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Ellen Stuttle

History of Evolutionism

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Ba'al, sometimes I do laugh at loud at your posts.

For example, your confusion of mathematics and physics in the post above, despite numerous lectures you've given on the difference.

No confusion at all. Mathematics has 0 empirical content. Nada. Bupkis. Zero. K'duchas.

Physics is about reality and is empirically based.

Quite. Which is why your answer to DF, viz.:

Why couldn't there be something from nothing?

There is no logical reason where there could not be a thing without a predecessor. For example; the set of natural numbers. Zero (in some one systems one) has no prior element in the ordering.

is not relevant to the physics question of whether something could come from nothing. Different meaning of "nothing."

Furthermore I have pointed out, on several occasions, that physical science is primarily -abductive- (in the sense of Peirce) rather than -inductive- (in the sense of Francis Bacon). The inference of causes from the constant conjunction of event types is a nifty example of -abduction-, not induction. Just to keep the terminology straight, abduction is hypothesizing to causes. From the effect, derive the cause. Basic Hume. Pure Peirce.

I know you have "pointed out, on several occasions, that physical science is primarily -abductive-," but then why do you describe that as "Basic Hume" and why do you pop in with a comment like this?:

Hume made a relevant point. He said that some of our metaphysical convictions are based on habit and custom. We believe in causes because we habitually or repetitively observe conjoined events in our experience. Which gets us back to the habit of induction. It seems humans cannot shake this habit.

Causal hypothesizing is an example of what you call (following Pierce) abduction and of what Popper called conjectur[ing], not of "induction" in Hume's meaning.

Ellen

[The edit, as usual with my edits, is for typos I didn't notice on initial proofing, not for a substantive change.]

___

Edited by Ellen Stuttle

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Rand and Deacon

Rand was not a biological teleologist, in the traditional sense of teleology. She took functionality in biology to be the result of efficient and material causes; no final causes at the non-conscious, physical level.

A plant must feed itself in order to live; the sunlight, the water, the chemicals it needs are the values its nature has set it to pursue. . . . There are alternatives in the conditions [a plant] encounters [heat or frost, drought or flood], but there is no alternative in its function: it acts to further its life (AS 1013).

[by now you know my refrain that an individual organism such as a plant also acts (without choice) so as to reproduce, so as to further the life of its species, etc.]

From Rand’s “The Objectivist Ethics”

Only a living entity can have goals or can originate them. And it is only a living organism that has the capacity for self-generated, goal-directed action. On the physical level, the functions of all living organisms, from the simplest to the most complex—from the nutritive function in the single cell of an amoeba to the blood circulation in the body of a man—are actions generated by the organism itself and directed to a single goal: the maintenance of the organism’s life.*

*When applied to physical phenomena, such as the automatic functions of an organism, the term ‘goal-directed’ is not to be taken to mean ‘purposive’ (a concept applicable only to the actions of a consciousness) and is not to imply the existence of any teleological principle operating in insentient nature. I use the term ‘goal-directed’, in this context, to designate the fact that the automatic functions of living organisms are actions whose nature is such that they result in the preservation of the organism’s life. (VS 16)

In “Causality v. Duty” she contracts the Aristotelian concept of final causality to animals, specifically, animals who engage in conscious ends-means cognition (PWNI 99). To reject teleology in vegetative biological nature is not necessarily to embrace biological evolution. The naturalist Buffon rejected biological teleology without embracing an evolutionary biology.

In “The Missing Link” Rand said she was not sufficiently informed to be either an opponent or an exponent of “the theory of evolution” (PWNI 45). She indicated, however, that she had had a certain conjectural picture of the long human past, and it was an evolutionary picture.

There is an enormous breach of continuity between man and all the other living species. The difference lies in the nature of man’s consciousness, in its distinctive characteristic: his conceptual faculty. It is as if, after aeons of physiological development, the evolutionary process altered its course, and the higher stages of development focused primarily on the consciousness of living species, not their bodies.

To that point of her paragraph, Rand was talking uniformly about the human species. She then abruptly begins talking about individual development:

The development of a man’s consciousness is volitional: no matter what the innate degree of his intelligence, he must develop it, he must learn how to use it, he must become a human being by choice.

Would Rand have been thinking about species-evolution in a Lamarckian way, in which acquisition of useful abilities by learning during an individual animal’s life could be transmitted to progeny by sexual inheritance? Most likely she was thinking more along the lines of Baldwinian evolution (1895–96, 1902), which comports with Darwinian evolution. “Baldwin suggested that learning and behavioral flexibility can play a role in amplifying and biasing natural selection because these abilities enable individuals to modify the context of natural selection that affects their future kin” (Deacon 1997, 322; see also Richards 1987; both in #13 of this thread).

The link between human individual development and human species evolution is missing in Rand’s paragraph. In The Symbolic Species, Terrence Deacon, a researcher in neuroscience and evolutionary anthropology, has put forth a theory of the evolution of human, conceptual consciousness. This is a theory that can deliver what Rand was groping for in that fractured paragraph.

This book began by considering the curious lack of natural symbolic systems in all nonhuman species, the limited capacity to gain symbolic understanding in most, and the failure of domesticated animals—immersed in the dense web of human interactions—to discover more than a few rote associations of words and phrases. What are the implications of this species difference and its associated neurological basis?

Evolution has widened the cognitive gap between the human species and all others into a yawning chasm. Taken together, the near-universal failure of nonhumans and the near-universal success of humans in acquiring symbolic abilities suggest that this shift corresponds to a major reassignment of cognitive resources to help overcome natural barriers to symbol learning. Other species’ failures at symbol learning do not result from the lack of some essential structure present only in human brains. As we have seen, chimpanzees can, under special circumstances, be brought to understand symbolic communication, though at best on a comparatively modest scale. The difference between symbolic and nonsymbolic communication may be a categorical difference in semiotic terms, but the neurological basis of our symbolic advantage is not due to a categorical difference in brain structure, only to a quantitative rearrangement of existing parts. Nevertheless, this shift in proportions spans a critical learning threshold that stands between indexical associations and symbolic reference. Although it is possible for other species to cross this threshold by learning and unlearning sets of associations in just the right way, it is incredibly unlikely. Yet in humans, a restructuring of the brain has acted like a catalyst, making the immensely improbable nearly inevitable.

In evolutionary terms, it would be accurate to say that the genetic basis for symbol-learning abilities has been driven to ‘fixation’. In other words, it has become a universal trait of the species. Though there may be variations in this ability among people, essentially all of this variability is above the threshold necessary for acquiring symbols. Whenever most variation of a trait is eliminated, we can usually assume that selection for it has been and still is immense. There must have been some very significant reproductive advantages to symbol acquisition, and severe reproductive costs in cases of failure to acquire symbols. An individual born into a symbolic culture with an ape’s bias against acquiring symbolic associations would be deprived of access to most realms of know-how and social influence, and have little chance to reproduce successfully. The ancestral lineages that succeeded best and left the most progeny were those in which symbolic abilities were able to develop despite a wide range of interfering influences. Language acquisition had to become fail-safe. After 2 million years it has clearly reached this status.

The simplest way to make something fail-safe is to design it far beyond the basic requirements. . . .

This symbol-learning insurance policy is provided by a comparatively overdeveloped prefrontal cortex, whose connections have gained the upper hand in numerous synaptic competitions throughout the brain. The extraordinary extent of this disproportional feature reflects its overdesign. . . . (Deacon 1997, 411–13)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

James Lennox on Darwinism, including Teleology in a Special Sense

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/darwinism/#3.3

Aristotle on Teleology by Monte Ransome Johnson

http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0199238502..._pt#reader-link

“Aristotle’s Conception of Final Causality” by Allan Gotthelf

In Philosophical Issues in Aristotle’s Biology

http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0521310911..._pt#reader-link

Edited by Stephen Boydstun

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Great piece, Stephen. I'm wondering what part of biological evolution Rand would have held suspicions about? Do you know?

= Mindy

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Mindy,

I don’t know what reservations Rand had about the correctness of contemporary theory of evolution.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra reports (“The Rand Transcript” JARS 1(1), p.9) that Rand took a course in biology in the spring of 1922 at St. Petersburg University (Petrograd State University). He thinks her teacher was likely Lev Semenovich Berg, who was the author of Theories of Evolution (date?).

Robert Campbell notes that in 1981, a year before her death, Rand remarked at a public forum:

I must state, incidentally, that I am not a student of biology and am, therefore, neither an advocate nor an opponent of the theory of evolution. But I have read a lot of valid evidence to support it, and it is the only scientific theory in the field.

http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/in...;hl=&st=100

Careful Reading

http://darwinianconservatism.blogspot.com/...879120902233438

Science in Russian Culture

1861–1917

Alexander Vucinich

Chapter Nine: “Biological Evolution: Facts and Controversies”

http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&id...esult#PPA273,M1

Edited by Stephen Boydstun

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Mindy,

I don’t know what reservations Rand had about the correctness of contemporary theory of evolution.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra reports (“The Rand Transcript” JARS 1(1), p.9) that Rand took a course in biology in the spring of 1922 at St. Petersburg University (Petrograd State University). He thinks her teacher was likely Lev Semenovich Berg, who was the author of Theories of Evolution (date?).

Robert Campbell notes that in 1981, a year before her death, Rand remarked at a public forum:

I must state, incidentally, that I am not a student of biology and am, therefore, neither an advocate nor an opponent of the theory of evolution. But I have read a lot of valid evidence to support it, and it is the only scientific theory in the field.

http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/in...;hl=&st=100

Careful Reading

http://darwinianconservatism.blogspot.com/...879120902233438

Science in Russian Culture

1861–1917

Alexander Vucinich

Chapter Nine: “Biological Evolution: Facts and Controversies”

http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&id...esult#PPA273,M1

Thanks so much. That settles it for me.

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Thanks so much. That settles it for me.

Consider life as it was 3.5 billion years ago. One celled biota which formed stromatolites (which can still be seen today off the great barrier reef). Then consider life now in its dazzling variety. Do you doubt for a second that the change in the shape and form of living things came about by purely natural processes? If you accept that you have accepted -the fact- of evolution.

There have been several theories and hypotheses that have explained this fact. The best of the bunch is a theory that was synthesized from genetics and natural selection, the current latest version of Darwinian Evolution. It is the only theory that is consistent with the genetic and fossil evidence and is in line with underlying physics and chemistry.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Wow. I'm the end product of 14 billion years of the universe evolving. Me and my chocolate Lab! How great we are!--me and my Lab!

-- Brant

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In connection with the discussion Rand and Deacon (#53 in this thread),

we should note:

Evolution and Learning: The Baldwin Effect Reconsidered

Bruce Weber and David Depew, editors

MIT 2003

http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0262731819..._pt#reader-link

Contributors:

David Depew, Stephen Downes, Peter Godfrey-Smith, Daniel Dennett, Terrence Deacon,

Celia Moore, Brian Hall, Susan Oyama, Paul Griffiths, Ruben Puentedura, Scott Gilbert,

Jesper Hoffmeyer, Kalevi Kull, and Bruce Weber

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Peter R,

The article that Ellen quoted is the main published source on Rand's views concerning evolution.

But there are comments from her last Ford Hall Forum speech that also has to be factored in.

She denounced creationism in the following terms:

To claim that the mystics’ mythology, or inventions, or superstitions are as valid as scientific theories, and to offer this claim to the unformed minds of children, is a moral crime. (The Age of Mediocrity, The Objectivist Forum, 2(3), June 1981, p. 6).

But then hastened to provide a disclaimer:

I must state, incidentally, that I am not a student of biology and am, therefore, neither an advocate nor an opponent of the theory of evolution. But I have read a lot of valid evidence to support it, and it is the only scientific theory in the field. The issue, however, is not the theory of evolution: this theory serves merely as a rabble-rousing excuse for attacking science, for attacking reason, for attacking man's mind. (ibid.)

What "valid evidence" she had become familiar with during her exchanges with Robert Efron I don't know, but in the 1970s Harry Binswanger was trying to persuade her to pay more attention to evolutionary ideas.

Robert C

PS. As I point out in my forthcoming piece on "the arbitrary," a Peikovian would have to conclude that it was agnostic, and, therefore, grossly irrational, of Rand to suspend judgment about a theory that she believed was supported by "a lot of valid evidence." Which may help to explain why the Peikovians have never anthologized this article.

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You might be right about "The Missing Link"; at worst Rand is sounding off on a topic she doesn't understand; at best she is speaking tentatively, as she rarely (if ever) did this in her published writings and public statements. Some apologists maintain, altogether implausibly, that she was doing this in her infamous denunciation of homosexuality.

In the remarks you quote in #60, I don't see that she's doing any more than declining, in keeping with her policy, to pronounce qua philosopher on a question of natural science. Agnosticism would be a claim that one can't know. All she says here is that she doesn't know, which is not the same at all.

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In the remarks you quote in #60, I don't see that she's doing any more than declining, in keeping with her policy, to pronounce qua philosopher on a question of natural science. Agnosticism would be a claim that one can't know. All she says here is that she doesn't know, which is not the same at all.

It is a shame that some of Rand's close followers do not have the sense to emulate her reticence and hold their tongues and pens. Pope Leonard especially.

I find it galling to sea L.P. writing on physics of which he is abysmally ignorant.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Where (or of what) one cannot speak, one must remain silent. - Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Addition to #2, #13, #53

Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection

Peter Godfrey-Smith

(Oxford 2009)

From the publisher:

In 1859 Darwin described a deceptively simple mechanism that he called "natural selection," a combination of variation, inheritance, and reproductive success. He argued that this mechanism was the key to explaining the most puzzling features of the natural world, and science and philosophy were changed forever as a result. The exact nature of the Darwinian process has been controversial ever since, however. Godfrey-Smith draws on new developments in biology, philosophy of science, and other fields to give a new analysis and extension of Darwin's idea. The central concept used is that of a "Darwinian population," a collection of things with the capacity to undergo change by natural selection. From this starting point, new analyses of the role of genes in evolution, the application of Darwinian ideas to cultural change, and "evolutionary transitions" that produce complex organisms and societies are developed.

Review

Massimo Pigliucci

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

This book will be the topic of an Author-Meets-Critics session at the Pacific Division Meeting of the APA on April 2, 4:00–6:00 p.m. The critics will be James Griesemer and Matt Haber.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Pacific Division Meeting will be at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco. The session of the Ayn Rand Society will be April 3, 6:00–9:00 p.m. It will be an Authors-Meets-Critics session on Essays on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. The critics will be Christine Swanton, Lester Hunt, and William Glod. Responding authors will be Onkar Ghate, Allan Gotthelf, and Gregory Salmieri.

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