Thursday, April 11, 2013

Natural teleology

Breathing is intrinsically directed at oxygenation even if we're breathing helium. But if one knows it's helium, it may not be possible to voluntarily intend it for oxygenation. Imagine I'm in a room filled with helium. I'll pass out and die soon. I first hold my breath. But then I realize there is no point to that. So I let myself go and breathe. After I let myself, go my breathing isn't intentionally directed. But the breathing still has oxygenation as a telos.

So the breathing both is and is not directed at oxygenation? Perhaps what we need to do is to distinguish between action and activity. Breathing is always an activity, but it only becomes an action when it is willed. The activity of breathing always has oxygenation as a telos (maybe not the only one). The action of breathing may have oxygenation as a telos, but need not--breathing can have all sorts of voluntary purposes, such as signalling to a confederate, etc. But such a case, one is signalling to a confederate with breathing, an activity that has oxygenation as a purpose, whether or not it achieves that purpose.

What I said about breathing and oxygenation also applies to intercourse and reproduction to a significant degree.


Michael Gonzalez said...

I would distinguish between the telos (one or many) in terms of design, and the extra purposes that we can add on top of those. So, the design of our breathing apparatus has oxygenation as its telos always. In the case of humans (and many diving birds/mammals), we have additional apparatus that permit controlled use of breathing (in our case, this permits language... it's the reason why a gorilla with a huge sign language vocabulary still can't verbally say "uh" on command). In any case, my point is that the apparatus is designed to seek its telos blindly, and so those of us equipped to do so may have to countermand these processes (e.g. holding our breath, or controlling breath to speak or sing).

In short, each apparatus has its telos, but some beings are capable of intentionally countermanding or compounding on such ends for the sake of other ends.

In the case of human sexual intercourse, it seems to me that there are a few teloi reproduction and emotional/personal coupling and enjoyment. However, we who have the ability and intention can countermand the goal of reproduction (contraception) or can engage in sexual relations with a totally separate goal (e.g. gaining favor with a higher-up at work, or something of that nature).

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

"Breathing is intrinsically directed at oxygenation even if we're breathing helium." If you are doing any deep diving you will be breathing a mixture of oxygen and helium. The problem is that the greater the depth of the dive, the greater the surrounding water pressure and the greater the pressure of the air in the tanks being breathed. At a certain depth, the typical nitrogen/oxygen mixture we call air becomes toxic. There are effects such as nitrogen narcosis. Breathing pure oxygen at certain depths also become toxic. So a mixture of helium and oxygen is used. Another interesting diving gas mix is believe it or not was at one time hydrogen and oxygen. Here is an interesting article on different diving gas mixes: