Evolving Intelligence of the Biosphere:

An Essay from DuVersity Newsletter 35 – 2014

The Light and Dark, as Value and Fact, could be viewed as reconciled by an evolved mind, within the biosphere. They could indeed be the cause of the arising of proto-minds, since existential situations in the Biosphere are of value for its beings whilst being factual. As Bennett points out, sex and death are innovations of the biospheric world, and we can now date their arrival during the Cambrian “explosion” (around 542 million years ago) when plants and animals (multicellular life forms) innovated sex to reproduce their organisms as a whole as well as regenerating their cells through cell division. Animals, unlike single-celled algae, are able to express action but must die to benefit from generational improvement by natural selection. Only by such means could the three brains of humans, motive, emotive and cognitive, be selected through their effectiveness in adaptation to living conditions within a variety of different biomes.

But there have been problems for humans in their maintaining a shared cultural harmony towards nature and the biosphere, due to the success of their cognitive brain capacity to solve environmental problems based upon facts. Technologies can arise whose consequences may conflict with social values that are somewhat weakly held to. Arguments can break out over values and the impact of technologies and those that wield them, but the factual benefits generally dominate other human views. The environmental argument is being lost whilst technology becomes an ever stronger threat to the biosphere as we know it. The modern world is simply the latest and greatest in which actions often clearly go against valuing the environment over the wealth it can create, and better-off populations have become used, inured and psychically hardened to human and biospheric tragedy.

The familiar types of religion were identified by John Bennett as worshipping God as Father, Mother, Son, and Spirit. Of these, it is the Spirit culture that best represents Nature and the biosphere, rather than the human need to have god “in the image and likeness” of the generative relationships; of father (authority), mother (nourisher), and male child (saviour). The Spirit culture is now identified with the East because “spiritism” was carefully removed from our world view by modern science, in order to “get at” the physical laws which such beliefs, in spirits behind phenomena, “hid” from being investigated and understood; as being factual and not involving spirits at all.

The norm for spiritism is to explain the biospheric world as due to four or sometimes five elements. The word “element”, then came to be used for our chemical elements, having inherited that word from the precursor of modern chemistry, alchemy. The aim of alchemy was the transformation of material properties and, alongside this, the transformation of human understanding in the form of the philosopher’s stone.

The displacement of four elements by (what would need to be called) the atomic elements, was a descent into the factual nature of what things were actually made of. But in the process of factual discovery the original purpose of the system of four Elements was lost sight of, namely; a workable system for understanding the world as being due to the interaction of but four types of characteristic properties within situations, that is as found within nature.

The Elements enabled the study of nature as a whole through the collation of diverse properties into states of materiality, on the basis of which concrete understandings were possible of interactions within the environment and indeed, within our own bodily and even psychic nature. Without seeing the world as being made up of these Elements, the whole world view, shared by Classical and ancient near eastern cultures, rendered that view ineffective. The chemical elements, whilst factually true, had displaced a form of understanding that was not based purely upon facts.

A similar system to the four Elements can be seen running in parallel within ancient modes of thought, in which three terms create triadic relationships; the gunas of post Vedic India and the trigrams of the Chinese I Ching.

The virtue of a small number of Elements or terms, corresponds with the underlying belief that the world should be knowable by human beings, which is intelligible to us, as if ordained by whatever gave rise to the biosphere or even the universe. Since humanity have evolved in the biosphere perhaps it is quite factually possible for the world we live in to be knowable in a direct and simple way. Associated with the human need for simplicity in order to understand, and the corresponding intelligibility within Nature, is the question of what role the human being has within the biosphere.

The evolution of the present-day human is at least in part some kind of natural selection and if such selection is purely due to successful survival then, no purpose can be attributed to the arising of the human being. The idea that the biosphere has evolved the human would be absurd within a scientific framework and yet, the “climbing of mount impossible” as Richard Dawkins characterised the success of natural selection begs the question of what the impossible is.  Achieving the Impossible is considered Miraculous and Gurdjieff says, in a book called In Search of the Miraculous, that higher levels of super-consciousness exist within human beings, which are fully functional but also hard to access. He called these the higher emotional and higher intellectual centres. It is only this distributed but sub-conscious seat of intelligence within the human population which could form part of an intelligent biosphere which could be purpositive.

The problem with natural selection is that it deals only with the effect of facts upon biological selection; the facts either kill you and you can’t breed or the facts are survivable and you do. However creatures also develop faculties and these are as much to do with factually intangible values, such as skills, experience, communication, persistence, and whilst all these are often now built in to natural selection, they participate in the domain of Value rather than Fact. Values are often held within patterns which, although these can often be recorded, what they mean have to be received by some kind of mind that is not oblivious to them. Such a mind, in other words, has to be sensitive and it is this sensitivity coupled to an appropriate apparatus which we call a mind which is distinguished by recognising values in environmental situations.

This sensitivity is required to perceive and manage the values which can be found in the biosphere including cultural situations. This led Chinese spiritism to propose that “The Supreme Will can only set in motion, It cannot control the things It has made”. Things set in motion, not by us but within Nature, express both facts and values, though the values require a mind for their perception. These minds can imagine states of the world, scenarios which don’t actually exist and such visions can themselves be creative. But minds can also develop concrete understandings which have emerged not from imagining an alternative to what exists but rather from work embracing both knowable facts and perceived values within the present moment, so as to generate new structures of will.

This relationship can be seen in the most powerful symbol of Chinese spiritism, The Tao.

Overlaid are the connectives of a Tetrad, a diagram used with Bennett’s systematics but probably historically originated by Aristotle. It deals with an above and a below which, as a dyad, are unable to interact but do provide the motivation behind a horizontal dyad which provides an operational means to actualisation. Here the motivation is to study an Activity (the systemic attribute Bennett gave it in his systematics) which evidently exists within human beings; to work with the values we perceive in knowable and factual situations.

As we proposed above, we can work with facts in new creative ways by imagining situations which do not yet exist, but might be possible to achieve. This can then have a Cybernetic effect in which what is imagined can become instrumental in achieving something through our human agency within the world.

Learning to achieve something new in the world requires the formation of a concrete understandings which are, in effect, a new structure of our will. Rooted in existence, knowable facts can feed creative imagination which, having perceived a new value, can seek a suitable understanding to make that value a reality in the factual world.

The above led me, by adapting some of Arthur M. Young’s thinking [in his Geometries of Meaning], to recognising the need for something which lies behind  such a power for values within human experience. Within his own four fold systems, he suggests that systems cannot be creatively controlled without recognising their sense of purpose. He traces the causal sequence in which pigs accidentally get burnt and are discovered cooked. The idea of cooking reverses this received ordering by imagining the cooking of a pig by lighting a fire so as to eat the cooked pig, as previously discovered after a natural fire. Causality is reversed by grasping what is required as a whole situation with the purpose (or Will) to cook a pig to eat.

It is in the recognition of wholeness that such structures of will are born, in which the Unity of the whole (system plus environment) can act. Wholeness is grasped by recognising a possible state of affairs and the means of achieving it, all coalesced into a system of balanced terms by intelligence. This can be identified with the directing term of a Tetrad which then stands between Unity and Diversity, the latter being the result of the former in traditional Creational stories. Could it be that Unity is really more basic than value as being its source and Diversity more basic than Fact as being what facts manifest?

The above diagram can then be re-posed as:

The verb INVENT is a term which is directing whilst the instrumental term is ADAPT since the building of fires belongs to the skill development in which Life in general has adapted to the environment. Adaptation is cybernetic in the sense of evolving causal loops to cope with environmental needs and necessities, which Invention breaks out of existing causal loops to form a new act of will, manifesting the intelligence of the Whole (unity) and creating a future structure of will. ADAPT and INVENT are coloured red (“the light [of the sun] seen through darkness”) and blue (“the darkness [of distant hills] seen through [scattered] light”) to express Goethe’s phenomenology, in which a complex or diverse situation is collapsed by Life to invent new ways of containing and hence simplifying the World, as a harmonious Unity of Will.