The Fundamental Nature of Science and Religion – Part I

Introductory note
Ethnography of Primitive peoples
The Duality of Initiation
Metaphysics – Logos of the vegetative principle
The Root Brain de-brained
Deep Ecology
A new Ethics, a new Metaphysics, a new Religion
Collective States of Subjectivity: Church, Totem, Rite, Belief and Spirit
Duality of the Sacred and the Mundane
Notes – Part I
Bibliography – Part I

Introductory note
Theories of Quantum mechanics (QM) and what one might term Social mechanics (SM), point in uncomfortably disparate directions. QM teaches that macro-phenomena (a rock, tea cup, tree, star…) are bound by fundamental causal rules, and that micro-phenomena (individual physical particles: fermion, boson, hadron) can become completely disconnected from the chain of causality. SM teaches the inverse; that micro-phenomena (individual actors) are bound by and represent fundamental causal rules, while macro-phenomena (emergent social properties, such as intelligence, mind, religion, science, patterns of political voting, segregation/clustering, the common good) are somehow disconnected from the causal chain. This represents a beautiful conceptual symmetry, but why and how, and where and when may non-causal events and properties be observed?

Causality is observable only within our ‘human scale’ of events, which includes for example the star gazing aspects of astronomy or the cell watching aspects of microbiology. However, at the boundaries of observation – the boundaries of the ‘human scale’ – causality appears to evaporate. The word ‘anthropocentric’ and the phrase ‘anthropic principle’ are often used to describe the concept of a human scale – the human perspective and scope, beyond which causality appears either to dissolve into complexity, or to disjunct from empirical reality. Holding this in mind, I find it very strange indeed that we can nevertheless identify as ‘necessarily real’ various a-causal phenomena, such as “spooky action at a distance” (quantum entanglement), the big bang and black holes (quantum singularities) dark matter and energy – and equally, the feelings and awareness of self, mind, the bizarre similarity between the lifecycles of individuals, civilizations and species, the persistent socio-cohesive power of the various religions, spiritual and tribal rites, ethics and morals.

At best, the subject matter of the current thesis is iconoclastic, representing factual (causal) and controversial, perhaps even a-causal histories. At worst, the reader will apprehend certain presented arguments and interpretations as unacceptable. I do not presume to convince, but to present the arguments and opinions rendered by a handful of respected peers who have preceded us.

Some of the meanings expressed sit as uncomfortably within the postmodern worldview as they would have within the modern one. I certainly have experienced difficulties and challenges, both intellectual and moral, while studying the ethnographies, histories and theoretical constructs that inform and comprise the subject matter of this essay. The difficulties and discomforts which I have experienced, may have resulted from the assumed near-absolute certainty and cultural flatness in which we, in our systemized and machine-mediated postmodern culture, now live. It has become apparent that regardless of the assumed level of certainty we feel, or think we have achieved, no such level of definition of certainty exists in the reality that we perceive, nor in any reality that we create – bar one – the internal mental dynamic state of individual knowledge (cognition). An individual mind may feel certain of some variable x, whereas a collective of minds comes to consensus, rendering precision of x but not certainty of it.

The ambiguities which appear to be, or perhaps are, endemic to the subjects and materials presented, do not entirely confound precision in the task of finding a common moral ground between Science and Religion. As in the sciences and religions, precision has been endowed to this project by necessary cut-offs of the definitional phase spaces used. Examples of this are the definitions of religion and primitive peoples, rendered by Durkheim in 1912, which we shall assume for the purposes of this essay:

“A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things set apart and forbidden – beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.”

Primitive peoples are assumed to have been nomadic tribal cultures of hunter-gatherer-gardeners, composed of extended familial groupings (clans), with no written language and only a rudimentary level of technological sophistication – living prior to the cultural and environmental influences that were imposed upon them through contact and colonization by sedentary agrarian civilizations with greater technological sophistication and written language.

David Émile Durkheim was a French sociologist, greatly influenced by the positivist philosophy and scientific approach to the study of society (ethnography), which had been founded by Auguste Comte a lifetime before him. Among Durkheim’s published social analyses is one titled The Elementary Forms of Religious Life [1], in which the religious practices and beliefs of aboriginal Australian and American peoples are discussed. Elementary Forms has lent valuable defining criteria to the task of identifying the nature of religion.

In our time, systems, beliefs, practices, unifications (categorizations) and communities all seem quite familiar and scientific ideas, whereas morality (the good and true path) and sacredness (the state of being set apart, forbidden) seem rather more distant and less relevant to science.

The practice of science, as defined by modern scientific method, has been well documented and propagated, and is commonly understood as an aspect of modern global human culture. Can anything meaningful be said of morality or of sacredness in the sciences? In order to create a background context, we shall begin our exploration with the ethnography of primitive humans, and unexpectedly, magic.

Ethnography of Primitive peoples
Redfield described the work of Bronislaw Malinowski (1948) [2] as a process of “look at the people, then look back at the books, and then look again at the people”, and told that Malinowski did not look at the people to find what the books told him he should find. The human reality upon which he periodically refocused, could not be fully represented by any single theory, though he has been described as a proponent of psychological functionalism – arguing that social and cultural institutions serve basic human needs. Malinowski took account of the views rendered by Tylor, Frazer, Marett, and Durkheim, to discover religion emerging more multidimensionally than in any single account – “religion is not only people explaining and projecting their dreams; it is not only a sort of spiritual electric – mana –; it is not solely to be recognized in social communion.”

“Religion and magic are ways men must have, being men, to make the world acceptable, manageable, and right.”
– Malinowski (1948)

Translating this into postmodernism, I would add science (however primitive), replace the word ”men” with people, and strengthen the idea of a “right” world with a moral one, thus rendering: Religion, science and magic are ways humans must have, being human, to make the world acceptable, manageable and moral.

Of the three domains, even assuming some naivety about religion, what we now understand as magic, seems the least necessary for an acceptable, manageable and moral world. However, what we now understand as magic is more-or-less complex trickery (change blindness), whereas in antiquity it seems to have been apprehended more earnestly, as a combination of what we now understand as science and religion – an holistic knowledge comprising natural philosophy, various arts and natural theology – in a word perhaps, alchemy.

Malinowski marked that “when the sociologist approaches the study of magic [they find] an entirely sober, prosaic, even clumsy art, enacted for purely practical reasons, governed by crude and shallow beliefs, carried out in a simple and monotonous technique … strictly limited in its means of action, circumscribed in its beliefs, stunted in its fundamental assumptions.” He noted also that “magic never originated, it never has been made or invented. All magic simply was from the beginning an essential adjunct of all such things and processes as vitally interest man and yet elude his normal rational efforts.”

“In Central Australia, all magic existed and has been inherited from the alcheringa times, when it came about like everything else. In Melanesia all magic comes from a time when humanity lived underground and when magic was a natural knowledge of ancestral man. In higher societies magic is often derived from spirits and demons, but even these, as a rule, originally received and did not invent it. Thus the belief in the primeval natural existence of magic is universal.”

Interestingly, “magic tends to become specialized, exclusive, departmental and hereditary. In totemism each species naturally becomes the responsibility and privilege of a clan; and each clan reveres its head specialist as the chief magician of its totem. Totemism is essentially a cooperative system, a number of practical, specialized cults, each with its own social basis but all having one common end: “the supply of the tribe with abundance” – A set of diverse and diversifying, specialized actors creating abundance is familiar terminology, expressed in a previous essay titled The Common Good, as the best manner to achieve and maintain common goods.

Science may be described in a very similar manner, as specialized, exclusive, departmental and hereditary. The latter is no longer commonly recognized, but surely has remained a key aspect of modern social mechanics. After all, it is a special and distinct privilege, still largely propagated by familial lineages, to be schooled and educated by elite institutions of indoctrination, such as the University of Oxford, the California Institute of Technology, Stanford University, the University of Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Princeton University, Imperial College London, and ETH Zurich.

In critique of Durkheim, who suggested that religious feeling (“effervescence”) occurs exclusively as a consequence of collectivity, Malinowski pointed-out that “the heightening of emotions and the lifting of the individual out of himself are by no means restricted to gatherings and to crowd phenomena. The lover near his sweetheart, the daring adventurer conquering his fears in the face of real danger, the hunter at grips with a wild animal, the craftsman achieving a masterpiece, whether he be savage or civilized, will under such conditions feel altered, uplifted, endowed with higher forces. And there can be no doubt that from many of these solitary experiences where man feels the forebodings of death, the pangs of anxiety, the exaltation of bliss, there flows a great deal of religious inspiration.”

Implicit here is not only the concept of collectivity vs individuality, but also the ontological relationship between supervenience and top-down causation. Religions and sciences may be said to emerge from innate characteristics through social (inter)actions, while religious and scientific morals – good and true ways – are embedded within individual (inter)actors, by their initiation into the worldview (indoctrination, mysticism) in which they live.

“There are no peoples however primitive without religion and magic … Nor are there … any savage races lacking either in the scientific attitude or in science, though this lack has been frequently attributed to them. In every primitive community, studied by trustworthy and competent observers, there have been found two clearly distinguishable domains, the Sacred and the Profane; in other words, the domain of Magic and Religion, and that of Science.”

With this Malinowski seems to have meant that the domains of Magic and Religion are sacred, whereas the domain of Science is profane. He was clear about the fact that the primitive Melanesians whom he observed, understood that magic alone would not raise their garden crops nor provide a school of fish to net, that without mundane observations and profane manual labors, gardens do not bear fruit and fish are not caught. Furthermore, while Durkheim proposed that sacrament is necessarily based upon mundane empirical observations and acts, as well as social cohesion, and that magic relies on neither, Malinowski opined that magic is an art (craft) the purpose of which is to apply supernatural forces to the natural environment. Both Durkheim and Malinowski told that primitive peoples are capable of and make regular natural use of scientific mental modeling – a cycling of practical (empirical) trial and error, due to need or curiosity, then inference, usually followed by communication, before beginning another round of empiricism.

“On the one hand there are the traditional acts and observances [rites], regarded by the natives as sacred, carried out with reverence and awe, hedged around with prohibitions and special rules of behavior. Such acts and observances are always associated with beliefs in supernatural forces, especially those of magic, or with ideas about beings, spirits, ghosts, dead ancestors, or gods. On the other hand, a moment’s reflection is sufficient to show that no art or craft however primitive could have been invented or maintained, no organized form of hunting, fishing, tilling, or search for food could be carried out without the careful observation of natural process and a firm belief in its regularity, without the power of reasoning and without confidence in the power of reason; that is, without the rudiments of science.”

The word ‘supernatural’ refers to a property belonging to a realm that is supervenient on nature – that is to say, supernature is dependent upon but separate from and not reduceable to natural phenomena, and thus is not necessarily causally
connected to nature. The logic of causal (non)connection between fundamental and emergent properties is argued well by Humphreys (1997) [3].

Supernature is understood as unobservable, because any presupposed object or force occupying a supernatural realm may not be accessible to natural empirical investigation due to its possible causal disconnection from natural phenomena – simultaneously and necessarily negating the possibility of subsequent physical confirmation or Popperian falsification. This allows for a clear distinction between the supernatural and imaginary (abstract) realms, as the latter, whether mathematical or not, and whether communicated or not, does exist within the natural setting of one or more minds, which supervene on physical and material forms of organismal intelligence (brains).

An argument that is often expressed in attempts to formulate a fundamental distinction between the sciences and religions is that Science necessarily observes nature empirically, and thus understands nature as a set of real, physical phenomena, whereas Religion accepts as real that which is not necessarily empirically observable. Herein however, lies a problem – Science does not always directly observe the natural phenomena or processes which it attempts to describe, and thus confirm or negate as part of the scientific system of beliefs. Similarly, albeit inversely, religious apprehensions are necessarily the results of empirical observations, or equally real and natural abstracted imaginings (insights). The supernatural can thus comprise neither, natural phenomena, such as electrons, cells and stars, nor forms of abstract existence, such as ideas, concepts and schemes (see NOTE A).

Malinowski reported that Sir James Frazer (1890) [4] had outlined the three main problems of primitive religion with which modern anthropology is concerned – “magic and its relation to religion and science; totemism and the sociological
aspect of early faith; the cults of fertility and vegetation.”

“Frazer’s Golden Bough, the great codex of primitive magic, shows clearly that animism is not the only, nor even the dominating belief in primitive culture. Early man seeks above all to control the course of nature for practical ends, and he does it directly, by rite and spell, compelling wind and weather, animals and crops to obey his will. Only much later, finding the limitations of his magical might, does he in fear or hope, in supplication or defiance, appeal to higher beings; that is, to demons, ancestor-spirits or gods. It is in this distinction between direct control on the one hand and propitiation of superior powers on the other that Sir James Frazer sees the difference between religion and magic. Magic, based on man’s confidence that he can dominate nature directly, if only he knows the laws which govern it magically, is in this akin to science. Religion, the confession of human impotence in certain matters, lifts man above the magical level, and later on maintains its independence side by side with science, to which magic has to succumb.”

“This theory of magic and religion has been the starting-point of most modern studies of the twin subjects. Professor Preuss [et al] have independently set forth certain views, partly in criticism of Frazer, partly following up the lines of his inquiry. These writers point out that similar as they appear, science and magic differ yet radically. Science is born of experience, magic made by tradition. Science is guided by reason and corrected by observation, magic, impervious to both, lives in an atmosphere of mysticism [from Ancient Greek μύστης, mústēs, “one who has been initiated”]. Science is open to all, a common good of the whole community, magic is occult, taught through mysterious initiations, handed on in a hereditary or at least in very exclusive filiation. While science is based on the conception of natural forces, magic springs from the idea of a certain mystic, impersonal power, which is believed in by most primitive peoples. This power, called mana by some Melanesians, arungquiltha by certain Australian tribes, wakan, orenda, manitu by various American Indians, and nameless elsewhere, is stated to be a well-nigh universal idea found wherever magic flourishes. According to the writers just mentioned we can find among the most primitive peoples and throughout the lower savagery a belief in a supernatural, impersonal force, moving all those agencies which are relevant to the savage and causing all the really important events in the domain of the sacred. Thus mana, not animism, is the essence of “pre-animistic religion,” and it is also the essence of magic, which is thus radically different from science.”

The natural, all-pervading force – mana, arungquiltha, wakan, orenda, manitu – is Hollywood famous, and perhaps analogous to the Tao. Animism is a belief focused upon individual agents rather than a flow throughout nature, though entropy, gravity and electromagnetism surely do flow through and animate all things, whether living or not; both individuals and complex collective aggregates, whether comprising a speck of dust, grain of sand, mountain range, or galactic cluster.

One achievement of modern anthropology that Malinowski did not find cause to question is “the recognition that magic and religion are not merely a doctrine or a philosophy, not merely an intellectual body of opinion, but a special mode of behavior, a pragmatic attitude built up of reason, feeling, and will alike. It is a mode of action as well as a system of belief, and a sociological phenomenon as well as a personal experience.” – the dynamic and ever-nascent complex state of consensual, individual subjective reality, emerging from a collective of human social interactions – strongly embedded within the natural environment.

The view taken by Levy-Bruhl in Primitive Mentality (1923), suggests that primitive minds have no “sober moods”, but are completely immersed in their current mysticism. Thus, primitive minds live as a society of recognized initiates, individuals or groups that are embedded within the flow of a current worldview. “They are incapable of dispassionate and consistent observation, devoid of the power of abstraction, hampered by a decided aversion towards reasoning, they are unable to draw any benefit from experience, to construct or comprehend even the most elementary laws of nature. For minds thus orientated there is no fact purely physical, nor can there exist for them any clear idea of substance and attribute, cause and effect, identity and contradiction. Their outlook is that of confused superstition, pre-logical, made of mystic participations and exclusions.”

Scathing though this passage is, it has a fascinating, if unfortunate resonance with the common 21st century worldview – aptly termed postmodernism. Critically, postmodernism is a recognition of current modernity only in the sense that it is not the state of modernity that came before it. Our current age is thus laden with a sense of intrinsic change and fungibility – simply, albeit poignantly – a world in transition. The spirit of transition does not provide any clear and unambiguous knowledge of what or where to, or even why we are transiting – the only clear truth experienced by the majority of individuals appears to be one of necessarily ultra-rapid, or better immediate, machine-mediated transfer. Thus, thinking time (Nous Kairos) is not generally apprehended in postmodernity, but skipped or scrubbed – philosophy is viewed as an unproductive “waste of time”.

Architect Thomas Rau (2013) – more eloquently in his native Dutch (2015) – describes our current worldview as one of evolution, and of linear development in technologies and economies, not for the purpose of creating solutions, but problems – “New”, he observes, has come to mean “not quite broken yet”, as a result of planned obsolescence – the engineering of lifespans into products. He proposes a circular economy of raw materials, in which mineral element ores are first mined for use in the production of product-service values, then re-extracted (“de-mounted”) from these product-services to enable reuse (“re-mounting”) into new product-service values.

It should be appreciated that although Rau’s proposition is timely, fitting well within the ethos of postmodernity, it is neither a solution nor destination. The acceptance and implementation of his proposal could act only to propagate the postmodern sense of change and fungibility – the confused outlook, superstition (belief in the existence of a ‘state beyond the current state’) and mysticism of the 21st century. Thus by Levy-Bruhl’s definition, the postmodern mind may be judged as nearly so primitive as the primitive mind, and indeed one should not find this overly surprising, as human minds, whether primitive or postmodern, share a fundamentally human nature.

Malinowski also reported the critical views of J. L. Myers (c. 1911) and A. A. Goldenweiser (c. 1930) – primitive knowledge is distinct, accurate, and based upon observation. Primitive discoveries, inventions and improvements, “which could hardly be attributed to any pre-empirical or pre-logical mind – affirm that “it would be unwise to ascribe to the primitive mechanic merely a passive part in the origination of inventions. Many a happy thought must have crossed his mind, nor was he wholly unfamiliar with the thrill that comes from an idea effective in action.” Here we see the savage endowed with an attitude of mind wholly akin to that of a modern man of science! … The use of leaves, notched sticks, and similar aids to memory is well known and seems to be almost universal. All such ‘diagrams’ are means of reducing a complex and unwieldy bit of reality to a simple and handy form. They give man a relatively easy mental control over it. As such are they not – in a very rudimentary form no doubt – fundamentally akin to developed scientific formulas and models, which are also simple and handy paraphrases of a complex or abstract reality, giving the civilized physicist mental control over it?”

“Can we regard primitive knowledge, which … is both empirical and rational, as a rudimentary stage of science, or is it not at all related to it? If by science be understood a body of rules and conceptions, based on experience and derived from it by logical inference, embodied in material achievements and in a fixed form of tradition and carried on by some sort of social organization – then there is no doubt that even the lowest savage communities have the beginnings of science, however rudimentary. Most epistemologists would not, however, be satisfied with such a minimum definition of science, for it might apply to the rules of an art or craft as well. They would maintain that the rules of science must be laid down explicitly, open to control by experiment and critique by reason. They must not only be rules of practical behavior, but theoretical laws of knowledge. Even accepting this stricture, however, there is hardly any doubt that many of the principles of savage knowledge are scientific in this sense.”

The Duality of Initiation
In his attempt to gain a clearer understanding of whether the primitive mind has “one domain of reality or two”, Malinowski found a “profane world of practical activities and rational outlook” along-side, but distinct from “the sacred region of cult and belief.”

With regard to initiation, Malinowski reported two consequent sets of rites:
i) The physical ordeal – a protracted period of seclusion sometimes accompanied by fasting and various forms of preparation (perhaps painted skin markings, certain clothes or other artifacts), followed by submission to an act of bodily mutilation, such as a small incision, the knocking out of a tooth, circumcision, or penile subincision.
ii) A less dramatic, but in reality more important, psychological aspect of initiation then begins – “the systematic instruction of the youth in sacred myth and tradition, the gradual unveiling of tribal mysteries and the exhibition of sacred objects.” It is by the latter process that individuals become initiates – indoctrinated into a particular mysticism – and learn to apprehend the world though a particular cultural lens (worldview).

Mysticisms are no less mystical for the modern and postmodern mind, than for the ancient and primitive one. Take as example Nudge theory – a development of the behavioral and social sciences. “Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not.”

“Initiation is a typically religious act … the ceremony and its purpose are one … the function of such acts in society [is to] create mental habits and social usages of inestimable value to the group … initiation brings the novice into relationship with higher powers and personalities, such as the Guardian Spirits and Tutelary Divinities.”
– Malinowski (1948)

“Of all qualities, truth to tradition is the most important. A society that makes its tradition sacred gains an inestimable, irrational advantage of power and permanence. Beliefs and practices that put a halo of sanctity around tradition, marking it as supernatural, will have a ‘survival value’ for the type of civilization in which they have evolved.” Yet, as stated earlier, supernature cannot in principle exist because human conceptions or apprehensions of supernatural agency necessarily exist as aspects of natural, organic, physical phenomena (i.e. organismal entropy-reducing systems), and as social behaviors emerging from collectives of such phenomena. Sanctity and sacredness, though apparently causally disconnected from our human scale of observation, serve and impress us as values of morale and survival – development, propagation, dispersal, multiplication – vegetation.

Metaphysics – Logos of the Vegetative Principle
“Propagation and nutrition stand first and foremost among the vital concerns of man.”
– Malinowski (1948)

Nutrition (growth) stands before propagation – that is to say, one cannot propagate without first having grown – the principles of growth and reproduction (multiplication, vegetation) are intertwined, holding true for all known life-systems, and might also be argued for mountains, rivers, stars, black holes, galaxies… The vegetative principle is intimately paired with individuality and sociality – the former (individual growth and propagation) is necessary for the latter (emergent sociality and culture).

Sequential physical phenomenology of the vegetative principle:
As a necessary and direct physical consequence of the localized entropy-reducing processes mediated by biological materials, organismal foraging (behavior) must emerge. Thus, behaviors are fundamentally and necessarily, dynamic embodiments (organismal developments, vegetations) of a physical and functional coupling between the sensory mechanisms of an organism (empirical perceptions) and response mechanisms (metabolic switch, motility, etc.). Furthermore, fundamental behavioral mechanisms are both, mediated and modulated by direct transfer, from the environment to the organism, of energy-laden environmental materials – signals (see NOTE B).

Social foraging (sociality) is necessarily dependent upon organismal behaviors, but reaches beyond these – by downward causation, to fortify the founding biological process of localized entropy-reduction, and by supervenience, rendering a (non)causal superposition of a physical and abstract social reality.

Critically, the mechanisms of social foraging (communicative signaling, signal interpretation and signal-based action) do not necessarily transfer energy-laden environmental materials directly to the organism, but instead comprise an understanding (a collective strategic knowledge) of both, energy-laden materials and signal-laden materials/properties – among phototrophs, shading by other organisms is a signal-laden property – a limited common good (see: The Common Good I and II).

Knowledge is thus dependent upon (re)active and (co)operative individual organisms, within an energy/signal-laden physical material matrix – the social environment. A complex thus comprised exists as a distributed body of knowledge – that is to say, knowledge is an organismal abstraction (pattern, or map) composed of physical and material signals that represent the state of the environment. And naturally, how to make (entropy-reduce) the best of it.

Sociality and knowledge, though not completely identical, are intimately and physically – not necessarily completely materially – coupled, emerging as the effect of physically mediated abstract symbolism. We may thus confirm biosemiosis as deeply rooted in the evolutionary scheme of life-systems.

Proposed here, is that one developmental form (dynamic embodiment, vegetation) of this fundamental sociophysical mechanism, has in modernity come to be called Science, and that this same sociophysical mechanism has progressed through what were once called natural philosophy and natural theology – together alchemy. Scientific behavior did not spontaneously emerge via the scientific revolution during the Enlightenment – only our modern understanding of Science did.

The Root Brain de-brained
Durkheim suggested that reason alone does not negate the idea that inanimate bodies (plants, ponds, rivers, mountains, stars, galaxies, etc.) may be animated by some undefined natural force, as animal bodies are, even though modern scientific understanding has not easily accommodated this idea.

The development of molecular biology, has greatly increased the scope and depth of knowledge of biological processes, and is now beginning to allow an understanding of plant bodies as sensing, (re)active and social – animated. Fascinatingly, this has allowed for observations of assumed intelligent behaviors among plants. Over a century after Darwin proposed the root brain hypothesis, Trewavas (2003) [5] reported a study conducted in 1974 by David Stenhouse, in which a tentative definition of animal intelligence was stated as:
Adaptively variable behavior within the lifetime of an individual – with greater adaptive variability (behavioral diversification) associated with greater intelligence.

Trewavas related the long-standing opinion that behavior equates with movement, and since plants move at rates that are for the most part imperceptible to humans, the plant Kingdom has, from the time of Aristotle, been relegated to “unintelligent vegetation”. However, as a result of the continuous changeability and uncertainty of environmental nutritive conditions, the development of sessile organisms is necessarily plastic throughout individual lifetimes. Plasticity is by all accounts reported as being adaptive and variable between environmental conditions, thus leading to the conclusion that sessile life systems must incorporate computational elements. Trewavas argues that as all plants exhibit adaptive plasticity within individual lifetimes, they must all exhibit intelligent behavior, in accordance with the definition given by Stenhouse. As examples, Trewavas relates the finding of signal transduction within plant tissues as well as between plants, and of the close similarity and often completely identical messaging molecules found in plants and animals. Of particular interest was the recognition that complex macromolecular assemblages are transported between plant cells, as this function has the capacity to transfer very complex and subtle differences of message, as was exposed for astroglial syncytia and slime molds in earlier chapters, titled Insanity of Genius and Anatomy of Genius.

Two forms of memory have been recognized in plants; the storage of information from previous signaling paired with an information retrieval capacity, and the ability to interact with and modify a current signal pathway. Furthermore, as individual organisms live in varied niches within their fundamental habitat, each individual must be capable of recognizing very subtle variations of the niche in which it is situated, from the fundamental habitat, and to specifically adapt to these. This capability represents physiological plasticity, which must be conducted under tight regulatory feedback systems, if healthy development (fitness) of the individual is to ensue.

Trewavas concluded by posing a question which shows how little we understand about the nature of vegetation, as well as what we think we mean by use of the word ‘intelligence’:
“If we accept that plants are capable of intelligent behavior, then how is this intelligence accomplished without a brain?”
He has suggested that intelligent behavior is an emergent property, resulting from the interactions of individual cells living as part of a larger cellular collective.

Deep Ecology
In a paper titled Deep Ecology versus Ecofeminism, Robert Sessions (1991) [6] told that Arne Næss coined the label “deep ecology” in The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movements (1973), and that Næss is seen as the seminal thinker of the deep ecology movement.

Four fundamental characteristics of deep ecology:
i) The well-being and flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth have value in themselves. These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purpose.
ii) Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.
iii) Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs.
iv) The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of non-human life requires such a decrease.

“Naess and the many deep ecologists who agree with him begin by asserting the fundamental equality and inherent value of all beings and then draw inferences for human action from their original anti-anthropomorphism.”
– Bourdeau (2014)

However, Auguste Comte must be credited as the first modern academic to express “a deep awareness of what man and animals have in common”, and that “cooperation between men is continuous with phenomena of which biology gives further examples.”

The Western (now Global) anthropocentric attitude:
i) Non-human nature has no value in itself.
ii) Humans (and/or God, if theistic) create value.
iii) Humans have the right (business would say obligation) to do as they please in the non-human world as long as they do not harm other human interests.

Diverse specific alternatives to anthropocentrism are offered by deep ecologists, though the general consensus appears to be the proposition of a higher unity in the diversity of the world. In a similar vein of thinking, ecofeminist K. Warren (1987) has suggested that traditional male-identified beliefs, values and attitudes, render assumptions of status and prestige; that a patriarchal conceptual framework is characterized by value-hierarchies, and hence a domination logic that legitimizes inequality. Further, she suggested that before the greater/lesser metaphor, one would have seen only that there exists diversity; “everything is interconnected with everything else; all parts of an ecosystem have equal value; there is no free lunch; ‘nature knows best’; healthy, balanced ecosystems must maintain diversity; there is unity in diversity.”

“Women are identified with nature and the realm of the physical; men are identified with the human and the realm of the mental”.
– Karen Warren (1990)

Warren exposed the parallel conceptualizations of the domination of women by men and the domination of nature by humans, posing that:
i) Humans, not nature, possess the capacity to consciously and radically change the environment in which they live.
ii) The capacity and execution of conscious and radical change to the environment in which one lives is morally superior to a lack of such capacity and/or execution.
iii) If x is morally superior to y, then x is morally justified in subordinating y. Thus, humans are assumed to be morally justified in subordinating nature.

The parallel conceptualization of domination is rendered by replacing the words ‘humans’ with ‘men’ and ‘nature’ with ‘women’. Furthermore, Warren proposed that the second and third premises of the argument are normative value assumptions; without them normative arguments for domination of women/nature fail. In this light, ecological and feminist perspectives are equivalent, anyone taking an anti-feminist stand simultaneously takes an anti-naturist stand.

Sessions (1991) told that the core of deep ecology calls for a new (or the return to an old) sensibility. Modem humans have lost touch with nature and thus with their own natures – we no longer feel the rhythms of nature within ourselves, we have split ourselves from the world (dualism), and we live at a distance – alienated from what is natural – leaving us fearful, insecure and able to deal with the world only on our own terms – with control. We have become insensitive to ourselves and others by losing our natural sensibilities. Deep ecologists look to holistic traditions for suggestions about how to experience the world.

“Multi-faceted high level self-realization is more easily reached through a spartan life-style than through the material standard of average citizens of industrial states.”
– Arne Næss (1986)

In conclusion, Sessions suggested that spotted owls and aquifers are not our relatives in the same way as other humans can be. Our task is no less than to change our cultural morals, to exchange our dominant worldview for one in which our relationships with the elements and inhabitants of the nonhuman, as well as the human world, are comprehended as egalitarian – equal but different.

In review of the deep ecology movement, George Sessions (1987) [7] told that “Saint Francis was an isolated thinker, urging a return to an animistic ecological egalitarianism in the thirteenth century. As a result of the rise of the scientific/technological worldview, and the modern version of the human domination of the Earth, a countercultural surge of nature-oriented thought developed in the eighteenth century.” And that in the seventeenth century, during the rise of modern science, Spinoza argued against Hobbes’ self-centered materialism and submission to Leviathan (authoritarian, centralized governance) and also argued against Descartes’ mind-body dualism; instead arguing for the establishment of an holistic non-anthropocentric pantheism. In so doing Spinoza influenced “Goethe and other writers of the European Romantic movement, now understood as a nature-oriented, countercultural force aligned against the rise of the narrowly scientific industrial society.”

In the late 1940’s Aldo Leopold recognized the science of ecology as “the outstanding discovery of the twentieth century”. However, it was not until the rise of the Age of Ecology, in the 1960’s, that a wider public perception of ecology and environmentalism emerged. “It is generally acknowledged that Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring [1962] ushered in what can appropriately be called the Age of Ecology. Her attack on pesticides coincided with increasing public awareness of the extent of pollution and the overall environmental destruction that had taken place since the Second World War. Carson’s indictment of pesticide use confirmed growing doubts concerning the technological ability of humans to manage the resources of the planet successfully.” She also challenged anthropocentrism: “The ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man.” The Age of Ecology has allowed for “a religious and philosophical revolution of the first magnitude.” Sessions told of G. Tyler Miller, and of Warwick Fox, who observed that “the ecological revolution will be the most all-encompassing revolution in the history of mankind”, and that “deep ecologists were contributing to a ‘paradigm shift’ of comparable significance to that associated with Copernicus.”

“Deep ecology represents a philosophical challenge to the metaphysical and ethical anthropocentrism that has dominated Western culture, as a result of classical Greek humanism and Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions.”
– Sessions (1987)

In The Quiet Crisis (1963) Stuart Udall pointed to the changing attitudes of the 1960’s, towards the nature religions and “land wisdom” of the American Indians: “Today the conservation movement finds itself turning back to ancient Indian land ideas, to the Indian understanding that we are not outside of nature, but of it … we are recovering a sense of reverence for the land.” By the early 1980’s, many academics had come to consensus regarding the spiritual-ecological way of life, practiced by primal societies throughout the world. The general agreement was that an “ecocentric” religious approach, in which everything is respected in its own right, seems to account for tens of thousands of years of cultural success, and that the histories, worldviews and practices of ancient human cultures can provide moderns with good quality understandings of the human/Nature relationship.

Further, Sessions told that in The Arrogance of Humanism David Ehrenfeld argued that “exclusive emphasis upon reason has divorced us from the crucial survival functions of instinct, emotion, and intuition”, and promoted “ecocentric and religious reasons for protecting ecological diversity”. Personally, I do not feel divorced from instinct, emotion, or intuition, though I would admit that these unmeasurable, unquantifiable, aspects of human nature are undervalued in our modern worldview. As will be clear for anyone who has experienced a regular, normal school or work environment. Culturally valued behaviors in modernity are machine-like: consistency, predictability, capacity, efficiency – all are quantifiable, and generally represented probabilistically, as statistical percentages of a norm.

Apparently, John Stuart Mill foresaw a stationary state of population and economy. As the interrelated global economies falter and begin to flatten there is talk of “growthless economics”, and of course the human population on Earth is also approaching environmental, and possibly psychological psycho-social limiting factors.

A new Ethics, a new Metaphysics, a new Religion
Passmore thought the two models of the human-nature relationship – Platonic “stewardship” and Aristotelean “man perfecting nature” – were converging. He endorsed them as the West’s unique contribution to a sound contemporary approach to nature. However, Passmore later backed away from that narrow anthropocentrism, saying “We do need a new metaphysics which is genuinely not anthropocentric … The working out of such a metaphysics is … the most important task which lies ahead of philosophy.”

Arne Næss argued that “the emergence of ecologists from their former relative obscurity marks a turning point in our scientific communities. But their message is twisted and misused.” The shallow movement is a short-term, pragmatic reform approach, in his view, concerned mainly with the symptoms of environmental disease such as pollution and resource depletion. Its objective, Næss claimed, was anthropocentric and parochial – “the health and affluence of people in the developed countries.” The long-range “deep” movement was proposing a major realignment in our thinking about humans and nature consistent with an ecological perspective. Næss claimed that the experiences of ecologists and others associated with wild nature gave rise during the 1960s to scientific conclusions and intuitions that were amazingly similar. These included the awareness of the internal interrelatedness of ecosystems; ecological egalitarianism (all species have an equal right to live and blossom); the principles of diversity and symbiosis; an anti-social-class position; the appreciation of ecological complexity leading to the awareness of the “human ignorance of biospherical relationships – [The ecological field worker] acquires a deep-seated respect, or even veneration, for ways and forms of life, the principles of local autonomy and decentralization.”

Næss described ecological egalitarianism as “an intuition experienced by those in the deep ecology movement, not an ethical theory to be defended by rational argument.”

“Fritjof Capra has pointed to the patriarchal dominance over both women and nature in Western culture since Biblical times. The masculine emphasis upon scientific method and rational analytical thinking, he claimed, “has led to attitudes that are profoundly antiecological.” Rational thinking is linear, whereas “ecological awareness arises from an intuition of nonlinear thinking … The environmental crisis, therefore, is a result of overemphasizing our masculine side and neglecting the feminine (intuitive wisdom … ecological awareness, nurturing, and caring).”

“Modern Western ethics assumes the classical idea of discrete atomistic individuals. And the positivist fact-value distinction, also typical of modern Western ethics, is based upon the subject-object distinction. The new physics undermines both those views … Quantum theory negates the subject-object, fact-value dichotomies to which modern value theory has dutifully conformed.” – “A sound contemporary cosmology failed to develop after the seventeenth century scientific revolution, according to Stephen Toulmin. Instead, Descartes and his successors “set humanity over against nature, and converted the natural world itself into a mere thing or object.” The new physics, Toulmin believes, provides a new opportunity to develop a sound cosmology, which goes beyond fact/value, subject/object distinctions. The new cosmology and theology of nature, he argues, is already developing based on the popular movements of “green philosophy” and “white philosophy,” an integration of ecology with spiritual psychology. Using John Muir and limnologist Evelyn Hutchinson as examples, Toulmin claims that ecology as pure science and ecology as social philosophy can be abstracted and separated, but no sharp divisions can be drawn in the real world. Pointing to the distinction between anthropocentric and nonanthropocentric environmental approaches, he argues that the cosmology and natural religion of the future will be essentially along deep ecological lines.”

“What has been called the New Age/Aquarian Conspiracy movement is largely inspired by the writings of R. Buckminster Fuller and Pierrede Chardin. Both are highly anthropocentric and have an unquestioned faith in high technology and a belief that the destiny of humans is to manage the evolutionary processes of the Earth. Jeremy Rifkin claims that some New Age planners want to eliminate evolutionary processes in order to bring about Algeny – the genetic manipulation and development of all life on Earth. While lip service is paid to ecological ideals, New Age ideology is in many ways antiecological. The New Age version of stewardship sees humans acting as copilots of Spaceship Earth, making management decisions from information gathered through vast computer communication systems.”

Berman distinguished between two types of holism – a sensuous, situational, living approach to process, and an abstract form characteristic of many philosophical spokesmen for “the New Age.” The latter, now in a more appealing form, is the last phase of classical science. “The real issue,” according to Berman, is not mechanism versus holism, but “whether the philosophical system is embodied or disembodied.” Thus, Berman also acknowledged holism and questioned the validity of the Cartesian breakage. In Anatomy of Genius, I have argued in similar fashion, against the substance dualism and “nonphysical substance” (mind/body problem), of Descartes, favoring instead holism and animism.

Collective States of Subjectivity: Church, Totem, Rite, Belief and Spirit
Durkheim taught that religions exist because humans live as social collectives in anthropogenic states. This is a very wide filter setting indeed, arguably including all instituted human activities – all emergent phenomena of human social interactions. And indeed, Durkheim seems to have intended this meaning, identifying any moral community as a Church and recognizing that there are many and varied Churches.

“A group comprised of individuals who have mutually recognized and recognizable identities, which set them in a common and shared, human, cognitive and normative setting.” In Kantian terms, a church or moral community is a collective weltanschauung (worldview), examples of which may be made of nations, families and/or households, corporations, academies, scientific and religious disciplines, etc. The domestic cult comprises a family; the corporate cult comprises a corporation (a corporate culture). These “private religions” or “small Churches” are “special forms of a broader religion … chapels in a larger Church.” This definition of moral community lends itself well to the sciences; Physicists, for example, are not biologists, each scientific discipline comprises a group of individuals who are mutually recognized and recognizable – as physicists (the chapel of Physics), or as biologists (the chapel of Biology) – collected together, the various scientific disciplines may be said to comprise the moral community of science (the Church of Science).

It should be plain to see that scientific moral communities, as well as religions ones, set things apart (categorize) – electrons are not atoms, insects are not organs, stars are not galaxies, and disciplines differ (physics is not chemistry, chemistry is not biology, etc.). The sciences surely do create, and as conservatively as possible, hold beliefs and enact practices that unite all the individuals who adhere to them into a single moral community called Science.

Malinowski agreed with Durkheim’s concept of totemism, as developing reverence and a sense of gratefulness for the animals and plants upon which a human population depends. Simultaneously, the killing and slaughter of individuals of these same revered species is necessary for human survival. They told that “we find a moral value and a biological significance in totemism, in a system of beliefs, practices, and social arrangements.”

i) The outward and visible form of the totemic principle – the worldly expression of the spirit of something. Modern science refers to ‘outward and visible forms’ as empirically observable phenomena, and as we shall see later, there appears also to be a ‘spirit of science’, which expresses the totemic principle of science through scientific theories, laws of nature and what might be termed lineages of vegetative propagation.
ii) The symbol of a particular society – “a mark that is borne by everything that in any way belongs to the clan”.

i) A negative rite (differentiation) is characterized by setting a person and/or object apart from mundane everyday activities and use, through various socially recognized and respected procedures.
ii) A positive rite (integration) is characterized by the bringing together of sanctified people and/or objects, through various socially recognized and respected procedures.

Durkheim chose to observe religious ideas as “done” – performed or enacted as a set of rites. Critically, without the ritual acts associated with the definition of the religious idea, there is no possibility of a shared, collective understanding of the idea. Precisely the same may be said of scientific ideas, which do not exist as aspects of science without being enacted and communicated. Formal symbolisms, such as languages, mathematics or diagrammatic schematic representations, though not necessarily conveying scientific or religious ideas, are not purely abstract – devoid of action – as may be evidenced by any attempt to communicate an idea without some form of action.

Spirits, theories and laws may seem rather more abstract than physical manipulation of material symbols, though all are forms of abstraction. The symbol of a particular society may be an image or sculpture of a Kangaroo, described by Durkheim in the case of the Kangaroo clan, or it may be the letterhead or coat of arms of a particular department or university, or it may be a corporate logo, a family name, etc.

Aboriginal totemic representations, including that of the Kangaroo

Dominus illuminatio mea – The Lord is my light – the motto of the University of Oxford appears (left) on the University’s coat of arms; Trinity college Cambridge (right), named after the holy trinity – “College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity within the Town and University of Cambridge of King Henry the Eighth’s foundation”

Referring to subjectivity, Durkheim asked “what is more open to derailment, from one moment to the next, whimsically or in the cold light of observable fact? – what is more fleeting and difficult to observe than subjective experience/belief? Yet no sane person – not even a scientist – would with honesty and conviction tell that the subjective experiences and beliefs – realized by them – are not real”. In his search for a scientific understanding of religion, he asked – by what method(s) may science observe the objects of religion, and thus understand them as real? A fascinating question leading from this is whether or not, or perhaps better, to what extent the performance of the methods (rites) of fundamental particle physics realizes the nature that is empirically observed?

“To leave belief unexamined is to gain a mentally incompetent human” – “Without human imagining beyond reality as the senses show it, science would be impossible.”
– Durkheim

Duality of the Sacred and the Mundane
The idea that correctly performed rites produce desired results, automatically – without divine intervention – is widespread among cults. Explaining the primary importance of the physical aspects of ceremonies that nearly all cults recognize. “Religious formalism … arises from the fact that, having in and of themselves the source of their efficacy, the formulas to be pronounced and the movements to be executed would lose efficacy if they were not exactly the same as those that had already proved successful.” – This statement is highly reminiscent of the formalism intrinsic to modern scientific methodology. A specific experimental protocol is strictly adhered to precisely because it has proven effective. A scientific discipline may thus be identified as a cult that propagates a certain core set of unchanging rites. Of course, this is not to say that the cults do not develop over time, or that specific rites associated with them are not adapted to changing environmental conditions – the conditions may change, the truth does not – both Religion and Science are complex, adaptive systems of social behavior.

As we shall see during an exposé of pre-scientific, classical and ancient worldviews, what we now distinguish as religion and science were once held to be one and the same pursuit, one and the same knowledge, and both as well as their off-shoots have been suggested as political corruptions of a single, ancient, orally transferred knowledge predating written language – the prisca sapientia.

Durkheim taught that rites do not necessitate gods, indeed, some rites are understood to derive gods – “Not all religious virtues emanate from divine personalities … thus religion is broader than the idea of gods or spirits and so cannot be defined exclusively in those terms.” Regarding the sacred and the profane, both Durkheim and Malinowski spoke of the fundamental duality of the two realms – “the sacred and the profane are always and everywhere conceived by the human intellect as separate genera … while the forms of the contrast are variable, the fact of it is universal.”

The duality of sacredness and profaneness is universally considered to be absolute, thus belonging fully to one is to have fully left the other. From thence, said Durkheim, comes monasticism. “The mind experiences deep repugnance about mingling, even simple contact, between the corresponding things, because the notion of the sacred is always and everywhere separate from the notion of the profane in man’s mind, and because we imagine a kind of logical void between them.”

The mètre des Archives. This object, the useful purpose of which was never mundane, profane measurement, may in Durkheimian terms be understood as a sacred scientific object.

“When a certain number of sacred things have relations of coordination and subordination with one another, so as to form a system that has a certain coherence and does not belong to any other system of the same sort, then the beliefs and rites, taken together, constitute a religion.” Thus, religion may be understood as emerging from a complex interaction of sacred things. The mètre des Archives was an aspect of precisely this kind of complex system, it’s length value equaling 1/10,000,000 of one half of a planetary meridian, the latter (fraction and meridian) are themselves sacred – set apart and untouchable.

Even though nothing in sense experience seems likely to have suggested the idea of a radical duality, asked Durkheim, why is the essential nature of sacred things different from the essential nature of profane things? – what lead us to perceive the world as two heterogeneous worlds? The reader will surely be aware that fundamental duality may be demonstrated physically, by observation of quanta, and even by conglomerates of material at the microscopic scale. This apparent fact is deeply mysterious and not easily understood – in fact, not understood – in the context of modern science. Perhaps we envision reality as fundamentally dual as a result of our neural architecture? The left and right hemispheres of our brains are each essentially different, albeit interconnected, processors. Perhaps then, the universe is fundamentally one whole system, and duality is perceptually apparent as a result of the structural duality of our brains? With this idea in mind, we may pose an interesting question:
Do biological systems such as bacteria, fungi, plants, insects, even entire forests – all of which may be defined as acting socially and intelligently without brains – perceive reality as dual or singular?

Notes – Part I
A) It seems prudent to put the issue of supernature out of our path of investigation as definitively as possible. To this end, it should be said that we cannot even imagine a supernatural phenomenon, because any such imagination would necessarily occur within the physical and thus natural frame of a mind, or minds – thus, any presumed supernatural subject being imagined is necessarily part of material reality, and so must be natural. Subjects, whether observed empirically or unempirically (via imagination) are real, physically-mediated natural phenomena, upon which we may individually and/or collectively reflect and act.

B) In the case of primary producers, specifically phototrophs, though photons may be formalized within the bounds of theoretical physics as material (massive), it may be easier to understand that photons are physically and causally linked to energetic exchanges occurring within the materials of the photosynthetic apparatus.

Bibliography – Part I
1) E. Durkheim, “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life” (1912), translated by K. Fields (1995), The Free Press – Simon & Schuster Inc.,

2) B. Malinowski (edited by R. Redfield), “Magic Science and Religion and Other Essays”, (1948), The Free Press, PDF available:

3) P. Humphreys, “How Properties Emerge”, (1997), Philosophy of Science 64, p. 1-17, Word doc. available,

4) Sir J. Frazer, The Golden Bough, (1854-1941), PDF available via The Project Gutenberg:

5) A. Trewavas, “Aspects of Plant Intelligence”, (2003), Annals of Botany, vol. 92, p. 1-20, PDF available:

6) R. Sessions, “Deep Ecology versus Ecofeminism”, (1991), Hypatia, Vol. 6, No. 1, p. 90-107,

7) G. Sessions, “The Deep Ecology Movement: A Review”, (1987), Environmental Review, Vol. 11, No. 2, p.105-125,


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