05 December 2007


It would be easy to say that I wish I had had more conscious purpose throughout my life to reach some overarching worthwhile goals. However, I have always had the goal of learning, or rather I have always so enjoyed absorbing knowledge and the act of thinking--ratiocination--that each moment involved in study was exactly what I wanted to be doing. There was never an endpoint that I had in mind where this becoming "educated" was supposed to be fulfilled.

This reminds me of the essay by John Updike about extreme dinosaurs in the current National Geographic magazine (Dec. 2007) in which he briefly discusses the lack of teleology--being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose--of evolution. Some Darwinian purists don't even like the word "adaptive," Updike says, "as carrying a taint of implied teleology, or purposeful self-improvement." Species--and, apparently some adaptations--in this view, do not evolve toward a purposeful endpoint, they simply evolve and survive for a while in an environment and then disappear.

My lack of personal immanent design, the absence of a defined teleological purpose to my life, when looked at in this way, now seems natural, the way species and individuals operate in the world: no overall conscious movement to a defined endpoint. But, our quotidian habits do, in fact, add up to something. That something is our individual lives, lived daily and as well as we can in the environment given to us before our "extinction," however you see that event.

Or, on the other hand, perhaps my dedication to my self-education has been a teleological endeavor, the same one we all, as humans, share: that of becoming more fully human. It's a project of "manmaking," or "homogenesis." It might be that humans, with our reflexivity, are the only creatures who do, in fact, practice a conscious, or nearly conscious, self-creation, now somewhat beyond natural selection and evolution. We can see that our present adaptations and habits do lead to an endpoint. That end-state is that of being fully human. What gets us there is the daily practice of being human. I'm practicing it now. So are you.

1 comment:

Janet Givens said...

just to say- I doubt that we all, as humans, share the teleological endeavor of becoming more human. My own vision of evolution, my life goal, via the quotidian to the sublime - chop wood, carry water - has not led me to being "fully human". While I do believe that working to be human can be honorable and informative, for me it has not provided what I seek - the transformative. So I think there are those, including myself, who somehow exist, at least in part, independent of the forces forces of "man making or homogeneous".

We observe humans through a portal - outside looking in- and wonder what will it take to grow beyond this life form.