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PERSPECTIVES IN BIOLOGY AND MEDICINE Volume IV - Number ? · Autumn i960 EDITORIAL: IN DEFENSE OF TELEOLOGY Nature has made nothing without reason.—Galen Teleology has been compared to a woman with whom you like to keep company but with whom you do not want to be seen on the street.1 This poor woman has been much maligned oflate, and perhaps this Victorian attitude needs re-examination. A dictionary can define teleology as "the beliefthat purpose and design are a part of, or are apparent in, nature."2 In metaphysics it is the concept that order in the universe implies an orderer and cannot be a natural feature ofthe universe. As applied to medicine —or, more specifically, medical research—teleology involves a "rational" explanation of phenomena based on evidences ofdesign or purpose. Although it has a bad name, teleologie thinking is a universal, everyday, indeed, essential component ofresearch. Whether we admit it or not, much ofthe scientist's urge to study a problem is an attempt to find a "rational" (understandable) explanation for an obscure phenomenon—the inexplicability of which arouses curiosity and produces a restlessfeeling offrustration. In fact, it may be argued that the observation ofpurposeless phenomena causes anxiety in the scientist, who then must find out why, because the absence ofdesign or purpose in nature is anathema to the scientific mind. Teleology serves, then, primarily as a guide to research. Whether conscious or unconscious , it sets up signposts in the blind wilderness of Facts. "It can givedirection to experimental design."5 The researcher is not merely interested in the effect ofA on B per se; he believes (or hopes) that A causes a such-and-such effect on B because it would fit in with his preconceived notion (hunch) that some causal relationship exists between these two. The dissatisfaction in finding no statistical or other relationship between A and B often leads to abandonment of the study—and no publication of the negative result. r D. Glick. In: Immunity and hypersensitivity relationship to disease in man (Report ofthe ninth M & R, Pediatric Research Conference). Columbus, Ohio: M & R Laboratories, 1955· 2 C. L. Basnhart (ed.), The American college dictionary. New York: Random House, Inc., 1958. 3 Glick. Op. cit. The very fact that negative results are reported much less frequently than they occur in the laboratory or clinic is an indication that the teleologie urge was not appeased by the data. It must be clearly understood that the teleologie approach has its dangers. If one is especially susceptible to the siren call of this designing enchantress, he is in danger of developing amblyopia ifnot internal cerebral scotomata. This may be manifest in "overlooking " such matters as an adequate control series, or dashing into print when the first few observations fit into the preconceived hoped-for explanations. The braver Ulysses uses such techniques as the "double-blind" test so that he may not hear the song ofthe maidens on the rock. That some research studies are biased because of strong teleologie leanings in those ofweak fiber, mentally and morally, does not negate the constructive effect ofteleologie direction to clinical research. On the other side ofthe coin is the "pure" collection ofdata which, unfortunately, is not rare among our scientists. Such "research" is sometimes the misdirected result of applied effort by younger clinicians who, becoming enamored ofan elaborate gadget or little-known technique, measure the serum rhubarb level in redheaded leukemics. As Claude Bernard put it: "A fact in itselfis nothing. It is valuable only for the idea attached to it, or for proofwhich it furnishes." It might be a salutary experience ifmedical editors required every manuscript to include a paragraph about why a particular investigation was carried out—the why being a definite evaluation ofthe significance oftheir possible observations made before the study. This could then be followed by die teleologie interpretation offindings. And more power to the idea that brings order out ofchaos! Let us recognize teleology for what it is—an intriguing, stimulating beacon in the darkness of our ignorance. Let us, however, be frank, unashamed, and honest about it, and clearly announce our honorable intentions. We can make "her" into a virtuous woman ifwe treat her with respect and...


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