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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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