Hi – I’m reading “Humanity in a Creative Universe” by Stuart A. Kauffman and wanted to share this quote with you.

“Who Are We Knowing, Doing, Living Humans in a Creative Universe in Late Modernity?

Part III now hopes to begin, begin only, to explore what we are as humans in a creative universe, we in late modernity or postmodernity. A stage was set in the Axial Age, more than a thousand years after writing was invented, from 800 to 200 B.C.E. with the advent of our classics across the globe, Confucius, Buddha, Amos, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Plato, and Aristotle. All sought in diverse ways, forms of transcendence beyond early religions that sought welfare for the local community, good hunting, and nourishing rains, by propitiating the early gods. Transcendence was and remains a search for something higher—ethics for Confucius, enlightenment and compassion for all sentient beings for Buddha, and the good, the true, and the beautiful for Plato. Yet the transcendent is also somehow beyond statement. In the allegory of the cave, Plato describes us in a cave seeing only shadows. Turning to the sunlight we glimpse “the good,” never defined. Were we to look too long, we would become blind. The allegory of the cave is a metaphor that evokes and inspires without precisely stating. We have substantially lost transcendence and enchantment in late modernity. Yet we really are perhaps at the most enormous one of Thomas Cahill’s “hinges of history,” in which our thirty ancient civilizations around the globe are weaving together, affording us enormous opportunities to co-create what we will become. If Parts I and II rend the overtaut weave of fine science that binds us in the hegemony of the Reductionist dream, thus may set us free, Part III would hope that, free, we can dream anew.

Summary of Parts I and II

The first two parts of this book have sought to set us free from the hegemony of reductive materialism in which all that becomes in the universe is entailed, whether in classical physics or quantum physics. Chapter 3 points to an antientropic process above the level of atoms where the universe is nonergodic and in part underlies all that is history becoming (but respects the second law); Chapter 3 also claims reductionism fails even in classical physics and chemistry. Chapter 4 on the evolution of the biosphere claims no laws entail the specific evolution of the biosphere and introduces the new ideas of the Adjacent Possible and Actuals, which are enabling constraints that do not cause, but enable, new Adjacent Possibles, typically unprestatable, into which the biosphere evolves. More natural selection does not “act” to achieve the very possibilities for future evolution that arise. The biosphere flows, drawn into some of the possibilities it creates! This is an entirely new way of thinking, involving enablement, not cause, but enabled created by Actuals in the world, the swim bladder for example, and being “sucked” into some of the very possibilities evolution itself creates. This is a new idea which I think applies, as shown in Chapter 5 on innovation in the economy, to economic development since 50,000 years ago when we had only perhaps 10,000 goods and production functions on the globe and now have 10 billion in New York alone. We have exploded, as has the biosphere, into the Adjacent Possibles we largely unknowingly create. Here is Nagle’s “purposeless teleology” (2012). The greater the diversity of things and processes, the greater the ways they can become Actuals that enable new Adjacent Possibles into which life becomes in prestatable and unprestatable ways. Chapter 13 (a sort of addendum to Part I) shows that, if quantum measurement is real and ontologically indeterminate, then the evolution of the world at the quantum level is a history of what happened that is not entailed, and sometimes not even the Adjacent Possible is prestatable at the level of ever-new quantum behaviors enabled by sometimes unpredictable actual boundary conditions from prior measurements of chaotic quantum systems. Where true, at this quantum level, the history is unpredictable ab initio, new in the universe Adjacent Possibles arise, and parallel the evolution of the biosphere and the economy and other aspects of human life. Chapter 14 explores whether we are forced to hold the Pythagorean dream of foundational laws outside the universe. I conclude that we are not so forced. Reductionism for the entire universe will fail to entail all if the becoming of the biosphere is unentailed and part of the universe. But Chapter 14 envisions the evolution of laws and constants, which act, via that evolution, as enabling constraints as well as causes. Part I claims we are in a creative universe.

Part II, after the failure of Descartes’ res cogitans and the triumph of his res extensa in Newton and classical physics with its causal closure and at best an epiphenomenal mind and no free will, seeks our subjective pole, with all our sense of a conscious mind that can sometimes act with responsible free will in the world. I hope my arguments are cogent, sometimes testable, but not entirely testable. I break the causal closure of classical physics with some confidence using quantum mechanics and acausal consequences of a quantum coherent and Poised Realm mind for the classical meat of the brain and body via acausal decoherence and recoherence, and presumptively acausal quantum measurement. I propose the testable hypothesis that measurement is necessary for consciousness. I find hopeful grounds for free will for humans and electrons in the strong free will theorem. And in suggesting a solution to the quantum enigma, I find grounds for a free will in the reality of ontologically indeterminate measurement so the present could have been different. I propose that quantum variables consciously measure one another, and consciously and responsibly decide with free will. Thus, I extend the enigma from us to particle, a step that has the virtue of saying that measurement can occur anywhere on von Neumann’s range from consciousness to the apparatus measuring via its quantum variables measuring one another. I then try in the Triad to unite Actuals, Possibles, and Mind, where Actuals obey the law of the excluded middle; Possibles, quantum superpositions for example, do not; and Mind measures Possibles to yield New Actuals that yield new Possibles for Mind again to measure in a panpsychist participatory universe. There is even some hope that by the quantum Zeno effect stopping the propagation of the Schrodinger waves, such cross observation can yield a classical-enough world. If Part II is correct, we can have our minds back.

We can have, with evolution building upon this from the minds of electrons to early life to us, our full humanity back, consistent with science.

Kauffman, Stuart A.. Humanity in a Creative Universe (pp. 217-220). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Beyond Modernity?


IF WE ARE, by Parts I and II, partially set free and have by these efforts more of a basis for real scientific hopes for our full subjective pole, perhaps we can now a bit more easily have our full humanity, its better, its worse. “What can we do with the crooked timber of mankind?” wrote Immanuel Kant. Crooked we can surely be, best face it and seek the conditions that foster our better selves.

Max Weber said, “With Newton we became disenchanted and entered modernity.” Yes, and to recount: Newton leads to science leads to the Enlightenment saying, “down with the clerics up with science for the ever betterment of mankind.” This leads to the Industrial Revolution, then to the modern world, and then to whatever postmodernity or post postmodernity may be.

We remain disenchanted. There is no magic in the entailed world of Newton, leaving the Romantic poets to cry out for that magic and a humanity lost: “Science with its Rule and Line,” wrote Keats.

As Andreas Weber (Weber 2013) and Larry Arnhart (2014) rightly write, Adam Smith and Darwin are, with Newton and Locke, at the core of modernity’s mythic structure. Adam Smith of the Scottish Enlightenment gave us the shoemaker and candlemaker, each acting for his or her selfish interests, yet leading as if by an “invisible hand” to the welfare of all. Never mind that Smith also wrote on the “moral sentiments” in another book that is ignored. Capitalism roots itself in Smith, who founded modern economics. With Riccardo, and the advantages of nations, we have a massive preference for “free markets.” Never mind that the US colonies created the foundations of what would be the early US economy behind tariff walls and by copying locally British imports. Free trade? Just ask the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, still wedded to these ideas and the Washington Consensus as poverty flourishes. Maybe we sometimes need tariff barriers in very poor countries behind which they can build a self-sustaining web of complements and substitutes at their own technological levels that generate an internal market, not wedded to global prices.

As Arnhart (2014) says, Smith is one strand that says that society can be self-organizing from within, needing no external authority for its structure such as the medieval Church view of an outside source, God, for the well-run structure of society. Then, again as Arnhart writes, Darwin gives us for the first time in history, evolution by natural selection, hence the appearance of outside design, with no designer. There is no Watchmaker, the response to Bishop Paley’s appeal to the adapted organisms of the biosphere as watches that demands a God as designer. But the narrow reading of Darwin is “survival of the fittest,” individual selection for those with more offspring, in a competition for limited resources, an echo of Smith’s selfishness yet for the benefit of all, leading, it would seem, to Darwin’s tangled bank teeming with life.

Four superb minds, Newton, Darwin, Smith, and Locke, form the core of modernity’s mythic structure. The world, from Newton, is entailed, a machine that can be known and substantially controlled. We need only be scientific and rational and use that rationality well. We will know; we will master. We will as we unleash thousands of chemicals into the atmosphere with no idea of their effects, overfish the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, and cannot reestablish the fish-rich seas. We will master? Only the Superman of my young boy’s comic books, in the absence of kryptonite. Smith and Darwin yield society organized from inner wellsprings. In the simplest view it is the selfishness of the shoemaker and candlestick maker, each acting for his or her own benefit, that enriches society. And it is true in many respects. There is a three-day supply of food in most major cities. The invisible hand of the market fills the markets. (But worries about the fragility of the global supply chain are growing and should. We cannot just design it when we do not know what can happen. We must prepare for the unknown and both “jury rigging” as unforeseeable solutions, and the implied incompleteness of contracts are issues we should face.) From Darwin, natural selection springs from Malthus, who wrote that exponential growth in population and linear growth in food supply meant eventual death. “At last I got hold of a theory to work with,” wrote Darwin in the margins of his notebook. So natural selection, in the first image, is competition for scarce resources, and the better adapted will be selected. At root, this image too is “selfish,” for each organism adapts, thanks to heritable variation and natural selection, to better fit its environment as measured by the mean number of its offspring.

Newton, Darwin, Smith, and Locke are the intellectual pillars of modernity and our mythic structure. Locke studied Hobbes and Rousseau. For Hobbes, man is selfish and brutish, and bands in a social contract into society for protection. For Rousseau, man in the state of nature, is cooperative. The New World was being “discovered” and relatively simple societies could be studied and were. A cooperative egalitarianism was found in many of these societies that were not dominated by the Incas and Aztecs. Locke studied these well, in reports from the New World. But after the agricultural revolution allowed massive accumulation of stored wealth, massive power hierarchies arose in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Millennia later, in the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries of Europe, kings ruled by divine right. Locke’s political philosophy became ours in most of the West: from Newton, government as a balance of forces, in the United States, three branches of government, executive, legislative, and judicial. A foundational freedom for the individual and his or her liberty and right of ownership of property, the basics needed for Smith’s invisible hand. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” wrote Jefferson. The pursuit of happiness, human flourishing in a broad sense, has become, to some extent, limited to be the driver of economic trade to fulfill some of our human desires, and create wealth and profit, the wellspring motive forces of the invisible hand. “We are all reduced to price tags” wrote Gordon Brown as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. “Wealth” is not, however, human flourishing. Arhnart (2014) writes further that Locke envisioned a republican government that balanced the egalitarian aspects of human social life with the drive for dominance evidenced in the first agrarian civilizations after agriculture allowed massive accumulation of stored wealth.

In stark form, this constitutes the mythic structure of modernity. Much of it is wonderful, and much wonder has ensued.

What is missing? First, Darwin, narrowly taken, underestimated collaboration. Consider the 150 bacterial species in your gut. You must have them to live. What are they doing for one another functionally with their myriad molecular and cellular behaviors? Most are not competitors, but commensals. We do not have any idea how these may be functionally collaborating so that each member of each species achieves a functional, not closure, but sufficiency, in its world with the other species and your cells. The evolving biosphere is not just “nature red in tooth and claw,” which was not Darwin’s phrase. Nature is Darwin’s “tangled bank” teeming with functionally interwoven, collaborating, and competing species, an ongoing flood of becoming life with 99 percent of all species dead, but still a flood of becoming. Were we to better understand this functional interweaving, how it comes to be and continues to become, and be the ever-evolving balance of nature whose members are ever-changing, as life ever “finds a way” to enter its Adjacent Possibles, we might find lesions to apply to the ongoing historical becoming of human socially interwoven life, where we too collaborate and compete, grow, and wither in myriad ways as individuals and members of so very many overlapping organizations on all scales. Adam Smith’s invisible hand alone will not, a theorem by Arrow (Arrow and Debreu 1954) shows, lead to total definable “social welfare.” The problem is evident in utilitarianism: the greatest good for the greatest number. But how shall that total good be apportioned among the great number? Utilitarianism has never answered that issue, and Arrow shows there is no unique solution to it. With the broad legal notion of “equity,” or fairness, and our broad ethical sense of “fairness,” we struggle ever with this. Our moral sense may well have evolved partially in the Paleolithic, where fair sharing was wise. Interestingly Arnhart reports that in simple hunter-gatherer societies, meat is shared widely in the clan, and vegetables are held by each for the family. Why? One hypothesis is that finding meat is risky, so sharing widely is to the advantage of all in the clan and “fair.” But finding roots and plants is not so risky, so if I have them and you do not, you did not try hard enough, so sharing is not fair and you are a free rider. The long evolution of social practices, contract law, and property disputes bears witness to our evolving sense of what is fair. But we know this, 3,000 years of the evolution of legal laws in our thirty or more civilizations, our political, ethical, and religious traditions, have struggled with our living with ourselves and together. Perhaps we need to attend more attentively to this we already know and bring these issues ever more starkly before us. As “price tags,” we ignore what we know.

It may be that the evolving biosphere is dynamically critical. This could be very important. Evidence for this is that extinction events come in small and large “avalanches.” If log size of avalanche is plotted on the x axis, and log number of avalanches of each size is plotted on the y axis, one obtains a straight line through the data sloping down to the right out the x axis. A straight line in a log-log plot means that one variable is the other raised to a power. This is often a signature of “critical behavior,” which has just such power law avalanches (Kauffman 1995). Perhaps speciation bursts post extinction events are also a power law; we could find out. If so, then criticality of the biosphere, which is a feature of many coupled nonlinear systems (Kauffman 1995), may be hinting at something deep about how functionally coupled, cooperating, and competing organisms in the evolving biosphere co-create their small-scale and large-scale organizations, from individuals to the entire biosphere, with no one in charge. But the same may be true of the economy. Schumpeter wrote of “gales of creative destruction” (Hanel et al. 2007). Here the horse was replaced by the car, the horse went dead as a means of transport and with it, the buggy, saddler, watering trough, and horseshoes. But with the car came a demand of oil and gas, hence a new vast oil industry, paved roads, traffic lights, traffic police, traffic courts, motels, and suburbia whose inhabitants needed cars to go to the city to work and return. Recent work (Hanel et al. 2007) suggests that such gales may also be a critical power law. Perhaps our evolving, functionally coupled economy is critical as well, again across all scales and with no one in charge. While neither the becoming of the biosphere nor economy is entailed, there may yet be forms of nonentailing laws that are independent of the specific stuff and processes involved, perhaps formal cause laws, not efficient cause laws. Is criticality a clue to how multiscale functional organization emerges in the biosphere and economy? If so, it is deeply important to understand it and what it means for us.

A second aspect of modernity is its overreliance on rationality. The Enlightenment is, after all, the Age of Reason, fruit of Newton and others: we can know, we can master, we can, substantially control using reason and science. Oh? Not as often as we think. The Peruvian government, acting to protect the Amazon forest, passes a law based on satellite images of the forest canopy, to not disturb the canopy. Locals find a loophole in the law: cut down trees shorter than the canopy and sell the timber. Pass a law and someone will find a loophole no one expected. Control by laws thought wise? How often do we have failure by typically unintended consequences? Devins et al. (2016) discuss the unintended evolution of our Constitutional Law as a powerful further example of this at the highest levels of law. We are surrounded and engulfed by unintended consequences we often cannot have foreseen. If we cannot foresee them, we cannot reason about the issues. The wonderful Arrow-Debreu theorem of competitive general equilibrium demands that we begin by prestating all dated contingent goods, for example, a bushel of wheat on your doorstep next Tuesday if it rains in Boston on the Monday before. But we cannot prestate all dated contingent goods. First, even with existing noncontingent goods, we cannot prestate all contexts, which is the frame problem. We cannot prestate all the uses, hence contexts of a screwdriver, hence markets for new uses of screwdrivers. Second, no one, when the Turing machine was invented in 1933, foresaw the mainframe computer, personal computer, word processing, file sharing, the Web, selling on the Web, content on the Web leading to Google, and social media on the Web and governmental spying trying to gather data on customers from Google. The becoming of the economy, like that of the biosphere, is typically unprestatable and governed by no entailing law. Reason? If we cannot know what can happen, reason fails us. But we must live forward anyway. We must more consciously attend to the fact that we do live forward without knowing and attend to how we do so, and ask, what is wise. The Soviet Union collapsed, who knew? What if the size distribution of historical “events” somehow defined is critical? What would that tell us?

Third, the Age of Reason downplayed our emotional lives. But this is huge. Our fulfillment, our flourishing as humans alone and woven into our roles in our multifaceted societies, is driven by and mediated by our emotional lives, our only biological evolved source of value. It is not an accident that we in modernity easily remember Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, but few know his work on the moral sentiments, or Darwin’s Origins of the Species, but not his work on animal emotions. What is the “happiness” of which Jefferson wrote soaringly: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But “happiness” is human flourishing. Down the ages we debate what is the well-lived life. For Emerson and Thoreau it was the well-cultivated life in which one gardened one’s capacities (Emerson 2000; Thoreau 1854). But I argue for more: We become in ways we cannot know alone and together. If human flourishing, as Peil (2014) argues, is a weaving of our negative and positive emotions, the latter, joy in a broad sense, then it finds expression in our growth, hence: “Live the well-discovered life!”

A fourth aspect, of major importance: we miss spirituality at a fundamental level. We give our faith to science and rationality. From this and our adoration of technology, from washing machines to thousands of apps, comes the overwrought scientism that smirks at “spirituality” as unseeming, foolish, or, in the strongest case among the neo-atheists, overconfident in their science, that any belief in any form of God, monotheistic or not, is stupid. One of the most transformative moments in my life was, at age fifty-two, in 1992, to participate in a small Gehon conference of four of us to try to state the major problems confronting humanity. As if any four could succeed! Four of us gathered, and for some reason, in a willing suspension of disbelief, gave ourselves to the task. One of us was N. Scott Momaday, a Pulitzer Prize–winning Kiowa, six foot seven, 250 pounds, bass voice. He paced: “The most important problem confronting mankind is to reinvent the sacred!” I, a biological scientist and M.D., was stunned. He could not speak that way! In about fifteen seconds I realized he was right. The four of us spoke and wrote a position statement that a global civilization of some form was emerging, that we could expect civilizational conflicts as our thirty or more civilizations crashed together, and that we needed a transnational mythic structure to undergird the emerging global civilization. I later wrote Reinventing the Sacred (2008), titled with credit to Momaday, seeking one sense of a natural God in the natural creativity of the universe in which we participate. God enough for me, I thought then and now. I hoped and hope that this is one source of spirituality for us and now it grows out of all of Part I of this book. Emergent life and us. But given Part II, if quantum measurement is part of a panpsychism as Penrose and Hameroff (Penrose 1989, 1994) and separately I, want to suggest, then aspects of the entire universe know and nonrandomly act at each measurement among independent or entangled quantum variables. If this arises among entangled quantum variables, they may “jointly know and decide.” We do not know if there is some whispering form of Cosmic Mind playing a role in the becoming of the universe, perhaps among diverse and changing sets of entangled variables, Indra’s Web? And if free will is at the foundations, or in us, no laws can entail the becoming of the universe. Sorry, Weinberg, but it is possible, and you with Newton denude us of our humanity. Why should we accept? Spirituality is said by Keats and the Romantic poets, Dylan Thomas, Shakespeare, Mozart’s “Requiem,” and by you walking the hills, smelling what no law entailed. “There is no truth beyond magic,” wrote William Gaddis in The Recognitions (1955).

Fifth, we have progressively lost contact with Nature, teeming in teeming cities denuded of the Tangled Bank; Nature, which is our home and we are of it, not above it. We despoil the planet, wresting from Nature our due, as we in the Anthropocene are probably driving one of the most massive extinction events since the origin of life, destroying the accumulated co-created, interlaced functional wisdom of 3.7 billions of years of unstable becoming in our arrogance. What if all life is sentient? It just may be, given a possible panpsychism. In any case, elephants and whales are sentient, and we are killing them needlessly. We rape our home and ourselves in the name of gross national product, as price tags. Worse, we think the despoiled Earth and ecosystems can recover! We have not, as noted, succeeded in repopulating the overfished Grand Banks of Newfoundland. We kill soil species which lay the functional foundations for our lives in their rich functional couplings. Once lost, what depended upon them cannot be reconstituted. Don’t we get it? What makes us think that, destroyed, that interwoven functionality can be re-created? We can no longer in the United States build the greatest of our steamships, The USS (The United States). We have lost the technologies and expertise. The Tasmanians, who arrived from Australia, forgot how to fish the rich seas. Once capacities, functionalities, are lost, they cannot be easily or ever rebuilt. We crash our planet and its living foundations, thinking we or “it” can repair, if ever the time comes and we actually care. Can we? Of Nature, we are, not above it, not ours to wrest our due as we unleash thousands of new chemical species into the atmosphere, waters, and land that is our home. How arrogant can we be? And in that arrogance, we no longer walk with Dylan Thomas on his October birthday. How very blind.

Sixth and new, we have not recognized the enormous influence of the ever-larger Adjacent Possibles we knowingly, and also with no intent, co-create and are almost ineluctably drawn into. History is not just a becoming; it is a becoming into what is now possible. That Possible, the Adjacent Possible, grew slowly 50,000 years ago, but it explodes now, thanks to purposeless teleology (Nagel 2012) and the antientropic processes of which I have written. We flow into the Adjacent Possible we co-create; we are “sucked” into its opportunities. We use these for better or worse. The banks too big to fail, in part hoping to spread risk, invented derivative financial instruments making no mops and mopping no floors, including mortgage-backed securities that offloaded responsibility of the local bank for repayment of its loan, thus incentivizing massive sale of risky mortgages, insured by credit default swaps that were not legally required to carry reserves to cover the losses, that led to the economic crash of 2008. But these financial instruments were themselves a flow into the Adjacent Possible enabled by the buying and selling of stocks in companies, itself enabled by a member of the Dutch East India Company breaking its rules and selling his shares to an outsider, establishing soon thereafter trade in stocks. Our massive international corporations, created legal individuals by law in the past century, adapt into the regulatory environment they lobby to mold to their advantage. That evolution is not prestatable in detail, for we do not know the loopholes that will be found. But once found and taken, the new actual behaviors and strategies open yet new Adjacent Possibles for new laws that try to control but have more loopholes, and actions that can be complements in unforeseen ways of unforeseen other new strategies. We flood ever more into the Adjacent Possibilities we co-create, not knowing what we are creating. This is a major aspect of cultural and economic evolution. Then a profound new issue: How do we garden the Adjacent Possibles we unknowingly in part co-create? What forms of governance and social weavings, beyond mere attempts at controlling the uncontrollable, must we conceive and put in place? What forms of bottom-up enablement coordinated across the scales of our individual and social lives in what ways?

Seventh: A vision of an emergent web of our thirty or more civilizations, able to respect the sacred roots of each, yet able to co-create as well. Perhaps this is my dream, a dream of ever-richer ways of being human. But how and what is wise, and how without killing one another in our fundamentalisms?

Our task is to conceive of a new transnational mythic structure beyond that of modernity. It cannot predict what will become; that cannot be prestated. But such a mythic structure can guide us. I hope that the seven issues just raised point us in some of the directions we must take to co-create that new mythic structure that just might take us beyond modernity.

Balancing Our Power Structures

Once the agricultural revolution set in, power structures emerged in the earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and later China. Today, in the early twenty-first century, our power structures overwhelm us. In the United States, Congress, often well meaning, is also lobbied, often by past Congress members who are approved by current members of Congress to lobby Congress and have too-easy access to power, in the names of massive corporate interests. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis brought on by banks too big to fail, the advent of “mortgage-backed securities” and “credit default swap,” insurance on failure of mortgage-backed securities, for which the agencies selling the credit default swaps needed to carry no reserves to cover the insured loses, we have fewer banks even more too big to fail, and no one has gone to jail. TARP bailed them out, and perhaps it was necessary given the crisis they themselves created. As of 2015, efforts to regulate these banks are substantially corrupted by the lobbyists for the same banks who seek to modify the Dodd-Frank Act to leave loopholes for the benefit of the same banks. The US Supreme Court, counting corporations as “legal persons,” passed “Citizens United” in the name of the First Amendment right to free speech and giving money as “speech,” allowing vast sums of corporate monies (speech!) to flow into and corrupt our electoral processes.

We know all this, but we are doing nothing about it. Why not, and what can we do?

What Are Our Power Structures, How Do They Evolve, and Can They Be Tamed?

Remember, the Soviet Union collapsed. Apartheid is gone. Change is possible.

If we are to limit our power structures, should we so choose, we must understand them better. I trust it is acceptable to take a moment to sketch a simple model that may be helpful and can be developed. For the first issue is: how did we get here? I have discussed organisms as Kantian wholes that can adapt often unprestatably, into the very Adjacent Possibles evolution creates. In more powerful terms, evolution is “sucked” into the very opportunities it creates.

But the same is true of our power structures. A corporation, now a legal person, is also a Kantian functional whole living in its world. Its human members adopt roles that often fulfill their own joy, wealth, and power needs, and those of the organizations of which they are members. Major corporations and other organizations, from labor movements, to baseball teams, to political parties, are functional wholes with collective aims and collective functions that allow the organization to persist in its world. Or fail. In the meantime organizations create often unprestatable Adjacent Possibles, knowing not what they unleash, what they enable, and then are almost ineluctably drawn into the very opportunities, the unfolding in the Adjacent Possibles they and we co-create, and adapting to persist as power structures in unprestatable ways! Eisenhower’s “military industrial complex” has metastasized into the NSA spying on all of us.

How do we understand this evolution of organizations, including power structures, into the ever-growing Adjacent Possible?

We need, among other things, a better understanding of organizations as adapting functional wholes. In Chapter 5, I suggested, as a starting point, an oversimple model to think about the evolution of our laws, and strategies or roles, and, with more work, organizations formed by such laws and strategies or roles and how such organizations evolve as Kantian wholes. The model consists in three kinds of “nodes”; squares represent laws, circles represent actions, triangles represent agents and motives. Each kind of node can have one or more inputs from each kind of node. In the simplest start of such modeling, each node is just on or off, a binary variable, so is “governed” by a logical rule called a Boolean function, which lists for all combinations of the inputs to that node, all combinations of on or off, for those inputs, if that node is on or off. For example, a given action may require two laws to be active and three motives, and to function on all five inputs, all must be present for the action to occur. Or one law may enable but a second block the action and two of the three motives enable, and the third block the action.

In the simplest start, time is also discrete, t, t + 1, and all nodes “update” synchronously, which is silly but useful. This is just a Boolean network, and if there are a total of n triangles plus circles plus squares, 2 is raised to the nth power combinations of the on-off states of these n variables. From each state the system flows to a next state and into an attractor, which may be a steady state.

Steady states are already interesting for they are self-instantiating, self-consistent forms of laws, actions, and motivations.

Such a system may have more than one steady state, each a different self-consistent set of laws and actions, and, formally, different “attractors” in the dynamics of this law action motive Boolean network. Each attractor may be reached by different initial states along transients that flow to that attractor, and the set of such transients is the “basin of attraction” of that attractor.

This oversimple model is also a beginning of a model of an organization that is at least a set of laws and actions, rules and roles, which is largely self-consistent. Actions, including roles in an organization, and organizational actions, are driven by “motives,” deriving from emotions and beliefs of its people. These together form functional wholes that can be sufficient in their worlds of other organizations, the public, general laws, markets, or whatever else is in the environment.

To augment this oversimple model, one would want to include how individual actions converge on organizational decisions and actions, and how changing motives (including changes in value systems) altered the behavior of the system.

The total system is a dynamical system with attractors and now, with motives, a functional Kantian whole in its world.

The Evolution of Such Systems

But laws have loopholes that enable unforeseen new actions, which then require unforeseen new laws, driven by known and new motives, so the web of laws, actions, and motives evolves new squares, circles, and triangles with new Boolean logics in some way. This evolution is what creates the Adjacent Possible and is then the flow into that Adjacent Possible, driven by needs of the organizations and their members, including joy, greed, power, and cultural values and other values. These show up in the motives of the individuals and need to be added as part to the model of how the organization makes decisions and chooses actions.

We do not have such a body of theory yet, but something like it might be open to development, based just on toy theory and on data from real organizations as they evolve. As a hunch, we could study the evolution of myriad such systems, which can be defined classes, or “ensembles” of such systems to seek their typical, generic properties. We must take an ensemble approach for we cannot algorithmically prestate how such a system will find new opportunities in laws, roles, and motives. But we can study diverse classes or ensembles of such systems, their generic behaviors, and then try to map the real world.

Were we to have such a theory, rather like the RAFs1 in Chapter 14 on the origin of life, we could see how to alter these organizations. In RAFs, which achieve functional closure or sufficiency in their worlds, an irreducible RAF can be eliminated by deletion of one or a few chemicals. New RAFs can be spawned by transient exposure to a new chemical. Here is a beginning, all prestated, so inadequate to the real world, of a framework to think about our organizations and their evolution into their adjacent, often unprestatable, possibles, for example by finding loopholes in laws.

In fact, as noted in Chapter 15, the economy is also a RAF, with input goods the analogs of substrates, output goods the analogue of products, production functions the analogue of reactions, and tools mediating the production functions the analogue of catalysts. All are driven by motives.

The RAFs, whether about the origin of life, the economy, or generalized to organizations, are about “things” and transformations of “things” that may be abetted or hindered by the things themselves. What the things and transformations may, in fact, be is largely irrelevant. We are building theories of organization of process per se and their evolution. So, as these are independent of the stuff, these are not efficient cause laws, as Newton taught us. I want to think of these theories as affording “formal cause laws” when regularities, like criticality, can be found in the models and real world. Perhaps our organizations form a critical web.

An entire new way of thinking of the world, part of the theory of complexity, was born three decades ago and is growing.

We need such theories for we have co-created a modernity that only partly serves us. If we wish to change it, we need to know both the critical trigger functional elements whose alteration may yield change, with the caveat that we cannot foresee what we unleash when we do so. Because we cannot foresee, we must evolve our thinking. A simple example: In the United States, we sold guns and snowmobiles to the Inuit. They had used bows and dog sleds for centuries. Guns and snowmobiles were easier to use and adopted, but they were not produced by the Inuit. We quite deformed and destroyed a “functionally self-sufficient” way of life that had lasted perhaps thousands of years. Radical transformation is indeed possible. The Soviet Union and apartheid are really gone. What functional factors led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, beyond two obvious ones? We really do not want to live Marx’s dream, “From each according to his capacity, to each according to his need.” Marx thought human nature indefinitely malleable. Well, no. Second, a planned economy supposes it can prestate the market, rather like competitive general equilibrium. No. Life will find a new way.

If we wish to curb and mold our power structures, we need to know what log to pull out of the log jam. Then we need a means to do so, a far harder issue as power is concentrated away from we the people.

The concentration of power away from we the people begins to suggest an amended form of governance. We the people need sufficient structure to impinge intricately upon our power structures, sufficiently diverse in our own structure and interwoven with our power structures so we can affect them, to ourselves adapt in unprestatable ways and rapidly, so the power structures are playing “catch up,” as the power structures and we co-evolve and co-create an unprestatable Adjacent Possible into which we all become, but their power is limited in ways now so very co-opted.

We do not know how to do this, but it suggests bottom-up enablement, means to coordinate across scales and interests, not easy at all, and dispersed adaptive forms of action that adapts in unprestatable adaptive ways. If this is sensible, or partially sensible, we need new social forms of organization able to mediate something like this. The web is just one means we the people might learn to use to form variegated, interacting social movements that can rapidly adapt and mobilize with enough people power to pull the right levers, not to destroy but to corral our power structures. We must adapt faster than they and in unprestatable ways. The military has the concept of the decision loop, the OODA loop. If we the people feel disempowered, and are, we do have means at our disposal, not to destroy but to garden more wisely inside the OODA loops of our power structures.

And we must evolve our values. What is our dream? How do we enable it when reason is an insufficient guide?

Civilizational Change After the Axial Age

The Axial Age is the fulcrum of much of the rest of history. Arnold Toynbee (1934–1961) wrote of the birth, maturation, and death of civilizations. He claims, perhaps too strongly, that the death of a civilization is typically accompanied by a spiritual rebirth that sets the frame for the new civilization. We can see evidence. The Greco-Roman civilization of antiquity gave way to the Christian world West and East that utterly transformed our values. The discovery in the thirteenth century of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura unleashed the Renaissance in Italy, with Michelangelo, da Vinci, and the Medici banking power structure. Again our value system vaulted. A new civilization emerged out of the Dark Ages; the Church view of humanity became the Mona Lisa. Then came Newton and the rise of science, and soon thereafter, the Age of Reason with the Enlightenment’s scientific urge: down with the clerics, up with science for the betterment of mankind as we wrest our due from Nature. And also came its political ideals, writ into the US Constitution. Then we went to the Industrial Revolution, capitalism, communism, socialism, widening democracy, and modernity.

Quo Vadis?

Our diversity is co-created: Alicia Juarraro, in Dynamics in Action (2002), asks: “Could you cash a check 40,000 years ago?” Of course not. Think of the social, cultural, and legal inventions that had to occur to allow the new human activity of cashing a check. We create the Adjacent Possible cultural world that can diversify our ways of being human—yet preserve our cultural roots that are sacred to our diverse cultures as we co-mingle.

Thus, we want not a single culture, but a polyarchic diverse set of co-evolving and diversifying cultures as a vision beyond modernity.

Again, bottom-up enabled creativity and organization and governance, transparent by inhibiting by wise new laws ever-alterable, common law-like and some legislative, multiscale again, with competition between and collaboration among individuals and small and larger groups not only to attain prestated goals, but to discover new goals that we could not foresee. Wise revising of the Adjacent Possibles we co-create, only partially prestatable in what we enable, so ever adapting and also ever self-consciously revising the opportunities we are creating.

We do not want world government, too limiting, too dangerous in power accumulation.

We do want a diversity of civilizations co-creating new human cultural forms, respecting both appropriate aspects of our evolutionary past, our connection to nature, and those roots of our civilizations that are too sacred each to be modified without causing that civilization to collapse.

We do want our co-creativity; in all fields, whether painting or creating a business, it typically cannot be prestated. We solve the frame problem all the time and find deep joy in it. The flow into a tunable Adjacent Possible ever richer, but not too fast, permits us to enhance the diversity of our activities, how to be human. Again, Juarraro (2002): could we cash a check 40,000 years ago? Thus, the very fact that the abiotic universe as earlier chapter creates and invades ever new Adjacent Possibles, as does the evolving biosphere, economy, culture, says that our humanity too is part of a creative universe. There is no truth beyond magic: How much magic do we want? What we can wisely create together.

This is a call for a new Axial Age that reclaims enchantment and seeks new forms of the transcendence modernity has largely lost. But transformation of values is possible. Christianity rendered Roman values largely irrelevant. The Renaissance rendered the 1,000-year-old Church view of what our humanity is, and its values, largely obsolete. Newton was the start with Descartes of our dehumanization with res extensa, primary qualities, an entailed unfolding of all that can become, so no emergence, no “magic.” We now can see that this modern science view is inadequate; we are part of a creative universe. Our deepest humanity is ours to seize. We must only begin to see it. What of modernity will we render irrelevant as we co-create?

We will not hurry to transform; the present is very entrenched in our lives. But we may, just may, transform, I hope gently. Revolutions kill people.

We profoundly need an overarching mythic structure to sustain the emerging global interwoven civilizations. At this hinge of history we need a new Axial Age.

Among the themes of that mythic structure beyond that of modernity are as follows:

  1. Beyond Smith and Darwin as support for selfishness as the best or dominant driving force in the self-organization of society. The biosphere, from 150 bacterial species or more in your gut, richly functionally interwoven to achieve functional sufficiency collaborate, as well as compete, in ways we do not understand well. So do the myriad species in the biosphere functionally collaborate, even in multispecies autocatalytic systems (Ulanowitz 2009). So does our economy with its complements and substitutes. So do our social organizations, all co-creating with one another into the unprestatable Adjacent Possibles we create.
  2. Beyond overreliance on reason. We live into the future without knowing even what can happen and have for thousands of years. The Adjacent Possible explodes ever faster. We must live forward into it. Trust our knowing beyond reason. We have ever lived so and must moreso now. Life is not a known problem to be solved, but a becoming to be well discovered. Here is magic. And “There is no truth beyond magic” (Gaddis 1955).
  3. A centrality for our rich emotional mature lives as individuals and in our social structures the dominant source of motivations and values and the pursuit of interwoven Happiness of which Jefferson wrote, but no each for each, but among us, beyond wealth where enough is enough. Not for bread alone. John Donne was right: No man is an island.
  4. Spirituality as central to our lives and fulfillment. We have been spiritual, shaman onward, for 100,000 years or more. How dare our overscientistic, technological, First World civilization be so stupid as to deny this flood waiting again to flow? I wrote Reinventing the Sacred as one voice to say, of a natural but emergent biosphere beyond entailing law, here is one sense of God enough for me. But yet more if the universe is conscious and choosing and we with it. How dare we say no in our arrogance?
  5. Rapprochement with Nature, no longer ours to wrest our due, we of Nature and a planet not to rape. No law entails that alive Nature, with species evolved for 3.7 billion years living an embodied wisdom garnered down these eons. And we kill the biosphere in this Anthropocene, causing a mass extinction in which that accumulated wisdom will vanish? How do we fail to notice that if too much of this living diversity vanishes, much more may collapse? We seem unable to re-create the fishing banks off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland that teemed with cod. Species can collectively form autocatalytic sets that can collapse (Ulanowitz 2009). Arrogant are we.
  6. An ever-clearer understanding of how wisely to garden the Adjacent Possible into which we rush, but cannot prestate, with possible new forms of governance. We are not; we “become” and do so ever more without knowing what we co-create and are then sucked into beyond planning. Against design, we must “grow” ourselves.
  7. We as creative in a creative universe, all a status nascendi of becoming, alive together, unfolding in an unknowable way.

What is our wisdom? What will we make of all this? We cannot prestate what we will do, but an enlarged mythic structure truly is ours to conceive and to guide us on how to live. I pray we may do so.

Kauffman, Stuart A.. Humanity in a Creative Universe (pp. 256-272). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.”

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  1. Arnhart, Larry. 2014. “The Evolution of Darwinian Liberalism.” In The Complexity of Liberty, edited by Pablo Lucio Paredes and Sebastian Oleas. Quito, Ecuador: Universidad San Francisco de Quito.
  2. Arrow, K., and G. Debreu. 1954. “Existence of an Equilibrium for a Competitive Economy.” Econometrica, July: 265–290.
  3. Devins, Caryn, R. Koppl, and Stuart Kauffman. 2016. “Against Design.” Arizona State Law Journal (in press).
  4. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. 2000. “Self Reliance.” In Transcendentalism, A Reader,edited by Joel Myerson. New York: Oxford University Press.
  5. Gaddis, William. 1955. The Recognitions.New York: Harcourt Brace.
  6. Hanel, Rudolf, Stuart A. Kauffman, and Stefan Thurner. 2007. “Towards a Physics of Evolution: Critical Diversity Dynamics at the Edges of Collapse and Bursts of Diversification.” Physical Review E: Statistical, Nonlinear, and Soft Matter Physics76: 036110.
  7. Juarraro, Alicia. 2002. Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  8. Kauffman, Stuart. 1995. At Home in the Universe.New York: Oxford University Press.
  9. Kauffman, Stuart. 2008. Reinventing the Sacred.New York: Basic Books.
  10. Nagel, Thomas. 2012. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialism Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.New York: Oxford University Press.
  11. Peil, Katherine T. 2014. “Emotion: The Self—Regulatory Sense.” Global Advances in Health and Medicine3 (2): 80–108.
  12. Penrose, Roger. 1989. The Emperor’s New Mind.New York: Oxford University Press.
  13. Penrose, Roger. 1994. Shadows of the Mind.New York: Oxford University Press.
  14. Thoreau, Henry. 1854. On Walden Pond.Boston: Ticknor and Fields.
  15. Toynbee, Arnold. 1934–1961. A Study of History, Vols I—XII.Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  16. Ulanowitz, Robert. 2009. The Third Window: A Natural Life Beyond Newton and Darwin.New York: Templeton Press.
  17. Weber, Andreas. 2013. Enlivement: Towards a Fundamental Shift in the Concepts of Nature, Culture and Politics. Berlin, Germany: Heinrich—Bol—Stiftung.

Description of the Book

Reproduced from: https://www.amazon.com/Humanity-Creative-Universe-Stuart-Kauffman-ebook/dp/B01A1D2XXM/

In the hard sciences, which can often feel out of grasp for many lay readers, there are “great thinkers” who go far beyond the equations, formulas, and research. Minds such as Stephen Hawking philosophize about the functions and nature of the universe, the implications of our existence, and other impossibly fascinating, yet difficult questions. Stuart A. Kauffman is one of those great thinkers. He has dedicated his lifetime to researching “complex systems” at prestigious institutions and now writes his treatise on the most complex system of all: our universe.

A recent Scientific American article claims that “philosophy begins where physics ends, and physics begins where philosophy ends,” and perhaps no better quote sums up what Kauffman’s latest book offers. Grounded in his rigorous training and research background, Kauffman is inter-disciplinary in every sense of the word, sorting through the major questions and theories in biology, physics, and philosophy. Best known for his philosophy of evolutionary biology, Kauffman coined the term “prestatability” to call into question whether science can ever accurately and precisely predict the future development of biological features in organisms. As evidenced by the title’s mention of creativity, the book refreshingly argues that our preoccupation to explain all things with scientific law has deadened our creative natures. In this fascinating read, Kauffman concludes that the development of life on earth is not entirely predictable, because no theory could ever fully account for the limitless variations of evolution. Sure to cause a stir, this book will be discussed for years to come and may even set the tone for the next “great thinker.”


  1. “Given a network of catalyzed chemical reactions, a (sub)set R of such reactions is called:
    1. Reflexively autocatalytic (RA) if every reaction in R is catalyzed by at least one molecule involved in any of the reactions in R;
    2. F-generated (F) if every reactant in R can be constructed from a small “food set” F by successive applications of reactions from R;
    3. Reflexively autocatalytic and F-generated (RAF) if it is both RA and F.
    The food set F contains molecules that are assumed to be freely available in the environment. Thus, an RAF set formally captures the notion of “catalytic closure”, i.e., a self-sustaining set supported by a steady supply of (simple) molecules from some food set.” from https://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/12/7/1733/htm