Friday, January 04, 2008


A Universal Basis For Science And Religion, Part 3a, Evolution

A Universal Basis For Science and Religion, Part 3a, Evolution

As we said in part 2, the best way to make choices among the repertoire of human behaior is to use the methods of science. As far as we can tell there were three general periods which were characterized by styles of behavior: the paleolithic, in which we survived by gathering and hunting, and which laster 50,- to 100,000 years; the post-Neolithic, in which we practiced agriculture, and which lasted 8- to 10,000 years, and the Industrial, which has lasted the last 500 years or so and in which we made extensive use of devices in manufacturing. In the paleolithic we organized ourselves into small, conformist groups; in the post-Neolithic we created urban structures with a hierarchical organization. The industrial era may only have been a transition that might yet return us to the egalitarian organization of the paleolithic but on a global, rather than tribal, basis; but we can't be exactly sure how we will get past the present period of regression. It may be that the whole time since the Neolithic Revolution was a transition period between two stable periods, the paleolithic and post-Industrial, but we won't be sure for a while. In any case the most stable period we know of, and the one least influenced by the accidents of technological development, is the paleolithic; so we can use that to provide the key to the systematics of human behavior.

Unfortunately, we can't observe ourselves in a paleolithic state. Peoples that still live in a hunter-gatherer economy are to some degree in contact with modern technology, even if that is only metal implements. What we can do is find a theory of evolution that will describe human development from the most primitive cultures to the present, and see if that will give us some indication of what the fundamentals of behavior are like.

There are three models of evolution that can be applied to human behavior. All claim to be scientific, but only one is accepted by academic students of evolution: the Spencerian model based on "Survival of the Fittest". In the New York Times of January 13, 2007, Dr. Michael Tomasello, the co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology wrote: "Evolutionary theory tells us that, in general, the only individuals who are around today are those whose ancestors did things that were beneficial to their own survival and reproduction". This is a weak form of Spencer's "Survival of the Fittest". He also wrote:
"We are still a long way from figuring out why humans evolved to do so many complicated things together: from building houses to creating universities to fighting wars."

There is a distinct difference between science and ideology and it is demonstrated by these quotes. We can be grateful that Dr. Tomasello was naive enough to see nothing wrong in what he said. If the Spencerian model was actually judged by scientific criteria it would have been junked because it doesn't explain cooperation, the primary basis of human survival. It is accepted because it allows academics to believe that they are superior to (i.e., "fitter" than) their students and the student's parents.

Unfortunately they are "fitter" as surviving in the academic bureaucracy, so that the non-academics have no response except religion. The model based on the creation of all present living forms by an "intelligent designer" who also created artificial fossils to fool paleontologists is primarily a religious model, but it makes an argument that sounds scientific when it says that complex forms will not evolve without special creation.

The third model is based on Darwin's initial concept: "Non-survival of the unfit". This phrasing seems like it states the same principle as Spencer's model, but we will see that there is a significant difference. If we put it in the same form as Spencer's model it is: "Survival of the Just-Barely-Fit and Fitter". That shows the difference: Spencer's model says that the only one that survives is "The Fittest"; whereas Darwin's model speaks to the survival of a substantial fraction of the breeding population. Since this is what normally happens, it is clear that Darwin's model is more descriptive of experience than Spencer's.

{There are explanations on [] and [] if the explanation below is inadequate.}

We can represent the way evolution works by considering Fig. 1. A prey animal will be more likely to be found if it is colored like the environment: if it is too light or too dark it will be seen too easily. But even if it is seen it may survive if it can run faster, but if it is structured to run too fast it will need more calories to survive. This will produce a "survival zone" in the space whose dimensions are coloration and speed. Individuals from any part of the zone may meet and their offspring may fall within the zone and survive to have offspring of their own, or outside the zone and leave no offspring. In the long run this will let the whole zone be populated on the average.

Figure 2 shows the case where the environment is intolerant of variation in one dimension: if the environment changes none of the then present generation will survive. This is what happens when a species goes extinct.

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