Where Things Come From

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

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

“To the ancients, it was reasonable to believe that there were all kinds of fundamentally different things in the world; in modern thought, we try to do more with less.”

Physicist Sean Carroll, author of The Big Picture 

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

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

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

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


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

A car

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

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

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

A living thing

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

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

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

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

These living structures do something very different from the chemical elements that

Functioning in Living Structures involves many Levels of Organization.  Diagram from BC Open Textbooks, thanks for its use.

compose them.  These are their Emergent Qualities.  They function to meet needs that preserves their living structure not only through a prolonged period of time but even generation after generation.  Living structures Defend themselves, Ingest additional energy and develop behaviors to Seek it; they Reproduce their structures in what we call “babies” or “offspring”.  Imagine an automobile having babies, seeking gas to refill itself and defending itself from damage.  Or the Sun, seeking additional hydrogen and dividing itself like a single-celled organism.  

Interestingly, cars are now driving themselves (goal-seeking behavior and centralized command)  and working to avoid contact (self-defense) by sensors (sensation) and automatic braking.  Hurricanes ingest additional warmth and moisture and thereby grow.  So, the line between living and non-living is a fuzzy one as Evolutionary Theory demands (a claim by Dennett) and any Holistic Philosophy would advocate.  An accurate science-based philosophy recognizes Science’s Quest to explain all phenomena in a deterministic manner but also recognizes that activity and functioning based on standards to attain goals and needs as also real.  The Activity of Doing Science by living, choosing, human beings must be reconcilable with the Deterministic World science uncovers.

So, through emergence, it’s a very tricky process to get more out of less.

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

A protein

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

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

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

An extra “dimension” is added at the level of “protein”; the 3D shape is the emergent property.  The linear sequence of amino acids, “A–G A–G T–C G–A …” , could be maintained at the level of protein with no constraints on the shape that protein takes.  The shape, as protein, could be perfectly circular or many other shapes, and maintain the sequence of amino acids in order.  Yet, the ‘movement’ from a “one dimension” sequence of information, at the level of amino acids, to a determined three dimensional shaped protein is consistent and “Emergent” and, as such, the “source of its power” as a protein.

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

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

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

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

Language is often used as an example.  As when a child is learning, and points and says “doggie”, whatever meager  meaning this may have to the child at this early point, later, when the child knows “cat”, “bird”, “pet”,”animal” and some other related terms, the child is become aware of, and is using, a much richer network of indicators and significance which gives “dog”—a single part— more meaning.

The structure as a whole is greater than its parts taken ind8ividually.


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

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

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

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

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

Sorry for the digression on arches,  but here is the point concerning the source of an emergent property:  Yes, it does “emerge” from the structure but only partially.   The additional source of information is from the thing/things around it that benefit from the “emergence.”  A structure, if it is to have Emergent Properties, must have them for a more comprehensive, ‘larger’, structure for which the emergent properties function.            

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

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

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

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

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

Emergence exists Only for the Thing for which the Function Occurs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Logo (detail) by Marty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Structure is the Key

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

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

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

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

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

A tornado is a structure
So is the Solar System

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

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


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

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



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

The schooling of Sickleback fish.

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

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


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










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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— It is Free! 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Teasing Out the Possibilities

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

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

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

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

—-An Additional Degree of Freedom.

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

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

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

The Information Relationship

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

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

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

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

“I Should Have Holed That Putt!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Logo drawing by Marty

Freedom: A Characteristic of Structures 2

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

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


When the Dog Barks

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

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

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

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

Science relies on an ideal perspective. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logo drawing by Marty

Freedom: A Characteristic of Structures 1

(Well, we solved the Problem of Human Freedom in the previous post!  All in a days work here at naturereligionconnection.org. —- actually, all in more like a years work!  It is a rather peculiar solution, I will admit, and this post — number twelve in the series on Freedom — will review the solution and discuss some of its further implications in Light of the Modern Precedent of “I Could Have Done Otherwise!)

Diagram of a truss bridge.  “A bridge must have Structural Integrity; it must stand on its own and do its job.”  In a strange sense, a bridge can then be said to have a degree of freedom!


“Could I have done otherwise?”

There is a famous precedent in the modern debate on Human Freedom.  You ask, “In a precise setting of circumstances in the past, could I have done otherwise than I did?”  “Hard Determinists” are zealous defenders of the “scientific image of the world”.*  They contend, “No, you could not have done otherwise.  Your behavior was determined by causes to be what it was, no options were available.”  They, then, project this post factum reality into the future and contend we have no Freedom.  In effect, you are ‘only’ a billiard ball in a succession of billiard balls reacting, or you are a ‘trillion’ little billiard balls and still in a necessary succession but now only protracted; these are analogies we have used often in this blog series.  That little word “only” will turn out to be the pivotal point: What-goes-in is only What-comes-out? 

What goes in is a problem and electricity.  What comes out is an answer.  How is that possible?  Its Structure!

Believers in Human Freedom and Responsibility have generally contended that this position must be denied, that under those exact circumstances, somehow, you had options, possibilities: “‘I could have done otherwise!’  How else could I be responsible for my action unless I originated it, at least in some significant sense?”  In some ways, maybe the point of this contention is that New Things are possible: What-comes-out is different from What-went-in.

Many of these believers in freedom have asserted “gods” and “souls” or some other counter-causal basis for freedom.**  A 20th century French philosopher posited an “elan vital”, a “vital force” that inhabits only living things distinguishing them from the strictly caused world of the inanimate.   Other believers have banked on the character of Consciousness as not explainable in scientific terms; it is an inherently different kind of “thing” than objects in, or explained by, science.  A major school of philosophy, today, holds this position: Consciousness is not a scientific property, yet it is undeniably real.

A famous modern British philosopher, John Austin, set the stage for this Free Will

Tiger Woods, if he misses the putt, could he have made it,. under those exact same conditions?  (photo: Andrew Rice Golf)

debate in this way (paraphrased):  He was golfing.  He had this putt.  He missed it, but he could not help himself from thinking, “I should have holed it; I could have holed it, under the exact same conditions; I could have made that very putt.”  He went on to clarify that it was not that he wasn’t trying hard enough, he was.  And that if you lined up ten putts just like it, he would make them, or nine of them.  “I could have made it, under those very conditions,” he concluded.

Was he right to think that he could have made that putt under the exact same conditions in which he missed it?  All Determinists say, “Absolutely not: The exact same conditions, the exact same outcome. “ Now determinists will also clarify that “exact same conditions” means physical conditions, for what else is there?  Austin’s position leaves the impression that there is something more than just the physical conditions of wind, grass, speed, muscle movement, balance, impact, brain waves, neural signals….

Philosopher Dan Dennett has broken new ground in this debate.  Though most of us, including philosophers and scientists, do accept the Compatibility of a caused universe and human freedom, Dennett has worked out a detailed and innovative defense of the position that you are caused to do what you have done, but were also free when you did it and free when you act in similar situations in the future.

*Famous “hard determinists” are Sam Harris, atheist and neuroscientist, also biologist J. Coyne —blog: Why Evolution is True.  They believe persons have No Free Will.

**”counter-causal basis for freedom”:Some have tried randomness, and the uncertainty now embraced at the atomic level.  Dennett argues against these attempts at Free Will by these routes.  In general, I take it that this new physics allows more predictability at the macro level, not less.

Humans “Can” be Free and Caused at the Same Time

Dennett agrees with the Hard Determinists; “In those exact circumstances in the past, you could not have done otherwise”, but he also believes there is solid ground to believe we are a free and responsible person in our actions, that is, for most of us and in most of our situations.  When the chain of causation passes through and includes our unique structural properties such as our deliberative processes and their chosen actions, we are both free and caused.  This position is called Soft Determinism or Compatiblism, and it is based in a belief in the ontological significance of Structure.   Dennett is claiming that we can think of “deliberation”, “choice”, “thought” and our resulting “actions” as freely done, and as relying upon logic, evidence, investigation, concentration, decision, and in general all our unique structural and design features, yet also be caused and determined!  This is “determined deliberation” and it is a process similar to the hand calculator pictured earlier.  Structure and this “determined deliberaton” will need to be clarified because it is not our normal concept of “thinking”.

Putting exercise.  “See I could have made it.  I have just made all these putts like it!”  (courtesy of Golf Monthly)

“In those exact circumstances of the past”, indeed you had to do what you did, miss the putt.  “Under determinism nothing can do anything other than what it in fact does”, says Dennett.  But, he quickly adds that you will never face those circumstances again, not exactly.  “People … are not only more complicated than anything else we know in the universe, they are also designed to be so sensitive to the passing show that they can never be in the same micro state twice”, says Dennett.  And further, what we, persons, are interested in — as structures with significant autonomy — is not the exact, precise, situations, but a kind of situation In General.  That is why Austin spoke about ‘lining up similar putts’ and when he sank them, they offered ‘proof’ that more than just the actual — missing the putt — is possible.

My deliberations and their chosen actions ‘can’ be free because Structures ‘can’ Function.  Dennett explains that we

We need some kind of “looseness” to exist in the world.  “I can make a variety of decisions.”  (Diagram courtesy of edrawsoft)

need some kind of “looseness” to exist in the world.  Following David Hume, the famous 18th century British thinker, this “looseness” prevents ‘the possible from shrinking too tightly around the actual.   After all, basic to the way we live is the idea that, for example, “a dog ‘can‘ bark” or “a coin toss ‘can‘ come up heads or tails”.  An “openness” exists and is expressed in the little word “can”, even though only one of the options will be the outcome: barking or not barking, head or tail.  That is the “looseness”, we do not know which!  

It is our limitation that necessitates that we live in a world that has “options” and “accidents”, where we “make choices”, where some things are “avoided”, where some things are “probable”, where we “do things” and “make a difference”!  In fact, it is our limitations as a finite structure within the universe (the physical system that

Spacetime: “the fabric of the universe.”  Our ultimate background from which there must be a way that we stand out as an individual thing.  (image and quote from medium.com)

we are a part) with our limited ability to know things, that necessitates that any one creature or object, really, every creature and object, stand out as distinct from its  ultimate background, The Universe as an Uninterrupted Fabric of Causal Necessity.  Without our limited perspective, all would simply be as a domino among dominoes, falling!  It would be a rather bland place, indeed.

Wow, I do love it when I write like that last paragraph!  I hope its not too ‘purple’, and What a bombshell!  From the point of view of a Super Scientist outside the universe and ‘looking’ back at it with knowledge of all its forces and objects and their lawful interaction, no future event would be unknown to them.  There would be no ‘accidents’, no thing that was ever ‘avoided’, no ‘probability’ in any coin toss, no ‘freedom’ to ‘choose’ one ‘option’ or another!  This Super Scientist knows the universe as one giant and highly abstract structure, within which all lesser structures have lost their integrity and have been ‘dissolved’.

(In the next post, Structures 2, the crucial characteristics of structures will be discussed along with their implications for the “Could not have done otherwise precedent”.   Also, the limitations of the Scientific World View will be approached once again.  This will help clarify the point of post 11, that “Science Lags Behind” and that Structure clarifies the difference between the strictly causal approach to the world of Hard Determinism and the Soft Determinists who argue that structures mediate causal forces and yet, themselves, are strictly organizational, physical designs!) 


THE ULTIMATE STRUCTURE OF THE UNIVERSE?  There are 10 dimensions in our universe, claims Surperstring Theory.   “Oh, there I am, next to that ‘D’ shaped blue congregation to the right; I’m waving. Can’t you see me?” (Image from Wikipedia Commons)


Freedom: Scientific Knowledge Lags Behind


(This is Post number lucky Eleven in this Series on Freedom.  And at last the point has arrived….Persons are free because Mother Nature has assembled enough In-Formation to give us the complexity to be a machine that reinterprets its own programs!  I hope that is not too hyperbolic, but it sure seems COOL!  When we experience according to our design, this is Freedom and is based on our acting upon our Information.  This world is turning out to be a better place, a more fortunate place, than often thought:  it is Amazing and downright Venerable, if only we could come to realize it.)

Is an organism and its environment related in a way that is no more than like a gear in a clock work?  (Image from 123rf.com, Thanks)

Scientific Knowledge Lags Behind

Persons can be free because our knowledge of our world and ourselves supplements our ability to act, not replaces it. 

Hypothetically, we have great reason for imagining the behavior of all things to be explainable and predictable by scientific law.  We all know that the laws of physics apply to all things and as we are hurled about in an auto accident or fall from a ladder, that fact is doubly clear; but as we ‘choose’ who to marry or even where to go to eat,  it’s not so clear.  Yet, we can imagine a computer, programmed, to accumulate a tabulation according to standards of desirability, coming to a conclusion — attaining a threshold — and declaring: “She’s the one!”  So, designed objects — like a computer — are predictable too: Their behavior is caused!

Jazz exemplifies the significant combination of extensive training (design and programming) and improvisation (review and modification of programming: R&D).  “What is a brain…but a computer, and what is education but a form of programming?” rhetorically asks biologist R. Dawkins.

Same for us. Human persons are highly designed biologic machines; Mother Nature has seen to that.  As pieces of society, we are also highly programmed.  Musicians train for years, carpenters too.  Our freedom lies in two places: the experience of our complexity and our opportunity to review and revise our own program!

Organs and Organism, Organism and Environment, Person and the Society of Persons: Each are structures — feedback loops — for the production of increasingly complex designed objects.  The products of these Virtuous Circles of interaction attain a level of integration that is worthy of actions and explanations in their own terms, to a significant degree.  This is their moment of creativity.  They function more complexly ,”do new things”, new properties “emerge”.  An eye is a unique object, it is understood by the biologist as that which ‘sees’ and thus involves lens, retina and receptors, but this functioning does not exist in a world of sheer physics or only chemistry.  Scientists use the functions — the acts — we experience As Persons, to guide their research for chemical and atomic substructures.   But, persons, animals, plants, as whole entities (as phenotype) and as complexes of various functions, resist an easy reduction to terms other than their own.

We can imagine such reductions, and everyday, scientists work to discover particular reductions, but practically, we have not accomplished any Grand Reduction: The world is not REALLY, or ONLY chemicals or subatomic particles.  For example, we all know we are made of six chemical elements (“CHNOPS”) but as we look at them piled in a hardware store cart (all but one is available there) we should probably be struck by the vast difference between us and that pile, and we cannot mix it up and bake even the simplest living thing.  Physicist Sean Carroll tells us, in his wonderfully concise and clear article — Free Will is as Real as Baseball,  that though in principle we can imagine knowing the quantum states of all the universe’s elemental particles, in practice, it can never be accomplished.  These Grand Reductions, what Dan Dennett calls “Greedy Reductionism” as opposed to the practical and partial reductions we thrive upon, evade us.

That is an important clue to understanding how persons are Free.

Anticipating the direction  of this argument, it can be said at this point that what is missing from the hardware store cart mentioned above is not any of the ingredients of life, but its structure.  We know the ingredients, but we do not have their organization; we cannot yet attain the blue print.  How things are put together is more important than what they are made of.  This is the sense of the term “information” used in this series and, of course, borrowed from Dan Dennett: “information is design worth getting”. 

In a world of only atoms, talk of ‘persons’ has no place.  Talk of ‘a heart’ has no place.  It’s a category mistake — see post 9.

Yes, there is a sense in which all the most complex objects and functions did “arise” from atoms, but that process is described by Evolution and Evolution is not greedily reductionist.  It explains the functioning of increasingly complex unities through their use of information.  They have enhanced design, structure.  This leaves them their integrity, but also connects them to various substructures.  In the theory’s terms, I believe this means “phenotypes” are real and they do real work in the world, and their cause, their substructure — genes — are also real.

So, the better question is not whether things like color or human choices are real, but what is their relationship to subatomic particles and other such objects of science.

Dennett is a philosopher and theorist in artificial intelligence, biology and cognitive science.  He contends there are three “stances” we take toward the world to cope with the incongruence — the fact that we cannot explain the world all in one way.   Each stance explains its kind of object in terms somewhat unique to them, but also those terms indicate a dependence on levels ‘beyond’ them.  These are the physical stance, the design stance and the intentional stance.  Note, the term “stance” indicates acts or behaviors on our part that are based upon the complexity of Persons and our ability to have some ‘freedom’ to choose, if nothing else, what stance they take in trying to understand things in the world.  We can shift our point of view!

The Physical Stance

hqdefaultThe objects of the physical stance and their interactions are apparent.  It is the game of pool (post 8) with its permanent and independently existing objects that have no internal complexity (the balls) and an environment (the table) equally  unchanging, independently existing and simple. There are few presuppositions (intentions) here with these objects and the causal relations are clear — just bumping, speeds, masses and angles.

Now it should not be mistaken that these physical objects, like atoms or elemental particles or even biochemicals, are difficult to understand in one way; we use complex math and lengthy formulas to describe them; but they are not complex in other ways: They are highly predictable, they have only a few kinds of internal parts, and they lack any of the richer, vaguer qualities we find in many other objects in our world. A world simply of these qualities — space, mass, time, attraction, repulsion, charge, chemical bonding — is a pretty bland place.  It’s like static on a television screen: It lacks meaningful form.

The Design Stance

The design stance is more complex.  Its objects are “in-formed with a significant structure that corresponds to their environment that

Known for its highly formal, multi-stepped, nesting behavior, the digger wasp (Sphex) will repeat its entire routine if any part of it is disrupted.  It is designed and strictly programmed.  “It is very ‘sphexish'”, term coined by D. Hofstadter, cognitive scientist. See internet for videos of the famous digger wasp nesting experiment.

necessarily contains information pertinent  to that internal structure.  They are not independent of each other — the designed object and its environment.  This is the environment as Umwelt (see post nine).  For example, the structure and design of most of our modern automobiles are for use with our nicely paved roads and highways, their environment. The canine teeth of the predator are pertinent to the soft flesh of the prey.

The designed object is also different from the physical object by being based on a presupposition, its purpose. This purpose is not always apparent.  Thus, the ways a designed object may interact with its world is often less clear than the interactions seen from the physical stance.

A major question about the possibility of freely chosen actions lies in the above two paragraphs.  In what sense is the organism both independent of, and dependent on, its environment, at the same time!  This seems clearly to be contradictory.  Interestingly, its resolution will lie in an organism’s, and our own, limited point of view; Its stance.  From one point of view, the organism should simply dissolve into its background, another cog in a machine-work, a collection of particles awash in a particle-bound mass.  But from another point of view, we are incapable of “seeing” this, incapable of believing that we do not have choices, cannot make decisions based on logic and evidence, and not be simply caused to them.  Dennett contends that “we act under the ides of our own freedom”.  It’s a “user’s device”, like an computer icon that accesses certain programs.  It makes the universe more friendly to our participation in it as thinkers, difference- makers, and responsible actors.

The Intentional Stance

Hello Rita!  Don’t lose any more fingers! (an inside joke as example of presupposit-ions in intentional objects.)

The intentional stance is even less transparent, often much so. (post 9).  It works with objects that are designed and have a “deep well” of presuppositions — varied purposes and abilities.  They correspond to an environment full of information that is related to each of these possible activities and purposes. But, the information here is not clearly ‘labeled’, so to speak.  What parts of the world are pertinent to, informative for, which activities and purposes of these intentional objects?  Therefore, the acts of these objects are not highly predictable.

More complex intentions inform this society, too: “Higher-ranking male gorillas form stronger relationships with infants, regardless of whether they are related.”  (thanks to Elsevier for quote and photo)

The “deep well” of presuppositions in these intentional objects form a structure that presupposes some hierarchy, some prioritization, of activities and purposes.   They have “gone meta” by “piling up stacks of representations” (Dennett) that are more abstract ‘considerations’ of  their situations. Without this hierarchy,  the intentional object would have little coordination of action or unity of being.

Persons are the primary example of intentional objects, but computers that play sophisticated games of chess or write music or diagnose diseases or can converse with people, are also examples, to some extent.  So are other primates and mammals that live socially and exhibit complex mating, status and hunting behaviors.

The objects at each of these ‘levels’ — physical, design, and intentional — have behavior that is individually explainable and  predictable scientifically in theory, but with increasing difficulty in practice Each are more complex than the previous: pool balls ricocheting on a table, a clam opening and shutting its shell, a person exhorting  another to do their best.

Levels of Complexity

      M.C. Escher: Development II                At each layer in this depiction, subtle and coordinated developments arise. (Thanks to Escher Foundation)

Richard Dawkins is one of our leading evolution theorists.  He contends that there is a “ladder of complexity” and that this contention is so commonplace and obvious “to be almost platitudinous.” * Yet the “ladder’s” character and implications are important to make clear.

“When explaining  the workings of a motor car we forget atoms…as units of explanation, and prefer to talk of cylinders and spark plugs”, he says, and “At every level the units interact with each other following laws appropriate to that level, laws which are not conveniently reducible to laws at lower levels.”

The “rungs” on this ladder of complexity form “a hierarchy”, Dawkins says.  Starting from “fundamental particles below the atomic level up through molecules and crystals to macroscopic … (objects).”  A “new set of rungs” is added by living things: “proteins…

Partial organic hierarchy: diagram.  (from Toxtutor)

intracellular membranes and organelles, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, populations, communities and ecosystems.”  Here at naturereligionconnection, we have argued for an additional layer for humans, somewhat

Persons exist together so closely as to form a single transcendent organism, similar to, but more enhanced than, a colony of termites. (Image from Azernews)

similar to the population or ecosystem mentioned by Dawkins, the human social organism. 

In Dawkins’ ladder we see many of the elements that have been referred to in this Freedom series as Virtuous Circles.  Organ and Organism is specifically listed, but also Organisms and Ecosystem has been broadened, here, to the Circle of Organism and Environment in general.  Dawkins is also the inventor of the term “Meme” which is  associated  with the formation and transmission of ideas, in a more biologic fashion, in individuals and societies (post ten).

Nature has “gone meta”!  How seriously should we take these larger forms of integration and what is their character and mechanisms?  Is the Earth’s biosphere sufficiently integrated to be, itself, considered an organism?  This Blog Site will investigate that possibility.       (diagram from SOCRATIC)

Society and persons has been the designation in these blogs for this social and intellectual loop — this human social organism.

These Virtuous Circles, are various “levels” of complexity, I have argued. The connection within and between the levels is information.  An organism is formed,  it has a working structure.  It is, also, “in-formed” by its  environment; just as  organs are in-formed within that organism.  Similarly, a person is informed by the society of persons around them.  Each — organism and organs, society and persons — is a complex circular interrelation based on the design of a transcendental object (post seven), the organism or the society,  realized in the objects that in-form it, the organs or the persons.

This is one of the most controversial claims made in this blog and in this series,  that higher levels of complexity Feed Back on the lower levels that form them.  The word that could have been used is “inform”, and not simply “form”, them.  This is  Dennett’s definition of information and it has an exciting element to it that is seldom

Information is a shape that exists in reality.  “Discobolus”, originally by the 5th century BC Athenian, Myron.  (thanks to list25 for image)

recognized.  “Information” is, literally, a shape, an on-going structure, that exists in the world and builds around it the series of its objects.  More thought and research here at naturereligionconnection needs to be devoted to the degree of integration, and its character, for these various informed structures of living things and even complex nonliving systems.

Today’s biological science is good with building up some higher levels of functioning, like herds, flocks, colonies, populations and ecosystems;  and it establishes some of the mechanisms higher levels ‘work down’ to influence the lower levels that build them.  In the terms of this blog, and in the thinking of Dan Dennett, this is the completion of the circle.  

Purely physical processes only sometimes do this, but living processes exist in feed back loops necessarily.  The blind forces of Natural Selection, once having established a new benchmark in complexity, then competes with its own accomplishment in the realm of phenotypes, to meet and surpass it.  In Dawkins’ theory of the Meme, this is clearly true.  Once someone has invented the wheel, everywhere they go with it, it is clearly infectious!  Wheels catch on!  Dennett contends that the connections and neural pathways in our brain change, re-align themselves when a child learns its native language, another example.   More clarity is needed on these feedback influences.

These are “Virtuous Circles” and not “vicious” because this circularity is a bit of self-enclosure, a bit of autonomy.  Each forms a “level” of interaction not reducible completely to the levels ‘below’ it.  We use to say that this was uninformative — to explain a thing by only talking about it or very kindred things — it was a ‘vicious circle’, but now we see the necessity philosophically and scientifically to acknowledge levels of complexity and thus the significance of all the different sciences that correspond to each level and to allow for the reality of each level’s own, and our own,  creative or “emergent” behaviors as crystals, proteins, cells, organisms

How can we meaningfully think of the writing of a book except as the product of a complex feedback loop involving a Person and their natural, social and historical environments.

and all the way through the levels of complexity up to language users as scientists, artists, inventors, and cultural and moral beings.   These are the spaces of biochemical, biological and sociological interactions that are not completely described as chemical reactions.  Human sociological and psychological actions that are not completely described or predictable in terms of biology or biochemistry, let alone physics.

*All quotes of Dawkins in this section are from his book The Extended Phenotype.

The Limits of Reduction

Why can these higher levels of designed and intentional objects not be completely reduced to the elements of the physical level?  First, they are too complex for us to understand, at least now.  We find it impossible to ‘build up’, construct, from the simpler objects and more regular interactions of chemistry, to the actions of even viruses (post 8) , let alone the more complicated creatures such as plants and animals, for example.  We even find it

We all know that water ‘is’ hydrogen and oxygen.  At different temperatures different qualities emerge: It is ice, solid, steam, gas, and liquid.  Water “can” be all these things. (image from Electrochemical Society)

impossible, but much closer to reality, to ‘build up’ from the objects and laws of physics to the objects and laws of chemistry, because, even in chemistry, new qualities appear, new abilities “emerge.”  That is the second reason: growing complexity is the opportunity for the emergence of events and states that have significance in themselves.  They form structural levels that are interconnected by definition with other qualitatively kindred objects.  “Fear” for example, is meaningful as connected to “joy”, “nervousness”, “happiness”, “shock”, “dread” and not its eventual causal association to the firing of certain neurons in a certain area of the brain.  Color, choice, hunger, belief, reproduction and and a million other such “objects” have vocabularies of their own while also “referring” to different levels;  they “point beyond” their own vocabulary, and in that way emerge by comparison.  “‘Emerge’, important word that,” writes Dawkins.

What we can do, and what we do all the time, is work and understand things in the other direction: ‘from top down.’ We start with the complex functioning and activity, and understand it in terms of its simpler parts.  We analyze an organism in terms of

Image result for diagrams of the parts of the eye
We start from the more complex and analyze it into parts.  We do not know how to build up from chemistry to get even the most simplest form of life, least an eye.  (Thanks to  All About the Eye)

its organs, for example.  We then take the functioning of each organ and analyze it in relation to the chemicals and engineering that carry it out.  It’s “reverse engineering” says Dawkins and Dennett.  We do this in the ‘harder’ sciences like astronomy and chemistry.  Copernicus, Galileo and Tycho Brahe discovered the regularities of positions and some of the most general systematic principles (like the sun is in the center and planets orbit in fairly straightforward ways) and then Newton reversed engineered to understand the  detailed laws (inertia and gravity) of the solar system, a larger more tightly connected, complex object.


The Complex is THEN Analyzed

This is the point: To think that people don’t have Free Will, don’t Make Choices and are not Responsible — in some significant sense — is to be confused about our ability

To think that a color is ‘less real’ than the wave length we analyze it to, is….”how does that saying go again?”

to Analyze Things and our ability To Do Things.  We have great ability in both, but Analysis is parasitic upon Doing.  We are not able to actually construct from what we contend is ‘real’ (molecules, the quantum state of elementary particles) the objects and experiences that started our quest for understanding in the first place (a color, an emotion, a person, a tree, an eye).  Or similarly, we are not able to predict the behavior, character or abilities of the more complex from the character and abilities of the more simple things that compose them.  The great mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, called this the confusion of the abstract for the concrete. In future centuries we are apt to revise our scientific theories (the more abstract), but our concrete and complex experience of things will still be the basis for these new analyses —  as that ‘finger pointing outward’.

Analysis is parasitic on doing.  We act with a degree of Freedom when we experience our world at our level of complexity (the umwelt), and then another degree of Freedom when we analyze that experience.  The universe as strictly subatomic particles lacks, for us as persons, all but the most rudimentary Information.  As actors and finite knowers, it offers us too little to be helpful without the many intervening layers of complexity (all the structural levels and their design innovations) that have been constructed upon it by Mother Nature.

Avoiding this confusion of the abstract for the concrete is the way, I believe, we can think of Free Will and Determinism as being Compatible, though there is still more to add.  I believe that this is Dennett’s position, to some extent.  We can tear apart (analyze) far more than we can build up from the pieces we then get, and this fact should seriously influence our thinking on these abstruse but basic philosophical topics.

The wise old Owl is nocturnal.  Symbol of  Minerva. the Roman Goddess of Wisdom, it only flies at night. (Roman coin)

In philosophical language, epistemology comes before ontology.  How could we know some kind of  basic        compositional thing exists (like elemental particles) if those ‘existing’ objects (by their definition and character)  give us no opportunity ‘to know’ them or anything else.  Persons are creatures that “know”, we seek to know the world around us.  We act, and that is a complex event.  Shouldn’t the world we come to know (ontology) be compatible with, be able to foster and produce, the activity of knowing it (epistemology)?  “Knowing” is one of the many complex acts that loses meaning in any attempt to understand our universe without an appreciation of its many Structural Levels of Complexity, that growing ladder of enhanced abilities and the agents/objects inherent to each.

Yet that is the dilemma.  It is very trendy, now, to embrace the laws of physics, chemistry and genetics and baldly, blithely assert that “humans have no free will.”  An understanding of Virtuous Circles allows us a way to escape this dilemma.  It allows us to Act First, and then Analyze those actions into the elements and laws of genetics, chemistry and physics.  We can imagine the world as a causal net that is not breached, but we, as agents and actors, are always one step ahead of our knowledge of ourselves as atoms and chemicals.  As the German philosopher, Hegel, declared in about the year 1800:  “The owl of Minerva flies only at night.”

At the end of the day, after we have acted, after complex events have occurred, knowledge takes wing and understands it.  Interplay of Casual Objects, painting by Ilya Zomb (Zombin) (2011)

A final point should be reiterated.  The objects of a level of complexity are self-referent and thus self-enclosed.  For example, the terminology of biology is self-referential: predator-prey, producer-consumer, organism-environment, fungus-plant-animal, etc.  But it also “refers” ‘outward’ — to other levels — but in a much less defined way, a less necessary manner. 

For example, a color is a concrete and complex thing.  How do we analyze it?  Primarily, and in everyday life, we start by distinguishing  a network of color words.  We know one color by comparison to all the others; as has been contended here, we know it in its own terms: “a color is a color”.  And strangely, this is useful.  This set of contrasting terms — “red”, “yellow”, “green”, etc; or a different set, rojo, amarillo, verde, etc. — takes logical precedent over the individual identification of a color instance in the world, the ‘outward’ reference.  “That”, the child points, “is red.” But before we say she knows “red”, the child must be competent at using a larger group of color terms and in a variety of circumstances.  She must be able to pick out red, then yellow, then red again, then blue….

Experienced color as a set of distinctions.

So, the set of color words does ‘point out’ —refers— beyond itself, but whether they indicate ‘a color’ instance in the world, or ‘an electromagnetic wave length’, ‘a set of rods and cones’, or a ‘activity in a brain area’,  depends on our purposes!  All these are true and useful concepts of  ‘color’.   But, if we do not acknowledge the experience of each and the role they will play for socialized, rational persons, it becomes a confusion of the above mentioned:


significance of the experience of the more complex over its analysis into ‘simpler’ parts or terms.

Finally, do not think that the position here being outlined makes the more complex

Color and its associated wave lengths.  Both are real.  (from teachers pay teachers)

objects (or acts) sacrosanct.  When these events or acts are analyzed by scientific activity, that understanding of their mechanics may lead us to revise our opinions about the implications of, and basis for, those complexities.  For example, in the initial post of this series on Freedom, our respect for scientific activity led us,  here at naturereligionconnection, to reject the notion that ‘the self’ is like ‘a soul’ completely independent of natural forces.  Or, in the example above, maybe some day we will find it useful to stop using color words and teach our children to identify different electromagnetic wave lengths.

So, Persons are ‘Free’, but in a way that is different from what is often thought.  It is more effective to think of ourselves as machines (computers) that have evolved enough

In the sociology of knowledge, which is a form of epistemology, this circular process of reflection is referred to as “Reflexivity”.  Dennett also uses that term.  (diagram from cxpartners, thanks)

complexity to Reflect on our own behavior (program) and make incremental changes in it.  Persons can use their position in the complex interaction of persons, to shift their point of view to not only “view” themselves from ‘outside’, from the point of view of another person, but also consider other processes in nature in this more objective way.  Epistemologicaly, “Reflection” shifts from a system of circular definition to its other aspect, thoughtfulness.**  It generates ‘higher’ levels of more abstract objects and ‘lower’ levels of constituent objects, even if only in our imaginations.  Scientifically, they would then have to be tested in the world.

So, our experience of the complex is in this way subsequently analyzed, but this order of occurrence is vital.  First exists the experience, this is our action according to our design: We act — experience — under the influence of information.  This is when we are free.  We are in the present.  When we think of ourselves as atoms or chemicals or ,even, in terms of socioeconomic groups, we only do this subsequently and to enhance our ability to act more freely in the future.  Don’t be confused into thinking that these atoms and chemicals (or even socioeconomic categories) are more real than, or even primary to, us as actors!

** For this position, thoughtfulness turns out to be an internalization of the social process of using language to communicate with others.  It is talking to ourselves!  It is asking questions and answering them ourselves and in that process creating additional layers of meta considerations (Dennett).


In the following posts, an added twist will be explored.  The outside and “more objective” world will once again impress itself on persons, and the prospect for persons to “mistake” and “do moral wrong” will be briefly distinguished.

Thanks for your patience, this series has been a long haul but I have become far clearer on these basic issues than ever before.  I hope it has at least plucked a few sympathetic chords with you!


          SEEKING BALANCED CONTEMPLATION     painting by Ilya Zomb (2008)  (thanks to the artist for the use of these wonderful pieces!)


Freedom: Mother Nature Asserts Herself

(Nature is a massive force of production.  She has created and still is creating a formation on this planet.  That is why we can say that when we ACT for good reason, we are being Informed.  It will be suggested in this series that acting according to our design and relying on our in-formation is the basis for Human Freedom. 

In this post, Number Ten in the Series, Mother Nature’s expansion on this planet is described.  From post nine, the theme will be developed that in our two environments Nature’s formation has grown with an internal coherence and an accumulation of powers.  The general structure of our living world will feature a ‘shadiness’, a lack of solid boundaries and absolute end-points and origins.  It is in this realm that complex accumulations of functions are the norm.  Being a person in a society of persons, and having a mind in a mindful society, is the utilization of Nature’s accomplishments for our (and Nature’s) purposes.  It is the contention here, at naturereligionconnection.org, that this is a worthy pursuit, worthy of  a modest veneration of both ourselves and our planet.)

In spite of its antiquated title, “Pedigree of Man”, and its anthropocentrism, German biologist Haeckle’s simplistic depiction (1879) of the human ancestral line suggests the accumulation of “in-formation” in the biological world.  It is “in-formed” from its point of view.

Mother Nature Asserts Herself !

Each organism actually lives in two environments.  One, the more ‘personal’ world which is ‘home’ to it and full of its ‘fears’, ‘food’. ‘competitors’, ‘mates’, ‘enemies’ and often much more.  This has been called the “umwelt”, or ‘sign-filled surroundings’.  It is where information lies for that organism.  The other is an environment of which most organisms are not aware; it is very impersonal, objective and universal to all living things.  It contains no signs or meanings but does contain causal forces.

We now understand the history of these two environments.  Evolution is the gradual 

Modern depiction of Tree of Life based on the relations related in Dr. Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale.    “We are related not only to every living thing, but also to everything that has ever lived on Earth”.  Each line represents many particular species.   The outer layer                     represents current living species, some ten million; so even this depiction is a gross over- simplification!   (Diagram and quote from Evogeneao blog)

and persistent expansion of the various forms of life —and their umwelten — further and further into the domain of the more impersonal and ‘objective’ environment.  The various “umwelten” have transformed the world of impersonal molecules into a panorama of signals and significances.

imagesAt this level of biological events, never did an organism exist without the information (the environment) necessary to make its parts pertinent.  And never did an environment exist through time that was not changed by the organisms that composed it.  The first organisms not only lived in their environs of information but, also, slowly filled the more objective environment with oxygen — a new factor, and today plants attempt to hold oxygen in balance with carbon dioxide.  Eventually, decomposers created soil and its nutrients.  Jungles, forests, and reefs evolved to teem with life interacting with its other living forms.  As argued in Nature Reflects: spiders built webs, beavers built dams (and ponds resulted), birds nests, and humans built cities and now change the very temperature of the planet!  The Earth is xstar_sand_dollars.jpg.pagespeed.ic_.ekvb6apuz1now, very importantly, Life’s Planet.

In fact, historically, “Evolution is all about turning ‘bugs’ (design inefficiencies) into ‘features’, (and) turning ‘noise’ (interference to signal or ambiguity) into (clear) signal” (my parenthetical additions:GWW).  Natural Selection is “the gradual, purposeless, nonmiraculous transformation of…(the earth) … over billions of years”, writes Dennett.  Mother Nature’s process is filling in the earth (the objective environment) with her products, and doing so with increasing sophistication!  The ‘more objective’ and impersonal environment is fading further and further into the 031122cjd0023m3background as additional layers of biologic complexity and description are added.  Mother Nature is sculpting her form here on Earth!

It is as if some communication is going on.  Natural Selection is  not the ‘normal’ one way push of a cause. It is no simple and repetitive ‘this, then that.”  The two pieces — organism and environment — presuppose each other and, in that

In the above modern Tree of Life, a single line figuratively represents Sand Dollars. But today 250 species live and so far 750 fossil species have been identified. This means 1000 lines in an accurate Tree should be Sand Dollars!   This is the extent of Mother Nature’s massive project of sculpting the ‘objective’ environment in her formation.  

sense, are a “circle”of interaction by function and by definition.  Creature and environment had to evolve together and it is the language of genetics that is the medium for this ‘conversation’ Person and society of persons, had to evolve together, and the codes of human language are the medium for these changes.  The organism’s organs and the whole organism evolved together and are linked to their various environments throughout history by their genetic material, which is the record, or language, that records the outcomes of this history.  Humans, using our genome and spoken language as the record of this history of interaction, have proliferated and created a tremendous technology through the increasing utilization of the opportunity of the objective environment, turning it into umwelt — more signal and sign.  This is a process of “in-formation”, Dennett tells us.  Life is a focal point of organization and within it all various forms continue its structure.

These umwelten contain the Virtuous Circles and thus the very Research and Development processes and equipment that expand the umwelt’s range further into the

Scientists, working from the world as experienced, expand our experienced abilities through their discoveries in the ‘more objective’ world.

more ‘objective’ environment in this small corner of the universe and over the past sixty hundred million years (six billion).  Natural Selection is at work. Writes Dennett:

“Evolution by natural selection churns away, automatically extracting tiny bits of information from the interactions between phenotypes (whole, equipped organisms) and their surrounding environments … Over time, designs are ‘discovered’ and refined… Thanks to these encounters with information … Darwinian lineages ‘learn’ new tricks by adjusting their form … They are, then, in-formed,  a valuable step in local Design Space”.

And, these processes continue and expand at the design levels of some organisms and especially humans.  Creatures that learn, not only adapt their form by Natural Selection from generation to generation but also, says Dennett, they…

“…inform themselves during their own life-times by their encounters with their environments, becoming ever more effective agents thanks to the information they can now use to do all manner of new things, including developing new ways to further informing themselves … The rich get richer.”

A very effective image of life’s interactive form.  It spirals back into the past and into the future.         (from Wikipedia)

This is a circular and self-enhancing process.  The analogy of the one-way interaction of billiard balls — simple causal relations — is no longer pertinent.

And just as this process has grown in scope and sophistication, so also we can speculate about its origin.  Strange to say, in a sense, never did life suddenly evolve from non-life!  Scraps of life, cruder forms of its marvelous design, had to exist before it along with

Image result for drawings of ancestral lines of plants
No hard and fast lines.  Darwin’s finches: Galapagos Islands.  Fifteen species now exist from a common ancestor two million years ago.  Recent evidence is that they occasionally interbreed.

the information in their environment that “triggers”, is “read” and is “used”, is “answered by” these “semi-hemi-demi-agents”, as Dennett playfully called them.   And the same is true of the signals and information used by agents.  It too is refined, specified and explored to find more subtle signals, clearer information and more helpful patterns.

Mother Nature’s Evolutionary Process draws no hard and fast lines.  We, persons, are exquisitely designed and this corresponds to our information in the environment that must accompany us.  A human social organism has now evolved.  We and this modern environment of ours is just the more full-blown, enhanced versions of the simpler agents and their environments that came before.  Evolution is the theory of how these “packages”, these Virtuous Circles, appeared and progressed through history.

Human Freedom is then an outgrowth of this living world.  Relying on life’s information, an accumulation of abilities has developed of which we are the beneficiary.  Relying on our intimate association with and within this living structure, we are designed to act, and then use our special pattern-recognition faculties to not only recognize patterns in the Nature around us but also in our own behavior.  In the following posts, this form of freedom will be more completely described.

           The Tree of Living Things is the actual shape of Information on our planet.                 Including the by-products of these, such as oxygen, information shapes the biosphere!     (Image from ECOLOGY & EVOLUTION)



Freedom: Two Environments Exist

(THIS IS AN IMPORTANTLY REVISED VERSION OF THIS POST (9/26/19).  In the previous post, my brother the biologist objected that the environment is an objective structure to which the organism must adapt or pay the consequences.  In this post, number nine in the series on “Freedom and Mother Nature”, I will suggest a revision in this orthodoxy based on The Nature of Information.  Each Virtuous Circle is like a system of organs that function in relation to each other AND DO SO by referring to their overall purpose, the unity of the organism (a clam, for example), AND each organ refers to the chemical processes and engineering structures that embody its particular purpose (the mechanics of digestion in that clam, for example) — see post six, Virtuous Circles I.   In this post I will try to clarify this complex situation by contending that every organism has, actually, two environments, and it is in the least ‘objective’ of these that its information lies.  This is the organism’s information environment where it exists as a phenotype and where natural selection operates, and learning operates if possible for that organism (not the clam!)  Acting under the influence of Information will turn out to be the key to human freedom!)


The Two Environments

Environments are not static.  This revision in biological orthodoxy starts with the recognition by us, scientifically astute persons, that there are actually two environments!  Other organisms ‘have’, ‘live in’ (are aware of ) simply one environment and that is the one that is full of information for them That environs is “home” and full of “competition”, “food”, “enemy”, “mate”, “sleep”, “nurture”, “rain” and an array of other such signals, or lack of, depending on the organism.  This is the umwelt  (post 5); its “reflective” environment and it is very species’ specific.  Imagine the world for a clam — it is not rich in information, and the clam’s structural complexities are correspondingly

Scallop can have as many as 100 eyes !  Unable to “resolve shapes with high fidelity”, they can distinguish “patterns of light and movement” allowing them to ‘recognize’ ‘predators’ and ‘food’ particles in the nearby water.  Hey, it’s a boring life, a boring Umwelt,  and thank Goodness it’s not ours!  (picture and quotes from Wikipedia)

simple — by comparison to the world for the family dog.  The dog’s ‘world’ is immensely richer in both number and sophistication of ‘objects’, contrasts, wants, needs, routines and abilities. Therefore, The dogs ‘internal’ complexities that utilize this information must be equally rich.

It is in this “reflective” environment that the Virtuous Circles lie.  It is here that organisms of various complexity and intelligence live with their environments filled with their signals; the information necessary to make their internal structural complexities ‘gears’ that actually take hold of ‘other gears’ in their world.  This good fit between an organism and its environment is the umwelt, but it should not be taken as a perfect fit.  There are “‘bugs'” in every organism’s structure, and ‘gray areas’ and “‘noise'” in the environs that interfere or make signals ambiguous.  Even for the family dog, much — from our point of view — is beyond or below their concern, irrelevant to them.  Do they even perceive it?

The surface of a mirror set vibrating by a single photon.  Are the complex macro objects of our everyday world ‘only’ such micro particles?  (Thanks to ars TECHNICA for the image)

By contrast to this umwelt,the second kind of environment is far more ‘objective’ and completely universal — it is everywhere and applies to all.  It is only we, scientifically sophisticated persons, that acknowledge it, and it can be taken to consist of very few qualities and objects, and that depends on how ‘objective’ one wants to be.  Biologists, like my brother, want to hold it to traits as objective as temperature, precipitation, altitude, and basic topography.  Chemists like to think of it in terms of the 93 or so basic elements that exist naturally on our planet.  Physicists have an even more austere universe.

In fact, for this more ‘objective’ universe, planet or environment, it can be said that nothing much changes.  My brother is right; if one wants to be the most severe kind of “Reductionist”*, you will argue that all that changes are positions for

Keep your description of the world all at one level.  If a Person is responding to Linguistic Information, don’t talk about it like dominoes.  (picture from VideoBlock)

minute objects barren of all but a few very basic and simple qualities.  Things just get shuffled around and maybe ‘clumpier’ or less ‘clumpy’!  In philosophical lingo, Dennett has called this “Greedy Reductionism”, if this is all that you believe ‘really’ exists.  Others call it “Hard Determinism”.  It is legitimate in one way; it’s what he calls “taking the physical stance” toward the world.  But other approaches also have their validity as a point of view and are more mindful of some

of the information available in the world.  For example, if some one yells, “Run, fire!”, a physical scientist — as scientist — analyzes this as vibrations in the air or vibrating vocal cords and eardrums, or electrical activity in part of the brain.  But that scientist, as person, will (also?) recognize its meaning and get the hell out!

*”Reduction”: the idea that everyday, macro objects are, or are also, the micro objects of chemistry, physics, physiology and neurology.  Of course, we all know this is true in very important ways, but the devil’s in the details.

Mixing the Two Environments: “Run, fire!”

Now let me jump ahead here, and try to anticipate a common misunderstanding.  You

“Run!” an anatomical representation. (diagram thanks to envatotuts+)

should keep the world as analyzed by the scientist, separate from the world of the scientist as a person.  Vibrating vocal cords and waves in the air should NOT be pictured as impinging upon A Person — a fully socialized, responsible, lab coat-wearing, language-using human scientist — causing him/her to run.  That is a category mistake!  You are illicitly mixing the two environments: our world as analyzed scientifically and our world for personsour world from the point of view of science and the world as the Virtuous Circle of person and society.  

Persons reacting to a fire.  The human significance of this picture illustrates meanings and information at the level of description of Persons and NOT at the        level of molecules, chemical reactions   or anatomy.   (Photo thanks to NY Times)

If you want to think of this fire scenario in terms of the scientifically analyzed world then keep it going all the way through!  Waves in the air don’t hit upon A Person, they vibrate a membrane and then are turned into electrical neural signals by very delicate bones riding on this membrane and then, soon, there is a bunch of electrical brain activity and, eventually and very soon, a lot of muscle contractions in the legs.

No ‘person’— as a unique kind of social, emotional and political object — involved.  No Meaning or Decision or Fear involved.  No Linguistic Information at all, or humanly understood “dangerous” situation.

Be consistent, it’s a science world (“level”) all the way through, from ‘the exclamation’ to ‘its receiver’!  It’s like a line of dominoes tumbling and, maybe, in some areas they are more tightly spaced, and in others less so, but keep it all one kind of thing.

On the other hand, from the perspective of a Person, they were “incited” to run, provoked not caused, by the meaning of the words and their socialization as a language-user and member of that society of persons.  Meanings do not cause us to do anything; they are the information upon which we make decisions!

A More Useful Picture of The Relationship between the Environments

If we are going to be “more mindful of information in our environment”,  we are back at the necessary and circular relations of the terms embodied in the various Virtuous Circles.  So, let us focus on the Reference to a goal or purpose — ‘above’ each Circle — and Reference to various mechanisms and processes — ‘below’ it — that ‘carry it out’, instantiate it.   In that sense, organisms and their environs expand not only ‘horizontally’ (as self-referring parts in a Structure: heart, lung, brain…,for example), but ‘vertically’ also.  They are a connected package in this sense too.  Here at naturereligionconnection, we said, they “Reflect”.  They refer to further ‘environs’ of objects, ‘above and below’, BUT are NOT caused by those: They are about them.   That is how you remain consistent, by keeping these “levels” or “ways of considering things” separate.

But what does this relation of reference come to, and what is this “above and below” talk?  Or, what does this relation of the two environments come to?  I fear

A carbon dioxide pressure-temperature phase diagram.  “it’s very often possible to discuss a single situation in two or more completely different (but equivalent) ways”, physicist Sean Carroll.*  (diagram Wikimedia Commons)

that some are thinking that the umwelt, the more species’ specific environment, is illusory.  Well, it is true that from the strictly physical point of view (of physics and chemistry) the umvelt does not exist.  Dennett contends that Persons do not exist in the world as described by physics, but nor do ‘trees’, ‘electric garage door openers’ and all these other ‘objects’.  ‘Persons’, and other macro objects, ‘exist’ as a point of reference for the scientist to distinguish which set of micro interactions to focus on as the analysis of that object.  These objects exist “practically”, we can say, and not “theoretically” for the scientist.  They are operating procedures for persons but not ‘totally’ there from other points of view.  Dennett calls them “user illusions” that allow us ‘access to’,or correspondence with, the microscopic levels of ‘our’ world.*

*I need the scare quotes on “our” because strictly speaking “persons” do not exist in a completely microscopic world.

“Persons are as Real as Money”

I, also, fear that some will think that I am beginning to show my true colors.  All this talk of ‘above’ and ‘below’, of limitations to causal relations, of transcendent purposes and objects and goals is tipping my hand as a SuperNatualist If “persons” don’t exist at the molecular level of description, then how could they be real at all?  Surely, I must be simply asserting some kind of soul or other such figments.

The structure of a human organization is a further development of the Virtuous Circles of organ – organism, organism – environment.  Each is a hierarchical structure with feedback.  Each forms a single transcending object.  (thanks to creatly blog for diagram)

I am not.  The essential point of this blog — naturereligionconnection.org — is to  convince you that organizational structures exist on this planet that allow increasing layers of complex interactions to occur between unique objects defined and functioning at each particular level and ‘only’ referring to the different objects at the surrounding layers.  This is how biological objects ‘really exist’ in relation to the designs and functions they are about.  This is how human artifacts and human freely chosen actions ‘really exist’ but are not totally described by neural interactions, or other causal networks.  Their design is real and it works (functions and has purpose) for a world that is, also, chemical, atomic, electromagnetic, etc. 

In that sense, Persons are as real as money, for example, says Dennett.  Money is only paper or figures in a ledger, but in another important sense it really moves, motivates, organizes, determines the lives of people living in a particular kind of society.  It’s a social and interpersonal object.  “Person” ,”money”, and also “the game of baseball”  is real, “as real as anything”, contends the physicist, Sean Carroll*; it’s a way we structure ourselves in a certain situations.  Free Will and Responsibility are parts of the way we Structure persons, too.  Each organize us into larger and somewhat more autonomous units, as Persons in a Society of Persons.

*”The air in a room … we can describe it by listing the properties of each and every molecule, or we can speak in coarse-grained terms about things like temperature and pressure... It would be silly to say that temperature isn’t real because the concept doesn’t appear in some fine-grained   vocabulary.”   For an excellent short and clear presentation of these issues, see Carroll’s Free Will Is as Real as Baseball.


In the microscopic world objects of everyday life fade from existence, like this perspective of a river and its banks.  Branch of The Seine (1897) by Claude Monet

So, Persons are real, and the world of hard science does not completely describe their character and function.  They are real at a different level of organization, the level of person and society.  The following posts will describe how Mother Nature has asserted herself and begun ‘to fill the gap’ between the two environments here on the planet Earth with increasing levels of complexity.  These levels are necessary for Persons and create a form of Free Will that is vital to our thinking.  Free Will and deterministic causes will be found to have some compatibility.