Theory and Play

August 24, 2009 | 1 Comment

Category: Art, Biology, Myth/Story, Play, Unconscious

Evolutionary theory has been encouraged to grow in the direction of what society believes about itself.  When we in the West were committed to the mythology of the Judeo-Christian ethic, we concluded that life emerged as a direct result of transcendent intervention in a prescribed time period.  Darwin was heavily influenced by contemporary forces that included the belief that humans could observe patterns, draw conclusions and make predictions without the influence of a universal god.  Drawing upon Linnaeus, Paley, Malthus, Smith and Lyell, Darwin created a theory of evolution that seemed to integrate both a reverence for the subject and respect for enlightenment and intellectual independence.  In choosing among Darwin’s three theories, society embraced the theory of natural selection, which directly reflected a material, stratified, industrializing West.

A new paradigm is emerging.  Instead of “survival of the fittest,” we see a drifting in the direction of “transcendence of the interconnected.”  Cooperative communities are becoming recognized as integral to understanding how individuals and collections of individuals evolve.  For many evolutionary theorists, the environment is now a variable that influences the kind of progeny that are produced.  We need not be products of random variation any longer.

Still unexplored as a variable in evolution is a feature of existence considered inappropriate for study.  As we assimilate the power of the concepts of interdependence and environmental influence on biological transformation, that aspect of experience will likely emerge as a variable to be treated with respect.  Right now that aspect of experience is associated with mythology and religion.  The variable with potential to deepen our understanding of how biology, societies and individuals transform is awareness.

Modern science mostly has concluded that because awareness is not measurable, it should be ignored.  Though perceptible by an individual, consciousness is usually assigned to that basket of features of human beings that arose due to contingent circumstance.  Consciousness, along with other human characteristics, was useful, so it appeared.

Consider the possible benefits of a theory of evolution that integrates awareness or consciousness as a characteristic of existence that has structure and features and changes over time.

I have found it useful, when theorizing, to presuppose that consciousness has always existed.  This is not about storytelling and assigning mythological motifs.  The issue is whether the presupposition is useful.  Does it provide any leverage to form explanations that offer an ability to predict the future or make connections between formerly unrelated concepts?  In other words, does presupposing universal awareness usefully deepen our understanding of our world or ourselves?

Regarding evolution, I believe that assuming that awareness or consciousness exists as a ground or foundation beneath biological evolution offers theorizing benefits.

Assuming that consciousness is embedded in biology, I look for subtlety, complexity, elegance and uniqueness as features of the overriding system.  Consciousness is characterized, from a human perspective, by a conversation between creativity and appreciation, yang and yin, proliferation and nuance, rate and timing.  By presupposing that consciousness exists, we look for interconnection, intuiting relationship, assuming a tendency to balance.  Instead of looking for hierarchy, we look for nested hierarchy (each level embracing the one below) with hierarchy violating interconnections.  If there are barriers to be broken, we search for evidence of breaches.  Anomalies are not just suggestions of broken models but are themselves evidence of a thriving system.  Integral to understanding how things work is how they play.  Novelty is a desired outcome.

Unlike our traditional, transcendent god with a desire to intervene, this is an immanent force with a compulsion to play.  This may be a force totally without certain features of human awareness characterized by split consciousness, which we might describe as the ability to be two places at once, two times at once, with an imagination capable of intuiting an opposite.  Prehuman biological awareness may feature what Freud called primary process:  one time, one place, no negatives.  This may not be creative consciousness as humans understand creative consciousness but something far simpler, yet unfathomably more powerful.

How does this apply to evolution?

What if the consciousness featured by our great ape cousins and early hominids is a form of consciousness equivalent to an individual’s manifestation of the overall general awareness, similar to sleep?  Then, brains split.  The two cerebral hemispheres grew to communicate poorly with each other, with one hemisphere having developed something wholly unique, an ability to assign gestural communication to speech.  With the split, a separation characterized by one cerebral hemisphere growing smaller than the other and the brain bridge corpus callosum accepting less traffic, each human became two humans.  This provided an ability to exercise personal imagination, featuring a knack to be two places at once, two times at once and an ability to imagine something and its opposite.  At night, when dreaming, we return to primary consciousness, great ape consciousness, when we can only be in a single place or time, unable to imagine another place or time without actually being there, along with an inability to imagine something not being.

This is a story.  The question is:  Can useful stories or theories be derived from a shift in presuppositions?  By making believe that awareness is not important when theorizing about biological and human evolution, we constrain our results to include only those conclusions that do not support consciousness as an unimportant variable.  Perhaps we should consider the alternative.  The benefits might include our being able to detect patterns in experience not obvious if we believe certain patterns can’t exist.

With the emergence of evolutionary developmental biology as a theorizing framework that offers interdependence and environment as variables important to understanding evolution, we have a bridge concept that clears the way to embracing the idea that interconnection and environment are features of a model that include additional concepts such as consciousness and play.

Perhaps with time, embracing play, we will become like children.  Maybe it is by playing that we can only truly understand.


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This entry was posted on Monday, August 24th, 2009 at 7:08 am and is filed under Art, Biology, Myth/Story, Play, Unconscious. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
1 Comment so far

  1. Autism Is As Autism Does | Neurodiversity on October 30, 2009 1:23 am

    […] a possibility suggested by Andrew Lehman’s fascinating work, which amply supports what I’m contending here and is […]

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