The Cosmological Foundations of Male and Female

Talk given at the Lonergan Institute, December 17, 2017

Dr. David Fleischacker

Good evening.

Next year is the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae.  It has ties to an earlier encyclical facing similar challenges in 1930, Casti Cannubi.  It is not unrelated to our current Pope’s more recent encyclical Amoris Laetitia

Over the last couple of months, I have been contemplating what to say this evening.  I think I must have written four or five different papers already.  I have thought about covering some of the cultural challenges to Humanae Vitae, or maybe some of the theological presuppositions in these documents, or the relevance of a book such as Insight to the discussion (this one actually held my attention for some time – it has much to say about how the natural and human sciences would need to be reoriented in order to develop aspects of these encyclicals).  As I was reviewing some scientific writings the answer came forth. One of the flashpoints that undermines all of these three encyclicals is that of the meaning of male and female.  In fact, the current cultural views of male and female that have been growing for some time have led to the annihilating the relevance of husband and wife, and even father and mother.  Gender these days, at times, is only loosely if at all associated with the bodily (cellular) differentiation of male and female.  Even that bodily differentiation is manipulable.  So are husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers.

Plato said that mere opinions float because they are not tied down. One group can hold the opinion of the day with great force and energy, determined to give it a reign that has no end.  The next day, the next generation shrugs its shoulders and turns the opposite direction. Modern cultural views of sexuality and gender, perhaps rooted philosophically in Nietzsche and his friends, are just as much based in the rise of modern science and technology within an ethos of control over nature and the body, all of which is living vibrantly in the vast influences of modern city life and all of her treasures.  This way of life has given birth to something more insidious yet.  The idea that not only ideas but even reality is simply one floating opinion after another.  All things are mere opinions.  That too is an opinion.

Lonergan offers us a way out. Something far more exciting.  Something more enduring. Something true, just as Plato and Aristotle offered something more enduring than what was offered by the Sophists.  That way out requires self-knowledge.  A lot of it. Not just the little bit offered by Descartes and Kant. It requires a deliberate choice to dedicate oneself to the truth.  It requires a whole army of minds to do the same and to live their lives in humble obedience to the calling and command of the transcendental notions that constitute the four levels of human consciousness and are the root of the transcendental precepts: be attentive, be intelligent, be reasonable, be responsible, be loving.

A real breakthrough came to me not much over a week ago as I was reading a book on the evolution of sexual differentiation by David Geary, and another on the recovery of fatherhood. It became clear that the differentiation of male and female across the vast diversity of species and genera is not merely a species and genera differentiation.  It certainly is not merely an X or Y chromosome thing.  It is not merely a way for better adaptability while providing a highly conservative manner for reproduction.  And it is not a better way for rearing the young in a barbaric age that no longer exists.  It may involve those elements but it is more fundamental.  It has its roots in the very structure of the cosmos, of proportionate being to use Lonergan’s term.  It is linked to the principles involved in coming-to-be itself.

The feast of the immaculate conception this last December 8th not only confirmed this point, but it gifted me to think it through with greater precision.  What I am bringing to you is hot off the mind and barely on to paper yet.  Mary was immaculately conceived so that she could be a perfectly loving mother who could bear forth the Logos conceived in her.  Mother’s bear forth being, more precisely persons, and more personally, sons and daughters.

I realize that referring to Mary and the Logos introduces a dimension of reality that goes beyond proportionate being.  It is a level of reality that I know from faith, and this is a faith that not all share.  What I will be sharing with you this evening does not require such faith.  In fact, intentionally so, out of my deep love for science and empirically grounded philosophy, what I propose to you is what any diligent scientist or philosopher, using their own innate powers of intelligence and reason can 1) understand, 2) join with me to see if it is true.

The differentiation of male and female I propose is rooted upon two principles etched into the fabric of the cosmos.  The Big Bang reveals this (actually current world process does so too, so this will hold even if the Big Bang turns out false).  The first principle is that of finality, which is really a principle of transcendence.  The universe is constituted with a dynamic but indeterminate force, a prime energy.  The prime energy is directed indeterminately toward increasing intelligibility, being, and goodness. Its first unfolding leads to the creation of simple material forms – something like a quark perhaps, probably something more primal, a first generation creature.  This finality is intrinsic to this first generation creature.  Prime energy lives in it as its life force.  This is why matter and energy are interconvertible.  And this energy does not just create one being. It creates lots of them!  There is a massive frequency of these first generation creatures.  They constituted what Lonergan would call a coincidental manifold or statistical field.  In such a field, these first generation creatures operating in their schemes of recurrence set up probabilities of emergence for the future. 

And then what happens?  Within a short temporal spell, this energy distributed throughout a field emergently bears forth new forms.  Soon we see hydrogen and helium (in less than a second).  And it does not stop there.  These elements themselves constitute fertile coincidental fields that emergently form into compounds, and soon water springs into being as if from some kind of primordial fountain. 

My point is not to give you the actual or probably history of the emergence of elements and molecules and their statistical distributions but rather a note that is true no matter what the actual history may be.  The energy in the system with a coincidental distribution of material forms in a fruitful field brings about—emergently causes—new forms and more forms, thus generating a new coincidental field of fertility, shifting the probabilities of emergence for yet further forms.

One of the patterns of such an emergent world is that as new forms emerge from forms, the coincidental fields increase temporarily and decrease spatially.  Not everything is equal.  Only in fertile fields does the next wave of forms or kinds of things emerge.  And only where the next emerge, do new we find rising emergent probabilities for the next things.  And each stage takes longer amounts of time. The further one moves down the path of things coming-to-be from things, the less frequent these things will be found throughout the existing universe, and the longer they will take to come to be. 

Thus, places like the earth, with its teaming molecular soups, its atmosphere and its diverse species of life, are not everywhere.  And it took billions of years to get here. Our earth is a gem, a rarity.  This converges to an even greater rarity, after billions of years on earth, after millions of years of animal and hominid development, after tens of thousands of years of human history, after a thousand years of the rise and fall of Israel and Judah, all of this converged to one, holy, fertile coincidental field, a person, a woman. Mary.  Sorry, I move beyond what is proportionate to our reason and into what requires revelation.  I cannot help myself sometimes given how seamless this world is. But think about what this does to the meaning of the “fullness of time.”  Now that is Christmas.

So we have form coming from a rich, fertile coincidental field of forms.  In short, form coming from form, with energy being the life blood of this coming-to-be.  Energy and coincidental fields bring about this moment of emergence, of going beyond, of transcendence.

As a note, the energy itself though dynamic is indeterminate. The determination depends upon the particular forms in that field and their coincidental and statistical distribution.  Amino acids for example are not immediately going to rise in a field of hydrogen.

Fast forward a few billion years past the big bang, around 9 billion or so, and we find our planet earth.  One of those real gems of fertility as I mentioned.  And move forward another half-billion years plus or minus a few million, and something happens. Without this happening, the fertility of coincidental fields would have stopped at the generic level of chemical being.  Form from form is as far as chemistry can go. But here on this planet, there was a rich fertile chemical field of probability that setup a situation for something higher.  There was not merely a chemical soup, but a bio-soup.  A probability for a vertical emergence was rising.  Something more than a molecule was about to be born.  It was a molecule, but one which could bear forth itself, its kin.  This fundamentally changed the dynamics of this universe. Now something was coming to be by the mediation of its origin in the fertile field.  Now its origin was not merely an origin, but a parent.  This is the beginning, the introduction of replication, of reproduction, of procreative powers in the cosmos.  The universe has introduced to us a form beyond the realm of the atom and the molecule.  Henceforth, form not only comes from form, but by form.

The new form belongs to a new genus and it operates by a new law, the law of replication.  It shifts the entire nature of the fertile fields of coincidence. Statistical fields now are filled with things we call the living.  This shift allows for new streams of development.  Life will expand its powers.  It will emergently bring forth increasingly differentiated solutions to the problem of being alive in this world.  In short, it will expand the possibility and probability for ever more effective responses to the dangers and opportunities in the niches and ecosystems of this world.  It will grow to harvest the energy of the sun and the nutrients in the soils. It will devise schemes to fend off dangerous molecules and even other living things that threaten its being.  Flowering from this are variations of bacteria, algae, and even the massive breakthrough of eukaryotic cells.  All of this takes place through emergent probabilities from coincidental fields. All of this springs forth from a combination of the transcending principle of finality as it operates in the fertile fields of coincidence.

Eukaryotic cells are one of the features that set the stage for a shift that was similar to the shift from elements to compounds.  The expansion from single celled creatures to multicellular ones was on the horizon. But before the multicellular could be developed into differentiated systems, something else had to take place in the mode of replication.  Simple replication occurs by means of the division of one cell resulting in the coming-to-be of two like daughter cells.  Differentiated multicellular systems however are not mere replications, but require developments.  Developments require cell differentiation, and then an unfolding into a variety of systems such as skeletal and circulatory systems.  For these kinds of complex developmental evolutions to be probable, a much richer coincidental field needed to be the starting point. Finality found a solution.  It created oocytes, and these became distinct from spermatoctyes.  There is more to this biological history of course, but the point is that oocytes provide a rich matrix of potentiality in which the direction of development can be foreordained.  In short, this differentiation of oocytes and spermatocytes sets the field for long term multi-cellular differentiations, evolutionary movements that over the long run end up giving birth to a highly fertile field in which another vertical leap will take place, that of neural cells and nets, sensory organs, brain stems, cerebrums, and neocortices.

At first, the distinct reproductive systems tied to oocyte and spermatocyte formation arose within the same organism. Most plants and many simple animals are hermaphroditic.  They have sufficiently differentiated cellular systems so as to need an oocyte if they are to reproduce via a single celled egg.  However, hermaphrodites result in a limitation in the complexity of development. Largely, not only do the systems need to be developmentally foreordained in the zygote, but they are limited to the limited schemes that the environment provides while that zygote unfolds to the mature type.  In other words, there is little extrinsic mediation of the developing creature.  The hermaphroditic parent needs to be dealing with other basic schemes of living.  A solution is needed, and its starting point began as a neuron.

The neural system sets up for a grand leap in this universe. As it evolves forth into neural nets and sensory organs and efferent systems, and then into the rudiments of a brain, and finally into the massive complexity of the neo-cortex and the frontal lobes, we find the probabilities increasing for a vertical leap of finality. That leaps was one of conscious perception and response. Not all of what biology calls animals have such consciousness, but only those that have rather developed brain structures.

The emergence of sensory consciousness introduces a capacity and mode of operation that breaks open an entirely new field of fertility.  Organic life is limited to organic responses to ecosystems.  Sensory consciousness opens the doors to felt perceptions and responses to a dynamically changing ecosystem.  With such consciousness, cellular schemes can be opened up through neural demand functions into a world of imagination and memory.  In other words, the felt element is really the dynamically directed finality. It is desire, emotion, feeling, and passion that orients and directs motor-sensory conscious intentionality.  This is the world of animal consciousness.

Text Box: Let me take a side trail here to introduce you to the notion of sublation.  This is the relationship of a lower level to a higher level, and such is the case when replication came on the scene.  The chemistry taking place in a thing that replicates is the lower level.  The replication as such is a law of the higher level.  Notice how intimate are these two levels.  The higher cannot exist without the lower.  The lower is the coincidental field and continues to remain such, but it takes on statistical patterns which it does not explain because the real explanation lies in the higher level.  With replication, suddenly there is an increase in the numbers of these replicating chemical beings. Again, the chemistry as such does not explain the increase. Rather, it is the replication that explains the increase.  Thus, the higher puts the lower into a new realm. It sublates the lower.  In turn, evolutionary expansions and improvements of replication itself become possible. Securing the chemicals needed to create a new replicant would be one example.  The higher cannot expand without a corresponding expansion on the lower level.  Back to our discussion.Just as chemical being was sublated into a replicating and reproducing being, so reproducing and living systems which support oogenesis (where there is a distinction between oocyte and spermatocyte) are sublated into motor-sensory consciousness as are other cellular systems (sensory organs, muscular systems, etc).  There are a number of developments that subsequently evolve within hermaphroditic creatures.  But I want to examine what happens to reproduction as it takes flight in conjunction with motor-sensory consciousness.  Such consciousness opens up vast venues for parental investment. This has massive ramifications. The more involved the parental type in the emergence, survival, and flourishing of the progeny, the more differentiated and developed can be and thus will be the species through a law of sufficient probability (sufficiently fertile coincidental fields).  In other words, the potential for the evolution of the species is proportionate to the parental investment in the progeny.  Hermaphroditic existence limits such investment, because one and the same creature needs to not only set the conditions for conception and gestation, but it needs to address the growing variety of ecological conditions of life.  Finality answers this limit by introducing females and males, by distinguishing what started as a distinction of oocyte and spermatocyte into distinct beings.  Motor-sensory consciousness along with the “mass and momentum” provided by feelings and desires draws out the fuller realization of the potentiality of this differentiation of male and female.

Think of mating rituals for example. Think of fight or flight mechanisms for survival. Both require consciousness. Think of the conscious ability to identify locations and protective shelters for the early stages of developing progeny.  Nests high up in trees are an example. A mother who sits on her eggs to keep them warm is another.  This allows for a fruitful differentiation of mediating roles within reproduction and communal life of the species. Without consciousness, there is little capacity for parental investment, and thus there is little need or possibility for a distinction of oogenesis into males and females (there is some benefit under some circumstances though).

Once males and females differentiate, refinements in their bodily structures and in their sensory organs can begin to evolve.  These will be sublated within similar developments made possible for the capacity of the imagination and desire.  And not only will changes that improve conception take place, but post-conception improvements will be on the horizon.  Longer and more complex periods of gestation become possible because there is an increased capacity for mediating those periods. The mother’s own body develops a number of schemes with the developing embryo or fetus so as to provide a proportionate fertile co-incidental field that will give this complex long developing little creature the real probability for survival and flourishing.  Think for example of the difference between laying fish eggs in a rock pile versus the egg growing in the womb of a chimp.  The fish egg does not share in the warmth and protection of the mother’s womb.  It does not share in the psycho-somatic capacity of the mother to flee danger.  The egg in her womb does.  And inside her, the placenta and other modes of respiration and excretion allow for a complicated gestation that an enclosed egg simply does not provide. 

So what becomes of the male? The evolutionary trail followed by the male seems to be characterized as one which liberates the female to increasingly provide the fertile coincidental fields for her progeny.  I am sure much more can be said, but a few observations give us some pointers.  From a young age males form into ordered groups with other males in the same stage group (leaders rise up, others take on various roles within the group, etc.).  One notices, at least in those lines of evolution that lead to human beings, the increasing strength of males.  Such strength allows them to protect the female. His strength increases the range of food that is available to him. It also increases the chances of him securing the female, and many times she will be looking for that stronger male.  Shifts take place not only in his bone and muscular systems, but in his vision and hearing, and in his brain, all better attuning him to the habitat and to the female. His parental investment seems more focused upon an investment in her. As well however, there is an evolving of the kind of social order that is mediated by the male as well.  Male strength along with tendencies to drive things forward, sometimes aggressively, must be checked because if it is uncontrolled and the male fights everyone and everything, no such higher level orders can emerge.  Others need to take on roles that benefit the whole community.  Thus, having a leader is necessary as are a variety of other roles. This male will need to have a high capacity for ordering the group for protective purposes as well as obtaining food and maintaining the right setup for reproduction.  The best orders as well will increase probabilities for feeding in a healthy manner, reproducing, and protection. The male brain and body become adapted for these purposes. I am sure a number of animal biologists could complete the picture. In any case, the more the male parental type can increase the conditions for survival and flourishing of the female, the more the female can do the same for the progeny. And where the maternal investment is given greater reign, more intelligible evolutionary developments become possible.  Such is the case in the hominid line.

The coincidental field of motor-sensory conscious resulting in a differentiation of males and females explains the increasing variance over time of the male and female bodies, their brain structures, emotional landscape, sensory systems, and conscious activities within an affective finality.  The female conscious life will involve the kind of schemes best suited to increasing the conception, survival, and flourishing of the young.  The male conscious life will involve schemes best suited to the survival and flourishing of the female within the community and ecosystem.  Think of the kind of aggression needed to fend off predators for example.  Those same organic schemes can be quite dangerous to a fledgling progeny. Having a sense of touch and smell more attuned to the needs of the young than a prey downfield will give the female a greater ability to help the young.  As conscious animals advance down and up the evolutionary tree, one finds increase perfections of the schemes that differentiate male and female. 

As history travels down the trail of male and female differentiation, as bodily structures and neural formations advance in proportion to the advancing sensory and motor capabilities of males and females, there is one line that I would like to now turn. Actually there is another, but I am not prepared to discuss it yet.  Within the hominid line, there is a differentiation of monogamous and polygamous communities.  There are many questions that I have about the significance of these difference, but one that I noticed was the polygyny leads to a far more aggressive male.  I keep thinking of King Kong and his girlfriend, and all the others we did not see. Granted, they tried to make King Kong nice.  But you do not get big like that by being nice in the world of evolution. Not the best match, and perhaps not the most parentally invested kind of figure either.  More on that in the future. What I want to turn to at the moment is the line of hominid imagination and memory that opens the doors to a phantasm adequate for understanding.  This is when we are glimpsing the possibility of humanity.

Let me continue this hypothesis upward vertically into the self-transcending human subject.  The female motor-sensory psyche is one of cultivating coincidental fields of emergence and correspondence.  One that provides a landscape of both development and integration especially for progeny.  The male psyche is one of cultivating a directed dynamism that springs from finality.  The psyche is the coincidental field of self-transcendence.  The human capacity for self-transcendence though identical in women and men, girls and boys, is none-the-less oriented in its finality by its psychic orientation of motor-sensory-affective consciousness.

This orientation thus orients each of the transcendental notions.  In other words, the transcendental notions that constitute the human capacity for self-transcendence have a kind of primordial finality that is oriented as a result of having either a male or female oriented motor-sensory consciousness.  Thus, there is a landscape of images for insight, evidences for judgment, and intentional responses to value for decisions that arise more easily or frequently in the woman than in the man.  And vice versa.  This might be startling to you.  It is to me on one level.  But as many of us are aware, there is mounting evidence that shows how much better women tend to be at gaining insights into another’s inner emotional dispositions, or in seeing what is needed to help comfort and heal another.  I first started to discover this impact of motor-sensory consciousness upon the capacity for self-transcendence some years ago when I was trying to think through how original sin is transmitted from one’s parents. 

To be clear. The dividing line between male and female is not co-incidental fields or finality as such. Both exist in all beings, in all coming to be. Men and women are unfolding creatures of intelligence, reason, responsibility and love. Both are self-transcending. Both have unrestricted potentialities. That is why there is no sharp dividing line between what they can learn or much of what the can do in this world, except when that freedom regards the very organic structures of their own bodies. Rather, the dividing line is the mediational disposition toward cultivating coincidental fields or toward cultivating finality.  That dispositional difference emerges from psychic and neurological embodiment of their capacity for self-transcendence. It provides women with an ease in some areas and difficulty in others.  Likewise for men.

Female self-transcendence will have more fertile fields of neurological and psychic manifold that lends an ease to understanding, knowing, and enacting schemes that generate fertile fields of emergence, survival, and flourishing.  Male self-transcendence will have a greater ease to dynamic directedness.  The two necessarily operate together. The dynamic directedness is determined through the fertile fields.  The fertile fields are brought to fruition through dynamic directedness.

These subjective differences between male and female will subsequently impact the fields of mutual self-mediation, both between each other, throughout society, and down through history.  The female mode of self-transcendence mediates to her mate, her children, and the social order fertile fields of emergence, integration, and development.  Likewise, the male mediates the principle of directed dynamism through his body and psyche to his female mate, to their children, and throughout the society and its history.

If the principles of finality and fertility do not operate with profound liberty and unity, the community and all of its members will stagnate and even die. One can think of the warrior nations or gang cultures. Neither flourish. Or look at nations that have given up finality and transcendence. They stagnate. They too die.  Neither those that give up cultivating fertile fields nor those that give up finality follow the basic pattern that is found at the foundations of this world.  It is an emergent universe. What emerges comes from what has been.  There needs to be a spark and there needs to be fruitful field that is ignited.  Differentiating these two into mediating agents is just a starting point for what it means to be a man and woman.

That is my proposal for tonight.  In Lonergan a “proposal” is not yet verified as such.  This proposal, this hypothesis, arose from a variety of clues I have discovered over the years in exploring the basic questions: What is a male?  What is a female?  I know that reviewing the data thus far collected in various disciplines that regard male and female characteristics and features will correct details of this proposal, and provide evidence to either affirm or reject it.  So, it is merely as start, but one that I think is on the right trail, a trail that I do not see in the literature, and a trail that has been waiting for us to travel upon.

Thank you for your attention and your openness to the act of understanding.


There is a social element that I do not want to ignore, but am not fully prepared to systematically discourse upon yet. I can highlight a couple of examples. Boy from a young age tend to be found in hierarchically ordered groups.  Women as girls tend toward intimate diads and triads.  One sees the intelligible good in both of these tendencies.  As one moves to teenagers, one begins to see the integration of these two modes of operation as the teenagers each begin to find their place with each other and the life and history of their community.  Together, life filled males will tend to set the directed dynamism if my proposal is correct.  Other males and the entire community will get to participate and become liberated by this.  Of course, there are thousands of ways for deformation.  Likewise, life filled females will tend to set the fertile fields of emergence, survival, and flourishing and the entire community will receive this mediated benefit. 

What does this look like in the family?  The finality of the universe becomes the capacity for self-transcendence once its rises to the level of human conscious intentionality.  As an actuate capacity, it is a state of being in love.  What is the fertile coincidental field in such a context?  It is embodied love. The husband gives his life for his bride.  Dying on the fertile field, new life is born.

What does this look like in faith?  God sent His Son whose dynamism was and is and will be forever His Father’s love for us.  A love that awakens us as a self-transcending child, sons and daughters of God the Father.  Men receive this order as brothers to the Son.  Women receive this as Mary, daughters of the Father, sisters and even brides of the Son.  The men who receive this to the full must die for their bride, the Church. Women who receive this to the full must embody his death as Mary did before the Crucifixion.  New life will always be born from such sons and daughters.