Monday, September 19, 2005


It's going to be autumn this week. We're heading for a fall—a leaf fall. We'll be falling in love with fall is falling for rake the-leaves. Anyway, this week I'll be registering for some college course or another at SCC, with a senior waver, and when I start studying, perhaps this blog will fall on hard times. I took a math class two years ago, and the homework took up hours and hours of time which I now put into scanning and writing this blog. We'll see. This warning is just a little heads up to my one or two readers out there. I also see that I need to read Saul Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet if I want to be part of a discussion of that book at the South Hill Library on October 11. I read that book ten thousand years ago in the 60s or very early 70s. I've never forgotten it, quite, though many details escape me. It's stream of conscious technique is what I recall most clearly. Will I read it? Do I have the time? Do I dare to eat a peach? Will I wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled? Do I hear the eternal footman, who's holding my coat, snicker? I've measured out my life with coffee spoons. . . . ah, well. . . .


Robert Wright asks an interesting question of those of us who believe that men and women are darn nearly robots and have little free will. In short, what is the adaptive function of fear if action is all that's required to escape the green meanies of predation?

"Science lives by the credo of the mechanics: everything about the structure and behavior of all organisms is explicable in sheerly physical terms, and therefore is amenable to scientific inquiry. This can-do spirit has gotten science where it is today, and I think it's the proper attitude of a scientist. But as we've seen, the flip side of the view that everything functional is physical is that what's not physical has no function. Our feelings, according to the credo of science, affect our behavior no more than a shadow affects a puppet. Well, if feelings have no function, then why are they here? A scientist—a mechanic—cannot answer that question. He can and should try to explain why evolution produced everything physical and observable about us—toenails, eardrums, brains, and all the intricate behavior brains govern. But if he's going to insist that consciousness doesn't do anything, he'll be hard pressed to explain why evolution created it.

"In other words, a scientist can readily explain the evolution of the physiology that produces fear: adrenaline and various other tangible forms of information together got our ancestors to flee from saber-toothed tigers and thus were favored by natural selection. But why does that physiology produce, in addition to the fleeing, the feeling of fear? That's the tough question. If the feeling is truly superfluous, then there can be no evolutionary explanation of it." —Robert Wright in "Why Is It Like Something To Be Alive?" in MYSTERIES OF LIFE AND THE UNIVERSE, edited by William Shore


I mut admit to having thoughts that lead me to conclude that a rock is just as willful as I am. See what Martin Gardner in his essay "Computers Near The Threshold?" in MYSTERIES OF LIFE AND THE UNIVERSE, edited by William Shore, has to say about the matter:

[Open quote] First, I should make clear that I am not a vitalist who thinks there is a "ghost in the machine"—a soul distinct from the brain. I believe that the human mind, like the mind of any lower animal, is a function of a material lump of organic matter. Although I remain open to the Platonic possibility of a disembodied soul, as I am open to any metaphysical notion not logically contradictory, the evidence against it seems overwhelming. Strong arguments for a functional view of the mind are too familiar to need summarlzlng.

If a human has a nonmaterial soul, it is hard to see why the same should not be said of an amoeba, a plant, or even a pebble. A few panpsychic monists such as Charles Hartshorne actually do say this, but I consider it an absurd misuse of words, a "category mistake," to talk of a potato in a dark cellar as having what Butler called "a certain degree of cunning." [Close quote]

"Setting a good example for children takes all the fun out of middle age."—William Feather

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