The core of Amit Goswami’s argument in his ‘Creative Evolution’ is that consciousness is an active force in ‘creation’. And at the heart of that argument is the argument of tangled hierarchies. I had to reread what he says about it to be able to halfway understand, so I’ll just quote him here for easier reference (p. 121):
Behold the causal circularity of the role of the observer in quantum measurement. The observer, the subject, chooses the manifest state of the collapsed object(s); but without the manifested collapsed objects, including the observer, the experience of the subject does not arise either. This circular logic of the dependent co-arising of the subject and object(s) is called tangled hierarchy.
Goswami found this concept in a book that made quite a splash in the 80’s: Goedel, Escher, Bach: an eternal Golden Braid, by D.R. Hofstadter (1980). I read that book several times back then – or what I could understand of it. It contains an awful lot of difficult mathematics. I’ll be looking up the tangled hierarchy there and see if that helps our case.
The way Goswami goes about explaining the arising of consciousness is circular in a way that makes more sense to me than the way science explains the same.
Science basically says that consciousness arose as a side effect of evolution. Similarly the increasing complexity of nature – the arrow of time in biology (Ch. 11), which is opposed to the increasing entropy (chaos) in the universe – is explained by science as nothing more than a side effect of evolution. Science says this is powered by the sun. Amit Goswami counters that the energy of the sun is enough to maintain the status quo in terms of life being sustained, but not enough to explain increasing complexity. That takes more energy. Unless you’re with Goswami on this one: he says there’s unconscious processing that takes place (in local consciousness I presume) that suddenly leaps into a decision. Because it’s unconscious, it doesn’t take energy – says Goswami. Why doesn’t it take energy? Because as long as nothing is aware, the quantum waves aren’t collapsed and all the possibilities are still there.
As might have been predicted – I’m with Goswami on this one. I think explaining consciousness as a side effect of evolution, the result of mere chance, sounds like a spiritual form of perpetual motion. I have no problem with the sun as the mother of all life, indeed Blavatsky had her a mother to all life on earth spiritually as well. But her physical energy alone supplying everything needed for consciousness? I’m not so sure.
So far computer science and artificial intelligence are very good at creating all kinds of interesting computer programs and robots to make our lives easier. The big question is: can they be AWARE? Goswami quotes mathematicians who say that a computer cannot process meaning – it would simply take up too much calculation power. The next question of course is: how come we CAN process meaning?
Goswami goes right back to that first cell. It arose, he says, out of a blue print that is present in consciousness (sort of an archetype, or a Platonic Idea) that gets activated as soon as the proper ingredients and conditions are there. Consciousness then chooses to ‘collapse’ the necessary DNA, RNA, cell boundary and supporting proteins. It’s sort of a Jack in the Box causality going on here – the chances increased by the presence of consciousness. In essence: that first cell comes into being because it observes itself, collapsing a blue print already present in universal consciousness.
From a mathematicians standpoint the question here is: how to deal with statistics. Low probability events happen all the time. That is: throw the dice enough and you will see low probability events happening. A nice way to illustrate this – when they started to use computer shuffled card sets in bridge (a card game with four players) – the previously rare games became much more common. Hand shuffled cards have a far more regular structure than when they are truly randomly organized. When we think of a random set of cards, we expect there to not be too many cards of the same color in a line. From a computer’s perspective – and that of statistics – each possible order of the cards has the same probability.
To say that evolution and chance of this sort can explain everything, is at best a bit cold. But it’s also a bit like saying – anybody with a brush is capable (given enough time) to create a Picasso, so there’s no underlying intelligence necessary to make one. After all – evolution is a selection mechanism, not an actively creative force. But obviously a Picasso does need the help of the paints, concepts and culture of the day to be able to transcend them and come up with something new. Similarly, the creativity of Quantum Spirituality doesn’t stand in relation to creation like a magician who creates out of nothing. Instead it’s more like an artist working with the available material to create something new.
This creativity is used to explain significant jumps like the creation of the single cell, multicellular organisms like ourselves arising out of single cell organisms like yeast, land animals arising out of sea animals etc.
Scientists would say that everything except that first cell (which they can’t really explain) can be reduced to environmental stresses. It’s no stretch to believe that in a stressful environment a lot of processes in the cell get threatened. But an organism has very little room for variety in essential things like how to process food, or maintaining the cell wall. Any organism that saves energy on those will simply die out. So the only wiggle room as it were is in the reproduction of the genes. So a higher rate of mutation in stressful circumstances is very easily explained from the perspective of evolution. No need for unconscious processing etc. Just environmental stresses leading to increased mutation rates, leading to a lot of death (which was likely anyhow) and a few evolving to adapt to the new circumstances. And then thriving.
I think I’ve given enough examples now to show that some of Goswami’s arguments are convincing, or at least more convincing to me than those of science. On the other hand he does seem to attack evolutionary theory on more fronts than necessary. This does not threaten his main point though: that quantum mechanics combined with the theory of evolution is a viable interpretation of the scientific data that keeps room for consciousness and awareness as primary forces in the universe. The conclusion: there is a goal to evolution – the evolution of consciousness to ever higher levels of complexity and wisdom.