Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Eden's Paradox?

I had proposed earlier that we, and life forms before us, have evolved calculating mechanisms which, when predicting future consequences from an assessment of their causes, have assumptions built in that causation in nature is purposeful - that we have in effect the will of nature to contend with. I should have added at the time that these mechanisms (some call them cognitive modules) need to operate from the further and somewhat contradictory assumption that we have the freedom to contend with nature's will.

So we seem always at cross purposes when these conflicting "wills" inevitably complicate attempts at an accurate determination of the future. This may also add up to a certain built-in distaste for paradox. Especially as we can't know when or even if either of these assumptions is correct.

Let's complicate this even further: If the assumption of purpose has led to a belief in gods or spirits, then you are virtually compelled to consider them as part of the explanation for any questions concerning life and nature. You "can't not" involve them in any of your calculations. Worse, they will have become factual considerations - no longer possibilities.

So would you then be able to ignore both these "facts" and the assumptions that "made" them into facts in any attempt to re-examine the correctness of your original programming, or even accept there was such a program from the beginning? Just how do you question a "truth" you know for a "fact" to be self-evident?

It would appear there is only one answer to this and perhaps to any other paradox: You (and I) can know nothing to any degree of certainty unless we concede that nothing at all is certain. (Probably.)

But if we have a will that can contend with nature's offerings, we'd be wise to see that as both our and nature's purpose - as life forms are likely nature's only construct with both will and purpose.

And as they say here in the Garden of Hawaii, "that's why hard."

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Hyperactivity Afoot

Dr. Wilson's response posted below, raised a question that made me think of a possibly helpful answer. I'll post that here as well.

"But if there ARE these biologically based presumptions that natural events have a purpose, then they have in effect posed questions about what is behind that purpose and why. So these detection devices may now appear as costly byproducts for reasons that involve their misuse over the ages as attempts to understand our own purposes as necessarily connected to some purpose in nature. Religious mythology has so far appealed to many of us as having the best answer, but it has given us answers to the wrong questions. Because in the process we have been unaware of what there is within us that has prompted these ongoing questions and their so far unsatisfactory answers.

If we can come to understand that we already have what amounts to a built in belief that nature has a set of laws that do effectively govern us and "punish" us when we don't follow directions, and to understand what is prompting the search for a purpose behind these laws, rather than for, perhaps, the laws that serve our own human purposes, then this detection device won't turn out to have been a costly byproduct after all.It will have eventually led us to asking the right questions and the possibility of answering them through a more scientific process."

Well, I know what I was trying to say, even if you don't.

But I do need to point out that after reviewing at least some of the literature, the concept Dr. Wilson referred to as the hyperactive agent detection device postulates that we do have a bias toward suspecting such causative agents at work, supernatural or otherwise, but this concept doesn't envision the origin of such bias being from the same biologically built in "premises" (perhaps as cellular algorithms) that I have proposed exist, and would have existed since calculating mechanisms devoted to predictions sprang into life (pun intended).
Better Belate than Never

OK, I got a reply from Dr. Wilson today that makes me feel a lot better about my ideas. Here is the response:

Dear RoyNiles, There is nothing dumb about the issues that you raise. Everyone should know that when I don't reply, it is for lack of time, not lack of interest, and certainly not because I regarded a comment as dumb. With respect to memes, they are defined in a variety of ways, some broad and others narrow, as I describe in my first blog. There is definitely a process of cultural evolution (not everyone agrees, in part because the concept has a complicated past), which involves some cultural variants spreading at the expense of others, but these cultural variants need not be like genes in every respect. See Richerson and Boyd's "Not By Genes Alone" for the best discussion of memes and cultural variants, in my opinion. I usually avoid the term, although I used it in my blog to say that religions (and other cultural systems) are good at managing their internal environments.
Continuing my response to your comment, your point about built-in calculating mechanisms is also well taken. Numerous evolutionists think along these lines, such as Scott Atran (In God's we Trust) and Pascal Boyer (Religion Explained). These are broadly classified as "byproduct" theories of religion, because the elements of religion are hypothesized to evolve by genetic evolution for reasons that have nothing to do with religion, and then become the basis of religion. Your idea (if I understand it correctly) is close to what is sometimes called a "hyperactive agent detection device." I regard these ideas as quite plausible but a major issue needs to be addressed: Even if these elements of religion are byproducts as far as genetic evolution is concerned, how are they functioning (or not functioning) in their CURRENT form? One possibility is that they continue to function as costly byproducts without delivering any benefits to the religious believer, like a moth to flame. Another possibility is that they have been woven into highly adaptive current-day religious systems. Most current-day adaptations were the byproducts (or exaptations, to use a word coined by Stephen Jay Gould) of past ages.

There was no response to some of the other stuff that I had added - mainly to be provocative - and that's probably all to the good. It was the feedback in general that was sorely needed and has now been gratefully received.