(HAVING FUN with METAPHYSICS! Getting really deep, and it works,, and its not too painful either! —Only about a dozen paragraphs and great images!—.Thinking about Persons [and Eyes and Cucumbers!] from “the inside” as Designs in “The World”. This is The Way We Normally Do It and it is worth preserving! TAKING a BIG STRETCH, here in Part IV at The NatureReligionConnection!)
Persons in Our Ordinary View of Things
Our sense of Design culminates in our thinking about ourselves as “Persons.” As persons we design and fabricate objects of value but we are also makers of ourselves and our communities, we have argued. In this way we gain an understanding of Design from “the inside.” We understand Design as the rules for a structure, or the principles of an orderly cycle of events—including our own lives. From this “inside” perspective, we hold ourselves to be more than just animals or objects, we now have a unique social, moral and political status. We are “One of Us”—“Persons”—and have certain Communication and Response-Abilities to this larger–“Us”– unit.
“Our World” is full of various degrees of “personality”, of various design sophistications. From its dim suggestion in the cycles of the inanimate world, to microbial creatures, to plants, to simpler animals, to highly skilled robots and computers, to non-human mammals, to children, to responsible adults, we “see” a growing progression that Reflect our sense of ourselves and our possibilities as Designs and self-designers. It is an accumulation of Personality.
It is no coincidence that when we think, we often say, “Let me reflect upon that” or refer to thinking as “reflection”. “Thoughtfulness” is an openness to Our Information and our Extended Patterns—- those cycles and designs we have been discussing. We allow them to reach us In Representation and be considered.
This is Not an unusual observation; it is a narrative we find in our Most Common Understanding of things. It is our “manifest image”, as Dennett* calls it following philosopher Wilford Sellers. It is a kind of psychological theory embedded in our everyday world view.
(Reflecting on Selves: Unusual Variations of “Persons”; all somewhat truncated versions thereof. First, a Bowerbird, the creator of amazing nests. Second, Some People Just Love to Show Off! An antelope “stotting” which is thought to be a display behavior advertising that animal’s fitness. Photo 3: Looking a scallop in the face! “The eyes are the window to the soul” said Bill Shakespeare, and scallop have dozens of eyes! Finally, this small furry creature is the American Marten, formerly trapped to turn it into mittens! How could they do that to this Cute little Fellow or Gal!)
In this “folk psychology”, we understand the special status of persons; and we can feel for animals, as if, little or hairy or feathery or other unusual variations of persons, of “us”. We might even wonder if plants have feelings, like some minute Personhood. Pets become dearly-held family members, often; but also, in this “manifest” (or clearly evident and common) view of things, we tend to recognize that these animals, plants and pets do not quite make it. They are persons manqué, not full blown.
(THE SEEDS OF “PERSONALITY” in the world around us. We name our hurricanes, above is Dorian from 2019. After all they do have “an Eye” and they grow by feeding off their environment, move, and then die out. And, Single-celled animals are attracted to food and repelled by much that is harmful. The one above drives itself forward through the use of its flagellum. I’m sure it has a busy day ahead for its-self, and Dennett argues it exhibits “competence without comprehension”. It does not understand what it does, but what it does it does pretty well. “What is It Like to be a Bat?“ [Look into this Face! Yikes!] A famous modern paper in philosophy by that title by an opponent of Dennett, who argues that greater complexity in design is not enough to explain Consciousness. It is a different kind of thing, he contends; it is like some special ‘spark’ or “a ghost in the machine”, a kind of mystery that is beyond much explanation but only privately experienced.)
(GRADUALLY DEVELOPING “PERSONALITY”: A Mars Rover–but not the newest one!–[top right] needed to be largely autonomous in its decision-making. Too far from Earth to be guided from there [radio signals taking from 8 to 40 minutes travel time], the Rover was programmed and designed to accomplish various tasks [who isn’t] with immediate and particular decisions made through “autonomy software” using observations from its sensors. “Mama’s Last Hug” [left], biology Prof. van Hoof visits Mama, the now aging and dying chimp he had worked with in the early 1970s. Upon a closer look, Mama exhibited obvious excitement and emotion, eventually reaching forth and patting the head of her old friend. [Bottom right)Young Children are a developing Person. They search for autonomy, but need much guidance, unlike The Rover..)
Persons in The World, and Designs Stretching Far Beyond
So, the creative efforts of Design in the universe stretch far beyond humans. We are indebted to it! Cumulatively, these Designs have achieved much success. Most humans now live in a highly “artificial environment”. We call it “civilization”, says Dennett, and it is “an artifact”, a product and an accumulation of our laws, traditions, and material products. Nonetheless, civilization is “perfectly real“, he contends, and it is ‘out there’ around us. It is a set of patterns as objective as those of physics, just more dependent on us!
(CIVILIZATION IS PATTERNS AS REAL AS ANY IN THE UNIVERSE, BUT ALSO DEPENDENT ON HUMANS. Music written as a score shows its obvious character as a pattern. Money has allowed economic activity to attain new levels of sophistication and abstraction. The patterns of Written language — Coca Cola written in Chinese [top middle], Hebrew [middle row, left], Korean [middle, right], Somalian [bottom row, middle]. Finally, The Pyramids at Giza are humanly associated patterns with a real objective durability!)
We now have “writing, arithmetic, money, clocks, and calendars”, each is a “system of representation” that is so closely associated with That For Which They Are To Represent, that the two are indistinguishable. What is the multiplicity of things, without Arithmetic –1,2,3,4 and 2+2=4? Can we really distinguish our thoughts from the Language we use to express them? When you are thinking, aren’t you mostly talking to yourself? What is Time without clocks and calendars, and even the orbiting of the earth? What is Time in-itself?** Humans involved in economic activity naturally evolved Money as a “representation” of that activity; just as human vocal sounds were eventually represented (as phonemes and in alphabets) in our different languages. “Representation” is itself a form of Design. It is Patterns that ‘speak’ to us. Personhood is a form of Self-Representation, a person’s story is a self-presentation among the stories of many others.
In this section, I try to express a difficult idea. “The world” and “our representations of it” are too closely tied to be separated. This idea can be stated somewhat paradoxically as all we have are representations. Our complex representations of science or the fine arts are themselves representations of common sense, which is itself composed of representations. Never do we “escape” our own representational faculties to confront naked nature, or reality “in-itself.” Why should we want to?
A more commonly accepted approach is to contend that “representation” is itself a natural process. This view pictures atoms and chemicals and forces directly pushing into our brains with an outcome being The Mona Lisa, or The Beatles’ Come Together, or even just any and every simple sentence we speak. The big problem here is no room is left for any human autonomy, or human creativity. This problem multiplies into issues like, what could it possibly mean “to make a mistake,” for example? If nature just pushes itself straight through us, how does it matter—“Right or Wrong,” “True or False,” “Good or Bad?” All simply is what it is.
This is a difficult idea to express, and Our Modern World has worked itself ‘into a pickle’. In our thinking we have split Reality into Two Big Pieces. “Objective Reality“, we tend to think confusedly, is that which is unaffected by us, independent, highly predictable and ‘The Really Real’. Subjectivity: we are not very sure what this is; some think it is like ‘soul’, very mysterious and inexplicable; others believe it must be some side-show or illusion (epiphenomena) created by the Brain.
(“How cam’st thou in this pickle?”‘ a line from The Tempest , the first recorded use of that phrase and once again nailed by Bill Shakespeare! The Cucumber is an ancient vegetable (no, a fruit!) with evidence of it found in Mesopotamia circa 2400 B.C.E. And Pickling was apparently around from near the start, though some claim it was discovered by the workers who were building The Great Wall of China. Pickling is a form of fermentation which is any “action of microorganisms that brings about a desirable change in a food or beverage.” (Wikipedia) This micro-org lives naturally on the skin of ‘cukes’ and is activated by the water or vinegar of the Brine and Time. Above: Cukes in brine with spices [left]. Salt makes a sour pickle, sugar a sweet one. [Second left] Cucumber from around the world. [Third left] The Wild Cucumber Vine of North America (echinocystis lobata), cukes have been breed from early on to eliminate their natural bitterness and improve their performance as Picklers. [Right] The Cucurbitaceae family is large and its varieties and characteristics growing, includes cucumber, gourd, pumpkin, water melon… Nature or Nurture: between breeding and pickling, where does the The Real Cucumber lay?)
But from the perspective of Design, our habit of thought and action that we call “Personality” unites the two poles. Subjectivity is an understanding of a Design from “the inside”, with its goals, purposes, and rules of operation. Subjectivity is about the Making of designs, and the Initiation of design modifications.
Objectivity is a Design from “the outside”. It is “given” to us, unanalyzed; taken for granted and ‘understood’ only in its common coordination with our environment. We do not understand, or are not concerned with, its inner workings beyond its parts and their rules of coordination as Person-like desires and motivations. The storm looks “angry” we can say, or my computer is being “stubborn,” we anthropomorphize. And many things we only understand by their Function and the “controls” of those functional designs. This too is an anthropomorphism from the point of view of a physicist.
When we understand an object beyond its anthropomorphism, its ”Personality” has been dissolved –it now has no motivations or feelings; it is now merely an object in an objective background and we speak of it with this new vocabulary. No longer like a person, its “inside” has been diminished; it lacks significant degrees of autonomy and creativity, including any making of decisions.
How Persons Should Treat Other Persons
“Subjectivity” is, also, the form Persons should most often use when dealing with each other. This, too, is regarding Design from “the inside.” It is that special moral and political status, a kind of Psychological Theory, embedded in our most common way of perceiving ourselves and our world. In Our Manifest Image, Persons are Subjects and not merely objects.
This is A Tradition. It is a way of Making Persons and it is a new level ontological complexity. It will remain True as long as it composes the vast majority of human interactions. Morality is our Self-Reflection upon this dual character of persons as both subjects and objects, and its pertinence to different situations. So, in our tradition of The Manifest Image, we learn to experience Design from the inside and the out, Reflecting on all the Design in us and around us.
(This post went through many revisions. It is highly speculative, an analysis and clarification of The Way We Tend To Think of Ourselves and Our Fellow Living Creatures as Part of This Universe of Massive Forces and Laws. In Part V, Persons, as complex Designs and Designers, will be sucked back into the Evolutionary Process of “Design With No Designer!”)
(P.S. WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A BAT? Not much, would be my guess! It does have some kind of momentary experience but the experiences do not accumulate for it or for the other bats around it. They have no culture nor a personal story to tell. An experience is there and then it is gone. I can identify with that!)