Lecture Notes by Hugo Lj. Odhner
THE CENTRAL PROBLEM OF PHILOSOPHY
The central problem of philosophy has been to explain the facts of life and consciousness. How and why does it happen that we are alive? Descartes began his principles of philosophy by stating that the first conclusive fact was that man thinks, or even that he doubts: "Cogito, ergo sum". But Swedenborg shows that back of thought there is something still more fundamental, viz., a love or will, which he identifies with the very life of man.(33)
Nature with its rocks and waters seethes with motion, yet does not seem to be alive nor to possess consciousness. Man, animals and plants, on the other hand, seem to live, and represent graded types of sensitive life. Man and animals are said to be conscious, plants to be sensitive. Man's body, after "death", shows chemical changes, and some of its cells may continue to grow; yet we deny that it can then feel or remain as an individual. What causes chemical matter to be ordered into a form of life- an organism: Is consciousness, or life, able to exist apart from the bodily matter in which it was clothed? Is life lodged in a substance which death has no power to destroy?
The evidence on which the mechanistic interpretation is based, may be summarized as follows:
a) No apparent differences are discernable between the motions of material bodies and the movements of an organism.
The living body would thus be conceived as a whirlpool of natural forces into which matter enters and from which it departs unchanged.
To account for the maintenance of species, it has been thought that in the germplasm the inherent properties of the particular matter are so protected against environmental changes as to lead to the reproduction, by an organism, of a cell-colony similar to itself.
Some have maintained that "life" is but a shadow
or epiphenomenon of matter, or variously, that life is a "fourth dimension"
of matter; but the exact meaning of these expressions is not clearly presented.
The materialistic arguments may be answered from the point-of-view of the vitalistic school of thought as follows:
a') In the changes and movements of organisms one may discern a purpose, a will, a living conatus, a striving for survival, an aspiration to a use, an adaptation, and perpetuation, which common sense sets far apart from mechanical motions. There is inconceivable variety in organic movements, but mere repetition in mechanical motion.Among other evidences in favor of the vitalistic position we note the following characteristics of a living organism:
i') It has an intrinsic force or endeavor from which it acts and grows and reproduces itself.
Life is beyond the scientifically knowable, although its distinct nature can be concluded by induction from mental and spiritual experience. It is therefore the pertinent subject of Divine Revelation.
It is also impossible to account for the beginning of life on earth by means of pure chance, as Du Nouy has demonstrated mathematically by the use of the calculus of probabilities. And "all our scientific laws at present rest on chance, that is to say, on the hypothesis of an absolute disorder at the base".(40)
Owing to researches into nuclear physics, many scientists have recently commented on the fact that the statistical laws of ordinary physics do not cover the haphazard or unpredictable behaviour of electrons. Some - like Schrodinger - believe that new laws will be formulated to cover the phenomena of intra-atomic and organic behavior.(41) Some have attempted to distinguish nature into a world of particles and a world of wave structure, speaking of the wave-structure as "immaterial".(42) This use of the term "immaterial" is improper, since it blinds the mind to the real qualities of the Spiritual.
All life is an enigma from the view-point of natural law. The final argument for vitalism is that the ordinary laws of physics are entirely contrary to the observable laws of "life".
Physical theory is based on the assumption that the entropy of a given closed system tends irreversibly toward a maximum - towards an even distribution of energy. (Second law of thermodynamics, or the Carnot Clausius law). But the condition in "living" matter is that there is a building up of energy and a decrease in [or, resistance to] entropy.
[This block is in the Weaber version only - ORO]:
(Question: Is 'entropy' if complete, equivalent to a state of absolute zero temperature ?)
Superficially examined, the living body seems to obey the laws of physics. "The living organism seems to be a macroscopic system which in part of its behaviour approaches to that purely mechanical...conduct to which all systems tend..."(43) In groups, arbitrary actions will fall into statistical patterns, such as come within the statistical laws of nature, and are thus predictable. But the classical laws of energy "relate solely to the behavior of systems consisting of many atomic units". Prof. Ralph S. Lillie(44) therefore points out that vital action is due to intra-atomic factors which are independent of these classical laws. Psychically guided events always exhibit a quality of individuality, uniqueness, and unpredictability which we associate with various degrees of freedom.
Various conclusions have of course been drawn from this body of vitalistic evidence.
The extreme position is taken by those who react against materialism by adopting wholly idealistic concepts. These hold that the material body and the physical world are only a projection of thought or mind. Such idealistic monism logically would lead to "solipsism" - the view that only one's self exists - and is then reduced to an agnostic absurdity.
The more reasonable conclusion from the evidence is to regard the living body as composed of chemical or natural substances held in form and functional flow by a current of spiritual force or creative conatus which is the essential man - the immortal mind, spirit, or soul. This would accord with the concept which the New Church student gathers from the Writings.
3. THE THEORY OF EMERGENT EVOLUTION
The theory of "emergent evolution" or the theory of "levels"(45) repudiates both Mechanism and Vitalism. It accepts Mind as a novel quality which emerges out of non-mental levels when the latter attains a sufficiently complex organization. By a sort of synthesis a whole new range of qualities then emerges which the parts did not possess. With living matter we obtain a whole new group of qualities, such as growth, reproduction, and sensitivity.(46) These new qualities are not conceived as due to any "alien influx into nature," but from an immanent power in the original elements or in primitive Space-Time.
In effect, this involves a substitution of Space-Time for God. S. Alexander classes even Divinity as a product - the highest and last - of emergent evolution, making the Divine an effect instead of a Cause of creation! a product of man's mind!
The weakness of the theory is of course that no intelligible cause is assigned for the "emergence " of life and its qualities.
In contrast to the idea that there is a power immanent in the cosmic elements (as Morgan holds), we find the statement in the Writings that in each and all things in the three kingdoms of nature there is an "intrinsic agency out of the spiritual world" by which productions occur. That which from the spiritual world is in natural things - although it is called (erroneously) a "force implanted from first creation"- is actually "an endeavor (conatus)" on the cessation of which action and motion cease.(47) This is not an inseated force but a perpetual influx
33 W. 1.
34 See H.H Titus, Living Issues in Philosophy (1946), pp. 61-74. General reference - J.A.V. Butler, D.Se., "Man is a
Microcosm," (New York:1951).
35 See The Origin of Life On Earth, by All. Oparin, 1957, for the mechanistic theory with its claims. (Reviewed in New
Philosophy ( 1958), p.387)
36 See Du Nouy's Human Destiny(1947), pp. 36-37. Note the distinction between organic products and living substance, and
compare what w. 294 states concerning "spheres".
37 A. 5173; see New Church Life (1930), p. 647f.
38 LJ post, 312.
39 Titus, op.cit., p. 74.
40 Du Nouy op. cit. pp. 26ff. - see Chap. 3
41 Schrodinger, What is Life? ( 1946) p. 76 et seq.
42 Gustaf Stromberg, The Soul of the Universe, (Philadelphia: 1940), p. 45.
43 Schrodinger, op.cit., pp. 69-70.
44 Lillie, General Biology and Philosophy of Organism, (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1945), pp. 131132; Butler, man is a
Microcosm (New York: 1951), pp. 110-112.
45 Sponsored by S. Alexander and C. Floyd Morgan
46 See Titus, op. cit., p. 72
47 AC 5173