Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Tale of Two Worlds (1st draft notes)

Like it or not, modern life is an expression Physics—the branch of science where science itself is conceived and where all of reality is believed to be an expression of physicality. Since physicality is the sum of all things, any solid thinking will be an extension of Physics; to think in terms of human "spirituality" for instance is but a mere quaint obsession with primitive thinking. In modern terms, brains are truly real, but minds can only be figments.

In our day a prominent scientist Dr. Stuart Kauffman M.D., who now self identifies as a theoretical biologist, has formidably countered this physics based stranglehold on what constitutes a strenuous view of reality. (Once introduced, he'll insist you call him Stu).

At the heart of Stu's observation is that the concept of "mechanism," which drives the science of physics, fails to account for what is truly taking place all around us. It's not that mechanism isn't there at all, it is. Brains are perhaps the most exquisite example of it.  Yet, what Stu will ably point out is that for brains to show up in the first place something more than "mechanism" is required. He has called into service, our concept of "creativity".

A central feature of mechanism is automation and hence, predictability. Now if all of reality were indeed mechanistic, life would be a whole lot easier for us. It would also lack anything human about it. At the heart of whatever it is to be human is creativity—not mechanics. Recall the Wright Brothers. The "mechanics" argued that if man were meant to fly, God would have made him with wings. The "creatives" saw things differently: while flying requires wings, humans don't have to be encumbered by them as we can keep them on airplanes instead of on our bodies.

Science has revolutionized how we see reality and thus how we feel ourselves to reliably engage it on a daily basis. Einstein has the most name recognition in the pantheon of scientists who have wonderfully enlarged our means to see what we humans are engaged in. I think Kauffman's insights today, stand to revolutionize how we see things as much as any in this pantheon as he illuminates the role of creativity in all this in contrast to the tried and true role of mechanism.

In order to unify these two worlds I'll draw on some thinking I encountered in Roberto Unger. In thinking about social structures, he pointed out that when we organize to accomplish work we have the ability to "off load" repetitive tasks onto machines (we can make these machines) and when we do so, we free up personal resources to do something creative: something mechanism can't do.

Here's what I'm wondering. We live in a world of Physics—to great benefit. Yet, something is drastically amiss as we seek to be human in a truly real way. Stu Kauffman is presenting real scientific insight that sees things that Physics can't: Stu's "world" has as much observation behind it as the world proffered by Physics. Here's my stab at a principle that could unite the two worlds:

Part of what makes an organism an organism, is that a mechanism has taken a shape that is reliably stable and durable in its environment. Openness to its environment at this level entails metabolism and the necessary aspects of fuel and exhaust. With this "mechanistic" aspect in place, such an organism is able to have a creative openness to its environment. This is to say that with creative openness in place, a given organism is poised toward the possibility for something new to take place.

In the case of we humans, with brains reliably being mechanistic, we are freed up to think. And because we rely on ideas to see our reality, we are free to develop ideas with which to see better.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Mike, so close but no cigar - creativity is what drives innovative thinking. More later