In the connectedness with other processes within an overall evolution, there is a meaning which is the meaning of life. We are not the helpless subjects of evolution—we are evolution.
Micro- and macrocosmos are both aspects of the same, unified and unifying evolution. Life appears no longer as a phenomenon unfolding in the universe—the universe itself becomes increasingly alive.
In a world which is creating itself, the idea of a divinity does not remain outside, but is embedded in the totality of self-organization dynamics at all levels and in all dimensions. This self-organization dynamics has been identified in an earlier chapter with mind. God, then, is not the creator, but the mind of the universe.
Life no longer appears as a thin superstructure over a lifeless physical reality, but as an inherent principle of the dynamics of the universe.
Organisms of all kinds and ecosystems are coherent systems, as are also cities, communities, and the institutions of societies.
The further the system moves away from its thermodynamic equilibrium, the more numerous become the possible structures. The possible paths of evolution resemble a decision tree with branchings at each instability threshold.
This implies a primitive, holistic system memory which appears already at the level of chemical reaction systems. The system “remembers” the initial conditions which made a particular development possible, the beginnings of each new structure in its evolution. We may say, the system is capable of re-ligio, the linking backward to its origin.
We may now characterize an evolving system as being self-referential with respect to its own evolution—that is to say, with respect to itself as a dynamic system with the potential of manifesting itself in a variety of structures, not in random order, but in coherent, evolutionary sequences.
A particular aspect of this self-determination is the principle of maximum entropy production which holds near the instability phase, in which a new structure forms. During the transition, entropy production increases significantly, whereas close to an autopoietic stable state it tends toward a minimum. In other words, the system does not spare any expense for the creative buildup of a new structure—and justifiably so as long as an inexhaustible reservoir of free energy is available in the environment. Only an established system, going for security, has to economize.
Entropy production, in this context, is nothing else but the production of structure, implying at the same time more information and more confirmation. Immediately beyond the “chaos” of the instability threshold maximum entropy production is needed to attain a certain degree of confirmation.
The interrelationship of the self-organization dynamics of material and energetic processes from chemistry through biology to sociobiology and beyond seems to point to the existence of a general dynamic system theory which is valid in a very wide domain of natural systems.
It is important to realize that the aim is not to reduce the phenomena of organic life to the level of physical-chemical analogies, but the formerly assumed separation between “antientropic” life and “entropic” inanimate world also has vanished.
The empirical description of many non-linear phenomena in the human realm shows astonishing similarities with the evolution of physical non-linear non-equilibrium systems. It may therefore be permitted to hypothesize that the theory of dissipative structures provides a general description of the dynamics of self-organizing systems where the parameters characterizing the space-time structures may be of a physical nature as well as of a social and mental nature.
The ultimate answer may perhaps be found again in a complementarity: as we elevate pluralism to our creative principle, we embed the totality of human history meaningfully into the dynamics of an overall evolution which acts as an unfolding unity. As we realize ourselves as wholes, we become an integral aspect of a universal whole. As we live to the fullest extent, we overcome cosmic cold and loneliness.
Is the universe with its macroscopic characteristic parameters and an accordingly determined dynamics a random product, or is it, at least partially, the product of a certain degree of self-organization and self-regulation?
In contrast to cosmic evolution it is not matter which is transferred, but information for the organization of matter.
In such an ultracycle, the evolution of higher complexity does not result from competition, as in the hypercycle, but from interdependence within a larger system.
We already realize that in a multilevel system which is self-organizing at least at a macroscopic and microscopic level, it is no longer the same if we assume that energy organizes matter or that the reverse holds. If the emphasis is on matter systems organizing energy, a microscopic, Darwinian description seems to follow. If the aspect of an energy system organizing matter is in the foreground, a macroscopic description in terms of ultracycles imposes itself, in which entire ecosystems evolve to higher complexity.
It is photosynthesis which transforms the biosphere into a system which is open with respect to its energy exchange, if generally not with respect to matter and information if we neglect meteorites and the already-mentioned “panspermia” hypothesis of spore transfer across cosmic space. This openness makes it possible to obtain free energy from solar radiation and to export the accruing entropy with waste-heat radiation into space. The atmosphere acts like a buffer system which stores heat and which regulates the waste-heat radiation in such a way that there are no extremal temperature differences. Might it then not be also possible that the entire biosphere together with the atmosphere acts as an autopoietic system which organizes and regulates itself?
This maintenance of individuality and partial autonomy in a multilevel semantics is characteristic for the organization and management of complexity in life.
Today, the majority of all living species—green algae, higher plants, fungi, protozoa (single-cell organisms) and animals—consists of eukaryotic cells. Only this new cell type is capable of forming cell tissues and giving rise to multicellular organisms. The number of mitochondria in a eukaryotic cell runs between one and several thousand (in vertebrates), the number of chloroplasts between one (in green algae) and several hundred. The decisive point, however, is that the organelles do not simply sum up their capabilities. The eukaryotic cell represents a newly emerged level of co-ordination, a new autopoietic system level.
Viewed toward the past, this scheme of unification of past experience appears like a tree and indeed we speak of an ancestral tree.
Evolution runs in the direction of enhanced genetic autonomy, or in other words, enhanced individuality—not referring to the individual organism but to the dynamic process in which generations follow after generations.
Cells recognize each other and associate with their own kind.
In good times, the Burmese mountain people of the Kachin live in several separate tribes which maintain trade relations with each other, but are politically independent. In scarce periods, however, when the harvests are poor, they spontaneously form a hierarchic order in which the chieftain of one tribe rules as king over the entire Kachin people. Each of these alternating phases usually lasts for decades. Such an alternating societal system seems to have characterized the Kachin for many hundred years. It represents a more or less historyless dynamics which orients itself according to the horizontal relations and shows little vertical development.
The complementarity of stochastic and deterministic factors, of novelty and confirmation, reappears at a new level.
With multicellular organisms, finally, complex societies with a division of labor appear on the macroscopic branch.
The principle of self-reproduction, which is of decisive importance for life, is not based on matter transfer, but on information transfer. To be precise, it is process programs which are transferred and which provide guidance for the formation of structures—not only material structures but also structures of relations and processes—in other words, dynamic space-time structures.
If the microevolution of life starts with an emphasis on confirmation, the macroevolution starts from the other end, from novelty. From both sides, the balance increases. The resulting optimization of balanced pragmatic information may be called the real triumph of the principle of co-evolution of macro- and microcosmos in the realm of life.
The much wider notion of ecology, in contrast, includes all co-operative processes which take part in a self-organizing system which in turn is composed of biological self-organizing systems. The term “co-operative” is viewed here from the angle of the overall system and includes competition and predator-prey relationships although it would be difficult for the affected individuals to recognize the co-operative aspect. Both sociobiology and ecology are thus characterized by a minimum of two semantic levels, the level of the individual organisms on the one hand and the level of the macrosystem on the other. The number of semantic levels may, of course, be higher than two if the macrosystem differentiates further.
In symbiosis, the advantage of co-operation between two organisms lies in the improved viability of the emergent total system which represents a higher level.
Of special interest are ecosystems whose evolution may be observed within long periods of time. The biomass, i.e. the mass of all life in the system, increases, usually also the primary production from direct photosynthesis (plants) as well. But these two factors do not increase at the same ratio. With the formation of a complex system of trophic levels the energy derived from the same primary production may be handed on from level to level, even if only to a relatively small extent. The total system’s efficiency of energy utilization increases and so does the total energy stored in the system.
If, however, we consider the ecosystem as an energy system which manifests itself in the organization of matter, maximum “engagement” in matter (i.e. energy storage) and maximum process intensity (i.e. entropy production) are the criteria for optimal stability. This may explain to some extent why the most differentiated and mature ecosystems occur at high temperatures.
Continuously accept the challenge of physical unfolding.
Novelty is continuously transformed into confirmation, as in every life process. Novelty always enters with fluctuations which break through. However, it is decreasingly environmental influences which dominate but the evolutionary self-organization dynamics of the system itself. We may recognize again the urge toward higher autonomy which may be interpreted as an urge toward higher consciousness.
Management geared to equilibrium may ruin ecosystems.
Sometimes I cannot help imagining a powerful Mother Evolution stirring the soup in the pot of life with no other purpose in mind than to keep things moving and thereby stimulate innovation.
The ultimate principle of evolution does not seem to be adaptation, but transformation and the creative diversification of evolution.
Mind is immanent, not in a solid spatial structure, but in the processes in which the system organizes and renews itself and evolves.
The self-reflexive mind may now become totally emancipated and set out on its own course of evolution. It is not “we” who think, but “it” thinks in us. Mind becomes a creative factor not only in image-forming, but also in the active transformation of outer reality. This role of the self-reflexive mind blossoms fully in the human world.
The macrosystems of life—societies, ecosystems, and even the world-wide Gaia system—have mind, too.
With the capability of abstraction the emancipation from the reality of the outer world becomes possible. On the other hand, the neocortex receives sensory data from the outer world. Thus, there is not only the symmetry break between the outer world and its symbolic abstraction. The abstraction—we may also say, the idea or the vision—superimposes itself over the existing reality and starts the creative process of the transformation of the outer world.
If a person appears as totally predictable, as pure confirmation of our expectations, love has died.
Science itself, a field of activity par excellence of the neural mind, has fallen into the traps of the limbic brain and in some stubborn cases even into the traps of the reptilian brain by narrowing down to specific teachings and by claiming to represent knowledge exclusively and absolutely. There is no small irony in the fact that “objectivity”-claiming science originates in the most subjective aspect of evolution, namely, the self-reflexive mind.
Out of the autopoiesis and evolution of mental, especially neural, structures emerges the magnificent wealth of human creativity. On the one hand it creates with technology a world of equilibrium structures, on the other with art and social institutions and organizations as well as in science and in the great religions and ideologies autopoietic/evolving systems of a symbolic as well as a real kind. It enters into new forms of symbiosis with other forms of life, in particular in agriculture and in the management of ecological resources.
A closed process circle exists in the system which, however, is linked to the environment through other exchange processes. A system which is isolated toward its environment can only devolve in the direction of its equilibrium and when the latter is reached, the processes come to a standstill. Dissipative self-organization always involves exchange with the environment. We may speak of cyclical or closed organization in a system which in its totality, however, is not isolated.
Evolution is never total adaptation. It always requires destabilization, the reaching out, the self-presentation which offers new symbiotic relations, the risk accompanying all innovation. Evolution at all levels includes freedom of action as well as the recognition of a ubiquitous systemic interdependence.
Genetic communication is much more tangible because it transmits information which is stored in conservative structures. We may now speak in a general way of genealogical communication in which the conservative structures may be DNA as well as neural memory, books or works of art, buildings, roads, and other artifacts.
Significant changes may be in the offing, as is already becoming evident in the initial phases of introducing a societal electronic (neural) communication system. The days already seem far behind, in which wars and other major events affected only a part of the world. Today, the awareness of world-wide interdependence increases at a fast pace—which is partly due to the daily reporting of the electronic media. Fluctuations such as student unrest and abductions on airplanes, but also protests against the slaughter of seal pups and dolphins and other ecological crimes spread quickly around the whole world. The same is true of scientific concepts and discoveries.
The development of higher complexity along the axis of phylogeny requires conservative information storage which permits each step to build on the achievements of the former steps. Genetic communication works with such a conservative storage as does generally all genealogical communication over many generations. Sociocultural genealogy uses the outer storage facilities of buildings, scripts, and works of art. They contribute to the phylogeny of the neural mind.
Communication does not include any transfer of products or knowledge from one system to another, but is based on the reorientation of the indigenous processes—in other words, the cognitive domain, or the mind—of a system by the self-presentation of another system and the processes which are indigenous to it. The verbal description of a colorful sunset transmits nothing of the real experience, if not by way of remembering a comparable experience of one’s own. In other words, cognition falls here together with re-cognition, presentation becomes re-presentation.
In symbiosis, each system sacrifices part of its individual autonomy and gains in exchange the participation in a superordinate system and a new level of autonomy, with which the superordinate system establishes itself in the environment. Autopoiesis becomes modified in such a way that it plays now simultaneously at two semantic levels, the level of the individual subsystems and the level of the overall system. Thus, symbiosis leads to the formation of hierarchical organization in which, however, the lower levels partially maintain their autonomy. Societies and ecosystems are special forms of symbiotic systems. Just as the symbiosis of organelles secures the metabolism of the cell and the symbiosis of cells the metabolism of the organism, symbiotic systems of organisms secure the metabolism at the sociobiological or ecological level.
What evolves in phylogenetic development to higher complexity, is organization—an organization which, in principle, may be realized independently of time and space, as long as the environment is favorable.
In the sociocultural phase of evolution the individual becomes co-responsible for macroevolution. The process of mentation originates in the individual, but the autopoietic structures of the neural mind form their own systems of relations which become translated into sociocultural macrosystems such as communities, societies, and civilizations. In the same way, the neural mind shapes a world of equilibrium structures, such as buildings, machines, and roads and interferes creatively with ecosystems, for example, by introducing agriculture.
The self-transcendence of evolutionary processes, the reaching out beyond boundaries, is largely still a mystery. But it is possible to see the contours of systemic interdependencies which might bring some light into the dark. The key notion seems to be symbiosis which elevates the microevolution of life to higher levels.
Knowledge itself becomes an evolving system which manifests itself in a sequence of different structures.
It seems that we frequently confuse indeterminacy and chance. Indeterminacy is the freedom available at each level which, however, cannot jump over the shadow of its own history. Evolution is the history of an unfolding complexity, not the history of random processes. Out of this fog emerge the contours of a world in which nothing is random but much is indetermined and free within limits.
Not only the universe as a spatial structure is becoming increasingly self-reflexive, its evolutionary process itself is becoming self-referential.
More complex organisms, on the other hand, not only represent their own history, but also the history of their species and their whole phylum back to the origins of their evolution. Ecosystems, societies, and civilizations, too, become the more expressive with respect to their history the more complex and mature they become.
Complexity and exchange with the environment enhance the individuality and therefore also the consciousness of systems.
The four-dimensional “total experience of evolution,” as it is attained in the last step of integration with the dynamics of the universe—the step of meaning—is a theme which in itself is inexhaustible.
Evolution, starting from present-oriented physical and chemical structures, gradually integrates the past in biological development and the future in neural development into the life processes of the individual systems. It is interesting that neural (sociocultural) evolution re-enacts the integration of the past into the present at a new level—and not in the same sequence as biochemical and biological evolution.
I believe that the evolutionary trend toward ever more complete time- and space-binding may be explained in terms of a three-fold, self-organizing post hoc recognizable “purpose.” Primo, the result is an extraordinary intensification of life. Not only the experience of past evolution, but also the experience of anticipated future evolution vibrates in the present. This is the true significance of the frequently misused and misunderstood slogan of living in the “here and now.”
In re-ligio, each system becomes its own origin and the center of evolution—or, in reverse, evolution places its origin and center into each self-organizing system.
It becomes obvious now that the universe with its complex life forms is becoming increasingly self-reflexive and self-knowing not only with respect to its morphology, but also with respect to its morphogenetic dynamics. Morphological structures may be studied in the present, dynamics only in a temporal extension. With the inclusion of the entire time dimension of evolution, from a distant past into a (perhaps less distant) future, and with the partial inclusion of events in distant space, the total process of evolution becomes increasingly subject to direct experience. In a certain sense, we may let the process of evolution act within us in a holistic way, especially in meditative states of consciousness and in the highest intensity of life, in love.
Not poverty and need, but excess and greed reduce life to a merely material level. Natural life is co-ordinated and vibrates in many levels and thereby gains dignity and beauty.
Social systems, corporations, and states are natural multilevel systems and accordingly should not be organized as control hierarchies, in which decisions and orders are handed from the top down. A rigid and centralized world government is not the proper solution for the emergent world problématique.
How is evolution to continue in the human world?
No complex system is ever truly stable; it is always, as long as it maintains its structure, metastable.
The resistance of an autopoietic structure against its evolution which, at the same time, implies the destruction of the old structure, is included as an essential aspect in the comprehensive dynamics of evolution. No autopoietic structure can stabilize itself forever, but it has, nevertheless, to defend itself to its utmost and to damp the fluctuations. If it would not do this, nothing much would come of evolution. The higher the resistance against structural change, the more powerful the fluctuations which ultimately break through—the richer and more varied also the unfolding of self-organization dynamics at the platform of a resilient structure. The more splendid the unfolding of mind, as we may also put it.
To live in an evolutionary spirit means to engage with full ambition and without any reserve in the structure of the present, and yet to let go and flow into a new structure when the right time has come.
The future will be largely determined by two factors, besides others. One concerns the progressive weakening of control hierarchies with respect to human systems as well as the accompanying abandonment of the idea of a single, monolithic cultural guiding image. The other factor concerns the strengthening of the autonomy—that is to say, of the consciousness—of subsystems.
Standing on dry land on one bank and watching the stream go by corresponds to a rational attitude. If we try to steer our canoe in the stream, in direct interaction with its forces and keeping proper distance from both banks, we are taking a mythological attitude—we enter into a direct relationship with the life forces around us, we deal with them at their proper level, we become involved and try to influence the overall process. But if we imagine that we are the stream, just as a group of water molecules is the stream and at the same time only one of its aspects, we are experiencing an evolutionary attitude.
It is time now to realize in explicit terms that the unqualified belief in the majority principle—or, in other words, in the rule of the average—can only serve to transfer the motor function of sociocultural dynamics from the creative individual to an impersonal system. “Thou’rt shoved thyself, imagining to shove,” Mephistopheles exclaims mockingly. Perhaps the most profound political paradox of our time lies in the need for “elitist” fluctuations to turn self-determination into evolutionary, creative self-transcendence. The only alternative is equilibrium—the equilibrium of spiritual, social, and cultural death.
We have not fallen from grace by developing the capability of rational thought—if we use the latter in its proper context. On the contrary, we are called upon to enhance the evolutionary process within and around ourselves by assuming responsibility for it at our appropriate level of evolution, the sociocultural level. Planning becomes an instrument of evolution, not just of our technological environment, but, more importantly, of our own evolution as well.
In a multilevel, evolving reality, opposites vanish ultimately. There is no “good” and “evil.” It is utterly childish to feel ashamed of evolution like the Nobel Laureate whom I recently heard profess to it with much empathy. With the partial exception of photosynthesizing plants, all life lives off other life—and we still do, even if we do not devour our prey in the open fields, but employ slaughterhouses and specialists for the preparation of our food.
Like any dissipative phenomenon, life unfolds in an energy stream, transforming free energy into entropy. In the case of our planet, the sun-earth-space system provides the temperature gradient in which the solar flux from the sun penetrates the atmosphere and the biosphere (the Gaia system) and becomes degraded in the process. By this inclusion of the cosmos as an energy source as well as a sink, the environment takes care of the energy exchange and becomes practically inexhaustible. In this way only does dissipative self-organization on earth become possible on a large scale.
Man is the only creature to use exosomatic tools, such as machines and vehicles, in a massive way. Their operation requires much more energy than the living parts of the system. Sociocultural systems only partly obey the laws of biological life. If self-organizing systems from chemical dissipative structures to ecosystems are self-limiting, technology represents a world of equilibrium structures whose growth is not self-limiting. Their energetic aspect refers to mixed equilibrium/non-equilibrium systems—or man/technology systems.
Does the temporally and spatially extremely dense transformation of the earth by sociocultural evolution announce a further step of self-transcendence?
The urge for cosmic connections, for a symbiosis of mankind with life and intelligence beyond our earth, cannot be simply explained away as an “escape from reality.” It reflects the urge to establish a deeper connection with evolution and thus to what we ourselves represent. The extension of our consciousness is self-reference at the same time as it is cosmic reference.
In a dualistic world view it used to be the muse of divine inspiration which used the artist as an instrument. In the non-dualistic world view, however, the creative process appears as an aspect of evolutionary self-organization.
In a mystical experience of the ‘Self’-state we become conscious of what we are unaware of in the ‘I’-state: of being the consciousness of the universe.
The epicultural process is the learning process of mankind-at-large. Just as in the epigenetic process life may partially (and only partially!) circumvent the evolutionary sequence of genetic information, an epicultural process might partly circumvent the evolutionary sequence of events of which it makes us aware. Out of events which are remote from each other in time and space, new webs of meaning grow, a totally new four-dimensional reality.
Natural history, including the history of man, may now be understood as the history of the organization of matter and energy.
Mind appears now as self-organization dynamics at many levels, as a dynamics which itself evolves. In this respect, all natural history is also history of mind. Self-transcendence, the evolution of evolutionary processes, is this evolution of the mind. It does not unfold in a vacuum, but becomes manifest in the self-organization of material, energetic and informational processes.
Mankind is not redeemed by a god but redeems itself.
God abandons himself many times in a sequence of evolutions in which he transforms himself, accepting all the risks introduced by indeterminacy and free will in the play of evolutionary processes. God is thus not absolute, he evolves himself—he is evolution. Since we have called the self-organizing dynamics of a system its mind, we may now say that God is not the creator, but the mind of the universe.
Might nature ultimately fathom itself?
The objective urge to understand leads to the most profound subjective experience, the subjective urge for security to pseudo-objectivity in the detail which fails to grasp the whole. Here, a last dualism becomes dissolved: understanding is not static knowledge, but itself an evolutionary process in which subjectivity and objectivity are complementary to each other.
In self-transcendence we reach not only beyond our own limits as individuals, but also beyond the limits of mankind. The fascination held by the evolution of mankind pales in comparison with the fascination held by a universal evolution whose integral aspect we are. In such an attitude, we would not only further the conditions for our own life, but also the conditions of all life which we are capable of influencing.
With the capability of self-reflexion we have become the mind of a universe becoming increasingly aware of itself.
It is not only the universe, but also the process of evolution itself which is becoming increasingly self-reflexive.