Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Henri Bergson, Sri Aurobindo, Samuel Alexander, and Teilhard de Chardin

Emergent evolution is the theory that, in the course of evolution, some entirely new properties, such as life and consciousness, appear at certain critical points, usually because of an unpredictable rearrangement of the already existing entities. The word emergent was first used to describe the concept by George Lewes in volume two of his 1875 book Problems of Life and Mind (p. 412). Henri Bergson covered similar themes in the popular book Creative Evolution in 1907. It was further developed by Samuel Alexander in his Gifford Lectures at Glasgow during 1916–18 and published as Space, Time, and Deity (1920). The term emergent evolution was coined by C. Lloyd Morgan in his own Gifford lectures of 1921–22 at St. Andrews and published as Emergent Evolution (1923). In an appendix to one lecture in his book, Morgan acknowledged the contributions of Roy Wood Sellars' Evolutionary Naturalism (1922).
Coming to Emergent Evolution from the other direction, metaphysical and spiritual thinkers like Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo see evolution as an emerging out of matter of higher qualities, culminating in the spiritual culmination that Teilhard terms the Omega Point and Sri Aurobindo Supramentalisation. Although both Teilhard and Aurobindo advocate a teleological stance, what they say is also pure Emergant paradigm. Carl Jung is another great visionary who seems to hold an emergent theory of evolution (the Collective Unconscious and then Consciousness evolving out of the original nonconscious biological and elemental substratum), even if he does not articulate it such a specific or clear manner.
There are interesting parallels between Sri Aurobindo's vision and that of Teilhard de Chardin (see e.g. K.D. Sethna 1973 Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo - a focus on fundamentals).
Samuel Alexander (1859 - 1938) was an Australian-born British philosopher...Two key concepts for Alexander are those of an 'emergent quality' and the idea of emergent evolution...The question went largely unanswered and his work is mostly ignored (or, at best, little known) these days. Alexander was a contemporary of Alfred North Whitehead, whom he influenced, and mentored others who went on to become major figures in 20th century British philosophy.
Murphy described Aurobindo as an "emergent" philosopher comparable to Lloyd Morgan and Samuel Alexander, because each would agree that there is an unpredictable creativity at work in the unfolding universe. For Aurobindo, while the entire evolutionary process is slowly making the implicit Divine explicit in the world, it is creating novel, unpredictable dimensions to the universe as well. Evolution is both an uncovering of the hidden divine and an emergence of the truly novel. An Esalen Invitational Conference February 11 - 16, 2000
Perhaps, Prof. Alexander comes a little close to Sri Aurobindo in his concept of 'the fourth principle', 'the deity'. "We cannot tell what is the nature of deity, of our deity, but we can be certain that this is not mind, or if we use the term spirit as equivalent to mind, deity is not spirit, but something different from it in kind." (Samuel Alexander, Space, Time and Deity, Vol.11, p.348) The emergence of deity does not in any case affect the earlier species, according to Prof. Alexander. The space-time matrix remains as a fixed back-drops for the new species. Man's fate is thus sealed, for he himself cannot evolve into the higher principle or race. Such is the dark suffering destiny of man. The Meaning Of The Earth - A Consciousness Approach Ananda Reddy , Ph.D.

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