Departing from his usual multi-subject essay form, biophysicist Morowitz (The Kindly Dr. Guillotin, 1997, etc.) makes a great leap at a theory of complexity based on “emergences.”
But doesn’t land on his feet, instead hovering somewhere in mid-air as he envisions the next emergence as one in which humankind will take on the mantle of “the mind, the volition, and the transcendence of the immanent God.” Human beings will then be obliged to create an ethics that optimizes human life and moves to the spiritual plane. If this sounds like Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), it should. Morowitz champions Teilhard as a much-ridiculed figure who tried his best to reconcile science and religion. So does Morowitz. His concept of emergences is a trendy one as the pendulum swings from the enormous successes of reductionist science (genetics; molecular biology) to attempts to explain complex “epiphenomena” like mind and consciousness. Morowitz traces the development of complexity in a series of 28 emergences from the Big Bang and star and planet formation to successive stages of evolution on Earth. Here, he goes to his habitual short-essay form, taking three or four pages to describe each emergence—for the most part very skillfully, though not without occasional lapses into technical jargon. He also indicates that selection or pruning principles must accompany emergences. This leads him to suggest that conflicts in Ireland or the Middle East may have as their basis the principle of competitive exclusion of hominids, in which two non-interbreeding populations competing for the same niche create enormous stress that ends with the elimination of one group or the creation of isolating barriers. It’s all quite glib, and Morowitz, in his final chapters, blithely summarizes Western philosophy and monotheistic religions (while admitting he has overlooked half the world) to come up with his transcendent/immanent ideas.
Convincing? No. There’s nothing here to contradict scientists who claim we owe our existence to chance and chance alone.