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Holistic Science and Consciousness...

S. C. Malik


Fig. 4.5






Fig. 4.6


1. In recent years, physicists have suddenly discovered what they have called the Anthropic Principle, a conception that many present-day physicists regard not just as a speculative idea but as a serious scientific principle, not to be treated lightly. The principle has been stated in several forms (Harris:1991).

2. The Participatory Anthropic Principle is prompted by the Copenhagen interpretation of the quantum theory, initiated by Neils Bohr (Kothari:1990). Briefly, it follows from this that intelligent beings, through their observation and measurements, must participate in the actualisation of the universe at large. The obvious difficulty with this contention is that human bodies and their sense-organs, as well as the measuring instruments and any apparatus they may use for experimentation, are macroscopic objects made up of the microscopic entities that quantum physicists investigate. If this were the case, the physical universe could not come to be until observed; and until it existed there could be no observers because they are consequent upon the generation of life, which again dependent on the prior occurrence of physico-chemical processes. If physical reality depends on the existence of mind, and mind depends on the prior existence of physical reality, neither can exist unless both can come into being simultaneously. For, although measurement requires the coupling of the quantum system to be measured with some macroscopic instrument, once it has been so connected the entire system, including the measuring device, can be regarded as a single quantum system, indeterminate as to its state until the measurement is made and observed. But this again is a subjectivist position. At any rate, scientists have finally realised the obsolescence of the Copernican outlook with respect to human mentality, and the implications of recognising the continuity of matter with mind in a unified world (Harris, Ibid).

3. Every whole is a system, however primitive; every system is a whole, structured in accordance with a universal principle of order. That, in consequence, specifies itself in a scale of forms that differ consecutively in the degree of their adequacy to its explicit wholeness. But the mention here is not of abstract universals, say represented by a genus under which particulars are contained. Undoubtedly this logical schema has useful applications, but its underlying metaphysical assumption is that the real consists of a fortuitous collection of atomic particulars, mutually related externally only. This kind of assumption was encouraged by Newtonian physics, followed by the empiricist philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries — there may be common properties but the elements are related externally only. But contemporary physics has abandoned this view, and has adopted one in which the relations between things and processes and the terms that they relate are intrinsically dependent upon one another, so that they are inseparable in a unified system. A principle of this kind is universal because its influence prevails throughout the system and is universal to its parts. There is thus immanence and transcendence in this concrete universal system.

Relations of any kind, whether they are in this internal or are external in the sense that they fall between their terms and leave them unaffected can be apprehended only by a conscious subject, because what stands in relation must be grasped all together and as a whole. It follows that elements in relation must either be objects of some consciousness or must, as a complex totality, be conscious themselves. This is strictly correct, if by existence one means fully actualised being; but, although a relational complex is only explicit at the level of consciousness, there can be lower levels, prior to consciousness and requisite for its emergence in the order of nature — existing implicitly, having potency and latent inter-relativity. These are phases in the dialectical scale prior to mind, through which the natural whole brings itself to consciousness by its inherent nisus to self-completion (Harris, Ibid).

4. The reference now is to organismic genetics, for which there is enough evidence, say adaptation and adjustment to environmental conditions is inherent in the very nature of life. To be selected, a system must be better adapted for survival than others with which it competes for the available energy and sustenance. Moreover, geneticists have established that single genes do not control or determine single characteristics, but that the chromosome functions as a whole, as does, in fact, the entire genome. It is now apparent that "survival value" is equivalent to more efficient self-maintenance and more completely self-determining wholeness. What evolves is always the organic system and nothing less; and what evolution produces is increased self-determining adaptation, increased capacity for relevant variation and selective reaction to circumstances, in short, increased versatility and freedom. A whole with these characteristics is a more adequate manifestation of the self-specifying universal expressing itself in the organism as well as in the cosmos, than is any inorganic purely physical or chemical whole. Organic systems of this kind more fully reflect the nature of the principle of organization immanent in life and in the universe as such, and approach more nearly its free self-determination (Harris, Ibid).

5. Basically, all behaviour is instinctive, and purposive in that it pursues a definite goal characteristic of the particular instinct — eating, mating, migrating, nesting, etc. Behaviour may be characterized by relevant variation, as it blossoms in the higher species, into sensory-motor, perceptual, and intelligent learning. It is an informed activity, in terms of structural organization and perceptual enlightenment not to specific stimuli alone but a response to a total situation, which must be grasped as whole if the behaviour is to be appropriate. The inner, mental aspect of instinctive behaviour and its intelligent outcome belongs to a further phase of the self-differentiation of the universal whole; one that renders it aware of itself and its own relational structures. Behaviour is foreshadowed below the mental level in the living processes of metabolism and physiology which, as they evolve, fold back upon themselves to produce new wholes and more developed forms. When the human level is reached, the cognitive capacity of discrimination and definition, comprehension, this aspect attains to the pitch of explicit self-consciousness, thought, the principle and agency of organization — inherent from the start and is itself the immanent principle ordering the cosmos as a whole. The part played by consciousness in animal and human activity is important in order to understand behaviour in the context of evolution (Harris, Ibid).

6. It was at the end of the nineteenth century that the Newtonian ‘paradigm’ obstructing scientific progress, was broken by a new revolution, which required a more holistic approach; and this came with relativity and quantum theories. Neither of these could disregard the observer. For relativity, the relative velocity of the observer determines the value of every measurement, and for quantum theory, the observer and the measurement of specific quantities have become inseparable from the very actuality of elementary particles. The reality of elementary particles is restricted to the act of observation by means of instruments that are themselves composed of multitudes of such particles, and by observers who have evolved from organic species similarly composed. Thus the reality of the elements is made to depend on the activity of that to which they are elementary. Reference is to Copenhagen interpretation of the quantum theory — Neils Bohr, Schroedinger wave function, Heisenberg’s Indeterminacy principle, Bell’s Theorem, Henry Stapp’s work and so on; all these works show that the unity of the universe and the apparent dependence of physical reality upon subjective experience are two aspects of a single fact). It is now being suggested that reflective awareness, in the guise of observation and interpretation, is constitutive of the very being of the universe. It goes beyond both subjectivism (dispensing with physical reality altogether) and phenomenalism (that leaves reality beyond our ken as an unknowable thing-in-itself) (Weber:1986).

If the universe is an indivisible whole, and as such must by its very nature be complete, and if, as has been argued, the completion of a whole necessarily involves its being brought to consciousness, the danger of falling into solipsism is averted. For although hidden variables have been ruled out, the indeterminate properties of particles are admitted by the Copenhagen theories to be latent, or potential, before they are observed. In short, the actualization of what is potential at the physical and biological levels should await the activity of observation and the efflorescence of knowledge. This in no way precludes the prior reality of the physical and biological world, because the very experience of a physical and biological world as an indivisible systematic whole implies and necessitates the self-differentiation of that whole as a scale of forms, in the more elementary of which what emerges at later stages is already implicit. The existence of both macroscopic and microscopic worlds is thus established.


Bateson, Gregory, 1979, Mind and Nature — A Necessary Unity, London.

Bohm, David, 1980, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, London.

de Chardin, Teilhard, P., 1959, The Phenomenon of Man, New York.

Gandhi, K., (ed.), 1990, The Odyssey of Science, Culture and Consciousness, New Delhi.

Harris, Errol E., 1991, Cosmos and Anthropos — A philosophical interpretation of the anthropic cosmological principle; New Jersey, London.

Kothari, D.S., 1986, "Science and Values", New Delhi, Mimeographed.

Lovelock, J., 1979, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, Oxford.

———, 1988, The Ages of Gaia, London.

Malik, S.C., 1973, "Human Evolution: Some Reflections on its Philosophy", In Eastern Anthropologist, Lucknow.

———, 1989, Modern Civilization — A Crisis of Fragmentation, New Delhi.

———, 1992, "Matter is Consciousness", Pune, Seminar on The Nature of Matter, Mimeographed.

Prigogine, I., 1980, From Being to Becoming, San Francisco.

———, 1984, Order Out of Chaos, New York.

Sheldrake, R., 1980, A New Science of Life, London.

Smith, Lester, 1975, Intelligence Came First, Illinois.

Stiskin, Nahun, 1972, The Looking Glass God, Canada.

Weber, Renee, 1986, Dialogue with Sages and Scientists, New York.


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