[KB] Deacon's Neo-Aristotelian Complication of Simple Action/Motion

Edward C Appel edwardcappel at frontier.com
Sat Aug 9 15:48:49 EDT 2014


	At a Burke panel at ECA, Portland Maine, 1992, Jim Chesebro raised an objection to Burke that is possibly pertinent to the basic action/motion distinction Herb just reiterated, and surely complicated by Terrence Deacon.   A lacuna in dramatism is the failure to take cognizance of nonverbal motives, Jim offered.  At the time, I surmised that Jim meant the classic motion of chemical processes of the kind Jerome Kagan (Harvard social scientist) examined in his book, Galen’s Prophecy: Temperament in Human Nature (BasicBooks, 1994, Kagan’s research updated in a fairly recent NYT Magazine piece).  Kagan homed in on human anxiety.  It is aggravated by an excess of norepinephrine, a neurochemical, in the baso-lateral area of the amygdala, and in its projections to cortical and autonomic targets.  From such motions of nature derive inhibition, melancholia, and neurosis, Kagan convincingly argues.

	I didn’t much credit Jim’s naysaying at the time.  Burke was a philosopher and critic of the human drama, that aspect of observable behavior that, in one way or other, cannot be reduced to the motions of nature, and will boldly manifest its uniqueness in anthropological terms (see Chapter 6 in the Primer).  Sure, an individual’s characteristic “drama” will be modified, perhaps radically, by those “chemisms,” to use Theodore Dreiser’s word.  Burke gives enough heed to such influences, thought I, in his description of the way different folks will react to the same stimuli, identical scenic pressures and circumstances (GM).  No need for elaborated neurochemistry, however germane in a scientific context.

	Deacon, I believe, challenges this chink in Burke’s thought in the sense of how to handle, what to call, the kind of nonsymbolic “motion”---isn’t that what Burke calls it?---of what are commonly labeled the “lower” animals.  In what might be denominated Neo-Aristotelian fashion, Deacon “outline[s] . . . a theory of emergent dynamics that shows how dynamical processes can become organized around and with respect to possibilities not realized.  This is intended to provide the scaffolding for a conceptual bridge from mechanistic relationships to end-directed, informational, and normative relationships such as are found in simple life forms [and, a fortiori, in primates and mammals in general!].”

	Recall that in my first post on his book, I emphasized Deacon’s insistence on two “dislocations” in earth’s evolutionary history, not just one.   “Natural teleology,” “teleodynamics” to use Deacon’s neologism, would certainly characterize the putative transition from prokaryotic bacteria to eukaryotic bacteria around 2.6 billion years ago, at the onset of the Proterozoic Eon.  Something radically new came to planet earth: nuclei-possessing, oxygen-producing, photo-synthesizing single-celled animals that pumped that oxygen into the oceans and then the atmosphere, changed the color of the water and likely the sky, generated the life-sustaining qualities of sea, land, and atmosphere, including the ozone shield, indeed transformed earth into the “miracle” planet nothing we’ve discovered out there in space likely comes close to.  (I think of have this scenario roughly correct,)

	Two billion years later, after the hiatus of “Snowball Earth” had passed, the “Cambrian Explosion” could begin.

	The Gaia guru Lovelock said it was the radically different composition of earth’s atmosphere---21 percent oxygen, 76 percent nitrogen, 3 percent all the other stuff, including the growing concentration of carbon dioxide---that clued him into his notion of a kind of living planet Earth.  Both Venus and Mars?  About 97 percent carbon dioxide in both cases, albeit with strikingly different concentrations.
	Back to Herb’s blink and one-eyed wink next time, with,  perhaps, a gloss that Deacon’s Incomplete Nature might suggest.


On Sat, 8/9/14, Herbert W. Simons <hsimons at temple.edu> wrote:

 Subject: Re: [KB] (no subject)
 To: "Carrol Cox" <cbcox at ilstu.edu>
 Cc: kb at kbjournal.org
 Date: Saturday, August 9, 2014, 10:03 AM
 theoretical explanation provides an answer to a why question
 in a thought experiment. Example: Gilbert Ryle asked the
 question: What's the difference between a wink and a
 one-eyed blink? His answer took him to the mind-brain
 distinction and could have taken KB to action-motion. WINKS
 On Fri, Aug 8, 2014 at
 10:46 PM, Carrol Cox <cbcox at ilstu.edu>
 (You need to click "Reply All"; otherwise it goes
 to the post's sender
 rather than to kb.)
 I'm interested in your somewhat cryptic message because
 on another list I am
 writing on the difference between theory on the one hand and
 "what needs to
 be explained" on the other. And involved in that is a
 between empirical generalization and theoretical
 -----Original Message-----
 From: kb-bounces at kbjournal.org
 [mailto:kb-bounces at kbjournal.org]
 On Behalf
 Of de gava
 Sent: Friday, August 08, 2014 9:34 PM
 To: kb at kbjournal.org
 Subject: [KB] (no subject)
 I think I can add to this discussion. In earlier days I
 replied to the
 emails I received but they went to Ed so to kick off I'd
 like to test
 kb at kbjournal.org as
 an address to the e-list and ask if anyone has looked
 closely into the nature of 'explanations'. More to
 follow perhaps.
 KB mailing list
 KB at kbjournal.org
 KB mailing list
 KB at kbjournal.org
 Herbert W.
 Simons, Ph.D.
 Emeritus Professor of
 Dep't of  Strategic
 Communication, Weiss Hall 215
 University, Philadelphia 19122
 Home phone:
 215 844 5969
 Academic Fellow, Center for Transformative
 Strategic Initiatives (CTSI)
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