January 22, 2018: Agency: A Driver of Evolution?

Minutes January 22, 2018

Minutes from David Anick

Statements by Grady McGonagill and Art Klipfel presented for discussion

Agency: A Driver of Evolution?


Cornelia Parkes

Four Worldviews

David Korten Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth” page 60

Different Cosmologies, Different Worldviews

Each of the four contrasting cosmologies convey a very different understanding of relationships, agency, and meaning.

  1. Distant Patriarch: My most important relationship is to a distant God who is the source of all agency and meaning
  2. Grand Machine: I exist in a mechanistically interconnected cosmos devoid of agency and possessing no purpose or meaning.
  3. Mystical Unity: Relationships, agency, and meaning are all artifacts of the illusion of separation created by ego: I am one with the timeless eternal One.
  4. Living Universe: I am an intelligent, self-directing participant in a conscious, interconnected self-organizing cosmos on a journey of self-discovery toward ever greater complexity, beauty, awareness, and possibility.

Marion Foster

Bob Freedman “We are all One: Consciousness evolution begins with each of us” Swarthmore College Bulletin, Winter 2018, page 5.

Sev Bruyn

I have the answer to your question in my story of evolution I sent to you. But briefly, free will evolves on the basis of the number of choices that an animal has to move in different directions.

  • An Amoeba has only one choice — i.e. to move toward the light.
  • A snake can only move on the ground (it cannot move up like a bird) but it can choose many different directions on the ground.
  • A Chimp can walk on the ground (snake-like) in many different directions but also go up into trees to swing from one to another, thus more choice or i.e. more free will.
  • Homo Sapiens is a symbol-making animal (not just sign-making) and thus has still more choices and free will than other animals.

(See my book on The Human Perspective in Sociology.) If you are a scientist, the idea of free will does not apply because you are in the field prediction. When I was interning as a social scientist in prison, for example I was able to predict with 80% accuracy whether an inmate would succeed or fail on parole. The question depends partly on whether you are looking from within or outside the animal. More complexly, there are also degrees of freedom for atoms and molecules.

Read my book.

Nancy Cirillo

Yes…afterthoughts…which were rising last night but we ran out of time. I am wondering if consciousness can be strictly, precisely defined. And that collective unconscious of Jung’s….. what is the unconscious, if we aren’t sure about consciousness. Or Freud’s sub-conscious? What about perception? Or proprioception…which word I first encountered in Mary’s book..Or, are all these various approaches to trying to think about how and why we think coming from a deeper well than all our speculations. We have been trying to link science and spirituality. Now we are trying to link philosophy and spirituality, or religion.

Patty Huff

I first read about proprioception in the early ’80’s in Nina Bull’s book ‘The Attitude Theory of Emotion’. (sadly, out of print). Wikipedia has a good write-up on it – vertebrates, arthopods and flowering plants (angiosperms) also have proprioception!

See also Making Sense of Proprioception and about consciousness – I’d love to read Trigant Burrow’s book, ‘The Social Basis of Consciousness’; I know I read some of his papers on nonverbal research in the ’80’s.

David Damm Luhr

After this past Monday’s conversation, the one question with which I’m sitting is: What’s the experience of becoming conscious of something for the first time?

Though I’m not sure what ‘unconscious’ means or where the unconscious sits, I do know that something has changed when I become conscious of something for the first time. I hope we can explore that change together – both the thinking and the experiencing parts.

BTW – Reading The Hidden Life of Trees convinced me that plants have consciousness – just not how we humans experience it. [Interesting that Braiding Sweetgrass – the book Jim Serdy brought to our attention – is among the “People who bought this, also…” list]

David Anick

I want to offer the attached article from the days when IONS published a magazine, for anyone’s curiosity. “Our Living Universe” by Duane Elgin.

Grady McGonagill

My most persistent reflection since the meeting regards the question that Mary asked me that I wasn't sure I had understood in its full depth to which in any case I felt I responded somewhat glibly. Great question, Mary. I'm not at all confident I can offer a compelling answer. I invite others to weigh in.

I asked Mary whether she would be willing to put her question into writing. She did. Here it is (with light editing approved by Mary):

“My question concerns the nature of the depth and breadth of a person who is able to sustain action and bear witness when the individual knows that this action and witnessing may well mean they are seen as a threat to the status quo—repressed by some people with political power and possibly risking assassination. I think of individuals like Jesus, Martin Luther King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”

My question is whether the identity of the person you advocate, perhaps the religious naturalist, will have the remarkable depth and breadth of personality to sustain such a dangerous and prolonged witness. It is a quite unusual witness. The nature of the witness is suggested by the words of MLK the night before he was assassinated. He said he had ‘been to the mountaintop,’ meaning, it seems, he had come to experience a primary fulfillment and meaning that gave him a freedom to let go of and move beyond attachment to his continued daily life. He embraced a very large identity, an identity grounded in the sacred depth/breadth of things, that moved him to advocate for the fundamental value and rights of the poor, the outcast, and the disenfranchised. It was and is a potentially costly identity in our culture but an important one if we are to bring about social change.”

Cornelia Parkes

reply to Grady

I can think of two answers to Mary’s question quoted by Grady. One is the “mountain top experience.” In King’s case I would guess the mountain top he is referring to is the one Moses climbed to receive the ten commandments. In other words, King has found a compelling truth that must be shared. The second and I believe necessary condition is one that Quakers tend to avoid. That is to be really angry with those who destroy this truth coupled with a commitment to non-violence. These are, I think, two conditions necessary to become a spiritual warrior. All warriors take their life in their hands.

David Damm Luhr

Sorry that this is a little dated, but I thought you might enjoy the thread of consciousness here…The Joy of Being: Resting as Consciousness

Cornelia Parkes

My take on “The End of the World is Nigh”
Another point of view from the New Scientist.

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