TELEOLOGY – COMPLEXITY

 “Physics is becoming so unbelievably complex that it is taking longer and longer to train a physicist. It is taking so long, in fact, to train a physicist to the place where he understands the nature of physical problems that he is already too old to solve them.” – Eugene Wigner1

 

Last time we found that chance as typically defined is difficult to employ as an explanation of reality if we believe science is a valid means to understand the origins of that reality. We now consider whether that which seemed to be ‘chance’ in prior times has been revealed more recently to be comprehensible at least in part by virtue of complexity and chaos theory. Today we will examine the first of these – complexity.

We will define complexity as “diverse, interdependent, connected, adapting entities”2 Complex systems have five fascinating features: (1) unpredictability, (2) large event  creation, (3) robustness, (4) emergence, and (5) novelty. Complex is not the same as complicated; a watch is complicated with diverse, connected, and interdependent parts, but lacks adaptiveness. The universe, the Earth, human societies, and living things are all complex systems.

Now most scientific laws are based on simplified or regular models of reality. But of course reality in general and the universe specifically are extremely complex; consider for example the movement of a planet in its orbit. If the only structures were the sun and that planet, the orbit would be a simple calculation. But in our solar system there are eight planets plus an immense number of smaller bodies making an accurate calculation of planetary movement remarkably complex. As an example, take the planet Neptune which was discovered because of unexpected variation in the orbit of Uranus.

The traditional approach to complex systems is to model them on regular systems. Of course the more irregular the system, the less satisfactory the modeling for four main reasons: (1) abrupt behavior changes, (2) large numbers of components or ‘degrees of freedom,’ (3) open rather than closed nature, and (4) non-linearity. This last point is critical; in linear systems, effects are proportionate to causes making them predictable. However unexpected results develop in non-linear systems, not because they are not determined per se, but because the complexity of the calculations becomes unsupportable leading to unpredictability. This unpredictability appears to us as novel and creative outcomes.

(continued next blog)

TELEOLOGY – CHANCE

 “Then she said … I assert that there is no such thing as chance, and I declare that chance is just an empty word [inanem vocem] with no real meaning.”  – Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy.

 

While questions of teleology can be applied to everything, our interest is in its application to five specific areas:

1.   The origin and development of the universe

2.  The appearance of life

3.  The evolution of humans

4.  The existence of individual men and women

5.  The course of human history

An explanation of how these arose is fundamental to human meaning. This post and the two that follow attempt to answer the question: Do they result from chance alone or is there an element of design?

In the field of teleology, chance and design are effectively opposites. As we discussed last time, chance refers to the absence of any cause of events that can be predicted, understood, or controlled, and thus is a potential explanation of things and events. But unlike design which may or may not justify why things and events are as they are; when chance is deployed as an explanation of how things occur, there is an implicit corollary that there is no why at all.

However by this definition, chance does not appear to be the explanation of much in the universe, at least from the perspective of science. We know this based on two fundamental inconsistencies which result if chance is hypothesized. First science is based on the premise that events in the universe are determined by preceding conditions and events; that is, under given conditions, subsequent events are both predictable and necessary. Second, science aims to understand all facets of the universe, indeed often with the goal of prediction and at times control through technology. Conversely science is undermined if chance alone is the cause of natural events and entities.

Therefore scientists tacitly deny the Big Bang occurred by chance once they attempt to find an explanation such as an unobserved multiverse or a quantum flux. Similarly science rejects chance as a cause of any specific event or entity which it attempts to understand, which is – everything !- including the appearance of life, the evolution of man, even the birth of any individual person. In the case of human history, most events occur through the actions of individuals, and historians go to great length to discover the causes of events making chance a limited factor in human history.

If chance and design are the two main explanations of the universe and other key matters, and if chance is eliminated on the grounds of scientific and historical investigation, then design becomes the default explanation. Or is there an intermediate explanation for these things? Next we will investigate complexity and chaos theory as chance-like explanations of reality.

TELEOLOGY – DEFINITIONS (CONT’D)

Last time we defined key terms in this section on teleology or design. Before we can conclude our survey of definitions we need to do a more thorough comparison of “purpose” and “function.”  In The Encyclopedia of Philosophy,  Morton Beckner explores the distinction between them as the crux of teleology.2 Purpose by his account can be logically independent of intention or consciousness and is directed, persistent, and sensitive to a goal.The goals of systems that exhibit purposive behavior are the outcome of relatively independent dovetailing processes – that is ‘directive correlation.’ 

He uses the example of a guided missile where the independent processes are position of the target and the direction of the missile as opposed to the non-purposive activity of a river flowing to the sea. Therefore “activity is purposive if and only if it exhibits sensitivity and persistence to a goal as a result of directive correlation.”

On the other hand, functions are contributions to fundamental processes (e.g. kidney functions for excretion; or hair functions to aid in maintaining body temperature). They are part of a hierarchy of functions leading to a process, but lack sensitivity and persistence to a goal. Beckner admits the distinction between function and purpose is arguable, but makes a good case for the distinction.

In any case, a concluding summary of the definitions in the last post and Beckner’s analysis in this allows creation of the following table:

  WHY HOW
Purpose   +++     +
Function    ++   + +
Design    +/-  +++
Intention     +    +
Chance      –   +++
Direction (Trajectory)      –     –
Meaning   +++     –

Thus purpose and meaning address why things occur while design and chance attend to how they occur. Function straddles these designations while intention and direction are more neutral words although connotatively tend to imply how and even why things happen.

Our next step is to look at chance and its relatives – complexity and chaos – as explanations of things and events in the universe.

 

1Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, Barnes & Noble, Inc. 2003. ISBN 0-7607-4975-2, p. 1952.

2Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.   Volume 8, pages 88-91.

TELEOLOGY – DEFINITIONS OF TERMS

“Every definition is dangerous.” – Desiderius Erasmus, Adagia.

 

 

In looking at an issue as subtle as teleology we will have to be methodical (very much as when we addressed body and soul, and death and immortality) especially since teleology is neglected in the philosophy literature, particularly with respect to the key areas of life, history, and the universe.

Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary will be our source.1 It defines “purpose” as “the reason for which something exists or is done, made, or used; an intended or desired result, end, or aim.” It also defines “on purpose” as by design, intentionally. Purpose then appears to be not how, but why a thing came to be or an event occurred. Science is an excellent means to determine the how, while we rely on philosophy, logic, or theology for the why.

“Function” is defined as “the kind of action or activity proper to a person, thing, or institution, the purpose of which something is designed or exists, role.” This appears to blend why and how.

“Design” has several definitions, but the relevant one for our discussion is “to plan the form or structure of; to plan and fashion artistically or skillfully.” This definition suggests design may be independent of a reason or the why of an entity or event per se. In theory then, a designer need not have a reason for his or her design.

“Intent” is defined as “the act or fact of intending,” and “intend” is defined as “to have in mind as something to be done or brought about; to design or mean for a particular purpose.” Therefore, intention may or may not include the question of why.

“Chance” is defined as “the absence of any cause of events that can be predicted, understood, or controlled.” Chance then is a particular explanation as to how something exists or how some event happens, specifically as uncaused, unpredictable, and incomprehensible. The why is unstated, but perhaps logic would say chance events and existence have no why.

“Trajectory” is defined as “the curve described by a projectile, rocket, or the like in its flight.” However  it often has connotations of “direction” meaning “the line along which anything lies, faces, moves, etc. with reference to the point or region toward which it is directed.” Trajectory or direction then implies neither how nor why, but simply records progression towards a neutral or intended end.

“Meaning” is defined as “what is intended to be or is actually expressed or indicated; significant, import; the end, purpose, or significance of something.” Meaning then is about why not how.

(continued next post)

TELEOLOGY – INTRODUCTION

“The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” – Steven Weinberg, theoretical physicist.

 

 

Our next special problem is the place of teleology in the human experience of reality. The Webster’s unabridged dictionary definition of teleology starts with these two listings: (1) the doctrine that final causes exist, (2) the study of the evidences of design or purpose in nature.1 Aristotle worked out this first meaning of teleology referring to the goal of actions as their ‘final cause” – in contrast to the material, formal, and efficient causes.2 Dagobert Runes distinguishes teleology as the explanation of the past and the present in terms of the future instead of the reverse as is typical of mechanics (or physics).3 However he does not believe this requires personal consciousness, volition, or intent. On the other hand, other philosophers identify teleology as purposive or goal-directed activity.4 In speaking of natural phenomena, teleology typically involves a dialectic about functional selection versus intelligent design.

As was the case with human destiny, most philosophical textbooks ignore or provide only a superficial treatment of teleology, but we require a more detailed investigation. Why? Because perhaps the most pivotal consideration in regards to a meaningful life is whether reality itself is meaningful. Underlying that enigma is the interrogation of common words like purpose, function, intention, design, chance, and trajectory. We also need to establish criteria for the word – “meaning.”

This section will be divided into the following parts:

  1. Definitions
  2. Chance, Complexity, and Chaos
  3. Uncertainty
  4. Statistics
  5. Natural Selection
  6. Nagel’s Natural Teleology
  7. Intelligent Design
  8. Anthropomorphism
  9. Absurdity
  10. Criteria for “Meaning”
  11. Synthesis

This area is in my opinion the least clarified by philosophy as it stands today, and by far the most important area which has been neglected. If Professor Weinberg is correct (see epigram above), then despite humanism’s insistence to the contrary, our individual lives are as pointless as the universe. Let’s hope our investigation leads us to a different conclusion.

 

1Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, Barnes & Noble, Inc. 2003. ISBN 0-7607-4975-2, p. 1952.

2See post titled Causation dated 7/19/19 on this site.

3Runes, Dagobert D., Dictionary of Philosophy. Philosophical Library, New York, 1960, p.315.

4Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.   Volume 8, page 88.

CURRENT READING – DOES GOD EXIST? (CONT’D)

Last post I discussed the first three of six essays making up the forum in the fall issue of The Philosopher’s Magazine titled Does God Exist? Today I will look at the last three essays.

Elizabeth Burns (University of London) refreshes the cosmological argument which states that if all individual things in the universe are caused, there must be a first cause, i.e. God. She notes this argument was derived by the kalam school of ninth century Arabic philosophy, modified by Aquinas, and expanded more recently by William Lane Craig. She reviews the two main counter-arguments: (1) Why does the universe require an explanation? and (2) By this line of logic, God then should also require a cause or explanation. Rather than parse the argument, Burns introduces, from the Chandogya Upanishad,  the teaching of Sushanta Sen, that God created the universe from His own nature making God both creator and physical substance of the universe.3 Periodic reabsorption and reinfusing of God’s nature leads to an ‘Oscillating Universe.’ Conceding this exact description appears contrary to current science, she extracts the pantheist or panentheistic elements suggesting a conjoining of God the World and God the Good (the latter mirroring Plato’s idea of the Good). She then pairs her cosmological argument – a complex universe must derive from progressively less complex parts to the least complex (God as the single non-complex, non-contingent) – with an ontological argument – degrees of goodness in the universe require an ‘Unsurpassable Goodness’ (also God). I doubt her argument is philosophically sound, but find its mix of science, logic, and spirituality refreshing.

Next Erik J. Wielenberg (DePauw University) takes on the moral argument for God’s existence, wherein human morality is based on the divine, and thus the nonexistence of God would permit undesirable and  unabated, self-interested behavior by man. Wielenberg does not thinks virtue depends on God; just as goodness is caused by things in themselves, so moral behavior is within the choice of action itself. Specifically he argues Kant is wrong in believing that since we have a duty to pursue the highest good, God is implied as only He can order the highest good. Wielenberg believes “our real moral obligation is simply to get as close to the highest good as we can.”  I have never found the moral argument to be persuasive, and Weilenberg’s reasoning seems valid to me.

Last, Neil A. Manson (University of Mississippi) reviews the modern version of the teleologic argument, that is, the universe is so finely tuned, it could not occur by chance. His position is this proof is less viable if physicists are right about the existence of a multiverse. In response to theists who protest the theory of a multiverse is untestable and simply an atheist’s refuge to deny God’s existence, he notes many physicists believe the theory of the multiverse comes directly out of our current understanding of physics and cosmology and is or will be testable in the future. For now I find the fine-tuning argument evidentiary rather than conclusive and think we must allow scientists a chance to validate the hypothesis of a multiverse. Regardless this theory seems unlikely to answer the harder question of why there is anything at all!

In conclusion five of the presenters argue against the demonstration of God while Burns is the one voice in support of divinity. This fits proportionately to the recent (non-theist) philosophical literature I have read. In my synthesis of the arguments and subjective rationale for God, I concluded that God as origin of the universe does exist (see posts on this site 3/18. 3/20, and 3/22/19 and Table 3 in the Appendix). For the most part, the six articles in this Forum do not appear to contradict my synthesis.

 

1Garvey, James (editor), The Philosopher’s Magazine. Issue 86, 3rd  Quarter 2019.

2Pascal, Blaise, Pensees. The Great Books Volume 33, 1952. Page 215.

3There is an uncanny similarity of Sen’s theory to that of the ancient Jewish Sages – see July 6 2019 post this site – God and Physics.

CURRENT READING – DOES GOD EXIST?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Philosopher’s Magazine1

“Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then without hesitation, that He is.”- Blaise Pascal.2

The Forum in the third quarter 2019 issue of The Philosopher’s Magazine is titled Does God Exist? It consists of six essays offering contemporary reformulations and refutations of common arguments or proofs for the existence of God. (See also posts date February 11, February 13, and February 15, 2019 on this site)

The first essay is an update on the ontological argument. Graham Oppy (Monash University; Melbourne, Australia) discounts traditional versions espoused by Anselm and Descartes, and investigates modern ‘modal’ versions, meaning those built around concepts of possibility, contingency, necessity, and actuality. He concludes that these versions also fail although his arguments are too complex to summarize in this brief post. It seems to me the problem with any ontological argument is a faulty premise – that anything can meet the criterion of infinity. Infinity is a concept not an actual measure as is easily confirmed by trying to imagine a number beyond which no greater number exists.

Paul Bartha (University of British Columbia) then takes on Pascal’s wager (see epigram above). He reviews the four historical responses: (1) it is parochial – would a God who accepted this be worthy of worship – and which religion’s version would be best (many-gods objection); (2) it is inauthentic – God would likely reject this reasoning; (3) it violates the ethics of belief –i.e. it is merely wishful thinking; and (4) it is mathematically suspect due to uncertainty of God’s likelihood and gains from belief.  Bartha seems to find the last of these most interesting, doing a detailed analysis knowing it may fail with respect to belief in God, but may be useful elsewhere such as in environmental decision making. I find the ‘wager’ ineffective, but believe like William James that, in formulating our life’s course, we inevitably choose a stance on God’s existence based on belief rather than certainty– and yes, no decision (agnosticism) is a choice.

Tiddy Smith addresses the ‘common consent’ argument – the theory that since a large majority – about 95%  of people (and even 80% of philosophers, i.e. the “experts”) believe there is a divine being or higher power, it is likely to be true. His refutation is that religion is manufactured (rather than arising independently in the majority) and socially reinforced. He notes the anthropology literature finds isolated hunter-gatherer groups typically do not believe in a personal God (about 15%, although 24% accept a deistic God). Rather most embrace ancestor worship or natural spirits. I find this line of reasoning flawed as the logical response is to suggest that intellectual and spiritual advancement reveal to humans the error of these naïve beliefs, an awe of the universe and its governing laws, and for many an awareness of the divine therein.

(continued next post)

TAKING STOCK – ONE YEAR OF PHILOSOPHICALGUIDANCE.COM

“To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live, according to  its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity and trust” – Henry David Thoreau.

 

Last week was the one year anniversary of the first post on this site. I thought it would be a good time to take stock of our progress. The attentive reader knows that for the most part the 156 blogs have not been meandering essays, but rather the first half of a philosophy book whose mission is to methodically examine the relevant elements of the field of philosophy for assembling a meaningful life. Perhaps a review of the path I have been on will help readers determine which parts they missed or wish to review.

After a few introductory posts on defining philosophy and the site’s mission, I jumped into the Big Picture – the reduction of practical philosophy into its two major divisions:

[1] the nature of reality (9 posts covering 11/9/18-12/3/18), and

[2] personal conduct (ethics; 13 posts from 12/5/18-1/4/19).

In that analysis we found that reality and ethics are manifest at five levels or tiers, each of which requires reflection in fashioning a flourishing life.

While those two main areas remain the chief focus of a personal philosophy, we next took on the first five of seven special subjects within those areas:

[1] Good and evil (10 posts from 1/6/19 -2/6/19),

[2] The question of God (19 posts from 2/8/19- 3/27/19),

[3] Body and soul (15 posts from 4/3/19 – 5/6/19),

[4] Death and immortality (24 posts from 5/13/9- 7/5/19), and

[5] Free will, fate, and human destiny (42 posts from 7/17/19 – 10/23/19).

Along the way, I stopped to blog on some of my current reading:

[1] Fake News (12/12 and 12/14/19),

[2] The Philosopher’s Magazine (1/11/19),

[3] Before the Big Bang (2/27 and 3/1/19),

[4] We Are Not Alone (3/29 and 4/1/19),

[5] Is Life Worth Living? (5/8 and 5/10/19),

[6] God and Physics (7/8 and 7/10/19)

[7] Revolutionary Deism (7/12 and 7/14/19)

The site has had 662 visits by 499 different users from 46 different countries on six continents since its inception. The majority (57.2%) of users came directly to the site while 34.8 % came from a search engine (86.7% Google; 9.2% Bing; and 4% Yahoo) and 8% from a social media referral (80% Facebook). The most visited page was The Summum Bonum (post on 1/23/19 and Appendix Table 2 and Diagram 1). The most visited current reading was We Are Not Alone.

The book is currently about halfway complete (although the posts are probably more accurately viewed as a second draft rather than final). The next two sections are Teleology and Suffering (Grief, Pain, and Illness).

After that I will get to the heart of our subject – the four components of the meaningful or flourishing life. If space allows, I will investigate how various traditions encapsulate these four components and try to synthesize the ideal approach, at least for myself – a virtual, public, individual search for enlightenment.

I hope this quick review is compelling enough to send you back to past sections and to draw you forward as I present targeted philosophical guidance that, to my knowledge, is absent from the treasury of  existing literature.

FREE WILL, FATE, AND HUMAN DESTINY  – SYNOPSIS

“Fate often saves an undoomed warrior when his courage endures.”Beowulf

 

We have looked at the arguments for and against free will and concluded that most of us decide our will is free based on the strength of empirical and moral arguments and the weakness of the scientific evidence to the contrary. It seems inconsistent that man feels himself free while seriously entertaining notions of fate, but this is likely the majority experience. Freedom allows us to choose, but circumstances and human limitations mean outcomes feel beyond our control.  The crux of this issue for us is finding a poised approach to action and our future.

The existentialists seem to be correct that we choose our basic nature and life course, but this freedom involves two negatives – the risk of erroneous choice and the guilt of inaction. Nonetheless fortune, chance, and outside circumstances have undeniable impact on the outcomes of even free choices. Alternatively Taoism teaches that the limited action of quietism may be preferred.

The Stoics teach us that disinterested acceptance of the reality of the unfolding world imparts equanimity. The Bhagavad Gita also urges that acting without undue concern for the results allows man to exist in the world and stay connected to the ultimate reality.

At the end of the day, action based on a personal ethic of avoidance of evil and service to the good offers the safest means to exercise freedom in a manner that leads to contentment. This also fits nicely with the Hindu cycle of reincarnation and the unavoidable law of karma.

In the specific instance of salvation, some Christians may believe in predestination by the grace of the divine as trumping action in this life, but nevertheless, the same freedom, ethic, and sense of fate will emerge in life and must be accepted. The love of God should overcome the concern of one’s individual salvation and lead one to choose actions consistent with the plan of the divine.

Human destiny remains largely conjecture, but it makes sense for all of us to hope for human survival and eventual evolution to a higher form while supporting the parallel goal of preservation of other species and our home planet. If we avoid our feared self-destruction, we can nudge human destiny along with attempts at moral perfection, higher learning and intelligence, global democracy and cooperation. In this way each of us can also achieve a level of apprehension of ultimate reality via Kant’s  a priori choice for the unity of man, the unity of life, and eventually the cosmic mind.

We are ready now to take on the next critical special subject – Teleology, the ‘why’ of reality – the meaning of design. Please return for my analysis in the coming posts.

HUMAN DESTINY – PART XVII – CONCLUSION (continued)

The anthropologic and biologic prediction encompasses the middle time frame of millions to hundreds of millions of years. Richard Leakey notes that the fossil record shows species become extinct or perhaps evolve to a new species over millions of years. His theory that Homo sapiens evolved to cooperate supports the short and midterm path forward – progressive integration, moral growth, increasing knowledge, and finally societal evolution. Evolved man then may become Fred Kohler’s societal organism, in which each human is dependent on the social structure.  If Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is right, mankind will become planetized. Humanity’s flourishing may lead to one significant negative – the extinction of other species and the reductions in new species unless Gaylord Simpson is correct that man embraces the unity of life. Our generation’s obligation then is to advance morality, local and global integration, and respect for all living things.

The cosmological understanding of the future of the universe dominates our understanding of humanity’s long term destiny – that is beyond a billion years. Homo sapiens or our successor species will likely migrate into the galaxy over millions of centuries, bringing with them evolving or artificial intelligence. By then our descendants should be well-prepared to interact with any other intelligent species they encounter and to maximize control over the cosmic environment. Biologically we must expect the hominid tree will eventually branch into several or many new species or become mechanically hybrid. Hoyle’s shared consciousness may appear during this period permitting cooperative rather than competitive relationship. We can only guess the future of man’s descendants during the passage of later cosmological decades, but the an integrative mental capacity seems the best outcome. Perhaps the universe will develop into a single “mind” that can extend life through the Degenerate and Black Hole Ages and manufacture viable offspring universes in which future life forms can escape and continue.

The long term future of humanity dwarfs the significance of our individual lives, and of course each person’s meaning must be more immediate and tangible; that is the subject of future blogs. The importance of the current analysis is two-fold: (1) as a guide to our duty in creating the best possible destiny for man, and (2) as a component of the cosmic level of ethics.

First, our duty assumes, I believe correctly, that we have free will – human destiny will be what we choose it to be. Hopefully man will understand those duties fall into the following order of timing and importance: (1) prevention of our extinction and the extinction of other species, (2) progression towards world peace and a democratic, global federation of nations respectful of human dignity, and (3) devotion to morality (kindness), self-perfection, learning (especially scientific), and cooperation. Second whether one believes in God or not, the study and contemplation of the destiny of mankind and of the universe is one means to fulfillment of the level of ethics related to ultimate reality (see posts 12/28/18 and 12/31/19 on this site) that transcends the limits of one’s individual life.

Next time we will summarize the results of our exploration of free will, fate, and human destiny before leaving this section.