Philosophers With Strange Personalities and Theories, Part 1

(This is the third post in this series on Philosophers. The second post focused on the long history of philosophers as mathematicians and their many accomplishments. This post focuses on some of the unusual personalities involved in this vocation and the theories they advocated. . The first post focused on philosophy as a set of standard puzzles or conceptual problems. It should be acknowledged that the “Western” tradition of philosophy is our focus; men such as Confucius and Lao Tsu are sadly excluded due to my limited capacities.)

Diogenes by John William Waterhouse. Diogenes rejected the customs of his time and reportedly lived in a ceramic jar.

Socrates is one of the originators of western philosophy. He reportedly took his own theory so seriously that that he was willing to drink a cup of poison hemlock and die, in response to a death sentence for his beliefs trumped up as charges of corruption of the youth and disrespect for the gods. He could have escaped but refused to run from the verdict of his peers.

The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David (1787). In his final lesson to his pupils, Socrates accepts the verdict of the polis and takes the cup of hemlock.

Most known for his method of question and answer, Socrates believed that truth could only be attained through a probing dialogue of the opinions of the community. These Socratic Dialogues are displayed in the works of Plato where Socrates guides his rhetorical partners to the discovery of the truth contained in their beliefs. A man with no community was fatally incomplete. In this sense, Socrates accepted the verdict of his community and accepted death instead of exile.

Diogenes Searches for an Honest Man by J.H.W. Tischbein (1780). He roamed the streets of Athens with a lamp in the daytime to demonstrate his belief that most “appropriate behavior” was motivated only by a fear of retribution and a fear of the adverse opinion of others.

With Socrates’ death, Plato rose to prominence, but his authority was not accepted by Diogenes and several other Athenian thinkers. He, and Antisthenes, reacted to the Socratic Method by regarding it as having proven the emptiness of common opinion and custom. They founded the school of philosophical Cynicism, and coached indifference to life and to the opinion of others. Diogenes accepted poverty and shocked his fellow Athenians by urinating on them, and defecating and masturbating in public. The Cynic defended all these behaviors with argumentation and snide comments. At Plato’s lectures, Diogenes was present merely to heckle.

In Modern Philosophy, Ludwig Wittgenstein is not only known for his philosophical accomplishments but also his personality. “Enigmatic” and “herculean” seem to be words well suited to him. Twice he thought he had solved all the problems of philosophy, and each time from a basically different perspective. After the first triumph, he gave up philosophy and taught grade school in a rural area of Austria. (It should be noted that this idyllic tale of a return to the simplicity of the rural school teacher ended when Wittgenstein apparently whacked a dull-minded student who then passed out and filed charges.)

Looking more like a mug shot, this is Wittgenstein’s portrait taken upon his return to Trinity College, Cambridge England in 1929.

Personally, he was very difficult to know. Wittgenstein had a very disarming approach toward people; disdaining the “pleasantries of common conversation,” he often spoke without any pretense and was uncomfortably direct. At Oxford, he commanded great respect from persons such as Bertrand Russell who became his mentor, initially. Among these people, Wittgenstein was a dominant presence and influence, this included his students and colleagues. A friend and philosopher said, “Each conversation with (him) was like living through the day of judgment. It was terrible. Everything had constantly to be dug up anew, questioned and subjected to the test of truthfulness.” It is as if he had to penetrate to the essence of everything, felt novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch. Yet, he had highly accomplished friends and acquaintances, and he had a deep impact on many of them. It bordered on something like a cult, some commentators have suggested.

Wittgenstein’s Poker is an entire book written around an incident that occurred in 1946 at a meeting of the Moral Science Club at Oxford where another prominent philosopher of the time, Karl Popper, was to deliver a paper. That book is the source of much of this material and a worthy read. Popper and Wittgenstein were from Vienna, Jewish, and of the same era, but had little else in common. The book describes their lives, philosophies and then this eventual encounter in which Ludwig gave Popper all of about five minutes into the paper before he burst in with several questions, lost his temper in response to Popper’s answers, and then grabbed a fireplace poker. He brandished the poker in the air and at Popper for affect, until disarmed; at which point he stormed from the room.

By the way, Wittgenstein’s father was one of the richest men in Europe. He was the Andrew Carnegie of Austria, in other words—steel. He was a brilliant businessman and highly demanding of all those around him, especially his sons. Two of his sons eventually committed suicide and Ludwig was haunted by phobias and a death-wish through much of his life. In possible defense of the father, it should be said that post WWI Europe was a time and place where many men took their own lives. One of Ludwig’s brothers did so in the shame caused when his Austrian soldiers mutinied and refused to follow him into battle. When his father died, Ludwig became terribly rich, but he put most of his money into a trust to be managed by his sisters and brother, and proceeded to live very modestly.

The Grand Staircase of “The Wittgenstein House” as the father, Karl, preferred to call it. Most people referred to it as the Palais Wittgenstein, The Palace of Wittgenstein.
One of the Salons of the Palais, grand piano at left. A pianist playing at the ‘house’ could chose between six grand pianos.

As Ludwig grew up, The Wittgenstein House was one of the most prominent in Vienna. His father was active in many progressive political causes and his mother was a patron of the arts. Musicians, politicians, artists and activists flocked there in search of patronage, conversation and dazzling personal performances and social affairs. Ludwig’s brother, Paul, was himself a concert pianist until the First World War deprived him of his right arm, at which point two Concertos For the Left Hand where written for him, one by Ravel (the most famous) and one by Prokofiev.

In 1925, Wittgenstein’s sister commissioned the design and construction of a thoroughly modern townhouse. She hired her friend, architect Paul Engelmann, with the assistance of Ludwig, to accomplish this project.

The Haus Wittgenstein in Vienna is a series of interconnected boxes. The more I look at it and learn about it, the more I like it.

It is not clear who did what, but the attention to detail and precision in much of the house is characteristically Ludwig. The house seems to me to be remarkable in its clean and classic symmetry, but strikingly modern. The stories abound concerning these features. Steam radiators designed and cast as no others before or since. Each radiator as if an art object. Craftsmen furious and screaming concerning Wittgenstein’s concern for every millimeter. The house was nearly complete, one story goes, when Ludwig insisted the ceiling in a main room be torn out and raised three (3!) centimeters. Upon completion, all agreed the adjustment was beneficial.

The house’s design is “Stark and stripped back to its bare bones, it eschews all forms of decoration,” and this is in line with the beliefs of Alfred Loos, leading modernist architect of the time and Engelmann’s mentor. Ludwig thoroughly agreed with these principles and declared that architecture was more difficult than philosophy.

(The Margarethe Stonborough-Wittgenstein House: An interior staircase, a doorway-window combination and its multiple options, one of the specially designed and cast steam radiators. Thanks to The London List site for all photos of house and above quote.)

Wittgenstein accepted Engelmann’s basic structure of the house, reportedly; but made major alterations to the interior floor plan and details.
THANKS TO MY DEDICARED READERS!

(Stay tuned, Part II to be published Tomorrow Morning! Part II: What did this strange and ingenious man –Ludwig Wittgenstein — think about the THE SHAPE OF REALITY???)

OUR LONG AND WINDING ROAD of DECLARATIONS ABOUT WHAT IS TRUE, continues Tomorrow!

THE NATURERELIGIONCONNECTION.ORG

Will Republicans Attempt to Defend the Indefensible?

Who would have thought that I would ever become a Liz Cheney fan?

Acts of political and personal courage should be acknowledged, especially these days. Liz Cheney is standing firm against “The Big Lie,” that her party actually won the past presidential election, that it was “stolen.” 70% of Republicans believe it was illegitimate, according to CBS Nightly News. Cheney is the daughter of Republican former Vice President Dick Cheney and a conservative congresswoman from Wyoming. Despite these bone fides she is under attack from Mr. Trump and the Republican leadership for her efforts to uphold our country’s democratic integrity.

The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution,” she wrote May 5th in an op-ed for the Washington Post. She declares that Republicans must stand with “the rule of law” and reject “the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”

Here in Ohio, we face a similar challenge. Will Jane Timken attempt to defend the indefensible?  In her guest column in The Dispatch of 4/13, “President, Allies on Reckless Tax-and-Spend Policy Program,” Timken—former chairwoman of the Ohio Republican Party– emphasizes her allegiance to former President Trump. 

She will “advance an America First agenda.” She will oppose “the far-left agenda” of the “radical” Green New Deal.  She credits Mr. Trump with the development of the vaccines that have “turned a corner” on the COVID pandemic. Yes, these same vaccines that many Republicans now refuse to get.

This last contention, especially, raises the question, will she play fast and loose with the facts as does Trump?  We all know that the Trump administration deserves no credit for containing or defeating this virus.  Mr. Trump opposed mask-wearing and declined to social distance.  Several of his events became mass spreaders. His administration provided little guidance, support or coordination to our states during this clearly national crisis.

Ms. Timken seeks the Republican nomination for Ohio’s soon-to-be-vacated senatorial seat.  At the start of every Q & A session of her campaign she should be asked, “Do you believe the 2020 Presidential Election was stolen by the Democrats?” Unless she clearly and unequivocally rejects this lie, it should be held as the central issue of her candidacy.

There is little question that there is no real or ample proof of a fraudulent election.  Beyond Cheney, other stalwart Republicans are disavowing the lie.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham’s courageous speech after the traitorous events of January 6th stands out as a highlight in contemporary American politics.  “Enough is enough,” he said, “It is over…Joe Biden is the legitimate President of The United States.”  Graham continued by saying that he has been told there are thousands of fraudulent votes in Georgia and Arizona, to which he replied, “give me ten”—show me proof of ten—but the result was zero, “haven’t got one.”  No proof has been presented to him, he declared.

Recently, an old hand in Ohio and American Republican politics—John Boehner, commented (NPR, 4/12) that he believes former President Trump has “abused the loyalty and trust of his supporters.”  On the supposed illegitimate votes, “There’s really been nothing of any significance that would have changed one state’s election outcome, not one…nothing even close,” he said. Boehner is a former Ohio congressman and Speaker of The House of Representatives.

This lie needs to be rejected. The self-serving, delusional, and paranoid thinking that is at its basis, needs to be rejected. American politics is not often pretty, but our electoral integrity stands true. It is our American “miracle” writes Cheney, quoting the Republican Party idol, former President Ronald Reagan.

We are not perfect, but we keep trying to ensure the right.
Like Atlas, upholding THE LARGER UNITY; the NatureReligionConnection.org Help! This Thing is Getting Heavy!”

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Cycles, Designs, and Persons: Where We Come From…

(If there were a book, “The Nature Religion Connection,” this is how this series of posts would be organized and reworked for it. Yes, a book sounds good. This post will soon receive its own Category in the Index for this site, or at least until I get that book published! ————- So where do “Persons” come from? Well, we have “a folk theory” in our everyday and almost universally held image of things. That view has been given the name, “The Manifest Image” [of man and woman] and it contains a psychological theory that explains what a “Person” is and how they are connected to the world. It seems this view we hold of ourselves has been Endorsed By Nature!)

Part One: “In the Beginning”

The Molecular Structure of Benzene, suggested in a dream to Friedrich August Kekule in 1865. The Ouroboros, the serpent eating its own tail, mythical symbol of infinity and the cycle of life and death.

“God and Evolution: Can You Get Something from Nothing?” was the title of one of the first posts written for the naturereligionconnection, almost two years ago. “Enhance the Design” is how “to get more from less,” was the answer given, (https://wordpress.com/post/naturereligionconnection.org/52). But, of course, there is more to be asked and more to be said than that.

Visualization of a wormhole. Granted, this object is hard to describe and involves very complex math, but a person is complex in a different way.

Especially, if you are interested in Persons! A person is the most complicated object in the universe, so far as we know. That is a bold statement. Even the massive equations and strange speculations of modern physics are not clear in their relation to “Persons.” Persons are more interesting than most things and more than just biologically human. Persons are a complex enhancement of the biological world—with language-use, science, ethics, art, democratic government; persons surpass other primates by far. Or at least, seemingly so. When we ask, “Where do things come from?”; in this post series we are asking about Persons, this very unique and highly Designed kind of object.

(Kekule [pronounced Ke-koo-lay) discovered a large group of Carbon Based Structures that are still called Kekule Structures. Each feature a basic set of carbon atoms, as in Benzene, above. They Function importantly in all living things and his work was prominent in the origins of organic chemistry. [Right] The Ouroboros as drawn in an alchemical text from 1478. There are several accepted pronunciations of this name; some featuring an “aw” at the start, others “or” and differences with the end too!)

(Two more examples of Kekule Structures. Note the central role of the Carbon atoms.)

(Drawing of The Ouroboros from a 3rd century Egyptian text by Cleopatra the Alchemist. Inscribed in the middle are the words “hen to pan” meaning “All is One”)

If You Really Had Nothing

Of course, if you really have absolutely nothing at the start, then it seems clear—seems reasonable—that that is all you will ever have, nothing. So the Design Position, being argued for here, cannot start with nothing, and not even just a total mess. “Not utter chaos”, not “a random confetti of atoms in motion” is adequate, writes our favorite philosopher, Dan Dennett.*

The Design Position is based on the intuition that as far ‘down’ as you go, you will always find more designs, more structures, into which to take things to pieces. Designs in designs; structures made of smaller and quicker structures; processes in processes.: All the way down, for how would you know when to stop, or stop trying to analyze ‘a thing’ further? Maybe there would just be no more point to it; if you already Knew (could predict) Everything That Was Going To Happen Next!

The Living World

Design is especially apparent in The Living World. Dennett argues that we should embrace it; design is real and it is Design without any god-like designer. Evolution by Natural Selection is the largest part of the answer to this.

(DESIGN IS UBIQUTIOUS IN THE WORLD OF LIFE! A Bowerbird’s bower is designed to attract the female mate: It does look enticing! Can you believe that this bird collects and organizes and builds this well? But also, the cycle of a Frog’s Life [or of any living thing]; and the structure of the Human Eye [or any complex organ]: Each of these designs are re-occurring and functional. They Work, and these are “designs without a designer”! No conscious plan exists nor premeditation occurred for the designs in which these creations are composed and participate, contends Dennett.)

Here is our Designer. The Bowerbird family of birds, range from 9-16 inches, 22-40 cm. New Guinea.)

Life, starting out as things as simple as the barest self-replicators like bacteria and viruses, Doubled Back On Itself many, many times. It varied and did so Gradually, and the variations themselves Gradually Varied, and the result was a living environment that was like a finely grated sieve or a finely knit net. It was a natural living background that, in effect, said to each new round of Replicants: “Can you fit in?” “Can you find your place?” “If not, you are rejected; you are Not Selected by Nature!” That is what we call Evolution by Natural Selection, and it is still designing new organisms without a conscious plan, without a conscious Designer!

The Abundance of Animal Creations. Biologists have so far identified 1.7 million species of living creatures and estimate there may be as many as 9 million. Painting by Jan Brueghal the Elder, 1596: The Landscape of Paradise and the Loading of the Animals in Noah’s Ark.

Design allows not just breaking down into smaller units — analysis; it is also building up– synthesis. Many trees make a forest that can then establish a set of patterns and rhythms of its own: a Design at a larger scale. Many cells make an animal. Some well respected biologists and researchers have sought to understand the Earth and its biosphere as a single incipient organism, as if it was life itself first forming, because clearly it had no parent.

A Human Society is such a larger unit, and it has in some senses a reality and significance that transcends its individual members. It is vital that children learn their society’s language, that they behave in many ways that are congruent to their traditions. “Socialization precedes individualization” is a standard tenet for the design position. A member of society needs the ability to respond appropriately in many situations; a response their society sees as “fit”. That is what we call “Response-ability”, and we consider such members as full blown “persons”. If a member does not wish to “respond appropriately”, they need good reasons and put forth the effort to explain them or they will cease being a responsible member, a full-blown Person.

(Examples of Society Transcending Its Individuals: the Family, the Classroom and Education, the Law and Courts, the Nation and its leaders and citizens. Thanks to these particular sites for these photos. It was hard to find images of family without handsome actors all smiling, or classrooms scenes that looked real. Left, from CDC on Parenting; second left, from the ELA (English as Second Language) web site; third, from Time magazine–courtroom sketch; far right, Joe and his promise to try to pull this nation closer together. All is not always Harmony in our larger, and even smaller, Units of Design!)

THE CREATIVE POWER OF DESIGN, AND THE NETWORK OF RELATED DESIGNS ON EARTH: “Darwin’s bubble-up theory of creation” with “all the creative design work” conceived as if “a lifting in Design Space.” Dan Dennett

But even ‘below’ the living world in the prebiotic universe, The Design Position must find suggestions of patterns: Designs or their precursors. Complex design must itself “bubble-up” from less complex and simpler units of process. PART II will explore that world, our world in that simpler Form.

*all quotes in this post from Dennett’s 2017 book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back

More from The World of DESIGN: Our Logo by the marvelous Marty

Hen to pan,” All is One!

Part Two: The World Is Working Towards Us!

Getting a handle on things, at “The Connection!”

Cycles within cycles, designs with no designers; and eventually along came Persons. Understanding our place in the Largest Scheme of Things is a difficult task. I have been trying to get a handle on it for a number of decades now. Here we find that many of the Earth’s own processes worked to raise the possibility that new things could occur.

If we look at things from the Perspective of Design, we will have the best chance of understanding as much of “it” as we can. Philosophy is “seeing how things in the broadest sense, hang together in the broadest sense,” said philosopher Wilfred Sellars. What I am calling, The Perspective of Design, is (I hope, roughly) what another good philosopher, Dan Dennett, calls “The Intentional Stance”.

The significance of “Design” is hard for us to deny, and it can hold together, in a sensible way, two things that bite us in the intellectual butt: shear Objectivity and shear Subjectivity. Those twain shall not soon reunite for most ways of thinking! In our effort, we must bring them together if we are going to understand the context in which Persons exist.

(Design is a well organized “hanging together.” It is not hard to see in The Human Anatomy, [above] the muscular system and the nerves of the head. Hey, its All for One and One for All, here! These Parts and the Whole come together amazingly well, as do they in all the living things of the world! Who says Complex Units aren’t real? Only confusedly hardcore Materialistic Reductionists do! Thanks to britanica.com for diagrams. )

Design in the world of living things is easy to believe and obvious to see, we have argued in Part I. Individual Living Things are most clearly understood against their participation in a larger, orderly background: A Design! We are very familiar with this view: “The Tree of Life” is a massive comparative structure. We think of plants in contrast to animals, fish by comparison to birds, and dogs vs. cats.

The idea of a single Atom as a simple unity of only an area of space and a duration of time. From the Greek, Atomos, that which cannot be divided or cut.

We also understand a Design by reference to its own standards or focus. Each of its parts refer to its other parts; each Functions and they all function together. In this way, a design has achieved some closure. Somewhat figuratively, we can then say, with Designs a more complex “inside” has appeared in the world!

Design in the Non-Living World

Design is not only present in the biological world, it is also suggested to us in the Cycles of the prebiotic world. There are cycles “at many spacio-temporal scales”, says Dennett. Some are as obvious as night and day, and the cycle of the seasons; many are not so obvious “including thousands of chemical cycles.”

(The Krebs Cycle or the Citric Acid Cycle is a series of reactions that occur in all oxygen-using organisms to break down food into usable energy [ATP]. One of the chemicals produced at the end of this cycle, a kind of citric acid, is just the very chemical needed to restart the process onto another round of food digestion. This process, apparently, can occur outside of living organisms and was possibly incorporated by them deep in our evolutionarily history.)

(CYCLES deep in the earth and above it. Convection Currents inside the Earth’s Mantle drive the Gradual Distribution of the Continents around the planet. The hottest Air at different points around the globe rises, and moves north or south away from the Equator, while cooler air flows in below. This forms regular Convection Cycles in the atmosphere and a regular global wind pattern.)

The significance of these prebiotic cycles is that they helped organize and refine our world, and still do today. They distribute, sort, and accumulate materials. They establish regularities that from some points of view can be depended upon. The seasons of the year, climactic zones. tides and tidal pools, mountain ranges and river deltas are all such regularities or their result. Our Life is Full of Regularities!

(The Waves and Tides of the oceans, seas and lakes unrelentingly sort and distribute their coastal materials. Like a sieve and a grinder, or a series of these, the beach materials are constantly worked upon in an orderly process and result. Thanks to miracosta.edu and pennstate.edu for these photos and and illustration.)

“Think of cycles as ‘do-loops’ in algorithms, actions that return to a starting point after ‘accomplishing’ something”, contends Dennett. An algorithm is a set of rules to follow to accomplish a particular task. These steps are sometimes repeated, over and over, and that is crucial. They are recursive and they continue to build on themselves. The end result is that our world became increasingly refined! They “gradually changed conditions in the world and thus raised the probability That Something New would occur” (Dennett, my added emphasis).

Some of our very ordinary procedures are Algorithmic and Recursive processes for problem-solving.

A Rule-Following and Repetitive Method of Accumulating: first, 324 will be accumulated 6 times; picture the loops, 6 times 4, carry the 2; 6 times 2…then, return to the very beginning, now, 324 will be accumulated 40 times. Finally the two results will be combined.
Sorting using an Algorithmic method. Let’s sort groups of 5 out of a total of 125. Again we use a circular and repetitive method. 5 does not go into 1, so start again, this time 5 does go into 12, 2 times. And around and around we go, finally getting the result that we can sort 5 out of 125, 25 times.

Strange that these elementary school methods should embody basic physical and meta-physical realities!

Or is it? Dennett contends that Nature does contain Reasons, Rationales, Rules or the Standards or Focus that was mentioned earlier for any Design. (In other words, it is misguided thinking to believe that “the world”, the “Objective World”, is without meaning.) These reasons and organizations, he calls “free-floating rationales” because not until they are embodied in our lives and then eventually Represented in our Thinking are they ‘anchored down’ so to speak, Explicit In The World, and not just Implicit, as if only “behind the scenes”, not apparent to the eye or to the understanding.

(The Planets have been orbiting for about 4.5 billion years. This Solar System functions like a gigantic machine, lawfully but for no purpose. In about 1642, the Englishman Isaac Newton realized its operating principles, with the help of some of his contemporaries and predecessors. Still regarded as one of the greatest achievements in modern history, he wrote his theory, in Latin, in the book Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, 1687. The principles behind that ancient system where now known outright and not simply hidden in that design’s operation. They became a concrete building block for the further cultural development of Persons. [Famous painting of Newton by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1689. That is one nice head of hair on that guy or is it just a wig?})

Cycles as Regularities that are Sorting, Accumulating, Distributing, Dividing, Preserving. “Do-Loops” are all around us and in us, working and working.

(The Water Cycle [top left] preserves, distributes and makes water available for use in various forms/designs as vapor, liquid, and ice. The process of Cell Division and Multiplication renews cellular life and multiplies its presence but also allows for slight variation. [Bottom Left] The network of national highways distributes products and persons, while connecting the country into an accessible physical unit. In Part III we will discover that Persons are “Do-Loops”, who should ideally Return to Their Own Life in Self Reflection and ask: “What am I to Accomplish?” Who am I?” “What is my Story?”)

(In Part One, we argued it was accurate to understand Designs as present and working in The World of Living Things, and this is design Without a Conscious Designer, design by Natural Selection. In Part Two we found our prebiotic world full of Cycles that we can understand as creating the necessary background for living things and then eventually for our-selves as Social, Emotional, and Thoughtful Persons. In Part Three, we will explore “Our Thinking About Design and Our Participation in It.” )

THE WORLD IS AN INTERESTING ARRAY, and we often work to make it less tragic and diminish its suffering!
“Stay Safe!” by Marty

Part Three: Cycles, Designs, and Persons, “Mama’s Last Goodbye”

“Mama’s Last Good Bye.” Mama, the aged and dying chimp, had spent her entire life among humans. She displays a great deal of Personality. Her death was in the news as psychological researchers who had worked with her since the 1970s came to her to say their last farewell. One may wonder, What did she have In Mind during these last experiences?

(Well, we got hit with more Snow here in the Central O-H-I-O, about 5-7inches or 12-18cm. GOOD DAY TO STAY HOME AND BONE UP ON SOME METAPHYSICS. That always warms my heart! Here, we encounter some aspects of Design in the world of Persons. This chapter is now striking me as almost poetic, and that is a good thing because we are working at the Level of Intuition!)

Designs All Around US

A segue from the world of Physic’s Things to Thoughtful Things, from Chemicals to Mind is what we need, says Dan Dennett, America’s most popularly known philosopher. Many people think we already have that explanation. It was written and explained in one of those books, or the opening chapter of some text book, that you were supposed to have read as a sophomore in college. But we do not have that book, so Dennett has tried to write it, and here at NatieRel, we have tried to present it in popularized form.

But it has not been easy, for either of us. Dennett has run into powerful opposing intuitions in the minds of others and a genuine cultural thicket around these issues, he says; and I just have trouble telling sh!# from shine-ola, sometimes.

So, how do we get, “Something Different from Some Other Kind of Very Different Thing?” This is a return to our initial theme in this chapter. This is the point of Dennett’s 2017 book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back; The Evolution of Minds. It is an appreciation of “Design” as the link between these generally misinterpreted poles of Objectivity (the world as made up of the items of physics and chemistry) and Subjectivity (the reality of thought, emotion and mind).

How does Mind come from Matter? Or is “Mind” just a figment of Brain, that mushy grey matter between our ears composed of approximately 100 billion neurons!

The Remarkable Array of Brains! Brains, themselves, have accumulated and built upon the smaller and simpler brains that preceded them. Some do get pretty Big. Some do stay pretty small. Some seem to have significant “abstract” abilities. Thanks to the National Academy of Sciences for this marvelous graphic! (PNAS.org.) See later in the post for a brief explanation of these strange category names, such as Afrotheria and Xenarthra.. Researchers found that in rodents, for example, an increase in the number of brain cells is associated with a very large (proportional) brain size increase, but in primates, a similar increase in cell numbers leads to a much smaller increase in size. Primates get more neurons per volume of brain than other species. But still! How is “Experience” the same as “the electrical activity of neurons”? Its true, the two are highly correlated! ANSWER: The two are different ways of talking about the same thing, different ways that serve different purposes. “Design” is the idea and reality that helps us walk this road.

The first thing we must realize is the world and the universe always display Design. The highly regulated and precisely predictable world as known by physics is qualitatively stripped down; all that exists are a few characteristics in precise mathematical relation. That is a very tightly designed and constricted universe. But, the world of persons is much richer in qualities with a greater variety of objects and abilities and not capable of the high precision of prediction, but still very predictable and designed.

(Not as predictable as the world of physics, but still highly predictable: OUR SOCIAL WORLD. We eat. We seek shelter [Frank Lloyd Wright house in Rochester, NY]. We vote regularly in much of the world. We play games; throwing the curve ball. How many very regular things do you have in your life?)

(The Tower of Silence. DEATH, NOW THERE IS A REGULARITY; A DESIGN PIECE, WE ARE FAMILIAR WITH! We all have been giving a bit of thought to death lately. Death made a significant impression on humans starting way back. Here is an unusual ritual of burial that I just discovered: The Zoroastrian Religious Tradition of “The Tower of Silence. Ritual was an early step in the development of “Mind”.

(This Persian practice, examples of which recorded in Iran and India, involved the construction of stone circular structures with outer walls as high as 25 ft. and diameters some nearly 100 ft. In the middle of this “Tower of Silence” was a pit [an ossuary] were the bones of the dead eventually were deposited. But before that, the bodies of the dead were placed in small exposed cubicles; on the outer rims the men, women on the next closest and children on the inner-most circular cubicles, all with feet facing inward. Left there for as much as a year, the corpses were exposed to the sun and rain, but mostly to the carnivorous birds. Vultures lined the rim of the dakhma, “the Tower”, and cleaned the corpses of flesh. At that point, the remains either washed into the center ossuary or were assisted manually in that placement. Lime was added to the pit to assist the decomposition and assure the return of the departed back into the cycle of elements. Note the vultures in the drawings above. A Strange Design, but true!)

The Cycles and Designs in the universe and in the living world are of great interest to us. They presage our own individual reality as humans with Minds.

Our Thinking About Design and Our Participation in It

First, we have experience as designers of things of use and beauty. We humans became the first Intelligent Designers, because Natural Selection designs but without foresight, and beavers and such design by instinct. Instilled in us, as social and communicating creatures, we start to construct, to gather, and to organize—like many of the Cycles of the inanimate world. We start to make patterns of our own and with premeditation, or at least significantly our own, but also patterns modified from our “given environment”. Communities organize hunting parties and select mates; bury their dead and welcome the newborn; these are Regularities about which we create Myths and Rituals.

These human activities are regular and objective patterns, but not wholly independent of us, argues Dennett. They are a further extension of the material world but now with an important new layer of “Meaning.” Everyday early humans hunted, gathered, chose mates, gave birth. Day passed into night and fires were made, tools repaired, and the seasons changed. Human Rituals were established and myths created. A line drawn between “natural” events and “cultural” events is a mistake.

In myth and ritual these patterns of “the world” start to ‘come to mind’, we can say. These Human Designs are congruous with the patterns that precede them and surround them, in the Living World and also in the lifeless and stripped down Universe that we understand in our most objective ways. Now we start to have a conscious recognition of Patterns. As Dennett says, the “free-floating rationales” of nature, now became explicit in human culture, in a ‘thing’ called human Mind.

(Persons gained a Conscious Appreciation for Pattern. Traditional Wedding outfits from around the world: Yoruba people of Nigeria, Mongolian and Andean [Peru] wedding dresses, a traditional attire for Norway.)

Secondly, Design is experienced by us as Designers of ourselves. We are “self-made selves” (Dennett). Again, not completely, not god-like in our creativity, but incrementally we take what has been given to us objectively, and attempt to modify it, mold it.
In our own life and also in the history of humanity, at first this subjective ability, this self-design, took place dimly and with little self-awareness. Now, many of us have highly developed senses of Choice, Responsibility and Design. We hold the status of a full-fledged “Person” and seek to create not only our own lives but also a family, community, kingdom, nation and even a more Ideal World. Humans go far to create their own societies that then creates more persons in their light. “What is it like to be a person?”, we ask. “What should I do that is acceptable? What should we do?” Persons design many things, including themselves, and they ‘Take Response-Ability’ for that. We are willing to answer for it, to give our reasons, to be Reasonable and explain.

(Interestingly, the story of Heinrich Harrer and the Dalai Lama comes to mind. Harrer was s brash young German mountain climber and adventurer at about the start of WWII. The Dalai Lama was a teenager and ‘still in training’, one might say, as the spiritual and political leader of the modest and gentile Tibetan Buddhist mountain civilization. You are probably familiar with the story from the movie, Seven Years in Tibet [1997], starring Brad Pit; an able telling, I believe. I own Harrer’s book of the same title, but never read it. A remarkable story of the meeting of two very diverse civilizations embodied in the growing personal relationship of these young men. Both shared, learned and explained much, though the end was tragic for the Tibetans.)

When we create our own life and the life of the community around us, we do not do so in just any old way. We must Modify and Build Up the Designs Objectively Presented to us and in us.

The cycles of the prebiotic world prepared the way for the “design leap” to Living Things, and living things to Thinking Things, which are a subset of the living. Dennett calls these, “moves or explorations in Design Space”. They are based in the basic Information provided in the genetic code and in the phenomenal or phenotypic world, which is the genetic information’s family of manifestations.

“Design Space” is displayed in the above Cladogram. The strange terms of classification in the earlier graphic array of Brains –Afrotheria, Xenarthra, etc.– are clade classifications. Clades are an alternative to the more traditional classification of living things based on general similarities in behavior, anatomical structure, and appearance. Clades are based in chains of descent from a common ancestor generally discovered by genetic similarities. They are a more accurate method of tracing Design in the world. The vertical line at bottom of any group is their last common ancestor. Clade organization avoids mistakes such as the initial classification of whales and dolphin with fish.

Persons are a development in this context of design as evolved on our planet. Persons are a design with a Reflective Sense of Itself and of all the designs that reverberate outward, and inward, between us and the rest of the universe. Our life, the life in the Living world, the Designs and Cycles in the inanimate world, are–as if– the rolling and concentric waves created by a pebble thrown into a pond.

THE RELATIONSHIP OF DESIGNS IN THE UNIVERSE: The concentric ripples of water in a pond. Oil painting by Ai Shah, Japanese/Australian artist. Thanks to mymodernmet site for image.

In Part Four I will attempt to display Our Larger Unity as persons stretching out into the universe around us. That is, of course, a return to the the themes of Part I and II, but now with the goal of placing our Human Ideas and Actions in that Largest Context of Mother Nature’s Grandest Design. Wish me luck, and thanks for reading, “The NatureReligionConnection”.

CREATING THE MEDICINE MANDALA and “THE HEAVENLY PALACE ALL AROUND
Stay Safe, Stay Warm, and Stay Tuned for Part Four in Cycles within Cycles and Designs with No Designers! Still Working to Transcend “The Deluded Life“, here at THE NATURE RELIGION CONNECTION!

Part Four: Persons and “The Larger Us”

(HAVING FUN with METAPHYSICS! Getting really deep, and it works,, and its not too painful either! Only about a dozen paragraphs and great images!—.Thinking about Persons [and Eyes and Cucumbers!] from “the inside” as Designs in “The World”. This is The Way We Normally Do It and it is worth preserving! TAKING a BIG STRETCH, here in Part Four.)

Persons in Our Ordinary View of Things

Our sense of Design culminates in our thinking about ourselves as “Persons.” As persons we design and fabricate objects of value but we are also makers of ourselves and our communities, we have argued. In this way we gain an understanding of Design from “the inside.” We understand Design as the rules for a structure, or the principles of an orderly cycle of events—including our own lives. From this “inside” perspective, we hold ourselves to be more than just animals or objects, we now have a unique social, moral and political status. We are “One of Us”—“Persons”—and have certain Communication and Response-Abilities to this larger–“Us”– unit.

“Our World” is full of various degrees of “personality”, of various design sophistications. From its dim suggestion in the cycles of the inanimate world, to microbial creatures, to plants, to simpler animals, to highly skilled robots and computers, to non-human mammals, to children, to responsible adults, we “see” a growing progression that Reflect our sense of ourselves and our possibilities as Designs and self-designers. It is an accumulation of Personality.

Papa’s Got a Brand New Hat!
This is Not Exactly the kind of Personality we are talking about, But similar! Reflecting on the possibility of Design.. Photo by GWW

It is no coincidence that when we think, we often say, “Let me reflect upon that” or refer to thinking as “reflection”. “Thoughtfulness” is an openness to Our Information and our Extended Patterns—- those cycles and designs we have been discussing. We allow them to reach us In Representation and be considered.

This is Not an unusual observation; it is a narrative we find in our Most Common Understanding of things. It is our “manifest image”, as Dennett* calls it following philosopher Wilford Sellers. It is a kind of psychological theory embedded in our everyday world view.

(Reflecting on Selves: Unusual Variations of “Persons”; all somewhat truncated versions thereof. First, a Bowerbird, the creator of amazing nests. Second, Some People Just Love to Show Off! An antelope “stotting” which is thought to be a display behavior advertising that animal’s fitness. Photo 3: Looking a scallop in the face! “The eyes are the window to the soul” said Bill Shakespeare, and scallop have dozens of eyes! Finally, this small furry creature is the American Marten, formerly trapped to turn it into mittens! How could they do that to this Cute little Fellow or Gal!)

In this “folk psychology”, we understand the special status of persons; and we can feel for animals, as if, little or hairy or feathery or other unusual variations of persons, of “us”. We might even wonder if plants have feelings, like some minute Personhood. Pets become dearly-held family members, often; but also, in this “manifest” (or clearly evident and common) view of things, we tend to recognize that these animals, plants and pets do not quite make it. They are persons manqué, not full blown.

(THE SEEDS OF “PERSONALITY” in the world around us. We name our hurricanes, above is Dorian from 2019. After all they do have “an Eye” and they grow by feeding off their environment, move, and then die out. And, Single-celled animals are attracted to food and repelled by much that is harmful. The one above drives itself forward through the use of its flagellum. I’m sure it has a busy day ahead for its-self, and Dennett argues it exhibits “competence without comprehension”. It does not understand what it does, but what it does it does pretty well. What is It Like to be a Bat? [Look into this Face! Yikes!] A famous modern paper in philosophy by that title by an opponent of Dennett, who argues that greater complexity in design is not enough to explain Consciousness. It is a different kind of thing, he contends; it is like some special ‘spark’ or “a ghost in the machine”, a kind of mystery that is beyond much explanation but only privately experienced.)

(GRADUALLY DEVELOPING “PERSONALITY”: A Mars Rover–but not the newest one!–[top right] needed to be largely autonomous in its decision-making. Too far from Earth to be guided from there [radio signals taking from 8 to 40 minutes travel time], the Rover was programmed and designed to accomplish various tasks [who isn’t] with immediate and particular decisions made through “autonomy software” using observations from its sensors. “Mama’s Last Hug” [left], biology Prof. van Hoof visits Mama, the now aging and dying chimp he had worked with in the early 1970s. Upon a closer look, Mama exhibited obvious excitement and emotion, eventually reaching forth and patting the head of her old friend. [Bottom right)Young Children are a developing Person. They search for autonomy, but need much guidance, unlike The Rover..)

Persons in The World, and Designs Stretching Far Beyond

So, the creative efforts of Design in the universe stretch far beyond humans. We are indebted to it! Cumulatively, these Designs have achieved much success. Most humans now live in a highly “artificial environment”. We call it “civilization”, says Dennett, and it is “an artifact”, a product and an accumulation of our laws, traditions, and material products. Nonetheless, civilization is “perfectly real“, he contends, and it is ‘out there’ around us. It is a set of patterns as objective as those of physics, just more dependent on us!

(CIVILIZATION IS PATTERNS AS REAL AS ANY IN THE UNIVERSE, BUT ALSO DEPENDENT ON HUMANS. Music written as a score shows its obvious character as a pattern. Money has allowed economic activity to attain new levels of sophistication and abstraction. The patterns of Written language — Coca Cola written in Chinese [top middle], Hebrew [middle row, left], Korean [middle, right], Somalian [bottom row, middle]. Finally, The Pyramids at Giza are humanly associated patterns with a real objective durability!)

We now have “writing, arithmetic, money, clocks, and calendars”, each is a “system of representation” that is so closely associated with That For Which They Are To Represent, that the two are indistinguishable. What is the multiplicity of things, without Arithmetic –1,2,3,4 and 2+2=4? Can we really distinguish our thoughts from the Language we use to express them? When you are thinking, aren’t you mostly talking to yourself? What is Time without clocks and calendars, and even the orbiting of the earth? What is Time in-itself?** Humans involved in economic activity naturally evolved Money as a “representation” of that activity; just as human vocal sounds were eventually represented (as phonemes and in alphabets) in our different languages. “Representation” is itself a form of Design. It is Patterns that ‘speak’ to us. Personhood is a form of Self-Representation, a person’s story is a self-presentation among the stories of many others.

In this section, I try to express a difficult idea. “The world” and “our representations of it” are too closely tied to be separated. This idea can be stated somewhat paradoxically as all we have are representations. Our complex representations of science or the fine arts are themselves representations of common sense, which is itself composed of representations. Never do we “escape” our own representational faculties to confront naked nature, or reality “in-itself.” Why should we want to?

A more commonly accepted approach is to contend that “representation” is itself a natural process. This view pictures atoms and chemicals and forces directly pushing into our brains with an outcome being The Mona Lisa, or The Beatles’ Come Together, or even just any and every simple sentence we speak. The big problem here is no room is left for any human autonomy, or human creativity. This problem multiplies into issues like, what could it possibly mean “to make a mistake,” for example? If nature just pushes itself straight through us, how does it matter—“Right or Wrong,” “True or False,” “Good or Bad?” All simply is what it is.

This is a difficult idea to express, and Our Modern World has worked itself ‘into a pickle’. In our thinking we have split Reality into Two Big Pieces. “Objective Reality, we tend to think confusedly, is that which is unaffected by us, independent, highly predictable and ‘The Really Real’. Subjectivity: we are not very sure what this is; some think it is like ‘soul’, very mysterious and inexplicable; others believe it must be some side-show or illusion (epiphenomena) created by the Brain.

(“How cam’st thou in this pickle?”‘ a line from The Tempest [1611], the first recorded use of that phrase and once again nailed by Bill Shakespeare! The Cucumber is an ancient vegetable (no, a fruit!) with evidence of it found in Mesopotamia circa 2400 B.C.E. And Pickling was apparently around from near the start, though some claim it was discovered by the workers who were building The Great Wall of China. Pickling is a form of fermentation which is any “action of microorganisms that brings about a desirable change in a food or beverage.” (Wikipedia) This micro-org lives naturally on the skin of ‘cukes’ and is activated by the water or vinegar of the Brine and Time. Above: Cukes in brine with spices [left]. Salt makes a sour pickle, sugar a sweet one. [Second left] Cucumber from around the world. [Third left] The Wild Cucumber Vine of North America (echinocystis lobata), cukes have been breed from early on to eliminate their natural bitterness and improve their performance as Picklers. [Right] The Cucurbitaceae family is large and its varieties and characteristics growing, includes cucumber, gourd, pumpkin, water melonNature or Nurture: between breeding and pickling, where does the The Real Cucumber lay?)

But from the perspective of Design, our habit of thought and action that we call “Personality” unites the two poles. Subjectivity is an understanding of a Design from “the inside”, with its goals, purposes, and rules of operation. Subjectivity is about the Making of designs, and the Initiation of design modifications.

Objectivity is a Design from “the outside”. It is “given” to us, unanalyzed; taken for granted and ‘understood’ only in its common coordination with our environment. We do not understand, or are not concerned with, its inner workings beyond its parts and their rules of coordination as Person-like desires and motivations. The storm looks “angry” we can say, or my computer is being “stubborn,” we anthropomorphize. And many things we only understand by their Function and the “controls” of those functional designs. This too is an anthropomorphism from the point of view of a physicist.

Humans as machines, in a high-tech world. Understanding Persons as complex tech. Illustration by Kuo Cheng Liao (from Harvard Business Review.)

When we understand an object beyond its anthropomorphism, its ”Personality” has been dissolved –it now has no motivations or feelings; it is now merely an object in an objective background and we speak of it with this new vocabulary: No longer like a person, its “inside” has been diminished; it lacks significant degrees of autonomy and creativity, including any making of decisions.

How Persons Should Treat Other Persons

Subjectivity” is, also, the form Persons should most often use when dealing with each other. This, too, is regarding Design from “the inside.” It is that special moral and political status, a kind of Psychological Theory, embedded in our most common way of perceiving ourselves and our world. In Our Manifest Image, Persons are Subjects and not merely objects.

This is A Tradition. It is a way of Making Persons and it is a new level ontological complexity. It will remain True as long as it composes the vast majority of human interactions. Morality is our Self-Reflection upon this dual character of persons as both subjects and objects, and its pertinence to different situations. So, in our tradition of The Manifest Image, we learn to experience Design from the inside and the out, Reflecting on all the Design in us and around us.

(This part went through many revisions. It is highly speculative, an analysis and clarification of The Way We Tend To Think of Ourselves and Our Fellow Living Creatures as Part of This Universe of Massive Forces and Laws. In Part Five, Persons, as complex Designs and Designers, will be sucked back into the Evolutionary Process of “Design With No Designer!”)

(P.S. WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A BAT? Not much, would be my guess! It does have some kind of momentary experience but the experiences do not accumulate for it or for the other bats around it. They have no culture nor a personal story to tell. An experience is there and then it is gone. I can identify with that!)

If the EYES are “the window of the soul”, What is The Nose? WISHING YOU WERE HERE! Making new friends at the Children’s Garden of the Franklin Conservatory in Columbus. Photo by GWW. (Answer: maybe the nose is a B.S. detector. Hope you don’t smell any around here! ) Any thoughts? I would love to hear them!
MAKING MEANING at The NatureReligionConnection. Drawings by The Marvelous Marty!

Part Five: With Persons in Mind

(This is a Bite-Sized Re-Working of A Very Fulfilling View of All Things. We, Persons, can and do understand ourselves as supported by The Universe! We have been working on this view of ourselves for maybe 40,000 years, and here is its latest telling! It is almost like our own mythology, but one that works. Hey, we’re on a roll! )

Part IV really left our protagonists “in the lurch.” Persons had just begun to make themselves as they learned to speak, to use arithmetic, to understand time as exhibited in the cycles of day and night, the seasons, birth and death. Yes, “Persons” only exist in a world with much order, an order that supports them, in reality and in concept.

After all, a Person is itself a cycle and a Design among supporting cycles and designs. Robert Delaunay, Rythme n*1 (1938).

Persons further created themselves by establishing leaders of their communities and initiating rituals—their way of doing things— in processes like mate selection, hunting, healing, With “our way”, they began to call or think of themselves as “Us”, or “The People” or “Our Kind.” Stories (what we have come to call Myths) were then developed to explain or describe the origins of many of these practices or “things”.

The “Anishinaabe” is their Self-Name, but known better to us as Chippewa or Ojibwa. They have lived from Ontario, Canada, to Minnesota and North Dakota of the U.S. Their self-name translates to “Original People”. And The Winnebago people were saddled with that name given to them by a rival group. “Winnebago” means “filthy water.” Their self-name is Ho-Chunk, meaning “People with The Big Voice.” “Us” or “Our People” is a Representation that begins to accumulate significance for behavior. It is a new “Thing”—Ho-Chunk or Anishinaabe.

Language and Words, Arithmetic and Numbers, Communities and their Members are all Representations. In Part IV it was argued that in many situations it is hard to separate the Representation from the Thing They Represent. We said, “What is the multiplicity of things, without Arithmetic –1,2,3,4 and 2+2=4? Can we really distinguish our thoughts from the Language we use to express them? …What is Time without clocks, calendars, and even the orbiting of the earth? What is Time in itself?”

Money, especially in the form of paper currency, is another good example sited often by our guiding light, philosopher Dan Dennett. In itself, paper currency is merely printed paper –virtually worthless– but as a representation of economic activity or value, we all agree it is very real and has become an importantly different kind of thing with tremendous influence on other things.

Money and the economy Form Very Real Patterns that are discovered by the economic sciences. Again, these are patterns of activity and events as real as any in chemistry but just more closely associated with (Made with) human subjectivity and culture.

Persons are like money; they are a real thing and they exist in a vocabulary that is very different from that of physics or chemistry. In fact, the concepts of “Person” and “Money” are in the same vocabulary and significantly associated in our modern world.

What are the furthest implications of this unique vocabulary and its distinction from other vocabularies such as physics? So far, in this Post Series we have seen there is a growing accumulation of autonomy, awareness, and abilities in “objects” we have come to call “Persons” or “Person-Like”.

A great example of Real, Durable Patterns in the world, that are nonetheless clearly associated to Human Subjects: The Pyramids at Giza.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell so sweet”, said Mr. Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. But there are limits to this contention. If we describe a rose and its ‘smell’ in strictly chemical terms—we jump to a radically different vocabulary– there is no “Smell;” it is all chemicals and their reactions in the flower and in us. We have taken a term and phenomena from one vocabulary and described it in a completely different way. Sorry, photo of a perennial Poppy (by GWW), not a rose! I don’t grow Roses, and poppy don’t smell much either.

But the main point now is, there is no “money” without economic activity to back it, and there is no economic activity (at our modern, complex and advanced level) without money. The Representation and the ‘Thing’ Being Represented” are too closely connected for separation.

The same can be said for “Person”; it too is a representation! As argued in Part IV, a different way to put this close association between a ‘thing’ and ‘its representation’ is that there is little difference between Finding / Discovering an Object and the Making of an Object. Our Representational processes can be as much a Making of new objects as they are only a Naming of objects Found in the world. Making and finding tend to merge.

“Design” is the way to understand this connection of the Subjective to the Objective. All the patterns in the universe are Real, whether obviously human made or less obviously associated to humans..

“Bubbling Up!”

Bubbling Up to us: We say, “The light just came on”; “It was an inspiration”, and these occur within what we call “our mind”. Things Bubble Up within “Mind!.”

How does this happen? How do Persons Make and Find Patterns as Real as anything physics and chemistry has to offer? They “Bubble Up” to us in the form of Representations, argues Dennett! This is the way we can think of it, and do tend to think of it, in Our Ordinary World View; what has been called “Our Manifest Image” in Post IV. We say things like “I just got an idea!”

And Designs and Representations such as speech, writing, arithmetic, time were not Found or Made by any single individual. Dennett calls them “Darwinian ‘inventions'”; they are “inventions without inventors”, “designs with no particular designer”! They are not “the brainchildren of particular individual intelligent designers.” They are Nature’s “free-floating rationales” that have “bubbled up” to us as a community for some form of explicit Representation.

When an idea has come “bubbling up to Uswe are speaking the vocabulary of Persons in Our Manifest World View. Of course, we can also talk of this in the language of Neuro Science and Chemistry. But be careful, not to mix vocabulary! An “Idea”, “an Inspiration” does Not exist consistently in the world as Chemistry or Physics know it. “INSTUMENTALISM” in philosophy: there are many ways to interpret “The World” and each is an instrument for a certain purpose. (Thanks to Physics World for the image)

I have described this seeming paradox of Finding/Making as “Design” for which one side ‘faces out’ to form ‘the world’ and the other side of the design ‘faces inward’ to form the abstract rules of the Design. Persons know or experience both sides of the Design Process as makers of objects of use, and makers of themselves; and as discoverers of a world of objects given to them and unanalyzed.

In our traditional vocabulary, “Mind” is the General Term used for all this talk of Persons and their actions and Response-Abilities. Mind, we will say, CULMINATES in human joint action based on shared and communicated ways of living. That is a de-mystified characterization of the reality of “Mind”. It is a Culture; it is the way we collectively approach ‘the world’, all of us (often) thinking together and training our children to do so, too. “GET IT TOGETHER PEOPLE!” we often say. “GET ON THE SAME PAGE!”

HERE IS SOME “HUMAN JOINT ACTION”: A painter painted a painter painting, a Representation of an act of Representation. It is a mistake to model the Idea of Representation, on the notion that it is a Copy of a Prior and Independently Existing Thing. Most artists would never think of their product as a simple copy of what already existed. The toughest question seems to be, “Can the same be said for science?” John Singer Sargent’s painting of Monet painting, titled Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood (1885). The woman is Monet’s wife Alice.
J.S.Bach, he is believed to have fathered 20 children; only 4 made it to adulthood! Portrait by Elias G. Haussmann (1748)

Dennett started his discussion of the Evolution of Mind with the self-preservation of its own design by bacteria, and finishes with The Prolific Creative Design-Talent of Johann Sebastian Bach. He takes Bach as a high-point in the powers of Intelligent, Premeditated, Self-Conscious Design, a seemingly contrary case to Design with no designer. A strikingly obvious example of Making and not Finding, of Bach’s individual creative power.

Indeed, much of Bach’s success should be attributed to his own efforts and genius. He studied diligently the works of the great composers before him and all the different musical styles of his day. He became an expert in counterpoint. He wrote music incessantly. For example, he composed 5 years of ecclesiastical music for the Lutheran church, one program for each Sunday varying according to the church calendar.

But Dennett points out that maybe we should not give Bach himself all the credit. Deeper forces were working around him, in him and before him.

(TO BE CONTINUED!)

[A Quick Up Take: From the position of making/finding we can say, “GOD DOES NOT EXIST,” at least in any traditional form. If our argument thus far is sound, and Making/Finding are pretty much one and the same, we can come to this conclusion because too many persons no longer “see” evidence of God nor believe in the same Scriptures, or any Scripture at all. Human Agreement on a thing’s existence is as much apart of its existence as anything! Also, Human Truth has a lot to do with Consistency of Beliefs. At least in the old days, it was More Reasonable to believe in Your Traditional God because there was no “science perspective” to create tension with religion in general, and no Other Gods that you knew of (Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Greek…). Today, The Old-Timey Religion is just out of step with “What We Believe and Live By! It does not fit in this world. It is “Incoherent”, we can say!]

The Final Part in The Cycles and Designs Series coming next. “Same Time! Same Bat Channel!

(DID SIMILAR PROCESSES CREATE BOTH OF THESE??? ARE THEY BOTH REAL THINGS? YES!)

Yes, a person is a Representation in the making! “Help! Am I Only a Representation” drawing by the Marvelous Marty.

The Finale: Part Six in Cycles, Designs, and Persons——“Humanity Returned to The Lap of Mother Nature”

(The work goes on here at The Connection. We are definitely trying to ‘frame some fearful symmetry’ with the completion of this Chapter. It kind of reads like a poem. The goal is to Accept the Concept of “A Person” and analyze the Kind of World it must have arisen in, and still have, to Exist! Think about it, A Person is not only a strange kind of object, but also a strange kind of animal and even a particular kind of Human Being. What is a “full-blown” Person? It is a peculiar kind of Design!)

(The Tree of Life has been variously depicted. But in most cases they embody a flourish of Continuous Design With Variation. Our newest understanding of it must encompass Human Cultural Products, as easily as it encompasses the nests of birds. [Left] Artistic conception of The Tree from the Palace of Shaki Khans, 17th century, Azerbaijan. [middle] Turn of the 20th century, famous biologist and naturalist E. Haeckel’s confusedly “Man” centered Tree. [Right)More accurate modern biological understanding. We must think that Humans make culture in similar ways that birds make nests.)

In this chapter, we have climbed from the (not so simple) Self-Preservation of the Design of a single-celled creature in the creature’s survival and reproduction, to the prolific musical design production of J.S.Bach. The protozoan preserved its design very efficiently but it was “competent without comprehending what it did” (D.D.) Bach, by contrast, was the epitome of Self-Conscious, Premeditated, Intelligent Preservation and Creation of Designs.

(Progress in the preservation and creation of Design. Image two from WildImages.org; image three from UShistory.org: Thank you)

Following the arguments of philosopher Dan Dennett*, we contended that Designs are a form of Representation. They are both –at the same time– Concrete and very Material and also Abstract and very Ideal. Abstract, by having at their “core” some rules or laws or principles of their composure. Concrete, by being “given” to us with a hard, resistive and almost inscrutable “outward covering”. As such, it is a single thing, it is “An Object” to us; for example “an arm chair,” “my wife,” “Columbus Ohio.” We have come to know that these things possess, as if, a soft under-belly, an organization with parts. The chair has a wooden frame beneath its stuffing and cloth; my wife has a complex physiology not to mention her very complex psychology! The parts and rules represent the whole (the given thing) and the whole represents the designed parts (its ‘inner’ workings).

It is in “Mind” that all this Representation and understanding of Representation occurs. In part IV, we argued that Mind is ultimately A Human Culture establishing itself and creating its members that “work together” in very obvious but also subtle ways. “It” sees and reacts to “The World”, with much uniformity. “A Culture”, in that sense, is like a Single Organism! It is a mind; or at least, it is single minded.

We think of many things in this world as mind-like or mind-full. Especially, PersonsPersons should be Mindful; they should regard other Persons according to principle and rule, that is what we think morally. From the simplest Designs we see, such as trees or hurricanes, or the cycle of seasons, we intuit them as having rules —that “soft under-belly”. We intuit rules and order also for much more complex things, like ourselves and our adversaries —which may include even The Tyger that seeks to devour us. These are our intuitions, and they“bubble up” to us in Mind through the Cycles and Designs of Our World as Representations for our consideration, or so we have traditionally contended!

The Tyger, by Bill Blake

Bill Blake’s own illustrated version! (1794) Thanks to Interesting Literature.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

These are not strange ways to think! Several prominent theorists, including Dennett, have argued that our most common world view contains these ideas, or one’s similar. This is “the Manifest Image” we have of ourselves. It is in this commonly used vocabulary (really Without Exception used vocabulary), that we think of and regard ourselves as Persons, as Responsible for the things we do and make, and that animals are person-like, and there may even be a God (or gods), a kind of Super Person (or Persons) that is at the core of all this, as its point, maker, or inner meaning. This–roughly– has been a Universal Belief!

Back to Our Story

So J.S. Bach, himself, may have been a pawn in a larger game. We gave him much credit for his efforts —his studies, his output, his energy, his persistence. He was a very conscious, premeditated designer of music (see Post 5 in series). He worked hard and with deliberation, but his fate was beyond him, we will now contend.

He was born into a highly musical family with his father and several uncles all professional musicians. His own offspring undoubtedly benefitted from the transmission of supportive genes, as evident in the four that reached adulthood became noted musicians. But it was not only a transmission of genes, The Bach Family was a ‘hot house’ environment for musical productivity. It was an environment imbued with music appreciation and concentration, that really included not only the family but also patrons and organizations (the Lutheran Church) that fostered this creativity in Design.

Design With No Designer

Natural Selective Forces act even within human society! Bach and his music were Naturally Selected as worthy of “differential reproduction”, to use Darwin’s famous phrase. Our cultural sense of Quality in Designs was, and is, open to Blind Design Forces. Yes, says Dennett, and we here at The Connection concur. All Design arises from its environment and then awaits the acknowledgement or rejection of that environment. Was Bach really good, was Chuck Berry?

(WHO SAW ANY OF THESE COMING or WHERE THEY WERE GOING, or the same for any historical development? No one planned it all, no one knew the events precisely or even vaguely, no one knew if it would succeed, no one knew where it would lead: Chuck Berry in the late 1950s; teen-age girls swoon as The Beatles visit New York in 1964; Hippies in the year 1968; Women’s Liberation in 1970. All these were chosen to be of some greatness and significance but by an ‘unofficial vote’ with an indeterminate group of ‘voters’ and an outcome that was open. Hey, it just happened. It just seemed to be the thing to do!)

So, Who chose Bach’s greatness, and how? J.S.Bach was not phenomenally successful in his lifetime, especially as a composer. He was mostly noted as an organist and it was not until some 50 years after his death that his written compositions began to be more deeply appreciated by musicians and critics, and began to be Replicated at a faster rate. Today, they are Reproduced at a massive rate yearly and Dominant in our musical environment. Yet no musician, in the era of Bach or soon after, Chose Bach’s Fame. Each made an individual choice that had ramifications far beyond that individual act.

Dennett sites Herman Melville and his Moby Dick as another example of greatness that laid dormant for years until the commemoration of that authors 100th birthday led to Moby’s revival and soon immortality. On the other hand, Johannes Brahms was “wildly popular” in his own time.

Now these musical and artistic tastes —and the same for political ideas— are, of course, not genes. It normally takes extensive amounts of time for the Gradual Modification of Genes to work biologically and become effective in their entire population. But not so for “Memes”, a term adopted by Dennett from his friend and noted biological theorist Richard Dawkins.

Memes are the Basic Group-Held Signs and Organizational Structures (habits) that form “Mind” and Culture. They are shared Meanings and Methods, and in this way form a New Level of Human Interaction and Existence. And, they can ‘catch on’ widely, quickly, and without even clear meaning and motivation (in some cases).

(MEMES: from the very simple to the very complex. “STOP” signs around the world, this one in Cambodia; a meme with a simple meaning. What does the Mona Lisa conger up? Hard to say what associations are connected to it, yet it is widely recognized and acknowledged at a glance. A very complex and varied set of associations is tied to the Christian Cross. Good old “Mickey” is recognized all over the globe. Not all memes are approved of, but still deeply significant–the swastika. The atom, a science meme with many connections. But, memes do not need to be visually represented. The first few notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony–Da, da, da, Da — is one of Dennett’s favorite examples of an audio meme.)

Another very interesting example is the “Rationality” meme. No one really knows what rationality is, yet many of us invoke it all the time and even organize large portions of our lives around it! Is Rationality a certain set of neurons firing in the brain; the same set for everyone? Is Rationality a certain set of behaviors? Which behaviors could we agree upon, and then what would their definition be? Being “Reasonable”, we might say, but what is that? Here in this very series, I have argued that Reasonable is no more than “a Person’s” response-ability to give the reasons for their behavior and to care about other person’s reactions to those reasons. Or, is “Rationality” caring about “Good Evidence” for your reasons and beliefs. But what is the “good evidence”? So, we do not understand Rationality very well at all, yet it is Central to Our Way of Living especially in Our Modern Age! We hold this Meme of Rationality, and many of us hold it dearly!

Bubbling Up From Below

Let us say, then, that Memes are a way to Access, Interpret, and Share the neural activities in the brain of each of us and even the other physical forces that stretch far beyond us. These physical forces form our lives in a basic way at our widest range. Culture and its memes form a kind “down-loaded app” or a “user-interface” that is the context for us, as persons, to be in relation to our physical universe, contends Dennett. IT IS THE WAY NATURE IS TALKING TO US! Our ideas, emotions, and reasons “bubble up from below” as Representations of of ourselves and our world. Then, they are tested in the field of Memes already present in us and our culture. Or at least, this is what we can believe, ideally. It is an account of how Persons fit into the Universe.

Mother Nature’s Seal of Approval?

This is The Image We Hold of Ourselves, or at least in broadest outline. It has been cleaned up and developed in some ways (“reconstructed”) by Dennett, other theorists, even myself. At best, this is only my interpretation of these other interpretations. But “in broad outline” it contains the basic elements of “Persons” and their relations to “Things”, “Minds” in relation to “Matter”.
Culture and Personhood —and this “Manifest Image” of things — has been in rapid development for well over 10,000 years and with its birth –as incipient Culture– as far back as 40,000 years ago. That is not enough time to signal Nature’s Official Approval, her Genetic Selection; yet the human species has ‘Prospered’ dramatically in that time. This “Image” of ourselves has become “populated with more and more affordances, more and more opportunities to track, more and more things to do things with, more and more things –words–to use as tools…”, says Dennett. It has served many uses, including the opportunity to consider and reconsider our own Reasons —to Reflect on ourselves.

(In Reflection, we take ourselves to be An Object in the world capable of Manipulation and Re-Design. We consider and re-consider our own Reasons. Norman Rockwell, Girl at Mirror [1954], Pablo Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror [1932], John William Waterhouse, Echo and Narcissus [1903].)

From the vantage point of Design, we can at least say that so far, we have received Nature’s Evolutionary Endorsement. Our way of “seeing things” has worked! Our Proliferation is a sign of Nature’s Approval, and here, In These Blogs, we have tried to give it an intellectual defense.

But will it continue to work? Our manifest image is an awkward combination of physics, chemistry, biology, neurology, morality, economics, politics and poetry (among others). How it all fits together has been briefly suggested, but as we continue to shuffle these cultural cards, how they will play out in the future is still to be determined by processes that involve humans and human choices, but only indirectly. WHAT WE CAN MAKE OF “IT” (this World) IS STILL UP FOR GRABS!

(HURDLES TO BE LEAPED: Dictators, Industry and Pollution, Economic Imbalance, Religious and Sexual Discrimination, Dogmatism, War)

*These are, of course, my interpretations of Dennett’s position, along with other such philosopher’s of a similar vein. Richard Rorty, John Dewey, A.N.Whitehead are among that group. Dennett’s 2017 From Bacteria to Bach and Back is the work most specifically referred to in this post.

(Hurdle to be Transcended: THE OLD WAYS OF THINKING THAT DIVIDE THE WORLD and CULTURE INTO IRRECONCILABLE PIECES! Newton“, by the poet, artist and printer, William Blake (1805). “Newton is shown sitting naked and crouched on a rocky outcropping covered with algae, apparently at the bottom of the sea. His attention is focused upon diagrams he draws with a compass upon a scroll.” (Wikipedia))

The Tyger (final two stanza’s) , more Bill Blake!

When the stars threw down their spears 
And water’d heaven with their tears: 
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright, 
In the forests of the night: 
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Kunstformen der Natur by Ernst Haeckel. The Art Forms of Nature.

Humanity Returned to The Lap of Mother Nature

(Thanks for your patience. I rushed to finish This Giant Re-Organization and Re-Working to meet my Sunday morning publishing goal. The final parts may need some further work!)

STAY CONNECTED at the NATURERELIGIONCONNECTION.org

                                  

patience

Too Much Violence, Too Many Guns

It feels like a massive storm has descended upon us, a storm of biblical proportions.  For more than 40 days and 40 nights we have endured.  Mercifully, the George Floyd jury found former Officer Chauvin guilty on Tuesday 4/20. Without that, our boat may have swamped.

No sooner than the skies started to clear with that verdict, actually about 20 minutes before its announcement, here in my own Columbus another tragedy befell us.  Ma’Khia Bryant was shot to death by a police officer.  She was a 16 year old African-American girl in the act of swinging a knife at another girl in the midst of an apparent brawl.  All caught on body camera.  Further, the officer, himself, was but a kid, a 23 years old and on the force one year.

Tragedy is the norm these days, and bullets were also raining in this town on the previous Saturday, 4/17.  In an event worthy of much more attention, LaToya Renee Carpenter, 32, died when struck in the head by a stray while driving to pick up her 11 year old at 7:30 pm.  Ironically, a vigil was in process on the southeast side for a homicide that occurred one year previously in a “drug deal gone bad” according to The Columbus Dispatch and police reports.  An SUV drove by this vigil, and sprayed the small group with bullets injuring 9 and killing LaToya while in the act of being a good mother—her daughter now motherless and her fiancé without a partner.

Black lives do matter, and very sadly they are being wasted on all fronts.  The Violence Data Brief for Franklin County compiled by the City of Columbus informs us that African-Americans are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized by firearms-related assault than Whites.  Black men are 14 times more likely to die by gun violence than white men—48.4 to 3.4 per 100,000.  Latoya Carpenter’s death was the 60th this year, a full two months ahead of last year’s record-setting pace of 170 homicides for this city.  Almost 75% of U.S. homicides are committed with a gun. 

And indeed they are.  We are also amidst a tsunami of mass murder. 

Atlanta, March 16; 8 shot dead at spas by a man seeking to solve his sex addiction by eliminating the temptation, according to him.

Bolder, March 22; 10 killed while shopping for groceries by a man prone to outbursts of rage.

Rock Hill, South Carolina, April 7; 6 killed (two of which children), shot for no apparent reason by a man mentally ill ever since his professional football career, contends his father.

Indianapolis, April 15; 8 killed at a Fed Ex terminal by a pimpled 19 year old whose mother had legally removed a shotgun from his possession only to have him buy new assault rifles to commit this blood-letting.

So, what to do?  There are many things that could be done and many things that should be tried.  New police training, removal of officers with questionable records, discontinuation of the use of police as the initial and primary intervention in mental health and domestic problems.  Even minor traffic issues are not always best resolved by the intervention of a white man with badge and gun.

And what of the guns themselves?  Too many, too easy to get, too easy to use, too carelessly owned, too powerful for any reasonable purpose.  It’s time to rebuild our flood walls and stop the flow of these vile devices.  If only they were just used for hunting and self-defense!  No real right need be violated to stem these waters.

There is too much death in our time.  I’m drowning.  We’re drowning!  Efforts will continue to mitigate this disaster.  Please help.  More votes will be taken, petitions signed, more marches will be held, and we need to be there.  My sign will say, “Too Much Violence, Too Many Guns.”

Philosophers and Mathematicians

(So, “What is a Philosopher, Anyhow?” The second post in that series. Scroll back a few to find post one. Thanks!)

A famous contemporary mathematician

It may well be true that Philosophy started with Mathematics; well, at least here in ‘the western world.’ Nobody knows for sure. The ancient Greeks had their Drama, their Mythology, their Religious Rituals, their Political Oratory, and each of these contributed to the rise of Abstract Thinking; but they also had their math. Even today, the most abstract math, “pure math,” exists and makes contributions to our life and our thought in ways hard to precisely capture.

(The Chorus of a Greek Drama [left], often commented and emphasized as if an all-knowing observer. [Top Right] The Pythia is the Oracle of Delphi, some believe her ‘powers’ were enhanced by the inhalation of hydrocarbon gasses; illustration’s author unknown. [Bottom] Depiction of Pericles’ Funeral Oration in the agora of Athens—Franz Foltz, 1853—honoring those lost in the Peloponnesian war versus Sparta, circa 431 BCE. The speech is relayed to us by, probably actually the work of, Thucydides in his History of that war. This book is one of the earliest “histories” of all time and the speech is considered by some to be the greatest ever given!)

Mathematician Gregory Chaitin says he has a very practical side too, “but there’s also, in me, a side that likes beautiful mathematical arguments and these fantasy worlds of pure mathematics…We do need some people who do pure mathematics with no applications, at least maybe not for a hundred years. People who think philosophically...”

Chaitin is one of today’s greatest mathematicians. Born of Argentinian parents, he is the discoverer (or inventor: “I invented it,” he says) of The Omega Number (also called Chaitin’s number). “Omega is sort of a unicorn or a flying horse, — a mathematical fantasy in the Platonic world of ideas…which has this strange number glowing there,” he says (my emphases). (See the following Link.) Adding to the amazement, he did the initial work on Omega while a senior in High School! (Hey, as a senior, I was too busy chasing after a girl named Beverly Bushel to mess with any mathematical stuff!)

The Omega Number: is known to be between zero and one , and to go on forever with no repeating pattern (it is an irrational number).

I have been trying to develop a short and shallow summary of this strange creature–this number–but honestly, without much success. It has something to do with the “elegance” of a theory or a computer program. Elegance meaning spare, to the point, and yet complete and perfectly expressive of the phenomena being described or replicated. Its essence captured “beautifully.” Chaitin proves, apparently, that there is no way to be certain that any program accomplishes this , that there may always be a better way to do it lurking somewhere or somehow.

There is an important set of problems in mathematics that involve conjectures that cannot be proven but seem accurate. Conjectures about the character of all prime numbers was given as an example. To test them, all that can be done is look at every prime number, for which there is no end, of course. So, the issue has now turned to speculation about The Tree of All Possible Computer Programs and their evaluation in terms of the number of bits of information each would use.

The Omega Number provides us with the answer to whether a program or programs, among this tree, will eventually find its answer and come to a halt—find a prime number that defies the conjecture, for example—or go on forever looking, and this without running the program but just from the program’s form.

The Omega relies on The Turing Halting Problem and its theoretically possible solution with a Turing Halting Oracle program. The oracle discovers the number of programs that will halt. But the famous mathematician and founder of the computer, Alan Turing, also proved (apparently) that there is no practical solution to The Halting Problem, it is incomputable, though theoretically true. Therefore, The Omega Number, though real and true, is—also—practically beyond our calculating powers, i.e. unknowable to us.

Now that is a philosophical and a mathematical puzzle! I hope my summary was remotely accurate.

Many Philosophers Have Been Mathematicians

Russell in 1959. He was from a noted British aristocratic family. He and his father were early and outspoken atheists and Bertrand refused to participate in WWI.

The famous modern British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, along with his mentor Alfred North Whitehead—also a philosopher and mathematician—wrote Principia Mathematica, a three volume work published from 1910 to 1913. It attempted to base all math in symbolic logic and to reduce the fundamental principles of math into a set as small as possible. It contained “hundreds of pages of numbers, symbols, and equations,” and “later in life (Russell) claimed he knew of only six people who had read it from beginning to end” (from the book Wittgenstein’s Poker).

In philosophy, Russell led the revolt against Idealism, for which Whitehead was a prominent proponent, and started the modern Analytic Tradition. Its goal is to reduce any theory or tradition of speech (such as ethical language) to its basic assumptions and components.

Portrait of Rene Descartes, by Frans Hal.

But it was a famous Frenchman who wrote, “I think, therefore I am.” (cogito, ergo sum). The story goes that as a young soldier in the Thirty Year War between Protestant and Catholic countries in central Europe starting in about 1620, Rene Descartes huddled inside an old abandoned stove to seek warmth and there began to write the first volume of his famous Philosophical Meditations. He is most known for his explicit division of reality into two very contrasting realms—the material and the ideal, or, in other words, the mechanical (the Body) and the mental (the Mind). This is called Philosophical Dualism.

Analytic Geometry: beloved by many a high schooler (or not!).

In mathematics, Descartes was quite accomplished. He invented (or discovered) Coordinate Geometry, which was then highly significant to Isaac Newton’s work. Among his other contributions is the convention of using a superscript to denote powers or exponents (x2).

Descartes was also a scientist and attempted to study animals as Mechanisms, but contended Humans were both machines (body) and soul (Mind, non-mechanism). Though he contended he was a devout Catholic, he fought for the Dutch Protestant armies (as a mercenary, and military engineer–where he studied the flight of cannon balls and the craft of aiming a cannon). Other philosophers of his time accused him of atheism because in his thinking God played no further role after getting the mechanisms of the world started.

Calculus provides the description of an orderly curved line, like the flight of a cannon ball or the orbit of the Moon. Its flight is formed by the pull of gravity of the Earth and its compromise with the tangential momentum of the Moon’s, or ball’s, forward velocity. The moon is “falling around the Earth;” it can be said, while the cannon ball is in an orderly fall back to Earth.

Isaac Newton is thought of primarily as a scientist, though in the 17th century the line between these more abstract pursuits was blurry. Newton wrote extensive biblical interpretations and speculations, along with his creation of classical physics.

For his mathematical description of the movements of the planets, he invented Differential Calculus which was a development upon Descartes’ Analytic Geometry. Curiously, a philosopher living at the same time, in Germany, Gottfried Leibniz, also made this ‘discovery’ of calculus. The two engaged in a bitter dispute over its authorship lasting the remainder of their careers. Today, it is generally acknowledged as a simultaneous invention/discovery.

Back to The Greeks for The Finish

Pythagoras depicted in a detail from Raphael’s giant fresco from a wall in the Vatican, painted from 1509-1513.

Pythagoras is one of the western world’s earliest known mathematicians and philosophers. It is questionable how much math and philosophy attributed to him was actually his work.

For example, the famous Pythagorean Theorem, A2+B2=C2, was not known theoretically–as in this form, I guess–but was known practically by the Babylonians and Egyptians.

Line C is, of course, the hypotenuse. Every Right Triangle is composed of this orderly relationship between the Area of three squares–A,B, and C– that can be aligned with its sides.

I was once working with a friend of mine, a great craftsman who is short on formal education but long on intelligence. We were “finishing” his basement, framing the walls. We got to the first corner and he wanted the angle just right, 90 degrees. I thought we had it lined up pretty well just using a T square but he wanted it perfect (as always!) and said we will use the 3-4-5 rule. He measured out from the temporary corner 3 ft. on one wall, marked it, then 4 ft. on the other wall. If the diagonal line connecting these two marks was then 5 ft., the corner was true, 90 degrees. I realized, “that is the Pythagorean theorem,” I announced: 32 + 42 = 52 . Well, Pythagoras, or one of his associates, at least formalized this practical knowledge.

There is a legend that one day Pythagoras was walking by a group of men working metal, “blacksmiths.” They were pounding out a piece on an anvil using various hammers. He heard the sharp clanging sounds created by the repeated blows and began to think of their relation to music. He realized there was an orderly relationship between the size of the hammer, the force of the blow, and the sound that it made.

“A series of fifths generated can give one seven notes: a diatonic major scale on C in Pythagorean tuning.” Thanks to Wiki for diagram and explanation.

He then began experimenting with the four strings of a lyre and discovered that the sounds most often used musically, the Notes, the one’s most pleasing to our ear, could be organized into sets of four (a tetrachord) and then a set of eight (an octave) with a steady interval between them. These notes or pitches then coincided with a ratio of length of the lyre’s string used to create them. The ratio he found or decided upon as closest to those pleasing notes was 3:2, or what became known as “The Perfect Fifth” and this became the basis of the Pythagorean Tuning system used in western music up to the early 1500s. Our modern tuning system is very close to Pythagoras’, but differs just slightly in the frequency of vibration for each note.

(God, do I feel stupid as I try to write this post! I am not much of a mathematician or musician, so once again, I hope the above description of sound, music theory, acoustics is roughly accurate. Please, Comment [Bob, or anyone] if it is not, so that I may learn!)

Finally, dear old Pythagoras had another idea worth mentioning: The Harmony of The Spheres. To this man, and his followers, Numbers and Mathematics were godly, religious in character. All things were essentially numbers, or something like that. So, he speculated The Heavens (what we would now call stars, planets, and moons) were also numerically organized. That was a good idea, but since numerical relations were also Musical, he contended that the orderly movements of the sky also created A Harmonious Sound, A Celestial Symphony, but we could not hear it!

Atlas holding up the sky, which is A HARMONY OF SPHERES

IF ONLY IT WERE TRUE! What a pleasant idea! I’m not so sure that this last idea helps prove my case, THAT PHOLOSOPHERS KNOW SOMETHING. Maybe sometimes they just get carried away! But Pythagoras’ idea did influence Johannes Kepler!

Salvador Dali: The Harmony of The Spheres (1978)

A Threatening Letter, and The Tragedy of Guns Continues

(This old business is sad business! Three mass shooting in the US in less than a month! I have a new sign in my front yard, but still no progress on gun regulation in Ohio or in Washington, though President Biden is planning to take some executive actions.

I found this draft of a post in my file and decided to run it at this point. My wife asked me not to publish it initially, she was worried by the threatening letter I had received. At this point, over a year and a half after the mass murder in my home town of Dayton, our Republican Governor’s modest package of gun controls has been rejected by our Republican controlled legislature.

But now, after the Atlanta, Bolder, and Texas shootings, I refuse to give up especially in light of the stupidity that composes so much of the opposition to any efforts to control these vile and excessive weapons! The weapon used in Bolder was a semi-automatic pistol with modifications. Here is the original draft –following the pictures–now published with some modifications.)

(Top Left, one of three shooting sites in Atlanta area where 8 woman were killed by a 21 year old “strict” Christian man who said he had a sex addiction and was eliminating his temptation.. Middle, King Sooper grocery store where 10 were killed by a young man with known mental problems using a semi-automatic pistol that he had purchased just days before; he shot it out with police in store before being arrested. Right or Bottom, Texas cabinet factory where a 27 year old disgruntled worker killed 1 and wounded 5 two of which still in critical condition, one a responding police officer.)

The Original Post following the Dayton Murders

On Sept. 13, (2019) The Columbus Dispatch published a letter I submitted arguing for a tightening of Ohio gun laws.  The paper is not “The Disgrace”, far from it; it has a moderate Republican orientation and went so far as to endorse Hillary in ’16 and is calling for gun control now.  About five weeks after the mass shooting in Dayton took the lives of 9 innocent people in a 24 second hail of gunfire, I wrote the editor and was published.  It still shocks and angers me that in 24 seconds, 9 people could be killed and 17 injured.  My letter was most immediately prompted by a set of proposals tentatively put forward by our Governor.  In response to my letter, I received at home through the mail a rather peculiar and unfortunate response.  My letter and parts of the reply are printed below.  Its writer included a fake name and address, I discovered upon further research.

       Momentum is building for gun restrictions

Our Republican governor has conjured up the courage to defy the National Rifle        Association and the bulk of his party’s elected officials and will be putting forth a weak-kneed  proposal involving 17 actions — including some mental health                  up-grades — that is far better than nothing.  It is time to turn the cultural tide              against guns.

It is time to expand the limitations of the right to own a gun, a right that has already  been appropriately limited with our agreed-upon outlawing of automatic weapons.    We obviously need to go further.

Ohioans have the right to public safety.  Our children have the right to be safe in        school.  Manhood is not about owning a gun and certainly not about owning a            military-style weapon.

Better than the governor’s upcoming “red flag” proposal is the one currently being    sponsored by state Democrats and the courageous and clear-thinking Republican   state Sen. Peggy Lehner from the Dayton area.  It proposes a court hearing on the safety of a given individual’s possession of a gun and then allows that individual to respond in court if the weapons are removed.

Even in Washington, D.C., there is renewed pressure to, as the people of Dayton          shouted, “Do something!”

Readers should call or write their elected officials.  Put a sign in the yard.  There is an upcoming rally and march downtown on Wednesday with the Ohio Coalition  Against  Gun  Violence.  Act now!

Greg W.

A rather simple and straight-forward set of points.  All except for the manhood comment, which I was rather surprised The Dispatch printed.  I am familiar with letters to editor (LTE)  and I thought that comment would be removed in editing as too testy.

Here are some exerts from the response I received.  My wife has asked me not to make too much of this incident, not wanting to provoke further hostility.  I agree, and will provide for you just a sense of it.  It consisted of two pages, the first is described below.  It was extreme.  His caps and bolding.

HEY……WHAT THE FUCK WOULD YOU KNOW ABOUT MANHOOD! My take upon  reading your LTE submittal to The Columbus DisGrace is YOU are undoubtedly a naive, sniveling , sentient cry-baby pussy who collapses at the slightest provocative action! You could be a #MeToo, or a tree-huggin enviroWacko ! BTW, I’m continually  amazed that The Columbus Disgrace doesn’t run out of confused Democrat schlubs  like you….

LISTEN UP YOU COWARDLY DUMB MOTHER-FUCKER! Red Flag Laws or Universal BackGround Checks maybe feel good non-remedies to the Gee I Pissed My Pants  Crowd but they are also utterly useless and ineffective deterrents ! Admit it ASSWIPE   You want “gun confiscation” and abolishment of 2nd Amendment !  …Americans will NEVER….NEVER …EVER give up their guns! Guess who looses this argument ?….

KNOW THIS, YOU’RE A POOR EXCUSE FOR A MALE AND AN AMERICAN! Know also  that when the anarchy for which you unwittingly advocate for and promulgate  breaks out….it’s most probable that you won’t be able to scatter your old wrinkly ,      pansy ASS to the tall weeds ! Why’s that you axe ? Well….. could it be a dull machete  intervened ? Could be , since the God of Abraham knows where you live. The (3) Eyed Raven has now been assigned to keep a vigilant eye on you. There will be a        reckoning!  Praise the Lord ! Amen!

Note in the third paragraph near the end, he seems to threaten me with the “dull machete” reference.  Obviously he knows where I live; heck, I’m in the phone book.

It appears that my manhood comment bothered this guy.  Note the reference to it several times and all the disparaging phrases referencing to women in various ways.  Following the above, he had a sketch similar to below of “the three-eyed raven” he refers to as “CORVUS CORAX” which is the scientific name for the raven species.

I assumed the “three-eyed raven” was a biblical reference. Wrong! Game of Thrones. Now I’m really scared!

Also on the first page and to the side was this statement (all bold):

“HEY BOZO! Hope this does not ‘bunch up’ your panties!  NO ONE has a right to public safety!  An expectation …..yes…but not a right!  Own/Bear arms is a RIGHT and I can prove it !!!!!”

Now, The Declaration of Independence does state, in paragraph two,  that there are “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  To me, that would imply public safety, but I will give him the point that that is not literally stated in The Constitution.

The first page of his letter ends with a reprinting of my letter to the editor in the bottom right corner.

The second page is a ‘wanted poster’.  In large letters it starts “WANTED” and then has the pictures of eight Democrats including Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Hillary, and Barack Obama.  “For TREASON & HIGH CRIMES“, it continues on the bottom, and then ends with a picture of a noose and a drawing of a firing squad.

(Well, there it is.  I can assure you that appropriate steps were taken. I spoke to the Columbus Police and the local FBI office. Both said that there is a lot of this that is around, and that not much would probably come of it. Both inspected the letter [I mailed a copy to the FBI on request] and indeed, nothing further has become of it, from the writer or the authorities.)

Please Keep Up Your Efforts to Control Guns through State and National Legislation!

Making Meaning at The Connection even when things get a little hot! Meaning is initiated in Nature, Continued and Hopefully Enhanced by Humans—Meaning is in Our World! Drawing by the marvelous Marty.

But some ‘Persons,’ through their Mental Illness and arbitrary acts, endanger the Social Foundations of Meaningfulness. Other Persons, through their misguided Abstract Thinking, enable these attacks on A Secure and Meaningful Human Togetherness!

What is a Philosopher, Anyhow?

“Veritas et Falsitas”: Zeno shows his youthful students the doors to the true and to the false. Painting by Pelligrino Tibaldi, late 16th century.

“Aren’t philosophers just a bunch of old white men,” said my sister, picking up on a comment that I had once made. I had said there are not many women philosophers, nor black philosophers (Cornel West at Harvard an exception). I had suggested that philosophy seems an old and musty profession, and some people do ask, “what is there to its credit?” This is Not an uncommon criticism. Many scientifically inclined persons question the “cred” of philosophers; what is their basis for commenting on or questioning the beliefs of scientists? On another site, it was suggested that anyone majoring in Philosophy should be required to take a significant number of science courses as prerequisite, thus getting their head straight.

So, what have philosophers accomplished? What is the basis of this discipline in the past and today? WHAT DO philosopher’s KNOW, and HOW DO THEY THINK THEY KNOW IT, or ANYTHING?

Philosophy is an ancient tradition. Alfred North Whitehead, a noted mathematician and philosopher from the early 20th century, contended that “All philosophy is but a footnote to Plato” (and how can you doubt any Englishman with a name dripping with such sophistication?). Plato lived around 550 B.C.E., long before Experimental Science and Whitehead contends there were certain conundrums discovered of a logical or conceptual sort. Whatever that may mean?

Well, let us consider Zeno of Elea. He is reported by Plato to have visited Athens sometime around 450 B.C.E arguing for a series of paradoxes, “Zeno’s Paradoxes,” recounted by Aristotle. In one, Achilles races a tortoise and agrees to give it a head start, his problem is that whenever Achilles gets to where the tortoise once was, the tortoise has gone further. Therefore, Achilles never catches the tortoise.

“Achilles and the Tortoise” He gets close, but never quite catches him!
“The Arrow”: if in each instant an arrow is at rest and occupying a particular area of space –“it if there, now”– then it never moves. How can “being at rest” at every discreet instant accumulate to make movement? Rest is always rest, is it not?

Funny, how words and settings can play tricks on us. Zeno was a follower of Parmenides, each apparently were roughly contemporary to Plato but preceded him in that Greek Tradition. Parmenides argued that all movement was illusory –as suggested by “The Arrow”– but also that all Plurality is illusory. All things really had to be just parts of one bigger thing. “All is one,” we have learned to say. And “Let The Force be with you!”

There is an almost obvious intuitive attraction to some of these contentions, and this tradition of the presentation of Paradoxical Situations continues today. In fact it has ‘picked up steam’ in contemporary philosophy with the popularity of “thought experiments” or “intuition pumps,” stories or scenarios designed by philosophers to challenge our intellectual complacencies, our primary and unquestioned assumptions.

One of the most famous “pumps” was formulated by Australian philosopher Frank Johnson in the early 1980s. It is called “Mary’s Room” and the following is my version. An ingenious scientist –Mary– has become caught up in her own experiment. You see, she is a scientist studying color, but she has been kept in a room all her life, a room that lacks color. All her room has –all her life has ever had– is various shades of white, gray, black, with intensities and hues of these varying approximately in line with normal color distinctions. I am not sure how she eats, but somehow her vegetables , for example, come to her not in beautiful greens, yellows or reds. but simply various finely distinguished grey’s.

Is Philosophy just “a can of worms,” or is there a point to it, a solution to the tangle?

Well, while in this room, Mary learns all there is to know about Color. Its electromagnetic frequencies; its neural states; its formative blends –‘yellow’ and ‘red’ make ‘orange’– but she has not experienced any of these colors directly. She knows that fire trucks are red, though she has never seen a real one. The dilemma occurs when –one day– Mary is let out to see the light of day! Does she Learn anything new about color?

I will not go into my interpretation of the meaning of this “experiment.” Frankly. my interpretation tends to shift around, but basically it has to do with two Big Ideas that tend to organize a lot of our basic abstract thinking/interpretation. Those ideas are “to know” and “to experience.” Is to experience something, to know it? Perhaps counter-intuitively, I believe “No, the two are importantly different; it is possible (in kind of an awkward sense) for two people ‘to experience the same thing, but know very different things about it!’ So, I say, Mary learned nothing new about color though she did now have the experience of it.

But that statement just ‘opens up a can of worms,’ so to speak, and that seems to be the whole point of Zeno’s paradoxes or modern “intuition pumps’ –to get the argument going. Philosophy, in general, has been a more or less standard collection of puzzles revolving around some very common, but still puzzling, ideas like “life and death,” “matter and mind,” “true and false,” “god or no god or many gods,” “right and wrong,” “one big thing or many smaller ones,” and many, many more such variants. The point then seems, in my opinion, ‘to get all your ducks in a row;’ to have a consistent explanation of how there is no god, or how some things are “alive” and others “lifeless.”

Philosophy is…

Philosophy is a lot about having a big and consistent view of the many parts of our life and our world, and to be able to defend it with good reasons. One of the best definitions of it was by the recent but now deceased big thinker, Wilfred Sellars. He contended that philosophy is about “How things in the broadest sense hang together in the broadest sense.” Recently an admirer of Sellars, Dan Dennett, contend that the philosopher’s job is to explain how the many, many things we do –“in practice”–everyday, are theoretically –“in principle”– possible. How all that we accomplish or think we do, how much of that can be fit into a consistent picture. Now that sounds a little backwards to some (everything should be interpreted in light of our knowledge of God or of Physics, they believe) but much of our thinking these days about ourselves is a bit of a jumble, at least many philosophers do believe.

One last point should be added. A philosopher is also someone who has some knowledge of this tradition of puzzles, of the history of philosophy. And for the above definition of philosophy, as a big, broad vision of many things, a lot of philosophers have a wide range of knowledge or at least familiarity with many topics.

Some Examples of Philosophers and Accomplishments by them

In Buddhism, all the world is pain and illusion, and an enlightened mind is the solution to it. The Buddha is thought to have lived in India circa 400 BCE. I wonder what evidence there is for his actual existence?
With a Doctorate in Physics, Thomas Kuhn turned to philosophy to write his hugely influential book of the 1960s and 70s —The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. He argued successfully that even Physics has a complex relationship to Truth.
The famous French philosopher and scientist, Rene Descartes. He invented/discovered Coordinate Geometry circa 1630. Many philosophers have made contributions to Mathematics. Painting by Dutch portrait artist Frans Hal, 1660.

(Coming soon, Philosophers in Mathematics and Politics. What are philosophers? Some additional ideas.)

naturereligionconnection.org. Drawings by The Marvelous Marty.
Walking on by, and trying to make sense of it all!

A Return to the Garden, and “Dancing With the Daffodils”

(It’s Daffodil time in Central Ohio. Lovely to get a lot of sun so early, and get back into The Garden! The plants are responding beautifully. We needed this break in this difficult year. This is a revised post from one year prior; a post from near the beginning of this outburst of viral natural variation. May we soon see the end of it, but recognize our dependence on Things Larger Than Ourselves and our need to Take Care! )

IMG_5527 (3)
From The Backyard Sanctuary, Photos by GWW

In glorious disregard to the Corona Virus, the Daffodils are in bloom in Central Ohio!  An excellent example of how each Design in Nature is oblivious to some things, but very much concerned with others.  The daffodils feel the warmth, the moisture. It’s their time.  They spring forth and lighten our lives, and their own for a glorious week or two. I mean, It’s Glorious, and Wordsworth liked them, too (1815).

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud  (1815)

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Least I give you the wrong impression, The Virus is fading here in Ohio. We are experiencing about 1500 new cases a day and it has leveled at that point after consistently dropping for several months. Even better news is that hospitalizations continue to decline, possibly reflecting the increased vaccination of the most vulnerable. Our vaccination campaign seems to be going well and gaining speed. Teachers are vaccinated, my wife and I are, and so are many others. Many schools have just, or soon will, return to all in full time. (That will be interesting.)

And, Spring has come early. Returning to The Garden has been a joy, though the initial work there is rather grueling. What is it about me? I actually like crawling around on my hands and knees clearing out the old insulating mulch and revealing the fresh crop of spring babies. With my face in the dirt, I’m sure they feel my love! Ouch, did I just write that?

More of Wordsworth, ‘Dancing with Daffodils….’

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The Daffodils

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought.

Harnessing the Power of Chemicals to Serve the Purposes of Plant Design

But how is it, exactly, that the Dafs and other flowers know when to come up and when to bloom? Temperature, moisture, maturity of the plant, and light all play a part. The role played by light is important. Plants contain a protean called Phytochrome which has two states: P(red) and P(far red). Phytochrome is a photoreceptor and when days become longer and nights shorter, the red wave frequencies of light (660 to 730 nanometers) are absorbed more and more rapidly by the phytochrome which changes to a greater proportion of P(f-r). This signals the plant to new growth and new stages of growth, such as flowering. Some plants are short day plants, like the Daf and only need a small shift toward P(f-r) to get them flowering, and so bloom in the spring. Others are long day plants and need much more P(f-r) and for longer periods to develop maturity and then flower, like the Zinnia which is a late summer season bloomer. In the fall, with the shortening of the day, the portion of P(r) increases and the plant prepares for hibernation or the end of its cycle (death).

Interesting how the Red frequencies stretch from just beyond the orange frequencies at about 650nm to just short of 750nm which is Black. Far Reds are the highest frequency reds that appear nearly black to us. They occur just as electromagnetism transitions from visible light to infrared light and then microwave radiation. Far Reds are absorbed by plants even at night. Now that is a deep red!

But before the sun has a direct affect on plant growth it has an indirect affect through Temperature. Hormones in plants are temperature sensitive, particularly the auxins. Bulbus flowers such as the daffodil thrive in a warm-cold-warm cycle. During the cold, winter section of this cycle, the plant loses its resistance to the influence of auxin. Auxin has a growth inhibiting influence and by Spring, the bulb is ready to go. Growth occurs in the form of “an apical shoot”—apical, meaning apex—or a single growth upward from the bulb. At the crown of this shoot is the flower head which produces this growth inhibiting auxin that, at this point, radiates down the shoot preventing lateral growth as side shoots. Up the bulb pushes in the form of this initial stem until it breaks the surface of the soil and becomes available to the more direct influence of sun light.

Back to Bill Wordsworth…

Phytochrome and Auxins working well!

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Yes, “vacant and pensive moods” is what we have these days!  But the Dafs, the Hyacinth, the Forsythia and the little baby Columbine are here to help.  All in Glorious Disregard to that Virus! 

Hyacinth
Forsythia

Little baby Columbine

Going FAR RED ! At the naturereligionconnection.org. ———- TO THE EDGE OF THE VISIBLE SPECTRUM, and BEYOND! —–Drawing by Marty!

Jesus Christ and Social Justice

A 1493 depiction (woodcutting) of Lot’s wife turned to salt after defying the command not to look back. The Jesus of the New Testament was a lot kinder than the God of the Old.

A little controversy has been stirred up by a N.Y. Times columnist that I have long followed — David Brooks. I tend to like this guy; he is Big Hearted in spite of being a Conservative, of sorts. He is all about ‘restoring relationship’ and ‘mending the social fabric,’ my paraphrases of his positions. He tends to think that in the past (somewhere and some time) ‘we connected’ with each other and ‘nature’ better than we do now. We have “broken communities”, now; he has written.

That’s cool and suggestive; and he tends to take a psychological approach to such matters, where I a philosophical approach. He ends his recent and controversial article by writing, “On the other side of justice, we reach the beloved community and multiethnic family of humankind. This vision has a destination, and thus walks not in bitterness but in hope.”

But in this recent article (link above), he falls back on his religious belief, obviously. I knew he was Christian, that was evident at points in his columns. But it seemed a more generous and newer sort of spiritual nature, as if you could see him really getting into “Jesus Christ, Superstar.” Its a Left Wing Christianity, if you will, and this article was motivated by his interview with Esau McCaulley, a Professor of The New Testament (?) at Wheaton College and a member of The Times editorial staff (pictured above).

The article is pretty sappy with very religious language such as, “There is a relentless effort to rebuild relationship because God is relentless in pursuit of us“(my emphasis). But it made several interesting points, I believe; and this in contrast to much of the ire it aroused. In The Times (online), it received nearly 900 comments along with reactions from other media sources such as Professor J. Coyne (biology!) on his blog site.

Coyne called it another case of “religion coddling” by The Times, and as one of America’s most outspoken atheists, he had little to say for it except, of course, he too wants social justice. Other comments equally derided its religious stance as vacuous. A commentator from Shaker Heights, Ohio (up north by Cleveland), one Alexander Kelly, pounded home the frequently heard contention that the universe is without meaning; “no grand plan” exists for it. “It is absurd.” It contains “no teleology” and that is, in fact, liberating because it allows us each “to make our own meanings” for it! (Now that is a jumble of confusions as profound as any religious view, as I soon will soon demonstrate.)

My post will take a middle ground. No remotely literal interpretation of the Divinity of Jesus, or anyone or anything else, is acceptable in this day and age. Yet, religion and spirituality of many forms still exist and have done so since the beginning of The Evolution of Human Culture. Religion is not simply stupidity and fraud. To make sense of our world in a way that has the greatest benefit now and in the future, Religion should be understood as a “Natural Phenomena” (see Dan Dennett’s, Breaking The Spell). Religion arose naturally and functioned in some ways to our benefit.

“Venus” figurines dating back 35,000 years to Cro-Magnon humans living in Germany.
See post: “Folk Religion, The Strange Idea of...” and the other posts in that series.

(See —“Folk Religion” post series https://wordpress.com/post/naturereligionconnection.org/6061)

Religion, in the guise of “folk religion”, was a harbor for ritual and story-telling.; an accomplice in the formation of the original self-conscious human groups and in the basic discovery (or invention) of language and custom. I will go no further in telling this general story here, but will return shortly to some of the ideas I found interesting in Brooks.

Hey, It’s All Meaningless

But first allow me to return to some of the criticisms of religion and specifically that old bugbear “the universe is meaningless!” Of course, when people say this, they do not literally mean it. In their lives, and here on Earth, they find many things highly meaningful! Our above commentator cried, “all is absurd”, “there is no teleology”; yet, his very comments had meaning and the very statement he wrote had a purpose to serve and a goal to achieve: a Teleology. I assume he felt his statement was also successful in that, and therefore we can add, I believe, that Value exists along with Meaning in this not so absurd universe, after all.

What people mean when they say “there is no meaning”, is they have an Abstract Picture of Things in their Mind: long ago No Thing In The Universe found its situation meaningful. Well, of course, we would agree, and our commentator describes this situation long ago as ‘just billions of subatomic particles’ smashing and melding around into each other.

My point is twofold. First, this very Picture of Things is itself meaningful but for something that is, as if, sitting outside it, and viewing it from afar. Maybe nothing inside the picture experiences meaning (not those atoms, for sure), but we do and our commentator does. He finds this picture very significant, very meaningful, but from afar. As if he were God, looking down on It All, and All of it At Once. Or as if he were the Ideal Super Physicist, him or herself with total physical knowledge of All and of All At Once. So, for even this perspective, Meaning does exists, just not for any Real Thing In The Picture, only for some idealized thing and from outside that picture of everything as nothing but atoms and chemistry. This Picture of Things does Not succeed in getting rid of meaning. Meaning is real, but this Picture just puts it in a very awkward position.

Second, our commentator does not believe that Real Things can eventually develop, or occur only sometimes and only in some places. To be Real is to be Universally Present in All Places and at All Times, he believes! I do not know who made this rule (actually it was some faction in ancient Greek philosophy), but many believers in the Oppressive Significance of physics and chemistry take it as Gospel today. So, The Universe is absurd on these grounds, they believe; because meaning was not in it at the start, or in it everywhere. This is not a very useful, beneficial or coherent picture of ourselves and our situation especially to carry into the future. New Things can happen, including Meaning and Life and Language and other more complex realities. And New Things will continue to happen, maybe even some really good ones.

“Sin” is something Wrong that is more than just “a Problem”

Brooks and McCaulley advocate the use of the idea of “sin” to understand and heal some of our most profound social and personal ills. Many commentators were repulsed by this suggestion, but here is the sense I make of it. Killing someone in a fit of anger because of an act committed by them that offended you, is not a good thing. But it is not at the same ‘level’ as the almost arbitrary acts of mass murder that we now frequently face. Telling a lie occasionally is not a great thing to do, but lying all the time and doing so as The President of the U.S. and thus contributing to a massive and growing divide and distrust within the nation, is at a new level of malfeasance. And it is not simply a matter of size, number or frequency of these wrongs.

It is about gravity. There are some acts that shake, or strike at, the foundations of our human solidarity. They endanger the togetherness that functions to make us persons and components in larger-scale, language-using, highly interconnected society. These are “sins” because this fundamental violation strikes at the roots of our way of life. If these acts became more prevalent culture would crumble and we, we all, would return to nature as only animals (not the Culture possessing animals we are now.) That would be a loss of level, a decline in complexity.

The further value of this concept of “sin” (or of something similar; the young Karl Marx wrote of “Alienation” from our “true being”) is that in response to sin, “forgiveness” is most appropriate and effective, says Christianity according to McCaulley and Brooks. Recriminations, retribution and punishment are not what is ultimately sought, but Healing, Re-unification, and Conversion are. The sinner will accept their error and return ‘to the fold’ , so to speak.

Interestingly, in contemporary philosophy there are some similar contentions based on the analysis of modern Moral Language and in Ethics. Here, the point of punishment and recrimination is not merely retribution but the reformation of the perpetrator and their recognition of their former waywardness. As if a person in a state of hysteria is then slapped in the face, regains their composure, and then says “Thanks, I needed that.”

(Lot and his wife fleeing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, painting by John Martin 1852 [left]. A different “Don’t Look Back!” command [right], but this time given by Hades to Orpheus: ‘If you look back, Eurydice will be condemned to the underworld forever.’ Well, Orpheis did look back but Hades still let Eurydice out every spring and summer. I guess Hades is a softer touch than Yahweh, as far as gods go. Painting by Edward Poynter, Orpheus and Eurydice, 1862.)

Brooks and McCaulley contend that the Life of Jesus is exemplar of this forgiveness, modesty, love. After all, remember that McCaulley is professor of The New Testament, not the Old (where sin is dealt with very harshly by Yahweh). This is the ethic of self-emptying love neither revile the reviler nor allow him to stay in his sin,” Brooks writes laying it on very thick. Forgiveness and conversion avoid social justice becoming “as if group-versus-group power struggles are an eternal fact of human existence… (and) we all have to armor up for an endless war.”

But It Is Not God’s Love!

I do like that. Let us avoid a war of group against group fighting for priveleges and for the scraps of production, especially if that is to occur in the name of “Social Justice”. I, also, agree there is something ‘deep’ that tends to hold persons to persons; that is an obligation or a need not easily denied; that is a kind of ‘hidden connection’ yet maybe right before our eyes. But, that Reality is more a sociological, psychological and philosophical Truth, than a theological one. And to miss it, or violate it, is more than just your average mistake, more than to simply mess up: It is kind of “sinful”. It is a real basic violation of yourself and others.

Two of the earliest depictions of Jesus in existence.

(Known as “Bust of Jesus”, left, a mural on the wall of the catacomb Commodilla in Rome, painted in the late 300s. Right, painted on a wooden board around 600 C.E., “Christ Pantocrator”. Pantocrator is Greek, meaning “He who has authority over everything.” This painting is preserved in a monetary in Egypt, one of the oldest monasteries in the world. Both show Jesus with a beard, and this portrayal is thought to be a successor of the earliest versions that portrayed Jesus younger, beardless and with short tunic –more in the Roman style, and somewhat like an Orpheus figure as pictured earlier in post– for which there are few examples.)

Orpheus Taming the Wild Animals with his music. Floor Mosaic in Palermo Italy.
STAY CONNECTED and THANKS: the naturereligionconnection.org. Drawing by Marty

Finale: The Larger Forces at Work thru Persons; in The Cycles and Designs Series

(The work goes on here at The Connection. We are definitely trying to ‘frame some fearful symmetry’ with the completion of this Chapter. It kind of reads like a poem. The goal is to Accept the Concept of “A Person” and analyze the Kind of World it must have arisen in, and still have, to Exist! Think about it, A Person is not only a strange kind of object, but also a strange kind of animal and even a particular kind of Human Being. What is a “full-blown” Person? It is a peculiar kind of Design!)

(The Tree of Life has been variously depicted. But in most cases they embody a flourish of Continuous Design With Variation. Our newest understanding of it must encompass Human Cultural Products, as easily as it encompasses the nests of birds. [Left] Artistic conception of The Tree from the Palace of Shaki Khans, 17th century, Azerbaijan. [middle] Turn of the 20th century, famous biologist and naturalist E. Haeckel’s confusedly “Man” centered Tree. [Right)More accurate modern biological understanding. We must think that Humans make culture in similar ways that birds make nests.)

In this post series, we have climbed from the (not so simple) Self-Preservation of the Design of a single-celled creature in the creature’s survival and reproduction, to the prolific musical design production of J.S.Bach. The protozoan preserved its design very efficiently but it was “competent without comprehending what it did” (D.D.) Bach, by contrast, was the epitome of Self-Conscious, Premeditated, Intelligent Preservation and Creation of Designs.

(Progress in the preservation and creation of Design. Image two from WildImages.org; image three from UShistory.org: Thank you)

Following the arguments of philosopher Dan Dennett*, we contended that Designs are a form of Representation. They are both –at the same time– Concrete and very Material and also Abstract and very Ideal. Abstract, by having at their “core” some rules or laws or principles of their composure. Concrete, by being “given” to us with a hard, resistive and almost inscrutable “outward covering”. As such, it is a single thing, it is “An Object” to us; for example “an arm chair,” “my wife,” “Columbus Ohio.” We have come to know that these things possess, as if, a soft under-belly, an organization with parts. The chair has a wooden frame beneath its stuffing and cloth; my wife has a complex physiology not to mention her very complex psychology! The parts and rules represent the whole (the given thing) and the whole represents the designed parts (its ‘inner’ workings).

It is in “Mind” that all this Representation and understanding of Representation occurs. In part IV, we argued that Mind is ultimately A Human Culture establishing itself and creating its members that “work together” in very obvious but also subtle ways. “It” sees and reacts to “The World”, with much uniformity. “A Culture”, in that sense, is like a Single Organism! It is a mind; or at least, it is single minded.

We think of many things in this world as mind-like or mind-full. Especially, PersonsPersons should be Mindful; they should regard other Persons according to principle and rule, that is what we think morally. From the simplest Designs we see, such as trees or hurricanes, or the cycle of seasons, we intuit them as having rules —that “soft under-belly”. We intuit rules and order also for much more complex things, like ourselves and our adversaries —which may include even The Tyger that seeks to devour us. These are our intuitions, and they“bubble up” to us in Mind through the Cycles and Designs of Our World as Representations for our consideration, or so we have traditionally contended!

The Tyger, by Bill Blake

Bill Blake’s own illustrated version! (1794) Thanks to Interesting Literature.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

These are not strange ways to think! Several prominent theorists, including Dennett, have argued that our most common world view contains these ideas, or one’s similar. This is “the Manifest Image” we have of ourselves. It is in this commonly used vocabulary (really Without Exception used vocabulary), that we think of and regard ourselves as Persons, as Responsible for the things we do and make, and that animals are person-like, and there may even be a God (or gods), a kind of Super Person (or Persons) that is at the core of all this, as its point, maker, or inner meaning. This–roughly– has been a Universal Belief!

Back to Our Story

So J.S. Bach, himself, may have been a pawn in a larger game. We gave him much credit for his efforts —his studies, his output, his energy, his persistence. He was a very conscious, premeditated designer of music (see Post 5 in series). He worked hard and with deliberation, but his fate was beyond him, we will now contend.

He was born into a highly musical family with his father and several uncles all professional musicians. His own offspring undoubtedly benefitted from the transmission of supportive genes, as evident in the four that reached adulthood became noted musicians. But it was not only a transmission of genes, The Bach Family was a ‘hot house’ environment for musical productivity. It was an environment imbued with music appreciation and concentration, that really included not only the family but also patrons and organizations (the Lutheran Church) that fostered this creativity in Design.

Design With No Designer

Natural Selective Forces act even within human society! Bach and his music were Naturally Selected as worthy of “differential reproduction”, to use Darwin’s famous phrase. Our cultural sense of Quality in Designs was, and is, open to Blind Design Forces. Yes, says Dennett, and we here at The Connection concur. All Design arises from its environment and then awaits the acknowledgement or rejection of that environment. Was Bach really good, was Chuck Berry?

(WHO SAW ANY OF THESE COMING or WHERE THEY WERE GOING, or the same for any historical development? No one planned it all, no one knew the events precisely or even vaguely, no one knew if it would succeed, no one knew where it would lead: Chuck Berry in the late 1950s; teen-age girls swoon as The Beatles visit New York in 1964; Hippies in the year 1968; Women’s Liberation in 1970. All these were chosen to be of some greatness and significance but by an ‘unofficial vote’ with an indeterminate group of ‘voters’ and an outcome that was open. Hey, it just happened. It just seemed to be the thing to do!)

So, Who chose Bach’s greatness, and how? J.S.Bach was not phenomenally successful in his lifetime, especially as a composer. He was mostly noted as an organist and it was not until some 50 years after his death that his written compositions began to be more deeply appreciated by musicians and critics, and began to be Replicated at a faster rate. Today, they are Reproduced at a massive rate yearly and Dominant in our musical environment. Yet no musician, in the era of Bach or soon after, Chose Bach’s Fame. Each made an individual choice that had ramifications far beyond that individual act.

Dennett sites Herman Melville and his Moby Dick as another example of greatness that laid dormant for years until the commemoration of that authors 100th birthday led to Moby’s revival and soon immortality. On the other hand, Johannes Brahms was “wildly popular” in his own time.

Now these musical and artistic tastes —and the same for political ideas— are, of course, not genes. It normally takes extensive amounts of time for the Gradual Modification of Genes to work biologically and become effective in their entire population. But not so for “Memes”, a term adopted by Dennett from his friend and noted biological theorist Richard Dawkins.

Memes are the Basic Group-Held Signs and Organizational Structures (habits) that form “Mind” and Culture. They are shared Meanings and Methods, and in this way form a New Level of Human Interaction and Existence. And, they can ‘catch on’ widely, quickly, and without even clear meaning and motivation (in some cases).

(MEMES: from the very simple to the very complex. “STOP” signs around the world, this one in Cambodia; a meme with a simple meaning. What does the Mona Lisa conger up? Hard to say what associations are connected to it, yet it is widely recognized and acknowledged at a glance. A very complex and varied set of associations is tied to the Christian Cross. Good old “Mickey” is recognized all over the globe. Not all memes are approved of, but still deeply significant–the swastika. The atom, a science meme with many connections. But, memes do not need to be visually represented. The first few notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony–Da, da, da, Da — is one of Dennett’s favorite examples of an audio meme.)

Another very interesting example is the “Rationality” meme. No one really knows what rationality is, yet many of us invoke it all the time and even organize large portions of our lives around it! Is Rationality a certain set of neurons firing in the brain; the same set for everyone? Is Rationality a certain set of behaviors? Which behaviors could we agree upon, and then what would their definition be? Being “Reasonable”, we might say, but what is that? Here in this very series, I have argued that Reasonable is no more than “a Person’s” response-ability to give the reasons for their behavior and to care about other person’s reactions to those reasons. Or, is “Rationality” caring about “Good Evidence” for your reasons and beliefs. But what is the “good evidence”? So, we do not understand Rationality very well at all, yet it is Central to Our Way of Living especially in Our Modern Age! We hold this Meme of Rationality, and many of us hold it dearly!

Bubbling Up From Below

Let us say, then, that Memes are a way to Access, Interpret, and Share the neural activities in the brain of each of us and even the other physical forces that stretch far beyond us. These physical forces form our lives in a basic way at our widest range. Culture and its memes form a kind “down-loaded app” or a “user-interface” that is the context for us, as persons, to be in relation to our physical universe, contends Dennett. IT IS THE WAY NATURE IS TALKING TO US! Our ideas, emotions, and reasons “bubble up from below” as Representations of of ourselves and our world. Then, they are tested in the field of Memes already present in us and our culture. Or at least, this is what we can believe, ideally. It is an account of how Persons fit into the Universe.

Mother Nature’s Seal of Approval?

This is The Image We Hold of Ourselves, or at least in broadest outline. It has been cleaned up and developed in some ways (“reconstructed”) by Dennett, other theorists, even myself. At best, this is only my interpretation of these other interpretations. But “in broad outline” it contains the basic elements of “Persons” and their relations to “Things”, “Minds” in relation to “Matter”.
Culture and Personhood —and this “Manifest Image” of things — has been in rapid development for well over 10,000 years and with its birth –as incipient Culture– as far back as 40,000 years ago. That is not enough time to signal Nature’s Official Approval, her Genetic Selection; yet the human species has ‘Prospered’ dramatically in that time. This “Image” of ourselves has become “populated with more and more affordances, more and more opportunities to track, more and more things to do things with, more and more things –words–to use as tools…”, says Dennett. It has served many uses, including the opportunity to consider and reconsider our own Reasons —to Reflect on ourselves.

(In Reflection, we take ourselves to be An Object in the world capable of Manipulation and Re-Design. We consider and re-consider our own Reasons. Norman Rockwell, Girl at Mirror [1954], Pablo Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror [1932], John William Waterhouse, Echo and Narcissus [1903].)

From the vantage point of Design, we can at least say that so far, we have received Nature’s Evolutionary Endorsement. Our way of “seeing things” has worked! Our Proliferation is a sign of Nature’s Approval, and here, In These Blogs, we have tried to give it an intellectual defense.

But will it continue to work? Our manifest image is an awkward combination of physics, chemistry, biology, neurology, morality, economics, politics and poetry (among others). How it all fits together has been briefly suggested, but as we continue to shuffle these cultural cards, how they will play out in the future is still to be determined by processes that involve humans and human choices, but only indirectly. WHAT WE CAN MAKE OF “IT” (this World) IS STILL UP FOR GRABS!

(HURDLES TO BE LEAPED: Dictators, Industry and Pollution, Economic Imbalance, Religious and Sexual Discrimination, Dogmatism, War)

*These are, of course, my interpretations of Dennett’s position, along with other such philosopher’s of a similar vein. Richard Rorty, John Dewey, A.N.Whitehead are among that group. Dennett’s 2017 From Bacteria to Bach and Back is the work most specifically referred to in this post.

(Hurdle to be Transcended: THE OLD WAYS OF THINKING THAT DIVIDE THE WORLD and CULTURE INTO IRRECONCILABLE PIECES! Newton“, by the poet, artist and printer, William Blake (1805). “Newton is shown sitting naked and crouched on a rocky outcropping covered with algae, apparently at the bottom of the sea. His attention is focused upon diagrams he draws with a compass upon a scroll.” (Wikipedia))

The Tyger (final two stanza’s) , more Bill Blake!

When the stars threw down their spears 
And water’d heaven with their tears: 
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright, 
In the forests of the night: 
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Kunstformen der Natur by Ernst Haeckel. The Art Forms of Nature.

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