Charles Sanders Peirce and Integral Evolution

Jeff Carreira Philosophy 12 Comments

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.

About the Author

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira is a mystical philosopher and spiritual guide. He is the author of eleven books on meditation and philosophy. He teaches online programs and leads retreats throughout the world that teach people how to let go of their current perceptual habits so they are free to participate in the creation of a new paradigm. To put it simply, he supports people to live a spiritually inspired life, free from the constraints of fear, worry and self-doubt, and aligned with their own deepest sense of meaning and purpose.
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Brian
Brian
11 years ago

It bugs me when people play fast and loose with the term ‘evolution’. Evolution is something that happens to living organisms over generations by way of natural selection. Spraying the term all over time, space, the universe, and the Grand Canyon renders it meaningless. The process that creates the Grand Canyon is erosion, not evolution. Let’s tighten up our terminology!

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
11 years ago

Brian, I am to much a lay person to discuss this point but as far as I understand it now it’s start was the 1900 quantum hypothesis by Max Planck that any energy is radiated and absorbed in quantities divisible by discrete ‘energy elements’. This energy is all the is, consciousness, matter, mind, life, Spirit. Yesterday I listened to a fantastic video series that discusses this all in very brief, simple parts. It is the theory of Arthur Young who explains it, this man invested the helicopter, it is amazing to listen to. Most amazing are the last items where… Read more »

Shizuka Mori
Shizuka Mori
11 years ago

Think about different detention certainty help to view “I think I think therefore I think I am” and Charles Sanders Peirce’s view of evolution.
Then I stuck the fact the wonderful flow of life carries on exquisitely, repeating and synchronizing over and over again, without some human’s guidance. The sun comes up and later goes down. Grass grows in the spring and lies dormant in the winter. The tides rise and fall. We go to bed at night to wake up in the morning. Life seems to flow perfectly without ideas that connect essences with encounters.

Carl
11 years ago

I apologize for posting something that might seem completely out of the flow, but in the context of talking about enlightenment, consciousness, evolution, and so on, the following book offers some breathtaking insights that seem relevant to almost all aspects of this blog: Julian Jaynes, “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.”

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
11 years ago

Thank you very much for this suggestion. It is interesting (on Amazon.com is the introduction where Jayness gives many existing theories about conciousness). One of the things that Jaynes says about the Individual mind connects with what Arthur Young explained: that it only appeared when the Greeks started to question the Gods. Wikipedia about The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976): Julian Jaynes proposed that human brains existed in a bicameral state until as recently as 3000 years ago. According to Jaynes, ancient people in the bicameral state would experience the world in a manner… Read more »

Dave
Dave
11 years ago

I recently stumbled on your blog via google reader…
I am interested in what you might think about the relationship between “Peirce’s three modes of being; firstness (or essence), secondness (or the encounter with essence), and thirdness (or ideas that connect essences with encounters)” and 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person contexts in language, written and spoken.
To me it seems they are connected which might have much to say about the our relationship to mind and to each other.

Thanks
Great posts!

Dave
Dave
11 years ago

Thanks Jeff,
Makes sense. I first ran into the idea with Ken Wilber but could not recall if he had acknowledged Peirce or not, I would suspect he did but I don’t have those books with me at the time.

Keep up the great lines of thought!

Chuck R
Chuck R
10 years ago

Carl:
I was always greatly disappointed that Julian Jaynes never produced his promised sequel to “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.” That is a fascinating book.

Starting from his premise, I’m not convinced that the bicameral mind actually has fully broken down in all humans, but that it may be an continuing process. But it’s been about 30 years since I read the book, so I’ve forgotten most of it.