Mechanist or Vitalist?

58  bar steep fall 30.12  7mpn ENE dew-point 41  Beltane, Sunny

                 Waning Gibbous Hare Moon

“The aspects of things that are most important to us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Wittegenstein is a notoriously opaque, but very influential philosopher.  His Tractatus is a seminal work of 20th century philosophy, amazing for its brevity.  In this quote, though, I grasp his line of thought.  How often do you consider the solidity of a table, for example?  The beating of your heart?  The exquisite elegance of your hands?  The comfort of darkness?  The revelation in sunlight? 

Have you ever considered, I mean really considered, the wonder of life itself?  We are animate, moving through the world with intention.  So are dogs, mosquitoes and groundhogs.  The seed listens to its own voice, expresses itself and its genome through time and space.  Alive.  But.  What is life?  We see the results of life around us all the time; we experience it within ourselves, but what is it?  What is the difference between the elements in my body–the same as those in a rock or in soil, or in the air–and their inanimate counter parts still locked in the fiery cauldron of a star or the massif of a mountain range?

A book I purchased recently, but have not yet read, argues against what the author calls the Gallilean conspiracy.  I’ve forgotten why he calls it that, something about Gallileo’s approach to science, but the point is this:  even if we knew all the laws of particles and quantum mechanics and could apply them with precision to all the matter in the universe, we could still not predict the future, though there is strong element of what he calls scientistic thinking that suggests just this possibility. 

Why can’t we predict the future based on fundamental laws of nature?  Because of complexity. As things grow more complex, the complexity itself inserts a new dimension, something that does not obey the fundamental laws: intention.  Intention and complexity reach an apex in the phenomenon of life.  You could not analyze the physical elements within  my body, apply the laws of relativity and Newtonian physics to them, and predict what I will choose to have for breakfast.  Why?  Because consciousness adds intention, guided by will, and none of these added realities of complexity follow the laws of thermodynamics, say.  Is the action of complex entities constrained and guided by laws of nature?  Of course.  Entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, will snuff out the complexity that I am.  But not right now.  While I’m upright and consciousness, and yes, you, too, I can choose to defy entropy by taking my blood pressure medication and staying on that good cholestrol lowering drug.  Exercising.  Good diet.  None of these, nor my decision to go to the grocery store this morning have a necessary predicate in my constituent parts.

In part this all boils down to a divide which remains an abyss between, say, the Richard Dawkins and Sam Harrises of the world, and those of us who insist on considering the divine:  vitalist or mechanist?  That is, is any organism merely the sum of its parts–mechanist, or, is it the whole more than the sum of its parts–vitalist.  I side with the vitalists.

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