How the ontological shift in science has paradoxically led to a weakening of human power

Abstract: The successes of human organization and its science have led us to a paradoxical powerlessness in the face of the climatic and geopolitical catastrophe that is looming. In this philosophical pamphlet, I explain the paradox by the absence of coordination between ontological science and teleological desires, the first homogeneous and the second heterogeneous. Powerlessness leads to a naturalism of submission, to a regression of our humanistic aspirations. Only their organization in a new collective thought can restore their power. Should we hope for the crowd to become spontaneously wise, or recreate a higher and more fluid hierarchy of expertise, a pyramid at the top of which Humanism argues with Nature?

The scarecrow of AI makes us forget that man is his own threat

Did you think reading the title that I was going to tell you about replacing humans with AI? This is one aspect of the paradox. The discovery of the mechanisms of intelligence gives it a new start, beyond the limits of a cranial box. Our species could tip over in the ditch of evolutionary waste, or continue its slow path of organic mud… next to a highway traversed by mineral cognitive speedsters, rushing towards knowledge beyond our reach. But it is not about this weakening that I would like to speak to you. It is about the replacement of the human will by that of Nature.

Science did not start as an ontological power

From the world’s point of view, ontology started before teleology. The micromechanisms turned before the intentions formed by them. For knowledge it is the reverse: the intention to know begins before its constitution. There is a pre-programming of the mind that drives it to seek, even before knowing what it is made of. From the point of view of the spirit, teleology starts before ontology.

This is how science, queen of ontological knowledge, made its debut in the service of our intentions. Understanding micromechanisms had a teleological purpose: to increase humanity’s power over the world, to manipulate Nature to better satisfy our desires. Science clearly affirms that micromechanisms initiate the functioning of the world, but it was used primarily to lead to a result that we agree with. Determination by the outcome and not the beginning. Era of the scientist as the programmer of the world.

From servant to herald

The success of science was such that today the servant has become a herald. The mind is so occupied with its concepts of micromechanisms that these have become intentional. Their status as firstcomers has decolonized them from our beliefs! Age of the scientist as an observer of the world. Science becomes the spokesperson for Nature, this symbolic representation for the set of the micromechanisms.

This is the shift taken in particular by ecology. Contemporary ecology is not only the progress of knowledge of the world, it is also an inversion of power: we diminish the teleological, we ask humans to reduce their desires, to restore power to the natural, to the spontaneous organization of things.

The ecological tree, made of wood and metal

This inversion of power is variously appreciated. It separates two branches in ecology: 1) Technocratic, inherited from programming science, responsible for executing all human ambitions, even the most excessive. 2) The natural, which has become the majority, whose priority is the protection of the ecosystem against the disproportionate appetites of humanity. This vast current in turn gives rise to two branches, depending on whether the posture is more or less ontological:

2a) Moderates see our society as artificial, disconnected from natural evolution. Many would like to not only protect but conserve the ecosystem as it is, as any modification may be a human-caused disaster rather than evolutionary progress.

2b) The radicals consider the human species as a dramatic accident of evolution, leading inevitably to a planetary catastrophe, undoubtedly worse than the asteroid which annihilated the dinosaurs. They identify entirely with Nature, to the point of wishing for the regression of the excessive number of humans who despoil it, some considering their own euthanasia1the most counter-productive idea there is, even for those who imagine thus joining a great bio-spiritual Whole. A collectivist idea has no real power until it is collectively shared. If the people most likely to spread it start by eliminating themselves…. Here teleology has completely disappeared from the mind, replaced by pure ontological aspiration.

Look for consistency

At least ontological in appearance, because there exists in these people a psychoanalytical transference on Mother Nature. Micromechanisms have no soul. Nature becomes mystical, personified in Gaia, the ultimate mother figure. Even the humus should no longer be turned because it is full of life. It is indeed life, a rather teleological notion ultimately, that these radicals seek to protect, and not carbon atoms assembled into organic molecules.

However, the ontological posture remains coherent in itself. By identifying with Nature, we do not see ourselves returning to the state of a mineral and sterile desert. We must restore the process of natural selection that has worked so well so far, and therefore stop its perversion by the human economy. Destroy the technocracy in its service, which exhausts the planet to maintain 8 billion humans there. And among the associated recommendations: drastically reduce this overgrowth.

Let’s get to the bottom of the paradox

I can now summon the paradox that motivates my article: How is it that with a conquering science, more aware of the micromechanisms of the world than it has ever been, we are so powerless to influence the catastrophe that is unfolding? Why are we compelled to give power back to Nature, to its fearless mechanisms, indifferent to our desires, when our means of manipulating them have never been so sharp and diverse? Why have the successes of ontological science resulted in an overall weakening of human power?

The common answer is that science went through an overly technocratic childhood, excessively subject to our megalomania. Knowing the micromechanisms was the opportunity to discover that we were breaking them. To take the part of Nature is to take care of our progenitor. The head struggles to save its body, discovering that it cannot do without it.

But this answer remains superficial. How to delimit the proper use of science, how to define a techno-deontology? The swing back, wanting to save the body, risks decapitating the head! Our intentions are vilified, gutted, thrown in the trash. Give up cultural travel, travel is too expensive! Stop feeding yourself information, it consumes too much power! Teleology is also a hope: wishing that all of humanity would benefit from the vanguard of civilizational progress. While the ontological injunction is to abandon these pretensions, take back your spade and your watering can, keep only the abortion pill from technocracy, because it is not reasonable to install new humans on your little earthen plot.

The paradox clarified

The paradox of our weakening becomes clear: it comes from the confusion between ontological and teleological imperatives. I have tried to explain them by example, but these terms are probably still a bit confusing. They are indeed entangled, and ontology is often disguised teleology. We have seen it with the eco-radicals, followers of Gaia, who have a Spinozian conception of the world: God and Nature are one. To think of being a tiny part of a deified Nature is indeed a teleological concept. It can go beyond the ontological one of survival. The individual sacrifices her being to save Nature. This is surely not what her genes hoped…

Let us be careful to separate what pertains to true ontology —the data of science correctly interpreted— and very varied teleologies, including mystical naturalism. The good use of science being one intention among others, misuses are more numerous. Let’s do real science, without idle interpretation. Once this difficult prerequisite has been obtained, we can make the ontological information coincide with our teleological desires. It is not a question of giving it up, but asking: What can we get?

What can I get?

This posture stands at the crossroads of the two tendencies of ecology: it refuses purely technocratic diktats as well as purely natural ones. It recognizes the primacy of constitution to micromechanisms, but the primacy of intention goes to the species installed at the top of complexity. Luckily it’s ours! Perhaps soon we will have to leave this place to AIs…

Modulate our intentions not to protect a deified Nature, installed in a sacred tabernacle, but according to what we can achieve by manipulating it. Don’t exhaust the cash cow, but if it’s possible to create a breed that produces more, why not? The term ‘sustainable development’ is so vague that it deserves to be abandoned. It assumes that we are able to predict the future and its technological developments. Illusory, isn’t it? It would be better to speak of ‘development without deadly threat’.

Expand or shrink?

Ecology, torn between its contradictory tendencies, does not advise us with one voice. Humanity suffers a weakening of power. All because ontological and teleological forces are not clearly separated and coordinated. The ontological branch of ecology, radicalized in worshipers of Gaia, wants to give power back to Nature. But it never intended to house 8 billion human consumers. Gaia dies from their tricks and would perhaps recover if this population were reduced by half.

For the teleological branch of ecology, which includes moral force, there is no question of taking a single life! On the contrary, we must save all those we can. Our solidarity ethic even requires improving the lot of the poorly off, providing them with some of the comfort reserved for the wealthy, and therefore making them consume more. An aberration for the supporter of the Natural, who advocates degrowth —generally installed in a well-equipped house. The misunderstanding is total, the coordination non-existent. The crowd, which includes all these people, goes stupidly in one direction and the other. Nothing is organized.

Is a head a gain or a loss of power for the other organs?

How does the mob make itself less stupid? By integrating individual desires into a higher level of organization. Society integrates our needs into vast economic and political systems, responsible for satisfying the greatest number of them. Like science, these systems are at the service of our intentions. Economics and politics are not open to criticism in themselves, only on the service rendered. Are they performing their utilitarian functions properly, without exposing us to “deadly threats”?

We are quick to criticize these systems, but more often than not their shortcomings are of human essence. No foolproof system with fallible humans. Or reluctant to unite. There is a crippling gap between a globalized economy and a policy of compartmentalised cultures. Humans claim a uniform standard of living without touching their incompatible customs and religions. However, economic and political interactions are not watertight. No overall system works effectively under these conditions. The crowd is stupid because it has not one head but many, busy hurling challenges and insults at each other.

Teleological Disorder versus Ontological Order

This is the great weakness of our teleological effort: it is pitifully organized. Nothing collective. Rich and poor hate each other. There is nothing reprehensible in itself in the fact that some profit more from the system. Some of the inequalities are natural and we said that we had to coordinate with it. But that the profiteers also hold the levers of the system and freeze it is a problem: it is no longer representative of the collective interest.

In the other direction, the ontological, naturalistic effort appears by contrast very homogeneous. The micromechanisms are the same for everyone. The model to follow is consensual. This is why this ecology is on the rise and commands us to erase our desires. A majority of scientists today are naturalists. Those still in the service of technocracy seem subservient to the rich, preoccupied with saving their privileged way of life, unbearable for the planet. This split between scientists receiving the same information may seem surprisingly offensive, except in this light: it is a clash of directions, ontological vs. teleological.

From technocracy to anarchy to tyranny

Technocrats are losing popularity but it is a mistake to rejoice. Ecology is not a social science. The poor will lose more than the rich. All human hopes are weakening, since they are replaced by those of Nature, which does not care. We need coordination, not conflict, between the two directions.

The main pitfall, at this point in the investigation, has become evident: one of the directions, the ontological, is perfectly homogeneous; the other, the teleological, is heterogeneous or even chaotic. The data hold a unique discourse, humans eight billion different discourses. Should we believe in their collective wisdom, if they all participated in ecological management? We have seen that this crowd is stupid, because it has no head. The heads of the East are hated by the West, which is itself busy cutting off its own heads faster and faster. Crowds of hyper-individualists install their anarchies.

In the cycle of regimes already mentioned by Plato, anarchy quickly gives way to tyranny. The next one will probably be naturalist. How dark will this age be? All our descendants, whoever they may be, will have lowered their claims. Will have become physiological extensions of Nature again or will no longer be.

Crazy Humanism in the face of Cold Naturalism

There is another way, of course. Reorganize the crowd. Give it a legitimate head. Able to coordinate the teleological intention with the ontological imperative. To merge the desires of eight billion humans into one to be presented and accepted by Nature. Make it a much more ambitious and generous collective desire than the eight billion little ones which tend to subtract to each other.

Recreating a head and a collective consciousness means reconnecting with delegation, rebuild a hierarchy of expertise and systems to coordinate them, where non-human intelligences will be integrated. Why rebuild when this hierarchy already exists? Because it is collapsing, for lack of representativeness. But it is this defect that must be eliminated, and not the hierarchy itself. On the contrary, the management of eight billion humans should have leveled it much more, while increasing its fluidity. Unfortunately the collective thought, which concretizes our organizations, mutates much less quickly than individual thoughts.

The emergency is not climatic but societal. It is the recreation of a collective thought, one that protects our diversity while imposing itself on it, in order to effectively dialogue our claims with Nature. Crazy Humanism in the face of Cold Naturalism.


2 thoughts on “How the ontological shift in science has paradoxically led to a weakening of human power”

  1. Quite a manifesto, JeanPierre. Sounds a lot like someone else I knew. The headlessness hits home and makes me remember the old revolutionary slogan: taxation without representation.
    Your metaphoric remarks on organization, and the lack thereof, got me thinking: headlessness is sort of like organization without representation? My older brother is somewhat alarmed over the reemergence of tribalism. I think that dovetails with what you write on anarchy. Well thought and well said. I think about the threats of complexity, in itself, and wonder how much more of THAT we can support.

  2. We invented the scarecrow, not the other way round. It goes, way back, to original meaning. Origins are important. Anti-historians want to erase all of that. What is the point?


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