Sunday, June 8, 2014

Teilhard-Style Conscious Evolution: The Vatican Shouldn't Be Too Hasty To Reject It

A question recently posed in a piece on is: Are American nuns paying for the sins of a Jesuit priest who died in the 1950s?
To support that contention the article noted the ongoing showdown between doctrinal hard-liners in the Vatican and leaders representing more than 40,000 U.S. nuns, with one of Rome’s chief complaints being the nuns’ continuing embrace of the notion of “conscious evolution."

Are you kidding me? What’s so unique or odd about  that? Indeed, in physics, the notion of consciousness resident in matter is becoming less controversial by the minute. If it is resident or exhibits the potential in matter, say neurons or other cells, then clearly evolution would be subsumed by it.
The two physicists who’ve perhaps done the most work in this area are Henry Stapp (‘Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics’) and the late David Bohm (‘Wholeness and the Implicate Order’)

Though Stapp and Bohm approach nonlocality and consciousness from differing positions: Stapp via the Heisenberg Ontology applied to the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (CIQM), and Bohm via the deterministic de Broglie wave concept in his Stochastic Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (SIQM)  both use the Heisenberg Indeterminacy Principle as a starting point.

In Bohm’s case, the Heisenberg relations are embodied in his theory as a limiting case over a certain level of intervals of space and time. However, the potential exists for the fields to be averaged over smaller intervals and hence, subject to a greater degree of self-determination than is consistent with the Heisenberg principle. As Bohm concludes[1]:

From this, it follows that our new theory is able to reproduce, in essence at least, one of the essential features of the quantum theory, i.e. Heisenberg’s principle, and yet have a different content in new levels

 Bohm is primarily concerned with the canonically conjugate field momentum, for which the associated coordinates, i.e. Dt,  Dfk  fluctuate at random. Thus, we have, according to Bohm:

p k = a (Dfk  /Dt)

Where k is a constant of proportionality, and Dfk  is the fluctuation of the field coordinate. If then the field fluctuates in a random way the region over which it fluctuates is;

(d  Dfk) 2  = b (Dt)

Taking the square root of both sides yields:

(d  Dfk)   = b 1/2   (Dt)1/2 

Bohm notes that p k   also fluctuates at random over the given range so:

d p k =  a b 1/2 /   (Dt)1/2 

Combining all the preceding results one finally gets a relation reflective of the Heisenberg principle, but time independent:

d p k   (d  Dfk  ) = ab

This is analogous to Heisenberg’s principle, cf.

dp dq  <  ħ

Where the product ab  plays the same role as ħ (The Planck constant divided by 2p)

 The inference by Bohm is that the universe is quantum wave mechanical at the most fundamental level. What we call "cosmos"  is the aggregate of all quantum wave forms in a state of ongoing interaction, via the Bohmian quantum potential:

              VQ  =  { - ħ2/ 2m}  å i  [Ñ Ri]2 / R

 This means that the brain, in its current evolutionary state, can interact quantum mechanically with any of the objects in the cosmos. It also means that these objects must share in the conscious attribute for said interaction to occur.  It is nonlocality with a conscious ‘flavor’. (Or as Bohm has put it mind is unified with matter in a higher dimensional implicate order.)

This dynamic conforms to Stapp’s Heisenberg ontology form of the CIQM, whereby an observational choice actualizes as a whole and injects into the quantum universe an integrative aspect.[2].  As Stapp describes it (‘The Mindful Universe’, p. 113):

In this way the brain is described strictly quantum –mechanically, yet it can be understood to be very similar to a classical statistical ensemble…the relevance of the quantum aspects of consciousness is not due to some macroscopic quantum superposition effect- which would be extremely hard to realize. The pertinent feature is an occasional sudden reduction of the ensemble to a sub-ensemble compatible with the content of a co-occurring conscious experience.

The occurrences of such reductions are logically possible because the state of the brain represents not an evolving material substance but an evolving set of potentialities for a psycho-physical event to occur.”

It is within these evolving potentialities that evolving consciousness inheres, and they can reside as much in inanimate matter as in viable matter, but obviously in a much more rudimentary guise in the former. While "conscious evolution" in its usually understood form refers to human advancement, it actually encompasses the explicate units throughout the cosmos - as well as other sentient beings in it.
Bohm, meanwhile, associates his evolving consciousness with the Holomovement, a holographic entity that manifest in a higher dimensional “implicate” order. Stapp describes his effort as ‘bringing conscious realities into the description of nature”.

While QM obviously does not ‘prove’ material consciousness, the Bohmian –Stapp approach does provide a scientific description (ok, conjecture) which is consistent with it. It is also wholly naturalistic and hence trumps any supernaturalist approaches or assumptions.
Carrying the Stapp and Bohm precepts and principles to their logical conclusions, one arrives at a conscious cosmos, but with the consciousness emergent at differing levels if one accesses it at any one time.

The piece refers to Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who basically views “conscious evolution” as so much New Age twaddle. But if he had sufficient background in quantum theory, at least to approach the Bohm, Stapp models, I warrant he would lose that perception. Or at least give a good effort in trying to defend his classical supernatural bunkum before he goes down.
Evidently, this German theologian bluntly told heads of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious last month that the principles of “conscious evolution” — that mankind is transforming through the integration of science, spirituality and technology — are “opposed to Christian Revelation” and lead to “fundamental errors.”

Fundamental errors of what? In what? The only error is made by Mueller who somehow thinks the cosmos can remain canned within his little supernaturalist cartoon forever, with matter and consciousness ultimately dualistically opposite. Now THERE is the real error. It was indeed, the primary error that led me to embrace a hardcore, reductionist atheism in which I totally eschewed the conscious component in favor of matter (as "particles") ultimately determining reality. Time and experience have disclosed to me this is gibberish, despite the fact I can’t set up an experiment to “prove” it.
The final joke is that Mueller warned the sisters that if they persist in pursuing such dangerous ideas, Rome could cut them loose. Hey,  welcome it! I cut myself loose from the Vatican’s hard -headed morons and haven’t regretted it yet. As I told my mom after I left the Church when she asked for reasons: “It’s like a suit which I’ve outgrown. It no longer fits.”
The Church, let us bear in mind, isn’t the final arbiter of truth. Despite its doctrine of papal infallibility, Hans Kung has shown (‘Infallible?’, p. 142):

" no one, neither Vatican I, nor Vatican II, nor the textbook theologians, has shown that the Church - its leadership or its theology - is able to put forward propositions which inherently cannot be erroneous."

Hence, it ought not be earth-shaking that numerous errors can emerge in its assorted doctrines – which -  after all - are the products of limited conscious brains that have fossilized as opposed to evolving their potentialities.

Let’s also bear in mind that the very term “conscious evolution,” also leads directly back to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), a French Jesuit who was by turns a philosopher and theologian, geologist and paleontologist. It was Teilhard’s thinking about humanity’s future evolution that got him in trouble with church authorities. Teilhard’s principles as they apply to the manifestation of the “Omega point”, synthesized from his book, ‘The Divine Milieu’, can be stated as follows:

1. There is both a within and a without of everything in the  universe.

2. A law of complexity/consciousness obtains by which increasingly complex structure corresponds to increasing consciousness.

3. Evolution is not merely due to pure chance but is directed.

4. Though the universe appears constituted of diverse objects, it is fundamentally a unity.

Perhaps the best description of the Omega Point is given in The Future of Man:[3] the heart of a universe prolonged along its axis of complexity, there exists a divine center of convergence. Let us call it the point Omega. Let us suppose that from this universal center, this Omega Point, there constantly emanate radiations hitherto only perceptible to those persons we call 'mystics.' Let us further imagine that, as the sensibility or response to mysticism of the human race increases with planetisation, the awareness of Omega becomes so widespread as to warm the Earth psychically while physically it is growing cold.

This passage describes a unitary cosmos in metaphorical terms. The Omega Point refers to the final  grand unification of all explicate forms in the cosmos, i.e. into a single implicate form, at the exhaustion of time. Ultimately, it represents a threefold synthesis: the material world with consciousness, the past with the future, and variety with unity.

Anyone who has read David Bohm’s ‘Wholeness and the Implicate Order’ would immediately see the similarity between the Omega Point and his Holomovement. The only difference, as Bohm would describe it if still alive, is that the Holomovement already exists as a unified whole in present – as well as future – reality.

Based on his principles, Teilhard argued that creation is still evolving and that mankind is changing with it.  We are, he said, advancing in an interactive “noosphere” of human thought through an evolutionary process that leads inexorably toward an Omega Point – Jesus Christ — that is pulling all the cosmos to itself.
Again, bear in mind Teilhard was referencing the explicative process. This is the evolutionary path divided matter would take, until such time it is unified in the implicate order of higher dimensionality.

“Everything that rises must converge,” as Teilhard put it, a phrase so evocative that Flannery O’Connor appropriated it for her story collection. This process of “complexification” — another of his signature terms — is intensifying and Catholic theology could aid in that process if it, too, adapts. The trouble is, the fossils ensconced in the Vatican likely won’t allow it.

Though brief to the point of flirting with superficiality, the above account shows why, as early as the 1920s, Teilhard’s Jesuit superiors barred him first from publishing ‘Divine Milieu’ and then from teaching its principles. They effectively exiled him to China to dig for fossils (which he did with great success).

Sadly, most of Teilhard’s works (which I acquired while at Loyola in the 1960s)  were not published until after his death, and in 1962 a nervous Vatican issued a formal warning about “the dangers presented by the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and his followers.”  Hmmmm….funny then that the books would be offered for sale at a Catholic University bookstore – but let’s bear in mind Loyola was run by the Jesuits!

Today, remarkably, Teilhard is enjoying something of a renaissance. Some might attribute this to New Age piffle or seeking, but I think it’s because people simply aren’t satisfied any more with ersatz or dictated belief that they’re obliged to imbibe. They want to explore the universe- spiritually and in other ways – for themselves.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, for example, who as a young theologian named Joseph Ratzinger criticized Teilhard’s views, a few years ago praised Teilhard’s “great vision” of the cosmos as a “living host.” That raised a few eyebrows and prompted Benedict’s spokesman (does every pope have one?) to clarify that “by now, no one would dream of saying that (Teilhard) is a heterodox author who shouldn’t be studied.” Hmmm…really?

Pope Francis has also invoked Teilhard-sounding concepts about the ongoing development of human consciousness, and Vatican observers say it would not be surprising if Teilhard made an appearance in an encyclical on the environment that Francis is currently writing.
According to Rev. Paul Crowley, a Jesuit at Santa Clara University who has studied Teilhard:
“Teilhard is definitely being quoted or invoked in ways we haven’t seen in decades, and really never before by the Roman magisterium,”

Crowley said one reason for the reconsideration is that reality caught up with Teilhard’s ideas: The growing global ecological crisis is prompting demands for the kind of holistic scientific and moral response Teilhard would have endorsed, and the Internet is itself a digital “noosphere” of universal interconnectivity. 

Again, quantum physics via nonlocality and specifically the (1982)  Aspect experiment, has driven this recognition as well. (At least the quantum physics of Bohm and Stapp)

At the same time, scholars such as David Grummett and Sister Elizabeth Johnson have been honing and deploying Teilhard’s often arcane ideas, and the American Teilhard Association has an agenda busy with conferences and publications. It is “the emergence of Teilhard de Chardin,” as John Haught titled a 2009 essay in Commonweal magazine.
There’s even a major documentary on Teilhard in the works, with a blurb from NPR’s Cokie Roberts: “Bringing Teilhard de Chardin alive to another generation could not come at a more opportune time.”

So how is it that the American nuns are getting tripped up by Teilhard just as Teilhard is becoming cool again?  The problem is, as Crowley put it, that for every serious Teilhard scholar “there are nine New Age types who invoke Teilhard’s name” — and often botch the pronunciation.
Granted,  as the piece put it, Teilhard "remains his own worst enemy". He was as much mystic as scientist, and his concepts could be so idiosyncratic and abstract as well as esoteric,  that they fed right into the ecology-and-spirituality movement that emerged in the 1970s and beyond. In some quarters, yes, Teilhard tends to be quoted by the Left the way G.K. Chesterton is cited by the Right — frequently and to great effect, but often torn from any meaningful context. The enhancement and power of the internet, for example, is not the same as the emergent noosphere.  Neither is "planetisation" a simple ecological concept or associated with "Gaia".  Most of those who make such errors have never really read Telhard's works carefully.

To be sure, Teilhard’s disciples, including author and lecturer Barbara Marx Hubbard, whose invitation to address the American nuns in 2012 continues to irk some in Rome, helped keep his legacy alive.
But at this point the Catholic Church may need to take Teilhard more seriously if it is to take him back from his fan base outside traditional religion.

According to Crowley:
 What we need to do is to separate the gold from the dross and appropriate it in new ways.”

The problem is, who exactly is qualified to make those decisions?  One thing for sure, it can't be left to the fossilized brains in the Curia, or the "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith"!

[1] Bohm, op. cit.,. 91.
[2] Stapp: op. cit.., 149.
         [3] de Chardin:  The Future of Man,  127.

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