Hard wiring as an analogy of nature

One of the preferred contemporary ways to speak of natural habits is to call them “hard wired”: e.g. “New studies show that compassion is hard-wired into human beings” or “birds are hard wired to fly south” or “we probably won’t be able to eliminate the religious impulse- it’s hard wired.” This kind of speech is itself hard-wired: human beings have always spontaneously understood nature by analogies to art, and complex tools (machines) are particularly good at bringing out aspects of nature that simple tools are not. Hard wiring, for example, can manifest something about cognitive processes in a way that a simple tool (like a shovel) cannot. A computer is a closer analogy to the brain than, say, a spatula.

The analogy between nature and art is instructive not only in what it positively tells us about nature, but also in the ways the analogy fails. Wires are certainly like neurons so far as both transmit information, but wires are understood without reference to a computer while neurons are not understood apart from the brain. The parts of natural things have an integration into the whole in a way that artificial things do not.

There is a desire to want to find some ground to reduce all art and nature to: since both nature and art reduce to the atomic level, but atoms seem no more ordered to being wires than to being neurons, then it seems there is no ultimate difference between art and nature. Both are simply various atomic arrangements.

But even if we unify nature and art on the level of the things arranged, we cannot unify them on the level of the the force or power that arranges. Art depends on an artisan in a way that nature does not. Nature is an artist within the thing itself: which is why Aristotle says that the best image of nature is a doctor healing himself (or, to use a contemporary example, a barber shaving his own face.) The best and most perfect analogy between nature and art is when we say that nature simply is an artist within a thing; a form subsisting within a matter that it has formed for the sake of their union. Even an atom is the result of an interior artist which is prior in causality to the matter in which it subsists, through whose information the composite of matter and artist arises.

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