Re: [asa] What is life? (letters in Raleigh News & Observer)

From: D. F. Siemens, Jr. <>
Date: Tue Oct 16 2007 - 23:16:49 EDT

The first problem here involves instincts, which are commonly denied to
human beings. There may be a suckling instinct in the newborn, along with
a grasping instinct that apparently is soon lost. But preparation for the
more advanced abilities, like learning language, seem not to be
instinctive but fit in a different category.

The last two paragraphs would be more telling if there weren't so many
creatures that function very well without the human specializations. I
recall a professor who claimed that his horse had an esthetic sense
because it paused whenever they came to a notable view. But I'm betting
on a signal being passed from the rider, as in the horse that could
count. Come to think of it, I didn't think much of his discernment in
other matters, but that's another tale. Only human beings worship. As to
morals, it appears that human beings are the only creatures that penalize
unfair division even to their own loss. /Science/, 318:15, 107-109
(2007), reports that chimps will accept any deal, with no attempt at
fairness. But then I note that there are those humans who will take
everything they can from a sucker. I have not seen any evidence that
either of these behaviors is unlearned.
Dave (ASA)

On Tue, 16 Oct 2007 17:50:13 -0400 writes:
Altruism is probably a combination of instinctive aspects of human
cognition that
are alternately reinforced or degraded by environmental conditioning.
That is, I think
that we are all almost the same in our instinctive makeup, the more
evolved aspects
of which can be characterized as altruistic.

If we are brought up in a highly evolved society those higher (more
altruistic) species
level survival mechanisms will be expressed in our lives by the mutual
state of conditioning
of our fellow humans as supported by the population's spiritual
inclinations. In a less evolved
(or highly distressed) society altruism is supplanted by more immediate
individual survival
tactics and more primitive survival instincts that sacrifice the species
well being for
personal survival.

In fact, the individual's survival is fundamentally conflicted with the
species survival
interests via competition issues. Like other commandments, "thou shalt
not kill is
a bottom line species level survival imperative drawing the line where
competition ends
and evil begins. Evil is the individual being rationally self-interested
to the detriment of
the species well being. Being good is being paradoxically
self-disinterested in deference
to what is best for the collective, which is altruistic.

Individuals aspire to survive in different time frames than the species.
Individual survival
is finite, temporary. Species aspire to evolve and survive forever. And
the only thing that
can promote our species evolutionary imperatives over our rational,
individual survival tactics
and more primitive instinctive survival impulses is our most evolved
instinct of all, our
instinct for God. The ultimate authority for human behavior is our
certainty of how God
would have us behave. And that's largely the same across all religions
and cultures
as well as being pretty unambiguously altruistic in nature.

And our belief in God is not "just some evolutionary quirk" to "fool" us
into behaving
in a way that turns out to be good for us in the long term. The belief
in God is an accurate
instinctive perception of the universe in terms of our survival
(salvation). Neurological
survival traits aren't selected for their ability to fool us into
anything. Such traits are
naturally selected predominately on one criteria. They reflect within
the perception of
the organism an accurate representation of the real world.

Good visual cortex, good hand-to-eye coordination, even reason itself are
all selected
based on how accurately the allow us to characterize the real world in
pursuit of our
survival. Our belief in God is no different. A belief in God is how we
accurately place
the entire context of human life in the universe in absolute terms. Our
belief in God is
the ultimate product of human brain evolution in terms of directly
sensing what the
universe is all about. (


-----Original Message-----
From: PvM []
Sent: Monday, October 15, 2007 11:13 PM
To: Alexanian, Moorad
Cc: AmericanScientificAffiliation
Subject: Re: [asa] What is life? (letters in Raleigh News & Observer)

What is one to make of such ad hoc claims? Proof by assertion seems
rather circular an approach here.

Let's take the concept of altruism, surely as nonphysical as any of
the ones claimed by Alex, and yet we can study it, and even find
plausible evolutionary explanations for it. So what am I to make of
such assertions? Perhaps responding to it already makes too much of
them, but I am really attempting to understand the logic involved.

On 10/14/07, Alexanian, Moorad <> wrote:

Consciousness and rationality are purely nonphysical, since purely
physical devices cannot detect them, and can only be "detected" by the
self in humans. In addition, life cannot be reduced to the purely
physical, so living beings are both physical and nonphysical.

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Received on Tue Oct 16 23:39:19 2007

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