Manny’s review of The Selfish Gene > Likes and Comments

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message 1: by Nick (new)

Nick Black hah! this made me smile :D


message 2: by Tina (new)

Tina Saldiran Awesome book, completely changed my look on life. I have a hard time grasping why some find Dawkins books disturbing or in-the-face, really. Even the most "scandalous" ones never really rubbed me the wrong way although most of my friends whom I recommended Dawkins to told me he was bordering on rude and they had a hard time finishing. I think it must feel like being shaken awake from a nice cozy aftenoon nap - utmost irritating, no doubt, but...awake! None of his books infused me with pessimism or fatalism either - on the contrary! This book in particular introduced me to "proper" science and evolution - not the oversimplified 101 version of it learned in high school with a very blurry line between Darwin and Lamarck. I remember reading this and page by page everything floated, turned, fell into place and finally clicked. Science truly is more awe inspiring, humbling and worship worthy than any god ever invented. Thank you for the incredible review Manny and sorry for the typos if there are any because typing on an iphone still sucks.


message 3: by Manny (new)

Manny Hey, thank you Tina! And I see you're also reading Anthony Powell. Clearly you have good taste :)


Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler Very witty but, seriously, if "living well" means having children (and how else can my genes be immortal) I want no part of it. :o)


message 5: by Manny (last edited Jan 29, 2012 10:33PM) (new)

Manny Aussiescribbler wrote: "Very witty but, seriously, if "living well" means having children (and how else can my genes be immortal) I want no part of it. :o)"

Thank you! But if you read the book, you'd immediately see the fallacy in what you just said. Your genes aren't just in you: nearly all of them are present in other living creatures, most obviously your close relatives. You don't need to be a good parent for your genes to become immortal. It may be far more effective to be a good brother, uncle or cousin.

It's your genes that have evolved to be selfish, not you. There's a world of difference.


message 6: by Aussiescribbler (last edited Jan 29, 2012 10:28PM) (new)

Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler Ah, I never thought of that.

My view of the selfish gene theory may be unfairly slanted by the fact that I've not read Dawkins' book, but view it mainly from the illogical ideas put forward by Robert Wright in his The Moral Animal, in which he puts forward the view that we wear "fashionable" clothes, or do other things to draw attention to ourselves, in order to increase breeding opportunities, rather than, as I believe, because we are insecure neurotics looking desperately for some kind of acknowledgement. (See my book How to Be Free.)

One question comes to mind. If our genes are, in themselves, not capable of intelligence, to what degree are they capable of directing cooperative social activities for their own promotion? Do the genes not determine only our physical form and instinctive (i.e. universal) behavioural impulses? If this is the case, don't the works of the human intellect and imagination have to be interpreted and understood mainly on their own level, in the same way that we can understand little about a living animal by knowing which elements provide its building blocks?

But, once again, having not read Dawkins', maybe I am assuming that he is making a bigger claim for the broad social relevance of his theory than he in fact is.


message 7: by Manny (new)

Manny One question comes to mind. If our genes are, in themselves, not capable of intelligence, to what degree are they capable of directing cooperative social activities for their own promotion?

Well, that's an extremely interesting question, which Dawkins spends a lot of time discussing. There are not many species with strong social behavior, and most of them are insects - ants, bees etc - which have the peculiarity that a given individual is genetically closest to her sister, not her offspring. (I know it sounds impossible, but it's well explained in the book). This sets up evolutionary pressure towards cooperation. It's less obvious why people are social!


Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler That explanation for the behaviour of social insects sounds fascinating. I know I should read the book.

It seems that, among mammals, sociability and intelligence increase as environmental factors allow an increased nurturing period. The most intelligent and social non-human mammals, such as apes, dolphins and whales, also have long periods of bonding between mother and child.

My theory is that intelligence and love (communication unmediated by egotism) are inherent potentials in all life but can only flower when the struggle for brute existence does not require intense competition as is the case with the lower animals (except social insects).

The best analogy is perhaps an acorn. It has the inherent potential to become a tree over time, but only if the soil is rich in nutrients and there is enough water. There is much which can prevent the realisation of that potential in each case, but, if the environment is conducive, it is, given enough time (evolution being a very slow business) inevitable.


message 9: by Manny (last edited Jan 29, 2012 11:05PM) (new)

Manny It seems that, among mammals, sociability and intelligence increase as environmental factors allow an increased nurturing period.

That doesn't sound implausible, but I would like to see figures. How about wolves? They have a strong social structure - is there a long bonding period?

According to Dawkins, the other mammal (apart from humans) which exhibits very strong social behavior is the naked mole rat. I know nothing about them, but you might want to read up on the subject!

It really is a fascinating book.


message 10: by Aussiescribbler (last edited Jan 30, 2012 12:20AM) (new)

Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler I'm no expert. I don't know the figures. My immediate thought would be that the sociability of wolves is like the sociability of lions and other pack hunting animals. Cooperative efforts at food provision can't really be directly compared to such forms of sociable behaviour as mutual grooming and non-reproductive genital-genital rubbing amongst bonobos, which seem to have no purpose beyond the enjoyment of shared pleasure and affection. I know less about sea mammals. One could look at vegetarian social animals, such as elephants, to see social behaviour for its own sake as distinct from cooperative hunting behaviour. The bonobos also are, I think, principally vegetarian, though their close relatives the chimpanzees hunt and eat monkeys some of the time. Among humans cooperation occurs in the provision of vegetable foods, but, as far as I'm aware, other mammals don't farm, so cooperation on a large scale for food provision is limited to the carnivores. Of course, non-carnivorous species might sometimes cooperate for the purpose of not ending up on the menu.


message 11: by Aussiescribbler (last edited Jan 30, 2012 12:44AM) (new)

Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler Just doing some reading on the naked mole rat at Wikipedia and they sound like they have a similar social structure to bees or ants, with workers and a queen. In human society, such a rigid hierarchical form of social organisation might be viewed as oppressive (at least by an anarchist like myself).

I wonder if Dawkins looks for such forms of subsumption of individuality to a structured social order when judging the sociability of animal species, rather than judging that sociability by the amount of time spent on non-competitive activities and shows of affection. If the latter approach is taken, I think the apes, particularly bonobos, gorillas and chimpanzees would be viewed as being more social, than wolves or mole rats.


message 12: by Manny (new)

Manny Well, I am as I said no expert, but what I know suggests that ants or naked mole rats don't view their society as oppressive. It's just natural for them, and they wouldn't be able to conceive of another way of doing things. Though now I wonder what it feels like to be a naked mole rat. There must be a story in this.


message 13: by Aussiescribbler (new)

Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler I didn't mean to suggest that they find it oppressive. :o)

But, I think, there can be a psychological subtext to scientific theories. Complete objectivity is not possible.

If I look at myself as an example of the human species, I find someone who is more interested in spending money on collecting BluRays and DVDs, of which I have more than I will probably live to watch, than using any of that money to prevent other humans from dying of starvation.

If we were the only species which behaved selfishly this might be an even more disturbing state of affairs. But if we can look at other species and see selfishness as a natural expression of the genes, it may ease our consciences somewhat. Certainly better than accepting the assessment of our traditional religion that we are "sinful".

But there are examples in nature of non-selfish social behaviour. In the case of ants, bees or mole rats, this may not give us too much pause, as their societies smack of communism. O.K. for them, because they have no concept of, or desire, for freedom from rigid conformity, but clearly not setting an example which might make us feel bad about ourselves.

My own view is that human selfishness is the natural self-directedness of the individual who is sick and in pain. If you hit your thumb with a hammer, you won't be able to think about much else. Similarly, when we are suffering psychologically, we are more concerned with activities to make ourselves feel good, whereas, if we felt happy and secure within ourselves, we would be more interested in other people and what we could do creatively to make the world a less-troubled place.

The Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith criticises the application of the selfish gene theory to humans (beyond an acknowledgement that the tendency it describes would have been the dominant force for our pre-human ancestors and thus the instinctual basis from which we departed with the origins of our higher intellect which the genetic imperative of mothers to nurture their young liberated) as "evasive". What is being evaded is that long hard look in the mirror.

Now I feel that Griffith's theories are, in many ways, severely flawed. I used some of them as a jumping off point in How to Be Free, but ended up turning some of them on their head to find a theory of human development which makes sense to me. But, I think that the concept that a scientist (like any of us) will have a blind-spot about anything which might tend to lead to uncomfortable reflections about himself, is a sound one. What Griffith fails to realise is that it applies just as much to himself as to Dawkins or E.O. Wilson or anyone else he criticised as "evasive".

Now I'm not a scientist, but, no doubt, I too have a tendency to be evasive in my thinking. But, since we can't see our own blind spot (or else it wouldn't be a blind spot) it is for someone else to point out what it is. :o)


message 14: by Ted (new)

Ted Great review. (Even with the inaccurate assertion that genes are "immaterial and immortal".) Certainly not immaterial (unless Dawkins uses "gene" and/or "immaterial" with a special meaning), and only "immortal" as long as they are being carried within a living being. But I really do want to read the book! Thanks for the nudge.


message 15: by Manny (last edited Jan 31, 2012 12:48AM) (new)

Manny Thank you!

the inaccurate assertion that genes are "immaterial and immortal"

Well, I think it's defensible... I would say genes are best considered as software, which just happen to be realized at any particular time as specific molecules of the appropriate pattern. The gene is the pattern, which is transmitted from host to host a potentially unlimited number of times. So why not "immaterial and immortal"?


message 16: by Aussiescribbler (new)

Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler Manny wrote: "Thank you!

the inaccurate assertion that genes are "immaterial and immortal"

Well, I think it's defensible... I would say genes are best considered as software, which just happen to be realized a..."


Ah, but the pattern changes and change is essentially death. Everything - from a molecule to you and me to the universe itself - is a system. To a greater or lesser extent these systems are in flux. The degree of permanence of any system can only be determined by its relative absence of change, but nothing actually ceases existence. What we think of as a cessation of existence is actually nothing more than a dramatic change in the system, for instance a change in my bodily system from one dominated by my thought processes and decisions to one dominated, perhaps, by the needs of the maggots and bacteria eating my corpse. The matter doesn't cease to exist, but the system changes drastically and may eventually merge entirely into other systems. But, of course, when alive we are not a system entirely of ourselves, but a focal point for any number of intersecting and interacting systems, physical, cultural, etc.

If anything can be said to be immortal it would have to be energy itself, because it is the most basic stuff of all systems, therefore, though the systems through which it flows are always changing, it cannot cease to exist or have its basic essence broken down. But one could argue that energy is also not immortal, because the concept of immortality only applies to something which is alive to begin with.

Or are you taking a Platonic view of genes (i.e. that they exist as concepts outside of physical reality and would exist whether there were animals and plants for them to provide guidance to or not?)

Finally, I have to say that anyone who thinks that software is immortal has had much better luck with their computers than I have. :o)


message 17: by Robert (new)

Robert Dawkins tries to exempt humans from his own theory, in the book: this is just one of the obvious and stupid errors he makes. The more I think about this book the more I notice that anything sound and convincing in it was done by somebody else.

It's scary that someone with such a poor understanding of science as Dawkins displays was ever a professor of Public Understanding of Science!

Genes are clearly not immortal in any physically meaningful sense simply because of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.


message 18: by Manny (new)

Manny Robert wrote: "Genes are clearly not immortal in any physically meaningful sense simply because of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics."

Okay, okay, they could potentially last until the Universe is pulled apart by dark energy or degraded into random thermal motion. Better?

I'm reminded of a joke I recently heard. An astronomer is giving a lecture on stellar evolution to a group of astronauts. Well, he says, in about five billion years the Sun will explode...

"WHAT???" screams someone near the back.

"I said, in about five billion years..."

"Oh... BILLION. I thought you said MILLION!"


message 19: by Traveller (last edited Jan 31, 2012 05:57AM) (new)

Traveller There's been some very interesting recent discoveries in the evolution of humankind and human social tendencies and intelligence, that points to a strange finding. Humans had a sudden huge impetus in their use of technology when a strange genetic mutation took place.

It was when humans actually developed a WEAKER jaw than before, which on the one hand made the human mouth better able to do human speech, but also made humans as a species more vulnerable and less able to defend themselves.

The theory propounded in the link I'm posting, is that the weaker jaw allowed for a larger brain to develop, but I prefer the other theory (can't find it now) that says it forced humans to co-operate with one another better, and facilitated more sophisticated speech. http://www.thetech.org/genetics/news....

So, as far as I'm concerned, it serves the human species to be less selfish and more co-operative with one another than, ..let's say... a cheetah male. :P

So I'm not quite convinced of the absolute usefulness of selfishness, which is why I never took to Ayn Rand either.

Anyway, to latch onto the discussion re how we can influence the course of human genetics and the "immortality" (until the last human dies) of certain genes: of course we can influence the course of how humanity's genetics develop in future, it is of course partly linked to how and with whom we procreate, but also to things like our politics and mores.

Who do we allow to live longer, by supporting them? Do we focus on alleviating poverty, and where, or do we focus on medical research, or do we focus on weaponry tech, etc. etc. Do we focus on curbing fertility and pop growth rates in poorer communities or do we focus, rather, on allowing human pop. to grow unchecked but rather look into strategies for using our earthly resources better or even start using other planets in our solar system to help with the shortage in resources that unchecked human population growth will cause. Or we could always cull the population via warfare. Or allow famine to cull in some areas, by not offering assistance/aid. etc.etc.

All these examples will influence the course of what the future crop of human genetic results would look like.


message 20: by Aussiescribbler (new)

Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler I haven't read Dawkins book, but in reading a description of his views on evolution somewhere I saw that he believes in the concept of random mutations. Perhaps this is also true of Darwin. I haven't read The Origin of Species either. But it struck me that belief in the possibility of something being truly random is inconsistent with a naturalistic view of the world, because it requires something to enter the universe from outside. Since everything which happens in the universe is part of a net of cause and effect continually feeding back upon itself etc., everything which happens is inevitable from the universal point of view. That is, if we knew everything about everything in the past, we would be able to predict the future. This being the case, nothing can be random (i.e. able to be either one way or another way).

Dawkins is rightly critical of creationists for believing that an influence from outside the universe is necessary to explain evolution, and yet he also includes a mythical force from outside the universe (i.e. randomness) in his attempt to explain evolution.

It isn't necessary. Evolution can be explained by the concept of intrinsic tendency. Energy has an intrinsic tendency to form itself into matter when the environment is conducive. Dead matter has the inherent tendency to become living matter when the right (admittedly rare) conditions exist. And living creatures have the inherent tendency to develop into more complex creatures where the environment allows. And all the time, the environment serves to weed out the "experiments" which are less practical. And when animals of a large enough brain complexity are allowed, by their environment, the luxury of nurturing their children for a longer time, higher intelligence and social culture realise the tendency which was intrinsically there all along.

No need for God, no need for randomness. Each level of complexity grows from the lower level of complexity because it is its nature to do so in the same way that a tree grows out of an acorn without the acorn having to understand what is happening and without the need for architect to determine where each branch goes. And without any of the process being anything more than the interaction of a little lump of matter with an inbuilt program interacting with its environment.


message 21: by Robert (new)

Robert Quantum mechanics is inherently random; the universe is not deterministic and it is impossible to determine the state of a system with absolute precision.

Darwin had no concept of random mutation because genes had not been discovered; one of the problems with his theory is that there was insufficient persistence of traits according to any known mechanism: genetics saved the day for evolution.

Manny, have you been hiding in an ivory tower, not to have heard that joke until recently?!


message 22: by Traveller (last edited Jan 31, 2012 06:06AM) (new)

Traveller Aussiescribbler wrote: "Manny wrote: "Thank you!

the inaccurate assertion that genes are "immaterial and immortal"

Well, I think it's defensible... I would say genes are best considered as software, which just happen to..."


You have to think of genes in terms of a blueprint. It's the features encompassed in this blueprint that will be immortal, if they continue to be passed on from parent to offspring on and on.

A bit like the Platonic idea insofar as these features are abstract. Like a blueprint for blond hair. The "plan" of what the genes for blonde hair looks like, will die in the mother when she dies, but will live on in her blonde son.


message 23: by Aussiescribbler (new)

Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler Once again quantum mechanics is something I know little about, but how can we know that it is random? The fact that we cannot perceive a pattern doesn't mean it is not there.

Surely we have to take our psychological state into account in any attempt to understand reality. Nature and society are like Rorschach blots which we interpret according to our own psychological state. According to Wikipedia many physicists continue to believe (as Einstein did) that deterministic factors exist within quantum phenomena but we just haven't found them yet.

The psychological problem with the concept of a meaningfully unfolding universe (in which each increasing level of complexity occurs through cooperative processes (the competitive processes being the ones which prune the tree so to speak) is that our disintegrating society in which we are becoming ever more alienated from ourselves and each other would appear to be a failed experiment when the universe is viewed in this way. If you are falling apart it is no doubt more comforting to concentrate on the phenomenon of entropy, for instance, than to think about the fact that, if it were the dominant force, we couldn't possible exist.


message 24: by Aussiescribbler (new)

Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler Traveller wrote: "Aussiescribbler wrote: "Manny wrote: "Thank you!

the inaccurate assertion that genes are "immaterial and immortal"

Well, I think it's defensible... I would say genes are best considered as softwa..."


What I meant by changing is that, in the early days of life on earth, dinosaur genes didn't exist, then they did, now they don't again, and there are aspects of homo sapiens sapiens genes which did not, presumably, exist in homo erectus, etc. Genes may be the rules of the game, but the game is always changing.


message 25: by Manny (last edited Jan 31, 2012 07:15AM) (new)

Manny Aussiescribbler wrote: "in the early days of life on earth, dinosaur genes didn't exist, then they did, now they don't again"

You should really check out some of Dawkins's books, in particular this one and The Ancestor's Tale! Many dinosaur genes are almost certainly still around today - usually, only a small minority of the genes are unique to the species. The picture is far weirder and far more beautiful than you think. I wish I understood it better.


message 26: by Manny (new)

Manny Robert wrote: "Manny, have you been hiding in an ivory tower, not to have heard that joke until recently?!"

Switzerland is virtually joke-proof. Almost all of them are stopped at the border, smothered in melted cheese, and then stored in deep mines for 50 years or until they're no longer funny. I heard that one from a foreigner who'd illegally smuggled it in.


message 27: by Aussiescribbler (new)

Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler I have seen a diet book around called Taming the Dinosaur Gene. :o)

I know I should read these books.

But, I wonder, can you really call something a "dinosaur gene" if it is not in a dinosaur? Isn't that like saying we have "carrot elements" in us, because, like carrots, we have carbon and oxygen and hydrogen atoms in us?


message 28: by Ted (last edited Jan 31, 2012 07:35AM) (new)

Ted Manny wrote: "Thank you!

the inaccurate assertion that genes are "immaterial and immortal"

Well, I think it's defensible... I would say genes are best considered as software, which just happen to be realized a..."


I too (like Aussiescribbler) thought of the comparison of your "immaterial and immortal" gene to the concept of a Platonic form. When I asked my wife (whose career was in biochemistry) what her idea of a gene was , she said that in the fewest words, it was something (DNA or RNA) that codes for a protein - thus surely a physical, material entity, from that point of view.

However, having read Darwin's Dangerous Idea (though certainly not comprehended everything in that book very clearly) I would grant that there appear to be other useful concepts of "gene" on a higher level than the physical (meta-genes?), and that the loose description of genes as "software" would likely be one of those useful concepts.

I would still maintain, however, that without going the Platonic route, the immortality of genes doesn't appear to me to be a valid, or at least useful, idea. When there are no more humans, and no more life anywhere nearly related to us (such as our non-human ancestors), there will be no more human genes. And, unfortunately, there appear to be plausible, though still unlikely, scenarios that can know be described, in which this will come about sometime in the next century or two. If so, we humans will have demonstrated with ultimate finality that we were our own worst enemies.


message 29: by Manny (last edited Jan 31, 2012 07:48AM) (new)

Manny But, I wonder, can you really call something a "dinosaur gene" if it is not in a dinosaur? Isn't that like saying we have "carrot elements" in us, because, like carrots, we have carbon and oxygen and hydrogen atoms in us?

I'm just saying that most genes aren't specific to a species. There's a nice passage near the end of The Ancestor's Tale where Dawkins speculates on how bacteria might see other living things. He thinks that they would consider people, dinosaurs, ants, trees and even sponges to be basically pretty similar.


message 30: by Traveller (last edited Jan 31, 2012 07:50AM) (new)

Traveller Aussiescribbler wrote: "I have seen a diet book around called Taming the Dinosaur Gene. :o)

I know I should read these books.

But, I wonder, can you really call something a "dinosaur gene" if it is not in a dinosaur? Is..."


Yes, in a way that is how genetics work, but not on that basic level - it's almost as if as far as DNA is concerned, you need a certain blueprint to produce certain characteristics. It's like, if you draw up engineering plans for a car, a twin engine aeroplane and a prop plane, some aspects of those blueprints or plans are going to look the same, even if it's just the nuts and bolts, or the struts or the wheels, or aspects of the fuselage. ..and other aspects are going to be different which turns it to a different end-product but that end-product still shares features with other end-products.

You should perhaps get yourself a chromosome/genetics primer (believe me, I've tried to get on top of the subject, and it's pretty involved, but very interesting) that, amongst other things, literally shows you pictures of how the genes look inside the chromosomes.

The technology of how genomes are being 'mapped' (still an ongoing process) is very interesting.

Aussiescribbler, I think you'll be very interested, really. Even a basic introduction like Genetics For Dummies (For Dummies will most probably whet your appetite. Why don't you try it, it's an inexpensive book. I have it, amongst other books on genetics - but my bigger textbooks are older, and this is a still developing field. Anyway, I found it pretty interesting, especially the mapping aspect.


message 31: by Aussiescribbler (new)

Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler I'm just saying that most genes aren't specific to a species. There's a nice passage near the end of The Ancestor's Tale where Dawkins speculates on how bacteria might see other living things. He speculates that they would consider people, dinosaurs, ants, trees and even sponges to be basically pretty similar.

I like that idea. It makes sense to me, because it seems to me that each level of organisation would not be able to comprehend the level above it in complexity. So, to a single-celled organism, any multi-celled organism would appear to be "a bunch of cells". That would be its defining characteristic because that is how it differs from the single-celled organism. But to see that one "bunch of cells" differs significantly in its nature and abilities to another one would have to be on that level of complexity or higher.

Similarly, all books would be fairly indistinguishable to a cat, because it can't read, and one can't understand the difference between Shakespeare and Mickey Spillane unless one can read them.

And I think this also applies to the next stage of human evolution. We won't really know what it is like until we get there. Philosophers, like Teilhard de Chardin, have speculated about it. But when we get there I think we will look back on our current situation and see ourselves in what is then the past like we might see monkeys now, as retarded individuals who just couldn't understand where evolution was leading them.


message 32: by Manny (new)

Manny I like that idea. It makes sense to me, because it seems to me that each level of organisation would not be able to comprehend the level above it in complexity. So, to a single-celled organism, any multi-celled organism would appear to be "a bunch of cells".

It's actually more interesting than that. Dawkins says that the differences between living things made from eukaryotic cells (i.e. all large creatures) are objectively much smaller than the differences between microbes. Most of us don't know much about microbes, so we don't notice that. Like I said, I wish I understood this better!


message 33: by Traveller (new)

Traveller Manny wrote: "It's actually more interesting than that. Dawkins says that the differences between living things made from eukaryotic cells (i.e. all large creatures) are objectively much smaller than the differences between microbes. Most of us don't know much about microbes, so we don't notice that..."

Yes, in other words, in many ways similar on a cellular level.


message 34: by Aussiescribbler (new)

Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler, I think you'll be very interested, really. Even a basic introduction like Genetics For Dummies (For Dummies will most probably whet your appetite. Why don't you try it, it's an inexpensive book. I have it, amongst other books on genetics - but my bigger textbooks are older, and this is a still developing field. Anyway, I found it pretty interesting, especially the mapping aspect.

Expense is not an issue. I work in a library, so I can read any of these books for free.

Time is the issue. I'm afraid of whetting my appetite, because there is never enough time for me to do all the things I already want to do. :o)

There are so many books I should read. When I wrote my book How to Be Free my main aim was to express the useful things I had learned about psychology from my own experience, but in writing that I had to make use of various concepts and bits of theories and information I'd picked up here and there.

Having made reference to several books by the psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich, I remembered that I'd only actually read one of his books all the way through, and most I hadn't even glanced at. So now I'm trying to catch up with what I already gave the impression I was very knowledgable about.

But, also, I put forward a theory of human evolution loosely based on someone else's theory that I thought had promise but was seriously flawed. But I really haven't done much broad reading on human evolution, so again, I probably should learn more about what I've already expressed opinions about in my writing.

And I make reference to evolution as a whole. Once again, I haven't read Darwin or Dawkins or much else. I've just picked up the gyst here and there at school or on Wikipedia.

Essentially, I just used my imagination and whatever was rattling around in my head to create an all-encompassing theory of human evolution, psychology, sexuality, consciousness, etc.

And it doesn't just work for me. Other people have had a lot of good things to say about it.

So part of me thinks I should go and try to educate myself more on genes and quantum physics and the Big Bang Theory. But that could take up a hell of a lot of time. And it is psychology which interests me most.

Here is an example of how I used reference to evolution in the service of therapeutic psychology.

Most of us accept that it would be unreasonable to expect ourselves to be perfect, but we still see perfection as an ideal, something to be pursued. And yet to pursue perfection, if such a thing even exists, makes about as much sense as pursuing death.

If anything were ever perfect it would be sterile. It would be a dead end.

Everything wonderful in the whole universe has grown out of imperfection. That is how the creative principle of the universe works.

The universe is a system - a network of energy, some of which behaves in a particular kind of orderly way that we refer to as matter. This matter exists in a web of action and interaction with other matter and forms of energy. And some of that matter is alive and operating under its own internal direction as a subsystem of the whole. And the most complex form of that living matter is ourselves as we look out into the universe and try to understand it.

But how did we come about? Through a serious of mutations, i.e. imperfections. Perfection is a steady-state. But the creative principle operates through variation. An animal, for instance, is born which is not quite right, a mutation of some kind. If that variation, that imperfection, proves beneficial then something new and wonderful comes into existence, a new branch on the tree of life. And all of those imperfections led to us.

And yet we somehow became intolerant of our mistakes and imperfections instead of seeing them as an intrinsic part of the creative process of the universe.


So that seems simple and uncontroversial enough to me, but part of me thinks, "Should a person who hasn't ever read whole book on evolution talk about it as if he actually understood it in detail?" Because that I don't.


message 35: by Robert (new)

Robert Aussiescribbler wrote: "Once again quantum mechanics is something I know little about, but how can we know that it is random? The fact that we cannot perceive a pattern doesn't mean it is not there.

Surely we have to tak..."


Interesting stuff, everyone!

Whilst it is conceivable that a "hidden variable" theory more fundamental than quantum mechanics exists, there is no evidence of one at the moment. Hence it is people who say, "but the universe must be deterministic, really!" who have their heads in the sand. We are faced with non-determinism as being the case as best we can tell right now. Basing one's evolutionary theories on a physical theory that doesn't exist and may never exist would be poor science.


message 36: by Aussiescribbler (new)

Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler It's actually more interesting than that. Dawkins says that the differences between living things made from eukaryotic cells (i.e. all large creatures) are objectively much smaller than the differences between microbes. Most of us don't know much about microbes, so we don't notice that. Like I said, I wish I understood this better!

This suggests to me the bridging of an impasse. Once a particular kind of cell developed which had the potential to form the basis of multi-cellular organisms that genetic blueprint could thrive and diversify without the need for so much "experimentation" (so to speak) at the most basic level. In other words, when evolution is onto a good thing, it sticks to it.


message 37: by Robert (new)

Robert Slime moulds are fun: a bunch of individual bacteria flobble about gobbling up food until food gets scarce, then, the individuals agglomerate when they bump into each other until a giant (still microscopic) flobbly monster is roaming around, gobbling up any food particles it finds by surrounding them and having the individual bacteria wrestle for bits of it! Then when food gets really hard to find, the cells encyst and get blown away by the next puff of air, dispersing as they go, until they land as individuals scattered all over. Hopefully some land in a food rich environment.

So is a slime mould a real creature? It's never more than a bunch of individuals glommed together.

PS. I like the words, "flobble" and flobbly."


message 38: by Aussiescribbler (new)

Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler Whilst it is conceivable that a "hidden variable" theory more fundamental than quantum mechanics exists, there is no evidence of one at the moment. Hence it is people who say, "but the universe must be deterministic, really!" who have their heads in the sand. We are faced with non-determinism as being the case as best we can tell right now. Basing one's evolutionary theories on a physical theory that doesn't exist and may never exist would be poor science.


The problem with accepting the idea that things are non-deterministic on a quantum level is, if that level is the substrata of the level on which we live, how do we explain the determinism clearly evident on this level? If we repeat a particular action with all of the environmental variables the same, we get the same result. That's how I can be fairly sure that if I drop an egg on the floor it will break. We can't predict everything because we can't determine all variables, but without predictability there could be no science.

But one explanation might be that things get more predictable the bigger and more complex they get, that things are totally chaotic and non-deterministic at the most basic level but that predictability gels out of this as one goes up the levels. This is similar to what happens in statistics where it is hard to predict things about a group of ten people but much easier with a group of one billion.


message 39: by Robert (new)

Robert Well, a good test of a quantum theory is, does it "scale up" to classical theory? There is an active field of study called "decoherence" that is trying to understand how this happens, but in many cases it is clear that current theories will scale up. For instance, if you understand how a quantum mechanical electron behaves in free space, how a quantum mechanical brick behaves is intuitively obvious -and it will match the classical theory of a brick in free space.


message 40: by Robert (new)

Robert Oh, statistical arguments are used, btw: there's a whole field called Statistical Mechanics, one of the "basic" results of which is that you will only recognise the quantum nature of a gas at very low temperatures.


message 41: by Traveller (last edited Jan 31, 2012 10:29AM) (new)

Traveller Aussiescribbler wrote: "Expense is not an issue. I work in a library, so I can read any of these books for free.

Time is the issue. I'm afraid of whetting my appetite, because there is never enough time for me to do all the things I already want to do. :o)
..."


Heh, if you really needed more time, we wouldn't be hanging out here on GR... ugh, last year I avoided GR for a full 4 months. I got so much else done in that time.

..but during the December hols I got suckered in again.

Ok, so in order to save time, I'm going to stop there and ask you a single question: "What is 'perfection' anyway? How do you define perfection?"


message 42: by Aussiescribbler (new)

Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler I suppose I would define perfection as an absence of flaws. But this itself opens a can of worms. What is a flaw? It depends on your viewpoint. If Hitler had had a dicky heart it would have been a flaw in the system called Hitler, but it might have been a beneficial adaptation in the system called 1930s Europe.

But I did say perfection, if such a thing even exists, because I believe on one level it is a myth. And a very pernicious myth. I follow the passage above with a discussion of the historical concept of a perfect God and point out that the belief in such a God accelerated the decline in our ability to accept ourselves and thus made us more aggressive and more selfish, while scaring us into repressing expression of these tendencies or channeling them into socially acceptable forms such as war and the persecution of non-conformists.

However the concept of perfection can be useful as a tool for thinking about things. For instance, there may be no such thing as a perfect circle, except in the Platonic realm, because there are bound to be wobbles in the line at some level of magnification. We can't expect complete regularity to stand up to infinite magnification. But we can tell that the vaguely round thing we draw without assistance departs further from the unrealisable ideal of the perfect circle than the one we draw with a the aid of a compass.

In making use of the concept of perfection we have to try to hit the happy medium. If I were intolerant of imperfections in what I am writing here, I wouldn't write anything. I'd spend my whole life trying to improve on my selection of words. But, if I didn't have the ideal of correct spelling and grammar and concise expression to aim at I might just be typing in a random jumble of letters.


message 43: by Traveller (last edited Feb 01, 2012 12:24PM) (new)

Traveller Thanks for putting your view into context. I personally have a problem with the idea of perfection, so I like that you're putting the Platonic idea of perfection on one end of the scale of supposed 'perfection' - but of course that is a complete abstract, and even in Plato's world it's not a part of the world that we live in. :)


message 44: by Aussiescribbler (new)

Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler Traveller wrote: "Thanks for putting your view into context. I personally have a problem with the idea of perfection, so I like that you're putting the Platonic idea of perfection on one end of the scale of suppose..."

When dealing with psychology the fact that someone believes in something is sometimes more important than whether it actually exists. In a perfect world it would be possible to cure a perfectionist by proving that perfection cannot exist. But, as anyone who has any knowledge of the history of religion knows, our beliefs exist to meet emotional needs. The reason it is so hard to get someone to abandon even a counterproductive irrational belief by presenting rational evidence is because a belief cannot be changed unless its place is taken in the structure of the personality by something which works better for that individual - something that meets his or her emotional needs or changes or eliminates those needs. In the case of perfectionism, I think it is learned behaviour. At some point the insecure ego picks up from someone else the message that striving for perfection will gain them a sense of approval from their fellows. This may not be true, but the more the individual invests in this strategy the harder it is to abandon, because to abandon it would seem to be an admission of defeat, and thus something which would increase the painful sense of insecurity. The best approach to curing someone of perfectionism is to address the issue of their sense of insecurity directly, something I try to do in my book in the following way :

But if we consider ourselves in our entirety in this very moment, we know these things :

1. Anything we have done is in the past and cannot be changed, thus it is pointless to do anything else but accept it. No regrets or guilt.

2. While our actions can harm others, our thoughts and emotions, in and of themselves, never can. So we should accept them and allow them to be and go where they will. While emotions sometimes drive actions, those who completely accept their emotions and allow themselves to feel them fully, have more choice over how they act in the light of them.

Self-criticism never made anyone a better person. Anyone who does a “good deed” under pressure from their conscience or to gain the approval of others takes out the frustration involved in some other way. The basis for loving behaviour towards others is the ability to love ourselves. And loving ourselves unconditionally, means loving ourselves exactly as we are at this moment.

This might seem to be complacency, but in fact the natural activity of the individual is healthy growth, and what holds us back from it is fighting with those things we can’t change and the free thought and emotional experience which is the very substance of that growth.



message 45: by Traveller (new)

Traveller Aussiescribbler wrote: "When dealing with psychology the fact that someone believes in something is sometimes more important than whether it actually exists. In a perfect world it would be possible to cure a perfectionist by proving that perfection cannot exist. But, as anyone who has any knowledge of the history of religion knows, our beliefs exist to meet emotional needs. The reason it is so hard to get someone to abandon even a counterproductive irrational belief by presenting rational evidence is because a belief cannot be changed unless its place is taken in the structure of the personality by something which works better for that individual - something that meets his or her emotional needs or changes or eliminates those needs. In the case of perfectionism, I think it is learned behaviour. ."

Oh, I absolutely, absolutely agree with you on that one. (Btw, long ago, I too was raised and grew up as a perfectionist. Having a child is a quick automatic cure, though. ;) )

Anyway, the emotional need for religion is something that a person like Richard Dawkins doesn't address, which is to me why his book : "The God Delusion" fails.

He seems to assume humans are robotic machines and he completely misses that humans are complex psychological beings.

All his arguments might seem quite logical, but they're going to go in one ear and out the other of an individual who is emotionally invested in his religion.


message 46: by Robert (new)

Robert I never win arguments because I use logic and evidence...


message 47: by Traveller (last edited Feb 02, 2012 12:44AM) (new)

Traveller Robert wrote: "I never win arguments because I use logic and evidence..."

Ha ha. How true. Yes, I must say that I've felt pretty frustrated and disillusioned recently when I realized how many people simply aren't prepared to think rationally because it makes them feel uncomfortable to do so... :(

They seem to be bit like the prisoners in Plato's "Cave" allegory. ( I find a lot of Plato weird, but a lot of the core ideas seem useful if you put your own spin on it, and re-interpret it to fit into your own context. )


message 48: by Aussiescribbler (new)

Aussiescribbler Aussiescribbler Traveller wrote: "Robert wrote: "I never win arguments because I use logic and evidence..."

Ha ha. How true. Yes, I must say that I've felt pretty frustrated and disillusioned recently when I realized how many peo..."


Which reminds me of another passage in my book How to Be Free (which is free from Smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/... )

Very often when discussing things with those who cling to rigid dogmas, I’ve tried to point out that that dogmatic thinking is irrational or illogical in some way. I can’t ever remember a case of them giving consideration to this criticism, rather, in most cases, they would respond simply by strongly restating their faith in that dogma. This makes sense, because dogma is precisely a defence against the brain’s capacity for free thought based on the fear that such thought might lead to a scary place.


message 49: by Riku (new)

Riku Sayuj One question: Do you object to the use of religious metaphors by scientists?


message 50: by Nandakishore (new)

Nandakishore Varma Robert wrote: "I never win arguments because I use logic and evidence..."

In Bergman's movie Wild Strawberries, there are two youths fighting for the favour of a girl: one an atheist, and the other a theist training up to become a pastor. Towards the end of the movie, they settle the argument in favour of theism when the pastor-to-be twists the arm of his friend all the way up his back till he agrees that there is a God.

IMO, this is the only way to "win" an argument - brute force! ;)


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