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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Hole in Evolution?

 Strange Evolution: The Tasmanian Tiger (extinct)

The theory of natural selection is undoubtedly one of the greatest theoretical formulations in human history. However my sense as an intuitive is that it is not quite right, or perhaps a better way to put it is that it doesn’t go far enough. Today I present you with a little food for thought. This is purely a philosophical issue, but one that has important implications for evolution and human futures.

The theory of natural selection is inferred by argument from observations, and constructed from three generalisations which are apparently independent. These generalisations are:

·            Members of a species vary in terms of characteristic behaviour and structure from each other.
·            Individual variation is hereditary, to some degree.
·            Organisms multiply at such a rate that they can no longer be supported by the environment and therefore many must die (Howard 2001).

These generalisations are then used as axioms in a formal syllogism, and the conclusion that organisms flourish and reproduce according to how well they fit the environment, is a further generalisation about organisms and their properties (Howard 2001).

In order for a syllogism to hold true, the axioms must be perfectly valid, and there must be no other valid generalisations to upset the logical process of the syllogism (Howard 2001: 25). A syllogism is form of argument that contains a major premise, a minor premise and a conclusion.

In order for the conclusion to be valid, the premises must be correct. For example, consider the following:

All American presidents are white.
Obama is the current American president.
Therefore Obama is white.

This is clearly invalid, as the first premise is incorrect, and Obama is the first black president.

However, another consideration is whether the overriding presuppositions which underpin the entire thinking process are correct, and whether something crucial has not been left out of the argument.

Have you got that? If so, it’s downhill from here!

The key point I wish to make as a mystic, is that mystical/spiritual understandings of nature and agency (causes, natural, divine or otherwise) tend to be based upon a completely different way of knowing than those found in mainstream science. This way of knowing is the Romantic synthesis of subject and object, a kind of ‘relationship’ knowledge, where the knower and the known merge. For example, when a mystic senses the deep connectedness of the cosmos in a higher state of consciousness (as with Edwin Bucke, below), it is as if his own mind and the cosmos are coming together. It is subjective, or first-person knowledge. Science does not permit this knowledge. Period.

Consider this mystical experience by psychiatrist Edwin Bucke over a century ago. This is taken from his book Cosmic Consciousness.
Directly afterwards came upon him a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness, accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination quite impossible to describe. Into his brain streamed one momentary lightning-flash of the Brahmic Splendor which has ever since lightened his life; upon his heart fell one drop of Brahmic Bliss, leaving thenceforward for always an after taste of heaven. Among other things...he saw and knew that the Cosmos is not dead matter but a living Presence, that the soul of man is immortal, that the universe is so built and ordered that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all… He claims that he learned more within the few seconds… than in previous months or even years of study, and that he learned much that no study could ever have taught.

If mystical insight such as Bucke’s delivers ‘data’ which standard scientific experimentation and observation cannot, it potentially invalidates the syllogism which underpins the theory of natural selection. This is because it may add data or “generalisations” which disrupt the premises, and render its conclusions invalid.

The crucial presupposition within the theory of natural selection is that of the mechanistic paradigm (seeing the universe as a great machine). This paradigm still dominates mainstream science, and acts as an implicit and invisible generalisation which underpins the syllogism of natural selection. The assumption is that ‘nature’ is part of a mechanical universe. However, if that generalisation is invalid, all subsequent steps within the syllogism are potentially limited or incorrect. Most notably the idea that  individual variation is hereditary, the second premise. If there is an intelligence which lies just beyond perception of the rational mind, it may be that this intelligence can intervene, to greater or lesser degree, in evolution. It may also 'interfere' in the individual lives of specific people, something which potentially shifts cultural evolution. The existence of personal spiritual guidance, something universal to almost every culture on the planet, suggest that this guiding intelligence has a kind of 'volition' or direction.  Many mystics have noted that when an individual reaches a certain point in consciousness development, their personal will diminishes, and a divine light begins to guide them. That elevation in consciousness is not merely an individual 'interference', but affects the consciousness of all humanity to some degree, because all minds are connected.

Finally, we can note the phenomenon of synchronicity, which appears to be a collective or  universal intelligence in action.  Synchronicity is, by definition, deeply meaningful, suggesting that there is purpose built into the workings of the cosmos.

The entanglement of minds is a 'vital' missing mediator in the mainstream dominant model of  the evolution of humanity. Just how much such entanglement affects the evolution of species in nature is open to speculation.

The issue of levels of consciousness is key. If transpersonalists such as Edwin Bucke, Stan Grof, David R. Hawkins and Ken Wilber, are correct in finding that rationality is incapable of perceiving deeper spiritual knowledge (including the spiritual forces of the cosmos), then the total 'data' of observations which underpins the mechanistic paradigm is delimited. The development of Integrated Intelligence delivers more ‘data’ which undermines the mechanistic paradigm, and in turn the syllogism of natural selection. 

Of course even if the perception of mystics that there is a guiding intelligence behind the working of the cosmos is true, it doesn't necessarily invalidate the law of natural selection completely.  There are a number of logical possibilities, including that this intelligence makes no intervention in proceedings once the evolutionary ball has started rolling. Nor does the existence of such an intelligence validate any specific religious philosophy, or representation of "God".

Finally, as long standing former editor of Nature, Maddox argued in his book, What remains to be Known, science is far from being at an end. He finds that “there will be many unknowns brought to attention in the years to come”, and that “The 500 years of modern science are a good beginning, but only a beginning” (Maddox 1999 p 331). He states:
The truth is that the sheer success of science in the past half-millennium has engendered a corrosive impatience. We too easily forget how recent are the empirical and theoretical foundations of present understanding. Prudence, or merely good manners would dictate a seemly recognition that they may also be incomplete (Maddox 1999 p. 375).
There is much to learn.

1.                   J. Howard, (2001). Darwin: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2.                  Marcus T. Anthony (2008). Integrated Intelligence. Copenhagen: Sense Publishers.

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