Freedom 4: Through Nature and Reflection

(Cookn’ here at the naturereligionconnection!  A wide ranging post, we do have here. We are speculating about speculation!  Post 4 in the Freedom and the Environment series.  People are “people” when they ‘see’ and understand the Emergent Realities built atop the world as pure chemical and physic’s objects.  The world is both “atoms in motion” and animals and persons “acting according to their natures”, their design.  Designed things are Informed as well as Caused.  This provides an opportunity for Freedom.  It’s not Absolute Freedom, but it’s not just ‘whistling Dixie’, either.  It is Freedom as the ability to do a lot of stuff well!)

“Huston…The Eagle has landed” said Neil Armstrong.  The Eagle, another creature designed to function well not in “any”, nor even “the”, but “its” environment.

Reasons in Nature

The Solar System changed from a ‘mere’ physical order to a participant in the directed — purposive — order of the living things on Earth, as argued in post 3.  Dan Dennett contends that this is the origin of “justification”.   A hawk exists because it is more successful at survival and reproduction through its ability to fly; that is its justification.  The Solar system, itself, simply “is”.

When we consider the ‘higher’ levels of complexity, we ask of them, “what for?”, “what do they do?” along with “how did they come about?”  They have a purpose that we only successfully understand by not only describing an order but also the kind of environment in which that order successfully functions.  It is, now, a directed order.  The two, object and “its” environment, are at the same level of vocabulary and complexity.  They are inherently related and not contingently related, and the successful functioning of that object in its environment is their Justification.

It is interesting, here, to recall that physicist Sean Carroll — in his philosophy of “Poetic Naturalism” — contended that the relationship of all the emergent vocabularies to the universe as described by physics is “usefullness”.  Emergent vocabularies are “useful” ways for us to talk.  They reveal emergent objects — designs — that exist from our point of view and are useful ways for us to ‘see’ reality and understand ourselves –as persons — in it.   (see post, The “Secretly Profound” Idea of Emergence.)

Ancient people looked up and connected the dots (the stars) in a manner significant to them.  We now, as persons, ‘look back’ through the atomic and physical realities to connect these ‘dots’ as the “Emergent Objects” leading to us as the emergent agents and actors we are!

Purposive objects exhibit design.  They are —By Definition — interrelated and interacting with “their” environment.  Some biologists become nervous here, and insist that Design in Nature is only “apparent design”; it is “seemingly designed”.  It is, as if, they say, “Things are not really put together that well.”  They fear that a design needs a designer, or that “adaptionist” thinking and talk of “purposes” is Teleological — as if nature is striving for some goal — and therefore insufficiently Causal and Contingent.  But, there are many things that are really well connected: their parts are subsumed under their design!  (“Huston, the Eagle has landed!”)  We can say designed objects are Caused by their environment, but in our broadest attempt to understand our world and our situation in it we must recognize that this is only a half truth and the seed for significant confusion.  It is better to say, “The two Inform each other!”

The hawk is landing!  The relationship between the form of the wings and the air is inherent.  The air ’causes’ flight only because the wings are designed to allow air to have that function.  This is primarily a relation of INFORMATION and not causation!

Flight has been a frequent example in this series.  It is an opportunity in the Ordered Physical World for Purpose to appear, and it certainly has!  In his book From Bacteria to Bach and Back, Dennett argues the history of evolution has been a process of  “the functional crowding out the nonfunctional.”   Our planet is now covered with the functioning objects of life and of them, and their parts, we ask “the reasons why” they are “shaped and ordered as they are.”  “To fly,” is frequently an answer, and yet, no bird — who is designed for flight — knows it!  The Bird has a Reason but is no reasoner.   Dennett calls it “Competence without Comprehension” and it is a very frequent thing.  Birds do it, bees do it, (“even educated fleas do it”), fish do it—that is swim in this case and do it very well but without knowledge or awareness of their own design and behavior.

(“Lets do it, Lets fall in Love!”  Human love may be an example of “competence without (full) comprehension”.  We really don’t know how it happens, in fact we believe it is often “magic”.  Yet, we have numerous rituals and practices that ‘promote’ it, from song to poem to dances to dating.  These are “our enhanced environments” that ‘set the stage’ for romantic opportunity and for its ‘contemplation’ and ‘decision’.  “Love” is a form of human “know-how” and humans should know how to “Love”!)

These are Reasons in Nature, says Dennett!  He calls them “free-floating rationales” because they are reasons without a reasoner; reasons not Represented in a Mind but are discernible in the design of the creations of Mother Nature.  In this sense, Natural Selection is “a reason finder” and has filled this planet with a splendid array of living things operating for, or by, one reason or another.  And interestingly, since these are Reasons in nature, there are more and less effective and efficient ways — rational ways — of accomplishing them.  Natural Selection is not only “a reason finder” but also “developer”.

(Natural Selection has discovered Powered Flight four times; first in insects, then dinosaurs, birds and finally bats.  It is a “reason-finder” and “developer”.  The Reason these creatures survived was, in part. their ability to fly.  That is there Justification.)

(Nature is full of Reasons. Gliding is A Reason these animals exist.  Only Persons have Reasons and are sometimes aware of them.  Bluntnosed Flying fish, Flying Squirrel, Paradise snake, Borneo Flying Frog, Gliding Ant, Flying Dragon Lizard are just a few of Nature’s gliding creatures.  I do not know the approximate number of species that Glide, but each of the classes above have several different species that do. And this is not to mention animals that “parachute”.)


(A “ballooning” spider!  Note the thin thread coming from its abdomen.  Another way Mother Nature has designed a creature to “fly”.  Natural Selection, through its mechanical process of trial and error, has sought and discovered this Opportunity too, and perfected it.  It justifies this creatures survival.)


Part 2 of this post will be published this weekend.  In it, we will find out what humans do with these Reasons In Nature.  Now I know some of you are finding that idea strange — reasons in nature — but its point is to establish Reasons in Persons and then having a basis for it Naturally!   That is what we do when we think in the widest context; we want a lot of things to fit together.  The reasons for our behavior and in our consciousness must come from nature but also be true to themselves.  To think that thinking is really a chemical or neural or physic’s process, that it is somehow “caused” by them, is what the famous American philosopher John Dewey called, “the modern one-sidedness.”  Getting really wide and two-sided, here at The Connection!  Enjoy!

FLIGHT JOAN MIRO STYLE: The Smile of the Flamboyant Wings (1953)

cropped-img_34702-e1565808476815-10  Drawing by Marty


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