Why does the universe need mind?
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014
Author: Mareyev Sergey, Modern Academy for Humanities, Moscow, Russia
“Cosmology of mind” is an
attempt to outline the objective role of thinking matter in the system of world
interaction (philosophical-poetic phantasmagoria, based on the principles of
dialectical materialism)” .
The title is typical of Ilyenkov’s self-irony, which does not mean that it was
just a mystification. Actually, it was a result of meditations concerning an
important problem: if and why the Universe is in need of mind. Every genuine
philosopher frames the question in a certain way; if he or she fails to ask
this question, this is evidence of the deficiency of his or her philosophy.
Ilyenkov’s statement was
inspired by some considerations in the late writings of Engels concerning the
so-called “main forms of motion” as attributes of matter. In Engels’
classification of the forms of motion, the highest and the most complicated
form is the social form or, in other words, the mind. Engels was convinced that
matter does not develop beyond this form. At least in the space to human
perception there is no form more complex than mind.
According to Engels, this
highest form of matter’s motion continues the line of development that runs
from mechanical physical, chemical, and biological forms. Each occupies its
particular place in the world interaction. No higher form can exist without the
lower, e.g. the physical form is impossible without the mechanical, the
chemical without the physical, the biological without the chemical, and without
biology human beings, possessing our social organization and mind, could not
exist. Each of these forms, as we see, performs its purpose. However, in this
line of thinking, the highest form is as it were “suspended” since it is just
the consequence and the aim of the preceding forms. But what is the aim of
mind? What is its purpose?
If there exists no higher
form for which we should be a necessary condition as a “building block,” then
the only solution is to join “the end” to “the beginning,” and then the aim of
the mind appears to be to maintain the entire line, thus consolidating the
whole system of interaction in the world. This is what Ilyenkov claimed in his
“Cosmology of mind.” He thought that by understanding the mind’s role, the mind
becomes a necessary and not an accidental phenomenon in the Universe.
Ilyenkov proceeded from
the idea that something can have its purpose within some whole or system only. Correspondingly,
the life of a human being has sense only so long as he or she is striving for
something. Schopenhauer was right to think that the Universe is meaningless if
it is but a congestion of mechanical bodies. However, if the Universe is not a
mechanical aggregation only, then each main form of its being must have its
purpose, an aim.
Why the Universe needs
mind and why in turn it needs life – these two problems are similar in some
ways. After all, living matter must have a purpose. First of all, it cannot be
simply that without life there is no thought, but that life must repay a “debt”
to those forms which generated it – to the chemical and physical ones. Herein
lies the crux of the matter where the question of life connects to the concept
of the Universe’s “Thermal Death.” Life is the sole form of matter preceding
the social form which possesses anti-entropic properties, since living
organisms are capable of accumulating the wasted energy of solar radiation and
converting it to the active form of their own functioning. Animals provide the
best example. They lead an active life, but the energy of their activity is, in
the long run, the radiant energy of the Sun.
Concerning the essence of
life, Soviet science mostly adhered to Engels’s definition: life is the mode of
being of protein bodies. But there still remains a crucial question: for what
purpose did life originate? This teleological statement of the question was
provoked by the entire cosmological tradition of the 20th century, first
introduced by Vernadsky’s idea of “noosphere”  and by the space biology of
Chizhevsky – a disciple and follower of Tsiolkovsky. Nikolay Fedorov’s
fantasies belong to this tradition as well. This strange Russian philosopher of
the 19th century dreamed of reviving “decayed worlds” (zagnivaiushchie miry).
Fedorov treated life not only as an earthly phenomenon, but also as a cosmic
one. So what does life mean in view of endless Space?
Thanks to Ilia Prigogine’s
research it has been discovered that different physico-chemical structures are
capable of self-regulation. However, only life can absorb radiant energy,
accumulate and transform it into an active form. Thus only life demonstrates
the circular, and not linear, character of world interaction. Only life “turns
round” the process of degradation from the highest to the lowest, bringing it
back again to the higher and more complex forms of matters’ organization.
In the “Cosmology of mind”
Ilyenkov wrote: The circular character of infinity corresponds only to the
dialectical world-view. The alternative to this understanding could only be a
notion that included the idea of the “beginning” and the “end” of world
development, “the first push,” “the state that is equal to itself,” and so
forth . In the most general form this idea of circularity can be found in
Heraclitus, who considered the world to be a fire that periodically flared up
and died out. But that was not much more than a metaphor. How this process
takes place, concretely, is unclear. Even Engels had no idea, although he not
only posed question, but also had certain scientific prerequisites in mind for
its solution. The entire question focuses on the point, how and where the
beginning and the end of the Big Cycle are joined.
In a certain sense life
has already closed the circle. However, there is every reason to consider life
as a cosmic phenomenon; life is not capable, evidently, to withstand the force
of world entropy because life can transfer just as much energy as it has
received into active forms. Neither the Earth, even were it completely covered
with vegetation, which is able to absorb and accumulate energy, nor billions of
other planets could have been able to absorb all the energy; an enormous part
of radiant energy is dissipated irretrievably in cosmic space. Sooner or later
life on Earth, which owes its existence to the energy and heat of the Sun, must
The point is that organic
life is not the highest form of the development of world matter. Its highest
form is the mind. According to Ilyenkov, at this level, the closure of the Big Circle occurs. The hypothesis Ilyenkov tries to substantiate in his “Cosmology of mind”
is that not only organic life, but the mind as well has a cosmic purpose, which
must be realized sooner or later. Ilyenkov proceeds from the belief that matter
does not exist without the thinking mind, just as there is no thinking without
The idea that the human
mind is the apex of development is present in the history of thought no less
than the idea of human being as the “peak of creation” in the conception of man
as a microcosm. The ideas centering on the existence of a reality higher to
human being have always been of a religious nature. However, as Feuerbach
showed, if a religion is but the doubling of the human world, then it follows
that any world of an order higher than the human one is a fantastic world.
Ilyenkov concluded that
matter must not only have an “upper” boundary, but a “lower” one, too. This was
discovered in the natural sciences long ago as the state of the simplest
mechanical properties. A form of matter’s motion simpler than mechanical motion
has not been found yet. It is impossible to imagine such a form, because
outside mechanics, as the lowest threshold, interaction of any kind ceases to
exist. Therefore, even if there is something “there,” it is beyond discovery.
After all, any disclosure is the result of our interaction with something that
we find, discover, and cognize. In other words here science stops and mysticism
However, the lower boundary
is discovered not as something beyond which we are unable to move. It is
discovered as the nonlinear characteristic of movement. In other words, there
is neither absolute regress of matter nor absolute progress. As soon as we pass
the “lower” limit and start to split the simplest unit of matter with only
mechanical properties, new, more complicated properties are discovered – for
instance quanta and waves. The so called “microworld” turns out to be something
akin to the macroworld. Modern physics arrives at something that the greatest
natural philosophers of the past were not able to hit upon: reality turns out
to be more interesting and fanciful than the most subtle fantasies.
The sameness of the
microworld and the macroworld becomes apparent not only at the level of
physical properties. Quite comparable energetic potentials are also revealed:
the energy of one atom’s substance is comparable to the energy that is
contained in any macrosystem. As for the specific features of vital human activity,
they differ essentially from animals’ activity by their energetic potential. An
animal basically uses the energy of its own organic body in its life activity,
whilst people, in their labour activity, use tools. Therefore a human being
exploits the objects of nature as the conductors of his own impact on other
objects of nature, while he applies matter and the energy of nature with the
same purpose. The energetic potential of human technology by far surpasses the
potential of the organic body, not to mention the obvious exponential growth of
the former. So there is a boundary “above” and a boundary “below.” These are
the two prerequisites on which Ilyenkov founds his hypothesis.
philosophical-theoretical prerequisite of the hypothesis, – Ilyenkov continues
– is the indisputable statement that “everything that exists is worthy of
destruction,” that any “finite” form of existence has its beginning and its
end. This statement is applicable to both the present solar-planet system and
mankind that dwells upon it” .
Nowadays it is unlikely
that someone would disagree with this assumption. Still, the question is, how
will the mind perish in our solar system? Should it die and leave nothing
behind then the mind remains a purely accidental fact in the history of the
“Thinking turns into an
absolutely futile episode which might just as well not have happened at all
without any detriment to everything else,” writes Ilyenkov. In this case
thought would not be an “attribute,” but “something like a mold on the planet
as it cools, or like a senile disease of matter and not the true flourishing of
the universe, not the highest product of world’s development” .
This problem relates not
only to the purposes of the human being and the mind. It is also connected to
the law of the conservation of energy, which holds only on the condition that
there is a transition from one qualitative form of the motion of matter to
another. So far science does not know, how the dissipated energy will return to
the initial state of incandescent gas, or proceed from the state of “caloric
death” to the plasmic state from which Nature can start the new Big Cycle of
It is here that Ilyenkov
advanced his hypothesis which in its magnitude surpasses the conceptions of the
greatest natural philosophers of the past as well as all phantasizing
moralists. He linked the problem of the purpose of human being and the problem
of “heat death” into one and the same essential problem that can be solved only
in one single manner. Why not assume, Ilyenkov writes, that “thinking is
exactly that qualitatively highest form in which the accumulation and fruitful
utilization of the energy, radiated by suns, is realised?” .
Organic life “resists” the
growth of entropy. According to one felicitous comparison, life is like a
sailor who climbs the mast of a ship that is sinking. The mast is finite, so
the “sailor,” i.e. life, will die sooner or later and change into an inorganic
dreg, into a mineral. If life, at the cost of its death, will not change to any
higher form, then its existence is completely senseless. Thus the sense of life
is to give birth to a rational being – that very human being which lives by way
of the death of animals and plants.
The human mind alone is
able not only to “oppose” the growth of entropy, but to return, at the expense
of its life, ever more tepid matter to its initial fiery state. How is this to
happen? Ilyenkov writes:
“In reality it can be
conceived as follows: at some very high point of their development thinking
beings, doing their cosmological duty and sacrificing themselves, consciously
produce the world catastrophe causing the process to reverse into the “caloric
death” of cosmic matter, thus initiating the process that leads to the revival
of dying worlds in the form of a cosmic cloud of incandescent gas and steam”
The world catastrophe
caused by the mind might be similar to a nuclear explosion, the “mechanism” of
which is based on a so called “chain reaction.” From the mere physical point of
view there is nothing implausible about this scenario. The general rule here is
that the “simpler” the structure under destruction is, the more energy it
produces. Obviously, the “simple” structure is more difficult to destroy,
though the energy, created by this destruction, is enormously larger than that
spent on destruction itself.
“And the prospect”, –
Ilyenkov concludes, – “is theoretically as follows: if it were possible to
destroy an infinitely small structural unit of substance, then a proportionally
equivalent infinite amount of created energy would be produced, the amount of
which would be enough to destroy and to transform into incandescent steam an
infinitely large mass with cold matter” .
This then is the
cosmologic hypothesis of Evald Ilyenkov. It might seem to many people to be
sci-fi in nature, like a flight to the Moon from a canon. We have to remind
ourselves that Ilyenkov himself called it “philosophical-poetic phantasmagoria.”
It seems, however, that it
is difficult to refute what he himself wrote: “Apparently no other hypothesis
can attribute such meaning to man and make as much sense of his death” .
The pathos of searching
for truth and the highest mission of man to serve Mother Nature are combined
into one. Ilyenkov tries to unite Heaven and Earth, Science and Religion, the
physical and the lyrical. He
thought that in that highest synthesis religion should be discarded in its form
and saved in its earthly content. Following Feuerbach and Marx, Ilyenkov
considered habitual religion to be a false (“distorted”) form of a very serious
– utterly serious – content: to solve the question of the essence of man and
his place in the universe. The question itself, Ilyenkov believed, was by no
1. Published for the
first time in E.V. Ilyenkov, Filosofija i kul’tura [Philosophy and culture],
Moskva, Politizdat 1991.
2. A term coined by Vernadsky to express the sphere of
mind’s (in Greek, nous) activity.
3. E.V. Ilyenkov,
Filosofiia i kul’tura, p. 419.
4. E.V. Ilyenkov,
Filosofiia i kul’tura, p. 421.
5. Ibid., pp. 431–432.
6. Ibid., pp. 432.
7. Ibid., p. 433.
Ibid., pp. 433–434.
9. Ibid., p. 435.
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014