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Consciousness In The Cosmos: Perspective of Mind: Ervin Laszlo

This posting will examine the evolutionary views of Ervin Laszlo, a world-class philosopher of science. Additionally Laszlo is also the developer of Systems Philosophy--derived from General Systems Theory. He is a member of the Club of Rome and has taught at Yale and Princeton Universities . The founder of the General Evolution Research group and head of the advisory committee to the United Nations University, he is currently director of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.

Laszlo concentrates on what he considers the "third state" of systems in the world, those non-linear systems that are farthest from thermal and chemical equilibrium. (The other two states being those systems either in or near equilibrium.) We humans are non-linear systems--and like other non-linear systems, we can increase our level of complexity and organization--and become more energetic.

This does not mean that non-linear systems, like ourselves, do not obey the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Rather--third state systems are *open* systems. Energy once expended by these systems is no longer available. But! Third-state systems are able to "import" energy to perform further work. "There can be a transport of free energy-or negative entropy-across the system boundaries." And the more dynamic and negentropic such a system can be, the greater its potential of freedom in the face of chaos! [Ervin Laszlo, EVOLUTION: THE GRAND SYNTHESIS, New Science Library, 1987, pp. 21-22.]

Laszlo realizes that these special third-state systems, farthest from thermodynamic equilibrium, are always on the borders of chaos. They can only continue to maintain themselves through replication or reproduction. They are *autopoietic,* self-creating. And it is through this special creativity, whether physical or mental, that such a system can leap into new (and higher) plateaus of nonequilibrium. It's about creating greater order out of chaos!

In general evolutionary terms, this is how new and higher levels of systems organization are attained.

Laszlo states that "the universe as a whole moved into thermal disequilibrium." By its self-creativity, the Universe created varieties of macrosystems from active stars to interstellar clouds to planets. And life on Earth began with the initial conditions provided by cosmic evolution in general. [Ibid, p. 67.]

Moving more specifically, Laszlo focuses on biological evolution. He especially concentrates on Neo-Darwinian theory, particularly as presented by Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge that introduced the *leap* into Neo-Darwinian biology. This new evolutionary biology no longer stresses gradual progression and short steps. Essentially the new thinking is that when the "stasis" of a dominant species is threatened (with extinction), then consequently there can be a relatively sudden leap to a peripheral species or subspecies. It's a bifurcation point, where a higher order of being rises above a chaotic system.

For Laszlo there are three major factors to consider when examining biological evolution: the Genome, Mutation, and Convergence.

The genome is the specific genotype of an individual. It contains the genetic program, the necessary information required for that particular organism to cope with its environment. The genome maintains the individual's structure and provides the special information for the individual's maturation. The genome also applies at the species level.

A mutation is a complex process, open to change, and ultimately can alter the genome of a species. And unfolding in a "lawlike manner" a destabilized species will eventually yield dominance to a mutant species.

But it is *convergence* that is the magic ingredient in understanding how evolution climbs towards ever higher organizational levels of life. As Laszlo puts it: "Convergence [is] the tendency of third-state systems to form hypercycles in a shared milieu," and it is this that explains how "high levels of complexity can be achieved in relatively short time frames." It's about hierachial organization via convergence, in that this enables a system to attain to higher levels. It's about cooperation, about working together! [Ibid, pp. 81-82.]

As for "Homo," Laszlo stresses that there was nothing predetermined about the appearance of this species. Biological evolution does not determine a course, but rather simply provides the possibilities and presents the constraints. Laszlo does not believe that evolution is teleological, but nontheless it is directional in that it directs a given non-linear system to move further and further from equilibrium. And thus, this leads to not only life but to intelligence!

As for Homo's societal systems, they too are third-state systems. They are self-evolving, autopoietic! And convergence plays a big part in societal systems--moving from tribes, villages, ethnic communities, colonies, provinces, nation-states, etc. And when these societal systems decline, reach a level of chaos, they can either bifurcate into destruction or move to a higher level open to new societal forms--that historically are shaped by "individual action and interaction and modified by changes in collective culture and public policy." [Ibid, p. 91.]

From Homo there is the natural jump to the subject of "Mind." Laszlo considers the phenomenon of mind as the most remarkable of all experienced phenomena. He wisely realizes that the human mind cannot be investigated by the same methods employed in investigating the human brain--"or indeed any matter-energy system in the universe." [Ibid, p. 117.]

Ervin Laszlo believes that the "Mind" can only be approached through introspection. But the human mind is not simply the subjective side of a mind-body entity; rather, it is the multi-faceted "seat" of feelings, emotions, imagination, intuition, value, as well as abstract thought.

The Mind "knows that it is knowing it." It's not only aware of its environment, but can describe its sensations. For Laszlo the Mind is a highly sophisticated entity--a special system that, too, is prone to *error.* As Laszlo puts it: "Error is the price paid for learning." [Ibid, p 119.]

*Learning* is significantly important for Laszlo. Learning leads to differences and creativity--and creates "true individuals."

The human mind has led to the creation of more technologically sophisticated socieites, advanced socities that have somewhat freed themselves from the basic sphere of survival. In turn, an advanced society--more free from the raw struggle of survival-- propagates culture. Of course this is true for individuals too! Such advancement allows both persons and socieities to pursue "higher needs" such as aesthetics, intellectual pursuits, and the quest for ultimate meaning.

Laszlo forsees this trend of societal systems beginning to interlock. Via the Mind we are approaching global convergence that could either spawn societal interdependence *or* a situation where one societal system dominates over all the others. More immediately, Laszlo realizes that these global changes in societal systems propagate a "dislocation of the cognitive maps of individuals." Our belief systems, our images and rituals and routines, even our values are no longer routinely accepted. Laszlo seriously contends there is a desperate need for new "systems of belief and action." [Ibid, 146.]

Laszlo contests that "the search for meaning is the basic attribute of the human mind." Regardless what we perceive, we translate such into meaningful experiences. Of course there are levels of meaning: common-sense levels, empirical-scientific levels, and the "mystical" level. It is when we integrate all these levels that we will approach the *highest level* according to Laszlo. [Joseph H. Schaeffer, "Beliefs about Evolution, Mind, Nature, and Society: Excerpts from an Interview with Ervin Laszlo," ZYGON, vol. 23, no. 2 (June 1988), p. 179.]

Laszlo ponders further, wondering that maybe this entity we call "Mind" is really a vaster collective consciousness--the fount of *all* consciousness. Considering a self-aware universe, Laszlo believes that such a Cosmic Entity would be subject to conservation as a "dynamic energy" phenomenon just as are all other phenomena in the physical universe. Energy is conserved according the law of physics. "It is only transformed from one form to another, so that nothing is lost in the universe." [Ibid, p. 188.]

For Laszlo there is the possibility of what he terms a "psi field," a psychic field. Comparing this psi field to gravitational and electromagnetic fields, etc., it is here in which all individual experience could be accumulated and deposited at the universal level. Laszlo stresses that such a psi field would have to possess a "mental dimension." In essence, this special "psi field" would represent the "mental dimension of the universe." [Ibid, p. 189.]

Laszlo expresses his own concern that betrays a caring, his own spirituality. He focuses on what he perceives of the "inner constraints," the inner limits of Mind as we know it on Earth. He worries about the root causes of our physical and enviromental problems, rooted in our inner limitations. He sees an atrophy of images and visions inherited by our societal systems. Still, he is not calling for a destruction of our cultural heritage--but, rather, Laszlo believes the "great ideals of the world religions, and the ethics and worldviews of more recent times embody perennial values." (But, alas, alot of these positive visions have been overlayed with obsolete and ancillary views.) Until we can generate new visions, new cognitive maps, Mind at our level will simply have to reforge existing ideals to serve as guides. [Ervin Laszlo, THE INNER LIMITS OF MANKIND, One World, 1989, pp. 65-66.]


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