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Script for class two in a series of classes presenting new thinking in evolution and a new natural philosophy based on it.
Summary of class one:
We’re exploring a new way of thinking. The new thinking says, what matters to us most in life is what we’re aware of. We can be aware only of what passes through consciousness. According to the new thinking, wisdom lies in making ourselves aware today of what’s most likely to enrich consciousness tomorrow.
For us to choose what we’re aware of, we must have free will. Findings of modern science tell us we do. Memory, intuition and anticipation could have evolved only if they were useful, and they’re useful only if we have free will. Since they did evolve we must have free will. Having free will means we can shape our future conscious experiences by what we make ourselves aware of today.
Also covered last week, consciousness is made up of meanings. We make up new meanings out of old ones. From the meanings “mother” and “father” we made up the words “Motherland” and “Fatherland.” Motherland is where we were nurtured, Fatherland is the territory whose borders we defend. Eventually all meanings can be traced back to meanings evolved in us, such as what our senses tell us and the mental impressions and talents we’re born with. Part of the new wisdom consists of where these meanings come from.
Today I’m going to focus on meanings needed for the new thinking itself. One is free will, it’s essential to the new thinking, without it we can’t choose what to be aware of today.
My new thinking allows for only two kinds of processes. First there are physical processes like combustion and gravity that apply to anything that consists of physical matter. Part of our nature is that we consist of matter, we can burn, we can fall down. But second, taking place only among living creatures, there are evolutionary processes. One example is new species appearing. They appear where the existing species most similar to them already lives. Species appear to give rise to each other.
Today’s scientific theory says evolution of new species is a purely physical process. If so, then the process of evolution would be determined by the laws of physics. But this wouldn’t allow for us evolving to have free will. So for living creatures like us we need a different kind of theory.
What is there that could have supported evolution, that’s been around for as long as living creatures have existed? All Darwin could think of was the physical environment so he wrote that evolution was a purely physical response to the environment. But we now know of something else that’s existed since life first began and that’s the genome—all our genes strung together. There’s a copy of our genome in every cell in our body. Individual living creatures all die but the genome’s stayed alive from when life first began by being passed on by each generation to the next.
The genome is all the information an embryo needs to grow another whole creature that eventually can make embryos of its own. All the processes needed for creating a living creature must be coded for in the genome. And those processes must include not only evolution operating over millions of years but processes needed for managing every cell in a creature’s body moment by moment. Darwin was probably wrong to think of evolution as a special process, it’s probably just one among many processes maintained in living creatures by the genome.
The new way of thinking involves what we’ve discovered through science, like the genome. It also involves reason. Sometimes it will generate ideas different from what you’re used to. Bear in mind, though, that what you’re used was probably arrived at through reason, too, then we just got used to it. How this new way of thinking uses reason could lead us to ideas as good as those we’ve already got, and even more fruitful. At every step of the way, work with me to check whether my ideas are reasonable.
Here are some ideas I arrived at by applying reason to what we know about the genome. Among the processes maintained by the genome is each of us becoming conscious and able to think. If we have free will, meaning those processes aren’t entirely physically determined, then for the genome to be responsible for us having free will it’s probably not entirely physically determined either. It may have something corresponding to thinking and having free will. It may be able to be creative, just as it makes us able to become creative. How else can you account for us evolving to become creative, conscious, having free will? If we can be creative, conscious, and have free will, we’ve no logical reason to deny they exist somewhere else in the universe
Do the steps in this logic seem sound? How do they compare to the logic behind today’s scientific theories? At the thirdwayofevolution.com 50 of today’s most eminent evolutionists question that logic. We may not have any theory of evolution that everyone agrees to. The logic behind the new thinking may be as sound as any other current theory about the nature of life.
Let’s turn the handle of this logic machine a few more times.
Just now I suggested the genome may have something corresponding to our thinking, our having free will, our being creative. We can just as logically turn this around and say, we get our thinking, our having free will, our being creative from whatever they correspond to in the genome. Looked at this way round, evolution is mainly something happening to the genome. First the genome evolved to become intelligent, conscious and creative. Then it “deliberately decided” to “create” us with some of those talents embedded in us. We didn’t evolve, we were thought up and made by something else, the genome, that did evolve. If that logic is sound then we won’t learn much about evolution by studying creatures like us, crafted by the genome, we’ll learn more about evolution by studying the genome itself. And about that, about the genome as an intelligent, conscious, creative being, we know almost nothing. It hasn’t occurred to us to find out.
Knowing so little about the genome is a problem because that’s where our meanings come from. Our meanings originate in scraps of wisdom the genome built into us for us to think with, like Lego blocks an adult gives to a child for it to play at constructing something.
Remember I said that in the new thinking there are only two types of processes: physical processes and process of evolution. What then is our thinking? The ideas I’ve arrived at through my logic furnish us with materials for a series of speculations. If thinking in us isn’t a physical process then it can only be evolutionary. Which suggests, thinking is our thoughts evolving. One thought evolves into another. And what is consciousness? It could be something we experience as our thoughts evolve. Not all our thoughts, that would be too confused, perhaps only thoughts running through a channel in our brains that’s responsible for us arriving at our decisions about what to do.
This suggests a new theory of evolution. If thinking is our thoughts evolving, what happens when the genome thinks? When we think--when we remember something for example--we make changes to brain cells. Later from those cells we can recall the memory. Suppose something like that was true of the genome—when it thought it would make changes to its “brain.” But it’s brain must be the genes it’s made of. Then just by thinking the genome can rewrite the genes it consists of. But genes are what define a species. So merely by thinking the genome can make changes to the genes it corresponds to that bring new species into existence.
All this time I’ve been talking about the genome as if it was a mind, a mind like ours, about to think and create. Now we have a new origin of species. Species turn out to be, in essence, thoughts in the mind of the species’ genome.
My new thinking has become so wildly speculative that it may seem pointless. But notice, it can account for everything we experience—how life is different from non-life, where species of living creatures come from, what thinking and consciousness consists of, and the source of our meanings. And notice, all these are aspects of our experience that science has the most difficulty accounting for. The new thinking is much better than science at furnishing us with ways of talking about them. And having an explanation may in reality be all it means to “understand” something. Science may give us greater understanding of the physical world, this new thinking may give us greater understanding of the living world.
In the next class we’ll look at the genome in more detail. The point is not to know more about the genome itself, but to identify in it the sources of our own meanings, wisdom we can apply to enrich our own conscious experiences.