What is Morality? Or, is there a difference between being “Responsible” and being “Morally Responsible”?

(—This is an improved version of the original post — “Faithfully Play Their Part in Our Society“, that’s not happening as much as I would like these days.  Too many people are disappointing in this way.  How about you?  Disappointed, morally shaken?  Mass shootings, thinly veiled self-seeking, abuse of position, lack of personal courage: Is this the theme for our times?  It’s a moral failing.  It’s a lack of moral clarity.  What is morality anyway?  Maybe this post will help.  Please comment, I need to hear your thoughts and feelings!)

The Setting

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Mr. Trump being sworn in.  This is an example of morality by its deficit.  He has pledged to serve our best interests but seems to serve his own, first and foremost.

A lot of extremely unfortunate things happen in our world.  They happen to people, and many are perpetrated by people.  We want to know, why?  We want to know, “can anything be done?”  It’s clearly wrong, we feel and think, but who is responsible?  Are they morally responsible?

Dr. J. Coyne uses “responsible” to mean, any series of causes that pass through you; i.e. you simply did the act/event , no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ attached to it.  He is consistent with his position of “hard determinism” and contends nothing is added of any value by calling a behavior moral or not.  Our behavior just is.  It is determined by causes — from the neurology of your brain to the quantum state of the universe — to be what it is (or was), and there is no alteration of it nor personal control.  

Dr. Coyne is a biologist with the University of Chicago and the author of a blog, “Why Evolution Is True” (WEIT).   His blog has a following of over 20,000 and has some rip-roaring debates about Free Will.  Is Free Will true, or even possible?   Dr. C says “No!”  Everything, in a world best described by science, is caused, and this makes ‘morality’ an illusion.

I have often disagreed with the good doctor on these issues.  I support how we commonly use the word “moral” and “morally responsible”, by and large.

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(The Bible– painting by Van Gogh —and Koran in Islamic calligraphy.  I do not support the often accepted idea that morality has a divine source.  In fact, this post argues for a naturalistic explanation of moral good and evil.)

“Moral” does add significance; it does add an enhanced and legitimate meaning to responsibility, I believe.  Actually, to my mind, “responsible” (the common use of it) often implies a moral sense, so “He is responsible” usually implies blame, or sometimes commendation: “He is morally responsible.”  Coyne’s use — a human act is just another cause and effect in a giant chain of those —  is artificial, an alteration, in my opinion.

Examples

If you are falling down an elevator shaft, it is happening to you (Coyne’s sense) but you are not “responsible” or better “morally responsible” for it.  It is an accident.  The doors opened, you weren’t looking, you stepped in, and the elevator was not there!  Your falling was an accident, but it did definitely happen through you, and to you.  In Coyne’s sense, you will be responsible for the mess at the bottom of the shaft (it’s what’s left of you), and, in the common sense use , we could loosely agree; but we certainly would not say you were morally responsible for it: You wouldn’t be a bad person, nor would we be shaken, disappointed, and even feel undermined by that unfortunate event, though it would certainly be considered horrible luck!

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Sidewalk memorial in Dayton. (photo from Cincinnati Enquirer)

By contrast, Dayton is my home town.  Following the mass shooting there, I felt betrayed and angered.  People should not do that to other people!  Especially in the home town toward which you feel great connection!

Similarly, though less severely, if you are waiting in line at a traffic light and the car behind you doesn’t stop and rear ends you, you then hit the car in front of you; you are “responsible” for hitting it in Coyne’s sense (your car hit the car in front), but not legally responsible nor mortally responsible.  No cop would cite you.  The car that hit you — whether due to drunkenness, distraction, or in the midst of a heart attack — would be legally responsible, and morally responsible if drunk or distracted, but not if having a heart attack.

The Crucial Distinction

We are now getting to the point of the distinction between “responsible” and “morally responsible”.  It is amplified by Coyne’s rather artificial use of the word “responsible”.

“Morally responsible” points more explicitly to the element in these situations that involves Our Trust, Reliance, and Righteous Dependence on other persons to Faithfully Play Their Part in Our Society.  “Morally responsible” tries to ‘get at’ the element of our lives, our social lives, that, as much as we may say and think, is Caused, it is also a situation Agreed UponTo say someone is “morally responsible” implies that They did Not Have To Do It.  They could have reflected upon their life further and in a  better fashion; and thus done otherwise.

There are causes that bring us to live together — we were born this way, we know nothing different, it’s the way modern society (any society) works, people live together! — yet, we take it a step further, We Pledge Ourselves to It; we accept it, and this is the first step in our Reflection upon our self and others.

In many minimal ways, and often wholeheartedly, we state our allegiances to others.  We state who we are: “I am an American; I am a school teacher, …a hockey fan, …an artist, …an Ohioan, …a Democrat, …a good person, …an atheist” . We say these things, and things like them, all the time.  These statements seem to be a mixture of simple fact and a choice, fact and a preference.  Or minimally,  fact and acceptance: as when I acknowledge, “I am a man; I am old; or hypothetically, I am an alcoholic, …a depressed person, …mentally ill.

I can not change the fact that I was born in America, that makes me an American at least in a minimal sense; but I do not have to continue to live here.  It’s a choice, a preference.  I became a school teacher (fact) through a series of choices, but I did not set out in life, early on, saying that is what I wanted to do and march straight down that path.  As a boy, I wanted (and tried) to become a baseball player, then an astronaut (read a number of books on the topic and followed space history avidly).  In the 5th grade, the nuns even had me ‘searching my heart’ to see if I had “a calling to the priesthood”!  Notice how I blame that on “the nuns”, but I can assure you, I was also a ‘willing’ — though young and impressionable — participant, for a while, in that scheme.  So, life is not all preferences and choices either.  It’s choices and facts.

I can not change the fact that I am old, but I can accept it.  This fact becomes Reflected in a conscious awareness of it.  I can, or should, or might, then do something about it.  I should go to the gym more often.  I might get my affairs in order.  I want to eat better.  And similarly, I may be a person with a mental illness, I accept this.  What can I do about it, what might I do, …should I do, …want to do about it?  Acceptance is the minimal position in a moral dilemma; it signifies the awareness of it.  It signifies the shift from something we are — something that is happening to us — to something we Know About.  This is a shift from a causal relationship to a relationship of Reference: I have ‘stepped outside’ the dilemma/the situation and now have Perspective, or Additional Perspective.  I have a point of view on it and some reflective separation from it.

Morality is about what you do and did, but more so it is about your reflection on that, or lack there of.

 

Faithfully Being With Others

Our participation in our social way of life is, generally and very significantly,  Accepted By Us even when it is seemingly and largely Forced Upon Us.  It is as if we have Taken An Oath to our fellows that we will Live Together in the mutually acceptable way.  Often we explicitly take Oaths that we will Do Our Part in relation to others Faithfully.

(Above we have various oaths being taken by people in various situations.  Starting at top left, a doctor swears to serve their patients, immigrants an allegiance to their new country, citizens joining the military of their country,  people swearing to tell the truth at a hearing or in court,  in marriage an oath to be faithful to each other, a President swearing to serve the people of his country and uphold their Constitution. — photos from the public domain)

That is what Morality is based in.  It is our commitment, above and beyond all the causes that have gotten us here, to this life together.  We make a commitment to it.  Our point of view of it, is, minimally, one of acceptance and basic respect. 

And our oath to each other need not be explicitly made.  In common and everyday situations, it is,  as if, we have Taken An Oath to our fellows that we will Live Together in some way, or state, above that of “a war of all against all”, as Thomas Hobbes, the famous philosopher, put it.  It is implicit in what we do and say, that we will behave with an agreed upon modicum of decency toward our fellows.

If you cannot do this, behave in this minimally decent way, options are available, if you can Reflect Upon It!  In fact, in our society, You Have The Obligation To Seek Help, and even to Remove Yourself From Our Company until your affiliation improves! Move to Idaho and live alone in a cabin in the mountains.  Stay in your apartment, if you live in the city, and come out as infrequently as possible.  Seek emotional counselling!  Write a novel or read poetry about your situation.  Join an alternative political party or religious sect.  Even, as a last and somewhat reasonable option, commit suicide.  But, you have No Right to disrespect others and undermine our faith in our togetherness in many of the ways increasingly common today: mass and random murder, the abuse of positions of power or trust, and the lack of courage to speak up for what is right.  That is being wrong, morally.

 

The Background of Morality in Nature, History and Religion

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For people to live together in society, we have come to agree upon some accord, some standards of trust and compatible action.   There is no “social life”, in any positive and functional sense, in “a war of all against all”: Bellum omnium contra omnes (love my Catholic school-boy Latin).    “Disasters of War” etching by Francisco Goya (1810).

The Englishman, Thomas Hobbes, was one of the first (the 1600s) to explore and hypothesize about this idea of an oath to others, a Social Contract or Covenant. Significantly, he contended — and absolutely correctly, we here at naturereligionconnection.org believe — this oath is so important and functional that it establishes a new Level of Organization with new abilities that accompany it.  

It establishes a new creature, contended this originator of social science. We here at NatieRel have called it “the human social organism” (see posts 4 and 5 in Freedom series); Hobbes called it “The Leviathan”That is how closely we are connected!  We function together as a single creature.

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Hobbes’ Leviathan.  The King is the leader by being the “embodiment” of his state as a collective actor, Hobbes argued.  Imagine Donald Trump as the face in this famous illustration, and the citizens of the United States as his embodiment!  “He is Tweeting in my name”, we should rightly feel, and thus so many Americans are very, and Morally, upset by Our current president!

But this image and idea of “a larger embodiment” of individuals is not confined to politics and political philosophy.  It is also exemplified in Nature and its various highly social ways of living for many life forms.  We have flocks, schools, colonies, herds and packs.

(From top left, murmurating starlings, schooling sickleback, colony of army ants, herd of bison and pack of hyenas at bottom right.  None of these biological forms of social living are consciously committed to by their participants.)

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We have “parliaments” of Burrowing Owls

and the Portuguese Man-of-War.

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(The Man-of-War is a siphonophore, like a sea anemone (which also has stinging tentacles).  But, it is actually a Colony of 4 individual animals, called polyps.  Its gas-filled bag is one; it functions is to move ‘the animal’ as a sail.  Three other polyps hang below with individual functions of capturing prey, digest prey (the stomach for all yet its own animal) and reproduction (for all).  It’s a strange arrangement and not yet fully understood!  Photos and diagram thanks to National Geographic)

In religion, of course, participation in a larger embodiment/a larger unity is a prominent

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Originating in the 13th century in Turkey, semazens  may complete as many a 2,000 turns during their sema ceremony.  Each turn is to “honor Allah and chronicle the spiritual path to enlightenment” and results in a trance-like state.  Quote from Viking Ocean Cruises advertisement!

theme.  Ecstatic and mystical forms of religion often involve the participant in forms of consciousness and ritual characterized by loss of individual self.  The Whirling Dervish of Sufi Islam, the Kabbalah of Judaism, and the tradition of “speaking in tongues” of Pentecostal Christians, all are examples.   Even in the more institutional and dogma based religions, images and beliefs of a larger unity occur.  

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The tradition of “the mystical body of Christ”,  mystici corporis christi, is prominent in The Bible and one of the favorite themes of Saul of Tarsus.  From my Catholic school days, I still remember a piece of art with the exact theme of Hobbes’ Leviathan except instead of the King as embodied by his subjects it was Jesus embodied by his followers:  the Catholic Church as the Corpus Christi.

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Ironically, when I first published this post, I did not explicitly consider the use of “God” in oath-taking.  An oath is a “solemn vow”and has generally invoked a deity, as witness, guarantor, retributive agency.  This theme may generate an additional post.

 

Going Beyond Biology and Religion

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Kandinsky’s first abstract painting.  “Study for Composition VII”, (1913)

The human way of being together, starts with biology but goes beyond it.  Social animals are social via the evolution of their physical traits.  But, as with some other large-brained animals, in humans a new form (or organization, or design) of sociability began to emerge: Culture.   Humans are now most pointedly social, by being cultural.  Beyond our living in close proximity and our division of economic labor, we share thoughts!  A brain is an individual thing, but a Mind is connected brains working together within a cultural system.

“Memes” ‘infect’ our brains.*  We have language, the predominant form of meme.  We pass on our memes/thoughts.  We socialize our children (see post four in Freedom series-“Persons in the Human Social Organism”).  We discuss our thoughts, reflect upon them.  All this is somewhat like programming a computer, except here, we — the computers — are reviewing and revising our own program!

A malcontent, or one suffering from mental illness, often has opportunity to review their thinking; usually, they have a variety of influences upon them.  This provides Choice, Options.  Those close to them also have moral responsibility to the the ill or depraved person, to themselves, and to their society.  This is modern morality, the shared responsibility for our togetherness.

Individually, this process of review and revision is what we call, our personal history; but writ large — socially — it is Human History.  Thankfully, this process has brought us to Democracy and the social safety net provided by most democratic governments.  Currently, democracy is the most moral form of political organization but others are imaginable.**  In this way, we have developed the basic interpersonal, agreed upon, respect that characterizes “us” — our society — and distinguishes us from “them” — social ways of life foreign to us.  Ancient autocracies like those in Egypt and the Roman Empire, even modern drug and gang states that exist in Central America, are examples of living together without our kind of accord and characterized by fear, domination and manipulation.  Slavery is another such example.   The frequent and arbitrary outbursts of mass violence in America today extinguishes trust and civility, the Moral Basis that underlies “our” kind of modern society, at its best.  We are deeply shaken by it, for it strikes at the roots of our moral togetherness.  We no longer share thoughts, we receive bullets. 

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A Final Example of the Difference Between “Responsibility” and “Moral Responsibility”, and A Holistic Perspective.

The general background for this position on morality involves, also, a very curious argument that some respected philosophers have currently advocated.  They contend that most of the things we believe must be true.  Most of the things we say must be honest.  A curious contention, but think about it; how would our lives and social lives be possible if they were not overwhelmingly true and real, our statements basically honest? Our consciousness would have no wheels that got traction; our togetherness  no gears that meshed into other gears.  It would all be spinning wheels — illusions — and manipulative or defensive interactions.   No opportunity for the large scale cultural progress that have characterized our history.

It’s a holistic argument.  Like wooden-ship sailors, who could replace a leaking plank or

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Viking Long Boat

two in the hull while at sea, but they couldn’t replace them all at once!  We can tell some lies and sometimes violate our trust of others.  We can have some mistakes in our belief system.   In each case, we can revise our beliefs piecemeal and catch the few lies told in a democratic society, but there is no Reasonable Way to change all your beliefs at once, nor have a democracy fundamentally deceitful.***

Does that make sense to you?

 

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“All is One”, it is sometimes said.  The Sacred Art of the Sand Mandala as practiced at the  Cooper Beech Institute in Connecticut.  Photo from their site.

 

Salesmanship is the final example.  It is not a very exciting example of human togetherness but telling nonetheless.  If a salesperson sells you a product that will do the job you want, if they do not lie about their product’s abilities, if they do not hide some significant defect, and if they allow you to make the decision to buy without undo pressure, that is moral salesperson-ship. 

Of course, we all know that the caveat, “buyer beware”— caveat emptor — applies; the buyer also has moral responsibilities to look out for themselves.  Each knows that the other’s interests are not completely symmetric with their own.  Each knows that the other is “under pressure”, but not caused, to make some transaction.  It is out of the independence of the two, buyer and seller, that their eventual moral interaction raises them to a new level of enhanced functioning.  They both benefit.  Each comes away with more than they would have separatelyIt is a win-win.  

Morality is the affirmation, or betrayal, of our trust in other persons.  It is the basis for the interaction of persons at their higher level of existence.

(Complex human interactions based on shared ideas and trust.  This is moral responsibility and activity.  From the operating room to the football field, from the organized flow of traffic to the stock market, from the classroom to voting, all are based on a foundation of trust—though with sanctions and penalties to re-enforce it.)

 

Morality

Most of us feel, and sometimes think, deeply about morality.  Our trust has been shaken by current events.  Can we live together?  Can we act in unison, and pledge ourselves to this?  Yes, we can and must!  Morally responsible action is the basis of our human life at its most rewarding level: we must struggle to maintain it.  

I hope this post helped clarify the Fact of Morality and bolster your preference for itYour reflection is necessary.  Today, a discussion exists; today the character of morality hangs in the balance, as it has at other times in our history.  Act now.  Human trust is worth the struggle.

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Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals (1932) depict life at the complex level of concerted action                                                       by socialized human beings.                                                                                       “Social unrest was in the air. On March 7 1932, the Ford Hunger March took place, during which laid-off and wage-slashed factory workers clashed with anti-union enforcers hired by Henry Ford. Four marchers were killed, while 60,000 people later took part in their funeral procession.”  It was that year, in the midst of the Great Depression, that muralist and communist, Diego Rivera and his new wife — Frida Kalho, came to town commissioned to paint by Edsel Ford, Henry’s maverick son!  And paint they did, producing what Rivera felt was his greatest work, “Detroit Industry”, detail above.  Thanks to “The Conversation” blog for quote and detail.
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A very infectious meme, in 1932, and another form of cultural and historical based action.

(An estimated 4,000 workers rallied and marched for jobs and increased wages in Detroit on this cold day in March.  At the Dearborn city line, police fired tear gas and bullets.  Marchers scattered but then regrouped and pushed forward, throwing rocks and bottles, one mile into Dearborn heading for Ford’s largest auto plant.  From an overpass, police sprayed fire hoses on the cold and advancing workers.  Ford ‘security’ forces fired bullets.  22 were wounded by gunfire, 4 killed.  The march was then abandoned.)

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Here is a meme I’m promoting.  Help secure our trust in moral interaction: Ban ARs!

*For presentation on Memes, see D. Dennett, From Bacteria to Bach and Back, chapters 10-11.  The concept of Meme is a cross between concepts of a Thought, a Gene and a Virus.  It allows Dennett to discuss Cultural Evolution and its changes of intellectual themes with great latitude.  By contrast, Hard Determinism has virtually no ability to discuss the complexity, marvel and effectiveness of our intellectual lives except in vague platitudes about ‘adaptions to environments’ and ‘future neural discoveries’.

**Plato argued, with some plausibility, for a government by Philosopher-King.  In general, the theme being explored here is that the origin of morality is closely associated to the origin of language.  Both of these are then connected to the beginnings of Reflective Thought.  Themes to be tackled in the future (Oh joy!?).

***There is a strange movie about a man who has no memory, long term (?) or short.  He is totally freaked out, and, of course being a movie, determined to find out What happened, but also, Who did this to him!  He has few lasting ‘connections’ to who he is and what he is trying to do.  So, he takes a lot of notes, for himself, including tattooing some really important info on his body!  “Memento” released in 2000.                              Nor is there a reasonable way to think that all, or most, of our beliefs are wrong.  To think that consciousness is illusion, gives us no avenue to consciously come up with that idea.  The argument undermines itself.

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Detail of Detroit Industry Mural by Diego Rivera.

        “This is modern morality, the shared responsibility for our togetherness.”

 

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Logo drawing by Marty

Dayton, Ohio

(Written several days after the mass shooting in the early morning hours of August 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio.  Cartoon added post factum.)

 

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We’re from Dayton!  On Saturday night, a gunman walked the street of a popular entertainment area in Dayton.  In 24 seconds of shooting, he killed 9 people and wounded 26.  In 24 seconds!  How is that possible?  See the picture of the gun below and how it was equipped.

Here at naturereligionconnection, my wife and I both grew up in Dayton and lived there somewhat as adults.  We still have very close friends and family there.  Sunday morning I was already upset by the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, in which 20 people were killed and 27 wounded.  My wife called, she told me of Dayton; it was like getting punched in the stomach.  Two mass shootings in 13 hours and “We’re from Dayton!”  

Dayton is not a huge city, but it is no small town.  With about 150,000 residents, it is far from its hay day in the early 60’s when it had nearly 300,000.  Its suburbs have continued to grow.

Know as the birthplace of aviation, the Wight brothers lived there and built their first powdered aircraft.  Later it was the headquarters of NCR (National Cash Register), and as a child I remember riding along Patterson Ave. which was lined on both sides with six story red brick building with large windows all filled with machinists building cash registers for the world.   But that was then, and now NCR has moved away and so have all the auto plants.

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Assault Rifle used by Dayton shooter.  It was equipped with a “drum magazine” in which each drum holds 50 rounds and are immediately available for discharge.  As of  yesterday, the exact number of rounds fired was unknown but police estimated he fired several dozen, in 24 seconds!  The El Paso shooter also used an assault rifle.  Each wore bullet-proof vests and noise mufflers on their ears.                                                               NO PRIVATE CITIZEN SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO OWN SUCH A WEAPON! 

When I began to write this blog, I said that it was Not going to include politics, even though my wife and I are very involved in it.  This is an exception!  I will not sit quietly as this carnage continues.  Anti gun-violence has always been a cause of ours, and our yard is often ‘graced’ with various political signs including gun violence signs.  The sign at the top of this blog is now nailed to our tree facing facing the street.

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Some of our signs.

This morning I have already called 3 elected officials, all Republicans, and appealed to their best instincts; well, in 2 of those cases there may be some ‘best instincts’, to the third, I simply threatened to work till I drop to see him defeated unless he do something to limit gun access

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This summer so far, here in Columbus, there have been at least 4 shooting deaths of teens by teens.  In our state, an assault rifle can be purchased by an 18 year-old but that 18 year-old can’t buy a beer!

Yesterday, when I was so frustrated and angered upon hearing of the shooting in Dayton, I tried to call my best friend there to commiserate with him.  He was not available so I left a message expressing my outrage and sadness.  But shortly thereafter, I realized, what if he is Not OK; what if he or his wife is among the dead or injured?  I called right back, for they often frequent that area of dear old Dayton that was so violated, and this time he answered.  As shaken and angry as I, and more so, they were fine and they had been there, to that district, the night before!  Life is too precious and short already, this violence cannot go on.

Some say, “But what can stop it?”  I say, let us do any reasonable thing, any reasonable SIX things, and see if it helps.  Red Flag laws, universal background checks, raising the age for purchase, banning enlarged magazines, ending concealed carry, increased mental health services, required safe storage, BANNING ARs —– anything that limits guns and their abuse.  And even if, after this, the violence is not greatly diminished, at least we will be able to say:  WE ARE NOT A PART OF IT, WE TRIED.

Doing nothing enables more : Help change the cultural climate.

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all signs created by GregWW

Please, Do Something NOW, Help End Gun Violence in America!!!

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Press “Do Something”!!!  Thoughts and Prayers are nothing.  Cartoon from Why Evolution Is True blog,   Source not attributed, but thanks for its use!
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Drawing by Marty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hemerocallis: The Daylily

(Back from vacation!  Thanks for your patience, I needed the break.  This first year of blogging has been very exciting and more tiring than I realized.  Much was accomplished, and yet the Human Freedom Series needs to be finished; hopefully just several additional posts.  This current post sets out in a very different direction, far more accessible, far more enjoyment.  I hope it works for you!  I apologize for some of the layout difficulties, some of them are just insurmountable.  All Flower Photos are by me and taken from The Garden of Sheri and Greg — “our little nature preserve”.   Thanks, GregWW)

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The beautiful goddess of the day — hemerocallis — the daylily, is in bloom in central Ohio.  Gracing the backyard with its ephemeral structure, each blossom lasts only a single unbroken span of daylight, yet, long enough to serve the plant’s purpose —fertilization and reproduction — and our purpose — delight and amazement.

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Hemera, a minor Greek god, goddess of the day.  Painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1881) and ruffles from a large ruffled yellow.

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This Backyard’s Variety

 

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Large Yellow
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Ruffled Yellow
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Green-Throated Red

 

 

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Green tinted Yellow

 

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Ruffled Orange

 

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Green-Throated Purple

 

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Yellow-Throated Red

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ruffled Pinks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Orange or The Old-Fashioned, also known as the Tiger or “road” or “ditch” Lily.

There are 19 species of Daylily, and the plant is native to Asia.  The Orange was first brought to America in the 17th century from England and it, and several other varieties, became subject to intense breeding. There are now over 80,000 registered cultivars!  Soon the original oranges escaped the gardens and populated roadsides and ditches.  That plant is now considered an invasive species.

Ironically, the Daylily is not a true Lily, as are Easter, Asiatic or the Oriental lily.  No longer considered part of the Lilium family the change occurred in 2009 due to genetic analysis.  It is now classified as an ASPARAGUS — Aspragales!   There is some structural similarities and this new classification is more consistent with the little known fact that the daylily can be eaten by humans and has been for possibly thousand of years!

Fresh asparagus, ready for preparation.

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The daylily flower stalk (right) resembles the flower stalk of an asparagus (left) in appearance and structure.  The above is the stalk of a Tiger Lily which I ate this morning, raw, after finding out they were edible.  Being a fan of raw and fresh asparagus, I found the consistency similar, but the more developed flower bud of the daylily was more leafy and lettuce-like upon eating than the asparagus and left a rather tangy, pepper-like, and pleasant aftertaste.

Size

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From the 6-7 inch wingspan of the above purple, to the 3-4 inch diameter of the above yellow-throated red, different daylily flowers vary greatly in size.  Their flower stalks can range from almost knee-high to those of the Tiger Lily which often soar above much of the rest of the garden at and above 4 feet.

Structure

One of the great joys of the Hemerocallis is it dramatic settings of Pistil and Stamen.

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These male and female parts flow from the throat of the flower with the pistil, the female part, always extending far beyond the male part, the stamen.  The Stigma of the pistil is its extended tip.  Here is where the pollen must land and almost literally take root.  The stigma is sticky and the pollen that lands there then grows a Pollen Tube that must traverse the length of the pistil, called the Style, to the ovary and its egg deep in the throat at the base of the flower.  The stigma is difficult to photograph, for me, due to its small size and luminous, glowing, surface.

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Avoiding self-fertilization, the female pistil extends far beyond the male stamen.

Mother Nature, in the design of the daylily, has chosen to follow a rule not often duplicated in many other flowering plants.  She, like the nuns at my Catholic grade school, has chosen to keep the boys and girls far apart at recess, in an effort to forestall any easy fertilization.  The longest pistil in my garden was over 4 inches in length, running far ahead of the stamen.

The stamen are a different story; they are dramatic and easy to photograph among all the contrasting colors and shapes.

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There are always 6 stamen, each composed of its Anther that tops its Filament.  The anther is, of course, the pollen producing organ. and it often displays noted markings and can be loaded with yellow pollen grains .

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Ruffles have been a characteristic sought and developed through Selective Breeding.  A cultivar is a variety of plant developed through the efforts of human breeders.  In the wild, Nature Selects the characteristics of living things  — the process of natural selection — but as is true of so much around us now,  humans select and design much of our own world (see post 5, “Advantages Within the Human Social Organism” in the Human Freedom Series).  This is certainly true of the Hemerocallis, with its 80,000 cultivars!  Ruffles, colors, sizes, bloom rate and repetition, all have been intelligently designed through breeding.

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But Selective Breeding comes at a cost.  It is through a brief description of the method that this cost may become evident.

A good Breeding Line of daylily will focus on a goal of enhancing a particular characteristic, say ruffles.  The breeder will seek to enhance the depth, the color, the definition, along with the reliability of each offspring having that ruffle; along with diminished unfavorable traits.

This is accomplished through some out-crosses, but mostly inbreeding.  A sibling-cross is the deliberate fertilization of a plant with the pollen of its sister/brother, in other words, plants with the same parent each with strong ruffles.   A back-cross is a parent being fertilized  by the pollen of one of its offspring displaying strong ruffles (or the offspring being fertilized by its parent’s pollen).  This inbreeding is repeated many times to secure a strong line of breeders for that traitThe result can be a good breading line, but also sterility.  These plants are no longer capable of reproducing sexually through seeds, but still capable of asexual reproduction through side-shoots.

The Life Cycle of the DaylilyIMG_E4796

The daylily starts to push its finger-like foliage from the soil in mid spring here in central Ohio.  By time of flower bloom these leaves are about an inch wide, arching from the ground and then bending back ground-ward; their peak no higher than the knee but often lower.

By mid to later June, flower shoots begin to appear   IMG_E4771and rapidly stretch upward.  Their increasing maturity is apparent day by day.

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The blossom below (left) will open the following day.  The flower below (right) is in the act of opening early after the sun has risen.

 

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By later June, weather depending of course. flowers on some varieties will begin to open.  Each stalk will contain 4 – 6 buds that hopefully, and usually, will open in succession.  Total bloom time in central Ohio is about 4 – 5 weeks or from later June to about end of July.

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But as stated, the run of a single blossom is only a day.  The question now is “Has it been fertilized and will it set seed?”  First, the wilted flower must be left on, no dead-heading if you want your lilies to go to seed.  If all goes well, at the base of the flower a seed pod will begin to appear.  It takes 40 – 60 days for that pod to mature at which point it will dry and  begin to crack open.

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IMG_E4810 (1)Some experienced breeders contend Daylily seeds germinate better after experiencing  a stretch of cold weather.  They recommend seeds be put in the refrigerator for at least one month.  Others contend that seeds can be put directly into the ground or a paper towel and kept moist till germination in about 1-2 weeks.  I have no personal experience with this, but can happily report that the experiment is now under way in my backyard and refrigerator.

Reflecting Upon My Practice of Growing the Hemerocallis

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As writing this  blog, I began to think back on my own methods of growing Daylilies.   As has been contended on this site, Self-Reflection is what separates we humans from the rest of the animal kingdom and poor plants are left even farther behind.  I came upon several insights.

 

 

One of them was quite shocking.  I had no seed pods on any of my daylilies!  None.  In our 12 patches, we had not a single pod.IMG_E4819  At first, I though about sterility, but then soon realized that it was our meticulous habit of dead-heading. Nothing inhibits the enjoyment of the day’s fresh bloom, like the wilted mess of yesterday’s expired beauty right next to it.  Without allowing the faded flower, the seed pod cannot form.

As I began to think of this further, I felt some concern, maybe guilt, that our practice had so seriously disrupted Nature’s Cycle, Nature’s Goal.  The flower’s Purpose is the sexual reproduction of this organism; its goal is to set seed and disperse them.  Our goal, my goal, was their beauty.  Our Aesthetic Experience had supervened to disrupt this cycle.  Nature’s purpose had been superceded by our own!IMG_E4726 (1)

I have now decided to cut back on dead-heading.  I have started to allow some exhausted blossoms to remain and hopefully go to seed.  Experts contend that approximately half will go into pod production given a good environment.

And this will allow me to start toying with breeding.  Ironically, my realization of the disruption has now motivated me to further exert myself in shaping this organism.   And this, too, is Nature’s Way.  Long before human’s started to consciously breed plants (and animals), animals, including humans, Unconsciously Bred Plants.  The rule of thumb, ‘Eat the fattest and sweetest’ — and other such reasonable impulses — has led to the alteration of most of the plants that we consume.

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The original banana!  Thanks to science alert for photo.

For example, the wild strawberry is minute.  Natural apples are an inch in diameter.  The wild almond is bitter and contains cyanide!  The original banana held sizable and inedible seeds.  The list goes on and on.  And the effort of shaping plants to our use (and animal use, in general) started very early.  Evidence indicates that Peas may have been one of the first domesticated, deliberately grown plants by 8000 B.C.; “olives by 4000 B.C., strawberries during the Middle Ages and pecans not until 1846″, says Jared Diamond in his wonderful book Guns, Germs, and Steel.

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All flower photos are by GregWW and taken in the Garden of Sheri and Greg.

Goodbye to The Hemerocallis for This Year!

As I started this post, the daylily was starting to bloom; as I end it, they too are fading.  August is upon us and only a few of the latest bloomers still thrive.  This post is coming to an end also, and the effort to write it, and display all its photos, was far in excess of what I had anticipated.  I learned much, and enjoyed much.  I hope you did too.

 

 

 

 

 

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naturereligionconnection logo drawn by Marty

 

 

 

Welcome Visitors from Near and Far

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It was rather thrilling to wake up the other day and check my site.  I had a reader from Russia! (Hopefully it’s not a troll or a bot; maybe they are looking to plant a pro – Trump story.  Not On This Site!)
But seriously, this site is still struggling to build a basic and consistent following, but when I find that starting to happen, as it is now, and then some of those readers are from across the globe, it’s extraordinary!  Thanks to WordPress’ technology, I am provided with the countries of origin of some of my readers and thus far I can report at least occasional  readers form as far away as Israel, Germany, England, France and Japan.  It’s a nice feeling for a humble central Ohioan such as myself.

Thanks to All, and please leave a comment — even if a harsh one.  I need your input!  GregWW

Post Script:  The day following the above post, my readership consisted of a resident of Finland, Singapore and Russia again!  Around this house, they are starting to call me “Global Greg” and that’s no longer for just the shape of my stomach!

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Drawing by arty Marty

Where Things Come From

(This post “gets down”!  Some serious metaphysical speculation occurs.  Tighten your seat belts, or better, pull on your waders for the S#!% gets deep!  As the title would suggest, we discuss very basic things and come to a Quasi Reverential Conclusion.  This is not about god: It’s about something better, something real, something more reasonable.  This post is being published in both the Human Freedom Series (post 15)  and  in The Connection (posts in general).  It is pertinent and accessible to both.  It is a short description and defense of philosophical Holism.  —this post is revised from its original version—)

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A Specifically Shaped Protein “emerges” from the linear Code of            the Amino Acid Sequence.  An Rho protein shown above. (diagram from bangscience.org)

“To the ancients, it was reasonable to believe that there were all kinds of fundamentally different things in the world; in modern thought, we try to do more with less.”

Physicist Sean Carroll, author of The Big Picture 

The universe is full of many different things.  These different things have even more different qualities.  Flowers have a quality.  Stars have a quality.  Stars and flowers have qualities that they share.  The color red has a quality, similar to green but also very different.

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The “Bleeding Heart”, Dicentra, an early bloomer in central Ohio, has a Quality of its own. (photo by GWW)

In previous posts, I have attempted to argue that all these different difference have “emerged” from from a source not so different, in fact, a lot the same.  “Structure” is the foundation of this contention.  Differences in structure, or the Design, of our basic substance allows this “One Thing, to Become Many Things”.  Not surprisingly, this idea has attracted some criticism.

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“The Hidden Galaxy” is normally hidden from our view by our own Milky Way.  It, too, has a quality of its own. (photo courtesy of Arturas Medvedevas)

 

One of my closest readers and critics is a chemist from western Canada, I believe. Recently he challenged me to specify “emergent”,  as in:  the pieces come together and what “emerges” are abilities and qualities that are “more than the sum of their parts” (my terminology).  He contended that I was calling for some kind of “magical” event and he gave me a situation in chemistry where some atomic elements ‘come together’ and nothing much of significance happens that is new.  I guess they are like a pile of sand; a pile is a way of being ‘together’ but it just sits there, no different if it were half its size or had some slices of pepperoni thrown in.   He asked me to give him an example he could accept.  Here are my attempts.

A car

A car is obviously a complex of atoms.  But, when we talk about cars, we don’t talk

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Does the Design of the car ‘hold’or ‘force’ its atoms to behave as it wants them to?  Is there a more subtle and accurate way to think of this coordination of levels?

about atoms.  We talk in terms of “rods and pistons”, “axles and wheels”, “driveshafts, starters and brakes”.  And to talk this way actually works to drive a car, to fix one, to design one.  Biologist Richard Dawkins used this example, in The Blind Watchmaker, to describe the “complexity” he contends exists in a car and its abilities that lay beyond the need for ‘atom talk’.  The point is, first, to talk of these kind of parts (and not the grains of sand in a pile) is effective, it works; and, second, it’s effective because the atoms, usually and normally, don’t interfere with that ADDITIONAL LEVEL of structure.  They (the atoms) are ‘the clay’ that is molded — it would seem; do they ‘call the shots’ here?  Somehow the design has a significant ‘say’; and, in this way, something new and important happens in cooperation with atoms that has never happened before ‘in our neck of the woods’: humans now move across land in great comfort and with significant efficiency.

A living thing

A living thing is my second example.  “Hunting the Elements” is a very enjoyable episode of Nova hosted by technology writer, David Pogue.  David and a biochemist go to a hardware store to buy all the basic ingredients to create life.  Yes, CHNOPS* is common

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Almost all the ingredients of life are available at the local hardware. (photo courtesy of Popular Mechanics)

enough to be found there.  You can pile it into one overflowing shopping cart (in their appropriate proportions) and purchase them for a little over $100.  Well, all except the phosphorus, which is obtained amusingly by processing five gallons of David’s urine that he dutifully returns to the men’s room, repeatedly, to obtain.  So, it’s not hard to get the basic pieces for life, the issue is how to ‘get them together’ properly for anything other than dry goods to “emerge”.

In his book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (“dangerous” because it is so revolutionary), philosopher Dan Dennett discusses the origins of life by citing prominent biochemical theorist and researcher, Manfred Eigen.  “There is an unmistakable engineering flair to Eigen’s thinking”, says Dennett; “His research is a sequence of biological construction problems posed and solved: how do the materials get amassed at the building site, and how does the design get determined, and in what order are the various parts assembled so that they don’t fall apart before the whole structure is completed?”

These living structures do something very different from the chemical elements that

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Functioning in Living Structures involves many Levels of Organization.  Diagram from BC Open Textbooks, thanks for its use.

compose them.  These are their Emergent Qualities.  They function to meet needs that preserves their living structure not only through a prolonged period of time but even generation after generation.  Living structures Defend themselves, Ingest additional energy and develop behaviors to Seek it; they Reproduce their structures in what we call “babies” or “offspring”.  Imagine an automobile having babies, seeking gas to refill itself and defending itself from damage.  Or the Sun, seeking additional hydrogen and dividing itself like a single-celled organism.  

Interestingly, cars are now driving themselves (goal-seeking behavior and centralized command)  and working to avoid contact (self-defense) by sensors (sensation) and automatic braking.  Hurricanes ingest additional warmth and moisture and thereby grow.  So, the line between living and non-living is a fuzzy one as Evolutionary Theory demands (a claim by Dennett) and any Holistic Philosophy would advocate.  An accurate science-based philosophy recognizes Science’s Quest to explain all phenomena in a deterministic manner but also recognizes that activity and functioning based on standards to attain goals and needs as also real.  The Activity of Doing Science by living, choosing, human beings must be reconcilable with the Deterministic World science uncovers.

So, through emergence, it’s a very tricky process to get more out of less.

*CHNOPS: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, sulfur.

A protein

A protein is my final, and prolonged, example.  I believe it will get us into the murkiest and most subtle areas of “emergence”.   Again, we return to Dennett:

“Shape is destiny in the world of macromolecules.  A one-dimensional sequence of amino acids…determines the identity of a protein, but the sequence only partially constrains  the way the one-dimensional protein string folds itself up.  It typically springs into just one of many possible shapes…This three-dimensional shape is the source of its power…” (my added italics)

Some sequence of code, a message like the following:  A–G  A–G  T–C  G–A A–G T–C (only much longer) becomes a specifically shaped protein as below.  What controls or determines the protein as a specific shape?

An extra “dimension” is added at the level of “protein”; the 3D shape is the emergent property.  The linear sequence of amino acids, “A–G A–G T–C G–A …” , could be maintained at the level of protein with no constraints on the shape that protein takes.  The shape, as protein, could be perfectly circular or many other shapes, and maintain the sequence of amino acids in order.  Yet, the ‘movement’ from a “one dimension” sequence of information, at the level of amino acids, to a determined three dimensional shaped protein is consistent and “Emergent” and, as such, the “source of its power” as a protein.

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An Rho protein folded into its “prion-version”.  As such, it becomes a cause of Mad-cow disease and possibly Alzheimer’s.   Its shape as protein is its functional power.  So, from a linear sequence of code, to a three-dimensional protein shape, that is “Emergence”.   Normally, Rho proteins helps in the    transcription of DNA into                                                         functionally healthy proteins.                                                     (illustration from bangscience.org; The Oxford Scientist Magazine)

This emergent behavior in the building of proteins was “a puzzle” noted as far back as 1958 by biochemical researchers.  The famous biochemist, Jacques Monad, solved this puzzle in the early 1970’s, says Dennett.  Admittedly, it is an “abstract” issue, almost beyond the most immediate scope of biochemistry and verging on philosophy.  “That a one-dimensional code can be ‘for’ a three-dimensional structure shows that information is added.   Indeed, value is added.  The individual amino acids have value (by contributing to the functional prowess of the protein)…”, (Dennett and his italics).  Monad describes it as “function is linked to a three-dimensional structure whose data content is richer than the direct contribution made to the structure by the genome” (Monad’s italics).  This added “value“, this “data content is richer” is the reality of Emergence in the world around us.

Emergence is Real, but It Can’t Come From Nothing

Now the hard part.  How to explain these emergent appearances.  Without reasonable explanation, emergence is just magic or supernaturalism.  The claim that All Things Cannot Be Fully Explained In The Terms of Physics, is a claim important to the very basis of this blog, naturereligionconnection.org, and the claim that gives “Emergence” its urgency.  It is a claim repeatedly discussed in the Human Freedom Series of posts.  It is the claim that Explanation by Reduction to ‘less complex levels’ of  physical objects is useful, but limited in its accomplishments.  The concept of “Emergence” must explain how this added “value” and “richness” occurs.  The answer to this is that the emergent property “functions” in a context “larger” and “more complex” than used in the initial description of its components, its “parts”.   

Language is often used as an example.  As when a child is learning, and points and says “doggie”, whatever meager  meaning this may have to the child at this early point, later, when the child knows “cat”, “bird”, “pet”,”animal” and some other related terms, the child is become aware of, and is using, a much richer network of indicators and significance which gives “dog”—a single part— more meaning.

The structure as a whole is greater than its parts taken ind8ividually.

 

The Keystone: How a Whole can be Greater than the Sum of Its Parts, an ancient example.

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Once the keystone is put in place the arch is “far beyond” self-supporting: “a solid arch structure’s yield point is far  beyond realistic loads that structure would ever see.”    The Pont du Gard (Bridge over the Gardon River), Gard, France: built in the 1st century AD, as an aqueduct and bridge.  It carried vehicle traffic until 1996!                                            (quote form interestingengineering.com)

In an arch, once the keystone is set in place, the arch has structural integrity.  Until then it must rely on temporary supports, scaffolding and frames.  This wedged-shaped stone at the top of the arch is the last to be placed and locks all the other stones (the voissor — pronounced vu’swar/) in place.  Remarkably, the keystone bears almost no weight!  The design of the arch is such that the downward force (tension) of the load is conveyedbridge-clipart-segmental-arch-6 outward (compression) through the arch and only eventually and partially downward.  Beneath the keystone there is almost no tension, no downward push.  What is the arch’s load limit?

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A design can have great power; it can do things beyond the capabilities of its material organized in a less effective manner.  Diagram of the flow of forces in an arch.  (thanks to warwickallen.com)

“The ability for arches to hold load is far beyond any other structural element, even those today…For the Romans, and even engineer’s today, solid arch structure’s yield point is far beyond realistic loads that structure would ever see“, according to Interesting Engineering blog.

Sorry for the digression on arches,  but here is the point concerning the source of an emergent property:  Yes, it does “emerge” from the structure but only partially.   The additional source of information is from the thing/things around it that benefit from the “emergence.”  A structure, if it is to have Emergent Properties, must have them for a more comprehensive, ‘larger’, structure for which the emergent properties function.            

Therefore, an Emergent Property exists and is good, only to those who use it.        The information necessary for the emergence is contained not only in the structure, but also in the environment in which the structure is to function.         

A car and a protein only have value beyond their atoms due to their design which is useful to us (the car) and useful to living things (the proteins).  Even living things have Emergent Richness beyond their atoms only due to the roles they play, the functions they serve, the things they do for other living things, this planet, and to us, humans, who are starting to become conscious of this.

Outside of that Larger Context —- that arena of their usefulness —- they have no extra value!   Take arches (one last time!) — or arch-like structures:  They are useful to us as schema20arche20longitudinale20interne20anarchitectural technology, but they could certainly be used for similar purposes by other ‘more natural’ objects.  Just Google “arch” and you will get a lot about FEET!  Still, in each case, an arch exists for the thing for which it Functions.  Its value is what it does for the thing it serves.  It only “emerges” for the Larger Context in which it works. 

Folks, this is what is called, Some Serious Philosophical Speculation.  It’s down-right Metaphysics!  And just to make sure you know what “camp” you are in, if you buy the above argument, You are a HOLIST.  You want to make as much of life around you ‘fit together’ in a meaningful (coherent) Unity.  It can be pictured a little like nested bowls or Russian dolls successively packed inside each other; and it sounds a little like religion, this always seeking this greater unity.  And it is; we here at Nature Religion Connection will agree.  Its the basis for a NATURALISTIC REVERENCE.

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Exotic Landscape, painting by Henri Rousseau (1908)    Richer qualities emerge, value is added, when objects function for purposes in a Larger Context.

Emergence exists Only for the Thing for which the Function Occurs

Now, automobiles, and life, proteins and arches, did not have to emerge on this planet.  It is a lucky development; lucky for us, I would think.  It has been contended here, at naturereligionconnection, that emergent properties are not in contradiction to the most abstract laws of physics but they are, also, not a necessary outgrowth of them, either.  They are an historic accident, in some ways, and then have become ‘solidified’ by what has developed after them that depends on them.  That will be an important point in this discussion: primitive life stuck, and then much has developed based on it and its discoveries.  Arches worked, and then much has been learned and developed from them.  

Here is Origination, Holistic style: a larger context exists, but indistinctly;  an emergent property comes to exist that fits that context.  The first thing it does is give that environment much more clarity and

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Emergent properties are like a key that finds its lock.  It opens new possibilities. 

specificity (it becomes an informed environment).  They begin to interact.  The thing and its environment feedback on each other. 

Think of a primitive environment as if it were a rudimentary lock.  No simple key initially exists to turn it.  Many varied formations ‘tried’.  Finally one fit, and opened the lock to its revealed new abilities and qualities (it now really is a lock, for surely locks could not exist without keys to open them).  Maybe, then, yet another round of development of locks and keys occurs, each changing, yet still as lock and key, only better.  With luck and time, if the innovations are ‘rich’ and ‘valuable’ enough,  much can possibly develop.  Our little corner of the universe has a long history — from our point of view — of such fortunate growth.  We can ‘see’ and ‘understand’ the reasons for it.  It is the basis for persons and their informed  “point of view”. **

And this is the answer to an earlier question.  If the DNA code only partially informs (determines) the protein, leaving a three-dimensional shape as a “richer” consequence that “appears”,

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Without a key in the lock, the upper pins drop down from the housing into the cylinder, locking it in place.  But with the key, the pins are appropriately lifted allowing the cylinder to turn and the lock to open.”  (diagram and quote from EXPLAINTHATSTUFF.

where does the additional controls, the additional information, come from?  Not any old shape will do, and a regular set of functional shapes of that protein does occur.  Think back to the lock and key.  It is the environment (the lock) that contains the additional information.  It must “select” the key that will turn its tumblers.  And here on Earth, we have been very fortunate; many locks have been opened, and many more keys have been generated.

Dennett uses the example of DNA to make the above point.  “Note that this reasoning does not yield the conclusion that double-stranded DNA must develop, for Mother Nature

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Evolution as a series of “retroactive endorsements”.  The present “endorses” the accomplishments of the past.

had no advance intention to create multicellular life.  It just reveals that if double-stranded DNA happens to begin to develop, it opens up opportunities that are dependent on it.  Hence it becomes a necessity for those exemplars in the space of all possible life forms that avail themselves of it, and if those life forms prevail over those that do not avail themselves of it, that yields a retroactive endorsement of this raison d’etre for the DNA language.  This is the way evolution always discovers reasons — by retroactive endorsement” (Dennett’s italics, my bolding).

But some, who are enamored by the laws of physics, insist the basic ways we think about ourselves, and maybe even “life” in general, are mistaken, illusion.  Animals don’t really “Do New Things”, by comparison to the chemicals that make them; they only maxresdefaultappear to, and are, in reality, only prolonged chains of those chemicals reacting.  Humans don’t have ‘Free Will’; they are not ‘Responsible’ for their behavior.  Again, those appearances are ignorance, illusions akin to seeing ‘gods’.  “The world is really long chains of basic causes and it is foolish to speak differently”, they say.

But sometimes, appearances are enough!  As we look out from our position in space and time the world comes together to us.  We are impressed with our own active efforts, and the active efforts of those around us — both human and non-human.  It’s the Tree of Life, with all its related objects and their advancing series of motives, intentions and abilities.  Nature has given us this foundation and it’s panoply of reasons from which we may seek further growth.  We will even learn more physics, and use that knowledge to “Emerge” with greater ability to act and hopefully a more firm understanding of how all things may be able to work together for mutual enhancement.  It appears those opportunities are available to us, but part of the equation is that we try — we act according to the highest standards set in our most prized cultural settings.  For creatures that must ‘see’ an open future, possibilities must “appear”!

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“The Smile of the Flamboyant Wings”, painting by Joan Miro (1953)             For creatures with open futures, it is necessary that possibilities “appear”!

**This description of “Origination, holistic style” may sound pretty fishy.  It is rather, but is has a significant history in philosophical thought.  Recently, it was associated with the discussion of ‘when is a thing still the same thing even after it has changed?’ and was a pivotal topic for Wittgenstein, I believe.  Going back to some of the origins of abstract thinking in Greece, it was associated with Plato’s problem of, we might say, ‘what is “a chair”, if every chair that exists is not “the same” exactly — and many do vary dramatically — as any other “chair” that exists?’  In the end these issues come down to the problem of Reference or Representation, I believe.  How is one thing ‘about’ or ‘represent’ another thing?  Reference or Representation seems to be a very different kind of relation than Causation, and therefore a real curve ball for scientific explanation.  And, of course, science is itself a representation of the world.

 

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Logo (detail) by Marty

Easter Joke!

It’s Easter Sunday morning and did you hear?  “He has risen!”  And how about this one?  Maybe you haven’t heard it.

Three guys die and its Easter. They are all atheists and good people, humanist types.
Much to their surprise they find themselves standing at the Pearly Gates with St. Peter, who says to them,
“I would really like to get you guys in here. You’ve lived good lives, been kind to people…
but to get you in you need to know something about Jesus, and since its Easter tell me about that.”
He turns to the first guy who says, “I got nuttin’.” Peter turns and presses a button, “Eehhnntt”, down he goes!
Pete turns to the second guy and says, “Come on, I’d really like to get you in!  Easter and Jesus!”
The guy looks puzzled and says, “Uhhhhh, chocolate rabbits, colored eggs, uhhhh…”
“Eehhnntt,” down he goes!
The third guy says, “Wait a minute, I think I got this. Jesus was this guy who lived back with the Romans and he went around trying to do good things, miracles and stuff, and he attracted a following but got in trouble with the authorities who put him to death around Easter time.”
St. Pete, excitedly, “Yes, yes, tell me more!
“Well, his followers,” the guy says proudly, “took Jesus’ body and placed it in a cave, a big hole and rolled a rock in front of it, and in a couple of days Jesus wakes up and comes out of his hole,. And then …. how does it go? If he sees his shadow, its….”
“Eeehhhnnnttt !”

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                         “Resurrection” by Rembrandt                     Ya gotta love those angel-babies, my grandmother sure              did!  Thanks to CATHOLICvirol for the image.

GOD and EVOLUTION or You can’t get Something from Nothing but You can get More from Less.

(This is the Second Post for this new blog, naturereligionconnection.org.  Thank you for your curiosity concerning this curious topic.  What are the boundaries between Nature and Religion?  Can traditional religion offer us anything of value in our world of science?  Here some opening arguments are considered in this debate. Please comment, your thoughts are appreciated!    GregWW)

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Da Vinci’s Chistine Chapel

I almost stumbled into a theological debate the other day. It was prevented by my not frequently used sense of tact.     At a family gathering, a young in-law was commenting on his  course in theology and surprisingly, he said he liked it!  As an incoming freshman at the catholic University of Dayton (Ohio), it is a required course.  He liked the logic of it and its abstract thoughtfulness, he said.

An older in-law chimed in saying that he too took that course many decades previously.  He is a graduate of  U.D. and slightly religious, but mostly he is a very practical man; a successful business owner and a person not inclined to obtuse thought of any form.  Yet, one idea from the course stuck with him, he said: “that in the beginning there was nothing, and now there is something; God was necessary to get something out of nothing.”

I declined to respond to that particular idea.  I was under strict orders (from the wife) to keep things light; so instead, I remarked that other theological arguments were of interest too, like the argument for God from design, or even the “ontological proof,” and that is where the discussion pretty much ended.

And there is something of interest in some of these ‘proofs.’  The argument from design,

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God, “The Father”, looking down from the heavens: the Great Designer.  This painting is often used but seldom attributed to an artist.  I do not know its source.

for example, contends that all the fancy, complex interconnections in the world around us (including us) is evidence of a supremely capable designer, God. That contention is akin to the “something from nothing” argument.  How do you get all the marvels of today from, if not exactly nothing, then from the interaction of only heat, chemicals, and gravity, for example?  It seems to many people an insufferable gap—a metaphysical leap—between non-life and life, insensate matter and consciousness, a universe of only atoms and a universe of goodness and evil, beauty and the abhorrent.

“The vast majority of life is gravity and electromagnetism pushing around electrons and nuclei” contends the physicist Sean Carroll in his widely read The Big Picture, On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself.  In this post, we will try to provide an answer to that ‘smaller’ part of life that seems to be a bit more than Carroll’s four components from above.

The Traditional Answer

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The Big Bang

The traditional answer to these conundrums is to impose some magic:  A divinity must intervene.  A grand creator is necessary. Some ‘breath’ (the Greek noumena) must be added to the “dust.”  Some ‘spark’ must be applied; a spark like a common earthly spark—in some ways—but much more potent because of its immaterial character. You need to add some ‘spirit’ to matter; some supreme intelligence must be at work, it is said.

Concerning “something from nothing,” the answer I could have given my theistic relative is this: “You have painted yourself into an intellectual corner. In common experience and scientific research, we never discover the predecessor of a thing to be nothing, or the working components of a thing to be nonexistent (no insides!).  Yet this is how you have framed your problem—‘how from nothing, something?’  It is little wonder that you need to go fishing and come up with an equally baffling idea for an answer: God.”

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Rutherford model of the atom

“In reality what we always find is a series of things leading to another thing or originating in another thing.  In a larger thing, we always find smaller parts. So, in general, it’s processes inside of processes inside of processes; cycles inside of cycles; parts made of parts; all the way ‘down’ (smaller) and all the way ‘out’ (larger).  This, and not theism, is the most reasonable philosophical belief for today,” I could have concluded.

 

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The Solar System, a system within the larger system of our galaxy.  The living systems of Earth are then very dependent on there place in this Solar system.

That is a satisfying answer, certainly suitable for any free-wheeling family get-together discussion; but in our current context—here at the Nature Religion Connection-–it  needs an addendum for a more complete understanding.

When the processes in processes and the cycles on top of cycles come together in a new way and create a new thing, new qualities and abilities emerge in that object.  “ ‘Emergent’: important word that,” says biology theorist, Richard Dawkins.  In other words, where did these qualities and abilities in this new thing come from? Is their appearance some deep mystery that needs more than a physical explanation to understand?  Is it a ‘leap’ as unlikely as “getting blood from a turnip,” as the old saying puts it?

Getting More From Less

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Drawing of Goethe’s poem “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by F. Barth

No, it is not a metaphysical leap, but it is getting more from less.  Though we cannot get something from nothing, Evolution* can get more from, well, less.  And, in this sense, we do need a special explanatory principle.  Evolutionary Theory is how we explain the origin and existence of complexity; it is how we explain “Climbing Mount Improbable,” says Dawkins.  “The basic Darwinian motif” is “in the beginning there was some relatively unstructured and unsophisticated raw material; mutations of one sort or another occurred; and out of this emerged something novel,” contends the philosopher and cognitive scientist, Daniel Dennett. This novel thing that is produced will be more structured; it will be the outcome of a more sophisticated organization, a more designed “raw material.”  That is how to get more from less, enhance the design!   

The so-called ‘leap’ in ability and character that appear in the new object may be as humble as the combination of two gases to get a liquid-–two hydrogen atom and one oxygen to get a water molecule.  This ‘leap’ from gas to liquid does not shock us, though maybe it should considering it is a precursor of more startling things to come.  For example, it seems that the proper combination of six chemicals can create life!  To add insult to injury for those confounded by this possibility, for around $100 you can buy materials containing five of these chemicals (in their proper proportions) at your local hardware store and obtain the sixth by distilling urine!

Of course, all the ‘magic’ is in the recipe—how can you put these six elements together to allow them to live?  It’s like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein!  Various biochemists around the world are working at this very moment to do this, and, though they have made some significant advances, to date they have failed.  To some people this leaves the door open: ‘there are gaps unbridgeable by science between not only non-life and life but also matter and consciousness, and caused events and free will,’ they protest.  It is not hard to have some sympathy for this view, as an account in American Indian lore puts it: “on what particular day, long ago, did the mud sit up?”

There are No Gaps

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Philosopher and theorist in wide ranging areas: Dan Dennett.  He is one of the ‘guiding lights’ here at NatieRel.

Dennett, has two suggestions to help us with the appearance of such “leaps.”  One, he argues that in reality there are no drastic gaps ;  and two, we need to update our imagination and intuition if we feel there is.

First, he says, what lies between non-life and life, matter and conscious, et al, is a very long series of gradual changes, slight adjustments, incremental installments that create slightly more complex things, slightly more capable molecules, states and creatures.   Billions of years of such tiny attempts form the evolutionary road to where we are today.  This “gradualism” is a key component in Evolution and in the logic of any Holistic philosophy.  Dennett carries this principal of gradualism to its logical end when he argues that, in reality, no exact line can be drawn between life and non-life, insensate things and conscious things, caused events and freely chosen actions!  In Nature, boundaries are always fuzzy and gradual.  Life shades off into non-life and freely chosen actions eek out some “elbow room” amid Nature as a causal matrix.

For example, viruses occupy a gray zone, neither alive nor dead.   Viruses both reproduce and are incapable of

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A virus is extremely simple and small.  Consisting of a protein shell and several strands of RNA or DNA.  Its size is between 20 to 30 millionths of a millimeter! Picture and info from Great Courses Daily blog.

reproducing on their own.  We can, in a sense, appropriately call them ‘bugs’—as in ‘flu bug’— yet we know they do not eat (metabolize).  They are sort of alive, as are early stage fetuses and brain-dead patients.

Sensitivity and consciousness is another example of gradualism.  In our everyday world, we think of a continuum of creatures who possess greater and lesser degrees of ‘mindfulness.’ An ant is like a little person, in some ways.  It is full of intentions, scurrying about with jobs to do, goals to accomplish.  Many of us even feel a twinge of regret if we step on one: ‘Oh, it must have felt pain.’ But we acknowledge that the ant is not a full-blown consciousness nor a full-blown person, and we kill hundreds of them with insecticide if they take up shop in our kitchen.

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A Water Hyacinth, Eichornia, like all plants, exhibits sensitivity and advanced responses.  Photo by GregWW.
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The family dog

A plant is even less sensitive than the ant, with no consciousness at all; but the family dog, it ranks way up there, fully conscious (?), loyal, nearly a person.  This continuum of growing consciousness, abilities and even ‘person-ality’ is what Dennett calls “a deep fact, the kind you build a theory on.”  This fact reflects the history of the evolutionary appearance of abilities and creatures.  In western culture, our awareness of these resemblances has been prevalent since, at least, the middle ages.  There is “a great chain of          being.”

 

 

 

Gradualism

IMG_E3234In medieval philosophy and lore, this “great chain” started with God at the top and ran down to angels, humans, animals, plants and finally inanimate objects.  It was thought to be the manifestation of god-like abilities in the world (in more modern terms, ‘mindfulness’, consciousness and value). Their chain included the social order, the prejudices and political ideology of the feudal society in Europe. It is curious to note, in the depiction at left, many of the particular rankings but especially that of actor—below a beggar and just above a thief!

This “Great Chain” is a “top-down” model of creation, says Dennett, and was one of the mainstay arguments against Evolution: ‘Only Absolute Wisdom could create lesser wisdoms and abilities. From Absolute Ignorance (inanimate matter) no creation occurs.’  None the less, the chain exhibits an awareness of gradualism and the family of relations that we find so prevalent in our experience of Nature and explained aptly only by the fact of Evolution. Today, the most reasonable way to understand this Great Chain is as biology’s Tree of LifeGradualism is a hallmark of Nature.

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Tree of Life, Gustav Klimt, 1903

Second, Dennett contends, if you are still prone to feel or think there are unbridgeable (metaphysical) gaps, then you need to expand your imagination and modernize your intuitions.  A “bottom-up” vision of creation is readily available in fields beyond that of evolutionary biology.  For example, machines can, now, think! They can write music, play chess and search and solve puzzles—a fact first proven as far back as World War II.  Even one hundred years ago, the impulse to feel ‘startling gaps’ was understandable, but science, technology and speculative thought (art, science fiction in novels and movies, and much of modern philosophy) no longer make these ‘gaps’ obvious: They are no longer ‘common sense.’

Modern technology rivals the traditional “miracles of God” with organ replacement, artificial insemination, cloning, human flight, the fission and fusion of atoms and near instantaneous communication around our planet and even beyond.  We have already revised many of our traditional intuitions and Dennett is a leader in that campaign.  For example, he persuasively contends that we, humans, are very fancy, evolved machines; and someday very fancy, human-designed machines (robots) may be considered persons, though not human persons. These, all, are “intuition shakers” and “imagination stretchers” and they facilitate what was once considered merely a shameful, godless fantasy: bottom-up creativity.

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Chess-playing computer beats Grand Master, twenty years ago
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“The Bicentennial Man” and actor Robin Williams.  How far into the future before such a man become actual?

That Larger Something

So, we don’t need to get something from nothing.  Instead, we have been very fortunate to get much from what seems relatively little.  It took a lot of time (billions of years), a lot of effort (the subtle design adjustments of Evolution in generation after generation), and lots of research (the unrelenting trial and error of Natural Selection).   In addition, it took some luck.  The virtuoso was Mother Nature, not God, but now, even we—Her Children—have become significantly creative.

We, humans,  are now in position to believe, with good reason, that in this part of the universe efforts have been underway to build a creation of vast significance: our biosphere It is a living sculpture.  Hopefully, we will continue to play a part that will not only assist in the survival of this work of art, but also promote its enhancement.  After all, we are not only indebted to it; we are embedded in it!

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Gustav Klimt, The Virgin, 1913

*I have chosen to continue the tradition of capitalizing the “g” of God in this piece, but in an effort to mitigate this deference I will also capitalize the words—Nature, Mother Nature, Evolution, Holism.  These terms describe what I take to be the real phenomena behind the apparition, God.

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Logo by Marty.