I'm thrilled! Someone from the humanities, using the methods of the humanities, illustrates how practitioners of the humanities can find new meaning through a radical joining of art and science. Along the way Dr. Alexander lays out her prescription for the meaning of evolution. This is a wonderful example of what this site was set up for, to celebrate and encourage new thinking in evolution. Review.
As compensation for hosting this site I am including my own account of evolution in this site's “Classic Reviews” section. As far as I know mine is the first serious attempt to account for how creativity and consciousness could have evolved. My goal: “I would like artists and humanists to have available theories of evolution such as mine that can account for creativity, in us and in nature.” This focus on creativity sets me outside the reach of scientific methods. More...
Dawkins' insight can be summed up in two new terms—replicators, and vehicles. “Replicator” stands for are whatever it is natural selection works on to drive evolution. Vehicles are whatever the replicators reside in. Us, for example. In a single generation what natural selection selects for is the more successful individuals, but over vast numbers of generations it is the replicators within us, that account for our success, that natural selection picks out and judges for success in replicating.
Does Dawkins make a value-judgment between replicators and vehicles? “…when you are actually challenged to think of pre-Darwinian answers to the questions ‘What is man?’ ‘Is there a meaning to life?’ ‘What are we for?’, can you, as a matter of fact, think of any that are not now worthless except for their (considerable) historic interest? There is such a thing as being just plain wrong, and that is what, before 1859, all answers to those questions were…. It requires a deliberate mental effort to turn biology the right way up again, and remind ourselves that the replicators come first, in importance as well as in history…. Their preservation is the ultimate rationale of our existence.” More...
Even as long ago as 1802 there were enough atheists denying the Creator credit for the wonders built into its creatures for William Paley to feel impelled to come up with an entire book-full of examples. The effect is mighty impressive and I think hard to dismiss.
Of course you want me to give you some examples. But I won’t. The whole point is not any one example being unusually apt but how many there are. More...
Lines are being drawn. Positions are being taken. Denis Noble has flung down the gauntlet. Neo-Darwinism no longer has the field to itself. Lamarckism is back.
I am pleased to have Denis Noble's permission to summarize a recent article of his. “The language of neo-Darwinism and 20th century biology reflect highly reductionist philosophical and scientific viewpoints, the concepts of which are not required by the scientific discoveries themselves.” These concepts form “a biased interpretative veneer that can hide those discoveries in a web of interpretation. I refer to a web of interpretation as it is the whole conceptual scheme of new-Darwinism that creates the difficulty. Each concept and metaphor reinforces the overall mindset until it is almost impossible to stand outside it and appreciate how beguiling it is.” More...
I have added Noble’s book to my list of classic texts for several reasons. First, for its focus on organisms as wholes. Second, for modeling how to apply the methods of the humanities to thinking about evolution. Third, for Noble’s standing as an experimental physiologist and as one of the pioneers of systems biology. More...
The rise of modern genetics banished from evolutionary thinking the contributions of such seminal figures as Samuel Butler, William Bateson and Teilhard de Chardin. Later in the 20th century Gregory Bateson, William’s son, tried to revive them. Unfortunately, the result is an almost impenetrably tangled muddle. Still, as a recent representative of that alternative tradition I thought his book qualified for review as a classic. Review here.
How many selfs do we have? Kahneman points out that we each have at least two. One is the “experiencing” self that experiences the present moment. The other, the “remembering” self, provides us with access to memories of past present-moment experiences.
So obvious, so banal. Except… I’m astonished how this simple distinction can induce so much illumination. More...
“It has become a stereotype accepted almost without thought, without question--and remains unexamined. ‘Science says’ it seems, that life and man are ‘random’ results of an ‘accident’ in ‘chemistry’. And although this contradicts all that we know of the world and ourselves, it remains the only philosophy of life that seems to be upheld by the one remaining authority in the modern world, science… Week after week one is reminded by chance remarks in publications that many people accept a certain attitude to life, a metaphysic, coming across to the humanities from science, that can only be menacing to any sense that life can have meaning. I hope this explains how an English specialist came to adventure into debate on evolutionary theory—for the grounds of the myth are in Darwinism.” Most of Holbrook's book is commentary on the writings of others, but at the beginning and the end he draws on his own experiences of the relation of the humanities to evolutionary theory. Full review.
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Brief youtube video
introduction to the play,
"What it Means We