reinventing the sacred/stuart kauffman

Stuart Kauffman has a great idea: establish the sacred outside the parameters of organized “creator” religions, thus allowing humankind to get beyond the divisive, self-destructive, (anti-scientific) behaviors those religions have spawned. Simply stated, Kauffman’s sacred is the infinite space of creativity. Whether realized through quantum biological activity, economic systems, or the decoherent properties of mind, Kauffman’s universe is emergent: continuously, miraculously creating order from seemingly random interactions. Beyond control and yet inclusive of human agency, Kauffman’s emergent universe is a matrix of active forces engaged in a dynamic search for the new.

 Over the course of Reinventing the Sacred, Kauffman transforms emergence from scientific theory to social critique and then on to religious personage. It’s a brilliant synthesis. Kauffman’s encyclopedic grasp of subjects as diverse as John Keats’ poetry, Renaissance philosophy, and the limits of computer modeling is ambitious and original. Unfortunately, it’s not always coherent. Kauffman continuously slips beyond the comprehension of most lay people, as he lays out various proofs, while his dream of a new religion feels naïvely optimistic. As a result, Reinventing the Sacred always seems a bit out of focus, more emerging than realized.

 This is also the deeper problem with Kauffman’s cosmology. The structured new isn’t win-win or emerging: something is always lost in the transaction of prior emergent to contemporary structured: energy utilized, waste created, useless set aside. Kauffman’s cosmology would have rung more true had it recognized the costs of creativity, human or otherwise. There are no free masterpieces in the universe; there is only something lost and something gained. I don’t know which side of emergent activity editing falls, but I have a hunch that a Reinventing the Sacred half as long would have been an agent of the new twice as good