Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Bio-enactive framework: The perpetual life or ultimate death of the cell in the myth

(Cummins, 2016, p.3)
Although I know it's largely figurative, I can’t seem to resist my existential or reductionist tenancies for seeking out something else in the milieu for the (excellently named) 'cell in the myth' described by Cummins and De Jesus (2016).

As I read the authors’ account of their bio-enactive framework I imagined the cell running out of glucose.  But, what in the milieu causes glucose to run out?  Will the cell die without glucose?  What exactly is present in the milieu or the organism that causes the cell to die?  Otherwise, if glucose doesn’t run out, does the cell live forever?  If glucose never runs out and the cell lives forever, why would the cell evolve movement at all?  Why don't cells just evolve to grow on/ close to glucose deposits instead?  If cells grew on glucose, and didn't need to move, would cells have evolved in the first place?

Recognising how my own inescapable perspective, that of the seemingly 'near omniscient observer' (op cit.), impresses upon my attempts to attribute meaning to the cell in its world, I enter an endless loop.  I'm trapped inside something akin to the homunculus fallacy (O’Regan and Noë, 2001); impossibly looking at the back of my own head that's reflected in the mirror I'm facing, like Edward James in René Magritte's La reproduction interdite (1937).  My 'gaze' is precisely what ‘frames’ my view of the organism~glucose/ subject~world.  This framing imposes a fixed quantity on the glucose I see available to the cell; 'zooming' my 'view frame' in or out, I simply see more or less glucose.  This zooming merely prompts a reconfiguring of the edges of whatever bounds the world of the organism, like a Petri dish perhaps, my eyeballs or the hand of the Buddha (I'll explain the latter reference further on).

But, seeking bounds in this way, once again, only serves my temptation to prescribe reductionist ontologies to the organism and its world.  Clearly, this denies that the subject~world itself is inherently sense-making and undermines its atomicity.

I suspect that the line of argument which implies a possibility for an unlimited supply of glucose and, thereby, a chance for the cell to feed and live forever is also flawed.  I must be overlooking something obvious.  If I’m not, and I almost always am, the perpetual life of a single organism seems an unlikely tenet of the bio-enactive thesis.  Or is it?

If we don't confine our measure of 'life' to the level of the individual, isn't all life, via reproduction, in some sense, perpetual?  Even a strict realist reading of the Laws of Conservation of Energy, in some very loose way, arguably supports the ideal for perpetually sustainable life (where such life is transformative and while sufficient energy exists).  I really should resist making tenuous links like these; otherwise I'll lose myself in pseudo-science-land.

Any refusal to abandon the path to the eternal-life-argument requires some resolution of the unaccounted for ‘thing’ (i.e. in addition to glucose), in the cell's milieu, which manifests as the physiological effects of the passing of time and impedes the cell from living forever.  Then again, Jakob von Uexküll (1934) considers time and space relative to each creature's Umwelt.  Perhaps what's really ‘missing’ is my ability to fully acknowledge how my naive subject~object dependent point of view restricts my understanding.  But, does accepting the inescapable cycle of life/ death, the invariable presence of inevitable change, as such a pervasive, highly deterministic, force leave much room for the exercise of free will?

Oh no!  I can't believe I've led myself to suggest that something might be in 'control'.  Just when I was almost coming to terms with the 'word around the campfire' (Pulp fiction, 1994) that gott ist tot (Nietzsche, 1882)!  Perhaps I'm just like the Monkey King from Cheng'en's epic Journey to the West (1625?), or its cool '70's Japanese TV adaptation Monkey (Aoki et al., 1978), who, in his characteristic blind arrogance, fails to accept he'll never get beyond the reaches of the hands of Tathagata 'the Buddhist Patriarch' (Yu, 2006, p.104).

If I'm really honest though, on reflection, I've never been able to find a suitable response to Darryl Bailey's challenge to identify something from my life over which I have had full, self-directed, control (Conscious TV, 2011).  Sometimes things really do seem to beget other things.  As Bailey mentions, at around 21 min. 40 sec. in his video interview, and I caution, his assertions regarding free will derive from the non-dualist teachings of the controversial (Conway, 2007) 'guru' Ramesh Balsekar (2007); about whose claims Steven Sashen quite humorously voices his doubts (2006).  Bailey (2011) warns us against the 'confusion and fear' he finds evident among common unifying 'descriptions of existence' and then (somewhat, ironically) writes: 
If everything is acknowledged as it actually is, ever-shifting and unformed, it's an indefinable happening. All that's ever experienced is an unformed dance presenting itself. It's the vibrant, pulsing, luminous event that this moment is. There is only that. [...] It magically appears to be all kinds of things, but those appearances are false. None of them are a stable form: there is only constant movement, and there's no possible explanation for it (pp.12-14).
Admittedly, there are times when I take comfort from sharing Bailey's belief in some inexplicable 'happening'.  At first glance, 'back West', Bailey's position seems reminiscent of Kant's 'weak' realism or anti-realism 'with a fig-leaf' (Devitt, 1997, p.17).  Weak realism makes possible an objective, human-activity-independent, noumenon reality about which we can never 'have absolute knowledge' (Kukla, 2000, p.5).  It seems to follow then that if we'll never fully know, why should we bother trying to find out?

I can easily see why some might reject accounts based on weak realism where it's interpreted as a call to abandon any further, seemingly futile, attempts at resolving matters of reality or as opposing any possibility for self-directed action.  But, I don't think Bailey is suggesting that we are separate from the unfolding 'event' he describes.  Rather, as some self-professed 'authentic' non-dualists like Timothy Conway (2007) propose, there is a conventional-self who experiences the world as vivid, palpable and phenomenal.  While some grand 'event' seemingly unfolds at the 'absolute' level of existence, simultaneously, at the conventional-pragmatic level, we can choose to be well- or ill-behaved, kind or cruel, etc.  This conventional-self is deemed necessary to abating the fatalistic tenancies implicit to deterministic accounts like Balsekar's (ibid.).

In any case, the implications for some mind-independent reality are wholly at odds with the constructivist principles which Cummins and De Jesus cite as informing their bio-enactive framework.  A constructivist view would hold that through our interactions with the 'happening' we come into our unique experience of our shared world.  Our experience brings us to construct different ways of 'making sense' of our world and, as such, the experience of life becomes a necessary condition for the possibility of sense making.  Viewed in this way, Bailey's perspective is markedly different then from weak realism's notions of a mind-independent objective reality.  Yet, in both cases, reality remains wholly unknowable.

I'm usually quite weary of any account that claims to have privileged access to '[T]ruth'; even if the proposed truth happens to be that 'we can never fully know the truth'.  Nonetheless, I believe that as humans, by some reckoning, we can more or less describe the sense that we construct of our world (semantics).  As a novice social researcher, I'm draw to accounts of these descriptions. I like to analyse and interpret them, adding my own meaning, exploring their implications for how I might make sense of my own experiences.  This aligns somewhat well with the constructivist (epistemological) claim that knowledge is created where people describe and interpret human experience, and where people come into meaning through their experiences in ways relative to their particular 'culture', self or 'paradigm' (Kukla, 2000, p.4).

I now appreciate a little more of Froese and Di Paolo's claim (2011) that any exploration at the level of the cell (micro) invariably requires a widening of our gaze to attempt to account for inter-connected subject~worlds (mezzo) and society (macro).  Admittedly, however, by adopting a pop-psychology informed perspective, through my flip-flopping between God and nothing, having bulldozed my way through finer points that require more sensitive consideration, in taking a cavalier approach that would reduce any attentive philosopher to tears, I’ve probably veered too far off into transcendentalism for an acceptable post about cognition.  

I'm not really confident enough to declare myself a fully-subscribed and paid-up member of the interpretivist club because I never quite know what's real or constructed (in an ontological sense).  Nonetheless, I've clarified (for myself at least) something about enaction’s bold ambitions to link the 'cell to society' (ibid.).  But, my ramblings have probably made things all the worse for you though!  And no, your eyes did not deceive you; I did actually mention the TV show 'Monkey Magic'!  

References  

Aoki, T., Fukuda, J., Ikehiro, K., Watanabe, Y. and Yamazaki, D. 1978. Saiyûki/ Monkey [TV Series]. Tokyo: Nippon Television.

Bailey, D. 2011. Essence revisited: slipping past the shadows of illusion. Salisbury: Non-Duality Press.

Balsekar, R. 2007. Does the human being have free will? Mumbai: Zen Publications.  

Cheng'en, W. 1625. The journey to the west. N.p.

Conscious TV 2011. Darryl Bailey: dismantling the fantasy, interview by Renate McNay [Online].  Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7IAZ_QMipM [Accessed 9 April 2017]. 

Conway, T. 2007. On neo-advaitin Ramesh Balsekar: Advaita, ethics, authentic & inauthentic sages. Enlightened spirituality [Online]. Available from: http://www.enlightened-spirituality.org/ramesh_balsekar.html [Accessed 8 April 2017].  

Cummins, F. and de Jesus, P. 2016. The loneliness of the enactive cell: towards a bio-enactive framework. Adaptive Behavior, 24(3), pp.149-159.

Cummins, F. 2016. A simple cell in a Petri dish, observed by a near-omniscient scientist [Online]. Available from: http://cspeech.ucd.ie/TatTvamAsi/images/triumvirate.jpg.

Devitt, M. 1997. Realism and truth. 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Froese, T. and Di Paolo, E. 2011. The enactive approach: theoretical sketches from cell to society. Pragmatics & Cognition, 19(1), pp.1–36. 

Kukla, A. 2000. Social Constructivism and the philosophy of science. London: Psychology Press. 

Magritte, R. 1937. La reproduction interdite [Painting]. Rene Magritte: biography, paintings, and quotes [Online]. Available from: http://www.renemagritte.org/not-to-be-reproduced.jsp#prettyPhoto [Accessed 6 April 2017].  

Nietzsche, F. 1882. The gay science: with a prelude of rhymes and an appendix of songs, translated by Kaufmann, W. 1974. New York: Vintage Books.

O’Regan, J. and Noë, A. 2001. A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24(5), pp.939-973. 

Pulp fiction 1994. Directed by Tarantino, Q. [Film]. Burbank: Buena Vista International. 

Sashen, S. 2006. Back away from the enlightened guy… nothing to see here. The anti-guru blog, 9 September [Online]. Available from: http://sashen.com/blog/13/back-away-from-the-enlightened-guy-nothing-to-see-here/ [Accessed 8 April 20017].  

von Uexküll, J. 1934. A stroll through the worlds of animals and men: a picture book of invisible worlds IN: Schiller, C. (ed.) and Kuenen, D. 1957. Instinctive behavior: the development of a modern concept. New York: International Universities Press.

Yu, A. 2006. The monkey and the monk: a revised abridgement of the journey to the west. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

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