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Transformation or Transmutation?

Quietness again lifts and planes out,
the blood in our heads gliding
in the sky of the brain.

My friend from graduate philosophy days and I are having good old-fashioned philosophical argument about our different perceptions, views and sense of urgency with regard to the human crisis.

With his usual droll understatement, Dan says, “We have different visions of what human (human to post-“Man”?) transformation means.”

Essentially, Dan holds the view that “whatever happens with the transformation in consciousness, it will be in the historical context of a general transformation in human thought.”

I on the other hand maintain that there has to be a much deeper transmutation, such that the brain has a completely different relationship to thought, and therefore how it uses thought in nature and the human-constructed world.

Dan’s philosophical work emanates from his studies of Alfred North Whitehead, and pertains to the relationship between philosophy and science. I can’t do it justice, but essentially he makes a compelling case that science, led by physics, has become so mathematized that it denies the centrality of explanation and philosophical narrative.

In his own words: “Whitehead was right in his philosophy of science, in that modern physics as we have it unwarrantedly clings to a positivist/obscurantist doctrine of method. In the process it presents, due to the prestige of physics (especially with philosophers of science), a drastically attenuated conception of science.”

Dan has been working for many years to form a “drastically different worldview for the coming era of science, which will have at least some psychological, socio-economic, and ecological consequences, just as the cultural consequences of quantum and relativity physics have been huge and pervasive.”

We agree that philosophers have been gradually deleted by the equations of physics, leaving the mathematical basis of science to stand on its own—a language few can read though it impacts everyone.

In order to re-enliven science in society, we have to reintroduce philosophers with explanatory narratives. This will not only make scientific discoveries understandable and accessible to ordinary people; it will actually broaden the horizons of science itself.

Beyond the scientific enterprise, my philosopher friend and I also agree that the problem of competing, ungrounded political narratives, based in arbitrary worldviews arising from mere opinion and belief, can be traced in large measure to the abandonment of coherent, explanatory narratives of scientific discoveries by authentic philosophers.

Popularizers such as Neil deGrasse Dyson, and even Stephen Hawking, attempt to fill the philosophical vacuum. But because they aren’t philosophers, they only make matters worse. (I’m not referring to academic or “professional” philosophers, both of which are oxymorons, but those rare people with the capacity and drive to question to the root of things, have insight into reality and actuality, and offer explanations in a way that any serious, intelligent person can understand.)

In this utterly confused, collapsed culture, everyone has become a philosopher, which means that no one actually is. The attack on philosophy has been so effective that philosophy has been reduced to arcane academic disputes and largely superficial nonsense written by academic philosophers for the New York Times.

Where Dan and I differ is on the question of the place of and relationship to so-called higher thought in human life. To Dan’s mind it’s a question of “if and how transmutation fits into the inevitable development and historical context of the general transformation in human thought.”

I point out that by definition the transmutation of the brain cannot fit into any historical context of thought. However the transmutation of the brain using thought can and does make room for the transformation of philosophy and science.

All transformations of thought (that is, of philosophy) have left the basic trajectory of accelerating human fragmentation untouched. Only a transmutation in the brain’s relationship to the evolutionary leap of symbolic thought is sufficient to end the fragmentation of the earth and humanity.

Transmutation cannot occur through any external, scientific or technological means, but only through awakening awareness quicker than thought, and igniting attention strong enough to keep psychological thought quiet. This is what’s required to change the disastrous course of humankind.

It’s certainly is not true, as my friend maintains, “that for all we know the necessary human transformation may be already complete or headed toward completion with this philosophy of science transformation in thought.”

The cognitive leap that occurred about 100,000 years ago in eastern and southern Africa—the transmutation that made us “modern humans”—was only conscious after the fact.

We’re essentially talking about a conscious transition from Homo sap to Homo sapiens, brought about through self-knowing insight. For the first time in the history of life on earth, there can and must be a conscious evolutionary leap.

So can this transmutation begin in enough individuals now to ignite the psychological revolution essential to change the basic, disastrous course of humankind?

Martin LeFevre

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