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Ed Hudgins

Objectivism and Evolution: No Contradictions

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Objectivism and Evolution: No Contradictions

By Edward Hudgins

September 21, 2010 -- The essay "Why Ayn Rand's Philosophy is Incomplete" by the Prometheus staff claims that the facts of biological evolution reveal a logical flaw in Objectivist philosophy. This claim is based on serious philosophical confusion and a misunderstanding of the philosophy developed by Rand.

The essay states that "One of Objectivism's fundamental axioms is that 'existence is identity,' which Rand derived from Aristotle's law of identity," that is to say, A is A. The essay also states that "evolution shows us that existence is a process of evolving identity." It then concludes that "Far from the 'A is A' certainty of Aristotlelian-Randian thought, evolution holds that change is the only true constant. Time's arrow specializes in contradiction."

What changes and what doesn't

To untangle this confusion, we must ask what it means to say that everything that exists has an identity. A is A, that is to say, the law of identity, is a metaphysical premise or axiom. It is the acknowledgment that to exist is to be something in particular, to have certain attributes and not to have others. Change in the world does not contradict the fact that to exist is to possess a certain identity. Rather, how an entity changes is an aspect or attribute of its identity. Change occurs in an orderly, law-like manner. Rand states that "The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action. All actions are caused by entities. The nature of an action is caused and determined by the nature of the entities that act." Here "action" means any kind of change.

Observe that concrete entities are what changes. A flower grows. A rock rolls down a hill. A planet orbits the sun. Hydrogen atoms, subject to intense gravitational forces inside the sun, fuse together, becoming helium atoms and releasing a certain amount of energy.

Observe also that there is something constant in these and in all cases of change. Specifically, entities change in a law-like rather than a random manner. Such change is an aspect of an entity's identity. According to the Prometheus essay, "evolution holds that change is the only true constant." Really? What about the laws of evolution? Would the essay's authors maintain that in the period of a few seconds a flower might transform into a dinosaur and then a starfish, and then a volcano? Why not, if all is change?

Of course, evolution refers to the fact that some individual living organisms suffer genetic mutation; that the attributes that are altered by mutations can confer survival advantages or disadvantages on the organism depending on the environment; that when a mutation confers an advantage, the organism will be more likely to survive and produce offspring which, in turn, will pass along those advantageous genes to the next generation. Over many generations more mutations occur, changing the individual organisms in subsequent generations. Over long periods of time, individuals might be greatly changed from earlier organisms from which they came. We say that the species has evolved. It is that law-like manner of change that we refer to as evolution.

Indeed, the task of science is to discover such laws or constants concerning the nature of entities. A plant needs water, carbon dioxide, and nutrients to survive and flourish. The force of an object is equal to its mass times its acceleration. And so on.

Forms vs. concepts

The Prometheus essay seems to treat "identity" as if it were a metaphysical essence or entity, as if it were some sort of eternal and unchanging Form. It then attributes such a view to Objectivism and criticizes that view for not allowing for change and evolution. But Objectivism explicitly rejects this view of identity.

Objectivism understands that the concepts by which we identify entities and their attributes are not metaphysical entities but, rather, the epistemological means by which we understand the world, by which we classify things, by which we have rational knowledge. Rand had a very specific understanding of concepts. Rand states that a concept "is a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated according to a specific characteristic(s) and united by a specific definition." In other words, to define "human" as a "rational animal" is to observe attributes that all humans share with certain other entities—animals—as well as attributes that distinguish humans from those entities—the capacity for rational knowledge. Were there creatures a million years ago that could be identified by the concept "human?" The evidence says "No." We would have to use a concept other than "human" to describe those earlier creatures. Were there creatures back then from which today's humans evolved? The answer is "Yes."

Whatever the attributes of those creatures from which modern humans evolved, the creatures today to which we apply the concept "human" have a certain identity, that is, certain attributes that we can describe and understand. Among those attributes is that fact that they did evolve from earlier creatures through a process that we describe as evolution.

How blank a slate?

The essay quotes Rand's statement that "I am not a student of the theory of evolution and, therefore, I am neither its supporter nor its opponent." Let's acknowledge that evolution is a fact. The Prometheus essay asserts that Rand's agnosticism led her to misunderstand human nature. She said that "Man's emotional mechanism is like an electronic computer, which his mind has to program—and the programming consists of the values his mind chooses."

According to the essay, evolutionary psychology tells us that "Human psychology is far from a tabula rasa, and is hard-wired with various biases, heuristic tendencies, and social instincts which mitigate against all attempts to employ pure rationality." The essay acknowledges most human achievements come "thanks to our ability to transcend these evolutionary handicaps," adding "but gainsaying their existence is sheer misrepresentation of scientific reality."

Here the essay has a point. Recent discoveries about evolution and the brain do, in fact, reveal that human nature is much more complex than perhaps Rand understood. Even so, a close look at Rand's works shows her to be a more sophisticated observer of human nature than perhaps the essayists appreciate. But that's another discussion. Still it is crucial for Objectivist thinkers to take account of these discoveries if they wish to refine their understanding of how individuals might live happy lives.

But these discoveries so far do not undermine the basic Objectivist understanding of ethics. The essayists acknowledge the human ability "to transcend these evolutionary handicaps." Another way to put this is that we humans can use our volition to check our immediate emotions, including those that might involve hard-wired capacities. We can reflect upon the world around us and on ourselves and our own nature. We can ask how we might act, including how we might discipline our emotions or hard-wired tendencies in order to best survive and flourish. This is the virtue of rationality.

Here we also see that in a very crucial way humans are "tabula rasa." We do not have pre-programmed conceptual knowledge. Even if we are "hard-wired with various biases, heuristic tendencies, and social instincts," it is only through a volitional, rational process that we discover and validate knowledge about the physical world in which we exist and about our own nature—our nature as evolved beings and as beings that can only survive and flourish if we act in accordance with certain principles found in our own nature, that is, in our identity as human beings. In any case, any instincts or biases that we humans have do not give us automatic knowledge concerning how to survive and flourish. We must discover this knowledge, using our rational capacity. From this perspective we might as well consider ourselves to be "tabula rasa."

The Prometheus essay acknowledges Rand's insights about free choice, free markets, and limited government in society. But these insights trace back to the deeper Objectivist understanding of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. The essayists rightly ask about the implications of evolution for Objectivism, but they would do well to ask about their own understanding of Objectivism so that they might avoid the errors analyzed above and have a better understanding of the foundations of the freedoms that they rightly cherish.

--------------

Hudgins is director of advocacy at The Atlas Society.

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Here we also see that in a very crucial way humans are "tabula rasa." We do not have pre-programmed conceptual knowledge. Even if we are "hard-wired with various biases, heuristic tendencies, and social instincts," it is only through a volitional, rational process that we discover and validate knowledge about the physical world in which we exist and about our own nature—our nature as evolved beings and as beings that can only survive and flourish if we act in accordance with certain principles found in our own nature, that is, in our identity as human beings. In any case, any instincts or biases that we humans have do not give us automatic knowledge concerning how to survive and flourish. We must discover this knowledge, using our rational capacity. From this perspective we might as well consider ourselves to be "tabula rasa."

99 percent of us with normal sensory organs will initially conceive space in the same way --- Euclidean Flat. It takes effort of intellect to overcome that conceptual bias and understand space-time is non-Euclidean. We need an intellectual artifact to accomplish this: mathematics.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Exactly on point.

And how - with great clarity, too.

There is still one thing that is niggling me, and that is the 'gap', (not contradiction), between so-called "hard wiring", and the nature, identity, of Man.

When Ed Hudgins asks "How blank a slate?" he goes a long way towards filling that 'gap'.

But, as devil's advocate, couldn't I argue that the primitive codes hard-wired in us, are also part and parcel of Man's nature?

And as we know, ethics and everything in O'ism hangs upon this identity.

For example, one could argue that we still carry a collectivist/altruist urge, from the time when human survival depended on subservience and adherence to the tribe.

Why then is this disregarded in the composition of O'ist ethics - actually, to its opposite extreme of rational selfishness?

Or, my solution, it is merely lowered down one's hierarchy as a part of us that should not be denied, but rather superseded by rationality. That has been my process, but I can't recall where Ayn Rand or anyone else tackled it specifically.

"Recent discoveries... reveal that human nature is much more complex than perhaps Rand thought." {EH}

It explains plenty if "hard wiring" was relatively unknown back then.

Tony

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Exactly on point.

And how - with great clarity, too.

There is still one thing that is niggling me, and that is the 'gap', (not contradiction), between so-called "hard wiring", and the nature, identity, of Man.

When Ed Hudgins asks "How blank a slate?" he goes a long way towards filling that 'gap'.

But, as devil's advocate, couldn't I argue that the primitive codes hard-wired in us, are also part and parcel of Man's nature?

And as we know, ethics and everything in O'ism hangs upon this identity.

For example, one could argue that we still carry a collectivist/altruist urge, from the time when human survival depended on subservience and adherence to the tribe.

Why then is this disregarded in the composition of O'ist ethics - actually, to its opposite extreme of rational selfishness?

Or, my solution, it is merely lowered down one's hierarchy as a part of us that should not be denied, but rather superseded by rationality. That has been my process, but I can't recall where Ayn Rand or anyone else tackled it specifically.

"Recent discoveries... reveal that human nature is much more complex than perhaps Rand thought." {EH}

It explains plenty if "hard wiring" was relatively unknown back then.

Tony

Any "urges" we have, like a sweet tooth or the desire for a warm, soft touch are at the perceptual level. They don't translate into high-level ideological positions like support for Cap and Trade without a lot of thinking along the way.

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Observe also that there is something constant in these and in all cases of change. Specifically, entities change in a law-like rather than a random manner. Such change is an aspect of an entity's identity. According to the Prometheus essay, "evolution holds that change is the only true constant." Really? What about the laws of evolution? Would the essay's authors maintain that in the period of a few seconds a flower might transform into a dinosaur and then a starfish, and then a volcano? Why not, if all is change?

I admit this is a pretty good question: i.e., why is a fly not a horse? Why does a flower NOT transform itself into a dinosaur and then a starfish?

The answer is this: we actually don't know. The genomic difference between a mouse and a man is not so great that it can explain all of the other differences between the two. I rather incline to Rupert Sheldrake's answer on this question: biological habit. The reason a fly is not a horse is that its parents were other flies (and the same, mutatis mutandis, for the horse).

Anyway, it's pretty apparent that if Darwinian evolution imagines organism ( A ) "evolving" into a very different organism ( B ), then the law of identity requires that some "a" (part of ( A )) be unchanged and identical to some "a" (part of ( B )). If "a" was identical to itself when inhering in (A), it must also be identical to itself when inhering in a changed ( A ), now known as ( B ).

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Observe also that there is something constant in these and in all cases of change. Specifically, entities change in a law-like rather than a random manner. Such change is an aspect of an entity's identity. According to the Prometheus essay, "evolution holds that change is the only true constant." Really? What about the laws of evolution? Would the essay's authors maintain that in the period of a few seconds a flower might transform into a dinosaur and then a starfish, and then a volcano? Why not, if all is change?

I admit this is a pretty good question: i.e., why is a fly not a horse? Why does a flower NOT transform itself into a dinosaur and then a starfish?

The answer is this: we actually don't know. The genomic difference between a mouse and a man is not so great that it can explain all of the other differences between the two. I rather incline to Rupert Sheldrake's answer on this question: biological habit. The reason a fly is not a horse is that its parents were other flies (and the same, mutatis mutandis, for the horse).

Anyway, it's pretty apparent that if Darwinian evolution imagines organism ( A ) "evolving" into a very different organism ( B ), then the law of identity requires that some "a" (part of ( A )) be unchanged and identical to some "a" (part of ( B )). If "a" was identical to itself when inhering in (A), it must also be identical to itself when inhering in a changed ( A ), now known as ( B ).

Absolute nonsense.

Organisms do not evolve. Species do. That your child is not identicasl to you is not a violation of the law of identity.

Nor is there any mystery in the causal chain from gene to protein to phenotype (i.e., the biological form) of the organism. No mystery whatsoever. Anyone who makes such an arbitrary assertion is ignorant of the biochemistry and is relying on the ignorance of others in order to spout such mystical nonsense.

Rupert Sheldrake is a pseudo-scientific crackpot who makes no well-defined predictions not already better explained by verifiable science. Nothing in evolution contradicts the law of identity, which is not the law of immutability.

Absolute nonsense.

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Ted - Right on the mark. I, Ed Hudgins, am always changing-we call it aging--but in accordance with certain laws. I don't "evolve" in a Darwinian manner. Species evolve.

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Ted - Right on the mark. I, Ed Hudgins, am always changing-we call it aging--but in accordance with certain laws. I don't "evolve" in a Darwinian manner. Species evolve.

I was always annoyed at Sacks and Gould, of whom I am a huge fan, and of Dennett, who can at least write clearly and who should know better, for having participated in that PBS-broadcast documentary with Sheldrake, lending him prestige which he in no way deserves.

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Observe also that there is something constant in these and in all cases of change. Specifically, entities change in a law-like rather than a random manner. Such change is an aspect of an entity's identity. According to the Prometheus essay, "evolution holds that change is the only true constant." Really? What about the laws of evolution? Would the essay's authors maintain that in the period of a few seconds a flower might transform into a dinosaur and then a starfish, and then a volcano? Why not, if all is change?

I admit this is a pretty good question: i.e., why is a fly not a horse? Why does a flower NOT transform itself into a dinosaur and then a starfish?

The answer is this: we actually don't know. The genomic difference between a mouse and a man is not so great that it can explain all of the other differences between the two. I rather incline to Rupert Sheldrake's answer on this question: biological habit. The reason a fly is not a horse is that its parents were other flies (and the same, mutatis mutandis, for the horse).

Anyway, it's pretty apparent that if Darwinian evolution imagines organism ( A ) "evolving" into a very different organism ( B ), then the law of identity requires that some "a" (part of ( A )) be unchanged and identical to some "a" (part of ( B )). If "a" was identical to itself when inhering in (A), it must also be identical to itself when inhering in a changed ( A ), now known as ( B ).

Organisms do not evolve. Species do. That your child is not identicasl to you is not a violation of the law of identity.

Nor is there any mystery in the causal chain from gene to protein to phenotype (i.e., the biological form) of the organism. No mystery whatsoever. Anyone who makes such an arbitrary assertion is ignorant of the biochemistry and is relying on the ignorance of others in order to spout such mystical nonsense.

Rupert Sheldrake is a pseudo-scientific crackpot who makes no well-defined predictions not already better explained by verifiable science. Nothing in evolution contradicts the law of identity, which is not the law of immutability.

Absolute nonsense.

Absolute nonsense.

Thanks for venting your subjective opinion regarding Sheldrake. I'll shelve it next to the other subjective opinions about him and his work (many of which are positive).

Regarding the silliness about what it is, precisely, that is supposed to be evolving: "species" bears the same logical relation to "individuals organisms" as "society" does to "individual humans"; i.e., only the latter truly exist -- the former is but an abstraction. So it is obviously individuals that ultimately must show evidence of having, at one time, been ( A ), then slowly morphing, individual by individual, into something significantly different, such as ( B ). This, of course, has never been shown; precisely zero empirical evidence for this.

So far, you've ducked the original question and replied with slogans -- "T'isn't the individual but the species!" -- as if that actually means anything. It doesn't.

The cutting edge of evolutionary theory today has little to do with any of the ideas of classical Darwinism or its melding with Mendelian genetics in the 1940s known as "Neo-Darwinism." The current work, most of it in the field of biochemistry, takes its cue from the work of Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock and her genetics work with maize. Some of the most interesting work is being done by James Shapiro at Univ. of Chicago. Briefly: the cell itself is seen as a fantastically complex integration of codes and biochemical instructions that finely regulate cell activity. The model is similar to a computer + software instructions. Rather than assuming the cell and its genome to be passive recipients of blind outside events that cause a random change called a "mutation", which is then "selected" by another undefined force or entity called "Natural Selection", the cell is now observed to be actively involved in creating its own fate; i.e., it has been observed that, by means of various transposable elements, the genome actively experiments with itself by shifting various elements around in a highly regulated way, in order to maximize its adaptation to a particular environment. The genomic "menu" it has at its disposal is limited, of course, but there's no pre-set way of choosing among the given options, and the organism is capable of making novel combinations that never existed before. This is not exactly what Darwin or his disciples had in mind by the term "evolution."

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Observe also that there is something constant in these and in all cases of change. Specifically, entities change in a law-like rather than a random manner. Such change is an aspect of an entity's identity. According to the Prometheus essay, "evolution holds that change is the only true constant." Really? What about the laws of evolution? Would the essay's authors maintain that in the period of a few seconds a flower might transform into a dinosaur and then a starfish, and then a volcano? Why not, if all is change?

I admit this is a pretty good question: i.e., why is a fly not a horse? Why does a flower NOT transform itself into a dinosaur and then a starfish?

The answer is this: we actually don't know. The genomic difference between a mouse and a man is not so great that it can explain all of the other differences between the two. I rather incline to Rupert Sheldrake's answer on this question: biological habit. The reason a fly is not a horse is that its parents were other flies (and the same, mutatis mutandis, for the horse).

Anyway, it's pretty apparent that if Darwinian evolution imagines organism ( A ) "evolving" into a very different organism ( B ), then the law of identity requires that some "a" (part of ( A )) be unchanged and identical to some "a" (part of ( B )). If "a" was identical to itself when inhering in (A), it must also be identical to itself when inhering in a changed ( A ), now known as ( B ).

Absolute nonsense.

Nor is there any mystery in the causal chain from gene to protein to phenotype (i.e., the biological form) of the organism. No mystery whatsoever. Anyone who makes such an arbitrary assertion is ignorant of the biochemistry and is relying on the ignorance of others in order to spout such mystical nonsense.

Well, I'm glad we have that cleared up! No mysteries at all!

And your knowledge and expertise in this subject come from where -- the fact that you've read Atlas Shrugged?

Organisms do not evolve. Species do. That your child is not identicasl to you is not a violation of the law of identity.

Nor is there any mystery in the causal chain from gene to protein to phenotype (i.e., the biological form) of the organism. No mystery whatsoever. Anyone who makes such an arbitrary assertion is ignorant of the biochemistry and is relying on the ignorance of others in order to spout such mystical nonsense.

Rupert Sheldrake is a pseudo-scientific crackpot who makes no well-defined predictions not already better explained by verifiable science. Nothing in evolution contradicts the law of identity, which is not the law of immutability.

Absolute nonsense.

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Observe also that there is something constant in these and in all cases of change. Specifically, entities change in a law-like rather than a random manner. Such change is an aspect of an entity's identity. According to the Prometheus essay, "evolution holds that change is the only true constant." Really? What about the laws of evolution? Would the essay's authors maintain that in the period of a few seconds a flower might transform into a dinosaur and then a starfish, and then a volcano? Why not, if all is change?

I admit this is a pretty good question: i.e., why is a fly not a horse? Why does a flower NOT transform itself into a dinosaur and then a starfish?

The answer is this: we actually don't know. The genomic difference between a mouse and a man is not so great that it can explain all of the other differences between the two. I rather incline to Rupert Sheldrake's answer on this question: biological habit. The reason a fly is not a horse is that its parents were other flies (and the same, mutatis mutandis, for the horse).

Anyway, it's pretty apparent that if Darwinian evolution imagines organism ( A ) "evolving" into a very different organism ( B ), then the law of identity requires that some "a" (part of ( A )) be unchanged and identical to some "a" (part of ( B )). If "a" was identical to itself when inhering in (A), it must also be identical to itself when inhering in a changed ( A ), now known as ( B ).

Organisms do not evolve. Species do. That your child is not identicasl to you is not a violation of the law of identity.

Nor is there any mystery in the causal chain from gene to protein to phenotype (i.e., the biological form) of the organism. No mystery whatsoever. Anyone who makes such an arbitrary assertion is ignorant of the biochemistry and is relying on the ignorance of others in order to spout such mystical nonsense.

Rupert Sheldrake is a pseudo-scientific crackpot who makes no well-defined predictions not already better explained by verifiable science. Nothing in evolution contradicts the law of identity, which is not the law of immutability.

Absolute nonsense.

Absolute nonsense.

Thanks for venting your subjective opinion regarding Sheldrake. I'll shelve it next to the other subjective opinions about him and his work (many of which are positive).

Regarding the silliness about what it is, precisely, that is supposed to be evolving: "species" bears the same logical relation to "individuals organisms" as "society" does to "individual humans"; i.e., only the latter truly exist -- the former is but an abstraction. So it is obviously individuals that ultimately must show evidence of having, at one time, been ( A ), then slowly morphing, individual by individual, into something significantly different, such as ( B ). This, of course, has never been shown; precisely zero empirical evidence for this.

So far, you've ducked the original question and replied with slogans -- "T'isn't the individual but the species!" -- as if that actually means anything. It doesn't.

The cutting edge of evolutionary theory today has little to do with any of the ideas of classical Darwinism or its melding with Mendelian genetics in the 1940s known as "Neo-Darwinism." The current work, most of it in the field of biochemistry, takes its cue from the work of Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock and her genetics work with maize. Some of the most interesting work is being done by James Shapiro at Univ. of Chicago. Briefly: the cell itself is seen as a fantastically complex integration of codes and biochemical instructions that finely regulate cell activity. The model is similar to a computer + software instructions. Rather than assuming the cell and its genome to be passive recipients of blind outside events that cause a random change called a "mutation", which is then "selected" by another undefined force or entity called "Natural Selection", the cell is now observed to be actively involved in creating its own fate; i.e., it has been observed that, by means of various transposable elements, the genome actively experiments with itself by shifting various elements around in a highly regulated way, in order to maximize its adaptation to a particular environment. The genomic "menu" it has at its disposal is limited, of course, but there's no pre-set way of choosing among the given options, and the organism is capable of making novel combinations that never existed before. This is not exactly what Darwin or his disciples had in mind by the term "evolution."

My opinion is hardly subjective, unless by subjective you mean my opinion is . . . mine. I majored in bio and philosophy. I have read Sheldrake, as recently as this year, and seen him on several shows. He's no scientist, his morphogenetic fields are mumbo jumbo, and dropping McClintock's name, as has been done for decades now, is an irrelevant cliche. With your "This is not exactly what Darwin or his disciples had in mind by the term 'evolution'" you are making meaningless sensationalistic claims. I won't be reading further posts by you.

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My opinion is hardly subjective, unless by subjective you mean my opinion is . . . mine.

Since your opinion is clearly subjective, why would your own estimate of your own opinion --which is simply your opinion regarding your opinion -- be anything else?

I majored in bio and philosophy.

Wow! Impressive! So did Sheldrake. Except, he's written a number of books and done a lot of research, and you've merely blogged and vented your subjective opinions.

dropping McClintock's name, as has been done for decades now, is an irrelevant cliche.

This is an argument? Haven't seen or read any refutation of her work (or Shapiro's work) and its implications. "Irrelevant cliches" don't win Nobel prizes in science. Maybe you should simply take the time to read her work, read Shapiro's work, and make the effort to understand how it affects previous models of evolution like Darwinism.

I won't be reading further posts by you.

I'm hurt. (Yet another thin-skinned ignorant, capital "O" Objectivist snit-fit.) Wanna know what the problem is, Keer? College was a long time ago, and you simply haven't kept up with the latest news. In short: you're stuck in the past.

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My opinion is hardly subjective, unless by subjective you mean my opinion is . . . mine.

Since your opinion is clearly subjective, why would your own estimate of your own opinion --which is simply your opinion regarding your opinion -- be anything else?

I majored in bio and philosophy.

Wow! Impressive! So did Sheldrake. Except, he's written a number of books and done a lot of research, and you've merely blogged and vented your subjective opinions.

dropping McClintock's name, as has been done for decades now, is an irrelevant cliche.

This is an argument? Haven't seen or read any refutation of her work (or Shapiro's work) and its implications. "Irrelevant cliches" don't win Nobel prizes in science. Maybe you should simply take the time to read her work, read Shapiro's work, and make the effort to understand how it affects previous models of evolution like Darwinism.

I won't be reading further posts by you.

I'm hurt. (Yet another thin-skinned ignorant, capital "O" Objectivist snit-fit.) Wanna know what the problem is, Keer? College was a long time ago, and you simply haven't kept up with the latest news. In short: you're stuck in the past.

Brief article on biologist Paul Nurse, Nobel laureate:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2010/nov/12/biology-quantum-leap

In the past, we have seen biological explanations as commonsense. They have explained how genes direct the manufacture of proteins or account for the appearance of disease through the behaviour of bacteria and viruses. But such simplicity is likely to disappear in the near future, argues [Paul] Nurse, who won the 2001 Nobel prize for physiology for his work on the role of DNA in cell division. The structure of DNA may be elegant and may reveal the mechanism that controls heredity, but its real importance lies with the way it stores digital information. Nor is it the only system in a living being that stores and processes information. The cell can be seen as a tiny computer, for example.

If computers didn't evolve by means of random mutation and natural selection, then neither did cells. Both require intelligent input.

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If computers didn't evolve by means of random mutation and natural selection, then neither did cells. Both require intelligent input.

Cells have been around billions of years (or billyuns and billyuns of years, as Carl Sagan would have said). Computers have been around for less than one hundred years. The line of cell development goes all the way back the Archea, at least 2.5 billion years. Fossils of these one cell critters can be found in the stomatilites.

There is no evidence of intelligent design of living things prior to humans. Now that Craig Venter has made a genuine living cell from non-living components the situation has changed. How do we know Craig and his team did it? They have all reported on their activities and have t.v., photographs and documentation to back them up.

When you can present as convincing evidence of an Intelligent Designer making the earliest living cells on this planet perhaps you have case.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Edited by BaalChatzaf
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Exactly on point.

There is still one thing that is niggling me, and that is the 'gap', (not contradiction), between so-called "hard wiring", and the nature, identity, of Man.

When Ed Hudgins asks "How blank a slate?" he goes a long way towards filling that 'gap'.

But, as devil's advocate, couldn't I argue that the primitive codes hard-wired in us, are also part and parcel of Man's nature?

And as we know, ethics and everything in O'ism hangs upon this identity.

Tony

"gap" in the sense that the Grand Canyon is a "ditch". Huge problem. Everything changes when this "problem" is addressed.

Bob

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Exactly on point.

There is still one thing that is niggling me, and that is the 'gap', (not contradiction), between so-called "hard wiring", and the nature, identity, of Man.

When Ed Hudgins asks "How blank a slate?" he goes a long way towards filling that 'gap'.

But, as devil's advocate, couldn't I argue that the primitive codes hard-wired in us, are also part and parcel of Man's nature?

And as we know, ethics and everything in O'ism hangs upon this identity.

Tony

"gap" in the sense that the Grand Canyon is a "ditch". Huge problem. Everything changes when this "problem" is addressed.

Bob

The question is relevant in regards to what specific values are consonant with an individual's happiness according to his own individual nature. Rand seems to have treated human nature as monolithic and values as derived top down by deduction from her concept of it. Rather, one values are a bottom-up hierarchy just as are one's concepts.

But Rand's general points that life is the precondition for value, and that if you wish to be happy you must act in accord with your nature, are still entirely valid.

This is a "huge problem" only if you think adopting Rand's personal values wholesale is the appropriate means of adopting a philosophy of rational egoism - you know - the "please advise me how to think about the latest excommunication rationally" crowd.

And why am I not surprised AA is a creationist? Should've seen that one coming.

Edited by Ted Keer
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Exactly on point.

There is still one thing that is niggling me, and that is the 'gap', (not contradiction), between so-called "hard wiring", and the nature, identity, of Man.

When Ed Hudgins asks "How blank a slate?" he goes a long way towards filling that 'gap'.

But, as devil's advocate, couldn't I argue that the primitive codes hard-wired in us, are also part and parcel of Man's nature?

And as we know, ethics and everything in O'ism hangs upon this identity.

Tony

"gap" in the sense that the Grand Canyon is a "ditch". Huge problem. Everything changes when this "problem" is addressed.

Bob

But Rand's general points that life is the precondition for value, and that if you wish to be happy you must act in accord with your nature, are still entirely valid.

But altruism is part of our nature, every bit as much as self-interest. There's not much in her philosophy that is "entirely valid" after this.

Bob

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Exactly on point.

There is still one thing that is niggling me, and that is the 'gap', (not contradiction), between so-called "hard wiring", and the nature, identity, of Man.

When Ed Hudgins asks "How blank a slate?" he goes a long way towards filling that 'gap'.

But, as devil's advocate, couldn't I argue that the primitive codes hard-wired in us, are also part and parcel of Man's nature?

And as we know, ethics and everything in O'ism hangs upon this identity.

Tony

"gap" in the sense that the Grand Canyon is a "ditch". Huge problem. Everything changes when this "problem" is addressed.

Bob

But Rand's general points that life is the precondition for value, and that if you wish to be happy you must act in accord with your nature, are still entirely valid.

But altruism is part of our nature, every bit as much as self-interest. There's not much in her philosophy that is "entirely valid" after this.

Bob

No, there is no reason to believe that altruism in the philosophical sense is part of human nature. Empathy is another thing. Indeed, according to Kant and the rest, if you take pleasure in helping others, that is selfish, and does not count as altruism.

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No, there is no reason to believe that altruism in the philosophical sense is part of human nature. Empathy is another thing. Indeed, according to Kant and the rest, if you take pleasure in helping others, that is selfish, and does not count as altruism.

If "in the philosophical sense" you mean as the highest moral good - statically - then we agree. This is not interesting and rather trivial.

But there's more to it than that and it's not so easily dismissed. I could argue that ultimately everything we do is our choice, therefore self-interest, and not only does that not "count" as altruism, but that altruism is impossible. That view goes nowhere interesting as well.

The interesting point is whether or not, because of our nature, we "owe" anything at all to others. Not total slavery, but maybe we have a partial moral obligation of service to others. Reality would suggest we do.

Bob

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If computers didn't evolve by means of random mutation and natural selection, then neither did cells. Both require intelligent input.

Cells have been around billions of years (or billyuns and billyuns of years, as Carl Sagan would have said). Computers have been around for less than one hundred years. The line of cell development goes all the way back the Archea, at least 2.5 billion years. Fossils of these one cell critters can be found in the stomatilites.

There is no evidence of intelligent design of living things prior to humans. Now that Craig Venter has made a genuine living cell from non-living components the situation has changed. How do we know Craig and his team did it? They have all reported on their activities and have t.v., photographs and documentation to back them up.

When you can present as convincing evidence of an Intelligent Designer making the earliest living cells on this planet perhaps you have case.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Billions of years aren't enough time. There's the problem. (Which explains why many Objectivists, when they understand this, feel the need to drop the Big Bang model and adopt a Steady State one. They feel that this gives them almost infinite time for the "random walk" necessary to create a living thing ex nihilo. With infinite time at one's disposal, they can claim that "anything is possible.")

This reminds me of the dust-up two years ago when the story of Obama's "long-form" birth certificate (or lack thereof) first started to go viral. The AP ran a story with a headline proclaiming something like "Official at Hawaii's Dept. of Health Claims Obama's Original Birth Certificate Proves He Was Born in U.S." When you actually read the article, however, the doctor in charge of the DofH said nothing of the kind. The doctor was quoted merely as saying that she had seen A BIRTH CERTIFICATE and that it was "genuine." So how does that prove anything one way or the other if we don't know what was on the certificate? It doesn't. The AP, it seems, was simply hoping that many readers wouldn't go past the headline.

Same here. Headlines scream that Venter "created life." The Guardian proclaimed that Venter had proven "The Complete Triumph of Materialism." He did not. Even Venter admits, in the body of various articles, that he did NOT "create life from scratch."

Venter and his team took an already existing cell, removed its genome (keeping the epigenetic machinery such as the cell membrane) then inserted genetic code that had been copied from some other organism. Because they had used a computer to sequence the relevant bit of code from this second organism, the press mistakenly asserted that the sequence was "designed by a computer." No. The computer was a tool that was used to understand a relevant genetic sequence from organism ( A ); that sequence was then copied -- not invented out of thin air, but COPIED -- and the copy inserted into the genome of organism ( B ), whose original genome had been removed. The second organism then began to function and replicate.

To drive home to the world that this was, supposedly, an "artificial" and "novel" genome, Venter and his team additionally inserted bits of non-functional genetic material that, when decoded, would reveal Venter's website, the email addressees of his team, and various famous quotations from history. These, of course, are irrelevant to the new organism's functioning.

If you take a pre-existing commercial music CD and copy some of the music onto a second blank CD, and if you put this second CD into a computer and the computer reads this second CD and plays the snippet of music, that doesn't show that the computer came about originally through a random process or that it could have done so; it also doesn't show that the original CD or the copy could have come into being without the intervention of the guy doing the selecting, the copying, and the inserting.

Venter's accomplishment is a clear example of "technological evolution"; i.e., taking a bit of pre-existing technology ( A ), grafting it onto a bit of pre-existing technology ( B ), and arriving at a "novel" technology ( C ). Like all examples of technological evolution -- the evolution of the automobile, for example -- it requires intelligence, pre-planning, and goal-directedness. No step in this came about, or can come about, from randomness which is then "selected" for some sort of "survival value." The survival value is the end-goal that Venter and his team had in mind; they selected every element of the process in line with this goal. Venter and his team were acting in a manner opposite to that of Darwinian processes.

Show me what, in nature, can effectively substitute for an intelligently-designing Craig Venter and his team and you might have a case. So far, you don't.

And, by the way, if you're going to claim that "lots of randomness acting over lots of time" is an effective substitute, you'd be wrong. You only have 12 billion years to accomplish this; it turns out, on calculation, that 12 billion years aren't nearly enough time, which is one reason that even non-ID researchers now claim that, at best, random mutation + natural selection might be necessary for life to appear and speciate, but they aren't sufficient. Something else has to be present, too, though they don't know what. Some rely on the magic of "self-organizing systems", some rely on other novel causes. At any rate, neo-Darwinism -- pure randomness plus natural selection as the two and only two causes for life and speciation -- has quietly faded from academic research as a plausible mechanism. In public announcements, of course, Darwinism is still "the party line"; behind closed doors, however, there is severe doubt.

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No, there is no reason to believe that altruism in the philosophical sense is part of human nature. Empathy is another thing. Indeed, according to Kant and the rest, if you take pleasure in helping others, that is selfish, and does not count as altruism.

If "in the philosophical sense" you mean as the highest moral good - statically - then we agree. This is not interesting and rather trivial.

But there's more to it than that and it's not so easily dismissed. I could argue that ultimately everything we do is our choice, therefore self-interest, and not only does that not "count" as altruism, but that altruism is impossible. That view goes nowhere interesting as well.

The interesting point is whether or not, because of our nature, we "owe" anything at all to others. Not total slavery, but maybe we have a partial moral obligation of service to others. Reality would suggest we do.

Bob

If everything we do is actually in our real self interest then there can be no such thing as a mistake or a regret - are you saying you have never done something you wish you hadn't? Of course we can spite ourselves. and act on contradictory motives leading to unhappiness.

As for the claim that we owe things to others the corollary is that they owe things to us.

All of this is rather Objectivism 101, asuming you have read Rand with any charity and thoroughness you cannot claim you have not heard these answers before.

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All of this is rather Objectivism 101, asuming you have read Rand with any charity and thoroughness you cannot claim you have not heard these answers before.

One should read Ayn Rand's work with as much charity as she showed to those with whom she disagreed.

Judge justly and prepared to be judged justly. Charity implies mercy and pity. Both are disgusting.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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All of this is rather Objectivism 101, asuming you have read Rand with any charity and thoroughness you cannot claim you have not heard these answers before.

One should read Ayn Rand's work with as much charity as she showed to those with whom she disagreed.

Judge justly and prepared to be judged justly. Charity implies mercy and pity. Both are disgusting.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Mmm,

Interesting that you use Rand's own famous words to judge her - but fair, I suppose.

I really think you could be a bit more charitable about 'charity'.

It's appeared a couple of times on OL, so maybe we should find common understanding of its meaning - here, at least.

Mine is: to grant benevolence, and give benefit of the doubt, to someone's hypothesis, until I get to fully understand it.

(Believe me, Ba'al, when it comes to your discourse on Physics and Maths - which I am NEVER going to grasp - I have been granting you a lot of Charity.)

Tony

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(Believe me, Ba'al, when it comes to your discourse on Physics and Maths - which I am NEVER going to grasp - I have been granting you a lot of Charity.)

Tony

You don't grasp it because you don't know enough. That is remediable situation. Learn the math, learn the physics. Charity is not required. Your diligence is.

I am not a physicist but I have taken the trouble to study the subject and I have a pretty good grasp of what the physicists are doing.

I am (or was) an applied mathematician so my trade/occupation required that I learn the math thoroughly. My main function was problem solving rather than making or originating new theoretical material. My thing was clever use of the tools rather than inventing new tools.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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