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June 2018
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Michael Zeleny [userpic]
we know what we are

Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini propound the following analogy in their letter to the TLS Editor:

Our difficulty with Darwin is very like our difficulty with our stockbroker. He says the way to succeed on the market is to buy low and sell high, and we believe him. But since he won’t tell us how to buy low and sell high, his advice does us no good. Likewise, Darwin thinks that the traits that are selected-for are the ones that cause fitness; but he doesn’t say how the kinds of variables that his theory envisages as selectors could interact with phenotypes in ways that distinguish causes of fitness from their confounds. This problem can’t be solved by just stipulating that the traits that are selected for are the fitness-enhancing traits; that, as one said in the 1960s, isn’t the solution; it’s the problem.
Matthew Cobb, a contributor to the evolutionist advocacy blog owned and operated by Jerry A. Coyne, Ph.D and a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, fancies himself to have made short work of this argument. But misunderstanding the analogy between evolving through natural selection and succeeding on the market by buying low and selling high is a clear symptom of being out of one’s mind in the following, precisely defined sense:
  1. Natural selection is said to be responsible for evolving all functions of living organisms.
  2. The mind counts among the functions of some living organisms.
  3. The mind of some living organisms is capable of making intensional distinctions such as the one between being renate and being cordate, or the one between being an even prime number and being equal to the positive square root of four.
  4. Natural selection is incapable of making intensional distinctions.
  5. Natural selection cannot evolve the capacity to make intensional distinctions.
  6. Some minds have functions that cannot have evolved through natural selection.
  7. Some functions of living organisms cannot have evolved through natural selection.
At this point, to echo Sir Winston Churchill, we know exactly what you are as a living organism; we are just haggling about something that determines your price.

Crossposted to [info]larvatus, [info]philosophy, and [info]real_philosophy.

(no subject) - (Anonymous)

Because efficient causation cannot tell apart concurrent entities. Every renate is a cordate, and vice versa.

"Natural selection is said to be responsible for evolving all functions of living organisms."

It is!?

Of course it is! Unless, of course, you're some type of crazy theist.

Why 5?

I, too, am perplexed as to how you derive 5 from what comes before.

You and unnamed525 are perplexed about that? :|

3) The mind is capable of defining etc.

Is this discovering a distinction, or inventing one?

Edited at 2010-05-07 02:00 am (UTC)


Well you have to eventually get past gene-centric trait selection and look at what the organisms that have those genes actually do. For humans, it's the fact that we have free will.

I do not find the argument 1-7 in Fodor's book, so I'm not sure what you're talking about, here.

FAPP's argument works against a certain interpretation of Darwinian theory, where natural selection is a distinct causal force which picks out particular properties of phenotypes. This mistake is deeply embedded in the characterization of natural selection in your (4). This is a relatively common and misguided view, but not Darwin's.

In reality, "selection-for" is just a general term referring to any case in which a we judge that a phenotypic trait is actually causally related to an organism's fitness. More importantly: human beings do not make judgments about selection-for in an epistemological vacuum.

We know that "pumping blood" and "making thumping noises" are indeed co-extensive traits, and that a hypothetical organism would have indeed possessed both traits. However, we bring an enormous amount of biological knowledge to the table simply by observing animals today and what is fitness-enhancing in them.

FAPP's argument only works if the only information we have is (1) organism survived and reproduced well, (2) organism had two (novel) coextensive traits. However, judgments about selection-for are made, probabilistically, with the help of (3): a huge amount of background data concerning how organisms interact with their environments today.

I am taking Jerry Fodor Alonzo Church as my inspiration for making my own argument here. I agree with your qualifications, to the extent that I understand them. But let’s set aside the matter of cordates pumping blood and renates filtering it, with all that goes along with these properties. I would like to focus on a stronger criterion of intensional identity that generates a more tractable case study. We know that many animals are capable of reacting to the number 2 in certain ways. Under the theories being discussed, that capacity presumably evolved by natural selection. Are we equally entitled to claim the same, mutatis mutandis, of the capacity to react to the even prime number?

i reject 4 and 5.

#1 is wrong. There are many other microevolutionary events that can lead to phenotypes other than natural selection.

Do you understand the biological definition of a functional characteristic?

I don't even know what your point is now that I read this again. What are you trying to say?

I am saying that in the spectrum of biological functions spanning from physiology to psychology, by way of ethology, ascription of evolution through natural selection fails well short of the far end.