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  #11  
Unread September 10th, 2006, 05:51 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Ann Coulter & Wm. Provine: Evolution's Odd Couple

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[JimB said:] We evolutionists need a good predator to keep us lean, smart, and awake.
I think perhaps you’re being a tad dramatic here, JimB. I’d suggest that self imposed intellectual rigor and honesty (which you yourself certainly seem to possess) might be quite sufficient, perhaps with a bit of humility and an appreciation for physics, cosmology, and the absurdly low entropy at the beginning of our universe, 14 billion years ago.

I mean when someone as credentialed as Provine acknowledges that he longer sees natural selection as a mechanism, or an active cause of evolution, and then you have the Darwinian atheist high priest, Dawkins, proclaiming the following, well, I’d say that Darwinism has a problem:
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Evolution by natural selection is a process that works up from simple beginnings, and simple beginnings are easy to explain. The engineer or any other living thing is difficult to explain -- but it is explicable by evolution by natural selection. So the relevance of evolutionary biology to atheism is that evolutionary biology gives us the only known mechanism whereby the illusion of design, or apparent design, could ever come into the universe anywhere. [http://dir.salon.com/story/news/feat...ins/index.html , Salon article/interview, April 30, 2005]
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  #12  
Unread September 10th, 2006, 11:44 PM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Default Re: Ann Coulter & Wm. Provine: Evolution's Odd Couple

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Originally Posted by Fred
with a bit of humility and an appreciation for physics, cosmology, and the absurdly low entropy at the beginning of our universe, 14 billion years ago.
1) Humility? Admittedly, some scientists are arrogant, no matter what discipline you examine, but I've never read a biologist who claims to have a theory of everything.

2) Many biologists have a deep appreciation for physics (perhaps not astrophysics, but that's because astrophysics is not relevant to biological evolution).

3) Face it, early-universe low-entropy has nothing to do with how biological evolution occurs. Disagree? Explain why without citing someone else.

Last edited by Carey N; September 11th, 2006 at 12:08 AM.
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  #13  
Unread September 11th, 2006, 08:13 AM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Ann Coulter & Wm. Provine: Evolution's Odd Couple

Well, when Dawkins says, “that evolutionary biology gives us the only known mechanism whereby the illusion of design, or apparent design, could ever come into the universe anywhere,” I’d say that’s roughly akin to a, rather arrogant (and somewhat lame), theory of everything, at least as far as the evolution of life is concerned; and it also indicates (as does your question/comment number 3) a rather surprising lack of appreciation/understanding for the necessity of a universe having a beginning low entropy and the required physical constants, and I suppose even the required physics, necessary, based on what we currently know/understand, for life and human consciousness to have ever evolved.
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  #14  
Unread September 11th, 2006, 10:44 AM
ToddStark ToddStark is offline
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Post Re: Ann Coulter & Wm. Provine: Evolution's Odd Couple

Re: Darwinism vs. alternatives

My goal is to see the best scientific explanations, including natural selection, applied fairly to natural phenomena, and moral reasoning given its proper naturalistic foundation based on the facts of how human beings think and decide.

The arguments over whether Darwinism is immoral or equivalent to atheism quickly seem boring and pointless to me. Any concrete analysis of specific data made into an ethereal abstract and then marketed as a basis for grand answers is going to be very attractive to at least some people and then eventually become problematic as it becomes a "religion," whether it is a naturalistic religion like Marxism or one with a heaven and hell like Christianity.

It seems to me that the metaphysical plausibility argument is essentially whether nature itself is smart enough to produce and promote clever novelties, or whether it needs help from a dedicated research, design, and marketing team. Darwin's insight was the counter-intuitive idea that the R&D and marketing could be part of nature itself. My guess is that he was right. Being essentially correct unfortunately doesn't prevent the idea from being misused.

I don't think that is a mistake, nor do I think that Darwinism in its technical aspects is in any way misconceived. I do think it is almost trivially easy to misapply it as a "force" in areas where it is more important to understand the details than to simply say that the "fittest" survived.

My feeling is that meaning comes from within nature as well: our widespread convention linking meaningfulness and good human judgment to ethereal abstracts outside of nature are probably harmful in the long run because they don't reflect the biological reality of how our brain works. Biologically, our moral reasoning is probably more like growing a limb than learning a new skill. The intuitions and emotional decisions we use to judge right and wrong and determine what is sacred are pretty deeply wired into us during development. Then we associate them with our religious beliefs, but our moral sense runs much deeper than those ideas and their putative authority. Still, I don't see any easy way to abandon this widespread consensus mistake and still accomplish what people assume our religions do for us right now socially and politically.

I do think we Darwinists often get so irritated at the anti-Darwinian movement that we go overboard defending natural selection itself, and make it seem more all-powerful than we should. We sometimes set it up as an alternative to religion, and that's not good. It is just a starting place for naturalistic thinking, a powerful idea that makes it possible to postulate and test natural explanations for evolutionary change as we come up with models for filling in the details for explaining specific kinds of biological features.
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  #15  
Unread September 11th, 2006, 11:50 AM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
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Default Re: Ann Coulter & Wm. Provine: Evolution's Odd Couple

As usual your posts are full of interesting ideas. One that jumped out and compells me to comment is this:
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My feeling is that meaning comes from within nature as well: our widespread convention linking meaningfulness and good human judgment to ethereal abstracts outside of nature are probably harmful in the long run because they don't reflect the biological reality of how our brain works.
More in terms of seeing that from another angle - rather than disagreeing - it seems to me that ethereal abstracts that emanate from the human brain are one of the more interesting products of nature. As to their being harmful, that's another question that can have different answers depending on how you look at it.

It seems that the vast majority of humans throughout recorded history have lived their lives under fealty to one of those ethereal abstracts or another. Almost all wars of conquest (or wars in defense of such conquest) have been fought in the name of - and very often at the claimed behest of - those ethereal abstracts.

It seems likely to me that those ethereal abstracts - more directly our propensity to harbor them in our minds - are just as much a product of evolution that has been selected for its fitness - as is our opposable thumbs. I suspect that explains why those humans who so eagerly attach themselves to those ethereal abstracts and reserve a hallowed place in their minds for them - are vastly more represented on this planet than those who don't - and always have been, apparently.

It also explains for me - according to my emotion theory of behavior choice - why people are so emotionally attached to them. Why we are ready to kill - and die - for them. It's because we are wired that way - and because those who have learned to give the emotions generated by that wiring great weight in their behavior choices - vastly outnumber those of us who aren't.

I know that by saying "within nature" you meant ideas that our present science can somewhat verify according the rules of its parochial system - scientific theories of nature. But, I think it's good to remember that that distinction makes a huge difference when judging whether an idea is "harmful in the long run" or not.

To reduce possible confusion I'll specify that I interpret "ethereal abstracts" in this case to mean unifying beliefs that serve the purpose of uniforms on a soccer team - so that players can know who's on their team and who they can trust to share their survival interests - who's out to help them and who's out to do them in. Although I think these come in the non-ethereal form as well - like communism.

The other part of your statement - the part about good human judgement - deserves a post of its own when I get time.

Margaret

PS - Thanks once again for writing posts that prevent me from applying my brain to my own economic support for so many hours of the day.

Last edited by Margaret McGhee; September 11th, 2006 at 01:20 PM.
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  #16  
Unread September 11th, 2006, 11:17 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Ann Coulter & Wm. Provine: Evolution's Odd Couple

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MM: I know that by saying "within nature" you meant ideas that our present science can somewhat verify according the rules of its parochial system - scientific theories of nature. But, I think it's good to remember that that distinction makes a huge difference when judging whether an idea is "harmful in the long run" or not.
Yes, I suppose we can understand how it is that MM “feels compelled by her emotions,” to believe that the “rules” of “our present science” are a “parochial system.” But does it ever occur to MM that whatever she herself happens to believe, based on her so-called “emotion theory of behavior choice,” her so-called “axiom,” can never be any less “parochial” than whatever she happens to believe that others “believe,” since she herself, as she explains in her so-called “axiom,” can believe only whatever it is she believes b/c that is what makes MM herself “feel good,” and that she “uses her brains to justify it”??? Hello?

Nope, it never occurs to MM herself; ergo it seems that her so-called “axiom” is somewhat true for MM herself . . . and that she’s unable to grasp the catch-22 implications of her circular notion. Fascinating.
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  #17  
Unread September 12th, 2006, 09:56 AM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Ann Coulter & Wm. Provine: Evolution's Odd Couple

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Todd: I do think we Darwinists often get so irritated at the anti-Darwinian movement that we go overboard defending natural selection itself, and make it seem more all-powerful than we should.
Yeah, well, no one wants to hear that their baby is ugly. But frankly Todd, when a Provine acknowledges that natural selection is not even a mechanism or an active cause of evolution, then he’s essentially conceding that not only is that baby ugly, but it’s also retarded. Again Todd, I think some rigor, honesty, and a bit of humility would go a long way for y’all, knowmsayin bro?
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  #18  
Unread September 12th, 2006, 10:37 AM
ToddStark ToddStark is offline
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Arrow Re: Ann Coulter & Wm. Provine: Evolution's Odd Couple

TS:
Quote:
My feeling is that meaning comes from within nature as well: our widespread convention linking meaningfulness and good human judgment to ethereal abstracts outside of nature are probably harmful in the long run because they don't reflect the biological reality of how our brain works.
MM:
Quote:
More in terms of seeing that from another angle - rather than disagreeing - it seems to me that ethereal abstracts that emanate from the human brain are one of the more interesting products of nature. As to their being harmful, that's another question that can have different answers depending on how you look at it.
I agree with you here Margaret. I think of abstract ideals as part of nature, a part that we have specialized in using, sometimes for good, and sometimes for ill. My negative judgment of "ethereal" abstracts in the long run is that rather than treating them as ideals, they get hooked into our nervous system as concretes, we take them so seriously as to kill and die for them, often overriding our ability to take the current circumstances into account. I can only guess that this may have come about because it is adaptive in some sense, but I lean toward thinking of it as something we should recognize in ourselves and come to grips with, limiting its power.

[Kathleen Taylor's relatively recent book "Brainwashing" from Oxford Press runs this argument much longer and in great detail, showing examples how and where ethereal ideals are leveraged past the point where they serve our best interests.]

MM:
Quote:
I know that by saying "within nature" you meant ideas that our present science can somewhat verify according the rules of its parochial system - scientific theories of nature. But, I think it's good to remember that that distinction makes a huge difference when judging whether an idea is "harmful in the long run" or not.
Perhaps, but it seems to me that "parochial" here is nothing more than a statement of politics. It is almost trivially true that we aren't talking about some sort of closed perfect system for explaining all of nature. At least from my perspective. So one can take the political stance that science (considered as some sort of political group) needs to be taken down a notch in their influence, or the political stance that it needs to be elevated. Myself, I wasn't making either argument. Science and mathematics are as close to a universally objective way of approaching a topic as anything any human being has ever considered, so calling such things "parochial" is to me just to say that our knowledge is not perfect, and probably cannot ever be perfect.

Judgments about what is harmful are partly objective, because human beings are real things and share very much of their biology and ecosystem and basic needs with each other. Regardless of what they may believe, and regardless of the range of their preferences, human beings live under certain real biological constraints for their survival and the quality of their life. I'm not going along with the relativist argument that refuses to acknowledge the objective component of basic human needs and pretends that facts and solid causal models should have no bearing on our moral and ethical decisions. I wouldn't go to the opposite extreme either, and claim that there is some sort of direct deductive path from causal models and facts of nature to ethical decisions.

The only sensible relationship, in my opinion, is that our epistemic values can and do shape our knowledge of facts and then facts should help inform our other values.

I don't see any reason why we can't continue to better understand the foundation of the mind and brain and biological needs and apply that knowledge to better decision making in all areas. What is the point of your own theory, if not to accomplish something like that? Is your whole point in proposing the theory to try to prove that we shouldn't try to understand the brain better because there is a hard line of mystery somewhere?

Quote:
To reduce possible confusion I'll specify that I interpret "ethereal abstracts" in this case to mean unifying beliefs that serve the purpose of uniforms on a soccer team - so that players can know who's on their team and who they can trust to share their survival interests - who's out to help them and who's out to do them in. Although I think these come in the non-ethereal form as well - like communism.
I consider communism's abstract ideals to be just as ethereal (in the sense I originally intended) as those of Christianity or Islam of Judaism. The thing that distinguishes them is their ability to become drivers of decision making and behavior even though they are completely removed from reality and have taken on a life of their own in culture-space and mind-space.

Think about mathematics. A given system worth using might contain a model that accurately represents the thing you are looking at, or you might have a perfectly valid model that is completely independent of the real world you care about. In neither case have you completely understood the world, but you may or may not be doing a good job representing the thing in front of you. To me, science is mostly about trying to do a good job representing the thing in front of me, and then drawing reasonable conclusions from that, but recognizing that I can't capture everything (or if I do, I will surely not be able to prove that I have done a good job at it!). This isn't (just) my butchery of Godel, it is also how I think of the power and limits of the modelling process.


MM:
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The other part of your statement - the part about good human judgement - deserves a post of its own when I get time.

PS - Thanks once again for writing posts that prevent me from applying my brain to my own economic support for so many hours of the day.
Looking forward to it ... and right back atcha.

Thanks, and kind regards,

Todd
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  #19  
Unread September 12th, 2006, 06:37 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Ann Coulter & Wm. Provine: Evolution's Odd Couple

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[Todd to MM]:I don't see any reason why we can't continue to better understand the foundation of the mind and brain and biological needs and apply that knowledge to better decision making in all areas. What is the point of your own theory, if not to accomplish something like that? Is your whole point in proposing the theory to try to prove that we shouldn't try to understand the brain better because there is a hard line of mystery somewhere?
Yeah Todd, I’d say that you’re probably right that we’ll continue to “better understand” things. But regarding the “point” of MM’s theory—I’d say there really is no point other than the upshot that MM, unwittingly, is acknowledging that she herself can only believe whatever she believes b/c, as she indicates in her so-called “axiom,” one can believe only whatever makes one “feel good,” and that one then “uses [their] brains to justify it.” And since she seems unable to grasp the catch-22 implications of her circular notion, then I’d say her “axiom” is probably more or less true for MM herself. Weird.
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  #20  
Unread September 13th, 2006, 12:31 AM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
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Default Re: Ann Coulter & Wm. Provine: Evolution's Odd Couple

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Todd: Perhaps, but it seems to me that "parochial" here is nothing more than a statement of politics. It is almost trivially true that we aren't talking about some sort of closed perfect system for explaining all of nature. At least from my perspective. So one can take the political stance that science (considered as some sort of political group) needs to be taken down a notch in their influence, or the political stance that it needs to be elevated. Myself, I wasn't making either argument.
Neither was I. I might have misunderstood you. When you said, " . . our widespread convention linking meaningfulness and good human judgment to ethereal abstracts outside of nature are probably harmful in the long run . . ", I thought you meant all of nature - not human nature as in EP. In any case I didn't mean parochial in any demeaning or political sense - just in the sense that science establishes its own highly rational standards for belief (in scientific terms) and enforces them pretty well - which I see as a really good thing - and much better than the other way of establishing beliefs which is pretty much acccording to what feels best at the time. And now my brain hurts from thinking about that. :eyes:

Quote:
Todd: I'm not going along with the relativist argument that refuses to acknowledge the objective component of basic human needs and pretends that facts and solid causal models should have no bearing on our moral and ethical decisions. I wouldn't go to the opposite extreme either, and claim that there is some sort of direct deductive path from causal models and facts of nature to ethical decisions.
Are you saying that Ayn Rand is pretty cool - until you try to apply her philosophy?

And now to the really interesting part of your post.
Quote:
I don't see any reason why we can't continue to better understand the foundation of the mind and brain and biological needs and apply that knowledge to better decision making in all areas. What is the point of your own theory, if not to accomplish something like that? Is your whole point in proposing the theory to try to prove that we shouldn't try to understand the brain better because there is a hard line of mystery somewhere?
My main reason for proposing my theory is: I don't see any reason why we can't continue to better understand the foundation of the mind and brain and biological needs and apply that knowledge to better decision making in all areas. Absolutely, that's what really excites me - aside from the thrill of looking through a new window.

And the really interesting part of this view is to understand when and how intellect affects our decisions - which I see as much more limited than most see it. I think there's vast progress to be made in that area. But even with that statement I'm buying into the notion that decisions highly weighted with emotions from rational decisions are always better than decisions governed almost entirely by limbic emotions. I don't believe that's the case.

For example, the millions of Americans who volunteered to put their lives on the line and fight in WWII- like my Dad - did not sign up as the result of a rational weighing of risks and advantages. They were pissed off that our nation and way of life was threatened and were willing to die before they saw Tojo and Hitler realize their goals. And many of them did die before it was over. They were motivated by hate, fear, love, patriotism and a few others. Suitably motivated, they then used their brains to outproduce and outfight the bastards and kicked ass - or maybe I should say kicked DNA.

Reason, while highly useful for survival, is cold and passionless. It motivates nothing alone. Only emotion motivates us to do anything. Our intellect must first be called up by emotional need. The result must then be attached to an appropriate emotional tag - which is the marker that gets weighed in our decisions - not the result itself - along with our other emotional inputs. See Damasio.

That's the part of the puzzle that I'm still working on. How much rational restraint should we (can we) willfully inject into our emotional decision process - and when should we do it? Is it good to develop that ability to a high skill and use it continuously - or will that take all sponteneity from our life - or possibly even produce worse decision in some contexts?

What I see now is the critical importance of holding rational beliefs in our minds. I believe that our beliefs are our most significant source for behavior decision emotions. If we populate our minds with rational, moral beliefs - then I expect that the emotions that proceed from those beliefs when we are faced with an important decision - will lead us to rational, moral decisions that will benefit our survival and our society's survival.

I see reasoning ability as secondary. Useful in editing our beliefs when we have that opportunity, like right now - but relatively useless when making important (emotion laden) real-time decisions.

I am certain that few soldiers who have their finger on the trigger and an enemy in their sights are calculating risks and benefits at that moment of terrible decision - at least not the ones who survived to tell us about it.

Best regards, Margaret

Last edited by Margaret McGhee; September 13th, 2006 at 12:53 PM.
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