Is the Meaning of Your Life to Make Babies? | Guest Blog, Scientific American

72

What can — and cannot — be learned from evolution


From an evolutionary gene’s-eye perspective, the genes are immortal, and our role, the meaning of life, is to perpetuate the genes. In a few centuries, all traces of our existence as human individuals — memories of us, all our accomplishments –will likely be gone and forgotten, except for genes that survive from those of us who successfully reproduced through the generations.

But, of course, we don’t experience the world from a gene’s eye evolutionary perspective. One experiences the world as an individual person, not as a gene dispenser (fun as that may be). The joy we get from parenting comes not from some abstract generic idea of gene propagation, but from specific love and interaction with our own children — making your own baby son giggle uncontrollably when you make ridiculous animal noises, the bittersweet emotional rush you feel as you watch your daughter walk down the aisle. We care about ourselves and others as persons, not as a gene menagerie. Humans create our own meanings.

But — reproduction as the answer to life’s meaning cannot be dismissed quite so easily. Genetic evolution is the meaning of biologic life, in that it is the why and how of it, as well as the stock of future biological existence. The genes that survive — and in turn the organisms they make — are the winners in the existence game. Can we just dismiss this when considering the meaning of our own individual human lives? Sure, evolution itself does not have a specific direction or teleology, and genes themselves are not conscious, so there is not meaning in that sense. But evolution cannot just be shrugged off as something apart from us, take it or leave it. It is the biological explanation of who we are, how we got here, and the diversity of life. Over billions of years, life left the oceans, stretched limbs to cover the earth, raised wings to fly. Underlying it all are the replicating molecules that continue to copy themselves even now. We owe our existence to this process, and our future depends on it. Perhaps the meaning of your life as a biological creature is to make babies and help ensure the survival of life. In discussing the children she had with Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan put it like this: “When we come closest to each other we can create new life forms that carry on that continuity that stretches back all those billions of years, and in them are the generations of human beings who have struggled. That is magnificent.”

By making babies, we continue life’s pageant. In children, we cheat death.

Written By: Lawrence Rifkin
continue to source article at blogs.scientificamerican.com

72 COMMENTS

  1. The meaning of “life” is reproduction. But the meaning of an individual human life “my life” can be anything the person living that life chooses.
    Another piece of absolutist nonsense by an otherwise smart person?

  2. Perhaps I am being a bit pedantic but I hate it when people go on about meaning of life. Life has no meaning, we are and that is it. However, we can give purpose to our lives, whether it is by raising children, teaching or whatever.

    Rifkin wrote: “. . . and genes themselves are not conscious, so there is not meaning in that sense”. Of course not but if he had decided to write, the purpose of a gene is to replicate, he could have got away without having to write much wordy nonsense.

    When I read stuff like this I think of a story from linguistic circles, it is most likely apocryphal but still a good one. The reason words like notwithstanding and nevertheless etc came into use was that notaries clerks used to get paid by the inch when they produced documents.

  3. Problem 1: The phrasing of the question … “what is THE meaning of life?” No, wrong question. “What makes life meaningful?” is the right question to be asking. The question is stupid, no wonder it results in confused and contradictory answers.

    Problem 2: Falling into the trap set by Problem 1. “Is procreation the meaning of life?” forces a binary choice. After having set a trap for himself, he steps right into it. The trap is dualism; the question forces a binary choice from two incorrect answers.

  4. “Meaning” is an arbitrary value given by humans, science only seeks understanding. Proposing any “meaning of life” on a science website is irresponsible and scary.

  5. It gives me chills when physicians talk like this. They are supposed to be scientists, right? Is there really a need to get all philosophical (nay, borderline religious) when it comes to the topics of life and death?

  6. Our knowledge of evolutionary biology doesn’t tell us what the “meaning of life” is. If a religious person says the meaning of life is to be kind to others, they probably mean to imply by that that it’s the kind of behaviour that gets the individual rewarded. The trouble is, it’s not individuals who get rewarded by natural selection for their reproduction; genes are rewarded with future copies of themselves for creating traits in individuals that make them more likely to beget. So even if evolution gives a meaning of X, that X would be genes, not life itself.

  7. For evolution to work the desire to pass on and ensure the survival of genes is essential. The organism that doesn not possess that drive to replicate in some way does not survive. That is evolutionary psychology at its simplest.

  8. I hate babies and parents are the second most boring set of people on the planet behind those who take drugs.

  9. I’m afraid I’m going to have to take issue with the OP for other reasons, though I agree wholeheartedly with Jos Gibbons and the other posters above. What I really disagree with is the notion that we are dismissing the genes when it comes to our own lives, because as researchers like Trivers have pointed out, it was the genes that designed us with so many flaws.

    I take quite seriously the fact that genes designed my specifications, because the little horrors intrude so often when I try to do things I like doing. I constantly keep an eye on myself to spot whether or not I’m indulging in self-deception. Every time I’m bored, I end up going to the kitchen to eat sugary snacks I don’t need. I want to remember stuff I’ve read, only to find I’ve garbled the original after too long and the result isn’t what I actually saw on paper. And I get depressed at finding that the main occupation of most of humanity is to have sex, have kids, and think the worst of people who don’t want to do either, especially when the people in question are female (really, haven’t they grown out of treating females as sex objects or baby hatcheries by now?). Of course I’m happy to be alive – there’s much to find meaningful in life – but I add that the genes could have done a better job.

    Of course I appreciate the point that, without genes and their customized phenotypes, I wouldn’t be here. But so what? I don’t see why I should be grateful for it, especially when they could only do it by such a slow, agonizing, and wasteful process. I can be grateful to people who give me stuff, but only in a metaphorical sense did the genes give me life. If it turned out I was created from body parts by Doctor Frankenstein, I wouldn’t express gratitude to him either for the simple reason there was no “me” to discuss or to give things to before the operation.

    Nevertheless, I take genetics very seriously. Really, the ones who don’t regard genes with importance are usually ignorant of huge areas of evolutionary biology in the first place.

  10. “By making babies, we continue life’s pageant” … We continue life’s pageant, by making babies.
    A classic circular argument.

    Also, The vast majority of human beings that have ever lived on this planet did not have babies. The same applies to offspring of most species, and most species (98%) are now extint. following that logic, the purpose of the human race is to become extint?

    Just because evolution is true, does not mean we should embrace evolution as a guiding principal, As the dominant race, we have a duty to do better.

  11. And another thing. In children, we do not cheat death. I’m going to die whether I have kids or not.

    Of course it’s reassuring that there will still be thinking, feeling people who will outlive me and have lives of their own, and naturally I hope they have some very good ones. But I’m not going to prance around woolly-headed poetics like the one above because that’s just a symptom of our fear of death, which we really need to get over.

    In reply to #10 by old-toy-boy:

    “By making babies, we continue life’s pageant” … We continue life’s pageant, by making babies.
    A classic circular argument.

    Exactly. That’s exactly what it is.

    I don’t care about leaving a memorable legacy. I care about living a good life and making sure the people of today are living good lives, because the people of tomorrow may not exist, whereas the people of today most certainly do.

  12. There’s no meaning to life, but what you make it. The religious crowd will try use their religion to answer the questions like ‘why are we here’ the question doesn’t deserve an answer as R.d said “why are we here” is like asking “why are mountains here” science can answer how we and mountains got here but there is no ‘why’ that’s were religion comes in, it tries to fill the gaps that aren’t there.

  13. Some replies here are very disappointing- eg
    “Also, The vast majority of human beings that have ever lived on this planet did not have babies” WTF??

    Someone else conflates sex with reproduction! 😉

    The OP was excellent from my perspective; overlong, yes. Rifkin plays devil’s advocate, IMO so those assuming HIS opinions are defined by the article are perhaps misguided.

    If the ‘Meaning of Life’ is indeed breeding and not ’42’ then that is a depressing conclusion. I hate the ‘miracle of birth’ drivel (as applied to humans), most creatures are far more expert at it than we humans.
    Anyway overpopulation and its attendant disasters proves beyond doubt that indiscriminate breeding will likely be the end of us.

  14. In reply to #11 by Zeuglodon:

    And another thing. In children, we do not cheat death. I’m going to die whether I have kids or not.

    Of course it’s reassuring that there will still be thinking, feeling people who will outlive me and have lives of their own, and naturally I hope they have some very good ones. But I’m not going to prance around woolly-headed poetics like the one above because that’s just a symptom of our fear of death, which we really need to get over.

    In reply to #10 by old-toy-boy:

    “By making babies, we continue life’s pageant” … We continue life’s pageant, by making babies.
    A classic circular argument.

    Exactly. That’s exactly what it is.

    I don’t care about leaving a memorable legacy. I care about living a good life and making sure the people of today are living good lives, because the people of tomorrow may not exist, whereas the people of today most certainly do.

    Amen to that!

  15. In reply to #11 by Zeuglodon:

    I don’t care about leaving a memorable legacy. I care about living a good life and making sure the people of today are living good lives, because the people of tomorrow may not exist, whereas the people of today most certainly do.

    So long term planning is out of the window here, no going to mars, no point in arguing AGW and no point in having children and other such things. So long as you have your fun, screw the next generation because hell, they might just not exist and why should you waste your energy in ensuring a future that MIIGHT not exist.

    Some say that it is our experiences that define us, I say it is our memories. We can have all the experiences in the world, but if we cannot remember them then they might as well have never happened, we can also pass on our memories, unlike experiences which are unique to the individual.

    So yes, I would rather pass on a memorable legacy to my children rather than thinking ‘why should I bother’.

  16. Once again, a clear mistake between “What for” and “How come”. We are here because our genes replicated. We are not here to replicate our genes. What are we here for ? Nobody knows. Maybe for no reason. You are the only person able to give a meaning to your life. Nature won’t help.

  17. What is it about some atheists and secularists that they detest family? I know religion harps on about family and use it as an excuse for all sorts of nonsense (think of “for the children!” reasoning). Anyway I find it very off putting. Things like “child-free” and “breeders”.

  18. In reply to #15 by veggiemanuk:

    In reply to #11 by Zeuglodon:

    I don’t care about leaving a memorable legacy. I care about living a good life and making sure the people of today are living good lives, because the people of tomorrow may not exist, whereas the people of today most certainly do.

    So long term planning is out of the window here, no going to mars, no point in arguing AGW and no point in having children and other such things. So long as you have your fun, screw the next generation because hell, they might just not exist and why should you waste your energy in ensuring a future that MIIGHT not exist.

    Some say that it is our experiences that define us, I say it is our memories. We can have all the experiences in the world, but if we cannot remember them then they might as well have never happened, we can also pass on our memories, unlike experiences which are unique to the individual.

    So yes, I would rather pass on a memorable legacy to my children rather than thinking ‘why should I bother’.

    Good thing some of us think of the consequences of overpopulation, then

  19. In reply to #17 by debaser71:

    What is it about some atheists and secularists that they detest family? I know religion harps on about family and use it as an excuse for all sorts of nonsense (think of “for the children!” reasoning). Anyway I find it very off putting. Things like “child-free” and “breeders”.

    Ridiculous assumption! I have 3 kids, don’t detest family nor does any other ‘atheist’ I know.
    I do, however detest indiscriminate breeding and paying for those who do it…

  20. In reply to #15 by veggiemanuk:

    In reply to #11 by Zeuglodon:

    I don’t care about leaving a memorable legacy. I care about living a good life and making sure the people of today are living good lives, because the people of tomorrow may not exist, whereas the people of today most certainly do.

    So long term planning is out of the window here, no going to mars, no point in arguing AGW and no point in having children and other such things. So long as you have your fun, screw the next generation because hell, they might just not exist and why should you waste your energy in ensuring a future that MIIGHT not exist.

    Some say that it is our experiences that define us, I say it is our memories. We can have all the experiences in the world, but if we cannot remember them then they might as well have never happened, we can also pass on our memories, unlike experiences which are unique to the individual.

    So yes, I would rather pass on a memorable legacy to my children rather than thinking ‘why should I bother’.

    This life is all about me and how much I can fit into it. I will never forget my first bungee jump, or skydive, or the feeling of riding an elephant bareback through a River, or the orphaned tiger cubs I helped raise for a fortnight, or the exhilaration of sharing the same space as a whale shark in its natural habitat, or sitting in El Monumental at Superclasico time, or attending an execution in Saudi Arabia, or the hairs standing up on the back of my neck when I first glimpsed Angkor Wat, or the wonderment felt when looking up at the Northern Lights, or even just the clearest night skies I’ve ever seen in Loas, or any of the other countless man made and natural wonders that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing and experiencing in the mere 29 blessed years I’ve had on this amazing planet.

    My friends envy my life whilst I pity theirs. Kids? I’m far too busy enjoying life for now. Ask me again in 10 years.

  21. Zueglodon:

    And I get depressed at finding that the main occupation of most of humanity is to have sex, have kids, and think the worst of people who don’t want to do either, especially when the people in question are female (really, haven’t they grown out of treating females as sex objects or baby hatcheries by now?). Of course I’m happy to be alive – there’s much to find meaningful in life – but I add that the genes could have done a better job.

    As a female I personally don’t care whether someone chooses to have babies or not – I don’t think any the less of anyone whatever they do – I’m with Bridget Jones in dislike of the smug marrieds who do so even tho I’ve joined their ranks. And for the record at least two previous boyfriends were dumped for trying to put pressure on me to move in together and settle for cosy coupledom, before the one I chose to settle and have children with. It isn’t just a female thing – the desire to have children – it’s a human being driven thing.

    What is interesting is how a lot of atheists on places like this site are very enamoured with evolutionary psychology when it subjectively suits them, ie when it comes to things like sexual selection, and far less enamoured with it when it doesn’t suit, like replicating, parental investment and the messier, harder, less appealing side of child rearing.. But you can’t have it both ways and if you’re going down the evolutionary psychology path, the child rearing, child bearing has to be the stronger driver because that is where the difficulties kick in. Suirvial is the place where the genes are passed on and the only thing sucessful evolution really does is pass on genes.

    But we are also the result of evolving over large, complex brains and long periods of non instinctive learning. Real evolutionary psychology should be mired deep in that. But it is far harder to wheedle out the effects of that than largely subjective evolutionary psychologists seem to think. And evolutionary psychologists in their rush to ignore learning in favour of whatever they think is instinctive seem to miss out a lot of that complicated over layering of limbic systems and cortex on primitive instincts.

    At the end of the day, when given real choice, those that do have children have long since swapped quantity for quality in that they choose to invest far more time, resources and effort into less children. And in doing so give those children interests and educations beyond what they need to survive which gives them some meaning beyond reproduction. Which feeds on to the next generation and so on. And that interest is from both parents.

    But the influence of genes ultimately has to be strongly to reproduce and spend a long time looking after irritating babies, otherwise the species dies out. And that influence seems to carry on beyond the first generation as grandparents and great grandparents also seem to be besotted with grandchildren. So I guess it is the most important aspect of evolutionary psychology as we do seem to instinctively link it to passing on our genetic legacy even when we don’t.

  22. Propagating our genes is meaningful to many of us.But it would be a very sad life to believe is the only meaning to our lives..

  23. In reply to #11 by Zeuglodon:

    I don’t care about leaving a memorable legacy. I care about living a good life and making sure the people of today are living good lives, because the people of tomorrow may not exist, whereas the people of today most certainly do.

    I would differ on that. If those who lived before us had not left a legacy of knowledge and a scientifically engineered infrastructure, – you, and many around you, would be much more likely to be leading a life which is harsh, brutish, and short – just like many other people on the planet without these benefits, do!

    We should leave the planet in at least as good a condition, as it was for us, and pass on our hard-won knowledge for the benefit of future generations. it can only be passed on through or to, living beings.

  24. In reply to #8 by Virgin Mary:

    I hate babies and parents are the second most boring set of people on the planet behind those who take drugs.

    Such a sweeping generalization on both accounts.

    Perhaps it is the type of parents and drug takers you interact with that is the problem and feck all to do with either being parents or taking drugs.

    By your daft remark, parents who take drugs must be your worst nightmare.

    Being a drug taking parent myself, I take issue, I doubt my wide circle of friends would describe me as a bore lest I be so popular…so maybe your problem lies somewhere else. Given that the majority of people on the planet are parents and drug takers, your life must be choc full of bores.

  25. You don’t cheat death by having kids you add to a continuum that has been going on since the first molecule replicated.

    There is wonder and grandeur in that process that is bigger than any individual and will go on after this species is added to the extinct pile.

    I take an Epicurean approach.Seek out that which stimulates you whether it be travel experience,artistic pursuit, parenthood, civic virtue or anything else. If you aren’t harming anybody else whilst you do it, don’t let anybody else tell you how to live your life. You’ve only got one.

  26. In reply to #20 by Virgin Mary:

    This life is all about me and how much I can fit into it. I will never forget my first bungee jump, or skydive, or the feeling of riding an elephant bareback through a River, or the orphaned tiger cubs I helped raise for a fortnight, or the exhilaration of sharing the same space as a whale shark in its natural habitat, or sitting in El Monumental at Superclasico time, or attending an execution in Saudi Arabia, or the hairs standing up on the back of my neck when I first glimpsed Angkor Wat, or the wonderment felt when looking up at the Northern Lights, or even just the clearest night skies I’ve ever seen in Loas, or any of the other countless man made and natural wonders that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing and experiencing in the mere 29 blessed years I’ve had on this amazing planet.

    Not pleasure so much as luxury of seeing and experiencing. You surely understand that these things you’ve enjoyed are not readily available to most people.

    My friends envy my life whilst I pity theirs.

    Your friends? You mean those pitiful bores?

    Kids? I’m far too busy enjoying life for now.

    Of course you are, because you can. That said, I’ve had quite an eventful time of it also. I also had the pleasure of children. Better still, I’m lucky enough to be able to enjoy my grandchildren too.

    Ask me again in 10 years.

    Here’s the rub. Fortunate folk have three choices. Forget kids when you are young enough to fly yer kite early. Get the kids thing over with early enough so as to be still young enough to fly yer kite later. Just bin the kids thing altogether and miss out on one of those things that might have been on yer bucket list.

    I grant you that being a parent is not for everyone. Notice I said being a parent as opposed to having kids. They are not the same.

    Maybe your friends envy might change to pity as time moves along…ever thought about it like that?

    Still, it’s all about horses for courses isn’t it?

  27. In reply to #24 by Ignorant Amos:

    In reply to #8 by Virgin Mary:

    I hate babies and parents are the second most boring set of people on the planet behind those who take drugs.

    Such a sweeping generalization on both accounts.

    Perhaps it is the type of parents and drug takers you interact with that is the problem and feck all to do with either being parents or taking drugs.

    By your daft remark, parents who take drugs must be your worst nightmare.

    Being a drug taking parent myself, I take issue, I doubt my wide circle of friends would describe me as a bore lest I be so popular…so maybe your problem lies somewhere else. Given that the majority of people on the planet are parents and drug takers, your life must be choc full of bores.

    Of course it is. Sweeping generalisations are the best way to judge. There are far too many parents and drug takers for me to meet them all and make an informed decision so I’ve got no alternative but to go by the ones I know and the ones I come across. And they’re all boring. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a room with parents and children because the conversation is so limited when you’ve got to involve kids. And with drug takers I find that the conversation is stifled by their need to chat shit.

    My life was choc full of bores, and it just so happened that they were one or both of parents or drug takers, so I upped sticks and left.

  28. Making babies is a byproduct of life. Life has no meaning. This is like asking if the meaning of life is death. Not everyone has babies but everyone dies, so it is more likely. Having teeth is the second closest meaning of life, followed closely by having the wind blow in your hair. Sorry bald folk, there is no meaning to your life if it is to have the wind blow in your hair.

  29. In reply to #20 by Virgin Mary:

    My friends envy my life whilst I pity theirs.

    I hope you realise that doesn’t make you come across as a particularly pleasant person. I am of course dreadfully envious and impressed by your experiences. Wow. You are of course assuming that having children precludes any sort of enjoyment.

    Personally, I’ve found watching my son grow from a tiny speck to a walking, talking (sort-of) functional person (albeit quite a strange person) inspiring, funny and life-affirming in equal measure. And the thought of watching him grow up is exciting, and for me, as stimulating and less fleeting than a lot of the more hedonistic adventures I have had previously.

    But like someone else said, each to their own and everything in balance.

  30. In reply to #26 by Ignorant Amos:

    Not pleasure so much as luxury of seeing and experiencing. You surely understand that these things you’ve enjoyed are not readily available to most people.

    Your friends? You mean those pitiful bores?

    Of course you are, because you can. That said, I’ve had quite an eventful time of it also. I also had the pleasure of children. Better still, I’m lucky enough to be able to enjoy my grandchildren too.

    Here’s the rub. Fortunate folk have three choices. Forget kids when you are young enough to fly yer kite early. Get the kids thing over with early enough so as to be still young enough to fly yer kite later. Just bin the kids thing altogether and miss out on one of those things that might have been on yer bucket list.

    I grant you that being a parent is not for everyone. Notice I said being a parent as opposed to having kids. They are not the same.

    Maybe your friends envy might change to pity as time moves along…ever thought about it like that?

    Still, it’s all about horses for courses isn’t it?

    I disagree, what I’ve done is available to absolutely everybody – within reason, obviously. Having a degree is an essential, without it I couldn’t live how I do. It only becomes a luxury once you’ve made the decision to make something else a priority.

    Yes. Pitiful bores. But they’re still my friends. If I could shake that emotional bond then believe me I would, maybe after a couple more years away I’ll be able to do that and move to be with the kinds of amazing people I’ve met on my travels.

    I’m a teacher, and my loathing of children was definitely borne of teaching them. It has definitely not been a pleasure. Teaching 18-22 is though, I love where I am now.

    The wives generally do pity me but they’re generally not my friends. The amount of times I’ve had the, “how can you say that when you’ve never raised a child and experienced the rewards it brings” speech is really quite unbelievable. But I’ve volunteered at orphanages, worked in women’s retreats (and I’m desperately trying to volunteer at the City of Joy in the DRC as we speak), and as I said before I’ve taught kids. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see having a family as an achievement or anything to aspire to.

  31. In reply to #29 by bob_e_s:

    In reply to #20 by Virgin Mary:

    My friends envy my life whilst I pity theirs.

    I hope you realise that doesn’t make you come across as a particularly pleasant person. I am of course dreadfully envious and impressed by your experiences. Wow. You are of course assuming that having children precludes any sort of enjoyment.

    Personally, I’ve found watching my son grow from a tiny speck to a walking, talking (sort-of) functional person (albeit quite a strange person) inspiring, funny and life-affirming in equal measure. And the thought of watching him grow up is exciting, and for me, as stimulating and less fleeting than a lot of the more hedonistic adventures I have had previously.

    But like someone else said, each to their own and everything in balance.

    It’s funny, when I get back home and people ask me what I’ve done over the last 12 months, once I’ve run down the list I’m immediately labelled smug and arrogant before being given that exact same speech.

  32. I actually quite liked this piece, the author clearly understands the difference between subjective and objective meaning.

  33. In reply to #7 by atheistengineer:

    For evolution to work the desire to pass on and ensure the survival of genes is essential. The organism that doesn not possess that drive to replicate in some way does not survive. That is evolutionary psychology at its simplest.

    That sort of essentialism has gotten you into trouble before. You are conflating at least two different desires here as far as humans are concerned, the desire to have sex and the desire to rear and care for young.

  34. In reply to #8 by Virgin Mary:

    I hate babies and parents are the second most boring set of people on the planet behind those who take drugs.

    I’m not terribly fond of babies either and am convinced that they inflict a subtle yet noticeable form of brain damage on their parents. However, I’ve lead almost as exciting a life as you have and I’ve done it all as high as a kite!

  35. In reply to #34 by Peter Grant:

    I’m not terribly fond of babies either and am convinced that they inflict a subtle yet noticeable form of brain damage on their parents. However, I’ve lead almost as exciting a life as you have and I’ve done it all as hight as a kite!

    No comment. My mum uses the internet.

  36. In reply to #27 by Virgin Mary:

    Of course it is. Sweeping generalisations are the best way to judge.

    Do ya reckon? Not very rational though.

    There are far too many parents and drug takers for me to meet them all and make an informed decision so
    I’ve got no alternative but to go by the ones I know and the ones I come across.

    Like I said…not very rational, and there’s me calling out an RCC apologist on another thread for calling this site a “cesspit of bigotry and hatred” just earlier.

    And they’re all boring. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a room with parents and children because the conversation is so limited when you’ve got to involve kids.

    Your taste in pals seems to be at the crux of the problem. Most parents I interact with are not limited to conversation about their kids. In fact, the conversation is rarely about their children, nor mine. Maybe they do it for badness just to bore you.

    And with drug takers I find that the conversation is stifled by their need to chat shit.

    You haven’t specified which drugs?

    My life was choc full of bores, and it just so happened that they were one or both of parents or drug takers, so I upped sticks and left.

    I wouldn’t dream of generalizing on the company you keep/kept…lest to say that I’m surrounded by parents and drug takers and it’s safe for me to say, they are anything but bores.

  37. “In children,we cheat death”.

    If only cheating death is that simple.Our genes however do hung around after the carrier had left.But that’s how things work,i wouldn’t consider that cheating.

  38. In reply to #30 by Virgin Mary:

    I disagree, what I’ve done is available to absolutely everybody – within reason, obviously.

    No, it’s not obvious and I care not a jote that you disagree, it’s not “available to absolutely everyone – within reason”…that statement is a ridiculous oxymoron.

    Having a degree is an essential, without it I couldn’t live how I do.

    So, not “available to absolutely everyone” after all?

    It only becomes a luxury once you’ve made the decision to make something else a priority.

    For someone with a third level education you aren’t making much sense.

    Yes. Pitiful bores. But they’re still my friends.

    I wonder how many would stay your friends if they knew you considered them pitiful bores?… Not many I’d wager.

    If I could shake that emotional bond then believe me I would, maybe after a couple more years away I’ll be able to do that and move to be with the kinds of amazing people I’ve met on my travels.

    I’m a teacher, and my loathing of children was definitely borne of teaching them. It has definitely not been a pleasure.

    This get’s better. I see now where you find the time and money to indulge in all those luxuries.

    Teaching 18-22 is though, I love where I am now.

    Teaching all those potential pitiful bores, I expect you do love where you are now.

    The wives generally do pity me but they’re generally not my friends.

    I couldn’t make this up.

    The amount of times I’ve had the, “how can you say that when you’ve never raised a child and experienced the rewards it brings” speech is really quite unbelievable.

    But don’t you think there is some merit in the speech. If someone told me they’d never parachuted before, but had no intention of experiencing it because the thought bored them, I’d have to say, you can’t knock it till you’ve tried it…I’d say exactly the same about taking ecstasy, scuba-diving, taking L.S.D., or coming under fire.

    But I’ve volunteered at orphanages, worked in women’s retreats (and I’m desperately trying to volunteer at the City of Joy in the DRC as we speak), and as I said before I’ve taught kids.

    It’s just not the same thing and you are deluding yourself if you think it is the same thing. Though I do commend you for doing something that you obviously dislike, dealing with children, though it does beg the question.

    I’m sorry, but I just don’t see having a family as an achievement or anything to aspire to.

    Your loss I guess.

  39. In reply to #23 by Alan4discussion:

    In reply to #11 by Zeuglodon:

    I don’t care about leaving a memorable legacy. I care about living a good life and making sure the people of today are living good lives, because the people of tomorrow may not exist, whereas the people of today most certainly do.

    I would differ on that. If those who lived before us had not left a , – you, and many around you, would be much more likely to be leading a life which is harsh, brutish, and short – just like many other people on the planet without these benefits, do!

    We should leave the planet in at least as good a condition, as it was for us, and pass on our hard-won knowledge for the benefit of future generations. it can only be passed on through or to, living beings.

    But those whose lives are ‘harsh, brutish and short’ are most certainly NOT the ones who bequeathed the
    ‘legacy of knowledge and a scientifically engineered infrastructure’ are they? Their bequest is most often a large (and often) unhealthy brood…

  40. In reply to #35 by Virgin Mary:

    No comment. My mum uses the internet.

    You mean the one you just called boring?

  41. In reply to #31 by Virgin Mary:

    In reply to #29 by bobes
    It’s funny, when I get back home and people ask me what I’ve done over the last 12 months, once I’ve run down the list I’m immediately labelled smug and arrogant before being given that exact same speech.

    Perhaps that is because you are smug and arrogant? And judgemental? Maybe if you didn’t look down so much on your friends they wouldn’t have to give that speech to try and justify themselves for no reason other than to assure you they aren’t desperately unhappy and unfulfilled.

    I have the same friends I had before I had kids plus another set I’ve met since thru having kids. And they don’t judge. I didn’t find parents boring before I had my kids tho I was far less tolerant of screaming babies. Now I do have kids the only people I find particularly boring are those who feel the need to look down on others and judge them for their choices. Which funnily enough are the same types of people I found boring before I had kids!

    Pleasure comes in many forms it isn’t limited to just certain experiences you know. And part of it is being interested in other people rather than just bragging.

    Perhaps you look down on your friends so much so they feel they have to compete rather than just having conversations for the sheer hell of it? We are all different so why judge others for their choices.

  42. Oh my God I really cannot be bothered with that. Throw in a bit of hyperbole and have a colloquial way of putting yourself across and you’re met with idiocy from the literal brigade. I’m sorry, but I didn’t think this was a particularly serious topic so didn’t address it as such.

    [SLightly edited by moderator]

  43. In reply to #39 by Nodhimmi:

    In reply to #23 by Alan4discussion:

    But those whose lives are ‘harsh, brutish and short’ are most certainly NOT the ones who bequeathed the
    ‘legacy of knowledge and a scientifically engineered infrastructure’ are they? Their bequest is most often a large (and often) unhealthy brood…

    Indeed so! – Which is why we should leave both a viable sustainable population (- not a potentially destructive all consuming population explosion) – AND a legacy of knowledge and technology.

    “Harsh, brutish, and short lives, are the natural consequence of irresponsible populations, governments – and of course irresponsible religions!

  44. In reply to #34 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #8 by Virgin Mary:I hate babies and parents are the second most boring set of people on the planet behind those who take drugs
    .I’m not terribly fond of babies either and am convinced that they inflict a subtle yet noticeable form of brain damage on their parents. However, I’ve lead almost as exciting a life as you have and I’ve done it all as high as a kite!

    Really? Yet I suspect a significant proportion of the people here are parents. And isn’t Richard Dawkins a parent as well? And given all lhumans are different how do you know whether other people find your life exciting. My brief experience with hallucinogenics was the most unpleasant and terrifying I’ve ever had, but I wouldn’t judge others experiences by that. With other drugs it was vomiting but again I wouldn’t judge others by that.

    From a previous thread I got the impression you were very keen on evolutionary psychology and the selfish gene, which I though was over reaching itself given our the current state of our limited knowledge. I’m quite happy to ditch the inanity that currently passes for evolutionary psychology until we know far more about it and until it becomes far more objective and scientific. And until we have more objective ways to judge complex behaviours.

    But if you adhere to it in its current form, as you claim, than the only real goal is producing babies. The selfish gene works solely to reproduce itself – you can’t rewrite that basic tenet.

  45. In reply to #44 by atheistengineer:

    Really? Yet I suspect a significant proportion of the people here are parents. And isn’t Richard Dawkins a parent as well?

    I think most parents would agree. The sleep deprivation alone should be enough, but the oxytocin actually re-wires your brain. I’m talking about love.

    And given all lhumans are different how do you know whether other people find your life exciting.

    I was talking to Virgin Mary, he seems to find bungee jumping and other adrenaline based activities exciting and I have done my fair share of those.

    My brief experience with hallucinogenics was the most unpleasant and terrifying I’ve ever had, but I wouldn’t judge others experiences by that. With other drugs it was vomiting but again I wouldn’t judge others by that.

    I don’t judge anyone, but I persevered.

    From a previous thread I got the impression you were very keen on evolutionary psychology and the selfish gene, which I though was over reaching itself given our the current state of our limited knowledge. I’m quite happy to ditch the inanity that currently passes for evolutionary psychology until we know far more about it and until it becomes far more objective and scientific. And until we have more objective ways to judge complex behaviours.

    Evolutionary psychology is better than any other kind so far and at least it’s based on science.

    But if you adhere to it in its current form, as you claim, than the only real goal is producing babies. The selfish gene works solely to reproduce itself – you can’t rewrite that basic tenet.

    The selfish genes have no foresight and both adults and babies are just vehicles.

  46. In reply to #42 by Virgin Mary:

    Throw in a bit of hyperbole and have a colloquial way of putting yourself across and you’re met with idiocy from the literal brigade.

    So you didn’t mean any of what you said…it was just hyperbole? For a teacher your netiquette leaves a lot to be desired. I know this place “is intended to be a site where there is lively discussion of issues relevant to science, reason and unreason; where robust disagreement, provided it is intelligently argued, is welcome…”, but did you expect your initial comment describing ALL parents the most boring people going, second only to drug takers and expect it not to be challenged by a pitiful bore from either of those categories? In case you don’t know it, that is classed as trolling.

    I’m not sure where you hail from, but we have different ideas on the definition of the word colloquial. Still, I’m not a teacher so perhaps I’m in the wrong here, if so, apologies.

    I’m sorry, but I didn’t think this was a particularly serious topic so didn’t address it as such.

    Pitiful bores and idiotic literalist’s is your answer to challenges in a subject you decided is not serious enough to address in a serious manner. Arrogant alright.

    [SLightly edited by moderator]

    I shudder to think what other ad homs were cast before intervention and removal. Nice work there Mary.

  47. In reply to #23 by Alan4discussion:

    In reply to #21 by atheistengineer:

    In reply to #15 by veggiemanuk:

    I think there’s been some atrocious misunderstanding of my comment. My point isn’t “screw tomorrow” or “think only of today” at all. My point is that you are currently living in the present, not the future, though soon to meet the future, and what you do now will effect what’s to come, but first it will affect you and other people around you right now.

    My life overlapped with the elderly who will die while I’m alive. Other people will be born as I type who will outlive me. All of them deserve to have the best quality of life, and if we have to keep stepping back to do this as comprehensively as possible, and plan for hundreds or even thousands of years ahead to secure the happiness of individuals, then so be it.

    What I object to is the mindless notion that continuing the species is inherently good. It isn’t. Our uncontrolled reproduction and thoughtless obsession with sex and kids is incompatible with a rational concern for the effects of overpopulation on people’s quality of life, even if the species survives. Such “good of the group” thinking results in us treating groups over and above the needs of the individuals, and if history has taught us anything, this comes at the expense of individual rights and even individual lives. A lineage doesn’t feel the pain of starvation when the crops fail – the individual people do.

    The other problem is that, even despite our modern attitudes, there’s still a stigma about people who don’t show an interest in sex, romance, or having kids, and nowhere is this more obvious than in pop-culture attitudes to females. I’m not saying it’s exclusive to females, but their depiction in media (past and present) has rarely avoided highlighting these sorts of things – romantic interests, females looking for male partners, and females raising the family are more common in pop culture depictions than either females with other interests or males with the same interests.

    If what makes people happy is to raise a family, and if the best way of securing the happiness of everyone is to keep the population going, then I don’t begrudge that. But let’s recognize what really matters in all this – that the people who exist have a good quality of life. Not the group, not the species, but the individuals who have only one life to lead apiece.

    Legacies, therefore, are means to this end. They are great, they are wonderful, but they will not suffer in any literal sense when the midden hits the fan; the people carrying them will.

  48. In reply to #47 by Zeuglodon:

    But let’s recognize what really matters in all this – that the people who exist have a good quality of life. Not the group, not the species, but the individuals who have only one life to lead apiece.

    Nope. That doesn’t press my buttons. Not a bit. I know I’m wired differently to this. This is stasis. The endless parade of lives lived are more or less copy cat role-outs of the same pattern of dopamine highs. (Yep. Its exactly why I do things too, but for me those dopamine hits more often come from sources that seem to have a potential for some sort of break out not mere repetition)

    Not genes, it is memes I adore, thrilling, polished cumulative, once owned by a few… It is groups that turn me on most dependably, not individuals all of whom may have their little quirks but none who could flourish without the cumulative efforts of the self-less cohort of meme-lovers like Dirac, Dalton and.Democritus, back into the nameless, countless hordes who fashioned the language and the logic and the thinking tools that they needed.

    It is the collective creation of culture, the solving of problems, the honing of our minds through mutual effort that nets me the biggest, most reliable dopamine hits. By being teachers and students and those who bring them soup we share the inexorable ratcheting forward of ape-kind to…something… an adventure with a bit part for all us if we care for it.

    We are each wired differently with different values and desires, which is probably one reason we thrive.

  49. In reply to #48 by phil rimmer:

    But let’s recognize what really matters in all this – that the people who exist have a good quality of life. Not the group, not the species, but the individuals who have only one life to lead apiece.

    Nope. That doesn’t press my buttons. Not a bit.

    I don’t care what “presses your buttons”, and your deification of culture and memes is just that – deification. There’s no substance behind your words, and I would almost think you were high on something even as you typed them.

    Whether you get a bigger pleasure high from “culture” than from other people (if that concept even makes sense) or not, it’s utterly irrelevant to my point. I was arguing that the quality of life of individual members is what’s at stake, and that there’s a real danger in going over their heads and worrying about a group or lineage that doesn’t suffer. It’s therefore immoral to place concerns over species survivorship above concerns of the lives of individuals, firstly because this is a recipe for misery, and secondly because the properties of individuals are confirmed and relevant to moral consideration. It doesn’t matter a jot in any moral sense whether the individuals were as diverse as chalk or cheese, or clones of each other – they will suffer regardless. Unless you want to suggest the utterly revolting and myopically stupid idea that “cookie cutter” people can suffer and die en masse so long as you get your fix from the latest idea fad, bloody think before you post.

    I am going to make the extremely charitable assumption that you misunderstood my post, but I am frankly angry at the way you both dismissed my points and took what was very nearly a fascist position based on nothing more substantial than your own feelings. It’s hard to read your dismissive words about “copy-cat role outs” without feeling you are being either intellectually or morally stupid. Therefore, I would recommend to you that the next time you post here, you improve your behaviour on both counts by thinking before you post.

  50. In reply to #20 by Virgin Mary:

    This life is all about me and how much I can fit into it. I will never forget my first bungee jump, or skydive, or the feeling of riding an elephant bareback through a River, or the orphaned tiger cubs I helped raise for a fortnight, or the exhilaration of sharing the same space as a whale shark in its natural habitat, or sitting in El Monumental at Superclasico time, or attending an execution in Saudi Arabia, or the hairs standing up on the back of my neck when I first glimpsed Angkor Wat, or the wonderment felt when looking up at the Northern Lights, or even just the clearest night skies I’ve ever seen in Loas, or any of the other countless man made and natural wonders that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing and experiencing in the mere 29 blessed years I’ve had on this amazing planet.

    My friends envy my life whilst I pity theirs. Kids? I’m far too busy enjoying life for now. Ask me again in 10 years.

    [Plays “I’ve never been to me” by Charlene].

  51. In reply to #49 by Zeuglodon:

    In reply to #48 by phil rimmer:

    I am frankly angry at the way you both dismissed my points and took what was very nearly a fascist position based on nothing more substantial than your own feelings.

    But this is exactly my point- it is about personal feelings. And we shouldn’t presume to share them. We are each built with varying levels of empathy, say. We have each been subject as babies and toddlers to differing levels of oxytocin or cortisol. These things affect us, affect our wiring, affect what gives us a buzz and to what level. For me my empathy levels are lower than average it seems. This is not a source of distress, mostly, I’m well trained, but it does mean that I get my dopamine jollies more from the abstract.

    I have said absolutely nothing in negation of your feelings, how could I, so I am frankly puzzled about what you think I have possibly done except to assert my own in contradistinction.

    Memes? Deification? Hardly. The systemising mind may love irrational or rational orderings of things (though it generally seems to prefer the latter…a better, bigger system) but it is written in neurons and bathed in predisposing chemicals. No hint of the spooky in there.

    I am thankful there are intuitively kinder more thoughtful people than me. Our nurturing society would be very different and a poorer place without them. But I think society benefits hugely from the benignly callous also. I think our great success our broad adaptability is because of the fact of each other and our somewhat complementary roles and natures. I think we need each other you and I.

    it’s utterly irrelevant to my point

    And so it still is. And yours to mine.

    I too get annoyed sometime when people assert that people are like so and thus. This type of assertion in the hands of the fervent may become a little fascistic There are many more buttons to press than are dreamed of in most philosophies. And my emotional “deficits” don’t appear to be such from the inside.

  52. Petter Grant:

    Evolutionary psychology is better than any other kind so far and at least it’s based on science.

    Lets ammend that to ‘should’ be based on science. The thing about engineering is you have to consider the whole system and look out for the important points that hold the whole thing together. The thing about current evolutionary psychology is it doesn’t seem to be doing that adequately because the clincher for human evolution, and problems it causes for humans, is large brains. Which equals immature infants requiring 24 hour care – and they are what have driven things like oxytocin, concealed ovulation and love and a massively overcomplex brain to cope with it. But as far as I can see those factors are largely ignored and instead it relies on showing people pictures of the opposite sex which lets face it is rarely how any of us choose or get to choose our partners. Nor do normal people fall in love with just images.

    The other thing about science is it is based on evidence. The thing about evolutionary psychology is that unlike evolutionary biology, we have very little cos our pre historic behaviour and conditions left little trace, so all we know is it happened! Until we can be clearer we speculate. Speculation must be objective and overly cautious. Both seems to be lacking in the subject.

    Lastly the one thing that the selfish gene should drive is production and suvival of offspring. That is the only given and that require lots of effort. If people are choosing to opt out than the theory needs to be looked at again.

  53. In reply to #47 by Zeuglodon:

    In reply to #23 by Alan4discussion:In reply to #21 by atheistengineer:In reply to #15 by veggiemanuk:I think there’s been some atrocious misunderstanding of my comment. My point isn’t “screw tomorrow” or “think only of today” at all. My point is that you are currently living in the present, not the future, though soon to meet the future, and what you do now will effect what’s to come, but first it will affect you and other people around you right now.My life overlapped with the elderly who will die while I’m alive. Other people will be born as I type who will outlive me. All of them deserve to have the best quality of life, and if we have to keep stepping back to do this as comprehensively as possible, and plan for hundreds or even thousands of years ahead to secure the happiness of individuals, then so be it.What I object to is the mindless notion that continuing the species is inherently good. It isn’t.

    I don’t think anyone has claimed it is inherently good for the planet or the species overall. Merely that the biological imperative has to be to reproduce or genes die out. Evolution doesn’t do long term planning its short term next generation or two stuff. But we have evolved beyond that so can make choices and I have no feelings about anyones individual choices as long as they don’t judge mine.

    Our uncontrolled reproduction and thoughtless obsession with sex and kids is incompatible with a rational concern for the effects of overpopulation on people’s quality of life, even if the species survives. Such “good of the group” thinking results in us treating groups over and above the needs of the individuals, and if history has taught us anything, this comes at the expense of individual rights and even individual lives. A lineage doesn’t feel the pain of starvation when the crops fail – the individual people do.

    Again much of our evolution wasn’t carried out in times of overpopulation. If anything it was the opposite. Even in recorded history didn’t the plague wipe out 2/3 of the population of Europe, then there have been the two world wars. High population growth is a newish thing. Plus in the past there was no choice, it was sex + children or celibacy. Evolution needs a long time to readjust.

    The other problem is that, even despite our modern attitudes, there’s still a stigma about people who don’t show an interest in sex, romance, or having kids, and nowhere is this more obvious than in pop-culture attitudes to females. I’m not saying it’s exclusive to females, but their depiction in media (past and present) has rarely avoided highlighting these sorts of things – romantic interests, females looking for male partners, and females raising the family are more common in pop culture depictions than either females with other interests or males with the same interests.If what makes people happy is to raise a family, and if the best way of securing the happiness of everyone is to keep the population going, then I don’t begrudge that.

    I would agree with you 100% here – and not just pop culture but everywhere even here. I hate any stigmas, stereotypes or roles being imposed. It isn’t healthy for females at all, nor males, nor societies, nor anything to impose roles or stereotypes. Nor do I think its what we’ve evolved to be – its a relatively recent cultural thing that I suspect has replaced religion to keep us in women in their places. As per the old saying if you can’t get a women start a religion or porn mag.

    But I know it isn’t something I want my daughter exposed to. My goals for her are an equal career path to men and equal ability to earn and live safely as a human being not a baby making sex object. And to have children only if she chooses to and for that decision to be one that won’t write her out of the career race or impose glass ceilings any more than it will her partner. And I think the stigma should be challenged whenever and wherever it appears.

    But let’s recognize what really matters in all this – that the people who exist have a good quality of life. Not the group, not the species, but the individuals who have only one life to lead apiece.Legacies, therefore, are means to this end. They are great, they are wonderful, but they will not suffer in any literal sense when the midden hits the fan; the people carrying them will.

    And that includes the choices people make to have children. Our child has changed both our lives and priorities, which doesn’t mean I’m judging anyone else, just that I don’t feel they should judge us for that change. And it is a strong drive for some, you cannot deny that. I know many people undergoing fertility treatments with significant financial and emotional costs. I’m not sure whether I’d ever personally go down that path but I’m not in their position so not in a position to comment.

  54. In reply to #52 by atheistengineer:

    Please stop constructing straw men and read some actual evolutionary psychology, starting with The Selfish Gene.

  55. In reply to #49 by Zeuglodon:

    Just had a bit more of a think. First, apologies if I made you feel attacked. Not my intention at all. Not even a little bit.

    It’s hard to read your dismissive words about “copy-cat role outs” without feeling you are being either intellectually or morally stupid.

    If I had a choice I would prefer to think morally stupid is nearer the mark for me.

    What I fear most about plain Utilitarianism is summed up in the phrase “mindlessly happy”…the druggy simplicity of dopamine. In a sense I take “happy” for granted. My version of Utilitarianism would not prescribe mere happiness or happiness alone as an aspiration but rather wish a space where minds can make themselves maximally happy. The challenge is somewhat along such lines as to maximally release and engage “talent” or capabilities.

    I more trust the outcomes of this as a species preserving concept (which thought makes me happy) than the plainer wish for maximum happiness.

  56. In reply to #55 by phil rimmer:

    Must say, I like the idea of thinking as a drug almost as much as memes.

  57. In reply to #54 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #52 by atheistengineer:Please stop constructing straw men and read some actual evolutionary psychology, starting with The Selfish Gene.

    I’ve read it. Its was written before we were born and it shows. It was seminal in its time, but seminal means starting point not definitive.

    Read some more up to date psychology yourself.

  58. In reply to #57 by atheistengineer:

    I’ve read it. Its was written before we were born and it shows. It was seminal in its time, but seminal means starting point not definitive.

    Since last we spoke? Well then perhaps you had better read it again because you display very little comprehension. Your first and most basic mistake was to conflate the “desires” of genes with the desires of their vehicles.

  59. In reply to #58 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #57 by atheistengineer:

    New here. Would liker to to see some book reference to evolutionary psychology, it is new to my vocabulary. I kneed to learn to understand what you are talking about.
    Currently reading “The Selfish Gene”.

  60. In reply to #59 by mildcat:

    In reply to #58 by Peter Grant:In reply to #57 by atheistengineer:New here. Would liker to to see some book reference to evolutionary psychology, it is new to my vocabulary. I kneed to learn to understand what you are talking about. Currently reading “The Selfish Gene”.

    Read Jerry Coynes Why Evolution is True – the final chapter gives the most reasoned and up to date critique of the problems with the discipline that I’ve read yet. He points to universals that are easy to explain, language development, recognition of emotions, care of children, attachment behaviours in infants, mourning for the dead, music art etc. They must have some evolutionary explanation that is easy to work out.

    But he cautions very strongly against making up reasons why other behaviours arose when there is little or nothing to back them up and our evidence is just behaviour in the 21st century which is very different to long periods of our of our evolution. To actually quote he says:

    There is an increasing (and disturbing) tendency of psychologists, biologists and philosophers to Darwinise every aspect of behaviour, turning its study into a scientific parlour game. But IMAGINATIVE reconstructions of how things MIGHT have evolved are not science,…

    The problem is at this moment in time it seems to be a science that has been hijacked by a certain way of thinking that may or may not be right but is precluding all other explanations – and that is overwhelmingly sexual selection rather than natural selection, kin selection, group selection, parental investment and so on.

    But as a selection method it is failing to account for rapidly changing behaviours that have arisen in the 21st century, or to account for the fact that the vast majority of our evolution was carried out in completely different circumstances to today when the ‘ideal’ mate was probably toothless, lank haired, emaciated and smelt largely of dung.

    And it completely fails to recognise that the most difficult part of being a human is not selecting a mate and getting pregnant, which is easy, but keeping immature and helpless offspring, born after dangerous births, alive. Which makes that the biggest driver of evolutionary psychology and which requires more in the way of nurturing, caring, ruthlessness, skill and cunning in both sexes. And which ties in with what the author of this post says in a way and in what is seen. Parental investment is a far stronger, more universal driver of behaviours than selection of mate which is more changable. If the offspring is to survive.

    The irritating thing about evolutionary psychology is that sometimes you come across people who really do seem to think women are simply the result of thousands of years of selective breeding by males, like attractive poodles, who selected strong males to care for their helplessness whilst they did their nail. Based on largely learned behaviours that were determined, say 200 or less years ago. Which is irritating given the roles both sexes must have had to play as resource gatherers to survive extinction over the 6 million years since we split from our nearest cousins and started evolving along the hominid route. And the fact that economic freedoms and contraception are slowly but surely changing female choices of males. And that males really aren’t that shallow anyway and also select for brains and personality.

    So it is an important and interesting discipline but a lazy one. In the obvious absence of very real evidence it needs far more objectivity and far more caution and a far greater ability to think outside the box and consider the conditions we evolved under and look for more than one explanation before deciding which is most likely or whether a combination is most likely. And a recognition that evolution of behaviour will continue to evolve, memes will continue to evolve. So what went before isn’t static.

    The rest of Jerry Coynes book is very readable as well. But it is for the layperson.

  61. In reply to #55 by phil rimmer:

    In reply to #49 by Zeuglodon:

    Just had a bit more of a think. First, apologies if I made you feel attacked. Not my intention at all. Not even a little bit.

    No, I should be the one apologizing. Not only did I let my emotions get the better of me, but I posted intemperate language and most likely failed to get your point, for which there is simply no excuse in an intellectual discussion. I am deeply sorry to have posted such a hostile response, and will make sure it doesn’t happen again.

    What I fear most about plain Utilitarianism is summed up in the phrase “mindlessly happy”…the druggy simplicity of dopamine. In a sense I take “happy” for granted. My version of Utilitarianism would not prescribe mere happiness or happiness alone as an aspiration but rather wish a space where minds can make themselves maximally happy. The challenge is somewhat along such lines as to maximally release and engage “talent” or capabilities.

    I see what you mean, but I didn’t want people to come away with this impression of my point at all. What I mean is that, if an activity is enjoyed by someone and doesn’t hurt others, then it would be good, and should be protected and encouraged. But this is for the benefit of the person, not for the thing they’re engaged in – be it a cultural activity or otherwise. What one prefers to do is, from a moral perspective, utterly irrelevant. If someone enjoys sitting in a room staring at a black wall, then there’s no moral reason why they shouldn’t.

    What alarmed me about your response was that you seemed to go too far in the other direction – not just suggesting that emotions aren’t the only thing that matter, but that nothing about the individual matters in any way in morality. The trouble is that morality is a trade-off between the needs of the individual and the needs of society, but that society has to be understood not as an autonomous consciousness but as simply a collection of individuals. Societies throughout history have failed to make the distinction, which has resulted in them freely trampling over their own citizens “for the good of society” or “for the good of the group”. As the history of evolutionary biology shows, we move too easily into this trap.

    I find this practice not just intellectually wrong-headed (because there’s no evidence that some kind of superorganism’s consciousness arises from the movements of lots of people), but ethically horrifying, because when you place too much worth on the entity called “society” surviving, the needs of the individuals becomes as expendable as skin cells. So when you seemed to be doing the same thing for culture and memes, I jumped to the conclusion that you were advocating such an approach by simply switching the superorganism from groups to culture. Couple that with the short and sharp nature of your opening sentences, and I quickly became angry at the supposed callousness of your reply.

    My point isn’t that every individual must feel utter empathy for every other individual, which in any case is physically impossible. Myself, I get by in ethics more through analytical thinking than through empathy, because empathy – or more accurately, sympathy – is expensive to the nervous system (it requires huge emotional resources and can be painful) whereas analytical thought is comparatively easy to run. My point is that the ends for morality are the welfare of the individuals. This doesn’t mean we should specifically aim to increase happiness, or we run into the happiness paradox and end up being counterproductive. It does mean that, when a person finds what matter to him or her, then so long as it doesn’t impinge detrimentally on others, that thing should be protected, as should the individual practising it.

    I more trust the outcomes of this as a species preserving concept (which thought makes me happy) than the plainer wish for maximum happiness.

    I think you’re referring to the happiness paradox, in which consciously trying to be happy ends up making one unhappy. Otherwise, I would caution that we don’t deify the things that actually do make us happy. I am deeply committed to science and reason, and if I were a braver person, I’d make some self-sacrifices for them. What I won’t do is sacrifice others for them. The mere thought of ignoring the welfare of others for the sake of science is revolting to me, and even in cases such as medicine where it might be necessary to develop cures, I would still regard it as a necessary evil in a harsh world. Surely, you can appreciate this point?

    I hope you will find this response less defensive and crude, and that it makes up somewhat for my heated initial reply.

  62. In reply to #27 by Virgin Mary:

    There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a room with parents and children because the conversation is so limited when you’ve got to involve kids.

    You should have a chat with my 3-year-old daughter Elizabeth. I’ve had to answer much harder question and have many more real conversations with her than most adults.

    And with drug takers I find that the conversation is stifled by their need to chat shit.

    You should have a chat with me.

  63. In reply to #62 by Zeuglodon:

    No worries Zeug! I did sharpen my stick a little before poking, because I knew I was offering a view out of kilter with the current thinking of the primacy of the individual, my natural home for long enough. But a series of realisations about the deficiencies of the lone human, my understanding of language and logic as entirely cultural machines for both thinking and communicating, the need for which was driven by our unique sets of cognitive errors as individuals rather changed my position.. Feral minds are merely associative. Hebbian coincidence is all they can manage in terms of understanding causality, and for inferences mostly Bayesian and never novel. It is cultures that transform our IQs and there are most definitely good cultures and bad.

    My eyes are closing with sleep and I’ve only just started. Apologies, I will come back tomorrow. I much appreciate the care and detail in your exposition. I can’t not try and do they same…

  64. In reply to #65 by phil rimmer:

    In reply to #62 by Zeuglodon:

    No worries Zeug! I did sharpen my stick a little before poking, because I knew I was offering a view out of kilter with the current thinking of the primacy of the individual, my natural home for long enough. But a series of realisations about the deficiencies of the lone human, my understanding of language and logic as entirely cultural machines for both thinking and communicating, the need for which was driven by our unique sets of cognitive errors as individuals rather changed my position.. Feral minds are merely associative. Hebbian coincidence is all they can manage in terms of understanding causality, and for inferences mostly Bayesian and never novel. It is cultures that transform our IQs and there are most definitely good cultures and bad.

    I think you have a point, but that it is not relevant to the current discussion. By stressing individual humans, I don’t mean putting each one in its own private vacuum, separated from society as completely as possible. This would be like trying to understand and help beavers while keeping them permanently away from wood, rivers, and any possibility of making dams. You couldn’t understand them if you did this, and you’d most likely make them intensely uncomfortable, if not psychologically dysfunctional.

    What I meant was: what are the things that ultimately matter in ethics? Culture is a fine subject for study in and of itself, and our understanding and use of it has obvious moral implications (for instance, in deciding what policies to adopt to resolve tensions between people of different cultural backgrounds). What it isn’t is an ethically relevant target, in the sense of being at the heart of any ethical concern. This is why I stress that cultures are not things that suffer, but humans (and sentient organisms in general) are; because humans etc., with their minds and feelings and ideas and viewpoints, are most likely the only things one can intelligibly and literally describe as the beneficiaries and victims of a moral action. Cultures, like selfish genes, can only be described so in metaphorical terms, and even then only with considerable imaginative license and a need to touch base when we think more realistically. It’s this last part that people can get mixed up over, and it’s the result of this that can cause real misery.

    Another thing I’d dispute is your conception of the role of cultures in human cognition. For one thing, the notion that “feral minds are merely associative” has been proven wrong for ages. Association does not underlie our thinking, even when separated from society (how could it even begin to describe abstract concepts like grandmother, thing, treeness, animal, particularity, recursiveness, combination of relationships, evolution, and honesty?). Associationism is impotent at describing how we naturally categorize and think about real world things in highly specific, customized, and essential and categorical ways, and to borrow Pinker’s phrase, thinking associationism can explain human thought is a bit like thinking you can climb trees to reach the moon.

    The evidence and logic is strongly in favour of minds being highly specialized and complicated computing machines with various subcomponents, built-in intuitions, predispositions about how things are categorized, and assumptions about what’s out there. Merely glancing at perception psychology should dispel the notion that brains are association machines. Cultures are simply shared psychologies and after-the-thought coordinations of many people’s minds. To take your idea to a reduction ad absurdum, I’d have to conclude on your premises that I don’t see anything other than colourful blobs until a teacher teaches me that those blobs over there are people and these blobs over here are floor. The very notion of pan-associationism requires a model of the mind – a blank slate with no preconceived ideas at all – that is not only simply false, but has to be false given what we know about evolution and computing. Information in the environment, however frequently any bits of it appear together, will not tell you what to do with it.

    My eyes are closing with sleep and I’ve only just started. Apologies, I will come back tomorrow. I much appreciate the care and detail in your exposition. I can’t not try and do they same…

    I look forward to reading it.

  65. In reply to #67 by Zeuglodon:

    In reply to #65 by phil rimmer:

    In reply to #62 by Zeuglodon:

    I think you have a point, but that it is not relevant to the current discussion. By stressing individual humans, I don’t mean putting each one in its own private vacuum, separated from society as completely as possible. This would be like trying to understand and help beavers while keeping them permanently away from wood, rivers, and any possibility of making dams. You couldn’t understand them if you did this, and you’d most likely make them intensely uncomfortable, if not psychologically dysfunctional.

    But note that cultures vary enormously. I maintain there are good and bad cultures (more or less ethical!). This is exactly the point.

    What I meant was: what are the things that ultimately matter in ethics? Culture is a fine subject for study in and of itself, and our understanding and use of it has obvious moral implications (for instance, in deciding what policies to adopt to resolve tensions between people of different cultural backgrounds). What it isn’t is an ethically relevant target, in the sense of being at the heart of any ethical concern.

    For me, as someone who increasingly is convinced by the embodied and situated models of cognition, culture necessarily intersects with ethics because it is deeply rooted in how we feel. I am not claiming in any sense that cultures are super organisms, quite the reverse in fact, they are better understood as super extensions of, aspects of, individuals.

    Utilitarianism is ethically inadequate because drugged happiness, isolated happiness, when-its-gone-its-gone happiness is instinctively inadequate. It is underachieving somehow.

    This is why I stress that cultures are not things that suffer, but humans (and sentient organisms in general) are; because humans etc., with their minds and feelings and ideas and viewpoints, are most likely the only things one can intelligibly and literally describe as the beneficiaries and victims of a moral action. Cultures, like selfish genes, can only be described so in metaphorical terms, and even then only with considerable imaginative license and a need to touch base when we think more realistically. It’s this last part that people can get mixed up over, and it’s the result of this that can cause real misery.

    Agreed, with the risks in the last part. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a viable approach, nor that we should not attempt it.

    I count myself politically an anarcho-pragmatist favouring democratic processes. I have long abandoned political dogmas and have no intention of forming new one’s. I think it is somewhat phobic (but understandable given the inevitable failure of all dogmas) to not acknowledge the essential cultural dimension to our individual wellbeing and aspirations and to use that in the formulation of a viably descriptive (but not pre- or proscriptive) model of what the available, ethical levers and metrics of society might be. Ethics is more or less bunk if it cannot deliver practical tools for change.

    Another thing I’d dispute is your conception of the role of cultures in human cognition. For one thing, the notion that “feral minds are merely associative” has been proven wrong for ages. Association does not underlie our thinking, even when separated from society (how could it even begin to describe abstract concepts like grandmother, thing, treeness, animal, particularity, recursiveness, combination of relationships, evolution, and honesty?)

    Abstract concepts are only demanded by cultures.

    Associationism is impotent at describing how we naturally categorize and think about real world things in highly specific, customized, and essential and categorical ways, and to borrow Pinker’s phrase, thinking associationism can explain human thought is a bit like thinking you can climb trees to reach the moon.

    Yet his alternative is also “impossible” (The evolution of strictly logical processes.) I think he has overstated his case. I count myself on these matters soft nativist, soft associationist. There are undeniably evolved predispositions and brain “modules” that are their cause just as Pinker et al. need, but these predispositions fall far short of the logical rigidity some might imagine. The linguistic proofs of the innateness or understandings of concepts of “and, or, if, many few, all” are too often taken as equivalent to the terms as used in strict logic. They are not and nor do they need to be anything other than the fuzzy logical predispositions available to Hebbian processes supported by the (genuinely) innate logic of body morphologies. This makes them mutable, subvertible, capable of insufficient development and most importantly not understood to be universally applicable. It is only the training of (certain) cultures that raises logic to this universal status having developed it to a calculating machine of universal competence and absolute reliability.

    The evidence and logic is strongly in favour of minds being highly specialized and complicated computing machines with various subcomponents, built-in intuitions, predispositions about how things are categorized, and assumptions about what’s out there.

    Completely agree. This is not in contradiction to brains being powered by Hebbian learning.

    Merely glancing at perception psychology should dispel the notion that brains are association machines.

    We clearly have modularity of processing (Amygdalas now seem much more to do with aspects of perceptual categorisation than say “being the fear button”) Not my point.

    Cultures are simply shared psychologies and after-the-thought coordinations of many people’s minds.

    Soooo doesn’t cut it for me. This paints us as impossibly autonomous. This site stands witness to the incompleteness of this.

    To take your idea to a reduction ad absurdum, I’d have to conclude on your premises that I don’t see anything other than colourful blobs until a teacher teaches me that those blobs over there are people and these blobs over here are floor. The very notion of pan-associationism requires a model of the mind – a blank slate with no preconceived ideas at all – that is not only simply false, but has to be false given what we know about evolution and computing. Information in the environment, however frequently any bits of it appear together, will not tell you what to do with it.

    I hope I’ve dispelled this as something I think. Soft nativist, soft associationist.

  66. “When we come closest to each other we can create new life forms that carry on that continuity that stretches back all those billions of years, and in them are the generations of human beings who have struggled. That is magnificent.”

    Yes it is … but not when one is forced into it!

  67. In reply to #17 by debaser71:

    What is it about some atheists and secularists that they detest family? I know religion harps on about family and use it as an excuse for all sorts of nonsense (think of “for the children!” reasoning). Anyway I find it very off putting. Things like “child-free” and “breeders”.

    I don’t detest family – I detest people who tell me that it is my role, nay my duty, to be a ‘breeder.’

  68. In reply to #54 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #52 by atheistengineer:

    Please stop constructing straw men and read some actual evolutionary psychology, starting with The Selfish Gene.

    Somewhat similar to “Please stop attacking christianity and read the bible”?

    I’ve done both – neither is very convincing.

  69. In reply to #58 by Peter Grant:

    In reply to #57 by atheistengineer:

    I’ve read it. Its was written before we were born and it shows. It was seminal in its time, but seminal means starting point not definitive.

    Since last we spoke? Well then perhaps you had better read it again because you display very little comprehension. Your f…

    Try Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine – specifically on gender-roles, but fairly indicative of evo-psych assumptions, IMO.

Leave a Reply