Cosmic Evolution and the Third Bang
Sometimes I re-imagine the old covenant as an allegory for a more universal story -- in other words, not just about the people of Israel, but about man as such. Thus, what if God happened to choose this particular "precariously successful predatory ape" for his people? He certainly didn't choose Neanderthals, or Home erectus, or a number of other big-brained hominids.
And where was that garden, and what was the Law that was violated? Reader Mikal provided a hint with his comment yesterday about the new rules that applied to the human dimension, over and above the biological. Man is in biology but striving for the human (or divine-human synthesis, to be precise). The Ten Commandments codify certain vertical and horizontal rules that make this journey possible.
As we have discussed in the past, the first five are vertical, and have to do with our relationship to the Absolute. But the second five are horizontal, and have to do with our relationship to our fellow man, i.e., murdering, lying, stealing, envying, and cheating. These are the minimal rules necessary to maintain a functioning collective, and without the collective, man is nothing.
Note that this is Ridley's central point: that somehow, man was lifted out of his solitary existence to a communal one, and not just physically. After all, ants and communists live in physical communion, and what has it done for them? Rather, what was required was emotional, spiritual, and intellectual communion, or the exchange of ideas, emotions, and other mental states, modes, and dimensions.
Being an exiled-from-the-garden variety intellectual, Ridley focuses on the intellectual and economic, but there are deeper currents that unite human beings, and without which there would be no "medium" for the transfer of ideas. He touches on one of the critical ones -- trust, and especially its gradual widening -- but isn't able to say much about it with the crude tools available to the materialist.
Back to the Bible for a moment. I've always had the suspicion that the story of Cain and Abel is actually a collective memory about the genocide of our nearest genetic neighbor, Neanderthal man. They were a separate line of Homo sapiens, with language, tools, and a larger brain than ours. But the last of them died out some 25,000 years ago. Given that we had a lot of contact with them, and given how human beings treat the Other, it wouldn't surprise me if we wiped them out. The only surprise is that we didn't make them slaves, like a Star Trek episode.
Note that just after we leave Eden, the scene changes to the story of the primordial brothers. Surely it is significant that the first crime recorded in the Bible is murder, calculated, cold-blooded and remorseless. This is one of the reasons why the Bible is so much more unflinchingly accurate and realistic than most other philosophies in describing what man is and what he is capable of. Knowing this, nothing about man's countless future crimes should come as a surprise. But how do we stop this endless man-on-man, brother-on-brother violence?
We'll get to that later. We're getting ahead of ourselves. Back to Ridley and that unimpressive predatory ape that suddenly found itself publishing books about itself.
Again, Ridley fully concedes the problems of a Darwinian explanation, in that genetic change could never keep up with the suddenness and speed of the cultural explosion, let alone explain it. The genes are a lagging indicator, not a leading one. Something else is providing the evolutionary pressure. But whatever it is, "it must be something that gathers pace by feeding upon itself, something that is auto-catalytic."
Now, it just so happens that this is right up my alley, as the second paper I published back in 1994 -- yes, in a real scientific, peer-reviewed journal -- was on this very topic. It was titled Psychoanalysis, Chaos and Complexity: The Evolving Mind as a Dissipative Structure. But the paper was based on a part of my dissertation, which I must have begun writing in the spring of 1986, so that shows you how long these ideas have been percolating and evolving in my melon.
In turn, some of these ideas found their way into chapter 3.2 of my book, The Acquisition of Humanness in a Contemporary Stone Age Baby. That's really the point, because if scientists are correct, then a baby of today is genetically no different (or not significantly different) from a baby of 100,000 years ago, which means that all the stuff that's happened since then can in no way be reduced to genetics and natural selection. I am happy to concede that genes are a necessary, but clearly not a sufficient, condition for our humanness (let alone a final one).
So I don't think I'll rehearse my whole argument here. Most readers are familiar with it anyway.
Well, maybe just a little. That word "auto-catalytic" is particularly important. It has to do with the product of a chemical reaction that is itself the catalyst for another reaction. Open systems -- otherwise known as dissipative structures -- take in energy or information, and then sustain themselves through auto-catalysis. Some people believe that auto-catalysis is the irreducible component of life, e.g., Ilya Prigogine.
Whatever the case may be, it is certainly the irreducible component of mental life, along with openness and disequilibrium. In the paper, I describe how, through psychic auto-catalysis, there is a spiraling ascent into meaning and truth, which in turn accelerate their own synthesis. This is the underlying mechanism that permits what we call "the colonization of the subjective horizon."
Ridley reduces this all down to economic exchange, which for me is placing the cart before the horse. Rather, human beings must again be open systems at their very foundation. Exchange is not something that is only added later, as if it is contrary to our nature. But here is how Ridley describes it:
"Exchange needed to be invented. It does not come naturally to most animals. There is strikingly little use of barter in other animal species." He's talking about something much more profound than mere reciprocity, or, say, giving food for sexual favors. Rather, he's talking about abstract exchange, which eventually leads to the total abstraction of money. This new kind of exchange is "a thing of explosive possibility, a thing that breeds, explodes, grows, auto-catalyzes."
Indeed, as I tried to explain in my book, it is really the third Bang, after existence and life. And obviously, we've gotten a lot of bucks from this bang.
To be continued....