Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Often one hears a complaint that someone feels their life has no meaning. They say they are drifting, can’t figure out what they want, aren’t connected to anything. I’ve been saving little scraps of clues. “Promiscuous teleology” is a fav of mine. It has nothing to do with sex or God. Sorry. It’s about wanting to know what the end will be, but jumping around in one’s opinion of what to expect, being credulous. “Telos” is Greek for “end”, “pro-miscuous comes from a Latin word meaning assorted, mixed, messy, unrelated to each other. The following quotes are from this website: http://www.arn.org/blogs/index.php/literature/2007/11/19/explaining_a_preference_for_teleological

According to a recent study, there is "evidence for a basic human preference to understand the world in terms of purpose. When faced with an object that supports a plausible function, humans make an immediate but defeasible [not likely] inference to design, and assume a teleological explanation is warranted."

“The authors advance a model of human cognition that starts with "promiscuous teleology" in children, develops with the retreat of teleology resulting from ‘causal beliefs typically acquired through formal education’, but sometimes advancing again with the onset of senility and the impairment of the causal belief system. Thus, teleological explanations are presented as ‘compelling and pervasive because they reflect an explanatory default.’"

In plain English, children and old folks like the simple story. Just gimme an explanation without a lot of facts. “God” made people. Okay. The task of the “Interpreter” part of the brain in the adult is to keep evidence evaluated, organized and useful, but when the Interpreter doesn’t have enough evidence, the “Confabulator” takes over and both children and Alzheimer’s patients begin to fill in the blanks with whatever comes to hand. The result is often “cute” or “pious.” Art Linkletter stuff.

The difference between science and religion is that science says straightforwardly, “This is my best guess at the moment and the best evidence we have.” Religion says, “This is the truth, absolutely. Believe me.” Some people get very impatient if they have to concentrate on mysterious technological stuff, let alone quantum mechanics that explain a lot to those who’ve mastered that evidence, but very little to the rest of us. Some clever religious people imitate science with a lot of confabulated teleologies which they call THEOlogy. (Theos means God.)

Science is fairly agnostic about teleology, not quite promiscuous though there area always several possibilities about how things will turn out. The evidence so far leads us to believe that we are very small in a vast existence and that everything we know and love will be obliterated either by the end of our own consciousness of it when we die or by the end of the solar system when the Sun dies. Religion offers versions of what we have experienced already, drawing a line out to a desired end. Heaven is thought to be like the best of whatever we’ve known or imagined.

Lately our culture has emphasized individual performance and achievement. People have left the countries where their families put down roots. People have gone through fierce economic hardships that make them value security. Everything for some people depends upon making a better tomorrow, especially for kids. But technology has changed the rules for family, children, disability. We are living in the midst of chaos: globalization, regime change, increasing environmental pressure, economic crisis. It’s every “man” for himself and many single people -- even children -- are drifting everywhere, looking for work, looking for relationships, or maybe just searching for anodynes. Some try to get back to formerly known control and try to force it on others. We consider this “conservative” or maybe “reactionary.” It is a confabulation. Time’s arrow does not point over your shoulder.

But suppose one is progressive, tolerant of differences, open to many possibilities in the future, promiscuously teleological? Where is the unification? How does one keep one’s balance? Especially when what once seemed like the ideal solution might turn out to have a dark and tragic side. Doesn’t it seem obvious that promiscuous THEOlogy, mixed and unstable gods, leads to trouble? But MONOtheology trying to control everything to make it go to the preferred telos (which may be good for you, but not others) doesn’t seem to be the answer either.

This world has two certainties: change and interrelatedness. There is no way to escape change except by leaving this “world” for some other that may or may not exist. In short, death. If you do not change, the changes that are interrelated to you will eliminate you. There is no way to escape relatedness with everything else except by leaving this world. If you have left this world, you are essentially dead to it.

The forward-arrow forces of this world are ecology and evolution, one being change and the other being response to change, and therefore these must be our strategies. The evidence we have so far tells us nothing about an ultimate beginning or any ultimate end -- just pushes them out farther. What we have is evidence that is only evidence, process that is only process. What we make of them has to depend to some degree on confabulation -- guessing, piecing the evidence together as best we can. We try to understand that to which we are related, whether it is the composition of air or the arrangement of the furniture in our house, and we try to reach an accommodation to it by guessing, trying things out, testing, theorizing. Sometimes we change ourselves a bit and sometimes we just move the furniture. Sometimes we guess right and other times not. Sometimes the situation comes to meet us, to wrap itself around us in some lucky way that lifts us to new heights of understanding.

That’s when the meaning comes, when we achieve fittingness and full participation. It’s not a matter of approving or disapproving, being right or wrong, good or evil. It’s a matter of getting involved, coming up against everything else in the world. Life is a contact sport. In any end at all, no matter what happens, each of us is entirely immortal in the sense of occupying this space/time, changing everything else with our influence, our simple being-here. That can never be removed. It is each of our gift to the universe, our imprint on the future, and we do it -- every one of us -- without having to be famous geniuses at all. Not that there’s anything promiscuously teleological about that.

No comments: