Friday, June 23, 2006

Wilber and evolution

I thought I'd repost a few posts I did recently on the Lightmind Wilber Forum regaridng Wilber's views on evolution:

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Wilber says he did grad work in the field, but wouldn't that have been back in the '70's? True, back then neo-Darwinism had lots of holes in it. Since then, a lot of the holes have been filled, and more are getting filled all the time with research on the genetic and micromolecular side of things. I don't think it's true anymore that privately evolutionary biologists have any great problems with neo-D or with natural selection. The way proteins evolve and operate in the organism is being uncovered, and these processes put the creationists, integral or Christian, to shame.

My own view used to be somewhat similar to Wilber's and Da's. But as these advances have shown, it's actually entirely possible to see natural selection working with the chemistry available on earth to evolve all the creatures from black dirt to human beings. There really is no need for intelligent design in the process. Which means that if we still want to see a consciousness principle at work, I think we have to take a step back, and realize that if the phsycial universe arises from consciousness, doesn't it make sense that it would necessarily arise with all the capacities, in and of itself, to produce conscious creatures like us, without some kind of "outside" help? Wilber is still holding out for some kind of conscious "life principle" that is apart from matter which produces consicous beings and guides the forms as they evolve. But why wouldthat have to be? Isn't matter, by its very nature, conscious? And if it is conscious, isn't it possible for it to evolve into conscious forms all by itself? Why would it need someone or something "else"?

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I think you're right about Wilber's intentions. The problem is that he looks for "holes" in the science in order to introduce a metaphysical solution. He doesn't think that science can actually come up with sufficient scientific answers to explain physical processes, and so science must be integrated with metaphysics, and concepts such as eros. Here's where I think Wilber goes wrong. His concept of integration is falsely applied at the wrong level. He's trying to introduce metaphysics at the level of the evidentiary argument, which it has no place in. The evidentiary argument leads to theories of evidence, not metaphysical theories. Eros is not an evidentiary argument. He woud be fine arguing that the metaphysical conclusions of many scientists are wrong, and that they shouldn't interpret the scientific evidence as meaning that the universe is a dead end of mere matter without consciousness playing a role. But he shoulodn't try to argue that by suggesting that holes in the evidentiary arguments mean that his metaphysical argument carries more weight. It doesn't at all. Holes in Darwinian theory can only be filled by evidentiary arguments and theories, not by metaphysical theories. What holes exist in Darwinian theory can either be filled by evidence supporting Darwinian theory, or evidence supporting some other mechanism for evolution, or for mutations, etc. It can't be filled by an "erotic" theory of evolution, unless of course there is a postulated mechanism that can be tested and proven more true than Darwinian theory. As it stands, his "eros" theory is nothing but a hole, it has no proposed mechanism at all, just like ID theory. Both are metaphysical theories, not evidentiary ones, and so they are neither supported nor denied by evidence, except to the degree that they claim the evidence supports or denies them. That can be refuted easily enough, since there is no evidence supporting or denying them.

Who's to say, for example, that the grand "design" of God, Yahweh, or Consciousness, isn't a universe where matter is able, all on its own, to create living forms that evolve without any other guidance but their own "nature", meaning natural laws of physics. If Wilber is so sure that consciousness is the foundation of all life and the universe, why doesn't he give matter itself credit for being conscious, and for being full capable of evolving into intelligent beings as a simple expression of its own nature? Why must he try to look for evidence of holes in Darwinian theory through which he can push through some "erotic" principle. Maybe the true "erotic" principle of the universe is the capability matter has for forming greater and more complexs conscious forms, including biological life? If science hasn't yet fully understood the ways in which matter does this, why presume this means some "other" eroticism must be responsible. Perhaps matter is erotic enough all on tis own, and the capability matter has to evolve is promiscuity enough to create all the life we know, and all that we have yet to know, by all the complexities of natural law, including mutation and natural selection.

Or am I missing something here?

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I don't have a problem with WIlber's metaphysical eros principle. It's similar to shiva-shakti, and other sexual metaphors for the metaphysics of the universe. But I do have a problem with his mixing metaphysics with physics, at least without evidentiary foundations. I think its fine for him to criticize the metaphysical conclusions science comes and suggest a far better metaphysical view. I too think that many scientists get a lttle bonkersw when they think they can draw metaphysical conclusions from their physical theories and evidence. Stephen Hawking's metaphysicas is puerile, I think, even though his physics is sublime. And likewise, I think Wilber runs into real problems when he tries to impose his metaphysical explanations for evolution on the physical sciences, or tries to look for holes in the science through which to drive a metaphysical truck. Holes in science can only be filled with scientific cement. The metaphysical relationship between matter and subtler principles of consciousness has yet to be well understood, but the idea that there is some "intelligence" out there directing evolution is sorely lacking in evidence. THere is every appearance of randomness and chaos being sorted out by physical law and natural selection.

Again, what is so "unconscious" about matter? IF consciousness is the foundation intelligence of the universe, why shouldn't it be fully able to fiunction not only through, but as physical matter? Is not all matter actually consciousness? Is not the mathematics of physical law evidence enough of the "intelligence" of the physical universe? The universe functions by a mathematics far more abstruse than our minds seem able to fully grasp - isn't that the sign of a highly intelligent consciousness? In other words, the erotic theory of a universe in action is neither at war with a universe functioning by physical law, nor does it point to a "higher" principle. Matter is the higher principle already.

In other words, the problems of evolution, the "half-wing" contradicitons that Ken sees, do not need a metaphysical explanation. They need physical mechanisms. I know what Wilber would like to find: some kind of subtle intelligence that draws out "directed" mutations, and favors them for natural selection. This is no different than the primitive, mythic creator God in new age garb, interferring somehow with the physical world to guide the evolution of higher intelligence. Well shit, if that were the case, why would God take 4 billion years to evolve us from the primordial soup? Withthat kind of help, you'd think it could be done a helluva lot faster. Fact is, there is no evidence of such "intelligent guidance" of any kind. There is evidence of a truly random, chaotic wheel of physical laws spinning out forms in a very slow-moving natural process.

Perhaps what WIlber really doesn't like about all this is the same thing that Einstein didn't like: the notion that "God doesn't play dice". Randomness and chaos seems to be an affront to all things spiritual. But that doesn't mean that randomness and chaos aren't the way the universe works, or even that randomness and chaos aren't a form of spiritual intelligence. Coming to grips with the sheer randomness of the contents of consciousness is, I think, one of the great steps that has to be taken to deal with reality, and to transcend the illusions of hw othe ego would like the universe to be. My sense is that the great realizers were those who observed and accepted the universe as a random process, and didn't react to that, but transcended it instead. An orderly universe suggests that we could make sense of it, rather than transcend it, whereas a chaotic universe can't really be manipulated to our benefit, not eternally at least, and not even for very lopng before chance just wears you down and breaks you.

So in some ways WIlber's whole systematizing project is an attempt to bring order out of chaos, but ultimately it's just a futile enterprise. Vanity of vanities. Transcending chaos doesn't mean bringing order to it.

1 comment:

godrealized said...

I welcome you to my post on Spiritual Consciousness-

Talking of the Spiritual realm... Spirituality is a gift of God and can be pursued only by those who have been blessed by God for proceeding on the path of spirituality. Merely desiring never helps... neither in the physical world nor in the Spiritual world can one gain anything simply by wishing! One needs to work for it.