IS THERE MIND IN NATURE?
D. R. Khashaba
The ever escalating heat of the Creationist-Darwinist polemics, patterned, on both sides, on the worst kind of factional fanaticism, is doing great damage to rationalism and freedom of thought. Neither party shows any readiness to stop for a moment to say, I may not have the whole truth on my side. Either all design, all purpose, all mind is brought into the world of nature from on high or there is no design, no purpose, and no mind at all in the world of nature. Either Jehovah has revealed it all or Darwin has revealed it all, and there is no more question. They do not reason but wrangle, either party loudly proclaiming they hold the absolute truth captured for all time in a holy book, whether it be the Bible or The God Illusion.
In this short note however I do not intend to discuss the question at length. I reserve that task for a future paper where I hope to examine some more fruitful approaches such as that suggested by the Aristotelean notion of entelechy, by Bergson’s concept of creative evolution, by Whitehead’s philosophy of organism and process. Here I simply offer some rambling thoughts on the subject.
Daniel Dennett, for instance, sees "humans, the human soul and culture as natural products of the primordial soup." In this deceptively simple statement there are at least three dangerously ambiguous terms – 'natural', 'product', 'primordial', leaving alone the metaphorical 'soup' in which one can easily drown – which naturally produce their own primordial haze that must be made more distinct if we are to think a little more clearly.
It is so unfortunate that the notion of 'intelligent design' has been kidnapped by creationists and tied to the carriage of monotheistic revelation. The notion certainly deserved better, for it can justly claim a worthy ancestry from the Logos of Heraclitus and the Nous of Anaxagoras through the Aristotelean Entelechy to the Will and Idea of Schopenhauer. Creationists, by pitting intelligent design against evolution in an either-or contest, have made it possible for Darwinists (who in turn confusingly conflate Darwinism with the basic notion of evolution) to claim that, since it can be shown by empirical evidence that evolution is a fact, we can forget about intelligence and purposiveness in the processes of nature. This does as much wrong to the scientific evolutionary concept as to the philosophical concept of inherent creative intelligence and inherent purposiveness in all becoming. Evolution (Darwinian or non-Darwinian) is a scientific theory (not in the corrupt sense of 'theory' forged by the creationists but in the sense in which all scientific findings are theoretical) that gives an objective account of phenomenal happenings. Science tells us How, it never tells us Why. When certain scientists say that science 'explains' things, this only shows that their minds are innocent of the wondering Why: for them to explain is simply to show how; that is all they are interested in. Newton did not think that his theory and his equations explain why things behave as they do; nor did Einstein. But the unreasonable (I have more than once been chided for using stronger words) controversy wants to force us to choose between a whimsical creator taking it into its head to fabricate a world out of nothing and the equally absurd idea of an inert, lifeless, mindless something also suddenly taking it into its head to start moving and developing.
So once again I find it necessary to reiterate what I have been maintaining in my writings, that the failure to distinguish between the radically different roles and spheres of science and philosophy is damaging to both science and philosophy. Thus here we find ourselves required to make the sorry choice between saving intelligence in the universe by accepting the arbitrary authority of revealed religion, and vainly seeking to save our own intelligence by resting content with something mindless and lifeless as what is ultimately real. But we need not be reduced to that sad choice. Science, and only science, is entitled and able to give us an account of how things are and how they have come to be as they are, and that account remains valid until science has a (by its own criteria) better account to give. At the same time, poetry and philosophy and art (yes, these belong together in one family) are entitled and able to give us a vision through which we find meaning and value in the world and in ourselves. Can that vision be true? If we take the notion of truth as meaning that which conforms to things as they are objectively, which reports what is the case, then the notion of truth is inapplicable to the creative vision of poetry/philosophy/art whose reality is inherent and self-contained. That vision is meaningful and as meaningful constitutes the reality we live in as intelligent beings. That is all we have, all we can have, and all we need to have.
Philosophers must learn humility from poets, though poets are with justice a very proud race. Poets do not bother to say that their visions have any truth or validity outside themselves. Philosophers too should refrain from the attempt to assert that their visions and principles apply to the world outside. Their visions and principles are true of the only real world they know. They should be content with that. The Unknowable is unknowable and that's that. The only noumenon we know is our own inner reality. The noumenon of the world is our idea. To match our idea of the noumenon of the world with the noumenon of the world we have to be outside the world and inside the world at the same time, which is nonsensical.
Creationists and the advocates of the new-fangled Intelligent Design doctrine place all intelligence outside us and reduce us to miserable beggars depending for all intelligence and all understanding on dole. Materialists, Darwinists, and their tribe, when they step out of their proper place as scientists and parade as philosophers, banish all intelligence and all mystery and give us a world that is pale and stale.
Permit me to conclude these thoughts by reproducing an excerpt from the supplementary part of my latest book, Hypatia’s Lover, giving an imaginary answer of Hypatia’s to an imaginary question.
“From Hypatia’s answers to students’ questions:
“Is there mind in the cosmos, in the world we see around us? This is a question which only a fool would rush to answer confidently. Plato told us in the Sophist about the ongoing battle of the Gods and the Giants. The Giants would make even of the mind in us a phantom thing not worthy of being dignified with the title of reality. The Gods see mind as the root and source and ground of reality. Now, I am no goddess of course, but you all know that I side with the philosophical Gods. To my mind the notion of a thing, any thing, existing apart from mind, is unintelligible. I cannot see how a thing that is not rooted in mind can be.
“But in what sense is there mind in things that we call material? In what sense is there mind in a rock, in a log of wood, in a manufactured article? These are intricate questions about which we can speculate endlessly. Here I would only explain that when I say that I cannot see how there can be anything apart from mind, I am not referring to mind as we habitually know it in ourselves. Mind as we habitually know it in ourselves is conditioned by the limitations and special circumstances of human life. And most manifestations of mind in our normal life and normal experience do not represent what we should see as most valuable or most real in us. Skill and shrewdness and even praiseworthy ingenuity are not what is best and happiest in us.
“But mind, or, as I prefer to say, intelligence, is to me an inseparable aspect of life, of creativity, of what is real. So, while I say that, theoretically, I cannot see how there can be a rock that is not grounded in mind, I yet confess that I have no notion as to how mind is related to the rock. But I can say with more confidence that I feel there is mind in a flower or a bee in the same sense as there is mind in our best moments of tranquility and of happiness. And I have to explain that when I speak of mind in the bee I do not mean the amazing abilities of the bee that put our best skills to shame, but I mean the intelligence inherent in its sheer vitality.
“I know that my thoughts on this subject are vague and nebulous and in need of development and clarification, but not more so – I unhesitantly say – than my thoughts on any other subject, the only difference being that, on the other subjects, I employ terms and notions that seem sensible to you because they sound familiar. But in truth, if we are not to delude ourselves, we must confess that all our theoretical thinking is of necessity always vague and nebulous, in need of constant examination, clarification, and re-formulation. When we forget this, we fall into the gross and deadly delusion of thinking ourselves in possession of final, definitive truth. This, after all, is the core message of the Socratic elenchus and of Plato’s conception of dialectic.
“I have said this before and I feel it bears repetition. When any of you puts to me any question, I hope that the questioner may never be under the delusion of expecting me to give a true answer. A question for which there can be a true answer is foreign to philosophy. A philosophical question is an invitation, an incitation, to reflection, to the clarification of our own thoughts. If you want true answers, go to the artisans, or go to the theologians! All their answers are absolutely true, even when they are absolutely contradictory! When you ask me a question, then whatever I may say – at least that’s what I hope – I am not giving you an answer but am inciting you to look into your own mind.”(1)
D. R. Khashaba
(1) Hypatia’s Lover (2007): http://www.virtualbookworm.com/store/search.php?mode=search&page=1