Thursday, March 10, 2005

Response to RickyLoo

I thought this was good enough to warrant putting it here.
Ricky Loo asked:
"Last night I was thinking about this question:
Are all living things evolving to a more intelligent state?
Thought it was sort of on topic."
My response:
It depends on what you mean.
Are we living beings? By any biologist's definition of living, yes.
Are we physiologically evolving? Not really. There's a few key reasons. We're most played out biologically. To increase intelligence typically involves increasing the size of the head and brain relative to the body. Already, the large human head is what causes most of the pain of childbirth. Furthermore, there's no biological incentive to evolve. There's nothing that's needed to break punctuated equilibrium (that is, the state of relative stasis that goes on for hundreds of thousands of years or more before a very brief period of very rapid change): no geographical isolation, no crisis-impetus to evolve, etc. etc.
Are we evolving spiritually? Individuals certainly are; some people achieve mastery of innate spiritual, creative, physical, what have you ability. The human body continues to amaze scientists: When analysis is done of the physics behind such "mundane" activities as baseball or football, scientists are amazed by the incredible complexity involved in the motions and in the control over the motion by, say, the pitcher and the batter. Consider: The exercise of baseball is to play with rapid moving, powerful forces. A baseball is accelerated through sheer muscular force; a baseball is struck by a long object, with all that momentum turned back and possibly increased by upper body strength combined with torque generated by the hips and legs; and a baseball is caught by catchers who learn to hold their arms with the precise combination of rigidity and give.
However, on a macro-human or broad societal level, while I personally believe that there are promising gains and that the general trend is towards justice, that is only my parochial belief. To justify it would require analyzing so many different complex strands that I think it may be impossible to satisfactorily do. There is one thing I can confidently say: Humankind can generate Buddha, Jesus and Gandhi, as well as Hitler, Stalin and the mad bombers who killed untold numbers of people in Vietnam, as well as Bush, Clinton and Jerry Falwell. On one level, perhaps we can use genetic engineering to enhance all people to new levels of ability; but this will not be rooted in justice if it is not equally available to all. On another level, the institutions we design, the science and discoveries we create, etc. all strongly order our possibilities and offer us abilities beyond our wildest dreams. Mathematicians say that more good math has been done in the last fifty years than in all human civilization. Breakthroughs in science are allowing us to understand seemingly the very fabric of creation while simultaneously telling us how incredibly complex and unique everything from a butterfly to a person to a star is. Unfortunately, we are beginning to hit limits. To be able to specialize to the degree necessary to make further advancement is to sacrifice a lot, and the intrinsic blockages are beginning to be daunting.
Once, Noam Chomsky pointed out that we have to believe that a new world is possible because, if we are wrong, no one will be around to tell us that we're wrong. I think that's the vein to take your question.


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