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Sunday, April 12
by Rich on April 12, 2009 09:00PM (PDT)
Reference: 100 years of Sri Aurobindo on evolution
Second of two articles on a new science whose principles are that of emergence rather than reduction. The idea of reinventing the sacred is an interesting one since emergence rekindles a wonder in a Mystery that is irreducible. Interesting also is the fact that even as Jaron Lanier, Staurt Kaufmann, and others concerned with the science of complexity steadfastly avoid mapping a specific metaphysical narrative on to their descriptions of reality, in the end they wind up with a view which shares much with Advaita or Buddhist constructions of the world.
Although the new science of emergence attempts to speak to human agency and the role of the observer, the phenomenological and social spheres of experience seem a bit lacking in its calculations for achieving what could be called an integral view, but the attempt is valuable nontheless rc...
Reductionism has led to very powerful science. One has only to think of Einstein’s gen- eral relativity and the current standard model in quantum physics, the twin pillars of twentieth century physics. Molecular biology is a product of reductionism, as is the Human Genome Project.
But Laplace’s particles in motion allow only happenings. There are no meanings, no values, no doings. The reductionist worldview led the existentialists in the mid- twentieth century to try to find value in an absurd, meaningless universe, in our hu- man choices. But to the reductionist, the existentialists’ arguments are as void as the spacetime in which their particles move. Our human choices, made by ourselves as human agents, are still, when the full science shall have been done, mere happenings, ultimately to be explained by physics.
In this book I will demonstrate the inadequacy of reductionism. Even major physicists now doubt its full legitimacy. I shall show that biology and its evolution cannot be re- duced to physics alone but stand in their own right. Life, and with it agency, came na- turally to exist in the universe. With agency came values, meaning, and doing, all of which are as real in the universe as particles in motion. “Real” here has a particular meaning: while life, agency, value, and doing presumably have physical explanations in any specific organism, the evolutionary emergence of these cannot be derived from or reduced to physics alone. Thus, life, agency, value, and doing are real in the universe. This stance is called emergence. Weinberg notwithstanding, there are explanatory ar- rows in the universe that do not point downward. A couple in love walking along the banks of the Seine are, in real fact, a couple in love walking along the banks of the Seine, not mere particles in motion. More, all this came to exist without our need to call upon a Creator God..... more »
Thursday, April 2
by Rich on April 2, 2009 09:24AM (PDT)
As the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origins of Species take place this year, it is easy to overlook the fact that 2009 also marks the 100th anniversary of Sri Aurobindo's first major text on evolution and consciousness. In Process and Evolution and Yoga and Human Evolution (1909) Sri Aurobindo begins to comprehensively articulate his vision of human evolution. Just as Darwin's book became the foundation for a science of evolution, what has been called evolutionary spirituality can be traced back to Sri Aurobindo's work. Many are acknowledging this bi-centennial year of Darwin's birth with a reassessment of his work in light of what we now know about evolution it therefore, also seems to be a good time to reassess Sri Aurobindo's vision of human evolution in terms of our contemporary understanding of the phenomena......
Even though his view of history is essentially cyclic he starts his consideration of evolution by writing in Yoga and Human Evolution (1909) the following:
“Whether we take the modern scientific or the ancient Hindu standpoint the progress of humanity is a fact” (Aurobindo)
However, by the early1940s when he is revising the last chapters of The Life Divine he writes:
“the idea of human progress itself is very probably an illusion, for there is no sign that man, once emerged from the animal stage, has radically progressed during his race-history; at most he has advanced in knowledge of the physical world, in Science, in the handling of his surroundings, in his purely external and utilitarian use of the secret laws of Nature “ (Aurobindo 1949 p832)....
There are six sections in this paper:
I) Why Sri Aurobindo would not believe in Intelligent Design
2) Darwinian Fundamentalism: reductionism, pluralism, play
3) Anticipating Science & Society
4) Complexity and the Dialectics of the Visible and Invisible
5) The Illusion of Human Progress and the Ideal of Human Unity
6) The Dialectics of Biology and Culture: science, ecology & economics more »
Thursday, March 12
by Rich on March 12, 2009 08:40PM (PDT)
I understand "human" and "posthuman" to be historically specific constructions that emerge from different configurations of embodiment, technology, and culture. A convenient point of reference for the human is the picture constructed by nineteenth-century U.S. and British anthropologists of "man" as a tool-user.(15) Using tools may shape the body (some anthropologists made this argument), but the tool nevertheless is envisioned as an object, apart from the body, that can be picked up and put down at will. When the claim could not be sustained that man's unique nature was defined by tool use (because other animals were shown also to use tools), the focus shifted during the early twentieth century to man the tool-maker. Typical is Kenneth P. Oakley's 1949 Man the Tool-Maker, a magisterial work with the authority of the British Museum behind it.(16) Oakley, in charge of the Anthropological Section of the museum's Natural History division, wrote in his introduction, "Employment of tools appears to be [man's] chief biological characteristic, for considered functionally they are detachable extensions of the forelimb" [p. 1]. The kind of tool he envisioned was mechanical rather than informational; it goes with the hand, not on the head. Significantly, he imagined the tool to be at once "detachable" and an "extension," separate from yet partaking of the hand. If the placement and kind of tool marks his affinity with the epoch of the human, its construction as a prosthesis points forward to the posthuman. Similar ambiguities informed the Macy Conference discussions taking place during the same period (1946-53), as participants wavered between a vision of man as a homeostatic self-regulating mechanism whose boundaries were clearly delineated from the environment,(17) and a more threatening, reflexive vision of a man spliced into an informational circuit that could change him in unpredictable ways.
By the 1960s, the consensus within cybernetics had shifted dramatically toward reflexivity. By the 1980s, the inertial pull of homeostasis as a constitutive concept had largely given way to theories of self-organization that implied radical changes were possible within certain kinds of complex systems.(18) Through these discussions, the "posthuman" future of "humanity" began increasingly to be evoked. Examples range from Hans Moravec's invocation of a "postbiological" future in which human consciousness is downloaded into a computer, to the more sedate (and in part already realized) prospect of a symbiotic union between human and intelligent machine that Howard Rheingold calls "intelligence augmentation."(19) Although these visions differ in the degree and kind of interfaces they imagine, they concur that the posthuman implies a coupling so intense and multifaceted that it is no longer possible to distinguish meaningfully between the biological organism and the informational circuits in which it is enmeshed. Accompanying this change, I have argued, is a corresponding shift in how signification is understood and corporeally experienced. In contrast to Lacanian psycholinguistics, derived from the generative coupling of linguistics and sexuality, flickering signification is the progeny of the fascinating and troubling coupling of language and machine. more »
Sunday, December 28
by Rich on December 28, 2008 06:03PM (PST)
"Specimen of Secrecy about Marvelous Discoveries" is a series of works comprised of what Kac calls "biotopes", that is, living pieces that change during the exhibition in response to internal metabolism and environmental conditions. Each of Kac’s biotopes is literally a self-sustaining ecology comprised of thousands of very small living beings in a medium of earth, water, and other materials. The artist orchestrates the metabolism of these organisms in order to produce his constantly-evolving living works.
Kac's biotopes expand on ecological and evolutionary issues previously explored by the artist (for example, in his transgenic work "The Eighth Day"). At the same time, the biotopes further develop dialogical principles implemented and theorized by Kac for approximately two decades.
The biotopes are a discrete ecology because within their world the microorganisms interact with and support each other (that is, the activities of one organism enable another to grow, and vice-versa). However, they are not entirely secluded from the outside world : the aerobic organisms within the biotope absorb oxygen from outside (while the anaerobic ones comfortably migrate to regions where air cannot reach). A complex set of relationships emerge as the work unfolds, bringing together the internal dialogical interactions among the microorganisms in the biotope and the interaction of the biotope as a discrete unit with the external world. The biotope is affected by several factors, including the very presence of viewers, which can increase the temperature in the room (warm bodies) and release other microorganisms in the air (breathing, sneezing).
The biotope is what Kac calls a "nomad ecology", that is, an ecological system that interacts with its surroundings as it travels around the world. Every time a biotope migrates from one location to another, the very act of transporting it causes an unpredictable redistribution of the microorganisms inside it (due to the constant physical agitation inherent in the course of a trip). Once in place, the biotope self-regulates with internal migrations, metabolic exchanges, and material settling..... more »
Saturday, December 27
by koantum on December 27, 2008 02:54PM (PST)
The keyword of the earth’s riddle is the gradual evolution of a hidden illimitable consciousness and power out of the seemingly inert yet furiously driven force of insensible Nature. Earth-life is one self-chosen habitation of a great Divinity and his aeonic will is to change it from a blind prison into his splendid mansion and high heaven-reaching temple. (Sri Aurobindo, Essays Divine and Human, p. 161)
The scientific theory is concerned only with the outward and visible machinery and process, with the detail of Nature’s execution, with the physical development of things in Matter and the law of development of Life and Mind in Matter; its account of the process may have to be considerably changed or may be dropped altogether in the light of new discovery, but that will not affect the self-evident fact of a spiritual evolution, an evolution of Consciousness, a progression of the soul’s manifestation in material existence. (Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, p. 868)
There can be hardly any doubt that the scientific account of evolution has to be considerably changed or dropped altogether. Dr. Berlinski (not a Christian, by the way) explains why.
Thursday, October 9
by Ron on October 9, 2008 08:57PM (PDT)
I've taken the liberty of typing in all of Chapter 4 of my copy of this important book, because it powerfully addresses one of the main themes of SCIY, the manifold relationships between science, culture, and consciousness. (ron)
"It is a paradox of the work of Artificial Intelligence that in order to grant consciousness to machines, the engineers first labor to subtract it from humans, as they work to foist upon philosophers a caricature of consciousness in the digital switches of weights and gates in neural nets. As the caricature goes into public circulation with the help of the media, it becomes an acceptable counterfeit currency, and the humanistic philosopher of mind soon finds himself replaced by the robotics scientist. ...
"Both the mechanists and the mystics say that we are now at a great bifurcation in human evolution. The mechanists like Ray Kurzweil, Danny Hillis, and Hans Moravec prophesy that we are at the end of the human era, and that 'nanobots' are about to be embedded in our bodies until our antique organs of flesh are entirely surrounded by a new silicon noosphere of networked computers. Like ancient mitochondria or chloroplasts surrounded by the gigantic eukaryotic cells, we are about to be engulfed in the next evolutionary stage. So the mechanists see noetic technologies surrounding human culture and consciousness and compressing it into an endosymbiont in a larger and swifter and more elegant evolutionary vehicle. ...
"Mystics flip this literalism over to see technology as a system of externalized metaphors that derive from pre-existing ontological modes at play and at large in the universe... For the mystic — be she Cabbalist or Sufi — an angel is a 'Celestial Intelligence' — a form of cosmic noetic organization that does not require a detour through animal evolution. So when Kurzweil claims that by 2030 implanted nanobots in the bloodstream will enable humans to turn off to the outside world to attune to a virtual reality, the mystic would recognize a literalist rendering of the process of meditation. Kurzweil's vision of the world in 2030 reminds me of Borges's 'Library of Babel'. 'I suspect that the human species — the unique species — is about to be extinguished, but the Library will endure: illuminated, solitary, useless, incorruptible, secret'.  And here we need to be sensitive to the full force of Borges's use of the word 'Babel'. ... " more »
Sunday, June 8
by Rich on June 8, 2008 09:39AM (PDT)
First of two articles on a new science whose principles are that of emergence rather than reduction. The idea of reinventing the sacred is an interesting one since emergence rekindles a wonder in an irreducible Mystery. Interesting also is the fact that even as Lanier, Kaufmann, and other complexity scientist steadfastly avoid mapping a specific metaphysical narrative on to their descriptions of reality, in the end wind up with a view which shares much with Advaita or Buddhist constructions of the world. However, although the new science of emergence attempts to speak to human agency and observation, the phenomenological and social spheres of experience seem lacking in their calculations for achieving what could be called an integral view rc...
I would like to begin a discussion about the first glimmerings of a new scientific world view — beyond reductionism to emergence and radical creativity in the biosphere and human world. This emerging view finds a natural scientific place for value and ethics, and places us as co-creators of the enormous web of emerging complexity that is the evolving biosphere and human economics and culture. In this scientific world view, we can ask: Is it more astonishing that a God created all that exists in six days, or that the natural processes of the creative universe have yielded galaxies, chemistry, life, agency, meaning, value, consciousness, culture without a Creator. In my mind and heart, the overwhelming answer is that the truth as best we know it, that all arose with no Creator agent, all on its wondrous own, is so awesome and stunning that it is God enough for me and I hope much of humankind.
Thus, beyond the new science that glimmers a new world view, we have a new view of God, not as transcendent, not as an agent, but as the very creativity of the universe itself. This God brings with it a sense of oneness, unity, with all of life, and our planet — it expands our consciousness and naturally seems to lead to an enhanced potential global ethic of wonder, awe, responsibility within the bounded limits of our capacity, for all of life and its home, the Earth, and beyond as we explore the Solar System.... more »
Saturday, May 3
by Rich on May 3, 2008 01:44PM (PDT)
(courtesy Google Images)
This paper seeks a long overdue critical exploration of Sri Aurobindo's evolutionary vision and how it might inform contemporary discourse on globalization and those regimes of techno-science whose productions propel its advance. That such a critical inquiry is overdue is regrettable because we live at a time in which we are undergoing what is perhaps our most rapid period of change in human history. We live in an era in which the dislocation of our physical, life and mental worlds seems to result from the pull of three strange attractors accelerating at different speeds.
Gazing out from the edge of digital culture in North America to do a critically inquiry into the future is problematic because our perspectives are already conjoined to the gaze of a culture entrained in exponential change. But what would constitute a future view? An epistemology of the Other? A discourse on the never quite? The future is that distant coordinate which is only know through its proximity to our present. So what does the present teach?
In America we are travelling so rapidly that from here we do not hear the voices of indentured knowledge workers standing in lines of up to mile, amidst the smoke and decay of south India, to compete with the multitudes of Heidegger's “standing reserve” for their conditions of economic bondages; of eight to twelve partitioned hours a day spent facilitating the global flow of virtual capital. Although the gaze from here may sense the desiring nature of the machine it lacks an epistemology for coping with its assemblages and a methodology for resisting its discipline..... more »
Friday, April 25
by Rich on April 25, 2008 10:05AM (PDT)
(image courtesy www.idf.net)
Donna Haraway's cyborg manifesto is one of the most important text of cyber-cultural studies as well as feminist studies of the past twenty years. Her conclusion that she draws, "I'd rather be a cyborg than a goddess" is grounded in the following analysis of the cyborg given here by Carolyn Keen (rc):
"Cyborg replication is uncoupled from organic reproduction" (150) "The cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family" (151).
The cyborg does not aspire to "organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all the powers of the parts into a higher unity" (150). The cyborg "is not afraid of joint kinship with animals and machines...of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints" (154). The cyborg is the "illegitimate child" of patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism.
The cyborg thus evades traditional humanist concepts of women as childbearer and raiser, of individuality and individual wholeness, the heterosexual marriage-nuclear family, transcendentalism and Biblical narrative, the great chain of being (god/man/animal/etc.), fear of death, fear of automatism, insistence upon consistency and completeness. It evades the Freudian family drama, the Lacanian m/other, and "natural" affiliation and unity. It attempts to complicate binary oppositions, which have been "systemic to the logics and practices of domination of women, people of colour, nature, workers, animals" (177).
Haraway likens "cyborg" to the political identity of "women of color," which "marks out a self-consciously constructed space that cannot affirm the capacity to act on the basis of natural identification, but only on the basis of conscious coalition, of affinity, of political kinship" (156). "Cyborg" though, is grounded in "political-scientific" analysis. This analysis takes up most of the "manifesto." (Keen) ... more »
Thursday, April 17
by Rich on April 17, 2008 08:32AM (PDT)
A professor at MIT, Lorenz was the first to recognize what is now called chaotic behavior in the mathematical modeling of weather systems. In the early 1960s, Lorenz realized that small differences in a dynamic system such as the atmosphere--or a model of the atmosphere--could trigger vast and often unsuspected results.
These observations ultimately led him to formulate what became known as the butterfly effect--a term that grew out of an academic paper he presented in 1972 entitled: "Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?" more »
Wednesday, April 9
100 Years of Sri Aurobindo on Evolution: The dialectics of biology and culture; science, ecology & economics (part 6 of 6)
by Rich on April 9, 2008 01:36PM (PDT)
Perhaps it is best if the twain between science and religion do not meet. Trying to engage science and spirituality in a dialog has a long and troubled history. The incommensurable narratives of matter and spirit they both tell have proven time and time again troublesome for reaching any common understanding. In fact, if science and spirituality do share something in common it is that they all too often accuse the other of totalizing a universal narrative that usurps all ways of looking at the world that are inconsistent with their own.
Religion and science each have their own fundamentalist practitioners who would reduce the world solely to accounts told in their holy books or biology text books. One can not easily imagine an encounter between science and religion in which some violent reaction would not be triggered. Worse perhaps then the violent confrontation between science and religion is when either one appropriates the narratives of the other for the purpose of furthering their own ideological concerns. In the case of religion one example would be in their use of science to justify creationism, while in the case of science such appropriation usually results in one of the just-so stories of origins or cultural analogs of natural selection that Neo-Darwinism tells....
This holds true also for any dialog one would wish to begin between integral yoga and science. It would perhaps be best to begin such a dialog by first exploring Sri Aurobindo's dialectic between yoga and culture and then to look for resonances with narratives told by credible scientist regards the dialectics of science and culture. Better yet, in Sri Aurobindo's own work one finds him at times also critically exploring the dialectic between science and culture. It would therefore seem best to arrive at a dialogic platform to engage science and integral yoga using their diffusion in the semi-permeable membrane of culture, rather then by a direct confrontation as a means to begin the conversation. more »
Sunday, April 6
by Rich on April 6, 2008 08:00PM (PDT)
If complexity metaphors can be problematic when applied to social phenomena because they often reduce historic inequalities of socio-economic status to mere patterns of self-organization, metaphors of increasing complexity can be misused when combined with socially constructed ideas of progress. Stephen Jay Gould at least thought as much and this review of The Game of Life outlines some of the problems with equating increasing complexity with directional progress rc ... more »
Friday, March 28
100 Years of Sri Aurobindo on Evolution: Complexity and the Dialectics of the Visible and Invisible (part 4 of 6)
by Rich on March 28, 2008 01:03PM (PDT)
“but all this need not mean that the types developed one from another in an evolutionary series. Other forces than hereditary variation have been at work in bringing about the appearance of new characteristics; there are physical forces such as food, light-rays and others that we are only beginning to know, there are surely others which we do not yet know; there are at work invisible life-forces and obscure psychological forces. For these subtler powers have to be admitted even in the physical evolutionary theory to account for natural selection;”
Although, in the above passage, Sri Aurobindo is referring to these subtle forces as invisible, we should also recall one of the three laws of the future that Arthur C. Clark's has defined, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. This law is so ingrained in us, now that we can fly the globe or surf the web, that Gehm's Corollary to Clarke's Third Law cynically puts it, "Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced." or even more to the point Marge Simpson states "We can do anything now that scientists have invented magic,"
We are now able to parse matter almost magically to a degree that would have surpassed the understanding of Sri Aurobindo's age. His work was written before the discovery of the dna molecule. One does not really know how he would assess the biological sciences today. For instance, how would he conceive of evolution in light of genomics and bioinformatics? How would he assess the discovery of the cybernetic process that now govern bio-chemistry? How would he apprehend a paradigm of life not in vitalistic terms but in terms of information? Would he regard the application of precise cybernetic principles to biology as making visible the invisible life forces he was referring to when he wrote the above passage, in the early 1940s, when Shannon, Von Neumann, Wiener and others were just defining the new paradigm of information (cybernetics)? ....
But while keeping in mind his rejection of eugenics in his 1915 essay on Evolution Sri Aurobindo does seem to have enough foresight into history as to extrapolate from what he knew already about bio-technology the possibility that human biological/spiritual evolution may preceded through the intervention of its own sciences; in other words that our minds may operate upon our biology to produce new genetic mutations in organisms: “It has been noted that the human mind has already shown a capacity to aid Nature in the evolution of new types of plant and animal: it as created new forms of environment, developed by knowledge and considerable changes in its mentality. It is not an impossibility that man should aid nature consciously also in its own physical and spiritual evolution and transformation.” (844) more »
Wednesday, March 26
by Ron on March 26, 2008 01:33PM (PDT)
4) Here are the final letters by Leonard Susskind' and Lee Smolin in their email debate re the Anthropic Principle.
Smolin: ... My main point is that string theory will have much more explanatory power if the dominant mode of reproduction is through black holes, as is the case in the original version of CNS. This is the key point I would hope to convince Susskind and his colleagues about, because I am sure that the case they want to make is very much weakened if they rely on the Anthropic Principle (AP) and eternal inflation. ...
Susskind: ... Finally let me quote a remark of Smolin's that I find revealing. He says "It was worry about the possibility that string theory would lead to the present situation, which Susskind has so ably described in his recent papers, that led me to invent the Cosmological Natural Selection (CNS) idea and to write my first book. My motive, then as now, is to prevent a split in the community of theoretical physicists in which different groups of smart people believe different things, with no recourse to come to consensus by rational argument from the evidence." First of all, preventing a "split in the community of theoretical physicists" is an absurdly ridiculous reason for putting forward a scientific hypothesis.
But what I find especially mystifying is Smolin's tendency to set himself up as an arbiter of good and bad science. Among the people who feel that the anthropic principle deserves to be taken seriously, are some very famous physicists and cosmologists with extraordinary histories of scientific accomplishment. They include Steven Weinberg , Joseph Polchinski , Andrei Linde , and Sir Martin Rees . These people are not fools, nor do they need to be told what constitutes good science. ... more »
Sunday, March 23
by Rich on March 23, 2008 09:56PM (PDT)
One thing that can be said non-metaphorically about that the way Sri Aurobindo practiced yoga was that it was scientific. The perfection of his sadhana was a feat that required experimentation and one in which he sought demonstrable results. It should reasonably follow that his perspective on science would be one in which its truth claims were open to critical interrogation, just as were his experiments in yoga.
Given his penetrating intellectual insights into cultural change, his understanding of history as both progressive and cyclic, his multivocal criticisms of society, his integrative encounter with other voices and texts, his ability to effortlessly traverse the subjectivities of Europe and India and to transit freely between both ancient and modern zeitgeists, it seems reasonable to assume that he would size up science with a critical gaze....
Sri Aurobindo's project can be said to be a valiant attempt to find ways to integrate various levels of understanding and seemingly incommensurable experiences by respecting each ones particular articulation of truth while simultaneously harmonizing their unique claims to truth. But he also seems to have anticipated several recent scientific claims on the role punctuated equilibrium, symbiosis, complexity and emergence play in evolution as well as to have held perspectives that most social theorist share today. These social theories dismiss positivist arguments for reductive epistemology and highlight how biology can be used as an ideological tool. Additionally, early on at a time it was still popular, Sri Aurobindo discounted the more extreme implications of Spencer's Social Darwinism “survival of the fittest” strategy and clearly was repelled by the social engineering program of eugenics..... more »
A Review of Dipesh Chakrabarty's "Provincializing Europe" by Amit Chaudhuri (London Review of Books) Debashish
AntiMatters vol 3 no 4 is out koantum
Classicism, post-classicism and Ranjabati Sircar’s work: re-defining the terms of Indian contemporary dance discourses by Alessandra Lopez y Royo Debashish
LACMA 111909 - Debashish Banerji Debashish
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Within the limits of capitalism, economizing means taking care - Bernard Stiegler
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Within the limits of capitalism, economizing means taking care - Bernard Stiegler