Friday, August 20, 2010

Cosmic Evolution and the Third Bang

Again, the emergence of man was either the ultimate Black Swan -- meaning the most inconceivable thing one can possible conceive -- or there is something else going on here besides natural selection. At the very dawn of the cultural explosion, "there was no hint of what was to come, no clue" that this unimpressive specimen was anything more than a "precariously successful predatory ape" (Ridley). For how could there be a clue, with no one capable of getting one?

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....

13 Comments:

Blogger Van said...

"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."

Wondered about that too... sometimes it's nice not to be a lone loon (but of course the company... might see it differently).

"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.""

I wonder... before exchange comes something to exchange. And that there would be value (there's an abstract big bang all it's own) in making an exchange, rather than just the old standby of 'see, kill, take - have a nice day'.

But that first item that was exchanged... random arbitrary thought here, but I wonder if it was either a Stone axe that was similar but different from the others... or maybe... just maybe... while knapping on a flawed stone, it chipped in such a way that Mr. Geico couldn't help but notice that it looked similar to Mrs. Geico, gave up on the axe and fell into clarifying that similarity. A whole lot of first's might have come out of such an 'ah-hah!' moment.

8/20/2010 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, it's quite profound once you begin to think about how it's even possible...

8/20/2010 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I think the story of Helen Keller is a good allegory -- that cosmic "ah ha!!!!" that occurs when she unifies all the unrelated experiences of wetness under the term "water."

8/20/2010 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I think you're right about the greater analogy of the OT. Fratricide is a repeated theme or motif through the Judeo-Christian revelation.

8/20/2010 09:31:00 AM  
Blogger Tigtog said...

To Gagdad re:

"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."

For nomadic cattle/sheep cultures the discovery that there was a small step from herding cattle/sheep to herding peasants was the beginning of civilization. I am sure they found herding peasants easier since they don't move around as much. It should be noted that some people were impossible to herd because they themselves had not accepted a geographic boundary/anchor and were nomads themselves (see American Indians). Nomads make poor slaves. I think neanderthals probably fell into this category.

8/20/2010 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I was going to suggest something like that. Probably couldn't be domesticated.

Ridley points out that petroleum was truly the great liberator, as it meant that power could be derived from non-human resources. The average person uses the equivalent of hundreds of slaves per day, in the form of solar power stored in long dead organisms.

8/20/2010 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger Verdiales said...

I think Walker Percy also ruminates on all this in his _Lost in the Cosmos_.

He makes a big deal of the burst into what he calls "triadic" consciousness. A quantum leap... coincident with a bigger cortex?

8/20/2010 01:37:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

"in the form of solar power stored in long dead organisms"

That's the American and European view. The Russkies have equal if not more compelling scientific support for abiogenic petroleum. If they are right and petrol isn't "non-renewable" after all, well ManBearPig will prolly 'splode.

8/20/2010 03:53:00 PM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Speaking of former commie states which are at least not as delusional as Western practitioners of leftist scientism, someone just translated an official Chinese government position paper which in essence says that round-eyes is loco for believing such obvious bullshit as "global warming".

8/20/2010 03:57:00 PM  
Blogger black hole said...

Bob, you find it amazing that human culture emerged. However, an explanation would be that God tweaked things around to make it happen.

Our working assumption here is that God is in control and can arrange things to His liking.

So, regarding Neanderthalensis and other considerations, we can just say they were collateral damage in the master plan.

No guilt or head trips needed. They had to go. End of story.

Let's face it. The Captain does whatever He wants. Its not amazing. Its just what is .

8/20/2010 11:42:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

The day has not yet come when I take the word of a Russian scientist over a good set of dice. Sanity takes time. (And that's a direct observation, not a quote from the voices in my head...)

8/21/2010 06:16:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Magnus said:

"Sanity takes time"

Indeed. Apparently though insanity takes a lot less time. The Western scientific establishment has been compromised more thoroughly by the Left in 30 years than in the past 300.

As for "Chinese government propaganda", I wholeheartedly agree that they are and have been in almost all respects dedicated to the Lie for the better part of a century. Which is all the more reason to deplore the fact that our own elites -- including many who claim scientific credibility -- are following their lead by promoting the dubious pseudo-science known variously as climate change, global warming, or whatever is convenient this month.

The take-away from the Chinese paper (a leaked internal paper, not propaganda per se) is that as master propagandists, they know it when they see it.

8/21/2010 06:38:00 AM  
Blogger Hoosiernorm said...

http://www.ted.com/talks/matt_ridley_when_ideas_have_sex.html

From Ted TV

PS I enjoyed your book

8/22/2010 08:57:00 AM  

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