What evolution does not do

May 17, 2022

Of course evolution does not actually do anything.

Evolution is not causative. It is a label for the effects we see of other factors which effect survival and reproduction. I dislike the description of evolution being as a result of natural selection. Strictly, it is never about selection but always a result of deselection of those not able to survive. The primary “force” which gives evolution is the dying of the unfit. It is not the survival of the fittest but the survival of the good enough. When it is said that some creature is perfectly suited to its environment what is actually meant is that all others not suited to that environment failed to survive. More than 99% of all species that ever existed are now extinct. We cannot, I think, apply value judgements of “good” or “bad” to the result. It is not correct to even apply the terms “natural” or “unnatural” or “artificial” about the word evolution. The evolution of species in general or any species in particular has always been without direction and without purpose. But it could be that the human species is the first which may be able to introduce an element of purpose and direction to its own future course. Whether this direction can encompass “good” behaviour is still in the realm of fantasy.

It seems to me that the human definition of “good behaviour” has not changed very much in the last 10,000 years. The golden rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) probably became a golden rule whenever it was that our ancestors began cooperating in a serious way and built societies which were larger than the immediate family group. It seems plausible that this value judgement for “good behaviour” begins with the first establishment of clans or tribes. That takes us back at least 50,000 years and maybe even longer. Certainly it goes back to long before the first establishment of permanent settlements and cities (c. 10,000 years ago). But whenever it was that humans developed this value judgement for “good behaviour”, it does not seem to have been much favoured by the forces resulting in evolution.

Clearly some behavioural patterns do impact survival and reproduction and therefore must have some impact on the evolutionary result. Tribes and clans not inclined to cooperate went extinct long ago. Cultures where members did not specialise and cooperate, stagnated and gradually disappeared. The levels of specialisation and cooperation in today’s global society have reached unprecedented levels. If behaviour is to be selected/deselected for then it can only happen to the extent that behaviour is an inherited trait. Moreover, it can only be implemented by the continuous deselection of unwanted behaviour and selection of desired behaviour. That behaviour does have a genetic component is almost certain and that genes are mainly inherited is also certain. Breeding for emotional or behavioural traits is still a very chancy business. Domesticated animals, and even wolves and foxes, have been artificially bred for traits other than the purely physiological. This has involved “deselection” for some emotional traits (aggression for example) or to “select” for others (courage, tolerance of humans, ….). Individuals having desired traits are allowed to breed and those having undesirable traits are not allowed to reproduce. This ensures the passing on of genes. But from genes to behaviour is a very fuzzy step.

“Bad behaviour” is as prevalent today as it was in pre-history. “Bad behaviour” clearly is not deselected by “natural” evolutionary forces. “Good behaviour” is not selected for either. The propensity for violence, aggression and, generally, doing harm to others – albeit by a minority – has not changed much since ancient times. The only possible conclusion is that being “good” or “bad” does not lead to the evolutionary selection – or deselection – of a behavioural trait. What evolution certainly does not do is to choose between “good” and “bad”.

The persistence of bad behaviour through the ages suggests that it may even have some survival value.


Taking credit for your ancestors

May 14, 2022

I am always rather amused when people in the now try and bask in the past glories (usually exaggerated and always presumed) of their ancestors. Especially when someone claims descent from some very famous person. As if they chose them. To be proud of a famous father or grandfather is perfectly reasonable but to claim credit in the now for their deeds in the past is illogical. To claim credit for ancestors even further back in time verges on the ridiculous.

I find it especially silly when someone proudly declaims an ancestor’s presumed qualities or famous deeds and misses that they themselves suffer by comparison. I am equally unimpressed when someone proudly claims a long line of descent. Every single one of the 7.3 billion alive today (poor-man, rich-man, beggar-man, thief) has exactly the same number of ancestors as everyone else. One can now bask not only in famous ancestors but even in their past shame or misery. Nowadays it has  become fashionable to try and gain “victimhood credits” for the sufferings and failings of long-gone ancestors. Entitlement culture has now given us “victimhood privilege” as a new phenomenon of the 21st century.

Nationalist groups in many countries who are insecure about their own identities often bask in the presumed past glories of ancient civilizations. The one common feature of all these “great civilizations is, of course, that they all failed. It applies to all the classical “great civilizations” in Egypt, China, India, Greece and Rome. Some lasted much longer than others but they all eventually collapsed. Civilizations and societies which succumbed to others gives rise to claims of current victimhood credits for the sufferings and the failings of their ancestors. To be descended from the Phoenicians or the Mayans or Aztecs is now creditable in the now. To be descended from slaves of 200 years ago or from the colonised 500 years ago allows victimhood credits to be claimed in the present. Nowadays, in India, the Hindu right tries to take credit for the exaggerated, and often quite dubious, wonders of past “golden ages”, some two or five (or even ten!) thousand years ago. Never mind that the “golden ages” collapsed due to their own stresses, faults and imperfections. Never mind that the “golden ages” were always followed by millennia of “dark and dismal ages”. Never mind that glorious ages were followed by inglorious times because the glorious ages all led to decadence and depravity. Never mind that the “dark ages” and their misery were a direct consequence of the preceding “golden ages”,

Every person alive today had some ancestor who was a thief, a murderer, a cheat, a ruler or a slave. That includes every claimed descendant of Genghis Khan (40 generations) or Confucius (80 generations), and every current member of any “aristocracy” or “royal lineage” (the Norwegian House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg from 1106 CE is probably the oldest recorded). There is nobody alive today who can even presume to trace a direct line of descent for more than about 40 generations. Even the most detailed line of descent leaves out more ancestors than are included. In practice nobody has a record of all their ancestors for more than about 10 generations and very few for more than 5. And if we want to go back to the heyday of ancient Greece (500 BCE) we would need 125 generations. And to reach back to the first cities ever we would need 500 – 600 generations. Modern humans started around 10,000 generations ago.

Every person alive today has more ancestors who were quite ordinary and forgettable than famous ones. There are more villains in each person’s ancestry than there are “good guys”. Basking in the fame or the shame of ancestors is about as silly as the human mind allows. There is no person alive today who does not have an ancestor who was an illiterate, speechless, murderous, selfish, tree-swinging ape.


A strategy for Wordle 7

May 12, 2022

I am very new to Wordle and only started playing last week. The greatest challenges I found with Wordle 5 and 6 were the use of American spellings and the seemingly arbitrary conjoining of two words to create “words” which I would not consider to be single words.

Wordle 5 and 6 did not seem too taxing and soon got boring. Wordle 7 is now keeping me engaged for longer than 5 or 6 did. The “strategy” I have evolved is to use the same 3 starting words (entirely by trial and error) to cover as many letters of the alphabet as possible. The last 3 attempts seem to then be sufficient to find the hidden word in most cases. But I am still not happy with two word combinations being elevated to be taken as single words. (website, manhole ….). Smacks of cheating.

I only started with Wordle 7 this week. I am sure there must be better words but the three I have ended up using – again by trial and error – are:

THREADS

LOUNGER or LOUNGES

PRIVACY

So far so good. The success rate has come up to about 75% 95% (and most failures are on my unfamiliarity with American usage and Americanisms).

My three chosen words cover 17 letters. I now need to find three better starting words perhaps covering 18 or 19 letters of the alphabet. 


On the paradox of purpose and veracity in histories

May 11, 2022

I find that all our histories have one of only two purposes. The first is to satisfy the intellectual need to know and the second is the desire to influence future behaviour. The first is part of epistemic curiosity and the second is just politics. All histories are, of course, stories about the past. All histories consist of a selection of “facts” and a narrative (always speculative to some degree) connecting the chosen “facts”. Much of the study of history as an academic discipline (whether archaeology or genetics or anthropology ….) is about the selection and justification of what is to be considered “fact”. It is never, and can never be, “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”.

Two purposes seems also to be the academic view though with slightly different labels.

In a discussion of the History Manifesto in 2015 Prof. Johann Neem wrote

Underlying the entire conversation was a tension between the two purposes of history, the philosophical or scientific, and the civic. The philosophical or scientific perspective considers the pursuit of historical truth to be of highest value. Like any organized scientific activity, historical research is corrupted when oriented to immediate public ends. Its public value ultimately depends on its autonomy.

The civic purpose of history, on the other hand, is to help a community—a nation, a religious or ethnic group—understand the present in ways that orient that group to the future. The questions asked, and the answers offered, will be ones relevant to the community at large rather than a scholarly community of inquiry.

We need both; in fact the civic depends on the scientific if history is to avoid becoming propaganda or having the preferences of the reading public drive the discipline’s priorities. Before historians can engage the public, they need good knowledge, and thus basic research.

What Neem calls “philosophical or scientific” purpose is just epistemic curiosity and what he calls the “civic” purpose boils down to politics. All epistemic curiosity in humans is ultimately just idle curiosity,

From my book Before Time Began (in preparation)

And then there is intellectual curiosity – epistemic curiosity. This only comes into play (a la Maslow) once basic survival needs are met. A recognizable brain is needed. It is the exercise of mind which epitomizes being an individual. Whereas perceptual curiosity is the drive to know enough to ensure survival, epistemic curiosity is the drive to know more. It seeks knowledge for the sake of knowledge. It gives us pleasure. It fuels study and learning and the accumulation of knowledge for its own sake. It gives us science and art. It drives language and literature and music and the other higher-order needs for self-actualization. It drives gossip and it drives play. ……….. Epistemic curiosity lies on an open-ended scale. It can never be satiated and we remain curious no matter what we discover. We are even curious about why we are curious. ………..

Epistemic curiosity, one could say, is the curiosity of idle minds.

Of these two purposes, one is a search for knowledge (truths) and is an end in itself. The other, the civic, political purpose, is as a tool for some other agenda. The curious thing is that whereas the veracity demanded by curiosity is absolute (since truths are needed to be considered knowledge) the use of history as a tool to influence future behaviour requires only perceived veracity. The use of a story about the past as a tool only works if others (those whose behaviour is to be influenced) perceive the history to be true. The actual truth value of the story may even be zero as long as the perceived veracity is high. A complete fiction becomes a history if it is perceived to be true.

Thus, actual veracity is irrelevant in a history to be used for social purposes. Only the perceived veracity matters. Actual veracity – the truth – is relevant only in satisfying epistemic curiosity.

When the purpose has no impact the truth is sought assiduously. Where the purpose is to have an impact, the actual truth is irrelevant and only perceived truth matters.

Perhaps it is just my cynicism but I find this somewhat of a paradox.


Mothers by the numbers

May 8, 2022

Mother’s Day today.

Estimates for May 2022

World population                     7.9 billion

World female population         3.92 billion

Number of mothers                  2.1 billion

Around 27% of the global population are mothers, (or one could say that about half of all the females in the world are mothers).


 


IPL 2022 – Only 6 teams left with a real chance

May 5, 2022

We are at the sharp end of the IPL.

10 teams. 14 matches each. 

70 matches in total before the play-offs. (We are now at match 50 later today).

The arithmetic is straightforward. A total of 140 points to be played for. In theory every team could win seven matches and end up with 14 points with everything to be decided by net run rate. In any event, net run rate will be needed to determine the final four. The fight for fourth place could well involve 3 – 4 teams on the same number of points.

Gujarat Titans have qualified with aplomb and Mumbai Indians are humiliatingly eliminated I think. I don’t think DC, KKR or CSK will make it either and that leaves 6 teams with a chance to make the play-offs. A number of the “young” captains have not excelled. Pant, Shreyas Iyer and Jadeja have been found wanting.

The most outstanding, match-winning performance so far was in match 14 on 6th April with Pat Cummins’ 50 off just 14 balls as he blasted Kolkata Knight Riders to a 5 wicket win over Mumbai Indians.

My take on the current status. 

 

 


 

“Good conduct” is not an evolutionary survival trait

May 4, 2022

What passes for “good conduct” today is not so very different to what it was at least 5,000 years ago. It is very probable that it has not changed very much for much longer than that. To lie, to rob, to cheat, to harm, to murder and to rebel against established societal authority have all been considered “bad conduct” in human societies from long before recorded history is available. The earliest known codes of laws go back to Babylonian (Hammurabi -1800 BCE) and even to Sumerian times (Urukagina – 2400 BCE). Codes of conduct can be inferred to even earlier times with the beginnings of Dharma in the pre-Hindu Indus-Saraswati Valley, in ancient Egypt and in ancient China. 

Code of Hammurabi

Definitions of what constitutes “good conduct” must originate with the earliest societies of hunter gatherers and must therefore precede the spread of farming, the growth of cities and even the beginnings of semi-permanent settlements at the end of the last ice age (c. 12,000 years ago). It is not unreasonable that the Golden Rule (Do to others as you would have them do to you) emerged as a core definer of good conduct around 40 – 50,000 years ago. 

50,000 years is not insignificant in evolutionary time. For humankind it represents around 2,500 generations of natural selection. But our conduct has not improved. Evolutionary changes can be observed in humans and they are not small. All the races we identify today have emerged in that time. The changes are continuing but it is not apparent over our short lifetimes as to what the future holds for us. The changes are sufficient that it is not very likely that a human from 50,000 years ago would be able to breed successfully with a human from today.

Wikipedia – Human traits that (have) emerged recently include the ability to free-dive for long periods of time, adaptations for living in high altitudes where oxygen concentrations are low, resistance to contagious diseases (such as malaria), light skin, blue eyes, lactase persistence (or the ability to digest milk after weaning), lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, retention of the median artery, reduced prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease, lower susceptibility to diabetes, genetic longevity, shrinking brain sizes, and changes in the timing of menarche and menopause.

Humans are the only species which has shown the capability of interfering with the conditions determining natural selection. We started neutralising the effects of environment on us when we built shelters and gained control over fire. We now create our own bubbles in which we live and nullify the impact that climate and weather once had on natural selection. We use technology to minimise the impact of natural disasters on the evolution of our kind. Of course, the greatest impact humans have had on natural selection has come in the last 200 years or so with the great advances of medical knowledge. Being weak – mentally or physically – is no longer a de-selector for survival and reproduction. Natural selection no longer favours the “fittest”. Choice of mates is no longer (entirely) based on physical superiority. We deselect some characteristics before birth (Down’s Syndrome). Whether we admit to it or not, we employ a kind of eugenics by default. We have begun artificial selection (AI) though we are not quite sure what we are selecting for.

But it is not at all obvious that “good conduct” is any more prevalent among humans today than it was 50,000 years ago. We continue to lie, cheat, do harm, murder and flout established authority. As individuals we do so utilising the most advanced technologies available to humankind, always one step ahead of the established authorities. No doubt there is a genetic component to “good conduct”, but natural selection has not found any benefit in promoting it. In today’s age of entitlements, survival and reproduction by transgressors is actually protected. The genetic components of “bad conduct” are given a protected status. As societies we continue to war on each other for quite frivolous reasons with the most wonderful new weapons. In fact weapons production leads many technology advances – as it always has done.

The inescapable conclusion I come to is that “good conduct” is not a survival trait and has no impact whatsoever on the evolution of the species. In fact, “bad conduct” may well be preferred by the selection forces we have now brought into play. What evolution will result in remains to be seen. But it is highly probable that our conduct will not be any better than it is now. There is a chance it could be much worse.


When the tree falls in the forest, the sound is only due to language

May 1, 2022

The classic, cliched question goes:

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

The non-philosophical part of question is easily answered.

  • If a tree falls within an extant medium, and
  • there is consequent vibration within that medium, and
  • there is an organ which can detect such vibrations, and
  • the organ generates impulses, and
  • it sends these impulses to a brain, and
  • that brain interprets the impulses as something the brain itself labels as sound, then
  • there will be sound.

If the tree fell in a vacuum there would be no vibration of anything. No medium, no sound. No ear, no sound. No brain. no sound. In fact, if we did not have ears connected to our brains our language would be unable to come up with words for ears, hearing or sound. If we had no word for sound then there might well be vibrations when the tree fell, but there would be no sound. The non-philosophical answer then becomes that if we had no word in language for sound then there would be no sound. When a dog or a bat detects vibrations at frequencies that our ears cannot detect then such signals never reach our brains to ever be classified in our language as sound. What an animal might interpret in its brain when its ears detect signals is whatever that animal interprets it or labels it to be.  Only if we define the word sound to loosely mean what any brain may interpret on receiving signals from any ear-like organ, could we say that the animal discerns sound.

The philosophical part of the question, however, which considers perception, observation and existence is much more interesting. There are many things we cannot directly experience with our limited senses. But we can infer and/or deduce that they exist by their interactions with other things giving changes which we can observe directly. We extend our senses by creating wonderful instruments which then produce changes observable directly by our traditional senses. We “see” in the ultraviolet or the infra-red only because our cameras convert these UV or IR signals into images that do fall within our visible range.

But what of all that we cannot observe, directly or indirectly, by our limited senses and our finite brains? Is it so that if something cannot be observed, cannot be perceived, cannot be inferred to exist by any interaction it has with anything else in this universe, then it does not exist? Or is it merely that we are ignorant of its existence? Philosophy is, of course, about asking unanswerable questions. Once a question can be answered it leaves the field of philosophy.

Take bongism for example. We cannot observe it, perceive it, infer it or deduce it. It has no known interactions with anything else in this universe. But it is the imbalance in bongism which caused all existence in the first place. It is the answer to the question “Why do things exist at all?”.

Does bongism exist?

It must do, since I have a word for it.


Banning what is not illegal is what? immoral/unethical/ stupid/ clever/ ……

April 27, 2022

We live in forbidding times.

The 20th century in a sociological sense will be looked back upon as a time when fear – and many undue fears – governed society. It is remarkable that it is so called “liberal” societies who have the greatest overabundance of legislation banning things. Authoritarian societies start with the default position that everything is forbidden unless explicitly allowed. Liberal societies pretend to start with the position that everything is allowed unless explicitly banned. And what is banned is then driven by cowardice in an atmosphere of fear. They then generate a mountain of legislation to ban what cannot be done, said, written, eaten, or worshipped. Legislation bans some from being parents and takes their children away. Dogs are not allowed to run free and people are banned from politically “incorrect” behaviour. Bakers are not allowed to reject unwelcome customers. To give offense is banned. Sellers are forced to sell to unwelcome buyers. Feelings are not allowed to be hurt. Snowflakes melt. Safe spaces are created in which the sanctimony virus is nurtured. Most so-called liberal states have become Nanny states. There is more suppression of individuality today in so-called liberal states than in many dictatorships.

If some behaviour is not banned it is clearly not illegal even if not specifically being identified as being legal. Many companies and organisations ban behaviour and actions which are not banned by legislation. They go well beyond the legislative limits of what is not allowed in law to restrict their own employees or their customers or their users. It is obvious overreach.

But is the overreach illegal? or just immoral or unethical? or just “contrary to the will of the people”.

“Don’t walk on the grass”, “Don’t eat here”, no beer at a football match, keep your dog on a leash, no loudspeakers , and so on, are some of the more innocuous examples. Of course “free speech” does not actually exist – anywhere. It is “cabined, cribbed, confined” by legislation and extra-legal sanctimony. But overreach is overreach and some of it is vicious. The social media groups such as Facebook and Twitter are cases in point. They have taken it upon themselves to become moral police. They ban posts which clearly are not in contravention of any legislation in accordance with their own view of what is acceptable. They go further and, arbitrarily and selectively, ban some people from participating.

It is in that context that Elon Musk’s comments about Twitter should be read.

“The extreme antibody reaction from those who fear free speech says it all. By “free speech”, I simply mean that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.”

I stopped using LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter some time ago. Musk’s take-over of Twitter – if it goes through – is probably the best thing that has happened to social media. But I doubt I will be returning to Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn anytime soon.


Rishabh Pant behaved like a spoilt brat. Needs sacking from the captaincy.

April 22, 2022

Update!

Well they were fined as expected.

But Pant needs a public spanking.


Watching the IPL from far-away Sweden is wonderful escapism for me.

But there were ugly scenes today as Rajasthan Royals and Butler took Delhi apart. Delhi fought well on the field but a wonderful game was ruined by the antics of a spoilt brat.

Rishabh Pant is an exciting cricketer to watch. But as a captain of Delhi Capitals he comes up wanting – and badly wanting. His behaviour today was not just disgraceful in itself but he was encouraged by a bunch of idiots in his dugout. I note that Ricky Ponting was not there. Perhaps he might have prevented Pant from bringing the game into disrepute. But he could not have stopped Pant from bringing himself into disrepute.

No doubt there will be some nominal slapping of wrists and some fines levied. But what he needs is a real spanking and to be sacked from the job of captain. He is certainly no role model as captain.

ESPN

Ugly scenes as Rishabh Pant sends off Pravin Amre onto the field after threatening to call his players off. What has happened is this: with 36 runs required off the last over, Rovman Powell has hit the first three for sixes. The third one is a high full toss, which has not been called a no-ball on the field, but the DC dugout is remonstrating immediately. The replay shows it is touch and go, possibly high, but not blatantly so. But the laws and the rules say you can check no-balls only if a wicket has fallen of the ball. DC want it referred.



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