Life as emergent agential systems: Tendencies without teleology in an open universe

Zygon 48 (4):984-1000 (2013)


Life is a relationship among various kinds of agents interacting at different scales in ways that are multifarious, complex, and emergent. Life is always a part of an ecological embedding in communities of interaction, which in turn structure and influence how life evolves. Evolution is essential for understanding life and biodiversity. Henri Bergson's Creative Evolution suggests a way of examining “tendencies” without “teleology.” In this paper I reexamine that work in light of recent concepts in evolutionary ecology, and explore how agential aspects of life are essential for understanding how emergence provides a basis for a process-based metaphysics of life. In support of this project, I will explore how the major transitions of life on Earth have proceeded through increasing levels of cooperation among agents (e.g., mitochondria in animal cells forming a mutualistic relationship), which have allowed further emergences and complexity to evolve. This complexity always, however, emerges in the context of ecological relationships and a nonteleological evolutionary process. Yet, while nonteleological, the progression of life thus far on this planet seems to hold the promise of certain tendencies that seem inherent in life itself

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