Archive for May, 2011

As anyone who’s been following this blog will know, much of my attention has been focused on developing a theory that all of human history is the product of a series of successive visions of the dynamics of the world around us. These visions are of three different kinds — drawing their inspiration variously from science, society, or inner experience — and new ones emerge in regular succession to replace older ones of the same type.

In my set of entries on the “Dance of the Visions,” I was chiefly concerned with examining how each vision interacts with those of the other two kinds that immediately precede and follow it in the sequence — sometimes contending with them and at other times engaging in mutually fruitful partnerships.

That’s not the only way to look at things, however, and my latest excursion into the nature of higher knowledge has got me thinking more deeply about the process by which each vision is born, gradually assumes the power to transform the world, and finally fades into irrelevance.

I’ve been suggesting for some time that every vision grows out of a combination of mysticism and practical experience, but I’ve always been somewhat fuzzy on the details. Last fall, for example, I proposed that the visions are the product of “a raging desire to make sense of the world” fueled by an “ineffable glimpse … of inherent pattern and meaning beyond the disorder and uncertainty of ordinary existence.”

I wouldn’t exactly disagree with that now — but I think I went way overboard on the “raging desire” and “ineffable glimpse” part. I’d say instead that evolution has gifted us with two distinct ways of perceiving the world — ordinary knowledge and higher knowledge — and that the visions represent a series of ambitious but imperfect attempts to understand them as varying perceptions of the same reality.

Read the rest of this entry »

When I suggested in the previous entry that our society is in the process of adopting a new standard of morality, I cited the acknowledgement of altruism by evolutionary theorists as just one example among several. But I’m thinking now that this single change could be the most important of all — that it has the potential to spark a philosophical upheaval that will redefine our entire culture.

Once we stop regarding the natural world as driven by ruthless self-interest, for example, it will compel us to undertake an equivalent transformation of our politics and economics. But even that would be only one minor aspect of a fundamental shift in our understanding of life and mind.

The greatest limitation of Darwinian theory has always been that it is hyper-mechanistic. It allows no role for consciousness or purpose, but insists that the entire history of life on Earth can be explained in terms of impersonal forces acting on organisms without their knowledge or assent.

For a strict Darwinian, living things have no goals in life other than to survive and pass on their genes. If creatures do happen to evolve — if fish turn into amphibians, or apes into proto-humans — it can only be the result of a series of accidental variations that turn out to have superior survival value.

But although this belief may have been acceptable in the 19th and 20th centuries, when the goal of science was to explain all of existence in terms of simple, physical cause-and-effect, it has now fallen out of touch even with its own field of study.

Read the rest of this entry »