Thursday, September 13, 2012

Order of the Universe #39

[…] we must be wary of granting too much power to natural selection by viewing all basic capacities of our brain as direct adaptations. I do not doubt that natural selection acted in building our oversized brain—and I am equally confident that our brains became large as an adaptation for definite roles (probably a complex set of interacting functions). But these assumptions do not lead to the notion, often uncritically embraced by strict Darwinians, that all major capacities of the brain must arise as direct products of natural selection. Our brains are enormously complex computers. If I install a much simpler computer to keep accounts in a factory, it can also perform many other, more complex tasks unrelated to its appointed role. The additional capacities are ineluctable consequences of structural design, not direct adaptations. Our vastly more complex organic computers were also built for reasons, but possess an almost terrifying array of additional capacities—including, I suspect, most of what makes us human. Our ancestors did not read, write, or wonder why most stars do not change their relative positions while five wandering points of light and two larger disks move through a path now called the zodiac. We need not view Bach as a happy spinoff from the value of music in cementing tribal cohesion, or Shakespeare as a fortunate consequence of the role of myth and epic narrative in maintaining hunting bands.

Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (1981)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Order of the Universe #38

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.

E.M. Forster, Howard's End (1910)