Monday, August 31, 2015

Unfinished Humans Finding Their Way Back to the Garden

"The never-ending task of finishing himself, of transcending the limits of his physical being, is the powerhouse of man's creativeness..." - Eric Hoffer

All religions agree that humans are imperfect (at least the ones I am familiar with). You might even say that people are unfinished. I find the whole thing very odd indeed.

If one believes in evolution, why did it suddenly stop and leave people unfinished? (Those who claim people are "still evolving" don't know the difference between macro and micro "evolution.") If you believe in God, same thing. Hence, for Christians, "orginal sin" explains the fact we are imperfect.

There are various "cures" for being unfinished. For fundamentalists, "getting saved." For Eastern religions, becoming "enlightened." Yet, still, for all that, people remain unfinished.

Leftism, one of the sickest (if not the sickest) belief-systems ever created, believed that with education and the proper upbringing people would become god-like. That didn't work at all and led to the deaths of hundreds of millions (this is what happens when you give unlimited political power to the most imperfect people of all - those who lust after political power).

Even science believes people are unfinished, with the cure being genetic engineering (which, along with nanotechnology and designer drugs, might turn us into the Borg).

Our unfinished state is what drives us to try and better ourselves. It's the purpose of drug use, of political science, of economics, of psychology, of science and technology, of religion.

When I was a little kid I saw an episode of the original "Outer Limits," in which David McCallum was a Welsh miner who decided to undergo "evolution," courtesy of a machine with lots of knobs and dials. He came out the other end with a huge bald brainiac head with pointy ears and six fingers on each hand. That didn't work out as expected and he decided to go back to his original state. The episode's name? "The Sixth Finger."

Rose Wilder Lane, author of The Discovery of Freedom (and the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, she of the Little House on the Prairie books, once said she wanted to be immortal so she could observe what people turned into. I'd probably prefer Brigadoon, which appeared to the outside world once every hundred years (only one night passed in Brigadoon), so if I didn't like what I saw, I'd just go back to the Garden - I mean Brigadoon.

These days, science and technology are supposed to save us. Considering what it's given us, I understand the belief.

I used to read a lot of science fiction in-between 11 and 14, and all of it was dystopian. There was never a Utopia. The most famous novels - 1984, Brave New World - are dystopian. But all of them had to do with not only the conquest of nature, but more than anything else, of human nature.

Some have tried to perfect human nature through politics, that is, through force. The whole of the 20th century was pretty much about that, by the Stalins and Pol Pots and Hitlers.

Generally, the political solution to finishing people was to try to turn them into machines (the Borg Queen: "Why do you resist us? We only wish to improve the quality of your lives."), or back into unconscious animals (Stalin charged his scientists with trying to breed humans with chimpanzees, to create the greatest warriors ever).

The history of humans has been trying to overcome both nature and human nature. We're doing pretty good with overcoming nature but a terrible job with overcoming the imperfections in people.

There is a writer named Richard K. Morgan who has written novels in which people's consciousness is transferred into machines and artificial bodies (Scott Adams, he of Dilbert fame, believes this is going to happen in the coming decades). I understand the desire, to give up our imperfect bodies subject to pain and disease. I just don't think it's going to happen.

One of Arthur C. Clarke's most famous comments is that any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic. He has a point.

Again, in every religion and mythology with which I am familiar, there was originally a state of Paradise from which we fell. We're always trying to get back to it, for thousands of years through religion, recently through science and technology. We're always trying to return to Eden (Mark Vonnegut, Kurt's son, wrote one book about his schizophrenic break-down, the aptly-named - The Eden Express).

These original Paradise myths start with creation, Paradise, the fall from grace (often involving a flood and usually other catastrophes), then people trying to regain Paradise. Then, in the end, after horrendous catastrophes, they get there (think of the belief in "the Rapture").

The next few decades, when it comes to science and technology, are going to be interesting indeed.

Singularity, here we come! (Which, by the way, was predicted in Clarke's Childhood's End and 2001: a Space Odyssey.)


Shaun F said...

John Nelson Darby was the originator of the "rapture teaching" being placed into contemporary Christian studies. Which based on my research is false. I did read the Eden Express years ago, but I can't honestly say I remember anything. How do we get back to the Garden? I've never known the Garden. I've know the bondage of Egypt and the wilderness of Sin, and the longing for the bondage of Egypt and it's familiarity. Life is better now, for that I'm grateful to God. Beyond that? IMHO It's all in God's hands IMHO. There is no action plan in the form of behaviour modification that will make me a better person. Although I might behave more appropriately by society's standards and be better able to manipulate people. Not that I'm terribly concerned with impressing society. Science has done some nifty things - laser eye surgery for example.

kurt9 said...

Julien Jaynes bicameral mind theory is, by far, the best explanation for the origin of religious belief I have encountered.

Mindstorm said...

Huh? Are you high? Explain please, why and how evolution is possible to stop at the switch flip. And with due respect, I don't think that the distinction between micro- and macroevolution has anything with that. Stop trying to fit round pegs into square holes.

Mindstorm said...

And how would you classify nylonase, Bob? As the result of micro- or macroevolution?

Imagine a camera facing a waterfall. Run it in two modes, time-lapse video and slow motion, rapid shutter video. You are liable to name what you see recorded with two different names. However, it's more of a difference in perception than in the thing itself.

Unknown said...

Micro is change within species, macro is one species changing into another. Never proven and no one has any idea how it happened. As far as I'm concerned, the theories are nonsense. I'm only concerned when scientists turn one species into another.

Mindstorm said...

Excuse my testiness. It's because I have spent several hours containing a virus infection on my computer that my antivirus suite didn't catch in time and handled ineptly on top of that.

I won't bore you with too many nerdy details, suffice to say that I shudder at the thought of several more hours of repetitive clicking due to some program's wonkiness and its interface being user-unfriendly (its quarantine module lacks the function of group item selection according to some criterion so I have to do that manually, one file at a time, to release them to be cured by another program).

Mindstorm said... - it seems to happen naturally already.

Also, every time you induce a polyploidy in a plant that wasn't the subject of it before (a routine procedure now), you create a new species. All that remains to make it noticeably different morphologically is time to accumulate different mutations than its species of origin.

Mindstorm said... - see?

Mindstorm said... - more examples here

Glen Filthie said...

I might disagree with you Unca Bob. We are not trying to return to a state of grace, in my scholarly opinion - so much as we are trying to make sense and order out of the environment around us. If you don't have access to carbon dating, established geological and archeological sciences - it makes perfect sense that God plunked us down on this earth in a state of perfection to live in Eden - but got kicked out because some damned woman acted like a woman and pissed off the Heavenly Father! HAR HAR HAR!

Our need to make order of things is so bad that when our carefully rationalized religions fail to describe the world we see before us - it can and has pushed us over the edge of sanity and we start killing our fellow hairless monkeys for committing the sin of pointing it out. Even science is not immune to our needs to order things - watch the environmentalists foam at the mouth with rage if you dare to challenge their carefully contrived data!

I believe as Robert Heinlein did: there is nothing holy or special about our speciies' intelligence. All evolutionary enhancements only serve to further the basic functions of biological life: feeding, excretion and reproduction.

As I think about it - it strikes me that we have become so advanced that we have created an environment so soft, so easy and free - that we can actually start to de-evolve in relative safety as those on the political left have done. The idiocracy is real and it is picking up momentum especially on the political left. They mass murder their offspring with abortion, they advocate self destructive policies and laws and refuse to defend themselves from the monsters they help create.

About the only question that matters today is this: are we going to let ourselves be destroyed along with them? If not, we had better start making preperations today.

Rusty Shackleford said...

The engineering of the genome is the obvious last stop for humanity. Soon humans will be made to the specifications and for the purposes of the CPC or whichever other government comes into the technology. In the past, people living under tyrants at least had the consolation of knowing that the Emperor or 1st Chairman would eventually die. Soon we'll have deathless Maos and Stalins shaping the human race to their ends. It will be the literal Abolition of Man.

For the record, has there been a more gutless, ball less class of weaklings than our elite scientists? If they're accused of sexism or racism they apologize and grovel, or maybe they go on to TV and burst into tears like rocket boy. If the government asks Einstein et al. to build a bomb that will vaporize hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, these proud geniuses and Nobel prize laureates jump to and ask "how many megatons does it need to be, Sir?" Bastards.

Mindstorm said...

Haha. The Manhattan Project was about preserving the balance of power. Nazi Germany had its own budding nuclear bomb program that was stalled due to its reliance on heavy water. Read about it somewhere, Rusty. It was the case of "If we don't have that bomb, imagine what they would do with it?" How it was used later was not consulted with scientists involved in the project.

Mindstorm said...

And Bob, this is for you:

Which one is not possible to happen, according to you?

Mindstorm said...

Don't worry, Rusty, about immortal Mao or Stalin. This is real life, not the Warhammer 40k sourcebook :)
True immortality is impossible to realize. If anything else won't kill them, then sooner or later they would die of some cancer. That risk is impossible to eliminate completely.

Mindstorm said... - Communist Party of China is not the immediately obvious choice here.

Mindstorm said...

Eh, the correct term is cladogenesis,
not phylogenesis. It was years since I used to delve into the issue.

Anonymous said...

Bob: "If one believes in evolution, why did it suddenly stop and leave people unfinished?"

Evolution hasn't stopped. Nor are 'people unfinished'.

If evolution is the response of an organism to its environment, then:
1. The Human species is one of the first, possibly the only species to be able to manipulate the environment, thus attenuating the impact of the environment on us.

2. Humans are a work in progress, there is no finish point, other than in the sense the dinosaurs experienced, where the environment changed (presumably) so fast and so suddenly that they couldn't adapt, viz the K-T boundary geological layer.

If human civilisation collapsed tomorrow and the human species was required to re-establish its relationship with nature, evolution would continue to impact us as a species without blinking an eye.

By the way, even as we speak, we are subject to environmental pressures, that modify our behavior.

Mindstorm said...

Let's see, what components of evolution are still working on humans. Mutations are happening as always. Sexual selection works as always. Natural selection ('selective mortality') is at a fraction of its natural intensity, mainly due to modern medicine and technology in general. However, that gain is only temporary, as it contributes to genetic load in human genomes. There are symptoms of it, as for example lowering testosterone levels and worsening quality of sperm among men, as the chromosome Y is the most vulnerable to the process, being unable to participate in meiotic crossing-over (which 'repairs' some of resulting haploid cells - gametes or gamete precursor cells) beyond its pseudoautosomal regions. - not likely, but not impossible to happen (it was postulated that human species has undergone such 'population bottlenecks' in the past)

Mindstorm said... - a hypothetical nuclear war in the future might lead to one.

Mindstorm said...

BTW, "Idiocracy" exaggerates the effects of runaway sexual selection. :)

Mindstorm said...

Not that it interests anyone, but the Ramnit virus was successfully eradicated.

Unknown said...

"Evolution hasn't stopped. Nor are 'people unfinished'."

Change within species has been known for about 35,000 years (wolves to dogs, which are the same species, which is why they can interbred). Change from one species to another has never been observed and scientists have no idea how it occurred.

Evolution for everything has stopped, since it requires the introduction of new genes, which again had never been observed.

People certainly have finished evolving - until science can created new genes for us. Until then it's just change within species, which isn't "evolution" at all.

Mindstorm said...

"[T]he introduction of new genes, which again had never been observed"?

Have you noticed the question about nylonase in one of my comments above? Also, I recall the experiments of a Nobelist, Jack Szostak, on generating new functional genes in vitro from initially random DNA sequences that are over a decade old already. Do you want me to find the links once again?

Mindstorm said... - this process also produces 'new' genes.

Unknown said...

Wikipedia? Are you serious?

Mindstorm said...

Why not? As lazy as I am, it would be more hassle to cite relevant studies and monographs directly. Well, what do you have, besides unsupported assertions?

Mindstorm said...

Also, I don't always have in possession the most recent edition, and Wikipedia, even if hardly exhaustive, is usually more up-to-date than 'dead-tree' publications.

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia, from my understanding, can be edited by anyone. I wouldn't rely on wikipedia as a primary and definitive source of information on anything. If you do use it, check to see if the entry includes citations to any reputable source.

Mindstorm said...

If you want an alternative to Wikipedia, fast, type "molecular evolution" "novel gene" into the Google Scholar search box:

That would be enough, I guess.

Mindstorm said... - it's nearly 5 000 hits in peer-reviewed literature

Mindstorm said... - choose one of the links on the right to the PDF version of the full article - "Functional proteins from a random-sequence library"

Seee? If it's achievable through artificial selection, then why is it expected to be impossible to happen through natural selection?

Anonymous said...

Bob: "Change within species has been known for about 35,000 years .."

Just curious, who knew about it thirty five thousand years ago ago? Recorded history, such as it is only goes back six thousand years, maybe at a push ten thousand years. The rest is theorizing and supposition, as such the theory of evolution 177 years old, is as good an explanation as your sky fairy tales.

Bob: "wolves to dogs, which are the same species, which is why they can interbred"

Dogs, are in an unnatural stasis, largly because the human species has arrested their evolution.

A wolf and a pekingese interbreed? Much more likely the latter be a mid morning snack for the former.

Anonymous said...

Anon: "I wouldn't rely on wikipedia as a primary and definitive source of information on anything."

We're not, but Bob's blog is hardly a primary or difinative source of information. Wikipedia is the nearest thing to an authorative source as we're likely to get around this parish.

Mindstorm said... - interesting how this variable might depend on genetics, isn't it?

Mindstorm said... - my disclaimer: his interpretation might be too hurrah-optimistic.

Anonymous said...

Interesting reference Mindstorm.

"What’s more, mutations in these [de novo] genes can trigger catastrophic failures."

Spontaneous abortions anyone?

Mindstorm said...

Do you mean miscarriages? Early ones are 'silent', without any symptoms, but they happen quite often.

Mindstorm said...

Failures to implant are often the result of immune rejection of trophoblast by mother's organism.
That's one of reasons why interspecies hybrids between mammals are quite rare.

Mindstorm said...

As for "catastrophic failures" I think it's rather about 'de novo' fusion proteins that mess with the cell cycle regulation (yes, I mean cancer here) and which are a product of 'junk DNA' pseudogenes that gain a new copy of a potent promoter from elsewhere.

Well, it's just me. You might prefer another interpretation.

Mindstorm said...

It doesn't need to be necessarily a protein, there are possible 'dys'-regulatory 'fusion RNAs' as well. Well, nobody said that molecular genetics is an easy field of research. :)

Mindstorm said...

See? I haven't scared you, have I? Somatic mutations are really akin to Russian roulette. :)

Mindstorm said... - apparently, it's not only me with the same idea.