Rupert Sheldrake on Integral Naked - The Inner Life of Atoms and Molecules
March 24, 2008 02:22

Integral Evolutionary Biology. Part 2. The Inner Life of Atoms and Molecules.

The man behind the theory of morphic resonance shares his impulse to explore the evolutionary impulse behind the Kosmos itself. In this discussion, Ken and Rupert Sheldrake discuss some of the extraordinary symmetry that exists between their work, especially in terms of the relationship between consciousness and matter....

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Who: Rupert Sheldrake is a British biologist and author who has developed the theory of morphic resonance, incorporating the insights of early twentieth century morphogenetic fields, and extending the understanding of biological “fields” to entire species—not merely individual groups of embryonic cells—and where evolutionary habits of nature can explain far more than eternal laws of nature.

Summary: There's an old joke about a King who goes to a Wiseperson and asks how it is the Earth doesn't fall down. The Wiseperson replies, "The Earth is resting on a lion." "On what, then, is the lion resting?" "The lion is resting on an elephant." "On what is the...?" "You can stop right there, your majesty. It's turtles all the way down."

Turtles all the way down, turtles all the way up. This crucial insight into the nature of evolution reconciles much of the debate that has existed for centuries between atomists, who consider the fundamental parts of the universe as ultimately real, and the wholists, who see reality as a mere echo of the living whole of the universe. Neither argument is wrong, per se, though neither is quite right either. There is no fundamental part, no "bottom floor" which the entire universe can be reduced to in any meaningful way. Nor is there a single universal whole to which all of reality aspires—there are only whole/parts, or holons, spiraling infinitely in both directions. Whole atoms are part of whole molecules, which are part of whole cells, which are part of whole organisms, et cetera, ad infinitum. Even the totality of this present moment becomes a part of the following moment—turtles begetting turtles forever, stretching from the Big Bang to Eternity.

The turtle metaphor is also useful when looking at some of the more fundamental levels of the universe, the magnitudes disclosed by physics and chemistry. "Biology is the study of large organisms," says Alfred Whitehead, "whereas physics is the study of small organisms." Whitehead wasn't being cute or even poetic here, but was suggesting a dramatic reconsideration of the manifest world—namely, that some form of consciousness, subjectivity, or awareness is intrinsic to the universe, on every level. Put simply, if something has an objective form, it has some degree of subjective awareness—even if in the most limited sense imaginable. It's turtles all the way up and all the way down, and every turtle has both an inside and an outside.

Just as a holonic cosmology of "whole-parts within whole-parts forever" reconciles atomism and wholism, Whitehead's thesis transcends and includes the very best of subjectivist and objectivist arguments. In a single puff of logic, the "consciousness problem" ceases to be—and no longer can materialists reduce our awareness, memories, loves, and dreams to the epiphenomena of purely physical processes, phantom byproducts of the chemical soup sloshing about between our ears. Nor can idealists continue to drift about in a haze of abstract solipsism, viewing the entire universe as a projection of their own innate perfection, deluded by a strange brew of mysticism and narcissism. Reality cannot be reduced to matter alone, just as it cannot be reduced to consciousness alone—both matter and consciousness are intrinsically built into the architecture of reality. And as matter evolves into more and more complex forms, the deeper the consciousness becomes.

If there is to be any measure of scientific progress at all, it would be the ability to unify two previously irreconcilable arguments, integrating them both into a bigger and better argument. Often they are revealed to be opposite sides of a single coin—a coin which simply cannot be perceived without a more comprehensive perspective. In much the same way that Newton reconciled the laws governing the heavens and the earth, and how Einstein united the laws of matter and energy, this may be one of the most extraordinary contributions Integral theory has to offer the world: a staggering ability to reach across multiple paradigms of thought and pull together so much of the complexity of our universe. In this integral cross-paradigmatic space, we can reconcile the differences between the atomists and the wholists, between the idealists and the materialists, between the mind and the body, and between the spiritual and the scientific.

"The greatest challenge within science is the nature of consciousness--having been ignored for decades, if not centuries, it's now a hot topic on the scientific agenda. And the more people have tried to explain it simply in terms of brain function, the more obvious it's become that that's not enough...."

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