[lit-ideas] Re: The Missing Link

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 22 May 2014 21:20:28 +0100 (BST)

This post
failed to fit in the thread from which it descended, and so, in order to
survive, has adapted itself to this thread.
from Lawrence:-
they do say some percentage of mutations appear in each person’s DNA.>
>The Ashkenazi argument is to bolster the more
substantial argument that mental capabilities are as subject to evolutionary
effects as physical ones. >
>Cochran and Harpending in the early part of their book
argue rather convincingly that the adaptation of agriculture about 10,000 years
ago affected mental abilities.>
It seems then
that H&C are offering a mutation-based account of increased intelligence.
That account is also linked to the development of agriculture.
Later it also
appears linked to the development of the role of financiers in the Middle
“Instead, we think that the Ashkenazi mutations have something to do
with Ashkenazi intelligence, and that they arose because of the unique
natural-selection pressures the members of this group faced in their role as
financiers in the European Middle Ages.”
Confusion lurks in this kind of language, which veers from explanatory
vagueness [“something to do with”, though without that “something” being
specified] to an arguable confusion of categories [“natural-selection 
pressures” with whatever non-natural selection pressures faced medieval 
financiers]. This
kind of language does not appear to clearly differentiate many distinct
entities that may hide under the same term: for example, those aspects of
“intelligence” that are based on W1 brains, those based on W2 mental processes,
and those that are based on W3 cultural knowledge. To take a simple example: an
aborigine who has the “intelligence” to extract water from a plant or animal
may have that “intelligence” as a result of their W3 cultural knowledge, and
not because their W1 brains or W2 mental processes are more developed than
non-aboriginals who would die of thirst because they lack this kind of
Popper’s distinctions between World 1, World 2 and World 3 embody a
theory which Popper would contend is true [not merely useful hermeneutically],
and any explanation that skates over these distinctions will not only be false
but also contain ‘category mistakes’: and these category mistakes may mean we
badly misinterpret ‘the evidence’.
For example, it might seem plausible to contend “that
mental capabilities are as subject to evolutionary effects as physical ones”.
But “evolutionary effects” [or perhaps “evolutionary affects”] is a term of
great explanatory vagueness – if we substitute “evolutionary effects” by the 
specific term “natural selection”, and replace “mental capabilities” with World
2, then the contention becomes “World 2 is as subject to natural selection as
(the biological) World 1”. It is not at all clear that such a contention is
true. Indeed it may simply reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of “natural 
the unit of selection for “natural selection” is the “gene” and this “gene” is
a purely W1 entity, so “natural selection” cannot operate directly on W2 –
“natural selection” can at most operate only indirectly on W2; indirectly 
insofar as this W2 is tied to W1 via the brain, and where the W1 brain is a
gene-regulated W1 organ, and where “natural selection” operates directly on
“genes” involved in regulating the brain.
There is an interesting digression that might be had here on
the term “meme”, introduced by Dawkins. A “meme” might seem to offer some
parallel to a “gene” – so that a “meme” becomes the unit of selection at a
cultural level as the “gene” is the unit of selection at a biological level.
But even Dawkins seems to have backed away from this, and even regrets the
term. For a much more profound and tenable attempt to link “natural selection”
at a biological level with “selection” at a cultural or W3 level, we might look
at Popper’s writings and the schema of ‘blind-variation-selective-retention’
that D.T. Campbell put at the heart of “Evolutionary Epistemology”. But in
Popper’s theory of knowledge there is no single unit of selection in W3 [i.e. 
no “meme”] corresponding to a
“gene” as a unit of selection in “natural selection”: rather there is a very
wide plurality of W3 “objects” on which we may exert conscious selection
pressures through our W2 critical activity. This kind of conscious selection
pressure through W2 critical activity may be seen as analogous to “natural
selection” in many ways, but it is not “natural selection” at all in Darwinian
terms and it is not gene-based selection either.
We must also sharply distinguish two theses:
(1) Increased intelligence may cause corresponding
(2) Mutations may cause corresponding increases in
Some of what is reported of H&C seems not to clearly distinguish
these very different ideas, and some (as above with medieval financiers) seems 
to endorse some version of (1). 
But (1) is false and anti-Darwinian: W2 does not cause W1
genomic mutations, and the W1 brain does not control mutations in any way –
mutations are essentially products of copying-mistakes, of mistakes in
replication. Mutations are not the product of conscious or unconscious W2 
or of W1 brain activity. 
Once a mutation has arisen, the question arises whether it
is favourable or unfavourable – and this question may encompass whether they
are favourable or unfavourable to “intelligence” either in terms of W2 or the
W1 brain, especially as increased “intelligence” may be adaptive. But this
question should not be confused with any suggestion that the process by which
mutations arise is governed by “intelligence” either in terms of W2 or the W1
brain: such a suggestion would appear to be a bogus and confused version of
“Intelligent Design”, except with the Designer no longer God but intelligent
(2) may be true and may be consistent with Darwinism:
clearly the growth of the human brain from the smaller brain of our distant
ancestors is, in Darwinian terms, a growth to be explained by ‘favourable’
genetic mutations. But “natural selection” here only operates directly on the
gene as the unit of selection – “natural selection” does not operate directly
on W2 or W3. And developments in W2 and W3 terms will not cause favourable
mutations (as per the fallacy at (1)): what developments in W2 and W3 terms may
do is lead to changes in the human ‘ecological niche’, and those changes may
change the “natural selection pressures” and thereby have an impact on which
genes are ‘selected’.
It is against this background that we can seek to look at
human history in a Darwinian way. So the shift from hunter-gatherer to farming
communities may have a role in explaining why mutations favouring increased 
were themselves favoured: the reproductive success of farming communities may
outstrip that of hunter-gatherers 
and farming may ‘select for’ greater over lesser
intelligence more than does hunting-gathering. So over time this shift
intensifies, via natural selection pressures pertaining to survival and
reproduction, selection against lesser intelligence and selection for greater
Many fascinating questions may be thrown up by our efforts
to historically reconstruct this shift and its impact: and these questions
include questions about its impact via gene-selection. But even questions as to
its impact via gene-selection must involve weighing and integrating the widest
spectrum of evidence – including evidence that points to the limits of its
impact via gene-selection. We must also weigh those arguments that suggest that
there are W2 and W3 developments that explain this shift without those W2 and
W3 developments themselves being reducible to gene-selection.
Postscript: the shift from hunter-gatherer to farming may be
a massive one with many kinds of impact, and one can easily imagine how it
increased selection pressures favouring intelligence (though it might also be
possible to reconstruct a version of hunter-gatherer existence that demands
more “intelligence” than some farming). But the idea that “something about”
medieval finance markedly altered gene-based selection pressures so as to favour
intelligence is, to me, much less intuitive: and, as explained above, it would
be merely an anti-Darwinian fallacy that the greater intelligence demanded by
medieval finance would produce genetic change as its by-product.
On Thursday, 22 May 2014, 20:14, Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:

Well, it wouldn't necessarily entail suppositions about the existence of 
European or Aztek gods. Humans might be worshiping true gods in false or 
superstitious or immoral ways.


On Thu, May 22, 2014 at 7:15 PM, Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

>>Auto de fe matches the definition as closely as can be>
>But does "closely" not come close to suggesting that the Europeans' God is 
just as much an ignorant superstition as the gods of human sacrifice?
>DnlJust testing
>On Tuesday, 20 May 2014, 19:53, Mike Geary <gearyservice@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
>Actually Geary agrees with Piet Hein on this issue when he wrote:
>Man's a kind of missing link
>fondly thinking he can think.
>Also, in line with Mister Hein, Geary shares this desire:  
>"I'd like to know  
>what this whole show 
>is all about 
>before it's out."  
>But whether I do or whether I don't, still I concur with Herr Hein when he 
>"I am the Universe's Centre.
>No subtle sceptics can confound me; 
>for how can other viewpoints enter, 
>when all the rest is all around me?"
>Mike "Grooky" Geary
>Heining out in Memphis
>n Tue, May 20, 2014 at 9:23 AM, Redacted sender Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx for DMARC 
><dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
>In a message dated 5/19/2014 4:45:53 P.M.  Eastern Daylight Time,
>>donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
>>Or have I missed  something?
>>Simple-minded Darwinist
>>Geary, who describes his self as a complex-minded Darwinist states that the
>> "Missing Link" will possibly remain Darwin's problem _for ever_ (at least
>>*for  Darwin*).
>>From Geary's "Darwiniana": "The term "missing link" is used to refer  back
>>to the originally static pre-evolutionary concept of the great chain of
>>being, a deist idea that all existence is linked, from the lowest dirt, 
>> the living kingdoms to angels and finally to God."
>>"The lowest dirt is possibly the origin of Godliness is next to
>>"The idea of all living things being linked through some sort of
>>transmutation process, however, predates Darwin's theory of evolution -- if  
>>it can be called, rather than 'mere hypothesis'."
>>"Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, to mention just one, envisioned that life is
>>generated in the form of the simplest creatures constantly, and then strive
>>towards complexity and perfection (i.e. humans) through a series of lower
>>"In Lamarck's view, lower animals were simply newcomers on the evolutionary
>> scene, as we may put it."
>>"After Darwin's On the Origin of Species, however, the idea of "lower
>>animals" representing earlier stages in evolution lingered, as demonstrated in
>>Ernst Haeckel's figure of the human pedigree."
>>"While the vertebrates were then seen as forming a sort of evolutionary
>>sequence, the various classes were distinct, the undiscovered intermediate
>>forms  being called "missing links"".
>>"And the expression stuck."
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