Mom Rant Deux

October 13, 2010 at 9:54 pm (By Amba, Guest Post)

Too bad for us — this stuff is too good to be Sh*t My Mom Says.

*************************************************

Mom asked me:

If J were sentient, I wonder how he would react to the drama of the Chilean miners: would it be unbearable for him to watch it? I can only be glad he is spared the anguish of waiting for the painstaking process to be finished; but I wish he could share the exhilaration of each rescued man–if he could stand it.

I answered:

I know how he would react because I saw his reaction to an earlier rescue and surrounding media fest.  It was one of rather bitter irony — when he escaped, the whole world was most definitely neither watching nor helping.  It was in loneliness and nearly complete obscurity and indifference whether he lived or died — but for a few crucial individuals who could have turned him in but, with remarkable consistency, hid and fed him instead.  It’s so odd to compare that solitary, one-to-one humanity to our media-metastasized combination of curiosity, compassion, and spectacle.

She responded:

There’s been a lot of callous indifference to suffering in this world. Think of how we have turned away from the genocides that have wracked the planet, especially in Africa. I was thinking about J in the cave-in and how that whole terrible memory might have risen again as he thought about these guys and all that time down there. The media had turned away from this story, too, as long as it was just the families whose lives were shattered by the long wait at Camp Whatever-they-named-it, in the dry mountain chill. How he’d have empathized with that feeling of being entombed after the timbers gave way–and he was injured! None of the Chileans was hurt, I gather. You think about that lonely terrifying and incredibly courageous escape into the Unknown from what he must have felt was the certainty of death if he didn’t get out of that hospital. But I was thinking about the terror of the accident itself.

One cannot abide the mentality that wants to be entertained on TV by blood-curdling accidents, prurient and corrupt melodramas, and the anguish of the nameless innocent, whether in massacres, mine disasters, drownings, fires, earthquakes, or floods. The Hungarian toxic flood is almost Hiroshima on a smaller scale: poisoned water that burns the skin off you! Each day we have to have a new–and more grotesquely horrible–event to look at, or we fall asleep over our beer and potato chips out of sheer boredom. The proliferation of media outlets–and I add Facebook and its offspring, if there are any yet, and its progenitors, who, unfortunately go back farther than Barnum–that both create and then pander to this audience has eradicated genuine information and demeaned the pleasure of real communication between real people. So we are all shadows, living in “Second Life,” only we don’t know it—yet.

Love from one Queen of the Disaffected to another (?)–

Mom

[Jean S. Gottlieb]

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93 Comments

  1. Ron said,

    I love how the miners had a lawyer send down their entertainment contract while they were still underground! Will there be a line of action figures? One assumes…

  2. amba12 said,

    It’s so weird that nowadays, if you survive something that horrible, you’ll never have to “work” again. And the whole world with its best experts, its most advanced technology, wants to help you survive! The worst thing that ever happened to you becomes the best thing that ever happened to you. That’s IF you survive it — big if, of course.

    I don’t mean to be totally cynical. There’s a deeply touching element to the world’s involvement in these disasters, which can even be extended to another species — remember the whales trapped in the ice? It’s the universal battle against death writ large. All of us in a tug of war with the Walkin’ Dude. It’s just . . . funny, I guess . . . the way the commercial, carny element in human nature so irresistibly comes in. (My mom’s mention of Barnum.) That, and think of the millions of wrenching stories that the saving, sensationalizing light of the media never falls on, and that play out in total obscurity.

    Still, the impulse that moves the engineer who donates his services to saving the miners is not different from the impulse that moved section hands along the Russian rail line to hide and feed J at risk to themselves. Except that the latter had no witnesses. No human witnesses, at least. And no tangible rewards, this side of the grave.

    Heaven, in this sense, may have a been a moving of the commercial impulse into the metaphysical, for those who have to anticipate a reward to do the right thing.

  3. amba12 said,

    Billy Wilder made a great, cynical movie about the exploitation of disaster. Can’t remember its name right now.

  4. Ron said,

    Oh, Ace In The Hole! With Kirk Douglas. Great film!

  5. Ron said,

    Heaven, in this sense, may have a been a moving of the commercial impulse into the metaphysical, for those who have to anticipate a reward to do the right thing.

    Tony Curtis:
    I never thought that I’d make a killing off another guys integrity!

    Burt Lancaster: I’d hate to take a bite outta you….you’re a cookie full of arsenic.

    — Sweet Smell of Success

  6. wj said,

    I have a theory on how we came to the combination of callous indifference to suffering and the desire to be entertained by disasters. Also some other “features” of our current culture.

    Once upon a time, what people knew about was pretty localized. As recently as a century ago, if there was a disaster further away than a couple of hundred miles, it had to be really major for you to hear about it at all. (The mine collapse in Chile would probably not have made it at all. Just too minor.) And then you only got an occasional (and limited) report — maybe a dozen column inches spread over several days’ papers. Even radio reports were brief and occasional. The result was that you didn’t hear about a lot of disasters, and especially you didn’t hear very often about something close by. So the world seemed relatively safe.

    Now, you hear constantly, and in enormous detail, about any disaster anywhere in the world. There are not more disasters, just as there is not more crime. But because you hear about them from more (and more distant) places, the world seems scarier. Where once you only heard about robberies in your own community, now you hear about them from hundreds of miles away. Where once the rare child abduction only made the news if it was local, now you hear about every one in the country. Which means you hear about a lot more of them, and almost constantly.

    Several things happen as a result:

    1) the world seems a lot more dangerous, even though objectively it has actually gotten a lot safer.

    2) in reaction, we get floods of laws and regulations in order to “do something” about the perceived problems. No matter how much of an overreaction they actually are. (Thing of all the useless “security theater” at airports for the last decade.)

    3) in order to cope, we get numb to a lot of lower level events. I recall a song from my childhood which was an early indicator: “They’re rioting in Africa, they’re starving in Spain, there’s hurricanes in Florida, and Texas needs rain….” Just the usual disasters around the world….

    4) before, we could get worked up about the occasional local event, get a little adrenalin rush, and then back to normal. Think of people turning out to see an execution, for just one example. Now, because we have become numb to a lot of disasters, we go looking for more and bigger in order to get the same rush. And the media supplies the demand — but only with big disasters, because the little ones have gradually become discounted as too common to mention.

    On balance, there is much to be said for never watching the TV news (not the daily evening newscast, and certainly not 24/7 cable news), and skipping most of the newspaper stories that come along as well. You can still get to interesting stuff, but without the numbing effect of constant battering on your sensibilities. Makes the world feel less threatening, too.

  7. realpc said,

    “the world seems a lot more dangerous, even though objectively it has actually gotten a lot safer.”

    Safer? SAFER???

  8. realpc said,

    If you’re a woman and/or a liberal you can’t understand. I’m a woman so I can’t understand, except I do know some men. How many men do you know (straight men, I mean) who can resist watching a building being demolished? How many men do you know who don’t like weapons, wars, explosions, or at least violent sports?

    Come on women and liberals! There are reasons for the y chromosome. Men *except for the exceptions) are ok with violence, thank God because someone has to protect us.

    And Jesus, anyone who thinks the world is safer now might consider waking up and looking around!

  9. amba12 said,

    Well, real, apart from the irony of calling a world “safer” that is threatened by nuclear annihilation: if a mine caves in on you you have a far better chance of surviving and being rescued — depending on the technological up-to-standardsness and responsibility of your company and government, among other things including luck. These miners had a safe place to go to and stay in.

    If you get an infection you will probably not die of septicemia, if antibiotics are gotten to you quickly. You will read of many people in the 19th and early 20th centuries dying in their 30s and 40s of septicemia, including the father of our hospice volunteer and friend Axel, who’s 81, who was about 5 when his father died. This may be the single biggest way in which our world is safer.

    Motor vehicle accidents did not exist in the 19th century, but if you’re in any kind of accident now and are still alive, you can be rushed to one hell of a trauma center.

    By the way, I was just reading about the Paleolithic and “Evolutionary Fitness” diets, and was thinking that what’s wrong with them is that — with exceptions, such as we still have today — most people were not long-lived, because of hazards, so we can’t know much about the effects of such a diet after age 50.

    The bottom line probably is that nature was once the biggest danger, and now it’s human beings ourselves. We have met the enemy and they is us.

  10. amba12 said,

    a song from my childhood which was an early indicator: “They’re rioting in Africa, they’re starving in Spain, there’s hurricanes in Florida, and Texas needs rain….”

    “The whole world is festering with unhappy souls/ The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles/ Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate Dutch/ And I don’t like anybody very much!

    “But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud/ That man’s been endowed with the mushroom-shaped cloud . . .”

    The great Tom Lehrer.

    (For the record, I spieled off the lyrics above BEFORE looking them up here. They’re engraved in my brain.)

  11. wj said,

    Is the world safer? Let’s take one of the hot-button issues. How safe are children? From the behavior of some parents, you would think that any time a kid is out of the house they are at serious risk. I routinely see parents walking their kids to the local elementary school — distances under 5 blocks. This in an affluent community where the crime rate is the next thing to zero. Clearly none of them would even consider the sort of things that we did as kids: riding our bikes 5 miles to school routinely. This, I might add, in exactly the same town (in the 1950s and 1960s FYI).

    But if you look at the statistics on crimes against children, or on children being injured (traffic accidents, etc.), all of them are actually down per capita. The reason that you hear so much more often about children being abducted or attacked or whatever is not that it happens more often. It is that you are hearing about cases that happen anywhere in the country, rather than just those which happen locally.

    No doubt there are places that are less safe today. Go into an area where the primary activity is peddling drugs, and you are just as at risk as you would have been in some neighborhoods in the 1920s during Prohibition on another drug (alcohol). And for the same reason. But for the majority of the population, the perception simply does not match the reality.

  12. wj said,

    Amba, they are (obviously0 engraved on my brain too. I certainly didn’t look them up when I typed them. (And I only stopped where I did because because the first few lyrics made the point.)

    “And we know for certain that some lovely day
    someone will set the spark off
    and we will all be blown away.”

    Good thing that it still hasn’t happened. And nobody feels the need to build bomb shelters in their back yard any more, so at least some perceived threats have faded a bit.

  13. amba12 said,

    I enjoy watching buildings be demolished. I also hate asking for directions.

    A gay male psychic once told me, “You were a boy many times in former lives.” That must be it.

  14. PatHMV said,

    I used to listen to the Kingston Trio version of that song for hours!

  15. PatHMV said,

    wj, we also hear more about children being injured precisely BECAUSE bad things happening to them has become relatively rare. If children, say, drowned in pools every day, you would soon not hear about it, because it would no longer be NEWS. We only hear about unusual and rare tragedies, not daily tragedies.

  16. amba12 said,

    Right, like we don’t hear all that much about car accidents, except insofar as they are going to screw up our commute. (For the record, though, driving has gotten safer. Fatalities last year were “only” about 33,000.)

  17. realpc said,

    “I was just reading about the Paleolithic and “Evolutionary Fitness” diets, and was thinking that what’s wrong with them is that — with exceptions, such as we still have today — most people were not long-lived, because of hazards,”

    We really do not know that. Lifespan is very poorly understood, especially for pre-moderns. We know that, as in all species, infant mortality was high. It is SUPPOSED TO BE HIGH. Modern medicine’s greatest triumph, by far, has been cutting infant mortality almost to zero. Good for infants and their parents, bad for the species.

    But aside from infant mortality, we REALLY DO NOT KNOW if hunter-gatherers had short lifespans. Probably, they had lifespans similar to ours, except they didn’t have our “age-related” diseases.

    But we don’t have the data, so not much use debating it.

    As for us being safer now because of antibiotics and surgery — yes we have a small number of reasons to feel safer. Along with MANY reasons to feel less safe. Great we can survive horrible traumas with half our bodies missing. Just wonderful.

    I am NOT AGAINST antibiotics or surgery. But they are small advantages weighed against enormous disadvantages.

    And no, I wouldn’t like to go back and be a hunter-gatherer. Well maybe. But I won’t, or can’t. I am NOT against modern life. I’m just against people raving about how safe and lovely it all is. It IS NOT!

  18. realpc said,

    “I enjoy watching buildings be demolished.”

    Then you should understand natural disasters being on the news.

  19. amba12 said,

    Good for infants and their parents, bad for the species.

    real. I’m surprised that, for someone who believes in the spiritual dimension, you are so Darwinian. And such a crude basic Darwinian. As a species that benefits from kinds of fitness other than the purely physical (geekiness, nerdiness, high-functioning autistic spectrum, artistic genius, etc.), even in a more sophisticated Darwinian sense, never mind the spiritual dimension, we may benefit from the survival of some infants that would die in the natural course of things.

  20. amba12 said,

    But we don’t have the data, so not much use debating it.

    Precisely because we don’t have the data, we SHOULD debate it rather than assume EITHER way. For example, high-protein diets may contribute to cancer in older people. This isn’t settled yet but is under study. It then matters quite a bit whether a Paleo diet is best after age 50, whether or not it was for our ancestors.

  21. amba12 said,

    Real, I didn’t say I enjoyed watching buildings being demolished with people in them.

  22. Donna B. said,

    realpc – that’s a monocular view you have there! Or stereotypical. Can it be both? hmm…

    And pretty darn insulting to everyone – men, women, gays, straights, liberals, and by inference, conservatives. So… what do you think about libertarians? That group is largely male and ideologically opposed to any kind of coercion, considering it all violent.

    Anyway, my view is surely also skewed, but there are certainly women and liberals who like weapons and “violent” sports (is it football you’re talking about?) And it’s the skill involved in a lot of things (like demolishing a building) that fascinate many people, including me.

    You want to see violence, spend 4 or 5 hours in a small room with 30 pre-teen females performing in the Nutcracker. THAT’S scary.

  23. realpc said,

    Amba, I have NEVER EVER said I want infants to die. It’s just a fact that high infant mortality is natural in all species, and it’s for a reason. And yes, of course I believe in Darwin’s theory of natural selection! It’s obviously an important factor in nature. Just because I don’t agree with the idea that natural selection caused evolution doesn’t mean I have to disagree with anything Darwin ever said!

    We have to separate the ideas from the person. The same person can say things that make sense and other things that don’t make sense. Who said them does not matter!

    I feel like I have been through this same thing dozens of times. Well actually I have. The materialists believe in natural selection — because it’s an obvious AND PROVEN fact. And therefore they think it must have caused evolution! Well no, that is illogical!

    As for being spiritual — hey I can be spiritual without being mushy. I care about hard facts and reality. God is not a big smiley face in the sky, from my perspective.

  24. amba12 said,

    I didn’t say you wanted infants to die, either. I said that even from the perspective of Darwin, children who might naturally die could contribute to the fitness of our species, so therefore reducing infant mortality may not be so dysfunctional for our survival, unless we are thrown back to a less technological mode of living. Do you disagree?

  25. realpc said,

    “Do you disagree?”

    I think we can’t possibly predict anything about our survival at this time. Anyway, I would never say we should bring back high infant mortality to keep our species healthy. All I said was that pre-moderns didn’t necessarily have short lives, if they survived childhood. This is important when making lifestyle decisions. If you believe our lives are longer and healthier now, you might as well eat at MacDonalds three times a day.

  26. amba12 said,

    And why is it necessarily “mushy” to say that characteristics other than raw health and strength might have a value? If you believe in the spiritual dimension, you might acknowledge that some child that is not the most robust may have something invaluable to contribute. It’s a rather crude example, but do you think Stephen Hawking really should have been left on an ice floe long ago, that no benefit justifies the very artificial sustaining of his life? Sure, keeping Hawking alive is a luxury that we couldn’t afford in a new ice age or postnuclear wasteland. But make hay while the sun shines.

    Of course, it’s a tough universe and everything gets destroyed, sooner or later, sometimes by its own incompetence or stupidity, sometimes by sheer unfair bad luck, but always in the natural course of things. I also don’t think it’s worth getting too sentimental about, even as we can treasure and value every unique individual person and creature and feel sorrow at its passing. We can mark the sparrow’s fall without thinking it’s an outrage.

  27. realpc said,

    And I had also wanted to mention that the ID-ers often complain about Darwinism because it’s related to eugenics, and Hitler, etc. Ok, so what Hitler did was nasty (and by the way stupid because Jews are in no way inferior to Aryans, as we now realize). But that is no reason to reject Darwinism.

    We have plenty of good reasons to reject Darwinism (as a theory of evolution I mean). We don’t need to add mushy illogical unscientific reasons.

  28. realpc said,

    “do you think Stephen Hawking really should have been left on an ice floe long ago”

    No, I keep saying that I don’t want anyone to die.

  29. realpc said,

    “We can mark the sparrow’s fall without thinking it’s an outrage.”

    Right. If the sparrow was a close friend of mine it’s a tragedy, for me. But we aren’t always talking about our own personal perspective. There is a wider philosophical perspective.

  30. realpc said,

    “And why is it necessarily “mushy” to say that characteristics other than raw health and strength might have a value?”

    You misread me. I am talking about simple basic plain facts.

  31. amba12 said,

    If you believe our lives are longer and healthier now, you might as well eat at MacDonalds three times a day.

    Longer on average, probably yes, because of reduced infectious death, both infant mortality and the effects of vaccination, sanitation, and antibiotics on adults ; healthier, no. We are in the middle of a cancer plague. More than half a million people die of cancer every year since 1990. This is as if one World Trade Center tower or 3 jumbo jets went down every day. (The number has stayed steady while the population has gone up, so that is a modest rate decline, about 1 percent per year, in spite of the population aging. This is mostly due to smoking reduction and earlier detection — which partly saves lives but also warps the statistics, because people live longer from earlier time of diagnosis but don’t actually live longer.) One out of two men and one out of three women will get cancer in their lifetimes.

    Environmental pollution of all kinds (chemical, electromagnetic etc.) is undoubtedly part of the story. Aging is part of the story. “Lifestyle” is a huge part of the story. I am not talking about eating at McDonald’s three times a day. I’m talking about the serious question for us health nuts whether it is better to eat a paleo diet with lots of meat, or whether all that protein might be a factor in causing cancer.

    I spent the summer studying and writing about this.

  32. amba12 said,

    You misread me. I am talking about simple basic plain facts.

    So am I. I’m talking about what constitutes hard survival advantage to a species that now lives in an evolving technological “envelope.”

  33. realpc said,

    “So am I. I’m talking about what constitutes hard survival advantage to a species ”

    I wasn’t talking about that. I was just explaining why pre-moderns had a shorter average lifespan. Yes I think we are MUCH less healthy, for many reasons, but that wasn’t the point.

  34. realpc said,

    “Longer on average, probably yes, because of reduced infectious death, both infant mortality and the effects of vaccination, sanitation, and antibiotics on adults”

    No, when human population was sparse they didn’t have to worry about sanitation. And infectious diseases were much less common. I think it’s mostly reduced infant and child mortality. And most of us sit in chairs most of the time, so except when driving, accidents are less likely.

  35. realpc said,

    ” I’m talking about the serious question for us health nuts whether it is better to eat a paleo diet with lots of meat, or whether all that protein might be a factor in causing cancer.”

    Right, that’s the kind of problem we face. Everything is poison now.

  36. realpc said,

    “all that protein” would be fine if it weren’t full of antibiotics and hormones and god knows what chemicals.

  37. wj said,

    Let’s see here. We evolved to high intelligence, presumably because that conferred some Darwinian advantage — that is, it was good for the species. One of the things that high intelligence has done is allow us to reduce infant mortality. So either that was good for the species, too; or, if it was bad for the species, the other (good) results outweighed it.

    I’m not sure that any of us have sufficient perspective to say which is really the case (since significant reductions in infant mortality are still way too recent to be sure). But it is not entirely obvious that reducing infant mortality is a net negative for the species. For example, the costs involved in raising an infant who would otherwise have died may well be offset by the gains from that individual later in life. In short, it’s an investment. And thanks to other fruits of increased intelligence, we have the extra resources so that we can afford to make that investment and reap the benefits.

  38. amba12 said,

    Maybe infectious diseases like typhoid were nearly nonexistent. Infections, however, were probably not.

  39. amba12 said,

    Maybe “all that protein” would be fine even if it were pure. Maybe not. Protein itself, in large quantities, apparently raises levels of insulin-like growth factor 1, which promotes the growth of some tumors. Life itself is fatal; byproducts of metabolism are poison, and nitrogen compounds in particularly, evidently.

  40. realpc said,

    “We evolved to high intelligence, presumably because that conferred some Darwinian advantage”

    NO. Darwinian natural selection does not cause evolution! In my opinion, and alternative science in general. That’s the whole point I am always and forever trying to make here.

  41. realpc said,

    “But it is not entirely obvious that reducing infant mortality is a net negative for the species”

    Well yet again, that was not the point. The point is that our wonderful healthy long lifespan is mostly just an illusion. Used all the time by the medical industry to help sell drugs.

  42. realpc said,

    “Life itself is fatal; byproducts of metabolism are poison, and nitrogen compounds in particularly, evidently.”

    Well that’s true. None of us will get out of here alive. Even oxygen is highly toxic.

  43. realpc said,

    And WHY do people constantly confuse evolution and natural selection? Maybe I have to write a post about that. I probably already did but no one read it.

  44. realpc said,

    “And thanks to other fruits of increased intelligence, we have the extra resources so that we can afford to make that investment and reap the benefits.”

    The results of our intelligence are overwhelmingly negative. But we are an expression of an infinitely creative intelligent universe, so we can’t help it. And we’re having fun, I guess. But the practical results of our intelligence are not something to rejoice over. Not too much anyway. Did TV, for example, bring more joy into our lives? I really doubt it. Families used to actually talk to each other, and play music together.

  45. amba12 said,

    And WHY do people constantly confuse evolution and natural selection? Maybe I have to write a post about that. I probably already did but no one read it.

    If you did, I hope you’ll write it again. Does natural selection, then, in this view, refine the work of evolution? Or pass judgment on it? That is, when a new species arises, by whatever mechanism, does natural selection give it a thumbs up or thumbs down? Or select the best members of that species?

    My own wild hunch is that mutation is not entirely random, that there is some kind of intelligence operating in the process of adaptation and innovation. The intelligence may be inherent in, or associated with, DNA itself. The intelligence may get information about what’s working or not working from natural selection, and then uses that information to modify organisms in a purposeful way.

  46. amba12 said,

    I think TV is headed for the dustbin of history.

  47. wj said,

    OK, I plead guilty to sloppy phrasing.

    We evolved intelligence, as I used “evolution,” this way:
    — Increased intelligence occurred (whether randomly or by direction)
    — Then some benefit that it provided caused natural selection of those who had it — resulting in longer lives and more children who grew up.

    With the result that increasing intelligence ended up spread across the resulting surviving population. Fair?

    In any case, there was apparently some benefit to increased intelligence. Which, I would argue, means that there was some benefit to the results of having greater intelligence.

  48. wj said,

    To address the later comment, that “results of our intelligence are overwhelmingly negative,” I have to ask: if the results were so overwhelmingly negative, why didn’t the people with said increased intelligence die off? Wouldn’t that be natural selection in action?

    Which is not to say that some of the results of our intelligence may have been negative. But on balance, they would have to be at least slightly positive. And if decreased infant mortality is supposed to be a negative, I would like to see some indication that this is the case. Are we talking about resources “wasted” supporting said infants? Or infants with some curable illness being less “fit” once the illness is cured than those who did not have it at the beginning?

  49. realpc said,

    “Does natural selection, then, in this view, refine the work of evolution? Or pass judgment on it?”

    Natural selection and evolution are two different things. Natural selection is well understood and obvious, evolution is a great mystery. It was Darwin’s idea to connect them, although I don’t think he was dogmatic about it. Later on it became a central “fact” of biology, although no one had ever seen any evidence for it. Atheists and materialists like it so it caught on.

    Why does a theory with no evidence become a scientific “fact?” A certain number of experts proclaim something to be true, and then it snowballs. If enough experts believe something, it can’t be wrong, we think. Because we are genetically programmed to trust authorities.

  50. amba12 said,

    Then what does natural selection do? Refine existing species, select the fitter members?

  51. realpc said,

    “– Increased intelligence occurred (whether randomly or by direction)
    – Then some benefit that it provided caused natural selection of those who had it — resulting in longer lives and more children who grew up.”

    That is Darwinism. That is what they are teaching everyone in school. But its just an assumption with no evidence. We know that if a creature is defective in some way, it is less likely to survive and pass on its DNA. That is natural selection. But we DON’T know if that is what drives evolution towards greater intelligence, and greater complexity. And we have NO reason to think it does!

    Are more intelligent animals, in general, better survivors than less intelligent animals? No, obviously not. If that were true, the less intelligent animals would have died out.

    If intelligence increased because the universe naturally creates intelligence, then we don’t have to consider natural selection as having any role in creating intelligence. Natural selection just weeds out mistakes. You DON’T NEED the idea of natural selection to explain increasing intelligence.

  52. realpc said,

    People like Dawkins insist that increasing intelligence, or complexity, happens by accident, and then is preferred by natural selection. Ok, they can say they like to think that’s what happens. But they go much much further and insist that it must be true. When you ask for evidence they show you evidence for natural selection. Then you say ok I believe in natural selection (we MUST believe in natural selection because it HAS to be true), but there is no evidence that natural selection drives evolution. And their answer is that it’s the only possible explanation, within the framework of materialism.

    Oh, so the theory is true because the philosophy depends on it. And the philosophy is true because the theory is true.

    And I have argued around that circle too many times.

    And why do so many smart people believe the theory? Maybe because it’s the only one they were taught, so they never had a reason to question it. And if you don’t question something, you don’t really give it much thought. So if it is illogical and unscientific, you won’t even notice.

  53. realpc said,

    “And if decreased infant mortality is supposed to be a negative, I would like to see some indication that this is the case.”

    Millions of sperm are ejaculated but only one gets to the egg. Any sperm that are defective in any way are not likely to be the winner. This is how nature weeds out the errors. Because errors are inevitable. And in every (or most) species more offspring are produced than the environment can support. So the weeding out process continues. Sure, a very strong and healthy individual might die young, but for the most part it’s the weak and sick ones that die before reproducing.

    In my great grandparents’ generation it was typical for some children to die, but now we consider it unthinkable and unnatural. No, it’s very natural. But because it’s such a hard thing for mothers to go through, medical science has focused on saving infants and children.

    And someone always misunderstand this and thinks I want children to die. No, I don’t. I am just stating plain and simple facts about nature.

  54. realpc said,

    “Then what does natural selection do? Refine existing species, select the fitter members?”

    Weeds out errors. It’s an error-correction mechanism.

  55. amba12 said,

    because it’s such a hard thing for mothers to go through, medical science has focused on saving infants and children.

    I was saying that’s the apparent reason. It may be driven by an underlying reason: sheer physical strength no longer confers the only or most survival advantage on our species. Some of the physically weak that we save may turn out to be the mentally or spiritually strong.

  56. realpc said,

    “My own wild hunch is that mutation is not entirely random, that there is some kind of intelligence operating in the process of adaptation and innovation.”

    But it’s still wrong to think natural selection has anything to do with the progress toward increasing intelligence/complexity. Natural selection does NOT select the more complex and intelligent creatures. If it did, why are the overwhelming majority of life forms relatively simple and not terribly smart? We have NO reason to think that our own intelligence was selected because of survival value. It looks that way now, because we are killing off other species. But way back when we were still evolving that wasn’t true.

    Increasing intelligence is NOT selected for. It just happens. And by the way, our species is not evolving, as far as anyone knows. (If it were that would be a triumph for racists, by the way).

  57. realpc said,

    “sheer physical strength no longer confers the only or most survival advantage on our species”

    The only thing that confers a survival advantage on our species now is luck or having the sense to not eat at MacDonald’s every day. How much intelligence does it take for us to survive? Do you see anyone dying because they aren’t smart enough?

  58. amba12 said,

    I said “our species,” not an individual of our species. We don’t only save infants because we are sentimental, though it looks that way. We save them because technology gives us the luxury of valuing qualities other than sheer physical strength. And those qualities may provide us with innovation or artistic creation or spiritual inspiration.

  59. amba12 said,

    Do you see anyone dying because they aren’t smart enough?

    Oh, yes indeed.

  60. realpc said,

    When you talk about survival advantages in the context of evolution, you are assuming that Darwinism is true. You are assuming that there is no evolutionary force of nature that drives life towards greater complexity. Most people don’t know that a central idea of systems theory is that natural systems evolve towards greater complexity. It has NOTHING to do with survival advantages. It just happens because that’s the way the universe is.

    I think the systems theory perspective is at least as valid as Darwinism. And it’s much more logical and plausible and scientific, in my opinion. But it leaves the whole question open. We just don’t know why life evolves.

  61. realpc said,

    Oh ok Amba, but really I think we all know that having lots of western education (in other words, being ‘intelligent”) does not make a great difference in survival. For one thing, it’s a total myth, in my opinion, that some of us are much smarter than others. Think of some of the relatively uneducated people you know — are they clever at surviving? Yes they probably are. In fact, I bet I, with lots of western education and knowledge, am WORSE when it comes to basic survival skills than many less “intelligent ” people.

    It’s all a bunch of myths.

  62. amba12 said,

    You’re still talking about individual survival (of course intellect in the narrow sense is probably of little use at best), and I’m talking about our collective development as a species. But none of it adds up either way, because 1) Einstein survived without antibiotics, and 2) his contributions were as deadly as they were enlightening.

    From one version of your point of view, you could almost say that life’s tendency to evolve more complex intelligence is equivalent to florid decadence or decay — a means to self-destruct. It should have stopped at cockroaches.

  63. wj said,

    Do you see anyone dying because they aren’t smart enough?

    There is a reason why, when we see someone doing something that is both stupid and dangerous, I frequently hear my friends remark: “Evolution in action.” Certainly it’s the weeding out part.

  64. wj said,

    We seem to be in agreement that natural selection operates by weeding out (aka killing off) those who are defective in some fashion. And I think we may even be in agreement that those who are not defective, but merely less capable, also get weeded out, albeit perhaps more slowly. “More slowly” as in over the course of generations.

    So the issue, if I have understood correctly, is what generates the variations which cause some individuals (human, animal, plant, or even bacterial or virus) to be different than either of their parents? One can believe, as some of the more strident atheists do, that the whole process is entirely and solely driven by random events. Or one can believe, as some religious people apparently do, that it is driven entirely and solely by Divine intervention. Or one can believe (as other religious people and most of the agnostics I have met do) that both could occur . . . and argue about the relative fraction that is due to each.

    There is not, that I can see, any way to demonstrate conclusively that any of those three possibilities is correct. The most that one can do is make a decision based on belief. Belief (and it is belief) in an absence of a higher power. Belief that one knows that God (or gods, depending on the religion) not only exists but works in the way the believer believes. Or belief, as a philosophical position, that the “best” explanation is the simplest one — one which does not introduce something which is not known unless it is the simplest way to explain the phenomena being observed.

    But nobody’s mind is going to be changed on that belief by argument. At most, some very traumatic event may cause an individual to reexamine his beliefs. But what direction that reexamination will lead to . . . I know of no way to predict.

  65. david said,

    And to think this whole discussion started with Mom . . .

  66. wj said,

    So tell your Mom she is an inspiration to us all. ;-)

  67. realpc said,

    “From one version of your point of view, you could almost say that life’s tendency to evolve more complex intelligence is equivalent to florid decadence or decay — a means to self-destruct. It should have stopped at cockroaches.”

    I wouldn’t claim to know why nature evolves. But it seems like things evolve until something destroys them, sometimes possibly their complexity. But why assume anything is supposed to last forever on this level? I just wouldn’t worry too much about it.

  68. realpc said,

    “There is not, that I can see, any way to demonstrate conclusively that any of those three possibilities is correct. The most that one can do is make a decision based on belief. ”

    It takes a lot more blind faith to believe life originated and evolved by accident. It is so utterly implausible as to be completely impossible. Some atheists have decided on the theory of multiple universes — that any possible thing must happen in some universe. Now does that sound contrived to you?

    The alternative science theory — that complex natural systems are inherently creative, and that the intelligence is a universal force of nature — is plausible and logical. So it requires LESS faith, not more.

    I believe the more plausible and logical theory, which does not rely on contrivances like multiple universes.

    Why would anyone believe the materialist theory that insists that matter is dead and mindless? Well some people prefer to believe it, but they have no scientific reasons for their belief.

  69. amba12 said,

    LOL! That’s too big for worry.

    But really, accepting that all things are destroyed, that may be the definition of maturity, and we may or may not ever reach it. Doesn’t mean you can’t be angry or mourn or fight to preserve yourself or what you love as long as possible, but almost all human trouble arises from the refusal to accept the fact of transience and the insistence on one or another form of permanence. We probably invented the thermonuclear bomb, as well as our storybook version of God, in an attempt to kill . . . Death.

    Here’s something I love on this subject.

  70. amba12 said,

    The alternative science theory — that complex natural systems are inherently creative, and that the intelligence is a universal force of nature — is plausible and logical. So it requires LESS faith, not more.

    I agree with that.

  71. Melinda said,

    Sure, keeping Hawking alive is a luxury that we couldn’t afford in a new ice age or postnuclear wasteland. But make hay while the sun shines.

    LOL!!!

    This is my favorite quote of the day.

  72. wj said,

    It takes a lot more blind faith to believe life originated and evolved by accident. It is so utterly implausible as to be completely impossible.

    Maybe, then again, maybe not. I suppose it depends on which step in a random process you consider “utterly implausible.” Since I don’t know which step you are thinking of, let me take a shot at a couple of possibilities:

    1) random chemicals joining into something living.

    For openers, there is at least moderately good evidence that basic organic chemicals exist naturally, not only throughout the Solar System, but in other parts of the local galaxy as well. One can debate about how likely it is that the laws of physics in the universe allow such chemicals to form — which, IIRC, is a major motivation behind the various multiple universe theories. But all we know is that they do exist here.

    We have experimental evidence that, given a soup of those chemicals (i.e. liquid water to allow them to move around), a simple lightning strike will cause some of them to join into increasingly complex organic molecules. Culminating in molecules approaching the complexity of a virus, that is, something which can reproduce itself. Not, admittedly, quite complex enough yet to be called “living.” Then again, that’s experiments in a lab over just a few months at most. Spread over a planet, and over a lot of years, the odds of taking a few steps beyond that don’t look all that large.

    2) taking the step from something on the order of a virus to a cell.

    I seem to recall other experiments, involving non-cellular life being concentrated and subject to various plausible environmental factors, get you a cell. One without a nucleus, but with a cell wall. And again, those were experiments with very brief time spans and very small numbers of molecules. And moving up to a nucleus isn’t that hard to see.

    3) getting from a single-celled organism, to a multi-celled one, with cells starting to specialize.

    Not, that I can see, all that big a step. But perhaps we have a cell biologist who can speak more knowledgeably on the topic.

    4) getting from some living thing with a multitude of specialized cells, to mankind

    In some ways, that actually looks like a bigger step than all of the rest. But, as a friend years ago used to say when discussing the subject, “Do you know how long a million years is?” With enough time, little random changes can add up to a lot of change. And we know that random changes do occur. Not only can we watch cells mutate, we can (and have) watched organisms as complex as a butterfly separate into two different varieties. Not to mention the things that dog breeders, for example, do with just a few generations. From two dog breeds to two separate species just isn’t that big a step.

    Now one could also argue about the age of the universe, because all of those steps do take a lot of time for random events to add up. But that’s a separate discussion, mostly (since we see light from distant stars) involving whether the speed of light in a vacuum is the same throughout the universe. Or, alternatively, whether the universe was created with the light that appears to come from distant stars already in flight. (But then if someone wants to argue that, there is likewise no way to prove that the universe wasn’t created last Thursday at 7:53 PM.)

  73. amba12 said,

    OK, time for me to activate my long-standing plan to get and review that book Signature in the Cell, which is reputed to be the most scientifically persuasive of the Intelligent Design books. The argument there is that the level of information encoded digitally in DNA is beyond what could have evolved through random mutation and natural selection. Pro and con arguments seem to revolve around the amount of time life has had to evolve and whether enough time alone is sufficient for such processes to arise from simpler processes without any conscious intelligence either intrinsic or extrinsic to them.

  74. amba12 said,

    From two dog breeds to two separate species just isn’t that big a step.

    That statement is absolutely and totally wrong, though, wj. All breeds of dogs are still dogs, the same species, Canis familiaris. Although it would be cruel to crossbreed a chihuahua with a golden retriever, you could do it (of course you’d better make sure the bigger dog of the two is the female).

  75. wj said,

    Certainly all breeds of dog are the same species. No question of it. But it seems to me that the direction is clearly one which would lead, in time, to separate species. Just as wolves and dogs are no longer the same species, and for essentially the same reason: selective breeding for particular traits. Which is what I was trying to say.

    Yes, that does suggest that guided evolution is possible. But my argument was not whether random changes or guided changes was more likely to get us where we are (let alone true). It was whether random changes could plausible result in life as we know it.

    Whether it did? Well, I see no obvious way to objectively decide that.

  76. realpc said,

    ” But it seems to me that the direction is clearly one which would lead, in time, to separate species.”

    It seems that way to all Darwinists. But seeming true and being true are not the same thing. When debating Darwinists you constantly hear “given enough time, anything can happen.” That is a statement of completely blind faith. The same person will dismiss all kinds of things that have mountains of evidence. like certain parapsychology fields.

    The evidence, logic and plausibility is all on the side of alternative science (what exactly I mean by alternative science would need to be explained, this is just shorthand for now). There is no evidence or plausibility on the materialist side. Only blind faith.

    wj, you probably got your information at Talk Origins, a propaganda site.

    And materialists ridicule Deepak Chopra because he’s always talking about quantum physics. Yes, Deepak seems a little flaky, especially with the pink sequin eye glasses.

    But when the materialists say he is an ignoramus because quantum physics has nothing whatsoever to do with our macro world, they are just spouting propaganda. How can the underlying fabric of our universe not influence our level of reality.

    No one understands what everything is made of. But they do understand that it’s unimaginably weird, and that all kinds of things are possible that materialists flatly deny.

  77. realpc said,

    wj, scientists can’t even create life intentionally. Yet they think it can happen by accident. Oh yes, GIVEN ENOUGH TIME ANYTHING AT ALL CAN HAPPEN.

  78. realpc said,

    The materialist faith in the power of accident is really quite amazing. We’re all so used to hearing it, we don’t realize it’s utter nonsense.

  79. wj said,

    Sorry, real, but Talk Origins is not a site I am familiar with. I tend to get information more from places like Science News, which reports what experiments have shown, with a minimum of comment on “what it all means.” Not to say that an experiment cannot go wrong, just that they aren’t much on inventing “facts” to support an argument.

    And for the record, I don’t have a problem with some areas of parapsychology. (Not least because dowsing rods work too well, and consistently, for me.) I realize that there are some scientists who don’t accept such things — especially ones who have not bothered to look outside their personal fields. But just as the existance of atheists among scientists does not mean that all are atheists (from what I have seen, most are actually religious — everywhere from deists to strong believers in one faith or another), the fact that some scientists refuse to believe does not invalidate everything that any scientist says on the subject.

    Can scientists create life intentionally? All we can really say today is that nobody seems to have done so yet. I would be wary of saying that it can’t be done. Guess I’ve seen too many “impossible” things done, and even become routine, in my lifetime.

    Plausibility, in the end, depends on whether the speaker can envision how something might happen. He might turn out to be right, or he might turn out to be wrong. Or it might happen, but in a different way than he envisioned. But the difference between plausible and implausible is, IMO, simply whether one can see a way to get from point A to point B. If you can’t, it’s implausible. If you can, it’s plausible.

  80. William O. B'Livion said,

    “… there are many reasons why you might not understand [an explanation of a scientific theory] … Finally, there is this possibility: after I tell you something, you just can’t believe it. You can’t accept it. You don’t like it. A little screen comes down and you don’t listen anymore. I’m going to describe to you how Nature is – and if you don’t like it, that’s going to get in the way of your understanding it. It’s a problem that [scientists] have learned to deal with: They’ve learned to realize that whether they like a theory or they don’t like a theory is not the essential question. Rather, it is whether or not the theory gives predictions that agree with experiment. It is not a question of whether a theory is philosophically delightful, or easy to understand, or perfectly reasonable from the point of view of common sense. [A scientific theory] describes Nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense. And it agrees fully with experiment. So I hope you can accept Nature as She is – absurd.

    I’m going to have fun telling you about this absurdity, because I find it delightful. Please don’t turn yourself off because you can’t believe Nature is so strange. Just hear me all out, and I hope you’ll be as delighted as I am when we’re through. ”

    – Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988),
    from the introductory lecture on quantum mechanics reproduced in QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter

  81. William O. B'Livion said,

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/

    @WJ:
    > So the issue, if I have understood correctly, is what generates
    > the variations which cause some individuals (human, animal, plant,
    > or even bacterial or virus) to be different than either of their parents?

    No, it’s not the issue.

    We know–or rather we have lots of REALLY GOOD ideas about why genes change from one generation to the next (the only change that matters in Evolution are genetic changes, otherwise they don’t get passed on).

    Viruses and bacteria seem to swap DNA like teenagers swap spit. Those same teenagers then engage in the age old boot bumping, which gives us another mechanism for gene changing, the whole egg and sperm thing.

    The last numbers I saw claimed an average of 65 or so mutations during that latter process. Some of these are benign. Some possibly beneficial, some the jury is still out on (some evolutionary biology types make the claim that any “mutation” that occurs above the level of about 5% means that it is an evolutionary advantage to the species. Which means that somehow psychopaths are evolutionarily advantageous. See the Feynman quote if this bothers you).

    The issue is we all have worldviews, and we have various levels of commitment to those worldviews. How willing we are to tweak, adjust, modify, rebuild or abandon those worldviews when they run up against a rock of reality is the real question.

    If you’re not a biologist, if you’re not a doctor working on the cutting edges of some disciplines, if you’re not a legislator passing laws or a nitwit on a school curriculum board (God made the Idiot for practice, and then He made the School Board)(Do I need to cite that?) then it doesn’t matter. If you are, then you owe it to the next generation to give them the tools they need to understand the world better.

    ID *might* be right. Some Super Intelligent shade of Blue might have created the universe, divided the light from the darkness yadda yadda Adam’s rib etc. etc., and then has been reaching in every so often to not only create new species, but to do it in such a way as that ALL THE AVAILABLE EVIDENCE points to a process we call “evolution”.

    Or life started somehow, and there is this process we call evolution that has left foot prints and signs all over the historical record.

    Either way, ask yourself this:

    “Which theory can better predict what will happen next?”

    One theory says “F’ if I know, it’s God”. One theory says “Well, we can’t be certain, but here’s this vector pointing that way, and these 18 other influences, and according to the literature (Crocket and Tubs, 1984) the last time something like this happened we got Foo, however this is different in these 12 ways, so it looks like we’ll get FooBar.

    Take your pick, but I want the guy looking at my lab results to have the latter in his educational background.

  82. amba12 said,

    the only change that matters in Evolution are genetic changes, otherwise they don’t get passed on

    I wonder if we’ll find out that epigenetic changes can reverse-engineer genes, which would make Lamarck smile in his grave.

  83. William O. B'Livion said,

    And back to the Original Topic.

    “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic. ”

    The capacity for human and natural violence is a fixture in history. Pompeii, the sack of Baghdad in 1258, Noah’s Ark, the whole thing with lambs blood and the holy spirit in the Old Testament. The plagues in Europe. The Antioch earthquake. The 1931 Chinese flood. An random war.

    We aren’t “Callously indifferent” to tragedy in this world. We wired such that we can go on in the face of it or we’d die.

    I’m NOT happy about what happened in Sudan. Give me a company of Combat Marines, let me write the RoE, and I’ll solve that problem. Yeah, it’ll be bloody, but eggs and omlets.

    I tried to find someone who wanted me to go down to Haiti after the (recent) devastation there. No one I could contact was interested–and I didn’t need salary, just room and board.

    Those miners? If I had any useful talent to add to the endeavor I’d have been down there.

    But to be anything other more than mildly sad (or pissed) to a tragedy you didn’t cause, can’t control and cannot ameliorate is to put strangers in front of tribe. To put the dead behind the living. Most women lose a child and it’s a HORRIBLE thing, but they have other children, so they grieve and wash the dishes. Fathers bury sons and go back to work.

    Why? Because those lines that didn’t died out.

  84. amba12 said,

    This article, which I fact checked for Natural History a couple of years ago, throws another interesting monkey wrench in to the whole subject of speciation.

  85. William O. B'Livion said,

    @Amba12
    “I wonder if we’ll find out that epigenetic changes can reverse-engineer genes, which would make Lamarck smile in his grave.”

    In a very rough way, we already do. If a woman abuses her body in certain ways, or even ingests certain chemicals or is exposed to high levels of radiation before or during her pregnancy it can cause genetic or teratogenic changes. Almost all of these are bad juju.

    There are even some things that can be done to the male reproductive organs that generate a greater degree of errors in the resulting DNA. Again usually bad juju.

    I suspect however this is not what you meant.

  86. realpc said,

    William O. B’Livion is a devout materialist who knows nothing about alternative science and systems theory. He thinks the idea of an intelligent universe is ridiculous. By the way, I do not agree with the ID-ers in general, because they are not familiar with alternative science either. And some of them have what I considered stupid ideas. I am not calling anyone stupid, just the ideas are. The devout materialists have a lot of very stupid ideas, and so do the ID-ers and so does everyone for that matter, self included.

    But there are ideas that makes sense and seem plausible, although of course we can’t prove what caused life or why it evolves. Some of Lamarck’s ideas make. Darwin’s ideas about natural selection make sense. Some of the ID ideas regarding probability and information make sense. And even some Christian ideas make sense.

  87. realpc said,

    You have to sort carefully through the various world views if you really care and really want to have your own world view. If a person is a great genius, such as Einstein, they will still have many stupid ideas. So you can’t go by the person, you have to look at the ideas and evaluate them.

  88. realpc said,

    I’m NOT happy about what happened in Sudan. Give me a company of Combat Marines, let me write the RoE, and I’ll solve that problem. Yeah, it’ll be bloody, but eggs and omlets.”

    And did you feel the same about Iraq? I have noticed a lot of people who were against invading Iraq think we should have intervened in Sudan. But we had no business interfering with either. How is the killing in Sudan “genocide?” I thought all the combatants were black. Do you really think you can blame this on racism? I absolutely never understood the outrage over Sudan. People fight and kill each other. Not because they’re stupid or crazy (well not any stupider or crazier than the rest of us), but because they can’t agree on something.

    When words don’t solve a conflict, then it turns to violence. What else could you expect? We don’t violence any more than we want sickness, but both are part of life. Sickness is a war in the body.

  89. realpc said,

    “One theory says “F’ if I know, it’s God”. One theory says “Well, we can’t be certain, but here’s this vector pointing that way, and these 18 other influences, and according to the literature ”

    On no. The materialists pretend to be uncertain and open-minded, but actually they “know” that life originated and evolved by chance. They “know” that the universe is NOT made out of information, intelligence.

    They deny having complete faith in the creative powers of chance. They say, no of course life wasn’t created by chance. It was created by chance and natural selection!

    They can’t explain how life originated but they “know” it was a long series of accidents.

    And you think you’re open-minded?

    ID-ers do not make any claims about god. Most of them, anyway, are careful not to pretend they know things they do not know. Mostly, they are just saying it could not happen by chance, because complex designs do not develop by accident.

    Yes ID is compatible with religion while Darwinism is not. But that doesn’t mean ID pretends to prove anything at all about religion.

  90. William O. B'Livion said,

    RealPC:

    Do you know (without using Google) who Karl Popper is?

  91. amba12 said,

    Where William gives away that he “knows” is when he says “How willing we are to tweak, adjust, modify, rebuild or abandon those worldviews when they run up against a rock of reality is the real question.”

    “Reality” is probably beyond our “knowing.” Note that Feynman never uses the word. He merely says “agrees with experiment.”

    Marilynne Robinson wrote in Absence of Mind:

    It is and may always be premature to attempt, let alone to assert, a closed ontology, to say we know all we need to know in order to assess and define human nature and circumstance. The voices that have said, “There is something more, knowledge to be had beyond and other than this knowledge,” have always been right.

    She also talks about how physics itself blew the Victorian certainty of Comtean positivism out of the water 100 years ago, yet the “parascientists” — as she calls Dawkins, Dennett, Pinker & co. — speak with just such anachronistic certainy.

  92. realpc said,

    “Do you know (without using Google) who Karl Popper is?”

    I have played this game too many times to be fooled by you William. Yes I am “educated.” Don’t assume I’m ignorant just because I am not one of the “smart” materialists.

  93. realpc said,

    “the “parascientists” — as she calls Dawkins, Dennett, Pinker & co. — speak with just such anachronistic certainy.”

    Yes they do.

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