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Evolution and Teleology

It is often assumed that the theory of evolution has no teleology in it. In fact it’s one of the central claims of the defenders of natural selection, over older theories of evolution/creation of life. But, just because something is often claimed, doesn’t make it true. Darwin’s theory did not give a mechanism, and attempts at mechanisms by figures such as Dawkins, though much vaunted, do not have widespread acceptance in the scientific community. They are more just absorbed as fact by the mainstream culture, regardless of the state of the science. It has become a convenient thing to think: there must be a mechanism for evolution, and so we will assume there is one, and wait on scientists to work out the definitive details.

But I don’t think there is one, nor do I think there will ever be one. Evolution relies on implicit teleology in the most central concepts to the theory of natural selection. The term “selection”, is already a teleologically loaded term. It suggests a choice between alternatives with some end in mind. Not a pure blind process of cause and effect. They will contest, just because we are constrained by this terminology, still nature works blindly, and it is our concepts that are limited at understanding this process. Dawkins argued a similar thing regarding his selfish genes concept. The selfishness is not meant to be taken in any common sense meaning of the term.

Though, of course, this raises the question, why use the term at all, for then it surely will only be misleading. In reality, despite their protestations, they are still dependent for understanding this process on human, teleological metaphors. To say nature is acting blindly despite our crude concepts, is to say one set of human concepts is more important than another, it is not to privilege reality in any metaphysical sense over our own created concepts. For “nature itself”, and our understanding of it as just blind cause and effect, is itself a conceptual creation. Now if this is not up to the task for comprehending biological phenomenon and we must rely on teleologically loaded terms. Then we would be better to be honest with ourselves and just admit this.

To address some of the specific difficulties of Dawkin’s selfish genes. There is the problem of the artificial level at which we choose to individuate, and say, this is the selfish level. For instance, do we draw the line of selfishness at the level of indvidual organisms, of tribes, of species? Or do we go in the other direction and draw the line at organ level, cell level, gene level? Dawkins would like to argue for an atomistic account with selfish replicator genes at the base of the pyramid, but these replicators remain mythical entities, as stooped in teleology as ever. And the very idea of applying the term of selfishness on such a scale, raises many problems, for what would it mean?

Not only this, is talk of selfishness even mechanistic when it is a motivational term? For something to be selfish it means pursuing some end favourable to itself over others. Talk of metaphor all you like, but clearly the notion of an end pursued as the motivation remains in place, and so this idea we have brought evolution down to an efficient causation mechanism remains a pipe dream. The notion of ends is still in this framework, and so teleology has not been effectively removed. It has merely been disguised by privileging one type of end as more “natural” than any other, namely selfishness. But once again this “natural” is just another human created concept, not an independent material reality.

And so with no independent definition of this concept all we have is that after the fact we define as selfish whatever in fact the entity happened to do. Whatever in fact we find out worked for the individual. In this scenario natural selection is a posthumous addition of a selection onto a prior event, in the absence of any better explanation. It is in fact, what we always do with past events, namely we try to put them into a coherent narrative or teleological structure. But to claim any causal power here in this account would be question begging of the most obvious and transparent kind.

Why then all this effort made to prop up mechanical causality as applying to biological phenomena? Why not just take the more parsimonious approach and acknowledge the implicit teleology at the basis of reasoning in biological subject matter?

The scientific concern seems to be of an outbreak of some sort of return to a primitive mystical understanding of our surroundings. Imputing motives to everything, from the weather, to inanimate objects, to animals, rather than just to human affairs. Once we cede ground in biology, they imagine, then physics, chemistry, cosmology, astronomy will all be at risk of this fallacious anthropomorphic approach to understanding phenomena.

But their worry is misplaced. For they have imagined a certainty in their approach it doesn’t have, giving it a metaphysical status when really it is merely a methodology. The method of physics is cause and effect, efficient causation. The method of biology includes allowance for implicit teleology in the methodology. Nothing needs to change either. It is not a choice of one or the other as if there can be only one true or real metaphysic. It is a pragmatic decision based on the nature of the subject matter.

Not to say that this makes pragmatism the true metaphysic. How about instead of preempting what reality should be, we just let it be how it presents itself to us? Any model of reality as a whole, of the basic structure or framework of reality, is preempting parts of reality we have yet to experience and also filtering out, or conveniently forgetting other aspects of reality we have already experienced that don’t fit in line with the model. Why blinker ourselves in such a way. Language, concepts, etc, these are tools for understanding, no tool will be right for all of reality though. You don’t use a hammer to cut your bread, and you don’t use a knife to bang a nail.

Once again, though, this is not to suggest pragmatism. Reality is not to be given up on because our tools are so necessary, as pragmatism would suggest. Far from it, we need to remember sometimes to abandon our tools for the sake of staying in touch with reality. This means awareness, intuition. The west tried to throw these notions on the scrapheap. Just because absolute idealism failed, is no reason to reject our intuitions about reality once and for all, and bow down to science. Such would be to go from a fake delusion of grandeur to a fake poseur of humility. Neither serves us well, and we are better off to break free of this trap that groups such as positivism in the west have tried to set for us.

Note: Some might like to argue, random mutations is the mechanism. But this would be wrong because it is only random mutations combined with a selective process that gives us the theory of evolution. Random mutations on their own would have no direction, no pattern, naturally as they are random. It’s this combined with an implicit teleology of a selective process that gives us an order. The real achievement then of Darwinian evolution compared to what came before is to accurately connect these two factors. Despite what popular myths may say regarding it’s achievements. It did not do away with teleology, ends, purpose, etc. It just put them in a place that allowed us to best get to grips with the biological phenomena. Namely as implicit teleology, rather than as explicit teleology. A logical structure, a methodology, rather than a misleading and dubious substantive metaphysic.


Not Free

I seem to have reached an impasse. This foray into another country, exploring another culture, had its initial novelty. But now I feel myself slipping into my usual pattern of taking things for granted, and of just doing enough to get by, surviving rather than thriving. The shine is off now. Everything has become to me what it had become back in the UK. I just feel a rising disgust for everybody around me. It is rising from deep down, and on the surface I m having to struggle harder and harder to put a happy face on proceedings. The smiling mask of civility is wearing thin.

Inside I feel alone, depressed, unable to form closeness to others. Unable to take myself more lightly. Trapped in the drudgery of my serious outlook. As a result, other people are just obstacles in my way, mocking my failures and shrugging off, indifferent to my successes. It is impossible to win, losing is inevitable as an outsider. All the effort in the world, will just get you through something, but with nothing to spare. No room left for joy, to embrace the moment, or for laughter and fun.

I try to keep positive, but it becomes more difficult with each day. More strained, more restricted. The rope becomes tighter and tighter, that I must walk along. Falling seems inevitable, the goal is too far away. Worse, I don’t even know what the goal of it all is. I feel I have given it a good go, but the lifestyle here is just not for me. There is an innocence about it, a thoughtlessness, that is charming, but also very extroverted. It does not suit my introverted temper. I can only take so much extroverted display, before I want to get out of it and find a space of reflection to be with my own thoughts.

People here will always give you a chance, they don’t consign you to permanent exile as an outsider. Even though I feel that is what I am. I feel I don’t deserve any more chances. They may not have given up on me, but I am starting to give up on myself. It all comes back to my lack of self esteem. I never give myself credit. I never rest content with something achieved. I find excuses to attribute it to anything other than my own self. Most of the time I am correct in this assessment, but sometimes you have to find a way to pat yourself on the back, be a bit easy on yourself. Without resorting to false pride.

Once again I err. I go from one extreme most the time of being too hard on myself, to the other extreme in rare moments of being too proud of myself, and claiming credit way beyond my purview. I think the biggest irony of it is summed up from a recent experience of mine. It sums up me. A social gathering and I was having good conversations, my pride and ego were stoked. But I neglected the only people there who were potentially true friends. I made a load of acquaintances and lost a friend. This is the harsh reality of my life, over and over, like torment in hell for some sin I have still yet to discover that I committed.

So, in summary, my time here travelling has not set me free. I am as imprisoned and trapped as ever in a nest of intertwined narratives I insist on weaving for my life that yet seem to be out of my control. Even as I weave a web to entrap myself, I watch on helplessly. I am a victim of my own creation. I know it, I see it, I feel it, but what can I do to change it?

Implicit Teleology – The Answer to the 20th Century Rejection of Reason

The 20th century was a time of great progress for science and technology. But alongside this, it seems for each improvement in technology we have sacrificed some of our personal autonomy as rational beings. Some may shrug this off as the price of progress, the price of democracy, the price of wealth and globalisation with little more thought. As if the price is not so much after all. However, my argument in this piece is that the cost of our actions here is potentially catastrophic in many areas.

So why did many intelligent people choose to abandon the faculty of reason in the 20th Century? Lets take a look at some of the contributing factors:

  1. There was the progress in the science of mind. This led many of a scientific disposition to embrace views such as behaviorism, eliminative materialism and more generally a mechanistic determinism of one kind or another, where a causal chain of action and reaction explains each step in the process from object to sensation to nervous system reaction to sensory output and impulse, in which there is no room for a rational being at any stage making rational decisions.

  2. There was fear of things such as imperialism and world ending wars. Where reason is just a facade used in the service of strong irrational emotions and compulsions, in line with subconscious desires for domination and power, that leads us to violence inextricably.

  3. Logical advances that led some to put forward the view that the resultant logical system is now fully decided for all time and is tautologically correct.

  4. The attendant association of universals with some kind of dubious mystical, idealist creed.

  5. A felt need, due to advance in science, for certainty also in areas of philosophy. Leading to presumptive statements of certainty and clarity in areas where really uncertainty still reigns supreme.

  6. The concept to be explained in this piece, regarding a misunderstanding of the implicit teleology in our reasoning. It explains why so many present self-refuting postmodernist accounts like relativism. They are simply not self-aware of the implicit teleology in their reasoning.

  7. The attempt, related to number 3 regarding logical advances, to reduce implication relations to tautologies undermined our appreciation of the structure to reality that implication reveals.

All of these became excuses for either intellectual laziness or for rejecting reason as a useful force for individuals to make use of in their thinking processes.

The inspiration for this particular renewed defence of reason is the work of Brand Blanshard. I don’t feel that I fully commit to some of his theses, such as, that of internal relations, or the coherence theory of truth. Or the idea that when we fully understand the world, everything will be one big system of necessary and interdependently related elements. But I do think a central idea in his work where he picks out the importance of implicit teleology in our reasoning is correct, and highly important.

So what is this notion all about? In outline this is the notion that thinking and reasoning, among other activities we perform, are essentially directed towards an end. We don’t always, and often don’t know the end in its specifics, consciously, but it is there guiding and constricting our thoughts and ideas into certain channels. We have a common sense way of describing this process, which is that we speak of humans as creating narratives. Now the argument of teleology reaches a bit further. For it states that we don’t just freely create narratives on a subjective whim when we like, but, 1) that these narratives are guided in their formation by a surrounding objective reality that provides real ends for us to pursue and 2) that these narratives are not something we can choose or not choose to create. They are not an optional extra in human experience added on to the more sturdy naturalistic, materialistic elements merely to provide some color to our short and meager existences. They are there of necessity and are foundational to our being as human beings.

This does not mean we are fully determined in how we must create our ends in life. But it does mean that there are standards for success in end formation, that are provided by an outer reality. A good way to understand how this works is with the concepts of potential and actual. An end is the fully realised actual outcome, and we normally find ourselves on some way towards its realisation at a certain level of potential.

This is a concept I have made use of before and it is a great way to easily defeat more positivistically minded philosophers. For they simply fail to realise the implicit teleology in their own arguments and so they make self defeating claims. For instance, the classic example is the verification theory of meaning. It creates a standard for meaningful argument that it fails in its own argument. Relativism also offers many examples: All knowledge claims are relative to a point of view. Well, ok, so then is this knowledge claim relative to a point of view or not? If it is then clearly it is false, for as another person your claim has no hold on me. If it isn’t then it is a knowledge claim with objective validity, defeating its own argument. And so once again it is false. So where does the implicit teleology come in? The implicit teleology when arguing and reasoning is that we are guided by certain ends. One such end is that we require an argument in the domain of reasoning to pass its own criteria for judgment. There are good reasons for having this implicit teleology, for it ensures the person speaking is not given an unfair privilege simply due to the fact he is making his argument now. Thus it allows us to discuss things reasonably in turn, all guided by the same standards.

Now I would not claim, and neither would Blanshard, that this particular teleology is guaranteed reality. It may turn out also to be misguided. Any end could be wrongly pursued in the light of further discussion and thought that brings new knowledge to bear. But what is guaranteed is that we will always be guided by some implicit teleology or other, and we would do better to acknowledge it and be aware of it to save ourselves wasting time making self defeating claims. It is not an easy process, it requires deep levels of self reflection, and it requires patience and humility. It also requires a refusal to rush to judgement or to rush to agree with somebody or some group of people claiming to know better than you forcefully and persistently.

So what have been the reasons for rejecting this teleological understanding? It became less and less popular in the 20th century due to the predominance of the physical sciences and the successes they had there with technology and explaining deeper and deeper levels of physical phenomena. But its rejection on one level of the human psyche didn’t stop it from remaining there guiding our narratives, guiding our ends. It just moved to an unreflective level, where we lost cognisance of it. And this is where the danger comes in for Western civilisation. It is quite an astonishing phenomena in human history really, of a wilful decision to compartmentalise an aspect of our human experience in the name of saving the face of the predominant materialistic and naturalistic cosmology. Maybe we are now seeing some of the consequences of it in our growing unhealthiness and unhappiness. We are end pursuing beings trapped in a maze banging our head against a wall because we simply forgot how to freely create ends to pursue, or we lost faith or belief in them. Became convinced they were delusions, somehow merely ephemeral subjective concoctions of our own imagination with no more reality or validity than the most vague and unmemorable dream. We want some drug to fix us, some impulse, some substance, when what we really need is to rediscover a connection with worthwhile human ends.

Ideologues – The Dangers of Disconnection with Reality

Well I managed to ignore the political scene in the UK and in Europe and the US for a couple of months here in Colombia, but now I find myself catching up on everything. And what I find is that things have only carried on further down the line they were going. More polarisation, more doubling down by the left wing ideologues. I do see some minor conceding of ground by the more rational members on the right and left wings. But it remains the case that the left wing delusion that we are all the same and that as a result any inequality is due to oppression, etc, remains the dominant ideological force.

It’s easy to see the attraction of this ideology. It is very simplistic, very easy to learn and understand, and it gives one a great initial feeling of moral superiority and of being morally good in some way. The problem is that it sees no further than this short term satisfaction of moralising at others. And worse, it does not moralise leading by example, it just moralises, without leading by example. It doesn’t even act on its moral judgement. It only spouts it when it sees a chance to project on to some one it determines is not living up to this moral judgement, even though they don’t live up to the judegment themselves. It does not think about the consequences for society in the long term to giving in to these moralising impulses. And the consequences of all this moral projection not guided by practical reason and personal integrity.

The consequence of course, is that the very connection between reason and how we act is severed. And the ideology becomes further and further removed from the daily reality we have to live with. The only end result to this can be irrational outbursts of violence. There is no other option. No dialectic of reason is going to save us with some magical thesis, antithesis and synthesis. The only thing that can hope to save us is to reconnect reason with our practical day to day actions. In this way we will keep our reason in touch with the reality surrounding us, and we will not become victims of some simplistic ideological persuasion.


Seeing judges all around me, judging my every move

impossible to ever relax and get into a groove.

Each person ready to drop the axe on my exposed neck

to turn my hopes and dreams into a train wreck.

At some point thinking this so much to be true

I create it as real, enemies lining up in view.

They want me dead, because I want me dead

nothing more hopeless and tragic was ever said.

But it is right, and it is what I must face.

For the impact of mass judgment, I must brace.

Their looks of derision pierce my sensitive soul

Either I shut down completely or I be riven with holes.

So of course I shut down once more, as is my way

I sweep all feeling under the floor, and exit the fray.




People always probing, always pretending to care

when really they are just looking to ensnare

you in some trap of their own egos creation

so they can wreak on you utter devastation.

Playing with your loneliness and desperation

like a toy winding you up, till your expiration.


Zero Sum Life

The fight is over, the race has been run.

all hope is gone, no more laughs or fun.

I gave it my best shot, I gave it my all.

but in the end from my pedestal I must fall.

Puffed up pride, hiding deep shame

Again I lose at life’s cruel game.

Second chances, new beginnings, I have had my fill.

I am scared and alone in darkness still.

It was worth a shot,

gave it all I have got.

But I have lost all I had

and gained nothing in its stead.

Now what will I do, I am zero once more

A lifetime of trying and this remains my score.

A pathetic and sorry waste of a life

If only there could be some end to this strife.

Not soon, not likely, I have still some way to go,

to scrape the bottom of the barrel in this pitiful show.