Purpose, biosemiotics and the complexity sciences

Telos is otherwise known as final cause, one of four causes identified by Aristotle’s natural philosophy: Material cause describes how the physical properties of matter determine what a thing is and how it will react with other things. For example, an ivory ball will roll differently than a wooden ball, as the density and weight of the material determines how much resistance it has. Efficient cause describes how the agent (person, animal, or even a moving object like a billiard ball) acting on something determines what happens. For example, the pool player, the cue stick or ball hitting another ball at rest is the efficient cause of the latter’s moving. Formal cause describes how the “blueprint” or the natural laws of form determine what can be. Some forms are physically impossible; others are very probable. Experienced pool players have learned that certain types of moves can be expected to result in certain types of outcomes, and they may apply their knowledge of geometry to their game.  Final cause describes how the “end,” or the function something ultimately serves, determines what happens or how something develops. The ball was struck so that the pool player might win the game and further develop his abilities and reputation. Continue reading

Hospice nurses: mercy killers or predators?

Recently the controversial issue of euthanasia was tossed around in the news media due to the living will clause in the health care reform bill.  Democrats wanted health insurance to cover any patient who wished to have an “end-of-life consultation” with his/her physician, deciding ahead of time what to do if the patient’s condition was past hope and the patient no longer able to communicate his/her desires. Continue reading

Good without God

There is a new campaign in NYC subways. Various atheist and humanist groups have decided to give a “call out” to the others like themselves. The ads feature a serenely blue sky and the words, “Are you good without God? Millions are.”

I’d like to think I count among those millions so I am answering that call. Being godless can affect people in different ways, but we have some strong tendencies in common. We tend to be independent thinkers; an atheist’s values are not inherited; they are hard won and carefully evaluated. Continue reading

Walk On, Bright Boy by Charles Davis

Set in Medieval Spain, Walk On, Bright Boy is story of a boy’s first confrontation with political and religious corruption strives less for historical accuracy than for universal applicability. Written with lovely economy and sensitivity, it is reminiscent of a fable or of a young adult coming-of-age tale. At the same time, however, it is also complex in its exploration of human foibles and philosophies. Continue reading