Freedom: Scientific Knowledge Lags Behind


(This is Post number lucky Eleven in this Series on Freedom and Mother Nature.  At last the point has arrived….Persons are free because Mother Nature has assembled enough In-Formation to give us the complexity to be a machine that reinterprets its own programs!  I hope that is not too hyperbolic, but it sure seems COOL!  When we experience according to our design, this is Freedom and is based on our acting upon our Information.  This world is turning out to be a better place, a more fortunate place, than often thought: it is Amazing and downright Venerable, if only we could come to realize it.  First published 01/29/2019)

Is an organism and its environment related in a way that is no more than like a gear in a clock work?  (Image from, Thanks.  Title image, Photo of Perennial Poppy by GWW)

Scientific Knowledge Lags Behind

Persons can be free because our knowledge of our world and ourselves supplements our ability to act, not replaces it. 

Hypothetically, we have great reason for imagining the behavior of all things to be explainable and predictable by scientific law.  We all know that the laws of physics apply to all things and as we are hurled about in an auto accident or fall from a ladder, that fact is doubly clear; but as we ‘choose’ who to marry or even where to go to eat,  it’s not so clear.  Yet, we can imagine a computer, programmed, to accumulate a tabulation according to standards of desirability, coming to a conclusion — attaining a threshold — and declaring: “She’s the one!”  So, designed objects — like a computer — are predictable too: Their behavior is caused!

Jazz exemplifies the significant combination of extensive training (design and programming) and improvisation (review and modification of programming: R&D).  “What is a brain…but a computer, and what is education but a form of programming?” rhetorically asks biologist R. Dawkins.

Same for us. Human persons are highly designed biologic machines; Mother Nature has seen to that.  As pieces of society, we are also highly programmed.  Musicians train for years, carpenters too.  Our freedom lies in two places: the experience of our complexity and our opportunity to review and revise our own program!

Organs and Organism, Organism and Environment, Person and the Society of Persons: Each are structures — feedback loops — for the production of increasingly complex designed objects.  The products of these Virtuous Circles of interaction attain a level of integration that is worthy of actions and explanations in their own terms, to a significant degree.  This is their moment of creativity.  They function more complexly ,”do new things”, new properties “emerge”.  An eye is a unique object, it is understood by the biologist as that which ‘sees’ and thus involves lens, retina and receptors, but this functioning does not exist in a world of sheer physics or only chemistry.  Scientists use the functions — the acts — we experience As Persons, to guide their research for chemical and atomic substructures.   But, persons, animals, plants, as whole entities (as phenotype) and as complexes of various functions, resist an easy reduction to terms other than their own.

We can imagine such reductions, and everyday, scientists work to discover particular reductions, but practically, we have not accomplished any Grand Reduction: The world is not REALLY, or ONLY chemicals or subatomic particles.  For example, we all know we are made of six chemical elements (“CHNOPS”) but as we look at them piled in a hardware store cart (all but one is available there) we should probably be struck by the vast difference between us and that pile, and we cannot mix it up and bake even the simplest living thing.  Physicist Sean Carroll tells us, in his wonderfully concise and clear article — Free Will is as Real as Baseball,  that though in principle we can imagine knowing the quantum states of all the universe’s elemental particles, in practice, it can never be accomplished.  These Grand Reductions, what Dan Dennett calls “Greedy Reductionism” as opposed to the practical and partial reductions we thrive upon, evade us.

That is an important clue to understanding how persons are Free.

Anticipating the direction  of this argument, it can be said at this point that what is missing from the hardware store cart mentioned above is not any of the ingredients of life, but its structure.  We know the ingredients, but we do not have their organization; we cannot yet attain the blue print.  How things are put together is more important than what they are made of.  This is the sense of the term “information” used in this series and, of course, borrowed from Dan Dennett: “information is design worth getting”. 

In a world of only atoms, talk of ‘persons’ has no place.  Talk of ‘a heart’ has no place.  It’s a category mistake — see post 9.

Yes, there is a sense in which all the most complex objects and functions did “arise” from atoms, but that process is described by Evolution and Evolution is not greedily reductionist.  It explains the functioning of increasingly complex unities through their use of information.  They have enhanced design, structure.  This leaves them their integrity, but also connects them to various substructures.  In the theory’s terms, I believe this means “phenotypes” are real and they do real work in the world, and their cause, their substructure — genes — are also real.

So, the better question is not whether things like color or human choices are real, but what is their relationship to subatomic particles and other such objects of science.

Dennett is a philosopher and theorist in artificial intelligence, biology and cognitive science.  He contends there are three “stances” we take toward the world to cope with the incongruence — the fact that we cannot explain the world all in one way.   Each stance explains its kind of object in terms somewhat unique to them, but also those terms indicate a dependence on levels ‘beyond’ them.  These are the physical stance, the design stance and the intentional stance.  Note, the term “stance” indicates acts or behaviors on our part that are based upon the complexity of Persons and our ability to have some ‘freedom’ to choose, if nothing else, what stance they take in trying to understand things in the world.  We can shift our point of view!

The Physical Stance

hqdefaultThe objects of the physical stance and their interactions are apparent.  It is the game of pool (post 8) with its permanent and independently existing objects that have no internal complexity (the balls) and an environment (the table) equally  unchanging, independently existing and simple. There are few presuppositions (intentions) here with these objects and the causal relations are clear — just bumping, speeds, masses and angles.

Now it should not be mistaken that these physical objects, like atoms or elemental particles or even biochemicals, are difficult to understand in one way; we use complex math and lengthy formulas to describe them; but they are not complex in other ways: They are highly predictable, they have only a few kinds of internal parts, and they lack any of the richer, vaguer qualities we find in many other objects in our world. A world simply of these qualities — space, mass, time, attraction, repulsion, charge, chemical bonding — is a pretty bland place.  It’s like static on a television screen: It lacks meaningful form.

The Design Stance

The design stance is more complex.  Its objects are “in-formed with a significant structure that corresponds to their environment that

Known for its highly formal, multi-stepped, nesting behavior, the digger wasp (Sphex) will repeat its entire routine if any part of it is disrupted.  It is designed and strictly programmed.  “It is very ‘sphexish'”, term coined by D. Hofstadter, cognitive scientist. See internet for videos of the famous digger wasp nesting experiment.

necessarily contains information pertinent  to that internal structure.  They are not independent of each other — the designed object and its environment.  This is the environment as Umwelt (see post nine).  For example, the structure and design of most of our modern automobiles are for use with our nicely paved roads and highways, their environment. The canine teeth of the predator are pertinent to the soft flesh of the prey.

The designed object is also different from the physical object by being based on a presupposition, its purpose. This purpose is not always apparent.  Thus, the ways a designed object may interact with its world is often less clear than the interactions seen from the physical stance.

A major question about the possibility of freely chosen actions lies in the above two paragraphs.  In what sense is the organism both independent of, and dependent on, its environment, at the same time!  This seems clearly to be contradictory.  Interestingly, its resolution will lie in an organism’s, and our own, limited point of view; Its stance.  From one point of view, the organism should simply dissolve into its background, another cog in a machine-work, a collection of particles awash in a particle-bound mass.  But from another point of view, we are incapable of “seeing” this, incapable of believing that we do not have choices, cannot make decisions based on logic and evidence, and not be simply caused to them.  Dennett contends that “we act under the ides of our own freedom”.  It’s a “user’s device”, like an computer icon that accesses certain programs.  It makes the universe more friendly to our participation in it as thinkers, difference- makers, and responsible actors.

The Intentional Stance

Hello Rita!  Don’t lose any more fingers! (an inside joke as example of presupposit-ions in intentional objects.)

The intentional stance is even less transparent, often much so. (post 9).  It works with objects that are designed and have a “deep well” of presuppositions — varied purposes and abilities.  They correspond to an environment full of information that is related to each of these possible activities and purposes. But, the information here is not clearly ‘labeled’, so to speak.  What parts of the world are pertinent to, informative for, which activities and purposes of these intentional objects?  Therefore, the acts of these objects are not highly predictable.

More complex intentions inform this society, too: “Higher-ranking male gorillas form stronger relationships with infants, regardless of whether they are related.”  (thanks to Elsevier for quote and photo)

The “deep well” of presuppositions in these intentional objects form a structure that presupposes some hierarchy, some prioritization, of activities and purposes.   They have “gone meta” by “piling up stacks of representations” (Dennett) that are more abstract ‘considerations’ of  their situations. Without this hierarchy,  the intentional object would have little coordination of action or unity of being.

Persons are the primary example of intentional objects, but computers that play sophisticated games of chess or write music or diagnose diseases or can converse with people, are also examples, to some extent.  So are other primates and mammals that live socially and exhibit complex mating, status and hunting behaviors.

The objects at each of these ‘levels’ — physical, design, and intentional — have behavior that is individually explainable and  predictable scientifically in theory, but with increasing difficulty in practice Each are more complex than the previous: pool balls ricocheting on a table, a clam opening and shutting its shell, a person exhorting  another to do their best.

Levels of Complexity

      M.C. Escher: Development II                At each layer in this depiction, subtle and coordinated developments arise. (Thanks to Escher Foundation)

Richard Dawkins is one of our leading evolution theorists.  He contends that there is a “ladder of complexity” and that this contention is so commonplace and obvious “to be almost platitudinous.” * Yet the “ladder’s” character and implications are important to make clear.

“When explaining  the workings of a motor car we forget atoms…as units of explanation, and prefer to talk of cylinders and spark plugs”, he says, and “At every level the units interact with each other following laws appropriate to that level, laws which are not conveniently reducible to laws at lower levels.”

The “rungs” on this ladder of complexity form “a hierarchy”, Dawkins says.  Starting from “fundamental particles below the atomic level up through molecules and crystals to macroscopic … (objects).”  A “new set of rungs” is added by living things: “proteins…

Partial organic hierarchy: diagram.  (from Toxtutor)

intracellular membranes and organelles, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, populations, communities and ecosystems.”  Here at naturereligionconnection, we have argued for an additional layer for humans, somewhat

Persons exist together so closely as to form a single transcendent organism, similar to, but more enhanced than, a colony of termites. (Image from Azernews)

similar to the population or ecosystem mentioned by Dawkins, the human social organism. 

In Dawkins’ ladder we see many of the elements that have been referred to in this Freedom series as Virtuous Circles.  Organ and Organism is specifically listed, but also Organisms and Ecosystem has been broadened, here, to the Circle of Organism and Environment in general.  Dawkins is also the inventor of the term “Meme” which is  associated  with the formation and transmission of ideas, in a more biologic fashion, in individuals and societies (post ten).

Nature has “gone meta”!  How seriously should we take these larger forms of integration and what is their character and mechanisms?  Is the Earth’s biosphere sufficiently integrated to be, itself, considered an organism?  This Blog Site will investigate that possibility.       (diagram from SOCRATIC)

Society and persons has been the designation in these blogs for this social and intellectual loop — this human social organism.

These Virtuous Circles, are various “levels” of complexity, I have argued. The connection within and between the levels is information.  An organism is formed,  it has a working structure.  It is, also, “in-formed” by its  environment; just as  organs are in-formed within that organism.  Similarly, a person is informed by the society of persons around them.  Each — organism and organs, society and persons — is a complex circular interrelation based on the design of a transcendental object (post seven), the organism or the society,  realized in the objects that in-form it, the organs or the persons.

This is one of the most controversial claims made in this blog and in this series,  that higher levels of complexity Feed Back on the lower levels that form them.  The word that could have been used is “inform”, and not simply “form”, them.  This is  Dennett’s definition of information and it has an exciting element to it that is seldom

Information is a shape that exists in reality.  “Discobolus”, originally by the 5th century BC Athenian, Myron.  (thanks to list25 for image)

recognized.  “Information” is, literally, a shape, an on-going structure, that exists in the world and builds around it the series of its objects.  More thought and research here at naturereligionconnection needs to be devoted to the degree of integration, and its character, for these various informed structures of living things and even complex nonliving systems.

Today’s biological science is good with building up some higher levels of functioning, like herds, flocks, colonies, populations and ecosystems;  and it establishes some of the mechanisms higher levels ‘work down’ to influence the lower levels that build them.  In the terms of this blog, and in the thinking of Dan Dennett, this is the completion of the circle.  

Purely physical processes only sometimes do this, but living processes exist in feed back loops necessarily.  The blind forces of Natural Selection, once having established a new benchmark in complexity, then competes with its own accomplishment in the realm of phenotypes, to meet and surpass it.  In Dawkins’ theory of the Meme, this is clearly true.  Once someone has invented the wheel, everywhere they go with it, it is clearly infectious!  Wheels catch on!  Dennett contends that the connections and neural pathways in our brain change, re-align themselves when a child learns its native language, another example.   More clarity is needed on these feedback influences.

These are “Virtuous Circles” and not “vicious” because this circularity is a bit of self-enclosure, a bit of autonomy.  Each forms a “level” of interaction not reducible completely to the levels ‘below’ it.  We use to say that this was uninformative — to explain a thing by only talking about it or very kindred things — it was a ‘vicious circle’, but now we see the necessity philosophically and scientifically to acknowledge levels of complexity and thus the significance of all the different sciences that correspond to each level and to allow for the reality of each level’s own, and our own,  creative or “emergent” behaviors as crystals, proteins, cells, organisms

How can we meaningfully think of the writing of a book except as the product of a complex feedback loop involving a Person and their natural, social and historical environments.

and all the way through the levels of complexity up to language users as scientists, artists, inventors, and cultural and moral beings.   These are the spaces of biochemical, biological and sociological interactions that are not completely described as chemical reactions.  Human sociological and psychological actions that are not completely described or predictable in terms of biology or biochemistry, let alone physics.

*All quotes of Dawkins in this section are from his book The Extended Phenotype.

The Limits of Reduction

Why can these higher levels of designed and intentional objects not be completely reduced to the elements of the physical level?  First, they are too complex for us to understand, at least now.  We find it impossible to ‘build up’, construct, from the simpler objects and more regular interactions of chemistry, to the actions of even viruses (post 8) , let alone the more complicated creatures such as plants and animals, for example.  We even find it

We all know that water ‘is’ hydrogen and oxygen.  At different temperatures different qualities emerge: It is ice, solid, steam, gas, and liquid.  Water “can” be all these things. (image from Electrochemical Society)

impossible, but much closer to reality, to ‘build up’ from the objects and laws of physics to the objects and laws of chemistry, because, even in chemistry, new qualities appear, new abilities “emerge.”  That is the second reason: growing complexity is the opportunity for the emergence of events and states that have significance in themselves.  They form structural levels that are interconnected by definition with other qualitatively kindred objects.  “Fear” for example, is meaningful as connected to “joy”, “nervousness”, “happiness”, “shock”, “dread” and not its eventual causal association to the firing of certain neurons in a certain area of the brain.  Color, choice, hunger, belief, reproduction and and a million other such “objects” have vocabularies of their own while also “referring” to different levels;  they “point beyond” their own vocabulary, and in that way emerge by comparison.  “‘Emerge’, important word that,” writes Dawkins.

What we can do, and what we do all the time, is work and understand things in the other direction: ‘from top down.’ We start with the complex functioning and activity, and understand it in terms of its simpler parts.  We analyze an organism in terms of

Image result for diagrams of the parts of the eye
We start from the more complex and analyze it into parts.  We do not know how to build up from chemistry to get even the most simplest form of life, least an eye.  (Thanks to  All About the Eye)

its organs, for example.  We then take the functioning of each organ and analyze it in relation to the chemicals and engineering that carry it out.  It’s “reverse engineering” says Dawkins and Dennett.  We do this in the ‘harder’ sciences like astronomy and chemistry.  Copernicus, Galileo and Tycho Brahe discovered the regularities of positions and some of the most general systematic principles (like the sun is in the center and planets orbit in fairly straightforward ways) and then Newton reversed engineered to understand the  detailed laws (inertia and gravity) of the solar system, a larger more tightly connected, complex object.


The Complex is THEN Analyzed

This is the point: To think that people don’t have Free Will, don’t Make Choices and are not Responsible — in some significant sense — is to be confused about our ability

To think that a color is ‘less real’ than the wave length we analyze it to, is….”how does that saying go again?”

to Analyze Things and our ability To Do Things.  We have great ability in both, but Analysis is parasitic upon Doing.  We are not able to actually construct from what we contend is ‘real’ (molecules, the quantum state of elementary particles) the objects and experiences that started our quest for understanding in the first place (a color, an emotion, a person, a tree, an eye).  Or similarly, we are not able to predict the behavior, character or abilities of the more complex from the character and abilities of the more simple things that compose them.  The great mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, called this the confusion of the abstract for the concrete. In future centuries we are apt to revise our scientific theories (the more abstract), but our concrete and complex experience of things will still be the basis for these new analyses —  as that ‘finger pointing outward’.

Analysis is parasitic on doing.  We act with a degree of Freedom when we experience our world at our level of complexity (the umwelt), and then another degree of Freedom when we analyze that experience.  The universe as strictly subatomic particles lacks, for us as persons, all but the most rudimentary Information.  As actors and finite knowers, it offers us too little to be helpful without the many intervening layers of complexity (all the structural levels and their design innovations) that have been constructed upon it by Mother Nature.

Avoiding this confusion of the abstract for the concrete is the way, I believe, we can think of Free Will and Determinism as being Compatible, though there is still more to add.  I believe that this is Dennett’s position, to some extent.  We can tear apart (analyze) far more than we can build up from the pieces we then get, and this fact should seriously influence our thinking on these abstruse but basic philosophical topics.

The wise old Owl is nocturnal.  Symbol of  Minerva. the Roman Goddess of Wisdom, it only flies at night. (Roman coin)

In philosophical language, epistemology comes before ontology.  How could we know some kind of  basic        compositional thing exists (like elemental particles) if those ‘existing’ objects (by their definition and character)  give us no opportunity ‘to know’ them or anything else.  Persons are creatures that “know”, we seek to know the world around us.  We act, and that is a complex event.  Shouldn’t the world we come to know (ontology) be compatible with, be able to foster and produce, the activity of knowing it (epistemology)?  “Knowing” is one of the many complex acts that loses meaning in any attempt to understand our universe without an appreciation of its many Structural Levels of Complexity, that growing ladder of enhanced abilities and the agents/objects inherent to each.

Yet that is the dilemma.  It is very trendy, now, to embrace the laws of physics, chemistry and genetics and baldly, blithely assert that “humans have no free will.”  An understanding of Virtuous Circles allows us a way to escape this dilemma.  It allows us to Act First, and then Analyze those actions into the elements and laws of genetics, chemistry and physics.  We can imagine the world as a causal net that is not breached, but we, as agents and actors, are always one step ahead of our knowledge of ourselves as atoms and chemicals.  As the German philosopher, Hegel, declared in about the year 1800:  “The owl of Minerva flies only at night.”

At the end of the day, after we have acted, after complex events have occurred, knowledge takes wing and understands it.  Interplay of Casual Objects, painting by Ilya Zomb (Zombin) (2011)

A final point should be reiterated.  The objects of a level of complexity are self-referent and thus self-enclosed.  For example, the terminology of biology is self-referential: predator-prey, producer-consumer, organism-environment, fungus-plant-animal, etc.  But it also “refers” ‘outward’ — to other levels — but in a much less defined way, a less necessary manner. 

For example, a color is a concrete and complex thing.  How do we analyze it?  Primarily, and in everyday life, we start by distinguishing  a network of color words.  We know one color by comparison to all the others; as has been contended here, we know it in its own terms: “a color is a color”.  And strangely, this is useful.  This set of contrasting terms — “red”, “yellow”, “green”, etc; or a different set, rojo, amarillo, verde, etc. — takes logical precedent over the individual identification of a color instance in the world, the ‘outward’ reference.  “That”, the child points, “is red.” But before we say she knows “red”, the child must be competent at using a larger group of color terms and in a variety of circumstances.  She must be able to pick out red, then yellow, then red again, then blue….

Experienced color as a set of distinctions.

So, the set of color words does ‘point out’ —refers— beyond itself, but whether they indicate ‘a color’ instance in the world, or ‘an electromagnetic wave length’, ‘a set of rods and cones’, or a ‘activity in a brain area’,  depends on our purposes!  All these are true and useful concepts of  ‘color’.   But, if we do not acknowledge the experience of each and the role they will play for socialized, rational persons, it becomes a confusion of the above mentioned:


significance of the experience of the more complex over its analysis into ‘simpler’ parts or terms.

Finally, do not think that the position here being outlined makes the more complex

Color and its associated wave lengths.  Both are real.  (from teachers pay teachers)

objects (or acts) sacrosanct.  When these events or acts are analyzed by scientific activity, that understanding of their mechanics may lead us to revise our opinions about the implications of, and basis for, those complexities.  For example, in the initial post of this series on Freedom, our respect for scientific activity led us,  here at naturereligionconnection, to reject the notion that ‘the self’ is like ‘a soul’ completely independent of natural forces.  Or, in the example above, maybe some day we will find it useful to stop using color words and teach our children to identify different electromagnetic wave lengths.

So, Persons are ‘Free’, but in a way that is different from what is often thought.  It is more effective to think of ourselves as machines (computers) that have evolved enough

In the sociology of knowledge, which is a form of epistemology, this circular process of reflection is referred to as “Reflexivity”.  Dennett also uses that term.  (diagram from cxpartners, thanks)

complexity to Reflect on our own behavior (program) and make incremental changes in it.  Persons can use their position in the complex interaction of persons, to shift their point of view to not only “view” themselves from ‘outside’, from the point of view of another person, but also consider other processes in nature in this more objective way.  Epistemologicaly, “Reflection” shifts from a system of circular definition to its other aspect, thoughtfulness.**  It generates ‘higher’ levels of more abstract objects and ‘lower’ levels of constituent objects, even if only in our imaginations.  Scientifically, they would then have to be tested in the world.

So, our experience of the complex is in this way subsequently analyzed, but this order of occurrence is vital.  First exists the experience, this is our action according to our design: We act — experience — under the influence of information.  This is when we are free.  We are in the present.  When we think of ourselves as atoms or chemicals or ,even, in terms of socioeconomic groups, we only do this subsequently and to enhance our ability to act more freely in the future.  Don’t be confused into thinking that these atoms and chemicals (or even socioeconomic categories) are more real than, or even primary to, us as actors!

** For this position, thoughtfulness turns out to be an internalization of the social process of using language to communicate with others.  It is talking to ourselves!  It is asking questions and answering them ourselves and in that process creating additional layers of meta considerations (Dennett).


In the following posts, an added twist will be explored.  The outside and “more objective” world will once again impress itself on persons, and the prospect for persons to “mistake” and “do moral wrong” will be briefly distinguished.

Thanks for your patience, this series has been a long haul but I have become far clearer on these basic issues than ever before.  I hope it has at least plucked a few sympathetic chords with you!


          SEEKING BALANCED CONTEMPLATION     painting by Ilya Zomb (2008)  (thanks to the artist for the use of these wonderful pieces!)


Freedom: A Characteristic of Structures 1

(Well, we solved the Problem of Human Freedom in the previous post!  All in a days work here at —- actually, all in more like a years work!  It is a rather peculiar solution, I will admit, and this post — number twelve in the series on Freedom — will review the solution and discuss some of its further implications in Light of the Modern Precedent of “I Could Have Done Otherwise!”  First published 5/10/2019)

Diagram of a truss bridge.  “A bridge must have Structural Integrity; it must stand on its own and do its job.”  In a strange sense, a bridge can then be said to have a degree of freedom!


“Could I have done otherwise?”

There is a famous precedent in the modern debate on Human Freedom.  You ask, “In a precise setting of circumstances in the past, could I have done otherwise than I did?”  “Hard Determinists” are zealous defenders of the “scientific image of the world”.*  They contend, “No, you could not have done otherwise.  Your behavior was determined by causes to be what it was, no options were available.”  They, then, project this post factum reality into the future and contend we have no Freedom.  In effect, you are ‘only’ a billiard ball in a succession of billiard balls reacting, or you are a ‘trillion’ little billiard balls and still in a necessary succession but now only protracted; these are analogies we have used often in this blog series.  That little word “only” will turn out to be the pivotal point: What-goes-in is only What-comes-out? 

What goes in is a problem and electricity.  What comes out is an answer.  How is that possible?  Its Structure!

Believers in Human Freedom and Responsibility have generally contended that this position must be denied, that under those exact circumstances, somehow, you had options, possibilities: “‘I could have done otherwise!’  How else could I be responsible for my action unless I originated it, at least in some significant sense?”  In some ways, maybe the point of this contention is that New Things are possible: What-comes-out is different from What-went-in.

Many of these believers in freedom have asserted “gods” and “souls” or some other counter-causal basis for freedom.**  A 20th century French philosopher posited an “elan vital”, a “vital force” that inhabits only living things distinguishing them from the strictly caused world of the inanimate.   Other believers have banked on the character of Consciousness as not explainable in scientific terms; it is an inherently different kind of “thing” than objects in, or explained by, science.  A major school of philosophy, today, holds this position: Consciousness is not a scientific property, yet it is undeniably real.

A famous modern British philosopher, John Austin, set the stage for this Free Will

Tiger Woods, if he misses the putt, could he have made it,. under those exact same conditions?  (photo: Andrew Rice Golf)

debate in this way (paraphrased):  He was golfing.  He had this putt.  He missed it, but he could not help himself from thinking, “I should have holed it; I could have holed it, under the exact same conditions; I could have made that very putt.”  He went on to clarify that it was not that he wasn’t trying hard enough, he was.  And that if you lined up ten putts just like it, he would make them, or nine of them.  “I could have made it, under those very conditions,” he concluded.

Was he right to think that he could have made that putt under the exact same conditions in which he missed it?  All Determinists say, “Absolutely not: The exact same conditions, the exact same outcome. “ Now determinists will also clarify that “exact same conditions” means physical conditions, for what else is there?  Austin’s position leaves the impression that there is something more than just the physical conditions of wind, grass, speed, muscle movement, balance, impact, brain waves, neural signals….

Philosopher Dan Dennett has broken new ground in this debate.  Though most of us, including philosophers and scientists, do accept the Compatibility of a caused universe and human freedom, Dennett has worked out a detailed and innovative defense of the position that you are caused to do what you have done, but were also free when you did it and free when you act in similar situations in the future.

*Famous “hard determinists” are Sam Harris, atheist and neuroscientist, also biologist J. Coyne —blog: Why Evolution is True.  They believe persons have No Free Will.

**”counter-causal basis for freedom”:Some have tried randomness, and the uncertainty now embraced at the atomic level.  Dennett argues against these attempts at Free Will by these routes.  In general, I take it that this new physics allows more predictability at the macro level, not less.

Humans “Can” be Free and Caused at the Same Time

Dennett agrees with the Hard Determinists; “In those exact circumstances in the past, you could not have done otherwise”, but he also believes there is solid ground to believe we are a free and responsible person in our actions, that is, for most of us and in most of our situations.  When the chain of causation passes through and includes our unique structural properties such as our deliberative processes and their chosen actions, we are both free and caused.  This position is called Soft Determinism or Compatiblism, and it is based in a belief in the ontological significance of Structure.   Dennett is claiming that we can think of “deliberation”, “choice”, “thought” and our resulting “actions” as freely done, and as relying upon logic, evidence, investigation, concentration, decision, and in general all our unique structural and design features, yet also be caused and determined!  This is “determined deliberation” and it is a process similar to the hand calculator pictured earlier.  Structure and this “determined deliberaton” will need to be clarified because it is not our normal concept of “thinking”.

Putting exercise.  “See I could have made it.  I have just made all these putts like it!”  (courtesy of Golf Monthly)

“In those exact circumstances of the past”, indeed you had to do what you did, miss the putt.  “Under determinism nothing can do anything other than what it in fact does”, says Dennett.  But, he quickly adds that you will never face those circumstances again, not exactly.  “People … are not only more complicated than anything else we know in the universe, they are also designed to be so sensitive to the passing show that they can never be in the same micro state twice”, says Dennett.  And further, what we, persons, are interested in — as structures with significant autonomy — is not the exact, precise, situations, but a kind of situation In General.  That is why Austin spoke about ‘lining up similar putts’ and when he sank them, they offered ‘proof’ that more than just the actual — missing the putt — is possible.

My deliberations and their chosen actions ‘can’ be free because Structures ‘can’ Function.  Dennett explains that we

We need some kind of “looseness” to exist in the world.  “I can make a variety of decisions.”  (Diagram courtesy of edrawsoft)

need some kind of “looseness” to exist in the world.  Following David Hume, the famous 18th century British thinker, this “looseness” prevents ‘the possible from shrinking too tightly around the actual.   After all, basic to the way we live is the idea that, for example, “a dog ‘can‘ bark” or “a coin toss ‘can‘ come up heads or tails”.  An “openness” exists and is expressed in the little word “can”, even though only one of the options will be the outcome: barking or not barking, head or tail.  That is the “looseness”, we do not know which!  

It is our limitation that necessitates that we live in a world that has “options” and “accidents”, where we “make choices”, where some things are “avoided”, where some things are “probable”, where we “do things” and “make a difference”!  In fact, it is our limitations as a finite structure within the universe (the physical system that

Spacetime: “the fabric of the universe.”  Our ultimate background from which there must be a way that we stand out as an individual thing.  (image and quote from

we are a part) with our limited ability to know things, that necessitates that any one creature or object, really, every creature and object, stand out as distinct from its  ultimate background, The Universe as an Uninterrupted Fabric of Causal Necessity.  Without our limited perspective, all would simply be as a domino among dominoes, falling!  It would be a rather bland place, indeed.

Wow, I do love it when I write like that last paragraph!  I hope its not too ‘purple’, and What a bombshell!  From the point of view of a Super Scientist outside the universe and ‘looking’ back at it with knowledge of all its forces and objects and their lawful interaction, no future event would be unknown to them.  There would be no ‘accidents’, no thing that was ever ‘avoided’, no ‘probability’ in any coin toss, no ‘freedom’ to ‘choose’ one ‘option’ or another!  This Super Scientist knows the universe as one giant and highly abstract structure, within which all lesser structures have lost their integrity and have been ‘dissolved’.

(In the next post, Structures 2, the crucial characteristics of structures will be discussed along with their implications for the “Could not have done otherwise precedent”.   Also, the limitations of the Scientific World View will be approached once again.  This will help clarify the point of post 11, that “Science Lags Behind” and that Structure clarifies the difference between the strictly causal approach to the world of Hard Determinism and the Soft Determinists who argue that structures mediate causal forces and yet, themselves, are strictly organizational, physical designs!) 


THE ULTIMATE STRUCTURE OF THE UNIVERSE?  There are 10 dimensions in our universe, claims Surperstring Theory.   “Oh, there I am, next to that ‘D’ shaped blue congregation to the right; I’m waving. Can’t you see me?” (Image from Wikipedia Commons)


Freedom: A Characteristic of Structures 2

(In the previous post on Human Freedom, we argued that for Freedom to exist, “the possible must not shrink too tightly around the actual”.  There must be a “looseness” in the world even if it is based in a Person’s Limited Nature and abilities.  In the current post, Number 13 in the series, we will contrast Our Limits with the Ideal Limitlessness of Science!  Finite Structures like a coin toss and a dog “can” do things — like come up Heads, or bark — but do not always do so.  These options exist only to us ordinary humans (Thank Goodness!) and not for an Ideal Science.  Persons have the ability to do something different the next time they are faced with a similar, but not the exact same, situation.  First published 5/12/2019) 

From outside the system, the Super Scientist looks on.  He ‘sees’ it in its totality, with complete knowledge of all its factors and all their behavior!  (Image courtesy of


When the Dog Barks

I have limited knowledge of the behavior of my dog.  I cannot predict every time she will bark, or in my case, howl — a beagle.  This is why we say, a dog “can” bark: it does not always bark, and maybe does not even “have to” bark ever, and when its does bark we may not know why.   When the one option does happen, the dog barks for example, we are confirmed that it “can”, and “can” investigate

When we understand the cause of why the dog barked in a particular case, the pooch has become less distinct from its background.  If we knew in advance every time the dog was going to bark, it would be much less distinct from its background, it would be in the process of fading into unity with our massive causal background.

and determine the causes why it did then.  If we are highly successful, it will be a step in the direction of making that dog less autonomous, less distinct from its environment than previously.  We “can” say,  “Under those circumstances, the dog will bark, always!”  Our world is determined, in that way. 

It is even conceivable to take a coin flip that came up “heads” and ideally reconstruct the scenario that caused its occurrence.   But this is where the difficulties start of multiply for us.  These difficulties, maybe, are a good thing because for an intelligence far superior to ours no coin toss, horse race or Power Ball Lottery outcome would ever be unknown and unpredictable!  This far superior intelligence would be something like a Super Scientist. 

Science relies on an ideal perspective. 

A controlled environment allows the scientist to alter the independent variable and then observe its effect on the dependent variable.  That Controlled Environment is an artificial situation;  it is “seen” as a closed causal systemfrom outsidein its totality, with all pertinent causal forces known and accurately measured.  This works fabulously in many, many, particular settings.  It tells us why the dog barked, but even with the coin coming up heads, there are difficulties.  

In practice,  but not in principle, even a pinball’s movement is a challenge to measure accurately.

In real life, difficulties exist in controlling the environment, and then accurately knowing and measuring the forces and factors involved.  What makes every toss unpredictable to us is the large number of factors involved and then their “looseness”.  Each toss is thrown a different height, different rotation, different wind, humidity, landing surface, coin …  Dennett cites physicists reporting on the limitations of accurate measurement: Even in a pin ball game, the ball bouncing numerous times off  two or three bumpers, each bounce with slightly different angles and speeds, all in a split second or two, presents a formidable challenge to precise measurement and prediction.  Any inaccuracy in measurement is amplified as the chain of reactions lengthens.  Often the

Heads or Tails: a looseness that exists in our world.

act of measuring, itself, introduce variance in the process.

It can be argued that these are only practical problems and capable of resolution.  The practice of science is sound and this has been clearly indicated by the very character of our modern achievements.  Ideally, it often seems this science-vision of the world can be expanded into the most reasonable world view, but when we do, the practical problems only worsen.

The measuring problems increase.  Over very large systems, all the necessary measurements cannot be made at once.  Any imprecision would ramify massively.   

And who does the measuring?  In the ideal image of science, “the knowing mind” is outside the system to be known.  Traditionally, it has therefore been thought of as the “objective” point of view in contrast to more “subjective” visions.  That is accurate, in the sense that it presents a world without subjects: ‘Things’ that are observers, thinkers, communicators; ‘things’ that have feelings, perceptions, and — in general — any ‘thing’ that ‘experiences’.  This image of the world has no place for The Doing of Scienceonly the results of the ‘hard’ sciences.  It lacks “the logical space for reasons”, 

            Humans have no Free Will: An Absolutist View of Science.                                (photo by Tina Patni courtesy of My Modern Met)

says Dennett following noted philosopher of science, Wilfred Sellars.  Scientists must consider evidence on logical ground, decide among options, reason, and ponder the possible.  This Absolutist Vision of Science is, therefore, very Im-Practical.  There is no place in it for the Practice of science or the Doing of any particular thing in any terms other than causation.  Pushes and shoves, pulls and attractions, electrical currents, chemical reactions, all “can” and do happen, but  this is not Thinking, Reasoning or Acting.  It is the Structure of human society that facilitates the structure of Persons that Do these things that are then associated with their physical causes.  This is the argument against ‘hard’ determinism; it is “greedy reductionism” and is incoherent when it discusses language, reasoning, and belief as if they are only physical causes. It is incoherent because these very reductionists use language and reasoning to try to Convince Us, not cause us, to Rightly Change our Beliefs and Actions. 

“The God’s-Eye View of the World”: Like the Super Scientist,        Christianity’s God the Father looks down on the world with complete           knowledge of it in its totality, past and future, and all its parts.          (painting: God the Father, by Cima da Conegliano, c.1515; Wikipedia.  Quote from various Compatiblist philosophers used to satirize the Absolutist Science position)

In the following post, The Character of Structures 3, a structure’s ability to mediate causal forces, without Supernatural abilities but only physical organizational powers, will be clarified.  Structure allows new things into our causally driven world, and turns the place into A Grand Series of Amazing, and sometimes amazingly horrifying, Events.  It’s not all just dominoes and dominoes falling!

Logo drawing by Marty

Freedom: Structures 3, or How to get Bird Song from the Equations of Physics

(This is post 14 in the series on Freedom.  Thank Goodness that “Goodness” has been given a physical base in Reality, and that this Blog Series on Freedom and Mother Nature is nearing its end!  In this post, Structures in nature will be given credit for the new things and abilities that exist beyond the world as only physics.  Freedom is based in Structure and Design and the quality of these will be described.  Some structures exhibit enough complexity for not only a degree of freedom but also “experience”, “self-experience” and “deliberation”, and this enables additional freedom.  Also, our favorite golfer, philosopher J. Austin, will be visited one last time.  These are difficult topics and I regard these blogs as an approach that will hopefully merit some discussion and refinement.  The text below is accompanied by many great images, I think, and is worthy of perusal , I hope  Originally published 5/24/19.)

Columbine (Aquilegia)                                               The purpose of Structure                                                              in Nature is Originality.             (Photo by GregWW)

In this universe, where do new things come from?  That is the question we have approached repeatedly in this blog series; more specifically how could a creature be free?  That is definitely, “a new thing”.  We all should agree, this show started with a bang.  In its opening millionths of a second, quarks and electrons formed.  A few millionths later, “quarks aggregated to produce protons and neutrons” and in minutes these collected into nuclei.  After 380,000 years, the outward rushing ‘debris’ had slowed and cooled (by its standards) and most electrons had been “trapped in orbits” around nuclei, leaving the universe “almost completely helium and hydrogen”, the first atoms.  So reports the CERN Lab.

Each of these — quark, electron, proton, neutron, nuclei, atom — are Structures.  This hard science is not a specialty of mine, and it is interesting that the number of physicists with opinions on matters far afield of physics (it would seem) — Free Will and the Meaning of Life — have become prominent in current debate on these obscure topics.  Maybe, the obscure attracts the obscure!  All should agree that the physical origin of the universe is still the underlying character of all that is.  But, whence all the diversity?  It “appears” that many diverse qualities have come from very few.  Like ‘trying to get blood from a turnip’, the terms of physics seem to give no logical access to, for example, the terms we use to describe ourselves and other living things.

The Hunger of Baby Birds
                                      From the Equations of Physics?  No Logical Access!                                           (photos from Physics Equations Wall paper and fiddlersfoundblogspot)

Theists continue the tradition of ‘explaining’ these added and ‘richer’  qualities in Supernatural terms: Something metaphysically different must be present.  And when these abilities ‘soar’ to the height of language-use (“meaning”), gaining and having “knowledge”, and the supposed ability to be “Free and Responsible”, well, that constitutes an Intellectual and Cultural Crisis!  Or, maybe just, our society would be better off with some additional consensus on fundamental issues.

An Allegory of Water and Earth by Jan Bruegel, c. 1600                          Inspired by Renaissance Humanism and the cultural crisis of the rise of Protestantism in a Catholic Europe, this is an empirical depiction of the diversity of forms “flowing” from these two of the four ancient elements.

Ironically, we here at naturereligionconnection agree with the theists, no logical route exists from Causation/Determinism to Freedom, but, we then continue, add the crucial factor, Structure or Design.  It is the reality and character of Structure that is the Naturalistic Explanation for the “emergence” of the many diverse qualities that we see and experience in our world, including Freedom.

Foremost, among Structures is Life and Language, or the linguistic communication among Persons.  It is the reality and character of these two forms, along with their many-many minor and contributing intermediate forms, that brings the world beyond its stripped-down reality of pure physics!  They allow our favorite golfer, philosopher John Austin, to appropriately believe that a putt like the one he missed could be made in the future, and that he will be completely determined in each case.  Freedom is Compatible with being caused, in some cases.

Structure is the Key

Structure is huge in science, and in everyday life.  It would seem to be a simple idea, but it is shrouded in, at least, philosophic controversy.  Engineers are very familiar with

The designer of The Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles is Architect Frank Gehry.  We are very comfortable with The Idea of Designs in human societies.

structure and represent the straightforward and obviously important aspects of the idea.  A bridge must have structural integrity; it must be able to stand on its own and do its job — function.  Engineers design bridges and inspect them, which highlights the premeditation, the research and development, and the standards and principles involved in structures.  For these reasons, structures often involve designers who are conscious agents with purposes of their own, and their designs exist in a human society.

The tallest bridge in the world.  Millau Viaduct in Millua, France.  All its parts must function together and do this WELL.  Structures have Agency;  they do something, and they also imply Evaluation!

Our curiosity, and the controversy, starts to rise at this point.  Do structures exist in nature?  Are structures in nature designed?  Is “structure” and “design” synonymous?  It would seem that The Solar System is a structure, along with the anatomical systems of plants and animals.  Is “structure ” and “system” the same thing?  Is the Carbon Cycle a structure?  RNA and DNA are clearly structures that function.  So are bee hives and termite mounds and yet clearly no individual insect designs them.  This blog is an exploration of t

A tornado is a structure
So is the Solar System

Structures, like the two above, display a very systematic character.  They function.  Are they tightly enough organized to determine their parts?  Yes, in some ways, but if each ‘fell apart’ would their parts continue to exists?  Probably, yes.

A strand of DNA is a structure        composed of amino acids.               The Carbon Cycle is a system composed of organic and inorganic parts.


For the two structures above, if they ‘fell apart’, it is clear that the amino acids would maintain their character and the inorganic and organic elements of the carbon cycle would at least temporarily persist.  But DNA and the C-Cycle are integral parts, themselves, of larger systems.  We all know that the specific organization of amino acids is the essence of DNA’s character as information to all living things.  The functioning of the carbon cycle is vital to The Biosphere as a working unit.  It would seem that the significance of structure has increased from the original examples of tornado and solar system.  DNA and the c-cycle have important properties as working structures in the roles they play in ‘larger’ processes.

Anatomy of a Fly and an Army Ant ant bridge.  (see ASK Technologies for a good ant bridge video) How do the ants get it started?  Don’t they have to defy gravity?  Once they get bridge in place, we can see how it holds, But how to start it?



Here at NatieRel, our sense of the reality of tight structures is buoyed in the anatomy of living things.  Here, parts are subordinate in a larger functioning unit.  Our sense of the Ontological Significance of Structure sky-rockets when we contemplate ant and termite colonies, the schooling of fish and the flocking of some birds.  Some scholars contend that language-using humans are the most social of all living creatures!  In each of these cases, significant emerging qualities exist for these creatures but only as they are participants in their larger structural settings: organs in a body, army ants in a colony, persons in a society, fish in a school.

The schooling of Sickleback fish.

Structures attain a seemingly increased level of complexity when they appear to “deliberate”.   Persons clearly have a sense of themselves as “deliberating”, but we also have this impression of a variety of other things.  Does your pet dog deliberate?  Do computers, chimpanzees, birds “deliberate to make decisions” about what to do next?  To fly here, to sing now, to search for food next, are these deliberation, even if “determined deleberation” as Dennett argues for?   In each case these structures seem to have a “deep reservoir of potential behaviors”; a variety of ‘motives’, ‘needs, ‘goals’ to which they set their parts aworking.  

“Do dogs enjoy being trained?” asks this article from Jonah’s Ark, a dog blog. Do dogs make ‘decisions’? asks this crazy blog.


Even if you punch in the destination, look at all the ‘decisions’ a self-driving car makes to get you there!  What if your ‘self-car’ decided on its own to pull into Wendy’s for a triple stack? (Business Insider photo)










Traditionally, in many cultures, “God”,or something closely akin, was said to have designed or created things in nature.  The emphasis here being on “the act of creation” and not on premeditation and certainly not on a process of research and development.  Some of  the various origin stories from around the world and through time might make a worthy topic for a blog series.  I already have a familiarity with some of them, but the point here being, none of these tales are scientific theory nor a philosophical analysis of the character that a structure or design must have, at least according to some philosophers. 

Scientifically, it is the Theory of Evolution and its combination with Genetics that form “the Modern Synthesis” that is the accepted view of design in biology.  It uses the logic of science and an overwhelming abundance of evidence to explain the proliferation, continuation and variation of living formsForms are structures, but even in science controversy exists.  Leading biologist, Richard Dawkins, has argued with his associate, philosopher Daniel Dennett, that design is only “apparent” in nature, not real because it needs a conscious designer.  Dennett contends design is real and perpetuated by Natural Selection.  He admits it is only perceived from the point of view of Persons and not form the point of view of the Universe ‘seen objectively’.  But, persons are real, he argues.

Robotic bees pollinating flowers.  The issue of Agency is being solved practically. (image from The Conversation)

Dennett has made much of the science of Artificial Intelligence and robotics to further understand, and then present, the concept of “Structure” (or “design”) as
real and as ontologically significant.  Interestingly this work has confirmed some of what traditional idealist philosophers have contended going as far back as Plato, Aristotle and Leibniz, but in this new way.  Part of the issue of Agency (Doing and not just Having Been Done To) and Free Will (Decision-Making, in some significant form) is being practically approached in AI and robotics.  One of  Dennett’s favorite

It’s purposes are built into it.  It must ‘know’ what it is ‘looking for’ and make ‘decisions’.  The Mars Rover “Opportunity”.

examples is the design and performance of machines like The Mars Rover.  This Rover is so far from its makers that it must function largely on its own.  It must have its purposes built into it, must ‘know’ what it is ‘looking for’, make ‘decisions’ and even ‘problem-solve’ to some extent.  It is “designed to make the most of its opportunities”, says Dennett.  It is shocking, to an old guy like me, how quickly self-driving cars are being developed and even deployed!

In a Structure, The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

I have called structures, “Virtuous Circles” (see posts 6 and 7).  Structures are designs that are self-enclosed to a significant degree.  Within that closure, they are defined and characterized in their own terms.  It is in this ‘hot house’ of closure that important new relations arise and qualities emerge.  A classic example is an organismIts

A cheetah runs well, with speeds up to    75 mph.  The well designed Structure introduces Value into the universe.  (Photo from WILDLIFE ACT)

parts are defined in relation to each other and in relation to what they do, their functioning.  This interrelationship of parts is so tight that no part — heart, brain, kidney…— can exist long outside this system of functioning.  The parts of The Mars Rover are made in accordance with, and defined by, their function in their “home” setting, their associated mechanical parts.  When these parts work well by having good design and proper working order, they initiate/originate New Things into the world.  First, they introduce the ‘thing’ that they do; and second, they introduce Value.  When structures function they do so well or poorly, better and worse.  So, Structures not only allow Doing and Origination into a naturalistic ontology but also value!  That is why we say, “a bridge should have structural integrity.

The medieval scholar explained a thing by its                        “essence”.                         Thomas Aquinas, Professor of Sacred Theology at U. of Paris, 1270. They had a very good football team that year, also. (painting by C. Crivelli, 1476)

An important development in cultural history, and part of the origin of scientific investigation, was the shift away from “essences” as explanation.  Essences were famously mocked by Voltaire, in his novel Candide (1759), where he had the medieval doctor ‘explain’ opium in very pompous Latin as having “an essence to cause sleep.”   This is what it does to us and it ‘explains’ this in the terms of persons: “causes sleep”.  This was rightly mocked as not being informative; it does not show how it works.  As an explanation, it is A Vicious Circle; opium is its ability to cause sleep, not how it causes sleep. 

But from the point of view of a person, it does show that it works.  “Opium”, in this way, Refers to us and is information.  Information is more than causation.  Reference is the relation to the world that a Structure has in addition to causation!  It is the designs extension, by definition, beyond the borders of its body, to “that” which appropriately, by design, influences it.  Opium is part of our information environment, the umwelt,  and allows us an avenue of experience to Analyze opium into terms that are not personal, terms that are more objective (see post 9). 

That ‘something out there’, referred to us as “opium”, exists and it works on us, that allows us to analyze ‘that opium’ into very different terms –— terms of chemical elements and their structure, not the structure of persons.  So, Action Precedes its Analysis!

The action of a structure is based in a level of complexity.  Dennett contends that this relationship that is ‘in our own terms’ is a “virtuous circle” because it is the information relationship of reference, the That and not the How.  This is what was meant in post 11 (Science Lags Behind) by “Analysis is parasitic on Action”. “Action” is behavior in accordance with a design.  It is an origination.  And thus—-

— It is Free! 

This is how new phenomena come to exist ‘above’ the level of the objects of physics and chemistry.  Action according to design exhibits a degree of freedom

So this is how Bird Song comes from physics.  It is not incompatible with those laws, but it is also not deducible from those physical laws.  There is definitely an element of chance, indeed, good fortune for the birds and us.   

Within the laws of physics there is some “elbow room”, no matter how briefly by cosmic

Depiction of Mother Nature from 17th century alchemical text, Atalanta Fugiens.  Nature as the first intentional system?

standards, for local regularities, cycles, patterns to appear, and found and supplement further regularities, cycles, patterns as if a set of nested bowls.  In our little local ‘hot spot’, Agency, in the form of a feed-back system with abilities foreshadowing personhood, has appeared based in self-replicating entities.  We call this feed-back system, Mother Nature, for good reasons.  Her process of Natural Selection has ‘sought’ to “turn ‘noise’ into signal”, says Dennett.  She has carried forward a process of generate and test, ‘seeking’ to find further ‘opportunities’ to enhance Life’s formation, its In-formation.

“Infochemical Communication” by pheromones.  The “informational” element in this chemical interaction allows these two moths to appear autonomous to us.  Should they be considered two organs in a species-wide organism, from a more objective view?


Natural Selection has toyed with many forms (structures) of communication and, surely, bird song was a form approaching human language in its complexity.  Mother Nature experimented with many ideas, or as Dennett calls them, “free-floating rationales”.  Bird song and human language are two that stuck.

So, for any structure, its relation to the world around it is not simply causal, it is also informational The information relations are the causal relations that matter to the structure and the jobs it is designed to do.   It is “caused by special interest events“, and so it is “determined” by its design to do its job, says Dennett.  The structure can be Caused Rightly for its design, like when a person is convinced to act by good evidence, and it can be Caused Wrongly for its structure, as when a person is knocked off the road by a truck.* And, some causal forces are of no significance at all to it, as photons are of little significance to the human body

Causal forces can be beneath relevance to a structure; some are             totally overwhelming to it.         (photo ZEENEWS)

or to a bridge spanning the Mississippi.  Other causal forces are indistinct to it; an animal at its dried watering hole with a felt thirst does not distinguish between the seasonal drought that dried the hole, or the day’s forces of evaporation or global climate change.

Structures are “highly resistant to micro-level ‘noise’ and (some) random perturbations”, but they also encounter causes completely overwhelming to them, as were the effects of the comet that struck the earth 60 mya destroying the environmental structure necessary for dinosaurs.   A structure, and its designer, are “finite (like us) so it cannot follow a policy of considering everything that might be relevant to its interests all the time” (Dennett).  There is no point, usually, in designing structures for rare and overwhelming possibilities.

*Caused Rightly by the truck, would be to react reflexively and avoid the collision, or the brunt of it.

Teasing Out the Possibilities

It is the terms of the Structural Level of Persons that allow humans to interact rationally and with responsibility. (photo courtesy of MedicalXpress)

Structures work on the world that matters to them, in their terms.  Modern socialized, language-using humans should work on the world “rationally”, “responsibly”, and “socially” in order to achieve their goals.  This is our design.  Other animals work on the world efficiently, at least, to attain their goals.  The same could be said for plants and even functioning, designed, inanimate objects.  Natural Selection established designs for living creatures including humans.  But with persons,  it is also our self-considered,  and reconsidered, functioning, that has further modified our structure.  Socially, humans have functioned to select new skills

In ancient Mesopotamia, persons used their implicit sense of Rationality to select agriculture as a new form of living together. (Image from ancienthistorylists)

and new forms of living together (both are themselves structures) along with the principles, rules, and laws suggested by them.  Ancient humans chose and were caused to choose agriculture as a new form of life.  The same can be said for industrialization, of which the implications are still being discovered.  For Persons, this is—

—-An Additional Degree of Freedom.

Since structures are real, these languages and principles are equally real.  They were Implicit in structures as “free floating rationales”, argues Dennett.  It was the deliberation of humans, the “determined deliberation” of humans, that first made Explicit these Implicit principles.  For example, in our reconsideration of our behavior the self-enclosure and circularity of this structure of person and society became the basis for our sense of “individuality”, “self”, “experience”, “self-experience”, “agency” and “responsibility”.  Though, it is important to realize that this “Reflection” is ultimately ‘a hall of mirrors’ argues Dennett.  there is no necessary end to systems reviewing systems, no end to “meta” questioning, no individual physical-like thing (no homunculus) as ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’ of self-reflection.

           The Self as Reflection.             Self reflecting on self, and self reflected in others is the basis for the ‘depth’ of our behavior.  See post 6. (photo from YafaRay)

This is how in a world of causes, as envisioned by the hard sciences, persons do legitimately “have” experiences, opinions, reasons and preferences.  Structures are real, and for Persons — our form of social structure — these experiences must then be reported, discussed,  and agreed upon.   Consensus is one of our highest standards (See post 6).  Some three thousand years ago, when abstract thoughtfulness gained launch momentum (at least for western culture), Socrates and Plato agreed that Truth, Goodness and Beauty were the ultimate standards of reality.  If we can add Efficiency, then we can say these first great explores of structure were half right.  Those standards may be the goal for our “informed” world, even if not the world of our Super Scientist.

The Information Relationship

The information relationship cannot be discarded from an ontology.  If it is, we leave no logical basis for the Doing (the origination) of anything new, let alone the Doing of scientific research and its decisions with all the logically attached concepts like “testing”, “knowing”, “proving”, “experiencing”, “measuring”, “theorizing”, “evaluating”…

In a coherent ontology, a Structure must intervene in the causal chain at key points to create phenomena autonomous enough to be recognized by us and described by us as significantly distinct from their background in the universe as a causal net without breach. 

Living forms appear to us as an increasing accumulation of information.  Each is an experiment in agency, the ability to do something.  From the most objective perspective each of these individual structures are a more convoluted sequence of causes within causes and with no new qualities or abilities.  See posts 6 and 10 on The Great Chain of Being.

“Life” is one of those key points and so are the ‘things’ we call a “person”.  These two structures are extremely convoluted, so much so that, to us, they tend to display a significant autonomy and thus seem to act in terms unique to them. They are the most basic relation to the universe for humans as the finite and limited structures that we are.  This autonomy is significant enough that the Theory of Evolution is the accepted science, in the terms of life, for living things.  History, sociology, and cognitive psychology function in that way as sciences for humans and their culture.  All of these forms of knowledge resist the reduction of their subject matter to simply chemistry or physics terminology.  This is how acting according to one’s design tends to resist complete reduction to terms that ignore design and structure.  But, admittedly, there is that further part of what is real — that ultimate physical background.

“I Should Have Holed That Putt!”

On the particular occasion, when Austin missed his putt, the causal forces of the universe working up and through ‘him’ were not aligned to cause the putt to be made. Of course,

Structures “try”.  Royal Gorge Bridge, Colorado      (photo from Orange Smile)

“him” is used in a loose sense here, as the collection of atoms, waves, chemicals and mechanical structures ‘experienced’ as him by himself and his society.  Austin’s belief that it could have gone otherwise, is mistaken.  He did try his best and it didn’t happen, but his belief in its possibility was not mistaken.  That belief is based in his structural character and in his confidence that he is a well-enough designed golfer that putts such as the one he missed, in general, are well within his normal capabilities.  Structures do not always and automatically succeed.  They break down. They work well enough but not perfectly: there can be an accumulation of forces beneath their normal ‘recognition’, there can be a deterioration in the working order of their parts. there can be the intervention of an overwhelming force.  Structures are limited in their design and ability.  They are part of that world (the informed world) that is full of “possibilities”, “probabilities”, “chances” and “vagueness”.

Firefighters helping man
      The most complex Structures can, also, “care”, and                               “hope” to “make a difference”.                  (photo from the Achieve Anything Foundation)

Austin’s belief in “the possible” has a purpose to serve in that ‘more subjective’ world the next time he faces a similar putt.  He must believe that “that putt, now” can possibly go in.  He should “just ‘keep (his) head down’ (like any good golfer) and keep on deliberating; it’s (his) best chance of arriving at the decisions (and outcomes) he’d like to arrive at”, concludes Dennett.  This is our situation far beyond golf.  We are well designed complex structures and many of our concepts rightfully refer our deliberations to the crucial components (of whatever is the matter at hand) in the ‘more objective’ world that is our ultimate physical background.  It is how we “can” succeed in a complex universe were the causal forces of that universe are passing through us.

That we “experience” and are thus prone to “failure”, “opportunity”, “possibility” and “breakdown” may seem to be  a weakness for complex structures, but it is also the “meat of  life” for these finite creatures who exist within a more ‘infinite’ network of physical causes..  Finite structures, in general, maintain a basic integrity through a period of time and a range of events, but do not remain exactly the same, nor do they need to.  They do their job the best they can and eventually return into the background. This is what finite structures do: They have an individuality; they try, change and then pass away.  The most complex finite structures, like Persons, do much the same except they also “care”, and “hope” that upon passing away to have “made a difference”.

Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, c.1490  Illustrates his respect for Structure in Nature and Society.  Roman architect Vitruvius contended the proportions of the ideal human body were the source of proportion in classical architecture. (Wikipedia)

In the final posts of this series, this series finally ends.  Like all good structures, I hope this series hangs together and does its job of convincing readers of the limitations of scientific reduction and of the “elbow room” (Dennett’s phrase) for Freedom.  In these last two posts, our astounding relation to our causal background will be described, with shocking implications for our broadest and most objective interpretation of our situation as persons.  These implications will throw new light on “freedom” and generate a revised definition for it.


Logo drawing by Marty