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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Darwin gave us hope…

Darwin gave us hope, not God. We have an inbuilt Pandora’s box that enables us to deceive not only others but ourselves. Deception is clearly linked to neural complexity and a positive perception of our environs is a deep-rooted drive. Without this, we cannot accomplish what we set out to do. Moreover, we have a tendency to deceive ourselves and deny the truth, since the alternative is depression and despair.

Evolutionary Psychiatrist Randolph Nesse of the University of Michigan is a great believer in hope as a evolutionary strategy.

According to Nesse, all emotions have an evolutionary basis, and for every negative emotion, there is a balancing positive one. Hope arrives on the coattails of despair, and without hope, we’d all be lost. Since everyone experiences bad stuff, and feels it deeply, our brains have adapted by also delivering hope. And without our inborn measure of hope, we fall into depression, where someone like psychiatrist Nesse has to remind us to be hopeful.

The rhetoric of hope adopted by Barack Obama and other politicians becomes more understandable as a strategy that draws upon deep seated biases within human societies. It is noteworthy that hope has formed a strong component of many religious messages: thus rendering the satirical embodiment of the Messiah in the President-elect more accurate in Darwinian terms.

Darwinian explanations add to the complex mix of our understanding of human action. They do not replace or simplify this complex cultural mosaic.

This small point does give us an insight into power: for those who truly love terror would deny hope to all. The true totalitarian states of the twentieth century tried to deny hope to all of their victims and even then, failed in their torture. Yet, the same horizons are also eroded and extinguished over the longer term by other systems, such as welfare. There is no comparison between the terror of the prison camps and the grey anomie of incapacity benefits. But both, I suspect, through different means, overturn this need for self-deception, acknowledging the primacy of politics and society over the weak orientation of our evolved psychology.

27 comments to Darwin gave us hope…

  • lucklucky

    There is hope in animals? I think they evolved too…

    It wasn’t Darwin that gave us hope but civilization and more specifically religion and Totalitarian politics.

    Totalitarian States started precisely as instruments of Hope. Communism and Nazism were masses movements of Hope. Without Hope they instilled in people many of their policies would never be tolerated.
    Without Hope Totalitarianism cannot start.

    Welfare is a Totalitarian Hope. Promising free lunches by giving away power(Freeedom).

  • Peter Melia

    Darwin. Now we are told that everything in the universe evolved from particles(?) emitting from the big bang. We evolved, and so did “rocks and stones and worse than senseless things”. So evolutionary speaking, we are equal to the smallest grain of sand, and have the same future, which consists simply of eventual deterioration from life (us) or exising (rocks etc) into nothing. No matter how you present it, there doesn’t seem to be much to hope for in that, or any true Darwinian scenario.

  • I don’t think that what Philip is saying is that hope is built into the universe, but it is built into us by our evolution.

    We cannot know for certain how our actions will develope into consequences, we can only hope that everything will turn out alright. We cannot truly know the psychological evolution of other animals simply due to the fact that we aren’t them.

    Lucklucky, all political power is derived from hope, not just totalitarian power.

    Peter, a grain of sand cannot hope, neither can it consciously influence the outcome of its existence. On the other hand we can because we have will and consciousness. The universe cares not one jot about our ultimate fate, we do however and can strive to change it.

  • Vercingetorix

    Darwin gave us hope, not God.

    Wow. 50,000 years as a species and we’ve had hope for only a century!

    Who knew?

    If you’re going to dig into philosophy and religion, try to pretend that you do not think you know it all, so we can try to pretend – out of politeness – that we do not see the deep chasms in your reading. Sociobiology has as much explanatory power as social darwinism, i.e. it assigns truth to obvious categories in often beautiful ways but fails utterly in describing the deeper aspects of human life.

    For instance, I’ve heard sociobiologists describe evolution as a race between selfish genes, which, in its way, is a poetic flourish on standard evolution and no more. But no sociobiologist can tell us right from wrong or what an ideal society would be or the desiderata of virtue.

    Sociobiology is the intricate art of the obvious, wielded in the palms of philosopher-tyrants. It is the fashion of the day, true only in a very limited sphere.

  • Peter Melia

    Mandrill, For something to be “..built into us..” requires a builder. Who, I pray?
    Furthermore, how on earth does “consciousness” evolve? According to the theory, things evolve from lesser things which preceded them.
    So was “consciousness” evolved from “unconciousness”? If not, what?
    And which is the higher state, for entropy demands that things degrade, the higher to the lower, hot to cold?
    So the appearance that “consciousness” is a lower state than “unconsciousness” would seem contrary to our human experience.
    So, from what did “consciousness” evolve?

  • Wow. 50,000 years as a species and we’ve had hope for only a century!

    A simplistic reading to put it politely. Saying ‘Darwin’ is clearly just a way of saying ‘evolution’.

    Mandrill, For something to be “..built into us..” requires a builder. Who, I pray? Furthermore, how on earth does “consciousness” evolve? According to the theory, things evolve from lesser things which preceded them.

    Don’t pray, it rots the brain. I would hazard ‘built’ by evolutionary processes (so no anthropomorphic beardy-guy-in-the-sky required to understand the article). And so if ‘consciousness’ is an emergent property of our biology, which it surely is, and our biological form is the product of evolutionary processes…

    Seem like a fairly reasonable article to me.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    luckylucky:

    There is hope in animals?

    Oh, surely. Cat + can + opener + person = instant, ecstatic hope.

  • Vercingetorix

    Saying ‘Darwin’ is clearly just a way of saying ‘evolution’.

    Not hardly. That would be like saying that Pat Robertson is a handy dandy synonym for God. That is just sloppy thinking.

    This whole post restates the blitheringly obvious: hope is a part of human nature and Obama appealed to ‘hope.’

    No kidding, huh? Quick, email everyone you know! The Trvth must be spread!!!

    The rest is vacant, self-indulgent, purple prose that Obama’s speechwriters are busily cribbing for his next open mic poetry night on Oprah. Oh, and by the way, God is dead.

    How can you not pull out marshmellows and roast them over this micro-essay trainwreck?

  • Ian B

    Darwin gave me an ugly jumper, a pair of novelty socks and a Terry’s chocolate orange.

  • Ian B

    Furthermore, how on earth does “consciousness” evolve?

    Depends on what you think consciousness is. Most people seem to think it’s some kind of directive agent distinct from mind which needs a special explanation, and then they start appealing either to the overtly supernatural, or to scientific supernaturalism (e.g. Roger Penrose and his keraaaazzy quantum consciousness stuff).

    Me, I think it’s just a feedback loop.

    I came more strongly to this view when my mother was dying. She had brain tumours, and conversation became a tortuous confused maze as we, and apparently she, tried to guess what she was talking about, and indeed whether she was talking about anything meaningful. It was awful. As the days went on, I wracked my own brain for ways to try to communicate, and thus started forming hypotheses as to what was going on in hers.

    My guess is that, to be mechanistic, the significant part of the brain which contains “consciousness” is what we might call a “serialising unit” which integrates the various concepts which have arisen in the brain’s various parts, sorts them for value, then imposes upon them a temporal order, which creates serial consciousness (and a minor evolutionary advance allowed that serial stream to be externalised, creating a capacity for language). It then seems reasonable that a feedback loop from the output to the input would be present, so the serialising unit knows what it just did- it would be useless to think without knowing what one has just thunk, or speak without knowing what one has just spoken. That creates an impression of a seperate entity inhabiting the brain, aware of itself, and leads one falsely to a Cartesian theatre model.

    Sorry, what was the question again?

  • Peter, I stipulated how hope wasmade a part of our psychological make up in the statement I made:
    …it is built into us by our evolution.

    Your deflecting the argument away from me telling you that there is hope in the universe because we are, towards one which involves evolution vs creationism/superstition. Your ploy will find no purchase here. If you want to argue against my original point then by all means do so but no more sophomoric debating tactics please.

    The question is not about evolution vs creationism it is about where hope came from and why it is valuable to us as humans. If you truly believe that they universe is without hope then I pity you, I really do.

    As Perry pointed out, our consciousness is an emergent property of our biological processes. If you don’t know what that means then it can be summarized by the following: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If you took all the atoms of your brain and piled them up, you would not be there. All you would have is a pile of atoms. That would be the sum of your parts, but it would not be you, would it?

    The mind that is me is not a product of simply the atoms that make up my brain, but of their interactions and relationships, which are different in every person. Every interaction, from the atomic to the molecular and electrochemical, which takes place in the mass of biological goo that resides in my head goes towards making me who and what I am.

    Also, your understanding of entropy is somewhat flawed. I’m sure NickM or one of the other Samizdatistas of a scientific bent can enlighten you as to the exact nature of your error, I just know that you’re wrong but lack the facility to explain how.

    In answer to your question, consciousness, or more accurately: sentience, probably evolved through a random mutation and was found to be a more useful tool for survival than non-sentience. This allowed the genetics which provide for it to be passed along to offspring more than the genetics for non-sentience. Thats how evolution works.

  • Vercingetorix

    Julian Jaynes had some interesting ideas about consciousness in his book “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.”

    I’ve read ALOT of navel gazing philosophy books and books about psychology, etc – I even have a minor in psychology for all that’s worth (um, looking at my pocketbook, evidently nothing) – and I think Jayne is pretty much on the money: like our language, our minds have evolved from very primitive beginnings and consciousness is merely a metaphorical mind space. He gets alot wrong (probably), but it is a thought provoking book.

  • Kevin B

    It has been said, probably simplistically, that our brains have three parts: The lizard brain which controls our limbic system and reacts to outside stimuli with a simple decision tree involving the three Fs. Fight, fornicate or flee.

    The next layer up adds a much more complex system of reactions relating to our position in the herd, (or pack), and adds some room for communication and argument to the instinctive behaviour of the lizard brain.

    The most important addition of the next layer is a sense of time. The ability to remember the past and, using that experience, plan for the future.

    Without that third layer, hope is impossible.

    Conciousness is probably based in the third layer, but is really about the complex interactions between the three.

    Obviously, the notion of layers is best thought of as an analogy rather than a physical description, but it is a useful analogy and helps explain a lot of human, and animal, behavior.

  • CFM

    “. . . the three Fs. Fight, fornicate or flee.”

    May I nominate a fourth “F”? Feed. I’m hungry. And I ain’t rumblin’, runnin’ off or puttin’ out ’till I get fed.

  • Paul Marks

    Perhaps there is truth in the quotation.

    For example, I am often accused of undermining myself by my gloomy view of my position (and of life in general) and I respond by saying I hold an accurate and truthful position.

    Of course the quotation would indicate that the very realism of my own position is the problem with it – and if I was dominated by illusions I would achieve more and have a more happy life.

    So how can one will oneself to become deluded? Oh well….

    As for Comrade Barack – for all his claims of religious faith he is certainly aided by a decline of faith in God.

    People who have a strong faith in God call only one man “The One” and do not place their faith in any earthly ruler.

    This certainly does not mean that all athiests have flocked to the banner of Comrade Barack Obama – (they certainly have not), but most people look for something beyond themseves to put their hope on. And God is no longer respectable in “education system” or media circles.

    So people worship Obama instead of God.

    The same people who sneered at President Bush for exercising go into rapture over Barack Obama at the gym – he does not even sweat, he “glows” or whatever.

    The whole cult is idolatry.

    The above should not be taken to mean that I believe President Elect Barack Obama to be the AntiChrist (no matter how closer he resembles what has been talked about in various ways).

    My own position is that Barack Obama is just a collectivist conman – rather worse than most politicians, but a mortal man.

  • Paul Marks

    Perhaps there is truth in the quotation.

    For example, I am often accused of undermining myself by my gloomy view of my position (and of life in general) and I respond by saying I hold an accurate and truthful position.

    Of course the quotation would indicate that the very realism of my own position is the problem with it – and if I was dominated by illusions I would achieve more and have a more happy life.

    So how can one will oneself to become deluded? Oh well….

    As for Comrade Barack – for all his claims of religious faith he is certainly aided by a decline of faith in God.

    People who have a strong faith in God call only one man “The One” and do not place their faith in any earthly ruler.

    This certainly does not mean that all athiests have flocked to the banner of Comrade Barack Obama – (they certainly have not), but most people look for something beyond themseves to put their hope on. And God is no longer respectable in “education system” or media circles.

    So people worship Obama instead of God.

    The same people who sneered at President Bush for exercising go into rapture over Barack Obama at the gym – he does not even sweat, he “glows” or whatever.

    The whole cult is idolatry.

    The above should not be taken to mean that I believe President Elect Barack Obama to be the AntiChrist (no matter how closer he resembles what has been talked about in various ways).

    My own position is that Barack Obama is just a collectivist conman – rather worse than most politicians, but a mortal man.

  • Peter Melia

    This is getting a bit “up-hillish”.
    Mandrill, it matters not whether Philip says that hope is built into the universe, or if you say that hope is built into us by evolution. If anything is “built” into something, then what did the building? Something built implies a builder. To almost return to my earlier post, what does “will” evolve from?
    Perry, I’m flattered (really) to be mentioned by you. One of your remarks could be re-written as “..don’t ask earnestly, it rots the brain” If Samizdatists block curiosity then where shall we curious people flee to, I pray? I’m curious as to what “consciousness” can evolve from? It would appear that for the majority of your correspondents, Darwinism is a certainty. Yet you last sentence used the qualifier “if” which seemed to imply …what?
    I certainly believe in evolution, it is just that, I am having difficulty figuring out what the very first thing was.
    Ian B, it would appear that you are using a piece of computer software as an analogy, and a good one it is. However, is there any evidence of any software just “falling into place”? I’m sure that you wrote yours, and would be (rightly) quite cross for someone to suggest that your work was something randomly arrived at.
    Mandrill (again), I’m not attempting to deflect anything. It’s just that, suppose a person lives a good, full life, 70 years and more, as I’m sure we all hope to do (note that the “hope” as used here is perfectly valid, in the sense that most people want to live as long as possible). Suppose we are full of “hope” (used in your sense, meaning I know not what) at the moment of death. And yet we know, because we are Darwinians that the moment after death there is nothing. What value then for hope?
    I would love to have my understanding of entropy explained. As I understand it, in a closed system, entropy increases, which means everything cools, which means things become less complex. Of course our earth is not a closed system so entropy cannot apply, so things can happily become more complex. So are you then claiming that increased sophistication as a result of evolution only applies on earth, whereas as soon as mankind escapes out to the planets, into the closed system????

  • Laird

    I don’t agree with much of what Vercingetorix has to say, but I must admit to admiration for his evocative term “philosopher-tyrant”. I may appropriate it someday, should the occasion arise. And I agree that Jaynes’ book is thought-provoking, although so is Velikovsky’s. In the long run I suspect that we will locate both on the same shelf of the library.

    Ian B, your description of consciousness as a “feedback look” is quite interesting. I shall have to ponder it. A few initial questions, though: Why would a “serialising unit” both sort concepts by value and impose upon them a temporal order? Wouldn’t one (presumably the former) be sufficient? And if it’s sorting concepts by “value”, how is that value determined?

  • Pa Annoyed

    IanB,

    Minsky’s Society of Mind?

    On Entropy,

    You have to be a bit careful talking about entropy; it’s a rather subtle concept for which a lot of simplifying metaphors have been used. It often seems more obvious than it is.

    When you have a system consisting of several different parts, it’s quite common for the entropy of one part to decrease while that of the rest increases by a greater amount. The entropy of the system as a whole always increases, but not uniformly.

    For example, consider throwing water into a depression in the ground to form a lake. Initially, the motion of the water is chaotic and turbulent, with violent motions in every direction. But for any initial state, the rules of fluid motion always end up with the same result – flat and still water. Have you ever deeply considered this miracle? If each square centimetre of the lake could take any one of a hundred distinct heights, and the lake was a square kilometre in area, there are 100 raised to the power of 10,000,000,000 possible configurations of the surface – the actual number of configurations is immeasurably larger – of which exactly one is unerringly selected. By dumb physics, no less.

    How does this incredible thing happen? Take a moment to think about that. Is an intelligence the only possible explanation – some sort of invisible demon that rushes about with a spirit level subtly adjusting the motion of each blob of water to achieve that perfect mirror finish? Can it be that the Hand of God is at work here?

    In fact, it happens because of friction – viscosity in the case of a liquid. Bulk motions of water can be converted to the microscopic motions constituting heat, and vice versa, but the number of configurations by which the heat can arrange itself make even the staggering number mentioned above seem tiny. In each cubic centimetre of water there are about 30,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules that can take up many more than 100 states each, to give a lake-wide total so mind-bogglingly staggeringly huge that the mere hundred to the ten billion of visible configurations utterly vanishes in comparison. And if that heat is allowed to escape into the universe, by radiating into space, the options are even greater.

    So the odds are such that bulk motions transfer energy into heat with near certainty, and heat is transformed to bulk motion with vanishing probability. Hence, that beautiful, miraculously unlikely, mirror perfection.

    Next time you watch the sun rise over a still lake, take a moment to think about what you are looking at.

    The mistake people always make in thinking about entropy in evolution is to concentrate on the bit about random mutation. This isn’t what guides evolution. The theory is called Natural Selection and this is the actual heart of the idea. Organisms are designed by their environment – by the less well-designed organisms being killed off. You start with hundreds of different features, then a famine comes along and kills off all but a couple. From lots of possibilities you end up with only a few – quite often the toughest – and that is an increase in order. It is counterbalanced by the massive decrease in order involved in all those individual deaths. Starvation and death – raw nature red in tooth and claw – are like the lake’s viscosity converting the energy of motion to random waste, the elegant grace of the hunting cat like the lake’s mirror finish.

    You ask who designed man – who “built” hope into us?
    The answer is Death. Shiva the Destroyer. Perhaps not quite the God you were looking for?

  • Ameryx

    Pa Annoyed,
    The only problem I see with your wonderful explanation of how the law of entropy applies sometimes and doesn’t others is this: I don’t for one minute believe that the surface of the lake is perfectly smooth. It may look calm to the naked eye; that is a statement about the value of the unaided eye as a research tool, more than it is a statement about the perfection of the lake’s surface
    There is constant turmoil, evaporation, condensation, currents flowing &c.
    The problem with the theory of evolution lies, I believe, in it’s proponents, who seem to believe it provides the answer to the question of Life, The Universe and Everything. And we all know that the answer is not “evolution”, it is 42.

  • nuke gray

    Perry, DO pray! It does not rot the brain!
    In fact, some scientists are coming up with positive results, and you can find their books in many healing sections of libraries.
    Perhaps you should get out more?

  • Pa Annoyed

    Ameryx,

    Indeed! At a microscopic level it is even more chaotic, but it’s still good enough to be able to see images of reflected clouds, and the odds against even that imperfect perfection are staggering. (Calculate them!) The products of evolution are likewise far from perfect, especially on a small scale.

    Consider, for example, that stalwart of the Darwinian debate – the human eye. Why did the designer wire the retina up backwards? Any sensible designer would put the light sensitive cells on top, and then the supporting nerves and blood vessels behind them. Instead, our eyes, and those of other mammals, have the nerves and blood vessels on top, and the light sensitive layer hidden underneath them. Because this didn’t work topologically (You can imagine him going “Doh!”), the designer had to cut a hole in the light sensitive layer for the bundle of nerves to pass through. And then because this left a huge blind spot in the field of vision, some clever post-processing had to be added in the brain to edit this out, and to paste in a convincing replacement to cover the hole. Part of what you see is made up – photoshopped.

    If that was designed, it was by an idiot. It’s not that there’s an fundamental reason for it that we simply don’t know about either. The octopus eyeball is wired up correctly.

    Or take the ‘recurrent laryngeal nerve’, which supplies the voice box. The nerve passes from the top of the spine down the neck into the chest, loops around the main artery out of the heart, and then back up into the throat. Why? Because in a fish that’s the direct route, and in the evolutionary contortions that followed it got twisted up and could never get untwisted. It even does it in a giraffe – five metres of totally redundant cabling.

    There are dozens of such botches, patches, and obvious design errors known – See Oolon’s reference work “Some more of God’s Greatest Mistakes” for further details. Whatever designed life, it wasn’t very intelligent.

    In judging the truth of evolution, the naked eye is an unreliable research tool. The law of entropy applies always, but some of its predictions are not what a naive interpretation of it would expect.

    nuke gray,

    Excellent! Then it will be a simple matter to experimentally determine which God or Goddess is the true one, by praying to many and seeing which ones work. What would you do if it turned out it wasn’t yours?

    Here’s one for your collection. Srinivasa Ramanujan was an Indian mathematician who had no formal training in the subject, yet was able to generate results that astounded the best mathematicians of the day. When asked how he did it, he replied that the Goddess Namagiri whispered them to him in his sleep. This makes him, by any objective standard, a divine prophet, and his mathematical notebooks holy scripture.

    This holy scripture is unique in not only being provably true (sometimes with great difficulty) but also evidence of the sort of sophisticated intellect perhaps able to invent quantum mechanics, as opposed to daft rules about homosexuality. (Quite what he was supposed to be thinking when he invented Cnemidophorus whiptail lizards, who have no males and reproduce by lesbian sex, is unclear.)

    I look forward to hearing about your immediate conversion to Namagiri-worship. Or if you think your God is smarter than some girly Goddess, perhaps you could pray for a proof of the Goldbach conjecture? (Every even number greater than two is the sum of two primes.) That would be even better!

    We’ll have a competition! Everyone pray for and post your favourite God’s or Goddess’s proof, and we’ll see which one is the best.

  • Vercingetorix

    I don’t agree with much of what Vercingetorix has to say

    Well, a simple “You’re an idiot, man…” would work. :) This is the internet, after all, throw in some f-bombs. Somehow that locution rankles like sitting down with Dad and getting that solemn, “I’m very disappointed in you,” like in I don’t agree with V and I NEVER will.

  • Peter Melia

    I don’t think so.
    Water is subject to pressure due to head.
    So, if two adjacent columns of water are of different heights, the pressure due to height in the highest column, will cause water to be transferred to the adjacent lower column until both columns are the same height. It doesn’t matter how many differing adjacent columns of water there are, they will all, quite quickly, settle out at the same height.
    There are not 10 and 9 zeros differing configurations, just the one, that resulting from “head-of-water”.
    The same applies to the alleged 3 times 10 and 21 zeros of molecules per cubic centimetre, (who counted them?) who cares?
    Well, arguing about zillions of zeros is boring so perhaps I can ask a question on a simple matter. Here it is, it is about evolution, specifically, the formation of different races.
    Race formation is very well documented. All it requires is isolation of a part of a population. After a few generations, due to natural selection and genetic drift, the isolated population will irreversibly lose some genes, and thus, as long as the isolation continues, in some features it will be different from the population it arose from.
    Is this statement evidence for or against evolution?

  • Laird

    Well, V, if you want me to call you an idiot I’m happy to oblige. Idiot! Feel better now?

    Frankly, it rather pleases me that my offhand dismissal of your remarks apparently got under your skin, although that really wasn’t my (conscious) intent. All I was really saying was that it’s not worth my time to extract from your posts either the parts with which I agree or the (rather more) parts with which I disagree. I long ago gave up on participating in theological debates. They’re a waste of bandwidth.

  • Vercingetorix

    I was being a bit loose with my heartache, Laird, for fun. Restrain the victory lap.

    From the very first sentence of this main post and on down to the next vapid and obvious point in the checklist, it was all a pratfall of a fool trying to bottle infinity and sell it. That gets under my skin.

    My point would be that wise men approach religion and philosophy on their knees, not flamboyantly like conquering dandies.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Peter Melia,

    “So, if two adjacent columns of water are of different heights, the pressure due to height in the highest column, will cause water to be transferred to the adjacent lower column until both columns are the same height.”

    Not so. The pressure difference applies a force which accelerates the water. By the time it equalises, it is moving too fast to stop, and swings the other way, like a pendulum. This is how water waves propagate.

    Without viscosity or other energy leakage, the wave motion would never stop.