Freedom: Haunted by the Idea

(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)

Bryan Cranston as Walter White, “breaking bad”.

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 and predominately concerned with religion.

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.

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 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!

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

*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.




What Connects the Universe? Is it “Love, love, love…”?

“Love” is a form of Information.  It is how persons Shape themselves, and in one of the finest ways!  Causes also play a role, but it is confused to say that Love is caused by atoms or chemical reactions.  Love is caused by things at its own level of vocabulary, like “need”, “sociability” and “physical and emotional attraction”.  We also know, at its level, it is ’caused’ by Magic, Luck, and ‘the way you looked that night with the light glowing in your hair!’       Ha cha, cha, chaaaa!

(Nope!  Love is not all ya need when connecting the universe, but it is suggestive of a good answer.  Short post.  It suggests a basic contrast that helps ‘fill in’ our world from the deficit suggested by the ‘Causes cause everything view.”  That view that Science is all, pejoratively known as Scientism, is not advocated here.  So if it’s not “All we need is Love!”; it’s more like all we need is Causes And Information!  And love is a kind of informing, so good enough.             

I would like to thank Rom for his frequent comments on NatieRel, without them I would not have come to such a concise and clear –I hope– statement of our metaphysical situation.  This is a response to his criticism of some of my positions as can be seen on his blog: rom’s corner, the “Monism” post, but it has been slightly modified upon rereading and publishing here..)

Below is my response to his comment that I do not appreciate that the things of our everyday world — us, horses, houses,— are the whole things that are made of parts which are sub-atomic objects.  This is a confusion of levels, I say.  To Rom, wholes are caused by their subatomic parts.  I say, first and foremost, us and horses and houses have parts like “hearts” and “legs” and “foundations” that are their parts in their Design.  Only in an extended sense are their parts atoms or quantum waves.  Here is my reply:

“I’m glad to see you (Rom) are allowing for different levels of things. So much is obvious. The issue is how to connect them. How do they interact? Your hunch “causation” is not a big enough idea to do it sufficiently, I believe.
And this is not your problem alone. Science ‘wants’ to understand everything as causes and that is why Compatiblist philosopher’s argue science is a “one-sided” point of view. In the world as only particles of physics and reactions of chemistry, a “viewer” that ‘sees’ different levels does not exist, only particles and reactions exist. A “viewer” of added levels is a mind, and can be compatible with science objects but also importantly different!”

“But for biology, psychology and sociology, this lack of viewer And Agent ——because Having a Point of View IS Agency, Rom (got ya! Don’t I?) —- starts to debilitate their ‘science’. That is why they are the ‘soft’ sciences. In psychology that is where Behaviorism came from, to toughen it up, to diminish the role of subjectivity. Yet, behaviorism has been largely dismissed as an insufficient overall psychological approach, especially by most psychologists. Agency forces itself on these disciplines, at least to a larger degree.”

“Philosophy has traditionally picked up the ball, to get to this other side of things. I have come to realize recently, and in part thanks to our correspondence, that a good way to frame it —the other side to causation—- is Information! Our world, especially, but the universe, also, with its other life Forms, is both connected by causes and by information. Anything with a Point of View and thus Agency is not only being caused but also being Informed! Agents are designed things, and they have made something particular out of the generalized universe of physics and chemistry!”

“So, the complex things of the world are designed and, therefore, are informed.  Physicist S. Carroll, in his philosophy of Poetic Nationalism, says the relationship of higher level realities to the baseline physics reality is “usefulness”.  The higher levels make use of it for their purposes. Philosopher D.Dennett, argues “Information is design that is worth (the designed object’s –gww) getting.” Info is worth going after, because it functions to support and enhance the designs that exist all around us and in us too!  Whole things are Associated with their lower level ‘components’, like atoms; but they Emerge from them, and they and their Designs are not caused by them.  From the p. of v. of physics, all these Particular Shapes and Forms and Designs are blurred out, indistinguishable, amid the one big form, the universe!  But as we exist, we look out and see directly that which is pertinent to us; it is Our In-Formation in that biggest of all show.

“So, Rom, the universe is both caused and informed, probably each at the same time. Your “causes only” view, does it have anything to say about Info other than it’s just causes by a different (confused) name? Right now, I think the most fruitful way to understand what we are doings, is not cause each other to believe anew, but inform each other to do so.”

“Thank you, Rom, for the fruitful dialogue!
Yours truly, GregWW”

Rhythms, by Robert Delaunay,

Freedom 5: Reasons in Persons

I(The Cartoon Special!  In this post, reasons in nature can become reasons in persons.  In fact, we might say the whole idea of a “person” gets invented at about this point in nature’s evolution.  It’s a good post, as the narrative of our enhanced abilities continues and nears its end, in this series, “Freedom and the Environment”.  Our freedom lies in our ability to do more.  Caaaave Maaannn Cartooooons!  Ya gotta love’m. )


(Reasons in Nature are then taken a step or two further by Persons.  Natural Selection designed the Flying Javanese Cucumber and Northrop Grumman designed the B-2 Spirit bomber.  Both are “flying wings” that use their entire body to provide lift.  The seeds of the Java Cucumber are grown in gourds — seed pods — the size of a football.  When released they can glide hundreds of meters in the rain forest.  Photos and info from BU Bio-Aerial engineering course.)

Reasons in Humans

Now humans have taken these Reasons in Nature and gone a step or two or three further.  Of course, we started in much the same place as the plants and fishes, and still do, as children.  Much of what children do well, is still “competence without comprehension”, says Dennett.  A child may use many words in simple situations — saying “doggie”, then  pointing and go to pet it — but still not ‘get’ the bigger and more subtle distinctions and elaborations necessary for broad and  accurate use of that term.  They may “take” a cat for a dog, and that is to “mistake”.  It’s our order of language pointing out and being misapplied, but heart-warmingly so.

Dennett calls these competencies “know-how”.  They are “a way”, a way of doing or behaving.  They are “an informational structure”— some “relatively simple” such as a single word, others very complex such as a language — and in this sense they are similar to “a software app”, and what biologist Richard Dawkins has called “a meme”.  They are organized around a Reason in Nature, and they “cut nature at the joint”*, or at least cut into the more stripped-down and objective side of nature, in the way we do, to ‘see’ ourselves emerging from it.  It’s the way we ‘see’ and understand “lion”, for example, as existing as part of a world composed only of subatomic particles and laws of physics.  It’s like a complicated game of connecting the dots.




(Leo the lion, or better Leona the lion, Emerging from the background.  It’s the particular way we humans—with the help of Mother Nature and Natural Selection — have come to cut up the more objective background of the world into more Person-like objects.  Of course, creatures from some other world will have somewhat their own way of doing it.  This astrological map is only an early attempt at connecting the dots of life by humans, an effort that continues today with more reasonable attempts.)

“Being of One Mind”

But Memes start simple, as something Persons can copy and transmit relatively easily from one person to another, and then grow in complexity.  What this eventually comes to is that when a group of persons share the same memes, we can say these memes inhabit their brains and these people are now of one Mind.  These people now operate on many of the same presuppositions and in many of the same ways.  They function together and exhibit a design.   This is an explanation of Mind and Consciousness not as some new and mysterious kind of thing, but as a sociological and social psychological emergent property of groups of humans: “A Design of Enhanced Human Togetherness!”  

An interesting example of A Mind: a football team Functioning together according to a Design.  “There is no “I” in TEAM” but a little improvisation sometimes helps.

This “Know-How” is very different from scientific knowledge, which would be better to call “knowing that” in this case.  We know how to speak our language, but that is not scientific knowledge of language, not knowledge “that” certain parts of the brain are active or that certain neural patterns exist or certain neural signals are sent.  That is more Theoretical Reasoning; this is more Practical Reasoning or the knowledge of how to be a person and function with other persons.  Picasso certainly knew how to paint but was not in the least interested (I assume) in knowing that painting is associated with various neural processes and even must have some obscure relation to the laws of physics.

“Know-How” and Practical Reasoning are the knowledge of how to be a Person and function in coordination with other persons in their various traditions of acting (memes).

(The Providential Environments: settings in which we pass on the traditions — or Know-How — of Personhood.  Korean folk dance, elementary school, family fishing, music concert, Philippine folk dance, mother and daughter cooking.  All require Knowing-How, personal interaction and instruction, not Scientific Knowledge of Causes! )

Humans have honed providential environments (my phrase) to aide in the transmission, creation, acquisition and development of memes or know-how.  These environments are “providential” because being in sync with them is constructive of us as complex things—persons.

A school or a university –a place for education and creativity– is one of these “enhanced” environments.  A family should be an environment that initiates the transmission of these memes of personhood: language, appropriate role playing, responsibility, common goals and  coordinated behaviors.  The arts, the crafts, sport — cooking — are all “know-how” and not primarily “knowing that”.  “Knowing how” involves understanding and acting by the rules and traditions of a procedure.  “Knowing that” is more objective; it can attempt to separate the doer from the object that is being worked on, and in that way can become what we call scientific knowledge.  So, “Science” is itself a human “know-how” that seeks “knowledge that.”   In that way, scientists can get philosophically confused about what comes first!

“Noticing That We Are Noticing”: Reasons in Persons

Language is possibly the primary form of meme.  “Doggie”, “cat’, “Ma Ma” and quite a few other words,  when a child points and says these, the child eventually begins to ‘notice’ that ‘all things have a name’, and language acquisition really picks up. They are now ‘getting the point of language’, as a Directed Order.  Now, is that a fact, or is that a rule, that “all things have a name”?  That is kind of a silly question, akin to asking about the chicken and the egg. Silly because it’s both.  It is a higher level fact and a rule that only leads to more facts, more questions and more designations.  It is one of the rules and facts of language-doing, that know-how.  We have now “gone meta“.  It is akin to asking, “What is the way to fly?”

Hang Gliding, another way to fly!  Flight: a “free-floating rationale”, “a way of doing”, “a meme”, “a know-how” whose logic has been thoroughly explored and exploited.

Dennett has a fascinating section on what it must have been like for early humans just acquiring language.  Early on, they noticed “words” or proto-words, “song” and proto-song, “gesture” and proto-gestures, scrawled ‘drawings’ or even proto-maps, but they did not have the word “word”, the word “song”…the word “map”.   They used and responded to these, but they did not notice words, gestures, songs…as “things” themselves.  Communication, here, like bird flight, was something done but not realized it was done.  Language use, here, was a Reason in Nature and it was a Reason that was not Represented in any Mind.  It was a “free-floating rationale” says Dennett.  What survived among these early words, gestures, songs, pictures, maps and the groups that were using them, were Naturally Selected.  The ones that worked continued and even spread, and that is true for even the groups using them.

Dennett speculates that some of these early memes “infecting the brains” of these early humans may have been destructive, like very attractive bad habits.  A group captivated by the idea of ‘dance’, danced in a frenzy and to the detriment of their need to hunt and gather, possibly.  Maybe such communication — through this ‘gesture’, ‘dance’, proto-language — started and died out in many different human groups until some group got the mix right, enough beneficial memes to outweigh the non-adaptive ones.  It’s a cool story, this story of the dawn of storytelling, itself.

(CAVEMAN JOKES!  Ya gotta love ’em.  How ironic, to think of these Proto-Persons as being sophisticated and a lot like us.  Of course, they weren’t, but they got the ball of human culture rolling!)

A huge step is this next one.  Like in a child, at some point in this growing sophistication of communication, the early kinda-persons not only noticed these devices, but “noticed that they noticed them”, argues Dennett.  Now, some of their attention went not only to the immediacy of the communication but to the devices being used to do it, that know-how.  ‘Soon’, came not only words, but a word for “word”, a word for “gesture”, for “song”…and with that … what?

It was hugely important to have objectified this process, this know-how of communication and being together.  It was when these “unwitting communicators” (Dennett) probably ‘discovered’ or noticed that I was an “I”, you a “you”, and we a “we”.  Of course, somehow these concepts of “I” “you” and “we” were already implicit in the initial communication situation, but without our recognition of them.  Just like ‘the logic’ of flight was implicit in nature and eventually discovered by natural selection.  Modern day philosophers have tackled this problem: the structure or design of “communication” or “the communicative situation”.  Like any good design, it certainly has one.

(True and Honest Communication is the Basis of All Communication.  Deception, lies, misinformation are all parasitic upon Honest Communication.  If everyone lied and lied all the time, communication would fizzle out.  An Astounding Contention! But true! Ritualized in   the human practice of Oath-Giving.)

A large quantity of literature has grown up around the contentions of H.P. Grice and his Theory of Meaning, starting in the late 1950s to late 80s, explains Dennett.  The core of his ‘discovery’ is that Communication necessarily involves a Three-Way Sharing of Attention, Goal, and Act, a sharing of presupposition and intention.  One, the speaker must intend to invoke a certain response in her audience.  Two, the audience must recognize that intention in the speaker.  Three, the audience’s appropriate response to the speaker is at least partly prompted by their recognition of the speaker’s intention and their willingness to go along with it.  It’s like telling a joke; the teller and the audience must all get that it is a joke and want “to go along with it”.

This Three-Way Sharing closes the circle on itself!  And, as Dennett points out, it is a “virtuous circle” as opposed to an uninformative one.  Like every good design, it defines its parts and their functions in relation to each other and their goal.  In this way, they establish a bit of isolation from ‘outside’ influence and establish the Freedom to define themselves and and an environment in their terms, to an important degree.  It is what the aqueduct bridge, mentioned in earlier posts, Does as an Agent.  It is what every plant and animal and forest Does; it Functions within its defined limits.  It is not only an Order, but a Directed Order within the emergent domain of Life!

Every Design is a “Virtuous Circle”, a feedback loop that has enclosed itself to a significant degree and, thus, operates on a Goal to be achieved.

These early persons ‘noticed’ the dynamics of this form of know-how, and began to work as, and be, not only individuals but “our kind of individual”.  Somewhere in this early history, somewhere as far back as the dawn of group hunting, or the domestication of fire, this process of human coordination became a necessity to these new humans; it was an adaptation that worked.  And natural selection began to select for it, and even select for adaptations that facilitated it, like lengthening infancy and the white’s of our eyes that aide gaze-monitoring as opposed to the dark eyes of other primates.  Communication was now a necessary “good trick” for successful human groups.

This was now a more self-conscious communication than anything else in the animal kingdom.  With practice, it began to ‘thicken’, to become more complex.  The art of persuasion was eventually realized, and even the art of deceptionMorality, as a growing awareness of the fundamental agreement necessary to communicate, began to appear.  An awareness and refinement of Thought occurred.  Talking to others suggested and provided an opportunity to talk to oneself!  The fluidity of the “I–you–we” situation — sometimes I am an “I”, other times a “you”… — stimulated the coordination of our different parts of the brain. 

(Talking To Yourself: Good Thing or Bad?  Good!  It’s the reasonable reduction of Thought and Mind into a Social Psychological Form.)

Dennett, and some other theorist, speculate that the brain is not some permanent hierarchical organization among neurons that makes decisions, like in a standard computer, but varying competing structures of neurons, as in some more experimental forms of Artificial Intelligence.  At some point, these early humans asked a question and no one was there to answer it, but that asking helped prompt their own “concentration” and focus, and they then came to their own answer, possibly by an enhanced cooperation among parts of the brain, something like a conversation.

CONCENTRATION: The Arrow of Intentionality seeking its mark.

This refined way of Thinking is then a Conversation with yourself, a Self-Monitoring, and hence a Self-Consciousness.  It is interesting, and revealing, that we use the word “concentration” to describe this focus as we attempt to think. It is well suited for the reality of thought as Directed Order.  When we concentrate, we ‘look out’ from some place in our system of memes.   We ‘look out’ from some “practice” or “know-how” in our culture — some “doing” in the art of science or literature or carpentry — and we wait for In-Put!  We hope for the right idea to come ‘bubbling up, bubbling from deep down.’ We then ask ourselves, “Will that one work, or that one?”  We concentrate again, and a decision is made. 



“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”      ——Einstein



The settings for “concentration” are rather well defined in human culture.  Even something a innocent as standing in front of your closet and choosing your outfit for the day, qualifies —as suggested by the physicist Sean Carroll.  As you read this post, you have placed yourself in such an enhanced and providential environment.  These seem to be the places where, for us —persons — our level of complexity graciously glides into contact with the levels below.  It is the spot where Persons, as Thoughtful Social Creatures, willingly open the door to the rhythms and energies of the levels below.  Inspirations “bubble up”; Ideas appear like “a light bulb switched on”; Words “come to mind”.  It is how We are Free by Coordination with our Environment and not in struggle against it.  Freedom becomes the ability to do more.



In an important sense, the above is the conclusion of this series, but we have not faced the final and biggest hurdle, Freedom and the Ultimate Physical Background.  That will be the title of post 6 of this series, Freedom and the Environment.  Here, the science of physics will take a few shots at this high flying idea of Human Freedom.



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Freedom 4: Through Nature and Reflection

(Cookn’ here at the naturereligionconnection!  A wide ranging post, we do have here. We are speculating about speculation!  Post 4 in the Freedom and the Environment series.  People are “people” when they ‘see’ and understand the Emergent Realities built atop the world as pure chemical and physic’s objects.  The world is both “atoms in motion” and animals and persons “acting according to their natures”, their design.  Designed things are Informed as well as Caused.  This provides an opportunity for Freedom.  It’s not Absolute Freedom, but it’s not just ‘whistling Dixie’, either.  It is Freedom as the ability to do a lot of stuff well!)

“Huston…The Eagle has landed” said Neil Armstrong.  The Eagle, another creature designed to function well not in “any”, nor even “the”, but “its” environment.

Reasons in Nature

The Solar System changed from a ‘mere’ physical order to a participant in the directed — purposive — order of the living things on Earth, as argued in post 3.  Dan Dennett contends that this is the origin of “justification”.   A hawk exists because it is more successful at survival and reproduction through its ability to fly; that is its justification.  The Solar system, itself, simply “is”.

When we consider the ‘higher’ levels of complexity, we ask of them, “what for?”, “what do they do?” along with “how did they come about?”  They have a purpose that we only successfully understand by not only describing an order but also the kind of environment in which that order successfully functions.  It is, now, a directed order.  The two, object and “its” environment, are at the same level of vocabulary and complexity.  They are inherently related and not contingently related, and the successful functioning of that object in its environment is their Justification.

It is interesting, here, to recall that physicist Sean Carroll — in his philosophy of “Poetic Naturalism” — contended that the relationship of all the emergent vocabularies to the universe as described by physics is “usefullness”.  Emergent vocabularies are “useful” ways for us to talk.  They reveal emergent objects — designs — that exist from our point of view and are useful ways for us to ‘see’ reality and understand ourselves –as persons — in it.   (see post, The “Secretly Profound” Idea of Emergence.)

Ancient people looked up and connected the dots (the stars) in a manner significant to them.  We now, as persons, ‘look back’ through the atomic and physical realities to connect these ‘dots’ as the “Emergent Objects” leading to us as the emergent agents and actors we are!

Purposive objects exhibit design.  They are —By Definition — interrelated and interacting with “their” environment.  Some biologists become nervous here, and insist that Design in Nature is only “apparent design”; it is “seemingly designed”.  It is, as if, they say, “Things are not really put together that well.”  They fear that a design needs a designer, or that “adaptionist” thinking and talk of “purposes” is Teleological — as if nature is striving for some goal — and therefore insufficiently Causal and Contingent.  But, there are many things that are really well connected: their parts are subsumed under their design!  (“Huston, the Eagle has landed!”)  We can say designed objects are Caused by their environment, but in our broadest attempt to understand our world and our situation in it we must recognize that this is only a half truth and the seed for significant confusion.  It is better to say, “The two Inform each other!”

The hawk is landing!  The relationship between the form of the wings and the air is inherent.  The air ’causes’ flight only because the wings are designed to allow air to have that function.  This is primarily a relation of INFORMATION and not causation!

Flight has been a frequent example in this series.  It is an opportunity in the Ordered Physical World for Purpose to appear, and it certainly has!  In his book From Bacteria to Bach and Back, Dennett argues the history of evolution has been a process of  “the functional crowding out the nonfunctional.”   Our planet is now covered with the functioning objects of life and of them, and their parts, we ask “the reasons why” they are “shaped and ordered as they are.”  “To fly,” is frequently an answer, and yet, no bird — who is designed for flight — knows it!  The Bird has a Reason but is no reasoner.   Dennett calls it “Competence without Comprehension” and it is a very frequent thing.  Birds do it, bees do it, (“even educated fleas do it”), fish do it—that is swim in this case and do it very well but without knowledge or awareness of their own design and behavior.

(“Lets do it, Lets fall in Love!”  Human love may be an example of “competence without (full) comprehension”.  We really don’t know how it happens, in fact we believe it is often “magic”.  Yet, we have numerous rituals and practices that ‘promote’ it, from song to poem to dances to dating.  These are “our enhanced environments” that ‘set the stage’ for romantic opportunity and for its ‘contemplation’ and ‘decision’.  “Love” is a form of human “know-how” and humans should know how to “Love”!)

These are Reasons in Nature, says Dennett!  He calls them “free-floating rationales” because they are reasons without a reasoner; reasons not Represented in a Mind but are discernible in the design of the creations of Mother Nature.  In this sense, Natural Selection is “a reason finder” and has filled this planet with a splendid array of living things operating for, or by, one reason or another.  And interestingly, since these are Reasons in nature, there are more and less effective and efficient ways — rational ways — of accomplishing them.  Natural Selection is not only “a reason finder” but also “developer”.

(Natural Selection has discovered Powered Flight four times; first in insects, then dinosaurs, birds and finally bats.  It is a “reason-finder” and “developer”.  The Reason these creatures survived was, in part. their ability to fly.  That is there Justification.)

(Nature is full of Reasons. Gliding is A Reason these animals exist.  Only Persons have Reasons and are sometimes aware of them.  Bluntnosed Flying fish, Flying Squirrel, Paradise snake, Borneo Flying Frog, Gliding Ant, Flying Dragon Lizard are just a few of Nature’s gliding creatures.  I do not know the approximate number of species that Glide, but each of the classes above have several different species that do. And this is not to mention animals that “parachute”.)


(A “ballooning” spider!  Note the thin thread coming from its abdomen.  Another way Mother Nature has designed a creature to “fly”.  Natural Selection, through its mechanical process of trial and error, has sought and discovered this Opportunity too, and perfected it.  It justifies this creatures survival.)


Part 2 of this post will be published this weekend.  In it, we will find out what humans do with these Reasons In Nature.  Now I know some of you are finding that idea strange — reasons in nature — but its point is to establish Reasons in Persons and then having a basis for it Naturally!   That is what we do when we think in the widest context; we want a lot of things to fit together.  The reasons for our behavior and in our consciousness must come from nature but also be true to themselves.  To think that thinking is really a chemical or neural or physic’s process, that it is somehow “caused” by them, is what the famous American philosopher John Dewey called, “the modern one-sidedness.”  Getting really wide and two-sided, here at The Connection!  Enjoy!

FLIGHT JOAN MIRO STYLE: The Smile of the Flamboyant Wings (1953)

cropped-img_34702-e1565808476815-10  Drawing by Marty


Freedom and the Environment: A Recap

Where Are We in this Series?

Freedom is The Ability to Do More!  Like surfing, we, Persons, ride the wave of Nature for as long as we can.  We sometimes get roughed up, but then get up and ride again.

IN POST 1, Freedom was argued to be the ability to do more, not the ability to do just anything and everything you want.  It is attained by coordination with your environment, not by separation from it.  The complex state of Personhood, with its abilities to vary our perspectives on ourselves and our environments, enables us to make adjustments to our routines, our habits, our accepted and necessitated ways of life, and not just do the same things over and over in much the same situations.  Not only do we have behaviors, but we Reflect on them, and to a limited extent ‘reprogram’ ourselves.  Persons, therefore, have a much greater degree of freedom than do any other object that we know.

(The evolution of human flight is an example of how persons can come to be able to do more.  In conjunction with their environment and reflective thought, humans utilized our environment’s opportunity for powered flight and its successive improvement.)

IN POST 2, Images of Unity, some of the various ways that Persons Reflect on their relationship with their environment are considered.  Some of these ways eliminate the very idea of Personhood and Freedom (Agency) from their vocabularies.  These ‘hard’ scientific views attribute all our behavior to Causes of various sorts.  Whether the state of the particles in the entire universe, or the firing of neurons in our brain, or our past upbringing and experiences, all that we do Now is caused by these forces.

(How can both of these be “our” environment!  They sure look different to me!  That’s what we’re trying to figure out here at the good old NatieRel.  Only the second is the environment of Persons; that is our conclusion in post 2.)

Other “images of unity” give Persons and Agents a much larger role in their interactions with their environment.  It is not that agents alter the patterns of quantum waves or cause atoms to “swerve”, but — with the help of Evolution and Natural Selection — ‘our environment’ taken in the most objective way is supplemented with ‘our environments’ that are much more user-friendly.  They are, as if, “externalized organs” of the agents involved and, therefore, the interaction between Agent and Environment is as much Informational as it is Causal.  In communication, for example, information is its basis and the way persons understand it as we Do it.  A solely causal ‘understanding’ of it simply eliminates it from existence.

(The relationship between a farm field and farmer, and a hammer and its user, is Informational not causal.  Each is an extension of ourselves and the Freedom to do more!)

This post ends by arguing that “the ‘hard’ scientific view of the world” is itself dependent upon the reality of ourselves as Persons and Agents.  To seek to eliminate these from our most comprehensive understanding of the universe and reality is a point of view that subverts itself.


Neural activity did not cause the Gettysburg Address.  Abraham Lincoln, a noted speaker, takes the credit for that!  Image from The Telegraph.

IN POST 3, The Arrow of Intentionality, the logical relation that is the basis of Agency and Personhood is described.  It is Meaning; it is the way that things can be related Beyond Causation.  In the language of philosophy, meaning is Reference, Intention, and Designation.  As that latter term suggests, Meaning can be effectively analyzed as Design Designed objects have an intention (or purpose) at their core that is directed outward at the environment like an arrow.  It is selective with its own focus, a relationship to its environment that is foremost Informational and only secondarily understood as Causal.  A telling point is made by speaking of a two thousand year old aqueduct bridge as if it were a person or animal that “ignores” day and night, shows little “concern” about hot and cold, and whose  “best efforts” have easily withstood the earth’s tremors thus far.


Biology is the science that first comes head to head with the reality of Meaning in our world.    Biology constantly encounters Parts that are Subsumed within Larger Wholes, and this is the primary form of any designed object.  In this sense, biology becomes an even more appropriate reflection of reality than is physics.

Hawk landing in Post 4.  The relationship between the form of the wings and the air is inherent.  The air ’causes’ flight only because the wings are designed to allow air to have that function.  This is primarily a relation of INFORMATION and not causation!

Post 4 is up-coming: Freedom Through Nature and Reflection You will surprisingly see that Reasons exists in Nature.  Rational and efficient standards are part of Nature before they become Represented as the Minds of Persons.  Persons, then, use their existence as social and communicating creatures, to Internalize Conversation to become an individual’s process of Thought.  Thought is talking to yourself.  
By Reflecting on our past actions, Persons establish and adjust their presuppositions and expectations that are at the core of our mutual, human, “know-how” This is the “Level of Complexity” at which we are Free; Free to do more. (Or sumthin like dat!)


These animals exist FOR A REASON!  There are REASONS IN NATURE!  The first Reason is Gliding, the second is Powered Flight.  Post 4: Freedom and the Environment., Don’t miss it!


What’s in a Prayer?


The Annunciation, by George Hitchcock, 1887

Today, as I write this, my brother-in-law way across this country in Oregon (some 2,500 miles from central Ohio) is having surgery on his heart.  Doctors do this kind of thing regularly, but still!  I’m thinking of him and my sister and wishing I would have called her more often.  “But what’s a poor boy to do?” as Mick has sung (“with the same old rock’n roll band…”).  I’m way over here in Ohio, and always working on this darn blog.

My other sister, Marty, who drew the logo for NatieRel, she started talking last night — not coincidentally — about how to say “The Hail Mary”.  She hadn’t done it in ages and forgot its words.  Both of us being rather thoroughly Catholicized in our youth, she asked me.  No problem.  It is the words by which the Angel Gabriel addressed Mary when informing her she would be “the mother of God.” The Annunciation.  In fact, a Blessed Virgin Mary, or the BVM as she is sometimes humorously and sacrilegiously referred to.

Hail, Mary!  Full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among woman, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  Amen.

I used to be able to crank those out, ten at a time, but now I cannot bring myself to do a single one.

Yet, I feel the need to do something; to express something, to help, from way over here in Ohio.

I came across this poem a number of years ago.  It is about Prayer and kind of a prayer itself:  The Divine Image by William Blake, written in about 1789.

Before you read it, I must warn you that in the second stanza pronounce “DEAR” with an accent to be like DARE, then it will rhyme with “care”.  In stanza three, pronounce “DRESS” with an accent to be like ‘drace’ so that it rhymes with “FACE”.   To excuse the last stanza, I think we need to realize that in 1800, much of the world was alien and mysterious to Europeans.  Jewish people were always ostracized in Europe and thought of with great bias, similar to what they thought of “heathens” and “Turks”.  But note, here, all the above are in possession of “the human form divine”.  (SORRY, WordPress site will not allow me to get the spacing right for this poem!  It loses all the stanzas–every 4 lines)

Importantly, God and Humans are equated through the mediation of Four Virtues: Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love, says Blake.  These virtues are as much human as divine.  Humans acting in accord with these virtues, as much as ‘God’, are the thing we pray to when in “Distress”, says the great poet.

The Divine Image


To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress:
And to these virtues
Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear.
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is Man, his child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.
And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew,
Where Mercy, Pity, Peace dwell
There God is dwelling too.


Nice poem!  Deep.  When I am in distress, I have developed a little routine where I start with my thumb at the tip of my forefinger and say “To Mercy”, then to the tip of the next finger and say “To Pity“, then…”To Peace”, and finally at my little finger, “To Love.”  The next round is simpler: “To Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love” moving through my fingers.  Silly of me, to like that finger part, I think of it like closing a circuit.  Letting the “Positive Energy” flow here at the naturereligionconnection!

HANG TOUGH, BRO.  WE ARE THINKING OF YOU !  You too, sis!  Love ya. 
P.S. By the time I published this and then revised it and published it again (with a fair amount of stuff in between), I had received word that the surgery was about over and was going very well!

Freedom 3: The Arrow of Intentionality

(This is the hard post, The THIRD in this series.   A relationship Other Than Causation is attempted to be described.  If the world is not all causes, then what else could it be?  How else can objects relate to each other?  People to People.  People to objects.  Object to object.  If not causation, what else?  A word to other words relates by Meaning, we say,  which is semantics and syntax, the linguists say.  A Person to other Persons by communication, or violence, by honesty or deception, even Love — we say.  What could be the basis of this?  Or is that all just smoke we blow up our a$$?   Here at NatieRel we contend: It is not causation, it is Reference and Intentionality!  “What the he// are those?” you may fairly ask.  —- Once again, thanks to Dan Dennett, philosopher extraordinaire, for leading the way. )

THE ARROW OF INTENTIONALITY: Mind Emerges as the Direction given to Order.  Above is “Arrow”, a superhero eventually acquired and given direction by Marvel Comics.

Freedom, as the ability to do more, embraces the idea of design.  Designs are inherently connected to the environment in which they work; they have an aim pointing outward, and an intention at their core.  This connection is as much informational as it is causal.  Designs don’t change the ‘objective’ world ‘outside’ them; they just just ‘choose’ to ignore some parts of it, and are created to emphasize and utilize others.  According to their purpose, they ‘try’ to make the most of it.  Of course, the previous use of the word “choose” is meant only in a figurative or rudimentary sense for many designed things.

One of the oldest remaining Roman aqueduct bridges in Europe.  This bridge ‘ignores’ night and day, and the phases of the moon.  It is barely concerned with hot and cold.  Most earthly tremors have meant little to it, but, in spite of the bridge’s best efforts, a really big one would bring it down.  This bridge is a rudimentary Agent!  It does sh!#, and it has done it well!

First, this definition allows Freedom to be a kind of ‘living up to one’s Essence’.  I know this is an ancient term — “essence” — and not one taken favorably today, but it allows a thing to be free and to be what it is.  Freedom is fulfilling one’s design. A dog has a limited kind of freedom and this especially in comparison to a rock or a snail.  A toaster is ‘free’ to toast!  A violinist can be free by trying, the best she can, to be a good violinist; and this even in the light of the fact that her parents were both violinists and she was raised from the earliest age to be one, and was also constantly surrounded by music.  Genetically and environmentally the causes are there, but personally the violinist also made many choices and the options remain open for a dramatic reinterpretation of her life.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti  (no jinx intended) the

A new thing can happen and it changes her aim: The Arrow of Intentionality has shifted its target.  The violinist permanently damages her arm in an auto crash and has to give up her spot in a prestigious sympathy orchestra and finds greater happiness in teaching children to play and doing so without the pressure of career and and her parent’s expectations.   A new essence was discovered. A new ‘arrow’ has been launched.   Her future and past are refocused from this new perspective, including a new set of causes that explain her new state.   The hours of daily practice that she once just took as natural are now understood to have been part of a nagging unhappiness that always underlay her.  Persons live, choose and reflect first, and do so “under the Idea of Freedom”, said Kant; then — in hindsight —  they “designate” (design) the causes for that behavior. Theoretical Reason lags behind Practical Reason, he showed us. For an intentional system — a designed system — this is the kind of logic that is pertinent!  (See posts Freedom: A Characteristic of Structures I and II and Science Lags Behind in the “Freedom and Mother Nature” series.” )

Second, Living Things have demonstrated to us the existence of Design in addition to Physical Order. 

The Biological Sciences are as accurate a guide to the nature of reality as are the hard Physical Sciences.  They remain more true to all the phenomena we find about us, including us, than do the ‘hard’ sciences.  Precedence in time proves nothing for precedence in significance.  What Darwin most fundamentally taught us was the natural evolution of designed, purposeful objects, from the purposeless Order of the universe.

(Precedence in Time proves nothing for Precedence in Significance.  I wrote that, and it’s a zinger!!!  Though philosopher John Dewey said it using somewhat different words.  Images of “Electrical charged superfluid plasma” from holographicgalaxy.blogspot and woman doing math from 

We tend to think, the Solar System has no purpose.  But living things have succeeded in giving it purpose even if after the fact.  Day and night, the seasons of the year, the cycle of precipitation, the regularities of gravitation and heat exchange, even entropy all set the stage and form the point of the purposeful structures we call “living”.  Darwin showed that given Natural Order, sufficient time and a little luck Designed and Purposeful Order would appear, argues Dan Dennett.  Evolution utilizes the opportunities available within an ordered universe to enhance that order into a directed order, an order with purposes.  This is as much of the world we see and know around us today, as is anything!

A directed order is one that Refers beyond itself.  As mentioned earlier, a “predator” implies a “prey”, for example.  A “teacher” implies a “student”.  A “parent” implies a “child”.  A “word” picks out it’s object.  In biology and medicine, a heart, the lungs, the stomach, the intestine function so tightly in coordination with each other that none exist separately nor is understood without the others.  Each of these above examples display long histories of the development of these relationships, histories that display a series of enhancements — design improvements — from more rudimentary forms.  Simplistic predators preyed upon simplistic prey, and still do in many cases; but now they are also accompanied by far more complex and skilled forms of predation and its evasion.  In some ways, we can say the same thing about Teaching and Parental Practices.

The Arrow of Intentionality: ONE THING IS ABOUT ANOTHER THING!  This “Arrow” hits its target and is Meaning, Reference, Designation.  Its Logic is very different than a Cause!  Its product is Mind as it Emerges as the coordination in a Design. (Wow, Rock On!)

A directed order, or purposeful order, implies a different logic.  This ‘logic’ is not easy to describe, and was roughly suggested above when Strong Emergence was said to be The Priority of the Whole over Its Parts.  But this is not a thoroughly satisfying description because even in describing the movement of billiard balls, a kind of  prototypical example of simplicity in a system, the balls (the parts) are not independent of the laws and the environment (the whole) that governs their movement.  In fact, the simplicity of the balls is just what this system needs to be effective.  Internally the pool balls lack complexity — there is only a little inside them that matters to their behavior — and therefore are able to have their behavior described so simply, by their external relations to other balls, their velocities and impacts.  The solar system is much the same: masses, velocities, gravity explains its most salient features.

When we observe the objects in more complex systems, their behavior is more difficult to predict.  Internally they are more complex and we can presuppose “an intent” for we do not know the mechanisms “deep below”.   Even these intentions have been adjusted in our thinking, and the behavior of these systems have become more predictable.  But, animals have instincts; persons have beliefs, feelings and perceptions; designed artifacts have a purpose, and when we discover these our ability to predict their behavior improves.  Persons are well aware of this for this is the way the world works from the point of view of persons.  When we make an object, the point of that object should probably be clear to us, if it is to work.  When we raise our children, we should intend to bestow on them an acceptable direction.

(Persons are complex objects and are especially full of intentions.  Here are three that did much to adjust these presuppositions of humans and thereby alter human behavior.  Maybe the quantum waves of the world unfold ‘in the same way’, but from our point of view these waves may mean something different.  That’s Newton in the middle.)

But often we don’t even care about the complexities inside an object.  A designed thing, like an alarm clock, can be mechanical with gears and spring and needing to be wound, or it may be electronic and digital with multiple circuits and needing to be plugged in.  As long as we know The Simple Procedures for Using It, we do not care; we can predict its behavior and it will work for us.

That is how the higher levels of reality, or emergent levels of vocabulary (to follow Carroll’s terminology) work for us.  This is The Manifest Image of the world and why it is indispensable.  We do not really understand what is working in the brain of our neighbor’s new dog, but when we meet it we know to hold out our hand and allow it to sniff.  If this goes well, we proceed to rub its head a little and then maybe get a little more frisky.  Our evolved world is designed like this.  We can do so much, Now, because layers of internal complexities have been added upon layers of internal complexity, and in spite of our not seeing these “lower levels” directly, each maintains “an access code”, “a set of User-Friendly Icons”, or “the information” by which more complex realities may emerge and make more of them.   “Information is design worth getting”, writes Dennett.  This “access” is our practical knowledge of them, our everyday experience of them and their means to be usefulness.  It is the way they INFORM the higher or emergent objects!  From our personal point of view, INFORMATION is apparent to us.  It is NOT apparent from the point of view of physics or any more ‘objective’ position.


(Why Do We Call DNA “a Language”?  Isn’t DNA only a shorthand for a long, long series of Mechanisms?  DNA is the “access code” for the utilization of these processes, and that in their working order.  On right is the first electron microscope photo of DNA showing its coils; about 2012.  Story and photo in New Scientist)

In Dennett’s book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (“Dangerous” because it is so revolutionary), there is a long and difficult section describing the leading speculations on the origin of life.  Life is that ‘bridge stone’ that transcends the gap between Order and Purpose (Directed Order).  The issue he focuses on is the mechanism by which, or point when, DNA or RNA  are not only able to successfully replicate themselves — like very good little crystals –but also when their Order begins to Mean Something, Have a Purpose, by Designating a series of changes that stretches far beyond them.  They are this “code”, we say, “a language”.  Underlying this code, or better, the Meaning of this code is a long series of molecular Mechanisms that build the organism That Code Is For.  And it is true, it is materialistic mechanisms all the way down, but Emergent Realities/Vocabularies encapsulate or summarize or communicate those mechanistic cascades at different points.  They are the ‘access code’ of one layer of complexity to the next; the information passed between them.  Emergent objects work from ‘inside’ the chain of causation (as it is known to be from ‘outside’) and use its information “to do more.”

Cells can reproduce “because” what has been ‘learned so far’ is passed on to their offspring in the language of DNA — that code.  Persons socialize new persons by passing on to them what has been ‘learned so far’ through language and forms of training.  ‘Objects inside’ this mechanical system — objects like cells, organisms, herds, flocks, ecosystems and persons — ‘focus on’ these Encodings; the encodings are the rules of the game for them; they are the Signals that Inform those of us “inside” the system what to do next.  From this point of view, these encodings are Information to be responded to inherently as part of their DESIGN and that design’s pertinent environment. 

Hawks taking advantage of  an up-draft: Almost he opposite of a person falling down an elevator shaft!  It is a part of the Hawk’s environment being used in this enhanced way.  It is ‘the bird’s reason’!  The design of the bird, ‘pointing outward’, recognizes this opportunity.  The design of the bird, ‘pointing inward’, has adapted its itself to improve this skill.  From thedailybirdnewengland.

A bird in flight, like a hawk, is in an up-draft.  This situation can be almost completely understood from the point of view of aeronautics and physics, but from our point of view and the bird’s design it Means More!  It is the opportunity to DO MORE: to gain altitude, to see farther, to identify prey, to sense weather conditions, to dive faster.  The “because” of this situation — “the bird rose because of the up-draft” — is then the point of coincidence of these two points of view.  We can agree that it is, roughly, the same thing described in two ways and each way has a value, yet are significantly different.

To understand the world in a truly comprehensive manner, it is necessary to hold these two different images In Mind at the same time.  As if, one overlapped the other.  But for a Compatiblist Philosophy, that is the goal in attempting to “see” how persons — and many other significant but more limited agents — are Free and Determined at the same time.

The laws of Physics and Chemistry try to predict cascades of mechanisms, and predict all the outcomes for the molecules and quantum waves that are their objects. But no baseball player on his way to the batters box better say to his coach, “Coach, maybe it will be a slider, but I will stand there and let the determined course of the universe occur, slider or fast ball or curve; I will get a hit if it is so determined.”  That ball player will soon be on the bench looking at that ball game from the point of view of one not playing it, like those ‘hard determinists’— who in their Theoretical Opinions — envision themselves not as persons or organisms but as only assemblages of a very reduced quality.

Painting by Joan Miro.  Title unknown by me.   So we may playfully say, “PERSONS WRITE THEIR STORY LIKE PIXIES DANCE ON THE FLAMES OF A CAMP FIRE.”  (GWW)


The final post in this series — Freedom 4 — will focus on the enhanced environment of Persons.  To be a “person” is to have an inner mental environment in which conversations occur between various “characters”.  Options for all kinds of behaviors are presented here but only a few are selected.  “Selection” is here used in the sense in which a mutation is “selected by Nature as an adaptation” for a living thing.


Logo by Marty


Freedom 1: Doing More in Cooperation with your Environment, Not being Free From It!

(Wow, this topic sure has been haunting me, as in my post: “Freedom, Haunted by the Idea” in the Freedom and Mother Nature series.  I sometimes wake in the night with ideas.  Do we have to be separate from our environment to be free?  We are making some progress on this, and it is such a fundamental issue“Can we really do things or does stuff just always happen to us?”  I believe we do have Agency and still can remain faithful to scientific principles.  The issues are more complex than simply saying ’causes, caused, causes, caused’ all the way through no matter the situation.  In this post, a distinction will be attempted (again) between being “informed” and being caused.  This kind of difference will give us more to marvel at and to celebrate in our unity with the universe. Freedom is the ability to do more.)

Now This is What I Call being Free From the Environment! Raphael, The Transfiguration (1516-20), tempera on wood.  Raphael’s last painting, fragment above.  Working hard to complete it, he died shortly thereafter.

When Jesus rose from the dead, or transformed water into wine with the wave of a hand, that is what I call “being free from the environment”.  When the Angel Gabriel grasp Mohammed and held until the opening verses of The Koran poured from his mouth, that is being ‘free from the physical environment’!  When The Buddha finally broke through the vast layers of illusion and reached Nirvana, sending the trees and flowers of the world into instantaneous bloom, that is what I call “being free from your environment”!  These folks were supposedly SuperNatural beings and part of SuperNatural interventions into our normal earthly and human, physical environment.  Freedom, for us mere mortals, does not need to be this extravagant.

Now this is what I call “free from your environment”!  Persons are constructive of their environment, but this goes way too far!  The Buddha at his moment of Nirvana sent the world into bloom.  A suggestive myth, and pleasingly exaggerated!

Surprising to many, there is a rather wide ranging debate occurring in some circles — though probably not yours — about Free Will.  Does it exist and in what form?  One of my best readers, rom and his site rom’s corner, has commented that Freedom must mean, free from the/your environment.  I certainly see how that can be taken as the definition but it is not what I intend by the term.  Nothing is “free” from its environ.  Early on, in fact post one — Freedom: Haunted by the Idea — in the Freedom and Mother Nature post series, I thought I made it clear that thinking of freedom as the ability to do anything, as being unconstrained by your environment, was not acceptable.  That is not the kind of freedom I want, nor is it real.

Freedom is, instead, the ability to do more.  Freedom is not defying the laws of your physical environment, it is working in conjunction with your environment to get the most out of it and you.  Greater abilities to act involve new kinds of environments; the two go hand in hand.  It is like flying airplanes. That is freedom.  It is a gradual progression of the abilities of a creature to function successfully by adapting to their environment and then, in turn, influencing that environment, itself.  Flying an airplane utilizes the natural forces that once held humans to the ground.  Flying airplanes then also precipitates the design of  enhanced wings and engines, the building of airports, the refining of fuels, the gradual history of aviation progress, the creation of traffic controllers, and the manufacturing facilities to construct these craft.  Freedom is based in feedback loops.  It is two way, not the one way determination of causal forces.

(The evolution of human flight is an example of how persons can come to be able to do more.  In conjunction with their environment and reflective thought, humans utilized our environment’s opportunity for powered flight and its successive improvement.)

This concept of freedom is not completely irregular.  There is a sense in ordinary usage that freedom is enhanced ability A bird is free to fly; a horse to gallop.  In engineering this sense has been conceptualized as “degrees of freedom”.  A door on hinges has a degree of freedom; it can open.  A hip with its ball and socket has more degrees of freedom; it can move at multiple angles.  This idea of freedom is championed by philosopher Daniel Dennett, among others, and is a tenet of  Compatiblism. It contends that freedom does not have to be unlimited to be reala door has a limited kind of freedom.  Being determined or caused is not incompatible with being free as long as you have enhanced abilities.

(Falcons can surely do more, and do it well!  Their design gives them Degrees of Freedom with  astounding qualities.  Images from wildlifeanimalz and Difference Between)

I must admit that to hedge and create a coherent position by contending that freedom is options and constraints in an environment at the same time is a difficult task.  ‘Hard determinists’ like Dr. Coyne on his site — Why Evolution is True, propose an austere, straightforward and courageous (in their eyes) position that ‘we are not free but are determined in all that we do.’ Whether it is the physical layout of the sub-atomic particles shortly after the Big Bang, or the socialization we received from birth, we do what we are caused by these to do.

To illustrate the delicate blend that I am proposing, I argued in Haunted by the Idea, that as the person I am, I am not realistically capable of committing some heinous act.  Theoretically, I can think very abstractly about what it means to be a Person and Make Choices.  I can imagine myself “very large” and see many options within my ‘grasp’; and in that abstract situation I can think that I am capable of many different kinds of acts, including very bad ones, contends Dennett.  Or, I can think of my self as “very small” and ‘see’ no options only the constraints imposed by the forces within and around me.   In reality, we are all a combination of these two perspectives.  Our past can be a powerful force in continuing the present direction, and this especially if we are content with it.  In my case, I have very little inclination to do something radically new, especially at this point in my life.

But, that is the kind of concept Personhood is; it is about shifting Perspectives on yourself and your environment, about choices, and the Responsibility we have to our self and other persons when we make them.  Personhood is importantly about coordination with others, and flexibility in reflection and adjustment in action. (See Persons, Large and Small in the Freedom series)

The Thinker by Auguste Rodin, 1880, bronze casting

We lucky, educated, and basically emotionally healthy individuals of the 21st century live in an Environment of Personhood.  No, freedom is not being free from your environment, it is living in an environment that fosters and provides vast options for choices and the acts that follow from them.  Freedom is living in an environment that has constantly focused on our responsibly to Reflect on our past behaviors and their circumstances before we act again.  Our environment of Persons puts us in a place to think and act, to be significantly Self-Controlled, not simply to be impelled onward into continuous repetitive behaviors.



The naturereligionconnection .org   Drawing by Marty