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Ghosts in the Evolutionary Machinery
The Strange, Disembodied Life of Digital Organisms

Stephen L. Talbott

This essay is part of a work in progress and is subject to continual revision. Date of last revision: July 20, 2007.

Copyright 2007 The Nature Institute. All rights reserved. You may freely redistribute this chapter for noncommercial purposes only.


Eighty years ago the philologist and semantic historian, Owen Barfield, warned us that a science straining toward what it imagines to be strictly material concepts will end up with abstract and general ones. That is, our pursuit of materialism will paradoxically estrange us from concrete, material reality (Barfield 1973, pp. 79, 83). The reason for this is that the world we know is a world of specific character, of particular, insistent presences, of expressive qualities - a world of smiling faces, fluttering leaves, resting cats, billowing clouds. In turning away from these presences, from these qualities - in seeking the denatured, inert, non-experienceable stuff of the scientist’s abstract imagination - we turn away from the one reality we are given. It is only natural, then, that direct and careful observation of the world’s vivid, many-faceted character should yie