Complex, sacred nature

One possible way to unify a big-history narrative is to use the theme of growing complexity in the universe. Stuart Kauffman studies complexity and self-organization; in particular, he believes that self-organization might play an important role in evolution, along with natural selection. He has recently written a book, Reinventing the Sacred, about his approach to moving away from a purely reductionist science and toward a science infused with meaning and even a sense of the sacred (a totally naturalistic sense, not a belief in a supernatural being). Kauffman talks about the book in this interview with Salon and has written an essay for that’s excerpted from the book.

In the Salon interview, Kauffman says that having a shared sense of the sacred in nature might give the emerging global culture something to converge on (to counteract what he describes as a natural retreat into fundamentalism on the part of some people). This reminded me a bit of what David Christian said about a big-history narrative serving as a secular creation story. However, while what Christian said really resonated for me, Kauffman takes the idea much further, into places I’m not entirely comfortable with. For one thing, Christian noted that he wanted to draw a line between religion and what he was talking about with regard to big history, whereas Kauffman seems to be blurring that sort of line. (And I really don’t know what to think about his idea, mentioned in passing in the Salon interview, that there might be some connection between quantum physics and consciousness.) Still, he makes some good points and some provocative points, and I think the book will definitely be worth reading. (Anyone already read it and have any comments on it?)


  1. Quantum forces leading to consciousness is one of those ideas that seems, on the face of it, quite wacky to me, but that a number of serious scientists and not merely New Age afficionados give some credence to.

    I tend to agree with John Dewey that consciousness isn’t that big of a deal, compared to those who think it’s some big, inexplicable, mysterious and mystical thing. Rather, it’s simply a way we are able to direct focus and attention upon some of the things going on inside our heads in the same way as we can attend to things happening in the outside world.

    Then again, I’m not a scientist. I don’t even play one on TV.

  2. That’s pretty much my take on the idea of a connection between quantum physics and consciousness. My first reaction is that the only reason to link the two was that they were both supposedly mysterious in some sense, but on the other hand, there are some reputable scientists investigating the idea.

    I guess I’m not really a mysterian either; probably the most convincing person I’ve read on the subject is Daniel Dennett, who definitely doesn’t think there’s any big mystery involved.

    But then I’m not a scientist either. :)

  3. An appropriate quote from the movie “Jeremiah Johnson”:

    “These here is God’s finest scupturings! And there ain’t no laws for the brave ones! And there ain’t no asylums for the crazy ones! And there ain’t no churches, except for this right here! And there ain’t no priests excepting the birds. By God, I are a mountain man, and I’ll live ’til an arrow or a bullet finds me. And then I’ll leave my bones on this great map of the magnificent . . .”

    In Roderick Nash’s “Wilderness & the American Mind”, Nash suggests that, at least in the Western tradition, this view of nature as sacred is a peculiarly American invention, but the situation is of course confused by the linkage of this view with the mythology of the frontier.


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