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.)
“Huston…The Eagle has landed” said Neil Armstrong. The Eagle, another creature designed to succeed not in “any”, nor even “the”, but “its” environment: The Moon. The Eagle’s designers knew just what Information it would have to be ‘sensitive to’ to Function Well!
Reasons in Nature
“There are Reasons in Nature!” says philosopher Dan Dennett. A hawk exists because it is moresuccessful at survival and reproduction through its ability to fly. That is its “justification”, and the origins of the Practice of Justification, itself. In general, Dennett calls theses kinds of reasons “free-floating rationales” because they are reasons without a reasoner; reasons not Represented in a Mind but are discernible in the design of the creations of Mother Nature.
In this sense, Natural Selection is “a reason finder” and has filled this planet with a splendid array of living things operating for, or by, one reason or another. And interestingly, since these are Reasons, there are more and less effective and efficient ways —rational ways — of accomplishing them. Natural Selection is not only “a reason finder” but also “developer”. This is the implication of Darwin’s “Dangerous” (read Profoundly Revolutionary) Idea, argues Dennett.
(Natural Selection has discovered Powered Flight four times; first in insects, then dinosaurs, birds and finally bats. It is a “reason-finder” and “developer”. The Reason these creatures survived was, in part. their ability to fly. That is there Justification.)
(Nature is full of Reasons. Gliding is A Reason these animals exist. Only Persons have Reasons AND are sometimes aware of them. But these creatures “do not do badly” in there own way: Bluntnosed Flying fish, Flying Squirrel, Paradise snake, Borneo Flying Frog, Gliding Ant, Flying Dragon Lizard are just a few of Nature’s gliding creatures. I do not know the approximate number of species that Glide, but each of the classes above have several different species that do. And this is not to mention animals that “parachute”.)
(A “ballooning” spider! Note the thin thread coming from its abdomen. Another way Mother Nature has designed a creature to “fly”. Natural Selection, through its mechanical process of trial and error, has sought and discovered this Opportunity too, and perfected it. It justifies this creatures survival.)
Objects that have a purpose exhibit design. They are —by definition — interrelated and interacting with “their” environment, Not just caused. Some biologists become nervous here, and insist that Design in Natureis only “apparent design”; it is “seemingly designed”. It is, as if, they say, “Things are not really put together that well.” They fear that a design needs a designer, or that “adaptionist” thinking and talk of “purposes” is Teleological — as if nature is striving for some goal. They think this kind of talk places the creature and its environment in too tidy a package. It give the Creation too much “say” in relation to Its Creator, ‘the environment’. It is insufficiently causal, contingent, and, therefore, ‘unscientific’.
But, there are many things that are really well connected: their parts are defined by the point of their design, and design ‘flows out’ into the environment! (“Huston, the Eagle has landed!”) We can say ‘designed objects are Caused by their environment’, but in our broadest attempt to understand our world and our situation in it, we must recognize that that is only a half truth and the seed for significant confusion. It is better to say, “The two Inform each other!”
Now I know some of you are finding this idea strange — reasons in nature –— but part of its point is to establish Reasons in Persons and then having a basis for it Naturally! What scientist does not respect good reasons? So let’s give them a natural foundation!
That is what we do when we think in the widest context; we want a lot of things to fit together. The reasons for our behavior and the reasons ‘in’ our consciousness MUST come from nature but also be true to themselves at there own Level of Complexity. To think that thinking is really a chemical or neural or physic’s process, that “thinking” is primarily caused by these, is what the famous American philosopher John Dewey called, “the modern one-sidedness.”
So, this world of ours, and this planet Earth is Not Devoid Of Rhyme or Reason. As lonely and foolish as it all may seem, sometimes; some of that is our fault. It is a failure of Our Vision and Thought and Heart. Reasons abound around us. As smart as we are, in some ways; oh, how far we need to travel!
Getting really wide and two-sided, here, at The Nature Religion Connection! Enjoy!
(Well, that is the first dose! I better ‘pick up some steam’ fore I only have nine more to go. But, you must admit, it was short! Looking to gain some momentum and to nailing down “The Meaning Of Life, in ten easy doses!”)
(Reasons in Nature are then taken a step or two further by Persons: Natural Selection designed the Flying Javanese Cucumber and Northrop Grumman designed the B-2 Spirit bomber. Both are “flying wings” that use their entire body to provide lift. The seeds of the Java Cucumber are grown in gourds — seed pods — the size of a football. When released they can glide hundreds of meters in the rain forest. Photos and info from BU Bio-Aerial engineering course.)
Reasons in Humans
Humans have taken the Reasons in Nature and gone a step or two or three farther. Of course, we started in much the same place as the plants and fishes, and still do, as children.
Much of what children do well, is still “competence without comprehension”, says Dan Dennett. A child may use many words in simple situations — saying “doggie”, then point and go to pet — but still not ‘get’ the bigger and more subtle distinctions and elaborations necessary for broad and accurate use of that term. They may “take” a cat for a “doggie”, and that is to “mistake”. It’s our more sophisticated order of language pointing out and being misapplied, but heart-warmingly so. Birds and fish are competent without understanding, and– from our point of view– we can also contend they occasionally “mistake”.
Dennett calls these competencies “know-how”. They are “a way”, a way of doing or behaving based on a Design Approach. They are “an informational structure”— some “relatively simple” such as a single word, others very complex such as a language — and in this sense they are similar to “a software app”, and what biologist Richard Dawkins has called “a meme”. They are organized around a Reason in Nature, and they “cut nature at the joint”*, or at least cut into the more stripped-down and objective side of nature, in the way we do, to ‘see’ ourselves emerging from it. It’s the way we ‘see’ and understand “lion”, for example, as existing as part of a world composed only of subatomic particles and laws of physics. It’s like a complicated game of connecting the dots.
*”cut nature at the joint” is an old philosophy phrase, origin I do not know
(Leo the lion, or better Leona the lion, Emerging from the background. It’s the particular way we humans—with the help of Mother Nature and Natural Selection — have come to cut up the more objective background of the world into more Person-like objects. Of course, creatures from some other world will have somewhat their own way of doing it. This astrological map is only an early attempt at connecting the dots of life by humans, an effort that continues today with more reasonable attempts.)
“Being of One Mind”
Memes start simple,as something Persons can copy and transmitrelatively easily from one person to another, and then grow in complexity. What this eventually comes to is that when a group of persons share the same memes, we can say these memes inhabit their brains and these people are now of one Mind. These people now operate on many of the same presuppositions and in many of the same ways. They function together and exhibit a design. This is an explanation of Mind and Consciousnessnot as some new and mysterious kind of thing, but as a sociological and social psychological structure, an emergent property of groups of humans: “A Design for Enhanced Human Togetherness!”
Know-How is Different from Knowing-That
This “Know-How” is very different from scientific knowledge, which we can call “knowing that” in this case. We knowhow to speak our language, but that is not scientific knowledge of language, not knowledge “that” (as if pointing) certain parts of the brain are active or that certain neural patterns exist or certain neural signals are sent. That is more Theoretical Reasoning; this is more Practical Reasoning or the knowledge of how to be a person and function with other persons. Picasso certainly knew how to paint but was not in the least interested (I assume) in knowing that painting is associated with various neural processes and even must have some obscure relation to the laws of physics.
“Know-How” and Practical Reasoning are the knowledge of how to be a Person and function in coordination with other persons in their various traditions of acting (memes).
(“The Providential Environments“: settings in which we pass on the traditions — or Know-How — of Personhood. Korean folk dance, elementary school, family fishing, music concert, Philippine folk dance, mother and daughter cooking. All require Knowing-How, personal interaction and instruction, not Scientific Knowledge of Causes! )
Humans have honed providential environments (my phrase) to aide in the transmission, creation, acquisition and development of memes or know-how. These environments are “providential” because being in sync with them is constructive of us as complex things—what we call “persons”.
A school or a university –a place for education and creativity– is one of these “enhanced” environments. A family should be an environment that initiates the transmission of these memes of personhood: language, appropriate role playing, responsibility, common goals and coordinated behaviors. The arts, the crafts, sport — cooking — are all “know-how” and not primarily “knowing that”. “Knowing how” involves understanding and acting by the rules and traditions of a procedure. “Knowing that” is more objective; it can attempt to separate the doer from the object that is being worked on, and in that way can become what we call scientific knowledge. So, “Science” is itself a human “know-how” that seeks “knowledge that.” In that way, scientists can get philosophically confused about what comes first!
The Traditions of Know-How (memes) are the Reason in Nature that distinguish us from other animals, plants, and the planets. They are our unique Design of living together to create the Level of Complexity we call Being Persons! When we Act According To Our Design, we act with a limited amount of Freedom, Responsibility and Reason. We “act under the idea of freedom” is how the great German philosopher, Kant, put it.
(Dose 2 is some Mind Food to Chew On! That distinction between “Knowing How” and “Knowing That” is a killer. Science oriented people often don’t get it: Our lives as Persons and Cultural Creatures, Intellectually Precedes the theoretical finding of our sciences! Deep, Baby, Deep! Thank you, Dan Dennett. Stay tune for Dose 3. )
(Dose 3 out of ten, in THE MEANING OF LIFE series! “Don’t break The Rules” we are often told. Well, I ‘fudge’ on my taxes, a little bit, sometimes; I’m not always completely truthful with my wife, that is true; but here are some rules so deeply embedded in Our Personhood that it would shatter the foundations of civilization to push their limits. This is An Excerpt from a previous piece Freedom 5: Reasons in Persons, in the Freedom and the Environment series …
…And we are not just talk’n grammar here! At stake is the meaning of “meaning” ! This is the way we, Persons, distinguish ourselves from our animal background, from our larger biological background and then finally from our inorganic background. It is the way “selves” distinguish themselves from non-selves. Memes are “informational structures” or “Designs” that we “act in accordance with” to emerge as more complex realities!)
“Language is possibly the primary form of meme, writes Dan Dennett. “Doggie”, “cat’, “Ma Ma” and quite a few other words, when a child points and says these, the child eventually begins to ‘notice’ that‘all things have a name’, and language acquisition really picks up. They are now ‘getting the point of language’, as a Directed Order—an order with a purpose.
Now, is that a fact, or is that a rule, that “all things have a name”? That is kind of a silly question, like the chicken or the egg. Silly because it’s both. It is ahigher level fact and a rule that only leads to more facts, more questions and more designations. It is one of the rules and facts of language-doing, that know-how.We have now “gone meta“. It is akin to asking, “What is the way to fly?”
Rules of Communication
A huge step is this next one. Somewhat like in a child, in the history of communication early “kinda-persons” not only noticed the devices, but “noticed that they noticed them”, argues Dennett. Now, some of their attention went not only to the immediacy of the communication (noticing ‘words’) but to the devices being used to do it (noticing that they noticed these new ‘things’), that know-how. ‘Soon’, came not only words, but a word for “word”, a word for “gesture”, for “song”…and with that … what?
It was hugely important to have objectified this process, this know-how of communication and being together. It was when these “unwitting communicators” (Dennett) probably ‘discovered’ or noticed and named that I was an “I”, you a “you”, and we a “we”. Of course, these concepts of “I”, “you” and “we” were already “implicit” in the initial communication situation, but without our explicit recognition of them.
Just like ‘the logic’ of flight was implicit in nature and eventually discovered by natural selection, so modern day philosophers have tackled this other problem, like aeronautical engineers: the structure or design of “communication” or “the communicative situation”. Like any good design, it certainly has one.
(True and Honest Communication is the Basis of All Communication. Deception, lies, misinformation are all parasitic upon Honest Communication. If everyone lied and lied all the time, communication would fizzle out. An Astounding Contention! But true! Ritualized in the human practice of Oath-Giving.)
A large quantity of literature has grown up around the contentions of H.P. Grice and his Theory of Meaning, starting in the late 1950s to late 80s, explains Dennett. The core of his ‘discovery’ is that Communication necessarily involves a Three-Way Sharing of Attention, Goal, andAct, a sharing of presupposition and intention. One, the speaker must intend to invoke a certain response in her audience. Two, the audience must recognize that intention in the speaker. Three, the audience’s appropriate response to the speaker is at least partly prompted by their recognition of the speaker’s intention and their willingness to go along with it. It’s like telling a joke;the teller and the audience must all get that it is a joke and want “to go along with it”.
(Going Meta: Jokes about jokes! You are probably already ready “to go along”.)
This Three-Way Sharing closes the circle on itself! And, as Dennett points out, it is a “virtuous circle” as opposed to an uninformative one. Like every good design, it defines its parts and their functions in relation to each other and their goal. In this way, they establish a bit of isolation from ‘outside’ influence and establish the Freedom to define themselves and an environment in their terms — “I”,”you”, “we”, “speaker”, “audience”— to an important degree. It is what every plant and animal and forest Does, implicitly As An Agent; it Functions within its defined limits. It is not only an Order, but a Directed Order within the emergent domain of Life!
We raise our children to be”our kind of individual”. And somewhere in early history, somewhere as far back as the dawn of group hunting, or the domestication of fire, this process of human coordination became a necessity to these new humans; it was an adaptation that worked. And natural selection began to select for it, and even select for adaptations that facilitated it, like lengthening infancy and the white’s of our eyes that aide gaze-monitoring as opposed to the dark eyes of other primates. Communication was now a necessary “good trick” for successful human groups.”
End of excerpt.
So,IT’S THE MEANING OF MEANING! Persons are Designed to be closely aware of each other and to work together Fundamentally! NO “PERSON” ORIGINATES SINGULARLY; PERSONS EXIST ONLY IN COOPERATING GROUPS: “WE PERSONS”!
(“Dose 4” in The Meaning of Life, in ten easy doses series. If you have already read this, read again: improved, clearer, revised!)
This is a “DEEP ONE!” Well, at least tries to be. See what ya think. I will keep it short and sweet, so not to “cause” undue stress in my readers.
I believe that “cause” is the right word to use in this situation, Be-Cause anxiety is notwhat I intend to communicate in this post, nor would it be what my readers intend to participate in — in this communication situation. Stephen King intends to — Means To—communicate Anxiety and his readers are eager to understand that meaningand go along — get anxious. Of course, I am no Stephen King. (See Dose 3 for more on Communication)
The real post starts below.
Reasons can be Causes or Meanings
The “Reason” for an occurrence is not always a cause. The reasons for the behavior of Designed things are in the design. Those reasons are called Information, or are information To the designed thing. From its Point of View information exists; from more Objective Points of View, ‘Information’ becomes Causes. In “Dose 2” this distinction was in terms of “Know How” and “Knowing That”.
To ‘see’ information is to experience the world “from the ‘inside’.” To understand “causes” as the cause of an experience is to consider that experience “from the ‘outside’.” (For more on this “inside/outside” distinction, see “dose 5”, upcoming.)
(To this Hawk, Wind is not a Cause, it is Information! But if this bird were stuck in a hurricane, that wind would be beyond its Design Parameters and therefore a cause.)
Information is Meaningful
It is important to recognize the difference between Information and Causes because —– well, for example, right now we are Acting within our Design by Communicating. To communicating creatures, Meaning exists and it is Information.
I am not trying to cause you to change or amend your belief; I am trying To Inform You, Convince You, to change them. That means, in this case, I am trying to get you to Re-Interpret your Design (your ‘program’ or ‘worldview’) and thus behave differently. When the Blue Jays in my backyard start squawking and other birds scatter, we can say the calls caused them, or the calls had meaning to those birds—“Danger, neighborhood Kestrel Falcon is coming.” Now to the birds, it probably doesn’t matter what We call it, but to us it does.
“Meaning” is a more subjective thing, and that isgood because, philosophically, I want some “subjective” things, like Points Of View, to exist in nature and reality. I want both “Know How” and “Knowledge That”. Compatiblist’s Theories argue for both meanings and causes. Logically, it seems to us— compatibilists—that if there is only Causes Then ‘things’ like points of view and other subjectivities do not, logically should not, exist. (Well only one P. of V. and that will be mentioned shortly.)
For example: If all I cared about was Causing you to change your belief, more options would be open to me. I could lie to you; I could slander you; I could threaten you; I could capture you and torture you, but all that I will not do because it would be Wrong, Morally wrong. At the Level of Design of Persons that is not permitted (probably because in the end, such behavior is destructive of the organization of behavior at that level — it leads to “a war of all against all”, a lower level of designed togetherness).
(Artistic movements and their Great Painters help us to ‘see’ the world differently. They help us be Persons. The ideas of Design, Meaning, Information and Interpretation explain this power of art; Not the idea of Cause. To the “science above all else” philosophy, art is fluff, mere opinion and emotion, not any kind of truth, or basic reality. Above is Monet — “Young Girl in Garden…”, Picasso — “Woman with Blue Hat”, Dali— “Sleep”)
In reality, every Designed Object ‘looks out on’ the world in sort of its own way. It has a point of view. A bridge, a bird, a computer running a program, a person: All ‘consider’ what is most “meaningful” to them, most important to their functioning, and ‘ignore’ much of the rest. Each has its own vital parameters and ‘sees’ “Its World” in relation to them. “Its world” is that which is within its Design. It is its “take” on the world, and the source for the “mistakes” that can sometimes occur for a designed object. These objects have Information that is Meaningful to them.
So, in the end, I should say that A Reason (for something happening) has two important forms. It can be a Cause and it can be a Meaning. If all the world were causes, then I think the most real thing is physics. Here all the universe is so tightly tied together as particles or a quantum wave (as Sean Carroll called it: “a very sparse universe”) that the only way to “see/”understand” it, as such, is from outside the universe, from the aloof —God-like— position of the scientist. That is the only P. of V. it allows. No “out looks” exist within that universe, no “takes or mistakes”, no meaning or functioning, and the only Information that exists is the patterned necessity of the one object, the universe itself, as it exists from afar to ‘the scientist’ as some kind of disembodied ‘understanding’!
Compatiblist philosophies want to try to get Points of View into the universe. They believe that, in our more subjective world —‘the world seen from The Inside’ — many things do Function; Things initiate much and that according to their Design. And that includes you and I, dear reader, we can have a chance to share ideas and disagree, even if that is all that it ever comes to. We are dealing in meanings, here; those kind of Reasons.
This Universe is Meaningful! There is more to life than Movement!
The Ult Physical Reality is a ‘Dull’, All-Encompassing, Backdrop.
William Wordsworth: "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host of golden daffodils;... ...For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
(The other night I awoke with thoughts running through my head. A prominent one was, “Who am I to try to tell others the meaning of life? How presumptuous!” And as I thought about that, the poem below started to take shape.
“Presumptuous” derives from the word “presumption”, it occurred to me. There are two distinct senses; one, “arrogant”, “disrespectful”, “transgressing the limits”; two, “an idea that is taken to be true, and used as the basis for other ideas, although it is not known for certain.” Like ‘the presumption of innocence’. It is this second sense that I am shooting for, narrowly avoiding the first, I hope.
PRESUMPTION Silly of me
to be so presumptuous,
to think I could tell you,
On a topic as this,
at a time so dire,
I do dare aspire:
I hope to help,
but for nothing else,
it seems least we should do,
me and you.
The thing we call life,
it presumes so much,
you talk and me too,
and rightly we do.
What else would make sense,
what better to do?
What lies below?
Let us strive to know.
(Just warming up, here at The Natie Rel Connection. “Dose 5″ in “The Meaning of Life, in ten easy doses” series, to be Published Soon. Its the half-way house in our journey, so I figured I should make it a good one, or try really hard.)
We are caused to do many things in life. We are getting sick and the cause is a virus. ‘Vira’ are a rather peripheral kind of phenom; at the border of life and non-life, at the border of our awareness, but certainly within the range of our sensitivity, if only just recently recognized. Their Design is parasitic. They cannot reproduce on their own; that is quite a limit! They need us. And we do tend to ‘see’ them as the least little Persons, ‘a Bug’.
But we are not caused to breath. Breathing is an Information, in the first case. I know this is an unusual contention, but a necessary bromide. This is to ‘look at’ breathing from ‘the inside’. It is human “Know-How”. In our Design, we are Formed to ‘reach out’ into the more Objective Environment and make some of it our own; it becomes Meaningful to Us. Not all of it, just some of it. It means little to us, the position of Jupiter in its orbit, or the exact height of Mt. Everest. But breathing in and out, and air, is at the core of our experience. Much else, fades toward total insignificance, for us, from the point of view of our Design.
And that first representation was a very simple thing; probably as simple as some single- celled creature moving away from a substance toxic to it. That substance was now Represented To That Creature as an Action/Behavior of retreating from it. With a little good-old Evolutionary Time and the growing internal complexity of that organism, that representation of “retreat” became also A Feeling of Pain, for that creature! “Ouch!” came into Existence. Never before did it exist; but the same could be said for “Red” and “Yum!” and “Aaahhh, that’s nice!”. This creature was now ‘seeing’ the world from the ‘inside’; a subjective, “to me” dimension was added To Things. We say, now, that New ‘Thing’ was, and is, “an experience” of the world.
But, of course, “Experience” is a very different kind of ‘Thing’. It is not like “a rock” or “a bolder” is a thing, and if that bolder rolls down a hill and smashes into you it Causes much damage. We can say, in that case, the bolder overwhelmed your design. As much as you are Designed to Preserve Yourself, you got had, that time. Yes, “an experience” is a whole different Logical Category of ‘thing’. Imagine the experience of getting smashed by that bolder: “ouch” would be our representation of it. “Ouch”, in deed. We call such events “accidents” and want to know their cause, but we do not consider it an accident when an Amoeba pulls away form a toxic substance. That is by Design and it is Good Utilization of Information!
Our ordinary language is very subtle in these contexts. It would help to clear it up, theses ways we have of Representing our lives and our world. Our lives would be clearer and easier to navigate. There is a very meaningful difference between being Informed to do something and being Caused to do something. In the former, we have a degree of Freedom and maybe even a basis for Dignity; in the latter, “s#!t happened”.
Of course these days, we have some Very Sophisticated ways of representing ‘the’ world and our lives; ways far beyond “ouch”. An incredible amount of Design Improvement had to occur Between us and Our World to get here, and it was Not caused, because (or rather, “Not Be-Caused”) these are representations. They are Informations between us and the world. We have Quantum Mechanics and Christianity and Ecology and Medicine and The Art of Marty and The Music of The Beatles, to name just a few. All are initiations: New Things in this world.All are based in Our Design,and the Designs Mother Nature displays in “OUR” World all around us.
In science, Evolutionary Theory (a really good representation!) has succeeded in conceptualizing this origination and development of Design in the world. It displays Nature as an Information, an unfolding of designs based on each other, with their Justifications, Reasons, and increasing Abilities. Good Evolutionary thinking shakes off the simplistic philosophical interpretations of Science that is common today. This is the basis of Dan Dennett’s book, “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”, ‘dangerous’ because it is so revolutionary to our way of thinking. Biology becomes the portal to our best understanding of The Universe.
So, yes, this is the way “the” world becomes “our” world, but Do Not Get Too Hung Up on all this sophisticated stuff; remember, Representation starts, and always stays based, in the very simple stuff, like “ah” and “ouch” and “yum”. Representation is based in these intimacies. Staying ‘in touch’ with these and giving them their added “Under-Standing” (as provided here at “Nature Religion***) will allow you to “See ‘the’ World from the ‘Inside’!
SEEKING OUR INFORMATION in the Universe: The Nature Religion Connection! It’s a Well-Rounded Way To BE!
***Don’t let me kid you, I am just a ‘lost lamb’ in the process of being saved ‘by the Shepard’ here on Easter Weekend. The ‘shepards’ in this case are a long line of philosophers culminating in Dan Dennett, and added to the list for me today is Nicholas Humphrey, an English psychologist and philosopher who provided insight into the primal role of “ouch” and “yum” in the process of Representation, from his book “An Evolutionary History of Mind.” Yes, ‘seeing the world from the inside’ is a code phrase for Mind. “Mind” exists, for real! But it is not a thing like a bolder is a thing; It is a way ‘things’ can be Experienced Together, From Our Point of View.
Closing lines of The Origin of Species: “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having originally breathed into a few forms or one, … from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
“Most people ‘see’ the world from both the Inside and the Outside, but we do not have a very good sense of how these two Ways of Looking fit together. We have a large amount of Know-How and lesser amount of Knowledge That these are causes for what we and other things “Do”.
There is a modern form of the dilemma. People-persons focus on people; Science types focus on science; Artists focus on their art, and many of us just bounce around between all these with no one focus. Artists and People-persons focus on the inside of things: about feelings and what things ‘mean’ or ‘imply’ to each other and to them. Science is about external connections: about bumping or pushing, or attracting or repulsing and these things in the most electrical and magnetic of senses. If Meaning exists at all, from the scientific point of view, it is not a unique addition to the world; it is just a confused way of talk about causes.
NATURALISTS, as opposed to BIOLOGISTSNaturalists tend to understand Nature from the inside. To them, Nature is like a poem or a religion; they feel themselves an intimate part of it.
(John Muir, the Father of America’s Natural Parks; Henry David Thoreau and his cabin On Walden Pond; Aldo Leopold argued for a “land organism”.)
Thoreau contended, “The naturalist must allow himself to be engulfed to his very ears in the odors and textures of sensible reality…He must become, like the muskrat…” Leopold wrote, when studying a mountain “think like a mountain.” Muir said, “The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.”
But SCIENTISTS are often crippled by a mis-taken philosophy of science and the world itself. They think it is all about causes.
“If all the world were Causes only, every single object would be further and further dissolved into the scientific objects around it and, finally, The Ultimate Scientific Background. Psychology, such as Behaviorism, tries to understand all our mental and emotional states as necessary outcomes of the patterns of our training and past experience. Neurology seeks to reduce ‘ideas’ and ‘feelings’ and ‘choices’ into complex associations of neural activity and chemical reactions. Biology seeks (to some points of view) to explain the existence of living things and their “unique” behavior by transducing it into behavior that is not so unique; into the chemical and mechanical responses of genes, selective environments, and chance. Chemistry is a further way-station in this program of reduction: All is a chemical formula, a collection of only the basic elements in relation to each other and determined by constant and everlasting lawful parameters. And finally, we come to Physics. It accomplishes the final, the grand, Reduction of all.“What physics teaches us is Real, but it is not all that is Real or even THE Ultimate Reality. It shows us A Background in which all things disappear into One Single Thing. The character of this single unity is “very sparse”, as physicist Sean Carroll tells us. Not even Time is fundamental to it; nor Causes. The only cause within the world of physics is The One Big Cause itself: The state of the entire universe at its Origin. To Carroll, this Ultimate Physical Background “simply is.” There is no explanation of it, or reason for it, because there is no other context — no other thing — to compare it to.
“But this is where Carroll, and many others, are “mis-taken”. Physics is a true way to “take” the world, but not a Complete Way to “take it.” It ‘paints us a picture’ of a Universe that has no place for a painter. ‘A view’ of things, that contains no viewer. ‘Knowledge’ of the universe but without a thing in it that is capable of knowing!
This is what the great American philosopher, John Dewey, called “the modern one-sidedness.” Persons are the painters, viewers, and “knowers” who synthesize the bits and pieces of the world, as known by science, into Meaningful Wholes: paintings, views, theories. The best philosophy needs room for meanings and causes, an inside and an outside to life, and both persons and the equations they make.
(So, science has its limits, and persons can round those limits out. Not Mysticism, Nor Superstition, There are clues to The Meaning of Life and Our World in The Ways of Personhood.It is our INFORMATION, our DESIGN. Excerpt from originally published piece in the fall of 2018 in “The Freedom and Mother Nature Series”: “Persons in the Human Social Organism.” The main idea: Persons are necessarily social and that sociability creeps down to our very core! Enjoy: Dose 7, in “The Meaning of Life, in ten easy doses” series HAS BEEN REVISED AND SHORTENED. Stay well-rounded.)
“We, persons, have a unique position. We are one of Nature’s evolved creatures but more than as human beings, animals. We are responsible, socialized humans. The other persons around us hold us to standards, as we do they. We communicate. These standards of behavior are set and sometimes revised on a daily basis, but they also contain themes that have evolved through our history. This is our Design.
“Responsible, socialized humans have common experiences and seek to tell, and hear, what is different in the experience of others. They seek to gain additional perspective. Each person has a story to tell and our individual stories explain our individual “person-alities.” The overwhelming bulk of our story—the story of modern human persons, in general *— is held, more or less, in common and is generally not spoken about but simply assumed. In that sense,“we are all on the same page” and mostly just share our varied individual perspectives on what is common.
“When humans work and live with this kind of intimacy and cooperation, we become different and eventually call ourselves “Persons”;it is an acknowledgement that we have become functioning components ina new social order. In some ways, we are like ants in a colony or bees in a hive. And our advanced form of sociability does create a newthing; literally, like the solar system is a thing composed of its planets. Persons are a part of a new, enlarged organism: The Human Social Organism.
The Human Social Organism Evolved in Nature, and social organisms are not
unknown here, though ours is the latest to evolve. Many of the greatest milestones in evolutionary history are of this character: Formerly independently living creatures come togetherand (as if by agreement, like The Constitution of the United States) live together in such close cooperation, for their mutual benefit, that they are now necessarily social, and no longer individually independent.
“Nucleated cells (“good yoked” cells) formed when a single-celled creature consumed another but, in this case, did not disassemble it and use it up. The one now lived inside the other (it gained a new environment) and each provided the parts forthe new, more complex creature.
“Another closely related case of necessary sociability is the development of the multicellular organism from a single cell, the fertilized embryo. From this undifferentiated medium, the role of DNA is to differentiate the parts of a whole in a ‘top-down’, instructive, and ‘organic’ manner. In this role, DNA
foretells the use of Language in the Human Social Organism where individual, immature ‘units’ —children, grow to become functioning parts of the social complex. In the multi-cellular organism each cell is surrounded by other cells, but they are not formerly independently living; their origin, interaction and physical structures are now coordinated by a universal code, the genetic code.
“All these great evolutionary advances—nucleated cells, chloroplasts and mitochondria, multi-cellular organisms, sexual reproduction — were probably necessary for the development of our form of Necessary, Designed-In Sociability. The role of herds,
packs, schools, flocks, colonies and hives will make for additional discussion. But, some readers may be objecting: ‘Is modern, large-scale society really a necessity for persons?’
“No, but some minimal form of group is, and it would need to be larger than the family. Whether pack — as in small-scale hunter and gatherers — or larger scale ‘tribes’, A PERSON CANNOT COME INTO EXISTENCE ALONE!
“A person, once achieving the state of personhood, can choose to live alone, or can be forced into isolation. But, no individual human can become socialized —learn a language or invent one, understand gesture and facial expression, or even point at an object— without the help of other persons or incipient persons.”
The Human Social Organism has now been established. It is a back and forth of communication, socialization and cultural history. This is The Larger SomeThing we so often intuit and always implicitly rely upon. It is not primarily about neurons firing in the brain or the physics of the universe, though it does depend on these. This Organism of Personshascreated its own level of complexity with its own language of interaction and “take’ on the broader universe. It is our Design and we Stand Under it!
(The amazing hypothesis that a “Larger SomeThing” — The Human Social Organism — creates human persons, see Dose 7, will be revealed to be composed by a process called “Reflection”. Persons find themselves ‘reflected’ in the other persons and the living creatures of the world around them. These results are basic to the Evolutionary Process. The mechanism of reflection — this feedback loop — will start to be analyzed through a discussion of the codes involved: genetic and linguistic. “Dose 8”, in “The Meaning of Life, in ten easy doses” series. REVISED VERSION OF THE EARLIER “Dose 8”.)
To be Thoughtful
“The final advantage for us, as the highly connected humans that compose The Human Social Organism, is the most difficult to explain and the most important. It concerns the ability of persons to “reflect”.
“What could we possibly mean by “reflect”? Eventually, we will see that “to reflect” can mean “to be thoughtful.” But here, initially, all that has been discussed in previous posts, is Persons share the stories of who they are, and receive feedback from those around them. This feedback is ‘their reflection’, which they ‘see’ in others. This kind of reflection can contribute to a change of story. A ‘person’ is just that kind of ‘thing’ that participates in this interchange of persons.
“So, personhood is a very unique form of interaction, a kind of ‘hall of mirrors’ and the by-product is not only the formation of self-identities for those involved, but also a collective story, a “manifest image”* of the kind of ‘thing’ a person is. It should be noted that this reflection is ongoing. All these individual stories, and the collective story, are constantly under revision. This is simply to say, we are ‘reflecting ‘ or ‘thinking’ all the time; working on who we are and what is this world we are involved in.
*The American philosopher of science, Wilfred Sellars, originated this phrase and its use has been taken up by Dan Dennett.
I’m not sure why this was hard to say, except that “Thinking”, in this description, has been turned into a social process and not the individual, in-your-own-head activity we usually believe it to be. Thinking is a kind of social ‘reflectiveness’, if you will; it takes place within the Human Social Organism. It’s the way this organism hangs together and coordinates; and then gets into the individual’s head, your head, my head, as “me”, talking to myself!
“In this way, we are like a flock of Starlings, except it’s persons that are the units in this social process. Surprisingly, human animals become human persons by participating in this extremely social way of living! So, that is why it was difficult to express; I tried to seriously shift our understanding of a very basic activity — thinking — and a very basic ‘thing’— a person. Each of these ‘things’ became much more social, and far less individual, than is often thought.”
So, Reflective Thought starts out as an interpersonal exchange,and then this dialogue gets into each individual’s head. This is why Thinkingis like Talking To Yourself; because it is! Individual humans have instantiated this social process into the interaction of different patterns of their brain. Thinking IS Talking to Yourself! (This is Dan Dennett’s contention, see his From Bacteria to Bach and Back, for example.
(“Talking to Yourself” gets very little ‘cred’, But is Should! This dialogue is the basic form of Thought.)
Even physical things, ‘things’ we “take” as in the world independently of us, are a product of our reflective processes. “Things” do not directly ‘push’ Them-Selves on us. It is, as if, we are in dialogue even with them and that is why and how their “character” and “ours” have changed through history. Seemingly paradoxical to some, even Mt. Everest is not a basic reality in the world of physics; it is an emergent phenomena for us, to our point of view! Even an atom is a little, truncated ‘self’; a point of initiation and an emergent ability that is “useful” to us, and exists for us. (More on this in later Doses, but also see posts on physicist Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture.)
“What we are doing is unpacking our commonly used word, “reflection”. It contains two very diverse elements: an act of ‘thinking’ and the process of ‘a rebounded image’. It’s an awkward association that cries for explanation! This is similar to the work of analytic philosophers, Richard Rorty and Daniel Dennett. The significance of this compound meaning has not been lost in the history of philosophy. From Socrates to John Locke, the “dialogue between persons” and “the reflection of an object” have vied for the meaning of “truth“.
“We should reject the idea that the mind is something inside of us…Consciousness is not something that happens to us. It is something we do”, contends U.C. Berkeley, philosopher, Alva Noe. This is the idea we are exploring.