Campaigning and the Pandemic

These two do NOT easily fit together! Yet here in The O-H-I-O it must happen. In November of this year (9 months from now) an election will be held crucial to this state and to the nation. Ohioans will elect a new governor and a new U.S. Senator. The recent Republican Party strangle-hold on this state must end! The newly drawn voting districts for this state are already being challenged in the courts by the Democratic Party, but also independent organizations as reputable as The League of Woman Voters (Update: The Ohio Supreme Court ruled yesterday that both maps for the state legislature’s districts and for our US Congressional Districts were unconstitutionally biased in favor of the Republicans that created them. They ordered new districts to be drawn once again!) A moderate (in some ways) Republican Governor, Mike DeWine, is under fire from the extreme right wing of his own party. The Democrats are fielding a strong candidate for Governor in opposition, Dayton Mayor, Nan Whaley, who has distinguished herself and her leadership abilities during several dramatic events in that city—a mass shooting and a tornado.

Nationally, the Senatorial race in this state is huge. The U.S. Senate is tied, 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the decisive Democratic vote in a tie. If Ohio goes Democratic with this seat, it will be a shift in this current stand-off (but only one of among a number of decisive races).

Democrat “TJ” Johnson for US Senate

I have been working with a local, long-shot, candidate, Traci “TJ” Johnson. I fear the front-running Democratic candidate, Congressman Tim Ryan, will not adequately motivate the crucial Democratic voting bases in the big cities (Black Democrats) and in the suburbs (especially women). Even if TJ does not win the Democratic primary, at least she can help stir up interest, concern and awareness about the significance of this election. She will promote a bigger turn-out. See the earlier post—-https://naturereligionconnection.org/2021/11/28/tj-johnson-for-u-s-senate-from-ohio/

I have mostly been writing for her website and other campaign material, and making phone calls to create a campaign team. I have not gathered many signatures to qualify her for listing on the May primary ballot. I cannot go out in this pandemic, and now the Omicron surge, and interact with numerous and random people. This is not a good situation. I already have lung issues. Yet, here comes this crucial election!

Here is what I have written recently, in response to a Pac’s (Political Action Committee) request for information on these issues, before they will consider donating money to TJ’s campaign: Church and State, and Gun Violence.

The Separation of Church and State

“The right to worship in one’s own way is as fundamental as any Human Right.  That our government and its agencies must steer clear of religious partisanship has once again become an increasing concern,” insists TJ.

Unfortunately, we live in a time when some Americans have insisted upon bringing their religious beliefs full square into the political realm.  A very vocal wing of the Republican Party insists that they are “Pro-Gun, Pro-God, Pro-Life.”  This is inappropriate and maybe even frightening.

First, it is unfortunate that the ownership of a gun has risen to a symbolic level comparable to belief in God and the respect for the value of human life.  Gun ownership is not that important.  Second, by “Pro-God,” these Americans have shown themselves to mean “Pro-Christian God.”  Third, the decision that a human life starts at conception, or at the first audible heartbeat, is not a generally accepted standard.  It is not endorsed by the scientific or medical communities.  If you wish to believe in those standards, that is your private opinion, and one that often seems based in your specific religious affiliations. 

In conclusion, the American Government is not Christian.  Abortion is a basic option reserved to each woman in consultation with her doctor and loved ones, with some modifications based on community standards.  Gun ownership is now a political issue only because too many gun-holders, sellers and manufactures are irresponsible and in violation of the general welfare of our community and themselves. 

“Do Something” About Gun Violence

Once again it’s time for Ohioans to choose: continue with the bloodied status quo, or try to change it.  There is no good reason that an 18 year old Ohioan is not old enough to buy a beer yet can buy an AR-15 Assault Rifle.  There is no good reason that background checks are not universally required — close the gun show loophole!  There is no good reason for our streets to be flooded with weapons easily accessible (often to teen-agers) for the use in robbery, homicide, domestic abuse and accidental discharge.

In recent years, four of our major cities have ranked in the nation’s top 50 in homicides per 100,000 population –Cleveland, Dayton, Akron and Cincinnati.   Columbus and Toledo have set new homicide records in each of the past two years.   The overwhelming majority of these murders occur by gun.  

In 2019, a mentally disturbed 24 year old killed 9 and wounded 17 on a summer’s evening in Dayton in a shooting rampage that lasted less than 30 seconds.  Daytonians gathered in the aftermath and shouted to the Governor, who was surveying the scene, “Do something, do something!”  The Republican controlled State Legislature has refused.  The U.S. Congress has refused.

“A majority of Ohioans have consistently voiced their support for reasonable increases in gun controls.  When elected I will recharge this campaign to save lives and restore civility in this state and around our nation,” pledges TJ.  

Choose to Limit Guns, Choose “TJ” Johnson!

Always busy here at The Connection!

What Really Exists? Or, “Here Comes the Sun”

Painting by Tara Richelle

I would like to try to make a strange point. Namely, that if we were not here, nor would be The Sun! Surely I must be joking. The sun predates humanity by billions of years; we all know that or should. But I will try to convince you that in a way the sun does not exist in itself and independently of our observing it, or at least someone observing it.

Here comes the sun. Doo, doo, doo, doo. Here comes the sun. and I say, Its all right...Sun, sun, sun, here it comes!

The Beatles

I will call this, The Philosopher’s Point, though it may be better to call it, The Holist’s Point. Choose the former designation because if ”philosophy” is to make an independent and substantial contribution to human understanding, this is it: The Sun and Ourselves are inextricably connected. Calling it The Holist’s Point, acknowledges that all philosophers are not Holists, and in my opinion those who are not are satisfied with philosophy holding a minor role in our discussions of our life and its meaning, an adjunct to science. But back to the main point!

In this presentation I will follow the work of psychologist and philosopher, Nicholas Humphrey, in his award winning 1992 book, A History of Mind. The key is to understand that both the phenomena of the ”mind” and the phenomena of “matter” are of the same rank, so to speak, both are observations. Humphrey tells us that he is ”not making a particularly deep point here,” and we can certainly agree that mental events —like a twinge of pain or the sensation of red— are observed. So are physical events; physical events are measured and recorded, timed and weighed, seen by humans and especially scientists. Humphrey argues that both are ”an event as it appears to an observer, as distinguished from what it might consist of in itself.” It is there that he begins to get a little more subtle.

What is a thing or an event in itself ,” a thing or an event out of all relation to anything else? Could such a thing exist? What qualities would it have? Such an idea does not make sense, yet it plays a prominent role in our current thinking. What I am going to try to do is not question the findings of science, but place them in the best philosophic perspective.

But surely, you will say, long before there were minds to know it and eyes to see it, the sun existed; “it rose in the east and set in the west,” and ”dust storms” existed and so did ”volcanos.” But alas, before minds like ours existed, with eyes and feelings and sounds similar to ours, who would in this ancient time be there to distinguish such things? “If you had been there, that is indeed the way the phenomena would have appeared to you,” says Humphrey, ”But you were not there: no one was.” No one was there to distinguish any particular thing from all the rest. There was no standard scale to distinguish any particular size, nor a duration to establish some particular time frame, nor a color, nor significance in general to set apart one thing, or any collection of things, from all the others that could possibly exist.

Kind of like the old TV set with no reception of a particular channel, Material Things without a mind or consciousness to connect all the dots and fill in a lot of Qualities is basically a washout, simply fuzziness, or really less.

So Mind is essentially a perspective. It is a set of standards and distinctions placed upon a rather formless backdrop. Humphrey calls this backdrop ”world-stuff,” but only for the purpose of it playing a lone and bland metaphysical role. Nothing else comes from it, and Humphrey absolutely does not want us to regard “world-stuff” as “The Real.” It is all the cogs and gears we and Mother Nature have made from this abstract stuff that are real. It is they — the network of distinctions — that do all the work.

Currently, what does a huge amount of work for us is the distinction between material things and mind things. Historically, most of us have learned to think of the material as “primary,” the “primary qualities,” and the mental as “secondary” or “subjective qualities.” A significant group of philosophers have always resisted this ‘truth,’ but so have many religious believers. To this resistance, “material things” have never been enough in themselves to exist.

For the traditionally religious, the other extreme of this dilemma was chosen; mind and consciousness were initial and primary and existed alone as God. But neither of these horns of this dilemma work. It makes as little sense to think of Mind without Matter, as it does Matter without Mind. This, once again, is The Holist’s Point.

Genesis 21 “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.” The Creation of Animals, by Jacopo “Il Tintoretto” Robusti (circa 1590)

The solution to this Mind/Matter Dilemma is not easy to imagine. Some philosophers seek a “Middle Term.” Early in his career John Dewey described both mind and matter as based in ”Experience,” as if such a thing made sense outside of particular ”mental and physical experiences.” Phenomenological Philosophers such as the European Edmund Husserl, believed this kind of raw or undistinguished experience could be described as long as normal experience was ”bracketed.” Later Dewey became more historical, and contended that what we believe is true is our best beliefs (most reasonable) at any one time. That to think of “The Truth” as existing outside of particular times and places and cultures is to seek a chimera, a myth. He argued we must give up this kind of Quest for Certainty, the title of one of Dewey’s final books.

Now of course, this leaves us open to the charge of Relativism, that anything goes. But Our Beliefs About Ultimate Truth should not exist outside of the actual and practical lives we live. For example, today if you are not going to believe in evolution or highly value the directives of medical science (as in vaccination) and other such basic scientific standards, then to be consistent you should move out to some of the counties in eastern Ohio farm country and join the Amish. Please, do not use your cell phone, fly in jets, and use appliances engineered and made all over the world. If you are going to live by science, you ought to believe in it. After all, our lives are a whole, a single thing!

The Chimera of Arezzo, Greek bronze statue, artist unknown. The mythical “fire-breathing” monster was a combination of lion, goat and snake. To seek “The True” as existing outside of the context of any particular observer is chimerical.

So, the strange point to be made in this post isAll the ways we think of and see and feel “The Sun,” even its size and mass and the heat it generates, are from our human perspective. If some alien travelers make it to earth some day, they may have some very different perspective on “The Sun,” but a perspective with some similarities to our own, for after all they will be here, visible, and in communication “with us.” A new “objective” standard for “The Sun” will then have been established for this new and broader sense of “us.”

You can’t escape A Perspective, even if it just gets larger and more inclusive of a wider range of Observers!

Our emotional reactions, our evaluations, are a Natural Part of the things that exist around us. The Sun is “alright” and definitely a welcome occurrence after a long cold winter or the darkness of many a night.
Amish in Ohio: Hey, at least they are consistent.
HERE AT THE CONNECTION, THIS CIRCLE REMAINS UNBROKEN. (Photo from Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

TJ Johnson for U.S. Senate from Ohio

So, I haven’t been blogging much lately, and here is one of the other reasons why. An acquaintance of mine is running for the opening senatorial seat 2022 from our State of Ohio. She has asked me to help to her and I have agreed. I am serving as one of her regional campaign managers and also helping her do some of the writing for the campaign. So far we are mostly in the meeting/phone calling stages, but soon we will launch her website and announce her candidacy. Traci is a worthy candidate.

Here is some of the kind of things (but still not a finished product) I have been writing for her:

A Campaign to Save Democracy in Ohio

The Ohio Democratic Party must win the vacant U.S. Senate seat in 2022.  This must happen to save Ohio from the continued misguided and immoral leadership of our current Republican Party.  In fact, this must happen to save the Ohio Republican Party itself! 

Current Ohio Republican Party politics is driven by corrupt and extreme factions. 

The 2020 presidential election was won fair and square by Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.  Former President Trump began early in that campaign to work to subvert America’s long history of democracy.  He continues to insist upon his “Big Lie” and this culminated in the failed attempt by his supporters to violently overturn that election’s results with the January 6th Insurrection on Capitol Hill.  Still, many of Ohio’s leading Republican senatorial candidates —Josh Mandel, Jane Timken, J.D. Vance and Mike Gibbons— are fighting for Trump’s sullied endorsement. 

In 2019 this state was rocked by the largest political bribery scandal in its history.  Arrested were the Republican Speaker of the House (from New Lexington, population 5,000), the former Chairperson of the State Republican Party (Matt Borges) and three others.  Today, two of these have plead guilty, two await trial and one committed suicide.

In 2019, a mentally deranged young man used an obviously inappropriate amount of fire-power to kill and wound 26 Daytonians on a summer’s night; it took 29 seconds.  Daytonians cried out, “Do something!” and our Republican Governor and bipartisan Dayton-area politicians heard that call and proposed gun reforms.  The Ohio Republican-controlled legislature in Columbus would have none of it.  All efforts failed, and pro-gun legislation today pours out of the state house on a monthly basis!  Recent polling shows support for various stricter gun-control measures to be between 60% and 90% in our state.

In 2019, as the Covid Virus Pandemic began, Republican Governor Mike DeWine and his appointee, Dr. Amy Acton, wisely led the way nationally in taking Public Health Measures here in Ohio.  This valiant and reasonable effort was soon greeted with angry faces, shouts and fists pushing and pounding at State House doors and windows by extremist Republicans. It was, as if, a rehearsal for the January 6th insurrection in Washington.  State House Republicans have now limited the Public Health powers of their own Republican Governor.

Ohio is a diverse state.  Yet, the 89 Republican State Representatives and State Senators that form a super majority, are all white.  17% of Ohioans are people of color. 75% of Ohioans live in large metropolitan areas, yet the politicians of the Ohio State Government are small town, rural and out of touch with the average Ohioan. 

Over 50% of Ohioans support a woman’s right to choose the outcome of an unwanted pregnancy, and under 40% oppose that right, various recent polls continue to show. Yet Ohio Republican State Legislators are on the verge of passing laws to outlaw abortion even in the cases of rape and incest, with time limits designed to eliminate a woman’s options even before her pregnancy is evident to her.

 In 2018, over 70% of Ohio’s voters in a state referendum cast a ballot to end the current procedures and alignments of state voting districts, yet in 2021 their own Republican Governor questioned the sincerity of Republican plans for re-alignment.  In the end, he acquiesced to the extremist and anti-democratic forces in his own party and signed new gerrymandered voting districts that will be challenged in court.

Democracy does not exist in Ohio!  Ohio Republican politics has a history of financial and legislative corruption.  They constantly exhibit a willful disregard for the lives and beliefs of most Ohioans. 

Now is the time to start the work necessary to overthrow this regressive regime.  The Ohio Democratic Party is capable of growing a forest of winning candidates.  Nan Whaley of Dayton will be a strong candidate for Governor.  But, the race for our opening U.S. Senate seat needs to be energized.  Will Congressman Tim Ryan be capable of motivating Ohio’s Democratic and Independent voters?  We fear he will not.  We fear he will not be the fresh voice and new energy needed to stem Trumpism in Ohio.  The Republican Party of Ohio should be and will be divided among itself and ripe for defeat.

To energize the race for U.S. Senate, we propose Traci “TJ” Johnson!

Traci’s Biography

Traci “TJ” Johnson has a long history of working for the people of The Great State of Ohio.  She is now asking you to promote her to The U.S. Senate

Traci has 9 years of service in state government.  She has worked in the Department of Administrative Services, Budget and Management where she learned how to balance a budget.  In the Environmental Protection Agency,Traci fought for the health of our planet and all its living creatures.  At the Attorney General’s Office,Traci sought fair treatment of all Ohioans in the marketplace.

In politics, TJ has more than 30 years of service for The Democratic Party.  She has been an Elected Ward Committee Woman in the Columbus area for 20 years.  Traci has serviced within the Obama for President and Biden for President campaigns, along with Mike Coleman for Mayor and almost every other Democratic Party effort to improve the lives of Americans in the past several decades.  TJ, herself, has run for State Representative three times and each time fought hard but fell victim to our gerrymandered system.  She has been President of Franklin County Young Democrats (2 terms) and President of Franklin County Democratic Women’s Club (3 terms).

In the private sector, TJ is a successful executive.  She has been a General Manager in two major corporations and the Director of the Ohio Minority Supplier Development Council.  Currently she is President of Tra’Bian Enterprises, a privately held leader in the information technology industry based in Dublin, Ohio.

Raised in Toledo, Traci’s mother was a single mom, a preschool teacher, and eventually a social worker.  She insisted upon a deep commitment to education from all her four children including Traci, her eldest daughter.  In high school, TJ was accepted into the prestigious St. Ursula Academy, an all-girl preparatory school in Toledo where Traci proved her maturity by earning part of her tuition by participation in an afterschool work/study program.  Traci graduated from Ohio University in 1995.

TJ now brings her skill, her wide-ranging experience and her steadfast commitment to this vital U.S. Senate race.  Please give her your support!

So, there is the explanation for my lack of Blogging: Teaching and Politics. But do not fear, I will be back to the Blog soon. The NatureReligionConnection cannot be denied, and I have some great new ideas! Your Pal, GregWW

The Connection, drawing by Marty

Reading “Catcher” with High School Juniors During a Pandemic, and Other Activities

Yes, I have been busy for the last two months and blogging has not been one of my activities, so I felt an explanation necessary.

Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. Thanks to the Little, Brown and Company for drawing.

A teacher friend of mine at one of the high schools asked me to start the year for her in her English III classes. She enticed me by suggesting I could read ”Catcher in the Rye” with them. She had a unit plan all drawn up fro it. Well, I bit on that, and it was really fun and interesting. This is not a high income, high academic school. I wondered how many kids would get involved with it. But Holden Caulfield’s nonconformist, underachieving, emotionally damaged personality won out with a majority of them.

I read many of the major parts aloud —four times a day sometimes— so not to put all the burden on them to read on their own. I had a captive audience. I was curious how effectively I could read Holden’s free-flowing and affect-filled narrative. I did OK, sometimes all I could notice was the silence of the room as I read; students were either listening or quietly involved in their own thing—-social media or games. I tried to diminish those options but it is more like choosing your poison — off-task and disruptive or off-.task and quiet.

A large number of students expressed appreciation for the book as expressed in their essay answers. Just the unusual amount they wrote was testimony to their commitment. I felt obligated to read almost all of it, since I preached that detail and subtlety was necessary to give this book its due. It was a blessing and a curse, as I read and read over 100 tests with 15 essay questions each.

I, myself, gained a new appreciation for the book. Interestingly , all the events in the book were to have taken place over about four days, it seems. A number of kids explained their interest in the book as a curiosity with Holden himself: Did they like him or not? We had some pretty good discussions about Holden’s idea of ”a phony,” and whether Holden himself was a phony? Some kids were convinced that he was and that the whole theme of the book was not to grow up and be ”mature.” Apparently some of the ‘Cliff’s Notes’ and ’Spark Notes’ available on line, that some kids accessed too frequently, was pushing that interpretation. I kept suggesting other themes.

Holden is a gripping character, if you are at all prone to that kind of nonconformity. One evening I found myself in the grocery store thinking about ”the phony” standing in front of me. It made me laugh; that Holden, he is infectious.

I read —on line, of course— that JD Salinger carried a copy of the manuscript in his backpack as he fought at Normandy in WWII. You know, he never did sell the rights for a movie, even when Leonardo DiCaprio wanted to play Holden. According to someone who sought to have the book banned from public schools, Holden says ”goddam” 435 times. But I did a little censoring myself, I skip over chapter 19 (but it was still there for anyone who wanted to read it) because there is some homophobia there and a little elsewhere. That topic also led to a decent discussion with some of the groups about how times had changed.

The Pandemic also is worth mentioning. It greatly complicated the teaching. Early on we had 5 and 10 kids absent in each class and for 10 days at a time. Kids would get sick and I would get a call from the principal’s office asking who had sat near them earlier that day or the previous day. Many of those kids would then be quarantined. I had to keep accurate seating charts, space desks out, and keep kids from congregating unnecessarily. Due dates tended to disappear because I couldn’t keep track of who was out and when, and I didn’t even try. Masks were optional but a fair number wore them.

There were discussions about getting vaccinated or not and some kids had the craziest ideas. I, and most teachers, got vaxxed up real quick. A fair number of kids did also, when it became available to them. The quarantine regimen eventually changed and number of infections slowed, and attendance picked back up. Curiously that created a new problem. These juniors had not yet had a single undisrupted, normal, year of high school. As the room filled back up behaviors started to change. Some of those kids were out of practice at being students. That is the point at which my time was done; the teacher came back from maternity leave. Good luck to her and to so many of those wonderful young people I met. To even some of those that weren’t so pleasant to teach, it was hard to say good bye!

Why did Holden keep asking the cabbies what happened to the ducks in Central Park when winter came? Answer: Because he was a little concerned about what he would do next, too.

Tomorrow a follow-up post on THE OTHER ADVENTURE I HAVE EMBARKED UPON that slowed my Blogging————————————————————————POLITICS!!!————————————————

Making all the Connections at the NatureReligionConnection.org

On “Goodness” in General; ANW Weights In

Philosopher and mathematician

Alfred North Whitehead taught at Cambridge for decades and then finally at Harvard. He co-wrote Principia Mathematica, published 1903-5; with Bertrand Russell, which attempted to build upward from the principles of symbolic logic all the truths of mathematics. It was a multivolume effort that Russell once quipped had been read cover to cover by about a dozen people in the entire world. Whitehead individually wrote the esoteric Process and Reality, but also the popularly successful Science and the Modern World (1923), a book still well worth reading on the origins and nature of the natural sciences. The material used in the following is from his lectures published as Religion in the Making (1926).

What Makes the Good, so Good

“The universe is through and through interdependent,” in this way A.N.W. sets the stage for his broad and basic characterization of Goodness and Evil.

In this interdependence it is both the individual things considered in themselves and all things taken together as a unit that are both valuable, determinate, and real. Goodness and evil is the interplay of this unity in difference, and this forms “the topic of Religion” in its broadest and most non-denominational sense. Religion is about “individuals in community,” he contends.

And the power of his Metaphysic comes full bore in Whitehead’s contention that, each individual is “an occasion” that “has in its nature a reference to every other member of the community…each unit is a microcosm representing in itself the entire all-inclusive universe.” Wow, how ’bout dat for a contention! It is not unique to Whitehead; it is a basic contention of all philosophical holism going back to Gottfried Leibnitz in the year 1700 with his Monadology and further back to the Greeks and Parmenides with “The One” as “the only true being.”

The interplay of Whole and Parts makes for the drama of Good and Evil. M.C. Escher drawing, Day and Night (1938).

Now a problem soon arises. This massive interconnection is a massive mess. All the individual things and all things taken together, where and how are there any boundaries? ANW contends that this unity among difference is “a boundless wealth of possibility.” So, how does one actual resolution occur? One actual world appear?

ANW contends it is “a balance” of all these factors and thus “an epochal occasion.” It has a unique character among all these possibilities and this for only as long as it actually lasts.God is the determination whereby a (single, one–GW) definite result is emergent.” “God…imposes a balance on the world,” a moral order. GOD is this one actual realization of a world and its universe among all the abstract possibilities!

“God” serves this role in Whitehead’s system. He also remarks that this kind of reasoning gives no relief to those seeking grounds for belief in a personal god. And Whitehead’s God has its limitations. The balance, that is this God, is not “a complete determinism.” The world at any one time “is not completely self-consistent; it changes; it is a “temporal world.”

Evil is this inconsistency within the world. The individual members of any actual world often suffer physically or mentally, and evil is also “the loss of the higher experience in favour of the lower experience.”

So, Change is real and vital in reality, in Whitehead’s system. Creative Change is the progressive link between the real but abstract Ideas and Possibilities and an actually existing individual world (an epochal occasion or God). Evil is a regressive link between these. Evil is the growth of suffering in some actual existing community and the loss of “higher forms of experience” replaced by lower forms.

Progress is the creation of “vivid experience;” out of all the mess and possibility; Reality seeks some “definiteness” of feeling and experience, and in this way “the mental” is of greater Value than “the physical,” though definitely emergent from it. Greatness of Quality is the contribution of “all the elements of a complex whole…to some one effect, to the exclusion of others.” One thing, one group of highly related things —a community– actually occurs. It is a unity in difference.

Claude Monet, Charing Cross Bridge, The Thames, 1903. Monet captures the progressive change from vagueness and indetermination of character and experience to an actual determinate reality. The Good starts with an actual determination arisen from the vast and indeterminate realm of possibility.
A Unity in Difference Omnibus Est. An Actually Existing Community of Similarities evolving from, and to the exclusion of, the vast realm of remaining indeterminate Possibilities. The Tree of Life as an actual and living work of Art.

Discussion:

There is surely much to be said here. Is Human Experience better in some way than Canine Experience? Is it even legitimate to call it more complex? Why is Complexity an improvement over Simplicity? A great philosopher who also taught at Harvard with Whitehead, John Dewey, contended that his goal as a philosopher (in one way) was ‘to achieve a sophisticated innocence’ of character and outlook. So, isn’t the above characterization of good and evil just naïve. In what sense is it Objective and not simply biased (anthropocentric), personal and Subjective? After all, Goodness is just a Feeling (we often say)!

ANW prejudiced his metaphysic from the very beginning by declaring that All Things are Real; Feelings and Thoughts are as real as Atoms and Gravity. In fact, in his system, feelings and thoughts are more Valuable than the merely physical. All is of value, and it is of the nature of Value that it comes in degrees, I believe he contends. Some things just are Better; they possess a greater degree of Goodness! A Complex Unity like The Tree of Life becomes of a higher quality when one of its members (us) becomes Aware of Themselves as participants in that Unity of Design and Existence. A human experience can be of a higher quality than a dog’s because of our Self-Awareness of it and our abilities that arise from that, contends Whitehead.

Hand With Reflecting Sphere (1935) by M.C. Escher

——–Well, isn’t that Good! Over the years, I have often said,——— ————————–“It’s good to be good!”—————————–

OMNIBUS EST—–Logo by Marty

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.

I WISH WE HAD MORE UNITY IN OUR DIFFERENCES TODAY!!! Logo by Marty!


Revitalizing “The Soul”

I don’t know about you, but my “Soul” could sure use some revitalizing! I have felt rather exhausted, not so much physically, but mentally and “spiritually.” It is not that I am depressed, just worn out; beleaguered by a world in which too much has gone wrong recently. I am looking for some hope once again, and maybe that is all that it is, Feeling Rather Hopeless.

Memories of the Sky, Poem of the Soul by Louis Janmot, 1831. What a beautiful title, and an evocative rendering of it.

British psychologist and philosopher, Nicholas Humphrey, has offered some help in the form of two books: A History of the Mind (1992) and Soul Dust (2011). Metaphysical Hope, we might call it. True, both books are rather old, but still good, and each about 200 pages long. Nice that Humphrey, in writing a history, has respect for our time and forbearance. I hope to follow his example.

A “Soul”? Surely it is farfetched to think that this ancient and regrettably ongoing superstition has any modern beneficial use. Could it possibly accurately help describe our Human Condition? Could it help me shake these blues?

I will go out on a limb, with Humphrey, and suggest that it does. “Soul” has helped return some sparkle to my outlook. This rehabilitation is based (somewhat) in the belief that we humans often ‘know’ or ‘sense’ more than we realize about these “deep,” philosophical and religious issues. The turn of the 19th century German philosopher, Hegel, certainly thought so. He argued that mythology and traditional religion were a dim and eerie form of what an accurate philosophy of the world would look like. Humphrey contends something similar, that philosophical thought and awareness is natural to human beings, at least in some rudimentary forms.

 

Our New Soul

So, Humphrey attempts to revitalize this familiar concept in a rather straightforward way. Of course he jettisons the idea of the soul’s immortality and its immaterial character, but hangs on to what may be the true point of these, the Soul’s Transcendent Character.

The soul is the self, initially “a core self” and then eventually “the Ego” which is a larger and more complex self built from the core. Any self must transcend. It most last from moment to moment, day to day, year to year. It must transcend time, not totally as if godlike, but definitely forming a fairly durable duration. Also, it must transcend space and particular events and bodily faculties. The self is a unifier, an integrator in time and space. “I” have a toe, and the pain in it is equally its pain and mine. I see red, and that sensation is equally an activity at the surface of my retina, various events in my brain, and in general an experience of mine.

This general transcendental character of the self, and especially its supposed immaterial character, is demystified by Humphrey by postulating a Neurological Loop and a progressive sequence of development in it.

But if a Self is a “Soul” why not just stick with “Self”, why up the rhetoric to soul?

Surely some magic must be added, and that is where Quality and diverse qualities enter the story. Humphrey contends that about 300 million years ago, our reptilian ancestors —predecessors to all birds and mammals— evolved a Brain complex enough to “have” Phenomenal Experiences. In other words, it was “like something” to them (these creatures) to be them and to live their life. If they were damaged, they now felt pain, that is what damage was for them. They now experienced color, for example; or even enjoyed the taste of a juicy insect just devoured. Red was no longer just an electromagnetic wavelength responded to, but an experience of redness and also a behavioral response. Food was no longer just a biochemical necessity and a series of biochemical reactions but an activity “savored,” a satiation “appreciated,” a “craving” mitigated. That is what it was “like to them.” It was a new situation for any “thing,” at least in our section of the universe.

An “interiority” was now introduced, contends Humphrey! It was the dawning of not only “selves” and “souls” but also “Minds.” A kind of “interior theater” was established where not only the events that happened to a thing were recorded but they were interpreted and represented as something to me or for me. Qualities “appear” in the world. Perspective was created, and with that a variety of perspectives appeared. There is no perspective without differences of perspective.

Neurologically, the perception of the soul’s or self’s continuity and transcendence is naturalistically understood as an ongoing looping event occurring among the neurons in the brain. “Specialized neural circuits” exist and were selected by nature for their form as shown above. A flowing and continuous reverberation in the brain that takes time and potentially builds on itself. One that thickens and quickens at some points, but also relaxes, slows and thins at others. A loop and series of loops that may possibly offer in physical terms a kind of diagram for what an ongoing self may look like in brain activity, and what self-reflection may be based in. These kinds of self-reflective, varying but continuous events, can be mathematically described; they are called “discrete delay differential attractors.”

Humphrey admits that, in some ways, these neurological contentions are highly speculative and unusual. In effect, he is suggesting a neurological hypothesis based on its logical form, a logical form that has characteristics that seem to resemble the “shape” that consciousness and self-consciousness could take physically to be what it seems to us to be phenomenally. This is unusual, the logic of the problem of consciousness is leading the search for physical, neural, patterns.

In the above diagrams, let us say a sensation has occurred and is recorded in one small section of the brain, some small set of neurons. Its significance is ‘judged’ by the ongoing reaction of neurons around it. If it is a significant sensation, the initial pattern of responding neurons will be repeated and expand into larger sets of neurons that still maintain some of the basic pattern. Somewhat like the flower of a plant, a side-shoot of this activity may split off and ignite a repetition of that pattern in different parts of the brain. All eventually echoing back, returning to the initial sensation, as if a determination of its character and judgment of its significance. In a less significant experience, far less activity would occur but it would still maintain the above continuous, flowing and recursive character.

 

But the magic continues and escalates when a final observation is added. The self is better described as a soul when its absolute uniqueness is recognized. At no other point in all of history — past or future — will the same perspective exist that is The Basis of You. What the world seems like to you, who you seem like to yourself, seems to us to be a complete and irreplaceable creation. Not immortal in its physical existence, but immortal in its uniqueness. It is comparable to other Souls, but incomparable to them in strict identity. A Soul is a world-historically unique collection of Seemings and observations of Seemings themselves. Each is a perspective all its own. “The self comes into being at the moment it has the power to reflect itself,” writes Douglas Hofstadter. This self-reflective loop is what we have come to highly value.

This Unique Approach

This approach was pioneered years ago by Artificial Intelligence researcher Douglas Hofstadter and philosopher Dan Dennett. They co-authored a successful book called The Mind’s I in 1982. Previous to that, Hofstadter wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning and NYTimes Bestseller, Godel, Escher, Bach in 1979. Each book features the new insight that a self, and any “product of Mind,” has a looping, continuously self-referential but varying character.

Godel: Mathematics Turns in on Itself

Mathematician and logician.

In about 1930, Kurt Godel (pronounced with a long “o” and short “e” and equal emphasis on each sylable) proved that self-reference was impossible to avoid in any theory of the basis of mathematics. In response to Bertrand Russell’s and Alfred N. Whitehead’s voluminous Principia Mathematica, which tried to show math as built up from the bottom based on self-evident principles in a kind of pyramid form. Godel proved that all theories of math’s foundations could not have this form but contained Self-Referential Statements. They seemed to ‘hold themselves up by their own bootstraps,’ we could say.

Yes, self- reference or self-reflection is a strange kind of thing. It often leads to paradox. Hofstadter contends Godel’s work was an application to math of linguistic puzzles such as the statement “I am lying.” How are we to take this? Standing alone, and on its face value, it cannot be either True or False! Or, how do we take this pair of statements? “The following sentence is false. The preceding sentence is true.” They are “Strange Loops” that throw us out beyond them in search for further Context, or indicate to us a closed and circular form that is both logical and paradoxical.

 

M. C. Escher: Reality as if Turning in Upon Itself

Hand with Reflecting Sphere, 1935

 

Drawing Hands, 1948

A Dutch graphic artist working in the early to mid 20th century, labored in obscurity until he was almost 70 years old. His works are an exploration of the concepts of infinity, symmetry, reflection, perspective, and tessellation, says Wikipedia. Hofstadter values them as powerful portrayals of the effect of Self-Reflection. Each is a demonstration of a Strangely Looping Process.

(Print Gallery, 1956, lithograph. Said to be one of Escher’s own favorite works. The ‘dead spot’ in the middle of it is Escher’s signature. In 2003 several Dutch mathematicians contended they had “solved” the puzzle of the void. If the work is taken to be drawn on an “elliptic curve over the field of complex numbers” (whatever that means), the void disappears with a continuation of the drawing.)

Hofstadter contends Print Gallery displays three kinds of “inclusion.” The seaside town is “in” the picture being viewed by the boy, the boy and the picture are pictured “in” Escher’s work, and the entire idea of it is “in” Escher’s mind as represented by the void.

Bach: Bouncing a Theme Back Upon Itself in Many Different Ways

Hofstadter uses Bach’s piece A Musical Offering and its historical context as the background for his final example of Reflection, Variation, Recursion, and Self-Enclosure as displayed in his book’s title, Godel, Escher, Bach. I can barely begin a description of this piece’s musical character, but I will try. In the end, I will present a simple example of this musical form that will make sense to all, as it did finally for me.

(Flute Concert in Sanssouci, by A. von Menzel, 1852. The flutist is Frederick the Great of Prussia. Frederick was known as a military strategist but also as one of European history’s most acclaimed patrons of the arts. In 1747, he was finally paid a surprise visit by the now acclaimed eldest Bach, Johann Sebastian. The evening’s program was cancelled and replaced with pieces by Bach and improvisations involving the king. A Musical Offering grew from that, and was later presented to the king in his honor.)

A Musical Offering is a Fugue involving six parts! Reportedly even a four part fugue is difficult and a five part is rare; Bach himself only accomplished several of these in his collection The Well-Tempered Clavier. In a Fugue, each part, or ‘voice’, has a distinct melody to play, but all melodies are craftily designed to fit with each other as all are played at some points simultaneously. In this sense, each note of each part has multiple roles to play; it has its primary role in its own part, but secondary roles in relation to all the additional voices. A Fugue is an intricate work, like a finely woven tapestry.

A Canon is the simplest kind of Fugue, explains Hofstadter, and the simplest kind of Cannon is The Round. We all should be familiar with singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat as a round. That is the simplest Cannon, a variety of voices sing the same song over against and in contrast to itself. It creates a delightful effect.

Here is another noted Round, Frere Jacques. Thanks to the Missoula Valley Youth Choir!

Hostadter’s point is, in all these cases, Nature and Human Nature has ‘twined’ and intertwined itself about itself, and Reflected back itself, in ways that has set a foundation for more complex phenomena to appear to occur at what is called Higher Levels. New Things Happen, based on The Foundations of The Old. Hofstadter: “a higher-level view of a system may contain explanatory power which is absent on the lower level.” Like music, like art, like ethics, like science, all happen at levels beyond the microscopic. Its a more interesting life at this “chunkier” level!

A popular Canon— Pachelbel’s Canon, in two contrasting voices.
Drawing by Marty.

Stay Safe, Stay Connected. The naturereligionconnection.org

 

Standing In Front of the Class as The Towers Fell

(This post was mostly written yesterday morning, 9/11/21.)

Twenty years ago today, at almost this exact time — 9am, I was standing in front of a small class of seventh and eighth graders. The final bell signaling the start of the day had just wrung. I was new to that school, having just transferred from a different assignment; but we were all rather new considering the school year had only started a week or so prior. A teacher from across the hall came to the door that day and simply said, “You might want to turn on the television, something important has just happened.”

I did not intend to write this post and tell this story, but his morning I found myself unable to think of other things. It was hard, of course, not to think of 9/11/2001 in recent days. The television, newspapers and radio that I peruse has been full of it, and rightly so. What really got me reflecting is that, once again, I was going to be standing in front of many young and impressionable minds, the day before –a Friday– this tragedy’s 20th anniversary. What should I say to them about it?

Sadly, I chose to say Nothing! I considered talking to them of it; they were not even born in ’01; I felt I had an obligation. And it would have been a difficult discussion. The students at the high school, at which I am now substitute teaching on a long term assignment, are not a highly sophisticated group, but they are a diverse group. We have a significant population of Muslim students and a significant group of working class white students who come from politically conservative families (when these families choose to be political at all.) I wish the current situation was more ideal. I would have liked to try it. Imagine attempting to explain the religious background of this historical event.

Our current pandemic situation in Ohio. We are starting to return to some of the same New Case Numbers that we saw at our peak. Fortunately, Deaths are much lower than in December and January.

But our current situation is far from ideal. I am at my maximum in work and issues. In my 8th period class, out of 22, 15 were not present, but of those absent, 4 were out for reasons not of sickness or quarantine. Our high schoolers are encouraged to wear masks but only middle schoolers and lower are required to mask by our district. I am occasionally called by administrators and asked to look back at my notes and try to recount to them who was in contact or near or wearing a mask in the vicinity of a particular student now positively Corona-tested. And those students that are frequently attending, many of them are not re-adjusting well to a return to full-time learning. Motivation and on-task behavior are a frequent issue. I am teaching mostly juniors in their English class, and they have not had a normal and uninterrupted school year since their 8th grade year!

So, I chose not to mention 9/11 and no student did either. We have enough of our own tragedies today.

But, 20 years ago, we did not. Why did I turn on the television that day 20 years ago? I was teaching a Special Education class that was composed of mostly a small group of boys with ADHD, anger issues, non-compliance, and less severe autism. I have often thought since then, why did I so automatically just tune in? I think I had the confidence that I could walk them through whatever was happening.

No sooner than we tuned in, and no sooner than I was explaining that it was a terrorist attack, The Second Plane came curving into sight and crashed into the second tower! We sat in shock and watched, as did much of the rest of the nation!

My students handled it well, and I talked and explained and re-assured them for many hours that day. We did not watch the reporting for the entire school day, and an hour or two in, I decided to attempt to return to some normal school activities. I told my students, that is what we must do, that “the terrorists want us to panic and stop doing what we should do.” That went really well, those young guys rose to the occasion.

There are two things that stand out in my memory from the rest of that day. First, throughout the day as we sat trying to focus on school work, the PA system began to increasingly interrupt us calling individual students to go to the office for dismissal. Parents were taking their kids home. Kids were calling home asking to be removed. By the end of the day, it was strange sitting there and talking to the students who remained, many of whom were kids in my room (thus part of the nature of Special Ed — families a little bit different).

Secondly, I remember a comment by one of my students, a rather highly-charged eighth grader This special ed. class had what is called, “a levels system.” It was to monitor good behavior and reward increasing or decreasing opportunities according to performance. “Level 1” was the lowest level for students needing the most guidance, the most structure, the most care. They were not even allowed to walk down the hall alone to the fountain, an adult had to escort them. After watching and discussing the tragedy for quite awhile, his comment was “I feel like I want to be on Level 1.” My response was, “Joey, I think we all feel that way.” Indeed, in the days of that tragedy 20 years ago, we all needed extra care, extra guidance and whatever additional security we could find. Today’s world feels a bit the same.

REFLECTING ON THE EVENTS OF TODAY AND YESTERDAY.

STAY SAFE! The NatureReligionConnection.org


An Enchanted World

(A follow-up to the post The Strange Sensation, where psychologist and philosopher Nicholas Humphrey contends that we should think of this world as “painted in our soul dust” or “singing our song.” Yes, he believes that the Qualities of our world — its color and smell; its goodness and badness; its joy and sorrow — are all added by Conscious Beings, as if we are painting atop a canvas of molecules, waves and atoms. These Qualities include Complex Actions like singing and writing poems, but also creating scientific theories and testing them. Here, a little bird that is a powerful songster and one of my favorite poets will be featured; both of them helping to recoup some positives in our world already painted in too much sadness and tragedy. Please try to Enjoy!)

(How good is this bird at singing? Really good, and William Blake is not wrong to say, “His little throat labours with inspiration, every feather…vibrates with the effluence Divine.”)

Yes, the world is an amazing place, often. And as amazing as it is, our human response to it is amazing, sometimes. Case in point, The Lark (Eurasian Skylark) and William Blake’s poem, The Lark’s Song. As amazing as this small bird is, Blake’s poem is its equal.

But, it is not an easy poem to read. Let me walk you through it, as I have had some experience reading poems, and teaching students poetry, and have worked with this poem for a while.

Its punctuation is very important. Closely watch the commas for only a slight pause, but a period is a full stop. The semicolon at the end of line two is much the same as a period. Interestingly, there are only two periods; the first occurs at the end of the 13th line. Yes, the first 13 lines are one sentence and should be read as such! No punctuation at the end of a line is no stop in reading at all. So, the spacing is peculiar and important (and I fear it may be distorted on a cell phone), but then so are many things about Bill Blake (Englishman, 1757-1827). Why is “Spring,” “Corn-field,” …”Expanse” and “Bird,” all lines unto themselves? Why is each capitalized? This poem is visual as well as linguistic. It must be read several times, to develop its full impact.

So, here it is. I just love the ending where “the awful Sun…With eyes of soft humility and wonder,…stands still” to watch this little bird sing.

The Lark's Song

Thou hearest the Nightingale begin the Song of
          Spring;
The lark sitting upon his earthly bed, just as the morn
Appears, listens silent, then springing from the waving
          Corn-field, loud
He leads the Choir of Day-trill, trill, trill, trill,
Mounting upon the wing of light into the Great
          Expanse,
Re-echoing against the lovely blue and shining
          heavenly Shell,
His little throat and breast and wings vibrates with the
          effluence Divine.
All nature listens silent to him, and the awful Sun
Stands still upon the Mountain looking on this little
          Bird
With eyes of soft humility and wonder, love, and awe.

Can the lark’s song live up to this hype? Is it an “effluence Divine” to which “All nature listens silent”? Judge for yourself.

(It often seems as if too many sounds are coming from this one mouth! The second section of this video starting at 1:00 is the most convincing to me. A true “effluence Divine,” “His little throat and breast and wing vibrates” with each sound.)

(Illustration from Audubon Society)

Common across Europe, it is the male Skylark that sings. Hovering at about 150-300 feet (50-100m) is where much of the singing occurs (“Mounting upon the wing of light into the Great Expanse,”) and lasts for as much as a minute (“Re-echoing against the lovely blue and shining heavenly Shell”). More prolonged outbursts occur while perched. Many a person is surely correct in NOT finding its song beautiful as much as impressive in its vigor, variety and effusiveness. Surely we must agree, it is a true outpouring!

A small bird, about the size of a robin; it is around 7 in. or 18 cm. It nests on the ground and thus Blake’s line, “The lark sitting on its earthly bed.” Settlers to North America have tried at various times and places to introduce the bird to this continent, but with almost no success. A small colony was established on Vancouver Island in Western Canada, but today it is in serious decline. The skylark is abundant in Europe and Asia, and is not endangered.

The world is often a marvelous place, especially when persons seek to enhance it. Persons or selves can be called “Souls,” contends psychologist and philosopher Nick Humphrey, because of our psychological and metaphysical ability to convert the seeming raw materials of matter into “an enchanted” and “magical” display of Qualities and Abilities. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Skylark; thank you Mr. Blake! Thanks for our physical and metaphysical situation that offers so much and potentially offers more!

The Nightingale: known for its song, especially in the hours just before dawn. Its song ignites the Skylark. It is another bird not at home in the Americas.

No atom ever sings, And though we may roughly associate A Group of Atoms to an event we call Singing, the heart of the song is lost when we do so.

Stay Safe!

Logo by Marty.

The Strange Sensation

(In the series The Philosophical Issues in Everyday Life. What “is” Consciousness? It is the most familiar “thing” and the strangest “thing” all at once! And is it wonderful? —– Thanks to my readers for their patience. I took some time off from this blog this summer to do some reading, some reflection and recharge my batteries. Also, I have some new ideas for the site that will be rolled out soon, I hope.)

Composition VII by Wassily Kandinsky (1913). How do these Colors seem to you?

A strange thing happened the other day. A particularly mysterious sensation did not come over me. Rather, I realized that any sensation is a strange kind of “Thing.” So I really came out on top of this, my feeling of mystery and amazement about sensation was now generalized to my life overall! I don’t know about you but I can use a little more positive spin in my life right now, too many things going wrong in this world of ours. Or is that just my take on things, just my individual sensation?

So what is so strange about having a sensation? Is not sensation and our experience of it the most normal, constant and automatic thing in our lives? Is there really some kind of philosophical issue here, something ‘deep’? I will let English psychologist and philosopher, Nicholas Humphrey, be our guide, using his books A History of the Mind (1992) and Soul Dust (2011).

What’s the Issue?

Well, we talk about sensations and feelings differently than we talk about any other kind of thing. Hell, after all, we all kind of know that sensations are not things that exist outside in the world, but “things” that exist or occur in our head or “mind.” Or so at least traditionally we have been told.

Humphrey points out that we often don’t even try to explain in words what we are experiencing, we simply suggest “Come here and look for yourself” or “Try this (food, for example) for yourself, see what you think.” And for many sensations, feelings and even evaluations, agreement between persons is not necessary at all. “Taste this steak; it is delicious.” “No thanks, I hate red meat.” But we then do not reply, “You are wrong, it is delicious!” It is as if each of us, the individual perceiver, “the person with the front row seat” (Humphrey), the “experiencer,” are the only one with access and authority about these peculiar kinds of ‘objects’ — “a sensation” of delicious or disgusting, “an evaluation” of good or bad, “a perception” of red or green. “It sure seems red to me,” you might say, and who can contradict how it seems to you? A sensation is a ‘thing’ that is a “pure seeming,” we might say.

The Daffodil: “Ten thousand I saw at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.” This is how they seemed to William Wordsworth, that was his feeling.

Humphrey contends that some sensations and feelings are “just beyond words”, “ineffable.” We are rendered “awestruck,” for example, by the sun setting over the ocean. We may try to express this in words, but words fail us. “To stand in awe” is one of the original senses of this term, in other words, speechless. It takes a rare poet or artist to capture a sensation in words. Painter Wassily Kandinsky is quoted concerning our sensation of color: “Color is a power that directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes the hammers, soul is the piano with many strings.” And I will continue Wordsworth’s reflection upon that field of daffodils:

They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude:
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

For most of us, we would just say, “you had to be there.”

So that is peculiar. A sensation and a feeling are only what they are to you, their sole observer. They are a private object of yours. And some sensations demonstrate the truth of this but only in degrees. The sensation of a far off object, barely seen, can be discussed by two observers. It “seems as if it is..,” they say to each other, but as they come nearer and nearer to the object in the world, they come closer to agreement not on how it seems, but on what it is. It is almost a necessity: “Yes, it is a hawk flying high,” they now agree. It no longer seems like anything; it now is. “How do sensations and feelings exist at all?” we might ask. They are a ghostly kind of thing!

Our philosopher and psychologist accentuates this distinction between these ‘inside objects’ and our less paradoxical ‘outside objects.’ With the physicist as the expert on the objectivity of the world around us, Humphrey says that “you perceive a physical object to be something more or other than what the physicist would say it is — a piece of paper as a dollar bill, a pattern in the clouds as the face of a cat.” Yes, a dollar bill as a monetary unit has a very human and social kind of existence, none of which Newton’s three laws can explain or describe. Or, how is your experience of the color red different from the color green? It is very hard to say, and we may be led awkwardly to say things like the quality “redness” is not the quality of green, but saying that red has a different electromagnetic frequency than green does not seem to help describe how they look to us at all.

We may start to get the feeling that there is more to our world than just objects in space. In fact, the Qualities that these internal objects convey to us are commonly held to exist in their own kind of place. We say, they exist “In Mind,” and we only vaguely, roughly and inconclusively associate that with our Brain.

Perceptions, sensations and feelings even exist in their own Time, we tend to think! Some of our experiences “last forever,” we say. “Time slowed down” and though on the clock the event only lasted five minutes, to us “it seemed much longer.” Other experiences seem to pass more quickly than the clock records as ‘true.’ “Time flies when you are having fun,” we say. Yet for many purposes, an exact and objective time is what we use and insist upon. Physicists like to think of the universe in instants. When you clock in and clock out at the factory, no matter how long the day seemed, you only get paid by our objectively agreed-upon standard of time. Is this standard time the only real time, the only true way to think of time?

Well, Humphrey goes so far as to contend that “inner objects” —sensations, feelings, even evaluations (“It is bad.”)— suggest to us the existence of a different world! He sites Plato, the granddaddy of all western abstract thinkers, and his Analogy of The Cave. The world that we humans sense and perceive is “as if” a projection on the wall of a cave —shadows of the real things that we cannot see. The world as it appears to us is an illusion, Humphrey says, by comparison to the world of physics and chemistry. And it is an illusion largely created by ourselves, “a self-illusion”! It is the world as it “is like” to us as conscious human beings. We have a term for this, it is the Phenomenal World.

Lets end this briefly by saying that this is exactly What Consciousness Is. Humphrey follows philosopher Thomas Nagel in his precedent-setting paper, “What Is It Like To Be A Bat,” and agrees that consciousness is just for things to be “like something to us” or for things to be like something to a “subject.Consciousness, feelings, and ideas are ‘objects’ that do not exist in the space and time we often use for other purposes! They exist in the Mind and for a subject; they have their own necessary duration and place. That is a very different kind of objectivity! Sensations, feelings, evaluations are created by us as a “commentary” on the real things of the physical world that impinge upon us, concludes our psychologist.

What Can We Make of This?

Well, Humphrey makes the best of it! The shadow world of Plato, this illusion, becomes “an enchanted world,” he tries to convince us! “Things are singing your song,” Humphrey writes (his emphasis) and he quotes many a poet, artist and mystic as witness. It may be “a philosophical error” to attribute “phenomenal qualities to impersonal objects,” but “what matters is psychological impact, not philosophical rectitude.” The illusion of color, taste, and joy; even pain, disgust, and evil, tend strongly to attach to the things in the world. It is what they seem to be, in themselves, to us. And this illusion sticks, even as we have a growing awareness of our own role in it. “It is indeed you who are the enchanter, you who are, as it were, coloring things with the fairy dust of your own consciousness.”

The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars; and all the World was mine, and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it.

Thomas Traherne, 17th century English poet, Anglican minister, and mystic; quoted by Humphrey

“Interiority”: The World from The Inside of It!

This talk of “inner” objects and “a subject’s unique access and authority” to them leads Humphrey to introduce the idea of “interiority.” It is a cumbersome term but one trying to express a situation we are all very familiar with. My “self,” this GregWW, and your self, who ever you may be, are a sole and only strange kind of thing.

Granted, this subjectivity is tightly associated to a particular living physical body and certainly its brain activity. We are a particular “somebody,” says our psychologist and philosopher; we say and know we are not just “anybody.” But in spite of that, our particular body and our psychological self are not strictly ‘the same.’ Consciousness and subjectivity are More Than and Other Than any physical description of a body or a brain! I am sure that you anticipated this contention in my argument, and Humphrey’s, long ago.

“Interiority”: Is this an early depiction of it at the Lotus Mahal in Hampi, India? Built in the 16th century, the body of the building creates the illusion of a radiating internal unity. Thanks to kevinstandagephotography for all Lotus Mahal photos.

“Interiority” is “the insider’s view” of life that we also seek to describe more objectively, sometimes. This post itself, and Humphrey’s theory in general, are an attempt to square the circle, we might say, to as objectively as possible describe and communicate something that is almost indescribable and so very basic as to be the presupposition of our lives and not a direct topic of it. Nagel is quoted: when we try to eliminate “the content” of experience, “what remains when these are set aside is not merely neutral: it is emphatically positive...The additional positive weight is supplied by experience itself, rather than by any of its content.” Lord Byron writing in the 18th century is quoted: “The great object of life is sensation—to feel that we exist,” and this being the case even with pain as one of our most noted experiences.

So, you are and I am, at first and primarily, what Humphrey calls “a core self.” This self is not a thinking self nor one that is self-aware, but a self that is only starting in that direction. There are several significant characteristics of this rudimentary self.

“Ownership” is one of them. To the core self, many things are considered a part of “itself.” An infant slowly develops a vague sense that “‘these’ (feet or hands) are ‘mine.'” That “‘this’ (pain in the stomach) is ‘mine.'” “Control” is another feature, as the infant’s arms begin to reach out for things, its sensation of Self develops as an awareness of its control of some things but not of others. And finally, there is the state of simply “being there,” which Humphrey describes as “an in-your-face mystery.” The core self is simply “the subjectivity for which the sensation appears.” “I see; I feel.” It is, for us, “a human way of being, he explains, and importantly that is how we refer to ourselves; we are “a Human Being. For a bat, maybe there is a Bat Being. It is the way things are to them; it is how things seem to them!

The mammal-like reptile, the therapsid, lived about 300 million years ago. Humphrey speculates that it may have been them that had a brain complicated enough to have had the first experience of their own sensations.

And this core self —as already contended— is unique and isolated, a “sole and only.” Our core self is just that direct access to sensation, to which there is no other access but through our attempts at communication. And even with this communication — sensation, feeling and even some evaluations retain their absolute privacy. As a self-aware consciousness you are “a closed individuality.” In all of history, in all that has gone before us and all that will come after, there has been and will never be Another You, it seems acceptable to believe. Humphrey says that each of us is “an inescapable singularity.” Contrary to poet John Donne, at the core of our self, we must acknowledge and understand the implications of our isolation: each man, woman and child “is an island entire of himself.”

Now, we do have very good reasons to believe that my sensation of red, for example, is the same or very similar to that of yours, but still we face the psychological and metaphysical reality of the element of absolute individuality. We have faced up to it in many ways, including our great fear and respect for the reality of death. In other ways we do not face it so well, as when we currently and historically speculate about super humans and immortals — gods, ghosts, demons and other scientifically implausible kinds of supposed external objects. With these kind of beliefs, some of us attempt to evade the end that death surely is.

But this is where Humphrey, himself, introduces the possibility of using the term “Soul.” There are other similar terms, like “self” and “person;” each are, like a sensation, an inner object — but Humphrey likes “soul” in spite of its baggage because of its connection to spirituality. For him, Spirituality predates Religion, and the latter is “parasitic” on the former. Our sense of the spiritual is our social recognition and Natural Selection’s recognition of the Value and Importance of “the Insider’s point of view,” of Consciousness, of our sense of an enchanted world.”

A Soul Land?

We started with the simple idea of a sensation or a feeling —“I see red,” “I feel pain”— and end up with “a society of soulsand “a soul land,” argues Humphrey. We will Eventually explore these ideas further, but they are based in an analysis of our current set of beliefs. Many of us do believe in, and live lives that recognize, the irreplaceable and invaluable quality of each individual consciousness and the natural and social apparatuses that support that way of life. This is the “enchanted world,” says Humphrey; but we should ask, is it true? In this realm of “Seemings,” if you can believe it and live according to it, and if other conscious beings do too, then it is true, a truly enchanted world — Our Way Being! That is the answer!

Murnua Street With Women: Kandinsky, 1908. Is this the way Murnua Street really is?
Sensations, perspectives, and life-forms at the Lotus Mahal, India.

Thanks and Stray Safe! The naturereligionconnection.