|Jul/Aug 2010 Nonfiction|
Three and more generations ago, the notion of mind-control was anticipated as an inevitable feature of our future doom. It was all-too clearly fixed for the imagination by Orwell's post-World War II masterpiece, 1984, and illustrated practically by the news emanating from a senile Stalin's Russia and the conquest of China by Mao and company. Since that time, we have seen that control of the mind is not something that can be achieved easily or once and for all: the use of force and the threat of unavoidable terror is still an absolute pre-requisite. People must be watched constantly and assaulted physically with instruments of torture or drugs in order to assure submission to absolute mental slavery. Violation is the sine qua non, and it remains true that gross violence must be done first to break the mind in order to secure control. Universal acquiescence is not yet humanity's lot, though sooner or later it may become our ultimate fate.
Meanwhile, during that same half-century, the world has grown ever more intricately connected and, insofar as it is connected, ordered, whether by transportation or electronically; however, it has grown simultaneously more chaotic for human society, seemingly in direct proportion to the elaboration of technology. It is hard to say if we are witnessing two paradoxical, self-contradictory developments, or two more or less discrete phenomena, whose processes are observable both at the social level and at the level of the personal and individual. The parallel growths of order and disorder seem destined to converge, not at infinity but at a temporal horizon that may be closer than is apparent even now as we have entered the "New Millennium." Whatever the case may be, most of us are painfully aware that in that disastrous interregnum called the 20th Century we suffered through, both the ever more powerful forces of control and the currents of chaos seem to be accelerating and augmenting exponentially at every level of societies everywhere, making themselves felt, consciously or unconsciously, in the private and subjective life. It is safe to say that the manifold alterations we have witnessed in the physical environment of the globe, as well as the vast disruptions of whatever new tentative political orders were established after World War II, loom immense almost beyond comprehension. Yet fundamentally the issues that present themselves as challenges to the coming generation will be much the same as those we faced since 1945. They may be said to arise from the tendency to chaos in the world we have created and from our various attempts to find means to control it. Together, both inherent chaos and the necessity of control create for us a "no-win" situation.
CHAOS AND CONTROL
In what follows, I should like first to ruminate on some questions connected with the word "control." Perhaps it will be possible to view our no-win situation through another perspective from that offered by the terms to which we are accustomed. That my conclusions may appear to some as pessimistic is unimportant. That I use a term like our "no-win" situation instead of "the human condition," a phrase favored some decades ago, illustrates the tone of our contemporary thought, one that cannot bear to admit the underlying thought that there is no winner, that all lose. The spread of chaos in society and the evidence of innate obduracy and resistance to ultimate control by individuals both seem arguments that the Orwellian monstrousness of life in 1984 was not our inescapable fate—or at least not yet, and not so soon. Nevertheless the prospect for eventual control of the mind remains most probable. Perhaps one indication that this is a general and deeply-felt intuition is the recrudescence of chiliastic styles of thought as well as extremes of behavior at every level of society, from the intellectual and "scientific" chiliasm of a Teilhard de Chardin down to the Pentecostals and various practices of mysticism, whether disciplined religious spiritualism, obscurantist spiritism, occultism, and scientism spreading everywhere publicly in our more or less democratic societies, and perhaps privately in the others, despite regimentation and institutional suppression, not to mention sporadic outbursts of organized or spontaneous rebellion, guerrilla movements, and militant sects, openly violent or secretly alienated. Transcendentalism, whatever myriad protean forms, is still a method of escape from both the chaos and social-political attempts at control clearly perceived to command society here and now. This is a most complex subject all its own. But, it is not the first time the Beast of the Apocalypse has been glimpsed rampant above civilization, although, for all we know, earlier visions of that beast may have been deliria induced by ergot poisoning, starvation, devout ecstasy, epilepsy, drink, a drug, or a virus. Hence the fever may pass once again, if not without the having altered our world out of all recognition. That has happened before, and more than once.
When we speak of "control of the mind," for example, we assume, perhaps by our very use of these words, that we are talking about rational control—as though there were no other sort of control. For that which is out of control is what has broken away from our grasp and is, so to say, running amok. "Amok" is a Malay word meaning to "battle in fury," which people in Southeast Asia do, or used to do, when they had to act against the orderly, ceremonious life of cultivated ritual, the sanction of the complacent smile, the culture of shame, and the preservation of "face"—all the agreeable rigidities of a comparatively gentle culture in which an individual could not say, No! Our own word for such a battler is from Old Norse; we say, "go berserk"; and the Berserker was one whose frenzy was such that fire and iron could not deflect him. Those violent warriors were prized in the old warfare. Was Homer's Ajax like that? Samson? The Philistine champion, Goliath? Not to be defeated in single combat, Goliath was subdued from a distance by a cunning shepherd lad, who slung a stone that struck him between the eyes. Perhaps the egg-sized stone only stunned him for a moment, though it sufficed for David to seize his chance and hack off the giant's head. That story is suggestive for my theme because it illustrates the nature of controls and the exercise of power by indirect and economical means.
To continue, we assume that control must be rational, indeed that it can only be rational, as is shown by the fact that the word's present meaning extends far back into the past: through "controler" (Med. Fr.), "contrerollcr" (Old Fr.), "contrarotulus" (Med. Lat.), to "contra" + "rotulus" (Lat.); and in Latin it meant to compare something with something in a list, to keep a checklist, and to check against it. Today in English, control also generally denotes the means of guiding a machine by another machine, with some device or mechanism, as well as to employ (the mechanism of) our own body to do so. To control is also to compare the effects of two or more actions, rendered more or less absolutely identical or carefully divergent, as in scientific experiment, even down to the limit of infinitesimal particles, even including virtual or putative and imaginary particles, or the signs, traces, or potentials thereof. It is to check items or people against an inventory, as at the entrance to the White House, or the boarding ramp of an airplane, or a powwow of criminal "godfathers." A control is also a reliable spirit who does all of this for you if you are a medium summoning other spirits at random from the innumerable hosts of the dead. Homer's Odysseus controlled the clustering spirits by holding his sword over the ditch he had filled with sacrificial blood. A control, a checklist, must invariably be the first accounting device of an organized society, and long antedates the inventory Joseph taught Pharaoh to prepare 4000 years ago; indeed, Early Stone Age bones incised with the phases of the moon and other kinds of mnemonical markings take us as far back as we can see, long before "civilized" society. As the biblical story tells us, probably fabulating the facts of the matter, although Joseph was the son of a shepherd clan's patriarch from the barbarous outback with whom Egyptians for ritual reasons could not sit down to eat, it was he who first had the idea of the control, teaching estate management to Potiphar, Captain of the Guard, and then to Pharoah, whose Kingdoms he organized by means of stockpiling goods and food during years of abundance, and then offering mortgages by means of a checklist of grain and oil staples advanced from royal storehouses to the starving vassals, thus breaking those lords' independence and power. In any case, the clay tablets of older societies had long preceded him in Egypt.
It is interesting that in order to have a controlling checklist you must have a means of noting items in records; in short a code, or in other words a written language. It is unnecessary to review the myth of language in Genesis, for it is self-evident that the first sort of control is speech, that peculiarly human novelty, whether a mutation or development. It is also true that language is scarcely the first means to act as a controlling code in living things. If other animals have "languages," or can learn them in the way we are teaching chimpanzees to communicate with signs, then the issue is moved back only that much deeper in time; it means that some animals may have developed mnemonic devices that serve to tally items in the world about them, thereby establishing behavioral guidelines for survival. Iron in the neurons of migrant fowl seems to align their direction during overseas flights of vast extent, for example. A checklist as we use it is an explicit variable code, a system of signs merging into symbols; it is a vocabulary created by addition or accretion or experience in the individual within the context of the social group through the passage of time. The world is full of things, events, and novelties that are nearly infinite, if not indeed actually uncountable in their number or their multitudinous individuality. It is our response to our own life in time, it is our crying out, like Adam, the name of the creature, that gives us our language, our thoughts, and our means of control. One could say that language is rational in itself, no matter how disordered or scrambled the lists that have come into being over the last two or three million years and more, lists constantly blurring and changing. One supposes, too, that the list has itself been in constant evolution from the first words Adam spoke, or the first proto-words a child of five months utters, innocent creatures both.
THE MEANS OF EXERTING CONTROL
And here is exactly where our problem lies, though it first occurred long ago, or, if one prefers, occurs first for each of us at about five months of age: our lists do not exhaust the world, let alone apprehend it. We do not have a word, we cannot make a mark for each event or single thing there is or may be. One could speculate, however, that if God exists, He can and does, or perhaps did so originally. Imagine a tag for each atom, imagine one for each of its many constituent masses, as well as those particles that pass into and out of existence in the briefest possible instant. The ultimate list, then, the ultimate inventory that comprehends the world, would be a duplicate list of everything, paradoxically even for transient virtualities. If there were such a list, its form might be interesting to contemplate, since it would make God the ultimate mathematician whom Laplace, Pascal, and Descartes proposed He must be, or in today's jargon, the ultimate memory bank of the ultimate computer. It would be to understand God and His universe, or universes, as rational—to put it better, as rationalized. But we decided in the 20th Century that such a conception is abhorrent, in fact, a simply hubristic anthropomorphism. In any case, because we do use language as our checklist, an expression for each atom and event is unnecessary. We have instead the gross categories of words and the blank classes and categories of number with which to remember, to describe, and to predict. Words we use with an intrinsic redundancy edged by a wide band of noise in order to rationalize experience, to rubricate and arrange it according to varying senses and degrees of order so as to set our experience into some kind of mental structure by means of a process we call reason. Numbers we use to tally things and events, or temporal succession, whether material objects and measures or astronomical immensities.
ONE MAY THEREFORE LOOK AT HISTORY
...as the pattern of the growth of reason, of a rationality of a special kind: as a long, evolutionary groping through trial and error (taking the strict interpretation of the theory of evolution), toward a reason we declare to be rational: the scientific method or positivistic process of arranging our findings and our thoughts, as well as the applications of these thoughts to reality. And with remarkable success, as the technology of the human species has shown. Our technological society and the scientific methods of investigation upon which it is based, for which we should be respectful and infinitely grateful to our ancestors, have evolved by means of the checklist, the mnemonic of the inventory of identified things that permits experiments on nature by means of control over a limited and symbolically representative collection of tagged and tallied items, and observed events and actions. It needed but the creation and development of the most powerful means of succinct generalization, mathematical notation, to free technology from myths and the inexact, unrefined crafts of the ancient traditions, to bring humanity by its techniques of measurement to our present period of exponentially-expanding powers in which scientific theory and practice are interwoven indivisibly, in which theory exists for the sake of practice and is called up, or out, or in, by the demands of practice.
AND THE HISTORY OF TECHNOLOGY
We have been made aware over the past several decades that science and technology, theoretically speaking, are subsuming the very earth itself, while at the same time our knowledge of the state of things reveals how very little we know micro- and macro-cosmically about the effects of our alterations of the fabric of the globe and its biosphere. In the last decade alone, our information regarding the solar system and the sun has increased hundreds-fold in detail, not to mention in what can be observed of this galaxy and those at the edge of creation. And now the leapfrogging advances in computer technology seem to promise that shortly it may even be possible, again speaking theoretically, though with just a little hyperbole, to obtain, to store, and therefore to reorder information, that is, rationalize by mathematical formulation, every physical event on earth. Perhaps a clear example may be provided by considering the challenge proposed to the science of meteorology, in which something as complex and vastly (dis)ordered as the weather is yielding to powerful means of recorded observation. Such was Laplace's vision; to know the position of all possible material points, or if not his exactly, say that of some other hyperrational French mathematician, say Poincaré. And if quantum physics means anything, it tells us that formulas may be set out not merely for the possible, but for the probabilities of its existents. In the technology of the atom, the controls can be exerted down to the manipulation of single atoms, as in the showcase demonstration by which IBM scientists were able to lay out the characters "IBM" by arranging single rows of atoms. That is not an end, but clearly a beginning, even if it is child's play to physicists today.
WHAT THIS SUGGESTS IS THAT OUR FAUSTIAN DREAM
...of knowing seems in principle to be evolving towards the rational control, or at least a rationalized inventory, of existence itself. To know, to record what exists, to hold it conceptually in the grip of mathematical statement, is a benign ideal—in principle. Still, the question may be asked, Why rationalize, why seek to "control" existence? Its answer is obvious, though not necessary: for power's sake, that is, for the sake of acting upon it. Since Bacon wrote in the early 17th century, modern science has dreamt of knowing, not merely for knowing's sake but in order to exert power, to act upon the existent. Jonathan Swift in the mid-18th century satirized the abstracted mental condition of his Laputian mathematicians on their island in the sky; yet he also showed that they were politically tyrannical, since they dominated the lands below by the threat, and more than threat, by the practice, of destruction from on high. Insofar as science has a value or goal, that seems to be it. This has been the leading theme of our development from Paleolithic times, perhaps even earlier. Science, or more properly, "tekne," has never been ascetic or contemplative; perhaps it cannot be, since all checklisting is inherently a form of keeping count of time, and, of making one tally, in time, another, and another, and so forth. As Francis Bacon said, to get to nature one must experiment upon it, obeying nature in order to command it, learning nature's rules in order to apply them, so as to maintain ourselves progressively more securely in it. In short, to conquer and master nature. It has been a faith adhered to ever more firmly and self-justifyingly since the late Renaissance... rather, it has been the faith of scientists, who are our latest priests—and theologians too. For it is the scientist who removed from both those ancient, traditional offices what is considered an unwarranted anthropomorphic presumption: the idea that life is not only an unfathomable mystery, but that it was created for us by a creator God, that human beings thereby live for certain high ends or goods; furthermore, that they have a sense of those ends, a superior sense, as compared to a dog or an oak tree, which forms of being find it more or less "easy" and "natural" to be what they are and must be, a dog, an oak tree. And, that man shares in the transcendent divine because man shares in patterns preexistent in God's mind. Which patterns are identical with those fixed patterns that not only rule but are the cosmos, an idea first expressed by Socrates, developed by Aristotle, which appears mature in Spinoza and Kant, and was developed by Hegel into the God of History.
Hegel's God is the philosopher's god, scarcely the Old Testament deity, but rather the deity intrinsic in the dialectic of time and matter. The modern temper—the scientific temper, evolutionist, empiricist, rationalistic temper—compares man with the natural event; indeed it has reduced him to the natural event itself, without seeming to recognize, let alone acknowledge, that its presumption is as philosophical and as hypothetical as was that of Epicurus. It tries to find the laws, no matter how subtle, that govern the movements of the natural event, which is taken to be essentially a thing that can be measured, counted, recorded and acted upon: these are the laws that govern the realms of physics and chemistry, which today includes of course the bios. In short, the world as it is known to the scanner of the checklist. Descartes would have approved it, although he might have been puzzled at the omission from that checklist of the cogitating being he presumed he was, the consciousness named as consciousness, or awareness of being, but not as yet amenable to measurement, or demonstrable as what one might call the presence of mind. One must agree unreservedly that the growth of our scientific technology, as a mapping of the world, including the sphere of life, has helped us enormously to put things in a better, and yes, the proper perspective. Things. All things.
AND NOW LIFE ITSELF IS BEING EXAMINED
...down to the smallest of its molecular structures, which are the sequences of proteins mapped by the universal genome project. Life, or the "bios," has migrated as a prefix to the subjects of physics and chemistry, and the study of matter that lives is the fastest growing field of science today. There is hardly any question at all that the creation of life itself, and the structure encoding it, governing the activity of all organic existence—a set of some two dozen or so amino acids on a twisted two-stranded rope of molecules that seem to be as fixed and determinable as the orbits of the planets—will soon be achieved in a laboratory. Soon some biochemist will place a molecular needle through one of those microscopic molecules and replace a single amino acid by another... so as to—do what? block a genetic defect, avoid the cleft palate? cure latent albinism? make all people white, or black? slow down the governor that controls the metabolism of growth and decay? Anything now seems not only possible, but more than merely probable. The first act of that nature, the first tampering with an XXY chromosome or pigmentation gene, the first cloning of some person, privileged or not, will be the release of a wave of questionings of value, a demonic impulse it already seems to many groups in the world, that science has never really commenced to contemplate, limited by its own rigorous attitude to nature as the world merely of things and only things. An attitude necessary to the conduct of science, to be sure. Scientists have been anxious not to revive anthropomorphic desires, images, patterns, lest teleological dogmas be resurrected again from the compost heap of civilizations, lest it become fashionable to think that there truly are purposes, forms, goals, designs by which and for which life, not things but life itself, strives. If, of course, and only if, life actually strives at all.
YET SUCH QUESTIONS AND THEIR ATTENDANT TELEOLOGICAL GHOSTS
...are already upon us, giving rise not only to "ethical" inquiries, but discourses by a new cadre of self-designated axiological experts. In fact, the questions have been with us throughout the century past, since 1859, abiding their proper recognition. Since the withering away of European Dualism and the cultivation of metaphysical thought was restricted to the private garden of language, of linguistic analysis and mathematical or symbolic logic, the scientists have taken unto themselves as their own the entire world of things, the materiality of everywhere. They left the world of psyche, pneuma, soul, spirit, and (most important) the world of mind to psychologists and a few ontologists and maverick theologians in whose hands it survived, decaying, or decayed, perversely, as a mode of survival, unsupported by the mode of our lives at our present time, as well as any self-evidencings of life by itself... or none that we could construe in our existence. The interface of matter and mind, the person, the human personality, or so-called spirit, was abandoned like an uninhabitable city, whose ruins are now the abode of transients, poets and artists, fanatic sects and heterodox religious clans and associations, and hopeful Deists more or less fortuitously assembled in scattered colonies of intellectual and spiritual derelicts. Since the Romantic period such raggletaggles have usually resembled the mad-men, the distraught and distracted, fallen women, the thieves, bums, simpletons, ascetics and unemployed soldiers who have wandered through the wilderness surrounding dilapidated antique cities during any great interregnum, shunned or given temporary shelter by nomads. Today the remnants of nomadic peoples of the world may carry wirelesss receivers and even satellite dishes with them as part of their baggage.
THE WORLD OF SCIENCE/TECHNOLOGY AND THE WORLD OF "THE SPIRITUAL"
Another way of observing that science has flooded out the world of the human past is to remark that the main feature of mature civilizations has been secularization. Formerly, the passing away of the old gods in such a time was marked by anxious questions put to society, and an expectation of signs, hopeful and fearful at once, announcing the birth of new gods bringing their new order. We have not quite reached that stage in our time, however. The walls are still falling in upon us, and in the confusion of the din and darkness our hearing and vision are confused and blinded. One may nonetheless wonder if our scientists are prepared to put forward a system of philosophy that can account for the relationship that, on their own theoretical ground, necessarily obtains between the controls, DNA and RNA, which constitute the fundamental checklist items of organic life, and thought, and between DNA and RNA and consciousness, and between DNA and RNA and the life of the mind. We hear much discussion and analysis of social systems, or about the simplest and most complex forms of social groups, the behavior of intracellular units, of insect colonies, salmon fry, Arctic terns that annually migrate from pole to pole, but nothing very clear yet describing the relationship of the genetic coding of the assembled molecules to consciousness, to language, and to thought. Philosophical values are not their business or proper concern, say scientists, because scientific pursuits must be as far as possible value-free. The questioner is referred to the technologist for relief of his fretful ignorance. Or told that his questions are meaningless, or told more politely, mystical. But the great fact of this period is that the powers given to us by science are out of control, their uses unquestioned, or questioned by ecologists, or scientists driven against science by psychologically-unexamined personal persuasions in political ways merely, gestures made as holding actions meant to give a little more breathing space.
Nevertheless, there remain the social grounds that have made scientific and technological knowledge possible in the first place. Since Bacon wrote, the values that created modern science have been social values, symbolized familiarly in the West as those of so-called Faustian Man. Science is scarcely free, certainly not value-free, neither in its interests, its pursuits, its goals, and least of all in its economic underpinnings and structures of support. The most "humanist" sect of Marxism never pretended to attack anything but the social institutions inside which technology must function, which is a given from the time the first shaped flint and stone was used for hunting and warfare, and the first stick made cot be hurled. All other political and religious sects are silent on this topic, or cynical, supplying tribal cultures with the latest in weaponry and pamphlets and not much else, except for pacifist renunciation, the most extreme example of which may be the Jains of India. The past 150 years have shown us nothing but avant-garde artistic rebels, social reactionaries and a plethora of obscure and/or obscurantist mystical sects and votaries, surviving marginally as self-indulgent luxuries in rich societies, or destroyed by author ian systems, or fundamentalist religious regimes, or crumbling totalitarian systems like that of the bureaucratic corruption of China, or going unnoticed as yet in the vast disorganization of India. There may be much, perhaps everything, to be learned from the spiritual adepts said to persist here and there in this world, or as overseers in the next; yet it is also clear that there is a profound chasm between their kind of knowledge and science itself. It may be profoundly unbridgeable as well. Perhaps that has always been the case.
ALTHOUGH WE STAND NOW IN THIS CONFUSION
...and though we are neither asked to understand, nor condone, nor even forgive scientists—and certainly we may not be equipped to help them to erect the philosophical theory of life's evolution into consciousness that they so desperately need—at what level or stage it commenced, which may be with the first eukaryotic cells, perhaps even the prokaryotic cells, for how could we know?—we can remind them that if they fail to attempt it, or if they shirk the issue, they will be irresponsible. Some biophysicists have even acknowledged, if indirectly, that there is such a responsibility, and sought to establish guidelines concerning their work with the mutant microbes and viruses being created in the laboratories, organisms that constitute a potential threat greater than that of possible thermonuclear warfare. The isolation of genes and their manipulation by means of cloning the nucleus to produce "engineered" food crops and even animals for various uses is already well underway and becoming a commercial affair. We may suggest that the history of modern science and its technological consequences demands of scientists that they face that responsibility to the world. That perhaps they cannot both reject Aristotle's concept that there may be ends that things exist for, goals toward which they strive, and at the same time accept the other Greek idea that knowledge is merely theory, speculation, contemplation of the world as a source of intellectual gratification, of knowing for its own sake. Modern scientific knowledge is underwritten by the implied order that it can do, and that it does do in order to know. It is dynamic, forward-looking: if it can do, it not only will do, but it must do.
Still, one may pause to ask, To what ends? It is as obscurantist to deny that knowledge has goals beyond knowledge as to deny all knowledge of science in the pursuit of nirvana, satori, identification with Being itself in mystic union.
IT IS TIME TO RETURN NOW
...to the question asked at the beginning, What are the prospects for control of the mind? I said earlier that those prospects seem to be rather likely. First, what is meant in common parlance by mind? Do we think of persons? Do we think of their brains, of chemical alterations, or electrical stimulation, or of the kind of activity being manipulated in bio-feedback experimentation, which is a sort of laboratory yoga? Do we think of the whole life itself associated with a particular person and that person's mind? Do we have knowledge of, or scientific values attached to, the term "life," life conceived as a personal history? As something more than an accumulation of psychological data, something more than the metabolism that differentiates us from the inorganic and atomic? Is the mechanical replication of DNA molecules the same as creating a life, even if inserted into the nucleus of an egg cell and it becomes an embryo and develops into a higher animal, even a human being? The answer is yes, but that is not the same as creating a life, for that requires the life to be lived; in short, history. Are fantastic notions of resurrecting prediluvian creatures, as has been shown for entertainment in horror movies since movies were invented, or, for instance, a Pharaoh, by making up a chromosomal lattice from mummified flesh, the same as making him live again? If so, will it be, when, if ever, it's accomplished, something akin to the miraculous, or an indifferent achievement? Would we bow down to such a Rameses II redivivus? It would never occur to the reborn Pharaoh that we should, since, resurrected, he would know himself for himself as he once was, not as he is again. We smile at the pathos of Rip van Winkle, a bumpkin; we might not smile at the terrible grandeur of Rameses. Would we pay out millions if some simulator copied, say, Rembrandt's portrait of his son Titus, and spat it out, an identical canvas, like a penny xerox copy of this page? Probably not (market considerations aside), simply because it is we who have created that ancient Egyptian, or fabricated that canvas.
Reproductions of this sort this are no more than counterfeits, forgeries. Museums have been humiliated by their purchases, for great sums, of something an like Etruscan krater many decades ago, or recently a great kouros, that might as well have been unearthed on Thassos lately, or merely created so well, so "authentically" that it replicates some lost original model even to the "aging" of its surface chemistry: in short, the simple fact is, it lacks any history whatsoever. Similarly, would we value a mind that we have ordered up, not merely by means of molecular magic, but/and also constituted, that is, ordered, in the same rational way? I think not. It will merely have conformed, we would then say, to what we have said is its (rationalized) life. Yet, ordering a mind because it is good to do so, perhaps a moral duty of some sort, is exactly what Plato, for example, prescribes for us in his great project, The Republic; it is the goal not only of the most primitive families of humanity, but of higher religions everywhere, with some specialists in all religions seeking that control for further development in the form of escape itself and union with that which is transcendent Being. But if we do not have such a teleological end in view, some doctrine of purpose—which I think has already surreptitiously inserted itself into our scientific experimentation on the basic elements of living things—then we are acting, as we usually do, in ignorance. And ignorant action we certainly do not believe is good.
WHY DO WE SEEK TO CONTROL?
If matter is merely blind matter, acting as it must and throwing up patterns in statistical agglutinations, as the Epicureans thought, why not let it alone, as the Taoists believed was the essential way to go? Why seek a knowledge of Nature so profound as to be able to alter its fabric significantly enough to disrupt its equilibrium? And why call that disruption "progress," accelerated, assisted, or cooperative "evolution," when, as Henry Adams remarked, evolution could just as well be a tendentious, self-congratulatory term for change, and mere change at that? Why, in short, should we dare to tamper with the microparticles of the biosphere's constituents, or consider directing and controlling the biosphere's global environment? Possibly because we have, as human beings, always done so to the full extent of our ability. But if human purposiveness is a delusion, at best only the effect of the blind momentum of DNA and RNA, just as the mythical expansions of mind or exploded awarenesses are perhaps delusions caused by the alkaloids of various powerful hallucinogens from whose chemically-induced "trips" one must always return home to our ancestral dwelling place in reality—then we stand all the more in need of assistance from philosophy, from rational thought.
One thing philosophy might suggest as a caution: When we pursue control, as it is human nature always to have done, we simultaneously repeat the past we have conceived in our patterns, or formulas, or checklists, making concrete, or materializing our Ideas (to use the Platonic term), and project the achieved (controlled) past into the present, in order to project it into the future as part of our luggage, so to say. Is it possible to avoid that, when we pursue genetic controls, for instance, and clone mammals, and of course human beings? That sort of future cannot be thought of as liberation from the past. Indeed, the greater our degree of control over the microcosm and the planet's macrocosm—call it planetary engineering—the greater the degree to which we defeat the future in its very essence. The future means, not merely the unforeseen unknown, but also novelty, and we understand ourselves best if we acknowledge that each new moment is novelty. That is the ancient insight we have from Heraclitus. Nothing, if time be taken into account, is or can be the same.
What we fail to notice in achieving control over chaos is, that by controlling matter we are placing the past (over which we have gained control, as in a chemical procedure), into the future so as to control that event in the present, whether in the Newtonian universe or the that of the quantum physicist. In that way we have made liberation from the past, in any sense, impossible. At the same time, if we consider the future as consisting of the still unknown chaos that we have not yet come to control, we must realize that we cannot, being what we are, liberate the future from the past, since as I have noted, our past means control over chaos, if it means anything at all. If we say, it is a question of Chaos or Control, we must realize that our situation is infinitely labile, and that is how what remains is to be characterized: it is the present. And the present is the dimension from which we cannot be liberated, for it is life itself, as well as the inorganic creation, which, so far as we know, exists in time, from instant to instant.
Thinking is difficult. It requires that language transcend itself, as logic and mathematics have done. However, language is neither logical nor mathematical; it is not an abstract, created system, but something we do not as yet understand; certainly not its origin and "cause." At any rate, it is a well-recognized need today that consideration must be given to the construction of a value system for scientists. Without some such framework, science remains as blind as technological inertia, and as demented and empty at the core. Much worse, it can be said, than the blind, unconscious material world science explores, which is not free to retreat or turn aside from its own courses. Those who follow the hypothesis of a Teilhard de Chardin have merely presumed with him that matter is impelled toward consciousness, that humanity, together with the re-knit fabric of the biosphere, will potentiate that consciousness, and that by some synergistic leap intuited by mystics long ago, it will transcend itself and take all with it into the new condition of a dematerialized physics, that notorious nöosphere. All well and good.
Yet it may be asked if Chardin, dreaming of his physics of communism, or communalism, of his world of the spirit, ever really allowed himself to weigh the consequences of what he himself recognized as an ancient tendency of the species towards collectivism, and a totalistic, terror-driven collectivism, at that? If he considered adequately the more likely possibility that, even if his surmise about evolution was in the right direction, that the great and vast leap forward might not be more likely to fall short of the energy level required and come to rest in the lower orbit of a darkened nöosphere, a sort of dry, hot, lightless place: in fact, a new hell? He could not think that, as a believing Christian, and as a maverick scientific Catholic theologian, though he did perhaps presume himself qualified in theology. But if we accept the notion that rational, or rationalized, thought has slowly grown—together with science and technology—a new bud on the evolutionary tree, isn't it also possible that it may be a wild growth? that it may be as successful and destabilizing as birds or plants introduced out of their original ecological region into a defenseless environment? Or, if humanity is this so a vigorous shoot on the randomly growing evolutionary tree, why have we had to wait three or four million years for this startling "spiritual" development to come about? If thinkers are beginning to speculate on the future of human evolution, perhaps it is an adaptive response to our current situation merely, not free but conditioned by the awareness of a situation realized, but realized too late! to be overwhelmingly dangerous to mundane survival?
IS SUCH A SORT OF DEFENSIVE RATIONALITY GOOD?
Is it not just as likely that our kind of scientific, positivistic rationalism is a cancerous growth, a rather successful adaptation of DNA and RNA to the "unnatural" environment we have ourselves produced about us, one which includes not only the biosphere but the sublunary region of space around the planet, a space already showing signs of future degradation, littered as it is with all kinds of engineering junk? That environment is not one that it now seems possible to escape. Enrich it as we may by our operations, it may soon be like a dead lake, having absorbed its own means of biological support. All these metaphorical questionings are hyperbolic, since one can describe the world and society in almost any manner and seem to be saying something true of it. Yet, isn't it possible to assert that our sort of rationality may not be supportable any longer? That because it is based upon a view of man and the universe which excludes what used to be known as the spirit, once immanent in a unified cosmic web of natural events and things (whether the Greek view, the Egyptian, the Chinese or Indian), and seen as transcendental in the Western monotheisms, it is a rationality incapable of providing the fullest view of existence? That the positivistic, scientific-technological rationalism which denied, banished, and extirpated spirit through the Cartesian analysis that made modern physics and mathematical analysis possible is the universe of iron law recognized as long ago as Aeschylus' time as one ruled by Zeus the Tyrant?
To assume that all that lives is merely behaving according to the laws of matter is to presume what we have not yet been able to learn about consciousness, whether it is or is not present in some fashion at the most elementary levels. We should hesitate before we accept such a doctrine. It is such a positivism that urges us to be systematic from the start, and follow the way of thinking of Descartes, who asserts there is nothing else beside matter—and himself thinking matter. Yet the positivism that assumes that life has no goals at all, or no goals tangent to what it describes as the evolutionary drift, and then assumes further that our method of proceeding into the future must be dictated by rationality is perhaps assuming too much, as has been the wont of Faustian Man.
BUT IS EXISTENCE RATIONAL AND ONLY RATIONAL?
Is it to be formulated only and ultimately by mathematical constants? The answer must be yes, if one considers the development of ever more incredibly powerful means of computation, and projects the design of machines for calculation into the near future, when machines will design the machines. It may be, as the saying has it, the only way to go. If so, the irrational aspects of human life and society will dwindle to the status of a luxury, and the collective of the human future will be, because so much the poorer, unable to tolerate luxury, condemning it as wasteful effort. The inability of intelligent and educated young people to understand and respond to the questions of the spirit, as phrased by the high arts, for example, is an ominous sign. Preferred are the arts of the unspiritual, or despiritualized, surrogate arts, even the "uneconomic" crafts, so-called. The rationalized checklist by which life is to be grasped and controlled, however, will be a determined necessity, and the individual will conform or be made to conform to its limitations perforce, and all choices will be limited to the consumerist inventory.
Nevertheless, can we actually suppress by means of our powers of control all that remainder of the bios swarming about us in natural subsystems, what are termed ecological niches today (rapidly vanishing or being eliminated)? And who will determine, if it becomes the prerogative of a conscious, organized bureaucracy of technocrats, the rationalized, limited inventory that shall constitute the future? Will it be indeed any sort of a future, capable of novelty? For novelty is unpredictable, novelty is by definition not rational, or even probable, if controls are so far extended over our life on earth. Or, is there to be no future at all, at least not in the sense that it may contain or even can contain un-known goals towards which the psyche, the mind, the body and spirit, whatever, may strive unconsciously? And, unconsciously means nonrationally. As far as science thinks now, the answer is quite clearly, No. An unrelenting positivistic behaviorist such B.F.Skinner—who asked, "The real question is not whether machines think but whether men do"—cannot grasp this mystery: that what surrounds a thinking machine already surrounds a thinking man. No matter that it was just as stubbornly pointed out to him, he cannot see the contradiction between his theory and his propounding the construction of a society based on that theory—claiming that the propounding of his view, though determined, was yet determined freely.
A FUTURE SANS THE SPIRIT
...whatever the word signifies, is perhaps unacceptable. The rationalist has of course already accepted it; indeed Socrates both accepted it in assuming the universe ran on its own momentum, and denied it by calmly accepting his own extinction here, because, as he assured his disciples in the Crito and Phaedo, he had himself found the way out of existence and would be accommodated at some other plane of being. In the West, since Socrates, the god of the philosophers has been the god absent since his act of creation, or the god immanent in the machine of the universe, that is, the abstract concretion of the laws of matter. There is nothing therefore surprising in the fact that humanity has taken itself along the path of identification with the laws of matter by means of the application of its scientific knowledge of those laws. Any refusal to join that present and future must be based on some nonrational disposition of the spirit, or even a quixotic, irrational one. Despite the fact that the philosophers long ago ruled such a disposition out of the discussion, and the scientists have followed them, it is perhaps necessary to say that we must find the way to look forward not only to the creation of a realm of spirituality, but to its discovery in ourselves as individuals. On such a basis, or from the merest hint of its possibility, one can begin to think of a system of proper human goals, among which may be life, and not death.
OTHERWISE WE MUST RESIGN OURSELVES TO SLAVERY
...and to be condemned to the slavery of the matter-machine, now increasingly controlled by our own unrationalized science and technology. We shall be condemned to subsist somehow in what is simply a blind nihilism, or stoic existentialism. Which is where we are now, if we consider the confined range of thinking available to us today. Whatever one might come to understand by maintaining an open place for the term spirituality, open and expectant of definition and fulfillment, it surely must mean much more than what we now mean by rationality. And it must include some notion of ends that is greater than the surd of faith, itself a rare gift of irrationality as a despairing Kierkegaard realized, and something other than a systematic (or systemic) derangement of the senses, since like the poor, we have always had madness with us. We must be careful to recall that spirit was separated from matter by Descartes only in order that he might get on with his mathematizing. The rationalism that excluded mind, language, emotion and spirituality from matter was intent on measuring space and locating the stars; it was likely pursuing numeration rudimentarily in Paleolithic times, if not earlier. But when rationalism began to exploit the notion that Nature was to be described by means of laws, it also began to take itself—the part—for the whole. And no one knows the whole, or ever did. It may, logically speaking, be impossible to know the whole, as Gödel's Theorem suggests.
OR FIND A WAY THROUGH
What is imperative is that science should nevertheless begin to think of imagining the whole, beyond even the new cosmological theorization that our vastly expanded reach into past time and out to ungraspable distances of space has suscitated since the 1970's, and since the Hubble Space telescope began in the 90s to send us news of ever more distant objects hurtling towards the ever receding limit of this bounded yet expanding universe. And the whole is in some way to be grasped as part of the infinitesimal here and now as well. Unfortunately, the very same instruments that have enlarged our views of the universe, both towards the infinite and the infinitesimal, have lent substance to the fear that we can use them to control that part which is the earth and everything on it by our small checklist of items, material items, that is. The danger posed by the little we presently know and by our ignorance of the whole is so imminent that it is possible to assert that everything rationalism has excluded from any further attempts to consider and understand—the irrational, unreason, the spiritual, the absurd—however difficult to accommodate in our life's work, is scarcely as threatening to our very existence as is the illusion of rationality, driven by a fascination with its systems of power—and its unselfconscious demonism. Since the self-governing control refers to nothing else by way of checking itself out, it is no control at all. It runs on, like the universe of the philosophers, simply by virtue of its momentum. That is surely the truest description of essential unreason, but not of rationality.
FINALLY, THE KIND OF RATIONALITY WE HAVE DEPENDED ON
...that of the mathematical model of timeless laws operant somehow in time may be fundamentally defective. If we consider that one of the attributes of spirituality has been its contemplation of time and timelessness together, it will be realized that time, which is most probably irreversibly directed on one dimension, forward only, must suggest the idea of an end or goal. That existence is time-bound, hence bound somewhere with time, should suggest that we must develop some moral responsibility toward the future, a responsibility of which rationalism has been utterly devoid from the start. As animals we have always been dominated by spatial thinking, like the other species sprung from this biomass. But as primates with language we have slowly arrived at some sense that time may be the dimension that fundamentally challenges us; reciprocally, that our increasing knowledge of time, and our sense of living on a scale of greater expanse than that of our own moment, may be the seed of a nascent spirituality. That spirituality has not yet begun to grow. It may not ever begin to mature if we poison the earth itself.
Or if, as I suggested at the outset, we presume to control the contents of our thought and the nature of our physical being so thoroughly on the basis of our still very limited knowledge of the whole of reality, then we shall have chosen, or allowed ourselves, to be enslaved by the unexamined dogma that nothing exists but the inertia of things as described by laws formulated in numbers. If we accede to the despotism of the rule of those laws, we shall have only the impersonalism that has resulted in every great system of religion as well as in organized scientific exploration and thought. At this point in history we have gained the means of applying those ancient doctrines of control quite thoroughly. It is childish to blame science or technology. We must recognize the cause as arising simply from ourselves, from our last delusion: that we are rational in pursuit of the rational alone.
In thinking about liberating the future from the past, the past from the future, and finding myself perplexed regarding the human future, as is clear from these reflections on the nature of control—control not merely of the mind but of the absolute physical identity expressed by the singular assortment of genes in the cells of each human being, a control that may soon make it possible for a person to have that unique identity replicated n times, indeed, replicated forever—I recalled a dream I had before writing. Like some dreams, this one conveys a thought. Its meaning was contrary, however, to the conscious ideas I had been weighing on my premise that humanity faces tomorrow, as it did in the past, the choice between chaos or control.
THE DREAM SEEMED TO SUGGEST ANOTHER WAY
I find myself in a deserted square at the very center of an ancient city that once had been destroyed, or perhaps fled by its citizens. I stand amid its ruins. Somehow it has also the appearance of having been only newly excavated, its former streets cleared of millennial debris and exposed again, as in the Roman Forum. It also seems somehow a neighborhood of my childhood in summertime. It occurs to me that perhaps this was the ancient Jewish Quarter of Rome. But—there are newly-painted street signs on newly-painted lamp posts. STRADA DI SPERANZA? VIA DELLA CARITA? VIALE DEL BUONO? "How strange!" I say to the young girl who walks at my left hand. "One might deduce that the naming of directions after the great moral virtues would be a clue to the long-dead ideals of those vanished people. Perhaps it is just a naive archaeology that assumes such names could be clues to the ethical ideals they professed, or even actually lived by. I wonder though: How would they go in English today: Kind Street, Charity Street, Faith Street, Hope Street, Good Street? Et cetera. They sound... so quaint, yet so charming! Sadly, it's all lost and gone. The signs are nonetheless there. How can that be? The signs are newly mounted. It is very odd...
ONE CAN ASK OF SUCH A DREAM
Who, or rather what, puts up such signs in the desolation of the abandoned city? The answer to this question may perhaps furnish a clue, not altogether explicit, to my argument against the impending fate of a future built upon the grand human ideal of rational control of the world and society.