Collingwood's Idea of History & Speculum Mentis

nature

Jedi Council Member
Christine said:
Thank you very much to Trytofly and nature for the links. :)
DeepL is amazing, not perfect but amazing, as it doesn't translate word by word.
Be carefull when you copy-paste un long portion because in this case some sentences could disappear. That's why it's better to copy-past not too long parts. Enjoy ! :)
 

PERLOU

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Merci La Nature pour tes conseils très appréciés...

Thank you Nature for your very appreciated advice...
 

seeker2seer

The Force is Strong With This One
Speculum Mentis 1946 edition page 78: "Questioning is the cutting edge of knowledge: assertion is the dead weight behind the edge that gives it driving force. Questions undirected by positive information, random questions, cut nothing; they fall in the void and yield no knowledge. Information, when it is not ground to a keen edge of inquiry, is not knowledge but mere pedantry, the talent buried in the earth. It ought to be put out at interest, to yield new knowledge and so to purify and correct itself as well as to increase its bulk. Text-books and encyclopedias are contemptible only when regarded as constituting and exhausting knowledge itself; as records of the achievement of knowledge, as constituting the body of information which directs our further questionings, their importance is immeasurable. Information may be the body of knowledge, but questioning is its soul."

Reading this section of Speculum Mentis made me think about the growth of knowledge and being as well as the Q&A method used in the C sessions. It really does highlight the truth of "asking to receive" and the importance of forming and asking the appropriate questions to gain knowledge and understanding. To me, Collingwood's description of knowledge having a body of information and a soul of questioning puts knowledge into a living/being framework.
 

Phill4

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
I found an interesting segment, I had this question before, as when you attempt self remembering, there are 3 centers and 3 minds to interpret events. according to G's system.
Collingwood is addressing many thinking patterns in his work, the errors in the philosophies of history and how that is evident in the work of different historians, he is speaking of historical thought, but I had something in mind about the Work and information, I don't know if I am off with this.
I don't know who else tried this , from G's teachings, sensing the body, perceiving the emotions and thoughts, "hit the recording button" and gather "mental pictures" of as much as possible I.e. an impression, for later evaluation. I think the idea was to gather data, and learn how to distinguish one from another, thus learning how the machine works, etc..
The the idea being to work on the construction of an "I" that was unified from learning how it works, a self that can operate in active awareness of the functions, where the center of gravity is the relationship between and aim and the self.

When I tried this several times, I wanted to know if physical sensations had a psychic counter part that we could perceive (a la Gavor Mate, kinestology etc and the idea that certain ticks and habits are the result of trauma or other associative conditioning), if that makes sense, I tried this with cramping muscles, when relaxing I was trying to find the "meaning" , or mental representation of the cramping (in the form of mental information for lack of better term), to see if there was a memory feeling or thought associated with the stiff back while relaxing it in meditation or just relaxation and concentration.

I had since then the idea that if we can understand the information contained in a cramp, ache, sensation mentally we could, access that physical system (I don't have enough data to support this)

I found some thoughts, but keeping in mind that we interpret things from a pre-stablished perception, I followed the idea of gathering more of these before any conclusions and to try to notice this "pre-stablished" states from where the observer is, or as G says , seeing one self seeing oneself. The problem is a possible negative feedback loop with this type of experiment in the sense that we can measure things from those pre-stablished forms of perception and programs and often get different results, and seems that indeed the solution is a constant addition of knowledge.
The problem is that the brain has tons of connections and associations , so one association is connected to many different things.

I feel Collingwood answers this here:

Idea of History Pg 133 (Bradley)
Even the ultimate problem which Bradley left unsolved betrays at once the fact that history was the thing which he was trying to understand and the precise way in which he stopped short of understanding it. The terms of this problem are as follows. Reality is not only experience it is immediate experience, it has the immediacy of feeling. But thought divides, distinguishes, mediates; therefore, just so far as we think about reality, we deform it by destroying its immediacy, and thus thought can never grasp reality. We enjoy reality in the immediate flow of our mental life, but when we think, we cease to enjoy it, because it ceases to be immediate: we
break it up into discrete parts, and this break-up destroys its immediacy and therefore destroys itself. Bradley has thus bequeathed to his successors a dilemma.
Either reality is the immediate flow of subjective life, in which case it is subjective but not objective, it is enjoyed but cannot be known, or else it is that which we know, in which case it is objective and not subjective, it is a world of real things outside the subjective life of our mind and outside each other. Bradley himself accepted the first horn of the dilemma; but to accept either horn is to be committed to the fundamental error of conceiving the life of mind as a mere immediate flow of feelings and sensations, devoid of all reflection and self-knowledge. So conceived, mind is itself, but it does not know itself; the being of mind is such as to make self-knowledge impossible.  The effect of Bradley’s work on subsequent English philosophy was to induce it, in general, to accept this error as an axiomatic truth, and to adopt the second horn of the resulting dilemma.
Collingwood explains Bradley was off, in the sense that he was judging things from a safer standpoint, while i think is interesting the idea that we destroy the immediacy of events by effecting thinking, I don't think it is that simple, I think Bradley was looking at extended forms of thinking, I have been reading the wave and the idea that our machine and this density have a "time" that is linear, in the neurological sense, certain functions of the brain create this sequence of time, if we are under stress, or happy or dealing with blank memories that means the brain allows for time.
I think Bradley was speaking that a philosopher, runs philosophical patterns of thinking that , (in themselves) killed the immediacy of any sensation.

I think that is interesting from the point of view of dissociation, anyone with dissociative problems experiences an altered state of reality result of past experiences and that sort of thing, and that if that person is to remove the emotional baggage, and work these traumas out, there is no mental energy spent in supporting an illusion designed to shield awareness from reality. In that sense inmmediate experiences hit our perception after a bunch of processes of mental integration, but when we realize it is how this process is taking place, I think that is when we apply an active form of awareness. Or being aware of the self.

From the historical point of view though, Collingwood explains the error in the following passage


Idea of History pg 143 (Oakeshott )
The general thesis of the book is that experience is a ‘concrete whole which analysis divides into experiencing and what is experienced’; and experience is not (as it is for Bradley) immediate consciousness, the mere flow of sensations and feelings, it is also and always thought, judgement, assertion of reality. There is no sensation which is not also thought, no intuition which is not also judgement, no volition which is not also cognition. These distinctions, like that between subject and object, are in no sense arbitrary or unreal; they represent no false dissection of experience itself, they are integral elements in it; but they are distinctions, not divisions, and above all they are distinctions within experience, not distinctions between elements in experience and something foreign to it. Hence thought as such is not, as in Bradley, a falsification of experience involving the breakup of its immediacy; thought is experience itself; and thought, as ‘experience without reservation or arrest, without presupposition or postulate, without limit or category’, is philosophy. Here Bradley’s dilemma is transcended. Because experience is no longer conceived as immediate, but as containing mediation or thought within itself, the real is no longer divided into that which ‘knows’ but cannot be known (‘knows’, because a knowledge where the knower can never say ‘I know’ is not knowledge at all) and that which is ‘known’ but cannot know. Mind’s right to know itself is re-established.
Here Collingwood is stating there is a unification of all functions, eventhough he is taking about philosophy of history, all sensations contain thought, there is no separation in history, so there is a counterpart to sensations emotions and thoughts, which is information, because they are not isolated and one thing in one area will mirror in other areas.
What I think is that thought does indeed exist in everything, but there are thought forms, some different than others that effect the self and reality in different ways, where in Bradley , his conception of thought was isolated because he assumed thought as a limited focal point (attention)

What I was thinking is that , from this magnetic "I" that is able to actively see itself, sensations and emotions contain Information, can this information be accessed by the awareness and be "decoded"? working on programs change the constitution of the machine, eradicating delusions can change perception also, therefore our belief center is re-wired too? no?
It made me think about the last session.. and the session where they discussed that gravity is all there is/central element of everything...

Collingwood then goes on to explain where his error was, he was still looking at history as a natural science, I.e. subject to definite solid laws, and history cannot be predicted and his surrendering to positivistic philosophical thinking (positivism as treating history as natural science).

Sorry for going off on different things and off topic about the concept of history as he is developing it at that point in the book, it was in my mind for some time..
 

Martina

Jedi Master
I'm still reading chapter five, thanks to DBZ. It makes me more appreciate what an amazing work Laura did with her Histories of the world.
 

goyacobol

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
After reading The Idea of History it I carefully read this thread and learned even more from all the thoughtful comments. I have quite of few parts saved on Kindle flashcards but I am not sure which ones to share without being redundant or too lengthy.

I will try to not duplicate previous quotes and observations which may not be easy since much has been discussed already.

I made notes on the flashcards as I saved them by placing my thoughts in brackets at the bottom [.....] .

In one sense, to call a natural process evolutionary is the same thing as calling it progressive. For if any given specific form can come into existence only as a modification of one already established, the establishment of any given form presupposes that of which it is a modification, and so on. If a form b is a modification of a, and c of b, and d of c, the forms a, b, c, d, can only come to exist in that order. The order is progressive in the sense that it is a series of terms which can come into existence only in that order. To say this, of course, implies nothing as to why the modifications arise, or whether they are large or small. In this sense of the word ‘progress’, progressive only means orderly, that is, exhibiting order.

Collingwood, R. G.. The Idea of History (Kindle Locations 5976-5986). Albion Press. Kindle Edition.

[How does the changing of densities affect established “creations”?
Or what is the cosmic method of density change supposed to represent as a function? ]
But progress in nature, or evolution, has often been taken to mean more than this: namely the doctrine that each new form is not only a modification of the last but an improvement on it. To speak of improvement is to imply a standard of valuation. This, in the case of breeding new forms of domestic animals or plants, is intelligible enough: the value implied is the new form’s utility for human purposes. But no one supposes that natural evolution is designed to produce such utilities; the standard implied, therefore, cannot be that. What is it? Kant held that there was one form of value, and only one, that was independent of human purposes, namely the moral value of the good will. All other kinds of goodness, he argued, are merely goodness for some postulated purpose, but the goodness of morality does not depend on any postulated purpose, and thus moral goodness, as he put it, is an end in itself. On this view the evolutionary process has been truly progressive, because it has led through a determinate series of forms to the existence of man, a creature capable of moral goodness. If this view is rejected, it is very doubtful whether any other standard of valuation can be found which would entitle us to call evolution progressive except merely in the sense of being orderly. Not because the idea of value finds no place in our view of nature, for it is difficult to think of any organism except as striving to maintain its own existence, and such effort implies that, at least for itself, its existence is not a mere matter of fact but something of value; but because all values seem merely relative. The archaeopteryx may in fact have been an ancestor of the bird, but what entitles us to call the bird an improvement on the archaeopteryx? A bird is not a better archaeopteryx, but something different that has grown out of it. Each is trying to be itself.

Collingwood, R. G.. The Idea of History (Kindle Locations 5986-6000). Albion Press. Kindle Edition.

[We are an "experiment" as the Cs say?]
Similarly with any other progress. If we want to abolish capitalism or war, and in doing so not only to destroy them but to bring into existence something better, we must begin by understanding them: seeing what the problems are which our economic or international system succeeds in solving, and how the solution of these is related to the other problems which it fails to solve. This understanding of the system we set out to supersede is a thing which we must retain throughout the work of superseding it, as a knowledge of the past conditioning our creation of the future. It may be impossible to do this; our hatred of the thing we are destroying may prevent us from understanding it, and we may love it so much that we cannot destroy it unless we are blinded by such hatred. But if that is so, there will once more, as so often in the past, be change but no progress; we shall have lost our hold on one group of problems in our anxiety to solve the next. And we ought by now to realize that no kindly law of nature will save us from the fruits of our ignorance.

Collingwood, R. G.. The Idea of History (Kindle Locations 6205-6212). Albion Press. Kindle Edition.

[Knowledge protects trying to plan for the future.]
A healthy man knows that the empty space in front of him, which he proposes to fill up with activities for which he accordingly now begins making plans, will be very far from empty by the time he steps into it. It will be crowded with other people all pursuing activities of their own. Even now it is not as empty as it looks. It is filled with a saturate solution of activity, on the point of beginning to crystallize out. There will be no room left for his own activity, unless he can so design this that it will fit into the interstices of the rest.

The rational activity which historians have to study is never free from compulsion: the compulsion to face the facts of its own situation. The more rational it is, the more completely it undergoes this compulsion. To be rational is to think; and for a man who proposes to act, the thing that it is important to think about is the situation in which he stands. With regard to this situation, he is not free at all. It is what it is, and neither he nor anyone else can ever change that. For though the situation consists altogether of thoughts, his own and other people’s, it cannot be changed by a change of mind on the part of himself or anyone else. If minds change, as they do. this merely means that with the lapse of time a new situation has arisen. For a man about to act, the situation is his master, his oracle, his god. Whether his action is to prove successful or not depends on whether he grasps the situation rightly or not. If he is a wise man, it is not until he has consulted his oracle, done everything in his power to find out what the situation is, that he will make even the most trivial plan. And if he neglects the situation, the situation will not neglect him. It is not one of those gods that leave an insult unpunished.

Collingwood, R. G.. The Idea of History (Kindle Locations 5881-5894). Albion Press. Kindle Edition.

[I think this could apply to our forum activities.]

When you only look at the events and not at the thoughts behind them you see no necessary connexion at all, and the people who blame Hegel for thinking that there are necessary connexions in history are looking at history empirically, as mere outward facts, and assure us quite rightly that when they look at it in that way they see no logical connexions. Quite right, Hegel would have answered; between the mere events, there are none. But history consists of actions, and actions have an inside and an outside; on the outside they are mere events, related in space and time but not otherwise; on the inside they are thoughts, bound to each other by logical connexions. What Hegel is doing is to insist that the historian must first work empirically by studying documents and other evidence; it is only in this way that he can establish what the facts are. But he must then look at the facts from the inside, and tell us what they look like from that point of view. It is no reply to him to say that they look different from the outside.

Collingwood, R. G.. The Idea of History (Kindle Locations 2200-2207). Albion Press. Kindle Edition.

[The missing psychological view?]
With all the comments on Speculum Mentis I can see it will be an even better book to read. I think I should read some of the others Laura mentioned first so I am going to read Inside the Criminal Mind by Stanton Samenow next.
 

monotonic

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Felipe4 said:
When I tried this several times, I wanted to know if physical sensations had a psychic counter part that we could perceive (a la Gavor Mate, kinestology etc and the idea that certain ticks and habits are the result of trauma or other associative conditioning), if that makes sense, I tried this with cramping muscles, when relaxing I was trying to find the "meaning" , or mental representation of the cramping (in the form of mental information for lack of better term), to see if there was a memory feeling or thought associated with the stiff back while relaxing it in meditation or just relaxation and concentration.

I had since then the idea that if we can understand the information contained in a cramp, ache, sensation mentally we could, access that physical system (I don't have enough data to support this)
I found that to get rid of cramps I could lie down on the bed, and for several minutes do nothing but try to relax and focus on my comfort. I found that I usually have fears and won't allow myself to become comfortable. I find I have to convince myself that there will be no severe consequences from doing so, and that in all likelihood I will still have a house tomorrow, etc. If I can address whatever is preventing me from relaxing fully, the cramps will relax. But it is more than just clearing my head from negative thoughts. The thoughts need to be replaced with constructive thoughts about what is stable in my life, and how that outweighs what is not stable. And for the unstable things I need to let go of them and have some acceptance. Basically, it is not enough just to calm down. You have to convince yourself that life is bearable, and have some faith. I think the body takes cues from the mind in this case, and then stops working against itself.

As for "psychic counterpart", if we assume that there is one, then I think it must come up as an intuition or impression or thought that occurs while you are working through this stuff in order to relax. I have had epiphanies during this process but there was nothing to connect them to the specific cramp except that they happened during the process and seemed to resolve the cramp. So in this case it seems the body was determining how it manifested without necessarily any complex logic as to where.
 

goyacobol

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
monotonic said:
Felipe4 said:
When I tried this several times, I wanted to know if physical sensations had a psychic counter part that we could perceive (a la Gavor Mate, kinestology etc and the idea that certain ticks and habits are the result of trauma or other associative conditioning), if that makes sense, I tried this with cramping muscles, when relaxing I was trying to find the "meaning" , or mental representation of the cramping (in the form of mental information for lack of better term), to see if there was a memory feeling or thought associated with the stiff back while relaxing it in meditation or just relaxation and concentration.

I had since then the idea that if we can understand the information contained in a cramp, ache, sensation mentally we could, access that physical system (I don't have enough data to support this)
I found that to get rid of cramps I could lie down on the bed, and for several minutes do nothing but try to relax and focus on my comfort. I found that I usually have fears and won't allow myself to become comfortable. I find I have to convince myself that there will be no severe consequences from doing so, and that in all likelihood I will still have a house tomorrow, etc. If I can address whatever is preventing me from relaxing fully, the cramps will relax. But it is more than just clearing my head from negative thoughts. The thoughts need to be replaced with constructive thoughts about what is stable in my life, and how that outweighs what is not stable. And for the unstable things I need to let go of them and have some acceptance. Basically, it is not enough just to calm down. You have to convince yourself that life is bearable, and have some faith. I think the body takes cues from the mind in this case, and then stops working against itself.

As for "psychic counterpart", if we assume that there is one, then I think it must come up as an intuition or impression or thought that occurs while you are working through this stuff in order to relax. I have had epiphanies during this process but there was nothing to connect them to the specific cramp except that they happened during the process and seemed to resolve the cramp. So in this case it seems the body was determining how it manifested without necessarily any complex logic as to where.
I have had the similar thoughts about replacing the old programs with something new and better. Maybe that is just one more good reason to keep reading and learning new and better information.
It is one thing to say "out with the old" but I think we should also be saying "in with the new".

Also, I don't think these negative thoughts just come from nowhere. It can be from a lifetime of programing or even the beaming from HAARP etc. or what about 4DSTS "thought centers". If we "expect attack" we should have countermeasures in mind I think.
 

Laura

Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
As I have mentioned elsewhere, my recent reading has included "Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics", eds. Paul Davies and Niels Henrik Gregersen. (Cambridge University Press 2010). The entire book is interesting, but there are just a few chapters that stand out in terms of recent discussions and comments from Cs. I've already posted one chapter in the "Stoicism and Paul: Making a Cosmology, Anthropology-Ethics for Today" thread HERE. Those of you who have read that chapter (whole thread) will realize the close interweaving of the Collingwood material with the Stoic Paul material, and how both seem to point to Information as the fundament of the Cosmos/Universe. I think that understanding this is very important in respect of how we think, live, and interact with others and our environment. And for those who have been reading Collingwood, a lot of things will begin to make more sense.

In this thread, I am going to post two chapters of the book that I think more directly explicate Collingwood though certainly they could also be in the Paul thread, but I think the weight falls here. In a sense, this is where Collingwood was trying to go I think. Posting the important chapters will save many from having to buy and read the entire book though certainly, if you are able, it's not a bad idea!


13 God as the ultimate informational principle

Keith Ward

Scientists who speculate on philosophical questions usually agree that classical materialism - the view that reality consists of nothing but small massy particles bumping into one another in an absolute and unique space-time - is intellectually dead. Accounts of the universe now regularly involve notions such as that of manifold space- times, quantum realities that exist at a more ultimate level than, and are very different from, massy particles in one specific space, and informational codes that contain instructions for building complex integrated structures displaying new sorts of emergent property.

What this suggests is that the nature of the reality investigated by physics and biology is much more complex and mysterious than some Newtonian materialists thought (though of course Newton himself was as far from being a materialist as one can get). In particular, the role of information in any account of our universe has come to take on a new importance.

Most contributors to this volume distinguish three main types of information - Shannon information, “shaping" information, and semantic information.

Shannon information is a matter of how to input the maximum amount of information into a closed physical system. It is concerned, it might be said, with quantity rather than quality, in that it totally ignores questions of the significance or function of the information that a physical system might contain. This is a technical matter for information technologists, and I shall not consider it further.

The second is “shaping" or “coding" information: the sort of thing we might have in mind when thinking of how DNA carries the information for constructing proteins and organic cells and bodies. We can understand what DNA is only when we see not only its chemical composition, but also how that composition leads to the construction of bodies.

Few biologists, however, think that this function of DNA is actually designed, in the sense of being intentionally set up in order to achieve the purpose of building a body. DNA, it is very widely thought, has evolved by processes of random mutation and natural selection to be an efficient replicating machine, which uses bodies as an aid to replication, but has come to do so by entirely blind and randomly evolved means.

For this view, the use of functional language is perhaps necessary as a shortcut for understanding the more basic chemical processes, which are far too complex to be spelled out in detail. This is epistemological emergence with a reductionist ontology - the basic mechanisms are all ordinary chemical ones, but it is easier for us to understand them if we speak of functions and codes that can be “read" and interpreted by ribosomes. We could reduce this language to that of chemistry, but it is too cumbersome to bother.

A rather different view is that we could not even in principle reduce the language of biology or psychology to that of chemistry or physics. Even though no new physical entities are involved, the way the basic physical entities interrelate and organize means that integrated and complex entities act in accordance with new principles, not deductively derivable from nor reducible to those of their simpler physical constituents.

So, for instance, the laws of nations are not reducible to laws governing the relation of all their constituent persons, but nations contain no entities but persons. It is their organization into complex structures that produces new principles of interaction, though it produces no new physical entities (nations are not super-persons). Such new principles of interaction might be informational, in that some parts provide the information that governs the behavior of other parts within the whole, or that enables the whole to be constructed as a complex entity.

It seems as though the position of an entity within a structure, and the forms of its relation to other entities in that structure, call forth new principles of interaction, causing it to function as a part of a complex integrated totality.

New laws of nature, new ways of interaction, emerge that are not just reducible to the laws of interacting particles considered in isolation. Structure becomes important to understanding. Many informational systems may be understood as having a specific function within an integrated totality that emerges only when that totality exists as a system.

These facts have led some scientists to speak of holistic explanation - explanation of elementary parts in terms of a greater whole - as an appropriate form of scientific explanation. Some, especially quantum physicists, extend the idea of holistic explanation to the whole universe, considered as a total physical system.

13.1 A MATHEMATICAL POSSIBILITY SPACE

Recent hypotheses in quantum physics suggest that the whole physical universe is “entangled" in such a way that the parts of a system - even the behavior of elementary particles - cannot be fully understood without seeing their role within a greater whole: ultimately the whole of space-time. There may be no non-physical bits of “stuff," but there seem to be laws of their interaction that can be specified only from a grasp of whole systems, rather than atomistically. In quantum cosmology we are encouraged to see the whole universe as a complex system, and to think that knowledge of the total system may be needed fully to explain the behavior of its simple parts.

13.2

Perhaps the origin of the universe, the explanation of which is the elusive Holy Grail of cosmology, can be fully understood only when its fullest development is understood, and we see its simplest and earliest parts as necessarily implied by the fully developed structure in which a consistent and rich set of its possibilities of interaction has been manifested. For a physics in which time is just one coordinate variable that can in principle be considered as a totality, this is not too fantastic a notion. It might mean the return of final causality, in a new sense, to science. Only in the light of the manifestation of all the inherent possibilities of the universe, or at least of one set of compossible and extensive space-time states, might we be able to explain the properties of its originating simple parts.

We might think, as some quantum theorists do, of there being a set of possible states in phase space. The set of all possible such states would form an archetype of the possibilities for a universe. Instead of a wholly arbitrary set of ultimate laws and states that proceeds by wholly random processes to an unanticipated outcome, we might have a complete set of all possibilities, from which one set of consistent laws might be actualized. This set might include this space-time as one of many actualized states, or it might be the only consistently actualizable universe that contains intelligent agents like us. Mathematical physicists have proposed both possibilities.

Why, after all, should we think that the earliest and the simplest could provide a complete explanation of the later and more complex? Perhaps that idea belongs to an outdated mechanistic physics for which time is an absolute monolinear flow. Might we not think that the latest and most comprehensive state of a system, or the system taken as a whole, explains the simple origins? For the most comprehensive state would include the specification of all possible states, and a selection of actual states in terms of value (“value" being a notion that can be filled out in various ways). Then the laws of nature would not be wholly arbitrary principles of interaction. They would be principles necessary to the fruition of a coherent, complex, organized, and integrated universe of unique and inexponable value.

We could then speak of the supreme informational principle of the universe as the mathematically richest and most fertile set of states in logical space that could give rise to a physical cosmos that could be valued for its own sake. The set of all mathematically possible states (a set that would exist necessarily, and could not come into being or pass away) plus a selective principle of evaluation (a rule for ordering these states) would provide the informational code for constructing an actual universe.

That sense of information would be importantly different from the sense in which, for instance, DNA is a code for building bodies. It would precede, and not be the result of, any and all physical processes, evolutionary or otherwise. And it would not be part of the physical system for which it was a container and transmitter of information. But it would be analogous to “shaping" information, in that it would contain the patterns of all possible physical configurations, and a principle of selecting between possibilities.

If we cast around for some model for a non-physical carrier of information, containing patterns for possible existents, together with rules for ordering such patterns evaluatively, the historical example that springs to mind, or at least to the mind of any philosopher, is Plato's “World of Forms." This is precisely a world of archetypes in which the phenomena of the physical cosmos participate partially and imperfectly.

In some modern science such a Platonic model has proved attractive to mathematicians; and Roger Penrose, for one, has said that the Platonic realm is for him more real than the physical realm. It has a mathematical purity, immutability, and necessity that the observable physical world lacks. “To me," writes Penrose, “the world of perfect forms is primary ... its existence being almost a logical necessity - and ... the world of conscious perceptions and the world of physical reality are its shadows" (Penrose, 1994, p. 417).

Plato had difficulty in relating the world of forms (of possible states in phase space) to a dynamic power that could translate it into an actual physical embodiment. In Plato's dialogue Timaeus, the Demiurge or world architect uses the forms as models for constructing a universe, but seems strangely disconnected from the forms themselves (Plato, 1965, 29d-30d). It was Augustine, in the Christian tradition, who formed the elegant postulate that the forms were actually in the mind of God, necessary components of the divine being, which was the actual basis of their otherwise merely possible reality.

13.3 FORMS OF CONSCIOUSNESS

With the introduction of the idea of mind or consciousness as the carrier of possibilities, there is some motivation to move beyond the view that higher-level laws are just shorthand substitutes for boringly laborious lists of lower-level laws, and beyond the view that they are new principles of interaction between complex systems, the basic nature of the elements of such systems remaining what it always was. We may have to introduce the idea of consciousness as a distinctive kind of existent.

Consciousness is not just a new form of relationship between complex physical systems. Apprehension and understanding, and intelligent action for the sake of realizing some envisaged but not yet existent goal, are properties, not of physically measurable entities, but of a distinctive sort of reality that is not material.

If we posit consciousness as a distinctive kind of existent, we move to the third use of the term “information" - the semantic use, when some physical item (a written mark or sound) provides information about something other than itself to some consciousness that understands it. There are three main components here: the physical item, the person who takes it to refer or to indicate that some operation is to be carried out, and what it is about, or (in logic and mathematics, for example) the operation it instructs one to perform.

Digital computers operate in accordance with the second type of information. The computer is structured so that some of its physical components constitute a code for performing operations - there are physical elements with a function. But there is no one who understands the instructions; they operate automatically. Of course computer codes have been intentionally structured precisely so that the codes can be used for specific purposes, and the results on the screen can be understood by someone. That is the whole point of having computers. They are designed to help persons to understand things, and they provide information only when someone does understand what they produce.

Without that act of understanding, there is no information. There is only the material substratum that stores information - but that material basis needs to be interpreted by an act of intellectual understanding to become actual information.

That is why the “information" carried by DNA molecules is not information in the semantic sense. The code does provide a program for constructing an organism, but no person has constructed it and no consciousness needs to understand and apply the program. It has originated by ordinary evolutionary processes, and, like a computer program, it operates without the need for conscious interpretation.

Nevertheless, there may be a holistic explanation for the general process of evolution and for the sorts of organism that DNA codes construct. If we are looking for a total system within which “random" mutations and natural selection of specific kinds of organism occur, we might find in the ecosystem itself and its history a recipe for the generation of more complex physical systems and for the gradual development of organisms capable of conscious apprehension and creative response. Paul Davies and Simon Conway Morris are just two of the scientists who see in the basic physical foundations of the evolutionary process a vector to the virtually inevitable development of conscious and responsive life (Conway Morris, 2003; Davies, 1992).

It is extraordinary that a physical system generates informational codes for constructing complex integrated organisms. But that fact does not of itself require the introduction of any external designing intelligence. What is even more extraordinary is that these organisms then generate a quite new sort of information - semantic information - that does involve consciousness, interpretation, intention, and understanding.

In my view, such things as conscious intention and understanding have real existential status. They are irreducible and distinctive forms of reality. They are kinds of “stuff" that are not reducible to the properties of physical elements such as electrons. Yet they come into existence at the end of a many-billion-year-long process of development from simple physical elements.

If we are not simply to give up all attempt at explanation, and say that consciousness is just a random by-product of the evolutionary process, we must look for a different type of explanation: one to which contemporary biologists have largely been temperamentally averse, but which is now increasingly being forced upon our attention. That is, a cosmic holistic explanation, in which the development of the parts is explained by their contribution to the existence of an integrated totality.

Taken together, these considerations suggest the idea of a primordial consciousness that is ontologically prior to all physical realities, that contains the “coded" information for constructing any possible universe, and that can apprehend and appreciate any physical universe that exists. It would certainly be a strong reason for creating a universe that might contain finite consciousnesses that could share in appreciating, and even in creating, some of the distinctive values potential in the basic structure of the universe: for such a creation would increase the total amount and the kinds of value in existence.

Whether or not one calls such a primordial consciousness “God" is partly a matter of taste. For some, the idea of God is too anthropomorphic, too primitive and sentimental, to be of use. But if some notion of value is introduced, as a reason for actualizing some rather than other logically possible states, the notion of consciousness seems to be entailed. For it is consciousness that apprehends and appreciates value. Only intelligent consciousness can have a reason for bringing about some state, and that reason would precisely be the actualization and appreciation of some as yet merely possible value.

Consciousness, as a distinctive sort of real existent, not composed of purely physical elements, has been a major problem for classical materialism, and implausible attempts have even been made to deny that it exists at all. But quantum physics throws doubt on such denials. When quantum physics speaks of the collapse of a wave function when an observation is made, some quantum physicists hold that consciousness is involved in the actualization of possibilities in a constitutive way - as John Wheeler has put it, “It has not really happened, it is not a phenomenon, until it is an observed phenomenon" (1978, p. 14).

So for some physicists (and the list would be long, including John Wheeler, Henry Stapp, Eugene Wigner, John von Neumann, and Bernard d'Espagnat) consciousness is involved in the very existence of physical nature as it appears to us. Consciousness, as we know it, is capable of conceiving possibilities as well as apprehending actualities, and of making possibilities actual for a reason. Thus a hypothesis consonant with many interpretations of quantum physics is to see the actual world as rooted in a consciousness that conceives all possible states, and actualizes some of them for a reason connected with the evaluation of such states by that consciousness.

Such a reason might be that only one set of compossible states gives rise to a complex, interesting, and enduring universe - Leibniz's hypothesis (Leibniz, 1714, § 53-55) - or it may be that any universe can be actualized that exhibits a unique set of valued states, in which the values markedly outweigh the disvalues, and the disvalues are compensated in a way ultimately acceptable to those who have experienced them - Thomas Aquinas' hypothesis (Aquinas, 1265-1274, 1a, question 25, article 6).

The idea of holistic explanation is the idea of explaining the parts of an organic whole in terms of that whole itself and its fullest actualization. What is sometimes called “shaping information" is the property of some physical entities to store and transmit information, in the non-semantic sense of an ordered set of physical causes of more complex and integrated systems.

If there is a holistic explanation for the universe, it will explain its simplest laws and elements as preconditions of the realization of its fullest and most complex states. There is no doubt that the human brain is the most complex physical state so far known by us to exist. Consciousness and intelligent agency is generated by the central nervous system and the brain of Homo sapiens - and of course there may be further developments in knowledge and power yet to come, in other forms of organism, whether naturally or artificially produced. Rather as DNA may be seen as an informational code for constructing organisms, so the basic laws of physics - the laws of the interaction of complex as well as simple physical systems - can be seen as informational codes for developing societies of conscious intelligent agents out of simpler physical elements.

13.4 THE SUPREME INFORMATIONAL PRINCIPLE

However, the laws of physics did not, like DNA, evolve by mutation and selection, and they are not embodied in chemical or physical elements. Even those, like Lee Smolin, who speak of an “evolution" of physical laws, have to presuppose a prior set of laws that can account for such evolution. As a matter of logic, the laws in accordance with which physical entities relate cannot be generated by the relations between such entities. At least some basic set of laws must be seen as primordial and constitutive of reality rather than emergent from it.

My suggestion (it is actually the suggestion of many classical philosophers and theologians, and a suggestion that much modern physics supports rather than undermines) is that such basic laws can be fully understood only when they themselves are seen as preconditions for developing consciousness and intelligence from simple physical elements.

But then we have to see such conscious intelligence as a primary causal factor in the generation and nature of those simple physical elements. To adapt John Wheeler's suggestion a little, the simple originating phenomena of the universe may not even exist unless they are conceived, evaluated, and intentionally actualized by consciousness.

For some physicists, and I think for John Wheeler, it is the final conscious state of the universe itself that is a causal factor in its own physical origin. The universe generates a cosmic intelligence that then becomes cause of its own originating processes. But what this paradoxical suggestion really points to is the existence of a transtemporal consciousness that can originate the universe as a condition of the existence of the sorts of consciousness the universe generates through and in time.

It has been objected that a consciousness cannot exist without some form of material embodiment, but this objection seems to rest simply upon a failure of human imagination. It is true that all consciousness requires an object; we are always conscious of something. But there may be many sorts of objects of consciousness. Human consciousnesses are fully and properly embodied, and their objects are normally physical, or at least sensory. But we can imagine, and even to some extent experience, consciousness of non-physical objects such as mathematical realities and unactualized logical possibilities. The cosmic consciousness being envisaged here would have the set of all possible universes as its object, and so it could not be part of any such universe (it may take embodied form in some universes, and Christians hold that it does, but it would also have to transcend any such form in order that those universes could exist in the first place).

In that respect, and unsurprisingly, cosmic consciousness is quite unlike any embodied consciousness. It is a primary ontological reality, in fact the one and only primary ontological reality, from which all universes are generated. This consciousness is the conceiver of all possible states and the actualizer of some, for the sake of values that are to be consciously apprehended and appreciated. This is the supreme informational principle for constructing universes.

Another objection that has been made, most publicly by Richard Dawkins in recent times (Dawkins, 2006), is that a cosmic consciousness is just too complex a thing to be likely to exist. The simple is more likely to exist than the complex, he says, and so to appeal to a cosmic consciousness is to try to explain the improbable in terms of the even more improbable, and that can hardly count as an explanation.

Something has gone wrong here with the use of the idea of probability. It is false that the simple is more likely to exist than the complex - there are infinitely more complex possible states than simple states, and so, if anything, a complex state is more likely to exist than a simple one. But of course no single possible state is either more or less likely to exist than any other possible state. Probability does not really work when considering the likelihood of anything at all existing. Considerations of probability alone cannot tell us what is likely to exist, out of the complete array of all possible states of affairs.

13.5 COMBINING NOMOLOGICAL AND AXIOLOGICAL

EXPLANATIONS Some think that the fact that anything exists is ultimately just a brute fact for which there can be no explanation. But there are two general sorts of explanation that are widely accepted and that may together suggest an explanation as to why a universe exists.

One is the nomological explanation generally used in the natural sciences, by which appeal to a general law and an initial state makes the existence of some further physical state necessary. The other is the axiological explanation used in the human sciences and in human life generally, by which appeal to motives or reasons (“I did X in order to get Y") makes the existence of some state intelligible.

Nomological explanation gets stuck when it comes to explaining why the laws of nature are ultimately as they are. Many physicists would like to see something necessary about the fundamental laws of nature, so that they could not be otherwise and could not fail to exist. But what could that be? A possible suggestion is that they could be necessary in the sense that they are conditions of (necessary to) realizing a set of distinctive values (reasonable goals of action). Those values in turn would be necessarily what they are if there is a complete array of possible states that can generally be ranked in order of value. So if we can think of an array of all possible states that could exist, with the values they necessarily have, there would be an intrinsic reason for the existence of any universe: namely, the goodness that it would exhibit.

A combination of nomological and axiological explanation, of necessity and value, suggests the idea of a complete set of possible states, a set that would be necessary in that there is no possible alternative to it. All such states would have degrees of goodness necessarily attached to them. Some of these would, by necessity, be negative - that is, they would be disvalues or evils. All possibly actualizable coherent universes might be such that it would not be possible to eliminate all evils from them. But some would have higher degrees of value than others, or perhaps different kinds of incommensurable values worth having. So there would be an internal reason for the selection of some such states for existence.

We are operating at a level of great abstraction here, but my main point can be made simply. If there is no ultimate reason for anything existing, then it is not true that the simple is more likely to exist than the complex. But if there is an ultimate reason, it would have to lie in the goodness or value of certain possible states that are necessarily what they are.

This is, and is meant to be, a basically Platonic idea - one that has been revived in recent years by, among others, John Leslie and Roger Penrose (Leslie, 1989; Penrose, 1994). I have suggested, following Augustine, that mind or consciousness is somehow involved in such an ultimate explanation, because it is mind that stores possibilities non-physically, and mind that can act for a reason. This is just to say that mind is a fundamental constituent of ultimate reality, and is necessarily prior to all physical entities. For they are actualizations of possibilities apprehended by cosmic mind, the only actuality that is not capable of being brought into being or of not existing or of being other than it is, as it is a condition of the existence of all possibilities whatsoever. Cosmic consciousness is the condition of any and all possibilities existing (which they necessarily do), and not merely a very complex thing that just happens to exist.

It is clear that any such “Platonic" view cannot accept that information is necessarily materially embodied, as the primary informational source, God, is not material. But it may still be the case that human consciousness is materially embodied, and that it is not simply something quite different in kind from material objects, as it lies in an emergent continuum with material entities that have no consciousness.

13.6 HUMAN EMBODIED CONSCIOUSNESS

Human consciousness is oriented towards what can be known by the senses, and it is embodied in a material world that provides both the sources of its information and the arena for its intelligent responses. Human information also needs to be stored in a material form, in language and in physical areas of the brain. It is not some-thing purely mental or unembodied.

The material elements in themselves provide no information, however; they are the carriers of information, and without them no information is carried. But the material stuff needs to be interpreted by someone to denote some thing or process. Consciousness needs material objects with which to operate. It uses such objects in two ways - to form an organized informational storage system, and to prompt acts of intellectual understanding.

That is why what is often, and perhaps not quite fairly, called Cartesian dualism is an inadequate account of consciousness. For it gives the impression that there are parallel worlds of pure unverbalized ideas in the mind, and of words and physical objects that somehow “image" or copy such ideas in physical form - the mind is not only the mirror of nature, but human language is a mirror of totally non-physical relations of ideas that already fully exist in the mind.

The “parallel worlds" idea of mind and body misses the necessity of physical objects and sensory data for the mind, and it also misses the necessity of a conscious mind if those physical objects are to be, in a proper sense, information: objects that refer beyond themselves, that “mean something," when interpreted by a socially trained and historically situated understanding.

Human languages are the vehicles of semantic information. They do not correspond to some realm of pure ideas that humans just tune into. They are culturally distinct and develop historically and differently by use and practice. Human minds learn some such language, and that largely governs how they think and what they think about. But “understanding" is a distinctive capacity that can learn and develop a language, that can use language creatively, and appreciate the products of such creativity.

There are here three distinctive capacities of the human person, unique among all organisms on Earth, so far as we can tell - the capacity to be sensitive to and appreciative of information received, to be creative in responding to it, and to learn and develop such capacities in relation to other persons in specific historical contexts. Human persons receive information, interpret it, and transmit it in a fully semantic way.

Humans nevertheless stand in a continuum that begins from the much simpler capacity of physical objects to respond to stimuli from an environment of other objects. The registration of the stimulus, the largely automatic response, and the form of interaction with other objects, are elementary forms of what becomes, in humans, conscious apprehension, creative response, and personal relationships with other persons.

Because this continuum exists, we can use the term “information" to apply at various stages. Even the simplest physical object “registers information" from its environment, “interprets" it, and acts on the basis of it - but of course none of these simple capacities involves consciousness or awareness. There is nothing there that is truly creative, and there is no development, as there is with human persons, of a unique historical trajectory, no sense of an inward spiritual journey or a novel and unpredictable history.

As organisms become more complex and integrated, these primitive capacities of registration and response are extended and become more diverse and individual. Consciousness seems to be a continuously emergent property that is so closely integrated with organic systems that it may seem right to call it an emergent aspect of a monistic and naturalistic system, as Arthur Peacocke did. It is as well to remember that even the notorious Descartes said, “I am not just lodged in my body like a pilot in his ship, but I am intimately united with it, and so confused and intermingled with it that I and my body compose, as it were, a single whole" (Descartes, 1637, p. 161).

Antipathy to Descartes is today so strong that some writers even miss out the “not" in this quotation, thus changing its sense completely. Mind and body are, for Descartes, a “single whole," and thus the alleged founder of dualism seems paradoxically to espouse a form of monism. However, this is a double-aspect monism (the philosopher Charles Taliaferro (1994) more helpfully calls it “integrative dualism"), and the two aspects can, however improperly in the case of humans, be torn apart. So it is possible to have a consciousness without a body - God is such - and it is possible to have a functioning brain without consciousness (although we assume this does not normally, or perhaps ever, happen).

Material embodiment is more than contingent for humans. As Thomas Aquinas said: if souls exist without bodies after death, they do so “in an unnatural and imperfect way" (Aquinas, 1265-1274, 1, question 76, article 1). Humans are fully embodied minds. Yet in human consciousness an important threshold is crossed to full semantic information, and that suggests the idea of ultimate reality as a consciousness that holds the information necessary to create any universe, the ultimate ontological and informational principle.

It must be kept in mind that if this is to be more than an interesting hypothesis, it must have some experiential impact. Religion, ambiguous though it is, aims at its best to promulgate disciplines of mind that can relate humans to the cosmic consciousness that it sees as compassionate and perfectly good. It is important to bear in mind that religion does not depend on the success of some speculative theory about the universe. It depends upon the sense of human beings that they can apprehend a personal reality that is other and better than they, and that supports and encourages their own strivings for goodness.

But such a sense of apprehension of transcendent goodness needs to be supported by a general view of reality that is coherent and plausible, and within which an idea of transcendent goodness has a central place. Precisely because our views of reality must be informed by scientific knowledge, theologians must engage with science in formulating metaphysical theories that, however tentative, show religious commitment to be reasonable and intellectually appealing.

Classical materialism may be dead, but naturalistic views of the universe are very much alive, and one of the great challenges for naturalistic thinkers is to provide an adequate account of the remarkable role played by information in our current understanding of the physical world. I do not think any responsible theorist would say that this has been done. However, great strides have been made in recent years, and there is little reason to say we know it is impossible in principle.

My suggestion, however, has been that most uses of the term “information" rely for their significance upon being analogous to, and logically depend upon, the primary sense of “semantic information." This, in my opinion, is not accidental, for it is in that sense that one may hold a view of the universe as constructed on an informational pattern that is carried and transmitted by the mind of God. The God hypothesis is not contradicted by any, and is quite strongly supported by some, of the speculations of contemporary information theory. So my conclusion is that the ultimate ontological reality is indeed information, but that information is ultimately held in the mind of God, and such a hypothesis expresses one of the most coherent and plausible accounts of the nature of ultimate reality that is available to us in the modern scientific age.

13.7 CONCLUSIONS

Two types of information have been discussed: “shaping" information and semantic information. For the former, information is a code for the construction of complex integrated systems, and is best understood by holistic (whole-part) explanation. This may be seen either as a “shorthand" explanation for complex cases, or as involving new laws governing the behavior of emergent complex systems. Cosmic holistic explanation seeks to explain parts of the cosmos in terms of its total structure and history. This suggests the idea of an ultimate informational principle for the universe - a set of all possible states in phase space, and a rule for ordering them in terms of value. Such a principle would be logically prior to and ontologically different from any actual physical state.

A Platonic-Augustinian model for such a principle is the “World of Forms," an ultimate informational system carried and transmitted by a cosmic mind. This is a fully semantic sense of information, for which data are understood and interpreted as significant by consciousness. Such a cosmic consciousness is, or is part of, what has been called God in classical Christian theology.

For some quantum physicists, consciousness is essentially involved in the actuality of any observable phenomenon. On the theistic hypothesis, there is one cosmic consciousness that is essentially involved in the actuality of any universe. It carries complete information about all possible states in phase space, states that carry necessary evaluative rankings, and thus provide an internal reason for the existence of one or more actual universes. This would provide an ultimate explanation for the existence of our universe.

Human consciousness lies on an emergent continuum with primitive and non-conscious stimulus-response entities, and it is by nature embodied. The mind-body relation in humans can best be termed double-aspect monism or integrative dualism. Human consciousness must have sensory content and a physical means of functioning and expression. But it is not the only form of consciousness. The notion of semantic information is extensible to cover the idea of a cosmic, unembodied consciousness, which carries and transmits the informational code for the construction of this and any possible universe. That is the mind of God.
 

Laura

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Some parts of the following essay may come across as vaguely familiar to those of you who have read Ark's article "Physics of the Mysterious". Also, in an interesting way, it touches on the topic of STS vs. STO.


14 Information, theology, and the universe

John F. Haught

The most important single issue in the conversation of theology with science is whether and how God acts in or influences the world. Here I shall ask whether the notion of information can help theologians address this question. It is well known that traditional philosophies and theologies intuited a universal “informational" principle running through all things. Their sense that “Mind," “Wisdom," or “Logos" inhabits and globally patterns the universe has been repeated in widely different ways time and again: in ancient Greek philosophy, the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures, Philo, early Christianity, Stoicism, Hegel, Whitehead, and others. But can the intuition that the universe is the bearer of an overarching meaning - of an informational principle actively present to the entire cosmic process - have any plausibility whatsoever in the age of science?

These days, after all, one must hesitate before connecting the Logos of theology immediately to patterns in nature. The life process as seen through the eyes of evolutionary biologists, to cite the main reason for such reluctance, scarcely seems to be the embodiment of any universal divine principle of meaning or wisdom. Contrary to the picture of cosmic order expressed in much religious thought, evolution involves seemingly endless experimentation with different “forms," most of which are eventually discarded and replaced by those only accidentally suited to the demands of natural selection. The impersonal Darwinian proliferation of experimental life forms, only a few of which seem to be adaptive for any length of time, scarcely reflects anything like an underlying divine wisdom. The spontaneous origin of life, the apparent randomness of genetic variation that helps account for the diversity of life, and the accidents in natural history that render the trajectory of the whole life story unpredictable, make one wonder just how “informed" the natural world can be after all. Certainly evolution makes the hypothesis of divine design questionable. If anything, nature seems, at least on the surface, to be the product of what Richard Dawkins (1986) calls a “blind watchmaker." How, then, can theology think coherently of a divine presence meaningfully operative amid the blind impersonality and aimless contingency manifested in science's new pictures of nature?

14.1 INFORMATION AS ANALOGY?

At the very outset, such a project must acknowledge that theological discourse about divine action is inseparable from the language of analogy. Theological ideas cannot and should not be translated into scientific propositions, as attempted by “creation science" and intelligent design theory. Whenever theological speculation emulates scientific precision in specifying how divine action occurs - for example, by locating it in the hidden realm of quantum events - there is the risk of rendering mundane that which radically transcends nature. God, as theologian Paul Tillich insists, cannot be merely one cause among others in the world and still be appropriately spoken of as God (Tillich, 1967, p. 238). So analogical language is indispensable in all attempts to understand divine action, providence, wisdom, and purpose. However, the fact that theology must use analogy is not something for which the theologian ever needs to apologize, as though clarity and quantitative precision would be more appropriate. Analogy (as well as symbolic expression in general) is essential to protecting the subject matter of faith and theology from being reduced to what is objectifiable in the form of “clear and distinct ideas." Because faith is a matter of being grasped by, rather than of grasping, that which one takes to be “Ultimate Reality," its primal language can never be cured of the vagueness associated with symbol, metaphor, and analogy. The further theology drifts from the figurative discourse of its original inspiration, and the more closely its expression imitates the explanatory models of science, the more it loses touch with its own depth.

Nevertheless, if in theology analogies are essential, some are less suggestive than others. For example, the image of God as a “designer" has become increasingly questionable, especially in view of evolutionary accounts of life. Is it possible, then, that the notion of “information" may be less misleading than that of design in theology's inevitably tentative reflections on how divine purposive action could be operative in the natural world?

14.2 INFORMATION AND IMPROBABILITY

In the broadest sense, “information" can mean whatever gives form, order, pattern, or identity to something, whether it be an electron, a crystal, the human mind, a civilization, or an economic system. It is similar to what Aristotle meant by formal cause. In a general sense “form" is a principle of limitation that gives specificity to things. “Things" could not even be actual unless they have a definite pattern or form. Comparably the idea of “information" as used in communications theory means the reduction or removal of indefiniteness or uncertainty. The more uncertainty is removed, the more information there is. It is in this sense that I shall explore the analogical suggestiveness of the idea of information for theological discourse. I shall be asking whether the universe that sponsors evolution, even though it fails to fit comfortably with the analogy of design, can nonetheless be viewed intelligibly as “informational," and hence as consistent with a divine purposive presence. Information, as John Bowker insists, does not just slop around blindly in the universe. It has to be channeled and processed by an information system (Bowker, 1988, pp. 9-18, 112-143). I want to ask then whether the universe itself could be thought of theologically as something like an information system through which a “message" of ultimate importance is being communicated.

Every information system is limited, capable of handling only a finite amount of information. Hence care must be taken to encode a message in such a way as to fit within the boundaries of what is allowed by the medium. As there is the additional possibility that a message will be obscured or lost in static or other kinds of interference, it must be encoded so as to be heard over and above the scrambling effects of “noise." So “redundancy" is a necessary aspect of information processing (Seife, 2006, pp. 5-20). Redundancy lowers the economy and speed of a communication, but it compensates for the delay by ensuring accurate transmission of meaning. On the one hand, by overdoing the redundancy of a message, one risks reducing it to the merely probable. Too much redundancy can cause information to lose its informative edge, so to speak. It would inhibit the emergence of novelty. On the other hand, if one avoids redundancy altogether a message may get lost in the noise.

In order for a message to come across as informative it must include novelty. It must appear as contrasting with a hypothetical background of merely probable messages. According to the informational analogy that I am following here, the amount of information in a message varies in direct proportion to the improbability of its content. If I anticipate that all the messages from a given source will be the same, then when one of them is delivered it carries little or no information as I already know what it is going to say. There is an apparent paradox involved here: the more informative a message is, the less immediately comprehensible it may be, at least as far as the communication of meaning is concerned. If so, then a maximally informative message, if we could conceive of the finite universe as its carrier, would be accompanied by the least redundancy. It would be something like that which cosmologists call a singularity, and as such inaccessible to conventional science, as scientific method in its concern for predictability is most at home in the realm of what appears probable or predictable rather than improbable or unpredictable. So a message might be unreadable by conventional science to the degree that it is improbable - that is to say informative.

This means that science would be inadequate to saying anything one way or the other about the supposed reality of that which is singularly informative. Human consciousness would have to adopt some other, perhaps non-scientific, mode of receptivity in order to attune itself to what is ultimately informative. Such a “message" would lie beyond any ordinary or scientific capacity to grasp. It may be so novel, and “improbable," that it would escape the grasp of objectifying consciousness altogether. We could be grasped by it, but we could not grasp it.

If the universe is the bearer of a religiously revelatory meaning, therefore, such a meaning would not fit neatly into any standard scientific way of understanding. It may be so improbable as to be completely ignored by science. Science (at least conventionally) is incapable of dealing with the uniqueness of improbabilities, but instead seeks to reduce the improbable to the probable, and hence requires the redundancy of many instances of similar occurrences in order to formulate general laws and theories. Any information about divine action or cosmic purpose in the universe would not show up on screens that are wired only to receive what is predictable and probable. And so it would make sense that the most significant information carried by the cosmos transcends scientific understanding altogether.

14.3 NOISE, REDUNDANCY, AND REVELATION

Theological inquiry into how divine action may be involved in the unfolding of the universe, including the evolution of life, may carry the informational analogy further by looking more carefully at the ideas of noise and redundancy that are closely associated with the idea of information in communication theory. “Noise," for example, suggests contingency, chance, accident, or randomness. At the level of living phenomena, noise is correlative to the unsystematic waywardness and wildness characteristic of the contingencies in life and natural history that apparently prod the life story onto indeterminate trajectories. Ever since Darwin, the sense of contingency in evolution has challenged the theological claim that there could conceivably be a divine cosmic “design" for life in the universe. However, the high degree of accident in evolution can become theologically intelligible once it is interpreted in terms of an informational universe. If the universe is in some analogous sense an information system, then it would allow the unfolding of occurrences within it to make their way between the extremes of noise on one side and redundancy on the other. Contingency in the cosmos, and especially in life's evolution, therefore, would not rule out the hypothesis that the course of cosmic events, at a level too deep to be detected by science, may be influenced by a creative, providential informing agency. The true character of such a course of events would be inaccessible to science, inasmuch as it could not be mapped without remainder onto the efficient or material kinds of causation that science is interested in clarifying mathematically. Yet, it could still be deeply informative, and hence revelatory, nonetheless.

Furthermore, if the cosmic process carries in its deepest dimensions a theologically relevant content, the informational analogy allows us to assume that the “redundant" presence of deterministic, predictable habits (such as the laws of physics or the “mechanism" of natural selection) do not render the universe completely opaque to the hypothetically informing influence of God. Modern scientific naturalism has sometimes assumed that nature is a closed continuum of physically deterministic causes and effects, and hence completely impermeable to any possible divine action or revelation. It is for this reason that Albert Einstein rejected the idea that authentic religion can properly include belief in a personal, responsive deity (Einstein, 1954, p. 11). However, the habituality of nature, if we follow the informational analogy, does not require such an extremist claim. For what appears in nature to be deterministic routine is simply a mental (mathematical) abstraction of only one aspect of a richer informational process that concretely speaking winds its way through time between the extremes of noise and redundancy.

The real world, in other words, is a blend of order and indefiniteness. The informed, but unfinished, universe of which I am speaking here is a process involving the ever-new ordering and reordering of relative disorder. There is a sense in which all information is the ordering of indefiniteness. In the sentences I am reciting right now, for example, the relative indefiniteness of a figuratively disassembled set of characters of an alphabet is the raw material that is being assembled by the writer into a specified informational pattern. An entirely arbitrary series of letters is being given a non-arbitrary form in my sentences and paragraphs.

In order to function as potential bits of information, the letters of the alphabet must have a random, “noisy" nature. That is, the characters must be capable of being figuratively disassembled and placed in an imaginary “mixing pot," whence they can be called out, one by one, and placed in a non-arbitrary informational sequence. Inherent in any communication through the medium of a code is a randomizing feature, or an entropic tendency, that functions as the necessary condition of being reassembled into novel informational patterns. Put otherwise, a code has to have the capacity to disassemble in order to reassemble. Suppose, for example, that the English alphabet were locked deterministically and irreversibly into a single sequence, so that b always has to follow a, c always has to follow b, d always has to follow c, and so on. This would be an ordered entity but one with very low informational content. As long as it remains impossible to break down such rigidity, the communication of written information would be impossible. In other words, too much order - or design - would prevent the transmission of information. If the universe or life were simply “designed," it would be frozen in a fixed and eternally unchanging identity. Design is a dead end. Its rigidity would prevent the entrance of emergent novelty. Absolute order would be antithet-ical to any genuine cosmic emergence, as everything would be fixed in frozen formality.

This informational truism is especially interesting theologically today because the dismissal of “God" by modern evolutionary naturalists, and the rejection of evolution by creationists and “intelligent design" devotees, is often a result of their shared observation that the Darwinian world fails to conform to simplistic notions of design and order. There is no need here to enter into a thorough discussion of creationism and intelligent design. It is well known that their antipathy to evolution is rooted in the assumption that a world filled with accidents or contingencies is too noisy to be rendered compatible with their idea of a designing deity. But it is also worth noting that the atheistic ideas of the renowned evolutionist Richard Dawkins and many other evolutionists are also based on the same assumption: namely, that any God deserving of the name would also have to be a designer in the same sense as “intelligent design" proponents understand the ultimate cause of living complexity. In his obsession with the dead- horse of design, Dawkins insists that any reasonable affirmation of God's existence would require that living organisms exhibit perfect engineering. So Dawkins' implicit theological assumptions are essentially identical to those of his “intelligent design" opponents.

Reasonable theology, however, has long ago done away with the simplistic identifying of God with a “designer," or divine action with design. Even before Darwin had published the Origins, Cardinal John Henry Newman, to give a noteworthy example, insisted that theology has little use for Paley's brand of natural theology with its focus on design. Design-oriented theology, he insisted, could “not tell us one word about Christianity proper." It “cannot be Christian, in any true sense, at all." Paley's brand of “physical" theology, Newman even goes on to say, “tends, if it occupies the mind, to dispose it against Christianity."

In place of design, I would suggest that natural theology may more appropriately understand divine influence along the lines of informational flow, although this too is an analogy that can never adequately capture what actual religious experience understands as ultimate reality. The point of considering the informational analogy at all is that, unlike design, it is fully open to the fact of nature's contingency. It does not insist that the plausibility of the idea of God depends upon the existence of ordered perfection in the natural world. Intelligent design proponents along with Dawkins, on the other hand, consider the fact that nature and life are speckled with accidents or spontaneities to be contrary to divine action and cosmic purpose, and hence as support for atheism. However, the existence of a God “who makes all things new" is, at least informationally speaking, consistent with the existence of an abundance of accidents in evolution.

Moreover, the informational character of nature meshes naturally with the idea that nature is narrative to the core. One of the consequences of developments in geology, biology, and cosmology during the last two centuries is that the universe now manifests itself as an unfolding story rather than an essentially fixed state of being. Underlying this narrative character, however, lies the more fundamental fact of the universe's informational make-up. Only by way of a relatively “noisy" disassembly would the cosmic process allow, at least occasionally, for the emergence of newer narrative patterns. Thus the universe's entropic veering toward disorder may be essential for its unfolding as a meaningful story. Some degree of “noise" is a necessary aspect of divine creativity or revelation rather than its perpetual enemy. If a hypothetical divine informational principle is in any analogous sense express-ing itself in the unfolding of cosmic events, it would not be surprising that natural process constantly harbors a reservoir of indefiniteness in order to have both a real future at all and the opportunity to give birth to elaborate instances of order such as that displayed in the emergent phenomena of life, mind, and culture. The cosmic oscillation between noise and redundancy is parallel to the encoding of information from letters of an alphabet. Without nature's capacity for moments of deconstruction no evolutionary “story" could be inscribed in it. Without a constant inclination toward a state of noise the universe could not be the carrier of a meaning.

Hence the fact of random, undirected occurrences in life's evolution, or for that matter in the wider cosmic process, is not decisive evidence that the universe lies beyond the pale of providence or divine purpose, wisdom, and compassion. Nor is the classic Einsteinian sense of the absolute inviolability of nature's “laws" proof of the imperviousness of the cosmos to purpose. Ever since the nineteenth century, a whole generation of scientifically educated cosmic pessimists have become accustomed to fixing their attention on either entropy or predictable physical routines as though either of these constituted direct evidence of the pointlessness of the universe. Naturalists have observed correctly that any ordered system tends to lapse into disorder. But they have often failed to understand that any truly interesting story requires contingencies that let in enough novelty to overcome sheer redundancy. They have failed to entertain the possibility that even if the universe as a whole is headed toward death by entropy, in the meantime something momentous may nonetheless be working itself out narratively here and now.

If the element of contingency in natural processes can be rendered theologically intelligible in terms of the notion of information, so also can that of redundancy (or what is misleadingly called “necessity"). The incarnation of purpose in the cosmos would require an element of redundancy such as that embedded in the orderly and “monotonous" routines of physical law. Too much novelty of expression would interfere with the communication of information. So it is theologically significant that information requires predictable order along with the improbability of novelty. Accordingly, an informational universe would have to wend its way narratively between the two extremes of absolute noise and absolute redundancy.

Overlooked in much modern and contemporary cosmic pessimism - a world view that has assumed the overall pointlessness of the universe - is the simple fact that the communication of meaning inevitably requires the breakdown of present order, the dismantling of temporary instances of rigid design, if the universe is to sustain its informational and narrative character. Cosmic pessimism feeds parasitically on the uncalled-for apotheosis of either noise or redundancy, both of which can easily be abstracted and contrivedly isolated from each other and from the concrete temporal process that weaves the two elements together informationally. One wing of cosmic pessimism absolutizes the trend toward chaos as fundamental. Exaggerating nature's stochastic aspects, it then “explains" the precarious instances of emergent order such as a cell or a brain as momentary reversals of the general trend of the universe toward energetic collapse. Meanwhile, the other wing of cosmic pessimism is so entranced by the recurrence of physical law that it views emergent phenomena as nothing more than “simplicity masquerading as complexity" (Atkins, 1994, p. 200).

I believe that both types of pessimism, though they claim to be the very epitome of realism, are illogical and unscientific. In Whitehead's terms they are both instances of the logical “fallacy of misplaced concreteness" (Whitehead, 1925, pp. 51, 58). Scientifically speaking, moreover, both wings of cosmic pessimism are anachronistically fixated on the early modern obsession with mechanical design as paradigmatic for the understanding of nature, and hence also as the only appropriate model for understanding divine action. Consequently, after failing to discover any indisputable evidence of flawless divine engineering in nature, they declare the cosmos to be devoid of meaning or purpose.

14.4 INFORMATION AND STORY

In the cosmic process increments in the intensity of information are essential factors in the evolution of more complex forms of life and consciousness over the course of time. Increase in information is the fundamental ingredient in the phenomenon of emergence, and it is the motive force in evolution. As the cosmos has passed through its evolution from matter to life, and then to consciousness, ethics, and civilization, something new, and hence relatively improbable, has been added at each emergent phase. This novelty is real, and not just an illusory cover-up of what is taken to be at bottom either absurd “chance" or blind “necessity."

But what exactly constitutes the novelty at each later and higher level so that it cannot be explained exhaustively in terms of the earlier and simpler states of physical existence? Classically minded scientists are puzzled as to exactly what the emergent reality is. As the total amount of matter and energy remains constant throughout all transformations, it may appear to a mechanistic mindset that there is never really anything new, but instead merely a reshuffling of atoms and molecules, in the evolution of the later and higher levels. There may even be an objection to my use of terms such as “higher" and “lower," as these adjectives are inapplicable to what seems to be a purely impersonal set of purely material processes.

We can see now, however, that the novelty in an emergent universe is analogous to what is now called information. Information can continue to settle into our world without in any way altering the laws of thermodynamics. And just as information can be given to my word processor without in any way modifying the rules governing the lower levels in the computational hierarchy, the insinuation of novel forms of information into the fabric of the universe happens so unobtrusively that it often goes unnoticed by limited scientific sensibilities.

The introduction of new information into the universe takes place in such a way that each later and higher emergent development relies upon earlier and lower levels without in any way violating the “laws" operative at the earlier and lower levels. The passing on of genetic information, for example, does not suspend or alter the laws of chemistry and physics. So it is a logical mistake to suppose that one can discern or measure the increments of such emergent information as though it were on the same logical and ontological level as that studied by the sciences of chemistry and physics. The level of information is hierarchically distinct from the level being informed.

However, informational novelty requires as a condition of its emergence a base of subsidiary probability and redundancy. This is clearly the case in both biological processes and verbal communication. In the latter case the often unnecessary repetition of certain words and sounds can make our message come across more clearly to the average listener. Analogously in the case of life, if it were not for the repetitive and redundant routines of chemical activity and recurrent organic assemblies, the “improbable" living cell could not emerge or be sustained in existence.

Moving up to a higher level, the even more improbable occurrence of human thought could not take place without relying on the relatively redundant subsidiary neurological and physiological processes that serve as its substrate. Emergent novelty in the cosmos is impossible apart from the reliable functioning of “monotonous" subservient routines. Such redundancy is especially evident in the mammalian brain, where in order to guarantee the integrity of perceptive and mental processes nature has endowed animal and human brains with an incredibly extravagant quantity of “circuits." For example, compared with a computer - in which a single wire is sufficient to activate a “gate" - thousands of nerve fibers may empty into a single neuron in the brain.

However, redundancy unchecked can also be a hindrance to communication. Its function is to prevent the “noise" of disorder from drowning out the flow of information. But it can become so pervasive at times that it inhibits the birth of new patternings. So redundancy must be broken through if genuine novelty is to emerge. If redundancy reaches the point of absolute inflexibility, it degenerates into a monotony that is antithetical to the emergence of information. Yet without at least some redundancy, new degrees of cosmic complexity could never emerge. The surprise in emergent novelty requires physical redundancy as the scaffolding by which it sticks out from what is merely probable.

The informational blending of order and novelty with deep time may well be the stuff of a truly momentous, although still unfinished, story: one that may carry a meaning far outstretching our ability to comprehend things locally and scientifically. At the very least, in any case, information is a much more flexible notion than “design" as a vehicle of meaning. Thus it would be more appropriate theologically to speak of a narratively informed, rather than a mechanically designed, universe. Information allows theology to think analogously of divine action as occurring somewhere between the extremes of absolute randomness on the one side and complete redundancy on the other. But it does not require that there be no deviations from design. If we view the cosmos as informational, we will not be surprised that there is disorder at the margins of all organization (as the first creation account in Genesis already intuits). The notion of “design," by contrast, is intolerant of any such disorder. And where disorder is forbidden, novelty is also excluded, and along with it any notion of a truly living God.

The real world, as well as any world that could narratively embody a meaning, will inevitably oscillate between the monotony of excessive order on the one hand and seemingly meaningless chaos on the other. The risk entailed in any truly informational universe is that it may deviate at times from the “appropriate" mix. My point, however, is that the alternatives - either a world of sheer contingency or a world deadened by mechanical routine - would be incapable of carrying any meaning whatsoever. Hence the idea of “intelligent design" not only fails to fit the requirements of science, but it also fails theologically by its embarrassment about the contingency in nature. It fails to see that the universe can be deeply informational without being designed. However, at the other extreme, modern evolutionist materialism - with its declaration that any universe that sponsors Darwinian processes is inherently meaningless - is no less unwarranted. This belief system, one that is becoming more and more respectable in the academic world and intellectual culture today, is in fact the result of a logical fallacy that confuses contingency with absolute noise on the one hand, and law with absolute redundancy on the other. Here the actual cosmic blend of novelty and order gets lost in mutually segregated abstractions that are in turn illogically mistaken for concrete reality.

Concretely, the universe is a blend of order and novelty, steering its way between absolute redundancy on the one hand and absolute noise on the other. It is intuitively evident from ordinary experience that information must walk the razor's edge between redundancy and noise. It should not surprise us, therefore, that any universe that carries a meaning would permit its content to meander adventurously between the two extremes of deadly design and unintelligible chaos. Hence any meaning that our universe may be carrying would go unnoticed both by a science that looks only at what is predictable, and by a tragic “realism" that expects the final cosmic state to be the complete triumph of chaos. A different kind of reading competency, one cultivated by the virtue of hope, may be necessary if we are to discern any ultimate meaning expressing itself in the cosmic process. Even if we were to be grasped by such a meaning, however, we could not realistically expect full understanding until the story is complete. At present the universe's deepest intelligibility can be dimly discerned, if at all, only if we turn our minds - and hearts - toward the cosmic future. Adopting such a posture of hope, of course, is a thoroughly religious challenge, but it is not one that contradicts science, especially if we think of the cosmos in informational terms.

14.5 INFORMATION AND EVIL

Finally, however, our universe, even if it is meaningfully informed, is still one in which great evil can exist alongside good. Can the informational analogy be of any help to theology as it deals with this perennial problem? I believe so, if we can agree with Alfred North Whitehead and process theologians that there are two distinct kinds of evil in the universe, and if we view it as a still-unfinished creative process rather than just a static collection of entities. Information straddles the two domains of chaos and order, both of which at their extremes would inhibit the flow of information. The real world has to be a mixture of harmony and nuance. It is the adventurous nature of such a world that it is subject to deviating at times from what we humans may consider the “appropriate" blend, either by being too monotonously ordered or too carelessly disordered. Our ordinary experience tells us that information must walk the narrow ridge between too much order and too much chaos. If the universe is in any way something like an information system, it too would allow its content to manifest itself between the two extremes. Any information processed by the universe could easily be eclipsed by excessive chaos or deadened by too much order.

Excessive redundancy and unnecessary noise constitute analogies for the two distinct types of “evil" that occur in the realms of life and human experience. The evil of excessive redundancy consists of the endless repetition of routines when the introduction of novel information would make way for the emergence of more being and value in the cosmic process. At the human level of cosmic emergence, an example of the “evil of redundancy" might be the obsession with our own cognitional certitude and existential security to the point that we ignore the political, cultural, scientific, or religious complexity of the world. It would take the form of a resistance to novelty and adventure, which are required to prevent the decay of human life and civilization. On the other hand, evil can also take the form of unnecessary noise as well. The “evil of noise," considered in the context of a cosmology of information, consists in an excessive disregard for rules of order without which the carrying of meaning becomes impossible.

The presence of these two types of evil in the world does not logically contradict belief in the reality of divine creation and revelation. For if we emphasize the self-giving and non-coercive nature of an informing God, we should not be surprised that cosmic evolution and human existence would often take an “erring" and meandering course, slinking alternatively toward either noise or monotony, but over the long haul perhaps sketching a truly informative meaning between the extreme instances of each. Information does not require that there be no deviations from order at all, as entailed by the idea of “divine design." Consequently, if we could learn to view the cosmos as an information system, and cosmic becoming as an informational process, we should not be utterly surprised that at least some degree of disorder and redundancy would show up at the margins of its development. Unlike the idea of information, the notion of “design" is intolerant of disorder, and wherever disorder is completely ruled out so also is novelty. And wherever novelty is excluded so too is a truly interesting universe, as well as a proportionately challenging sense of ultimate reality and meaning.
 

kenlee

SuperModerator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
The informational blending of order and novelty with deep time may well be the stuff of a truly momentous, although still unfinished, story: one that may carry a meaning far outstretching our ability to comprehend things locally and scientifically. At the very least, in any case, information is a much more flexible notion than “design" as a vehicle of meaning. Thus it would be more appropriate theologically to speak of a narratively informed, rather than a mechanically designed, universe. Information allows theology to think analogously of divine action as occurring somewhere between the extremes of absolute randomness on the one side and complete redundancy on the other. But it does not require that there be no deviations from design. If we view the cosmos as informational, we will not be surprised that there is disorder at the margins of all organization (as the first creation account in Genesis already intuits). The notion of “design," by contrast, is intolerant of any such disorder. And where disorder is forbidden, novelty is also excluded, and along with it any notion of a truly living God.
This is all so very interesting. The "informational blending of order and novelty" shows me (if I'm interpreting this properly) is that there is a balance between order and disorder when there is creative growth. There are influences coming from below (such as the environment) and there are informative/qualitative (patterns of essential reality) influences coming from above and they meet where the lower influences become 'active' because they have become 'informed' by the higher influences and growth is the outcome of their meeting. It's like an acorn in the soil. With favorable environmental influences it can respond to the higher 'information' influences and grow into an oak tree. It's a blending or harmonization of the quantitative and qualitative worlds talking form in actuality. For the acorn it may appear chaotic but over time a qualitative pattern begins to emerge into this reality in actual terms and the chaos is counterbalanced by the manifestation of the growth of the oak tree. So in this case there is a balance of order and disorder that can very well be indicative of growth unlike the "new world order" concept where there is no growth of quality taking form but only pathological destruction and stasis/stagnation.
 

Laura

Administrator
Administrator
Moderator
FOTCM Member
kenlee said:
The informational blending of order and novelty with deep time may well be the stuff of a truly momentous, although still unfinished, story: one that may carry a meaning far outstretching our ability to comprehend things locally and scientifically. At the very least, in any case, information is a much more flexible notion than “design" as a vehicle of meaning. Thus it would be more appropriate theologically to speak of a narratively informed, rather than a mechanically designed, universe. Information allows theology to think analogously of divine action as occurring somewhere between the extremes of absolute randomness on the one side and complete redundancy on the other. But it does not require that there be no deviations from design. If we view the cosmos as informational, we will not be surprised that there is disorder at the margins of all organization (as the first creation account in Genesis already intuits). The notion of “design," by contrast, is intolerant of any such disorder. And where disorder is forbidden, novelty is also excluded, and along with it any notion of a truly living God.
This is all so very interesting. The "informational blending of order and novelty" shows me (if I'm interpreting this properly) is that there is a balance between order and disorder when there is creative growth. There are influences coming from below (such as the environment) and there are informative/qualitative (patterns of essential reality) influences coming from above and they meet where the lower influences become 'active' because they have become 'informed' by the higher influences and growth is the outcome of their meeting. It's like an acorn in the soil. With favorable environmental influences it can respond to the higher 'information' influences and grow into an oak tree. It's a blending or harmonization of the quantitative and qualitative worlds talking form in actuality. For the acorn it may appear chaotic but over time a qualitative pattern begins to emerge into this reality in actual terms and the chaos is counterbalanced by the manifestation of the growth of the oak tree. So in this case there is a balance of order and disorder that can very well be indicative of growth unlike the "new world order" concept where there is no growth of quality taking form but only pathological destruction and stasis/stagnation.
Yes, this explanation of the fundamental base of reality is furiously interesting. One needs to read over these texts (and the one posted in the Paul thread) several times, carefully, to get them fully in the mind so as to be able to work with the concepts in other ways.
 

Divide by Zero

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
kenlee said:
This is all so very interesting. The "informational blending of order and novelty" shows me (if I'm interpreting this properly) is that there is a balance between order and disorder when there is creative growth. There are influences coming from below (such as the environment) and there are informative/qualitative (patterns of essential reality) influences coming from above and they meet where the lower influences become 'active' because they have become 'informed' by the higher influences and growth is the outcome of their meeting. It's like an acorn in the soil. With favorable environmental influences it can respond to the higher 'information' influences and grow into an oak tree. It's a blending or harmonization of the quantitative and qualitative worlds talking form in actuality. For the acorn it may appear chaotic but over time a qualitative pattern begins to emerge into this reality in actual terms and the chaos is counterbalanced by the manifestation of the growth of the oak tree. So in this case there is a balance of order and disorder that can very well be indicative of growth unlike the "new world order" concept where there is no growth of quality taking form but only pathological destruction and stasis/stagnation.
Fascinating! I was thinking about what the C's mean by "even playing field" (in 4d) and how it connects to this.

Perhaps the way things are on 3d earth today are like bad soil to the acorn. Instead of a more complex form like a tree being created, the bad soil makes it more opportunistic for the weeds to grow which then prevent growth of more complicated plants such as the tree. Stagnation as you put it well ends up winning.

It seems that for humanity, this base human-ness got us this far- even gave us the possibility for self awareness. But the "soil" of civilization which first allowed for this to come about is now becoming more conducive to stagnation (entropy?).

I can only imagine that the "even playing field" that the C's mention about is an environment that gives as much a chance to self awareness as to stagnation. It sounds like a "more open" kind of free will, compared to our current state which Laura described in the wave- as us having limited choices that have to fit the safety parameters of survival which is reflected in our brain chemistry.
 
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