Saturday, June 4, 2022

The Doll As Metaphor - 7

The Book
In this series I have brought up a subject that is "hidden in plain sight" to the point that even those who write books about it must strain a bit in order to explain it:

"Questions about teleology are, broadly, to do with whether a thing has a purpose or is acting for the sake of a purpose, and, if so, what that purpose is. Such questions can be raised with respect to anything: twigs, people, schools, ants' nests, ceremonies, stars, the universe as a whole, etcetera."

(Teleology, Andrew Woodfield, p.1). I am like the jurist who, in a famous court case about contracts, wrote: "I know one when I see one" (Justice Stewart’s dictum in Jacobellis v. Ohio).

Should we notice teleology when we see or hear it?

Andrew Woodfield mentioned "stars" and "the universe" in the list in his quote above.

In the previous post in this series I went over those subjects, but let's "know one" by seeing it in a lecture by an assistant professor, describing stars:

"... our Sun is really a kind of depressingly normal and unremarkable type of star ... stars evolve ... this is something ... people don't ... realize stars do. They're born they age and evolve with time and change and then eventually they die ... you can plot out how a star is going to live and die ... over the course of its life ... I'm interested in ... the weird stars that we'll be focusing on ... and looking at how they evolve ... in the first phase of its life it's fusing hydrogen into helium ... eventually the star will run out of hydrogen ... it needs to try fusing something else so it switches from fusing hydrogen to helium ... they make a brief pitstop ... stars like this are rare since their lifetimes are so short
Mystery Science Theater 3000
... Betelgeuse ... was born with maybe 15 or 20 times as much mass as the Sun ... during the course of its lifetime ... we call something like this an evolutionary track ... a glance look at how a star is going to behave during its lifetime ... how stars evolve this is an evolutionary track for a ... star but we can take a bunch of evolutionary tracks ... a good sense of what normal massive star evolution looks like ... it helps to look at what's going on inside the star right before the ... stars started out their lives ... then they moved on and ... by the time they reached the ends of their lives ... this star gets into trouble when it starts to try and fuse iron ... if you try to fuse iron ... it attempts to fuse iron this goes terribly for it ... death for a star ... another supernova doing its supernova thing ... we think that this star might now be dead ... a star that from our perspective was just pretending to explode ... like the one that produced supernova ... because it's flinging off enormous amounts of mass ... violent post death ... we're still studying in the hopes of maybe trying to explain what luminous blue variables are up to ... they will literally resist this to the extent that they're able to support themselves against gravitational collapse ... these stars will produce black holes as part of their deaths ... when they die and produce black holes ... over the course of its life ... when this star dies ...

(Video of Lecture, excerpts from the transcript). Is any star ever alive or dead, or do they exist just like the other abiotic entities?

That same question is asked about viruses: Are viruses alive ("Viruses are not living things", but, but ... "The question whether or not “viruses are alive” ... is effectively without substance").

Furthermore, that same question has been asked about DNA, so, I wrote a post "long ago" about students that did not get that right even after college classes and lectures:

"We are involved in a project to incorporate innovative assessments within a reform-based large-lecture biochemistry course for nonmajors. We not only assessed misconceptions but purposefully changed instruction throughout the semester to confront student ideas. Our research questions targeted student conceptions of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) along with understanding in what ways classroom discussions/activities influence student conceptions. Data sources included pre-/post-assessments, semi-structured interviews, and student work on exams/assessments. We found that students held misconceptions about the chemical nature of DNA, with 63 % of students claiming that DNA is alive prior to instruction. The chemical nature of DNA is an important fundamental concept in science fields. We confronted this misconception throughout the semester collecting data from several instructional interventions. Case studies of individual students revealed how various instructional strategies/assessments allowed students to construct and demonstrate the scientifically accepted understanding of the chemical nature of DNA. However, the post-assessment exposed that 40 % of students still held misconceptions about DNA, indicating the persistent nature of this misconception. Implications for teaching and learning are discussed."

(The Epigenetics of Viruses, quoting from a research paper; cf. The New Paradigm: The Physical Universe Is Mostly Machine - 2). The kind of knowledge that should give students the ability to avoid "playing with dolls" doesn't always sink in.

Another example concerning small things is set forth in a book that gets down to the "ABC's" of abiotic genetic components:

"Consider, next, teleology at the level of molecules: most prominently, in how biologists conceptualize and talk about DNA, especially to non-biologists (see Heine 2017; Moss 2003). That is, the standard characterizations of genetics lend a sense of intentional agency and even intelligent purpose to genes and the cell processes they indirectly help precipitate. Namely, DNA/genes provide information. Ostensibly, that indicates a cognizant, “informed” agent. DNA, one hears, provides the “blueprints” or “instructions” for life, implying an architect or designer who drafted the plans. Indeed, DNA has its own “language.” The language is of base pairs, typically designated with four letters (A, T, C, G): the image conveyed is thus of abstract symbols, not of physical three-dimensional shapes that constrain molecular interactions. Intention continues. The “message” of the DNA is “read” by an enzyme which “transcribes” the information, generating a “messenger” molecule, RNA. The reality of large macromolecules tumbling randomly through cellular protoplasm and occasionally encountering a complementary shape does not readily spring to mind. The “information” may then be “edited,” as though by a purposeful editor, and “carried,” as though by a purposeful courier, to the ribosome, which again “reads” the “message” and “translates,” as though by a purposeful cryptologist, its genetic “code.” The role of entropy and energy release as ineliminable causal factors are rarely mentioned. The whole causal cascade seems to depend on autonomous linguistic agents deliberately communicating to one another, not on thermodynamics." 

(Teleology’s long shadow, A. Werth & D. Allchin). It is incredible that some scientists pass on the doll lingo to some their students who may thereafter think groups of ATCG and/or U can be selfish and/or cooperative (Quanta, Scientific American).

Same with other subjects on Andrew Woodfield's list: "the universe as a whole" or "the universe as a hole et cetera".


"atoms keep some ‘memory’ of their previous quantum mechanical origin", "intelligent molecules", "Viruses ... smart and efficient", "plants transmit their intelligence", "Amoebae ... may co-operate ... or ... may cheat ...the conscious choice to sometimes cheat and sometimes cooperate hints at intelligence, as well as a feeling of identity", "Insects ... their intellect and intelligence is not a point of discussion..."

(The Doll As Metaphor - 5, quoting an 'eastern' source: "propounded by philosopher-seer Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar"). So, is a teleological wind blowing in from the East & Far East?

The next post in this series is here, the previous post in this series is here.

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