‘FREEDOM’—Chapter 4 The Meaning of Life
Chapter 4:2 The obvious truth of the development of order of matter on Earth
In starting this fully accountable, true explanation of the meaning of life, we need to take a look at our surroundings. As you do, you’ll note that the most obvious characteristic of our world is that it is full of ‘things’, variously enduring arrangements of matter, like plants, animals, clouds and rocks. And not only that, it is apparent that these arrangements of matter consist of a hierarchy of ordered parts; a tree, for instance, is a hierarchy of ordered matter—it has a trunk, limbs, roots, leaves and wood cells. Our bodies are also a collection of parts, as are clouds and rocks, which are built from different elements and compounds. Furthermore, what we have seen happen over time to these arrangements of matter is that there has been a progression from simple to more complex arrangements. From the fundamental ingredients of our world of matter, space and time, matter has become ordered into ever larger (in space) and more stable or durable (in time) arrangements.
To elaborate, our world is constructed from some 94 naturally occurring elements that have come together to form stable arrangements. For example, two hydrogen atoms with their single positive charges came together with one oxygen atom with its double negative charge to form the stable relationship known as water. Over time, larger molecules and compounds developed. Eventually macro compounds formed. These then integrated to form virus-like organisms, which in turn came together or integrated to form single-celled organisms that then integrated to form multicellular organisms, which in turn integrated to form societies of single species that continue to integrate to form stable, ordered arrangements of different species. Clearly, what is happening on Earth is that matter is integrating into larger and more stable wholes. And this development of order is not only occurring here, it is also happening out in the universe where, over the eons, a chaotic cosmos continues to organise itself into stars, planets and galaxies. As two of the world’s greatest physicists, Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein, have said, respectively, ‘The overwhelming impression is of order…[in] the universe’ (Gregory Benford, ‘The time of his life’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Apr. 2002; see <www.wtmsources.com/170>), and ‘behind everything is an order’ (Einstein Revealed, PBS, 1997).
The law of physics that accounts for this integration of matter is known as the ‘Second Path of the Second Law of Thermodynamics’, or ‘Negative Entropy’, which states that in an open system, where energy can come into the system from outside it (in Earth’s case, from the sun, and, in the case of the universe, from the original ‘big bang’ explosion that created it), matter integrates; it develops order. Thus, subject to the influence of Negative Entropy, the 94 elements from which our world is built develop ever larger and more stable wholes.
In Janus: A Summing Up (1978), the scientist-philosopher Arthur Koestler gave this excellent summary of the history of the concept of Negative Entropy: ‘One of the basic doctrines of the nineteenth-century mechanistic world-view was Clausius’ famous “Second Law of Thermodynamics”. It asserted that the universe was running down towards its final dissolution because its energy is being steadily, inexorably dissipated…cosmos dissolving into chaos. Only fairly recently did science begin to recover from the hypnotic effect of this gloomy vision, by realizing that the Second Law applies only in the special case of so-called “closed systems”…whereas all living organisms are “open systems” which maintain their complex structure and function by continuously drawing materials and energy from their environment [p.222 of 354] …It was in fact a physicist, not a biologist, the Nobel laureate Erwin Schrödinger, who put an end to the tyranny of the Second Law with his celebrated dictum: “What an organism feeds on is negative entropy” [p.223] …Schrödinger’s revolutionary concept of negentropy, published in 1944 [p.224] …is a somewhat perverse way of referring to the power of living organisms to “build up” instead of running down, to create complex structures out of simpler elements, integrated patterns out of shapelessness, order out of disorder. The same irrepressible building-up tendency is manifested in the progress of evolution, the emergence of new levels of complexity in the organismic hierarchy and new methods of functional coordination [p.223].’ Significantly, Koestler wrote of ‘the active striving of living matter towards [order] [p.223]’, of ‘a drive towards synthesis, towards growth, towards wholeness [p.224]’, and that ‘this “innate drive” derives from the “integrative tendency” [p.225]’.
So the theme of existence, the overall direction or destiny of change, or, from a conscious observer’s point of view, the overall purpose or meaning of existence, is the ordering or integration or complexification of matter. ‘Teleology’, ‘the belief that purpose and design are a part of nature’ (Macquarie Dictionary, 3rd edn, 1998), and ‘holism’, which the dictionary defines as ‘the tendency in nature to form wholes’ (Concise Oxford Dictionary, 5th edn, 1964), are terms that recognise this integrative ‘tendency’. The concept ‘holism’ was first introduced by the South African denial-free thinker or prophet, the statesman, philosopher and scientist Jan Smuts in his 1926 book Holism and Evolution. Smuts conceived ‘holism’ as ‘the ultimate organising, regulative activity in the universe that accounts for all the structural groupings and syntheses in it, from the atom, and the physico-chemical structures, through the cell and organisms, through Mind in animals, to Personality in Man’ (p.341 of 380).
But while the integrative meaning of existence is the most obvious of all truths, it has also been the most difficult of all truths for humans to acknowledge, for an extremely good reason.
The difficulty arises from the fact that for a collection of parts to form and hold together, for matter to integrate, the parts of the developing whole must cooperate, behave selflessly, place the maintenance of the whole above the maintenance of themselves, because if they don’t cooperate—if they compete, behave selfishly or inconsiderately—then the whole disintegrates, the parts break down into the more elementary building blocks of matter from which they were assembled. As Koestler stated, to create ‘order out of disorder’ requires ‘functional coordination’. A leaf falling from a tree in autumn does so to ensure the tree survives through winter and carries on; it puts the maintenance of the whole, namely the tree, above the maintenance of itself. The effective functioning of our body similarly depends on the cooperation of all its parts, on every part doing what is best for the whole body. Our skin cells, for example, are in constant turnover, with new cells replacing the old ones that have sacrificed themselves to protect our body. Cancer cells, on the other hand, destroy the body precisely because they violate this principle and follow their own selfish, independent agenda. Indeed, the very reason ant and bee societies work so well is because all their parts, the worker ants and bees, behave selflessly; in their behaviour, they put the welfare of the larger whole above that of their own.
Put simply, selfishness is divisive or disintegrative while selflessness is integrative—it is the glue that holds wholes together; it is, in fact, the theme of the integrative process, and thus of existence. It is also what we mean by the word ‘love’, with the old Christian word for love being ‘caritas’, meaning charity or giving or selflessness (see Col. 3:14, 1 Cor. 13:1-13, 10:24 & John 15:13). So ‘love’ is cooperative selflessness—and not just selflessness but unconditional selflessness, the capacity, if called upon, to make a full, self-sacrificing commitment to the maintenance of the larger whole. BUT—and herein lies the nub of the problem—if the meaning of existence is to behave integratively, which means behave cooperatively and selflessly, why do humans behave in the completely opposite way, in such a competitive and selfish divisive way? Yes, the integrative theme of existence squarely confronts us humans with the issue of the human condition, the issue of our non-ideal behaviour. And so despite being such an obvious truth, Integrative Meaning has been so horrifically condemning of the competitive, aggressive and selfish human race that until we could explain the good reason why humans have been divisively rather than integratively behaved (which was done in chapter 3)—and thus make it psychologically safe to admit the truth of the order developing, integrative meaning of existence—we had no choice but to live in near total denial of it. Hawking’s, Einstein’s and Koestler’s acknowledgments of the order developing, integrative process when, as Koestler said, ‘mechanistic’ science has maintained such a dedicated, ‘hypnotic’ denial of it, were bold indeed.
In summary then, selflessness, specifically unconditional selflessness or altruism, is the theme or meaning of existence. And since love means unconditional selflessness, love is the theme of existence—it is the meaning of life. The very great truthful, denial-free-thinker or prophet Christ emphasised the unconditionally selfless significance of the word ‘love’ when he said, ‘Greater love has no-one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends’ (Bible, John 15:13). And of the biblical references to love cited above, Colossians 3:14 perfectly summarises the integrative significance of love: ‘And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.’
But, unfortunately, while the unconditionally selfless nature of love is acknowledged in the Bible (as virtually all the great truths are), in our everyday world we couldn’t admit that love is unconditional selflessness and, therefore, the theme of existence until we could explain why humans don’t behave lovingly and are so seemingly at odds with the integrative process. In fact, in the human-condition-avoiding mechanistic scientific paradigm it is considered improper, unscientific, to even use the word ‘love’. The linguist Robin Allott summed up mechanistic science’s attitude to love succinctly when he wrote that ‘Love has been described as a taboo subject, not serious, not appropriate for scientific study’ (‘Evolutionary Aspects of Love and Empathy’, Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems, 1992, Vol.15, No.4). Indeed, love has been deemed so ‘[in]appropriate for scientific study’ that it has been reported that ‘more than 100,000 scientific studies have been published on depression and schizophrenia (the negative aspects of human nature), but no more than a dozen good studies have been published on unselfish love’ (Science & Theology News, Feb. 2004). So mechanistic science has determinedly resisted analysis of one of humanity’s most used, valued and meaningful words! The psychologist Harry F. Harlow was another who highlighted this discrepancy when he observed that ‘Psychologists, at least psychologists who write textbooks, not only show no interest in the origin and development of love or affection, but they seem to be unaware of its very existence. The apparent repression of love by modern psychologists stands in sharp contrast with the attitude taken by many famous and normal people. The word “love” has the highest reference frequency of any word cited in Bartlett’s book of Familiar Quotations’ (‘The nature of love’, American Psychologist, 1958, Vol.13, No.12). The concept of ‘unselfish love’ has certainly been an unbearable area of scientific enquiry for us selfish, seemingly non-loving and unlovable humans!