April 9, 2009

The Logic of Human Destiny?

Although we certainly have some issues with Robert Wright's 'primitive' understanding of historical emergence (i.e., the simplicity and linearity of his cultural stage conception), we recommend his books and believe integral enthusiasts would take a much more open and critical approach when sifting through his many speculative evaluations.

Below Wright describes his views on human emergence and the 'logic' of civilizational evolution:
The Logic of Human Destiny

By Robert Wright

One way to describe my book NONZERO is as an exercise in natural theology. I examine the whole history of our species--from the primordial ooze to the world wide web--and then ask whether that history shows any evidence of higher purpose. The first four paragraphs of the book's introduction set out my agenda pretty straightforwardly. Here they are:

The Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg once ended a book on this note: "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless." Far be it from me to argue with a great physicist about how depressing physics is. For all I know, Weinberg's realm of expertise, the realm of inanimate matter, really does offer no evidence of higher purpose. But when we move into the realm of animate matter--bacteria, cellular slime molds, and, most notably, human beings--the situation strikes me as different. The more closely we examine the drift of biological evolution and, especially, the drift of human history, the more there seems to be a point to it all. Because in neither case is "drift" really the right word. Both of these processes have a direction, an arrow. At least, that is the thesis of this book.

People who see a direction in human history, or in biological evolution, or both, have often been dismissed as mystics or flakes. In some ways, it's hard to argue that they deserve better treatment. The philosopher Henri Bergson believed that organic evolution is driven forward by a mysterious "elan vital," a vital force. But why posit something so ethereal when we can explain evolution's workings in the wholly physical terms of natural selection? Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit theologian, saw human history moving toward "Point Omega." But how seriously could he expect historians to take him, given that Point Omega is "outside Time and Space"?

On the other hand, you have to give Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin some credit. Both saw that organic evolution has a tendency to create forms of life featuring greater and greater complexity. And Teilhard de Chardin, in particular, stressed a comparable tendency in human history: the evolution, over the millennia, of ever more vast and complex social structures. His extrapolations from this trend were prescient. Writing at the middle of this century, he dwelt on telecommunications, and the globalization it abets, before these subjects were all the rage. (Marshall McLuhan, coiner of "global village," had read Teilhard.) With his concept of the "noosphere," the "thinking envelope of the Earth," Teilhard even anticipated in a vague way the Internet--more than a decade before the invention of the microchip.
Read More: Here

ROBERT WRIGHT is a science journalist, author and Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation. His books and essays frequently appear in major magazines and on the New York Times bestseller list.

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