(This is the Second Post in the series,The Big Picture by Sean Carroll. The initial post explained Carroll’s position that in spite of our understanding of the world as caused, necessary and predetermined, when we act we do so with a belief in our freedom and causal efficacy. In this post the deep background that underlays human “action” is explored: “Emergence”. Objects that emerge appear to have abilities and properties significantly different from the objects that exist in the vocabulary of physics. They appear to be “more complex” and with interesting “structures” and this seems to be at odds with The Second Law of Thermodynamics.)
In a universe that is running down, how do complicated things appear and persist? “Complicated” in the sense of designed. “Designed” in the sense of put together in a way that does not seem accidental, in a way that seems similar to how we put together an artifact — to serve a purpose. And “appear”, as in “complicated things appear”, and that is a good word, because it leaves open the possibility that things that are that tightly organized, things that serve a purpose, things whose parts then also ‘serve’ a purpose in light of their object’s larger purpose, are only “an illusion” in some sense, a ‘mere’ appearance. That is the position of physicist Sean Carroll, in his book The Big Picture. He contends ‘highly organized things’ are both real and not so real at the same time. Only the objects of physics are “fundamental”; they are “the world at the deepest level.”(1)
It seems that if you take ‘that purpose stuff’ too seriously — ‘it has a purpose and its parts have a purpose and the parts of the parts have a purpose…and all the way back — then you might even end up with there being a purpose to life, or maybe even a god. “It’s a natural thing to worry about”, says Carroll, “How can an intrinsically purposeless process lead to the existence of purposes?”(2)
“In the Far Future”
But it’s even worse than that. In the biggest process of all, The Universe, things are ‘running down’, not ‘building up’. Entropy is increasing and that is often thought of
as “disorder” and “randomness”, and that is the opposite (it seems) of high organization and significant design.(3) So, entropy is very high and this is Second Law of Thermodynamics which predicts ‘heat death’. “In the far future….the universe will appear cold and empty,” Carroll says, “all the matter and radiation we currently see will have left our observable horizon, diluted away by the expansion of space.” It will be very “simple”, very “smooth”, one area of the universe will be no different than any other.(4)
“At Early Times”
And Carroll continues: “At early times, near the Big Bang... the state (of the universe) is also extremely simple: It’s hot, dense, smooth, and rapidly expanding”, he says. One area of the universe is like all the others.(5) But here, entropy is very low. This state of the U should not be thought of as disorderly or random. So, how could entropy be so different, early to late, when so much about the two situations is similar? One is hot and full, the other is cold and empty but both are simple and “smooth”.
The answer seems to be, according to Carroll, that there are two kinds of “simple”, and this will help clarify what is “complex” because complexity arises as the universe moves from one kind of simple to the other. And this initial simplicity, to my mind, can only be thought of as if a single unit, a singularity though Carroll does not use that tern
Coffee with Cream
Carroll tells us that “our intuition is a bit off” when we think of simplicity as high entropy (highly random and disorganized) — like a pile of sand, and when we think of complexity as low entropy (highly organized and not random) — like my good old pet dog.(6) Actually, simplicity can appear to us as both low and high entropy. Carroll’s favorite example of this is coffee with cream and it’s one that he is researching professionally.
Complexity arises as the universe evolves from one kind of simple to the other.
It was Ludwig Boltzmann who started a shift in thinking about entropy in about 1875. He “explained it” in a new way, says Carroll: Entropy is “a way of counting how many possible microscopic arrangements of the stuff in a system would look indistinguishable from a macroscopic point of view.”(7) The difference between the microscopic and the macroscopic has been a key issue here at NatieRel, andBoltzmann brought the concept of entropy into the middle of it. Entropy nolonger casts doubt on the existence of the Complex (the macro). The complexpresupposes entropy and helps clarify what it is in light of the micro! That is what I believe Carroll is saying.
In Carroll’s coffee and cream example, on the left (above) the cream is gently poured in to sit on top of the coffee.(8) On the right, the coffee and cream are thoroughly mixed. Carroll’s point is that each appear simple in Boltzmann’s terms; each appears simple from a macroscopic point of view. Yet, the one with the cream carefully sitting on top is low entropy in comparison to the very mixed. Significantly fewer possible arrangements of coffee and cream molecules can be in the one at left than the possible arrangements in the very mixed at the right. A simple appearance can be the expression of both high and low entropy.
It is in comparison to both of these that Complexity, with its entropy
dramatically low, is evident. The middle state is coffee and cream in the process mixing or moving toward an even dispersion. Here, “in between low and high entropy, (is) where things look complex …. Tendrils of cream reach into the coffee in intricate and beautiful ways”, writes Carroll.(9) It is in this kind of intricacy that there are relatively very few possible molecular arrangements and for which complexity is an apparent and appropriate description.
“Between the Far Past and the Far Future”
So, Carroll’s point is that in the coffee mixing case, “Entropy has gone up throughout the process, just as the second law would lead us to expect.” “But complexity first goes up, then goes down,” he says, “it’s the intermediate stage…where things look complex.” “It is today, in between the far past and the far future, when the universe is medium-entropy but highly complex…(that) The initially smooth configuration has become increasingly lumpy…as tiny perturbations in the density of matter have grown into planets, stars and galaxies.”(Carroll)(10) And much more.
In the following posts in this series on The Big Picture, Carroll’s ‘views’ on the mechanisms of the Growing Complexity on dear old Planet Earth will be explored. Stay tuned, Comrades!
I’m pleased to report a recent surge of readership here at naturereligionconnection.org. Modest as this may be, on Monday Nov. 11 we had 10 visitors who viewed 23 posts. Most were from the good old U.S.of A. and our Canadian friends up north (thanks especially to Rom and John), but, one visitor was from China and viewed 4 posts! Posts receiving the most attention recently are “Sean C and Our Freedom to Choose” 25 recent views (rv’s), “Nika No More” 16 rv’s, and “What is Morality” 36 rv’s. Thank you for your consideration! Please don’t be shy, comment!
(I’ve seen a couple of good movies lately and want pass on some recommendations. These movies are in keeping with our theme here at NatieRel. So, here is the first.)
Chilly Gonzales, funny to think that the Universe spewed forth this gentleman! But, I will not give the U all the credit. “Gonzo” is a man who invented himself. The documentary, “Shut Up and Play The Piano”, wonderfully captures that process of self-invention. The movie and its main character are both very interesting.
For me, it was utterly significant that I knew of Chilly’s recorded music before I saw this film. Wow, did I have the wrong impression. Such quiet and contemplative music is his early releases Solo Piano (2006), Solo Piano II (2012) and Chambers (2015), and this from such a volcanic personality! This music is a fusion of jazz and classical and its creator is all talent, experimentation, sweat, sexuality and personality. And I thought the music was from some politely trained but slightly rogue classical musician. Wrong.
“Shut Up” explains that Chilly was not even born “Chilly Gonzales”, but he was born to a family of great talents and wealth. He took that privilege and went to obscure places to find “who he was” and “what he wanted.” New Music was that answer. Starting with classical piano training from an uncle, to leader of a rock band in his youth in Toronto, to the Berlin performance art and Techno Punk-Rap scene in the late 90’s, his search was on the extreme edge.
That process was intensely self-reflective. “Who is Chilly Gonzales?” he asks repeatedly. And it is “ALL about him”. How would a “megalomaniac” begin a piece of music? he asks and then convincingly shows us. “He has so much to give” explains a friend and fellow musician. In deed, Chilly does have a massive genius. He is a presence in which ‘the world’ is enveloped and then spit back out to behold itself.
So, who is Chilly Gonzo? Stay tuned. He and his alter egos are still working at it, but this movie is a good place to start.
(This is a new post series: The Big Picture by Sean Carroll. The work of this popular physicist was unknown to me, but then became obviously pertinent to the positions taken at naturereligionconnection.org. This series will hopefully clarify and substantiate the vital concepts of Emergence, Complexity, Human Action and the limits of Scientific Knowledge.)
Sean Carroll is a noted physicist from Cal Tech. Known for his wide ranging interests and knowledge, he has written “The Big Picture”, a book from 2016 that exemplifies his versatility. Its subtitle is “On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself.” Yes, wide ranging.
Physics and the ‘hard’ sciences are not my forte, but I needed to tackle this book — some 450 pages of it — to solidify (or refute) my claim that interesting and more complex objects “emerge” from the quantum fields and sub-atomic particles that are now known to be “the basis” of our world and the universe (“itself”).
Carroll is a “Compatiblist”, a philosophical position that argues that both the objects of physics are real and significant and so are the objects we call ‘people’, ‘zinnias’ and ‘the Atlantic Ocean’, to name but a few. The microscopic and the macroscopic largely fit together without too much tension, he believes (1). This has also been the position here at naturereligionconnection.org.
Others do not believe this. Radical Reductionists believe that since the objects and laws
of physics underlay everything, macroscopic objects lose there status (in some important sense) as real or legitimately significant (2). Too much of the way we think these objects behave, and are, does not fit with our ‘scientific vision’, they claim. Neuroscientist and famous atheist, Sam Harris contends that free will is an illusion and the choices we make are caused by mechanical forces outside and in. There is no free will, therefore we should eliminate such talk.
Biologist Jerry Coyne believes we do not freely choose, therefore talk of ‘responsibility’ and ‘morality’ is also unfounded (see his popular blog, Why Evolution Is True, or WEIS). These folks are called by Carroll not only reductionists — macro objects are really micro objects — but also “eliminativists”. Their position has undeniable cogency; why talk about ‘the same thing’ in two very different ways? For example, a Zinnia is a collection of sub-atomic particles and also a biological object with needs, satisfactions and efforts. Which way of talking is more important, which way is true? Should we talk in both ways?
The flavor and attitude of this eliminativist claim might be captured in this famous quote by Ernest Rutherford, the experimental physicist who in 1909 was crucial in discovering the structure of the atom. He not only diminished the significance of macro objects but other less fundamental sciences; he said “all of science is either physics or stamp collecting.” (3)
I must admit that I feel a significant degree of confusion about this connection. How much can we eliminate from a particular discourse, or change the discourse entirely, and still be talking about the same thing? To me, a flower exhibits some distinct qualities different from inanimate objects, and this is the historically recognized belief. It is an empirical claim. A flower grows, blooms, makes seeds that then reproduces “itself” in a very similar flower—its offspring. We can manipulate its fertilization and encourage the enhancement of some traits by contrast to others in the offspring. We know there are even “laws”, “rules”, by which this happens. It’s called the science of biology. So, is a “flower” still a flower if we decide to speak of it only in atomic terms?
The Power of Physics
Some day, our knowledge of physics may expand to the point that all behavior of all things may be predictable in advance. Crazy to think, but Carroll says that, “in principle”, that day is already here! Physicists now possess accurate and detailed knowledge of the workings of the universe but also “an effective theory of the everyday world.”(4) He calls it “the Core Theory” and it is “the specific set of fields and interactions that govern our local environment.” He continues, “Everything we want to think about human beings has to be compatible with the nature and behavior of the pieces of which we are made” and then adds an interesting proviso, “even if those pieces don’t tell the whole story.”(5)
That is the crux of the entire debate. What sense can be made of that proviso? How can the particles and forces that compose us at the most basic level behave as physically predicted, yet, not be all that is worth saying?What more can be added that does not fall into silliness and superstition?
Here is the equation that puts ‘the nail in the coffin’; it is the physics that is the basis for the prediction of all that happens around us, and with us, in our macroscopic world. Its called “the path-integral formulation of quantum mechanics”.(6) It was pioneered by Erwin Schrodinger but this is the “compact and elegant” formulation of contemporary physicist Richard Feynman.
Carroll has added to the equation the solid lines and descriptions that distinguish the different sections of this formulation: “quantum mechanic”, “spacetime”, “gravity” etc. In general, the equation describes “the quantum amplitude for undergoing a transition from one specified field configuration to another, expressed as a sum over all the paths that could possibly connect them.”(7) That is what W is, it is the ‘amplitude’ of a wave expressed as an integral that is “summing up an infinite number of infinitely small things”: “the possible things the field can do in between the starting and ending, which we call a “path” the field configuration can take”, says Carroll.
I can assure you, the above equation is not the style in which this book was written. If it was, I would not have gotten beyond page two! The above equation is the only one to appear and it does so in an appendix as an effort to give the reader a taste of the unvarnished work of contemporary physics. It is amazingly impressive stuff, and Carroll contends that its accuracy and specificity is such that even if in the future scientists come to think of its components in very different ways, this formulation will still be true in its own terms and for the domain to which it applies forever! Vive la physique!(8)
Some Things Emerge
Interestingly, Compatiblists are themselves Eliminativists concerning some issues. Carroll argues that our most basic framework for understanding what is real is physics with its Core Theory exemplified by the above equation. This eliminates any good reason for talk of gods existing, souls, “the ether”, ghosts, or mind (as something beyond the physical) and even what he calls the “strong emergentist” position (which will be discussed later). They all are incompatible with physics and the evidence that supports it.
But he does offers us a list of objects that do legitimately “emerge” from the more basic and simpler underlying pieces of the Core Theory. This is where we start to return to the Core Theory asnottelling “the whole story.” This “whole story” includes (9):
— protons and neutronsemerging from quarks and gluons,
— starsand the emergence of light from simpler scattered elements,
— life from non-life,
— the multicellular organism from separate living single-celled organisms,
— consciousness emerging from interacting neurons,
— language and abstract thought from… well, he doesn’t really say, but we can assume from non-language and more concrete thought?
This is not his full list, but the largest portion of it. Carroll is not a full-fledged Eliminativist. Each of these “larger” or “more complex” ‘things’ — stars, organisms, language — are valuable additions toour understanding of all things, even as none of them are part of the vocabulary of physics.
In what sense they are valuableadditions (beyond physics) to our understanding is “that crux of the problem” mentioned earlier. It’s a “secretly profound idea that there are many ways of talking about the world, each of which captures a different aspect of the underlying whole”, he writes (10). Carroll is, philosophically, a Naturalist, that is his basic commitment to science as the doorway to what is real “at the deepest level.” Then, when he adds the “other ways of talking”, “emergent theories” and capturing “the whole story”, he admits he has now become what he calls“a poetic naturalist”. (11)
“Poetic naturalism is a philosophy of freedom and responsibility”, he very pointedly declares (12). Though physics captures the universe fundamentally,there are other “useful ways of talking about certain subsets of the basic stuff”. They are useful to us for various reasons. First, “it would be horrendously inconvenient if ” to explain anything “we were to list a huge set of atoms and how they were arranged.”(13) Second, and most importantly, “we really do learn something new by studying emergent theories for their own sake, even if all the theories are utterly compatible” (with physic’s theories). (14)
So Where Does This Leave Human Choice?
I believe it leaves ‘choice’ in kind of a grey area in our discussion thus far. Let’s now try to move it into the legitimately emergent category. From the certainty of the determination of all events as predicted by Feynman’s equation, to the list of Carroll’s legitimately emergent objects (above), human choice appears somewhere between life and language.
Choice does exist, argues Carroll, and “it would be difficult indeed to describe human beings without it.”(15) A basic tenant of Carroll’s Poetic Naturalism is that each “way of talking”, each emergent and “effective theory”, has its own vocabulary, its own ontology of objects that it describes with consistent and orderly relations. As I wrote above, I am constantly concerned and confused by the contentions of radical reductionists and eliminativists. They want to think about “persons” and make contentions about them, but also want to exclude concepts that seem to be central to personhood. You cannot eat your cake (pizza) and have it too.
Carroll contends that they make a category mistake.(16) They illegitimately mix two ways to talking. Physics talk or persons talk, “either vocabulary is perfectly legitimate, but mixing them leads to nonsense”, he contends.
An example of this mixing two ways of talking, I believe, occurred recently on WEIS. A light-hearted debate arose over which is better pizza, Chicago style deep dish or NY style flat and thin. Coyne jumped in to defend deep dish, being from Chicago and all, its his favorite. But I commented, kind of raining on this light-hearted parade, that “who cares”. “If humans have no free choice in the matter and are not responsible for their likes and dislikes, then what is the point of debating; other than the fact that the debaters can do no other than what they do—debate, and that, in a debate whose outcome is already determined and in which they have no personal responsibility.” This is Carroll’s contention; being a no-free-willer, no-true-chooser AND debating what is the best pizza, is “nonsense”, pointless, vacuously circular. Isn’t it?
Humans Do Choose
Choice is a deeply human characteristic. Carroll keeps using the term “human”, but I think it would be best to say “person”. Humans in comas or extremely mentally deficient do not make choices, or high level choices. So, persons are deeply characterized as ‘choice-makers’.
Carroll gives us a simple example. In the morning, you walk to our closet to choose a shirt for the day. Should I choose this blue one or that black one, you wonder. “That is a decision you have to make,” he says, “you can’t just say, ‘I’ll do whatever the atoms of my body were going to do.” (17)
Two points about this. First, I would like to emphasize that your choosing is not just an issue in your head, in your conscious framing of the situation. You can not stand there and not think about the situation and then find your arm rising to grasp the blue shirt. I guess it could work that way; it just doesn’t. Our choosing is more than a mental state, it is built into the way we live. A closet is physically designed to set up choice. Your wardrobe hanging in that closet is all about choosing from among it, choosing something that you feel good about for that day. Driving down the road, every intersection is a choice-opportunity, and on and on. The rudiments of choice go back into biology, into single-celled organisms and plants in general. They are Structurally Organized to ‘ignore’ most objects and ‘respond’ to a few. That is ‘proto’ choice.
Secondly, and the point that Carroll emphasizes, no matter whatphysics knows will
happen next, You Don’t. As you stand in front of that closet, Choice is real for you because you are limited in our ability to know. Carroll says it is a matter of “epistemic access”. It is “the unavoidable reality of our incomplete knowledge (that) is responsible for why we find it useful to talk about the future using the language of choice…” “None of us knows the exact state of the universe, or has the calculational power to predict the future even if we did”, he writes; “we know about the rough configuration of our bodies and we have some idea of our mental states…given that incomplete information…” we choose and “it’s completely conceivable that we could have acted differently.” (19)
The Conclusive Point
There is the conclusive point, to my way of thinking. We have strong evidence that the course of our world is predetermined. Its course is physically necessary, BUT we do
not have practical access to knowledge of that. From our limited and inclusive participation in that world we have been rightly designed to act as if the future is open and that our choices are significant there in.
The next step in my argument will be to suggest that many of our cultural contexts (our “providential environments”–my phrase) are designed to facilitate our choices and give us the access that we do have to the necessary course of the universe. Not only are these cultural contexts compatible with the physical world but, interesting, as we accept our determined behavior in this universe, we can also be pleased with the success humans have had. It is as if the configuration of particles shortly after the Big Bang had ‘good things in mind for us’.
I believe the above position is similar to that put forth in my Human Freedom and Mother Nature post series, especially Posts 12 and 13, “The Character of Structures 1 and 2”. In philosophy, parts of this position were pioneered as far back as Emmanuel Kant (latter 18th century) in his “Critiques” of Theoretical Reasoning and Practical Reasoning. As pure and sublimely abstract as is physics, it only tells us part of the story for limited real human knowers and actors, including the scientists who act within that tradition. American Pragmatism has advanced this position of Practical Reasoning; human actors are as significant in the art of knowing as is the universe that stretches beyond us and of which we are an important part.
In the next post in this review of Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture, the mechanisms by which higher level, more complex objects “emerge” will be considered.
Notes— Since this post is a review of aspects of this book, I thought a few page references would be appropriate. I did attempt a close read of this material and it is a respected work. 1. page 379 2. 19 3. 105 4. 177-9 5. 6. 437 7. 437 8. 179 9. 102 10. 93 11. 15-19 12. 21 13. 108 14. 108 15. 379 16. 379 17. 379 18. 380 19. 380-1
Nika was Nika, and now she is no more. Her materials no longer carry on that pattern of organization so familiar and generally loved by my wife and myself. What is left of that dear dog sits in a tin container atop a bookshelf with family photos. What is left, also, is in our memory and habits.
All living things exhibit “need”,”effort” and “satisfaction”, contended American philosopher John Dewey in 1929. Dewey was one of the prominent members of a philosophic movement called “Pragmatism”. They sought to rehabilitate philosophic Idealism by expressing its insights in naturalistic terms. Today, Idealism represents the belief that the wholeness of a thing is as real and significant as the pieces that compose it, in some contexts.
In that sense, a living thing is a whole whose activity expresses itself in its own characteristic environment: first, in its most immediate and ‘intimate’ environment — its own parts; its body and consciousness (as that variously applies); second, in its more ‘external’ environment where its needs, efforts and satisfactions play out. Living things have this distinctive relation of “inside” and “out” as recognized by Dewey: “a living organism and its life processes involve a world or nature temporarily and spatially ‘external’ to itself but ‘internal’ to its functions.” The web of a spider, the pond built by a beaver, the house of a person are its external ‘organs’, and their bodies are their most immediate ‘environment’.
This unity of inside and out makes a living thing “an equilibrium pattern”, Dewey wrote. This particular pattern or organization must maintain itself through “restoration” and “recovery” in “a complex integrated course or history.” In words more plain, a living thing must “keep this shit together” as long as it can.
Nika was such a history. A mass of molecules, constantly varying, that was nonetheless her, nonetheless that same sweet dog. That history, that continuity, is worth recounting. That is this post: Our life with Nika.
Nika had obvious satisfactions. Upon the appearance of a friendly face her entire body burst into reaction. Ears perked, the back half of her body swung side to side in sync with her wagging tail. At that person’s feet, she would throw herself to the ground and roll, still wiggling, to expose her stomach. With very little doubt, her behavior was always interpreted as “friendly”, “happy”, “affectionate”.
Frequently, she could not contain herself, especially early in her life. Her molecules seemed to explode with enthusiasm. In the house, she would charge from room to room, repeatedly, with great speed and agility, over top of couches, under tables.
Nika was Nika, indeed; but she was also a beagle of a smaller variety. Close to the ground, she weighted a mere 17 lbs. In the backyard, when a fit of enthusiasm overtook her, she broke into full gallop. Nose extended, low to the ground, legs fully outstretched, she barely slowed when taking a corner. She ran a circle-eight, cutting through garden and galloping over deck again and again. We called it “the bullet run”. Exhilarated by her own abilities, she did so appear.
Nika had needs, as do all living creatures. Nika needed to smell. Guided by her nose, often she did not get far. Many things were worthy of a sniff to Nika. My wife often despaired of walking her because she was interested in exercise but Nika in smelling life’s daisies.
That keen nose got her into many situations, often bad. Detecting the odor of the many hands that handled currency, she was led into my wife’s purse and my wallet. On several occasions she pulled out bills. Pieces of $5’s, $1’s and even a $20 once, were found on the floor or embedded in stinking piles in the backyard.
One winter holiday, my wife left accessible a bag of holiday-decorated, foil wrapped, chocolate Kisses. Nika’s nose soon found them. She consumed them foil and all. This resulted in the most decorative turds I have ever seen. Sparkling with reds and blues and green, they adorned the yard.
Yes, Nika needed to eat. “Beagles are bagels,” a vet once told us; yet, Nika never gained
weight in spite of her constant desire. A ‘chow hound’, she was: She ate raw carrots and broccoli and certainly cooked. Cantaloupe was a favorite and watermelon too. Salad with dressing was nice, but so was ice. Dirty socks (and underwear) left accessible were shredded and chewed. Kitchen Handi Wipes that were used were several times chewed and they came out her end not much more abused.
She had her needs and like all living creatures was willing to put in the effort to fulfill them.
We did indulge her. In waiting for a plate to lick clean, Nika was never impatient. She
sat several feet away and stared and waited, stared and waited. Seldom did she have anything better to do; staring, waiting for a plate to lick, that was Nika.
But a rabbit or squirrel was a horse of a different color. When the word “rabbit” or “squirrel” was said with enthusiasm, Nika leaped to her feet, ears up, and looking about. Constantly she rushed from the house or deck and through the yard in chase. Never once did she catch one, and never did her efforts decline —- until late in life. Every time the squirrel reached a tree, or the rabbit a hole in the fence. The point was in the chase.
As Nika grew into adulthood, one of the most important factors in her environment changed. I desired to see her in action. After all, by nature and breeding beagles are rabbit hounds. I began looking for opportunities while on walks in our suburban neighborhood to let go of her leash, allowing her in safe and somewhat confined situations to chase her prey.
And so she would dash and howl. “OooOooOooo”, she howled, not barked, until the rabbit escaped and I regained the leash. Once, a rabbit avoided the safety of yards and fences and raced (leaped) straight down the sidewalk of a cul de sac. Nika followed at full speed and full voice, “OooOooOoooo”. A neighbor came to the door thinking a dog had been hit. “No, just chasing a rabbit.”
A Pattern of Activity No Longer Restored
Nika came to our house at the age of three from a relative who could no longer keep her. She was with us for ten years. As she grew old, like me, she lost much of her hair; her body became misshapen and she lost her swiftness and grace. Her need to eliminate waste became more frequent, sporadic and prone to accident; again, like me.
She had a persistent cough and lost most of the use of her hind legs.
When we decided “to put her down”, it was a fairly easy decision. We feared leaving her at home alone when, as teachers, we returned to work in the fall. We set up an appointment at OSU Veterinary Hospital and they did their job with great respect.
When the day arrived, we loaded Nika into the car. They let us in a special door at the hospital and walked us to a special room, really more like a waiting room than an exam room. As we walked down the hall to that room, I set Nika on the floor and she walked between us slowly, somewhat sideways, and with no awareness of what awaited. In the room a pad was placed on a couch and Nika on the pad. We sat next to her and held her as a large dose of anesthesia was administered. She soon slept. In minutes she stopped breathing. Later, my wife recalled how she looked at Nika, when we were walking down that hospital hall, and realized Nika was no longer the dog she was. And yet, Nika was still Nika, a pattern of activity that will never be forgotten.
Sorry for the hiatus in new posts. I have been returning to some of my earlier posts and revising them, improving them. Happy to say I have liked them, and mostly just improved upon them. I know it does not rank up there with twisting Curly’s ears, but if you have the time you might want to check a few out. In the Parenthetical Post Intro I have noted the ones that are revised. (Go Bucks! Impeach Trump!)
I appreciate the garden. Sheri and I work hard on it and have for 20 years. We carved it out of a very ordinary suburban backyard with a rusting swing set, but some great trees. I also want to understand that garden, and recently I sought knowledge of the humble Zinnia. It’s an unassuming annual, that I have grown for years and often from seed. Likable for its late bloom — mid to late August — i.e. now. After most else has withered, here comes old dependable.
I learned the zinnia is a Compound or Composite flower. It’s ‘a flower’ made up of many small flowers! What? Oh, there is that theme again: A ‘thing’ that is importantly many smaller things.
But what is more important, the Zinnia as a whole or as a simple aggregation? A pile of gravel is not an important development for the individual stones that make it up. You can double its size, cut it in half, throw in some sand; you can have the right side, I’ll take the left: Who cares? Can we say the same for the Zinnia? Is the whole Zinnia an important development of its pieces? Remember, that ‘one’ flower ‘is really’ many flowers!
But Sheri sometimes says, “Shut up and just enjoy the Garden!” Maybe she is right, but, please follow me down this rabbit hole, even if for just a little.
A Compound flower
How many flowers are there in a Zinnia? Well, first of all, botanists call the thing we call its flower “an inflorescence”; it’s the group of smaller flowers. To them, it’s important enough to have its own name for the various reasons we will discover.
In the inflorescence at right, there are at least 42 flowers, by my count! Each ‘petal’ is actually a modified flower; about 27 of those. They are not true petals because true petals are a modified leaf in a Simple Flower, but not a compound one. Here, they are modified flowers called Ray Flowers, each with (it varies) their own sexual equipment — pistil and stamen. In the zinnia, though, these ray flowers are sterile, I believe; and each has for itself one large modified true petal that we see as the petal of the zinnia, thought it is not; it is the ray flower’s petal. OK?
The other flowers that are obvious are the little yellow ones. There are 6 of these and they are called Disc Flowers. They actually look like flowers to us non-botanists and truly are. They have a full set of sexual equipment, fertile upon pollination, and produce one seedeach in that case.
I am including about 9 other disc flowers in this above photo, those being the little white spots near the yellow. I believe they are soon to open or wilted ray flowers.
The Sunflower is also a composite flower. In this photo, if you look closely, you can see the wilted disc flowers (black) each on top of a developing single seed (green and domed) with ray petals at the edge.
But this is not all; 27 ray plus 15 disc equals 42 flowers in the inflorescence initially pictured. There are many more disc flowers though not evident in the Zinnia.A Shasta Daisy is also a compound flower and one with its disc flowers more evident. By my count (two tries) there are about 70 to 80 in this inflorescence at left. It doesn’t seem that many at a glance, but try for yourself; maybe I counted one twice! I did include about 15 on the perimeter as opened (thus indistinct in appearance) disc flowers.
Compounded Complications in the Composite
But the world of the Composite Flower gets even more complicated. Some compound flowers are all ray lowers and no disc flowers! As in the common Dandelion or Mum. Others are all disc flowers.
Even the Zinnia has a variety that is predominantly ray flower, the double bloom.
Returning to the theme of The One and The Many. A disc flower in a composite flower is not only distinct in appearance from a ray flower, but also has its time or order of opening determined by its place in the disc. Ray flowers open first, but then disc flowers develop from the perimeter of the disc moving to the middle. This is most elegantly displayed in some varieties of Sunflower.
(On left, the ray flowers opening on a new inflorescence of zinnia. Right, the vague yellow circle within the disc of this Sunflower is the advancing blossom of disc flowers moving toward the center.)
That this Compound living together of the disc and ray flowers determines their maturation suggests a significant influence of the whole over its parts. All is not causation through time; some is definition of part in relation to part, as in any significant Structure. In other words, some is Participation not just causation. In the composite flower, flowers participate in their large aggregation as if by agreement, and thus become more than a mere pile. They become an entity with a significant unity that shapes their existence as individuals. They are a whole that is more than the sum of its parts taken individually.
More could be said about this unity of the many in the zinnia and other composite flowers, but I do not believe it would enhance the case more than tax the reader. Enough said. Let us close with the following pictures.
The Garden as Metaphysical Instruction: the Zinnia as an Autonomous Structure.