Friday, September 21, 2012

My Father's Death, The Omega Point and the Explanatory Gap part 1

     During his final illness, Dad found solace in the philosophy of Teilhard de Chardin, a renegade Jesuit whose teachings were denounced by the Church(typical of the folks Dad admired).  When I went to see him in  2012, he asked me for my thoughts about the evolution of consciousness and life.  I gave him what I considered to be a textbook Darwinian answer to the effect that it's all random with no goal or point whatsoever, that development is determined locally by pressure of environment on the available genetic pools etc, etc....  Dad had clearly determined otherwise.  Evolution was, and is, in what I take to be his view, a developmental process that has more in common with the enlargement and expression of a universal Mind one finds in Hegel than the ad hoc adaptations I see in standard Darwinism.  He explicitly mentioned Teilhard de Chardin to me at the time.

     Related ideas such as rapidly accelerating rates of technological change, including the so-called singularity, , and various incarnations of de Chardin's notion of the Omega Point, abound, including in the rather strange writings of scientists like Frank Tipler(author of a textbook on modern physics).   Other related ideas include the Noosphere, , with origins both in Chardin and in the once uber-famous, but now virtually forgotten, Henri Bergson. 

     Dad seemed to believe at the end that somehow the next phase of evolution would include a reconstitution of extended family communities.  I never fully grasped the relation between the extended family he was speaking of and universal evolution, but it meant something to him.  Normally folks think of modernity as the enemy of the romantic notion of extended families, but perhaps Dad had hit upon some other notion, perhaps because distance is erased by instant communication, but this is speculation. 

     It not surprising therefore that Dad opted for a 'green' burial.  It would have been important in his eyes to reintegrate the remains of his last substance to the Earth and the universal process. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for relating your conversation with your dad, and for your own perspective. It seems an exceptional bond to be able to have such a conversation. In spite of a clear evolution in the specifics, your dad always seemed to believe deeply in a force beyond the obvious mechanics of life. Although I have no idea what a "reconstitution of extended family communities" might mean, that sounds like the Frank Glenn I knew.

    A couple of years ago I wrote to him that when I knew him in college he seemed so sure in his religious beliefs, while my own rigidity of faith was, I was not able to admit until years later, a thinly masked uncertainty.

    As I grew older, driven by the desire to find out at least a bit about who I am, I gradually came to admit what I had intuited since I was a teenager but had not dared admit, namely, that I had never had any kind of religious experience. God knows, I tried! I felt a bit like Morales in "Chorus Line" whose coach admonished her to look deeply into the bottom of her soul. Her despairing response was, "I felt nothing." (I hope my memory of that quote is accurate.)

    I told Frank in a email a couple of years ago that a religion professor I once knew said he did not see how anyone could take religion seriously without some sense of the numinous. Frank wrote that he had, indeed, had some kind of experience as a child that left him sure there was something. (I have tried just now to find that email, but I must have mindlessly dumped it when cleaning out my Outlook archives.)

    The more I have observed, and after reading a bit, mostly in recent years (and never at the depth your dad read) I have come to the view that life just is. It is a great paradox because it is the same at all times, and yet it continually evolves. But we human beings seem unable to comprehend the goal of that evolution. Or the purpose. Maybe the purpose is not knowable; perhaps because it is so intimately wrapped up in the experience of life given in such disparate portions to each of us.

    I admired your dad for his vision of that purpose and his continued pursuit of it. And I admire your clear intelligence and interest in writing about it. Thank you for prompting me to think one more time about such matters.