Emergentist Concept of Science , Evolution and Culture

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* Book: Daniel Paksi Personal Reality: The Emergentist Concept of Science , Evolution and Culture. Two Volumes. Eugene, OR, Pickwick Publications, 2019.



"Western civilization was built on the concept of God. Today modern science, based on the critical method and so-called objective facts, denies even the existence of our soul. There is only matter: atoms, molecules, and DNA sequences. There is no freedom; there are no well-grounded beliefs. The decline of Western civilization is not the simple consequence of decadence, hedonism, and malevolence. Modern critical science has liberated us from the old dogmas but failed to establish our freedoms, values, and beliefs. However, human knowledge is not objective but personal. We are the children of evolution. Everybody sees the world from his own personal point of view anchored into his/her body. We use our billions-of-years-old evolutionary skills and thousands-of-years-old cultural heritage to recognize and acknowledge the personal facts of our reality, freedom, and most important natural beliefs: respect and speak the truth. In reality, even science itself is based on our personal knowledge. Only our false conceptual dichotomies paralyze our thinking. God or matter?—there is a third choice: the emergence of life and human persons. This is the only way to defend our freedoms and the Christian moral dynamism of free Western societies."


R. T. Allen and David Jewson:

"In brief, the author employs the philosophy of Michael Polanyi, which he summarises sufficiently for those new to Polanyi, and gives plenty of references to, and quotations from, mostly Personal Knowledge, and especially the final chapter, 'The Rise of Man'. He also employs contributions from Samuel Alexander and others, in order to explain how evolution has produced a multi-level universe culminating in the emergence of persons and their cultures.

Each volume has two parts. In Vol. 1 Paksi sets out the main themes and their basis in the philosophy of Polanyi, which he summarises as required, and in Vol. 2 he enlarges them.

In Vol. I. Pt 1, 'Personal knowledge', he shows the limits of Darwin's 'natural selection' and Neo-Darwinism, to account for the real emergence of higher and more complex levels or orders of reality, notably life which Darwin's theory presupposes. Our own emergence as intelligent beings is shown by the unspecifiable nature of our knowledge compared with the specifiability of our DNA, the incoherence of Laplace's universe with no one in it who could apprehend it, and the tacit roots of scientific discovery, doubt and our personal knowledge beliefs and commitments.

Randomness, on which Darwinians depend for the emergence of higher orders, is the effect of the deterministic material upon an existing higher order, and so it can account for breakdowns and in a higher order and eventually its destruction. A higher order is an unspecifiable whole resting upon and harnessing its specifiable parts.

Pt 2, 'Emergence' is a more detailed examination of emergence and accounts of it, its relations to reduction and materialism. Emergence results in two different kinds of reality but only on one multi-level entity, and not a dualism of two entities. 'Weak' or 'epistemological' reduction (that higher levels can be explain by the concepts and categories of lower ones) entails materialism, and both require a person to perform and believe in them. The difficult (for me) Chap. 6 on the roles of space, time and matter, I shall leave to Dr Jewson and to a comment at the end. Boundary conditions, the limits within which a process operates, are used by Polanyi's and Paksi's to explain the action of a higher level upon a lower. A piece of wood leaves open many ways in which it can be shaped and the uses to which it can be put, and bars others, as by the greater weakness if shaped across and not with the grain (my example). Paksi applies this conception to the natural sciences and engineering. (It can also be applied to personal life: good manners and moral laws set limits to what we can think, say and do; grammar sets limits to the construction of meaningful sentences.) Time is real, and the proper answer to dualism and vitalism is the 'diachronic reduction' of tracing emergence back to its origins. What higher levels depend upon has to emerge after the lower and they in due turn.

Vol. 2. Pt 3 'Evolution'. begins with Polanyi on 'The Logic of Achievement' in all forms and levels of life and machines, plus Paksi's own addition of computers. What distinguishes all of them is that they manifest 'rules of rightness', which are formulations of their success or failure, health or disease, life or death, the correct or impaired or total failure of their operations. These are the emergent 'ordering principles' of all levels above that of the physical. Thus the study of them requires evaluation of the success or failure, health of disease, etc., of entities and processes on those levels. The emergence of personal knowledge (and the subpersonal knowledge of animals) can be understood only by our use of our own personal knowledge and its tacit and unspecifiable roots, and not by the specifiable measurements of the physical sciences nor Darwinian natural selection. Likewise cultural evolution and transmission, cultural organisations and their emergence, individuals, groups and persons, and writing as a recording and transmitting system, have be understood in the same way.

Part 4, 'Personal Reality', starts with examination of scientific revaluations, evolutionary views of science, relativism or absolutism, personal knowledge and truth and demolished idols, and proceeds to moral and intellectual reality, with reference to Polanyi on modern dynamic societies, Marxism, moral inversion and its spurious and new forms. Finally, Paksi considers the future of personal reality with respect to truth and morality, God and matter, evolution and emergence, science and wisdom, and a general conclusion."



"Paksi follows Polanyi in rightly insisting that radically new orders and levels of reality have come into existence, especially those of life, then perception and intelligence, and finally that of self-responsible persons. Again, he is rightly critical of Darwin and Darwinism which can only explain the micro-evolution of changes within species, and not the macro-evolution of new orders or levels. In any case, 'natural selection', like the 'artificial selection' of plant and animal breeders, can 'select' only from what exists. Hence it is explicitly a theory of survival and extinction, and not of how something quite new comes into existence. That Neo-Darwinism assigns to the random mutation of genes. But how have genes emerged? As Paksi rightly says, Darwinism presupposes life and cannot account for its emergence. Again, he rightly argues that evolution presupposes the reality of time and thus the 'diachronic reduction' of tracing the stages of emergent entities back to their physical source (But is that a confusing new use of 'reduction'?), whereas the 'synchronic reductions' of materialism deny its reality. But, surely, the physical level of the universe is also constantly in motion and undergoing changes. Moreover while the equations measuring its processes can be reversed, there are innumerable processes that cannot be reversed: splashes of liquids, diffusion of energy, heat and light, all biological processes especially those from life to death. It is only an infatuation with mathematics that leads the deniers of irreversible change and time to ignore the realities of the world around them and their own life experiences.

But he does not deal or even mention the serious and evidenced arguments that higher levels and new forms within them do not evolve from lower or previous ones, such as land animals from marine ones and homo sapiens from earlier hominids. Rather, throughout he takes the fact of continuous evolution for granted.

Paksi also rightly rejects the substitution of mathematics for the realities it is used to measure. But at this point (Vol. I, Chap. 6, 'Space, Time and Matter'), Paksi, having rightly rejected, with Einstein, Newton's absolute Time and Space (a pre-existing cosmic grid) then invokes Samuel Alexander's reinstatement of their pre-existence, but with Time, as a successive whole, irreversible, transitive and ordering, and possible only in Space. Although he recognises that both are conceptual abstractions, he then follows Alexander in treating them, not only as entities, but also as active agents, each making the other possible: time makes a three-dimensional space possible and only space can make time manifest itself. Space is therefore the lower-level condition of the emergent higher level of Time. To be frank, this looks like a combination of a mythology of the old all-inclusive and self-generating cosmos and of the Hegelian trick of turning logical relations into real and causative ones. It really ought to be demythologised. Also, though Polanyi did mention it (with respect to equipotentiality, when one part of an organism takes over the operations of another but defective or absent one, Personal Knowledge, pp. 337ff.), events on higher levels can disturb the operations of lower ones, as when chronic worry can cause stomach ulcers. It also means that randomness can occur even in the lowest level, and therefore that all levels are 'open' ones and none are wholly deterministic and therefore not completely closed, contrary to what Paksi claims in Vol. Chap. 4.4.

I now come to the central question of what brings into existence all the novel higher levels, each with its own autonomous 'operation principles' and 'rules of rightness'. The whole point of the refutation of scientistic reductionism is that the operations of any lower level cannot account for the emergence and operations of the next higher level, though, as Paksi and Polanyi rightly show, they can account for disruptions and breakdowns in and of them, as certain drugs disturb our mental operations while others can prove fatal. Therefore how can their existence and autonomous operations be explained? Every theory of evolution has to answer this question. But purely intramundane attempts fail to do so in one way or another. Some frequently used pseudo-explanations are: to deny that emergence and higher levels do not exist; to hold that they can be explained by those of the physical level; to use equivocal words such as 'élan vital', 'nisus', 'feeling' and 'decision' across the levels of existence; or say it happens slowly as if yet more of the same at longer intervals could amount to something radically new.

At this crucial point Polanyi and Paksi, being determined to avoid any divine creation and intervention, and, in Paksi's case also to avoid any 'dualism' of body and soul while allowing that both exist, resort to claiming that the operation principles of each level bring those levels into existence!2 Nor, as already mentioned, can Alexander's Space and Time create each other, nor can Stephen Hawking's 'law of gravity' create the universe,3 let alone do so necessarily. But operational principles, like the laws of nature are not entities, let alone causative agents, but are human formulations of actual relations among real entities, which do not 'obey' them nor are 'governed' by them. Such talk needs to be recognised as the anthropomorphism that it is, as does the 'harnessing' of lower levels by the higher. Instead a clear recognition of the daily facts of 'downwards causation', as I now compose this review, is needed. Frankly, I am surprised that the lengths to which very clever people can go to avoid questions about the absolute presuppositions to which they cling at all costs, and am pained that Polanyi, of all people, should do so, in spite of everything he rightly says about the reality, distinctiveness and autonomy of higher levels. The only coherent conclusion is that they cannot 'emerge' at all from the existing ones, and thus only an extramundane and creative agent can bring about a genuinely multilevel universe."