That’s Great – As Far As It Goes, That Is

     Inner Fish, Inner Reptile, etc, etc. Fascinating, right? I’m serious; it is fascinating, especially for those of us who studied geology and fossils back in the good ol’ days BGS (Before Great Strides) were made with the help of PBS and the National Geographic Channel.

     However, these things don’t provide answers to my Inner Confusion. (Okay, I admit I’m Waay too lazy to do any kind of research on the matter – not that I believe I would ever get a definitive answer.) This is the crux of my inner confusion – at what point did some kind of creature develop the capacity to REASON? Do humans know for certain that any other creatures share that capacity? 

     Okay, I know that squirrels can figure out a complicated series of actions to finally vault onto the bird feeder. Does that mean they can reason? Is the cat, ready for a wild midnight foray outside in the neighborhood, using reasoning when he plops onto my slumbering chest in the middle of the night with a loud meow? (THAT’LL get her attention, heh heh heh!)  Are whales reasoning as they communicate with clicks and moans?

     And why did humans learn to invent? Or study? What process, and WHEN, precipitated the ever increasing capacity of the brain to assimilate knowledge? Back in those good ol’ days in grade school we were told modern man’s initial toehold on the future began with the accidental discovery that fire sparked (ha!) a cascade of changes. I can almost see a couple of textbook authors somewhere saying, “Let’s tell THAT to the kids. It’s as good as any other explanation.”

     And does reasoning and consciousness just die out when our bodies expire? Or does the energy of our consciousness and assimilated knowledge remain in some unknown state invisible but undissipated? I’m so ignorant, and will always be confused! 


3 thoughts on “That’s Great – As Far As It Goes, That Is

  1. [Disclaimer: the following is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I realize that this post is just an exercise.] Is this stream-of-consciusness writing, or are answers being sought? If the latter, Google is your friend. The query, “do non-primates have reasoning power” yields 30.4 million citations in 0.5 seconds. “How do we know if animals can reason” yields 620 million citations in 0.52 seconds. The writer asks, “And why did humans learn to invent? Or study? What process, and WHEN, precipitated the ever increasing capacity of the brain to assimilate knowledge?”. The common thread of these questions was successfully addressed in 1859 by Charles Darwin in “On the Origin of Species”: inheritable changes (we now know they were genetic mutations) that produced these phenomena conveyed increased survivability and reproduction, leading to preferential selection within the environment. As the environment changes, those with the most suitably adapted genetics survive and reproduce best. But you knew that. Natural selection is the most thoroughly vetted theory in science, as close to being true as one can say about a theory. As to “when”, if you found that it was 1.265 million years ago, would your confusion be relieved, or would it just have a number attached to it? As to what happens when bodies expire, Google gives 49.1 million citations in 0.32 seconds on the subject of “conservation of mass and energy”. No mass or energy, no “building blocks” that were present in life, are destroyed by death, nor by anything else. If your Inner Confusion is only a topic to provide relief for writer’s block, you need do nothing else beyond remaining “Waay too lazy to do any kind of research on the matter.” If, however, it is an issue that causes you distress, millions of brains have devoted billions of hours researching these topics and making their results available, as opposed to relying on “common sense” or “introspection”, which by definition can only include ideas or conclusions already in the brain. Google is your friend. All the answers are not known; perhaps they won’t be known in the time of humans. That does not devalue the many answers that ARE known, nor does it indicate that you can never “get definitive answers” to your questions. Theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler said, “Behind it all is surely an idea so simple, so beautiful, that when we grasp it – in a decade, a century, or a millennium – we will all say to each other, how could it have been otherwise?” The universe proceeds according to its laws, whether or not humans have, or ever will have, discovered them. Those laws are consistent, neither evil nor good, but pitilessly indifferent. Since the “beginning”, not one unusual thing has ever happened.

    • What a wonderful post! Thank you for such thought-provoking information. Did I detect just a hint of superiority when you suggested I check Google, that unimpeachable source of all knowledge? Surely not!! I admit I was being very flippant in much I had to say. In other ways I was much less than thorough in laying out my thoughts. Why, I wonder, did humans develop to the extent they have, when they are relative newcomers on the Earth. There are organisms living today who are virtually unchanged in form from their ancestors who lived many millennia ago. Without changing much externally or internally, they adapted to heat, cold, drought, flood – but can they reason?

      Yes, Origin of the Species is quite elegant in its proofs and natural selection seems obvious, but as you indicate, we may never know all the answers to all the questions.

      I nod agreement with Wheeler, and fully expect to eventually say “Of course – I should’ve known that all along”.

      • “Did I detect just a hint of superiority when you suggested I check Google”. Unintended. It was tongue-in-cheek, somewhat difficult to convey in this medium (for me). Emoticons might help. When we were young, in order to do research, one visited the library. Like Google, the selections there offered no guarantee of credibility, so much as volume and variety. Google is a library with “all” the books, and all the comments, and perhaps one day even the thoughts, on any given subject, or even any given word or phrase or series of letters (everything is “1’s” and “0’s”). And your “trip” through the “card catalog” requires less than a second! Just like the works in the library, Google doesn’t generate knowledge; it provides access to it. The reader is left to his/her own methods for assigning validity (which is a wonderful opportunity for confirmation bias!). Back to the old “consider the source” guideline.

        About the johnny-come-lately development of humans. Every species, including those with long histories of survival, were once the “johnny-come-lately’s”. If, by thought experiment, we were able to observe dinosaurs 200,000 years after they evolved, we’d be asking the same question about them versus the older life forms. Give it time. Again, nothing unusual in the universe.

        There is excellent genetic evidence that all life forms on Earth share a single common ancestor, “mitochondrial Eve”. Consequently, all life forms are survival systems for those original genes. Almost all (>99%) of evolved survival systems have proven unable to adapt and preserve their genes at some point, and so are extinct. Humans are another survival system adaptation, achieved by natural selection, a method for preserving Mitochondrial Eve’s genes. If one pays any attention to statistics, it is overwhelmingly likely that humans will go extinct, like the 99+% of species (gene survival systems) before them. The difference, so far as anyone has been able to discover, is that humans are the first species with the capability to rebel against their genetic programs, and the statistics. This could be good, since it allows us to cheat on natural selection and possibly cause intentional compensatory adaptations in our species. Unfortunately, that same capability gives us the potential to destroy our species by our own actions, something natural selection would not allow. In fact, some have proposed that this capability is the “Great Filter” for intelligent life in the universe: it evolves until it destroys itself. If so, no wonder we haven’t heard from anyone else!

        As to the capability for reasoning, were I investigating it, I would explore the evidence for which brain parts deal with reasoning and determine which animals have both those parts and activities that seem to reflect reasoning. The horde of researchers far better informed than I am surely have even better methods, and quite likely have published them. Or, we could just wonder. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s