Star Larvae Hypothesis
Nature's Plan for Humankind
Part 1. Metabolic Metaphysics
Complexity Theory and the Retrieval of Vitalism
science of complexity, or complex systems theory, repackages
the discarded doctrine of vitalism. Complexity theory assigns to nature
a capacity to self organize—to
construct complex structures and processes spontaneously.
is undergoing a de-volution. It is backtracking. Scientists
are reviving ways of thinking about nature that they previously had abandoned
among the old notions being revived is nature's
inherent capacity to organize itself.
Terms such as "self-organization," "emergence," "dissipative
systems," and "autopoeisis,"
compose the language of the science of complexity
This discipline cuts a wide swath, as it tries to account for every sort
of complex system, from biological cells
to social and economic trends, to
galaxies and beyond. Disregarding the categorical boundary that normally
separates the organic from the inorganic, complexity theorists
propose that spontaneous organization is a fundamental process of the physical world. The home page of the University
of Michigan's Center for the Study of Complex Systems
captures the interdisciplinary ambitions of the new science:
Center is based on the recognition that many different kinds of systems
which include self-regulation, feedback, or adaptation in their dynamics,
may have a common underlying structure despite their apparent differences.
Moreover, these deep structural similarities can be exploited to
transfer methods of analysis and understanding from one field to
another. In addition to developing deeper understandings of specific
systems, interdisciplinary approaches should help elucidate the general
structure and behavior of complex systems and move us toward a deeper
appreciation of the general nature of such systems."
institutions exploring and developing applications of complexity theory include
Santa Fe Institute and the ECCO
Research Group in Brussels, Belgium. An ambitious survey of the principles
and applications of this interdisciplinary approach is Erich Jantsch's,
Additional resources that describe the new discipline are easy to find online.
universe is laying the foundation of a new type, where our present
theories of order will appear as trivial. If remembered, they would be
remembered or discerned in the future as trivialities, gradually fading
into nothingness. This is the only possible doctrine of a universe always
driving on to novelty."
— Alfred North Whitehead
"Process and Reality", in Essays
in Science and Philosophy.
theorists in effect are retrieving the old doctrine of vitalism and extending
its reach to every corner of the natural world. Vitalism proposed that nature's
animate qualities stem from an occult "life energy," a
force ostensibly transparent to scientific investigation. The new science
of complexity does not propose that occult forces animate nature, but rather that nature
possesses within itself the capacity to organize complex systems. Surely vitalism per se is a
cardinal sin, or a least a serious intellectual faux pas, in
scientific culture. But no matter how many terms science coins to name
nature's tendency to self organize, the causal chain that produces complex systems remains mysterious, an occult organizing force
organization" being operationally indistinguishable concepts. The
difference is one of metaphysical assumption: Does the machine need a ghost?
new animism is emerging for many reasons. For example, once the idea
of a supernaturalistic creation is fully overcome, the idea returns
that the universe must be self-organizing and therefore composed of
self-moving parts. Also, insofar as dualistic assumptions are fully
overcome and human experience is accepted as fully natural, it begins
to seem probable that something analogous to our experience and self-movement
is a feature of every level of nature."
— David Ray Griffin
and Religion in the Postmodern World
Science dismisses ghosts but then tries to market its own brand of animating spirit under the name, information. This causal agent inheres somehow in the geometrical
arrangements of particles. The distinction between the arrangements of particles and any information contained therein
remains to be articulated. In the meantime, under the spell of "information," science is led into absurdities,
such as research into "The
Algorithmic Origins of Life."
One arrangement of atoms constitutes a living cell. Another arrangement constitutes a formerly living
cell. The arrangement of atoms seems critical to distinguishing the two cases. But attributing the difference to differences in "information" bumps the explanation back a step to the question, "What is it about information that
makes the difference?" Invoking information is a stealth maneuver
by science to revive vitalism without admitting the deed. It
complicates descriptions without contributing to explanations.
What Causes Complexity?
itself with, among other things, causality—relations defined by
cause and effect. Objects fall to the ground because gravity pulls them
to the ground, or because gravity warps spacetime in a way such that
objects will travel toward the ground, or because somehow or other something,
call it gravity, causes objects to fall to the ground. This
is the normal scientific view. Science does not say that the falling
of objects being correlated statistically with the presence of gravity
is just a coincidence. Events do not occur merely in patterns of correlation.
Events occur because they are caused to occur. But if this is the case,
then what can be made of a science of self-organization, which concedes
that the most interesting structures in nature are not caused in the
usual sense but, rather, cause themselves to come into being?
theory, insofar as it grants to natural processes the power to self-organize, to self-create, constitutes, if not a vitalism itself, then a kind
of pantheism, in which nature's fecundity buzzes with divine
self-causality. In his dealings with Moses, the divinity of western monotheism
called his own name "I
am that I am," laying claim to the power of self-organization. The
Greek gods similarly were self-created; they were not products of any
discernible causal chain. Complex systems are godlike, then, and complexity
theory is a brand of theology. It redefines in its own terms occurrences
that in prescientific language were referred to as "miracles," namely,
events of self organization. The rhetoric and formulas of complexity
theory do little to dispel the prospect of miracles. The
discipline of complexity theory can be seen as a vitalist, pantheist
mysticism with spontaneous or emergent self-organization filling in for
the abandoned life force or entelechy of the older vitalist formulations.
Complexity theory is science's bow to the miraculous, an ironic shift
in sentiment, given the tenor of modern science. (And the possibility
of making inroads through this shared borderland are not lost on the Intelligent
Design advocates who embrace complexity theory.)
the Enlightenment, rationalism, empiricism, and secularism collectively
delivered to the Western mind an alternative to church
dogma. As a legacy of the Enlightenment, metaphysical concepts, such
as soul and spirit, fell into disrepute among intellectuals. But these
notions did not die. Beyond seminaries and houses of worship, philosophers
of various stripes continued to argue for spooky influences that lent form to the expressions of nature. Even during, and as a reaction
to, the Enlightenment, some philosophers, such as G. F. W. Hegel, argued against
a strict materialism and for the notion of a formative spirit (of "the
a "national" spirit) that nudges the flow of historical events
toward greater complexity (alternatively, toward "the
A list of cognates for such an invisible influencer might include Henri Bergson's elan
vital, Plato's metaphysical forms, Adam Smith's invisible hand,
Will of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, Tielhard de Chardin's radial
energy, Freud's libido, Whitehead's Creativity, Reich's orgone, and Sheldrake's
morphogenetic fields. Tao, chi, shakti, kundalini and similar concepts
from traditional Asian metaphysics illustrate the universality of the idea that nature
possesses an inherent capacity to organize itself. Since modern complexity theory began its long
gestation in the disciplines of general systems theory and cybernetics
during the early years of computer/cognitive science, the metaphysical
underground has been quaking and in places breaking the surface, delivering a spookiness
into the scientific world.
vitalist concepts, with technically polished names, such as "spontaneously
self-organizing dissipative systems," that connote a scientific
rigor, are disrupting the marketplace of ideas. Semi-adopted by science,
they remain rooted in a metaphysics that is at odds with the established
scientific model of the world. That is, they seem to be at odds with, or at
least resistant to, the venerable Second Law of Thermodynamics. But an organismic model of nature is a tent big enough to contain complexity and entropy, comfortably, in an intimate relationship.
NEXT > Entropy:
Nature's Preferred Direction?
Star Larvae Hypothesis:
a genus of organism.
The stellar life cycle includes a larval phase.
Biological life constitutes the larval phase of the stellar life cycle.
hypothesis presents a teleological model of nature, in which
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