Archive for December 30th, 2009

Origin of symmetry

i got a book out of the (not so) secret Santa in work. Knowing my rants on science and belief I got the most appropriate What we believe but cannot prove– today’s leading thinkers on science in the age of certainty.

I love the idea of getting a bunch of really smart guys together to come up with the notions that they hold dear that they suspect scientific empiricism will not give them a clear answer on.

Unfortunately it’s by a self-selected bunch of modernists with a taste for Ditchkinisms.

It seemed fashionable to answer the most complex of human questions with scientific empiricism back in the 19th century and it seems many haven’t got over the fact that ancients in thought had been there for a long time before them and had no intention of shifting.

Though perhaps I’m being unfair. There are a few crackers in there.

My favorite so far was

scientific results cannot be proved. they can only be tested again and agin until only a fool would refuse to believe them. I cannot prove that electrons exist, but i fervently believe in their existence. And if you don’t believe in them I have a high voltage cattle prod I’m willing to apply as an argument on their behalf.

i am a big fan of evolution – maybe it gives me a survival advantage to like it… It seems a great way to explain how we made many of the steps from slime to primates to humans.

Though I feel that’s where it falls flat on it’s face. Human beings have been around for only a tiny fraction of the evolutionary fraction that got us to our beginning. Unfortunately I feel that natural selection went out the window the moment a recognisable human being appeared.

[Let me acknowledge that anything recognisable as a human did not appear overnight. Over a few million years might be more useful, but let me make my point first]

Let me define a recognisable human being in a simplistic way – groups of humans reproducing and hunting/gathering with vestiges of farming and drawing animals on caves in the south of France.

This was pretty damn recent.

The moment we let something more than our genes or reproductive desires influence how we lived we made a step backwards in terms of our evolution – in the Darwinian sense anyhow.

My favorite phrase is usually that when our brains outgrew our dicks we began our journey towards our own biological self-destruction.

The moment we nurtured the weak in the group was the moment we started going backwards. The moment we nurtured a kid with trisomy 21, the moment we helped the young kid with pneumonia , the moment we started carrying the toddler with DDH.

Our rapidly enlarging brains gave us the ability to be effective in our nurturing (what i really mean to say is loving but shhhh don’t tell anyone…) deeds.

In the book Judith Rich Harris says she believes in 3 not 2 selection processes in humnaity 1) natural selection 2) sexual selection and 3) “parental” selection.

Parental selection is a shit name. Acts of love I would call it but don’t tell her that. Plus it sounds a bit cringe worthy and i haven’t spent enough time on it to think of anything better.

She tells the story of a woman from a “primitive” tribe who talks about a parent initally deciding to abandon her as yet unborn child as she was still nursing her previous child. but when the child was born she decided to encourage and nurse it instead.

She bases this choice on aesthetics – something different about one child and not the other that causes the parent not to abandon the infant due to circumstance (which undoubtedly happened regualrly in both our history and pre-history)

She goes on to suggest that we are hairless for such reasons (and over a very short period of time) which i find a bit hard to swallow.

But the idea that something fundamentally changed in our human journey interests me immensely.

I believe we are much more interesting than genes and natural selection. Our refusal as a species to naturally select has thrown a spanner in the double helix.


December 2009