Will Singularity Happen in 2217? On José Díez Faixat’s Neo-Neodarwinist Theory of Evolution
Future is a broad theme. Most of the time an attempt to get it means going through the prism of one particular field or set of trends. For example, I once focused on the integration of children to the workplace, our little darlings being a source of inspiration and freshness to adults and workplace exposition helping them to prepare their own future. Another time the sujet du jour revolved around several security challenges the IoT must overcome for a safe development.
But not all ways to the future need to limit the scope of investigation. Sometimes the exact opposite takes place. Kurzweil’s idea of singularity consists in humanity merging with technology and each of us with everyone else. This would affect nearly all fields we work with. Augmenting returns, accelerating growths, accelerated history, a general trend of ever-increasing interdependence, would concur so that all paths lead to singularity. Ken Wilber’s theory of integral consciousness follows the same intuition on a more metaphysical manner.
Today I would like to discuss one of these grand theories or meta-theories. Its author, José Díez Faixat, began as a student of architecture before turning to philosophy and what he calls non-dualistic mysticism. His main book was edited by Ervin László, one of the leading thinkers in integral theory, and the least I can say is that Faixat is a big thinker with big ideas. The first time I met with his ideas I wondered whether he was a genius or a stark-raving lunatic. Then I remembered Nietzsche’s famous motto: you need to get some chaos in yourself to sire a dancing star.
An Integral Theory (of Really Everything)
Grand theories of the world are fundamental for us to know who we are, where we stand, and where we’re going. Philosopher Alasdair McIntyre made a point that we are always living inside at least one narrative. Particular facts are barely understood per se, nor are they the basic components of our stories, but they derive their meaning from a broader scheme inside which they occupy a particular place. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
The study of grand theories, narratives, or meta-theories allows for comparing several possible answers to aforementioned questions. Before modernity, the allowed narrative followed the biblical account of Genesis—God made the universe and man, eventually Adam and Eve would fall from paradise, and so on. The advent of modernity spawned a number of competing grand theories: social contractualism, “naturalistic” classical liberalism, Marxist dialectical process towards a classless society and many others. Depending on the narrative one believes in, what we’ll consider as relevant trends or hypothesis about the future will be affected too.
In science, the evolutionary paradigm has become the object of an overwhelming common agreement. Species mutate randomly. Over time, they compete over limited resource, the fittest remains and reproduces. Humans come from a subspecies of apes and evolved enough to become a whole genus, homo, before becoming the species homo sapiens sapiens. Darwinian theory of evolution has been improved over decades as to include Mendelian genetics and population-based genetics, thus giving rise to a Neodarwinian “synthetic theory” still essentially based on the same paradigm. As they say, the best watchmaker is blind.
This paradigm is a bit grim. Darwin himself confessed his sadness at the idea that untold numbers of living beings needed to get ruthlessly eliminated for life as a whole to go forth. Neodarwinism was also fitting inside what philosophers call a physicalist view of the world: the universe is nothing but physical entities and laws, life is but the result of a series of accidents, everything properly human has no meaning per se and no matter what we do the universe will die of entropy. No wonder why in the 60s and 70s a number of youngsters rejected the burden of civilization to follow the twisted hedonism of a “no future” mindset. In a blind, almost dead universe, what difference does it make?
Fortunately science does not force us into resigning ourselves to such an ominous view. For a number of problems have been found inside the Neodarwinian, all-randomness-and-ruthless-selection view.
- First, it is extremely unlikely that a string of random mutations could explain the appearance of complex organs—so unlikely it could hardly have happened repeatedly, as necessary to explain the evident complexity and diversity of living species. This is especially true when we try to understand how new species or subspecies spawn from already complex species. If you mess up randomly with a complex system, odds are you will wreak or break it in at least 99 per cent of cases. Even some beneficial random mutations are way too small to account for, say, the apparition of the eye.
- Second, if randomness and selection were the sole principle of evolution, a lot of missing-link species and malformed individuals should be found as fossils. Problem: they are not. Malformed specimens do exist but they remain an exception, far from how numerous they should be according to the Neodarwinian prediction. This is the classical missing link problem.
- Third, paleontologists did not find gradual change within the fossil records. Rather, the thick layers of earth carefully searched showed long periods of relative similarity between the visible species before a sudden appearance of new ones. Thus “the Darwinian version of a slow, continuous and gradual process has given way to the interpretation characterized by discontinuous, sudden leaps and changes.”
In 1972, Stephen Jay Gould and N. Eldredge published a paper in which they put forth the following scenario: “nature progresses by sudden leaps and profound transformations and not through small adaptations.” This was the beginning of the theory of punctuated equilibriums, where speciation stops for long periods of relative stability before the stasis gets suddenly broken and an evolutionary leap forward takes place. The long periods and leaps can be explained by Black Swan events, that come on the neat theory like a horde of ants at a picnic. However there is no reason why this reshuffling should cause a long-term increase in complexity. Fitness does not imply greater complexity, especially when complex systems show an increased fragility. Something seems to escape natural selection alone. This is where our grand theory comes: not against Darwin, but “beyond” as something superadded on him—or rather integrating him in a wider perspective.
Observing the overall picture of evolution, we can perceive a characteristic arrow in the process with pristine clarity: over time, living beings have mostly proceeded from a simple structure to a more complex one, their psyche and their autonomy increasing in parallel to this process… Laboratory experiments and quantitative formulations confirm the non-accidental character of the evolutionary processes. It is beginning to be evident that the continuous deployment of the organized complexity of the universe, its intrinsic sporadic capacity for sporadic self-organization constitutes a fundamental and profoundly mysterious property of reality. A new and fascinating paradigm is beginning to emerge, that of a creative universe.
Perhaps the mystery of life emerging from organized matter (how can matter organize itself in the first place?) can be explained the same way than the trend towards complexity and consciousness.
José Díez Faixat’s theory roughly says this:
- The universe is endowed with a capacity of creation of species, subspecies, and the like. It can create itself (autopoiesis).
- Explanations do not need to be merely causal in character. Events can be explained teleologically, that is, by reference to a particular end they serve. You cannot account for the heart by merely describing its physical attributes: any satisfactory account must include the fact that a heart exists for the sake of pumping blood inside an organism, and would disappear quickly if it failed to do what it ought to. Ends are interwoven into nature—and they do not fit into pure physics.
- The universe’s rhythm follows cyclical patterns, which once again cannot be explained by physics alone, but show surprising analogies and ubiquitous applications in nature.
- These cycles all fit into a wider cycle, itself following a well-defined end.
- All historical periods from the Big Bang to the end of history fit into these cycles.
For a long time Faixat had “no other company than hundreds of books.” In spite of Gould’s article and growing dissent against Neodarwinism he was more in tune with Teilhard de Chardin, among other thinkers and scientists, than with his own time. Later came a friendlier outlook. Ervin László and Ken Wilber developed their own grand theories which definitely contributed to improve many fields. Biologist and complexity specialist Stuart Kaufman outlined his own theory of life, which agrees with at least the two first tenets aforementioned, with equal critical acclaim.
Is this a fad or the beginning of a deep change in paradigm? Recall that Newton’s theory of universal attraction was widely criticized because it promoted an “occult quality.” We cannot explain attraction after all—only inquire on it. The “autopoietic” quality or power of the universe may seem strange, but perhaps it is no different from attraction, just a bit subtler.
Cycles, Chakras, and Music
Faixat first came up with an intuition from quantum physics and playing music. The former got its birth record when physicists noticed that energy was not emitted in a continuous flow but discontinuously and following precise patterns. Theories that have been build to incorporate this phenomenon show a similarity between the world of electrons and that of musical harmonics. Speaking of music, anyone who plays an instrument knows about standing waves: a string, a tube or a hoop produce a fundamental, uniform sound, that can be divided along with the sections of the playing instrument. (see figures)
According to Faixat, these musical and physical harmonics should be the basis to a relevant analogy with the rest of the universe. “The sudden evolutionary changes in the history of the universe respond precisely to these same standing waves that are the explanatory key of both the subatomic and musical world.” The advent of life, then of man, then of modernity, far from being the result of a series of accidents, would all express the same trend—and all belong to the same accelerating history.
The most fundamental statement of the Pythagoreans was that numbers constitute the unmovable principle of the world; the very essence of reality. When they discovered that the proportions among musical harmonics could be expressed in a simple and exact form, they considered that the cosmos itself was a harmonious system of numerical reasoning: all reality could be expressed by means of relationships among numbers… music was therefore nothing other than the expression of the inner relationships of the cosmos. They even affirmed that all material manifestation was the result of the concert of universal vibrations.
These “vibrations” would translate in a universe “vibrating” and creating always more rapidly. Time would be similar to a guitar string that vibrates from beginning to end but whose vibration would, at each third or two-thirds, produce a peak, leap, or change, following the Golden Number (0.618) Pythagoreans were so enthusiastic about. All cycles are interlocked, each one is shorter than the last but proportional with it, and although there are crucial differences emerging as well as breaks the main feature of the universe would be its absolute unity.
Below are a graph and a table displaying all history as three series of seven cycles:
For example, the beginning of life took place 4.413 million years ago. If we divide in three this duration, we find that prokaryotic cells, which have no nucleus, appeared around 2.940 million years ago, followed by eukaryotic cells, endowed with a nucleus, around 1.470 million years ago. The first event happens at one-third of the total duration of time, the latter at two thirds. The first is a major change. The second is a complete leap that allows for differentiating between plants and animals.
This is one cycle. Two thirds or perhaps 61.8 per cent of total history, yet only one cycle over twenty-one. The following cycle, starting at the aforementioned leap (1.470 million years ago), mentions its first third at 961 million years ago, when the first multicellular organisms emerged, and its second third at 490 million years ago, corresponding to the emergence of the first vertebrates. Faixat insists on the match between historians’ consensus on dates and the proportion between events or turning points that seem to integrate almost by themselves in these cycles.
At the end of the first series, we would witness the appearance of humans as homo habilis, the first representative of our gender, homo.
This subdivision of time into shorter cycles, always signaling by pivotal changes, would pass from the story of life in general to the story of humans in particular. It would take five cycles in B for homo sapiens sapiens to appear, but only two cycles to go from Neolithic (6.100 BC) to Middle Ages philosophical Scholasticism (roughly 1.300 AD). Any really important event would take place within these correspondences and proportions.
Nomadic hunting-gathering tribes domesticate plants and animals and transform into settled agrarian-pastoral societies; agrarian-pastoral societies evolve such technologies as irrigation and crop rotation and transform into agricultural ones; agricultural societies develop handicrafts and simple manufacturing technologies and thus transform into industrial societies; and industrial societies, under the impact of new, mainly information- and communication-oriented technologies, evolve into postindustrial societies.
Following this law of accelerated history, we could foresee an Omega Point coming in year 2217—or perhaps a complete version of Kurzweilian singularity. In all likelihood this would come after a series of crisis and changes in paradigm. These changes are both improvements and moments of creative unbalances.
This looks a lot like Hegel’s philosophy of history. According to this major German philosopher, the world is endowed with a Mind who is a sort of immanent divinity that manages to express itself dialectically through history although more and more universally. Hegel could see cycles going on, sometimes subtly but always decisively. He was also aware of the double aspect, creative and destructive, of these leaps. Hegel’s view was famous for its making no difference between history of the universe, of life, and of humanity—there are leaps and changes but at bottom everything is part of one same process. In Faixat’s view, the universe itself is Hegel’s Mind. The good news is that we are all part of it.
Indeed, Faixat also establishes correspondences between cycles and Hindu chakras. Known in Egypt, China, and perhaps pre-Christian Europe, what we denote today under this name are purported nodes of energy inside the human body. Chakras are mostly known to be the steps of the Kundalini or purported serpent-like energy nested in the pelvis. Due to correspondences between human “microcosm” and the wider “macrocosm”, Faixat thinks of history as a triple rising of Kundalini through chakras understood as necessary steps. For example, the first cycle of each series would be primarily characterized by material improvement, the second by a vibrant development of life, and so on.
The least we can say: Faixat’s view of history and the future is far-reaching. I am not exactly sure of its value. On the one hand most of the correspondences here are based on hypothetical datings that already underwent several reevaluations. Many are less clear than Faixat says they are, especially those bridging historical periods with chakras, and one can be wary of any pre-determined scheme that leads all too easily towards a systematic confirmation bias.
On the other, Faixat’s meta-scientific grand theory makes sense of many facts and relevant ideas that already fit. Modern science was party built on the rejection of the supernatural. Today the supernatural has come back: emergence means that under certain conditions, a new level of being or observation appears, endowed with its own rules, properties, entities… that cannot be deduced from mere “inferior” levels. Science itself appears to point at something rather mysterious at the very heart of the universe. And where modern science seems to meet with a limit, philosophy or hermeneutics—the art of interpretation—can investigate.
If you have some time, and if you are in love with the mysteries of history, science, emergence or singularity, give Faixat a chance. You’ll be in for a treat.
To know more about José Díez Faixat’s vision of the future and the universe, check the last version of his paper “Beyond Darwin: The Hidden Rhythm of Evolution” or his page on No-dualidad (in Spanish).