Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Two Misleading Intellectual Habits

Two misleading and persistent intellectual habits dominate thinking and much of politics:

  1. The myth of the isolated mind and 
  2. The legacy of the theological divide.


1. The myth of the isolated mind is the belief that human minds are purely private, locked within our skulls. Merlin Donald, neuro-paleontologist, demonstrates the flimsiness of the idea in his remarkable book, A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness. (Here's a review.) He makes it clear that no human beings can develop their human cognitive potential in the absence of culture. Cognition and culture are mutually dependent. Their dependence raises some questions about ethical responsibility, personal freedom, freedom of speech and of other areas in which people are ineluctably interdependent actors whose sense of meaning and justice has changed throughout history and varied across cultures.

2. The theological divide separates heaven and earth. Here is how it looked before Nietzsche:


  • Heaven | Earth
  • Form | Matter
  • Spirit | Nature
  • Mind | Body
  • Male ♂| Female ♀
  • Order | Chaos
  • Reason | Emotion
  • Light | Dark
  • Logos | Eros
  • Transcendent | Immanent
  • Active | Passive
  • Eternal | Temporal (finite, changeable)
  • Divine intellect | Randomness (unpredictability)
Here's how it looks now from the "secular" point of view: 


  • Heaven | Earth
  • Form | Matter
  • Spirit | Nature
  • Mind | Body
  • Male ♂| Female ♀
  • Order | Chaos
  • Reason | Emotion
  • Light | Dark
  • Logos | Eros
  • Transcendent | Immanent
  • Active | Passive
  • Eternal | Temporal (finite, changeable)
  • Laws of (mechanical) Nature | Randomness (unpredictability)
Much of the ontological edifice of theology remains intact. It's basically a decapitated theology. 

But as thinkers such as Stuart Kauffman and Manuel DeLanda convincingly show (they each have many lectures, interviews and short talks on line if you're interested), there is now an approach that makes matter dynamic rather than a passive receptacle of form or logos or laws of nature and that reinstates the ontological status of virtual or potential. It looks more like this:

  • Evolving Cosmos
  • Self-organizing Matter
  • Dynamic Nature
  • Sentient, encultured Body
  • Knowledge that reason cannot work without emotion
  • Virtual and real complement each other
  • Chaos and complexity theories
  • Intrinsic unpredictability in evolutionary biology
These ideas need fleshing out more (and more research) but if you have any leads, let me know.




No comments:

Post a Comment