The Curious Case of John Elof Boodin vs. Charles Darwin

The American philosophy of Pragmatism was in many ways a direct response to Darwin’s publication of “On the Origin of Species.” The early Pragmatists were trying to apply the same logic to philosophy that Darwin had applied to evolution. At the same time the Pragmatists were generally apposed to the idea that chance mutation and natural selection were the only things moving evolution along. They didn’t want to replace chance with reliance on God, or a metaphysical force that was outside of the realm of experience, but they were committed to finding a real cause for the directionality of evolution.

William James and John Dewey seemed willing to agree that chance and adaptation were the blind movers of evolution until the human mind emerged. After that they saw human intelligence as the guiding force of further evolution. Charles Sanders Peirce postulated that Evolutionary Love was guiding evolution.

Another philosopher John Elof Boodin, who was a graduate student of Josiah Royce and William James at Harvard, had his own ideas. Boodin was certainly influenced by the Pragmatism of James, but was more fundamentally an idealist after the heart of Josiah Royce.

Boodin felt that Darwin had come to the conclusion that random mutation and the pressure of survival were the only factors in determining the direction of evolution because he was looking at evolution as if it were happening to individuals and species on planet Earth. Darwin was taking a geo-centric view of evolution when in actuality evolution was a cosmic process. Boodin felt that to get a clear picture of evolution you had to realize that it was not species that were evolving, it was the whole cosmos. The development of species had to be seen as part of the development of the cosmos.

Boodin actually saw the evolution of plants and animals as part of the evolution of the Earth’s crust. He likened evolutionary development to the development of a child in society. The child develops in certain ways not by chance, but because its evolution is guided by its surroundings. A baby doesn’t develop in isolation. For instance it learns a language because it hears the language spoken around it.

Similarly species develop as they do because they are part of a developing environment. But why does the environment of the Earth develop the way it does? Boodin speculated that in the entire universe there would be planets at all different levels of development, and just like a developing child follows the lead of more mature people as it develops, our planet follows the lead of more mature planets along its path to maturity.

This happens through a process Boodin called Cosmic Interaction. In the continuum of space/time all planets are interconnected and through the passing of electromagnetic waves from one to another the planets transmit information to each other. Somewhere there must be a most evolved planet with the most evolved life forms and all the other planets are following the lead of that one.

Boodin’s theory (to the extent that I currently understand it) is intriguing even if it seems a bit hard to swallow. I do think that there is some credit due to him for his insight that in order to understand evolution we must attempt to see it as a cosmic process and not as an isolated occurrence on our own planet.

I intend to read more of Boodin’s work and will report on it here as I do.