I’ve tried and, yes, I have failed. I have been unable to convey to others the issues and their significance as I see them. In recent conversations, and in the my daily statistics, I sense the fatigue setting in. A hearty band of readers have given me a chance and ‘the product’ has not sold.
Will I give up? I lay in bed the other morning and I told my trusty wife that I had no ambition to leave it. Of course, she laughed. I spoke to my trusty neighbor, Ray, and he confided to me that “no, he had not read recently. Too much like a lecture. Over my head.” My brother, Mark, “honestly, Greg, I don’t understand much of it.” And finally, this incident:
We were FaceTiming our four year old granddaughter, her mom —my step-daughter— and our son in law. He confided that he had been reading one of The Meaning of Life posts recently, but couldn’t get through it. He said, “I don’t have a degree in philosophy,” to explain his inability. My step-daughter quickly responded, “Neither does Greg.”
Now I do realize there are several ways to take this. I laughed, and said “That’s true.” But I did wonder, Why am I out here on this limb? I am no trained and certified philosopher. Why am I Trying To Explain This? Maybe there is Nothing to explain. Maybe there is nothing to offer! After all, Who is your Favorite Philosopher? You don’t have one? No shit! What do professional philosopher’s do? Are they like this little family that is inbreeding, just for the sake of making a few more philosophers, to fill a few more cushy university jobs?
But, I do feel that philosophy has something important to offer. And, I have no philosophical reputation or job on the line. For me, it’s been a persistent hobby, an avocation and not a vocation. I can say what I believe and hope, and what my readings and studies have led me too. No threatening ramifications, only that I may not be read or understood. Which is, largely, where I am.
So, what do I do? I ANNOUNCE A NEW POST SERIES: “PLAIN TALK: Philosophical Issues Hidden Right Before Your Eyes!” It’s goal will be to Introduce Issues of Curiosity to wet and stimulate The Imagination. Issues of philo significance in ordinary life and talk. I will Not try to solve them, as I have done in previous post series, just point in a direction to their solution. That may avoid some of the bog.
And I should say, not all philosophers have avoided ‘the fray.’ Dan Dennett has written books arguing against the existence of God, promoting Evolution, and even opening philosophical problems to common scrutiny —his book “Intuition Pumps.”
So, here I go again; trying to make ‘it’ transparent.
FIRST TOPIC: Why do we talk about both Brains and Minds? A Brain is that grey matter between your ears, but What The Hell is “A Mind?” Let’s try to point out why both these ‘things’ are real, like we seem to believe they are! That would be A Philosophical Issue Hidden Right Before Our Eyes!
See the following: “Why do we talk about Both Minds and Brains?” in PLAIN TALK: Philo Issues Hidden Right Before Our Eyes.
“Brain” or “Mind”? Wouldn’t just one do the trick? Isn’t this redundant? We know the Brain exists, but what the hell is your ‘mind’? Where is my mind? Oh yes, I know, “I’ve lost it,” But certainly that doesn’t mean, I’ve lost my brain. All the time, we talk of both Brain and Mind, but why?
We say, “Make up your mind”, but never “Make up your brain.” Do we ever say, “My mind has a disease?” Well, we do think of Mental Illnesses and even believe that Talking to someone may help it. What kind of real disease is cured by talking? But we do not say, “I have a mind ache; I need some aspirin.”
So what is the point of these two words and how do we use them? Are they ‘pointing’ to some ‘deeper’ issue? Is it a philosophical problem, right before our eyes? Could it really be ‘deep’?
Mind-talk goes back a lot further than brain-talk, though this post will not become a history lesson. An early and prominent belief by the Egyptians and Greeks was that The Heart was the site where thinking occurred. That is the ancient source of our phrase “to know (something) by heart.” For Aristotle, the brain was for cooling the blood, and because humans had bigger brains, they were not as “hot blooded” and thus more in control of their behavior than other animals. “Mind” for the Greek philosophers was close to what they called “Logos”, which was something like a transcendent logic or order or pattern that the ordinary things and events in our world aspired toemulate.
The Brain started to be understood as controlling behavior when early ‘doctors’ observed battlefield injuries to the head that resulted in aberrant movements in other parts of the body. The first anatomists, like Galen during the Roman Empire, discovered nerves running from the brain to muscles and organs throughout the body of animals. They thought of these as tubes or pipes carrying fluid (hydraulics) or air (pneumatics) to expand and contract the muscles, causing movement.
One of the early and most influential thinkers in this area was the French mathematician, philosopher and scientist Rene Descartes. He connected the Greek view with that of the anatomists. Mind existed and so did the working brain and they were connected through the Pineal Gland in the brain. The immaterial and transcendent realm —which took up no space or time — was in this way connected to our material and earthly realm. For a long time anatomists did not know what this gland did; Descartes hypothesized it did this extra-ordinary job!
Why did Rene go to these great lengths? Well, he liked the idea of the body as a hydraulic machine, but he didn’t see how the push and pull of fluid (or air) pressure could Explain logical thinking in mathematics or his own self-awareness. After all, he did invent coordinate geometry and during a war with Russia, as a young, cold and lonely soldier (so the story goes), he curled up inside an abandoned stove to stay warm and thought that the only sure proof of his existence was his self-awareness at any moment. Thus, his famous argument based on self-awareness: “I think, therefore I am.”
So let’s get to today, and to the point. Descartes is right in thinking that something like hydraulic-caused motions in the brain could not be An Explanation of the character and logic of mathematical thinking. The two are just too different. “You cannot get blood out of a turnip”, it is said. And that position remains true today even when we now know that Neurons are firing due to electrical charge. The things — neurons, electrical charges, and thoughts — are too different to have one thoroughly account for the other. We understand “causation” and “an explanation” most clearly when the cause and the the effect are very close to the same kind of thing, like one billiard ball colliding with another explains the latter’s movement. That is a Clear case of explanation. Neural firing ‘explaining’ geometric theorems, is not! The one may accompany the other, but logical mathematical thought is Really its Own Kind of ‘Thing’.
Let us expand this line of thought. It is not only “thought” and “self-awareness” that seem hard to explain mechanically, how about the simple experience of seeing “Red”? We are told that “Red is an electromagnetic wave frequency of 650 nm.” But is it really? Seeing red is associated with that frequency but ‘redness’, in itself, is not ‘electromagnetic-ness’ —so to speak; it is a color. It has A Unique Quality that is more effectively contrasted to other Colors, like green and blue, and we have talked, used and experienced “color” in this basic way long before we knew of electromagnetism. When my little grand daughter says, “pink is my favorite color”, she does not mean some wave frequency!
This is what Mind is, as opposed to the Brain. The “Mind” adds something new to ‘The Physical’. The Mind is how the physical is “taken by us”. Electro-m frequency 650 nm is Experienced As “red” or “rouge” or “rojo”. This then adds to the ‘realm of mind’, Language and it’s societal variations and “meaningfulness” is a product of Mind, not of Brain. The Mind is The Having of a Particular Point of View — French, Spanish, Medieval Western, Ancient Egyptian, Modern Western, Islamic ways of living. It is ‘a take on things’, as seeing ‘red’ is Our Representation of the electro-m frequency of 650. The Mind makes “Representations Of” the occurrences in life. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the Occurrences of Life do Not ‘strike us’ all in the same way. Different Cultures and different Times have different “takes”. And interestingly, we all kind of know this, but are unclear of its implications. And the implication is, “Mind” is real and important; it is different than “brain”.
The Brain, it adds nothing new. The brain’s activity is one more additional set of physical events — though admittedly an increasingly complex set — that is hooked into a long line of causes that, really, can be said to originate with The Big Bang. It is a rather vulgar simplification, but still essentially true: this chain of causes is like a long line of billiard balls, one hitting another, hitting three more, and so on, and so on, and so on, to today, to us. For this Point of View, things are a collection of billiard balls (atoms) that have electrical charges, that are forms of electromagnetism that electrically stimulate visual receptors that electrically stimulate neurons…that send an electric signal to the muscles of the vocal cords, tongue, mouth and lungs and ‘sound’ is emitted. In this context, if we then say, “It is red” or “C’est rouge” and think of the experience of red as color,we are making a mistake. We are Not being consistent! What comes out of our mouths, in the physical terms we have been using, is not words that have meaning, but sound waves with varying frequency, volumes and speeds; in other words, more physical stuff! Only what we have traditionally called “The Mind” ‘takes’ the physical and hears and sees and understands it as ‘words’ with ‘meanings’ and an ‘experience’ that they are ‘about’. “I see red”, we say and we mean it!
So, we need both these concepts, Brain and Mind, because we have two widely different sets of objects and experiences that we have traditionally classified in these two different ways. And the stakes are large because on the Mind side of this spectrum lies our supposed ability to be Free and Responsible. But, I have not really been very clear about what ‘The Mind’ might be. If it is not The Brain, then what the heck could it be? I do Not want to make it too mysterious. I don’t believe it is God, or even Immaterial. So?
I think it best to stop here for now. I believe we have opened up A Philosophical Issue that is In Plain Sight and Significant. In the following PLAIN TALK post, we will discuss “Mind” as understood historically and what I believe is our best shot at understanding it sensibly now.
Dose 10: Well, as hard as you try, still It May All Come to “NOTHING“. I guess we may just have to face ‘the facts’.
You know what The Scientist’s say, The Universe has No Meaning; Meaning, that’s all just subjectivist drivel and emotionalism.
BUT,IT HELPS TO SING ABOUT IT: The infamous Fugs. 1964 New York City band composed of poets Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, with Ken Weaver on drums.
And still, WEKEEP TRYING!!!
Dose 11: Sometimes, Life is Just Not What It Seems, and then we complain about it.
Monty Python at it again. Michael Palin and John Cleese. I’ve got no issue with cross dressing, but you must admit, its life not being what it seems! Python crew loved it.
And THE FINALE, Dose 12: Rising to an occasion; COURAGE really helps Make Life Meaningful!
The ex-boxer and now dockworker, Terry (Marlon Brando), is badly beaten up by the Mobster Union Thugs, but with the help of Karl Malden, as the Priest, rises from “the canvas” and leads the longshoremen back to work and to the reform their union so badly needed, in On The Waterfront (1954). Greatest American Movie of All Time! Elia Kazan director. Lee J. Cobb as the mob boss; Eva Marie Saint as the conscious-driven, shy, young lady that gets to Marlon’s ‘soft spot’. Music by, YES, Leonard Bernstein!
“You’re a cheap, lousy, dirty-stink’n, mug.”
TWO PARTER!“LET’S GO TO WORK!” (I can’t watch it without tearing up)
Dose 7: “The Double-Eye Poke” —Taking Care of Those Gods and Goddesses
“The Slapping Goddess“: Moe and Larry of The Stooges. (Sorry for the mask in the background. At least, these were “the old days.”)
Dose 8: Sometimes it is ‘the little differences’ that add meaning to Life. “God is in the detail”
Life is just about “Chew’n the Fat”, occasionally. After the super serious dialogue of Dose 6, Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson just share some experiences. Pulp Fiction by Quinton T. “Le Big Mac” “G is in the D” was said by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, among others.
Dose 9: “Damn,we’re in a tight spot.”
Life can sure be full of “Tight Spots”, and nothing like them to supply an instantaneous dose of meaning. Here, the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?crew is definitely jammed up. Cohen brothers as writers and directors. Actors George Clooney and John Turturro.
Well, we’ve finished off another serving of three. Let’s see, so far we have as The Meaning of Life:
Getting yourself into some altered “Zone”, a Flying Circus, and “moydering the King’s English;
Romance, Dancing and Sticking Up for Your Brother;
now we have added “The Slapping Goddess”, “Le Big Mac, and “tight spots”.
Damn, we’ve just about covered it all! But what’s left for “The Final Three Doses?” Stay tune: Same time, Same place, SAME BAT CHANNEL!
(When I was writing the serious post series, “The Meaning of Life, in twelve easy doses,” I thought: ‘Who am I to try to tell others?’ It seemed a little brazen. Well, it wasn’t the first time. So then, later, it occurred to me to have some fun with it and this is that product. Delivered in servings of three.)
Dose 1: “Do Do Do Do”
Yes, let’s try a little imagination. Sometimes ya just gotta feel that things could be better than this. So these days, if you want to try to understand some meaning that is real, you just have to get into a new “Zone“. Music by the great Bernard Herrmann, who did numerous scores for Alfred Hitchcock.
Dose 2: Life is a “Flying Circus”
Upon telling a friend I was writing a blog series called “The Meaning of Life, in a dozen easy doses.” He responded, “Everything I know about that came from Monty Python.” Thanks, Steve!
“Is mankind evolving or is it too late?”
Dose 3: The Stooges, “moydering the King’s English“
I try to write a few good sentences and turn a telling phrase, but my use of ‘scare quotes’ is out of control! And that is not to mention all the Bolding and Italicization. I had the idea that, In A Blog, that would help the reader. God knows, blog readers really Don’t Want To Read Much! Do they? I guess we need all the HELP we can get!
The Three Stooges: Above is “Moe” (Moses Horwitz) Howard and “Curly” (Jerome Horwitz) Howard. Later you will see “Larry” (Larry Fineberg) Fine. Three nice Jewish guys who started to do “slapstick” comedy on the Vaudeville circuit in 1922. They made 190 “shorts” (short films) for Columbia.
Please give the serious stuff a try. See, for example, “The Meaning of Life, in ten easy doses.” The real version. It’s on “The Menu”.
(The 12th And Final Dose in “The Meaning of Life” series. “Hold on to your hats”, I hope it is a good one! And only about 16 paragraphs long—well, that is a blessing in itself! )
So “meaning” exits within a design: each is an Information. The design’s parts are meaningfully connected and its relation beyond itself to, what we may figuratively call, “the world” is just as legitimately called “its world”. This is to say, Designs designate “their environment”. An environment is as much a part of a living thing as is any of its bodily parts. What is a “fin” without its water, or a “wing” with no air? Each of these Function in a Coherent Level of Vocabulary. The design and it environment are “internally connected”, connected by “definition”, necessarily connected and not continently connected. It makes as little sense to say, an animal has “wings” and no “air”to “fly” in, as to say it has “blood” but no “heart” to pump it. An animal and its environment are Reflections of each other. They are Representations of each other.
And to Persons, Meaning exists as the relationship of the parts —Persons— that compose “the Human Social Organism“ and as our representations of our environment and ourselves that we constantly seek to affirm and revise according to our needs. A meaningful relation, or an information relation, is a relation between things connected by definition, like “hunger-food”,”nurse-patient”,“teacher-student”, “car-highway”, “owner-worker”,”politician-constituency”, scientist-scientific community, parent-child, wife-husband, but also relationships—as are the former— based in Principle and Standard: The Law meaningfully or internally relates Lawyers, Judges, Police, Criminals and Citizens. These are Informed Relations, and we are always trying to Refine, Reform and Redefine these relationships of design. Many, many, actions and reactions must and will then take place between these parts but not primarily as Causal Interactions. Parts “inform” each other; they communicate through meaning. Just as you and I are trying to do now. I am not trying to cause you, I am trying to convince you, to believe this. That is A huge Distinction!
Between Designs, like a hammer and a nail
But this is not the only place that Meaning and its attendant Information exists. Not only within a design, but between Designs do meaningful and informed relations exist. For example, the original birds (like our original aircraft) were clumsy flyers, barely able to get off the ground for just long enough or high enough to escape the grasp of a predator, or attain some kind of advantage. But through the language and communication of DNA, trail and error, and the natural selection of the group of designs around it (Mother Nature), the abilities of birds has blossomed; consider them now!
These improvements are an enhanced valuation.Reasons and Values do lie in Nature, and “flight” has been rather thoroughly exploited (see Dose 1), but not by causal forces, but by the enhancement of meaningful information. The design of birds has flourished; they have built off the successes and failures of their predecessors. “Information is design worth getting,” contends philosopher and theorist Dan Dennett.
The Transcendental Whole
The Tree of Life is a real and gigantic web of interconnected designs and their behaviors. As a Person makes a statement, a bird makes a “call” or embarks on some other behavior. Within that bird’s Community of Related Designs, a response is almost inevitable. A potential “mate” or “mating rival” signals back. A “predator” takes notice, and moves in that direction. The human being in whose backyard this is occurring, complains to his wife, “That noisy Wren just never stops yapping.”
A Person, also, acts. The Community of Persons who are their audience respond to that Meaning. Similar to the Wren, each person is Communicating based on their shared Information. This is the concept of Meaning as both for the individual and for a community or society (Dose 10). Here we come headlong into politics, religion, philosophy, and practical necessity. The Human Social Organism is best Designed to Act in coordination and agreement. IN THE PAST, WE HAVE ESCAPED THIS ACCURATE UNDERSTANDING OF OUR DESIGN— our desire for consensus and unified action-–by designating some groups “Non-Persons”. We did this by standards we now, almost universally, agree were misguided and ignorant due to limitation and misguided ‘self’-interest.
The Tree of Life as a massive Community of Shared and Essential Information!
And , now, the million dollar question: Does The Tree of Life have a direction? Is it “growing toward the sun” in some figurative sense, like a plant does literally? Can we understand a Meaning to it, in this sense?
We have already argued for the improvement in the ability to fly in animals including humans. Biologist Richard Dawkins cites a common natural feedback loop he calls “An Arms Race.” Closely associated animals and plants compete for survival and in this way Improve their designs and abilities. Improving degrees of camouflage is one example; the defensive benefits of herds and schools is another. For predators, group hunting techniques are more effective for many animals.
In Dose 1, I started this entire series with the contention that “There are Reasons in Nature.” There are reasons “to fly”, “to swim”, “to grow tall”,“to hunt”, “to hide”, “to become poisonous” and many animals (and plants) have done so and done so with increasing capacity.
We have become Self-Aware
“Design” is embodied Reasons; it is “know-how”, argues Dennett. Living creatures “know how” to do things —it is “built in”— but do not“know that” they do them. Human Persons are the animal that not only “knows how” to do many things but also “knows that” we do them (Dose 2). We not only ‘stand under’ our Related Designs, so to speak, but we have come to “understand” many of them. We “know how” scientists have Reasons for what they do; they follow agreed upon standards and traditions, as do parents, doctors, artists, teachers and crafts persons. We have become aware of our Reasons for action –our “know how”– as no other living thing has become aware of theirs.
So, yes, we can justifiably “see”, “intuit”, “feel” a Direction In Our Living World. From our Informed Point of View, this is a legitimate meaning for us. And many have professed this before but generally in the language of what we now can call “superstition”. It was a misrepresentation that can be replaced by a the more convincing and coherent Naturalistic Language of Transcendencepresented in these blogs.* Human action and Nature can be understood “to fit together” through this new and well-rounded, grand philosophical representation.
Our Grandest Intuition
So, for thoughtful modern Persons, “The Meaning of Life” lies in much of what we already do, but now we can understand it better and feel more confidence in it. Meaning is not some fluffy and idiosyncratic “subjectivity” by comparison to hard and certain ‘objective’ facts. Meaning is the “Design” and “Direction” we sense about us; it is the Unified Action of Nature and “Human Nature” in the creation of increasingly complex and interesting Objects.
When we act according to the naturally and historically tested and proven Standards and Principles of Various Ethics —art, science, nurturance (parenting, teaching, healing, ecology), craftsmanship, and even politics — life does have Meaning. Our coherence of belief and action is a Value often achieved in these Human Practices,but one still too far in abeyance in many situations. It is these nagging short-falls that rob us of the satisfaction of our grandest intuition:a more complete Unity of Persons and a more complete Unity with Nature. That would make for A MODERN NATURE RELIGION CONNECTION !
We can create a more Meaningful Human and Natural Existence! It is a Coming Together.
The 12th and Final ‘Dose’ in “The Meaning of Life, in twelve easy doses” series.
(Time to climb off my soapbox or, should I say, climb down from my pulpit. Thanks for having the patience to stick with me. I really had a good time. I hope you picked up on at least acouple of ideas for your effort. It is important to add, I have been thinking and reading about these ideas for a long, long, time. It is wonderful to finally ‘get them down’, regardless of what this may come to. I feel very lucky. Thanks to my wife for having the grace to put up with me.)
On a Biographical Note: I guess the moral of the story is, Once a Catholic, Always a Catholic (or at least kind of). Actually, I am an atheist, but something or other sure did stick from my religious up-bringing. My mother, rest her ‘soul’, always told me she named me after this guy, Pope St Gregory the Great (painting by Joseph Marie Vien). I surely do not claim any Inspiration as depicted here, nor any of the “greatness” or “saintliness” of this earlier Gregory, though I have been writing a lot lately, and he is said to have been prolific. He was Pope from the year 590 to his death in 604 ‘ad domino ‘. He is considered “a Doctor of the Church” and thought of favorably by even John Calvin, who considered him the last of the good popes. Well, make of this what you will! It is rather humorous, at least. He is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students and teachers, and I love music and became a teacher, and I am always studying. I guess we Gregory’s just stick together. “Do Do Do Do!” (Theme from Twilight Zone for younger readers or those from a different culture). Thanks again, GregWW
(On a roll here today at the Nature Religion Connection. High on yesterday’s Social Solidarity: “Black Lives Matter”, as do all. Upon reading “the added Therapy to my 12 Dose Regimen” (the previous post), I felt it needed to return to its main points in the end. But it was already long, so here is a Summary as an addendum. Start where ever you like, here or there. I do believe I’m refining my message! Thanks for your patience.)
A design does “designate its environment.” Like Fractal Art, and The Tree of Life, Mother Nature and Human Persons have filled Our Environment with kindred designs and products. ‘The World’ has now become “Our World” in this way.
As such, we can say, and in a way we do say, “Our world is an In-Formation.” All these designs share a common origin and great commonalities of structure. So, in addition, we share an “out look”. We are not primarily Caused to behave when we interact in “our world”; we act Freely and Creatively based on our Communication with our kindred designs. We pick up on All The Information and act upon that! I have argued this is how “to know” by Participating with them, and not by removing ourselves to some supposed lofty outside perch.
For this Participation View of Reality, designed things Represent Their World, and this is a constant feed-back loop. We create and test new approaches. We are very much familiar with this in our own lives, and we intuit it in the other designs around us. It is a mistaken philosophical position to think that we will ever ‘escape’ our representations and get to “the thing-in-itself”. This is not attaining “naked Truth” but a delusion that has held us captive and is no longer of good use. It has torn our world apart, pitting one ‘True Belief’ against another: Christian vs. Muslim, science vs. religion, subjectivity vs. objectivity, value vs. fact.
What is true is what allows us to act more coherently with other members of our culture —politically and morally— and the other cultures we communicate with. What is true is to attain greater compatibility betweenour different forms of Representation. Religious Fundamentalists are mistaken because their antiquated and literal interpretations clash with the very Cell phones in their pocket and jet aircraft they board to travel at near supersonic speeds. Scientists are often wrong because they think art and morals are simply matters of opinion. The “Far Left” and the “Far Right” are wrong because they believe the other side is simply evil. Our various representations of the world can and need to be modified and refined in light of The Value of Solidarity. Is this not what much of history has been about? In this way, we will achieve lives that are more fulfilled, on the whole.
Nature and Religion, THERE IS A CONNECTION. (Drawing by Marty)
(As Rome burns, here I am ‘fiddling’ with my metaphysics! If you want a more immediately relevant post, see the “George Floyd” post (below this one in the Various Topics Cat.): it’s pretty good. But for getting BASIC, this post does the job without too much frustration or impatience incurred, I do believe. The idea of “Design”, if understood properly, brings two very different parts of our life into a coordination. That we are all part of one Causally Connected Universe, and we are Free and Creative Persons: yes, those parts. Not a bad effort for about 20 short paragraphs; if I say so myself! It’s like physical therapy, ordered in The Meaning of Life series. Please leave your thoughts.)
Then I Read It Later and Thought…
I recently wrote this — “A Design Designates It’s Environment”— and then I read it later and thought “what a weird thing to say.” Sounds like bu\\sh!#. Is it “philoso-babble”, as biologist Jerry Coyne would call it (see WEIT 5/28/20)?
In fact, I then realized that what I said was “A Design Designs Its Environment”; “design-ates”. A design design-ates. A design makes more designs, is surrounded by them? Is that what I Mean: behind, around, in the past, maybe even ahead in the future of A Designed Thing are more and related Designs, Variations? (The answer is, “Yes!”, I guess.)
How is this possible? “A design designs its environment”: Surely this is backward:An Environment causes or creates a Designed thing. For example, a living thing is a design and it has no super power to create a world, create an environment, even if we call it “its world”. Why would you want to distinguish between “the world” and “its world”? Don’t we all just exist in “The World”? “A bumble bee has its world,” we might want to say. My wife has “her world”, I could say and this would be figurative only to a limited degree. She really does have “the things she focuses on”, and god help me if I get in her way! She is a force of nature.
Our Representations and Our Knowing
But we do start to make this distinction—“the world” and “how the world looks to us”, or “is for us”, or “our world”— because we have an intuition about REPRESENTATION. We feel that sometimes we “Don’t exactly ‘Put Down’ — “depict”—What IS Really There.” What we ‘put down’ — in words, in a drawing, as a map, in a sensation, in a theory, as the Idea of ‘It’ (that we have ‘in our mind’, in our ‘Mind’s Eye’)— what we ‘put down’ is often Not quite right, or, well, at least different. We may say, “Ok, it will do…It’s a fairly good representation Of It.” Curious, how this issue is embedded in the very language we use!
Sometimes we don’t even try to “put ‘it’ down just as ‘it’ is”! Sometimes we want to “embellish” upon ‘it’ because we want ‘to make a point about it’. All things have a Variety of Aspects, and sometimes we wish to focus on one, more so, than others. This must mean it is not a “true” representation of reality, for surely what a thing is, is all the aspects it is, and this all at once. (How ’bout dat for some metaphysics!)
Limited, that is us!
Maybe we just have Our Limitations when it comes to ‘Being in The World’, so we have to Represent different aspects of a thing at diff times and in diff ways. Limited, that is us! Maybe that is Why Representation Is So Important To Us! The more we represent a thing the closer we get to “grasping it”. So, could it be that “The World” is more than what it ‘Actually Is’ at any one moment, or from any One Point Of View?
Like if you look at something from different directions, it looks different. What is The Right Direction from which to look, to really see it as it is? Well, we all know the answer to that, “you have to look at it from all directions at once.” Ya, that is what ‘God’ is capable of, I guess. And what about those new fancy-designed graphics programs; can’t a shape be displayed in all its different dimensions at once? We are getting almost as good as god!
So here we turn the corner. “A Design Designates Its Environment” is about Our Freedom and Our Ability to Initiate, to Create. In this whacker-jawed statement, Representation becomes a Marvelous Reality (a philosophical contention) that counters the equally marvelous reality that We Get Pushed Around a lot in life in this world. “We getCaused.” We are totally a part of a single net of physical events.
But, from a different perspective, not really and not totally —we intuit; and this we feel very strongly: It is NOT all just ‘causal forces’ pounding on us at every angle. As real as all the causes are, we also Interpret Them, Represent Them and Argue About “What is True?” When we do that, when we try to figure out “What is ‘There’ (and point)?”; we are involved in a different ‘ball game’ than “Causation”. Explaining our Sensations, our Ideas, our Reasons for Believing (all these Qualities) in terms of causes is like explaining ‘Apples with Oranges.’
“Design” is an Idea that ‘Splits the Bill’
Designed things both “get caused” and originate “new outcomes”. “Design” is, thus, a philosophical term, and a Great Way To Understand ‘The World’, because it attempts to put together two very prominent parts of our life: that we both get caused and create all at once.
So, I can saw, Designs Represent their environment andtheir environment Represents them: They are this kind of loop. Designs are a tool. They have proven themselves to be useful and we have no tools that have no use. If they do notWork, Nature (and us as one of its parts) do not Select them: they become extinct. And so, designed things begin to ‘pile up’ on top of each other and exist in an environment of kindred designs; like our Fractal Art and The Tree of Life (as pictured earlier). To them, they are surrounded with Information — as they indeed areall a part of one Formation–— with which to respond. This is how they work. Furthermore, it’s not just humans or persons that are designed and also design things; Great Designs are all over the Natural World and Mother Nature is the best Designer of all. Design, and representation, is bigger than just a human behavior and human subjectivity.
If the brain were so simple we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn’t.
— George Edgin Pugh, The Biological Origin of Human Values, cited by Dennett.
Well, maybe you see the direction this is going. One of the problems is that once we get The Idea of a Representation, we start to think about where do Our Representations Stop or Start, and where is The Thing as it really is, Un-Represented? The Naked Truth! “The Thing-In-Itself”, as one of the great philoso-babblers of all time put it, Immanuel Kant.
The Golden Caramel Nugget
Scientists, being as ‘hard-nosed’ as they are, ‘know’ that science tells us what is really there. They believe science has cracked through the many layers of ‘sugar-coating’ that is our Ordinary Representations, and made Empirical and Experimental Contact with the golden caramel nugget that is Reality in itself and for really real. It is reality as it exists Without Us viewing it! If “we” are anywhere in this so-called scientific process “of knowing”, we have withdrawn ourselves to a lofty perch beyond the thing studied, beyond The Universe, and ‘see’ it now Rightly. Some philoso-babblers call this perch “The God’s-Eye pointof view”, and most of them mean this as a slam.
No doubt, Science have developed very powerful tools of analysis. But the very actions of Persons as Scientist involves reasoning, perception, designing, evidence, argumentation, and none of these involve any discussion of which neurons are firing in their brain or the effects of space-time on their scientific decisions. Not all respected scientist accept the puritanical insistence of Science As Sole or Primary Access to the real. Physicist Sean Carroll in his “The Big Picture” tries to soften the blow with his “Poetic Naturalism”: the world is real in many ways, but not all ways.
Do Empiricism and Experimental Confirmation get to the purity of ‘the thing’? Sure, kind of; but who doesn’t start with the facts as they take them to be, and then work with them, manipulate their arrangement (Design) and then test how this works, if it works? Any Artist does this. Any Social Reformer does this. Any wood-working craftsperson does this. Any Parent does this. Does The New Product satisfy us? Does it meet our need, live up to our standards? Does it seem better to us? Does it work? Empiricism and testing is no monopoly of science.
Granted, good science has a strong tradition of analyzing an occurrence into its pieces as spread out over space and time, asking very specific questions, and looking for very clear indicators of outcome, but still! Other forms of Representation can be variously clear and precise too. Good Science is a great way to represent the world, but a bad Philosophy of Science is not.It is a logical fact deeply embedded in our concepts and our way of life that there is no way to totally eliminate “the subject” from “the object”! They are Designed to be together essentially; they are An Information!
Once you have torn “The World” into pieces, it’s hard to get it back together.
Persons don’t have One Right Way to “get in touch” with reality, a way that leaves all our other Representations as “secondary”, ‘icing on the cake’ or just plain ‘bu//sh!#’. Whether That Right Way be science, or some specific religion, or just plain “religion”, or even “Philosophy” — as some Specific Method— there is no One Right Way that ‘breaches the veil’ and gets Totally Beyond Ourselves. “Objects” do not exist in this way. All “objects’ exist for their appropriate “subjects”, their audience. It’s a bad philosophy of science that thinks that Science has pulled this off, any more than Religious Fundamentalism.
Artists, Scientists, Nurses, Teachers, Journalists, Politicians, Craftspersons all have their discipline’s history, their training, their standards and their goals of practice. They are Designed to do a job —use their tools— and create their product as Representations of “the way the world is.” Representing is very important to us, in this way. This is ‘the other side’ compared to causation. It is Our Agency, Our Responsibility, Our Ability to Know,and it is based in ‘Our World as it is Represented to Us.’
(Jimi Hendrix and Band, geese, mathematician, M.L. King : Creating The World as Musical, Aeronautical, Mathematical and Just.)
Participating in the Universe
So, I wrote “A design designates its environment” because this is a convenient place to start to tell this story about Participating With the Universe and The Worldin creating increasingly interesting things. Living creatures are Living Designs; they have their way of Representing the world and ‘seeing’ how this works out (Will it be Selected?). We see quite clearly in The Tree of Living Designs not only Various Abilities but Enhanced Abilities. This is the point where we can fairly and more easily Understand Our Representational Abilities to Originate as Part of Nature. We are designed, and we Represent the World. We Design Things that work, and we know we establish their “design parameters” that are Far Short of the entire universe as understood totally or by physics. Mother Nature does that with her designs,too.
So to avoid this quagmire of One Right Way and its attempted rupture of “subject” from “object”, This Blog has chosen to consider all Our Representations as equal, as representations; but with the proviso that None of Them Be Thought of as Getting Beyond Themselves to “Something” Beyond All Representation. For this philosophical position, TRUTH is the coordination and compatibility of our different traditional Forms of Representing. Redefinition and refinement is a vital part of this, as history clearly shows. Our goal it to make our Culture (our representations) work together better, be more coherent, and not so full of tension, contradiction, condescension and dismissal.
This isa Participation View of Reality and of Our World,not a Separation View where Reality exists without us, where “to Know” is to have The One Right Method that strips the thing known of any essential connection to us and our society’s beliefs. These kinds of Reductionism are “The One True God”, “The Universe in Itself“, and even “Tradition” as what must be true because it has always been so.
The Theory of Evolution is a very convenient segue between science and philosophy. It understands the world of designs and their inter-relatedness, and then establishes their Functional Needs and Abilities. This philosophy of Participation is a form of Structuralism and Holism. It Fulfills our lives and our understanding of Ourselves and Nature by Making One Coherent Thing Of It in a way most satisfying and appropriate to our times.
Citing Some Sources
This section is an addendum to the above. I thought it wise, at some point, to cite some sources. If you made it this far, maybe a question you have is “Where Does He Get All This Crap?” Does it just come flying out of my head, full blown and in armor, as was Athena born from the head of Zeus?
No, there are actually other people, and far more reputable than I, who believe and argue for positions similar to mine. Here are a few; the ones that have influenced me.
Of course, Dan Dennett, philosopher and chair of Tufts University’s Center forCognitive Studies. Most notably, his Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995) and “Dangerous” because it is so revolutionary, also From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds (2017). Dennett is not an easy read, though his Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking (2013) is designed for popular consumption, though not one of my favorites. His classic early work, with Douglas Hofstadter, The Mind’s I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul (1985) is great fun and a very accessible collection of amazing ideas.
But Dennett is not out there alone. He is part of a long tradition (starting around 1900) in American philosophy called Pragmatism. It attempts to establish “middle ground” between Idealism (holism) and Empiricism (the pieces are most real). William James and John Dewey are two of its most prominent members. Dewey’s Experience and Nature (1925) and The Quest for Certainty (1929) are favorites.
In this tradition is a contemporary American philosopher, Richard Rorty. His “Introduction” to Philosophy and Social Hope (1999) may be the best short and accessible intro to these arguments that I know of. His Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) was foundational for me.
In the sciences, Richard Dawkins in evolutionary biology has championed the idea, to my way of thinking, that the world of life is like a gigantic set of nested bowls or Russian dolls; whatever you study opens up to larger and smaller subsets of coordinated holistic communities of parts. His Selfish Gene (1976) is a classic and very readable. The Blind Watchmaker (1986) is a must read. I have read most of what he has written, always fascinating and well written. Also the famous sociobiologist, E.O. Wilson, his TheDiversity of Life (1992), most convincingly demonstrates the designs of life thoroughly surrounded by other and related living designs. In psychology (and philosophy), Nicholas Humphrey’s A History of the Mind: Evolution and Birth of Consciousness (1992) is great and one I need to read again. In the hard sciences, my bible is physicist Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture: the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (2016). Well written and highly informative, but also philosophical with his “Poetic Naturalism” argument—there are many ways we need to see the world is real,but not every way; we can eliminate a lot as highly unreasonable.
One last classic, to me, venerable Alfred North Whitehead’sScience and the Modern World (1925). Logician, mathematician, philosopher and marvelously erudite, his early chapters in this book frame the dilemma between science and culture in general as no other.
Thank you so much, for your time and hopefully your support. GregWW
SOLIDARITY ON SATURDAY: Show Your Support. No Justice, No Peace.
Around THE NATION and THE WORLD Huge Rallies of Protest Against Racial Injustice are occurring. Please show your support and outrage in ways that you feel safe. Here in Columbus, Ohio, rally and march at Statehouse 10 am.
These are hard times.
Worldwide Pandemic. The Covid Virus causes over 100,000 deaths in a three month period in the U.S. Significant and justified societal shutdown as response to halt or slow the transmission. It’s a nasty, vicious illness to have, in many cases, even if you do survive. Fear. I’m frightened that I may die: I’m fairly old; I have poor lungs. I’m an asthmatic—I know what it is like to not breath! Each day about 30 to 40 people die here in Ohio from Covid. Yes, this is very, very, bad.
Add Donald Trump is president, with his divisiveness, arrogance, boorishness, incompetence and narcissism. He is totally unable to lead us in any time of significant need. He is part of any problem, not part of its solution. And his supporters are almost as bad, some even worse. They carry Assault Rifles at our Ohio Statehouse and shout at our sincere and conscientious Governor that he is a tyrant and like a Nazi !
Racism. In early May, a young black man is chased down by two or three white men with a rifle in Brunswick, Georgia. They think he is involved in robbery. His mother says he was jogging in his neighborhood. They go vigilante on him. In a struggle captured on video, Ahmaud Arbery is shot to death. For two months, no charges were filed by authorities.
George Floyd. Monday, in Minneapolis Minnesota, May 25, Memorial Day — the day Americans are to honor soldiers who gave their life to preserve our country and its values — a video captures a police officer casually kneeling (hands in pocket) on a man’s throat. The video does not show two other officers, hidden by a police cruiser, holdingFloyd down, one on his back, one on his legs. It is reported that he was in handcuffs. In the video Floyd is not moving, though in some versions he is heard to say, “I can’t breath.” The official police report times the restraint to have been about 8 minutes. One autopsy has stated that Floyd was dead on the scene, asphyxiation; the official autopsy is much more evasive. In the video, the restraint is shown ending with Floyd being rolled over onto a stretcher by these officers. He appears limp and lifeless.
The situation starts to explode. Thursday, two days after the murder, the videos have gone viral. Photos appear in all the major news outlets. Protests and demonstrations are occurring 25 or more cities around the U.S. As evening comes, some of them become violent.
Here in Columbus Ohio, The Police initially took a very poor approach to the protesters. They lined up in full riot gear in tactical formation, barriers in place, as if the demonstrators had to be confined and mistrusted from the start. All accounts that I have seen agree that all was very peaceful initially, then this starts to change. Two thousand demonstrators were on hand, it was estimated; my youngest daughter was there. Yes, some cops were being shouted at over the barriers at close quarters. Some water bottles were thrown at them from afar.
Bad decisions were made by police commanders on the scene. The corner of Broad Street and High Street is the center of our town. The state Capital Building stands there and just several miles up High is the huge Ohio State University campus. The intersection and Capital grounds is where most demonstrations happen. Commanders decided not to allow protesters in the street; they then tried to block several crosswalks at that intersection. Tensions rose, and videos and photos then show some individual cops starting to lash out. They pushed back, poked it the face, demonstrators in their face. More was now thrown at them, including rocks. Some officers started spraying pepper spray, and this very indiscriminately. The crowd started to break up as chaos enveloped. Various small groups of then broke off and started smashing windows, starting some fires, some looting of stores. Most just tried to remain peaceful, helpful, or leave. At least, this is the best I can make of it.
That was Friday and Saturday nights. On Friday night some of our local leaders were there; sadly, some were not. Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, City Counselmen Shannon Harden and County Commissioner Kevin Boyce were there and tried to calm both police and demonstrators, and got pepper sprayed amidst the outburst. All are black, and it is worth noting that the demonstrators were clearly of all color. Our Mayor, Democrat Michael Ginther, was no where in sight until Sunday. Nor was the Police Chief Quinlin. Both are white. Beatty, Harden and Boyce all stated that the city police overreacted. Ginther tweeted a similar opinion.
On Sunday, the situation changed dramatically. Police adopted a new and less aggressive posture. It worked. Demonstrations started and stayed peaceful. Police were no longer standing in formation forebodingly in full riot gear. Demonstrators were allowed to ‘take’ the intersection and traffic was diverted. The Mayor marched with the people and police cars escorted the marchers as if a parade. (Though recently I have read a brief conflicting account that concerned late Sunday night.) Monday was similarly approached and equally peaceful.
Gaining a reasonable understanding of events, in some ways, has been difficult. I have stayed a away from the protests because I have a history of lung issues and am in my later 60’s. I do not want to die of this virus. I have marched with Black Lives Matter, in past years. But what is perfectly clear and evident from the video of the death, is the restraint should have stopped long before it was. American police officers are not judge, jury, and executioner. George Floyd was immobilized, rendered harmless, and in custody; he should not have died!
And this is where we start to seek to understand Why He Did. Why was that choke-hold, knee applied to the throat, an authorized tactic? Apparently it was. Why did none of the other three officers —now also charged with abetting in the crime — insist on its cessation? One apparently did ask, twice, if it was time “to roll him over” and Chauvin said “No”, Meaning continue.
Chauvin, himself, was a 19 year member of the Minneapolis police force, and in that time had received 18 complaints against his conduct (a high number in the opinion of some police-watchers) that resulted in two reprimands (no specifics are public), but also received two commendations. He has been involved in at least three acts of serious violence (now four) of which two involved discharging his weapon and the third was an auto chase that resulted in the deaths of two bystanders killed when their car was struck by the fleeing vehicle. In the shootings, one involved several other offices and was ruled “justified use of force” and resulted in the death of the suspect. The other resulted in injury and, in the account I read, it’s victim —the perpetrator in a domestic violence incident — challenged Chaivin’s account of events contending Chauvin unjustly shot him. At least, one other complaint was for language and behavior demeaning to a suspect.
A limited amount of information is available about the Floyd incident itself. Hopefully, this will soon change. Several accounts I have seen say a 911 call came in reporting an attempted use of a counterfeit bill at a convenience store and a man outside that store who was acting erratically. A description of that man was given, and one report said that Floyd “fit that description.” Chauvin and the other three officers responded to the call.
That is all I can find about the origin of the incident. Though it should again be noted, however this incident started, that restraint went on too long. It killed Floyd when he was already securely in police custody. And, from the manner of former officer Chauvin, as caught on that video, his casual application of that degree of force seemed cold and calculated. The official County Autopsy does find both fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system, though that would not seem relevant to the excessive use of force at that point in the restraint. More information to come on this, I assume. There is also a strange fact, very recent, that Floyd and Chauvin may have known each other from a night club at which each worked.
“Meanwhile”, as as Stephan Colbert used to say, back here in Columbus, only a few FACTS are crystal clear. That the Columbus Police, and especially their commanders, committed various inappropriate, ineffective and excessive acts and decisions involving use of force, seems to me indisputable. I thought they would, at this point in time, have done better. Maybe I am naive to believe that.
At a social-distanced backyard get-together, several days ago, I was ‘called out’ for defending the policeespecially by several younger members of the gathering. I mention age because it was Quite A Role Reversal for me. I have almost always been farthest to “the left” in most political discussion. Now, to find myself being told that, “I know, it’s hard to reconsider your long-held beliefs” by someone not even half my age and with not that much experience — goodness, I was alive and participated in some of the initial events in the Open Housing Movement and School Desegregation in the mid-1960’s — well, I had to try to sit calmly and hold my tongue. It reminded me of my father saying to me in about 1968 when I was a teenager, “Ever since you’ve read a couple of paperback books, you think you know everything!” I did not want to say that to them.
But I do want to end this long post, with an additional insight I believe I’ve gained. I was skeptical of some of the opinions of some of members of that gathering. It seemed to me they had been swept up in the frenzy of the moment and made some claims against the police that turned out to not be accurate, as I had suggested at the time.
One claim was that some Columbus cops had deliberately taped over their badge numbers to avoid identification. I said that if so, they, and any supervisor that knew of such practice, should be immediately disciplined. It turned out that the riot gear is old and has no badge on it; the tape stripes were to identify units and ranks.
There was a claim that police provocateurs were hidden in the crowd and secretly led the initiation of property damage. Associated with this was the claim that outsiders were involved, “Anarchists”, which led to a disagreement about what an anarchist even was these days. No facts have come forth to substantiate hidden police agents or anarchists, nor even much of an involvement by anybody other than Ohioans and mostly central Ohioans as demonstrators.
Finally, there was a video I was shown were the video-taker eventually came to believe that she had evidence of police rioting, breaking windows. I said “Please, I really hope not.” I was shown the video, and frankly could not see anything definitive, but her conclusion was clear. It turned out, apparently —because the building’s operators have rejected her interpretation– that several officers did break (more) glass to get inside and put out a mall fire that had just been started.
These are hard times. It is especially hard when Information is not clear and emotions are high. Much has been made of disinformation from “the right’, Fox News and all, but we all must carefully think through situations, talk, and try to discern what most likely happened. I have since written a short text of regret that my differences of opinion created tensions at our gathering and helped lead to a somewhat uncomfortable ending. Thankfully, they were graciously accepted. These are uncomfortable times, too.
SOLIDARITY ON SATURDAY. Participate: Show your Support for Change and Justice, in any appropriate way!