I picked up Stuart Kauffman’s Reinventing the Sacred at the bookstore today before heading off to see Splice. Splice was generally excellent and extremely disturbing, but not in any of the ways one might expect. Check out Shaviro’s blog for a discussion of the film and links to other discussions.

At any rate, I’m about forty pages into Kauffman’s book and am both enjoying it a great deal and getting a lot out of it. The book is tightly argued and does a lot to present a coherent account of “non-spooky” emergence that remains consistent with basic physics, while also showing how emergent organizations cannot be explained in terms of lower level laws but rather have level specific laws. In many respects, these arguments are crucial to both onticology and OOO insofar as both assert the autonomy of objects at all levels of scale, regardless of whether objects are composed of other objects. In other words, OOO vigorously defends emergence.

What I find less appealing in Kauffman’s book (and his other works) is his project of “reinventing the sacred”. On the one hand, I don’t see anything particularly sacred or divine in demonstrating that the universe is creative. Nor do I think there’s any reason to revere the particular laws that Kauffman believes he discovers in emergence. On the other hand, I think the new age sentiments that often inhabit Kauffman in some of his worst moments (fortunately you won’t find them omnipresent in his work) tend to undermine the overall credibility of his position and diminish the strength of his arguments. I really wish he’d drop this project and its accompanying rhetoric.