(Well, we got hit with more Snow here in the Central O-H-I-O, about 5-7inches or 12-18cm. GOOD DAY TO STAY HOME AND BONE UP ON SOME METAPHYSICS. That always warms my heart! Here, we encounter some aspects of Design in the world of Persons. This whole series of posts is now striking me as almost poetic, and that is a good thing because we are working at the Level of Intuition!)
Designs All Around US
A segue from the world of Physic’s Things to Thoughtful Things, from Chemicals to Mind is what we need, says Dan Dennett, America’s most noted philosopher. Many people think we already have that explanation. It was written up and explained in one of those books, or the opening chapter of some text book, that you were supposed to have read as a sophomore in college. But we do not have that book, so Dennett has tried to write it, and here at NatieRel, we have tried to present it in popularized form.
But it has not been easy, for either of us. Dennett has run into powerful opposing intuitions in the minds of others and a genuine cultural thicket, he says; and I just have trouble telling sh!# from shine-ola, sometimes.
So, how do we get, “Something Different from Some Other Kind of Very Different Thing?” This is a return to our initial theme in this post series. This is the point of Dennett’s 2017 book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back; The Evolution of Minds. It is an appreciation of “Design” as the link between these generally misinterpreted poles of Objectivity (the world as made up of the items of physics and chemistry) and Subjectivity (the reality of thought, emotion and mind).
How does Mind come from Matter? Or is “Mind” just a figment of Brain, that mushy grey matter between our ears composed of approximately 100 billion neurons!
The first thing we must realize is the world and the universe always display Design. The highly regulated and precisely predictable world as known by physics is qualitatively stripped down; all that exists are a few characteristics in precise mathematical relation. That is a very tightly designed and constricted universe. But, the world of persons is much richer in qualities with a greater variety of objects and abilities and not capable of the high precision of prediction, but still very predictable and designed.
(Not as predictable as the world of physics, but still highly predictable: OUR SOCIAL WORLD. We eat. We seek shelter [Frank Lloyd Wright house in Rochester, NY]. We vote regularly in much of the world. We play games; throwing the curve ball. How many very regular things do you have in your life?)
(The Tower of Silence. DEATH, NOW THERE IS A REGULARITY; A DESIGN PIECE, WE ARE FAMILIAR WITH! We all have been giving a bit of thought to death lately. Death made a significant impression on humans starting way back. Here is an unusual ritual of burial that I just discovered: The Zoroastrian Religious Tradition of “The Tower of Silence.“ Ritual was an early step in the development of “Mind”.
(This Persian practice, examples of which recorded in Iran and India, involved the construction of stone circular structures with outer walls as high as 25 ft. and diameters some nearly 100 ft. In the middle of this “Tower of Silence” was a pit [an ossuary] were the bones of the dead eventually were deposited. But before that, the bodies of the dead were placed in small exposed cubicles; on the outer rims the men, women on the next closest and children on the inner-most circular cubicles, all with feet facing inward. Left there for as much as a year, the corpses were exposed to the sun and rain, but mostly to the carnivorous birds. Vultures lined the rim of the dakhma, “the Tower”, and cleaned the corpses of flesh. At that point, the remains either washed into the center ossuary or were assisted manually in that placement. Lime was added to the pit to assist the decomposition and assure the return of the departed back into the cycle of elements. Note the vultures in the drawings above. A Strange Design, but true!)
The Cycles and Designs in the universe and in the living world are of great interest to us. They presage our own individual reality as humans with Minds.
Our Thinking About Design and Our Participation in It
First, we have experience as designers of things of use and beauty. We humans became the first Intelligent Designers, because Natural Selection designs but without foresight, and beavers and such design by instinct. Instilled in us, as social and communicating creatures, we start to construct, to gather, and to organize—like many of the Cycles of the inanimate world. We start to make patterns of our own and with premeditation, or at least significantly our own, but also patterns modified from our “given environment”. Communities organize hunting parties and select mates; bury their dead and welcome the newborn; these are Regularities about which we create Myths and Rituals.
These human activities are regular and objective patterns, but not wholly independent of us, argues Dennett. They are a further extension of the material world but now with an important new layer of “Meaning.” Everyday early humans hunted, gathered, chose mates, gave birth. Day passed into night and fires were made, tools repaired, and the seasons changed. Human Rituals were established and myths created. A line drawn between “natural” events and “cultural” events is a mistake.
In myth and ritual these patterns of “the world” start to ‘come to mind’, we can say. These Human Designs are congruous with the patterns that precede them and surround them, in the Living World and also in the lifeless and stripped down Universe that we understand in our most objective ways. Yet, now we start to have a conscious recognition of Patterns. As Dennett says, the “free-floating rationales” of nature, now became explicit in human culture, in a ‘thing’ called human Mind.
(Persons gained a Conscious Appreciation for Pattern. Traditional Wedding outfits from around the world: Yoruba people of Nigeria, Mongolian and Andean [Peru] wedding dresses, a traditional attire for Norway.)
Secondly, Design is experienced by us as Designers of ourselves. We are “self-made selves” (Dennett). Again, not completely, not god-like in our creativity, but incrementally we take what has been given to us objectively, and attempt to modify it, mold it.
In our own life and also in the history of humanity, at first this subjective ability, this self-design, took place dimly and with little self-awareness. Now, many of us have highly developed senses of Choice, Responsibility and Design. We hold the status of a full-fledged “Person” and seek to create not only our own lives but also a family, community, kingdom, nation and even a more Ideal World. Humans go far to create their own societies that then creates more persons in their light. “What is it like to be a person?”, we ask. “What should I do that is acceptable? What should we do?” Persons design many things, including themselves, and they ‘Take Response-Ability’ for that. We are willing to answer for it, to give our reasons, to be Reasonable and explain.
(Interestingly, the story of Heinrich Harrer and the Dalai Lama comes to mind. Harrer was s brash young German mountain climber and adventurer at about the start of WWII. The Dalai Lama was a teenager and ‘still in training’, one might say, as the spiritual and political leader of the modest and gentile Tibetan Buddhist mountain civilization. You are probably familiar with the story from the movie, Seven Years in Tibet , starring Brad Pit; an able telling, I believe. I own Harrer’s book of the same title, but never read it. A remarkable story of the meeting of two very diverse civilizations embodied in the growing personal relationship of these young men. Both shared, learned and explained much, though the end was tragic for the Tibetans.)
When we create our own life and the life of the community around us, we do not do so in just any old way. We must Modify and Build Up the Designs Objectively Presented to us and in us.
The cycles of the prebiotic world prepared the way for the “design leap” to Living Things, and living things to Thinking Things, which are a subset of the living. Dennett calls these, “moves or explorations in Design Space”. They are based in the basic Information provided in the genetic code and in the phenomenal or phenotypic world, which is the genetic information’s family of manifestations.
Persons are a development in this context of design as evolved on our planet. Persons are a design with a Reflective Sense of Itself and of all the designs that reverberate outward, and inward, between us and the rest of the universe. Our life, the life in the Living world, the Designs and Cycles in the inanimate world, are–as if– the rolling and concentric waves created by a pebble thrown into a pond.
In Part IV, I will attempt to display Our Larger Unity as persons stretching out into the universe around us. That is, of course, a return to the the themes of Part I and II, but now with the goal of placing our Human Ideas and Actions in that Largest Context of Mother Nature’s Grandest Design. Wish me luck, and thanks for reading, “The NatureReligionConnection”.