Freedom 3: The Arrow of Intentionality

(This is the hard post, The THIRD in this series.   A relationship Other Than Causation is attempted to be described.  If the world is not all causes, then what else could it be?  How else can objects relate to each other?  People to People.  People to objects.  Object to object.  If not causation, what else?  A word to other words relates by Meaning, we say,  which is semantics and syntax, the linguists say.  A Person to other Persons by communication, or violence, by honesty or deception, even Love — we say.  What could be the basis of this?  Or is that all just smoke we blow up our a$$?   Here at NatieRel we contend: It is not causation, it is Reference and Intentionality!  “What the he// are those?” you may fairly ask.  —- Once again, thanks to Dan Dennett, philosopher extraordinaire, for leading the way. )

THE ARROW OF INTENTIONALITY: Mind Emerges as the Direction given to Order.  Above is “Arrow”, a superhero eventually acquired and given direction by Marvel Comics.

Freedom, as the ability to do more, embraces the idea of design.  Designs are inherently connected to the environment in which they work; they have an aim pointing outward, and an intention at their core.  This connection is as much informational as it is causal.  Designs don’t change the ‘objective’ world ‘outside’ them; they just just ‘choose’ to ignore some parts of it, and are created to emphasize and utilize others.  According to their purpose, they ‘try’ to make the most of it.  Of course, the previous use of the word “choose” is meant only in a figurative or rudimentary sense for many designed things.

One of the oldest remaining Roman aqueduct bridges in Europe.  This bridge ‘ignores’ night and day, and the phases of the moon.  It is barely concerned with hot and cold.  Most earthly tremors have meant little to it, but, in spite of the bridge’s best efforts, a really big one would bring it down.  This bridge is a rudimentary Agent!  It does sh!#, and it has done it well!

First, this definition allows Freedom to be a kind of ‘living up to one’s Essence’.  I know this is an ancient term — “essence” — and not one taken favorably today, but it allows a thing to be free and to be what it is.  Freedom is fulfilling one’s design. A dog has a limited kind of freedom and this especially in comparison to a rock or a snail.  A toaster is ‘free’ to toast!  A violinist can be free by trying, the best she can, to be a good violinist; and this even in the light of the fact that her parents were both violinists and she was raised from the earliest age to be one, and was also constantly surrounded by music.  Genetically and environmentally the causes are there, but personally the violinist also made many choices and the options remain open for a dramatic reinterpretation of her life.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti  (no jinx intended) the

A new thing can happen and it changes her aim: The Arrow of Intentionality has shifted its target.  The violinist permanently damages her arm in an auto crash and has to give up her spot in a prestigious sympathy orchestra and finds greater happiness in teaching children to play and doing so without the pressure of career and and her parent’s expectations.   A new essence was discovered. A new ‘arrow’ has been launched.   Her future and past are refocused from this new perspective, including a new set of causes that explain her new state.   The hours of daily practice that she once just took as natural are now understood to have been part of a nagging unhappiness that always underlay her.  Persons live, choose and reflect first, and do so “under the Idea of Freedom”, said Kant; then — in hindsight —  they “designate” (design) the causes for that behavior. Theoretical Reason lags behind Practical Reason, he showed us. For an intentional system — a designed system — this is the kind of logic that is pertinent!  (See posts Freedom: A Characteristic of Structures I and II and Science Lags Behind in the “Freedom and Mother Nature” series.” )

Second, Living Things have demonstrated to us the existence of Design in addition to Physical Order. 

The Biological Sciences are as accurate a guide to the nature of reality as are the hard Physical Sciences.  They remain more true to all the phenomena we find about us, including us, than do the ‘hard’ sciences.  Precedence in time proves nothing for precedence in significance.  What Darwin most fundamentally taught us was the natural evolution of designed, purposeful objects, from the purposeless Order of the universe.

(Precedence in Time proves nothing for Precedence in Significance.  I wrote that, and it’s a zinger!!!  Though philosopher John Dewey said it using somewhat different words.  Images of “Electrical charged superfluid plasma” from holographicgalaxy.blogspot and woman doing math from 

We tend to think, the Solar System has no purpose.  But living things have succeeded in giving it purpose even if after the fact.  Day and night, the seasons of the year, the cycle of precipitation, the regularities of gravitation and heat exchange, even entropy all set the stage and form the point of the purposeful structures we call “living”.  Darwin showed that given Natural Order, sufficient time and a little luck Designed and Purposeful Order would appear, argues Dan Dennett.  Evolution utilizes the opportunities available within an ordered universe to enhance that order into a directed order, an order with purposes.  This is as much of the world we see and know around us today, as is anything!

A directed order is one that Refers beyond itself.  As mentioned earlier, a “predator” implies a “prey”, for example.  A “teacher” implies a “student”.  A “parent” implies a “child”.  A “word” picks out it’s object.  In biology and medicine, a heart, the lungs, the stomach, the intestine function so tightly in coordination with each other that none exist separately nor is understood without the others.  Each of these above examples display long histories of the development of these relationships, histories that display a series of enhancements — design improvements — from more rudimentary forms.  Simplistic predators preyed upon simplistic prey, and still do in many cases; but now they are also accompanied by far more complex and skilled forms of predation and its evasion.  In some ways, we can say the same thing about Teaching and Parental Practices.

The Arrow of Intentionality: ONE THING IS ABOUT ANOTHER THING!  This “Arrow” hits its target and is Meaning, Reference, Designation.  Its Logic is very different than a Cause!  Its product is Mind as it Emerges as the coordination in a Design. (Wow, Rock On!)

A directed order, or purposeful order, implies a different logic.  This ‘logic’ is not easy to describe, and was roughly suggested above when Strong Emergence was said to be The Priority of the Whole over Its Parts.  But this is not a thoroughly satisfying description because even in describing the movement of billiard balls, a kind of  prototypical example of simplicity in a system, the balls (the parts) are not independent of the laws and the environment (the whole) that governs their movement.  In fact, the simplicity of the balls is just what this system needs to be effective.  Internally the pool balls lack complexity — there is only a little inside them that matters to their behavior — and therefore are able to have their behavior described so simply, by their external relations to other balls, their velocities and impacts.  The solar system is much the same: masses, velocities, gravity explains its most salient features.

When we observe the objects in more complex systems, their behavior is more difficult to predict.  Internally they are more complex and we can presuppose “an intent” for we do not know the mechanisms “deep below”.   Even these intentions have been adjusted in our thinking, and the behavior of these systems have become more predictable.  But, animals have instincts; persons have beliefs, feelings and perceptions; designed artifacts have a purpose, and when we discover these our ability to predict their behavior improves.  Persons are well aware of this for this is the way the world works from the point of view of persons.  When we make an object, the point of that object should probably be clear to us, if it is to work.  When we raise our children, we should intend to bestow on them an acceptable direction.

(Persons are complex objects and are especially full of intentions.  Here are three that did much to adjust these presuppositions of humans and thereby alter human behavior.  Maybe the quantum waves of the world unfold ‘in the same way’, but from our point of view these waves may mean something different.  That’s Newton in the middle.)

But often we don’t even care about the complexities inside an object.  A designed thing, like an alarm clock, can be mechanical with gears and spring and needing to be wound, or it may be electronic and digital with multiple circuits and needing to be plugged in.  As long as we know The Simple Procedures for Using It, we do not care; we can predict its behavior and it will work for us.

That is how the higher levels of reality, or emergent levels of vocabulary (to follow Carroll’s terminology) work for us.  This is The Manifest Image of the world and why it is indispensable.  We do not really understand what is working in the brain of our neighbor’s new dog, but when we meet it we know to hold out our hand and allow it to sniff.  If this goes well, we proceed to rub its head a little and then maybe get a little more frisky.  Our evolved world is designed like this.  We can do so much, Now, because layers of internal complexities have been added upon layers of internal complexity, and in spite of our not seeing these “lower levels” directly, each maintains “an access code”, “a set of User-Friendly Icons”, or “the information” by which more complex realities may emerge and make more of them.   “Information is design worth getting”, writes Dennett.  This “access” is our practical knowledge of them, our everyday experience of them and their means to be usefulness.  It is the way they INFORM the higher or emergent objects!  From our personal point of view, INFORMATION is apparent to us.  It is NOT apparent from the point of view of physics or any more ‘objective’ position.


(Why Do We Call DNA “a Language”?  Isn’t DNA only a shorthand for a long, long series of Mechanisms?  DNA is the “access code” for the utilization of these processes, and that in their working order.  On right is the first electron microscope photo of DNA showing its coils; about 2012.  Story and photo in New Scientist)

In Dennett’s book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (“Dangerous” because it is so revolutionary), there is a long and difficult section describing the leading speculations on the origin of life.  Life is that ‘bridge stone’ that transcends the gap between Order and Purpose (Directed Order).  The issue he focuses on is the mechanism by which, or point when, DNA or RNA  are not only able to successfully replicate themselves — like very good little crystals –but also when their Order begins to Mean Something, Have a Purpose, by Designating a series of changes that stretches far beyond them.  They are this “code”, we say, “a language”.  Underlying this code, or better, the Meaning of this code is a long series of molecular Mechanisms that build the organism That Code Is For.  And it is true, it is materialistic mechanisms all the way down, but Emergent Realities/Vocabularies encapsulate or summarize or communicate those mechanistic cascades at different points.  They are the ‘access code’ of one layer of complexity to the next; the information passed between them.  Emergent objects work from ‘inside’ the chain of causation (as it is known to be from ‘outside’) and use its information “to do more.”

Cells can reproduce “because” what has been ‘learned so far’ is passed on to their offspring in the language of DNA — that code.  Persons socialize new persons by passing on to them what has been ‘learned so far’ through language and forms of training.  ‘Objects inside’ this mechanical system — objects like cells, organisms, herds, flocks, ecosystems and persons — ‘focus on’ these Encodings; the encodings are the rules of the game for them; they are the Signals that Inform those of us “inside” the system what to do next.  From this point of view, these encodings are Information to be responded to inherently as part of their DESIGN and that design’s pertinent environment. 

Hawks taking advantage of  an up-draft: Almost he opposite of a person falling down an elevator shaft!  It is a part of the Hawk’s environment being used in this enhanced way.  It is ‘the bird’s reason’!  The design of the bird, ‘pointing outward’, recognizes this opportunity.  The design of the bird, ‘pointing inward’, has adapted its itself to improve this skill.  From thedailybirdnewengland.

A bird in flight, like a hawk, is in an up-draft.  This situation can be almost completely understood from the point of view of aeronautics and physics, but from our point of view and the bird’s design it Means More!  It is the opportunity to DO MORE: to gain altitude, to see farther, to identify prey, to sense weather conditions, to dive faster.  The “because” of this situation — “the bird rose because of the up-draft” — is then the point of coincidence of these two points of view.  We can agree that it is, roughly, the same thing described in two ways and each way has a value, yet are significantly different.

To understand the world in a truly comprehensive manner, it is necessary to hold these two different images In Mind at the same time.  As if, one overlapped the other.  But for a Compatiblist Philosophy, that is the goal in attempting to “see” how persons — and many other significant but more limited agents — are Free and Determined at the same time.

The laws of Physics and Chemistry try to predict cascades of mechanisms, and predict all the outcomes for the molecules and quantum waves that are their objects. But no baseball player on his way to the batters box better say to his coach, “Coach, maybe it will be a slider, but I will stand there and let the determined course of the universe occur, slider or fast ball or curve; I will get a hit if it is so determined.”  That ball player will soon be on the bench looking at that ball game from the point of view of one not playing it, like those ‘hard determinists’— who in their Theoretical Opinions — envision themselves not as persons or organisms but as only assemblages of a very reduced quality.

Painting by Joan Miro.  Title unknown by me.   So we may playfully say, “PERSONS WRITE THEIR STORY LIKE PIXIES DANCE ON THE FLAMES OF A CAMP FIRE.”  (GWW)


The final post in this series — Freedom 4 — will focus on the enhanced environment of Persons.  To be a “person” is to have an inner mental environment in which conversations occur between various “characters”.  Options for all kinds of behaviors are presented here but only a few are selected.  “Selection” is here used in the sense in which a mutation is “selected by Nature as an adaptation” for a living thing.


Logo by Marty


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