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Guest: Stuart Kauffman & Charles Raison

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Listen Now

[Full video and audio content of this program is available here.]  Life itself is challenging comfy orthodoxies that have dominated Western thinking since Newton, reductionism and classical physics captured our imagination centuries ago. Physics...meet biology. “We’re at the edge of what we know. I don’t deduce my life. I live it,” says theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman. He and Charles Raison, a psychiatrist and researcher, explore how emerging Western science and Tibetan Buddhism might inform each other. Both trained first as medical doctors. “I was intent on casting some light into how people generate intense positive emotions,” says Dr. Raison of his transition into research focused on the immune system’s responses to depression, fatigue and Buddhist compassion meditation. Contrary to our human longing for certainty, both Drs. Kauffman and Raison feel hope and perhaps even sacredness may rest in an essential “unknowable-ness” and mystery which nature appears to embody. “Biology is not like physics," says Dr. Kauffman. "We’ve been led to believe that everything in the universe is mathematizable. (In biology,) we cannot do what Newton told us to do -- have the variables and the laws and whatever, and then calculate. We don’t have any mathematics for that which is going to come into existence.” Dr. Kauffman’s ideas about a “partially lawless” universe are grounded in countless examples of Darwinian pre-adaptations -- properties not useful in the current environment which might turn out to be useful in another environment. “It’s probably impossible (to see ahead of time all possible Darwinian pre-adaptations for all species alive now.) There may be essentially infinite selective environments across time and space,” says Dr. Raison, affirming what they both say is widely accepted scientific observation. Dr. Kauffman continues, “When I first came across the fact that we cannot pre-state Darwinian pre-adaptations in our daily lives and in the evolution of the biosphere and the economy, for about a minute and a half, I felt bereft. I thought, ‘I don’t know what to do.' Then I thought, ‘Actually, this is hopeful! We’ve been doing this for 3.8 billion years!' Somehow, we know how. “I think our mind is doing things that -- just like the biosphere -- are evolving in ways that cannot be pre-stated. But it’s doing it anyway. We live our life with faith and courage, which in the Kantian sense is somehow sublime in the face of not knowing, in this sense of mystery, because somehow it’s the mandate of life. Maybe it gives us the possibility of making (things) better -- these are our choices.” Ever the psychiatrist, Dr. Raison concludes, “There's something about that state then that at least opens a door for you to have an emotional experience -- you can choose to have hope.” 

Acknowledgments

We admire Stuart Kauffman’s intellectual audacity as he builds on reductionism’s strengths and challenges us to embrace the openness both of our future and of our universe.  We also are inspired by Charles Raison and look forward to following Dr. Raison¹s work at Emory University including his significant role in Emory’s collaboration with the Dalai Lama in the “Science Education Project for Tibetan Buddhist Monks“.  We sincerely thank them both. And we join them in honoring the magnificent contributions Charles Darwin made to us all.

Related Links

 Stuart Kauffman's Reinventing the Sacred is published by Basic Books.  Investigations and At Home in the Universe are published by Oxford University Press. Dr. Raison's research on mind-body interactions is conducted principally within the Emory Mind-Body Program.  This conversation is part of nine hours of conversations we had with Dr. Kauffman in the Spring of '08 centered on theories, ideas and insights presented in Reinventing the Sacred. One hour is available here.  We've also produced two separate programs with Stuart, one focused onInvestigations and the other on At Home in the Universe.  In The Religious Case Against BeliefJames Carseprovides descriptions of religion, belief systems and science which illuminate the Tibetan Buddhist perspective.  Thomas Laird's The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama provides insights into the ongoing development of the Tibetan Buddhist understanding of the world.  ... and, here's a little background information on Paula Gordon and Bill Russell, the Program co-hosts. 

This Program was recorded on Monday, March 17, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia, US

Tags: adjacent possible agency Charles Raison consciousness despair hope life living meditation mind possibility Reinventing the Sacred Stuart Kauffman Tibetan Buddhism