Every time the President says this election is “rigged” against him, he should lose more and more of the confidence and respect of his Republican Party backers. That is, or should be, one of the mortal sins of American politics. Our nation is idolized around the world for our electoral process. Following World War II, American foreign policy was based on the foundation of promoting democracy, or at least opposing communist totalitarianism. Mr. Trump says it’s a lie, that we don’t even have democracy here at home. By doing this he is tearing at one of the pillars of our greatness.
And there is no significant evidence that such a claim is true. Mr. Tump, himself, beat the odds in 2016. He beat the wife of a former president. George W. Bush beat Vice President Al Gore in 2000. Ronald Reagan beat Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980. Why was not “the fix in” in all those cases? Mr. Trump’s own Director of the FBI just testified on Capital Hill that there is no evidence of organized ballot tampering, now or in the past.
President Trump’s contentions that he will be cheated of a victory is a deplorable tactic. It degrades our nation and makes him less and less a true proponent of the American people and the many achievements that is our historical legacy. When he suggests that he may not leave office if defeated, he is suggesting treason, and he has been rebuked for this by several prominent Republicans: Senators Romney and McConnell. So, you may support Mr. Trump for many reasons, but on this score, you should tell him to stop talking such garbage.
What to say or do in the current American political situation?
We Americans are fortunate to have a solid democratic tradition. We can debate and disagree about politics, put different signs in our yard, go and vote, or even just ignore the whole thing. But this year, and this Presidential Election, seems different.
The stakes are higher than ever! Obviously we are plagued with this virus and it’s economic consequences. Obviously our lives have been and still are hugely disrupted. This past two weeks I have returned to teaching at a high school that has classes at less than half the normal size with the student body divided into three groups. One group comes to school Monday and Tuesday, another Thursday and Friday, and a third group has chosen to only work online from home. Sporting events have restarted but with no on-site spectators or only a few. My wife and I have eaten at a restaurant (on their patio) one time in six months! Things are very different and that is true in politics too.
I used to involve myself in a lot of political conversation. I often go door to door working for Democratic Party candidates. I have trained door-to-door teams and my wife and I have sent them out and coordinated them from our home. When substitute teaching, the topic often arises especially in social studies classes. In that situation I generally and carefully play ‘devil’s advocate’ to contentions made by students advocating various positions. With my wife’s brother, a very committed Republican, I was once able to carry on a polite, informative and ongoing conversation about politics, but no more.
The current Republican President, and candidate for reelection, has changed all that. (Well, kind of. Actually I believe that our election of Barack Obama, a black man with a different kind of name and a political progressive, scared right-wing Republicans and a portion of the population that feels itself threatened and ‘marginalized’. That is what gave Mr. Trump his opening.) Mr. Trump’s Politics of Fear, Denigration, and Division has made conversation very difficult, very tense, and easily nasty.
It is probably of little value to argue (debate) with most Trump supporters! In general, I have tried to point out the factual errors in many of their contentions, and this especially with his younger supporters at school. But with his adult supporters, I feel it is almost like a personal psychological affliction that leads many of them to their support of that psychologically disturbed man. Often discussion has come very quickly to, something like, “Boy, do they have you fooled.” And we each say this to the other! They believe I am ‘the sucker’ for believing “main-stream media”, and I believe they are sadly mistaken and kind of crazy for believing so many conspiracy theories and “alternative facts” (i.e. Fox News). It can even come to them regarding all progressives as Evil, and I being deeply concerned that many Trump supporters are racists, xenophobes and potentially violent.
This is scary! This very seldom happened when Republicans ran far more respectable and principled candidates like John McCain or Mitt Romney. Though let us not forget, Republicans do often turn to fear tactics to motivate their base which is — beyond many of The Wealthy who simply want to make more and more money — predominantly racially white, religiously conservative Christian, and many of them not well educated. Mr. Trump actually has said, “I love the poorly educated.” Please, Donald, let’s try Not to make that a virtue, but he does!
Our Democracy is RealandThe Two Things I have Decided to Insist Upon
So, what to say in this unfortunate situation? Of course one could say many things, and most would lead quickly to hostility; but I will try to keep the conversation going by trying for two minimal points. First, I will propose that Mr. Trump is doing us all a disservice when he says, “If I lose, it is because the election is rigged.” After all, one of the spectacular realities about our country is that Our Democracy is Real.
When Trump surprisingly beat Democrat Hillary Clinton — the wife of a former president — in 2016, that election was not rigged (though the Russians did interfere and did coordinate with the Trump campaign to an unacceptable degree). When Republican George W. Bush beat Democratic Vice President Al Gore in 2020, in one of the tightest elections ever, that election was not rigged (though the voting situation in Florida left much to be desired). When Republican Ronald Reagan beat incumbent President Jimmy Carter in 1980, that election was not rigged. No real evidence exists that our system is not overwhelmingly legitimate!
When Donald Trump casts doubt on the legitimacy of the American Electoral Process he desecrates (or even defacates) upon the very foundation he stands. For even Trump supporters, and those opposed to him, that is A Tactic that should not be tolerated! That is Not “Making America Great Again” nor will it “Keep America Great”!
SECOND, I am going to resist the claims that “All politics is dirty” and that “All politicians are crooked”. I usually do give some resistance to those who propose this as a self-evident truth, but this election cycle I will simply oppose it outright. It is not true, and Donald Trump has made it shockingly clear that in comparison to him, ManyPoliticians are Downright Saints! Mr. Trump has taken modern American politics to an all-time low and should not be allowed to continue. If you don’t see that, you haven’t been watching. Saying “All politics stinks” is too often laziness and a neglect of responsibility. In this election, that easy way out should not be accepted as legitimate for any American.
This point has also been made very clear to me by one of our own local politicians, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. He is a Republican and I have never voted Republican in my entire and long life. But, Mr. DeWine is a sincere and honest Public Servant! I do not agree with him on some very important issues like woman’s rights to abortion and often tax policy, but this man has impressed me and my wife with his honesty, courage, effort and intelligence in these very difficult times. He has run our state well –often in opposition to many in his own party– during this pandemic and following the tragic mass shooting that occurred in Dayton, my home town, in August of 2019.
DeWine is an old school Ohio small town practicing Catholic who has remarkably remained open to the goodness of most people and to the honor of service. As Senator, he went to the funeral of every Ohio soldier killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he did so without publicity and from his sense of obligation. Early in his political career his eldest daughter died at 21 in an auto crash. She had been involved in an orphanage and school in one of the poorest areas of Haiti, and in response to her death the DeWine family has taken responsibility for that school through donations, fund-raising, and many personal visits to the site. These are not commonly known facts about him; he does not publicize them. He is the polar opposite of that bag of self-aggrandizing wind, President Trump.
So this year, once again, I am gearing up to campaign and to discuss politics! The sign is in my yard; I have been in conversation with the local Biden campaign; I have already been discussing it some at school with students. There are two points I plan to push hard: one, Mr. Trump does Every American a Disservice when he attempts to de-legitimize our electoral process, and two, not all politicians are crooks, and certainly not to the degree that Mr.Trump is himself! I believe these are two minimally acceptable propositions that all Americans should be ready to face.
In following posts, I will let you know how it goes!
THE BACKYARD SANCTUARYNo god is needed; My wife and I will do.
We split and weed, and plant seed.
We trim and choose, and rule our tiny spot,
but not --- like one such other.
Mother Nature framed this scene,
and with her choices will be Queen.
But at least, I see my debt
and live to fill her coffers.It is a special place, our world;
The world of life and persons.
It is our Response and Ability,
to keep it such and More.
And pass it to our future kind,
for ashes soon we be.
For after all, we are a 'food'
in this Great Chain of Being.
Of what shall come hereafter,
we made our contribution,
All photos by GWW
(For the original and added context of these thoughts, see The Nature Religion Manifesto under the category Religion.Stay Safe!)
We are back to school many places in Ohio. I was going ‘to lay low’ for a while, and see how it goes. Being old, and having some lung issues, and being a retired teacher who keeps busy by substitute teaching fairly often, I figured why push it. If the schools have decent plans and the virus is largely kept out, then I would eventually give it a try.
But one of my favorite high schools in the school district I taught for 16 years called me and asked me back for a two week sub job starting the very first day of in-school learning. Our county is Franklin County and it is the most populated county in Ohio. Home of the state capital, The Ohio State University, world headquarters for Nationwide Insurance and the birthplace of Wendy and White Castle hamburgers, we had finally come down off “Red” in our Corona Virus Safety System. “Purple” is the worst, when a county has 6-7 of seven indicators of high spread. Red is next in severity (4-5 of 7) and Franklin had finally dropped back off red to “Orange”, 2-3 indicators of significant spreading; “Yellow” is the next and lowest level. My district planned to go to “a hybrid model”– a mixture of online and limited in-school learning — for orange. I mulled it over, consulted my wife, and then accepted the assignment. A month or two ago, Ohio had 10 to 12 red counties with Franklin on “warning” to go purple. This week we have 6 on red, and they are mostly rural counties. So, there is improvement here in Ohio.
“How long can one just stay at home?” I asked myself. I like teaching, and even subbing which has the interaction with young people but missing much of the work and responsibility (and pay) of a full time position. Our hybrid model brings 40% of students (my estimates) back for in-school instruction on Mondays and Tuesdays and 40% on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesday is to clean the schools. About 20% of students are choosing a totally online instruction program and assignments are given to the in-schoolers to be done and turned in online on their off days. I wanted to see the return for myself — not just read about it — and be a part of it, a helpful part.
So, this week, when the Tuesday after Labor Day appeared, we started back. It went well. Class sizes were small, students were all in masks and pretty cooperative. The biggest issue was masks worn off the nose and only over the mouth. That will be an issue of ongoing concern I fear. When asked to pull it up and keep it there (for a poorer, urban and somewhat more rowdy school populous as this one) all of them did it and kept it up at least for a while.
Friday of this week came around soon. For a first week of school, and one that had two ‘first days’ — one for each group — so far, all seemed well. I sat on my living room couch, drinking my coffee, and then realized it was 9/11. A rush of emotion came over me.
Nineteen years ago this day, I was early in the first year in a new program at a new school. I was teaching a class of “ED Students”, 7th and 8th graders with emotional problems (“alternative mind sets”, should we now call them?). Kids who have attention issues, hyperactivity, anger, trauma, and what we now understand as autism (usually those more high functioning). Just before students were starting to arrive, I was told that something bad had happened in New York and that I should turn on the television. It never occurred to me then, that maybe I should not turn it on considering the emotional states of my group, but they (and I) rose to the occasion and all went as well as it could on such a shocking day.
Soon, we watched as the second plane slammed into the second tower. We listened to the commentators and discussed it ourselves. I took the lead of course, and tried to provide a convincing and firm assurance that all would be well and that a calm and thoughtful response was what was required from us as a class and a nation. The principal spoke several times over the PA system and then after an hour or almost two, we tried to resume our normal class-scheduled day. The television went off, only to come back on during history class and once or twice elsewhere to get an update. We didn’t learn much math or science that day and I talked a lot, but we did make it through and did so with our emotional dispositions reasonable intact. It was one of the longest days of my life.
Several parts of that day are prominent in my memory, other than the horrific destruction we witnessed by television. First was a comment made by a student. In a class for “special needs” like this one, often there is a “Levels System” to monitor and reward a student’s progress and behavior. “The First Level” is for those students who need the most structure , attention, care and constant supervision because they are experiencing the most difficulty, the most social and emotional “unrest”. Early on that day one of our brighter and more ‘explosive’ boys (13 years old) who had been in special needs for years raised his hand and commented that todayhe felt like he “should be on first level.” I commended him on his self-reflection and said, “Today, I think we all feel that way.” He made it through the day, and did decline to actually receive first level attention but knew it was available.
The second memory was of the eerie quiet in the building, and of being interrupted from our work by the repeated calls over the PA for various small groups of students to gather their belongings and report to the office for dismissal. Their parents were picking them up early; the building was slowly being drained of its students and becoming quieter, more quiet than it already very much was.
So, I sat on my couch Friday morning with coffee in hand and decided I needed to do a variant of my lesson on 9/11. I was in a class where it was appropriate. I reviewed in my mind how the lesson would go. I looked on YouTube for a short video summary of the events in New York of that day nineteen years ago. I found one and was surprised to learn that I had forgotten that a third building in the World Trade Center complex had also collapsed due to falling debris that day, but was evacuated in time due to an order whose source is unknown to this day but was massively life-saving.
I realized I was not happy to be planning or delivering this lesson, but felt obligated to do so. Off I drove to school, anticipating the day and listening to NPR radio, when they aired a report on a survey of the emotional status of Americans and especially teenagers at this point during our current pandemic tragedy. Our emotional health is not good, and especially for young people. Significant rises in reported depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. And the light came on! “One tragedy at a time is enough” I thought! No 9/11 lesson today! I immediately felt relieved.
That is the way the day went. The principal did ask for a moment of silence shortly after 9 am, but in class we focused on getting through the crisis at hand. In my opinion, my student’s lives were enhanced by The Lesson I Never Taught.
“Rock on!” Incredible to think that one of humanity’s first symbolic and representational efforts may have been the excessive and demonstrative shaping of stone hand axes!
Little did Jagger know how ironic it was that in 1972 The Rolling Stones released an album with a hit song — “Rocks Off” — and throughout the concert tour, that paragon of 60’s rock-sex, Micky Mick, kept mumbling in his Brit accent, “rocks off, rocks off.” I was lucky to see them in the Akron Ohio (world headquarters of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.) football stadium called “The Rubber Bowl.” The show opened with a guy named Stevie Wonder and his band and ended with riot police battling concert-goers in the outfield grass area. ‘Those were the days,’ we say, but only rivaled by these current crazy times! So, maybe we have not come very far after all!
Equally, maybe Mick was not so much ‘on the cutting edge.’ There are some curious facts that have led to some curious speculation about Stone Age Hand Axes. In some areas of France disproportionate numbers of these have been found that seem to be meticulously done and show no signs of wear or use! An inordinate amount of these “tools” exhibiting no signs of use and exquisitely and painstakenly finished, what? Some anthropologists and biologists have been led to suggestion these axes may have “risen” to some symbolic value.
Dating back to the Lower Paleolithic era, these tools are preceded in the fossil evidence by only one previous tool technology associated withour Homo hablisancestors. Homo hablis was likely to have been between 3 to 4 feet tall (100 to 130 cm) and weighted 40 to 70 lbs (20-40 kg). Homo hablis still spent time in the trees. It is suspected they traveled and lived in groups of up to 70 individuals. It is the first of the Genus, Homo, and evidence suggests its appearance is around 3 million years ago (mya).
The Acheulean Ax is found with the evidence for Homo erectus in most of Africa, some of Europe, and southwest Asia. Larger than hablis, its height was 4 to 6 feet (145-185 cm) and weighed up to 150 lbs (70 kg). It was the first human-like species to exhibit a flat face and walk with a modern gait. Less hair, also. Probably the first to use fire and hunt in groups, and the first of our ancestors to move beyond Africa about 2 mya.
These are our guys and gals. They found themselves driven to shape stone in an effort to impress each other.
All the above are Hominids, the Taxonomic Family of all Great Apes. That includes Orangutan, Gorilla, the Genera Pan which is Chimps and Bonobo, and the Genera Australopithecus (all extinct) and Homo which now includes only we modern Humans as remaining. Gorillas branched off in the vicinity of 9 mya; Pan around 6 mya.
Australopithecus evolved in eastern Africa about 4 mya and was significantly bipedal. It was probably the first to use and make tools to a limited extent, both of stone and animal bone. They largely lived in the trees, though this is still debated. They are believed to be our direct ancestors, to have evolved into Homo hablis.
BUT, BACK TO THE STONES! How exceptional is this? Not very, in nature’s terms. Many animals, including the human animal, build artifacts and even their bodies, to ‘prove’ their worthiness. That’s what a lot of males are ‘in to’: the Peacock and the Peahen, the male Bower bird and the female. It can be a very expensive effort, in terms of time and energy; but it is what it takes in many species to keep their kind going. “I want it, I want it”, they seem to say, without ever really saying it.
Biologists call this Sexual Selection and it usually involves males ‘showing off’ to gain the favor of a female. Of course, in many other species, males simply fight, even if ‘only’ ritually, other males for the dominant mating role.
There is speculation that processes akin to Sexual Selection, involving extravagant and excessive Ritual and expenditures of energy, may account for Various Human Practices—–including Religion.
I appreciate the garden. Sheri and I work hard on it and have for 20 years. We carved it out of a very ordinary suburban backyard with a rusting swing set, but some great trees. I also want to understand that garden, and recently I sought knowledge of the humble Zinnia. It’s an unassuming annual, that I have grown for years and often from seed. Likable for its late bloom — mid to late August and into September — i.e. now. After most else has withered, here comes old dependable.
I learned the zinnia is a Compound or Composite flower. It’s ‘a flower’ made up of many small flowers! What? Oh, there is that theme again: A ‘thing’ that is importantly many smaller things.
But what is more important, the Zinnia as a whole or as a simple aggregation? A pile of gravel is not an important development for the individual stones that make it up. You can double its size, cut it in half, throw in some sand; you can have the right side, I’ll take the left: Who cares? Can we say the same for the Zinnia? Is the whole Zinnia an important development of its pieces? Remember, that ‘one’ flower ‘is really’ many flowers!
But Sheri sometimes says, “Shut up and just enjoy the Garden!” Maybe she is right, but, please follow me down this rabbit hole, even if for just a little.
A Compound flower
How many flowers are there in a Zinnia? Well, first of all, botanists call the thing we call its flower “an inflorescence”; it’s the group of smaller flowers. To them, it’s important enough to have its own name for the various reasons we will discover.
In the inflorescence at right, there are at least 42 flowers, by my count! Each ‘petal’ is actually a modified flower; about 27 of those. They are not true petals because true petals are a modified leaf in a Simple Flower, but not a compound one. Here, they are modified flowers called Ray Flowers, each with (it varies) their own sexual equipment — pistil and stamen. In the zinnia, though, these ray flowers are sterile, I believe; and each has for itself one large modified true petal that we see as the petal of the zinnia, thought it is not; it is the ray flower’s petal. OK?
The other flowers that are obvious are the little yellow ones. There are 6 of these and they are called Disc Flowers. They actually look like flowers to us non-botanists and truly are. They have a full set of sexual equipment, fertile upon pollination, and produce one seedeach in that case.
I am including about 9 other disc flowers in this above photo, those being the little white spots near the yellow. I believe they are soon to open or wilted ray flowers.
The Sunflower is also a composite flower. In this photo, if you look closely, you can see the wilted disc flowers (black) each on top of a developing single seed (green and domed) with ray petals at the edge.
But this is not all; 27 ray plus 15 disc equals 42 flowers in the inflorescence initially pictured. There are many more disc flowers though not evident in the Zinnia.A Shasta Daisy is also a compound flower and one with its disc flowers more evident. By my count (two tries) there are about 70 to 80 in this inflorescence at left. It doesn’t seem that many at a glance, but try for yourself; maybe I counted one twice! I did include about 15 on the perimeter as opened (thus indistinct in appearance) disc flowers.
Compounded Complications in the Composite
But the world of the Composite Flower gets even more complicated. Some compound flowers are all ray lowers and no disc flowers! As in the common Dandelion or Mum. Others are all disc flowers.
Even the Zinnia has a variety that is predominantly ray flower, the double bloom.
Returning to the theme of The One and The Many. A disc flower in a composite flower is not only distinct in appearance from a ray flower, but also has its time or order of opening determined by its place in the disc. Ray flowers open first, but then disc flowers develop from the perimeter of the disc moving to the middle. This is most elegantly displayed in some varieties of Sunflower.
(On left, the ray flowers opening on a new inflorescence of zinnia. Right, the vague yellow circle within the disc of this Sunflower is the advancing blossom of disc flowers moving toward the center.)
That this Compound living together of the disc and ray flowers determines their maturation suggests a significant influence of the whole over its parts. All is not causation through time; some is definition of part in relation to part, as in any significant Structure. In other words, some is Participation not just causation. In the composite flower, flowers participate in their large aggregation as if by agreement, and thus become more than a mere pile. They become an entity with a significant unity that shapes their existence as individuals. They are a whole that is more than the sum of its parts taken individually.
More could be said about this unity of the many in the zinnia and other composite flowers, but I do not believe it would enhance the case more than tax the reader. Enough said. Let us close with the following pictures.
The Garden as Metaphysical Instruction: the Zinnia as an Autonomous Structure.
Well, my metaphysical speculations hit a high point in The Details Revised post. Many readers will be happy to hear that ‘my thirst has been quenched’ and we can return to more mundane topics. But first (!), I need to think about what was there said. After all, “Strange Talk” should be made “PLAIN TALK” for that series, or at least what best can be done.
I write this follow-up as much for myself as anyone. Our MetaPhysical situation has always been a strange one, so to write a recap of my position for “clarity’s sake” is as necessary as it may be unattainable. Here goes.
The Infinite Mind
Well, surely this gets me off to the wrong start, the odds are against me “making sense” of an “infinite mind.” Yet, Physics does have a traditional place for this idea! Physicist Sean Carroll* makes this clear in his use of Simone Pierre Laplace’s famous thought experiment ‘commonly’ known as “Laplace’s Demon.” Laplace knew Newton’s Theories better than Newton himself, contends Carroll, because he was born a generation after Newton and studied and thought thoroughly and solely in the Newtonian tradition. The French thought of Laplace as “France’s Newton” and he contended that this Newtonian Point of View assumed a Grand Intelligence that existed outside of the universe and ‘gazed’ at it knowingly and dispassionately.
“The Demon” was able to know the position and the velocity of all the particles of the universe at any single instant. That indeed was an infinite capacity that yielded an infinite payoff: Knowledge of the particle’s positions For All Time, past and future! And moreso, as if that was necessary, this knowledge rendered the Idea of Time irrelevant. Since all was known at once to this Infinite Intelligence, Time was really not a basic part of it. So, No Time, and Everything Worth Knowing about these participles was known at that instant to this “Mind.” It was a Complete Determinism, and if you should happen to feel that The Future existed, it was all locked in and nothing was new about it! Many of his commentators (physicists and philosophers), then and now, thought it frightening and so the infinite intelligence became known as “Laplace’s Demon.”
It is worth noting that our access to this exulted Perspective occurs only through Mathematics. Though the mathematical relations were not all that complex in Newton’ s time, they surely represented a New Paradigm and a reframing of the old problem of motion both in the “heavens” and here at home. Today, some highly abstract and very complicated math is almost entirely the means to our understanding of the modern physic’s world. “Picturing it” in our normal everyday categories does not work, it is contended.
Physics does take seriously the universe it presents us (and so do I), and often also acknowledges its Paradoxical Character. Carroll makes clear to us that even among physicists there is great disagreement about how to think about, especially, the Quantum Mechanical Theory that they all agree is “accurate” or “true.” Carroll says his favorite is The Multiple Universe Proposal, that Q-Mech works because there are…?
But even for the classical Newtonian Mechanics, its implications were controversial. Laplace’s Demon was a product of that theory’s implications extended beyond our planet and Solar System to the universe at large. Carroll tells us that there never was, nor will there ever be, a mind capable of knowing enough information about the particles of the entire universe, at one moment, and also having the computational power necessary to analyze it. That if we think of that mind as a computer, it would “have to be a computer as big as the universe itself”, he says!
The value of “Laplace’s Demon” was always the point it made “in principle” about our metaphysical situation. Physics has shown us something “true” about the universe that is very disruptive to much of what we also want to believe is “true”. So, don’t blame only me for my “strange talk” and lack of clarity!
A Finite Mind
But if we play along with this idea of The Infinite Mind and The Universe it presents to us, we then have an interesting contrast that can clarify Our Predicament as “Finite Minds.” What might be our limitations, for surely they exist?
If that expansive mind understood the universe as sub-atomic particles and a quantum wave, then A More Limited Mind such as Ours “sees it and understands it” in a more limited yet still effective way. Why would it still be effective? Why not totally illusion?
…..It Is Still A Perspective
The Finite Mind would still be a perspective on the world, but a more limited one. It is, therefore, grounded and not just illusion. It has a limited scope and is not universal in its purview. It is “an innocuous-seeming but secretly profound idea that there are many ways of talking about the world, each of which captures a different aspect of the underlying whole”, writes Carroll.* It does not have the capacities of the Infinite Mind to absorb all the data and process it, so it must Economize and Rationalize. As a Limited Perspective it must only respond to some things as “stimuli” and not to others, and those are what we call “The Information” that is pertinent to it (contends philosopher Dan Dennett). Limitation is the ability to be automatically Selective! And surprisingly, that becomes A Very Good Thing because Why Should We Be Only Interested In The Most Universal Perspective On Things?
…..It Is From A Different Position
No longer would a Mind have the entire universe AsIts Object and therefore ‘stand’ outside the universe to understand it and view it all. AFinite Mind is within the Universe and is, therefore, a Participant in it. First, this means it has more limited Objects apparent to its limited Point of View. Second, a finite mind also has Larger Things of which it is a part. It must function in both of these contexts. Ultimately, the largest context is that of the physic’s world, but there may be other mediate contexts. Persons function in their own ways, but also in the ways of all Biological Creatures, and then finally as physical objects of chemistry and physics. For the Finite Mind to be Effective and therefore Real, it must maintain a variety of compatibilities.
There is even the possibility that from a redefined Religious and Moral Perspective a Finite Mind participates in these larger structures. Morality is our participation in, what I have called, The Human Social Organism. Humans are a herd species by design. This is true not only biologically but culturally. “Persons” are formed in a society and are intrinsically connected to other persons even if they are directly removed from their immediate company.
Religion can be our sense of our intrinsic connection to the universe and to reality itself. As much as we modern, secular, educated individuals have learned to appreciate (and dread)our own irrelevance and insignificance to “things” in the broadest sense, it is not completely true! To think and feel ourselves as irrelevant is to, once again, fall prey to confusion. We are not removed from ‘the world’ and gazing at it dispassionately, we are participants in it and full of passions and poignant with a sense of the direction to go and of activity worth accomplishing. This can be our new found religious sense!
…..It Creates A Phenomenal World
The World as It Exists to Physics is not immediately Apparent or Understood to a Finite Mind. Atoms, sub-atomic particles, quantum waves are hidden to it by Perceptions of its own. Things Look Different to us!
Our scope as minds is limited by Our Size and Our Duration, not to mention geographic and historical traditions. Atoms and particles behave far quicker than we do and are much smaller. Finite Minds live in worlds with “Objects of Their Own.” We are well aware ofour world of Macroscopic Objects, but also consider that of the paramecium. It is most directly Designed to be aware of its other little competitors, consumers, and food stuffs; when a bulldozer covers over its wooded wetland to prepare for a new housing flat, it will only very indirectly and obliquely have a sense of that monstrous machine and the consequences of it. A Finite Mind has a “Phenomenal World” composed of the objects it is immediately aware of, and surrounded by, in its own terms. In biology, this has been referred to as “the Umwelt” (the self-centered world) of a plant or animal by biologist Jakob von Uexkull in the early 20th century and later adopted into Communication Theory.
…..It Is a Designed Object
But living things are not the only objects we can think of as having a phenomenal world.Computers are designed with great sophistication today. They play winning chess against chess masters and write music in the vein of Bach and Beethoven, and can more competently ‘understand’ language. If a computer attains the point of “seeming” to have sufficient Personality, then will it be a Person? That seems like a totally redundant question. I mean, how do you you known that I am not a computer? I sure seem to be a Person, but am I really?
But to defer the answer to that question, the broader issue is the similarity of a Finite Mind and Any Designed Object. We design and make many functional objects. Each is given its own Limited Perspective of ‘the world.’ Each uses that to Function appropriately and to have a Structure organized to do that. Hell, even my door lock carries out its function rather well! But in the terms of physics, my door lock, and myself, have no particular or significant individuality in the great causal background presented to us by that science.
But clearly, here we are. We are a ‘seeming’ whose reality seems hard to deny. If we are to accept the significance of an Infinite Mind, as physic’s would suggest, then we should accept ourselves as more limited Minds with a world and a mode of operation worth regarding.
(We are smoke’n hot this morning here at The Connection! A short post, And Already Once Revised! I’ve been searching for a simple statement that gets to the point of what this blog site is about; maybe this is it. Most of you will think it far fetched, yet there is a Logic to it and it stretches way back into Philosophic Tradition. Try it on for size, Please!)
In the spring and summer, each morning I take my cup of coffee and walk about our backyard garden. I carefully inspect its progress from the previous day. New shoots have appeared, old flowers fading, a weed to be pulled, new blooms opening and admired. Various birds fly by and others are calling. I stop and consider the weather, very pleasing, but other times not. Too cool, or too wet, we are often in need of a few sunny days. In either case, my plants soldier on and I consider what I should do to improve this beautiful place, our garden, our backyard sanctuary.
It is not a “strictly physical” place, not simply particles and chemical reactions and the qualities that those kinds of things directly exhibit. This garden of my wife’s and mine is a human place ofbeauty with carefully selected plants, well considered placements, precisely cut borders and gently curved walkways. A chosen mixture of both sun and shade, privacy and open sky. A fairly complete composition, though always shifting.
It is a place of life.Plants exhibit the most marvelous design. Crocus poke up their heads in spring, first, with their delicate little flowers. Then come the Daffodil with their trumpeting flower and the Tulip with its gracious cup, marked interior, and array of color. In the shade, the Ostrich Ferns are unraveling their fronds, rolling them toward the light. The Painted Ferns exhibit on each leaf detailed shades of green slowly verging on blacks. In front of our long row of Hosta, my wife plants her border of Impatiens, an annual that flowers through the summer and produces best in shade. The Empress Wu hosta is our crowning jewel. Sitting back beneath our cottonless (male) Cottonwood tree, the Empress crowns at over three feet into the air and spreads more than eight feet in diameter. She is a tremendous mound of foliage with each highly ridged bright green leaf running 18 to 20 inches long and a foot wide. All her bio-mass bursting forth each spring from below the ground and fully in place by mid June. By August, she has finished with her rather insignificant flowering (to the gardener) and by fall is ready to be cut back to do it all over the next year.
Each plant is a tidy package. It circles about itself in its own little cycle. The perennials (above) — the crocus, daffodils, tulips, ferns and hosta — all have a prolonged life cycle lasting many years, but go through a distinct annual cycle, also. The annual (above) — the Impatiens — completes its life cycle in a single season, but ends that cycle with a group of seeds, which are the Reproductionof “its form“— its tidy package — into the future. It is as if part of it — its Information — never dies!
Basically, fundamentally, essentially, a plant and its environment are a cooperative, self-enhancing effort. It is not that they — the plant and its environment — always “get it together” or always “keep it together”; they do not. There are “bad” seasons and difficult “spells”; but “at their core”, The Good MUST Out Weigh The Bad. That much is inherent in the idea of Natural Design. If Designs are real in nature, then any design, if it exists, is Good, is Functional; Better than a vast number of alternatives, but maybe not quite as good as some Possibilities that we can vaguely imagine. This is the core of The Nature Religion Connection: If a lack of coordination and cooperation (Dis-Function, Chaos) were the predominant “tone” of the world, then complex entities like “plants” would not exist, nor would we! “The world” is fundamentally Good, at least from our point of view, and, thereby, it becomes “Our World”.
So, to reproduce is a distinctly living feature, but so are several others. To metabolize is to be so open to ‘your’ environment, that large parts of it are essential to ‘your’ continuation. You stretch forth into them, but not into others; those seem completely irrelevant. Light, water, carbon dioxide and soil with minerals, all are open to the plant in a cooperative and informative way: They are essential parts of it; they are components of the plant’s Design. They are it, in many a way.
And to grow is to be alive, and that takes time. A flowering plant only eventually flowers. An animal only eventually becomes sexually mature, and a human only eventually becomes emotionally and intellectually mature. Pulling together diversity into the unity of its form; Time is essential to life:It does not exist in an instant. To be sensitive is the means by which living things distinguish this In-Formation from the noise; it’s self from others. Life is these unique qualities.
(Crocus in the Snow and in the Sun. Photos by GWW)
A star, a volcano, a galaxy, an atom, our solar system, the various chemical elements do none of these: No reproduction, no metabolism, no growth, no sensitivity. A star may swell and then collapse, as it runs out of (‘eats’) its fuel and ‘dies’. A volcano can grow larger and even blow or become dormant. An atom may bond. Our solar system certainly cycles. But none of these have all the characteristics of life, nor in as regular or systematic a way as do a living kind, and especially a person.
So,no God is needed:My wife and I will do.We foresee rain and frost; we fertilize and occasionally spray. We split and weed, and plant seed. We trim and choose, and rule our tiny spot, but not — as one such other. Mother Nature framed this scene, and with her choices will be queen. But at least, I see my debt and live to fill her coffers.
It’s a special place, Our World, The World of Life and Persons. It is Our Response, and Ability, to keep it such and MORE; and pass it to our future kind for ashes soon we be. For after all, we are a ‘food’ in this Giant Chain of Being — of what shall come hereafter, we made a contribution, too.
All photos by GWW from the garden of Sheri and Greg.
Recently there has been much talk about our conference’s decision (The Big Ten) to not play football this fall due to the pandemic. Most of it has been criticism, even anger. Conspiracy theories are common. How could we shut down football when Notre Dame, the SEC, and others are continuing to plan to play? In Ohio we are allowing some high school football, leaving it to individual school districts and leagues to decide, but the major colleges won’t play (the MAC conference is also shut down). How does that follow? That argument— “they’re playing”—may be a little like saying, “look, the guy in front of me just ran that red light, therefore I should follow!”
Hey, I’m a Buckeye fan and I was very much hoping to watch them play. We have the best player in the country, and Coach Day said this could be a once-in-a-lifetime great team. It is probably not going to happen and that is very disappointing. Further, the league officials did not make clear their specific reasons for closure. It was left rather vague.
I can understand the disappointment and even some disagreement, but not to this level! We should all really know by now, that this pandemic is a mess; if you don’t know that, then you are part of the problem. You are one of the reasons there will be no Big Ten fall sports! You doubted the scientists and doctors. You questioned Governor DeWine and Dr. Acton’s decisions. You did not, and may still not be, fully complying.
League officials did give some clues to their decision. The Columbus Dispatch reported (8/20 “Virus curve, testing issues problematic for Big Ten”) that league officials in interviews with the paper reported their concerns about community spread. Prior to that, the paper reported a league medical officer’s concerns that there was no national policy; no effective national testing or contact tracing, no reasonable and universal masking standards. He suggested that the situation was a chaos in which the decision to play would be no more than a roll of the dice.
That is correct. Imagine game day here in Columbus, and in Ann Arbor, East Lancing and western Pennsylvania, Iowa and Nebraska (Big10 country). No fans at games, and bars full. Neighbors gathering round TV sets, families, friends all together and rooting, shouting, drinking, high-fiving, and sharing food. Don’t even think about the teenagers in the campus dorms. It would be a royal cluster contagion in too many cases. Too many, as has now been proven, would not behave responsibly. The virus would spread.
So, unlike what I hear from many of my friends and family, who are determined that it is always about money and law suits, I believe that maybe these institutions of higher learning were holding on to something higher. The Big Ten felt that they should not go along with this mess. They are supposed to be about education, knowledge, and enlightened behavior. Maybe this time, they chose that over football. Go Bucks!
(Published in PLAIN TALK only. This Post ‘goes along ways’, A Must Read! My sister read The Initial Version and gave it a harsh negative review. Wow, my own sister! She said it wasn’t well organized or “clear” or “plain.” So I reread it and could see what she meant. I’ve reworked it and here it is. Please keep in “Mind,” writing philosophy is not like writing an IKEA manual. Being crystal clear and totally understandable is not necessarily its goal. Being suggestive and provocative could be the best it achieves for some readers and for some parts of it, at least initially. Philosophy is about challenging some of our regular intuitions. For example, THE PROBLEM OF HUMAN FREEDOM is here given an attempted solution! This is one of the most ambitious posts I have ever written, please give it a go. Thanks for trying! Thanks, Sis!)
A Brief Recap
“Mind” is an incredibly vague term. So, figuring out what it means to us will be difficult. We often contrast it to Brain, and that is a much more exact term. Maybe we should just use “brain” instead of “mind”? In that context we say things like, “I’ve lost my mind” or “I have made up my mind,” but “brain” does not quite fit as easily. My brain is clearly lodged between my ears; there is no “losing” it. My brain is a physical thing and it is not clear that I control it, so it is hard to say how I could “make it up.” Maybe my “mind” really does control my brain or at least some important parts of it. But then, where is the mind?
“Mind” is often contrasted to “Matter.” “Matter” is almost an equally vague term in common use and seems to represent ‘the resistance of the world’ to us. The world as “hard-hearted,” the material that Mind must struggle to form. I think it is true, humans rarely swerve the course of atoms, or bend the quantum wave, but we have many ways to manipulate matter. Why, lets just heat it up and pound it into shape on an anvil.
The work of scientists has firmed up this idea of the mindless:Matter is anything that takes up space and has mass. In the previous posts in this series on “Mind and Brain,” I have given some examples of how traditionally “Mind” was contended to be rather ethereal in contrast. The Mind ‘contains’ Ideas, we say, and Plato had an idea ‘behind’ or ‘above’ all our even most common things, like the ideal archetype of all “chairs.” Also, “purposes” and “goals” were equally not matter; they are the “point of” or “design of” physical things like my lawnmower.
I eventually contended that all these Abstractions — ‘immaterial things’ like ideas, purposes, designs — could best be thought of as Relative To some society of people and their way of life.Each Society has a Perspective on the world.
This is a handy solution, in some ways, because Societies and their Cultures are, themselves, “put together” in particular ways. It is, as if, designs beget designs. We have Ancient Greek society, Medieval society and our Modern Western. The Iroquois had a matriarchal society and built and designed their “longhouse” in coordination with it. Each society has their own artifacts which include their language, their forms of art, government, religion and practical implements like housing, chairs and my mower. All these are Designs and make up that society’s “Forms of Cooperation Between Mind and Matter”; their forms of designing and making. More over, each society makes its own kind of Person and human beings are a representation of a long line of Living Things.
In fact, the most basic contribution of Mind is the creation of a Perspective and The Making of Representations to Reflect itin the world of matter. Human Societies have filled ‘the world’ with Representations of Ourselves, making it, not just ‘the’ world, but also “our world!” I have argued that even Science gives us a representation of “the world” and not “the world as it exists in itself.” I will argue that that phrase, “the world in itself” is a confusion and we would do well without it. Before humans, other living things got the ball of Representation rolling. All living things exist in a world as represented to themand our planet is now The Living Planet. I think that is fair to say. Let’s get to The Details.
The Devil is in The Details
Let me now, shortly and plainly, try to describe Mind: what it is and how it can be effective (Real) without pushing around atoms, in most situations, but surely manipulating Matter in many others. The answer will not be totally surprising, because we are “Starting Out In the Middle” with Living Things. We all “know” that Life is a curious mixture of give and take!
Living things are, at least, rudimentary Minds. By this I mean, they exhibit some form of Experience and Design. Many biologists will object even at this very early point. They will say something like, there is no evidence that protozoans or even ants have any kind of “internal life” or “perspective” on themselves or events. Neither of these creatures even possess a neuron. And as for “design” in nature, at best it is only “apparent,” it is usually argued.
The response: When a protozoan retracts a part of its body from a noxious material, that is mind. It has responded in terms of its self-interest and self-preservation. Philosophically it is legitimate to regard that self-sustaining response as the most primitive form of Representation.It is not yet saying “Ouch” but it is on its way. When the creature is even slightly more complex, it’s response to some local irritant is even more obviously mind. The locally irritated cells send a signal through its body to some central authority, that evaluates it, returns with a signal to various other parts in the body (say cilia) and they all work in coordination to ‘row’ away from the threat. “A signal”, “a central authority”, “ evaluation”, the “coordination” of distant parts, and “threat”, all are terms of Mind; each word conveys more than a physical occurrence. A signal, for example, is a physical occurrence with Meaning.
It is not yet saying “Ouch” but it is on its way.
Let me clarify, quickly. The above response to toxicity is Both Mind and Causation (Matter) at the same time. To us, humans, the abilities of this protozoan Appear and are Of Interest To Us, and can be analyzed into their causes: the chemistry and physics of it. But from a broader perspective, the perspective of The Universe in terms of its physics, that little creature is non-existent. It is not a significant local event of any unusual interest. It Appears to Our Mind. It is of interest due only to Our Perspective; the protozoan Dis-Appears to the perspective of universe’s massive causal background. Strange to think, that we can trace “Our World” back into causes but we cannot go from a world of only causal interactions (pictured below) and derive Our World, the World as it Appears to Us!
Remember, Mind is simply the having of some Point of View, a Perspective, and that is most reasonably understood today as our best modern ideas that we hold about ourselves and universe. “Mind” is the reality of our Society and our current best efforts at Self-Reflection.Mind is our ability to create Representations of ‘ourselves’ and ‘the world’. There is “a leap” going from Matter to Mind. It involves a very different way of talking than the terms of matter.
Mind as Design
Then, is “Design” apparent or real? Design has been a favorite topic here at The Nature Religion Connection, and rightly so because it is a good and modern way to understand Mind. That biologists should object to the use of the term “design” about non-human animals, is very problematic. After all, we socialized humans design things all the time, including biological experiments. How could we be that exceptional? We design in a very self-conscious and deliberate way, but it is my contention that the precursor of deliberate and conscious designing is automatic and almost unconscious designing. Mother Nature has created and naturally selected an entire set of closely related Designs. We call it “The Tree of Life.”
Just the other day I watched a Wren struggle to fit a long stick into the smaller hole that was the opening to a bird house in my yard. It was designing its nest. It was hard for me to imagine that it was not somewhat conscious of its dilemma. It approached its problem in much the same way I would. It eventually succeeded. It got the stick in. It was apparently conscious, just as I am apparently conscious to myself and others.
So, maybe, Real Consciousness is beside the point! Maybe “apparent” consciousness is as good as Real consciousness. I mean, after all, we have defined Mind as “a point of view”. Real Consciousness is then the appearance of perspective in our way of living. As I said in the previous post, Our Mind is where things are what they seem to be. Was that wren “really” conscious? It appeared to me to have some perspective. It seemed to be, therefore it was!
“apparent” consciousness is as good as Real consciousness.
We need to draw a line somewhere. So, OK, the wren had a smidgen of awareness. What of an earthworm? A very rudimentary ‘perspective’, we might say. The biggest problem then comes with ourselves. And the conclusion should be,“If we seem to have a point of view then we have one!“ I have already gladly conceded that Mind is not another kind of physical thing, it is an organization of things that serves a function. That function is having a particular perspective of the world as parts, as coming to something beyond themselves. It is a way of ‘seeing’ things together and leading to ‘something.’. Therefore, the appearance of Perspective is itself a perspective; it is Mind. Rene Descarte takes his revenge: “I think therefore I am.” he contended.
( Mind is ) having a particular perspective of the world as parts, as coming to something beyond themselves.
The “hard” sciences pride themselves in having taken the Purposes and Meanings out of Reality. They are perfectly objective, they believe! The problem is that when they think they have done this they leave themselves “high and dry,” with no support: they cannot explain how they ‘sought’ this knowledge or ‘defend it reasonably.’
A Finite Object and Its Environment
For example, every object we design “seems” to be given “a point of view” by us. That is called “its Purpose”, and for it to meet that Goal, we know that it cannot be concerned with, or aware of, everything.After all, it is a Finite object with Finite abilities; it has to economize and rationalize.It must “focus” on a limited number of things, and link itself with “its environment.” It’s parts must be in the same terms as that of its environment. But do not get carried away here, “The Environment” does not have to be that of only physics or even chemistry. There are many more Finite Environments than those; finite environments for Finite, Limited, Creatures.
There are nautical environments were fins, rudders and hulls are all about water. Aeronautical environments where the wings of birds, airplanes, helicopters and whirly-gigs (the seeds of maple trees) are Ideal for “air”. And it is important to add that by “air” and “water”, I do Not mean some subtle combination of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and other gases, nor do I mean the very particular bonding of two hydrogen’s to one oxygen. “Air” and “water”, in their Phenomenal Forms, have been Functioning with and for living things, and changing “life”, long before any socialized human animal eventually “found” or “invented” the chemical elements. Finite Environments are as real and effective as are the more universal ones, even if “suffering” from more limited scope.
Mind only Appears to be True, but from Our Perspective that is Enough !
This is a difficult topic. The point above comes to, I believe, that Evolution –in the broadest sense — gives us the best model to understand this relationship between finite and more universal environments. Each are contexts defined in their own terms that “fit in” or are “adaptations” to the broader or more general contexts ‘around’ them. A squirrel lives in a deciduous forest in the northern climactic zone on the planet Earth: All these are contexts or designs fitting into each other like nested bowls.
When living things first evolved from the slime, it is not that they “learned” or “discovered” how to manipulatethe physical elements of chemistry or physics around them or even in them (swerve the course of atoms). But it sure “appears” to us that they did. The fins of fish worked in water, but not in “water” as chemically known H2O. The wings of birds worked in air, not some subtle mixture of hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide. We must keep our Levels of Things, and Categories, straight!
I am confident that further mechanism on the road from non-life to life will be discovered. Life will probably be recreated in a laboratory, someday; still, Levels of Events and Things will still be apparent to us. Physics will make further advances in understanding all things as related to quantum events and sub-atomic particles, yet Persons will still operate on our own terms and hopefully learn to treat each other with more and more respect.
So, the phenomenal events of life mean nothing new in the broadest sense, but they mean something new to us and for us as we look back; that is why they have “a unique appearance”. What Emerged at that point was a coordination of the physical elements already there, that was a new context significant for itself and for the contexts that may evolve based upon it and after it. Newly evolved and Naturally Selected Contexts do not change what was there before them, but they do reveal what could Possibly Evolve from them. They are new ways of “seeing” how things may fit together. As the philosophers say, they are “The Elbow Room” we need to be the new and complex things we appear to be. (Dan Dennett and the amiable old Alfred North Whitehead both used this term, “elbow room.”)
Mind as Freedom
At the level of individual designed objects, Mind isthe reality of Information and Freedom.
A Designed Object can be Caused “Rightly or Wrongly”, in a manner of speaking. When that object Functions properly, it is utilizing the information in its environment and its own bodily structure to accomplish its purpose. When that occurs we can say, “It has behaved freely and done what it is supposed to do.” “Information” is a Cause that is within the design parameters. Our object was made to “handle” that type of causal factor. In that sense, my lawnmower does a great job; it mows my lawn well. If it were conscious of itself, I’m sure it would feel free and self-fulfilled (I know I would if I were it!).
A Designed Object can be Caused “Rightly or Wrongly”,…When that object Functions properly,…we can say, “It has behaved freely and done what it is supposed to do.”
But there are many causes that are not within a designed object’s parameters. This is thatobject being caused “wrongly”, we can say. If I distractedly step off a curb and get blind-sided by a car, I am not behaving “freely”. I am the victim of a tragic accident. If I absent-mindedly push my lawnmower over a large rocket, that mower will not function appropriately. Its blade will be damaged and it may never again function as well. The blade hitting the rock was not a causal factor within the design function of the mower. If we talked about mowers in terms of freedom, it would not have been ‘free’ in that situation.
From the point of view of physics, each of these events — “my death as the absent-minded pedestrian” and “my mower’s damage”– may have always been predictable, destined to happen, but they were not predictable from my more limited, finite, point of view. Quantum events and sub-atomic particles are invisible from our everyday perspective as Persons, and largely irrelevant to them in those terms. That physics imagines a universal and infinite perspective from which to regard the world is useful to us, but also unattainable in any way but “in principle.” We are finite intelligences, not an infinite one.
In many situations, Mind does very well in adjusting to matter, very well in learning to cope with it, and even molding it into forms useful to us. This is Mind’s role in relation to all the more limited and finite environments that make up ‘the meat and potatoes’ of our normal lives. Mind is our Society, its History and its Coordinated Action and all that it has accomplished through these Representations. In these, Mind has discovered its boundaries with Matter and is constantly working at these compromises. This is Mind in its most profitable modern interpretation. It is when we set Mind over beside our most abstract modern representations of the external world, that we ‘see’ Mind as The Limited Perspective that it is. A perspective that we cannot escape and should be glad not to.