Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > From Physical Causes to Organisms of Meaning > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

The qualitative and thoughtful organism (1)

So, no, we don’t need vital forces. If the organism as an expression of meaning requires us to recognize a different sort of order from that of inanimate nature, science offers no presumption against this. Our knowledge of some thought-relations in the world — for example, those of mathematized physical law — does not tell us what other thought-relations we might discover in various domains. The mathematical order, however, does tell us that there must be other principles of order. For mathematics alone doesn’t give us any things or phenomena at all; numbers are not things. Whatever the things may be to which our mathematical formulations refer, they either have a qualitative character that we can consciously apprehend in a conceptually ordered way, or they must remain unknown and outside our science. And that qualitative conceptual ordering cannot be predicted from the mathematics. Rather, the qualitative order is the fuller reality that determines whatever we abstract from it, including mathematical relationships.

Who can tell us in advance what forms of order we may discover in this more-than-numerical world? If, in organisms, we observe principles of coordination through which physical laws are not only fully respected but also caught up in higher-order, integrated, harmonious, and self-assertive forms — well, then, that’s what we observe. The ideas expressed in that coordination and integration may be more saturated and resonant than the concepts of the physicist, but they are no more our arbitrary invention than is the mathematical harmony of planetary motions.

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