Dose 12: Where Meaning Exists and What To Make of It.

(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! )

Meaning is the Internal Relationship among essential parts. What is a “fin” without “water”…
…or a “wing” without “air”?

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!

Meaningful Design advances in the Evolution of aviation. We fly better; it is an enhanced Action!
But it is a confusion to think we were Caused to change in this way.
Learningis not caused; it is an acquisition of Information according to an overarching Goal or Reason.

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!

Designs multiply and enhance according to the information
available to them and the opportunities present in their environment.
Hoovering Hummingbird, snatching Osprey (?). Geese in formation. (thanks to birdsasart)

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.

OUR COMMUNITY OF INFORMATION. These interrelations are very Meaningful To Us. The Universe has taken on this Shape for us and our kindred members. This is “Our World” and it is from “Our Point of View”! It is The Transcendent Whole of which we are a part!

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.”

Competition between Cheetah and Gazelle has led them to become two of the swiftest and most agile animals of all times. There Designs are in Communication.
An “Arms Race” with predators leads many animals to thoroughly disguise themselves. A Walking Leaf insect, found in parts of Asia. As “prey”, it is in Communication with its “predators”. They are designed to interact.

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.

Our ignorance has also influenced our sense of The Tree of Life. One of its early Representations by German biologist Ernst Haeckel. It’s a mistake to have Humans “on top” but not mistaken to think we have some special abilities.

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 Transcendence presented in these blogs.* Human action and Nature can be understood “to fit together” through this new and well-rounded, grand philosophical representation.

THE UNITY OF HUMAN AND NATURAL CREATIVITY: Allegory of Air and Fire” (c.1640) by Jan Brueghel the Younger in collaboration with Frans Franken the Younger. The two central figures are Urania, the muse of astronomy, holding an astrolabe to the sky, and Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, holding a bouquet of fire. To the right background is Vulcan’s forge, and in the foreground are its fruits, the initial human technologies. To the left are arrayed the Birds of The Air, some of Nature’s tech. (see Galerie Lowet de Wotrenge, for this interpretation).

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 !

Making Our Values Objective! No Racism! No to racism is not an ‘opinion’, it is as real and as objective a fact as we make it! SOLIDARITY WITH ALL HUMANS, and SOLIDARITY WITH NATURE. Making the 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.

The Unity of Humanity and Nature is The Object Created by this Artistic Product. “The Dream” by Henri Rousseau (1910), his final work. We are capable of as much!

(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.)

naturereligionconnection.org drawing by Marty.
Greg The Great

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

Summary for “A Design Design-ates”

(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.)

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Fractal Art is a design repeating itself, layer upon layer, time after time. Is this “a design designating it’s environment”? (work’s creator unacknowledged, from AG androidguys.com)

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 between our 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.

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THE TREE OF LIFE is a Design ‘design-ating’ Its Environment. It a Whole seeking Fulfillment. Within its In-Formation we are given the cues to our Freedom and Fulfillment.

Nature and Religion, THERE IS A CONNECTION. (Drawing by Marty)

“A Design Designates Its Environment”: supplemental therapy to the 12 dose regimen

(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)?

Fractal Art is a design repeating itself, layer upon layer, time after time. Is this “a design designating it’s environment”? (work’s creator unacknowledged, from AG androidguys.com)

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.)

(“Design Space“: ‘Evolution is ‘a track through the logical space of design’, says philosopher and cognitive scientist Dan Dennett. It’s An INFORMATION. “Information is design worth getting”, he says; and so I ask, “Are these things Design-ating?”

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.

“The World”: Go Ahead, Connect the Dots! What Macro Object does this become? Maybe, Simple Life and then slightly more complicated living-functioning units, and then more…and more..
“The World To Me”: I see my wife in this one, determined to finish her daily errands. It’s all in the way you look at it! Or am I making too much of it? Maybe this is really what my wife is a collection of atoms determined by the events of The Big Bang. I do find her highly charged and definitively attractive.

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!

Ptolemy succeeded in keeping his Theory of The Heavens in line with the facts as we see these lights in the sky from here. He connected the dots, his way. Yet this REPRESENTATION is highly labored.

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!)

Is this “the way It Really Is”, or is this ‘just’ a depiction for the sake of Some Motive We Add to “the mix”.

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!

“God the Father” by Cima da Conegliano. “The God’s-Eye Point of View”: the position to Really See what Really Is! Are We getting almost As Good as ‘God’? We do have our moments!

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 get Caused.” 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.’

This ball game: We know Life is a lot like being a pool ball.

Then we strongly feel that it is very different.

“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 and their 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 not Work, 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 are all 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 point of view”, and most of them mean this as a slam.

Is this the way The World Really Is? Apparatus at the Joint Quantum Institute “to trap and cool Strontium atoms” thereby holding them in place. (thanks to jqi)

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.

Our Modern World View of the Primacy of ‘Objective’ over ‘Subjective’ Characteristics tears “Our World” asunder. Guernica by Picasso (1937).

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 World in 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.

Designs designing their world: Hummingbird
Mockingbird
Weaver birds

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 is a 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.

The Connection!
The Truth as exhibited in Namibia, by South African photographer, Hannes van Eeden. See his site, Wandering Ambivert.

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 for Cognitive 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 The Diversity 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’s Science 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

Logo by Marty

Dose 11: Meaning Originates in Design

The Horseshoe Crab, a well established Design, though granted, “Its World” is probably very limited by comparison to ours.

All meaning starts with “design”, and not just any design but a certain complexity of design. Living Things are the key to a well rounded philosophy of The Universe.

With the origin of Life came a design complex enough to realize a Point of View. For the first time, a form was internally complex enough To Seek To Reproduce itself and To Have Interests of Its Own, To Have “Goals”. This Design of inanimate materials suddenly, and, so far as we yet know, without explanation, had these new kind of abilities. It now “Referred” to ‘the world’ beyond it in its own terms; terms that were not all inclusive, but inclusive enough to serve Its Purposes. To Persist and To Survive, this living design and its perceptions had To Work. It had To Function, and many of them did and did so well.

(THE AMAZING DESIGN OF THE ALBATROSS, it Works very well! Capable of living up to 50 years, it has the widest wing span of any bird, up to 3 meters, or 11ft. It uses the principle of “Dynamic Soaring” and is capable of using wind currents to fly hundreds of kilometers without flapping its wings a single time! It can sleep in the air!)

The above paragraph should be no shock to us; we have very strong intuitions (at the least) of its accuracy. The Terms of Design are all the capitalized words and phrases: “to function”, “to persist”, “to have goals”, etc. Every designed thing is autonomous and the origin of the behaviors it is designed “to perform”. This is the reason, or the basis, for Persons rightly thinking of themselves as Free and Responsible. It is the reason we are confused to think that birds are caused to fly. The flight of a bird, just as much as the behavior of a scientist in her lab, is Informed by the design of that bird, and the acts of the scientist are informed by the standards of good experimental design and good scientific practice. They are not caused.

A great deal of time and effort has been taken on this site to argue for the importance of Causal Explain and its Limitations. Here is that limitation. Designed objects, as stated above, are not caused to behave according to their design, they are Informed in that behavior. A hawk dives to capture its “prey”. It received “signals”, “cues” to do so, which is a form of Communication or meaningful interaction between its parts. A “predator” has its “prey” as a part of it as much as any other of its vital organs. A hawk flies because (but not caused) its entire physical structure is formed to do so. The “air” in which it flies is, again, an externalized organ. In this sense, an animal does not eat atoms; it eats “food”. Designed things function in an environment that is significantly “theirs”. In this series, we have called this “seeing” the world “from the inside” (Doses 5,6). This is where Meaning lies. And this is not a scientific view; it is a well-rounded philosophy.

(The Belief that Causes Explain Our Life)

Now, we do take these kinds of integral functional relations and use them as the Data to be analyzed to find the causal mechanisms that service these purposes. This is to “see” the world from “the outside”(Dose 9). It is ‘to put the cart before the horse’ to then think that causal mechanisms are then ‘more real’ than the purposeful and functional relations they represent. They are simply more scientific, and not ethical or artistic or practical representations. They are one representation among many, but–admittedly– a very good one.

Also, we understand Design well, because we design many functioning things ourselves. These designs often possess marvelous capabilities to achieve things in the world in accordance with their design parameters. This is its Information. A design is a closed system. An aircraft is designed not by reference to the existence of neutrinos and quarks, much less the behavior of a quantum wave; it is designed in relation to the fluid-like qualities of “air” and our practical and engineering knowledge of combustion engines, materials, and even the common kite and a bird’s wing as they played a role in the entire evolution of aircraft design through the History of aviation. Atoms and quantum waves do exist, but their significance to an animal or an aircraft is highly abstract and relegated only to a distant background.

Meaning resides in all the layers of things we find relevant between ourselves as Persons and and The Universe as a quantum wave. For example, Plant Life is relevant to us and as such a meaningful comparison to our life as persons.

Acquilegia, the Columbine
German Breaded Iris
More Columbine with seed pods.

(The backyard sanctuary returning to form. It’s Spring! photos by GWW)

The phrase, “The World”, is an idealization. What we, Persons, always have is Our World in its many Forms. The Ideal of “The World” functions to sort out the Best, the most Useful ( usually for some specific purpose), the most Agreed Upon, and the most Coherent versions of our various “takes on Life”. That can become “The World” as we best understand it now. This is how we are Designed to function “To Know” and “To Believe” TRULY.

An Example of Design at the Level of Persons

Statesman, scientist, philosopher: 1561-1626

Sir Frances Bacon, wrote the first important scientific and philosophical works in English. Once imprisoned in the Tower of London, he is rumored to have authored “Shakespeare’s plays”. Known for his description and advocacy of an Empirical and Inductive Method for gaining “knowledge” of nature. He helped science establish its Information.

As much as we marvel at the laws and objects discovered by Scientists, more so we should recognize science as A Form of Meaning: an agreed upon approach with a set of standards and public review. It is an ethic, and yields one of our highly respected representations of our world.

We secure and advance the Meanings of Life by contributing to the furtherance of Our Most Cherished Forms of Action — kindness, art, science, honesty, family, craftsmanship, politics, ethics and even religion– but with the recognition that Reform is almost always needed in light of Their Values, New Times, and Our Necessary Agreement and Coordination with Others: these are Our Surest Light Forward.

German Bearded Iris: Nurturance is a very Meaningful Relationship to Our World.
Nature Religion at The Connection

Comments:

——-Andrew, thank you for your appreciation!

——-Dear Mr. Bulls#!+, I don’t know how to take your “Like”. I hope you do like the piece but if not—–Please inform me more specifically from where the stink doth arise. I would love to discuss it, while you held your nose, of course.

Caveat Emptor

You May Need a Lawyer!

Surely a guy or gal proposing to explain “The Meaning of Life, in ten easy doses” should be given a little leeway. Or maybe not. Such a bald and audacious claim should probably be met with little tolerance. I must admit, I have not yet gone back to read these elixirs in their order and in their entirety. Yet here I am, asking for two more Doses.

This is my situation. In working on the Grand Finale, Dose 10, it became too grand. I had promised “short and easy”, not long. So in navigating this Scylla and Charybdis of number or length, I have chosen to head for number and ask your indulgence in this brief extension and your forgiveness for my breach of initial agreement.

After all, “The Meaning of Life, in twelve easy doses” sounds pretty much as outrageous as ten! And I feel it’s coming along rather well, all in all. May God be with me, if only I believed in one in any traditional sense. I think I can get this done.

Caught between the Scylla and the Charybdis (supposedly located between Sicily and the Italian mainland, Scylla is the six-headed monster, Charybdis is the whirlpool).

Dose 10: The Meaning of Life; The Information Relation

As in “arrest” — SHARED MEANING

The “meaning” in life lays in its information. “Meaning” is a strange kind of ‘thing’. It is better to say that meaning is a relationship of things, rather than to say “meaning” is a kind of thing itself. That is a big part of the confusion about “meaning”. Meaning takes up no space and has no mass of its own. We do not “have” meanings like we have kidneys. The firing of Neurons does accompany a meaningful experience, but they are not that experience itself. Yet, all this does not make “meaning” supernatural nor any other kind of superstition. This post –and the following two– seek (yes, “goals” do really exist) to give meaning and information a place in The Universe.

Meaning and Information start as a real kind of Relationship in The Tree of Life. More on this later.

“Meaning” is for living things, but especially for Persons. To us “meaning” is that strange but ever present ‘thing’ that is very individual and private, but also very social and public. It can be trivial or deeply profound; this we seem to agree. “I like broccoli, but you do not” is a good example of this vegetable having a meaning to us that is both trivial and individual. On the topic of broccoli, we do not much care how others find it. A “stop sign” is also a rather trivial example of meaning,

“Stop” sign in Spain, Portugal and Brazil

Russian Cyrillic S-T-O-P sign
Chinese STOP sign following the Western octagonal convention

but it is very public and not the least individual. You do not get a license to drive if you don’t agree that that sign means: “You, STOP!” There is nothing deep or controversial about it, and we insist that we all “get it”.

On the other hand, a religion and a career are often taken to be profoundly meaningful. They serve as a focal point around which an individual organizes their own life but also with significant implications for others. A doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, a priest, a married couple all take oaths or vows to preform their duties according to explicit standards on how they must conduct themselves in relation to others.

Peasant Dance (1568) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. “Meaning” is the arrangement of our life as an individual and a group. It is that Form that expresses itself through us. These “peasants” were very different from us.

The political institutions of a nation have proven themselves, now and in the past, to be highly meaningful. Generally, massive groups of people are coordinated and their lives formed (in-formed) through political, religious and occupational institutions. The life of a peasant is significant to recall in this sense.

Language is probably the best test case for “meaning” as a peculiar but vital kind of ‘thing’. It exemplifies the above claim: Meaning is an organization of things, a form of interaction of them, as much as it is about the things that are so arranged. Take gibberish; we all can distinguish gibberish from meaningful statements at the extreme. “Xriimsqyl” is pretty obvious gibberish; it breaks too many standard forms. But what

“shuttlecock” is a real word for a real thing.
“He took his vorpal sword in hand, long time the manxome foe he sought…” Jabborwocky (1871) by L. Carroll, illustration by John Tenniel.

about “shuttlecock” or even better, “Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe.” In this last sentence the poet and mathematician Lewis Carroll preserves all the conventions of language (its forms) and yet it says nothing real, but seems to.

Some will object and say, ‘But language is about training, it’s not about meaning; we are each trained to speak our language and then precede to do so.’ And that is true; we are all trained in the standard forms of language–its grammar, its conventions, its current trends, its jargon—And Then WE GO ON TO SAY THINGS THAT HAVE NEVER BEEN SAID BEFORE, and despite the novelty of these statements, they are often understood by others.

“Meaning” is the consistency of Form that bridges the gap between the old and the new, the traditional and the progressive or regressive. New things arise from the use of Information, and by those standards of meaning, this novelty is also evaluated as to its worthiness by others. Meaning is the mutual occurrence, the essential togetherness, of “the private” and “the public”, “the individual” and “the social” (see Dose 7). Novelty starts individually and privately and then has the opportunity to become available to the group, thus become a “standard form”. For socialized and reasonably responsible humans — Persons — meaning is the “sharing of notes”, so to speak, about what our existence is “like” and is “about”. Meaning is a matter of Reference and Representation; it “looks out on the world” and interprets it as “Our World”! In this way, Persons negotiate “our take” on ourselves and our world, and create shared representations and the meanings for our life.

THE NATURE RELIGION CONNECTION: Trying to stay informed. Drawing by Marty.

We Act According to Our Information: Two Examples

His father was a Physician and so became his sons. Circa 480-400 BCE, the Golden Age of Athens.

Hippocrates, “The Father of Medicine. Removed the treatment of illnesses from the hands of the priests, and directed it to a more beneficial Information. Established naturalized principles for the cause, treatment and description of illnesses. Professionalized medicine with the founding of its first “school” that adopted these principles as a code of conduct for Physicians.

As much as medicine has done, more so it is a way of doing: a way to create a more useful and satisfying meaning for disease, with principles of behavior for its practitioners and participants.. It is an ethic: Primum non nocere: “First do no harm.”

Rock’n Roll Music is an Information.
Some of the Discoverers of “The World” as Rock.
The Rolling Stones along with Chuck Berry, Little Richard (R.I.P) and Elvis. Jimi Hendrix and his band below).
Rock and Roll is an Ethic. It has its musical standards, and does it have its life-style standards, too ?

(

The Rock Life did not always last long or end well for many of its most noted practitioners.
“I Love that Rock’n Roll!” naturereligionconnection.org

“Dose 9”: Persons, I’ve got that; but where do Atoms come in?

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Neptune’s Horses, by Walter Crane (1893)  Initially, people ‘saw’ persons and animation in all: a breaking wave as the onrush of a god and his horses.

(“Dose 9” of Ten, in The Meaning of Life, in ten easy doses, series.  How am I ever going to make it?  Well, let’s get right to it by making some important claims clear.)

“Persons” are The Most Real Thing.  Person’s are even more real than atoms, or Mt. Everest.  This is not because we, persons, existed before atoms or the mount — of course, they preceded us historically!— but logically we are prior to them.  The “know how” of being a person has precedence over “knowing that” a great variety of our beliefs are true. Persons are “knowers”, “representers” and “atoms” and “Mt. E”” are some of our representations; they are things we believe we know based on evidence, argumentation and agreement.  They are representations in our world, and our world seems to work pretty well in many, many ways as we set out to accomplish our desires.

Now, I know this makes atoms and Mt. E. sound rather squishy and made-up.  They are not!  They are in the world As Displayed from the point of view of our Design.   They are things that exist relative to us as physical things at our level of complexity, and  to our modern world view and ourselves in it.

These kinds of ‘natural’, physical things, ‘things’ we “take” as in the world independently of us, are a product of our reflective processes, too.  Even these kind of “Things” do not directly ‘push’ themselves on us..  It is, as if, we are in dialogue even with them (things: “them-Selves”) and that is why and how their “character” and “ours” have changed through history.  We keep adjusting and clarifying “our manifest image”, and granted it does now include far more “objectivity” and causal connection than at any other time.

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Madame Curie in dialogue with nature. circa 1900

But Compatiblist Philosophies, like this one, argue for a limit to our powers to Objectify the world. Not all “Perspective”,or “Subjectivity”, can, or should, be removed from our ultimate view of things. “Our World” displays to us, not only other persons, but also many other “Levels of Complexity”, many other Levels of Ability and Point of View.

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” at its level of complexity and existent from our perspective.  (More on this in later Doses, but also see posts on physicist Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture.)

Reflection in Nature

We have seen that the rebounded images of person to person is the mechanism for being aware of and thinking of ourselves as “selves”, but now we must consider nature.  Persons are reflected in nature, too!  This is the secondary form of reflection.  Persons reflecting each other socially is a later development in time, but logically is primary to ‘seeing’ persons in nature.  Once having discovered functional inter-personal relations in our social band — through language, gesture, the hunt, dance, the care of fire, etc. — we began to imagine Functioning Objects (Designs) in the world around us.  We achieved a greater awareness of self, a “‘selfier’ self”, quips Dennett, by comparison.  So, especially in living things, persons ‘see’ themselves in a rudimentary or incipient form.

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Micky: a mouse as a person in incipient form.

We all have had this experience: An ant scurrying about reminds us of ourselves with our own goals and aspirations.  Step on it and it does not take much to feel a bit of sympathy.  Looking into the eyes of our pet dog, its person-ality seems clear.  Even the seasonal ebb and flow of plant life seems human:  we too brace for the winter and rejuvenate in spring.  Ants, pets, plants are “quasi-persons”, “semi-persons” and, jokingly, “semi-hemi-demi persons”, says Dennett.  We see in them an agency that becomes more full-blown in us, it seems.

Taking the Person-ality Out of Some Objects

To us, this seems an obvious, even ridiculously obvious, step;  though it may not have been.  Consider the words of Edith Hamilton concerning the myths of the most ancient of Greeks:

“In all this thought about the past no distinction had as yet been made between places and persons.  Earth was the solid ground, yet vaguely a personality, too.  Heaven was the blue vault on high, but it acted in some ways as a human being would.  To the people who told these stories all the universe was alive with the same kind of life they knew in themselves.”*

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The Birth of Venus, by Sandro Bottecelli (1485)  Participating with Nature as The Single, Multi-Faceted Being it is: A Depiction.

To recognize this kind of agency is to “see the world from the inside”, as discussed in Doses 5 and 6.  But there are also reasons in our Design, to ‘see’ the world from the outside.”  English psychologist and philosopher, Nicholas Humphrey**, contends these two ways are embodied in our “fundamental distinction between sensation and perception.”  Sensation is “an affect-laden representation of ‘what is happening to me’.”   This is our fundamental experience that things are happening To Me and that ‘I’ contribute back a realization that ‘this one is “good” or “bad” or “unpleasant” or “calming” or even “color” or “cold“.  These are ‘the inside’ of events; how they are to us.

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What is it like to be a lion?  Kinda like being one of those cats an old girlfriend of mine used to always have, only much bigger and not as safe.  It is not hard to imagine they have “their way” of seeing things.

On the other hand, Perception is “affect-neutral representations of ‘what is happening out there’.”  This is the world as barren of “me” and “you’ to whom things happen, and barren of our evaluation and classification of them.  Things are not “solid or liquid”, “friend or foe”, “plant or animal” from this external view point.  “Here we learned to  Measure and not Classify,” says Alfred N. Whitehead.*** And this, largely dawned on us, in the 17th century, “The Century of Genius” he calls it.  Our scientific orientation to the world exploded upon the historic scene.  The laws of motion were discovered, and explained much.  “We only consider material objects in a flux of configurations in time and space,” he summarizes and then concludes that this is “a mere abstraction” from  which “it is quite obvious that such objects can tell us only they are where they are.

*Edith Hamilton, Mythology, 1940   **N. Humphrey, A History of the Mind, 1995. Humphrey is a collaborator of Dan Dennerr.  ***A.N.Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, the classic 1925 Lowell Lectures.

“Such objects can tell us only they are where they are”, A.N.Whitehead

Movement and Position are not Everything

It took me a long time to realize this, but this is what I believe “it” comes too.  “Movement” and “Physical Position” can not tell our whole story!  Yet, science has convincingly discovered the movements of all things.  Amazingly, there is a sense in which we can say that all movements are caused and that physical science is capable of knowing these. This is Objectivity In Its Extreme. And still, we can understand that so much in our experience does not even come close to being effectively characterized in terms of this Mass, Velocity and Gravity.  Not characterized fully in terms of the Bonding of Electrons in one Atom to another.  Nor our experience even closely understood in its full functioning, by the Firing of a group of Neurons in some stable pattern in the brain.

Yet, these movements and spacial patterns are Vital.  They are a True Background to our lives and our multifarious experience in it, but not all of it.  Somehow, and this is where it does get Rather Religious and Mysterious, What We Experience is an interpretation of these spacial entities; what they Mean and Seem-Like To Us is a legitimate Representation of Them. 

And that, that interpretation, that representation, that “seeming to us”, is just as real as the atoms and waves we can “take” our interpreting to be about.  Persons represent things. Our modern Representations are significantly different from what the Ancient Greeks felt and thought. My atheistic representations of these configurations of physical entities (“of Life”) is different from what a Fundamentalist Christian or Muslim feels and thinks; and different from what many scientist’s think is ultimately real, too. Even the physicist, who “knows” all movement is physically caused and ideally predictable, Acts as a person and scientist “under the idea of freedom”, choosing and believing according to ‘good reasons and evidence’ and in accordance with our Design.

In the business of making representations of our world.

The point of this “Dose 9” in the Meaning of Life series: Nature, even when very narrowly construed as a configuration of particles or waves whose behavior is lawfully and predictably understood, still leaves Free our Representative Faculties. What atoms and all their configurations mean to us, Is Our Doing. Their Meaning is not forced on us. Meaning is our baby, to have, to raise and to nurture. Even something as obvious as Death, is also obviously open to incredible human interpretation, and so it goes for all.

Persons make meaning, and we make it together. If our world seems meaningless and chaotic, that is on us, not on Nature or Reality!

Logo drawing by Marty.

“Dose 8”: Persons Reflect Each Other. It’s the Way We become Thoughtful.

(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”.)

john_william_waterhouse_-_echo_and_narcissus_-_google_art_project
John Waterhouse, Echo and Narcissus (1903).    Captivated by his Reflection in Nature, Narcissus overlooks his Reflection in the love in the eyes of the Nymph, Echo.

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.

Thinking

lib-history-ancient-greek-thinkers-6535ccc7
“The School of Athens” by Raphael (1509)  The dialogue between “persons” is basic to them.  Plato and Aristotle are here depicted “reflecting”.

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!

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The murmuration of Starlings as highly social animals.  The movement of each is reflected in the movement of the others.

 

 

“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 personEach 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 Thinking is 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.

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Mind is social.  Self-awareness and thinking are a human social activity as much as the activity of an individual human.  “Kids Special” Washington Post cover by illustrator Eiko Ojala.

 

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Trying to make the most of these Difficult Times.  I pray to “Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love”, as did the Great Poet, Bill Blake, that you and yours are safe, for I believe we can Feel the suffering of others!  Thanks Marty for the piece/peace.

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“Dose 7”: So, what about Persons? “The Meaning of Life” series

(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.)

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Starling Murmuration.  Humans, too. are highly social animals, perhaps the most social of all.  Persons necessarily exist together.

“We, persons, have a unique positionWe 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.

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“Socialization precedes individualization,” Richard Rorty, noted humanist philosopher.

“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 perspectiveEach 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 in a 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 new thing; 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

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The Nucleated Cell: Two formerly independent cells now living as one.  Image from Biomimicry 3.8  blog.

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 together and (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 for the 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

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The Multicelled Organism: Cells living with other cells as their most immediate environment. (thanks Sciencing for photo)

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. 

 

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Cells in the Human Social Organism? “Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky…and they all look just the same.”  But, that is a pessimistic take on our togetherness.

Persons

“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,

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The famous sculpture of Romulus and Remus, mythical founders of Rome.  Eventually found and raised by a shepherd and his wife, this post contends that was necessary for them to become Persons.  (artist unknown)

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 Persons has created 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!

No wonder Team Sports are so well liked, they are an encapsulation of Society. Everyone has their role. Above is a simple play for youth football. The red circle and line is the ball carrier and his path to run. “I Under-Stand the play, coach!”
Logo by Marty

Dose 6: More from The Inside of Life — Naturalists, Biologists, Physicists

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One has to feel that Darwin knew the world of Nature from both sides.  Charlie Darwin in 1860, at about the time of the publication of his famous work.
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 BIOLOGISTS Naturalists 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 BackgroundPsychology, 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.
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The Universe is a Quantum Wave. Thanks to sciencenews.org
“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.
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No Scientific Equation Captures The Mind.  The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, 1485.