martes, 18 de junio de 2013

On the Origin and Significance of Participatory Reality


1. The Origin of the Idea
There have been several developments which directly or indirectly led to the emergence of the idea of Participatory Reality and then of the Participatory Mind.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, the philosopher Henri Bergson, proposed the idea of Creative Evolution in his book under the same title (Creative Evolution 1911). In this work he postulated that evolution is a far more subtle process than it was assumed in Darwin's model, whereby evolution is reduced to the process of mere chance of brute necessity. Bergson argued that the intricacy and beauty of the evolutionary process is so awesome that we should call it creative.
Teilhard de Chardin, another French thinker, continued this idea and articulated it in his epochal book, The Phenomenon of Man (1959). He argued that the most important process through which evolution is making its ascent is one in which simultaneously organising increase their complexity and their consciousness. As life becomes more complex it becomes more conscious. As it becomes more conscious, it becomes more complex. This process Teilhard subsumed under his complexity/consciousness thesis. The creativity of evolution is here expressed as a never ending process of building ever more refined forms of consciousness.
Almost from the beginning of the 20th Century, science has suffered an acute problem of identity, firstly because it seemed to have lost grip on reality; secondly, because it abandoned the notion of objectivity; thirdly because it had to relinquish its claim of possessing indubitable knowledge of reality.
This state of affairs came about first through Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which profoundly upset the stability of the Newtonian paradigm and then through the development of Quantum Physics and of New Physics, which have departed even more significantly from the mechanistic paradigm.
All these developments prompted Karl Popper to announce that no knowledge is absolute (including the best scientific knowledge); that all knowledge is tentative or conjectural (see especially Popper's Conjectures and Refutations, 1963). This led further to the realisation that all knowledge is evolutionary in character: concepts, theories, paradigms evolve and change with time, come and go. It was another extension of the idea of evolution. Darwin applied evolution to biology and his main concern was with mechanising of adaptation. Bergson and Teilhard gave evolution the wings of creative becoming. Popper brought about the realisation that all knowledge is evolving (conceptual evolution). Thus evolution is being articulated. In the process, it itself undergoes evolution.
While Popper still attempted to preserve the notion of objective reality (maintaining nevertheless that it could never be truly or ultimately described - but only tentatively so) other thinkers went further, acknowledging more explicitly that, with the advent of Quantum Physics, we need to abandon the very idea of objective reality existing out there independently of us.
J. A. Wheeler announced in 1974 ("Universe as a Home for Man" Scientific American, 1974) that in some strange sense the universe is a participatory universe. He used a powerful image to convey his idea. If we imagine the universe to be symbolised by the big letter U; and if we envisage the human eye looking from one area of the "U" at another area, then we realise that our eye looking at the universe is the universe looking at itself. The observer is woven into the observed. We are the eyes through which the universe looks at itself. This is a far-reaching idea.
This development was bound to spill over into our understanding of the nature of mind. If the universe is participatory, then so must be the mind. The universe cannot be participatory if the mind is not participatory. Thus Henryk Skolimowski explicity proposed the idea of the participatory mind. (see: The Participatory Mind, A New Theory of Knowledge and of the Universe (1994). Participatory Mind (P.M.) articulates some of the features of Wheeler's participatory reality is incomplete without P.M. as its necessary component.
P.M. also claims more ancient ancestry. It was Parmenides who said in the 5th century B.C.E.: "No mind, no world". Furthermore, P.M. takes cognisance of William Blake. "To the eye of Man of Imagination, Nature is Imagination itself". Put simply: as Participatory Mind shapes it so reality becomes. This last development leading to participatory mind also created a proliferation of new theories of mind and of consciousness. As new insights into the nature of knowledge and of the universe grew; and as this new evolutionary understanding became deeper and more prevalent, it put pressure on old cognitive structures and the rigid empiricist confines that have controlled the theories of mind and consciousness. The consequence was that these rigid deterministic structures simply crumbled; actually yielding to the flowering of new and often far-reaching theories. These theories still need to be sorted out for their cognitive prowess and their in-depth explanatory power of the world.
The idea of Participatory Reality cum Participatory Mind is clearly gaining ground. Its slow ascent is due to the fact that its field is enormous as it must re-articulate the whole philosophical panorama around us.

2. The Significance of the Idea
Participatory Reality promises to be a set of theories of potentially profound consequences. In the present circumstances when traditional empiricist/materialist models have collapsed, on the one hand; and when, on the other hand, mathematical models of Quantum Physics prove to be just too nebulous to explain reality - the idea of the Participatory Universe in conjunction with the Participatory Mind may enable us to re-build a viable notion of reality which is both comprehensible to human reason and congruent with our life experiences. We should not ignore the fact that the mind was made to understand the universe.
Specifically, models of Participatory Reality allow us:
  1. To overcome the crippling objectivity of past mechanistic models. Yet at the same time, Participatory Reality protects us from menacing tentacles of subjectivity and relativism. Participatory Reality builds models which are inter-subjective - common to us all, that is to say, to those who possess the same mind, characteristic of the human species. However, these models are not objective in the old physical sense, as our mind is built into them and acts as a shaper and sculptor of reality, and of all our understanding.
  2. Participatory Reality allows us to celebrate our creativity. And this also means creativity in science and in future science. Creativity is built into the very notion of participation. By releasing the forces of creativity, which are but vehicles of continuous transcendence of the universe, present stumbling blocks of science and their crippling consequences (of which David Bohm has spoken so often) can be overcome; much of the paralysis of science is due to its rigid (still empiricist-controlled) methodology. By bringing to science a methodology of participation, we liberate the creative process of science and of all knowledge.
  3. Participatory Reality allows us to construct new pictures of the human. Within this picture human freedom, creativity, and grace can not be only acknowledged but celebrated. The notion of Participatory Reality is so powerful that it can regenerate and reconstruct the whole fabric of the human universe - which no longer has to be seen as a shadow of physical reality, but as an essential player in the creative becoming of the cosmos.
If Participatory Reality is taken seriously, it signifies a new Copernican Revolution. The acceptance of Participatory Reality leads to a profound reconstruction of the whole measuring of reality - including our own reality. Not only do we experience reality differently - in a much more fluid and creative way, we also perceive truth in a much deeper and more comprehensive framework which renders older truths to be but brittle dogmas of a very narrow and unduly frozen set up. Truth still exists in the Participatory Universe but it is the truth of an immense participatory dance, and not of frozen droplets of an arrested reality.
The power and majesty of Participatory Reality is of such a magnitude that in contrast, present post-modernism pales in insignificance, looks like a voice of despair and impotence.
The creative promise of Participatory Reality is immense. Yet we need courage and will to translate this promise into a new radiant world - which is ours if we have enough vision and will to seize it. Truly we are living in epochal times.

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