Mankind Evolving

“Civilization has helped most of mankind to change from ignorance, undernourishment, and filth to education, at least relative abundance, and sanitation. That these changes are to the good is unquestionable. Yet, in the process of change man has also lost and failed to recapture some things of inestimable value. Man no longer enjoys the certitude that he stands at the center of a universe created especially for his sake or the twin certitude that this universe is presided over by a Power that can be implored or propitiated and which cares for man, individually and collectively. Copernicus and Galileo suddenly broke the news that the world does not revolve around man but man, instead, revolves around the world. And in this world, vast and merciless instead of snug and familiar, man is incidental and almost superfluous.

Attempts have been made to relieve man’s alienation from the world he inhabits. Descartes thought that while animals were machines man possessed an immortal soul; Locke pointed out, however, that there is nothing in man’s mind that did not enter there via the sense organs. Romantics revolted against the tyranny of mechanistic science, trusting the poet’s inspiration more than the scientist’s plodding toil; but it was physics, not poetry, that led to the industrial revolution, to the abundance of material goods, and eventually to the frightening power of atomic energy. Nothing succeeds like success, and the man in the street became convinced that material power is to be admired above intellectual power. To many Darwin seemed to have delivered the heaviest blow, making the schism in man’s soul irreparable: far from the world having been made for man, man himself proved to be merely one of some two million biological species, a result of material processes of a rather unedifying sort, called struggle for existence and survival of the fittest, and a relative of creatures as disreputable as monkeys and apes. With Freud the depreciation of the human condition reached the lowest level. Freud mocked man’s pretensions to spirituality, by denying him not only spirituality but rationality as well.

The most important point in Darwin’s teachings was, strangely enough, overlooked. Man has not only evolved, he is evolving. This is a source of hope in the abyss of despair. In a way Darwin has healed the wound inflicted by Copernicus and Galileo. Man is not the center of the universe physically, but he may be the spiritual center. Man and man alone knows that the world evolves and that he evolves with it. By changing what he knows about the world, man changes the world that he knows; and by changing the world in which he lives man changes himself. (…) Evolution need no longer be a destiny imposed from without.

Teilhard de Chardin saw that the evolution of matter, the evolution of life, and the evolution of human beings are integral parts of a single and coherent history of the whole universe. Furthermore, he saw in this history a clear direction or trend. (…) he did not mean to imply that evolution is an uncreative infolding of preformed events… He chose to designate the direction in which evolution is going as “The Point Omega.” (…)

Such grand conceptions are patently undemonstrable by scientifically established facts. They transcend cumulative knowledge; it is sufficient that this one is not contradicted by this knowledge. To modern man, so forlorn and spiritually embattled in this vast and ostensibly meaningless universe, Teilhard de Chardin’s evolutionary idea comes as a ray of hope. It fits the requirements of our time. For

Man is not the centre of the universe as was naively believed in the past, but something much more beautiful—Man the ascending arrow of the great biological synthesis. Man is the last-born, the keenest, the most complex, the most subtle of the successive layers of life. This is nothing less than a fundamental vision. And I shall leave it at that.”

Theodosius Dobzhansky



The remembrance of a guest that tarried but a day

“When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the little space which I fill, and even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I am frightened, and am astonished at being here rather than there; for there is no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then. Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time been allotted to me? (…) The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.”

Blaise Pascal

Science and The Modern World

“… a general danger inherent in modern science. Its methodological procedure is exclusive and intolerant, and rightly so. It fixes attention on a definite group of abstractions, neglects everything else, and elicits every scrap of information and theory which is relevant to what it has retained. This method is triumphant, provided that the abstractions are judicious. But, however triumphant, the triumph is within limits. The neglect of these limits leads to disastrous oversights… true rationalism must always transcend itself by recurrence to the concrete in search of inspiration.”

Alfred North Whitehead

Language about the Unspeakable

“People have to come out of the closet and act from their convictions. One of the most disturbing things that can go on is when you go to visit some people and they say we cannot smoke until the children go to bed. This is nuts. This is a house divided against itself. And it can’t possibly stand. If you do not have guts to say you smoke dope, then you should not smoke. I know, it is not easy to come out of the closet, but on the other hand, what is the payback for being a chicken? It is continued repression, continued manipulation. If you do not claim the right to be able to explore your own mind, then all other rights are potentially to be taken from you. I think there are all kinds of stories going around (…), this is a kind of ism. Enough of that! We pay our taxes, and hold down top jobs in advertising, entertainment, science, media, so on so forth. We should have the same respect that is due everybody else in this society. The people who are repressing, they have no agenda, no plan: to keep everybody in a state of semi-anesthesia until the shit hits the fan. That is the only thing they can figure out to do. That is their only plan. Cause they do not know how to feed everybody, how to cure, how to generate enough electricity, etc. They have no answers. All they have are spin doctors and cosmetics and delay and disinformation. So I do not understand the passivity of people on these issues. The world is slipping thru our fingers cause we do not have the courage to stand up and hold it. We are then voting with the dominators, with those processes that will make us extinct. It is not a big deal to throw down an institution, or to hang up a few dominators . Why are we so polite? Why are we so willing to go on with this shell game? It is the whole future of the planet at stake. (…) We commit our acts of civil disobedience in our fine house with our front door locked but we never can seem to reach out to each other sufficiently to create a community that says we have enough. That is how human freedom makes progress: women got the vote when they demanded it; and black men got respect when they demanded it; and gay a place in society when they demanded it! When we insist, the dialogue will begin. So, the responsibility is on us. We can complain as much as we want. Unless we are willing to stand o and be counted..!”

Terence McKenna

A Theory of Meaning

“Environments were certainly simpler at the beginning of the world-drama than they were later. But, in them, each carrier of meaning faced a recipient of meaning. Meaning ruled them all. Meaning bound changing organs to the changing medium. Meaning bound food and the consumers of food, predator and prey, and, first and foremost, males and females in amazing variety. Everywhere there was a progression, but nowhere progress in the sense of survival of the fittest, never selection of the better by a planlessly ranging battle of existence. Instead, a melody reigned which entwined life and death.

I decided to lay the question before our greatest historians: Is there progress in human history?

Leopold von Ranke writes in this Epochen der neueren Geschichte: ‘If one wanted… to assume that this progress consisten in that, in every ange, the life of humanity grows exponentially, that each generation entirely surpasses the one before it, in which the latest one would always be preferred and the preceding one only be bearer of the ones following it, then this would be an injustive on the part of the Deity. Such an intermediary (separate) generation would have no meaning in and for itself; it would only mean something if it were the stepping stone for the next generation and would not stand in immediate relation to God. But I assert: Every age is immediate to God, and its value consists not in that which comes of it later, but in its own existence – in its own self.’

Ranke rejects progress in human history because all ages have to do immediately with God and, therefore, none can be more perfect than any other. (…)

Now, the word God is for every materialist like a red rag for a bull, while the materialists would recognize a composition that arises by chance in the course of the enormous stretches of time if one would only concede to him that matter and energy have been the same since the beginning of the world and that the law of conservation of energy has a general and eternal validity.

At the beginning of my discussion, I showed that research on environments proves first and foremost the inconstancy of objects, which change their form as well as their meaning in every environment. The same flower stalk because four different object in four different environments.

It remains only to show by the already adduced examples that even the constancy of matter is an illusion. The properties of the matter of an object are dependent on the sensory spectrums of that subject which is the object of our present investigation. (…)

Much better founded that the constancy of objects is the constancy of subjects. (…)

We are always led astray when we want to introduce the measure of our world into the judgement of animal worlds. But I could argue that all of Nature takes part as a motif in the development of my personality, concerning my body as well as my mind. If that were not the case, I would lack the organs with which to know Nature. I could also express this more humbly and say: I will be a part of Nature to the extent that Nature takes me up into one of its compositions. Then, I am not a product of all of Nature but only the product of human nature, beyond which no knowledge is afforded me. Just as the tick is only a product of tick nature, the human being remains bound to its human nature, from which each individual always emerges anew.”

Jakob von Uexküll

La intuición filosófica

“No habría lugar para dos maneras de conocer, filosofía y ciencia, si la experiencia no se nos presentara en dos aspectos diferentes, de una parte, bajo forma de hechos que se yuxtaponen a hechos, que casi se repiten, que casi se miden y que se despliegan en fin en el sentido de la multiplicidad distinta y de la espacialidad; y de otra, bajo forma de una penetración recíproca que es pura duración, refractaria a la ley de la medida. En ambos casos, experiencia significa conciencia; pero, en el primero, la consciencia se expande hacia afuera, y se exterioriza con relación a ella misma en la exacta medida en que percibe cosas exteriores unas a otras; en el segundo, entra en ella, se recobra y se profundiza.”

“Descendamos entonces al interior de nosotros mismos: cuanto más profundo sea el punto que toquemos, más fuerte será el impulso que nos volverá a la superficie. La intuición filosófica es ese contacto, la filosofía es ese impulso. Vueltos al exterior por una impulsión venida del fondo, alcanzaremos la ciencia a medida que nuestro pensamiento se ensanche al esparcirse.”

“Las satisfacciones que el arte no dará jamás sino a privilegiados de la naturaleza y de la fortuna, y sólo de cuando en cuando, la filosofía así entendida nos las dará a todos, a cada momento, insuflando vida a los fantasmas que nos rodean y vivificándonos a nosotros mismos. Por eso se volverá complementaria de la ciencia tanto en la practica como en la especulación. Con aplicaciones que sólo atienden a la comodidad de la existencia, la ciencia nos promete el bienestar, cuando más el placer. Pero la filosofía podría darnos desde ahora el gozo.”

Henri Bergson

On Bullshit

“It is in this sense that Pascal’s statement is unconnected to a concern with truth: she is not concerned with the truth-value of what she says. That is why she cannot be regarded as lying; for she does not presume that she knows the truth, and therefore she cannot be deliberately promulgating a proposition that she presumes to be false: Her statement is grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth — this indifference to how things really are — that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.”

“What bullshit essentially misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning that state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.

This is the crux of the distinction between him and the liar. Both he and the liar represent themselves falsely as endeavoring to communicate the truth. The success of each depends upon deceiving us about that. But the fact about himself that the liar hides is that he is attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality; we are not to know that he wants us to believe something he supposes to be false. The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor co conceal it.”

“Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled — whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others — to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant.”

Harry Frankfurt