(Part 1 of Ten)
I’ve never needed proof that a stone is a stone. Nor have I ever accepted the notion that the stone doesn’t exist if I don’t perceive it. I also have no doubt that I’m conscious (at least, most of the time). It follows that any attempt to disprove the existence of matter or consciousness is in itself proof of their existence. Speculation that matter and consciousness are illusions is sophomoric, tedious, and a waste of time.
Life profoundly differs from stones, stars, and galaxies, notwithstanding the fact that stardust is the matter that makes life possible. When a plant draws water up against the force of gravity, that is an event that unequivocally distinguishes life from inanimate matter.
Moreover, life straddles the twin pillars of the universe: It is at once rooted in both matter and consciousness. Consciousness is the unique characteristic of life as distinct from matter. Integrated with universal space/time and the four universal forces, especially electromagnetism, life is a band of existence in the universe that exclusively includes Will.
The Essence of Will
When a stone (inanimate) and a man (animate) roll down a hill, the stone does so in absolute conformity with the ‘laws’ of physics. The man—as long as he is conscious and to whatever extent he can—engages in willful action to minimize injury. That action is the instinctive Will to survive. Will is a universal phenomenon applicable exclusively to life.
We are all familiar with Darwin’s brilliant concept of evolution and its principal tenet, Natural Selection. For example, giraffes that have longer necks are more apt to be ‘selected’ by nature to survive in the long run. His concept maintains that the origin and survival of a species primarily depends on chance in an erratic biosphere that determines which species shall survive and which shall not. His concept implicitly describes a deterministic pattern for life that somewhat mirrors the passive state of inanimate matter.
Lamarck, Darwin’s predecessor, posited an earlier concept of evolution. He stated that evolution is driven by the use or disuse of limbs and organs in willful response to an ever-changing biosphere. That process eventually leads to a new species that has acquired (or inherited) characteristics from its progenitors. His theory explicitly describes a pattern of evolution that is primarily generated by Will, not chance. The taller giraffes are not selected by chance; rather, they strive (or Will) for longer necks over generations. Therefore, the evolution of new species (and their subdivisions) is significantly driven by species willing themselves to survive in an ever-changing biosphere. Darwin’s concept of evolution is circumstantial; Lamarck’s concept of evolution is purposeful.
Of course there are several less celebrated concepts for the evolution of life, whether based on chance or Will. The Darwinian concept of chance is clear on the face of it. Theories that are based on purpose are significantly more complex. For example, although it significantly strains credibility, there is a theory that suggests evolution is a process through which the universe is striving to “understand itself”! It maintains that the fundamental agents driving evolution are genomes. Are we therefore sub-automatons in the service of genomes?
Scientists of considerable scientific reputation posit variations on that theme, but their central concept neither rises above the level of pure conjecture nor fundamentally differs from the two basic concepts of evolution. Note that although Lamarck’s concept of evolution is heavily flawed in respect to factors not cited here, his concept of heredity does smack of modern genetics.
Darwin’s concept prevails in the realm of science, as well it should. But no philosophical reference to human behavior is more significant than the difference between Determinism and Free Will when placed in the context of metaphysics.
To begin with, there is the huge metaphysical question about the origin of life. The current scientific consensus is that it was carried here by cosmic debris that collided with earth eons ago. The concept of a primordial homemade soup right here on earth as the progenitor of life on earth is still on the list of life’s possible progenitors.
And then there is the hotly debated issue of creationism. For now, please remember that however life originated and whatever its evolutionary history, no concept of life’s genesis and evolution is in itself incompatible with the concept of a God as the progenitor of life. Faith is a valid subject in a discussion about metaphysics. Much more on that later.
Please note that an exploration of metaphysics virtually always includes the incidence of religious faith. Religious faith, in turn, is intimately associated with ethics, a branch of metaphysics about which I’m particularly concerned. Much more on that later.
Please also note that I’ve used the words ‘concept’ and ‘theory’ in this introductory segment to differentiate between what is now self-evident (evolution) and what is conceptual only (unproved theories). The reason for that distinction on my part is that metaphysics is extremely tricky. It is loaded with “conceptual IEDs!” At the risk of seeming pedantic, I tread slowly, carefully, and humbly in the vast labyrinth of metaphysics. For the sake of the article’s integrity, I find it impossible to avoid repetition of concepts I’ve posted elsewhere on this website over the years.
I suppose that my motivation and qualification for scaling the heights of metaphysics is my age. At eighty-eight years of age, I feel compelled to express my thoughts about life, especially to the young who are exposed to the clutter of current relativistic metaphysics.
So, here goes!
(to be continued in Part 2 of Ten)