The Transcript of Part 3 of the 3-part video titled
‘Savage Instincts Excuse’ which has Jeremy Griffith talking with Franklin Mukakanga, Tim Macartney-Snape and Stacy Rodger in Sydney on 3 March 2017. This Part describes ‘Teleology & mechanistic science’.
Tim Macartney-Snape: You know, one of my first experiences of a negative reaction to our work was giving your book Free: The End of The Human Condition to a scientist, an anthropologist. And he was incredibly dismissive because he very quickly realised that it was promoting a teleological concept and that is just a no-go zone for science. Teleology is like ‘the devil’ to science.
Jeremy: It’s an acknowledgement of Integrative Meaning. Teleology means ‘the tendency in nature to form wholes’ (Concise Oxford Dictionary, 5th edn, 1964), it’s an admission of Integrative Meaning. [Read more about Integrative Meaning in .]
Tim: Whereas really, ‘the devil’ to science is egotism, people pushing their own theories.
Jeremy: Yes, it’s really incestuous. Franklin, do you know Jan Smuts?
Jeremy: He’s a very famous South African. The English named Jan Smuts Avenue and the Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg after him.
Franklin: Yes, there’s the Jan Smuts Airport.
Jeremy: But they’ve renamed it now because his legacy receives the same opposition as Cecil Rhodes’s legacy does because they were so exploitative. By now Rhodes would have built a railway from one end of Africa to the other, well you can imagine, they’ve already built some of it with beautiful crossings and tunnels for animals to go through. But it’s true, the English and Dutch colonists were incredibly dismissive and brutalising.
Tim: And they made a lot of money. Look at the Rhodes Scholarship, it’s still based on his fortune.
Jeremy: Yes, that’s right. But that’s the thing: money, which is code for capitalism, which is code for materialism, is the only compensation there is for cashing your soul in. [You can read about materialism in .]
Jeremy: So that’s the justification. Sure they got hungry for money, you know, and they ripped the heart out of your country, they’re still doing it.
Jeremy: Anyway, so Jan Smuts is now relegated to the garbage tip, but he’s a very great man, he came up with the term ‘holism’. He’s a first principle, denial-free thinker that guy, an amazingly honest thinker, Smuts. He wrote a book about holism [called Holism and Evolution, 1926]. Teleology is the tendency in nature to form wholes, or is that holism?
Tim: They’re both the same aren’t they?
Jeremy: They’re the same thing but one has a different definition to the other, but they both mean the same thing.
Tim: Teleology is to do with purpose.
Jeremy: Yes, there’s purpose or design.
Tim: Which is the same.
Jeremy: And then holism is the tendency in nature to form wholes.
Tim: Which is the purpose.
Jeremy: Which is the purpose, yeah, yeah, you’re right. Slash [/], slash [/], slash [/]. Teleology/holism/purpose, they’re all the same [Jeremy uses ‘slashes’ in his writing to group words together with the same meaning].
Franklin: They’re all the same.
Jeremy: Yes. But anyway, Smuts is a great South African, and there’s van der Post too, so Africa has produced some great denial-free thinkers, because it’s our soul’s home. [See for more on Sir Laurens van der Post.]
Africa had a double-edged sword. Some people, a lot of people that went to Africa, Europeans, went crazy because it’s too confronting—all this innocent natural world around them—and they just shot the crap out of it. They murdered animals by the hundreds of thousands. It was terrible. It was just a bloodletting. It was psychotic. It was sick behaviour. It was just to get even with innocence. If you take humans back to their childhood home without any defence for the reason they left it it’s unbearable. And, you know, in Nairobi everyone was sleeping with everyone else’s wives, the whole thing went crazy, they were out the gate. Karen Blixen [Isak Dinesen], who wrote Out of Africa, and had an affair with Denys Finch-Hatton, and all that stuff. I mean, they were inspired and wrote some wonderful things, like Elspeth Huxley wrote The Flame Trees of Thika and all this sort of stuff and it produced some great prophets in van der Post and…
Tim: Olive Schreiner.
Jeremy: Olive Schreiner and…
Jeremy: Eugene Marais, yeah, and Smuts. Yeah, they’re four very great prophets, you know. [Read more about these extraordinary thinkers on the South African WTM Centre’s website page, .] So that soulfulness of Africa can be very nurturing, which is what the equivalent of Australia was, which is one of the reasons you [Franklin] wanted to come here. You wanted to see the golden interior of the African-like landscape which we haven’t been able to show you. Tim’s done his best, he took you down to a big gully [in the Southern Highlands of NSW] and you saw some natural bushland but we haven’t gone over the Blue Mountains yet; that’s for the next trip!
Franklin: Aha [laughs].
Jeremy: Yeah, sorry—so holism. Tim said teleology gets at people and they really hate it because they know how dangerous it is.
Jeremy: So Tim’s right. As well as the great truth that we have a cooperative, loving past [see ] which is something that we can’t bear and we need to replace it with the excuse that we have a brutish past... [ analyses this great need for an excuse.]
Jeremy: …the other two really great truths that immediately come to mind are Integrative Meaning/Teleology [see ], because that condemns us—if we’re supposed to be integrative why are we divisive?—and, of course, nurturing [see ]. They’re the ones [the two truths] that humans are allergic to admitting. So what Tim’s saying is true. You’re more than likely to run into one of those three if you’re talking to anybody. But scientists are really full of it, full of dishonesty. There’s a beautiful section in called How has science coped with the issue of the human condition? Good book this one you know! [laughter] So that’s really an explanation of reductionist and mechanistic science.
So, if you go back to the beginning of the whole history of science and you try to boil it all down to one meeting with a couple of scientists, right? Science comes from the Latin word scientia, meaning ‘knowledge’. This actually happened between Plato and Aristotle. They talked about all these truths: that we were once cooperative and loving; that the meaning of life is to be integrative; that nurturing was the prime mover in human development, all of this sort of stuff. But without the explanation, the real defence for ourselves, it was an unbearable truth. So we had this huge problem, how to investigate the truth without confronting it. It was a real problem. So you can imagine the scientists that got around the desk on the first day to try to solve this problem probably got themselves so confused and rattled that they gave up and the next day brought in a fresh group of scientists to have another look and see if they can crack it, because this is a big problem: how do we investigate a truth we can’t confront?
Jeremy: How do we walk up to the truth facing backwards so we don’t see it while we’re investigating it? That’s kind of the dilemma. So eventually they sat down and got their heads worked out and they said, ‘right, we’ll have to avoid any truth that comes up that’s confronting until we find the bigger truth that defends us. So any truth that condemns us we’ll have to deny, until one day we find the full truth and then and only then will it become safe to admit those truths. So over here we’ll put a box and we’ll put any confronting truths that we stumble upon into that box. So we’ll deny it. That’s the denial box and we’ll work over here. We’ll count frogs’ eggs and build up a database about the behaviour of animals. That’s pretty safe. That’s pretty safe. That can all stay outside the box. But as soon as it edges towards any of those terrifying truths of Integrative Meaning, or nurturing creating humanity, or that we have a loving, cooperative soul, we have to leave them in the box. So we’ll focus on the mechanisms behind the workings of the world in hope that one day when we find understanding of the details, then, and only then, will we confront the bigger truth that’s over and above all this which is Integrative Meaning and the issue of the human condition.’
So we avoided the big issue, this overarching issue of the human condition, and all these truths relating to it such as Integrative Meaning and we focussed away. ‘I can’t look at that. We just collect the details, collect the frogs’ eggs, build up some data information on that, collect some more information over here. Study this and build up published papers about that.’ So we were mechanistic, not holistic. We focused on the mechanisms. We were reductionists, we reduced our focus down onto these details and didn’t look up there, we found some more details, and built up this store of mechanisms and details—understandings at that level—the unsaid words were, in the hope that one day someone would come along who could put all these bits together.
Here’s this lovely little drawing I did. See, that’s our condemning cooperative and loving soul [the figure on the left]; and this is a mechanistic and reductionist scientist [the figure on the right]. See, he’s hiding from the truth while investigating the details, finding the pieces of the jigsaw. And then one day an unresigned, truthful thinking person has to come along and put all those pieces together [the figure in the middle]. So that was the game plan. That’s mechanistic, reductionist science. This is holistic science that I’m thinking about. The problem with that is made clear by this little picture is that one day mechanistic scientists would have found enough details about the mechanisms to make the explanation possible, but by this time they would have become so habituated to living in this bullshit that they don’t want to let it go.
Jeremy: So, I come along, I put all the bits together that they’ve found [see ], I acknowledge that they found them, give them a big pat on the back, but they say, ‘I’m not coming out of the cave where I’m living in denial, so I’m not going to admit it!’ They’re too habituated to living in this cave of denial [see for an explanation of Plato’s ‘cave’]. So that’s why we have to go off on our own and get Franklin out here to create an institution in Africa outside of that ivory tower of rubbish. They get so entrenched in this false way, they’ve got all their things in the box over there—‘these things are safe, we won’t go over there’—and then someone comes along and makes it safe to go into the box but they won’t go there. That’s the problem, it gets entrenched this mechanistic reductionist strategy.