Zygon is interested in weaving together the multicolored strands of ideas and practices of religious traditions and the contemporary sciences. This issue carries on this task by exploring the contemporary insights of systems theory for developing a tapestry that portrays human nature, society, and the rest of nature as a dynamic whole.
In view of this current exploration it is interesting to reflect briefly on two of the many ways in which human beings have tried to weave together different aspects of human experience, in order to feel more at home in the world and to exert some control over humans and the system of nature. The first is the ancient idea of imitative magic, an offshoot of sympathetic magic made famous by Sir James G. Frazer. This understanding of how things are related makes intelligible such diverse phenomena of tribal religion as the technology of voodoo, in which, for example, an image of a person is manipulated to control the actual person, and the various rainmaking practices, in which, for example, boulders are rolled down hills to simulate thunder or blood is dripped on the ground to assist sympathetically the natural production of rain. Similarly Elisha instructed the king to shoot arrows out of a window and then to go to strike the ground with them, in order to insure victory over the enemy (2 Kings 13:14-19). One might even wonder if sympathetic magic serves as a hidden assumption behind the Christian Lords Supper, in which by partaking of bread and wine one enters into union with (communion) the body and blood of Jesus as the Christ.
There can be no theory of any account unless it
corroborate the theory of the earth,
No politics, song, religion, behavior, or what not,
is of account, unless it compare with the
amplitude of the earth …
Recently I watched a national newscast which carried the story of the archeological discovery of a huge sundial in Rome. The ancient instrument, some two hundred feet in diameter, not only told the time but also displayed the day and the month. The reporter concluded his story with the comment: Not bad for no moving parts.² Now a moments reflection reveals a fallacy in that remark. Sundials contain one major moving part, the earth itself. The instrument works because the earths rotation alters the angle of the suns rays as they strike the planets surface. In all fairness to the reporter, he undoubtedly intended his remarks to be offhanded and entertaining. Still his comments betray an all too typical lack of appreciation for the earth as a single whole or system in itself. …
¹ Walt Whitman, Song of the Rolling Earth, Leaves of Grass (New York: New American Library, 1960), p. 193.
² CBS Evening News, WTVJ-TV, Miami, Florida, July 16, 1980.
James E. Huchingson is associate professor and chairperson, Department of Philosophy and Religion, Florida International University, Tamiami Campus, Miami, Florida 33199.
Nature, Technology, and Politics in a Global Context by Victor Ferkiss
Humanity today faces a myriad of problems, each one of which in itself is difficult to solve—disparities of wealth, environmental degradation, scarcities of available resources, the threat of war, to mention only the most dramatic, obvious, and pressing. Yet underlying all of these particular problems and rendering their solution difficult if not perhaps, under present conditions, at least impossible is a central problem. There is no agency or mechanism with the ultimate power necessary to solve global problems on a global basis and no agreed upon global standard for evaluating solutions to such problems. …
Victor Ferkiss is professor of government. Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. 20057.
Biperspectivism: An Evolutionary Systems Approach to the Mind-Body Problem by Ervin Laszlo
The evolutionary systems approach to the mind-body problem derives from the general theoretical framework known as systems philosophy.¹ This conceptual framework associates reality with function and organization, and not with matter or substance. It builds on the foundation of contemporary scientific theories and attempts answers to perennial philosophical questions by integrating scientific theories within an internally consistent theory of the nature of reality-physical and human as well as social.
The answers derived from systems philosophy with respect to the mind-body problem differ from traditional answers as well as from attempts to produce satisfactory accounts in reference to common-sense and everyday language. The systems philosophical account does not take the facts of everyday experience and of language as given, although it does take recourse to empirical experience in the testing of the scientific theories upon which it builds. Neither does it acknowledge traditional philosophical or theological doctrines as valid beyond dispute. It starts with a philosophically clean slate and gathers scientific evidence for the most rational and complete explanation of the phenomena regardless of whether the evidence accords with any particular philosophical preconception. Systems philosophy proceeds in this regard as genuine systematic philosophy has always proceeded: by building on the most reliable elements of the contemporaneous knowledge system and thinking through their implications for the problem at hand in an integral fashion. …
¹ See my Introduction to Systems Philosophy, rev. ed. (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1973).
Ervin Laszlo is special fellow, United Nations Institute for Training and Research, 801 United Nations Plaza, New York, New York 10017.
On Lao Tzus Idea of the Self by Kathleen Johnson Wu
Tao may be translated as principle or way. In Chinese philosophy the term is often used to refer to the way of a sage. Lao Tzu gives it a different though related meaning: The way of a sage is not Tao but to act like Tao. But what is Tao? How does one come to act like Tao? I shall clarify the idea of the self that is implicit in Lao Tzus answer to these two questions and relate his insights to some findings, attitudes, and problems of contemporary science.
That this can be done is seen in how Lao Tzu and some contemporary thinkers try to unify facts and values. Lao Tzus understanding of altruism is a case in point: Genuine altruism is rooted in a primitive disposition to be useful, and thus it can be learned only through examples of symbiosis in nature. I shall discuss his views on altruism and egoism, and the relation between the individual and the natural environment and the man-made, and other issues of current scientific concern. …
Kathleen Johnson Wu is associate professor of philosophy, University of Alabama, P.O. Box 6289, University, Alabama 35486. The research for this paper was supported by a grant from the University Research Committee of the University of Alabama.
Brain Research and Personhood by Eugene P. Wratchford, reviewed by Coleman D. Clarke, Jr.