(The work goes on here at The Connection. We are definitely trying to ‘frame some fearful symmetry’ with the completion of this Post Series. It kind of reads like a poem. Please visit the Five previous posts for details; but, in general, the goal has been to Accept the Concept of “A Person” and analyze the Kind of World it must have arisen from, and still have, to Exist! Think about it, A Person is not only a strange kind of object, but also a strange kind of animal and even a particular kind of Human Being. What is a “full-blown” Person? It is a peculiar kind of Design!)
(The Tree of Life has been variously depicted. But in most cases they embody a flourish of Continuous Design With Variation. Our newest understanding of it must encompass Human Cultural Products, as easily as it encompasses the nests of birds. [Left] Artistic conception of The Tree from the Palace of Shaki Khans, 17th century, Azerbaijan. [middle] Turn of the 20th century, famous biologist and naturalist E. Haeckel’s confusedly “Man” centered Tree. [Right)More accurate modern biological understanding. We must think that Humans make culture in similar ways that birds make nests.)
In this post series, we have climbed from the (not so simple) Self-Preservation of the Design of a single-celled creature in the creature’s survival and reproduction, to the prolific musical design production of J.S.Bach. The protozoan preserved its design very efficiently but it was “competent without comprehending what it did” (D.D.) Bach, by contrast, was the epitome of Self-Conscious, Premeditated, Intelligent Preservation and Creation of Designs.
(Progress in the preservation and creation of Design. Image two from WildImages.org; image three from UShistory.org: Thank you)
Following the arguments of philosopher Dan Dennett*, we contended that Designs are a form of Representation. They are both — and at the same time– Concrete and very Material but also Abstract and very Ideal. Abstract, by having at their “core” some rules or laws or principles of their composure. Concrete, by being “given” to us with a hard, resistive and almost inscrutable “outward covering”. As such, it is a single thing, it is “An Object” to us; for example “a chair”, “my wife”, “Columbus Ohio”. But, we have come to know that these things possess, as if, a soft under-belly, an organization with parts. The chair has a wooden frame beneath its stuffing and cloth; my wife has a complex physiology not to mention her very complex psychology! The parts and rules represent the whole (the given thing) and the whole represents the designed parts (its ‘inner’ workings).
It is in “Mind” that all this Representation and understanding of Representation occurs. In part IV, we argued that Mind is ultimately A Human Culture establishing itself and creating its members that “work together” in very obvious but also subtle ways. “It” sees and reacts to “The World”, with much uniformity. “A Culture”, in that sense, is like a Single Organism! It is a mind; or at least, it is single minded.
We think of many things in this world as mind-like or mind-full. Especially, Persons —Persons should be Mindful; they should regard other Persons according to principle and rule, that is what we think morally. From the simplest Designs we see, such as trees or hurricanes, or the cycle of seasons, we intuit them as having rules —that “soft under-belly”. We intuit rules and order also for much more complex things, like ourselves and our adversaries —which may include even The Tyger that seeks to devour us. These are our intuitions, and they“bubble up” to us in Mind through the Cycles and Designs of Our World as Representations for our consideration, or so we have traditionally contended!
The Tyger, by Bill Blake
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
These are not strange ways to think! Several prominent theorists, including Dennett, have argued that our most common world view contains these ideas, or one’s similar. This is “the Manifest Image” we have of ourselves. It is in this commonly used vocabulary (really Without Exception used vocabulary), that we think of and regard ourselves as Persons, as Responsible for the things we do and make, and that animals are person-like, and there may even be a God (or gods), a kind of Super Person (or Persons) that is at the core of all this, as its point, maker, or inner meaning. This–roughly– has been a Universal Belief!
Back to Our Story
So Bach, himself, may have been a pawn in a larger game. We gave him much credit for his efforts —his studies, his output, his energy, his persistence. He was a very conscious, premeditated designer of music (see Post 5 in series). He worked hard and with deliberation, but his fate was beyond him, we will now contend.
He was born into a highly musical family with his father and several uncles all professional musicians. His own offspring undoubtedly benefitted from the transmission of supportive genes, as evident in the four that reached adulthood becoming noted musicians also. But it was not only a transmission of genes, The Bach Family was a ‘hot house’ environment for musical productivity. It was an environment imbued with music appreciation and concentration, that really included not only the family but also patrons and organizations (the Lutheran Church) that fostered this creativity in Design.
Design With No Designer
Natural Selective Forces act even within human society! Bach and his music were Naturally Selected as worthy of “differential reproduction”, to use Darwin’s famous phrase. Our cultural sense of Quality in Designs was, and is, open to Blind Design Forces. Yes, says Dennett, and we here at The Connection concur. All Design arises from its environment and then awaits the acknowledgement or rejection of that environment. Was Bach really good, was Chuck Berry?
(WHO SAW ANY OF THESE COMING or WHERE THEY WERE GOING, or the same for any historical development? No one planned it, no one knew if it would succeed, no one knew where it would lead: Chuck Berry in the late 1950s; teen-age girls swoon as The Beatles visit New York in 1964; Hippies in the year 1968; Women’s Liberation in 1970. All these were chosen to be of some greatness and significance, but by an ‘unofficial vote’ with an indeterminant group of ‘voters’ and an outcome that was open. Hey, it just happened. It just seemed to be the thing to do!)
So, Who chose Bach’s greatness, and how? J.S.Bach was not phenomenally successful in his lifetime, especially as a composer. He was mostly noted as an organist and it was not until some 50 years after his death that his written compositions began to be more deeply appreciated by musicians and critics, and began to be Replicated at a faster rate. Today, they are Reproduced at a massive rate yearly and Dominant in our musical environment. Yet no musician, in the era of Bach or soon after, Chose Bach’s Fame. Each made an individual choice that had ramifications far beyond that individual act.
Dennett sites Herman Melville and his Moby Dick as another example of greatness that laid dormant for years until the commemoration of that authors 100th birthday led to Moby’s revival and soon Immortality. On the other hand, Johannes Brahms was “wildly popular” in his own time.
Now these musical and artistic tastes —and the same for political ideas— are, of course, not genes. It normally takes extensive amounts of time for the Gradual Modification of Genes to work biologically and become effective in their entire population. But not so for “Memes”, a term adopted by Dennett from his friend and noted biological theorist Richard Dawkins.
Memes are the Basic Group-Held Signs and Organizational Structures (habits) that form “Mind” and Culture. They are shared Meanings and Methods, and in this way form a New Level of Human Interaction and Existence. And, they can ‘catch on’ widely, quickly, and without even clear meaning and motivation (in some cases).
(MEMES: from the very simple to the very complex. “STOP” signs around the world, this one in Cambodia; a meme with a simple meaning. What does the Mona Lisa conger up? Hard to say what associations are connected to it, yet it is widely recognized and acknowledged at a glance. A very complex and varied set of associations is tied to the Christian Cross. Good old “Mickey” is recognized all over the globe. Not all memes are approved of, but still deeply significant–the swastika. The atom, a science meme with many connections. BUT, memes do not need to be visually represented. The first few notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony–Da, da, da, Da — is one of Dennett’s favorite examples of an audio meme.)
Another very interesting example is the “Rationality” meme. No one really knows what rationality is, yet many of us invoke it all the time and even organize large portions of our lives around it! Is Rationality a certain set of neurons firing in the brain; the same set for everyone? Is Rationality a certain set of behaviors? Which behaviors could we agree upon, and then what would their definition be? Being “Reasonable”, we might say, but what is that? Here in this very series, I have argued that Reasonable is no more than “a Person’s” response-ability to give the reasons for their behavior and to care about other person’s reactions to those reasons. Or, is “Rationality” caring about “Good Evidence” for your reasons and beliefs. But what is the “good evidence”? So, we do not understand Rationality very well at all, yet it is Central to Our Way of Living especially in Our Modern Age! We hold this Meme of Rationality, and many of us hold it dearly!
Bubbling Up From Below
Let us say, then, that Memes are a way to Access, Interpret, and Share the neural activities in the brain of each of us and even the other physical forces that stretch far beyond us. These physical forces form our lives in a basic way at our widest range. Culture and its memes form a kind “down-loaded app” or a “user-interface” that is the context for us, as persons, to be in relation to our physical universe, contends Dennett. IT IS THE WAY NATURE IS TALKING TO US! Our ideas, emotions, and reasons “bubble up from below” as Representations of of ourselves and our world. Then, they are tested in the field of Memes already present in us and our culture. Or at least, this is what we can believe, ideally. It is an account of how Persons fit into the Universe.
Mother Nature’s Seal of Approval?
This is The Image We Hold of Ourselves, or at least in broadest outline. It has been cleaned up and developed in some ways (“reconstructed”) by Dennett, other theorists, even myself. At best, this is only my interpretation of these other interpretations. But “in broad outline” it contains the basic elements of “Persons” and their relations to “Things”, “Minds” in relation to “Matter”.
Culture and Personhood —and this “Manifest Image” of things — has been in rapid development for well over 10,000 years and with its birth –as incipient Culture– as far back as 40,000 years ago. That is not enough time to signal Nature’s Official Approval, her Genetic Selection; yet the human species has ‘Prospered’ dramatically in that time. This “Image” of ourselves has become “populated with more and more affordances, more and more opportunities to track, more and more things to do things with, more and more things –words–to use as tools…”, says Dennett. It has served many uses, including the opportunity to consider and reconsider our own Reasons —to Reflect on ourselves.
(In Reflection, we take ourselves to be An Object in the world capable of Manipulation and Re-Design. We consider and re-consider our own Reasons. Norman Rockwell, Girl at Mirror , Pablo Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror , John William Waterhouse, Echo and Narcissus .)
From the vantage point of Design, we can at least say that so far, we have received Nature’s Evolutionary Endorsement. Our way of “seeing things” has worked! Our Proliferation is a sign of Nature’s Approval, and here, In These Blogs, we have tried to give it an intellectual defense.
But will it continue to work? Our manifest image is an awkward combination of physics, chemistry, biology, neurology, morality, economics, politics and poetry (among others). How it all fits together has been briefly suggested, but as we continue to shuffle these cultural cards, how they will play out in the future is still to be determined by processes that involve humans and human choices, but only indirectly. WHAT WE CAN MAKE OF “IT” (this World) IS STILL UP FOR GRABS!
(HURDLES TO BE LEAPED: Dictators, Industry and Pollution, Economic Imbalance, Religious and Sexual Discrimination, Dogmatism, War)
*These are, of course, my interpretations of Dennett’s position, along with other such philosopher’s of a similar vein. Richard Rorty, John Dewey, A.N.Whitehead are among that group. Dennett’s 2017 From Bacteria to Bach and Back is the work most specifically referred to in this post.
(Hurdle to be Transcended: THE OLD WAYS OF THINKING THAT DIVIDE THE WORLD and CULTURE INTO IRRECONCILABLE PIECES! “Newton“, by the poet, artist and printer, William Blake (1805). “Newton is shown sitting naked and crouched on a rocky outcropping covered with algae, apparently at the bottom of the sea. His attention is focused upon diagrams he draws with a compass upon a scroll.” (Wikipedia))
The Tyger (final two stanza’s) , more Bill Blake!
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
STAY CONNECTED at the NATURERELIGIONCONNECTION.ORG