Monday, April 27, 2020

More on Richard Dawkins

I have rarely read anything as exciting as The Selfish Gene. Pathetic, right? But in this case, unlike reading a thrilling novel say, what I mean is that it explained so very much. I was thrilled for the scales to fall from my mind's eye. I wholeheartedly endorse his statement that if there is life elsewhere in the universe, it will involve replicators, mutations, and progressively more complex "robot hosts" to do those replicators' bidding. (I hope I don't do injury to the overall thesis with my shorthand)

The only other time that I have been so excited was reading Einstein's reconfigurations of physics on the basis of his relativity theory - first special and general relativity, and then came quantum theory. Whoopee! In that case, I was excited by Bell's theorem and what I felt to be the dissolving of any possibility to exclude the subject from objective science.

Of course, the subject may be an object of scientific research, as it is for Dawkins. But for me, quantum interpretations made subjectivity into a cosmic quality, and not one local to life alone, as we know it. Just meaning that nothing cosmically inheres without mind in the mix. For things to be measured, there has to be some one or some thing to do the measuring.

I believe that this is still a tad controversial in physics, but I'm suggesting that perception is a kind of measure, and that the "act" of perception "collapses" probability functions into actuality. For that interpretation to be correct, then perception must also be a universal act. In physical terms, "particles" perceive other particles, and bring them into being. Each such interaction entails a string of other interactions, all mediated by "particles" which are themselves clouds of probability.

I am certainly as much an atheist as Dawkins is, but I am in the habit of moving to the highest level of possible abstraction before I name my bogeys. My question about Dawkins is whether or not he's dogmatic. I consider dogmatism to be the more basic sin of what he calls the delusion of belief in God. While faith in God has to be as real as faith in gravity, belief might be a kind of conjecture. I'm suggesting that dogmatic belief is a more fundamental sin than belief in God.

Of course the non-existence of a literal God as that term is meant by religionists everywhere is patently obvious. But Dawkins' dogmatism about materialism is of the same stripe as those who are dogmatic that God must exist, if by "God," they mean something other from a metaphorical usage.

Dawkins spends a lot of time in his more recent book, The God Delusion, distinguishing between types of agnosticism. Type one is TAP, or Temporary Agnosticism in Practice, while type two PAP is Permanent Agnosticism in Principle.

He has no patience for those who might profess type two agnosticism about God. They are in a word, dogmatic in their beliefs, which are subject to no disproving. While one might be TAP regarding life elsewhere in the cosmos, he provides reasons more than ample enough for me to agree that we can never be PAP about God. Well, I probably have it backwards, but in essence Dawkins is saying that since God can never be proven to exist, he simply doesn't and can't exist.

But what if something which can be demonstrated to be true approaches what most people mean by "God," better than religion does? I think the weakest part of Dawkins argument is when he tries to grade agnosticism with seven shades from the extreme of "I just know that God exists" to "I just know he doesn't." All that Dawkins has a right to say, and perhaps even to be dogmatic about, is that there can be no material proof of God. That's pretty much by definition. But he doesn't rate himself at the extreme number 7 level of agnosticism, which would be certainty that God doesn't exist. That makes it seem as though he would agree with me.

I'm saying that dogma of any sort is one step beyond PAP since it moves from the specific to the general, and that Dawkins is beyond the pale dogmatic. I'm pretty certain that this is approximately the argument that Dawkins hears so often from religionists around the globe, and I can easily imagine why he has to shut it down. But I think he's over-reaching when he suggests or even insists that nothing can exist which won't ultimately be materially demonstrable.

I know, for instance, that I will absolutely never get his attention with my notion that something like his derided 'universal love' is actually not only part of the knowable cosmos, but still further that physics (and certainly its less abstracted cousin, genetics) is stuck in (ignorant) place, without admitting emotion among cosmic qualities.

I believe that Dawkins dogmatically places emotion on the side of the God delusion as an immaterial and therefore un-measurable (or is it vice versa?) quality which has no place in science, except as a quality of mind, perhaps.

Well, OK, so the mind and its qualities are proper objects for scientific investigation. But nothing analogous to Christian spirit is. I don't think Dawkins is trying to say that emotion isn't real. I'm saying it's real beyond the human or even the animal realm.

Dawkins misunderstands what Carl Jung meant by synchronicity. Jung didn't believe "that particular books on his shelf spontaneously exploded with a loud bang." He knew that they exploded. The mistake was to assign any meaning to it. That would be the limit of what Dawkins should be saying.

The thing is that many of us experience synchronicities which seem too powerful to be discarded as meaningless coincidence. Those of us swayed by the power of science, and therefore by materialism, push such matters aside. We assume that they are likely some sort of confirmation bias that will be explained away as our knowledge and understanding of material reality continues to develop and grow.

In Dawkins terms, ". . . chance is just a word expressing ignorance. It means 'determined by some as yet unknown, or unspecified, means.' (Chapter 12 page 282 in the Kindle version of The Selfish Gene) Of course he is wrong in this statement, though it would take some understanding of both quantum physics and chaos theory to know that. Some things are simply not determined. Causality is always mediated by probability until you get to a really macro level where the probability fades to infinitesimal as a factor .

Surely, in the long long run of accident which guides evolutionary "progress," there is no need to find anything like synchronicity in operation. Well, before conscious creatures graced the cosmos, who could know?

Evolution is all trial and error and eventually, through genetic mutation and the building of complex environments, individual life-forms find ever more stable configurations for the accurate replication and therefore near permanence of successful genes (using Dawkins excellent heuristic definition for genes not as molecularly definable "strings" but as non-demarcated strings of any length or combination which persist through replication).

I imagine that one way that synchronicity will be explained away would involve the relation between sub-conscious operations of the mind and conscious ones. "We" now understand consciousness to be seated in the affective (and most primitive) sectors of the brain, and we also understand that much of our brains' computation never makes it to consciousness. We know that exercising agency involves taking credit, or rationalizing, decisions made previously by the sub-conscious mind as it computes probabilities for success in modeled future actions.

Probability here just means probability for survival, for thriving, for reproduction, for return to homeostasis. Dawkins' great breakthrough reconfiguration of genetic theory was to locate at the level of the "selfish gene" what is important with regard to evolution. Our complex brain's computation is important only for so long as it enables what the gene "wants," which is to persist. Evolutionary processes operate only indirectly on the assemblage of the individual or the group, the species, whatever.

The most powerful part of Dawkins' explication - for me - is when he demonstrates how the assemblages which are useful for the genes can and do cross the bounds (the skin) of the individual or the group, to include even the environment, which is the ground for replicator persistence. His wonderful examples include beavers building dams.

Anyhow, there isn't room in our conscious mind for all the possibilities entailed in all the choices we might make. Most of our thinking is sub unconscious, from what I understand. Consciousness is like the tip of the iceberg of a mind, most of which is submerged in the unconscious.

Whoops, I slipped from sub-conscious to unconscious. There are important differences between the two. I wish I knew what they were, but I'm guessing that the one has more to do with what Freud studied as repressed unconscious, and what Jung studied as the transpersonal unconscious, while the other has more to do with practical cognition which might become conscious when it needs to. Perhaps, the sub-conscious is that which has not yet been made conscious, while the unconscious might ever be so. Not sure.

Our mind seems to require the framework of language to do any real conscious thinking. We think all the time about future possibilities and things we might want. I spent much of this week thinking about my new iPhone that was on its way, my aging into medicare, and how to navigate getting my medicine delivered before I run out during the shutdown.

These are all important things for me to think about consciously, since there are things that I must do in order to get to where I (think I) want to be. Those involve money and planning and actions I must take.

A thinker might think about more important things, like politics or scientific theories, or how to get the country to be less dysfunctional so that we may all live better lives. Good thinkers might also be good writers and try to persuade others to better understanding. I try to be a thinker but I think I'm still very trying. Sorry.

Anyhow, along the way to whatever conclusion one might be trying to reach, there are likely to be lots of nice (or not so nice) coincidences, some of which come, or seem to, directly from your mind, and some of which seem to come unbidden from the world around you. But of course the sub-conscious mind takes note of much more of our environment than the conscious mind ever could. So these synchronicities are likely just the mind preferring to take conscious note of what conforms to the structures one is working on therein. Or musing on. Or even forgetting about. So many scientific breakthroughs seem to come when the discoverer's mind is off-topic.

Even so, I still think (or maybe it's just wishful thinking) most people would agree that much, if not most, of what composes a life is a matter of happenstance. You might take note of particular things and not others, but I don't think you can just conjure any old thing into being. Doing that takes work. It takes time. It takes motor skills.

In my thinking, if I plan overmuch I will mostly guarantee that I will get the results I plan for. But I might also be putting blinders on which keep me from seeing things that would help to realize my "plan." My use of overmuch here regards planning that might (or which you hope or wish might) get you to new knowledge. Short of such overplanning, we can mostly plan our future activities in a fairly casual frame of mind.

You might have a hunch in which direction to go, but you will also happen upon "random" things (books? lectures? film? people?) along the way which might become essential to your work and which you might have missed had you been looking too hard with blinders on. Kind of like meeting your eventual spouse or partner. Focus too hard on that supermodel, and you might miss the one you could love right there in front of you.

Now Dawkins acknowledges that humankind might move away from evolution as evolution goes along in a state of nature. One of the most exciting parts of the book is toward the end where he coins the durable term "meme," to help us to understand how and why it might be that we have accelerated our impact on the earth so much. Evolution moves too slowly to enable the kind of explosive "success" that humanity has had - on behalf of our gene pools - in recent decades.

Human consciousness seems to be embodied by a more generalized form of life than other creatures.We seem able to thrive most anywhere, perhaps even abstracted into outer space for a while. Other creatures are and must be more specialized to their environmental niche. So, it seems likely that in the process of such accelerated adaptation to most any environment, we would become hyperconscious of memes all over the place if these might assist in our human "progress."

It seems that our emotions do the selection. We feel the right way to go, where feeling is radically non-metaphorical, since we're not feeling something else the way we do with our fingers and through our skin and by means of other sensory organs. When we feel emotions, those are what we feel. Directly.

I used to think that metaphor worked in the other direction; that the "literal" regards those things which we know directly like head and hands and feet, and which we extend by figure of speech to mean such things as head of school, or (invisible) hand of the marketplace or foot of the mountain. But in the case of feelings, there is nothing so direct as emotion. Emotion is radically non-metaphorical. It can't refer to anything else, even while it might be stimulated by a tough-to-model assemblage of many perceptions.

We emotionally choose from among the calculations of our brain and that is how we decide to act and how to act.

Attraction and repulsion are how we achieve what Solms (referenced in the link above) calls the "nirvana" of homeostasis. Our complex mnemonics helps us along to the right decisions. We carry a rather large time bubble in our minds.

Given that the affective part of our brain is also the part most widely shared by those creatures which we are closest to - it is the most "primitive" part of the brain - I see no reason at all to limit emotion as a human quality alone. That would be particularly and perhaps obviously true for the animal kingdom.

For me, at least, it is but a minor step to say that we can't even exclude emotion from the cosmos. Emotion is not a quality inherent in human mind (or animal mind) alone. It also defines the evolutionary moves which lead up to now.

Please note that I'm not talking about some kind of strange attractor (or maybe I am, if you want to talk chaos theory) or some kind of force which is guiding evolutionary change. I'm making a definition for what emotion is, is all. I would say nothing of the (cosmic) feeler of such (cosmic) emotion.

I am guessing that Dawkins is unwilling to hear of any such notion, and that is a shame. He is way more brilliant than I am, but more dogmatically sealed away (by blinders?) from any such realization. I'm not inferring any kind of God there as the cosmic feeler, nor certainly the cosmic designer. But I may be secretly hoping that the godists could be lured away from their particular flavors of delusion.

If that could be accomplished, then whole bunches of good things could follow. I call on scientists everywhere, please to keep an open mind. I would call on religionists even more strenuously to understand that science, properly understood, can be pose no threat to whatever they might mean by God. That would be so even though some scientists may believe that there is no limit to what humans will eventually understand about the workings of our cosmos.

Well, it's not our cosmos, and if there is a God, I doubt such a mind would be called out as such. As Kierkegaard said, you must doubt everything, including doubt. But to anthropomorphize God, metaphorically or otherwise, has to be some kind of abomination anywhere in the cosmos, wherever analogs of anthro reside.

Or in other words, I highly doubt that evolution is quite finished. We still have a lot to learn for sure, but it won't end with us understanding everything about the material world. The jury is still out about how well it's working for us to have pulled out from the rest of nature.

Oh, and by the way, I strenuously disagree with Dawkins' characterizations of the living hosts of replicators (genes) as robots. Robots can have no feelings. That would be by definition.

What's really too bad just now is that we are existing in a swamp of memes, some sustained by incredibly well written hosts. The swamp is so steaming that many of our species are reverting to a kind of recameralization, in reference to Julian Jayne's thesis that human consciousness arose upon the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. There is hardly any coherent signal within the noise - certainly not at the level of a proper social contract.

Just now our earth - the most generalized host for our selfish genes - is thrilled to have us off her back. The question remains about whether and how we will return her favor. (Dang, I could never use female pronouns for my boat, and now I'm using them for earth!!??? WTF! I just can't get myself to say 'them' for earth, and I certainly won't say 'him.' Whatever!

Anyhow, since Richard Dawkins is the only top scientist willing to risk a tad of cred by mentioning Julian Jaynes, I'm going to have to ease of on him for being so dogmatic. Who knows, maybe he'll even come around to the obvious conclusion that we're all co-creators of and in the cosmos. I understand that this "belief" correlates highly with education, IQ, liberalism and all those things which Dawkins credits so highly. Even scientists can go for it!

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