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Matter, life, consciousness

April 30th, 2009 · 2 Comments

James posted a link to a book called Biocentrism, here’s some info: Amazon data on Biocentrism
This book looks like it would be worth pursuing, thanks to James for the information.
However,…
Just to think with care here: people have been promising ever since the Romantic movement to rewrite science around consciousness and/or life, but not a single effort has succeeded. Why?

This was an issue for me early on in studying the eonic effect. People like Spengler et al. see civilizations as living entities, etc….
I ended up always staying away from such claims.

The eonic model is therefore based on the idea of a ‘system’, and this is a neutral term used to describe the intelligible characteristics, causal or not, of a ‘something’ that might be
1. a machine 2. a biological entity, alive 3. a conscious entity, etc,…

Actually, despite tantalizing evidence of all kinds, it is not possible to close on a conclusion here, and the best approach is the Kantian transcendental idealism approach which stages a causal baseline against a noumenal envelope that is beyond observation.

My point is that, first, books attempting to revolutionize physics with a life or consciousness approach made fundamental, simply show dialectical reversal between non-fundamentals. Second, they impinge instantly on the metaphysical, the limits of observation.
Third, unlike the approach with the idea of a neutral system, and this relates to or restates the first point, if we make physics fundamental, then life and consciousness become mysterious. But if we make life fundamental, then matter will become mysterious, ditto for consciousness.
In the idea of a ‘system’ as I use it, neither of these three are fundamental. But then the result perhaps is that all three are mysterious.

I recommend nonetheless a close look at the eonic effect as an account of ‘history and evolution’: it is the closest you can come to seeing something that looks ‘alive’ or ‘conscious’ on a global scale. And yet you cannot easily reach the final conclusive demonstration.
Next, these authors assume that life and consciousness are both of a piece, and not opposed to each other. But they may be two separate things themselves.

Finally, and I will throw this to the next post, the philosopher J.G. Bennett, discussed several times here, produced a ‘system’ that can partilly alleviate all these difficulties, by looking, not at matter, life, and consciousness, but at will, being, and function, in an approach that resembles that of Schopenhauer, whose philosophy is about the ‘will’ as a cosmic/individual process, etc… Is Schopenhauer’s will alive, or conscious?

In Bennett’s system, which attempts to explicate the ancient Samkhya, the categories of matter, life, ???consciousness (the third category!), are independently acting poles in a triad that constitute the hyponomic, autonomic, and hypernomic realms. These three all have independent generative status, in the sense that a ‘triad’ is a unity of its three elements.
(It remains true that we can, however, ascend the scale of complexity from matter to the highest category)
They correspond somewhat indirectly to function, being, will.
Note that in this scheme matter disappears, and we have function, ‘matter’ being a degree of ‘being’ lower than the ‘being of life’.
Etc,… that approach of Bennett’s is a useful way, whether you believe him or not, in seeing the limitations of those trying to break out of the straightjacket of scientism.

Nonetheless this book looks interesting, and worth reading

I should note in passing, in conclusion, that we can’t for good Kantian reasons, even complete the triad indicated, which seems to go

matter, life, ???consciousness (garbled human thinking). The third category isn’t even known to us, and isn’t like our standard consciousness, although that we must guess is a manifestation of that mysterious higher third of the triad.
The problem can be seen when you start to contrast consciousness and self-consciousness, in the classical yogic way.

Bennett, annoyingly, switches this usage, and calls ‘self-consciousness’ consciousness, and ‘consciousness’ (animal, or even plant) sensitivity. The latter is what man shares with the animal realm. Man’s ‘consciousness’ in Bennett’s sense is a higher grade beyond ‘sensitivity’ but the lowest grade in a progression of cosmic energies, of which ‘consciousness’ is the ground state.
Bennett’s tendency to go off the deep end, and race around on roller skates with half-digested bits of classical Samkhya makes his approach somewhat untrustworthy, but his indication of a larger framework shows where we tend to thrash around in the realm of scientism, clutching at straws, ‘life’, ‘consciousness’, trying to make them fundamental.

In any case, meditation was once described as a form of sitting/waiting, while you reach understanding of all these terms.
That’s the problem: man’s thinking is always scrambled on these issues, going nowhere. Semantic descrambling is very close to final enlilghtenment.
Bennett conveys a message from antiquity, to wit, that scientism flattens out the whole into a dualism, and makes it seem like ‘life’ and ‘consciousness’ are the same, somehow opposed to matter. It is not that simple.

Finally, armed with Bennett’s approach, a strange thing happens (he takes second hand the system that Gurdjieff claimed was very ancient): entities combining degrees of will, being, and function might be alive by definition in a fashion that we cannot understand. Thus the scheme makes a solar entity ‘alive’, in some sense, but only by definition of the terms.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Darwiniana » Biocentrism vs. J. G. Bennett’s triadic breakdown // Nov 23, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    […] I promised to do some posts on Biocentrism, but I already have. Here is a post I wrote when James first brought the book to my attention: Matter, Life, Consciousness […]

  • 2 Darwiniana » Matter, life, consciousness // Dec 18, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    […] fundamental, I wrote post last spring when the book Biocentrism first came to our attention here: Matter, life, consciousness This post was too harsh, when in fact I was actually expressing interest in the Biocentrism […]

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