elan vital

Life Begets Life

In general terms, we affirm the significance of life in all its forms. We are living on a planet that basically sustains life physically and hence it is rightly assumed that this very planet which we call Earth is alive. We have seen the necessary importance of the life-giving resources on Earth and we should be grateful they are available for our sustenance. We cannot deny the fact that this planet where we are located is a wonderful abode rich in diverse flora and fauna. On the brighter side of life, we positively say we enjoy the Earth and everything on it which we have deemed delightful and magnificent. We are awed by the wonders and mysteries of life and while the focal point of our reflection at the moment is just this very small iota of being in an unlimited universe called the Cosmos, what more exceeding exhilaration unutterable in the limitation of human language can ever compare with how we are overwhelmed by the enormity of this Cosmos. Are we therefore at fault and in the process entertaining an illusion as common sense leads us to perceive of a “reality” where we assume the existence of a transcendent power beyond all of these seemingly incomprehensible wonders? Is it illusory to submit oneself to the dictate of reason in a situation where the limitations of physical reality render one helpless to explain the circumstances of being and resort to the conception of an understanding of a larger reality in meaningful terms? In this sense, what we can only get into, philosophically, is the conception of an understanding (which is fundamentally subjective) and never the conception of the larger reality where the dialectical convergence of the subjective and the objective is realized in the formation of a meaningful world or a world of meanings.

It is assumed that there is a transcendent power behind all these wonders: an elan vital (to appropriate a special term from Henri Bergson’s theory of creative evolution).  And these wonders in poetic terms are pulsating with life, so to speak. In other words, the life we find in earthly organisms is life that mysteriously emanates from a supernatural source. In ontological terms, we ask: Is it possible that life may emanate from a source that is non-life? Can an agency or entity with no properties of life give off life? Logical consistency dictates that life can only come from a source that has the power to bestow life. Life begets life. And the wonders of being have certain ineffable properties that defy a thorough and concrete chronological narrative as to their origin in historic time and in quantitative terms as well. We are witnesses to their qualitative worth and can only marvel in their presence with all the limitations of our epistemic capacity.

Forms of Life in the Dimensions of Being

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle metaphysically configured the wonders of being according to dimensions: The Dimensions of Being. Most basic of these dimensions is the physico-chemical where we find the non-living components of Earth’s geological and atmospheric constitutions deemed to sustain the succeeding higher levels in the emerging biological and psychical dimensions. What we see here is a network of dimensions whose lower level is transcended by a higher one without dissipating the lower but rather incorporating or including it in simultaneity with the emergence of the new and higher which is by no means grounded on the lower. Next to the physico-chemical dimension is the emergence of the higher biological dimension that does not owe its being from the former. Much like the physico-chemical dimension, the biological dimension has a “presuppositionless” origin shrouded in mystery and hence never epistemically traceable but whose facticity is indubitably accepted as it objectively presents itself to empirical perception. The eminent Cambridge-educated Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein affirms this in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (6.522): “There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.”  However, it is likewise important to recognize the facticity of the presence of physico-chemical components in the biological dimension, thereby affirming the well-entrenched notion that the essential components of the lower dimension are not only transcended by but also incorporated into the higher dimension. In other words, the biological transcends and includes the physico-chemical as well which in significant terms fundamentally sustains the well-being of the former.

As we further trace the much higher dimensions of being, a major area of the biological dimension presents itself with the uniqueness of an especially distinct component: consciousness. The vegetative or botanical area of the biological dimension does not have it; only the zoological. Getting to this point of the network of dimensions reveals to us that in the zoological area of the biological dimension, a new and higher dimension of the same mysterious origin and something that likewise does not necessarily emanate from the immediately previous dimension emerges; a dimension that in the same light as the earlier event transcends and includes the lower ones. The consciousness dimension of being separates the zoological from the botanical. Though with the latter, the zoological shares the essential components of both the physico-chemical and the biological as a further affirmation of the principle of transcendence and incorporation in the dynamics of the dimensions of being. In this connection, life in the biological dimension is given a new and higher signification by the emergence of consciousness. Zoological life has therefore been elevated over and above the botanical within the basic scope of the biological to inaugurate a new level of being–the consciousness dimension—which highlights life that is and will always be fundamentally sustained by the physico-chemical essentials but is now more valued in the hierarchy of being by virtue of the presence of consciousness in it.

 Self-Consciousness and the Complexification of Life in the Human Realm

The network of dimensions does not however end here as a new and higher form of zoological life emerges with the same degree of ineffability and constituted of the same physico-chemical, biological and consciousness components. A new dimension comes out with the power to complexify zoological consciousness as this new form of consciousness displays the extraordinarily unique capability to be conscious of itself. At this point in time, zoological life with its consciousness dimension is now rendered less significant before this new dimension of being that is not simply endowed with consciousness per se but more than anything else, with consciousness of its own consciousness: the self-consciousness dimension. Once again, life is hereby re-signified in the context of a new paradigm; one that is much higher than the previous conception that separates and elevates the zoological over and above the botanical. This development transcends the zoological and inaugurates a new dimension incarnated in humanity.

The self-consciousness dimension in the network of dimensions of being creates an axiological landscape (a uniquely special valuation) that distinctively views life in the human context as the crowning glory of the reality of life. Properly, life as it is possessed by the human being goes through the spontaneous process of dignification by the human act of consciously valuating life and consciousness itself that is vitally sustained by life. Life dignified in this light is hence uniquely special and the Aristotelian formulation agrees consistently with the dictum that all human life is dignified. Not all life is dignified in general terms as we view its distinct formation in the different dimensions of being. There is no question that it is significant and hence essential and useful in a much broader consideration. But it is only human life that is dignified by the uniqueness of a special type of consciousness which is the necessary defining factor of humanity: self-consciousness. It is self-consciousness alone that has separated humanity from the rest of earthly organisms. It is self-consciousness alone that makes human beings human. Zoological and botanical life-forms are endowed with life in its purely biological sense with a modicum of limited consciousness in the case of animals. We can rightly say that their lives are very highly significant in a lot of ways but one thing they lack is the element of nobility through dignification.

The Dignity of the Human Species

Despite the irritating (at least) and devastating (at most) effects of human follies on planet Earth, the dignity of the human species is indubitable in the light of the reality that he is endowed with elan vital hence he is a living self-conscious being. Self-consciousness at various levels of reality is a way leading to myriad possibilities that signify a meaningful existence. The facticity of self-consciousness in humanity has built the world we have now which on the positive side is characterized by the edifices of human intelligence and creativity. These are achievements in global magnitude that can never ever be inaugurated and realized in the domain of lower forms of being.  This is the world that the self-conscious, intelligent and creative humanity has formed. And without humanity there is no world.  The world is human and the demise of humanity is the end of the world. The best of what the world has owe their being in the dignity of the human being.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 22 January 2013

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