Freedom Through Virtuous Circles I

(This is the seventh post in the Series on Freedom.  In the previous post the process of Reflection was described.  That description continues here by introducing the idea of The Virtuous Circle.  It is only through these circles that we, human persons, have the freedom that we have.  Post four, Persons in the Human Social Organism, explained the biological history of the increasing complexity (the preceding circles) and Our Social Organism from which our freedom derives.  Post three, Persons Large and Small, introduced a circle, the feedback loop of human, language-based, interaction.  There, we ‘see’ ourselves ‘reflected’ in the feedback we get from other persons.  In post six, Persons Reflect, I attempted to expand this process of Reflection beyond persons and into its base in evolution.  In a sense difficult to defend intellectually, but maybe not so hard to intuit, Mother Nature was contended to be The First Person, all be it, in a qualified and  fundamental form.  A sense of reverence is starting to arise in this Series for the processes that create us.  This current post, hopes to continue that, and also our scientific understanding, through the seminal concept of “Virtuous Circles”.)

Robert Delaunay, Rhythm series, (early 20th century)

The relationship of an organism to its environment, the relation of organs to organism, and the relation of a person to their society of persons are all, what I will call, a “Virtuous Circle”.  The concept is derived from a comment by philosopher Daniel Dennett.  Discussing the basic idea of “information”, he contended that “information” is circularly connected to the concept of “design”.  They are defined in relation to each other, he says, “but it’s a virtuous, not a vicious, circle.” 

“Information is design worth getting”,  he argues.  In each of the Circles above, information and overall design connect their component parts — organism, environment; organs, organism; person, society — into a necessary and mutually interactive dependence.  This interactive dependence runs in two ‘directions’: ‘horizontally’ and ‘vertically’, so to speak.

Structurally, this circle and its interior order is very complex.  Conceptually, this diagram could represent the structure of an organism at the cell level, or an environment at the level of its individual organisms, or a society with its individual persons.


By ‘horizontally’, I mean structurally.  At every given moment their parts are understood and function in relation to each other.  The organs of an organism operate in this classic manner.  Heart pumps blood through veins Lungs aerate blood and release carbon dioxide.  Liver and kidneys remove other waste.  Stomach provides nutrients.  Intestines  process and eliminate waste.  Bones provide shape and space, while muscles move bones for locomotion.  And so on.  Human artifacts are also similarly designed structures.  An automobile has wheels, motor, transmission, brakes, lights, seats all existing and functioning side by side for the given purpose of transporting people.


In each case, auto and organism, it is difficult to think of any of their component pieces existing alone and in isolation from their functions in relation to the other components of these systems or, at least, in highly related and similarly functioning systems.  These parts are in an “interactive dependence”; they are circularly defined and designed.  Hearts do not exist (for long) severed from their bodies, though pumps do operate similarly in other systems with many analogous parts and purposes.

“For the given purpose” and “with analogous purposes”, these are important phrases and

The horizontal or structural dimension refers  beyond itself —vertically — to objects and purposes beyond.

they lead me to the second ‘direction’ of mutual interaction for a Virtuous Circle.  ‘Vertically’, systems of highly related parts refer to their over all purpose.  Telling phrase, “over all purpose”!

Here is an old point in philosophy.  The 17th century philosopher and simultaneous creator/discoverer — with Newton — of calculus, Gottfried  Leibniz, stated it well.   Any purpose or function ‘lies above’ the parts that carry it out.  He once observed this while walking on the shop floor of the factory of a master craftsman.  The point of all the busy piece-work of the apprentices at their separate stations was not readily discernible; nowhere was the purpose of it all, itself, stationed on that floor.  Further, no apprentice doing his specific job had the whole plan; each did just his own part and did it as told.  But, Leibniz, rising to the platform above the floor on which the master stood, saw the function of it all, the point of each station, from that transcendent position.

And that is information.  Circularly designed functions create a system that has a form, a structure, as if, “informed” from above; their over all purpose is beyond them.  This  “in-formation” runs not only between the component parts but, also, beyond these parts, beyond their level, so to speak, to structures or objects,  goals or purposes beyond them.   Virtuous Circles ‘point’ beyond themselves!

Two important points should be made, or referred to, concerning this point.

Genesis Day 1 (thanks to        Evolution is a Bottom-Up theory of creation.  Religion relies on a Top-Down concept of creative production.

First, some will think I am tipping my hand, that my true mystical and supernatural colors are here beginning to show, but that is not so.   It is true that this is where the argument for god from design is used by theists, but not by me, nor Darwin, nor Dennett (I’ve placed myself in illustrious company).  Instead, this is where the Theory of Evolution enters, and it refers to these well designed systems but explains them differently.

The second point, in reference to these Virtuous Circles and their pointing beyond themselves, is this is what REFERENCE is, and how it happens.  In this discussion of human freedom, we will find two important ways objects interact in our world: causally and referentially.

How does the word, “red”, or the collection of letters, “r-e-d”, indicate/point to/refer to an instance of the color, red, in the world?  Because, the system of contrasting color terms and their place in our system of language — this information system, points beyond itself and toward non-linguistic objects.  We do not think of this as a causal relationship.  It will be important that this distinction stand — designation is not causation — for humans to have some freedom!

Let’s see how this may work.

The State, the Kingdom, as the unity of its people.  King as embodied in his subjects and forming a Transcendent Object in which his subjects function according to various roles..  Famous front piece from Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651), one of the seminal works in political philosophy.

An organism, a society, an environment each inform their parts — organs, persons, organisms.  Please recall post four, The Human Social Organism.  Persons are functioning units that act with their goals in mind and they form a society; and yet, persons are formed by that society — that “transcendent object” — just as much as they form it! 

We readily accept this view when discussing a society’s economic system.  Doctor,

The description of an Economy as a self-enclosed and reflective system.  The science of economics is based on the discovery of the rule-governed, lawful, and predictable behavior that such a system generates between its parts. (Thanks to

lawyer, teacher, construction worker, farmer all have their job to do and this functions only if their counterparts do their job.  This is not supernaturalism, though it is a reference to objects more abstract than some others.  We can point at the totality of a person but it is harder to point at the society to which they belong.  We can point at an organism, but it is harder to point at its environment in totality and all at once.

The form of an organism is complex.  Their environment necessarily complements this through its ‘in-formation’!  The complexity of an organism mirrors the complexity of its environment.

Additionally, this is how the organs, for example, derive their worth.  “Do they function well?” Mother Nature asks through her process of Selection.  The master craftsman asks the same question of his factory and its apprentices, and so do we, persons, ask of our efforts that compose our lives: “Do they function well?  Do they serve the purpose?”

The organs’ worth is in their purpose and how well they achieve it: Not a surprising statement!  But in light of our modern skepticism about value and purpose in the universe, maybe this statement is surprising.  To Dennett, it should not be; it is, and should be, essential to our self-image.  We are agents; we ‘rise above’; we act; we do things for purpose.  We do things and not just have things done to us.  Like the master craftsman, we are out of the loop of causes on the floor below.  These are our components.   We are their ’cause’, or at least, the point to which they strive! 

Somewhere persons must be able to attain a bit of separation.  Utilizing the Virtuous Circle of Person and Society, persons can “take the place of the other (person)” and figuratively look at ourselves from outside.  It is from this vantage that freely chosen changes to our habits of behavior can be initiated.

 These points about purpose and worth, made about an organ and its organism, must equally apply to the other Virtuous circles: organism and environment, person and society.  It is becoming obvious that, herein, freedom lies.  From the “transcendent position”, more strictly causal connections occur between the components below.   The unity of an object, and the point of an action, always stands aloof of its analysis into parts and pieces.   In the following post these points will be specified.

One further characteristic of great significance must be attributed. Virtuous Circles are “from a particular point of view.”  It was meant as no mere analogy that the master craftsman stood above the shop floor.  His point of view is decisive, and an aspect of all purpose or function is that they occur for a particular point of view.  It is a way of ‘seeing’ the situation, and interacting with it, in relation to the important information it contains or offers.  It is Dennett’s position that with the first functioning objects in the world, the foundation was laid for the possibility of the evolution of objects with conscious and self-conscious points of view.

An Ecosystem is a “Transcendent Object”.  Only recently could scientifically astute persons say that ‘Such A Thing’ existed.  Its interconnections  give it some autonomy and yet without the aide of diagrams,  An Ecosystem is difficult to                     conceptualize and point to.  (thanks to Kennesaw State U. for this image)





Freedom: Haunted by the Idea

(This is the Introduction to a series of posts on Freedom.  They are not light reading.  Please give them a try, if only skimmed to collect what is of interest to you.  They are published for the sake of the clarification of basic philosophical and scientific positions.  Later posts will contain many of these ideas in a more accessible form.  The series is about Freedom but I do not mean political freedom, for that would have less to do with Nature and Biology.  I mean “metaphysical” freedom!  How, in a universe of causes discovered by Newton and Einstein in physics, Mendeleev and Linus Pauling in chemistry, Darwin and Mendel in biology, Can People, or any other animal, Freely Choose?  There is a way, that it ‘kind of’ happens!)

What could you do?  I mean, what might you choose to do?  Are you free enough to just up and tell your boss, “I quit”, no preliminaries, just “see ya!”  Or your husband or wife, “I’m done, I want a change; I’m moving out today!”  Or maybe you decide to become a monk or a mountain-top sage; you pack a bag, buy a ticket to Nepal and off you go.

Seems possible.  You just turn off your practical consideration of consequences and any moral concerns, and just choose to do it.  Of course, you’re not going to do any of these things, especially in the whimsical, abbreviated fashion portrayed above; but theoretically, abstractly, is it possible?  You choose, and then do!  You choose to make some drastic change.

I used to think the answer was “yes;” I used to think we were that ‘free’, and I was actually somewhat spooked by it.  “I could do that,” I ruminated, “fully responsible humans are capable of such radical choice.”  By “radical choice,” I mean a choice not caused by outside forces, not even the context of the rest of a person’s life and times–physically, emotionally and in terms of character.  Not caused, simply chosen

Four of the greatest Existentialist thinkers: Sartre (bottom right) coined phrase “radical choice,”  Dostoyevsky (top right) wrote Crime and Punishment, Nietzsche (bottom left) wrote one of the first explanations for morality,  Kierkegaard (top left) was one of the original founders

The famous French Existentialist philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, coined this phrase, “radical choice”, and he suggested we should think of many of our choices in theses terms: They are totally up to us; each in reality is a true ‘pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.’  Each choice is your pure and unfettered act of making you who you are and you’re totally responsible!  Wow, no wonder I was freaked by it; it’s really severe!

What’s the basis for this radical ability?  Sartre thought it was ‘the self’, the ‘you’ in “you choose.” In reality, this “self” is disconnected from worldly causes, necessities and influences, he believed, even though it often seems highly connected.  Where you come from, your momentary mood, your upbringing and even peer pressure is not the true basis of any of your choices.  If you think they are, that’s “bad faith,” says Sartre; it’s a denial of “your existential condition.”  The real “self” is above these: It is not an object that is formed in your upbringing, or held by worldly needs, or gravity, or pushed by the wind.  It is not a part of nature, in fact it is characterized by Sartre in contrast to nature!  It is like an other-worldly ‘thing’, it transcends regular objects.  What it can do—choose to do, we often underestimate.

Maybe the situation is similar to recovering addicts in twelve step programs, they call upon some “higher power” to stay sober.  And, this is freedom: it is not caused but must be made by a “Self” (or some ‘thing’) that transcends causes — a ‘thing’ kinda like God, Himself (sorry, ladies, that’s tradition; especially in Christianity).

Freedom, for these existentialists, is like ‘reasonableness’ which also takes place ‘above the fray’ of causal forces and mundane worldly necessities.  The “self” that is reasonable and free is an unusual ‘object’; it must avoid many worldly distractions.

Often the commission of a “radical choice” is portrayed as a criminal act.  One of the great novels of all time is based on this theme.  Raskolnikov, the main character in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, convinces himself that the murder and robbery of a despicable pawnbroker and loan shark would be permissible, and that he will do it.  He is not inclined by his nature or experience to do it, in fact he is a university student.  What he does believe is his freedom to commit the act, and in the logic of it— the reasoning of the Utilitarian Theory of right and wrong.  To kill the scoundrel will rid the world of an evil person whose fortune could then be used for the betterment of all, he calculates.  What is right, is what is good for the majority.

He is also bolstered by the idea, popular then and now, that great people rise above their personal and historical context and act in great and unconventional ways.  Raskolnikov thinks of himself in Napoleonic terms; today we tend to think of some of our great entrepreneurs in this way and shower them with massive wealth.

A more recent example of “radical choice” was the popular television series, Breaking

Image result for pictures of walter white breaking bad
Cancer was the opportunity for Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) to make a “radical choice”.

Bad.  Here, a high school chemistry teacher makes the startling decision to become a crack cocaine “cook” and eventually “kingpin.”  Implausible to the highest degree, the brilliance of the series’ writing and acting is the convincing portrayal of the mild-mannered man and his choices, including homicide.  He makes his decisions, no doubt, and they are radically out of character.

I no longer believe in “radical choice,” or in it in quite the same way.  It has made my life more tranquil.  “I am who I am”, I more often think,and I make decisions along those lines.  I am more embedded in myself than I was as a young man, more connected to an established life.  It’s a good thing.  I’m not the kind of person who becomes a monk much less commits a vile crime; in any realistic sense, I just couldn’t do it!

But, where does that leave the idea of choice and even freedom?  If we think of ourselves as more embedded in our environment and more tied to our past and the world around us, how do we think of the opportunity to do something significantly different, whether good or bad?

I  believe that the Existentialists were not totally wrong.  We can make significant changes. The Self, as it ‘rises above’, as it  gains ‘a vantage point to look back’ and consider itself and its actions, is not a metaphysical ‘thing’, but a biological and human social construction.  The “Self” has this ability because of the way we are raised to be Persons, and take responsibility and hold others to their roles too.  The Self does transcend but not in the way the Existentialists thought.  More on this in the coming posts in this series!

In the next post, though, I will swing 180 degrees from Sartres’ “radical choice”, to the idea of humans as machines designed to act appropriately in their environment.  This new view brings humans into line with our universe of causes and effects.  We fit in, like machine-work!


3 Panel Canvas Art Clockwork Fine Watch Gears Colored Wall Art Panel Paint : cheap canvas prints wall paintings pictures
courtesy of ASH Wall Art





Traditional religion can be replaced by rational ideas

brown painted infrastructure beside trees
Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) Basilica under construction since 1882. Barcelona Spain

(INTRODUCTION: This is the initial post for this blog, “”.  This post has a long and personally significant history.  It initially appeared as a letter to the editor in the Columbus Dispatch in late 2007.  I was gratified by the response.  That Sunday morning the phone rang several times, early, and I ignored them, cursing “those damn telemarketers.”  After several more calls I finally answered to find a lady asking it I was the author of this morning’s letter.  She went on to explain how moved she was, literally, saying she shouted, “Yes!” at one point while reading, and leaped up from the couch.  The following week I received a half dozen letters expressing appreciation for my effort.  A Sunday School teacher wrote that he intended to use it with his teen-age group to provoke discussion.  One scrawled and rambling letter explained how I was going to Hell.  This current post is a slightly revised version of that original, letter.) 


Sometimes in presidential races, religion becomes a topic.  That was the case in 2008 and especially in the Iowa caucus.  Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke passionately about his religious beliefs because they were apparently adversely affecting some Iowans.  The editor of our local Columbus newspaper interviewed E. Gordon Gee, President of The Ohio State University (Columbus Dispatch 12/2/2007) who hopes we can “restore civility and thoughtfulness to politics.”

The first obstacle cited, by Gee, to this “more civilized political discourse” was religious prejudice and ignorance.  Gee is a Mormon, as is his friend Romney.  He said it was “hogwash” to think that Romney would govern differently, or that he, Gee, would administer a university differently because of their religious belief.

Here at NatureReligionConnection, we believe that, but also that there is more to say.  We think it is ‘hogwash’ that there is so little civil and thoughtful discourse about religion. Politics aside, the Christmas season was then in full swing and that, too, made it an excellent time to ask: how is it that so many of us hold so many different, so many contradictory, so many fanciful religious opinions?  If Gee and Romney want thoughtful political discourse then let us start a thoughtful discourse about religion to accompany it.


For example, Mormons believe that in the year 1823 in Palmyra, New York, (not exactly a ‘mecca’ of religious activity!) an angel named Moroni helped Joseph Smith obtain buried golden tablets that were written in an ancient language about an ancient people that once lived there.  Mormon, the author of the plates, was a prophet and historian for these people, the Nephites, who had come from Jerusalem to the New World in 600 B.C. by boat.

In the New World, the Nephites created a great civilization, eventually destroyed but not before Jesus Christ came to them soon after his resurrection and personally ministered to them.  Joseph Smith used special stones (the Urim and Thummim) that came with the plates and allowed him to translate them into the Book of Mormon, the sole source of this ‘history.’  After the translation, the angel Moroni took the tablets back for safekeeping, but not before they were shown to 11 witnesses (see the front of the Book of Mormon for their testimony). Mormons believe that the Nephites are the ancestors of Native American Indians.

That’s a unique twist on Christianity, and—for good reasons—most of us don’t believe it, unless you were born in Utah.

ancient architecture asia buildings
Photo by Pixabay on

Another belief that most Americans don’t hold:  In the year 610 A.D. Muhammad was fasting and praying in a cave outside of Mecca, now Saudi Arabia.  He wished his people to possess a book like the Jews and Christians and finally on this occasion, after days of prayer and abstinence, the Angel Gabriel appeared and ordered him to “recite.”  He could not, so the angel took him in something like a bear hug and held Muhammad till breathless and again ordered him to “recite.”  But nothing came forth.

Finally, after releasing him from a third embrace, Muhammad, gasping for breath, found the opening words of the Quran tumbling from his mouth.  Muslims don’t believe that Christianity is wrong but simply that it is incomplete, that the Quran completes the teachings about God.

We don’t believe that story either, certainly not in any literal sense, but one billion people from North Africa through the Middle East and deep into Asia do, and many of them now live in the United States and Europe.

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful:                                                      All Praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Universe.

“The Opening”  of the Quran, Surah Al-Fatih

Finally, a story that many Americans subscribe to.  It’s a familiar story and one that profoundly moves us especially during the holiday season.  We won’t repeat it in detail; it too involves angels, ancient events, a special book, ascension into heaven, a pregnancy without sex, and a god who was also a man.  Of course, this story is just as hard to believe.

Many Americans do believe, it’s our story, but of course intimate familiarity is the primary criterion for belief in any religion.  If you were born and raised into it, you believe it.

But it is more than intimate familiarity that is at work, it is also the feelings of connection, metaphysical insight and deeper purposes engendered by religious beliefs that is cited by believers as evidence of truthfulness.  All serious Mormons, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc. feel the validity of their faith; and since this feeling is had by all it is no proof to any for their specific stories.

It’s time to say what we believe.   Here at The Connection, we believe that ethics and morality are real things but are degraded by supernatural explanations.  We believe that the “faith” of religious believers is really their intuition of their actual involvement in something that is larger than themselves, that is the source of meaning, and that is of immense value.

A small but significant discourse is underway centered around courageous biologists and other theorists, who seek to gain our assent through reason and evidence that is accessible to all regardless of place of birth and socialization.  Traditional religion can be replaced, and interestingly it is the science of biology that is leading the way.  The design of the natural world, always the best argument for the existence of God, is being understood by evolutionary theory to be “That Large Thing” mentioned above.

Backyard Tulip and The Tree of   Life    (picture by Greg WW)


It is the Tree of Life, and we humans are incorporated in the inner relations of this Biosphere.  As physician and medical researcher, Lewis Thomas wrote, “the earth is a loosely formed, spherical organism.”  So, it is with scientific justification that we can, with affection, admiration and even awe, look to our planet and gain inspiration.  It is Mother Earth, of which we are a part: Our planet is a massive and irreplaceable piece of living art.

If this scientific discourse can continue and expand, and if each of us have the courage to examine our own basic beliefs, we, here at the naturereligionconnection, believe that traditional religion can be replaced by more rational and uniform ideals.  Mother Nature’s human creatures will then have a sounder basis for civility and thoughtfulness in our political relations.

Termite mound in Africa (thanks to Hauns in Africa for photo).  Opening post photo is the Catherdral in Barcelona, Spain, Sagrada Familia.  Designed by Architect Antoni Gaudi, construction began in 1882 and is expected to be finished in 2026!  Its resemblance to a termite mound is sometimes acknowledged.


Logo drawing by Marty!

What is Morality? Or, is there a difference between being “Responsible” and being “Morally Responsible”?

(“Faithfully Play Their Part in Our Society“, that’s not happening as much as I would like these days.  Too many people are disappointing in this way, it seems to me.  How about you?  Disappointed, morally shaken?  Mass shootings, thinly veiled self-seeking, abuse, lack of personal courage: Is this the theme for our times?  It’s a moral failing.  It’s a lack of moral clarity.  What is morality anyway?  Maybe this post will help.  Please comment, I need to hear your thoughts and feelings!)

The Setting

Mr. Trump being sworn in.  This is an example of morality by its deficit.  He has pledged to serve our best interests but seems to serves his own, first and foremost.

A lot of extremely unfortunate things happen in our world.  They happen to people, and many are perpetrated by people.  We want to know, why?  We want to know, “can anything be done?”  It’s clearly wrong, we feel and think, but who is responsible?  Are they morally responsible?

Dr. J. Coyne uses “responsible” to mean, any series of causes that pass through you; i.e. you simply did the act/event , no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ attached to it.  He is consistent with his position of “hard determinism” and contends nothing is added of any value by calling a behavior moral or not.  Our behavior just is.  It is determined by causes — from the neurology of your brain to the quantum state of the universe — to be what it is (or was), and there is no alteration of it nor personal control.  

Dr. Coyne is a biologist with Chicago University and the author of a blog, “Why Evolution Is True” (WEIT).   His blog has a following of over 20,000 and has some rip-roaring debates about Free Will.  Is Free Will true, or even possible?   Dr. C says “No!”  Everything, in a world best described by science, is caused, and this makes ‘morality’ an illusion.

I have often disagreed with the good doctor on these issues.  I support how we commonly use the word “moral” and “morally responsible”, by and large.

(The Bible and The Quran logo.  I do not support the often accepted idea that morality has a divine source.  In fact, this post argues for a naturalistic explanation of moral good and evil.)

“Moral” does add significance; it does add an enhanced and legitimate meaning to responsibility, I believe.  Actually, to my mind, “responsible” (the common use of it) often implies a moral sense, so “He is responsible” usually implies blame, or sometimes commendation: “He is morally responsible.”  Coyne’s use — a human act is just another cause and effect in a giant chain of those —  is artificial, an alteration, in my opinion.


If you are falling down an elevator shaft, it is happening to you (Coyne’s sense) but you are not “responsible” or better “morally responsible” for it.  It was an accident.  The doors opened, you weren’t looking, you stepped in, and the elevator was not there!  Your falling was an accident, but it did definitely happen through you, and to you.  In Coyne’s sense, you will be responsible for the mess at the bottom of the shaft (it’s what’s left of you), and, in the common sense use , we could loosely agree; but we certainly would not say you were morally responsible for it: You wouldn’t be a bad person, nor would we be shaken, disappointed, and even feel undermined by that unfortunate event, though it would certainly be considered horrible luck!

Sidewalk memorial in Dayton. (photo from Cincinnati Enquirer)

By contrast, Dayton is my home town.  Following the mass shooting there, I felt betrayed and angered.  People should not do that to other people!  Especially in the home town toward which you feel great connection!

Similarly, though less severely, if you are waiting in line at a traffic light and the car behind you doesn’t stop and rear ends you, you then hit the car in front of you; you are “responsible” for hitting it in Coyne’s sense (your car hit the car in front), but not legally responsible nor mortally responsible.  No cop would cite you.  The car that hit you — whether due to drunkenness, distraction, or in the midst of a heart attack — would be legally responsible, and morally responsible if drunk or distracted, but not if having a heart attack.

The Crucial Distinction

We are now getting to the point of the distinction between “responsible” and “morally responsible”.  And, it is amplified by Coyne’s rather artificial use of the word “responsible”.

“Morally responsible” points more explicitly to the element in these situations that involves Our Trust, Reliance, and Righteous Dependence on other persons to Faithfully Play Their Part in Our Society.  “Morally responsible” tries to ‘get at’ the element of our lives, our social lives, that, as much as we may say and think, is Caused, it is also a situation Agreed UponTo say someone is “morally responsible” implies that They did Not Have To Do It; they could have done otherwise, in some sense.

There are causes that bring us to live together — we were born this way, we know nothing different, it’s the way modern society (any society) works, people live together! — yet, we take it a step further, We Pledge Ourselves to It; we accept it.

In many minimal ways, and often wholeheartedly, we state our allegiances.  We state who we are: “I am an American; I am a school teacher, …a hockey fan, …an artist, …an Ohioan, …a Democrat, …a good person, …an atheist” . We say these things, and things like them, all the time.  These statements seem to be a mixture of simple fact and a choice, fact and a preference.  Or minimally fact and acceptance: as when I acknowledge, “I am a man, I am old, or hypothetically, I am an alcoholic, …a depressed person, …mentally ill.

I can not change the fact that I was born in America, that makes me an American at least in a minimal sense; but I do not have to continue to live here.  It’s a choice, a preference.  I became a school teacher (fact) through a series of choices, but I did not set out in life, early on, saying that is what I want to do and march straight down that path.  As a boy, I wanted (and tried) to become a baseball player, then an astronaut (read a number of books on the topic and followed space history avidly).  In the 5th grade, the nuns even had me ‘searching my heart’ to see if I “had a calling to the priesthood”!  Notice how I blame that on “the nuns”, but I can assure you, I was also a ‘willing’ — though young and impressionable — participant, for a while, in that scheme.

I can not change the fact that I am old, but I can accept it.  This fact becomes Reflected in a conscious awareness of it.  I can, or should, or might then do something about it.  I am a person with a mental illness, I accept this.  What can I do about it, what might I do, …should I do, …want to do about it?  Acceptance is the minimal position in a moral dilemma; it signifies the awareness of it.  It signifies the shift from something we are — something that is happening to us — to something we Know About.  This is a shift from a causal relationship to a relationship of Reference: I have ‘stepped outside’ the dilemma/the situation and now have Perspective, or Additional Perspective.  I have a point of view on it.

Morality is about what you do and did, but more so it is about your reflection on that, or lack there of.


Faithfully Being With Others

Our participation in our social way of life is, generally and very significantly,  Accepted By Us even when it is seemingly and largely Forced Upon Us.  It is as if we have Taken An Oath to our fellows that we will Live Together in the mutually acceptable way.  And often we explicitly take Oaths that we will Do Our Part in relation to others Faithfully.


(Above we have various oaths being taken by people in various situations.  Starting at top left, a doctor swears to serve their patients, immigrants an allegiance to their new country, citizens joining the military of their country,  people swearing to tell the truth at a hearing or in court,  in marriage an oath to be faithful to each other, a President swearing to serve the people of his country and uphold their Constitution. — photos from the public domain)

That is what Morality is based in.  It is our commitment, above and beyond all the causes that have gotten us here, to this life together.  We make a commitment to it.  Our point of view of it, is, minimally, one of acceptance and basic respect. 

And our oath to each other need not be explicitly made.  In common and everyday situations, it is,  as if, we have Taken An Oath to our fellows that we will Live Together in some way, or state, above that of “a war of all against all”, as Thomas Hobbes, the famous philosopher, put it.  It is implicit in what we do and say, that we will behave with an agreed upon modicum of decency toward our fellows.

If you cannot do this, behave in this minimally decent way, options are available.  In fact, in our society, You Have The Obligation To Seek Help, and even to Remove Yourself From Our Company until your affiliation improves! Move to Idaho and live alone in a cabin in the mountains.  Stay in your apartment, if you live in the city, and come out as infrequently as possible.  Seek emotional counselling!  Write a novel or read poetry about your situation.  Even, as a last and somewhat reasonable option, commit suicide.  You have No Right to disrespect others and undermine our faith in our togetherness.  That is being wrong.


The Background of Morality in Nature and History

For people to live together in society, we have come to agree upon some accord, some standards of trust and compatible action.   There is no “social life”, in any positive and functional sense, in “a war of all against all”: Bellum omnium contra omnes (love my Catholic school-boy Latin).    “Disasters of War” etching by Francisco Goya (1810).

The Englishman, Thomas Hobbes, was one of the first (the 1500s) to explore and hypothesize about this idea of an oath to others, a Social Contract or Covenant. Significantly, he contended — and absolutely correctly, we here at believe — this oath is so important and functional that it establishes a new Level of Organization with new abilities that accompany it.  

It establishes a new creature, contended this originator of social science. We here at NatieRel have called it “the human social organism” (see posts 4 and 5 in Freedom series); Hobbes called it “The Leviathan”That is how closely we are connected!  We function together as a single creature.

Hobbes’ Leviathan.  The King is the leader and the “embodiment” of his state as a collective actor, he argued.  Imagine Donald Trump as the face in this famous illustration, and the citizens of the United States as his embodiment!  “He is Tweeting in my name”, we should rightly feel, and thus so many Americans are very, and Morally, upset by Our current president!

But this image and idea of a “larger embodiment” of individuals is not confined to politics and political philosophy.  It is also exemplified in Nature and its various highly social ways of living for many life forms.  We have flocks, schools, colonies, herds and packs.

(From top left, murmurating starlings, schooling sickleback, colony of army ants, herd of bison and pack of hyenas at bottom right.  None of these biological forms of social living are consciously committed to by their participants.)


We have “parliaments” of Burrowing Owls

and the Portuguese Man-of-War.






(The Man-of-War is a siphonophore, like a sea anemone (which also has stinging tentacles).  But, it is actually a Colony of 4 individual animals, called polyps.  Its gas-filled bag is one; it functions is to move ‘the animal’ as a sail.  Three other polyps hang below with individual functions of capturing prey, digest prey (the stomach for all yet its own animal) and reproduction (for all).  It’s a strange arrangement and not yet fully understood!  Photos and diagram thanks to National Geographic)

Going Beyond Biology

Kandinsky’s first abstract painting.  “Study for Composition VII”, (1913)

The human way of being together, starts with biology but goes beyond it.  Social animals are social via the evolution of their physical traits.  But, as with some other large-brained animals, in humans a new form (or organization, or design) of sociality began to emerge: Culture.   Humans are now most pointedly social, by being cultural.  Beyond our living in close proximity and our division of economic labor, we share thoughts!  A brain is an individual thing, but a Mind is connected brains working together.

“Memes” ‘infect’ our brains.*  We have language, the predominant form of meme.  We pass on our memes/thoughts.  We socialize our children (see post four in Freedom series-“Persons in the Human Social Organism”).  We discuss our thoughts, reflect upon them.  All this is somewhat like programming a computer, except here, we — the computers — are reviewing and revising our own program!

A malcontent, or one suffering from mental illness, often has opportunity to review their thinking; usually, they have a variety of influences upon them.  This provides Choice, Options.  Those close to them also have moral responsibility to the the ill or depraved person, to themselves, and to their society.  This is modern morality, the shared responsibility for our togetherness.

Individually, this process of review and revision is what we call, our personal history; but writ large — socially — it is Human History.  Thankfully, this process has brought us to Democracy and the social safety net provided by most democratic governments.  Currently, democracy is the most moral form of political organization but others are imaginable.**  In this way, we have developed the basic interpersonal — agreed upon — respect that characterizes “us” — our society — and distinguishes us from “them” — social ways of life foreign to us.  Ancient autocracies like those in Egypt and the Roman Empire, even modern drug and gang states that exist in Central America, are examples of living together without accord and characterized by fear, domination and manipulation.  Slavery is another such example.   The frequent and arbitrary outbursts of mass violence in America extinguishes trust and civility, the Moral Basis that underlies “our” kind of modern society, at its best.  We are deeply shaken by it, for it strikes at the roots of our moral togetherness.  We no longer share thoughts, we receive bullets. 


A Final Example of the Difference Between “Responsibility” and “Moral Responsibility”

An example, not nearly as visceral as mass violence, involves salesmanship.  The general background for my position on morality, also involves, a very curious argument that some respected philosophers have currently advocated.  They contend that most of the things we believe must be true.  Most of the things we say must be honest.  A curious contention, but think about it; how would our lives and social lives be possible if they weren’t overwhelmingly true and real?  Our lives would have no gears that meshed into other gears, no wheels that got traction.  It would all be spinning wheels, all illusions; no purchase.

It’s a holistic argument.  Like wooden-ship sailors, who could replace a leaking plank or

Viking Long Boat

two in the hull while at sea, but they couldn’t replace them all at once!  We can have some things wrong in our belief system, and revise them piecemeal, but there is no Reasonable Way to change all your beliefs at once.***

Does that make sense to you?


“All is One”, it is sometimes said.  The Sacred Art of the Sand Mandala as practiced at the  Cooper Beech Institute in Connecticut.  Photo from their site.


Salesmanship is not a very exciting example of human togetherness but telling nonetheless.  If a salesperson sells you a product that will do the job you want, if they do not lie about their products abilities or look, if they do not hide some significant defect, and if they allow you to make the decision to buy without undo pressure, that is moral salesperson-ship. 

Of course, we all know that the caveat, “buyer beware”— caveat emptor — applies; the buyer also has moral responsibilities to look out for themselves.  Each knows that the other’s interests are not completely symmetric with their own.  Each knows that the other is “under pressure”, but not caused, to make some transaction.  It is out of the independence of the two, buyer and seller, that their eventual moral interaction raises them to a new level of enhanced functioning.  They both benefit.  Each comes away with more than they would have separatelyIt is a win-win.  

Morality is the affirmation, or betrayal, of our trust in other persons.  It is the basis for the interaction of persons at their higher level of existence.

(Complex human interactions based on shared ideas and trust.  This is moral responsibility and activity.  From the operating room to the football field, from the organized flow of traffic to the stock market, all are based on a foundation of trust—though with sanctions and penalties to maintain it.)



Most of us feel, and sometimes think, deeply about it.  Our trust has been shaken by current events.  Can we live together?  Can we act in unison, and pledge ourselves to this?  Yes, we can and must!  Morally responsible action is the basis of our human life and we must struggle to maintain it.  

I hope this post helped clarify the Fact of Morality and bolster your preference for itYour reflection is necessary.  Today, a discussion exists; today the character of morality hangs in the balance, as it has at other times in our history.  Act now.  Human trust is worth the struggle.

Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals (1932) depict life at the complex level of concerted action                                                       by socialized human beings.                                                                                       “Social unrest was in the air. On March 7 1932, the Ford Hunger March took place, during which laid-off and wage-slashed factory workers clashed with anti-union enforcers hired by Henry Ford. Four marchers were killed, while 60,000 people took part in the funeral procession.”  It was that year, in the midst of the Great Depression, that muralist and communist, Diego Rivera and his new wife — Frida Kalho, came to town commissioned to paint by Edsel Ford, Henry’s maverick son!  And paint they did, producing what Rivera felt was his greatest work, “Detroit Industry”, detail above.  Thanks to “The Conversation” blog for quote and detail.
A very infectious meme, in 1932, and another form of cultural and historical based action.

(An estimated 4,000 rallied in Detroit and marched on this cold day in March.  At the Dearborn city line, police fired tear gas and bullets.  Marchers scattered but then regrouped and pushed forward, throwing rocks and bottles, one mile into Dearborn heading for Ford’s largest auto plant.  From an overpass, police sprayed fire hoses on the freezing and advancing workers.  Ford ‘security’ forces fired bullets.  22 were wounded by gunfire, 4 killed.  The march was then abandoned.)

Here is a meme I’m promoting.  Help secure our trust in moral interaction: Ban ARs!

*For presentation on Memes, see D. Dennett, From Bacteria to Bach and Back, chapters 10-11.  The concept of Meme is a cross between concepts of a Thought, a Gene and a Virus.  It allows Dennett to discuss Cultural Evolution and its changes of intellectual themes with great latitude.  By contrast, Hard Determinism has virtually no ability to discuss the complexity, marvel and effectiveness of our intellectual lives except in vague platitudes about ‘adaptions to environments’ and ‘future neural discoveries’.

**Plato argued, with some plausibility, for a government by Philosopher-King.  In general, the theme being explored here is that the origin of morality is closely associated to the origin of language.  Both of these are then connected to the beginnings of Reflective Thought.  Themes to be tackled in the future (Oh joy!?).

***There is a strange movie about a man who has no memory, long term (?) or short.  He is totally freaked out, and, of course being a movie, determined to find out What happened, but also, Who did this to him!  He has few lasting ‘connections’ to who he is and what he is trying to do.  So, he takes a lot of notes, for himself, including tattooing some really important info on his body!  “Memento” released in 2000.                              Nor is there a reasonable way to think that all, or most, of our beliefs are wrong.  To think that consciousness is illusion, gives us no avenue to consciously come up with that idea.  The argument undermines itself.

Thanks, GregWW






Dayton, Ohio


We’re from Dayton!  On Saturday night, a gunman walked the street of a popular entertainment area in Dayton.  In 24 seconds of shooting, he killed 9 people and wounded 26.  In 24 seconds, how is that possible?  See the picture of the gun below and how it was equipped.

Here at the naturereligionconnection, my wife and I both grew up in Dayton and lived there somewhat as adults.  We still have very close friends and family there.  Sunday morning I was already upset by the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, in which 20 people were killed and 27 wounded.  My wife called, she told me of Dayton; it was like getting punched in the stomach.  Two mass shootings in 13 hours and We’re from Dayton!  

Dayton is not a huge city, but it is no small town.  With about 150,000 residents, it is far from its hay day in the early 60’s when it had nearly 300,000!  Its suburbs have continued to grow.

Know as the birthplace of aviation, the Wight brothers lived there and built their first powdered aircraft.  Later it was the headquarters of NCR (National Cash Register), and as a child I remember riding along Patterson Ave. which was lined on both sides with six story red brick building with large windows all filled with machinists building cash registers for all the world.   But that was then, and now NCR has moved away and so have all the auto plants.

Assault Rifle used by Dayton shooter.  It was equipped with a “drum magazine” in which each drum holds 50 rounds and are immediately available for discharge.  As of  yesterday, the exact number of rounds fired was unknown but police estimated he fired several dozen, in 24 seconds!  The El Paso shooter also used an assault rifle.  Each wore bullet-proof vests and noise mufflers on their ears.                                                               NO PRIVATE CITIZEN SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO OWN SUCH A WEAPON! 

When I began to write this blog, I said that it was Not going to include politics, even though my wife and I are very involved in it.  This is an exception!  I will not sit quietly as this carnage continues.  Anti gun-violence has always been a cause of ours, and our yard is often ‘graced’ with various political signs including gun violence signs.  The sign at the top of this blog is now nailed to our tree facing facing the street.


Some of our signs.

This morning I have already called 3 elected officials, all Republicans, and appealed to their best instincts; well, in 2 of those cases there may be some ‘best instincts’, to the third, I simply threatened to work till I drop to see him defeated unless he do something to limit gun access



This summer so far, here in Columbus, there have been at least 4 shooting deaths of teens by teens.  In our state, an assault rifle can be purchased by an 18 year-old but that 18 year-old can’t buy a beer!

Yesterday, when I was so frustrated and angered upon hearing of the shooting in Dayton, I tried to call my best friend there to commiserate with him.  He was not available so I left a message expressing my outrage and sadness.  But shortly thereafter, I realized, what if he is Not OK; what if he or his wife is among the dead or injured?  I called right back, for they often frequent that area of dear old Dayton that was so violated, and this time he answered.  As shaken and angry as I, and more so, they were fine and they had been there, to that district, the night before!  Life is too precious and short already, this violence cannot go on.

Some say, “But what can stop it?”  I say, let us do any reasonable thing, any reasonable SIX things, and see if it helps.  Red Flag laws, universal background checks, raising the age for purchase, banning enlarged magazines, ending concealed carry, increased mental health services, required safe storage, BANNING ARs —– anything that limits guns and their abuse.  And even if, after this, the violence is not greatly diminished, at least we will be able to say:  WE ARE NOT A PART OF IT, WE TRIED.

Doing nothing enables more : Help change the cultural climate.

all signs created by GregWW

Please, Do Something NOW, Help End Gun Violence in America!!!

Drawing by Marty









Hemerocallis: The Daylily

(Back from vacation!  Thanks for your patience, I needed the break.  This first year of blogging has been very exciting and more tiring than I realized.  Much was accomplished, and yet the Human Freedom Series needs to be finished; hopefully just several additional posts.  This current post sets out in a very different direction, far more accessible, far more enjoyment.  I hope it works for you!  I apologize for some of the layout difficulties, some of them are just insurmountable.—–All Flower Photos are by me and taken from The Garden of Sheri and Greg — “our little nature preserve”.   Thanks, GregWW)


The beautiful goddess of the day — hemerocallis — the daylily, is in bloom in central Ohio.  Gracing the backyard with its ephemeral structure, each blossom lasts only a single unbroken span of daylight, yet, long enough to serve the plant’s purpose —fertilization and reproduction — and our purpose — delight and amazement.


Hemera, a minor Greek god, goddess of the day.  Painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1881) and ruffles from a large ruffled yellow.


This Backyard’s Variety


IMG_E4643 (1)
Large Yellow
IMG_4609 (1)
Ruffled Yellow
Green-Throated Red



IMG_4607 (2)
Green tinted Yellow


Ruffled Orange


IMG_4637 (1)
Green-Throated Purple


Yellow-Throated Red



















Ruffled Pinks













IMG_4615 (1)

The Orange or The Old-Fashioned, also known as theTiger or “road” or “ditch” Lily.

There are 19 species of Daylily, and the plant is native to Asia.  The Orange was first brought to America in the 17th century from England and it, and several other varieties, became subject to intense breeding. There are now over 80,000 registered cultivars!  Soon the original oranges escaped the gardens and populated roadsides and ditches.  That plant is now considered an invasive species.

Ironically, the Daylily is not a true Lily, as are Easter, Asiatic or the Oriental lily.  No longer considered part of the Lilium family the change occurred in 2009 due to genetic analysis.  It is now classified as an ASPARAGUS — Aspragales!   There is some structural similarities and this new classification is more consistent with the little known fact that the daylily can be eaten by humans and has been for possibly thousand of years!

Fresh asparagus, ready for preparation.


The daylily flower stalk (right) resembles the flower stalk of an asparagus (left) in appearance and structure.  The above is the stalk of a Tiger Lily which I ate this morning, raw, after finding out they were edible.  Being a fan of raw and fresh asparagus, I found the consistency similar, but the more developed flower bud of the daylily was more leafy and lettuce-like upon eating than the asparagus and left a rather tangy, pepper-like, and pleasant aftertaste.


IMG_E4639 (2)


From the 6-7 inch wingspan of the above purple, to the 3-4 inch diameter of the above yellow-throated red, different daylily flowers vary greatly in size.  Their flower stalks can range from almost knee-high to those of the Tiger Lily which often soar above much of the rest of the garden at and above 4 feet.


One of the great joys of the Hemerocallis is it dramatic settings of Pistil and Stamen.


These male and female parts flow from the throat of the flower with the pistil, the female part, always extending far beyond the male part, the stamen.  The Stigma of the pistil is its extended tip.  Here is where the pollen must land and almost literally take root.  The stigma is sticky and the pollen that lands there then grows a Pollen Tube that must traverse the length of the pistil, called the Style, to the ovary and its egg deep in the throat at the base of the flower.  The stigma is difficult to photograph, for me, due to its small size and luminous, glowing, surface.

Avoiding self-fertilization, the female pistil extends far beyond the male stamen.

Mother Nature, in the design of the daylily, has chosen to follow a rule not often duplicated in many other flowering plants.  She, like the nuns at my Catholic grade school, has chosen to keep the boys and girls far apart at recess, in an effort to forestall any easy fertilization.  The longest pistil in my garden was over 4 inches in length, running far ahead of the stamen.

The stamen are a different story; they are dramatic and easy to photograph among all the contrasting colors and shapes.

IMG_E4606 (2)                                                                                    IMG_4715

There are always 6 stamen, each composed of its Anther that tops its Filament.  The anther is, of course, the pollen producing organ. and it often displays noted markings and can be loaded with yellow pollen grains .

IMG_E4731 (1)

IMG_E4726                                IMG_E4640 (2)


IMG_E4606 (1)






Ruffles have been a characteristic sought and developed through Selective Breeding.  A cultivar is a variety of plant developed through the efforts of human breeders.  In the wild, Nature Selects the characteristics of living things  — the process of natural selection — but as is true of so much around us now,  humans select and design much of our own world (see post 5, “Advantages Within the Human Social Organism” in the Human Freedom Series).  This is certainly true of the Hemerocallis, with its 80,000 cultivars!  Ruffles, colors, sizes, bloom rate and repetition, all have been intelligently designed through breeding.



But Selective Breeding comes at a cost.  It is through a brief description of the method that this cost may become evident.

A good Breeding Line of daylily will focus on a goal of enhancing a particular characteristic, say ruffles.  The breeder will seek to enhance the depth, the color, the definition, along with the reliability of each offspring having that ruffle; along with diminished unfavorable traits.

This is accomplished through some out-crosses, but mostly inbreeding.  A sibling-cross is the deliberate fertilization of a plant with the pollen of its sister/brother, in other words, plants with the same parent each with strong ruffles.   A back-cross is a parent being fertilized  by the pollen of one of its offspring displaying strong ruffles (or the offspring being fertilized by its parent’s pollen).  This inbreeding is repeated many times to secure a strong line of breeders for that traitThe result can be a good breading line, but also sterility.  These plants are no longer capable of reproducing sexually through seeds, but still capable of asexual reproduction through side-shoots.

The Life Cycle of the DaylilyIMG_E4796

The daylily starts to push its finger-like foliage from the soil in mid spring here in central Ohio.  By time of flower bloom these leaves are about an inch wide, arching from the ground and then bending back ground-ward; their peak no higher than the knee but often lower.

By mid to later June, flower shoots begin to appear   IMG_E4771and rapidly stretch upward.  Their increasing maturity is apparent day by day.



The blossom below (left) will open the following day.  The flower below (right) is in the act of opening early after the sun has risen.


IMG_E4728 (1)










By later June, weather depending of course. flowers on some varieties will begin to open.  Each stalk will contain 4 – 6 buds that hopefully, and usually, will open in succession.  Total bloom time in central Ohio is about 4 – 5 weeks or from later June to about end of July.


But as stated, the run of a single blossom is only a day.  The question now is “Has it been fertilized and will it set seed?”  First, the wilted flower must be left on, no dead-heading if you want your lilies to go to seed.  If all goes well, at the base of the flower a seed pod will begin to appear.  It takes 40 – 60 days for that pod to mature at which point it will dry and  begin to crack open.

IMG_E4730 (1)         IMG_E4772

IMG_E4810 (1)Some experienced breeders contend Daylily seeds germinate better after experiencing  a stretch of cold weather.  They recommend seeds be put in the refrigerator for at least one month.  Others contend that seeds can be put directly into the ground or a paper towel and kept moist till germination in about 1-2 weeks.  I have no personal experience with this, but can happily report that the experiment is now under way in my backyard and refrigerator.

Reflecting Upon My Practice of Growing the Hemerocallis

IMG_E4630 (1)

As writing this  blog, I began to think back on my own methods of growing Daylilies.   As has been contended on this site, Self-Reflection is what separates we humans from the rest of the animal kingdom and poor plants are left even farther behind.  I came upon several insights.



One of them was quite shocking.  I had no seed pods on any of my daylilies!  None.  In our 12 patches, we had not a single pod.IMG_E4819  At first, I though about sterility, but then soon realized that it was our meticulous habit of dead-heading. Nothing inhibits the enjoyment of the day’s fresh bloom, like the wilted mess of yesterday’s expired beauty right next to it.  Without allowing the faded flower, the seed pod cannot form.

As I began to think of this further, I felt some concern, maybe guilt, that our practice had so seriously disrupted Nature’s Cycle, Nature’s Goal.  The flower’s Purpose is the sexual reproduction of this organism; its goal is to set seed and disperse them.  Our goal, my goal, was their beauty.  Our Aesthetic Experience had supervened to disrupt this cycle.  Nature’s purpose had been superceded by our own!IMG_E4726 (1)

I have now decided to cut back on dead-heading.  I have started to allow some exhausted blossoms to remain and hopefully go to seed.  Experts contend that approximately half will go into pod production given a good environment.

And this will allow me to start toying with breeding.  Ironically, my realization of the disruption has now motivated me to further exert myself in shaping this organism.   And this, too, is Nature’s Way.  Long before human’s started to consciously breed plants (and animals), animals, including humans, Unconsciously Bred Plants.  The rule of thumb, ‘Eat the fattest and sweetest’ — and other such reasonable impulses — has led to the alteration of most of the plants that we consume.

The original banana!  Thanks to science alert for photo.

For example, the wild strawberry is minute.  Natural apples are an inch in diameter.  The wild almond is bitter and contains cyanide!  The original banana held sizable and inedible seeds.  The list goes on and on.  And the effort of shaping plants to our use (and animal use, in general) started very early.  Evidence indicates that Peas may have been one of the first domesticated, deliberately grown plants by 8000 B.C.; “olives by 4000 B.C., strawberries during the Middle Ages and pecans not until 1846″, says Jared Diamond in his wonderful book Guns, Germs, and Steel.

All flower photos are by GregWW and taken in the Garden of Sheri and Greg.

Goodbye to The Hemerocallis for This Year!

As I started this post, the daylily was starting to bloom; as I end it, they too are fading.  August is upon us and only a few of the latest bloomers still thrive.  This post is coming to an end also, and the effort to write it, and display all its photos, was far in excess of what I had anticipated.  I learned much, and enjoyed much.  I hope you did too.






naturereligionconnection logo drawn by Marty




Welcome Visitors from Near and Far


It was rather thrilling to wake up the other day and check my site.  I had a reader from Russia! (Hopefully it’s not a troll or a bot; maybe they are looking to plant a pro – Trump story.  Not On This Site!)
But seriously, this site is still struggling to build a basic and consistent following, but when I find that starting to happen, as it is now, and then some of those readers are from across the globe, it’s extraordinary!  Thanks to WordPress’ technology, I am provided with the countries of origin of some of my readers and thus far I can report at least occasional  readers form as far away as Israel, Germany, England, France and Japan.  It’s a nice feeling for a humble central Ohioan such as myself.

Thanks to All, and please leave a comment — even if a harsh one.  I need your input!  GregWW

Post Script:  The day following the above post, my readership consisted of a resident of Finland, Singapore and Russia again!  Around this house, they are starting to call me “Global Greg” and that’s no longer for just the shape of my stomach!

Drawing by Arty Marty

Where Things Come From

(This post “gets down”!  Some serious metaphysical speculation occurs.  Tighten your seat belts, or better, pull on your waders for the S#!% gets deep!  As the title would suggest, we discuss very basic things and come to a Quasi Reverential Conclusion.  This is not about god: It’s about something better, something real, something more reasonable.  This post is being published in both the Human Freedom Series (post 15)  and  in The Connection (posts in general).  It is pertinent and accessible to both.  It is a short description and defense of philosophical Holism.  —The current form of this post is a significant revision of its original version—)

A Specifically Shaped Protein “emerges” from the linear Code of            the Amino Acid Sequence.  An Rho protein shown above. (diagram from


The universe is full of many different things.  These different things have even more different qualities.  Flowers have a quality.  Stars have a quality.  Stars and flowers have qualities that they share.  The color red has a quality, similar to green but also very different.

The “Bleeding Heart”, Dicentra, an early bloomer in central Ohio, has a Quality of its own. (photo by GWW)

In previous posts, I have attempted to argue that all these different difference have “emerged” from from a source not so different, in fact, a lot the same.  “Structure” is the foundation of this contention.  Differences in structure, or the Design, of our basic substance allows this “One Thing, to Become Many Things”.  Not surprisingly, this idea has attracted some criticism.

“The Hidden Galaxy” is normally hidden from our view by our own Milky Way.  It, too, has a quality of its own. (photo courtesy of Arturas Medvedevas)


One of my closest readers and critics is a chemist from western Canada, I believe. Recently he challenged me to specify “emergent”,  as in:  the pieces come together and what “emerges” are abilities and qualities that are “more than the sum of their parts” (my terminology).  He contended that I was calling for some kind of “magical” event and he gave me a situation in chemistry where some atomic elements ‘come together’ and nothing much of significance happens that is new.  I guess they are like a pile of sand; a pile is a way of being ‘together’ but it just sits there, no different if it were half its size or had some slices of pepperoni thrown in.   He asked me to give him an example he could accept.  Here are my attempts.

A car

A car is obviously a complex of atoms.  But, when we talk about cars, we don’t talk about

Does the Design of the car ‘hold’or ‘force’ its atoms to behave as it wants them to?  Is there a more subtle and accurate way to think of this coordination of levels?

atoms.  We talk in terms of “rods and pistons”, “axles and wheels”, “driveshafts, starters and brakes”.  And to talk this way actually works to drive a car, to fix one, to design one.  Biologist Richard Dawkins used this example, in The Blind Watchmaker, to describe the “complexity” he contends exists in a car and its abilities that lay beyond the need for ‘atom talk’.  The point is, first, to talk of these kind of parts (and not the grains of sand in a pile) is effective, it works; and, second, it’s effective because the atoms, usually and normally, don’t interfere with that ADDITIONAL LEVEL of structure.  They (the atoms) are ‘the clay’ that is molded — it would seem; they do not ‘call the shots’ here.  Somehow the designer has a significant ‘say’; and, in this way, something new and important happens in cooperation with atoms that has never happened before ‘in our neck of the woods’: humans now move across land in great comfort and with great efficiency.

A living thing

A living thing is my second example.  “Hunting the Elements” is a very enjoyable episode of Nova hosted by technology writer, David Pogue.  David and a biochemist go to a hardware store to buy all the basic ingredients to create life.  Yes, CHNOPS* is common

Almost all the ingredients of life are available at the local hardware. (photo courtesy of Popular Mechanics)

enough to be found there.  You can pile it into one overflowing shopping cart (in their appropriate proportions) and purchase them for a little over $100.  Well, all except the phosphorus, which is obtained amusingly by processing five gallons of David’s urine that he dutifully returns to the men’s room, repeatedly, to obtain.  So, it’s not hard to get the basic pieces for life, the issue is how to ‘get them together’ properly for anything other than dry goods to “emerge”.

In his book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (“dangerous” because it is so revolutionary), philosopher Dan Dennett discusses the origins of life by citing prominent biochemical theorist and researcher, Manfred Eigen.  “There is an unmistakable engineering flair to Eigen’s thinking”, says Dennett; “His research is a sequence of biological construction problems posed and solved: how do the materials get amassed at the building site, and how does the design get determined, and in what order are the various parts assembled so that they don’t fall apart before the whole structure is completed?”

It’s a very tricky process, to get more out of less.

*CHNOPS: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, sulfur.

A protein

A protein is my final, and prolonged, example.  I believe it will get us into the murkiest and most subtle areas of “emergence”.   Again, we return to Dennett:

“Shape is destiny in the world of macromolecules.  A one-dimensional sequence of amino acids…determines the identity of a protein, but the sequence only partially constrains  the way the one-dimensional protein string folds itself up.  It typically springs into just one of many possible shapes…This three-dimensional shape is the source of its power…” (my added italics)

Some sequence of code, a message like the following:  A–G  A–G  T–C  G–A A–G T–C (only much longer) becomes a specifically shaped protein as below.  What controls or determines the protein as a specific shape?

An extra “dimension” is added at the level of “protein”.  The linear sequence of amino acids, “A–G A–G T–C G–A …” , could be maintained at the level of protein with no constraints on the shape that protein takes.  The shape, as protein, could be perfectly circular or many other shapes, and maintain the sequence of amino acids in order.  Yet, the ‘movement’ from a “one dimension” sequence of information, at the level of amino acids, to a determined three dimensional shaped protein is consistent and “Emergent” and, as such, the “source of its power” as a protein.

An Rho protein folded into its “prion-version”.  As such, it becomes a cause of Mad-cow disease and possibly Alzheimer’s.   Its shape as protein is its functional power.  So, from a linear sequence of code, to a three-dimensional protein shape, that is “Emergence”.   Normally, Rho proteins helps in the    transcription of DNA into                                                         functionally healthy proteins.                                                     (illustration from; The Oxford Scientist Magazine)

This emergent behavior in the building of proteins was “a puzzle” noted as far back as 1958 by biochemical researchers.  The famous biochemist, Jacques Monad, solved this puzzle in the early 1970’s, says Dennett.  Admittedly, it is an “abstract” issue, almost beyond the most immediate scope of biochemistry and verging on philosophy.  “That a one-dimensional code can be ‘for’ a three-dimensional structure shows that information is added.   Indeed, value is added.  The individual amino acids have value (by contributing to the functional prowess of the protein)…”, (Dennett and his italics).  Monad describes it as “function is linked to a three-dimensional structure whose data content is richer than the direct contribution made to the structure by the genome” (Monad’s italics).  This added “value“, this “data content is richer” is the reality of Emergence in the world around us.

Emergence is Real, but It Can’t Come From Nothing

Now the hard part.  How to explain these emergent appearances.  Without reasonable explanation, emergence is just magic or supernaturalism.  The claim that All Things Cannot Be Fully Explained In The Terms of Physics, is a claim important to the very basis of this blog,, and the claim that gives “Emergence” its urgency.  It is a claim repeatedly discussed in the Human Freedom Series of posts.  It is the claim that Explanation by Reduction to ‘less complex levels’ of  physical objects is useful, but limited in its accomplishments.  The concept of “Emergence” must explain how this added “value” and “richness” occurs.  The answer to this is that the emergent property “functions” in a context “larger” and “more complex” than used, than appears, in the initial description of its components, its “parts”.   The structure as a whole is greater than a conglomeration of it “parts”.


The Keystone: How a Whole can be Greater than the Sum of Its Parts, an ancient example.

Once the keystone is put in place the arch is “far beyond” self-supporting: “a solid arch structure’s yield point is far  beyond realistic loads that structure would ever see.”    The Pont du Gard (Bridge over the Gardon River), Gard, France: built in the 1st century AD, as an aqueduct and bridge.  It carried vehicle traffic until 1996!                                            (quote form

In an arch, once the keystone is set in place, the arch has structural integrity.  Until then it must rely on temporary supports, scaffolding and frames.  This wedged-shaped stone at the top of the arch is the last to be placed and locks all the other stones (the voissor — pronounced vu’swar/) in place.  Remarkably, the keystone bears almost no weight!  The design of the arch is such that the downward force (tension) of the load is conveyedbridge-clipart-segmental-arch-6 outward (compression) through the arch and only eventually and partially downward.  Beneath the keystone there is almost no tension, no downward push.  What is the arch’s load limit?

A design can have great power; it can do things beyond the capabilities of its material organized in a less effective manner.  Diagram of the flow of forces in an arch.  (thanks to

“The ability for arches to hold load is far beyond any other structural element, even those today…For the Romans, and even engineer’s today, solid arch structure’s yield point is far beyond realistic loads that structure would ever see“, according to Interesting Engineering blog.

Sorry for the digression on arches,  but here is the point concerning the source of an emergent property:  Yes, it does “emerge” from the structure but only partially.   The additional source of information is from the thing/things around it that benefit from the “emergence.”  A structure is good only for those who use it.           

Therefore, an Emergent Property exists and is good, only to those who use it.        The information necessary for it is contained not only in it, the structure, but also in the environment in which it is to function.             

A car and a protein only have value beyond their atoms due to their design which is useful to us (the car) and useful to living things (the proteins).  Even living things have Emergent Richness beyond their atoms only due to the roles they play, the functions they serve, the things they do for other living things, this planet, and to us, humans, who are starting to become conscious of this.

Outside of that Larger Context —- that arena of their usefulness —- they have no extra value!   Take arches (one last time!) — or arch-like structures:  They are useful to us as schema20arche20longitudinale20interne20anarchitectural technology, but they could certainly be used for similar purposes by other ‘more natural’ objects.  Just Google “arch” and you will get a lot about FEET!  Still, in each case, an arch exists for the thing for which it Functions.  Its value is what it does for the thing it serves.  It only “emerges” for the Larger Context in which it works. 

Folks, this is what is called, Some Serious Philosophical Speculation.  It’s down-right Metaphysics!  And just to make sure you know what “camp” you are in, if you buy the above argument, You are a HOLIST.  You want to make as much of life around you ‘fit together’ in a meaningful (coherent) Unity.  It sounds a little like religion, this always seeking this greater unity; I can imagine my Canadian chemist thinking.  And it is; we here at Nature Religion Connection will agree.  Its the basis for a NATURALISTIC REVERENCE.

Exotic Landscape, painting by Henri Rousseau (1908)    Richer qualities emerge, value is added, when objects function for purposes in a Larger Context.

Emergence exists Only for the Thing for which the Function Occurs

Now, automobiles, and life, proteins and arches, did not have to emerge on this planet.  It is a lucky development; lucky for us, I would think.  It has been contended here, at naturereligionconnection, that surely emergent properties are not in contradiction to the most abstract laws of physics but they are, also, not a necessary outgrowth of them, either.  They are an historic accident, in some ways, and then have become ‘solidified’ by what has developed after them that depends on them.  That will be an important point in this discussion: primitive life stuck, and then much has developed based on it and its discoveries.  Arches worked, and then much has been learned and developed from them.  

Here is Origination, Holistic style: a larger context exists, but indistinctly;  an emergent property comes to exist that fits that context.  The first thing it does is give that environment much more clarity and

old  locks and keys
Emergent properties are like a key that finds its lock.  It opens new possibilities. 

specificity (it becomes an informed environment).  They begin to interact.  The thing and its environment feedback on each other. 

Think of a primitive environment as if it were a rudimentary lock.  No simple key initially exists to turn it.  Many varied formations ‘tried’.  Finally one fit, and opened the lock to its revealed new abilities and qualities (it now really is a lock, for surely locks could not exist without keys to open them).  Maybe, then, yet another round of development of locks and keys occurs, each changing, yet still as lock and key, only better.  With luck and time, if the innovations are ‘rich’ and ‘valuable’ enough,  much can possibly develop.  Our little corner of the universe has a long history — from our point of view — of such fortunate growth.  We can ‘see’ and ‘understand’ the reasons for it.  It is the basis for persons and their informed  “point of view”. **

And this is the answer to an earlier question.  If the DNA code only partially informs (determines) the protein, leaving a three-dimensional shape as a “richer” consequence that “appears”,

Without a key in the lock, the upper pins drop down from the housing into the cylinder, locking it in place.  But with the key, the pins are appropriately lifted allowing the cylinder to turn and the lock to open.”  (diagram and quote from EXPLAINTHATSTUFF.

where does the additional controls, the additional information, come from?  Not any old shape will do, and a regular set of functional shapes of that protein does occur.  Think back to the lock and key.  It is the environment (the lock) that contains the additional information.  It must “select” the key that will turn its tumblers.  And here on Earth, we have been very fortunate; many locks have been opened, and many more keys have been generated.

Dennett uses the example of DNA to make the above point.  “Note that this reasoning does not yield the conclusion that double-stranded DNA must develop, for Mother Nature

Evolution as a series of “retroactive endorsements”.  The present “endorses” the accomplishments of the past.

had no advance intention to create multicellular life.  It just reveals that if double-stranded DNA happens to begin to develop, it opens up opportunities that are dependent on it.  Hence it becomes a necessity for those exemplars in the space of all possible life forms that avail themselves of it, and if those life forms prevail over those that do not avail themselves of it, that yields a retroactive endorsement of this raison d’etre for the DNA language.  This is the way evolution always discovers reasons — by retroactive endorsement” (Dennett’s italics, my bolding).

But some, who are enamored by the laws of physics, insist the basic ways we think about ourselves, and maybe even “life” in general, are mistaken, delusional.  Animals don’t really “Do New Things”, by comparison to the chemicals that make them; they only maxresdefaultappear to, and are, in reality, only prolonged chains of those chemicals reacting.  Humans don’t have ‘Free Will’; they are not ‘Responsible’ for their behavior.  Again, those appearances are ignorance, delusions akin to seeing ‘gods’.  “The world is really long chains of basic causes and it is foolish to speak differently”, they say.

But sometimes, appearances are enough!  As we look out from our position in space and time and try to understand it, and us, we are impressed with our own active efforts, and the active efforts of those around us — both human and non-human.  It’s the Tree of Life, with all its related objects and their advancing series of motives, intentions.  Nature has given us this foundation and it’s panoply of reasons from which we may seek further growth.  We will even learn more physics, and use that knowledge to “Emerge” with greater abilities and hopefully a more firm understanding of how all things may be able to work together for mutual enhancement.  It appears those opportunities are available to us, but part of the equation is that we try.  For creatures with open futures, it is necessary that possibilities “appear”!

“The Smile of the Flamboyant Wings”, painting by Joan Miro (1953)             For creatures with open futures, it is necessary that possibilities “appear”!

**This description of “Origination, holistic style” may sound pretty fishy.  It is rather, but is has a significant history in philosophical thought.  Recently, it was associated with the discussion of ‘when is a thing still the same thing even after it has changed?’ and was a pivotal topic for Wittgenstein, I believe.  Going back to some of the origins of abstract thinking in Greece, it was associated with Plato’s problem of, we might say, ‘what is “a chair” if every chair that exists is not “the same” exactly — and many do vary dramatically — as any other “chair” that exists?’  In the end these issues come down to the problem of Reference or Representation,  How is one thing ‘about’ or ‘represent’ another thing?  Reference or Representation seems to be a very different kind of relation than Causation, and therefore a real curve ball for scientific explanation.  And, of course, science is itself a representation of the world.



Freedom: Structures 3, or How to get Bird Song from the Equations of Physics

(This is post 14 in the series on Freedom.  Thank Goodness, that “Goodness” has been given a physical base in Reality, and that this Blog Series on Freedom is nearing its end!  In this post, Structures in nature will be given credit for the new things and abilities that exist beyond the world as only physics.  Freedom is based in Structure and Design and the quality of these will be described.  Some structures exhibit enough complexity for not only a degree of freedom but also “experience”, “self-experience” and “deliberation”, and this enables additional freedom.  Also, our favorite golfer, philosopher J. Austin, will be visited one last time.  These are difficult topics and I regard these blogs as an approach that will hopefully merit some discussion and refinement.  The text below is accompanied by many great images, I think, and is worthy of perusal , I hope.)

                              Columbine (Aquilegia)                                               The purpose of Structure                                                              in Nature is Originality.             (Photo by GregWW)

In this universe, where do new things come from?  That is the question we have approached repeatedly in this blog series; more specifically how could a creature be free?  That is definitely, “a new thing”.  We all should agree, this show started with a bang.  In its opening millionths of a second, quarks and electrons formed.  A few millionths later, “quarks aggregated to produce protons and neutrons” and in minutes these collected into nuclei.  After 380,000 years, the outward rushing ‘debris’ had slowed and cooled (by its standards) and most electrons had been “trapped in orbits” around nuclei, leaving the universe “almost completely helium and hydrogen”, the first atoms.  So reports the CERN Lab.

Each of these — quark, electron, proton, neutron, nuclei, atom — are Structures.  This hard science is not a specialty of mine, and it is interesting that the number of physicists with opinions on matters far afield of physics (it would seem) — Free Will and the Meaning of Life — have become prominent in current debate on these obscure topics.  Maybe, the obscure attracts the obscure!  All should agree that the physical origin of the universe is still the underlying character of all that is.  But, whence all the diversity?  It “appears” that many diverse qualities have come from very few.  Like ‘trying to get blood from a turnip’, the terms of physics seem to give no logical access to, for example, the terms we use to describe ourselves and other living things.

The Hunger of Baby Birds
                                      From the Equations of Physics?  No Logical Access!                                           (photos from Physics Equations Wall paper and fiddlersfoundblogspot)

Theists continue the tradition of ‘explaining’ these added and ‘richer’  qualities in Supernatural terms: Something metaphysically different must be present.  And when these abilities ‘soar’ to the height of language-use (“meaning”), gaining and having “knowledge”, and the supposed ability to be “Free and Responsible”, well, that constitutes an Intellectual and Cultural Crisis!  Or, maybe just, our society would be better off with some additional consensus on fundamental issues.

An Allegory of Water and Earth by Jan Bruegel, c. 1600                          Inspired by Renaissance Humanism and the cultural crisis of the rise of Protestantism in a Catholic Europe, this is an empirical depiction of the diversity of forms “flowing” from these two of the four ancient elements.

Ironically, we here at naturereligionconnection agree with the theists, no logical route exists from Causation/Determinism to Freedom, but, we then continue, add the crucial factor, Structure or Design.  It is the reality and character of Structure that is the Naturalistic Explanation for the “emergence” of the many diverse qualities that we see and experience in our world, including Freedom.

Foremost, among Structures is Life and Language, or the linguistic communication among Persons.  It is the reality and character of these two forms, along with their many-many minor and contributing intermediate forms, that brings the world beyond its stripped-down reality of pure physics!  They allow our favorite golfer, philosopher John Austin, to appropriately believe that a putt like the one he missed could be made in the future, and that he will be completely determined in each case.  Freedom is Compatible with being caused, in some cases.

Structure is the Key

Structure is huge in science, and in everyday life.  It would seem to be a simple idea, but it is shrouded in, at least, philosophic controversy.  Engineers are very familiar with

The designer of The Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles is Architect Frank Gehry.  We are very comfortable with The Idea of Designs in human societies.

structure and represent the straightforward and obviously important aspects of the idea.  A bridge must have structural integrity; it must be able to stand on its own and do its job — function.  Engineers design bridges and inspect them, which highlights the premeditation, the research and development, and the standards and principles involved in structures.  For these reasons, structures often involve designers who are conscious agents with purposes of their own, and their designs exist in a human society.

The tallest bridge in the world.  Millau Viaduct in Millua, France.  All its parts must function together and do this WELL.  Structures have Agency;  they do something, and they also imply Evaluation!

Our curiosity, and the controversy, starts to rise at this point.  Do structures exist in nature?  Are structures in nature designed?  Is “structure” and “design” synonymous?  It would seem that The Solar System is a structure, along with the anatomical systems of plants and animals.  Is “structure ” and “system” the same thing?  Is the Carbon Cycle a structure?  RNA and DNA are clearly structures that function.  So are bee hives and termite mounds and yet clearly no individual insect designs them.  This blog is an exploration of t

A tornado is a structure
So is the Solar System

Structures, like the two above, display a very systematic character.  They function.  Are they tightly enough organized to determine their parts?  Yes, in some ways, but if each ‘fell apart’ would their parts continue to exists?  Probably, yes.

A strand of DNA is a structure        composed of amino acids.               The Carbon Cycle is a system composed of organic and inorganic parts.


For the two structures above, if they ‘fell apart’, it is clear that the amino acids would maintain their character and the inorganic and organic elements of the carbon cycle would at least temporarily persist.  But DNA and the C-Cycle are integral parts, themselves, of larger systems.  We all know that the specific organization of amino acids is the essence of DNA’s character as information to all living things.  The functioning of the carbon cycle is vital to The Biosphere as a working unit.  It would seem that the significance of structure has increased from the original examples of tornado and solar system.  DNA and the c-cycle have important properties as working structures in the roles they play in ‘larger’ processes.

Anatomy of a Fly and an Army Ant ant bridge.  (see ASK Technologies for a good ant bridge video) How do the ants get it started?  Don’t they have to defy gravity?  Once they get bridge in place, we can see how it holds, But how to start it?



Here at NatieRel, our sense of the reality of tight structures is buoyed in the anatomy of living things.  Here, parts are subordinate in a larger functioning unit.  Our sense of the Ontological Significance of Structure sky-rockets when we contemplate ant and termite colonies, the schooling of fish and the flocking of some birds.  Some scholars contend that language-using humans are the most social of all living creatures!  In each of these cases, significant emerging qualities exist for these creatures but only as they are participants in their larger structural settings: organs in a body, army ants in a colony, persons in a society, fish in a school.

The schooling of Sickleback fish.

Structures attain a seemingly increased level of complexity when they appear to “deliberate”.   Persons clearly have a sense of themselves as “deliberating”, but we also have this impression of a variety of other things.  Does your pet dog deliberate?  Do computers, chimpanzees, birds “deliberate to make decisions” about what to do next?  To fly here, to sing now, to search for food next, are these deliberation, even if “determined deleberation” as Dennett argues for?   In each case these structures seem to have a “deep reservoir of potential behaviors”; a variety of ‘motives’, ‘needs, ‘goals’ to which they set their parts aworking.  

“Do dogs enjoy being trained?” asks this article from Jonah’s Ark, a dog blog. Do dogs make ‘decisions’? asks this crazy blog.


Even if you punch in the destination, look at all the ‘decisions’ a self-driving car makes to get you there!  What if your ‘self-car’ decided on its own to pull into Wendy’s for a triple stack? (Business Insider photo)










Traditionally, in many cultures, “God”,or something closely akin, was said to have designed or created things in nature.  The emphasis here being on “the act of creation” and not on premeditation and certainly not on a process of research and development.  Some of  the various origin stories from around the world and through time might make a worthy topic for a blog series.  I already have a familiarity with some of them, but the point here being, none of these tales are scientific theory nor a philosophical analysis of the character that a structure or design must have, at least according to some philosophers. 

Scientifically, it is the Theory of Evolution and its combination with Genetics that form “the Modern Synthesis” that is the accepted view of design in biology.  It uses the logic of science and an overwhelming abundance of evidence to explain the proliferation, continuation and variation of living formsForms are structures, but even in science controversy exists.  Leading biologist, Richard Dawkins, has argued with his associate, philosopher Daniel Dennett, that design is only “apparent” in nature, not real because it needs a conscious designer.  Dennett contends design is real and perpetuated by Natural Selection.  He admits it is only perceived from the point of view of Persons and not form the point of view of the Universe ‘seen objectively’.  But, persons are real, he argues.

Robotic bees pollinating flowers.  The issue of Agency is being solved practically. (image from The Conversation)

Dennett has made much of the science of Artificial Intelligence and robotics to further understand, and then present, the concept of “Structure” (or “design”) as
real and as ontologically significant.  Interestingly this work has confirmed some of what traditional idealist philosophers have contended going as far back as Plato, Aristotle and Leibniz, but in this new way.  Part of the issue of Agency (Doing and not just Having Been Done To) and Free Will (Decision-Making, in some significant form) is being practically approached in AI and robotics.  One of  Dennett’s favorite

It’s purposes are built into it.  It must ‘know’ what it is ‘looking for’ and make ‘decisions’.  The Mars Rover “Opportunity”.

examples is the design and performance of machines like The Mars Rover.  This Rover is so far from its makers that it must function largely on its own.  It must have its purposes built into it, must ‘know’ what it is ‘looking for’, make ‘decisions’ and even ‘problem-solve’ to some extent.  It is “designed to make the most of its opportunities”, says Dennett.  It is shocking, to an old guy like me, how quickly self-driving cars are being developed and even deployed!

In a Structure, The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

I have called structures, “Virtuous Circles” (see posts 6 and 7).  Structures are designs that are self-enclosed to a significant degree.  Within that closure, they are defined and characterized in their own terms.  It is in this ‘hot house’ of closure that important new relations arise and qualities emerge.  A classic example is an organismIts

A cheetah runs well, with speeds up to    75 mph.  The well designed Structure introduces Value into the universe.  (Photo from WILDLIFE ACT)

parts are defined in relation to each other and in relation to what they do, their functioning.  This interrelationship of parts is so tight that no part — heart, brain, kidney…— can exist long outside this system of functioning.  The parts of The Mars Rover are made in accordance with, and defined by, their function in their “home” setting, their associated mechanical parts.  When these parts work well by having good design and proper working order, they initiate/originate New Things into the world.  First, they introduce the ‘thing’ that they do; and second, they introduce Value.  When structures function they do so well or poorly, better and worse.  So, Structures not only allow Doing and Origination into a naturalistic ontology but also value!  That is why we say, “a bridge should have structural integrity.

The medieval scholar explained a thing by its                        “essence”.                         Thomas Aquinas, Professor of Sacred Theology at U. of Paris, 1270. They had a very good football team that year, also. (painting by C. Crivelli, 1476)

An important development in cultural history, and part of the origin of scientific investigation, was the shift away from “essences” as explanation.  Essences were famously mocked by Voltaire, in his novel Candide (1759), where he had the medieval doctor ‘explain’ opium in very pompous Latin as having “an essence to cause sleep.”   This is what it does to us and it ‘explains’ this in the terms of persons: “causes sleep”.  This was rightly mocked as not being informative; it does not show how it works.  As an explanation, it is A Vicious Circle; opium is its ability to cause sleep, not how it causes sleep. 

But from the point of view of a person, it does show that it works.  “Opium”, in this way, Refers to us and is information.  Information is more than causation.  Reference is the relation to the world that a Structure has in addition to causation!  It is the designs extension, by definition, beyond the borders of its body, to “that” which appropriately, by design, influences it.  Opium is part of our information environment, the umwelt,  and allows us an avenue of experience to Analyze opium into terms that are not personal, terms that are more objective (see post 9). 

That ‘something out there’, referred to us as “opium”, exists and it works on us, that allows us to analyze ‘that opium’ into very different terms –— terms of chemical elements and their structure, not the structure of persons.  So, Action Precedes its Analysis!

The action of a structure is based in a level of complexity.  Dennett contends that this relationship that is ‘in our own terms’ is a “virtuous circle” because it is the information relationship of reference, the That and not the How.  This is what was meant in post 11 (Science Lags Behind) by “Analysis is parasitic on Action”. “Action” is behavior in accordance with a design.  It is an origination.  And thus—-

— It is Free! 

This is how new phenomena come to exist ‘above’ the level of the objects of physics and chemistry.  Action according to design exhibits a degree of freedom

So this is how Bird Song comes from physics.  It is not incompatible with those laws, but it is also not deducible from those physical laws.  There is definitely an element of chance, indeed, good fortune for the birds and us.   

Within the laws of physics there is some “elbow room”, no matter how briefly by cosmic

Depiction of Mother Nature from 17th century alchemical text, Atalanta Fugiens.  Nature as the first intentional system?

standards, for local regularities, cycles, patterns to appear, and found and supplement further regularities, cycles, patterns as if a set of nested bowls.  In our little local ‘hot spot’, Agency, in the form of a feed-back system with abilities foreshadowing personhood, has appeared based in self-replicating entities.  We call this feed-back system, Mother Nature, for good reasons.  Her process of Natural Selection has ‘sought’ to “turn ‘noise’ into signal”, says Dennett.  She has carried forward a process of generate and test, ‘seeking’ to find further ‘opportunities’ to enhance Life’s formation, its In-formation.

“Infochemical Communication” by pheromones.  The “informational” element in this chemical interaction allows these two moths to appear autonomous to us.  Should they be considered two organs in a species-wide organism, from a more objective view?


Natural Selection has toyed with many forms (structures) of communication and, surely, bird song was a form approaching human language in its complexity.  Mother Nature experimented with many ideas, or as Dennett calls them, “free-floating rationales”.  Bird song and human language are two that stuck.

So, for any structure, its relation to the world around it is not simply causal, it is also informational The information relations are the causal relations that matter to the structure and the jobs it is designed to do.   It is “caused by special interest events“, and so it is “determined” by its design to do its job, says Dennett.  The structure can be Caused Rightly for its design, like when a person is convinced to act by good evidence, and it can be Caused Wrongly for its structure, as when a person is knocked off the road by a truck.* And, some causal forces are of no significance at all to it, as photons are of little significance to the human body

Causal forces can be beneath relevance to a structure; some are             totally overwhelming to it.         (photo ZEENEWS)

or to a bridge spanning the Mississippi.  Other causal forces are indistinct to it; an animal at its dried watering hole with a felt thirst does not distinguish between the seasonal drought that dried the hole, or the day’s forces of evaporation or global climate change.

Structures are “highly resistant to micro-level ‘noise’ and (some) random perturbations”, but they also encounter causes completely overwhelming to them, as were the effects of the comet that struck the earth 60 mya destroying the environmental structure necessary for dinosaurs.   A structure, and its designer, are “finite (like us) so it cannot follow a policy of considering everything that might be relevant to its interests all the time” (Dennett).  There is no point, usually, in designing structures for rare and overwhelming possibilities.

*Caused Rightly by the truck, would be to react reflexively and avoid the collision, or the brunt of it.

Teasing Out the Possibilities

It is the terms of the Structural Level of Persons that allow humans to interact rationally and with responsibility. (photo courtesy of MedicalXpress)

Structures work on the world that matters to them, in their terms.  Modern socialized, language-using humans should work on the world “rationally”, “responsibly”, and “socially” in order to achieve their goals.  This is our design.  Other animals work on the world efficiently, at least, to attain their goals.  The same could be said for plants and even functioning, designed, inanimate objects.  Natural Selection established designs for living creatures including humans.  But with persons,  it is also our self-considered,  and reconsidered, functioning, that has further modified our structure.  Socially, humans have functioned to select new skills

In ancient Mesopotamia, persons used their implicit sense of Rationality to select agriculture as a new form of living together. (Image from ancienthistorylists)

and new forms of living together (both are themselves structures) along with the principles, rules, and laws suggested by them.  Ancient humans chose and were caused to choose agriculture as a new form of life.  The same can be said for industrialization, of which the implications are still being discovered.  For Persons, this is—

—-An Additional Degree of Freedom.

Since structures are real, these languages and principles are equally real.  They were Implicit in structures as “free floating rationales”, argues Dennett.  It was the deliberation of humans, the “determined deliberation” of humans, that first made Explicit these Implicit principles.  For example, in our reconsideration of our behavior the self-enclosure and circularity of this structure of person and society became the basis for our sense of “individuality”, “self”, “experience”, “self-experience”, “agency” and “responsibility”.  Though, it is important to realize that this “Reflection” is ultimately ‘a hall of mirrors’ argues Dennett.  there is no necessary end to systems reviewing systems, no end to “meta” questioning, no individual physical-like thing (no homunculus) as ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’ of self-reflection.

           The Self as Reflection.             Self reflecting on self, and self reflected in others is the basis for the ‘depth’ of our behavior.  See post 6. (photo from YafaRay)

This is how in a world of causes, as envisioned by the hard sciences, persons do legitimately “have” experiences, opinions, reasons and preferences.  Structures are real, and for Persons — our form of social structure — these experiences must then be reported, discussed,  and agreed upon.   Consensus is one of our highest standards (See post 6).  Some three thousand years ago, when abstract thoughtfulness gained launch momentum (at least for western culture), Socrates and Plato agreed that Truth, Goodness and Beauty were the ultimate standards of reality.  If we can add Efficiency, then we can say these first great explores of structure were half right.  Those standards may be the goal for our “informed” world, even if not the world of our Super Scientist.

The Information Relationship

The information relationship cannot be discarded from an ontology.  If it is, we leave no logical basis for the Doing (the origination) of anything new, let alone the Doing of scientific research and its decisions with all the logically attached concepts like “testing”, “knowing”, “proving”, “experiencing”, “measuring”, “theorizing”, “evaluating”…

In a coherent ontology, a Structure must intervene in the causal chain at key points to create phenomena autonomous enough to be recognized by us and described by us as significantly distinct from their background in the universe as a causal net without breach. 

Living forms appear to us as an increasing accumulation of information.  Each is an experiment in agency, the ability to do something.  From the most objective perspective each of these individual structures are a more convoluted sequence of causes within causes and with no new qualities or abilities.  See posts 6 and 10 on The Great Chain of Being.

“Life” is one of those key points and so are the ‘things’ we call a “person”.  These two structures are extremely convoluted, so much so that, to us, they tend to display a significant autonomy and thus seem to act in terms unique to them. They are the most basic relation to the universe for humans as the finite and limited structures that we are.  This autonomy is significant enough that the Theory of Evolution is the accepted science, in the terms of life, for living things.  History, sociology, and cognitive psychology function in that way as sciences for humans and their culture.  All of these forms of knowledge resist the reduction of their subject matter to simply chemistry or physics terminology.  This is how acting according to one’s design tends to resist complete reduction to terms that ignore design and structure.  But, admittedly, there is that further part of what is real — that ultimate physical background.

“I Should Have Holed That Putt!”

On the particular occasion, when Austin missed his putt, the causal forces of the universe working up and through ‘him’ were not aligned to cause the putt to be made. Of course,

Structures “try”.  Royal Gorge Bridge, Colorado      (photo from Orange Smile)

“him” is used in a loose sense here, as the collection of atoms, waves, chemicals and mechanical structures ‘experienced’ as him by himself and his society.  Austin’s belief that it could have gone otherwise, is mistaken.  He did try his best and it didn’t happen, but his belief in its possibility was not mistaken.  That belief is based in his structural character and in his confidence that he is a well-enough designed golfer that putts such as the one he missed, in general, are well within his normal capabilities.  Structures do not always and automatically succeed.  They break down. They work well enough but not perfectly: there can be an accumulation of forces beneath their normal ‘recognition’, there can be a deterioration in the working order of their parts. there can be the intervention of an overwhelming force.  Structures are limited in their design and ability.  They are part of that world (the informed world) that is full of “possibilities”, “probabilities”, “chances” and “vagueness”.

Firefighters helping man
      The most complex Structures can, also, “care”, and                               “hope” to “make a difference”.                  (photo from the Achieve Anything Foundation)

Austin’s belief in “the possible” has a purpose to serve in that ‘more subjective’ world the next time he faces a similar putt.  He must believe that “that putt, now” can possibly go in.  He should “just ‘keep (his) head down’ (like any good golfer) and keep on deliberating; it’s (his) best chance of arriving at the decisions (and outcomes) he’d like to arrive at”, concludes Dennett.  This is our situation far beyond golf.  We are well designed complex structures and many of our concepts rightfully refer our deliberations to the crucial components (of whatever is the matter at hand) in the ‘more objective’ world that is our ultimate physical background.  It is how we “can” succeed in a complex universe were the causal forces of that universe are passing through us.

That we “experience” and are thus prone to “failure”, “opportunity”, “possibility” and “breakdown” may seem to be  a weakness for complex structures, but it is also the “meat of  life” for these finite creatures who exist within a more ‘infinite’ network of physical causes..  Finite structures, in general, maintain a basic integrity through a period of time and a range of events, but do not remain exactly the same, nor do they need to.  They do their job the best they can and eventually return into the background. This is what finite structures do: They have an individuality; they try, change and then pass away.  The most complex finite structures, like Persons, do much the same except they also “care”, and “hope” that upon passing away to have “made a difference”.

Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, c.1490  Illustrates his respect for Structure in Nature and Society.  Roman architect Vitruvius contended the proportions of the ideal human body were the source of proportion in classical architecture. (Wikipedia)

In the final posts of this series, this series finally ends.  Like all good structures, I hope this series hangs together and does its job of convincing readers of the limitations of scientific reduction and of the “elbow room” (Dennett’s phrase) for Freedom.  In these last two posts, our astounding relation to our causal background will be described, with shocking implications for our broadest and most objective interpretation of our situation as persons.  These implications will throw new light on “freedom” and generate a revised definition for it.


Logo drawing by Marty

Freedom: A Characteristic of Structures 2

(In the previous post on Human Freedom, we argued that for Freedom to exist, “the possible must not shrink too tightly around the actual”.  There must be a “looseness” in the world even if it is based in a Person’s Limited Nature and abilities.  In the current post, Number 13 in the series, we will contrast Our Limits with the Ideal Limitlessness of Science!  Finite Structures like a coin toss and a dog “can” do things — like come up Heads, or bark — but do not always do so.  These options exist only to us ordinary humans (Thank Goodness!) and not for an Ideal Science.  Persons have the ability to do something different the next time they are faced with a similar, but not the exact same, situation.) 

From outside the system, the Super Scientist looks on.  He ‘sees’ it in its totality, with complete knowledge of all its factors and all their behavior!  (Image courtesy of


When the Dog Barks

I have limited knowledge of the behavior of my dog.  I cannot predict every time she will bark, or in my case, howl — a beagle.  This is why we say, a dog “can” bark: it does not always bark, and maybe does not even “have to” bark ever, and when its does bark we may not know why.   When the one option does happen, the dog barks for example, we are confirmed that it “can”, and “can” investigate

When we understand the cause of why the dog barked in a particular case, the pooch has become less distinct from its background.  If we knew in advance every time the dog was going to bark, it would be much less distinct from its background, it would be in the process of fading into unity with our massive causal background.

and determine the causes why it did then.  If we are highly successful, it will be a step in the direction of making that dog less autonomous, less distinct from its environment than previously.  We “can” say,  “Under those circumstances, the dog will bark, always!”  Our world is determined, in that way. 

It is even conceivable to take a coin flip that came up “heads” and ideally reconstruct the scenario that caused its occurrence.   But this is where the difficulties start of multiply for us.  These difficulties, maybe, are a good thing because for an intelligence far superior to ours no coin toss, horse race or Power Ball Lottery outcome would ever be unknown and unpredictable!  This far superior intelligence would be something like a Super Scientist. 

Science relies on an ideal perspective. 

A controlled environment allows the scientist to alter the independent variable and then observe its effect on the dependent variable.  That Controlled Environment is an artificial situation;  it is “seen” as a closed causal systemfrom outsidein its totality, with all pertinent causal forces known and accurately measured.  This works fabulously in many, many, particular settings.  It tells us why the dog barked, but even with the coin coming up heads, there are difficulties.  

In practice,  but not in principle, even a pinball’s movement is a challenge to measure accurately.

In real life, difficulties exist in controlling the environment, and then accurately knowing and measuring the forces and factors involved.  What makes every toss unpredictable to us is the large number of factors involved and then their “looseness”.  Each toss is thrown a different height, different rotation, different wind, humidity, landing surface, coin …  Dennett cites physicists reporting on the limitations of accurate measurement: Even in a pin ball game, the ball bouncing numerous times off  two or three bumpers, each bounce with slightly different angles and speeds, all in a split second or two, presents a formidable challenge to precise measurement and prediction.  Any inaccuracy in measurement is amplified as the chain of reactions lengthens.  Often the

Heads or Tails: a looseness that exists in our world.

act of measuring, itself, introduce variance in the process.

It can be argued that these are only practical problems and capable of resolution.  The practice of science is sound and this has been clearly indicated by the very character of our modern achievements.  Ideally, it often seems this science-vision of the world can be expanded into the most reasonable world view, but when we do, the practical problems only worsen.

The measuring problems increase.  Over very large systems, all the necessary measurements cannot be made at once.  Any imprecision would ramify massively.   

And who does the measuring?  In the ideal image of science, “the knowing mind” is outside the system to be known.  Traditionally, it has therefore been thought of as the “objective” point of view in contrast to more “subjective” visions.  That is accurate, in the sense that it presents a world without subjects: ‘Things’ that are observers, thinkers, communicators; ‘things’ that have feelings, perceptions, and — in general — any ‘thing’ that ‘experiences’.  This image of the world has no place for The Doing of Scienceonly the results of the ‘hard’ sciences.  It lacks “the logical space for reasons”, 

            Humans have no Free Will: An Absolutist View of Science.                                (photo by Tina Patni courtesy of My Modern Met)

says Dennett following noted philosopher of science, Wilfred Sellars.  Scientists must consider evidence on logical ground, decide among options, reason, and ponder the possible.  This Absolutist Vision of Science is, therefore, very Im-Practical.  There is no place in it for the Practice of science or the Doing of any particular thing in any terms other than causation.  Pushes and shoves, pulls and attractions, electrical currents, chemical reactions, all “can” and do happen, but  this is not Thinking, Reasoning or Acting.  It is the Structure of human society that facilitates the structure of Persons that Do these things that are then associated with their physical causes.  This is the argument against ‘hard’ determinism; it is “greedy reductionism” and is incoherent when it discusses language, reasoning, and belief as if they are only physical causes. It is incoherent because these very reductionists use language and reasoning to try to Convince Us, not cause us, to Rightly Change our Beliefs and Actions. 

“The God’s-Eye View of the World”: Like the Super Scientist,        Christianity’s God the Father looks down on the world with complete           knowledge of it in its totality, past and future, and all its parts.          (painting: God the Father, by Cima da Conegliano, c.1515; Wikipedia.  Quote from various Compatiblist philosophers used to satirize the Absolutist Science position)

In the following post, The Character of Structures 3, a structure’s ability to mediate causal forces, without Supernatural abilities but only physical organizational powers, will be clarified.  Structure allows new things into our causally driven world, and turns the place into A Grand Series of Amazing, and sometimes amazingly horrifying, Events.  It’s not all just dominoes and dominoes falling!

Logo drawing by Marty