Spirit

Abstract

Many religions and religious philosophies say that ultimate reality is a kind of primal energy (such as qi, mana, manitou, teotl, pneuma, and so on). This energy is often described as a vital power animating living things, as a spiritual force directing the organization of matter, or as a divine creative power which generates all things. By refuting older conceptions of primal energy, modern science opens the door to new and more precise conceptions. Primal energy is referred to here as ‘spirit’. But spirit is a natural power. A naturalistic theory of spirit is developed using ideas from information theory and thermodynamics, such as the maximum entropy production principle. Spirit drives the evolution of complexity at all levels of existence.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Primal energies include Polynesian mana, Shinto musubi, Daoist qi (or ch’i), Stoic pneuma, Aztec teotl, Algonquian manitou, and so on. These concepts share the idea of life force generalized into an ultimate energy animating all things.

  2. 2.

    Religious naturalists like Peters regard God as an impersonal energy or force (2002: chaps. 1 and 5). According to the Pew Forum (2008: 5), one in four Americans who believe in God also believe that God is an impersonal force.

  3. 3.

    Subtle energy is common in New Age spiritualities (Albanese 1999). Along with these New Age and Eastern beliefs, one quarter of Americans affirm that physical things contain spiritual energy (Pew Forum 2009: 3).

  4. 4.

    Hobbes thinks of spirit naturalistically as subtle matter (Answer to Bramhall, 309; The Elements of Law Natural and Politic, 1.XI.4). Descartes also says spirit is subtle matter (The Passions of the Soul, art. 10). At the end of the General Scholium, Newton uses the term ‘spirit’ to refer to a natural force which may be electricity. Henry More and Ralph Cudworth posited a spirit of nature which was spatially extended and which drove matter to organize itself into more complex forms. Hegel asserted that spirit drives the evolution of nature through historical phases of ever increasing complexity.

  5. 5.

    The complexity of an organism has been defined as its number of distinct cell types (Bower 1988) or as its ratio of its non-protein-coding-DNA to its total DNA (Taft, Pheasant, and Mattick 2007). Both ways are consistent with each other and with physical complexity as energy-rate density.

  6. 6.

    The activity of spirit in living things does not entail orthogenesis; on the contrary, it is entirely consistent with the neo-Darwinian synthesis. Spirit is not a substance; it must be understood in terms of the mathematical dynamics of complexity.

  7. 7.

    It has been argued that Teilhard’s radial energy should be understood in thermodynamic terms as Gibbs free energy (Morowitz et al. 2005). Likewise Bergson’s élan vital should be understood in thermodynamic terms (DiFrisco 2015).

  8. 8.

    Entropic forces (like all forces) are measured in newtons.

  9. 9.

    As the universe approaches equilibrium, it will be a bunch of black holes. These may fuse into a single black hole or they may evaporate through Hawking radiation. So there will probably be later states closer to equilibrium. But the arguments made here depend only on the second law of thermodynamics; they do not depend on any further specific assumptions about the ultimate equilibrium state.

  10. 10.

    Clausius formulated the second law like this: ‘Die Entropie der Welt strebt einem Maximum zu’—the entropy of the world strives to a maximum (see Prigogine and Stengers 1984: 119). This striving lies behind the MEPP and the claim that under certain conditions physical systems strive to increase their complexities.

  11. 11.

    This argument has been used to explain the evolution of the earthly geochemical system (Kleidon 2010); the evolution of the earthly ecosystem (Vallino 2010); the evolution of plants (Dewar 2010); the evolution of cellular metabolic networks (Unrean and Srienc 2011). It explains the self-assembly of molecular structures (Belkin et al. 2015). Further examples in physics, chemistry, and biology are easy to find.

  12. 12.

    On the third hypothesis, spirit is an extropic force derived from the MEPP; since the MEPP is a consequence of the second law, any extropic force is an entropic force. So the physical features of spirit resemble those of other entropic forces (such as depletion forces or elastic forces). Many depletion forces acting on molecules and molecular assemblies have strengths of a few kT per nanometer, thus producing forces in the piconewton range (Marenduzzo et al. 2006). So spirit acts with similar strengths. It changes the microstates of systems. But changes in microstates scale up to become changes in macrostates. So spirit acts at larger scales.

  13. 13.

    The depth of an object (such as a bit string) is the amount of computational work needed to produce it (see Bennett 1988; Machta 2011).

  14. 14.

    For a review of the writers who argue that historically accumulated order is intrinsic value, see Steinhart (2014: secs. 72–74).

  15. 15.

    It seems to imply the existence of the best of all possible universes; but no such universe exists. It seems to maximize the number of things, but this maximization of the number of things conflicts with the maximization of value.

  16. 16.

    Leibniz thought of these possibilities as bit strings (Rescher 1991: 191; Strickland 2006: 21–25). But bit strings are equivalent to pure sets. Thus, spirit ultimately flows through the arrows in the graph of the membership relation.

  17. 17.

    Leibniz says that every possible strives for actuality; every essence strives for existence (1697: 86). He says that ‘Everything possible demands that it should exist’ (Leibniz, in Rescher 1991: 171). Here, every form strives to be instantiated.

  18. 18.

    Leibniz says ‘Everything possible demands that it should exist, and hence will exist unless something else prevents it, which also demands that it should exist and is incompatible with the former’ (Leibniz, in Rescher 1991: 171).

  19. 19.

    Leibniz says each potential has a tendency to actuality and that ‘the degree of this tendency [is] proportionate to the quantity of essence or reality, that is, to the degree of perfection of the possible involved’ (1697: 86). And again ‘the possible demands existence in its own nature, and indeed in proportion to its possibility or according to the degree of its essence’ (Leibniz, in Rescher 1991: 171–172; see also 206).

  20. 20.

    The Ontological Argument for Spirit is inspired by the ontological arguments of Millican (2004) and Steinhart (2014: sec. 127).

  21. 21.

    An improvement of a whole composed of parts is a whole composed of improvements of the parts. Suppose universe U contains parts A and B. The ways to improve A are A1 and A2 while the ways to improve B are B1 and B2. So the ways to improve U are {A, B1}, {A, B2}, {A1, B}, {A1, B1}, {A1, B2}, {A2, B}, {A2, B1}, {A2, B2}.

  22. 22.

    For Plotinus, evil has no reality of its own; it is the privation of the good. Plotinus says it emerges from the conflicts among goods (Enneads, 4.4.32). And yet, since nature is animated by conflict, even this conflict is good (Enneads, 2.3.16). Evil is in the parts but the whole of reality is good (Enneads, 3.2.3, 3.2.11, 3.2.17, 4.4.32).

  23. 23.

    It has been argued that the MEPP drives self-organizing systems into critical states (Dewar 2006). The MEPP is similar to the free-energy principle (Friston 2010), which has been extensively applied in neuroscience.

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Correspondence to Eric Steinhart.

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Steinhart, E. Spirit. SOPHIA 56, 557–571 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11841-017-0573-1

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Keywords

  • Spirit
  • Energy
  • Information theory
  • Thermodynamics
  • Striving possibles
  • Ontological argument