(This is the Introduction to a series of posts on Freedom. The series is not about 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! They are published for the sake of the clarification of basic philosophical and scientific positions. Later posts will contain many of these ideas expressed in a different form. First published 11/04/2018)
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!
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 notthe 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.
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
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 Sartre’s “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 clock-work!
*Upon further consideration, I am not sure this is an accurate portrayal of Sartre’s position. It is more of a strawman, an exaggerated portrayal made to make a point and be easily knocked down.
(HAVING FUN with METAPHYSICS!Getting really deep, and it works,, and its not too painful either! —Only about 20 paragraphs, At least check out the images!—. Well, do Designs have Designers or not? And I mean, Ultimately, of course. With Human Persons we saw the Evolution of Intelligent Designers, but now we are backing off that claim as The Final Truth! Intelligent Design is an evolved piece in a Cosmic Design –as on display on our humble little planet. This broadest process of Design is without premeditation or goal, but still Person-like in its creativity.. “Final Truth?” : I did not know there was such a thing. TAKING the BIG STRETCH, here in Part IV at The NatureReligionConnection!)
Persons in Our Ordinary View of Things
Our sense of Design culminates in our thinking about ourselves as “Persons.” As persons we fabricate objects of value but we are also makers of ourselves and our communities, and we gain an understanding of Design from “the inside”, we have argued. We understand Design as the rules for a structure, or the principles of an orderly cycle of events—including our own lives. From this “inside” perspective, we hold ourselves to be more than just animals, we now have a unique social, moral and political status.We are “One of Us”—Persons—and have certain Communication and Response-Abilities to this larger–“Us”– unit.
“Our World” is full of various degrees of “personality”, various degrees of autonomy and responsibility in its existing designs and structures. From its dim suggestion in the cycles of the inanimate world, to microbial creatures, to plants, to simpler animals, to highly skilled robots and computers, to non-human mammals, to children, to responsible adults, we “see” a growing progression of sophisticated designs that reflect our sense of ourselves and our possibilities as Designs and self-designers. It is an accumulation of Personality.
This is Not an unusual observation; it isa narrative we find in our Most Common Understanding of things. It is our “manifest image”, as Dennett* calls it following philosopher Wilford Sellers. It is a kind of psychological theory embedded in our everyday world view.
(Unusual Variations of “Persons”; all somewhat truncated versions thereof. Photo 3: Looking a scallop in the face! “The eyes are the window to the soul” said Bill Shakespeare. Scallop have dozens of eyes!.)
In this “folk psychology”, we understand the special status of persons; and we can feel for animals, as if, little or hairy or feathery or other unusual variations of persons, of “us”. We might even wonder if plants have feelings, like some minute Personhood. Many of us do talk to plants, nurture them, recognize their recurring design. And Pets become dearly-held family members, often, in this “manifest” (or clearly evident and common) view of things.
(THE SEEDS OF “PERSONALITY” in the world around us. We give our hurricanes names, above is Dorian from 2019; after all they grow by feeding off their environment, move, and then die out. And, Single-celled animals are attracted to food and repelled by toxins. The one above drives itself forward through the use of its flagellum. It exhibits “competence without comprehension” says Dennett. It does not understand what it does, but what it does it does pretty well. “What is It Like to be a Bat?“: a famous modern paper in philosophy by an opponent of Dennett’s who argues that greater complexity in design is not enough to explain Consciousness. Consciousness is a different kind of thing, he contends; it is like some special ‘spark’ or “a ghost in the machine”, a kind of mystery that is beyond much explanation but only privately experienced.)
(GRADUALLY DEVELOPING “PERSONALITY”: A Mars Rover–but not the newest one!–[top right] needed to be largely autonomous in its decision-making. Too far from Earth to be driven and consistently commanded from here [radio signals taking from 8 to 40 minutes travel time], it was programmed and designed to accomplish various tasks [who isn’t] with immediate and particular decisions made through “autonomy software” using observations from its sensors. “Mama’s Last Hug” [left], biology Prof. van Hoof visits Mama, the now aging and dying chimp he had worked with in the early 1970s. Upon a closer look, Mama exhibited obvious excitement and emotion, eventually reaching forth and patting the head of her old friend. [Bottom right} Young Children are a developing Person. They search for autonomy, but are in need of guidance, direction and patience; and they are generally eager to learn.)
Persons in The World, and Designs Stretching Far Beyond
So, the creative efforts of Design in the universe stretch far beyond humans. We are indebted to it! Cumulatively, these Designs have achieved much success. Most humans now live in a highly “artificial environment”. We call it “civilization”, says Dennett, and it is “an artifact”, a product and an accumulation of our “laws and traditions.” Nonetheless, civilization is “perfectly real“; it is “out there” around us. It is a set of patterns, to say again, as objective as those of physics, just more dependent on us!
(CIVILIZATION AS PATTERNS AS REAL AS ANY IN THE UNIVERSE, BUT ALSO DEPENDENT ON HUMANS:music written into a score, money, written language — Coca Cola written in Chinese [top middle], Hebrew [middle row, left], Korean [middle, right], Somalian [bottom row, middle]. Finally, The Pyramids at Giza are humanly associated patterns with a real objective durability!
We now have “writing, arithmetic, money, clocks, and calendars”, each is a “system of representation” that is so closely associated with That For Which They Are To Represent, that the two are indistinguishable. What is the multiplicity of things, without Arithmetic –1,2,3,4? What is Time, without clocks and calendars, and even the orbiting of the earth? What is Time in-itself?** Humans involved in economic activity naturally evolved Money, as a “representation” of that activity; just as human vocal sounds (phonemes) eventually found the designs of our different languages. “Nature” and “its fundamental Designs” are virtually indistinguishable. We are mistaken if we think the two can be pulled apart, as when some try to say physics is “The Real”, and civilization is just “Subjective”.
Each of these Designs — speech, writing, arithmetic, time — are what Dennett calls “Darwinian ‘inventions'”; they are “inventions without inventors”, “designs with no particular designer”! They are not “the brainchildren of particular individual intelligent designers.” They are Nature’s “free-floating rationales” that have “bubbled up” to usas a community for some form of explicit Representation. They are Designs with one side ‘facing out’ to form ‘the world’ and the other side ‘facing inward’ to form “Mind”. Mind, we will say,CULMINATES in human joint action based on shared and communicated ways of living. That is a de-mystified characterization of the reality of “Mind”. It is a Culture; it is the way we collectively approach ‘the world’, all of us (often) thinking together and training our children to do so, too..
Dennett started his discussion of the Evolution of Mind with the self-preservation of its own design by bacteria, and finishes with The Prolific Creative Design-Talent of Johann Sebastian Bach. He takes Bach asa high-point in the powers of Intelligent, Premeditated, Self-Conscious Design, a seemingly contrary case to Design with no designer.
Indeed, much of Bach’s success should be attributed to his own efforts and genius. He studied diligently the works of the great composers before him and all the different musical styles of his day. He became an expert in counterpoint. He wrote music incessantly. For example, he composed 5 years of ecclesiastical music for the Lutheran church, one program for each Sunday varying according to the church calendar.
But Dennett points out thatmaybe we should not give Bach himself all the credit.Deeper forces were working around him, in him and before him. He was born into a highly musical family with his father and several uncles all professional musicians. His own offspring undoubtedly benefitted from the transmission of these genes as evident in the four that reached adulthood becoming noted musicians also. But it was not only a transmission of genes, The Bach Family was a ‘hot house’ environment for musical productivity. It was an environment imbued with musical appreciation and concentration, that really included not only the family but also patrons and organizations (the Lutheran Church) that fostered this creativity in Design.
Back to Design With No Designer
But what of Natural Selective Forces acting even within human society? Was Bach and his music Naturally Selected as “Memes” worthy of “differential reproduction”? Could our cultural sense of Quality be open to Blind Design Forces? Yes,says Dennett, and we here at The Connection concur!
(WHO SAW ANY OF THIS COMING or WHERE IT WAS GOING? Or any great world-historical development? No one planned it, no one knew if it would succeed, no one knew where it would lead: Chuck Berry in the late 1950s; teen-age girls swoon as The Beatles visit New York in 1964; Hippies in the year 1968; Women’s Liberation in 1970.)
Who chose Bach, and how? J.S.Bach was not phenomenally successful in his life time, especially as a composer. He was mostly noted as an organist and it was not until some 50 years after his death that his written compositions began to be deeply appreciated by musicians and critics and began to be Replicated at a faster rate. Today, they are Reproduced and Influential at a massive rate yearly. Yet no musician, in the era of Bach or soon after, Chose Bach’s Fame. Each made an individual choice that had ramifications far beyond that individual act.
Dennett sites Herman Melville and his Moby Dick as another example of greatness that laid dormant for years until the commemoration of that authors 100th birthday led to Moby’s revival and soon Immortality. On the other hand, Johannes Brahms was “wildly popular” in his own time.
Now these musical and artistic tastes are, of course, Memes, not genes. It normally takes extensive amounts of time for the Gradual Modification of Genes to become effective in their entire population. But not so for Memes, a term adopted by Dennett from his friend and noted biological theorist Richard Dawkins. Memes are the Basic Group-Held Signs and Organizational Structures(designs) that form “Mind” and Culture. They are shared Meanings and Methods, and in this way form a New Level of Human Interaction and Existence. And, they can ‘catch on’ quickly.
(MEMES: from the very simple to the very complex. “STOP” signs around the world, this one in Cambodia; a meme with a simple meaning. What does the Mona Lisa conger up? Hard to say what associations are connected to it, yet it is widely recognized and acknowledged at a glance. A very complex and varied set of associations is tied to the Christian Cross. Good old “Mickey” is recognized all over the globe. Not all memes are approved of, but still deeply significant–the swastika.The atom, a science meme with many connections. BUT, memes do not need to be visually represented.. The first few bars of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony–Da, da, da, Da — is one of Dennett’s favorite examples of an audio meme.)
A very interesting example is the “Rationality” meme. No one really knows what rationality is, yet many of us invoke it all the time and even organize large portions of our lives around it! Is Rationality a certain set of neurons firing in the brain; the same set for everyone? Is Rationality a certain set of behaviors? Which behaviors could we agree upon, and then what would their definition be? Being “Reasonable”, we might say, but what is that? Here in this very series, I have argued that Reasonable is no more than “a Person’s” response.-ability to give the reasons for their behavior and to care about other person’s reactions to those reasons. Or, rationality is caring about “Good Evidence” for your reasons and beliefs. But what is the “good evidence”? So, we do not really understand Rationality very well at all, yet it is Central to Our Way of Living especially in Our Modern Age!We hold this Meme of Rationality, and we hold it dearly!
Bubbling Up From Below
Let us say then, that Memes are a new way to Access, Interpret, and Share the neural activities in each of us and even the physical forces stretching far beyond that form our lives at their widest range. Culture and its memes form a kind “down-loaded app” or a “user-interface” that is the context for us, as persons, to be in relation to our physical universe, contends Dennett. IT IS THE WAY NATURE IS TALKING TO US! Our ideas, emotions, and reasons “bubble up from below” and are tested in the field of Memes already present in us and our culture. Or at least, this is what we can believe, ideally. That is the account of how Persons fit into the Universe!
Mother Nature’s Seal of Approval?
This is The Image We Hold of Ourselves, or at least in broadest outlines. It has been cleaned up and developed in some ways by Dennett, other theorists, even myself. At best, this is only my interpretation of these other interpretations. But “in broad outline” it contains the basic elements of “Persons” and their relations to “Things”, “Minds” in relation to “Matter”.
Culture and Personhood —and this “Manifest Image” of things — has been in development for well over 10,000 years and with its birth –as Culture– as far back as 40,000 years ago. That is not enough time to signal Nature’s Official Approval, her Genetic Selection; yet the human species has ‘Prospered’ dramatically in that time. This “Image” of ourselves has become “populated with more and more affordances, more and more opportunities to track, more and more things to do things with, more and more things –words–to use as tools…”, says Dennett. It has served many uses, including the opportunity to consider and reconsider our own Reasons —to Reflect on ourselves.
(In Reflection, we take ourselves to be An Object in the world capable of Manipulation and Re-Design. We consider and re-consider our own Reasons. Norman Rockwell, Girl at Mirror , Pablo Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror , John William Waterhouse, Echo and Narcissus .
From the vantage point of Design, we can at least say that so far,we have received Nature’s Evolutionary Endorsement. Our way of “seeing things” has worked! Our Proliferation is a sign of Nature’s Approval, and here we have tried to give it an intellectual defense.
But will it continue to work? Our manifest image is an awkward combination of physics, chemistry, biology, neurology, morality, economics, politics and poetry (among others). How it all fits together has been briefly suggested here, but as we continue to shuffle these cultural cards, how they will play out in the future is still to be determined by processes that involve humans and human choices, but only indirectly. WHAT WE CAN MAKE OF “IT” (this World) IS STILL UP FOR GRABS!
(HURDLES TO LEAPED: Dictators, Pollutants, Economic Imbalance, Religious and Sexual Discrimination, Dogmatism, War)
(Hurdle to be Transcended: THE OLD WAYS OF THINKING THAT DIVIDE THE WORLD and CULTURE INTO IRRECONCILABLE PIECES! “Newton“, by the poet, artist and printer, William Blake (1805). “Newton is shown sitting naked and crouched on a rocky outcropping covered with algae, apparently at the bottom of the sea. His attention is focused upon diagrams he draws with a compass upon a scroll.” (Wikipedia))
*Quotes from Dennett from his book From Bacteria to Bach and Back, The Evolution of Minds. General guidance from Dennett and other philosophers part of the American philosophical movement called Pragmatism — an attempt to retain the insight of philosophical Idealism in a world obviously indebted to the Scientific View of things.
**I must admit I have little understanding of the status of Time in the science of physics. I do understand and have written about Laplace’s Newtonian discussions of time. In that view, Time is not a primary element in the real world; it is only exists from our limited point of view. See the series on Sean Carroll and The Big Picture.
(Well, we got hit with more Snow here in the Central O-H-I-O, about 5-7inches or 12-18cm. The whole thing started Monday with Sleet that lasted for hours (!) and put down over an inch of ice pellet accumulation! Temperature was about 20 F or -7C. All the schools were closed, a lot of people not going to work. Got hit with more snow Wednesday night and some schools closed Thursday. I now have 3 school days off and my wife 6 from snow and ice this year. We have received twice the snow as last year! Snow still thick on the ground. GOOD DAY TO STAY HOME AND BONE UP ON SOME METAPHYSICS. That always warms my heart!)
(Please refer to part 1 on Design in living things, [https://wordpress.com/post/naturereligionconnection.org/7198] and part 2 for designs as Cyclesin the non-living world. Here, we encounter some aspects of Design in the world of Persons. This whole series of posts is now striking me as almost poetic, and that is a good thing because we are working at the Level of Intuition!)
Our Thinking About Design and Our Participation in It
A segue from the world of Physic’s Things to Thoughtful Things, fromChemicals toMind is what we need, says Dan Dennett, America’s most noted philosopher. Many people think we already surely have that explanation. It was written up and explained in one of those books, or the opening chapter of some text book, that you were supposed to have read as a sophomore in college. But we do not have that book, so Dennett has tried to write it, and here at NatieRel, we have tried to present it in popularized form.
But it has not been easy, for either of us. Dennett has run into powerful opposing intuitions in the minds of others and a genuine cultural thicket, he says; and I just have trouble telling sh!# from shine-ola, sometimes.
So, how do we get, “Something so Different from Some Other Kind of Very Different Thing?”, which is a return to our initial theme in this post series. This is the point of Dennett’s 2017 book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back; The Evolution of Minds.It is an appreciation of “Design” as the link between these generally misinterpreted poles of Objectivity (the world as made up of the items of physics and chemistry) and Subjectivity (the reality of thought, emotion and mind). How does Mind come from Matter? Or is “Mind” just a figment of Brain, that mushy grey matter between our ears composed of approximately 100 billion neurons!
The first thing we must realize is The world and the universe always display Design. The highly regulated and precisely predictable world as known by physicsis qualitatively stripped down; all that exists are a few characteristics in precise mathematical relation. That is a very tightly designed and constricted universe. But, the world of persons is much richer in qualities with a greater variety of objects and abilities and not capable of the high precision of prediction, but still very predictable and designed.
(Not as predictable as the world of physics, but still highly predictable: OUR SOCIAL WORLD. We eat. We seek shelter [Frank Lloyd Wright house in Rochester, NY]. We vote regularly in much of the world. We play games; throwing the curve ball.. How many very regular things do you have in your life?)
(The Tower of Silence:DEATH,NOW THERE IS A REGULARITY, A DESIGN PIECE, WE ARE FAMILIAR WITH! Death, we all have been giving a bit of thought to that lately! Death made a significant impression on humans starting way back! Here is an unusualritual of burial, that I just discovered: The Zoroastrian Religious Tradition of “The Tower of Silence.“Ritual was an early step in the development of “Mind”.
(This Persian practice, examples of which recorded in Iran and India, involved the construction of stone circular structures with outer walls as high as 25 ft. and diameters some nearly 100 ft. In the middle of this “Tower of Silence” was a pit [an ossuary] were the bones of the dead eventually were deposited. But before that, the bodies of the dead were placed in small exposed cubicles; on the outer rims the men, women on the next closest and children on the inner-most circular cubicles, all with feet facing inward. Left there for as much as a year, the corpses were exposed to the sun and rain, but mostly to the carnivorous birds. Vultures lined the rim of the dakhma, “the Tower”, and cleaned the corpses of flesh. At that point, the remains either washed into the center ossuary or were assisted manually in that placement. Lime was added to the pit to assist the decomposition and assure the return of the departed back into the cycle of elements. Note the vultures in the drawings above. A Strange Design, but true!)
The Cycles and Designs in the universe and in the living world are of great interest to us.They presage our own individual reality as humans with Minds.
First, we have experience as designersof things of use and beauty. We humans became the first Intelligent Designers, because Natural Selection designs but without foresight, and beavers and such design by instinct. Instilled in us, as social and communicating creatures, we start to construct, fabricate, gather, and organize—like many of the Cycles of the inanimate world. We start to make patterns of our own and with premeditation, or at least significantly our own, but also patterns modified from our “given environment”. Communities organize hunting parties and select mates; bury their dead and welcome the newborn; these are Regularities about which we create Myths and Rituals.
These human activities are regular and objective patterns, but not wholly independent of us, argues Dennett. In myth and ritual these patterns start to ‘come to mind’, we can say. These Human Designs are congruous with the patterns that precede them, and surround them, in the Living World and also in the lifeless and stripped down Universe that we understand in our most objective ways.
Second, we have experience as Designers of ourselves.We are “self-made selves” (Dennett). Again, not completely independent, not god-like in our creativity, but incrementally we take what has been given to us objectively and attempt to modify it, mold it. In our own lifeand also in the history of humanity, at first this subjective ability, this self-design, took place dimly and with little self-awareness. Now, many of us have highly developed senses of Choice, Responsibility and Design. We hold the status of a full-fledged “Person” and seek to create not only our own lives but also a family, community, kingdom, nation and even a more Ideal World. “What is it like to be a person?”, we ask. “What should I do that is acceptable? What should we do?” Persons design many things, including themselves, and they ‘Take Response-Ability’ for that. We are willing to answer for it!
(Interestingly, the story of Heinrich Harrer and the Dalai Lama comes to mind. Harrer was s brash young German mountain climber and adventurer at about the start of WWII. The Dalai Lama was a teenager and ‘still in training’, one might say, as the spiritual and political leader of the modest and gentile Tibetan Buddhist mountain civilization. You are probably familiar with the story from the movie, Seven Years in Tibet , starring Brad Pit; an able telling, I believe. I own Harrer’s book of the same title, but never read it. A remarkable story of the meeting of two very diverse civilizations embodied in the growing personal relationship of these young men. Both shared and learned much, though its end was tragic for the Tibetans.)
When we create our own life and the life of the community around us, we do not do so in just any old way. We must Modify and Build Up the Designs Objectively Present to us and in us.
The cycles of the prebiotic world prepared the way for the “design leap” to Living Things, and living things to Thinking Things, which are a subset of the living. Dennett calls these “moves” or “explorations” in “Design Space”. They are based in the basic Information provided in, and modification of, the genetic code, and in the phenomenal or phenotypic world which is the genetic information’s family of manifestations.
Persons are a development in this context of design as evolved on our planet. Persons are a design with a Reflective Sense of Itselfand of all the designs that reverberate outward, and inward, between us and the rest of the universe. Our life, the life in the Living world, the Designs and Cycles in the inanimate world, are–as if– the rolling and concentric waves created by a pebble thrown into a pond.
In Part IV, I will attempt to display Our Larger Unity as persons stretching out into the universe around us. That is, of course, a return to the the themes of Part I and II, but now with the goal of placing our Human Ideas and Actions in that Largest Context of Mother Nature’s Grandest Design.Wish me luck, and thanks for reading, “The NatureReligionConnection”.
(Understanding our place in the Largest Scheme of Things is a difficult task. I have been trying to get a handle on it for a number of decades now. This is about as far as I have gotten and I’m glad to share it with you. [Is Singha still the best beer in Thailand?] Part II of IV in this Post Series.)
If we look at things from the Perspective of Design, we will have the best chance of understanding as much of “it” as we can. Philosophy is “seeing how things, in the broadest sense of things, hang together, in the broadest sense of hang together” said (more of less) by philosopher Wilfred Sellars. What I am calling, The Perspective of Design, is (I hope, roughly) what another good philosopher, Dan Dennett, calls “The Intentional Stance”. The significance of “Design” is hard for us to deny, and it can hold together, in a sensible way, two things that really bite us in the intellectual butt: shear Objectivityand shear Subjectivity. Those twain shall not soon reunite, for most ways of thinking!
(Design: a well organized “hanging together” is not hard to see in The Human Anatomy, [above] the muscular system and the nerves of the head. Hey, its All for One and One for All, here! The Parts and the Whole come together amazingly well, as do they in all the living things of the world! Who says Complex Units aren’t real? Only confusedly hardcore Materialistic Reductionists do! Thanks to britanica.com for diagrams. )
Design in the world of living things is easy to believe and obvious to see, we have argued in Part I. Individual Living Things are most clearly understood against their participation in a larger, orderly background: A Design! We are very familiar with this view: The Tree of Life is a massive comparative structure. We think of plants in contrast to animals, fish by comparison to birds, and dogs vs. cats.
Design in the Non-Living World
But Design is not only present in the biological world, it is also suggested to us in theCycles of the prebiotic world. There are cycles “at many spacio-temporal scales”, says Dennett. Some are as obvious asnight and day, andthe cycle of the seasons; many are not so obvious “including thousands of chemical cycles.”
(The Krebs Cycle or the Citric Acid Cycle is a series of reactions that occur in all oxygen-using organisms to break down food into usable energy [ATP]. One of the chemicals produced at the end of this cycle, a kind of citric acid, is just the very chemical needed to restart the process onto another round of food digestion. This process, apparently, can occur outside of living organisms and was possibly incorporated by them deep in our evolutionarily history.)
(CYCLES deep in the earth and above it. Convection Currents inside the Earth’s Mantle drive the Gradual Distribution of the Continents around the planet. The hottest Air at different points around the globe rises, and moves north or south away from the Equator, while cooler air flows in below. This forms regularConvection Cycles in the atmosphere and a regular global wind pattern.)
The significance of these prebiotic cycles is that they helped organize and refine our world, and still do today. They distribute, sort, and accumulate materials. They establish regularities that from some points of view can be depended upon. The seasons of the year, climactic zones. tides and tidal pools, mountain ranges and river deltas are all such regularities or their result. Our Life is Full of Regularities!
(The Waves and Tides of the oceans, seas and lakes unrelentingly sort and distribute their coastal materials. Like a sieve and a grinder, or a series of these, the beach materials are constantly worked upon in an orderly process and result. Thanks to miracosta.edu and pennstate.edu for these photos and and illustration.)
“Think of cycles as ‘do-loops’ in algorithms, actions that return to a starting point “after ‘accomplishing’ something”, contends Dennett. An algorithm is a set of rules to follow to accomplish a particular task. These steps are sometimes repeated, over and over, and that is crucial. They are recursive and they continue to build on themselves. The end result is that our world became increasingly refined! They “gradually changed conditions in the world and thus raised the probability That Something New would occur” (Dennett, my added emphasis).
Some of our very ordinary procedures are Algorithmic and Recursive processes for problem-solving.
Strange that these elementary school methods should embody basic physical and meta-physical realities!
Or is it? Dennett contends that Nature does contain Reasons, Rationales, Rules. (In other words, it is misguided thinking to believe that “the world”, the “Objective World”, is without meaning.) He calls them “free-floating rationales” because not until they embodied themselves in our lives and then finally were Represented in our Thinking, (only at that point) were they Explicit In The World, and not just Implicit, as if only “behind the scenes”, not apparent to the eye or to the understanding.
(The Planets have been orbiting for about 4.5 billion years. This Solar System functions like a gigantic machine, lawfully but for no purpose. In about 1642, the Englishman Isaac Newton realized its operating principles, with the help of some of his contemporaries and predecessors. Still regarded as one of the greatest achievements in modern history, he wrote his theory, in Latin, in the book Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, 1687. The principles behind that ancient system where now known outright and not simply hidden in that design’s operation. [Famous painting of Newton by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1689. That is one nice head of hair on that guy!})
Cycles as Regularities that are Sorting, Accumulating, Distributing, Dividing, Preserving. “Do-Loops” are all around us and in us, working and working.
(The Water Cycle [top left] preserves, distributes and makes water accessible to use in various forms/designs as vapor, liquid, and ice. The process of Cell Division and Multiplication renews cellular life and multiplies its presence. [Bottom Left] The network of national highways distributes products and persons, while connecting the country into an accessible physical unit. In Part III we will discover that Persons are “Do-Loops”, who should ideally Return to Their Own Life in Self Reflection and ask: “What am I to Accomplish?” Who am I?” “What is my Story?”)
(In Part I of this post series we argued it was accurate to understand Designs as present and working in The World of Living Things, and this is design Without a Conscious Designer, design by Natural Selection. In Part II we found our prebiotic world full of Cycles that we can understand as creating the necessary background for living things and then eventually for our-selves as Social, Emotional, and Thoughtful Persons. In Part III we will explore “Our Thinking About Design and Our Participation in It.” SOON TO HIT THE PRESSES!!!)
(Let’s get to some Metaphysical Speculation! But like Mary Poppins sang, “Just a Spoonful of Sugar will help the medicine go down”, so I have sweetened this load with some savory sidelights and poignant pictures. I think you will find it a pleasant exercise for the imagination and a deep dive into what is worthy of belief!)
“God and Evolution: Can You Get Something from Nothing?” was the title of one of the first posts written for the naturereligionconnection. “Enhance the Design”is how“toget more from less,” was the answer given. (https://wordpress.com/post/naturereligionconnection.org/52) But, of course, there is more to be asked and more to be said than that.
(Kekule [pronounced Ke-koo-lay) discovered a large group of Carbon Based Structures that are still called Kekule Structures. Each feature a basic set of carbon atoms, as in Benzene, above. They Function importantly in all living things and his work was prominent in the origins of organic chemistry. [Right] The Ouroboros as drawn in an alchemical text from 1478. There are several accepted pronunciations of this name; some featuring an “aw” at the start, others “or” and differences with the end too!)
(Drawing of The Ouroboros from a 3rd century Egyptian text by Cleopatra the Alchemist. Inscribed in the middle are the words “hen to pan” meaning “All is One”)
Of course, if you really have absolutely nothing, then it seems clear, seems reasonable, that that is all you will ever have, nothing. So the Design Position, being argued for here, cannot start with nothing, and not even just a total mess. “Not utter chaos”, not “a random confetti of atoms in motion” is adequate, writes our favorite philosopher, Dan Dennett.*
The Design Position is based on the intuition that as far ‘down’ as you go, you will always find more designs, more Structures, into which to take things to pieces. Designs in designs; structures made of smaller and quicker structures; processes in processes. All the way down, for how would you know when to stop, or stop trying to analyze ‘a thing’ further? Maybe there would just be no more point to it; if you already Knew (could predict) Everything That Was Going To Happen Next!
The Living World
Design is especially apparent in The Living World. Dennett argues that we should embrace this: design is real and it is Design without any god-like designer. Evolution by Natural Selection is the largest part of the answer to this.
(DESIGN IS UBIQUTIOUS IN THE WORLD OF LIFE! A Bowerbird’s bower is designed to attract the female mate: It does look enticing! Can you believe that this bird collects and organizes and builds this well? But also, the cycle of a Frog’s Life [or of any living thing]; and the structure of the Human Eye [or any complex organ]: These are “designs without a designer”. No conscious plan exists for these designs in which these creations are composed or participate, contends Dennett.)
Life, starting out as things as simple as the barest self-replicators like bacteria and viruses, Doubled Back On Itself many, many times. It varied and did so Gradually, and the variations themselves Gradually Varied, and the result was a living environment that was like a Finely Grated Sieve or a Finely Knit Net. It was a Natural Living Background that, in effect, said to each new round of Replicants: “Can you fit in?” “Can you find your place?” “If not, you are Rejected; you are not Selected by Nature!” That is what we call Evolution by Natural Selection, and it is designing new organisms without a conscious plan, without a conscious Designer!
Design allows not just breaking down into smaller units — analysis; it is also building up– synthesis. Many trees make a forest that can then establish a set of patterns and rhythms of its own: a Design at a larger scale. Some well respected biologists and researchers have sought to understand the Earth and its biosphere as a single incipient organism, as if it was life itself first forming, because clearly it had no parent.
A Human Society is such a larger unit, and it has in some senses a reality and significance that transcends its individual members. It is vital that children learn their society’s language, that they behave in many ways that are congruent to their traditions. “Socialization precedes individualization”is a standard tenet for the design position. A member of society needs the ability to respond appropriately in many situations; aresponse their society sees as “fit”. That is what we call “Response-ability”, and we consider such members as full blown “persons”. If a member does not wish to “respond appropriately”, they need good reasons and put forth the effort to explainthemor they will cease being a responsible member.
(Examples of Society Transcending Its Individuals: the Family, the Classroom and Education, the Law and Courts, the Nation and its leaders and citizens. Thanks to these particular sites for these photos. It was hard to find images of family without handsome actors all smiling, or classrooms scenes that looked real. Left, from CDC on Parenting; second left, from the ELA (English as Second Language) web site; third, from Time magazine; far right, Joe and his promise to try to pull this nation back closer together.All is not always Harmony in our larger, and even smaller, Units of Design!)
But even ‘below’ the living world in the prebiotic universe, The Design Position must find suggestions of patterns; Designs or their precursors. Complex design must itself “bubble-up” from less complex and simpler units of process. PART II will explore that world, our world in that simpler Form. COMING SOON, “CYCLES AND DESIGNS’ PART II”
*all quotes in this post from Dennett’s 2017 book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back
Well after all, Ritual is just sentimental foolishness. It’s all fluff and no substance. Why celebrate and commemorate a birthday, a wedding, a death? What is real and true are the forces in the world and the universe that churn away relentlessly; they are out there beyond us and have no interest in our petty subjective concerns. We hanker for objectivity and the independence of real fact, real forces, and the objectively true!
Yet on Wednesday, January the 20th, a calm settled over this nation. A sense of relief and normalcy began to restore itself, in many a mind. Songs were sung. Oaths were taken. Speeches were made. Promises were bestowed. Parades were (virtually) marched. History was cited and speculations as to our future abounded. It’s what we do as an American People at our best. We re-establish our unity. We confirm our commitment to the shared Principles, Goals, and Behaviors that will facilitate our close proximity: house to house, apartment to apartment, farm to farm, city to city, “from sea to shining sea.”
Ritual is one of the pillars of Human Mind. It is an essential way for us to ‘get on the same page’ Subjectively! Far from subjectivity being arbitrary, largely private, and lacking in orderly substance, it was in Ritual —as a rehearsal, idealization, test run, and then a constitution of our many coordinated behaviors— that the eventual conceptual split between the Subjective and the Objective was initiated, but not necessarily accurately. Group hunting, mate selection, birth and death, verbal communication, fear and joy, curiosity, were all being orchestrated and objectified for various human groups, and most especially “our group”, which ever you happened to be in. The Human Mind is our coordinated behavior and our coordinated ideas and emotions about that Collective Behavior, Our Larger Unity. These are Patterns that are Objective to Us, but not totally independent of us,says the philosopher Dan Dennett.
(ORGANIZING OUR BEHAVIOR, IDEAS AND EMOTIONS THROUGH RITUAL: the American Nation (top left), Anansi the trickster god for West Africa, the Team, the Hunt of caribou, the Scientific Method, mistletoe with Meaning for ancient Druids (bottom left), Birth and Womanhood portrayed in a Venus figure of Cro-Magnon Europeans, a Commemorative Hindu expression, modern American’s feeling The Spirit.EXAMPLES IN A HISTORY OF HUMANS ATTEMPTING TO ORGANIZE THEIR BEHAVIOR AND THEIR EMOTIONAL LIVES. IT IS AN ONGOING SEARCH, AN ONGOING DISCUSSION concerning our joint behavior and its interpretations.)
Yet The American Nation remains seriously divided. Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris have pledged to work for unity, but too many Americans, too many Republicans, refuse to adequately disavow the obvious illegal and unconstitutional behavior of the thug Trump.
And also in My Family; who will work to restore its unity? The “soothing realities of American Democratic Ritual” have yet to take hold firmly enough here also. On the day of the Trump-Led Insurrection, in complete exasperation, I called my Pro-Trump Brother In Law as I watched. I said (in effect), “Look where you guys have gotten us!” He was shocked by it and watching too, but he refused to take the lion’s share of the blame. “It is also the Democrats”, he insisted. Pelosi and Schumer and Cortez, just as much as Trump and his whack-job conspiracy-mongering followers, “They got us here too”, he insisted.
We did not talk long; it was going nowhere.
Later I found out that his wife, my sister in law, also received a phone call from her brother that day. He too put the pressure on, again basically saying, “Look at the nonsense you have helped create!” She also tried to shift too much blame onto “The Democrats”, I learned.
I had told my wife I had called her brother that Wednesday of the lawlessness, when I was off work and watching as she was at work, teaching. She took it pretty well, at that point, partly because I assured her I did not push it too far or too long and it was not an overly acrimonious conversation. But several days later, as we were relaxing and enjoying some wine and reviewing all the upsetting historical developments, her fears and anger came forth. It was I who started talking politics with her family, she said.“Look at the mess you have created now!” (a familiar phrase in this whole story) she now demanded of me!
My wife had always been cautious not to bring politics into her family, and initially when I had, it went well. Those were before the days of Trump, when her brother and I had polite, quiet, and interesting exchanges of opinions and facts. But since the poisonous Trump, conversation had stopped, only to burst forth again with the emotions of insurrection!
What soothing rituals will help bind these wounds and bring this family back together?And our Nation?Oh, woe is me!
In the post of last week, “The Big Lie…” and our national political disaster of January 6th, (https://wordpress.com/post/naturereligionconnection.org/6891), I ended by commenting on my apprehensions for the following Sunday and Inauguration Day. I was concerned that more of the Right-Wing Hitler-like Putsch would continue on those following occasions.
It did not! Not nationally nor locally did Insurrection or even demonstrations occur at a significant scale. Here locally in the Central O-H-I-O, that following Sunday witnessed a very minor event at The State Capital, one that was ironically made light of by our very decent newspaper, The Columbus Dispatch.
Only several dozens of demonstrators appeared and they were overwhelmingly outnumbered by police and state National Guard. It did begin ominously with the appearance at noon of an armed and marching contingent of “Boogaloo Boys”, but they quickly declared their intention to the police to be “peaceful” and merely to practice their right to bear arms.
(These boogaloos stressed to reporters that they were not “Proud Boys” nor were they there to support President Trump’s efforts to resist the results of the election.)
The Dispatch reporters ended their story with the wry observation that the demonstration started to wind down soon and was done by 3pm, leaving amply time for everyone to get home to watch the big professional football game involving the Cleveland Browns. Hey, even revolutionaries have a variety of priorities.
On the National Scene, two local men, ages 36 and 27, were arrested in Columbus and charged for their participation in the Capitol Building Riot. The men were initially approached by Capitol Police as they were waiting for an Uber ride to return them to their hotel after the incursion.
When they were informed the ride could not reach them in the security zone, they turned to walk further but one of them stopped to pick up the fancy wooden coat tree with brass hooks that stood near them. Police then (duhhh!) demanded he stop, but he dropped the coat tree and ran. The other man waited and cooperated with police and was found to be wearing an armored vest, and have in his backpack marihuana and an open bottle of good bourbon. Upon review of Capitol security tapes both the bourbon and, obviously, the coat tree were stolen in the “insurrection.” The spoils of war, I guess.
In German, grosse Luge (roughly)can be traced back to Hitler’s Mein Kampf in 1925. He contended the Jewish people and Marxists told “The Big Lie” by blaming German General Ludendorff for their loss in WWI. Ludendorff was an anti-Semite and Nationalist, and thus respected by Hitler.
Hitler’s lieutenant Joseph Goebbels was probably the first to have said, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it often enough, it will be believed.” But it was Hitler that gave the definitive analysis of its effectiveness in his book. “The broad masses of a nation” are “always more easily corrupted by” a big lie than a small one. The Big Lie effects “the deeper strata of their emotional nature.”
And so we saw what we saw on Wednesday, January 6th, 2021, a small-time insurrection against our Democratic Government, a regular Beer Hall Putsch in Washington D.C.
The Beer Hall Putsch was part of a very unstable time in Europe and the world: the post WWI period. It may seem only a cliché, but something is deeply true about it; in society, old orders were in decline, new and uncertain forces were pushing forth. People searched for answers and some found them in different kinds of extremisms. Many people became adamant Communists; others turned to racial and ethnic identifications and discriminations — extreme Nationalists; others hung desperately to the the old system of aristocracy. This was the faction and forces represented by Ludendorff, an aristocrat himself and still an advocate for the Kaiser and the nobility; they temporarily, at least, aligned with the rising charismatic leader, Hitler. (Similarly, American Fundamentalist Christians hitched their wagon to the rising but erratic star of that vulgar, irreligious man, Donald Trump.)
Hitler attempted to follow the course of Mouselini in Italy and seize power. At a mass meeting at the Burgerbraukellar (Citizen’s Beer Cellar) Hitler leaped upon a chair and fired a shot into the ceiling with a pistol to gain attention. He declared that his Nazi Party troopers had the building surrounded and were ready to march. He demanded the support of opposition factions and eventually Ludendorff led this temporary coalition through the streets to overtake German government offices.
Well, at least Hitler had the ‘courage’ to accompany his supporters on their march. Mr. Trump, in his 80 minute incitation to sedition, promised to march with his people but that did not happen.
The Big Lie in America
A shocking series of events these were, in the U.S. of A., over these past two weeks. Our current President, Donald J. Trump, now stands Impeached for the second time in his four year term.He incited the overthrow of our government. History was made as American politics took a deep dive into the dirt, as it occasionally has in our 200 year history.
January 6th was unprecedented in American history. An out-going president urged a large group of his supporters to march on The Capitol building in protest of an election he claims he won “by landslide” but was being “stolen”. “Stop the steal”, they chanted. Trump vowed he would “never concede” and that they should “never stop fighting.” “Strength” is what is needed now, “not weakness”. he told them. One of his warm-up speakers, Rudy Giuliani, told the crowd, what was needed now was “a trial by combat” — a fight — to decide the issue. Trump had previously promised his people, that if they came to Washington, “it will be wild.”
And so it was “wild”, deeply disturbing, and very un-American! Five people died. One shot by Capitol Police as she attempted to forcibly enter the Chambers of the House of Representatives while its members were huddled inside. Another was a Capitol Policeman hit in the head with a fire extinguisher while resisting the seditionists. The remaining three were Trump supporters who died of medical emergencies, such as heart attack, in the uproar. One of these, her family reported, had gone to Washington in spite of their efforts to dissuade her, and that in recent months she had become deeply interested in online conspiracy theories. “It just started to spiral” said her sister.
One of the many incredible aspects of these events, was Trump’s eventual treatment of his longtime loyal Vice President, Mike Pence.
In the build-up to January 6 and the joint session of Congress to accept the Electoral College ballots to officially sanction the elections results, Trump put tremendous pressure on Pence, both privately and in public, to not accept the ballots, to rule them invalid in several key states. But, Pence did not have the power — by law — to do so, and this was overwhelmingly regarded to be the case and the historical tradition.
In the immediate hours before the joint session, the President’s supporters began to gather for their “Rally to Save America” and Trump made one last call to Pence. He cajoled him, pleaded with him and finally told him that this was his chance “to either go down in history as a patriot, or you can go down in history as a pussy.“ Some of our international readers may not be familiar with that slang term; it is an extremely derogatory term for a women that simply equates her to her genitalia. (As reported by the N.Y.Times, 1/12)
But, Pence refused to break the law and ended up huddled in the Capitol basement with various Congresspersons and under tight security as the seditionists had breached the building. Some of them were chanting, “Hang Pence, hang Pence.”
Such is the character of our outgoing president. He is a massively destructive influence to American political integrity. In other words, he is not honest; he is not concerned about right or wrong, and he has no principles outside his own ambitions.
How Did It Go This Far?
There are many questions about the events of January 6, but let me focus on just one, a big one. Why did Americans follow this man?How did it get this far? And this returns us to THE BIG LIE.
As far back as September, I wrote of my concern with Trump’s reckless rhetoric concerning the upcoming election. Mr. Trump had already supercharged the political atmosphere by vilifying those that disagree with him. They are “evil”, “criminal”, “crazy”, “stupid”, “communists”, “brain-washed” (by the mainstream media), and not “true Americans”. Immigrants from Mexico are “rapists”, “thieves”, “murderers” and infiltrated by “terrorist”. Democrats “want to destroy our country”, he contended, and media organizations that criticized him were “fake news”.
I commented that discussion with his supporters was already nearly impossible because of their bizarre views, their “alternative facts” and highly charged emotions. And so, Mr. Trump has Lied Big on many occasions and as Hitler had observed, appealed to his supporters at a “deep emotional level.”
In the September post, I wrote of my particular concern about one claim of his, and that I would politely contest it with any of his supporters in spite of this toxic atmosphere. I wrote,
“I will propose that Mr. Trump is doingusall a disservice when he says, “If I lose, it is because the election is rigged.” After all, one of the spectacular realities about our country is that Our Democracy is Real.” (see The American Presidential Election…https://wordpress.com/post/naturereligionconnection.org/5926)
Mr. Trump has now played that card. The election was stolen and those that are Not True Americans will now hold power, he still believes I will not go into detail to refute this claim of the theft, sufficient to point out that 60 of his lawsuits have been dismissed, all 50 Secretary’s of our States have certified their election results as accurate, and that his own FBI chief and (former) Attorney General have declared no evidence of any significant irregularities.
But the card was played, and the January 6th attack on our Democracy was the result. The vehemence of his supporters and their delusional states were well on display. Trump has been Impeached by the House, and we will wait on the outcome in the Senate. How many Republican office holders will continue to stand by this farce and this denigration of our country? Many have abandoned it and him.
Today is Sunday, January 17th, the day further ‘rallies’ by his supporters are to take place in Washington and various state capitols. And to these, these ‘Americans’ have sworn to carry their weapons! I wait apprehensively, my only hope is that the rather thorough denunciation and negative outcry against the law-breaking and desecrations of January 6th will have dampened the mood and convictions of many of these potential and continuing insurrectionists. (But also, a huge police and National Guard presence!)
Some of you undoubtedly find the idea of Eating a Boar’s Head quite boorish. Sorry to return to such a gruesome topic (see post below), but I woke this morning wondering why cut off the earsand boil them separatelyonly to reattach them later? (Gee, does my Mind wander!)
Well, upon a few moments of Reflection (and this site is Big on The Ontological Significance of Self-Reflection) , I realized the obvious answer. If you stuff your pig’s head with sausage and such, and then sew it up in a bag and boil it forNine Hours, those poor little ears are going to take a beating! Why, they would seriously diminish, even disintegrate, I would imagine. And then what would you have? A boring boar, one without its perky ears, more bovine than boar, a pig significantly lacking in swine-like character! That would not then be the kind of beast to march into your feast accompanied by a trumpet fanfare!
So, yes, detach the ears; boil them separately and gently, and lovingly reattach later with skewers. By all means!
On the Issue of Odin as Santa
On that issue, one further piece of information, also. During Jolnir’s Yuletide nightly rides, his “Wild Hunts”, he was said to have ridden an eight-legged horse, named Sleipnir, in Old Norse meaning “slippy” or “the slipper”. In several Sagas, dating back to the thirteenth century or before, Odin rides Slippy into and out of “Hel”. I guess we could say, he gave it the slip. Hel is the name of place, and the creature that resides over the place, where the dead reside. It is related to the Old and Modern English word “Hell”. It was written that three cocks would crow from Hel and this would initiate the events of Ragnarok, a great battle and end of the world in which Odin and other gods would die and the earth be submerged in water! Well, in Norse Mythology at least.
But I digress! The point about the eight-legged horse is that some contend it was Clement Moore, in his The Night Before Christmas, that replaced old many-legged Slippy with a team of reindeer.
Looking for All the Connections, here at the naturereligionconnection.org.
MERRY XMAS and a HAPPY and Covid-Free NEW YEAR! No more Trump also!!!
Happy Holidays to all The Connection’s readers! Wishing you well and thanking you for all your support.
Here in Central Ohio we were blessed with snow for what the Christian’s call, Christmas Eve and Christmas day. It’s hard to not call it that myself, after all, as I sit here and write, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” is playing in the background. Being more ecumenical and more secular about this winter holiday season would seem to be a tremendous culture shift, here in the U.S.A. But, we in the O-H-I-O are pretty parochial/provincial and things might look differently from the point of view of Long Island or L.A.
(The old suburban castle decked out in holiday lights.)
The word “Christmas” seems to mean something like The Christ Sending, or Messiah Sending; “mas” from the Latin verb “mittere”, to send. I have long intended to write a post on the various cultural traditions that have congealed into our winter holiday season. From the ancient rituals surrounding the Winter Solstice, the darkest day in the Northern Hemisphere on December 21st; to the New Year and the Roman Saturnalia; to the origins of the Christmas Tree, Santa Claus and seasonal lights; one of the most interesting cultural practices, to me, was the “Yule Time” and the “Yule Log” from Northern Europe and the Germanic peoples.
At this time of the year, late in the fall and early winter, the people of these northern regions had well learned that a significant portion of their live stock would not survive through the winter. So, instead of letting the older, less firm cows, sheep, and pigs waste away, dwindle slowly and consume the fading grasses and feeds, the Germans “culled” the herd. They killed the less firm, saving feed for the most likely survivors, and created an abundance of meat to be eaten. This was my longtime understanding of the Yule tradition, though I’m having some difficulty confirming it now; there seems to be a great many interpretations and no decisive evidence.
“Drinking and eating to excess –gluttony, even– were not only the centerpiece of this holiday, but a sacred duty.” 12 days of celebration were set aside, from the Solstice to New Years Day. The final shock of grain from the years harvest was fermented into beer, some 4 gallons of it, and at one point the celebration was not to stop until it had all been consumed. Yule is the source of the still occasionally seen “Boar’s Head” or Yule Boar.
If that was the economic basis of the Yule Time feasting, these activities became encrusted in the mythology of the Norse gods, especially Odin.Jolnir was one of the many names for Odin, and jol is associated with the origins of the term “yule”. Odin was the god of the dead, especially dead warriors and heroes. At this darkest time of the year the Norse and Germanic people reveled their departed ancestors. “The veil between the living and the dead was thin” at this point, they felt. A table of food was left out over night to satisfy any ancestral or other supernatural visitor.
(The Traditional Yule Log and the much more modern Yule Log Cake. The dessert was started in France in the 19th century in memory of their custom of burning a log each Christmas Eve. It is a chocolate cake rolled about a heavy cream filling. And who is that mysterious man carrying that other log?)
The pagan Yule Log tradition started among the Germans and consisted of family members venturing into the woods to select an Oak Tree for cutting and burning. Note the earlier post (Folk Religion, The Strange Idea Of…) where we learned the special connection of the Druidic “folk religion” to the oak tree and the mistletoe. The word “Druid” meant “oak-knower” or “oak-seer”. The log and the fire was to be kept burning throughout the midwinter festival and the successful ignition of it on the first attempt foretold prosperity for the family in the new year.
Odin as a forerunner of Santa? In Norse mythology, Odin or Wotan or Jolnir used many names and took on different forms. In various Sagas, he travels the world to obtain knowledge in the disguise of an old, white-bearded man wearing a cloak with hood or hat. I guess we might conclude that “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so…”
But the times, they were a changing and by the 900s AD, Christianity was moving northward and these Yuletide festivities began merging with a growing Christian religion. Interestingly, the birth of Jesus –or Christmas– was not an important holiday or religious event in these early years of the religion. Its followers were still focused on Christ’s Return, the “Second Coming”, not his first, but with time, the immediacy of that expectation waned and focus began to shift.
And shift they did. Today we have all manner of celebrating this time of the year, and I hope you are enjoying yours, as limited and pandemically safe as they undoubtedly are.
THE RECIPE: Bone the head, leaving only the jawbones (for shape) and tusks. Make a small quantity of stuffing composed of minced pig’s liver, chopped apples, a little onion, sage and rosemary. Arrange this stuffing all around the inside of the head about half an inch in thickness.
Now stuff the rest of the inside of the head with a second stuffing made of sausage meat, squares of ox tongue, chopped truffles, chopped apples, chopped mushrooms, chopped pistachio nuts and minced rosemary. Add one wineglass of Calvados (or sherry) and an equal quantity of cream.
When the head is filled tight with this, stitch a very strong cloth over the stuffing, then bind the whole head in another strong cloth, and put it in a large pot of boiling water to boil slowly for about eight to nine hours, during which time you add more boiling water as evaporation requires. When the head is cooked and is still warm reshape in cloth, remove the wrapping and let it get cold.
The ears, which have been cut off and boiled separately, are then replaced on the head with a skewer. Place the head on an oblong dish, surround it with slices of truffles, slices of apples, and strew with rosemary. ENJOY!!!
(recipe -verbatim- and additional information from castlearcana.com)
(Buckle up your wading pants, it gets a little deep at the end! A fun post, until I tried to write the end. I’m not too sure what it comes to, but I will leave that for you to help sort out! Thanks.)
In the previous post, How Weird is Divination?, we found that divinatioon is very weird but it actually may have done some good as a stage in our history of development as Decision-Makers.
Divination was at its peak in Western Culture at the onset of life in cities and in empires. This was enabled by the development of agriculture and metallurgy. No longer was the familiar support of intimate and local customs and kinship relations available to guide one’s behavior. Divination rose as a socially accepted method of making tough decisions. It involved a statement of the issue, and then a determined point of resolution. Its social acceptance functioned somewhat as a referee in a ball game by being given the authority “to make a call” that would be accepted by all sides, resolve an unclear situation and allow life to move on. That is an important social function!
Divination May Work Even Better Than That
But how often was The Divined Answer a good one? Granted, it helped clarify and resolve a situation, but was it good advise? In that initial post, I simply declared that, often, the Divined Decision “was about as good as any that could be made”, considering that there was limited information available, and the decision may have been a “toss up” to begin with.
But I have now come across additional information, from a new book I’m reading by Harvard biologist Joseph Henrich, The Secret of Our Success (2016).
Consider the situation of the Naskapi foragers of Labrador, Canada. They hunt caribou, but caribou are evasive. Caribou do not frequent the same spots, there are many places to graze and these animals are, too often, unpredictable. They avoid spots where they have encountered hunters in the past. They do not congregate regularly at a specific watering site and such. So commonsense and “reasonable approaches“, like going to where success was had in the past, do not work.
(Traditional Naskapi territory is shown in yellow. They are closely related to the Cree people to their south and west. They largely escaped contact with Europeans until the early to mid 1800s.)
The Naskapi have devised a peculiar ‘solution’ to find them. They have a Divination Ritual that starts with an old shoulder blade of a caribou. It is heated on the coals of a fire until it develops cracks and scorched spots. It is “then read as a kind of map” by the hunters sending them in a specific direction and guiding them to hunting areas ‘designated’ by the bone, explains Henrich.
Surely this is foolishness, but Henrich hypothesizes that it is not. It is a custom with a long past, and if this ritual was not working why do these people keep doing it? And, if that foolish, how would the Naskapi continue to survive?
Henrich argues that A Randomizing Strategy for the Naskapi is the most reasonable approach to finding caribou. The cracks and scorched spots are randomly formed in the bone and certainly in relation to the location of caribou: There is no connection between the two events. But, the ritual is a Choice by Chance Method of Decision and thus reasonable and effective. More effective than many other more ‘obvious’ approaches, like having a favorite hunting spot, or going where another hunting party just saw caribou.
After all, Naskapi did not have helicopters to find caribou, or remote detection devices. Maintaining their overall life style, involves none of those modern technologies, but their culture has provided them with a decision technique in hunting that is compatible with who they are, and reasonably effective. Just as the caribou graze in random locations, so do the Naskapi hunters hunt in random locations!
(The value of Random Behavior is not unusual in nature. The Fruit Fly (left) uses this method to search for food. It flies in some direction, then randomly stops, turns sharply in different directions —trying to detect an enticing odor— with none detected, it then shoots off on a new (seemingly random) straight path only at some point to stop again, randomly, and sniff about that area. Also, Butterflies fly erratic (random) flight paths, that is their norm, not more efficient straight paths, apparently to make themselves a harder target while in flight for predators. Of course, neither of these creatures behave this way consciously; it is ‘just’ in their evolved good design!)
This is a cool suggestion, and it really goes further. It suggests that the millions of years of Natural Selection and then the thousands of years of Cultural Selection between caribou and various predators (including the Naskapi) has stumbled upon randomizing solutions that worked. The Naskapi do not understand why this Divination ‘works’,it was simply “custom” to them, but we now have an opportunity to do so. It involves the use of Game Theory in mathematics to understand the relationship. Mother Nature stumbled upon the solution, but in modern times the environment has dramatically changed for both Naskapi and Caribou, and each are in serious decline. It was “a wise Custom”, says Henrich. While it lasted.
Making Cassava(I love Tapioca!)
A second example of the value of Custom involves cassava, more widely known as manioc (“man-ee-ok”). This is one of the most widely used staple crops in the world, behind corn and rice. It is especially dependable in drought prone areas but also areas suffering from poor top soil, as in rainforests. The tuber (similar to a potato) is made into flour, eaten boiled, made into noodles; its liquid is used as a starch and glue; it is even fermented into various alcoholic beverages. It comes in two forms, known as “bitter” and “sweet”, the ‘sweet’ is only less bitter, according to various sites. I am only familiar with it as tapioca(and I do like tapioca, but how often have I had it in recent decades?). The “bitter” manioc is especially hearty in the event of drought and poor soil, an important advantage to it and its growers and consumers.
Manioc was first domesticated and widely used in South America thousands of years ago, and especially in the Amazonian area. In these regions a Strict Social Custom arose concerning its use and preparation. It is a multistep, labor-intensive, multiday, procedure. Henrich is both a biologist and an ethnologist — who has done field work in the Amazon — he tells us that the tubers are pealed, soaked, often grated, and then washed again “in order to separate the fibers, starch, and liquid.” The fibers and starch are then let to sit for two additional days. At that point they can be baked, boiled or cooked into various dishes. Asked why such a prolonged and difficult method of preparation, these indigenous South Americans will only say, (like the Naskapi) “It is our custom.”
And the issue with manioc is that it is full of CYANIDE! Especially the “bitter” form, but the “sweet” has plenty too. The general result of eating inadequately processed manioc is a gradual increase of cyanide in your system. This food can taste fine, but will eventually lead to neurological problems, thyroid issues, birth defects and paralysis in the legs, but more immediately to an increase in stomach issues, diarrhea, and fatigue.
Henrich sites testing that has shown that the traditional processing and cooking methods reduce the cyanide content to safer levels, well below 10% in most food uses. The cyanide in the plant provides protection for it from various insects and plant diseases; it is part of what makes manioc a hearty species. (Maybe it can ward off the Corona virus too; I’ll let you know.)
History has provided a generally unfortunate test case for the value of this Cultural Tradition of preparation. In the 17th century the Portuguese began exporting manioc from Brazil to West Africa, but they did not bring along the customs of its preparation. The product did catch on (It was a meme. GWW) but hundreds of years later, chronic cyanide poisoning is still a problem in this area of the world. Some people developed preparation traditions of their own that are helpful; they reduce the bitterness and then, also, the cyanide, but educational programs are still necessary.
So,here is another “strange” custom, and one in no way fully understood by its practitioners;“and a wise custom it is” concludes Henrich.
Some Brief Thoughts on Rationality
Repeatedly throughout this section of the book —Chapter 7: “On The Origin Of Faith“– Henrich tries to make the point that a modern, Western person, would be trying to find a more “direct” route; looking for behaviors that do not involve ‘inefficient’, ‘extra’, and ‘unexplained’ steps, a more “reasonable” approach, we would say, to the goal. Why heat a bone and follow it? Why peal and soak, grate and let sit, and wash again, before cooking manioc?And the traditional practitioner could offer no explicit explanation for why they did what they did.It is just the way they were taught; the way it has always been done, and they have” faith” in their tradition.
Henrich contends that the relations between these customary rituals and their outcomes — caribou found and cyanide depleted — are “causally opaque” to us and even to their traditional practitioners. To more modern and western ways of thinking, these practices look downright Foolish, at least initially.So, it was the “wisdom” of Natural Selection that ultimately proved to be effective! Natural and Cultural Selection sorted through a massive number of attempts, over thousands of years, and came upon these most appropriate practices and coordinations. Mother Nature is smarter than you or I, we may reasonably conclude, as does Henrich! Our Rationality and Problem-Solving are more limited than hers.
“A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing” says the old aphorism, and Philosopher Dan Dennett also suggests in his book on religion, that it has often been “safer to substitute a potent myth for incomplete knowledge.” Some traditions are true for us by their capacity to promote our adaptation.
Mother Nature is Smarterthan We Are
This truth is still effective today. Do we currently have Customs that are “causally opaque” to us? Do we have Customs that are effective, but that we do not fully understand? Yes.
We have been learning that Religion, at least in some of its forms, was vital in the origination of our Cultural way of living together(see post: “Folk Religion”, The Strange Idea of..). We have The Customof Ethical Behavior.This includes Individual Responsibility, Moral and Legal Standards, Manners, Altruistic Behavior and even Decision-Making, itself; about all of these we have greatly varying ideas concerning their reality and composition (see post: PLAIN TALK: If Mind is not The Brain, then What the Heck is It?).
Why do we make Art? To some, art is just emotional; it cuts no deeper than that. Visual art, poetry, music, dance: These Customary Practices have been briefly explored —here at The Connection— for their role in the origin of Language and even Mate-Selection (see post: A Paleolithic Sex Symbol). It has been one of our oft-stated positions, that Art is a search for truth, not in same sense as science, but truth nonetheless.
But, we have had many customs that it is quiet wise to have gotten rid of, or at least tried: slavery, racial and ethnic discrimination, religious persecution, sexism. Tradition has been no guarantee for acceptability and probity.
And, why do we Reasonably Discourse?What kind of Custom is that? Is there a place for Rationality in a world primarily composed of subatomic particles, chemical reactions, and neural networks? Will scientists one day discover that their own rational search for Truth leads them to believe that the customary practice of “rationality” is itself just so much “reading of burnt and cracked bones”, a “smoke screen” that hid the real neurological mechanisms in the brain?
As we take apart and scrutinize our traditions, we need to recognize that Nature’s Selections have been at play in the institution and maintenance of these traditions. SO, with some traditions, we may say Our world may be put together Far Better than is often thought.OR, for some others, The Persons of the past —through their Traditions— have often actedwithout Complete Knowledge and Responsibility for all that they did or all that became of it.
In our troubled world, these thoughts may be of modest consolation: Our world is often surprisingly well put together, but also People act based from what they have been given —Traditions. Apparently, it is up to us to sift through it and move forward.
As the poet wrote:
Come gather 'round, people Wherever you roam.
And admit that the watersAround you have grown ...For the times they are a-changin'
InThe Words of the Poet: Bob Dylan
Come gather 'round, people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin'
And you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
The battle outside ragin'
Will soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'
Thank You for your attention; I hope this was worthy of Your Precious Time.