Universal Internalization and its Role in Human and Cosmic History

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Cadell Last:

"Throughout this temporal history of complexity thresholds, the universe has started to ‘internalize’ itself through a ‘progressive’ synthesis or sublation of itself. In order to capture this process of universal ‘internalization’ we can say that the complexifying universe started to form a minimal level of internal self-relation (Maturana and Varela 1991). What are the consequences of this progressive internalization? How is it connected to complexification? How should we understand the complexity of narrative given its irreducibly internal nature? Indeed, the very emergence of a Big History community represents this synthetic sublation process of internalization where the universe attempts to conceptualize itself as a totality. What we seek here to do is put a narrative emphasis on the consequences of this internalization motion as something of significance to future Big Historical research.


The agricultural and industrial revolutions are not events constituted in an observerless, narrative-less realm, but irreducibly within and by observers constituted by narrative self-action. The difference here for the Big Historical future is that for Complexity Threshold 9 the observers are ‘meta-aware’ of their narrative position in the Big Historical drama.


Big Historical interiorization during complexification suggests that complexification is somehow related to interiorization, of the universe becoming increasingly conscious of itself (Teilhard de Chardin 1955). Consequently, the passive reflection correspondence between human epistemological constructs (i.e., Big History narrative) and the ontological nature of reality (i.e., physical evolution of universe) becomes simply untenable in relation to the future of the present moment. For example, in contemporary science the inadequacy of passive epistemological reflection becomes unavoidable when reflecting on the future of conscious and technolo- gical evolution (Kurzweil 2005), the connections between physics and computation (Lloyd 2006), and a future physics dependent on observation (Smolin 2001). In all of these contemporary scientific domains we are dealing with a situation where epistemological constructs or narratives must be inscribed into the ontological nature of the thing under observation.


How does the modern global subject who has internalized the whole of nature change modern global society? Is there a thinkable universality that emerges that actually transcends mere reductions to an observer tethered to scientific reflection correspondence? In this perspective of Big Historical internalization the conflict or tension between the modernist scientific constructionist view seeking universal totality and the postmodern critical view seeking to deconstruct universal totality seem to gain new dimensions.


Past humans engaged in symbolic totalization (e.g., Biblical, Newtonian, Marxist, etc.), and we are continuing this evolution of symbolic totalization with new/different content (in the Big Historical sense, the content of cosmic evolution and the theory of complexity science). Thus, when the observer is within the system we must attempt to think the psychoanalytic ‘metastructure’ of the symbolic order. In this metastructure there is no unifying ‘metalanguage’ between particular historical subjectivities that would unify knowledge of being.

The narrativistic present is somehow related to ethical-political directives (or backgrounds) that must be stabilized across time. These ethical directives/backgrounds are by no means relativistic, but rather, absolute (Jameson 2013). Indeed, what we often find in the ethical-political directives of symbolic orders is often an invariant desire expressed under conceptual unity independent of particular historical instantiations of narrative frame (i.e., Biblical, Newtonian, Marxist, etc.).


The Biblical narrative centers subjectivity in relation to a past ‘Eden’ and a future ‘God’, the Newtonian narrative centers subjectivity in relation to an ‘Eternal Spacetime’ (with no beginning and no end), the Marxist narrative centers subjectivity in relation to a past ‘Primitive Communism’ and a future ‘Global Communism’. This is not to say that any of these narrativistic temporalities are literally true in a materialist sense (i.e., ‘Eden/God’, ‘Eternal Spacetime’, ‘Primitive/World Communism’). However, it is the case that these narrativistic temporalities are metaphorical truths for subjectivity that have stabilized action in the realm of history. Furthermore, these metaphorical truths have had real material consequences in the establishment of Christian, Physicalist, and Communist societies.


Do Big Historians actually operate on this ethical political background direc- tive? Do they reflect deeply enough on this ethical political background directive? Are there alternative possible ethical political background directives? These are what we may call ‘higher order’ internalization issues of the symbolic order.


We cannot think of contemporary Big History ‘objectively’ independent of its possible failure to reconcile planetary civilization and help instantiate a totally other observationally narrativized world. It is in this sense that we think of Big History as not simply a story about being but a story that constitutes (this temporal era of) being itself. It is in this sense that the Big History narrative is conceived as an integral part of the larger conceptual becoming of the concept itself. Can Big History think this concept in its becoming?


Towards the possibility to think this within Big History we may note that in past complexity thresholds (e.g., 6 and 7) there have not only been quantitative increases in information processing (Delahaye and Vidal 2016) and energy flows (Chaisson 2011b), but also qualitative changes in internal experience (Thompson 2010; Deacon 2011).


In this sense we call attention to higher order evolution of the symbolic order. Symbolic orders create and transform the processual content of our future through a multiplicity of frames of reference.


Can we consider the epistemological orders of cybernetics as a structuring moment for an ontology of the symbolic ?


The higher order focus here becomes self-action on the level of historical totality. In the inclusivity of each order we must reflectively take into consideration more observation and more of the consequences of observation internal to the system. The external world thus loses its objective quality and gains a complex matrix of multiple internalizations. However, as mentioned, this complex matrix is not ‘infinite’ in its possible viable interpretations, but rather must possess a metastructure that limits the range of interpretation.


There may not be a metalanguage unifying all modern global subjects but rather a unified metastructural matrix of symbolic desire expressed temporally.


We see that the problem of the ‘true’ or ‘real’ Other/Background is more and more a feature of the symbolic order in terms of what is often referred to as ‘post-Truth politics’.

Box: Higher Orders of Symbolic Evolution:

  • 1 In the first order of cybernetics we are attempting to think the external physical world as it is in itself. For contemporary Big History this would be something like the ‘big bang to global civilization’ narrative

=> Physical sciences; Knowledge of the world

  • 2 In the second order we are thinking of the observer's relation to the external physical world as it is in itself. For our purposes this would be a particular Big History researcher's relation to the Big History narrative

=> Deconstruction, Critique; Knowledge of our knowledge of the world

  • 3 In the third order we are thinking of the observer's relation to its own internal states of mind including conscious images, visions, symbols, and so forth. For our purposes this would be the genesis of representational modes to relate to self and world

=> Psychoanalysis, Psychology; Self-knowledge

  • 4 In the fourth order we are thinking of the observer's relation to the social-historical world and the way in which a self-narrative structures or centers its conception of time and direction of action. For our purposes this would be the self-action of a Big Historian or a Big History community

=> History, Sociology; Self-knowledge, its action and consequences

  • 5 In the fifth order we are thinking of the totality of observational relation to the social-historical world and the way in which the totality of self-narratives structure or center conception of time and direction of action. For our purposes this would be the self-action of all historical narrativization

=> Religion, Philosophy; Self-society knowledge, its action and consequences "