Is trying to understand “THE MEANING OF LIFE” getting a little tedious? In these times of Virus and Trump, that is especially true.
Introducing: the Nature Religion Connection “Readers Digest Version!” The best of the insights and jocularity of previous posts, served up in scrumptious bite-sized portions. I have not busted my ass all these decades reading this (good) crap — and thinking — just to make you, my readers, work so hard. Life is too short to read the same book ten times, my own experience exempted.
(Nika nibbled its edges; it’s splitting up the middle, and coffee has been spilled on it several times. Since my retirement from full time teaching, occasionally I have been subbing in a class when the teacher was insisting on “Close reading and annotation.” I pull this book out of my bag and display it to the class. Dumbfounded, shocked: that has been the general reaction. “Why would anyone read a book that many times?” PS. Darwin’s idea is “Dangerous” because it is so revolutionary, says Dennett.)
So, a new category of posts has been created, entitled:THE MEANING OF LIFE, in ten easy doses! I have been rereading some of the past posts and realized that I can now present various sections of them to make a particular point, and a point that is important. I want to thank my readers for their patience. Longer posts have been vital to me for clarifying my views, developing my ‘voice’ as a writer, and familiarizing myself with this electronic medium. Now is the time to pan for the nuggets and directly display the gold!
Check out this Category of posts: THE MEANING OF LIFE, in ten easy doses! How can you beat it? Only ten doses!Money back guarantee, if not fully satisfied!
(To anyone offended by my flip attitude, I apologize. “Dose 1” should probably be, “Don’t take The Title of this category of posts too seriously! —if that was what you were doing.” Especially in this time of great illness, joking about the meaning of life may not be funny. Sorry. But “Dose 2” might well be “Work hard at things you love, and things that are important; in the end, plenty of fun will be had.” NOTE, those two above doses are Not a good examples of the “doses” you will receive. The real doses will attempt to ‘Go Deep, Baby, Go Deep!’ They will be brief and convincing presentations on How We, and the World, Work or Should Work!At least, as best as I can see it.)
“Huston…The Eagle has landed” said Neil Armstrong. The Eagle, another creature designed to succeed not in “any”, nor even “the”, but “its” environment: The Moon. The Eagle’s designers knew just what Information it would have to be ‘sensitive to’ to Function Well!
Reasons in Nature
“There are Reasons in Nature!” says philosopher Dan Dennett. A hawk exists because it is moresuccessful at survival and reproduction through its ability to fly. That is its “justification”, and the origins of the Practice of Justification, itself. In general, Dennett calls theses kinds of reasons “free-floating rationales” because they are reasons without a reasoner; reasons not Represented in a Mind but are discernible in the design of the creations of Mother Nature.
In this sense, Natural Selection is “a reason finder” and has filled this planet with a splendid array of living things operating for, or by, one reason or another. And interestingly, since these are Reasons, there are more and less effective and efficient ways —rational ways — of accomplishing them. Natural Selection is not only “a reason finder” but also “developer”. This is the implication of Darwin’s “Dangerous” (read Profoundly Revolutionary) Idea, argues Dennett.
(Natural Selection has discovered Powered Flight four times; first in insects, then dinosaurs, birds and finally bats. It is a “reason-finder” and “developer”. The Reason these creatures survived was, in part. their ability to fly. That is there Justification.)
(Nature is full of Reasons. Gliding is A Reason these animals exist. Only Persons have Reasons AND are sometimes aware of them. But these creatures “do not do badly” in there own way: Bluntnosed Flying fish, Flying Squirrel, Paradise snake, Borneo Flying Frog, Gliding Ant, Flying Dragon Lizard are just a few of Nature’s gliding creatures. I do not know the approximate number of species that Glide, but each of the classes above have several different species that do. And this is not to mention animals that “parachute”.)
(A “ballooning” spider! Note the thin thread coming from its abdomen. Another way Mother Nature has designed a creature to “fly”. Natural Selection, through its mechanical process of trial and error, has sought and discovered this Opportunity too, and perfected it. It justifies this creatures survival.)
Objects that have a purpose exhibit design. They are —by definition — interrelated and interacting with “their” environment, Not just caused. Some biologists become nervous here, and insist that Design in Natureis only “apparent design”; it is “seemingly designed”. It is, as if, they say, “Things are not really put together that well.” They fear that a design needs a designer, or that “adaptionist” thinking and talk of “purposes” is Teleological — as if nature is striving for some goal. They think this kind of talk places the creature and its environment in too tidy a package. It give the Creation too much “say” in relation to Its Creator, ‘the environment’. It is insufficiently causal, contingent, and, therefore, ‘unscientific’.
But, there are many things that are really well connected: their parts are defined by the point of their design, and design ‘flows out’ into the environment! (“Huston, the Eagle has landed!”) We can say ‘designed objects are Caused by their environment’, but in our broadest attempt to understand our world and our situation in it, we must recognize that that is only a half truth and the seed for significant confusion. It is better to say, “The two Inform each other!”
Now I know some of you are finding this idea strange — reasons in nature –— but part of its point is to establish Reasons in Persons and then having a basis for it Naturally! What scientist does not respect good reasons? So let’s give them a natural foundation!
That is what we do when we think in the widest context; we want a lot of things to fit together. The reasons for our behavior and the reasons ‘in’ our consciousness MUST come from nature but also be true to themselves at there own Level of Complexity. To think that thinking is really a chemical or neural or physic’s process, that “thinking” is primarily caused by these, is what the famous American philosopher John Dewey called, “the modern one-sidedness.”
So, this world of ours, and this planet Earth is Not Devoid Of Rhyme or Reason. As lonely and foolish as it all may seem, sometimes; some of that is our fault. It is a failure of Our Vision and Thought and Heart. Reasons abound around us. As smart as we are, in some ways; oh, how far we need to travel!
Getting really wide and two-sided, here, at The Nature Religion Connection! Enjoy!
(Well, that is the first dose! I better ‘pick up some steam’ fore I only have nine more to go. But, you must admit, it was short! Looking to gain some momentum and to nailing down “The Meaning Of Life, in ten easy doses!”)
We are surrounded by Information! A modern, socialized, healthy, individual is incapable of making a ‘pure and simple’ observation. All our observations are culturally loaded and therefore informative to us in many of our predisposed ways. Biologist Jerry Coyne disagrees and maintains an outdated allegiance to what is called “Empiricism.” (http://whyevolutionistrue.com/2020/07/27/more-on-scientism-and-ways-of-knowing/)
I’m sitting in my living room and observe that “my couch is burgundy.” First, what is a “couch”? That is a loaded term, and I do not know when it became popular and useful. It designates a kind of “chair,” but no kind that many human beings would recognize or have used in the past. Maybe some of the few very elite ancient Egyptians and Romans had used something like our modern “couches” and would have more or less recognized it and understood it if standing in front of one today. But even today, there may be some cultures to which such a ‘chair’ would be quite alien.
And “burgundy.” Even I have to pause and think a moment, “what kind of color is that?” I’m not that good with color words: “fuchsia”, “chartreuse”, even “maroon” tend to confuse me and I have to think of their relation to more common colors to “picture” them. “Burgundy” is a kind of purple, or brownish red; but how different is it from maroon?
Words like “burgundy” and “couch” work like that. Individually, they have no clear reference to any one obvious thing in our environment that they “correspond to.” In fact, I’m contending that all our words work that way and that is why it is a myth to think that “observations” can be individual and simple and context free. Every observation is loaded with context and culture, that is how they “makes sense.” Culture directs our senses. Any one particular thing does not naturally jumping out at us from the crowd of all the things that naturally surround us. Our language is a network of contrasts and we use all these distinctions to identify any one thing “meaningfully.” It is our Culture and Society that train us, socialize us, to to live a particular way and notice and care about particular things.
Cultural Relativism and Biological Orientations
But here I am obviously getting into some trouble. I’m a Cultural Relativist so far, but now I am going to take this a step deeper. Some things do “naturally jump out at us.” Take a bird in flight or a young bird learning to fly. They almost automatically “know how.” It is built into their physical structure. Flying for them is a “know-how;” it is not a “knowing that” it involves many aeronautical principles and laws of physics.
Recently we have been watching some Wrens in our backyard nest in a bird house. The young birds are now starting to spill out of the nest, and I think “spill” is an accurate term. We have so far found three young birds on the ground and unable to fly. Yet, we see them flapping their little wings as if working at it, and I am trying to follow their progress. They are ‘biased’ toward flight. There is no “observation” that is not oriented.
Human infants, likewise, are biologically prone to respond to human faces, suckle, and learn language. These basic biological structures orient human infants. Later in life adult humans are also oriented in their observation and behavior by our cultural institutions. They are know-how. Our traditions of Art, Science, Religion, Law, Politics, Entertainment, and the Crafts, orient us daily. These Paradigms do change but it is a process more complicated than “observation”, “hypothesizing” and “testing,” the so called Empirical Method.
Dr. Coyne has a favorite example of this empirical method as he envisions it in its broadest form. After all, he contends it to be the basis of All Real Human Knowledge! His example is The Plumber facing a leak. He/she observes it, speculates, tries a solution. Did it work? And this is well enough, but no plumber brings to ‘the plumbing situation’ a claw hammer, nails, or an electric sander. They bring their plumber’s wrench and new washers. They bring their life time experience of plumbing going as far back as their toilet training and their daily experience of leaning over a sink and brushing their teeth. Plumbing is as much a “know-how” as it is a “knowing that” a wax toilet mount is needed or plumber’s putty. We all are far from any pristine innocence —and the observations that would bring— about the workings of plumbing.
(Reasons in Nature are then taken a step or two further by Persons: Natural Selection designed the Flying Javanese Cucumber and Northrop Grumman designed the B-2 Spirit bomber. Both are “flying wings” that use their entire body to provide lift. The seeds of the Java Cucumber are grown in gourds — seed pods — the size of a football. When released they can glide hundreds of meters in the rain forest. Photos and info from BU Bio-Aerial engineering course.)
Reasons in Humans
Humans have taken the Reasons in Nature and gone a step or two or three farther. Of course, we started in much the same place as the plants and fishes, and still do, as children.
Much of what children do well, is still “competence without comprehension”, says Dan Dennett. A child may use many words in simple situations — saying “doggie”, then point and go to pet — but still not ‘get’ the bigger and more subtle distinctions and elaborations necessary for broad and accurate use of that term. They may “take” a cat for a “doggie”, and that is to “mistake”. It’s our more sophisticated order of language pointing out and being misapplied, but heart-warmingly so. Birds and fish are competent without understanding, and– from our point of view– we can also contend they occasionally “mistake”.
Dennett calls these competencies “know-how”. They are “a way”, a way of doing or behaving based on a Design Approach. They are “an informational structure”— some “relatively simple” such as a single word, others very complex such as a language — and in this sense they are similar to “a software app”, and what biologist Richard Dawkins has called “a meme”. They are organized around a Reason in Nature, and they “cut nature at the joint”*, or at least cut into the more stripped-down and objective side of nature, in the way we do, to ‘see’ ourselves emerging from it. It’s the way we ‘see’ and understand “lion”, for example, as existing as part of a world composed only of subatomic particles and laws of physics. It’s like a complicated game of connecting the dots.
*”cut nature at the joint” is an old philosophy phrase, origin I do not know
(Leo the lion, or better Leona the lion, Emerging from the background. It’s the particular way we humans—with the help of Mother Nature and Natural Selection — have come to cut up the more objective background of the world into more Person-like objects. Of course, creatures from some other world will have somewhat their own way of doing it. This astrological map is only an early attempt at connecting the dots of life by humans, an effort that continues today with more reasonable attempts.)
“Being of One Mind”
Memes start simple,as something Persons can copy and transmitrelatively easily from one person to another, and then grow in complexity. What this eventually comes to is that when a group of persons share the same memes, we can say these memes inhabit their brains and these people are now of one Mind. These people now operate on many of the same presuppositions and in many of the same ways. They function together and exhibit a design. This is an explanation of Mind and Consciousnessnot as some new and mysterious kind of thing, but as a sociological and social psychological structure, an emergent property of groups of humans: “A Design for Enhanced Human Togetherness!”
Know-How is Different from Knowing-That
This “Know-How” is very different from scientific knowledge, which we can call “knowing that” in this case. We knowhow to speak our language, but that is not scientific knowledge of language, not knowledge “that” (as if pointing) certain parts of the brain are active or that certain neural patterns exist or certain neural signals are sent. That is more Theoretical Reasoning; this is more Practical Reasoning or the knowledge of how to be a person and function with other persons. Picasso certainly knew how to paint but was not in the least interested (I assume) in knowing that painting is associated with various neural processes and even must have some obscure relation to the laws of physics.
“Know-How” and Practical Reasoning are the knowledge of how to be a Person and function in coordination with other persons in their various traditions of acting (memes).
(“The Providential Environments“: settings in which we pass on the traditions — or Know-How — of Personhood. Korean folk dance, elementary school, family fishing, music concert, Philippine folk dance, mother and daughter cooking. All require Knowing-How, personal interaction and instruction, not Scientific Knowledge of Causes! )
Humans have honed providential environments (my phrase) to aide in the transmission, creation, acquisition and development of memes or know-how. These environments are “providential” because being in sync with them is constructive of us as complex things—what we call “persons”.
A school or a university –a place for education and creativity– is one of these “enhanced” environments. A family should be an environment that initiates the transmission of these memes of personhood: language, appropriate role playing, responsibility, common goals and coordinated behaviors. The arts, the crafts, sport — cooking — are all “know-how” and not primarily “knowing that”. “Knowing how” involves understanding and acting by the rules and traditions of a procedure. “Knowing that” is more objective; it can attempt to separate the doer from the object that is being worked on, and in that way can become what we call scientific knowledge. So, “Science” is itself a human “know-how” that seeks “knowledge that.” In that way, scientists can get philosophically confused about what comes first!
The Traditions of Know-How (memes) are the Reason in Nature that distinguish us from other animals, plants, and the planets. They are our unique Design of living together to create the Level of Complexity we call Being Persons! When we Act According To Our Design, we act with a limited amount of Freedom, Responsibility and Reason. We “act under the idea of freedom” is how the great German philosopher, Kant, put it.
(Dose 2 is some Mind Food to Chew On! That distinction between “Knowing How” and “Knowing That” is a killer. Science oriented people often don’t get it: Our lives as Persons and Cultural Creatures, Intellectually Precedes the theoretical finding of our sciences! Deep, Baby, Deep! Thank you, Dan Dennett. Stay tune for Dose 3. )
I’ve tried and, yes, I have failed. I have been unable to convey to others the issues and their significance as I see them. In recent conversations, and in the my daily statistics, I sense the fatigue setting in. A hearty band of readers have given me a chance and ‘the product’ has not sold.
Will I give up? I lay in bed the other morning and I told my trusty wife that I had no ambition to leave it. Of course, she laughed. I spoke to my trusty neighbor, Ray, and he confided to me that “no, he had not read recently. Too much like a lecture. Over my head.” My brother, Mark, “honestly, Greg, I don’t understand much of it.” And finally, this incident:
We were FaceTiming our four year old granddaughter, her mom —my step-daughter— and our son in law. He confided that he had been reading one of The Meaning of Life posts recently, but couldn’t get through it. He said, “I don’t have a degree in philosophy,” to explain his inability. My step-daughter quickly responded, “Neither does Greg.”
Now I do realize there are several ways to take this. I laughed, and said “That’s true.” But I did wonder, Why am I out here on this limb? I am no trained and certified philosopher. Why am I Trying To Explain This? Maybe there is Nothing to explain. Maybe there is nothing to offer! After all, Who is your Favorite Philosopher? You don’t have one? No shit! What do professional philosopher’s do? Are they like this little family that is inbreeding, just for the sake of making a few more philosophers, to fill a few more cushy university jobs?
But, I do feel that philosophy has something important to offer. And, I have no philosophical reputation or job on the line. For me, it’s been a persistent hobby, an avocation and not a vocation. I can say what I believe and hope, and what my readings and studies have led me too. No threatening ramifications, only that I may not be read or understood. Which is, largely, where I am.
So, what do I do? I ANNOUNCE A NEW POST SERIES: “PLAIN TALK: Philosophical Issues Hidden Right Before Your Eyes!” It’s goal will be to Introduce Issues of Curiosity to wet and stimulate The Imagination. Issues of philo significance in ordinary life and talk. I will Not try to solve them, as I have done in previous post series, just point in a direction to their solution. That may avoid some of the bog.
And I should say, not all philosophers have avoided ‘the fray.’ Dan Dennett has written books arguing against the existence of God, promoting Evolution, and even opening philosophical problems to common scrutiny —his book “Intuition Pumps.”
So, here I go again; trying to make ‘it’ transparent.
FIRST TOPIC: Why do we talk about both Brains and Minds? A Brain is that grey matter between your ears, but What The Hell is “A Mind?” Let’s try to point out why both these ‘things’ are real, like we seem to believe they are! That would be A Philosophical Issue Hidden Right Before Our Eyes!
See the following: “Why do we talk about Both Minds and Brains?” in PLAIN TALK: Philo Issues Hidden Right Before Our Eyes.
“Brain” or “Mind”? Wouldn’t just one do the trick? Isn’t this redundant? We know the Brain exists, but what the hell is your ‘mind’? Where is my mind? Oh yes, I know, “I’ve lost it,” But certainly that doesn’t mean, I’ve lost my brain. All the time, we talk of both Brain and Mind, but why?
We say, “Make up your mind”, but never “Make up your brain.” Do we ever say, “My mind has a disease?” Well, we do think of Mental Illnesses and even believe that Talking to someone may help it. What kind of real disease is cured by talking? But we do not say, “I have a mind ache; I need some aspirin.”
So what is the point of these two words and how do we use them? Are they ‘pointing’ to some ‘deeper’ issue? Is it a philosophical problem, right before our eyes? Could it really be ‘deep’?
Mind-talk goes back a lot further than brain-talk, though this post will not become a history lesson. An early and prominent belief by the Egyptians and Greeks was that The Heart was the site where thinking occurred. That is the ancient source of our phrase “to know (something) by heart.” For Aristotle, the brain was for cooling the blood, and because humans had bigger brains, they were not as “hot blooded” and thus more in control of their behavior than other animals. “Mind” for the Greek philosophers was close to what they called “Logos”, which was something like a transcendent logic or order or pattern that the ordinary things and events in our world aspired toemulate.
The Brain started to be understood as controlling behavior when early ‘doctors’ observed battlefield injuries to the head that resulted in aberrant movements in other parts of the body. The first anatomists, like Galen during the Roman Empire, discovered nerves running from the brain to muscles and organs throughout the body of animals. They thought of these as tubes or pipes carrying fluid (hydraulics) or air (pneumatics) to expand and contract the muscles, causing movement.
One of the early and most influential thinkers in this area was the French mathematician, philosopher and scientist Rene Descartes. He connected the Greek view with that of the anatomists. Mind existed and so did the working brain and they were connected through the Pineal Gland in the brain. The immaterial and transcendent realm —which took up no space or time — was in this way connected to our material and earthly realm. For a long time anatomists did not know what this gland did; Descartes hypothesized it did this extra-ordinary job!
Why did Rene go to these great lengths? Well, he liked the idea of the body as a hydraulic machine, but he didn’t see how the push and pull of fluid (or air) pressure could Explain logical thinking in mathematics or his own self-awareness. After all, he did invent coordinate geometry and during a war with Russia, as a young, cold and lonely soldier (so the story goes), he curled up inside an abandoned stove to stay warm and thought that the only sure proof of his existence was his self-awareness at any moment. Thus, his famous argument based on self-awareness: “I think, therefore I am.”
So let’s get to today, and to the point. Descartes is right in thinking that something like hydraulic-caused motions in the brain could not be An Explanation of the character and logic of mathematical thinking. The two are just too different. “You cannot get blood out of a turnip”, it is said. And that position remains true today even when we now know that Neurons are firing due to electrical charge. The things — neurons, electrical charges, and thoughts — are too different to have one thoroughly account for the other. We understand “causation” and “an explanation” most clearly when the cause and the the effect are very close to the same kind of thing, like one billiard ball colliding with another explains the latter’s movement. That is a Clear case of explanation. Neural firing ‘explaining’ geometric theorems, is not! The one may accompany the other, but logical mathematical thought is Really its Own Kind of ‘Thing’.
Let us expand this line of thought. It is not only “thought” and “self-awareness” that seem hard to explain mechanically, how about the simple experience of seeing “Red”? We are told that “Red is an electromagnetic wave frequency of 650 nm.” But is it really? Seeing red is associated with that frequency but ‘redness’, in itself, is not ‘electromagnetic-ness’ —so to speak; it is a color. It has A Unique Quality that is more effectively contrasted to other Colors, like green and blue, and we have talked, used and experienced “color” in this basic way long before we knew of electromagnetism. When my little grand daughter says, “pink is my favorite color”, she does not mean some wave frequency!
This is what Mind is, as opposed to the Brain. The “Mind” adds something new to ‘The Physical’. The Mind is how the physical is “taken by us”. Electro-m frequency 650 nm is Experienced As “red” or “rouge” or “rojo”. This then adds to the ‘realm of mind’, Language and it’s societal variations and “meaningfulness” is a product of Mind, not of Brain. The Mind is The Having of a Particular Point of View — French, Spanish, Medieval Western, Ancient Egyptian, Modern Western, Islamic ways of living. It is ‘a take on things’, as seeing ‘red’ is Our Representation of the electro-m frequency of 650. The Mind makes “Representations Of” the occurrences in life. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the Occurrences of Life do Not ‘strike us’ all in the same way. Different Cultures and different Times have different “takes”. And interestingly, we all kind of know this, but are unclear of its implications. And the implication is, “Mind” is real and important; it is different than “brain”.
The Brain, it adds nothing new. The brain’s activity is one more additional set of physical events — though admittedly an increasingly complex set — that is hooked into a long line of causes that, really, can be said to originate with The Big Bang. It is a rather vulgar simplification, but still essentially true: this chain of causes is like a long line of billiard balls, one hitting another, hitting three more, and so on, and so on, and so on, to today, to us. For this Point of View, things are a collection of billiard balls (atoms) that have electrical charges, that are forms of electromagnetism that electrically stimulate visual receptors that electrically stimulate neurons…that send an electric signal to the muscles of the vocal cords, tongue, mouth and lungs and ‘sound’ is emitted. In this context, if we then say, “It is red” or “C’est rouge” and think of the experience of red as color,we are making a mistake. We are Not being consistent! What comes out of our mouths, in the physical terms we have been using, is not words that have meaning, but sound waves with varying frequency, volumes and speeds; in other words, more physical stuff! Only what we have traditionally called “The Mind” ‘takes’ the physical and hears and sees and understands it as ‘words’ with ‘meanings’ and an ‘experience’ that they are ‘about’. “I see red”, we say and we mean it!
So, we need both these concepts, Brain and Mind, because we have two widely different sets of objects and experiences that we have traditionally classified in these two different ways. And the stakes are large because on the Mind side of this spectrum lies our supposed ability to be Free and Responsible. But, I have not really been very clear about what ‘The Mind’ might be. If it is not The Brain, then what the heck could it be? I do Not want to make it too mysterious. I don’t believe it is God, or even Immaterial. So?
I think it best to stop here for now. I believe we have opened up A Philosophical Issue that is In Plain Sight and Significant. In the following PLAIN TALK post, we will discuss “Mind” as understood historically and what I believe is our best shot at understanding it sensibly now.
(Dose 3 out of ten, in THE MEANING OF LIFE series! “Don’t break The Rules” we are often told. Well, I ‘fudge’ on my taxes, a little bit, sometimes; I’m not always completely truthful with my wife, that is true; but here are some rules so deeply embedded in Our Personhood that it would shatter the foundations of civilization to push their limits. This is An Excerpt from a previous piece Freedom 5: Reasons in Persons, in the Freedom and the Environment series …
…And we are not just talk’n grammar here! At stake is the meaning of “meaning” ! This is the way we, Persons, distinguish ourselves from our animal background, from our larger biological background and then finally from our inorganic background. It is the way “selves” distinguish themselves from non-selves. Memes are “informational structures” or “Designs” that we “act in accordance with” to emerge as more complex realities!)
“Language is possibly the primary form of meme, writes Dan Dennett. “Doggie”, “cat’, “Ma Ma” and quite a few other words, when a child points and says these, the child eventually begins to ‘notice’ that‘all things have a name’, and language acquisition really picks up. They are now ‘getting the point of language’, as a Directed Order—an order with a purpose.
Now, is that a fact, or is that a rule, that “all things have a name”? That is kind of a silly question, like the chicken or the egg. Silly because it’s both. It is ahigher level fact and a rule that only leads to more facts, more questions and more designations. It is one of the rules and facts of language-doing, that know-how.We have now “gone meta“. It is akin to asking, “What is the way to fly?”
Rules of Communication
A huge step is this next one. Somewhat like in a child, in the history of communication early “kinda-persons” not only noticed the devices, but “noticed that they noticed them”, argues Dennett. Now, some of their attention went not only to the immediacy of the communication (noticing ‘words’) but to the devices being used to do it (noticing that they noticed these new ‘things’), that know-how. ‘Soon’, came not only words, but a word for “word”, a word for “gesture”, for “song”…and with that … what?
It was hugely important to have objectified this process, this know-how of communication and being together. It was when these “unwitting communicators” (Dennett) probably ‘discovered’ or noticed and named that I was an “I”, you a “you”, and we a “we”. Of course, these concepts of “I”, “you” and “we” were already “implicit” in the initial communication situation, but without our explicit recognition of them.
Just like ‘the logic’ of flight was implicit in nature and eventually discovered by natural selection, so modern day philosophers have tackled this other problem, like aeronautical engineers: the structure or design of “communication” or “the communicative situation”. Like any good design, it certainly has one.
(True and Honest Communication is the Basis of All Communication. Deception, lies, misinformation are all parasitic upon Honest Communication. If everyone lied and lied all the time, communication would fizzle out. An Astounding Contention! But true! Ritualized in the human practice of Oath-Giving.)
A large quantity of literature has grown up around the contentions of H.P. Grice and his Theory of Meaning, starting in the late 1950s to late 80s, explains Dennett. The core of his ‘discovery’ is that Communication necessarily involves a Three-Way Sharing of Attention, Goal, andAct, a sharing of presupposition and intention. One, the speaker must intend to invoke a certain response in her audience. Two, the audience must recognize that intention in the speaker. Three, the audience’s appropriate response to the speaker is at least partly prompted by their recognition of the speaker’s intention and their willingness to go along with it. It’s like telling a joke;the teller and the audience must all get that it is a joke and want “to go along with it”.
(Going Meta: Jokes about jokes! You are probably already ready “to go along”.)
This Three-Way Sharing closes the circle on itself! And, as Dennett points out, it is a “virtuous circle” as opposed to an uninformative one. Like every good design, it defines its parts and their functions in relation to each other and their goal. In this way, they establish a bit of isolation from ‘outside’ influence and establish the Freedom to define themselves and an environment in their terms — “I”,”you”, “we”, “speaker”, “audience”— to an important degree. It is what every plant and animal and forest Does, implicitly As An Agent; it Functions within its defined limits. It is not only an Order, but a Directed Order within the emergent domain of Life!
We raise our children to be”our kind of individual”. And somewhere in early history, somewhere as far back as the dawn of group hunting, or the domestication of fire, this process of human coordination became a necessity to these new humans; it was an adaptation that worked. And natural selection began to select for it, and even select for adaptations that facilitated it, like lengthening infancy and the white’s of our eyes that aide gaze-monitoring as opposed to the dark eyes of other primates. Communication was now a necessary “good trick” for successful human groups.”
End of excerpt.
So,IT’S THE MEANING OF MEANING! Persons are Designed to be closely aware of each other and to work together Fundamentally! NO “PERSON” ORIGINATES SINGULARLY; PERSONS EXIST ONLY IN COOPERATING GROUPS: “WE PERSONS”!
(“Dose 4” in The Meaning of Life, in ten easy doses series. If you have already read this, read again: improved, clearer, revised!)
This is a “DEEP ONE!” Well, at least tries to be. See what ya think. I will keep it short and sweet, so not to “cause” undue stress in my readers.
I believe that “cause” is the right word to use in this situation, Be-Cause anxiety is notwhat I intend to communicate in this post, nor would it be what my readers intend to participate in — in this communication situation. Stephen King intends to — Means To—communicate Anxiety and his readers are eager to understand that meaningand go along — get anxious. Of course, I am no Stephen King. (See Dose 3 for more on Communication)
The real post starts below.
Reasons can be Causes or Meanings
The “Reason” for an occurrence is not always a cause. The reasons for the behavior of Designed things are in the design. Those reasons are called Information, or are information To the designed thing. From its Point of View information exists; from more Objective Points of View, ‘Information’ becomes Causes. In “Dose 2” this distinction was in terms of “Know How” and “Knowing That”.
To ‘see’ information is to experience the world “from the ‘inside’.” To understand “causes” as the cause of an experience is to consider that experience “from the ‘outside’.” (For more on this “inside/outside” distinction, see “dose 5”, upcoming.)
(To this Hawk, Wind is not a Cause, it is Information! But if this bird were stuck in a hurricane, that wind would be beyond its Design Parameters and therefore a cause.)
Information is Meaningful
It is important to recognize the difference between Information and Causes because —– well, for example, right now we are Acting within our Design by Communicating. To communicating creatures, Meaning exists and it is Information.
I am not trying to cause you to change or amend your belief; I am trying To Inform You, Convince You, to change them. That means, in this case, I am trying to get you to Re-Interpret your Design (your ‘program’ or ‘worldview’) and thus behave differently. When the Blue Jays in my backyard start squawking and other birds scatter, we can say the calls caused them, or the calls had meaning to those birds—“Danger, neighborhood Kestrel Falcon is coming.” Now to the birds, it probably doesn’t matter what We call it, but to us it does.
“Meaning” is a more subjective thing, and that isgood because, philosophically, I want some “subjective” things, like Points Of View, to exist in nature and reality. I want both “Know How” and “Knowledge That”. Compatiblist’s Theories argue for both meanings and causes. Logically, it seems to us— compatibilists—that if there is only Causes Then ‘things’ like points of view and other subjectivities do not, logically should not, exist. (Well only one P. of V. and that will be mentioned shortly.)
For example: If all I cared about was Causing you to change your belief, more options would be open to me. I could lie to you; I could slander you; I could threaten you; I could capture you and torture you, but all that I will not do because it would be Wrong, Morally wrong. At the Level of Design of Persons that is not permitted (probably because in the end, such behavior is destructive of the organization of behavior at that level — it leads to “a war of all against all”, a lower level of designed togetherness).
(Artistic movements and their Great Painters help us to ‘see’ the world differently. They help us be Persons. The ideas of Design, Meaning, Information and Interpretation explain this power of art; Not the idea of Cause. To the “science above all else” philosophy, art is fluff, mere opinion and emotion, not any kind of truth, or basic reality. Above is Monet — “Young Girl in Garden…”, Picasso — “Woman with Blue Hat”, Dali— “Sleep”)
In reality, every Designed Object ‘looks out on’ the world in sort of its own way. It has a point of view. A bridge, a bird, a computer running a program, a person: All ‘consider’ what is most “meaningful” to them, most important to their functioning, and ‘ignore’ much of the rest. Each has its own vital parameters and ‘sees’ “Its World” in relation to them. “Its world” is that which is within its Design. It is its “take” on the world, and the source for the “mistakes” that can sometimes occur for a designed object. These objects have Information that is Meaningful to them.
So, in the end, I should say that A Reason (for something happening) has two important forms. It can be a Cause and it can be a Meaning. If all the world were causes, then I think the most real thing is physics. Here all the universe is so tightly tied together as particles or a quantum wave (as Sean Carroll called it: “a very sparse universe”) that the only way to “see/”understand” it, as such, is from outside the universe, from the aloof —God-like— position of the scientist. That is the only P. of V. it allows. No “out looks” exist within that universe, no “takes or mistakes”, no meaning or functioning, and the only Information that exists is the patterned necessity of the one object, the universe itself, as it exists from afar to ‘the scientist’ as some kind of disembodied ‘understanding’!
Compatiblist philosophies want to try to get Points of View into the universe. They believe that, in our more subjective world —‘the world seen from The Inside’ — many things do Function; Things initiate much and that according to their Design. And that includes you and I, dear reader, we can have a chance to share ideas and disagree, even if that is all that it ever comes to. We are dealing in meanings, here; those kind of Reasons.
This Universe is Meaningful! There is more to life than Movement!
The Ult Physical Reality is a ‘Dull’, All-Encompassing, Backdrop.
William Wordsworth: "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" 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;... ...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.
(This post has been difficult to write. These are murky but important topics. Trying to write Plainly about them has been a worthy challenge. Soon, even more difficult issues will be faced, like the Causal Relations between Matter and Mind, but not yet. That resolution is fairly strange: “Freedom and Responsibility” will exist in spite of our inability to push around atoms and other such objects. This post will help to set the stage for that conclusion.)
Today most of the mystery has been drained from the world. I mean, after all, isn’t it all up to Science? We just have to wait and scientists will explain it. Nonetheless, l did go to a local mega church a while ago and finally we , the congregants, were all standing with our arms and hands raised “to the Lord” and I was trying to “feel his presence” but I guess my tuner was not quite set right and whatever signal I got was hard to understand. Maybe I was just nervous or had a bad vacuum tube, a clue as to how old I am.
Yet, in our regular life, we continually speak of “The Mind” and have no clear reason to do so. Why don’t we just say, “I haven’t made up my brain, yet”? Or, “I can see it in my brain’s eye.” I contend that Life is more mysterious, and even awesome, than is commonly accorded, and this without proposing gods, new wave nonsense, or superstition. The Mind, though often mystified, is very real and important to us.
The Tradition of Mind
In the previous post I tried to establish that Mind existed and was more than the brain. The Brain is physical and adds nothing new to a long series of physical events both before it and after it. So, traditionally, Mind was thought of as Non-physical; it was Immaterial and Transcendent — “above” the ordinary world. It was not only able to exist on its own, but was Original and Creative; it added new Qualities and Abilities into the physical world. The Idea (from the Greek “eidos”) was the Essence and Goal “sought” by each kind of thing in our world, thought many Greek thinkers. Plato argued that this Realm of Ideas was then unified by, or culminates in, The Ideas of The True, The Good and The Beautiful. The Ideal is what we (and all things) aspire to; for this point of view, Nature has direction and value, and I will argue that is true.
This Ideal World of the Greeks became the Mind of “God” for Christian Theologians. God was Pure Mind and the source of the positive Meanings, Rules and Purposes in Life. Mind was a “guiding Light” in the material world of “darkness”. It was The Right Way of Seeing Things,the true perspective from which to understand it all.
Revising Our Terms
It may be surprising to some that I will contend that much of the above is true, or at least a defensible belief, after revision. In any holistic philosophy, like this one, the meaning or understanding of a thing or a belief can be redefined or re-aligned in relation to the other beliefs that make up The Whole Unit of beliefs or things. It’s like looking into kaleidoscope and then shifting the pattern just one little twist. All the pieces are still there but now their pattern is a little different.
So,to improve our understanding of Mindis to shift our definition of it but also our understanding of many other major ideas. For this kind of philosophy, What is True is the most consistent set of beliefs, the Most Coherent Way of Life. What is true is Not what “Corresponds to Reality”. In our history, few societies have ever let “Reality” get that far astray. A coherent way of living will ‘automatically’ “correspond”, or it will not be selected. Differently stated, this position simply argues that ‘there never was a (totally) false belief’, only better beliefs that came after it and replaced it. (This paragraph is itself, obviously, a major and controversial insight, “a philosophical issue Hidden Right Before Our Eyes” that may be the topic of a future post.)
What is at stake?
So, before we start revising of our beliefs to make room for a modern understanding of Mind, let us consider why the issue of mind is important in its relation to the Matter.
Mind is where we attempt to control ourselves and have responsibility for ourselves. This starts very simply with statements like “I see red” and “I dislike broccoli.” In each case we make clear that something is happening to me; I have a certain ownership of an event. This gets more significant when we say something like “I killed him in self-defense.” In this case we are not only taking ownership of an event, but giving a Reason for our behavior that is meant to be a Justification. Even when we say “I see red”, if such a statement is out of context, others may rightly ask for Justification. This kind of talk only legitimately occurs in its appropriate setting of Mindful Behavior. It is not part of the Vocabulary of Science. To say in a Court of Law, “I killed him because my self-defense pattern of neurons were firing” would be of no help to you. You need to give more mindful and responsible talk to fill out the story, to meet our socially accepted criteria, like “he had threatened me before”, “he reached for the knife.” Even the Experience of Redness, as a Color, is not part of science; we will demonstrate later.
So, the stakes are high. Mind is where Red is Red— the color, and not neural firings or a particular wave frequency. My dislike of broccoli is the shudder I feel when I taste it (not a bunch of chemical reactions in my mouth) and my commitment to avoid eating it. The stakes are high because Mind is where, in today’s world, the things we Perceive, Live With, and Use are simply what we say and experience them to be. They are Not Really or Primarily something else. They are Not Scientific Objects and Laws; they are Human Cultural Objects and Our Reasoning about them. These two Perspectives — science and the rest of culture — display, for us, what is most reasonable to think of as two different “Levels” of “Emergent Reality”.
The “hard sciences” have done a bang-up job of describing our world and ourselves in terms of the Causal Relations of Objects not directly apparent to us in our ordinary lives. But, science is itself a part of the Larger Cultural Context where children are Socialized to speak language, accept Roles in society, and consider and reconsider (Reflect Upon and Justify) both themselves and other Persons within the various ways we interact. Science “pictures and gives us reasons” to believe in its hidden but real world. The rest of Our Culture and Society “pictures and gives us reasons” to raise persons to do many things, including be scientists, and to believe “the world” to be many ways and many different things. The latter — Culture and Society — are Mind, and the former — Science (it’s doing and findings) — is both Logically and Chronologically dependent on Mind, on the rest of Culture and Society.
And speaking of ‘stakes’, if you are savoring the taste of a juicy steak, that unadulterated enjoyment is in the realm of mind. If you are learning Geometry, that form of logical discussion and demonstration is Mind. If you are apologizing to your wife in a heart-felt or even deceitful way, both those are still Mind; you have other mindful motives and details around your apology to buttress it and to give it its appropriate and unique context. If you are trying to understand the meaning of this post, that is Mind, not causation. If you are explaining why you support Donald Trump, you do not say “…because I am not an educated person and I am a White American who feels insecure”, that is a dismissal of your Mindful Belief of Support, a dismissal in terms of causes. You instead say, “Because he will make America great again!”
Mind is what makes lifeworth living, or even why life may feel so bleak. Matter and Science give us an account of the physical conditions of existence but adds no salt or pepper to it. Physics can, in principle, explain all the movement in the universe including ‘our own’,but it is only Mind that Represents This or Adds the Perspective that includes a rich array of Quality and Value to this movement.
Heck, from our point of view, Mind is what ‘connects the dots’ that even puts “us” — as persons with feelings and reasons — in the universe, let alone makes it seem interesting in relation to all our other concerns. For physics and chemistry, “we” are a collection of molecules driven by its relation to every other molecule in the vicinity, or some indiscernible relation to The Universe as one massive and timeless quantum wave. For physics and chemistry you and I don’t really exist in any clear way. We are dissolved into the massive background of universal causation.
What “Transcends” matter and is “Immaterial” in its larger organizational character is our Human Societies and Cultures. This is what Mind is; it is the participation of individuals in these encompassing social and cultural units. Mind is our Representational Facilities like language, art, craft, politics, religion and science that each culture has developed and carries forth. Mind is our society and each of us Functioning in its terms.
This is Mind, or what we should now come to understand as Its More Limited Character. It is one Culture by comparison to another culture; or, on a smaller scale, one person’s perceptions and beliefs compared to another’s. ButMind is also an Ideal for us; it is the ideal of An Overall and Unqualified Correct Perspective. In this sense, Mind is like the idea of the perfect circle (which is Never made actual in our imperfect world), or the ideal chair (that “chair” that all worldly chairs are like); it Transcends all our individual beliefs (or instances) and brings us to seek Unity and Coordination among all lesser perspectives and objects. (More on “The Ideal” circle or chair, later.)
Science has progressed nobly toward this Ideal of The One-Overall-Correct Perspective. Unfortunately, it has had to strip out all the more complex Qualities of ourselves and our world to do so. Philosophy is science’s equally universal, but far more empathetic, “counter-weight” or Perspective. A good philosophical position seeks an overview that includes the most complex Qualities and Abilities that we ‘see’ in ourselves and our world.
This is why we should accept Mind as real and important, and understand it as Our Human Cultures and The Goals they have come to seek. The Philosophical Position I am trying to advocate supports itself, and all our rational and representational efforts — including the doing of science itself — by presenting Evidence and Reasons as real things. Ironically, in the universe Science tries to show us, “evidence” and “reasons” don’ t exist. “Mind” is real because it is where and how we do all the things we ordinarily love and hate to do. If we take the Scientific View as our starting point, we need to say, “Mind is the Emergent Reality, for us.”
(The other night I awoke with thoughts running through my head. A prominent one was, “Who am I to try to tell others the meaning of life? How presumptuous!” And as I thought about that, the poem below started to take shape.
“Presumptuous” derives from the word “presumption”, it occurred to me. There are two distinct senses; one, “arrogant”, “disrespectful”, “transgressing the limits”; two, “an idea that is taken to be true, and used as the basis for other ideas, although it is not known for certain.” Like ‘the presumption of innocence’. It is this second sense that I am shooting for, narrowly avoiding the first, I hope.
PRESUMPTION Silly of me
to be so presumptuous,
to think I could tell you,
On a topic as this,
at a time so dire,
I do dare aspire:
I hope to help,
but for nothing else,
it seems least we should do,
me and you.
The thing we call life,
it presumes so much,
you talk and me too,
and rightly we do.
What else would make sense,
what better to do?
What lies below?
Let us strive to know.
(Just warming up, here at The Natie Rel Connection. “Dose 5″ in “The Meaning of Life, in ten easy doses” series, to be Published Soon. Its the half-way house in our journey, so I figured I should make it a good one, or try really hard.)