Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Just like Darwin's Tree of Life, the Tree of Intelligence comes crashing down - Denyse O'Leary

Leaving humans standing, looking around.

Science-Fictions-square.gif Matching Darwin's "Tree of life," the "Tree of intelligence" comes crashing down
Freed from the constraints of naturalism (nature is all there is), the animal mind is a fascinating topic. Great writers have reflected on the way their cats think. The cat is a convenient subject for two reasons. One is this, no one advertises a common inheritance of humans and cats. We meet on equal terms.
That said, the most farflung outcome of the current effort to naturalize the mind, despite Darwin's horrid doubt, is the quest to map our own minds onto those of primate apes and other mammals. We constantly hear the false news that we share 98 percent or 99 percent of our genes with chimpanzees, and therefore we must greatly resemble them.
False news? Yes. If that claim were taken seriously, it would spell the end of genetics as a source of useful information. (Is there anyone who cannot tell the difference between a human and a chimpanzee?) No, such claims belong rather on a philosophical continuum with evolutionary psychology. If evo psych's claims were sound, they would merely demonstrate that no evolution has been observed in the human species for two million years. But the value of all such claims is precisely that they are not taken seriously. They serve rather to undermine the idea that humans are unique, with little regard for the logical consequences of any specific assertion.
It is the same with claims about animal minds. Scientists and science reporters routinely claim that apes and humans behave similarly. Apes are said to, among other things, mourn their dead, suffer self-doubt, make dolls, have police, go to war, and use "innovative, foresighted methods." The point of such claims isn't that apes really think like people, but that we really don't.
Strangely, it's been crazier. In the Seventies, Nim Chimpsky (Pan troglodytes) was raised from infancy as a human baby and even breastfed by a woman. (The daughter of the surrogate mother explained in retrospect, "It was the Seventies.") More.
Science-Fictions-square.gif Branding popular arts and culture for Darwin
Darwinian evolution thinking has certainly affected the rhetoric of pop business writing. Consider Sally Hogshead, a self-described Darwinian brand marketing specialist and author of Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation (Harper Business, 2010). She argues from studies of neuroscience and ape behavior that seven evolutionary triggers can get us to pay more than we need to for goods and services. She begins (following a convention of evolutionary psychology) by undermining the idea that we understand what we think:
Whatever you're drawn to -- from watching reruns of Family Guy to spending time with your family -- you have the triggers to thank for it. (p. 17)
She is quite happy to market lust (it "conquers the rational evaluation process, freeing us to stop thinking and start feeling," p. 73) and vice ("a little goes a long way, so customize your message by using it in combination with other triggers," p. 151). And she markets snobbery fearlessly. Keeping products unavailable to lower income people is, in her view, a key to commercial success:
Not so long ago, the height of epicurean indulgence was a gold box filled with Godiva chocolates. ... Then, in an effort to expand, in 1999 Godiva made a fateful decision to distribute in mass retailers such as Barnes & Noble. The chocolates, which for the first time now included preservatives, were no longer a treat to be craved and desired. Now you could buy the gold box in strip malls. (Strip malls!) (p. 79)
Who decided that poorer people didn't deserve a treat now and then? The most successful retailers in North America are proud to put luxury chocolates in lower income shopping carts. That, not creating scarcity, is the classic American model of business. In a world traditionally governed by class-conscious aristocracies who restricted access to luxuries or even benefits (often by law as well as custom), the American model revolutionized living standards. Hogshead competently (but unintentionally) demonstrates how Darwinism, if applied to economics or business, might create scarcity instead by restricting benefits to life's winners -- who can pay more. More.
From The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (the human mind)

Note: The Science Fictions – human evolution series is here.The cosmology series is here, and the origin of life series here. O’Leary for News


Peter Black said...

Denyse, thank you for another fascinating post, shedding illumination on the intriguing world of science and pseudo-science at the intersection of faith.~~+~~

Glynis said...

Evolutionary psychology and neuroscience, admittedly bends my brain but how positively fascinating and revealing, Denyse. Thanks I always did wonder, though that what suddenly made evolution 'stop'? Shouldn't we be evolving still according to such theories?

Colossians 2:8
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

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