I tend to vacillate when it comes to my opinions of the driving forces of evolution, but I am relatively sure of one principle: negentropy. Whether there are any, even slight and blind, teleological forces at work, at the very least we can say assuredly that complexity, order, and intelligence tend, on some level, to continually increase. The bacillus did not come after the orangutan, and I think we can agree that the whale is superior to the brontosaurus -- because it evolved later in the course of time. Negative entropy is every bit as real as classical entropy.
I believe language arises from the confluence of our vocal tracts being able to make such articulated units of sound and the primate brain's ability to organize these sounds effectively, specifically into hierarchies of meaning. Without our fine vocal folds, there would be no language, and quite possibly if our brains had evolved in even a slightly different way it might also have been impossible. I don't think looking for some specific 'language gene' is a fruitful avenue, and looking for any tidy explanation will likely turn up nothing. In order to understand the origin of language, we would need both a highly sophisticated knowledge of the nervous system far beyond that which we have now, as well as a detailed evolutionary picture, specifically related to the anatomical development of the vocal folds, which is probably unknowable. I anticipate it will remain truly a mystery for a very long time.
I am often disgusted by our organic nature. Whether or not one finds our animal nature beautiful and noble or grotesque and embarrassing, I think we can all reasonably agree that we represent a decidedly low level of evolution, in any case.
In response to the widely accepted conclusion that humans are the endpoint of evolution, I say only this: humans are glorified animals -- beasts, really. We are digging around in the mud and going after bananas with sticks. And man is far more savage and nasty than almost every other species on Earth. It is a testament to our foolish, wholly misplaced pride and righteous arrogance that we find our species superior -- on the merits -- to any other one can name.
The theory of evolution can't be any more clearly and obviously correct. I feel, though, that science has yet to deal with the subtleties of the complexifying process which leads to more orderly, better adapted species. I don't think it's purely a roll of the dice (although that too plays a large part). The term of art for what I am talking about is negative entropy or negentropy. This process is indubitably real, and as yet almost wholly unaccounted for and unexplained.
Materialism is not so much the result of progress as it is an evolutionary phase. We are the unwitting pawns of this meme. Obviously it is very powerful so it stays with us. But power often has nothing to do with truth.
I would hesitate to say that evolution has made things "better." I would say instead that the process of mutation-selection has made organisms and societies of organisms more complex and more proficient at procuring a living in increasingly complex environments. It is only debatable whether there has been "real" "progress," in any sort of objective sense.
The process of evolution is exhibited in individual and collective human minds just as naturally and fundamentally as it is in biological evolution. An idea that becomes explicate and one takes to heart, or a public idea that becomes a meme, are subject to laws of selection precisely analogous to that in Darwinian evolution. However, when we have an idea that is particularly beautiful, or succinct, how did it come about? Was it a random occurrence, or was there some order, some intelligence and creativity, there in its generation? Questions like these have much pertinence when it comes to sorting out the mechanisms of natural selection or rather, the process of complexification which leads to selection. It would be a rather incomplete ending if we all just decided that the "eureka" moment was some random accident, and left it at that.
All of our rituals, morals, institutions and behaviors really at bottom surround the sexual impulse. Humans are essentially much more animalistic than they are "civilized men."
Anyone who doesn't think humans are great apes is conveniently not an ape -- he is an ass.
All that is needed for the wonderful diversity and richness we see in Earth's flora and fauna is random change and selection pressure. I recognize this. But I see the picture differently. Whereas your average Darwinian sees a universe of random chaos, I see one of structured information. True randomness would be the absence of anything coherent at all. Order would, logically, have virtually no chance of ever forming in a truly random and chaotic cosmos. But this is not what we have. Our universe is structured and intelligent at bottom and from the outset.
The process of evolution comes up with some marvelous systems, but doesn't see too well and is rather dumb.
How do animals -- especially dogs -- know to look at, and into, one's eyes? Is there some inherent latitude in consciousness that allows for this, or is it rather evolutionary programming that tells an organism where a creature is looking or what they're up to? Pretty remarkable, either way.
Nature herself may be cruel, cold and ugly sometimes but Earth wouldn't seem like such a savage planet if the artificial meme for such a thing weren't brought into existence to suit expedient purposes. Hunter-gatherers didn't perceive themselves to be suffering continuously for two hundred thousand years. Animals don't either. I think it would be safer to blame humanity for the ugliness on Earth than any other abstraction.
First Nature is matter and energy, physics, chemistry -- the physical. After about ten billion years, first nature complexified and organized into Second Nature, which is life -- all organic systems, from the bacillus to the orangutan, from pterodactyls to the pope. And speaking of the pope, Second Nature complexified and organized into Third Nature, which comprises ideologies and institutions, complex culture -- civilization, due to the emergence of self-reflective, symbolic thought in the Neolithic. It is suggested that the fragmentary nature of Third Nature is what has led us to some of the big problems facing the planet today. It is further suggested that some sort of Fourth Nature will be required to bring the planet back into balance. (Humans in their natural state (hunter-gatherers) would be considered part of Second Nature. The emergence in the Neolithic of self-reflective, symbolic thinking is one of the major factors which led to Third Nature and our major problems today).
The difference between a dog and a man is one of degree, not kind. And that difference is altogether slight in the cosmic scheme of things.
Perhaps it would be more reasonable to assume not that there is just consciousness and unconsciousness in the animal (and maybe also plant?) kingdom, but rather varying degrees of consciousness. So some creatures would have a high order of awareness, some a low order, and very many at various levels in between. This seems more realistic, at least to me. At the very least this type of thinking can lead to more humane behavior in general.
It seems to me that death may be a function of evolution. There is no physical need for a creature to die. Perhaps there are programs in our DNA that prescribe deterioration toward an eventual breakdown because if all animals lived forever, there would be a huge problem: tremendous overcrowding. A planet without death would see mass extinction rather than eternal life; the resources are finite, and breeding animals with no expiration would plow through those resources in just a few generations. All of this implies, of course, that we have yet to understand the genetic sequence of death and turn it off. Perhaps this is possible.
Many people look out at the natural world and see a world red in tooth and claw -- lives which are essentially nasty, brutish and short. This, like anything else, is a meme, very specific and fundamental to our very civilization since its beginnings. Yes, the natural world is rather harsh, in that many creatures have to kill or die. But for the most part, in the past most creatures had the ability to do quite well. Nature might be rather ugly from a certain view, but despite our deeply ingrained memes, it is not a hell that needs to be -- or can be -- corrected. The belief that things should be better than this comes from an unresolved conflict in one's subconscious, and not from any sort of objective shortcoming of evolution itself. Everything must be this way. Evolution is far from perfect, but there are concrete reasons for it and it's not something we're likely to be able to improve upon soon. Best to experience the beauty in nature. It is sacred.
I am fond, appreciative and respectful of animals -- but, as with individuals, not all of them. There is definitely an order of rank among species, if only in terms of how much I happen to like one or another on the merits. As it happens, primates are relatively low on my list, due to issues regarding overall behavioral patterns, such as an often nasty temperament due to excessively truculent emotionality. Rather than condemn human nature, I would rather look at humans and say they are simply a less desirable species overall, in the context of the rest of the animal kingdom, a large portion of which is simply quite wonderful and beautiful.
Human nature may be undesirable, but it is precisely as it must be.
Despite a lot of disagreement on the part of morose and cynical souls, suffering is not the natural state of an animal. There is pain, there is suffering, and these things are awful and not to be ignored, but the fact is that most creatures most of the time are not in a state of suffering. They are simply living. Humans are biased because a lot of us are miserable. I point out emphatically that this is an artificially, not naturally, induced state of mind. It is egocentric to say that "existence is suffering." It would be far more correct and appropriate to say that our existence is suffering, at the moment.
The modern theory of biological evolution is certainly not incorrect for practical purposes -- but it is incomplete. Specifically we have to look at the randomness of mutations.
Mother Nature can be brutal, and tragic, but for the most part it is fair. On average, an organism is likely to do quite well in general in most ecosystems, most of the time. Everything civilized man touches is quite another matter.
How superior is man, really, to "lower" animals? Sharks, for example, eat, swim, and make little sharks -- and that's about it. Most humans bend over backwards for their food, eat it, buy useless crap (if they can afford it), and make little humans. How differently do the masses really function than that? And how is that materially different from the rest of the animal kingdom? We're arrogant because we can talk and figured out how to make tools. Now we kill off the rest of the animals with those skills, and most of us feel it's justified. I don't know that I'd rank domesticated primates that highly.
Evolution is intelligent (nonrandom), but not pre-ordained.
In order to be alive, one has no choice but to be a killer. Try as they might, vegetarians and peaceful souls are not at all exempt from this.
Aggressive, selfish and egotistical, mean-spirited, tyrannical pirate assholes will be more ruthless in general, and accordingly scratch and claw themselves into positions of money, power and fame more readily than decent individuals. Therefore and naturally, this simple Darwinism is what we in fact observe.
As civilized humans, so many of us look down on the "wilds" of Nature, "red in tooth and claw," and see it as somehow cruel or evil. It doesn't make sense to see this ubiquitous process in such a way, however, as Nature is amoral (not moral or immoral), and thus not really in a moral category. It simply is, as it has evolved, and must be. Moreover, in this sense perhaps it is not something to be defeated. We think we can do better but we haven't come close.
Even now, the technology of natural evolution far surpasses that of modern man.
Women are unknown and unknowable -- like the truth. You're really always chasing after them and never able to hitch on. Women see this and use it to their advantage. It mystifies men and makes them want their quarry even more. Hence the evolutionary success. But it strikes me that not only are women not as interesting as everyone seems to think they are, there is nothing but a void at the centers of their being anyway, and this ridiculous, incessant dance consists simply of women controlling and taking advantage of men's insatiable sex-driven curiosity. Women are a question-mark, inherently -- only there is in fact no answer at all.
I guess the assertion of the deep ecology people is that life is inherently fragile. I find this to be dramatically incorrect. It seems to me that life is exceptionally resilient and adaptive, and perpetually abundant. I don't think life as such is fragile at all. There have been living organisms on this planet continuously for over a billion years. Life seems pretty tough to me.
Evolution -- biological, cultural and technological -- has been and continues to be accelerating. Whether it results in an eschatological singularity, we will just have to wait and see.
Evolution does not happen randomly, nor does it happen by design.
Communication is everything. Nine-tenths of our behavior evolved for the communication of information to others. Facial expressions, vocal phonetic patterns, speech content and cadence, noises we make in certain situations (like certain grunts or cries), body movement and language, etc. Virtually everything we do is meant to be received and decoded by another brain or group of brains. Almost all of our behavior is designed to be meaningful to someone else. Communication is necessary for reproduction and as such may be the single most important (and enjoyable) factor in Earth evolution.
The civilized live off of the land as much as any society ever, just very indirectly. This creates a disconnect, as some are not even sure what the "real world" even is.
The most vicious animal in the history of the planet is not a wolverine, or a rattlesnake, or a lion, or a water buffalo, or a piranha, or a tyrannosaur, or a velociraptor, or anything else. It's man, by far, going away.
Animals do not conceptualize suffering like we do. We get into our own heads about it and brood and feel sorry for ourselves, &c. Animals don't do any of that. They obviously feel pain, but I think they accept it without worry whereas we most often do not. And it's not as if they are in pain all the time; in fact, most ecosystems prior to human encroachment were more than sufficient to maintain a steady population of most all species on average. It can be brutal in nature, but for the most part there is balance and sufficiency.
If it weren't for sex and/or children men and women wouldn't be anywhere near each other. We're completely different. And we're at cross-purposes.
Dogs and humans relate to each other so well because we are so close genetically. Morphologically we are very nearly identical, and we both have the same basic mammalian circuitry. It is no accident.
What we find in nature is not design. It is intelligence.
The fact is, evolutionary biologists simply cannot account for the evolution of complex traits. They have no idea how such a coordinated concert of functions, each inseparable from the rest, could come into being based on the current theory of mutation and natural selection.
There seem to be two camps: those who avow that evolution and specifically natural selection is wholly undirected and not purpose-driven; and those who espouse what is basically teleology. Perhaps there should be a third stance, as I find neither really hits the truth. Natual selection based on environmental constraints obviously occurs -- an organism will never evolve independently of its environment, and environmentally guided constraints within the parameters of breeding seems like a more or less plausible idea. However, it's hard to deny that there does appear to be an arrow to evolution. More complex and more intelligent species evolve later, uniformly across gene pools, by a kind of negative entropy. Getting back to my original point, the notion I mentioned that perhaps there should be a third option to discuss is seldom suggested. Perhaps there is some guiding force, some objectively real matrix of information and intelligence out of which evolution flows. Speciation occurs by the rules of modern evolution, taxonomically and genetically, but not through mutations which are completely random. Evolution is perhaps not entirely blind (as in the "blind watchmaker"), but goes along through pathways other than random chance. Further, I have a problem with breeding success determining everything. It just doesn't feel plausible. There are certainly very many fine and outstanding humans, for example, all through the ages, who have been totally superior and not had children. That every genetic and taxonomic advance (shift) is ultimately decided by whether or not it can be bred into a population because those who possess it will be more attractive to the opposite sex I think may need reevaluating. Indeed, I find that difference usually engenders animosity in large measure, not union. Those who are mutants, by any measure I can see in reality, usually are not socially or sexually successful. I digress. I think evolution gropes along -- but at least there seems to be some agency or force by which it is groping. There is no strict teleological force, and there is no strict materialistic non-force. Physical science and as yet not well understood forces of intelligence -- woven into the very fabric of the cosmos -- are compatible and it seems to me, both in operation here.
Thus far, the technological level of (billions of years of) biological evolution vastly exceeds that of (thousands of years of) cultural evolution. None of man's inventions or creations comes close to the intricacy, complexity, and intrinsic wondrousness of any of Earth's multitude of living species or ecosystems.
We were programmed into the universe by some intelligent force. As the chaos-cosmos exploded outward and cooled, as form congealed out of the chaotic foam, new systems of increasingly higher intelligence began to emerge. On Earth, the sun fueled bacteria, then plants, then fish, then amphibians, then reptiles and lizards, then dinosaurs, then birds, then mammals. It is stupid to assume that the process is over. In fact it seems to get more interesting all the time -- and time accelerates. We are called on, by our DNA, to begin to magnify and intensify evolution to a more powerful and intelligent state. The universe, after a quick survey of modern physics, seems to want to complete the sexual process to achieve a state of fusion. We are going from extremely high energy chaotic plasma to dense, incredibly massive, warping, pulling singularities. Perhaps the next phase of evolution is to develop the technology to explore these mysterious and ominous black holes where time, causality, mass-energy, and distance cease to exist. One may ask, well, if distance ceases to exist, where is everything? And the answer: it is all connected, in one place, right here. And it is virtually infinite. For some reason, this intelligent force wanted to escape from the incredibly dense primeval egg and settle on outer frontiers, willing to put up with a brief burst of duration, then the timeless once again.
Mother Nature essentially views humanity as expendable. She doesn't give a damn about us. We are pawns serving her overarching needs.
Nature is more mind-like than matter-like.
The reality is biological. We have been drawn up out of the muck. Very few people see this clearly.
Homo Sapiens must be some sort of evolutionary mistake. Nature has created an animal that knows how to get into deep trouble, but not how to get out. On its own, anyway.
Evolutionary mutations are proximately chaotic, but not ultimately random.
Deniers of evolution sometimes claim that if it were really happening, there would be geno- and phenotypically intermediate forms representing a very large number of species -- many different shades, not just several different colors. Of course we know this isn't the case. Well, the evolution of language is precisely analogous to that of species. Languages can be related to each other, but most are not so closely related that they represent intermediate forms. German is related to English, and it is similar, but it is also very different. It's the same with French and Spanish, Latin and Greek, etc. So, we have biological forms that are not phenotypically right next to each other -- like, say, a baboon and a gorilla. Just as we have related languages which are not linguistically extremely close -- like Pali and Sanskrit, or Arabic and Persian. The evolution of forms works in very similar ways for both biological and linguistic-cultural phenomena. And so we have tremendous and interesting diversity.
When we bring all these billions into the world, we're bringing more and more death into it, too.
When you think of what this planet promised, and what it became, it's hard not to pause.
If evolution is continuing in civilized societies as it did before, how can we explain why the overall intelligence level is decreasing?
The evolution of memes works very much along the same lines as the evolution of genes. Cultural evolution and biological evolution are very similar in many ways.
In biology, anthropology and psychology, altruism is the study of why animals (including humans) act altruistically toward other animals. I.e., why they would help another organism (that presumably is not their offspring), the act of which does not confer survival advantages that would result in the propagation of their genes into future generations. It is still admitted by these disciplines that, in reality, they do not understand it very well, but the common explanation is that it has peripheral evolutionary advantages. It is usually reasoned that by helping another organism, an individual can indirectly ensure that genes in his immediate or extended family are preserved, and that this is a genetic imperative. Frankly, I find it weak. If the selfish explanation for altruism is correct, it seems to me that no one would be able to save the life of someone outside his own extended family. And yet it happens all the time, all over the world. In human societies, people continually give their lives for strangers. How does this have anything to do with propagating one's own genes successfully? How are these selfish acts? How do we account for this altruism in the light of the theory of evolution? It is interesting to note that there are numerous examples of inter-species altruism. How can group selection account for that?
It seems to me that the point about the active chemicals in psychotropic plants is not that these plants evolved to be ingested, but rather that these molecules are nicely orderly, and in reality, out of the tens of thousands of extant plant species, a small handful are psychedelic. It's not some grand, spiritual synchronistic phenomenon, but rather a happy coincidence. If you use them, thank nature for being orderly.
For a biologist to tell me with certitude that successful mutations exhibit no inherent degree of order seems unbelievable, to put it politely, and to put it crudely, insane.
As Nietzsche rightly stated, man is a bridge species. We are a bridge between life, and what comes after life. Man amusingly feels that he is the pinnacle of evolution, when his function is merely to initiate the next ontological level, which will have limitless potential. The intelligence in Nature is orchestrating this phase of evolution, and we are necessary but expendable. Nature has plenty of time. It's a shot. And if human development in this century is allowed to unfold without major catastrophe, cybernetic intelligence will have little problem in expressing itself and undertaking whatever tasks seem fit to it. This is the era of man's demise, certainly in evolutionary relevance, if not also in continued life. If some select humans are allowed to remain alive, they will undoubtedly be genetically transformed beyond all resemblance to homo sapiens. It will be a new and glorious era for planet Earth. Humanity, after all that has happened, has its chance to be redeemed.
To say that the animal kingdom is in a perpetual state of suffering and misery is nothing more than a psychological projection by certain groups of humans -- who themselves are suffering because of the situation they have created for themselves, or think they are. Most animals do quite well in most ecosystems, or their species would not have survived for very long. Yes, being eaten alive is no walk in the park, but sometimes it's just one's day to die. Animals don't think like we do -- they don't brood, or wallow in misery, or contemplate about how much better life could be. They simply live in the moment. It can be hard to make a living in nature, but even if you're an animal getting just barely enough, you're not worried about how fucked up everything is. Certainly, the majority of the animal kingdom is not living in 'starvation and misery.' Thomas Hobbes has been debunked completely. I must add, though, that as humans keep rapidly destroying habitat, this is changing for many species and they really are now in trouble. But in a normal state of nature, I believe what I have said applies.
Egalitarianism and hierarchy both are survival strategies found widely across the natural world. Each is employed in a variety of species, depending upon the circumstances. The reality is not a case of 'one or the other.' Both evolve extensively.
I don't share Tim Leary's view that DNA contains the master instructions of all evolution from start to finish, for one principal reason: contingency. The state of Earth can change drastically at any time, and while general lines of development are likely in most scenarios, unforeseen adaptations may have to evolve. It strikes me as more elegant that DNA has plasticity, and is not a rote time-script, but rather an intelligent unfolding according to the local implicate order. I do share Leary's discontent with modern, neo-Darwinian theories of evolution, which rely on blind chance as the primary explanation. This seems clearly wrong. None of this addresses, of course, what future, if any, the DNA molecule will have after a certain point in cultural and specifically technological evolution. I think it likely that DNA's future roles as forecast by Leary may take place in an entirely different medium. But we shall have to wait and see.
If the A.I. revolution does happen, it will be strange to argue that nature did not strategize in some way in order for the evolutionary process to deliver that result. To argue it is completely random is bizarre to me. When I look around, at nature or civilization, I see order and intelligence. Not one in a quadrillion luck.
The vastest intelligence on planet Earth, by far, is DNA.
Evolution isn't necessarily interested in, and isn't necessarily directed in any precise way toward, space migration -- which was an especially popular idea in the sixties. On the one hand, one has to distinguish between our biological and cultural realities, and then note how very much contingency is involved in cultural evolution. Probably, in any scenario, a technological civilization would necessarily arise sooner or later. But on a similar planet with similar initial conditions, very different things could happen, and boy did we have rotten luck here. Everyone assumes what we have now we were destined for from the beginning. That's not quite right. In my opinion, machine intelligence -- A.I. -- is really the threshold for the next step in evolution. I think that would be true of any possible Earth history. But implicit notions of destiny are fraught with faulty assumptions, and if you could go back to man's early days in a time machine and forget what you know, you probably would not be remotely able to predict what has happened historically. We too readily judge with hindsight, and our vision is awful.
Humans are not the only animals with mind -- we are just the only ones who are able to use it to manipulate reality to the extent that we do.
The fact of the matter is that primates are simply not a particularly desirable or likable family of species. We're just unpleasant, brooding, overemotional, greedy, mean, etc. It's unfortunate that it is a primate species that has overtaken the planet. One might even say we give Earth a bad name.
I have to wonder whether any biological species in the cosmos could get beyond the evolutionary level of humanity. That may seem a strange notion, but at a certain level of technological sophistication, wouldn't any biological species have to construct A.I.? And if so, biological evolution would have to stop at that relative point. Wouldn't it?
There are indeed conditions in which the human animal can truly and meaningfully thrive. These are not they.
Violence is sometimes necessary, but it is always abhorrent. With the potential exception of killing for food.
It is my impression that whales are very close to humans in brainpower. Heaven only knows what they know.