Monday, August 06, 2007

Liberating the Irrational

To get around the problem of Cartesian dualism and the problems it poses for a natural science, Hoffmeyer proposes that we take up the idea, informed by evolutionary thinking, that "a system could be more or less rational; that rationality is something that could occur at levels other than that of the human psyche" (Signs of Meaning in the Universe, p. 93). First I want to look at this idea of a system being more or less rational. Does the rock cycle gradually shade into the history of speech or are there a series of quantum leaps in between them. If the latter, then how many and what exactly are they? We could conceivably enumerate the evolutionary events that led from the first lifeform to Homo sapiens, but we might also want to consider the history of "ecological theatres," not to mention more deeply probing biogenesis on the one hand, and events in the history of speech on the other. Nevertheless, we have here this idea of systems being more or less rational to consider despite the questions we have about boundaries.

Is rationality the defining characteristic of human consciousness, or of language use? Possibly the irrational is just a much a characteristic of human consciousness as is the rational. Is the unconsciouss a feature of natural systems too? Repression? Desire?

Hoffmeyer says:

Life is based on the principle of "someone" inside "someone" inside "someone" inside. . . . What emerges, when the authority for interpreting and making decisions is delegated to organs, tissues, and cells, is a hierarchical network of sign processes the accumulated output of which constitutes the coordinated actions of the organism. No single body controls this autonomous chaos, the efficacy of which can only be explained by its natural history throughout all the various stages of discoveries and conquests made by other life-forms.

(p. 95, my emphasis)

Now is this really the principle of all life, or does it only apply to eukaryotes? It's not so easy to take everything we know about life on Earth and, without elisions, assemble a human life. Perhaps the irrational is one such elision.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:16 AM.


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