How nature makes a brain?


(Read it here in Spanish)

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.


Good, evil and natural selection

Lion in Namibia (Kevin Pluck)

(Read it here in Spanish)

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”

A journey toward perfection (maybe from nothing) thanks to natural selection

Camellia flower, by trishhartmann

(Read it here in Spanish)

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”