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Author Information: Luca Tateo, Aalborg University & Federal University of Bahia, luca@hum.aau.dk.

Tateo, Luca. “Ethics, Cogenetic Logic, and the Foundation of Meaning.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 12 (2018): 1-8.

The pdf of the article gives specific page references. Shortlink: https://wp.me/p1Bfg0-44i

Mural entitled “Paseo de Humanidad” on the Mexican side of the US border wall in the city of Heroica Nogales, in Sonora. Art by Alberto Morackis, Alfred Quiróz and Guadalupe Serrano.
Image by Jonathan McIntosh, via Flickr / Creative Commons

 

This essay is in reply to: Miika Vähämaa (2018) Challenges to Groups as Epistemic Communities: Liminality of Common Sense and Increasing Variability of Word Meanings, Social Epistemology, 32:3, 164-174, DOI: 10.1080/02691728.2018.1458352

In his interesting essay, Vähämaa (2018) discusses two issues that I find particularly relevant. The first one concerns the foundation of meaning in language, which in the era of connectivism (Siemens, 2005) and post-truth (Keyes, 2004) becomes problematic. The second issue is the appreciation of epistemic virtues in a collective context: how the group can enhance the epistemic skill of the individual?

I will try to explain why these problems are relevant and why it is worth developing Vähämaa’s (2018) reflection in the specific direction of group and person as complementary epistemic and ethic agents (Fricker, 2007). First, I will discuss the foundations of meaning in different theories of language. Then, I will discuss the problems related to the stability and liminality of meaning in the society of “popularity”. Finally I will propose the idea that the range of contemporary epistemic virtues should be integrated by an ethical grounding of meaning and a co-genetic foundation of meaning.

The Foundation of Meaning in Language

The theories about the origins of human language can be grouped in four main categories, based on the elements characterizing the ontogenesis and glottogenesis.

Sociogenesis Hypothesis (SH): it is the idea that language is a conventional product, that historically originates from coordinated social activities and it is ontogenetically internalized through individual participation to social interactions. The characteristic authors in SH are Wundt, Wittgenstein and Vygotsky (2012).

Praxogenesis Hypothesis (PH): it is the idea that language historically originates from praxis and coordinated actions. Ontogenetically, the language emerges from senso-motory coordination (e.g. gaze coordination). It is for instance the position of Mead, the idea of linguistic primes in Smedslund (Vähämaa, 2018) and the language as action theory of Austin (1975).

Phylogenesis Hypothesis (PhH): it is the idea that humans have been provided by evolution with an innate “language device”, emerging from the evolutionary preference for forming social groups of hunters and collective long-duration spring care (Bouchard, 2013). Ontogenetically, language predisposition is wired in the brain and develops in the maturation in social groups. This position is represented by evolutionary psychology and by innatism such as Chomsky’s linguistics.

Structure Hypothesis (StH): it is the idea that human language is a more or less logic system, in which the elements are determined by reciprocal systemic relationships, partly conventional and partly ontic (Thao, 2012). This hypothesis is not really concerned with ontogenesis, rather with formal features of symbolic systems of distinctions. It is for instance the classical idea of Saussure and of the structuralists like Derrida.

According to Vähämaa (2018), every theory of meaning has to deal today with the problem of a terrific change in the way common sense knowledge is produced, circulated and modified in collective activities. Meaning needs some stability in order to be of collective utility. Moreover, meaning needs some validation to become stable.

The PhH solves this problem with a simple idea: if humans have survived and evolved, their evolutionary strategy about meaning is successful. In a natural “hostile” environment, our ancestors must have find the way to communicate in such a way that a danger would be understood in the same way by all the group members and under different conditions, including when the danger is not actually present, like in bonfire tales or myths.

The PhH becomes problematic when we consider the post-truth era. What would be the evolutionary advantage to deconstruct the environmental foundations of meaning, even in a virtual environment? For instance, what would be the evolutionary advantage of the common sense belief that global warming is not a reality, considered that this false belief could bring mankind to the extinction?

StH leads to the view of meaning as a configuration of formal conditions. Thus, stability is guaranteed by structural relations of the linguistic system, rather than by the contribution of groups or individuals as epistemic agents. StH cannot account for the rapidity and liminality of meaning that Vähämaa (2018) attributes to common sense nowadays. SH and PH share the idea that meaning emerges from what people do together, and that stability is both the condition and the product of the fact that we establish contexts of meaningful actions, ways of doing things in a habitual way.

The problem is today the fact that our accelerated Western capitalistic societies have multiplied the ways of doing and the number of groups in society, decoupling the habitual from the common sense meaning. New habits, new words, personal actions and meanings are built, disseminated and destroyed in short time. So, if “Our lives, with regard to language and knowledge, are fundamentally bound to social groups” (Vähämaa, 2018, p. 169) what does it happen to language and to knowledge when social groups multiply, segregate and disappear in a short time?

From Common Sense to the Bubble

The grounding of meaning in the group as epistemic agent has received a serious stroke in the era of connectivism and post-truth. The idea of connectivism is that knowledge is distributed among the different agents of a collective network (Siemens, 2005). Knowledge does not reside into the “mind” or into a “memory”, but is rather produced in bits and pieces, that the epistemic agent is required to search, and to assemble through the contribution of the collective effort of the group’s members.

Thus, depending on the configuration of the network, different information will be connected, and different pictures of the world will emerge. The meaning of the words will be different if, for instance, the network of information is aggregated by different groups in combination with, for instance, specific algorithms. The configuration of groups, mediated by social media, as in the case of contemporary politics (Lewandowsky, Ecker & Cook, 2017), leads to the reproduction of “bubbles” of people that share the very same views, and are exposed to the very same opinions, selected by an algorithm that will show only the content compliant with their previous content preferences.

The result is that the group loses a great deal of its epistemic capability, which Vähämaa (2018) suggests as a foundation of meaning. The meaning of words that will be preferred in this kind of epistemic bubble is the result of two operations of selection that are based on popularity. First, the meaning will be aggregated by consensual agents, rather than dialectic ones. Meaning will always convergent rather than controversial.

Second, between alternative meanings, the most “popular” will be chosen, rather than the most reliable. The epistemic bubble of connectivism originates from a misunderstanding. The idea is that a collectivity has more epistemic force than the individual alone, to the extent that any belief is scrutinized democratically and that if every agent can contribute with its own bit, the knowledge will be more reliable, because it is the result of a constant and massive peer-review. Unfortunately, the events show us a different picture.

Post-truth is actually a massive action of epistemic injustice (Fricker, 2007), to the extent that the reliability of the other as epistemic agent is based on criteria of similarity, rather than on dialectic. One is reliable as long as it is located within my own bubble. Everything outside is “fake news”. The algorithmic selection of information contributes to reinforce the polarization. Thus, no hybridization becomes possible, the common sense (Vähämaa, 2018) is reduced to the common bubble. How can the epistemic community still be a source of meaning in the connectivist era?

Meaning and Common Sense

SH and PH about language point to a very important historical source: the philosopher Giambattista Vico (Danesi, 1993; Tateo, 2015). Vico can be considered the scholar of the common sense and the imagination (Tateo, 2015). Knowledge is built as product of human experience and crystallized into the language of a given civilization. Civilization is the set of interpretations and solutions that different groups have found to respond to the common existential events, such as birth, death, mating, natural phenomena, etc.

According to Vico, all the human beings share a fate of mortal existence and rely on each other to get along. This is the notion of common sense: the profound sense of humanity that we all share and that constitutes the ground for human ethical choices, wisdom and collective living. Humans rely on imagination, before reason, to project themselves into others and into the world, in order to understand them both. Imagination is the first step towards the understanding of the Otherness.

When humans loose contact with this sensus communis, the shared sense of humanity, and start building their meaning on egoism or on pure rationality, civilizations then slip into barbarism. Imagination gives thus access to the intersubjectivity, the capability of feeling the other, while common sense constitutes the wisdom of developing ethical beliefs that will not harm the other. Vico ideas are echoed and made present by the critical theory:

“We have no doubt (…) that freedom in society is inseparable from enlightenment thinking. We believe we have perceived with equal clarity, however, that the very concept of that thinking (…) already contains the germ of the regression which is taking place everywhere today. If enlightenment does not [engage in] reflection on this regressive moment, it seals its own fate (…) In the mysterious willingness of the technologically educated masses to fall under the spell of any despotism, in its self-destructive affinity to nationalist paranoia (…) the weakness of contemporary theoretical understanding is evident.” (Horkheimer & Adorno, 2002, xvi)

Common sense is the basis for the wisdom, that allows to question the foundational nature of the bubble. It is the basis to understand that every meaning is not only defined in a positive way, but is also defined by its complementary opposite (Tateo, 2016).

When one uses the semantic prime “we” (Vähämaa, 2018), one immediately produces a system of meaning that implies the existence of a “non-we”, one is producing otherness. In return, the meaning of “we” can only be clearly defined through the clarification of who is “non-we”. Meaning is always cogenetic (Tateo, 2015). Without the capability to understand that by saying “we” people construct a cogenetic complex of meaning, the group is reduced to a self confirming, self reinforcing collective, in which the sense of being a valid epistemic agent is actually faked, because it is nothing but an act of epistemic arrogance.

How we can solve the problem of the epistemic bubble and give to the relationship between group and person a real epistemic value? How we can overcome the dangerous overlapping between sense of being functional in the group and false beliefs based on popularity?

Complementarity Between Meaning and Sense

My idea is that we must look in that complex space between the “meaning”, understood as a collectively shared complex of socially constructed significations, and the “sense”, understood as the very personal elaboration of meaning which is based on the person’s uniqueness (Vygotsky, 2012; Wertsck, 2000). Meaning and sense feed into each other, like common sense and imagination. Imagination is the psychic function that enables the person to feel into the other, and thus to establish the ethical and affective ground for the common sense wisdom. It is the empathic movement on which Kant will later on look for a logic foundation.

“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” (Kant 1993, p. 36. 4:429)

I would further claim that maybe they feed into each other: the logic foundation is made possible by the synthetic power of empathic imagination. Meaning and sense feed into each other. On the one hand, the collective is the origin of internalized psychic activities (SH), and thus the basis for the sense elaborated about one’s own unique life experience. On the other hand, the personal sense constitutes the basis for the externalization of the meaning into the arena of the collective activities, constantly innovating the meaning of the words.

So, personal sense can be a strong antidote to the prevailing force of the meaning produced for instance in the epistemic bubble. My sense of what is “ought”, “empathic”, “human” and “ethic”, in other words my wisdom, can help me to develop a critical stance towards meanings that are build in a self-feeding uncritical way.

Can the dialectic, complementary and cogenetic relationship between sense and meaning become the ground for a better epistemic performance, and for an appreciation of the liminal meaning produced in contemporary societies? In the last section, I will try to provide arguments in favor of this idea.

Ethical Grounding of Meaning

If connectivistic and post-truth societies produce meanings that are based on popularity check, rather than on epistemic appreciation, we risk to have a situation in which any belief is the contingent result of a collective epistemic agent which replicates its patterns into bubbles. One will just listen to messages that confirm her own preferences and belief and reject the different ones as unreliable. Inside the bubble there is no way to check the meaning, because the meaning is not cogenetic, it is consensual.

For instance, if I read and share a post on social media, claiming that migrants are the main criminal population, despite my initial position toward the news, there is the possibility that within my group I will start to see only posts confirming the initial fact. The fact can be proven wrong, for instance by the press, but the belief will be hard to change, as the meaning of “migrant” in my bubble is likely to continue being that of “criminal”. The collectivity will share an epistemically unjust position, to the extent that it will attribute a lessened epistemic capability to those who are not part of the group itself. How can one avoid that the group is scaffolding the “bad” epistemic skills, rather than empowering the individual (Vähämaa, 2018)?

The solution I propose is to develop an epistemic virtue based on two main principles: the ethical grounding of meaning and the cogenetic logic. The ethical grounding of meaning is directly related to the articulation between common sense and wisdom in the sense of Vico (Tateo, 2015). In a post-truth world in which we cannot appreciate the epistemic foundation of meaning, we must rely on a different epistemic virtue in order to become critical toward messages. Ethical grounding, based on the personal sense of humanity, is not of course epistemic test of reliability, but it is an alarm bell to become legitimately suspicious toward meanings. The second element of the new epistemic virtue is cogenetic logic (Tateo, 2016).

Meaning is grounded in the building of every belief as a complementary system between “A” and “non-A”. This implies that any meaning is constructed through the relationship with its complementary opposite. The truth emerges in a double dialectic movement (Silva Filho, 2014): through Socratic dialogue and through cogenetic logic. In conclusion, let me try to provide a practical example of this epistemic virtue.

The way to start to discriminate potentially fake news or the tendentious interpretations of facts would be essentially based on an ethic foundation. As in Vico’s wisdom of common sense, I would base my epistemic scrutiny on the imaginative work that allows me to access the other and on the cogenetic logic that assumes every meaning is defined by its relationship with the opposite.

Let’s imagine that we are exposed to a post on social media, in which someone states that a caravan of migrants, which is travelling from Honduras across Central America toward the USA border, is actually made of criminals sent by hostile foreign governments to destabilize the country right before elections. The same post claims that it is a conspiracy and that all the press coverage is fake news.

Finally the post presents some “debunking” pictures showing some athletic young Latino men, with their faces covered by scarves, to demonstrate that the caravan is not made by families with children, but is made by “soldiers” in good shape and who don’t look poor and desperate as the “mainstream” media claim. I do not know whether such a post has ever been made, but I just assembled elements of very common discourses circulating in the social media.

The task is no to assess the nature of this message, its meaning and its reliability. I could rely on the group as a ground for assessing statements, to scrutinize their truth and justification. However, due to the “bubble” effect, I may fall into a simple tautological confirmation, due to the configuration of the network of my relations. I would probably find only posts confirming the statements and delegitimizing the opposite positions. In this case, the fact that the group will empower my epistemic confidence is a very dangerous element.

I could limit my search for alternative positions to establish a dialogue. However, I could not be able, alone, to find information that can help me to assess the statement with respect to its degree of bias. How can I exert my skepticism in a context of post-truth? I propose some initial epistemic moves, based on a common sense approach to the meaning-making.

1) I must be skeptical of every message which uses a violent, aggressive, discriminatory language, and that such kind of message is “fake” by default.

2) I must be skeptical of every message that treats as criminals or is against whole social groups, even on the basis of real isolated events, because this interpretation is biased by default.

3) I must be skeptical of every message that attacks or targets persons for their characteristics rather than discussing ideas or behaviors.

Appreciating the hypothetical post about the caravan by the three rules above mentioned, one will immediately see that it violates all of them. Thus, no matter what is the information collected by my epistemic bubble, I have justified reasons to be skeptical towards it. The foundation of the meaning of the message will not be neither in the group nor in the person. It will be based on the ethical position of common sense’s wisdom.

Contact details: luca@hum.aau.dk

References

Austin, J. L. (1975). How to do things with words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bouchard, D. (2013). The nature and origin of language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Danesi, M. (1993). Vico, metaphor, and the origin of language. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Fricker, M. (2007). Epistemic injustice: Power and the ethics of knowing. Oxford University Press.

Horkheimer, M., & Adorno, T. W. (2002). Dialectic of Enlightenment. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Kant, I. (1993) [1785]. Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by Ellington, James W. (3rd ed.). Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett.

Keyes, R. (2004). The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life. New York: St. Martin’s.

Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U. K., & Cook, J. (2017). Beyond misinformation: Understanding and coping with the “post-truth” era. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 6(4), 353-369.

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1) http://www.itdl.org/Journal/Jan_05/article01.htm

Silva Filho, W. J. (2014). Davidson: Dialog, dialectic, interpretation. Utopía y praxis latinoamericana, 7(19).

Tateo, L. (2015). Giambattista Vico and the psychological imagination. Culture & Psychology, 21(2), 145-161.

Tateo, L. (2016). Toward a cogenetic cultural psychology. Culture & Psychology, 22(3), 433-447.

Thao, T. D. (2012). Investigations into the origin of language and consciousness. New York: Springer.

Vähämaa, M. (2018). Challenges to Groups as Epistemic Communities: Liminality of Common Sense and Increasing Variability of Word Meanings, Social Epistemology, 32:3, 164-174, DOI: 10.1080/02691728.2018.1458352

Vygotsky, L. S. (2012). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT press.

Wertsck, J. V. (2000). Vygotsky’s Two Minds on the Nature of Meaning. In C. D. Lee & P. Smagorinsky (eds), Vygotskian perspectives on literacy research: Constructing meaning through collaborative inquiry (pp. 19-30). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Author Information: Jim Collier, Virginia Tech, jim.collier@vt.edu.

Collier, James H. “Social Epistemology for the One and the Many: An Essay Review.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 8 (2018): 15-40.

Jim Collier’s article “Social Epistemology for the One and the Many” will be published in four parts. The pdf of the article includes all four parts as a single essay, and gives specific page references. Shortlinks:

Introduction: https://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3ZN

Part One, Social Epistemology as Fullerism: https://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3ZY

Part Two, Impoverishing Critical Engagement: https://wp.me/p1Bfg0-402

Part Three, We’re All Californians Now: https://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3ZR

Fuller’s recent work has explored the nature of technological utopia.
Image by der bobbel via Flickr / Creative Commons

 

Third, Remedios and Dusek submit to a form of strict technological determinism as promulgated in the Californian ideology (Barbrook and Cameron 1996), packaged by Ray Kurzweil, and amplified by Fuller in his “trilogy on transhumanism” (vii). Such determinism leaves unexamined the questionable, if not ridiculous, claims made on behalf of transhumanism, generally, and in Fuller’s “own promethean project of transhumanism” (99).

Of Technological Ontology

Missing in the list delineating Fuller’s “extensive familiarity” (10) with an unbelievable array of academic fields and literatures are the history and the philosophy of technology. (As history, philosophy, and “many other fields” make the list, perhaps I am being nitpicky.) Still, I want to highlight, by way of contrast, what I take as a significant oversight in Remedios and Dusek’s account of Fullerism—a refined conception of technology; hence, a capitulation to technological determinism.

Remedios and Dusek do not mention technological determinism. Genetic determinism (69) and Darwinian determinism (75, 77-78) receive brief attention. A glossary entry for “determinism” (143) focuses on Pierre-Simon Laplace’s work. However, the strict technological determinism on which Fullerism stands goes unmentioned. With great assuredness, Remedios and Dusek repeat Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity mantra, with a Fullerian inflection, that: “converging technologies, such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, and computer technology, are transforming and enhancing humanity to humanity 2.0” (33).[1] Kurzweil’s proclamations, and Fuller’s conceptual piggybacking, go absent scrutiny. Unequivocally, a day will come in 2045 when humans—some humans at least—“will be transformed through technology to humanity 2.0, into beings that are Godlike” (94).

The “hard determinism” associated with Jacques Ellul in The Technological Society (1964), and, I argue, with Fuller as relayed by Remedios and Dusek, holds that technology acts as an uncontrollable force independent from social authority. Social organization and action derive from technological effects. Humans have no freedom in choosing the outcome of technological development—technology functions autonomously.

Depending on the relative “hardness” of the technological determinism on offer we can explain social epistemology, for example, as a system of thought existing for little reason other than aiding a technological end (like achieving humanity 2.0). Specifically, Fuller’s social and academic policies exist to assure a transhuman future. A brief example:

How does the university’s interdisciplinarity linked [sic] to transhumanism? Kurzweil claims that human mind and capacities can be uploaded into computers with increase in computing power [sic]. The problem is integration of those capacities and personal identity. Kurzweil’s Singularity University has not been able to address the problem of integration. Fuller proposes transhumanities promoted by university 2.0 for integration by the transhumanist. (51)

As I understand the passage, universities should develop a new interdisciplinary curriculum, (cheekily named the transhumanities) given the forthcoming technological ability to upload human minds to computers. Since the uploading process will occur, we face a problem regarding personal identity (seemingly, how we define or conceive personal identity as uploaded minds). The new curriculum, in a new university system, will speak to issues unresolved by Singularity University—a private think tank and business incubator.[2]

I am unsure how to judge adequately such reasoning, particularly in light of Remedios and Dusek’s definition of agent-oriented epistemology and suspicion of expertise. Ray Kurzweil, in the above passage and throughout the book, gets treated unreservedly as an expert. Moreover, Remedios and Dusek advertise Singularity University as a legitimate institution of higher learning—absent the requisite critical attitude toward the division of intellectual labor (48, 51).[3] Forgiving Remedios and Dusek for the all too human (1.0) sin of inconsistency, we confront the matter of how to get at their discussion of interdisciplinarity and transhumanism.

Utopia in Technology

Remedios and Dusek proceed by evaluating university curricula based on a technologically determined outcome. The problem of individual identity, given that human minds will be uploaded into computers, gets posed as a serious intellectual matter demanding a response from the contemporary academy. Moreover, the proposed transhumanities curriculum gets saddled with deploying outmoded initiatives, like interdisciplinarity, to render new human capacities with customary ideas of personal identity.

University 2.0, then, imagines inquiry into human divinity within a retrograde conceptual framework. This reactive posture results from the ease in accepting what must be. A tributary that leads back to this blithe acceptance of the future comes in the techno-utopianism of the Californian ideology.

The Californian ideology (Barbrook and Cameron 1996) took shape as digital networking technologies developed in Silicon Valley spread throughout the country and the world. Put baldly, the Californian ideology held that digital technologies would be our political liberators; thus, individuals would control their destinies. The emphasis on romantic individualism, and the quest for unifying knowledge, shares great affinity with the tenor of agent-oriented epistemology.

The Californian ideology fuses together numerous elements—entrepreneurialism, libertarianism, individualism, techno-utopianism, technological determinism—into a more or less coherent belief system. The eclecticism of the ideology—the dynamic, dialectical blend of left and right politics, well-heeled supporters, triumphalism, and cultishness—conjures a siren’s call for philosophical relevance hunting, intervention, and mimicry.

I find an interesting parallel in the impulse toward disembodiment by Kurzweil and Fuller, and expressed in John Perry Barlow’s “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” (1996). Barlow waxes lyrically: “Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge.”

The demigod Prometheus makes appearances throughout Knowing Humanity in the Social World. Remedios and Dusek have Fuller play the rebel trickster and creator. Fuller’s own transhumanist project creates arguments, policies, and philosophical succor that advocate humanity’s desire to ascend to godhood (7, 67). In addition, Fuller’s Promethean task possesses affinities with Russian cosmism (97-99), a project exploring human enhancement, longevity (cryonics), and space travel.[4] Fuller’s efforts result in more or less direct, and grandiose, charges of Gnosticism. Gnosticism, a tangled doctrine, can refer to the Christian heresy of seeking secret knowledge that, in direct association with the divine, allows one to escape the fetters of our lesser material world.

Gnostic Minds

Befitting a trickster, Fuller both accepts and rejects the charge of Gnosticism (102), the adjudication of which seems particularly irrelevant in the determinist framework of transhumanism. A related and distressing sense of pretense pervades Remedios and Dusek’s summary of Gnosticism, and scholastic presentation of such charges against Fuller. Remedios and Dusek do more than hint that such disputations involving Fuller have world historic consequences.

Imitating many futurists, Fuller repeats that “we are entering a new historical phase” (xi) in which our understanding of being human, of being an embodied human particularly, shifts how we perceive protections, benefits, and harms to our existence. This common futurist refrain, wedded to a commonsense observation, becomes transmogrified by the mention of gnosis (and the use of scare quotes):

The more we relativize the material conditions under which a “human” existence can occur, the more we shall also have to relativize our sense of what counts as benefits and harms to that existence. In this respect, Gnosticism is gradually being incorporated into our natural attitude toward the secular world. (xi)

Maybe. More likely, and less heroically, humans regularly reconsider who they are and determine what helps or hurts them absent mystical knowledge in consultation with the divine. As with many of Fuller’s broader claims, and iterations of such claims presented by Remedios and Dusek, I am uncertain how to judge the contention about the rise of Gnosticism as part of being in the world. Such a claim comes across as unsupported, certainly, and self-serving given the argument at hand.

The discussion of Gnosticism raises broader issues of how to understand the place, scope and meaningfulness of the contestations and provocations in which Fuller participates. Remedios and Dusek relay a sense that Fuller’s activities shape important social debates—Kitzmiller being a central example.[5] Still, one might have difficulty locating the playing field where Gnosticism influences general attitudes to matters either profane or sacred. How, too, ought we entertain Fuller’s statements that “Darwinism erodes the motivations of science itself” or “Darwin may not be a true scientist” (71)?

At best, these statements seem merely provocative; at worst, alarmingly incoherent. At first, Remedios and Dusek adjudicate these claims by reminding the reader of Fuller’s “sweeping historical and philosophical account” and “more sophisticated and historically informed version” (71) of creationism. Even when Fuller’s wrong, he’s right.

In this case, we need only accept the ever-widening parameters of Fuller’s historical and philosophical learning, and suspend judgment given the unresolved lessons of his ceaseless dialectic. Remedios and Dusek repeatedly make an appeal to authority (argumentum ad verecundiam) and, in turn, set social epistemology on a decidedly anti-intellectual footing. In part, such footing and uncritical attitude seems necessary to entertain Fuller’s “own promethean project of transhumanism” (99).

Transhuman Dialectic

Fuller’s Promethean efforts aside, transhumanism strives to maintain the social order in the service of power and money. A guiding assumption in the desire to transcend human evolution and embodiment involves who wins, come some form of end time (or “event”), and gets to take their profits with them. Douglas Rushkoff (2018) puts the matter this way:

It’s a reduction of human evolution to a video game that someone wins by finding the escape hatch and then letting a few of his BFFs come along for the ride. Will it be Musk, Bezos, Thiel…Zuckerberg? These billionaires are the presumptive winners of the digital economy — the same survival-of-the-fittest business landscape that’s fueling most of this speculation to begin with.[6] (https://bit.ly/2MRgeIw)

Fuller’s staging of endless dialectic—his ceaseless provocations (and attendant insincerity), his flamboyant exercises in rehabilitating distasteful and dangerous ideas—drives him to distraction. We need look no further than his misjudgment of transhumanism’s sociality. The contemporary origins of the desire to transcend humanity do not reside with longing to know the mind of god. Those origins reside with Silicon Valley neoliberalism and the rather more profane wish to keep power in heaven as it is on earth.

Fuller’s transhumanism resides with the same type of technological determinism as other transhumanist dialects and Kuzweil’s Singularity. A convergence, in some form, of computers, genetics, nanotechnology, robotics and artificial intelligence leads inevitably to artificial superintelligence. Transhumanism depends on this convergence. Moore’s Law, and Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, will out.

This hard determinism renders practically meaningless—aside from fussiness, a slavish devotion to academic productivity, or perverse curiosity—the need for proactionary principles, preparations for human enhancement or alternative forms of existence, or the vindication of divine goodness. Since superintelligence lies on the horizon, what purpose can relitigating the history of eugenics, or enabling human experimentation, serve? [7] Epistemic agents can put aside their agency. Kurzweil asserts that skepticism and caution now threaten “society’s interests” (Pein 2017, 246). Remedios and Dusek portray Fuller as having the same disturbing attitude.

At the end of Knowing Humanity in the Social World, comes a flicker of challenge:

Fuller is totally uncritical about the similarly of utopian technologists’ and corporate leaders’ positions on artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, and space travel. He assumes computers can replace human investigators and allow the uploading of human thought and personality. However, he never discusses and replies to the technical and philosophical literature that claims there are limits to what is claimed can be achieved toward strong artificial intelligence, or with genetic engineering. (124)

A more well-drawn, critical epistemic agent would begin with normative ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions regarding Fuller’s blind spot and our present understanding of social epistemology.  Inattention to technological utopianism and determinism does not strike me as a sufficient explanation—although the gravity of fashioning such grand futurism remains strong—for Fuller’s approach. Of course, the “blind spot” to which I point may be nothing of the sort. We should, then, move out of the way and pacify ourselves by constructing neo-Kantian worlds, while our technological and corporate betters make space for the select to occupy.

The idea of unification, of the ability of the epistemic agent to unify knowledge in terms of their “worldview and purposes,” threads throughout Remedios and Dusek’s book. Based on the book, I cannot resolve social epistemology pre- and post- the year 2000. Agent-oriented epistemology assumes yet another form of determinism. Remedios and Dusek look more than two centuries into our past to locate a philosophical language to speak to our future. Additionally, Remedios and Dusek render social epistemology passive and reliant on the Californian political order. If epistemic unification appears only at the dawn of a technologically determined future, we are automatons—no longer human.

Conclusion

Allow me to return to the question that Remedios and Dusek propose as central to Fuller’s metaphysically-oriented, post-2000, work: “What type of being should the knower be” (2)? Another direct (and undoubtedly simplistic) answer—enhanced. Knowers should be technologically enhanced types of beings. The kinds of enhancements on which Remedios and Dusek focus come with the convergence of biotechnology, nanotechnology, and computer technology and, so, humanity 2.0.

Humanity 2.0’s sustaining premise begins with yet another verse in the well-worn siren song of the new change, of accelerating change, of inevitable change. It is the call of Silicon Valley hucksters like Ray Kurzweil.[8] One cannot deny that technological change occurs. Still, a more sophisticated theory of technological change, and the reciprocal relation between technology and agency, seems in order. Remedios and Dusek and Fuller’s hard technological determinism cries out for reductionism. If a technological convergence occurs and super-intelligent computers arise what purpose, then, in preparing by using humanity 1.0 tools and concepts?

Why would this convergence, and our subsequent disembodied state, not also dictate, or anticipate, even revised ethical categories (ethics 2.0, 109), government programs (welfare state 2.0, 110), and academic institutions (university 2.0, 122)? Such “2.0 thinking,” captive to determinism, would be quaint if not for very real horrors of endorsing eugenics and human experimentation. The unshakeable assuredness of the technological determinism at the heart Fuller’s work denies the consequences, if not the risk itself, for the risks epistemic agents “must” take.

In 1988, Steve Fuller asked a different question: How should we organize and pursue knowledge collectively? [9] This question assumes that human beings have cognitive limitations, limitations that might be ameliorated by humans acting in helpful concert to change society and ourselves. As a starting point, befitting the 1980’s, Fuller sought answers in “knowledge bearing texts” and an expansive notion of textual technologies and processes. This line of inquiry remains vital. But neither the question, nor social epistemology, belongs solely to Steve Fuller.

Let me return to an additional question. “Is Fuller the super-agent?” (131). In the opening of this essay, I took Remedios’s question as calling back to hyperbole about Fuller in the book’s opening. Fuller does not answer the question directly, but Knowing Humanity in the Social World does—yes, Steve Fuller is the super-agent. While Remedios and Dusek do not yet attribute godlike qualities to Fuller, agent-oriented epistemology is surely created in his image—an image formed, if not anticipated, by academic charisma and bureaucratic rationality.

As the dominant voice and vita in the branch of social epistemology of Remedios and Dusek’s concern, Fuller will likely continue to set the agenda. Still, we might harken back to the more grounded perspective of Jesse Shera (1970) who helped coin the term social epistemology. Shera defines social epistemology as:

The study of knowledge in society. It should provide a framework for the investigation of the entire complex problem of the nature of the intellectual process in society; the study of the ways in which society as a whole achieves a perceptive relation to its total environment. It should lift the study of the intellectual life from that of scrutiny of the individual to an enquiry into the means by which a society, nation, of culture achieve an understanding of stimuli which act upon it … a new synthesis of the interaction between knowledge and social activity, or, if you prefer, social dynamics. (86)

Shera asks a great deal of social epistemology. It is good work for us now. We need not await future gods.

An Editorial Note

Palgrave Macmillian do the text no favors. We too easily live with our complicity—publishing houses, editors, universities, and scholars alike—to think of scholarship only as output—the more, the faster, the better. This material and social environment influences our notions of social epistemology and epistemic agency in significant ways addressed indirectly in this essay. For Remedios and Dusek, the rush to press means that infelicitous phrasing and cosmetic errors run throughout the text. The interview between Remedios and Fuller needs another editorial pass. Finally, the book did not integrate the voices of its co-authors.

Contact details: jim.collier@vt.edu

References

Barbrook, Richard and Andy Cameron. “The Californian Ideology.” Science as Culture 6, no. 1 (1996): 44-72.

Barlow, John Perry. “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.” 1996. https://bit.ly/1KavIVC.

Barron, Colin. “A Strong Distinction Between Humans and Non-humans Is No Longer Required for Research Purposes: A Debate Between Bruno Latour and Steve Fuller.” History of the Human Sciences 16, no. 2 (2003): 77–99.

Clark, William. Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University. University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society. Alfred A. Knopf, 1964.

Frankfurt, Harry G. On Bullshit. Princeton University Press, 2005.

Fuller, Steve. Social Epistemology. Bloomington and Indianapolis, University of Indiana Press, 1988.

Fuller, Steve. Philosophy, Rhetoric, and the End of Knowledge: The Coming of Science and Technology Studies. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.

Fuller, Steve. Thomas Kuhn: A Philosophical History for Our Times. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Fuller, Steve. “The Normative Turn: Counterfactuals and a Philosophical Historiography of Science.” Isis 99, no. 3 (September 2008): 576-584.

Fuller, Steve. “A Response to Michael Crow.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 25 November 2015. https://goo.gl/WwxFmW.

Fuller, Steve and Luke Robert Mason. “Virtual Futures Podcast #3: Transhumanism and Risk, with Professor Steve Fuller.”  Virtual Futures 16 August 2017. https://bit.ly/2mE8vCs.

Grafton, Anthony. “The Nutty Professors: The History of Academic Charisma.” The New Yorker October 26, 2006. https://bit.ly/2mxOs8Q.

Hinchman, Edward S. “Review of “Patrick J. Reider (ed.), Social Epistemology and Epistemic Agency: Decentralizing Epistemic Agency.” Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2 July 2018. https://ntrda.me/2NzvPgt.

Horgan, John. “Steve Fuller and the Value of Intellectual Provocation.” Scientific American, Cross-Check 27 March 2015.  https://bit.ly/2f1UI5l.

Horner, Christine. “Humanity 2.0: The Unstoppability of Singularity.” Huffpost 8 June 2017. https://bit.ly/2zTXdn6.

Joosse, Paul.“Becoming a God: Max Weber and the Social Construction of Charisma.” Journal of Classical Sociology 14, no. 3 (2014): 266–283.

Kurzweil, Ray. “The Virtual Book Revisited.”  The Library Journal 1 February 1, 1993. https://bit.ly/2AySoQx.

Kurzweil, Ray. The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. Penguin Books, 2005.

Lynch, Michael. “From Ruse to Farce.” Social Studies of Science 36, vol 6 (2006): 819–826.

Lynch, William T. “Social Epistemology Transformed: Steve Fuller’s Account of Knowledge as a Divine Spark for Human Domination.” Symposion 3, vol. 2 (2016): 191-205.

McShane, Sveta and Jason Dorrier. “Ray Kurzweil Predicts Three Technologies Will Define Our Future.” Singularity Hub 19 April 2016. https://bit.ly/2MaQRl4.

Pein, Corey. Live Work Work Work Die: A Journey into the Savage Heart of Silicon Valley. Henry Holt and Co. Kindle Edition, 2017.

Remedios, Francis. Legitimizing Scientific Knowledge: An Introduction to Steve Fuller’s Social Epistemology. Lexington Books, 2003.

Remedios, Francis X. and Val Dusek. Knowing Humanity in the Social World: The Path of Steve Fuller’s Social Epistemology. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2018.

Rushkoff, Douglas. “Survival of the Richest: The wealthy are plotting to leave us behind.” Medium 5 July 2018. https://bit.ly/2MRgeIw.

Shera, J.H. Sociological Foundations of Librarianship. New York: Asia Publishing House, 1970.

Simonite, Tom. “Moore’s Law Is Dead. Now What?” MIT Technology Review 13 May 13, 2016. https://bit.ly/1VVn5CK.

Talbot, Margaret. “Darwin in the Dock.” The New Yorker December 5, 2005. 66-77. https://bit.ly/2LV0IPa.

Uebel, Thomas. Review of “Francis Remedios, Legitimizing Scientific Knowledge: An Introduction to Steve Fuller’s Social Epistemology. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 3 March 2005. https://ntrda.me/2uT2u92

Weber, Max. Economy and Society, 2 vols. Edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich. Berkeley, CA; London; Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1922 (1978).

[1] “Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Director of Engineering, is a well-known futurist with a high-hitting track record for accurate predictions. Of his 147 predictions since the 1990s, Kurzweil claims an 86 percent accuracy rate. At the SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas, Kurzweil made yet another prediction: the technological singularity will happen sometime in the next 30 years” (https://bit.ly/2n8oMkM). I must admit to a prevailing doubt (what are the criteria?) regarding Kurzweil’s “86 percent accuracy rate.” I further admit that the specificity of number itself—86—seems like the kind of exact detail to which liars resort.

[2] Corey Pein (2017, 260-261) notes: “It was eerie how closely the transhuman vision promoted by Singularity University resembled the eugenicist vision that had emerged from Stanford a century before. The basic arguments had scarcely changed. In The Singularity Is Near, SU chancellor Kurzweil decried the ‘fundamentalist humanism’ that informs restriction on the genetic engineering of human fetuses.”

[3] Pein (2017, 200-201) observes: “… I saw a vast parking lot ringed by concrete barriers and fencing topped with barbed wire. This was part of the federal complex that housed the NASA Ames Research Center and a strange little outfit called Singularity University, which was not really a university but more like a dweeby doomsday congregation sponsored by some of the biggest names in finance and tech, including Google. The Singularity—a theoretical point in the future when computational power will absorb all life, energy, and matter into a single, all-powerful universal consciousness—is the closest thing Silicon Valley has to an official religion, and it is embraced wholeheartedly by many leaders of the tech industry.”

[4] Remedios and Dusek claim: “Cosmist ideas, advocates, and projects have continued in contemporary Russia” (98), but do little to allay the reader’s skepticism that Cosmism has little current standing and influence.

[5] In December 2006, Michael Lynch offered this post-mortem on Fuller’s participation in Kitzmiller: “It remains to be seen how much controversy Fuller’s testimony will generate among his academic colleagues. The defendants lost their case, and gathering from the judge’s ruling, they lost resoundingly … Fuller’s testimony apparently left the plaintiff’s arguments unscathed; indeed, Judge John E. Jones III almost turned Fuller into a witness for the plaintiffs by repeatedly quoting statements from his testimony that seemed to support the adversary case … Some of the more notable press accounts of the trial also treated Fuller’s testimony as a farcical sideshow to the main event [Lynch references Talbot, see above footnote 20] … Though some of us in science studies may hope that this episode will be forgotten before it motivates our detractors to renew the hostility and ridicule directed our way during the ‘science wars’ of the 1990s … in my view it raises serious issues that are worthy of sustained attention” (820).

[6] Fuller’s bet appears to be Peter Thiel.

[7] Remedios and Dusek explain: “The provocative Fuller defends eugenics and thinks it should not be rejected though stigmatized because of its application by the Nazis” (emphasis mine, 116-117). While adding later in the paragraph “… if the [Nazi] experiments really do contribute to scientific knowledge, the ethical and utilitarian issues remain” (117), Remedios and Dusek ignore the ethical issues to which they gesture. Tellingly, Remedios and Dusek toggle back to a mitigating stance in describing “Cruel experiments that did have eventual medical payoff were those concerning the testing of artificial blood plasmas on prisoners of war during WWII …” (117).

[8] “Ray Kurzweil is a genius. One of the greatest hucksters of the age …” (PZ Myers as quoted in Pein 2017, 245). From Kurzweil (1993): “One of the advantages of being in the futurism business is that by the time your readers are able to find fault with your forecasts, it is too late for them to ask for their money back.”

[9]  I abridged Fuller’s (1988, 3) fundamental question: “How should the pursuit of knowledge be organized, given that under normal circumstances knowledge is pursued by many human beings, each working on a more or less well-defined body of knowledge and each equipped with roughly the same imperfect cognitive capacities, albeit with varying degree of access to one another’s activities?”

Author Information: James A. Marcum, Baylor University, james_marcum@baylor.edu

Marcum, James A. “A Role for Taxonomic Incommensurability in Evolutionary Philosophy of Science.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 7 (2018): 9-14.

The pdf of the article gives specific page references. Shortlink: https://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3YP

See also:

Image by Sanofi Pasteur via Flickr / Creative Commons

 

In a review of my chapter (Marcum 2018), Amanda Bryant (2018) charges me with failing to discuss the explanatory role taxonomic incommensurability (TI) plays in my revision of Kuhn’s evolutionary philosophy of science. To quote Bryant at length,

One of Marcum’s central aims is to show that incommensurability plays a key explanatory role in a refined version of Kuhn’s evolutionary image of science. The role of incommensurability on this view is to account for scientific speciation. However, Marcum shows only that we can characterize scientific speciation in terms of incommensurability, without clearly establishing the explanatory payoff of so doing. He does not succeed in showing that incommensurability has a particularly enriching explanatory role, much less that incommensurability is “critical for conceptual evolution within the sciences” or “an essential component of…the growth of science” (168).

Bryant is right. I failed to discuss the explanatory role of TI for the three historical case studies, as listed in Table 8.1, in section 5, “Revising Kuhn’s Evolutionary Image of Science and Incommensurability,” of my chapter. Obviously, my aim in this response, then, is to amend that failure by discussing TI’s role in the case studies and by revising the chapter’s Table to include TI.

Before discussing the role of TI in the historical case studies, I first develop the notion of TI in terms of Kuhn’s revision of the original incommensurability thesis. Kuhn (1983) responded to critics of the original thesis in a symposium paper delivered at the 1982 biannual meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association.

In the paper, Kuhn admitted that his primary intention for incommensurability was more “modest” than with what critics had charged him. Rather than radical or universal changes in terms and concepts—what is often called “global” incommensurability (Hoyningen-Huene 2005, Marcum 2015, Simmons 1994)—Kuhn claimed that only a handful of terms and concepts are incommensurable after a paradigm shift. He called this thesis “local” incommensurability.

More Common Than Incommensurable

Kuhn’s revision of the original incommensurability thesis has important implications for the TI thesis. To that end, I propose three types of TI. The first is comparable to Kuhn’s local incommensurability in which only a small number of terms and concepts are incommensurable, between the lexicons of two scientific specialties. The second is akin to global incommensurability in which two lexicons are radically and universally incommensurable with one another—sharing only a few commensurable terms and concepts.

An example of this type of incommensurability is the construction of a drastically new lexicon accompanying the evolution of a specialty. Both local and global TI represent, then, two poles along a continuum. For the type of TI falling along this continuum, I propose the notion of regional TI—in keeping with the geographical metaphor.

Unfortunately, sharper delineation among the three types of TI in terms of the quantity and quality of incommensurable and commensurable terms and concepts composing taxonomically incommensurable lexicons cannot be made currently, other than local TI comprises one end of the continuum while global TI the other end, with regional TI occupying an intermediate position between them. Notwithstanding this imprecise delineation, the three types of TI are apt for explaining the evolution of the microbiological specialties of bacteriology, virology, and retrovirology, especially with respect to their tempos and modes.

Revised Table. Types of tempo, mode, and taxonomic incommensurability for the evolution of microbiological specialties of bacteriology, virology, and retrovirology (see text for details).

Scientific Specialty Tempo Mode Taxonomic

Incommensurability

 

Bacteriology Bradytelic Phyletic Global

 

Virology Tachytelic Quantal Regional

 

Retrovirology Horotelic Speciation Local

 

 

Examples Bacterial and Viral

As depicted in the Revised Table, the evolution of bacteriology, with its bradytelic tempo and phyletic mode, is best accounted for through global TI. A large number of novel incommensurable terms and concepts appeared with the evolution of bacteriology and the germ theory of disease, and global TI afforded the bacteriology lexicon the conceptual space to evolve fully and independently by isolating that lexicon from both botany and zoology lexicons, as well as from other specialty lexicons in microbiology.

For example, in terms of microbiology as a specialty separate from botany and zoology, bacteria are prokaryotes compared to other microorganisms such as algae, fungi, and protozoa, which are eukaryotes. Eukaryotes have a nucleus surrounded by a plasma membrane that separates the chromosomes from the cytoplasm, while prokaryotes do not. Rather, prokaryotes like bacteria have a single circular chromosome located in the nucleoid region of the cell.

However, the bacteriology lexicon does share a few commensurable terms and concepts with the lexicons of other microbiologic specialties and with the cell biology lexicons of botany and zoology. For example, both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells contain a plasma membrane that separates the cell’s interior from the external environment. Examples of many other incommensurable (and of a few commensurable) terms and concepts make up the lexicons of these specialties but suffice these examples to provide how global TI provided the bacteriology lexicon a cognitive environment so that it could evolve as a distinct specialty.

Also, as depicted in the Revised Table, the evolution of virology, with its tachytelic tempo and quantal mode, is best accounted for through regional TI. A relatively smaller number of new incommensurable terms and concepts appeared with the evolution of virology compared to the evolution of bacteriology, and regional TI afforded the virology lexicon the conceptual space to evolve freely and self-sufficiently by isolating that lexicon from the bacteriology lexicon, as well as from other biology lexicons.

For example, the genome of the virus is surrounded by a capsid or protein shell, which distinguishes it from both prokaryotes and eukaryotes—neither of which have such a structure. Moreover, viruses do not have a constitutive plasma membrane, although some viruses acquire a plasma membrane from the host cell when exiting it during lysis. However, the function of the viral plasma membrane is different from that for both prokaryotes and eukaryotes.

Interestingly, the term plasma membrane for the virology lexicon is both commensurable and incommensurable, when compared to other biology lexicons. The viral plasma membrane is commensurable in that it is comparable in structure to the plasma membrane of prokaryotes and eukaryotes but it is incommensurable in that it functions differently. Finally, some viral genomes are composed of DNA similar to prokaryotic and eukaryotic genomes while others are composed of RNA; and, it is this RNA genome that led to the evolution of the retrovirology specialty.

Image by AJC1 via Flickr / Creative Commons

And As Seen in the Retrovirological

As depicted lastly in the Revised Table, the evolution of retrovirology, with its horotelic tempo and speciation mode, is best accounted for through local TI. An even smaller number of novel incommensurable terms and concepts accompanied the evolution of retrovirology as compared to the number of novel incommensurable terms and concepts involved in the evolution of the virology lexicon vis-à-vis the bacteriology lexicon.

And, as true for the role of TI in the evolution of bacteriology and virology, local TI afforded the retrovirology lexicon the conceptual space to evolve rather autonomously by isolating that lexicon from the virology and bacteriology lexicons. For example, retroviruses, as noted previously, contain only an RNA genome but the replication of the retrovirus and its genome does not involve replication of the RNA genome from the RNA directly, as for other RNA viruses.

Rather, retrovirus replication involves the formation of a DNA provirus through the enzyme reverse transcriptase. The DNA provirus is subsequently incorporated into the host’s genome, where it remains dormant until replication of the retrovirus is triggered.

The incommensurability associated with retrovirology evolution is local since only a few incommensurable terms and concepts separate the virology and retrovirology lexicons. But that incommensurability was critical for the evolution of the retrovirology specialty (although given how few incommensurable terms and concepts exist between the virology and retrovirology lexicons, a case could be made for retrovirology representing a subspecialty of virology).

Where the Payoff Lies

In her review, Bryant makes a distinction, as quoted above, between characterizing the evolution of the microbiological specialties via TI and explaining their evolution via TI. In terms of the first distinction, TI is the product of the evolution of a specialty and its lexicon. In other words, when reconstructing historically the evolution of a specialty, the evolutionary outcome is a new specialty and its lexicon—which is incommensurable locally, regionally, or globally with respect to other specialty lexicons.

For example, the retrovirology lexicon—when compared to the virology lexicon—has few incommensurable terms, such as DNA provirus and reverse transcriptase. The second distinction involves the process or mechanism by which the evolution of the specialty’s lexicon takes place vis-à-vis TI. In other words, TI plays a critical role in the evolutionary process of a specialty and its lexicon.

Keeping with the retrovirology example, the experimental result that actinomysin D inhibits Rous sarcoma virus was an important anomaly with respect to the virology lexicon, which could only explain the replication of RNA viruses in terms of the Central Dogma’s flow of genetic information. TI, then, represents the mechanism, i.e. by providing the conceptual space, for the evolution of a new specialty with respect to incommensurable terms and concepts.

In conclusion, the “explanatory payoff” for TI with respect to the revised Kuhnian evolutionary philosophy of science is that such incommensurability provides isolation for a scientific specialty and its lexicon so that it can evolve from a parental stock. For, without the conceptual isolation to develop its lexicon, a specialty cannot evolve.

Just as biological species like Darwin’s Galápagos finches, for instance, required physical isolation from one another to evolve (Lack 1983), so the evolving microbiological specialties also required conceptual isolation from one another and from other biology specialties and their lexicons. TI accounts for or explains the evolution of science and its specialties in terms of providing the necessary conceptual opportunity for the specialties to emerge and then to evolve.

Moreover, it is of interest to note that an apparent relationship exists between the various tempos and modes and the different types of TI. For example, the retrovirology case study suggests that local TI is commonly associated with a horotelic tempo and speciation mode—which to some extent makes sense intuitively. In other words, speciation requires far fewer lexical changes than phylogeny, which requires many more lexical changes or an almost completely new lexicon—as the evolution of bacteriology illustrates.

The proposed evolutionary philosophy of science, then, accounts for the emergence of bacteriology in terms of a specific tempo and mode, as well as a particular type of TI; and, it thereby provides a rich explanation for its emergence. Furthermore, the quantity and quality of taxonomically incommensurable terms and concepts involved in the evolution of the microbiology specialties suggest the following relative frequency for the different types of TI: local TI > regional RI > global TI.

The Potential of Evolutionary Paradigms

Finally, I proposed in my chapter that Kuhn’s revised evolutionary philosophy of science is a good candidate for a general philosophy of science, even in light of philosophy of science’s current pluralistic or perspectival stance. Interestingly, regardless of the increasing specialization within the natural sciences (Wray 2005), these sciences are moving towards integration in order to tackle complex natural phenomena. For example, cancer is simply too complex a disease to succumb to a single specialty (Williams 2015).

The revised Kuhnian evolutionary philosophy of science helps to appreciate and account for the drive and need for integration of different scientific specialties to investigate complex natural phenomena, such as cancer. Specifically, one of the important reasons for the integration is that no single scientist can master the necessary lexicons, whether biochemistry, bioinformatics, cell biology, genomic biology, immunology, molecular biology, physiology, etc., needed to investigate and eventually to cure the disease. A scientist might be bilingual or even trilingual with respect to specialties but certainly not multilingual.

The conceptual and methodological approach, which integrates these various specialties, stands a better chance in discovering the pathological mechanisms involved in carcinogenesis and thereby in developing effective therapies. Integrated science, then, requires a systems or network approach since no one scientists can master the various specialties needed to investigate a complex natural phenomenon.

In the end, TI helps to make sense of why integrated science is important for the future evolution of science and of how an evolutionary philosophy of science can function as a general philosophy of science.

Contact details: james_marcum@baylor.edu

References

Bryant, Amanda. “Each Kuhn Mutually Incommensurable”, Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 6 (2018): 1-7.

Hoyningen-Huene, Paul. “Three Biographies: Kuhn, Feyerabend, and Incommensurability”, In Rhetoric and Incommensurability. Randy A. Harris (ed.), West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, (2005): 150-175.

Kuhn, Thomas S. “Commensurability, Comparability, Communicability”, PSA: 1982, no. 2

(1983): 669-688.

Lack, David. Darwin’s Finches. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (1983).

Marcum, James A. Thomas Kuhn’s Revolutions: A Historical and an Evolutionary Philosophy of Science. London: Bloomsbury, (2015).

Marcum, James A. “Revolution or Evolution in Science?: A Role for the Incommensurability Thesis?”, In The Kuhnian Image of Science: Time for a Decisive Transformation? Moti Mizrahi (ed.), Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, (2018): 155-173.

Simmons, Lance. “Three Kinds of Incommensurability Thesis”, American Philosophical Quarterly 31, no. 2 (1994): 119-131.

Williams, Sarah C.P. “News Feature: Capturing Cancer’s Complexity”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112, no. 15 (2015): 4509-4511.

Wray, K. Brad. “Rethinking Scientific Specialization”, Social Studies of Science 35. no. 1 (2005): 151-164.

Author Information: Adam Riggio, SERRC Digital Editor, serrc.digital@gmail.com

Riggio, Adam. “Action in Harmony with a Global World.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 3 (2018): 20-26.

The pdf of the article gives specific page references. Shortlink: https://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3Vp

Image by cornie via Flickr / Creative Commons

 

Bryan Van Norden has become about as notorious as an academic philosopher can be while remaining a virtuous person. His notoriety came with a column in the New York Times that took the still-ethnocentric approach of many North American and European university philosophy departments to task. The condescending and insulting dismissal of great works of thought from cultures and civilizations beyond Europe and European-descended North America should scandalize us. That it does not is to the detriment of academic philosophy’s culture.

Anyone who cares about the future of philosophy as a tradition should read Taking Back Philosophy and take its lessons to heart, if one does not agree already with its purpose. The discipline of philosophy, as practiced in North American and European universities, must incorporate all the philosophical traditions of humanity into its curriculum and its subject matter. It is simple realism.

A Globalized World With No Absolute Hierarchies

I am not going to argue for this decision, because I consider it obvious that this must be done. Taking Back Philosophy is a quick read, an introduction to a political task that philosophers, no matter their institutional homes, must support if the tradition is going to survive beyond the walls of universities increasingly co-opted by destructive economic, management, and human resources policies.

Philosophy as a creative tradition cannot survive in an education economy built on the back of student debt, where institutions’ priorities are set by a management class yoked to capital investors and corporate partners, which prioritizes the proliferation of countless administrative-only positions while highly educated teachers and researchers compete ruthlessly for poverty wages.

With this larger context in mind, Van Norden’s call for the enlargement of departments’ curriculums to cover all traditions is one essential pillar of the vision to liberate philosophy from the institutions that are destroying it as a viable creative process. In total, those four pillars are 1) universal accessibility, economically and physically; 2) community guidance of a university’s priorities; 3) restoring power over the institution to creative and research professionals; and 4) globalizing the scope of education’s content.

Taking Back Philosophy is a substantial brick through the window of the struggle to rebuild our higher education institutions along these democratic and liberating lines. Van Norden regularly publishes work of comparative philosophy that examines many problems of ethics and ontology using texts, arguments, and concepts from Western, Chinese, and Indian philosophy. But if you come to Taking Back Philosophy expecting more than a brick through those windows, you’ll be disappointed. One chapter walks through a number of problems as examples, but the sustained conceptual engagement of a creative philosophical work is absent. Only the call to action remains.

What a slyly provocative call it is – the book’s last sentence, “Let’s discuss it . . .”

Unifying a Tradition of Traditions

I find it difficult to write a conventional review of Taking Back Philosophy, because so much of Van Norden’s polemic is common sense to me. Of course, philosophy departments must be open to primary material from all the traditions of the human world, not just the Western. I am incapable of understanding why anyone would argue against this, given how globalized human civilization is today. For the context of this discussion, I will consider a historical and a technological aspect of contemporary globalization. Respectively, these are the fall of the European military empires, and the incredible intensity with which contemporary communications and travel technology integrates people all over Earth.

We no longer live in a world dominated by European military colonial empires, so re-emerging centres of culture and economics must be taken on their own terms. The Orientalist presumption, which Edward Said spent a career mapping, that there is no serious difference among Japanese, Malay, Chinese, Hindu, Turkic, Turkish, Persian, Arab, Levantine, or Maghreb cultures is not only wrong, but outright stupid. Orientalism as an academic discipline thrived for the centuries it did only because European weaponry intentionally and persistently kept those cultures from asserting themselves.

Indigenous peoples – throughout the Americas, Australia, the Pacific, and Africa – who have been the targets of cultural and eradicative genocides for centuries now claim and agitate for their human rights, as well as inclusion in the broader human community and species. I believe most people of conscience are appalled and depressed that these claims are controversial at all, and even seen by some as a sign of civilizational decline.

The impact of contemporary technology I consider an even more important factor than the end of imperialist colonialism in the imperative to globalize the philosophical tradition. Despite the popular rhetoric of contemporary globalization, the human world has been globalized for millennia. Virtually since urban life first developed, long-distance international trade and communication began as well.

Here are some examples. Some of the first major cities of ancient Babylon achieved their greatest economic prosperity through trade with cities on the south of the Arabian Peninsula, and as far east along the Indian Ocean coast as Balochistan. From 4000 to 1000 years ago, Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Persian, Arab, Chinese, Mongol, Indian, Bantu, Malian, Inca, and Anishinaabeg peoples, among others, built trade networks and institutions stretching across continents.

Contemporary globalization is different in the speed and quantity of commerce, and diversity of goods. It is now possible to reach the opposite side of the planet in a day’s travel, a journey so ordinary that tens of millions of people take these flights each year. Real-time communication is now possible between anywhere on Earth with broadband internet connections thanks to satellite networks and undersea fibre-optic cables. In 2015, the total material value of all goods and commercial services traded internationally was US$21-trillion. That’s a drop from the previous year’s all-time (literally) high of US$24-trillion.[1]

Travel, communication, and productivity has never been so massive or intense in all of human history. The major control hubs of the global economy are no longer centralized in a small set of colonial powers, but a variety of economic centres throughout the world, depending on industry. From Beijing, Moscow, Mumbai, Lagos, and Berlin to Tokyo, and Washington, the oil fields of Kansas, the Dakotas, Alberta, and Iraq, and the coltan, titanium, and tantalum mines of Congo, Kazakhstan, and China.

All these proliferating lists express a simple truth – all cultures of the world now legitimately claim recognition as equals, as human communities sharing our Earth as we hollow it out. Philosophical traditions from all over the world are components of those claims to equal recognition.

The Tradition of Process Thought

So that is the situation forcing a recalcitrant and reactionary academy to widen its curricular horizons – Do so, or face irrelevancy in a global civilization with multiple centres all standing as civic equals in the human community. This is where Van Norden himself leaves us. Thankfully, he understands that a polemic ending with a precise program immediately becomes empty dogma, a conclusion which taints the plausibility of an argument. His point is simple – that the academic discipline must expand its arms. He leaves the more complex questions of how the philosophical tradition itself can develop as a genuinely global community.

Process philosophy is a relatively new philosophical tradition, which can adopt the classics of Daoist philosophy as broad frameworks and guides. By process philosophy, I mean the research community that has grown around Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari as primary innovators of their model of thought – a process philosophy that converges with an ecological post-humanism. The following are some essential aspects of this new school of process thinking, each principle in accord with the core concepts of the foundational texts of Daoism, Dao De Jing and Zhuang Zi.

Ecological post-humanist process philosophy is a thorough materialism, but it is an anti-reductive materialism. All that exists is bodies of matter and fields of force, whose potentials include everything for which Western philosophers have often felt obligated to postulate a separate substance over and above matter, whether calling it mind, spirit, or soul.

As process philosophy, the emphasis in any ontological analysis is on movement, change, and relationships instead of the more traditional Western focus on identity and sufficiency. If I can refer to examples from the beginning of Western philosophy in Greece, process thought is an underground movement with the voice of Heraclitus critiquing a mainstream with the voice of Parmenides. Becoming, not being, is the primary focus of ontological analysis.

Process thinking therefore is primarily concerned with potential and capacity. Knowledge, in process philosophy, as a result becomes inextricably bound with action. This unites a philosophical school identified as “Continental” in common-sense categories of academic disciplines with the concerns of pragmatist philosophy. Analytic philosophy took up many concepts from early 20th century pragmatism in the decades following the death of John Dewey. These inheritors, however, remained unable to overcome the paradoxes stymieing traditional pragmatist approaches, particularly how to reconcile truth as correspondence with knowledge having a purpose in action and achievement.

A solution to this problem of knowledge and action was developed in the works of Barry Allen during the 2000s. Allen built an account of perception that was rooted in contemporary research in animal behaviour, human neurology, and the theoretical interpretations of evolution in the works of Steven Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin.

His first analysis, focussed as it was on the dynamics of how human knowledge spurs technological and civilizational development, remains humanistic. Arguing from discoveries of how profoundly the plastic human brain is shaped in childhood by environmental interaction, Allen concludes that successful or productive worldly action itself constitutes the correspondence of our knowledge and the world. Knowledge does not consist of a private reserve of information that mirrors worldly states of affairs, but the physical and mental interaction of a person with surrounding processes and bodies to constitute those states of affairs. The plasticity of the human brain and our powers of social coordination are responsible for the peculiarly human mode of civilizational technology, but the same power to constitute states of affairs through activity is common to all processes and bodies.[2]

“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. Whatever is soft, fluid, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard.” – Lao Zi
The Burney Falls in Shasta County, Northern California. Image by melfoody via Flickr / Creative Commons

 

Action in Phase With All Processes: Wu Wei

Movement of interaction constitutes the world. This is the core principle of pragmatist process philosophy, and as such brings this school of thought into accord with the Daoist tradition. Ontological analysis in the Dao De Jing is entirely focussed on vectors of becoming – understanding the world in terms of its changes, movements, and flows, as each of these processes integrate in the complexity of states of affairs.

Not only is the Dao De Jing a foundational text in what is primarily a process tradition of philosophy, but it is also primarily pragmatist. Its author Lao Zi frames ontological arguments in practical concerns, as when he writes, “The most supple things in the world ride roughshod over the most rigid” (Dao De Jing §43). This is a practical and ethical argument against a Parmenidean conception of identity requiring stability as a necessary condition.

What cannot change cannot continue to exist, as the turbulence of existence will overcome and erase what can exist only by never adapting to the pressures of overwhelming external forces. What can only exist by being what it now is, will eventually cease to be. That which exists in metamorphosis and transformation has a remarkable resilience, because it is able to gain power from the world’s changes. This Daoist principle, articulated in such abstract terms, is in Deleuze and Guattari’s work the interplay of the varieties of territorializations.

Knowledge in the Chinese tradition, as a concept, is determined by an ideal of achieving harmonious interaction with an actor’s environment. Knowing facts of states of affairs – including their relationships and tendencies to spontaneous and proliferating change – is an important element of comprehensive knowledge. Nonetheless, Lao Zi describes such catalogue-friendly factual knowledge as, “Those who know are not full of knowledge. Those full of knowledge do not know” (Dao De Jing 81). Knowing the facts alone is profoundly inadequate to knowing how those facts constrict and open potentials for action. Perfectly harmonious action is the model of the Daoist concept of Wu Wei – knowledge of the causal connections among all the bodies and processes constituting the world’s territories understood profoundly enough that self-conscious thought about them becomes unnecessary.[3]

Factual knowledge is only a condition of achieving the purpose of knowledge: perfectly adapting your actions to the changes of the world. All organisms’ actions change their environments, creating physically distinctive territories: places that, were it not for my action, would be different. In contrast to the dualistic Western concept of nature, the world in Daoist thought is a complex field of overlapping territories whose tensions and conflicts shape the character of places. Fulfilled knowledge in this ontological context is knowledge that directly conditions your own actions and the character of your territory to harmonize most productively with the actions and territories that are always flowing around your own.

Politics of the Harmonious Life

The Western tradition, especially in its current sub-disciplinary divisions of concepts and discourses, has treated problems of knowledge as a domain separate from ethics, morality, politics, and fundamental ontology. Social epistemology is one field of the transdisciplinary humanities that unites knowledge with political concerns, but its approaches remain controversial in much of the conservative mainstream academy. The Chinese tradition has fundamentally united knowledge, moral philosophy, and all fields of politics especially political economy since the popular eruption of Daoist thought in the Warring States period 2300 years ago. Philosophical writing throughout eastern Asia since then has operated in this field of thought.

As such, Dao-influenced philosophy has much to offer contemporary progressive political thought, especially the new communitarianism of contemporary social movements with their roots in Indigenous decolonization, advocacy for racial, sexual, and gender liberation, and 21st century socialist advocacy against radical economic inequality. In terms of philosophical tools and concepts for understanding and action, these movements have dense forebears, but a recent tradition.

The movement for economic equality and a just globalization draws on Antonio Gramsci’s introduction of radical historical contingency to the marxist tradition. While its phenomenological and testimonial principles and concepts are extremely powerful and viscerally rooted in the lived experience of subordinated – what Deleuze and Guattari called minoritarian – people as groups and individuals, the explicit resources of contemporary feminism is likewise a century-old storehouse of discourse. Indigenous liberation traditions draw from a variety of philosophical traditions lasting millennia, but the ongoing systematic and systematizing revival is almost entirely a 21st century practice.

Antonio Negri, Rosi Braidotti, and Isabelle Stengers’ masterworks unite an analysis of humanity’s destructive technological and ecological transformation of Earth and ourselves to develop a solution to those problems rooted in communitarian moralities and politics of seeking harmony while optimizing personal and social freedom. Daoism offers literally thousands of years of work in the most abstract metaphysics on the nature of freedom in harmony and flexibility in adaptation to contingency. Such conceptual resources are of immense value to these and related philosophical currents that are only just beginning to form explicitly in notable size in the Western tradition.

Van Norden has written a book that is, for philosophy as a university discipline, is a wake-up call to this obstinate branch of Western academy. The world around you is changing, and if you hold so fast to the contingent borders of your tradition, your territory will be overwritten, trampled, torn to bits. Live and act harmoniously with the changes that are coming. Change yourself.

It isn’t so hard to read some Lao Zi for a start.

Contact details: serrc.digital@gmail.com

References

Allen, Barry. Knowledge and Civilization. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2004.

Allen, Barry. Striking Beauty: A Philosophical Look at the Asian Martial Arts. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.

Allen, Barry. Vanishing Into Things: Knowledge in Chinese Tradition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015.

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.

Betasamosake Simpson, Leanne. As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, Or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2012.

Braidotti, Rosi. The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013.

Deleuze, Gilles. Bergsonism. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. New York: Zone Books, 1988.

Chew, Sing C. World Ecological Degradation: Accumulation, Urbanization, and Deforestation, 3000 B.C. – A.D. 2000. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press, 2001.

Negri, Antonio, and Michael Hardt. Assembly. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Parikka, Jussi. A Geology of Media. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

Riggio, Adam. Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015.

Stengers, Isabelle. Cosmopolitics I. Translated by Robert Bononno. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2010.

Stengers, Isabelle. Cosmopolitics II. Translated by Robert Bononno. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2011.

Van Norden, Bryan. Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017.

World Trade Organization. World Trade Statistical Review 2016. Retrieved from https://www.wto.org/english/res_e/statis_e/wts2016_e/wts2016_e.pdf

[1] That US$3-trillion drop in trade was largely the proliferating effect of the sudden price drop of human civilization’s most essential good, crude oil, to just less than half of its 2014 value.

[2] A student of Allen’s arrived at this conclusion in combining his scientific pragmatism with the French process ontology of Deleuze and Guattari in the context of ecological problems and eco-philosophical thinking.

[3] This concept of knowledge as perfectly harmonious but non-self-conscious action also conforms to Henri Bergson’s concept of intuition, the highest (so far) form of knowledge that unites the perfect harmony in action of brute animal instinct with the self-reflective and systematizing power of human understanding. This is a productive way for another creative contemporary philosophical path – the union of vitalist and materialist ideas in the work of thinkers like Jane Bennett – to connect with Asian philosophical traditions for centuries of philosophical resources on which to draw. But that’s a matter for another essay.

Author Information: Gregory Sandstrom, European Humanities University and Mykolas Romeris University, gregory.sandstrom@ehu.lt

Sandstrom, Gregory. “Trans-Evolutionary Change Even Darwin Would Accept.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 11 (2016): 18-26.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3ji

Please refer to:

origin_of_species

Image credit: Lasso Tyrifjord, via flickr

“[T]he grandest narrative of western culture, the modern story of evolution.” — Betty Smocovitis (1996)

“[E]volutionary change occurs over timeframes that transcend virtually all the interesting contexts that call for sociological explanations. Specifically, genetic change occurs either over too large a temporal expanse to interest professional sociologists or at a level too far below the humanly perceptible to interest the social agents that sociologists usually study.”— Steve Fuller (2005)

The theory of evolution is “one of the most ideological of sciences.”— Eduard Kolchinsky (2015)

The controversy over Darwin’s evolutionary legacy in biology, philosophy and social science, re-examined at the recent Royal Society ‘new trends’ meeting reinforces the belief within SSH that Darwin’s contribution to knowledge, whatever it may have been politically (cf. Patrick Matthew and the Arago Effect) or natural scientifically, was incomplete and in many ways destructive when applied to human beings. The danger of Darwinian evolution being applied to society is something that even the arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins admits. Some scholars, however, don’t seem willing to heed such a warning or even to acknowledge it has merit.

Scholarly disagreement surrounding the concept of ‘evolution’ (read: history, change-over-time, development, etc.) isn’t only about biology, but also about social sciences and humanities (SSH). Thankfully, practitioners in SSH have not often felt obliged to prostrate our fields to the promised hand-me-down evolutionistic ‘contribution’ of natural sciences, including biology. Yet there has also been a fruitful mixture of concepts between biology and SSH, that from time to time needs to be untangled or re-catalogued, to return a better proportion during a temporal disharmony.

One can see a modest level of internet buzz surrounding this Royal Society event from a variety of exotic quarters, including mainstream Nature, the British Academy, and philosopher Nancy Cartwright, to fringe journalism, outright philosophistry that is basically neo-creationism, in USAmerican-style, shouted loud and proud by the Intelligent Design Movement, and likewise aggressively resisted by the Darwinistas and members of the humanities Evolutionariat. And of course the ‘orthodox’ of scientistic right-wing conservative Kabala in pop USA culture while it seems to know surprisingly little about the philosophy of science. One almost needs a guide to navigate their way through all of this noise and pretence to defence of territories and ideologies, which oftentimes comes at too high an intellectual cost.

The gap between the ‘two cultures’ in this sense is as fresh as ever, which the Discovery Institute and their ‘new atheist’ opponents both exacerbate; together and taken separately. In our ‘multiversities’ today there are many more than just ‘two cultures’ or a ‘third culture.’ We try with many of these ‘cultures’ to make sense of them, that they may pollinate our understandings and identities both in the digital internet universe and in the actual physical university structures that institutionally support most of the people reading this message. The gap in understanding now evident in the N. American landscape is simply that natural science has come to be seen as the mantle of a ‘culture apart’ from all others. In this view, natural scientists have now run into a wall in trying to dictate their particular discipline’s ‘evolutionary principles’ to all other ‘knowledge cultures,’ including SSH. And now philosophy and social science have been given a platform to fight for their intellectual rights to not be imperialised by a frenzied hoard of Darwinists.

In addition to naturalistic evolution, the ‘humanistic’ SSH discourse surrounding the term ‘evolution’ is rich and varied, with many open disagreements (e.g. R. Lewontin and J. Fracchia vs. W. Runciman 2000s, Fuller 2005-2010s). If one is to respect the cultural diversity of practises that R. Dawkins would attribute to ‘extended phenotypes’ in his gene-centric view of the world, then one needs to include the voices of philosophers and social scientists. The typical biologistic generalisations and mere condescending (pretending) to understand cultural fields have become tired reminders of anti-intellectualism within the Evolutionariat. The Royal Society gathering generally addressed the task of raising awareness about SSH on Day 3 – November 9, though the overall agenda was dominated by a kind of ‘biologism’ of the modern and extended evolutionary syntheses (MEES).

Nevertheless, the event’s mission was no less than to reposition ‘Darwinism,’ as well as clarify how 21st century evolutionary theories can effectively be(come) post-Darwinian. Thus, we come to a historical moment when the option of discarding much of the ‘crude Darwinism’ of the degenerate late-modern period, infused with biologistic imperialism in SSH, may now be propositioned further. By now, with annual Darwin Day celebrations in the Anglo-American world, this debacle of Darwin-idolisation has turned into the “Lysenko Affair of the ‘West’.” Given the opportunity for evolutionary ideas in SSH to be tried by a jury of representative scholars with the prospect that they be found largely empty of many of their promises, the prospect of trans-evolutionary change would indeed be seen as a direct threat to both the coherence and any claim to significance of the MEES. Darwinian evolution either needs to be significantly repositioned and shrunk in SSH usage or it needs to be thrown out altogether.

To achieve a way forward beyond the constraints and false pathways left over from the old Darwinian corpus, we introduce the notion of ‘trans-evolutionary change’ as a feature particularly of SSH (humanistic) rather than naturalistic fields. This is a trans-evolutionary change even Darwin would accept as it acknowledges humanity ‘in tension,’ but not necessarily always ‘at war’. It was a major contribution that the Russian scientific tradition made even to the ‘western’ canon about ‘evolution’ in the names of Karl F. Kessler and Piotr A. Kropotkin to highlight ‘mutual aid’ (vzaimnopomosh), ‘cooperation’ and later ‘symbiosis’ and ‘symbiogenesis.’ By ‘trans-evolutionary change’ the author thus identifies human tension in contrast with the struggle motif in the growingly discredited Darwin-Malthus-Hobbes school.

This topic has been raised several times already at SERRC, though with less of the flair than what comes from Steve Fuller’s own writings. Student of Fuller, William Lynch’s long paper “Darwinian Social Epistemology” was responded to adequately by Peter Taylor with a short critique. Lynch’s longer reply to Taylor includes this gem: “I accept that simple, biological explanations of complex human behaviors are unlikely to be effective.” O.k., then maybe it’s time he intellectually mature and move beyond 19th century ‘Darwinism’ dressed in pragmatic USAmericano culturological garb and consider dropping the reductionistic evolutionistic ideology in SSH? Taylor replied to Lynch convincingly in April 2016. This message reconnects with that one and takes it a stage further.

Taylor defines ‘artificial selection’ as “deliberate selection based on some explicit criterion”, which he calls “a restrictive form of explanation of evolutionary change” (2016). In both of these notions I agree with Taylor and disagree with Lynch. The larger issue involves the kinds of non-evolutionary change that are legitimately available for considered scholarly discussion, instead of hand-waving and dismissal by a throng of backwards-looking, Darwin-outdated biologists and self-styled ‘public understanding of science’ or STS gurus. While I agree with Taylor that it appears Lynch’s “view of Darwinism is what drives his taking on of Fuller and so it would be difficult for him to satisfy a reader like me,” I disagree that banning any and all talk of design or Design in the Academy, particularly in SSH, e.g. social epistemology, serves a constructive purpose.

It is too obvious for everyone involved that the Discovery Institute winks with little (secret) giggles to each other when speaking about human design, i.e. design by intelligent agents, the effects of intelligent agency, etc. Such talk is all standard fare and nothing spectacular, since it could be seen in any SSH field. Human beings are involved in ‘designing’ processes, just as we do many other processes in addition to ‘designing.’ It is now both sad and tired that the ID people still seem to think they’ve reinvented the wheel while making a major innovation on sliced bread (ReVoluTion!) in the concept duo of ‘intelligent’ + ‘design.’ Perhaps Taylor’s view is simply that Steve Fuller’s representation of ID isn’t one he can personally, confessionally or professionally endorse, as it overlaps necessarily with Fuller’s worldview, which has apparently undergone (if by no more than label alone) a shift in recent years.

To achieve a way forward by dropping the tired chains of the old and new Darwinian corpus, we introduce the notion of ‘trans-evolutionary change’ as a particular feature of SSH, rather than biological or natural scientific fields. Trans-evolutionary change acknowledges humanity in tension and on smaller space-time scales than Big History naturalistic evolutionary theories. As well, it highlights the peculiar interest in the Extended Mind Thesis (Clark and Chalmers 1998), which is pushing envelopes in philosophy of mind, group cognition and dynamic systems theory. This is done to show there are burgeoning fields of study in philosophy and social sciences, e.g. such studies involving the ‘extensions’ of humanity in a non-evolutionary way, that are ready to take off once the proverbial Darwinian monkey is removed from SSH’s back. Focus on these studies may help make more coherent the Royal Society’s “philosophical and social sciences” agenda moving forward.

Trans-Evolutionary Change Can be Observed in Five Things

1) A category of change by human beings (i.e. in the anthropocene period) that occurs across, above, under, <, >, beyond or through the temporal and spatial scales found in biological and other naturalistic evolutionary theories.

What’s the minimum allowable time that it would take for something to ‘evolve?’ If there is no minimum, then there is no quantifiable scientific theory based on time. If you allow a minimum time scale, even across a range of applications, then you open the possibility of studying ‘trans-evolutionary’ change because there must then be ‘actions/processes/origins’ that cross the relevant time scale. In such cases, it must be left open for alternative ways to discover an answer using a non-evolutionary toolkit.

Darwin’s defenders often avoid the importance of exploring and explaining this ‘scale and identity controversy’ in public. Darwin had studied geology with his mentor Charles Lyell, and noted: “if we make the same allowances as before for our ignorance, and remember that some forms of life change most slowly, enormous periods of time being thus granted for their migration, I do not think that the difficulties are insuperable.” The large time scales involved in Darwin’s evolutionary narrative are quite clearly not the same scales involved when decisions are made, artefacts made and actions taken on the level of institutions, communities, groups, etc. that SSH studies.

The question logically then arises: what happens when we are not dealing with ‘enormous periods of time’ but rather with much shorter, non-evolutionary time scales? One way to distinguish the particular focus of interest that SSH has taken as its rightful province from the beginning until now has found a new name, which suits our purpose of signifying trans-evolutionary change. More than simply a new geological period, the epoch of trans-evolutionary change is now called: the Anthropocene.

2) Not only (reducible to) the externalist ‘Darwinian’ version of ‘natural selection’ acting upon an object from ‘outside,’ but rather also invokes the internalist (e.g. extended mind) notion of ‘human selection’ (Wallace 1890) from ‘inside’ a person.

This requires a kind of social epistemology that Fuller acknowledges as “a distinctive counter-biological sense of ‘social selection’: religious, academic, and political.” (2005: 6) Once people see that deterministic Darwinian models of social change are ‘not even wrong,’ the desire for an alternative that focuses on ‘selection’ on the human level will become more tangible.

Perhaps the most heinous result of so-called Darwinian logic has been that it handicapped a whole realm of knowledge with expectations that it could not meet. How was it ever thought possible that a naturalistic externalist view of human society and culture could ever take priority over a humanistic view of society? One ideology explores not only Einstein’s physical notion of “the starry heavens above”, but also the personal notion of a “moral universe within,” which is the anthropic dimension.

3) Investigable on both the individual (person) and population (society) levels (i.e. multiple levels) simultaneously, interactively and proportionally.

There is no avoiding the fact that the single discipline that has put the most of its attention and resources into the study of “individuals and groups” is sociology. When biologists use language borrowed from SSH, weave it into their disciplinary language with variations, adaptations and neologisms (e.g. ‘memetics’) inserted alongside it, they often distort or mangle its key message(s). One example of this is the notion of ‘group selection’ vs. ‘individual selection.’ Sociologists have been studying both, but with a concentration on the ‘agency’ of ‘selection’ that is far more developed than evolutionistic musing. We already have what biologists later decided to call “multi-layer selection,” which is typical language already in SSH where there are often multiple competing (or cooperating) hypotheses.

4) Dedicated to intentional, mindful, wilful, planned and directed changes (i.e. teleological) that are temporally and spatially lived and enacted by human beings within their (read: our) social, cultural, natural and other environments.

Nothing much really needs to be added about this feature of trans-evolutionary change. Enough people know about it and have written about it already. It’s a simple question of conversational proportionality and ideological control over journal publications and ‘associations’ that restricts ideological anti-evolutionism (as if it simply must by definition come from USAmerican fundamentalists and biblical literalists) from gaining a ready audience. Trans-evolutionary change serves to crush the materialistic aspirations of old-guard Darwinists and evolutionists because it shows quite simply, plainly and clearly how varieties of non-evolutionary change can be studied in SSH.

5) Inclusive of theories about sources and formal/final causes of ethics and morality (in addition to efficient and material causes) that transcend adaptationist evolutionary accounts based on naturalist reductionism.

This is a macro-feature of the trans-evolutionary discourse, which by beginning in SSH we forego the dilemma of whether or not to focus solely on efficient and material causes. The alternative, which is required for investigation on the more holistic level of SSH than NPS, allows the proper study of formal and final causes (Aristotelian causality) in ethics and morality. Naturalist reductionism is then seen as an (only efficiency/materialist) ideology with limited purposeful applicability in fields where elevation to mind-also and heart rather than reduction to body-alone is required.

The above is just a brief point-form introduction to trans-evolutionary change, which is one of the main topics of my upcoming book on Human Tension. These 5 indicators provide a basic outline of the new concept of trans-evolutionary change. They are not meant to be exhaustive, but rather indicative that this topic is ripe and ready for exploration and application across a range of scientific and scholarly fields. Particularly for those with a philosophical interest in the communication and sharing of knowledge, the notion that knowledge ‘extends’ and that our minds also can be perceived as ‘extending’ into society, while society also applies ‘intensions’ on our lives, has many opportunities for both scholarly and everyday application beyond the boundaries of evolutionary thinking.

If a person does not wish to acknowledge the notion of ‘trans-evolutionary’ as legitimate, as having a proper semantic meaning or as worthy of conversational inclusion, nothing can stop a person from holding that attitude. One may then need to be very restricted in speaking with them when looking more carefully at their particular meaning of ‘evolutionary’ because it might be tricky or uncelar. With some people, evolutionary theories turn into an evolutionistic worldview, a Darwin-idolising anti-theism apologetics based on aggressive ‘new atheist’ rhetoric rather than simply an arrangement of more or less clear and important scholarly ideas about change, motion, chance, intention, purpose, etc.

Yet with the conundrum of convoluted definitions, evolution is also used by others with sometimes too narrow a range of explanations, e.g. ‘only biology.’ This cohort of unknown size has an over-inflated view of biology as “the science of Life” and therefore as Queen of the Academy following the former Science Queen – physics. The importance therefore of having enabled a flanking move to evolutionary theory with trans-evolutionary change, by accumulating arguments in sovereign, independent, autonomous (but integral), developing SSH fields of knowledge, has many potential consequences. Do biologists really wish to restrict ‘evolution’ to being ‘strictly a biological’ idea and if not, then which new ‘map of knowledge’ would they suggest so that ideological biologism (which they likely won’t openly name) does not continue to plague the academic landscape? I see nothing coherent coming from biologists, even the non-exaggerators, to visualise a more realistic ‘map of knowledge’ than the grossly disproportionate view that many of them currently hold, uneducated in the sociology of science as most of them are.

My appeal then is to people first, not to abstract ‘post-evolutionary’ ideas. I’m not interested in those who feel they categorically must refuse to even consider the notion of trans-evolutionary change. It is those who may be curious to depart from the biological status quo into a post-Darwinian reality, to metaphorically ‘follow the white rabbit’ away from Darwin’s dehumanising determinist hole into a more fulfilling exploration of human society that appeal to me. A trans-evolutionary thinker may and often does know the ‘evolutionary canon’ rather well, but also moves beyond it to embrace a more dynamic, realistic model of choice, change and human development in 21st century SSH. They therefore need no longer embrace the mainstream ‘strictly neo-Darwinian’ or ‘Modern Synthesis’ version of evolutionary theories in natural sciences (or in economics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc.) any longer because we are right now in the midst of significant changes to the ‘paradigm,’ an (over-)extension, amendment, revision or even ‘replacement.’

The Intelligent Design Movement has turned into such a circus that even one of its ringleaders William Dembski recently had to publically ‘retire’ from it. He simply cannot be defended as a ‘revolutionary’ IDist anymore. One of the mainstays of the Discovery Institute for over a decade, Casey Luskin, also recently left the DI to pursue ‘further studies.’ Yet the so-called Darwinists display radical tendencies just as do their IDist ‘debate and publish’ partner foes. In one of the most absurd dead-ends in late-modern intellectual life, D.S. Wilson’s biologistic ideologising at the Evolution Institute, with Evolution for Everyone, most recently misguided Robin Hoodism at ‘Evonomics’, has led him now even into the promotion of ‘social Darwinism’. While the scientific ethos to reject hubris with humility generally holds, there do seem to be cases within the party-atmosphere of the Evolutionariat in some psychology of science sense where scholars belief they have achieved a kind of ‘god’s eye view’ and conceptual monopoly over change. However, in this case by returning to a 19th century naturalist icon in Darwin, Wilson isn’t exactly blazing new territory. He is rather waving a smudged, outdated flag of Evolutionary Naturalism towards SSH as he rides off towards a detoured naturalised/under-humanised destination for humanity. And already he has attracted a small mob to his journey of fuzzy evolutionistic logic.

Yet when leaders of the Evolutionariat, people like D.S. Wilson, are caught actually saying things like, “The biggest victim of the stigmatized view of Social Darwinism has been all of us,” most sane people, most normal people, basically just most people realise that something has gone very wrong. Can this type of ideologically evolutionistic mess be avoided or perhaps just somehow cleaned up and fixed following this recent Royal Society meeting? While the option of ‘replace,’ ‘amend’ or ‘extend’ was on the table, speakers of course could easily escape facing the ‘over-extension’ of the modern evolutionary synthesis by huddling into the safe status quo backwardness of Darwinian thinking. Or, perhaps the good ole’ English paddle is what Darwin’s theory of ‘evolution by natural selection in the struggle for life’ needs.

It is a unique moment in the landscape of history, philosophy and sociology of science that there is now forged such a strong post-Darwinian evolutionary biology position (L. Margulis and the Third Way), which is what led to this important and timely Royal Society meeting. Steve Fuller has raised this issue in multiple venues and on many occasions at least since 2005 and it seems to be a question of time when the public conversation finally catches up to his unique cybernetic design intelligence contribution. This may be yet another timely opportunity to re-explore his views on this topic as it seems several people at SERRC have recently found air to voice their concerns and criticisms of Fuller’s evolutionism, creationism and IDism, science and religion work. And well, if Peter Thiel can promote (lowercase) ‘intelligent design’ (not to be confused with the theistic ‘design argument,’ right?), then why can’t most other people in the 21st century at least acknowledge it exists and isn’t really that big a deal?

The most meaningful aspects of this conversation in my view are very little about the actual person or ideas of Charles Darwin. What an amazing convenient distraction the recluse from Downe, England has become! It’s time to close that chapter and read on further than Darwin in the Book of Nature. The key factors of interest here in SSH have been more about the ideological movement of the so-called ‘Darwinists’ and the illogical inversion of processes for origins (cf. Whitehead) from the start. And now with the Royal Society, the rest of society has also caught up with the ‘Darwinists’ who can be largely now rejected in society, just as R. Dawkins has now been publically unveiled as highly un-liked and disapproved by scientists (even when his name is not mentioned in the survey question!) for his aggressive agnosticism/atheism and distortions of scientific knowledge. This is something that social epistemology can help us uncover and better understand … in case any SERRC members are interested in proactivating studies of trans-evolutionary change across a range of SSH fields, to which when broadly and specifically applied leaves Dawkins’ ‘memetics’ far behind.

Sociobiology was tried and failed. Memetics failed. Evolutionary psychology is trying and failing miserably because its governing principles are self-contradictory and it has ideological self-blinders on. Why do they keep desperately looking back to Darwin for answers? It is time to change the music program from the dissonant Darwinist hymn sheets that some scientists have been using to experiment their humanistic fantasies upon the world. As the times change, we are now no longer willing to accept the characterisation of ‘species egalitarian’ when speaking above the mere biological, physiological or zoological levels. Uplift from homo to human is a vertical cultural process, in which we’re best either to forget completely or if necessary simply put ‘in its proper limited place’ the horizontal naturalism of the Beagle Enlightenment story in SSH.

Trans-evolutionary change helps to overcome Darwin’s cultural regret with a less scientistic, naturalistic and generally pessimistic approach to human existence on Earth. Trans-evolutionary change ushers in potentiality for global-social reconciliation for science, philosophy and theology/worldview discourse through magnetism by rotation. Let us see those post-Darwinian ideas that are being blocked en-masse by defensive biologists and naturalists. It does no good whatsoever to first call a people, community or society ‘under-evolved’ or even ‘un-evolved’ and then to claim that some ambiguous cultural evolutionary theory of human development ‘scientifically’ proves this on a scale of your choosing. That is simply civilisational racism.

In contrast, with trans-evolutionary change, multiple levels of selection mean multiple interpretations of development are possible and even encouraged, based on the resources available to the community rather than demanding internal compliance to some external evolutionary civilisational Standard. The User instead has to supply the content for the magnetism, which takes discussions of human-social change away from Darwin’s outdated evolutionary framework towards more contemporary advanced discussions about emergence, agency, design, planning, and indeed, human extension, though this latter language is still not widely familiar in SSH.

The way forward is to begin applying trans-evolutionary thinking in SSH as a way to cleanse many humanistic fields from the naturalistic plague that was part of the 20th century and early 21st century science wars. It will become obvious immediately regarding those who actually wish to ‘try’ and use TEC and those who clearly do not. Those who do not wish to try trans-evolutionary thinking will become the laggards in 21st century science, philosophy and theology/worldview discourse, stuck perhaps by a fear of the future as much as a love of the past.

It’s time to send Darwin down the scholarly river into history, away from SSH land where he is no longer welcome. And it’s not only about treating women as 2nd class citizens and marrying his cousin. Yes, it means there will be a cohort of angry evacuees from Darwin; those who wish to remain Darwinists to the end, astonishingly even in SSH, who ultimately must demand rescue from the absurdity of the intellectual territorial flooding that they now occupy; turned out into a land of SSH giants that pushed their heroic scientist idol away.

Darwin’s theory of the struggle for existence and the selectivity connected with it has by many people been cited as authorization of the encouragement of the spirit of competition. Some people also in such a way have tried to prove pseudo-scientifically the necessity of the destructive economic struggle of competition between individuals. But this is wrong, because man owes his strength in the struggle for existence to the fact that he is a socially living animal. – Albert Einstein (1931)

This is so much closer to an ‘eastern’ worldview than a ‘western’ one. A neutral onlooker might wonder if there is more going on with Darwin-Malthus-Hobbes western ‘struggle’ proponents and practitioners than meets the eye on global humanity scales.

To close, a peroration: It would do many, but not all of us (that’s a non-scientific principle of ‘democracy’ in action, to which I’m confident that a significant ‘WE’ in global societies are ready to say together: ‘cheerio Charles!’), the honour, if England would please take Darwin’s pigeons, barnacles and worms back to Downe, U.K. and provide Darwin with a proper civilisational retirement from public attention. Patrick Matthew and the Arágo Effect send a preferable diversion courtesy of the trans-evolutionary stream.

Smocovitis writes of “the grandest narrative of western culture, the modern story of evolution” (1996), perhaps only up to the limits of her natural(istic )science. A more inspiring humanistic ‘narrative’ of SSH than the one constructed in Victorian England is made possible once a person passes beyond naturalist ideology in the name of ‘evolution.’ Indeed, the grandest narrative of global human culture may eventually come to be seen as that of ‘human extension’ (services) and thus with it also our lives in human tension beyond biology alone.

Author Information: Gregory Sandstrom, European Humanities University and Mykolas Romeris University, gregory.sandstrom@ehu.lt

Sandstrom, Gregory. “No Fuller than Complete: Darwin’s Age Comes to an End.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 11 (2016): 12-17.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3iK

evolution

Image credit: Marc Brüneke, via flickr

The bagpipes are playing the funeral oration for Darwin’s evolutionary theories as they have been chronically misapplied and ill-championed in social sciences and humanities (SSH), the true home of the Darwin wars. The feverish century-long pitch of the drum, drum, drumming of evolutionary war; war in nature, struggle for life, survival of the fittest, man vs. nature, man vs. each other motif, has finally moved past its zenith. No fuller than complete, the Age of Darwinian evolution now comes to an end, with a sign to mark its place at the Royal Society.

The Scottish originator of the phrase “natural process of selection” (1831) might be put out by all the notoriety that C. Darwin has received over the past 158 years since publication of ‘The Origin.’ But the fall from grace that Darwin is set up for once again in London, this time in front of a jury of world-class intellectual peers that will include philosophers and social scientists may be enough that the gracious Scot Patrick Matthew would never wish Darwin’s eventual fate upon him.

At an upcoming meeting at the Royal Society on ‘new trends in evolutionary biology,’ the prospect of finally over-turning ideological Darwinism in biology, with global leading evolutionists in attendance, is on our doorstep. Will Darwin’s Age finally come to an end? Darwin’s theory now comes across to the educated eye as ‘developed but incomplete,’ in stark contrast with how things looked in the mid-19th century.

When Darwin wrote privately to his mentor C. Lyell in 1860 about “a complete but not developed anticipation!” of his theory (of the origin of species by means of) natural selection, he obviously hadn’t yet heard of the so-called ‘Arago Effect’ of scientific priority. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have written it. Darwin’s letter symbolically gives official priority over the discovery of ‘natural selection’ to Matthew; ‘complete’ signals that Darwin didn’t add anything new and that his theory was ‘anticipated.’ A serious argument can thus be made that we are more hanging onto the name ‘Charles Robert Darwin of Down, England,’ etc. than we are any longer confident that the ‘evolutionary’ ideas coming from Darwin’s 19th century ‘canon’ of hand-me-down texts are still fuel for the scientific imagination and research programs today.

As Matthew wrote to the Gardener’s Chronicle in making his claim to having pioneered the idea of “nature’s law of selection,” others were not ready to receive what he wrote at the time and there was a “spirit of resistance to scientific doctrine” in positing nature’s ‘selection,’ “that caused my work to be voted unfit for the public library of the fair city itself. The age was not ripe for such ideas.” This was said in 1860 (less than 2 years after publication of OoS), when Matthew responded in print to a review of Darwin’s ‘Origin’ that suggested Darwin was original and held priority over ‘natural selection.’ Publically, however, Darwin would only suggest that nobody had read Matthew’s work and that he took nothing, even through word-of-mouth from others who had read Matthew, from Matthew’s ideas as a kind of ‘knowledge contamination’ (Sutton 2014).

What would happen if someone found something like an English acronym N.L.O.S. or even the directly stated Matthew phrase “nature’s law of selection” in any of the personal correspondence between Darwin and someone before 1858? If any such thing exists, with it the priority game for Darwin would surely be up with disgrace to his legendary name. But the so-called ‘smoking gun,’ much like those pesky transitional fossils in the historical geological record on Earth sometimes remain, is still yet to be found, if it even does exist.

Shift to 2016 and the ‘culture war’ in the Anglo-American English world surrounding the term ‘evolution’ (leave aside ‘creationism’ for the time being) is about to get a facelift with the upcoming Royal Society ‘new trends’ meeting. The scholarly discourse of change-over-time in SSH today has little to nothing to gain from Darwin’s corpus any more, but it may still lose much by not dropping him and his unruly ideological followers now.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems in the Anglo-American discourse is that many people there seemingly “don’t know what they don’t know” regarding evolutionism in SSH. In this case, in not knowing, they continue to abuse evolutionary language, under the spell of Darwinism. This happens both on the side of atheists that try to argue evolution offers a scientific argument to bolster their atheism, and for theists who employ the term ‘evolution’ even in the most absurd of cases in trying to linguistically woo their opponents.

At the USA’s evangelical Christian-based BioLogos, where ‘science and faith’ are supposed to co-exist peacefully (D. Falk), except when they don’t (e.g. cloning, contraception, pharmaceuticals, nano-technology, neural-linguistic programming, etc.), or be ‘integrated’ into each other (J. Swamidass), except when they aren’t (welcome to 21st century fracked philosophy!), and evolutionary biology is not considered as problematic to religious belief, except when it comes to the mystical genomics of Adam & Eve, there is a glaring problem of equivocation by the Management regarding the meaning of ‘evolution.’ Yes, folks, all good intentions aside, they really don’t know what they don’t know and furthermore don’t want to know. They want to be stubborn ‘creationists’ at their local churches instead.

The reason for this is that BioLogos holds an ideologically ‘scientistic’ epistemology, where scientisation runs rampant over knowledge with implications for secular human nature, character and theology (cf. A. McGrath’s ‘scientific theology’). Thus, BioLogos has demonstrated that it actively supports the over-extension of ‘evolution’ into evolutionism and uses metaphor transfer from natural to artificial ‘designs.’ We also see this in the over-extension of ‘creation’ into ‘creationism,’ which BioLogos not subtly endorses. Sadly, they offer no excuse or explanation for their simple and obvious grammatical error in displaying their confused ideologies.

Here’s one example. A commenter named Rafael Galvão wrote on their site:

I have a degree in economics and my object of study is the history of economic thought. Biological evolution and economic evolution are always used interchangeably, like the models of Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis are drawn from the evolutionary theory. I think it’s interesting that there are lots of discussions in the history of economic thought about Malthus and in the history of theology he’s basically forgotten.

This comment was ‘liked’ by BioLogos Managing Editor Brad Kramer, Joshua Swamidass & @Caspar_Hesp (Forum Moderator).

We can therefore conclude, aside from not recognising a simple falsehood in economics – evolution is not “always used interchangeably” – that BioLogos thus even promotes interchangeable usage of ‘evolution’ in biology and economics. This is significant by itself because they “don’t know what they don’t know” on this topic. They display no public recognition regarding ideological evolutionism and its underside, even welcoming a Christian evolutionary psychology project (which was not well received) into their Templeton-funded grants program.

Yet BioLogos is, unfortunately, not alone here and their conflation of NPS with SSH joins a considerably large group of economists who if they don’t call themselves ‘evolutionists’ then at least openly applies what they consider as loosely (because there isn’t much more than that) ‘evolutionary principles’ in their economics work. Whether the so-called principles themselves are worthless and of minimal theoretical contribution doesn’t seem to matter to them, as long as it is labelled ‘evolutionary’ and thanks be given to Darwin in the genre of scientific origins mythology.

Many fields in play, you might be wondering where this is going and why it’s important. Economics is a clear and blatant example of a field in confusion as a result of evolutionism in SSH. When the notion of what exactly does and what doesn’t evolve is not even raised and a discussion not had to clarify borders or boundaries, or at least evolutionary ‘aspirations,’ then little can be done to stop what Dennett called “Darwin’s universal acid.” Darwin is upheld by some as one of the greatest developers of SSH fields; he has been called the founder of psychology, of sociology and of modern political economy, etc. The notion that Darwin’s ‘principles’ may apply equally to human beings as to other creatures and even plants, rocks, the solar system and universe, etc. symbolizes a existential threat to human freedom and sovereignty, while some also see it as some kind of liberation.

One need only bring up one example among hundreds to throw a cold bucket of water on the notion that BioLogos actually supports ‘evolutionary economics’ or even knows much about what it means. They seem unaware of the potentially deadly social consequences that a misunderstanding of economic development might cause. With a law of competition based on “survival of the fittest in every department” between people, “[w]e accept and welcome great inequality (and) the concentration of business,” said Andrew Carnegie, “in the hands of a few.” Is this the kind of Darwinian economics BioLogos supports? It sadly remains a problem that BioLogos “doesn’t know what it doesn’t know” and therefore thinks that evolutionism everywhere without limits. Perhaps someday we will receive some clarity from BioLogos regarding abuses, and also under-sights, like why they never discuss cutting-edge biology and genetics involved with the Third Way. BioLogos shows ‘No Results’ regarding this “New Trends” meeting on its website although it has many biologists among its commentators. The USAmerican discourse surrounding ‘evolution,’ from this global village Canadian’s perspective is, given such intentional avoidance of crucial issues as at BioLogos, indeed largely a side-note to more interesting and important things.

Of key import at the Royal Society meeting is the notion of an ‘extended evolutionary synthesis’ and also the meaning of evolutionary ‘over-extension,’ since the notion of ‘replacement’ or major correction (amendment) for (neo-)Darwinian evolutionary theory is now realistically in play. R. Dawkins had already warned us in 2004 about getting “not too extended,” regarding the so-called ‘extended phenotype.’ In the McLuhan tongue, there is a distinction to make between a ‘speed-up’ and being ‘flipped.’ Thus, if evolutionary theory is ‘extended’ too far, sooner or later it ‘flips’ and becomes something other than itself at the core.

One of the most difficult puzzles nowadays seems to be finding opportunities for non-evolutionary thinking. Are there any replacement-like ‘non-evolutionary’ options for studying human character ready and available to consider that Darwin could never have imagined? If so, let us see some of them presented publically at the Royal Society.

In the present Wikipedia example, Objections to evolution is “part of a series on Evolutionary Biology.” This may seem unimportant, but it is a simple example that is repeated rampantly wherein objecting to evolution can only happen ‘legitimately’ in biology, yet at the same time the concept is widely used outside of biology, even in SSH. It begs the question if objections to evolution outside of biology can be legitimated and on what grounds would one decide if they are legitimate? If one listens only to the status quo of ‘normal evolutionary science’ voices in the Academy nowadays they could quite easily block this questioning out. Yet this Royal Society meeting makes the ‘universal Darwinism’ (Dawkins 1983) position very difficult to defend anymore and indeed much easier to leave aside for more progressive models.

Evolutionary ideas borrowed from biology are caught in the natural-physical scientific methodology of requiring that the ‘interpreter’ of nature (scientist) be entirely ‘un-reflexive’ in their scientific practise. Such an approach takes aim at a kind of ‘positive’ science or ‘objective’ knowledge which is thought to liberate the individual researcher from his or her typical human reflexivity into ‘objective scientific neutrality.’ But this is not the kind of ‘knowledge’ that is produced and shared in SSH, no matter how much easier it would make things if we could find ‘natural science-like’ looking data collection techniques.

Just as SSH scholars cannot escape their (our) reflexivity in our various research topics, neither can we impose our own worldview upon others as if the scientific theories and methods we use and advocate supposedly requires that. As Dawkins once cautioned, however, there are ‘Neville Chamberlain evolutionists,’ i.e. atheist-appeasers who argue that science and religion are somehow mutually compatible. The compatibility argument for science, philosophy and theology/worldview discourse runs contrary to what Dawkins and many of the ‘new atheists’ believe, which is that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible.

Theistic evolutionists (TEs) or evolutionary creationists (ECs), on the other hand, believe that science and religion are compatible, even while there are oftentimes disagreements and even open ideological conflicts. TEs consist of the majority and current default position among Abrahamic theists. Yet the protestant evangelicals who swarm to this topic of conversation turning it into a large in-market often come across as simply confused and under-educated, whether they self-identify as ‘creationist’ (against Darwin’s view that “it becomes highly improbable that they [species] have been separately created by individual acts of the will of a Creator”) or not.

One problematic feature of this recent development only in the past 5-10 years is that ideological TEs (which means all of them, by definition of the term ‘evolutionists’) often won’t stand alongside of their fellow theists who haven’t given up Orthodox teachings for evolutionistic ideology. Yet for TEs who are otherwise orthodox and mainstream even without carrying the label, the continual embrace of evolutionism may come to be seen as an unnecessary linguistic act that can be corrected simply by will of words and nothing else.

In short, there certainly are people who need to hear the message: “Please stop trying to ‘evolutionise’ everything. We see through this ruse with trans-evolutionary change.” The spirit of the difference between ‘evolving’ and other types of change and the discernment of evolution’s limitations is something that TEs still seem unable to experience or perceive. This condition may change with the inclusion of trans-evolutionary change into SSH discourse.

One problem in the sub-field of social epistemology (i.e. not just individualistic analytic ‘western’ epistemology, or even Goldmanian social epistemology) is that Fuller himself seems to draw no clear distinction between what ‘evolves’ and what doesn’t. I can find nothing in my Fuller notes where he defines or even acknowledges ‘non-evolutionary’ in any meaningful way. On the one hand, Fuller is putting risk and reward mechanisms in front of people in public the way he contends that “we are now entering a new era in the understanding of minds and machines.” It may sound somehow empowering when Fuller uses such language, that of enhancement, uplift and higher projection than homo sapiens sapiens. This is provocative ‘social epistemology’ that engages many people and in my opinion could do so in a more effective way, were Fuller to clarify himself about what specifically does and doesn’t evolve.

Fuller recently displayed surprisingly backwards in his language by a least a century and was uncharacteristically ‘precautionary’ on the topic of ‘social evolution.’ He still actually seems to believe in that old myth! Fuller says that “military and police drones may evolve” (into ‘android companions’). Yet this is a primarily externalistic notion of ‘evolve’ with no internal ‘human guidance’ involved. Obviously that scenario is quite contrary to actual social reality. If Fuller wishes to conceptually disavow ‘social evolution,’ the academic world will no more vilify him for this than they have already for his endorsement of ‘intelligent design.’

Mere gradualism and step-by-step thinking likewise shouldn’t be defended by Fuller here as ‘evolutionary’ based on loosely defined views of change-over-time in society. Proactionary thinking, in contrast with evolutionistic SSH, is much more (if not entirely) internalistic in character; with the individual (or group) choosing to intentionally act based on inner reasons, instincts or principles. Fuller thus seems to be stuck on the right side, yet still the downside of Darwin’s legacy, not yet having moved past evolutionism in his linguistic strategy and offering little clarity through his linguistic embrace of social evolution. In this confusing message regarding evolution and evolutionism, Fuller thus seems to want to have things as many ways as possible at the same time and all at once in his unity-oriented social epistemology.

“‘Wouldn’t ‘Nature,’ understood in its totality,” Fuller a self-described ‘naturalist’ asks, “suffice as the name of God?’ The authors of this book [Fuller and Lipinska], on the other hand, stand with those who locate the ‘best explanation’ for nature in the workings of the sort of anthropocentric yet transcendent deity favoured by the Abrahamic religions.” This was the public(ation) moment of Fuller’s conversion from secular humanism to Unitarian (proto-Christian) science, philosophy & theology discourse. Without this piece to the puzzle, without reference to a “transcendent deity,” Fuller’s defence of neo-creationist Intelligent Design would make no sense. So, with this understanding, Fuller’s social epistemology now no longer looks as ‘naturalistic’ as it once may have.

At least we note that Fuller has come around (2014) to reluctantly acknowledging the new geological Anthropocene period of human impact on Earth, what one might call ‘little history’ in contrast to ‘big history’ or ‘macrohistory’ (Christian 2005). With Bill Gates’ educational missionary help, ‘big history’ is effectively knocking young earth creationism out of textbooks and public school classrooms as simply undereducated USAmerican provincialism. A proper ‘anthropic’ (not necessarily anthropocentric) scale thus seems required to beat back the imperialist manoeuvres of misanthropic biologism (& economism). With that we can explore specifically human activities including origins and processes, design and manufacture, etc.

At the end of the day we can still hope for improved proportionality in the SSH–NPS relationship as the voices of SSH against evolutionism and Darwinism are heard, respected and listened to in terms of what escaping from the ideological evolutionistic prison might entail. What we don’t want on the way out is to turn human extensions into a kind of technological self-manipulation that echoes what McLuhan predicted with electric (psycho-somatic) engineering of more and more social environments.

Author Information: William T. Lynch, Wayne State University, William.Lynch@wayne.edu

Lynch, William T. “Complexity, Natural Selection, and Cultural Evolution.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 3 (2016): 64-72.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-2Ln

Please refer to:

nature_morte

Image credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões, via flickr

Peter Taylor begins his reply to me by objecting to Steve Fuller’s intelligent design-based critique of the intelligibility of science—which is the object of my criticism.[1] He argues that Fuller’s own point of view does not make sense and that intelligent design should lead one to lack motivation to study nature since God can just change the rules at any point. That, of course, depends upon what God is taken to choose to do. In any event, I certainly cannot be expected to make a case for Fuller’s argument that is stronger than the one he presents.  Continue Reading…