TELEOLOGY – SYNTHESIS (CONT’D)

I ended the last post with concerns about whether human limitations prevent us from determining if teleology applies in the case of the universe.

This is one of  the two key questions remaining for this portion of our work. I believe its resolution requires us to drop our anthropomorphic view of the word ‘intention’ in thinking about the universe. My inclination is to recast self-organization in the cosmos as self-design, from which we discover an uncanny analogy to human intention, specifically the existentialist tenet that we define ourselves rather than have a predetermined essence. In that sense then, the progression of the universe is metaphorically equivalent to human self-realization. This is reinforced by the undeniable internal teleological quality of  life, consciousness, and social behavior. 

The second key question regards what impact, if any, an intelligent creator would have on the human experience of meaning. Julian Baggini disputes the belief that a creator guarantees meaning for the universe; a deity’s intent in creation is not de facto meaningful. The corollary then is that intentional creation of the universe is no assurance of ample purpose for humanity. It is not clear that serving as a tool of a deity’s wishes is more meaningful` than self-determination. 1                                                                                                                                       

In closing the design and purpose of the universe appear best revealed by cosmology. Through it we see not randomness, but a trajectory: a progression from simple particles and disorder to complex structures, and compartmentalized order, and from inorganic substances to living organisms culminating in consciousness. In the unlikely case of a personal creator, we can be sure he would know the human brain will identify this pattern, and thus should respond favorably to us living and working to synchronize with the trajectory of the universe. In the end, teleology manifests in humanity as an ethic of harmony with reality that we have been taught by the great spiritualists for thousands of years.

1Baggini, Julian, What’s It All About? Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-19-531579-0, pages 14-22.

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TELEOLOGY – SYNTHESIS

““Beyond all doubt the great purposivenesss present in the world compels us to think that there is a supreme cause of this purposiveness and one whose causality has an intelligence behind it. But this in no way entitles us to ascribe such intelligence to that cause.” – Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement

What position finally emerges regarding design in and of the universe? I have  compiled Table 5 in the Appendix to consolidate the last three dozen posts. I believe the truth of science demonstrates convincingly that the universe is not the product of blind chance, nor absurd, but, like Kant, I do not believe we can ascribe an intelligence, at least of the type we know, to its origin. Rather our analysis supports the view that the universe is the result of self-organization conforming to a body of natural laws. Consequent to this organizing process emerge novel entities – sometimes themselves accompanied by new laws as in the case of life and consciousness. Superficially these products appear unpredictable, but ultimately they are deterministic.

That individual subatomic particle behavior is literally uncertain despite being statistical, leaves open a door to a creator/observer unless we accept the dubious concept of decoherence. However, if we grant that for now science and internally-focused meditation are the only two means to evaluate reality and that both are constrained by human limitations, it may simply be the case that we cannot be certain whether ‘intention’ is appropriately attributed to the construct of the universe.

(continued next post)

 

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TELEOLOGY – SYNOPSIS

 “Whoever claims absolute teleological unity, saying that there is one purpose that every detail of the universe subserves, dogmatizes at his own risk” – William James, Pragmatism.

 

It is time to bring together the last 35 blogs into a synopsis and final synthesis. Our task has been to respond to the  assertion that the universe is pointless which indirectly calls into question whether our lives and humanity in general are meaningless. We have seen that teleology is the study of the final causes, possible design, and putative purpose of reality, and traced a course from the consideration of chance to the qualifications for meaning, leading to the following conclusions:

 1)   The universe cannot be ascribed to chance once we accept the sciences of physics and cosmology.

 2)   Instead complexity and chaos lead to the triad of self-organization, emergence, and unpredictability which mimic accident, but obey deterministic laws, and therefore do not indicate randomness in the universe.

3)   Probability and statistics indicate uniformity, but impose unpredictability on the design of the universe, while mathematics is instantiated within it.

4)  Quantum uncertainty impels us to accept that reality unfolds by virtue of an “observer” or through the speculative concept of ‘decoherence.’

5)   Natural selection, including directiveness, is the best explanation for the mechanism of the emergence of complex inorganic chemistry, diverse environments, and the evolution of life, but cannot account for the initial appearance of life definitively.1

6)   Biological processes appear to be meaningful beyond simple teleonomy.

7)   Human consciousness and society generate one level of teleology.

8)   The three main theories on the origin of the universe -intelligent design, outgrowth of a multiverse, and a spontaneous quantum flux – are speculative at best and contrived at worst.

9)   Absurdity may apply to our lives, but does not apply to reality where the only alternative is nothingness.

10)  We are limited in fathoming the full nature and design of the universe by our metaphysical biases and species limitations.

11)  Science is one route to understanding reality and thus of determining teleology, but the direct grasping of Eastern philosophy offers another, and there may be still others as well.

12)  The universe is meaningful by at least five of six reasonable criteria, with only the question of design itself being indeterminate.

It is from these conclusions that we will construct a synthesis of the surprisingly ineffable topic of teleology and meaning of reality and human life. Join me next time for the final discussion.

 

 

1Discounting the defects of the theory such as concerns about sufficient time, the excess size of the human brain, and the inability for man to replicate the creation of new species. One could also point out the gene mutations are not entirely random, Behe’s concerns about ‘irreducible complexity’ of living organisms, or the quite simple recognition that mammalian species have failed to adjust gender frequency based on optimal species spread (as would occur with a higher ratio of female to male rabbits for instance).

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TELEOLOGY – THE MEANING OF THE UNIVERSE

“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.” – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

 

 

 

On our long journey to resolve whether the universe is designed or has a purpose we arrived last time at an examination of the concept of meaning as end, purpose, or significance; and differentiated intrinsic and derivative kinds. I proposed five criteria for meaning of a thing: function, value, viability, justification, intention (by an originating agent), and external or absolute relevance. Today we will subject the universe to these criteria, though of course the answers will be arguable. I will assume that if I can offer a credible means for the universe to meet a criterion, it applies.

Starting with function, the universe appears to meet this criteria given it is the staging ground for the appearance and evolution of inorganic matter and life. Next is value where any attribution to the universe is highly subjective, but on the face of it, all value must be contained in the universe. It seems illogical to assert that it has no value knowing it is the site of all the physical reality of which we are aware. It may beg the question, but reality appears valuable  when contrasted with nothingness. Moving on, the universe is undeniably viable if cosmology is correct (except perhaps if one is a pure idealist). Its roughly 14 billion year duration, expansiveness, and consistent laws are incontrovertible evidence for its viability.

But is the existence of the universe justified? I believe the answer is yes – if the universe fills a valuable function in an efficient manner and creates more good than evil. We have already dealt with function and value. The fine tuning required for the universe to allow matter and life speaks to its efficiency. The last requirement of creating more good than evil is logically met by virtue of our earlier definition of good as that which contributes to the happiness, well-being, longevity, pleasure, or knowledge of oneself and others or at least does not diminish these for others; or which promotes existing non-human reality in the universe.

The question of intentional creation of the universe is nearly synonymous with the section title, taking us full circle, but must be deferred for now. This leaves us with external or absolute relevance; let’s take these separately. If we disregard the possibility of an intelligent creator, the most likely external “observer” would be a multiverse. In that case our universe is relevant as unique or one of the minority capable of sustaining matter and life which have previously demonstrated value and function. Absolute relevance is found in the immaterial derivatives of the universe – lawfulness, consciousness and self-consciousness, the embodiment of abstract ideas such as love and justice, and human developed science, mathematics, literature, art, etc.

In brief, the universe reasonably meets at least 5 of the 6 criteria for meaning and therefore is more appropriately considered meaningful than pointless. Its meaning seems to be both intrinsic  and derivative. This brings us to the final synopsis and synthesis of teleology which is where we will pick up next time.

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TELEOLOGY – CRITERIA OF MEANING

“There is perhaps no more bewildering and controversial problem than the meaning of meaning.” – Ernest Cassirer, An Essay on Man.

 

 

The final task we must undertake before we can perform a synopsis and synthesis  of teleology is to think briefly about the concept of ‘meaning’ and the criteria for it  and subject reality to those criteria. The first distinction we need to make is between meaning as definition, translation, or reference versus our use here as the end, purpose, or significance of a thing. W.D. Joske further distinguishes the significance of an activity or thing as either intrinsic, coming from value to itself, or derivative, stemming from its role in something else of value.1

Ernest Cassirer thinks meaning must be explained in terms of being as it is the most universal category which binds truth and reality,2  A.J. Ayer sees meaning outside of human intention as the question “Why?” but thinks this amounts to nothing more than explaining the facts of a thing or the “How?”.3 Irving Singer notes the strength of the linguistic argument that the word ‘meaning’ is nonsensical when applied to some things, for example life.4

Against this backdrop what criteria for the designation of meaning in the sense of end, purpose, or significance can we list? I propose the following:

1)   Function

2)   Value

3)   Viability

4)   Justification

5)   Intention (by an agent)

6)   External or absolute relevance

Let’s take these individually. Function is the fulfilling of some role or purpose. A good example is the kidney which functions to clean the blood of toxic substances for the health of an animal. Value, meaning merit or worth, is exemplified by a college education with its many intangible benefits. Viability refers to the implicit assumption that its referent has the ability to fulfill its role. A flower needs to be large enough, last long enough, and have the necessary parts for pollination by an insect to be possible.

Meaning also alludes to justification. A bridge across a river without connecting roads or paths, may have a function for a chance crossing need, but is unlikely to be justified. Intention is often seen as a criterion of meaning, that is, the aim of the originator or creator instantiates meaning into a thing. For instance we presume a work of art has ‘meaning’ by virtue of it being the intentional creation of the artist. A final feature of meaning is the finding of relevance to some external entity or absolute standard. A newspaper review of a non-existent movie would fail to meet this criterion while a textbook of mathematics has meaning as demonstration of its abstract principles.

The requirement to meet all, some, or only one of these criteria for meaning to apply is subjective rather than absolute, and may depend on the circumstance. Next time we see how these criteria apply to the universe and reality.

1Klemke, E.D. (editor), The Meaning of Life. Oxford University Press, New York, 2000. ISBN 0-19-512703-X, page 285.

2Cassirer, Ernst, An Essay on Man. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1972. ISBN 0-300-00034-0, page 112.

3Klemke, E.D. (editor), The Meaning of Life. Oxford University Press, New York, 2000. ISBN 0-19-512703-X, pages 225-226.

4Singer, Irving, Meaning in Life. The Free Press, New York, 1992. ISBN 0-02-982905-X, page 28.

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TELEOLOGY – AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH TO REALITY

“The way that can be spoken of

Is not the constant way;

The name that can be named

Is not the constant name.”

-Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching1

 

 

One reason we are inclined to accept the scientific depiction of the universe is that it is based on man’s reason; and physics, mathematics, and cosmology appear to be the summit of achievement of human reason. But for thousands of years the Eastern tradition has discounted man’s reason as the means to comprehend reality. Today, I would like to look at the parallel path of Eastern philosophy, particularly as described by Zen Buddhism and Taoism.

Japanese philosopher, Daisetz T. Suzuki, explains that Zen is a way of life, of seeing and of knowing by looking into one’s own nature. Truth is not found intellectually or gradually in the objectifying of the world, but rather intuitively or directly, through meditation and sudden enlightenment. Enlightenment comes from the ‘opening of a third eye’ leading to a sudden realization of one’s own nature, a moment of awakening or satori.  It is the precipitous appreciation of the unity of all being – not an intellectual analysis, but an instantaneous grasping  – a knowing all at once. Interestingly Suzuki tells us that from unity, Zen gleans a purposelessness and detachment from ‘teleological consciousness.’ Practical methods to achieve satori include the use of paradoxes, going beyond opposites, contradiction, exclamation, and silence. There is an emphasis on no mind. Obviously this approach is quite different, even antithetical to science and most Western philosophy.

Taoists also judge science as the wrong method to know reality. Western thinking depends on conventional signs and modes of communication, abstraction, and understanding one thing at a time, all unsuitable for grasping the universe where everything is happening at once – complexity that escapes analysis with abstract terms. Taoism deploys a different kind of knowledge, the direct understanding of a way of life which is based on intuition and ‘peripheral vision.’ The mind is used, but not forced; the Way is grasped by letting the mind go, a kind of unconsciousness or un-self-consciousness.

Both of these disciplines offer an alternative to our usual approach to reality. But they both seem to believe the mission to prove or disprove design is futile and should be abandoned in favor of an instantaneous apprehension of the nature of oneself and of all being.

The conclusion we draw from the last three blogs seems to be that the question of whether the universe is entirely or partially the result of design may be impenetrable despite the fact that a teleology of reality is crucial in determining whether it is meaningful and thereby whether human life is meaningful. Perhaps we should circle back to the concept of ‘meaning’ which is the subject of the next blog.

1Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Penguin Books, 1963. Page 57.

2 Magill, Frank. Masterpieces of World Philosophy. HarperCollins Publsihers.  1990. ISBN 0-06-270051-0, pages 628-635.

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TELEOLOGY – ANTHROPOCENTRISM – PART IV – HUMAN LIMITATIONS (cont’d)

Dimensionality is another area where we are impaired. We experience reality in four dimensions (three spatial plus time). Stephen Hawking argues the anthropic view that two spatial dimensions would not allow life as we know it while more than three would lead to an intensity of gravity incompatible with our cosmos and with atomic structure, but still entertains up to 22 more dimensions (the others presumably very small) for the viability of string theory.3  While I lack the proficiency to argue the mathematics, I wonder if such an inconsistency reveals the deep imperfections of man’s knowledge of reality.

However the greatest concern I have for human limitations is our reasoning process and our tools of science and mathematics. It does not appear that we can identify an objective or outside means to confirm the correctness of our tendency to look for patterns and to ascribe laws to the universe. Our seemingly best verification is the accuracy of our predictions and the success of the deployment of our reasoning as for example in our ability to land men on the moon. But I am haunted by humanity’s history of errors in reasoning such as: the near unanimous belief that man was created uniquely and distinct from other animals, misjudgment on the length of cosmic history, Ptolemaic astronomy, alchemy, physican use of bleeding to cure the ill, persecution of so-called “witches,” the classification of homosexuality as a mental disease until quite recently, and even contemporary people’s belief in astrology and UFOs. We can only guess what future men or alien life will think of our current “advanced” knowledge.

Science is an immensely useful tool for understanding reality, but is, for most of us, based on trust (faith?) in experts who themselves are influenced by the paradigms of their time as revealed  by Thomas Kuhn,4 and which nowadays is often politicized and occasionally even falsified. Scientists develop tools and follow methods to enhance their understanding of what is already known or to look for what they anticipate – which limits finding the novel and unexpected. Mathematics is less suspect, but complex theories like the universe appearing de novo from a quantum flux appear to require axioms, often unstated and likely dubious.

In summary, metaphysical bias and assumptions and the limit on human senses, cognition, and science make the question of whether the universe is entirely or partially the result of design impenetrable despite the fact that a teleology of reality is crucial in determining whether it is meaningful and whether human life is meaningful. Perhaps we should circle back to the concept of ‘meaning’ which is the subject of the next blog.

See Teleology – Natural Selection –Part V- Human Consciousness, December 18 and 20, 2019 on this site.

Eddington, Sir Arthur, The Nature of the Physical World. J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., London, 1942. Page 317.

Hawking, Stephen, The Illustrated A Brief History of Time. Bantam Books, New York, 1996. ISBN 978-0-307-29117-2, pages 219-222.

4 Kuhn, Thomas S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The University of Chicago Press. 1970. ISBN 0-226-45804-0.

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TELEOLOGY – ANTHROPOCENTRISM – PART IV – HUMAN LIMITATIONS

“Just as a physicist has to examine the telescope and galvanometer with which he is working; has to get a clear conception of what he can attain with them, and how they may deceive him; so, too, it seemed to me necessary to investigate likewise the capabilities of our power of thought.”  – Hermann von Helmholtz

 

 

Human generated error in understanding reality includes not only metaphysical bias and uncertain assumptions, but also human limitations on several levels. The first of these is the limits in human intelligence related to the limited size of the human brain. Recall that brain size in primates increased over millions of years reaching its zenith with Homo sapiens (and neandertalis). For example, the cranial capacity of a chimpanzee is approximately 400 cc. while that of modern man is about 1300 cc. Brain tissue is very expensive consuming large amounts of energy which may factor in man’s migration to meat eating as meat provides more calories than vegetable matter per given weight. But natural selection limits bodily features that increase energy expenditure to that stictly necessary for survival to reproduce. In fact there has been some debate on why the human brain enlarged to its present size as discussed in a former blog.1

It seems unlikely survival to reproduce requires a brain able to invent calculus, understand cosmology, create an atomic bomb, or send a man to the moon.  Putting aside speculation on whether a brain of this sophistication implies an intelligent creator, we must still recognize the limits of the human brain to discern every detail of how the universe works or why there is a universe at all. At some point, admitting this limit may lead us to conclude we simply are not be able to determine the origin of the universe or whether it was designed. More importantly once we concede any limit, then the magnitude of our ignorance is itself unlimited.

Similarly, we understand the world only within the realm of our five senses. Just as it is nearly impossible for someone born blind to understand sight and color or to someone born deaf, sound and music, we simply cannot comprehend the data of senses we lack which may be possible or even exist elsewhere. As Sir Arthur Eddington says, “So far as the broader characteristics are concerned, we see in Nature what we look for or are equipped to look for.”2 Even those senses we have are limited – consider the greater range of hearing and smell of a dog compared to a man. Tools such as the microscope or telescope expand our ability to process a greater range of a sense, but it is impossible to know whether they cover the majority or minority of what our biological sense organs miss.

(continued next post)

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TELEOLOGY – ANTHROPOCENTRISM – PART III – METAPHYSICAL BIAS (CONT’D)

Moreover we consider our experience of the flow of time as absolute and its speed as statutory. But in fact, even in our realm, time flow varies dramatically from the rapidity of a chemical reaction or the brief life of an adult mayfly (one day) to the longevity of the California Bristlecone pine (5000 years) or the drifting of continents. Our entire lives would appear to be fleeting or “speeded up” to the pine (1/60th of its lifetime), but like immortality or immensely slow to the mayfly (25,000 of its lifespans). The 13.9 billion year age of the universe is an unimaginable length of time to us, but is infinitesimal on the cosmic scale we discussed in earlier blogs about the five ages of the unverse.2 And the limit of temporal brevity may compress to significantly less than the time required for the hydrogen electron to complete one orbit of its proton (10-15 seconds).

Similarly humans experience the world as one of constant change, but philosophers have argued this is an illusion. For instance Parmenides argued multiplicity and change in the universe are impossible, while Zeno of Elea demonstrated the illogic of movement using the paradoxes of an arrow in flight and Achilles chasing a tortoise (both unconvincingly however). By their reasoning, the totality of ‘events’ in space-time is analogous to a movie reel wherein the cosmos is final and our experience of reality is just the disclosure of a limited number of frames which we interpret as motion and change.

Cause and effect may also be human constructs, as Hume noted, the result of our experience of constant conjunction of two events, A and B. No property “causation” can be proven, only that when A occurs B follows. In fact causation does not even demand A precede B as they can occur simultaneously (the running of the engine and the movement of the car). Humans cannot conceive of an effect preceding a cause, but it is unclear that physics requires this.

Last our knowledge of volition or will and of consciousness may simply be the parochial understanding of a very limited creature. Volition and intention may be possible outside of biological nerve impulses and skeletal muscle and consciousness may not require a brain but may be possible with inorganic structures such as those postulated in the earlier post on the destiny of the universe.2 Still other scientists and philosophers speculate that our reality is computer generated using highly complex software, a virtual reality we confuse as truly real.

So we find ourselves in a predicament, our metaphysical assumptions and viewpoint are parochial and may distort our analysis of teleology. Next we will examine our physical and mental limitations before we can pull together our conclusions about teleology and meaning in the universe.

 

1Hübner, Kurt, Critique of Scientific Reason. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1983. ISBN 0-226-35709-0, page 29.

2See Human Destiny – Part XVI- The Fate of the Universe, October 14 and 16, 2019 on this site.

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TELEOLOGY – ANTHROPOCENTRISM – PART III – METAPHYSICAL BIAS

“…we constantly carry around within us a metaphysics according to which statements of physics must describe, in some way or other, an intrinsically existing reality. From this it then follows that neither basic statements nor natural laws express straightforward facts in any sense at all; rather they are codetermined by spontaneous decisions.” – Kurt Hübner.1

Now we pick up with the metaphysical biases or axioms that underlie man’s understanding of reality. The first is the dichotomy of the material and the immaterial as manifest in the mind-body problem. For some reason man inexorably attributes to reality only two natures, the physical and the mental or ideal. We are so trapped in this thinking that we quibble over whether reality is simply material or immaterial (monism) or both (dualism), not on whether the premise itself is correct. Spinoza seems to recognize other natures may exist when he reworks reality as substance (God) with infinite attributes, of which only two are known to man: extension (material) and thought (immaterial). He does not offer others for our consideration nor is it clear we can have access to them, although I might propose a few – divinity, negation/nothingness, or perhaps dark matter/energy. Regardless modern science and philosophy remain limited to a binary view of reality.

The second bias man brings to thinking about reality is narrowness of size.Historically man’s concept of the size of physical reality has grown from a smaller but more consequential Earth in a cosmos with the sun and planets in celestial spheres projected against a ceiling of stars to the inconceivably large universe revealed by the Hubble telescope and finally to a hypothetical colossus – the multiverse. However there is no intrinsic reason to stop there; multiverses could be discontinuous and multiple; ours may simply be the equivalent of an atom in a still larger structure. At the other end of the spectrum there is no fundamental rationale to assume the smallest units of matter are quarks or even strings of energy. It may simply be the case that an organism our size is unable to fathom increasingly small divisions of matter.

Time offers similar challenges and paradoxes. We experience time as sequence – one clock tick following another or the repetitive rising and setting of the sun. Einstein showed with his thought experiments and mathematics that in fact time is interwoven with space and relative to the observer. There is no such thing as simultaneity in the universe, even at the level of our individual existence although we are unable to detect differentials in time inside the human sphere. For instance the words of a speaker do not actually occur at precisely the same time for him as for the listener.

(continue next post)

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