Essay on Non-teleological Thinking
by
Edward Flanders Robb Ricketts
1941


1938 Photo of Ed Ricketts

Compiled by
Robert 'Roy' J. van de Hoek
Field Biologist & Geographer
Sierra Club, Wetlands Action Network, National Audubon Society


Exact Words From Ed Ricketts' Essay:
During the '31 depression, we lived close to a destitute and rather thriftless famiily. My wife used to remark that they looked to the county authorities for support because they were shiftless and negligent; that "if they'd perk up and be somebody, they'd be alright." Her viewpoint was undoubtedly correct enough so far as it went. But I used to wonder what would happen, assuming that people of this sort could and would change their habits, to those with whom they would exchange in the large patter, - those whose jobs would be usurped , since at that time there was work for, say, only 70% of the total population, leaving the remainder as government wards.

My attitude had no bearing on what might be, or was to be in the future, or could be if so-and-so came about; it merely considered conditions "as is." No matter what the situation might be with regard to the ability or aggressiveness of the separate units, at that time . . .[to be compiled fully at a later time].

I
So, if I am very aggressive, I should be able to obtain a position even under th most depressed economic conditions, but only because there are others, less aggressive than I, who serve in my stead as potential government wards. In the same way, the sight of a half-wit need never depress me, since his extreme, and the extreme of his kind, so effects the mean standard of sanity that I, hatless, coatless, often bewhiskered, thereby will be regarded only as a little odd. And similarly, I cannot enthuse over the success manuals that tell our high school graduates how to obtain employment, there being jobs for only half of them!

This type of thinking unfortunately annoys many people; it may especially arouse the anger of women, who regard it as cold, even brutal, although actually it would seem to be more tender and understanding, and certainly less blaming, than the more conventional methods of consideration. And the value of it as a tool in increased understanding cannot be denied.

As a more extreme example, consider the sea-hare, Tethys, a shell-less flabby sea slug or snail, faintly resembling a rabbit crouched over, which may be seen crawling about occasionally in tidal estuaries. A California biologist [George MacGinitie] determined that more than 478 million living eggs may be produced by a single animal in a single breeding season; and the adults may occur by the hundred! Obviously, all these eggs cannot mature, all this potential cannot become reality, else the ocean would soon be occupied exclusively by sea hares. In a few generations, they would overflow the earth; there would be nothing for the rest of us eat; and nothing for them unless they turned cannibal. On th average, probably no more than th Biblical one or two can attain full maturity. Somewhere along the way, all the rest will have been eaten by predators whose life cycle is postulated upon the presence of abundant larva of sea hares and other forms as food. Now, picture the combination mother-father hare (the animals are hermaphroditic, with the usual cross fertilization) parentally blessing its offspring with these words: "Work hard and be aggressiv, so you can grow in a nice husky Tethys like your ten-pound parent." Imagine it, the hypocrite, the Pollyana, the genial liar, saying that, en masse, to its millions of eggs, with the dice loaded at such a ratio! 99.999% are destined inevitably to fall by the wayside. Any given individual has almost no chances at all. Never-the-less, the race survives, and there is a semblance of truth in the parent sea hare's advic, since even here, with this almost infinitesimal percentag, the race is still to the swift and/or the lucky. [to be compiled completely in the future as time and money allow].

An interesting parallel to these two types of thinkin is afforded by the microcosm with its freedom or indeterminancy, as contrasted to the morphologically inviolable pattern of the macrocosm. Statistically, the electron is free to go where it will. But the destiny pattern of any aggregate, comprising uncountable billions of these same units (as for example, the eventual disintegration of a stick of wood or a piece of iron, through the departure of the comparatively immortal electrons), is fixed and certain, however much that inevitability may be delayed by much deferring of the operation of the second law of thermodynamics as is conferred by painting and rust-proofing.

II
Examples sometimes clarify an issue better than explanations or definitions. Here are three situations considered contrastedly by the two methods.
a. Why are some men taller than others?
Teleological "answer": because of the under-functioning of the growth-regulating ductless gland.[to be compiled completely in the future as time and money allow].

a. Why are some matches larger than others?
Examine similarly a group of matches. At first, they seem all to be of the same size.........

III
As a matter of fact, there are three distinct types of thinking, two of them teleological. Physical teleology, the type we have been considering, is by far the commonest today. Spiritual teleology is rare. Formerly predominant, now it occurs metaphysically, and most religions especially as they are popularly understood, but not, I suspect, as they were originally enunciated or as they are still known byt the truly adept. Occasionally, the three types may be contrasted by a single problem. Here are a couple of examples. [to be compiled completely in the future as time and money allow].

V
The criterion of validity in the handling of data seems to me to be this: that the summary shall say significantly and understandingly, in substance "It's so because it's so." Unfortunately, .............

And the non-causal or non-blaming viewpoint seems to me to represent very often relatively the "new thing," the Hegelian "Christ-child" which arises emergently from the union of two opposing viewpoints, such as those of physical and spiritual teleologies, especially .....................

VI
The factors we have been considering as "answers" seem to me to be merely symbols or indices, relational aspects of things or of a thing (of which they are integral parts), not..............

A thing may be so "because" of a thousand and one reasons of greater or lessor importance, such as the man oversized because of glandular insufficiency.

The whole is necessarily everything, the whole world of fact and fancy, body and psyche, physical fact and spiritual truth, individual and collective, life and death, macrocosm and microcosm (the greatest quanta here, the greatest synapse between these two), conscious and unconscious, subject and object. The whole picture is portrayed by is, the deepest word of deep ultimate reality, not shallow or partial as reasons are, but deeper and participating, possibly encompassing the oriental concept of "being.



Concluding Remarks
by
Robert 'Roy' Jan van de Hoek
A succinct quotation by Joel Hedgpeth, a distinguished marine biologist and historian of marine biology, regarding Edward Ricketts' Essay is all I have time to put down on the internet paper at this time due to time and money constraints. Joel Hedgpeth wrote: "This version of 'Non-teleological Thinking' was prepared for Steinbeck as he was writing up the trip, and forms a substantial part of pages 132-150 of Sea of Cortez." The entire essay is scribed by Joel Hedgpeth in a book that he edited which is entitled: The Outer Shores."