Thursday, July 27, 2006
Food for Thought
In the last several posts, I have been discussing this “how” and “why” aspect to understanding. Some of you at this point may agree that “why” does have a important role to serve in terms of expanding human understanding. On the other hand, many may agree with modern science and to insist that it doesn’t. Here I would like to expand the whole question a little more and talk about this contended issue of whether there is any reason to suspect, that there is what I refer to as a scheme to nature. As you recall, I have offered that although a scheme is ordered and also purposeful, that at the same time it does not in itself imply intent. It was also maintained, that I’ve framed it this way as to give science and myself the widest latitude possible in terms of this discussion. Previously, I stated that although, a scheme in itself does not necessarily imply intent, that I would be hard pressed to site one that seemingly doesn't have it as a element. Now as soon as I said this, I realized the scientists among you would say, now I can be dismissed for to propose something without offering proof, is not scientific and therefore invalid. However, I do have a example of what I propose is a scheme and yet the question of intent is certainly not clear.
My example of this is to be found in the lives, methods and behaviour of what are commonly known as Leaf Cutter Ants, which are actually comprised of two major genus groups known as Atta And Acromyrex, that between the two comprise a total of 39 separate species. Now what all these species of ants have in common, is their way of making a living, so to speak. Which is that they are farmers. In particular they are fungus farmers. All these ants are to be found in south and central America within the tropical and subtropical forests. Each day these ants venture out, often for more than a mile, in search of leaves to cut and bring back to their nest. Each bit of leaf, form as much as ten times their own body weight. Now the first thing you might ask is, why lug them all the way back to the nest? Why not simply eat them straight off the tree? The answer to this is, that they are not able to subsist on these leaves? What they are truly needed for, is to serve as food for something else and that something else is fungus. Actually, a particular type of fungus which are all members of what is known as the Lepiotaceae family, which by the way are only found within such ant colonies. Now it doesn’t stop there, for they just don’t simply throw some leaves to a mass of fungus. When these leaves are brought back to the nest, they are cleaned by another specialized group of ants to rid them of any other type of fungi spores or bacteria. Then they are chewed up into a mulch, at which time enzymes, from the ants are added to the material, to aid in the break up of proteins, so that the fungi might digest them. The next step is that the ants deposit some of their own fecal material, which further prepares the mulch for the fungi’s digestion. Further, they add a small portion of fungi material to the prepared mulch. Now it doesn’t stop there. These ants actually host a particular bacteria on their bodies that produce chemicals, that when deposited on the fungus, protects them from moulds that would otherwise feed on them. Finally, as the fungus grows they bud out into swollen stem structures which the ants break off to consume for themselves and feed their young.
Now one might say, this is a pretty complex, intricate and purposeful process for a ant! This is exactly my point. For this is obviously a scheme, as it is surely a systematic arrangement in action, which of course fits what a scheme is defined as. Now what about this aspect of intent, that many scientists are worried about. Like I’ve said, in the strict sense, intent is not necessarily a property of a scheme. In this example for instance, can one proclaim that the ants have intent, in as to have come up with this scheme, or are they merely the vessels of its executiont? Also, certainly we can’t insist that it the result of the intent of the fungus. On that note, there is one detail I forgot to tell you. If the ants happen to bring back leaves that the fungus find toxic, this fungus then emits a chemical which makes the ants aware not to collect anymore of such leaves. So not only is this scheme complex, it is also symbiotic (in aid of both species). To continue, I think it would be fair to assume, that despite the fact that both ant and fungus benefit from this scheme, that neither may have it as intent. If there is intent, which I’m not claiming there is or isn’t. For I most surely do not know. Then it is more likely that the source, if any, lay outside. No matter which way you slice it, I have demonstrated a scheme for which there is at present no proof or disproof of intent. So then I would first ask the scientists, is it then reasonable to insist that nature has no scheme based on the disciplines denial of intend? For here I have demonstrated what is clearly a scheme that shows no evidence that it has such. Also, I would ask the philosophers, is it reasonable to insist that nature’s scheme must contain intent because it also shows purpose? To both groups I would point out that I have demonstrated a scheme. One that any would describe as carrying out the act of farming. Farming that is as intricate as any such process enacted by man. Although a intricate and efficient process, it is one in which it would be difficult to identify or prove an instigator.
With this we might now remember a earlier quote I made of Plato and that was:
“It is absurd to suppose that purpose is not present because we do not observe the agent deliberating. Art does not deliberate. If the ship-building art were in the wood, it would produce the same results by nature. If, therefore, purpose is present in art, it is present also in nature. The best illustration is a doctor doctoring himself: nature is like that. It is plain then that nature is a cause, a cause that operates for a purpose.”It is evident, that although we are not able to discover or prove intent, we have undeniably been shown a process with purpose and this purpose is to be found in both the ants and the fungi’s continuance and survival. Now with the recognition of the role of purpose, we are now better able to understand what Plato has called, the “good”. For this good as Plato recognized, was that nature’s process is demonstrated to act for the good. It is with this we understand that Plato’s good is not as it is now commonly understood, as for example, to help a old lady across the street or buying those girl guide cookies. For Plato, science/philosophy serves to reveal the good of nature through its purpose and not that of man’s. From Plato’s perspective, man’s good is but as the shadow’s image is to the object itself.