Non-Naturalistic Evolution

What follows is a pretty outlandish metaphysical speculation, so if outlandish metaphysical speculations get on your nerves you better stop reading now :).

Reality and its aspects

Say that we have a normal three-dimensional (3D) object. If we have a projection of the 3D form of this object on certain 2D plane, we can say that this projection is an aspect of the 3D object. We can distinguish in this relation the real thing, from its particular aspect.

The aspect will depend on two things. Firstly it will depend on the real thing, and secondly it will depend on the nature of the projection. Because it depends on the thing itself, the aspect will correlate with it.

To see the physical world as an aspect means to think of it as standing in relation to the real world analogous to the relation of the 2d projection to the 3d object.

Here ia an example… Say, we have an event where we see a rabbit. If we take this situation, and explore its physical aspect, what we will find is light bouncing off of the rabbits fur, the rabbits fur having some reflectance characteristics, some of the light being focused by the lens of the eye on the retina, there affecting the cone and rode cells, which send further signals to the cerebral cortex, and so on…

The idea is then that what we are describing here is merely an aspect of the situation, and it leaves out some things which are present in the situation and of which we are aware. Here we might include things like the actual seeing (as intentional perceptual act) or say… the colors (which is usually called ‘qualia’, but I don’t think that this is needed, as actually people have in history, and outside of philosophy use ‘color’ to refer to those things which are now called ‘qualia’). Of course, given that one accepts that the physical is merely an aspect, there is no principle reason to think that there are yet other things which are a) neither in the physical aspect, but also b) of which we are not aware the way we are aware of seeing and colors.

The nature of the physical aspect

The aspects of things aren’t self-subsistent. Things aren’t sum of their aspects. Aspects can be picked-out by us because we can attend to them. Attending is abstracting – separating the aspect in thought.

What we attend in the case of the physical, are those aspects of the world that are susceptible to measurement. The measurement is when we can form a ratio between two magnitudes, and we have two aspects that we know how to directly measure – the distance in space, and the amount of time. Further we can measure the basic change – that of movement, by measuring those two aspects of the movement (space traversed and the time it took), and then characterizing the movement by the ratio of those two (v=s/t).

Because of the nature of the measurement, there are invariances which will appear in the physical aspect. For example, the measurements in general are invariant to the ‘point of origin’. If you measure how much time something takes, by making a ratio to some recurrent event, by counting how many times this second event happens while the first measured event happens, it doesn’t matter if you start counting from zero, or you start counting from e.g. 1544. So, the measurement of amount of time will show invariance vs the “translation in time”.

Similar thing will be there for the measurement of length. It doesn’t matter which mark of the ruler you make ‘coincide’ with the measured length, it can be 0 or 1544. The ratios are invariant to translations. Also there are other invariances, like invariance vs. directions, as measurements abstract from directions in space, so you will have invariance vs. rotation in space.  So, from the very nature of our way of approaching one particular aspect (and approaching an aspect is setting some limits), the aspects ending up having some nature – for example related to those invariances we have the so called ‘laws of conversation’ (of momentum, energy, etc..)

There are also other things in the nature of this aspect, that we might identify with the way we approach it. For example, we quantify movement through measuring two of its aspects – the space traversed, and the amount of time it took. Anyway, it is possible that such things as ‘special relativity’ are actually the necessary metaphysical relations between some measurables, which relations are there because of the nature of those measurements. This is something that I find very believable. (You can find dozen of attempts, published or not, to come to the special relativity ‘a priori’ on the net. Here is one which seems promising.).

How far can we go here? If we acknowledge possibility that some of the physical laws are metaphysically necessary (or if you want – that they follow a priori from how the aspect is defined), maybe we can entertain the possibility that all of the “physical laws” are such. If the special relativity is such, why not general relativity? Why not Schroedinger equation? And why not even what kind of fundamental particles there can be?

The complexity of the physical aspect

So, following this metaphysical speculation, what do we have now? We have an aspect which by its nature restricts what kind of projections we can see in that aspect. It might restrict it in the way, that when we put attention on those aspects, the projection will always appear as developing under the physical laws, and even that it consist of some kind of particles.
What we get here might be understood through a metaphor (which might not be quite suitable, but let me try). It would be like if we are asked to create a copy of something, just that we are given a set of parts, and set of rules of how those parts work with each other. Now, imagine that the projection IS such an engineer, which given some thing, it produces that same thing using the parts available. Now here is this principle:

Depending on the thing that we are asked to re-create, and given the parts and rules, the implementation might be very simple or very complex to do. And this complexity might not correlate with the complexity of the original thing. So to say, it might be that A will have more complex implementation than some B given the parts and rules, but that original A0 is in fact simpler than B0 given that reality is not limited to those parts and rules.

This principle is interesting, because it doesn’t really matter how simple the original thing is. It will depend a lot on the nature of the available cogs and wheels how complex the implementation will be. (Further, of course there is the possibility that things which are similar, will have to be implemented in quite a different ways. But I think that this is not important here).
Using this principle now when thinking about the relation of the real thing and its physical aspect, we can say that actually a pretty ‘simple’ real thing, might appear as complex in the physical aspect, and that more complexity in physical aspect might not in fact correlate with more complexity of the thing.

Evolution and its physical aspect

Now we come to the point where we can further speculate about evolution freed from the limits of the physical rules.

Say that we accept that in the case where we are seeing something, there are things of which we are aware of, but which are not present in the physical aspect. But why would be inclined to think that there is missing from the physical aspect when talking about phenomenon of evolution?

The simple argument would be that the evolution needs to be an explanation of there appearing beings which have those things which are not there in the physical aspect. So to say, we can see, and if this ‘we can see’ is not something in the physical aspect, but if it is product of evolution, than the phenomenon of evolution plausible will be a phenomenon not limited to the physical aspect also.

What this means is that the evolution can be seen as a real phenomenon which goes beyond the physical aspect of the evolution, and further it means that whatever principles we theorize as being “behind” the evolutionary developments, they will have to work not merely on the level of the physical aspect.
Now, the principle of survival of the fittest as a principle is not limited to the physical aspect. We can say for example, that a being that can see (and here we are using “seeing” to refer to this phenomenon of seeing we are aware) will have more chances of the survival. However besides this principle, there is the principle of random mutations, and those, when we are limited to the physical aspects are related to the random mutations of the DNA, plus the combination of the DNA information in the cases of sexual animals.

This belongs, it seems to me to the physical aspect. We are free to speculate here, what kind of processes actually are mapped/projected into this physical aspect? The questions appear like – are those random, isn’t there maybe some other thing of which we are not aware (not just in the physical aspect, but in general also) which plays role here? What is it that actually changes, when we in the physical aspect see a random mutation?, and so on…

Further into the uncharted territory

What kind of speculation-space this opens for views on evolution?

As one, given what was said in the previous part of this post, the change towards greater complexity in the physical aspect, for which we ‘give credit’ to evolution, doesn’t have to correlate with actual change towards greater complexity in reality! It might be even the opposite.

Instead of thinking of the species gaining abilities and features from the growing complexity of their make-up, we can speculate that what is actually happening is a case of removing limits. Further we speculate that such things as consciousness and intentionality are what is there present in the reality not as constructions, but as something which is there on very basic level. (A cog which is not present in the physical aspect, but which is present in the reality, so to say).

We can speculate then, that what we are seeing in evolution, is a movement from the complex limitations on this underlying nature (and which in the physical aspect is seen as simple species) towards removal of those limitations and species which come, so to say, closer to this underlying nature. We get to species that can perceive, think, make choices, be ethical and so on, getting closer to what we can call understanding of the reality. However this removal of limits, because of the nature of the physical aspect will appear in it as complex species.

Anyway, this thing got pretty long, so I better stop. Congratulations to anybody which made it to the end of this post! You gain 4 Strength, 5 Magicalness, and 10 Moxie.


Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 1976:

Philosophy and the subjects known as ‘humanities’ are still taught almost as if Darwin had never lived. No doubt this will change in time.

Fodor, Information and Representation, 1990:

Philosophers who pay for their semantics by drawing checks to Darwin, are in debt way over their heads. Or so it seems to me.

Evolution and Conscious Experience

A week ago Jeff at Minds, Meaning and Morals, wrote a post about how evolution+epiphenomenalism=weirdness.

Here is my contribution to the topic. It is simple argument, so I guess lot of people have come to it after short consideration…

The combination of evolution and epiphenomenalism yields this weird conclusion:
That evolution made us so that we act as if we have conscious phenomenal experience (For this or that reason, we end up writing about this “conscious phenomenal experience”. Maybe Dawkins can figure out why do our genes prefer survival-machines who talk about phenomenal experience.), and only by chance (as consciousness doesn’t affect the world if we are epiphenomenalist) made us so that we *actually have* conscious experience.
What should be understood by “chance” is anything that is not metaphysically necessary. (e.g. even some kind of psychophysical laws would count as chance.)

How do epiphenomenalists respond to those problems?

UPDATE:Brandon pointed in the comments that the phrase “acting as if we have conscious experience” doesn’t make sense in argument against epiphenomenalism, and I agree, so scratch that sentence. What I was referring by that phrase is those acts that we usually take as being there because of the conscious experience. But there is no real need to refer to them in that way. We could instead enumerate those acts… What I meant is e.g. writing a paper or book on the issue of phenomenal experience or qualia, discussing and defending that we have conscious experience,etc…

Degrees of freedom in evolution

In a previous post I wrote about the program – Gene Pool by JJ Ventrela and others.
If you haven’t checked it, you can get it here.

The program itself, as its author says, focuses on examining how the sexual selection (i.e. the criteria of what looks attractive) when put together with natural selection (the ability to stay alive and reproduce) affects the evolution of locomotion in swimbots.

Looking at those swimming bots today, I was thinking what kind of additions would be nice to see in this application. Here are my thoughts…

The natural selection in the program is based on the ability to stay alive and reproduce (which is basically ability to move towards a selected mate). There is no predator/pray relation – in the simulation there are just herbivores (we can imagine dots which give energy as plants). What would be interesting is to see another type of swimbots – carnivores, which would live in same simulation, but which would not eat the dots, but the herbivore swimbots themselves. Having those two types whose evolution would be closely connected might serve as “boost” for the evolution. Of course the number 2 is not magical, so maybe food chain of several levels would give interesting results also. From how I understand that program works, this shouldn’t be hard to accomplish.

The program allows the user to “tweak ecology”. Among the settings there are such like “swimbot hunger threshold” and “swimbot energy % to offspring”. The user can tweak those per whole pool, but it would be interesting to see how the setting affects the evolution. How? By changing those parameters to be from general for all pool to internal parameters for every swimbot (of course they get to mutate, and be transfered through genes).

This also opens interesting question about the degrees of freedom of the evolution in the virtual simulations – the evolution in the simulations will always happen in some abstract space of possible mutations… It is closed space, and there is just given finite number of mutations, the possible animals that can develop are limited in this abstract space. I wonder in this context, if in the nature there is also similar abstract space of possible mutations, which is set once for all, by the mechanism of the mutations in the evolution, or if this mechanism in the nature itself changes… Does the life and evolution in nature transcend this kind of abstract space?

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Mind-Body problem

In  What happens to non-materialists about consciousness?, I tried to show how non-materialists about consciousness can hardly stop there, and will need to accept that other phenomena in the nature as life and evolution are not-fully-physical also.

In my thinking, there is only one rational way to combine those things, without getting into dualistic thinking. And that is – to consider physical-world-of-physics a projection. In sense simmilar to that of vector space projection in math.

The analogy would be this… the physical-world-of-physics would be the x-axis, and the real world would be the plane. Analogical to the projection (in the example P(x,y)=(x,0)) would be the quantification of abstractions by 3rd person observers used in physics. This should be taken merely as analogy, as the projections in math are always quantitative in nature. Not so in the case of world to physical-world-of-physics.

So mind and brain would be two projections of the real world, one into 1st person abstractions, and the second into 3rd person abstractions. And because they are projections of the same “reality”, they show correlations. Of course, nothing is special about the part of reality which is projected to brains/minds, so it would be true that there would be something missing out from our analysis of projections of life, evolution, and everything else.

Of course, for one to accept this kind of thinking, must accept that things are not configurations of parts, but that things which exist can be further determined somehow. Check the semantics posts for argument on this.

And this is compatible with physics too. Take for example quantum entanglement which is more compatible with the idea of existing whole, which can be further determined (collapsed by measurement), then to usual thinking of physical systems as configurations of parts. Stanford encyclopedia has nice article on relation between physics and holistic ideas in general.

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What happens to non-materialists about consciousness?

It seems to me that once one leaves materialist view of consciousness, it is not easy to stop there.

One can’t stop on epiphenomenalism, because:

  1. If knowledge is connected to the physical domain, and consciousness is not, then knowledge of being conscious is impossible. But we know that we are conscious, and that’s why all those books, papers and thoughts on consciousness are there.
  2. Or when one tries to combine epiphenomenalism with evolution we get that evolution has:
  • Created beings which act as conscious (e.g. talk about consciousness, write papers and books about it), and…
  • Incidentally created them in such way that they are conscious.

The second possibility sounds like the pre-established harmony of Leibniz, but I can’t escape the feeling that there is something wrong with this situation. It surely goes against the intuitions of what proper explanation should be, as formalized by Occam.

And one can’t stop being non-materialist only about consciousness because:

If the causally potent (non-epiphenomenal) consciousness isn’t product of the physical, and the genetic build up work just on level of physical, and determine only the physical attributes of the organism, then this consciousness can’t be product of such evolution.

So, if we don’t accept dualism, and if we don’t accept that somehow consciousness developed separately from the rest of the body we will have to accept that genes, organisms, life and evolution will appear not as entirely physical, but including some otherness. (By otherness, I mean here something which would be analogous to consciousness in case of humans – something other then physical, but it doesn’t have to be consciousness). So this otherness would not be epiphenomenon of the physical, but actually something that affects/interacts with the physical.

But why stop there?

This post was inspired by the post “Jaegwon Kim comes out“, on Fragments of Consciousness weblog.

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Are humans animals ?

Consider the following statements:

  1. Hedgehogs don’t have spines.
  2. Hedgehogs are enormous animals.
  3. Hedgehogs are not animals, but like rabbits (in Putnam, Is Semantic Possible) they are robots controlled by Martians.
  4. Hedgehogs are not material things, but they are massive hallucination induced by Martians.

Intuitively to me, as a person who thinks that has mastered the usage of term “hedgehogs”, the first two sentences sound much more weird then the last two. While I have no problem with the last two and I know what they mean if someone claims they are true, I’m not sure what would one mean if he/she claims that one of the first two is true. It appears to me that in that case the person would probably be talking about something else and not hedgehogs.

Does this mean that theories about essence (surely ontological status falls into the essence) are secondary to the appearences when we talk about things?

Well, not necessarily, I would say. The opposite example can be shown about the concept of whales and humans. I asked my daughter(2y) if humans are animals, and she is sure that they aren’t. That is the level of appearences. And whales are fish…

But in those cases society has success in pushing the essence (or at least theories about it), in front of the appearences. Hence we know what one means when one says “humans are animals“, or “whales are not fish“. We know that the person is not talking about appearences, but about the essence (or theories of). The concepts of “animals” and “fish” in those cases has moved from the appearences, to the evolutionary/biological theories. Animal and fish don’t mean just what they did before, and that’s why it is possible to say “whales are not fish”, and “humans are animals”

So, the answer to the question “Are human animals?” depends on the underlying paradigm within which one answers it – the concept of “animal” is not the same one for the evolutionary biologist, and for my daughter. That’s why they will disagree.

And while on the first glance, one might say… “the essence of the concepts is what is important, the appearences are just appearences”, the issue is not so simple, as many of the concepts have the appearences as their root. So, if we want to continue using those “fuzzy” concepts, we will have to accept to live with multiple paradigms.

Gene Pool

Gene Pool is evolution simulation program for Windows. It models (and shows in nice graphical way) the life of the so called “swimbots” – virtual organisms who live in virtual pool.
Swimbots are made of rigid parts, which are connected by joints. Joints are rotated by motors.
The genes of the swimbots affect their morphology, and affect how their motors react to their senses. And senses are basic… When they are hungry they sense in which direction is the food, and when they are not, they sense in which direction is the most beautifull swimbot.
By moving their motors, swimbots loose energy, and after their energy falls under certain level they become hungry. When they touch the “food” particle, they eat it , and gain energy. When they touch other swimbot to which they are attracted they combine genes with that swimbot, and the new swimbot is born.
And, that is generally it. You download the program, you start it… you get a pool full of swimbots with random morphologies and movements. Something like this:

or this:

And after some time, some trait of evolution gets better, and you get pool full of simmilar creatures, something like this:

To get to the place where “the action” is, click on the “View” button in bottom-right part of the screen, and choose “Most prolific”.