MAN IN NATURE
Holistic Science and Consciousness
S. C. Malik
Today, in science the basic oneness of the universe is clear. It has given rise to many unified field theories (such as symmetry, gauge symmetry, and supersymmtery, gravity and supergravity, strings and superstrings), suggesting that the constituents of matter are interconnected, interrelated and interdependent. The basic phenomenon may be understood not in terms of any isolated entities, but only as integrated parts of the whole. For example, space-time and energy are seen to be inseparable aspects of a single reality, as are energy and matter, wave and particle. Without going into each theory, and not being competent to do so, one may yet say that the physical universe is proving to be a seamless texture of inseparable events and entities, organised in accordance with a universal principle that specifies itself in innumerable forms. These may then be deduced from it, once it has been discovered. Moreover, coherence, elegance, and symmetry, the criteria of beauty and truth sought by the mathematician and the theoretical physicist, seem now to be within the reach even of the experimentalist (Gandhi:1990).
Physical sciences refer to certain well-known unifying theories in terms of processes that are mathematically describable by linear (and thus soluble) equations. But other, even more extraordinary, testimony to wholeness comes from a new quarter: the investigation of complex dynamic systems (or turbulence), which require for their description non-linear equations. This has given rise to a new department of science embracing mathematics, physics, and numerous fields — what has become known as the science of Chaos (Gleick:1987, Prigogine: 1980,1984). New mathematical revelations have demonstrated in quite unexpected fashion that chaos is simply a superficial mask of the most intricate and entrancing forms of order and pattern, and that its occurrence in nature is determined mathematically. These revelations have been made in the course of new developments in the study of complex systems. In other words, the most important contribution of chaos, in seeking the whole, the overall structure, is to end the reductionist programme in science.
The world picture implied in the theories outlined above is one of a single unbroken whole, governed by a principle of organisation universal to a self-generating system. It specifies itself in a scale, a series of forces and entities, ranging from the simplest to the most complex and opening the way to further development on a higher level of organic wholeness. Thus at the microlevel, there is a continuous scale of ‘complexification’ from space-time to those forms transitional between the inorganic and the organic. It is a dialectic scale of opposing, yet overlapping, specific forms, which differentially exemplify a single universal principle of order in continuously increasing degrees of complexity and integral wholeness. But this is only half the picture, which is paralleled by the other half — the macrocosm of the expanding universe, of stars and galaxies which apparently stands in contrast to the microcosmic level. But the two scales are complementary to each other, inseparable and indispensably linked to each other forming one systematically integrated totality. In its absence, there would be no planets like the earth, no life, no biosphere, and no observers. In short, the microscopic sequence from hydrogen atoms to macromolecules depends intimately upon the macrocosmic sequence of stellar evolution — ranging in scale from planets, stars, galaxies, galactic clusters, continuous right up to the final hypersphere. Space-time continuum itself is created by the pervasive activity of energy and its complimentary matter waves.
Obviously, this physical base is intrinsic and has indispensable characteristics to the existence and support of living beings, intelligent creatures capable of observation and reflection; thinkers able to ask questions about themselves and their environment, and so on. We are aware that we do exist here and now, and are apprised of this fact by our awareness. There is no astonishment to hear this necessary interconnectedness; it is not that because we exist and observe the universe that it exists, but because it is so that we observe it and we can exist (Bohm:1980). What is of significance, not philosophically or otherwise, that physicists are discovering principles determining the structure of the universe to be so finely tuned, and the relations between its parts so minutely adjusted to one another that the emergence of intelligent life is incompatible with any other possible arrangement of things and events. Were we to find that the universe could not have been other than it is, and that its being so inseparably bound up with the emergence and evolution of life forms, that would be of the most profound importance (Fig. 4.1).
The recent enunciation by physicists of the Anthropic Cosmological Principle marks a new revolution in the scientific outlook (Harris:1991). The principle states that intelligent life, its existence and observation of its surrounding universe, is essentially involved in what it discovers. This principle has immense philosophical implications, says Harris, as he traces it continuously through physics, biology and psychology. In short, intelligent life is necessarily involved from the very beginning of physical reality and that the entire process of natural evolution comes to consciousness of itself in the human mind. This is what Lester Smith (1975) also stated in his book — as part of the theosophical society’s theme.
The wholeness of the universe is indicated by the intricate and intimate interdependence of physical and biological facts ( e.g., the integral unity of the biosphere), which is widely acknowledged today. New evidence of holism also has been disclosed by the study of turbulence and the development of fractal geometry. A contemporary concept of the universe therefore requires a logico-metaphysical theory of wholes. Harris has also thrown light on the argument for God from the fact of the design, which indicates philosophical implications also of current scientific work (Fig. 4.2).2
What is important in current scientific thinking is that there is an intelligent observer watching the universe — the scientist. The reason simply is that so far scientists had considered themselves outside the painting; that their observations impinged on the physical world without interfering with it — that it was an automation that ran according to its own intrinsic laws, without relation to observers. This is the inheritance passed down from the Copernican revolution at the time of the Renaissance and its consolidation in the Newtonian system of celestial and terrestrial mechanics. Ancient or traditional thinkers considered the universe to contain human beings, and the cosmos to be a living organism with an all-pervasive soul — the human souls being individual participants. Modern thinking removed the earth and man from the centre of the universe which was now a machine, no doubt created by God but free of any divine nature, that worked independently of the human mind. Mind and body, Descartes decided, belonged to two separate substances, which had nothing in common except their creator, God. In these circumstances it would indeed have been surprising if human being found the physical world to be such as to provide the conditions necessary for the existence within it of minds. Of intelligent observers — their existence and consciousness — were thus an impenetrable mystery unable to explain their own awareness. These were the metaphysical presuppositions of science in the seventeenth and succeeding centuries. Of course, in the mid-nineteenth century, Darwin’s theory of evolution changed all this, since human beings were now considered to have evolved from non-human beings or non-living matter. A bridge between matter and mind began to be conceived albeit still in terms of chance variation and natural selection.
But it was only in the twentieth century that a revolution in physics has changed all this. The universe is no longer conceived as a machine. Life can now be more easily understood as a development continuous with the non-living. The world so observed provides the conditions for the emergence of intelligent beings. Were there no Intelligence in the universe, there would be neither observers nor scientists to pronounce their theories nor any who might question their validity. In short, we exist because the universe is the way we observe it to be, and we could not observe it otherwise. What we observe is conditioned not only by the fact of our existence, but also by the nature and capacities of our perceptive and intellectual faculties. Thus, observations reveal our own nature, more about the authors than about the subject-matter. This is selective effect, even in scientific matters that needs to be kept in mind, i.e., the limitations of the apparatus — human or otherwise.
It is well to remember that one cannot by any conceivable means transcend one’s own perceptual and intellectual capacities. This suggests a subjectivism for which there is no remedy, and we cannot know true knowledge even of the physical world. But this leads to an epistemological disaster, and solipsism is all too imminent. Solipsism is however contradictory, for it asserts the existence of a self alone. But this has meaning only through a distinction from an other. In splendid isolation, therefore, no self can exist — not even God who would be neither infinite nor omnipotent without his creation of the universe (Fig. 4.3).2
If Quantum theory and Relativity undermined the classical dichotomy, it was because they involved the observer inextricably with what was observed. There is no absolute frame of reference, and the observer was a fundamental factor, affecting every measurement whether of space or of time. But observers are human beings, and human beings are animals organisms, evolved from other species under influence of environmental pressures. This is to say that the conditions of human evolution are contained in the physical world, the nature of which is known to us only through human observation itself. Science now talks of the wholeness of the universe, in which human and all other life is included, dependent on the fundamental physical constants of nature. This interrelatedness has resulted in the pronouncement of the Anthropic Principle in which the unity of the universe is a basic feature — this wholeness (Harris: Ibid).
When one says that anything is a whole, it implies that one is not speaking of mere congeries of disconnected and separable items, or even just a loose collection. It also implies that it is a unity of coherent parts. Every whole is made up of differences that are combined within it to constitute one totality. A purely blank unity is virtually impossible to conceive. Even the simplest of wholes, therefore is a unity of differences which in some discernible way intermesh, interlock and interrelate systematically. In brief, there is essentially an ordering principle universally determining the interrelations of the elements so that it determines likewise their intrinsic natures, for each must be adapted and adjusted to its neighbours, although they must inevitably differ from one another to avoid complete coincidence.
Of course, within the whole the elements contrast with each other, and therefore inevitably lead to internal conflict and provisional disunity. Naturally, finite elements tends to shun one another, emphasizing their respective exclusiveness in order to maintain their self-identities. Consequently, this conflict leads to relative chaos and contingency. This is soon overcome, and unity re-established, only when identity in and through differences is acknowledged. Nevertheless, each identity is defined by the mutual relations and differences, and they are inseparable from one another owing to their mutual implications. This overlap despite difference is what effects their integration into a single whole.
Thus, overlap together with integration of opposites in a wider whole involves self-enfoldment, because the wider whole includes the more fragmentary parts, each implying the other in its own self-maintenance. For example, in a growing embryo, the mutual implication of successive stages is more apparent, as is its explicit realization in subsequent phases of development, and the self-enfoldment of the earlier forms and processes to create emerging complexifications is unmistakable. Segmentation of primitive cells continues at the stage of specialization and functional differentiation, which again is repeated and internalised in each limb and organ. What ensues is a continuous succession of provisional realisations of the organising principle — in this case the mature organism for the embryo — in a series of wholes increasing in complexity and integration. In other words, elements are double-edged, in at once excluding each other in mutual opposition, and also being complementary to each other in mutual determination and dependence for their several identities. In each, the other is implicit, representing the wholeness principle in a comprehensive way. Such a system is ‘open’ and cannot thus be present in any one instant or at any one point. It is not a static but dynamic principle — forbidding both isolation and repetition in abstract manner. The finite element drives itself to transcend its own limits in order to persist in its own being (Fig. 4.4).3
Thus the dynamic organising principle of wholeness, inorganic or organic, is operative and directive throughout the hierarchy of forms and phases, impelling its partial elements and rudimentary phases towards completion and fulfilment. In this way it leads to the emergence in intelligent behaviour and interpretative understanding, which is the activity of awareness. It is this self-awareness which is reflected in thinking processes, and the ability to comprehend the whole as a cognitive state of coherent experiencing. In short, both ontology and teleology — dialectics and holism — are necessarily inseparable concepts.
Traditionally teleology referred to some final end. Today, however, because of the ordering principle of an organised whole, teleological explanation is one in which the parts are seen in terms of the whole and not vice versa. It is opposite of reductionism, requiring conscious intention and deliberate choice towards and completion and fulfilment towards a whole. Thus purposive action, described as action by design, is revealed as the endeavour to complete a whole and to bring it to fulfilment. Processes below the level of human purpose, however, may well be teleological without involving any consciousness, but are determined nevertheless by the ordering principle of wholeness, towards intelligent self-awareness. The Universe is designed with the goal of generating intelligent observers, leading logically beyond to some supra-personality. This now is exemplified and seen in the relationships between the parts, between energy and matter, between the inorganic and the organic, between body and mind (Harris:op.cit.).
The unity of the universe and the exact nature of the organising principle that governs its order and structure are clearly not indifferent to the emergence and the existence of life and mind. Of all this, nothing is brought home to us than our ability to discover it. It is not because we are here that the world comes to be so disposed, but rather the opposite. In other words, it is because the world is thus ordered, because the terrestrial environment is so precisely suited to the emergence of life and the development of a biosphere, that human beings have evolved and we are able to investigate the conditions of our own being. Our observation and reflection are not the efficient causes of what they reveal to us although, perhaps, they may well be its final cause.
The unity of the physical world seems, as it were, to focus itself on the implication of this intrinsic order from the very start. The point to note is the concurrence and convergence of conditions for intelligent life within a coherent system. Of course, its explanation may be attributed to a divine creator, or to natural explanation for these interrelationships even though so far no precise values of the fundamental constants has been worked out. What it does show is that there is an interdependence of fact — things — and processes that forbids any attempts to explain matters purely by analysis and reduction to detail (necessary though it maybe). We must look at the whole for an understanding of the parts. For example, one may see the unbroken continuity between the inorganic and the organic, in a way opposites yet complementary. The influence of universal is transmitted uninterrupted, through forms of growing complication and self-enfoldment, along a scale of increasing degrees of adequacy in its exemplification, which guarantees that life is the fruition of what is already potentially present in the physical. Its emergence is simply the continuation of an already-evident tendency to build more integral, more versatile, and more self-maintaining wholes.
From the Inorganic to the Organic
It is clear that the systematic wholeness of the physical world is governed by a single principle of order. However, at the inorganic level, its unity is merely implicit since the ordering principle is immanent in its elements; it is not explicit for itself and self-reflective. It comprises elements manifested in the mutual adaptation of disparate elements that register its influence, while they are not apprised of its nature, or otherwise cognizant of each other. If the unity becomes apparent to us, it is because of the fruit of our observation, inference and interpretation as we study it; it is not apprehended by the physical reality, extended in time and space, merely as such. However, the ordering principle is dynamic; beyond the physical scale of forms from elementary particles to atoms, molecules, macromolecules, and crystals, the next step is to the living cell, the organism.
An organism is distinguished from the inorganic by the manner in which the organic being maintains its identity, the effect of which is to create and sustain an individual structure. The system of the organism is an open system in dynamic equilibrium with its surroundings. It is a cybernetic system, which maintains itself in a steady state, or homeostasis, by means of a complex and intricate network of negative feedback, or servo-mechanisms. Consequently, with an organism the concrete universal has embarked upon a new phase of self-specification, at a higher level of individuation and integrity, constantly exchanging matter and energy with its environment. Some self-maintenance of form within an energetic flux has been suggested even within the purely physical realm, but the organism is the result of intricate self-enfoldment of the physio-chemical basis by spontaneous adaptation to environing conditions. It is a system containing information preserved by natural selection, which is capable of self-reproduction. This is not say that physical laws cease to apply or physical forces to operate in the organism. On the contrary, they are essential to its self-maintenance to preserve its dynamic equilibrium (Bateson: 1979).
It is still a mystery, how organic wholes of this kind originally arose within an entirely inorganic environment. Now-a-days it is often maintained that the problem has been solved by the discovery and interpretability of the genetic code. But this certainly cannot explain all regulation, because the genetic code is reduplicated identically in every cell. But this cannot account for the cell’s ability to develop differently in different situations. This, it is suggested maybe controlled by something in the organism analogous to a computer programme; the source of which remains totally obscure. Programming a computer, normally, presupposes a human agent. In principle, it may said, self-reproducing, self-programming computers are possible. But even they would initially require a human or divine inventor and programmer. To contend that such genetic machines could have been evolved by random mutation and natural selection would beg the question because selection can only operate on a self-regulating organism already in existence. Can it possibly arise from an unregulated chemical processes through a series of accidental changes, however selected, at that ?
The idea of morphogenetic field has been developed in detail and with sophistication by Sheldrake (1987), of formative causation by morphogenetic fields — non-energetic cause of form, beyond physico-chemical explanations of biomorphogenesis. What is significant in all this is the appeal to the notion of field, as it has already done in physics, giving priority in explanation to the whole over the part, in opposition to reductionism. The idea of a field is primarily a structural concept, a formative whole to which the notion of force, or energy, is subordinated. If Einstein geometrised mechanics, Sheldrake’s hypothesis seeks to geometrize morphogenetics. It may very well be that the appropriate type of geometry is that discovered by the scientists of Chaos, who have examined complex dynamic systems, to find them to be ordered by "strange attractors" and to exemplify fractal curves. And so on. Can it therefore not be admitted, surely, that the organizing principle of the whole is not a physical or chemical force but a different kind of effect?
The unit of life is the cell, but it in itself is a highly complex structure, differentiated into proteins and nucleic acids, cytoplasm and nucleus, and containing many other specialised organelles, ribosomes, and so on. This microcosm of life is an unceasing activity, a constant movement of concerted and concatenated cycles of chemical analysis and synthesis. Although each step is understandable chemistry, the integrative organization is not chemistry at all, but must be explained, if it ever can be, in terms of some holistic principle. It might be referred to the genetic code in the DNA of the nucleus, but whence genetic code originates, or how, nobody yet knows. It is itself an organized system the source and principle of which has still to be discovered.
At any rate, evolution of life progressed from such unicellular organisms, from relative uniformity to differentiation and specialisation of organs which represents an advance in the degree of complexity and organization, marking another step forward in the scale of forms. The accumulated evidence is so massive that living species have evolved from progenitors of different genotypes, and are still evolving, that the theory is now firmly established and its truth is automatically assumed by respectable biologists. Likewise, the evidence is ubiquitous and copious that evolution is promoted by chance mutation and natural selection.4
Thus, the biosphere differentiates itself, through the process of evolution, into a scale of forms that are mutually opposed, mutually complementary species, genera, orders, and classes: distinct examples of the universal organic system, in differing and progressively intensifying degrees of integrity and complex unity. But is evolution ‘progressive’? Some have argued that it is not. It is simply the constant change of living forms subject to natural selection under environmental pressures. There is a general agreement among biologists that evolution has not proceeded in a straight line. There is equally widespread agreement that different species have descended from common ancestors, and that orthogenesis must have occurred in ramifying directions (Fig. 4.5).
At any rate, the gamut of living species constitutes a dialectical scale of forms that progressively express with increasing adequacy the principle of order and unity immanent, not only in the organism, but also in the environment — in the biosphere as a whole. The scale proceeds towards more intelligent and self-conscious forms by way of the development of yet another aspect of its evolutionary advance, namely, behaviour. Both metabolism and physiological process are continuous with behaviour, as is apparent from protozoa onwards, directed to the protection and care of the young. In later stages, the behaviour tends to become more and more gregarious, as is to be expected when it centres on the family group. With homo sapiens all this blossoms out into vastly more complex and significant behaviour, and only at the human level is social conduct organized in that distinctive fashion we have come to recognize as political or civilized.5
Biosphere, Organism and Environment
So far one has considered evolution as merely concerned only with the organism and its changing form. Life, on the other hand, is a dynamic equilibrium, maintained between organism and environment, so that there is continual intercourse between the two. They form one organic whole and cannot be strictly separated. Evolution is a process involving both together. The evidence is widespread, of this mutual interdependence between living forms and with the environment. Organic wholeness is not confined to living units. A drop of water can contain a miniature ecosystem, as does every natural pond. But no such ecosystem in turn is altogether self-contained, it is further linked to another system and so on and on. In the end, the planet as a whole is one ecological totality, changes everywhere affecting conditions everywhere else. This is limiting our context to organic earth, but one could link it further to solar system, and other stars and galaxies — the cosmos.
The earth as a whole presents the characteristics of a living being, which in the scientific tradition of the West, has been proposed by James Lovelock (1979,1988) as the "Gaia hypothesis", which is fairly well-known by now. It is the biosphere which actually is a living whole cybernetically controlling its earthly environment to maintain the conditions most favourable to its own preservation. The idea is not new both in the Eastern and Western tradition. Without giving details of this hypothesis, the evidence offered leaves one in no doubt that biosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere are all in intimate organic relationship and interchange, and that they constitute a single organic whole. If the hypothesis of Lovelock and of Sheldrake are taken together, very promising and intriguing consequences emerge.
The concepts of the Gaia and Morphogenetic fields together would contemplate a field covering the entire planet and directing all the fantastically complex interrelated levels and phases of morphogenesis, with their cybernetically controlled homeostasis. It would make the whole earth one organism with an eminent degree of autonomy and self-determination — a freely acting individual. In that case, a planetary field would be the source of all subordinate fields, and the question of origin would be pushed back to become one of cosmological evolution. As suggested above and elsewhere, the earth cannot be treated in isolation from the solar system, nor the galaxy, or the galaxy from the universe. This is what physicists suggest also, that the universe is one system and its fundamental laws and forces can be traced back to a single principle, immanent at its origins in the Big-Bang. If so, then we must presume that there is ultimately only one universal morphic field. It would be a universal morphe, pervasive over and regulating all subsidiary field — notions mentioned as metaphysical options and theories of traditional speculative philosophy, Plato’s Idea of the Good, Aristotle’s form of forms as eternal activity, and in itself an active reason (Malik:1989) (Fig. 4.6).
Evolution, given the above statement, now assumes the aspect rather of a process of maturation, in which the development in symbiotic organisms of sense-organs and perception marks, as it were, the way in which Gaia gradually, and by dialectical stages, brings herself to consciousness of her setting within the world and of her own integral unity. She brings consciousness in the mentality of her member organisms, and this is at the same time the coming to consciousness of the entire cosmos, of which Gaia herself is a specific phase. This again conforms to the account given above of the nature of the whole. It must in principle and in fact be complete, and which cannot be totally fulfilled unless it is fully and explicitly for itself (self-aware), i.e., it is in conscious knowledge — the realm of self-reflective intelligence. The unitary whole that the physicists have discovered the universe to be is now revealed as not simply physical but also alive.
To sum up, so far, the universal organizing principle has specified itself in an extended series of subsidiary and provisional wholes, from elementary particles, atoms, and molecules to viruses and bacteria, to sentient and conscious organisms, each in its own degree expressing the implicit order and exemplifying the totality of which it’s a dialectical moment. In this way, the succession of phases constitutes a graded scale of overlapping, mutually implicating, and interrelated forms issuing as intelligent minds. The major divisions of the series are thus themselves continuous, each incorporating its predecessor and each, in its continuous outgrowth from its forebears, is dominated by the ordering principle. It is first manifested in the physical world, then in the biosphere, and subsequently in the noosphere, where it becomes aware of itself in explicit conscious knowledge. To achieve the capacity for more self-determined action — intentionality, and a higher degree of internality and centralization of external differences is necessary. Now, a further phase transition is required, leading to a new threshold.
If the life-world is all inclusive, and normally the world, as perceived by common sense, is regarded as ‘external’ to the mind, it is because at that level ‘the mind’ is imagined as a function of the brain and is objectified along with the body. The subsequent attempt to explain consciousness that is seen as a result of the transmission from external objects of physical impulses through the senses to the brain, therefore naturally proves incoherent. Consequently, it has brought in the history of philosophy only epistemological disaster. What has been overlooked is the self-transcendent character of consciousness, aware at once of the presented object and of its own relation to it. Thus, as it distinguishes subject from object, it also grasps their relation within the whole, which together they constitute. The mind, become self-conscious, is capable of developing the implications of such holism in philosophical reflection.
The world disclosed in observation and interpreted in science and philosophy reveals itself as dialectical scale of forms, primarily in experience, ranging from sentience through perception and reflection to comprehension. This is why we cannot get outside the consciousness that arises from primitive sentience. But why is it that the life-world is an all-inclusive whole? It is because the physical world, not speaking only of science, is indeed an all-inclusive whole —- finite but unbounded — outside of which there is nothing. The experienced world is that same whole become aware of itself. What ‘corresponds’ to it, therefore, are simply the prior phases of its own development. These go back beyond sentience for the very reason that sentience has revealed itself as the form of the body, the reflection and registration of organismic activity, integral to the biosphere and rooted in a physio-chemical environment. The object of the mind is, therefore, its own self in becoming, and the subject is no less than the world come consciousness of itself. Subject and object are identical, and fact corresponds to theory just so far as the theory is what the fact itself has become in bringing itself to consciousness. This conclusion reveals itself in reflection upon science and experience in general at the philosophical stage.
Throughout the course of the above argument one has traced wholes in hierarchical progression, and each succeeding whole has brought with it a new form — in the scale of forms — carrying a supervening quality not displayed at previous levels. The complex wholes that appear at every level display the emergent quality and the new capacities of life, impossible at any of the prior stages. Life is the form assumed by the integrated metabolic processes.
Now, when these develop and combine as physiological processes, integrated by vascular and neural functioning at a new threshold of intensity, a further form emerges, namely, sentience. Atoms and molecules are energy systems, and it is the form of the energetic complex that displays the peculiar properties. The proposition now being advanced is that this integration of physiological processes at a high degree of complexity and intensity assumes a new form, the experience of feeling. And this new form is sentience or feeling. Perhaps it could as well be called a distinct ‘state’ of the system, as gaseous, liquid, and solid are distinct states of chemical substances.
This doctrine has the advantage of disposing once and for all the problems attendant upon body-mind dualism. There is indeed only one reality but that it displays itself in a series of forms with different degrees of unity and wholeness. At each successive level, the entity or entities concerned display different qualities and capacities, although they presuppose and involve all the prior forms and degrees of actualization. When we reach the level of mind, these qualities are sensory, as at every prior level they are not. In this way one may say that there is a duality of degree in intensity of integration between the exclusively physiological, and a corresponding duality of qualitative form, but there is no dualism of substantive existence. The reference is to the continuity of the dynamic principle and its energia, its organizing activity, operating at successive levels — becoming aware of itself and its own spontaneous activity at every stage structured as a scale of forms — the physical spatio-temporal field, the biotic morphogenetic field, and now the psychical field (Stiskin:1972).
Reflection and Self-Transcendence of Consciousness
In the scale of forms that constitutes the self-differentiation of the cosmic order there are two critical transitions. The first is from the physico-chemical to the metabolic, marking the emergence of life. The second is from the sentient and perceptive to the fully self-conscious and reflective. Neither of these is abrupt or unheralded. Life is foreshadowed by crystalline and organic molecular structures; reflection is preceded by immediate perception. But the crucial awakening is that of reflective deliberation, because here for the first time the universal principle of organizations, as such, begins to become explicitly aware of itself as reason.
The universal principle is dynamically self-specifying. It manifests itself first in a physical universe, then in an organic totality, and subsequently in a known world or noosphere (de Chardin: 1959). Only then is its concrete potential fully actualized, because only then does its systematic structure become explicit. It becomes aware of itself as conscious subject, reflective upon itself, upon its own experience of itself and of the world. This is what is self-transcendence awareness, that comprehends its own finite limits and its own infinite scope and potential. The miracle of consciousness is self-transcendence. It is primarily the apprehension of relations, and no relation can be grasped within the limits of any one of the terms. It must, as it were, project itself beyond itself and alienate itself from itself. Moreover, to be conscious of an object is to cognize it in a context both spatial and temporal. But to be aware of a temporal context is at once to remember and to anticipate. For instance, all consciousness of time involves such transcendence — as does space — because the succession of events can be apprehended as a succession only if the series is grasped as a whole, which means that the apprehending subject can never be confined to any one event, past, present, or future. It must be transcendent above, or beyond, all of them.
Without getting into a long and detailed debate about the self, I, self-consciousness and so on; and, while awareness happens in our nervous systems, it is not just happening there. While happenings do involve our bodies, this is like organic wholes, and the awareness of the ‘happenings’ is the form taken by that wholeness at a high degree of integration. It is the form of feeling, which becomes consciousness when it is organized by attention and judgment, identifying, distinguishing, and relating objects. This involves the ego, which is the whole come to consciousness of itself as ‘I’. As such, it can and does distinguish itself from its objects, including its body, in which the neural happenings occur, in order to be aware of them as physiological. Indeed, I am not a separate or separable entity from my body. I am identical with it, or rather I am its identity as a functioning whole — the self-cognizant form of the principle of unity and organization immanent in it. As the self-awareness of the universal principle of wholeness in the body, the ‘I’ has become transcendent over the objects of its consciousness. As objects they are its other, yet it remains identical with them, the content of its sentient experience.
Awareness of self is reflective consciousness, in which the subject becomes its own object. Reflection leads to deliberation and criticism, it is essential to all morals and politics, thought and action. It is what gives rise to questioning and wonder, and so is equally essential to all science and philosophy, and because it is the root of the awareness of the distinction between the finite and the infinite, also to religion. This self-reflection is the outcome of the bringing to self-consciousness of the organizing principle of the whole through the process of its own self-specification. Consequently, its self-awareness is the awareness of that process, is its knowledge of its own concrescent nature and the way in which must specify its universality; in other words, its the knowledge of the world of nature.
The Nature of Science and Wholeness
Science begins in wonder and the interrogation of nature, which presuppose reflection; so without that there can be no science, and without science knowledge of the world remains in its infancy. The self-reflective character of science is often overlooked. The Newtonian world-view provided no mechanics of the mind, and the celestial mechanics made no room for consciousness. The scientific observer viewed the world from the outside, and within that world no provision was made for any consciousness. The fruit of this in philosophy led to materialism and dualism; but both maybe refuted by the fact that these theories would not be possible without self-reflection. Both, whether rationalist or empiricist, fail to provide a viable theory of knowledge, of how the mind, in its separation from matter, can encompass a representation of an external world, how the world can get into the mind, or how a mechanical material process can be miraculously converted into a cognitive awareness. Meanwhile, the scientific disregard of the observer leaves science itself beyond the reach of scientific explanation.6
Of course quantum theory, with its principle of indeterminacy and theory of probability has led some reflective scientists to conclude that physical reality may well be a welter of energy on which the appearance of order supervenes only because we impose upon it a stochastical mathematic — the universe is thus a subjective fabrication, the actual nature of which we can never discover. If that was so, how would we explain our ability to discover this, if we are emerging from an allegedly chaotic matrix?
If reality is in principle unknowable, we are left solely with what our own consciousness presents. In the history of science, a number of world-views have arisen in succession, each to be rejected by subsequent thinkers, often as palpably false and ridiculous. Instead of seeing this succession as a series of fantasies, we see it as a dialectical succession of provisional conceptual schemes, unfolding as a scale of forms, in which each progressively more adequately explicates a conceptual whole; and each scheme is itself a particular stage in the self-discovery of the actual world. Our scientific discoveries are no more than approximations, and yet each series of scientific revolutions deploys a series of world-views that increase from each to the next in coherence and unity. The cosmic whole, differentiates itself and brings itself to fruition in self-awareness. The universal principle of organization immanent in all things manifests itself in a cosmic pattern, in which it is particularized in successive wholes, constituting various scales as self-enfoldment. In this way the world comes to consciousness of itself and explicitly realizes its essential nature, in its reflective awareness and interpretive conceptualization by intelligent human beings.
This world-concept is of a universe continuous and indivisible in space and time, deployed as a scale of comprehensive phases at successive levels; physical, chemical, biotic, sentient, and noetic, within each of which there is an analogous subordinate scale. All subsequent phases embody all their predecessors, and the latest sublates the whole prior scale, which in it is brought to a higher degree of actuality and self-sufficiency. The noetic level levels reflects all the rest, for not only does it envisage and comprehend all the prior phases but also it is realized in the practical and intellectual activity of living beings, who are at the same time both organisms and physico-chemical systems, each drawing to a focus within itself its total environing world.
Conclusion — The Context of all Contexts
The most significant revolutionary effect of the physics of relativity and quantum theory has been to generate a new view of the physical universe as a single, indivisible, generate whole, in which phenomena and events are necessarily inter-determining. It is a single system governed by a unitary dynamic principle, augmented by the results of findings in biology and ecology. Any such whole is not an undifferentiated unity, a blank; its integrity depends on the interconnection of parts internally related one to another, in accordance with an organizing principle. In the dimension of time, this principle is dynamic, generating a graded scale of subordinate wholes in which it is specified. The dynamic dialectically related forms are specific exemplifications of the universal dynamic principle governing the whole. Thus a design in the sense of pattern or structure, is obviously such a whole. Its parts and elements are interrelated systematically according to some principle of order and arrangement. The whole which contemporary physics as revealed, therefore, necessarily involves the generation of its own observation by intelligent beings, in whose minds it brings itself to consciousness.
The whole or design is not ultimately fragmentary; in principle it must be complete. Deployed in scale of forms, it must ultimately culminate in a completed totality. Nor can its self-manifestation be only partial. In principle, and in fact, there must be a culmination of the scale that is both final phases and all-encompassing — an absolute, actual whole, totally self-contained and self-sufficient, and completely realised. It must sublate in itself the entire process of its self-specification, so that end and process overlap. It would be a mistake to imagine that this culmination can, or needs to, appear in time, for it must encompass all time in itself while nevertheless enduring throughout time. It does so in the same way as human consciousness transcends the present and includes at once both the present and the past while it continues to endure and participate in the flux. The culminating phase of the scale does this likewise, for it is the fulfilment of the organizing principle universal to every phase and every existent. It is immanent throughout all process, for every process is a manifestation of its self-differentiation, contributing at its specific level and in its peculiar degree to the final consummation.
Finally, there are three characteristics of the universal principle of organization that need to be emphasised:
It must be such as no conception or existence can exceed it. This is the perfect being, totally complete, totally self-sufficient and self-sustaining — than that which a greater is inconceivable. As totally explicit in transparent self-consciousness, this consummation of the cosmic scale is an omniscient mind — the Alpha and Omega of all being. Because the universal principle is immanent in every part, it is what generates and determines the nature of every entity, and its activity is nothing more nor less than its own self-differentiation in and as the spatio-temporal world. But its ultimate realization is a transcendent comprehension and self-conscious realization of the whole. It is thus all-creative and all-powerful, as well as all-knowing and absolutely self-complete. All this is necessarily entailed by the very concept of design. If God — Purusa -— is conceived as the absolute universal principle of order manifesting itself — Prakrti — in and as the universe, and transcending all finite phases, the argument from design, as a proof of his existence, can be justified in this, its modern rendering, without requiring any inference from a contrived plan to a Supreme Architect (unless these phrases are used metaphorically). His knowing and conceiving are immediately and simultaneously his self-manifestation in and as the whole world — his creative power, his self-revelation. This conclusion has the rare advantage that it is not a resort to God as a cloak to cover our ignorance, but it is the logical consequence of the very nature of our knowledge and of the structure of the universe as discovered by empirical science — the latter however is not the eternal truth, or at least not all of it. Whatever the alternate theories which replace one another, it is still a unitary system, this universe with its dialectical series of ascending forms. Moreover, science is but one facet of a wider and more complex noosphere. It is inseparable from society and all that entails, and social sciences with philosophical systems in conjunction with science need to pursue the deeper implications of the organizing principle, alluded to above.
©1995 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi