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Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Grey and Teleology

I saw the film The Grey last night, and I thought it was extremely good. The ending was, if anyone cares, the exactly correct ending for the film. Some people thought it was ambiguous. I did not. I found it to be the natural culmination of the entire thrust of the story.

I may write more on the film later, but right now I want to write on "teleology", which is the doctrine that design, processes, and outcomes we see in the natural world are pretty much dependent on attaining "desired goals", just as are the things of human endeavor; for example, Heinz Pagels' theory that the Universe - at least in our neck of the woods - was created just so in order that it would lead to the gradual appearance of Mankind, a theory referred to as the Anthropocentric Theory, or the theory of Man as the Center of Creation.

This name is not right. In this theory, Man is the "End" or the goal or "Purpose to be attained", not the center of a cycle, but we have to make do with the tools we have laying about, so there it is.

I do not like such theories. I usually say that when a person that puts forward the Anthropocentric Theory, it a very similar to getting off Schopenhauer's Causality Trolley Car (Schopenhauer argued against proofs of God by infinite regress:  everything has a Cause, there cannot be a thing such as an infinite series of causes, therefore there must be a First Cause, and this is God. He said that the Theory that Everything has a Cause is not like a trolley car that suddenly you can disembark from; or, you cannot state that there is strict causality [everything has a cause] and then state that there cannot be an infinite series of causes - essentially saying that everything has a cause until I grow weary of the endless process or get to where I want to go; one has to ride that Causality Trolley forever.)

Well, Teleologies or "Final Ends" or "Desired Goals" theories are similar: the choice of which stop to get off at are extremely subjective.

I usually say that the "final ends" theorist got off the trolley one stop too soon: the "Purpose" of Creation was iPads by Apple, for which the penultimate step: Mankind, was a prerequisite.
To me, this is sufficient to undercut the logic of such philosophy. If anyone thinks I am frivolous, that's quite all right, for to me it is obvious that Schopenhauer's Causality Trolley runs one way into the past, and the Trolley of Anthropocentric theories run one way into the future, and there is no essential distinction logically between them.

However, that does not mean I do not believe in teleology.

As I watched the last campfire scene in The Grey, the distinction between man and wolf took on new light: man had long-term memory and language. Both of these abilities worked to ensure the continued existence of Mankind until such a time as writing and other forms of arts and memory storage were made technologically available.
In other words, long-term memory and language lead to oral traditions and eventuate in writing, and this process seemed obviously teleological in that it cannot be happenstance, but it is indeed driven by a future and as-yet-non-existent goal. It seemed clear that certain human behaviors not only lead to certain futures, but they also actively "design" those futures to be within certain parameters.

Furthermore, there is the intense implication that things do not end there: Mankind's Consciousness has Future Goals... no matter how much we, the present generation, may strive to throw that trolley off the tracks!


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