THE MATTER OF REALTY:
A Critique of Comprehensive Materialism
Finding Our Path Out of Materialism’s Trap
Early twentieth century science has described our universe as an immense, impersonal machine running according to inexorable natural laws. At some point, this notion slipped out of its proper boundaries, becoming a comprehensive materialist doctrine with implications for morality itself. There were socially toxic consequences. This essay is a critique of that doctrine on two levels: (a) from the perspective of emerging insights in science, philosophy and information technology; (b) from the larger context of the human enterprise, of our search as a species for ultimate meaning.
Certainly, the materialist doctrine is a barrier to our species’ search for discovered meaning. An impersonal machine universe does not value beauty, nor recognize our significance as beings; in it’s pitiless course, all our histories, ethics and spiritual aspirations are but wisps of fog on a hot morning, barely visible, soon to vanish in the heat. Economics may or may not be the “dismal science,” but, as I hope to persuade you, materialism (as the doctrine that nothing exists but universe-as-machine) is certainly the dismal delusion.
An important distinction needs to be stressed at the outset: A perfectly appropriate procedural materialism is at the core of the reductionist stance of science; this is entirely defensible on the rational and practical grounds that experimental measurement by its very nature is intended to facilitate reproducibility and verification. Indeed, the classic experimental situation inherently represents the selection of a controlled (and therefore reduced) aspect of reality; the experimental situation represents a defined set of operations performed within a reality segment selected with the purpose - hopefully well selected - to expose and illuminate underlying laws and regularities that have much wider application. But it is another matter entirely to elevate such a procedural strategy into a global claim, one denying the existence of any significant non-material aspects of the global reality, especially those reality aspects that present primarily to the conscious mind.
The critique flows from a single, essential premise—that all reality is ultimately integrated, including the introspective domain of reality experienced by conscious intelligent beings, and the intellectual products of our discourse over the course of civilization.
The problems created by the overreach of philosophical materialism is important to the human condition on several levels. The following slogans are emblematic of the current culture’s lack of metaphysical and ethical moorings:
· “There is no value outside of my own life and those close to me.”
· “True meaning is solely that which I assign to my reality.”
· “The ‘man’ who is the ‘measure of all things’ is but a material object (essentially a perishable biochemical entity) with delusions of self importance.”
· “There is no objective basis for human morality.”
Each of these statements, and many more of their general character, are products of an intensely materialist mind set. In this general world view, moral principles have no objective existence at all, on the grounds that they would necessarily reside somewhere other than in the measurable aspects of the material universe, i.e., nowhere. Those trapped in this world view have responded in different ways: Their responses range from the defiantly altruistic and the arbitrarily ideological, to the self centered hedonism prevalent among so many in the well-to-do urban and suburban populations in the US. The UK, and Europe. Yet something is always missing. There is no appeal to well settled moral principles, little sense of balance and perspective, and very little capacity to recognize and react to authentic evil, except perhaps as some dimly remembered moral perspective (now discredited) might impel.
For these and many other reasons, I am persuaded that whenever materialism is elevated to general doctrine, it has profoundly negative consequences for the general culture. I would go farther. Comprehensive materialism is a toxic mind set. By denying the ontology of conscious being, materialism (as defined here) represents a failure of cognitive integration. In its extreme forms it can be fairly characterized as a philosophically induced delusional state.
The issues presented by materialism are absolutely central to the human condition. By denying the legitimacy of the information presented directly to cognition, comprehensive materialism represents the failure of cognitive integration at the most fundamental level. Moreover, the failure to achieve cognitive integration at an appropriate scale is the root of moral error. For example, the act of firing a disabling shot at another human being cannot be evaluated at all from any given moral perspective (such as the general interest in preservation of human life) without establishing the appropriate context scale. The shot may represent the defense of a group of school children from the attack of an armed serial killer or it may represent the act of that killer, and so on. But materialism leaves both the moral perspective and the standards for the establishment of appropriate context in that nether realm of the “subjective,” the mere product of cultural preconditioning, genetic predisposition, and so on. As I will later suggest, answers are to be found in I call “value space,” and in analyzing its interface with “event space.”
The failure to integrate the material and non-material is so basic and so disabling, it is tantamount to the “comprehensive materialist delusion.” This is a dangerous, “evil-receptive” mindset.
I find evil to be a contemporarily relevant term with deep historical roots. [See my essay, “Reflections On The Nature Of Evil.] While I have taken the topic up at greater lenght, for our purposes, evil describes a mindset purposefully oriented against three mutually reinforcing meta-values: life affirmation, respect for conscious intelligence, and the promotion of creation, including free, human creative activity. [In this triad, conscious intelligence includes reason, volition, empathetic insight, creative inspiration, and foresight, all as related, derived values/attributes.] These and all other ethical values lose authority within any world-view that assigns them the same status as color preference or demotes them to bio-electric states, or otherwise attempts to reduce them to exclusively material/physical phenomena. Evil regimes thrive in cultures destabilized by the moral relativism that proceeds from the materialist mind set. Once in full power, such regimes are usually recognized by the demotion of individual life affirmation, conscious intelligence, and creation. Look for authoritarian restrictions of rational volition, repression of the conditions for creative activity, and so on, as signature elements of all such regimes.
This brief excursion into ethics was introduced solely to set up the supreme importance of our problem. The ethical analysis, itself, is a much more extended discussion. For now, I want to focus on the matter of the material/non-material nature of reality and the material/non-material reality of nature. The core challenge to us can be stated in a succinct question:
The mathematical notion of “phase space” is a remarkable, visually accessible expression of the mathematics of chaotic systems as a realm in which the concealed order in seemingly random progressions is revealed in the “strange attractor.” Discovered by Edward Lorenz in mathematics, it is now familiar to home computer users who can generate Benoit Mandelbrot’s fractals at home. Phase space has proved to be a powerful conceptual tool and an equally powerful metaphor. It has given rise to the concept of “DNA sequence space,” the realm in which the codes for significant related morphological differences in species may be nested closely together along a time line. [This idea was advanced by genetic biologist Michael Denton. See Nature’s Destiny, by Denton, at pp. 281-282. The Free Press. Simon & Schuster. 1998.] ISBN 0-684-84509.] Evolutionary philosopher Daniel Dennett has used the term “design space” referring to the designs or “designoids” selected by nature. In this spirit, I am adding the term, “event space,” and later in this essay, “value space.”
Comprehensive Materialism is the world view that nothing exists outside of matter, energy, and their space-time continuum. This is the realm of “event space.” As just defined it, comprehensive materialism is an assertion of the absolute, exclusive ontology of event space, the domain of matter-energy interactions. As the grip of materialism weakens among thinking people, a somewhat narrower version of materialism has surfaced. It might be called the “normative non-material exclusion” claim. This is the stance that anything that might exist outside the materialist framework (without actually conceding that it does exist) is without objective value because it is beyond empirical verification (using the materialist experimental model for verification, of course). It is as if you were told—“You and I might agree on some value stance or other, say the inappropriateness of restrictions on academic freedom, or the repression of minorities, but that is the limit of it -- an agreement about preferences, not an accord about objective norms.” In this essay, both versions of materialism are treated as one problem.
Certain comprehensive materialist assumptions (usually unexamined) support a number of questionable metaphysical claims attributed to “science.” At the same time those making such claims typically cling to the fashionable denial that there can be no valid metaphysics. Examples abound:
· Materialism lies at the root of the belief that neuroscience can achieve a completely physical explanation of conscious being.
· Materialism is the core assumption of the psychological behaviorists, (now somewhat discredited) who claim that conscious volition does not exist, except as an illusion.
· Materialism is the basis for the “cumulative accident” theories of biological evolution that elevate the micro-mechanical processes of natural selection over any emergent “progressive” tendencies. The notion that any creative pattern exhibited by biological evolution over time might represent might represent something real is rejected out of hand. Any such “non-material” aspects of existence, especially innate progressive tendencies that appear over large temporal spans, would seem to violate the materialist premise.
The prestige of science and technology all proceed from the cumulative predictive successes of a materialist objectivism. But, when the materialist premise is taken beyond the domain of its competence, making it into a comprehensive metaphysical explanation of everything, all else (esthetics, ethics, and spiritual activities of the conscious mind) is relegated to the ghetto of subjectivism, quickly dismissed by academy gurus as unprovable assertion. [Paradoxically, many of the same academicians are quick to parrot the attitudes associated with political correctness as if they were newly discovered moral axioms.]
On the stage of actual human-human interactions, comprehensive materialism is incapable of supporting the notion of objective meaning and value. This failure leads its adherents to entertain subjectivism, relativism, and (ultimately) to flirt with nihilism. This is why I have identified comprehensive materialism as a pre-evil mindset. It is also a form of delusion because represents a pathological failure of cognitive integration that causes aspect of reality to be denied.
As I indicated, we need to distinguish between provisional materialism, based on the utility of reductionist techniques in generating measurable, physical predictions, and the more extravagant versions. The forms of comprehensive materialism that attack human spiritual aspirations and beliefs are born of hubris.
On a psychological level, these assertions are attempts to transfer the credibility of the laboratory to new oracles. The icon of the primitive tribal shaman is replaced by with a white coated figure, the all knowing, all wise “scientistic” shaman. In a remarkably candid piece in the “Skeptic’ section of Scientific American, Michael Shermer wrote that, “Scientism is a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena....We show deference to our leaders, pay respect to our elders and follow the dictates of our shamans; this being the Age of Science, it is scientism’s shamans who command our veneration.” (“The Shamans of Scientism”, Scientific American, June 2002.) But science, qua science, finds itself unable to address the ethical use of science and technology except by importing authority outside its own area of expertise. As the child looking at the naked emperor in the fable sees nudity, we might to call attention to the moral nakedness of the shamans of science.
Comprehensive materialism is the product of at least three categories of errors. They are: sensate chauvinism, skeptical chauvinism, and naïve dualism:
1. The stance of sensate chauvinism holds that only those events which impinge on our sensory field (directly or indirectly) from “outside” our interior cognition can be truly real. Everything else, i.e., the other contents of our minds, represent mere inventions and illusions. At its most basic, this stance is a version of “show me” epistemology, i.e., the notion that if I can’t see it, taste it, feel it, smell it, hear, it, see it, or get credible reports of its having left traces somewhere that could be sensed, “it ain’t real.” Obviously, the physical sciences have taken materialists some distance from the naïve forms of materialism by substituting the notion of experimental detection for direct sensory input. But the chauvinistic character of materialism persists in its demotion of the ontological status of the very “regularities,” the cause-effect relationships, and other predictive patterns that have been the very substance of the scientific enterprise for centuries. To comprehensive materialists, even the rules of mathematics are human inventions, and the natural laws sought by science are only apparent regularities, possibly the consequence of “fossilized accidents,” or even convenient subjective illusions with temporary utility.
2. Skeptical chauvinism, by systematically doubting everything, sets up such an unrealistic standard of proof, that epistemological paralysis invariably results. This stance is anti-heuristic, which is another way of saying that it justifies certain forms of self-imposed ignorance. As a result, even the most carefully crafted constructive epistemological strategies are discredited whenever they allow reliance on intercommunication of cognitively derived information, on trust, judgments to subtle to quantify, on dynamic real-time estimates, on intuition of any kind, indeed on any self validating cognitive principles or other forms of knowledge acquisition short of absolute certainty. Of course, at some level, skeptical chauvinism becomes incoherent. Given its inherent tendency to reach dysfunction, we might ask - What was the source of its apparent power in the intellectual culture? I propose that comprehensive skeptical reasoning was an intellectual acid deliberately released into the culture. Intellectuals released the acid of unbalanced skepticism for the conscious or unconscious purpose of eating away certain authority systems, notably the Medieval social norms that supported the power of royalty and the rigidity of hereditary class systems. This intellectual acid helped 18th century Enlightenment principles give birth to the model of liberal democracy. Unfortunately, the attack was unbalanced by a fully integrated realism; skeptical chauvinism supported various toxic forms of denial, including the denial of the objective nature of order, itself, and of all normative systems. Thus, skepticism turned on its parent, the Enlightenment, beginning the process of dissolving belief in ethics and reason, facilitating regression to a “post-modern” tribalism.
3. Naïve dualism is the last refuge of comprehensive materialism. This comes from the ingrained tendency in Western intellectual thought to indulge in radically exclusive binary classifications (like friend-enemy, mind-matter, matter-energy, wave-particle, material-ethereal), all in a way that denies the possibility of their ultimate integration. Such dualistic constructions become naïve when, failing to grasp the exact modality of integration, the mind feels compelled to deny the ontology of one or the other elements of reality. Einstein’s descriptions of space-time and matter-energy integrate dualities, as do quantum physics’ descriptions of wave-particle. Comprehensive materialism represents the denial of the co-ontology of order, qua order, in the materialistic realm of matter-energy / space-time; indeed it implies the denial of the co-ontology of conscious experience with its material space-time / matter-energy setting. These are serious errors of integration.
From a different perspective, we might observe that comprehensive materialism is the product of a series of denials. Four stand out:
· Denial of the objective nature of order;
· Denial of the co-reality of conscious experience;
· Denial of the comprehensive integration of reality; and
· Denial of the unique ontological status of information.
Quantum physicists, confronting the shadowy, “smeared” space-time ontology of a non-local quark, are among the first to realize the limitations of comprehensive materialism. At some level, descriptions of the “material” begin to break down into sets of rules, deterministic and probabilistic, leading researchers to entertain the suspicion that there may to be no ultimate “stuff” at all, just forms in relationship with other forms in space-time contexts, themselves consisting of forms and relationships. The last 45 years have worked a revolution in our knowledge of the physical world. It turns out that, at the level of the very small, nature suddenly doesn’t follow the rules. At the level smaller than the atom, it seems that certain boundaries and states of being that we take for granted no longer work the way we are accustomed to having them work. Not at all.
For example, one of the smallest bits of stuff in the universe, the photon, can be imagined as an almost zero bit of energy shooting around at the speed of light. Light is also conceptualized as an energy stream that occasionally organizes itself into a photon “packet.” Both ideas are a “bit” true.
Stranger still, it now appears that, a good deal of the time, the photon does not exist at all in the way we are accustomed to think of existence. Physics now accepts that a photon can simultaneously “exist” as if it were in a thousand-thousand places at once, within certain boundaries, until it “becomes” like a “real” thing in a particular location in space and moment in time. This “nether world” existence is often called a “quantum wave form,” and the photon’s emergence into “classic” existence, i.e., the domain where two objects don’t occupy the same space, and one object has a definite position and speed, is sometimes called the “collapse” of the quantum wave form. All this is passing strange, especially if you hold to strictly to the Total Mechanical Explanation, and have further bought into the notion that everything is always well ordered and perfectly predictable.
From the perspective of the classically trained mind, theoretical science is getting stranger and stranger. This started with Einstein, who told us that energy and matter, time and space are mutually related plastic phases of a larger reality, but whose mind recoiled at the strangeness of quantum wave forms. Science keeps taking Homo Sapiens a bit farther down the same path, even those don’t want to go there.
Where is that path taking us? Clearly, the insight is dawning that all reality consists completely of relationships. This is what we seem to be discovering when we examine the physical at the extremely tiny level of quantum physics. It is not that there is “no there there.” It is that what we are calling the “physical,” or “mechanical,” seems to dissolve, on close examination, into a web of relationships. While physical relationships are still only partly captured in mathematics, all of the competing theories of sub-particle physics describe this level of reality mathematically in a way that really does not require ultimate “stuff,” except as a set of forms and relationships. As the power and thoroughness of relational explanation increases (and we have no reason to expect that it will not) the core, the “stuff” of reality will continue to disappear into its relational description. I think we can safely conclude that, in the largest sense, reality will eventually be fully described in a series of relationships that includes form, space, time, probability, possibility, order, disorder, and so on. However this is worked out in detail, we can assume that physical and non-physical reality are so fully describable in purely relational terms, it is reasonable and heuristic to treat them as mutually integrated in relation to ultimate reality.
Given that stance, it is hard to imagine such an integrated ultimate reality except as the ultimate locus of all possible form and relationship. I will use the term Ultimate Relational Reality to describe the most comprehensive model of reality of which the entire realm of space-time bounded materiality is but a sub-domain. Space-time existence is the product of all the relationships in within the limiting framework of space-time bounded physicality, the sub-domain of material reality as it is ordered and changed by the sub-domain of the non-material. Ultimate relational reality includes at least two sub-domains, that of the material and that of the non-material.
I find all these observations converging into a single, comprehensive insight. What we call “form,” “information,” “design,” or “cleverness” has its own special ontology; it may be “carried by” or “expressed in” certain matter-energy systems, but its ontology is not merely derivative. Indeed, the laws and regularities that appear to “govern” event space” discovered by the physical sciences belong in the same category. These “physical laws” are the ordering function of what I will soon be calling “in*formation.”
In this grand conception, the major integrating medium will prove to be information in all its various forms. As we normally use the term, information consists of sets of forms and relationships abstracted or extracted from the material and non-material sub-domains. In this sense, information can be processed, i.e., dynamically correlated via symbols (themselves relational information constructs) by cognitive systems and can also exchanged between cognitive systems (and/or sub-systems), and/or between the former and the environment or setting in which a cognitive system operates. Put another way, information travels from mind space to mind space, or between mind space and event space. Meaning is a conscious apprehension that occurs when information is connected to relevant context. This context connection is, in necessary part, to “value space.” That value space would be a necessary step in the achievement of meaning is a topic to which I will return.
In the most general sense, one that bridges the material and non-material domains, I propose a variation of the term information signaled by the notation “in*formation”. The term in*formation represents the essence of “information” and ‘form”, the common constituent of both material and non-material reality domains, indeed their defining character. In this model, the form-reality of all physical systems is fully captured in their in*formation content. Put another way, all systems within the space-time relation framework (domain) can always be fully described in terms of their in*formation content. In*formation, of course, includes information.
These general insights about the central reality and significance of form, qua form, if not my coined term, in*formation, owe a great intellectual debt to the somewhat obscure figure of L. L Whyte. In the preface to Whyte’s seminal book, “The Next Development in Man”, Holt 1948, Albert Einstein wrote, “I believe the book is stimulating and original and full of understanding for the pressing problems of our time.” Whyte coined the terms “formative tendency” and “morphic tendency” to describe an inherent self organizing tendency apparent in natural phenomena. Whyte also argued that the processes of nature exhibited a general tendency to find an elusive form-symmetry, a tendency countered by a tendency to disorder. “The universe is the arena of a contest between two apparent antagonists: the tendencies toward order and disorder. Yet the ordering tendency predominates and may contain the other.” See Whyte’s “The Universe of Experience”. Harper 1974, p. 38.
Whyte’s core insight, first published in the 40’s, that a “formative tendency” prevailed in nature (he also described it as the “morphic tendency”) was the earliest expression of this idea I have yet encountered. Three quotations reveal the thrust of Whyte’s essential contribution: “Process consists in the development of form, when circumstances permit. This fact must be represented in the general form of natural law…” From the 1943 Introduction to The Next Development…at page 14. Also- “The concept of substance has failed to account for form; a concept of the development of form has now to account for the partial success of the concept of substance.” p 15, Op. Cit. Finally, “The universal morphic process generates the coordinating tendency of organisms and the order seeking tendency in the human mind, and in all of these the morphic tendency operates on levels forming a hierarchy. But this is no universal frictionless process. For in certain systems the tendency of the whole works against the tendencies in its parts, and so conflict and disorder can emerge.” Whyte, “The Universe of Experience”, Ch. IV, “The World View”, p 61, Op. Cit.
A separate debt is owed to physicist David Bohm. See his seminal work, “Wholeness and the Implicate Order”, at P 21. Routledge, 1980. ISBN 0-7448-0000-5. For example, in his discussion of the “non-local” relationships between entangled quantum particles in the EPR experiment (Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen), Bohm wrote: “...we may regard the particles constituting projection of a ‘higher dimension reality, rather than a common three dimensional space.” page 188. And he added, “basically the implicate order has to be considered as a process of enfoldment and unfoldment in a higher dimensional space.” page 189. Later, in describing biological evolution, he wrote: “....various successive living forms unfold creatively...The law of this unfoldment cannot be properly understood without considering the immense multidimensional reality of which it is a projection...” page 212.
Bohm juxtaposed his view against the strictly mechanistic model of traditional science. Without venturing into the technically arcane, the following quotation seems to sum up the essence his world view: “Quite generally, then, the implicate order has to be extended into a multidimensional reality. In principle, this reality is one unbroken whole, enclosing the entire univere with all its “fields” and “particles.” Op. Cit. p 189.
I believe that these early insights of Bohm’s foreshadowed the notion that form/relationship/in*formation was somehow encoded in or tied to physical reality. He was very, very close to a fully integrated view that encompasses the material and non-material, but was held back, perhaps, by the lingering pull of the older materialist mind set. I now see Bohm’s enfoldment and unfoldment as early attempts to describe in*formation as it changes phase between the material and non-material domains.
Both Whyte and Bohm developed seminal ideas that were on a parallel track with those of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) the philosopher-mathematician author of “Process and Reality” (1929), among other works. While Whitehead is considered the originator of “process philosophy”, I found the contributions of Bohm and Whyte to be uniquely insightful.
All new scientific theories tend to supply a more comprehensive, integrated world-view, of which the earlier theories remain valid as useful, even indispensable, approximations. This process can be meaningfully described as the development of relational reality models importing ever wider, more universal context.
It has always seemed to me that the core problem, not satisfactorily answered by materialism nor process philosophy, is how to explain the problem of novelty without admitting the co-ontology of a non-material domain. The obvious reality of ongoing creative developments within physical reality, the change processes within it that allow novelty to emerge, call for a deeper explanation. I find that deeper explanation in the relationship between the two sub-domains, material and non-material. Ultimate relational reality, which contains the sub-domains of material and the non-material, itself constitutes the meta-repository of novel form, order and design. All novelty is contained in and carried by in*formation. The processes of creation within the space-time bounded material sub-domain are mediated by the interplay of natural law, random-chaotic process, and in*formation encoded developmental lines. These influences form a continuum between law, latent possibility, and history. As conscious beings, we can see these line prospectively in our lives when branching choices appear in our path, and historically as the trail of decisions and consequences.
It seems clear enough that all reality, both physical and non-physical, is integral, unitary, and essentially relational in ontology. This implies that the nature of creation and creation in nature involve transitional states among unexpressed and expressed forms, in effect a phase change between the non-physical and physical domains of unitary reality. Some philosophers would describe this view as monistic, as though reality were of one “substance.” The claim here is somewhat different, that the material and non material aspects of reality are all product of relationship sets, including the kinds of relationships that produce separation. All reality is integrated but in a uniquely complex, poly-focal way.
That “materiality” disappears into a web of relationships means that 2,400 years ago Democritus of Adbera was remarkably right about the laws of nature, but wrong about atoms. Not only are atoms not the irreducible substance of materiality, neither are quarks. Ditto photons. There is no irreducible substance of matter. Descartes was wrong, too, in that there is no “substance” called mind. This means that what is experienced as materiality is a special subset of relational reality characterized by the special relationships that constitute the separating effects of space and time, and of determinative order and indeterminate disorder.
It is possible to imagine how, in principle, all aspects of material reality, including space and time, necessity and indeterminacy, can be fully described in terms of their mutual relationships and their relationships with other elements of reality, themselves fully describable in relational terms, only. That said, we need to approach the problem of when and where in*formation resides. Once we accept the notion of comprehensive integration, we are led to the notion that in*formation cannot be confined by space-time limitations. Because this picture of space, time, and cosmology (indeed that produced by late 20th century science) posits an organization and order that includes space and time, a fortiori, such order must enjoy an existence outside of space-time. This view is strengthened when the ultimate essence of materiality (within space-time existence) is seen as relational in nature, but that aspects of relationship and order itself are inherently non-local and a temporal. Mathematical relationships do not vary from year one to year one thousand, nor from location one to location ten thousand units removed. That all reality is relational in essential character is a direct, deceptively simple, answer to the materialist fallacy.
What more can be said about the nature of non-material reality (and by implication about unitary, comprehensive reality), given these insights? Intuitively, most mathematicians recognize that the abstract domain of their specialty is both discovered and coherent-unified. [This is why, at heart, most professional mathematicians are not die hard materialists, and many are closet Platonists.] Physicists routinely find that the realm of mathematics exhibits a remarkable correspondence to the discovered order in physical reality. The theories generated by science for empirical testing in space-time that are most promising and frequently verified all exhibit just this elegant coherence and unity.
I have proposed a straightforward extension of the unity principle, that the property of coherence and global unity belongs to all of relational reality, which, in its non-material domain, achieves full and perfect integration of infinite disparity and variegation. Because relational reality, though seemingly extracted from the natural order, enjoys an existence independent of its particular expression in space-time, its contents must be staggering, literally beyond measurement. Which is why ultimate relational reality, in its infinitely comprehensive contents, can never fully expressed in space-time.
The proposition that form and relationality enjoy a uniquely fundamental ontology has taken on new credibility in the cyber-information age. Algorithms (essentially complex instruction sets consisting of in*formation constructs), have reached a level of sophistication in which an amazing number of “natural” processes can be effectively modeled. To the software adapted mind set, the notion that mere “information” is a “separate-but-equal” existent, enjoying its own ontology is hardly radical. This is, in itself, represents a marked departure from narrow materialism.
Within the domain of mundane physical existence, it is relatively easy in this cyber-age to acknowledge the special reality of information, qua information. Our species’ recent experience with hardware and software has demonstrated that informational patterns, qua themselves, can change platform and can be expressed and stored in a variety of media, all the while retaining their essential identity. The additional understanding that all informational patterns, including all mathematics, for example, enjoy a dual existence, at once outside space-time as well as an expression within space-time, represents a mutation of Plato’s original insight about eternal form.
What I am proposing crudely resembles Plato’s view that there is an immutable reality containing perfect form, imperfectly expressed in the world. But it is a very different version of ultimate reality than Plato’s. The realm of ultimate relational reality includes the in*formational codes for all the dynamic and complex systems and processes that have appeared or ever will appear in this material domain, indeed the archetypes of much more organized complexity than has yet emerged into space-time or ever can within any finite space-time framework. The term, in*formation, describes that which exists in both phases of reality, material and non-material, primarily and completely within the non-material, and dynamically manifested within the material. In*formation represents the code elements, if you will, of all order and design, potential and realized, past, present and future.
A word about “design” is in order. Evolutionary cognition philosophers like Daniel Dennett are loath to use the term when there is no conscious designer. Leaving theology aside, the general notion of in*formation and in*formation sensitive systems (such as biological evolutionary process in general and conscious, creative intelligence particular) trump the issue. Conscious intelligence discovers and implements design in much the same way that biological evolution does, by processing in*formation. But the mind does this in a vastly more accelerated, coherent, and efficient way. We can observe crude computational processes in nature and sophisticated ones - such as those represented in complex homeostatic systems - and observe that computational processes are occurring without assuming that a conscious mind is involved. Similarly, we can observe design and design making processes in nature and observe how they approximate the processes of cognition. Dennett’s awkward term “designoid” is the unnecessary product of a materialist mind set.
I note how “cleverness” in nature (by which I mean a measure of the formal utility of systems) can strongly affect the “efficiency” with which energy operates in any the context of any coupled system, and can therefore operate as the functional equivalent of additional energy. Here, what we call “systems” are dynamic forms whose description therefore requires a space-time context, but can adequately be modeled (in most cases) by algorithms.
In Plato’s terms, the perfect circle is an archetype never actually realized in space-time. From the perspective described here, it is an artificially simple abstraction. Within the realm of ultimate relational reality, all of the complex and variable elements and systems now operating in space-time existence are merely simple, reduced constructs. Therefore, the relationship between space-time bounded physical reality and ultimate relational reality is that of finite system to infinite system architecture. The relationship between physical “law” and space-time bounded physical reality in the working scientific paradigm is much more constrained. This is why a 19th and 20th century science, trapped in an overly comprehensive materialist paradigm, has had such great difficulty in producing an intellectually satisfying explanation of creation (and of conscious being, for that matter.)
My point here is not that the scientific method is at all flawed;, because it is not. The proper goal of physical science is to discover models that yield workable predictions. This requires that situations in space-time be carefully simplified so that “pure,” predictive models can be established. My point is just that the abstraction of limited-scale ordering principles from space-time generates an artificially simple version of the entire realm of universal relational reality. This is why the abstracted body of “law” and law-like regularity and order bears the same relationship to space-time as space-time existence itself does to the vastly larger ultimate relational reality.
Ultimate relational reality provides an immensely larger context than any moment or span of moments in space-time. “Perfection” is not defined in terms of reduction of context but in terms of infinite expansion of context.
There are a number of interesting technical issues; they are to be explored over time, and most will require the next several decades to work themselves out. It is important to remind ourselves, that this meta- view of physical reality neither entails nor depends on the resolution of the various intriguing questions in physics and cosmology. Whether, for example, this is the only extant universe, whether there is a parade of successive universes, whether string theory or any of the other competing GUTS (grand unifying) theories will prevail in physics and cosmology remain “just details.” I am proposing that all universes and cosmologies, potential and real, will involve sets of core spatial, temporal, and “ordinal-chaotic” relationships between “space-time” and the ultimate relational reality. And there won’t be a speck of classic “substance” in any of them. However these issues are resolved in detail, it is logical and intuitively satisfying that reality is fully describable in terms of a vast web of relationships. From this meta-perspective, relationships are comprehensive, and mutually defining. Period. All physical law is expressed in terms of relationships and materiality itself requires no further explanation.
The physical and non-physical reality domains mutually relate as “correlated phase states” of a unitary reality. By “correlated phase states” I intend to convey the idea of a mutual interconvertability, somewhat like that within the material domain: of matter and energy; and that between interference patterns on a holograph film and the three dimensional image that can be realized using a laser (and even the phase state relationships of H2O ice, liquid water and steam).
This notion is part of an integration-driven evolution in thought that made a major advance when Albert Einstein collapsed absolute space and absolute time into a more comprehensive relational conception of a space-time continuum (building on insights about the functional equivalence of inertial and gravitational observations). Similarly, it is now possible (at least in principle) to arrive at a still more comprehensive integration: Because all reality can be fully described in terms of webs of mutual relationships, all reality consists solely of such relationships.
It seems even more clear now, after we have absorbed the implications of relativity, that, in a very general way, energy and matter can be described in fundamentally relational terms, without resorting to the notion of “substance” at all. “Materiality” in space-time can adequately be described as “energized geometry.” Energy, at its most fundamental, can be described as the entire relationship set which provides the gradient of change in space-time. And so on…
An aside: In this view, the eternal realm of perfect form in Plato’s vision might be seen as a descriptive metaphor of the precursor state that gave rise to space-time existence. Some of Plato’s contemporaries would probably see this notion as a contradiction, because of the problems that the Greek mind had with continuity and change. To link an eternal (and presumably static) Platonic realm to an expanding dynamic would be rejected as proposing a “change in that which does not change.” But any apparent contradiction is an artifact of our misunderstanding of the nature of the non-material domain of existence, capable of “encoding” the dynamic (as we now understand is possible in software), in this instance, encoding all of the forms and sequences of dynamic processes. Perhaps, the emergence of space-time materiality from the non-material domain of in*formation can best be described as a kind of “budding” from the realm of encoded infinite form. Of course any such description must be used with the disclaimer that our human-centered temporal understanding of sequence probably doesn’t apply. That aside, we might begin to grasp how, n principle, such a “Genesis development” could have led to the generation of entirely new space-time-event relationship sets, which “actualized” in the form of the vast space-time event trains one of which we know as the universe. The Big Bang may well be the initialization of just one of these trains or “universe tracks,” whose relationship to ours may or may not be sequential in any sense we can ever grasp.
Outline of the Escape Path
The key to the escape from the materialist trap is captured in three insights:
· In*formation causes effects in event space.
· In*formation resides, in part, outside space-time constraints, and in part within them, being conserved in the context of a universal relational reality, not capable of being created nor destroyed, but subject to “phase changes” between the two sub-domains.
· Consciousness is the in*formation sensitive system wherein the two sub-domains, material and non-material, form an active interface.
1. In*formation causes effects in event space.
As to my first point, consider that, in any given system, “cleverness” can add functionality, in effect creating the same outcome as if additional energy were added. Put another way, in*formation (here as clever “design”) produces event effects that are measurably different than without it.
For example, the software operating a sewing machine might use up the same measure of energy to connect two sets of seams, but accomplish one faster and more efficiently than the other. The difference is in the “clever design” or in*formation content of the system. This power of design is demonstrated over and over again in 21st century systems in which intelligent software is coupled with matter-energy devices that perform various functions. And it appears in the incremental processes of evolution as improved “engineering” results. In each instance utility enhancing in*formation represents “value added. In effect, software has measurable energy effects. Seeing this in its largest sense as in*formation effects blurs the boundary between matter-energy and mere “form.” In*formation is the comprehensive term; software is a particular instance of utility enhancing information applied by conscious intelligence to a system.
2. In*formation resides, in part, outside space-time constraints, and in part within them, being conserved in the context of a universal relational reality, not capable of being created nor destroyed, but subject to “phase changes” between the two sub-domains.
As to the trans-temporal, trans-spatial ontology of in*formation, the question is really that of the independent ontology of ordering relationships. I think three layers of sub-questions are raised:
A. Is the observed order in event space, i.e. the space-time bounded universe objective, in that it exists outside our personal space-time bounded conscious intelligence? Once we accept the valid objective existence of observed order at all, we reasonably can answer yes to this question, unless we are prepared to adopt a sort of global solipsism, rejecting history, archeology, indeed the achievements of a hundred hundred generations of humans before us.
B. It is objective vis a vis this entire space-time bounded universe. In other words, was it in being before the first human mind achieved conscious intelligence? Archaeology and cosmology combine to give us the same answer. The evidence and our rejection of the imagined arbitrary (in effect out commitment to the integration principle) combine to tell us that there is no radical break in which order has simply ceased to operate. Again the answer is yes.
C. Is it objective vis a vis all space-time forever and ever, given the cosmological notion that this may merely be one of a whole parade of universes? By force of same reasoning, the answer is yes. We may be confident in that the ontology of order transcends the events it governs without knowing in any detail its intricate undiscovered form.
3. Consciousness is the in*formation sensitive system in which the two sub-domains, material and non-material, form an active interface.
A brief functional description of consciousness, from the point of view of biological evolution, i.e., consciousness as a survival-enhancing faculty of a living organism, illustrates this idea:
Consciousness is, at its very least, the distinguishing characteristic state of the organized and coherent set of facilities of a biological being which permit the apprehension of time. In this limited sense, awareness and consciousness are aspects of the same state, the former in a less developed form. Full consciousness includes the capacity to correlate dynamic process, which, when coupled with the capacity to direct the action of an organism (through the process of self-directed decision) has an enormous survival value. Advanced conscious has the faculty of generating useful innovation, which represents the capture of relevant in*formation from the non-material domain for use in the space-time bounded material domain.
Thus, consciousness and time are inextricably bound together in space-time bounded physical reality. For this purpose, time can be described as that aspect of physical reality which permits change, expressed as the succession of dynamic processes. As consciousness evolved, it became (in significant part) that faculty of a living organism which permits the determination of temporal context, i.e., of the scale and scope of correlation between processes within the reality zone that might affect the conscious being. A fully conscious entity must, by definition, be able to determine temporal context in order to mediate action. It is practically impossible to conceive of consciousness as existing solely at an instant. Consciousness occupies time. Its existence as a faculty of a living organism necessarily involves a relationship among several processes: those concerned with perception; those concerned with the preservation or recording of perception; and those concerned with the organization and interpretation of perception.
It is impossible to conceive of consciousness as existing without any preservation of perception (memory), however fleeting and brief; nor without any internal processing (of perception itself and the organization and integration of form abstracted therefrom), however basic.
A good working hypothesis is that conscious being is a field-like phenomenon (of in*formation) that occurs at the interface between the mental processes which preserve the past and input the present and those processes that project the course of future events.; and on another level conscious being is the in*formation junction between the physical and the non-physical aspects of reality.
The scope and scale of consciousness can be described in general terms, using these parameters:
(a) its degree of integration, defined in this context as the mutually dependent interaction of the processes which make it up;
(b) its range, defined as the degree of inclusiveness of the conscious field in relation to the reality zone within which it has formed;
(c) its intensity (defined as its degree of elaboration of correspondence with the reality field within which it is manifested over its range); and
(d) its openness to creative, innovative inspiration.
Consciousness operates within a larger physical environment that contains many interacting and complex processes. Though not themselves part of the conscious being, they can come within the scope of conscious knowledge. The scope and range of activity of consciousness in gathering in*formation from these processes extends in range (both in space and time, and beyond space and time). Put another way, consciousness is a property of a biological being that extends its adaptive ability far outside its immediate sensory field. Conscious knowledge far exceeds physical reach of an organism in space-time existence, hence our experience of limitless “mind space”.
“Perception” is the process by which a living system integrates in*formation from its environment. “Awareness” is the perception by a living organism of change (a faculty which requires at least a transitory memory). While such bare awareness involves the apprehension of time, it does not necessarily involve the faculty of conscious decision making. Awareness lies somewhere on a continuum which leads to full executive consciousness. Bare consciousness, as such, is the integrated perception of change in a context that includes point of view (i.e., includes perception of the change, the not-change, and the locus of awareness). Obviously, even bare consciousness requires at least transitory analysis (processing) capacity.
Awareness is a necessary state for consciousness to exist, but not alone sufficient. It requires at least three elements, which facilitate its relationship to a living organism and to the encompassing physical reality: (1) an active physical reality interface (the sensory input and the associated motor controls); (2) cognitive processing; (3) and memory in the form of a sufficient tracing of immediate past input to enable detection and evaluation of change. Conscious being requires all the elements of awareness and at least a fourth element, the capacity to engage in highly complex and independent cognitive processing. This is the material-non-material interface. Specific faculties include imagination, foresight, empathy, and creative innovation.
The processes of consciousness are part of a continuum that begins with relatively passive living organisms and proceeds to increasing levels of self directed action. All forms of executive consciousness occur slightly later than the sensory input processes they apprehend and slightly earlier than the motor processes they superintend. The degree of post sensory input delay reflects the complexity of the processing required.
Inherent in the structure of our consciousness is the perception of “mind space” and the generation of concepts and ideas within that mind space which do not appear to be limited by space-time. This corresponds to one feature of consciousness: our special cognitive facility for the recognition of the regularity and predictable aspects of external physical reality, of its organizing form. Certainly, in one sense, to think about time and space requires a “place” or context “outside” of time and space. Putting it another way, the locus of thought which addresses the larger parameters of reality cannot be reduced to one’s head.
Consciousness is not an arbitrary aspect of some living organisms, nor is it a mere epiphenomenon to an organism’s essential “mechanical” nature. At its higher levels, consciousness represents a special creative faculty which can itself generate novelty, the influence of which emerges and operates through the conscious being, affecting events in space-time generally. This is the property we would expect of an exquisitely in*formation sensitive system.
The creative potential enjoyed by consciousness seems to require a process or processes that can emulate natural selection itself. Biological evolution has generated land bound species through random variations in bio-form that were incrementally tested against environmental constraints. Through these processes, some of these species have acquired the bio-technology of flight. The simple process of acquiring wings that could achieve flight has taken a given species on the order of 100 million years. Development of the comparable human technologies, cognitively originated, has taken several orders of magnitude less time. Neither process of creation (creation through natural selection or via cognition) can adequately be explained without reference to a much larger context in which ongoing creation is understood as the process by which in*formation changes phase. All this is best explained by seeing both biological evolution and cognitive innovation as examples if in*formation sensitive systems.
The power of creative inspiration is extraordinary on several levels. The cognitive generation of novelty requires a physical-non-physical interface, the intersection with the inchoate, latent forms within the domain of non-physical reality, the domain of creative in*formation. Beyond that, we sense the existence of other minds and have the capacity for empathetic identification. Beyond that, we experience a sense of contact with the greater reality that somehow subtends all that can be seen and unseen. Only conscious being itself can appreciate conscious being. This is why the reduced process driven descriptions are incomplete.
I am trying not to indulge in vague, undisciplined mysticism. But a sense of mystery is unavoidable. This is because mystery is the mind’s rational response to any reality whose depth, complexity, and integration inspires wonder and eludes full comprehension, including its own nature. I doubt that anyone who seriously contemplates the essential nature of consciousness and its relationship to the larger universe can afford to ignore the mystery of our self validating sense that we have direct introspective knowledge of a personal, interior, subjective reality that is connected to and a part of a greater reality. Certainly, this is mystery. After all, one’s own consciousness contains the ineffable ground of subjectivity itself, the very “I am” that lies within each of us. It is this aspect of consciousness that may reside partly in the domain of non-physical reality itself.
To the extent that consciousness represents a fundamental property of the universal, its existence cannot be fully confined to any local manifestation in space-time existence. This idea is reinforced when we understand that consciousness acts as a bridge or interface between the physical and the non-physical aspects of reality.
The fallacies of materialism and idealism (materialism’s opposite extreme, positing non-material reality as the “one true” ontology) flow from the naïve notion of a required choice between the two allegedly incommensurate opposites. For example, any attempt to achieve the sublime illusion of idealism is doomed. It takes one into that silly kind of solipsism where one is dreaming up the material world—or worse, where one is living out someone else’s dream. Sooner or later the illusory state of solipsistic isolation is rudely interrupted. Material reality has a way of knocking one off the highest horse. To adhere to a persistent rejection of this kind of clue from the “world outside” is akin to catatonia. Therefore, as the argument went, if idealism is so radically counter-factual, we must naïvely embrace an equally radical materialism.
Either extreme stance is delusional in that it represents an arbitrary (I would argue, pathological) screening out reality aspects that are legitimately presented to the mind, in the former case, by the senses, and in the latter case as revealed by cognition. We might ask the comprehensive materialist: What about all that rational order, the picture of a universe governed by profound regularities, described with astonishing accuracy by mathematics? Surely the materialists are not making the claim that all this is random, meaningless, and arbitrary? Well, comprehensive materialists are doing just that, whether explicitly or by implication.
If we can’t escape the reality of non-material and material alike, doesn’t the core problem become whether either the existents within the materialist or non-materialist view of reality can enjoy independent, exclusive ontology.
Could a space-time universe with matter and energy exist without any form or order whatsoever? As a thought experiment, we can reasonably arrive at a “no” answer on the simple grounds that we are now discovering how matter and energy seem to evidence such a complex and detailed set of ordered relationships, that the order we’ve found may actually be necessary, even defining.
Could form and order exist without any material universe? That, I submit, is the wrong question. Early “idealism” (meaning the view that the non-material was real, and the material was not) began with the insight that it is not possible to think of the material universe without order, but that it seemed possible to think of the realm of order and form, qua order (think for a moment like Plato) without the messy aspects of matter, energy, and so on. Of course, “think about” implies a thinker, situated in space-time, capable of expression and communication, in other words, in the material world.
To adopt either view to the exclusion of the other is incoherent, if not silly. On deep reflection, only the notion of comprehensive integration of reality, one that ties together material and non-material, truly escapes these conceptual problems. This has led me to embrace the notion that ultimate relational reality is expressed in two complementary sub-domains, (material, and non-material) whose exhcnage is best captured by the “phase change” metaphor. My proposal that “in*formation” changes phase from the non-material sub-domain to the material sub-domain necessarily implies a meta-conservation law: That in*formation can never be created nor destroyed, but only can change phase states between the material and non-material realms of reality.
This raises an interesting line of argument in favor of the ultimate trans-temporal nature of in*formation. If we agree with the Big Bang cosmological model, the design features of matter itself and the various energy forms, their mutual patterns of interaction and subsequent development paths (i.e.,. the in*formation content needed to explain the subsequent development of the universe) might not have been confinable (encodable) within the originating space-time “singularity” in any material sense. [”Singularity” is a bit of fudge term made up by physicist/cosmologists to describe the big Bang’s originating point; its parameters are such that the mathematics describing conventional space-time objects produce nonsense solutions; I take it to be an infinitely small point, no longer describable via known physical laws.] Did we have infinite in*formation encoded in a point? If so, how is that different than accepting the co-existence of a non-material reality sub-domain (the repository of in*formation not yet manifest in space-time), itself resident outside/alongside space-time materiality?
Cosmology and physics purport to describe the laws and meta-relationships of space-time itself. Put another way, science has begun to elicit the “in*formation” content of the meta-structure of space-time itself. In this task, the attendant mathematics represents the cognitive symbolic process for manipulating abstracted in*formation relationships. The apparent success of these efforts necessarily implies that at least some aspect of the realm of formal relationships (in*formation) resides outside space-time constraints. The principle of integration takes us farther: If some in*formation resides outside space-time constraints, and all in*formation is ultimately integrated, then all in*formation enjoys an ontology not strictly bounded by space-time. This is another way of describing the character of universal relational reality, and its non-material sub-domain, as the realm wherein in*formation resides whether or not also expressed in the space-time contextual framework.
In the non-material sub-domain, we infer from our understanding of cognition, that in*formation is organized and hierarchical, i.e., that it is organized in a logic our minds can recognize. For the reasons just discussed, we also infer that it is unbound by any temporal or spatial constraints. Moreover, no arbitrary limit can be placed on the in*formation content of the non-material domain. So we may infer that the in*formation contents of the non-material sub-domains is held in logically nested infinities.
In the material domain, spatial and temporal relational constraints allow division, succession, and separation of form. Put another way, in*formation in space-time is divided and constrained by spatial and temporal relationships. Forms are expressed in operationally nested interacting systems with common elements. [As an example of a common elemental form, think of Plato’s perfect form, the sphere, which manifests in material reality as variations of the bubble, found throughout the universe in the cells, planets, drops, and so on; its replication, separation, and change is made possible by space and time separation relationships.]
As just argued, we cannot conceive of any limit to the contents of the non-material domain, because such limits, like duration and extension, are the artifacts of the special domain of space-time. Therefore, we may conclude that not all in*formation from the non-material domain can “fit” within any finite temporal-spatial setting. For any limited time span, finite material reality lacks “the bandwidth.” Looked at another way, the parameters of time and space can be seen as the “stretching modalities” of the material domain to accommodate the influx of in*formation from the non-material domain. This implies an ongoing developmental tension within the material domain.
Therefore, at this stage of the history of the universe, the emergence of human creative intelligence can be seen as a powerful design, that of a massive in*formation “carrier”, that finally “fit in” the space-time domain. And through our own creative activities, we are bringing in other in*formation with us. Think of the songbird bringing in a few mating calls, then human cultures emerging with music, stories, and so on, an immense inpouring of in*formation.
Let me return to another aspect of conscious being. Mind would not have appeared as a faculty of living being unless it enhanced survival and facilitated adaptive development. This did not occur in a materialist regime dominated by the arbitrary and accidental, but in a reality suffused with in*formation whose emergence within the material domain is mediated by seeming accidental discontinuities. The obvious coping functions of conscious intelligence, and their success over the last hundred thousand years, tell us that there is a deep and useful correspondence between the in*formation content entering and shaping the material universe and the in*formation-receptive structure of our minds. I am proposing that, just as the mind operates in “event space” and represents a supremely effective biological innovation to support our adaptive survival-creative strategies, the mind also operates in “value space.”
Recall that event space is the space-time realm of matter-energy interactions, the material domain. The non-material domain can be described as in*formation space. Information space and event space are co-related domains. All biological systems must be in*formation sensitive especially they are equipped to detect patterns and relationships in event space that identify threat, food and reproduction. This represents, even at the earliest formal development of self-sustaining organic systems, the cognitive interaction of “pre-tuned” internal cognitive “wiring” and in*formation acquired via physical interactions with the environment. What I just referred to as “internal cognitive wiring” represents embedded normative in*formation (in the form of the survival drive and ancillary motivators which set the context for the operation of all biological consciousness). This normative bias was embedded via evolutionary elimination or “tuning” because anti-survival motivators are self-limiting.
I see an evolutionary progression, measuring jumps in the degree and sophistication of effective biological in*formation sensitivity over evolutionary time scales:
1. Adaptation. In*formation sensitive biology at the evolving species level.
2. Adaptive. In*formation sensitive biology at the individual, cognitive-interactive level.
3. Creative adaptive. In*formation sensitive as above and via fruitful innovation using the advanced in*formation interface of developed conscious intelligence (as in creative inspiration).
4. Active creative “pro-daptive”. The advanced capabilities of conscious intelligence potentiated by the fruits of human civilization. This represents in*formation sensitivity at the most advanced (and accelerated) level.
Note the profound acceleration of the influence of in*formation that occurs between level 2 and 3, and between level 3 and 4. Interestingly, this analysis also “solves” the free will problem, really a non-problem, the result of asking the wrong question. Consider that we inhabit a natural regime characterized by some dominant ordering relationships (physical laws), some quasi dominant ordering relationships (probabilistic regularities), some bounded indeterminacy, some bounded chaos, some ontological indeterminacy (at least on the quantum level and effectively on the level of very large scale complex systems), all subject to an ongoing creative influx of novel ordering relationships that are input via in*formation sensitive systems (i.e., our minds). In this milieu, the “free” will problem presents us with a fundamentally different (and more interesting) question: whether (or to what extent) materialistic determinism controls our conscious decisions or whether in*formation does. I have already referred to how in*formation can powerfully influence certain material processes and systems, producing effects that can mimic the addition of energy. The mind was designed by evolutionary process to be a highly disciplined, efficient in*formation sensitive interface. That very function of course, is one measure of the intensity of creative consciousness, and the four step hierarchy outlined above represents successive stages in biological in*formation sensitivity over time. The free will-determinism conflict, then, is really about the continuum between primitive cognitive processes that are hard wired with little or no innovative capacity, and the human mind which, at its best, is predominantly a mind space arena for the battle of competing ideas, i.e., for the resolution of in*formation conflicts by processes of decision.
What some philosophers have called the fact-value conflict is existentially real as a matter of deep psychology, a conflict we can now better understand in terms of the interaction of value space and event space. For every conscious individual, the starting point for all motivation (and therefore ethical thought and feeling) is the inevitable conflict between fact and value, between situation and “rightness,” between is and ought, between event space and value space. And for each of us the inescapable conflict is that between life, which to we cling, and death, which we fear. I cannot over-stress the functionally axiomatic normative centrality of life affirmation. At the threshold of any resolution of the fact-value dualism is a dual acknowledgment, the fact and legitimacy of survival as the first goal of conscious life. Fact and value are here, I would argue, commensurate, complementary aspects of integrated reality.
If the challenge is to move from the descriptive to the normative, this requires a grasp that certain facts, like the virtually universal prevalence of the survival imperative among living organisms. These are not isolated, contingent features of fluctuating reality, but are instances of a universal, contained in the domain of in*formation and linked to the very nature of biological conscious being. Moreover, the drive for survival becomes the drive for continuity of conscious life. And this “fact” is the key to the integration of fact and value. Survival is as central to the question of ethics as the basic sensory input of consciousness is central to epistemology. It is as central as the consistency principle is central to logic.
All conscious decisions by biological cognitive processes occur in an explicit or implicit normative context. This context (essentially pro-life and pro-life protecting consciousness) is unavoidable because it is intrinsic to the nature and situation of bio-consciousness. We can readily appreciate how all actions of living, biological intelligence, linked to in*formation via cognition, are also linked to the value orientation of the survival imperative. From an evolutionary perspective, we can see normative orientations as emergent in*formation much as all the other cognitive discoveries that enhance survival represent emergent in*formation. Emergence can also be described as the phase change of organizing and creative in*formation from the non-material domain into the material domain. Within any cognitive framework that is organized according to the normative in*formation principles just alluded to, a common, inherent hierarchy emerges that derives from reason, the integration principle, and the nature and situation of living conscious beings in space-time.
Thus, all biological conscious intelligence is effectively designed to operate within a normative in*formation framework. The necessary and logical normative orientation of living organisms, organized by the survival imperative in an interactive community of similarly aligned organisms, will always generate similar ethical systems. This is so because, significantly, all of the core design parameters of these cognitive, aware, conscious beings and the principles for optimizing their interactions, trace back to a common source in the domain of in*formation.
The result can be represented as “value space”, a matrix in which the norms of survival, life affirmation, the creation imperative, the value of consciousness, reason, and so on can be plotted. Objective norms and principles naturally and rationally emerge from this in*formation complex as conscious biological beings encounter other beings and events that require accommodation and cooperation. The implications of this insight are explored in detail in a different essay. The takeaway point, for this discussion, is that no conscious being can make a decision outside the context of value space.
In significant part, all ethics represents the universalization of self-directed normative affirmations, via the instantiation of the appropriate in*formation born aspects of value space.
In summary, the basic survival value-principles are carried by in*formation, and their corollaries (such as reason), also by in*formation, and are embedded in biological consciousness (much as the operating system of a computer) as a result of its evolved design parameters which have “tuned” it to the life and creation impulses. By amplifying intelligence, the in*formation legacy of culture and civilization replace trial and error with education, solitary effort with dialogue and teamwork. Much more stable and elaborate thought systems can be initiated, propagated and preserved, Thus, from this core alignment of biological consciousness, all ethical systems can ultimately be derived, and their variations normalized by the extraction of common principles. This process of emergent ethical in*formation is another example of the inflow of creative, life enhancing in*formation via the operation of conscious intelligence.
As I suggested at the beginning of this essay, comprehensive materialism, taken as a general metaphysical doctrine, has far reaching negative consequences in the general culture. The point of this excursion is to demonstrate why and how the converse stance has immense positive implications for our species. Comprehensive reality integration, incorporating the creative and ethics-engendering role of in*formation, takes us far beyond narrow materialism. The path out of the materialist trap is written on a map carried by in*formation.
Copyright ã 2003 Jay B. Gaskill
For Permission to reprint or publish, contact: Jay B. Gaskill Attorney at Law