The Future of Knowledge TheoryIPSweb
Policy Perspectives, Vlm 4, No.2
Although my heart made such haste in this desert,
It did not know a single hair, but took to hair splitting.
In my heart shone a thousand suns,
Yet it never discovered completely the nature of a single atom.
– Ibn Sina (Avicenna)
In the context of 21st century knowledge paradigms, the “theory of consilience” expounded by E. O. Wilson, the famous evolutionary biologist, is significant. Wilson regards consilience as being fundamental to science. His theory is based on a basic belief in the intrinsic unity of knowledge. In his treatise, entitled “Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge,” Wilson states:
According to Wilson, all behavior is biologically adaptive — whether it is cognitive, social or moral — and is governed by genes, that is, the heredity makeup granted to an individual at birth. Biological evolution among the Homo sapiens has halted; thus, any further evolution of mankind and change in human behavior must originate in the intellectual sphere. Such an intellectual evolution will be determined by the exercise of “social choice,” in which culture will play a role.
As a stage in intellectual evolution, Wilson believes that the Enlightenment failed to bring about the desired changes in human attitudes and behavior because it focused on analysis rather than synthesis of knowledge — the search for truth was divided into several disciplines that had little or no connection with each other. He advocates consilience between the natural and social sciences: human behavior should no longer be studied through isolated disciplines, but through an interaction of the various natural and social sciences, such as biology, psychology, neurology, sociology, physics and chemistry. This, in Wilson’s view, will yield a better understanding of human development and evolution that is informed by both the biological and the intellectual perspectives.
This paper seeks to develop an understanding of Wilson’s concept of unity and the scope of his proposed paradigm to investigate human behavior and evolution in the future. Is the ‘unity of knowledge’ universal? Can the principles offered by Wilson solve the human problems of ethics, survival, and moral ontogenesis?
For this understanding, the paper addresses the basic questions of whether human behavior follows ‘natural selection’ by chance, or is monitored and shaped by some divine plan; whether any duality in mind and body exists, and how far the Cartesian rule justifies this principle. Also, is it really true that our social choices cause changes in our genetic makeup: does that change represent a biological need based adaptation, or is it a conscious effort of our minds, causing intellectual evolution, or simply a “virus” of imitation?
The answers provided by Wilson’s Consilience are examined, along with conciliatory efforts under way in various disciplines, and other contemporary and historically held views. Through comparison, an attempt is made to arrive at a conclusion about the source of evolution in human behavior, and the potential “consilience” holds for reaching a truer understanding of human behavior and its evolution.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “consilience” was first used in 1834 as a compliement to an artist. The complementary process of consilience, the unity of knowledge, championed by E. O. Wilson, came from the philosopher William Whewell (1840) in his book The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences. Whewell took the term from the Latin word ‘consilere’ (con means with and salire means to leap).
Consilience is the magnetic attraction of ideas from different perspectives; a mutual recognition of sameness. Wilson prefers and uses the term consilience to describe the synthesis of knowledge from different specialized fields of human endeavor. He defines consilience as the alignment (literally, the jumping together) of knowledge from different disciplines and levels, that, in time, the natural sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, the arts, and, finally, ethics fold seamlessly into a single, unbroken skein of unified knowledge.
The question arises why the need was felt for such a theory?
The 20th century has been an age of science — the era of knowledge acquisition, while the 21st century has been pronounced as the age of knowledge management with the key theme of ‘unification.’ This theme has been operating at several levels since the Grand Unification Theory was proposed and, more recently, with the advancement of the Theory of Everything (TOE). The political campaign of globalization and religious claim of “All is One” are on hype as well. Though TOE was originally applied to physics, Ken Wilber has found it applicable in ethics and religion as well, regarding it a theory of spirituality. The New Age is one of awakened consciousness where people are giving up their limited three-dimensional, survival mode of existence and awakening to a higher, more enlightened world. The focus is upon the goal of achieving harmony and progress through knowledge sharing and bridging of gaps for the sake of ultimate “light” or enlightenment.
As such, consilience offers a whole new paradigm. Before going into its details, it is pertinent to point out some of the doubts it has created among contemporary thinkers like Thomas Kuhn and Stephen Hawkings. Kuhn says, “The emerging 21st century paradigm is an Ethical Law Shift in ethics and education, where the noble attempts for “unity” have been interpreted as insatiable desire of European knowledge to seek supremacy over all knowledge, and a ‘capitalist’ attempt to exploit human genetics to achieve genetic and biological supremacy over the rest of world population”.
Likewise, when Hawking, a proponent of TOE, was asked in an interview what he thought was the greatest future threat to humanity, he replied: “Though nuclear power poses constant threat to human survival, the most fearsome of sciences is biology.” Most people would think he was hinting at biological weaponry like anthrax, but he was actually referring to the current research on genetic restructuring of DNA. Once human beings are empowered with this knowledge, their attempts to tamper with human DNA may change the face of humanity and even efface Homo sapiens from this earth.
However, even in the face of such bold and blunt criticism, we can neither deny nor overlook the contribution “Consilience” has made in human knowledge. It has opened up a new dimension for looking at the ‘human problem’ of effective survival and progress as the most intelligent and powerful living species on earth.
The Great Challenge Posed by New Knowledge
No doubt, with great advancements in biology, genetics and physics, especially concerning the human genome, the call for synthesis is greater than ever, and consilience may be the phenomenon vitally needed for a uniform evolution of the theory of ‘Being’ as well as the theory of ‘Knowledge’ to deal with life or being. Perhaps, as Wilson remarks, “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.”
Here, Wilson strongly criticizes philosophers and social scientists for their lack of understanding of the biological basis of behavior. When he discusses the ethical dilemmas that have resulted from various scientific inventions and advancements, he attributes the fault to the social and ethical sciences, claiming that they are not keeping pace with the natural sciences. According to Wilson, the social scientists are just measuring the causality and blaming the natural sciences, but not effectively looking for possible remedies or seeking a better explanation of the religious and moral foundation of society that shapes ethics for humanity.
The issue becomes crucial in view of the challenge ‘New Knowledge’ holds for orthodox beliefs of religions about ‘creation’ and human essence. Here, science and religion seem to be strongly pitted against each other; hence, Wilson’s declaration that, “Today the greatest divide within humanity is not between races or religions, or even, as widely believed, between literate and illiterate. It is the chasm that separates scientific from prescientific cultures.”
According to Wilson, human survival will require the religions of the world to adopt a secular interpretation, because only a science-based religion will meet the test of natural selection. In the preface of Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Wilson has summarized what is needed to make the final separation between scientific and prescientific knowledge. He boldly declares:
To grasp human nature objectively, to explore it to the depths scientifically and to comprehend its manifestations by cause-and-effect explanations leading from biology into culture, would be to approach, if not attain, the grail of scholarship, and to fulfill the dreams of the Enlightenment
Before taking into account the classical role of mind in human intellectual evolution, it is important to take a look at the interplay of genes and culture.
Homogenization — the Gene-Culture Interplay
Throughout Consilience, Wilson continues his argument for the biological basis of human culture, personality, ethics, civilization, and religion. He believes that the genes that predispose people to think and act in certain ways are governed by the process of natural selection. The issue is of ‘selecting’ control over human behavior, and Wilson has granted “epigenetic rules” the authority: the genetic predispositions tend to trickle up, “bias[ing] cultural evolution in one direction as opposed to another, and thus connect[ing] the genes to culture.”
However, many critics dismiss this concept, proposed by Wilson and other biological determinists, that the genes that inhabit our bodies actively direct our actions, independent of our will, as pure science fiction. Thus, Dr. H. R. Maturana, the renowned anthropologist, is of the opinion that ”Our genome does not determine us.” Dr. Maturana holds that the genetic structure is an initial condition that specifies only ‘what [the organism] will be, or how it will be’ in a later condition. It cannot provide us with the ultimate explanation of “what takes place” because that and “the change” depend, not on the initial condition alone, but on its interaction with the medium, i.e. culture, which is independent.
Wilson holds that “recent human evolution is not directional change, not natural selection at all, but homogenization through immigration and interbreeding.” Advance knowledge in genetic sciences and the Human Genome Project shall enable human beings to have complete knowledge of their genetic makeup and the way their genes interact with the environment to produce a human being. So, “Hereditary change will soon depend less on natural selection than on social choice.”
Regarding evolution and human behavior, Dr. Maturana explains that “change” does not occur in any individual organism in isolation. It affects the whole system. He has provided us with the first systemic law, the first abstraction of the coherences of processes in systems, saying, “Whenever in a collection of elements some relations begin to be conserved, a space is opened for everything to change around the relations that are conserved.”Or as related in the Holy Qur’an: “Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls).”
Evolution and Memetics
Fifty years after Darwin, the American psychologist James Baldwin declared that natural selection was not merely a law of biology but applied to all the sciences of life and mind. He thus proposed an early version of Universal Darwinism and coined the term “social heredity” to describe the way individuals learn from society by imitation and instruction. Richard Dawkins further explained, in The Selfish Gene, that evolution is best understood in terms of competition between genes. Genes want to live on, so the rival genes compete in replication, the ‘winning gene’ determining whether a newborn is fair faced or freckled, tall or short, etc., and this competition becomes stronger while a variety of information is coded on genes and when parents belong to different races and origin.
In the context of human behavior, some social scientists, such as Dennett, believe that the same competition exists in our personal-social desires to adopt some behavior. He uses the term “memes” to denote the smallest elements of a culture that replicate themselves through imitation with reliability, fecundity and longevity. From this has emerged “memetics,” the controversial new field that transcends psychology, biology, anthropology, and cognitive sciences and deals with the science of memes, the “invisible but very real DNA of human society” .
A meme survives in the world because people pass it on to other people, either vertically to the next generation, or horizontally to contemporaries. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by replicating from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via imitation. Richard Brodie has termed this phenomenon a ”virus of the mind” that leads to some of the most pervasive and troublesome problems of society today, such as youth gangs, deterioration of the public schools, and ever-growing government bureaucracy. These ‘viruses’ are present here and now, evolving to become better and better at their job. The recent explosion of mass media and the information superhighway have made their infections more potent. Dawkins goes so far as to say “Memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically.”
According to Dr. Blackmore, “The effective transmission of memes depend critically on human preferences, attention, emotions and desires —in other words, stuff of evolutionary psychology.” For her, just as biological diversity is explained by the simple process of natural selection, mental and cultural diversity is explained by the process of memetic selection. She advocates strongly that “to fully understand human behavior we must consider both genetic and memetic selection.” Her view is therefore not at variance with Dennet, who holds that our minds and selves are created by the interplay of memes, or indeed with Wilson himself, who agrees that the future arena for evolution is not heredity but the human intellect or mind.
The subject of memetics raises another fundamental question. If memes restructure the human brain to make it a better habitat for themselves, what is the human mind itself? According to some, the mind is a ‘self-created’ artifact of the mind; in other words, the mind generates itself. The following section looks more closely at this issue.
The Enigma Called Mind
The mind is one instrument that ascribes holism to human experience as a thinking, feeling organism; sometimes, it is Berkeley’s Divine Mind, and sometimes Hume’s Nature. Modern psychology has replaced it with the concept of ‘self,’ which is not a mere aggregate of simultaneously existing qualities, such as intelligence, will, feeling of fatigue, sensation of black, perception of typewriter, and so on. Any attempt at understanding the mind or self must take it as an organic whole—as an active center of an environment with purposes and causal series radiating from it. The mind here is seen as a kind of Bergsonian intuition, as a being that exerts causal influences and suffers change, yet, teleologically perseveres through the changes and preserves itself.
Wilson has argued — and virtually all contemporary scientists, philosophers, and experts on the subject agree — that the mind, which comprises of consciousness and rational process, is the brain at work. He thus rejects the mind-brain dualism of Rene Descartes, and remarks that “The brain is a machine assembled, not to understand itself, but to survive.”
However, philosophers like Howard Taylor think that Wilson seems to confuse the marvels of how the brain works with the mystery of conscious experience and that the epistemology of Consilience reduces the conscious person to mere lifeless atoms in motion, undermining not only the concept of person but also knowledge itself.
Polanyi also believed that it is only living conscious beings that know things, again, correlating with panpsychists like Leibniz and Rumi that “everything that exists is a mind.” ‘A real entity or a monad’ as “being that acts”, thus has mind….so all is mind.
It is true that most of the development in the human brain has occurred through the course of evolution. For instance, the brain’s volume has quadrupled in the past 20,000 years. However, most of these changes have taken place in the brain’s neocortex — a gift of nature to Homo sapiens only. Furthermore, it is a fact that the brain mainly has the capacity to store information and not to exercise it. This latter function is performed by the mind.
Another important question remains unanswered by Wilson: Why do people who have the same brain volume differ in terms of degrees of intellect, aptitudes and attitudes? The latest advancements in cognitive psychology and research in consciousness theory strongly contradict what Wilson has to say about the origin, function and evolution of the human mind. If there was a “primitive mind,” determined not only by the environment but also by an innate structure of the nervous system, then the children born into primitive societies but raised from the earliest months of infancy under the conditions of European civilization, would not have been successfully educated to levels requiring the use of the most abstract logic.
Vygotsky and other cultural-historical theorists are also of the opinion that society is the bearer of the cultural heritage and development of the mind is impossible without it. As explained by Sara Harkness and Charles Super, society serves as a “developmental niche” for the newcomer; the nature of that niche, including the forms of social relationships it requires and affords, embody not only the adult’s cultural past but presuppositions about the child’s future as well. The niche is simultaneously a socio-physical location, a cultural medium, and an interpretive frame. Children in human developmental niches are both natural and cultural entities at the start of postnatal development.
Daniel Goleman has stressed in his book, Working with Emotional Intelligence,that much of human social behavior has been shaped during the course of evolution. It begins from ‘caring of the family and proceeds gradually to compute hierarchies of dominance, social and kinship obligations, and quid pro quo changes….etc. In his view, “social intelligence had emerged much earlier than rational thought.” For evidence, he cites the fact that there is considerable difference between the size of the cortex of the primates and that of modern man, and he also identifies various structures in the brain that are responsible for simultaneous perception of cognition and emotion.
Historically, the human mind has been considered in charge of human behavior, based on the premise proposed by Rene Descartes that the mind and body are two separate entities (this is referred to as the Cartesian divide or Cartesian dualism). Most scientists also accepted the doctrine of organicism, i.e. that the mind is an emergent level based upon the non-mental conditions of matter. However, the panpsychists believe that the mind or self is not a “late arrival” in the evolution of the universe but that mind is present throughout. Here, it is necessary to mention Dennett, who holds that, although most theorists reject Cartesian dualism, in their hearts, they still imagine that somewhere inside our heads is a place where “it all comes together” — where consciousness happens and we see our mental images projected on a mental screen; where we make our decisions and initiate actions; where we agonize about life, love, and meaning.
Thus we may come to conclude that dualism is false, not as Wilson understands when he attributes holism to heredity and the human genome, but in the sense that, while the brain and body are integrated wholes, their juncture point is nevertheless the human mind. The self is the working of the human mind, which creates the persona that is perceived by “others” as “what I am”. And what we perceive of ourselves is the experience of ideas; even if they originate outside my mind, they are interpreted, modified and internalized by my mind, i.e. by “I.” Corresponding to Wilson, we may say that “self” is an illusion (all is but brain at work), but the question still remains, unanswered by Consilience: whether it is our perception about Self or all percepts, Brain, Consciousness, Genes, Memes, are but illusory — the agents standing on either side, somehow in isolation from perception “I”.
Can holism be ascribed to human “being” or “humanity”?
Although Wilson has ascribed “oneness” and “holism” to the human race, this holism is purely structural and biological: he openly declares, “Whatever is necessary to sustain life is also ultimately biological,” much like all evolutionary psychologists who argue that “All behavior ultimately comes to biological advantage.” Just as physics has been absorbed naturally into most of the exact sciences, Wilson wants biology to permeate most of the humanities and social sciences.
But human beings do not enjoy merely a biological existence; their being has a social and spiritual dimension as well. And a theory must give due importance to all these dimensions to have the quality of “holism” because only then all parts will be well set in the whole.
The explanation Ken Wilber offers for evolution is in stark contrast to Wilson’s. Wilber defines evolution in terms of the traditional “Great Chain of Being,” which includes biological elements but is by no means confined to or dominated by them. Broadly, the links in the Great Chain include matter, body, mind, soul, and spirit (as shown in Figure 1). Evolution, according to Wilber, is an “unfolding” of spirit from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit itself, or the realization of the Absolute Spirit that is the goal and ground of the entire sequence. Wilber states: “Although we have to be very careful with cross-cultural comparisons, interpretive schemes similar to this Great Chain or ‘Great Nest of Being’ can be found in most of the wisdom traditions of the ‘premodern’ world.” This is illustrated in Figure 2, a diagram used by Huston Smith to indicate the general similarities (or family resemblances) among premodern wisdom traditions.
Figure 2. The Great Chain in Various Wisdom Traditions Compiled by Huston Smith (Graphic Layout: Courtesy of Brad Reynolds)
Source: Wilber, 2005.
Science aside, it seems humanity has responded quite consistently regarding its belief and faith about the central issues of life, manhood, God and creation, etc. Even in the scientific realm, physics has never been without metaphysics, and chemistry has always been accompanied by alchemy. Given this history, it is hard to imagine how popular beliefs about life, creation and living could be drastically altered without much evidence to support either side. The “new knowledge” Wilson hopes to construct appears more the dream of a ‘biological fascist’ than a real possibility. His aim is not sincere: the “unity of knowledge” he proposes seems to be based more on compulsive subjugation by his own field, i.e. biology, than on a natural partnership of the sciences.
Social scientists have already rejected the idea of a unified human nature grounded in heredity, preferring instead to adhere to a multicultural outlook founded on ideals of political correctness. Thus, even when some scholars praise Wilson’s proposition as “bold” and “provocative,” it still stands on intellectually shaky ground, regarded as a right-wing treatise disguised as science by many of his contemporary critics.
Thus far, Western philosophy has consistently aimed at analysis that divides wholes into parts, while the Asian tradition propagates synthesis —the unity and synchronicity that brings harmony into a whole. In Asian wisdom, harmonic, complementary and synchronous relationships pervade the natural world. Now we witness the West, too observe biological, physical, physiological, psychological and social interactions in various phenomena concerning human life and well-being.
Considering illness a biological behavior, Fritjov Capra, in his books Tao of Physics (1988) and Turning Point (1991), introduces a “new paradigm” that adds new and much needed dimensions to the practice of medicine. Capra has included not only physics and medicine, but also psychology, economics, politics, and even reality itself, transcending the past linear approach of Western medicine, not with the intention of destroying it, but in a deliberate attempt at ‘unity of knowledge’—in other words, consilience.
Goleman, while propagating his theory of emotional intelligence, has quotedDavid McClelland to say, “Different motives presumably involve differing mixes of brain chemicals, though we don’t know which.” A. Lawrence, too, declares that, “We now have clear evidence that thought can change body chemistry affecting how we see ourselves and the world around us.” Thus, today a large number of new disciplines — acupuncture, biofeedback, bioenergetics, pyramid energy, macrobiotics, radionics, autogenic training, transcendental meditation, somatography, aromatherapy, and biodynamic psychology, to name a few — are competing with standard medical thought and practice.
A new challenge confronts today’s medical researchers: if thoughts can change the biochemistry of cell growth, making it erratic and unhealthy and leading to cancer, then they may be able to change the biochemistry of human genes as well, since genes are no more than certain biochemical concentrations of proteins on DNA. Scientists can tell that chemical messaging occurs in the brain or body to initiate, halt, postpone or end a certain activity in the DNA. However, they are unable to say who decides to send those messages and how these thousands of signals manage to stay so precisely coordinated. Much of the study of human responses in emergencies and crises seeks evidence in the history of human emotions, as Goleman explains in Working with Emotional Intelligence: “The brain’s crisis response still follows the ancient strategy — it heightens sensory acuity, stops complex thought, and triggers the knee jerk, automatic response — though this can have dramatic drawbacks in modern work life.”
The brain does not create mind — a thinking, feeling and acting whole, but it is the mind that gives life and power to work and operate. The body is just a vehicle; it is essentially the same for every living human being. Heredity is also the same, in that the same number of DNA chromosomes are passed on to each human being. It is true that the arrangement of genes on the DNA is different for each individual, but that arrangement is not predetermined but subject to constant change; indeed, it is constantly modified and reshaped by consciously picked memes. Thus, genetic disposition is predetermined, but not in its actual shaping. It is not even the brain that distinguishes one person from another. A person suffering from complete amnesia, a condition in which the brain’s entire memory is wiped out, would have to relearn everything and that everything might well make that person completely different from his or her previous self. Here, we may also consider the case of a man whose frontal lobe has been damaged. So it is the thinking, feeling and acting mind that is characteristic of every individual and makes his identity special and distinct in the world.
The hard problem is much harder: How does the brain give rise to subjective feeling? How do a few pounds of wrinkled grey tissue sitting atop our necks make it possible for us to feel anything? Furthermore, what activates life in that grey matter? How is it that the life current begins to flow in the brain, and why, when it is switched off, is it impossible to recharge? One of the most important aspects that Wilson has neglected in his exposition is death — the end of life.
We may agree here that human emotions have gradually grown out of the instinctual behavior of primates with the evolution of the rational mind. Nevertheless, even today, we observe that our basic instincts take charge of the entire brain and body activity whenever we perceive any serious threat, not only as response for survival as “emergency reaction,” but also as “intuition” and other psychological defense mechanisms which have gradually evolved to save a feeling mind from any threats to personal ego or self esteem. Increasing awareness of bodily functions and being unable to perceive it in right perspective leads to hysteria or conversion reaction.
While perceiving it in context of one’s mood — mental and emotional state leads to “mindfulness” which saves one from the dangers and pitfalls of physical and mental ill health. Modern cognitive therapies such as those of Dr. Jerry Young and Tara Bennet Goleman emphasize this view. In these therapies, the patient is guided in studying his behavior pattern in the context of his feelings and deep-seated emotions, and in reflecting on those feelings. This sets a ‘trap’ in the form of an emotional schema that puts both mind and body on alert when similar situations arise in the future. Successful application of this therapy leads to improved emotional health.
How to synchronize “duality”?
Rider has suggested that there exists a harmonic “entrainment” of bodily processes by the conscious mind. Carlisle Bergquist, a leading philosopher and proponent of management theory, has related the cosmological orders of David Bohm with the constitution of humankind as described by religious and mystical tradition. He has proposed that the stages of entrainment serve as a communicative bridge between these realms of our being and with the cosmos. Esoteric traditions also note the ability of the tuned mind to entrain energy in the body: as A. A. Bailey has written, “energy follows thought.” It would appear that, by imagery and directed thought, energy changes do occur throughout the body. The same phenomenon has been discussed by the famous psychologist Carl Jung as “synchronicity” — the meaningful coincidences of events.
Dr. Deepak Chopra has opined, “The mass of humanity still dwells in ignorance, giving rise to all kinds of suffering; going back to levels of awareness in the communal mind, there is both freedom (free will) and attachment (determinism/fatalism) and the decision matters — to whom it chooses to attune to. At the individual level, each person sets his own boundaries and breaks through them when the evolutionary impulse is felt.” Wilson has called it ‘communion’ — the key and hope. Out of the dark night of the soul, there is a prospect of a spiritual journey to the light. The mind reflects in certain ways in order to reach ever higher levels of enlightenment, until finally, when no further progress is possible, it enters a mystical union with the whole. Within the great religions, such enlightenment has been expressed as Samadhi (in Hinduism); Zen Satori (in Buddhism), Fana fi Allah (in Sufism); Wu-wei (in Taoism), and rebirth (in Pentecostal Christianity).
Does religion contribute to knowledge theory?
“The fundamental mistake of modern European thought, to regard an increase in material knowledge and comfort as identical with a spiritual and moral improvement of mankind, was possible only because of the equally fundamental mistake which consisted in applying biological rules to non-biological facts.”
Allama Iqbal has also dealt with this problem. He states, “The emergent, as the advocates of the Emergent Evolution teach us, is an unforeseeable and novel fact on its own plane of being, and cannot be explained mechanistically.” Indeed the evolution of life shows that, although in the beginning the mental is dominated by the physical, the mental, as it grows in power, tends to dominate the physical and may eventually rise to a position of complete independence.
Iqbal has firmly stated his opinion that “The controversy between the advocates of Mechanism and Freedom arises from a wrong view of intelligent action which modern psychology, unmindful of its own independence as a science, possessing a special set of facts to observe, was bound to take on account of its slavish imitation of physical sciences.”
The “imitation” in itself is a malady and the greatest danger to existence, in the sense that, although Islam advocates group coherence and survival in “jama’at,” it never undermines the scope for individual growth and evolution. The boundaries of Islam are not restricting but ever-expanding, providing new horizons for exploration and discovery; the subject matter is not the self or self-knowledge alone, but the universe —the whole life system. The self is not consumed or exhumated in this journey but becomes an essential part of it.
The natural sciences have, in a way, acted blind to things that have no material existence; although social sciences like psychology and philosophy have evolved to address the intangible enigmas of human life, like mind, emotions, competition, group thinking, survival, etc., they nevertheless derive their principles largely from the natural sciences. Adopting the same methodology as these ‘blind’ sciences frequently results in inadequacy or failure in providing a comprehensive view of human behavior and attributing ‘holism’ to it. Indeed, folklore, art and poetry prove to be far better resources for studying the human mind and human behavior than the myriad of scientific theories that attempt to reduce everything to man-made rules rather than uncovering natural codes.
According to Dr. Maturana, “Most of the emphasis in evolution is on what has changed, but what is central in evolution or any history is not what has changed, rather what has been conserved.” Dr. Chopra has declared, “Awareness is our true home and that awareness contains the secrets of evolution; not the body or even DNA.”
This awareness is expressed as “wujud” or “hu” in Sufistic terms. Enhancing such awareness should be the objective of knowledge, and analyzing such awareness the objective of science. This awareness is the light, the torchbearer, for all intelligence and all life, as Imam Ghazali (RA) stated in Mishkat al Anwar (The Niche of Lights).
In order to reach the truth, living with the reality of individual consciousness is not enough; one needs to realize a consciousness of collective human existence along with history of evolution as a constant human endeavor to master one’s environment. However, everything cannot be put in charge of biology alone; we cannot undermine the unique intervention of disciplines like physiology, ecology, and sociology, but above all psychology. We, the human beings progress in our routine lives rather unconsciously moving toward our preferred choices. The path that our lives follow is the satisfaction of our wanting, which is almost akin to the “pleasure principle” advocated by Freud. Dr. Maturana while aligning with Freud would prefer to call it sense of “well-being” declaring, “The path of living systems in general, and the path of human history in particular, is guided by emotions, not resources.”
According to Dr. Huitt, human beings have a number of biological factors that propel them to search for patterns and seek homeostasis or balance within their own selves and with their environment. At the same time, we have a spiritual inclination to search for the unknown, to develop our unique capacities and spiritual powers — to know, to love, to will—to transcend ourselves, and to have meaningful relationships with and make a meaningful contribution to civilization (or the human world). Feedback from the environment and from our perceptions, reflections, and feelings provide critical information that guides our learning. We develop our individual powers through interaction with our environment and through personally applying such growth and knowledge acquisition techniques as observation, reflection, and prayer. We develop our social powers by giving and contributing to others (doing good deeds.) As Iqbal emphasizes, “Prayer is what liberates the ‘Self’ from determinism and lets it sail in free consciousness of Iman (Belief). It is the realization of “khudi” and operating through its guidance while maintaining stability in self direction is the exercise towards greater freedom.”
The question that arises from this discussion is whether a universal consilience is possible or whether each individual reaches his or her personal level of consilience. Various disciplines like biology, psychology or physics encompass certain knowledge, and it is sometimes not the knowledge but the vision that looks at the knowledge that makes all the difference. All inductions and scientific conclusions are not solely based upon scientific facts; they also reflect our cultural disposition. Above all, it is the personal temperamental and intuitive attitude towards life and its problems that makes the difference in the end. Science is extremely neutral, neither material nor spiritual, and it is the divergent opinion of scientists — which, according to Kant, is not “drawing” conclusions from nature but “prescribing” them to it — that leads to various percepts of knowledge. As Rumi warns, any attempt taken in this respect, even of “unification,” would cast innumerable shadows rather than shedding light over a phenomenon.
Wilson’s Consilience is a plea to mankind to search out the intrinsic unity that binds all kinds of knowledge together. If the search is to be pursued, Wilson tells us, the academic community must take the gift of twentieth-century science, the diverse and detailed body of knowledge describing the physical world, and apply it to the humanities. The merging of science and the humanities is “the greatest enterprise of the mind” he can imagine. According to Wilson, it may well be crucial to humanity’s ultimate survival.
However, regarding the question of how various mental energies or schemata constantly update themselves and are passed to the next generation through evolution, modern scientific exercise and experience has arrived at two opinions. These two opinions are held by the “genetics” and “memetics,” proponents of biological determinism and cultural humanism, respectively. Biologists who believe in Universal Darwinism uphold the dominance of genes as the resource for information transfer to the next generation, while social scientists believe in the supremacy of “memes” as key agents of transference of a behavior through imitation. Both views, again, are an attempt to quantify knowledge, whereas the process, which is the essence or the quality of the subject or phenomenon under discussion, is ignored.
What both biologists and social scientists fail to regard is that a consilience is required in both of these knowledge systems to obtain an integrated picture of the evolution of human behavior. The greatest of genetic epistemologists, Jean Piaget, has very wisely said, “I think that all structures are constructed and that the fundamental feature is the course of this construction: Nothing is given at the start, except some limiting points on which all the rest is based. The structures are neither given in advance in the human mind nor in the external world, as we perceive or organize it.” And while considering organization, what the modern scientists very egoistically overlook is the comprehensive interplay of the Divine Will manifested in the human soul as desire, the master dictator of evolution, as eloquently put by Dr. Muhammad Iqbal in Asrar-e-Khudi:
What is the essence of the mind that strives after new discoveries and scales the heavens?
Knowest thou what works this miracle?
‘Tis desire that enriches Life,
And the mind is a child of its womb.
What are social organization, customs and laws?
What is the secret of the novelties of science?
A desire which realized itself by its own strength
And burst forth from the heart and took shape.
Nose, hand, brain, eye, and ear,
Though, imagination, feeling, memory, and understanding
All these are weapons devised by Life for self-preservation
In its ceaseless struggle,
The object of science and art is not knowledge,
The object of the garden is not the bud and the flower
Science is an instrument for the preservation of Life.
Science is a means of invigorating the Self.
Science and art are servants of Life,
Slaves born and bred in its house.
Rise, O thou who art strange to Life’s mystery,
Rise intoxicated with the wine of an ideal,
An ideal shining as the dawn,
A blazing fire to all that is other than God,
An ideal higher than Heaven —
Winning, captivating, enchanting men’s hearts
A destroyer of ancient falsehood,
Fraught with turmoil, and embodiment of the Last Day.
We live by forming ideals,
We glow with the sunbeams of desire!
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The term homo sapien refers to the human beings with their present genetic makeup; if this makeup is lost, the species will be lost. Any ‘modified’ species, while possibly having the same physical characteristics, would have essentially different behavioral, intellectual, and temperamental characteristics, and this is the main cause of concern for many humanists.
Ken Wilber represents a consistent evolution of human thought in Philosophical thinking about human life, existence, and behavior. And if you look closely at figures, it encompasses all religions as well and do not oppose natural sciences, it is unlike Wilson, where pure biology and genetics are ruling and dictating all commands in life.