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A Peircean Panentheist Scientific Mysticism 1

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A Peircean Panentheist Scientific Mysticism 1
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  International Journal of Transpersonal Studies  20 Brier  A Peircean Panentheist Scientifc Mysticism 1 Søren Brier   2  Copenhagen Business SchoolCopenhagen, Denmark Peirce’s philosophy can be interpreted as an integration o mysticism and science. In Peirce’sphilosophy mind is eeling on the inside and on the outside, spontaneity, chance and chaos with a tendency to take habits. Peirce’s philosophy has an emptiness beyond the three worldso reality (his Categories), which is the source rom where the categories spring. He empha-sizes that God cannot be conscious in the way humans are, because there is no content inhis “mind.” Since there is a transcendental 3 nothingness behind and beore the categories,it seems that Peirce had a mystical view on reality with a transcendental Godhead. TusPeirce seems to be a panentheist. 4 It seems air to characterize him as a mystic whose pathto enlightenment is science as a social activity. Introduction    he relation between science and Christianity inthe West has been somewhat hostile ever sincethe trials against Giordano Bruno (1548-1600)and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) in the Renaissance. Butso have relations between the Church and the mystics eversince Meister Eckhart (1260–1328) was excommunicatedrom the church ater his death in the Middle Ages. Inmodernity, science and religion have divided the arena o metaphysics between them. Tey are, however, stillcompeting about how to explain the srcin o humansand the universe, especially in the situations whereundamentalist versions o one or both o them are being promoted. But in general they seem to have establisheda peaceul division o territory in which mechanisticscience’s Big Bang theory covers nature, including thehuman body, and religion covers the area o “the inner world” or “the soul.” As the scientic worldview hasnot been able to render the idea o a metaphysics o thesacred and o personal and cultural values superuous,institutionalized religion is still one o the major ormso organizing the existential-phenomenological aspecto human lie. But there are neither empirically norphilosophically good reasons to believe that either classicalmechanical and positivistic science, or the present ormso organized religion, or attempts to combine theirknowledge, have made us—or will make us—able tounderstand and control the undamental processes o mind and nature. Te promise o articial intelligence, which would represent such mastery, remains unullled(Ekbia 2008). Where questions o the srcin o mind,lie, matter, and nature meet, there seems to be a black hole in our conceptual knowledge. Tis chasm points toa undamental lack in the oundation o our knowledgeand/or our understanding o knowledge. It is here that onecan see Peirce’s (1866-1913/1994) semiotic philosophy o religious and scientic knowing as an attempt to createa new transdisciplinary start on what I claim to be a panentheistic basis. 5  Classical positivism, and later classical empiricismand rationalism, developed into the logical positivismand nally logical empiricism with its physicalisticvision o the unity o science; these are the rst realreective philosophies o that conception o theempirical-mathematical sciences that emerged during theRenaissance. Logical empiricism owered, especially in the1930’s, and ater World War II almost rose to be science’sonly well-established sel-understanding. But ater World War II, the majority o the theoretical developments within the philosophy o science became critical o thisparadigm. An attempt was made to develop a morecomprehensive understanding o the cognitive processeso science, as well as an epistemological understanding o its type o knowledge vis-à-vis other types o knowing such as an everyday understanding o the world.Karl R. Popper (1972) and Tomas Kuhn (1970)are two o the most prominent philosophers o sciencein this development. Popper’s and Kuhn’s theories o science discuss whether observations and experiments canexpand our knowledge o nature in such a way that weget a more and more truthul description. Is the growtho science an approach to a nal description o the law(s)   International Journal of Transpersonal Studies  , 27  , 2008, pp. 20-45  International Journal of Transpersonal Studies  21 Peircean Panentheist Scientifc Mysticism o nature, or are we just establishing still more—otenincompatible—viewpoints to describe an impenetrablecomplexity? Are we just receiving more inormation without getting nearer the truth? Popper (1972) has beenendorsed as believer in the view that science get closerto the truth, and Kuhn (1970) as a social constructivistdenying any kind o objective measure o truth andscientic progress. But Popper and Kuhn’s viewpointsare not as incompatible as they might appear. According to my analysis (Brier, 2006), Kuhn and Popper meet inthe middle, the ormer attaching more importance to thesocial psychological mechanisms in science and the lattermore to the logic o research. Te important point is thatboth abandon the simple view o science’s truth-value thatis oten based on a mechanical monistic or dualistic view o the world. Pierce, like both Kuhn and Popper, pointsto the allibility and incompleteness o science and to theimportant inuence o metaphysical ideas and valuesupon the development o scientic knowledge. BothPopper and Kuhn agree that we cannot measure how neara theory is to truth or i science should even be portrayedas getting nearer to some kind o big truth, but we cansee that knowledge grows and evolves and becomes morecomprehensive. Tus it seems that science alone is not anapplicable tool to reveal the big truth about the nature,meaning, and purpose o lie and/or the nature o theuniverse. Peirce wrote:Tus, the universe is not a mere mechanical resulto the operation o blind law. Te most obvious o all its characters cannot be so explained. It is themultitudinous acts o all experience that show usthis; but that which has opened our eyes to theseacts is the principle o allibilism. Tose who ail toappreciate the importance o allibilism reason: wesee these laws o mechanics; we see how extremely closely they have been veried in some cases. Wesuppose that what we haven’t examined is like what we have examined, and that these laws are absolute,and the whole universe is a boundless machine working by the blind laws o mechanics. Tis is a philosophy which leaves no room or a God! No,indeed! It leaves even human consciousness, whichcannot well be denied to exist, as a perectly idle andunctionless âneur in the world, with no possibleinuence upon anything -- not even upon itsel.(Peirce, 1866-1913/1994, Vol. 1, p. 162 . )Since the start o classical physics in the 16thcentury, our mathematical and logical description o thephysical, chemical, and biological universe has gradually grown to dominate our worldview. Our understanding has been invaded by this universe to an extent where it hasbecome common sense to see our lived worlds as a parto the universe, each individual’s lie a small subjective world ull o signication and “sense-making” withinan objective universe. Trough communication and co-operation these small signication spheres (Brier, 1999)are connected in social and cultural practice domainsto that world o signication we call a culture. But stillthis world is—rom natural science-based disciplinessuch as Western medicine—paradoxically seen as parto an objective and meaningless universe (well-describedby Monod, 1972). Te paradox lies in realizing that theability to obtain knowledge comes beore science, thatsymbolic knowing needs a sel-conscious, embodiedlanguage user, that language needs signs to representthe nature and srcins o reality and a society to convey meaning. Tis allows one to see the limitation o purely scientic explanations o the phenomenon o knowledge(Brier, 2008a, b, c).Te process o knowing is the prerequisite orscience. How then can knowledge and intelligence everbe thought to be ully explained by a science based onphysicalistic or unctionalistic worldviews? As there isno knowledge without mind, no mind without nature,and no meaning without meaningully embodied signscommunicated in a society, how are we to explainknowing (the process) rom a materialistic, bottom-upmodel based on a mechanistic understanding o theBig Bang theory, where lie, intelligence, language,and knowledge are supposed to be explained throughmathematical laws and logic? My suggestion is, thereore,that we have to live with both the universe and the worldin a new and ruitul way, rst by acknowledging thatthere are dierent worlds o description (Brier, 2008a, b,c).Human scientic knowledge seems to be con-nected to an undetermined amount o  non-knowledge  ,and it seems that the more exact and universal we wantto make our knowledge, the more non-knowledge goes with it. It does leave open the possibility that reality provides an inner connection between dierent worlds,and that the universe is beyond a thorough scienticdescription but roughly describable anyway. Such a ramework might help us to gain a less undamentalistview o science and religion, and give us a better chance to judge the inner logic and consistency o dierent kinds o spiritual healing practices. Based on C. S. Peirce’s (1866-  International Journal of Transpersonal Studies  22 Brier 1913/1994) semiotic philosophy, I will attempt to outlinea modern metaphysics o srcin and cognition with thepurpose o adding the existential-phenomenologicaldimension to the modern scientic evolutionary Big Bang model o the creation o the Universe by relating eeling, meaning, willing and conscious knowing toour scientic concept o reality without experiencedmeaning. Tus I will interpret Peirce in the light o themodern development o science and philosophy. Te Myth o Creationand the Teory o Evolution I n the Christian world, the biblical stories o creationare the principle myths o srcin. Here the world isunderstood as being created by a personal God through a period o seven days. All order in nature (laws o nature)and in the human world (morals, laws) are given onceand or all. Tere is nothing new under the sun. Tereis more in the cause than in the means. Man has, assomething quite exceptional, received a soul. Nature assuch is without soul. Tese myths in their undamentalistand dogmatic understanding do not allow any symbolicinterpretation and are in conict with modernity’smaterial, evolutionary sel-understanding.An important eature o modernity is itsconception o itsel as a participant in a unique culturalprocess o progress. Te universal, historical, linearunderstanding o time, which appeared in the 18thcentury in connection with the Enlightenment, is animportant contribution to mankind’s view o the worldand itsel. In the 19th century it spread rom geology (e.g., Charles Lyell [1842], Principles o Geology  ) toan evolutionary understanding o the srcin o thespecies advocated by Charles Darwin (1859/1998) andothers. Trough thermodynamics—as in Prigogine’s(1980; Prigogine & Stengers, 1984) understanding—this materialistic conception o evolution can now becoupled to the 20th century’s cosmological understand-ing o the universe as something that came into being once, approximately 15 billion years ago, with a Big Bang, when “nothing became everything.”In the modern developments o historicalmaterialistic theory o society and culture, the worldand humankind are seen as historical developmentscarrying this grand evolution. We understand thereby our world(s) as something, which has developed rom theuniverse through time rom simple physical beginnings(Popper, 1972). Furthermore we understand ourselvesundamentally as material end-products o an historicaldevelopment. Tis has very oten been considered as theabsolute opposite to the more phenomenological idea o creation.Te question now is whether the dierence betweenevolution and creation is o an absolute character. Whatis the relation between the physical and the phenomeno-logical reality, i any? Is there no connection betweenthe universe and our worlds? Should it not be possibleto make a modern metaphysics o creation, which doesnot contradict physics and, at the same time, aimsat explaining the organizing power o evolution andthereby the srcin o mind and consciousness? For itis a peculiarity that modern evolutionary materialismactually ascribes all creative abilities in the universeeither to absolute deterministic law or to absolute chance(oten understood as the negation o deterministic law)and postulates that lie, mind and consciousness appearout o the organization o dead matter as new emergentqualities in sel-organized systems. It is here the concepto inormation in nature is introduced as an objectiveorganizing power, a natural orce (Brier, 1992). Butunortunately, as soon as inormation is scientically dened as objective, mathematical and mechanical, itcan no longer be used as a tool to explain the emergenceo lie and mind in evolution (Brier, 1999).Te Cartesian metaphysics o modern scienceorces it to look or some kind o meeting point o theinner and outer worlds in the dynamics o the humanbrain. For medicine, this is where the psychosomatic link must be. Tat we have not ound this link is supposedto be caused by our lack o physiological knowledge o the nervous system, especially the brain. Tat is one o the reasons neurosciences and cognitive sciences haveexperienced such a big boom over the last decade: we want to nd that connection (Penrose, 1995; Searle,1986). o Peirce (1866-1913/1994), 6 it was his triadic,evolutionary, pragmaticistic semiotics that provided theconnection between inner and outer, or rather the basisor going beyond this dichotomy.We have come to understand that the nervoussystem, the hormone system, and the immune systemare chemically linked to each other like a “biologicalsel” in the way that they all produce receptors or eachothers’ messenger molecules. Tis supports the idea o a second-order cybernetics, one which sees living systemsas sel-organized and sel-producing beings: autopoietic   as Maturana and Varela (1986) called it. From a bio-cybernetic point o view, one can point out that living systems organize worlds, which I, rom a semiotic point  International Journal of Transpersonal Studies  23 Peircean Panentheist Scientifc Mysticism o view, call “signication spheres” (Brier, 2008a). Butthis theory is still based on the pre-assumption o an“inner world or lie” o the living systems in the ormo an observer (Brier, 1999) and it does not provide theexplanatory connection. It is too cybernetic to developa theory o rst person experience, emotion, will, andqualia (Brier, 2008b).Is it possible to arrive at an understanding o manand the universe that embraces modern science withoutseeing phenomenological man as a gypsy on the edge o a dead, oreign, and meaningless wasteland—what Monod(1972) so eloquently described as the consequence o mechanism also encompassing the biological descriptiono lie? Is it possible in the natural-science-technical age tobring man and the living into the center o a philosophicalexistential vision again? Tis is in my opinion whatPeirce (1992) does in his scientic mysticism. o namehis view as scientic mysticism will seem to many to bea paradox. Mysticism is a mode o thought, or phase o intellectual or religious lie, in which reliance is placedupon a spiritual illumination believed to transcendthe ordinary powers o understanding. As such is it isoten viewed as opposing a rational understanding o the world, and thereore the whole scientic enterprise.But Peirce shows that it is actually mysticism andrationalism that represent opposite poles o theology.Rationalism regards reason—oten in the orm o logicor mathematics—as the highest aculty o man. In a modern (positivistic) interpretation o Plato, then, itis the rational thought o the philosopher or scientist,or both working together, that is the sole arbiter in allmatters o knowledge and as such overthrows all religiousdoctrines. Tis view oten sees the world as a computerand believes that all knowledge can be algorithmically represented. Mysticism, on the other hand, is otenunderstood to declare that spiritual truth cannot beapprehended by the logical aculty, nor adequately expressed in any orm o natural language. Peirce managesto combine both views in a pragmaticistic semioticevolutionary philosophy, where logic is semiotics.I it is correct, as Prigogine and Stengers (1984)claimed, that thermodynamics and quantum physics,seen together philosophically, are a more realistic andcomprehensive worldview than classic mechanism, thenspontaneity, irreversibility, time, and evolution havemade their entrance as basal conceptions in physics(Prigogine, 1980). Ten the belie in the completescientic description o nature also ceases. We mustrealize that it is probably not possible or natural scienceto uncover Nature’s or matter’s “inner being,” i thereis one. In natural science we are obliged, on the basiso observation, experiment, and generalization to makestatistical models or “laws” based upon the calculus o probability and our critical judgment.Te new recognition o complex non-linearsystems accentuates that, even i one knew the laws thatgovern a system’s basic dynamics, this is not enoughto understand its detailed development, as the initialconditions are very crucial. Physics also realizes thatno version o the Big Bang theory will tell us how theUniverse was created, because the srcinal “singularity”eludes scientic examination. Physical explanations donot start until ater the universe is initiated. Further,mechanical physics does not have an interest inexplaining the rise o mind and consciousness throughevolution, as it was ounded in a dualistic worldview  where nature was mechanical by necessity. Tis was a oundational aspect in Kant’s (1781/1990) philosophy,an approach that Peirce (1866-1913/1994) urthermodied. As Kultgen (1959-60) argued, it is important thatboth Peirce (1866-1913/1994) and Whitehead (1929)deny Kant’s (1981/1990) distinction between natureand reedom. o Peirce, nature has spontaneity andpure eeling at its basis in Firstness and teleology in itsagapistic habit-taking o Tirdness. Tus Peirce deniesthe distinction between the phenomenological and thenoumenal—understood as the thing in itsel—becausethis idea o the incognizable appears as a null-term o theoretical and practical thought. It is not ruitul to try to think about something that one cannot think about.For Peirce, the real is wholly open to our pragmaticobservation and thinking and there is no absolutedierence between the object o theoretical and practicalthought. Metaphysics is seen as an observable ideallimit o empirical inquiry (Kultgen, 1959-60, p. 288).Peirce did not have the modern and post-modern earo metaphysics, and certainly did not see it as opposedto the scientic inquiry; thereore, he did not have thetype o conict between science and religion that is seenin the modern debate about intelligent design theory (see Fuller, 1998, 2002a, 2002b). Peirce’s Philosophy o Creation and Evolution I t is important to notice that we do not here discussreligion as a social enterprise or the dogmas o established religions. Peirce (1976) is against dogmas in  International Journal of Transpersonal Studies  24 Brier religion and he does not cling to any single religion. In a letter to William James he wrote:I can’t help thinking that the mother o Christianity,Buddhism, is superior to our own religion. Tat is what one o my selves, my intellectual sel says. Butenough, I will keep my religion to mysel and to Onethat does not sco at it. (Vol. 3[2], p. 872)In the quote above Peirce seems keen to work  with that which is the oundation o all religions. Histheory o the immanent 7 divine as Firstness 8 is close tothe Buddhist idea o the void. Secondness is, in Peirce’sphilosophy, necessary in order or anything to take orm inthis world, while Tirdness is needed to stabilize any kindo structure and process. Tis is a principal philosophicaldiscussion o how and where a concept o God may enteror have to enter a philosophy that can produce a concepto meaning and signication. It is important to notethat Peirce is inspired in his theological philosophy notonly by transcendental Christianity and by Buddhism with its concept o emptiness, but also by Aristotle andPlato. 9 Te divine is both immanent and transcendent inPeirce’s philosophy. It is both an emptiness “behind andbeore” the maniested world in time and space as well asa Firstness o possibilities, “random sporting,” qualia, andpossible mathematical orms. Peirce (1866-1913/1994) wrote:I we are to proceed in a logical and scientic manner, we must, in order to account or the whole universe,suppose an initial condition in which the wholeuniverse was non-existent, and thereore a state o absolute nothing. . . .But this is not the nothing o negation. . . . Tenothing o negation is the nothing o death, whichcomes second to, or ater, everything. But this purezero is the nothing o not having been born. Tereis no individual thing, no compulsion, outward norinward, no law. It is the germinal nothing, in which the whole universe is involved or oreshadowed. As such,it is absolutely undened and unlimited possibility—boundless possibility. Tere is no compulsion and nolaw. It is boundless reedom.Now the question arises, what necessarily resulted rom that state o things? But the only saneanswer is that where reedom was boundless nothing in particular necessarily resulted. . . .I say that nothing  necessarily  resulted rom theNothing o boundless reedom. Tat is, nothing according to deductive logic. But such is not thelogic o reedom or possibility. Te logic o reedom,or potentiality, is that it shall annul itsel. For i itdoes not annul itsel, it remains a completely idleand do-nothing potentiality; and a completely idlepotentiality is annulled by its complete idleness.(Vol. 6, pp. 215-219)On this basis o the divine, the concept o law in Peirce’sphilosophy is not the same as in Platonic inspireddeterministic mechanism, where laws are universal,precise, mathematical, and thereore deterministicin themselves, upholding their own existence in thetranscendent. Peirce wrote:I do not mean that potentiality immediately results in actuality. Mediately perhaps it does; but what immediately resulted was that unboundedpotentiality became potentiality o this or that sort–that is, o some quality.Tus the zero o bare possibility, by evolutionary logic, leapt into the unit o some quality. (Vol. 6, p.220)For Peirce, Firstness is a vague, dynamic, random mixo possible orms o existence in “pure eeling.” Tepotentiality o a quality, in Peirce’s metaphysics, is a timeless, sel-subsisting possibility that serves as themetaphysical ground o the world o actual existence. He wrote:Te evolutionary process is, thereore, not a mereevolution o the existing universe, but rather a processby which the very Platonic orms themselves havebecome or are becoming developed. (Vol. 6, p. 194)Tese orms start as vague qualities and become developedin the irreversible evolution o the world—a conceptoreign to Plato—to become more stable and precise inorm. Peirce urther wrote:Te evolution o orms begins or, at any rate, has or anearly stage o it, a vague potentiality; and that eitheris or is ollowed by a continuum o orms having a multitude o dimensions too great or the individualdimensions to be distinct. It must be by a contractiono the vagueness o that potentiality o everything ingeneral, but o nothing in particular, that the worldo orms comes about. (Vol. 6, p. 196)Tus in Peirce’s cosmology the qualities are vague; Peircesaw trancendentality and vagueness as going together in
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