Ontos and Techne
by Mark Pesce
Myth is the conscious compression of a universe of meaning into a set of archetypes. So the modern era kicks off with the myth of Faust, the crossing point between the medieval myth of magical will and the modern myth of infinite scientific progress, the man who treats with demon for worldly scientific knowledge. This point of fusion becomes the fissure of separation; in the modern common mind, Cinderella's fairy godmother remains as the afterimage of a medieval metaphysic of technology, which translates the natural into artifact through the direct application of a magical will. But, as a story for children, it can not possibly be real.
The emergence of the Modern metaphysic of doing, as expressed in the concurrent mythologies of Rousseau, Locke and Jefferson, broadens the franchise of techne to encompass all men. A democracy of doing, unencumbered by sacred being. In our era, all doing proceeds from a secular source, and the great myths of religion step away from techne--from science--as antithetical their existence as vessels of sacred being. But, in the absence of a Creation myth, science could not solve the riddle of teleological dimension--could not even speak it--and thus was forced to condemn it into irrelevance. How replaced why, satisfying doing, but leaving being unbounded. For a moment.
Yet in the study of the nature, it became clear that teleological dimensions express themselves throughout the natural world. The metaphysical narrative as played out in the biota display a destiny which science has renamed evolution. Nature does--with an apparent tendency to favor higher levels of organization and differentiation. So--in the first half of this century--the contact points between ontos and techne closed again in the person of a Jesuit paleontologist named Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
In Teilhard's mythology, all things have an exterior nature, which seeks to accumulate, to gather, and an interior nature, which seeks to complexify. In the late twentieth century, we call this phenomenon of complexification "emergence," and believe it somehow a more solidly scientific phrase than consciousness or spontaneity--words Teilhard used. Life, he claimed, was the natural expression of the interior drive of a collection of macromolecules; in other words, the emergent quality of a complex biochemical system. He envisioned no essential boundaries on these drives; the planet, to Teilhard, had as much drive as the lowliest amino acid, so the birth of life on planet Earth represents a natural and inevitable step in the complexification of the planet.
Teilhard did not stop with the birth of life; he worked onward--in his eyes, upward--through multi-cellular life, animals, and on to Man. Man's consciousness, Teilhard believed, was the natural product of a complexification of cellular life that had aggregated to the point where exterior growth served no additional purpose; instead, this growth moved within, in the development of forms which could become conscious of their own nature as forms. He put it quite simply:
"The consciousness of each of us is evolution looking at itself and reflecting upon itself."
This consciousness, Teilhard reasoned, would recapitulate the history of the forms which had proceeded it--that is, it would begin to aggregate. And, once it had aggregated sufficiently, it would inevitably begin to complexify. This complexification of consciousness he named Noosphere, from the Greek for mind. In an arc traced from the birth of the planet to the end of man, Teilhard articulated the teleological dimension of doing, and saw it sweep in an arc toward the Omega point--a final reification of internal being into an absolute unity with God.
Coincident with Teilhard's investigations, physicists began to trace the arrow of teleos backward in time; with the final discovery of the echo of the Big Bang, science had swept itself backward into a zone without meaning, a singularity where reason failed. But from this absolute beginning, the forces of nature sprang forth, in a unity broken repeatedly into the forms which comprise the universe of quanta, matter and gravity. In these lay the keys to the ultimate expression of techne, the uncertainty of a quantum world aggregating into the emergent foundations of physics and chemistry, chemistry emerging into biology, and biology emerging into evolution. Our teleological endpoints of techne lie in the dwell-states of Big Bang and Omega point; the unifications before and after time.
Crowley posed that Gravity and Love are the same force, expressed at different levels. We must add another force to list we recognize; this perfect union of being and doing. It emerges from the singularity of the beginning as surely as does gravity, and--through the play of time - shapes the universe to its end.
We may think we believe differently from our ancient ancestors, but, at the end, our being has not changed, nor our doing. We have not changed one whit, for being is in every and all ways sacred. What we have learned is that doing--inseparable from being--is sacred as well.
Mark Pesce (firstname.lastname@example.org) is co-inventor of the Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) standard and author of VRML: Browsing and Building Cyberspace (Indianapolis: New Riders, 1995), VRML: Flying Through Cyberspace (New Riders, 1996), and Learning VRML: Design for Cyberspace (New Riders, forthcoming July 1997).
Copyright © 1997 by Mark Pesce. All Rights Reserved.