The History of Mechanism
The apparent contradictions of the old paradigm that have locked the present world into its limited, decaying attitude was established by three people. The first was Rene Descartes, who in the 1600s formulated the idea that the intellect could accurately determine the truth about the world. He said, “I think therefore I am.” This began what has been called the Age of Reason, which placed the rational mind as the primary tool for knowing the world.
[picture of Isaac Newton]
In the 1700s Newton, building on Cartesian precepts, developed the laws of motion and seemingly reduced nature to mathematics and observable analysis. This created a belief in a universe which functioned like a machine, as in the working of a well-tuned clock. Then in the 1800s came a man, literally lying now at the feet of Sir Isaac Newton in Westminster Abbey. He is the person whose theories are of primary concern in this article. Sir Charles Darwin and his ideas of natural selection and evolution hammered the nails into any alternative intelligent approach to the development of life. As the result of Darwin's theories, life would be labeled from here on as chance and circumstance. With the help of his friend and so-called "bulldog" Thomas Huxley, materialism was solidified in the halls of Western scientific community, and any conflicting thinking to Darwin was labeled dogmatic, primitive, or superstitious. Huxley said science was the study of only observable phenomena. Darwin, who was perhaps a little more reluctant to state his beliefs publicly, but whose idea held a far greater impact, said, "To avoid stating how far I believe in materialism, I say only that emotions instructs degrees of talent, which are hereditary and are so because the brain of child resembles the parents’ stock.” (Gould, 1977)
It is through the work of these three great men that the mechanistic model of the world was based on and still thrives upon.
[picture of Darwin]
The New Paradigm
“Yesterday the universe was a machine. Today it’s a hologram. Who knows what intellectual rattle we will shake at tomorrow’s world?” ⎯ RD Lang.
Kuhn, in speaking about the new paradigm, said that “It unfolds a larger perspective, which includes the old as partial truth but transforms that knowledge into startling new theories by reconciling apparent contradictions.” A paradigm involves something that was there all along but eluded perception because of a lack of orientation. In the old view are found things that are overlooked because they defy the current explanation.
In the established mechanistic view we can see, even in the personal experience of the men mentioned above, elements of a greater awareness that were not acknowledged publicly. They suggest an inkling of "something that had been there all along.” For instance, Descartes’ idea of the rational mind came to him in a dream of an angelic presence that appeared and spoke to him. Newton, after setting forth the laws of gravity and motions, spent the last 30 years of his life devoted to the study of astrology, alchemy, and mysticism. He wrote, "God could vary the laws of the nature and create worlds of several sorts in many parts of the universe."
Darwin, however, was never anything more than a staunch rationalist, but he was provoked to publish his theories on natural selection when a young naturalist named Alfred Wallace was about to deliver a similar theory to the British scientific community. Wallace and Darwin decided to present their papers jointly at the same conference. However, years later, after originally agreeing with Darwin on the laws of chance mutation, Wallace asked, "How, then, was an organ developed so far beyond the needs of its possessor . . . the brain." He eventually challenged Darwin's whole position of natural selection when he insisted that math and musical abilities could not be explained on the basis of natural selection and the struggle for existence. “Something else," he contended, "some unknown spiritual development, must have been at work in the collaboration of the human brain." Darwin's simple reply to Wallace was, "I differ grievously from you and am very sorry for it." Slowly Wallace's challenge was forgotten and a great complacency settled down upon the scientific world, and Wallace was mostly forgotten (Eisely, 1957). Like Kuhn stated, we can see here that in the foundations of mechanism lies the working of a greater perspective. Descartes was a visionary, Newton a mystic, and Darwin provoked by a spiritualist.
"That which dwells in all living things remain forever indestructible." -Bhahavada Gita
Finally to get a sense beyond mere intellectual hypothesizing of the remarkable drive of the intelligence of life powering evolution, is to quote the people who have realized the awe and mystery of life itself. The naturalist Loren Eisely said, "I have come to suspect this long descent down the ladder of life will not lead us to the final secret. The secret lies in the egg of night. The desire to link life to matter may have blinded us to the more remarkable characteristics of both. I will ask in what way is it that the simple dust takes on a history?"
The central discussion throughout has been to investigate the source of the intelligence of the life-creating principles drive towards a more complete, sophisticated way of knowing. Zen Buddhism says, "Life is wisdom seeking wisdom." This is ultimately what the mechanists have continually denied; that being conclusively what is this life force? Perhaps only the poets could define this undefinable. Dylan Thomas called it, `The force that through the green fuse drives the flower'?
Wordsworth re-cognized it when he said it was:
"…a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought.
And rolls through all things."
Eisely, L. (1957). The Immense Journey. New York: Vintage Books.
Gleick, J. (1987). Chaos. New York: Viking Penguin.
Gould, S. J. (1977). Ever Since Darwin. New York: W.W. Norton.
Jensen, D. (2000, July 6). An Interview With Vine Deloria. The Sun Magazine. Retrieved May 29, 2001 from the World Wide Web http://www.thesunmagazine.org/buffalo.html
Kuhn, T. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
Narby, J. (1998). The Cosmic Serpent – DNA and the Origins of Knowledge. New York: J. P. Tarcher.
New Frontier Magazine (1993, August & September). David Bohm Interview. Asheville, NC: Sw. Virato, Publisher.
Pollack, R. (2000). The Faith of Biology. New York: Columbia University Press.
Sheldrake, R. (1995). The New Science of Life. Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, Inc.
Smith, J. M. (1989). The Problems of Biology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.