Just Merveilleux?

Life at № 42

In the land of zeros and ones- there are questions

Curiosity, hope and the constant impulse to compare ourselves- all part of the human evolutionary strategy. Doesn’t that mean we can whittle everything down into those terms? What follows is that most of what we experience (I mean all) is simply substitutory strategy. Our clothes, car, house, books, friends & sex partners are all zeros and ones for the ultimate end: survival/propagation/success of our subgroup.

We put most of our effort and energy into experiencing and analyzing what happens on the surface- which gives it undue importance.

How different does the world begin to look when we try to get to the core of things?

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67 comments on “In the land of zeros and ones- there are questions

  1. Tish Farrell
    April 15, 2017

    The inner life – the place where we truly grow if we are prepared to do the gardening 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. john zande
    April 16, 2017

    Macro-dosing?

    Liked by 3 people

  3. dpmonahan
    April 16, 2017

    There are two problems with reducing all human impulse to evolutionary drives, first that it attributes finality to evolution, second it is indistinguishable from a “just so” story, as in “Here is the story of how man evolved clothing… and it happened just so.”
    Some human realties are purely gratuitous. For example, human capacity for music is a result of semi-independent regions of the brain, all of which would seem to have evolved with other functions, but which end up being able to co-operate with one another to create something completely different. Music is a useless evolutionary side-product, what luck.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t think you understood what I meant.
      Non-finality is actually a driving force in this scenario. Our sense of and (subconscious) quest for immortality is part of the foundation of our drive.
      Music, like everything else we do, plays an ancillary role in the establishment of hierarchies. Hierarchies designed to show/prove which are the best methods of survival (read that as the illusion of *immortality*).
      This doesn’t reduce anything, it explains the drive(s) of the human animal.

      Liked by 1 person

      • dpmonahan
        April 16, 2017

        But music has nothing to do with survival of the species. Music is a social act, but its social functions are made up by humans. Humans would be musical, and would make music for its own sake, independently of any function of solidarity or competition, so you can’t “explain” music the way you are attempting.

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      • Your mistake is presuming social acts aren’t part of the evolutionary process. Something doesn’t have to be in itself important, but its role has to mean something in the grand scheme of things.

        Liked by 1 person

      • dpmonahan
        April 16, 2017

        Your mistake is thinking that because something may have a social significance that it is reducible to its social utility; that because we sometimes use song to build group cohesion then music is reducible to that function, when it isn’t.
        Unless you want to claim all art is propaganda.

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      • Building group cohesion, in some animals, is a productive strategy. That doesn’t “reduce” music to anything. It simply explains its role. Likewise, fine cuisine isn’t necessary, but eating is. It’s not an either/or situation.

        Your art comparison is nonsensical. The role of art is social. From expression, to cohesion or allegiance, to the establishment/identification of status. That last one being a major player in the evolutionary game. People want to interact with, breed with, be connected to, the most successful specimens in their group. Art, music, sports, these are just some of the measures of success we use. Not necessarily fair or accurate, and certainly not ethical according to modern standards, but what I’m talking about is the process- as it happens. If people like it or not doesn’t stop it from happening. Tall people with symmetrical faces are treated better than those without those characteristics for purely biological reasons.

        Liked by 1 person

      • dpmonahan
        April 17, 2017

        Do artists tend to have more children than non-artists? It doesn’t seem like it, so it is a lot of wasted energy, something we are told is evolutionarily bad.
        To sum up my opinion: the social functions of art are not the cause of art, neither on an evolutionary scale (where it is purely fortuitous), nor in human intentions (where art is done because it is beautiful / expressive.)

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      • You’re mixing up two different things. The evolution of a species isn’t limited to the individual reproductive factor. That’s why in one of the comments I gave the example of brood reduction where a firstborn eagle kills its sibling. That works as a technique for the species even if the second hatchling is sacrificed in the process.

        Other examples are the groupings of dolphins or meerkats (and the techniques they’ve developed to survive.)

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      • dpmonahan
        April 17, 2017

        You are mixing up attribute and cause. Art is social (attribute), it can be deployed for a social function (a possible use), but you suppose those are the final causes.

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      • LOL. Where in the world did I say that? I said, and repeat, that art or music fall into the category of socialization which plays a role in the success or failure of a species.
        You should do a bit more reading on evolutionary biology. Try Scott Forbes’ A Natural History of Families, it’s fascinating.
        http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8001.html

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      • Linn
        May 5, 2017

        Getting to this discussion a little late so I hope you’re ok with some necromancy.
        I partly agree with dpmonahan in that many of the evolutionary explanations are completely built on assumptions.

        For example, a lot of people like to compare human mating rituals with birds in these types of discussion. They often mention how many species have the male birds as more colourful in order to attract the females.
        Yet, in the discussions I’ve been in, everyone seems to forget that in many human cultures (including western culture), it’s often the women that dress up to attract men. Some women spend hours in the bathroom to make themselves more attractive while many men look like they just came out of bed. So clearly, human females can’t rely on being anonymous and bland to get a partner, like many birds can.
        And I haven’t even started on all the conservative christians that use examples of monogamous birds to state that humans evolved to be monogamous.

        Comparing human and birds mating rituals is an example of one of those “just so” stories that I see all the time.
        Many people also seem to forget homosexuality in such discussions, or make up another “just so” story about how homosexuals are nice to have as replacement parents.

        I saw you mention how baby eagles kick their siblings out of the nest, but you might as well talk about how many of us love or siblings and how that love is an evolutionary strategy. Countless humans have relied on their siblings to surivive, having a brother helping you hunt or a sister helping deliver your babies is damn useful after all (that’s another “just so” story by the way).
        You can choose to observe a few people who kill their siblings (or their parents, children, lovers etc) and compare us to baby eagles.
        Or you can choose to observe all the people that love and rely on their siblings and compare us to a more social species like wolves.
        That cherry picking is the whole problem.

        The only thing we can say for certain is that evolution is a fact, but we can’t really say much about how our ridiculously diverse behaviours evolved.
        I’m often being told that women have evolved to enjoy shopping for instance. I absolutely abhor shopping, so I guess that means I didn’t evolve?
        Or I’m not really a woman?

        Interesting discussion anyway. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t disagree with any of your points. I should have been more specific and used the term *natural selection* instead of the general term evolution (or key component/mechanics of evolution.)

        To take your example, it would mean not that a mating ritual is gender specific, but that a mating ritual exists with the means of reproduction. And the baby eagle example vs. the siblings hunting together example, those can in essence be (mathematically) represented by the same variable- which equates to survival. So strategies may change, but the goal remains 😉

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      • Linn
        May 5, 2017

        Thank you for your answer. I can see what you mean. I think I’m just a little tired in general over all the weird and misplaced evolutionary explanations out there. Some just seem to pick the culture and behaviour they want and say it represents all of mankind (or womankind).

        It does seem that everything can be reduced to survival, but even then, some people kill themselves. It’s easy for us to say that suicide represents a disease or an impairment of function, but it’s fascinating to wonder why so many people still kill themselves.
        A lot of other animals also kill themselves inadvertently (cattle running off a cliff during a stampede comes to mind), but I’m not sure if any besides humans do it purposefully.
        Since some of the other great apes can use tools it would be interesting to know if any of them have tried to kill themselves with those tools (those that can talk using sign language should also have expressed some suicidal thoughts by now).

        If not, it seems as if deliberate suicide is something that humans have evolved as part of our intelligence and knowledge of our own mortality. What does that say about our strategy of survival?

        Discussions like these get my mind working, which is a good thing.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Now I have to go look up animal suicide!!!

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      • I had a look through the literature on animal (including human) suicide. The numbers seem to be sufficiently small to be reasonably characterised as an exception to the “rule”- or at least an exception to the pattern 🙂

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  4. Clare Flourish
    April 16, 2017

    Our clothes, car, house etc…

    You’re an art historian. You didn’t mention paintings!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paintings (and art) are in a special category as, being superfluous, they represent the ultimate in the quest for substitutory representation.
      The excuse for silver cutlery could be its utilitarian purpose- but that can’t cover a painting 🙂

      Like

      • Clare Flourish
        April 16, 2017

        Yes. You surround yourself with beautiful things, and blog about them, and we appreciate them. Possibly we would kill ourselves under the burden of fear of the future, but for our capacity for delight, but I am not sure I could be clear about an evolutionary explanation of it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. But what’s behind my (and everyone else’s) pursuits? 😛

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      • tildeb
        April 16, 2017

        Your biology.

        Liked by 1 person

      • P.S. Would saying biological strategy be a better way of saying what I’m trying to say?

        Like

      • tildeb
        April 16, 2017

        Well, it’s this idea of goal or end (ultimate or not) that I think is misleading. It’s like presuming life as (or has) a destination vs it being an ongoing journey (that ends, or as Hitch would say, having to take leave of the party). Our biology is responsible for the means by which we travel and points out what it finds interesting, engaging, and meaningful but we can augment that to the nth degree by equipping ourselves with the best gear available. In this sense it may be a’strategy’ to equip one’s self as well as possible but that doesn’t determine the goal. As an art teacher once explained to me, you only get out of these experiences what you bring to it and I think the same is true for life.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You’re right, strategy doesn’t sound quite right. But there is a process whereby certain things fail and others succeed.
        There’s even a formula we can use to calculate the effect siblicide has on a brood’s reproductive success. So I know I’m reversing the analysis, but as it’s an identifiable pattern, isn’t a reverse analysis acceptable?

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      • tildeb
        April 17, 2017

        I don’t think we have enough information to do anything but engage in idle speculation. Everything in genetics is a fundamental cost/benefit product of energy vs fitness, which follows no aimed rules and can be both wasteful and an impediment for the individual (huge display feathers on a peacock, for example). This is why we find it useful to see these products, behaviours, traits, and so on simply through a fitness lens of the species and not the individual. And just because something lasts doesn’t mean it represents ‘success’ – as in obtaining an achievement – any more than a myopic condition in about 90% of Asians represents anything other than this interaction between genes and the environment over time that does not impede fitness.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Are we sure the myopic condition in Asians is evolution rather than environment?
        I’ve always looked at evolution as a matter of efficiency. And the techniques we develop as animals are a part of the equation. Bad techniques lead to bad results. Right? In practice, survival is success. Just look at how viruses transform themselves when we’re trying to find a way to stop them.

        Like

      • tildeb
        April 17, 2017

        Remember that when we’re talking about evolution, we’re talking about genetic inheritance. The mechanism is fitness, meaning reproductive ‘success’ into the second generation. So the modifying environmental aspect – epigenetics – is what is currently hotly debated. And framing efficiency is fine if and only if we understand that to mean fitness. So ‘bad’ results in evolutionary terms are measured across the entire species as a declining population in this framing.

        So when we talk about social expressions of behaviours – like art, for example – how do we put this inside the genetic framing?

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a very narrow reading though, isn’t it?
        If reproductive success can mean the sacrifice of defective offspring, as with dolphins, then we have to accept the the whole organization of a group (from leader to follower, to outsider) plays a role in the process.
        So art isn’t just art, it’s both technique and measure.

        Like

      • tildeb
        April 17, 2017

        I would say art is an emergent property. I really don’t know how one could link it directly to evolution without making up a Just So story.

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      • Well, not specifically; *unless* we draw out detailed schematics for behavioural ecology. I think in that context we can in all likelihood assign art a value/variable in a reasonably clear way. We’d just have to break it down and grid it according to the effects of each particular discipline.

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      • tildeb
        April 17, 2017

        Assigning ‘art’ a variable is easy. Defining what that term encompasses is hard and then linking it to that field to its genetic source I don’t think is productive or predictive. Just differentiating craft from art is nigh on impossible.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not sure. I imagine we can break it down. The problem with using the word art is that’s too broad- but we can certainly single out communication skills, ability to draw attention; but I think the most important factor is probably ability to achieve proficiency in a given field. Humans celebrate and admire art that falls into very specific categories. The enjoyment of certain types of music implies tribe. The same is true of visual arts. So art is a tool. Like fighting is a tool. Or nest-making abilities.
        Have a look at this: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s8001.html

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      • What did you think?

        Like

      • tildeb
        April 18, 2017

        The gist seemed to be surprise that families were not necessarily geared to raising the most number of young, as if this failure to be kind and nurturing should be unexpected in parents. But it doesn’t take much to become a parent; all it requires is the right conditions to conceive. After that, all bets are off and fitness does its thing.

        So this surprise seems to me to go back again to expecting fitness to be goal directed… so, again, let me say it isn’t. It is completely unguided. Our biology equips us to be sexual beings. Our biology forces us into the role of parents post partum. There is no overarching strategy or goal for every individual to use this drive towards expanding the species or even being good parents. But throughout the population, there will be enough drive to reproduce into the second generation and these are the allele frequencies that matter.

        So I’m not sure in what sense you thought the link would be explanatory in some way.

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      • It demonstrates the process goes beyond reproduction itself. All of the examples given are in fact survival techniques. Strategies that optimize group survival.
        It’s most obvious in humans because we’ve created a whole mythology to underpin survival, starting with the delusion of the automatically *good* parent.

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      • It demonstrates the process goes beyond reproduction itself. All of the examples given are in fact survival techniques. Strategies that optimize group survival.
        It’s most obvious in humans because we’ve created a whole mythology to underpin survival, starting with the delusion of the automatically *good* family.

        Like

      • …just thinking aloud…
        Consider the social change in acceptance of the “Nerd”. In the past his genes weren’t useful to the social organization. Now that the world is going in a different direction, his genes are suddenly not automatically rejected. So it’s not that the nerd is better than the jock, but didn’t a process of optimization occur in the shift?

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      • tildeb
        April 17, 2017

        Except I know lots of nerds who are jocks and vice versa… both male and female. So unless you can show a genetic source for ‘nerd”ism that can be selected, I still think this evolutionary framing is not very productive.

        Like

      • You’re using a modern definition of nerd. I’m using the old one:

        Like

  5. Hariod Brawn
    April 16, 2017

    What do you mean by ‘the core of things’, Pink? Are you pointing to identity, which is yet another amorphous and flux-like product of mentation — a narrative stream?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d say animalistic identity. The primal motivators.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hariod Brawn
        April 16, 2017

        Is desire and aversion too simplistic?

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s part of it, but I want a more complete vision. A clarification on what’s behind desire and aversion (and indifference).
        I’m thinking, in particular, of the motivation behind things over which there’s great disagreement- and also the specific role these things had in the development of man.
        For example: Is discrimination an evolutionary strategy? Rather than just what we see on the surface (mean-spirited ignorance.)

        Like

      • Hariod Brawn
        April 16, 2017

        It sounds like you may be talking about things prior to conscious thought, such as the predispositions of the limbic system: our felt intuitions about things? I think these predispositions can give rise to conscious disagreement (conflict) both within ourselves and with others, yet we remain uncertain as to why we’re so attached to our own positions, why we cling to them so rigidly.

        A fascinating Hungarian chap called Zoltan Torey developed a theory as to how we make choices prior to conscious volition — as largely proven by Benjamin Libet’s Time-On Theory and his experiments in the 70s. We deceive ourselves into believing that short-term (snap) decisions are still conscious volitions, yet they’re not — there’s something like a 400msec timing difference between the neural events that activate the motor action and one’s awareness of the apparent conscious decision to do so. In other words, these short-term actions (such as flaring up in disagreement) are all initiated prior to consciousness and (according to Torey) are driven by predispositions felt in the limbic system.

        You wonder what the role might be of these felt predispositions. A short answer could be to think in terms of online and offline processing. Conscious thought allows us to take scenarios offline, meaning they’re no longer driven by real-time imperatives (i.e. what’s happening in the immediate environment). And yet those real-time imperatives still need to be accommodated for survival and functioning purposes. So, we have parallel handling — online and offline — but appear to be ‘driving’ our lives purely in and by consciousness (which is a serial processing), and which is quite often the offline processing.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for all of that. I’d never heard of Libet, so now down the rabbit hole to find out!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. tildeb
    April 16, 2017

    Evolutionary drives?

    Remember, evolution is an unguided natural process that awards fitness over time with increased allele frequencies. What persists through inheritance are traits that have been shaped by natural selection. So, what hasn’t been eliminated by natural selection we can reasonably expect should have some benefit to this fitness.

    It is a misconception to switch this order around and say that what has survived means that these traits – such as “curiosity, hope and the constant impulse to compare ourselves” – therefore are “part of the human evolutionary strategy.”

    There is no strategy. The process of inheritance is not a strategy; it’s a biological function. That’s the core… an unthinking, unguided, chemical process of gene reproduction.

    From this biology comes astounding complexity expressed millions of different ways through emergent properties. The emergent properties themselves do not necessarily have any direct function in terms of fitness but may be a common offshoot of something that does.

    For example, consider pattern recognition, a biological function to extend awareness into the environment and predict agency that increases the reproduction of these responsible genes. We pay attention to patterns. That doesn’t mean paying attention to Bach with greater attention and duration and pleasure than church bells or wind chimes increases fitness for the listener; Nor does it mean the sounds produced are themselves of greater or lesser evolutionary value; music is a pattern bomb that activates all kinds of neural circuitry involved with pattern recognition and piggybacks on this evolutionary trait. In addition, paying attention to music can also stimulate chemical secretions that enhance pleasure and reduce physical discomfort. But some people are rewarded through arousal and so pay more attention to patterns that increase this state… even in music. Think Heavy Metal.

    My biology may favour paying attention to aural more than visual patterns. Yours may favour visual more than tactile. Mike’s may favour some other combination entirely. And so on. Groups of people should represent a kind of super-organism with increased pattern recognition we call specialization – an emergent property –
    that can favour increased rates of fitness overall versus a larger organized and authoritarian social organism that tries to control which one – if any – is politically acceptable or pleasing to God or too bourgeois to be supported while, at the same time, installing social behaviour to favour increased fitness for the select group.

    This is why it’s really important to understand the order by which evolution occurs before we start trying to extract meaning from this unguided agency-less process. .

    Liked by 2 people

    • I should have chosen my words more carefully. In the unguided process, the “guide” is success 😀
      As for strategy what I mean is: In the case of baby black eagles, for example, the firstborn will invariably peck at the second until it’s dead. I’m not sure what word I should use in this case to describe the process?

      Like

  7. keithnoback
    April 16, 2017

    A subtle reversal: we start with our experience, and we cannot ‘step outside ourselves’ to fully analyze our experience.
    Theoretical explanations (right down to basic explanations formulated in language) will always be slightly incomplete.
    I think that’s what underlies the suspicion which DP is expressing

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Steve Ruis
    April 17, 2017

    On Sat, Apr 15, 2017 at 2:29 PM, Just Merveilleux wrote:

    > The Pink Agendist, née Mr. Merveilleux posted: ” Curiosity, hope and the > constant impulse to compare ourselves- all part of the human evolutionary > strategy. Doesn’t that mean we can whittle everything down into those > terms? What follows is that most of what we experience (I mean all) > is simply subst” >

    Like

  9. Steve Ruis
    April 17, 2017

    Sorry I was trying to attach a cartoon here … and failed.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I never wonder, “What is the meaning of life?” or even, “What is my existential being?” I never saw the point in such deep reflection, invariably I will come up short in comparison to others, and invariably I will resort to comparing; comparing myself to others more accomplished and comparing myself to others who have accomplished less in life (insert your own meaning into the word ‘accomplished’).

    I never see the point, these reflections I “think” come from a place of unhappiness, loneliness, and I don’t want to be unhappy or lonely, so I redirect my efforts away from myself and into efforts to change the world, make the world, or I should say mainly humanity in my case, a better place. When I am busy I think not much of my life, how am I doing, but more towards how is the world doing.

    Oh sure we all have regrets, in hindsight we look back at our life and see how we were incredibly lucky considering some of the stupid and rarely even shameful things we did, we were lucky that we turned out as well as we did, that we survived even. I push those thoughts aside when they occasionally rear their head and instead of worrying about fixing myself I put my efforts into changing the world/humanity for the better. I’m fine with my imperfections and trust me I know what they are :-‘) I don’t see deep reflection as ever coming out good for me so I just don’t do them, ha-ha-ha if that makes me shallow, I don’t think of it that way, I think it is a pragmatic view of life.
    Screw up-Learn-Move on-Try not to screw up again. The older I get the less I screw up.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think your method is much healthier than mine! I can easily spend nights awake with my mind going like a pinball machine.

      Like

      • Most of what you write I really enjoy reading. It is fun to tag along on your investment & home projects. But what I really enjoy the MOST is when you are fighting for a cause, you are in fact an excellent fighter.

        Now don’t laugh but I recently discovered bluetooth speakers. I find if I use a blootooth speaker on my bedside table and turn the volume down very low that I can listen to a story, a recording and my husband is still able to sleep. This eliminates the headphones which is really hard to wear while laying on the bed pillow. So yes, me too I have what I call sleepless nights, a good audio book is enough for me to break away from what is keeping me up and stop those thoughts, I get into a story instead. And I have a couple to recommend for you, the first one is their newest,
        https://stownpodcast.org/

        Sometimes comments get blocked if they have to many links, so I’ll just leave this one and come back later for others. Many times I’m up all night listening to a story, I don’t watch TV or watch movies hardly ever. Sleep well my friend.

        Liked by 1 person

      • If there’s anything stimulating at all, even a light under the door, I don’t fall asleep. My mind really gets going…

        Like

  11. theoccasionalman
    May 3, 2017

    I’ve been thinking of my own body in terms of evolutionary advantages — low bone density, long legs, short torso, small frame all mean that I’m built to run away from predators instead of fighting them. But then, what about the slower metabolism in my thirties, and the way that my hair is turning coarse and white? Evolutionary advantage only lasts as long as it takes to procreate. Having produced three children who will probably live to maturity, I’ve won the evolutionary competition. But the important traits manifest themselves before the traditional age of begetting, and what my body does now has little to do with helping the species survive. Unless the survival of the species depends on people dying at forty, and I choose not to believe that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “This change in body composition not only causes men to shop for more comfortable trousers but also facilitates increased survivorship and, hypothetically, a hormonal milieu that would more effectively promote and support paternal investment,” Bribiescas explained in his book, How Men Age: What Evolution Reveals About Male Health and Mortality.

      Like

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This entry was posted on April 15, 2017 by in thinking aloud and tagged , , , .
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