Were all our journeys pre planned? Did we know about all our destinations beforehand? Is it possible to solve new problems independently of previously acquired knowledge? Yes, it is possible. This complex human ability, referred to as ‘fluid intelligence’, is considered one of the most important factors in learning. The proposition Mackenzie made more than two centuries ago was that “In order to make a perfect and beautiful machine, it is not requisite to know how to make it.” In other words, “Absolute ignorance is fully qualified to take the place of absolute wisdom in all of the achievements of creative skill.” Alan Turing believed that there is a relationship between a formal concept and intuition. He believed that it is not necessary to know how the machine carries out its actions. For Turing, machines are not physical objects but simple “abstract computational devices intended to help investigate the extent and limitations of what can be computed.” Turing’s design space foresaw a traversable path from absolute ignorance to artificial intelligence.
We emerged from a ‘chemical soup’; a ‘chemical soup’ that formed complex molecules, some of these became catalysts for a variety of chemical reactions. Gradually (in billions of years), structure evolved, and from them, the first cell emerged. The first cell did not know what to do next. In spite of that, it went ahead, made mistakes, and produced another cell. The subsequent cells also made mistakes, learnt from the mistakes of others, learnt to compete and cooperate with each other. The vast knowledge thus accumulated, gave birth to versatility. If the first cell knew what was in store for it, and the way to reach there, it would not have made mistakes. Without mistakes (mutations), evolution would not have been possible. And if there was no evolution, we wouldn’t be where we are.
We do many things without consciously knowing why we did it. Evolutionary psychology refers to mother-child conflict in the womb. The conflict is due to the fact that mother is not prepared to give what the child needs, write Paul Bateson and Paul Martin in Design for a Life. At the same time, the child wants to maximise its chance of survival. The mother doesn’t want to give everything to the child, because she wants to keep something for the yet-to-be-produced future offspring. The beauty of this conflict is that both mother and child are not aware of it. Since they are not aware of it, the conflict is so amicably resolved.
Often we feel good doing “purposeless” things. Many times we feel bored in spite of doing “purposeful” things. The irony of life is that phrases such as “Just enough has its own pleasures” or, “To link is beautiful, to delink is sublime” — are easy to say, but difficult to follow. We have diverse purposes to live for. For some, ‘no-purpose’ is the purpose. Evolution may perhaps have no foresight, but it happens. Perhaps evolution had no purpose to begin with, but as it progressed, its purpose emerged. Unless purpose sees the driving force of possibilities, how can it emerge?
Purpose increases complexity. It makes us more flexible and more emotional. As a result of purpose, our capacity to know and gauge evolves. We become more self-aware. We become cooperative as well as competitive. We develop a sense of novelty. We learn the art of exploiting others, and at the same time learn the ways to avoid being exploited by others. We learn the ways of predators, parasites and pathogens.