Values are Inherent, Within
Values are Inherent, Within
Norm and Skye Hirst, Ph.D.
Let’s begin to explore the idea of values with a view to understanding them, maybe for the first time. What are they, how do they function and do we need them? All that is beyond the scope of one article, but one article can make a beginning. For this article I want to focus on what values are, what philosophers would refer to as the ontology of values. Unfortunately discussions of values usually takes place in the context of value words, nouns that denote values as if they are things in the world we all should aspire to. But values are not things to aspire to as in reaching a goal. They are invisible, yet loud operatives inside all living organisms that function with every action of life just like the heart beat. They have operated without our conscious awareness of them. It’s time we know them and heed them.
When I speak of values, people often ask if I mean human values. Yes, the idea of values does include human values but I mean all values. Values are operative in the fluid genome, they are applicative in everything that lives, and if we pay attention, we find life processes where we are not used to recognizing such invisible life processes, for example, in societies. A clue to understand what is happening is the need for very different kinds of logic, a logic of process, not a logic of static things. It is a logic of how life becomes over and over again as in the process of transformational change. It’s invisible, yet with recognizing the role of values, we can begin to perceive coherence and non-coherent conditions.
Previous theories of biology have been based on the old scientific notions of things, causality and facts. Thus the notions of the genome as specifying the programs by which combinations of causes and probabilities would construct an organism. It was sort of like programming a computer. If the code was wrong, say by a missing gene, the code could be changed. It all held great promise for curing disease based on the central dogma of linear mechanistic control. But today’s science has done away with that dogma. As Mae Wan Ho says:
“Instead, layers upon layers of chaotic complexity are coordinated. It seems, by mutual agreement, in an incredibly elaborate exquisite dance of life that dances itself freely and spontaneously into being.
It is not so much that we need a new theory to replace the central dogma; it is more important than that. We need a new way of knowing and being organisms that will prevent us from mistaking organisms for instruments and machines. That’s the real challenge.”
“Layers of complexity coordinated by mutual agreement”. This doesn’t fit the image of machine like causality. Could it be that values are operative at the level of fluid genomes? I believe so! Values are operative inherently and are universal in living process.
Coherence in living process:
Values exist only in the context of living processes. Processes are sequences of acts or transformations that bring about change. In a thing world, the only possible processes are mechanical, i.e., processes due to linear causal determinism. Picture gears turning. All they can do is turn together. Or computers constrained to computable algorithms. However, in living processes, there are actors, each one free to act as desired. In such processes there can be a richness of novelty in the outcome, or chaos.
How can there be freedom without chaos? The answer is by coherence conditions. The subject of coherence gets into a difficult topic. There isn’t much known about satisfying coherence conditions. That is because so little is known about living processes.
Coherence does not prescribe behavior. Coherence grants maximum freedom in choosing behavior subject to the outcome satisfying certain conditions. As an example of the contrast between prescribing behavior and coherence, consider the contrast between playing in an orchestra and a jazz band. In an orchestra, the musician must play the music as written. In a jazz band, the musician is free to play a riff of his or her choosing, even if it has never been heard before, not even by the performer. But the riff cannot be just any sequence of notes. It somehow has to fit the accompaniment that the other musicians are playing. It makes me wonder how they do it. I am told it has to do with the structure of music as known in the theory of harmony, rhythm, and so forth. They all know it, either by theory or in their souls.
Whatever knowledge is active in an organism, was created in, for, and by, the organism. Knowledge includes, but is not limited to language. Knowing how to ride a bike or play an instrument are forms of knowledge though totally non-linguistic. A new baby waving its hands around and smiling or crying is beginning inquiry to learn about the world. The society of cells that constitute its physical body functions like a super jazz band playing its theme in 72 octaves. As it plays, it asks the senses what changed. A human jazz musician will know s/he is going wrong if s/he hears discordance. A baby will know s/he is going wrong if the senses do not affirm coherent closure.
Now in the interest of creativity we need to restrict the computer paradigm of information to computers and not allow its influence in understanding life. Computers are input-output machines. They are connected to sensors to provide inputs that they process to calculate outputs. No living organism is a machine, let alone an input-output machine. Organisms are influenced by senses, not sensors. Sensors are designed to work with information as a commodity. For example downloading a file on Internet. Organisms neither receive nor work with information. We may have the illusion that we do but the processes involved are quite different from what we think. Organisms create and work with in-formation, In-formation means information in its original etymological sense of in-formare, to form within. Thus, as some folks say, we create our own reality.
Thus we all make our own worlds. That supplies requisite variety, but it also creates problems. If each of us lives in his or her own unique world how do we communicate? How do we cooperate? Also we might notice that our knowledge cannot simply be about “ what is” because as time passes “what is” becomes “what was.” How do we twist our knowledge to cope with novelty? How do we learn? How do we adapt? The answer is through the functioning of values, life can exist in greater harmony.
Life functions through societies from societies of molecules, to societies of cells, and to societies of organisms. You and I are organisms made of a society of 70 trillion cells functioning in a pure democracy. Each cell has maximum freedom in contributing to the overall governing coherence. Each of us function like a cell in multiple human societies from families through various kinds of social organizations to the society of a country.
At every level the governing law is coherence. Coherence conditions never prescribe behavior. Instead, coherence maximizes freedom. At the lowest atomic level, the conditions are quantum coherence. Quantum coherence defines values for that level. At the level of you and me, values take on a different character. I suggest that value words are not values any more than the word “cat” is an animal. But value words are an attempt to understand by pointing to something. For example, when we use the word justice, we are pointing to something that actually is invisible, but it has a feeling to it and a sense that is valued. Most of us know when there has been an injustice, not because we name it, but because we know it. It’s part of what we experience as a coherent condition necessary for life.
Today understanding values is a much-needed missing ingredient. Without it life on earth is turned into a living hell with wars without end. It is inconceivable that anyone would actually use today’s weapons. The murder of tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children has value consequences enough to deter the use of such weapons by anyone sane. Calling it “collateral damage” is an attempt to lessen the perceived value consequences, but it doesn’t change the exponential disastrous evolution of consequences to follow. Clearly we need peace!