Rand and Darwin - Conflict or Not?

Doug Bandler's picture
Submitted by Doug Bandler on Fri, 2011-01-14 09:06

A common critique of the Objectivist ethics from evolutionary theorists is that it is in violation of the facts of biological reality. These critics say that Rand based her ethics on an Aristotelian meta-biology and not a Darwinian one. Thus for Aristotle, the teleology of an oak tree, the essence of the tree's existence, is the full grown tree itself. But Aristotle's biology has been replaced by Darwin's, in which an oak tree is an acorn's way of making more acorns.

The criticism is that Rand is wrong in one of her basic statements about life. She says that every function of a living organism is directed toward a single goal: the organism's survival. But this isn't true. Living organisms have reproductive organs, and the functioning of those organs is not directed to the organism's survival. Most living organisms spend a significant part of their lives living for the sake of something that will happen when they are no longer there to care about it, that something being the survival and reproduction of their descendants.

Thus the characteristics of living organisms are best explained by reproduction, not by survival. It is argued that this fact seriously undermines if not destroys the Objectivist ethics.

What are some opinions on this. I understand that Binswanger weighed in on this subject. Does anyone know what his answer was?


Doug

Brant Gaede's picture

God or designer--what's the difference, unless the "designer" is a sub-atomic particle?

--Brant

Doug - a hint

Ellen Stuttle's picture

Only metaphorically can the genetic "code" be described as a "code."

Darren gets mileage out of taking "code" literally.

Also, the ID math is hokey as hell. See posts discussing the math on OL by Merlin Jetton -- do a user search. Be sure to enter all the boxes correctly, i.e., look in "Forums" and ask for a list of posts (a box at the bottom of the screen).

(I'm suspecting that Leonid is just about as bad as an IDer with his assertions about how it all happened, but I haven't read the details of the discussion. I doubt that Leonid knows the math well enough to help, however. Merlin Jetton does and explained at length on OL.)

Ellen

PS: A question to Marcus: When you claim a single origin of life, are you speaking only of earth?

Darren

Doug Bandler's picture

And it's also true that a physical entity -- an OBJECT -- is only an "object" when experienced by consciousness.

This is getting deep into epistemology so I can't speak with absolute certainty here but this sounds like pure primacy of consciousness. For Objectivism, existence has metaphysical primacy over consciousness. Its true that in order to be identified as an object of some type there needs to be a consciousness capable of making the identification. But the "object" does not have to be experienced by consciousness in order to be an _existent_. It is regardless if it is perceived. I believe the way Objectivism would state it is that its existence qua existence is a fact. Its existence as a concept is knowledge; human knowledge. This is the difference between something being a fact and something being true. Facts are. Truth must be identified by a conceptual being.

Material objects require consciousness in order to be material objects, as much as consciousness requires material objects to be conscious of.

Again this is the primacy of consciousness. As I understand Objectivism's epistemology I would say that material objects do not require consciousness in order to exist. But if a material object is to be grasped as conceptual knowledge then that can only be achieved by a conceptual consciousness.

Consciousness however does require material objects to be conscious of as well as the existence of some entity which possesses the attribute of consciousness. This is why Leonid and I have been objecting to the various theists that have been posting here for the last year that there exists some type of non-material, "super-natural", "transcendent" "consciousness" that has no identity but nevertheless is conscious. Consciousness as we understand it is an attribute of a finite entity. Applying it to the traditional conception of god makes no sense.

Anyway, that's my take on your take on metaphysics. From your view on this I can see why you end up believing that consciousness and existence must have originated simultaneously. At least I think you believe that.

_________

Note to self: epistemology is hard, politics is easy, ethics is in between.

Brant

Doug Bandler's picture

I agree with your general point except that Darren isn't really defending god. He is arguing for life as the product of some designer. That designer doesn't have to be super-natural. Further, he is saying that science itself shows this. He's making a science based argument. So the way I read what he is saying, it is not arbitrary nonsense like Creationism. I don't think he is right but I don't know enough about bio-chemistry to be able to explain the supposedly non-random codes that exist in living DNA.

Anyway, my point about a treatise from the Objectivist perspective countering the best polemics for theism and such was made by Peikoff himself I believe. So I'm not alone in thinking that some type of work on this subject should be done. Besides, wouldn't it be cool to read? An Objectivist version of George Smith's 'Atheism: The Case Against God'.

Doug

Brant Gaede's picture

It's not necessary to counter sophisticated theistic arguments for that's contra science. With science it's just plugging away with occasional great insights. Ideas simply seek data and data seek ideas. Searching for GOD in probabilities simply begs the old question of where it started (life). Where did it come from? How did it happen? Science not being a know-it-all doesn't mean an armchair philosopher citing some maybe known facts and figures is really privileged to substitute his conjectures for that "not."

--Brant

Darren

Brant Gaede's picture

You are very entertaining with your big brain, but your speculations aren't scientific except they are useful to dress out human ignorance giving form to an otherwise nothing.

--Brant
keep on trucking--are you trucking?

Leonid

Doug Bandler's picture

Darren's central argument:

The reason one posits an Intelligent First Cause is to explain the existence of a system of coded-chemistry, which obviously cannot emerge -- spontaneously or incrementally -- from non-intelligent causes. Codes are always tell-tale products of intelligence, goal-directedness, and teleology.

I must admit, I have never heard this particular argument before. It is sophisticated. It seems like an updated example of the Argument from Design.

An impossible event for chance requires intelligence to explain it. God? As far as my replies to Leonid go, I only mentioned a "Big Coder in the Sky." Could be intelligent martians.

OK, so you're leaving open the possibility that the designer is a super intelligent alien. That's better than god but its still a design argument.

_______________

Leonid, you'll have to answer Darren because its beyond my knowledge. Here are the things he says that I question:

1) He makes an analogy between language and biological codes. He argues that language requires a creative intelligence and so do the biological codes. Is this analogy accurate?

2) He draws another analogy between Morse code and coded chemistry and he reaches the same conclusion. Morse designed his code and the chemical bonds must also have had a designer. Again, is that analogy correct or is it an example of rationalism?

3) He argues that the science of probability shows that there could not have been enough time for life to have originated from non-life. There are assumptions built into this claim that I seriously question but to answer them would require more knowledge of science than I have.

I'll leave discussion of this up to the more knowledgeable as this is where advanced biology meets advanced epistemology. As I keep saying, some Objectivist scholar is going to have to address these sophisticated theistic arguments, especially when they are science heavy.

@ Doug Bandler

darren's picture

I don't see the origin of life as anything that confounding.

Neither do theists -- but for different reasons.

As I understand it, single cell life forms (or whatever they were - protozoa?)

The two main divisions to consider are a bit different, and you might be interested. The division is not actually between "single-cell" and "multi-cell" organisms; the division is actually between something called a "prokaryotic cell" and a "eurkaryotic cell." A "prokaryotic cell" is one that does not have a nucleus or cellular organs (organelles) surrounded by membranes; a "eukaryotic cell" is one that does. It happens to be that most single-celled organisms are "prokaryotes" and multi-celled organisms are "eukaryotes."

were the result of the thawing of the second major globe-covering ice sheet in the planet's history. I don't fully understand the science but it involved the compounds that existed in the oceans of the time.

The "secret of life" is not "super-complicated chemical interactions." Most of life's chemistry is fairly straightforward. What makes life special (and interesting) is the existence of a system of coded chemistry, with cellular apparatus that encode and decode strings of simple chemicals that function in an organism exactly like binary mathematical symbols in a computer algorithm, or like alphabetic symbols within a system of a written language. What makes the latter special, by way of analogy, is not the chemistry of ink and paper -- both of which are simple and straightforward -- but a given language's rules of grammar and syntax -- neither of which has anything to do with chemistry. Rules of grammar and syntax did not emerge from a random physical process; nor did they emerge from necessary, deterministic natural forces. They are arbitrary but intelligible, and generally very consistent conventions. That's one way we know they are products of intelligence: arbitrary (i.e., in the sense of "optional"), yet consistent and intelligible. Same thing for biological codes.

In the DNA macromolecule, for example, a base molecule is attached to the sugar spine of the helix by firm, deterministic laws of chemistry; it is also loosely attached, physically, to its complementary base molecule on the opposing helix, also by firm, deterministic laws of chemistry (I believe it's a simple hydrogen bond). But along one helix, there is precisely NOTHING connecting one base molecule to another base molecule. Just empty space; so there is nothing physically determining what base "ought" to follow, or "must" follow any other base. It's completely arbitrary, or optional, or conventional, or whatever word you want to use . . .but it sure ISN'T determined in any way. Yet that is precisely where we find the genetic code! The "code" part of the "genetic code" resides in the arbitrary, optional, non-determined order, or sequence of base molecules.

This arbitrary, or optional, aspect of symbol-sequence is one of the typical features of true codes -- like Morse Code, for example. There is no physical necessity for the letter "S" to be represented by three dits "dit-dit-dit". It was assigned that sequence, out of an arbitrarily decided lexicon of two symbols ("dit" and "dah") by an intelligent agent (Mr. Morse). Similarly, there is no physical necessity for the amino acid alanine to be represented by the base codon-triplet sequence CGA, CGG, CGT, CGC out of a possible 64 triplet combinations of 4 bases (4x4x4 = 64 possible codon triplets). Alanine was assigned that arbitrary, optional sequence by . . .?

By whom? We don't know. I call him The Big Coder in the Sky, though Leonid took offense that I assumed He lives above ground-level.

I agree with Leonid here that life is an emergent property of the combination of certain elements.

Unfortunately, without the existence of pre-existing life, we never observe living things emerging of their own accord as a property of non-living elements. Up until the mid-19th century, people used to believe that; except instead of using the super-hi-tech-philosphical term "emergent property", they called it simply "spontaneous generation." Louis Pasteur, however, showed that the idea was bunk, and asserted his great Law of Biogenesis, i.e., "Life only comes from life." I agree with him, and to date, no one -- not Stuart Kauffman, not Darwin, not Dawkins, not Carl Sagan -- no one has been able to prove him wrong.

In that sense, I don't see that life should be all that rare, let alone that Earth should be the only planet in the universe (!!) with life.

Many theists might also agree with you here as well . . . but again, for different reasons.

If there are similarly situated planets, I can't see why the origination of life wouldn't happen frequently;

It would take more than a few similarly situated planets. It would require vastly more time than astrophysics claims we've had since t=0 (only about 12-15 billion years); it would require that an important physical constant -- "Planck Time", or the least time in which any physical process can, in principle, occur -- be radically different from what it actually is.

Why theists think that only supernaturalism is capable of explaining the origin of life is beyond me. Well, actually its not. They're supernatualists. That explains everything.

What distinguishes the supernaturalist from the naive materialist on this issue is that the former has a healthy respect for numbers, probability, and physical reality as it is currently understood; while the latter believes in mathematical miracles based on hand-waving assumptions about "infinite time within a steady-state universe" and a "Googelplex" of earth-like planets" . . . despite the fact that the total number of fundamental particles in the entire universe is estimated at only about 10^80 (Googelplex would be 10^Googel, or 10^[10^100]).

So, for starters, Herr Bandler, you are assuming more planets in the universe than there are fundamental particles!

my 2 cents

Doug Bandler's picture

Once these types of conversation get this sophisticated and science heavy, I have to bow out. I don't have the specialized knowledge. But I'd like to chime in regarding the creation of life.

I don't see the origin of life as anything that confounding. As I understand it, single cell life forms (or whatever they were - protozoa?) were the result of the thawing of the second major globe-covering ice sheet in the planet's history. I don't fully understand the science but it involved the compounds that existed in the oceans of the time.

I agree with Leonid here that life is an emergent property of the combination of certain elements. In that sense, I don't see that life should be all that rare, let alone that Earth should be the only planet in the universe (!!) with life. If there are similarly situated planets, I can't see why the origination of life wouldn't happen frequently; and by frequently I mean that in the sense of the law of large numbers. If there is a Googleplex of planets out there that resemble Earth, then the emergence of life seems assured. And that doesn't even take into account the fact that life, albeit in different form than we might expect, could develop in non-Earth-like conditions.

Why theists think that only supernaturalism is capable of explaining the origin of life is beyond me. Well, actually its not. They're supernatualists. That explains everything.

Leonid

Richard Goode's picture

My area of expertise is an exercise of my mind.

Your area of expertise is physiotherapy?

Richard

Leonid's picture

My area of expertise is an exercise of my mind. What is yours?

@ Leonid

darren's picture

If existence doesn't require creation, why one needs to postulate creator and multiply parsimonies?

To account for things that could not have come into existence through random combinations of pre-existing material entities, or by means of necessary, deterministic forces; i.e., codes.

Besides, consciousness which is conscious of itself is contradiction in terms.

It's a good thing I never posited such a thing. I said that consciousness AND (notice the word "and", Leo. It's a conjunction.) physical nature existed simultaneously, and that one cannot be reduced to the other, nor did one precede the other.

And it's also true that a physical entity -- an OBJECT -- is only an "object" when experienced by consciousness. Material objects require consciousness in order to be material objects, as much as consciousness requires material objects to be conscious of. In fact, Blake, Callum, frediano all agreed in earlier posts that we cannot even talk about a scenario in which we posit "things" -- like libraries, books, buildings, trees, clouds, rocks, etc. -- without reference to conscious identification of such things. To do otherwise, they claimed, would be to commit a "Stolen Concept" fallacy. I agree. Ergo, we cannot talk about "the evolution of stars from primordial hydrogen clouds" or "an extremely hot earth with lots of active volcanoes spewing methane and carbon dioxide into the young atmosphere" or "small creatures without backbones evolved from matrices in mud from a happy coincidence of chemicals having been struck by lightning." None of these sorts of assertions by evolutionists make sense in light of Blake, Callum, and frediano's claim that entities such as "stars", "volcanoes", and "mud", as well as assumed processes of such entities, such as "evolution", require the concurrent existence of consciousness.

If you try to imagine an entity or object existing as an entity or object without consciousness, then you will have to do so by sneaking in the concept of consciousness into your imagining.

Your arbitrary notion that consciousness is a late-comer and a kind of "second-class" citizen, metaphysically speaking, is incorrect and a non-starter, philosophically.

Consciousness is awareness

One property of consciousness is awareness, and I see no contradiction -- notwithstanding Rand's arbitrary (and self-serving) assertion to the contrary -- that a consciousness cannot simply be conscious of itself.

Moreover, intelligence presupposes self-awareness,

See article I posted earlier on plant intelligence. Obviously, you're the kind of nerd who believes that philosphical problems are solved by recourse to looking up words in a dictionary . . . as if lexicographers hold all the answers!

BTW, why your first cause has to be intelligent?

Because of the existence of codes, which are always the product of intelligence. In the case of human life, of course, I'm perfectly willing to consider that biological coded-chemistry was designed by intelligent martians or venusians.

Marcus

Leonid's picture

"I will tell you that your theory still does not disprove the evidence that the first "viable" cell that gave rise to life was a rare event."

How do you mean " the first "viable" cell that gave rise to life was a rare event."? This cell WAS life. Survival of certain species is rare event, but the emergence of life as a phenomenon was inevitable since "a state of the geosphere which includes life becomes more likely than a purely abiotic state. The non-living earth would have been metastable under conditions of continuous geochemical free energy production. Its “collapse” to greater stability was the emergence of life." (IBID)

Marcus

Richard Goode's picture

You just can't tell me you know life evolved more than once, and if it did, and could do it often, why is it not still around?

There's a very simple answer to this question. If life arose (by abiogenesis) more than once, on the second and subsequent occasions it would get eaten.

I will tell you that your theory still does not disprove the evidence that the first "viable" cell that gave rise to life was a rare event.

Since we don't know how life first arose, we can't put a figure on the probability of it happening.

On the one hand, we have Darren who says

Given the time constraints imposed by the age of the universe (approximately 12-15 billion years), the start of life is a mathematically impossible event.

and, on the other hand, we have Leonid who says

life is not an exception, but rather a rule

and quotes approvingly those biophysicists who claim that "emergence of life is actually inevitable".

Both assertions - that the non-supernatural origin of life is impossible and that the non-supernatural origin of life is inevitable - are evidence-free.

"The biochemical diversity is the evidence."

Marcus's picture

No Leonid it's not, it's got nothing to do with it.

The original primitive bacteria were basically just sacks of DNA or perhaps RNA or perhaps protein, no one is quite sure.

What you're talking about is modern biology.

So called "ancient" or Archaeabacteria are actually more related to modern Eukaryotes, than the more primitive Prokaryotes.

They were just called "ancient" because they were discovered in extreme environments in our modern world.

You just can't tell me you know life evolved more than once, and if it did, and could do it often, why is it not still around?

And if you say it is extinct or dead (for which you have no evidence), I will tell you that your theory still does not disprove the evidence that the first "viable" cell that gave rise to life was a rare event.

Leonid

Richard Goode's picture

I've noticed that when it comes to the semantics of religious discourse *

The God we can know through a study is not a God, but an object

and Biblical exegesis *

Paul meant every word

you write in a tone of great certainty and project an aura of authority. But—apart from having read a lot of bad Russian philosophy and a few dictionaries—what are your qualifications in either area of expertise?

Richard

Leonid's picture

" the God posited by Spinoza, Bruno, and Einstein, a God Morowitz argues we can know through a study of the laws of nature."

The God we can know through a study is not a God, but an object, one among many others. He doesn't possess any divine powers-like omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience- since these qualities allegedly exist outside the realm of nature. He cannot create existence-that would be against the laws of nature and would imply infinite regress. He cannot perform any miracles- a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature and law of identity. He cannot answer prayers. The question is who needs such a God? I know that many scientists are toying with religion, trying to reconcile faith with mind. That cannot be done. As a demonstration try to answer the question: what divine transcendence transcend? However, Morowitz's cabbalistic excursions doesn't diminish his achievement in the field of biophysics. . I'd recommend to read his article I quoted.

Leonid

Richard Goode's picture

Harold Morowitz
Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030

From Google's blurb of Morowitz's latest book, The Emergence of Everything: How the World Became Complex.

And as he offers these insights into the evolutionary unfolding of our universe, our solar system, and life itself, Morowitz also seeks out the nature of God in the emergent universe, the God posited by Spinoza, Bruno, and Einstein, a God Morowitz argues we can know through a study of the laws of nature.

And some brief passages from the book, quoted in an Amazon customer review.

Divine transcendence arose from immanence and emergence and coevolved with Homo sapiens. Transcendence is an emergent property of God's immanence and rules of emergence. We Homo sapiens are the mode of action of divine transcendence.

This book has proceeded with two agendas: to study emergence by examining a number of examples, and to seek for the nature and operation of God in the emergent universe.

We are just beginning our understanding of emergence, and hence must be patient about understanding how the Word becomes flesh.

And what one reader had to say.

i was expecting a description of the fundamentals of emergence theory. Instead, i found i was holding a creationist hymn-book garnished with some real science.

Where are you taking us with your argument?

Marcus

Leonid's picture

The biochemical diversity is the evidence. Different organisms used different biochemical mechanisms in different times to utilize different energy sources. There are plenty of fossil evidences of ancient microorganisms with totally alien anatomy,and from time to time we discover living ancient bacteria with completely different biochemistry. For the further evidence I'd recommend to read " Life on Earth" Sinauer associates, inc. The emergence of life is apparently inevitable. The preservation of species is already different story. We know that more than 90% of species died out in the process of natural selection. In spite that life exists and thrives. That means that life is not an exception, but rather a rule.

"There were multiple progenitors, but they died out."

Marcus's picture

What's your evidence for this?

Even if you're right, then only one progenitor was viable and it still holds that life only has one origin. In other words, to explain life today we still have the extremely rare event of the one progenitor that gave rise to life as we know it.

"For example there are aerobic and anaerobic organisms, the are eucaryotic and procaryotic cells, we are using oxygen and ancient unicellular organisms used sulfur as the only source of energy."

That's got nothing to do with the first progenitor. Absolutely irrelevant.

You need to provide fossil evidence to back up what you're saying.

Marcus

Leonid's picture

There were multiple progenitors, but they died out. For example there are aerobic and anaerobic organisms, the are eucaryotic and procaryotic cells, we are using oxygen and ancient unicellular organisms used sulfur as the only source of energy. Oxygen is a result of the latter biological development-photosynthesis. Life on Earth apparently had had number of false starts which is ,btw, against the idea of primary intelligent cause. If such a cause were existing, it would do the job right from the first time.

"Many biophysicists would disagree with you."

Marcus's picture

Why did it only happen once then?

If what you say is true there should have been multiple progenitors, but genetics and cell biology indicates we are all decended from a single cell.

Marcus

Leonid's picture

"The point about that start of life was that it was an extremely rare and unlikely event."

Many biophysicists would disagree with you. They claim that emergence of life is actually inevitable since "the continuous generation of sources of free energy by abiotic processes may have forced life into existence as a means to alleviate the buildup of free energy stresses. This assertion – for which there is precedent in non-equilibrium statistical mechanics and growing empirical evidence from chemistry – would imply that life had to emerge on the earth, that at least the early steps would occur in the same way on any similar planet, and that we should be able to predict many of these steps from first principles of chemistry and physics together with an accurate understanding of geochemical conditions on the early earth."

Energy flow and the organization of life
Harold Morowitz
Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030

Darren

Leonid's picture

"Conversely, if you assume that existence doesn't require creation, then there's no problem positing an Intelligent First Cause whose existence always was."

If existence doesn't require creation, why one needs to postulate creator and multiply parsimonies? Besides, consciousness which is conscious of itself is contradiction in terms. Consciousness is awareness and presupposes something to be aware of, that is-existence. Moreover, intelligence presupposes self-awareness, existence of the self, an object. To be conscious one first has to be.
BTW, why your first cause has to be intelligent? Stanislaw Lem in his novel " Voice of God" postulated non-intelligent first cause, sort of cosmic residual background spontaneously modulated radiation which happened to promote the emergence of life. A.C. Clarke in his " "Odysseys" assigned a monolith, a robot, to do the same. Why your assumption is better than their? They all unsubstantial fictions without a shred of evidence.

"The reason one posits an Intelligent First Cause is to explain the existence of a system of coded-chemistry, which obviously cannot emerge -- spontaneously or incrementally -- from non-intelligent causes. Codes are always tell-tale products of intelligence, goal-directedness, and teleology."

Not obviously. Coded chemistry is not a cause, but an end-result of emergent properties which appeared due to spontaneous process of self-organization of matter. Teleology doesn't presuppose intelligent first cause. Living organism is driven by self-causation, it is its own primary mover. Emergent properties of life appear as result of self-organization. Coded biochemistry which is also emergent property only serves to preserve these properties and to transfer them to the future generations. Evolutionary process is a process of " fine tuning" and adaptation of these properties to the changing environment. None of this requires an existence of " first intelligent cause". Each and every organism is such a cause by the virtue of being living thing.

"But biology is not a praxeological science, and emergent properties, self-organizing systems, etc., whether advocated by Stuart Kauffman ("At Home In The Universe") or others, have not been been successful at demonstrating how a system of coded-chemistry on which life is based could have arisen by means of non-intelligent means."

Wrong again.

"However, a number of evolutionary biologists have begun to explore a reconciliation between self-organization and neo-Darwinism.
These authors generally concede that self-organization and natural selection are two different mechanisms for generating biological complexity—self-organization providing adaptive order ‘‘for free,’’ natural selection generating ‘‘hard earned’’ adaptive order which is decidedly ‘‘not for free’’—yet see the two mechanisms as essentially complementary (Weber and Depew 1996; Kauffman 1993: 409; Camazine et al. 2001: ch. 3; Ruse 2003: ch. 9; Maynard Smith and Szathmary 1999: 115–116; Conway Morris 2003: 204–205).

‘‘natural selection molds the complex ends achieved by self-organization,’’ by molding ‘‘the rules of interaction of the components (Camazine et al. 2001: 89).’’

the existence of self-organization and the resultant emergent order it generates in living systems not only challenges the all suffi-
ciency of cumulative selection as the sole or major evolutionary mechanism, it also challenges the other great assumption of 20th century biology: the conception that the complex 3D form of organisms is specified in detail in a DNA program."

Biol Philos (2007) 22:579–601
DOI 10.1007/s10539-006-9055-5
ORIGINAL PAPER
The uniqueness of biological self-organization:
challenging the Darwinian paradigm
J. B. Edelmann Æ M. J. Denton

In other words, not coded chemistry defines organism's properties, but emerging properties code organism's chemistry in order to preserve themselves. Nucleotides which form DNA and RNA molecules initially were part of energy cycle ( AMP-ATP) and only latter assumed a function of information's storage and transfer.

"An impossible event for chance requires intelligence"

Marcus's picture

No, just as impossible as your birth.

Just think about it. The number of amoeba that had to divide at just the right time, the number of animals and humans that had to reproduce at exactly the right time (and there are many false starts in the fertilization process) to produce a Dazzler at just that moment seems impossible. To add all those odds together makes it seem impossible you were ever born. Indeed some people do indeed claim god gave your parents the child Dazzler, but very few people actually believe god was actively involved in the physical process of your conception and development.

In contrast, the physical process of reproduction seems to be commonplace in nature and unremarkable.

Same thing with the beginning of life.

The exact conditions coming together and being exactly right to create life seem incredible, almost impossible, but the physical process of life today is commonplace and not that amazing.

@ gruntster

darren's picture

It has not been demonstrated that matter can result from non-matter.

Einstein claimed otherwise. I know you find this difficult to accept -- combining, as you do, gruntster, a fantastically fat neck with a grotesquesly huge ego -- but I believe Einstein, not you. Must be whim on my part.

All matter has always been.

A very nice mantra. Unfortunately, it isn't science. Even legit steady-state theorists, like Fred Hoyle and Halton Arp, posit a continuous creation of matter; lots of "little bangs", so to speak, rather than one Big Bang.

To use your “Creation” and the “Intelligent First Cause,” this means the two would be simultaneously present. (For the purposes of this exercise we must ignore that the “Intelligent First Cause” is imaginary.)

If we are not to commit the sin of reductionism, then consciousness and physical nature would have to have been simultaneously present. Neither is reducible to the other.

The reason one posits an Intelligent First Cause is to explain the existence of a system of coded-chemistry, which obviously cannot emerge -- spontaneously or incrementally -- from non-intelligent causes.. It is not at all obvious. It did develop.

Question-begging. We don't know that it "developed." We only know that it's here. And biological coded-chemistry is isomorphic with all other known codes such as ASCII and Morse Code; and since we know that codes cannot arise from chance, necessity, or any combination thereof, that leaves only intelligence as a cause.

and there are very reasonable explanations as to how. Clue: Frediano’s star furnaces.

Ahhhhh! La Grande Teoria de Frediano! So you believe it's reasonable to claim that codes come from stellar interiors? Now would that be true for Morse Code and ASCII too? Or is it only true for codes that weren't brought into existence by human intelligence?

Given the time constraints imposed by the age of the universe (approximately 12-15 billion years) This is in keeping with your whimsical belief in the Big Bang. At least you demonstrate consistency.

Nothing whimsical about it. The majority of astrophysicists obviously know what they're doing.

Conversely, a fuckhalfwit like you knows neither what they are doing, nor what you are doing.

No idea

Richard Goode's picture

It's all a complete and utter mystery to me.

Carry on.

Dazzler

gregster's picture

Conversely, if you assume that existence doesn't require creation, then there's no problem positing an Intelligent First Cause whose existence always was. That is a non sequitur. It has not been demonstrated that matter can result from non-matter. All matter has always been. To use your “Creation” and the “Intelligent First Cause,” this means the two would be simultaneously present. (For the purposes of this exercise we must ignore that the “Intelligent First Cause” is imaginary.)

The reason one posits an Intelligent First Cause is to explain the existence of a system of coded-chemistry, which obviously cannot emerge -- spontaneously or incrementally -- from non-intelligent causes.. It is not at all obvious. It did develop, and there are very reasonable explanations as to how. Clue: Frediano’s star furnaces.

Given the time constraints imposed by the age of the universe (approximately 12-15 billion years) This is in keeping with your whimsical belief in the Big Bang. At least you demonstrate consistency.

@ Marcus

darren's picture

How about the formation of crystals? It's both spotaneous, incremental and ordered.

What does that have to do with codes?

The point about that start of life was that it was an extremely rare and unlikely event.

More than that. Given the time constraints imposed by the age of the universe (approximately 12-15 billion years), the start of life is a mathematically impossible event.

However, an unlikely event does not require the existence of a god to take place.

An impossible event for chance requires intelligence to explain it. God? As far as my replies to Leonid go, I only mentioned a "Big Coder in the Sky." Could be intelligent martians.

When I can...

Ellen Stuttle's picture

There's lots I'd like to reply to in the most recent batch of posts, but I'm still immersed in projects which leave me only occasional snatches of time for list discussion.

Interesting stuff coming up on this thread, though.

Ellen

Marcus

Ellen Stuttle's picture

#96605:

Ah, I see that's the answer to your riddle.

The time when animals don't eat food put in front of them.

During sex and death.

Nope. Neither was what I was thinking of.

Ellen

They never "emerge" -- not spontaneously, not incrementally.

Marcus's picture

How about the formation of crystals? It's both spotaneous, incremental and ordered.

How about fire? It can be spontaneous, incremental, reproductive, feeding, requires oxygen and produces its own heat.

The point about that start of life was that it was an extremely rare and unlikely event.

As far as we know it only happened once in the universe. It was truly a miracle.

However, an unlikely event does not require the existence of a god to take place.

@ Leonid

darren's picture

If you assume that existence requires creation and assume the existence of creator, then creator requires creation. This is infinite regress.

Conversely, if you assume that existence doesn't require creation, then there's no problem positing an Intelligent First Cause whose existence always was. The reason one posits an Intelligent First Cause is to explain the existence of a system of coded-chemistry, which obviously cannot emerge -- spontaneously or incrementally -- from non-intelligent causes. Codes are always tell-tale products of intelligence, goal-directedness, and teleology.

what is the basis to assume the existence of Big Coder

See above. "Codes" come from "Coders." They never "emerge" -- not spontaneously, not incrementally.

Even more importantly, how one can explain anything by substitution one unknown for another?

Actually, we're not substituting one unknown for another. We're substituting a known cause -- intelligence -- for unknown causes, in order to explain a known effect: coded-chemistry in biological organisms.

self-organization and development of the new emergent properties during the critical periods of organism's life.

"Emergent properties" is a very pretty theory in economics -- Hayek did a lot of work in this field, claiming that the free-market price system is an emergent property -- no one single person is responsible for it -- and that, furthermore, it ceases to function at all when a single person (such as a dictator or a "production czar") does take responsibility for it. So it certainly has its place in economics, and perhaps other praxeological sciences as well.

But biology is not a praxeological science, and emergent properties, self-organizing systems, etc., whether advocated by Stuart Kauffman ("At Home In The Universe") or others, have not been been successful at demonstrating how a system of coded-chemistry on which life is based could have arisen by means of non-intelligent means.

Darren

Leonid's picture

"Same place matter came from according to the Objectivist Steady-State hypothesis: The Big Coder (necessitated by Dawkins's own assumptions in his computer simulation) Always Was And Always Will Be."

Doesn't work this way. If you assume that existence requires creation and assume the existence of creator, then creator requires creation. This is infinite regress.

More importantly, you didn't answer my question: what is the basis to assume the existence of Big Coder, except of hallucination, produced by sensory deprivation among prehistoric cave dwellers and poisoning mushroom eaters? Even more importantly, how one can explain anything by substitution one unknown for another?

"With all due respect to mutation and natural selection, I believe the correct answer is no; those two processes, alone, are not enough to explain the appearance of life nor the diversity of species."

That's right. There is third possibility: self-organization and development of the new emergent properties during the critical periods of organism's life. Natural selection is the process of fine tuning of these properties.

"Development is not a continuous phenomenon. Rather, phenophases are interspaced with short critical periods. This phenomenon reflects an alternance between stabilization (during a phenophase) and dismantling (during a critical period) of a network of between-organ relationships generating the organism. Networks of relationships may be compared to dissipative systems in physics. In this context, a critical period represents a transient phase of isolation of the systems enabling its evolution towards equilibrium. As suggested here, this transition from dissipative to isolated system represents the source of newly emerging dissipative structures in which environmental or developmental perturbations are adaptively integrated. In contrast to non-living systems, an endogenous control of the transition towards critical period seems to exist during development. "

Critical periods as fundamental events in life

G.N.G. Nissim Amzallag,

The Judea Center for Research and Development, Carmel 90404, Israel

Available online 31 May 2004.

@ Leonid

darren's picture

The assumption with zero explanatory power.

Ah! I knew there was a catch somewhere.

Where this Big Coder came from,

Same place matter came from according to the Objectivist Steady-State hypothesis: The Big Coder (necessitated by Dawkins's own assumptions in his computer simulation) Always Was And Always Will Be.

You should have no problem with that answer, Leo, since you accept the materialist version of it. The fact that I posit an intelligent first cause as opposed to an inert one in no way changes the logic of the reply.

why he in the sky,

Figure of speech, Leo. The Big Coder might reside in a wine cellar in Boston for all I know.

why he's doing what he's doing and what is the basis for such an assumption?

Ah, well those are highly speculative theological questions regarding motives, intentions, etc. Would be happy to discuss on a new thread dedicated to Motives and Intentions of Hypostasized Big Coders in the Sky or Boston. On this thread, however, we were concerned with whether or not the twin Darwinian assumptions of (i) blind, random, mutations, and (ii) non-telic, non-intelligent Natural Selection, are enough to explain (i) the emergence of life from non-living elements that purportedly appeared in the universe first, greatly antedating the appearance of living organisms, and (ii) the divergence of living organisms into many different forms known as "species."

With all due respect to mutation and natural selection, I believe the correct answer is no; those two processes, alone, are not enough to explain the appearance of life nor the diversity of species.

"All you need to do is assume

Leonid's picture

"All you need to do is assume a Big Coder in the Sky: someone who is the analogue in physical nature to Richard Dawkins himself when he's in front of his computer."

The assumption with zero explanatory power. Where this Big Coder came from, why he in the sky, why he's doing what he's doing and what is the basis for such an assumption?

Doug

Leonid's picture

"Adam Reed argues that evolution does not work for optimal adaptation."

I don't really want to go into the argument between adaptionists and anti-adaptionists-there are many pro and contra arguments.
I only would like to mention that the adaptation and fitness are not the same. Adaptation is a concept which includes both organism and its environment. Certain trait could be useful in some environment but detrimental in another. I agree that natural selection is the law of causality applied to life. The law of causality is law of identity applied to action. What is life's identity? It is an ability to generate self-initiated goal orientated response (SIGOR) to environmental challenges , when the goal is life itself. Therefore, life and evolutionary process is necessary driven by self-causation. W. Tecumseh Fitch calls this phenomenon nano-intentionality. In his article he demonstrates how such a force acts on every level of evolution-from the single cell to human being.

He wrote :"The core causal power underlying nano-intentionality is the cell’s ability to arrange and rearrange its own molecules in a locally-functional manner, thus preserving and extending its individual existence, depending on local and perhaps somewhat novel circumstances. Crucially, this capacity is as characteristic of a neuron in the brain as it is of a free-living amoeba. Both deal, as semi-autonomous individual cells, with their local circumstances, and when novelty is coped with successfully, the cell can “remember” a solution by changing its own physical structure. This specific capacity is an important characteristic of virtually any eukaryotic cell and is related to, but much more specific than, Aristotelian “telos” or Schopenhauerian “will”. I will argue here that humans possess intrinsic intentionality, and that it necessarily builds upon the nano-intentionality of the cells of our brains. They are not the same thing, however: the relationship between nano- and intrinsic intentionality is quite complex and indirect. By unpacking the linkage between nano-intentionality and mental activity I suggest that we can avoid both horns of Dennett’s dilemma for the low, low price of taking seriously some uncontroversial biological facts about eukaryotic cells and the vertebrate brain...A cell has specific, causal powers, possessed by no currently available machine, and it is these powers I wish to bring into focus with the term “nano-intentionality”. Eukaryotic cells respond adaptively and independently to their environment, rearranging their molecules to suit their local conditions, based on past (individual and species) history. A transistor or a thermostat does not—nor do the most complex machines currently available. This is a practical difference between cells and machines (I can see no reason in principle that machines must lack such causal powers), but it is nonetheless a profound one. I suggest here that it is by virtue of this difference, this possession of nano-intentionality by the cellular machines that make up our bodies and brains, that we, as whole individuals, possess “intrinsic” intentionality—and a laptop does not. The purpose of the following paper is to show why, in principle, this is a possibility that should be considered seriously by philosophers of mind and neuroscientists... The thesis I am advancing depends on a hierarchical cascade of causal powers, of abilities that are characteristic of living things arranged in increasingly complex and differentiated systems. In this section I will combine an description of what these specific levels of causal abilities are with a historical discussion of roughly when and why they came about in evolution. "

Biology & Philosophy
© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007
10.1007/s10539-007-9079-5

Nano-intentionality: a defense of intrinsic intentionality
W. Tecumseh Fitch1

(1) School of Psychology, St Mary’s Quad, University of St Andrews, Rm 2.57, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 9JP, UK

The process of evolution, therefore, in essence, is a process of development of intentionality (aboutness) on different levels Unicellular organisms which fail to adapt to their environment die out. Human neurons which fail to make synaptic connection also die. Man who fail to exercise volitionally his mind which is SIGOR on conceptual level , also dies, or at least doesn't live qua man. The ability of the organism to initiate life-sustaining response by means of projection its goals into the future and action in order to achieve them is the driven force of evolution. This is not an algorithm, but the very essence of life itself.

@ Bandler

darren's picture

"The local optima of evolutionary equilibrium do not correspond to "design," in the sense of some global optimum of fitness or health. They are, rather, the product of a random process, which converges on some local optimum without regard to its optimality in any global sense."

So the story goes. Alas: the cell has genetic machinery that mitigates against random processes -- it obviously does not like randomness, as it interferes with its teleological functioning. And random processes -- for example, zapping fruit flies with radiation -- have never been observed to create one new species from a given one. What has been observed, in the case of radiation and fruit flies, are mutants that don't live long (or are just too ugly to find a self-respecting mate); either way, randomness has led to an evolutionary dead-end.

Binswanger and Reed should do lunch together and align their alibis: the latter suggests that evolutionary processes are random; the former, that one of these processes is non-random ("causality applied to life").

Regarding Ms. Stuttle, I'm not sure how she means the term "algorithm" to be understood, but in the strict sense of genetic algorithms (GAs) that are used to "demonstrate" evolution in computer simulations, then it is quite apparent that the outcomes, in those simulations that appear to show that random mutations plus natural selection can lead to viable species in a realistic amount of time, all suffer from the same flaw: in all cases, the criteria for selection -- or even an outright end-goal toward which the algorithm is programmed to move, as in Dawkins "Methinks It Is Like A Weasel" simulation -- are all pre-existing, having been input by the programmer himself.

Being extremely reasonable and good-natured myself, I am more than amenable to a Grand Theory of Evolution in which the end-goal is pre-existing, or in which Big Natural Selection has been instructed, in advance, as to what sorts of biological traits are to be deemed "desirable" and therefore "fit", in order to reach a pre-existing goal, and which traits are to be discarded. All you need to do is assume a Big Coder in the Sky: someone who is the analogue in physical nature to Richard Dawkins himself when he's in front of his computer.

Leonid

Doug Bandler's picture

Indeed, evolution is a process which leads to the optimal adaptation of the organism to its environment.

Adam Reed argues that evolution does not work for optimal adaptation.

http://borntoidentify.blogspot...

"The local optima of evolutionary equilibrium do not correspond to "design," in the sense of some global optimum of fitness or health. They are, rather, the product of a random process, which converges on some local optimum without regard to its optimality in any global sense."

Regarding teleology, I recall Binswanger saying that natural selection is the law of causality applied to life. I agree that evolution is the consequence of identity but I don't think its right to say that its a "goal-oriented" phenomenon. Life is goal directed but evolution? I think Ellen is right in calling it an algorithm.

Ellen

Leonid's picture

"those male praying mantises the heads of which are chewed off during copulation get a kinky kick."

Obviously they enjoy the process so much, that they don't stop to copulate while their heads are chewed off. For them a good sex worth more than head. As Marcus rightly observed, animal would prefer sex to food any time because it enjoys sex more then food. In this particular case enjoyment is the goal. And I don't think that anybody knows what fish feels when it deposits eggs and scattering sperm. But at least I know that many male humans enjoy the process of scattering sperm even in the absence of sexual partner. Such a practice is also common among many animals.

Ellen

Leonid's picture

"Evolutionary theory isn't teleological theory. There's nothing teleological about evolution."

Life itself is teleological process of self-initiated and goal orientated action. Therefore, evolution as any biological process has to be goal-orientated. Indeed, evolution is a process which leads to the optimal adaptation of the organism to its environment. The fact that it is blind process doesn't make it goal-less. Certain variations of inherited traits provide better adaptation than others and therefore represent evolutionary advantage. Natural selection is a teleological process. Although the usefulness of a trait is not the cause responsible for it appearance, it selected because its positive effect on the organism's adaptiveness. If there weren't any goals, then it would be no difference between one trait and another and traits would be selected at random. But this is obviously not a case. Evolutionary process eliminates traits which don't serve the goal-sustenance and bettering of life.

And I don't think that

darren's picture

And I don't think that animalian life is entirely mechanistic in its processes. (Plant life I think is.)

And you would be mistaken there, as well. See link and excerpt below.

http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/...

"The attitude of people is changing quite substantially," says Anthony Trewavas, a plant biochemist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and a prominent scholar of plant intelligence. "The idea of intelligence is going from the very narrow view that it's just human to something that's much more generally found in life."

To be sure, there are no signs of Socratic logic or Shakespearean thought, and the subject of plant "brains" has sparked heated exchanges at botany conferences. Plants, skeptics scoff, surely don't fall in love, bake soufflés, or ponder poetry. And can a simple reaction to one's environment truly qualify as active, intentional reasoning?

But the late Nobel Prize-winning plant geneticist Barbara McClintock called plant cells "thoughtful." Darwin wrote about root-tip "brains." Not only can plants communicate with each other and with insects by coded gas exhalations, scientists say now, they can perform Euclidean geometry calculations through cellular computations and, like a peeved boss, remember the tiniest transgression for months.

To a growing number of biologists, the fact that plants are now known to challenge and exert power over other species is proof of a basic intellect.

"If intelligence is the capacity to acquire and apply knowledge, then, absolutely, plants are intelligent," agrees Leslie Sieburth, a biologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

"Further, sex *and death* were evolutionary co-developments"

Marcus's picture

Ah, I see that's the answer to your riddle.

The time when animals don't eat food put in front of them.

During sex and death.

You are correct Ellen, evolution is a process that does not have a goal or purpose.

Leonid - no teleology in evolution

Ellen Stuttle's picture

Leonid (#96585):


Goode

"According to evolutionary theory, living organisms have no purpose."

Call it goal, then. Evolutionary theory without doubt is teleological theory.

"Biological life and evolution can be explained in purely mechanical terms."

In mechaninical terms one explains mechanical. not biological process.

Living organisms are not machines and reductionism can only lead philosophy of life to the blind alley.

 

Evolutionary theory isn't teleological theory. There's nothing teleological about evolution. "Evolution" is a name we give to a process. That process is not only "blind" (Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker), it's without goals, without purpose. Organisms which stay alive long enough to leave offspring which are successful at reproducing might then be followed by a subsequent lineage of progressively modified organisms which stay alive long enough to leave offspring which are successful at reproducing might then...etc. That's it. No goals being served. You have goals. "Evolution" doesn't.

My correction isn't to be taken as meaning that I agree that "purely mechanical terms" are sufficiently explanatory. "Evolution" is our name for a process which could be expressed as a rough algorithm. And I don't think that animalian life is entirely mechanistic in its processes. (Plant life I think is.) However, I think you're proposing a theory which amounts to cell-magic. ("And then a miracle occurs." See for the Harris cartoon I'm referencing.)

Ellen

Leonid - Sex and pleasure and death

Ellen Stuttle's picture

Leonid (#96565):

Darwinian collectivists are wrong. The central purpose of living organisms is to maintain and to better their life. In asexual organisms the replication is simply the function of growth. In sexual organisms the driven force beyond the reproductive process is a pleasure of it. I think, no Darwinists will deny this. At least that they can learn from their personal experience. The fact that such a process benefits the whole species is simply irrelevant to the animal or man who engages in the process and enjoys it.

I'm sure (facetiousness warning) that plants get a bang out of sex. And, e.g., that those male praying mantises the heads of which are chewed off during copulation get a kinky kick. And that fish are thrilled by depositing eggs and scattering sperm on a cluster thereof. Personal experience indeed. You confuse humans and probably other mammals with the evolutionary spectrum of life.

Further, sex *and death* were evolutionary co-developments -- the first providing frequent shuffling of the deck (so to speak), the second providing relatively quick weeding out of the losers.

I agree that "Darwinian collectivists" are wrong. Benefiting the species isn't pertinent to evolution. See my next post.

Ellen

Doug - Free will and physics

Ellen Stuttle's picture

Doug (#96420):

Regarding the incompatibility of free will with physics, do you have a link to a discussion of this which summarizes the issue clearly and succinctly?

The issue can be simply put: Bodies are made of matter. If you claim effective volition -- i.e., volition which results in the body moving -- from where are you getting the violation of the laws of physics?

The issue is never addressed in so many words in the Objectivist literature. Instead, it's brushed aside as a mistaken idea of causality. See Branden's "Volition and Causality," March '66 Objectivist. Also OPAR.

Further, in OPAR, without saying he's done this, Peikoff contradicts the Objectivist eschewing of any form of primacy of consciousness by making volition a first cause -- i.e., an act of consciousness moves matter.

Earlier this evening, I posted on OL some excerpts from the "anteroom" discussion in OPAR. See.

The thread on which the post appears is mostly yelling, but if you pick your way carefully back up the thread, you can ferret out the context to which these excerpts are addressed.

Ellen

Thread hijacking?

Marcus's picture

Goode diversion, I knew you couldn't answer the question.

Let he who is with purpose and reason throw the first stone at Evolutionary theory.

Goode

Leonid's picture

"According to evolutionary theory, living organisms have no purpose."

Call it goal, then. Evolutionary theory without doubt is teleological theory.

"Biological life and evolution can be explained in purely mechanical terms."

In mechaninical terms one explains mechanical. not biological process.

Living organisms are not machines and reductionism can only lead philosophy of life to the blind alley.

Marcus

Richard Goode's picture

What purpose do they serve according to God?

And then, what purpose does God serve?

This thread is titled, "Rand and Darwin", not "God and Darwin".

Leave the thread hijacking to Whinespiel.

Goode...

Marcus's picture

"According to evolutionary theory, living organisms have no purpose."

What purpose do they serve according to God?

And then, what purpose does God serve?

Leonid

Richard Goode's picture

The central purpose of living organisms is to maintain and to better their life.

According to evolutionary theory, living organisms have no purpose.

As a matter of fact there is no analogy between machine and living organism

Living organisms are machines. Biological life and evolution can be explained in purely mechanical terms.

Darren

Leonid's picture

"I'm using your analogy of hardware and software. Wake up."

I'm not sleeping and you don't use my analogy. You assume build-in software which I explicitly rejected. As a matter of fact there is no analogy between machine and living organism Living organism creates its own software.

Doug

Leonid's picture

Darwinian collectivists are wrong. The central purpose of living organisms is to maintain and to better their life. In asexual organisms the replication is simply the function of growth. In sexual organisms the driven force beyond the reproductive process is a pleasure of it. I think, no Darwinists will deny this. At least that they can learn from their personal experience. The fact that such a process benefits the whole species is simply irrelevant to the animal or man who engages in the process and enjoys it.

Leonid

Doug Bandler's picture

Don't you think that in order to reproduce the organism has to be alive in the first place?

Yes, but what the Darwinian collectivists will argue is that the central purpose of living organisms is to reproduce and if the central purpose of life itself is reproduction then this argues for a species perspective on ethics not an individualist one. Darwinian Leftists will then argue for a species-wide egalitarian collectivism. Darwinian Rightists will argue for a tribal/ethnic/racial collectivism.

That being said, I intend to read the essay you linked to. It sounds very interesting. Thanks.

So Rand distinguished between

darren's picture

So Rand distinguished between the mechanism, a hardware and the content, a software, like in computer. The difference, however is, that human hardware can program itself.

You still don't see the difference between life and machine,

I'm using your analogy of hardware and software. Wake up.

Doug

Leonid's picture

"The criticism is that Rand is wrong in one of her basic statements about life. She says that every function of a living organism is directed toward a single goal: the organism's survival. But this isn't true. Living organisms have reproductive organs, and the functioning of those organs is not directed to the organism's survival. "

Don't you think that in order to reproduce the organism has to be alive in the first place?

Darren

Leonid's picture

"But in that case, it must obviously already have some sort of built-in software with which to perform the programming"

Not obviously. You still don't see the difference between life and machine, don't grasp the idea of self-initiated action and don't understand biological causality. Read the article I quoted, read Rosen's " Life itself" and read Binswanger's " Biological Basis"
Then we maybe could have meaningful discussion.

@ Leonid

darren's picture

So Rand distinguished between the mechanism, a hardware and the content, a software, like in computer.

I believe most thinkers and researchers in this field distinguish between the "mechanism" and the "content."

The difference, however is, that human hardware can program itself.

Perhaps so. But in that case, it must obviously already have some sort of built-in software with which to perform the programming. So it's not exactly "tabula rasa."

Emotions and Free Will

Leonid's picture

"Furthermore, that the human "emotional mechanism" is "tabula rasa" at birth."

Ayn Rand wrote "Man is born with emotional mechanism as he born with a cognitive mechanism; but, at birth, both are "tabula rasa". It is man's cognitive faculty, his mind, that determines the content of both"

So Rand distinguished between the mechanism, a hardware and the content, a software, like in computer. The difference, however is, that human hardware can program itself. Like any other biological action, this action is self-initiated and goal-orientated, when the goal is the maintenance and bettering of life. Such an action of mind on the conceptual level of consciousness is Free Will. Free Will could be challenged ONLY on the basis of reductionism, that is-an attempt to describe life in terms of non-life. This is contradiction in terms. Free Will doesn't contradict the laws of physics because it belongs to the laws of biology which not ruled by effective cause. As Rosen observed " A material system is an organism if and only if it closed to effective cause." Biological functions, mind included, cannot be reduced to the physical processes. There is no "explanatory gap". Life starts on the level of cell, not on the level of subatomic particles or even macromolecules. Life and mind are emergent properties and cannot be described or explained by laws which rule the parts from which they emerged by means of self-organization.

"Hence physics dealt with the fundamental laws of nature and chemistry and biology were to use these laws to deal with specific applications of the general laws physics discovered. In other words, the relation of physics to biology, in particular, is that of the general to the special. Rosen was able to see that, in fact, this was a prison for our thought and an extreme handicap to our understanding. It was a legacy of the machine metaphor. How could this be? It is so because the world of the machine is a "simple" world. Its laws and inhabitants are simple machines or mechanisms. What if the objects in chemistry and biology are not that simple? Then we must reduce them to subunits that are. By this reductionist path we will learn all that there is to learn about the real world. Robert Rosen discovered that this approach was a dead end! He discovered that when the reduction is performed, something real and necessary is lost and in a way which made it unrecoverable."

ROBERT ROSEN: THE WELL POSED QUESTION AND ITS ANSWER-WHY ARE ORGANISMS DIFFERENT FROM MACHINES?

Donald C. Mikulecky

http://views.vcu.edu/~mikuleck/

Ellen

Doug Bandler's picture

However, Rand's idea of "blank slate" extended further than the claim "that humans have no pre-packaged *conceptual* ideas." She held that humans have no instinctual proclivities. Furthermore, that the human "emotional mechanism" is "tabula rasa" at birth.

I think you have a point here. I don't know enough about this area to say but from what I have read, it does seem that there are instinctual proclivities. Binswanger is right now arguing against an active subconscious and for a very limited role for subconscious activity. But hard-wired emotional proclivities seems to go against that. This is one of those areas where I think Lindsay is right and that Ayn Rand downplayed the animality in the "rational animal". If it is an error, it is an error I can forgive her for being that everyone else is so quick to stress the animality part as the true essence of humanity (ie nihilistic worship of alleged human depravity).

Regarding the incompatibility of free will with physics, do you have a link to a discussion of this which summarizes the issue clearly and succinctly? I find this argument bizarre. What is the definition of free will here? Given the sheer number of decisions that humans make on a daily basis that involve weighing multiple factors, etc., I don't see how free will can be seriously challenged. I suspect a massive case of rationalism with these arguments but I would like to see exactly what it is these physicists are saying. Is there some discussion of this on ROR or OL? (Not that I am a fan of those sites but I'll wade through the sewer for clarification on this.)

Darren

Ellen Stuttle's picture

#96277:

[ES] 2) believe in God as having bestowed "free will" and "the divine gift of reason" on the human by some form of intervention in the natural world.

[Darren] As opposed to "volition" or "free will" being a perfectly natural effect of natural causes as they exist in the natural universe?

You have a suggestion as to how? Big problem, any notion of "free will" arising naturally in the cosmos according to current physics. As I've said before, the problem's been recognized since the pre-Socratics. It's only become worse. "Volition," on paper, fares better with some who consider themselves "compatibilists." But push a "compatibilist" theory, and you're likely to find the idea that our experience of actual alternatives of action is illusory and merely reflective of our inability to predict what we'll do from necessitated causes.

Ellen

Darren

Ellen Stuttle's picture

#96283

[ES] I have multiple times on various lists cited that historical context in defense of Rand

[Darren] Be honest, for once, Ellen. In the case of Miss Rand vs. Charles Darwin, you did not cite some pre-existing, established historical context; you simply invented one as sounding plausible to you.

The historical context I was referring to in the post you quote is that of the reigning non-nativist views in American psychology, sociology, anthropology during the time when Rand was formulating and writing her ethics. As I said in the post. This context is discussed by Merrill. First I've gone into it on this list.

[Darren] At issue is whether or not Darwinism was likely to have been the entrenched "official" position of most academics in science at major universities such as Moscow and Petrograd.

Not the issue I was discussing in the post you've quoted.

According to the sources from which I quoted previously, Darwinism was very much the official position, so an undergraduate student at one of those universities would likely have been required to read excerpts of Darwin -- probably "Origin of Species" -- or at least have been exposed to Darwinism via lectures from a professor.

I suspect you've left out quite a bit from your own sources, which I'll get around to checking eventually. You definitely left out that they were speaking of Russia pre the Revolution. Also you left out Rand's age at the time. Years away from being an undergraduate. In love with the fictional Cyrus, writing her first stories.

Ellen

Spazz

Blake's picture

How does natural selection direct environmental pressures? It adapts to them, thus "weakening" the pressure, or making it nonexistent. It by no means directs them.

I'm not a scholar on the subject, nor do I claim to be. I am looking for answers, and in all honesty, most of yours appear to be garbage. So please, connect the alleged circle for me.

The term adaption implies environment. Adaption to what? Environment: higher population. Consequence: "larger neocortex" genotypes are best fit for the environment, thus they reproduce more.

What you are saying is that higher intelligence came first, not because of natural selection, but because, I don't know, Jesus told you so. This change in brain structure subsequently led to an increase in population, once again assuming that intelligence necessitates reproductive success. It does not. It will, if it is useful in that particular environment, (with the only "arbiter" of usefulness being the environment itself).

@ O Blank One

darren's picture

You're not understanding evolution correctly.

Ah! The pupil shall now be instructed by the master. I'm in a comfortable, seated position, and I'm ready to be "enwisdomed" by you, O Blank One.

Natural selection is directed by environmental pressures.

"Natural selection" is directed by "environmental pressures". And what directs "environmental pressures"? Why, "natural selection", of course. Some nice circular reasoning. So far, so good.

The genes best fit for the environment survive to reproduce.

And what criterion is used to establish the concept of "fit"? Why, that some organisms "survive to reproduce." And what reason is given that some organisms (and not others) "survive to reproduce"? Why, that those organisms are defined as "fit." "Fit" is defined in terms of "survives to reproduce", and "survives to reproduce" is defined as "fit." Nice circular reasoning. So far, so good.

Environment is in the drivers seat; not the identity of the entity undergoing natural selection.

I'm afraid you're about 40 years out of date with your mental model, O Blank One. The classical Darwinian model that you are using -- and which you are assuming, for no valid reason whatsoever, is "correct" -- has long been abandoned except by the equivalent of the "hardcore left" in evolution (just as there are socialists who adamantly refuse to accept the historical failure of socialism, so, too, there are still some hardcore Darwinists who insist that this old-fashioned paradigm has anything to do with biological reality). The old model that the "identity of the entity" -- that is, the organism itself, especially its genotype -- is simply passive in its relation to its environment, and that it is the environment that is the sole active principle in evolution -- has been abandoned . . . mainly for lack of evidence, but also because of actual positive evidence to the contrary. See the work of Barbara McClintock and James Shapiro. The genomes of organisms have been found to play an active, decisive role in their own survival. There are two principles involved: (i) genomes ACTIVELY fight against change, whether caused by environment or by random genetic accidents; (2) genomes have a creative "toolbox" that they can use to best fit into an environmental "niche", and will actively try out different strategies to maximize their integration into the environment. This is all the doing of the organism's genome, and not the environment.

Not to mention, you start with "[it] seems more likely that our complex social world was an effect....", only to righteously conclude that "The psychology professor has it the other way around."

That's true. Your professor assumes, with no evidence, that the causal starting point was a thing, or a process, called "a complex social world", and that one of the assumed effects of this first-cause is supposedly the distinctive form of human consciousness, also correlated with a larger neocortex. However, the "complex social world" is obviously, itself, a product of human consciousness - an EFFECT -- so it seems your prof is simply arguing in a circle.

Not surprising, as circular reasoning usually rules the day in Darwinism, which would simply fall apart without such logical subterfuge.

Darren

Brant Gaede's picture

You've seemingly ignored the middleman role of multiplicity of observations (?). Conclusions come from data. What are they? Speculations are ideas looking for data which conclusions rest on.

--Brant

Or

Brant Gaede's picture

"No one has ...." Or any consciousness for that matter. However, it emerged from the organism referenced. "How" I'm not disputing. Let's speculate: out of necessity--and beg the question.

--Brant

Spazzler

Blake's picture

You're not understanding evolution correctly. Natural selection is directed by environmental pressures. The genes best fit for the environment survive to reproduce. Environment is in the drivers seat; not the identity of the entity undergoing natural selection. Otherwise, you are making the assumption that higher intelligence is necessarily correlated with better reproductive success. This is not true.

Not to mention, you start with "[it] seems more likely that our complex social world was an effect....", only to righteously conclude that "The psychology professor has it the other way around." I think I am finally starting to see the Darrenian logic here in all its glory.

As for you last assertion, I'll let it speak for itself.

Oops

gregster's picture

Dazzler: "The truth is this: the origins of human consciousness are a complete and utter mystery. No one has the slightest idea how it emerged."

No one huh?

@ Blake

darren's picture

we needed our particular type of intelligence to navigate a complex social world.

Seems more likely that our complex social world was an effect; the cause was our particular type of intelligence. The psychology professor has it the other way around.

The truth is this: the origins of human consciousness are a complete and utter mystery. No one has the slightest idea how it emerged.

Origins of Human Consciousness

Blake's picture

In an e-mail discussion with a psychology professor regarding the origins of human consciousness, she shared with me the following...

"...the argument that makes the most sense to me is that we needed our particular type of intelligence to navigate a complex social world. There is a very nice positive correlation between neocortex size and typical group size in primates, which is a good indicator that at least one reason our brains evolved a larger cortex is to keep track of our interactions with others."

This seems to be a powerful argument to me, as well. I haven't read up on it, though I could probably get together a list of sources if anyone is interested.

This could lend great support and provide an even stronger scientific foundation for laissez-faire capitalism, and perhaps objectivist ethics. It could definitively show how the higher faculties of human consciousness, i.e. reason, are our only means of survival, i.e. our only means of "navigating a complex social world."

Coercion and force, without appeals to reason, are by definition against our nature. Have I merely repeated the main premise of objectivist ethics? Has the above hypothesis ever been considered regarding objectivist ethics?

@ Callum

darren's picture

Well, there were new observations. Specifically, that not everything revolved around Earth

Such as?

Add to that, that the geocentric system did clash with the logic of Copernicus' time,

You have it exactly backward. It was Copernicus's ideas that clashed with the logic of his time. The logic of his time was that one implicitly trusted the senses, and that direct observation was the road to truth: seeing was believing. In fact, heliocentrism had already been hotly debated (and rejected) in antiquity, being advocated by Aristarchos of Samos. It was rejected as being NOT in accord with sensory evidence. Copernicus advocated heliocentrism, not because he observed anything that hadn't already been observed a thousand times over the course of many centuries. He was the first (or one of the earliest) to purposely subordinate the evidence of the senses to an overarching paradigm or mental model.He started that practice. For him, the mental model that led to truth was Plato's idea of The Good being like a "central fire". Copernicus was an arch Platonist. Since he also held that the "microcosm" and the "macrocosm" are metaphorical mirror images of each other -- with certain objects in the one necessarily performing analogous functions in the other he concluded, that, therefore, since the sun was the "central good" of the universe (by providing light, warmth, growth for crops, etc.), it ought, by necessity, to occupy a central position in the heavens. That would mean that Earth revolved about the sun, and not the other way around. The "Copernican Revolution" consisted in subordinating one's direct observations to a larger intellectual construct. In his case, it was an ethical system based on the cosmology of Plato (mainly found in a dialogue called "Timaeus", IIRC); in our case, today, the larger mental model is one based on notions of unobservable forces like gravity, and the way they are calculated to interact with unobserved qualities of matter like mass. The concretes differ, but the psychological process is the same: we subordinate our direct sensory observations, at least in scientific investigation, to paradigms, thought structures, mental models, etc. We take such a process for granted today, but it was revolutionary in Copernicus's day (and understandly, many people didn't like it, since Copernicus was explicitly asking them NOT to trust in the direct evidence of their senses).

because our perception of 'motion' relies on the position of the observer, that all we can not have any proper knowledge about the movement of objects; rather, we can only really guess, and hope we're right. I disagree.

There's no guesswork involved: when you're in a plane, the plane/passenger frame of reference is, in a completely knowable sense, MOTIONLESS. When you're on the ground observing the plane, the plane/earth frame of reference is in motion. From a purely mathematical standpoint, it makes no difference whether we choose to believe that the earth is moving at 600 mph relaive to the plane, or whether the plane is moving at 600 mph relative to the earth. Both are equally true and (to use your word) "proper." More to the point: there is no way to validly make the claim that the earth is "properly" in motion through space, except to adopt, in fact or in theory, the standpoint ad frame of reference of something: the sun, the moon, some distant start, etc. You cannot claim that "the earth is moving through space at 1000 mph." Moving through space . . . relative to WHAT? Relative to the sun? The Mlky Way galaxy?

This doesn't mean the plane isn't moving, relative to the Earth or in an absolute sense.

There are no absolute senses, only relative ones. The plane really, really, truly IS moving relative to the ground; at the same time (though not in the same respect) it really, really, truly IS motionless relative to the passengers. Without looking outside the window, or changing reference frames, there is no physical experiment a passenger could do inside the plane that would reveal whether or not the plane was "truly" in motion or not. You can only do it by observing the plane (or imagining you're observing the plane) from a different frame of reference. In a plane, this change of reference frame is usually done by pulling the shade up and looking out the window to the ground or some clouds. And by the way, if the earth, too, would revolve at 600 mph relative to the plane, and in the same direction, the plane would obvioiusy simply hover in midair without getting anywhere. This is "geosynchronous orbit" used in some satellites. If the plane were only a few feet from the ground, you would be able to open up the door and simply step outside onto earth without hurting yourself, since relative to one another, you are all at rest. There would be no way to claim that the plane is, nevertheless, really in motion "in an absoluste" sense.

Mathematically, it makes no difference whether we regard the earth to be at rest and the plane to be in motion, or whether we regard the earth to be in motion at 600 mph and the plane to be at rest. In the case of the sun/earth reference system, we believe the earth orbits the sun because the sun is much more massive than the earth and its gravity correspodingly stronger, so it makes intellectual sense -- INTELLECTUAL SENSE, NOT OBSERVATION -- to claim that it is the larger mass which exerts influence upon the smaller, and not vice versa. This is NOT something observed, but, rather, thought or intellectualized.

"Do we differ in our

Callum McPetrie's picture

"Do we differ in our observations? Or do we differ in something else?"

Well, there were new observations. Specifically, that not everything revolved around Earth as had seemed to be with the naked eye. And of course, if not all things revolved around the Earth, why should the Sun and other planets be assumed to be doing just that?

Add to that, that the geocentric system did clash with the logic of Copernicus' time, and even more so with that of our own time. The heliocentric model did not then, and does not to this day.

'I mentioned nothing about motion being objective or non-objective. At issue are the terms "relative" vs. "absolute."'

True, you didn't. However, what you seem to be inferring is that because our perception of 'motion' relies on the position of the observer, that all we can not have any proper knowledge about the movement of objects; rather, we can only really guess, and hope we're right. I disagree.

""How" this movement is seen? Not sure what you mean by the word "how". Do you mean "the physical/technical means we use to observe something?"

I think you've pretty much got it right there. "How" refers to the means that we use in order to make an observation, eg, with our eyes and ears.

"But if you meant something like "If an object moves, it moves, regardless of the frame of reference from where the movement is observed" then you are mistaken. If a jetplane streaks across the sky at 600 miles per hour, it is in motion relative to the ground; but to the passengers inside the plane, it is at rest."

Indeed. The plane is in rest relative to the passengers. This doesn't mean the plane isn't moving, relative to the Earth or in an absolute sense. Personally, I've never been on a plane thinking "how nice it is that the ground is moving for us, to get us to our destination!" because the plane isn't moving relative to me. Yet if our idea of motion is based entirely on objects relative to us, how could we ever know that we've moved, ever? This seems to be the implication of what you're saying.

@ Callum

darren's picture

Wait a minute: was it a change in observation that replaced the Ptolemaic with the Copernican system?

You tell me. Taking into account only sensory evidence, we observe exactly the same thing as the Ptolemaics; yet they assert that the sun revolves around Earth, while we assert, in apparent defiance of our observations, that Earth revolves around the sun. Do we differ in our observations? Or do we differ in something else?

I mentioned nothing about motion being objective or non-objective. At issue are the terms "relative" vs. "absolute."

If an object moves, it moves, regardless of how this movement is seen.

"How" this movement is seen? Not sure what you mean by the word "how". Do you mean "the physical/technical means we use to observe something? If so, then I would agree with you.

But if you meant something like "If an object moves, it moves, regardless of the frame of reference from where the movement is observed" then you are mistaken. If a jetplane streaks across the sky at 600 miles per hour, it is in motion relative to the ground; but to the passengers inside the plane, it is at rest.

Wait a minute: was it a

Callum McPetrie's picture

Wait a minute: was it a change in observation that replaced the Ptolemaic with the Copernican system?

"But since you agree that there is no spot in the universe from which one can say that (X) is in absolute motion around (Y)..."

Movement is objective. If an object moves, it moves, regardless of how this movement is seen. I see the sun arcing across the sky every 24 hours. This doesn't mean that the sun is literally a small ball of hot liquid hurtling through Earth's atmosphere; rather, given the full context of human knowledge (ie, the sun being 150 million km's from Earth, and many times larger!) I know that this is the effect of the Earth's rotating on its axis. If I came to Earth having never seen the Sun, given these facts, this is what I would expect to see in the sky during the daytime.

What we see is indeed relative to our position in the Universe. This doesn't make knowledge of motion unobjective, because humans can understand the way in which objects move, and hence understand why we see things the way we do.

@ Callum

darren's picture

They were wrong.

Were they wrong because they were careless observers? Or are we right because we are much more careful than they and have better equipment? If an Egyptian astronomer 2,000 years ago had been given the beautiful 200-inch reflecting telescope at Mt. Palomar with which to observe the heavens, would he have observed what you claim is the "truth": would he have observed that the sun is stationary relative to Earth, and that it is Earth which is in motion? Is that what a modern astronomer observes when looking at the heavens through this telescope?

We're discussing the Earth's movement relative to the Sun,

But since you agree that there is no spot in the universe from which one can say that (X) is in absolute motion around (Y), it follows that whether we regard (X) as orbiting (Y) or (Y) as orbiting (X) depends on our frame of reference; which spot we happen to be standing on when we make the observation and form our judgment. Thus, we are also discussing the sun's movement relative to Earth.

"We see Earth orbiting the

Callum McPetrie's picture

"We see Earth orbiting the sun -- from Earth? That's odd. That's precisely the same spot where the Ptolemaics claimed they observed the sun orbiting Earth!"

They were wrong.

As to your last two paragraphs: they're correct, but irrevelant to the discussion. We're discussing the Earth's movement relative to the Sun, so the fact that the Sun is hurtling through a galaxy hurtling through the Universe is of no import.

@ Ellen Stuttle

darren's picture

I have multiple times on various lists cited that historical context in defense of Rand

Be honest, for once, Ellen. In the case of Miss Rand vs. Charles Darwin, you did not cite some pre-existing, established historical context; you simply invented one as sounding plausible to you. At issue is whether or not Darwinism was likely to have been the entrenched "official" position of most academics in science at major universities such as Moscow and Petrograd. According to the sources from which I quoted previously, Darwinism was very much the official position, so an undergraduate student at one of those universities would likely have been required to read excerpts of Darwin -- probably "Origin of Species" -- or at least have been exposed to Darwinism via lectures from a professor.

My sources and your source agree that the main point of contention in Russian Darwinism was not evolution, incrementalism, natural selection, or common descent, but, rather, Darwin's support for the population theories of Thomas Malthus. This is what your source has in mind when the author writes about the hostility of Russian academia toward Darwinism.

Furthermore, I pointed out, that a possibly early exposure to Darwinism at the university -- leading, perhaps, to an early and lifelong distaste for it -- would explain why she never ventured an opinion on it, except, late in life at a Ford Hall Forum lecture, to claim that she "was not a student of his theory." Had she in fact never been exposed to Darwinism at all, then we would need to ask why she chose not to be a student of Darwin's theory -- an odd gap in one's intellectual formation for someone with a mind like hers.

(Generally the accuser has alleged nefarious motives, as has Darren.)

Why is it nefarious to claim that Rand possibly was exposed to Darwinism at university, rejected it, and might therefore have chosen to say nothing more about it, realizing that to do so would invite charges of being a closet-creationist? Given that Darwinism was the entrenched viewpoint in the science departments at Petrograd U., the motives appear completely plausible.

@ Ellen Stuttle

darren's picture

2) believe in God as having bestowed "free will" and "the divine gift of reason" on the human by some form of intervention in the natural world.

As opposed to "volition" or "free will" being a perfectly natural effect of natural causes as they exist in the natural universe?

Rand on "blank slate"

Ellen Stuttle's picture

Doug (#96217):

[Merrill's] discussion of intellectual history, while interesting, does not prove what he thought it did; namely that Rand was a blank slate advocate of infinite psychological plasticity. Rand's advocacy of the blank slate concept really only pertained to her argument that humans have no pre-packaged *conceptual* ideas; a point I consider unchallengeable.

I don't read Merrill to be saying that Rand was an "advocate of infinite psychological plasticity." At any rate, she wasn't. She has some choice words against such advocates in Galt's Speech. Furthermore, her whole story in Atlas is counter the idea that humans can be conditioned to any old social milieu. An especially highlighted example is the description of Starnesville, which was a mini-attempt to enact the Communist ideal.

However, Rand's idea of "blank slate" extended further than the claim "that humans have no pre-packaged *conceptual* ideas." She held that humans have no instinctual proclivities. Furthermore, that the human "emotional mechanism" is "tabula rasa" at birth. Also, she made possibly inconsistent statements on the issue of innate ability.

Here are the three statements listed in the Lexicon under "Tabula Rasa":

[I've included two sentences in the 1st passage, the 1st and the last quoted, which aren't included in the quote from the Lexicon. I'll mark those sentences with //. The bracketed source references are in the Lexicon. I've slightly corrected the 3rd passage quoted to indicate that the material picks up in the middle of a sentence from the original source.]

Tabula Rasa. /But while the standard of value operating the physical pleasure-pain mechanism of man's body is automatic and innate, determined by the nature of his body—the standard of value operating his emotional mechanism, is not./ Since man has no automatic knowledge, he can have no automatic values; since he has no innate ideas, he can have no innate value judgments.

Man is born with an emotional mechanism, just as he is born with a cognitive mechanism; but, at birth, both are "tabula rasa." It is man's cognitive faculty, his mind, that determines the content of both. /Man's emotional mechanism is like an electronic computer, which his mind has to program—and the programming consists of the values his mind chooses./

["The Objectivist Ethics," VOS, 23; pb 28.]

 

At birth, a child's mind is tabula rasa; he has the potential of awareness—the mechanism of a human consciousness—but no content. Speaking metaphorically, he has a camera with an extremely sensitive, unexposed film (his conscious mind), and an extremely complex computer waiting to be programmed (his subconscious). Both are blank. He knows nothing of the external world. He faces an immense chaos which he must learn to perceive by means of the complex mechanism which he must learn to operate.

If, in any two years of adult life, men could learn as much as an infant learns in his first two years, they would have the capacity of genius. To focus his eyes (which is not an innate, but an acquired skill), to perceive the things around him by integrating his sensations into percepts (which is not an innate, but an acquired skill), to coordinate his muscles for the task of crawling, then standing upright, then walking—and, ultimately, to grasp the process of concept-formation and learn to speak—these are some of an infant's tasks and achievements whose magnitude is not equaled by most men in the rest of their lives.

["The Comprachicos," NL, 190.]

 

[N]o one is born with any kind of "talent" and, therefore, every skill has to be acquired. Writers are made, not born. To be exact, writers are self-made.

["Foreword," WTL, v.]

 

Some comments:

The first quote is indicative of her belief that animals other than humans do have "automatic knowledge." I'm aware that the meaning of "knowledge" has been debated quite a bit on this thread, but I haven't had time to read those posts. I don't buy the idea of "automatic knowledge" in any creatures. Also, a sidepoint but it's going to come up eventually: She runs into trouble with her claiming "values" for plants, while defining "value" as "that which one acts to gain and or keep," plants being fully automatic in their functioning and not precisely "acting" for anything.

On the issue of "no automatic values," however: How would any human infant survive with NO initial automatic reactions? Even behaviorists, who limited initial automatic reactions to very few, granted a small number, such as the sucking reflex, the hand-curling reflex, fear of heights.

 

The second quote, for one thing, is indicative of her erroneous views on perception, which I've previously mentioned. In this passage, she refers to her idea that "sensations" are "integrated" into "percepts."

Pertinent to the "tabula rasa" issue: If it were true that there weren't maturationally and developmentally unfolding skill-learning aspects to perceiving, crawling, standing upright, walking, speech-learning and language-acquisition, how come every physically normal child acquires those abilities?

 

The third quote is possibly inconsistent with indications elsewhere about her views of "talent." There's been a lot of discussion on at least two lists, RoR and OL, about whether or not she was inconsistent.

Here's a prime passage from Atlas Shrugged which gives grounds to wonder if she changed her views of "talent" at some point between Atlas and the Introduction to the re-published We the Living:

Atlas Shrugged, p. 91-92, Signet paperback edition

The heirs of Sebastián d'Anconia had been an unbroken line of first sons, who knew how to bear his name. It was a tradition of the family that the man to disgrace them would be the heir who died, leaving the d'Anconia fortune no greater than he had received it. Throughout the generations, that disgrace had not come. An Argentinian legend said that the hand of a d'Anconia had the miraculous power of the saints—only it was not the power to heal, but the power to produce.

The d'Anconia heirs had been men of unusual ability, but none of them could match what Francisco d'Anconia promised to become. It was as if the centuries had sifted the family's qualities through a fine mesh, had discarded the irrelevant, the inconsequential, the weak, and had let nothing through except pure talent; as if chance, for once, had achieved an entity devoid of the accidental.

Francisco could do anything he undertook, he could do it better than anyone else, and he did it without effort. There was no boasting in his manner and consciousness, no thought of comparison. His attitude was not: "I can do it better than you," but simply: "I can do it." What he meant by doing was doing superlatively.

No matter what discipline was required of him by his father's exacting plan for his education, no matter what subject he was ordered to study, Francisco mastered it with effortless amusement.

Merrill on historical context

Ellen Stuttle's picture

In the historical part of Merrill's article, he describes with more detail than I've usually provided the historical context of views in psychology, sociology, and anthropology in which Rand formed and wrote her theory of ethics. I have multiple times on various lists cited that historical context in defense of Rand against charges that she was unreasonably ignoring evolution. (Generally the accuser has alleged nefarious motives, as has Darren.)

Rand was far from being the only one during the years of her work essentially to ignore evolution in theories of the human. The standard assumption was that biological evolution pretty much stopped, except for small details here and there, with the human when the big brain appeared on the scene and that after that other determinants, those of personal upbringing and social and cultural factors, took over.

Where Rand differed from the "zeitgeist" wasn't in her being strongly on the non-nativist side of the "nature/nurture" issue but instead in her being non-determinist. Unfortunately, since she made the human unique with her theory of volition, she was left without any good way of defending the exception, or of reconciling her theory and physics.

Ellen

Doug - volition / "free will"

Ellen Stuttle's picture

Doug (#96217):

Free will and volition are effectively synonyms.

Not in my usage.

There are people who use the two terms pretty much interchangeably. Possibly you're one of those people.

I've found, however, that most who speak of humans having "free will" either or both, typically both:

1) are vague as to what they think "free will" is and what latitudes of behavior it provides;

2) believe in God as having bestowed "free will" and "the divine gift of reason" on the human by some form of intervention in the natural world.

There are a number of physicists who believe in God as responsible for a difference in humans from the rest of nature. What percentage of physicists hold the belief that God produced an exception in humans, I couldn't guess, since generally physicists don't speak of their religious beliefs in their published work. One has to get into private conversation with them to find out about the "give onto physics what is physics' and onto God what is God's" off-the-record miraculous-intervention attitude.

Ellen

Ellen

Doug Bandler's picture

I don't use the term "free will" except in scare quotes, unless I slip. I use the term "volition" (not in scare quotes).

Free will and volition are effectively synonyms. "Free" means free from deterministic subconscious motivations that over-ride a human's ability to reason among other things. This is exactly what Merrill was flirting with throughout his whole essay.

Looks as if you went straight for flaws in Merrill's article and missed all the significant historical discussion which I'd hoped you would find of interest.

Sigh.

Well, his flaws undermine his conclusions. Also, his discussion of intellectual history, while interesting, does not prove what he thought it did; namely that Rand was a blank slate advocate of infinite psychological plasticity. Rand's advocacy of the blank slate concept really only pertained to her argument that humans have no pre-packaged conceptual ideas; a point I consider unchallengeable.

@ Callum

darren's picture

We see it from Earth,

We see Earth orbiting the sun -- from Earth? That's odd. That's precisely the same spot where the Ptolemaics claimed they observed the sun orbiting Earth!

Was this because they were sloppy observers? Or perhaps because we are much more careful? Does the magnification power of a telescope make any difference in this sort of observation? They, of course, had no telescopes at all, but would it have made a difference in your opinion? In other words, if an Egyptian astronomer 2,000 years ago had been given the beautiful 200-inch reflecting telescope at Mt. Palomar, would he have looked through it and quietly whistled "Wow! I missed this completely! Boys, it seems we've been wrong! I can see, right in this telescope, that we on Earth are orbiting the sun, and not the other way around." Is this what he would say, and by looking through such a powerful telescope, is that what he would see?

Now tell me, why would we need a "zero" point in the Universe to make objective observations?

Because without such a point, there is no way to assert that an entity is at rest or in motion in an absolute sense. An entity is at rest or in motion only RELATIVE to some observer, who himself is an entity, and who himself is positioned somewhere in space. From one position, an entity will be at rest relative to the observer; from another position, the same entity will be in motion.

There is no experiment -- not with particles, not with electromagnetic radiation -- that you can perform on an entity to gauge whether or not it is at rest or in motion in an absolute sense. Your experimental results themselves will vary according to where you happen to be situated when you perform the measurement or the experiment.

@ Ellen Stuttle

darren's picture

>>Marx and Engels certainly welcomed evolution theory because of its support for a materialist view of human nature.

Quite so.

>>But they also realized from the start that there was an analogy between natural selection and the capitalist system of economic competition, and so were suspicious of Darwin's theory.

True and well known . . . but if so, then Rand would have been an enthusiastic reader of "Origin", since it might have held out the promise of yet more intellectual ammunition for her pro-capitalist inclinations.

Anyway, the analogy between natural selection and competition under capitalism was not made by Darwin but by social darwinists like Spencer.

>>Marx's concept of class struggle has different roots lying in Hegel's idealism--in the clash and synthesis of coherent social entities reflecting the stages of social evolution rather than competition between individuals or tribes. We now know that the claim that Marx offered to dedicate [a volume of] his book to Darwin was based on a misunderstanding of the relevant correspondence.

True and well known. So far, this is all irrelevant as to whether or not "Origin", or excerpts from it, was required reading as part of the curriculum of Petrograd University.

>> In the twentieth century, Soviet communism was always hostile to the Darwinian theory, and Lamarckian theories such as Lysenko's flourished in Soviet Russia.

Much, much later, mainly under Stalin. Stalin also rejected classical genetics.

Better:

"Darwin in Russian Thought"
Alexander Vucinich (1988)

http://books.google.com/books?...

Page 152:

During the 1890s Russian Darwinism was a deeply rooted and consolidated theory of organic evolution. It was the reigning power in biological theory at university centers, and it commanded the primary attention of the popuar mind. Moscow and St. Petersburg universities were Darwinian fortresses. They were the primary institutional factors in assuring Darwinism of general supremecy in and outside the scientific community . . .

Keep in mind, please, that St. Petersburg University became Petrograd University after the city itself was renamed in 1914.

Page 297:

While universities continued generally to be the strongholds of Darwinism [i.e., in 1913], the new institutions of higher technical education and new specialized research centers . . . were much more hospitable to the new theories [i.e., the new genetics as espoused by Mendel]

Chapter 10, page 330

The three movements [i.e., populism, anarchism, Marxism] shared a strong belief in science as the main source of social progress . . . All acknowledged the gigantic proportions of Darwin's contributions to modern science . . .

Page 378

Moscow University and St. Peterburg University, the country's leading institutions of higher education, were dominated by professors who established their reputations as defenders and poularizers of Darwinian ideas. . . . They had written almost all the best-selling university textbooks in zoology, which, without exception, helped them safeguard the superiority of Darwinian thought.

Page 386

Particularly during the early years of the 20th century, more Russian biologists were inclined to take Darwin's struggle for existence for granted than every before . . .

Pages 387-388:

Despite the multiple streams of criticism, his theory found strong support in Russian society. It became a powerful source of ideas that changed the course of science, the pulse of philosophy, and the meaning of culture. It gave man a renewed faith in the empirical anchorage of his most profound wisdom. It marked a victory for human reason, inductive method, empirical knowledge, and natural causation. It opened wide realms of nature and culture to scientific study and made a major contribution to the victory of a cosmic view detached from the fanciful world of metaphysical construction and mystical escapes.

The main point of contention between Marxian orthodoxy and Darwinian orthodoxy was NOT evolution, per se, or common descent, or natural selection. It was mainly the Malthusian doctrine of population growth: Darwin accepted Malthus at face value, while Marx rejected him.

See:

http://www.jstor.org/pss/4331148

Essay Review: Russian Darwinism

Todes's interpretation, emphasized in his title "Darwin without Malthus," demonstrates that a metahor or allusion that is powerful in one cultural setting may have entirely different overtones in another. The longstanding criticism of Malthusian views on overpopulation within the Russian intellectual community caused the strongest objections to Darwin. Evolution and natural selection, Todes argues, encountered no major barriers, but the "motor" driving natural selection, in the form of a rejected economic theory, decidely did.

"All right, class -- Alissa Rosenbaum, are you paying attention? -- your homework assignment is to read the first five chapters of Darwin's 'Origin of Species', and write a summary of the main ideas, noting especially where the theory of evolution is in agreement with the foundational ideas of our glorious Workers' Revolution, and where it differs from it completely, as in Darwin's support for the vicious economic theory implied by Thomas Malthus, with its uncontrolled population growth amongst the proletariat, and the Iron Law of Wages as a final result. Papers are due one week from today."

I'd say this scenario was not just plausible but likely.

Her having read Darwin in college would explain her distaste for the subject altogether in later life; i.e., she read it, she violently disagreed with it, but realized the risk of saying so publicly. Conversely, if she had never read it in her life, then it would have to be explained as an odd lack of curiosity in a field that someone like her with a wide-ranging mind would normally be very curious about: man's origins.

Brian, re David Deutsch

Ellen Stuttle's picture

Catching up to your #95662. I hope to catch up to other posts of yours eventually.

The Church-Turing thesis concerns the notion of an effective or mechanical method in logic and mathematics.

[You] David Deutsch, whom the article you linked to quotes, disagrees and once said to me that "having carefully read Turing, I disagree with all the mathematicians and historians of mathematics in the world, and believe that Turing meant his statement to be about nature."

When you say "David Deutsch [...] disagrees [...]," and "once said to you," when? In what circumstances did you have a conversation with him? (He's famous for being a recluse, among other characteristics.)

I'm hardly surprised he'd disagree. He's long been about the farthest-out physicist going. But what evidence did he cite, if any, as to what Turing meant?

Ellen

PS: I mis-stated in saying I hadn't read the current version of the article. I'd misread the pub year of the revision. I'll re-read the whole thing when I get a chance.

"free will" - Doug

Ellen Stuttle's picture

Answering just this question:

But why the scare quotes around "free will"?

For one reason, but far from the major reason, because Rand used same in Galt's Speech. Have you noticed that?

For a better reason, "free" of what? As she actually touches on in those entries, and as Locke discussed at length.

I don't use the term "free will" except in scare quotes, unless I slip. I use the term "volition" (not in scare quotes).

Looks as if you went straight for flaws in Merrill's article and missed all the significant historical discussion which I'd hoped you would find of interest.

Sigh.

Ellen

The more I read of Merrill, the worse he gets

Doug Bandler's picture

Merrill is very, very sloppy. He says this:

[Rand] perceives the essential threat to people as upsets in nature, not other people.

Huh?! Did he not read 'Atlas Shrugged'? Then there is this:

Rand's model of human society is based on sparse populations exploiting abundant resources...

Was America in the 1950s a "sparse population"? Was her experience in Soviet Russia with a populous society that was incapable of exploiting "abundant resources" because it was a slave state meaningless to her philosophy then?

Its an interesting piece but there is alot of garbage in there. I am not an Objectivist scholar and I can pick this apart. Merrill was not epistemolgoically strong; not by a long shot.

Yay!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Well, there are Merrill's three issues with the Objectivist ethics. Are they fatal to Objectivism? I don't think so.

Hurrah! At last you are beginning to stop panicking Doug. None of the stuff raised on this or any other thread has been "fatal to Objectivism." Not even remotely close.

Merrill's three issues for Objectivism

Doug Bandler's picture

I just read the Merrill essay. It is interesting and a good read. But I also think that Merrill is sloppy. Here are the three main issues he thinks an updated understanding of biology raise for the Objectivist ethics. My comments follow each.

1. The Objectivist ethics must deal with the importance of conflict and competition in crowded ecologies.

He accepts the concept of "externalities" here uncritically which I think is an error. "Externalities" are a bogus economic concept. IMO, Binswanger shredded them. But Merrill imples that Austrian economics has no answer for this. Again, I think this is wrong. Population density would not effect the productivity of a laissez-faire (LF) state. The reason is that every person (or at least the overwhelming majority of them) would be a value producer. There would be no looters and no moochers. Did Merrill understand LF economic theory?

The one thing he says here that I think is interesting is what if there were limited physical resources? That would not be a problem on earth as it is now. If, however, there were some geologic upheaval then that is a possible consideration. But I don't know if even that would affect the Objectivist ethics the way Merrill seems to imply that it might. I must admit that I find Merrill's suggestion that in high population densities the Objectivist ethics as currently formulated may break down to be odd. This seems to be accepting a Malthusian view of economics.

2. Modern biology asserts that human behavior, in those areas we characterize as moral, is partly or wholly instinctual. Therefore, how compatible is Objectivist morality with inborn human nature?

Well, there is your basic deterministic premise right there. Is human behavior in the moral area partly instinctual? Is it wholly instinctual? How could that ever be true? If it were, there would be no morality. We're back at determinism vs free will with the determinism in question being genetic determinism. I must admit I wrestle with this question myself. Merrill seems to be suggesting that humans are deterministic beings although he never explicitly says that.

3. The Objectivist ethics fails to offer any useful guidance for family formation. To explain how reproduction fulfills egoistic objectives presents a formidable challenge.

I have read this criticism of the Objectivist ethics about 5 times in the last year. I had never considered it. I think that Rand did not stress families in her philosophy or novels because they did not interest her. Perhaps that was a failure. But why rational egoism is not compatible with having children and families escapes me. Isn't it rational for a human to want to leave a legacy? I don't know but to me this objection is making a mountain out of a mole hill.

Well, there are Merrill's three issues with the Objectivist ethics. Are they fatal to Objectivism? I don't think so. Merrill is definitely worth reading and I am glad that some Rand influenced scholar addressed the issue of reconciling Rand and Darwin. IMO, there needs to be much more of this from Objectivist intellectuals.

Ellen

Doug Bandler's picture

Thanks for the link to the Merrill essay. I also found this:

http://rebirthofreason.com/Art...

They're pertinent to her process of forming her ideas about "free will."

Interesting comments on Rand's journal entry. But why the scare quotes around "free will"?

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