Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Creativity and Life

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Creativity and Life

Article excerpt

A "return to Bergson" does not only mean a renewed admiration for a great philosopher, but a renewal or an extension of his project today, in relation to the transformations of life and society, in parallel with the transformations of science. Deleuze, Bergsonism "Afterword" to English translation

I

DARWIN'S FUNDAMENTAL INSIGHT is that evolution consists in "descent with heritable variations that are sifted by natural selection to retain the adaptive changes." (1) Contemporary Darwinian biology tends to be restricted to an exclusively twofold focus: first, the gene, which is conceived as the basic element of biological reality, and hence of life, to the extent that it represents the fundamental unit of heredity; and second, selection, which is conceived as the sole source of order in biological organisms, to the extent that inherited genetic variations leading to a better adaptation of an organism to its environment are selected to survive within this environment. This focus is fundamentally reductionist and functional. The integrity of the organism is sacrificed for genes which, it is argued, simply make organisms as a vehicle for them to exploit varying environments, the better to enhance their own chances of survival. This is the position that has been proposed by Richard Dawkins, in such works as The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker. In turn Daniel Dennett has sought, in Darwin's Dangerous Idea, to demonstrate that natural selection is itself merely a mechanical, algorithmic, process. (2) The position of Dennett and Dawkins represents what Stuart Kauffman has characterized as "the central, settled view of almost all contemporary biologists." (3)

Nevertheless, a number of biologists, predominantly working within the emerging sciences of complexity, have begun to challenge this reductionist hegemony. Their challenge consists, on the one hand, in a critique of the viability of the thesis that random genetic mutations allied to selection are the sole contributory factors to evolution. On the other hand, there is an attempt to show that when the evolutionary perspective is shifted from genes in isolation to the organism of which the genes are a constituent part, and in particular to the relations that hold between the parts of the organism, it is possible to avoid the apparent nonviability that undermines the reductionist model. In briefly detailing the twin tracks of this challenge to the reductionist model, I will indicate how the position developed by the complexity theorists bears a striking resemblance to the critique leveled against the mechanist and finalist interpretations of neo-Darwinism by Bergson in Creative Evolution. I will also suggest that one of the most fundamental principles underpinning the complexity theorists' alternative to the reductionist model--namely, the logic of relations--is closely allied to a principle which can sustain a coherent development of the differential explication of Bergsonism advanced by Deleuze. In so doing, I hope to establish that such a relational ontology derived from Bergsonism could offer a metaphysics of the new sciences of life in much the same way as Bergson intended his reading of Einstein in Duration and Simultaneity to offer a metaphysics of special relativity.

II

At the outset of his most recent book, entitled Investigations, Stuart Kauffman, the preeminent complexity theorist, makes a series of provocative claims. Despite all the remarkable advances made in the field of molecular biology over the last few decades, it remains the case, Kauffman asserts, that "the core of life itself remains shrouded from view.... [W]hat makes a cell alive is still not clear to us." (4) Moreover, 130 years on from the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, we still "do not understand evolution." (5) These profound and interconnected shortcomings may well be a consequence, Kauffman argues, of the fact that the science of life does not fit into the dominant paradigm of enquiry of physics and the other natural sciences. …

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