Causality is a curious thing. We learn it at a young age, but for some the lesson never totally takes. It’s a simple formula: “Don’t do x or y will happen.” Or, even…”If you do x then y will result.” You get the idea…
But is that how life really functions? Much of our understanding of what it means to be rational and scientific derives from a beginning point of rational and scientific inquiry — the 17th century transformation grandly labeled “The Scientific Revolution”. In this sense the origins of science are rooted in a linear, mechanical, mathematical and, ultimately, de-spiritualized vision of nature. In an essay in Edge entitled “Breaking the Galilean Spell” Stuart A. Kauffman from the University of Calgary challenges these assumptions, arguing for the legitimacy of phenomena that are “emergent” (i.e. incalculable based on what is already given).
I have written about ideas like emergence and the spiritual vs. scientific divide before, using the term vitalism in relationship to these ideas. In an importance sense, emergence and vitalism are synonyms. They are, as suggested by the philosopher of science Georges Canguilhem, more moral than methodological imperatives. Kauffman argues in his interesting little essay (derived from a book…) that there is a dire ethical need to understand nature and science through new metaphors and paradigms. Our survival may depend on it.
N.B. This article found by way of Arts & Letters Daily.