The last post briefly described how science understands the basic structure of the universe. However, the important phenomenon of ‘consciousness’ was not included in this basic ‘frame’. Today we will explore adding the phenomenon of complexity to this structure of science, and expanding science’s “Theory of Everything” (the ToE, as addressed in the last two posts) to include consciousness.
Science’s Fragmented Universe
Even the famous atheist, Richard Dawkins, recognizes the potential for living things in the basic framing of the universe:
“It follows from the fact of our existence that the laws of physics must be friendly enough to allow life to arise.”
Most materialists, including Dawkins, however are unable to explain phenomena like consciousness as other than the result of neuron firings among the specialized cells of the brain, themselves made up of highly complex molecules. Essentially, this point of view sees the human as just a large group of molecules with random activity in its neurological system that accidentally allows it to think. Indeed, the specialized cells that make up these systems are themselves the result of the accidental, random emergence of the cell which is the basis for all life. Even though the theory of Natural Selection may be able to explain the explosion of cells into the ‘tree of life’, the two most amazing steps in the evolution of living things, the cell and reflective consciousness, are seen as ‘accidental’. As a result, the intuition of science that the universe is basically intelligible and unified degrades to one which sees it as accidental and incurably piecemeal.
From this fragmented point of view,
- the Standard Model of physics treats the era of pre-life;
- Natural Selection addresses biology up until the human;
- psychology seemingly addresses the human.
Three great but non-overlapping thinking systems are thus required for the three great eras of evolution and their unique entities.
Complexity- the Remaining Key Framing Component of an Evolving Universe
You might think that enough has been said about the phenomenon of complexity, but it suddenly becomes the thread which links these three phases of evolution, with their three types of entities and potentially their three schools of thought, adding both the characteristics of ‘intelligibility’ and ‘unity’ into human understanding of the universe.
The fact that each step of evolution in the pre-life era produces a new ‘species’ of matter from those elements that existed prior to it seems unremarkably obvious, and is an axiom of the scientific understanding of evolution. In the last post we saw that science posits a small loss of energy with each activation of force (entropy). Now we can see that what seems to be implicitly acknowledged but not explicitly addressed by science is that each of the steps, with their small quantum of entropy, is also accompanied by a small but essential and unquantifiable increase in complexity.
Each of these new species of matter is marked by two distinct differences from its parent.
- First, it is more structurally complex: it incorporates more elements into its structure than before, as the Oxygen atom includes more electrons, protons and neutrons than does the Hydrogen atom.
- Second, this structural enrichment endows the element with an increased capacity for union with other elements on the same rung of evolution. This increased capacity makes a few basic forces and entities capable of effecting hundreds of types of atoms capable of effecting millions of types of molecules. To the ‘X’ and ‘Y’ axes of structure, therefore, complexity adds a ‘Z’ axis which points its development in the direction of further increase in structure and connectivity. This dual manifestation of complexity (upward and forward), which can be seen in the evolution of the most elemental granules of matter, continues to manifest itself over the entire course of the evolution of the universe. It can still be observed, as we have seen, in the human person.
Without this essential characteristic of growth, the universe that we know would never have happened. No matter which elemental rung of evolution is chosen as a starting point; quarks, electrons, protons, atoms, molecules or cells; without ascent to the next rung of evolution the universe would have grown cold and stale very quickly. Science accounts for the ‘X’ and ‘Y’ dimensions of structure very well in the Standard Model, but the axis of ‘Z’, the increased structure and capacity for union, the axis of ascent to higher degrees of complexity, is missing from the model. Addition of it provides the missing piece that makes the phenomenon of evolution possible and unites the three stages of evolution. The universe moves from accidental to continuous, from inexplicable to intelligible, from piecemeal to unified. More importantly, it provides a place for the human person in the constructs of science.
The addition of a quantum of complexity to the framing of the universe is therefore both necessary to the understanding of the phenomenon of evolution and essential for establishing a context in which an entity with the complexity of the human person can be seen as a natural, expected outcome (thus far) of the evolution of the universe.
Complexity is the characteristic that extends the Standard Model to the whole fabric of the universe.
Teilhard’s view of evolution, therefore, is that it is
“..anti-entropic, running counter to the second law of thermodynamics with its degradation of energy and its tendency to uniformity. With the aid of the sun’s energy, biological evolution marches uphill, producing increased variety and higher degrees of organization”.
Once complexity is understood as a phenomenon which is just as necessary to the march of evolution as the rest of the forces addressed by the ToE, the incorporation of ‘Everything’ into the theory is assured.
- It accounts for the ‘advancement’ of the products of evolution to ever more organized states
- It applies equally to the three major stages of evolution
- It incorporates all the products of evolution, not just those of ‘pre-life’. For the first time the vision of science now contains a bridge to the human person, and psychology can be understood in the true perspective of universal evolution: complexity emerging in the form of the human person
In the words of Teilhard:
“The true physics is that which will, one day, achieve the inclusion of man in his wholeness in a coherent picture of the world”
The Coherent Universe
Thus, once the missing action of increased complexity is added to science’s ToE, the universe, now understood as encompassing everything within it, including living things, including the human person, can be conceived as totally coherent. Teilhard sees the characteristic of ‘coherency’ as the essential characteristic of ‘truth’:
“The truth is nothing but the total coherence of the universe in relation to each part of itself. To explain scientifically is to include the facts in a general coherent interpretation.”
“So, in the scientific manner, a hypothesis derives its whole value and power from the harmony and coherence it supplies as soon as it is accepted.”
From this perspective, to understand the universe in a way that everything in it can be seen in a single context, as coherent, is indeed a substantial move towards a true “Theory of Everything”.
Life, and more importantly to us, reflectively conscious life, is therefore not a by-product, an accidental epi-phenomenon of the universe, but can now be seen as the fundamental phenomenon that it truly is: the most logical and natural outcome of the process of evolution through its three stages.
The ultimate framing of the universe, with this critical aspect of structure now added, can now truly be understood as an architecture in which it becomes itself.
Or, as Teilhard expresses it,
“God does not make things: He makes things make themselves.”
The Next Post
Now that the universe can be seen to be ‘framed’ in such a way as to include life, and particularly conscious life, we can begin to explore the principles of such a universe. The next post will overview the basic ‘framing forces’ of this universe, seeing them as just as cohesive as the universe which they effect.