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Thread: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

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    Default Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    People talk about what distinguishes humans from other animals. Very little, it turns out, except for matters of degree.

    The one thing that I think is unique to humans is our ability to not follow the instincts programmed into us by evolution. No other animal is capable of that, I believe. We are all programmed to seek food, sex, and power, to accumulate stuff, to favor our kin over the "other", etc., all in the service of passing on our genes. When you see how many people out there are fat, greedy, and selfish, you realize that evolution's drives may lead to perpetuating your genes, but they do not lead to happiness.

    But if you can understand where your impulses come from, where you are being driven, you can rebel and call a halt. So you can choose be faithful to your partner even when faced with the perfect opportunity to cheat and spread your genes some more. You can choose to give to people you'll never meet, half a world away, instead of hoarding everything for yourself and your offspring. You can even choose to not have offspring, or not even a mate.

    I don't think it is a coincidence that those who choose to seek enlightenment over all else, in so many different religions and cultures, tend to be celibate and ascetic. You never hear of a philosopher millionaire.

    So much suffering in the world is caused by people behaving like pond scum. But the way to break free from that is not to deny our animal nature, but to understand it. Hypocrisy and self-knowledge are mutually exclusive.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    "So much suffering in the world is caused by people behaving like pond scum."
    Well you got that almost wrong, pond scum is more or less harmless. Humans on the other hand are the most dangerous species that the planet has spawned. People behave like people. It would be far better off if we'd never evolved.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    "Pond scum" is a problematic metaphor but it's evocative and it's not unusual for a idiomatic expression to fail literalist exegesis.

    Meanwhile George certainly hits the key point that we need not be slaves to one part of our bioheritage, the "selfish gene" metaphor, and not others, like the "social gene" and, most importantly, that we can make choices.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    The irony is that pond scum is the byproduct of a stagnant water source, so George is actually arguing that the Earth is responsible for us being this way and not the other way around.
    "Where you live in the world should not determine whether you live in the world." - Bono

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    "Pond scum" is shorthand for when microorganisms in a pond, driven relentlessly by the drive to reproduce, cause the collapse of the whole pond ecosystem and their own demise. This is certainly not harmless.

    Yes, the Universe is responsible for us being this way. Its simple laws shaped us, first through stellar nucleosynthesis and planetary differentiation, the through evolution. But a runaway evolutionary arms race selecting for more complex intelligence had the byproduct of making us able to understand the mechanism itself, and perhaps free ourselves from its tyranny.

    But we will always have the scum...

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    People talk about what distinguishes humans from other animals. Very little, it turns out, except for matters of degree. The one thing that I think is unique to humans is our ability to not follow the instincts programmed into us by evolution. No other animal is capable of that, I believe.
    Yes, indeed. Excellent point.
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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by George. View Post
    The one thing that I think is unique to humans is our ability to not follow the instincts programmed into us by evolution. No other animal is capable of that, I believe.
    An interesting claim. I'm skeptical--I'll do some digging into it and maybe post what I find.

    One obvious exception is that animals of all kinds respond very dramatically to conditioning, so much so that they can be conditioned to avoid instinctual behaviors. You'll probably claim that doesn't count because it relies on outside interference, but still, it disproves your claim (or requires a qualifier at least).

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    I think we do all right as a fabulous form of pond scum.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Talk with some religious folks... they can go one for days on this subject. LOL>
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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ian McColgin View Post
    "Pond scum" is a problematic metaphor but it's evocative and it's not unusual for a idiomatic expression to fail literalist exegesis.

    Meanwhile George certainly hits the key point that we need not be slaves to one part of our bioheritage, the "selfish gene" metaphor, and not others, like the "social gene" and, most importantly, that we can make choices.
    Failure to understand much?

    The "selfish gene" is a way of understanding evolution in all of its complexity. It is not a metaphor, it is the name for a scientific hypothesis, that may now be accepted as Theory.
    Social gene? Like the part of the genome that makes ants and bees into hive animals? Or wolves and meerkats, elephants and so on into coherent family groups?
    As to slaves of our inheritance?
    That is not what George was saying if I read him correctly. George is wedded to the idea that we are inherently violent barstewards, because everything that we evolved from were inherently violent barstewards.
    Were they? Pan troglodytes can be, Bonobos are less so, and gorillas are normally peaceable, all of which are our closest genetic cousins.
    Does the fact that we developed really sophisticated speech and intelligence, not suggest that we do net need to be inherently violent barstewards in order to raise offspring. So for us the genetic advantages lie in less risky, violent strategies.
    It really is quite difficult to build an ugly wooden boat.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    this line of thinking is useless without a thorough understanding of what is instinct, and what is not. and to stop comparing complex behaviors, based on conceptual thinking, located in no particular gene sequence, to variations in hair color, etc.

    george obviously thinks that he is the arbiter. he long ago reached the point of farce.

    faaarrrrrce...

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by George. View Post
    People talk about what distinguishes humans from other animals. Very little, it turns out, except for matters of degree.

    The one thing that I think is unique to humans is our ability to not follow the instincts programmed into us by evolution. No other animal is capable of that, I believe.
    I've always been intrigued by the phenomenon of domestication. Where's the programmed instinct in that? Sometimes it would seem simple, like canines and humans forming a hunting partnership. But what about cats? They aren't very social even with each other, in nature.

    Also, AFAIK, zebras are not readily domesticated, whereas, horses were extremely important, crucial in many cases, to various societies. There's not that many genetic differences to trace it to, again, AFAIK.

    Also, how is it that rather different species, such as a cat and a gorilla, do not domesticate each other, but clearly become friends, under the right conditions? What programming/genes/whatever is that? Even predator and prey, such as a tiger and a goat.
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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    The reason I called the "selfish gene" a metaphor is two-fold: Not just a gene, but a combination; and there are countervailing genes that incline us to community, self-sacrifice, empathy, and all that squishy stuff.

    I am not a biological determinist so much as a biological inclinest.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    There is no rational, logical, or physical description of how free will could exist. It therefore makes no sense to praise or condemn anyone on the grounds they are a free willed self that made one choice but could have chosen something else. There is no evidence that such a situation is possible in our Universe. Demonstrate otherwise and I will be thrilled.
    . . .
    Simpler is better, except when complicated looks really cool.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    You bore me George.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Why, or if, humans are the only animals to domesticate other animals and keep pets is an interesting question.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Pless View Post
    . . .
    If that were true, you may as well do away with the entire criminal law system.

    The threat of punishment cannot be a deterrent.
    It is immoral to punish a person for something that they have no control over.
    It really is quite difficult to build an ugly wooden boat.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    One obvious exception is that animals of all kinds respond very dramatically to conditioning, so much so that they can be conditioned to avoid instinctual behaviors. You'll probably claim that doesn't count because it relies on outside interference, but still, it disproves your claim (or requires a qualifier at least).
    But no animal conditions itself to avoid instinctual behaviors. It is done to them by humans. So I would say it doesn't count.


    Why, or if, humans are the only animals to domesticate other animals and keep pets is an interesting question.
    What we call domestication is akin to the breaking of a slave. Ants have slaves, and so do other species, after a fashion. And when a lioness brings a live antelope for the cubs to play with it's a sort of pet while it lasts...

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by Peerie Maa View Post
    ... for us the genetic advantages lie in less risky, violent strategies.
    And yet Genghis Khan left far more descendants than Socrates, Jesus, and Gandhi put together.

    Our ancestors, docile like bonobos? Maybe some of the time. At other times we put chimps to shame. Lots of war, genocide, and violent death - the fossil and archeological records are full of these things, as are the lives of primitive societies to this day.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by George. View Post
    But no animal conditions itself to avoid instinctual behaviors. It is done to them by humans. So I would say it doesn't count...
    he thinks individual humans train themselves to overcome instincts! lol.

    humans train humans george. that's what society is, a big training mechanism for getting along.

    thanks for the lectures, perfessor dot.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by L.W. Baxter View Post

    he thinks individual humans train themselves to overcome instincts!
    Not all humans, of course. You seem to be singularly unable to overcome your instinct for microaggression whenever you read something that you don't like. Far more chimp than bonobo you are.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Bluey would have something to say here.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by George. View Post
    Not all humans, of course. You seem to be singularly unable to overcome your instinct for microaggression whenever you read something that you don't like. Far more chimp than bonobo you are.
    well, you are a clever ape, too. carrying on the same argument for your authority, in various forms.

    i like how you had to spin away from the last thread. you could sense that you were getting a reputation for an unseemly obsession for disgust at a particular sort of non-reproductive sex. couldn't you, koko.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ian McColgin View Post
    The reason I called the "selfish gene" a metaphor is two-fold: Not just a gene, but a combination; and there are countervailing genes that incline us to community, self-sacrifice, empathy, and all that squishy stuff.

    I am not a biological determinist so much as a biological inclinest.
    That's a misunderstanding of what Dawkins meant. He was NOT talking about genes for selfish behavior, but the straightforward idea that genes that are better at making copies of themselves will become more common. Genes 'behave selfishly', but the organisms they're in may or may not.

    'Biological inclinist' seems about right. Biology gives us certain tendencies; we can go with them or not.
    Last edited by Keith Wilson; 06-27-2022 at 07:55 AM.
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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by George. View Post

    I don't think it is a coincidence that those who choose to seek enlightenment over all else, in so many different religions and cultures, tend to be celibate and ascetic. You never hear of a philosopher millionaire.
    Sit quietly, think good thoughts, contribute nothing and then die. As a farmer, I view philosophers as being equally important as movie critics and pockets in underpants. JayInOz

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by Peerie Maa View Post
    If that were true, you may as well do away with the entire criminal law system.

    The threat of punishment cannot be a deterrent.
    It is immoral to punish a person for something that they have no control over.
    Robert Sapolsky argues that very point..

    and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is an aphorism well known.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by JayInOz View Post
    Sit quietly, think good thoughts, contribute nothing and then die. As a farmer, I view philosophers as being equally important as movie critics and pockets in underpants. JayInOz
    And yet you are not a slave, or a peasant, like most farmers before you. People became free, land was redistributed. Someone had to think of that.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by George. View Post
    And yet you are not a slave, or a peasant, like most farmers before you. People became free, land was redistributed. Someone had to think of that.
    Don't you think the enslaved would come up with that idea without any third-party thinking? ( Patty Hearst Syndrome notwithstanding)

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    you may as well do away with the entire criminal law system.
    Quote Originally Posted by Durnik View Post
    Robert Sapolsky argues that very point..

    and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is an aphorism well known.
    Ancient Rome really didn't imprison anyone at all. They fined you, or sent you into exile (if you were rich). Or threw you off the Tarpeian Rock. But, no prison cells.

    Would life really be worse if we got rid of all incarceration? I'm not so sure.

    I'm quite sure society would be better off if we got rid of, say, 90% of all incarceration. Lock up no one but perpetrators of the most extreme, unprovoked, and unrepentant violent crimes.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Tom, you have kind of missed my point entirely.

    Never mind, carry on.
    It really is quite difficult to build an ugly wooden boat.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by Peerie Maa View Post
    Tom, you have kind of missed my point entirely.

    Never mind, carry on.
    Nope. Your point is valid--if every action is inevitable, and free will does not exist, then there is no basis for holding anyone accountable for crimes. Problem is, while "no free will" sounds good in theory, as humans in the real world, we pretty much act as if free will does exist. We have to.

    But your comment opened a new line of inquiry that Durnik picked up on:
    Do we actually need a criminal law system? Is it a net benefit to society?

    I'd argue, no--not the way we are using it, to forcibly imprison large swaths of society. The rule of "first do no harm" suggests getting rid of it entirely might actually be a better course. And certainly, restricting/reducing it massively would be an incredible gain. For everyone. Except those who profit from imprisoning others, and the politicians they pay money to.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by Breakaway View Post
    Don't you think the enslaved would come up with that idea without any third-party thinking?
    The philosophers among them, yes, of course.

    Bear in mind I am talking about the idea of ending slavery for everyone. Plenty of slaves would come up with the idea of being free themselves, but a lot of them would next wish for some slaves of their own.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by L.W. Baxter View Post

    he thinks individual humans train themselves to overcome instincts! lol.

    humans train humans george. that's what society is, a big training mechanism for getting along.
    And the same is true of a pack of wolves or dogs or coyotes, a pride of lions, a jumble of primates... Pretty much universal among animals, actually. I think.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    Do we actually need a criminal law system? Is it a net benefit to society?

    I'd argue, no--not the way we are using it, to forcibly imprison large swaths of society. The rule of "first do no harm" suggests getting rid of it entirely might actually be a better course.
    It wouldn't. If you get rid of criminal law and punishment, crime will skyrocket. Whether we like it or not, some people only refrain from crime for fear of punishment. Even with this deterrence there is crime, and there are plenty of examples of how much worse it gets (and how quickly!) when law enforcement ceases to exist.

    You would end up increasing the net harm to society by a large amount.

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    Default Re: Breaking free of evolution's bonds.

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    And the same is true of a pack of wolves or dogs or coyotes, a pride of lions, a jumble of primates... Pretty much universal among animals, actually. I think.

    Tom
    Within the pack, yes. Between packs there is not much getting along, unless you call the weaker pack staying out of the way "getting along".

    Humans are primates, but we occupy a different ecological niche than all the other primates. We sit at the very top of the food chain. For every other species, predation is a major form of population control. For top predators, what controls population is conflict between and within groups.

    Predators have not been a significant factor in human population control since we learned to carry a stick and make a fire. What controlled our population was violence and starvation. In fact, lack of food leads to violence as often as to starvation, as most people would rather try stealing from their neighbors than watch their kin slowly starve to death.

    Among indigenous people in the parts of the Amazon where resources are scarcest, violence accounts for 25%-50% of all deaths. They literally keep their population within the carrying capacity of the environment through murder. This is common among lions and wolves, but not among other primates.

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