darwin's famous apostle
March 6, 2002 7:08 AM   Subscribe

darwin's famous apostle an interesting interview with richard dawkins pondering darwinism as it is perceived today. Life the universe and everything.
posted by johnnyboy (8 comments total)
Thanks for the link. It's a tad old, but I found it interesting. I also found this response, at the end of the piece, illuminating: "To me, human consciousness is a deep, philosophically mysterious manifestation of brain activity and is in some sense a product of Darwinian evolution. But we don't yet really have any idea how it evolved and where it fits into a Darwinian view of biology."

That's really the rub, isn't it? Although he expresses it as fact ("is in some sense a product of Darwinian evolution"), I'm not sure he has a basis on which to be so certain. Why have only humans made the leap to consciousness -- why haven't we seen it in other animals (or even anything close to it)? How could we have gone from a lack of consciousness to possessing consciousness in a blink of an eye (evolutionarily speaking)? Why do I appreciate a sunset, or music? Now my head hurts.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:33 AM on March 6, 2002

I think the real point is that sometimes we pretend to have all the answers and can sound very convincing interspersing our monologues copiously with jargon. However we don't even know what the questions to ask without hurting our brains with answers.
posted by johnnyboy at 8:11 AM on March 6, 2002

Understanding not only Darwinism, but everything from the Big Bang to present day, is a painfully mind-numbing process because we don't even know what the final picture for the puzzle is supposed to look like. It's like opening a box full of puzzle pieces but not seeing anywhere on the box even how many pieces are supposed to be in the box. Or maybe some of the pieces to the puzzle aren't supposed to fit. I happen to believe that religion and theology are part of the puzzle, but some think that the pieces of the puzzle from theology are obstactles that are in the way. Some can't rationally put the pieces found by science together with the concept that there is in fact a supreme omniscient force in the universe putting everything together.

We may have about half the pieces before us now after centuries of investigation and research, or we may only have one percent of what we need to know to make a rational determination of "all the answers." Maybe Darwinism is completely wrong. We honestly don't know.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:22 AM on March 6, 2002

Certainly interesting, but in the end, methinks Richard Dawkins should stick to subjects he knows a thing or two about. Such as Family Feud.
posted by mathis23 at 9:36 AM on March 6, 2002

IMHO: Humans made the leap to conciousness because the pressures of genetic evolution were overtaken by the pressures of memetic evolution.

Scientists (anthropologists, biologists) agree that probably the defining difference between humans and other primates, the thing that sparked the bizzare success of our species, was language. Thanks to Dawkins, we now know that one very powerful was of looking at language is to consider it the mechanism of meme propogation, the memetic reproduction. Memes mutate and reproduce MUCH faster than genes, their evolution operates at lightspeed compared to genes and thus is much more powerful. When human brains first became biologically capable of harboring and transmitting memes, there was a brief period where genetic evolution would have been pressured to enhance meme propogation. This led to drastic enhancement of the our newborn language facilities and conciousness. Then, once our brains were sufficiently adapted, memetic evolution took over entirely (the birth of civilization) and reproductive success, by and large, stopped having anything to do with genetic fitness.

But humans made the leap so quickly because there was a gigantic evolutionary pressure to enhance memetic reproduction. Nature had found something even better than genetic evolution. The situation is analagous to the initial evolution of sexual reproduction- sexual reproduction does is not beneficial in and of itself (in fact, it's detrimental because it makes reproduction just that much more of a hassle) but it sped up evolution itself (more technically, it allowed evolution to operate on genes, and smaller units, rather than just whole genomes... more specificity), and thus was selected for.

As for why you appreciate a sunset, or music... I pretty much have no clue. It may have something to do with random idiocyncracies of our perceptual system which culture has exploited to tickle our brains. But that's admittedly vague.
posted by gsteff at 11:08 AM on March 6, 2002

Gsteff, you're on the ball. Those are great explanations for consciousness and sex. Here's what worries me about Dawkins: He is so violently anti-religion that he makes me suspicious. Why does he hate the catholic church? Is he afraid that its teachings might, in fact, be true, and that he is going to hell? Why else protest so much? Why not go after other ideology-forming institutions? There are lots of them that are way more popular and henious and effective than the clunky old catholic church. Why not just go about his business of study and writing, and if he needs to engage an enemy, engage an enemy on his same intellectual level -- like Stephen Jay Gould (which, of course, he does also). I'm worried that this brilliant man has nothing better to do than attack religion. It makes me think that there might be something to this religion stuff after all. Why should God be such a threat to people who don't believe in him?
posted by Faze at 11:48 AM on March 6, 2002

Why should God be such a threat to people who don't believe in him?

Atheists, even intellectually brilliant ones, can be fundamentalists too. I am not religious but I share your unease over Dawkins anti-religious sentiments, they suggest a narrow ideological agenda that is distinct but easilly mixed up with his scientific work.

Part of what makes being an agnostic fun is shaking your finger at theists and atheists alike. Bring back Skepticism I say!
posted by homunculus at 12:45 PM on March 6, 2002

I think the real point is that sometimes we pretend to have all the answers and can sound very convincing interspersing our monologues copiously with jargon.

Ironically, that's what I think Dawkins delivers. He's full of quick and relatively easy answers. I like how much darwinism applies to just about everything with him. Personally, I see him as a one trick pony who panders to the hard-atheist crowd and something of a reactionary to competing cosmologies.

Like homunculus, I wish there was a real or just an agenda-less skeptical poster-boy. Its the old CSICOP party line which neatly ignores that dogma, evangelizing, and rationalizing can apply to their own cosmology.
posted by skallas at 1:23 AM on March 7, 2002

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