Emergent Evolutionism

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Robert Kleinman:

"Another attempt to develop a non-mechanistic theory of evolution was the emergent evolutionism of the English philosopher Samuel Alexander. He presented his ideas in a massive book entitled Space, Time and Deity. Alexander called the ultimate reality “SpaceTime,” arguing that space and time are interdependent and cannot exist as separate entities. This original cosmic stuff is prior to matter, being identified with pure motion. Matter is composed of motions made up of the point-instants of Space-Time. Matter, Life, and Mind are universal qualities that emerge successively from Space-Time, influenced by a creative urge (Nisus) that carries the universe upward through various emergent levels. Evolution is expected to continue beyond Mind to a higher level called “Deity.”

This is a relative term, however, since it always refers to the next level that is still to emerge. Just what quality Deity will possess is unpredictable before it appears. Each emergent quality in evolution is the result of the complexities attained at the previous level, but cannot be reduced to it. There is therefore a discontinuity among the levels that renders new qualities genuinely novel; this is the meaning of “emergent evolution,” which stands in sharp contrast to Darwinian mechanism.

Emergence of a new quality in the universe is not the direct outcome of preceding conditions but an entirely unanticipated event that seems to render evolution inexplicable. For Alexander, the process is said to begin with Space-Time, the basic stuff of reality, though devoid of life and consciousness. How then shall we understand the emergence of higher principles like Life and Mind from it? Alexander’s conception of Nisus as an evolutionary urge inherent in Space-Time is also suspect. Their relationship is not clear, since an insentient reality like Space-Time could not have creative urges. Alexander thus does not account for the mysterious Nisus that is supposedly responsible for evolution.

The failure to offer an explanation for the discontinuous jumps between successive levels seems to admit an irrational element into his philosophy of evolution. Nevertheless, he raised an important issue with the conception of an evolutionary progression that does not end with the emergence of Mind in the universe."