Saturday, April 30, 2011

Terence McKenna: The Strange Attractor 4

Terence McKenna speaks about the "strange attractor."
Based on complexity theory and what has been called the "butterfly effect," McKenna postulates that the universe is being pulled forward by an absolute force he called the "strange attractor."

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Well you know in the 19th century if you spoke of nature having a purpose, you were thought to be anti-evolution.  Because in the 19th century there was great pain to eliminate anything like preformation, teleology, or purpose, or God, all these things they were trying to eliminate from evolutionary theory.  Until very recently in scientific thought, the idea has been that events are pushed by the causal necessity embedded in the events which preceded them.  In other words, if you ask the question what is the most important event in terms of shaping this moment, the answer would be, the moment just before this moment, because it hands on the energy, the space, and the time.

Recently, mathematicians have evolved what they call the notion of attractors, or strange attractors in some cases.  These are processes where a dynamic is not pushed by causal necessity from behind, but it's pulled by a point in the future.  You could almost say for example that if you release a ball bearing at the rim of a bowl, that it's attractor is the bottom of the bowl.  The ball bearing will roll down to the bottom of the bowl then half way up the side, then up the side, in shorter and shorter cycles until it finally comes to rest in the  exact bottom of the bowl.
"...there has been a gradual realization that indeterminacy exists not just at the Quantum level, but at all levels of natural organization as an inherent spontaneity, indeterminacy and probablism in the weather, the breaking of waves, in the turbelence and flow, in nervous systems, in living organisms, in biochemical cycles, in a whole range of phenomena. Even the old time favorite model for total rational mathematical order, namely, the orbits of the planets in the Solar System turn out to be unpredictable in terms of Newtonian physics...this indetermism is being recognized at all levels of nature, so is the idea that what we model with old style physical models is an abstraction from a very small number of idealized cases, that the natural world simply escapes most of the modeling processes which were the dominant features of traditional physics."
R. Sheldrake, 1990

From the point of view of the new mathematics, the bottom of the bowl is basin of attraction and the ball bearing has fallen under its influence.  So, I have always doubted that evolutionary theory without purpose, without teleology, could produce as complex a world as we see around us, in as short a time, five billion years as the life of the Earth.  It seemed more as though these processes were not just wandering across a flat genetic landscape.  The process of biological evolution was actually being channeled between high walls, which means it had some motion this way, some there, but its forward direction was inevitable.  This is the idea of an attractor, that the universe is under the sway of what I call the transcendental object, the end of time.  That is the domain of hyper connectivity.  That it would be perfect novelty and all nature aspires for this state of perfect novelty.

You could almost say that nature abhors habit.  And so, it seeks the novel, by producing various kinds of phenomena, at every level, in biology, chemistry and society.  So there really is a purpose to the universe.  It's purpose is this state of hyper complexification, in which all of its points become related to each other, become, what mathematicians call, cotangent.  It gives the universe, a feeling of being imbued with a caring presence.  It makes appear as if nature is tending towards something.  It changes our own ethical and moral position in the universe, because you know science tells us that we are result of a cosmic accident, we're at the edge of an ordinary galaxy, in an ordinary star system and we're damn lucky to be here and that's it.  That's our place, a very existential notion of our place in the cosmos.

(We include a series of videos of a discussion that took place in 1990 as well as an assortment of lectures where McKenna touches on the strage attractor.  The discussion by Sheldrak, Abraham and McKenna is very detailed.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link:

But, if you take this other point of view, that processes under the influence of an attractor, and that the value the attractor is maximizing is novelty, then suddenly, for the first time in five hundred years, human beings are moved back to the center of the stage, because, we are the most novel thing on this planet.  We are everything biology is, plus, technology, language, politics, philosophy, art, so forth and so on.  So suddenly, human beings become important, not mere cosmic witnesses to a meaningless cosmos, but the cutting edge of a cosmos that glories in order and is moving towards higher states of order.  At the present moment, we are the carriers.  Once, it was the volcanic processes that shaped this planet.  Once, it was the life of the early oceans.  Once, it was the great dinosaurs.  But today, humanity represents the cutting edge of complexity and this process of moving towards complexification.

So, without invoking God, or any sort of myth, you give meaning to human life.  What is man's purpose?  To advance and preserve novelty.  This is an ethical position.  It means you do not replace rain forests with pastures, you don't censor books, you don't lean on people to make gender choices that are different from yours.  No, the purpose of being a human is to complexify reality even more, to hand on a more diverse, more complicated, more multifaceted universe to our children.  When this process of complexification reaches the Omega Point, it will fulfill the expectations of all of these religions.  But it will fulfill it in a more mature scientific and universal way that these religions all lack because they reflect their parochial origins.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The absurd situation has turned out