Reductionism and Moralism

Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis in Human Evolution

Book Contents


The Natural Order (Thesis)

The Early Natural Order
The Pleasure Function

The Destruction of the Natural Order (Antithesis)

The New Natural Order (Synthesis)

The Eight Dynamic Patterns of Living
The Twelve Branches of the Tree of Knowledge
The True Religio
Toward a Science of Life
Primary Power and Permissive Education

Research Bibliography

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Page Contents

Cartesian Reductionism
The Upsurge of Moralism

Cartesian Reductionism

The Cartesian reductionist science paradigm formulated mainly by René Descartes, Baron d’Holbach and La Mettrie, three influential French philosophers, prepared the ground for a major schizoid split between science and religion, thereby annihilating for the last four hundred years the progress that was made by perennial science thousands of years before.

The Cartesian or Newtonian worldview is a life philosophy marked by a hypertrophy of deductive and logical thinking to the detriment of the qualities of the right brain such as associative, imaginal and imaginative thinking, and generally, fantasy. It’s a worldview that generally tends to disregard or deny dreams and dreaming, extrasensorial perception and ESP faculties as well as genuine spirituality. The term Cartesian has been coined to mark a similarity in reasoning of Cartesian-minded people with the reductionist philosophical theories of the French mathematician and philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650).

I refer to ‘Cartesian thinking’ or the ‘Cartesian’ worldview to demonstrate to which extent modern Western philosophy and culture is essentially a psychological blind-out of the holistic and organic web that life represents in reality, having split mind and matter into opposite poles.

Historically speaking, it was not Descartes who first construed this schizoid worldview, but the so-called Eleatic School, a philosophical movement in ancient Greece that opposed the holistic and organic worldview represented by Heraclites; but it was through the Cartesian affirmation and pseudo-scientific corroboration of the ancient Eleatic dualism that in the history of Western science, the left-brained reductionist approach to reality, which is actually a fallacy of perception, became the dominant science paradigm. Fritjof Capra, in his bestselling book The Tao of Physics (1975/1984/2000), observes:

The birth of modern science was preceded and accompanied by a development of philosophical thought which led to an extreme formulation of the spirit/matter dualism. This formulation appeared in the seventeenth century in the philosophy of René Descartes who based his view of nature on a fundamental division into two separate and independent realms: that of mind (res cogitans), and that of matter (res extensa). The ‘Cartesian’ division allowed scientists to treat matter as dead and completely separate from themselves, and to see the material world as a multitude of different objects assembled into a huge machine. (Id., 4)

At the same time, this worldview became the dominator doctrine in child education, and the systematic emotional castration and desexualization of the consumer child became the main concern and a constant feature in modern Western child rearing.

And it is exactly this reductionist and nature-hostile worldview that has established the foundation for the Oedipal Culture or postmodern international consumer culture that is the present-day apocalyptic vintage of cultural schizophrenia, abysmally infatuated as it is with a set of paranoid, persecutory and highly violent mainstream values that it uses to hypnotize consumers into the Brave New World of total consumption.

And yet presently, in the first decade of the 21st century, even mainstream science gurus such as Fritjof Capra declare Cartesianism to be overruled by the new physics and the emerging holistic sciences that are presently breaking through as a preparation for a completely new worldview in the West, while in Eastern culture this organic, holistic worldview was always the prevailing one. Reminding us of Einstein’s genius that was never affected by the reductionism of the schizoid Cartesian worldview, Capra observes:

Einstein strongly believed in nature’s inherent harmony, and his deepest concern throughout his scientific life was to find a unified foundation of physics. He began to move toward his goal by constructing a common framework for electrodynamics and mechanics, the two separate theories of classical physics. This framework is known as the special theory of relativity. It unified and completed the structure of classical physics, but at the same time it involved drastic changes in the traditional concepts of space and time and undermined one of the foundations of the Newtonian world view. (Id., 50)

With the emergence of quantum physics, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Newtonian worldview began to break apart, and so did the values connected to it. It was particularly the nature of the light that was stirring the controversy that ultimately inflicted the death blow to Cartesian science. The events that led there were historical and dramatic. Fritjof Capra remembers:

The whole development started when Max Planck discovered that the energy of heat radiation is not emitted continuously, but appears in the form of ‘energy packets’. Einstein called these energy packets ‘quanta’ and recognized them as a fundamental aspect of nature. He was bold enough to postulate that light and every other form of electromagnetic radiation can appear not only as electromagnetic waves, but also in the form of these quanta. The light quanta, which gave quantum theory its name, have since been accepted as bona fide particles of a special kind, however, massless and always traveling with the speed of light. … At the subatomic level, matter does not exist with certainty at definite places, but rather shows ‘tendencies to exist’, and atomic events do not occur with certainty at definite times and in definite ways, but rather show ‘tendencies to occur’. In the formalism of quantum theory these tendencies are expressed as probabilities and are associated with mathematical quantities which take the form of waves. This is why particles can be waves at the same time. (Id., 56)

Quantum physics, especially the uncertainty principle, has demolished the classical Newtonian worldview with its strict determinism. As Fritjof Capra concludes, a careful observation of subatomic particles shows that the observation of these particles gives meaning only when they are seen not as isolated entities, but when understood as interconnections between the preparation of an experiment and the subsequent measurement. Quantum physics reveals a basic oneness of the universe at the subatomic level of observation, which is exactly what perennial science and mystical traditions of the East and West always have assumed as the main characteristic of reality.

In his second bestselling book, The Turning Point (1987), Fritjof Capra then concludes this insight and extrapolates it beyond the realm of physics:

In contrast to the mechanistic Cartesian view of the world, the world view emerging from modern physics can be characterized by worlds like organic, holistic, and ecological, It might also be called a systems view, in the sense of general systems theory. The universe is no longer seen as a machine, made up of a multitude of objects, but has to be pictured as one indivisible dynamic whole whose parts are essentially interrelated and can be understood only as patterns of a cosmic process. (Id., 66)

When we observe the current science revolution and acknowledge its growing impact upon the emerging global worldview and consciousness, we are forced to evaluate the current tendencies to deny complexity and reaffirm age-old stereotypes of control and survival as a psychological resistance against the inevitable evolution of consciousness that is virtually at our door step. It is here where we, as scientists, poets, philosophers and educational professionals must step in and prepare the world around us for the shift of perspective the mainstream media are carefully hiding behind their unending murder-and-abuse spectacles.

This is actually another vintage of reductionism put on stage, this time in a modern costume, but it exemplifies what I am saying in this book. And it shows that in most cases, reductionism is a fear-reaction to the natural changes in the living that occur virtually every day. When I am afraid of change, and of the complexity of life, I try to use my intellect to reduce this very complexity and unpredictability of life to a concept that I can control, or that I think I can control.

Reductionism is a typical modern-day phenomenon. It is unthinkable to see it placed in the Middle-Ages, for example, and even in the Renaissance. Historically, and not surprisingly so, it coincided with the formulation of Cartesianism; it has taken root with the French philosophers René Descartes (1596–1650) and La Mettrie (1709–1751) who were considering humans as machines and nature as a complex yet mechanical machinery.

Cartesianism at its very root is but reductionism, perhaps a sophisticated vintage of it, but still; what it does is to reduce life, and science, to a kind of minimalist concept that oversimplifies the complexity inherent in living processes, and paints life as a clockwork, a machine, a robotic scheme, basically denying life its quality to be, first of all, a highly complex structure of total information. Usually, reductionism is defined as ‘reducing the nature of complex things to the nature of sums of simpler or more fundamental things.’ This can be said of objects, phenomena, explanations, theories, and meanings. However when reductionism meets Cartesianism, the result is much more devastating because the outcome of this paradigm is not just a denial of complexity, but a denial of life, of its organic and self-perpetuating nature, its intrinsic intelligence, which in turn is a result of its total information network.

We can observe that with a holistic view of the universe as it is part of the New Age, the mechanical reductionism of Darwinian evolutionary psychology is overcome and left behind, and science presently changes many of its fundamental assumptions and paradigms because of this shift in understanding nature, human nature and the cosmos at large.

Let me give a few typical examples for reductionism in scientific texts and popular imaging. For example, it is written by Rupert Sheldrake in his book A New Science of Life (1995) that the old idea of a cosmic life energy, life force or vital energy was but a vitalistic theory.

What Sheldrake says throughout his book is that there is no such cosmic life energy, and he thus was reducing the whole idea of a cosmic energy to the term vitalism — which is an intellectual concept made up by skeptics.

It has to be seen that often in science and also in political scripts and writings, reductionism is used for belittling or outright downplaying important concepts and phenomena of life, thereby manipulating scientific evaluation and sometimes also, for influencing public opinion. We need to simply acknowledge that Sheldrake, when reducing the energy flow or information network of living systems to the intellectual concept of vitalism, was unscientific, for he did with not one sentence discuss the matter in substance.

This is against the scientific method, and typically when that happens we know the person is defensive with regard to certain insights he or she may obtain when opening the door to real understanding. Sheldrake, while he would certainly deny this label, betrays in so far that he is an ideologist, not a scientist. He is afraid that if he acknowledges the perennial concept of the cosmic energy field, he would mess up the ‘purity’ of his own concept of morphic resonance, which is after all the same thing in a different wrapper.

Morphic resonance basically says the same what a growing number of scientists say about the total information field, or quantum vacuum, at the basis of all life. It says that there is such an information field that totally connects all the vectors built in the moving matter of life. If one may call this phenomenon cosmic life energy, field or zero-point field, vacuum, resonance or otherwise is strictly of secondary importance.

The next example, as obvious as it appears, plays a predominant role in our daily images, the images we are bombarded with, virtually since childhood, in our mass media. For example, in magazines for pleasure, sex and lifestyle women are depicted as mere bodies, or objects. What you get to see, in the worst case, is a pair of breasts, a belly button and a vagina, with no connected head, legs and feet. Such kind of photos thus reduce women or girls to their erotic attributes and organs, thereby subtly suggesting that ‘the rest is of minor importance;’ from there the associative pathway is open for derivative assumptions such as ‘they anyway do not have a brain’ or ‘females are anyway best suited as pleasure toys’ or ‘they’re good for the one and only thing, and for bearing children, but otherwise pretty useless.’

Thus, when you carefully observe the associative and suggestive qualities of reductionism in photography and film, you become perhaps aware of the really destructive effects of being reductionist when it is regarding life, and human beings.

The Upsurge of Moralism

Moralism is a short term for a huge dilemma. It has nothing to do with genuine morality; in fact, moralism is a perversion of true morality.

One of the first perpetrators of violent moralism in human history was the Babylonian King Hammurabi. He was also the first ruler who used moralism as a political strategy.

Moralism is a cover paradigm and fake concern when there is in reality the most cynical indifference both in society and in government, and where there is a high level of structural and domestic violence and a strong suppression of truth and free speech. Every form of political fascism begins where these basic conditions are met; moralism is used strategically for the following pursuits:

  • Denial of sexual, emotional, cultural, ethnic or racial complexity;
  • Covering up uncomfortable or unpopular political reality;
  • Political strategy against dissidents or free thinkers;
  • Hegemonic strategy used to publicly pillory the ‘outgroup’;
  • Fascist strategy to curtail down civil liberties for social scapegoats

Thomas Moore writes in his book Care of the Soul (1994):

Moralism is one of the most effective shields against the soul, protecting us from its intricacy. (…) I would go even further. As we get to know the soul and fearlessly consider its oddities and the many different ways it shows itself among individuals, we may develop a taste for the perverse. We may come to appreciate its quirks and deviances. Indeed, we may eventually come to realize that individuality is born in the eccentricities and unexpected shadow tendencies of the soul, moreso than in normality and conformity. (Id., 17)

Care of the soul is interested in the not-so-normal, the way that soul makes itself felt most clearly in the unusual expressions of a life, even and maybe especially in the problematic ones. (…) Sometimes deviation from the usual is a special revelation of truth. In alchemy this was referred to as the opus contra naturam, an effect contrary to nature. We might see the same kind of artful unnatural expression within our own lives. When normality explodes or breaks out into craziness or shadow, we might look closely, before running for cover and before attempting to restore familiar order, at the potential meaningfulness of the event. If we are going to be curious about the soul, we may need to explore its deviations, its perverse tendency to contradict expectations. And as a corollary, we might be suspicious of normality. A facade or normality can hide a wealth of deviance, and besides, it is fairly easy to recognize soullessness in the standardizing of experience. (Id., 18)

Traditionally, in patriarchal culture and society, education was moralistic. But even in our days of feminism and open criticism of patriarchal tradition, moralistic education has survived. It often takes hidden forms.

Often educatonal concepts and curricula that are outspoken intellectual are forms of ideological pressure the child will be submitted to in the name of their own best, and for ultimate compliance with social and political dogma.

The suppression of the child’s emotions has many names and takes many subtle forms. It is manifested also in the intellectual dressage of the child. Who thinks only does not feel much, or much less. Such kind of water-head education may produce good surgeons or computer programmers. However, happy and harmonious human beings who think ecologically and can help healing the earth do certainly not come out of such educational institutions. Many of them will be active to bring about further destruction and misery to this tortured and moralism-enslaved humanity.