Reflections on Life and Mind, Part Four
Purposes and Systems “Far from Equilibrium”
§31 One might reasonably suppose that, if life and mind really were the emergent results of composite forces, and if their relation to their ingredient parts were purely mereological, then the special qualities distinguishing them from the non-living and non-mental material order would appear only at the highest supervenient system-levels of organism, as the final result of the accumulated totality of their subvenient causal tiers. And yet we find quite the opposite to be the case. We find instead principles of unified agency, seemingly intentional powers of adaptation to new circumstances, ingenuity, the conatus essendi or will toward persistence, and all sorts of elaborate coordinations of discrete processes within every organic cell comprising a chromosome. This seems to be a fairly vast problem for both the reductionist and the emergentist pictures of things. For the former, to what is one reducing an organism in seeking to explain away the uniqueness of life or mind if even that organism’s tissues and nerves and biochemical constituents are already composed of cognitive systems? For the latter, from what are the novel properties of life and mind supposedly emergent if so many of the elementary functions of the organism are already fully invested with those properties? To posit a transition from the purely mechanical level of nature to that of life and mind (or the “appearance” of life and mind) so very near the threshold between physics and chemistry, or between chemistry and the most rudimentary organic compounds, defies the very logic of either approach to the question. And, of course, at the core of every cell with a genome is an exquisitely precise genetic code comprising sixty-four codons that have together repeated one and the same seemingly intentional structure without variation for roughly two-billion years. It is perhaps no great surprise that the accelerating advances in cell biology and molecular biology over the past few decades have occurred at roughly the same time that forms of panpsychism have begun to be taken seriously by philosophers and scientists alike. One could, perhaps, suppose that the entirety of the organism as a system, in its integrated totality, imposes discrete cognitive functions on lower levels within the system, as an apparently emergent structure of top-down agency; but what would this mean other than that within each organism there is some sort of primordial, unified, organizing principle of order and form and intelligence—in other words, a soul?
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