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Re: [philosophy-178] Evolution is not dead!

From: Jon G.
Sent on: Saturday, June 30, 2007 11:36 AM

If I assume that we can evolve physically, emotionally, socially, politically, spiritually, ?whateverually? - could I still be considered an evolutionist?


If you've got variataion & differential replication (non-random copying of information depending on that variation) then a lot of people will be happy to say you've got an "evolving" system. As mentioned, this includes Dawkins' "memes" (mentioned at the end of 'The Selfish Gene'), models of cultural evolution (Boyd & Richerson), meaning & semantics (Millikan) & some models of how languages spread.

Some people might insist on an undirected process, ie not "towards" anything or you get chucked out of the church...;-)

Hence if the environment made it more likely for the black moths to succeed, compared to the white moths. Do we assume that evolution was separate from ?intelligence? ? ie the white moths didn?t choose to go and find white flowers but continued to pitch on the trees. If so, then can the same be said of people?

ie  Is there a fundamental difference for the evolution of creatures which are self aware and those which are not??

Intuitive as it is to talk of the "evolution of creatures", possibly more productive is to get precise about what is evolving, what is the unit of selection? At least on this side of the Atlantic, the standard line follows Dawkins & says it is the gene that "succeeds" or doesn't, with "evolution" as change in frequency of the gene in the gene pool. For example, if you see a snake chances are you think "argh! quick run, a snake!" pretty instinctively, like all primates do. Now, yes of course we know snakes are dangerous, but in this case we didn't "work it out", we had an instinct and our genes didn't "know". It's that those people without that gene got bitten by snakes & didn't have babies.

 Now the fundamental difference from this point of view is beter phrased in that non-thinking creatures (am I allowed to say that? You know what I mean) are only the expression of an evolving set of gene frequencies. We "self-aware" things of course have thinking as well, so "what we are" is, yes, the product of blindly-selected genes, but also a brain that selects ideas, dreams, spirituality etc. This can interact with classic evolution (for example "it is noble to fight & die for your country" is pretty unlikely to be a concept we have genetically, more likely to have been selected for on a different "scale", but it could then actually help relatives carrying your genes to survive & reproduce) or indeed work against it ("contraception is good" is a pretty strong 'meme' in the West, yet would be a disastrously unsuccessful 'gene'). So see a car coming towards you & you think "argh! run, a car!" There aren't any be-scared-of-cars genes. What there are are genes that say "work out what is good and valuable and try & get more of that, and what is bad and dangerous & try & get less of that" Then comes the job of working out which things in life are good & valuable, and which are bad & dangerous. That's an easy one...hehe

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