Date:    Tue, 17 Jun 1997 10:13:23 -0700
To:      marxism-international@jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU
From:    Ben Seattle 
Subject: Re: M-I: (POF-6) The Ideologi//"Spontaneous development???"

On 6-17-97 Carrol Cox wrote:
>    At least one proposition in Ben's most recent posting is sheer nonsense.
>He writes:
>> Matter spontaneously tends to develop in the direction of consciousness.
>> Consciousness, in turn, reacts back on matter, and greatly accelerates this
>This is almost sheer mysticism, and almost certainly empirically false
>as well. The appearance of "consciousness" (homo sapiens, and perhaps
>some previous species) on earth was a purely contingent event, and
>could very well have been quite otherwise.

Unfortunately both lack of time and the fact that this question is not
central to the development of M-I prevent me from giving much of a
response.  To say that "matter spontaneously tends to develop in the
direction of consciousness" is not mysticism but materialism.  Carrol  says
the appearance of consciousness on earth was a "contingent event" ?
Contingent on what ?  The only answer possible (for materialists) is
favorable external circumstances (and maybe just a tiny bit of luck ;-).
But this still means that consciousness developed on the basis of internal
contradictions inherent in matter--without the intervention of an *external
directing force* (unless Mr. Cox would like to argue that consciousness was
created by God).

It is, of course, true that it could very well have been otherwise on
earth.  Some estimates are that the sun will be too hot to allow life on
earth only 500 million years in the future.  Since it took life
approximately 4 billion years of evolution to create consciousness--you
might say that it was "successful" (in a manner of speaking) just in the
nick of time and could easily have been otherwise.  But what does this
prove ?  I did not say that matter always and in all circumstances evolves
to consciousness.  Rather I said "tends to develop in the direction" of

What is the "direction" of consciousness ?  The "direction" of
consciousness is "complexity".  Large systems of matter (the universe, the
solar system, etc) evolve and create "complex adaptive systems" which are
characterized by (at the risk of redundancy)--complexity.  Ecosystems also
tend to evolve (again, given favorable conditions) in the direction of
complexity.  The most complex phenomena (of which we know) is
consciousness.  Such is my view anyway.

Of course it is true that a "good definition" of complexity does not exist.
 But I believe that most people, in spite of this, understand that
"complexity" as a phenomena--is very real.  People tend to know it when
they see it.

It is probably the case that I cannot "prove" to the satisfaction of
everyone here that matter spontaneously evolves in the direction of
complexity (or that the highest development of complexity is
consciousness).  But I will argue that such a view is not "mysticism" at
all--and is supported by all the natural sciences.  If we study cosmology,
geology, molecular biology, ecology (etc, etc, etc)--we see everywhere that
complex, emergent phenomena result from the interaction of the simple (or
more primitive) interactions of matter at a lower level.  Hence atoms
spontaneously form from smaller particles.  Gravitational attraction and
the laws of motion lead to the creation of stars and solar systems.  On
earth, simple molecules form from atoms and complex molecules (and
eventually membranes, etc) "self-organize" from simpler molecules.  Life
spontaneously developed from such complex molecules and membranes.  In
ecosystems, niches are created by the interactions of various species and
these niches become the object of competition from other species which
eventually fill them.  In all these processes (and within the *limits*
determined by initial conditions and external circumstances, the time
existing for development and so on) the tendency is for complexity to

None of this should be controversial to materialists.  Much of the
fascination of science is in discovering the common threads of
"self-organization" which exist everywhere.

It is also the case--that complexity theory, from time to time, gives rise
to individuals who make exagerated or grandiose claims or one sort or
another (as could also, of course, be said for Marxism).  But to say that
matter spontaneously develops in the direction of complexity--or that
consciousness represents the highest known development of complexity--is
well supported--if not provable to the satisfaction of all who are
uncomfortable with the idea that matter "self-organizes".

I lack the time to go further into this at this time.  Readers who are
interested might wish to look at "Out of Control" by Kevin Kelly or "At
Home in the Universe" by Stuart Kauffman or many similar books on the
development of theories of complexity.

A much more pressing (and important) task for me--is to assemble a powerful
reply (I wish the reply would "self-organize" itself--but it seems that I
must make it happen) to the comments of Louis Proyect on my organizational
views and the related question of what attitude should revolutionary
activists take towards that creature of the trade union bureacracy in the
US--known as the Labor Party.  I appreciate Louis taking the trouble to
help to keep this topic alive on M-I (few others so far have made any
comment of substance on my organizational views).  I am, at this point, a
month behind in my reply to Louis--and I hope to make up for this in the
quality of my post.


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