway, despite that stylistic complaint, the story does take a turn for the better – I’m about 3/4 through. Essentially he admits after a superficial review of everyone else’s theories – (and how more or less possible these seem to him – he’s betting on some quantum decoherence mechanism in brain functioning [!] for example) – that in fact most of these are immaterial to his main thesis, that continuing in the direction of physical reductionism is fundamentally misguided.

Evolution is not causally described, defined or determined by physics, not biological evolution, not conscious-mind evolution, not human intellectual-social-cultural-economic evolution. None of it. End of.

Evolution is essentially co-creative non-predictable natural-emergence process involving both upward (reductionist, Weinbergian) and downward (emergent, god-like) causation. There are no scientific laws where if X then Y will be the outcome in real human life.

(There is of course of good deal of mind-matter duality discussed in the middle-part of the book, and whilst Kauffman does buy free-will and self-conscious aspects as real and emergent in the way described (as I do), whatever the underlying levels of classical or quantum mechanisms involved, he does still seem to baulk at qualia remaining mysterious and undefined – the “how and what is the me doing the experiencing” aspect. Dennett is acknowledged in the foreword, but there are no actual references. Odd that he doesn’t buy the line that “reductionism is OK in moderation, but not too greedy it’s not the whole story” or the other Dennett view that “we are our memes”  …. yet …. reading on.)

(Also, he is very anti-algorithm and anti-game theory too – but in very narrow senses – wonder what he’d make of Hofstadter’s creativity too. Games where despite very small apparently reductionist algorithms, creative behaviour really does emerge. Unpredictable pre-adaptation is Kauffman’s main clinching argument, but this is identical to Hofstadter’s “Tabletop.)

BTW – to state the obvious. The “sacred” is that mysterious god-like emergent creative self-organization of complex reality, not explained by scientific laws and causal logic (nor less by an actual personal agency god) but nevertheless real, reasonable and rational in the broad sense. The same “gift/master” ignored by the “servant/emissary”, to use McGilchrist quoting Einstein and Nietzsche.

[Post Note to Self – really must get to grips with how Supervenience differs from Emergence. Post post note : If Wikipedia is to be believed then Supervenience is in fact just the technical term for reductive (Weinbergian) causality – where all properties in a higher level of existence are determined causally by the state of properties in a lower level. Doh! I’m sure others – including Chalmers for example – had more subtle intentions. Anyway – this physical state view of ontology totally ignores any process view – the history of how something emergent at a higher level depends not only on the state of lower levels, but also on the process path it was arrived at. The key point being that that history in any one level can be influenced by higher level events as well as lower level states. Causality is two way – positive-feedback, auto-catalytic, physics-envious, etc …. see Ulanovicz after reading Kauffman …. why do the scientistic miss such common sense ? New post soon. Interestingly – close to finishing Ulanovicz – he says Supervenience has become so overloaded it is very confusing what people actually mean by it – he coins Suprafacience – more later. Also ultimately positive about Dennett’s, cranes upon cranes without Skyhooks, though he prefers his own less mechanical, more organic Vine analogy. History allows you to pull up the ladder, once you’ve made the new level stable and sustaining – looking back, archaeologists would struggle to find evidence of how you got there.]

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