Beyond Darwin and Nietzsche
For many years, I looked forward to reading The New York Times science supplement all week long. Come Tuesday morning, I was sure to learn of some intriguing discovery or elegant theory that would set my pulse racing with that rush of pleasure all scholars secretly seek, and which natural science provides in a particularly potent form. Today, I still read the Science Times regularly. Sometimes I even feel a surge of the old excitement. But now, for the most part, the thrill is gone. When Tuesday rolls around, I am already discouraged before I open the paper. What new absurdity will it be this week? Another silly story about “the gene” for this or that aspect of human behavior? (If only it were trueâ€”then they might come up with a cure for my compulsion to read this stuff!) Or will it be another breathless recounting of the idea that ideas are nothing but “viruses of the mind”? (As if this particular idea were using the reporter to replicate itself, instead of the reporter using it to sell newspapers . . . If only it were soâ€”then we might develop a vaccine against journalistic credulity . . .) For the science lover with a genuine affection for the humanitiesâ€”or merely for human beingsâ€”it is all a very depressing business.
Worst of all is a fashionable notion that has now spread like a plague across the intellectual landscape. We are told that the only thing that really matters, scientifically speakingâ€”the only value with any claim to objectivityâ€”is reproductive success. According to this doctrine, rape is perfectly natural, just the genes doing their thing. A harsh fact, perhaps, but then it is the duty of scientists to make humanists face harsh facts. (We are not told what Darwinian advantage there is in this duty.) From this point of viewâ€”the point of view of selfish genesâ€”we can see an even more brutal truth. In actuality, cockroaches are far superior to human beings (they will outlast us all, won’t they?), and bacteria are the highest life form on the planet! For this insight, we are much indebted to the late Stephen Jay Gould, who once wrote, “[I]f an amoeba is as well adapted to its environment as we are to ours, who is to say that we are higher creatures?” [Ever Since Darwin 36]. This is truly the perfect doctrine for the times, giving postmodern irony the imprimatur of cutting-edge science. Not miserable man, but the microbe, is the paragon of animals! A thought which might have delighted Hamlet in his blackest mood, perhaps, but one which delights not me.
Luckily, I have a remedy for these disheartening reflections. All I have to do to obtain relief is listen to music. “David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him” (1 Samuel 16.23). I put on somethingâ€”say, Corelli’s Sonate da Chiesaâ€”turn off the light, and lie down. As the bittersweet notes of Enrico Gatti’s violin suffuse the darkness around me, I am lifted out of myself and planted on a high peak from which the human condition takes on an entirely different aspect. Up here, the burden of mediocrity under the weight of which I inch along my daily existence falls away, and I breathe freely as an altogether different sort of beingâ€”one that lives outside of time and space, where it warms its wings in the eternal radiance of truth, goodness, and beauty. Later, after I have descended again to that estate midway between ecstasy and despair where I mostly dwell, I ask myself the following question: How did this insensate matter, these aimless atoms jostling in the voidâ€”which we are assured is all that Arcangelo Corelli wasâ€”how did these mindless molecules manage to compose a piece of music capable of making meâ€”another wretched lump of mudâ€”feel like that?
There seems to be something missing from the picture of the world painted for us by modern science. Something rather important. It is hard to say exactly what this something is, but the word value, I think, comes close enough. By this, I do not mean that scientific inquiry ought to be guided by moral values, though that is important. Rather, I mean that the phenomenon of value itself must become a part of our scientific picture of the world. By “value,” I have in mind something that is closely allied with purpose. For example, when my cat comes to me begging, she has a goal in mind: say, she wants her milk dish to be filled. Why does she want me to fill her dish? Because she likes milk, because it is valuable to her. Why does she value milk? Because it is good for her. The example is homely, but it illustrates well enough the normativity at the heart of life. That living things value certain states of affairs and strive to bring them about is one of the plainer facts about the world we live in, and yet this fact cannot be explained by either physics or chemistry as currently understood. Norâ€”conventional wisdom to the contraryâ€”is biology any help in this regard; biological thought today continues to take normativity for granted, just as it has always done. In short, there is a hole at the heart of science where value should be.
But why do I say that biology is no help? Didn’t Darwin explain how the appearance of purpose could arise out of the random variation of biological traits and the selective retention of the ones that just happen to benefit the organism? Isn’t that what the “blind watchmaker” metaphor is all about?
It depends on what you are trying to explain. If all you want to know is how resistance to a new antibiotic spreads through a population of bacteria, say, then natural selection is an adequate theoretical tool. But if what you want to know is where novel defenses come from, or why bacteria care whether they live or die in the first place, then natural selection is useless because it simply assumes what you wish to explain. As Leon R. Kass, the recently appointed chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, has observed, “Darwin’s nonteleological explanationâ€”variation, inheritance, struggle for existenceâ€”not only assumes but even depends upon the immanent teleological character of organisms. The desire or tendency of living things to stay alive and their endeavor to increase their numbers, which are among the minimal conditions of the theory, are taken for granted and are unexplained” [Toward a More Natural Science 261]. In other words, to say that cats have been “selected” to like milk explains very little; it is actually much more informative to say that cats like milk because it is good for them. Natural selection cannot explain this sort of goodness because it presupposes it, and no theory can explain its own premises.
At issue here is not the validity of the theory of natural selection, but rather its explanatory scope. In the discourse of contemporary popular science, the scope of Darwinism is held to be unlimitedâ€”it is called a “universal acid” good for solving every problem under the sun. However, such claims are preposterous, for the reasons cited by Kass and others. If organisms struggle to survive, competing for limited resources, if they reproduce their kind, and if novel and successful methods of surviving arise from time to time, then it follows that the best methods will tend to spread through the population. That is the theory of natural selection in a nutshell. But it should be obvious that the three teleological premises are doing all the explanatory work here, not the conclusion that follows from them. And Darwinism leaves these premises utterly mysterious. Therefore, natural selection is not wrong, so much as it is irrelevant. But if natural selection is irrelevant to our understanding of purpose and value, then the grandiose pop-Darwinian metaphysics preached from every pulpit of the popular science press these days cannot possibly be true.
The Darwinian has a ready reply to this line of criticism: He denies that the theory of natural selection was ever intended to explain the teleology immanent in living things. That is the job of physiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, and so forth, he says. In taking this line of defense, the Darwinian is making explicit a crucial assumption that has been lurking in the background all alongâ€”the notion that organisms are at bottom nothing but machines. This idea is the true intellectual foundation upon which Darwinism rests, the real heart of the modern scientific worldview. But is it true?
Here is how it is supposed to work. First, we notice that attaining a goal consists in choosing the correct means for bringing about a desired endâ€”this is the essence of what we mean by “intelligence.” So far, so good. Next, we learn that this power of adjustment of means to ends is a matter of information, feedback, and cybernetic control. (Recall that a feedback loop is what makes a thermostat work.) These are the principles that seem to endow computers with intelligence. Therefore (so the argument goes), the intelligence of organisms must derive from these same principles. Certainly, this has been the dominant view in both the scientific and the philosophical communities for quite some time. However, a growing number of voices are now arguing that it is fundamentally incoherent.1
For one thing, this scheme overlooks the fact that the meaning of the symbols in a computer program is extrinsic to the symbols themselves, being arbitrarily assigned to them by human beings. In contrast, the meaning of the “information processing” going on in a brain must arise somehow out of the intrinsic value that it has for the organism the brain serves. Related to this “symbol grounding problem” is a more general and deeper difficulty, which I like to think of as the Rhett Butler problem. The basic trouble with the whole cybernetic approach to intelligence is that, like Rhett, computers and other machines just don’t give a damn. What is this supposed to mean? It means that just as purpose presupposes intelligence, so too intelligence presupposes purpose. In order to understand how it is possible for all living beings, including single cells, to behave intelligently, we must recognize that things matter to them in a way that things do not matter to machines.
The Rhett Butler problem is more than just a metaphor. While we cannot be sure what, if anything, cells are feeling, we can observe what they are doing. And what they are doing at every moment is their very best to stay alive, to preserve their own existence (or, in multicellular creatures, that of the larger organism of which they are a part). All organisms, including single cells, grow; they feed in various ways to fuel that growth; they respond intelligently to the world around them; they learn to do this better in the future than they did in the past; they defend themselves; they heal themselves; they reproduce; andâ€”over many generations and in ways we do not fully understandâ€”they evolve. Although we can mimic some of these behaviors with our computer programs, the fact remains that all living things act spontaneously in these ways, whereas no machine does. What can account for this difference? To try to answer this question, we have to dig deeper.
Inside each of the cells in my body, at every moment, molecules in mind-boggling numbers are coursing to and fro, some by simple diffusion, others guided by active transport, all in a vast, perfectly choreographed dance that is far faster than the liveliest gigue (although at a higher grain of resolution it looks more like a stately sarabande). The purpose of all this frenetic activity is to keep the whole thing going; were it to cease for even an instant, the cell would perish. However, all of this exquisite synchronizationâ€”this music of the cells far outstripping the old music of the spheres in richness of polyphonic textureâ€”is not under the control of any single conductor. Rather, it is a dynamical process, a self-organizing whole that somehow emerges out of the purposeful activity of countless constituent parts, much like the music that emerges from the individual efforts of the players in a leaderless ensemble like the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Cells may be made of nothing but matter, but that matter is perpetually harmonizing all its own actions in a purposeful way, constantly adjusting itself to circumstances in an intelligent fashion. This Orpheus principle, as we may call it, is what gives living matter the extraordinary property of valuing its own existenceâ€”of giving a damn. Although the Orpheus principle is not understood at present, it is currently under intensive scientific investigation.2
We may not understand how living matter is capable of caring whether or not it survives, but we understand very well why nonliving matter does not give a damn one way or the other. Machines are oblivious to their own fate because the parts of which they are made have been laboriously assembled by us into a certain shape that we value. Thus, they have no intrinsic tendency to cohere in that particular configuration. Left to themselves, machines inevitably lose their functional organization. Things fall apart. This, of course, is the famous entropy principleâ€”the second law of thermodynamicsâ€”at work. It is the reason why we have to phone the plumber, call on the mechanic, and contact tech support. Now, Darwinians are quick to point out that living things do not violate the second law, and that is of course true. But it is also disingenuous. It is like saying that birds do not violate the law of gravity. That is true, too, but it does not follow that flying does not require an explanation. On the contrary, bird flight remained a deep mystery until the phenomenon of lift was understood. Similarly, life will remain a mystery until we discover the biological equivalent of liftâ€”the deep physical reasons for the Orpheus principle.
The machine metaphor has been extraordinarily useful in scienceâ€”no one can deny that. But it should be obvious by now that there are limits to its usefulness. As the great physiologist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi once said, “2 + 2 > 4 . . . is the basic mathematical equation of biology” [The Living State 2-3]. It is in this emergence of a whole that is not only greater than the sum of its parts, but also their raison d’Ãªtre, that the secret of the Orpheus principle, and the solution to the Rhett Butler problem, must lie. It remains to be seen whether a theoretical biology of the futureâ€”one that is more similar to physics in natureâ€”can unlock this secret; however, it is certain that the reductionist biology of the past and the present will never succeed in doing so.
None of this means that we must return to a pre-modern, mythological worldview. In the end, Darwin’s theory does not have all that much to do with our view of ourselves as evolved beings. After all, we did not need Darwin to teach us about our kinship with the other animals. That is a matter of everyday observation. Like the other animals, we are born; we breathe; we eat, drink, and excrete; we breed; we bleed; and we sicken, grow old, and die. In short, we are flesh of their flesh. Indeed, the idea that the human race is an integral part of nature is as old as philosophical reflection itself. Here is how Lucretius put it in the first century B.C.:
“Haud, ut opinor, enim mortalia saecla superne aurea de caelo demisit funis in arva”
(For I do not think that a golden chain on high lowered living creatures from heaven to earth)
[De Rerum Natura, 2.1153â€”1154; my translation]
It is the no-golden-chain idea that is crucial for our view of our relation to the rest of nature, not the theory of natural selection. There can be little doubt that the basic idea of evolutionâ€”the transformation of living forms into one another over timeâ€”is correct, since it is the best way of understanding the profound unity we see in all of life at the biochemical, the molecular, and the cellular levels. It is also strongly suggested by the slow and majestic unfolding of life over time that we observe in the fossil record. But if the transformist hypothesis is the best available explanation of these factsâ€”or at least the best explanation that does not resort to a golden chainâ€”let us not pretend that natural selection is a sufficient explanation of transformation.
Richard Dawkins once claimed that “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” [The Blind Watchmaker 6]. Apparently, Professor Dawkins is one of those ascetic souls who are satisfied with little. Some of us have a larger appetite for understanding, one that the theory of natural selection does not assuage. Darwin’s theory does not begin to explain even the teleological character of life, much less the ultimate ground of Being itself. As for the latter, everything depends on what we mean by the word “God.” Certainly, we are not obliged to accept the conventional dichotomy: either a human-like personality transcending natureâ€”the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacobâ€”or else the blind reign of Chance and Necessity, those implacable deities of the ancient Greek atomists and their modern epigones. There are other options. Above all, there is the possibility of a self-subsisting, creative power contained within nature itself, an idea that is familiar from a number of philosophical traditions, both east and west. In the West, it may be found in various guises in Aristotle, in the Old Stoics, in Plotinus, and in the Renaissance naturalistsâ€”what Ernst Bloch has termed the left-wing Aristotelian tradition.3 In the East, it has occupied a more central position, being present in one form or another in most traditions, notably the Upanishads, Advaita Vedanta, Daoism, and neo-Confucianism. It has been expressed with particular elegance by the great Southern Song philosopher Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi), whose role in the history of Chinese thought has been likened to that of Aquinas in the West:
“The blue sky is called heaven; it revolves continuously and spreads out in all directions. It is now sometimes said that there is up there a person who judges all evil actions; this assuredly is wrong. But to say that there is no ordering principle would be equally wrong.”4
However, if the intellectual foundation for the rehabilitation of value is to be a dynamical and emergentist form of neo-vitalism, then there is a serious danger that must be squarely faced. During the first half of the past century, an earlier “holistic” intellectual movement disgraced itself by following Nietzsche’s exhortation to go “beyond good and evil,” supplanting the higher human values of truth, goodness, and beauty with the lower values of vitality, power, and physical fitness (see Harrington, Reenchanted Science). Ironically, it is mainly the Darwinians who flirt with this poisonous idea today under the guise of “evolutionary psychology.” But neo-vitalist critics of Darwinism should also take heed. The conflation of specifically human values with generic biological values seems to be a perennial temptation of any form of naturalism, whether mechanistic or vitalistic.
We were recently treated to a particularly odious example of this way of thinking. On the Tuesday following the attack on the WorldTrade Center, the Science Times ran an article on Darwinian speculation about the biological roots of morality, in which a prominent evolutionary theorist was quoted as saying, “Moral behavior is often a within-group phenomenon. Altruism is practiced within your group, and often turned off toward members of other groups.” 5 But if human moral feeling is nothing more than “altruism” in the Darwinian senseâ€”the same thing motivating any soldier ant or worker beeâ€”then what grounds do we have for criticizing the September 11 martyrs, who after all sacrificed themselves on behalf of their tribe?
It is of course true that we are a gregarious species, and as such have inherited an abiding love for the families and tribes to which we belong, along with a willingness to sacrifice our lives for their sake. But we have no need of Darwin to tell us this muchâ€”it was already quite clear to Aristotle. The problem, rather, is to understand how our human nature is related to our animal instincts. The indisputably mammalian and primate foundations of human sociality no more explain the loftiness of higher human values, and our striving in their pursuit, than a foundation pit explains a skyscraper or a cathedral.
The great French novelist Albert Cohen makes plain the way in which morality stands in stark contrast to our animal inclinations in this meditation on the Nazis from his masterpiece, Belle du Seigneur:
“. . . when they sing of their ancient legends and of their ancestors with long blond hair and horned helmets oh yes horned for it is vital to look like an animal and it is doubtless a most pleasant thing to go forth in the guise of a bull what are they celebrating if not a cruel past to which they are nostalgically committed and attracted and when they fill their mouths with swaggering talk of their race and of the one blood by which they are joined what are they doing if not reverting to notions of animality which wolves understand well enough though even wolves do not devour their own kind and when they exalt strength or the exercise of body and flesh in the sunlight when like their Hitler or their Nietzsche they boast of being inexorable and implacable what are they boasting of if not their return to the great apedom of the primeval forest and in truth when they massacre and torture Jews they are punishing the people of the Holy Law and of the prophets the people who strove to establish the reign of the human on earth oh yes they know or sense that they are the people who live under the sway of nature and that Israel is the people who combat the laws of nature the bearer of a crazy hope which nature abhors and they instinctively abominate the people which opposes them and which upon Sinai’s top did declare war upon nature and the animal in man . . .” [877-878; translation slightly modified].
This rebellion of all that is highest in Homo sapiens against our own animal origins makes a mockery of Darwinian evolutionary psychology. Efforts to explain this “crazy hope”â€”this struggle against the natural ties of kinship (think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the children of the White Rose, or those Serbs who fell defending Sarajevo)â€”with notions like “kin selection” and “inclusive fitness” would be laughable if they were not obscene.
Here is our dilemma. If there is such a thing as goodness that transcends the authority of particular revelations or cultural traditions, then it can only be grounded in a universal human nature. Yet Darwinism reduces human nature to selfish genes. 6 How, then, can we explain our capacity for moral feeling, which so clearly transcends genetic expediency, in a way that is valid for all human beings in all times and places?
I believe that this problem of the origin of morality, and of the rest of our higher human nature, is parallel to the problem of the origin of life. As Cioran has remarked, “life is life only by infidelity to matter” [Anathemas and Admirations 5]. In the same way, humanity is human only by infidelity to the animal in man. Just as life surpassed inanimate matter, while yet remaining material, in developing the will to live and the wit to adjust itself to circumstances, so too have human beings surpassed the rest of the living world, while yet remaining animal, in developing a moral conscience, a delight in beauty, and a love of truth. How was this possible? Almost certainly, it was primarily a cognitive achievement. Language instilled in us the faculty of imagination, which in turn freed us from the prison of our own perspective, allowing us to wander in our minds at will throughout time and space, and to participate sympathetically in the viewpoints of our fellows. Language and culture have created for us a new universe of values and meanings that transcends our animal origins.
On the other hand, it is vital to emphasize that this transcendence is not absolute. It has been said that we human beings live and breathe in culture like fish swim in the sea. This is undoubtedly true, but the vast ocean of culture is a second sea that has emerged out of the far greater sea of life in which we continue to swim. Contrary to Nietzsche’s many contemporary disciples, this means that there is a human essenceâ€”one that lifts us high above the other animals. Perhaps the best example of this is the creative passion inspired by the sexual instinct.
The universality of the instinct itself is obvious enough; the question is: How should we view the creative drive that emerges from it? Though the latter is indeed strongly shaped by culture, manifesting itself in diverse ways in various times and placesâ€”think how different is the story of Ulysses and the Sirens from that of Lord Krishna and the Milkmaidsâ€”nevertheless, it remains one of the great constants of human nature. The entire artistic heritage of the world eloquently attests to this fact, from The Tale of Genji to Anna Karenina; from Romeo and Juliet to The Love Suicides at Sonezaki; from the ukiyo-e prints of Utamaro to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon; and from Sappho’s lyrics to the “St. Louis Blues.” Surely any human being of any epoch, and of either sex, is capable of entering fully in their imagination into any of these works of art, however unfamiliar the social and cultural background may be. Would not Lady Murasaki have been moved by the fate of Tolstoy’s heroine, just as we are moved by that of Murasaki, the author’s namesake and Genji’s great love? Is it conceivable that Chikamatsu would have failed to admire Shakespeare’s art, or that the Bard would not have appreciated Bunraku? Who can doubt that Sappho, lying alone, watching the Pleiades set, would have understood Bessie Smith, seeing the evening sun go down?
Erotic love is a universal human force that far outstrips our carnal desires, while yet remaining firmly grounded in them; it is the creature of culture, not of biology, but it is no less universal for that. Similarly, moral insight, aesthetic rapture, and rational thought all have roots in our animal nature, while at the same time constituting a higher human essence that transcends both those roots and all linguistic and cultural boundaries. In ancient Greece, Heraclitusâ€”that great postmodern heroâ€”wrote, “Upon those that step into the same rivers different and different waters flow.”7 This is commonly taken to mean that all is flux, that there are no stable essences to things, and hence no true descriptions of the world as it is in itself, apart from cultural conventions. But in medieval Japan, Kamo no Ch’mei wrote, “The flow of the river is ceaseless and its water is never the same. The bubbles that float in the pools, now vanishing, now forming, are not of long duration: so in the world are man and his dwellings.”8 Thus, it seems that the very idea of impermanence has a universal appeal to the human mind that transcends history, language, and culture! I submit that the dynamical, emergentist perspective provides a better framework than either Nietzschean relativism or Darwinian reductionism for understanding such universal feelings and perceptions.
Sooner or later, of course, the dream-life of the mind, ranging over all of space and time, must give way to the dreary reality of my particular life, in this time and this place. Tuesday returns and, reading yet another article intended to titillate me with the evidence of my own nullity, I descend once again into gloom. I am reminded of Schopenhauer’s mole, blindly digging away its furtive existence underground, seeking two things only: nourishment and procreation, “the means for continuing and beginning again in the new individual the same melancholy course” [The World as Will and Representation II, 354]. I consider the grim thought that Gould, Dawkins, and company might be right after all. Isn’t the whole thing just an immense, meaningless mechanism? Sinking still deeper into dejection, I put on another CD, the Lecons de Tenebres. The grave words of the prophet Jeremiah, passed down the centuries, via the Catholic liturgy and the genius of Couperin, to the two heartbreaking soprano voices that fill my room, capture my mood perfectly: dedit me Dominus in manu / de qua non potero surgere (“the Lord hath delivered me into their hands, from whom I am not able to rise up”) (Lamentations 1.14).
After a while, though, a thought occurs to me. The fox that chews off its own leg to escape the hunter’s trap presumably does not share these scholars’ low opinion of life, so why should I? Upon reflection, I decide that Schopenhauer overlooked one thing: moles are not men. To them, digging in the dark is no doubt great fun. Is this an anthropomorphic projection? There is not the slightest reason to believe so. On the contrary, to suppose that moles are like manmade machines, rather than sentient creatures the same usâ€”that is the height of human arrogance.
On the other hand, I think again about humanity’s declaration of war on nature. Having barely skirted materialistic cynicism, I must not founder on New Age sentimentality. Just as silly as reductionism is the naive view of humanity as comfortably ensconced in the warm embrace of Mother Nature. Nature is assuredly our mother, but she hardly resembles the nurturing goddess Gaia. She is much more like one of those marine tortoises that lay their eggs on the beach, then swim out to sea, leaving their young to be devoured by the birds of prey. So what am I left with, in the end? An understanding of life as the ground of objective value in the world. A vision of human nature as the ongoing struggle to erect a towering edifice upon that foundation. Andâ€”at lastâ€”a scientific viewpoint that does not contradict itself by denying its own wellspring in the human spirit.
“One must imagine Sisyphus happy,” wrote Camus [The Myth of Sisyphus 123]. That is surely so, but does Sisyphus’s happiness consist solely in his contempt for creation? It is no doubt correct that his lucidity is both his blessing and his curse, but I am not convinced that, in reflecting upon his predicament from the height of human consciousness, Sisyphus is obliged to regard his toil as absurd. On the contrary, there is no reason why he should not find it deeply meaningful. This meaning derives neither from God nor from an acte gratuit, but from the objective value inherent in life itself. We must imagine Sisyphus happy, not because “[t]here is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn” , but because he loves his labor for its own sake. His task is that of life, and life is its own reward for all creatures that live. It is a privilege that even the ambiguous blessing of human consciousness cannot cancel.
The Lecons de Tenebres are over, their dark and ravishing beauty a memory. I change the CD. The strains of Beethoven’s string quartet in A minor, Opus 132, fill the room where I listen in the shadows. As my sadness slowly dissipates, I sense that the shades of Darwin and Nietzsche are departing with it. We are all recovering from a long intellectual illness. With the nobility of the Heiliger Dankgesang now enveloping me, I begin to feel distinctly better. Sentendo nuova forza.
I believe I now have the answer to Gould and the others. On the dynamical, emergentist view, single-celled creatures possess an even higher dignity than the Darwinians suppose. They are certainly sentient, at least in the sense of being centers of will and intelligence.9 For all I know, they may even experience something like joy and suffering. But, lacking language, microbes presumably do not feel either sorrow during the course of this difficult life we share, or gratitude, in spite of everything, for the gift of existence. I will acknowledge them as our peer when they compose their own poems of lamentation and their own songs of thanksgiving.
1 Probably the best known is that of John R. Searle (see his The Rediscovery of the Mind). In part thanks to Searle’s efforts, reservations about computationalism (the doctrine that the brain is a computer) are now beginning to become almost mainstream–witness the recent recantation (entitled “One-Half of a Manifesto”) by Jaron Lanier, a prominent player in the information technology revolution of the 1990s. Meanwhile, a number of scientists have been quietly developing an alternative view of the brain based on nonlinear dynamics, condensed matter physics, and other disciplines (sometimes collectively known as the “sciences of complexity”). See, for example, Sunny Y. Auyang’s Mind in Everyday Life and Cognitive Science, Walter J. Freeman’s How Brains Make Up Their Minds, Giuseppe Vitiello’s My Double Unveiled, and Lawrence M. Ward’s Dynamical Cognitive Science. A few thinkers have even begun to extend Searle’s critique of computationalism beyond the brain to the cell and to the organism as a whole–see, for example, Robert Rosen’s monograph, Life Itself, and his somewhat more accessible collection, Essays on Life Itself. There are now several good popular introductions to many of the scientific issues discussed in this essay; see, for example, Philip Ball’s The Self-Made Tapestry, Franklin M. Harold’s The Way of the Cell, and Ricard SolÃ© and Brian Goodwin’s Signs of Life.
2 Presumably, the secret of the Orpheus principle lies, if anywhere, in those sciences that study the coherent behavior of matter — the so-called “sciences of complexity” mentioned in Note 1. For an important and insightful discussion, see the recent manifesto entitled “The Middle Way,” issued by a team led by Nobel Prize–winning physicist Robert B. Laughlin, which urges a new, concerted effort to study the coherent behavior of living matter. For some ground-breaking, if controversial, attempts to flesh out the physical details of the Orpheus principle, see Mae-Wan Ho’s The Rainbow and the Worm, Gerald H. Pollack’s Cells, Gels, and the Engines of Life, Giuseppe Vitiello’s My Double Unveiled, John G. Watterson’s “The Pressure Pixel—Unit of Life?,” and F.E. Yates’s “Order and Complexity in Dynamical Systems.” For further discussion of many of these ideas, as well as additional bibliographical guidance, see my “Biofunctional Realism and the Problem of Teleology” and “Theses on Darwin.”
3 “Left-wing” in contrast to the “right-wing” Aristotelianism of Aquinas and the neo-Thomists–see Avicenna und die Aristotelische Linke. Unfortunately, this important work has never been translated into English; for a more accessible, if very brief, discussion, see Bloch’s The Principle of Hope [I, 205â€”210]. See, also, Wayne Hudson’s The Marxist Philosophy of Ernst Bloch, especially Chap. 4.
4 Cited in Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilization in China . For a thorough and sober discussion of this point of view, see Michael P. Levine’s Pantheism. See, also, my “Back to the Stoics.”
5 Interview with David Sloan Wilson, cited in Natalie Angier’s “Of Altruism, Heroism and Evolution’s Gifts.”
6 This foolish view of genetics is not valid even for the other animals, let alone for us. After all, bears can learn to ride bicycles. Are we to conclude that this is due to a latent gene for ursine cyclism? For a more balanced view of animal behavior, see Eytan Avital and Eva Jablonka’s Animal Traditions and Frans de Waal’s The Ape and the Sushi Master. There is now a growing backlash against genetic reductionism even among geneticists themselves–see Evelyn Fox Keller’s The Century of the Gene.
7 Cited in G.S. Kirk et al.’s The Presocratic Philosophers .
8 Cited in Donald Keene’s Anthology of Japanese Literature from the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century .
9 See Frank T. Vertosick, Jr.’s, The Genius Within, and Guenter Albrecht-Buehler’s “Cell Intelligence” web site.