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BBTC, Chapter 4
by Carolyn Ray

Date: 6 Jul 1994
Forum: Moderated Discussion of Objectivist Philosophy
Copyright: Carolyn Ray

In order to defend his thesis that each aspect of purposeful action that renders it teleological is also present (in non-conscious form) in vegetative action (p. 40), Binswanger must do two things. He must show that self-generation is one of the three aspects of purposeful action that make it teleological. And he must show that self-generation (in addition to value significance and goal causation) is present in vegetative action.

The point of chapter IV, then, is to discuss one aspect of vegetative action that contributes to its being regarded as teleological. Remember that action is a species of process or behavior, differentiated from other sorts in that it is performed by living beings--or is it that living beings are one kind of existent, differentiated from others by the fact that they act?

Lots of things happen to human beings besides their doing things on purpose; for example, they fall down when unable to contend with gravity, get hit by projectiles, and get pushed around by other forces and moving objects. So a certain sort of process can be distinguished in that the person involved meant to do it; even unsophisticated people can notice the difference between falling down and lying down--they do the first by accident and quite without it serving any conceivable human goal, and they cause the second to happen. Call the process which the person means to be involved in "self-generated". The most obviously self- generated actions are the processes one wants or needs to do, as differentiated from those that one is subjected to.

Now that we understand the source of the concept SELF-GENERATED, Binswanger argues that non-conscious vegetative action is self- generated just as conscious action is self-generated.

On the narrow, rudimentary definition, the distinction between consciously intended actions and self-generated ones collapses. But as more scientifically sophisticated knowers, we find another sort of process being performed by conscious entities that can also be clearly distinguished from processes that are performed _on_ them rather than _by_ them. The non-conscious processes of conscious beings (animals) can be seen as similar to the non-conscious processes of non-conscious living beings (plants). For example, the cells of all living beings respire; some living beings grow toward sunlight, others have hearts that beat-- and all of these processes, the results of which are beneficial to the organism, occur without its conscious intent.

Moreover, it turns out that the _explanation_ for and cause of the living being's ability to engage in obviously self-generated action is the fact that they engage in the unobviously self-generated vegetative action; i.e., the processes behind the action of walking is self-generated all the way down to the cellular level.

A more sophisticated definition covers both the less obviously and the more obviously self-generated actions. A process is self-generated if the immediate energy for its performance is supplied from a source within and integral to the body of the actor, and belongs to the actor as a whole for use in a number of alternative ways as controlled by a mediating mechanism (p. 48). The mediating mechanism that directs the use of energy distinguishes self-generated action from other sorts of release of internally stored energy, such as that of a compressed spring. And the fact that there is no necessary correlation between the amount of energy being released and the amount of energy that triggers the release distinguishes self-generated actions from other-generated processes, such as a leaf tumbling in the wind--the energy of which process directly correlates with the force of the wind blowing it.

Self-generation is a necessary condition for purposefulness (p. 47) because a purposeful action is a conscious action caused by the agent's desire for some anticipated consequence of his actions (p. 34). The processes performed on an organism by _other_ existents cannot be caused by the agent's desire in any literal sense. Part of what happens to a person who desires to dive into a lake is merely mechanical. The diver hurls himself off the cliff, and that portion of the dive is purposeful and therefore self-generated. After that, he cannot help what happens to his body in the way of downward motion; _gravity_ , not his desire, is the external force that brings his body to the earth. The resulting process-- the fall--is not self-generated and therefore cannot be purposeful. To speak like Kant in GROUNDWORK, his desire to fall, evidenced by his jumping off the cliff, _converges with_ the fact that he must fall after jumping, but his desire is not the _cause_ of his falling. Put yet another way, no matter what his desire upon jumping, he is going to fall. And to say it yet another way, a diver takes advantage of the known merely mechanical process in which the earth and smaller bodies near its surface engage, and uses it as a means to get to the lake from where he is on the cliff. This last characterization will be helpful in understanding the distinction between vegetative actions and the merely mechanical processes (chemical reactions) that vegetative actions make use of .

Moreover, the concept SELF-GENERATED is implicit in the concept GOAL-DIRECTED. If an action is to be taken by an entity for the sake of some end, then it must somehow be within the entity's conscious or unconscious control to bring about or cause that action--i.e., generate it herself. If the source of energy is external to the entity, then that source is controlled by the entity only in a derivative sense; i.e., the entity can control the external source of energy (e.g., a car) only because it can tap a source of energy within itself to control that external source. Thus if one says one engaged in the goal-directed action of driving to Ohio, it is implied that one is capable of generating from within oneself the energy necessary to get into the car and steer it and press the accelerator. Otherwise, the process of being carted to Ohio is entirely up to someone else and for The Carted is not self-generated and hence not goal-directed at all. For example, suppose someone were newly incommunicative and paralyzed, but still dreamt of going and listening at the IOS seminar. If the person's caretaker happened to load her into the car and drive her there, then the person's desire to travel to Ohio would converge with the traveling, but would not be the cause of it. I am not sure what to say about the case in which our paralysis victim were to ask her friend to drive her there--I suppose that the asking is self-generated and therefore goal-directed, but after that her being driven there is a merely mechanical process perpetrated upon her, albeit in accordance with her desire?

We have the following break-down of "concepts."

                               /     Processes     \
                              /                     \
               of living beings                  of non-living beings
                  /        \                        /           \
                 /          \                      /             \
       self-gen'd       non-self-gen'd       energy is           energy is
       (internal)        (external)          partly internal      external
       /        \             |                     |                |
      /          \            |                     |                |
   consc's    non-consc's     |                     |                |
(purposeful) (vegetative)     |                     |                |
      |           |           |                     |                |
      |           |           |                     |                |
 human          human       human                spring         leaf being
 walking       heartbeat  falling              sproinging         blown

Note that the difference between the processes of living beings and those of non-living beings cannot be just that of goal-directed vs. non-goal-directed processes. Living beings are also involved in behavior that is not goal-directed, such as being pushed around by the wind or by gravity. (It was unclear where to put GOAL-DIRECTED on this scheme, however, since self-generation is a necessary condition for purposefulness and is implicit in the concept GOAL-DIRECTED but does not simply collapse into goal-directed action. I guess GOAL-DIRECTED just does not belong in this particular tree.)

To see that all vegetative actions are self-generated, we need only look at cellular respiration, as the energy for this and all other functions comes from this function. An organism makes its own energy through cellular respiration. But in order to respire, the organism must provide energy to the process--and that energy is supplied by respiration and is stored in the muscle cells ready for use as fuel for energy production or as fuel for other part- or whole-body functions. By the process of respiration, the organism powers all its other functions, including thinking about, finding, ingesting, digesting, and converting into glucose the raw material (plant and animal matter) of respiration.

By contrast, the chemical reactions which make cellular respiration possible (the bonding of one molecule to another and the dissociation of one from another) are the merely mechanical processes of which a living organism may take advantage, just as gravity is a process of which a diver may take advantage. The difference between chemicals outside of an organism bonding and dissociating, and those doing it inside an organism's cells, is that the ones inside it are elaborately controlled by it and the resulting energy used by it for a variety of processes above the molecular level. Energy will be released or stored if the dissociating or bonding takes place; but the cells must process the raw materials until respiration is possible, so in this sense the organism makes its own fuel.

Thus we can see from what the self-generated process is distinguished. Self-generation is emergent because the parts by themselves are incapable of performing the actions that the whole can perform. The parts are the molecules from which energy is released and in which energy is stored by the organism. These parts can release energy, haphazardly and inefficiently, by themselves; they can also store it. But they cannot regulate their own processes of bonding and dissociating, nor any subatomic processes, so as to produce the maximum amount of energy; nor can they direct the energy to maintain themselves, make more of themselves or to facilitate the formation or dissolution of bonds. These abilities are aspects of the complexity of organization of the organism as a whole--i.e. are emergent.

That is the summary. I found the chapter to be very difficult, so it is possible that my summary bears little resemblance to it. I only have a few critical comments.

In some cases it was not clear to me how Binswanger meant to derive the concepts or make the distinctions. Since that was what the chapter was about, I could not simply report what he had said in a confusing way, so I tried to be a good conceptualist and draw the distinctions myself. However, if these fail or are not what he meant, I hope people will point that out.

The idea of self-generation as an emergent property I found to be quite slippery, since he said things like, "The issue here, as in every other case of 'emergent properties,' is simply one of complexity of organization....The self-generated aspect [of cellular respiration] comes about from the highly ordered integration of these [chemical] reactions" (p. 51). I did not think it was simply a matter of complexity; I thought it was a matter of there being some property of the whole that the parts do not have. So it sounds like he is stating another sufficient condition, in addition to the definition. Help?

It is also mind-boggling to try to get a firm grip on the self- generation distinction between cellular respiration and chemical reactions. I have attempted to outline the distinction, but I cannot say I am happy about it. Maybe this is what he means when he says that it does not matter if some inanimate processes are self-generated, because this is a matter of degree?

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