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Author Topic: Is the idea of (complete, unguided) evolution self-contradictory?
Omega M.
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I heard this argument the other day: The idea that we evolved completely by unguided natural selection is self-contradictory, because if so, there is no guarantee that our mental faculties reveal to us the truth about anything, as they would have evolved to help us survive and reproduce, not to get to the truth. Thus we should be extremely skeptical that we have the truth about anything, including that we evolved completely by unguided natural selection. (It still might be the case, but we would never be able to be sure of it.)

Note that this argument doesn't say that any particular religion is the best explanation for how we came to be; it just says that unguided natural selection isn't the best explanation. What do you all think of this?

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TomDavidson
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I think it's ludicrous for a variety of reasons, not least the fact that its central challenge -- that our mental faculties or our senses may well be lying to us -- is in fact a conclusion that's generally accepted as true.
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kenmeer livermaile
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It's just a uniquely focused statement of skepticism.

Question: is the location of prey a form of truth?

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Clark
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You're right! Therefore, I am extremely skeptical that we have the truth about anything, including that the idea of complete, unguided evolution is self-contradictory.

Why shouldn't we have evolved to "get the truth"? Doesn't getting the truth help us survive and reproduce, in many instances? Learning the truth about disease, the human body and mastering technology has lead to increase in life span and human population.

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KnightEnder
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I used to think the eye was a miracle until I read about its evolution and then it made perfect sense.

Of course our senses lie to us! Prick your finger and it will take .001 of a second (or something like that) to get to travel through the nerves in your arm to your brain and 'feel' the pain, but you will experience it as if happened at the exact time your finger was pricked. We constantly live a second in the past. Not to mention how bad facial recognition is, such as in eye-witness acounts, etc.

Goedel's Theorem: no system can explain itself. That's why we 'need' God, or a really advanced computer. Another order of intelligence. Something with advanced intelligence to explain us to us.

And Omega, the main point is the atheist creed; we shouldn't be too sure about anything. The fact that religious people are sooo sure is what bothers us.

KE

[ February 26, 2007, 01:09 PM: Message edited by: KnightEnder ]

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Omega M.
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Well, I'll think about it some more. FYI, I certainly hope the argument I gave is false.
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simplybiological
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This is one of those arguments that makes me want to beat my head against the wall.

Thing one, we didn't evolve completely by natural selection. There are a number of other forces that result in Evolution in addition to Natural Selection.

Thing two, Natural Selection is guided... by the environment. An individual who fails to receive useful information from their environment is toast. Ergo, survival and reproduction of those who are best at perceiving useful information is favored.

Thing three, lying is cheating, in evolutionary terms. When you have a system that relies on altruism or honest communication, lying is by far the best evolutionary strategy-- but in EVERY instance we've been able to study, a method of detecting honesty and ferreting out cheaters has been developed.

Thing four, no good scientist will EVER tell you that they found "the truth." Evolution is the best hypothesis supported by the data we have, but the whole idea behind the scientific method is that we CAN'T generate truth by ouselves- we must test externally and in a way that is as removed from ourselves as possible. To me, this is an acknowledgement that our logic alone can't be trusted.

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Adam Masterman
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There are some incorrect assumptions here. First of all, it is assumed that percieving the truth has no survival value, so we have not been selecting the traits necessary for percieving truth. But actually, seeing the truth has trememndous survival value. This is truth in the ordinary sense, mind you, not "Truth". It means having an accurate view of reality and how our environment operates, and people who can't do this well have definately been selected against.

What Tom said is true, but only in a very limited sense. We don't have perfect perception, and never will, but on the whole we are perfectly equiped to percieve and understand reality on a relative level. Hot is hot, cold is cold, red is red and blue is blue. On this mundane level, perception is actually quite reliable.

Evolution is an observable process. While the ultimate origin of life and/or intellegence may be speculation, evolution is a very ordinary fact of the natural world. We can see it happen, and have no compelling reason to doubt the relative accuracy of our perceptions of it. Nothing in your challenge really contradicts that.

Adam

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TomDavidson
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quote:
on the whole we are perfectly equiped to percieve and understand reality on a relative level
Or so we think. But you COULD after all be a brain in a jar. [Wink]
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MattP
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quote:
I certainly hope the argument I gave is false.
Why? Just curious.
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caladbolg1125
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How much does anyone here know about Chaos Theory? Emmergent properties? Self reference? Sensitive dependence on initial conditions?

We have not used this theory enough yet. Look at some fractals. The idea that complexity begats simplicity begats complexity (ad infitum) could possibly explain many natural phenomena. We've only just recently applied this thinking to studying weather patterns (granted this started twenty+ years ago, but in the lifetime of mathematical ideas, it's fairly early in development).

Whatsisname from Jurassic Park only got it half-right. We do move from order to chaos, but then, after awhile, we move from chaos to order.

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TomDavidson
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Why is that remotely relevant?
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caladbolg1125
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
Why is that remotely relevant?

Is this directed at me?

It is my attempt at a counter-argument to the guided evolution argument. Perhaps I was unclear.

The idea that simple initial conditions can lead to complex results through self-reference is potentially very powerful. The math is still very young but it has great potential to give us an idea about how the natural process of evolution created complex intelligent creatures such as ouselves.

We'll just have to wait and see.

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MattP
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quote:
It is my attempt at a counter-argument to the guided evolution argument.
The argument wasn't just that evolution was guided, but that there is not necessarily any survival value in the ability to assess truth. The argument doesn't say anything about the ability for complex systems to evolve from simple ones.
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kenmeer livermaile
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"The argument wasn't just that evolution was guided, but that there is not necessarily any survival value in the ability to assess truth."

Which argument, applied, says that being able to distinguish between mirage water and real water in the desert does not confer survival benefit.

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caladbolg1125
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The argument that there is no survival value in the ability to assess truth is too absurd for my taste. I simply chose to pass over it rather than ask: "What is truth?" (Besides, I would be expressing the view that others have already stated on this forum.)

"The argument doesn't say anything about the ability for complex systems to evolve from simple ones."

Of course it doesn't. If it did that would mean it has some understanding of dissipative structures, which it does not. If it did carefully consider this opposing view it might see that guided evolution is not the only answer. Our understanding is still very limited and until it becomes more developed, other flawed theories are going to circulate.

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Omega M.
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I wonder if the argument I gave is similar to the opinion that everything you're aware of exists only in your mind. The response to that opinion is that, while it can't be proved false, the regularities in what you see, hear, etc. are most simply explained by there actually being things out there that make your mind produce certain images, sounds, etc. Similarly, maybe you could say that the regularities show that, however conscious experience and the brain are connected, the conscious experience does correspond in some way to what's outside the brain?
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MattP
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quote:
Which argument, applied, says that being able to distinguish between mirage water and real water in the desert does not confer survival benefit.
I never said it was a good argument. [Smile]
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hobsen
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As is common on this forum, the argument itself differs from the title of the thread. "Self-contradictory" means there is a logical contradiction, as in a statement that someone is holding an empty glass of grapefruit juice. There does not seem to be any such contradiction to me, and the argument does not seem to assert that.

But it does say people evolved more to survive and to reproduce than to create complex theories or to carry out operations in logic. That is quite true, and that is one reason why my pocket calculator is better at multiplying large numbers than I am. So the theory of evolution is a scientific theory constructed by fallible humans, and it is constantly being revised and improved and better understood. But that does not mean there is any great chance of its being thrown out altogether, any more than we are likely to go back to believing the earth is flat.

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MattP
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quote:
The response to that opinion is that, while it can't be proved false, the regularities in what you see, hear, etc. are most simply explained by there actually being things out there that make your mind produce certain images, sounds, etc.
My preferred response is that whether things are a certain way or whether they only seem to be that way is irrelevant to how I respond to them. If I'm really in the Matrix, but I have no way of determining that, it only makes sense to behave as if I'm not.

"You might just be a brain in a jar."

"So?"

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Adam Masterman
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quote:
on the whole we are perfectly equiped to percieve and understand reality on a relative level

Or so we think. But you COULD after all be a brain in a jar. [Wink]

Thats what the relative level means. Ultimately, we have no way to objectively establish anything. However, when we turn the blue faucet, cold water comes out. We interact with our environment in a way that expresses some pretty basic and ordinary intellegence. Gravity works everyday, up is up and diet coke is diet coke. In that sense, our sense perceptions work just fine (unless we are impaired). And really, thats all sense perceptions can do. They cannot, by definition, establish the ultimate existance of anything. So really, they do what they do very reliably. Just don't expect them to tell you if you are in the matrix or not.

Adam

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TommySama
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Please, it's Plato's Cave.

I'd hate to exist in a world where Keanu Reeves is anything but utterly contemptable.

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Rallan
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It's also worth going on a tangent and pointing out that if you ask folks who are in the business of knowing how the human brain works (psychologists, neurosurgeons, and other assorted Brainology types), they'll tell you that we don't actually have the ability to process everything perfectly. By the time the raw sensory data about our surroundings gets to our consciousness, it's gone through a lot of jerry-rigged filters and shortcuts that are designed to give a quick and dirty approximation of the truth that you can act on now rather than waiting for you to consciously process and interpret everything. This is why, for example, smells remind us of things, and why we can see shapes in clouds and Christ in a potato chip, and why optical illusions work, and why when we're fatigued we see things from the corner of our eyes, and why when certain parts of the brain get damaged we unconsciously accept as fact all manner of completely bizarre and broken interpretations that our brains have made for us.

Now if we were the result of a guiding force, especially a perfect guiding force, why would the brains that make us what we are compared to the rest of the natural world be such half-assed feats of lazy engineering? There's Linux-driven computers with software coded from scratch by the computer's owner that show better signs of elegant, deliberate design than the human brain does [Smile]

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KnightEnder
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quote:
Originally posted by TommySama:
Please, it's Plato's Cave.

I'd hate to exist in a world where Keanu Reeves is anything but utterly contemptable.

[LOL] Ha! LOL! I love that movie (in fact I like most of Reeve's movies) but my son's insistence that that makes Keaneau a "great" actor is a constant source of debate. Similarly my wife thinks because Mark Wahlberg is hot and in good movies he is worthy of an Oscar. I love love love John Wayne, but he wasn't the best actor. He was great at playing himself.) Sorry for the tangent. Tommy set me off.

This argument is great because I'm rereading Michael Chritons "The Terminal Man" right now.

KE

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KnightEnder
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If we were brains in a jar we'd want bigger jars. [Wink]

I've already stated that I'd prefer the steak in the Matrix to the gruel in Zion. My son's vehemently disagree. They're so young.

I think that it was SB that mentioned lying being a stronger survival trait, and in that line of thinking I agree that selfishness is too. I think it is the fact that we try to overcome these basic evolutionary traits, that we seek "the truth" is our saving grace. Better than self-aware animals.

KE

[ February 27, 2007, 03:16 AM: Message edited by: KnightEnder ]

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vulture
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quote:
Originally posted by KnightEnder:
[LOL] Ha! LOL! I love that movie (in fact I like most of Reeve's movies) but my son's insistence that that makes Keaneau a "great" actor is a constant source of debate.

I always thought that the Matrix movies played to his strengths: stand here in a long black coat with shades and look cool. Speak as little as possible, and don't try to do emotion.

Back on topic, I think hobsen has it right - evolutionary pressures would put a premium on accurate evaluation of the world around us (well, not quite) but not on things like pure logic or advanced mathematics. I remember the test posted here a few years ago which (vague description alert) involves statements like "a card with a red circle on the front always has a blue triangle on the back" and various cards that you can only see one side of - the test was to determine which cards you have to turn over to find out whether they fit in with the statements. I forget the details, as you may have noticed. The point was that the exact same logic was used in all cases, but people did very poorly at 'abstract' versions, but very well at ones framed in terms of determining if someone is cheating you.

Hopefully someone like SB (hint) will know the experiment I'm talking about and be able to link it for more clarity...

In some cases, our perception is skewed away from reality by survival pressures. Time discounting, for instance: is it better to have X now, or Y next week. How much more does Y have to be than X before they become 'equal'. We tend to vastly overvalue things that come now, and discount stuff in the future. Which makes sense in a food-scarce (or resource-scarce) environment. Arguably we aren't overvaluing at all - just valuing correctly in an environment that no longer applies (not sure that is strictly true either to be honest).

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KnightEnder
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You sound like you're talking about a poker tournament.

KE

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Jordan
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I remember that test, and I think it went something like this. In front of you are four cards:
  1. E
  2. 8
  3. T
  4. 3
Someone tells you that "any card with a vowel on one side has an even number on the other." The question is, which card(s) do you need to turn over to check that this rule is true?


I'll let a few people have a go before I give out the answer. [Smile]

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Jordan
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A quick Google later: this is called the "Wason card problem". (My brain keeps trying to read that as "Watson," which is a perfect example of how tricky brains can be.)
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Jordan
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Wow. Before I stop multi-posting, here's an alternative version of the test to try once you've finished the first problem.

The cards this time show:
  1. beer
  2. cola
  3. 16 years
  4. 22 years
On one side of each card is the name of a drink; on the other side is the age of the drinker. What card(s) must be turned over to determine if the following statement is false? "If a person is drinking beer, then the person is over 19-years-old."

(Source: The Skeptic's Dictionary—Critical Thinking mini-lesson 3)

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vulture
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quote:
Originally posted by KnightEnder:
You sound like you're talking about a poker tournament.

KE

Touche.

Jordan has correctly guesses the experiment I vaguely remember.

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Omega M.
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I've heard both versions of that card test. I think the better way to set up the drinking version is, "You're a bartender. Four people are at your bar drinking. The first person is drinking beer, the second person is drinking Coke, the third person you know is 16, and the fourth person you know is 22. Who do you need to check more closely to ensure that everyone is drinking what's legal for them?" That shows a lot more clearly that it's easier to solve a problem in a familiar situation than in an abstract one.
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