Monday, 25 December 2017

Short Aphorism

Once upon a time, linguists acknowledged that a language is but a dialect with an army and navy (my thanks to Max Weinreich for diffusing the metaphor, and to the unknown man that first had this illumination).

Similarly, the history of Scientology teaches us that a religion is but a cult with a police and a sufficient number of lawyers. 

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Some Of The One Thousand Misunderstandings On Darwinism

Or, rather, the manifold ways we manage to get Darwinism -  and, by far and large, a whole host of other concepts derived from "the sciences of life" - wrong.

The first thing I noticed, many - usually, authors of entertainment fodder - seems to treat Darwinism as if it was a kind of "atheist" religion.

Darwin proposed a theory about the mechanisms that allow the natural evolution of the species, based upon the natural appearance of mutations - as a result, we now know, of both casual errors in the DNA replication, as well as some mechanisms that seem designed to introduce massive mutations by the replication or deletion of blocks or "regulative" DNA - and a successive elimination of the variants less apt for the current environment.

Now, a theory is really something like "a scientific explanation of how something may work, that has not been proven completely wrong yet - though it may someday be -  and has some utility in explaining new phenomena as they are encountered".

As a scientific theory, his was a good one, and it has survived many an attempt at disproving it.

However, it is still nothing more - and nothing less - than a successful scientific theory.  It has nothing to do with religion, and shouldn't even inform ethic decisions, as it has no moral relevance.

I argue that the very first act our species did when it conquered sapience, was, in fact, getting rid of much of the parts of Darwin's theory pertaining to the competition among individuals.

The very first thing we did when we became able to exchange ideas, was starting to live together in big groups, opting for various forms of collaborative lifestyle that allowed us to pool the talents of each member of the group.

Of course, Darwin theory gave birth to "Darwinism", an intellectual framework that allowed to expand Darwin's original theory when it became evident, for example, that in social species the competition is not only among individuals but also among social groups.

As an intellectual framework, Darwinism is a decently solid one... as long as one remembers that it does not always apply and that one can't cherry-pick which facets of the theories - it spawn a number of them - to follow, and which to forget.

On one side, casual mutation is not the only mechanism by which a species evolve, as least as far as phenotype (physical body shape) goes. 

Lamarck wasn't right but was not completely wrong either.

We now know that there are mechanisms - called "epigenetic"  - by which the stresses encountered by the parents influence the development of the offspring, usually modulating their base metabolism.

This influence is reversible - which explains why the human population is generally growing taller, in those countries that are accumulating generation after generation of well-fed individuals with access to good quality proteins, nearing the dimensions of the last generations of hunter-gatherers - but impossible to deny.

On the other side, collaboration has a wide importance in the natural world.

We have discovered that bacteria exchange information on how to dominate their environment, not only among individuals but also even across species, and many of the most successful insects have hive structures grouping thousands or hundred thousands of individuals.

In other words, competition may be inevitable, but collaboration often helps a lot. So, when you hear a "Social Darwinist", what you are hearing is - really and usually - just a greedy opportunist.

Another classic case of "cherry-picking" Darwin's ideas to justify arbitrary preferences is, in my view, the "science" called Eugenics.

While it may be appealing to use our knowledge to shape the evolution of our species, the truth is that any such effort's first result would be - inevitably, by the very nature of the idea of Eugenics - to reduce the variability of our species' genetic pool.

And while it may appeal to some petty desires to have taller offspring - to make an example -  it would also condemn them, should some dramatic change of the environment make being taller than five feet a liability.

Proponents of Eugenics may use the name of Darwin but, in reality, the whole idea is rather

Eugenics points me to another of the diffused misunderstandings that surround poor Darwin and his ideas, one that we indulge pretty often, almost all of us.

Evolution has no actual purpose, nor aim, nor does it have any "moral" value.

When these concepts appear, associated with natural evolution, is a reflection of prejudices, usually of anthropocentric nature and sometimes, even more restrictedly, just Euro-centric ones.

Usually, all it is needed to highlight this is simply an examination of the criteria used to define a species as successful or evolved.

If it is "we recognize the species as well made"... it has no universal meaning worth the name.

If we decide to use the aggregated mass of its components, as an indirect measure of the species prevalence in securing control over its environment, then cows are the most successful multi-cellular species on the planet. However, if one was to consider all bacteria as elements of an extended organism, that one would be twice the mass of cows, or about three times the one of humans.

The most successful super-organism on the planet.

But when we use "evolved", we often really mean "likeable" - which has no bearing on evolution.

If we use number of individuals, flies easily exceed human numbers - they are a hugely successful species.

At the same time, purposeless and aimless as it may be, evolution never stops, even when it may appear so at a superficial glance.

As a result, the concept of "living fossil" is - mostly - a joke that evolutionists pull on laymen.

Take -  if you will - its most famous "example", the shark.

The general body shape of sharks is so well tuned to their environment that it has hardly changed in a couple of hundred millions years. In fact, millions of years later, when cetacean went back to sea they copied the shark general shape (hydrodynamics rocks!).

But, the same can be said of desktop computers and office spaces - Yet, try navigating Internet with an IBM AT, and you'll see what I am getting to.

If it was to come back today, a shark of 200 million years ago would probably starve trying to catch the fish that its somewhat faster descendant has no issue catching, all the while his body would be consumed by hundred of pathogens that its very much alike-looking namesake fend-off on a daily basis.

(Note: Crichton, writing "Jurassic Park", knew it well and used - in an utterly brilliant way - the necessity of modern egg-donors as a clever work-around; the Raptors are at least as much some descendants of their modern - i.e. fit to today's environment - amphibians "mothers" as they are of the sparse reptilian DNA fragments recovered from fossils. Also, from their amphibian parents they got the ability to change sex in times of stress, which is one that many humans would like to have, and made for a great plot point... that guy was good.)

I think that you got the gist of what I was saying, by now.

I leave you the toil of thinking about other ways we mistreat Darwin - there must be more than a few that escaped my fantasy and capacity for  recognition.

So, remember - when you encounter someone using "evolution" as an explication for any policy - and you will - proposal, he or she is likely pulling a scam.

Or misdirected.

Or both.

Kettles and Pots

Some time ago, I was reading an article (on the New York Times) about how the Egyptian government, confronted with a number of issues comprising the next best thing to a civil war, wasted an outstanding amount of energies in trying to crack down on homosexuals  and lesbians.

More or less for the crime of existing and wanting a sexual-romantic life at their terms - as usual.

While I can agree, I really feel that it is a bit of a joke. 

Regulating sexual behaviours has ALWAYS and WILL always be among the main reasons for the very existence of ruling hierarchies in human societies.

After all, the best reproductive strategy for a male would be to kill the sons of others and shag the mothers as soon as they get  receptive again - something our "cousins" Chimpanzees, effectively, do.

While it can be "reasonable" for a single male, it is a waste of resources for any organized group - so, as soon as we started being a social animal, that had to go, as the tribes with less child killers were more fit to win in the constant struggles with neighbouring groups. 

The only thing that changes, between societies, is WHICH sexual behaviours are decried as "aberrant", and thus subjected to harassment and persecution by a given society.

An "excessive" example: once upon a time, the Athenians were disgusted by the Spartans - because these liked to make love to their women, and also liked for their women to be athletic and fit, mentally as well as physically. Oh, and they let the damn women out in the open, sometime in the nude.

The Athenians preferred to limit the interactions with their house-bound wives to the minimum required to produce offspring, and otherwise preferred the company of young males (for somewhat similar reasons, Japanese well-offs preferred the geishas, i.e. escorts, to their wives... as Tony Soprano once put, "that is the mouth that kisses my children").

Or, at least, so they professed.

Of course, as us "moderns" like to say that Ancient Athens is where democracy was born, every time these facts are reminded the provision is added that Spartans wanted their women fit for militaristic reasons - "they thought athletic women would have better sons".

Maybe... it doesn't really change that Athenians hid their women in gynaeceums while Spartan widows could speak as head of their family.  

In the last few decades our society has come to accept homosexuality as an orientation and identity - very grudgingly, and only because many queer people have been willing to fight tooth and nail, up to and including rioting and fighting police forces, to force our society to make a corner for them; and, by the way, it may as well be only temporary - but there are still other "alternative lifestyles" that it happily persecutes, out of the same kind of visceral hates and "required automatic disgusts".

Naming any of these "lifestyles" as anything else than aberrations and illnesses (worthy of having their carriers contained by means of violence, by the way, no matter if they never actually carried out their inclinations), is bad enough to be ostracized.

So, I won't name them; we all know which ones are.

And, if one has any doubt, it should be enough to read the entries of the patrioct act that forbid U.S. banks to trade with entities involved in drug trafficking and in some types of porns, because these "are used by terrorists as ways to gain financial support". 

When I read pieces like that one, I sometimes feel this sensation that us westerners are somewhat like pots calling kettles "black".

We decries other cultures for not sharing our values, exactly like said cultures do with us.

Not so enlightened as we like to portray, really.