Saturday, January 31, 2009

Darwin was Not a Darwinian

For whatever reason, February '07 was a fruitful month, so I had difficulty selecting just one post to republish. I ended up choosing this one, because it has some continuity with our recent discussion of theological aesthetics. The subject has also become more relevant in the interim, what with Queeg's misosophical lurch into clinical inanity and liztardian genetic triumphalism.

*****

New commenter Flash Gordon left a provocative challenge yesterday, claiming that Dear Leader is "interested in the origin of life and intelligence. Darwin was interested in those things also. He made a valuable contribution to our understanding of those things."

The first two points are entirely true, while the third is a bit more ambiguous, since I am more interested in the origin of life and of specifically human intelligence, while Darwin's contribution was to the origin of species and of animal intelligence (which humans also naturally possess but infinitely transcend).

Starting with the former, natural selection can have no bearing on the origin of life, since natural selection by definition requires living organisms to select.

While I am aware of the fact that some theorists are attempting to save the appearances of materialism by applying principles of natural selection to the non-organic world, as I explained in The New Testavus For the Rest of Us, what both they and orthodox biologists fail to appreciate is that any type of natural selection presupposes a metaphysical principle that must be anterior to both organisms and the cosmos itself: wholeness. Neither life nor natural selection could exist in a cosmos that did not have a principle of wholeness woven into its very fabric. In fact, to say "cosmos" is to say "wholeness," since a cosmos is by definition a unified and ordered totality -- just like an organism (which is its more or less distant reflection: as above, so below).

In an organism, no matter where or how deeply we look, we find fractal wholeness at every level. You could even say that the essence of pathology is an absence of integrated wholeness -- some part of the whole has broken away and is "doing its own thing," you know, like my wayward pancreas.

The same is true of the first hyperdimensional organ, the human mind, which in health is a dynamically integrated whole -- a rolling catastrophe (as in catastrophe theory; then again, not necessarily) in the phase space of subjectivity, as it were.

The essence of mental illness is the existence of semi-autonomous autopoietic subpersonalities (i.e., mind parasites) with agendas all their own, and which don't really give a hoot what you think or want. These spectral entities haunt the mindscape and look to infect others or to draw them into their little psychodramas in a way that is self-defeating to the host.

Mr. Gordon left a quote in which Darwin expresses the sentiment that (referring to his scientisic vision of metaphysical Darwinism), There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Gordon concludes by asking, "How can you say intelligence is strictly forbidden in [the] 'Darwinian view?' Your equation E = RE+EF is ridiculous" (Evolution = Random Error + Environmental Feedback).

Let's break this down for my omies. First, "There is grandeur in this view of life." Is that true? Is there? If so, one wonders how it got there. Why, on strictly Darwinian grounds, would any mental view of anything be a sponsor of "grandeur." It's impossible to know exactly what Darwin meant by the use of this term, which has no non-poetic or exact meaning. Rather, it is entirely subjective, since it connotes things such as "magnificence," "glory," lofty," "sublime," and "wonderful."

Now, I personally have no difficulty with any of these categories of human experience, as I believe they disclose objective realities. But I wonder what evolutionary purpose they serve? Let us suppose that I am one of our ancient furbears, and that a random genetic mutation has given me the heretofore unknown ability to be in a state of aesthetic arrest as I contemplate, I don't know, a grand sunset or a magnificent mountain. Remember, there is nothing intrinsically grand or magnificent until a human subject makes it so, just as there is no such thing as a ball or strike until an umpire makes the call. So I'm staring with astonagement at the sunset and a lion pounces on me, or a rival Neanderthal conks me on the head and places me on the menu. The gene for grandeur dies on the vine.

Let's not kid ourselves. We really only have two choices. Either this cosmos is in fact grand -- not to mention, beautiful, awesome, sacred and numinous -- or our genes, for reasons we cannot know, randomly mutated in such a way that we imagine that such entirely chimerical things as grandeur and beauty exist. But in reality, we are simply prisoners of our genes, and by extension, our nervous systems. I don't see how one can say that it is a "grand" view of the cosmos if the grandeur is simply an illusory side effect of our nervous system. Thus, there is an obvious contradiction at the heart of Darwin's sentimental assessment of his own theory.

Next: Endless forms most beautiful and wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Here again, I have no difficulty agreeing with this statement, but one naturally wonders what Darwin meant by "beautiful" and "wonderful." Obviously, on any strict Darwinian view, "beauty" cannot objectively exist. Rather, there can be only the illusion of beauty that is put there for some reason related to reproductive fitness. To us, a peacock or a butterfly is "beautiful," but in reality their markings are just there to attract the opposite sex of their particular species. It's actually none of our business.

Which is true of nature in general. Animals are only interested in other animals to the extent that they can 1) eat them, 2) can have sex with them, 3) need to run away from them or 4) can form some kind of symbiotic or parasitic relationship that advances survival prospects, like the alliance of rock stars and supermodels. No antelope, in the midst of running for its life, thinks to itself, "I give that lion credit. It sure is a magnificent beast." No goat or rabbit says, "pity I have to eat this beautiful flower. It would look so nice on top of the telly." No fly, while struggling for its life, says "hmm. Check out the fabulous geometric design of this web. Such stark neo-industrial beauty!" (unless he watches "Queer Eye For the Straight Fly").

Now, I can well understand on Darwinian grounds why the sons of heaven would have the illusion that the daughters of men are so beautiful. Which they are. But I do not see what this has to do with seeing other species as beautiful. What's the point? What is the added value to our reproductive fitness? There are things that are beautiful to the eye, just as there are things that are beautiful to the ear: beautiful paintings, beautiful poems, beautiful symphonies and cathedrals, beautiful equations, beautiful theories, beautiful theologies, beautiful afternoons, beautiful moments in life. There is beauty hidden in every fold and cranny of existence. Did humans somehow "awaken" to a cosmos that just so happens to be permeated with beauty? If so, how did all the beauty get in there? Isn't a beautiful object the reflection of a beautiful subject? Who was the Subject of all this Cosmic Beauty before human subjects were here?

Perhaps, like wholeness, it cannot not be here. For what is wholeness? In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce's alter ego, Stephen Dedalus, discusses the criteria for great art. He says that it is the task of the true artist to record "epiphanies," that is, sudden spiritual manifestations, or ingressions. Following Aquinas, he says that the three things necessary to beauty are wholeness, harmony, and radiance, or claritas. It is this third category that has to do with epiphanies, when the soul of the thing, its essential whatness, leaps through its outer appearance and reveals its true nature. This supreme quality of beauty transfers light from another world, provoking a spiritual state in which we apprehend the luminous reality behind appearances and see things in their metaphysical transparency.

Now Bob, "How can you say intelligence is strictly forbidden in 'Darwinian view?' Your equation E = RE+EF is ridiculous."

First of all, this is not my equation. Rather, it is the equation that forms the basis of Darwinism, which is that all change in the phenotype is a result of random genetic mutations that either enhance or diminish our reproductive fitness. To the extent that a species is "intelligent," the intelligence is always in the service of something that both guides and limits it, which is reproductive fitness. In other words, either intelligence, like beauty and virtue, transcends and therefore cannot be reduced to genetics; or, it is an ultimately meaningless side effect of our genetic "strategy." (In fact, we shouldn't even say "our" genes, since this reverses the relation of ownership. According the strict Darwinians, it is our body, or phenotype, that ultimately "belongs" to the "selfish genes.")

But what is human intelligence, really? As mentioned above, if there is aesthetic discernment, then surely there is beauty. Likewise, if man is intelligent in any meaningful sense of the term, then surely there is reality to be apprehended and there is truth to be known. For if intelligence does not know reality or disclose truth, then it hardly deserves the name. In other words, if it is just a more elaborate way to know falsehood and delusion in order to get chicks, then truly, there is nothing further to debate, because truth cannot even be conceived, much less known.

Is it possible that strict reductionistic Darwinism could be "true" without contradicting its own principles? I do not see how. As Schuon has written, human intelligence "is the perception of the real and not the 'intellectualization' of the unreal." The discernment of intelligence allows us to pass "from appearances to reality, from forms to essence, and from effects to cause." No animal can know of the reality behind appearances or intuit the essence beneath the form. This is what I mean when I say that the gap between human and animal intelligence is literally infinite, because the gap between truth and its alternatives is infinite.

Why is human intelligence so perfectly adapted to invisible realties that played no role in the selection of our genes? Why is there nothing in the world commensurate with the nature of human intelligence, which easily transcends everything into which it comes into contact, including our own evolution? If we comprehend our own evolution, isn't this another way of saying that we transcend it? And if we don't comprehend it, isn't Darwinism, ipso facto, false?

Schuon writes of the truism that "It is only too evident that mental effort does not automatically give rise to the perception of the real; the most capable mind may be the vehicle of the grossest error." How can this be? First, it results from an intelligence "that is exclusively 'horizontal,' hence lacking all awareness of 'vertical' relationships." Secondly, it results from "an extra-intellectual element, such as sentimentality or passion; the exclusivism of 'horizontality' creates a void that the irrational necessarily comes to fill." In short, as all psychoanalysts and true theologians know, reason is more often than not a slave of the passions.

Man is intelligence, just as he is beauty. For this reason, no normal person sets out to love ugliness or know error. Just as good character involves distinguishing between good and evil and willing the former, the virtue of intelligence is its intrinsic love of truth. Was Darwin a truth lover? I would say there is no question that he was. His passion for Truth is obvious at every turn (albeit in an intrinsically limited way). Therefore, he cannot have been a Darwinian, for Truth renders metaphysical Darwinism extinct.

Man is intelligence, and intelligence is the transcending of forms and the realization of the invisible Essence; to say human intelligence is to say absoluteness and transcendence. --F. Schuon

17 Comments:

Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Nothing can give birth to its own womb…unless…

And beauty implies recognition.

“Following Aquinas, he says that the three things necessary to beauty are wholeness, harmony, and radiance, or claritas. It is this third category that has to do with epiphanies, when the soul of the thing, its essential whatness, leaps through its outer appearance and reveals its true nature.”

Is this not the truer story, the whole story, or the one of any lasting worth, the take-away from the Van Gogh story? His paintings and letters. Or should we keep bringing up the ear, and the end of the story, just because it happens at the end? Is it to where he was evolving? or where he failed to? The insanity can’t survive without the very sane parts that endure on their own, such as beauty always will, if there are eyes to see it.

A priceless post.

1/31/2009 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

Many good points, but this registered as an agreement:

"...no normal person sets out to love ugliness or know error."

Considering the cultural detritus we slog through and the tonnage of dis-(not mis-)information that is thrown at us daily, I guess that the word normal is the key to that phrase.

A lovely day here, nonetheless! Thanks for the post!

1/31/2009 10:10:00 AM  
Anonymous dloye said...

WV: ractedin I reactedin surprise and delight to the way 2007 folds into the current threads. I must have missed the original, or wasn't paying attention somehow.

Epiphanies, and niggling hints of epiphanies to come. Darwin had no intentions of starting a new religion. Nor science nor Darwin have need of "isms" appended. What barbaric places we go riding all the false ism. Keep on keepin' on.

1/31/2009 10:38:00 AM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

"Gordon concludes by asking, "How can you say intelligence is strictly forbidden in [the] 'Darwinian view?' Your equation E = RE+EF is ridiculous" (Evolution = Random Error + Environmental Feedback)."

splorf! ISS (tw:Van)

the concept/function "ridiculous" itself is also strickly forbidden in E=RE+EF, isn't it?

How could I have missed something so deliciously absurd the first go-round

wv prods 'likely winessi was somehow involved'

1/31/2009 11:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Northern Bandit said...

Can one of you please help me out: who or what is "Queeg" (aside from the Captain in the CM)?

1/31/2009 11:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

Queeg is Charles Johnson @ Little Green Footballs.

1/31/2009 11:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Northern Bandit said...

Ah yes, the "Lizard".

Of late he's been in a somewhat more conciliatory mood -- well compared to is normal mood at any rate. He has included some posts which are not outright contemptuous of us backward Christian boors. I guess he's entering his passive-aggressive phase.

The comments are still replete with the LGF "type" we've come to know so well: middlebrow neocons who disdain anything that cannot be summed up "rationally" in under 90 seconds.

But then I remember, as I always try to do: that was me, years ago.

1/31/2009 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger jwm said...

At the risk of prompting some trollish ridicule, I'll give words to a notion that occurs to me almost every day. And I held this notion long before I started hanging around here. Long before I even had a computer.
I can see God in a banana.
No, really.
I mean- think of the astonishingly complicated combination of sugars, starches,oils, esthers, cellulose, etc. that go into the composition of this common fruit. And consider the corresponding chemistry inherent in the tastebud that, like so many tumblers matching the key to a lock, results in the sensation of taste, and the perception of flavor. This is an accident? This is the result of some random process? This does not compute, Will Robinson. (had to get a robot plug in there, didn't you?)
Which seems to take a greater leap of faith? That there is no intelligence and purpose underlying this tasty set of tumblers and pins, or that someone cut the key to fit the lock.
I know, I know- It's the old teleological argument- It's the intelligent design hoax trying to pass itself off as science. Just because it makes perfect sense doesn't mean it makes sense does it? It makes sense to me, anyway. Always did. Always will.

JWM

1/31/2009 02:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recall Joe Campbell quoting someone and i forgot who....Religion is a defense against a religious experience.

Seems to me it fits perfectly to someone who has a DUTY to explain away beauty.

SteveH

1/31/2009 03:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Aquila said...

Northern Bandit: Actually, I've been under the opposite impression re LGF. Of late, Chaz seems to be stepping up the Darwinist threads, as well as obsessing about that Holocaust-denying Traditionalist Catholic bishop. I suppose with the Iraq war pretty much over, and Obama treading relatively lightly in his first days as POTUS, the "middlebrow neocons" there haven't much else to bitch about in their rather limited range of concerns.

I post over at LGF under a different name. Although I often enjoy the exchanges and learn a lot from them, the one-note doomsaying tone of much of the dialogue, as well as the domination of posted themes by near-Aspergers-types like Killgore Trout, make the experience increasingly not worth the time or effort invested.

1/31/2009 04:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elvis Costello (All This Useless Beauty):

Nonsense prevails, modesty fails
Grace and virtue turn into stupidity
While the calendar fades almost all barricades to a pale compromise
And our leaders have feasts on the backsides of beasts
They still think theyre the gods of antiquity
If something you missed didn't even exist
It was just an ideal -- is it such a surprise?

What shall we do, what shall we do with all this useless beauty?
All this useless beauty


http://www.lyricsfreak.com/e/elvis+costello/all+this+useless+beauty_20047267.html

1/31/2009 04:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aquila said it first, and I second it, kinda:

"I post over at OC under a different name. Although I often enjoy the exchanges and learn a lot from them, the one-note doomsaying tone of much of the dialogue, as well as the domination of posted themes by near-Aspergers-types like <(if you feel the urge to respond, insert your name here)>, make the experience increasingly not worth the time or effort invested."


Yahh, but you still become what you hate, and who can avert their eyes from a train wreck? Look at Bob, 20-what years ago? Care to speculate on Bob what, 5 years yon?

wv: addint. Yea right. That's how we got here.

1/31/2009 05:23:00 PM  
Anonymous jwm said...

Too bad, anon. That would have been a fair to middling clever bit of trolling, but you spoiled it with the gratuitous insult.

JWM

1/31/2009 09:09:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"natural selection can have no bearing on the origin of life, since natural selection by definition requires living organisms to select."

Oh sure... resort to logic, take an unfair advantage over us materialists, the stronger over the weaker, as if the fittest will survive, but we materialists will prevail because we believe...

uh-oh...

wait a minute....

somethings going wrong here....





mommy!

2/01/2009 08:07:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Man is intelligence, just as he is beauty. For this reason, no normal person sets out to love ugliness or know error. Just as good character involves distinguishing between good and evil and willing the former, the virtue of intelligence is its intrinsic love of truth."

If a real University is ever built again, right next to "Know Thyself", it needs to have engraved "The virtue of intelligence is its intrinsic love of truth.".

2/01/2009 08:14:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

aninnymouse said "<(if you feel the urge to respond, insert your name here)>"

VAN




wv:oubamsag
so many ways to parse that.

2/01/2009 08:22:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"unless he watches "Queer Eye For the Straight Fly")"

(that was my ISS Splorf for the morning)

2/01/2009 08:26:00 AM  

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