MIND, LIFE AND BODY

by     Reginald O. Kapp

PART II - THE PROBLEM IN TERMS OF TELEOLOGY

Chapter VIII - TELEOLOGY AND VIS A TERGO



1. WHAT CAUSES PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE?

THAT planning for the future occurs in this world we all know. To the question: Does planning for the future ever occur? the only possible answer is "yes". We do it ourselves many times a day in big and small matters. About that there can be no uncertainty. But there is much uncertainty concerning the source of the planning and the cause of those events by which the plan is put into effect. It is about these that a question of great relevance in science must be asked. Let me attempt to formulate it as clearly as possible.

We all know that the planning for the future that we experience depends on the activity of our brains. (And for the moment I propose to discuss only the planning that we experience consciously. Instinctive and unconscious activities will have to be considered on another occasion.) Without our brains there would be no conscious plan; nor could the plan be put into effect. What part, then, does the brain play? This is the relevant question that needs serious consideration.

A decision must be made between the two possibilities. As explained in Chapter V, the brain may be the originator of the plan. Or it may be the instrument by means of which the plan is put into effect, the originator then being a non-material mind, a diathete, a thing that lacks location, cannot transmit energy and cannot be observed by physical means.

Either answer raises formidable problems for the scientist. And it is truly surprising with what glibness and lack of serious thought one or other of them is often given. The brain can only be the originator of the planning and the cause of the planned events if material particles can, in some suitable configuration, plan for the future and control the course of events. As I have already asked in Chapter V, is it in the nature of material particles, however they may be assembled to do this? The question must be addressed to physicists. And it is noteworthy that those who are most sure that material particles can do this are not physicists, and do not even see the need for consulting physicists about it. They are confident that their own knowledge of the nature of material particles is quite sufficient.

If, on the other hand, the brain is the instrument used by a diathete, if the diathete forms the plan and exercises the control, using the brain in doing so, then an influence without location can act on matter. The great Problem of Interaction is raised. And it is again surprising how few of those who accept without hesitation the reality of non-material influences show any awareness of the magnitude of this problem.

There is a deplorable tendency to say that belief in non-material influences and belief in the unaided action of matter on matter are each justified in its own sphere. This is the policy of the ostrich. Science cannot fail to suffer from it. Let me therefore try to shake the fashionable complacency a little with the help of a few examples of planning for the future. Many philosophical systems seem plausible enough so long as they are formulated in abstract terms. But they crumble at the first impact with a concrete illustration.

If my examples appear somewhat trivial, so much the better. What is relevant to our present investigation is not to be sought among rare and recondite phenomena. The great Problem of Interaction is not raised by any discoveries that have been made recently. Nor is it raised by any observations about the validity of which some legitimate doubt exists, such as thought transference or prophetic dreams. It is not raised by mysterious happenings in the inscrutable East. It is raised by the most familiar facts of everyday observations, by every commonplace action in which a fleeting thought is taken for the future, by every fashioned object, no matter how unimportant, in the making of which a preconceived plan has been followed, by every event that leads to an organised process.

2. PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

My first commonplace example is of a man who puts a postage stamp on a letter and places the letter in a pillar box. This man would not do so if he did not want the person whose name is on the envelope to receive the letter. What he does is designed to serve a purpose. In his action he is planning for what shall happen on the next day.

Philosophers have a technical term for events that are thus characterised by the purpose that they serve. They call them teleological. True, the word is sometimes used only with reference to religion and only when the purpose is understood to be God's purpose, a First Cause of all things. But for want of a better word I shall use the word teleological for an event that serves any purpose, however trivial. And I shall use it even though adherents of some philosophical schools declare that there is no such thing in the world as teleology. They do not declare, presumably, that there is no such thing in the world as the posting of letters. So their objection can only be to the word and not to the facts that I propose to discuss. For I want to draw attention only to those that are familiar to everyone. These facts form a distinctive class. And a name is needed for it. As I do not know of any other I shall have to use the word teleology occasionally, even though there are schools in which it is said to be inappropriate.

Let us now analyse the posting of a letter and consider in what respects the event differs significantly from events in which we know that there has been no planning for the future. To begin with) what reasons can be given for the posting of the letter?

One is that the letter has received a push from the hand of the man who posted it. It is this push that has caused the letter to reach the inside of the pillar box. And the push is known in philosophy by a technical term. It is called a vis a tergo.

In this term the word vis is to be understood literally and not metaphorically. It means a force as force is understood in physics, the product of mass and acceleration. In our example the vis is the mass of the letter multiplied by the acceleration imparted to it while it is being propelled into the pillar box.

A tergo, on the other hand, is to be understood metaphorically and not literally. It does not mean that things move only if a force is applied to them from behind. Vis a tergo means a pull from in front as well as a push from behind. Its metaphorical meaning is that the push or pull are always behind in time, that they always come from the past and never from the future.

It would be absurd to think of a literal force in any other way. No one is likely to believe that a force that is going to exist tomorrow is pushing the letter into the pillar box today. It is obvious that the path of the energy required to move the letter can be traced wholly in the past and not at all in the future. So vis a tergo is really a pleonasm. It is meaningless to say vis without the implications of a tergo.

Yet something more can obviously be said about the posting of the letter. And this is the reason for all the puzzlement. When one has mentioned the vis a tergo one's statement remains incomplete, absurdly so. And what is so baffling is that the further, and necessary statements cannot avoid use of the future tense.

One of the reasons why the letter is posted is because it is planned that it shall reach the person whose name is on the envelope. If that were not desired the letter would not be posted. What is planned for the future does, discomforting thought, provide an indisputable reason for what happens in the present.

And a second reason is always equally indispensable in a teleological event. The second reason is that the person whose name is on the envelope is expected to be at the address shown there on arrival of the first post on the following morning. If he were not the letter would not be posted. What is expected to happen in the future provides yet another reason for what is.

The reasons that can be expressed in terms of purpose and anticipation characterise every teleological event and provide, indeed, the criterion by which to recognise whether an event is teleological or not. They are not, be it well understood, in substitution of the vis a tergo. This must operate for every event, whether it be teleological or not. Purpose and anticipation play their part in addition to the vis a tergo.. A complete account of a teleological event must thus mention all three divisions of time, the past, the present, and the future.

The part played by the future must, however, be rightly appreciated. It would be quite wrong to jump to the conclusion that circumstances that will exist in the future ever do, or could do anything to determine events in the ' present. One sometimes speaks as though they did so. But then one speaks metaphorically and not literally. When one is being literal minded one places all causes in the past or the present. But for one set of causes of a teleological event one must look for that in which the purpose and the anticipation reside. And for another set of causes one must look, as explained already, for the vis a tergo. Hence a teleological event always has two sets of causes. It is doubly determinate, as I have already pointed out in Science versus Materialism more fully than I can do here.

What must interest scientists is to know whether both sets consist of physical forces. Monists say "yes". But their hypothesis would be hard to prove. However, let the significance of all this wait for a moment while we consider a couple of further examples.

3. ORDER, SPECIFIED AND UNSPECIFIED

A second example will serve to illustrate an aspect of teleology that is not apparent from the example of posting a letter.

A sergeant is drilling a squad of soldiers on the barrack square. When he utters such words as "fall in", "squad shun", "quick march", "right turn", "left wheel", he does so with a purpose. I do not mean only the long term purpose of turning raw recruits into efficient soldiers. I mean particularly the immediate purpose. This is that the soldiers shall do certain things as soon as they hear the words of command. Drilling involves planning for the future, just as posting a letter does. If the sergeant did not want the soldiers to get into a straight line, to spring to attention, to march, to turn and wheel, he would not speak. When soldiers are being drilled a desire for what shall be provides one of the reasons for what is.

And so does an anticipation of what will be. The sergeant selects, for instance, rather carefully the moment when he says "left wheel". He wants the soldiers to pass through a certain gate in column of fours. To do so the front man must begin to wheel just when he is in line with the gate, neither sooner nor later. And as his nervous system has a certain known time lag, he must hear the words of command a short while before he is in the correct place for wheeling. This the sergeant estimates correctly together with the time that it takes for his voice to carry across the parade ground. The words of command are timed so that the front man will be in a position to act on them at the proper moment.

The aspect of teleology that appears in this example and did not do so in the example of posting a letter is this. The act of drilling soldiers can be said literally to create order. For the drilling causes the soldiers to become arranged in orderly formation. The order is recognisable by the regular patterns that are produced. And its specific nature varies from moment to moment. One pattern results from the words "fall in", another from the words "quick march", yet others from each subsequent word of command.

Each of these patterns would not come about if it had not been planned in advance. It has existed as a specification in the mind of the drill sergeant before it exists as a fact on the barrack square. The order created when soldiers are being drilled can, therefore, be described as specified order.

Order is not necessarily specified. Chance occurrences, uncontrolled, unguided, unselected, in short, unspecified, may lead to regular patterns. The parallel ridges left by the receding tide in the sand are an example. The beautiful and precise shapes formed when a substance crystallises out of a solution is another. Most scientists would also describe the elliptical orbits of the planets, the regular recurrence of the tides, of day and night, of the seasons, as unspecified order; though most theologians and a few others would disagree. Theologians might say that such things conform to the specification of the Great Architect. This question will be discussed shortly. Suffice it for the moment that regularity and symmetry are no proof of planning in advance, but may result from it.

Hence one can, by the common use of language, distinguish between two kinds of order. I shall call them respectively, specified and unspecified order. Specified order is partly determined by a desire for what shall be and an expectation of what will be. Unspecified order never is.

4. ORGANISATION

Let me give a third example of teleology, and one in which the result is not any regular or symmetrical pattern. I shall choose the activity of a works manager. He certainly plans for the future. He considers what jobs will be passing through the shops at some particular future date and he buys some raw material with the purpose of ensuring that there shall be a sufficient quantity in hand on that date.

So the works manager introduces order into the factory. And yet the order is not recognisable in any regular patterns. It is recognisable by something more fundamental if less obvious; by adaptation to a purpose. Order of this kind sometimes goes by a different name. It is called organisation.

The word organisation cannot be applied to unspecified order, but always only to specified order. The word implies planning in advance. If it means anything at all to say that a given system is organised it means that the component parts of the system, are mutually adjusted in such a way that they jointly serve a purpose. This is obvious in the example of the factory. Here the stocks of raw material are so adjusted to the work in hand that the manufacturing process shall proceed as planned. And it is impossible to think of any example for which the word organisation could be logically justified in which component parts are not mutually adjusted.

The process of adjustment takes a finite time. And during this time the organisation aimed at has not yet come into being. It is not what is or what has been; only what shall be. And yet one reason for the adjustment is the future organisation. By saying, therefore, that a system is organised one implies that in its production the future has provided one of the reasons for the present. Organisation is one of the words with a teleological meaning.

5. NON-TELEOLOGIGAL EVENTS

By contrast with these three examples a non-teleological event is determined only by a vis a tergo. In such an event one may look in vain for either desire or anticipation, order or organisation. It is singly determinate. Let an example make this clear.

High tide at some place that I shall call X . . . will serve. To give a complete account of this one has to mention such things as the moon's and the sun's gravitational fields, the rotation of the earth, the relative positions in the sky of sun and moon, the local coastline, approaching winds. These matters all lie in the present or the past. And they suffice for a complete account. Reference to the future, so relevant to the reasons why the letter is posted, is quite irrelevant to the reasons why at a certain moment the tide reaches high water mark at X. . . .

In other words it is meaningless to speak of purpose or anticipation when one is explaining a non-teleological event. Of the posting of a letter one can say: "It is desired that the person whose name is on the envelope shall receive the letter. He will be at the address shown. Were it not so the letter would not be posted." Such a remark means something; to refrain from making it is to suppress something of significance. But it means nothing to say: "It is desired that the sand shall be washed clean this evening at X . . . Some people will be there to enjoy the clean sand. Were it not so the tide would not rise."

We all know that the tide would rise whether it were desired or no, whether any one was expected to visit the sands next day or not. This is why the event of high tide at X . . . must be described as singly determinate.

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