Meaning of Purpose
spare humankind the hell of a technocratic fundamentalist
needs to mount a postmodern revolution—a
revolution that rejects the alienation of plotless history. The
star larvae hypothesis lays the foundation for such an essential
The interdisciplinary science known as complexity theory purports to explain the development of many things, including biological cells, industrial economies, planetary biospheres, and spiral galaxies.
These complex phenomena all exhibit spontaneous self organization, according to the theory. By subsuming such diverse phenomena, complexity theory exorcises uniqueness from biological life. It relegates biology to an undistinguished place in the broad class of complex phenomena. It makes "being alive" a suspect or wholly generic designation. Nonetheless, most complexity theorists probably would disavow the notion
that the Milky Way galaxy, for example, lives—even though, as with
biological organisms, its dynamic stability is a product of spontaneous
self-organization. Are stars
alive? Astronomers tell us that stars are born—metaphorically. But
what would distinguish a metaphorical stellar birth from a literal one?
when is a complex, self-organizing system alive and when isn't it?
By absorbing living organisms into the broad category of complex, self-organizing
systems, complexity theory challenges science to re-categorize biological
processes. Biological organisms might be particularized expressions,
in protoplasm, of universal processes that operate as readily outside
of biology as within it. There's no a priori reason, from the
point of view of complexity theory, to suppose that biological organisms
operate in any particularly unique way that distinguishes them in essence
from industrial economies, planetary biospheres, or spiral galaxies.
assumptions are based upon what seems to me to be an overwhelming
confrontation of our experience by a comprehensive intellect magnificently
greater than our own or the sum of all human intellects which has
everywhere and everywhen anticipatorily conceived of the complex
generalized, fundamental principles which all together interact
—R. Buckminster Fuller
More Secondhand God
If a subset of the broad class of complex, self-organizing
systems behaves in a certain way, then the whole class might be expected
to behave in similar ways. After all, an underlying premise of complexity
theory is that complex systems are as alike in their governing dynamics
as they can be diverse in their material constituents. Consequently, if
one type of complex system manages its affairs in a particular way, other
complex systems are likely to manage their affairs in corresponding ways,
owing to their shared principles of organization and control. If birds
do it, and bees do it, then, according to complexity theory, solar systems
and galaxies probably do it, too.
biological processes that potentially characterize complex nonbiological,
self-organizing systems, development, or ontogeny,
promises to be the most troubling for the philosophy of science. This
is because ontogeny invites to the party that persona non grata
of science, teleology.
If ontogeny is a general attribute of complex systems, as it is of complex
organisms, then all sorts of complex systems should
tend to develop teleologically, that is, with a determinate end inhering
in their processes of development. Because science accepts the precedent of
ontogeny's natural teleology, it cannot dismiss the star larvae hypothesis
solely on the grounds of its teleological aspect.
In the jargon
of postmodernism, the star larvae hypothesis presents a "grand
narrative." It regards history as not just a storyline, but one that follows a plot. The plot encompasses human history and the natural history
of the Earth's biosphere, and ultimately of the universe, because it positions
all events within a teleological framework. The hypothesis
proposes an affirmative eschatology. For this reason it cannot be rejected
as being anti-religious. Indeed, it rejects the implicit nihilism of modern
science. Edward O. Wilson, founder of sociobiology,
formulates that nihilism concisely in On
first dilemma, in a word, is that we have no particular place to go.
The species lacks any goal external to its own biological nature. It
could be that in the next hundred years humankind will thread the needles
of technology and politics, solve the energy and materials crises, avert
nuclear war, and control reproduction. The world can at least hope for
a stable ecosystem and a well-nourished population. But what then?"
experiences seem to have taught me that the wisdom of the comprehensive,
anticipatory, universal intellect intended that we progressively
employ our inventory of subconsciously co-ordinate faculties in
evermore conscious degree. The history of man seems to demonstrate
the emergence of his progressively conscious participation in theretofore
spontaneous universal evolution. Man seems unique in this progressive
degree of conscious participation in evolution."
—R. Buckminster Fuller
More Secondhand God
professor comes up short, letting the question hang unanswered.
Automation and the Manufacturing of Universes
industry can seem inimical to nature, especially when nature is sentimentalized
as a pastoral woodland of bunnies and babbling brooks. Through
such a selective lens the smokestacks, strip mines, and strip malls of
urban development seem to insult the natural order. Nonetheless, and right-wing
politics aside, environmentalism carried to an extreme runs the danger
a mental illness no doubt common among the planetbound inhabitants of advanced
technological societies. Untreated, it can culminate in fantasies
of human extinction. But nature can handle humankind's rambunctiousness.
Nature is bigger than the schemes of the power
elite. Human industry serves nature's aims. Humankind's seemingly
endless inventiveness advances nature's plan. What else but hubris could
suggest that human accomplishment lies somehow outside of nature?
I have the notion that the theory of heaven and hell is in good
part a colossal error and one of the most dangerous that ever occurred
to the human mind, I also think that it was closely associated with
certain truths and that it requires intellectual and spiritual effort
to purify these truths from the error."
Logic of Perfection
Only a mind
alienated from nature in the first place could fragment nature into dumb,
dead, deterministic stuff on the one hand and human minds that can act
in a seemingly magical way outside of the determinism of natural law on
the other. In the quotation from Erwin Schroedinger that concludes Quantum
Gravity and the Physics of Consciousness the physicist points out
that there can be no such dualism, with different laws of nature applying
to different situations depending on whether the atoms, of my hand, say,
are moved by my will or by an outside intervention. Products
of mind are as much products of nature as are Earth's flora and fauna.
Earth cannot host an indefinite expansion of human industry. Her carrying
capacity is finite. For that reason, civilization needs to break its
terrestrial bonds. Only when future
generations free themselves from the constraints of this planet will
they be able to fulfill biology's calling.
In line with economic striving for efficiency, the doing
of more with less, the industrial
program would seem to want to satisfy itself by doing everything with
nothing. The Big Bang cosmology proposes that universes break into existence
ex nihilo—from nothing—the perfection of factory
automation. In its craving to maximize growth and efficiency, industry
is driven, finally, to manufacture new universes. This formulation of
a cosmic destiny for humankind’s descendants coincides on an even
larger scale with the theory of cosmological
natural selection within a multiverse of universes.
explain the precise tunings of the universe’s physical constants—tunings that make biological organisms and their environments possible—by proposing that the tunings evolved through many generations of universes,
the evolution being driven by a natural selection that favors profligate
star producers. But a universe whose physics is tuned to spawn stars coincidentally
has a physics tuned to spawn biology. Given this dual result of cosmological
natural selection, evolutionary pressures might actually be favoring universes
able to turn the (presumed) coincidence to their advantage—able to apply biology
to star building.
assumed the anticipatory, universe-conceiving intellect and the
invention of the system of man's progressive degree of conscious
participation in universal evolution, it becomes logical that man
should employ progressively the generalized principles which he
discovers to be operative in the universe, investing them in consciously
designed pattern strategies expecting thereby to improve man's successful
survival in universe and increasing enjoyment of that successful
—R. Buckminster Fuller
More Secondhand God
by the coincidence, James Gardner has proposed in two books (Biocosm
that biological life is programmed to develop technologies that help this
universe create baby universes. His ideas focus more on cosmology
and less on evolution than does the star larvae hypothesis. In particular
he suggests that the technological successor to biology will facilitate
the transfer of information about this universe's physical constants into
this universe's descendant universes. An important conceptual difference
is that Gardner presents our universe as inherently lifeless, with the
interstellar spread of biology causing the universe to "come alive."
The star larvae hypothesis takes the universe to be an organism/ecosystem,
alive from the outset. Nonetheless, Gardner's books provide a valuable
supplement to the star larvae hypothesis and contain many relevant references.
has been called 'mythic' in the past merely means an instant
vision of a complex process or a capsulated statement of such
processes. At electric speeds we cannot avoid being mythic in our
every gesture. What has happened with electric speed-up is that the
now contains all pasts whatever, including the most primal
and primitive modes"
Today: The Executive as Dropout
biological life as a nonentity in the cosmic drama is surely to sell nature
short. Only an anti-serendipitous prejudice would conclude that, though
stars and biological organisms require the same tunings of the universe’s
physical constants, organisms are irrelevant or only incidental to the
process of cosmological selection. But that is what science has concluded
with its anti-teleological doctrines. Fortunately, religion stands as
an antidote to this bias.
intuition of "something greater" uplifts the soul. But the mind
has had to content itself with imagining that the greater something can
be enjoyed only after death or only following an apocalypse. Now these
interpretations can be recast as metaphors for future stages of natural
history. Industrial technology enables biological organisms to ascend
to the heavens literally, where objects are weightless and minds
observed, anything pushed sufficiently to its extreme will invert
into its opposite, and so it is with the rationalist, empiricist program
of science, which became formalized, at least in part, in opposition
to religious authority. Now, with twenty-first century technologies
and concepts in hand, science circles back to outmaneuver religion
in the pursuit of Heaven. The prospect
of humankind constructing a heavenly niche and while occupying it metamorphosing
into a society of angels constitutes a secular last-laugh at the expense
of scriptural literalists.
few scientists would welcome a proposed historiography in which science
serves to implement a religious blueprint. But science has evolved its own sense of the sacrosanct. The heirs of the Enlightenment
have allowed the humanistic ideals that they inherited to decay into
a dogma of materialism and theophobia, complete with canonical scriptures
and the excommunication of heretics. As historian of science Thomas
Kuhn points out in The
Structure of Scientific Revolutions,
science's appeal to authority to render judgment on any innovative idea
is "one of the aspects of scientific work that most clearly distinguishes
it from every other creative pursuit except perhaps theology." He
characterizes the education of the scientist as "a narrow and rigid
education, probably more so than any other except perhaps in orthodox
theology." In other words, science has grown to resemble religion
in its institutional forms and policing of doctrine. It became what it beheld.
from the unconscious, premonitions of space colonization take fantastic,
often religious, forms.
Feast of the Gods, by Cornelis van Poelenburgh
This is an
unfortunate development. But more unfortunate is the failing of science
and secular society to produce a natural theology. It perhaps was inevitable that,
without a theological base, the liberated worldview that the
Enlightenment hatched would run its course, and religious fundamentalism would
reassert itself. Instead of building a better mousetrap, as it were, science
and secular society decreed mousetraps unnecessary.
can never exclude the possibility that some better audience might
exist, or come to exist, to whom a belief that is justifiable to
us would not be justifiable. But, as Putnam’s 'naturalistic
fallacy' argument shows, there can be no such thing as an 'ideal
audience' before which justification would be sufficient to ensure
truth, any more than there can be a largest integer. For any audience,
one can imagine a better-informed audience and also a more imaginative
one – an audience that has thought up hitherto-undreamt-of
alternatives to the proposed belief. The limits of justification
would be the limits of language, but language (like imagination)
has no limits."
Is Truth a Goal of Inquiry?
and Progress: Philosophical Papers Vol. 3
the mice have overrun the granary—discontented souls told that their
existence is a pointless chemical accident have re-embraced
the superstitions that the Enlightenment was supposed to vanquish.
fundamentally remains what it always has been, soul in search of meaning.
The soul, the seat of subjectivity, craves an understanding of its situation
in terms of meaning and purpose. The contrived "meanings" assigned
to it by atheistic humanism or invented by individuals exercising their
existential "freedom" constitute a poor man’s, and ultimately
a poor, simulation of genuine meaning, or natural purpose. To cite just
one sad consequence of this failing, the U.S. public education system
in the early years of the twenty-first century confronts the prospect
of Biblical Creationism (aka Creation Science, aka Intelligent Design)
re-entering the classroom. Somewhere Biblicists might be planning similar
attacks on geology using the
young-Earth doctrine and on astronomy using a
means by which scientific humanism might recapture disaffected hearts
and minds is by appropriating and claiming as its own the promise of transcendence
through ascent. Science has the capacity to translate the
promises of religion into the promise of human industry. Science
need only integrate its most recent discoveries into a coherent model
of nature-as-organism. Complexity theory, quantum theories of mind, astrochemistry,
and other avant-garde threads of scientific thought can transform the current, mechanistic, model into an organismic one, one that
recognizes that the evolution and history of life on Earth serve a natural,
cosmic purpose, the regeneration of stars.
momentum of history has carried humankind along a path that now diverges
upwardly into Heaven and downwardly into Hell. The ascendant path is one
along which at least some of humankind's descendants can embark and so graduate
to the superhuman state dreamt of in the religious imagination. Human
beings are programmed to metamorphose into angels, weightless and
supersentient, once released from Earth. In space, transfigured,
they will be in a position to advance the project of Creation through
another generation of stars. This is the calling of organic life.
But callings can be refused. A future technocratic elite could
relegate humankind to Hell, which might look like the automated tyranny
depicted in the Matrix and similar Hollywood products. A late-term abortion for Gaia could take
the form of the interminably static authoritarian hive. The subsistence of life under the imperial self-serving mechanism
could be the fate of biospheres that fail to release their industrial
energies into space. The universe could be full of festering prison
planets. But Earth need not join their company.
superhumans of the religious imagination are not metaphysical angels but
physical extraterrestrials, our evolutionary descendants.
The world’s scriptures, myths,
folklore, fables, and fairy tales reveal the mechanics of the psyche,
but only conjoined with science can the mythic imagination function as
a navigational instrument for history. Though they obviously have accomplished much of profound importance, science and secular culture have failed to articulate a satisfying natural theology. Casting about, they have articulated useful descriptions, but it's time now to integrate the fruits of that endeavor into a new theology.
Humanism needs to mount a postmodern revolution. A revolution that dumps
science’s superfluous dogmas, those that divorce nature from her
creative, animate soul. A revolution that delivers a new model of nature
and a new theology—a worldview that respects scientific fact and
existential longing, is free of superstition, exercises the soul, and
unbinds the spirit. A revolution that rejects the alienation of a plotless
history and liberates humankind from the hellish prospect of the technocratic
planetbound hive. The star larvae hypothesis points the way toward
such an essential revolution.
Star Larvae vs. The Matrix
Extraterrestrial Salvation vs. Terrestrial Damnation
"If we can move into an open horizon where we can live in our modern world
with ancient dreams that have always stirred us, then our work will have been done."
-- Sigurd F. Olson, Open Horizons
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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