Re: meta-ethics or ethology

From: CMR <>
Date: Tue, 3 Feb 2004 08:41:12 -0800

> Planet of the apes?

Greetings Mike,

This post I made on a parallell thread (but not in a parrallell universe -I
think) speaks to your concerns here (I think):

> People 'want' to do what they are conditioned to do.
> Our behavior is not 'hard wired'. Otherwise, how did I
> evolve to sit here and type at a computer?

Agreed. In fact nothing in your reply (or in Pinker's literature) is in
conflict with my post, aside from your apparent implication that human
culture is a entirely unique phenom w/o precedent in our biosphere.
"Hardwired" is your term not mine. Indeed, not even bonobos are the
"mindless" slaves of rigid instinct, but learn new behaviors.and even teach
others. They have their own memes, and those memes, like the organisms that
form them, are different in some order of complexity from ours and us. But,
again, not different in kind, IMHO. More complex? yes; emergent?, yes; of a
different set of things, decidedly not.

Chimps did not "evolve" to fish termites out of a mound either, they devise
it via empirical method, then teach it to others. Culture.

To meet your "hard-wired" criteria, one would logically have to restrict
ethology and ecology to groups at the neurological/behavioral level of the
insects (though I would argue that the distributed "swarm" intelligence of
the eusocials can be seen an emergent phenom greater than the constituent
sum "brain power").

Yes our symbolic language was and is the key to much of our resultant
culture, and that language is the emergent result of our emergent evermore
interconnected brain etc.. But that complexity does not render in
uninterpretable in the contexts that interpret less complex forms. Ethology,
ecology and evolutionary theory are plenty robust and extensible enough for
the job.

Interestingly this reminds me a bit of the EO Wilson / SJ Gould embroglio.
The nature "hard-wireds" vs the nurture "clean-slaters". What is interesting
about it is that neither giant in their fields really saw things in the
simplistic way that their position was portrayed, judging by each man's
subsequent writings in any case. For myself, I think that they were, and
are, both correct, and that both views are robust enough to integrate and
compliment the other. As is so often the case in life, the "truth" lies
somewhere between two opposing views (even if when deconstructed, the two
views aren't all that oppositional).

Wilson's epi-genetics presaged dawkin's memes and Gould's spandrels evoke
the emergent, self-organized systems that are the "order for free" provided
by universal evolutionary processes in open systems. Memes are emergent,
self organized adaptive systems but are also constrained and/or amplified by
"selective" processes in feedback loops on the same, and on other, scales in
a hierarchy.

But, in the end, this is like the NAO/ global warming issue of a prior post.
I doubt I'd ever convince you that we're in the end naked apes that have
taken to fancy ways. I predict that you'll never convincingly argue to me
that we're not. I believe Diamond's correct that we are in fact the third
chimp and that's quite alright by me. I think we're in fine company, judging
by how they treat their home in contrast to how we treat ours. And if
somewhere in all possible universes there does exist a "planet of the apes",
let us hope that they're doing a better job of running things than us. It
wouldn't be hard, I imagine.

Charlton Heston: "You maniacs!... You blew it up!... Ah, da(r)n you!...
Go(sh) da(r)n you all to he(ck)!!" (Planet of the Apes, 1968)



<-- insert gratuitous quotation that implies my profundity here -->
Received on Tue Feb 03 2004 - 12:47:40 PST

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