“Aren’t philosophers just a bunch of old white men,” said my sister, picking up on a comment that I had once made. I had said there are not many women philosophers, nor black philosophers (Cornel West at Harvard an exception). I had suggested that philosophy seems an old and musty profession, and some people do ask, “what is there to its credit?” This is Not an uncommon criticism. Many scientifically inclined persons question the “cred” of philosophers; what is their basis for commenting on or questioning the beliefs of scientists? On another site, it was suggested that anyone majoring in Philosophy should be required to take a significant number of science courses as prerequisite, thus getting their head straight.
So, what have philosophers accomplished? What is the basis of this discipline in the past and today? WHAT DO philosopher’s KNOW, and HOW DO THEY THINK THEY KNOW IT, or ANYTHING?
Philosophy is an ancient tradition. Alfred North Whitehead, a noted mathematician and philosopher from the early 20th century, contended that “All philosophy is but a footnote to Plato” (and how can you doubt any Englishman with a name dripping with such sophistication?). Plato lived around 550 B.C.E., long before Experimental Science and Whitehead contends there were certain conundrums discovered of a logical or conceptual sort. Whatever that may mean?
Well, let us consider Zeno of Elea. He is reported by Plato to have visited Athens sometime around 450 B.C.E arguing for a series of paradoxes, “Zeno’s Paradoxes,” recounted by Aristotle. In one, Achilles races a tortoise and agrees to give it a head start, his problem is that whenever Achilles gets to where the tortoise once was, the tortoise has gone further. Therefore, Achilles never catches the tortoise.
Funny, how words and settings can play tricks on us. Zeno was a follower of Parmenides, each apparently were roughly contemporary to Plato but preceded him in that Greek Tradition. Parmenides argued that all movement was illusory –as suggested by “The Arrow”– but also that all Plurality is illusory. All things really had to be just parts of one bigger thing. “All is one,” we have learned to say. And “Let The Force be with you!”
There is an almost obvious intuitive attraction to some of these contentions, and this tradition of the presentation of Paradoxical Situations continues today. In fact it has ‘picked up steam’ in contemporary philosophy with the popularity of “thought experiments” or “intuition pumps,” stories or scenarios designed by philosophers to challenge our intellectual complacencies, our primary and unquestioned assumptions.
One of the most famous “pumps” was formulated by Australian philosopher Frank Johnson in the early 1980s. It is called “Mary’s Room” and the following is my version. An ingenious scientist –Mary– has become caught up in her own experiment. You see, she is a scientist studying color, but she has been kept in a room all her life, a room that lacks color. All her room has –all her life has ever had– is various shades of white, gray, black, with intensities and hues of these varying approximately in line with normal color distinctions. I am not sure how she eats, but somehow her vegetables , for example, come to her not in beautiful greens, yellows or reds. but simply various finely distinguished grey’s.
Well, while in this room, Mary learns all there is to know about Color. Its electromagnetic frequencies; its neural states; its formative blends –‘yellow’ and ‘red’ make ‘orange’– but she has not experienced any of these colors directly. She knows that fire trucks are red, though she has never seen a real one. The dilemma occurs when –one day– Mary is let out to see the light of day! Does she Learn anything new about color?
I will not go into my interpretation of the meaning of this “experiment.” Frankly. my interpretation tends to shift around, but basically it has to do with two Big Ideas that tend to organize a lot of our basic abstract thinking/interpretation. Those ideas are “to know” and “to experience.” Is to experience something, to know it? Perhaps counter-intuitively, I believe “No, the two are importantly different; it is possible (in kind of an awkward sense) for two people ‘to experience the same thing, but know very different things about it!’ So, I say, Mary learned nothing new about color though she did now have the experience of it.
But that statement just ‘opens up a can of worms,’ so to speak, and that seems to be the whole point of Zeno’s paradoxes or modern “intuition pumps’ –to get the argument going. Philosophy, in general, has been a more or less standard collection of puzzles revolving around some very common, but still puzzling, ideas like “life and death,” “matter and mind,” “true and false,” “god or no god or many gods,” “right and wrong,” “one big thing or many smaller ones,” and many, many more such variants. The point then seems, in my opinion, ‘to get all your ducks in a row;’ to have a consistent explanation of how there is no god, or how some things are “alive” and others “lifeless.”
Philosophy is a lot about having a big and consistent view of the many parts of our life and our world, and to be able to defend it with good reasons. One of the best definitions of it was by the recent but now deceased big thinker, Wilfred Sellars. He contended that philosophy is about “How things in the broadest sense hang together in the broadest sense.” Recently an admirer of Sellars, Dan Dennett, contend that the philosopher’s job is to explain how the many, many things we do –“in practice”–everyday, are theoretically –“in principle”– possible. How all that we accomplish or think we do, how much of that can be fit into a consistent picture. Now that sounds a little backwards to some (everything should be interpreted in light of our knowledge of God or of Physics, they believe) but much of our thinking these days about ourselves is a bit of a jumble, at least many philosophers do believe.
One last point should be added. A philosopher is also someone who has some knowledge of this tradition of puzzles, of the history of philosophy. And for the above definition of philosophy, as a big, broad vision of many things, a lot of philosophers have a wide range of knowledge or at least familiarity with many topics.
Some Examples of Philosophers and Accomplishments by them
(Coming soon, Philosophers in Mathematics and Politics. What are philosophers? Some additional ideas.)
(It’s Daffodil time in Central Ohio. Lovely to get a lot of sun so early, and get back into The Garden! The plants are responding beautifully. We needed this break in this difficult year. This is a revised post from one year prior; a post from near the beginning of this outburst of viral natural variation. May we soon see the end of it, but recognize our dependence on Things Larger Than Ourselves and our need to Take Care! )
In glorious disregard to the Corona Virus, the Daffodils are in bloom in Central Ohio! An excellent example of how each Design in Nature is oblivious to some things, but very much concerned with others. The daffodils feel the warmth, the moisture. It’s their time. They spring forth and lighten our lives, and their own for a glorious week or two. I mean, It’s Glorious, and Wordsworth liked them, too (1815).
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (1815)
I wandered lonely as a cloudThat floats on high o'er vales and hills,When all at once I saw a crowd,A host, of golden daffodils;Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Least I give you the wrong impression, The Virus is fading here in Ohio. We are experiencing about 1500 new cases a day and it has leveled at that point after consistently dropping for several months. Even better news is that hospitalizations continue to decline, possibly reflecting the increased vaccination of the most vulnerable. Our vaccination campaign seems to be going well and gaining speed. Teachers are vaccinated, my wife and I are, and so are many others. Many schools have just, or soon will, return to all in full time. (That will be interesting.)
And, Spring has come early.Returning to The Garden has been a joy, though the initial work there is rather grueling. What is it about me? I actually like crawling around on my hands and knees clearing out the old insulating mulch and revealing the fresh crop of spring babies. With my face in the dirt, I’m sure they feel my love! Ouch, did I just write that?
More of Wordsworth, ‘Dancing with Daffodils….’
Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced;but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed—and gazed—but little thought What wealth the show to me had brought.
Harnessing the Power of Chemicals to Serve the Purposes of Plant Design
But how is it, exactly, that the Dafs and other flowers know when to come up and when to bloom? Temperature, moisture, maturity of the plant, and light all play a part. The role played by light is important. Plants contain a protean called Phytochrome which has two states: P(red) and P(far red). Phytochrome is a photoreceptor and when days become longer and nights shorter, the red wave frequencies of light (660 to 730 nanometers) are absorbed more and more rapidly by the phytochrome which changes to a greater proportion of P(f-r). This signals the plant to new growth and new stages of growth, such as flowering. Some plants are short day plants, like the Daf and only need a small shift toward P(f-r) to get them flowering, and so bloom in the spring. Others are long day plants and need much more P(f-r) and for longer periods to develop maturity and then flower, like the Zinnia which is a late summer season bloomer. In the fall, with the shortening of the day, the portion of P(r) increases and the plant prepares for hibernation or the end of its cycle (death).
Butbefore the sun has a direct affect on plant growth it has an indirect affect through Temperature. Hormones in plants are temperature sensitive, particularly the auxins. Bulbus flowers such as the daffodil thrive in a warm-cold-warm cycle. During the cold, winter section of this cycle, the plant loses its resistance to the influence of auxin. Auxin has a growth inhibiting influence and by Spring, the bulb is ready to go. Growth occurs in the form of “an apical shoot”—apical, meaning apex—or a single growth upward from the bulb. At the crown of this shoot is the flower head which produces this growth inhibiting auxin that, at this point, radiates down the shoot preventing lateral growth as side shoots. Up the bulb pushes in the form of this initial stem until it breaks the surface of the soil and becomes available to the more direct influence of sun light.
Back to Bill Wordsworth…
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
Yes, “vacant and pensive moods” is what we have these days! But the Dafs, the Hyacinth, the Forsythia and the little baby Columbine are here to help. All in Glorious Disregard to that Virus!
A little controversy has been stirred up by a N.Y. Times columnistthat I have long followed — David Brooks. I tend to like this guy; he is Big Hearted in spite of being a Conservative, of sorts. He is all about ‘restoring relationship’ and ‘mending the social fabric,’ my paraphrases of his positions. He tends to think that in the past (somewhere and some time) ‘we connected’ with each other and ‘nature’ better than we do now. We have “broken communities”, now; he has written.
That’s cool and suggestive; and he tends to take a psychological approach to such matters, where I a philosophical approach. He ends his recent and controversial article by writing, “On the other side of justice, we reach the beloved community and multiethnic family of humankind. This vision has a destination, and thus walks not in bitterness but in hope.”
But in this recent article (link above), he falls back on his religious belief, obviously. I knew he was Christian, that was evident at points in his columns. But it seemed a more generous and newer sort of spiritual nature, as if you could see him really getting into “Jesus Christ, Superstar.” Its a Left Wing Christianity, if you will, and this article was motivated by his interview with Esau McCaulley, a Professor of The New Testament (?) at Wheaton College and a member of The Times editorial staff (pictured above).
The article is pretty sappy with very religious language such as, “There is a relentless effort to rebuild relationship because God is relentless in pursuit of us“(my emphasis). But it made several interesting points, I believe; and this in contrast to much of the ire it aroused. In The Times (online), it received nearly 900 comments along with reactions from other media sources such as Professor J. Coyne (biology!) on his blog site.
Coyne called it another case of “religion coddling” by The Times, and as one of America’s most outspoken atheists, he had little to say for it except, of course, he too wants social justice. Other comments equally derided its religious stance as vacuous. A commentator from Shaker Heights, Ohio (up north by Cleveland), one Alexander Kelly, pounded home the frequently heard contention that the universe is without meaning; “no grand plan” exists for it. “It is absurd.” It contains “no teleology” and that is, in fact, liberating because it allows us each “to make our own meanings” for it! (Now that is a jumble of confusions as profound as any religious view, as I soon will soon demonstrate.)
My post will take a middle ground. No remotely literal interpretation of the Divinity of Jesus, or anyone or anything else, is acceptable in this day and age. Yet, religion and spirituality of many forms still exist and have done so since the beginning of The Evolution of Human Culture. Religion is not simply stupidity and fraud. To make sense of our world in a way that has the greatest benefit now and in the future, Religion should be understood as a “Natural Phenomena” (see Dan Dennett’s, Breaking The Spell). Religion arose naturally and functioned in some ways to our benefit.
Religion, in the guise of “folk religion”, was a harbor for ritual and story-telling.; an accomplice in the formation of the original self-conscious human groups and in the basic discovery (or invention) of language and custom. I will go no further in telling this general story here, but will return shortly to some of the ideas I found interesting in Brooks.
Hey, It’s All Meaningless
But first allow me to return to some of the criticisms of religion and specifically that old bugbear “the universe is meaningless!” Of course, when people say this, they do not literally mean it. In their lives, and here on Earth, they find many things highly meaningful! Our above commentator cried, “all is absurd”, “there is no teleology”; yet, his very comments had meaning and the very statement he wrote had a purpose to serve and a goal to achieve: a Teleology. I assume he felt his statement was also successful in that, and therefore we can add, I believe, thatValue exists along with Meaning in this not so absurd universe, after all.
What people mean when they say “there is no meaning”, is they have an Abstract Picture of Things in their Mind: long ago No Thing In The Universe found its situation meaningful. Well, of course, we would agree, and our commentator describes this situation long ago as ‘just billions of subatomic particles’ smashing and melding around into each other.
My point is twofold. First, this very Picture of Things is itself meaningful but for something that is, as if, sitting outside it, and viewing it from afar. Maybe nothing inside the picture experiences meaning (not those atoms, for sure), but we do and our commentator does. He finds this picture very significant, very meaningful, but from afar. As if he were God, looking down on It All, and All of it At Once. Or as if he were the Ideal Super Physicist,him or herself with total physical knowledge of All and of All At Once. So, for even this perspective, Meaning does exists, just not for any Real Thing In The Picture, only for some idealized thing and from outside that picture of everything as nothing but atoms and chemistry. This Picture of Things does Not succeed in getting rid of meaning. Meaning is real, but this Picture just puts it in a very awkward position.
Second, our commentator does not believe that Real Things can eventually develop, or occur only sometimes and only in some places. To be Real is to be Universally Present in All Places and at All Times, he believes! I do not know who made this rule (actually it was some faction in ancient Greek philosophy), but many believers in the Oppressive Significance of physics and chemistry take it as Gospel today. So, The Universe is absurd on these grounds, they believe; because meaning was not in it at the start, or in it everywhere. This is not a very useful, beneficial or coherent picture of ourselves and our situation especially to carry into the future. New Things can happen, including Meaning and Life and Language and other more complex realities. And New Things will continue to happen, maybe even some really good ones.
“Sin” is something Wrong that is more than just “a Problem”
Brooks and McCaulley advocate the use of the idea of “sin” to understand and heal some of our most profound social and personal ills. Many commentators were repulsed by this suggestion, but here is the sense I make of it. Killing someone in a fit of anger because of an act committed by them that offended you, is not a good thing. But it is not at the same ‘level’ as the almost arbitrary acts of mass murder that we now frequently face. Telling a lie occasionally is not a great thing to do, but lying all the time and doing so as The President of the U.S. and thus contributing to a massive and growing divide and distrust within the nation, is at a new level of malfeasance. And it is not simply a matter of size, number or frequency of these wrongs.
It is about gravity. There are some acts that shake, or strike at, the foundations of our human solidarity. They endanger the togetherness that functions to make us persons and componentsin larger-scale, language-using, highly interconnected society. These are “sins” because this fundamental violation strikes at the roots of our way of life. If these acts became more prevalent culture would crumble and we, we all, would return to nature as only animals (not the Culture possessing animals we are now.) That would be a loss of level, a decline in complexity.
The further value of this concept of “sin” (or of something similar; the young Karl Marx wrote of “Alienation” from our “true being”) is that in response to sin, “forgiveness” is most appropriate and effective, says Christianity according to McCaulley and Brooks. Recriminations, retribution and punishment are not what is ultimately sought, but Healing, Re-unification, and Conversion are. The sinner will accept their error and return ‘to the fold’ , so to speak.
Interestingly, in contemporary philosophy there are some similar contentions based on the analysis of modern Moral Language and in Ethics. Here, the point of punishment and recrimination is not merely retribution but the reformation of the perpetrator and their recognition of their former waywardness. As if a person in a state of hysteria is then slapped in the face, regains their composure, and then says “Thanks, I needed that.”
(Lot and his wife fleeing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, painting by John Martin 1852 [left]. A different “Don’t Look Back!” command [right], but this time given by Hades to Orpheus: ‘If you look back, Eurydice will be condemned to the underworld forever.’ Well, Orpheis did look back but Hades still let Eurydice out every spring and summer. I guess Hades is a softer touch than Yahweh, as far as gods go. Painting by Edward Poynter, Orpheus and Eurydice, 1862.)
Brooks and McCaulley contend that the Life of Jesus is exemplar of this forgiveness, modesty, love. After all, remember that McCaulley is professor of The New Testament, not the Old(where sin is dealt with very harshly by Yahweh). This is “the ethic of self-emptying love—neither revile the reviler nor allow him to stay in his sin,” Brooks writes laying it on very thick. Forgiveness and conversion avoid social justice becoming “as if group-versus-group power struggles are an eternal fact of human existence… (and) we all have to armor up for an endless war.”
But It Is Not God’s Love!
I do like that. Let us avoid a war of group against group fighting for priveleges and for the scraps of production, especially if that is to occur in the name of “Social Justice”. I, also, agree there is something ‘deep’ that tends to hold persons to persons; that is an obligation or a need not easily denied; that is a kind of ‘hidden connection’ yet maybe right before our eyes. But, that Reality is more a sociological, psychological and philosophical Truth, than a theological one. And to miss it, or violate it, is more than just your average mistake, more than to simply mess up: It is kind of “sinful”. It is a real basic violation of yourself and others.
Two of the earliest depictions of Jesus in existence.
(Known as “Bust of Jesus”, left, a mural on the wall of the catacomb Commodilla in Rome, painted in the late 300s. Right, painted on a wooden board around 600 C.E., “Christ Pantocrator”. Pantocrator is Greek, meaning “He who has authority over everything.” This painting is preserved in a monetary in Egypt, one of the oldest monasteries in the world. Both show Jesus with a beard, and this portrayal is thought to be a successor of the earliest versions that portrayed Jesus younger, beardless and with short tunic –more in the Roman style, and somewhat like an Orpheus figure as pictured earlier in post– for which there are few examples.)
(The work goes on here at The Connection. We are definitely trying to ‘frame some fearful symmetry’ with the completion of this Chapter. It kind of reads like a poem. The goal is to Accept the Concept of “A Person” and analyze the Kind of World it must have arisen in, and still have, to Exist! Think about it, A Person is not only a strange kind of object, but also a strange kind of animal and even a particular kind of Human Being. What is a “full-blown” Person? It is a peculiar kind of Design!)
(The Tree of Life has been variously depicted. But in most cases they embody a flourish of Continuous Design With Variation. Our newest understanding of it must encompass Human Cultural Products, as easily as it encompasses the nests of birds. [Left] Artistic conception of The Tree from the Palace of Shaki Khans, 17th century, Azerbaijan. [middle] Turn of the 20th century, famous biologist and naturalist E. Haeckel’sconfusedly “Man” centered Tree. [Right)More accurate modern biological understanding. We must think that Humans make culture in similar ways that birds make nests.)
In this post series, we have climbed from the (not so simple) Self-Preservation of the Design of a single-celled creature in the creature’s survival and reproduction, to the prolific musical design production of J.S.Bach. The protozoan preserved its design very efficiently but it was “competent without comprehending what it did” (D.D.) Bach, by contrast, was the epitome of Self-Conscious, Premeditated, Intelligent Preservation and Creation of Designs.
(Progress in the preservation and creation of Design. Image two from WildImages.org; image three from UShistory.org: Thank you)
Following the arguments of philosopher Dan Dennett*, we contended that Designs are a form of Representation. They are both –at the same time– Concrete and very Material and also Abstract and very Ideal. Abstract, by having at their “core” some rules or laws or principles of their composure. Concrete, by being “given” to us with a hard, resistive and almost inscrutable “outward covering”. As such, it is a single thing, it is “An Object” to us; for example “an arm chair,” “my wife,” “Columbus Ohio.” We have come to know that these things possess, as if, a soft under-belly, an organization with parts. The chair has a wooden frame beneath its stuffing and cloth; my wife has a complex physiology not to mention her very complex psychology! The parts and rules representthe whole (the given thing) and the whole represents the designed parts (its ‘inner’ workings).
It is in “Mind” that all this Representation and understanding of Representation occurs. In part IV, we argued that Mind is ultimately A Human Culture establishing itself and creating its members that “work together” in very obvious but also subtle ways. “It” sees and reacts to “The World”, with much uniformity. “A Culture”, in that sense, is like a Single Organism! It is a mind; or at least, it is single minded.
We think of many things in this world as mind-like or mind-full. Especially, Persons —Persons should be Mindful; they should regard other Persons according to principle and rule, that is what we think morally. From the simplest Designs we see, such as trees or hurricanes, or the cycle of seasons, we intuit them as having rules —that “soft under-belly”. We intuit rules and order also for much more complex things, like ourselves and our adversaries —which may include even The Tyger that seeks to devour us. These are our intuitions, and they“bubble up” to us in Mind through the Cycles and Designs of Our World as Representations for our consideration, or so we have traditionally contended!
The Tyger, by Bill Blake
Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
These are not strange ways to think! Several prominent theorists, including Dennett, have argued that our most common world viewcontains these ideas, or one’s similar. This is “the Manifest Image” we have of ourselves. It is in this commonly used vocabulary (reallyWithout Exception used vocabulary), that we think of and regard ourselves as Persons, as Responsible for the things we do and make, and that animals are person-like, and there may even be a God (or gods), a kind of Super Person (or Persons) that is at the core of all this, as its point, maker, or inner meaning. This–roughly– has been a Universal Belief!
Back to Our Story
So J.S. Bach, himself, may have been a pawn in a larger game. We gave him much credit for his efforts —his studies, his output, his energy, his persistence. He was a very conscious, premeditated designer of music (see Post 5 in series). He worked hard and with deliberation, but his fate was beyond him, we will now contend.
He was born into a highly musical family with his father and several uncles all professional musicians. His own offspring undoubtedly benefitted from the transmission of supportive genes, as evident in the four that reached adulthood became noted musicians. But it was not only a transmission of genes, The Bach Family was a ‘hot house’ environment for musical productivity. It was an environment imbued with music appreciation and concentration, that really included not only the family but also patrons and organizations (the Lutheran Church) that fostered this creativity in Design.
Design With No Designer
Natural Selective Forces act even within human society! Bach and his music were Naturally Selected as worthy of “differential reproduction”, to use Darwin’s famous phrase. Our cultural sense of Quality in Designs was, and is, open to Blind Design Forces. Yes, says Dennett, and we here at The Connection concur. All Design arises from its environment and then awaits the acknowledgement or rejection of that environment. Was Bach really good, was Chuck Berry?
(WHO SAW ANY OF THESE COMING or WHERE THEY WERE GOING, or the same for any historical development? No one planned it all, no one knew the events precisely or even vaguely, no one knew if it would succeed, no one knew where it would lead:Chuck Berry in the late 1950s; teen-age girls swoon as The Beatles visit New York in 1964; Hippies in the year 1968; Women’s Liberation in 1970. All these were chosen to be of some greatness and significance but by an ‘unofficial vote’ with an indeterminate group of ‘voters’ and an outcome that was open. Hey, it just happened. It just seemed to be the thing to do!)
So, Who chose Bach’s greatness, and how? J.S.Bach was not phenomenally successful in his lifetime, especially as a composer. He was mostly noted as an organist and it was not until some 50 years after his death that his written compositions began to be more deeply appreciated by musicians and critics, and began to be Replicated at a faster rate. Today, they are Reproduced at a massive rate yearly and Dominant in our musical environment. Yet no musician, in the era of Bach or soon after, Chose Bach’s Fame. Each made an individual choice that had ramifications far beyond that individual act.
Dennett sites Herman Melville and his Moby Dick as another example of greatness that laid dormant for years until the commemoration of that authors 100th birthday led to Moby’s revival and soon immortality. On the other hand, Johannes Brahms was “wildly popular” in his own time.
Now these musical and artistic tastes —and the same for political ideas— are, of course, not genes. It normally takes extensive amounts of time for the Gradual Modification of Genes to work biologically and become effective in their entire population. But not so for “Memes”, a term adopted by Dennett from his friend and noted biological theorist Richard Dawkins.
Memes are the Basic Group-Held Signs and Organizational Structures(habits) that form “Mind” and Culture. They are shared Meanings and Methods, and in this way form a New Level of Human Interaction and Existence. And, they can ‘catch on’ widely, quickly, and without even clear meaning and motivation (in some cases).
(MEMES: from the very simple to the very complex. “STOP” signs around the world, this one in Cambodia; a meme with a simple meaning. What does the Mona Lisa conger up? Hard to say what associations are connected to it, yet it is widely recognized and acknowledged at a glance. A very complex and varied set of associations is tied to the Christian Cross. Good old “Mickey” is recognized all over the globe. Not all memes are approved of, but still deeply significant–the swastika.The atom, a science meme with many connections. But, memes do not need to be visually represented. The first few notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony–Da, da, da, Da — is one of Dennett’s favorite examples of an audio meme.)
Another very interesting example is the “Rationality” meme. No one really knows what rationality is,yet many of us invoke it all the time and even organize large portions of our lives around it! Is Rationality a certain set of neurons firing in the brain; the same set for everyone? Is Rationality a certain set of behaviors? Which behaviors could we agree upon, and then what would their definition be? Being “Reasonable”, we might say, but what is that? Here in this very series, I have argued that Reasonable is no more than“a Person’s” response-ability to give the reasons for their behavior and to care about other person’s reactions to those reasons. Or, is “Rationality” caring about “Good Evidence” for your reasons and beliefs. But what is the “good evidence”? So, we do not understand Rationality very well at all, yet it is Central to Our Way of Living especially in Our Modern Age!We hold this Meme of Rationality, and many of us hold it dearly!
Bubbling Up From Below
Let us say, then, that Memes are a way to Access, Interpret, and Share the neural activities in the brain of each of us and even the other physical forces that stretch far beyond us. These physical forces form our lives in a basic way at our widest range. Culture and its memes form a kind “down-loaded app” or a “user-interface” that is the context for us, as persons, to be in relation to our physical universe, contends Dennett. IT IS THE WAY NATURE IS TALKING TO US! Our ideas, emotions, and reasons “bubble up from below” as Representations of of ourselves and our world. Then, they are tested in the field of Memes already present in us and our culture. Or at least, this is what we can believe, ideally. It is an account of how Persons fit into the Universe.
Mother Nature’s Seal of Approval?
This is The Image We Hold of Ourselves, or at least in broadest outline. It has been cleaned up and developed in some ways (“reconstructed”) by Dennett, other theorists, even myself. At best, this is only my interpretation of these other interpretations. But “in broad outline” it contains the basic elements of “Persons” and their relations to “Things”, “Minds” in relation to “Matter”.
Culture and Personhood —and this “Manifest Image” of things — has been in rapid development for well over 10,000 years and with its birth –as incipient Culture– as far back as 40,000 years ago. That is not enough time to signal Nature’s Official Approval, her Genetic Selection; yet the human species has ‘Prospered’ dramatically in that time. This “Image” of ourselves has become “populated with more and more affordances, more and more opportunities to track, more and more things to do things with, more and more things –words–to use as tools…”, says Dennett. It has served many uses, including the opportunity to consider and reconsider our own Reasons —to Reflect on ourselves.
(In Reflection, we take ourselves to be An Object in the world capable of Manipulation and Re-Design. We consider and re-consider our own Reasons. Norman Rockwell, Girl at Mirror , Pablo Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror , John William Waterhouse, Echo and Narcissus .)
From the vantage point of Design, we can at least say that so far,we have received Nature’s Evolutionary Endorsement. Our way of “seeing things” has worked! Our Proliferation is a sign of Nature’s Approval,and here, In These Blogs, we have tried to give it an intellectual defense.
But will it continue to work? Our manifest image is an awkward combination of physics, chemistry, biology, neurology, morality, economics, politics and poetry (among others). How it all fits together has been briefly suggested, but as we continue to shuffle these cultural cards, how they will play out in the future is still to be determined by processes that involve humans and human choices, but only indirectly. WHAT WE CAN MAKE OF “IT” (this World) IS STILL UP FOR GRABS!
(HURDLES TO BE LEAPED: Dictators, Industry and Pollution, Economic Imbalance, Religious and Sexual Discrimination, Dogmatism, War)
*These are, of course, my interpretations of Dennett’s position, along with other such philosopher’s of a similar vein. Richard Rorty, John Dewey, A.N.Whitehead are among that group. Dennett’s 2017 From Bacteria to Bach and Back is the work most specifically referred to in this post.
(Hurdle to be Transcended: THE OLD WAYS OF THINKING THAT DIVIDE THE WORLD and CULTURE INTO IRRECONCILABLE PIECES! “Newton“, by the poet, artist and printer, William Blake (1805). “Newton is shown sitting naked and crouched on a rocky outcropping covered with algae, apparently at the bottom of the sea. His attention is focused upon diagrams he draws with a compass upon a scroll.” (Wikipedia))
The Tyger (final two stanza’s) , more Bill Blake!
When the stars threw down their spears And water’d heaven with their tears: Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger Tyger burning bright, In the forests of the night: What immortal hand or eye, Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
STAY CONNECTED at the NATURERELIGIONCONNECTION.ORG
(This is a Bite-Sized Re-Working of A Very Fulfilling View of All Things. We, Persons,can and do understand ourselves as supported by The Universe! Hey, I’m on a roll!Keeping it short and SWEET here at The Connection! I thought this was The Finale to this Post Series but it will take one more post to finish out. Please check out the previous four!)
Part IV really left our protagonists “in the lurch.” Personshad just begunto make themselves as they learned to speak, to use arithmetic, to understand time as exhibited in the cycles of day and night, the seasons, birth and death. Yes, “Persons” only exist in a world with much order, an order that supports them, in reality and in concept.
Personsfurther created themselves by establishing leaders of their communities and initiatingrituals—their way of doing things— in processes like mate selection, hunting, healing, With “our way”, they began to call or think of themselves as “Us”, or “The People” or “Our Kind.”Stories (what we have come to call Myths) were then developed to explain or describe the origins of many of these practices or “things”.
Language and Words, Arithmetic and Numbers, Communities and their Members are all Representations. In Part IV it was argued that in many situations it is hard to separate the Representation from the Thing They Represent. We said, “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? …What is Time without clocks, calendars, and even the orbiting of the earth? What is Time in itself?”
Money, especially in the form of paper currency, is another good example sited often by our guiding light, philosopher Dan Dennett.In itself, paper currency is merely printed paper –virtually worthless– but as a representation of economic activity or value, we all agree it is very real and has become an importantly different kind of thing with tremendous influence on other things.
Money and the economy Form Very Real Patterns that are discovered by the economic sciences. Again, these are patterns of activity and events as real as any in chemistry but just more closely associated with (Made with) human subjectivity and culture.
Persons are like money; they are a real thing and they exist in a vocabulary that is very different from that of physics or chemistry. In fact, the concepts of “Person” and “Money” are in the same vocabulary and significantly associated in our modern world.
What are the furthest implications of this unique vocabulary and its distinction from other vocabularies such as physics? So far, in this Post Series we have seen there is a growing accumulation of autonomy, awareness, and abilities in “objects” we have come to call “Persons” or “Person-Like”.
But the main point now is, there is no “money” without economic activity to back it, and there is no economic activity (at our modern, complex and advanced level) without money. The Representation and the ‘Thing’ Being Represented” are too closely connected for separation.
The same can be said for “Person”; it too is a representation! As argued in Part IV, a different way to put this close association between a ‘thing’ and ‘its representation’ is that there is little difference between Finding / Discovering an Object and the Making of an Object. Our Representational processes can be as much a Making of new objects as they are only a Naming of objects Found in the world. Making and finding tend to merge.
“Design” is the way to understand this connection of the Subjective to the Objective. All the patterns in the universe are Real, whether obviously human made or less obviously associated to humans..
How does this happen? How do Persons Make and Find Patterns as Real as anything physics and chemistry has to offer? They “Bubble Up” to us in the form of Representations, argues Dennett! This is the way we can think of it, and do tend to think of it, in Our Ordinary World View; what has been called “Our Manifest Image” in Post IV. We say things like “I just got an idea!”
And Designs and Representations such as speech, writing, arithmetic, time were not Found or Made by any single individual. Dennett calls them “Darwinian ‘inventions'”; they are “inventions without inventors”, “designs with no particular designer”! They are not “the brainchildren of particular individual intelligent designers.” They are Nature’s “free-floating rationales” that have “bubbled up” to usas a community for some form of explicit Representation.
I have described this seeming paradox of Finding/Making as “Design” for which one side ‘faces out’ to form ‘the world’ and the other side of the design ‘faces inward’ to form the abstract rules of the Design. Persons know or experience both sides of the Design Process as makers of objects of use, and makers of themselves; and as discoverers of a world of objects given to them and unanalyzed.
In our traditional vocabulary, “Mind” is the General Term used for all this talk of Persons and their actions and Response-Abilities. Mind,we will say,CULMINATES in human joint action based on shared and communicated ways of living. That is a de-mystified characterization of the reality of “Mind”. It is a Culture; it is the way we collectively approach ‘the world’, all of us (often) thinking together and training our children to do so, too. “GET IT TOGETHER PEOPLE!” we often say. “GET ON THE SAME PAGE!”
Dennett started his discussion of the Evolution of Mind with the self-preservation of its own design by bacteria, and finishes with The Prolific Creative Design-Talent of Johann Sebastian Bach. He takes Bach asa high-point in the powers of Intelligent, Premeditated, Self-Conscious Design, a seemingly contrary case to Design with no designer. A strikingly obvious example of Making and not Finding, of Bach’s individual creative power.
Indeed, much of Bach’s success should be attributed to his own efforts and genius. He studied diligently the works of the great composers before him and all the different musical styles of his day. He became an expert in counterpoint. He wrote music incessantly. For example, he composed 5 years of ecclesiastical music for the Lutheran church, one program for each Sunday varying according to the church calendar.
But Dennett points out thatmaybe we should not give Bach himself all the credit.Deeper forces were working around him, in him and before him.
(TO BE CONTINUED!)
[A Quick Up Take: From the position of making/finding we can say, “GOD DOES NOT EXIST,” at least in any traditional form. If our argument thus far is sound, and Making/Finding are pretty much one and the same, we can come to this conclusion because too many persons no longer “see” evidence of God nor believe in the same Scriptures, or any Scripture at all. Human Agreement on a thing’s existence is as much apart of its existence as anything! Also, Human Truth has a lot to do with Consistency of Beliefs. At least in the old days, it was More Reasonable to believe in Your Traditional God because there was no “science perspective” to create tension with religion in general, and no Other Gods that you knew of (Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Greek…). Today, The Old-Timey Religion is just out of step with “What We Believe and Live By! It does not fit in this world. It is “Incoherent”, we can say!]
The Final post in The Cycles and Designs Series to be published soon. “Same Time! Same Bat Channel!
(DID SIMILAR PROCESSES CREATE BOTH OF THESE??? ARE THEY BOTH REAL THINGS? YES!)
(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 patternsas 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 storyis 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 couldit 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 coordinationas Person-likedesires 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 backgroundand 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 oftenuse 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!)
(Well, we got hit with more Snow here in the Central O-H-I-O, about 5-7inches or 12-18cm. GOOD DAY TO STAY HOME AND BONE UP ON SOME METAPHYSICS. That always warms my heart!Here, we encounter some aspects of Design in the world of Persons. This whole series of posts is now striking me as almost poetic, and that is a good thing because we are working at the Level of Intuition!)
Designs All Around US
A segue from the world of Physic’s Things to Thoughtful Things, fromChemicals toMind is what we need, says Dan Dennett, America’s most noted philosopher. Many people think we already have that explanation. It was written up and explained in one of those books, or the opening chapter of some text book, that you were supposed to have read as a sophomore in college. But we do not have that book, so Dennett has tried to write it, and here at NatieRel, we have tried to present it in popularized form.
But it has not been easy, for either of us. Dennett has run into powerful opposing intuitions in the minds of others and a genuine cultural thicket, he says; and I just have trouble telling sh!# from shine-ola, sometimes.
So, how do we get, “Something Different from Some Other Kind of Very Different Thing?” This is a return to our initial theme in this post series. This is the point of Dennett’s 2017 book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back; The Evolution of Minds.It is an appreciation of “Design” as the link between these generally misinterpreted poles of Objectivity (the world as made up of the items of physics and chemistry) and Subjectivity (the reality of thought, emotion and mind).
How does Mind come from Matter? Or is “Mind” just a figment of Brain, that mushy grey matter between our ears composed of approximately 100 billion neurons!
The first thing we must realize is the world and the universe always display Design. The highly regulated and precisely predictable world as known by physicsis qualitatively stripped down; all that exists are a few characteristics in precise mathematical relation. That is a very tightly designed and constricted universe. But, the world of persons is much richer in qualities with a greater variety of objects and abilities and not capable of the high precision of prediction, but still very predictable and designed.
(Not as predictable as the world of physics, but still highly predictable: OUR SOCIAL WORLD. We eat. We seek shelter [Frank Lloyd Wright house in Rochester, NY]. We vote regularly in much of the world. We play games; throwing the curve ball. How many very regular things do you have in your life?)
(The Tower of Silence. DEATH,NOW THERE IS A REGULARITY; A DESIGN PIECE, WE ARE FAMILIAR WITH! We all have been giving a bit of thought to death lately. Death made a significant impression on humans starting way back. Here is an unusualritual of burial that I just discovered: The Zoroastrian Religious Tradition of “The Tower of Silence.“Ritual was an early step in the development of “Mind”.
(This Persian practice, examples of which recorded in Iran and India, involved the construction of stone circular structures with outer walls as high as 25 ft. and diameters some nearly 100 ft. In the middle of this “Tower of Silence” was a pit [an ossuary] were the bones of the dead eventually were deposited. But before that, the bodies of the dead were placed in small exposed cubicles; on the outer rims the men, women on the next closest and children on the inner-most circular cubicles, all with feet facing inward. Left there for as much as a year, the corpses were exposed to the sun and rain, but mostly to the carnivorous birds. Vultures lined the rim of the dakhma, “the Tower”, and cleaned the corpses of flesh. At that point, the remains either washed into the center ossuary or were assisted manually in that placement. Lime was added to the pit to assist the decomposition and assure the return of the departed back into the cycle of elements. Note the vultures in the drawings above. A Strange Design, but true!)
The Cycles and Designs in the universe and in the living world are of great interest to us.They presage our own individual reality as humans with Minds.
Our Thinking About Design and Our Participation in It
First, we have experience as designersof things of use and beauty. We humans became the first Intelligent Designers, because Natural Selection designs but without foresight, and beavers and such design by instinct. Instilled in us, as social and communicating creatures, we start to construct, to gather, and to organize—like many of the Cycles of the inanimate world. We start to make patterns of our own and with premeditation, or at least significantly our own, but also patterns modified from our “given environment”. Communities organize hunting parties and select mates; bury their dead and welcome the newborn; these are Regularities about which we create Myths and Rituals.
These human activities are regular and objective patterns, but not wholly independent of us, argues Dennett. They are a further extension of the material world but now with an important new layer of “Meaning.” Everyday early humans hunted, gathered, chose mates, gave birth. Day passed into night and fires were made, tools repaired, and the seasons changed. Human Rituals were established and myths created. A line drawn between “natural” events and “cultural” events is a mistake.
In myth and ritual these patterns of “the world” start to ‘come to mind’, we can say. These Human Designs are congruous with the patterns that precede them and surround them, in the Living World and also in the lifeless and stripped down Universe that we understand in our most objective ways. Yet, now we start to have a conscious recognition of Patterns. As Dennett says, the “free-floating rationales” of nature, now became explicit in human culture, in a ‘thing’ calledhuman Mind.
(Persons gained a Conscious Appreciation for Pattern. Traditional Wedding outfits from around the world: Yoruba people of Nigeria,Mongolian and Andean [Peru] wedding dresses, a traditional attire for Norway.)
Secondly, Design is experienced by us as Designers of ourselves.We are “self-made selves” (Dennett). Again, not completely, not god-like in our creativity, but incrementally we take what has been given to us objectively, and attempt to modify it, mold it. In our own lifeand also in the history of humanity, at first this subjective ability, this self-design, took place dimly and with little self-awareness. Now, many of us have highly developed senses of Choice, Responsibility and Design. We hold the status of a full-fledged “Person” and seek to create not only our own lives but also a family, community, kingdom, nation and even a more Ideal World. Humans go far to create their own societies that then creates more persons in their light. “What is it like to be a person?”, we ask. “What should I do that is acceptable? What should we do?” Persons design many things, including themselves, and they ‘Take Response-Ability’ for that. We are willing to answer for it, to give our reasons, to be Reasonable and explain.
(Interestingly, the story of Heinrich Harrer and the Dalai Lama comes to mind. Harrer was s brash young German mountain climber and adventurer at about the start of WWII. The Dalai Lama was a teenager and ‘still in training’, one might say, as the spiritual and political leader of the modest and gentile Tibetan Buddhist mountain civilization. You are probably familiar with the story from the movie, Seven Years in Tibet , starring Brad Pit; an able telling, I believe. I own Harrer’s book of the same title, but never read it. A remarkable story of the meeting of two very diverse civilizations embodied in the growing personal relationship of these young men. Both shared, learned and explained much, though the end was tragic for the Tibetans.)
When we create our own life and the life of the community around us, we do not do so in just any old way. We must Modify and Build Up the Designs Objectively Presented to us and in us.
The cycles of the prebiotic world prepared the way for the “design leap” to Living Things, and living things to Thinking Things, which are a subset of the living. Dennett calls these, “moves or explorations in Design Space”. They are based in the basic Information provided in the genetic code and in the phenomenal or phenotypic world, which is the genetic information’s family of manifestations.
Persons are a development in this context of design as evolved on our planet. Persons are a design with a Reflective Sense of Itselfand of all the designs that reverberate outward, and inward, between us and the rest of the universe. Our life, the life in the Living world, the Designs and Cycles in the inanimate world, are–as if– the rolling and concentric waves created by a pebble thrown into a pond.
In Part IV, I will attempt to display Our Larger Unity as persons stretching out into the universe around us. That is, of course, a return to the the themes of Part I and II, but now with the goal of placing our Human Ideas and Actions in that Largest Context of Mother Nature’s Grandest Design.Wish me luck, and thanks for reading, “The NatureReligionConnection”.
(Cycles within cycles, designs with no designers; and eventually along camePersons. Understanding our place in the Largest Scheme of Things is a difficult task. I have been trying to get a handle on it for a number of decades now. Here we find that many of the Earth’s own processes worked to raise the possibility that new things could occur. This post series is an important part of the overview, and I’m glad to share it with you. [Is Singha still the best beer in Thailand?] Part II of the Post Series.)
If we look at things from the Perspective of Design, we will have the best chance of understanding as much of “it” as we can. Philosophy is “seeing how things in the broadest sense, hang together in the broadest sense,” said philosopher Wilfred Sellars. What I am calling, The Perspective of Design, is (I hope, roughly) what another good philosopher, Dan Dennett, calls “The Intentional Stance”.
The significance of “Design” is hard for us to deny, and it can hold together, in a sensible way, two things that bite us in the intellectual butt: shear Objectivityand shear Subjectivity. Those twain shall not soon reunite, for most ways of thinking! In this post series, we must bring them together if we are going to understand the context in which Persons exist.
(Design is a well organized “hanging together.” It is not hard to see in The Human Anatomy, [above] the muscular system and the nerves of the head. Hey, its All for One and One for All, here! These Parts and the Whole come together amazingly well, as do they in all the living things of the world! Who says Complex Units aren’t real? Only confusedly hardcore Materialistic Reductionists do! Thanks to britanica.com for diagrams. )
Design in the world of living things is easy to believe and obvious to see, we have argued in Part I. Individual Living Things are most clearly understood against their participation in a larger, orderly background: A Design! We are very familiar with this view: “The Tree of Life” is a massive comparative structure. We think of plants in contrast to animals, fish by comparison to birds, and dogs vs. cats.
Design in the Non-Living World
Design is not only present in the biological world, it is also suggested to us in theCycles of the prebiotic world. There are cycles “at many spacio-temporal scales”, says Dennett. Some are as obvious asnight and day, andthe cycle of the seasons; many are not so obvious “including thousands of chemical cycles.”
(The Krebs Cycle or the Citric Acid Cycle is a series of reactions that occur in all oxygen-using organisms to break down food into usable energy [ATP]. One of the chemicals produced at the end of this cycle, a kind of citric acid, is just the very chemical needed to restart the process onto another round of food digestion. This process, apparently, can occur outside of living organisms and was possibly incorporated by them deep in our evolutionarily history.)
(CYCLES deep in the earth and above it. Convection Currents inside the Earth’s Mantle drive the Gradual Distribution of the Continents around the planet. The hottest Air at different points around the globe rises, and moves north or south away from the Equator, while cooler air flows in below. This forms regularConvection Cycles in the atmosphere and a regular global wind pattern.)
The significance of these prebiotic cycles is that they helped organize and refine our world, and still do today. They distribute, sort, and accumulate materials. They establish regularities that from some points of view can be depended upon. The seasons of the year, climactic zones. tides and tidal pools, mountain ranges and river deltas are all such regularities or their result. Our Life is Full of Regularities!
(The Waves and Tides of the oceans, seas and lakes unrelentingly sort and distribute their coastal materials. Like a sieve and a grinder, or a series of these, the beach materials are constantly worked upon in an orderly process and result. Thanks to miracosta.edu and pennstate.edu for these photos and and illustration.)
“Think of cycles as ‘do-loops’ in algorithms, actions that return to a starting point after ‘accomplishing’ something”, contends Dennett. An algorithm is a set of rules to follow to accomplish a particular task. These steps are sometimes repeated, over and over, and that is crucial. They are recursive and they continue to build on themselves. The end result is that our world became increasingly refined! They “gradually changed conditions in the world and thus raised the probability That Something New would occur” (Dennett, my added emphasis).
Some of our very ordinary procedures are Algorithmic and Recursive processes for problem-solving.
Strange that these elementary school methods should embody basic physical and meta-physical realities!
Or is it? Dennett contends that Nature does contain Reasons, Rationales, Rules. (In other words, it is misguided thinking to believe that “the world”, the “Objective World”, is without meaning.) These reasons and organizations, he calls “free-floating rationales” because not until they are embodied in our lives and then eventually Represented in our Thinkingare they ‘anchored down’ so to speak, Explicit In The World, and not just Implicit, as if only “behind the scenes”, not apparent to the eye or to the understanding.
(The Planets have been orbiting for about 4.5 billion years. This Solar System functions like a gigantic machine, lawfully but for no purpose. In about 1642, the Englishman Isaac Newton realized its operating principles, with the help of some of his contemporaries and predecessors. Still regarded as one of the greatest achievements in modern history, he wrote his theory, in Latin, in the book Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, 1687. The principles behind that ancient system where now known outright and not simply hidden in that design’s operation. They became a concrete building block for the further cultural development of Persons. [Famous painting of Newton by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1689. That is one nice head of hair on that guy or is it just a wig?})
Cycles as Regularities that are Sorting, Accumulating, Distributing, Dividing, Preserving. “Do-Loops” are all around us and in us, working and working.
(The Water Cycle [top left] preserves, distributes and makes water accessible to use in various forms/designs as vapor, liquid, and ice. The process of Cell Division and Multiplication renews cellular life and multiplies its presence. [Bottom Left] The network of national highways distributes products and persons, while connecting the country into an accessible physical unit. In Part III we will discover that Persons are “Do-Loops”, who should ideally Return to Their Own Life in Self Reflection and ask: “What am I to Accomplish?” Who am I?” “What is my Story?”)
(In Part I of this post series we argued it was accurate to understand Designs as present and working in The World of Living Things, and this is design Without a Conscious Designer, design by Natural Selection. In Part II we found our prebiotic world full of Cycles that we can understand as creating the necessary background for living things and then eventually for our-selves as Social, Emotional, and Thoughtful Persons. In Part III we will explore “Our Thinking About Design and Our Participation in It.” )
(Let’s get to some Metaphysical Speculation! But like Mary Poppins sang, “Just a Spoonful of Sugar will help the medicine go down”, so I have sweetened this load with some savory sidelights and poignant pictures. I think you will find it a pleasant exercise for the imagination and a deep dive into what is worthy of belief!)
“God and Evolution: Can You Get Something from Nothing?” was the title of one of the first posts written for the naturereligionconnection, almost two years ago. “Enhance the Design”is how“toget more from less,” was the answer given, (https://wordpress.com/post/naturereligionconnection.org/52). But, of course, there is more to be asked and more to be said than that.
Especially, if you are interested in Persons! A person is the most complicated object in the universe, so far as we know. That is a bold statement. Even the massive equations and strange speculations of modern physics are not clear in their relation to “Persons.” Persons are more interesting than most things and more than just biologically human. Persons are a complex enhancement of the biological world—with language-use, science, ethics, art, democratic government; persons surpass other primates by far. Or at least, seemingly so. When we ask, “Where do things come from?”; in this post series we are asking about Persons, this very unique and highly Designed kind of object.
(Kekule [pronounced Ke-koo-lay) discovered a large group of Carbon Based Structures that are still called Kekule Structures. Each feature a basic set of carbon atoms, as in Benzene, above. They Function importantly in all living things and his work was prominent in the origins of organic chemistry. [Right] The Ouroboros as drawn in an alchemical text from 1478. There are several accepted pronunciations of this name; some featuring an “aw” at the start, others “or” and differences with the end too!)
(Drawing of The Ouroboros from a 3rd century Egyptian text by Cleopatra the Alchemist. Inscribed in the middle are the words “hen to pan” meaning “All is One”)
If You Really Had Nothing
Of course, if you really have absolutely nothing at the start, then it seems clear—seems reasonable—that that is all you will ever have, nothing. So the Design Position, being argued for here, cannot start with nothing, and not even just a total mess. “Not utter chaos”, not “a random confetti of atoms in motion” is adequate, writes our favorite philosopher, Dan Dennett.*
The Design Position is based on the intuition that as far ‘down’ as you go, you will always find more designs, more structures, into which to take things to pieces. Designs in designs; structures made of smaller and quicker structures; processes in processes.: All the way down, for how would you know when to stop, or stop trying to analyze ‘a thing’ further? Maybe there would just be no more point to it; if you already Knew (could predict) Everything That Was Going To Happen Next!
The Living World
Design is especially apparent in The Living World. Dennett argues that we should embrace it; design is real and it is Design without any god-like designer. Evolution by Natural Selection is the largest part of the answer to this.
(DESIGN IS UBIQUTIOUS IN THE WORLD OF LIFE! A Bowerbird’s bower is designed to attract the female mate: It does look enticing! Can you believe that this bird collects and organizes and builds this well? But also, the cycle of a Frog’s Life [or of any living thing]; and the structure of the Human Eye [or any complex organ]: Each of these designs are re-occurring and functional. They Work, and these are “designs without a designer”! No conscious plan exists nor premeditation occurred for the designs in which these creations are composed and participate, contends Dennett.)
Life, starting out as things as simple as the barest self-replicators like bacteria and viruses, Doubled Back On Itself many, many times. It varied and did so Gradually, and the variations themselves Gradually Varied, and the result was a living environment that was like a finely grated sieve or a finely knit net. It was a natural living background that, in effect, said to each new round of Replicants: “Can you fit in?” “Can you find your place?” “If not, you are rejected; you are Not Selected by Nature!” That is what we call Evolution by Natural Selection, and it is still designing new organisms without a conscious plan, without a conscious Designer!
Design allows not just breaking down into smaller units — analysis; it is also building up– synthesis. Many trees make a forest that can then establish a set of patterns and rhythms of its own: a Design at a larger scale. Many cells make an animal. Some well respected biologists and researchers have sought to understand the Earth and its biosphere as a single incipient organism, as if it was life itself first forming, because clearly it had no parent.
A Human Society is such a larger unit, and it has in some senses a reality and significance that transcends its individual members. It is vital that children learn their society’s language, that they behave in many ways that are congruent to their traditions. “Socialization precedes individualization”is a standard tenet for the design position. A member of society needs the ability to respond appropriately in many situations; aresponse their society sees as “fit”. That is what we call “Response-ability”, and we consider such members as full blown “persons”. If a member does not wish to “respond appropriately”, they need good reasons and put forth the effort to explainthemor they will cease being a responsible member, a full-blown Person.
(Examples of Society Transcending Its Individuals: the Family, the Classroom and Education, the Law and Courts, the Nation and its leaders and citizens. Thanks to these particular sites for these photos. It was hard to find images of family without handsome actors all smiling, or classrooms scenes that looked real. Left, from CDC on Parenting; second left, from the ELA (English as Second Language) web site; third, from Time magazine–courtroom sketch; far right, Joe and his promise to try to pull this nation closer together.All is not always Harmony in our larger, and even smaller, Units of Design!)
But even ‘below’ the living world in the prebiotic universe, The Design Position must find suggestions of patterns: Designs or their precursors. Complex design must itself “bubble-up” from less complex and simpler units of process. PART II will explore that world, our world in that simpler Form.
*all quotes in this post from Dennett’s 2017 book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back
Well after all, Ritual is just sentimental foolishness. It’s all fluff and no substance. Why celebrate and commemorate a birthday, a wedding, a death? What is real and true are the forces in the world and the universe that churn away relentlessly; they are out there beyond us and have no interest in our petty subjective concerns. We hanker for objectivity and the independence of real fact, real forces, and the objectively true!
Yet on Wednesday, January the 20th, a calm settled over this nation. A sense of relief and normalcy began to restore itself, in many a mind. Songs were sung. Oaths were taken. Speeches were made. Promises were bestowed. Parades were (virtually) marched. History was cited and speculations as to our future abounded. It’s what we do as an American People at our best. We re-establish our unity. We confirm our commitment to the shared Principles, Goals, and Behaviors that will facilitate our close proximity: house to house, apartment to apartment, farm to farm, city to city, “from sea to shining sea.”
Ritual is one of the pillars of Human Mind. It is an essential way for us to ‘get on the same page’ Subjectively! Far from subjectivity being arbitrary, largely private, and lacking in orderly substance, it was in Ritual —as a rehearsal, idealization, test run, and then a constitution of our many coordinated behaviors— that the eventual conceptual split between the Subjective and the Objective was initiated, but not necessarily accurately. Group hunting, mate selection, birth and death, verbal communication, fear and joy, curiosity, were all being orchestrated and objectified for various human groups, and most especially “our group”, which ever you happened to be in. The Human Mind is our coordinated behavior and our coordinated ideas and emotions about that Collective Behavior, Our Larger Unity. These are Patterns that are Objective to Us, but not totally independent of us,says the philosopher Dan Dennett.
(ORGANIZING OUR BEHAVIOR, IDEAS AND EMOTIONS THROUGH RITUAL: the American Nation (top left), Anansi the trickster god for West Africa, the Team, the Hunt of caribou, the Scientific Method, mistletoe with Meaning for ancient Druids (bottom left), Birth and Womanhood portrayed in a Venus figure of Cro-Magnon Europeans, a Commemorative Hindu expression, modern American’s feeling The Spirit.EXAMPLES IN A HISTORY OF HUMANS ATTEMPTING TO ORGANIZE THEIR BEHAVIOR AND THEIR EMOTIONAL LIVES. IT IS AN ONGOING SEARCH, AN ONGOING DISCUSSION concerning our joint behavior and its interpretations.)
Yet The American Nation remains seriously divided. Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris have pledged to work for unity, but too many Americans, too many Republicans, refuse to adequately disavow the obvious illegal and unconstitutional behavior of the thug Trump.
And also in My Family; who will work to restore its unity? The “soothing realities of American Democratic Ritual” have yet to take hold firmly enough here also. On the day of the Trump-Led Insurrection, in complete exasperation, I called my Pro-Trump Brother In Law as I watched. I said (in effect), “Look where you guys have gotten us!” He was shocked by it and watching too, but he refused to take the lion’s share of the blame. “It is also the Democrats”, he insisted. Pelosi and Schumer and Cortez, just as much as Trump and his whack-job conspiracy-mongering followers, “They got us here too”, he insisted.
We did not talk long; it was going nowhere.
Later I found out that his wife, my sister in law, also received a phone call from her brother that day. He too put the pressure on, again basically saying, “Look at the nonsense you have helped create!” She also tried to shift too much blame onto “The Democrats”, I learned.
I had told my wife I had called her brother that Wednesday of the lawlessness, when I was off work and watching as she was at work, teaching. She took it pretty well, at that point, partly because I assured her I did not push it too far or too long and it was not an overly acrimonious conversation. But several days later, as we were relaxing and enjoying some wine and reviewing all the upsetting historical developments, her fears and anger came forth. It was I who started talking politics with her family, she said.“Look at the mess you have created now!” (a familiar phrase in this whole story) she now demanded of me!
My wife had always been cautious not to bring politics into her family, and initially when I had, it went well. Those were before the days of Trump, when her brother and I had polite, quiet, and interesting exchanges of opinions and facts. But since the poisonous Trump, conversation had stopped, only to burst forth again with the emotions of insurrection!
What soothing rituals will help bind these wounds and bring this family back together?And our Nation?Oh, woe is me!