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Teleology and Ontology

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posted on Dec, 14 2014 @ 05:57 PM
As someone who reads a lot, I often find myself amused, perplexed, disgruntled, and in agreement - different parts of myself feeling different things - when I come by opposing perspectives of how the world is.

Just the other day I was reading Even Thompsons "Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self, Meditation and Consciousness in Neuroscience and Philosophy", in which he cited the studies of the neuroscientist Thomas Metzinger on artificially inducing OBE's by stimulating an area in the brain called the temporoparietal occipital junction. This particular area of our brain integrates and associates vision with spatial and vestibular awareness: in short, where we are, subjectively, vis a vis our physical bodies.

What got me thinking in particular was Metzingers avid and sympathetic description of the experiencing subject who has an 'outer body experience'; he understood, he said, how plausible it can feel for them, that their consciousness literally exists "in another body". Of course, indeed, these outer experiences depend on being physically embodied; and indeed, when the OBE's occur, something cooky starts happening in the temporoparietal occiptal junction, as view with EEG as well as with an MRI scanner. Earlier in his discussion, Thompson quotes Metzingers view that the human mind is an "ontology machine". Ok, I thought - that is definitely, undoubtedly true. But then a little bit later, Metzinger says that people who believe in OBEs, although he sympathetizes greatly with the plausibility of the experience, are being led, unjustifiably, to an erroneous ontological conclusion.

Whether outer body experiences are real or not is not my concern with this thread. The question is circular and doesn't explain much. What interests me in particular was how, despite noting that the human mind was an ontology machine, Metzinger succumbed to stating his own ontology by dismissing the ontology of people who believe that OBEs are real.

The question of ontology is inevitable, as human beings are belief-makers. We can't interact with the world without positing and engaging. Everything we do amounts to this. Some thing is thrown out there - becomes a metaphysic for us - and we rush toward it, energized by the belief that what we've posited - or prefer not to notice the positing itself - is real. And deserving our conscious attention.

By saying this, I do not mean that everything is relative or that no objective world exists. I'm just pointing out the constructivist nature of reality: Its US and a world; and in order to be effective agents in the world, we need a REASON to act. And, unlike animals, who have the freedom to be without the "oppressive" awareness of knowing their own existence, human beings are forced by the nature of their own psychology to believe: to posit an ontology, and in the process, energize their engagements with the world.

This brings me to the question of teleology. When I look at the history of our world and the history of our universe, I am always amazed and bedazzled by the meaningful progression of evolutionary development.

Take these facts, and keep in mind, evolution created a species such as ourselves capable of reflecting in it's own ontological terms on the development of the universe and ourselves within it.

The idea was prompted by an interesting documentary on CNN called Dinosaur 13, telling the tale of the most completely discovered tyranosaurus rex skeleton back in 1990. As I watched this, I thought to myself "what a bizarre creature! No wonder people are amazed by this! What the hell IS this creature!? And furthermore, look at us, human beings, living millions of years later, unearthing a skull of a creature with a 4 foot long head! and a tiny, itty bitty sized brain!"

I then began to reflect on the evolution of life on Earth. I thought about the first creatures, single celled organisms. What would the ontology of this creature be in terms of it's relationship with the world around it? Purely chemical. A taking in and keeping out of an adventitious 'good' from an adventitious bad. And then for some reason, cells wanted to link up with other cells. Sort of like a proto-love. Cells could be more if they simply worked together. What is this process? OR, is my asking not legitimate? But...then, as a creature born to ask why, why should I exclude my own humanness from the phenomena nature created?

Eventually, after a bunch of weird sea creatures, the earth gave form to dinosaurs. What do dinosaurs represent? Firstly, they're reptiles. And as we know from modern studies of reptilian brains and nervous systems, they are remarkably simplistic creatures. In fact, the whole idea of a 'reptilian brain' is born of the observation that reptiles do not tend to their young. They simply find an 'opportune' place - one that will hopefully promote survival; but once the eggs are hatched, dinos and alligators go off on their own and leave their yungin to the harsh rule of survival.

Dinosaurs, perhaps, are a fitting reification of the wanton physical urges that promote selfish behavior in human beings. If someone lives that way, we tend to describe them as "big headed". Do we not? And, in fact, with dinosaurs, we see a HUGE Body, and a very, very tiny brain. Could this metaphor be any less meaningful in light of our own ontological proclivities?

In continuing with my teleological theme, looking at dionsaurs, I am tempted to see a fractal representation of the human brain stem, that 'ancient part of us' which the neuroscientist Paul Mcclain claimed was retained by all organisms which evolved from earlier organisms. In humans, as in reptiles and dinosaurs, the brainstem mediates basic homeostatic processes: breathing, heart rate, and other metabolic processes: including the regulation of mind and body relations.

With the advent of mammals (and birds) organisms changed, not just by becoming 'smaller' in size, but in developing more complex nervous systems and social behaviors. In effect, the 'carelessness' and 'physicalism' of dinosaurs was supplanted by the mammalian nurture drive. Mammals, unlike dinosaurs, developed was John Bowlby called "attachment", first to their mothers, and later on, with the groups they lived within.

The picture, of course, culminates with us, human beings. But first let me paint the processes simplistically delineated above in abstract ontological terms. If I could place one principle at the center of this process, I would have to call it "love". But what is "love"? Lets define love as a movement towards wholeness.

With the first organisms, the 'life principle' developed by first, wondrously, holding itself together as cell with a semi-permeable membrane that made itself endongeously viable as a self-contained organism by exchanging chemical products within itself and its environment. At this point, life is very small, and very one dimensional.

Later on, this process becomes more relational when cells came together to create multi-cellular organisms, a type of super-being that united the interests of single cells into something more absract: an organism.

When dinosaurs came around, the 'physical' aspect - and right now I am applying a strong telos to the fact of dinosaurs - developed into its most extreme. One of the mysteries that confounds us is what value dinosaurs could have had? For me, I wonder whether the existence of dinosaurs ties directly to the human concept of 'pure self-interest': the survival

posted on Dec, 14 2014 @ 06:10 PM
...of the fittest, social darwinism: the behavior of the Nazis and soviets could in effect be described as the historical manifestation of the ancient dinosaurs in human society. The strong feeding on the weak; annihilating instead of creating.

But still, with dinosaurs, we see a more complex creature with a stunningly long history on the earth. But their relationships with one another, given what we know about modern reptiles, was probably not much different: basic homeostasis took precedence to the more complex brain-activity we see in mammals.

With mammals, something more abstract emerges which finds itself expressed in the mother-child relationship.

And finally, with humans, physical behaviors motivated by etheral emotions, such as love, become represented to ourselves as a concept called "love". And with this concept, we understand the universe in all its paradoxical glory. We learn, for example, that attachment - the source of love as a feeling in mammals, actually emerged out of its opposite: fear and vulnerability. For early homosapiens (and likely earlier), for example, evolutionary psychologists believe that the mothers attachment to the baby's affective signals was motivated by the presence of predators. If the baby cries, the whole band is put in danger; therefore, the mother becomes 'attuned' to the baby as a way to calm the baby. Quiet it. But in doing so the mothers identity and self becomes affectively intertwined with that of her child.

In summation, since human being involves positing, is it wrong, or can it be possible, that the whole of our universes history is contained, as a fractal, in the present moment? Even as the now changes and new things come into being, is there a 'break' from the past? These ideas amaze me. If the universe is as it presents itself to us, I find it utterly implausible that meaning - objective meaning - can be partitioned off from personal subjective meaning - so long as the objective meaning interacts at the subjective level by pointing back at itself, as all things in nature appear to do.

Even if dinosaurs died millions of years ago, they exist within us today as ancient feelings that play a part in our complex social and moral relations. They are not dead: they are within us, as our "shadow side". Enormously strong, as the ancient dinosaurs of the past, they are nevertheless "small-brained": they don't see beyond the self.

Within our brains, the protomammalian and neocortex represents different layers. In interacting with animals, for example, we see a mirroring of social-emotions. With my dog, for example, I see a pronounced lack of symbolic awareness, but a profound consonance in emotion and feel; she responds to my prosody, not so much the abstract meanings of my words. She responds to the touches that she experiences: this is meaning for her. Sounds, touch, and the more abstract activity of play. But not symbolic thought. A raised voice is whitewashed in her primitive paleo brain as a 'negative' experience. Whereas for us humans, a raised voice can simply be a part of our larger cognitive-narratives we have with one another.

To sum up: we APPEAR to be the cream of the crop of evolution. Whether appearances imply a creator, or something bigger than our own individual viewpoints, is something each of us is permitted to decide for ourselves.

But I think, ultimately, no matter who you believe, we all fall along the same trajectory: we FEEL the implied flow of the universe towards unity; we can say "this is meaningful; their must be a God!" or, "this is meaningful, but I refuse to state what it means", and I think both views have their merits.
edit on 14-12-2014 by Astrocyte because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 14 2014 @ 06:29 PM
Do you think the mice with implanted human brain cells have OBEs as well?

posted on Dec, 15 2014 @ 02:06 AM
a reply to: Astrocyte

If we are successful as a species, then perhaps "love" is something that promotes "survival" as well, perhaps even more so than aggression and intimidation and opportunism.

Perhaps there is no higher survival than love.

In addition, maybe to realise what "love" is comes very close to realising why we are alive in the first place.

...We would not have survived without it.
edit on 15-12-2014 by SystemResistor because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 15 2014 @ 12:31 PM
a reply to: Astrocyte

Hi Astrocyte,

That was another great read, thanks for sharing what's on your mind.

I have also been really interested in that region of the brain (the tempoparietal junction and the temporal-lobes generally) and the systems that it connects with, for quite a while now.

I think that guys like Metzinger and Persinger are interesting because they have such a strong interest in all of the phenomena produced when those regions of the brain are stimulated, but neither seem to have had any personal experiences related to the research that they are doing and how it effects the brain. It's like they are big fans of cabbage but have never eaten it. They've collected all of the data that they can on cabbage eating, they have a machine that can make you feel as though you are eating cabbage, but neither have indulged in any cabbage.

That's fine and all, but for a guy like me that experiences nearly the full gamut of temporal-lobe related effects (silent migraines, auras, simple partial seizures, major sleep paralysis) it just kind of leaves me shaking my head, it's always going to be like that: those that have the temporal-lobe related stuff describing it to those that don't. And I know in my heart that neither Metzinger's nor Persinger's research can produce the full richness of the experiences that they are trying to replicate.

Metzinger's only possible complaint could be that he felt that he had found the seat of human meaning-making, and that it should be studied just as that, and that folks should not run off trying to make meaning of whatever meaning humans make of the experience of it being activated (namely calling them OBEs).

If that's his beef then I agree with him, but only to that point.

What I have discovered from personal experience, is that the experiences related to temporal-lobe or TPJ lability (and the other parts of the brain that those regions network with) seem to be a gateway to a network that seems to reside outside of us that contains information and a means of communicating with that information. That to me is way more important than getting caught up in proving OBEs or not (which I know that you did not take on your shoulders).

As far as the dinosaur thing is concerned, I really love your thinking on that. It reminds me of something I had read once in an old alchemical text about how we may have been pushed to the apex of Nature by a process like you described.

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