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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Thursday, August 29, 2013


First, though it has nothing to do with the main point of this essay, I want to acknowledge that the site NEWFRONTIERSNERD has recapitulated my DEAD-ALIVE HAND essays for readers of Portuguese.  My thanks for the acknowledgment.

Back to Stuart A. Kauffman's concept of a biology which is "partially beyond natural law," first addressed here.  Kauffman says:

How could the physicist 'deduce' the evolution of the biosphere?  One approach would be, following Newton, to write down the equations for the evolution of the biosphere and solve them.  This cannot be done.  We cannot say ahead of time what novel functionalities will arise in the biosphere.  Thus  we do not know what variables-- lungs, wings, etc.-- to put into our equations.  The Newtonian scientific framework where we can prestate the variables, the laws among the variables, and the initial and boundary conditions, and then compute the forward behavior of the system, cannot help us predict future states of the biosphere.  You may wish to consider this an epistemological problem, i.e., if only we had a sufficiently powerful computer and the right terms to enter into the right equations, we could make such predictions.  Later, when we get to Darwinian preadaptations, I will show that the problem is much more than epistemological; it is ontological emergence, partially lawless, and ceaselessly creative.  This shall be the heart of the new scientific worldview I wish to discuss.

I confess that though I've now finished the first eleven chapters of REINVENTING THE SACRED, quite a lot of Kauffman's arguments are technically over my head.  That is to say, I can grasp easily enough the rudiments of his arguments about the role of "autocatalytic processes" in the advancement of evolution, and why that seems to him a better explanation for evolutionary progress than, say, microbiology's search for "information genes."  However, I'm not qualified to judge the highly technical subject matter, so I have no idea as to what a microbiologist would say in defense of the information gene-search.  I will say that Kauffman's tone in debating is one of moderation; that he ceaselessly praises the extent to which reductionist science has uncovered valid scientific data, but always qualifies that praise by urging that he feels that there is relevant data that has been passed over due to the limitations of the reductionist viewpoint.  Kauffman's simple reasonableness is certainly to be preferred over the militant reductionism of a Richard Dawkins or a Karl Popper (and I was quite pleased to see Kauffman state his non-enthusiasm for Popper after I felt both Dawkins and Popper got off a little too easily in Michael Ruse's MYSTERY OF MYSTERIES, examined here.)

But even without my being a wizard of (mathematical) odds, I can state that one way in which Kauffman's "new scientific worldview" impacts on my literary project is that many if not all elitist critics show some degree of investment in the old reductionist schemas.

Indeed, all of the critics I surveyed in the DEAD-ALIVE series-- one of whom is admittedly not alive to defend himself-- show a reductionist orientation in the ways they relate to the creativity they find in popular fiction.  Noah Berlatsky likes WONDER WOMAN for its lesbian wingdings and its kanga-riding Amazons, but he sneers at mere pulp adventure.  Julian Darius likes thoughtful superhero sagas but turns up his nose at "simple escapism."  At base they still view the world of escapism, as Tolkien famously noted, as an avoidance of social and/or intellectual responsibilities.  This, I believe, is rooted in the idea that devotees of popular fiction are indulging in a simple "instant gratification" process, one that implies a reductionist view of the very experience of literary narrative.

More to come in Part 3.

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