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Ch. 6 - Genesmanship 
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Interesting. Thank you, Robert.



Sun Sep 27, 2009 9:46 pm
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Robert Tulip wrote:
The issue is that human life depends strongly on reasoning, so the conflicting selective pressures (reason and instinct) have their corresponding genes. Older parts of the human brain are common to all vertebrates, so instinctive action based on activity in these parts of our brain is what your question describes as genetic.

I would differ from you, Robert, in not terming reason and instinct as 'selective pressures.' A selective pressure to my understanding has to be exerted by the environment. Reason and the adaptive responses of instinct developed as a result of environmental challeges to survival. Putting it the way you have makes it seem as though reason has an evolutionary mandate of its own, and I can't see how this could be the case.

You are correct in saying that reason vs. instinct is not a debate about genetic determinism, because both reason and instinct are supplied by genes. But there is a debate about genetic determinism when it comes to whether our parents' genetic input compels us to be like them. Even if human cloning were possible and 100% of a parent's genes were passed to the child, it is not certain that these two humans would be identical. The environment is thought to play an important role in whether genes are expressed in a certain way. The phenotype could vary from the genotype even when the offspring is a clone, at least when we are considering humans. Conceivably, the clone of a schizophrenic parent could manage to avoid being afflicted with the disease. The field of epigenetics--how the environment modifies the genetic heritage--is an interesting one.



Mon Sep 28, 2009 7:47 am
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DWill wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
The issue is that human life depends strongly on reasoning, so the conflicting selective pressures (reason and instinct) have their corresponding genes. Older parts of the human brain are common to all vertebrates, so instinctive action based on activity in these parts of our brain is what your question describes as genetic.

I would differ from you, Robert, in not terming reason and instinct as 'selective pressures.' A selective pressure to my understanding has to be exerted by the environment. Reason and the adaptive responses of instinct developed as a result of environmental challenges to survival. Putting it the way you have makes it seem as though reason has an evolutionary mandate of its own, and I can't see how this could be the case.
Good point Bill, I should have said selective pressures impacting on reasoned and instinctive responses.

I find this a really interesting question, in that our modern global circumstances have in some real sense departed from the old purely natural context of evolution where the sort of ‘machine response’ that Dawkins describes is clearly no longer sufficient. We can describe instinct, (and so perhaps all animal life?), as a mechanistic response determined by genetic programming, but rationality is qualitatively different. The difference is not just a matter of free choice, as Dawkins demonstrates that animals display freedom in the way they are unpredictable as to whether for example they will run or fight when confronted. Descartes argued that animals are machines without spirit, but that seems to be an unfair disparagement. It seems clear that animals display rational freedom too.

One thing here is that the term 'instinct' seems to have fallen out of favour. I'm not sure why.



Wed Sep 30, 2009 1:54 am
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Robert Tulip wrote:
I find this a really interesting question, in that our modern global circumstances have in some real sense departed from the old purely natural context of evolution where the sort of ‘machine response’ that Dawkins describes is clearly no longer sufficient. We can describe instinct, (and so perhaps all animal life?), as a mechanistic response determined by genetic programming, but rationality is qualitatively different. The difference is not just a matter of free choice, as Dawkins demonstrates that animals display freedom in the way they are unpredictable as to whether for example they will run or fight when confronted. Descartes argued that animals are machines without spirit, but that seems to be an unfair disparagement. It seems clear that animals display rational freedom too.

One thing here is that the term 'instinct' seems to have fallen out of
favour. I'm not sure why.

I agree, Robert, that we don't naturally evolve, at least not at a rate that we would be able to notice, but we do 'evolve' in a more general sense, that is culturally. I think Dawkins also believes that our rationality or consciousness has set us on a different track from the other animals. He attributes to culture, and not to natural forces, our ideas that that enable us to be to an extent independent from nature. I think the void that is left for him prompted him to fill it with a quasi-naturalistic theory of memes. I'm not with him on this, though, feeling that it adds nothing to our ability to understand the hows and whys of culture change.

I think you might be right about instinct being passe. I don't know why this is. On the rationality of animals, one of the philosophers in the de Waal book we read termed animals as 'wantons,' meaning that they are more or less at the mercy of their genetic programming as we view them in action. This does seem very close to instinct, doesn't it? At least one of the other philosophers agreed with this idea of wantonness. I can see some truth in this view as I consider the dog I've been living with for the past ten years. No offense, Hazel.



Wed Sep 30, 2009 9:07 am
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