Durant 1926: Evolution (Herbert Spencer)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter VIII Section 3.2 from the book THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY by WILL DURANT. The  contents are from the 1933 reprint of this book by TIME INCORPORATED by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.

.

III. First Principles

2. Evolution

Having indicated the unknowable, philosophy surrenders it, and turns its face to what can be known. Metaphysics is a mirage: as Michelet put it, it is “the art of befuddling one’s self methodically.” The proper field and function of philosophy lies in the summation and unification of the results of science. “Knowledge of the lowest kind is un-unified knowledge; science is partially-unified knowledge; philosophy is completely-unified knowledge.” Such complete unification requires a broad and universal principle that will include all experience, and will describe the essential features of all knowledge. Is there a principle of this kind?

The function of philosophy is to completely unify all knowledge. Such complete unification requires a broad and universal principle that will include all experience, and will describe the essential features of all knowledge.

We may perhaps approach such a principle by trying to unify the highest generalizations of physics. These are the indestructibility of matter, the conservation of energy, the continuity of motion, the persistence of relations among forces .(i. e., the inviolability of natural law), the transformability and equivalence of forces (even of mental and physical forces), and the rhythm of motion. This last generalization, not usually recognized, needs only to be pointed out. All nature is rhythmical, from the pulsations of heat to the vibrations of violin strings; from the undulations of light, heat and sound to the tides of the sea; from the periodicities of sex to the periodicities of planets and comets and stars; from the alternation of night and day to the succession of the seasons, and perhaps to the rhythms of climatic change; from the oscillations of molecules to the rise and fall of nations and the birth and death of stars.

It is cyclical universe that contains cycles within cycles of birth and death, start and stop, appearance and disappearance.

All these “laws of the knowable” are reducible (by an analysis which must not here be followed in detail) to the final law of the persistence of force. But there is something static and inert about this principle; it does not so much as ‘hint at the secret of life. What is the dynamic principle of reality? What is the formula of the growth and decay of all things? It must be a formula of evolution and dissolution, for “an entire history of anything must include its appearance out of the imperceptible and its disappearance into the imperceptible.”

The dynamic principle of reality must relate to the growth and decay of all things. It must be a formula of evolution and dissolution.

So Spencer offers us his famous formula of evolution, which made the intellect of Europe gasp for breath, and required ten volumes and forty years for its explanation. “Evolution is an integration of matter and a concomitant dissipation of motion; during which the matter passes from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity to a definite, coherent heterogeneity; and during which the retained motion undergoes a parallel transformation.” What does this mean?

Spencer’s formula of evolution: “Evolution is an integration of matter and a concomitant dissipation of motion; during which the matter passes from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity to a definite, coherent heterogeneity; and during which the retained motion undergoes a parallel transformation.”

The growth of planets out of nebulae; the formation of oceans and mountains on the earth; the metabolism of elements by plants, and of animal tissues by men; the development of the heart in the embryo, and the fusion of bones after birth; the unification of sensations and memories into knowledge and thought, and of knowledge into science and philosophy; the development of families into clans and gentes and cities and states and alliances and the “federation of the world”: here is the integration of matter,—the aggregation of separate items into masses and groups and wholes. Such integration of course involves a lessening of motion in the parts, as the growing power of the state lessens the freedom of the individual; but at the same time it gives to the parts an inter-dependence, a protective tissue of relationships, which constitute “coherence” and promote corporate survival. The process brings, too, a greater definiteness of forms and functions: the nebula is shapeless, nebulous; and yet out of it come the elliptical regularity of the planets, the sharp lines of mountain-chains, the specific form and character of organisms and organs, the division of labor and specialization of function in physiological and political structures, etc. And the parts of this integrating whole become not merely definite but diverse, heterogeneous in nature and operation. The primeval nebula is homogeneous—i. e., it consists of parts that are alike; but soon it is differentiated into gases and liquids and solids; the earth becomes here green with grass, there white with mountain-tops, or blue with the multitudinous sea; evolving life begets, out of a relatively homogeneous protoplasm, the varied organs of nutrition, reproduction, locomotion, and perception; a simple language fills whole continents with its, multiplying dialects; a single science breeds a hundred, and the folk-lore of a nation flowers into a thousand forms of literary art; individuality grows, character stands out uniquely, and every race and people develops its peculiar genius. Integration and heterogeneity, aggregation of parts into ever larger wholes and differentiation of parts into ever more varied forms: these are the foci of the orbit of evolution. Whatever passes from diffusion to integration and unity, and from a homogeneous simplicity to a differentiated complexity (cf. America, 1600-1900), is in the flow of evolution; whatever is returning from integration to diffusion, and from complexity to simplicity (cf. Europe 200-600 A. D.), is caught in the ebb of dissolution.

Whatever passes from diffusion to integration and unity, and from a homogeneous simplicity to a differentiated complexity, is in the flow of evolution; whatever is returning from integration to diffusion, and from complexity to simplicity, is caught in the ebb of dissolution.

Not content with this synthetic formula, Spencer endeavors to show how it follows by inevitable necessity from the natural operation of mechanical forces. There is, first, a certain “Instability of the Homogeneous”: i. e., similar parts cannot long remain similar because they are unevenly subjected to external forces; outer parts, e. g., are sooner attacked, like coast-line towns in war; and the variety of occupations moulds similar men into the varied embodiments of a hundred professions and trades. There is, again, a “Multiplication of Effects”: one cause may produce a vast variety of results, and help to differentiate the world; a word amiss, like Marie Antoinette’s, or an altered telegram at Ems, or a wind at Salamis, may play an endless role in history. And there is the law of “Segregation”: the parts of a relatively homogeneous whole, being driven separate into different areas, are shaped by diverse environments into dissimilar products,—as the English become Americans; or Canadians, or Australians, according to the genius of the place. In these many ways the forces of nature build the variety of this evolving world.

Similar parts cannot long remain similar because they are unevenly subjected to external forces. The variety of occupations moulds similar men into the varied embodiments of a hundred professions and trades. In these many ways the forces of nature build the variety of this evolving world.

But finally, and inescapably, comes “Equilibration.” Every motion, being motion under resistance, must sooner or later come to an end; every rhythmic oscillation (unless externally reinforced) suffers some loss of rate and amplitude. The planets ride through a lesser orbit, or will ride, than once they rode; the sun will shine less warmly and brightly as the centuries pass away; the friction of the tides will retard the rotation of the earth. This globe, that throbs and murmurs with a million motions, and luxuriates into a million forms of riotously breeding life, will some day move more leisurely in its orbit and its parts; the blood will run cooler and more slowly in our desiccated veins; we shall not hurry any more; like dying races, we shall think of heaven in terms of rest and not of life; we shall dream of Nirvana. Gradually, and then rapidly, equilibration will become dissolution, the unhappy epilogue of evolution. Societies will disintegrate, masses will migrate, cities will fade into the dark hinterland of peasant life; no government will be strong enough to hold the loosened parts together; social order will cease to be even remembered. And in the individual too, integration will give way to disruption; and that coordination which is life will pass into that diffuse disorder which is death. The earth will be a chaotic theatre of decay, a gloomy drama of energy in irreversible degradation; and it will itself be resolved into the dust and nebula from which it came. The cycle of evolution and dissolution will be complete. The cycle will begin again, and endless times again; but always this will be the denouement. Memento mori is written upon the face of life; and every birth is a prelude to decay and death. 

But finally, and inescapably, comes “Equilibration.” Every motion, being motion under resistance, must sooner or later come to an end. Memento mori is written upon the face of life; and every birth is a prelude to decay and death. 

First Principles is a magnificent drama, telling with almost classic calm the story of the rise and fall, the evolution and dissolution, of planets and life and man; but it is a tragic drama, for which the fittest epilogue is Hamlet’s word—“The rest is silence.” Is there any wonder that men and women nurtured on faith and hope rebelled against this summary of existence? We know that we must die; but as it is a matter that will take care of itself, we prefer to think of life. There was in Spencer an almost Schopenhauerian sense of the futility of human effort. At the end of his triumphant career he expressed his feeling that life was not worth living. He had the philosopher’s disease of seeing so far ahead that all the little pleasant shapes and colors of existence passed under his nose unseen. 

At the end of his triumphant career Spencer expressed his feeling that life was not worth living. He had the philosopher’s disease of seeing so far ahead that all the little pleasant shapes and colors of existence passed under his nose unseen. 

He knew that people would not relish a philosophy whose last word was not God and heaven, but equilibration and dissolution; and in concluding this First Part he defended with unusual eloquence and fervor his right to speak the dark truths that he saw. 

Whoever hesitates to utter that which he thinks the highest truth, lest it should be too much in advance of the time, may reassure himself by looking at his acts from an impersonal point of view. Let him remember that opinion is the agency through which character adapts external arrangements to itself, and that his opinion rightly forms part of this agency—is a unit of force constituting, with other such units, the general. power which works out social changes; and he will perceive that he may properly give utterance to his innermost conviction; leaving it to produce what effect it may. It is not for nothing that he has in him these sympathies with some principles and repugnance to others. He, with all his capacities, and aspirations, and beliefs, is not an accident but a product of the time. While he is a descendant of the past he is a parent of the future; and his thoughts are as children born to him, which he may not carelessly let die. Like every other man he may properly consider himself as one of the myriad agencies through whom works the Unknown Cause; and when the Unknown Cause produces in him a certain belief, he is thereby authorized to profess and act out that belief. … Not as adventitious therefore will the wise man regard the faith that is in him. The highest truth he sees he will fearlessly utter; knowing that, let what may come of it, he is thus playing his right part in the world—knowing that if he can effect the change he aims at—well; if not—well also; though not so well.

Spencer knew that people would not relish a philosophy whose last word was not God and heaven, but equilibration and dissolution; and in concluding this First Part he defended with unusual eloquence and fervor his right to speak the dark truths that he saw. 

.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Comments

  • Chris Thompson  On April 13, 2022 at 5:04 PM

    It is plain to see that Hubbard was mightily influenced by his reading of Will Durant. Hubbard gave Will (and Ariel) Durant a nod for this influence in the introduction to DMSMH, and that may have been the last time that he gave credit to anyone else for the ideas that Hubbard claimed to have invented.

    It gives me strange feelings to hear “Hubbard’s” concepts, tone and timbre while reading the much earlier writings of Herbert Spencer.

  • vinaire  On April 14, 2022 at 4:04 AM

    Good observation. Knowledge builds upon itself.

  • Chris Thompson  On April 14, 2022 at 11:49 AM

    God(s), Higher Powers, etc., are placeholders and provide escape when the discomfort of leaving a vacuum of knowledge is overwhelming. There is only a problem with doing this when one forgets that one is leaving this type of bread crumb trail and begin believing their own imaginings as facts.

    It is better to nurture a tolerance for the vacuum of the unknowable, to dissolve one’s ego, and to keep striving for better knowledge than to fill one’s head with vacuous imaginings, or worse still is to defend one’s superstitions.

  • vinaire  On April 15, 2022 at 5:13 AM

    When perceptions assimilate fully, they disappear as data, and appear as logic. Disappearance of data may appear as vacuum of knowledge; but knowledge is still there as your ability to think for yourself.

    • Chris Thompson  On April 16, 2022 at 9:50 AM

      This mechanism as you describe rings true. Does it also ring true for fallacious logic?

      I ask because, if it does, then the accuracy and consistency of perception becomes a lynchpin for the entire process, even before the inception of any major premise of any syllogism.

      When you write, ” . . . they disappear as data, and appear as logic,” are you using logic synonymously with conceptual understanding ?

      Maybe I think that logic is ever present in our thinking. That if we begin with solid major premises, then we will proceed to solid conclusions? A weakness in deductive reasoning is that if we begin with a major premise and then search for observations to support it, then our perception can be biased in favor of our theory.

      Inductive logic begins with perceptions but these can be / are biased by our forgone conclusions. This was Darwin’s strength, that he suppressed or was practiced in having little bias, and he was in favor of making clear minded perceptions.

      Logic is a mechanism like a meat grinder in that it cannot output better than was input. There are some wicked circles here.

    • vinaire  On April 16, 2022 at 11:59 AM

      Data will disappear only when it is conceptually understood (as-isness). You then have full assimilation in the mental matrix. The logic resulting from this is of intuitive type, and not the mathematical type that requires computation. The intuitive logic is in a category of its own just like as-isness.

  • Chris Thompson  On April 21, 2022 at 8:22 AM

    “As-isness” is a nice twist on the subject of intuitive reasoning. Though we have given it a name, though we have named a mechanism, the rabbit-hole just goes deeper. You have stated nothing wrong. In fact, what you have stated is true by its logical form alone. Welcome to my Tautological Universe. 🙂

    • vinaire  On April 23, 2022 at 3:31 PM

      I like rabbit holes. It keeps life interesting.

      • Chris Thompson  On April 27, 2022 at 2:32 PM

        Agreed, but I’m puzzled by the fact and circularity of the Uncertainty Principle, of the Unknowable, of their being a “rabbit hole” at all. Great Thinkers like Will Durant and Herbert Spencer ponder not only what we do not know. They wonder at the facts that we think that we do know.

        • vinaire  On April 29, 2022 at 7:09 PM

          The Uncertainty Principle is another way of saying that absolutes are unattainable. It is the absolute view of anything that is unknowable. If we can know everything at some point then life would be uninteresting beyond that point and would have no further purpose.

          We do know about everything up to a certain point with the allure that there is more to know. That keeps life interesting.

  • Chris Thompson  On April 27, 2022 at 2:57 PM

    I’ve been a little bit absent from blogging while I’ve played music and wondered at the postulates of dark energy and dark matter, You know – the other 95% of everything that we are but do not see.

    As I have said for years the Universe is large enough to contain everything that we wonder at. Spirituality is contained within the Universe.

    • vinaire  On April 29, 2022 at 6:38 PM

      Yes. Spirituality is contained within the Universe.

    • vinaire  On April 29, 2022 at 6:40 PM

      POSTULATE # 1A: The universe is not just physical; it is metaphysical too. The universe includes everything whether physical, metaphysical, real, imaginary, postulated or speculated. Nothing is excluded from the universe.

      COROLLARY: The universe includes everything that we observe and experience as body, mind and spirit and maybe more.

      Science treats the universe as if it is just physical. Even religion separates the universe from God, implying that the universe does not include the spiritual aspect of God. No wonder we have a limited concept of the universe. The truth is that physical and spiritual are simply two different aspects of the universe that we can visualize. The actual universe is much, much more. It goes beyond what we can visualize.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: