Evolution- Observations and Beliefs

We all know the story physical life has built up slowly on this earth. Its diversity now ranges from prokayotes to individuals possessing self-conscious creativity.

Out of those that believe in some form of evolution who would take issue with the very rough account that follows?
Life has its beginning in water. Multi-cellular life makes its appearance. The atmosphere changes in such a way as to allow animal life to evolve. Living creatures emerge from the water, moving over the land and breathing the air. At some point plants also spread out of the water and colonised the land. With animals came sentience and the development of individual consciousness. Possessing four limbs provided mobility while also allowing further development which gave a stable means of supporting the body. Organisms can then evolve in which these limbs are in a position to hold the body clear of the ground. Sentience develops to the stage where animals not only possess various sensations but they can also consciously communicate their inner feelings to others and make sense of the communication of others. The latest novel attributes of life are self consciousness and rational thinking. Humans not only communicate feelings but we can communicate objective thinking and are the most creative beings on the planet. We also have a modicum of free will which can be continuously developed over time. My account is beginning to contain details which, if people have any interest, a few might deem worth challenging.

Now it gets more controversial.

From our studies and research we see that nothing is static, everything is in some form of motion. Polarity is a fundamental feature of existence and becoming. I believe that in the living world we can recognise two poles. These can be thought of as matter and spirit. The material consists of the physical composition of organisms. I regard eating as an example of a physical process and rational thinking is an example of a spiritual process. The body is in the domain of matter and the mind in the domain of spirit. It could be argued that everything comes from matter or everything comes from spirit, or they are two sides of one process, but it might pay to take the time to simply observe and to think about what we observe and to resist the temptation to make snap judgements. Regarding physical nature, according to Goethe, we cannot force Nature to give up her secrets but if we approach with the right attitude her secrets will be revealed to us.

The world of our experience is a world of relationships which is a world of polarities. As we know these include positive and negative, left and right, up and down, growth and decay, summer and winter, life and death, light and darkness, hot and cold, night and day, expansion and contraction, male and female, and on and on.

Our material bodies give us an awareness of being separate entities but we are united in our rational thinking. Features of the material pole are such things as bodies, multiplicity, the constrictive force of gravity and solidity. This is the world of our senses, the ever changing world of Hericlitus. On the side of the spiritual pole there is mind, unity, levity, unrestricted expanse, and light. This relates to the oneness as understood by Parmenides. Parmenides was looking back at a primal unity which he took to be the source from whence we have sprung, Heraclitus brings us down to earth with his astute observations of the surrounding world. This polarity in thinking can be seen again in comparing the thoughts of Plato with those of Aristotle. As in Raphael’s ‘The School of Athens’ Plato is pointing upwards towards the heavens and Aristotle has his hand depicted to represent a plane with the palm facing the earth. The Timaeus is concerned with creation from above and the Nicomachean Ethics deals with how we should live on earth. The polarity of past and future.

And looking to the future, the organisms that have the most control over their own individual destiny are humans. We humans have sense experiences in common with animals, but we alone have reason.

Life forms condensed and separated out of an aqueous environment. Today the more advanced life forms maintain an inner aqueous environment which is more isolated from and more independent of the outer environment. As Claude Bernard put it:

The stability of the internal environment [the milieu intérieur] is the condition for the free and independent life

Evolution is a path towards individual freedom. But in order to reach the stage where this freedom could be expressed the right balance between the two poles had to be maintained. Creatures which evolved in a one-sided,
exaggerated way in relation to the earthly pole would not become free in any meaningful way. They must remain bound to the earth. For example the dinosaurs in which the force of gravity had too big an effect could not progress any further in their evolution. Cetaceans rely on their water environment to become relatively free from the pull of gravity. They cannot escape from their lives under water.

From the spiritual pole, in relation to consciousness, the advanced life forms have a more concentrated, individual consciousness. For early more primal life consciousness was more instinctive and diffuse and was not focused within individual forms. Instinctive behaviour is shared consciousness in which organisms do not have any forms of self awareness. The progress from instinctive behaviour to individual learned behaviour is evidence of the concentration of consciousness into individuals.

Living forms are not just bags of chemicals, they are processes of becoming. Our age has instilled in us the concept of life as things. We talk of living beings and human beings as objects in space, when in actual fact we should be thinking in terms of living becomings and human becomings. Over and above existing as spacial beings we are beings in time. I am a process of a zygote becoming an embryo, becoming a child, becoming a man, becoming an old man. I am an instinctive individual, becoming a feeling individual, becoming a reasoning individual. So any self reflective being, (and I would say all of us here would claim to be such), can say to itself, “I am the past, the present and the future”.

To be a physical being is to live in the moment. To be a spiritual being is to live in the all. We share an animal nature in that we have desires. We have a spiritual nature in that we know and recognise that we have desires. We can rise above our desires in a way that animals cannot do. Like Goldilocks, the evolutionary path which has led to the form of the human has maintained the necessary balance. It is easy to point out many ways in which we humans are inferior to other species, but the reason that we have progressed this far by because we are average. We have arrived at this point via the middle path.

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81 thoughts on “Evolution- Observations and Beliefs

  1. This strikes me as entirely too human-centric. How about trying to tell the same tale from the point of view of, say, a sponge, or a tree? Make sure the sponge (or tree) regards itself as the pinnacle of evolution, focuses ONLY on itself and its history, and pretends nothing else really matters. After all, sponges (and trees) have been successful for far longer than primates.

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  2. Me last couple of sentences should have read:

    “It is easy to point out many ways in which we humans are inferior to other species, but the reason that we have progressed this far is because we are average. We have arrived at this point via the middle path.”

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  3. Flint:
    This strikes me as entirely too human-centric. How about trying to tell the same tale from the point of view of, say, a sponge, or a tree?Make sure the sponge (or tree) regards itself as the pinnacle of evolution, focuses ONLY on itself and its history, and pretends nothing else really matters. After all, sponges (and trees) have been successful for far longer than primates.

    How do you judge success? Which would you judge more successful, a human that remained at the infant stage for 70 years or a human that developed and aged normally?

    I will grant that sponges are more successful at remaining as they have always been. But humans have been more successful in evolving novelty.

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  4. … sponges are more successful at remaining as they have always been.

    IANAC* but I expect that the biochemistry of sponges shows evidence of change.

    But humans have been more successful in evolving novelty.

    (Is novelty is a goal of evolution?)
    Humans have S-shaped back-bones. Humans have very restricted birth-canals. Modern humans have too many teeth for such short jaws. Oi vey! Spare us from such novelty.

    * cnidarianologist

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  5. FYI, I found your second paragraph, the one you asked who would take issue with, to be a parody of earth history, though perhaps somewhat better than the rest.

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  6. The 1st paragraph was OK. After that it just melted into word salad. I think the problem may be revealed in this little slip:

    Evolution is a path towards individual freedom.

    NO! Evolution is NOT a ‘path’ to anywhere. NO, NO and NO.

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  7. Other issues aside, the part about 4 legs and mobility is off. Mobility in water does not need legs (flagellas, fins?). Mobility on land can involve 6 legs (insects), 8 legs (spiders, mites), dozens (centipedes), hundreds (millipedes), or none ,(worms, snails). The focus on 4 legs shows that the focus is on one lineage, headed for us, and presumably onwards and upwards. As others have said here, that’s not the story biology tells us.

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  8. There’s something deeper in the leg thing: bilateral symmetry. It enables numerous modifications by utilising the basic opposition: binocular vision, echolocation and other directional hearing, sensory fields and electric shock, a spare kidney, grasping prey, locomotion by wiggling side to side or up and down, or shifting weight alternately, or pulsing waves of motion in chaetae or millipede legs. I’m rather lukewarm on the idea that this arose as part of a specific trajectory to a biped with arms ending in opposable thumbs, perfectly designed for WhatsApp messaging.

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  9. quarrion:

    … sponges are more successful at remaining as they have always been.

    I Am Not A Cnidarianologist but I expect that the biochemistry of sponges shows evidence of change.

    Yes everything changes.

    But humans have been more successful in evolving novelty.

    (Is novelty is a goal of evolution?)

    It’s not just about goals. It’s about what is considered to be successful. Flint considers sponges to be more successful than primates. But if he believes that sponges and primates have a common ancestor in the distant past then they both have existed for the same amount of time in one form or other since that point of divergence. So where does the superiority lie?

    Humans have S-shaped back-bones. Humans have very restricted birth-canals. Modern humans have too many teeth for such short jaws. Oi vey! Spare us from such novelty.

    In the past I’ve been laid up for weeks with back problems. But there are people who never have any problems with their backs. So I attribute my back problems to be of my own making and I can see clearly how that would be so. The S shape gives it a good balance between the strength and flexibility needed to be able to absorb shocks. The spine of a horse is orientated horizontally and they seem to be able to bear loads without many problems.

    I don’t have a birth canal so that’s not a problem for me. And again all the troubles I have had with my teeth have been of my own making. I have never had to have teeth removed due to lack of space.

    We all have imperfections but most of us would rather have lived with these imperfections than to have never lived at all.

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  10. John Harshman:
    FYI, I found your second paragraph, the one you asked who would take issue with, to be a parody of earth history, though perhaps somewhat better than the rest.

    You will have to be more specific if you are looking for any sort of meaningful response.

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  11. graham2: The 1st paragraph was OK. After that it just melted into word salad. I think the problem may be revealed in this little slip:

    Evolution is a path towards individual freedom.

    NO! Evolution is NOT a ‘path’ to anywhere. NO, NO and NO.

    It wasn’t a slip. I said that what I was writing would be controversial. The interpretation of what I wrote depends on one’s views on spirit and if it has any reality outside of the material world. I believe in the polarity of matter and spirit and what I wrote is consistent with that.

    The route taken by a path does not have to be preordained. A river or an electric current will follow the path of least resistance. It can be diverted along the way.

    In my opinion individual human freedom is the most recent major evolutionary novelty during the evolution of life. You are welcome to provide counter examples.

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  12. Joe Felsenstein:
    Other issues aside, the part about 4 legs and mobility is off.Mobility in water does not need legs (flagellas, fins?).

    And this form of locomotion confines these creatures to the water. They cannot rise above their watery environment and live in the air. Amphibians are creatures that have moved up a level. They progress from water to air.

    Mobility on land can involve 6 legs (insects), 8 legs (spiders, mites), dozens (centipedes), hundreds (millipedes), or none ,(worms, snails).The focus on 4 legs shows that the focus is on one lineage, headed for us, and presumably onwards and upwards.As others have said here, that’s not the story biology tells us.

    As physical beings our bodies are expressions of the material and spiritual poles. the metabolic/limb system expressing the material pole and the head/ nervous system expressing the spiritual pole. Insects and other arthropods are one sided in the opposite direction to animals such as the dinosaurs I mentioned in the op.

    With their exoskeletons and segmented bodies they resemble the head/nervous system in which the nerves are shielded by the skull and vertebral segments. And they have become free from the effects of gravity to a greater extent than most other animals. But they do not have the ability to express inner feelings such as pain or joy. Apart from Michael Bentine’s flea circus, they do not show any signs of individuality. 🙂 Their nervous systems are more diffuse than our, with the head brain playing a less significant role. Getting its head chewed off does not stop the male praying mantis from copulating.

    Whatever story biology is telling, there is only one type of creature that can make any sense of it. Guess who. Everything else is too busy living moment to moment. Many people don’t seem to think that there is anything special about this fact.

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  13. Allan Miller:
    There’s something deeper in the leg thing: bilateral symmetry. It enables numerous modifications by utilising the basic opposition: binocular vision, echolocation and other directional hearing, sensory fields and electric shock, a spare kidney, grasping prey, locomotion by wiggling side to side or up and down, or shifting weight alternately, or pulsing waves of motion in chaetae or millipede legs. I’m rather lukewarm on the idea that this arose as part of a specific trajectory to a biped with arms ending in opposable thumbs, perfectly designed for WhatsApp messaging.

    The pentadactyl limb is worth looking at in more detail. Can anyone give an instance of this limb in any animal that exceeds the variety of uses that it can be put to as it exists in the form of the human forelimb? The wings of birds, marvellous though they are, have an extremely narrow range of uses. This is a good example of what I mean by one-sided development.

    But I find bilateral symmetry very interesting too. Especially the way that binocular vision allow us to experience the depth of the three dimensional world even though the image on our retinas is two dimensional. Who can forget the Magic Eye images that were all the rage a while back. It requires an act of will to focus the eyes at a point outwith the image, as in the image below

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  14. Charliem:

    polarity of matter and spirit …. blah blah

    This is all just white noise.

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  15. CharlieM: the head/ nervous system expressing the spiritual pole.

    My spiritual pole keeps losing hair at it’s most spiritual end. Does that indicate deficiencies in my spirituality?

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  16. CharlieM,

    Who can forget the Magic Eye images that were all the rage a while back

    I can’t see ’em. I have discovered more recently that I have a significant squint, so that’s probably why. My glasses now correct for it, but I wonder if I truly access the depth perception reported by my fellow humans. I can catch a ball, but can do so with one eye closed, so that’s no help in deciding. Mostly, my brain just ignores the input of my lazy left eye.

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  17. graham2:
    Charliem:

    polarity of matter and spirit …. blah blah

    This is all just white noise.

    Here Allan fails to distinguish and recognise the Statue of Liberty in the image. It is there in the image waiting to be seen. He admits that the fault lies with him and attributes it to slight defects in his visual system.

    You fail to see the distinctions between matter and spirit that I am talking about and so you put it down to ‘white noise’. Would you be prepared to admit that at least some of the blame might be yours for the failure to see anything worthwhile in what I have written?

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  18. Joe Felsenstein:

    CharlieM: the head/ nervous system expressing the spiritual pole.

    My spiritual pole keeps losing hair at it’s most spiritual end. Does that indicate deficiencies in my spirituality?

    Quite the opposite. Your quip is worth taking a more serious look at.

    In the op I wrote, “As physical beings our bodies are expressions of the material and spiritual poles. the metabolic/limb system expressing the material pole and the head/ nervous system expressing the spiritual pole.”

    The material pole has to do with the life forces of growth and regeneration and the spiritual pole has to do with forces of the mind such as thinking. The material pole is focused below the diaphragm plus the limbs and the spiritual pole is focused in the head. Looking at individual human development from pre-natal to adulthood, it can be seen from the proportion of a baby’s head relative to the body is far greater than in the adult. It grows less during development.

    The two poles are not isolated from each other. Both poles extend over the entire body.

    The life forces are most prominent up to adulthood and thereafter it begins to recede while the spiritual forces take precedence. The dermis and underlying muscle belong to the material pole, even the dermal covering of the skull. It is no surprise that with advancing age the skin loses its vitality and loss of hair regeneration is a sign of this. This is similar to how deciduous trees shed and regenerate their leaves yearly as the life force withdraws and expands in an annual cycle.

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  19. Allan Miller:

    CharlieM,

    Who can forget the Magic Eye images that were all the rage a while back

    I can’t see ’em. I have discovered more recently that I have a significant squint, so that’s probably why. My glasses now correct for it, but I wonder if I truly access the depth perception reported by my fellow humans. I can catch a ball, but can do so with one eye closed, so that’s no help in deciding. Mostly, my brain just ignores the input of my lazy left eye.

    i used to car share with a friend. We travelled about 18 miles to work using small back roads and he thought that every road was a race track. He developed an eye problem and on one occasion he appeared wearing an eye patch. I offered to do the driving but he wouldn’t hear of it. That was a journey home that was even more scary than usual.

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  20. Allan Miller:

    CharlieM,

    He admits that the fault lies with him 

    Steady on! I don’t choose to be cross-eyed!

    Take ‘with him’ to be shorthand for ‘within his visual system’

    You can ‘see’ that there is a distinct image but you just can’t ‘see’ it. 🙂

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  21. Looking at what we take in to our bodies with respect to the poles, I note the following:

    We take in food and drink through our mouths and it travels down to the stomach and intestines where it is transformed and enters into the body. Moving up a level, we take in air through the nose and mouth and it travels to the lungs where the oxygen enters the body. Even higher still we take in sounds and sights which are transformed and are transmitted to the brain.

    The lower inputs are sporadic and under our conscious control. The second are rhythmic and mainly unconscious but can be taken over consciously. The third set of inputs are constant while we go about our daily lives.

    Here we have the intricate functioning of the metabolic/ limb pole together with the head/nerve pole and the intermediate rhythmic system between the two. A trinity working in harmony.

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  22. Flint:
    This strikes me as entirely too human-centric. How about trying to tell the same tale from the point of view of, say, a sponge, or a tree?Make sure the sponge (or tree) regards itself as the pinnacle of evolution, focuses ONLY on itself and its history, and pretends nothing else really matters. After all, sponges (and trees) have been successful for far longer than primates.

    If a sponge had rational self-consciousness, it would tell the narrative of evolution in a way that privileged itself. But they don’t.

    The one thing that CharlieM is right about is that there’s something really quite distinct and interesting about rational self-consciousness and the capacity to construct testable explanations — including the theory of evolution itself.

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  23. Kantian Naturalist:

    Flint:
    This strikes me as entirely too human-centric. How about trying to tell the same tale from the point of view of, say, a sponge, or a tree?Make sure the sponge (or tree) regards itself as the pinnacle of evolution, focuses ONLY on itself and its history, and pretends nothing else really matters. After all, sponges (and trees) have been successful for far longer than primates.

    If a sponge had rational self-consciousness, it would tell the narrative of evolution in a way that privileged itself. But they don’t.

    The one thing that CharlieM is right about is that there’s something really quite distinct and interesting about rational self-consciousness and the capacity to construct testable explanations — including the theory of evolution itself.

    Yes, we are the one’s that tell the story because we are the only one’s with that capability. But it is not just one single attribute that gives us this ability. It is a combination of large brains, dexterity, communication skills through our vocal apparatus, visual apparatus and auditory apparatus, ability to memorise, to have forethought. All of these and probably more that I have omitted combine in such a way so that we become capable of these things. The combination and coordination of these multiple attributes have allowed us to progress far beyond mere survival.

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  24. CharlieM: Yes, we are the one’s that tell the story because we are the only one’s with that capability. But it is not just one single attribute that gives us this ability. It is a combination of large brains, dexterity, communication skills through our vocal apparatus, visual apparatus and auditory apparatus, ability to memorise, to have forethought. All of these and probably more that I have omitted combine in such a way so that we become capable of these things. The combination and coordination of these multiple attributes have allowed us to progress far beyond mere survival.

    Some of those are different aspects of the same, some are explained by others, and some different only in degree from what we see in other animals. In other words, there’s a lot of “padding” in this list of attributes.

    For example, all the great apes communicate (more by gesture than by vocalization), plan, remember, coordinate their activities, make inferences about what others intend to do . . . and all of them have massively large brains compared to all other animals.

    (Note: I am considering “massively large” in terms of total numbers of cortical neurons. Cetaceans have much larger brains than primates by volume and mass but individual neurons are larger so they don’t exceed overall number of neurons. Likewise elephants have huge brains but the bulk of their neurons are extra-cortical, in the cerebellum. I am stressing total number of neurons, rather than volume or mass, because it’s the number of neurons that determines computational capacity.)

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  25. Kantian Naturalist: If a sponge had rational self-consciousness, it would tell the narrative of evolution in a way that privileged itself. But they don’t.

    The one thing that CharlieM is right about is that there’s something really quite distinct and interesting about rational self-consciousness and the capacity to construct testable explanations — including the theory of evolution itself.

    This strikes me the same way Charlie’s rationalizations do. Yes, humans have unique abilities, and coincidentally enough we regard our unique abilities as something special and more worthy or remarkable. Oddly enough, we consider our special abilities to be somehow superior to the special abilities of sponges or trees, which we cannot emulate at all, but we see no compelling value in capabilities we lack (with some exceptions. People have always wanted to be able to fly, or breathe under water, etc.)

    I will admit that sponges aren’t equipped to find themselves “distinct and interesting”. Doesn’t mean they aren’t, of course, each in their own way.

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  26. Kantian Naturalist:

    CharlieM: Yes, we are the one’s that tell the story because we are the only one’s with that capability. But it is not just one single attribute that gives us this ability. It is a combination of large brains, dexterity, communication skills through our vocal apparatus, visual apparatus and auditory apparatus, ability to memorise, to have forethought. All of these and probably more that I have omitted combine in such a way so that we become capable of these things. The combination and coordination of these multiple attributes have allowed us to progress far beyond mere survival.

    Some of those are different aspects of the same, some are explained by others, and some different only in degree from what we see in other animals. In other words, there’s a lot of “padding” in this list of attributes.

    You are right. I was just listing them as they came into my mind.

    For example, all the great apes communicate (more by gesture than by vocalization), plan, remember, coordinate their activities, make inferences about what others intend to do . . . and all of them have massively large brains compared to all other animals.

    As they are the closest relatives of humans I’d expect them to have very similar attributes.

    (Note: I am considering “massively large” in terms of total numbers of cortical neurons. Cetaceans have much larger brains than primates by volume and mass but individual neurons are larger so they don’t exceed overall number of neurons. Likewise elephants have huge brains but the bulk of their neurons are extra-cortical, in the cerebellum. I am stressing total number of neurons, rather than volume or mass, because it’s the number of neurons that determines computational capacity.)

    Obviously cetaceans don’t have the dexterity of humans. If elephants had two trunks they would come closer to matching us in dexterity. The reason elephants don’t wear shoes is because with just a single trunk they find it too difficult to tie the laces. 🙂

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  27. CharlieM: You will have to be more specific if you are looking for any sort of meaningful response.

    Believe me, I have no expectation of a meaningful response. I merely offered you information: you expected there would be no complaint, and in that you are wrong, as I and several others have mentioned.

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  28. Flint:

    Kantian Naturalist: If a sponge had rational self-consciousness, it would tell the narrative of evolution in a way that privileged itself. But they don’t.

    The one thing that CharlieM is right about is that there’s something really quite distinct and interesting about rational self-consciousness and the capacity to construct testable explanations — including the theory of evolution itself.

    This strikes me the same way Charlie’s rationalizations do. Yes, humans have unique abilities, and coincidentally enough we regard our unique abilities as something special and more worthy or remarkable. Oddly enough, we consider our special abilities to be somehow superior to the special abilities of sponges or trees, which we cannot emulate at all, but we see no compelling value in capabilities we lack (with some exceptions. People have always wanted to be able to fly, or breathe under water, etc.)

    I will admit that sponges aren’t equipped to find themselves “distinct and interesting”. Doesn’t mean they aren’t, of course, each in their own way.

    I have not argued that all the attributes of other species are inferior to similar human attributes. For example the filtration abilities of sponges are excellent for purifying the oceans while we excel at polluting the oceans. Our uniqueness is not so much in excelling in single attributes, it is in our wide ranging abilities.

    Many other creatures have exceptional abilities but it comes at a cost. For example eagles have eyesight which is far superior to that of humans but they pay for it not only in the percentage of the brain that is taken up with vision but also their large eyes occupy a much greater proportion of their head leaving less room for a brain.

    And of course because of human ingenuity and creative skills, technology has produced equipment that allows us to see in far greater detail than any other vertebrate,.both at the very minute level and at vast distances

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  29. Neil Rickert:

    CharlieM: Many other creatures have exceptional abilities but it comes at a cost.

    Likewise, human abilities come at a cost.

    I don’t doubt it, but could you please give us an example or two?

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  30. I have not argued that all the attributes of other species are inferior to similar human attributes.

    What’s amusing here is, immediately after this claim you spend several paragraphs contradicting yourself. The other organisms are inferior, you list, because their abilities are costly, or because their abilities lack what you regard as a wide range, because they lack technology, because they lack ingenuity, etc. Gee, us people sure are superior to all other organisms, everything considered. And as Trump has so deftly highlighted, many of us consider ourselves inherently superior to various human out-groups as well – OUR group is richer, smarter, better educated, more law-abiding, less “unnatural”, or however else we wish to denigrate our inferiors (that is, people not quite like us).

    As far as I can tell, other organisms would not wish to trade with us. My cats, for example, do not have owners, they have staff. They exude disdain for and superiority to humans.

    And while we’re at it, I can’t help but notice (as you sort of do) that of all critters in nature, humans alone have mastered the art of trashing the entire planet and soiling the bed they must lie in. Ironically, the tools they are using to perform these evil acts are precisely those you and KN pride yourselves on. I believe that on evolutionary time scales, human-type intelligence will prove to be a deleterious mutation and will eliminate itself fairly soon. Hopefully soon enough so that all those inferior organisms can survive.

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  31. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.
    Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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  32. It is notable that the only organisms that set any store by high intelligence are those possessed of it. Unsurprisingly. Let’s have a show of hands among the rest of the biosphere … oh, you don’t have hands? Oh, dear …

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  33. CharlieM: Yes, we are the one’s that tell the story because we are the only one’s with that capability. But it is not just one single attribute that gives us this ability. It is a combination of large brains, dexterity, communication skills through our vocal apparatus, visual apparatus and auditory apparatus, ability to memorise, to have forethought. All of these and probably more that I have omitted combine in such a way so that we become capable of these things. The combination and coordination of these multiple attributes have allowed us to progress far beyond mere survival.

    But our greatest quality, the one that elevates us above all other organisms, is that noblest of virtues: modesty. Although we are undoubtedly gifted with superior intelligence and unmatched skills, we are reluctant to toot our own horn. Modesty is what allows us to focus on what is good, without being distracted by shallow superficialities. No other creature is even remotely capable of displaying this amazing quality.

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  34. Flint:

    I have not argued that all the attributes of other species are inferior to similar human attributes.

    What’s amusing here is, immediately after this claim you spend several paragraphs contradicting yourself. The other organisms are inferior, you list, because their abilities are costly, or because their abilities lack what you regard as a wide range, because they lack technology, because they lack ingenuity, etc. Gee, us people sure are superior to all other organisms, everything considered. And as Trump has so deftly highlighted, many of us consider ourselves inherently superior to various human out-groups as well – OUR group is richer, smarter, better educated, more law-abiding, less “unnatural”, or however else we wish to denigrate our inferiors (that is, people not quite like us).

    As far as I can tell, other organisms would not wish to trade with us. My cats, for example, do not have owners, they have staff. They exude disdain for and superiority to humans.

    And while we’re at it, I can’t help but notice (as you sort of do) that of all critters in nature, humans alone have mastered the art of trashing the entire planet and soiling the bed they must lie in. Ironically, the tools they are using to perform these evil acts are precisely those you and KN pride yourselves on. I believe that on evolutionary time scales, human-type intelligence will prove to be a deleterious mutation and will eliminate itself fairly soon. Hopefully soon enough so that all those inferior organisms can survive.

    It is meaningless to say that we are superior to any other living creatures and that is why I would never say that. But we can make certain observations. By physical comparison we would find it hard to claim any sort of superiority. Humans alone can be said to be evil. Animals cannot be held responsible in the same way.

    One thing that we do possess is the power to have a serious effect on the future of the planet.

    But with power comes responsibility, and we do have responsibility for our actions. Nobody blames rabbits for their detrimental effect on the native ecosystems of Australia. It is plainly our fault for introducing them. And it is the same with all other similar cases. Like no other creature, it is in our hands whether our interference is for selfish ends or if it is aimed at benefiting the future of the planet. And as we progress we become capable of producing an ever increasing effect on the well being of the planet.

    To say that we are just another animal amongst all the rest is to succumb to Nietzsche’s ‘danger of dangers’ the herd mentality. “Nothing is my fault. What can I do? Blame evolution! Why should I be expected to rise above my animal nature?”

    From the Basic Writings of Nietzsche:

    Here precisely is what has become a fatality of Europe – together with the fear of man we have also lost our love of him, our reverence for him, our hopes for him, even the will to him. The sight of man now makes us weary – what is nihilism today if it is not that – We are weary of man.

    By denying our individuality,’the herd will engulf all of mankind’ and this leads to nihilism.

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  35. DNA_Jock:
    For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.
    Douglas Adams,The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

    I watched that program faithfully when it was first aired and I enjoyed every minute of it.

    Maybe the smart thin to do would be to forget about everything else and just have a good time because we know that taking responsibility and acting selflessly is a hard road that will bring pain and suffering.

    Selfishness or selflessness, the decision on which way to go has been left to us as individuals. Life is never easy, ask a salmon that is trying to reach its spawning grounds. But it has no choice but to follow its instinctive nature.

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  36. Allan Miller:
    It is notable that the only organisms that set any store by high intelligence are those possessed of it. Unsurprisingly. Let’s have a show of hands among the rest of the biosphere … oh, you don’t have hands? Oh, dear …

    As an orangutan at the back stands up and says, ‘you talking to me’ and gives you the finger. 😉

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  37. Corneel:

    CharlieM: Yes, we are the one’s that tell the story because we are the only one’s with that capability. But it is not just one single attribute that gives us this ability. It is a combination of large brains, dexterity, communication skills through our vocal apparatus, visual apparatus and auditory apparatus, ability to memorise, to have forethought. All of these and probably more that I have omitted combine in such a way so that we become capable of these things. The combination and coordination of these multiple attributes have allowed us to progress far beyond mere survival.

    But our greatest quality, the one that elevates us above all other organisms, is that noblest of virtues: modesty. Although we are undoubtedly gifted with superior intelligence and unmatched skills, we are reluctant to toot our own horn. Modesty is what allows us to focus on what is good, without being distracted by shallow superficialities. No other creature is even remotely capable of displaying this amazing quality.

    Modesty is a trait of the individual. You don’t get a pride of lions praising the lioness who made the kill with her then looking down, turning slightly red and saying, ‘Oh! It was nothing’

    Humans have achieved this level of individuality not in spite of the rest of nature, but because the rest of nature has made it possible. We did not make ourselves into individuals, but through us nature has achieved individuality. We cannot claim the credit for what nature has achieved.

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  38. Charlie,
    I think you missed the point of Corneel’s post.
    You definitely missed the point of mine. Perhaps if you had heard the radio show, or read the book(s), you might have picked up on the philosophical point Adams was making — the phrase I bolded.
    By the time the TV show came along, they were pretty much just playing it for laughs.

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  39. CharlieM: As an orangutan at the back stands up and says, ‘you talking to me’ and gives you the finger.

    Call those hands?

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  40. DNA_Jock:
    Charlie,
    I think you missed the point of Corneel’s post.
    You definitely missed the point of mine. Perhaps if you had heard the radio show, or read the book(s), you might have picked up on the philosophical point Adams was making — the phrase I bolded.
    By the time the TV show came along, they were pretty much just playing it for laughs.

    No I didn’t miss the point. I knew the philosophy behind the program and that Adams and Dawkins were great friends. But one doesn’t have to believe in the philosophy to find the program enjoyable. Of course he was anthropomorphising by giving animals such as dolphins and mice human type thinking.

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  41. CharlieM: Of course he was anthropomorphising by giving animals such as dolphins and mice human type thinking.

    Brilliant!
    Way to make Adams’s point, if unintentionally.
    Adams was making fun of anthropocentric thinking, like thinking that digital wristwatches were cool, or humans were smarter than dolphins. From a dolphin‘s perspective, dolphin’s are smarter than humans.

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  42. DNA_Jock:

    CharlieM: Of course he was anthropomorphising by giving animals such as dolphins and mice human type thinking.

    Brilliant!
    Way to make Adams’s point, if unintentionally.
    Adams was making fun of anthropocentric thinking, like thinking that digital wristwatches were cool, or humans were smarter than dolphins. From a dolphin‘s perspective, dolphin’s are smarter than humans.

    One thing you will notice from the op is that I mention individuality quite a bit, and that’s important.

    I actually agree with the point Adams and you are trying to make. At the species level, the group level, most other species are smarter than us humans. But I’m not comparing group intelligence. The uniqueness of humans is in our individuality.

    Notice that all the dolphins left us to it. There were no doubting Thomases who stayed behind, no dolphin who had been living the life of a hermit, and so was unaware of earth’s impending destruction, no dolphins who thought they would be safe because the great whale in the sky would save them. What they had was group intelligence and so they left en masse.

    A digital watch is as cool as the designer who fashioned it. But they are also cool in the technology that went into making them possible. Do you remember driving about in cars that would never start, you had to pull the choke out and there was always a danger of flooding the engine. Crunchy gears and a couple of analogue gauges. Now our cars start and stop automatically to save fuel, we touch screens to get any amount of information, we can speak to the car and it will reply.

    This is all down to individual human ingenuity. The reason that we perform so poorly as a species is because we are all individuals with our own personal agendas. And to overcome the chaos that we cause we need to cooperate with each other. But this has to be an individual decision. By becoming individuals we no longer have the luxury of the group wisdom that we see in other species.

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  43. Allan Miller:
    Lemmings

    An interesting read.

    The lemming said:

    “You human beings are always astonished,” said the lemming, “when any other animal can do anything you can. Yet there are many things animals can do that you cannot, such as stridulate, or chirr, to name just one. To stridulate, or chirr, one of the minor achievements of the cricket, your species is dependent on the intestines of sheep and the hair of the horse.”

    I notice the lemming doesn’t mention that it can’t do that either. And it seems to make a distinction between humans on the one hand and animals on the other. If it includes itself in a group in which some can stridulate, then shouldn’t it also include itself in the group where some of its members kill and mangle.

    My wife gives a very good rendition of “dueling banjos” by snapping her fingers which I would say is equivalent to strdulating.

    And when it says, “You kill, you mangle, you torture, you imprison…” and so on. it is not addressing the scientist personally. I’m sure the scientist has done none of those things. In fact the scientist might be part of a team that is studying lemmings in order to ensure their continued existence.

    The lemming is only interested in pointing out the bad points of the species as a whole, it is not interested in good that has come from the cooperation of individuals. And it is only through individual effort that we can overcome the many bad traits we clearly have.

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  44. CharlieM: This is all down to individual human ingenuity. The reason that we perform so poorly as a species is because we are all individuals with our own personal agendas. And to overcome the chaos that we cause we need to cooperate with each other. But this has to be an individual decision. By becoming individuals we no longer have the luxury of the group wisdom that we see in other species.

    For someone so keen on individuality, you use an awful lot of “we”.

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