Archives for posts with tag: evolution

Existence takes place ‘inside’ while things happen in-between.

Survival is a matter of preserving, ‘as is’, what already exists while evolution is about change and might involve ‘dismissal’.

Everything may survive while only ‘living’ things are capable of evolving on their own.

At some point, evolving organisms became complex enough to ‘feel’.
Not only complicated enough to react in an orderly – a.k.a. pre-programmed, manner but also to generate emotional reactions – which can be remembered, when certain things happen in their vicinity. Things which are important for the survival of the feeling organisms. As a consequence of the ‘feeling’ process, data regarding the happened occurrences are stored by the feeling organisms as information. Which information may help the organism in its struggle to survive. Using that information, that organism might become a ‘better version’ of itself.

At a further point in the evolution of ‘things’, organisms have added another layer of complexity.
They have become complex enough to ‘think’. As in complex enough to attempt to maximize the effects of the information they have at their disposal.

That was when ‘facts’ had been identified as being ‘things’ which had had consequences, when data had been identified as being information and when the thinkers had discovered that thinking was driven by sentiment.

Which sentiment is nothing but an evolution of the ‘survival instinct’.
Present in any living organism.
Which survival instinct is nothing but the living equivalent of something the physicists have identified as inertia.

Go figure….

While everything mentioned above is absolutely true, we must also remember that it was the whites – who had first reached the ‘proper stage of development’, who had given up slavery and invented ‘human rights’.
On the other side, it is also true that the whites did reach the ‘proper stage of development’ by exploiting the rest of the world.
Only ‘this’ wasn’t invented by them! I don’t want to go into the finer details. All of you know, very well, what had really happened ‘on the ground’.

So.
What are we going to do next?

‘Delete’ everything the white people have contributed only because they have been the last to exploit the rest of the mankind?

Or accept the fact that evolution works in an oblique manner?

Culture is to human communities what DNA is to biological species.

It transports vital information from one generation to the other. Hence providing a venue for survival.
Furthermore, both culture and DNA can change in time. Hence providing a venue for evolution.

The difference between culture and DNA being, of course, the fact that culture is way more fluid than DNA.
DNA changes only once for each generation – what you get at birth is what you’re taking to the grave, while culture is in constant flux.
No individual organism has anything to say about their genetic information but almost every human is capable of learning almost anything.

Now for the historical part.

Stage one.

Veneration of the elders. The elders were the depositories of the common knowledge. Hence everybody took good care of the ‘data bases’.

Stage two.

Somebody learned to write.
Elders were no longer indispensable. More and more information could be ‘warehoused’ in alternative ways.
A structure was needed to manage the new ways of dealing with the vital information.

Stage three.

The state is born.
At first the structures which insured that culture was passed from one generation to another had been rather empiric: kingdoms, monasteries, etc.
Soon after the Enlightenment things had become more rational. Cultured people became nations and the academic scholars gave us the state. As the structure charged to make sure that culture and people stay together. Hence providing for the nation’s survival.

States who had been in constant contact – read rivalry, kept each-other fit. Or else.
States ‘removed’ from reality – geographically, by becoming too powerful to care or both, had experienced a natural decay. The people at the top of the food chain had forgotten about those at the bottom and those at the bottom had lost faith in their leadership.

States too weak to survive – for various reasons, have succumbed while those too powerful for their own sake have eventually imploded.

Psychology to the rescue.

Culture is more fluid than DNA for a reason.
DNA follows exclusively the laws of nature while culture is heavily influenced by us.
We, men, are the measure of all things.
All life heavily transforms the place it inhabits.
So do we, humans. Only we do it willingly. On purpose, that is.

Now, that we have amassed so much information – about life in general and about how we relate, as agents, to the entire process, we have reached a reckoning moment. What next?

Are we going to choose the path of the cuckoo or that shown to us by Hokule-a?

There is no such thing as a soul?
OK, then how do you explain what happened the last time you encountered a soul-less person?
You didn’t?
Good for you only I have my doubts.

Either a divine gift or an emanation of the human mind, soul is what separates us from the animal realm.

Or this is how we see things…

After all, we are the ones who believe it is normal for us to eat animals and who consider it a tragedy for one of us, humans, to ‘return to nature’. In any circumstances…

Anyway, things are complicated… Until recently – historically speaking, some of us were comfortable with the notion that skin colour determines the ‘quality’ of one’s soul. Caucasian plantation owners used black slaves to work their land and Arabian rulers used ‘white flesh’ to adorn their harems…

Further complications spring up when we consider the fate of the soul.
Is it going anywhere after it’s ‘host’ passes away? To some other place? Does it come back to fulfill its Karma?
Or it literally goes to meet its Maker? As in ‘for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Genesis 3:18)’?

And when does this soul appears in earnest?
The moment when we leave the womb? A few years later, during the process through which we become conscious human beings?
Or, as some people choose to believe, in the very moment when each of us has been conceived by their parents?

As an aside, what about those conceived in a lab? Do they have a soul?

What about sexes? Are feminine souls equivalent with the masculine ones?
What happens to a transgender soul?

Are we a natural occurrence? A product of evolution? In a constant process of ‘improvement’? Obviously imperfect but, generally speaking, striving to ‘fail better’?

Or are we an imperfect ‘artifact’?

Cause this is the only issue on which there is a consensus… Everybody is convinced we’re ‘defective’. From the staunchest believer to the most rabid atheist…

I really have to stop. And go comfort my soul with something nice.

During lock-down I had more time for my research regarding conscience.
Or, in Maturana’s terms, ‘self-awareness‘.

At first glance, evolutionary speaking, conscience – our ability to observe ourselves ‘in the act’, is about increasing the survivability of the individual having said ability. Hence increasing the survivability of the species to which said individual belongs.

Now, since humankind is divided in cultural ‘subspecies’ – and, according to Maturana, conscience is an ability which has been developed in social context, cultures have different chances of survival. Depending on subtle differences imposed upon the individual consciences during the ‘coming of age’.
Only there’s something which contradicts Darwin’s evolutionary theory. According to the classical version, individuals cannot adapt themselves. Individuals can only survive – and transmit their genes, or – if said genes are not good enough for the circumstances, expire and make way for other individuals/species. According to Darwin, only species can evolve.

The notable difference being what we call ‘free will’.
Not as free as some believe it to be, not as bounded as other think it to be, free will does exist. And allows us to evolve on an individual basis. During the life span of the current generation.

Only there’s a small problem here.
Cognitive dissonance.
No matter how conscient – aka aware of our own misgivings, each of us might be, our first tendency when confronted with arguments contradicting our previously held convictions is to rationalize away those arguments.
Change convictions according to the newly acquired knowledge? Maybe later…
Don’t believe me? How much time elapsed between learning that smoking is bad for you and actually quitting? See what I mean?

Hence my ‘impression’ that ‘conscience’ is more concerned about maintaining its own consistency than with the fate of the biological organism which actually supports it.

Want some more arguments?

Northern Italy. France. Spain. Bad Corona-virus outbreaks, followed by intense lock-downs. Currently the situations are, basically, under control. Suggesting that people do learn, fast, when confronted by really dire circumstances.
Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore… reacted immediately, had relatively few problems. Suggesting that people are able to learn from past experiences. The ‘original’ SARS, you know…
Germany had a less ‘dramatic’ trajectory. Suggesting people may, under certain circumstances, learn from others.
US and Brazil. The rest of the US, actually. The NE having experienced the North Italian scenario. Too many people concerned more with remaining consistent with their previous selves than with adapting to the new challenge. ‘Government tries to subdue us’ and ‘masks are an infringement to personal liberty’.

What about China and Russia?
I’ll let you be the judge of that. Only you need to remember that ‘free will’ is of a totally different nature there than it is here. In the rest of the world.

Same in India. With a twist. While in China/Russia free will is stifled from above, in India – and in too many other developing nations, free will is ‘conscripted’ by poverty. It is very hard to think about the day after tomorrow if you don’t know whether you’ll be able to eat tomorrow.
Even less so if you are hungry right now.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Science teaches us many things.

In fact no, science teaches us nothing!
Science cannot teach, at all. Simply because science is not a teacher.

At individual level, science is an attitude. A mind open enough to accept its own fallibility. To accept the fact that, sooner rather than later, it will fail.
To accept the fact that the image it constantly generates during its interaction with the surrounding world is, at best, incomplete.
To accept the fact that the understanding it has reached during its existence is, and will remain forever, a work in progress.

At the social level, science is a way of conducting business.
Based on ‘trust but verify’. A scientifically minded community trusts its individual members to be honest in their efforts but verify their work because – as mentioned above, each of us will, sooner rather than later, fail.
Hence, by aggregating their efforts, a scientifically minded community will eventually paint a still imperfect image but one closer to the reality than any of those belonging to its individual members.

In order for the community to be able to continuously improve their ‘work in progress’ each, or at least, enough of its members need to preserve their scientific mental attitude. Their intellectual humility.
As soon as too many of the individuals reach the conclusion that their image of the world is the only correct one – and they start not only to bow towards it but also to convince others to join them, things start going south.

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Who among us is perfect? Perfect enough to be sure?

And why had been chosen an adulterous woman as the main character for this lesson?
Because adultery is a sin which cannot be committed in solitude? Only in cooperation with ‘the other’? As a relationship? Where each member contributes to the shared doom?

Do you see how similar science and sin are?

Both start ‘individually’ and are put in practice ‘together’.
Both are initiated as individual pulsions and put in practice as choices.

I’ve started this post by mentioning science.
The scientists among us have reached the conclusion that there was no need for a God to start the process of which we are the alleged pinnacle. That evolution was enough to drive the whole thing. I tend to agree.
On the other hand, history – yet another branch of science, has produced enough evidence to prove that God had a tremendous contribution to the present state of civilization.

Not God himself but the image of God we have created for ourselves. The Image we’ve been bowing to for some time now.

Go figure….

Each of us made of a huge, but finite, number of atoms belonging to a few chemical elements, we, humans, are in relative control of a huge, but finite, planet.

As animals – living animals, that is, we need to constantly ‘ingest’ part of our environment and periodically excrete the ‘consequences’ of our metabolism.

As conscious humans we learn. Constantly.
Practically, we ingest information about what is going on around us.
We ‘digest’ it by ‘thinking’ about what concerns us.

Only the more ‘sophisticated’ animals control their bladders and bowels. Hence choosing – according to various criteria, what to do and where to deposit the ‘consequences’ of their metabolism. By doing so they actually increase their chances of survival.

We, as the most sophisticated animal around, have taken a huge step forward. We not only control our excretion, we also control our intake.
Animals – along with plants and fungi, ingest whatever they can from whatever surrounds them at any given time.
We’ve reached the stage where we actually change our environment in order to make it more amenable to our wishes. To our wishes, no longer to our mere necessities.

While the living have started to change the planet long before we evolved into being – by ingesting part of it, digesting it and excreting the consequences of their metabolism, we’ve considerably ‘revved up’ the process.
Simply because of our ability to learn and apply our knowledge towards what we consider to be our goals.

In a sense, we not only ingest our environment in a direct, material, way but also in a ‘virtual’ one. By learning about it we practically ingest it in an ‘informational’ manner. And by implementing our decisions we ‘excrete’ the consequences of our learning.

As I mentioned before, the animals who control their bladders/bowels have experienced increased chances of survival as a consequence of their new – evolutionary speaking, ability.
It is high time for us to learn how to control our imagination/desire in order to achieve the same thing. Regarding to our ability to informationaly ingest and decisionally transform our environment.

I was arguing yesterday that life, as a biological phenomenon, depends on membranes doing their jobs.
Keeping the inside in, the outside out and managing the transit of substances. Nutrients in and excretions out. For some organisms, their ‘membranes’ also act as a thermo-regulators.

‘Watching’ a membrane in action, one might get the impression that it has been endowed with a certain ‘awareness’. The membrane acts as if it were aware of the differences between its inside and its outside. It recognizes what belongs where and keeps them there. It also recognizes nutrients for what they are – and lets them in, and excretions for what they are – and where they should be.
OK, the membrane does what it does simply because it was ‘pre-programmed’ in a specific way, according to the genetic information each organism has received from its predecessors. There’s nothing supernatural involved here. For what we currently know, anyway…

Watching, as a dispassionate outside observer, the evolutionary process unfolding one might get the impression that life itself has a certain awareness.
‘Rules of life’, read genetic information passed along from one generation to another, are diligently updated to fit the changes in the environment. Nevermind that the whole process is ‘impersonal’, ‘goal-less’ and is fueled by haphazard trial and error, the end result is what we currently consider to be ‘learning’!
That’s what we try to code into our artificially intelligent machines, don’t we?

Further more, recent research points out that individual organisms share information with their brethren.
Bacteria can share antibiotic resistance genes through lateral transfer.
Physarum polycephalum, a unicellular organism, seems to be able to share information already learned when it comes in contact with other members of the species.
Plants “can “talk” in several different ways: via airborne chemicals, soluble compounds exchanged by roots and networks of threadlike fungi“.

Since communication itself is a process which implies the ability to differentiate between a ‘run of the mill’ situation and one special enough to warrant the effort to ‘talk’ about it, I find all these to be compelling arguments for life itself to be considered as implying certain forms of awareness.

According to ‘science’, life is nothing but a process through which (genetic) information is passed, with small alterations, from one generation to another and during which the environment is, however minutely, changed by whatever the living organisms do during their lifespans.

‘Individually’ – organism by organism, life takes place inside a ‘membrane’. Which you might call it ‘skin’, if you like.
That membrane separates the ‘inside’ – the living organism, from the ‘outside’ – otherwise known as the ‘environment’.
Each individual organism continues to be alive for as long as the membrane manages to keep the inside in, the outside out AND to properly regulate the exchanges between the inside and the outside.
This being the moment when we need to remember that each living organism needs to eat, to drink, to breathe and to excrete. Meaning that it needs a more or less continuous flow of certain substances from the outside and to periodically clean itself. And the moment to understand that each organism continuously changes its environment. By incorporating some of it while feeding/breathing and by ‘polluting’ it when ‘throwing out’ the by-products of its metabolism.

For all the activity above to take place, each individual organism needs to follow some ‘rules’. It’s ‘membrane’ needs to ‘know’ which substances to allow in and which to keep out. Which substances to throw out and which to keep it.
To perform all these duties, the membrane itself needs to be organized in a certain manner. For all to happen as it should, the ‘interior’ has to be organized in a certain – and specific, manner.

On the other hand, for any (set of) rule(s) to make sense, it has to be congruent to the situation it ‘attempts’ to manage. For instance, the rule about what substances are to be ‘allowed in’ has to be adapted both to the specific needs of the organism following it AND to what substances are available in the particular environment in which that organism attempts to survive/thrive.
Since the environment in which the living process attempts to take place is subjected to continuous change – both as a consequence of organisms living in it and as happenstance happening, the ‘rules of life’ cannot be ‘set in stone’.
For life to continue in a consistent manner, it has to preserve its rules while for life to survive in an ever-changing environment it has to adapt its rules to fit the changes in the environment.
This being where evolution takes charge.

That’s why the life we’re familiar with, ours, is comprised of successive generations of many individual organisms which somehow pass genetic information (rules of life) from one another. The fundamental ‘trick’ which makes everything possible being that during the ‘passing’ process the genetic information is slightly altered.
Sometimes with beneficial results – those individuals thrive and, eventually, new species appear. Other times, the results are tragic. The individuals which receive bad – read unfit, rules of life do not survive.
Equally tragic is the fate of those species, otherwise ‘successful’ until that moment, which, at some point, are confronted by so momentous changes in their environment that they are no longer able to adapt. Dinosaurs are the first examples which come to my mind but the list is so long that we’ll never learn about all of them.

A pessimist might conclude that life is all about species and that individuals are expandable.
Au contraire, mon cher ami. Since there’s no way in hell – or in heaven, for anybody to know which individual organism has that particular piece of information which will enable their successors to survive the next alteration in the environment it would be rather dense to consider any individual as being expandable. In fact, it was the ‘individualization’ of the living process that made possible the evolutionary process.

Life is about both individuals and species, simultaneously and with equal importance.

“….a combination of Gnostic Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and various other elements, with a basic doctrine of a conflict between light and dark…..”

And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil”  Genesis 3:22

Light and Dark, Good and Evil… sets of two different things which exist by themselves but make no sense until somebody sees the difference between them.

A wall has two sides.
A room – four walls with a floor and a roof, determines an inside and an outside. Because the walls have two sides and because somebody built it.
A room is empty when nobody is inside it and ‘disappears’ when nobody remembers its existence. Even if its walls continue to stand …

Two points are distinct if there is some space between them.
Two points belong to the same line if the distance between them is full of other points.

Matter is discrete.
Even atoms, which have long been considered as impossible to be divided further, are constituted of smaller components. Electrons, protons, neutrons, … quarks… all the way ‘down’ to quanta …
All this discreteness is made possible by space.
Which simultaneously encompasses each of the discrete pieces of matter and separates them.

On the other hand, matter is discrete in yet another manner. In time.
Manny trees live longer than us and mountains last way longer than trees.
Yet nothing is forever. Nor have existed for always. Not our Sun nor even the small pieces which inhabit the subatomic world.
Each piece of everything comes into existence and decays into oblivion.
Each organism is born into this world and eventually dies – releasing its components for further use.
All this discrete becoming being made possible by time.
Which simultaneously encompasses and separates each event.

Similarly to the aforementioned room, neither matter, space or time makes any sense on its own. Not even together.
They might exist but they have no significance until noticed.

By us, by God…

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