Is trying to understand “THE MEANING OF LIFE” getting a little tedious? In these times of Virus and Trump, that is especially true.
Introducing: the Nature Religion Connection “Readers Digest Version!” The best of the insights and jocularity of previous posts, served up in scrumptious bite-sized portions. I have not busted my ass all these decades reading this (good) crap — and thinking — just to make you, my readers, work so hard. Life is too short to read the same book ten times, my own experience exempted.
(Nika nibbled its edges; it’s splitting up the middle, and coffee has been spilled on it several times. Since my retirement from full time teaching, occasionally I have been subbing in a class when the teacher was insisting on “Close reading and annotation.” I pull this book out of my bag and display it to the class. Dumbfounded, shocked: that has been the general reaction. “Why would anyone read a book that many times?” PS. Darwin’s idea is “Dangerous” because it is so revolutionary, says Dennett.)
So, a new category of posts has been created, entitled:THE MEANING OF LIFE, in ten easy doses! I have been rereading some of the past posts and realized that I can now present various sections of them to make a particular point, and a point that is important. I want to thank my readers for their patience. Longer posts have been vital to me for clarifying my views, developing my ‘voice’ as a writer, and familiarizing myself with this electronic medium. Now is the time to pan for the nuggets and directly display the gold!
Check out this Category of posts: THE MEANING OF LIFE, in ten easy doses! How can you beat it? Only ten doses!Money back guarantee, if not fully satisfied!
(To anyone offended by my flip attitude, I apologize. “Dose 1” should probably be, “Don’t take The Title of this category of posts too seriously! —if that was what you were doing.” Especially in this time of great illness, joking about the meaning of life may not be funny. Sorry. But “Dose 2” might well be “Work hard at things you love, and things that are important; in the end, plenty of fun will be had.” NOTE, those two above doses are Not a good examples of the “doses” you will receive. The real doses will attempt to ‘Go Deep, Baby, Go Deep!’ They will be brief and convincing presentations on How We, and the World, Work or Should Work!At least, as best as I can see it.)
I realize the holidays were rough,but really! Spring is approaching and it is time to get back into the naturereligionconnection.org swing. I am cook’n over here in Central Ohio, and all I get are a few souls wandering the internet from Turkey and South Africa! Well, Welcome to them— and how cool! — and maybe they are more astute than some of my more ‘loyal’ followers (like Mark and Rita and Rick!) Busted!
I have become Big on the legitimacy of the Idea of “Response and Ability”; wow, think of that, “Responsibility” at its core is our awareness that we have an ability to respond. No other animal Reflects on its response ability. So, I am definitely looking for a big readers’ Response because you do have the Ability!
And speaking of responsibility, a rising theme here at The Connection is the knowledge that has been ‘down loaded’ into our human environment. Not “the” environment of physics or chemistry, but our living and human environment, there is a big difference. Language and the Conventions of Human Communication, our various Institutions of Art, Education, Science, Religion and Politics, contain a storehouse of knowledge and implication — rules about “what it is” and “how to be” a Person. Of these “rules” and response abilities, we are only vaguely and randomly aware, currently. Science knows the world theoretically; these other “institutions” (from the Latin, statuere: to cause to stand up) ‘know’ and carry on The Practice of Personhood (practical knowledge).
(The “rules” of personhood cause us to stand up — statuere — or stand out from the background of biology and the hard physical sciences. Famous Greek statues: Discobolus by Myron form 450 BC. and the Artemision Bronze or God from the Sea, recovered from the Aegean and thought to be either Zeus or Poseidon poised to throw his thunderbolt or trident.)
Some of the Hot New Pieces you may have missed are the following. The Nature Religion Manifesto: a short piece and crudely poetic. What Connects the Universe: another short piece that tries to suggest an alternative to a universe with onlyCauses as the explanation for All That Happens. Freedom 5: Reasons in Persons, a longer piece with great photos (the Javanese Flying Cucumber) and 10 cartoon! It fleshes out the idea of the Practices of Personhood. Also, an interesting article on the current American political situation by Thomas Friedman. Ya, gotta love cave-person cartoons.
Helping to clarify “The Rulez” for Persons — The Nature Religion Connection!
(We are smoke’n hot this morning here at The Connection! A short post, And Already Once Revised! I’ve been searching for a simple statement that gets to the point of what this blog site is about; maybe this is it. Most of you will think it far fetched, yet there is a Logic to it and it stretches way back into Philosophic Tradition. Try it on for size, Please!)
In the spring and summer, each morning I take my cup of coffee and walk about our backyard garden. I carefully inspect its progress from the previous day. New shoots have appeared, old flowers fading, a weed to be pulled, new blooms opening and admired. Various birds fly by and others are calling. I stop and consider the weather, very pleasing, but other times not. Too cool, or too wet, we are often in need of a few sunny days. In either case, my plants soldier on and I consider what I should do to improve this beautiful place, our garden, our backyard sanctuary.
It is not a “strictly physical” place, not simply particles and chemical reactions and the qualities that those kinds of things directly exhibit. This garden of my wife’s and mine is a human place ofbeauty with carefully selected plants, well considered placements, precisely cut borders and gently curved walkways. A chosen mixture of both sun and shade, privacy and open sky. A fairly complete composition, though always shifting.
It is a place of life.Plants exhibit the most marvelous design. Crocus poke up their heads in spring, first, with their delicate little flowers. Then come the Daffodil with their trumpeting flower and the Tulip with its gracious cup, marked interior, and array of color. In the shade, the Ostrich Ferns are unraveling their fronds, rolling them toward the light. The Painted Ferns exhibit on each leaf detailed shades of green slowly verging on blacks. In front of our long row of Hosta, my wife plants her border of Impatients, an annual that flowers through the summer and produces best in shade. The Empress Wu hosta is our crowning jewel. Sitting back beneath our cottonless (male) Cottonwood tree, the Empress crowns at over three feet into the air and spreads more than eight feet in diameter. She is a tremendous mound of foliage with each highly ridged bright green leaf running 18 to 20 inches long and a foot wide. All her bio-mass bursting forth each spring from below the ground and fully in place by mid June. By August, she has finished with her rather insignificant flowering (to the gardener) and by fall is ready to be cut back to do it all over the next year.
Each plant is a tidy package. It circles about itself in its own little cycle. The perennials (above) — the crocus, daffodils, tulips, ferns and hosta — all have a prolonged life cycle lasting many years, but go through a distinct annual cycle, also. The annual (above) — the impatient — completes its life cycle in a single season, but ends that cycle with a group of seeds, which are the Reproductionof “its form“— its tidy package — into the future. It is as if part of it — its Information — never dies!
Basically, fundamentally, essentially, a plant and its environment are a cooperative, self-enhancing effort. It is not that they — the plant and its environment — always “get it together” or always “keep it together”; they do not. There are “bad” seasons and difficult “spells”; but “at their core”, The Good MUST Out Weigh The Bad. So much is inherent in the idea of Natural Design. If Designs are real in nature, then any design, if it exists, is Good, is Functional; Better than a vast number of alternatives, but maybe not quite as good as some Possibilities that we can vaguely imagine. This is the core of The Nature Religion Connection: If a lack of coordination and cooperation (Dis-Function, Chaos) were the predominant “tone” of the world, then complex entities like “plants” would not exist, nor would we! “The world” is fundamentally Good, at least from our point of view, and, thereby, it becomes “Our World”.
So, to reproduce is a distinctly living feature, but so are several others. To metabolize is to be so open to ‘your’ environment, the large parts of it that are essential to ‘your’ continuation, but not the others that seem completely irrelevant. Light, water, carbon dioxide and soil with minerals, all are open to the plant as environmental components in a cooperative and informative way: They are essential parts of it; they are components of the plant’s Design. To grow is to be alive. A flowering plant only eventually flowers. An animal only eventually becomes sexually mature, and a human only eventually becomes emotionally and intellectually mature. Time is essential to life:It does not exist in an instant. To be sensitive is the means by which living things distinguish their information from the noise. Life is these unique qualities.
(Crocus in the Snow and in the Sun. Photos by GWW)
A star, a volcano, a galaxy, an atom, our solar system, the various chemical elements do none of these: No reproduction, no metabolism, no growth, no sensitivity. A star may swell and then collapse, as it runs out of (‘eats’) its fuel and ‘dies’. A volcano can grow larger and even blow or become dormant. An atom may bond. Our solar system certainly cycles. But none of these have all the characteristics of life, nor in as regular or systematic a way as do a living kind, and especially a person.
So,no God is needed:My wife and I will do.We foresee rain and frost; we fertilize and occasionally spray. We split and weed, and plant seed. We trim and choose, and rule our tiny spot, but not — as one such other. Mother Nature framed this scene, and with her choices will be queen. But at least, I see my debt and live to fill her coffers.
It’s a special place, Our World, The World of Life and Persons. It is Our Response, and Ability, to keep it such and MORE; and pass it to our future kind for ashes soon we be. For after all, we are a ‘food’ in this Giant Chain of Being — of what shall come hereafter, we made this contribution, too.
(I told myself when I started this blog, I said, “Self, don’t let this be about Politics. You are pretty much a politics junky,” I said, “So, don’t go there. Go deeper!” But desperate times call for desperate measures. RBG can not last forever! The passing of John McCain has left a Republican Party with no moral rudder! Trump has murdered Kurds and attacked a foreign power (Iran)! And our Dem party candidates are being foolish on the national stage. Help! Here is a proposal but forward by two of our most respected Liberal Commentators: Thomas Friedman and E.J. Dione. It’s probably far fetched, but we need some kind of Knight in Shining Armor, or two, to come a’ridin! Or “you can kiss the America you grew up in goodbye.”)
Dems, You Can Defeat Trump in a Landslide
By Thomas Friedman, NY Times, approximately 2/27
If this election turns out to be just between a self-proclaimed socialist and an undiagnosed sociopath, we will be in a terrible, terrible place as a country. How do we prevent that?
My short answer is that the Democrats have to do something extraordinary — forge a national unity ticket the likes of which they have never forged before. And that’s true even if Democrats nominate someone other than Bernie Sanders.
What would this super ticket look like? Well, I suggest Sanders — and Michael Bloomberg, who seems to be his most viable long-term challenger — lay it out this way:
“I want people to know that if I am the Democratic nominee these will be my Cabinet choices — my team of rivals. I want Amy Klobuchar as my vice president. Her decency, experience and moderation will be greatly appreciated across America and particularly in the Midwest. I want Mike Bloomberg (or Bernie Sanders) as my secretary of the Treasury. Our plans for addressing income inequality are actually not that far apart, and if we can blend them together it will be great for the country and reassure markets. I want Joe Biden as my secretary of state. No one in our party knows the world better or has more credibility with our allies than Joe. I will ask Elizabeth Warren to serve as health and human services secretary. No one could bring more energy and intellect to the task of expanding health care for more Americans than Senator Warren.
“I want Kamala Harris for attorney general. She has the toughness and integrity needed to clean up the corrupt mess Donald Trump has created in our Justice Department. I would like Mayor Pete as homeland security secretary; his intelligence and military background would make him a quick study in that job. I would like Tom Steyer to head a new Cabinet position: secretary of national infrastructure. We’re going to rebuild America, not just build a wall on the border with Mexico. And I am asking Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark, to become secretary of housing and urban development. Who would bring more passion to the task of revitalizing our inner cities than Cory?…”
If Bernie or Bloomberg or whoever emerges to head the Democratic ticket brings together such a team of rivals, I am confident it will defeat Trump in a landslide.But if progressives think they can win without the moderates — or the moderates without the progressives — they are crazy. And they’d be taking a huge risk with the future of the country by trying.
Veteran political analyst E.J. Dionne, in his valuable new book, “Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country,” got this exactly right: We have no responsible Republican Party anymore. It is a deformed Trump personality cult. If the country is going to be governed responsibly, that leadership can come only from Democrats and disaffected Republicans courageous enough to stand up to Trump. It is crucial, therefore, argues Dionne, that moderate and progressive Democrats find a way to build a governing coalition together.
Neither can defeat the other. Neither can win without the other. Neither can govern without the other.
If they don’t join together — if the Democrats opt for a circular firing squad — you can kiss the America you grew up in goodbye.
(Nope! Love is not all ya need when connecting the universe, but it is suggestive of a good answer. Short post. It suggests a basic contrast that helps ‘fill in’ our world from the deficit suggested by the ‘Causes cause everything view.” That view that Science is all, pejoratively known as Scientism, is not advocated here. So if it’s not “All we need is Love!”; it’s more like all we need is Causes And Information! And love is a kind of informing, so good enough.
I would like to thank Rom for his frequent comments on NatieRel, without them I would not have come to such a concise and clear –I hope– statement of our metaphysical situation. This is a response to his criticism of some of my positions as can be seen on his blog: rom’s corner, the “Monism” post, but it has been slightly modified upon rereading and publishing here..)
Below is my response to his comment that I do not appreciate that the things of our everyday world — us, horses, houses,— are the whole things that are made of parts which are sub-atomic objects. This is a confusion of levels, I say. To Rom, wholes are caused by their subatomic parts. I say, first and foremost, us and horses and houses have parts like “hearts” and “legs” and “foundations” that are their parts in their Design. Only in an extended sense are their parts atoms or quantum waves. Here is my reply:
“I’m glad to see you (Rom) are allowing for different levels of things. So much is obvious. The issue is how to connect them. How do they interact? Your hunch “causation” is not a big enough idea to do it sufficiently, I believe.
And this is not your problem alone. Science ‘wants’ to understand everything as causes and that is why Compatiblist philosopher’s argue science is a “one-sided” point of view. In the world as only particles of physics and reactions of chemistry, a “viewer” that ‘sees’ different levels does not exist, only particles and reactions exist. A “viewer” of added levels is a mind, and can be compatible with science objects but also importantly different!”
“But for biology, psychology and sociology, this lack of viewer And Agent ——because Having a Point of View IS Agency, Rom (got ya! Don’t I?) —- starts to debilitate their ‘science’. That is why they are the ‘soft’ sciences. In psychology that is where Behaviorism came from, to toughen it up, to diminish the role of subjectivity. Yet, behaviorism has been largely dismissed as an insufficient overall psychological approach, especially by most psychologists. Agency forces itself on these disciplines, at least to a larger degree.”
“Philosophy has traditionally picked up the ball, to get to this other side of things. I have come to realize recently, and in part thanks to our correspondence, that a good way to frame it —the other side to causation—- is Information! Our world, especially, but the universe, also, with its other life Forms, is both connected by causes and by information. Anything with a Point of View and thus Agency is not only being caused but also being Informed! Agents are designed things, and they have made something particular out of the generalized universe of physics and chemistry!”
“So, the complex things of the world are designed and, therefore, are informed. Physicist S. Carroll, in his philosophy of Poetic Nationalism, says the relationship of higher level realities to the baseline physics reality is “usefulness”. The higher levels make use of it for their purposes. Philosopher D.Dennett, argues “Information is design that is worth (the designed object’s –gww) getting.” Info is worth going after, because it functions to support and enhance the designs that exist all around us and in us too! Whole things are Associated with their lower level ‘components’, like atoms; but they Emerge from them, and they and their Designs are not caused by them. From the p. of v. of physics, all these Particular Shapes and Forms and Designs are blurred out, indistinguishable, amid the one big form, the universe! But as we exist, we look out and see directly that which is pertinent to us; it is Our In-Formation in that biggest of allshow.
“So, Rom, the universe is both caused and informed, probably each at the same time. Your “causes only” view, does it have anything to say about Info other than it’s just causes by a different (confused) name? Right now, I think the most fruitful way to understand what we are doings, is notcause each other to believe anew, but inform each other to do so.”
“Thank you, Rom, for the fruitful dialogue!
Yours truly, GregWW”
In the “Library of Babel”, a short story by author Jorge Louis Borges (1941), a vast, astronomically large — though not infinite — collection of All Possible Books is imagined to exist.They are housed in a Library that is also inhabited by a people who have never found a corridor or a room that did not lead to other corridors and rooms all filled with books. They have always lived entirely inside this Library. They believe that it contains all the possible variations of their 22 letter alphabet along with the space, the comma and the period. Therefore, they also believe that it contains all their knowledge and everything that could possibly be known, including a perfect index of The Library of Babel’s contents. But where is it? There is no order to these books and as these people travel the overwhelmingly vast number of books they open contain pure gibberish.
Here a naturereligionconnection.org our organizational problems are less severe.
There is a new format that will keep different Series of Post and categories of topics separate and therefore more accessible. There will still be a general post category titled “The Connection.” All this will be accessible from the Home Page.
In the vein of the above Libraries, Dan Dennett has proposed a “Library of Mendel”. It contains all the possible varied assemblages of DNA composed of its amino acid “letters”: A,C,G and T, and therefore all potential organisms. Biologist R. Dawkins has then commented that there are surely ‘vastly more ways to be dead (not alive) than ways of being alive.’
Thanks for your patience and your readership. GregWW
(I feel obligated to forward this for your consideration. For the sake of our planet and our sanity, I thank the NYTimes and Paul Krugman for allowing this use — Times 12/12/2019. Krugman has always been one of my favorite commentators. He is the Nobel Prize winner for Economics in 2008 for his modelling of international trade. This column reads smoothly and quickly. It is a short, devastating and dire analysis of Climate Change and the American Republican Party. ‘God save us’, for surely we will not save ourselves, GWW)
The Party That Ruined the Planet: Republican climate denial is even scarier than Trumpism.
by Paul Krugman
The most terrifying aspect of the U.S. political drama isn’t the revelation that the president has abused his power for personal gain. If you didn’t see that coming from the day Donald Trump was elected, you weren’t paying attention.
No, the real revelation has been the utter depravity of the Republican Party. Essentially every elected or appointed official in that party has chosen to defend Trump by buying into crazy, debunked conspiracy theories. That is, one of America’s two major parties is beyond redemption; given that, it’s hard to see how democracy can long endure, even if Trump is defeated.
However, the scariest reporting I’ve seen recently has been about science, not politics. A new federal report finds that climate change in the Arctic is accelerating, matching what used to be considered worst-case scenarios. And there are indications that Arctic warming may be turning into a self-reinforcing spiral, as the thawing tundra itself releases vast quantities of greenhouse gases.
Catastrophic sea-level rise, heat waves that make major population centers uninhabitable, and more are now looking more likely than not, and sooner rather than later.
But the terrifying political news and the terrifying climate news are closely related.
Why, after all, has the world failed to take action on climate, and why is it still failing to act even as the danger gets ever more obvious? There are, of course, many culprits; action was never going to be easy.
But one factor stands out above all others: the fanatical opposition of America’s Republicans, who are the world’s only major climate-denialist party. Because of this opposition, the United States hasn’t just failed to provide the kind of leadership that would have been essential to global action, it has become a force against action.
And Republican climate denial is rooted in the same kind of depravity that we’re seeing with regard to Trump.
As I’ve written in the past, climate denial was in many ways the crucible for Trumpism. Long before the cries of “fake news,” Republicans were refusing to accept science that contradicted their prejudices. Long before Republicans began attributing every negative development to the machinations of the “deep state,” they were insisting that global warming was a gigantic hoax perpetrated by a vast global cabal of corrupt scientists.
And long before Trump began weaponizing the power of the presidency for political gain, Republicans were using their political power to harass climate scientists and, where possible, criminalize the practice of science itself.
Perhaps not surprisingly, some of those responsible for these abuses are now ensconced in the Trump administration. Notably, Ken Cuccinelli, who as attorney general of Virginia engaged in a long witch-hunt against the climate scientist Michael Mann, is now at the Department of Homeland Security, where he pushes anti-immigrant policies with, as The Times reports, “little concern for legal restraints.”
But why have Republicans become the party of climate doom? Money is an important part of the answer: In the current cycle Republicans have received 97 percent of political contributions from the coal industry, 88 percent from oil and gas. And this doesn’t even count the wing nut welfare offered by institutions supported by the Koch brothers and other fossil-fuel moguls.
However, I don’t believe that it’s just about the money. My sense is that right-wingers believe, probably correctly, that there’s a sort of halo effect surrounding any form of public action. Once you accept that we need policies to protect the environment, you’re more likely to accept the idea that we should have policies to ensure access to health care, child care, and more. So the government must be prevented from doing anything good, lest it legitimize a broader progressive agenda.
Still, whatever the short-term political incentives, it takes a special kind of depravity to respond to those incentives by denying facts, embracing insane conspiracy theories and putting the very future of civilization at risk.
Unfortunately, that kind of depravity isn’t just present in the modern Republican Party, it has effectively taken over the whole institution. There used to be at least some Republicans with principles; as recently as 2008 Senator John McCain co-sponsored serious climate-change legislation. But those people have either experienced total moral collapse (hello, Senator Graham) or left the party.
The truth is that even now I don’t fully understand how things got this bad. But the reality is clear: Modern Republicans are irredeemable, devoid of principle or shame. And there is, as I said, no reason to believe that this will change even if Trump is defeated next year.
The only way that either American democracy or a livable planet can survive is if the Republican Party as it now exists is effectively dismantled and replaced with something better — maybe with a party that has the same name, but completely different values. This may sound like an impossible dream. But it’s the only hope we have.