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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Joe 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].
The Transdarwinian Mechanisms of Subtle and Causal Fields
Toward an Integral Evolutionary Theory
It is my contention that random mutation and environmental selection are necessary but not sufficient to explain the great diversity and complexity of life.
It is my contention that random mutation and environmental selection (cornerstones of neo-Darwinism) are necessary but not sufficient to explain the great diversity and complexity of life. Those who wager that random mutation and selection are sufficient to explain the complexity of life would make good patrons of gambling casinos, being the great believers in incredible statistical odds that they are.
To underscore the importance of this issue, and the need to find an alternative, here is a rather long quote from Andreas Wagner, regarding the two main proteins that are needed to form a falcon's eye, a small part of the overall complexity of the falcon itself.
“Each one of those brilliant adaptations [of the falcon's eye] is the sum of innumerable tiny steps, each one preserved by natural selection, each one a change in a single molecule. They originated some three billion years after life first appeared on earth. That sounds like a helpfully long amount of time to come up with these molecular innovations. But each one of those opsin and crystallin proteins is a chain of hundreds of amino acids, highly specific sequences of molecules written in an alphabet of twenty amino acid letters. If only one such sequence could sense light or help form a transparent cameralike lens, how many different hundred amino-acid-long protein strings would we have to sift through? For a protein with a hundred amino acids (crystallins and opsins are much longer), the numbers multiply to a 1 with more than 130 trailing zeroes...
Wagner believes that random mutation and selection are necessary but not sufficient to explain the great diversity and complexity of life, and he provides us here with an excellent illustration of why neo-Darwinism is an incomplete theory. Those who continue to believe that random mutation and selection are enough, and that no other mechanisms need to supplement current explanations, only reveal themselves to be true believers in the mythology of billiard ball materialism, with the god of chance as their exalted idol. This is part of what Rupert Sheldrake has called the science delusion, and it has its origin in the Cartesian split between subject and object, mind and body, religion and science, church and state, and the subsequent exile of the interiors from the description of reality into a flatland of physical existence.
Although this split was an important development in the history of Western and human consciousness, it was also a tragedy, alienating the Kosmos from human interiority and disenchanting our humanity from participation in the Kosmic Mystery. What we need in order to restore this loss is not a return to superstition and magic, but a re-integration of our interiority with the Kosmos by transcending the magical subject with the objects of science that are themselves viewed through the lens of a new subject that has not disowned and dissociated the magical from its being and consciousness, courtesy of the Cartesian split. To this end, I will seek to supplement the gap of explanation in evolutionary theory that has been created by the split between subject and object, consciousness and matter, and in so doing move toward a more integral theory of evolution.
To begin with, instead of having untold trillions of molecular interactions randomly falling into place so that each one could then be individually selected as advantageous for survival, Ockham's razor would suggest that a mechanism that could coordinate all such interactions into a unified field of self-organizing patterns that fits the functioning of the whole organism within its environment, would be a much more efficient and simple explanation. It certainly makes more sense than trillions of chaotically moving parts with gazillions of potential shapes that just happen to come together one fine day to create just the right protein that gives an organism a selective advantage, and then this is what happens over and over and over again throughout the entire spectrum of species over eons of time, one painful step at a time, and almost completely out of dumb luck.
To illustrate how a unified field of self-organizing patterns might work within evolution, take the example that Wagner himself gives of a genotype network. According to him, a key to genetic innovation within species is the ability of genotype networks to explore alternative genetic pathways. They do this by providing genetic robustness to a genome, which means that if one gene gets knocked out or stops functioning for some reason, its neighbors within the network can take up the function of that gene even though they may be written with a completely different code. This not only preserves an old function (includes) necessary for the stability of an organism, but allows for the mutational exploration (transcend) of different genetic codes within the gene network of mutually supportive genes, thus providing a fast track for genetic innovation.
How exactly do genotype networks do this? Wagner says that “the almost unimaginably complex, densely woven tissue of genotype networks” acts as a higher-dimensional space that connects the genotypes into an interwoven self-organizing multidimensional fabric of biological innovability by putting widely divergent and varied molecular permutations within just a few steps of each other. Such a complexly interwoven space may be seen as operating like an invisible crystaline structure that is the hidden architecture of life (a natural rather than eternal Platonic form), and they are the source of life's great innovability.
Taking this concept of the multidimensional fabric of genotype networks a step further, we know that bio-molecules and proteins are in constant vibratory motion, constantly signaling to one another in resonate patterns of subtle molecular geometries. It is these geometries (subtle higher-dimensional spaces) that will initially decide whether some molecular configuration is a good or nearly good fit, or not. And therefore it is the molecular geometries in resonante communication within these genotype networks that will guide what molecular configurations are chosen to be tested against environmental selection. This greatly reduces the role of chance mutation as the driving force of genetic novelty, and introduces molecular geometry in a vibrating higher-dimensional space as a guiding force of functional fit before the genotype even interacts with the macro-environment of the organism.
These subtle geometries of a higher-dimensional space take place at the molecular level of complexity. But at an even more subtle and deeper layer of reality are the subtle geometries of a higher-dimensional space at the atomic and subatomic levels of complexity. Here the vibrating and undulating fields of subquantum space create interference patterns that collapse the wave-functions of the quantum potentials (the superpositional states) of atoms, which are ultimately manifested as material particles and forces in the manifest physical universe. In standard quantum physics it is these fields that are primary, and the material world is like epiphenomenal waves on the ocean of these fields. Much the same thing is happening at the molecular level, where the patterns of subtle geometric fields (higher-dimensional spaces) within genotype networks (the ocean or hidden architecture of life) guide the formation of the shapes and functions of bio-molecules (the waves or organisms).
Indeed, there are many continuities between the biological, psychological, and physical levels of reality. Just as DNA acts as an informational storehouse for the body of an organism, and just as the brain acts an informational storehouse for culture and behavior, so does the subquantum field act as an informational storehouse for the body of the Kosmos as a whole. And just as RNA translates and transcribes information about DNA, so do virtual particles translate and transcribe (record and feedback) information about the Kosmos (in standard quantum physics, virtual particles mediate all regular particle interactions). But whereas DNA and RNA are limited to biological information, the Kosmic storehouse (dark matter) and the eye of Spirit (virtual particles, dark energy) involves information about everything, biological, psychological, and non-biological. They constitute an underlying dynamical unified field of information capable of coordinating ALL interactions, especially at the local level where information is stored, but potentially throughout the entire non-locally entangled universe.
In this view of how reality is constructed, and in particular how evolution takes place within it, random mutation (UR) and environmental selection (LR) are important exterior components of what is happening in the evolution of species. But in addition to these standard neo-Darwinian explanations there are interior components of evolution that are equally if not even more important. First, there are the quantum potentials (UL) or adjacent possibles of what individual atoms and molecules could become but are not yet (or currently) manifested as within the Kosmos. Until the superpositions of the quantum realm are collapsed by the interference patterns of the subquantum fields, they exist in a liminal superpositional state in the unmanifest realm, deep in the subquantum ocean of the Kosmos. Second, these quantum potentials exist, particularly at the molecular and organismic level, as collective geometries, morphologies, and archetypal forms (LL) that constitute the hidden architecture of life and the Kosmos, making self-organizing innovation within evolution not only possible, but the most likely and natural outcome.
By including the subtle realm of quantum potentials, the causal realm of geometric or morphological fields, and the non-dual realm of the Kosmic Witness (the virtual particle-antiparticle pairs, or yin-yang condensates, of Empty space) we get a more complete and integral picture of how evolution unfolds its great diversity and complexity, not by magic nor merely by random chance, but by an inner-implicate and outer-explicate dialectic, an unmanifest-manifest dynamic of transcending and including each moment, from moment to moment, in the eternal now of the holomovement.
 Andreas Wagner (2014) Arrival of the Fittest: How Nature Innovates. Penguin: NYC. From the Prologue.