It is practically impossible for a complex phenomenon such as life or intelligence to arise without evolution and the consequent natural selection. The only way to dispense with evolution (by definition, a slow and gradual process) to obtain brains, cities, symphonies, or moral codes would be resorting to randomness, as Ludwig Boltzmann (the formula of entropy, S = k x log w, is written on his tombstone in a Vienna cemetery) hypothesised more than a century ago. According to the Austrian physicist, the universe will witness the spontaneous creation of brains, as a result of random fluctuations (after all, brains are only combinations of a large number of particles), if there is an infinite amount of time ahead of it: they are called Boltzmann’s brains, devoid of body but with all the information and memories of any human brain at some moment of its existence, that would be floating in the immensity of cosmos after his sudden and extremely improbable appearance out of the chaos.
To achieve life and intelligence without evolution would be much more improbable than to get Don Quixote written by entrusting an immortal monkey with the task of uninterruptedly touching at random the keys of a computer. Or by making correspond each letter of Cervantes’ novel, from the first to the last in a perfect order, to what is arranged by a gigantic roll of a non-biased 27 sided dice (one for each character). Since the Big Bang there has not been enough time in the universe for such things to happen… but they end up happening if time is not limited!
For evolution-selection to happen, time is also needed, though much less thanks to the self-organizing power of order (i.e., negative entropy or negentropy). I don’t remember who once said that time is what makes consciousness not instantly perceive – like sort of an omniscient mind- all the events of the universe. We would be God if we were omniscient, but our life as individuals would be devoid of any meaning or purpose: concepts that are not alien to anyone in a carnal suit like goodness, evil, beauty, art, love, learning, pleasure, suffering, hope, or happiness (all of them, of course, lodged in the brain) would completely vanish.
Some dudes in Vatican City (Pontifical Academy of Sciences) have been trying for decades to square the circle: reconciling science with Catholic religion (just as absurd as to try with any other). The argument of these experts, well financed by Vatican’s coffers (and indirectly by those in Spain who put the x on the box for the Church in their income tax return), is that there is no conflict between science and religion because the former cannot provide all the answers. Those who burnt Giordano Bruno at the stake, who forced Galileo to retract (“Eppur si muove!”) and also reduced Miguel Servet to ashes (this was not to blame on Catholics but on fanatical Calvin in his Protestant Taliban canton of Geneva), must not have been very convinced of this alleged compatibility. They were the very same people that in 19th century made fun of Charles Darwin, when Christianity in Europe began to lose its influence and to become something merely folklorical (the main unresolved matter in the Islamic world). Continue reading “Science and religion: water and oil”
British physicist Stephen Wolfram suggests that we might soon know how the universe works at its most basic level (even why it works that way and not any other). Physics will have discovered, that day not so far away, all the elementary particles and forces operating in the cosmos. Wolfram and many other colleagues speculate that the rules will certainly be very simple, so much so that the basic laws of the universe could be written on a t-shirt. It would be the culmination of the so-called Theory of Everything, which Einstein chased in vain at the end of his life and led so many people -from Democritus to Stephen Hawking passing through Leibniz, Newton, or Maxwell- to wrack their brains. Would we have read the mind of God, as suggested by Hawking at the end of A brief history of time? Would science give the baton to technology, having reached the end of its theoretical way?… Continue reading “A fundamentally comprehensible universe… but unattainable due to its complexity?”
A few days ago, La 2 of Televisión Española (TVE) aired the documentary “A dangerous idea”, dubbed in Spanish under the title “Cuestión de genes” (you can see it here in Spanish until 24th May). This is a pamphlet intended to convince us that genes neither determine our traits nor have too much importance. And also to discredit scientists of the standing of James Watson (Nobel Prize in 1953, co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA), Edward O. Wilson (father of Sociobiology), Richard Dawkins (author of The Selfish Gene) and even indirectly the very same Charles Darwin, establishing links between their findings and repugnant things such as racial supremacism, forced sterilizations or eugenic delusions. As if the Nazis had invented natural selection and genes! The documentary aims to sell the idea that heritability of intelligence or differences between men and women are “ridiculous”, that gender is a social construct without a biological basis (penises, testicles, and vaginas would have little to say about it), that molecular biology has become a dangerous religion with prophets who are blindly followed… Continue reading ““A dangerous idea”, a crude negationist pamphlet”
Evolutionary biologist David Krakauer, researcher and president of Santa Fe Institute (multidisciplinary center devoted to the study of complexity), gives us a definition of stupidity related to resolution of tasks or problems: a stupid solution would make us reach a goal or result – if at all!- at least as long as if we entrusted ourselves to pure chance. Let’s take the example of a Rubik’s Cube. Smart solutions would lead us to solve the cube in a relatively short time, which could be minutes or hours, following rational rules or guidelines. It’s true that if we had an infinite amount of time we would end up solving the cube sooner or later (perhaps in two million or in thirty thousand million years’ time), manipulating it at our will without any reasoning or pattern. But a manifestly stupid solution, such as simply rotating the cube without altering the layout of its 27 components, wouldn’t be effective even throughout eternity. A stupid person tends to do stupid things like that, but not all stupidity is committed by strictly stupid individuals (deprived of the use of reason): there are also blinded, ignorant, ill-informed and fanatics (who place their poisonous ideology before reason). Continue reading “Stupidity and cultures”
Charles K. Fink discusses in his interesting article The predation argument the controversial thesis of philosopher Steve Sapontzis that a lion does wrong when killing its prey for food. Although, according to Sapontzis (whom Fink agrees with), not being a moral agent would exempt the fearsome felid and any other non-human predator from blame: it would be a case comparable to that of a 2-year-old child, who can do bad things – for example, torturing a kitten to death- but that doesn’t mean he is bad; instead, he is unconscious of the malignity of his acts. Continue reading “Good, evil and natural selection”
Everything that exists in the kingdom of living things has survived the sieve of natural selection, or it’s a maladjustment doomed to disappear in the short term. Good and evil, beautiful and ugly, adorable and hateful, compassionate and cruel, are all around us because they have been functional for the survival of their carriers (except in the case of maladjustments, ephemeral by their very nature, such as pointed before). That is, because they have made living organisms adapt to the evolution of the Universe, in turn determined by its initial state and laws. Emergent phenomena such as intelligence, consciousness, and morality are among the great works of a blind, unconscious and amoral natural selection that works simply by elimination: non-adaptive mutations are pruned without mercy. Continue reading “A journey toward perfection (maybe from nothing) thanks to natural selection”