An English In Kentucky


















Sunday March 31st 2019Tim Candler9


    In Evolutionary Biology there are three theories about how inheritable characteristics in creatures change over time. Darwin vacillated a little as he hunted for evidence and toward the end of his time, he came to the conclusion that from the sole source of evidence which was the fossil record a creature remained pretty much the same and suddenly a successful adaption occurred, was passed on and lo, a new creature emerged and because it was much better suited to meet the challenges of the environment it thrived. A second theory, again based on evidence from the fossil record, suggested that it was an error to assume that genetic changes weren't happening all the time and nothing actually happened suddenly, it was more of a slow process. A third theory suggested that some creatures were just better at adapting than other creatures, the argument being that some collections of genes are doomed to stability, while other collections of genes are less doomed to stability. So as an example, possibly the genes that arrange teeth in Cats are less stable which resulted in the Sabretooth Cat, had these genes been more stable there might never have been a Sabretooth Cat, some studies have suggested that the knife tooth wasn't that well anchored. With birds, there's evidence to suggest that they are the surviving members of a family of smaller Dinosaur which had developed feather-like structures that originally probably played a role in courtship, and over time the capacity to produce feathers proved more and more useful not only for activities such as flight but also for keeping warm. So the whole evolution tapestry is a wonderful complexity and easy enough to explore with confidence until you get to that part of the creature that's less visible in the fossil record. Cats purr, so do Hyena and there's a whole bunch of ideas about why cat's purr and fairly stout notions about how they purr, but there's no fossil record of the mechanisms that result in a cat deciding to purr other than the assumption that it's an instinctive reaction to be being patted, or whatever. The fact is sometimes cat's don't purr when they're being patted, is it because they don't want to be patted or are you just the wrong person to do the patting, and it could go on for ever. The point is there are parts of us creatures which do not become fossils, and the question is the extent to which those parts of us that do not become fossils can be explored in evolutionary terms without resorting to wild eyed, unsubstantiated half baked guessing.



     The essence of scientific exploration is discerning the truth of an assertion by testing it, and if you can't really test an assertion you're not really exploring it scientifically. Darwin had a sense that emotions and so on had origins in evolution, but the testing part was not something he was able to usefully address. Into this vacuum stepped the discipline of Evolutionary Psychology. The heart, the lungs and so on are morphology, what happens in a mind is psychology. The mind, it's been suggested, has structures or modules, kind of like hearts and lungs, but there's a module for empathy, being able to recognize faces and so on, and these modules can be thought of as structures which over the years have been subjected to the patterns of evolution, they have changed, changes are passed along to a next generation, because they were useful. The argument goes on to suggest that a person is born with these modules in the same way that a person is born with heart, and as a person grows a module develops, sometimes quirky, sometimes less quirky, and in the word 'develop' there's a capacity to exercise, become more 'muscular', become more or become less important within the context of an environment. The question is do all these modules work together in a single harmonious domain. And here the suggestion is that if you're talking about the mind as a computational processing device then they can't possibly work together because there are so many modules that the numbers of possible combinations between the modules would result in a sort of melt down or a Combinational Explosion, in math it means a problem that might never be solved. The point being that something that's as simple to us as typing a sentence is the result of a vast amount of mental activity that you and I are quite unaware of, and if you add input from every module that a person possesses odds are a sentence never would be written, a staircase never climbed. So rather than a committee, what you have is a bunch of sub-committees one of which does the writing and doesn't require a contribution from the entire committee. You don't go far in the world of Evolutionary Psychology without someone bringing up the words 'Mismatch' and 'The Pleistocene.' The Pleistocene was a couple of million years of repeating glaciations out of which our earliest ancestors evolved to become what we people are, including what our mind is. Not hard to suggest that the environment for us people has changed a bit since then, and I guess the question is which of the three theories of how evolution manages adaption will we cleave to. Maybe it's just me, but it does seem some of us are struggling a little at the moment with what mathematicians and evolutionary psychiatrists call a Combinational Explosion, and they do so because they're all far too polite and evidence based to just go ahead and call it Q-Anon.


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