For an introduction to this project please see this post.


Here's a string of ideas I aim to draw on to create discourse for thinking about ourselves as having evolved:

  1. There's nothing in the universe except:
       -  matter acted on by physics
       -  whatever's involved in evolution and life.
  2. To initial observation, what's makes evolution most different from matter is, it's creative. Non-living matter can't generate anything like the succession of species of living creatures we observe.
  3. Of the three possibilities I see for being the most plausible agent of evolution:
       -  the material environment--it's been around long enough, but lacks life's creativity.
       -  individual living creatures--can be creative, but short-lived.
       -  the genome
    I select the genome. It's existed since life began, and it could share life's creativity.
  4. What most needs to be accounted for is how intelligence evolves. I mean initially intelligence in the sense of highly complex "patterns of connection," eg coordination among all the muscles involved in the body of a dancer performing a series of dance steps, and brains. (In this account, adaptation is a mere by-product of increasing intelligence.)
  5. We can be creative, generate genuine novelty. This makes us like evolution. Of the two of us, evolution came along first. I therefore assume we get our creativity from being evolved. We'll not get it from matter, matter isn't creative as we are.
  6. My capability to be creative I experience as having free will. Free will therefore does not mean being free of physical determinism, it means being free to be creative as evolution shows itself to be. This is a limited degree of freedom. No more paradox, "Are we free, or determined."
  7. Other mental capabilities I want to account for, besides creativity and consciousness of creativity (free will), are thinking and consciousness. I am going to make a leap here, and propose that I get those by virtue of evolution too--I have nowhere else to imagine getting them from, and I'm already getting my creativity and free will from there.
  8. When we think, eg remember something, we make changes to brain cells. When the genome "thinks" I assume it must make changes to its brain, the genes it consists of. Since these are what define species I arrive at the formula, "thinking equals evolving."
  9. As a metaphor for "mind" I propose to adopt a performance space, a stage or an arena.
  10. Species I imagine as thoughts in a prop cupboard from which they are brought out occasionally to evolve on the main stage--that's the Genie recalling them and thinking new thoughts about them.
  11. If we can think, that may involve a process of evolving. I suppose, when the genome thought us up, it made us so thoughts could evolve in our "minds," a metaphoric "stage" associated with each conscious self.
  12. By association with us having a self supported by a brain, I propose the genome has a "self" I will call "Genie." The Genie evolved to be intelligent, conscious and creative.
  13. The main "story" of evolution involves the genome evolving to develop Genie, intelligent, creative, able to think, and conscious (or its equivalent in genome terms). Merely by thinking it has brought new species into existence. The fossil record is in effect a journal the Genie's kept of its thoughts. We are merely phenotypes corresponding to the Genie's thoughts.
  14. But we are exceptional in nature, through the Genie embedding in us an extra share of its own consciousness and creativity, and a heightened capability for evolving thoughts within our minds.
  15. That made us exceptional in so far as thoughts evolve in our minds in fractions of a second instead of the eons it takes for species of living creatures.
  16. Ideas made possible by having new discourse: In the course of human evolution we've gained new capabilities, eg speech, writing, agriculture, civilization. Through the study of evolution we might discern new mental powers in its processes, that we could draw down into our own "minds." This is one potential benefit of a discourse based on thinking of the genome being the primary agent of evolution.
  17. Another ideas: All at the same time, in a few million years, humans were given control of fire, capacity for speech, fine manual dexterity, a greatly enlarged brain, capabilities such as arts and sciences we could develop to create civilization, and capability for creating alphabetic writing. This looks like pre-adaptation. We can use this discourse to ask ourselves what we may have been pre-adapted for. Whatever we've been pre-adapted for we're likely to experience as our "meaning in life."

I've arrived at these ideas over a couple of decades writing books and novels on the subject. They originate in the course of voluminous writing. I measure my progress by how much I can compress them down. The list above represents my current stage, being able to compress them down to a dozen and a half points. Once I'm content with them, I expect to expand them into a book. An early draft of this book, from which this list was abstracted, can be downloaded here (pdf).

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Comment by Shaun Johnston on April 29, 2013 at 10:01am

Joan, maybe can we use power to cope with delusions such as the "land rights given by ancient fables." For example, the Jews in Israel insist on living on Israeli soil. How about this--American air power is used to gather up all the top-soil in Israel and drop it in a one-inch layer all over South Dakota, then we invite Israelis to move there, giving their denuded land to the Palestinians? Problem solved!

In the book that introduced evolution to the British public in 1844, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, the author supposed evolution consisted of the appearance over time of all the species God had planted in the embryo at the Creation, each of which would appear as conditions suitable for it appeared on Earth. Perhaps there were in the embryo, he surmised, creatures even more spiritually advanced than us humans, intended from the beginning to follow after us, to carry further God's plan. Then, our extinction would herald a species even more given to peace and justice. Another comforting thought, no?

"Too dangerous. Then let's be sharks, something nature can live with" distresses me to contemplate because of the ruthlessness of shark attacks.

I must protest. Who are we to judge evolution! Sharks are merely phenotypes giving material form to the genome's thoughts, as are we. Are we to judge the wisdom of the process giving us form? Should one species judge another? What principles are you drawing on?

Comment by Joan Denoo on April 28, 2013 at 9:13pm

Shaun, I very much like what you write and how you write. It stimulates my imagination, opens up some closed doors, even as it encourages me to look in. 

For example, "the catastrophe-rich environment of the early Earth" gave rise from chaos to order. Wondering if such order could come out of non-catastrophic events, even more to our point, could the catastrophic events we experience today provides the energy needed to go  beyond humans using brute force toward an effective use of cognitive power. After all, these gifts of additional brain power should count for something more than killing and destroying. 

The Isreali/Palestinian chaos, now being egged on by fundamentalists from both sides, could be an event that forces us to face down the people who claim land rights given them by ancient fables and move toward justice and peace for that part of the world. 

Dreaming again? Perhaps. Can we accomplish this dream without another extinction, one in which humans will fall prey? 

I believe the underlying problem is belief in delusions. That will be a hard nut to break open. Dominionism implies power over, not power with. We need more of the feminine principles to mediate masculine principles.

"Too dangerous. Then let's be sharks, something nature can live with" distresses me to contemplate because of the ruthlessness of shark attacks. If we continue with tolerating fundamentalists, they lead to ruthless behavior. The old testament drips with ruthless acts of god and its sycophants; i.e. destruction of whole villages in the ancient time, and domination of people of different races, beliefs, sexual orientation, treatment of women, and the advocacy of abandonment of families in the new testament.  

Comment by Shaun Johnston on April 28, 2013 at 6:56pm

Joan, I made up a comforting story. I hope you like it.

Evolution came to vigorous youth in the catastrophe-rich environment of the early Earth. But over eons the surface of the Earth has become placid. So evolution, mourning the lack of the catastrophes it associated with vigorous youth, created us.

Seems to me, each wave of extinction was followed by a leap in nature's imagination. Snowball Earth is followed by the Cambrian Explosion. Do you think evolution regrets those clearing of the board? If each extinction was a catastrophe, why didn't nature simply restore the species from before? Maybe nature proceeds by flagellating itself to spur it on to new heights. And we're just one more of those fits of self-flagellation.

Nature/evolution is for me a higher power. Look at the solar system and evolution is what makes Earth so remarkable--well, mostly. Evolution is creative to a degree beyond conceiving of. Doesn't that promise a power of unknown greatness, that we could apply to augment our own powers?

Too dangerous. Then let's be sharks, something nature can live with.

Comment by Joan Denoo on April 28, 2013 at 3:08pm

Shaun, I agree that men tend to see a pyramid, even as women tend to see a matrix. Those perceptions make a great difference in how society is managed. Men tend to see a target to aim toward; women tend to see systems and processes, from planting of seeds, to tending crops, to harvesting crops, to dormancy and composting; Women participate in birthing through dying. 

Bonnie is a Unitarian who describes and defines events in one's life in ways that offer compelling reason to consider and I agree with her on the most part. She attributes creation and diversity to a high power, not god as commonly is referred to. I cannot support even a higher power, unless and untill sufficient evidence appears. 

Mammoths, Overkill, and a Deep-Time Perspective on Pleistocene Exti...


Comment by Joan Denoo on April 28, 2013 at 2:01pm

Shaun Johnston, I perceive "exceptional in humans or in nations as counterproductive. If humans are exceptional and develop the capacity to destroy ourselves and others living things, leaving a planet free of contamination, is exceptional, but not a good thing.

It seems to me that if we perceived humans as part of a network, not better than or worse than any other creature, we may put some limits on our inventions and their uses. When human life becomes extinct, which of the creatures will survive? That is the exceptional one. 

I did some geology digging in Texas where we were able to get into canyons that took us into the pre-cambrian era, before the cambrian explosion, and we found virtually no living things, even at the margin between the two. When we went higher on the gologic time scale, into the Devonian, we found shark's teeth. We find virtually the same shark's teeth in every era, including in today's deposits, and we have had at least five mass extinctions on Earth.

When nations consider themselves exceptional, the society does things that cause collapse  from the inside. Some cultural extinctions are caused by climate change, but some are caused by just plain old hubris. 

10 Fascinating Economic Collapses Through History

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Comment by Shaun Johnston on April 28, 2013 at 11:13am

Joan, "my imagination dances around thinking of ways to try your method"--I am delighted.

I don't mean to be personal about you, but in my personal experience women tend to see the world in terms of fields, such as fabrics, lines of connection, men in terms of targets, something specific to aim at, to be distinguished from background. In three dimensions this seems to translate into men seeing hierarchies descending from a target or center of influence, all lines of influence energized by that center, women seeing networks of equivalent threads. Business seems to have discovered it needs both.

I am not meaning to be critical of field-sensibility, but to use it to critique myself. People who see the world in terms of hierarchy naturally turn evolution upside down and see humanity as the creation over time of the point of a pyramid, all influence now flowing from that endpoint back through the lines of evolutionary progress--we are the goal of the process, it exists for and to support us. Stephen J. Gould by contrast insisted that every line of progress in evolution was equally significant, we represented only one thread.

I fall somewhere in between. I am agnostic on the subject of human exceptionalism. Seems clear to me we are exceptional, yet we are the product of the same process of evolution as the rest of nature. How to make sense of that? Are our attributes some kind of high-point in evolution, so we represent the apex of some pyramid? Or are we no different in essence from any other species?

You'd like to see us as part of a field of equal interconnections. We are not exceptional in nature, or it we are it is not significant. I incline to see us as significantly exceptional--in a population of maybe a million, in around one hundred thousand generations we evolved hands, speech capability, large brains, reason, and a predisposition to civilization. That's breakneck pace, for evolution, seems to me.

If darwinism is true, there's no rationale for us being at all exceptional. If we are exceptional, we may need some other mechanism for evolution. If so, then we've a different source from which to draw conclusions about our true nature. Hence it's importance for atheism.

What do you think about the possibility of human exceptionalism?

Comment by Joan Denoo on April 27, 2013 at 11:39pm

I am reading your material and finding your ideas intriguing. Although I haven't finished reading your pdf, my imagination dances around thinking of ways to try your method. 

From my own reading and experience, I find Homo sapiens has maxed out the beastly kingdom with being able to destroy all living matter simply because of using physical force and atomic and nuclear forces; power far beyond our evolutionary development to be able to manage.

With development of the brain, of thinking in new ways, of having new tools with which to accomplish a goal, we now have the power to be the great destroyer. Is it possible that humans can move beyond the beastly into a new realm of being and perceiving.

What if we thought of existence, not as a pyramid, but as a computer model of the early universe. Gravity arranges matter in thin filaments.

If there is not a hierarchy, or a chain of command, but if we are linked to all that is in a way that results in connectedness, would we not do politics differently, or economics? A change in cosmic perception that would lift us out of the beak and claw of the animal world into a cognitive, rational world? 

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