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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Goals and Problems, part one

The solution to any problem is primarily made up of two parts: the desired outcome and the options of performance; psycho-bio-physically unattainable goals (or undefined goals) and unperformable actions (or performable actions that are unrelated to the issues) only amplify difficulties.  But, before getting into the human domain of problems, there is context.

In the Physical Order – the overwhelmingly predominant ordering system – there are no goals or problems, only events in process.  In the Living Order there is one primary goal for all living things: continuity of genetic replication – and from that goal, the generation of vast varieties of performable actions.  Problems are a particular kind: How, under specific circumstances, to gather sufficient energy and materials to support the replication of genetic material.  The primary solution to this problem on the earth has been for the genetic material to manifest a phenotype – a biological body with specific capacities to act in the world.  From this “solution,” many trillions of optional manifest forms have acted their genetically programed designs on the world. 

But, the “goal” of the Living Order is of a type unfamiliar in the daily processes of the organism that invented goals. First, there is no apparent repository of that goal; it does not reside as an identifiable entity or structure with an identifiable form like a molecular system, brain, written communication or code in a computing device.  And so we ‘goal givers’ have almost irretrievably distorted our understanding of both the physical and the living state by requiring a human like storage device or entity for what seems to us to be “directed” actions.  And this distortion has completely deformed our understanding of ourselves. [1]

Briefly, the primary goal of the Living Order is contained, in a sense, in the localized stability of the planetary surface.  Millions of millions of chemical and physical options have been given opportunity by that stability; options with vanishingly small probabilities become certainties given near infinities of time and occurrence.  Of these possibilities some tiny few are of such a form that once they form, their design facilitates the generation of others like themselves.  Quite suddenly then, chemical/physical forms that had a tiny probability of occurrence have a much higher probability – so long as the conditions remain stabile or only very slowly changing.  It is this continuity of occurrence that is the sine qua non of life: the essential “goal” of life is, in human terms, no goal at all.

Without goals there are no problems.  Various philosophical and ‘religious’ systems have understood and advocated this reality for thousands of years. It is telling of our natures that so simple, obvious and revelatory a truth should be so thoroughly unheeded.  Our human world seems to be nothing but goals – their attendant problems as far as the eye can see in the distance and future.

Keeping in mind that the vast expanse of the universe has no goals and that the living world of the planetary surface has only the ‘goal’ of, what might be called, molecular momentum, all the myriad goals associated with the human animal, goals which are increasingly influencing the surface of the earth, are completely the production of an evolved adaptation manifest in humans, orders of magnitude beyond its marginal occurrence in other animals.  The very nature of our thought is an evolved process, one of many optional processes that proved efficacious in maintaining the molecular momentum at the moment of its biological selection – like the evolutionary paths that led from retinol to eye ball or calcium storage in brackish water pre-teleost fishes leading to the boney skeletons of land vertebrates.

Human thought is made of goals and problems, options and solutions; and in our most basic and primary ignorance of the realities of a goal-less, problem-less and solution-less world, we attribute the artifice of our processes onto the world as a first reality.

A thoughtful reader might at this point question (I, as a thoughtful writer, ask as well)“How is this analysis any help in mitigating the mal-adaptive behaviors, writ large, of our species?”  The simple and ironic answer is, of course, it is of no particular use: the truth is of no use.  And then, in homage to those ancient souls who figured all of this out 3 thousand or more years ago: it is the only answer.  The truth is of no use and it is the only answer.

Does that sound like gobbledygook? Well, of course, it is and it isn’t.  If you are thoroughly embedded in the goal-problem paradigm, then it is mindless prattle, useless in the discovery of the solutions to our problems.  However, if you can step out of the structures of our evolved adaptations – that ability is actually part of the adaptation – it is possible to begin to realize that problems are solved not by creating new goals, but by recognizing and evaporating the goals that create the problems in the first place.  Some examples:

Personal: The goal – person ‘A’ will meet my needs, which generates the problem that my needs are not met.  Solution – put person ‘A’ into a position where he or she must, under penalty, do what I want.  You see? The goal of having my needs met by person ‘A’ forms the problem that my needs are not met, which creates the goal of forcing person ‘A’ to act as I desire (my goal for that person).  This can go on and on.  Another option would be to discover ways to ‘make’ person ‘A’ want to meet my needs; this is yet another goal generating another set of problems. 

Without the first goal, the rest disappears.  This is what all other animals do – they adapt to their environment rather than attempting to force the environment to act as they wish.  Which should make clear that ‘doing as we wish’ requires a wish – and a need to understand the origin of our wishes!

The political grows from and mirrors the personal process; it is a matter of getting a team together to act on stereotyped goals, problems, options and solutions.  The “intelligence” of 5 people compatibly working together on an identifiable problem is increased over that of the smartest person in the room (assuming a common, openly shared goal).  The “intelligence” of a crowd of a 100 people is reduced to the IQ of the pitchforks they carry.  This both suggests something about the origins of our thought processes and the ways in which we might organize our societies to minimize the complexities of goal setting.

As useful (or useless) as it might be to understand that goal setting is the primary source of our problems in the first place, it no way relieves our most basic biological “illness”: our human adaptation is to create goals and identify problems and options for meeting those goals.  This is a new process and a specialized artifice in an otherwise goal-less universe.  This adaptation has now begun to press against the most basic goal-less “goal” of the Living Order, the molecular momentum of genetic continuity.  The completely goal-less universe is neutral on the subject.

This seems worthy of further consideration.

[1] Many will recognize this as the problem of teleology: the attribution of some ‘purpose’ as a cause.  I am avoiding this language for two reasons.  First, the standard language has been mutilated beyond repair and is no longer cognitively and emotionally related to the issues and, second, the primary distortion of seeing ‘purpose’ as a substantive reality rather than as a Consciousness Order shorthand for a mental process.