Friday, August 10, 2007

#15. Re-view and Pre-view

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Biogenetic Structuralism's combination of biological evolution, cultural anthropology and neurophysiology makes for a heady mix. But I find it delightful. As I've said a number of times in these blog postings, I think I was born into it.

In any case, it's definitely not trivial. Thanks to the dynamic world view of modern science, especially to the data about the workings of the brain and nervous system coming from contemporary neurology, we can see ourselves differently now from how we have seen ourselves in past centuries.

But holding together the different perspectives of evolution, anthropology and neurology isn't easy. This seems a good point in these blog entries to review what I've had to say so far and to preview what I hope to be describing in the next few postings.


In contrast to the old static worldview, the contemporary evolutionary perspective allows us to see that matter, life and mind are three distinct developmental stages in the cosmic process.

We can recognize that life is a more developed stage of the world than water, rocks and clouds. And we can see that mind (soul, human consciousness) is the epitome of the development of life: that humanity is the "terrestrial head," in Teilhard's words, of the entire cosmic process.

This is the context which we now have to understand ourselves. It allows for a deeper understanding both of humanity's relationship with the rest of the physical universe (the anthropos-cosmos relationship) and of humanity's relationship with the creative source behind the physical universe (the anthropos-theos relationship).


In recent entries, I described my understanding of several major points with regard to the relationship of humanity and the material universe.

The first, which I spelled out in postings #11 and #12, is that we simply don't need any more to hold to that separation of mind and matter which results in religious and rationalist dualism. Thanks to modern science, we now can understand that the human spirit is free not because it is alienated from, but precisely because it is rooted in, the Earth.

A second major point with regard to the relationship of humanity and the rest of the universe, described in posts #13 and #14, is that we can better understand ourselves not as an entity or substance but as a dynamic process. We can see that each person is a dynamic process precisely because each of us is the dynamic universe, internalized ("cognized").

These are major aspects of what has come to be called the New Cosmology and they have profound implications for our self-understanding.


One of the most fascinating findings the neurological perspectives uncover for us is that we each have our own inner world. It's something we experience all the time but rarely give any attention to. I plan to spell out some of the details of this understanding in the next blog entry and to follow it up with several postings dealing with its specific religious implications.

Two of those implications have to do with how we are related to the rest of the universe, with what I've called, above, the anthropos-cosmos relationship.

One is that each of us not only has our own inner world, we also make that inner world. We create ourselves.

The other is that, in creating ourselves, each of us is making a personal and unique contribution to the evolution of the universe.

It's my view that, of all the various aspects and implications of the modern scientific worldview, this idea-- that each of us has a personal contribution to make to the world's development-- will be the most significant in the long run. I think it will have the greatest impact on how we live our human lives in years to come because it's the opposite of meaninglessness and despair. To know that we have something to offer the world, to know in the innermost depths of our being that we count, we matter-- that our existence isn't meaningless-- is a tremendously empowering perspective.


Two other significant implications of the insight that we each have our own inner world have to do more explicitly with the anthropos-theos relationship: they have to do with how humanity, as part of the created universe, is related to the creative source of the universe.

Western religion begins with the idea that we exist to "know, love and serve God." Modern science helps us to better understand how we do that. In an evolutionary context, we can see that we serve the Divine Mystery precisely by contributing our personal self to the cosmic process.

It's a challenging idea, to be sure. But the second explicitly religious implication of the fact that we each have our own inner world is even more challenging. It has to do with an ancient religious doctrine-- older than Christianity and Judaism but enshrined in the earliest Christian creeds still used by countless persons and groups today-- the doctrine of "the resurrection of the body."

I'm sure even the most good-willed readers of this blog will raise their eyebrows at that last statement. All I can say is that I'll spell out my thoughts as well as I can, and you can see what you think.

I started this blog to share with interested readers my thoughts about the convergence of science and religion. It doesn't seem surprising, to me at least, that if we have a new understanding of matter and life, thanks to the modern scientific worldview, then that understanding should have some impact on age-old religious teachings as well. So why not on a teaching that declares the physical body to be of great value to the universe?


Besides religious ideas, the findings of modern science also offer new insights into religious practices: what nowadays is sometimes called "following a spiritual path." We can expect that the data of biological evolution, cultural anthropology and neurophysiology will also have an impact on how we are religious; that is, on how we live out our inner life as the cosmos become conscious of itself.

My discovery of the Biogenetic Structuralists' perspectives was personally so exciting precisely because these scientific researchers in the field of cultural anthropology were using insights from evolutionary biology and neurology to understand better global humanity's religious practices.

Just knowing, for example, that cultural anthropology can trace a contemporary spiritual practice back to our Paleolithic ancestors of 70,000 years ago, and that it makes sense in terms of what's going on in the brain today, can make those who were bought up in the rationalist worldview a bit less uncomfortable with the inclinations they may find in themselves to engage in religious activities.

Knowing that the religious impulse is in our genes makes it easier to move away from the rationalist prejudice that every kind of religious practice is simply superstition. Ironically, it's the prejudices of scientific rationalism which, thanks to contemporary science, can be recognized now as uninformed superstitious views.

As I said, the "combination of biological evolution, cultural anthropology and neurophysiology makes for a heady mix." What I find most delightful about it is that it brings together my life-long interests in biological evolution and religious ritual.


From an evolutionary perspective, we are neurologically wired by the cosmic process itself to be conscious. Biogenetic Structuralism calls this the "cognitive imperative." We seek not only to know and understand the world, but also (as they put it) "to understand understanding."

Because their basic starting point is the human sciences, specifically Cultural Anthropology, the work of Biogenetic Structuralists also is open to the fact that consciousness operates primarily by way of story, myth and symbol. Much of this is spelled out in their second book, The Spectrum of Ritual: A Biogenetic Structural Analysis, by Eugene G. D'Aquili, Charles D. Laughlin, Jr. and John MacManus (Columbia University Press, 1979).

It was references to these ideas-- which I discovered in second generation researcher Andrew Newberg's book, The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience (Fortress Press, 1999)-- that originally opened the door to, and hooked me on, Biogenetic Structuralism.

It "hooked" me for two reasons. It's clear in this context that ritual activity is a primary means by which our most intimate personal development is nurtured. But beyond that, it's also clear that because we are the universe become conscious of itself, religious ritual is the primary means by which the cosmic process itself proceeds at the human level.

My two life-long interests come together in this radical convergence of science and religion, where sacred ritual is seen to be the very means by which we enter into and are empowered by the universe to participate in the dynamic process of cosmic evolution.


So that's where I'm coming from in this blog adventure, and a preview of some of the thoughts I hope to be sharing in the next few postings.

Meanwhile.... The noosphere is a global reality. Thanks to the Internet, it's at our fingertips. Please don't be intimidated by the mechanics of sending suggestions, comments and questions about these blog postings. You don't need a Google account: just click on "Comments" at the bottom of this post, and when it opens click on "Other" to use your regular e-mail. Don't hesitate to share what you're thinking and feeling with other readers. Thanks!

1 comment:

Sam said...

While trying to eliminate numerous spam comments, I inadvertently deleted all comments at the END of the posts up until #90. BUT... they are still preserved in the collections of comments found in posts #32, #67 and #83.

One set of comments, however-- for posts #84 to #89-- has been completely lost. If you happen to have copied any of them, I'd much appreciate your sending a copy to me so I can restore them. Thanks.