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

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

    1. Rom, I don’t believe it’s just rhetorical. It’s the ‘stuff of life’; sure we all fade into the ultimate physical background eventually, but I’m trying to ‘have some fun and do a few good things’ on the way. I don’t know how to do that if we only talk in terms of molecules and causal forces.

      Point on Austin and couldn’t have done otherwise is——
      He will not ever face that same situation again, He will be different and his putt (all those physical condions ) will never exactly re-occur. Our best bet is to keep thinking of our behavior, stay focused with our increasingly provident environment and HOPE on the next put, like it, the universe will pour threw him more favorably.


      1. If you really believe Austin could not have done otherwise, then there is nothing to discuss. We don’t have free will in this sense.

        While it is nice and fun to speculate on structures being more than the some of their parts, you have to tell me what is your method of accounting, and convince me that your method makes sense.

        Take the structure of a hydrogen molecule. This structure does less than its two immediate component parts, two monoatomic hydrogen atoms. Which is more?


      2. You have asked the right question. Make me specify the more than sum of parts claim. Really it’s the claim that Design is real and adds value. Do you want to disagree with that claim? Stated that way, the question seems kind of obviously true! And seems to be the whole point of evolution.

        I think it is a Nova episode called ‘Discovering the Elements’ (?) where host and biochemist go to hardware store to buy all the elements for Life and in the right approximate portions and fit it all into one piled high shopping cart. All but the one element, chemist gets that from processing host’s 5 gal. Bucket of urine. Pretty humorous bit, and makes point that basic chem components of life are few and common and the secret is all in the getting it into the right structure somehow.

        That’s probably too anecdotal for u, I’ll guess. So, you previously mentioned an automobile and it’s parts laying about on the floor. R. Dawkins uses car in one of his books to describe “complexity” and “emergence” as follows, roughly.
        When we build a car or even design one we don’t have to talk of atoms, we talk and work with “pistons, rods, axle, tire…”. These parts are atoms but we don’t need to work in those terms or at that “level”. It’s a short cut that works. All compatibilists say that: you can try to describe world in atomic terms but that is the long and hard way to do it (Dennett). (And in the end, if that is all that you think ‘really’ exists you get into an epistemological bind.)

        Probably not doing it for u either I’ll guess. I’ve got a biochem example from Dennett, I’ll run by you next, but got to ‘run’ myself at moment.


  1. But, whence all the diversity? It “appears” that many diverse qualities have come from very few.

    Perhaps a view from the second law of thermodynamics might give us a sense of where the diversity and new comes from?

    The universe is unfolding and everything on that unfolding front by definition is new. There is no freedom in that unfolding perhaps with exception that some people think it is random. But there is no freedom in random either.


    1. Greg, you are avoiding your own observation that Austin could not have done otherwise.

      While we can have fun with Dennett’s play on design, it is fundamentally irrelevant to free will debate.

      Austin could not have done otherwise!


      1. Not true rom. See my “science lags behind” post. Structure is what allows the new and even more complex into the world. Austin is a complex structure. He learns, he changes so he will Never face that exact same putt (situation) again. The situation is, itself —ignore Austin — never going to reoccur exact same. But to Austin, he will say, “oh here’s that putt again” because Structures/designs Function in ‘the general’ and in ‘the present’. Time is ‘real’ for a finite structure, but not for your/our world as only/basically physics —- the ideal differential equation ‘sees’ universe all at once and for ever. See the Super Scientist Structure 2 post. But we are Finite structures and can Only Imagine ‘rising’ to those Infinite heights of the ultimate science.

        So, from our point of view, Austin needs to line that putt up the next time and Do His Best believing that he can and should make it (he has this opportunity) but that he may Possibly miss it! “Stay positive,John.” Compatibilists believe the universe may just work through him (cause) this time and give him what he wants.
        Rom, the Design elements in our world, in many situations (see structures posts), take president — logical and physical — over the causal.


      2. Still working on the biochem example of Emergence. But came across this quote in reference to CHNOPS example. Origin of life is issue of: “How do the materials get amassed at the building site, and how does the design get determined, and in what order are the various parts assembled so that they don’t fall apart before the whole structure is completed?” Dennett paraphrasing M. Eigen, biochem theorist and researcher.

        That’s why Bridges are pertinentent to ‘Will’, to Doing, to Agency: once they get in place and completed, They hold themselves together and they do their job by Appropriately Channeling the normal causal forces they were designed to Deal With.

        Well, I have to go and Appropriately Deal With my life now, so that I Can Keep My Shit(structure)Together.
        Thanks, I think our exchange has helped clarify my thinking. You are a good critic! I got to get back to your site and read some more.


  2. OK My second attempt.

    Austin could not have done otherwise.
    A moment later he cannot do otherwise.
    Ultimately as the universe unfolds he will go on and not sit there like a cabbage. In each moment he could not do otherwise.

    That some goes on to build a so called structure … they could not do otherwise. This you describe as free will.

    William James described this kind of argument as:

    A wretched subterfuge

    Kant observed:

    Word jugglery and A quagmire of evasion

    I can’t help seeing their point.


    1. Thanks Rom, I’ll try to ignore the harsh terms of your evaluation and give it one more try to explain my “quagmire”. Ironic that you choose James and Kant when my line of thought evolves from them. Kant was a dualist, and yes, clearly thought Designs and Causes BOTH existed and were in contradiction to each other. James was one of founders of American Pragmatism, a philo school that tries to merge causes and designs together and respect both of them in a naturalistic setting. John Dewey was part of this ‘school’ and so is Dennett, partly.

      “A moment later he cannot do otherwise.” Yes, as we look back at our behavior it is caused, but in that next moment he may have Done Differently than he did previously, though still caused! Structures and Designs ‘intervene’, the input is different from the output in Some Ways but not all. You are right, from the point of view of the universe as ‘seen’ eternally and at once through those ‘golden differential equations’ that physics ultimately envisions as the only truth, the universe is only “the debris of the Big Bang rushing onward” (GWW, post on Super Scientist).

      But, obviously there is more to the U. than just that. Those Terms do not adequately describe “Life” as a structure that temporally exists and has ‘needs’, ‘motives/instincts’, ‘diversity’, and ‘Free Will’ for some of us. Those Terms do not adequately describe “Experience” — like seeing red as a Color, an experienced Redness in contrast to an experienced Greenness, and not Only as a wave length of electro-mag; or the experience of”Love” between persons; is that too only on-rushing waves and particles? The past causes the future through the present, and in the present are Structures; one of which is Human Persons who have learned to Analyse their Experiences into parts like poetry, love, life, And Science.

      My position is Person and History centered. Physics is a great and Limited way to Look At The World, but it is Not the only way that Describes Reality for us. Physics and Chemistry “explain” reality in causal terms and does set limits on what Can exist. But its descriptive powers fall short of describing all that has “emerged” and falls short of “explaining” all these other Levels in Their Own Terms, You and I are now interacting not only Causally but also Informationally in the Terms of Persons. My wife and I love each other and that is in The Terms of 21st Century Educated Western Persons. Yes physics allows my wife and I to exist but it sure doesn’t Describe it well or completely. Your Physics First and Only position is very Artificial; not all things can be chopped to pieces to be understood. I believe it was a ‘school’ of 19th century biology allied with some of the 19th century great poets who declared: “To dissect is to Kill”, meaning that you are missing something when you turn a living thing into dead pieces! (My latest post goes into this Causes and Information connection)

      Hope this helps “explain” my unintended “subterfuge”. Your criticisms have been stimulating. I do get your position, and its half true.


      1. Oh, I meant to end by suggesting physicist and all round thinker Sean Carroll’s short and clear article on how he supports Free Will called “Free Will is as Real as Baseball.” A good read and partly supports my position from at least this prominent physicist’s view.


  3. Well those harsh terms are not mine per se, but those of your fellow believers in free will.

    Whether physics can or ever will explain things like evolution, psychology or societal behaviour is a moot point. No one is arguing that complex systems [structures] cannot develop complex behaviours, it is plain to see that they do. This is not the issue.

    The issue is could these structures do other wise … in the present tense? Not will they do otherwise in the future tense. They cannot help but do otherwise in the future.

    Whatever you Greg are describing, it is not free will.

    And yes I have read Sean Carroll’s Baseball … he seemed to be a compatibilist in his The Big Picture, but remember compatibilists are subtly changing what is meant by free will.


  4. I skimmed through the comments (again) section on the Baseball post. One caught my eye. Went to the effect that, Compatibilists who redefine free will are like progressive theists that keep redefining God.


    1. “could these structures do other wise … in the present tense? ” My answer is Yes, because neither you nor I know what they are going to do, Now. Not even they ‘know’ what they are “going to do” because they are in the process of ‘deciding’! Yes, Free Will is that precious moment In The Present when no one knows what will happen next. What will be the outcome of their deliberation? For a complex structure no one knows till after it is Done and then analysed to find its cause or causes. Those causes will “explain” the State of the Structure at the time it acted, along with the State of the Input/Situation working on it. In History, nothing but new things happen, if you get specific enough about them. But if you get General enough about events in history, then they start to recur; until you get too general, then all we have is a Change that is No Change (I guess like those golden differential equations that some physics-lovers believe will someday actually exist). But persons (finite structures) actually live in the middle, with both change and constancy. That’s why we have Free Will. “Free Will” is the opportunities we see when we are deciding. So, until physics can actually predict all behavior in complex structures, Free Will makes sense.

      Good, we finally got the tense straight on this issue —-present, past and future, make a difference here. I’ve decided to stop, now. I think I have explained the state of finite structures adequately. I don’t think the above is incoherent.

      I have been having trouble finding your blog. Thanks for reading and commenting. Watch for my next post, I think it is going to be pertinent.


    2. I’m accepting the “could not have done otherwise” definition of Free Will or No FW. But I’m sure messing with the context of its use.

      Only in the past, after an act has occurred, do we say it couldn’t have happened differently. In many contexts, in the present, we don’t know what will happen. We have to see. It’s almost like your ‘CNotHDO’ is a simple truism of the scientific view point.


  5. My answer is Yes, because neither you nor I know what they are going to do, Now. Not even they ‘know’ what they are “going to do” because they are in the process of ‘deciding’!

    Your logic flow does not flow here, Greg. I don’t know, therefore …

    In the context of free will this makes next to no sense to me. Weather patterns know not what they are going to do. And yet they continually form new structures. Are they ‘deciding’ on what to do next?

    The universe is at least fundamentally chaotic, it may even be truly indeterministic (probabilistic) there is no room for free will here. The second law forces or at least explains in part how the unfolding universe morphs into these new structures all time.

    Just because we ignorant of the fine structure of what will happen next, does not mean we have free will. No one is denying that these structures (patterns) exist or will form in the future. They are happening all around us, all the time.

    We end up with some Chopra-esque like nonsense that the universe has free will


    1. Thanks for your continued participation, rom.
      Maybe this is what we are disagreeing about in your terms.

      Our neck of the universe, is Not “at least fundamentally chaotic.” Important how you decided not to say Totally chaotic. This we both agree on: there is some constancy and predictability of Objects, especially Macro-objects. Macro-objects are Not “fundamentally chaotic”! In fact, they exhibit To Us huge amounts reliability.

      Clouds are not very complex structures. Their overall shape and behavior is clearly determined by their micro particles (determined by the indeterminacy of micro particles?). They are not very reliable, in their fine And large structure, to us.

      But when we drive, repair, design an auto, we don’t think about micro particles, we think of good old reliable wheels, brakes, pistons… An auto is high complexity structure, it has a lot of Design built into it in Addition to its micro structures. An auto is based on many properties that emerge beyond the level of physics. It is not “funda chaotic”! Constancy and reliability are Big in our world, and to us because we are not just the micro states that predominate the middle of the sun, or in clouds.

      In our world, there is low entropy; and living things ‘fight
      to keep entropy low.” Reliable storage and transmission of Information is the basis of life. Our world is much more like the low entropy of the flip of a coin, than the higher entropy, in information theory, of a role of dice.

      I get your objection. There is great tension in how we think about Some science and ordinary life. Physics, high tension; biology, much less tension. Does my answer help in any way?


      1. Rom, further thought on the supposed “fundamentally chaotic character of our world”. I’m watching clouds and wind blow thru. They said it was going to rain all day here in central Ohio, but it didn’t. Blustery and unstable,yes, the sky does seem unpredictable and I’m watching it blow ‘my’ trees and garden. But, My plants are MUCH more predictable than the sky and Clouds! Plants have More Design (?), More Structure than do clouds. They come up; they bloom; they are much the same , only larger, every year. Do They Not???

        Do you not ‘see’ that, feel that? Physics is Not a great access point to that Truth. Biology and the 2nd law of thermodynamics do not sit well together. I believe. We live as much in the world of plants as in the world of chaotic particles; really more so. The way we think is more ‘plant-based’ than ‘chaotic particle based’. (Funny way to put it!)

        It’s a mistake to try to think that All Knowledge is scientific knowledge. (Like they try to say at WEIT — why evolution is true). You miss the most fundamental kinds.

        Thanks, beautiful day here, at this point. Hope the same for you!


  6. Our neck of the universe, is Not “at least fundamentally chaotic.”

    I would argue we are using different senses of the word. I am using the scientific sense not the common vernacular. I could have said “totally” chaotic. It’s like either being a little bit pregnant. Evolution is chaotic in the scientific sense of the word. The orbit of Earth around the Sun is chaotic, not in the everyday sense, but in the deep sense … like the double pendulum video. Get over it Greg.

    Designs are chaotic. We don’t keep designing the same thing over and over again. I won’t buy a car that was designed twenty years ago, unless I really want to spend hard earned cash (increasing entropy). The fact we don’t use quantum physics or chemistry to design stuff an irrelevancy. Having said that people have looked this sort of thing for designing new reagents.

    I suggest get a grip of how chaos is viewed in a more scientific/philosophical sense, Greg.

    In our world, there is low entropy; and living things ‘fight to keep entropy low.”

    Here we have a fundamental misunderstanding … the moment we do anything we increase entropy. We might be able to points to bits and point mistakenly there we kept entropy low. Think of living things as catalysts for increasing entropy, humans are great at this. The best way of keeping entropy low is be dead. Lambert gives a good layman’s explanation of the second law. Let me know what you think of it.

    Do you not ‘see’ that, feel that? Physics is Not a great access point to that Truth. Biology and the 2nd law of thermodynamics do not sit well together.

    Whether it is a great access point or not, I do understand it is the building blocks for all the sub access points. The fact that I might not use physics as an access point does not mean it is somehow irrelevant.

    A quote from Lambert:

    Life is hard. But it’s harder if you don’t know how the material world works!

    On a slightly different tack … Who are the “We” when you refer to We at Nature… ?

    And correct me if I am wrong … I get the sense you are trying have a more “spiritual” approach to nature science etc. If so, can I suggest a more of a monism type approach. All is connected … physics tell us so. And see where that takes you.

    This “structure” thing while fun is misleading in some sense. these structures like Austin cannot do otherwise.


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