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Sociobiology Philosophy Essay

Sociobiology Philosophy Essay

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Published by danalaw
A long essay on sociobiology as philosophy. Tries but fails to explain meaning of life. Still a intersting read.
A long essay on sociobiology as philosophy. Tries but fails to explain meaning of life. Still a intersting read.

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Published by: danalaw on Jan 24, 2009
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11/28/2012

 
 
An Essay on Evolutionary Psychology (Sociobiology) and the Meaning of Life
April 16, 1997- Feb 12, 2001 (corrections: Sep 6, 2001)Web site created: Feb 16, 2001
Disclaimer: I have no formal education in sociobiology (my background is in electrical engineering); however, since myteens, I've been interested in evolutionary theory- more so for its philosophical implications than the biological details.2/3rds of this essay is a summary of the cited references and can serve as an introduction to the subject. About 1/3,though, is blunt personal opinion ("unscientific musings"): I try to address some of the controversial issues that peoplelike Richard Dawkins tend to skirt around. Perhaps their main focus is simply on promoting basic belief in evolution (vs.creationism) w/o the added controversy of sociobiology. Comments can be sent to:evo_psych@yahoo.com 
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References and Links Introduction
 
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Since the publication of Charles Darwin's
"The Origin of Species"
in 1859, the theory of evolution has become widelyaccepted in the scientific community. Natural selection is now considered the primary process by which animal, plant andmicrobiological species change (usually slowly) over time and by which new species emerge from existing ones. Thepertinence of evolution to homo sapiens- us- though, has always been the most controversial aspect of Darwinism. Inrecent decades, sociobiology or evolutionary psychology has "upped the ante" of the controversy by now purporting toexplain the development of stereotyped human nature as a series of adaptations. (Just as our standard physical form isassumed to be the result of adaptations initially due to random genetic mutations and then favored historically- but notnecessarily in the future.) IMO, the general process of natural selection in shaping the human form and behavior isalmost certainly correct. However, some sociobiologists overreach by attempting to explain too much with adaptationism.This essay then is another attempt to examine the relatively new field of sociobiology and its possible implications.
The Mind is the Body
Mental ailments were once distinguished either as psychological or neurological disorders. Media reports of newscientific studies, though, are now routinely rife with a blurring in the distinction between the two. Increasingly, behavioralproblems like compulsive gambling, alcoholism, drug addiction, anorexia, violence (and other criminal behavior) are nowbeing linked to physiological "disorders" in the human brain. To be blunt, though, the traditional distinction between the"mind" and body (brain) has always been suspect (possibly even ludicrous). It's simply been the case that the physicalmechanisms of the brain have never been understood unlike, say, the heart or kidney.The human brain has been and remains the ultimate "black box" in medicine and engineering. And this is no surprise,since the most complex, modern supercomputer, which can only now be understood barely on a system-level by anindividual, remains a "tinker-toy" compared to the human brain let alone, say, the brain of a cockroach. In fact,understanding all aspects of the human brain may simply be beyond human understanding. The remarkable progressseen in technology, particularly in the semiconductor IC industry, is misleading: some people now think "nothing'simpossible" anymore. However, despite all of the "miraculous" progress of the 20th century, there are and always will befundamental limitations. Some things are impossible and will remain so, no matter how much scientific progress wemake (e.g., fundamental thermodynamic constraints).Ultimately, the human brain is "just" a machine (albeit an incredibly complex one). Certainly, if a stapler, typewriter,automobile and computer are all considered machines, then the human brain is one as well- just to a different degree ofcomplexity. If this is accepted, then there can be no real difference between psychological and physiological disordersexcept that psychological disorders involve the brain, which no one understands. The same thing applies to emotional/ psychosomatic problems (stress, depression and "imaginary pain all in the head"); even though no obvious braindamage or chemical disorder exists- the underlying process in the brain is just elusive. Treatments for behavioralproblems then are really all the same:
both 
drug and behavioral therapy work by causing corresponding physiologicalchanges in the brain; even though the specifics are beyond our understanding now. (E.g., no one really understands thechemical process of human memory.) The "mind" is that which is generated by the physical brain.As for the human "soul", the idea is becoming increasingly quaint. For ex., what happens to the soul of a person who
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dies of Alzheimer's or CJD? Is their soul forever "impaired" in the afterlife? And if not, then how can a soul have much todo with a person's "essence" and memory in the first place, if behavior depends so much on the physical brain? Belief inthe soul is simply based on wishful thinking for an "afterlife" rather than on any real credence; from a mechanistic POV, ifhumans have souls then other machines might as well have them too.The ultimate point of all of this is that there isn't any metaphysical difference (like a soul) between living and dead things.Living organisms are just incredibly complex machines. Ultimately, the distinction between life and death is an arbitraryone. Forget the "scientific" definition of life: it would be far more truthful to simply define "life" as anything, which isreasonably (arbitrarily) similar to us humans.
Hardware vs. Software: A Crude Analogy
Viewing the human brain as a machine and not some metaphysical abode of a soul resolves (I think) the seeminglyperpetual quandary of heredity vs. upbringing. After WWII, the importance of heredity on influencing the phenotype (ofintelligence and behavior) was almost denied understandably because of the backlash against Nazism (eugenics). Thehuman mind was viewed as a "blank-slate" shaped by nurturing; heredity wasn't entirely denied, but it was certainly de-emphasized by mainstream psychology.The discovery of DNA, and the growing evidence of the pervasive influence of genes, though, has swung the pendulumback the other way since the 1960s. In 1994, the publication of the
"The Bell Curve"
by Charles Murray raised a furorbecause of the author's insistence that heredity is probably the greatest factor in IQ differences between white and blackAmericans after all. [Murray, though, mistakenly believes IQ tests measure innate aptitude (genetic mental capacity)instead of really being achievement tests. Also, "intelligence" is actually comprised of numerous discrete mentalfunctions: abstract, math, mechanical, memory, music, political skill, physical coordination, spatial, verbal, etc. However,IQ tests test only a select number of such mental abilities. (Most tests focus on math and verbal skills vs., say, musical ormechanical ability.) So ranking someone's intelligence with a single quantitative number by averaging an arbitrary subsetof mental skills is meaningless.]Recently, proponents of what is essentially the "blank-slate" view of the human mind have countered this by re-emphasizing the vital importance of a child's first few years of life on the brain development (of behavior andintelligence), prompting some psychologists to again blame the root cause of crime on poor upbringing. The problem withthis debate is that like all such debates (e.g., "tastes great vs. less filling!" :-), the real world is far more complex thanthat. For some reason, people tend to look for singular explanations for something rather than accepting that a multitudeof complex factors may be responsible.Perhaps the most apt metaphor for the complex interaction between human heredity and upbringing is the interaction ofcomputer hardware and software; although in the case of humans, "software" (upbringing) can actually change the"hardware" (brain) by promoting the growth of neural connections during childhood. Actually, computer software canchange hardware too; but as with the brain, only to the extent implicit in the structure of the hardware: e.g., fieldprogrammable gate arrays (FPGAs) are semiconductor Integrated Circuits (ICs), which differ in their inherent physical
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