(Understanding our place in the Largest Scheme of Things is a difficult task. I have been trying to get a handle on it for a number of decades now. This is about as far as I have gotten and I’m glad to share it with you. [Is Singha still the best beer in Thailand?] Part II of IV in this Post Series.)
If we look at things from the Perspective of Design, we will have the best chance of understanding as much of “it” as we can. Philosophy is “seeing how things, in the broadest sense of things, hang together, in the broadest sense of hang together” said (more of less) by philosopher Wilfred Sellars. What I am calling, The Perspective of Design, is (I hope, roughly) what another good philosopher, Dan Dennett, calls “The Intentional Stance”. The significance of “Design” is hard for us to deny, and it can hold together, in a sensible way, two things that really bite us in the intellectual butt: shear Objectivity and shear Subjectivity. Those twain shall not soon reunite, for most ways of thinking!
(Design: a well organized “hanging together” is not hard to see in The Human Anatomy, [above] the muscular system and the nerves of the head. Hey, its All for One and One for All, here! The Parts and the Whole come together amazingly well, as do they in all the living things of the world! Who says Complex Units aren’t real? Only confusedly hardcore Materialistic Reductionists do! Thanks to britanica.com for diagrams. )
Design in the world of living things is easy to believe and obvious to see, we have argued in Part I. Individual Living Things are most clearly understood against their participation in a larger, orderly background: A Design! We are very familiar with this view: “The Tree of Life” is a massive comparative structure. We think of plants in contrast to animals, fish by comparison to birds, and dogs vs. cats.
Design in the Non-Living World
But Design is not only present in the biological world, it is also suggested to us in the Cycles of the prebiotic world. There are cycles “at many spacio-temporal scales”, says Dennett. Some are as obvious as night and day, and the cycle of the seasons; many are not so obvious “including thousands of chemical cycles.”
(The Krebs Cycle or the Citric Acid Cycle is a series of reactions that occur in all oxygen-using organisms to break down food into usable energy [ATP]. One of the chemicals produced at the end of this cycle, a kind of citric acid, is just the very chemical needed to restart the process onto another round of food digestion. This process, apparently, can occur outside of living organisms and was possibly incorporated by them deep in our evolutionarily history.)
(CYCLES deep in the earth and above it. Convection Currents inside the Earth’s Mantle drive the Gradual Distribution of the Continents around the planet. The hottest Air at different points around the globe rises, and moves north or south away from the Equator, while cooler air flows in below. This forms regular Convection Cycles in the atmosphere and a regular global wind pattern.)
The significance of these prebiotic cycles is that they helped organize and refine our world, and still do today. They distribute, sort, and accumulate materials. They establish regularities that from some points of view can be depended upon. The seasons of the year, climactic zones. tides and tidal pools, mountain ranges and river deltas are all such regularities or their result. Our Life is Full of Regularities!
(The Waves and Tides of the oceans, seas and lakes unrelentingly sort and distribute their coastal materials. Like a sieve and a grinder, or a series of these, the beach materials are constantly worked upon in an orderly process and result. Thanks to miracosta.edu and pennstate.edu for these photos and and illustration.)
“Think of cycles as ‘do-loops’ in algorithms, actions that return to a starting point after ‘accomplishing’ something”, contends Dennett. An algorithm is a set of rules to follow to accomplish a particular task. These steps are sometimes repeated, over and over, and that is crucial. They are recursive and they continue to build on themselves. The end result is that our world became increasingly refined! They “gradually changed conditions in the world and thus raised the probability That Something New would occur” (Dennett, my added emphasis).
Some of our very ordinary procedures are Algorithmic and Recursive processes for problem-solving.
Strange that these elementary school methods should embody basic physical and meta-physical realities!
Or is it? Dennett contends that Nature does contain Reasons, Rationales, Rules. (In other words, it is misguided thinking to believe that “the world”, the “Objective World”, is without meaning.) He calls them “free-floating rationales” because not until they embodied themselves in our lives and then finally were Represented in our Thinking, (only at that point) were they Explicit In The World, and not just Implicit, as if only “behind the scenes”, not apparent to the eye or to the understanding.
(The Planets have been orbiting for about 4.5 billion years. This Solar System functions like a gigantic machine, lawfully but for no purpose. In about 1642, the Englishman Isaac Newton realized its operating principles, with the help of some of his contemporaries and predecessors. Still regarded as one of the greatest achievements in modern history, he wrote his theory, in Latin, in the book Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, 1687. The principles behind that ancient system where now known outright and not simply hidden in that design’s operation. [Famous painting of Newton by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1689. That is one nice head of hair on that guy!})
Cycles as Regularities that are Sorting, Accumulating, Distributing, Dividing, Preserving. “Do-Loops” are all around us and in us, working and working.
(The Water Cycle [top left] preserves, distributes and makes water accessible to use in various forms/designs as vapor, liquid, and ice. The process of Cell Division and Multiplication renews cellular life and multiplies its presence. [Bottom Left] The network of national highways distributes products and persons, while connecting the country into an accessible physical unit. In Part III we will discover that Persons are “Do-Loops”, who should ideally Return to Their Own Life in Self Reflection and ask: “What am I to Accomplish?” Who am I?” “What is my Story?”)
(In Part I of this post series we argued it was accurate to understand Designs as present and working in The World of Living Things, and this is design Without a Conscious Designer, design by Natural Selection. In Part II we found our prebiotic world full of Cycles that we can understand as creating the necessary background for living things and then eventually for our-selves as Social, Emotional, and Thoughtful Persons. In Part III we will explore “Our Thinking About Design and Our Participation in It.” SOON TO HIT THE PRESSES!!!)