Thursday 20 October 2016

The Sun is alive and conscious - Rupert Sheldrake's argument (from physics)

Here, in a dialogue form, Rupert Sheldrake puts forward his developed argument that we could and should regard the Sun as alive and conscious - based on arguments he derives from physics, information theory and the like.

Also: Is the Sun Conscious on this page:

He goes on to draw out the implications of assuming the Sun is alive - what other things are therefore likely to be alive, and how they may influence us (and we them, presumably).

I think Sheldrake makes a decent case - from his Platonic/ Aristotelian/ Christian/ Biologist perspective - Although the reason why I myself regard the Sun as (in some way, poorly understood) alive, conscious and purposive is metaphysical rather than scientific: since we cannot draw a line between alive and not-alive, therefore either everything is alive or nothing is alive - therefore (since we know we personally are alive) everything is alive.

[PS: the other participant in the conversation, Mark Vernon, seems like what he actually is - primarily a secular Leftist activist who uses religious (often Christian) language and concepts. His understanding of Barfield is, consequently, partial and distorted.]


William Wildblood said...

I haven't listened to this yet, Bruce, but I have a question for you. That the sun, or any star, is alive seems metaphysically inevitable. The sun is a god (small g). But what do you think about the moon or, for that matter the Earth and other planets in the solar system? To my mind there is a feeling of decay about the moon. I think any life has departed. The Earth must on some level have consciousness but what that level is an intriguing question for me and one to which I have no intuitive response.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Shrewd question!

By my understanding everything is alive and conscious, including the moon - but you probably mean is the moon alive in the same way and to some similar degree as the sun or a star - conscious, purposive?

My heart says yes - I have indeed always felt that the moon has some kind of reciprocal and purposive (but unspecified) relation to me, personally.

I'd find that view hard to defend, however; except that the moon is so big, so close, and we know for sure that it has a massive influence on the earth as evidenced by the tides. If tides, then why not also other things?

The moon remains a profoundly mysterious object - why is it the same angular size as the sun, why is it so relatively big (compared with other moons), why do we only see one side - how did it form (I don't think any of the scientific theories are truly solid), why does it cause high tides on the opposite side of the world (either I don't understand, or don't accept, the supposed explanation for this)?

So, in sum, I do regard the moon as alive and conscious in a significant way - although I don't know in what way or how.

William Wildblood said...

Thanks for your answer, Bruce. That the moon was alive I agree. I just wonder if (perhaps post Fall?) it is now something like a decaying corpse. But I don't know. You're right, it is a profoundly mysterious object. On the one hand there is something baleful about it but on the other it has beauty (when lit by the sun) and is also symbolically very apt in many ways. Astrologically, of course, it stands for the unconscious but it also stands for the mother so again we have that ambivalent quality of something from the distant past but also something vital, good and true. I sometimes think that if we could really understand the sun, the moon and the Earth and the relationships between them we would know a lot about ourselves. There are many secrets hidden, or maybe even not so very hidden, there.

William Wildblood said...

By the way, astrologically speaking, the moon is my ruling planet. But it's in Scorpio conjunct Saturn and square Pluto so I'm probably deeply prejudiced!

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - In his second talk, Sheldrake suggests that the moon is a part of Earth/ 'Gaian' consciousness - but not an independent conscious entity.

William Wildblood said...

That makes sense. Doesn't science currently consider that the moon broke off from the earth at some time, perhaps after an asteroid hit? And of course the earth/moon should be considered as a single object going round the sun. Maybe moon, earth and sun correspond to subconscious, conscious and superconscious or body, soul and spirit. Speculation, speculation!

Brett Stevens said...

Your view of life seems similar to how Schopenhauer viewed it. His concept of the Will -- an animating force that explodes outward in all directions constantly -- seems to describe the method of life at least. In my view, life may be a pattern that manifests in matter, not the other way around, and this is why it is so hard to define in rigid terms from a material perspective.

David Balfour said...

It is interesting to contemplat the continuum of what constitutes life and a discrete/autonomous or contingent entity. Of course, as WW points out the moon and earth are not only gravitationally related but exist in a kind of living dance; if the moon were to vanish then this would undoubtedly destroy/damage the fine balance that supports the global ecosystem. Similarly, and perhaps more dramatically, the Sun nourishes and provides the basis for the biological ecosystem. Assuming they are alive and conscious as larger holistic entities this raises more fundamental questions about the indivisible nature of the cosmos. Of course, although I have not studied it extensively, this kind of symbiosis is fundamental to things like the Gaia hypothesis. By extension, one can imagine that a human being cannot do without God (despite some peoples best efforts) without a sense of incompleteness or dysharmony, in the same way that the Earth would be incomplete without the Sun (perhaps Mother) and the moon (sibling). I wonder though at what level we may talk of children of God? Are humans exclusively children of God or might we correctly call the Sun a child of God? Given a seemingly infinite cosmos could we argue there are in principle an infinite number of 'Children of God' or a finite number of souls (including those traditionally regarded as inanimate such as stellar bodies, etc)?

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - The traditional medieval cosmology had the heavenly bodies as angels - whether this is accurate depends on one's understanding of the nature of angels. But if everything is alive, to different degrees and in different ways, then we need not call everything alive a *child* of God - more a creation of God. I would restrict children of God to those capable of becoming gods in the sense of sons and daughters who can create in the same way as God (ie having spirit children)

Bryan_Cranstin said...

Bruce, maybe I am mistaken, but didn't Owen Barfield define original participation as "everything is alive" (there is a spirit like us on the other side of the phenomena), and final participation as the recognition that independent spirits don't exist in things but rather our spiritual connection to them is that our mind participates in creating them? (indeed he says in STA that the book is an extended exposition of Kant and the insights of modern quantum science)

The belief that sun and moon are alive would seem to be original participation, which I know you object to returning to.

Final participation would be about recognizing that things don't exist independent of our minds and that forms our spiritual connection to them (not that they are alive) - that we are in a "directionally creator" posture towards the world, as he puts it - and that once we realize this, we can by an effort of will use our imagination to guide the evolution of the world, but not in an arbitrary way but rather by channeling the divine element within us (although if we don't "freely" create but must obey the divine self within us one wonders whether will and self are the right words)

In other words, in OP man is subsumed in the world, in FP, the world is subsumed in man, which places this philosophy among modern ego philosophies.

A complicated view, and in my view not really coherent, but surely a far cry from the simple belief that the world us alive, which is seen as an error.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Bryan- That isn't at all my understanding of Barfield (or Steiner).

Jack said...

Unless I'm misunderstanding something here, one phase of your reasoning here can be stated (abstractly) as follows:

[Premise] We can't draw a line between F and non-F.
[Conclusion] Either everything is F or else everything is non-F.

Isn't this just an elementary logical fallacy? I mean, suppose 'F' represents the property of being bald. Well, it's true that we can't draw any (sharp, non-arbitrary) line between bald men and non-bald men. And yet, obviously, it's just true that some people really are bald and others aren't. So in that case the premise is true but the conclusion false; the argument form is therefore invalid. And the same holds if 'F' stands for redness or some other color property, or any number of other properties. Likewise, if 'F' stands for the property of being alive, the mere fact that there's no sharp or non-arbitrary distinction between Fs and non-Fs surely does not force us to say either that everything is alive, or that nothing is.

I like the idea that everything is alive. My point is that I don't accept this argument for the idea. Am I missing something?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jack - The argument is what the argument is! - Which means that your abstract simplification is an incomplete summary.

Also, I don't accept (and in practice it isn't accepted) that that kind of logic is self evidently true about the real world - because as well as the problem of abstract simoplicity there is a problem of applicability. So a mathematical axiom is true (assuming there has been no error) yet mapping the mathematical symbols onto reality may be impossible to be sure of.

Also! I am not really trying to convince other people of the validity of this argument, but rather to state that it was *this* argument which convinced *me* - coming, as it did, at the end of a couple of decades of thinking about biological issues relating to natural selection and the origins of life. The 'whole story' was published here:

Whether someobody is convinced by some argument, logic of piece of evidence is an interesting question. 1. There is what we are 'supposed' to be convinced by, then 2. there is what we actually feel convinced by - which is often different, then 3. there is the public rhetoric which may undermine number 2. - but without providing anything we *are* convinced by .

This is pretty much the situation of many people today - i.e. nihilism, not believing that anything is really real.