Thursday, 10 November 2016

An Evolutionary Spirituality: Goodness out of Chaos

"No fate but what we make" -- Sarah Connor, Terminator
The ideas in this article are an attempt to reconcile science, psychology, religion and philosophy. A lofty, perhaps too lofty, goal and an extension of the ideas I was reaching  for in "Evolutionary Spirituality: A Personal God".

Modern physics tells us that uncertainty and chaos are fundamental properties of the universe we inhabit. Evolution tells us that, in regards to life, change is driven by randomness. Specifically changes are the result of random mutations. Which changes persist is not random, but the driving mechanism is random and chaotic. Evolutionary biologists will tell you that success, fitness, is not "progress" (which they would say is an illusion) merely the accumulation of random changes that are more fit to survive in specific environments and circumstances.

Yet given the arc of history (and human culture as part of history) it looks and feels like progress is being made. I think the reason for this is that on average, what we see as more "progressed" (more complex, capable of rationality etc) is likely to be more successful. On average, given enough time more advanced life and better ideas will arrive and if they occupy the same niche will push out lower lifeforms or worse ideas.

So in that sense, even driven by the "raw material" (the natural law) of chaos and randomness, progress can be seen as inevitable. Nature tries every possible combination and permutation randomly, which is why life on this planet is so diverse and so downright weird in places. Nearly everything you can imagine has been tried somewhere in history. It's also why just about every oddity of belief, idea, perversion and strangeness of character can be found somewhere in humanity. But on average, the "good" ideas are "better" (more fit, more advantageous) and gradually replace "worse" ideas. On average, good wins.

Here's where it gets interesting and we can draw from Descartes ontological argument, perhaps slightly modified. We are psychological beings - all our experience is mediated through and exists in our psyche. We are our psyche. The best possible idea, is pure unadulterated love that is for us and through us. If humanity is capable of experiencing this - if a love this strong and pure is something that could dwell within the psyche of humanity (and ecstatic experiences from all faiths and no faith say that it is) then it is the very best possible idea. And therefore, over enough time, that idea will win. Not "the idea of God" (which is almost entirely the problem of modern Christianity), but the psychological reality of pure love.

And if, as Jung suggested and developmental psychology also suggests based on the way our psyche forms, our psyches are connected (compare this with Indra's Net from Hindu mythology which I reference in "Soul Healing: Empathy") - then that idea, the reality of pure love, can dwell amongst us. And that's an even better idea!

And then leaping off the diving board altogether, what if (as religions like Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity from a certain perspective) consciousness is connected to physical reality - even perhaps forms what we experience as physical reality (which quantum physics perhaps obliquely hints at in the role it ascribes to "the observer"). Then not only can that idea, infinite love, dwell within the collective psyche of humanity - but it can dwell in and inhabit and shape the whole universe.

Of course I can't demonstrate that. It's merely a nice idea, perhaps even a good idea.

Another way to see it would be that believing and knowing the power of love, as healing and transforming, is therefore a mind virus trying to make you believe in God. And, as a good atheist, love must therefore be opposed at every turn... Personally speaking, I think this would be a bad idea.

What I really like about this, is that it allows the raw material of the universe, the base natural law, to be chaos and randomness and still produce goodness. Merely because love wins. It's simply a better idea than evil.Out of nothingness, perfect goodness can arise. Slowly. Just because it's the best possible idea - and the universe has been gradually trying them all out. It would be nice to be able to prove it rather than merely hypothethise about. The only theory worth a damn is the theory of the practise.

This way of thinking offers an explanation for evil, which Christianity lacks, at the cost of implying that God is evolving - something that really doesn't sit well with traditional Christianity at all. And if our psyches are formed by and in contact with other psyches, then other people "live in us" (our life is formed partially from their life), so other people live on in us even after the physical body dies. All we are is the product of all that has been before. Again, veering into the outlandish but kind of reassuring nonetheless. Who we are persists through what we do; specifically the way we touch and form other lives around us.

For what it's worth, for reasons rooted in the experiences of my past, I enjoy calling that raw chaotic creative potential of the universe "psychedelic reality". It expresses itself and is "formed" (given shape) through consciousness. Well, maybe anyway.






 
Humanity is merely an expression of the universe and culture an expression of humanity. The universe expresses itself through human culture.

3 comments:

  1. OK, as promised... and this is definitely the short version.

    I think throughout you're conflating two meanings of good: "good the opposite of evil" and "good for our survival". The first isn't the second, both from the viewpoint of a single person and the entire species.

    Also here "The best possible idea, is pure unadulterated love that is for us and through us", it is? Love is a vague concept and I've never found a reason not to assume it can't be explained by various requirements for survival based on chemical triggers. I mean it's a nice idea, but you're looking at it from the flawed position of the observer experiencing it.

    Similarly our psyches appearing to be the same doesn't make them connected, it just means they were created from similar conditions and so will have similar thoughts - we're no more connected than grains of sand.

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  2. Those are good points and they deserve a thoughtful answer. I think there are answers, but they are very good responses. The conflation point is particularly interesting - I think it's possible to demonstrate that genuine altruism (a good definition of love) makes a species more fit for survival. Therefore those two "definitions" of "good" tend towards being the same thing. Therefore, from a fitness point of view "pure love" *is* the best possible idea. That needs more fleshing out. The trouble is that this aspect of evolutionary biology, finding an evolutionary defence for altruism and indeed any aspect of human behaviour, is fraught with bullshit.

    Yes love is a biochemical/neurological process. We are physical beings following the natural laws of the universe. I don't think this means that love is not "real", I think it means that love is a natural expression of the physical laws of the universe. Again, this is an idea that needs more fleshing out.

    As for connected psyches - again I think you can approach this from two angles. The abstract, psyches shaped from the same forces (ideas) causing us to behave "in sync" as we operate within the same ideas/forces (dawkins memetic theory has stuff to say on this I believe). So our psyche, who we are, is comprised of the same "stuff" that is in anyone else - we are all merely part of the whole. The other aspect is that we are individual physical beings with independent responses and operations of mind. Again, I think these angles *tend* towards being exactly the same thing. We should be able to demonstrate that separate entities acting independently under the same forces behave *exactly* as if they were continuous/connected entities. I would rather prove this in practise than merely discuss it in the abstract though.

    This is just an "off the cuff" response. I think your points deserve more consideration and probably a follow up post. Some of this is already covered in "Evolutionary Spirituality Part 1" if you fancy reading that.

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    Replies
    1. So the big question is "entropy". How much does chaos (noise in the system) mean that these ideas I say "tend towards the same thing" actually are not the same thing?

      I think the fact that shared experiences, shared ideas, shared understanding, is possible demonstrates that connection is *possible*. I think that if genuine connection is *possible* then there are extraordinary consequences about who we really are.

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