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Blogger William Orem wrote on Jun. 28, 2009 @ 14:53 GMT
image: currentnewsstories

See, I knew you would.

The late King of Pop is dominating the blogosphere this week, and probably well into the remaining summer. Radio, television, tweets, he’s all that. The Gloved One rules in death as he did in life.

So why bring him into a science blog? Two reasons.

One is that moments like this provide fascinating anthropological material (stay with me here). As someone who--forgive me--doesn’t care about the Man or His Music, I’m having a disorienting experience watching absolutely enormous sections of my species go into paroxysms over an individual who was, even by visage alone, disturbingly bizarre. Throw in the delusions, disfigurement, various allegations of child abuse, and the question of why so many millions see someone transcendently wonderful in MJ becomes one for the evolutionary biologists.

I’m not kidding on this. A fair assessment of crowd behavior would conclude this is not an entertainer much of the world is mourning, but a kind of lesser deity. Like Elvis, MJ will no doubt begin making resurrection appearances soon (Princess Di was seen by mourners before Buckingham Palace had even concluded the official ceremony surrounding her death).

My guess is what lies behind my alienating experience this week is that my brain hasn’t popped the King of Pop into the slot that almost certainly exists in all primate brains for “group leader.” Once someone occupies that cognitive niche--and fame would certainly do it, though I suspect being associated with rhythmic music triggers some very old cortical sub-routines as well--it becomes hard to see the person rather than the internal representation of the person. There are sound evolutionary reasons why we should expect to find ourselves falling in behind a King, as well as why we should *not* to be able to perceive said King objectively once we have identified him.

But my interest is drawn more this month to a different set of ancient and ubiquitous symbols. As a space enthusiast, I find it fascinating how frequently, in describing the Morte d’Michel, we invoke cosmic imagery.

After all, MJ wasn’t just the King, he was a star. Indeed, he was a superstar, presumably a more massive stellar object than others in the local heaven. His rise was meteoric; he shone more brightly than others in his orbit; perhaps it was inevitable he would crash and burn.

This seems to be a cultural universal: as far back as ancient Greece the heroes of the day—say Herakles—were, upon their death, promoted into constellations. Now we talk in commonplace tones about Brad Pitt’s star power, or Miley Cyrus’ rising star, or Britney Spears’ shooting star. Do we love the man who brought us the Moonwalk, temporarily freeing us from gravity’s chain? Adorn him with extraterrestrial metaphors.

A non-human anthropologist might see in these ubiquitous gestures an impulse, deep in the human psyche, to leap free of the planet’s surface. Even before we knew what was out there, we expressed a profound desire to travel among the greater galaxy. It’s as if concomitant with the emergence of human consciousness is a teleological drive eventually to become space-farers.

To be sure, the critical phrase there is “as if.” Evolution has no teleology. The mistaken belief that it’s trying to get somewhere led us into the various ideological disasters of the last century.

But there may still be room, in a full description of humanity, for a quality we once called fate. We are the species that looks up. And with our song and dance, our ancient social patterning, our joy and our audacity, we’re the only one that stands a chance of making a new home there. I think our fate is to become sky-travelers, and more--one day, to sing among the stars.

image: D Sharon Pruitt

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FQXi Administrator Zeeya Merali wrote on Jun. 29, 2009 @ 12:43 GMT
Well even if you aren't a fan of his music, you have to admire his FQXish attempts to tackle the problem of gravity. Tracy Staedter, at the Discovery Tech website, blogs that MJ had a patent on the anti-gravity shoes that allowed him to lean forward beyond his center of gravity in some of his famous dance routines.

Jim Belfiore also notes that his patent was cited in another patent for a piece of aerospace technology to alleviate the problem of G-forces. More exciting still, it was also cited in a patent for a flip-flop sandal that contains its own bottle opener.

And here's more on the physics of MJ's moonwalk from Rhett Allain at DOT PHYSICS. (As opposed to Neil Armstrong's moonwalk, which is also in the news thanks to its anniversary.) Now we've seen the equations, surely any good physicist should be able to reproduce MJ's moves...

this post has been edited by the forum administrator

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Lawrence B. Crowell wrote on Jun. 29, 2009 @ 16:10 GMT
There are various other figures who had this sort of pop-star status in a more religious sense, on in particular who supposedly declare himself as "I am" and got elevated to the status of God. We have seen some very dark figures so elevated as well, such as Adolf Hitler. The media in the United States has devoted more and more wasted ink and EM radiation on the lives of various celebraties. This provides ordinary people a way to escape their lives packed with trivialities by vicariously living the life of a big figure.

Lawrence B. Crowell

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James Putnam wrote on Jun. 29, 2009 @ 21:43 GMT
Dear William Oren,

I would like to be certain that I understand you. Your statement: "Evolution has no teleology." Is this inteneded as a statement of belief or fact? If you intended it as a recognized scientific fact, could you please expound some on its proof? Thank you.


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James Putnam wrote on Jun. 30, 2009 @ 00:32 GMT
Sorry for the typo. I happily acknowledge that your last name is Orem. I apologize for such a careless error.


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Lawrence B. Crowell wrote on Jun. 30, 2009 @ 16:39 GMT
Evolution has no target or goal. In that sense one can't say evolution has teleology. S. J. Gould illstrated this, where the forms and morphology of species of life exist because of contingent selection mechanisms, which themselves can change.

Lawrence B. Crowell

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James Putnam wrote on Jun. 30, 2009 @ 20:33 GMT
Dear Lawrence B. Crowell,

Selection plays an after-effect role. After-effects are not the cause of the effects. They are after-effects which may or may not destroy changes that have occurred due to a previous 'actual' cause. If evolution is non-teleologic then, the cause should be non-teleologic. Why is the cause not teleologic?

Dear William Orem,

You were the first to announce here that evolution is non-teleologic. I look forward to your reply if it does not rely upon an after-effect for its basis of argument.


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Steve Dufourny wrote on Jun. 30, 2009 @ 20:39 GMT
Lawrence ,

I have difficulties ,really to encircle this point of vue ,

The evolution isn't a kind of chance where some parameters do the rest .

Really Lawrence ,there is an aim to the evolution ,it's evident ,

The life exists and its diversity because it's like that since the begining ,that was in the equation if I can say inside ultim particles and its evolution ,the...

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James Putnam wrote on Jul. 1, 2009 @ 14:53 GMT
Perhaps for some the conclusion that evolution is non-teleological is '

"settled law'. However, the best I can make of arguments in favor of that position is that they are instead 'settled ideology.' My interest in the matter continues because it appears to my mind that evolution is teleological. My position does not reflect a religious conviction. It simply seems to me, based upon scientific learning, that evolution is telelogical. I think there are three ways of considering the matter. Is the cause of evolution teleological? Is the event of evolution teleological? Does natural selection support or defeat the possibility of a teleological result for evolution? Natural selection can only play a controlling or influencial role after the fact. Perhaps sometime this matter can be a subject of an essay contest. For now it probably cannot be sufficiently argued in this forum. However, if any proponent of the pronouncement that 'evolution has no teleology' has input in their own words to support that position, I would be interested in reading it.


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Steve Dufourny wrote on Jul. 1, 2009 @ 18:17 GMT
Let's take our story on Earth .

The biogenesis is fascinating ,a little resume ....The aim of stability ,the improvement,the optimization,the harmonization, ,the spherization are everywhere since the begining.

The paleontology shows us approximatively the begining of life with the first organisms .

More of 3 billions Years ....hydrosphere without O2 more NH4 H2C2 CH4 HCN H20...these non organic matters had some energy sources ,the UV was importants ,the radiations too ,temperature,electricity ,pression ...these combinations in Time create the stability with the amino acids and others the simple sugars....adenin,nucleic acids ,enzyms.......we see always the stability ,an aim of stability .

Phosphoric acid more amino acids =proteins....catalyzers .

HCN more NH3 more energy implies enzyms

CH4 NH3 H2O more electricity =uracyl ,cytosin,thymin,...

Many exemples thus we can see the stability .

It's the same with the evolution ,the polymerization ,the polarizations of complexification in a complementarity foundemantal .

Let's continue with the different geologic periods ....Our Earth evolves and has an aim of interactions to create in Time specific mass their rules.

Algonkian ,Cambrian ,Silurian,Devonian,Carbonifera,Permian,Trias,Jurassic,Cretac
ic,Cenozoic ...indeed we see the complexification and the complementarity and an aim of stability .In the Algonkian ,the animals and vegetals wera protists there is more of 500 millions years ago more coelenteras,gasteropods,cephalopods,the protists changed ,the vegetals too with fungis ,algas,lichens ,during the evolution ,the animals and vegetals complexify themselves in correlation with quantrum and environemental interactions in evolution .For animals the first crustaceas coelentera,appears in the Cambrian ,after insect afetr fishes,crossopterigians,batracians,reptilians,Birds,Mammalia
ns....and for vegetals protistes dedifferenciation too in blue algas ...Iso étals,equisetals ,eusponrangias,cycadals,ginkdale,coniferas,Angio and gymno spermas....all evolves in correlation with intrinsic codes of elementary particles .The complemenatarity always towards the harmony of interactions between mass .

When we see the whole ,the causes and effects are more complex than a local analyze .

The stability and the balance are foundamentals ,thus it exists an aim .

When we speak about a finality ,an end ,we are always in a human imagination,if we take the universal foundations it's totaly different ,because we can improve a stability but we can't change the ultim stability .

I d say what it exsts some limits for all ,in our physical Universe and in the invented things .



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James Putnam wrote on Jul. 1, 2009 @ 21:40 GMT
Hi Steve Dufourney,

So, was the direction of the evolution of life teleological? Unsettled and uncertain details remain to be sorted out. However, beyond the speculation of the mechanical effects involved, what role, if any, did intelligence play? Was the origin of intelligence coincident with the origin of the earth or with the origin of the universe or with the origin of recognizable life on earth?


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Steve Dufourny wrote on Jul. 2, 2009 @ 09:29 GMT
Hi James,

I think that the intelligence was a predicted step in the equation .

The intelligence is appeared after some complexificationsof polarizations .All was predicted ,the rule of this intelligence is to catalyze systems in harmony and accept our physial limits and that to act correctly on our Earth system first .

The rule of this evolution is to check in correlation with foundamentals dynamics ,the harmonical future and that to be in interactions with others systems in our Universe in building .

This social responsability is essential ,we can't play like we want with this universal equation ,it's there that the stability will return always to the balance predited .

Thus we can't change somethings like we want but with some limits ,of course .

It's there I return in my Spherization Theory and the rotations of quantum spheres ,I think the strong and weak interactions are relevant in their details ,we can make adaptations in improvement with weak interactions but not with strong or very strong interactions ,still less with the intrinsic code inside elementary particles ,spheres for me ant their coded rotations .

If I extrapolate the life in our Universe ,I think some foundamentals are there .Of course the pressions ,the luminosity ,the temperature ...imply some differences between vegetals and anaimals but I think that universalities are a sure thing .

Let's imagine an evolution on a planet with good parameters to create life but with a pression more important ,some colors diffrent ...thus we can imagine the morphologies of these lifes ,vegetals and animals ,let's imagine a biodiversity ,I rest persuaded that the intelligence is a piece of the building ,because it's a catalyzer of the ultim aim .

Thus the universal intelligence is in all galaxy systems ,i see the vegetals and minerals and animals like on Earth but with some differences dues to planet parameters ,I think that the spheroids are a key ,like glands ,cerebral hemispheres,hands,eyes,.....vetals too ,flowers ,....thus on this planet ,perhaps some little beings ,plants....their colors too .....but the principle is the same .Our stars create life ,our universal center create the harmony in complexification towards this ultim stability and balance .

The intelligence is a driving force with the love of the universal building.

The problem I think on Earth is our young age ,we add bad habitudes .But it's interesting about the ultim stability and their codes ,in one word ,it's easier to harmonize and balance than to imply chaos.Always the ratio between short and long time ......

If we extrapolate with the teleological aim ,and its stability,it's fascinating .



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James Putnam wrote on Jul. 2, 2009 @ 16:04 GMT
Dear Steve Dufourny,

Thank you for your reply. My interest at this point is hearing from those who would argue that the empirical evidence demonstrates that evolution either is or is not teleological. Those persons who believe this question has been definitively answered can be expected to give a good accounting to support their conclusion. Thats the information that should be persuasive to readers one way or the other. I see that you have or are developing a comprehensive theory. Good luck with it. I am hoping to be able to concentrate on the empirical evidence and its direct interpretation by those who have reached a conclusion and a high level of confidence to prompt them to pronounce it publicly as fact.


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Blogger William Orem wrote on Jul. 3, 2009 @ 23:08 GMT
Zeeya—You’re saying MJ couldn’t actually defy gravity? I’m shocked.

Evolution is non-teleological by virtue of the random nature of mutation and genetic drift; populations evolve just by dint of being imperfect replicators. (When we get our hands on the genome, though . . .)

BTW, for more this week on how ancient, and anthropologically significant, music is to our species, a new find in Germany is being taken as the oldest musical instrument ever found--a 35,000 year-old flute.

Was it made by “one of us,” or by a Neandertal? Did musical expression predate, or even facilitate, the emergence of spoken language? Is music, and aesthetic response in general, epiphenomenal to other evolved traits, or is it telling us something of fundamental importance about the human brain?

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James Putnam wrote on Jul. 4, 2009 @ 04:22 GMT
Dear William Orem,

Your words:

"Evolution is non-teleological by virtue of the random nature of mutation and genetic drift; populations evolve just by dint of being imperfect replicators."

My words:

Why do you say that mutation is random in nature? Do you mean to say that you believe that the genome came together by accident or that we were brought into existence because of accidental radiation? What is genetic drift? Is the point that the genome drifted into displaying human intelligence? Imperfect replicators? Replicators of what? Do you mean imperfect replication of design that previously existed? Are we an imperfect replication of things that existed before us? What is it that previously existed before genetic drift and imperfect replication did their parts? There is either an explanation regarding the origin of the meaning coded into DNA or there is nothing to report but after-effects. What branch of science explains the fundamental physical properties of the genome such that we may understand how it produces intelligent life?

The question of creation is a question of the origin of intelligence. The only properties of the universe that we have available to work with directly are information and intelligence. Since intelligence exists now then it is clear that it had to have resulted from the potential properties of the universe at its beginning. It is the purpose of our genome to raise life and intelligence to the level necessary to achieve human awareness. How do molecules aquire such purpose? How do they aquire any purpose? Intelligence arose from the properties of matter. What property or properties of matter lead to intelligence? Is it electric charge?

There is a misstep that occurs so easily that it can seem to make sense. Physics had identified fundamental mechanical type forces for the purpose of explaining why all action in the universe occurs. The misstep occurs because we observe that what scientitist identify as electromagnetic force, caused by electric charge, links matter together. We see that this linking leads to complexity that results in recognizable intelligent life. It is an easy but unsupportable conclusion that electromagnetism is the cause of intelligent life.

I know that you and I think differently about this matter. I do not expect to change minds here. What I do want to take the opportunity to say is: We do not know what is cause. I repeat: We do not know what is cause. Theoretical physics has worn itself out trying to invent causes. That is its main mission. Invention is not enough. It doesn't yet know what is electric charge. After all the efforts of all the theoretical physicists: We do not know what is cause. The lack of relevance to all this mechanical type theorizing is laid bare by its lack of relevance to explaining or prediction life and intelligence.


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John Merryman wrote on Jul. 6, 2009 @ 01:31 GMT

I think you need to take one step further back. Intelligence is the intersection of information and awareness. The mystery isn't intelligence. It's awareness. That's why it's taken billions of years for marginally intelligent life to evolve, but is now compounding itself ever more rapidly, as the amount of information stored is multiplied. If there were some intelligent entity watching over us, why has intellectual complexity trailed so far behind biological complexity? It seems quite logical that the spiritual absolute is just like the physical absolute; A base state out of which complexity emerges, not an ideal form of which we are just imperfect examples. If you consider the current state of humanity from a evolutionary perspective, we are in an immature growth phase and are due for some hard lessons. When we finish burning off the easily available hydrocarbons, we will be a bit wiser, lots more humble and considerably more aware of our limitations. The bubble isn't just investments and currency. It's our whole notion of just how important, smart and superior we are. It's a seasonal cycle of expansion and consolidation. We won't even have the current narrative religions to comfort us, because the "end times" will come and go and those of us remaining will be picking ourselves up from the mess, not floating in the clouds with Jesus or Mohammed.

No the PhD's are not going to bite off more chaos than they can chew, but lots more chaos than any of us can chew is about to chew on us.

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James Putnam wrote on Jul. 6, 2009 @ 20:21 GMT
Dear John Merryman,

Thank you for your input. I do not agree, however, with your definition of intelligence. Intelligence is the beginning of it all. Awareness comes after intelligence has performed its activity. Intelligence is the key to unraveling the unprovable theoretical aspects offered us as science, and filling in the resulting gaps in knowledge with a property that is known to exist and is not a mechanical invention. I won't try to support my claim here and now. Perhaps it might become an essay subject.

However, I will claim this pronouncement to be self-evident: Everything you ever learn is the result of your intelligence reaching into a store of knowledge that you already possess. To make this point clearer I will also state that: No one can teach you anything that you don't already know in your subconscious mind. It is a process of remembering and not one of receiving new knowledge from someone else. While I learned this from physics empirical evidence, it is not original with me. After I learned it, I became aware that it was demonstrated at least 1700 years ago. It was explained by St. Aurelius Augustine about 389 A.D. in his book titled De Magistro (Concerning The Teacher). Yes he was an important Catholic religious figure. That will probably be looked down upon by some readers of this message. However, I do not have a religion, and St. Augustine was correct, in my opinion.

I do not expect my challenge to the statement 'Evolution has no teleology.' to accomplish anything at this time. My intent was only to alert other readers that not everyone shares that belief. I not only do not share it; I am perlexed that it ever became to be considered a settled scientific fact. It seems to me that ideology, to a significant degree, has become substituted for missing parts of scientific learning.


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John Merryman wrote on Jul. 7, 2009 @ 01:11 GMT

you might use the concept of fractals, as applied to biology, to refute the statement that evolution has no teleology. In many ways, our social structures and their evolution, reflect the evolutionary development of complex biological lifeforms. The brain and the nervous system correspond to political processes. The circulatory systems to monetary mediums and transportation. Immune systems to policing functions. The gut to contract workers in a market economy, etc.

The question then becomes whether the process of life on this planet is evolving towards one super-organism, with humanity as its embryonic central nervous system. Like an egg, we have been supplied with vast stores of energy to transform into complex social functions. If we succeed in transitioning into being the guardians of the planet, with a stable and self-sustaining eco-system, as opposed to simply collapsing into our own greed and small mindedness, than evolution is teleological. On the other hand, if we do collapse, it might mean we are just stillborn, or that evolution really does have no focus, but than it won't matter anyway.

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Richard McGee wrote on Jul. 22, 2009 @ 00:49 GMT
Ah, teleology!

"Purpose," "plan," and "design" are human concepts and reflect the narrow bias of human experience. Our evolution as social animals has hardwired us to view events in terms of personalities and human intentions, rather than as the manifestation of impersonal forces of nature. Storyline is everything - even the most hardened evolutionist will occasionally drift into the "storyline" mindset.

But, in the final analysis, metaphysical naturalism is irreconcilable with teleolgy. No one is at the controls, constantly riding the gain, nudging us in the direction of some final plan. Natural law operates independently and autonomously.

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