Archives for posts with tag: evolution

Darwin had wrote “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection“.
Some of us had mistakenly understood ‘evolution’ as being a ‘fight for survival’.
‘Fight’ as in ‘kill/subdue all those around you’, not ‘strive to improve yourself’, unfortunately.

Ernst Mayr had put things right. ‘Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unfit.

Adam Smith, a philosopher, had explained to us that free market capitalism functions because ‘the butcher, the brewer and the baker‘ cooperate across their respective ‘professions’, fully understanding that by respecting each-others work each of them would better serve their individual interests than by struggling individually.
Unfortunately too many of his contemporaries, and some later exegetes, mistook Smith’s words as meaning that ‘Greed is Good’.
And proceeded accordingly. Which was just another ‘application’ of Gresham’s Law. The ‘greedier’ among the capitalists slowly climbed to a dominant position and created a situation later described as ‘savage capitalism.’
Since people have a tendency to over-react, and to make matters worse instead of solving the problem, Karl Marx came up with an even more stupid idea than ‘Greed is Good’. According to him, the world should be run, in an equally authoritative manner, by a different class of people. Not by the ‘greedy capitalists’ but by the ‘virtuous communists’.
As if there ever was any real difference between dictators…

Almost a century later than Smith, Emil Durkheim, a sociologist, revisited the concept of ‘cooperation’ – from another angle, and demonstrated that society had leaped forward when each of its members developed his/hers particular talents instead of toiling together indiscriminately.  And then traded, on the free market, the results of their efforts. Nothing really new, just told in a different manner.
A marked difference from the ‘rantings’ of Marx. Who, by the way, had assessed the situation perfectly. Which makes it all the more baffling the fact that he was able to propose such aberrant remedies.

Almost simultaneously with Durkheim, another guy had noticed two very interesting things.  After a successful career as an engineer Vilfredo Pareto had started to study economics. Then he turned his attention to sociology. As an economist he had noticed the Pareto Principle – 80% of the results (income) are produced by 20% of the causes (agents), while as a sociologist he discovered that whenever social mobility, upwards as well as downwards, is hampered, the society where this happens will, sooner rather than later, experience serious difficulties. In fact this observation is quite straightforward. Whenever young people from the ‘lower strata’ cannot accede, despite being better qualified and harder working, to more meaningful positions because those positions are ‘safeguarded’ for members belonging to the ruling minority, the people from the lower strata stop striving while those from the ruling minority become lazy and careless. The recipe for disaster, don’t you think?
If we put both Pareto’s observations together we discover something similar to Smith’s budding concept of a free market. Whenever an individual, or a group of individuals, become so powerful as to dwarf those around them, economically as well as politically, the free market, economically as well as socially, stops working.

That’s why all monopolies have never failed to collapse.
That’s why all authoritarian regimes, including those built according to Marx’s rantings, have eventually failed – causing great harm to those fool enough to believe in them.

That’s why dinosaurs had disappeared – they had grown too big for their own good.
They behaved as if they were ‘greedy’. They seemed more interested in dominating the world instead of minding their own business.
Fishes – which are older than dinosaurs – survived and thrived.
Crocodiles, alligators, turtles, tortoises, snakes and you name whatever other reptiles come to your mind have survived the same conditions that have cut the mighty dinosaurs down to size.

That’s why Mayr goes on warning us. ‘Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unfit.

Let’s not destroy ourselves, as a species, attempting to prove him wrong.

Update
Pareto’s elite theory is rather straightforward.
As soon as a society ‘grinds to a halt’ tension starts to build up. A ‘lion’ – or a coalition of lions, will sooner or later seize the opportunity and ‘make a grab for it’.
By tearing the calcified sinews which tied the society down the lions actions unleash – for the moment, at least, the creative forces that could not assert themselves. Things become markedly better than they used to be.
Because the lions are ‘lazy’ they soon hire ‘foxes’ to run the show. Unfortunately the foxes tend to be rather narrow minded and soon their narrow-mindedness coupled with the decrepitude of the lion ‘in charge’ bring back the society to the original – aka bogged down, situation.
A younger lion/fresh coalition of lions restarts the cycle.
Basically we have the definition of the boom-bust cycle.
A very compelling example would be the manner in which communist states had crumbled under their own weight. Or the manner in which all monopolies – or even companies in dominant positions, eventually screw up. The automobile industry – a mature economic field, would be a very good example for this.
Nothing dramatically different from Schumpeter’s ideas, albeit at a different scale.
Ideally, in a free (aka fully functional) ‘market’ there are a number of lions which keep each-other at bay and a big enough number of foxes to keep the show together. The lions, acting in concert, make sure that the foxes do not take over while the foxes prevent the lions from driving the whole thing over the cliff.
If the circulation of the elites is hampered, in any way, shape or form, the continuous/evolutionary social and economical fine tuning no longer works and the society reverts to the boom-bust cycle.
A really free market would closely resemble Darwin’s, or more exactly Mayr’s, evolution while the present situation is one where the circulation of the elites has been brought almost to a halt.
The whole process tends to be rather ‘circular’. As in a vicious circle.
Or a virtuous one. As it used to be, until very recently.

NB. This blog is more like a collection of notes than anything else.
I write them down because doing this streamlines my thinking process and I make them public because readers’ feed-back (mostly on FB) is very helpful.

donald-trump-grab-them-by-the-pussy-cartoon

Or is it the (unforeseen?) consequence of some very ‘intelligent design‘?

ouroboros

Ever since people have become aware of their own awareness philosophers have entertained opposing views as to what is more important: matter or soul.

The materialists point out that everything, including us, is made of matter and, hence, nothing would be possible without it while the idealists maintain that everything that exists is nothing but a projection of our own thoughts.

As an engineer who had designed (material) objects before actually building them I find it strangely rewarding that both these fiercely opposing sides are, simultaneously, right.

Just as we are simultaneously made of flesh and animated by souls.

If you disagree, just pinch yourself.
Now tell me, ‘did it hurt?’.
Who felt it? Your flesh or your soul?
And who’s able to meditate about the whole experience? How come are we not only able to feel things but also to think about them? Then to communicate, efficiently, among ourselves about our relatively different experiences?
Surely, there must be something shared amongst us, something that constitutes not only a medium for our communication but also a common base for our experiences.

I’m going to use ‘reality’ to designate that commonality, irrespective of the fact that reality is a two tiered thing.

A material reality, something that exists per se – according to its own, natural, set of laws, and a social reality, something that we, the people, have agreed upon – either willingly or by omission to protest, efficiently, against it.

These two tiers of reality are no longer independent.

In fact they have never been. The social reality has grown, as a bud, ‘on top’ of the material reality. And this has happened according to an opportunity enshrined in the natural laws that govern the very existence of the material reality.

Now, after its birth, social reality has started to alter the material one.
In two ways.
By developing an ever more sophisticated understanding of the inner workings we gradually discover inside the material realm and, subsequently, by using various aspects of that (inherently limited) understanding in order to effect voluntary change.

I’m going to make a brief pause here.
Social reality is a human construct, one that came to life fueled by our own volition and shaped by the sum of the choices we’ve made during our entire history.
The mere fact that we are also ‘animals’ – and have changed the world around us by our mere, and long time unwitting, existence, is something else. Related to our social existence but nevertheless different from it.

What I’m trying to say is that by coming of age – by becoming aware of our own awareness, we are currently adding a third dimension to that Ouroboros thing.
The ‘serpent’ has been ‘eating its tail’ from the very beginning of the world. New stars have been born from the dust left after the older ones have exploded and decaying organic matter is what used to feed our crops until a few short years ago – and still does for the organic farmers.
But now, that we’ve become aware of the entire process – and of our contribution to it, we are in a position to influence its direction.

We can turn it into a vicious or a virtuous circle.

Which will it be?

who needs what

And please, please, don’t make this confusion.
People do, as for now at least, need ‘nature’ in order to lead what we call/feel to be a normal life.
But nature also somehow needs us. Otherwise it wouldn’t have allowed us to become what we are today.

Until now, during our development, we haven’t broken, not significantly at least, any natural laws. Otherwise we wouldn’t have reached this stage – according to Ernst Mayr’s interpretation of  Darwin’s teachings, anyway.
Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unfit.
We’re not dead yet, are we?

Let’s keep it that way, lest we’re gonna be replaced.

Fast.

 

These wrinkly, hairless creatures may help scientists understand more about preventing cancer (Credit: Frans Lanting Studio/Alamy)

Just finished reading an extremelly interesting article in BBC Earth.
I learned that humans, dogs, cats and mice – among many others – do get a lot of cancers while elephants and the rodents depicted above are fairly immune to this disease.

Now, if we remember that humans and mice are the most versatile species on this Earth – we are able to live practically everywhere on the planet, something nobody else can – and that dogs and cats have been bred into a cornucopia of variations could we consider cancer as a cost for our ability to adapt to an extremelly variable environment?

quotes-about-education-16

but also

So?

The way I see it ‘education’ is a blanket term that covers many things:

– Mental conditioning into obeying the prevailing rules of the moment/place
– Accumulation of information that is deemed useful by the educators.
– ‘Training of the mind to think’ – only this cannot be done without first supplying the student with some information on which to hone his mind.
– “Training of the mind to think” according to the rules of the moment/place – the term currently used for this kind of attitude towards thinking is ‘science’. If those rules are not obeyed then not only that the results of the thinking process won’t be recognized as valid by the community but the thinker won’t even be able to share them with those around him because those results won’t resemble anything known/familiar/acceptable to most of the members belonging to that community.

– Training of the mind to think outside of the box. To be able to do that a student needs first to learn what a box is so he must graduate through the first four stages AND to overcome some of the conditioning he was subjected to during the first stage.

Only after he “awakens” a student might start to discover for himself the rest of the world. And only if he uses his newly found awareness in a sensible way he will be able to share the results of his thinking with those around him and thus contribute to the long time survival of the society (family, community) that has nurtured him through his ‘coming of age’.

And only if that society (family, community) takes good care of its young it will have any chances to survive.
‘Taking good care of its young’ meaning encouraging them to open their wings in search of their full potential, not shackling them down to the nest in search for absolute safety.

 

What on Earth is ‘itall’ and why would anyone bother about it?

Let me re-frame that.
Why on Earth are we so obsessed with winning in the first place?
It’s indeed nice to win from time to time but aren’t we overdoing it? Regardless of costs?

“Suppose that you are charged with selling a single food item to at least a hundred million people in a highly diverse society.  You can pick whatever item you wish, but you can pick only one.  If you fall short of getting at least 100,000,000 people to voluntarily choose your item over a rival item that will be offered by a competitor, you lose.  (Your competitor is playing by the same rules that you are playing by.)

Being highly competitive, you hate losing.  So you carefully go about selecting which item to choose.”

Already been there? You must surely understand where I’m driving at. Even if you are not ‘that competitive’ yourself you must’ve been wondering why hamburgers taste the same almost all over the world, and not only those mass produced by McDonald’s.

You see, there are two sides of the winning game. No, not those two obvious ones – the two players.
There are the players and the spectators. None could exist without the others but only the players, and the trainers, are aware of this.
Yet the very existence of the game and the manner in which it is played heavily influences the life of the people belonging to both categories.

As Don Boudreaux explains us in “Insipidness Guaranteed” our very fondness of winning big leads to the market being inundated by the very blandest – but generally acceptable – of products. Originality becomes stifled, contrary to the very fact that, from time to time, it’s exactly the original thing that gets the jackpot.

Three things concur to this.

I already mentioned the first.
Most players, or at least those at the top, know what’s going on while most of the (paying) spectators don’t. This leads to the spectators watching mesmerized what’s happening in the pitch while the players ratchet up the tension till it becomes unbearable least the spectators become bored and leave. So the spectators spend their time, and resources, watching instead of creatively using their brains to build something new – and potentially useful.

Our culturally enhanced obsession for winning.
Those players insist because they are plainly ‘hooked’. ‘Adrenaline is one of the most powerful drugs‘. This is true, if you don’t believe me check it on Snopes.com. The problem with this particular addiction is that adrenaline is produced naturally in our body when we compete and that the winning moment is ‘scored’ in the brain by a powerful shot of dopamine, another hugely addictive natural drug.
On top of winning being highly pleasurable, and addictive, it is also positively sanctioned by the society. Drunkenness and being high on drugs are shunned by a considerable number of people while winning is applauded by all.

It also helps.
Yes, winning helps a lot. Otherwise ‘the quest for winning’ would have withered away a long ago by the very same mechanism that encouraged the advent of the moderate altruistic behavior – natural evolution.
No, this is not about ‘the survival of the fittest’ – that’s a mirepresentation of Darwin’s words, set straight by Ernst Mayr in ‘What Evolution Is: ‘It’s not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of those who cannot cope’.
So, competition is good in the sense that it’s telling the loosers ‘stop trying this and look for another venture if you want to thrive/survive’. The real winners are exactly those who understand something when they loose.

Just as we need to balance altruism with the need to preserve our own personae, both physically and psychologically, by constantly adjusting that balance according to the prevailing circumstances, we also need to understand where our obsession for winning has brought us.

When all we want is to win, we tend to forget that survival is, most of the times for individuals and at all times for the communities, more important than winning.
Darwin had titled his most important work ‘On the origin of species by means of natural selection‘ and had amply demonstrated there that ‘natural selection’ (= competition) is just a means toward the ultimate survival. Evolution, that is.
That’s why we are hard wired to compete among ourselves – so those more adapted to a certain environment might continue doing what they are good at while the others are ‘encouraged’ to look for something else to do. But natural selection never works on the premises that ‘the winner takes it all’: very seldom competitors that belong to the same species kill each other.

Ernst Mayr demonstrates in the book I already mentioned that overspecialization is bad for you. ‘Survival of the fittest’ is stupid precisely because of that. ‘Being the fittest’ – and doing it for any considerable amount of time – means gradually becoming unable to cope with the slightest change that might occur in your environment.
That’s why natural selection includes a mechanism through which small alterations appear haphazardly in our DNA – those who are benign enough survive and provide the individuals that carry them with additional capabilities, so that they might take advantage of slightly different conditions than those where their ancestors have evolved.

We, the humans, have raised this to a new level. By becoming self-conscious – ‘aware of our own awareness’ in Humberto Maturana’s terms – we have developed a certain individual originality – and the need not only to manifest it but also to convince those around us that our ideas are better than theirs. Sometimes by any means at our disposal.
If you don’t believe me read again Plato’s Republic: “Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all-they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.”

Maybe it is high time for us to understand that a 2500 years old fallacy is still a fallacy. Plato marked the pinnacle of the Greek civilization, not it’s start. After he published his works, and Pericles had finished building his architectural wonders, Athens went slowly downwards and gradually lost it’s significance. Telling people what to think is the sure fire recipe for disaster. Ask the Soviets if you think what happened to the disciples of Plato isn’t convincing enough.

Coming back to where we started, winning, I have to remind you that a fundamentally aggressive attitude leads to the complete disappearance of respect. The aggressor becomes so engrossed in what he does that not only ceases to respect those around him – “He who is not for us is against us” was how Lenin used to see the world – but also looses sight of what he does to himself and to where he is leading his followers.

At the end of the article that spurred me into writing this, Dan Boudreaux, the author, bitterly ejaculates: “No one should be surprised that candidates for the U.S. presidency transact mostly in platitudes and are forever performing deeds on the campaign trail that any self-respecting person with independent judgment and a genuine sense and appreciation of his or her uniqueness would never in a million years dream of doing.  And the closer a candidate gets to the political promised land, the more intense becomes the pressure for him or her to be the political equivalent of a Bud Lite.”

Why, I ask all of you, would they – or any other of the putatively democratic candidates – do any different if we, the voters, continue to behave as hapless spectators and choose to watch as they fight for power instead of reminding them that they are being interviewed for a job, not wrestling for the privilege to take home the prom-queen?

And if they don’t get it – cause they’re too busy flaunting their feathers, we don’t get it – cause we’ve been hypnotized by those very same feathers as they are, how come the trainers – those close advisers who handle the players at every occasion – don’t get it that the whole bandwagon has started to go astray?!?

Real democracy means that the would be leaders put on the table the important issues, discuss them honestly till the voters develop a real understanding of what is going on and then some of them get elected by a knowledgeable community to implement a set of policies.

Where do you see this happening in our days?

http://cafehayek.com/2015/04/insipidness-guaranteed.html
http://www.everythingaddiction.com/science-of-addiction/addiction-news/adrenaline-the-strongly-addictive-drug-with-serious-life-consequences/http://thebrainbank.scienceblog.com/2013/11/26/gamblers-mind-the-thrill-of-almost-winning/
https://nicichiarasa.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/altruism/
http://www.amazon.com/What-Evolution-Science-Masters-Series/dp/0465044263
http://books.google.ro/books/about/On_the_Origin_of_Species.html?id=sX_hAwAAQBAJ&redir_esc=y
Animal Talk: Breaking the Codes of Animal Language: https://books.google.ro/books?id=r49kIaUMrC0C&pg=PA25&lpg=PA25&dq=bluffing+instead+of+fighting+natural+selection&source=bl&ots=lI9Po_MjLw&sig=6a-7QhZLVGsZlTpEXU3YK85fm_0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=qlEzVa2KLIKzPNTqgYgO&ved=0CEYQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=bluffing%20instead%20of%20fighting%20natural%20selection&f=false
http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/pub/hvf/papers/maturana05selfconsciousness.htmlhttps://books.google.ro/books?id=xxGttzFXqaYC&pg=PA130&lpg=PA130&dq=lenin+who+is+not+with+is+against+us&source=bl&ots=t1mdQsdmGh&sig=kbxcK2ctK2Q_fw79k0nJN8yBQNs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=6V0zVd9GptXIA7uRgcAD&ved=0CEQQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=lenin%20who%20is%20not%20with%20is%20against%20us&f=false

Some of you might know that ‘ratio’ comes from Latin, where it’s original meaning was linked with the mental operation of dividing.
Yep, the first ‘rational’ thing made by man was resource allocation: how much food each member of the clan will get, according to a huge, and variable, set of criteria. I won’t get into details now.

My point is that we shouldn’t be bragging about how rational we are. At most we are ‘rationalize-rs’.

You see, for a decision to be perfectly rational it has to fulfill three criteria. The decision maker must:
– Have at his disposal all pertinent information regarding the entire situation under consideration,
– Be able to act in a completely unemotional way,
– Be in possession, and willing to use it to the maximum, of a brain not only in perfect working order but also able to process that huge amount of information in such a short time that nothing significant changes while the decision is being made.

So, which of you still thinks we are actual able of reaching actually rational decisions?

In reality we function in a completely different way.

From time to time an IDEA flashes in our heads. Again I won’t enter into details about how this outcome is influenced by our needs, emotions and previous experiences, for now I’ll just deal with what happens after that idea has already ‘sparked’.

Depending on a plethora of individual characteristics people differently when something like this happens to them.

Some shun it as if displaying any degree of originality was a mortal sin.
Some honestly and straightforwardly set to examine it as thoroughly as they can. They take into account as many information as they can muster about the subject and not only carefully balance costs against possible benefits but also try to determine as many stakeholders as possible and determine, to the best of their knowledge, whatever consequences might befall upon them if that idea is put into practice. And they proceed only after this entire process has been followed step by step.
Some take a different route after the cost analysis. If they reach the conclusion that the whole thing might prove to be profitable enough for them they start identifying who might object, for what ever reasons – no matter if valid or not – and thoroughly plan how to stifle the opposition.Some don’t even care about the costs. If they become, by any means considered to be proper by themselves, convinced that that particular idea has to be implemented then they will stop at nothing. They will employ all means at their disposal in order to put that idea into practice, no matter what those around them might feel, think or even suffer.

Please observe that the last three are all using their rational brain to the utmost. Yet only the second one might be described as reasonable, right?
Most of us are culturally conditioned to think about the third that he is a callous manipulator and about the fourth that he is an aggressive bastard. Right again, ain’t I?

Well, not so fast.
According to Plato the fourth is doing the right thing. ‘He who sees the light has not only the right but also the obligation to take the others with him towards that light’. (Plato’s Republic). One might think that this is a very dictatorial attitude that doesn’t, in any way, resemble Socrates’ manner of dealing with things – after all he was convicted exactly for teaching the young how to make their own decisions – but this is another discussion. Coming back to the manner advocated by Plato it is indeed extremely authoritarian – all dictators have followed it to the letter – but it is not altogether without merit. What should a doctor do when you are brought to his ER with a mangled leg? Wait for a couple of days for you to come about and decide if you’ll accept the amputation – while the already dead tissue poisons you beyond any therapeutic possibilities – or proceed with cutting away your limb and thus saving your life but assuming the risk that you’ll sue him for his last dollar?
According to the modern business practices the third guy is acting in a quite conventional way. Most of us agree that planned obsolescence is good thing – it provides a lot of jobs – doesn’t it? Well, I don’t, not on the scale we are using it anyway, but that again is another subject.
And now that we have reached the presumably respectable and the only reasonable ‘second decision maker’ I’ll just add some of George Bernard Show’s words on this matter:

the-reasonable-man-gbs

So it seems that there isn’t such a thing as an always valid manner of thinking, right? Things depend a lot more on our individual judgement than a lot of people feel comfortable with. Rational thinking isn’t at all that panacea some people believe it to be and in reality reason is nothing but a mental tool and the manner in which we use falls squarely in  our individual responsibility
That’s why Plato thought he was doing a service to his fellow citizens when he wrote: “I said, the intention of the legislator, who did not aim at making any one class in the State happy above the rest; the happiness was to be in the whole State, and he held the citizens together by persuasion and necessity, making them benefactors of the State, and therefore benefactors of one another; to this end he created them, not to please themselves, but to be his instruments in binding up the State.” Let me remind you that Plato was contemporary with the Golden Age of the ancient Greek civilization and with the last days of the Athenian democracy. I’m not going to pretend now that the demise of the Greek democracy  or the relative rapid decay of the Greek civilization after Pericles and its replacement by the Roman and Persian ones were influenced by Plato’s writings. No. In fact it’s all the way around. Plato had only witnessed and put in writing the attitudinal changes that affected the Athenian/Greek society and which eventually caused those developments.

And now that we have reached the subject of democracy here is why maintaining a democratic attitude is extremely important for the long time survival of a society. Real democracy means that a considerable part of the people pay active attention to what is happening to their lives and have the ‘constitutional’ possibility to intervene peacefully if they don’t like where their leaders take them. We have seen that we cannot depend, as Plato urges us to, on the wise guidance of a ‘specialist leader’ since there is no such thing as ‘perfectly rationality’ being attained by a man. A widely disseminated attitude of the general population is the only way in which individual mistakes made by the leaders are eventually acknowledged and fixed. Any other ‘political arrangement’ leads to these mistakes being rationalized away and their (disastrous) results constantly accumulating until the entire system collapses.

One other thing before I wrap this up. The first argument I made, that the first rational thing made by man was the rational allotment of food among the members of the clan, is also a rationalization. That’s how we, who like to believe about ourselves of being rational, think it must have happened. That the inhabitants of the temperate Europe were the most rational among the peoples of the Earth and that’s why they have reached such a dominant position as they used to enjoy until not so very long ago.
Sorry, it happened exactly the opposite way. Europeans, because of the harsh conditions they had to face – coupled with the relative abundant resources and a special geographical layout – they have developed a (relatively) rational way of thinking. It was this or else… just as Ernst Myer says: ‘evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unfit’. In order for us to develop ‘rational thinking’ we needed the very special environment to force us to do it.
We are any special – if at all – not because we are any different but because we had the good fortune of being born in the right place. OK, we made good use of that happy act of hazard but that’s all.

For those of you who want to read about how ‘mere’ geography decisively determine evolution I highly recommend Jared Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel.

Nature.com  tells us that “Mice infected with toxoplasmosis lose their instinctive fear for the smell of cats — and the parasite’s effects may be permanent.”

Now what on Earth… You pretend to be running a blog about how people think and now you come up with wild stories about rats?!?

Well… the problem is that Toxoplasma Gondi, the parasite that is ‘behind’ all this has somehow found a way not only to influence the behavior of the rats it has infected but also to make sure that the alteration remains in place even after the infection was cured.

So what do we care if a bloody parasite manages to twist the simple minds of rodents? Permanently even?

“In humans, studies have linked Toxoplasma infection with behavioural changes and schizophrenia. One work found an increased risk of traffic accidents in people infected with the parasite2; another found changes in responses to cat odour3. People with schizophrenia are more likely than the general population to have been infected with Toxoplasma, and medications used to treat schizophrenia may work in part by inhibiting the pathogen’s replication.”

OK, OK, ‘correlation is not causation’, I know that, but don’t you find it ‘fascinating’ that behavioral patterns could be permanently altered from the outside the brain by something having a ‘material’ nature? Learning, acquiring new information, also involves something from outside the brain but ‘information’ doesn’t have a ‘material’ nature, right?

And something else. Don’t you find it rather interesting that so many people post pictures of cats on their FB walls?

http://www.nature.com/news/parasite-makes-mice-lose-fear-of-cats-permanently-1.13777

Image

I’ve been using cinnamon sticks for rice pilaf or curries/stews for some 5  or 6 years now.

My son, 15 years old, who had been raised on a mixture of Northern Transylvanian (my wife is a native of Dej) and Romanian/Armenian food (I’m a half breed myself), (his parents take turns at the cooking stove), is used with ever changing recipes. That doesn’t means he accepts everything…in fact he is rather choosy, always having an alternative develops a certain habit of asking for the better of whatever is available at one moment!

Anyway, today – for the first time, he asked for the cinnamon stick and not only picked every grain of rice from it and sucked on it as if it was a lolly-pop but he also made a picture of it and posted it on his FB wall.

So learning new habits is not that hard, it only takes an open heart on the side of the student and a lot of patience from the teacher…not to mention the fact that the teacher’s main goal has to be the student’s best interest, otherwise the whole exercise is doomed to eventual failure!

PS

I must thank Jhumpa Lahiri (“The Namesake”) for introducing me to the joys of using cinnamon sticks.

Reason, consciousness or morality?
What is it that makes us really different from the other primates?

            I tried to suggest earlier that reason is certainly useful but somewhat over-hyped while “Dubio” might have been what Descartes had in mind when he coined “Dubito ergo cogito, cogito ergo sum”. So what is ‘reason’? Nothing but the ability to compare two or more alternatives. The point is that you have to have those alternatives in the first place AND at least a criterion, a yardstick, to use when trying to choose between those alternatives. And for those of you who love etymology “reason” and “rationality” come from Latin were “ratio” basically means ‘taking into consideration’.

Let’s see now what ‘consciousness’ is about. Experts seem to have a hard time trying to decide one way or another. You have here a 14 pages long dissertation about ‘how to’ and ‘how to not’ define it. I’ll look someplace else for help. There is an evolutionary biologist turned philosopher who says that we are not only conscious (every living thing is) but “self-conscious”! His name is Humberto Maturana Romesin. In a nut shell his arguments are that anything that has a membrane separating an inside from the outside and is able (to a certain degree, of course) to choose what passes through that membrane and what not is ‘conscious’, in the sense that it is somehow able to determine what is good and what it is bad for itself and act accordingly. Humans, says Maturana, are not only conscious but self-conscious: they not only do the choosing but also ‘watch’ themselves doing it. ‘Self awareness’ in plain English.

OK. So we have self awareness to supervise the ability to choose. Why keep on looking for anything else?

Well… you remember the ‘criterion, the yardstick to use when trying to choose between the available alternatives’, don’t you? Where do you get this criterion from? OK, self-awareness might help here in the sense that ‘preservation of self’ might provide a quite valid one. ‘Does it serve my interests? Is it helpful for my survival? Then it must be good!’

In fact this is exactly what Nietzsche said when he justified his Uebermensch’s actions: “What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? All that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.” And where did this attitude drive Nietzsche himself, and some of his followers – Hitler among others? To disaster?
Are you troubled by this line of reasoning? Do you feel that the relentless pursuit of your own interest is legit? Do you believe in Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’? You’re not alone!

Unfortunately you’re not right, either. According to Ernst Mayr, What Evolution Is, Darwin never said/wrote such thing: it would have been contrary to the very idea of evolutionism. “Fit”, in this context, means “adapted” – not strong, trained, etc. and being perfectly adapted to your medium actually means you are not able to survive to the slightest modification. For those of you who have some trouble accepting this consider the notion of ‘just in time’ management: carrying additional stocks, anything more than what is necessary right now but enables you to adapt to a malfunctioning in the supply system, is considered unacceptable costs. Same thing with ‘being fit’, the fitter you are – the more adapted to a certain medium and only to that medium – means you make a more efficient use of the resources at your disposal BUT that your ability to cope with an eventual change in the medium you are living with is proportionally lower. Consider the giraffe: it has a competitive advantage over other herbivores because of it size and ability to forage on trees but if the trees become higher or disappear altogether it will be the first to die of hunger.

Rephrasing Mayr, evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unable to adapt. And what has this to do with our problem? With the relentless pursuit of one’s own interests, NO MATER WHAT? The real problem is right there, at the end of the previous sentence. Following one’s interests is a very legitimate business, as long as the actions of that individual do not endanger the community of which that individual is a member.

One of the most important contributions Mayr made to evolutionism is the notion of ‘Biological Species Concept’. Bluntly put, this is about the species being the object of evolution and not the individuals. When it comes to individual HUMAN beings this is rather hard to accept given their huge adaptability but we should keep in mind that Mayr was speaking about biology while individuals evolve ‘culturally’ and ‘socially’: they adapt, themselves, their communities and even sometimes the medium they live in, by cooperatively using information gathered in time, by themselves and by their ancestors. It is rather easy to understand and accept the fact that a newborn has absolutely no chance of survival without some grownups taking care of him but the fact of the matter is that nobody, absolutely nobody – no matter how strong, wise or both – can survive, let apart evolve, alone. Just think about what Robinson Crusoe had to endure and he was stranded along with some technological artifacts AND with a considerable selection of the information accumulated by the humankind until the time of his misfortune.

This whole thing is getting rather long so I’ll try to wrap it up. My hunch is that it is morality – our ability to get along with each other – that really makes the difference between us and the rest of the primates. Without morality we would never had been able to cooperate, we would be forever embroiled in a constant struggle akin to what is going on in a chimpanzee or baboon troupe. Even more, morality not only creates conditions for cooperation but also sets the rules for competition – without which social adaptability and hence evolution and survival would be impossible.

Please comeback for updates on this, I’m not completely satisfied with it but I have to leave it for now – I have to take care of my material side, dinner has to be cooked.

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