Freedom: Haunted by the Idea

(This is the Introduction to a series of posts on Freedom.  The series is not about political freedom, for that would have less to do with Nature and Biology.  I mean “metaphysical” freedom!  How, in a universe of causes discovered by Newton and Einstein in physics, Mendeleev and Linus Pauling in chemistry, Darwin and Mendel in biology, can People, or any other animal, Freely Choose?  There is a way that it ‘kind of’ happens!   They are published for the sake of the clarification of basic philosophical and scientific positions.  Later posts will contain many of these ideas expressed in a different form.  First published 11/04/2018)

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Bryan Cranston as Walter White, “breaking bad”.

What could you do?  I mean, what might you choose to do?  Are you free enough to just up and tell your boss, “I quit”, no preliminaries, just “see ya!”  Or your husband or wife, “I’m done, I want a change; I’m moving out today!”  Or maybe you decide to become a monk or a mountain-top sage; you pack a bag, buy a ticket to Nepal and off you go.

Seems possible.  You just turn off your practical consideration of consequences and any moral concerns, and just choose to do it.  Of course, you’re not going to do any of these things, especially in the whimsical, abbreviated fashion portrayed above; but theoretically, abstractly, is it possible?  You choose, and then do!  You choose to make some drastic change.

I used to think the answer was “yes;” I used to think we were that ‘free’, and I was actually somewhat spooked by it.  “I could do that,” I ruminated, “fully responsible humans are capable of such radical choice.”  By “radical choice,” I mean a choice not caused by outside forces, not even the context of the rest of a person’s life and times–physically, emotionally and in terms of character.  Not caused, simply chosen

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Four of the greatest Existentialist thinkers: Sartre (bottom right) coined phrase “radical choice,”  Dostoyevsky (top right) wrote Crime and Punishment, Nietzsche (bottom left) wrote one of the first explanations for morality,  Kierkegaard (top left) was one of the original founders and predominately concerned with religion.

The famous French Existentialist philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, coined this phrase, “radical choice”, and he suggested we should think of many of our choices in theses terms: They are totally up to us; each in reality is a true ‘pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.’  Each choice is your pure and unfettered act of making you who you are and you’re totally responsible!  Wow, no wonder I was freaked by it; it’s really severe!

What’s the basis for this radical ability?  Sartre thought it was ‘the self’, the ‘you’ in “you choose.” In reality, this “self” is disconnected from worldly causes, necessities and influences, he believed, even though it often seems highly connected.  Where you come from, your momentary mood, your upbringing and even peer pressure is not the true basis of any of your choices.  If you think they are, that’s “bad faith,” says Sartre; it’s a denial of “your existential condition.”  The real “self” is above these: It is not an object that is formed in your upbringing, or held by worldly needs, or gravity, or pushed by the wind.  It is not a part of nature, in fact it is characterized by Sartre in contrast to nature!  It is like an other-worldly ‘thing’, it transcends regular objects.  What it can do—choose to do, we often underestimate.*

Maybe the situation is similar to recovering addicts in twelve step programs, they call upon some “higher power” to stay sober.  And, this is freedom: it is not caused but must be made by a “Self” (or some ‘thing’) that transcends causes — a ‘thing’ kinda like God.

Freedom, for these existentialists, is like ‘reasonableness’ which also takes place ‘above the fray’ of causal forces and mundane worldly necessities.  The “self” that is reasonable and free is an unusual ‘object’; it must avoid many worldly distractions.

Often the commission of a “radical choice” is portrayed as a criminal act.  One of the great novels of all time is based on this theme.  Raskolnikov, the main character in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, convinces himself that the murder and robbery of a despicable pawnbroker and loan shark would be permissible, and that he will do it.  He is not inclined by his nature or experience to do it, in fact he is a university student.  What he does believe is his freedom to commit the act, and in the logic of it— the reasoning of the Utilitarian Theory of right and wrong.  To kill the scoundrel will rid the world of an evil person whose fortune could then be used for the betterment of all, he calculates.  What is right, is what is good for the majority.

He is also bolstered by the idea, popular then and now, that great people rise above their personal and historical context and act in great and unconventional ways.  Raskolnikov thinks of himself in Napoleonic terms; today we tend to think of some of our great entrepreneurs in this way and shower them with massive wealth.

A more recent example of “radical choice” was the popular television series, Breaking

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Cancer was the opportunity for Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) to make a “radical choice”.

Bad.  Here, a high school chemistry teacher makes the startling decision to become a crack cocaine “cook” and eventually “kingpin.”  Implausible to the highest degree, the brilliance of the series’ writing and acting is the convincing portrayal of the mild-mannered man and his choices, including homicide.  He makes his decisions, no doubt, and they are radically out of character.

I no longer believe in “radical choice,” or in it in quite the same way.  It has made my life more tranquil.  “I am who I am”, I more often think,and I make decisions along those lines.  I am more embedded in myself than I was as a young man, more connected to an established life.  It’s a good thing.  I’m not the kind of person who becomes a monk much less commits a vile crime; in any realistic sense, I just couldn’t do it!

But, where does that leave the idea of choice and even freedom?  If we think of ourselves as more embedded in our environment and more tied to our past and the world around us, how do we think of the opportunity to do something significantly different, whether good or bad?

I  believe that the Existentialists were not totally wrong.  We can make significant changes. The Self, as it ‘rises above’, as it  gains ‘a vantage point to look back’ and consider itself and its actions, is not a metaphysical ‘thing’, but a biological and human social construction.  The “Self” has this ability because of the way we are raised to be Persons, and take responsibility and hold others to their roles too.  The Self does transcend, but not in the way the Existentialists thought.  More on this in the coming posts in this series!

In the next post, though, I will swing 180 degrees from Sartre’s “radical choice”, to the idea of humans as machines designed to act appropriately in their environment.  This new view brings humans into line with our universe of causes and effects.  We fit in, like clock-work!

3 Panel Canvas Art Clockwork Fine Watch Gears Colored Wall Art Panel Paint : cheap canvas prints wall paintings pictures
courtesy of ASH Wall Art

*Upon further consideration, I am not sure this is an accurate portrayal of Sartre’s position.  It is more of a strawman, an exaggerated portrayal made to make a point and be easily knocked down.

 

 

 

The Nature Religion Manifesto

(I’ve been searching for a simple statement that gets to the point of this blog site; maybe this is it.  Most of you will think it far fetched, yet there is a Logic to it and it stretches way back into Philosophic Tradition.  Complete with Garden Photos and a Poem at the end. A revision of the earlier post of the same title—but up-graded! Try it on for size, Please!)

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The Backyard Sanctuary: Design Does Exist in Our World.  Photo by GWW.

The Manifesto

In the spring and summer, each morning I take my cup of coffee and walk about our backyard garden.  I carefully inspect its progress from the previous day: new shoots have appeared, old flowers fading, a weed to be pulled, new blooms opening and admired.  Various birds fly by and others are calling.  I stop and consider the weather, very pleasing, but other times not.  Too cool, or too wet, we are often in need of a few sunny days.  In either case, my plants soldier-on and I consider what I should do to improve this beautiful place, our garden, Our Backyard Sanctuary.

It is not a “strictly physical” place, not simply particles and chemical reactions and the qualities that those kinds of things directly exhibit.  This garden of my wife’s and mine is a human artifact, a place of beauty with carefully selected plants, well considered placements, precisely cut borders and gently curved walkways.  It is a chosen mixture of both sun and shade, privacy and open sky; a fairly complete composition, though always shifting.

It is a place of life.  Plants exhibit the most marvelous design.  Crocus poke up their heads in spring first, with their delicate little flowers.  Then come the Daffodil with their yellow trumpeting flower, and then Tulip with its gracious cup, marked interior, and array of color.  In the shade, the Ostrich Ferns are unraveling their fronds, rolling them open to the light.  The Japanese Painted Ferns exhibit on each leaf detailed shades of green slowly verging onto blacks.  In front of our long row of Hosta, my wife plants her border of Impatiens, an annual that flowers through the summer and produces best in shade.  The Empress Wu Hosta is our crowning jewel.  Sitting back beneath our cottonless (male) Cottonwood tree, the Empress crowns at over three feet into the air and spreads more than eight feet in diameter.  She is a tremendous mound of foliage with each highly ridged bright green leaf running 18 to 20 inches long and a foot wide.  All her bio-mass bursting forth each spring from below the ground and fully in place by mid June. By August, she has finished with her rather insignificant flowering (to the gardener) and by fall is ready to be cut back to do it all over the next year.

(The Tidy Packages: Daffodil, perennial Poppy, Columbine [Aquilegia] and Columbine, and finally Hosta. All photos by GWW from The Sanctuary)

Each plant is a tidy package It circles about itself in its own little cycle.  The perennials above — the crocus, daffodils, tulips, ferns and hosta — all have a prolonged cycle lasting many years, but go through a distinct annual cycle, also.  The annual above — the Impatiens — completes its life cycle in a single season, but ends that cycle with a group of seeds, which are the Reproduction of “its form— its tidy package — into the future. It is as if part of itits Information — never dies!

Basically, fundamentally, essentially, a plant and its environment are a cooperative, self-enhancing effort.  It is not that they — the plant and its environment — always “get it together” or always “keep it together”; they do not.  There are “bad” seasons and difficult “spells”; but “at their core”, The Good MUST Out Weigh The Bad.  That much is inherent in the idea of Natural Design

Designs are real in nature; every design, if it exists, is Good at something, is Functional, is better than a vast number of alternatives, but maybe not quite as good as some Possibilities that we can vaguely imagine.  This is the core of The Nature Religion Connection: If a lack of coordination and cooperation (Dis-Function, Chaos) were the predominant “tone” of the world, then complex entities like “plants” would not exist, nor would we!  “The Living World” is fundamentally Good, at least from the point of view of Mother Nature.

And what of our own? So, let us Reflect. From our point of view, this world can be Like Our Backyard Sanctuary, if held in proper Respect. If nurtured. If understood. If thoughtfully criticized and accepted. If loved—-a reflection of us, and us of it.

To Reproduce is a distinctly living feature. To Metabolize is to be so open to ‘your’  environment; large parts of it are essential to ‘your’ continuation.  As if in a Religious Gesture, You stretch forth into them, but not into some others; those seem completely irrelevant.  Light, water, carbon dioxide and soil with minerals, all are open to the plant in a cooperative and informative way: They are essential parts of it; they are components of the plant’s Design.  They Are It! Its FORMATION extending out-ward. It is, what we call, the In-Formation of the Universe!

And To Grow is to be alive, and that takes Time.  A flowering plant only eventually flowers.  An animal only eventually becomes sexually mature, and a human only eventually becomes emotionally and intellectually responsible.  Life pulls together diversity into the unity of its form, and Time is essential to life: It does not exist in an instant.   To Be Sensitive is the means by which living things distinguish this In-Formation from the noise; it’s Self from Others.  Life is these unique qualities.

(Crocus in the Snow and in the Sun. Photos by GWW)

A star, a volcano, a galaxy, an atom, our solar system, the various chemical elements do none of these: No reproduction, no metabolism, no growth, no sensitivity.  A star may swell and then collapse, as it runs out of (‘eats’) its fuel and ‘dies’.  A volcano can grow larger and even blow or become dormant.  An atom may bond.  Our solar system certainly cycles.  But none of these have all the characteristics of life, nor in as regular or systematic a way as do a living kind, and especially a person.

THE BACKYARD SANCTUARY

No god is needed; My wife and I will do.
We split and weed, and plant seed.
We trim and choose, and rule our tiny spot,
but not --- like one such other. 
 
Mother Nature framed this scene,
and with her choices will be Queen.
But at least, I see my debt
and live to fill her offer.

It is a special place, our world;
The world of life and persons.
It is our Response and Ability,
to keep it such and More.
And pass it to our future kind, 
for ashes soon we be.

For after all, we are but 'food'
in this Great Chain of Being.
Of what shall come hereafter,
we made a contribution, 
too.


The Human Flower: A Person and a Ripe One, at that! Photo by and of GWW. What a good looking guy!
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Glorious Morning Morning Glory, photo by GWW is unenhanced! That is the true collection of light and color at the heart of this flower.
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Humans, corrupting Nature and Themselves!

All photos by GWW from the garden of Sheri and Greg. Zinnia, an annual to the right and middle–with yellow swallow tail.

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STRETCHING FORTH INTO THE UNIVERSE at The Connection. Logo Drawing by Marty

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“The Grades Are In”: A Last Note On The Schools Today, and More!

The Subbing Stint Teaching Algebra came to a rather dramatic end the previous Friday. In fact, it was a Great Week all round here at The Nature Religion Connection. Mi casa is su casa.

The last post “On the Schools” was well received. The chilly wet weather broke, and we had some spectacular days working in The Garden, sitting on the deck and admiring “It All.” “It All”, such as—the school year; the Garden; and New Life-New Hope possible everywhere. Wonderful developments occurred; beautiful things are real possibilities in this world of ours!

(German Breaded Iris on the ends, Columbine in the middle: All have come and gone already this season leaving behind fond memories of their beauty. Photos by GWW from the BackYard Sanctuary.)

Closing out this very difficult year in education occurred on Friday 6/4 . It was bitter sweet. How many years have I watched another group of children move on? I have seen it, as a teacher, some 35 times, and my wife—amazing to think—almost 50 times; but she started as a teen-ager working full time in Montessori classrooms. A friend of mine retired at the High School. Our assignments just happened to work that on her last day in teaching, that Friday, she was the Intervention Specialist (co-teacher) in my algebra class. I watched her go through her belongings all day long, and then helped her carry her boxes to her car in the end. She is a good lady and was a good teacher for 30 years.

This year in my school district, we have gone from a hybrid mode, which persisted almost the entire year; to finally, late in the year –April–back to “all in”, “regular schooling” but in masks and as socially distanced as possible. We had taped lines running down the hall ways to direct traffic as if driving on the highway.

I thought my district did a pretty good job of it. “Hybrid” consisted of about 2/3rds of students split into two groups, a Monday-Tuesday group and a Thursday-Friday group; and a third group, also about 1/3 of the school population, choosing to be all online. There were a few additional differences to really “normal schooling,” besides.

First, there was and is an increase in absences, especially in the hybrid mode. Going to school 2 days a week and then sleeping in for 5 days, just did not seem to work for a lot of families and kids. No easy rhythm to be established there. And many kids, and even teachers, were quarantining, especially at first. Even these last three weeks of school have been plagued with above average absences. Kids, maybe whole families, just crapped out early on this year of educational uncertainty. It was exhausting.

But then came the vaccines and the decision was made to return to school full time. Rates of infection were declining, shots were being distributed and teachers were one of the early groups to be eligible. Also, let’s not forget the many Ohioans had already had the disease and had recovered and thus were naturally immune to further infection. Many of the most vulnerable Ohioans had even died, as in the nursing homes. The disease just has fewer places to go; all the low lying fruit — sadly to say — has already been picked.

I just read that as many Ohioans died from Covid as died in WW2, roughly!

I am glad the district leadership made the decision to re-open fully, though I was not sure of it at the time. I just wondered if it was asking too much, one more big change. But at least it is over with, schools are open, and everyone has gotten their feet wet again. That hurdle already has been surpassed, and next year has been set up to be a just plain, Normal Start.

So, how did the year end, specifically?

Largely along themes suggested in the preceding post. My High School is academically challenged. “Good kids, but not great students,” said one of its long-time teachers. And when the Final Exams were graded, by me, that was plain. Not a great Bell Curve. Too many kids at the low end, and the middle without much breadth, or the high end, not nearly enough scores in those ranges as one should expect.

But the Term Grades were not as bad. Many more students passed the term and the class than passed the Final Exam. And that was just the problem, or maybe even part of the solution, I do not know. What students knew and learned was probably best exemplified by the final exam, but can we, should we, really “fail” that many students?

An anecdote may best illustrate the point.

The ‘older’ (but not as old as I) and insightful science teacher across the hall, Elaine, approached me Thursday and wanted to show me a text she had received from a parent. It was not a pleasant text and she had received it the night before. Elaine said at first she was upset but now was calmer. She wanted my opinion.

The mother was harsh with Elaine. She called Elaine “a crazy woman” and said that if she had “nothing good to say about a student; she should not search to find something bad.” It was a fairly long text.

What had the teacher commented on the report card, that set this parent off? She had said only that her daughter, Brittani, “Did not work to her full potential.” and that “Daily effort could lead to excellence.” The mother’s comment was that Brittani (in names today, a “y” turns into “i” and an “i” to “y”) was “an all A and B student,” and that should surely be good enough and warrant only praise.

I sympathized with Elaine, because Brittani is a big goof-off, and does not try and will announce that she “doesn’t care” right there in the middle of class, often. And curiously, Elaine is one of Brittani’s supporters, telling me early on that Brittani is “smart” but she just doesn’t try enough.

It suddenly occurred to me that what we had here was some disjointed perspectives. I asked Elaine, at last, “What grade did you give her?” And, surprising to me, Elaine had given her a “B” in spite of Brittani’s lack of effort. I said, “Well there we have it.” This mother really did see a good report card and could not understand its circumstances. Elaine quickly added, “I know my standards should be higher, but then so many of my students would get F’s!” Elaine does work with some of the most difficult groups—many of the most vulnerable incoming freshmen. Elaine is trying to get them in a positive frame of mind about school, and bring them along through ‘baby steps.’

The mother did not understand, but it is surprising to me that she did not have a more accurate sense of who her daughter was, at school. I doubt that Brittani is ‘an all A and B daughter’ at home. And then it occurred to me, “What grade am I about to give her?” I knew I had just graded her Exam and she got about 45% correct! I went back to my room to check the electronic grade book. Most of Brittani’s grade was already determined long before my subbing began, and The Final Exam plays no part in any grade at all, strangely.

I looked up her term grade, a “B”! I was disappointed. I looked further at this teacher’s grading system, and, as I had already been catching on, her standards were not very high either. In her system, a quiz and a test barely count for anything more than an individual daily assignment! In her system, just handing in a daily assignment — that was hardly scrutinized by the teacher — was the biggest part of attaining a “C” or “B.”

I did not want to perpetuate this impropriety. I submitted the “B” term grade and recorded the “F” exam grade, and Commented: “Term grade is good, but could be better. Lacks daily effort.” Brittani is fairly intelligent: Smart enough to game the system. At best, she probably deserves a “D”–considering her effort and what she actually learned– but then many other kids without as much ability, but who try, would get an “F”. Back in the day, I always took the risk and graded more subjectively. I hope that I would have given her a less favorable term grade, and then commented about lack of effort. It’s a dilemma; or is it like Karl tried to advocate: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

Mr. Marx

On a Very Different Note!

The Garden is blooming and An Olive has ripened! Yes, my wife and I have become Grandparents for the second time! Our son and his wife have just given birth to a beautiful baby girl. And, yes, they have named her Olive! An eight pound six ouncer, with the most beautiful round features — eyes, head, smile — all very nicely shaped, just like you would expect from well formed little fruit.

I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN FOND OF OLIVES !
The NatureReligionConnection! Stay Safe!

In the Schools Today; What is it that is going on?

There are some interesting developments in the schools these days. I cannot comment on all schools, of course, only the few in which I work, and that is what I have been doing lately—working. I have taken on a long-term subbing job in a public high school, teaching algebra to the end of the year (about three weeks). Why, you may ask?

The school is an interesting one, to me. It is on the southwest side of Columbus (not far from my home) in an area that is rather impoverished and crime ridden. The neighborhood is definitely “blue collar” and high school educated at best. The school’s student population is very diverse. I will estimate racially, about 50+% White, 15% Black, 15% Hispanic, 15% Somalian (and other Africans), and even a small contingent of Ukrainians! In spite of these demographics, the school has been called “a little gem,” by some. It is generally orderly, and many students there are fairly successful in diverse ways. A veteran teacher once commented that “the kids are not great students, but they are good kids.” “Good” as in, good-hearted, well-intended, but not necessarily quiet and focused on the teacher.

Well, I am a retired teacher and I do enjoy the interaction with these kids, many of them at least. Even some of the less cooperative provide an opportunity for me to be influential: be creative verbally, engage them personally with a few jests-jibes and challenging directives. Some of them, you just mostly sit back; unfortunately, there is little to be done or little they will let you try to do to encourage them that school is worth trying. In three of my class periods I have the assistance of a co-teacher, an Intervention Specialist, because those classes have many students with “special needs,” like “learning disabilities” or “behavior problems” or both. And many of the kids are great, and very appreciative of my attention, concern, enthusiastic teaching, and treachery silliness. I do say and do things that often incite laughter or at least smiles.

One of my classes is “ESL” students, English as a Second Language, and this means mostly Hispanic kids in this school. It surprised me at first to learn that this does not mean overwhelmingly Mexican; a significant percentage of these students are Honduran, Porto Rican, Guatemalan. To me, they all seemed ‘just’ Hispanic, but to them, these differences are obvious and somewhat important. The famous tradition, Night of The Dead, is not celebrated much beyond Mexico, for example; various phrases and slang are also limited to specific parts of Central America.

One example of fun at school, involves this group of mostly sophomores and juniors. Recently when I continued to try to insist that they focus on algebra and less on chatting and silliness as they too often do; I was saying again that it is “rude” to be talking while I am trying to address the class. One of the louder and most prominent boys suggested that I tell the group in these situations, mucho chingas,” to which most of the group snickered. I asked him what that meant and he said “too much talk.” And when I continued to seek clarification, several of the guys ended up agreeing that it meant ‘too much disrespectful talking.’ These students often have small discussions about what is the most accurate translation of a phrase they use, into English.

Well, I did then bark out, “Mucho chingas, Back to work!” but retained suspicions. The next day, I used the phrase several times, much to the delight of most of the class, but then cornered some of the “nicest’ and most studious girls later and asked, “Now, what does that Exactly mean?” They could not, and even would not, say; but all agreed– in the end — that I should not say it.

Now, I had to find out for sure, its exact meaning. When I had the opportunity, I went upstairs to the Spanish-Speakers Translator, and asked. Several students were present, and all present, including me, began chuckling. At first, she (the translator) had no precise answer but did say it meant something like “too much talk,” but there was a more precise translation that she could not tell me. “What?” I said, “does it have to do with sex or something?” and she said “No.” I persisted, asking her to whisper it to me quietly, but she said she could not. More laughter, by all present. Finally, she typed it into her lap top for a translation (which I could have done!) and showed me the answer. “Too much shit.”

Not All is Fun and Games

Being the end of the year, my duties included reviewing for the final Unit Test (quadratic equations), and its administration, and the same for the Final Exam which is coming this week. I take this Algebra seriously, but also try to make it like a puzzle, and a challenge that all can rise to. I pride myself on my ability to explain things clearly, and sometimes kids acknowledge that.

In the third period each day, I do a study hall, usually an easy assignment. This week, in the back of the class, a girl I had always marked as absent, and did not know, suddenly appeared on Monday and sat — quietly — looking at her phone. I did not engage her other than to remark I was glad she was here. The same went for Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, a few minutes after the start-bell, Markya (Mar-k[long i ] short a—but no real names used) stood up and quietly and quickly walked out the class door near her seat in the back. Luckily, I had noticed and wondered. After several minutes and she did not return, I went back to investigate. Thinking she had shot out to use the restroom (without asking), I looked down the hall only to here some rather loud voices from a nearby classroom. Soon the voices got louder. I heard someone yell, “You white bitch” and then the volume really increased. “Trouble,” I thought, and I turned to secure my own class, thinking “they’ll break it up.”

But a break-up did not occur. The shouting increased, noises of a scuffle became evident, and still I stood in the door directing my class to stay seated and calm. Soon, with my class cooperating and the fight seemingly escalating, I went to help.

As I was heading there, about three doors down, I was directing students to stay in their rooms, when another student I knew was rushing from the other direction. I told Serina to go back to her class, but she ignored me and rushed in ahead.

Serina is a very uncooperative girl. I knew her from my first period class. She is a junior and physically attractive, rather large and very fit; she should be a track athlete but is not. My experience with her in first period is she usually comes late and then does no work, instead talks on her phone. Twice when asked for her tardy slip, she did not have one. When asked to go get one, she just simply looked at us coldly and firmly said “No.” The day before we both arrived at that door at the same time, I had written her up for various acts of insubordination and defiance. Apparently, the write-up did not get processed in time.

So as I looked in that door of the room of the commotion, all I saw was a large tangle of people. Chaos. Some were students fighting; some were students trying to break it up, I later realized. Several staff were in there trying to disengage students. There was a lot of yelling and furniture knocking about. I could discern very little organization to it. Who were the combatants? Who were the aggressors? What exactly was going on?

But Serina apparently knew. She had been texted. She knew it was going down, who was getting jumped and why. So she went flying in ahead of me and went right to the middle of it and leaped on top with fists flailing. At least I could discern her role! I took her by the waste and pulled her back, but I could not hold her! She was like a bull; her adrenalin flowing full force. I turned to try to help some staff next to me who were pulling apart two girls who had hold of fistfuls of each other’s hair, only to realize it was making one of them totally vulnerable to the blows of a third girl.

At that point I began to worry. This fight was too much for us. We could not stop it, and I began to back out, thinking that I was not helping, that I could easily be hurt, and that re-enforcements were necessary. Just then, a male student suddenly stumbled toward me with a smaller girl in his grasp. She was screaming that she was going “to kill that bitch” and fighting his efforts to remove her from the battle. I took hold of one of her arms and told him, “lets get her out of here” and we pulled her to the nearby door, out of the room and across the hall to an empty class. She ranted and raved for a couple of minutes, but then started to calm. An assistant principal (and former college football player) soon came in and took over.

Apparently, across the hall re-enforcements had arrived, and the fight had been dissected into its individual raging girls, who had finally been separated and confined. Gladly, I returned to my room where I tried to catch my breath, thank my students for behaving so appropriately, and report to the principals what I knew.

Yes, Markya was the first girl from outside that class to arrive and help start the attack on the girl being jumped. The girl attacked did a fairly good job of defending herself after being sucker punched, and may have had some help from a friend. Serina was also one of the main aggressors and was suspended for the rest of the year. As last I heard, it was determined that there were 4 or 5 girls basically fighting, with three the definite aggressors.

Markya, I later learned from the Intervention Specialist, has had a rough row to hoe. Homeless with her mother for most of the year, now she was in a foster home. Those three days before the fight were the only days she had been at school for months, but no one gave me a heads-up. Those three days, and up to the the third period fight, are the only schooling she received (or will receive) in a long time. Suspended the rest of this school year. Sadly, that is the way it seems to work, sometimes and for some people.

I hope you don’t give up, Markya! Things can be better.

The Pandemic’s Effect on Some Children

I was talking to one of the older, lady teachers the other day, and she had some insightful comments. She felt that our juniors were like sophomores, academically and emotionally. They had missed an entire year and more of Normal Schooling; missed our influence on their emotional development on a day to day basis and under Normal Circumstances. There is a lot of absenteeism. At this point, when we are trying to resume normality, these students are behind and feeling awkward and struggling with Regular Schooling. These are high-schoolers. My wife says her pre-schoolers and kindergarteners are emotional basket cases; they cry at the least provocation. Each– pre-school and high school– have been isolated too long from the influence of our larger society.

With our children, we are going to have to play catch-up. The pandemic took this emotional toll, too.

Back to teaching Algebra Tuesday, Final Exams start Wednesday!

The NatureReligionConnection! Thanks and Stay Safe!
STILL DANCING TO THE MUSIC ! (artwork by Marty)
Who opened that can of Whoop Ass?

Wittgenstein’s Philosophy: Part 2 of Philosophers with Strange Personalities and Theories

(Latest addition to the What is a Philosopher, Anyway?” series. Please read the previous Part 1 for the fascinating personal introduction to this Dynamic and Curious Fellow!)

So, Ludwig Wittgenstein had a strange, even unpleasant, personality; but what of his philosophy?

Bertrand Russell* has declared that there is Wittgenstein 1 and 2. “Witt 1” showed up at Russell’s Trinity College quarters in about 1920. After about a year of working with Ludwig, Russell had nothing more to teach him, he has said. Russell saw Wittgenstein as the heir-apparent to his Logical and Analytical turn in philosophical method. It was at this point that The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was written and supposedly was the basis to answer, or eliminate, all philosophical issues. (*On Russell, see the post, Philosophers and Mathematics.)

Wittgenstein’s cabin in Norway where he retreated to write The Tractatus. Refurbished and now open to the public.

The Tractatus is an unusual book. It is only 75 pages long and written somewhat in the style of notes with numbered main ideas and subsequent supporting contentions also numbered to designate their subsequent status. 1.0 is a main point, 1.1, 1.11, 1.111 are contentions supporting it in declining significance and corresponding spacing. Its opening and closing lines are famous: “The world is all that is the case” and “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent.” In The London Times obituary, the book was called “a logical poem”(Wittgenstein died of cancer at 51).

The Tractatus is the presentation of a position called Logical Atomism. Witt 1 felt he demonstrated how some words or propositions “map” the world. They, among all the different kinds of statements we make, are unique. He contended that these pieces (the “atoms”) could be “logically” built up to display all the propositions or beliefs that could be sensibly stated or truthfully contended or “realistic.” They are what can be “said” with the backing of the world. They “make sense,” almost literally, because our sense organs are the connection between them and the individual chunks or facts of the world.

Many of the things we say do not fall within this group. They are not factual, not closely supported by our factual propositions that map the world. We cannot use our sense organs to verify them; therefore Wittgenstein could call them “nonsense.” But curiously, to him, this was NOT a completely negative designation. It just meant that they were statements beyond “fact.” Witt 1 had great respect for many of these more ethereal utterances; for one thing, philosophical statements were among them. They were just not connected to the world like factual propositions, or maybe not connected to the world at all (?).

Now it should be pointed out that this idea of words or propositions “mapping” ‘the world’ seems straightforward, but it is not. In what sense does the word “dog” designate, or hook onto, or point at, or represent, or is caused by all those furry (well I guess a few are furless), four legged, barking (some howl) creatures from the Chihuahua to the Saint Bernard? We often say our words “picture” what they represent, but how do the lines and squiggles that form the letters “D”-“O”-“G” draw a picture of anything, or the sounds of a hard D, soft O, hard G force themselves on us so that they are necessarily related to all those various kinds of dogs out there in the world, or anything that might compose them, like atoms or biochemical molecules or or? And Spanish-speaking people use very different lines and sounds —“perra” or “perro”— to function in the same way. But, Witt 1 thought he had successfully tip toed through these tulips by demonstrating that the “logical form” of factual propositions did “mirror” or “map” the logical form of the world or objective reality in a unique and accurate way.

Does a painting represent the world? Does it map reality? Picasso’s Guernica, painted in black, white and greys in 1937. Many regard this as the most powerful anti-war expression of all times. But clearly, this painting is highly figurative. It is not how atoms look, nor even how ordinary people and bulls look. It is no literal depiction of warfare. It has no colors other than a few basics. In what sense is it true? Does it “match” with reality? Do our Words About war do any better job?

Wittgenstein 2 gave up the contention that factual propositions “map the world” while other kinds of propositions do not. In his later thinking, language as a “map” is given up for language as a “tool,” and all kinds of statements —and depictions, as in the above Picasso— are now on a more equal footing. All forms of expression —and their related forms of activity—open up the world, we might say, in their own way. Each, like a tool (maybe like a can opener) reveals something of its own about “the world,” opens the world up to us in a different way.

Depiction of a Quantum engagement between two photons. Thanks to Scientific American. The Quantum Theory of subatomic particles has long been debated as to its realistic or merely useful (instrumental) character. At some deeper and more consistent level, “finding” something in the world may be like “making” something?

Now what is interesting is that Witt 2 never published much of his new thinking, in fact in his life all he published was the Tractatus and two minor articles. His new ideas swirled around Cambridge and Trinity College in England by word of mouth, from those who attended his lectures and discussion groups. Later, after his death, his extensive Philosophical Notebooks were edited and published.

His initial thinking was Atomistic. The real and most important elements the world (or human knowledge of the world) is its littlest pieces, but his later philosophy was Holistic. At one point he used the idea of a thread or rope as an example. No one fiber runs the length of the thread or rope. No one fiber gives it its strength. It is the intertwining and overlap of each fiber with those around it; that is the value and usefulness of each one. The essence of the thread or the rope is in the unity and organization of the pieces that compose it.

Many things in the world display this kind of unity contended Witt 2.:The unity of a family resemblance. No two fibers here are exactly alike, yet each possesses enough of the group’s similarities to form a distinguishable unit.

An example of this holism is Wittgenstein’s new approach to language. It has already been suggested that all forms of language were now taken to be more on a par, and propositions about objects in the external world were now given no special status. The new focus was on what a language did to and for the people using it, and that was to tie them into a unit –a whole– and reveal a “world” appropriate to their way of life. The new “center” of language was not to function to get to an independent and pre-existing factual world, but to be a central part of a way of life that functioned well for its users.

Witt 2 then believed that he had demonstrated that a language — any and every language — was necessarily a public and social product. There is no such thing as a private language. No single person, no matter how smart, could create a language from scratch. There is no route from non-language to real and effective language-use for an isolated individual. Social interaction provides The Reflective Perspective that allows a person to not only “look at objects” — objectify things — but also to “look at themselves” within their words. Language inherently allows us to ‘take the place of the other’ and ‘see’ ourselves both objectively and subjectively, at once.

The Capitoline Wolf statue: The mythical founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, suckle from the teat of the wolf that adopted them when abandoned in the woods. Only the herder, who found them, and his wife, who raised them, enabled their access to the use of Language.

Now this new anthropocentric view of language immediately suggests to us the issue of inaccuracy. If all kinds of talk “open” the world to us in different ways –artistic, ethical, scientific ways– what makes any way of talking incorrect or mistaken? Don’t our ideas have to match objective reality to be true and effective?

Interestingly, Witt 2 argues that this question is significantly misguided. The question can be made into deep philosophical confusion. It seems to suggest that somehow humans can lose touch with the world, that ideas and ways of life that we do not agree with or think are incorrect Float Free of Reality as if Mirages, and are disconnected from Reality’s Causal and Informative Networks. In modern society, we have often believed that science displays reality but art is only beautiful; that ethics is important but more a product of human preferences than natural forces. Wittgenstein’s concern was that “Subjectivity” can no more be cut off from “Objectivity” in this radical way, than the color black be cut off completely, and independent of, the color white.

Whether Witt 2 actually accomplishes this Holistic view, is hard to say. He argues that it is not the world that justifies the ways we talk and think and act, but the self-supporting character or structure of these ways –“ways of life”– that are accompanied by their own “view of things” that is The True Center of our life. Witt 2 has shifted to this Anthropocentric position: The Human World is its own center, its own support and–in a way– its own making.

(This brief introduction to Wittgenstein’s thinking has wetted my appetite for more. I have begun to reread a short but notable book by philosopher David Pears: “Ludwig Wittgenstein,” 1970, (198 pages). I am looking forward to attempting to relay its significance to you.)

Prisms Electrique by Robert Delauney (1914). An originating composition in Orphic Cubist art movement. French poet and critic G. Apollinaire coined the term “Orphic Cubism” as “the art of painting new totalities with elements that the artist does not take from visual reality, but creates entirely by himself.”
Walking through the world in “A Robe of Stars and Rainbows
By the Marvelous Marty.

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Philosophers With Strange Personalities and Theories, Part 1

(This is the third post in this series on Philosophers. The second post focused on the long history of philosophers as mathematicians and their many accomplishments. This post focuses on some of the unusual personalities involved in this vocation and the theories they advocated. . The first post focused on philosophy as a set of standard puzzles or conceptual problems. It should be acknowledged that the “Western” tradition of philosophy is our focus; men such as Confucius and Lao Tsu are sadly excluded due to my limited capacities.)

Diogenes by John William Waterhouse. Diogenes rejected the customs of his time and reportedly lived in a ceramic jar.

Socrates is one of the originators of western philosophy. He reportedly took his own theory so seriously that he was willing to drink a cup of poison hemlock and die, in response to a death sentence for his beliefs trumped up as charges of corruption of the youth and disrespect for the gods. He could have escaped but refused to run from the verdict of his peers.

The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David (1787). In his final lesson to his pupils, Socrates accepts the verdict of the polis and takes the cup of hemlock.

Most known for his method of question and answer, Socrates believed that truth could only be attained through a probing dialogue of the opinions of the community. These Socratic Dialogues are displayed in the works of Plato where Socrates guides his rhetorical partners to the discovery of the truth contained in their beliefs. Therefore, a man with no community was fatally incomplete. In this sense, Socrates accepted the verdict of his community and willingly participated in his own death, declining the option of exile.

Diogenes Searches for an Honest Man by J.H.W. Tischbein (1780). He roamed the streets of Athens with a lamp in the daytime to demonstrate his belief that most “appropriate behavior” was motivated only by a fear of retribution and a fear of the adverse opinion of others. Sincerity was hard to find, believed The Cynic.

With Socrates’ death, Plato rose to prominence, but his authority was not accepted by Diogenes and several other Athenian thinkers. He, and Antisthenes, reacted to the Socratic Method by regarding it as having proven the emptiness of common opinion and custom. They founded the school of philosophical Cynicism, and coached indifference to life and to the opinion of others. Diogenes accepted poverty and shocked his fellow Athenians by urinating on them, and defecating and masturbating in public. The Cynic defended all these behaviors with argumentation and snide comments about the shallowness of common society. At Plato’s lectures, Diogenes was present merely to heckle.

In Modern Philosophy, Ludwig Wittgenstein is not only known for his philosophical accomplishments but also his personality. “Enigmatic” and “herculean” seem to be words well suited to him. Twice he thought he had solved all the problems of philosophy, and each time from a basically different perspective. After the first triumph, he gave up philosophy and taught grade school in a rural area of Austria. (It should be noted that this idyllic tale of a return to the simplicity of the rural school teacher ended when Wittgenstein apparently whacked a dull-minded student who then passed out and filed charges.)

Looking more like a mug shot, this is Wittgenstein’s portrait taken upon his return to Trinity College, Cambridge England in 1929.

Personally, he was very difficult to know. Wittgenstein had a very disarming approach toward people; disdaining the “pleasantries of common conversation,” he often spoke without any pretense and was uncomfortably direct. At Oxford, he commanded great respect from persons such as Bertrand Russell who became his mentor, initially. Among these people, Wittgenstein was a dominant presence and influence, this included his students and colleagues. A friend and philosopher said, “Each conversation with (him) was like living through the day of judgment. It was terrible. Everything had constantly to be dug up anew, questioned and subjected to the test of truthfulness.” It is as if he had to penetrate to the essence of everything, felt novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch, for whom Ludwig apparently served as the inspiration for several of her fictional characters.

So, he had highly accomplished friends and acquaintances, and he made a deep impact on many of them. It bordered on something like a cult, some commentators have suggested.

Wittgenstein’s Poker is an entire book written around an incident that occurred in 1946 at a meeting of the Moral Science Club at Oxford where another prominent philosopher of the time, Karl Popper, was to deliver a paper. That book is the source of much of this material and a worthy read. Popper and Wittgenstein were from Vienna, Jewish, and of the same era, but had little else in common. The book describes their lives, philosophies and then this eventual encounter in which Ludwig gave Popper all of about five minutes into the paper before he burst in with several questions, lost his temper in response to Popper’s answers, and then grabbed a fireplace poker. He brandished the poker in the air and at Popper for affect, until disarmed; at which point he stormed from the room.

By the way, Wittgenstein’s father was one of the richest men in Europe. He was the Andrew Carnegie of Austria, in other words—steel. He was a brilliant businessman and highly demanding of all those around him, especially his sons. Two of his sons eventually committed suicide and Ludwig was haunted by phobias and a death-wish through much of his life. In possible defense of the father, it should be said that post WWI Europe was a time and place where many men took their own lives. One of Ludwig’s brothers did so in the shame caused when his Austrian soldiers mutinied and refused to follow him into battle. When his father died, Ludwig became terribly rich, but he put most of his money into a trust to be managed by his sisters and brother, and proceeded to live very modestly.

The Grand Staircase of “The Wittgenstein House” as the father, Karl, preferred to call it. Most people referred to it as the Palais Wittgenstein, The Palace of Wittgenstein.
One of the Salons of the Palais, grand piano at left. A pianist playing at the ‘house’ could chose between six grand pianos.

As Ludwig grew up, The Wittgenstein House was one of the most prominent in Vienna. His father was active in many progressive political causes and his mother was a patron of the arts. Musicians, politicians, artists and activists flocked there in search of patronage, conversation and dazzling personal performances and social affairs. Ludwig’s brother, Paul, was himself a concert pianist until the First World War deprived him of his right arm, at which point two Concertos For the Left Hand where written for him, one by Ravel (the most famous) and one by Prokofiev.

In 1925, Wittgenstein’s sister commissioned the design and construction of a thoroughly modern townhouse. She hired her friend, architect Paul Engelmann, with the assistance of Ludwig, to accomplish this project.

The Haus Wittgenstein in Vienna is a series of interconnected boxes. The more I look at it and learn about it, the more I like it.

It is not clear who did what, but the attention to detail and precision in much of the house is characteristically Ludwig. The house seems to me to be remarkable in its clean and classic symmetry, but strikingly modern. The stories abound concerning these features. Steam radiators designed and cast as no others before or since. Each radiator as if an art object. Craftsmen furious and screaming concerning Wittgenstein’s concern for every millimeter. The house was nearly complete, one story goes, when Ludwig insisted the ceiling in a main room be torn out and raised three (3!) centimeters. Upon completion, all agreed the adjustment was beneficial.

The house’s design is “Stark and stripped back to its bare bones, it eschews all forms of decoration,” and this is in line with the beliefs of Alfred Loos, leading modernist architect of the time and Engelmann’s mentor. Ludwig thoroughly agreed with these principles and declared that architecture was more difficult than philosophy.

(The Margarethe Stonborough-Wittgenstein House: An interior staircase, a doorway-window combination and its multiple options, one of the specially designed and cast steam radiators. Thanks to The London List site for all photos of house and above quote.)

Wittgenstein accepted Engelmann’s basic structure of the house, reportedly; but made major alterations to the interior floor plan and details.
THANKS TO MY DEDICATED READERS!

(Stay tuned, Part II to be published Tomorrow Morning! Part II: What did this strange and ingenious man –Ludwig Wittgenstein — think about the THE SHAPE OF REALITY???)

OUR LONG AND WINDING ROAD of DECLARATIONS ABOUT WHAT IS TRUE, continues Tomorrow!

THE NATURERELIGIONCONNECTION.ORG

Will Republicans Attempt to Defend the Indefensible?

Who would have thought that I would ever become a Liz Cheney fan?

Acts of political and personal courage should be acknowledged, especially these days. Liz Cheney is standing firm against “The Big Lie,” that her party actually won the past presidential election, that it was “stolen.” 70% of Republicans believe it was illegitimate, according to CBS Nightly News. Cheney is the daughter of Republican former Vice President Dick Cheney and a conservative congresswoman from Wyoming. Despite these bone fides she is under attack from Mr. Trump and the Republican leadership for her efforts to uphold our country’s democratic integrity.

The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution,” she wrote May 5th in an op-ed for the Washington Post. She declares that Republicans must stand with “the rule of law” and reject “the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”

Here in Ohio, we face a similar challenge. Will Jane Timken attempt to defend the indefensible?  In her guest column in The Dispatch of 4/13, “President, Allies on Reckless Tax-and-Spend Policy Program,” Timken—former chairwoman of the Ohio Republican Party– emphasizes her allegiance to former President Trump. 

She will “advance an America First agenda.” She will oppose “the far-left agenda” of the “radical” Green New Deal.  She credits Mr. Trump with the development of the vaccines that have “turned a corner” on the COVID pandemic. Yes, these same vaccines that many Republicans now refuse to get.

This last contention, especially, raises the question, will she play fast and loose with the facts as does Trump?  We all know that the Trump administration deserves no credit for containing or defeating this virus.  Mr. Trump opposed mask-wearing and declined to social distance.  Several of his events became mass spreaders. His administration provided little guidance, support or coordination to our states during this clearly national crisis.

Ms. Timken seeks the Republican nomination for Ohio’s soon-to-be-vacated senatorial seat.  At the start of every Q & A session of her campaign she should be asked, “Do you believe the 2020 Presidential Election was stolen by the Democrats?” Unless she clearly and unequivocally rejects this lie, it should be held as the central issue of her candidacy.

There is little question that there is no real or ample proof of a fraudulent election.  Beyond Cheney, other stalwart Republicans are disavowing the lie.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham’s courageous speech after the traitorous events of January 6th stands out as a highlight in contemporary American politics.  “Enough is enough,” he said, “It is over…Joe Biden is the legitimate President of The United States.”  Graham continued by saying that he has been told there are thousands of fraudulent votes in Georgia and Arizona, to which he replied, “give me ten”—show me proof of ten—but the result was zero, “haven’t got one.”  No proof has been presented to him, he declared.

Recently, an old hand in Ohio and American Republican politics—John Boehner, commented (NPR, 4/12) that he believes former President Trump has “abused the loyalty and trust of his supporters.”  On the supposed illegitimate votes, “There’s really been nothing of any significance that would have changed one state’s election outcome, not one…nothing even close,” he said. Boehner is a former Ohio congressman and Speaker of The House of Representatives.

This lie needs to be rejected. The self-serving, delusional, and paranoid thinking that is at its basis, needs to be rejected. American politics is not often pretty, but our electoral integrity stands true. It is our American “miracle” writes Cheney, quoting the Republican Party idol, former President Ronald Reagan.

We are not perfect, but we keep trying to ensure the right.
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Cycles, Designs, and Persons: Where We Come From…

(If there were a book, “The Nature Religion Connection,” this is how this series of posts would be organized and reworked for it. Yes, a book sounds good. This post will soon receive its own Category in the Index for this site, or at least until I get that book published! ————- So where do “Persons” come from? Well, we have “a folk theory” in our everyday and almost universally held image of things. That view has been given the name, “The Manifest Image” [of man and woman] and it contains a psychological theory that explains what a “Person” is and how they are connected to the world. It seems this view we hold of ourselves has been Endorsed By Nature!)

Part One: “In the Beginning”

The Molecular Structure of Benzene, suggested in a dream to Friedrich August Kekule in 1865. The Ouroboros, the serpent eating its own tail, mythical symbol of infinity and the cycle of life and death.

“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 “to get 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.

Visualization of a wormhole. Granted, this object is hard to describe and involves very complex math, but a person is complex in a different way.

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!)

(Two more examples of Kekule Structures. Note the central role of the Carbon atoms.)

(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.)

Here is our Designer. The Bowerbird family of birds, range from 9-16 inches, 22-40 cm. New Guinea.)

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!

The Abundance of Animal Creations. Biologists have so far identified 1.7 million species of living creatures and estimate there may be as many as 9 million. Painting by Jan Brueghal the Elder, 1596: The Landscape of Paradise and the Loading of the Animals in Noah’s Ark.

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; a response 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 explain them or 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!)

THE CREATIVE POWER OF DESIGN, AND THE NETWORK OF RELATED DESIGNS ON EARTH: “Darwin’s bubble-up theory of creation” with “all the creative design work” conceived as if “a lifting in Design Space.” Dan Dennett

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

More from The World of DESIGN: Our Logo by the marvelous Marty

Hen to pan,” All is One!

Part Two: The World Is Working Towards Us!

Getting a handle on things, at “The Connection!”

Cycles within cycles, designs with no designers; and eventually along came Persons. 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.

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 Objectivity and shear Subjectivity. Those twain shall not soon reunite for most ways of thinking! In our effort, 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.

The idea of a single Atom as a simple unity of only an area of space and a duration of time. From the Greek, Atomos, that which cannot be divided or cut.

We also understand a Design by reference to its own standards or focus. Each of its parts refer to its other parts; each Functions and they all function together. In this way, a design has achieved some closure. Somewhat figuratively, we can then say, with Designs a more complex “inside” has appeared in the world!

Design in the Non-Living World

Design is not only present in the biological world, it is also suggested to us in the Cycles of the prebiotic world. There are cycles “at many spacio-temporal scales”, says Dennett. Some are as obvious as night and day, and the 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 regular Convection 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.

A Rule-Following and Repetitive Method of Accumulating: first, 324 will be accumulated 6 times; picture the loops, 6 times 4, carry the 2; 6 times 2…then, return to the very beginning, now, 324 will be accumulated 40 times. Finally the two results will be combined.
Sorting using an Algorithmic method. Let’s sort groups of 5 out of a total of 125. Again we use a circular and repetitive method. 5 does not go into 1, so start again, this time 5 does go into 12, 2 times. And around and around we go, finally getting the result that we can sort 5 out of 125, 25 times.

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 or the Standards or Focus that was mentioned earlier for any Design. (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 Thinking are 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 available for use in various forms/designs as vapor, liquid, and ice. The process of Cell Division and Multiplication renews cellular life and multiplies its presence but also allows for slight variation. [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 One, 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 Two 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 Three, we will explore “Our Thinking About Design and Our Participation in It.” )

THE WORLD IS AN INTERESTING ARRAY, and we often work to make it less tragic and diminish its suffering!
“Stay Safe!” by Marty

Part Three: Cycles, Designs, and Persons, “Mama’s Last Goodbye”

“Mama’s Last Good Bye.” Mama, the aged and dying chimp, had spent her entire life among humans. She displays a great deal of Personality. Her death was in the news as psychological researchers who had worked with her since the 1970s came to her to say their last farewell. One may wonder, What did she have In Mind during these last experiences?

(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 chapter 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, from Chemicals to Mind is what we need, says Dan Dennett, America’s most popularly known philosopher. Many people think we already have that explanation. It was written 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 around these issues, 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 chapter. 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 Remarkable Array of Brains! Brains, themselves, have accumulated and built upon the smaller and simpler brains that preceded them. Some do get pretty Big. Some do stay pretty small. Some seem to have significant “abstract” abilities. Thanks to the National Academy of Sciences for this marvelous graphic! (PNAS.org.) See later in the post for a brief explanation of these strange category names, such as Afrotheria and Xenarthra.. Researchers found that in rodents, for example, an increase in the number of brain cells is associated with a very large (proportional) brain size increase, but in primates, a similar increase in cell numbers leads to a much smaller increase in size. Primates get more neurons per volume of brain than other species. But still! How is “Experience” the same as “the electrical activity of neurons”? Its true, the two are highly correlated! ANSWER: The two are different ways of talking about the same thing, different ways that serve different purposes. “Design” is the idea and reality that helps us walk this road.

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 physics is 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 unusual ritual 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 designers of 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. 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’ called human 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 life and 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 [1997], 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.

“Design Space” is displayed in the above Cladogram. The strange terms of classification in the earlier graphic array of Brains –Afrotheria, Xenarthra, etc.– are clade classifications. Clades are an alternative to the more traditional classification of living things based on general similarities in behavior, anatomical structure, and appearance. Clades are based in chains of descent from a common ancestor generally discovered by genetic similarities. They are a more accurate method of tracing Design in the world. The vertical line at bottom of any group is their last common ancestor. Clade organization avoids mistakes such as the initial classification of whales and dolphin with fish.

Persons are a development in this context of design as evolved on our planet. Persons are a design with a Reflective Sense of Itself and 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.

THE RELATIONSHIP OF DESIGNS IN THE UNIVERSE: The concentric ripples of water in a pond. Oil painting by Ai Shah, Japanese/Australian artist. Thanks to mymodernmet site for image.

In Part Four 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”.

CREATING THE MEDICINE MANDALA and “THE HEAVENLY PALACE ALL AROUND
Stay Safe, Stay Warm, and Stay Tuned for Part Four in Cycles within Cycles and Designs with No Designers! Still Working to Transcend “The Deluded Life“, here at THE NATURE RELIGION CONNECTION!

Part Four: Persons and “The Larger Us”

(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 Four.)

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.

Papa’s Got a Brand New Hat!
This is Not Exactly the kind of Personality we are talking about, But similar! Reflecting on the possibility of Design.. Photo by GWW

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 [1611], 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 melonNature 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.

Humans as machines, in a high-tech world. Understanding Persons as complex tech. Illustration by Kuo Cheng Liao (from Harvard Business Review.)

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 part 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 Five, 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!)

If the EYES are “the window of the soul”, What is The Nose? WISHING YOU WERE HERE! Making new friends at the Children’s Garden of the Franklin Conservatory in Columbus. Photo by GWW. (Answer: maybe the nose is a B.S. detector. Hope you don’t smell any around here! ) Any thoughts? I would love to hear them!
MAKING MEANING at The NatureReligionConnection. Drawings by The Marvelous Marty!

Part Five: With Persons in Mind

(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! We have been working on this view of ourselves for maybe 40,000 years, and here is its latest telling! It is almost like our own mythology, but one that works. Hey, we’re on a roll! )

Part IV really left our protagonists “in the lurch.” Persons had just begun to 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.

After all, a Person is itself a cycle and a Design among supporting cycles and designs. Robert Delaunay, Rythme n*1 (1938).

Persons further created themselves by establishing leaders of their communities and initiating rituals—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”.

The “Anishinaabe” is their Self-Name, but known better to us as Chippewa or Ojibwa. They have lived from Ontario, Canada, to Minnesota and North Dakota of the U.S. Their self-name translates to “Original People”. And The Winnebago people were saddled with that name given to them by a rival group. “Winnebago” means “filthy water.” Their self-name is Ho-Chunk, meaning “People with The Big Voice.” “Us” or “Our People” is a Representation that begins to accumulate significance for behavior. It is a new “Thing”—Ho-Chunk or Anishinaabe.

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”.

A great example of Real, Durable Patterns in the world, that are nonetheless clearly associated to Human Subjects: The Pyramids at Giza.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell so sweet”, said Mr. Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. But there are limits to this contention. If we describe a rose and its ‘smell’ in strictly chemical terms—we jump to a radically different vocabulary– there is no “Smell;” it is all chemicals and their reactions in the flower and in us. We have taken a term and phenomena from one vocabulary and described it in a completely different way. Sorry, photo of a perennial Poppy (by GWW), not a rose! I don’t grow Roses, and poppy don’t smell much either.

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..

“Bubbling Up!”

Bubbling Up to us: We say, “The light just came on”; “It was an inspiration”, and these occur within what we call “our mind”. Things Bubble Up within “Mind!.”

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 us as a community for some form of explicit Representation.

When an idea has come “bubbling up to Uswe are speaking the vocabulary of Persons in Our Manifest World View. Of course, we can also talk of this in the language of Neuro Science and Chemistry. But be careful, not to mix vocabulary! An “Idea”, “an Inspiration” does Not exist consistently in the world as Chemistry or Physics know it. “INSTUMENTALISM” in philosophy: there are many ways to interpret “The World” and each is an instrument for a certain purpose. (Thanks to Physics World for the image)

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!”

HERE IS SOME “HUMAN JOINT ACTION”: A painter painted a painter painting, a Representation of an act of Representation. It is a mistake to model the Idea of Representation, on the notion that it is a Copy of a Prior and Independently Existing Thing. Most artists would never think of their product as a simple copy of what already existed. The toughest question seems to be, “Can the same be said for science?” John Singer Sargent’s painting of Monet painting, titled Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood (1885). The woman is Monet’s wife Alice.
J.S.Bach, he is believed to have fathered 20 children; only 4 made it to adulthood! Portrait by Elias G. Haussmann (1748)

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 as a 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 that maybe 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 Part in The Cycles and Designs Series coming next. “Same Time! Same Bat Channel!

(DID SIMILAR PROCESSES CREATE BOTH OF THESE??? ARE THEY BOTH REAL THINGS? YES!)

Yes, a person is a Representation in the making! “Help! Am I Only a Representation” drawing by the Marvelous Marty.

The Finale: Part Six in Cycles, Designs, and Persons——“Humanity Returned to The Lap of Mother Nature”

(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’s confusedly “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 chapter, 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 represent the 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, PersonsPersons 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

Bill Blake’s own illustrated version! (1794) Thanks to Interesting Literature.

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 view contains these ideas, or one’s similar. This is “the Manifest Image” we have of ourselves. It is in this commonly used vocabulary (really Without 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 [1954], Pablo Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror [1932], John William Waterhouse, Echo and Narcissus [1903].)

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?

Kunstformen der Natur by Ernst Haeckel. The Art Forms of Nature.

Humanity Returned to The Lap of Mother Nature

(Thanks for your patience. I rushed to finish This Giant Re-Organization and Re-Working to meet my Sunday morning publishing goal. The final parts may need some further work!)

STAY CONNECTED at the NATURERELIGIONCONNECTION.org

                                  

patience

Too Much Violence, Too Many Guns

It feels like a massive storm has descended upon us, a storm of biblical proportions.  For more than 40 days and 40 nights we have endured.  Mercifully, the George Floyd jury found former Officer Chauvin guilty on Tuesday 4/20. Without that, our boat may have swamped.

No sooner than the skies started to clear with that verdict, actually about 20 minutes before its announcement, here in my own Columbus another tragedy befell us.  Ma’Khia Bryant was shot to death by a police officer.  She was a 16 year old African-American girl in the act of swinging a knife at another girl in the midst of an apparent brawl.  All caught on body camera.  Further, the officer, himself, was but a kid, a 23 years old and on the force one year.

Tragedy is the norm these days, and bullets were also raining in this town on the previous Saturday, 4/17.  In an event worthy of much more attention, LaToya Renee Carpenter, 32, died when struck in the head by a stray while driving to pick up her 11 year old at 7:30 pm.  Ironically, a vigil was in process on the southeast side for a homicide that occurred one year previously in a “drug deal gone bad” according to The Columbus Dispatch and police reports.  An SUV drove by this vigil, and sprayed the small group with bullets injuring 9 and killing LaToya while in the act of being a good mother—her daughter now motherless and her fiancé without a partner.

Black lives do matter, and very sadly they are being wasted on all fronts.  The Violence Data Brief for Franklin County compiled by the City of Columbus informs us that African-Americans are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized by firearms-related assault than Whites.  Black men are 14 times more likely to die by gun violence than white men—48.4 to 3.4 per 100,000.  Latoya Carpenter’s death was the 60th this year, a full two months ahead of last year’s record-setting pace of 170 homicides for this city.  Almost 75% of U.S. homicides are committed with a gun. 

And indeed they are.  We are also amidst a tsunami of mass murder. 

Atlanta, March 16; 8 shot dead at spas by a man seeking to solve his sex addiction by eliminating the temptation, according to him.

Bolder, March 22; 10 killed while shopping for groceries by a man prone to outbursts of rage.

Rock Hill, South Carolina, April 7; 6 killed (two of which children), shot for no apparent reason by a man mentally ill ever since his professional football career, contends his father.

Indianapolis, April 15; 8 killed at a Fed Ex terminal by a pimpled 19 year old whose mother had legally removed a shotgun from his possession only to have him buy new assault rifles to commit this blood-letting.

So, what to do?  There are many things that could be done and many things that should be tried.  New police training, removal of officers with questionable records, discontinuation of the use of police as the initial and primary intervention in mental health and domestic problems.  Even minor traffic issues are not always best resolved by the intervention of a white man with badge and gun.

And what of the guns themselves?  Too many, too easy to get, too easy to use, too carelessly owned, too powerful for any reasonable purpose.  It’s time to rebuild our flood walls and stop the flow of these vile devices.  If only they were just used for hunting and self-defense!  No real right need be violated to stem these waters.

There is too much death in our time.  I’m drowning.  We’re drowning!  Efforts will continue to mitigate this disaster.  Please help.  More votes will be taken, petitions signed, more marches will be held, and we need to be there.  My sign will say, “Too Much Violence, Too Many Guns.”

Philosophers and Mathematicians

(So, “What is a Philosopher, Anyhow?” The second post in that series. Scroll back a few to find post one. Thanks!)

A famous contemporary mathematician

It may well be true that Philosophy started with Mathematics; well, at least here in ‘the western world.’ Nobody knows for sure. The ancient Greeks had their Drama, their Mythology, their Religious Rituals, their Political Oratory, and each of these contributed to the rise of Abstract Thinking; but they also had their math. Even today, the most abstract math, “pure math,” exists and makes contributions to our life and our thought in ways hard to precisely capture.

(The Chorus of a Greek Drama [left], often commented and emphasized as if an all-knowing observer. [Top Right] The Pythia is the Oracle of Delphi, some believe her ‘powers’ were enhanced by the inhalation of hydrocarbon gasses; illustration’s author unknown. [Bottom] Depiction of Pericles’ Funeral Oration in the agora of Athens—Franz Foltz, 1853—honoring those lost in the Peloponnesian war versus Sparta, circa 431 BCE. The speech is relayed to us by, probably actually the work of, Thucydides in his History of that war. This book is one of the earliest “histories” of all time and the speech is considered by some to be the greatest ever given!)

Mathematician Gregory Chaitin says he has a very practical side too, “but there’s also, in me, a side that likes beautiful mathematical arguments and these fantasy worlds of pure mathematics…We do need some people who do pure mathematics with no applications, at least maybe not for a hundred years. People who think philosophically...”

Chaitin is one of today’s greatest mathematicians. Born of Argentinian parents, he is the discoverer (or inventor: “I invented it,” he says) of The Omega Number (also called Chaitin’s number). “Omega is sort of a unicorn or a flying horse, — a mathematical fantasy in the Platonic world of ideas…which has this strange number glowing there,” he says (my emphases). (See the following Link.) Adding to the amazement, he did the initial work on Omega while a senior in High School! (Hey, as a senior, I was too busy chasing after a girl named Beverly Bushel to mess with any mathematical stuff!)

The Omega Number: is known to be between zero and one , and to go on forever with no repeating pattern (it is an irrational number).

I have been trying to develop a short and shallow summary of this strange creature–this number–but honestly, without much success. It has something to do with the “elegance” of a theory or a computer program. Elegance meaning spare, to the point, and yet complete and perfectly expressive of the phenomena being described or replicated. Its essence captured “beautifully.” Chaitin proves, apparently, that there is no way to be certain that any program accomplishes this , that there may always be a better way to do it lurking somewhere or somehow.

There is an important set of problems in mathematics that involve conjectures that cannot be proven but seem accurate. Conjectures about the character of all prime numbers was given as an example. To test them, all that can be done is look at every prime number, for which there is no end, of course. So, the issue has now turned to speculation about The Tree of All Possible Computer Programs and their evaluation in terms of the number of bits of information each would use.

The Omega Number provides us with the answer to whether a program or programs, among this tree, will eventually find its answer and come to a halt—find a prime number that defies the conjecture, for example—or go on forever looking, and this without running the program but just from the program’s form.

The Omega relies on The Turing Halting Problem and its theoretically possible solution with a Turing Halting Oracle program. The oracle discovers the number of programs that will halt. But the famous mathematician and founder of the computer, Alan Turing, also proved (apparently) that there is no practical solution to The Halting Problem, it is incomputable, though theoretically true. Therefore, The Omega Number, though real and true, is—also—practically beyond our calculating powers, i.e. unknowable to us.

Now that is a philosophical and a mathematical puzzle! I hope my summary was remotely accurate.

Many Philosophers Have Been Mathematicians

Russell in 1959. He was from a noted British aristocratic family. He and his father were early and outspoken atheists and Bertrand refused to participate in WWI.

The famous modern British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, along with his mentor Alfred North Whitehead—also a philosopher and mathematician—wrote Principia Mathematica, a three volume work published from 1910 to 1913. It attempted to base all math in symbolic logic and to reduce the fundamental principles of math into a set as small as possible. It contained “hundreds of pages of numbers, symbols, and equations,” and “later in life (Russell) claimed he knew of only six people who had read it from beginning to end” (from the book Wittgenstein’s Poker).

In philosophy, Russell led the revolt against Idealism, for which Whitehead was a prominent proponent, and started the modern Analytic Tradition. Its goal is to reduce any theory or tradition of speech (such as ethical language) to its basic assumptions and components.

Portrait of Rene Descartes, by Frans Hal.

But it was a famous Frenchman who wrote, “I think, therefore I am.” (cogito, ergo sum). The story goes that as a young soldier in the Thirty Year War between Protestant and Catholic countries in central Europe starting in about 1620, Rene Descartes huddled inside an old abandoned stove to seek warmth and there began to write the first volume of his famous Philosophical Meditations. He is most known for his explicit division of reality into two very contrasting realms—the material and the ideal, or, in other words, the mechanical (the Body) and the mental (the Mind). This is called Philosophical Dualism.

Analytic Geometry: beloved by many a high schooler (or not!).

In mathematics, Descartes was quite accomplished. He invented (or discovered) Coordinate Geometry, which was then highly significant to Isaac Newton’s work. Among his other contributions is the convention of using a superscript to denote powers or exponents (x2).

Descartes was also a scientist and attempted to study animals as Mechanisms, but contended Humans were both machines (body) and soul (Mind, non-mechanism). Though he contended he was a devout Catholic, he fought for the Dutch Protestant armies (as a mercenary, and military engineer–where he studied the flight of cannon balls and the craft of aiming a cannon). Other philosophers of his time accused him of atheism because in his thinking God played no further role after getting the mechanisms of the world started.

Calculus provides the description of an orderly curved line, like the flight of a cannon ball or the orbit of the Moon. Its flight is formed by the pull of gravity of the Earth and its compromise with the tangential momentum of the Moon’s, or ball’s, forward velocity. The moon is “falling around the Earth;” it can be said, while the cannon ball is in an orderly fall back to Earth.

Isaac Newton is thought of primarily as a scientist, though in the 17th century the line between these more abstract pursuits was blurry. Newton wrote extensive biblical interpretations and speculations, along with his creation of classical physics.

For his mathematical description of the movements of the planets, he invented Differential Calculus which was a development upon Descartes’ Analytic Geometry. Curiously, a philosopher living at the same time, in Germany, Gottfried Leibniz, also made this ‘discovery’ of calculus. The two engaged in a bitter dispute over its authorship lasting the remainder of their careers. Today, it is generally acknowledged as a simultaneous invention/discovery.

Back to The Greeks for The Finish

Pythagoras depicted in a detail from Raphael’s giant fresco from a wall in the Vatican, painted from 1509-1513.

Pythagoras is one of the western world’s earliest known mathematicians and philosophers. It is questionable how much math and philosophy attributed to him was actually his work.

For example, the famous Pythagorean Theorem, A2+B2=C2, was not known theoretically–as in this form, I guess–but was known practically by the Babylonians and Egyptians.

Line C is, of course, the hypotenuse. Every Right Triangle is composed of this orderly relationship between the Area of three squares–A,B, and C– that can be aligned with its sides.

I was once working with a friend of mine, a great craftsman who is short on formal education but long on intelligence. We were “finishing” his basement, framing the walls. We got to the first corner and he wanted the angle just right, 90 degrees. I thought we had it lined up pretty well just using a T square but he wanted it perfect (as always!) and said we will use the 3-4-5 rule. He measured out from the temporary corner 3 ft. on one wall, marked it, then 4 ft. on the other wall. If the diagonal line connecting these two marks was then 5 ft., the corner was true, 90 degrees. I realized, “that is the Pythagorean theorem,” I announced: 32 + 42 = 52 . Well, Pythagoras, or one of his associates, at least formalized this practical knowledge.

There is a legend that one day Pythagoras was walking by a group of men working metal, “blacksmiths.” They were pounding out a piece on an anvil using various hammers. He heard the sharp clanging sounds created by the repeated blows and began to think of their relation to music. He realized there was an orderly relationship between the size of the hammer, the force of the blow, and the sound that it made.

“A series of fifths generated can give one seven notes: a diatonic major scale on C in Pythagorean tuning.” Thanks to Wiki for diagram and explanation.

He then began experimenting with the four strings of a lyre and discovered that the sounds most often used musically, the Notes, the one’s most pleasing to our ear, could be organized into sets of four (a tetrachord) and then a set of eight (an octave) with a steady interval between them. These notes or pitches then coincided with a ratio of length of the lyre’s string used to create them. The ratio he found or decided upon as closest to those pleasing notes was 3:2, or what became known as “The Perfect Fifth” and this became the basis of the Pythagorean Tuning system used in western music up to the early 1500s. Our modern tuning system is very close to Pythagoras’, but differs just slightly in the frequency of vibration for each note.

(God, do I feel stupid as I try to write this post! I am not much of a mathematician or musician, so once again, I hope the above description of sound, music theory, acoustics is roughly accurate. Please, Comment [Bob, or anyone] if it is not, so that I may learn!)

Finally, dear old Pythagoras had another idea worth mentioning: The Harmony of The Spheres. To this man, and his followers, Numbers and Mathematics were godly, religious in character. All things were essentially numbers, or something like that. So, he speculated The Heavens (what we would now call stars, planets, and moons) were also numerically organized. That was a good idea, but since numerical relations were also Musical, he contended that the orderly movements of the sky also created A Harmonious Sound, A Celestial Symphony, but we could not hear it!

Atlas holding up the sky, which is A HARMONY OF SPHERES

IF ONLY IT WERE TRUE! What a pleasant idea! I’m not so sure that this last idea helps prove my case, THAT PHOLOSOPHERS KNOW SOMETHING. Maybe sometimes they just get carried away! But Pythagoras’ idea did influence Johannes Kepler!

Salvador Dali: The Harmony of The Spheres (1978)

A Threatening Letter, and The Tragedy of Guns Continues

(This old business is sad business! Three mass shooting in the US in less than a month! I have a new sign in my front yard, but still no progress on gun regulation in Ohio or in Washington, though President Biden is planning to take some executive actions.

I found this draft of a post in my file and decided to run it at this point. My wife asked me not to publish it initially, she was worried by the threatening letter I had received. At this point, over a year and a half after the mass murder in my home town of Dayton, our Republican Governor’s modest package of gun controls has been rejected by our Republican controlled legislature.

But now, after the Atlanta, Bolder, and Texas shootings, I refuse to give up especially in light of the stupidity that composes so much of the opposition to any efforts to control these vile and excessive weapons! The weapon used in Bolder was a semi-automatic pistol with modifications. Here is the original draft –following the pictures–now published with some modifications.)

(Top Left, one of three shooting sites in Atlanta area where 8 woman were killed by a 21 year old “strict” Christian man who said he had a sex addiction and was eliminating his temptation.. Middle, King Sooper grocery store where 10 were killed by a young man with known mental problems using a semi-automatic pistol that he had purchased just days before; he shot it out with police in store before being arrested. Right or Bottom, Texas cabinet factory where a 27 year old disgruntled worker killed 1 and wounded 5 two of which still in critical condition, one a responding police officer.)

The Original Post following the Dayton Murders

On Sept. 13, (2019) The Columbus Dispatch published a letter I submitted arguing for a tightening of Ohio gun laws.  The paper is not “The Disgrace”, far from it; it has a moderate Republican orientation and went so far as to endorse Hillary in ’16 and is calling for gun control now.  About five weeks after the mass shooting in Dayton took the lives of 9 innocent people in a 24 second hail of gunfire, I wrote the editor and was published.  It still shocks and angers me that in 24 seconds, 9 people could be killed and 17 injured.  My letter was most immediately prompted by a set of proposals tentatively put forward by our Governor.  In response to my letter, I received at home through the mail a rather peculiar and unfortunate response.  My letter and parts of the reply are printed below.  Its writer included a fake name and address, I discovered upon further research.

       Momentum is building for gun restrictions

Our Republican governor has conjured up the courage to defy the National Rifle        Association and the bulk of his party’s elected officials and will be putting forth a weak-kneed  proposal involving 17 actions — including some mental health                  up-grades — that is far better than nothing.  It is time to turn the cultural tide              against guns.

It is time to expand the limitations of the right to own a gun, a right that has already  been appropriately limited with our agreed-upon outlawing of automatic weapons.    We obviously need to go further.

Ohioans have the right to public safety.  Our children have the right to be safe in        school.  Manhood is not about owning a gun and certainly not about owning a            military-style weapon.

Better than the governor’s upcoming “red flag” proposal is the one currently being    sponsored by state Democrats and the courageous and clear-thinking Republican   state Sen. Peggy Lehner from the Dayton area.  It proposes a court hearing on the safety of a given individual’s possession of a gun and then allows that individual to respond in court if the weapons are removed.

Even in Washington, D.C., there is renewed pressure to, as the people of Dayton          shouted, “Do something!”

Readers should call or write their elected officials.  Put a sign in the yard.  There is an upcoming rally and march downtown on Wednesday with the Ohio Coalition  Against  Gun  Violence.  Act now!

Greg W.

A rather simple and straight-forward set of points.  All except for the manhood comment, which I was rather surprised The Dispatch printed.  I am familiar with letters to editor (LTE)  and I thought that comment would be removed in editing as too testy.

Here are some exerts from the response I received.  My wife has asked me not to make too much of this incident, not wanting to provoke further hostility.  I agree, and will provide for you just a sense of it.  It consisted of two pages, the first is described below.  It was extreme.  His caps and bolding.

HEY……WHAT THE FUCK WOULD YOU KNOW ABOUT MANHOOD! My take upon  reading your LTE submittal to The Columbus DisGrace is YOU are undoubtedly a naive, sniveling , sentient cry-baby pussy who collapses at the slightest provocative action! You could be a #MeToo, or a tree-huggin enviroWacko ! BTW, I’m continually  amazed that The Columbus Disgrace doesn’t run out of confused Democrat schlubs  like you….

LISTEN UP YOU COWARDLY DUMB MOTHER-FUCKER! Red Flag Laws or Universal BackGround Checks maybe feel good non-remedies to the Gee I Pissed My Pants  Crowd but they are also utterly useless and ineffective deterrents ! Admit it ASSWIPE   You want “gun confiscation” and abolishment of 2nd Amendment !  …Americans will NEVER….NEVER …EVER give up their guns! Guess who looses this argument ?….

KNOW THIS, YOU’RE A POOR EXCUSE FOR A MALE AND AN AMERICAN! Know also  that when the anarchy for which you unwittingly advocate for and promulgate  breaks out….it’s most probable that you won’t be able to scatter your old wrinkly ,      pansy ASS to the tall weeds ! Why’s that you axe ? Well….. could it be a dull machete  intervened ? Could be , since the God of Abraham knows where you live. The (3) Eyed Raven has now been assigned to keep a vigilant eye on you. There will be a        reckoning!  Praise the Lord ! Amen!

Note in the third paragraph near the end, he seems to threaten me with the “dull machete” reference.  Obviously he knows where I live; heck, I’m in the phone book.

It appears that my manhood comment bothered this guy.  Note the reference to it several times and all the disparaging phrases referencing to women in various ways.  Following the above, he had a sketch similar to below of “the three-eyed raven” he refers to as “CORVUS CORAX” which is the scientific name for the raven species.

I assumed the “three-eyed raven” was a biblical reference. Wrong! Game of Thrones. Now I’m really scared!

Also on the first page and to the side was this statement (all bold):

“HEY BOZO! Hope this does not ‘bunch up’ your panties!  NO ONE has a right to public safety!  An expectation …..yes…but not a right!  Own/Bear arms is a RIGHT and I can prove it !!!!!”

Now, The Declaration of Independence does state, in paragraph two,  that there are “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  To me, that would imply public safety, but I will give him the point that that is not literally stated in The Constitution.

The first page of his letter ends with a reprinting of my letter to the editor in the bottom right corner.

The second page is a ‘wanted poster’.  In large letters it starts “WANTED” and then has the pictures of eight Democrats including Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Hillary, and Barack Obama.  “For TREASON & HIGH CRIMES“, it continues on the bottom, and then ends with a picture of a noose and a drawing of a firing squad.

(Well, there it is.  I can assure you that appropriate steps were taken. I spoke to the Columbus Police and the local FBI office. Both said that there is a lot of this that is around, and that not much would probably come of it. Both inspected the letter [I mailed a copy to the FBI on request] and indeed, nothing further has become of it, from the writer or the authorities.)

Please Keep Up Your Efforts to Control Guns through State and National Legislation!

Making Meaning at The Connection even when things get a little hot! Meaning is initiated in Nature, Continued and Hopefully Enhanced by Humans—Meaning is in Our World! Drawing by the marvelous Marty.

But some ‘Persons,’ through their Mental Illness and arbitrary acts, endanger the Social Foundations of Meaningfulness. Other Persons, through their misguided Abstract Thinking, enable these attacks on A Secure and Meaningful Human Togetherness!