Epigenetics and the Concept of Oneness

As a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for East Asian and Comparative Philosophy, with the Department of Public Policy at the City University of Hong Kong, I worked on a project called Eastern and Western Conceptions of Oneness, Virtue, and Human Happiness,

From the project home page:

A number of East Asian thinkers, as well as some in the West, argue that in various ways the self is inextricably intertwined with or part of the rest of the world. While such views often are described in terms of a “loss” of self or autonomy, they are more accurately and helpfully understood as arguments for or ways to achieve a more expansive conception of the self, a self that is seen as intimately connected with other people, creatures, and things. In contemporary analytic philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science, this general issue is more commonly discussed in terms of the “boundaries of the self”.

The implications for such a view are quite remarkable and directly and profoundly concern accounts of the self that are found in ethics, religion, psychology and political theory. The more expansive view of the self that is part of the oneness hypothesis challenges widespread and uncritically accepted views about the strong, some would say, hyper-individualism that characterizes many contemporary Western views, but it also has direct and profound implications for how we conceive of and might seek to develop care for the people, creatures, and things of the world. The aim of this project is to describe the oneness hypothesis, evaluate its plausibility, and explore some of its major implications for ethics, religion, psychology and political theory.

As part of this project, I started the Oneness hypothesis blog as a forum to discuss the application of Oneness in many different domains, philosophy, psychology, political theory, public policy and the natural sciences. My particular focus was on the unique overlaps between the science of epigenetics and the concept of Oneness. I posted work on the connections between epigenetics and the concept of Oneness on the Oneness Hypothesis blog.

This project has since completed, and the Oneness blog has lapsed, so I will post some of the content from that blog to this blog:

Epigenetics and Oneness, Part I: What is epigenetics?

This new knowledge emerging from epigenetics not only introduces significant challenges to conventional understandings of gene-environment interactions, but also exacerbates many of the longstanding and unresolved fractures in modern liberal ethics. The complications from epigenetics for conventional ethical perspectives such as rights theories and consequentialism will be discussed in my next posts, as well as some of the ways the concept of Oneness is uniquely equipped to address these challenges from epigenetics in ways that modern liberal ethical theories, with their ontological commitments to individualism, are not.

Epigenetics and Ethics, Part II: Rights and consequences

This brief sketch of the fundamental challenges epigenetics poses to two of the most dominant ethical frameworks of modern liberalism is a good indication of the scope of the implications of epigenetics for modern liberalism in general, not only for the ethics, but also the politics and the jurisprudence of contemporary liberalism built on these same principles. As such, as will be discussed in subsequent posts, concepts of Oneness as have been developed by philosophers in both the East and West could provide the means to reconcile many of these fundamental contradictions, providing more appropriate ethical and political frameworks for the incorporation of the new knowledge emerging from epigenetics.

2 thoughts on “Epigenetics and the Concept of Oneness

  1. Plotin wrote beautifully about Oneness and following Spinoza, Henri Bergson produced a magnificent symbiotic philosophy, bypassing the subject/object dichotomy. Pure Memory relies everything (matter-images) together in a holographic way, spooky action at distance, real moving simultaneity. La durée (duration), the Élan vital, interiority or consciousness are always defined as multiplicity in oneness.

    Whitehead recognized his dept to Bergson, so did Deleuze.


    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and post a comment. I will definitely take a look at Bergson, and at your presentation. Spinoza is my primary focus for the moment, but I appreciate him as representative of this other tradition in Western thought which does not dichotomize but rather integrates. My main intuition behind my project with epigenetics is that Spinoza and the others of this alternate tradition of immanence provide a much more apt way to see and interpret the actual world, and that science (and ethics and politics) will only benefit by incorporating this more open and relational view. Whether such a thing is even possible is beyond me, but I think it a lovely project.

      Thanks again for your comments, and I will view your presentation with great curiosity.


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