(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!)
Reasons in Nature
The Solar System changed from a ‘mere’ physical order to a participant in the directed — purposive — orderof 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 moresuccessful 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.)
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!”
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 Birdhas 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 shouldknow 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!
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 Agencyand Personhood is described. It is Meaning; it is the way that things can be related BeyondCausation. 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.
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 ofThought. Thoughtis 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!)
(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. )
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 informationalas 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.
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.
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 Reasonlags 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 philosopherJohn Dewey said it using somewhat different words. Images of “Electrical charged superfluid plasma” from holographicgalaxy.blogspot and woman doing math from entrepreneur.com)
We tend to think, the Solar Systemhas 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.
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.
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” howpersons — 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.
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.
(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.)
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.
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 real — a 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 optionsand 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)
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.
Persons are “free”, but in a complicated sense of that word. Person are not free from their environments, in fact, our freedom must be in coordination with much of our environment. We are not free to do anything we want, nor free to defy natural law; yet, human beings have pretty clearly Progressed in our abilities to do more and have more options about what to do. A Compatiblist Philosophy — one that tries to explain a limited kind of freedom and real progress in the human condition — tries to describe these complex conditions. In our freedom we are a part of this universe, not totally apart from it! How to conceptualize this? In this post, some of our options will be reviewed.
Reflecting on Our Environment
Modern socialized and responsible humans Reflect on their lives at many moments. What we experience in an environment is always at least subtly different from the past. We, ourselves, are at least subtly different at each new time. When we contemplate and then act, it is true that configurations in the form of chemical reactions and sub-atomic fluctuations are occurring in ‘our’ brains and in the world that includes ‘us’ that are associated with our decisions as persons to act and those actions themselves. Yet, we still say, “I am responsible for what I did”, and that is from the point of view of persons. In other situations, we say “I am NOT responsible for that and it was something that happened to me” and we are still speaking as persons in making that assessment and recognizing that freedom and responsibility has its limits in various ways in various situations.
A very personal example involving a dear and subtle situation: My mother and father had a very tumultuous relationship. One night after a very bad and prolonged argument, my mother was in the back yard crying and I was trying to comfort her. I was 12 and the oldest of 5 (!), and she asked me if she should divorce my father. At that point, I felt a tremendous pressure come down upon me. Sadly, what dominated my thoughts was my Catholic education and the stigma of divorce — in any religion — in the early 1960’s. I told her “No, you shouldn’t do that.” Not long after that, as the arguments and even physical and emotional abuse continued, I felt very guilty about what I had said that night. It was only in my early 30’s that I sought counselling to discuss that very night. With help, I realized that I was Not Responsible for what I said that night. My mother’s question was an unfair situation to place a 12 year old. I also came to realize that my father, for whom I held much anger, was a complex man for whom there was significant good and that he was, after all, just a fallible person, himself. I seriously reflected and realigned some significant emotions and thoughts in those counselling sessions. I left a lot a guilt there. That is the power of Reflection and Personhood. I felt and acted, in some sense, very differently from that point on.
Images of an Overwhelming Unity
Yet — strangely, why would you even want to take this perspective of such an event? — from the point of view of chemistry or physics or other hard determinist positions, it seems we have several options for how to think about that epiphany. How can we think about the relation of these ‘underlying’ realities —- the chemical reactions in my brain, my history of socialization… —- to the moment of this very personal and emotional realization?
1) ‘It’ was always going to happen. Wanting to preserve the unity of a Scientific Reductionist View, we could argue that the universe was and is aligned so that the collection of particles taken to be ‘me’was always going to be ‘sitting’ on that ‘chair’ and in that ‘counselling office’ and ‘speaking’ and ‘thinking’ and ‘feeling better’. Of course, none of those scare-quoted words are in the vocabularies of physics or chemistry, the disciplines that form the backbone of the hard determinist contention. For them, it should be particles or quantum waves or chemical reactions all the way through. Which then raises the question, ‘In what sense are we talking about “the same” event?’ The event I recounted was very personal and emotional; the event described by these sciences is very impersonal and objective. How are they the same event? How does the one kind cause the other? Isn’t the flow of endorphins in my brain “causing” a cessation of guilt and a realignment of my emotional life a little like water becoming wine? (See, “The Secretly Profound Idea of Emergence” in post series, Emergence and the Work of Sean Carroll)
(Illustration of an actual Human Heart and photo of an artificial Human Heart. Are they the same thing? Both do The Same Job: Isn’t that what is most important? Are they”The Same” , basically? Photo from howthingswork.)
An interesting feature of this view, emphasized by physicist Sean Carroll, is that, for physics, Time is reversible. With the right laws of physics — The Core Theory, we can go from any momentary state of the universe and understand it back to the origin of the universe or forward to the final states of the universe. Physics discovers a necessary sequence of events.
Yet, the event I recounted seems to have a unique climactic kind of character. This seems essential to it! When we think of our personal history, and even world history, we don’t tend to see it as locked-in, past and future, in that kind of way. We seem to be surprised by its new developments; new qualities and abilities appear. Carroll even expresses wonder at the progression of the macroscopic qualities of water from vapor to liquid to ice! To him, there are surprising new qualities there.
2) Regardless of “always going to happen”, shortly before it did happen — even if only by milliseconds — a brain monitor (of a hypothetical brain “reading” machine) could have picked up the neural activity and recorded what I was going to say and feel before I said it or was even aware that I was going to say it or feel it. This is an argument advanced by the neuroscientist and hard determinist, Sam Harris. Our ideas ‘bubble up’ from deep in our mind where forces beyond our control and awareness are at work. They are caused by these ‘deeper levels’ of physical occurrences.
But, this too suffers from the earlier objection: A Spanish speaker and an English speaker would not emit the same color words (the same sounds!) when similar color associated parts of their brain were stimulated. They would emit the sounds consistent with the order of the language they spoke. “Language” is itself an autonomous structure different from the neural interconnections of brains, which are an entirely different level of structure with there own patterns. Each language is then itself a self-contained ‘thing’ within that broader category of “language structure”. Neural activity does not cause me to say “red”; neural activity and socialization into the English language do, then, form a consistent association of phenomena on two different levels.
Or, a different variation: A Super Psychologist and Almost-Like Novelist could recreate the events of my life from my memories and her research, and plot the ‘scenes’ as they “led to” or “resulted in” all the subsequent decisions and feeling, including my epiphany in that psychologist’s very office. It would be like the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, except instead of God revealing to Clarence, “the angel second class”, the circumstances of George Bailey’s life. My Super Psychologist would have those abilities in a more naturalistic form and reveal those inner causes, or themes, of my wonderful life to me. I was caused by my upbringing and its necessary progression of events to come to that epiphany.
For hard determinists, there are many different causal chains that can be extended from our environmentto ‘us’, described in many different forms. But, we also have less restrictive ways of thinking about our actions.
Images of Participation in Unity
3) The Strong Emergentist Position: My thoughts and reflections are “in control”. Through the conversation with the counselor, new Ideas changed neural patterns and chemical reactions. They shaped the physical world. As Carroll says, “they swerve atoms.” A person is free from and controls its environment, including the waves in their brain, at least often. This position does often seem true, and it is acknowledged by many writers on this topic to be the way people ordinarily think of persons: We often control ourselves and our environment through our thoughts and decisions.
(The Whole is Greater than the Sum of Its Parts. The Portuguese Man-of-War is “actually” composed of 3-4 different organisms that always live and work together; they are One, each functions differently and needs the others. The “sail” is one, and it rises about 6” above the water and is about 1′ long. The tentacles are of several types and can stretch as long as 90′ ! see post The Human Social Organism.)
There is also an additional take on Strong Emergence. The emphasis here is on an important Structural Character of some emergent objects: They come together in a way that allows
The Whole can be More Than the Sum of The Parts.
Some Strong Emergentists — like the famous mathematician and Idealist Philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead — see this feature as the basis for the priority of patterns and structures over the materials that instantiate them, a kind of Transcendental Mind over Matter Metaphysical position; but there are other interpretations as we will see below.
Participation Through Enhanced Environments
4) The Weak Emergentist Position is hardest to explain. It tries to split the difference between one and two, taken together, and three, Strong Emerge. Weak Emerge does Not want to allow “higher Level” or “more Complex objects” to alter the course of atoms (lower level events). Yet, it wants persons to be free, and moral responsibility to play Some Significant Role in contributing to behavior.
For weak emergence, it is a false dichotomy: freedom vs the environment. A more balanced assessment includes freedom through our environment. One of the great insights of Compatibilist thinking is the latter’s assessment of “the environment”: it is a place where creatures, and evolution, have ‘downloaded’ massive amounts of ‘knowledge’. It is the way ‘the environment’ (as the stripped-down and universal environment of physics) can also become ‘our environment’ (as the qualitatively rich and complex home for living things and persons).
(“The” Environment and “Our” Environment. Do Flowers and Butterflies have an autonomy and dignity beyond the molecules that compose them? A theory of the logical interrelationship of each level of Reality contends they do. Images from thoughtcom and GWW)
On the other hand, I also argued that “Freedom” can not exist in many kinds of environments, and of this we are quite well aware. If you are in a prison camp, you are not free in many significant ways. You are physically constrained. If you are falling down an elevator shaft, you have few real options. These are not very ‘personal’ environments and in the latter you are little more that a pool ball destined for the spot it will land due to the forces beyond it. It seems that hard determinists equate all our environments with that elevator shaft: forces beyond ‘us’, and running right through ‘us’, determine our outcomes no matter the environment. Freedom must be — free from the environment, they say.
How to evade this conclusion, if only by a limitation of it? First of all, the “no matter the environment” contention will not fly. We, humans, we, persons, place great significance on setting up just the right kind of environments we want. We strive to send our children to the right school. We want to live in a nice neighborhood. We want a good work environment. We want our house to be comfortable and reflect our personality. We strive for a healthy body (well, kinda!). Why?
So that our environment influences us, even causes us, in a manner we want.
In that sense, we understand thatour environment IS us and we are good with that. No object acts independently of its environment, but there is a hierarchy of environments that is vital to understandingthe greater abilities of persons, in contrast to the ability of pool balls.
In these enhanced environments, we extend our “self” out beyond our bodily organs and into the world around us. I understand, and am comfortable with seeing, “my” kidneys as part of “me”, and functioning for “my” benefit (if healthy). But a hammer is also very
beneficial to me and I know it almost as intimately: I reflexively hold it by its handle and use it for the purpose of pounding. And the modern biological sciences knows that a beaver’s dam and the pond it creates, and a bee’s hive, and a human’s home and its city are natural extensions of these creatures. They function as externalized organs of these individuals and/or societies. Dennett, among others, has aided in this understanding of ourselves “made large” and stretching out to form not just “the” environment, but “our” environment.
As parts of ‘our’ environment, our relation to these ‘externalized organs’ can be causal or, from our point of view as persons, INFORMATIONAL. When a spider senses activity in its web and responds, we can think of it either way. It is being caused to respond or it is responding to information.The fact that the spider will respond every time and in the same way will then tend to lead us to conclude its behavior is “instinctive”, “built in” and “genetic”. The famous biologist, Niko Tinbergen, discovered the shockingly repetitive, but also rather complex, nesting behavior of the “digger” wasp (sphex). This animal is stuck, from our point of view. It can be easily and obviously tricked, only to restart its routine anew time and again. It is clearly unable to alter its behavior even though additional information seems clearly available to it. We would expect a person to reflect on what we would recognize as new INFORMATION and alter their behavior. The wasp is unable to do this. It is stuck in its design.
(The ‘Digger’ Wasp has highly ritualized nesting behavior. Baseball is also highly ritualized, BUT baseball players Learn from their experience; the wasp does not. This runner is being called “OUT!” and NEXT TIME — in much the same situation — he may Not try for second base. PERSONS evaluate the outcomes of their behavior andmay change their routine.)
Persons are self-controllers. Persons try to recognize the opportunities and the limitations to what they can do. Persons, as scientist, also try to understand the world objectively as a place where things like “persons” do not exist. The Scientific Image of the world that scientists have created, has achieved much success.
But so has our personal point of view. Dennett calls this more subjective view The Manifest Image of the world. It is the level of vocabulary, behavior and reality, in which humans are socialized and become persons who are then trained to act with freedom and responsibility according to the standards of various professions, such as scientist, doctor, teacher, artist, carpenter, mayor…, and various roles, such as mother, father, child, student, employee, employer, … Society tends to hold us to these standards, and we tend to hold ourselves to them.
In these roles, and as persons, we act according to “the Idea of Freedom” contends Dennett, following Immanuel Kant. And this, in spite of the fact, The Scientific Image suggests otherwise. The Manifest Image is the ladder we use to climb to, and maintain, the free and responsible actions of scientists and others. To think that once glimpsing The World as seen by Science, we can then kick away the ladder we used to get there and declare the world void of persons and freedom, this is a reductio ad absurdum.*
We need to fulfill the promise of the world of persons, not throw it overboard for some vaguely perceived and not actually lived alternative of Total Science.
Stay tuned for Freedom 3 in this series! It’s ready for publication. It’s the hardest in the series — anticipated length of 4 posts. In it I will describe The Relationship Between Things that is more important than causation: Reference, Intention; “it’s MEANING, baby, meaning!”
*That most famous and enigmatic modern philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein used the ‘climbing the ladder and then kicking it away’ analogy but not as a reductio, I believe.