Monday, March 7, 2016

So why does evolution does not explain everything, and especially culture

Here is summarized the conclusions drawn by Felipe Fernàndez-Armesto in his book "A Foot in the River":

Basic to entente biology and history is the acknowledgement of three facts: that culture is not uniquely human; that the existence of culture depends on evolution in the sense that we can only do anything with the physical and cerebral equipment evolution has given us; but that culture also changes independently of evolution, which should not be expected to have infinitely elastic powers of explanation.
(Chapter 8, "Towards the planet of apes") Felipe Fernàndez-Armesto goes on:
The mutations that make for a multiplicity of culture are different from those that kick off organic changes: they are capricious, but not random; they are devised by minds, not spontaneous; typically, they do not replicate according to the incidence of any advantage, nor does their success or failure respond necessarily to environmental constraints or opportunities.
(Chapter 8, "Towards the planet of apes")

See this old blog post that is relevant to this topic.

Uncertainty in science and the bridge to humanities

Felipe describes in his book "A Foot in the River" how, because so-called hard sciences opened the door to the possibility that there is a limit to our knowledge, it also built a bridge toward humanities, the so-called soft sciences:

At least two positive effects have ensued. First, it no longer seems realistic to demand a predictable cosmos, ruled by definitive, unbending laws and bound by links of cause and effect. The causes may still be there, but are often untraceable. The effects may still there but are often untrackable. Second, science has come to seem more approachable and more intelligible from the perspectives of other disciplines: less hard-edged, more yielding; less cocksure, more flexible; less definitive, more open-ended; less confident of solutions, more entranced by problems. After a long period in which humanities and social studies have tried to be more scientific, science has begun to look more like art. Science has let its hair down and become more arty.
(Chapter 8, "Toward the planet of the apes")

See this old blog post that is relevant to this topic.

Achieving a human understanding

A quote from Marie Curie referenced by Felipe Fernàndez-Armesto in his book "A Foot in the River":

"There is nothing to be feared. It is only to be understood.
Another by Isaiah Berlin who explains why we should accept and adopt pluralism:
There is a plurality of values, which men can and do seek...And the difference it makes is that if a man pursues one of these values, I, who do not, am able to understand why he pursues it or what it would be like, in his circumstances, for me to be induced to pursue it. Hence the possibility of human understanding."
Felipe Fernàndez-Armesto goes on:
This position differs from cultural relativism. It does not say, for instance, that all cultures can be accommodated. One might exclude Nazism, say, or cannibalism. It leaves open the possibility of peaceful argument about which culture, if any, is best. It claims, in Berlin's words, 'that the multitude values are objective, part of the essence of humanity rather than arbitrary creations of men's subjective fancies'."
(All quotes are from Chapter 8, "Towards the planet of apes")

See also this old blog post that is relevant to this topic.