EVOLUTION: THE GREAT CHAIN OF BEING
With ARTHUR M. YOUNG
JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. Our topic today is evolution -- evolution in the biological sense, in the personal sense, and evolution in the cosmological sense. My guest is Arthur M. Young, the inventor of the Bell helicopter, philosopher, cosmologist, author of The Reflexive Universe and The Geometry of Meaning. Arthur, welcome. It's a pleasure to have you here.
ARTHUR M. YOUNG: Thank you.
MISHLOVE: We're going to begin our program today with an excerpt from a documentary about you talking about evolution, made by our co-producer, Arthur Bloch. Let's look at that now.
[DOCUMENTARY EXCERPT FOLLOWS]
YOUNG: As an animal you're exploring the possibilities of different kinds of tools -- a woodpecker, an elephant; endless varieties. The senses of animals are remarkable. An owl uses radar; a bat uses sonar. But man isn't very good at any of these specialties. He makes up for it by making tools. He moves from being something to having it; in other words, instead of being a bird he can have the use of an airplane, or instead of specializing in rapid running he can get an automobile. He doesn't specialize anymore, and that means his being is freed, so that it can devote itself to, shall we say, metaphysics -- something beyond the immediate needs of sustaining himself. Well, what kind of evolution is that? It's not accounted for by Darwinian evolution; it's not accounted for by evolution of species. It means that there must be some way to account for the increasing competence that we learn as persons. . . . I went through agonies when I first got interested in Buddhism and Zen -- reading these remarkable teachings telling me about the egolessness of things, and the egolessness of persons. I just couldn't understand it. What was this helicopter I was making? Did it have no selfhood? Did I have no selfhood? It was a very difficult pill to swallow. I gradually began to recognize then that the helicopter wasn't a thing; it was something you moved toward, it was a goal. Any particular model was already obsolete as soon as you'd made it, and you'd keep moving on. So the real thing is the dynamic that's pushing it on, and this form is something that's peeled off and thrown away when you're finished with it.
[END OF DOCUMENTARY EXCERPT]
MISHLOVE: Arthur, when you think of evolution now, you tend to go back even beyond biological evolution, back to beyond the atom, beyond the molecule, don't you?
YOUNG: Well, the whole point of my effort to deal with the problem is to look at the grand sweep of evolution. It's often called the Great Chain of Being, but the Great Chain of Being doesn't include the lower stages -- molecule, atom, nuclear particle, all the way back to light --
MISHLOVE: The photon itself.
YOUNG: -- from which everything springs. Everything comes from the initial spark of light.
MISHLOVE: It's the simplest physical unit, in a way, isn't it?
YOUNG: Yes, it's the least complicated. But it has a potential for everything else. In any case, I like to look at all these different kingdoms, each one of which has its own sweep of evolution. But those different sweeps are parallel, so that you can learn about one thing from another. And in the case of man it's especially important because we don't know by experience what's beyond us, but we can look in the other kingdoms and see what the later stages of those other kingdoms are.
MISHLOVE: In other words, the human kingdom might be in some way analogous to the whole animal kingdom.
YOUNG: Yes, but the point is we're only in the middle; we're stuck in the middle of the human kingdom, and we have a long way to go. To get some idea of what's beyond, we can look at what's beyond the clam in animals.
MISHLOVE: The clam is about in the middle of the animal kingdom.
YOUNG: Right. So we're like clams in our kingdom.
MISHLOVE: We're at the turning point, in some sense, being at the middle.
YOUNG: Yes, there is a turn, because this whole process has to go down into matter to get hold of something to deal with, and then it can evolve.
MISHLOVE: Many of the ancient myths talk about this notion of the descent of spirit into matter, and then the ascent of matter back up to spirit.
MISHLOVE: In your theoretical work in The Reflexive Universe, this is essentially the basic reflex of the reflexive universe, isn't it?
YOUNG: Right -- the turn, and the turning point, which is in all the old myths. In fact, I was able to draw as much from the myths as from science, but science gave invaluable details. The whole sweep was given by the myth.
MISHLOVE: Could we talk a bit about the notion of the descent of spirit into matter, as you see it in this grand evolutionary cosmological scheme?
YOUNG: Would you like to talk about a myth, for example?
MISHLOVE: Well, or how do you see it with the science
involved as well?
YOUNG: Well, you can see it in science, but if you have the myth as a clue, it helps. Take the Egyptian myth, where Set, who is the equivalent of Satan, determines to bring about the fall of Osiris. Osiris is the god that represents man. Set prepares this beautiful casket which is already fitted to Osiris, and then at the party which he gives for all the gods -- they all dance around -- he offers it to whoever it will fit. So they all get in, and it doesn't fit any of them until Osiris gets in, and then he clamps on the lid and bolts it fast and it's sent down the Nile. That is the description of the descent of the monad.
MISHLOVE: He got tricked.
YOUNG: Right. And there's another one of Pluto catching Persephone when she was picking flowers. He drags her down into the lower world.
MISHLOVE: To the underworld.
YOUNG: Where she has to reign half the year. But if you go into the detail of those myths, you find the same things that happen in evolution. You look puzzled.
MISHLOVE: Well, I look puzzled. I'm trying to picture how that works in evolution, Arthur.
YOUNG: The whole point of the theory is to get something definite to work with, and the stages of the process of evolution are this definite thing. And the first hint of those I got from the myths. They all have the fall right at the beginning.
MISHLOVE: Like the fall of Adam.
YOUNG: The fall of Adam, and the sort of Garden of Eden, like the party, do you see? And then comes the tree. The tree seems to occur in all these myths, and I equate it to the stage in man when we begin to develop self-consciousness, because until they ate of the tree they weren't aware that they were naked even, you see. Remember, they put coats of skin on after they ate the fruit of the tree? That's part of this process of self-consciousness, which comes in at the third stage.
MISHLOVE: Somehow -- if I can draw from what you're saying -- it's as if some part of our spiritual essence got tricked, to the point where now we find ourselves in these bodies.
YOUNG: In a way it is a trick, but it also is a necessary plan for our benefit. We might say we're going to school in life, and you'd have to be tricked to get you to go to school. The Popul Vuh myth of the Mayans sounds very much like that, because they fail to pass their initiations, and as punishment then they have their heads cut off and stuck in the tree again. That's another version of it. Originally they were playing ball and having a good time, but they were called by the owl messengers of the gods to come and take their initiations, and they didn't pass, so then they had to suffer the world.
MISHLOVE: So we're like those that didn't pass. Here we are, coming back for another lesson.
YOUNG: Well, we don't pass because we haven't had the benefit of this -- whatever it is; it's a scale of evolution that goes on for hundreds of millions of years.
MISHLOVE: Which exists in our very bodies.
YOUNG: Right. Our bodies themselves have evolved, and I think the Darwinian theory is correct, in the sense that we're very close to the apes. But if you go into the Theosophical tradition, they tell in great detail how the ape bodies were improved to the point of receiving human souls, and there was a great deal there, and some of the souls refused to enter the bodies, and this was a tragedy all round, both for the apes and for the persons. But the fact that our bodies have evolved in a previous round, as they call it, of this evolution, has distracted science from the rather more important thing of what is human evolution. You see, in human evolution we haven't changed our bodies that much since the beginning of recorded history, or before that even. Cro-Magnon man was very similar to the current man.
MISHLOVE: Let's go back to the Great Chain of Being for a moment and just kind of trace that. We began to talk about the spark of light, the photon, and I think from there we began talking about subatomic particles, atoms, molecules. Then from molecules, where do we move next?
YOUNG: Well, the molecules are the first things to make the turn, and they begin that by storing energy in what's known as polymers. Sugar, starch, all those things that we eat are polymers that store energy.
MISHLOVE: Complex carbohydrates.
YOUNG: Right. But they store energy. Other molecules like salt and things like that, don't.
MISHLOVE: Crystalline molecules.
YOUNG: Right. Things you couldn't eat don't store energy. But as soon as you get to polymers --
MISHLOVE: Organic molecules.
YOUNG: Organic molecules, that supplies nourishment. And again, so do proteins.
MISHLOVE: So in effect that's the turning point in the Great Chain of Being. Once we've descended to become --
YOUNG: Realize that's within the chemical kingdom.
MISHLOVE: Within the chemical kingdom. Each kingdom has its own turning point. In the animal kingdom, as we mentioned, it's the clam. Perhaps in the human kingdom it's where we are now.
YOUNG: I believe so, because we're intensely wrapped up in laws, and I think all these machineries and things teach us laws, how to make things. That's why I wanted to make the helicopter, so I could learn how to make things. It helps in how to put a philosophy together.
MISHLOVE: It's another way of making things.
MISHLOVE: With all of these parallels, it's as if we could say: as a simple complex carbohydrate is to the whole molecular kingdom, as clams are to the whole animal kingdom, we are to what might be our human potential. If we could see the whole human kingdom in terms of the future evolution of the human being, we might be like a clam.
YOUNG: I'm even hesitant to make man the key word for the top kingdom, because actually it's to evolve as gods, to become gods. Remember Christ said, "Did I not tell ye that ye are gods?" That's one of the things that has been forgotten recently in our efforts to get rid of God and so on. We actually cut off our own heads. We deprive ourselves of this omega point, this thing that we're evolving toward in our own evolution.
MISHLOVE: It's like denying an important part of ourselves.
YOUNG: Yes, right.
MISHLOVE: We can get locked into the secular realities, and we begin to behave as if we weren't gods.
YOUNG: Right, right. But the whole emphasis in any interaction of persons, even if it's a court case, is to get to justice, to get to something to which both parties agree. And if both parties agree, then there's no need for them to be separate. It's really one mind; and that ultimate union of selves, you could say, was the omega point, where we all understand everything sufficiently so that we don't have to have these wrestling matches to thrash things out.
MISHLOVE: In a sense, would it be that in the same way that the cells in our body have evolved so they all function harmoniously and we become one organism --
YOUNG: That's right, yes.
MISHLOVE: -- perhaps the future evolution of humanity might be to evolve as an organism in and of itself?
YOUNG: Well, I don't buy the idea of the social organism replacing the self. I think the social is a vehicle, just the way the ego is a vehicle.
MISHLOVE: We're not going to become like a colony of bees, or something.
YOUNG: Right. That is a stage of evolution, but it occurs specifically with insects more powerfully than anything, where the group soul is the most important thing, and all the insects are just cells in that group organism.
MISHLOVE: It almost seems, at least the way we hear of things in the United States, it's how we vision the Communists. It's like they're like bees in a hive, and the individual is not important; it's the state that's important. I don't know if they really think that, but that would be what you're saying is inappropriate if it were true.
YOUNG: Well, I don't want to get into political ideas there, but the parallel applies just as much to us -- not that we're communists, but we're brought up to group thinking, and we have to learn to think for ourselves. I mean, each person has to learn to do his own thinking, and that's part of what the turn is.
MISHLOVE: And yet still have this meeting of the minds.
YOUNG: Yes, but the first step is self-alienation. Hegel noticed that, you see -- that the ego is a way of separating yourself from the herd, and the getting back to the herd doesn't come till later on.
MISHLOVE: Till one has gone through a process.
YOUNG: And it isn't a herd then, because it has the benefit of all the individual experiences. It's not this drop-in-the-ocean thing that you get from some of the references to the Buddhist literature.
MISHLOVE: Let me come back at you from a different angle, Arthur. You helped build the helicopter. In many ways it has changed our reality in massive ways, and there are other forms of technology that are changing the face of the earth. We're building highways, we're building electrical structures, we have electromagnetic systems -- radio, television, telephones. It's almost as if we're acting like the little sub-organelles inside of a cell, building the structure of the cell. It's as if in a way these items are extensions of our muscles, extensions of our nervous system. It's like we're building a larger organism as we create our society.
YOUNG: Well, that worries me. I can't buy into that. I mean, America is more mechanized than any other country, and yet is still very powerfully individuated. I think it's more that these machineries are tools, means.
MISHLOVE: I shouldn't anthropomorphize them, in other words.
YOUNG: Well, you can easily get into the idea that some great computer is going to rule the world or something, into that sort of -- what is it, 1984? We've passed that book.
MISHLOVE: There are others.
YOUNG: But I think the whole point is to use the machine for whatever purpose it's suited for, not to let it boss us.
MISHLOVE: You began by talking about the myths of our origins and our evolution. We have myths about our future as well.
YOUNG: Well, I don't buy the modern myths, about Star Wars and that kind of thing. I think there's plenty of richness in the ancient myths, and they go way beyond what we do now.
MISHLOVE: As regards the future evolution of human beings, what ancient myths do you find inspiration in?
YOUNG: Well, they all say the same thing -- that the difficulties which occurred in the fall, that were the undoing of the participants -- you see, in the Popul Vuh, the two brothers failed their initiation. Well, then let me go into the next stage, because the head of one of the twins is put in the calabash tree, and then the princess Xiquic hears about this and comes to pick the fruit of this tree, and the head spits in her hand and says, "That is my progeny; now I can die." And she goes home, and of course she's pregnant, but the father won't believe this story of how it happened, so he orders that she be executed.
MISHLOVE: Sounds like a myth all right.
YOUNG: Well, the myth exaggerates everything, so much so that you have to look for the deeper meaning. She persuades the executioners to let her go and substitute the juice of the calabash tree for the blood, which they do. And she gives birth to twins again, which have the same name as their father, and they conquer, they pass their initiations. And the piece I like the best is they become itinerant magicians, and then the twelve princes of Xibalba, who brought about this fall, hear about these magicians and invite them to come and perform. They make the palace of the prince disappear and bring it back, and the little dog of the prince disappear and bring him back. And the princes say, "Could you make us disappear and bring us back?" They say yes. So they make the princes disappear, but they don't bring them back, and then the twins become the sun and moon. That's the climax of this whole evolutionary thing. So beyond this stage, a couple of stages beyond us, is the power to deal with magic.
MISHLOVE: At a deeper level it sounds like what it's talking about is the classical cycle of rebirth.
YOUNG: Of course. The fact that it's a rebirth is the whole --
MISHLOVE: Death and rebirth, the development of higher powers, and eventually moving on to a whole other realm of being.
MISHLOVE: As you mentioned earlier, moving towards our godhood, in some way, in the evolution of humanity.
YOUNG: What I did want to say is that most people think of evolution in terms of Darwinian evolution -- evolution of the species, and whether we were descended from apes or not. I would say they're missing the real point, which is not the physical evolution of our bodies, which has already occurred before we even took the bodies.
MISHLOVE: Although you do point out that there are some real gaps in Darwin -- not that you're a Creationist.
YOUNG: No, I'm not talking about Darwin at all. I'm just talking about the idea that our evolution is physical. I want to come to the point of the evolution of Jeff Mishlove, the evolution of myself, the evolution of each one of us, which is not a question of species. It's a question of building up more character, more competence, more stature, eventually to become like a god. And that's of direct concern to each one of us, much more concern than what's going on in the zoo.
MISHLOVE: That's a very powerful point, Arthur.
YOUNG: Well, I'm horrified by the fact it's not ever touched. This whole cloud of foolishness about Darwin takes its place, and they battle over -- you know, the Creationists versus the Darwinists -- but the whole point is missed.
MISHLOVE: They're looking too much at where we came from in the first place, rather than where we're going.
YOUNG: Yes, looking back rather than looking ahead. But you see my point about evolution of the self being quite different from what's happening with animals, which is evolution of the species.
MISHLOVE: Yes. Well, doesn't the whole notion of evolution of the self, or even evolution of species, somewhere lead you back to a question you must have pondered a great deal, which is: what is the purpose of creation at all? Why is there any existence?
YOUNG: Well, that's the sixty-four-dollar question; I think at present prices it's way up to six hundred and forty dollars. That is a question we each have to ask ourselves, but to me it's God wanting to know himself. We're told by the old myths that we are sparks of God and we've been thrown out into the world to thrive for ourselves, and in this way God becomes more evolved himself.
MISHLOVE: Without creation God is sort of all alone.
YOUNG: I don't know what God is, but you can't have a comprehensive sense of everything without having some unity of meaning, significance, love, all those things -- it has to be somehow unified as is the universe. If it's running under certain principles, then it must be culminating in this unity.
MISHLOVE: Well, Arthur, I would say for anybody who's aware of your work and the books that you've written, if I were God trying to know myself, I would look toward the books of Arthur Young.
YOUNG: Oh come on. Well, at any rate I'm struggling along just like the rest of us.
MISHLOVE: But you really address those deep, profound issues. I don't mean to sound like a flatterer. There's something underneath what I'm saying.
YOUNG: Because it's wonderful fun. It's the most exciting thing there is. I was very excited when I flew my own helicopter. It was very invigorating. You were just sitting in a chair and floating around in space; you could go anywhere you wanted. But I'm even more excited when I discover these secrets of the universe.
MISHLOVE: Well, Arthur Young, it has been another pleasure sharing this program with you. Thank you very much for being with me.
YOUNG: Thank you, Jeff.