Darwin was Not a Darwinian
New commenter Flash Gordon left a provocative challenge yesterday, claiming that Dear Leader is "interested in the origin of life and intelligence. Darwin was interested in those things also. He made a valuable contribution to our understanding of those things."
The first two points are entirely true, while the third is a bit more ambiguous, since I am more interested in the origin of life and of specifically human intelligence, while Darwin's contribution was to the origin of species and of animal intelligence (which humans also naturally possess but infinitely transcend).
Starting with the former, natural selection can have no bearing on the origin of life, since natural selection by definition requires living organisms to select.
While I am aware of the fact that some theorists are attempting to save the appearances of materialism by applying principles of natural selection to the non-organic world, as I explained in The New Testavus For the Rest of Us, what both they and orthodox biologists fail to appreciate is that any type of natural selection presupposes a metaphysical principle that must be anterior to both organisms and the cosmos itself: wholeness. Neither life nor natural selection could exist in a cosmos that did not have a principle of wholeness woven into its very fabric. In fact, to say "cosmos" is to say "wholeness," since a cosmos is by definition a unified and ordered totality -- just like an organism (which is its more or less distant reflection: as above, so below).
In an organism, no matter where or how deeply we look, we find fractal wholeness at every level. You could even say that the essence of pathology is an absence of integrated wholeness -- some part of the whole has broken away and is "doing its own thing," you know, like my wayward pancreas.
The same is true of the first hyperdimensional organ, the human mind, which in health is a dynamically integrated whole -- a rolling catastrophe (as in catastrophe theory; then again, not necessarily) in the phase space of subjectivity, as it were.
The essence of mental illness is the existence of semi-autonomous autopoietic subpersonalities (i.e., mind parasites) with agendas all their own, and which don't really give a hoot what you think or want. These spectral entities haunt the mindscape and look to infect others or to draw them into their little psychodramas in a way that is self-defeating to the host.
Mr. Gordon left a quote in which Darwin expresses the sentiment that (referring to his scientisic vision of metaphysical Darwinism), There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed 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 wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
Gordon concludes by asking, "How can you say intelligence is strictly forbidden in [the] 'Darwinian view?' Your equation E = RE+EF is ridiculous" (Evolution = Random Error + Environmental Feedback).
Let's break this down for my omies. First, "There is grandeur in this view of life." Is that true? Is there? If so, one wonders how it got there. Why, on strictly Darwinian grounds, would any mental view of anything be a sponsor of "grandeur." It's impossible to know exactly what Darwin meant by the use of this term, which has no non-poetic or exact meaning. Rather, it is entirely subjective, since it connotes things such as "magnificence," "glory," lofty," "sublime," and "wonderful."
Now, I personally have no difficulty with any of these categories of human experience, as I believe they disclose objective realities. But I wonder what evolutionary purpose they serve? Let us suppose that I am one of our ancient furbears, and that a random genetic mutation has given me the heretofore unknown ability to be in a state of aesthetic arrest as I contemplate, I don't know, a grand sunset or a magnificent mountain. Remember, there is nothing intrinsically grand or magnificent until a human subject makes it so, just as there is no such thing as a ball or strike until an umpire makes the call. So I'm staring with astonagement at the sunset and a lion pounces on me, or a rival Neanderthal conks me on the head and places me on the menu. The gene for grandeur dies on the vine.
Let's not kid ourselves. We really only have two choices. Either this cosmos is in fact grand -- not to mention, beautiful, awesome, sacred and numinous -- or our genes, for reasons we cannot know, randomly mutated in such a way that we imagine that such entirely chimerical things as grandeur and beauty exist. But in reality, we are simply prisoners of our genes, and by extension, our nervous systems. I don't see how one can say that it is a "grand" view of the cosmos if the grandeur is simply an illusory side effect of our nervous system. Thus, there is an obvious contradiction at the heart of Darwin's sentimental assessment of his own theory.
Next: Endless forms most beautiful and wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
Here again, I have no difficulty agreeing with this statement, but one naturally wonders what Darwin meant by "beautiful" and "wonderful." Obviously, on any strict Darwinian view, "beauty" cannot objectively exist. Rather, there can be only the illusion of beauty that is put there for some reason related to reproductive fitness. To us, a peacock or a butterfly is "beautiful," but in reality their markings are just there to attract the opposite sex of their particular species. It's actually none of our business.
Which is true of nature in general. Animals are only interested in other animals to the extent that they can 1) eat them, 2) can have sex with them, 3) need to run away from them or 4) can form some kind of symbiotic or parasitic relationship that advances survival prospects, like the alliance of rock stars and supermodels. No antelope, in the midst of running for its life, thinks to itself, "I give that lion credit. It sure is a magnificent beast." No goat or rabbit says, "pity I have to eat this beautiful flower. It would look so nice on top of the telly." No fly, while struggling for its life, says "hmm. Check out the fabulous geometric design of this web. Such stark neo-industrial beauty!" (unless he watches "Queer Eye For the Straight Fly").
Now, I can well understand on Darwinian grounds why the sons of heaven would have the illusion that the daughters of men are so beautiful. Which they are. But I do not see what this has to do with seeing other species as beautiful. What's the point? What is the added value to our reproductive fitness? There are things that are beautiful to the eye, just as there are things that are beautiful to the ear: beautiful paintings, beautiful poems, beautiful symphonies and cathedrals, beautiful equations, beautiful theories, beautiful theologies, beautiful afternoons, beautiful moments in life. There is beauty hidden in every fold and cranny of existence. Did humans somehow "awaken" to a cosmos that just so happens to be permeated with beauty? If so, how did all the beauty get in there? Isn't a beautiful object the reflection of a beautiful subject? Who was the Subject of all this Cosmic Beauty before human subjects were here?
Perhaps, like wholeness, it cannot not be here. For what is wholeness? In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce's alter ego, Stephen Dedalus, discusses the criteria for great art. He says that it is the task of the true artist to record "epiphanies," that is, sudden spiritual manifestations, or ingressions. Following Aquinas, he says that the three things necessary to beauty are wholeness, harmony, and radiance, or claritas. It is this third category that has to do with epiphanies, when the soul of the thing, its essential whatness, leaps through its outer appearance and reveals its true nature. This supreme quality of beauty transfers light from another world, provoking a spiritual state in which we apprehend the luminous reality behind appearances and see things in their metaphysical transparency.
Now Bob, "How can you say intelligence is strictly forbidden in 'Darwinian view?' Your equation E = RE+EF is ridiculous."
First of all, this is not my equation. Rather, it is the equation that forms the basis of Darwinism, which is that all change in the phenotype is a result of random genetic mutations that either enhance or diminish our reproductive fitness. To the extent that a species is "intelligent," the intelligence is always in the service of something that both guides and limits it, which is reproductive fitness. In other words, either intelligence, like beauty and virtue, transcends and therefore cannot be reduced to genetics; or, it is an ultimately meaningless side effect of our genetic "strategy." (In fact, we shouldn't even say "our" genes, since this reverses the relation of ownership. According the strict Darwinians, it is our body, or phenotype, that ultimately "belongs" to the "selfish genes.")
But what is human intelligence, really? As mentioned above, if there is aesthetic discernment, then surely there is beauty. Likewise, if man is intelligent in any meaningful sense of the term, then surely there is reality to be apprehended and there is truth to be known. For if intelligence does not know reality or disclose truth, then it hardly deserves the name. In other words, if it is just a more elaborate way to know falsehood and delusion in order to get chicks, then truly, there is nothing further to debate, because truth cannot even be conceived, much less known.
Is it possible that strict reductionistic Darwinism could be "true" without contradicting its own principles? I do not see how. As Schuon has written, human intelligence "is the perception of the real and not the 'intellectualization' of the unreal." The discernment of intelligence allows us to pass "from appearances to reality, from forms to essence, and from effects to cause." No animal can know of the reality behind appearances or intuit the essence beneath the form. This is what I mean when I say that the gap between human and animal intelligence is literally infinite, because the gap between truth and its alternatives is infinite.
Why is human intelligence so perfectly adapted to invisible realties that played no role in the selection of our genes? Why is there nothing in the world commensurate with the nature of human intelligence, which easily transcends everything into which it comes into contact, including our own evolution? If we comprehend our own evolution, isn't this another way of saying that we transcend it? And if we don't comprehend it, isn't Darwinism, ipso facto, false?
Schuon writes of the truism that "It is only too evident that mental effort does not automatically give rise to the perception of the real; the most capable mind may be the vehicle of the grossest error." How can this be? First, it results from an intelligence "that is exclusively 'horizontal,' hence lacking all awareness of 'vertical' relationships." Secondly, it results from "an extra-intellectual element, such as sentimentality or passion; the exclusivism of 'horizontality' creates a void that the irrational necessarily comes to fill." In short, as all psychoanalysts and true theologians know, reason is more often than not a slave of the passions.
Man is intelligence, just as he is beauty. For this reason, no normal person sets out to love ugliness or know error. Just as good character involves distinguishing between good and evil and willing the former, the virtue of intelligence is its intrinsic love of truth. Was Darwin a truth lover? I would say there is no question that he was. His passion for Truth is obvious at every turn (albeit in an intrinsically limited way). Therefore, he cannot have been a Darwinian, for Truth renders metaphysical Darwinism extinct.
Man is intelligence, and intelligence is the transcending of forms and the realization of the invisible Essence; to say human intelligence is to say absoluteness and transcendence. --F. Schuon