Thursday, June 7, 2012

What Is Nature? And How Does It Think?


I wish to pursue two musings at the heart of my book.

Nature is what is real and what is. The concept of nature, in my pragmatic view, is an open one that is not meant to designate anything in particular, and its primary purpose is to denote “totality” and set some preliminary assumptions about what is a member of this totality and  what is “real.” One of these assumptions, that I have discussed a number of times previously, is that nature is causally closed. This implies that there is nothing supernatural, and that everything that comes of nature is continuous with what came before. Since I except real creativity, i.e., that new forms of things may be generated from old, this also means that if God is born, then God is natural. That is not to say that the laws of nature are inviolate, but rather than nature is habit-forming in such a way that anything natural will eventually be within the orbit of some habit. Are there exceptions? Yes.  Chance is real too, else creativity would be unexplainable except in arbitrary terms. Habits are the tendencies of chance events, but they are tendencies and not iron grips, because nothing from without forces anything in nature. Hence, to speak of “form,” for me, is to say that the creative potential of nature has arranged itself in a stable manner that I can describe.

Nature is not opposed to culture. One of my mentors always writes “cultural naturalism” to help forestall this dominant interpretation of “naturalism.” Culture is just a particular human subset of semiotics; humans happen to think that these certain sign structures are special and call them “culture;” the rest of nature doesn’t care.  There is no severance of nature and culture.

Previously I wrote about mind. One difficulty of my work is to think the continuity of nature and culture. How does nature think? In short, part of the answer is that human nature temporalizes its relations in such a way as to anticipate the future and respond to it in advance. This is “consciousness” or “low-level mind.” “Mind” is when a thing may mediate the symbolic structure by which the future is anticipated. Since the future is not yet, this must be a symbolic manipulation, although since symbols always have existential instantiations, a symbolic manipulation is also an existential manipulation. Hence, consciousness is simultaneously a qualitative or symbolic and existential manipulation in principle. An idea must be tied to some reconstruction of existence, whether of present actual reality, or of our neurology that allows for symbolic reconstruction of what is not actual. This distinction between the reconstruction of present actual reality and symbolic reconstruction replaces the conventional appearance/reality or fact/fiction distinction. All appearances and fictions are real. The question is what is the relation between the interpretant and the object in terms of Peircean semeiotic [sic].

My book  is in part a preliminary study on what these relations are in Deweyan thought in response to a one, among many, questions. If we are motivated by desire (conatus), then how come we to desire the ideal? That is, how do we reconstruct the interpretation of our desire to some more fitting object, if we can only appeal to desire as a motivating factor? Neither reason, freedom, nor will can be appealed to in a traditional way without begging the question about the causal closure of nature.

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