Forms of Function
and religion are at odds as to whether nature and history participate
in a program—whether
any particular direction inheres in them.
nature seems to our common sense to have purpose and value; it seems
to evolve from simple to more complex, from primitive to more advanced,
from less conscious to more conscious. Indeed, it appears to have
direction, and it seems to have purpose, which guides it in that
direction. Yet, we are asked by science, in the face of all evidence,
all reason, and all intuition, to regard nature as purposeless, meaningless,
and valueless. If we admit mind as an aspect of even the most primary
organism, however, this vast complexity suddenly takes on an added
meaning: a new and deeper sublimity replaces that sense of baffling
futility and waste with which a blind universe confronts us."
Terence and Dennis McKenna
explanation of something is going to suggest causal relationships among the components of whatever is being explained.
The suggested causal relationships
are meant to tell us why particular
correlations hold among the variables. But no scientific account of nature should
rely on purpose, goal, objective, design, intention, aim, or any
similar notion of planfulness in its explanations.
have a plan for Creation, but science has no recourse to it. In the scientific
view here's no
grand plan underlying nature. The world's storyline proceeds
without the benefit of a plot.
What science rejects, in a word, is teleology. The telos, the
unfolding of events according to a plan, is out of bounds (for
the most part). In extreme cases,
scientists can contract telophobia. Here's an instance of the telophobic affliction, from James Lovelock's The Ages of Gaia (Pseudomonads are microorganisms that produce nucleation sites around which water droplets condense, producing rain):
have an ancient history, and maybe their ice-nucleation trick goes
back to the Achaean. If so, were they the rain makers that led the
colonization of the land? A question that always arises at this point
in speculation is: How did it happen? Surely the bacteria did not
decide to make the ice-nucleating substance. At this point, serious–minded
microbiologists grow anxious and fear the proximate occasion of teleological
heresy. Fortunately, we can easily make a plausible model of the evolution
of close coupling between a large-scale environmental effect and the
local activity of microorganisms—a model, moreover free of any
taint of purpose."
"In the present climate of dominant scientific naturalism, heavily dependent on speculative Darwinian explanations of practically everything, and armed to the teeth against attacks from religion, I have thought it useful to speculate about possible alternatives. Above all, I would like to extend the boundaries of what is now regarded as unthinkable, in light of how little we really understand about the world. It would be an advance if the secular theoretical establishment, and the contemporary enlightened culture which it dominates, could wean itself of the materialism and Darwinism of the gaps—to adapt one of its own pejorative tags. I have tried to show that this approach is incapable of providing an adequate account, either constitutive or historical, of our universe. "
Mind and Cosmos
goes on to make the case that the ability to freeze water must have
benefited the ancestors of today's pseudomonads and that the talent
therefore spread from generation to generation of the microorganisms.
The effect of rain on later evolution is incidental. This is
what is known in the evolution biz as a just
a term taken from a collection of fanciful tales by Rudyard Kipling.
Just so stories enjoy the privilege of being
as undisprovable as they are unprovable. Lovelock might be more sensitive
than most scientists to accusations of "teleological heresy"
because early criticism of his Gaia theory targeted the theory’s
to Lovelock and other telophobes, "purpose" has various interpretations.
a Code Have a Purpose?
If we ask
a computer programmer about a section of code, she might tells us that
that section ensures that when a dialog box appears on a user’s
screen it pulls data from a particular field in a particular database.
So, that’s the purpose of that section of code—to make that
data appear in the right place at the right time. This purpose inheres in the code.
Now, if we
ask a geneticist about a section of DNA—genetic code—and he
tells us that that section of code ensures that a particular protein contains
a particular amino acid at a particular position in the sequence of amino
acids, we might be less eager, than in the computer example, to say that
that section of code has a purpose, for fear of committing "the
controversy between those who see both our species and
our society as a lucky accident, and those who find an
immanent teleology in both, is too radical to permit
of being judged from some neutral standpoint."
and Social Hope
a section of DNA.
it over carefully.
segments have purpose?
computer and genetic codes direct events toward particular outcomes. Why
is purpose granted in the one case; but not in the other?
To add a
complication, let’s say that biohackers splice a DNA sequence into
the genome of a variety of tomato so that the plant (given a suitable
environment) yields fruits fortified with caffeine, or sugar, or [insert
favorite recreational compound]. In this case, the inserted DNA serves
a purpose, but the rest of the plant genome does not, even though it cranks out its share of enzymes and so on? What if the sequence
of inserted DNA included some nucleotide sequences from the original tomato
genome—then would these sequences be converted from nonpurposeful
to purposeful, even though they correspond to the same amino acids after
the insertion as they did before?
Is the purpose of a thing whatever
the thing can be observed to do? The purpose of a jet engine is to propel a plane. But the engine
also produces heat. That is not its purpose, though the purpose of
some devices is precisely to produce heat. Purpose seems
to be a function of an intending mind. This is a troubling observation,
because it means that although we observe nature doing things, nothing
in nature, outside of conscious behaviors, has any purpose whatsoever.
The stomach makes food suitable for passage through the intestine.
Do we want to say in the next breath that stomachs serve
no purpose because they were, in the scientific view, not intentionally
ambivalence toward the vocabulary of teleology, e.g., purpose, meaning,
function, code, plan, and program, suggest
that the seemingly distinct categorical break between natural law and
God’s law—between purposeless and purposeful nature—is a
nuanced one. Recently coined terms, such as biosemiotics and teleosemantics, underscore science's struggle to describe the universe in language that simultaneously acknowledges and denies teleological processes—purpose— in nature.
(far left) and phylogeny (left) are processes of polymorphous descent
from a common ancestor.
the vast explanatory power attributed to natural selection when it comes to evolution, why
does science then stoop to invoking a "genetic program" (or
synonymous concept) when it comes to explaining the development
of an organism?
evolution and development—phylogeny
descent from a common ancestor (an ancestral species and a zygote, respectively), with descendants
competing and cooperating in a shared environment. So, why the
need to invoke a ghost in the machine, the genetic program, when it comes to development?
Why is variation + selection sufficient to explain the differentiation of species during evolution but insufficient to explain the differentiation
of cells during development?
criteria can science articulate to determine when to invoke natural selection and when to invoke
a program when explaining descent with modification? Applied even-handedly, would any such criteria
disqualify phylogeny from being explained by a program? In principle, what sort of observation
would establish the presence or absence of underlying instructions directing either process?
Law of Thermodynamics and Complex Systems
expected to find that Anaxagoras would explain the world order
as a work of design, not a result of blind mechanical necessity.
The reason of that order would then be found, not in some previous
state of things from which it had emerged, but in some end or
purpose that it could be shown to serve. Reasons of that sort
seemed to Socrates intelligible and satisfying."
and After Socrates
"I would argue that even more remarkable than the persistence of the material gene structure through so many generations is the reliability with which an individual organism, in each generation, negotiates its precarious passage from zygote to adult. How, we might ask, is such impressive reliability ensured? How does a developing organism manage such success in reaching its final goal?"
— Evelyn Fox Keller
The Century of the Gene
science rejects the idea that ends are imminent in the means of nature,
nature nonetheless proceeds in a preferred direction. The Second Law
of Thermodynamics asserts that processes tend to change over time specifically
in a direction away from organized complexity and toward equilibrium—toward
greater entropy. Even though it pulls things, inexorably, in a certain
direction, the tendency to converge on maximal entropy does not constitute
a teleological purpose, in the scientific view.
dynamic systems grow in the opposite direction, away from equilibrium,
yet operate stably in their disequilibrium, is readily observable. But,
according to normal science, these anti-entropic systems, such as biological
cells, ecosystems and galaxies, do not rely on teleological programs to
arrive at their complex, stable forms. Like systems that devolve toward
maximal entropy, anti-entropic systems are not driven by purpose or function, in
the scientific view. They are flukes or, in the context of complexity
theory, "emergent" systems of self organization. In any
event, normal science does not assign to them any teleological aims.
interwoven ideas, most significant for the star larvae hypothesis
is the normal scientific view that evolutionary descent—phylogeny—is
nonteleological but that development of individuals—ontogeny—is
teleological. That is, the former proceeds without the benefit
of an inherent direction, but the latter does benefit from inherent
direction. The hypothesis challenges this received doctrine.
The star larvae hypothesis sees in the churning of evolutionary history the metabolic churning of a developing organism. Evolution unfolds according to a developmental plan. Evolution is teleological.
NEXT > Ontophylogeny,
Star Larvae Hypothesis:
a genus of organism.
The stellar life cycle includes a larval phase.
Biological life constitutes the larval phase of the stellar life cycle.
hypothesis presents a teleological model of nature, in which
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