Looking at Daniel Dennett’s Book (2017) “From Bacteria To Bach and Back” (Part 1 of 20)

0001 Let me start with an admission.  In this particular examination, I am not myself.  I am someone who I am not.  I own a dog named, “Daisy”.

The book before me is by Daniel C. Dennett and is titled, “From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds”.  The book is published by W.W. Norton (New York, London).  The book wrestles with issues both philosophical and scientific.  How does our world come to be?  How do we come to be?

Who are we?  We are people with minds.  Minds intelligently design artifacts using tools of production and tools of the intellect.  The first tools are handy.  The second are… well… not exactly the same as “handy”.

0002 The hand grasps a tool then uses it to manipulate things.  The word, “prehensile” applies.  Our hands are full of prehensions.  We are aware of the heft and feel of material instruments.

The mind grasps an intellectual tool with its… um… brain.  Is there such a word as “comprehensile”?  How about the term, “comprehension”?  Once we become competent using an intellectual tool, we comprehend.  We become familiar with its heft and feel.

0003 The hand is unlike the appendages of other mammals.

For example, cats and dogs only have feet.  The cat uses its front feet as “paws”, in a manner similar to the way humans use their hands.  Not really, because the cat’s paws cannot hold anything.  The cat cannot pick up a tool.  May I say that the cat’s front paws are part of the feline toolkit?  Evolution builds tools right into the cat’s body.  Most mammals are fashioned this way.  Tools are part of their bodies.

0004 The mind serves as a metaphorical appendage, because it grasps ‘something’, and in doing so, may manipulate it.  The dog, whose practical toolkit includes feet and a formidable mouth, has an advantage over the cat, in this respect.  The dog’s mind grasps ‘something’ and, in doing so, manipulates humans into serving as the leader of its pack.

To me, the dog is testimony to the inhospitality of wolf “culture”, in general, and the inadequacy of wolf “leadership”, in particular.  Wolf pack-leaders often behave like aristocrats, always expecting deferential treatment.  They are often filled with paranoia and treachery.  Yet, their followers know that they need a leader.  Otherwise, there is no pack.  Without the pack, there is only death.

0005 Surely, a reasonable human would serve as a more hospitable leader, especially since humans know how to get food in surprising ways.  Humans give dogs food.  Until, of course, starvation fills the land.


Looking at Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson’s Book (2021) “A Story of Us” (Part 1 of 16)

0001 Lesley Newson and Peter J. Richerson research human evolution at the University of California, Davis.  Richerson is an early proponent of culture-gene co-evolution, back in the 1980s.  Since 2000, Newson tries to apply evolutionary theory to current rapid historical changes.

Perhaps, the first five chapters should be read with Richerson’s voice and the last three with Newson’s.  Also, various interludes, colored with a gray background, should be read with Newson’s voice.  These interludes contain acts of imagination.

0002 Acts of imagination?

In a book on human evolution?

What a surprise.

0003 To me, stylistic innovation is welcome.  Imagination is called for.  Razie Mah opens the curtains on the hypothesis of the first singularity with a work of imagination, titled, An Archaeology of the Fall.

0004 What about substance, in addition to style?

The full title of Newson and Richerson’s book is The Story of Us: A New Look at Human Evolution (Oxford University Press, New York).  The new look is stylistic, not substantive.  Indeed, much of this examination will entail a comparison of this text to a work of substantive innovation: Razie Mah’s The Human Niche, available at smashwords and other e-book venues.

The Human Niche builds on four commentaries, also available for purchase.

Here is a list.

Comments on Clive Gamble, John Gowlett and Robin Dunbar’s Book (2014) Thinking Big

Comments on Derek Bickerton’s Book (2014) More than Nature Needs

Comments on Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky’s Book (2016) Why Only Us?

Comments on Steven Mithen’s Book (1996) The Prehistory of Mind

0005 These commentaries, along with the masterwork, The Human Niche, and A Primer on Natural Signs compose the series, A Course on The Human Niche.

0006 What does this imply?

At the time of their writing, these authors are not aware of the substantive hypothesis contained in The Human Niche.

In reference 2 of chapter one of Newson and Richerson’s book, the authors list a dozen books, none of which are listed above.  This implies that Newson and Richerson, like so many of us, live and study in a cognitive bubble.

Their book is not a substantive new look at human evolution.  Rather, it is a new look in terms of style, compared to the books on their list in reference 2 of chapter one. 


Looking at Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson’s Book (2021) “A Story of Us” (Part 16 of 16)

0135 Chapter eight brings the reader to modern times.

What has the first singularity wrought?

Need a visual?

Newson presents a photograph (Figure 8.1) of a steampunk skull cyborg sculpture.

Here is an example of how speech-alone talk operates.

Unlike hand-speech talk, speech-alone talk permits explicit abstraction.  In this sculpture, a resin-based human skull is explicitly extruded… oh, I meant to say… abstracted and converted into the foundation of what appears to be an audio-headphone machine.  Body (skull) and mind (machine) fuse into a monstrosity.

0136 What are the authors not saying?

They do not say that this work of art initiates implicit abstraction.  An innate relational structure for sensible constructiontells the viewer that social construction is needed.   I know this from my visceral reaction to the photograph.

(See Razie Mah’s Comments on Religious Experience (1985) by Wayne Proudfoot, available at smashwords and other e-book venues.)

0137 Here is a picture of the failing sensible construction.

Figure 41

0138 This disturbing work of art characterizes modernity.  Newson and Richerson tell a story in two interludes.  Culture, originally defined as “shared information”, is now disorienting.  The consequences?  Throughout the world, fertility declines.  Only local cultures, consciously avoiding modern urban cities, now have numerous children.

Surely, today, there are enough people.

The problem is that children are becoming more and more rare.

0139 Is this a problem of sign-processing?  Does today’s “information” trade “something that adorns us” for children?  Is there a foundational difficulty with speech-alone talk?  What happens when words no longer picture or point to their referents, as they once did in hand-speech (and hand) talk?  What happens when we construct artifacts in order to validate our spoken words?  What happens when the artifacts fail to deliver?

These types of questions are raised in Razie Mah’s masterwork, An Archaeology of the Fall, available at smashwords and other e-book venues.

0140 All the words that we use today in public discourse seem to have two meanings: a traditional one and a new-fangled technical one.

Need an example?

Consider the new-fangled, yet technical terms, “phenotype” and “adaptation”, in the following figure.  

Figure 42

Compare that to the simpler scientific use of the terms in points 34 through 38.

Figure 43

0142 The new-fangled terms cross categorical levels within a complete three-level interscope.  The aesthetics of such conjunctions make this book very attractive.

The old-fashioned scientific terms cannot be reconciled.  Adaptations associate to the discipline of natural history.  Phenotypes associate to the discipline of genetics.  Each biological discipline would seem to be independent except for one awkward fact.  Both sciences deal with a single entity, which one may call an individual, a species or a genus.

0143 In the epilogue, the authors proclaim (more or less), “Let us abandon the idea of ‘human nature’.”


“Human nature” is just a spoken term.  The traditional meaning loads the term with political messages and connotes the presence of immutability.  The new-fangled meaning looks at the term in the same way that a traditionalist gazes upon a steampunk cyborg sculpture. Surely, there is something wrong with this term.

Here is how the category-based nested form, which may be an innate cognitive principle for humans, understands how to define the term, “human nature.

Figure 44

0144 Perhaps, abandoning the idea of “human nature” will free us from the notion that our gut feelings, our hearts, and our minds can help us mate and raise a family.

But, abandoning “human nature” would leave us open to cultural influences.

0145 Cultural influences?

Psychological researchers investigate how social interactions [stimulate] hormonal responses and how culture [informs] brains.  Do these actualities sound vaguely familiar?  The corporate sponsors of these psychological researchers want to learn how to make their products more addicting and more real that they otherwise would be.

Ah yes, cultural influences need brains to inform.

0146 Consider the three-level interscope that guides the authors.  The beauty of their intuition is that a completed three-level interscope is inherently intellectually satisfying.  Satisfaction gives a feeling of completeness and accomplishment.  The reader says, “Yes, here is a story about us.  Here is a new look at human evolution.”  The reader cannot put spoken words to the feeling that the book provides.  Here is the arc of human evolution and history, in content, in situation and in perspective.

0147 These comments add value to Newson and Richerson’s book by introducing an option that the authors do not know.  Humans adapt to sign-processing.  Yes, human evolution manifests culture-gene co-evolution.  But, the human niche is the potential of triadic relations, such as signs, mediations, judgments and category-based nested forms.

Surely, this book is somewhat addicting.  Surely, this production seems more real than it otherwise would be.  Why?  The authors offer a new look at human evolution.  So what if the new look is in terms of style, rather than substance.  The authors offer something that other books on human evolution do not.

They offer acts of imagination.


Looking at Kirk Kanzelberger’s Essay (2020) “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” (Part 1 of 18)

0001 What is Reality?

Reality is a journal for philosophical discourse.

It is worthy of financial support by people of good will.

Reality is the only journal, to date, closing the gap between Thomistic philosophy and Peircean semiotics.

0002 John Deely (1942-2017) finds the loops through which a thread of reality now runs.  The two loops?  A thread of reality?  John Poinsot (1589-1644), a Baroque scholastic in the tradition of Thomism, and Charles Peirce (1839-1914), an American philosopher, chemist and intellectual voyager, formulate the same definition of sign.  One marks the end of the Latin Age, the second age of understanding.  The other starts the Age of Triadic Relations, the fourth age of understanding.  The thread is the realness of sign-relations.

Reality is the only journal, to date, running more threads through these loops.

0003 In contrast, Razie Mah builds little figures, illuminating triadic relations.  He constructs a grand theodramatic narrative, The Human NicheAn Archaeology of the Fall and How To Define the Word “Religion”, where these triadic diagrams shine.  They glimmer in the darkness of the current Age of Ideas.

The same darkness shrouds Reality.

0004 With this said, I open the pages of Kirk Kanzelberger’s essay, titled, “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” published in the inaugural issue of Reality (volume 1(1) (2020) pages 146-204).

0005 I also have, in hand, A Primer on the Category-Based Nested Form and A Primer on Sensible and Social Construction.

Perhaps, these triadic structures will serve as guides.


Looking at Kirk Kanzelberger’s Essay (2020) “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” (Part 2 of 18)

0006 Section one of Kanzelberger’s article, “Reality and the Meaning of Evil“, opens with a conversation between a party animal and a graduate student.

The exchange begins with the idea that evil is privation.  As such, evil does not make sense.

The discourse ends with the idea that evil is real and, as such, evil makes sense.

Clearly, the conversation starts on one level and ends on another.  Plus, the conversation wrestles with a very important caveat.

If evil is a positive entity, then it must have been created by God.  But if God is good, and His creation is called “good” in Genesis, then evil must be privation, a lack of good.  God does not create evil.  We do.

0007 Does this fit into a category-based nested form?

Yes, it fits two of them.

On a content levela, the level below morality, evil is privation and does not make sense.

On a situation levelb, the moral level, evil is real and makes sense.

0008 On the content levela, we ask, “What is happening?3a”  This is the platform for things and events2a, situating the potential of ‘something’ subjective1a.  Here, evil is privation and does not make sense because it is subjective.

On the situation levelb, we think, “What does it mean to me?3b”  This is where phantasms2b emerge from the potential of constructing objects, mind-dependent beings1b.  Here is where evil is real and sensible, because it is objective.

0009 Objective?

Something’ objective can also be shared.  It can be intersubjective. In order to become intersubjective, the phantasm2bmust be actualized.  Intersubjective beings are objective and subject to rational judgment by oneself and others.


Looking at Kirk Kanzelberger’s Essay (2020) “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” (Part 3 of 18)

0010 Here is a diagram of the previous blog.

Figure 1

0011 In section two, Kanzelberger follows Aquinas (who follows Aristotle) by starting with the content levela.

Nature is subjective.  Good is the potential of a whole subject.  Evil is a privation, a compromise of the whole.  A bird’s wing is broken.  Poor thing.  Since each subject is good in itself, conflicts between perfections (wholenesses) may be seen as loss (for one subject) and success (for the other subject).

0012 A cat breaks the wing of a bird.  In doing so, the cat (a subject) acts as if the bird is an object (here, a mind-independent actuality held as a mind-dependent being).  Such is the cat’s perfection.  If the cat cannot perform this way, it cannot track reality.

The content level buzzes with a hodge-podge of subjects, some of which may objectify other subjects.  Evil, as privation, depends on each subject.  Since all subjects are different, natural biological evil has no consistency, no potential for appearing intersubjective, and therefore, makes no sense.

0013 Or, does it?

We (humans) are watching, doesn’t that count for ‘something1b’?


Looking at Kirk Kanzelberger’s Essay (2020) “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” (Part 4 of 18)

0014 The human, Kanzelberger writes, “aspires to know more and more of the being of nature in its natural constitution.”  Humans are always busy trying to figure out what is happening3a.  What does it mean to me3b?  Our objective potential1btries to make sense of each subjective potential1a, resulting in our fallible phantasms2b.

The human sees the cat strike the bird2a, witnessing perfection in the cat and privation in the bird.

The cat subjectively1a wants to objectively1b wound the bird.

The human throws a guess2b as surely as the cat throws its paw.

0015 A phantasm2b does not gain the full potential of its objectivity1b until it becomes intersubjective1b.  In order to become intersubjective, it must be constellated2b.

0016 An objective phantasm2b can become intersubjective1b, in two, non-exclusive ways, through judgment2c and through discourse2a.

In the first option, the intersubjective1b stands at the gates of the suprasubjective1c.  Passage leads to a judgment2c.

In the second option, the object2b stands at the gates of human blather1a.

0017 Blather?

An event2a gives rise to a phantasm2b, in the mind of a beholder, who, without delay, decides to release that phantasm2bfor someone else to hear2a.  The decision3c casts the phantasm2b down, like a bolt of lightning, into an event2a, born of human subjectivity1a.

0018 The observer says, “Did you see that? That cat broke the bird’s wing.”

To which the graduate student replies, “Say what?”

“That cat is evil!”, the observer declares.

“Oh no, God made all cats in His goodness. But, still, the cat’s action may be a symbol of an evil, murderous and immoral spirit.  The symbol doesn’t apply to the cat.  The cat becomes a symbol to us.”


Looking at Kirk Kanzelberger’s Essay (2020) “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” (Part 5 of 18)

0019 Here is a picture of the ongoing conversation between observer and graduate student.

Figure 02

0020 The party animal says what pops into “her” head.  The graduate student replies that the declaration turns one actor in the event2a into a symbol of evil2b.

0021 The observer scratches “her” head, asking, “Did God create the symbol?”

Ah, the mind-dependent reality of a symbol2b may enter into the slot of the phantasm2b as a stand-in for the mind-independent reality of the cat’s action2a.

Or so, the graduate student judges2c.

0022 Clearly, the cat cannot be evil, since the cat acts out its perfection. The cat is what it is. But, if the cat were human, then such injurious action would be immoral, if not illegal.  Thus, the cat’s action becomes a symbol of what ought not to be.  The graduate student’s well-trained intellect brings what is into relation with what ought to be.

The phantasm2b, first objective1b in the observer3b, then intersubjective1b in both observer3a and student3a, supports the formation of a suprasubjective judgment2c.  If the observer3b follows the rules of reason, agreement1a resonates with truth1c.  The same agreement1a might happen if the observer3b is enthralled by the graduate student3b, or visa versa. 


Looking at Kirk Kanzelberger’s Essay (2020) “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” (Part 6 of 18)

0023 What is a judgment2c?

A judgment2c is a triadic relation composed of three elements: relationwhat is and what ought to be.

0024 Here is a picture of the observer’s utterance, spoken without reflection.

Figure 3

0025 In this, a cat stands for ‘something’ evil, even though God created the cat in goodness.  Somehow, the observer plucks a symbol of the cat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then declares that symbol to be relevant, without a second thought.  That symbol describes a person, who breaks the wings of another person.

Surely, such a person is evil.

0026 The observer’s declaration has all the ingredients that go into a judgment.

However, it comes out as blather2a, a subjective1a event, pretending to be intersubjective2b, and therefore carries the weight of judgment2c.

The party animal anticipates that the graduate student will agree with the statement.

If “he” does not, then “she” will look foolish.

No one wants that.

0027 Is there a privation here?

The observer’s impression2b claims to be true, as opposed to false, or maybe, deceptive.  It2b appears to be sensible.  It2bcoheres with the structure of judgment.  Yet, it2b really is just a way of saying that people can be like cats.  It2b is an object2b that does not express the fullness of its intersubjective potential because it makes sense1b.  More or less. No judgment is really needed.  Only agreement.  Humans are cats.


Looking at Kirk Kanzelberger’s Essay (2020) “Reality and the Meaning of Evil” (Part 7 of 18)

0028  Our spoken words2a weave the fabric of our subjective reality1a by telling us what is happening3a.

The observer states her impression that the cat is evil.  The statement would be accurate if the cat is a person.  However, the cat is just a cat.  The cat is not a symbol of a person.  It is a natural being.

0029 In section three, Kanzelberger states that no living animal or plant strives for privation.  Each strives for its own good, its own fullness of being.  Since the fullness of one may conflict with the fullness of another, privation is proportioned according to the food chain.  The bird knows that.  The cat knows that.  Well, if they don’t, they certainly behave as if they do. The bird flits nervously. The cat stalks its prey.  

In nature, agents for privation and death stand ready at hand.  They carry the aura of inevitability.  Not even the mountains stand forever.  Is there a cosmic beauty to this pervasive evil?  Everything is tested, horribly, relentlessly and in reality, by conflicts among diverse goods and forces.

Yes, outcomes vary.  Some conflicts end as win-win.  Some end as lose-lose.  Most end as win-lose.  In these win-lose contests, the agent who wins is satisfied, but may symbolize “evil”.  The unsatisfied agent may escape the label of “evil”, but at what cost?  Starvation?  The sufferer loses and may be granted the symbol of “victim”.  The one who avoids danger becomes “happy go lucky”.

0030 What does this imply?

First, obviously, a lot of energy flows through biological systems.  An animal or plant cannot rest in the fullness of its being.  Metabolism demands fuel.  Metabolism drives many of these conflicts.

0031 What if I declare that metabolism is evil?

Surely, it is a common denominator in the good of all living things.  Without it, there would be no conflict.  The lion would lie with the lamb.

Yes, both would be dead.

0033 Natural evil does not make sense.  Surely, we need not imagine that rocks or photons suffer when annihilated, but the same cannot be said for animals and plants.  Natural evil, the conflict among subjective goods and the playing out of privations, makes no sense, in a world where each subject has its own metabolism.

It makes far more sense to imagine that all the actors are human.