ayjay + evolution   10

Impossible Pluralism by Paul J. Griffiths | Articles | First Things
The cosmos—everything there is, save the Lord God, who is not a thing, or, if the term must be used, is una summa quaedam res—comes into being cum tempore et cum spatiis, i.e., with space-time as a central feature. This occurs by the free creative act of the Lord. It is not an event that can be dated or placed. The before-and-after of dating, and the here-and-there of placing, belong only to the cosmos, and to all of it without remainder; the cosmos therefore has no before and no outside. Every particular being in the cosmos is created ex nihilo by the Lord (all particular beings, therefore, are creatures) and has whatever being it has by way of participation in him.

Among these creatures are angels; (almost) simultaneously with creation (in ictu), some among these rebel against their creator and introduce thereby deep damage into the otherwise harmoniously beautiful space-time fabric of the cosmos. All creatures, material and immaterial, living and nonliving, are damaged by this fall. The Lord’s response, indexed to time but not itself temporal, is to bring human beings, among many other kinds of creatures, into existence. (The evolutionary story that Bellah tells belongs here; its particulars occupy this place in the frame; and those particulars, as the framing narrative suggests, involve, without exception, death on a massive scale.)

Some among these creatures replicate the angelic fall, introducing new and worse damage into the fabric of the cosmos. The Lord’s response (again, time-indexed but not itself temporal), a response whose finis is the transfiguring of the cosmos’ chaotic deadly violence into an order more beautiful than the original, is to elect a person (Abraham) to special intimacy with himself, and to guarantee that same intimacy with his descendants. That response is intensified, eventually, by the Lord himself taking flesh, joining his substance with that of the man Jesus to become a single person, and in that flesh, as that person, dying and rising and ascending.

Human history then has the nexus of election and incarnation as its central thread; the fabric woven around this thread is of two colors, inextricably intertwined, one representing the love of the Lord, and the other the love of self, one peaceful and the other violent, one heavenly and the other hellish. (The particulars of Bellah’s stories about specific human cultures belong here: They all have the people of Israel and the Church as their vibrant center, whether proleptically or actually.)

Consequent upon the election and the Incarnation is the gradual healing of the cosmos, which progresses principally through the work of the body of Jesus Christ—the Church—here below, and culminates in an eschaton, an end whose particulars lie beyond the scope of this paragraph, and in which the two threads in the fabric are finally disentangled.

There’s a metanarrative for you. Its grammar is that of Christian theology. It enframes Bellah’s, fully accounting for it without rejecting any of its particulars that turn out to be true. This Christian metanarrative is of course not universally shared, understood, or offered, and in this it is just like Bellah’s account. If his metanarrative is true, this Christian one must be false—because his account, he thinks, requires Christians exactly not to offer this narrative as a metanarrative. And if this Christian metanarrative is true, his must be false—not in its particulars, necessarily, but certainly in its self-understanding as a metanarrative. Metanarratives don’t brook rivals.

I’ve learned a great deal from Robert Bellah’s magnificent book. But what I’ve learned is about particulars: the ideas of facilitated variation and conserved core processes, for instance, and their possible purchase on the evolutionary process; and the sociological analyses given of particular human cultural forms. These can stand. But the metanarrative Bellah uses to frame them cannot. And since it’s the metanarrative that gives the book its point, I’m left wondering what point remains when the metanarrative is seen for what it is.
theology  evolution  pluralism  from instapaper
march 2018 by ayjay
Jerry Fodor was a skeptic, including in his own ideas about how cognition works. He was treated as a crank — a beloved crank
When I reread “What Darwin Got Wrong,” there were two sentences that I paused over longest. “What trait did evolution select for when it selected creatures that protect their young? Was it an altruistic interest or a selfish interest in their genes?” The oddity is asking the question in the first place. What sort of creature is it, after all, that must first ideate its own function before being able to fulfill it? We are not the ghostly adjuncts of our own natures, and loving our children isn’t false consciousness; if I discovered my distant progeny would one day teem the surface of the earth like so many roaches, it wouldn’t put a spring in my step today. Neo-Darwinism “affronts a robust, and I should think salubrious, intuition that there are lots and lots of things that we care about simply for themselves.”

Fodor’s politics were never evident from his writing, and he regarded the idea that we are meaning-seeking creatures, telling ourselves stories in order to live, as English-department blah-blah. He was a naturalist, and he believed that with a proper understanding of Darwin we would never ask nature to tell us who or what to be. “We are artifacts designed by natural selection,” Daniel Dennett wrote, to which Fodor said no. “Darwin’s idea is much deeper, much more beautiful, and appreciably scarier: We are artifacts designed by selection in exactly the sense in which the Rockies are artifacts designed by erosion; which is to say that we aren’t artifacts and nothing designed us. We are, and always have been, entirely on our own.”
philosophy  evolution 
december 2017 by ayjay
Evolution and the Purposes of Life - The New Atlantis
Evolution-based pronouncements have somehow become far too easy. When theorists can lightly pretend to have risen above the most enduring mysteries of life, making claims supposedly too obvious to require defense, then even questions central to evolution itself tend to disappear in favor of reigning prejudices. What is life? How can we understand the striving of organisms to sustain their own lives — a striving that seems altogether hidden to conventional modes of understanding? What makes for the integral unity and compelling “personality” of the living creature, and how can this personified unity be understood if we’re thinking in purely material and machine-like terms? Does it make sense to dismiss as illusory the compelling appearance of intelligent and intentional agency in organisms?

It is evident enough that the answers to such questions could crucially alter even our most basic assumptions about evolution. But we have no answers. In the current theoretical milieu, we don’t even have the questions. What we do have is the seemingly miraculous agency of natural selection, substituting for the only agency we ever actually witness in nature, which is the agency of living beings.
evolution  biography  philosophy  life 
august 2017 by ayjay
Culture and Social Behavior
Neither psychology nor economics is currently theoreti- cally well-equipped to explain the origins of institutions [53]. To get there, to build a theory of cultural evolution capable of explaining where institutions come from, researchers have gone back to the basics, to reconstruct our understanding of human evolution and the nature of our species [54,55,56 ,57]. These approaches, rather than ignoring our species extreme reliance on culture, have used the logic of natural selection and mathematical modeling to ask how natural selection might have shaped our learning psychology to most effectively extract ideas, beliefs, motivations and practices from the minds of others. This intellectual move dissolves the destructive dichotomy between ‘evolutionary’ and ‘cultural’ explana- tions and fully incorporates cultural explanations under an expanded Darwinian umbrella. The hypothesized cultur- al learning mechanisms can, and have been, empirically tested in both the laboratory and field, in infants, children and adults from diverse societies [54,58–63].
This foundation then allows theorists to model cultural evolution by building on empirically established psycho- logical mechanisms. The result is cultural evolutionary game theory [64]. This powerful tool has already been deployed to understand the emergence of a wide range of social norms and institutions, including those related to social stratification [65], ethnic groups [66], cultures of honor [67], signaling systems [68], punishment [69–71] and various reputational systems [72,73]. Of course, this research program is really just getting started.
culture  evolution  sociology 
july 2017 by ayjay
Moderately Socially Conservative Darwinians - The New Atlantis
Darwinian thinkers’ thoroughgoing naturalism leads them to be characteristically confident that as reason progresses, it does so alongside our moral sense. Psychologist Steven Pinker argues in The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011) that the progress of reason leads to moral progress, so there is more morality and less sociopathological cruelty in the world now than ever before. That is also why naturalist and founder of sociobiology E. O. Wilson is so confident that the human domination of the earth is due much less to some liberated techno-impulse than to our superiority as social animals. Because science itself must be in the service of our species’ social flourishing, it doesn’t occur to Wilson that scientific enlightenment could, on balance, undermine social cohesion or humane progress. Larry Arnhart, meanwhile, who is more attuned to concerns about the morally degrading effects of evolutionary science expressed by philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche and Leo Strauss, dismisses or mocks the idea that there are scientific truths that we are better off not knowing. Wilson and Arnhart agree that the reality of human nature as revealed by Darwinian science must be good for us to know. Arnhart calls for “Darwinian liberal education,” and Wilson explains that the true narrative about who we are as a species, one that dispels the more narrow tribalism of religious illusions, might well help bring about a twenty-first-century paradise in which human beings find themselves fully at home with, and completely responsible for, flourishing as natural beings made for our planet. Scientific truth is not only about making us “masters and possessors of nature,” but also about setting us free to be fully who we are, and so to be as happy as our evolved nature intends us to be.
evolution  science  reason  progress 
august 2015 by ayjay
Toward Consilience, Not Literary Darwinism
All literary Darwinists take inspiration from E. O. Wilson’s concept of consilience--the idea that the disciplines are seamlessly interconnected, and that knowledge at higher levels of the explanatory hierarchy (e.g., biology and psychology) is constrained by knowledge at lower levels (e.g., chemistry and physics). For literary Darwinism’s founder, Joesph Carroll, committing to consilience means that literary investigation should always be tied back to the ultimate, evolutionary level of causation. In my own view, investigation in the humanities should be constrained, disciplined, and inspired by knowledge from the sciences, but I don’t think literary Darwinism is the only responsibly consilient approach to literary study.
criticism  theory  evolution 
may 2015 by ayjay
Against Literary Darwinism
Literary Darwinism would seem to be all the rage. Yet for all this attention outside the academy, the movement has not provoked much of a response within, where, if it has been noticed at all, it has often been treated with trepidation or contempt. This is a shame. Were the claims of literary Darwinism true, we might be at the threshold of what one of its advocates calls a “new humanities,” in which the natural sciences and literary humanities would speak directly to each other (see LSH, esp. pp. 89–176). Even if its central arguments are misguided, we might learn something about the place of literary study among the disciplines from the manner in which literary Darwinism fails to make its case. At the very least, it would seem odd not to engage work that has so captivated a public otherwise dismissive of what happens in literature departments. For these reasons, the present essay attempts to take seriously the central premises of the Darwinian program in literary studies. I will argue against literary Darwinism but only as I reconstruct the story about literature it attempts to tell.
criticism  theory  evolution 
may 2015 by ayjay
INTERVIEW: Kim Stanley Robinson on 2312, Mars and Climate Change | SF Signal
This kind of pseudo-sociobiology or evolutionary psychology can be much exaggerated.  In fact, to survive the ice ages and their radical climate changes, our species had to be very adaptable, cooperative, and future-oriented.  Every year they had to get through the hunger months of late winter/early spring by thinking ahead in the summers and falls, planning for group welfare, etc.  So no, we are not “hard-wired” for anything as bad as what this writer says.  We are precisely soft-wired:  the brain is labile, and culture is quick-changing and adaptable to circumstances.  However, we are in a rigid and destructive economy right now, and the material means of our existence (the base) does indeed have a lot to say in determining our beliefs and habits (the superstructure), so what this writer Beth Gardiner is pointing out, is quite true in many respects, as a description of our current culture in the USA, or at least in the dominant media culture.  “We”  are behaving as if her descriptions were true of us, at least on some levels.  But science is precisely slow-paced, delayed-gratification, reality-responsive, etc., and we live in a culture largely devised and constructed by scientific means.  So it is a much more mixed picture than any newspaper editorial can capture with a bunch of generalizations about “we,” in their usual style.   Our infrastructure will decarbonize, just as a matter of improvements normal in technology, so all this panicked talk may ride on top of a wave of good work.  Meanwhile, I suppose articles like Gardiner’s serve to point out the stupidity of some of our current practices; her mistake is to call them “human nature” which does have an evolutionary, biological and genetic component, but those components actually have made us very adaptive to deal with problems, even long-term problems.  We are smart social creatures with good imaginations.  Her article is one proof of this, maybe....

Every year I learn more and my ideas change, but my underlying principles have not changed. I am still opposed to capitalism, as a destructive unjust technology, and I still believe we can create a sustainable just civilization in balance with the planet. The means for doing these things, the means for talking about them, those I keep working on, and I am often surprised, sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad. One change I can say for sure, since the writing of the Mars trilogy: I need always to say very clearly that Earth is and always will be the center of the human story, that Mars and the rest of the solar system can be helpful and interesting (even just as thought experiment setting) but Earth has to be our focus for the next two centuries for sure, and really, for all history to come. We all should remember that and act on that.
futurism  evolution  psychology  climate  KSR 
december 2014 by ayjay
Jerry Fodor · Why Pigs Don’t Have Wings: The Case against Natural Selection · LRB 18 October 2007
But I think there’s also a moral about what attitude we should take towards our science. The years after Darwin witnessed a remarkable proliferation of other theories, each seeking to co-opt natural selection for purposes of its own. Evolutionary psychology is currently the salient instance, but examples have been legion. They’re to be found in more or less all of the behavioural sciences, to say nothing of epistemology, semantics, theology, the philosophy of history, ethics, sociology, political theory, eugenics and even aesthetics. What they have in common is that they attempt to explain why we are so-and-so by reference to what being so-and-so buys for us, or what it would have bought for our ancestors. ‘We like telling stories because telling stories exercises the imagination and an imagination would have been a good thing for a hunter-gatherer to have.’ ‘We don’t approve of eating grandmother because having her around to baby-sit was useful in the hunter-gatherer ecology.’ ‘We like music because singing together strengthened the bond between the hunters and the gatherers (and/or between the hunter-gatherer grownups and their hunter-gatherer offspring)’. ‘We talk by making noises and not by waving our hands; that’s because hunter-gatherers lived in the savannah and would have had trouble seeing one another in the tall grass.’ ‘We like to gossip because knowing who has been up to what is important when fitness depends on co-operation in small communities.’ ‘We don’t all talk the same language because that would make us more likely to interbreed with foreigners (which would be bad because it would weaken the ties of hunter-gatherer communities).’ ‘We don’t copulate with our siblings because that would decrease the likelihood of interbreeding with foreigners (which would be bad because, all else being equal, heterogeneity is good for the gene pool).’ I’m not making this up, by the way. Versions of each of these theories can actually be found in the adaptationist literature. But, in point of logic, this sort of explanation has to stop somewhere. Not all of our traits can be explained instrumentally; there must be some that we have simply because that’s the sort of creature we are. And perhaps it’s unnecessary to remark that such explanations are inherently post hoc (Gould called them ‘just so stories’); or that, except for the prestige they borrow from the theory of natural selection, there isn’t much reason to believe that any of them is true.
biology  evolution  philosophy  science 
october 2014 by ayjay

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