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  in praise of integral openness
gary e. davis
December 10, 2016

You’ve seen a fresh puddle so still that a fluffy cloud reflects as if appearing through
a clear window. You barely touch the surface to see rings go to the edge, which wave back a little, helping to calm the mirroring window again.

Well, a wave back doesn’t exactly “help,” because it doen’t do anything at all.
Rather, gentle physical force counters new, weaker waves, which increases equilibration (a wave dissolving a wave), thus calming the surface.

One person may touch another, the two in serene openness, and the feeling radiates pleasureably, causing a smile (or laugh).

One says “I am touched,” which is happy. The touching is enhappying. We say “enjoyable,” not—in this case—“enjoying,” but it’s that: evincing enjoyment,
evincing a happy moment.

The above occurred to me when I was tracing an etymology that took me to
an indication that the Latin origin of ‘tangent’—‘tangere’ (“to touch”) is “akin”
to Old English ‘thaccian’ (born of post-Roman Brits): “to stroke, touch gently.”
The abandoned Latin sense is akin to Greek ‘tetagOn’ (“having seized”), a distasteful notion that surely pertains to Roman incursion, as if a Spartan lineage of capture warrants colonization of the isles.

I read that recent archealogy has determined that humans were on the to-become-British Isles 800,000 to a million years ago. 800 millennia later, they who would shape the language sought to touch gently, like a tangent is a single point of contact— marginal, to a centrist sensibility, but for the touching, the point might be profound, as if to connect by touch is to be able to receive and respond to the essence of
an other.

I came to ‘tangent’ because I was looking at the root of ‘entire’, which results from French and English life of the Middle Ages, inheriting the Latin ‘integer’, which is
a combining of Latin ‘teger’ (from that polite ‘tangere’: “touch”) and ‘in-’. To be
“in touch” via Latin and Middle Anglo-Gallic is to be entire, “untouched.” This
very psychal interest in being un-touched (pure?) then becomes objectified as
being “a complete entity” (‘entire’ def. 2, Merriam-Webster Unabridged online).

Though integer, in the modern sense, was first associated with the natural numbers (1, 2, 3...), the notion was first a non-arithmetical concept: complete entity, evidently in a psychological sense. So, Anglo-Gallic/Latin—western European—interest in one’s being untouched, entire, leads to thinking of one being a complete entity, and that, in later modernity, is reduced to being a number.

[Aside: It so happens that post-Latinate cultural evolution in western Europe is also forming the notion of individuality that becomes a hallmark of modernity, gaining its richest early-modern conception in northwestern Europe, around the Amsterdam / Paris / London region. This is the regioning, so to speak, in which Renaissance humanism (Elizabethan as much as Florentine?) leads to Protestantism, which—I would argue—is the humanistic origin of the so-called “Protestant ethic.” The evolutionary modernity of The Individual is not theologically motivated. It emerges from the cultural regioning of northwestern European humanism (not even basically from re-discovery of Classical Greek aspirations for perfection and belief in human perfectibility).
I claim this because my longstanding interest in the history of conceptions of individuality persuades me (via others’ scholarship) that modernity is non-theologically inspired (though that’s not the majority view, instilled by millennia of theologized European universities).]

Not surprisingly, then, the root of ‘integrity’ is to be integer, in the premodern sense, i.e., to be a complete entity or to be like a complete entity (not a number!).

How like a complete entity must one be to bereally be—complete?

But, why would one want to complete oneself? To be complete is to be finished.

Integrity is standardly more than certified completeness. Integrity pertains to being wholly how one’s meant to be: to be authentically advancing oneself. A person is
not reducible to their instantiation of types (or some ultimate state description,
an ontology). A person is an individual in—at best—a singularly flourishing sense, having the proper name of the one-and-only named life that is aspiring and fulfilling itself, then again fulfilling itself in some new way. “This life,” singularly named, aims to be as it’s meant to be, always looking forward to new chances, new ways, new experiences, new horizons.

So that “meant” isn’t, for persons, a given destiny, at least not in principle. We are
the beings who may design our own destiny (the very-modern idea), and that’s how we’re each meant to be: designing and making our life. We are the beings who can
and do conceive the possibility of making a life by design, by intention, with purpose, for projects, in light of ideals, and so on, in light of imaginability.

A sense of integrity belongs to the only creatures on Earth who can make sense of things. Making sense is what we do, because we want. We want to “do things.” Intending is integral to the essence of being a person—beyond merely being human, beyond being a phenotype of our genotype. We are the beings who are persons because we intend that. We make meaning, and we give meaning, in order to make the world our own, in order to enown a world of and for our life. We aspire for
the largest conceivable scale of worldmaking because we are humans personifying life.

Indeed, we’re born personifying (according to research on infant understanding that I’ll discuss later). Everything is at first inarticulably felt as—later articulable as—“I-mother” constellation. Everything is personified as “I-mother,” then differentiated
as I/not-I personifications. That is, personification itself is differentiated into multiple “selves.” Self and other [self] is the primal differentiation.

Though we soon learn that most things are inanimate, a child long regards them as animatable, to be played with, just not yet moving (i.e., needing personification).
All things are “meant” to be in one’s personable world, because everything evinces from primal personification.

Well, that’s a story I would extend in terms of a lot of others’ clinical research
on child development.

We learn the difference between alive and not alive, but such a difference—
(a) personified/personifiable vs. (b) non-personified—arises after the felt difference between self and other [self]. And even after that, non-personified things are regarded as personifiable: favorite toys, trees that are given eyes and arms in books— the world is as if all is cartooned in being full of personification. The real trees “respond” to the wind because they “feel” the spirit of the air because they move
“by themselves.” And so on.

Jump ahead some decades of a life (and more than a millennium of cultural evo-lution): Last week, a set of $3 million prizes were awarded to a group of pioneering scientists: the “Breakthrough Prizes.” It’s not the first year for that, but it’s recent. Previous prize winners choose the new year’s Breakthrough winners—leading scientific minds choosing leading scientific minds, cream drawing cream into an estate of leading scientific minds.

One awardee is a geneticist, Stephen Elledge (Harvard/Howard Hughes Medical Institute) who works in light of the fact that (he says, PBS News Hour, 12/7) “DNA has this incredible ability to sense its own integrity.” Hmmm.

One of the keynotes of immunology is that cells may have evolved to differentiate “self” from “non-self,” which causes either (a) an inter-cellular interface with another cell or (b) initiation of antigen production (or causing an existing antigen to activate). But Dr. Elledge is bringing that notion into the intra-cellular behavior of DNA itself. “It’s a molecule, but it knows when it’s damaged. And it has built a signaling apparatus that’s a little bit like sort of a radio station.”

Knowing and building: What is it for a molecule to know and to build? “It sends out signals when there’s a problem and calls in the troops and it organizes everything.” This is a research scientist in the leading-edge estate of molecular biology endeavoring to give a casual viewer a relevant sense of what inspires him. “So it’s really about communication inside the cell.”

What he’s actually alluding to, science itself calls “signal transduction,” which is
an inter-chemical reaction sequence which causes other molecules to be affected (then effected!). The actuality of information exchange is an analogical process
that models “communication” as radio frequency differences. The scientist reduces the notion of intentional communication to “infomatic” logics (bioinformatics is
a computational speciality in genetics), then maps analogs— conceptual models—
into biomolecular processes.

On the one hand, this is what science actually does: Science models and refines modeling, relative to predictive efficacy of measurement processes. But on the other hand, Dr. Elledge translates what’s going on relative to folk (or common person) cogency or normal cultural tropology, which is as much a part of science (education) as research itself. The researcher is normally in a Janus-faced place between model-theoretic conceptualization and cultural conceptuality or conceptual tropology.

Altogether, the social situation of research can be usefully modeled as a several-part creative continuum which doesn’t necessarily belong to one person (some genius), but to a collaborative team:

  • 1 | high capability to be fruitfully possessed by a body of incongruous research “wanting” for new coherence modeling;
  • 2 | high capability for formulating new insights;
  • 3 | originality of prospecting new conceptualization;
  • 4 | effective translation of conceptuality into broadly relevant communications (research publication); and
  • 5 | effective appropriaton of that for non-specialist audiences (e.g., teaching).

This five mode continuum is not extemporaneous. It’s a simplified rendering of well-established understanding of science in society, which also pertains to literary work—to humanities generally—as well as science. A creative continuum—an extended event of appropriation—belongs to sciences as much as to arts. I want to return to this later at length.

Dr. Elledge’s prize is not exactly about what I’ve rendered, which is his capsule account of what inspires him. His prize was for connections between his specific sleuthing of DNA dynamics and how DNA avoids—or fails to avoid—causing cancerous processes. DNA doesn’t “act” alone. Indeed, it’s part of a universe of intracelluar activity that DNA responds to, as well as causes, through RNA formation, ribosome formation, protein formation, etc. The entire video on the cellular universe that I linked to yesterday is stunning (to me—and famous in the molecular biology community, by the way). It’s no hyperbole to call intracellular life a universe. And the “intelligence” of it all—that is, the nearly-perfected efficiency of the sequential molecular processes, structural interactions, etc., each of which is a product of some part of the cell’s DNA molecule that generates various proteins in accord with a regulatory “algorithmicity” that is embedded in the DNA sequence—the “intel-ligence” of that is the result of an “infinite” bio-prospective recursiveness (generation after generation after generation of molecular reproductions) that began billions of years ago (being, therefore, as close to an infinite trace of recursiveness as can be, relative to the age of Earth). The yet-unknown “logic” of DNA generativity (now eonically differentiated by genotype, etc.) derives wholly from the equilibrations of inter-molecular fits and complex molecular fitness over approximately 8.0 x 1014 iterations (i.e., ~ 26,000 generations per year for 3 billion years). That evolved logic—that “eternity” of nature—is not just a species-specific generativity of every specific protein and combinatory process for every component of every cell of a specific phenotypic individual. The generative logic also expresses a regulatory genome (a meta-logic, so to speak) that times (tracks and controls) which processes happen when, which cellular environmental conditions trigger which new ribosomal productions, and so on. DNA is not just a template; it’s a temporally self-regulating “automaton” with amazing “environmental” (intra-cellular) flexibility of timing. It generates what’s intelligibly, to me, astounding (and also generated—over billions of years—our intelligibility that can be astounded).

“Like” a family tree—where the trunk is a given life and the roots extend back in time into the inestimable bushiness of uncountable generations (i.e., real evolutionary roots are bushier than tropal branches)—our intelligent life has no origin. It emerged from the horizon (from the self-differentiating cellularity that created the womb along with the embryo—from the hormonal heavens of the entire pregnancy, from the ecology of child development in a good family in a good region in a good era that draws individuation into its self-actualization like gravity draws the waters of a river. Life is drawn into its potential, not driven. Intelligent life emerges from self-favoring conditions that have no primal anticipation of itself, no intrinsic disposition to lead anywhere. Life makes itself as it goes along, and flexibly-intelligent life (not hard-wired insect intelligence, etc.) makes the way it goes along, in keeping with its capacity for self-actualization.

The fact that we are has emerged from the evolution of Earth itself. It’s no cliché to liken Earth to a womb. After all, trans-atmospheric space flight shows how all life happens between a relatively thin tissue of air, on a thin layer of rock, that is mostly
a big molton Thing. I’ve referred to the “intelligence of Earth” (earlier years), but
in a sense all life is one DNA-based organism in a thin-walled sphere, and one species of being became technological.

[Man, there’s so much molton rock that we should be able to generate electricity geothermally for eons. If we harvest rare metals from asteroids for rechargable fuel cells, we could become fossil fuel free before the middle of the century, along with fusion energy generation of electricity in a few decades, which will provide energy forever with simple hydrogen.]

We’ve evolved to be, among inestimable kinds of human lives, a species of leading estates, like the planetarily singular (ultimately speaking) scientific community, which gives specific sense to a singular (planetary) sense of evolving mind, but which no one group of minds articulates.

Evolving mind is prospected and historiographed, more comprehensively as the historiography reaches further back to comprehensively available information. But the generative efficacy of past communities of inquirers is not documented (just as the infant-to-adult individuation of a brain and ontogeny of mind is written nowhere but in the “textual” trace of massively interconnected cellularity sustaining immeasurable mental topologies which constitute representable states of attention).

The play of days and careers in the evolution of mentability and cultural mind is for-ever unarticulable. We write stories about what happened, which we do in light of ongoing interests in cohering our sense of comprehensiveness in evolving, but we’re more interested in prospecting where to go, like past inquirers prospected in going where they could. We make histories to serve our advance, like warranties attesting that we are supposed to be as we are. It’s always ultimately about where we’re going, what we can yet do.

So, back to the Breakthrough pack of leading minds who signal, through huge prizes, the virtue of (1) furthering our control of disease at the molecular level (part of taking control of our evolving); or—as it happens this year with Breakthrough Prizes—(2) instrumentation that detects gravity waves (requiring a 1000-person staff, thus $3 million split into a thousand pieces) for no other reason than to just know that the waves are there. And advances in string theory are prized for no reason other than to revel in the beauty of the mathematics (since string theory is, apparently, untestable in principle, given that its “phenomena” allegedly happen in dimensions outside of—”perpendicular” to—space-time). And (3) a mathematician gets the prize for a theorem that pertains to “the relationships in the superposition of waves,” i.e., meta-logic of light/radio signal waves. I wonder: Maybe we’ll find a “grammar” of chemical signaling that transposes into a mathematical grammar for exobiological communication across the galaxy.

When I began this improvised excursion, I titled it (provisionally) “pursuing the god of evolving DNA’s infinite self-perfecting,” recognizing the excessiveness of that, having fun. The idea was that the “intelligence” of cellular health emerges from Deep Time, and we are beings that personify reality in order to make it worlded (“finding” gods that mirror us), and worldness is to be full of intentionality, though not
(for post-theological minds) intrinsically (as the gods were always mirrorwindows).

Yet, our lives are intrinsically intentional because we mind. We care at heart
for what shows meaningfully, personally, which calls for imbuing nature with that which evinces our care. Intelligent life inhabits reality: doing niche construction, making a life, or, in our advent, designing futures. “The god” of self-perfecting might be, say, the endlessly aspiring, ultimately evolving, sensibility that is sure of better minds to be found in horizons and new generations?

In a wake, on waves of cultural evolving—in an echo of Time—the researcher,
the creator, the discursant, the teacher ventures and prospects, then leaps
into risking unprecendented conceptualization. S/he extensively grounds insights
for the sake of others, evinces new creativity from talented youth, and finally disappears from life—
like Heidegger’s stages in Contributions to Phlosophy: “Echo”—> “Playing Forth”—> “Leap”—> “Grounding”—> “Ones To Come”—>
“Last God.”


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  Be fair. © 2017, gary e. davis