Thursday 18 February 2016

A new metaphysics for biology - draft of a paper


David said...

I'm struggling to find the words to comment on this Bruce. It really is very brave, bold and persuasive. I immensely admire your intellectual honestly and your pursuit of 'truth' above accolades, or of unquestioningly fitting in with the pressures to conform to a dishonest, dogmatic narrative within science. I only wish there were more like you at the upper echelons of academia and then some sort of avalanche might be triggered to herald a paradigm shift in our understanding of what life is and how we can correctly understand it. I worry this will be ignored because, well, people feel more comfortable to think the world is still flat but one day the old understandings and assumptions will fall away and a future generation will look back at the twentieth century as peculiarly backward and self - blinding in its vision for the natural sciences, provided our current limited metaphysical outlook does not hasten our demise as a species before this crucial reappraisal of reality is acknowledged.

Thank you for your continued inspiration.


Bruce Charlton said...

@David - I don't expect anyone at all in biology to be interested by this - indeed I don't know of one single person who would be! But it is a topic of extreme interest to me, and I have been thinking intensively about this for several months and making scores of pages of notes - (on top of my decades long chronic interest). I get considerable satisfaction from grappling with such questions.

Anonymous said...

Dr Charlton

I find this very exciting - congratulations on finding a way forward. I shall read this again, and comment more later on. Might I just ask a couple of questions first?

In your metaphysical model, is consciousness,

1 an abstract, purposive entity that existed before matter and outside of time?
2 the creator of matter and time?


Bruce Charlton said...

@ S - More like number 1 - but I see the conscious entities as multiple rather than unitary. I do feel that, in revision, I need to sort out nomenclature and clarify these entities.

My essential point is that there does have to be some 'teleology' or purpose in biology - indeed located outside of biology; the attempt to dispense with it has failed, and indeed the attempt was seldom honest, and seldom (and never for very long) implemented. Many (including myself) have tried to derive prupose as an emergent property, but this does not and indeed cannot work - it is a self-confusion. Purpose must be situated outside the system, otherwise it cannot be sustained in its direction - it will destroy itself.

At present the entities are inferred from a set of necessary abstract properties. But I need to conceptualize more clearly and simply than this - and explain where they come from, how they arise.

Because although the properties from which I infer them are abstract, the entities themselves are not. They do not have solid (or liquid) bodies, but since they are real they must have form.

Rupert Sheldrake is perhaps doing something similar with morphic fields, but I find that fields are hard to conceptualize - esepcially when they are undetectable and unmeasurable.

Anonymous said...

Dr Charlton

I've made some notes using your work and added in 'bits'. The 'bits' are what I infer from what you are saying, but I could, of course, be hopelessly wrong (likely).

When I read your work, it sounds elegant and beautifully obvious, so much so that I wonder nobody has thought of it before. Then I sit and think and try to sort it out in my head and on paper. I break down your work into bullet points I think I understand, but end in turning your elegance into a mess. But I do want to understand it thoroughly, so I'd be grateful if you would grit your teeth please, and explain where I am getting it wrong.

My notes from your notes below

Consciousness: The purposive, directional, developmental and un-folding driver of evolution

The trajectory of evolution does not involve the creation or emergence of life or consciousness, but instead their amplification, differentiation and specialization.

The history of the 'origin', major events, transitions and stages in the evolution of life (including altruism and group selection) is driven by the evolution of consciousness.


• Consciousness does not want to be alone.

• Consciousness wants other evolved conciousness to talk to.

• But nothing (no thing) exists except Consciousness.

• Consciusness changes that by creating matter and infusing matter with a part of itself.

• Consciousness retains ultimate control of that part of itself it placed in matter, but it permits that lesser consciousness in matter to act of its own free will.

• The basic instruction given to the consciousness it placed in matter is to organise matter into many more, and greater and greater homes for itself (lesser consciousness).

• In shaping matter into more complex structures, the lesser consciousness become many more, and greater and greater types of consciousness.

• These more complex forms of consciousness will work with each other in a harmonious way, (this seems similar to the 'aeons' in Gnosticism, which are aspects of God - each aeon stands for a particular quality) so that the whole of life self-organises into material beings with consciousness sufficiently great to hold a conversation with original and everlasting Consciousness.

continued in following post ...


Anonymous said...

continued from previous post ...

... Consciousness

• is an abstract, purposive entity, which is alive that existed before matter and outside of time

• created matter, and created it as conscious and alive by placing some of itself into that matter

• also remains outside of matter from where it directs reality (totality of alive and conscious matter equals reality)

• operates upon matter, which responds (because it too has consciousness)

• has the purpose of sustaining and developing itself via matter

• evolves by this development

• begins as very general and simple

• pushes towards more of itself

• becomes more subdivided and specific

• divides into ‘aspects’ which regulate the transitions and divisions of life, from the basic and beyond them the further groupings down to species, then particular human groups

• ‘aspects’ are a hierarchy of abstract conscious, purposive entities which operate to shape and frame the structure of reality, including biological reality

• entities shape and frame more and more elaborate structures - greater quantity, complexity and specialization of consciousness

• entities that are more complex are able to inhabit the more complex material structures that were shaped and framed by less complex consciousness entities

• entities can understand the current situation regarding any particular form of matter

• entities can look ahead several (or many) generations for each form of matter

• entities can cognitively model future possibilities (foresight/make conjectural predictions) for each form of matter

• entities can choose between future possibilities on the basis of innate purpose for each form of matter

• entities can arrange reality (the totality of all forms of matter equals reality)

• entities arrange reality to reach the preferred possible outcome (thereby tending to overcome both random errors and natural selection)

• entities direct their shaping and framing of matter into more complex structures with the purpose of developing suitable homes for more highly developed conscious entities (humans are more suitable than dogs for higher entities, and dogs higher than trees, and trees higher than rocks, etc).

It seems to me that you are (successfully) tying together science and divinity. It is like the ancient idea of creation - God said - 'Let there be light' - then as the light moved further and further away from the point of origin, it became denser and darker, until it reached the material. Then it begins its journey back upwards to God. The idea of the fall can be included in this myth.

I knew instinctively that science and divinity were natural allies. Your theory of a directed evolution needs to be more widely heard.


Bruce Charlton said...

@Seeker - Thanks for this - I think it may help me to clarify some of the key points.

In the article itself I don't want to trace things back all the way to God - because there have been great scientists who stopped at what might be termed Deism - an impersonal description of purposive reality; but I do want the links between what I believe in Christianity and in biology to be easily made, and obvious for those who take that step.

It was only one day ago that the scheme crystallized-out from my thinking about biology (the paper was - until a couple of days ago - titled 'The Limits of Biology' - and was somewhat prompted by reading a selection of Goethe's ideas on science and biology) - and when this happened, I immediately saw that I had, from the direction of biology, reached some of the same points I had been reading over the past year in Rudolf Steiner, Owen Barfield and William Arkle.

Steiner, for example, has long descriptions (which I find completely UNconvincing, I must say) of life on earth when there were diffuse gaseous-like conscious entities but no solid matter; this was clarified by Barfield in stating that matter came after consciousness, and that the mind 'made the brain'. Arkle talks about hierarchies of entities, like sub-selves - but perhaps in a somewhat different meaning than I intend here.

The key thing I need to do is make these putative conscious, purposive entities *imaginable* - either by description or metaphor or both. Until they can be imagined they will be unreal, and cannot properly be evaluated.

Anonymous said...

I saw similarities between your new model for evolution directed by consciousness, with the gnostic hierarchy.

I looked up the gnostic hierarchy of aeons emanating from the supreme being (below).

Here is a link:

• Aeons in Gnosticism are a class of powers or beings conceived as emanating from the Supreme Being

• Aeons perform various functions in the operations of the universe.

• There is one invisible spirit. He is pure, holy and immaculate. This ineffable one emanated pure, immeasurable light. He is indestructible and eternal. He is the all-perfect ├ćon, the fountain-head of divinity.

• The Spirit drinks in water-light from the power of life. Through the power of thought, he brings forth the feminine emanation of Him.

• She is Barbelo (the forethought of all) is His feminine counterpart. Barbelo is the perfect aeon.

• The Spirit bestowed five powers upon her:

1. image of the invisible spirit
2. foreknowledge
3. indestructibility
4. eternal life
5. truth

• From these emanate a second pair who, in turn, engender others, generally in pairs, or in groups of pairs..

• Pure light radiates between the Spirit and Barbelo. A spark ignites from this light, resulting in yet another pale light. This is the “only begotten child”, named Autogenes, the aeon Christ, the Anointed One. This is how the Gnostic Trinity is born; there is the Father, Mother and Son. Each is a perfect aeon.

• Autogenes is androgynous, like his Father and Mother. Despite their masculine and feminine names (Father, Mother), each Perfect aeon is a dyad of gender.

• Together with his Father, Autogenes produces four more aeons named Harmozel, Oroiael, Daveithai and Eleleth.

• The four aeons are helpers for Autogenes.

• Each of the four aeon helpers creates three more aeons:

Harmozel emanates

1. Grace
2. Truth
3. Form

Oroiael emanates

1. Conception
2. Perception
3. Memory

Daveithai emanates

1. Understanding
2. Love
3. Idea

Eleleth emanates

1. Perfection
2. Peace
3. Wisdom – also named Sophia.

• All four light aeons and their three serve Autogenes.

• These are the original aeons, the angels.

• In addition, four other beings dwelled with the luminaries (the aeons/angels):

1. Pigera (or Adamas, the perfect being or Cosmic Man) lived with Harmozel.
2. Seth (the son of Adamas) lived with Oroiael.
3. Posterity of Seth (the souls of holy people) lived with Daveithai.
4. Finally, the Souls (those that have yet to attain gnosis) lived with Eleleth.

• In the gnostic system, all these emanations from the divine are still part of the heaven – they are not in the material or created universe.

• The material universe is created by the son of Sophia (Yaldabaoth), who she created without the permission of the Supreme Being.

• Sophia is ashamed of her act – Yaldabaoth is crude and ugly. She hides him in a cloud. As a result, he thinks he is the only god. He creates the universe – the material – which is corrupt.

• Greater detail is given in the link.

• Again, I see that ancient wisdom and science go hand in hand. You have united the two convincingly into a truly workable explanation of how God directs evolution. Evolution is raised from being a long moan of nihilistic despair into a divine instrument in your metaphysics.

Anonymous said...

'The key thing I need to do is make these putative conscious, purposive entities *imaginable* - either by description or metaphor or both. Until they can be imagined they will be unreal, and cannot properly be evaluated.'

Yes - I agree. But if you don't do it right, you will be accused of polytheism by those who believe in the divine. The atheist scientists will simply accuse you of subverting their pet theory for an imagined and unreal god.

Sorry to be a damp rag - I can see the problems ahead, but I cannot offer any solutions to conquer the smug objections of the unthinking 'clever' people out there.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ Seeker - I am not influenced by the Gnostics - indeed I find the Gnostics quite dull and unimportant! I don't have any very strong negative feelings about them, but I do not think Gnosticism can sustain a strong Christian faith. It is 'metastable - I see it as a spirituality for Perennialist dabblers and those on the fringes or on the way out of Christianity.

My big influence is, of course, Mormonism - but elements from Steiner and Barfield are there, and that may be where you are hearing what seem like Gnostic echoes. But the influence is fuzzy, indirect and essentially coincidental.