More Enchantment in a Good World?

Our World can often seem a special place. In recent posts we have been exploring this Sensation and Judgement (See posts: The Strange Sensation and An Enchanted World). In this post let me present another outstanding case; for really, everyday and every moment is itself a bedazzlement of consciousness.

Let me quickly interject, this efflorescence (to use William Blake’s word) of the world around us is Not always a pleasant thing. I seek to avoid the status of “Pollyanna.” Often the world is lit in tragedy and pain but even then, it is our world, our Quality-Filled panoramic creation. As several philosophers and psychologists have testified, as much as the Natural Scientific Description of the world holds, Our Practical Vision and Belief in the world will be at least Something More or Other Than that hard science description.

(John Singer Sargent’s Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood (1885). Here we have the world reaching an enchantment at the Third Level: One, Nature as Monet’s wife and the wood; Two, Monet representing it; Three, Sargent representing that act of Monet’s representation!
Reality at the third level of Enchantment or Reflection. Representations are circling about and influencing each other. Each is an act of selection among Reality’s infinite options.)

Philosopher and theorist extraordinaire, Dan Dennett has championed what has become known as “Illusionism.” The theory that Evolution has created and sanctioned for us a highly oversimplified, but efficient, take on the world. Let’s face it, our Common Sense approach to the world ‘chunks’ microscopic things in very peculiar and interesting ways— like persons, animate things, macroscopic functioning solids (like carbon and washing machines), liquids (like Chardonnay and water), gases (like oxygen and ‘air’). This way of seeing Phenomena has not done too badly. We have science, democratic rights and values, art and The Ohio State Buckeye football team. Granted, that characterization of Common Sense is selective; Common Sense is also full of bull shit, like belief in gods, ghosts, most Republican Party politics, and sasquatch. Common Sense, though, is also always under the process of revision.

A famous photo of a supposed female Big Foot. Thanks to the Gimlin film.
Donald Trump as the MAGA leader for America. Just another Big Foot!

The goal, here at naturereligionconnection, is to update and rationalize Common Sense. This will involve a demystification of many concepts, such as free will, value, quality, reason, personhood and nature. We must “save the phenomena;” which is the world and ourselves in the way they seem to us, but we must revise our thinking about these SEEMINGS in the most reasonable way. Much of that has already occurred throughout History.

Another Cool Example of Enchantment: more Bird Song, but now with Stravinsky

The Nightingale, who plays the opening role in a morning’s bird-song in Europe and other parts of the world, sings in a manner inspirational to the early Modernest Classical Composer, the Russian, Igor Stravinsky. Here is his Song of The Nightingale.

(This performance lasts over 21 minutes, do not feel obliged to listen to the bulk of it, but it is a worthy piece. Interestingly, this video shows the Musical Notation, the score itself. A Bird’s Song transformed into Human Musical Sound but also into our Written Representation of musical sound.)

(These sounds can also be displayed on an Oscilloscope which changes sound into electrical signals and then displays their pattern graphically. We, humans and other Conscious Creatures, are capable of recognizing, modifying, using and creating Patterns in Nature that are significant to us. We really work Nature over. It’s An Enchantment! Afterall, the story you tell about yourself is who you are, in many ways. It, too, is a Pattern constantly maintained and developed.)

Our Latest Songster: The Nightingale

(More melodic than the Lark, but not nearly the profusion of sound and effort. The Nightingale is known and named for its habit of song starting before The Break of Dawn. It is the first bird to sing each morning in its European, African and Asian habitats. But can it be worthy of Stravinsky or he it? You be the judge, but I can hear the resemblance!)

Bird Song

Do birds enjoy singing? Do birds appreciate the melody of their particular song? Is “song” a good thing? Similarly, do dolphins enjoy swimming? Do dog pups like to wrestle? Does“Play” and “Art” exist to non-human animals? In many ways we would say “Yes, it seems so,” and we would have good grounds for saying that. Afterall, we enjoy singing and melody; we often like to swim and dive, wrestle and frolic. We have the insight to “see” these feelings and activities develop in the creatures of the Tree of Living Things. They seem to grow from some incipient stage to more explicit and full-blown forms. These qualities are a Reflection of ourselves; “They are nature singing our song,” says psychologist Nick Humphrey (see post, A Strange Sensation).

Presentation, presentation! Architecture, landscape, and Interior Design in the nest creation of the male South Pacific Bowerbird.

But how does nature sing our song? Nature starts simply and often with other motives. In biology, it is generally acknowledged that Bird Song starts for very venal reasons. Birds want to attract mates and establish territories. Bird calls do much the same, but they may also warn of danger as with the Blue Jay. These are very Functional motivations. They are not about an enjoyment of the song for the sake of the song itself. Yet as one famous biologist put it, “Nothing transcends itself like nature.” The ‘enjoyment’ of song, for the sake of song itself, is pioneered in birds and maybe realized in humans. We may also add that the enjoyment of color may start in insects, but is more fully realized in the human visual arts.

(Bees have a greater ability to see ultraviolet light but no photoreceptors to allow them to see red. A curious tradeoff.)

In Chapter 3 of Dan Dennett’s book (Breaking the Spell, 2006) on the scientific explanation of Human Religious Practices, Dennett askes “Why Do Good Things Happen?” That is a strange question! He is not asking about some specific ‘good’ occurrence, like the end of WWII for which we know many particular events; he is asking why anything “good” ever happens or exists. “Why do humans fight wars?” begins to get sufficiently broader; but also, “Why does Color exist?” one of our favorite fascinating phenomena here at NatieRel.

Is there an answer to such broad questions? Well, Philosophers have traditionally thought so (see the post series What is a Philosopher.) Religions have also posited Reasons for the occurrence of good things (and bad). In The Iliad, Homer wrote that King Agamemnon offended the goddess Artemis and she prevented the winds from blowing and the Greek fleet from sailing to start the Trojan War. He was forced to sacrifice his daughter to appease the goddess and start the winds, but instigating the ire of his wife. To religion, it’s the gods that are responsible for both good and bad.

(A wild Banana, thought to be very similar to the original banana before cultivation and breeding started some 10,000 years ago in the South Pacific in New Guinea. Its seeds are thick and thorny.)
(The Cavendish Banana is today’s most popular comercial banana. It is seedless. It is entirely dependant on assxual reproduction aided by humans. Human breeding is a form of Coevolution. Humans have made many cultural adaptations in order to make these bananas available almost worldwide, and these bananas have made genetic adaptations.)

Coevolution is the reason good things happen, proposes Dennett, not gods! Coevolution, and not just Evolution, because coevolution involves a specific circular relation or feedback of causes between specific kinds of organisms that stimulates a series of adaptations on each of their part. Dennett cites “the bargain” struck by some plants and animals around 600 million years ago. Seeds happened to become housed in something vaguely like a fruit, something that stored some sugar, an easy energy source for the animal. Over eons, fruits and the animals that sought them, both evolved in sophistication. That is Coevolution. Dennett cites several other examples.

(One of the classic examples of Coevolution is the “arms race” between cheetah and gazelle. Each has evolved greater abilities and characteristics such as speed, agility, camouflage and herd instincts in their historical cycle of interaction.)
(Stotting by gazelle is a display behavior that verges on what we would call play, but probably has more to do with impressing a stalking cheetah. It is, as if, the particular gazelle was saying, “Don’t bother with me, I am very robust.” Stotting is an apparently pointless, but impressive, leap into the air.)

Coevolution is an important cause of increasing complexity in our world. It is in Complexity that Good Things lay. It is also in the break-down of complexity that Evil and decline occur. It is in highly complex Brains that an experience of color occurs along with neural activity. It is in groups of cooperating humans that Language arises and is perpetuated, and then complex Ideologies grow — with gods, democratic rights, free choices, art, and even supposed ethnic and national superiorities.

(If all the matter were evenly distributed through the universe, estimate scientists, there would be 5.9 protons per cubic meter, not even a single atom! And since matter tends to collect around itself via gravity, most empty space is far more empty than that!)

In what we would call empty space, it really is rather empty. No good thing or bad thing happens there, that is the least we can say; maybe we should go further and say, Empty Space is a bad thing if Evil is the degradation of complexity, then this is the bottom layer. So, yes, by comparison to Complex Things and Events, no events at all is really bad. (So, The Holocaust was better than empty space? Maybe what makes The Holocaust massively evil is its disappointment, its betrayal, of all the wonderful accomplishments of humanity at and up to that point in history. We feel a tremendous Guilt with the Holocaust —how could persons have done that to other persons? We feel no such disappointment or guilt concerning empty space.)

In our Complex Living Environment there are vast opportunities for Numerous Creatures and Qualities to Exist and Interact. “Goodness” may be the Maximized Harmony and Coexistence of the greatest number of these. “Goodness” is the harmony of the greatest number of creatures, qualities, and abilities in existence simultaneously in Community. That is at least a good start at a description of it.

Stay tuned for more on The Nature of Goodness———————————————————————–The famous Alfred North Whitehead takes a crack at it.


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