(The 12th And Final Dose in “The Meaning of Life” series. “Hold on to your hats”, I hope it is a good one! And only about 16 paragraphs long—well, that is a blessing in itself! )
So “meaning” exits within a design: each is an Information. The design’s parts are meaningfully connected and its relation beyond itself to, what we may figuratively call, “the world” is just as legitimately called “its world”. This is to say, Designs designate “their environment”. An environment is as much a part of a living thing as is any of its bodily parts. What is a “fin” without its water, or a “wing” with no air? Each of these Function in a Coherent Level of Vocabulary. The design and it environment are “internally connected”, connected by “definition”, necessarily connected and not continently connected. It makes as little sense to say, an animal has “wings” and no “air”to “fly” in, as to say it has “blood” but no “heart” to pump it. An animal and its environment are Reflections of each other. They are Representations of each other.
And to Persons, Meaning exists as the relationship of the parts —Persons— that compose “the Human Social Organism“ and as our representations of our environment and ourselves that we constantly seek to affirm and revise according to our needs. A meaningful relation, or an information relation, is a relation between things connected by definition, like “hunger-food”,”nurse-patient”,“teacher-student”, “car-highway”, “owner-worker”,”politician-constituency”, scientist-scientific community, parent-child, wife-husband, but also relationships—as are the former— based in Principle and Standard: The Law meaningfully or internally relates Lawyers, Judges, Police, Criminals and Citizens. These are Informed Relations, and we are always trying to Refine, Reform and Redefine these relationships of design. Many, many, actions and reactions must and will then take place between these parts but not primarily as Causal Interactions. Parts “inform” each other; they communicate through meaning. Just as you and I are trying to do now. I am not trying to cause you, I am trying to convince you, to believe this. That is A huge Distinction!
Between Designs, like a hammer and a nail
But this is not the only place that Meaning and its attendant Information exists. Not only within a design, but between Designs do meaningful and informed relations exist. For example, the original birds (like our original aircraft) were clumsy flyers, barely able to get off the ground for just long enough or high enough to escape the grasp of a predator, or attain some kind of advantage. But through the language and communication of DNA, trail and error, and the natural selection of the group of designs around it (Mother Nature), the abilities of birds has blossomed; consider them now!
These improvements are an enhanced valuation. Reasons and Values do lie in Nature, and “flight” has been rather thoroughly exploited (see Dose 1), but not by causal forces, but by the enhancement of meaningful information. The design of birds has flourished; they have built off the successes and failures of their predecessors. “Information is design worth getting,” contends philosopher and theorist Dan Dennett.
The Transcendental Whole
The Tree of Life is a real and gigantic web of interconnected designs and their behaviors. As a Person makes a statement, a bird makes a “call” or embarks on some other behavior. Within that bird’s Community of Related Designs, a response is almost inevitable. A potential “mate” or “mating rival” signals back. A “predator” takes notice, and moves in that direction. The human being in whose backyard this is occurring, complains to his wife, “That noisy Wren just never stops yapping.”
A Person, also, acts. The Community of Persons who are their audience respond to that Meaning. Similar to the Wren, each person is Communicating based on their shared Information. This is the concept of Meaning as both for the individual and for a community or society (Dose 10). Here we come headlong into politics, religion, philosophy, and practical necessity. The Human Social Organism is best Designed to Act in coordination and agreement. IN THE PAST, WE HAVE ESCAPED THIS ACCURATE UNDERSTANDING OF OUR DESIGN— our desire for consensus and unified action-–by designating some groups “Non-Persons”. We did this by standards we now, almost universally, agree were misguided and ignorant due to limitation and misguided ‘self’-interest.
The Tree of Life as a massive Community of Shared and Essential Information!
And , now, the million dollar question: Does The Tree of Life have a direction? Is it “growing toward the sun” in some figurative sense, like a plant does literally? Can we understand a Meaning to it, in this sense?
We have already argued for the improvement in the ability to fly in animals including humans. Biologist Richard Dawkins cites a common natural feedback loop he calls “An Arms Race.” Closely associated animals and plants compete for survival and in this way Improve their designs and abilities. Improving degrees of camouflage is one example; the defensive benefits of herds and schools is another. For predators, group hunting techniques are more effective for many animals.
In Dose 1, I started this entire series with the contention that “There are Reasons in Nature.” There are reasons “to fly”, “to swim”, “to grow tall”,“to hunt”, “to hide”, “to become poisonous” and many animals (and plants) have done so and done so with increasing capacity.
We have become Self-Aware
“Design” is embodied Reasons; it is “know-how”, argues Dennett. Living creatures “know how” to do things —it is “built in”— but do not “know that” they do them. Human Persons are the animal that not only “knows how” to do many things but also “knows that” we do them (Dose 2). We not only ‘stand under’ our Related Designs, so to speak, but we have come to “understand” many of them. We “know how” scientists have Reasons for what they do; they follow agreed upon standards and traditions, as do parents, doctors, artists, teachers and crafts persons. We have become aware of our Reasons for action –our “know how”– as no other living thing has become aware of theirs.
So, yes, we can justifiably “see”, “intuit”, “feel” a Direction In Our Living World. From our Informed Point of View, this is a legitimate meaning for us. And many have professed this before but generally in the language of what we now can call “superstition”. It was a misrepresentation that can be replaced by a the more convincing and coherent Naturalistic Language of Transcendence presented in these blogs.* Human action and Nature can be understood “to fit together” through this new and well-rounded, grand philosophical representation.
Our Grandest Intuition
So, for thoughtful modern Persons, “The Meaning of Life” lies in much of what we already do, but now we can understand it better and feel more confidence in it. Meaning is not some fluffy and idiosyncratic “subjectivity” by comparison to hard and certain ‘objective’ facts. Meaning is the “Design” and “Direction” we sense about us; it is the Unified Action of Nature and “Human Nature” in the creation of increasingly complex and interesting Objects.
When we act according to the naturally and historically tested and proven Standards and Principles of Various Ethics —art, science, nurturance (parenting, teaching, healing, ecology), craftsmanship, and even politics — life does have Meaning. Our coherence of belief and action is a Value often achieved in these Human Practices, but one still too far in abeyance in many situations. It is these nagging short-falls that rob us of the satisfaction of our grandest intuition: a more complete Unity of Persons and a more complete Unity with Nature. That would make for A MODERN NATURE RELIGION CONNECTION !
We can create a more Meaningful Human and Natural Existence! It is a Coming Together.
The 12th and Final ‘Dose’ in “The Meaning of Life, in twelve easy doses” series.
(Time to climb off my soapbox or, should I say, climb down from my pulpit. Thanks for having the patience to stick with me. I really had a good time. I hope you picked up on at least acouple of ideas for your effort. It is important to add, I have been thinking and reading about these ideas for a long, long, time. It is wonderful to finally ‘get them down’, regardless of what this may come to. I feel very lucky. Thanks to my wife for having the grace to put up with me.)
On a Biographical Note: I guess the moral of the story is, Once a Catholic, Always a Catholic (or at least kind of). Actually, I am an atheist, but something or other sure did stick from my religious up-bringing. My mother, rest her ‘soul’, always told me she named me after this guy, Pope St Gregory the Great (painting by Joseph Marie Vien). I surely do not claim any Inspiration as depicted here, nor any of the “greatness” or “saintliness” of this earlier Gregory, though I have been writing a lot lately, and he is said to have been prolific. He was Pope from the year 590 to his death in 604 ‘ad domino ‘. He is considered “a Doctor of the Church” and thought of favorably by even John Calvin, who considered him the last of the good popes. Well, make of this what you will! It is rather humorous, at least. He is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students and teachers, and I love music and became a teacher, and I am always studying. I guess we Gregory’s just stick together. “Do Do Do Do!” (Theme from Twilight Zone for younger readers or those from a different culture). Thanks again, GregWW