The Rage of the Barred Owl When Moon unmasks your naked face And gilds your gun with diamonds green I mark your progress from afar. You stumble toward my roosting place, Studying your tiny screen, Tracking an artificial star. You killed my wife some dawns ago, Fooled by your telescopic sight: She was a Northern More
We don’t need religion to challenge darwinism, and the celebration of Darwin Day seems almost a forgotten ritual. The challenge to darwinism has slowly but surely suffered the fate assigned t…
Last week, we talked about our love of sugar and I explained some of the reasons why we humans develop certain traits that seem contrary to our survival. This week, I thought we’d dig into why we develop some traits that aren’t so much contrary to our survival but may seem unnecessary. Specifically, why do we laugh?
Source: Why Do We Laugh? | Portside
Causes of cancer are being catalogued by a huge international study revealing the genetic fingerprints of DNA-damaging processes that drive cancer development. This detailed list of genetic fingerprints will provide clues how each cancer developed. This will help scientists search for previously unknown causes of cancer, leading to better information for prevention strategies, and help signpost new directions for cancer diagnosis and treatments.
The overwhelmingly validated theory of evolution tells us that the functions performed by our organs arose from associated increases in survival fitness. For instance, the bile produced by our liver and the insulin produced by our pancreas help us absorb nutrients and thus survive. Insofar as it is produced by the brain, our phenomenal consciousness—i.e. our ability to subjectively experience the world and ourselves—is no exception: it, too, must give us some survival advantage, otherwise natural selection wouldn’t have fixed it in our genome. In other words, our sentience—to the extent that it is produced by the brain—must perform a beneficial function, otherwise we would be unconscious zombies.One problem with this is that, under the premises of materialism, phenomenal consciousness cannot—by definition—have a function. According to materialism, all entities are defined and exhaustively characterised in purely quantitative terms. For instance, elementary subatomic particles are exhaustively characterised in terms of e.g. mass, charge and spin values. Similarly, the behaviour of abstract fields is fully defined in terms of quantities, such as frequencies and amplitudes of oscillation. Particles and fields, in and of themselves, have quantitative properties but no intrinsic qualities, such as colour or flavour. Only our perceptions of them—or so the materialist argument goes—are accompanied by qualities somehow generated by our brain.Materialism posits that the quantities that characterise physical entities are what allow them to be causally efficacious; that is, to produce effects. For instance, it is the charge values of protons and electrons that produce the effect of their mutual attraction. In nuclear fission reactors, it is the mass value of neutrons that produces the effect of splitting atoms. And so on. All chains of cause and effect in nature must be describable purely in terms of quantities. Whatever isn’t a quantity cannot be part of our physical models and therefore—insofar as such models are presumed to be causally-closed—cannot produce effects. According to materialism, all functions rest on quantities.Our phenomenal consciousness is eminently qualitative, not quantitative. There is something it feels like to see the colour red, which is not captured by merely noting the frequency of red light.However, our phenomenal consciousness is eminently qualitative, not quantitative. There is something it feels like to see the colour red, which is not captured by merely noting the frequency of red light. If we were to tell Helen Keller that red is an oscillation of approximately 4.3*1014 cycles per second, she would still not know what it feels like to see red. Analogously, what it feels like to listen to a Vivaldi sonata cannot be conveyed to a person born deaf, even if we show to the person the sonata’s complete power spectrum. Experiences are felt qualities—which philosophers and neuroscientists call ‘qualia’—not fully describable by abstract quantities.But as discussed above, qualities have no function under materialism, for quantitatively-defined physical models are supposed to be causally-closed; that is, sufficient to explain every natural phenomenon. As such, it must make no difference to the survival fitness of an organism whether the data processing taking place in its brain is accompanied by experience or not: whatever the case, the processing will produce the same effects; the organism will behave in exactly the same way and stand exactly the same chance to survive and reproduce. Qualia are, at best, superfluous extras.Therefore, under materialist premises, phenomenal consciousness cannot have been favoured by natural selection. Indeed, it shouldn’t exist at all; we should all be unconscious zombies, going about our business in exactly the same way we actually do, but without an accompanying inner life. If evolution is true—which we have every reason to believe is the case—our very sentience contradicts materialism.This conclusion is often overlooked by materialists, who regularly try to attribute functions to phenomenal consciousness. Here are three illustrative examples:(1) consciousness enables attention.(2) consciousness discriminates episodic memory (past) from live perceptions (present) by making them feel different.(3) consciousness motivates behaviour conducive to survival.Computer scientists know that none of this requires experience, for we routinely implement all three functio