Re: Me against the meme

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Thu 17 Nov 2005 - 01:52:49 GMT

  • Next message: Derek Gatherer: "Re: Me against the meme"

    Ted wrote:

    I don't posit fields and memory because I think they're neat. I posit them because they account for the fundamental features we observe in organisms, in particular the human organism. A theory of life should be true-to-life. It should make room for self-existence, self-determination, awareness and self-awareness, desire, will and purpose, memory, regret, shame and guilt, the ego and the unconscious, anxiety and dread, fear and terror, love and hate, representation, intelligence and communication, trust and deceit, pleasure and pain, even qualities as simple as color and humor. The willing, purposive mind is the center of the living universe.

    My reply:

    If you're looking at making something like regret, shame or guilt fundamental to a theory of life, you're going to need to figure out how to get an *E. coli* on the couch and analyze it's life story. In what way does a bacterium feel regret or shame? If we're throwing psychoanalytic terms about in inappropriate ways (ego and unconcious) let's just go all the way and ask if unicellular organisms (sans neurons) have a superego (aka conscience). If so, shouldn't
    *Saccharomyces* yeast species responsible for the production of alcohol have felt regret or shame for the consequences of human alcoholism due to their intoxicating products? Sorry this may sound off the wall, but extrapolating human subjective feelings across the rest of the living phyla seems a bit strange IMO so you opened yourself up to the ridicule with these gems. You are focusing on human traits then searing them across the whole of the living world without respect for the fact that most organisms do not have complex CNS's nor culturally derived concepts like, guilt, regret or shame.

    If non-human organisms do have a sense of humor they will probably be rolling on the floor about now. It's been a while since I've read Dennett's _DDI_, but didn't he pretty much explode the mind-first stance in that book? I mean I might not be Dennett's biggest fan, but I'd at least circle the wagons when someone states that mind (willing and purposive) is at the center of it all. Mind resulted from evolution, it was not the initial cause, nor does it factor into the equation for most species. The evolution of mind became relevant to our discussion when nervous systems became elaborate enough to generate something that could be called mental activity. That certainly rules plants out, even those plants like the sensitive briar or venus flytrap that have some relatively rapid responses to environment changes.

    Does a tree that falls on someone's house feel regret? Do pistils love stamens or vice versa? Your views amount to anthropomorphism writ large. Dawkins's metaphor of the "selfish" gene doesn't even come close to the extent you're pushing it. Human attributes have very limited ranges of applicability, especially in the literal sense. Dawkins's metaphor wasn't a literal one, but I'm wondering about your allusions to regret and shame in the non-human organisms.

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