(HAVING FUN with METAPHYSICS! Getting really deep, and it works,, and its not too painful either! —Only about 20 paragraphs, At least check out the images!—. Well, do Designs have Designers or not? And I mean, Ultimately, of course. With Human Persons we saw the Evolution of Intelligent Designers, but now we are backing off that claim as The Final Truth! Intelligent Design is an evolved piece in a Cosmic Design –as on display on our humble little planet. This broadest process of Design is without premeditation or goal, but still Person-like in its creativity.. “Final Truth?” : I did not know there was such a thing. TAKING the BIG STRETCH, here in Part IV at The NatureReligionConnection!)
Persons in Our Ordinary View of Things
Our sense of Design culminates in our thinking about ourselves as “Persons.” As persons we fabricate objects of value but we are also makers of ourselves and our communities, and we gain an understanding of Design from “the inside”, we have argued. We understand Design as the rules for a structure, or the principles of an orderly cycle of events—including our own lives. From this “inside” perspective, we hold ourselves to be more than just animals, we now have a unique social, moral and political status. We are “One of Us”—Persons—and have certain Communication and Response-Abilities to this larger–“Us”– unit.
“Our World” is full of various degrees of “personality”, various degrees of autonomy and responsibility in its existing designs and structures. From its dim suggestion in the cycles of the inanimate world, to microbial creatures, to plants, to simpler animals, to highly skilled robots and computers, to non-human mammals, to children, to responsible adults, we “see” a growing progression of sophisticated designs that reflect our sense of ourselves and our possibilities as Designs and self-designers. It is an accumulation of Personality.
This is Not an unusual observation; it is a narrative we find in our Most Common Understanding of things. It is our “manifest image”, as Dennett* calls it following philosopher Wilford Sellers. It is a kind of psychological theory embedded in our everyday world view.
(Unusual Variations of “Persons”; all somewhat truncated versions thereof. Photo 3: Looking a scallop in the face! “The eyes are the window to the soul” said Bill Shakespeare. Scallop have dozens of eyes!.)
In this “folk psychology”, we understand the special status of persons; and we can feel for animals, as if, little or hairy or feathery or other unusual variations of persons, of “us”. We might even wonder if plants have feelings, like some minute Personhood. Many of us do talk to plants, nurture them, recognize their recurring design. And Pets become dearly-held family members, often, in this “manifest” (or clearly evident and common) view of things.
(THE SEEDS OF “PERSONALITY” in the world around us. We give our hurricanes names, above is Dorian from 2019; after all they grow by feeding off their environment, move, and then die out. And, Single-celled animals are attracted to food and repelled by toxins. The one above drives itself forward through the use of its flagellum. It exhibits “competence without comprehension” says Dennett. It does not understand what it does, but what it does it does pretty well. “What is It Like to be a Bat?“: a famous modern paper in philosophy by an opponent of Dennett’s who argues that greater complexity in design is not enough to explain Consciousness. Consciousness is a different kind of thing, he contends; it is like some special ‘spark’ or “a ghost in the machine”, a kind of mystery that is beyond much explanation but only privately experienced.)
(GRADUALLY DEVELOPING “PERSONALITY”: A Mars Rover–but not the newest one!–[top right] needed to be largely autonomous in its decision-making. Too far from Earth to be driven and consistently commanded from here [radio signals taking from 8 to 40 minutes travel time], it was programmed and designed to accomplish various tasks [who isn’t] with immediate and particular decisions made through “autonomy software” using observations from its sensors. “Mama’s Last Hug” [left], biology Prof. van Hoof visits Mama, the now aging and dying chimp he had worked with in the early 1970s. Upon a closer look, Mama exhibited obvious excitement and emotion, eventually reaching forth and patting the head of her old friend. [Bottom right} Young Children are a developing Person. They search for autonomy, but are in need of guidance, direction and patience; and they are generally eager to learn.)
Persons in The World, and Designs Stretching Far Beyond
So, the creative efforts of Design in the universe stretch far beyond humans. We are indebted to it! Cumulatively, these Designs have achieved much success. Most humans now live in a highly “artificial environment”. We call it “civilization”, says Dennett, and it is “an artifact”, a product and an accumulation of our “laws and traditions.” Nonetheless, civilization is “perfectly real“; it is “out there” around us. It is a set of patterns, to say again, as objective as those of physics, just more dependent on us!
(CIVILIZATION AS PATTERNS AS REAL AS ANY IN THE UNIVERSE, BUT ALSO DEPENDENT ON HUMANS: music written into a score, money, written language — Coca Cola written in Chinese [top middle], Hebrew [middle row, left], Korean [middle, right], Somalian [bottom row, middle]. Finally, The Pyramids at Giza are humanly associated patterns with a real objective durability!
We now have “writing, arithmetic, money, clocks, and calendars”, each is a “system of representation” that is so closely associated with That For Which They Are To Represent, that the two are indistinguishable. What is the multiplicity of things, without Arithmetic –1,2,3,4? What is Time, without clocks and calendars, and even the orbiting of the earth? What is Time in-itself?** Humans involved in economic activity naturally evolved Money, as a “representation” of that activity; just as human vocal sounds (phonemes) eventually found the designs of our different languages. “Nature” and “its fundamental Designs” are virtually indistinguishable. We are mistaken if we think the two can be pulled apart, as when some try to say physics is “The Real”, and civilization is just “Subjective”.
Each of these Designs — speech, writing, arithmetic, time — are what Dennett calls “Darwinian ‘inventions'”; they are “inventions without inventors”, “designs with no particular designer”! They are not “the brainchildren of particular individual intelligent designers.” They are Nature’s “free-floating rationales” that have “bubbled up” to us as a community for some form of explicit Representation. They are Designs with one side ‘facing out’ to form ‘the world’ and the other side ‘facing inward’ to form “Mind”. Mind, we will say, CULMINATES in human joint action based on shared and communicated ways of living. That is a de-mystified characterization of the reality of “Mind”. It is a Culture; it is the way we collectively approach ‘the world’, all of us (often) thinking together and training our children to do so, too..
Dennett started his discussion of the Evolution of Mind with the self-preservation of its own design by bacteria, and finishes with The Prolific Creative Design-Talent of Johann Sebastian Bach. He takes Bach as a high-point in the powers of Intelligent, Premeditated, Self-Conscious Design, a seemingly contrary case to Design with no designer.
Indeed, much of Bach’s success should be attributed to his own efforts and genius. He studied diligently the works of the great composers before him and all the different musical styles of his day. He became an expert in counterpoint. He wrote music incessantly. For example, he composed 5 years of ecclesiastical music for the Lutheran church, one program for each Sunday varying according to the church calendar.
But Dennett points out that maybe we should not give Bach himself all the credit. Deeper forces were working around him, in him and before him. He was born into a highly musical family with his father and several uncles all professional musicians. His own offspring undoubtedly benefitted from the transmission of these genes as evident in the four that reached adulthood becoming noted musicians also. But it was not only a transmission of genes, The Bach Family was a ‘hot house’ environment for musical productivity. It was an environment imbued with musical appreciation and concentration, that really included not only the family but also patrons and organizations (the Lutheran Church) that fostered this creativity in Design.
Back to Design With No Designer
But what of Natural Selective Forces acting even within human society? Was Bach and his music Naturally Selected as “Memes” worthy of “differential reproduction”? Could our cultural sense of Quality be open to Blind Design Forces? Yes, says Dennett, and we here at The Connection concur!
(WHO SAW ANY OF THIS COMING or WHERE IT WAS GOING? Or any great world-historical development? No one planned it, no one knew if it would succeed, no one knew where it would lead: Chuck Berry in the late 1950s; teen-age girls swoon as The Beatles visit New York in 1964; Hippies in the year 1968; Women’s Liberation in 1970.)
Who chose Bach, and how? J.S.Bach was not phenomenally successful in his life time, especially as a composer. He was mostly noted as an organist and it was not until some 50 years after his death that his written compositions began to be deeply appreciated by musicians and critics and began to be Replicated at a faster rate. Today, they are Reproduced and Influential at a massive rate yearly. Yet no musician, in the era of Bach or soon after, Chose Bach’s Fame. Each made an individual choice that had ramifications far beyond that individual act.
Dennett sites Herman Melville and his Moby Dick as another example of greatness that laid dormant for years until the commemoration of that authors 100th birthday led to Moby’s revival and soon Immortality. On the other hand, Johannes Brahms was “wildly popular” in his own time.
Now these musical and artistic tastes are, of course, Memes, not genes. It normally takes extensive amounts of time for the Gradual Modification of Genes to become effective in their entire population. But not so for Memes, a term adopted by Dennett from his friend and noted biological theorist Richard Dawkins. Memes are the Basic Group-Held Signs and Organizational Structures (designs) that form “Mind” and Culture. They are shared Meanings and Methods, and in this way form a New Level of Human Interaction and Existence. And, they can ‘catch on’ quickly.
(MEMES: from the very simple to the very complex. “STOP” signs around the world, this one in Cambodia; a meme with a simple meaning. What does the Mona Lisa conger up? Hard to say what associations are connected to it, yet it is widely recognized and acknowledged at a glance. A very complex and varied set of associations is tied to the Christian Cross. Good old “Mickey” is recognized all over the globe. Not all memes are approved of, but still deeply significant–the swastika. The atom, a science meme with many connections. BUT, memes do not need to be visually represented.. The first few bars of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony–Da, da, da, Da — is one of Dennett’s favorite examples of an audio meme.)
A very interesting example is the “Rationality” meme. No one really knows what rationality is, yet many of us invoke it all the time and even organize large portions of our lives around it! Is Rationality a certain set of neurons firing in the brain; the same set for everyone? Is Rationality a certain set of behaviors? Which behaviors could we agree upon, and then what would their definition be? Being “Reasonable”, we might say, but what is that? Here in this very series, I have argued that Reasonable is no more than “a Person’s” response.-ability to give the reasons for their behavior and to care about other person’s reactions to those reasons. Or, rationality is caring about “Good Evidence” for your reasons and beliefs. But what is the “good evidence”? So, we do not really understand Rationality very well at all, yet it is Central to Our Way of Living especially in Our Modern Age! We hold this Meme of Rationality, and we hold it dearly!
Bubbling Up From Below
Let us say then, that Memes are a new way to Access, Interpret, and Share the neural activities in each of us and even the physical forces stretching far beyond that form our lives at their widest range. Culture and its memes form a kind “down-loaded app” or a “user-interface” that is the context for us, as persons, to be in relation to our physical universe, contends Dennett. IT IS THE WAY NATURE IS TALKING TO US! Our ideas, emotions, and reasons “bubble up from below” and are tested in the field of Memes already present in us and our culture. Or at least, this is what we can believe, ideally. That is the account of how Persons fit into the Universe!
Mother Nature’s Seal of Approval?
This is The Image We Hold of Ourselves, or at least in broadest outlines. It has been cleaned up and developed in some ways by Dennett, other theorists, even myself. At best, this is only my interpretation of these other interpretations. But “in broad outline” it contains the basic elements of “Persons” and their relations to “Things”, “Minds” in relation to “Matter”.
Culture and Personhood —and this “Manifest Image” of things — has been in development for well over 10,000 years and with its birth –as Culture– as far back as 40,000 years ago. That is not enough time to signal Nature’s Official Approval, her Genetic Selection; yet the human species has ‘Prospered’ dramatically in that time. This “Image” of ourselves has become “populated with more and more affordances, more and more opportunities to track, more and more things to do things with, more and more things –words–to use as tools…”, says Dennett. It has served many uses, including the opportunity to consider and reconsider our own Reasons —to Reflect on ourselves.
(In Reflection, we take ourselves to be An Object in the world capable of Manipulation and Re-Design. We consider and re-consider our own Reasons. Norman Rockwell, Girl at Mirror , Pablo Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror , John William Waterhouse, Echo and Narcissus .
From the vantage point of Design, we can at least say that so far, we have received Nature’s Evolutionary Endorsement. Our way of “seeing things” has worked! Our Proliferation is a sign of Nature’s Approval, and here we have tried to give it an intellectual defense.
But will it continue to work? Our manifest image is an awkward combination of physics, chemistry, biology, neurology, morality, economics, politics and poetry (among others). How it all fits together has been briefly suggested here, but as we continue to shuffle these cultural cards, how they will play out in the future is still to be determined by processes that involve humans and human choices, but only indirectly. WHAT WE CAN MAKE OF “IT” (this World) IS STILL UP FOR GRABS!
(HURDLES TO LEAPED: Dictators, Pollutants, Economic Imbalance, Religious and Sexual Discrimination, Dogmatism, War)
(Hurdle to be Transcended: THE OLD WAYS OF THINKING THAT DIVIDE THE WORLD and CULTURE INTO IRRECONCILABLE PIECES! “Newton“, by the poet, artist and printer, William Blake (1805). “Newton is shown sitting naked and crouched on a rocky outcropping covered with algae, apparently at the bottom of the sea. His attention is focused upon diagrams he draws with a compass upon a scroll.” (Wikipedia))
*Quotes from Dennett from his book From Bacteria to Bach and Back, The Evolution of Minds. General guidance from Dennett and other philosophers part of the American philosophical movement called Pragmatism — an attempt to retain the insight of philosophical Idealism in a world obviously indebted to the Scientific View of things.
**I must admit I have little understanding of the status of Time in the science of physics. I do understand and have written about Laplace’s Newtonian discussions of time. In that view, Time is not a primary element in the real world; it is only exists from our limited point of view. See the series on Sean Carroll and The Big Picture.