Charles Sanders Peirce and Integral Evolution

The reason I find it interesting to think about different dimensions is because the distinction between one dimension and the next is uniquely…well…distinct. We are all very familiar with distinctions between one thing and the next, like my car and my friend’s car. We are also familiar with distinctions between different kinds of things like the difference between cars and trucks. But the distinction of dimension is different, it is a more profound distinction that is not just a difference between objects, but a difference in the context in which objects exist.

Charles Sanders Peirce felt that any true theory of evolution had to explain how absolutely everything evolved including such supposed universals as time, space and the laws of nature. According to Peirce these universals couldn’t simply be fixed quantities in which evolution occurred, they must also have evolved.

To come up with an evolutionary theory that could explain the evolution of everything Peirce identified three modes of being; firstness (or essence), secondness (or the encounter with essence), and thirdness (or ideas that connect essences with encounters). To these modes of being he also added one universal tendency, the tendency of habit, which simply means that when something happens once it becomes more likely to happen again. With these three modes of being and the universal tendency to form habit Peirce believed that the evolution of absolutely everything else in the universe could be explained, including the evolution of time, space, universal law, energy, matter, mind, thought, self, etc.

I would say that Peirce’s theory was integral precisely because what he was describing as the three modes of being were more like different dimensions than different things. I am defining integral here as a state in which different elements are not just connected and in relationship, but cannot be separated and if one is changed the other or others must be included in that change.

Let’s use the example of two sides of a coin. You can’t have a one sided coin. Any coin you have would have to be two sided. Maybe you could try to shave off one of the sides, but whatever was left would still be the other side. There is no way to separate one side of the coin from the other. You could slice the coin in half, but you would only end up with two coins each having two sides. Something in this direction is what I am thinking about when I use the word integral. It is characterized by a necessary unity of two or more elements in which these things cannot be separated and a change in one implies a change in the other. This is different than the relationship between things that might be connected to one another by the fact that changing one causes a change in the other. What I am trying to describe as an integral relationship is more than interconnectedness, or cause and effect, it is in a sense different perspectives on the same single thing.

To go back to Peirce’s thoughts, the aspects of firstness, secondness, and thirdness cannot be separated and they by necessity must evolve together. Peirce envisioned a universe made up of these three modes of being that evolved as one single whole. To illustrate this think of a room or let’s say a box. The box is made up of six square sides, but we could say, as I did in my last post, that the box is made up of two things, the sides and the inside. The inside is not made up of the same material as the sides, but it is integrally connected, because if you make the sides of the box bigger, the inside of the box will get bigger as well. You cannot separate one from the other.

Similarly you cannot separate firstness, secondness and thirdness and evolution in any one implies an evolution of the others. That is why Peirce called for the formation of what he called a “community of inquirers” who would investigate together into the nature of reality. They would effectively be evolving the thirdness of the universe, but in evolving the thirdness of the universe they would also be evolving the firstness and secondness as well. To Peirce the growth of our understanding of the universe was actually an integral part of how the universe as a whole evolved.