Author’s Subtext: Darwin’s Troubling Choice
One can understand very well Emerson’s view of ‘evolution’ and how it is more truthful to life and experience than Darwin’s, if and only if one trains one’s ‘mind’ to suspend acculturated ‘perception framing habits’.
Without suspending these habits, it is pointless to ‘debate’ an Emersonian ‘worldview’ with others. Emerson realized this and would not accept invitations to debate his views with those who were clearly coming from a different set of basic ‘framing’ assumptions than he. There would be no point since, by coming from different foundations, the two would be talking at crossed purposes, unless they preceded their debate with a debate on those different foundations.
Emerson declared what his were, but many people didn’t listen, so in spite of Emerson’s readings and writings being extraordinarily inspirational, the logicians working them over concluded that they boiled down to nothing tangible and usable, that they were all ‘smoke and mirrors’ e.g;
“Dr. Burnap of Baltimore described Transcendentalism as “a new philosophy which has risen, maintaining that nothing is everything in general, and everything is nothing in particular.””
And Emerson’s writings and actions implies that his intent is “less to realise the ideal than to idealise the real.” (He does not participate in ‘intentional communities’ aimed at ‘realising the idea’ such as Brook Farm nor sign up as a member of such collaborative efforts to ‘realise the ideal’ or ‘walk the talk’)
The ‘transcendalist’ movement was linked to utopian social change though that was not where Emerson ‘was coming from’ . There was a link between Emerson’s and the Vedic beliefs of the Upanishad, however, so there is too between Erwin Schroedinger’s interpretation of quantum theory (visible material bodies and their dynamics are ‘appearances’; i.e. they are secondary to the unifying resonant energy field-flow that inhabits and excites the emergence of material forms).
Emerson didn’t have ‘the new physics’ to support him in his outlook-changing mission, but it is here now to support his view of evolution that came to him through ‘poetic intuition’.
Emerson’s view of evolution has in common with Darwin’s that the dynamic forms in nature are not popped out in their current form by a supernatural process, but develop by some evolutionary process. The difference from Darwin’s theory is that the differences in the forms in Emerson’s view do not imply ‘independent forms’ in the Darwinian sense of independent evolutionary paths, but instead, that imply the natural precedence of one dynamic ground-flow within which a diverse multiplicity of dynamic forms gather and regather.
Emerson says, in ‘Nature’ (1836) [preceding Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species’ (1859)]
“Herein is especially apprehended the unity of Nature-the unity in variety-which meets us everywhere. All the endless variety of things make an identical impression.” … “Not only resemblances exist in things whose analogy is obvious, as when we detect the type of the human hand in the flipper of the fossil saurus, but also in objects wherein there is great superficial unlikeness. Thus architecture is called “frozen music,” by De Stael and Goethe. Vitruvius thought an architect should be a musician. “A Gothic church,” said Coleridge, “is a petrified religion.” Michael Angelo maintained, that, to an architect, a knowledge of anatomy is essential. In Haydn’s oratorios, the notes present to the imagination not only motions, as, of the snake, the stag, and the elephant, but colors also; as the green grass. The law of harmonic sounds reappears in the harmonic colors. The granite is differenced in its laws only by the more or less of heat, from the river that wears it away. The river, as it flows, resembles the air that flows over it; the air resembles the light which traverses it with more subtile currents; the light resembles the heat which rides with it through Space. Each creature is only a modification of the other; the likeness in them is more than the difference, and their radical law is one and the same. A rule of one art, or a law of one organization, holds true throughout nature. So intimate is this Unity, that, it is easily seen, it lies under the undermost garment of nature, and betrays its source in Universal Spirit.”
The ‘universal spirit’, Emerson also terms ‘the genius’ (the Supreme Being) in nature that not only inhabits the dynamic forms in nature (organisms, people) but creates them.
This view suspends and deepens the understanding of ‘cause’ as it is used generally in our culture and as it is foundationally deployed in Darwinism;
“Away, profane philosopher! seekest thou in nature the cause? This refers to that, and that to the next, and the next to the third, and everything refers. Thou must ask in another mood, thou must feel it and love it, thou must behold it in a spirit as grand as that by which it exists, ere thou canst know the law. Known it will not be, but gladly beloved and enjoyed.” “There is no revolt in all the kingdoms from the commonweal; no detachment of an individual. Hence the catholic character which makes every leaf an exponent of the world.”
… “”The wholeness we admire in the order of the world is the result of infinite distribution. Its smoothness is the smoothness of the pitch of the cataract. Its permanence is a perpetual inchoation. Every natural fact is an emanation, and that from which it emanates is an emanation also, and from every emanation is a new emanation.” “We can point nowhere to anything final; but tendency appears on all hands: planet, system, constellation, total Nature, is growing like a field of maize in July; is becoming somewhat else; is in rapid metamorphosis. The embryo does not more strive to be man than yonder burr of light we call a nebula tends to be a ring, a comet, a globe, and parent of new stars.”
With this understanding of the ‘spirit-driven fluidity of nature’ it should come as no surprise that Emerson celebrates a meeting of free-thinkers and traditional thinkers, where there is diversity in clothing and appearance, in urban sophistication and countrification, a gathering that would appear entirely lacking in order to some and without concensus or results. Emerson considers this a ‘celebration of the spirit’.
His ‘ethic’ is to look beyond the ‘propositions’. As he says;
“God is “the universal spirit,” whose “essence refuses to be recorded in propositions.” The “universal essence, which is not wisdom, or love, or beauty, or power, but all in one, and each entirely, is that for which all things exist, and that by which they are.” “Spirit creates.” “That which, intellectually considered, we call reason, considered in relation to nature we call spirit.” “Man has access to the entire mind of the Creator, is himself the creator in the finite.” “The reason why the world lacks unity and lies broken and in heaps, is because man is disunited with himself.” “Nature is not fixed, but fluid. Spirit alters, moulds, makes it. The immobility or bruteness of Nature is the absence of spirit; to pure spirit it is fluid, it is volatile, it is obedient.”
If one can imagine oneself at such a meeting where diversity of forms and views engage, in a mood where on is thinking in such terms as one sees on the ‘world-clock’ where the spinning dials show that 11,923,164 people have died so far this year and 27,288,585 people have been born so far this year, then there is the sense of a continual bird-like twittering that is sustained by these dynamic forms called humans who are continually gathered into the world and regathered into new forms. The ‘spirited twittering’ persists.
This is a humbling thought but is it a negative thought? For the man with existential angst, the lines of Shakespeare come to mind, which give us a view of ourselves when we ‘discount spirit’ and find value only in OUR OWN ‘being’ and ‘action’;
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause—there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Thus, in order to even discuss Emerson’s view, one has to ‘transcend the material world’ and get into a ‘meta-reality’ which ‘overviews’ or ‘looks down upon’ ‘material reality’. This sounds ‘religious’ and I am not saying it isn’t, but it is the same challenge as occurs in ‘the new physics’ where we must understand that material dynamics are secondary to energy-field dynamics, and that ‘material bodies’ are ‘schaumkommen’ (appearances).
Clearly, there is no point in one person whose propositions are based in material reality, debating with another, such as Emerson, whose propositions are ‘meta-propositions’ on a level above the ‘reality of appearances’ otherwise known as the reality of material dynamics.
Emerson’s points about the relationship amongst different things and common spirit that inhabits and creates them, can be seen in the following picture which nicely illustrates the precedence of field (in this case pressure and thermal fields) and ‘material dynamics’ (movement of material condensates);
Emerson’s following observation would seem to hold true here;
“Each creature is only a modification of the other.” “A rule of one art, or a law of one organization, holds true throughout nature. So intimate is this Unity, that, it is easily seen, it lies under the undermost garment of nature, and betrays its source in Universal Spirit.”
Sure, we can ‘use science’ (pre-relativity science) to separate out the four hurricanes. We use ‘differential equations’ to do this, specifying the differences of pressure, temperature and humidity as a function of x,y,z location. But what is ‘x,y,z’ location? It is the imposing of a rigid frame, as when Darwin retreats from the stormy deck of the Beagle to the ‘otherworld’ of the cubical frame of his below-decks cabin. He can now ‘re-render his life-dynamics’ in terms of x,y,z locations making it appear as if he is a local, independently existing ‘system’, notionally equipped with his own ‘locally originating (internal process-driven and internal knowledge and purposed-directed) behaviour’.
The technique is the same, whether we do it ‘for ourselves’ or for the hurricanes in the picture, and once we do it, the unifying ‘spirit’ or ‘Supreme Being’ is banished (Deus Absconditus or ‘hidden god’ which is hidden by our manner of framing our experience). Both Newton and Kepler tried to make clear that their theories, expressed in terms of material bodies and their motions, were unable to express the most profound aspect of the celestial dynamic, the obvious ‘unifying harmony’ of all of the moving bodies. While Kepler kept his laws in a relational form, Newton applied the Euclidian frame to break out the individual material bodies and describe their dynamics by imputing ‘their own local agency’ to each of them, dropping out the unifying spatial harmony (Newton dropped the unifying spatial harmony out of the laws he formulated but he made a clear notification in his Author’s Prologue and his summarizing Scholium, of what he was leaving out, not that we as ‘followers of Newton’ and users of those laws have paid much attention to it.).
Returning to the ‘messages’ in the picture, imagine looking at four characters at a meeting who appear to be mutually exciting one another by the conflict in their respective propositions. Emerson would look at this and recognize in it the common spirit that is sourcing this diversity. If we pursue the scientific analogy further, dropping out the differential framing, a hurricane forms in the service of bringing balance and harmony to the dynamic flow it is included in; i.e. to transport thermal energy from regions of excess to regions of impoverishment (that is the ‘genius of nature’ that inspires the emergence of a ‘convection cell’, and in this case, inspires the emergence of these four convection cells). That is, the four seemingly ‘separate’ entities are inhabited and created by a common purpose, to bring balance to the dynamic ground-flow they are each uniquely situationally included in. Since ‘they are the groundflow they are included in’, “Each creature is only a modification of the other.”
Ok, I just went back to the world clock and the deaths are now at 11,928,098 deaths and 27,299, 865 births. Roughly 5,000 people have died and 10,000 have been born while I have been writing the last few paragraphs, and the twittering persists, the ‘spirit of the people’ like morning birdsong, persists. What does this make of me? In the common view of our culture, not much. Not in ‘my own self-standing local, visible, material right’. But if I look beyond my time-based material dynamics to what unites me with the rest, then I am ‘of the eternal’. As Emerson puts it;
“Man has access to the entire mind of the Creator, is himself the creator in the finite.” “The reason why the world lacks unity and lies broken and in heaps, is because man is disunited with himself.” “When a faithful thinker, resolute to detach every object from personal relations, and see it in the light of thought, shall, at the same time, kindle science with the fire of the holiest affections; then will God go forth anew into the creation.” “Nature is not fixed, but fluid. Spirit alters, moulds, makes it. The immobility or bruteness of Nature is the absence of spirit; to pure spirit it is fluid, it is volatile, it is obedient.”
So, in writing the essay ‘Darwin’s Troubling Choice’, … there had to be some way to bring out the obvious, that Darwin had to make a choice; ‘to frame or not to frame’, and while Emerson and Lamarck had chosen ‘not to frame’, Darwin chose ‘to frame’, and as a result, had to come up with a ‘scheme’ for ‘evolution’ wherein the ‘evolutionary force’ was locally resident within each individual organism (the organisms having been synthetically separated by imposing of the frame).
In this view of the picture of the hurricanes, we drop out the common groundflow wherein resides the ‘universal spirit’ that inhabits them and creates them, and they become four separate ‘local systems’ which are apparently trying to suck the power out of one another; i.e. they are trying to orient the flow to the spin that they are putting on things. That’s the kind of ‘story’ that jumps out if we break them out into separate ‘local systems’ with the help of a euclidian frame. What gets lost in the shuffle is the fact that are all coming from ‘good intentions’; i.e. the common intention to bring balance in the world.
What Emerson ‘saw’ at a meeting wherein ‘politically-correct’ tradition was interrupted by a diversity of people coming together to express their heartfelt views , was chronicled by Emerson’s friend Monclure Daniel Conway, a Unitarian clergyman and author, in ‘Emerson at Home and Abroad’, as follows;
XX. BUILDING TABERNACLES. AMID the confusion in the Unitarian circle caused by Emerson’s oration, the most pathetic figure was that of old Dr. Channing, who sees another ocean ahead just as he was preparing to land. The shore, then, as in the case of Columbus, has turned out to be a tinted cloud on the horizon!
… In 1840 the tabernacle-builders held a grand convention in Boston, called by “The Friends of Universal Progress.” Emerson attended, but did not speak. We have, however, his report in the “Dial.” “The composition of the assembly was rich and various. The singularity and latitude of the summons drew together, from all parts of New England, and also from the Middle States, men of every shade of opinion, from the straitest orthodoxy to the wildest heresy, and many persons whose church was a church of one member only. A great variety of dialect and of costume was noticed; a great deal of confusion, eccentricity, and freak appeared, as well as of zeal and enthusiasm. If the assembly was disorderly, it was picturesque. Madmen, madwomen, men with beards, Dunkers, Muggletonians, Come-outers, Groaners, Agrarians, Seventh-day Baptists, Quakers, Abolitionists, Calvinists, Unitarians, and Philosophers,-all came successively to the top and seized their moment, if not their hour, wherein to chide, or pray, or preach, or protest. The faces were a study. The most daring innovators and the champions until death of the old cause, sat side by side. The still living merit of the oldest New England families, glowing yet after several generations, encountered the founders of families, fresh merit emerging and expanding the brows to a new breath, and lighting a clownish face with sacred fire. The assembly was characterised by the predominance of a certain plain, sylvan strength and earnestness, whilst many of the most intellectual and cultivated persons attended its councils. Dr. Channing, Edward Taylor, Bronson Alcott, Mr. Garrison, Mr. May, Theodore Parker, H. C. Wright, Dr. Osgood, William Adams, Edward Palmer, Jones Very, Maria W. Chapman, and many other persons of a mystical, or sectarian, or philanthropic renown were present, and some of them participant. And there was no want of female speakers: Mrs. Little and Mrs. Lucy Sessions took a pleasing and memorable part in the debate, and that flea of conventions, Mrs. Abigail Folsom, was but too ready with her interminable scroll. If there was not parliamentary order, there was life, and the assurance of that conditional love for religion and religious liberty which in all periods characterises the inhabitants of this part of America. “There was a great deal of wearisome speaking in each of those three-days’ sessions, but relieved by signal passages of pure eloquence, by much vigour of thought, and especially by the exhibition of character and by the victories of character. These men and women were in search of something better and more satisfying than a vote or a definition, and they found what they sought, or the pledge of it, in the attitude taken by individuals of their number of resistance to the insane routine of parliamentary usage, in the lofty reliance on principles, and the prophetic dignity and transfiguration which accompanies, even amidst opposition and ridicule, a man whose mind is made up to obey the great inward commander, and who does not anticipate his own action, but awaits confidently the new emergency for the new counsel.” Emerson selected for publication the speech of a mechanic named Whiting,-hailing from the town of Webster,-in reading which one reflects how often the lowliest of philosophers in praising others was alone unconscious that he was praising himself. Although Emerson did not ascend the tribune nor open his lips, in a sense lie made a majority of the speeches. Through the stirred soul and impassioned lips of. the mechanic he concluded with these words a speech about the Bible Above all things, maintain the right of the living soul, of every individual man, to judge, unhesitatingly and unqualifiedly, everything in the past and all of the present; remembering always that the soul is its own authority, is bound by its own laws, does not live in the past, but is now. It is greater than all books-is antecedent to them all. It is the maker of them; and cannot be made subject to them until the Creator can be placed in bondage to his own workmanship. When this great truth shall fill the human heart, and be shadowed forth in human life, then the morning of the Universal Resurrection will dawn, then man shall arise from his grovelling position among the cot fins, the bones and ashes of a buried Past, and live, and grow, and expand in the bright sunlight of that Eternity in which lie dwells.” This congress, long remembered as the “Chardon Street Convention,” was pentecost of the new gospel, its translation into many tongues by the fire that burns through personal prejudices; and this phenomenon, now as of old, implies a nearness of some heaven, and expectancy of a kingdom at hand. And as, in this case, the old heavens were faded, and no returning Messiah looked for, it became necessary for the enthusiasts to try and build a heaven of their own. Hence, Brook Farm. They who have known the same spiritual baptism must have all things in common. The preamble of the constitution of Brook Farm must be placed on record. “In order more effectually to promote the great purposes of human culture; to establish the external relations of life on a basis of wisdom and purity; to apply the principles of justice and love to our social organisation in accordance with the laws of Divine Providence; to substitute a system of brotherly co-operation for one of selfish competition; to secure to our children, and those who may be intrusted to our care, the benefits of the highest physical, intellectual, and moral education which in the progress of knowledge the resources at our command will permit; to institute an attractive, efficient, and productive system of industry; to prevent the exercise of worldly anxiety by the competent supply of our necessary wants; to diminish the desire of excessive accumulation by making the acquisition of individual property subservient to upright and disinterested uses; to guarantee to each other for ever the means of physical support and of spiritual progress; and thus to impart a greater freedom, simplicity, truthfulness, refinement, and moral dignity to our mode of life;-we, the undersigned, do unite in a voluntary association, and adopt and ordain the following articles of agreement.” Among “the undersigned ” was not the name of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The point that Conway is making is that Emerson’s intent is “less to realise the ideal than to idealise the real.”
‘Socialism’ and ‘Capitalism’ are ‘ideals’ based on particular approaches to ‘material dynamics’ (flow of material wealth). The unifying spirit, meanwhile, is nonlocal, invisible and non-material but its sourcing influence is ‘real’. Like Groucho Marx, Emerson is not about to become a ‘club member’ for an initiative that seeks to ‘realise the ideal’ but chooses to ‘go up one level’ and be guided by the unifying field (universal spirit) that is the parent of real-in-the-sense-of-material propositions.
To the friendly driver in the flow of the freeway, the question is not ‘what material-dynamic proposition’ should I choose? … ‘what move should I make’, … but rather, … ‘I shall let my movement serve the sustaining of harmonious flow’, .. the latter creative sourcing of behaviour deriving from the opening of spatial possibility, emerging from the relations amongst things, rather than from the internals of the individual understanding himself as a ‘local, independently-existing material system, notionally equipped with his own locally originating, internal process-driven and internal knowledge and purpose-directed behaviour.
Emerson refers to our ‘awareness’ of this nonlocal, invisible, non-material unifying creative source as our ‘over-soul’.
In order to make a long story short, if it is not too late for that, … in writing ‘Darwin’s Troubling Choice’, there needed to be some way to get the comparison of the evolutionary meta-level of Emerson and the evolutionary material-level of Darwin out in the open, and the device used to attempt to do this was the familiar experience of sea-sickness, where we may feel the need to retreat to the friendly and familiar ‘frame’ of our ‘bunk’ and ‘cabin’ and remain ‘motionless’ there, with respect to that frame, even though we cannot really escape our unframed inclusion in Nature’s dynamic.
The bottom line is still that Emerson’s view of evolution is ‘more realistic’ than Darwin’s view of evolution since it avoids the ‘reduction’ of our experience that separates and isolates us and all things (different species) by the device of imposing a rigid reference frame that artificially ‘shuts out’ the unifying world spirit that is the common, unifying spirit that inhabits and creates emergent forms.
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