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Posts Tagged ‘evolution’

I have an hypothesis that the key ability of humankind that evolved over the millennia is learning.   Broadly speaking this means the awareness, recognition, and synthesis of patterns.   This doesn’t refer just to academic learning or book knowledge, but instead to the more generalized concept of pattern recognition.   We are learners.   

 

Everything we do is about foraging for new patterns or confirming previously learned patterns.   Of course, we forage for patterns to survive – to eat, sleep, find water, mate and avoid predation.   While in the modern world it can be hard to see how everything we do is about these basic survival aspects so far removed is our daily experience from pulling food from the ground and running from sabre tooth tigers, no doubt our homes, transportation, logistics networks and so forth have been built up to provide essentials for increasing populations.   And the one common behavioral thread from how our pre history ancestors likely lived and how we live today is Learning.   This is the biological strategy developed from our interaction with the world over time.

 

Our physiology compared to the rest of the animal kingdom favors us using our large brains and capable senses to forage for and use patterns vs. terrifying strength or built in camouflage, etc.  A baby can do very little physically for a very long time while it is learning.   Our period of growth to adolescence and self sufficiency is very long.   There is a lot to learn to become surviving human.

 

Certainly all living things learn to some degree.   The simplest creatures all of have some sorta of biological memory that helps them find food and avoid destruction – though that memory is often quite different from ours and may not even be anything we’d recognize.    The difference is the sophistication and complexity of that learning made possible by our complex nervous system.   As individuals we learn a great deal.   As a species we learn a great deal.  Over time we are able to store and retrieve an increasing amount of learning that we pass on to our descendents through culture, written records, and now the internet and digital technology.   There is simply no other animal we’ve found that does this to the scale we do it.

 

Plenty of literature suggests it’s language or consciousness or art that makes us “human” or “different that the rest of animals.”   Rather than saying learning makes us a superior life form or different than other animals I’m merely suggesting that this our evolutionary strategy that developed and that all of those other things people mention come from this ability and need to learn.   We are constantly in search of more efficient ways to discover and transmit patterns that help us survive.   Music, language, art, writing, sport, etc all of this are varied, efficient and robust ways to teach other patterns.   Yes, they often have more pragmatic and immediately practical effects like making us attractive to mates, etc.   but they also are transmissions of patterns we’ve found interesting or useful or they help unearth other patterns.

 

Now, this being per speculation as so much of evolutionary biological thinking is, it’s quite possible that everything that allows us to learn was simply evolving in response to other things than learning.   Perhaps that’s true, but the emergent effect is that we happen to be extremely powerful learnings and we have yet to devise anything that can learn more effectively.   It’s unsurprising to me that our key enterprise is developing non human machinery to help us learn and that might learn better than us.  This is literally what we must do, it’s all we do do.

 

Why is any of this important?   It is a perspective that might put various aspects of organizing our lives, societies, countries, world, technology in a new, more resilient light.   If learning is the key ability we have to survive should we not organize around this and NOT do things that reduce learning?   Should we not amplify our ability and scope of learning?   

Maybe that’s too directional of a way to think about it.  Perhaps it matters not if there’s something we OUGHT to do and rather we Do What We Do and that’s the whole lot of it.   EIther way, as an individual looking to find better ways to survive and thrive I find it useful to think through and understand what might be underlying it all.   You know, seems like I should learn.

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In the 6th edition of “On the Origin of Species” Charles Darwin lamented over the power of “steady misrepresentation” of the facts and observations of his work 150 years ago. Those were days when God’s grace meant you could be hanged for opposing what everyone knows was the “WORD”.

While there has been a steady diet of multidisciplinary science that continues to support, extend and find nuances of his findings on natural selection, genetic drift, mutation and speciation, there is, and will always be groups that obfuscate the information in favor of their own approach to origins of life and man in particular.

As authors Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott have laid out in their review in the recent Scientific American, these various miscreants of misinformation; these groups or people that have no science, no peer review, no database of exceptions, no body of anecdotal evidence to support their views also have no conflicting data points they can point to in support of their views. In fact, their approach is not about science, evidence, methodology or technology. It is about “faith in dogma” and it is shared by millions of people around the globe.

The real pariah in the whole mess is the body of people that take a “live and let live” approach. You know who they are… “Hey, as long as they don’t make me kiss a ring, they can do what they want in Rome.” These are the people who traffic in ambivalence. They too will always be with us. They sit on a fence, not necessarily supporting dogma and yet the view that man is a kin of other primates, that our hiccup reflex is a remnant of our fish history, or that we have to deal with the almost two dozen versions of extinct humans (Viktor Deak) is just upsetting enough, if not unconventionally disturbing for them to ignore. (As if prayer for soldiers being shot at isn’t or holy wars where millions have died are somehow, in comparison, OK.)

Remember Galileo who was convicted of suspicion of heresy for following the position of Copernicus which went contrary to that laid down by the Roman Catholic Church authority of Holy Scripture.  All of this today is still about the dogma of faith vs. data of science. Same stuff, different year.

There have been crusades, ethnic cleansing and the other stuff that made up the Dark Ages. And here we are in the Spring of 2009 reviewing our civilization and thwarted by those who don’t want people to figure out what the heck is going on out there.

Enter Governor Bobby Jindal who is a potential presidential hopeful of those currently out of favor in US politics. In 2008 he literally signed the Louisiana Science Education Act into law.

Marketed as supporting critical thinking in classrooms, the law threatens to open the door for the teaching of creationism and for scientifically unwarranted critiques of evolution in public school science classes [in Louisiana].

(Branch and Scott, 2009)

Does it sometimes seem to you that, while we may have evolved, there are some that didn’t get the memo? Next FOX News will be telling me that Mike Huckabee, former Presidential hopeful (who believes in the literal and biblical interpretation of Genesis) will administer the plan.

Chezz!

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One of my great friends and confidants has pointed out, in a non-chiding way, that one of my favorite authors, Ben Stein, has been doing and saying some disturbing and annoying things lately. This phase of his career started to get weird with the movie he produced and starred in called “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.”

Six Things in Expelled That Ben Stein Doesn’t Want You to Know …

Apr 16, 2008 In the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, narrator Ben Stein poses as a “rebel” willing to stand up to the scientific establishment in
http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=six-things-benstein-doesnt-want-you-to-know – 159k – CachedSimilar pages

The Big Picture | Farewell To Ben Stein

Let us not forget that Ben Stein thinks that Nixon could have won the Vietnam War, and defeated the Kamar Rouge, but not for the dastardly deeds of Woodward
bigpicture.typepad.com/comments/2008/01/farewell-to-ben.html – 181k – CachedSimilar pages

Well, the movie was panned. It is not at all good or entertaining, or informative. But now his reinforcers come increasingly from Fox faculty and from those who have a lot to lose if things continue to move in several different directions…. In education, government, free speech, the courts, the reduction of the imperial presidency, science, etc.

He has some points of fairness but some of the reviews in Scientific America were scathing. He benefits by being on the shows of bull dogs ‘cause he is a known entity. But where is it going? He can’t be looking for another TV gig, can he??!! He has some agenda. Stay tuned…

The people that he, BS, pushes in academia have some good and some mediocre value to science… but, in a peer review based community they don’t do well at all so they don’t get the tenure tracks, the research $$, etc. The free speech argument is impotent if no one is listening! It’s like it was for the black panthers: People hear it but don’t listen twice… even if it was true.

Say that 5 or 15 scientist have a point…well, it is chalkboard science rather than electromicrosopy level stuff so the shock jocks are the only ones that BS gets to visit because a guest lecturer series at MIT would or U. of Kazakhstan would not be entertained. His movie assures that!

Free speech per se is not part of academic freedom any more than racial epitaphs are part of the schick in a comedy club. The guy that posed that World Trade center focus on 9/11 was retaliation for 120 years of subjugation and abuse in the Middle East by Westerners, from the U. of Colorado was bounced. Nothing to do with data… just research grants and academic respect.

It may be more about BS then the profs that question evolution. Like Darwin work churned for 150 years to get traction, these belly-ache-ers are being used by BS and will have to fight to make their point. A media blitz works against it, so… what’s his agenda? Stay tuned!…..

They know what they are doing in academia. BS knows what he is doing in media mud. Both are faced with an uphill climb and a) getting someone in science in some country that doesn’t recognize voodoo to bridge their work to what we know about that is basic to chemistry, anatomy, paleontology, etc. that is more powerful than man and money having 99.997% of the same DNA… and b) getting BS to account for his loopiness or give him a show on conspiracy theories in the vein of John Stossel on 20/20 on ABC.

I can just see it now… he gets on TV with a hard-hitting conspiracy angle… and starts in on ‘morality of stem cell research’, intelligent design, elder care and extension of life and then ‘Self termination criteria you can live with’ and the ratings go over the top…. New reality based TV… a series: CSI – Geriatrics, or “Make a Wish in Area 51” and… oh, the horror…..Oh, Ben… Don’t be that way…

Don’t ask… No, I didn’t see the movie. I also didn’t see “Ol Yeller.” I am as good at ‘suspending disbelief’ as the next guy but I didn’t need the practice that bad.

However, I was heavy into what was going on with him and the scientists.

http://www.expelledexposed.com/index.php/the-truth/hitler-eugenics

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