Saturday, November 17, 2007

Universal Teleology in Science and Spirituality

Teleology (from the greek work Telos: end or purpose) is the philosophical inquiry of a things design, purpose, and finality. The concept of a purpose driven existence has its roots in Aristotelean science, as the fourth and final cause for which a thing exists. The question of an ultimate purpose, or final end, is of great importance to philosophy and religion as any conception of “progress” must by extension conceive of some better endpoint to which the we are “progressing to” . In this way a philosophers teleology, his conception of the purpose of the universe and mankind's being, is of significant relavence to the intentions and goals of a philosopher. George Hegel has had a significant influence on western conceptions of a universal purpose/teleology with his writings about a WeltGeist (world spirit), which dialectically moves human history towards some final perfection(whether this is Marx's classless society or Kojeve's universal liberal democracy is a hotly debated question). Religious teachings also generally involve a conception of a final purpose of humanity for which it was created and oriented. Hinduism, like Christianity, conceives of a spiritually regressive world that will reach it's end when the Kalki(the 10th Avatar of Vishnu) the "Destroyer of Darkness" will come from heaven riding a white horse to end the Kali Yuga(most spiritually degenerate age) and begin a more spirituality enlightened age. With the unabated and exponential progress of technological (and by extension social) development since the industrial revolution, many philosophers have begun to wonder anew, what is the final purpose of humanity? Where is technological development ultimately leading us? The commonalities between the secular scientific teleology of futurist Raymond Kurzweil's technological singularity, and the evolutionary spiritual teleology of Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's Omega Point, and Sri Aurodindo's Supermind are the 20th centuries religio-scientific answers to these questions.

The technological singularity(for all of my readers who are unaware of the impending apocalypse) is the point at which the exponential growth in computing technology will begin to self-develop independent of the control of human beings, in an method and with effects that are inconceivable to human beings before the singularity. For example, as computing technology is developing at an exponential rate, there may come a time soon when mankind could conceivably create an ultra intelligent machine which would be vastly more intelligent than any possible human mind, and the collective potential of all human minds. This hypothetical ultra intelligent machine could conceivably design machines that no human mind could possibly conceive of, designing successive generations of progressively more intelligent machines, independent of human input and control. At this point, human minds would forever be as obsolete and unnecessary as mechanical computation could effective think for humanity. With the exponential and unabated development of computing technology, many philosophers, futurists and scientists have been long expecting and preparing for the impending singularity. Inventor and futurist Raymond Kurzweil has written prolifically about the changes that will begin to take place during and after the advent of the singularity. In his 1987 book, “the Age of Spiritual Machines” he describes the process through which technology is exponentially developing towards the singularity event, and he expects that the singularity will come about before 2050.
Of more importance to philosophy than Kurzweil's futurist speculations, are his teleological justifications for hopefully anticipating the singularity, an event which Kurzweil admits will mark the end of human history as we know it. Kurzweil conceives of 6 epochs of universal history. The first four epochs of the universe's history involve the creation of the Earth, biological life, the evolution of man and the development of human civilization. The 5th epoch of the universe is the merger of human intelligence with human technology(which can be conceived of as a process begun with the industrial revolution) ultimately leading to the technological singularity, and the exponential development of machine-human consciousness. The 6th and final epoch that Kurzweil describes is the age in which human/machine civilization will explosively expand into the cosmos, consuming and mechanizing all the matter in the universe until the universe reaches a saturated state, in which all inanimate matter will be collectively incorporated into a universal human/machine consciousness. This final end and purpose of the universe, is the point at which the universe becomes self-aware its existence. The final teleology of mankind, for Kurzweil, is an omni prescient and omni powerful entity encapsulating all of space time. A God of man's creation, is to be man's purpose and final destiny. As novel (and perhaps blasphemous) as this might sound, it is not an entirely novel idea. Isaac Asimov, in his celebrated 1956 short story “the Last Question”, proposed the same secular scientific justification and purpose for humanity and the universe to exist. It seems that men without faith in God, often place their hope in the progressive nature of technology to give their lives some purpose and ultimate teleological justification.

Kurzweil and 20th century science fiction writers are not alone in conceiving of a universal consciousness as the universe's ultimate teleology. Many emanationistic philosophers have historically entertained a similar idea that the purpose of the material universe, which emanated from God is the actual creation and reunification of the Universe as God. The great Persian polymath Avicenna, speculated that if the universe cannot have an infinite past and cannot last for an infinite amount of time, there must be some first cause and some final end. Since God was the first cause and creator of the universe, God must also be the final cause and ender of the universe, lest the future go on and on infinitely. He therefore hypothesized that the universe was ultimately moving towards a final teleological end, involving the union of all material with God. The Hindu mystic and evolutionary philosopher Sri Aurobindo wrote a detailed account of how this mystical process would come about. In his magnum opus, the Life Divine, Aurobindo conceived of the entire material universe moving progressively towards a supra mental divinized state, in which all matter would become transcendently conscious, allowing for the creation of an infinite unitary truth-conscious or Supermind; simultaneously transcendent and omni powerful.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit trained as a philosopher and a paleontologist, conceived of a similar notion of orthogenetic(progress driven) evolution leading to an ultimate teleological goal which he called the Omega Point. For Chardin, the universe as a whole progressively moves towards more complex and simultaneously more conscious states by a means that he calls the Law of Complexity/Consciousness. The forming of stars, planets, life forms, and human intelligence are the means by which the universe complexifies itself to gain a greater degree of consciousness. The complexification of the universe is only possible because a grand designer and higher intelligence is drawing all matter towards itself, bringing all of it's creation towards a progressively greater union with the creator. The Omega Point, the end of this long process of complexification, is the point at which the universe is self aware and self reflective, immediately aware of the totality of the universe. Chardin points out that for a higher intelligence to bring about such an end, it must be both the prime mover and the final end purpose. As no conceivable material being can possibly be both the beginning(Alpha) and the end(Omega) of the universe, the aforementioned designer must be transcendent, immaterial, and beyond spaciotemporal constraints.

For all these philosophers, an omniprescient, omnipowerful supermind is the teleological end of all technological, spiritual, and biological development. With man's place in the universe rapidly changing due to unabated technological development, it behooves us to be mindful of science's warnings of a long expected technological singularity, as well as God's warnings of an ultimate and final end.

1 comment:

Micah J. Glasser said...

Your's is an intellect which is a blessing to encounter.