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brief biog

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Read my Blog on Thomas Nagel - March 2016

Spooner`s latest book on evolutionary theory - available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon et al. Written in the spirit of Disraeli`s "When I want to read a book, I write one."
the author at St. Andrews, Scotland

Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-founder of the theory of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin, always called himself more Darwinian than Darwin himself even though had serious issues with Darwin`s conclusions. These were on the question of
the human brain.
The brain is an intricate interrelation between over 100 billion cells in which molecular actions accompany every thought and its attendant, memory. So John C. Eccles asks whether there is "some process that we could call genetic dynamism whereby the hominid brain inevitably develops further and further beyond natural selection?"
The last chapter of Wallace`s Darwinism (1889) almost forgets its first 14 chapters of uncontroversial exposition as he strives to illuminate the distinctly human qualities of the brain. "Because man`s physical structure has been developed from an animal form by natural selection, it does not necessarily follow that hia mental nature , even though developed pari passu with it, has been developed by the same causes only."
He goes on to argue that mathematics, music and art "clearly point to the existence in man of something which has not derived from his animal progenitors - something which we may best refer to as being of a spiritual essence or nature, capable of progressive development under favourable conditions." And he draws attention to "the workings within us of a higher nature which has not been developed by means of the struggle for material existence."
In my first book, THE METAPHYSICS OF INSECT LIFE (1995), I had hazarded the observation that the dialectic of the numbers three and four was a recurrent pattern in nature and in human life. This was based primarily upon analyses of biological and artistic events. So when I read recently of triangulation within four dimensions as a possible new solution to the problem of unifying the laws of gravity and quantum physics, my antennae twitched and probed. Causal dynamical triangulation - as it is rather clumsily entitled as a competitor to simply `string theory` - constructs spacetime geometries from simple triangular structures. These are networks of microscopic volumes which coalesce to form the 4-dimensional world of our fourdimmansions, as James Joyce put it familiarly.

Firstly, I must repeat briefly some of the arguments in my Metaphysics. The overall theory of the book depends upon processes of insect development related to human intellectual endeavours. A nub here is the relationship between a key cluster of words. Norman O. Brown`s LOVE`S BODY had drawn attention to some linguistic threads from Descartes:
“Larva means mask; or ghost. Larvatus, masked, a personality - larvatus prodeo (Descartes); it also means mad, a case of demoniacal possession. Larva is also `the immature form of animals characterized by metamorphosis`; in the grub state; before their transformation into a pupa, or pupil; i.e. before their initiation.”
If we add in the origins of the insect in ovum and the final creature in imago, which the Greeks named psyche, there is fourfold spiral of maturation.
So in the metamorphic insects, there is the following evolution:
from ovum, egg
to larva, grub, caterpillar
then pupa or chrysalis
and finally the imago - butterfly, bee, moth, wasp or beetle.

This is the full mutation, entitled the holometabolic. But there is another form - the hemimetabolic, which historically preceded the complete differentiation between caterpillar and butterfly. In this other form, the nymph is not unlike the completed imago and proceeds by slow mutation. Its progress is threefold, and it is characteristic of other insects such as grasshoppers.
So we have two types of metamorphosis in insects. One is gradual and triple in nature, and the other is tetradic, with abrupt leaps and changes of shape. These two processes of maturation among humans are the key to understanding the dynamics of identity not only in the postmodern technological world, but in the great works of literature and music as I summarize below. (See my THE INSECT-POPULATED MIND (2005 for a full exposition).

Now does all this have any connection with human culture, remote as the world of insects appears? Let us work from the 4-fold structure distinguished by Descartes:
A symphony is a sonata for orchestra with, normally, four movements.
In the 1st movement, themes are stated. The opening is like an egg hatching, revealing in embryo the motifs that will be dramatised in the course of the four movements.
The second movement usually proceeds slowly - like a caterpillar. A larva lives only to eat and, as in Beethoven`s Eroica for example, the music proceeds at a stately pace gorging itself on the central motifs. It is providing the fuel for the dynamic energy of its later growth when it will have to turn its back on this early period in order to release the imaginal buds that will bring about the perfected insect - or in this case symphony.
The 3rd movement is rapid, febrile, anticipating final release. It is the sonar equivalent of the shimmering chrysalis of nature, trembling with incipient being and resolution. There is a sense of rising excitement as in the scherzo of the Eroica.
The 4th is the climax which, as Berlioz wrote of Beethoven, “leads from tension to release, from compulsion to liberation, from the tragic to the joyous.”

The great philosopher of music, Schopenhauer, followed the structure in his The World as Will and Representation. As Thomas Mann put it in his essay: "I have often called his great work a symphony in four movements; and in the third, devoted to the `object of art,` he celebrates music as no other thinker has ever done, ascribing to her a quite special place, not beside but above the other arts, because she is not like them, the image of the phenomenon, but immediately the image of the will itself, and thus to all the physical of the world she depicts the metaphysical, to all appearance the thing itself." (from Essays of Three Decades)
Thus Schopenhauer solves the problem of Kant`s unknowable ding-an-sich, and posthumously reduces much modernist academic speculation to irrelevance, lacking as it does the concentration and span of the Danzig (Gdansk) philosopher.

And then there is Shakespeare. Although intellects as varied as George Steiner and Goethe have characterized him as an unruly genius, his intuitive nature reveals an instinctively structured evolution parallel to that of the metamorphic insect world. As Byron put it: “Shakespeare led a life of Allegory; his works are the comments on it.”
1. The egg is the 4 central History plays - Henry VI, parts 1,2,3, together with Richard III.
2. The larval or caterpillar phase is made up of the 4 so-called Problem Plays -
Much Ado about Nothing, Troilus and Cressida, Measure for Measure, All`s Well that Ends Well.
3. The pupal stage is constituted by the 4 great tragedies: Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear. This transitional moment in a holometabolic metamorphic insect`s life is also a time of dying, when the early cells are killed off to prepare for the imago birth.
4. The perfect creature. This is found especially in The Tempest, but as part of a cluster of the 4 Last Plays, including Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter`s Tale.

How does all this square with the science of the universe?
Let us look at the Big Bang. It engendered a series of quaternal explosions. In brief:

helium - 4 coalesces with another helium-4

then beryllium -8 picks up another helium -4
until carbon - 12
As the Big Bang unfolds, helium-3 picks up a further neutron to balance its two protons, and creates the catalyst for the formation of helium-4. The collision in turn of helium-4 nuclei gives rise to the unstable beryllium-8 through the triple-alpha process, and then a further interaction with helium-4 opens the way for the emergence of the carbon and oxygen which will, in time, be crucial for life on earth. When carbon-12 is struck by another helium-4, oxygen results.

There can be no life without the 4 electrons found in the L shell of the carbon atom, giving carbon a valence of 4. This enables it to combine with a hydrogen atom to form the hydrocarbon molecule methane (CH4), which is one of the simplest organic molecules. Before the formulation of the quantum theory by Planck, and its application to the structure of atoms by Bohr, the nature of chemical bonds between two atoms could not be explained. It is in fact the quantitized symmetry that allows atoms to coalesce to form complex organic molecules. Carbon is of special significance because the number of electrons in its outer shell is just 4, which is half the number permitted in that shell. So carbon can absorb up to 4 electrons, and also lose the same number.

To return to the Big Bang: in Population-II stars the nuclei whose atomic weights are multiples of 4 are favored because 4 is the atomic weight of He4, which plays the dominant role in heavy element build-up. Population-I stars are formed from a chemical mixture that already contains heavy nuclei. Since these can capture protons in addition to He4 nuclei, the restriction to nuclei whose atomic weights are multiples of 4 is finally removed. At this point freedom in the sense of a certain randomness has replaced direct necessity.

There are further key numerical details from the scientific data.
1. Minkowski`s theory which opened the way for Einstein`s advances was based in absolute 4-dimensional space-time, which replaced Newton`s flat 3-dimensional Euclidean space.
2. There are 4 known Forces regulating the universe - gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces.
3. Classes of compounds essential to life are 4 - nucleic acids, proteins, lipids and carbohydrates.
4. DNA has the 4 bases of adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine.
5. RNA likewise has 4 bases, with thymine replaced by uracil.
6. The 90% of DNA that is apparently non-functional (i.e. that does not code for proteins) has a sequence of 33 sub-units repeated 4 times. This quaternal repetition is found time and again in DNA.
7. Hemoglobin is formed from 4 amino acid chains.
8. Nucleotides have 4 constituents.
9. In the genetically archetypal fly drosophila melanogaster, there are 4 pairs of chromosomes, and at each cell division during the development of the egg into the adult, the chromosomes are reproduced so that each cell in the adult body resembles the fertilized egg in having two similar sets of 4 chromosomes.
10. The cerebrum of the human brain has 4 paired and major lobes of its own, and under this forebrain the remainder is similarly of 4 parts.

By way of concise recapitulation - from Eastern thought to Western music via language elements:
SYMPHONY 1st movement - motifs are stated
4 ASRAMAS brahmacarya - disciplines & education

2nd movement slow -like a caterpillar
garhasthya - life of householder &active citizen

pupa (pupil)
scherzo - febrile and anticipatory
vanaprasthya - retreat for loosening of bonds

imago (psukhe)
finale - resolution and celebration of themes
sannyasa - life of the hermit

These structures may be thought of as reverberating upwards and outwards from the poet who most perceptively diagnosed the problem of human life -
Robert Browning who defined the world as a place “man partly is and wholly hopes to be” in `A Death in the Desert`, and earlier “man is not Man as yet” in Book 5 of Paracelsus. These perhaps relates to Thoreau`s observation that "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," (for which see my book on the metaphors of human and insect metamorphosis in `Walden`.)

The Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid took the English poet as his intellectual springboard in his early `Annals of the Five Senses` and wrote that
“he held with Browning the great central liberal feeling, a belief in a certain destiny for the human spirit beyond and perhaps even independent of, our sincerest convictions, and could not see
`What purpose serves the soul or world it tries
Conclusions with, unless the fruit of victories
Stay one and all stored up and guaranteed its own
For ever by some mode whereby shall be made known
The gain of every life.`”
MacDiarmid is the twentieth century poet of greatest questing intellectual rigor, who in his last poem, `In Memoriam James Joyce: Towards a Vision of World Language`, concluded dramatically -
“There lie hidden in language elements that effectively combined
Can utterly change the nature of man."


Some early readers` responses:


"inspiring and stimulating"

"thought-provoking. first chapters already read and am looking forward to
the ensuing"

Erasmus at work