Tag Archive: emergence

This is the concluding part of a three-part article. Part 1 can be found here, Part 2 here. They should be read in the sequence in which they were published.


The True, the Good, and the Beautiful

All of this can be related to the triad of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful — or, in their Peircian sequence, aesthetics, ethics, and logic. Aesthetics, as Peirce conceived it, is most directly concerned with firstness; ethics, with secondness; and logic, with thirdness.

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Complexity theorist Stuart Kaufmann recently gave a talk here from his book Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion, which is getting more press these days than most books with a Spinozian/Whiteheadian take on the emergent nature of intelligence, complexity, spirituality, and all that. Talking to him afterwards, I was a bit disappointed to find out that he had never heard of Deleuze, had only just heard of Whitehead as someone he should look into, and knew probably a modicum about Spinoza (he cites him a few times in the book). Not that I should expect that kind of intellectual cross-fertilization to be the norm — it’s not, especially across the Continental-analytical divide (though Kauffman does have a background in philosophy; and it’s also possible that he was being humble). But there’s an obvious resonance and potential alliance to be built here. I’m starting to read Kauffman’s book to confirm or disconfirm Steven Shaviro’s critiques of it. Shaviro is a Deleuzian-Whiteheadian (post)poststructuralist whose excellent forthcoming book on Kant, Whitehead, and Deleuze can be previewed in snippets on his web site.

More “out there” among leading biologists who lean this way (toward emergence, immanence, self-organization, mind-body non-dualism, etc.) is Brian Goodwin, whose book Nature’s Due: Healing Our Fragmented Culture, is being touted as his “biological testament.” It seems unfortunate that he chose such a relatively unknown, or at least non-academic, press to publish it with (Floris Books in England; it’s distributed here by the Rudolf Steiner folks). I haven’t seen it yet, but Arturo Escobar’s review is enough to make me order and eagerly await its arrival. Escobar’s own Territories of Difference is, incidentally, one of those landmark books (a long time in the making) that I expect will redefine environmental scholarship in important ways. I’ll post more about it at some point.

Both Kauffman and Goodwin are profiled in John Brockman’s 1994 book The Third Culture, which can be read on-line. The book also includes chapters on Francesco Varela and Lynn Margulis, alongside the usual Darwinist and computationalist-cognitivist heavies like Dawkins, Pinker, Dennett, Minsky, et al., and the more likeable Gould and Eldridge types — the whole left, right, and center, if you will, of the then-current (circa early-1990s) scientific star circuit. Brockman’s profiles/interviews are a great way of getting some familiarity with these folks; they include them commenting on each other’s work and ideas, so you get a kind of three-dimensional mapping of who’s who in relation to who else. It could use some updating, though, which Brockman’s Edge.org does, in a dizzy, all-over-the-place kind of way…