A VERY BRIEF LOOK AT PROGRESS

Things progress in politics and in history but not in the way we usually think. Dialectal problems are never answered. As Dewey said:

“Intellectual progress usually occurs through sheer abandonment of questions together with both of the alternatives they assume—an abandonment that results from their decreasing vitality and a change of urgent interest. We do not solve them: we get over them.”[1]

Thoughts are either only abandoned or temporarily continued. There is no resolution. There is no moment where one idea triumphs over the old in a glorious battle of wit. Yet that doesn’t mean new battles and wars in the realm of philosophy, history and politics are not fought. That new and unique ideas do not emerge.

Dewey believed that we are always engineering things ages before we can figure out the implications of what we have built. I believe that this is in part true, that we build what we do not fully understand. However, I also believe that we have the ability to imagine what we have yet to build ages before we do so. Even if we may not be able to understand the full implications of somethings when we complete them, or if we are blind sided by what we create in some circumstances, it doesn’t mean that imagination on the whole does not compete in terms of impact with engineering. The immediate world is always imagined ages before it came about and never truly understood even whilst being lived in.

Take the cold war as an example of this eternal dialogue between the spiritual and material, the superstructure and structure. For the first time in history, humanity became capable of destroying itself. Or rather, a few humans became capable of destroying humanity.[i] This engineering created a new problem for humans that sparked new imaginations and reimaginations of past stories. The tale of Atlantis is the most famous example of a people that destroyed itself. After the reimagining that occurred because of our engineering, the Atlanteans became a civilization that destroyed itself because of its technological capabilities, instead of a civilization that disobeyed the Gods. The reimagination portrayed the Atlanteans to reflect us. We, in reflection, have the position of the Atlanteans and with that portrayal are given a choice: will we destroy ourselves or will we save ourselves from what was a certain end. Flooding our collective consciousness was media describing our imagined inevitable end in order to make certain it was not inevitable in the structure or ‘material’. Therefore, whatever technology we have available its use does not become inevitable no matter how certain it seems.

Nuclear weapons remain to this day a problem even if we are not constantly flooded in our consciousness with its potential sudden use.[ii] How do we contain this power? This is the central question that will remain as long as we have the power to do so. Nothing will remove the question, and nothing will answer it with certainty.

I find that in nature, many animals in the past had a lot of the same niches as they do today. These niches create reoccurring traits. This is what biologists call ‘Convergent evolution’. Yet new niches do sometimes arise, but the old ones rarely ever disappear. To ignore the existence of new niches is as ridiculous as ignoring the old ones. What we need to realize is the absence of resolution. Traits and niches are never resolved. They merely cease to exist, and even then, rarely. They exist in all environments that pose the same problems and always will until the environment changes.[iii]

What is also often ignored when it comes to archetypes, or in nature niches, is that animals fit into these roles in a variety of different ways. One way of fitting a role can have different implications for the rest of the ecosystem. The specific way in which an animal exploits a niche could then create other niches or change the niches that already exist. Humans do this when they burned forests to hunt for prey, changing the environment whilst fitting into a role within it. A feedback loop of sorts is created. The difference within archetypes might be just as great as the differences between them. Bats and owls may both be nocturnal fliers that hunt for small prey but the way in which they do so is radically different. It is the differences in action alone that produce a different environment for other things to adapt and develop.

Progress ought to be seen in this way. Within a dialogue between imagination and engineering. As a feedback loop of action that changes action that creates new archetypes. As never arriving or striving towards an ultimate end, but as many constantly changing multi-faceted ends that rework themselves in the loop. Progress like entropy may tend to end up in some way that it seems like a finality. Yet there is no final state there is only what is a tendency.

[1] The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy and Other Essays, John Dewey.

[i] To think of this as an effort or fault of the entirety of humanity would be erroneous since the vast majority of humans would have nothing to do with whether the red buttons where pressed or not.

[ii] In recent history, the threat of nuclear war was flooded into public consciousness with Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. However, when I was younger the threat of nuclear war had died before I had been born and it was thought that we had solved the problem.

[iii] Of course, if you define niches so generally as to contain all life you could say no new niches ever occur but that would be ridiculous since that would expand what is being described past its point of relation. Niches describe roles of living things in the environment. The whole of life Is much too general to be called a role.

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diogenesoftoronto

Who am I? A ghost in the machine. Or maybe not even a ghost in a machine because on here I have no machinery, I am the symbols in your head. Your ghost gives me life.

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