About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Word, Flesh & Faith

by Steve Neumann

His firm stanzas hang like hives in hell
Or what hell was, since now both heaven and hell
Are one, and here, O terra infidel.

—Wallace Stevens, Esthétique du Mal

Within many a modern individual there is a periodic if not perpetual struggle between animal faith and human reason, a dissonance between orphaned assumptions and empirical repercussions. Many are caught between the devil of tradition and the deep blue sea of experimentation, holding fast and letting go, security and freedom.

Christian Wiman, poet and current editor of the iconic Poetry magazine, recently published a memoir entitled My Bright Abyss, chronicling his ongoing experience of dealing with an incurable blood cancer. The book is described as “a moving meditation on what a viable contemporary faith — responsive not only to modern thought and science but also to religious tradition — might look like.” It’s this promise of a reconciliation between faith and “modern thought and science” that caught my eye.

Any writer will have to admit that, while writing — or in any creative act — there is a dynamic interplay between inspiration and craft, subconscious content and conscious form, crude impulse and stylized élan. It’s this stark dichotomy that lends itself quite easily to the dualism of natural and supernatural. But without delving too far into Wiman’s apologia, I think a word about the word itself is in order.

What is a word? At its most basic, I suppose a word is a discrete utterance designed to describe some phenomenon or object of experience. It is a name. It’s a sign. And it’s the way information is shared: it enables us to communicate with each other. In relation to poetry in particular, Ralph Waldo Emerson asserted, in his essay The Poet:

The poets made all the words, and therefore language is the archives of history ... though the origin of most of our words is forgotten, each word was at first a stroke of genius, and obtained currency, because for the moment it symbolized the world to the first speaker and to the hearer. The etymologist finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture. Language is fossil poetry.

Emerson may be somewhat at odds with some imperious analytic philosophers who came after him, but it’s sufficient to simply note that the word is an attempt to communicate thoughts, feelings and other mental phenomena, and that the poet has a special, or at least a consciously intimate, relationship to the word.

So what, then, is a poem? One definition might be that a poem is a discrete, syntactically meaningful arrangement of words with a characteristic rhythm. A “sound sculpture,” if you will. But most poets will tell you that a poem is much more than that, that there is a quality of mystery attendant, especially in how all the elements — sound, rhythm, meaning, image — coalesce into the final product, the work of art that is the poem. The late poet Denise Levertov, whose own life and work experience [1] parallels that of Wiman’s, described writing poetry as that which

… comes into being when thought and feeling remain unexpressed until they become Word, become Flesh … the poet … waits until thought and feeling crystallize in words which haven’t been hunted down but which arrive, magically summoned by the need for them.
It’s also interesting to note that the late Mexican poet Octavio Paz, among others, distinguishes between “poem” and “poetry,” and in his description we hear a faint echo of Emerson’s joie de vivre:

… not every poem — or to be exact: not every work constructed according to the laws of meter — contains poetry … There is also poetry without poems; landscapes, persons, and events are often poetic … The poem is not a literary form but the meeting place between poetry and man.
There’s that dualism again, with a whiff of the mystical. I confess that poetry can be puzzling to non-poets; but I think one can make sense of Paz’s assertion here without possessing a full-fledged poetics. One can certainly feel the “poetry” that seems to be inherent in our experience of the natural world.

Given the nature of the impetus that seems to have led Wiman back to religious faith, even though he downplays it by saying that “to admit that there may be some psychological need informing your return to faith does not preclude or diminish the spiritual imperative,” a word from famous French philosopher Pascal would not be out of place here. When confronted with the overwhelming immensity and power of the universe, Pascal said that

All our dignity then, consists in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves.

Though many secular philosophers have deemed that Pascal’s thinking ultimately led him to the wrong conclusion regarding religious faith, it’s difficult to argue with his conclusion expressed above. Still, I would amend his idea to say that it is the imagination, being a mode of thinking, that has the power to elevate our lives. And poets seem uniquely positioned to effect this ennoblement.

Contra Wiman and Levertov, et. al., the poetry and poetical theorizing of poet Wallace Stevens exhibits a more naturalistic humanism that rejects traditional religious faith. As he writes in his poem The Man with the Blue Guitar:

Exceeding music must take the place
Of empty heaven and its hymns,

Ourselves in poetry must take their place,
Even in the chattering of your guitar.

But the fragility of our existence, and the heart-wrenching suddenness with which it can terminate, seems to awaken the most ancient instincts in us, those very same instincts that led our forebears to create the original “supreme fiction,” that is to say, religion. The flesh is figuratively and, most distressingly, literally weak, and is vulnerable to even the feeblest assaults on its physiological integrity. Once we realize this, we can either put our faith (our trust) in something greater than ourselves that will insulate our mortal frame from the buffeting vicissitudes of life — or will provide a metaphysical safety net if that corporeal protection fails — or we cannot. Religious faith is the proper name for the former approach.

Historically, Eastern religions — from Hinduism to Buddhism to Taoism — have prescribed an ethic of detachment from one’s earthly existence as a remedy for this predicament. Western religions, particularly of the Abrahamic persuasion, have posited a double reality in which we have the opportunity to survive our physical death in some manner: death isn’t the end, they say, it’s merely a transition from one state of being to another, where one will go on “living” somehow.

For Wiman and Levertov, it was the practice of poetry specifically that led them back to faith. Though Wiman was raised “in a very religious household” with the “poisonous notion that you had to renounce love of the earth in order to receive the love of God,” Levertov grew up in a sort of pastiche of innocuous religious influence. In her “Autobiographical Sketch” from 1984, Levertov, who was home-schooled, says of her background:

My father’s Hasidic ancestry, his being steeped in Jewish and Christian scholarship and mysticism … Similarly, my mother’s Welsh intensity and lyric feeling for Nature were not just the air I breathed but, surely, were in the body I breathed with...

Whereas Wiman certainly had the motivation to reject the religion of his youth, Levertov viewed her heritage with gratitude, as an essential formative component of her vocation as a poet, and as a person in general. But besides the fact that it might have been easier, intellectually and emotionally, for Levertov to return to faith, she cites her experience as a poet as being decisive:

To believe, as an artist, in inspiration or the intuitive, to know that without Imagination … no amount of acquired craft or scholarship or of brilliant reasoning will suffice, is to live with a door of one’s life open to the transcendent, the numinous. Not every artist, clearly, acknowledges that fact — yet all, in the creative act, experience mystery. The concept of “inspiration” presupposes a power which enters the individual and is not a personal attribute...
Wiman himself says that:

I have at times experienced in the writing of a poem some access to a power that feels greater than I am, and it seems reductive, even somehow a deep betrayal, to attribute that power merely to the unconscious or to the dynamism of language itself.
It seems that for both Wiman and Levertov, though, it’s not just this element of mystery inherent in creative writing that’s decisive, but a sense of personal incredulity. Wiman doesn’t see why we need to reduce poetry to the emanations of subconscious mental activity based in the physical brain. Levertov was a bit more direct than that:

But personally I cannot bring myself to believe that the gods originate in the mind of man and are merely his way of coping with natural forces or abstract ideas by giving them semi-human personalities and stories.
Whatever ultimately leads a person back to faith is going to be tied to belief, and belief is inextricably bound up with knowledge. I said before that imagination is a mode of thinking. But what is the relationship between imagination and knowledge? Levertov boldly claims that:

… the imagination, which synergizes intellect, emotion and instinct, is the perceptive organ through which it is possible, though not inevitable, to experience God.
Wiman, similarly, believes that “human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God but God’s means of manifesting himself to us,” and that God lives “not outside of reality but in it, of it, though in ways it takes patience and imagination to perceive.”

Generally speaking, to qualify as knowledge, convictions need to be justified true beliefs. We can say that the poet knows that God exists if he believes it, if it’s true, and he’s justified in believing it. Here I like Ernest Sosa’s “AAA” analysis of knowledge where knowledge is “apt belief.” A belief is Accurate only if it’s true; it’s Adroit only if it’s arrived at competently; and it’s Apt only if the belief is true in a way that demonstrates the believer’s competence. Or, for our purposes, the poet knows that God exists if he’s arrived at this belief in a way that stands up to scrutiny. If a belief can’t be defended against challenges, then it doesn't have a right to be called knowledge.

So how does the poet fare on this count? Not very well, I’m afraid. To arrive at a conviction on the basis of feeling, however authentic, is not as adroit as to arrive at it by exercise of one’s reasoning. Poets, as we have seen, derive their conviction from the intensity of the felt experience, from the enigmatic effusions of the imagination. One’s reason, if invoked, is appropriated in order to bring one’s thinking in line with one’s feeling, and to lend an air of respectability and weight to one’s return to faith, to justify it to oneself as much as to others.

Wiman, Levertov, Paz and many other artists agree that poetry is something distinct from the poet, something that invades the consciousness of the poet, one might say. This is how it feels to them; and I agree that this is how it feels. But contemporary neuroscience has confirmed what naturalistic philosophers have long maintained: though some thoughts, ideas, impressions or images may feel like they are coming from a source that is not ourselves, this is an illusion — in the dictionary sense of being something that is incorrectly perceived or interpreted. If the mind is what the brain does, then poetry is the mind’s wordplay.

When Wiman writes that he’s “trying to learn how to inhabit time so completely that there might be no distinction between life and belief, attention and devotion,” I certainly can’t fault him for that. Surely that’s the intention of everyone in life, really. And perhaps the poetic imagination can’t provide the balm we delicate inhabitants of the earth seek. But I believe it’s far more ennobling for us to follow reason, supplemented by imagination, than to be seduced solely by the bewitching power of poetic inspiration. And to the extent that language enables us to know the world and shape our all-too-brief lives, and perhaps even to be conscious, we would do well to be as adroit as possible in both our language and our reasoning.

[1] Levertov returned to faith in late middle age, but her final faith was an admittedly unorthodox, thoroughly liberal one. And this return preceded her own diagnosis of lymphoma, which ultimately took her life in 1997.


  1. "contemporary neuroscience has confirmed what naturalistic philosophers have long maintained: though some thoughts, ideas, impressions or images may feel like they are coming from a source that is not ourselves, this is an illusion — in the dictionary sense of being something that is incorrectly perceived or interpreted"

    I am sorry to disagree with you, neuroscience did not confirm the naturalistic perspective (or better said the validity of philosophical naturalism, this is your presumption only and nothing else) that materialistic premise is the starting assumption of naturalism, which is followed by any science (that by definition follow a naturalistic methodology).

    Although many people claim that science (progress) validates philosophical naturalism (in view of the success of the naturalistic methodology), that is a fallacy and an unscientific “truth” (and a matter of faith, which anyone is entitled to have).

    1. "neuroscience did not confirm the naturalistic perspective (or better said the validity of philosophical naturalism, this is your presumption only and nothing else)"

      I suppose we should clarify a few things here. Taken by itself, neuroscience does not validate metaphysical naturalism, nor does any one discipline validate it. But I would argue that, the scientific disciplines *in toto* provide the closest thing to a validation of metaphysical naturalism that there is in the realm of human knowledge.

      That said, my concern in this post was with the status of certain mental events alone. A naturalistic philosopher would say that Levertov and Wiman are mistaken in their belief that inspiration comes from "outside" their mind, and that the poetic imagination is a conduit to God, questions of God's own existence aside. A neuroscientist would "confirm" this conclusion by virtue of the results of her experiments. Yes, the neuroscientist operates under the assumption of metaphysical naturalism, but this is because 1) she has no methodology for investigating "supernatural" causes, and 2) the success of her naturalistic methodology does in fact validate her confidence in it.

      We should also be clear about the use of the word "faith." The naturalistic scientist has "faith" - that is, "confidence" - in her naturalistic assumption because it works. When she formulates a hypothesis to explain a certain set of facts, and when she tests that hypothesis and it proves adequate, and when other neuroscientists replicate her results, she has thereby gained a tremendous amount of confidence in her assumption and her methodology.

      The neuroscientist is indeed entitled to her "faith" because it explains what it purports to explain. If I have "faith" in humanity, I'm not really entitled to it because we could point to all the bad that people do, as well as to the inability or unwillingness of humanity to forestall potentially species-ending threats.

      In the realm of knowledge, the religious believer is not entitled to his "faith." Politically he is, but not epistemologically. If he tries to assert this entitlement in the realm of knowledge, he quickly retreats into incoherence.

    2. Steve,

      Your argument is circular (you try to hold that potatoes are potatoes or that eggs are eggs, in this sense I would agree with you, however eggs are not potatoes).

      It is true that science is consistent with the methodological naturalism, and that said it is true that the success of science validates this methodology. However agreeing on this you should ask ourselves “could it be but could this be otherwise?”: clearly NO. So how could this lead to the validation of metaphysical naturalism, as you claim (this is nothing else but wishful thinking).

      Science by itself doesn’t validate (or disproof) any metaphysical claims (those, in spite of what you claim, are not part of science. However they may lie in other areas of human knowledge, aesthetics, ethics, philosophy, theology …). For instance you are discussing here because we believe that reason is not merely a figure of speech, or an illusion, for us is something very real (at least for me it is).

      We, as humans, are bound to seek the understanding of reality through science (using this methodology that seems to be so useful) and we use it because it has quite been useful in the knowledge of the world, and we (regardless of other metaphysical considerations) have the belief that it will continue to be so. However unlike what metaphysical naturalism presupposes, there is no reason to dismiss (or even ignore) other human knowledge. Science as proven to be quite valuable for mankind and we all are quite enthusiastic about its achievements, but that shouldn’t lead us to irrational expectations and claims.

      In my previous comment, I did not claim any particular metaphysical belief, which is irrelevant, but, as far as I can tell the most theist beliefs have a larger coherence (and epistemological correction) than the “faith” or “belief” or “confidence” on the validity of metaphysical naturalism that only provides an apparent (and illusory) coherence with reality (clearly a poor and an extremely reductionist view of reality, necessarily false).

    3. Speaking of eggs, which are ovoid but not circular, I think the relationship between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism can be viewed as a case of chicken and egg - which came first? Did science assume metaphysical naturalism in order to do its work, or is metaphysical naturalism the result of the success of science's method?

      I'm more inclined to think that methodological naturalism is the chicken that laid the metaphysical egg. I don't think that metaphysical naturalism is the necessary *a priori* premise of methodological naturalism; and neither is it the logically necessary conclusion of methodological naturalism. But I do think that it's the well-supported *a posteriori* conclusion. In other words, the only reasonable conclusion.

      "there is no reason to dismiss (or even ignore) other human knowledge."

      I don't dismiss, and certainly don't ignore, other types of knowledge; indeed, this post addresses that very topic. But it really wasn't about getting into a detailed discussion of an analysis of knowledge. For instance, the difference between knowing "how" and knowing "that", etc. Way too much for a single blog post.

    4. I agree with you that the success of “methodological naturalism” is the key point in the defense of “metaphysical naturalism” (but that can’t be logic or logically inferred, it is a metaphysical claim, as valuable as many others). However I maintain what I said in my first comment science doesn’t exclude metaphysical claims (neither does science propose or supports metaphysical claims).

      In spite the current enthusiasm that the success of science and technology, which the lay man as access by the overoptimistic enthusiasm driven by the divulgation of science and popular science, that is mainly misleading, as it oversimplified and gives a poor and often just a rhetorical notion of the limitations of science (something that scientists have to deal with). The reality, however, is quite distinct that this optimistic view, and science still fails to account and explain correctly a large variety of very simple material things. This is increasingly more obvious as the complexity of the systems that science tries to address, providing no clues, or no meaningful information, for instance when dealing with the large variety of issues related with the knowledge of man, and what is to be human?

      Furthermore, in spite we all value and cherish the results of science particularly in the last two hundred years, do these results provide a valuable and insightful promise of approaching any profound insight about human nature? Again, clearly NO. So what is the point in insisting in this absurd promise (that is the apparent illusion of metaphysical naturalism), which seems essentially an indication that we should neglect and dismiss the not naturalistic knowledge, acquired by man through reason on the course of human history, is it reasonable to value this poor and nearly empty promise, clearly NO. Personally I think that scientism and metaphysical naturalism is the modern obscurantism, based on a promise and an appearance of rationality and enlightenment, this simplistic view provides nothing but prejudice, against art, music, ethics, moral, esthetics, religion, philosophy, metaphysics and about everything that makes our life meaningful. Is it reasonable to give any credit to this philosophy and world view? For me this is absurd and irrational, but again in this it seems we are bound to disagree.


  2. Poetry

    When words have no rules or regulations
    And a sentence has no bounds
    That is where the poet hides
    Where truth can still be found

    The word is mightier than the sword they say
    When words are truly free
    Poetry is the words of a poet
    Then the poet has the power of Thee

    There is a lesson to learn in poetry
    A remedy and a cure
    For poetry are words of freedom
    And in freedom the truth shall set us free

    What is the truth One wonders
    In the phrase and phrases of a rhyme
    The true poetry of a free poet
    Will bring equality to All in Just time

    For freedom is equality
    Unity of not only mankind
    The true words of a poets’ poetry
    Is the beautiful true Oneness of All kind.


  3. Hey Steve,
    Words are symbols and symbols refer to something beyond themselves. This is why we always have to ask ourselves whether we have understood what someone is referring to. You ought to ask yourself whether you got the gist of what these poets are referring to. I don’t think you have. You cast these people in your own subjective light in order to create a straw man so you can dismiss them.

    All Octavio Paz is saying is that a poem feels right when it has poetry, when it doesn’t it feels irrational – kind of like an Alex Rosenberg essay (which is a perfect example of something that lacks poetry). To say there is poetry in landscapes, persons and events is just to say there was something there that I had to write about. Perhaps the experience caused something new and wonderful to occur to me. That’s poetry. I get a kick out of science guys (who call themselves naturalistic philosophers) who take poorly understood neuroscience inquiries and try to tell us we have no free will or that the humanities are all dubious.

    Paz was an admirer of Marcel Duchamp, who more than anyone else tried to take the mysticism out of art. Muriel Rukeyser (who translated a few of Paz’s books into English) also liked to think of poetry as a “meeting place”. A poem is a way for me to put into words my thoughts and feelings about the world. It is a way for me to connect with others. There is more to life than science. Scientific knowledge is just information about the world. It’s always theoretical and subject to revision. There is a lot that we do not know. A poem is more than mere information. It’s an expression of a poet’s experience of the world. It gives us the world in a more real way than science ever could. Auden‘s reflections on the death of WB Yeats is more imaginative, interesting and a fuller expression of the reality of that happening than the merely scientific coroner’s report.

    We are a part of a species called humanity. As you point out here we have a special knack for communicating with each other. The individual human is a fiction. We exist only as a group. Language is like an organ that grows in us. We find poetry in humor, satire and love. Poetry is a meeting place; it’s people connecting. Feelings like thoughts require verification. I can project fear onto someone because they look big and mean; however upon getting to know them I may discover that they are really kind. The fear could not be verified, so I develop new feelings that more correctly refer to this person. Your understanding of reason is limited by your lack of understanding of art.

    Art that is ignorant of or ignores science is bound to be flawed. It is perfectly reasonable to be grounded in the world and to know the world as well as any science guy and to grope after the meaning of my connection to you and everyone else. I think that’s a fair explanation of what these poets are trying to do.

    1. "Words are symbols and symbols refer to something beyond themselves."

      Yes, that is what I meant when I wrote "a word is a discrete utterance designed to describe some phenomenon or object of experience. It is a name. It’s a sign." I equate "symbol" and "sign".

      "You cast these people in your own subjective light in order to create a straw man so you can dismiss them. "

      No, I use their own words, in lieu of being able to interview them directly. Levertov, with whom I corresponded back in the 1990's, has written much more extensively in both her essays and her poems about her views on the poetic imagination, which space doesn't permit to use in a blog post. But, no, Levertov is no straw man.

      "I get a kick out of science guys (who call themselves naturalistic philosophers) who take poorly understood neuroscience inquiries and try to tell us we have no free will or that the humanities are all dubious."

      I think the free will issue is fairly straightforward and settled. As for the humanities, I think they are necessary to a proper education, to be properly human. I fully support them.

      "Muriel Rukeyser (who translated a few of Paz’s books into English) also liked to think of poetry as a “meeting place."

      Yes, calling a poem a "meeting place" between an individual and her experience of the world is nice metaphor, but it shouldn't be taken literally to mean that an individual's mind and poetry are of a different ontological status. Poetry is still a human mental construction, it is not really something "out there."

      "A poem is a way for me to put into words my thoughts and feelings about the world. It is a way for me to connect with others."

      I couldn't agree more. It's essentially what I said in this post.

      "It is perfectly reasonable to be grounded in the world and to know the world as well as any science guy and to grope after the meaning of my connection to you and everyone else. I think that’s a fair explanation of what these poets are trying to do."

      I don't disagree with you here. But if you believe art is something supernatural, then I do disagree with you.

    2. 'I think the free will issue is fairly straightforward and settled." Think again.

      And as to art being something supernatural, in that it does represent our responses to forces from our cultures that are necessarily outside our individual selves, that's not what we would ordinarily refer to as natural. Much that was once seen as supernatural has become the natural, so who's to say that mysterious aspects of the universe now attributed by religionists to some emanator of deistic intelligence, will not be found in future to be aspects of an intelligent system that has always made its intelligently evolving creatures run.

    3. Wow! Cool post. You guys are really good here in RS. It's obvious you don't intend to solve all the issues in philosophy - and thanks to 'The Whole' no one will ever succeed in this task (for the benefit of our fun) - but just to entertain (?) us readers with the stuff that pops into our heads, pleasurably or not, after reading the posts. And in fact you RS guys hit this point, masterfully. Congrats.

      I couldn't agree more with Baron P, Steve: 'Think again' this free will statement. I'm just working on the subject (and have no problem in sharing some of my meditations on it if you also don't have problems in being aware of them - some people get really furious with the reasoning below) and in my opinion it's shown precisely the opposite since the discovery of the concept of 'final cause': as it is defined, it clearly belongs primarily to Ethics, although it fits fine in the Physics. Well, the equation reads more or less thus (and it's not mine - built with slightly different concepts, you can see it in Epictetus, for instance, but not just there): if - in the case of the universe of human acts - 'final cause' describes anything and if, by definition, it is always the good, then, no matter if we succeed in our aims, where is our freedom if we are not able to aim nothing but this, the good?

      The obvious, consequent question: what is this good if the intentions of several acts are so evil to so many people? Epictetus' probable answer: ignorance.is whence evil deeds come. In the end of any human action dwells some good to the doer, in spite of the opinion of the remaining individuals. Taking a very painful example, a suicide bomber seems to be indeed convinced he's doing something good to him and his folks: his action could be described as one of - if not - the most extreme means of expressing a protest. Notwithstanding I believe that if he knew a less harsh - or even a very smooth - way to express as vehemently his objections, he would have certainly chosen it, unless he is ill - sadistic, for instance. It's possible we still haven't enough medicine to deal properly with sadism, and although philosophy can't still cure the worldwide ignorance, at least it makes us know that good and mostly evil aren't sorts of beings populating the world.

      Good and evil are and will always be judgments, opinions, and as a group we may agree in very general or tenuous manner with one another on the objects they refer to if we share a too large pool of ignorance (and of intolerance too). I remember a thought attributed to Aristippus: in a world suddenly plagued by disappearance of all governments and laws, the philosophers' lives would go unchanged - I am not proposing a 'Republic' (in fact I dislike the idea); I'd rather propose a world plenty of sages, if you allow me to dream a little.

      I suspect that the illusion of being free comes from our frequent mistakes: we err too much, are unable to figure out the 'best possible' solution for the ethical impasses we face daily, thus thinking we have a handful of choices - as an example I use to think in a mate in 1 situation: if you are not a chess expert you find yourself considering whatever possible legal move to make instead of the mate itself, a thing unthinkable for the expert, who can see just the mate in 1 option.

      Several issues arise beyond this point and I leave them all to your imagination, except this one, the most horrifying in my opinion: while ignoring, the subject ignores he's ignoring... For instance: what if all this reasoning is pure crap and I'm unable to see this? Can anyone help me?

    4. Baron & Waldemar -

      The issue of free will is straightforward and settled for *me*, whether or not it's settled in the academy: human beings don't have contra-causal free will.

    5. Since it's become necessary that all living things make choices, those choices have become part of the causal web. But that's not at all the same as the choices themselves having been predetermined (and especially not accidentally predetermined), for if they had been, they wouldn't have evolved as a necessity for living things to make to survive as living. You can of course make the declaration that they would have, but that's not a provable statement either way.
      Contra causal free will is a rather meaningless concept, something like arguing that two plus two has been caused to equal four.

    6. And Is it possible that the complexity of intelligence evolves to serve the purpose of increasing its freedom to create and choose from a larger set of rationally acceptable options?

    7. Baron P, according to what I tried to explain above, I'm not sure that the purpose of intelligence is the provision of freedom, unless we can determine that the best of all actions is a set of more than one element. Unfortunately it seems that the universe insists in showing us that this set tends to be unitary - what looks natural to me, as everything tends to a final fact that, in Lavoisier words, is to be transformed in something else. Anyway, its very likely that intelligence serves to distinguish useful from useless, good from evil, but I'm not sure if alone it can prove that the amount of best of all actions is greater than one.
      So, if things like adaptation of life to its environment is a result of something we can comfortably call intelligence and if adaptation really means increasing of the chances that any form of life lasts as long as possible, all I can conclude from that odd equation is: this intelligence seems to be submitted to the same constraints ours are, as from the point of view of one form of life it's not certain that it succeeds (some indeed perish), although from the side of life as a whole we may say it's doing OK, but always keeping in mind that we can't be sure about things like 'life as a whole' because we simply are unable to know the whole life (whatever it could be). But these are questions better answered by people like Massimo, I guess.

    8. "if adaptation really means increasing of the chances that any form of life lasts as long as possible, -- "
      Except that if adaptation means that intelligent strategies have evolved, then the forms of life can die off as a matter of convenience, as long as their strategies move on through the remaining forms that they continue to evolve as well. Forms die, the "life" that they'll be sharing with their progeny moves on. Assuming that life is, top and bottom, primarily a strategic system that uses its energy to activate its "matter" rather than what would have to be the impossible opposite.
      Questions that haven't even been considered by such as Massimo, let alone answered.

  4. I said this once in an interview: "Writing a poem is in some ways like a writing a proof in mathematics or a program in software — in fact, the way a poem looks on a screen often looks like a computer program. There's a certain 'correctness' and 'completeness' that is involved in writing all of these, and, depending on one's point of view, 'aesthetic'."

    The gap between the analytical and the poetical may not be that big after all.

    1. Nice.

      As the Merovingian says in The Matrix: Reloaded:

      "Look there, at that woman. My God, just look at her. Affecting everyone around her, so obvious, so bourgeois, so boring. But wait... Watch - you see, I have sent her dessert, a very special dessert. I wrote [the program] myself. It starts so simply, each line of the program creating a new effect, just like poetry."

  5. Rudolf Carnap on Wittgenstein (as quoted in Wikipedia):

    "His point of view and his attitude toward people and problems, even theoretical problems, were much more similar to those of a creative artist than to those of a scientist; one might almost say, similar to those of a religious prophet or a seer... When finally, sometimes after a prolonged arduous effort, his answers came forth, his statement stood before us like a newly created piece of art or a divine revelation...the impression he made on us was as if insight came to him as through divine inspiration, so that we could not help feeling that any sober rational comment of analysis of it would be a profanation."


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