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Joe CorbettJoe Corbett has been living in Shanghai and Beijing since 2001. He has taught at American and Chinese universities using the AQAL model as an analytical tool in Western Literature, Sociology and Anthropology, Environmental Science, and Communications. He has a BA in Philosophy and Religion as well as an MA in Interdisciplinary Social Science, and did his PhD work on modern and postmodern discourses of self-development, all at public universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at [email protected].


Reply to Visser's Comment on Trans-Darwinism

Joe Corbett

The truth of the matter is that the role of random chance in evolution (with or without selection) is an open question

One gets the impression that Frank Visser is disappointed I did not submit a peer-reviewed research article of my lab experiments on the influence of the quantum-vacuum on evolution. And indeed it appears that this may be the case given his title, “Jumping to Speculations”[1], for one jumps to conclusions, not speculations. By definition, speculations are already jumps, leaps of imagination for other purposes than providing proof. If this is the case, Visser is mistaken about the intent of my articles.

In my two essays on Trans-Darwinism[2,3] I have done some of the thought-work that few or no scientist is going to do precisely because they are going to get hammered by their colleagues for daring to make such leaps of the imagination, and that could quite possibly even end their career. Since I don’t have to worry about that, I can brave the hammering for the sake of opening new exploratory research questions, to go, as Captain Kirk might say, where no man has gone before.

I am aware that the narrative on trans-Darwinism that I have written may be a chimera, mere castles in the sand, maya laughing in my face, hubris ready to crash down on my bricolage and smash it into a thousand pieces. On the other hand, I have some solid pieces of science (and scientists, Leonard Susskind and Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek among them) that support the notion of an informational Ground reservoir that could be the source of all existence in the universe. As the all-encompassing context within which everything takes place and has its existence, it behooves us to consider this information field and its possible role in evolution. I don’t see any reversal of the burden of proof in this, but only an attempt to be more inclusive in our explanations.

Visser seems to reject the very act of even considering such an information field because we don’t already know how it could work as an influence on evolution. But where would science be today if we already had the answers to all the questions our inquiries opened up? In fact, all of the questions that Visser says the informational storehouse hypothesis doesn’t answer are precisely the questions that the hypothesis makes possible for further exploration. And that really is the point in such a speculative exercise. It is not to answer all our questions but to make possible new questions with answers that we otherwise would never have been able to come to in the first place.

When Visser asks with skepticism what empirical phenomena I’m trying to explain he is being too limited in his view about what is worthy of being explained and how we should be permitted to explain them. We experience ourselves as living organisms that operate out of a conscious/unconscious dichotomy in our being. This can then be extrapolated to the being of the larger universe with supporting scientific evidence not just for empirical purposes but for phenomenological and hermeneutical purposes as well. The intention of this kind of explanation is not merely empirical, but for the purpose of meaning and connection within a re-enchanted, spiritualized Kosmos. This question really comes down to what kind of civilization do we want to have? One denuded and hollowed-out of meaning, significance, and participatory wholeness, or one that gives us a sense of our oneness with the universe at large, and with one another. Do we want to remain alienated observers with all the conflictual relations with nature and ourselves that this implies, or is there another possibility of existing in relation to the universe and ourselves where we are an integral part of what is happening to us and all around us?

Finally, Visser is suspicious of trans-Darwinism playing the chance-card. He says that what they leave out is that evolution is never about chance alone, but rather chance plus selection in very non-random ways. So the idea that chance alone is not enough to explain evolutionary emergence and diversity is a straw man argument, because neo-Darwinism does not claim chance alone as the mechanism of evolution. Fred Hoyle might be cited as one such straw man skeptic of chance, but Hoyle's skepticism based on mathematical calculations does in fact take selection into account, and he still finds chance to be an unsatisfactory explanation. While there is by no means proof that the normal mechanism of random mutation and selection isn't all there is to evolution, neither is there proof that that is all there is. The truth of the matter is that the role of random chance in evolution (with or without selection) is an open question, and whether it can fully account for biological and Kosmic order is justifiably disputable.

Fred Hoyle's junk yard metaphor

When one considers the role of synchronicity in our lives, of those moments when coincidence seems extraordinary and even miraculous, we have to stop and ask whether god really does play dice with the universe, or whether there might be an underlying ordering principle, an informational Ground reservoir if you will, uniting disparate objects in space according to a larger pattern of meaning and purpose that may not be fully formed yet and requires our participation. If we were not to inquire about this possibility we might be missing out on an opportunity of a kosmic lifetime, and shirking our responsibility to explore and AWAKE.


[1] Frank Visser, "Jumping to Speculations",

[2] Joe Corbett, "Trans-Darwinian Evolution",

[3] Joe Corbett, "A Trans-Darwinian Worldview",

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