…impress them by using this scary word in a sentence: The word is “teleology.”
Teleology is the notion that shit doesn’t just happen. Everything supposedly happens because it serves some other creature’s cunning purpose.
This other creature might be a god, like Zeus, or an evil spirit, like Satan, or a god-like authority figure, such as Abraham Lincoln, or a conceptual pretend-creature like “nature” (as though an evil bitch named “Nature” gets her jollies by playing games with your life).
To intimidate your boss, you might use the word in a sentence like this:
Look, I’m sorry I came in a little late this morning but, as every educated person knows, it’s a basic fact of teleology that my tardiness was completely unavoidable, and it served a far higher and nobler purpose than a blind obedience to your otherwise-excellent rules about punctuality.
Naturally, this is pure horseshit. But your boss doesn’t need to know that.
I have tentatively concluded that all teleological statements are horseshit. If you can suggest one that isn’t, please post it!
Blogger Gene Callahan recently suggested one:
Try this one: a living heart circulates blood. It also gives off heat. Why does every biologist say the function of the heart is to circulate the blood, and not a single one says its function is to give off heat?
First of all, Mr. Callahan’s assertion is false. While biologists frequently say that a primary function of the heart is to pump blood, no competent biologist would claim that this is the heart’s only function. It is not difficult to locate an academic paper that says the heat generated by the heart has a function: It is used in “endothermic reactions.”
Second (and more important), a statement that the heart has a function is not a teleological statement. It does not assert that your heart was designed by some other entity in order to pump blood through your body.
Since it is not “teleological” to point out that the heart happens to function in certain ways, we cannot claim that biologists who make such statements are betraying a belief in the superstitious ideas of teleology.
But wait! Not so fast! Mr. Callahan asserts that the following statement is teleological:
…given that the heart has several functions, a failure of the pumping function is the thing that would lead most quickly to the failure of all the other functions.
Here is his reasoning:
To fail, a thing must have something it *should* be doing.
I responded with the following question. So far, no response from him.
The primary function of cancer cells is to reproduce without limit. Is that what they “should” be doing?
Perhaps his point is that all statements containing the word “fail” seem teleological to him. Like these?
During ice ages, rivers blocked by glaciers failed to transport the water they contained to the oceans, and large lakes formed as a result.
The reason Jupiter failed to ignite as a star is because it does not contain a sufficient quantity of hydrogen.
Should Jupiter have been a star?
Consider an unnamed river that became blocked by oozing lava on a lifeless continent four billion years ago – should it have carried water to the ocean?
Who was around to care? Whose plans were thwarted by these failures?
Maybe the unicorns were disappointed?
What’s going on here, I theorize, is that when Mr. Callahan reads the word “function” he assumes (erroneously) that the writer means “intended function.” If the function was “intended” then one can leap to the teleological conclusion that there must have been some sort of creator who intended it.
Takeaway lesson: If you have an honest desire to determine what a statement means, do not assume that the word “function” means “intended function”, or “primary function”, or “useful function”, or anything else other than “function.”