Sunday, December 11, 2011


All living systems show two opposing tendencies: the tendency to creative discovery, and the tendency to conservative rigidity. Every living system exhibits both tendencies but in widely differing proportions. Moreover, the relation between the two tendencies is not symmetrical: it's fair to say that while creativity requires a modicum of conservatism, too much of the latter can and often does stifle the former completely.

There is, clearly, a difference between making a living and having a life.
Human life is, indeed all sentient life is, to a very great extent about making a living. But if that's all it is about, then such a life is seriously impoverished, however successful the living. Making a living implies, as it does in the natural world, specialisation. For better or for worse, one becomes to a great extent what one does. We become some identifiable type of human function in the course of making our living. We are urged, as children to be something. We do this with greater or lesser degrees of coherence. We become doctors, lawyers, factory-workers, toilet-cleaners, musicians, artists, astronauts, beggars, tycoons, thieves and so on. Each of these functions implies a degree of specialisation and normally, the more complete the specialisation, the more successfully the function is performed. But if this success is the reward of specialisation, the price paid is very often the loss of plasticity, the loss of adaptability, the loss of creative formlessness, creative infinity. We all know of people who are so completely formed (or deformed) by their professional activity that they cannot stop performing that particular function. The lawyer adopts litigious attitudes in his relations with his family and friends. The teacher remains a pedagogue, even between the sheets. The doctor cannot stop diagnosing illness and so on. To a greater or lesser extent, we all become a function of our role in life. To a greater or lesser extent, our minds are structured by our function. Our function turns into a mental carapace.

We think of knowledge as liberating, but it can turn into quite the reverse. While learning expands the mind, knowledge can frequently limit it. To a greater or lesser extent, we become a function of our knowledge and see the world through the spectacles that our knowledge imposes upon our minds. This sort of functionalisation happens not only with respect to specialised, professional knowledge, it also happens with respect to beliefs of all kinds as well. The mind operates according to the categories set by the beliefs and functions and may be unable to stand outside of them. Often such functionalisation of the mind – though necessary to making a living – results in rigidity of attitude, all kinds of orthodoxy, dogmatism and occasionally, bigotry. The efficient and successful performance of a function often correlates with the degree to which the mind in question is ‘orthodox’, ‘dogmatic’ or ‘bigoted’. Less than whole-minded commitment diminishes efficiency. The result of all of these limitations on the human mind is a diminution of both the world inhabited and of the self that inhabits such a world. When it goes too far, functionalisation is a matter of living as a part self in a part world, living as a fragment in a collection of fragments. Such functionalisation, when yoked to the paranoid emotions of the ego can become a negative, damaging state in which each specialised individual pursues individual goals to the detriment of others. When belief in the thing-ideology and the fragmentation it engenders intervene to reinforce this negative development, the individual becomes the famous cog in the machine and the result is quite simply catastrophic. Dehumanised units interact mechanically with each other according to the forces generated by the immediate tensions to which they are subject and humanity disappears.

The mind is always in danger of becoming no more than a function of its beliefs and when the ego is in control of those beliefs, its craving for power is such that, to talk mythically for a moment, it ousts God by assuming his role. There are only these two possibilities, given the propensity of the mind to become functionalised by its beliefs: either the ego fuses with the self and the self recognises its dependence upon an overarching meaning to which it is subservient, or the ego sees itself as sole authority, the sole origin of meaning in the universe and abolishes God in order to take his place. By ‘God’ here is meant no more than a meaning to the universe that is not simply that of the ego. God’s place is taken by the ego’s claim to godlike knowledge and what goes with it, god-like control. The scientific ego is the last refuge of anthropomorphic religion; here the ego has fused with the anthropomorphic god. The ego as quasi-divine lawgiver arrogates to itself the omniscience and the omnipotence of the monotheistic deity. Its mechanistic universe is ruled by laws that it has itself created. These laws are forced upon the rest of mankind by so-called ‘proof’, a form of violence that is generated by nothing more authoritative that what appears self-evident to the ego and that thus frequently means no more than ‘true because I say so’. What is self-evident to the ego is what it makes itself, namely its machines, either the literal machines of technology or the intellectual machines of theory. So the whole business of ego-authority goes around in a circle and the authority of ego-based intellection is simply the mechanical propensity of the ego. This is as close as the ego gets to the status of ens causa sui. It is an indication of the vacuous nature of an attitude that declares that parts are more important than wholes: the ego as part imagines that it is entitled to legislate for the whole and for no good reason than that it both desires to do so and lacks the ability to conceive of any power above itself. Since the ego can only work with machines and since the machine is necessarily a demonstration of its own validity, the ego imagines that the mere appeal to machine models will be exclusively authoritative.  The functionalisation of the intellect makes every thus functionalised ego infallible in its own eyes. The result is both a cacophony of little tin gods shouting at each other and a leaden knee-jerk consensus that is the essence of orthodoxy. Daily human life is analysed in terms of a range of mechanical problems. These problems are provided with mechanical ‘solutions’ by a variety of tin-pot deities. The result is that daily life becomes, increasingly, a perpetuation of the very problems that the solutions were intended to solve. The reason for this is that the root of the problem lies within the ego and its reductive, mechanical methods: the rationalistic ego is, in the words of Karl Kraus, “the disease of which it thinks itself the cure.”
Just as the ideology of mechanism imposes a mechanical conception of the processes of nature and just as the thing-ideology imposes a fragmentary view of reality, so the functionalisation of the person succeeds in rendering all human beings mechanical and fragmentary as well. It must be said that the success of the ideology is as notable here as it is in the scientific sphere. It must also be said that the catastrophic effects of functionalisation on the human self are as extensive and profound as the effects of mechanical modes of understanding on the environment. The two go together and complement each other perfectly: the practical policies that result from mechanical models cooked up by a myopic, hidebound science are implemented with robotic efficiency and soulless disregard for the fine balances of nature by the truncated ego- and persona-dominated beings to whom they appeal. The greatest danger in the human realm today is the possibility that this combination of mechanistic ideology, mechanised society and mechanised personalities will supplant, by virtue of their very simplistic efficiency, all other ways of viewing our world.   If this happened and if centralised political power on this planet were of this cast, it would be time to bid good-bye to all those vague but precious notions, such as ‘environmental ethics’, ‘human rights’, ‘the freedom of the individual’, ‘the sanctity of life’, ‘the mind’, ‘the creative imagination’, ‘the human spirit’ and so on, which make the functionalised ego sneer, but without which we humans would be a lot nastier and certainly less creative than we are. These concepts already have a difficult time of it, but they survive because decent, unprejudiced people know they are valuable, even though there is no room for them in the officially scientific view of things. The day this language goes on the wane and begins to disappear from public discourse in favour of the efficient language of function and technique, that is the day humanity will begin the first stage of its congealment into a stagnating or self-destructive species.
It may well be that the human species will split into two, the one continuing to grow and develop, the other, like the coelacanth settling down to long-term stability. It may be that that process has already begun. Whatever the case, the functionalisation of the human person strangles creativity, reduces the range of the personality to that of a routine-ridden calculator and chokes off that indeterminate, unpredictable, innovatory input into the world that is the essence of our interaction with our environment. How then does the wholly functionalised mind operate? It operates, primarily, by adhering with almost evangelical fervour to the implementation of a certain procedure, a certain method, a certain algorithm: it computes. The specific nature of the functionalisation is given by the role, the persona. The energy for the sometimes almost fanatical zeal for method is provided by that would-be divinity, the ego. The combination of functional efficiency and ego-ambition is one of the most potent in the human world today; and it is this combination that could result in the imposition of the universal totalitarian machine portrayed in literature and film from Plato’s Republic to Skinner’s Walden2, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to the ghastly visions of the Matrix films and of all those other popular stories of ultimate societal mechanisation. The extent to which such scenarios are viewed positively or negatively depends upon the degree of mechanisation of the personality doing the viewing. The point of view adopted here is the following: far from representing a positive view of the future, such nightmares are wholly negative since they represent attempts to achieve, for whatever agency or ideology it may be, a control over humanity that will lift it out of the creative mainstream of evolution and consign it to the class of no-longer-developing creatures. And that – at least for humanity as we know it – would be a very bad thing indeed.
So how does functionalisation of the person work? It works by developing, to the detriment of the self as a whole, the rational, methodical aspects of the intellect – the left-brain aspects, in the language of brain-mythology – and by linking these so firmly with a certain role within a certain organisation or a certain type of organisation, that the person concerned is entrapped and enslaved - bought, body and soul. It becomes incapable of thinking outside of a certain box or outside of certain boxes. This role is defined as a series of procedures for which the person has responsibility. This sense of responsibility is cemented by many types of reward, financial gain, status, power, influence and the like, that are craved by the self-worshipping ego. The old animal passions that stoke the ego –  territoriality, aggressivity towards any competition, self-importance, self-regard, vengefulness, greed, and the like, on the one hand – and the distortions that result from the truncation of the self from its own depths – paranoia and schizoid dissociation of intellect from emotions, on the other – create an extremely efficient, intense but dangerously unstable state of mind that is a diminution of the human. It is a diminution of the human because it constitutes a loss of that distance and ‘beyondness’, a loss of the finite-infinite tension, that always characterises the relation of the self to its own products: the infinite self externalising itself in finite productions. The functionalised personality is pure persona, pure ego and the robotic attitudes that go along with this are deeply pathological, however ‘normal’ they may be considered in our western industrialised societies. The instability of a functionalised personality depends upon the strength of those creative forces of renewal that are part of the birth-right of the self, and on the degree to which the function has conquered or subjugated them or otherwise keeps them in check. In certain functionalised personalities, the function cannot keep the transformatory forces in a state of repression and they break out (often in a ‘mid-life crisis’) either in positive or in negative form, either as creative innovation and departure, or as destructive illness. Both of these latter types of dissolution of the function are relatively rare. The functionalised person usually has too much to lose by allowing cracks in the persona to appear. Those who do allow such slippage either achieve something radically different from their functional prowess or else they suffer some kind of breakdown and consequent demotion or disgrace. 
The functionalised person in short is a mechanised mind. Small wonder, then that it tends to develop conceptions of the mind that are mechanical. Its first level of programming is that of the theory of three-dimensional space, one-dimensional time, and reality as a collection of three-dimensional solid, persisting objects. This basic operating system of the mechanised intellect, laid down in early childhood, is then reinforced by the acquisition of language and becomes the basic set of assumptions used to approach the world of experience. The next level of programming comes from education and depends upon the degree to which the personality concerned adopts mechanised attitudes and mechanised thought-patterns from the milieu in which it grows to maturity. Those persons possessing a facility for procedural matters, algorithmic thought-patterns, convergent, rule-governed thinking of all types will tend to flourish in an educational milieu where such things are valued and where proficiency in them is rewarded. Educational success, throughout, will have been measured in terms of the efficiency with which the person convinces the educational authorities of its ability to conform to received standards of excellence. The ‘passing’ of examinations, generally no more than the reproduction of rote-learned factual information or the manipulation of procedural technique, will further reinforce the sense of achievement of the already deeply functionalised intellect. The next layer of programming, however, is probably the most vital, and it is this level that completes the process of functionalisation: it is the level that is laid upon the person by professional activity. The need to achieve economic independence and the ego’s desire for status, drive the already functionalised personality towards social roles that it can fill with the aid of the mental procedures and ideological assumptions thus far internalised. The personality is drawn into a net of forces that provide all manner of feedback loops, which further functionalise the mind: daily routine, reward, fear of demotion, economic necessity, social pressure, reputation, authority, deadlines, competition and so on. The person becomes entirely bound up in the routine of such an existence, entirely dominated mentally by it and entirely devoted to its partial values. The result is often either a hard-nosed and ruthless personality who sees only the achievement of those immediate goals that are imposed by the role played, or else a stressed and harried personality whose perpetually stimulated fight or flight mechanisms operate internally and inappropriately to burn up the body itself. 
The thing-ideology and the philosophy of mechanism drive the procedures and values of the major educational institutions. These, in turn, foster the functionalised personality. These personalities achieve eminence both in the educational institutions and in the other organisations to which they apply their abilities. The mechanised, functionalised values and the ambitious, energetic ego are highly prized in industry and commerce because they maximise growth and profit. Governments perceive this maximisation of profit as the highest good of a country and therefore foster all the values, procedures and abilities that conduce to its further maximisation. Educational policy, economic policy and all other sorts of planning then become dominated by the mechanical outlook and the immediate goals of the functionalised ego. The result is a drive towards the mechanisation of society from its roots to its most authoritative institutions, from parenting to governing, from manufacturing to entertaining, every activity is governed by procedure, by method, by algorithm; and the intrinsic, indeterminate creativity of the human mind that is responsible for every positive cultural acquisition is lost.
This tendency of western societies to foster the training of more and more functionalised persons generates a conception of human identity that equates it entirely with the persona, with the social role. The successful person is ‘something’ in society, i.e. a recognisable definable thing. Personalities are regarded as achieving a state in which they are ‘finished’, ‘formed’, ‘rounded off’. The implication seems to be that once a recognisable social role has been achieved and filled efficiently, then the person has, as it were, peaked and can go nowhere else. The person thus functionalised is entirely identified with the brain with which it is associated and this brain is considered as a sort of computing device that has been programmed to operate in a certain way. The functionalised person and the mechanised mind see only mechanism and function; they are self-confirming theories. Inevitably, when the efficiency of this computing device begins to wane, the person is regarded as waning along with it and hence judged to be of little use, little worth and, like a clapped-out  machine, suitable for the scrap-heap. The person is regarded as diminishing along with its diminishing efficiency. The value of such a functionalised person is precisely the extent to which it can fulfil its function efficiently. Once this goes, the person has no further value. Thus the old, the sick, the handicapped, the diminished have no value in terms of functionalised personalities. How long such diminished persons will continue to be tolerated in a given society depends upon the extent to which non-functionalised persons and non-functional conceptions of personal value are maintained. It requires very little for a society to be so devoted to mechanical values that it begins a process of reification, objectification or depersonalisation of the persons it regards as somehow inappropriate to its aims. Thus totalitarianisms of all kinds have systematically persecuted those they considered inappropriate in this sense, i.e. not susceptible to being functionalised in the approved manner. Behind all of these totalitarianisms has always stood some rigid, orthodoxy, mechanically applied, some mechanistic, algorithmic conception of human life and of the most efficient manner in which to live it. The mechanistic-deterministic-materialistic ideology that still governs the west and the thing-ideology that now constitutes its only authoritative view of the world, are steadily creating a functionalised population that not only cares nothing for the indeterminate core of the human self, but also fails to understand that it is the origin of all that is positive in human culture: purpose, value, creativity, meaning, and all those forces that foster the constant achievement of complexity in diversity that has characterised the history of human culture. The victory of the functionalised personality would perhaps spell the end of that history; it might spell the ‘end of history’ altogether, in Francis Fukuyama’s phrase.
The antidote to functionalisation is not to be found in its demonisation or in any set of measures designed to achieve its abolition. Functionalisation produces many benefits. It focuses the intellect with the intensity of a laser-beam and this intensity of vision permits an attention to detail and an unsurpassed analytical ability that are both of great value in the solving of all manner of ancient human problems – disease, hunger, ignorance, privation, and suchlike. On the other hand, it is clear that unchecked functionalisation produces its own set of problems – intolerance, insensitivity, short-termism, myopia of all kinds, diminution of the person and so on. The solution therefore would seem to be some means of maintaining the benefits of functionalisation while reducing its deleterious effects. This can only be done, it seems, by fostering two mutually opposing manners of thought. The self has to be seen as potentially governed by contradictory sets of principles. Once again, the solution to a fundamental conflict in human life is not the stressing of one side to the exclusion of the other, but rather the balanced maintenance of both elements of the tension. The procedure-obsessed, methodical, algorithmic aspects of the personality have to be counterbalanced by its informal, indeterminate, unpredictable aspects and the two have to be seen as one.
In circumstances where functionalised thought-patterns rule the roost – as in contemporary western civilisation – individuals will tend to see method as the essence of thought. When you have no creative ideas, you fall back on a method. The logical procedure, the mathematical procedure, the organisational principle, the managerial method, the recipe, the formula, the formalism, the routine – all of these will be seen as ends in themselves and not as provisional thought-patterns, essentially subject to review and modification. In addition formal patterns of thought will be regarded as somehow complete and in themselves completely authoritative. Formal thought will be considered to generate its own internal principles from its own formal structure. The form will be accorded absolute status. No attention will be paid to the status of the self as always above and beyond its own formal thought, as the indeterminate and indefinable origin and creator of all formality and as the authoritative user and manipulator of such formalism rather than merely its slavish operator. It is therefore only in the affirmation of the self’s intrinsic indefinability that such a viewpoint can be achieved. The finite, limited aspects of the mind have to be seen as dependent upon an infinite and unlimited background. The essentially extra-systemic nature of the self has to be affirmed. Once the self is seen as dominated by particular procedures, particular formalisms rather than as being essentially above them, the self is on the road to mechanisation and functionalisation. Where thought is largely driven by repeatable formulae, intelligence has to be seen as the intrinsically indefinable essence of the self and the indeterminate source of the determined structures it creates. Intelligence has to be regarded as the unformalisable origin of all formality. Intelligence is only formalised when it manipulates a formalism. As the origin of all formalisms, it is intrinsically superior to them. This is not mystification, it is simply good mental hygiene. Though they are among our most intimate experiences, we have no clear idea how the innovations of the human intellect take place. We have no formal procedure for the achievement of creative advance. We have no way of formalising the production of new structure by the human mind. Thus we have to accept the gifts of our own creativity on trust. It is in that sense that the essential nature of the self has to be considered to be indefinable and indeterminate. Thus any fostering of the functionalisation of the intellect – and such is vital if the intellect is to achieve and to master any field – has to be offset by an inculcation of the essential inviolability of the self, the essential ‘beyondness’ or infinity of the self, the essential, indefinable value of the self. It is perhaps in the use of the traditional language of ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ that such a view had been and is currently maintained in our society. But such language is on the wane and its vocabulary lacks resonance. We have to find an equally powerful language that renders the same service as the traditional but now discredited concepts. The language of physics is perhaps now in a position to do this for us, particularly where it points up the spurious nature of the distinction between parts and wholes.   If there is no ultimate separation between the sub-atomic particle as a local manifestation of energy and the entire energy-field of the entire universe, then a similar lack of separation can be assumed to obtain in respect to the human being. If the universal energy-field is imbued with its own universal meaning and ultimately governed by an indeterminate source of all creativity, then our connectedness to this source must surely be the antidote to the deleterious effects of our own tendency to functionalisation. But we have to choose this connectedness.
The functionalised human being is the fragmented human being, the part human being, the human being who is, by virtue of the loss of wholeness, cut off from the world as a whole, from the self as a whole and from humanity as a whole. Such a fragmented human being is responsible for all the ills of the human world today. Such human beings are doubly dangerous in that not only are they alienated and intrinsically distorted, they are also in ignorance or even in denial of the fact. This combination of mental distortion and refusal to understand the distortion is at the root of the cultural malaise of the west and at the origin of its disastrous collective behaviour.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


One of the most dangerous features of our culture is our loss of a sense of connection with totality, our almost autistic obsession with yet more detail. We are unhoused and alienated in the very universe that gave rise to us. Increasingly, we think and behave as if we had only ourselves to thank for our existence. The problem lies with the nature of our understanding that views reality through the narrow slit of empiricism. We possess a bewildering array of facts about the cosmos, but the more we know, the less of a connection we have with it. Blaise Pascal was right to be spooked by the cold vastness of space. The more science tells us us about the universe, the more futile it appears.  What’s more, we believe that this purely factual, thing-obsessed conception of the universe delivered to us by scientific geeks is a healthy state of affairs as opposed to that of the religious or mystical consciousness that sees itself as fundamentally keyed into an intelligent universal process.

The self has to operate in the context of a superordinate whole. This superordinate whole can be many different structures at different times. It can be a family, a church, a football crowd, a company, a government, a school, a factory, a committee and so on. But fundamentally, the self has to feel itself at home in the universe. It has to recognise itself as a stakeholder in the universe, rather than just an accidental cog in some small, arbitrary machine in some obscure corner of the world. People can and do find significance in their membership of all kinds of organisations, from a group of regular drinking-pals to the Catholic Church; but fundamentally, when the self takes into consideration every aspect of its existence, its arrival on the scene as a result of long and ancient natural processes (natural selection, heredity etc.), its birth, its short span of conscious life and its inevitable death, it cannot prevent itself wondering about its place in the whole pageant of events that we call the universe. It is in the nature of consciousness so to think. This locating of the self coherently within the universal process is identical with the impetus to do philosophy, as already noted, and is central to what we mean by the phrase ‘the meaning of life’. The self has to feel itself at home in the universe rather than merely desperately building a little home for itself in a particular social group, a particular town, a particular country, a particular social role and so on.

Of course, the vast majority of humans are too preoccupied with the daily business of making a living ever to give a thought to their place in any grand scheme of things. Indeed, the culture of celebrity, through which our civilisation expresses its principal values of egoism and possession, is designed to keep people in a state of suspension of self in which the meaning of their existence is provided vicariously by those they admire, while they themselves serve the economy as various types of wage-slave. The culture of celebrity convinces people that the sense of life is essentially to be seen in terms of fulfilling an enviable social role supremely well. Since most people are unable to achieve this they have to contemplate it in others, the rich, the famous, the powerful; and the media reinforce this practice by their constant harping on the doings of these people to the exclusion of almost any other issue. Newspapers, television-screens and radio-broadcasts are dominated by the antics of famous actors, politicians, musicians, sportspeople, crooks, writers, captains of industry, the rich and indeed any other kind of individual who appears to have a claim to eminence of any sort. The non-eminent thus have no significance for the media and only get into the newspapers if they distinguish themselves or are distinguished by some event or act that propels them to celebrity-status, however briefly. The significance of so-called ‘reality TV’ is ostensibly to repair the gap between celebrity and non-celebrity. That it fails is only in part due to the personal mediocrity of those who go in for this sort of self-exhibition. It fails more seriously because the distinction between celebrity and non-celebrity is a symptom of a wider failing in our society: namely, our inability to discover the essential dynamics of the self. We lack the means to understand ourselves and appear to believe that narcissistic egoism is the summum of human existence.

Eminence of any sort is a function of the supposedly enviable social role of the person concerned, for the meaning of existence in the modern west is seen only in these terms. Once one has identified a range of human types as abstractions, which is what the thing-ideology does for the human species, once one has fragmented the human species into identifiable types, then the sole meaning of human existence becomes the filling of a representative role, defined in terms of a particular function. Then, since the filling of an identifiable social role is the only meaning to life, the prevailing belief is that the more enviable the role (in terms of popular notions of 'success'), the more meaningful the life. Any notion that the self could have a unique importance, a unique destiny, quite separate from its social function, its ego, its persona, its external relations with other persons and the like, is completely lost.

Now the contention here is this: that the sense of human life has to do precisely with not identifying the self with the socially dependent ego or persona, but rather with the self’s own place in the universe as a whole. The persona, i.e. the social function, is only a means to a particular practical end in a particular specific context and no more, though it is usually a means of bolstering the self-regard of the ego. It does have its purpose, but this purpose is a temporary part of the developmental process, like all stages of education. Neither ego nor persona have any intrinsic relevance to the self as such; they are the causa efficiens in the self's growth, but their relevance is to the social structure in which they are rooted. The intrinsic and unique self, on the other hand, is completely dispensable to this social structure, since only the function – the social contribution, if you like – is of any value. The philosophies of Utilitarianism and Marxism realise this and exploit it to the full – which is why they are universally regarded as inhuman. Now the self is precisely not identical with the ego, persona or societal function and incapable of identifying itself in any way but temporarily with these. The self requires a destiny and an identity that go beyond social ambition and the social structure altogether. The persona and the ego inhibit the development of the self precisely to the degree that they begin to dominate the personality. The essence of the personality, however, and the focus of any meaning to life is the self.

The self requires nothing less than the ability to see itself as creatively part of the universal creative process of nature. Nothing less will do. Less than this is not satisfying to the self, despite its awareness of its own lack of importance; and it is for this reason that throughout the ages, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, from the I Ching to the modern horoscope, people have persistently sought to account for their lives, as a whole, in religious terms or quasi-religious terms, terms that located all the separate contexts of their daily life within the total context of the world as such. These terms functioned by invoking those agencies that were thought to be responsible for maintaining the entire order of nature, whether they were conceived as recognisably divine or not.  It is for this reason that morals and values have persistently been considered to be dependent upon the divine, or at least on some universal co-ordinating agency, rather than on any immediate social context that a person may be committed to and that thus may have a claim to be valued. Only the myopia of the thing-ideology has blinded us to the sense and value of these traditional attitudes. It goes without saying, that so-called ‘divine command ethics’ is merely a mythological distortion of the essential insight that true morality is a matter of the individual’s place in the cosmos.

The model of the universe with which we operate nowadays sees it as a complete process in which many types of apparently independent systems cooperate to produce a world containing all the staggering variety that we are able to witness. It is, however, the notion of process rather than object that is important, since coherent processes amount to something, go somewhere, achieve something and contribute meaningfully to a superordinate process. We see the fifteen-billion-year history of our universe as an integrated process, but we are incapable of working out whether it is a coherent, co-ordinated process, that is to say whether it amounts to anything, or not. Indeed, we deny actively that this knowledge could in any way be possible, because the cognitive criteria of our science do not allow it. We think that it is impossible because for us, reality is no more than a bunch of inanimate objects. Meanings, purposes, values - these are unreal. We deal with this ignorance imposed upon us by the thing-ideology by convincing ourselves that in all this process, in which nothing seems ultimately to endure, there are nevertheless stable entities that do not simply pop into existence and go out of existence or transform themselves into quite different things. Our ability to identify at least some stability in the universal flux reassures us in some small way. These stable entities are the ultimate ‘things’, the building-blocks of the universe and the rules or laws that govern their motion. So we elaborate a view of the universe as a collection of identifiable three-dimensional objects, all of which are made out of some ultimate three-dimensional objects that hang around for much longer than any others. We cling to these ‘ultimate’ things with a kind of desperation.  Thus we come to regard these fundamental building blocks as ultimate reality in all the change and as a consequence we come to regard ourselves as no more than collections of these fundamental building-blocks. The process that is our self loses all significance because it is not seen to endure. It has no stability. It has no substance. It appears and then, after shifting inconstantly, disappears almost immediately and nothing seems to impart to it the enduring identity of the tangible thing.

Small wonder, then, that we are unable to see ourselves as parts of the universal process. But the really depressing feature of our supposed understanding of the cosmos is that despite our instinctive awareness that something staggeringly meaningful is going on and that the universe looks as if it is a gigantic put up job, we are unable to allow ourselves any suggestion that the whole system might be intelligently coordinated. And so we are left with an improbable tale of countless improbable accidents piled upon countless improbable accidents which just happen to get things exactly right. This so-called 'Anthropic Principle' is the most mysterious feature of our current scientific understanding of the world and all attempts to deal with it scientifically lead only to yet more improbability.

The Big Bang (which just happened to get the initial conditions for our cosmos spot-on) produced the first generation of particles. The second generation suns just happened to have the capacity to produce the particles that make up our world. (It was the emergence of carbon at that stage that convinced the atheist Fred Hoyle of the intelligence of the universe.) The processes by which our planet came into existence just happened to be a consequence of the external dynamics of these particles. The organisation of matter into living systems then just happened to be another consequence of the same dynamics (though it is not, because the information of the genome has no chemical explanation). The emergence of consciousness – again, something that just happened – we see as a product of still the same dynamics. Our lives, our societies, our entire human world just happens then to be a product of the same dynamics. The staggering series of accidents that we believe produced us and our specifically human world have nothing at all to do with the nature of that human world, with what is of value in it and with what makes it precious to us. The universal process seems to our science completely different from ourselves and to have no possible relevance to the self. The self relates to other selves; and the universal process that produced selves – so runs the thing-ideology – has no resemblance to the self and its concerns at all. It is not surprising then that we view the whole universal process of the universe as completely irrelevant to us, as completely foreign to us - just another bunch of things to be used. No wonder that we see the corollary to this as true, as well, namely that our lives, our preoccupations, our values have no relevance to the universe as such. No wonder, either, that we are fragmented and alienated and that we retreat into the ego, from where we see the significance of our lives as lying in what we do every day or in what we aspire to do every day and as having no significance outside of these activities. 

We never pause to ask ourselves, however, whether these beliefs held by modern man are not deeply misguided, deeply harmful and deeply wrong. The simple truth is that they are; but the conspiracy of the modern democratic, industrialised society, sedulously fostered by politicians, pundits, journalists, academics and educators, is to suppress every possible belief that militates against the thing-ideology and that militates against the conviction of governments and industries that only an existence devoted to the production of yet more things has any sense. Modern democracies and modern industries are obsessed by the production and consumption of things and yet more things. That is the only activity that has any measurable value and meaning within the view of the universe imposed by the thing-ideology. In a world in which things are, at least initially, randomly thrown together by the forces of nature and by chance, the essence of the human meaning seems inevitably to be the control of the universal collection of things and the consequent production of different things by means of our conscious intention; otherwise consciousness is completely meaningless and quite superfluous. Our identity and our view of ourselves is now bound up with the ever more frenzied production and consumption of things. We are things. Our main purpose is the frantic production of yet more and yet newer things; and all the organisations that constitute human society have the sole purpose of generating still more things. We have to generate more things than our competitor. We have to possess more things than our neighbour. We are drowning in an ocean of things and as we produce them in ever greater quantities, we cut ourselves loose from the sustaining universe and pollute both it and ourselves with the by-products of our hard work, our ‘industry’ our ‘growth’, our thing-production.

The power of this social aspect of the thing-ideology is so great that one begins to wonder whether there is not some greater significance to it that we overlook completely, some ‘cunning of reason’, to use a Hegelian phrase. Perhaps, if we think holistically and teleologically for a moment, the universal process of evolution may require this distortion for the achievement of some creative leap forward, just as the profusion of the Cambrian explosion of species was required for the later production of robust and complex survivors. That may be the case, but one still has a duty to combat the injurious effects of this fragmentation and the concomitant reification of the self because those who suffer from and are damaged by it – and they are a significant number, if not the majority – do not necessarily have to submit to it. They certainly do not have to believe the ideology that supports it. The world as a whole, the planet, the ecosystem would obviously be far better off if human beings adopted a more integrated and harmonious relation to the natural systems that spawned them and upon which they depend. We see ourselves as foreign to nature, as apart from nature, as superior to nature in intellect even, but as inferior to nature in our transience, as locally dominating and exploiting nature, but as being finally defeated by her (short of making ourselves immortal!); but this is only because we see nature as fundamentally nothing more than a collection of insensible things, whereas we are things endowed with consciousness, which is intrinsically more valuable than things. This jumble of half-baked beliefs about ourselves and our world divorces and estranges us from the world to such an extent that we are incapable of understanding it despite all our science. That is the principal reason why, as it were, we pelt our mother with filth.

The confusion in our own view of ourselves – things, yet not things – shuts us out of the cosmos. If we could see ourselves and our consciousness as intimately woven into the universal process, such that every aspect of our being, mental and physical,  is rooted in an aspect of that universal process and every event of our lives is both influenced by and has an influence upon that universal process, we would be a little more careful and a little more concerned to know more about the nature of our connections with that universal process. This cannot be achieved by considering ourselves as just one more thing – however mysterious, paradoxical or anomalous – amid a universal collection of things. We have to be able to understand the manner in which we are integrated into the whole and the manner in which the processes of our individual life chime harmoniously with the whole. We have to understand how what we consider to be merely a collection of alien things is in actual fact the dynamic, intelligent milieu in which we have come to be and which is not in any sense alien to us but intrinsically related to us. It generated us and it has a place for us. We have to be able to see what we call ‘matter’ as of the same kind of subtle, ambiguous stuff as ourselves, not as some inert, brute ore from which chance and necessity have absurdly extracted us. We have to be able to see mind as a universal property of the universe as a whole, from its tiniest filaments to its entire, coordinated flow.

We now believe in the ‘emergent properties’ of wholes; and that is the only handle we can get on minds. But maybe we are seeing them in the wrong light: in a causal light. We are so wedded to the notion of antecedent cause, that we think that the so-called emergent properties of a collection of parts are caused by the aggregated properties of those parts. Of course if the parts are not present, then the whole effect will not be present, right? Well who knows? It may be that the levels of complexity achieved by material systems merely permits the expression of antecedent properties, particularly with respect to mental properties. If reality is inherently intelligent, then maybe any system resulting from evolution is merely the expression of a particular aspect of that intelligence. This is the way we view the cultural formalisms that express our own increasingly complex thoughts: we can conceive of relativity, quantum physics, multi-dimensional space, black holes and all the rest because we have the language to express these notions. The language does not cause the notions, the notions do not emerge from the language – at least scientists would not thank us for saying so. The content of these thoughts existed before we evolved the language to discuss them. If we admit that possibility then it is not difficult to admit the possibility that the states of mind which ‘emerge’ in the human exist prior to the evolution of humans and come to expression because the human body and its brain have come to exist. Since emergent properties characterise the evolution of matter in our universe, it is possible to see emergence at all levels as the evolution of form adequate to the expression of pre-existent content. Perhaps there are higher mental states beyond ours that require large numbers of humans for their expression and  maybe that is why the human race as a whole has emergent properties such as large-scale cultural and societal phenomena. If we extrapolate this logic to the universe as a whole, then it may be that a network of life-bearing planets is connected by an emergent property that binds together a galaxy and so on up the scale. We do not have to view this sort of phenomenon as causal, such that, for example, a deity is generated post facto as an emergent property of the universe - though this has been speculated. There is nothing shocking in the thought that the material universe is the medium of divine self-expression. This sort of speculation is inherently no more ridiculous than the speculations concerning the emergent properties of termite-hills, crowds, economies or the process of the evolution of species. It is speculation, but something like it is needed to break the choking stranglehold of the thing-ideology. Something like this is needed if we are to make real and satisfying sense of our lives in the universe we observe.

In order to obtain a better understanding of why this is of vital importance, we will have to look a little more closely at the functionalisation of the intellect and of the person.

Friday, December 9, 2011


Most ethical theories stop at one or other of the restricted dimensions that make up the whole context of human life. They stop at the individual, as in egoism, or at the societal, as in Utilitarianism or they restrict themselves to the cosmic as in religious or divine command ethics. Why thinkers on matters ethical feel obliged to choose one of these or why all of them should not be taken into consideration at once is something of a conundrum. But then, perhaps it’s not as surprising as all that, since humans have consistently shown themselves prone to take a restricted view of themselves and of their world. But our imagination will not allow us to stop short and be satisfied with some restricted view. The basic issue is that of doing the best with the mind: this ultimately involves establishing a creative tension between the three principal dimensions of human consciousness, the individual, the societal and the cosmic. It is impossible to draw boundaries between these three, but increasingly one or other of them is neglected, as is the manner in which they interact. It is clear that the question ‘what is good for humans?’ can not be answered by any individual or societal recipe for happiness alone, though in contemporary society that is in effect what is happening. The cosmic dimension is more and more regarded as irrelevant. But we neglect it at our peril. We locate ourselves in the cosmos and our happiness is bound up with what we take to be its character. Locate us in a cosmos that intelligently brought us forth and that has a place for us and we are at ease. Locate us in a cosmos in which we are anomalous and alienated beings for whom there is no place apart from that which we carve out for ourselves and we become brutalised and brutal.

It is notoriously difficult to state what is the good for human beings. It is difficult to define this good. The problem here lies with our desire for definitions or rather with the kinds of ‘thing-like’ definitions we desire. This being the case, it is probably easier to say first what is bad for humans. We won’t bother with metaphysical notions such as ‘evil’, for there is little need for these outside of a religious context. It is much more convincing to point out in what way the thing-ideology imposes certain defective beliefs that are bad for us; for make no mistake about it: the thing ideology is bad for us. Once we have done that, we can show why we no longer need to put up with these defective beliefs. If what is bad for us is the consequence of a defective set of beliefs and a defective set of assumptions, then arguing or imagining ourselves out of those assumptions may well open the way for counteracting their effects upon our minds. Once we have outlined what is bad for us, logically the absence or maybe the opposite of these things could be good for us.
So what are the bad effects of the thing-dogma?

One of the chief sources of damaging disruption to natural systems is the injection into the system of defective, inappropriate or irrelevant information. For example, viruses constitute defective information as far as our bodies are concerned and their disruption of the body is obvious to all. Cancers arise from a kind of defective information. Similarly, many of the problems and discontents of western culture arise from defective information, defective beliefs. Richard Dawkins was right in this to the extent that his ‘memes’ can be extremely resilient and extremely deleterious. He was wrong in thinking that he could isolate a certain category of memes – the religious ones – and show that these are uniquely damaging. It is not the holding of this or that particular belief in human culture, that makes it damaging, it is the use made of it.   It is the case that the scientific dogma according to which Dawkins operates is a damaging meme precisely because of its monopolistic domination of areas of life over which it has no right to pronounce. Thus the bad effects of the dogma are those that suggest that human life is meaningless and worthless, that despite the deepest convictions of the human race, its most universal conceptions of the value and purpose of human life are utterly misguided and untrue.

Of course it is bad for humans to suffer poverty, disease, oppression and so on; and there are enough people around the world suffering from these. But to a great extent, these problems are exacerbated by the moral bankruptcy of the developed west. The concern here is with this latter and not necessarily with societies at other stages of development. A basic assumption is that getting the self right in the west will do much to produce improvements to the global situation. So the goal here is to address the spiritual and moral malaise of the west and not so much the consequences of this malaise in the rest of the world. It is to attempt to change the view that human beings have of themselves as things. To see a human being as a thing is to deprive him or her of all value and meaning; and it is precisely these two features of human life that we wish to bring back into the foreground of discourse. In the west a set of damaging assumptions concerning human life that grow directly out of the thing-ideology impacts directly on our psychological health. These assumptions and the beliefs constructed on them have inflicted on us the intellectual and moral malaise from which we suffer. This has in turn afflicted us with a whole range of disorders that are the direct result of what are not only defective and oppressive beliefs, but also now redundant beliefs.

Some of the assumptions and beliefs that are bad for us are listed here. The list is not exhaustive.
It is bad for humans:

- to be told that whatever they may think they are merely things;
- to be told that however they may feel they have no freedom;
- to be bossed around by dogmatists or subjected to this sort of totalitarianism;
- to be made to believe that they are machines and as such, robotically determined;
- to be told that their mind is an illusion or a delusion;
- to believe that any notion of a soul or spirit is even more of an illusion;
- to believe that only external relations are possible with others or with the world;
- to believe that they have only physical, external ‘material’ relations with any reality;
- to be told that as isolated objects they are fundamentally alone and cut-off;
- to be made to believe that their lives have no intrinsic structure or value;
- to be told that only things have value for them;
- to be made to believe that their lives have no purpose;
- to believe that the universe around them is a senseless machine;
- to believe that the universe is an uncoordinated jumble of things;
- to believe that nature is governed only by chance or necessity;
- to believe that human intelligence is a freak of nature and without context;
- to believe that they have no stake in the order of nature;
- to be hectored into believing that their intelligence excludes them from nature;
- to be alienated and terrorised by any or all of the above.

It requires no great insight or subtlety to see that morality in modern western societies is deeply problematic. Philosophy, particularly of the Anglo-Saxon variety has pronounced ethics impossible because values are not things and moral ‘oughts’ cannot be found in nature as one finds rocks, trees, clouds, turtles, galaxies, viruses and other things. Since in our culture the only authoritative sorts of sentences are those that describe things and since in the examination of things, nothing like a value can be detected, sentences that describe the way things ‘should’ be are pronounced to be meaningless expressions of knee-jerk likes or dislikes, mere noises like ‘yuk’ or ‘yum yum’. It has never occurred to the luminaries who thought up this piece of philosophical nonsense that the problem lies with matters of methodology, with midworld, that is to say with a particular use of language and not with the absence of value from the world as such. The empiricist dogma pontificates grandly that only sentences describing things are meaningful and therefore talk of values is gibberish. But value is intrinsic to the world and to all its systems. It’s just that the concepts that designate such value have to be holistic concepts and not reductive ones. Language is particularly well adapted to talking about objects; but this is the weakness of language and it should not blind us to the primacy of values.

Pronouncing ethical statements to be meaningless because they are not reducible to properties of things is about as intelligent as someone’s pronouncing a move in chess illegitimate because, firstly he doesn’t admit to the existence of chess, but only to that of tiddly-winks, and, secondly because the move does not conform to the rules of tiddly-winks. There is a gaping hole in the intellectual fabric of the west and that is its inability to talk the language of wholes. The question, ‘what is the good for humans?’ is therefore a very western question, because it implies some identifiable thing called ‘good’ that can be isolated, as an electric charge or a pungent odour can be isolated along with all other partial things and defined. Thus the good for humans has variously been called ‘happiness’, ‘pleasure’, ‘power’, ‘wealth’ or some such ultimate irreducible thing that can be obtained, like any other commodity, by some mechanical procedure or other. According then to the logic of the thing-ideology, this ‘good’ is deemed to be obtainable for all humans by the application of a set of rules, just as a chair can be obtained from a tree by following a distinct procedure or set of prescriptions.

True to the reductionist methods that dominate intellectual life in the west, we can conceive of the good only in terms of identifiable goods, even to the point of taking that word quite literally: the good is goods. We should have the courage to turn this cast of mind around and invert the reductive spirit in ethics. We only pursue our manic focus on parts because of our prior understanding of wholes. Indeed, the concentration on parts is actually in the service of the understanding of wholes, though we tend to forget this. We understand instinctively that health and happiness are good for man, but we mislead ourselves in identifying those states altogether with what we imagine are particular attainable examples of them. Just as health is not the optimum condition of any one organ, but the complete and harmonious functioning of the entire body and mind, so happiness is not the acquisition of any one aspect of the whole range of potentially agreeable things. We want to know when we ask what is good for man, not what might give him pleasure or satisfaction, what might gratify or entertain him, what might enhance his self-love or increase his feelings of self-worth. We want to know what happiness as a whole, on the analogy with physical health, may entail for the human being as such. We shall therefore ignore the individual goods and try to understand the holistic conception in virtue of which every individual good, from the acquisition of an object to the experience of oceanic ecstasy is understood to be of value.

Western ethics, apart from suffering from the handicap of having been pronounced ‘nonsensical’ by western philosophy, suffers also from the Greek and Judaeo-Christian input that the Middle Ages bequeathed to us. In Ancient Greece, the fundamental ethical question was thought to be ‘what is the best kind of life for a human?’ or ‘how does the individual human flourish?’ The answer to this question was thought to be found in the acquisition of a particular kind of technical know-how; for Plato it was knowledge of the Forms, for Aristotle it was the development of adaptive patterns of behaviour called ‘virtues’ or ‘excellences’. For the Jew and the Christian, however, the fundamental ethical question was rather ‘what does God command me to do?’ And these ‘commands’ were understood to be codifiable rules laying down the best kind of life. These two conceptions of the good life are vastly different, but they had one thing in common: both the Greeks and the Judeao-Christians busily went about trying to establish a method for obtaining the right kind of knowledge in question. As always when humans apply their reason to such matters, however, this led to reductive definitions and punitive prescriptions.

So while the Greeks taught that a certain kind of learning resulted necessarily in the individuals' becoming ‘good’ in the sense of ‘successful’, or ‘well turned-out’, and in their ‘living and faring well’, the Jews and then the Christians, following the monotheistic notion of a divine set of rules for everything in the universe, set themselves the task of clarifying these rules, imposing them on everyone and enforcing them. (And Islam, as a latecomer, is still trying to do this.) Now while the Christians retained the Greek conception of the good life for human beings, considering it simply as complete conformity to the will of God as interpreted by the authority of the Church, in post-Enlightenment Europe God dropped out of the picture and the ego took his place. The good life for a human being became a life of desire-satisfaction and the rules turned into a procedure for ensuring that the desire-satisfaction of every individual member of a given group did not damage the mode of desire-satisfaction of the majority.

This grotesquely impoverished notion of ethics combined the worst of both the Greek and the Christian views on matters ethical. It designated the individual as a unit of pleasure-seeking and announced that, since no one unit has a greater right to pleasure than any other unit, the pleasure-seeking of each unit had to be controlled in such a fashion as to ensure that the greatest amount of pleasure was obtainable by the greatest number. There was of course no compellingly authoritative reason for this at all. It was simply a hang-over from the old Greek and Christian ideas that the good was to be obtained by some sort of procedure and constituted some sort of knowledge; and this knowledge was assumed, particularly by Bentham and his Utilitarians, to be available by scientific means. It was to be acquired by means of the so-called ‘felicific calculus’. Since the search for factual knowledge was deemed to be the amassing of the finest-grain unit facts and combining these facts according to some rules, the same was thought to go for ethics. The ‘facts’ were those that the ego deemed to be the facts of human nature, namely that each human being, as a kind of atomic unit of humanity, was motivated by an entirely selfish desires for kinds of pleasure. Bentham believed that all the individual satisfactions could each be given a score and that on the basis of some ill-defined arithmetic these scores could reveal some optimum state of society, just as the properties of atoms combined them together to form a world. This caricatural conception of human life remains the dominant ethical theory in the west today – albeit without the wacky mathematics – and is an indication of the extent to which, in desperation, westerners are liable to believe the veriest nonsense merely because they have no other means of intellectual control of reality than the thing-ideology.

What, then could the alternative be? What alternative view could we develop of the good for human beings if we ditch the thing-ideology and learn to speak the language of wholes?  The reductive language of fragments that is imposed upon human beings by the thing-ideology suggests to each individual that he or she is completely cut-off and alone as an object among objects and has only external relations with other individuals or atomic units and all the other ‘ills’ resulting from the thing-ideology listed above. The result of belief in this fragmentary view of life is that each individual feels obliged to exploit every situation as an opportunity for personal gratification, since there is no other value. This personal gratification has no other substance than the obtaining of certain types of commodities. The ethical ideal of the average western individual is thus officially viewed as the acquisition and consumption of a certain sum of these commodities. Of course, an extra ethical dimension is bolted on to this in a completely irrational manner, which states quite flatly that one person’s acquisition and consumption of commodities must not damage another person’s chances of obtaining and consuming commodities. There is no particularly moral justification for this from the basic ideology, which is purely egoistic, but it is bolted on nevertheless, because even the thing-ideology has to recognise that ethics has a group dimension that it would be absurdly inefficient to ignore.

One other reason for the utilitarian inhibition of egoism is also, of course, the mechanistic need for predictable organisations: society in utilitarian ethics is viewed as a well-oiled machine – since everything else in nature is an efficient machine – and it would seem that pure egoism as a social principle could not work very well. It becomes evident from an understanding of this fragmentary approach to reality, that not only can it not really deal intelligently with the dynamics involved in the relation of individual to group, it cannot understand human life in any way at all, because human life is only comprehensible as a series of integrated systems that go from particles to cells, from cells to organs, from organs to the body, from the body to social groups, from social groups to cultural groups, from social and cultural groups to the world, from the world to the totality of nature and the cosmos; and without some way of integrating all of these systems, it is impossible to grasp what is good for the individual human being and for the human group. It is as arbitrary to cut off the ethical questioning at the societal or cultural level of systems as it is to declare that it belongs to the individual alone. Every human being is aware that questions concerning the good for humans go from the individual through the societal to the cosmic without any obvious boundaries and they do so because it is in the nature of human self-consciousness to situate itself in these contexts and to understand them holistically.

Some sort of realisation is dawning that a holistic language and a conception of complex feedback loops is needed with respect to recommendations concerning human behaviour, for example in the ecological movement, but it needs to be much more consciously and much more systematically developed in conscious opposition to the fragmenting effects of the thing-ideology. The ethical phenomenology of the human race has to be considered as an emergent property of the most complex thing in the whole known universe, namely the human being, not just singly, but as a whole species. And let us remember here that these properties are called ‘emergent’ by us only because our habit of looking at every whole in terms of what we identify as its simplest parts makes wholes challengingly mysterious. Each sub whole of relevance to the human being, from sub-atomic particle to planet, has to be regarded as essentially and fundamentally connected both to the immediate subordinate whole and to the immediate superordinate whole and, thereby, to the totality both at the micro and at the macro scale. There is a flow of information from all levels of the system to all other levels. The flow of information is from what we call ‘the simple’ to what we call ‘the complex’ and from the complex to the simple. In reality, there is no such thing as the clear distinction between ‘the simple’ and ‘the complex’, for the simple can behave in complex ways and the complex in simple ways. There are no ‘fundamental building blocks’ to nature, no ultimately ‘simple’ bits, the properties of which, along with the rules of their combination, govern all phenomena. Wholes at all levels have irreducible emergent properties that cannot be understood reductively. Parts are only apparently parts; they are in fact either sub-wholes or superordinate wholes depending  on the point from which one views them; and this relation of parts to whole is an essential property of the entirety of the biosphere, and, we must assume, of the universe as a whole.

The life of the individual human being is set in a nested series of systems, each of which has to be considered as a whole that is not reducible to its parts. Moreover, each whole has either to be viewed as a sub-whole within a superordinate whole, rather than merely as a part of that whole, or else as a superordinate whole the parts of which are its sub-wholes. As for the wholes relevant to ethics, there is the body, to begin with, then the family, then the various larger social groupings, after which comes the ecosystem of the planet and thereafter the universe as a totality. The idea that the individual human could somehow seek integration into the universe as a whole is not as barmy as it sounds when one realises that according to the de Broglie interpretation of the individual particle, each particle reflects the whole universe in the information encoded in the wave-potential that accompanies it. Imagine, in order to put a bit of reality on this abstract notion, what is indeed the case: the light from every visible source in the universe, the light that encodes the information concerning every object in the visible universe, is present at every point within the universe, for every part of the visible universe can be observed from every other part. Thus every ‘part’ of the universe that we experience is present in every other ‘part’. The information governing the entire universe is present everywhere in the universe, holographically present, if you like. A human being can not be fully human without feeling ‘at one’ with each of the systems of which it is a sub-whole. The good for a human being is therefore a living sense of belonging to each of the systems in turn in which its life is set, from body to universe. The link between each of these systems is information-processing or intelligence, the intelligence specific to the level in question. The old notion of man as the microcosm mirroring the macrocosm returns in new guise if one considers the notion of ‘self-similarity’ in chaos-theory. It is one of our deepest instinctive conceptions of ourselves that suggests to us that the relation between our creative minds and our earth-bound bodies might be a dim reflection of the relation between the physical cosmos and the universal intelligence that animates it.

The intelligence of the individual is not just brain-function, it is rather an aggregate function of the indeterminate information that accompanies every particle of the individual’s body, a function of the complex information-bearing field that fundamentally is each apparent part and that is connected to the indeterminate intelligence of each superordinate system above it. The information-bearing field that is each apparent part unfolds itself to us in ways that are peculiar to our particular ability to experience. We experience a world of separate things – that is our brain-imposed handicap. But our experience can be trained to broaden itself and become an experience that the self has of fields, of the universal field. We can experience the universe as universal light, universal energy, universal intelligence, and its various phenomena, ourselves included, as bound forms of these. This is a kind of myth, and will be rejected with cries of “juvenile idealism” or something similar. But the mechanistic dogma is a myth, too, and a destructive one. The holistic myth proposed here is the sort of myth that is needed to counteract the corrosive and fatal effects of the mechanistic-deterministic thing-ideology.

It is a consciousness of the integrated totality of the universe, in which the individual has a stake and a role, that has the potentiality to combine all the disparate elements in ethical theories as diverse as Utilitarianism, Natural Law ethics, Kantianism, Virtue-Ethics, Divine Command Ethics, Situation Ethics, Egoism, Prescriptivism, Anarchism and so on. It can combine deontological and consequentialist notions. It can combine prescriptive and descriptive ethics and abolish the spurious distinction between cognitivism and non-cognitivism. It can do these things by the simple expedient of not restricting knowledge to knowledge of parts. The forces that forge the many moral codes that exist and that have existed in human groups have the purpose not only of connecting the individual to a system, but also of revealing and imparting to individual life a structure, a purpose, a sense, a 'meaning' if you like, that is inherent to it and not simply imposed for the convenience of this or that power-hungry authority. Whatever the Existentialists may have said about the lack of a human essence, there has to be an essence of the human in order for life to function, though this essence clearly is not identifiable with any one aspect of human existence. It is precisely the doctrine of meaningless that has given rise to the existential notion of absurdity and to the view that fundamentally ‘anything goes’ except where the majority has decided – on the basis of its superior power – that in the interests of its comfort, certain things will be forbidden. The good for humans is therefore substantially the opposite of everything proposed by the thing-ideology and is found in a rediscovery of the ancient values of spiritual connection with universal meaning. That it is physics that can begin to make these things comprehensible demonstrates that we are not dealing here with mere mystification, but rather with intellectually serious matters of vital importance that we have no reason any more to obfuscate with any half-baked ‘scientific’ dogma.

When one has got rid of the pusillanimous notion that the only good for humans is vegetable health it is fairly easy to see that what is good for humans is the same as what makes their existence meaningful: it is being dynamically and permanently aware that the self-conscious mind is integrated into the cosmos and thus actively involved in its ceaseless creativity. There is no more consummately meaningful, no better life than to be in creative partnership with the creativity of the cosmos. To create, to be creative, for us humans is to be created, even if we know it or not. The cosmos is infinitely varied and infinitely complex because it is a process of constant creation. We have a stake in this perpetual creativity whether we understand this or not. Clearly, it is better to understand our status as created creators than not.