Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Irreducible potency…

What you say about gods as pragmatic intentionality on a cosmic scale is just the old Freudian angle about gods as father figures on a biological scale. The old Freudian attack (“You invented God because you need the psychological security of a Big Dad”) cuts the other way (i.e., “You reject God because you have deep issues with father figures”) just as well – and just as poorly. Remember the old line about geese and ganders. Your deflation of cosmic Intentionality can be turned around with the very tools you wield (i.e., evolutionary theory).

As Fr. Edward Oakes has noted, part of reverse engineering (one of Dennett's favorite pastimes) is working from the artifact before us to conjecture how and why natural selection has brought it to be. Given that such an artifact exists, how did it come about? Birds' wings, to borrow from Fr. Oakes, are understood as a natural development of Earth's atmosphere, given properties of air density, bird's bone density, aerodynamics, gravity, etc. The evolutionary field informs us retrospectively about the development of wings. Unless nature already had the inherent capacity for evolving birds' wings, no such wings would have developed.

This retro-heuristic goes the other way, too, though, since what we know about birds' wings also gives us clues about the environment in which it developed. If a Martian visitor analyzed a bird's skeleton in abstraction from the terrestrial environment, it could retro-conjecture about the environment's capacities. The very presence of such wings indicates the environment is a wing-bearing, wing-producing state of affairs. We can reverse engineer from the environment to artifacts and vice versa. This does not mean there is a Great Wing in the heavens, but that one of nature's intrinsic capacities, and therefore features, is the capacity and propensity to bring about wingedness (I'll call this capacity “wingability”). Wingability is prevenient to wingedness, otherwise there would be no engineering potential for wings as such.

Now apply this heuristic to minds. Just as we can gain insight into our cognitive affairs by learning about the environment, selection pressures, neural complexity, etc., so we can learn about the evolutionary field by the very presence of mind. Unless there were already a mind-bearing capacity in nature, there would be no minds in nature. The inherent capacity of nature to produce “mindability” points to mind as a category prevenient to all concretely developed minds. Mind, then, writ large, trumps minds.

The personal-relational, minded-conceptual, lawlike-ordered dimensions of nature are everyday becoming clearer. Humans are, from the very roots of our neurology, language-users, face-recognizers, person-responders, mind-havers – and all such features point “retrojecturally” to the prevenient capacity, indeed quality, of the environment field, traditionally known as Creation, the mirror of God's glory.

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