Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > From Physical Causes to Organisms of Meaning > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

There are two kinds of explanation (1)

We commonly explain occurrences by saying one thing happened because of — due to the cause of — something else. But we can invoke very different sorts of causes in this way. For example, there is the because of physical law (The ball rolled down the hill because of gravity) and the because of reason (He laughed at me because I made a mistake). The former hinges upon the kind of necessity we commonly associate with physical causation; the latter has to do with what makes sense within a context of meaning.

Any nuance of meaning coming from any part of the larger context can ground the because of reason. “I blushed because I saw a hint of suspicion in his eyes”. But I might not have blushed if his left hand had slightly shifted in its characteristic, reassuring way, or if a rebellious line from a novel I read in college had flashed through my mind, or if a certain painful experience in my childhood had been different. In a meaningful context, there are infinite possible ways for any detail, however remote, to be connected to, colored by, or transformed by any other detail. There is no sure way to wall off any part of the context from all the rest.

“When my desire for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow causes me to go on a search, the (nonexistent) pot of gold is not a causal property of the sort that is involved in natural laws” (Pylyshyn 1984, p. xii).

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