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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Flies in for a closer look

This afternoon Bro. Sedwick produced a small plastic pill bottle in which was a rather odd insect, or I should say beetle, he said he found the beetle near his garden and when he picked up the creature, it gave him a bit of a bite, or more exactly, secreted some caustic substance that produced an instant blister on Bro. Sedwick's finger. Bro. Clarence retreated to his library and returned with his 'beetle book' and after not too long pronounced that it was a 'blister beetle' to the delight of all, that is, except Bro. Sedwick. After a bit more research Bro. Clarence came up with this rather interesting information on this beetle, which had us passing around the plastic pill bottle and each of us inspecting this most amazing critter in light of our new found bafflement over how this beetle 'learned' all these various tricks of survival.

"Life in the Mojave Desert can be tough and requires some creativity to survive, and few species are as creative as the blister beetle. They are parasitic creatures and their larvae need to get into the underground nests of a local solitary bee to feed on her provisions and molt into beetles. But getting across the desert is tough for a 2 mm-long larva. Instead of trying to walk across the hot sand, they form clusters on the stems of plants and collectively mimic the sex pheromones of a female bee to attract the male bees. Not only that, but they clump together into a mass that physically resembles a female bee. When the male flies in for a closer look, the larvae grab onto him and fly with him to a real female bee, then grab onto her when the two are mating, and fly with the female bee back to her nest. It’s a case of chemical mimicry and collaboration not seen before in the insect world."

17 comments:

Lifewish said...

To quote Scott Adams of "Dilbert" fame: I'm always amazed that a billion weasels trying to screw each other (e.g. capitalism) works as well as it does.

From death comes life. From blatant freeloading comes elegance.

Bro. Bartleby said...

A trick is a trick is a trick. Elegant or otherwise. Of course if life is merely the short instant between life and death called survival, then 'trick' is a meaningless word, used only by those who ascribe a purpose to life that transcends mere survival. In the God created universe that I find myself, right and wrong do exist, not just subjective right and wrong, or objective right and wrong, but a God created right and wrong. And in this world that I find myself, it is only we, the created in His Image, that are given this knowledge of and thereby are to live by, while all other creatures are held unaccountable for 'right and wrong' so that a blister beetle can behave in an elegant manner and be judged solely on the mechanics of the behavior, that is, if judging has any meaning in a Godless cosmos.

Lifewish said...

Of course if life is merely the short instant between life and death called survival, then 'trick' is a meaningless word, used only by those who ascribe a purpose to life that transcends mere survival.

Even if that trick is itself a means to survive?

In the God created universe that I find myself, right and wrong do exist, not just subjective right and wrong, or objective right and wrong, but a God created right and wrong.

How do you objectively determine this?

Bro. Bartleby said...

"Even if that trick is itself a means to survive?"

You're right, trick and deception and cunning are all means to survive, in a purposeless world (transcendent purpose, that is), I would say anything to promote survival does just that, allows a lifeform to survive. But so too in a purposeless world survival isn't a goal, for goal seems to be meaningless, survival is just the difference between being and not being. Neither one more important than the other, just that once being got it's kickstart, it continues on its meaningless journey until that day when something interrupts that journey.

"How do you objectively determine this?"

I don't. Because my world isn't black and white, subjective and objective, it includes the immaterial and all else that our senses cannot detect, yet our minds can ... well, I suppose some are born with 'black and white' minds, so this would seem meaningless to them.

Lifewish said...

But so too in a purposeless world survival isn't a goal, for goal seems to be meaningless, survival is just the difference between being and not being.

I guess this comes back to the linguistic problem of "how do you describe an ateleological worldview using teleological language?"

Neither one more important than the other, just that once being got it's kickstart, it continues on its meaningless journey until that day when something interrupts that journey.

Well, that's a rather depressing way of putting it :) I prefer to think of the lack of transcendental meaning as giving us freedom to create our own personal meanings for life.

Because my world isn't black and white, subjective and objective, it includes the immaterial and all else that our senses cannot detect, yet our minds can

My world also includes subjective stuff that my senses cannot detect but my mind can. From my perspective, the difference between subjective and objective views is that the former can't be expected to have meaning for anyone but the bearer.

For a sufficiently philosophical definition of "real", it is entirely possible for the immaterial to be real for you. However, since it has not been objectively determined to exist, it will not necessarily be real for anyone else.

As a member of the reality-based community, I try to avoid believing in anything that doesn't have objective supporting evidence. That's obviously a personal choice, and it means that a great many things that are real for other people are not real for me. Your answer to my question suggests that God is one of them - would you concur?

Bro. Bartleby said...

"I prefer to think of the lack of transcendental meaning as giving us freedom to create our own personal meanings for life."
+
"From my perspective, the difference between subjective and objective views is that the former can't be expected to have meaning for anyone but the bearer."
+
"As a member of the reality-based community, I try to avoid believing in anything that doesn't have objective supporting evidence."
=
"Well, that's a rather depressing way of putting it :)"

So, without God you now have "freedom to create your own personal meanings for life," yet personal meaning is subjective, therefore you will avoid those beliefs because they are not supported objectively, which, I would think, put you in a rather puzzling spot ... Right?

Lifewish said...

So, without God you now have "freedom to create your own personal meanings for life," yet personal meaning is subjective, therefore you will avoid those beliefs because they are not supported objectively, which, I would think, put you in a rather puzzling spot ... Right?

I should have worded it as "I try to avoid believing in the existence of anything that doesn't have objective supporting evidence". I don't believe that the meanings I create for myself have any existence except as rather complicated patterns of neural activity. I don't believe that the meanings have any relevance to anyone but me.

There are two distinct questions here: "what is the universe like?", and "what should I do about it?". The former is directly amenable to reason, so I tend to be as rational as possible about it.

The latter requires one extra premise - a goal - in order to bridge the gap between "is" and "ought". That premise is completely intractable to any sort of rational method. As such, I feel justified in choosing it based essentially on subjective intuition. I currently take as axiomatic the pragmatic goal of maximising the overall enjoyment of my existence.

All the rest of my philosophy flows from that premise. As far as I can tell, this is the most rational that it's possible to be.

It's not necessarily the only approach. I mentioned "subjective reality", and I think the concept deserves more attention. I'm defining something as "real" for a person if its existence is in some way a useful premise. Something is "objectively real" if it is useful in the specific sense of being part of an accurate predictive model of the universe.

Obviously, using these definitions, objective reality is only a subset of a person's reality. However, it has the additional property that it's useful for everyone, not just the one person. For this reason it's also been called "consensual reality". The converse is what I've been referring to as "subjective reality".

The short version of my stance is that I attempt to minimise the size of my subjective reality and maximise my knowledge of objective reality. I consider this the approach most consistent with my personal goals.

Do you believe that God is part of objective reality (as previously defined), or merely part of many people's subjective realities? If the latter, on what basis do you consider His existence to be a useful premise? Or do you have another definition of "real" that you prefer?

Bro. Bartleby said...

Okay, would you say that all these things that humans experience or feel -- beauty, truth, love, honor, integrity, emotional bonding, curiosity, insight, epiphanies, morality, religion, personality, relationships -- are simply complicated patterns of neural activity? Funny, I suspect you will agree.

Then so, I would think that in an accidentally created universe, that any sort of objective meaning is nonsensical to me, and that is why I think some of the existentialist are honest, for they have concluded that life is meaningless, to the point of absurdity, that is, evolution has evolved the human mind to the point that this mind is not only subjective, but creates the reality in which it exists. And so, this mind does it in concert with all those like minds around it, so together these separate minds, via the tongue, using the airwaves to communicate, in fact communicate without any visible connection to one another, these humans act as one thinking organism, each separate mind, shaped by other separate minds, and when in agreement, act as one body. I think this Godless universe that you put yourself into is just that, an accident, self creating everything, for if this 'organism' were to die (the death of all humans), then too all those self created essences -- beauty, truth, love, etc -- would die in a poof. You may say that the apes would then evolve and 'bring back' these essences, but wouldn't that remove essences from the subjective? Or even can we say that the Pythagorean Theorem exists outside of humans? Before the Big Bang, did a2 + b2 = c2? Is it eternal? Or can we say it is eternal within the universe that we find ourselves? Or does it have meaning without a human mind? Which brings us back to the evolving apes, in a Creator-less universe, apes would evolve and at some point they would reach a human-like stage, yet they would be completely different, for the billion upon billion of chance mutations would self-construct an entirely different thinker. And could that different thinker come up with a2 - b2 = c2, and could that make perfect sense to them, and could it even be a truth in their universe?

Lifewish said...

Okay, would you say that all these things that humans experience or feel -- beauty, truth, love, honor, integrity, emotional bonding, curiosity, insight, epiphanies, morality, religion, personality, relationships -- are simply complicated patterns of neural activity?

There are two answers there. Considered as things-in-themselves, as material entities, they are indeed just patterns of neural activity - search the entire universe and you won't find a single atom of insight, or personality, or beauty.

As models of human behaviour, on the other hand, they can be very functional, and it's quite hard to construct a model of human behaviour that doesn't invoke them. In this sense, they are firmly positioned in the objective universe.

This is a very interesting point you've raised, because it does provide a direct link between the subjective and the objective. However, to move a concept from the one to the other, you have to restyle it from "X is real" to "X is real for person Y".

So, for example, "beauty is real" may not be an objectively true statement, but "beauty is real for Bro. Bartleby" may be completely accurate.

(I would note in passing that "beauty is true for Lifewish" is also a true statement - in certain contexts, beauty behaves as a restatement of my personal "axiom of ought". Hence it is not removable from my subjective universe.)

Another way of saying this would be: it's possible for something to be objectively real when viewed on one level but unreal when viewed on another. For example, when looking at the weather on a human scale, "tornado" is a perfectly real concept. However, when looking at it on an atomic level, it's fairly meaningless - atoms don't think in terms of cyclones.

Similarly, on a macroscopic human level, concepts like truth and beauty may be useful. When considering those same humans on an atomic level, though, these same concepts become meaningless.

On reflection, this means that, when declaring something to be real, one must also define the context in which it's real.

Then so, I would think that in an accidentally created universe, that any sort of objective meaning is nonsensical to me

In any sort of universe, there is in general a concrete survival advantage to being able to accurately perceive one's surroundings. Accurate information is necessary for survival-enhancing conclusions.

There probably are, were, and will be organisms that are unable to accurately perceive reality. These, however, will tend not to procreate, and hence the gene pool will remain oriented towards organisms that are capable of gathering information that is useful in this sense.

We've seen in Iraq the risks of trying to create a new reality without sufficiently understanding the one we've already got...

for if this 'organism' were to die (the death of all humans), then too all those self created essences -- beauty, truth, love, etc -- would die in a poof.

When a snowflake melts, does the pattern, the essence of the snowflake live on in some alternate Platonic reality, or does it fade away like a flower in winter? I'd say the latter - in which case, why should neural patterns be given specialist treatment?

As far as I can tell, beauty, truth and love are only real in the context of a living, breathing human. In the absence of one of those, they lack a substrate for their existence.

My primary question then becomes: is God a useful premise when considered in contexts other than particular humans? Does God exist other than in the substrate of particular human minds?

Before the Big Bang, did a2 + b2 = c2?

I think you're confusing "objectively real" with "material". a2+b2=c2 is a demonstrably accurate premise in certain circumstances, hence it is objectively real. Material things are a subset of objectively real things.

Or does it have meaning without a human mind?

If a tree falls in the forest...

By definition, we're never going to be able to observe a universe untouched by human mind. I'd say that the question of what is "real" in such a universe is probably unanswerable, and quite possibly meaningless. These patterns would still be accurate, but by my definition of "real" there would need to be someone for them to be real to.

in a Creator-less universe, apes would evolve and at some point they would reach a human-like stage, yet they would be completely different, for the billion upon billion of chance mutations would self-construct an entirely different thinker.

I'm not sure what you're saying here. As best I can tell, that "completely different thinker" is us. Is that consistent with what you were saying?

And could that different thinker come up with a2 - b2 = c2, and could that make perfect sense to them, and could it even be a truth in their universe?

Um... yes. Why shouldn't it be?

catnapping said...

I'm glad to see that euro-western science is finally proving what us 'pagan' indigenous americans have know all along.

ALL life is sacred. Man is NOTHING. He is NOT the superior being on this planet.

There is beauty and intelligence in all things; the rocks, the rain, the trees, bugs, and even the mud...

Lifewish said...

catnapping: I think the word "knew" there should actually be something like "strongly believed". Many of the ancient Greek philosophers strongly believed that matter was particulate; this did not mean that they were right by anything more than coincidence.

And it's not really true that science has proved this lack of superiority. Saying that humans are superior is a value judgement, and that value judgement is still philosophically valid. Science just (provisionally) demonstrates that it is a value judgement, rather than there being any detectable qualitative differences between humans and other life forms.

I'd tend to agree with your basic philosophy - the universe is beautiful on so many levels.

Bro. Bartleby said...

"ALL life is sacred. Man is NOTHING. He is NOT the superior being on this planet."

The problem with 'humans are nothing' is that humans are capable of much, much more than all other creatures we find ourselves surrounded by. Capable in the sense that through will, humans can build or destroy, or neither. The Torah (Old Testament) teaches that with this rather powerful nature to do either good or evil, humans need guidance from God. As 'powerful humans' (in the sense that we can, by will, set a forest fire, or create a nuclear bomb), God calls for us to do good, making us the stewards of all the earth, to live and respect all God's creations. That is the calling. Look around. Who has responded to the call? So far we have proved to be poor stewards, for our stewardship has allowed much harm to God's creations. So I would say, to dismiss humans is to ignore the reality, a reality that could destroy everything that you and I hold sacred.

Bro. Bartleby said...

"search the entire universe and you won't find a single atom of insight, or personality, or beauty."

Perhaps the entire universe contains more than we think, or are capable of detecting? How does one detect the undetectable?

"When a snowflake melts, does the pattern, the essence of the snowflake live on in some alternate Platonic reality, or does it fade away like a flower in winter? I'd say the latter - in which case, why should neural patterns be given specialist treatment?"

The difference between a God-created universe and a universe by happenstance. In the former, humans live in an alternate reality because they are more than the material composition, the invisible spiritual is in the image of God, so that when the human 'snowflake' melts and disappears, it is the material dust that returns to the earth, while the immaterial spirit is not governed by the natural laws of the material. And in your latter example, the snowflake fades like flower in winter, in this reality natural laws exist forever (as ever until the universe transforms itself) and the snowflake (human) is but a bit of material that conforms to the natural laws, only existing in the sense that the human mind 'thinks' it exists, because the human mind takes a 'snapshot' of a moment when matter is being transforms by natural laws.

Lifewish said...

Offtopic note: I came across this post that I thought might interest you. If you approve of it, I'd mention that the author could apparently use some reassurance that anyone on the Christian side of the fence is listening.

Perhaps the entire universe contains more than we think, or are capable of detecting? How does one detect the undetectable?

What's the point of trying? If something is undetectable then by definition it is impossible to produce accurate, parsimonious models of the world that require its existence. It would be completely useless as a scientific concept, and therefore objectively unreal in this context.

As best we can tell, insight, personality and beauty are all objectively unreal when one considers the universe on the atomic level.

They may of course still be subjectively real for individuals even in this context, but in that case it's silly to try to detect them using objective approaches.

In the former, humans live in an alternate reality because they are more than the material composition, the invisible spiritual is in the image of God, so that when the human 'snowflake' melts and disappears, it is the material dust that returns to the earth, while the immaterial spirit is not governed by the natural laws of the material.

I don't dispute that that spirit is real for you. But is it real in the sense of being a demonstrably accurate representation of reality, or real in the sense of being a useful simplification, or real in the sense of being a beautiful and motivating thought, or real in some other sense entirely?

If it's real in the first sense then that would be an immensely powerful discovery that would cut through many moral conundrums at a stroke. Worried about abortion? Just track a child to determine the point at which the immaterial soul enters the body. Worried about euthanasia of a long-term coma victim? Just check to see whether their soul is still present.

If it's real in any of the other senses, then it may be real only for you, not for anyone else.

Bro. Bartleby said...

Thank you, I did visit Sister Amanda and will read more as time permits.

Bro. Bartleby said...

"I don't dispute that that spirit is real for you."

Thank you.
It is ...
:)
... for me.
And for ...

Lifewish said...

Thank you.
It is ...
:)
... for me.
And for ...


...and for a number of other individuals across the planet.

The question is whether it fulfils the criteria necessary to be real for the human race in general (i.e. objectively real). My current stance is: it doesn't. However, I'm extremely open to being proven wrong, through presentation of either better evidence or more sensible criteria.