It helps when working out ideas to be challenged to explain one’s meaning. Cathleen, who’s comment inspired the last entry (Mapping the Cosmic Mind), asks this question about what I wrote:
Is your phrase describing human action: “choose in the moment to act well or badly….by a solidly built value system,” equivalent to this one describing Cosmic action: “react according to something like an ethical code despite lacking forethought?”
My answer follows:
Analogous, but not exactly equivalent. The difference brings us back to your point about forethought’s implications.
Cosmic values (which we might in some cases know as physical laws) were probably not installed by consideration. Rather, it seems more likely that they were worked out via an evolutionary process, something like Lee Smolin suggests (for instance, in Three Roads to Quantum Gravity). That is, by natural selection. The ‘ethical code’ gets built the way everything else does, by an evolving, creative process that maps toward processes (and process-directing rules) that are stable and promote elaboration and proliferation.
(There aren’t too many plausible alternatives, by the way. If physical laws and processes–’cosmic values’– did not evolve to their current form, we are left with just two: 1. Sets of laws vary among the subdomains of an essentially infinite multiverse, and there are so many sets that one was bound to promote evolution of life; or 2. There was a prebuilt system of values that just happened to be perfect for the evolution of complex life. The latter option requires either the equivalent of a designing deity, something that thought things through before setting the cosmos in motion, or else stupendous, impossible luck.)
Human values also come to us by a process like natural selection, which is why many of us become more ethical as we age: we adopt what works and discard what doesn’t. (There is a tie-in here to operant conditioning from learning theory, but I’ll expand on that another time). But sometimes we build our values through consideration and forethought, or seem to. It’s hard to separate out cultural conditioning (another kind of DNA, you might say, which stores what’s effective–or at least persistent–across generations), but I believe there is also some deliberation involved. The value structure gets built by evaluative forethought (not just choice in the moment). Ethics in the human sense would hardly be meaningful otherwise.
That values evolve, whether by natural selection alone or with the some assistance from forethought, gives me hope for the future, as I indicated in the last post. Just as the cosmos evolved to its current state by trial and error, and the result is a universe that stably supports a rich and beautiful complexity, we can hope that human civilization will likewise evolve to a more stable and pleasing form.
You’ll note in all this that natural selection looks like the ideal strategy for the operation of a universal mind (and possibly any mind). Darwin’s elegant mechanism often gets portrayed as a material, random, mindless process. Although I believe it is indeed material (in my nuanced understanding of the word alluded to in earlier posts and to be developed later) and largely (but not entirely) random, it is anything but mindless. Nor does it require vicious competition. Fitness is more likely to be enhanced by complex systems of cooperation than by selfish independence. It is exactly humanity’s failure to cooperate with the living systems we depend on that has placed us in such peril.
And because the Cosmic Mind, operating through selection, builds such beauty, complexity and harmony, I find myself comforted when I contemplate it.Share on Facebook