Archives for category: teleology

Decision is the frontier between action and understanding.

All frontiers are, in fact, links.

Present decisions set the stage where future will be played, just as past decisions have built the theater.
While we, “the people”, are the building actors. The script writers. And the spectators who will eventually bear the brunt.

 

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Trial an error (motor, muscular, directly related to actions)

Emotional

Discursive

All three depend, evidently, on memory. Different kinds – evidently, again.

This is a stub.

Science is, above all, a state of mind.
One that posits the world can be understood, one fact at a time.
Science also says that The (complete) Truth will never be fully acquired, only people tend to forget that part.

Some history, first.
Science, as an attitude, had appeared on the shores of the Medieval Mediterranean Sea. The Arabs had just discovered Ancient Greek writings about the ‘natural order of things’ while the Catholics were trying to figure out what God had in mind for the future of the mankind.

We have seen that the laws of nature depend on other laws of nature, which ultimately depend on God’s will.

Put all these together – the wish to understand God’s will, the belief that God’s will is expressed through the natural order of things and the systematic observation of nature, and, Eureka, you have ‘science’.

Which attitude had made Europe what it is today. Both the good and the bad of it.

Europeans have initiated the orderly study of everything around them.
As I said before, the initial intent wasn’t any technological improvement. Technicians and scientists were two completely different breed of people. As in ‘tinkerers’ and ‘philosophers’. Tinkering was sometimes confused with witchcraft while ‘philosophy’ was almost synonym with theology.
Well, both ‘professions’ could lead those to practiced them to a ‘funeral pyre’… whenever either of them ‘trespassed’… Many of those who are able to read are familiar with what ultimately happened to Giordano Bruno but very few of us know the fact that the ‘un-certified healers’ were seen with ‘suspicion’.

“Questioned whether she heals sick persons, answered yes Sir.
Questioned with what kind of medicines, answered by picking betony up and washing it like salad and crushing it into a mortar to get its juice and to give it to her patients for 3, 4 and 5 days, telling them that the more they drunk it, the better it was.
With these words the healer Gostanza da Libbiano, tried for witchcraft in 1594,….”
“The difference between them (healers) and physicians was the specific kind of tasks assigned to doctors: physicians, who rarely touched impurities and who regularly graduated from the university, were believed to be able to make the pain cease, whereas the healer, due to the fact that she actually touched her patients, was able both to make pain cease and to cause it”

Donatella Lippi, Witchcraft, Medicine and Society in Early Modern Europe, 2012

On the face of it, ‘science’ was, and continues to be, declared to depend exclusively on facts. Regardless of those facts being the expression of God’s will or, ultimately, of a serendipitous nature.
In fact, science is about what we, ‘scientists’, have been taught to accept as facts by our teachers and peers.

Another interesting thing.
When most scientists were still believing in God, their natural arrogance was kept in check by their belief that there was somebody who knew more than them. He.
As soon as God was declared dead, all hell broke loose.

‘Practical’ sciences continue to be kept in check by … well… practice! For any engineer, biologist, chemist, physician and all other related scientists and practitioners of science  it is obvious that Karl Popper and Werner Heisenberg were, and continue to be, right. No matter how much we will ever learn, we’ll never be able to know everything. Hence, we should proceed with utmost care.
Those who practice ‘secondary degree’ sciences – sci-Po being the most obvious example, share the belief that the world can be learned but are enjoying a far longer ‘leash’. Simply because the consequences of their actions come a lot later than those experienced by the ‘practical sciences’ practitioners. Add the fact that the ‘effects’ are harder  pinpoint to one specific cause/action…
And since God has become, at most, a personal matter… he no longer exerts the taming influence it used to…
Science has become independent. It is practiced for/in its own right, not as the only available manner of ‘divining’ God’s Will.
In fact, we use science as a manner to design our future. Independently. As each of us see fit and as allowed by those around us.
Which is good. Attempting to learn before proceeding is commendable, of course.
But proceeding with the unshakeable belief that we already know everything about what lies ahead of us is… foolish. Even more so when we speed up…  with total disregard about what other people, our colleagues/peers/fellow human beings, have to say and/or feel about the whole thing. Because we momentarily can.

 

We live.
Hard to deny that, no matter what we may think about it.
The very fact that there are so many of us who do live simultaneously makes it a near certainty.

Since we do live, then there must be a place where this whole charade unfolds.

That place is called, by us, ‘Reality’.
Which reality had started to exist only after we, the living things, have become aware of its existence.

‘Hey, wait a minute!  a short moment ago you were arguing that our mere existence was absolute proof for the existence of ‘reality’ and now you pretend that ‘reality’ has appeared only after we’ve  noticed it… We’d been alive for way longer than that, dude!’

Of course. Our very existence does depend on the presence of a certain place where we may exist. Only there’s no need for us to know that. Nor for us to be able to name that place. The ants don’t ‘know’ there’s a whole world around them. Nor have a word to describe it!

What we call reality and the ‘place’ where we live are two separate things.
There is an intersection, of course. What is correct of what we think we know about the ‘reality’ and the collection of things that really exist. Only we don’t exactly know what is correct of what we think we know…

And it is here that things become really interesting.
We not only think that we have meaningful information about the thing we call reality. We also act based on that information, with the deliberate purpose of fulfilling our intentions. And in so doing, we decisively change the place. In ways we fail to understand comprehensively.

My point being that we change the place we depend on, for our lives, without having a clear understanding of how the place itself really works. Nor of the changes we implement – willingly and/or unknowingly.

At least, let’s have some respect. For the place itself.
And for us, as an important component of that place.

“God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Hence all people, male and female, have been created equal. Simply because all of them have been cast in the same mould.
And all of them, male and female, harbor a spark of divinity. Simply because the mould into which all of them have been cast had been made “in the image of God”.

Simple logic would tell us that all people who believe mankind had been made in the image of God would behave in a certain manner.
Because of the reasons I mentioned above.
That kind of behavior had been called ‘ethical’ by well established thinkers. Plato, for instance.

“Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” “

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.
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“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground”

Same simple logic I’ve invoked earlier tells me that God had created ‘the heavens and earth’ in two different stages. More or less like we do things.
First we think about the things we are going to do – ‘design them’ would be a more modern term, and then we put our thoughts into practice. ‘Execute’ our designs, according to the practical aspects which always limit our actions.

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

The Bible itself seems to agree with me. When God finally decided to put into practice his idea of a man, he started with something he already had at his disposal. Just like we have to do whenever we attempt to accomplish anything.
“Dust from the ground”.
Man, ‘made in the image of God’, was fashioned from already available material, not from ‘thin air’.

Could this be the origin of man’s limitations?
His ‘earthly’ nature, no matter his divine likeliness?
Could this be the reason for God going back on his words?

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” “

What made God change his mind?
In Genesis 1 – the R&D phase?, he had planned a world where man was allowed to feed on everything under the sun while in Genesis 2 he had established rules about what Adam was allowed to eat and what not.
Furthermore, why make a ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ in the first place? If you were going to forbid your favorite pet from eating its fruit, under the most drastic penalty…

No!
This is not yet another half backed attempt to deny the existence of God under the pretext that the only source describing its existence is full of inconsistencies.
Pretending that God does not exist simply because those who tried to describe him had not been able – or willing ?, to present a more coherent image of him is equivalent to pretending that God exists simply because we haven’t found, yet, an exhaustive explanation for everything.

You ‘see’, the Bible, no matter how holly we might consider it to be, is nothing but an image of God. A Man made image of God.
A Man written image of God, to be more precise.

The fact that the Bible is chock-full of wisdom can not be denied.
Which fact remains true regardless of whether it had been written ‘under guidance’ or ‘on their own’ by a group of ‘free agents’. Or, even, by a combination of both.
Unfortunately, there is another fact which seemingly contradicts the first. The Bible had been used as pretext for horrible crimes. Committed by ‘over-zealous’ believers, by ruthless ‘self serving’ operators or by a strange combination of both.

In order to encompass the simultaneous existence of both aforementioned facts each of us must take a step back-wards.
Extract ourselves from the fry.

Each of us must start thinking for ourselves.

How to do that – become ‘independent’, and yet preserve our chances to survive? As in remain connected with the day to day, hard-core reality?

Stay tuned. That will be my next subject.

According to ‘science’, life is nothing but a process through which (genetic) information is passed, with small alterations, from one generation to another and during which the environment is, however minutely, changed by whatever the living organisms do during their lifespans.

‘Individually’ – organism by organism, life takes place inside a ‘membrane’. Which you might call it ‘skin’, if you like.
That membrane separates the ‘inside’ – the living organism, from the ‘outside’ – otherwise known as the ‘environment’.
Each individual organism continues to be alive for as long as the membrane manages to keep the inside in, the outside out AND to properly regulate the exchanges between the inside and the outside.
This being the moment when we need to remember that each living organism needs to eat, to drink, to breathe and to excrete. Meaning that it needs a more or less continuous flow of certain substances from the outside and to periodically clean itself. And the moment to understand that each organism continuously changes its environment. By incorporating some of it while feeding/breathing and by ‘polluting’ it when ‘throwing out’ the by-products of its metabolism.

For all the activity above to take place, each individual organism needs to follow some ‘rules’. It’s ‘membrane’ needs to ‘know’ which substances to allow in and which to keep out. Which substances to throw out and which to keep it.
To perform all these duties, the membrane itself needs to be organized in a certain manner. For all to happen as it should, the ‘interior’ has to be organized in a certain – and specific, manner.

On the other hand, for any (set of) rule(s) to make sense, it has to be congruent to the situation it ‘attempts’ to manage. For instance, the rule about what substances are to be ‘allowed in’ has to be adapted both to the specific needs of the organism following it AND to what substances are available in the particular environment in which that organism attempts to survive/thrive.
Since the environment in which the living process attempts to take place is subjected to continuous change – both as a consequence of organisms living in it and as happenstance happening, the ‘rules of life’ cannot be ‘set in stone’.
For life to continue in a consistent manner, it has to preserve its rules while for life to survive in an ever-changing environment it has to adapt its rules to fit the changes in the environment.
This being where evolution takes charge.

That’s why the life we’re familiar with, ours, is comprised of successive generations of many individual organisms which somehow pass genetic information (rules of life) from one another. The fundamental ‘trick’ which makes everything possible being that during the ‘passing’ process the genetic information is slightly altered.
Sometimes with beneficial results – those individuals thrive and, eventually, new species appear. Other times, the results are tragic. The individuals which receive bad – read unfit, rules of life do not survive.
Equally tragic is the fate of those species, otherwise ‘successful’ until that moment, which, at some point, are confronted by so momentous changes in their environment that they are no longer able to adapt. Dinosaurs are the first examples which come to my mind but the list is so long that we’ll never learn about all of them.

A pessimist might conclude that life is all about species and that individuals are expandable.
Au contraire, mon cher ami. Since there’s no way in hell – or in heaven, for anybody to know which individual organism has that particular piece of information which will enable their successors to survive the next alteration in the environment it would be rather dense to consider any individual as being expandable. In fact, it was the ‘individualization’ of the living process that made possible the evolutionary process.

Life is about both individuals and species, simultaneously and with equal importance.

And why are we still trying to solve this riddle?

‘Cause this is indeed a riddle…

Remember those metaphorical stories whose heroes end up having to find the answer to one in order to save themselves/the day?
Like Sophocles’ “What walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night?”

A riddle, of course, being a question which cannot be answered until the individuals attempting to solve it stick their heads out of the box into which the riddle had been framed.

So. Individualism? Collectivism?

Having grown up under communist rule – supposedly the most collectivist social arrangement to date, I can testify that there is no such thing as collectivism without individualism nor individualism without collectivism.

Libertarians’ mantra is that socialism/communism – and even liberalism, as Americans understand it, is a form of collectivism. And, of course, that collectivism is bad for you.
Socialists, on the other hand, maintain that the current situation – which is seen as being bad, is the consequence of the growingly extreme individualism which plagues modern societies.

Interestingly enough, both sides are simultaneously right.
Communism is indeed bad for you and the bad aspects of today’s society are a consequence of callous selfishness.

On the other hand, all communist societies are composed of a huge mass of obedient subjects AND a small number of individual, and very individualistic, leaders.
Similarly, all developed capitalist societies – including those sporting huge discrepancies between the shrinking number of haves and the growing number of utterly destitutes, have reached the current level of sophistication because most of their members continue to share the belief that ‘all men have been created equal and that all of them have certain, nonnegotiable, rights: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’.

“Share the belief…”
But wasn’t this the very definition of collectivism?
A social arrangement where the most important possession belongs to THE public?
Was there anything more consequential for what is currently known as the ‘Euro-Atlantic’ civilization than this shared belief? Other peoples have been in possession of way more abundant natural resources. Had reached ‘astronomical’ levels of civilization way before we were even able to wipe our noses… And yet…

Haven’t we, individual thinkers, figured out yet that unless we agree on ‘the basics’, we’ll be easy prey for the callous ‘snake oil merchantmen’ who have no qualms to use collectivist slogans to pitch some of us against the others?

Haven’t we figured out, yet, that there is no ‘political collectivism’ without fear? All collectivist social arrangements, both socialist and fascist/nazist, have been built using fear/contempt (of the other) to cement ‘the people’ into believing the lies proffered by false prophets. Lenin, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Mao… Lies proffered by callously individualistic political agents… bent on satisfying their own domineering instincts and making ‘good use’ of pre-existing conditions.

Haven’t we figured out yet that individualism, the tame version developed along with the good aspects of the Western Civilization, is, by nature, the very beneficial consequence of the mutual respect which (still) exists among the members of our societies?

So, to answer the riddle, we need to understand that there is no real conflict between bona fide individualism and bona fide collectivism.
Just as there is no conflict between two perpendicular lines.

Since, by trade, I’m a mechanical engineer, I’ll use a very practical metaphor to illustrate this idea.
Consider a pressurized Oxygen tank. The more pressure inside, the more Oxygen you can store in it. The more useful the tank. Only if you ramp up the pressure too much, you end up with an explosion.
In this situation, you might consider ‘pressure’ to be in conflict with the ‘walls of the tank’, right?
Wrong. The conflict is only in your mind. Pressure is simply perpendicular to those walls. The more pressure those walls can withstand, the more useful that tank is for you.

But it’s your responsibility to determine the thickness and resilience of those walls. It’s your responsibility to choose how much to ramp up the pressure.
For the very simple reason that that tank is yours.
It is you who will suffer the consequences.


What we currently call ‘science’ is both an activity and an attitude. Something some of us do and the way in which some of us see the world.

In current lingo, those who ‘do science’ are involved in ‘technology’ while those who see the world ‘scientifically’ partake in a certain philosophical tradition.
If we look at things in this way, it becomes obvious that doing science and thinking scientifically might not be the same thing.

Science, as an attitude, had sprung up in Ancient Greece, been kept alive by the early Islamic scholars, rekindled by the Medieval Catholic theologians, come of age during the Renaissance and ‘exploded’ after the Enlightenment.
Technology, on the other hand, is way older. And had been developed mainly elsewhere than the scientific attitude. China and India had been technological powerhouses and thriving civilizations in times when Europe was still learning to wash its hands before dinner.

‘Modern’ science – what we have now, appeared only after technological prowess had been married to the right attitude. 

OK.
It is easy to accept that technology, the more widely distributed part of ‘science’, had appeared as a consequence of mere necessity. People needed things in order to survive, then wanted things in order to increase their comfort… things which had to be produced… as efficiently as possible… hence people had put their minds to it and … voila!
But what had driven some of those around the Mediterranean Sea to develop the scientific attitude?

The same thing which drives us?
The attempt to find out the future, one second earlier than it really happens?
Because they thought, like we do, that reality is unique and that man is meant to master it?

Man, the guy who was made by God in His own image and who was told to rule the world?

Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus, Occam,  Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Georges Lemaitre… some of them might have been persecuted by the church – personally or had their their ideas ‘challenged’, but they all had been raised in the Christian tradition and had been active members of their religious communities. Even Galileo, the only one among these who had been ‘physically’ affected by the way in which his ideas had been received by his contemporaries, had a more or less ‘functional’ relationship with the heads of the Church… he had died in his own bed, arrested in his own villa, not at the stake …



And no, this is no joke! Alas…

Populism is scientific because its ‘adepts’ have a very rational behavior and use scientific tools to increase the appeal of their public messages.
And, on the other hand, populism is scientific because its advent is perfectly explainable given what we currently know. About our society, about our brains, about our psychology….

Let me start from the beginning.
In Thomas Kuhn’s terms, the last 60 or so years have witnessed a tremendous paradigm shift.
Science has replaced religion as the main paradigm and ‘religion’ has been demoted to  ‘religions’.

Science becoming the main paradigm means that we have grown confident about our knowledge. We might be aware that we don’t know everything yet but we continue to believe that we’re able to learn everything. That if we are diligent enough we’ll sometimes be able to look under every rock that is.
This attitude has led us to search for ‘perfection’. ‘Efficiency’ has displaced ‘redemption’. We have ceased our quest for salvation and are now obsessed with ‘buy low, sell high’. In other words, ‘make the most of it but strain yourself as little as possible’.

Which makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

A lot of sense… mainly when you no longer perceive the guy next to you as being a full-fledged member of your community. Your religious community, that is. Of your church.

You see, ever since Emil Durkheim, the sociologists have been aware that religion was not so much a story about the making of the world as a ‘common ground’. The ‘common core’ shared by the members of a given community. Which ‘common core’ makes it possible for those who share it to have respect. For themselves and for the other faithful members of the community. By sharing that common core, the individuals find their bearings in the ‘wide, wide world’ and, thus, know how to behave relative to their ‘neighbors’. With enough mutual respect among the individual members that the community is able to function. To survive, that is.

We no longer have that kind of community.
Our primary allegiance is no longer towards ‘church’. Most of us consider themselves primarily as members of a nation – something governed more by formal laws than by public sentiment, and only secondarily – if at all, as members of a ‘religious’ community.

Now, putting two and two together, it’s very simple to understand that in the given circumstances ‘populism’ was inevitable, right?

Too many of the would be leaders have no qualms about how they get what they want.
Power.
‘Buy low, sell high’ is the current mantra, remember? Accepted by all of us. Buyers, sellers, by-standards…
Too many members of the general public are willing to accept promises which are in line with their own expectations, even if those promises being put in practice means a lot of misery for OTHERS. Who cares about those others, anyway? They are not members of OUR ‘church’!

I’ll let you decide how sustainable is such a situation. I was going to use ‘community’ instead of ‘situation’ but it would have been horribly wrong. We no longer live in communities. We only happen to live in the same place.

For how long?

I am determined to fly.
Only my actual flying is relative to my ability to ‘negotiate’ the absolute determination with which my body and the rest of the planet pull at each other.

Translation:

There are three kinds of ‘determination’.
Absolute, relative and teleological.

‘Absolute determination’ is that situation where everything is under the same constriction. For instance, (almost) everything substantial in this Universe is affected by the gravitational field which permeates everywhere and everything.

Relative determination is that situation where either a special characteristic of something or a special circumstance induces a specific relation between that something and an ‘overpowering force’. For instance, any electrically charged particle is under the influence of the electromagnetic field while the ‘neutral’ ones are indifferent to the said field. Also, a dead leaf which happens to fall in a stream is under a double determination. It is simultaneously pulled towards the center of the Earth and helplessly transported by the water. OK, the flow of the water is indeed powered by the same gravity which pulls the leaf but, again, it is relative to the local relief.
Please note that even if the absolute determination might seem insignificant due to the effects of the relative one, the absolute never ceases. An electron which spins happily around a nucleus only seems impervious to the gravitational pull. Simply because the latter is way weaker than the former, at that scale.

Teleological determination is that situation where the determinant has an active role in shaping the influence it exerts over the determined. NB, ‘active’ and not necessarily ‘conscious’. For instance, no two working bees belonging to the same hive  will ever do exactly the same thing in the same (broad) situation, despite both being under the same absolute determination and under almost similar relative determination – they are twin sisters.

Things become way more interesting when we start discussing the influence of ‘intent’.
When the teleological determination becomes intentional.
Where the scope of the active action is influenced by the consciousness of the determinant instead of depending exclusively on ‘rules’ and chance.

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