What evolution really means.
Posted: 01 March 2005 06:35 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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Hey all,

As a start I thought it might be interesting to see where everyone thinks we're going from here from a human evolutionary standpoint. What natural selection factors are still working on us to drive changes, both physically and mentally(behaviorally)?

I throw in my own observation that Darwin, in the theory of evolution, had the most profound idea in the history of man. What does it really mean?  For me, it explains how random sets of molecules gradually were pressured through random change and we simply happen to be one of the lucky survivors. Not that we're paricularly good at surviving, no less. If you were a gene "interested" in your own longevity would you rather be in a human or a bacterium. We certainly didn't have to end up as we did, but the fact that we are the product of what is an essentially random process is awe inspiring. And this randomness takes the idea of "good' or "evil" out of our behavior or "purpose" except as something we constructed in a cultural sense. It takes the supernatural out of all of our relationships when you view something like love or forgiveness as what they are…evolved behaviors that gave our genes an edge in survival. Repeating from a previous post, have you ever wondered why we don't seem to have the capacity to "love" strangers like those close to us, except in a generous intellectual way. It makes sense when you see that investing in strangers that emotional wieght really has no direct benefit in passing on "our" genes. What does make sense when directed at strangers is the concept of reciprocal altruism, a sort of live and let live behavior that allows our genes a better chance at survival, as opposed to an indiscriminate and possibly fatal aggressiveness. We evolved as social beings the way we did only because altruism "works" to a certain extent, but as Sam's book says, might it be too late for us to deal with another evolved behavior of seeing others as" them" with an intrinsically smaller reason to exist (after all, you don't pass on my genes). 

I guess my question to you all is what happens from here? Now that we no longer evolve in small groups, and we have to deal with more and more strangers and social pressures, what will be the result? Will our nervous systems feel any selective forces to deal with constant stress more effectively? Would a gene giving us less aggressiveness or more "love" be truly selected for, and make us more likely to pass it on? Will our adrenal glands and fight or flight responses change? 

Is there any true reproductive pressure to evolve into more egalitarian beings over the next 100,000 years? Would there ever be any advantage to feel on an emotional level the needs or distress of others as much as we feel our own. I not sure I can imagine that…. but to feel them on only an intellectual level I am sure will not be enough to keep us all from each others throats in the long run. Are we doomed as humans for an inadequately evolved sense of "us" to a course of repetitive civilization destructions as we develope the means to wipe ourselves out over and over again?

My opinion…One thing we sure can't count on to advance that feeling of "us" is dogmatic religion. Once a perfectly adaptable way to deal with our own brains' struggles to accept consequences when we were first able to perceive the idea of time. Time then has beginings and ends, and allows the idea of planning for the future…a terrific cerebral development, but one that almost demands that we try to control that future through ritual (ask an obsessive-compulsive).  Even demanding rituals can be adaptive if we all accept them and develope a greater sense of inclusion in a small group. It made perfect sense to early man to see that bad things can happen and things "happen" for a reason. What better reason to have the development of rituals around everything they held dear, especially death, food, and sex. Voila, religion!!  It all seemed so natural, so true, and it still does today which is why so many defend their beliefs on the basis that it just feels right. Our brains have not fundamentally changed much. It feels right to me when I imagine my dead grandfather, and with him in my mind, I could almost open my mouth and talk to him. Feels right, but possible, no. To finish, religion just does not have that evolutionary advantage anymore because it divides us into "us" and "them" which is even more dangerous.

Well, I really rambled. What do you think? 

Rod

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Posted: 03 March 2005 06:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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What….nobody interested?  Rod

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Posted: 03 March 2005 07:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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[quote author=“Rod”]What….nobody interested?  Rod

Not for lack of interest in the topic of human evolution (or future of), but for time and taking the time to contemplate some aspects of this subject.

It would be nice to know if there are others out there who are interested in such a subject.

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Posted: 03 March 2005 11:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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[quote author=“Rod”]Hey all, I throw in my own observation that Darwin, in the theory of evolution, had the most profound idea in the history of man. What does it really mean?  For me, it explains how random sets of molecules gradually were pressured through random change and we simply happen to be one of the lucky survivors. We certainly didn’t have to end up as we did, but the fact that we are the product of what is an essentially random process is awe inspiring.

The process was hardly random. Why complexity for the sake of complexity? Life evolved to create ever greater opportunities for experience. Why else flight, play or consciousness?

Edited excerpts from The Relativist Guide to Reality Part One:

“As animals grew in complexity, so did their lives. Evolution promoted improved perception and problem solving abilities. Natural selection led to perceptual abilities that greatly enhanced the experience that was already unique to the mind. This led to a creature whose best vantage point from which to look out for its own survival was its mentality with its organized accumulation of our senses.
“Much of life for complex animals requires its parts and sub-systems be organized by processes carried out by brain activity; thinking, learning, remembering. When hungry, for example, our minds organize every aspect of our selves; digestion, mobility, perception, hunting skills, endurance. Mating configures another total animal organization. The hunt, for example, is an intense mental experience of brain activity (just like the x-box) It was one of our first sustained experiences of our minds being our highest level of organization. It became the part that the other parts dedicate their function and existence to. The experience of your mind being in command is compelling and affords one of the best seats in the house from which to enjoy creation, because it’s where a vast amount of accumulated information can be experienced.
“This is where biology gives a second opportunity to whatever it is that experiences the animal. The experiencer was drawn to the experience of the senses, and with it came sight for its own sake; awe and wonder. As our enhanced abilities emerged, the experience of mind quickly proved to be more desirable. Emotions and sensations that were originally developed for survival and procreation were now experienced for their own sake. This is a great departure for our evolutionary ancestors whom survival had taught to never think longer than necessary in order to avoid being on the wrong side of lunch. Instead of the brain doing a job (processing) to enhance the survival of the body, this was the body doing a job (water polo) to enhance the experience of the mind. Even risking the survival of the body. And all this, to generate a later, secondary experience. From the vantage point of the mind, physical form was a vessel- a vehicle for engaging the physical world to collect sensual input for mental experience. Either evolution favored mental experience, or some other force, maybe even we experiencers ourselves, has propelled life to levels of complexity that biology alone doesn’t appear to necessitate. Who else would have bothered? The motive force that drove evolution toward greater diversity and complexity was consumer demand, demanding ever-greater opportunities for experience. Evolution has accommodated biological life in this motivation.”


[quote author=“Rod”]And this randomness takes the idea of “good’ or “evil” out of our behavior or “purpose” except as something we constructed in a cultural sense.

“Imagine a world without mankind in it, an earth that never spawned humans. What would evil be in such a world? Tornadoes? Animals eating each other? Forest fires? Meteors? Where in all the systems of creation would you find anything that wasn’t part of the greater whole of nature? Evil would seem to be something that is only here to benefit our conscious minds. We would seem to be the only ones who know anything about it. Like culture, evil is not God’s creation, it’s ours. A culture isn’t something we are, it’s something we do, just as consciousness is something we do.”

[quote author=“Rod”]I guess my question to you all is what happens from here? Are we doomed as humans for an inadequately evolved sense of “us” to a course of repetitive civilization destructions as we develope the means to wipe ourselves out over and over again?

“Culture is the ultimate artifact by which we created a greater organization of ourselves.  We call this belonging to something greater than yourself. This “mass-identity” is a new organization that is just as real as your conscious self. It may seem weird at first to consider the mass-consciousness as something, but it has every claim to substance that your conscious mind has. They are of the same stuff. Evidence of the existence of both is everywhere, even on the moon. No single person or single generation could do that. Only a culture could go to the moon.”
“Why am I suggesting that this kind of mass-mind is different from any animal community like a flock of birds or a school of fish or even a tribe of our own ancient ancestors? Because their survival priorities couldn’t be more different. Violence could break-out among tribes of apes competing over territory, resources or bloodline. Nothing unnatural sounding there, but imagine if one tribe attacks another, but only to subdue them and then leave one of its members behind to live with the vanquished and tell them what to do and how to live in the world that the victors think is there. The rest of the tribe moves on to conquer the next bunch. This high maintenance struggle is not about dominance of DNA or resources. It’s about the dominance of one collective artificial consciousness, spreading civilization or attacking an enemy for thinking they lived in a different world. This enemy wasn’t physically trespassing and wasn’t eating your food. This enemy was in our heads. A mental cartoon of others who somehow organized using a different spell that didn’t come from your anointed ones and must come from a rival deity or worse. Its mere existence makes a mockery of our chosen pre-eminence. It is a false mass-mind, and we can blame it for everything. Those who live in other mass-minds are not of the same creation as us. They are not like us. With this rational in place, societies could engage in large-scale organized horror.
“Society begins to rival the individual identity for the dominant position of being that which must survive. For an individual, this is when society’s priorities become greater than your own, and your own survival can be overruled by the needs of the mass-mind. Each mass-mind compels its membership with the notion that the world will somehow be complete or finished when everyone everywhere was part of the same un-challenged organization. Or dead.”

Our future evolution is in our minds. Developing civilization is us ascending into our conscious minds. Surviving civilization means ascending beyond consciousness.

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Posted: 03 March 2005 02:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Natural selection is most certainly alive and well in the modern world.  The selection pressures have certainly changed over time though.

Replicate or Die is the directive of all “life”.  Every living entity on our planet is the result of a tremendously long chain of successful reproduction, and in any discussion of evolution in modern humanity, we must, imho, remember this.

Unfortunately, it often takes generations to determine what is truly conducive to successful reproduction, and often times, adaptations which seem highly advantageous in the short term, can turn out to be disastrous in the long term.

Further complicating matters is the fact that there are factors beyond pure biology which help determine how reproductive humanity is.  Many people examine cultures and civilazations, and attempt to determine what their signifigance is, in this context.  I would contend that, just as a human brain is a complex system built out of basic building blocks of neurons, society and culture is a complex system built out of the basic building block of sentient beings, of which, to the best of our knowledge, human beings are the only fully qualified participants.

So, now we must examine a co-evolution of the biological component (humans) and the organizing principle of culture and civilization.  The organizational component and the biological component are, currently, in a state of symbiosis.  Culture would vanish if humans did, and humans would suffer tremendously (possibly going extinct) if culture were to vanish.

For these reasons, it is probably not unreasonable to assert that, in general, we would expect that biological mutations which are beneficial to cultural organization will be preferentially selected for as opposed to biological mutations which would inhibit cultural organization.  Likewise, we would expect to see cultural mutations that, on the whole, benefit human reproduction (at least to the point of “stable” population), and expect cultural mutations that harm human reproduction to be selected against.

Where things get a bit more complicated is in questioning whether the symbiosis is destined to go on as it is.  It would be a bit sweeping to assume that culture could never exist without humans.  Indeed, any collection of sentient entities could (and probably would) manifest culture.  A genetic engineering mishap, a hackers AI breakthrough, or contact with an alien civilization could, in theory, introduce human cultures to sentient beings that are not human.  At that point, however unlikely, it becomes possible that a given culture could survive the death of humanity.

So, it is possible that humans could be outlived by human culture.  Of course, it is also possible that aliens would enslave all of humanity, and the human culture would die out while humans were assimilated into other cultures.

The bottom line, as I see it, is adaptability and diversity.  The more of both that humanity has, the more likely that it will be able to deal with unforseen circumstances.  Although there is no guarantee of continued survival, any consideration of future evolution presupposes that extinction does not occur, so. . .  But beware the dogmatic advocates of mono-culture, for they beat the drums of our extinction.

-Matt

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Posted: 03 March 2005 03:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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My feeling is that humanity, chiefly by way of word use and storage, is in the process of—not completely, but at least significantly—overcoming purely genetic evolution. That is, any given individual, if he or she is talented, dedicated and inspired enough, can contribute to the future of our species in ways much more important than merely passing down their genes.

Words provide us with a foundation for reality that compels us to supersede instinct. Through words we have been able to work out solutions objectively rather than merely feeling our way around the world.
Through language, along with our powerful memory, we can store and retrieve insight from the most capable members of our communities. No other animal can so efficiently build on genius, because they cannot directly and objectively pass down the brilliance of a single member of their species for the benefit of future generations. Non-human animals are as yet unable to make full use of an individual’s insight. Darwin’s theories only allow a tendency for this to happen, since the most competent individuals are also those most likely to breed and pass their genes to the next generation, which allows only a possibility of future
generations to be as insightful. But through words, we can surpass Darwinian principle to ensure that the work of numbingly brilliant individuals such as Socrates, Beethoven and Einstein are preserved for posterity, and integrated into our society.

Something else I find interesting about human potential is that apparently only we and no other animal are able to update our operating systems, so to speak. What I mean is that I sometimes compare my brain to a computer. The computer sitting in front of me has no ability to update its software by itself, as it requires that someone such as myself or Bill Gates to create and insert a disc. But I’m able to choose to do something equivalent to myself, although only with great effort. Undoing my Catholic upbringing, for instance, took many years of undoing intense brainwashing, and the job will never be absolutely complete. But I do feel as though I have the power to do an amazing thing in nature, just by being a member of a species that has words and all the cultural miracles that follow the use of words.

Dave

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Posted: 04 March 2005 04:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Hey, Rod ...

You’re a slave driver, I tell you.  No rest for the curious ...  I haven’t been slacking off, I’ve been searching for a couple of sources to post here.  Finally found one giving a Muslim point of view.  The other, I can no find, but I shall try to explain it all by myself. 

The first one deals with the idea of pain and suffering as essential to the process of evolution, that there is no progress without pain.  And then goes on to say that for many (predominantly/exclusively believers, I would say) pain and suffering also has to do with crime and punishment.  For me personally, my leaving the church and doing away with religion has erased that aspect of pain completely.  I don’t believe there is any purpose to pain other than to learn from it.  When we are suffering, whether mentally or physically, the pain is to motivate us to search out the sources to the suffering and make the correction/change; it is not to punish us for good or bad behaviour/thoughts/deeds.

The second source I was looking for as an example of a potential ‘natural selection factor still working on us to drive changes, both physically and mentally(behaviorally)..’

I was sure I had read in one of John Bradshaw’s books, but I couldn’t find the exact passage.  So I’m going to wing it here ...  I remember reading that some group (maybe neuroscientists?) are studying the possibility that behavioral traits are genetically passed on from generation to generation along with physical traits.  The premise is that destructive patterns – abortion, suicide, murder (I’m remembering they used the Fonda family as an example for suicide occurring in successive generations), are inherited genetically.  Their thought is that if a destructive trait is not dealt with after the first occurrence, it will be passed on to the next generation and so on indefinitely until it is exposed and reconciled.  I haven’t made any sound conclusions on the idea for myself yet, but I thought it was an interesting one.  I’ll try to find the originating source ...

Susan

The Question of Suffering, from ‘Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth (A Question of Suffering), by Mirza Tahir Ahmad. 

WHEN WE EXPLORE the history of evolution in search of the causative factors which gave birth to the sensory organs as life evolved, we can safely conclude that right from the beginning they have always been the sense of loss and gain. We identify the journey of evolution to be a long procession of some obscure realization of gains and losses which gradually evolved the sensory organs to register the presence of pleasure and pain, comfort and suffering. If we look back at the lower forms of life, at the first few rungs of the ladder and compare them with the higher forms of life near the top, it is not difficult to recognize that in real terms the evolution is the evolution of consciousness. Life is constantly spiralling up from a lesser state of consciousness to a higher state with continuously sharpening faculties of awareness.

The awareness of gain and loss is rather vague and obscure in the beginning, and we cannot locate a definite seat for this awareness in the anatomy of rudimentary organisms. But we know from their reactions to the surrounding elements and situations that they do possess some defused sense of awareness. ... This sense of perception gradually developed and created its own seats in the organism of life. It is these seats which got precipitated ultimately into what we know now as sensory organs. The creation of the brain was not a separate and unrelated incident. No development of sensory organs could be meaningful without a corresponding development of a central nervous system and a simultaneous evolution of the brain, which could decipher the messages transmitted by the sensory organs. Evidently therefore, the brain developed as an essential counterpart of the system of perception. The more evolved the consciousness becomes, the more intense grows the sense of loss and gain felt by specific nerve centres which translate the awareness of loss as suffering, and gain as pleasure, to the mind through the brain.

The less developed the consciousness, the smaller is the awareness of suffering. The same goes for happiness. Thus, the sensory provisions for the recognition of suffering and happiness are indispensable to each other. It is quite likely that if the level to which suffering can be experienced is reduced, its opposite number, the capacity to feel pleasure and happiness, will also be lowered to the same degree. The two seem to participate equally in propelling the wheel of evolution; both possess equal significance. One cannot be done away with alone without the other, thus nullifying the entire creative plan of evolution.

... The absence of happiness is suffering, which is like its shadow, just as darkness is the shadow cast by the absence of light. If there is life, there has to be death; both are situated at the extreme poles of the same plane, with innumerable grades and shades in between. As we move away from death, we gradually move towards a state of life which is happiness; as we move away from life, we move away with a sense of loss and sorrow towards death. This is the key to understanding the struggle for existence, which in turn leads to a constant improvement in the quality of life and helps it to achieve the ultimate goal of evolution. The principle of the “survival of the fittest” plays an integral role in this grand scheme of evolution.

It is the perpetual struggle between life and death that subjects the living to a constant state of trial, so that all who conduct themselves best survive and gain a higher status of existence. Herein lies the philosophy and the machination of evolution as described in the verses above. It is this constant struggle between the forces of life and the forces of death which provide the thrust to the living to perpetually move away from death or towards it. It may result either in the improvement or deterioration in the quality of existence in the wide spectrum of evolutionary changes. This is the essence and spirit of evolution.

Suffering could only be considered objectionable if it were created as an independent entity with no meaningful role to play in the scheme of things. But without the taste of suffering or an awareness of what it means, the feeling of relief and comfort would also vanish. Without an encounter with pain and misery, most certainly, joy and happiness would lose all meaning. Indeed the very existence of life would lose purpose, and the steps of evolution would stop dead in their tracks.

Thus in the evolution of our five senses, the awareness of loss and gain has played an equally essential role like the two wheels of a wagon; remove one, and the other would also lose its meaning. The very concept of the wagon would be grounded. The struggle between life and death, which produces suffering, is also the means of creating pleasure. It is the primary motivating force which fuels the carriage of evolution to move forward eternally.

During the long history of evolution, disease has arisen from various causes, directly or indirectly related to developmental changes. Environmental variations, the struggle for existence, mutations and accidents, have all jointly or severally played their part. Disease, defects and shortcomings all have a role to play in effecting improvement. This is how various animal species went on evolving unconsciously it seems, but certainly with a direction, which appears to follow a consciously designed course towards greater consciousness.

LET US NOW try to conceive another scheme in which the element of suffering is set aside by the application of a hypothetical rule: all forms of life must be equally provided with an equal share of happiness with no portion of suffering at all. Perhaps then we shall be able to eliminate suffering altogether from afflicting life. There would be absolute equality and everyone would be placed on a level platform, but how and where should we introduce this new scheme? Alas! Wherever we attempt to introduce it in the long chain of evolution, we are bound to come across insurmountable problems. These new rules either have to be introduced at the very beginning of creation or not at all. To apply absolute equality at any following stage would be impossible without creating insoluble contradictions. We shall thus need to return to the point where life started.

We must go back all the way in the history of life; all the way to the very beginning and start to build the ladder of evolution anew, rung by rung. But try as we may, we are bound to get stuck at the very first step, the starting point of life. We would not be able to take a single step forward because an equal distribution of happiness and total absence of suffering would entirely eliminate the impetus for evolution. There would be no struggle for existence, no natural selection, no survival of the fittest. Not a single progressive step would be taken by the first, most rudimentary forms of life.

Picture the stage of life represented by the three earliest life units known to man, i.e. bacteria with nuclei, bacteria without nuclei and pyro-bacteria (born by the energy of fire). In this imaginary system there would be no competition for food or survival, because all are equally provided for; there would be no suffering either. As a consequence, in that hypothetical revised plan of creation, life would certainly remain stationary and stagnant, forever fixed at its earliest rudimentary form. The creation of man would remain a far cry from the point of its ancient beginning. Therefore the real question is whether to choose a system with suffering as its integral part, perpetually spiralling evolution in the greater interest of life, or to abandon the plan altogether for the fear of unavoidable suffering. In the final analysis therefore, the only question we are left with is, ‘To be or not to be’?

The rudimentary forms of life, if they had a brain to think, would much rather wish ‘not to be’ than ‘to be’ in such meaningless drudgery of existence.

Suffering is also associated with the idea of retribution and punishment. Glimpses of retribution can be witnessed in the animal kingdom only in a narrow and limited application. They can be observed in the behaviour of many animals of land, sea and air. Elephants and buffaloes are notorious for their propensity towards revenge. This gradually developing trait of life is inevitably linked up to the gradual synthesis of choice. To do something or not to do something can either be an intuitive compulsion or a calculated decision of mind. We are not yet certain about how far the element of choice plays a role in animal conduct, but we know that choice begins to play a vital role in the decision-making process of humans. Whether one moves towards light or darkness, towards life or death, is most often a conscious decision on the part of man. If therefore, as a natural consequence of man’s wilful actions, a reward is provided or penalty exacted, none else is to be blamed but man himself.

Sometimes people may suffer without realizing that they themselves are to be blamed—that there is a general principle of retribution operative in nature known as nemesis. They may have earned that suffering advertently or inadvertently, without identifying the cause. It is so because every fault does not result in an immediate punitive consequence. It often happens that nature executes justice against transgression imperceptibly.

However this is not the whole problem. It is far too complex, vast and intricate and needs to be further illustrated with the help of specific scientific examples, hypothetical or real. There are some very difficult cases to explain, like those of children born with certain congenital defects. Why are they made to suffer? It cannot be said that it is through any fault of theirs. If there is any fault it might have been of their parents, yet that may not have been intentional on their part. In this context the term “fault” should be understood in its widest application, covering even accidental occurrence of congenital diseases. Such faults are far from being conscious crimes. Whatever the nature of the particular cause of some defect, one thing is certain that the poor innocent child who is born with any disadvantage is not responsible for the cause of this suffering in any way.

The solution to the understanding of this problem lies in the realization that all suffering cannot be categorized as punishment, nor all happiness as reward. There is always a small percentage of individuals who will seem to suffer as though without justification. However, a closer more careful examination of such cases would reveal that there is no question of wilful injustice involved. They are merely an unavoidable by-product of the wide plan of creation, but they also play a meaningful role in the general advancement of human society.

One must not forget that ‘cause and effect’ is one thing and ‘crime and punishment’ is quite another, however closely they may seem to resemble each other. It is correct to say that a crime may work as a cause and every punishment that may ensue would be an effect of that causative crime. But it is not correct to claim that every suffering is a punishment of some crime committed before. It is wrong to say that all healthy babies are healthy because they are rewarded for some act of goodness of their parents. So also it is wrong to maintain that every unhealthy baby is punished for an unidentified crime of its parents or forefathers. Health and disease, ability and disability, fortune or misfortune, congenital advantages or disadvantages are themselves but indispensable to the grand scheme of things, in which they play a causative role. They are distinctly apart from the phenomenon of crime and punishment, goodness and reward. As we have discussed above, suffering, like happiness, is an essential prerequisite for life to evolve and in the course of evolution it is not related to the phenomenon of crime and punishment at all. Suffering in its causative role produces a wide spectrum of useful effects which amply justify its existence.

Suffering has been a great teacher, cultivating and culturing our conduct. It develops and refines sensibilities, teaches humility ...  It awakens the need for search and exploration and creates that necessity which is the mother of all inventions.

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Posted: 04 March 2005 08:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Hey gang…..a lot to chew on.

First, I guess I have to call some of these comments or philosophies to task in that I hear a lot of anthropomorphizing going on. Remember, it’s not really us that are evolving, it’s our collection of genes. Normally, this has been a random process, built on what came before, and not directed in any way exept by nature that has no “purpose” for any beings.  So when I hear words like ” life evolved to create ever greater” whatever or “has propelled life to complexity”(Mr Morley) or “the philosophy of evolution” involving suffering or happiness,(Susan) I have to object.    From the standpoint of our genes, if they mutate and survive, so be it. Evolving “emotions for their own sake” or “opportunities for experience” just doesn’t make sense. Considering that most of the organisms on earth have evolved very little and that their DNA is probably just as happy as ours…well, you get my point.  Intelligence is simply one trait that can evolve (and pat itself on the back as being “most evolved”, ignoring all those that see better, run faster, fly, or the ones we can’t even see that can kill us), nature could care less. We simply use our intelligence to survive and reproduce, and then sit around and write books about how important our happiness must be.

Everybody had thoughts on whether behavioral traits are passed on and how this might affect the “mass-mind” or the culture and whether we might pass on something like ideas that are more important than the individual. Cool stuff. Susan…think about it, behavioral traits sure are passed on, our sexual drives, our basic personalities and even a subconscious reward system of happiness and sadness or guilt that helps direct our behavior as social beings in stronger ways than you might expect. Weird to think about, but we wouldn’t experience “happiness” if our brains were wired differently.

  Dave… I agree that I might invent something more important to society than my genes, it’s just that time is running out for me personally LOL  And I guess we’ll never know if my genes carry the natural immunity to the Ebola virus since I’m not likely to get it and I don’t have kids.

Matt…don’t see how a gene that “benefits cultural organization” would spread if it does not make the individual more likely to reproduce, and likewise with a tolerant society how would you stop the spread of a slightly more antisocial set of genes. Guess we need a mutation for the “more social and higher sex drive” genes. Hey..that’s me :D
Brings us to ponder the question again…if we all have enough to eat and the majority survive to reproduce, is there really any natural selection going on…do the healthy really have the edge?  Do the intelligent outproduce us all? It’s not clear to me that the socially adept seem to prosper with progeny. It seems this would only make a difference after the next great plague that takes out 90% of us.

Well, until next time…..Rod

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Posted: 04 March 2005 02:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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[quote author=“Rod”]Hey gang…..a lot to chew on.

Matt…don’t see how a gene that “benefits cultural organization” would spread if it does not make the individual more likely to reproduce, and likewise with a tolerant society how would you stop the spread of a slightly more antisocial set of genes. Guess we need a mutation for the “more social and higher sex drive” genes. Hey..that’s me :D

It would spread for the reason that population groups that had higher levels of cultural organization would have a higher reproductive quotient overall.  This is basically classic “Dawkinsian” selfish gene stuff.  It does not matter if any given indicidual is more likely to reproduce, but rather how reproductive a group of them is.  Also, more organized cultures have more free time, which means more time to “get it on” and more time to care for babies.

As for how anti-social genes would not be spread. . .  Well, it does not matter if they are spread, at least not in the way that you are considering.  The issue is not whether they exist or not, but rather, what level of expression they enjoy in a society.  It could be argued that in certain circumstances (disaster, war, &c.) that anti-social genes might convey some sort of benefit, and thus, it is a benefit to a gene-pool if at least a few copies are preserved.  However, in competeing societies, if the anti-social genes become too prevalent, then the social glue starts to break down.

I think that the real key here is that social vs. anti-social genes make very little impact on reproduction unless a social structure is in place, and so the selection pressures that act upon them are very complex and the changes are subtle.

-Matt

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Posted: 05 March 2005 04:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Rod, I’d be willing to bet that every conversation you have with a newly-minted M.D. results in your passing on some form of wisdom. The New York Times recently published an article comparing young doctors with older ones, concluding that the young ones tend to be highly computer-literate and conversant with the latest technology, while the older ones have social skills that are not taught in med schools. The fact that you’re interested in SamHarris.com indicates that you have already passed on abundant wisdom that typical young couples popping out babies know nothing about.

This is what I was talking about, though I refer to cultural evolution rather than the genetic type. But it seems apparent that genetic and cultural evolution feed off and influence each other. I think we can affect the evolution of our species even—no, especially—if we’re too old to feel like taking quite as active a part in it as we used to.

Dave

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Posted: 05 March 2005 08:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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[quote author=“Rod”]I hear a lot of anthropomorphizing going on. Remember, it’s not really us that are evolving, it’s our collection of genes. Normally, this has been a random process, built on what came before, and not directed in any way exept by nature that has no “purpose” for any beings.  So when I hear words like ” life evolved to create ever greater” whatever or “has propelled life to complexity”(Mr Morley) I have to object.    From the standpoint of our genes, if they mutate and survive, so be it. Evolving “emotions for their own sake” or “opportunities for experience” just doesn’t make sense. nature could care less. We simply use our intelligence to survive and reproduce, and then sit around and write books about how important our happiness must be.

Somewhere in Florida is an organization of genes that we have anthropomorphized into something called “Rod”.
When I hear words like “We simply use our intelligence to survive and reproduce”, “nature could care less”, I have to object. From the standpoint of ourselves, if our genes mutate and survive, so be it. Evolving “emotions for their own sake” or “opportunities for experience” is why. Neither of our positions is ultimately “provable”, but I’ll take the pursuit of happiness over random mutation as more consistent with the nature of our experience.
Anthropomorphizing? Look who’s talking… Remember, it’s not really us posting, it’s just a random process that has no purpose. There’s nothing on this screen but dots.

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Posted: 06 March 2005 03:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Mr. Morley…Hey, again.  I’ll give you your point if you are coming from the standpoint of accepting the Intelligent Design theory. If you feel we are driven in some way to higher levels of whatever then there must be a driver. Nature can allow for the development of complexity since random change on what came before will appear to be progressive at times. Again, nature does not care…a designer would. Why would a designer evolve eyes and then get rid of them in blind fish. Evolution goes in both “directions” based solely on what survives the best…mammals losing limbs to become whales, etc.  In some cases we can see what appears to be a pattern of “forward” progression because subsequent mutations may survive better.  We might think we see a design in the development of intelligence and infer a purpose,or a designer, which is what I meant by anthropomorphizing, giving natural forces “desires”.  I guess you lean in this direction?  I just can’t infer this from random mutation which is all our genetics allow.

Until later…..Rod

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Posted: 06 March 2005 04:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Matt…I thought Dawkins was against “group selection” theories? I’ll have to check.

Dave…Don’t write me off too soon :D I retired, or quit, or burned out, or what ever you might call it three years ago at 48.  I thought medical practice was making me lose my sense of humor. What a difference now with the time to read all the books I’ve got lined up. I do have 4 years of grad school in organic chemistry and I’ve applied to teach at the local community college. Would love to pass on a few “memes” there.

Later…Rod

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Posted: 06 March 2005 08:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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[quote author=“Rod”]Mr. Morley…Hey, again.  I’ll give you your point if you are coming from the standpoint of accepting the Intelligent Design theory. If you feel we are driven in some way to higher levels of whatever then there must be a driver.

Please, just Nhoj will do (rhymes with lodge).
I’m afraid I require a further category that is neither random chance nor intelligent design. Besides, I’m not sure if either explanation in practice would look any different to us. ID suggests a master craftsman toiling away at some project with a specific purpose and goal at which point the project is complete or finished. That suggests some kind of Divine Order, someone starts claiming to know what that is, and it’s all downhill from there. I lean toward a “let’s see what happens” kind of creation. Calling it “random mutation” seems to be inferring just as much.
The driver you mention is us. We pursue greater opportunities for experience- not in a pre-designed fashion, but in an open marketplace of opportunity. Trends come and go. What’s hot in this eon is not in the next eon. Life can be unexperienced. Experiencer-flight can a leave an environment on the skids. Metaphorically silly perhaps, but brevity is levity.
If God or the Great IDer knew what he/she/it wanted, wouldn’t it have gone straight for it? Why fumble around with hydrogen, platypuses and Wal-Mart’s?
You were a doctor? Did you feel a sense of purpose? If so, wasn’t it more than random mutation that inspired it?

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Posted: 17 March 2005 07:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Presumptuous I know!

Assuming this thread is still alive (and by the volume of activity in the science topic I would wonder how alive it might be), I’d like to suggest another way to look at evolution that introduces a kind of teleological-sounding (purpose-like) notion.  Rather than evolution being merely random mutation and happenstance selection, suppose that we think of organized systems as information processors and producers (by their behavior).  Systems interact informationally such that a system that produces information influences a system that receives and processes that information.  The influence is to cause a change in the behavior of the receiving system so that it then produces information!

Information, in this description, is based on Claude Shannon’s thesis, that information is a measure of the inverse likelihood of receipt of a message state*.  In other words its value depends on the observer (receiver in the case of non-living systems).  The more expected a message is, the less information is conveyed.  Expectation, in this case, relates to the “knowledge” held by the receiver in advance of receiving a message. Thus there is a reciprochal relation between information and knowledge.

A system’s knowledge may be hardcoded, so to speak, or acquired over time, if the system is adaptive.  Living systems are obviously of the latter type and for animals, anyway, knowledge is encoded either genetically (and now it seems both in so-called junk DNA and in epigenetic mechanisms!) or in neural networks through learning.  Evolution operates on the genetic component over long time scales and variability is generated by random mutation.  [Gerald Edleman has advanced an evolutionary-like theory of learning which helps reconcile the mechanisms in Darwinian evolution and learning theory - if it proves out].

Either way, the modification in the system that increases knowledge, in the above sense, changes subsequent behavior of the system. But since other systems receiving the messages from the changed system have a priori expectations about that behavior, the new behavior generates information.  For adaptive systems, that information, in turn causes changes in knowledge and changes in their behavior.

In other words, information begets information.  And changes in knowledge beget new knowledge.  This is a positive feedback loop that drives the whole system (ultimately the universe as a whole) toward ever increasing organization - that is encoded knowledge.

This is the empetus behind the evolution of intelligence itself.  And, I would assert, is what makes evolution seem to have a purpose.

Ultimately material evolution is enabled by the flow of energy.  Without such a flow of high potential energy from a source to a sink of low potential (space) all evolution comes to a halt.  Indeed, it may yet be the case that when energy flow peaks (however that may work out cosmologically) evolution may turn to devolution.  In any case, under the current cocomological theories of an ever-expanding universe, it is reasonable to see that evoultion will cease this seeming upward spiral of increasing knowledge.  What purpose then?

If you’ve read this far, you need to find a boy[girl]friend!

George

* for those mathematically inclined a simple version of Shannon information is given by the formula:

  I _sub_t = - log _base_2 (P _sub_t (x))

where P(x) is the probability of event x and these are discrete at time t

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Posted: 19 April 2005 05:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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I’ma thinking we now live in an enviroment with greatly diminished selective/culling forces.  One can argue that motorcycle accidents have replaced lions in the weeding out of our “dumb bunnies”,,, but it’s just not enough.  Cigarettes and VD aren’t fast enough to get “them” before they procreate… I’da say human evolution(brainwise) is at best in a malaise stage…

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