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Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Foment for the Future

by Steve Neumann

What is new, however, is always evil, being that which wants to conquer and overthrow the old boundary markers and old pieties ... The good men are in all ages those who dig the old thoughts, digging deep and getting them to bear fruit — the farmers of the spirit. But eventually all land is exploited, and the ploughshare of evil must come again and again.

— Nietzsche, The Gay Science

Satisfied sheep don’t change the world — wanton wily wolves do. The status quo loathes the uncertainty quotient. Whether it’s the fear of losing power, the fear of the unknown, or the feeling of losing control, change is almost never a welcome guest in our lives. We may retrospectively judge a change to have been beneficial or expedient, but perhaps the most important effect of change is the broadening of the range of human experience, expression and fulfillment.

I. First, Break All the Rules

Whether you run a brothel or a multinational corporation, you will have to manage employees. Even if you’ve done a stellar job of hiring the right person for each role, you will encounter instances where employees make innocent mistakes, or forget to do something, or even try to think outside the box. Almost without exception, the traditional approach to dealing with these things is punishment: scold the employee, dock his pay — even fire him. It is one of our species’ oldest and strongest instincts. But there’s one problem: while this may provide a temporary fix, it doesn’t really address the core issue.

A little over a decade ago, researchers at The Gallup Organization conducted an enormous and detailed study of the employee-manager dynamic. What they found is that, contrary to popular belief and practice, the greatest area for an individual’s growth is that individual’s strengths. The greatest managers focused on building upon their employees’ strengths instead of merely trying to fix their weaknesses. So instead of taking the easy route of punishing employees for missteps, hoping that she will learn from her mistakes, they consciously focused on identifying and reinforcing her natural talents, thus turning them into productive strengths. This accords nicely with John Rawls’s “Aristotelian Principle,” which says that “people normally find activities that call upon their developed capacities to be more interesting and preferable to simpler tasks, and their enjoyment increases the more the capacity is realized or the greater its complexity.”

So the greatest source of fulfillment for an individual will be the development of her talents turned into strengths. And this will be true in her work life as well as her personal life. She will be constantly bumping up against tradition, convention, and the unspoken rules of others. If she is serious about it, she will have to take steps to exercise her talents; and she will become a rule breaker. Though her intention will be the maximization of her own “realized capacities,” she will be fomenting change because others, whether they are staunch defenders of the status quo or enlightened individuals seeking to turn their own talents into strengths, will resist her attempts. But, as Daniel Dennett says in Freedom Evolves, “encroachment is what makes life interesting.” And the word “interesting” is an understatement: encroachment entails conflict.

The ploughshare of change cuts in half many a worm.

II. Next, Break the Pentameter!

The turn of the twentieth century brought a sea change in the world of poetry. Controversial poet and critic Ezra Pound decisively broke with tradition and sought nothing less than to “keep alive a certain group of advancing poets, to set the arts in their rightful place as the acknowledged guide and lamp of civilization.” And by most accounts, he did. Contemporary poet T.S. Eliot wrote that Pound offered “the most important contemporary criticism of its kind. He forced upon our attention not only individual authors, but whole areas of poetry, which no future criticism can afford to ignore.”

Pound’s break with tradition was so extreme that he even baffled his own supporters — which were few. At the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century, he delineated his aesthetic credo as follows:

1) Direct treatment of the “thing” whether subjective or objective.
2) To use absolutely no word that did not contribute to the presentation.
3) As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

What he wanted to do was reign in the extravagance of nineteenth century romantic poetry. His third maxim above relates to the traditional use of the iambic pentameter in verse — think Shakespeare’s sonnets, or even the “free verse” of Pound’s contemporaries. Speaking of free verse he said, in characteristically acerbic style, that the “actual language and phrasing is often as bad as that of our elders without even the excuse that the words are shovelled in to fill a metric pattern or to complete the noise of a rhyme-sound.” In one of his famous poems, Canto LXXXI, he said “to break the pentameter, that was the first heave.” Pound desired a verse that gave a true freedom of expression to the poet. Sticking to a traditional metric pattern, however lovely, is too restrictive. It doesn’t allow for a true or complete expression. Pound wanted each poem to have a rhythm “which corresponds exactly to the emotion or shade of emotion to be expressed.”

In his magnum opus, The Cantos, Pound moves forcefully beyond aesthetic concerns and incorporates historical, economic and political issues. In his personal life, he was an expat who became an admirer of Mussolini, and during WWII he broadcast a series of tendentious radio commentaries aimed at American political and economic figures — particularly and, infamously, Jewish bankers whom he believed were part of the reason for the war. At the end of the war, he was arrested by the U.S. Army and kept in an outdoor wire cage where he seemed to have suffered a nervous breakdown.

Though he would later repudiate his magnum opus in an interview with poet Donald Hall, he nevertheless blazed a bright trail for innumerable poets after him. His efforts and the efforts of those immediately influenced by him would change the face of poetry to this day. This break with tradition significantly expanded the opportunities for individual poets to nurture their talents and maximize their realized capacities.

The ploughshare of Pound broke into pieces many a fine sonnet.

III. Finally, Bring it On Home

The history of human music is much too involved for a single brief essay, but we can at least talk about Western classical music and popular music, and describe a few of the most notable figures there.

A major figure of the Baroque period is obviously J.S. Bach, who had a flair for improvisation. This period saw the growth of more complex and stylish forms such as opera, the oratorio and the cantata for vocals, and the concerto, sonata and suite for larger-scale instrumental pieces. The Classical period saw the elevation of public performances, an important first step toward the enjoyment of music for the masses. The three giants of the Classical period were Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Whereas Haydn composed significant choral music and Mozart was a child prodigy, Beethoven marks the beginning of the shift from Classical to a more “heroic” style of Romantic music. Beethoven began to break with what had become a preoccupation with form and restraint, as was evident in his famous Eroica symphony which he originally dedicated to Napoleon.

Modern popular music begins with the Blues, which evolved out of African-American work songs and spirituals far from the formality and instrumentation of Classical music, and gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop. One of the most influential blues musicians from the 1930s was Robert Johnson (see photo), whose death was as mysterious as his life, and who seems to have been a founding member of the 27 Club — those musicians who die before they reach their 28th birthday. Other notable members of this club are Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse.

Johnson’s soulful intensity, expressive vocals and guitar mastery would mesmerize and inspire scores of British rock musicians in the 1960s, titans such as Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. In America, the Blues was part of the formula that created the Rock music of Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and, of course, the King, Elvis Presley. All of these artists broke with traditional norms and mores, forging unique styles that would inspire still others to do the same, and which still drives popular music today.

In every area of human concern that matters, whether it’s the practical endeavor of earning a living and contributing economically to society, or the more “spiritual” pursuits of art and music, breaking the rules is a necessary evil. But to call such an attitude an “evil” is really a misnomer, because rule breakers are innovators who allow us to experience vistas of existential possibilities that we couldn’t even imagine previously. Those who create new norms and values not only allow us to maximize our innate capacities and achieve fulfillment, but are really catalysts in the evolution of our species beyond the all-too-human.

77 comments:

  1. Steve ~

    I think you are casting too wide a net with a general term of "rule breaker". Al Capone was a rule breaker, but did not contribute to society.

    Rule breakers may indeed introduce innovations, but more often then not, rule breakers just cause problems for society.

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    1. But Tom D. the second half of your last sentence casts as wide a net. As is said: "There's always an exception to the rule, except to the exception of the rule—which is, in of itself, an accepted exception of the rule." Just joking of course.

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    2. Yes, there are all kinds of rule breakers - from the petty to the unspeakable. But the ones that interest me most are the ones who do innovate for the better *and* are still generally looked upon as something undesirable. To my mind, they are the ones who are most valuable. Beethoven was a grumpy pain in the ass, as was Steve Jobs, apparently.

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  2. The wrong thing to do in the face of the consistency of change is to NOT change the rules accordingly.

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    1. But the powers that be don't want the rules changed unless *they* are the ones changing them.

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  3. Satisfied sheep don’t change the world — wanton wily wolves do.
    No, not at all. The wanton, wily wolves are soon hunted down and shot. This is done for good reason, they act only for their own wanton pleasure, wholly disregarding the good of the society that sustains them. Selfish mavericks are no good to anyone.
    Real, sustainable and useful change comes from the thoughtful and insightful shepherds, which just goes to show how a false argument can spring forth from a false dichotomy.

    Breaking rules for the sake of breaking rules is a recipe for futile chaos. All of society stands on our mutual understanding of rules. Without it there is no society.

    Yes, Steve, I know you don't mean this. There is a subtext, that it should be done thoughtfully, intelligently and with insight(but boldly).

    And that is exactly my point The true goal is to to search for understanding, for real insights and then to pursue them to their logical consequences, whether that means breaking rules, changing rules or introducing other changes, institutional, procedural or whatever(this is the bold part).

    Or, as Thomas Carlyle put it Nothing is more terrible than activity without insight

    Pursue insight boldly and all else follows.

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    1. Yes, I was being a bit histrionic in my opening paragraph :)

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    2. The world, however, does not function in that single vacuum of individuality. What that apparently hedonistic impetus offers (and, frankly, there are no acts which are not inherently selfish) is a public display that a general audience can then take and more pseudo-objectively assess.

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  4. Peter,
    Thanks for your comment -- it expressed something that I have been trying to get to.

    The example I would use is Newton/Einstein. Einstein was not a wanton rule breaker, but rather someone who fully understood Newton's rules and knew the value of them. But Einstein was someone who had the intelligence to see instances where Newton's rules could be superseded by Einstein's NEW rules.

    It is not just wanton rule breaking, but modification with insight (as you said).

    The same can be said for poetry/music -- good artists well know the rules, and know how they can be skillfully violated in rare instances where the rules are not relevant.

    But we are probably beating Steve up for things he never meant to imply!

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    1. I also used "wanton" in the sense of "lustful". And while someone like Einstein may not have "lusted" for fame or any of the trappings thereof, one could still say he "lusted" for a certain type of greatness, especially given the greatness of his task: to unravel the mysteries of the universe itself!

      And yes, all of the great ones of history knew and utilized the rules of their predecessors. As Newtown said, they stood on the shoulders of giants.

      But what interests me most is that fundamental aversion and mistrust of the rule breaker, whatever his/her field.

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  5. Yes, Tom D., I think we are. Here's a link to an excellent article by Lee Smolin. It captures the spirit of Steve's blog, but in the very lofty realm (pun intended) of cosmology.

    http://www.edge.org/conversation/think-about-nature

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  6. Steve,
    This is a rather contrived essay. Industry cannot necessarily afford to be “identifying and reinforcing [their employee’s] natural talents”. The relationship between an employer and their employees is functional. The employee is hired to perform a specific function and chances are it’s a rather mundane function that doesn’t have a lot to do with the employee’s personal interests and talents. An employee who works on an automobile assembly line attaching rearview mirrors to windshields, for instance, has a very specific and limited role in the process. If his talent is writing poems, it really isn’t relevant. The employer is paying him to fit in and do his part in the production of new cars. The employee may get ideas that can improve and change the process, but those ideas have to be relevant to the production of new cars. Fitting-in is important too.

    A lot of aspiring musicians have “day jobs” because they can’t make a living from their music. It may have little to do with how good they are. Joni Mitchell’s song “For Free” is about a guy who plays “real good”. He just doesn’t have the right people marketing his songs for him. Even Van Gogh couldn’t make a living off his art. He was an utter failure back in his day. I wish you’d be more specific about the changes Elvis ushered in. Some people would say it wasn’t that he was innovative, he just had a nice voice and a white face. A good singing voice and a black face (even one that is accompanied by a lot of provocative hip gyrating) didn’t appeal as much to the American public.


    I can’t think of anyone besides you who thinks punishment is an instinct rather than a learned behavior. But I see now where you get your views on evolution. Coincidently Kenan Malik recently reposted his review of “Freedom Evolves”. You should check it out. (http://kenanmalik.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/on-freedom-and-free-will/#more-14096).

    Here is an excerpt:
    “The real difficulty with Dennett’s argument is not his belief that freedom and determinism must coexist – a proposition with which I agree – but his insistence on viewing agency simply as a biological phenomenon. Our very possession of agency reveals that humans cannot be understood in this fashion. Agency is an expression not just of our embodiment in nature but also of our capacity to transcend it. It is an expression of our existence both as natural creatures and as historical beings.”


    Stephen Jay Gould thought of Dennett as a Darwinian fundamentalist. That’s the problem with naturalism; its adherents are as dogmatic as any religious fanatic. A dogma is any idea or theory that doesn’t lend itself to verification. You might also read H. Allen Orr’s review of Dennett’s Strange Idea (http://new.bostonreview.net/BR21.3/Orr.html).


    And I have no idea what you’re talking about when you say these so called innovators (these heroes of yours) are “catalysts in the evolution of our species beyond the all-too-human”. You don’t care much for the” all-too-human” do you? I wonder what you mean when you say that. But you do like what these innovators (your heroes) are doing. Evolution and nature have no purpose. Evolution doesn’t care what you like. Evolution is a biological process that pertains to a species ability to adapt to its environment and live to reproduce. It’s a theory that explains how species can change. There’s been a lot of innovation in the past 200 years, but I don’t know of any noteworthy changes to our biology in that time. Evolution takes a while, a long while. And though your heroes were innovative in one area, they may have been incompetent in others. I shudder the thought of Ezra Pound’s Fascist tendencies finding their way into the evolution of our species. And not everyone agrees with your values. John Cage, for instance, thought Beethoven had a negative impact on western music.

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    1. 1) The researchers that published the First, Break All the Rules study argue for the following: to achieve the highest productivity, an employer must "hire for talent". That is, they must identify and employ those individuals with the talent for the role the employer needs to have executed. Indeed, that's the biggest problem with any organization - most people aren't really suited to their role. I suppose this is as much a fault of the employer as the employee. If I know I don't have a talent for sales, I shouldn't take a sales job. An employer doesn't want an employee to be fulfilled *per se*, but they want (or should want) the employee to be fulfilled in order to get the highest productivity out of them. When I graduated college, I worked as a CPA for Deloitte & Touche. I hated it. However, a person who, unlike me, has a talent for detail and "mise en place" (so to speak), will likely love their job. I knew many of my fellow CPAs did love their job.

      2) To be honest, I only quoted Dennett in this post because that line of his popped into my head and I liked it. And I think it's true, regardless of evolution and naturalism, etc.

      3) It's not that I don't care much for the all-too-human (I am all-too-human myself!), it's that I've always been fascinated by human potential, physical or spiritual (and by spiritual, I include the ethical and the aesthetic).

      4) I don't mean evolution in the biological sense but in the cultural sense. Nor do I affirm Pound's (or anyone's) fascism. But I do affirm his courage to break with tradition. I don't believe there are any perfect role models or mentors or whatever you like to call those we seek to emulate and learn from. I take the approach of distinguishing between an individual's personality, ideas, and the effects of those ideas. So I can even admire Jesus's rule breaking without affirming the content of his ideas or the religion that was founded in his name.

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    2. Steve missed one thing. Many peop le, including (I believe) the majority of his biographers, or historians covering the Fascist portion of his life, believe he faked his insanity. Therefore, he did not have a "nervous breakdown."

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  7. Patrick, okay, you put your 2 cents in. It is beyond me what you mean by "contrived." What did *you* have in mind that would make it somehow other than "contrived." You are doing what many of us do: boot-strapping your on notions of what his blog should have been by introducing points that perhaps are extraneous to the overall intent of the blogger. But Steve can speak for himself in this regard.

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    1. Aren't all essays "contrived"? I also prefer essays that tend to raise more questions than they answer.

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    2. Very true. The dialogues of Plato/Socrates would tend to support this POV.

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    3. One of my art teachers liked to use the term “contrived” when she thought an idea or expression seemed forced and/or artificial. I'm sorry I didn't make that clear. I'm sorry Thomas that you didn't appreciate my two cents. I can assure you I wasn't “boot-strapping” my notions of what Steve's blog should have been about-whatever that means.

      I began my comment by explaining how the relationship between employee and employer is a functional one that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the personal fulfillment of the employee. The employee is in a sense prostituting himself for money. He has a function that he is being paid to perform. Regardless of whether the function is as mundane as the one I described above (someone attaching rearview mirrors to the windshields of cars) or as complex as a CPA, the employee has to do the job he is paid for. Even if he is a world class rule-breaker his job will always be more about fitting in and being a team member than breaking the rules.

      What was it about this comment that seemed to you to be extraneous to the overall intent of Steve’s blog post?

      I commented on Dennett because Steve quoted from one of his books and posted a link to the book. I had an exchange with Steve a couple weeks ago in his blog post regarding poetry and God in which he confidently said the question of Freedom (and determinism) was already settled. Since his view is similar to Dennett’s and since he just directed us to Dennett’s book I felt it was OK to direct him to a review of that book and a comment about Dennett’s view being inadequate.

      Then I was trying to figure out in what way Elvis was breaking the rules. And finally that closing statement seemed a little mixed up to me.

      In Steve’s last post (regarding the Boston Bomber) you took issue with one of Mark English’s comments because it seemed to you Mark was criticizing the way Steve was “framing” his subject. I agreed with Mark. Steve’s characterization of the Boston bomber felt unreal. When did you become the policeman for Steve’s blog-postings; and make the rules for what questions are and are not fair?

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  8. All rules are conditionally dependent on a mix of past and present circumstances, which are themselves conditional, and, as some might say, all the way down and 'round.

    Someone just posted for example that "Evolution and nature have no purpose. Evolution doesn’t care what you like." That's an example of a rule that's conditioned on the faulty logic of some prior rulers of presumed authority (it do get complicated don't it).
    I have it from a respected logical authority (Peirce) that, for another example, if there's reason for something to be changed, then the change will be in service of that reason. I haven't found a way to distinguish that type of change by reason from the evolution of the something that's been changed. And if the reason for a change is because there were "likers" on hand to facilitate it, then if evolution doesn't care about the likers, it doesn't matter as it hasn't been able to prevent the likers from caring about it.
    But unless this was about the effect of what we've come to like on rules, I digress.

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    1. Hey Baron P. What are you talking about? The claim that ‘Evolution and nature have no purpose’ isn't conditioned on anything. It’s simply a view that Stephan Jay Gould shared and many other scientists and artists share. It means any ideas we have about progress or improvement are irrelevant to biological evolution (as opposed I guess to cultural evolution that Steve is referring to above). According to the theory it’s all about survival of the fittest. And that’s not necessarily the smartest or most complex organism. It means nature doesn’t exist for our benefit. There was no intentional development of which we are the end. That’s all. Steve’s closing statement seemed to me to imply that these people who break the rules are moving us beyond our current all-too-imperfect form.

      Maybe you disagree and maybe you even have a better view.

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    2. Yes I disagree and share the more modern views of the self engineering and adaptive mutations crowd, as well as the crowd of physicists like Lee Smolin and John Archibald Wheeler, who believed that natural systems evolve with logical consistency. And that these systematic purposes are acquired by necessity, both in the natural world and the biological one. And that an acquisitional agent is not required in the process.
      And of course there's nothing new about this view, but something very old about the arguments still being made against it.

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    3. Hey Baron, Show me where Lee Smolin supports the idea that evolution is about improving the design of organisms. He's out of his field, you know? I can't imagine there are many evolutionary biologists who'd support him. I'm pretty sure Massimo would tell him to stick with physics.

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    5. Show me first where I said Smolin supports biological design theories. "Natural systems" refers to forces in the universe that supposedly have obeyed without question a set of universal laws. Which of course have influenced the dogma you've been taught about biological systems.
      There's a good rundown of Smolin's opinions on this general subject here:
      http://www.edge.org/conversation/think-about-nature

      As to what Massimo might say about evolution in either the natural world of the universe or of that which could be restricted to biology, I'd be happily surprised if some day he learns to get it right.

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    7. Is that the best you can come up with? You're right that I have no idea how much you think you know, but a pretty good idea of how much you don't know.

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    8. Hey Baron,
      I'm sorry I deleted that comment and wrote the one below. You don't know what you're talking about. Nothing Lee Smolin writes about is relevant to the comment I made. You misunderstand the relationship between scientific theory and data supporting that theory in a particular field and theory regarding the nature of physical laws, which is philosophical.

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  9. Baron,
    It is hard to be patient with one who is as mixed up as you are, but I want to try at least one more time. You see Lee Smolin is not an evolutionary biologist; he is a physicist. These are two distinct fields. Smolin’s theories are not more modern than the ones H. Allen Orr, Massimo and the late Stephen Gould used in their research and wrote about in their books. He doesn’t have anything to say as a physicist about the fossil record, natural selection or adaptation as these concepts are understood in biology. He might be dabbling in philosophy and have come to some conclusions regarding the nature of physical laws, but this isn’t going to stop biologists from doing their work. If his philosophical ideas are going to gain support then they will have to account for the work of biologists. Because biologists are doing legitimate science. They’re collecting data and developing theories that are supported by that data. No one’s abstract arguments are going to undermine legitimate scientific theory that is well supported by evidence. That is not to say that Smolin isn’t on to something or that his ideas regarding the nature of physical law will not gain support and change the way we think about scientific theories in chemistry, biology, psychology, etc. It’s just that what you’re talking about is not biology. They are philosophical theories developed by a physicist.

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  10. To repeat, I did not say in any way that Smolin was advising us about biology. He has the universe's natural systems, such as our perceptions of the universe's laws, evolving purposively, while you had stated that "evolution and nature had no purpose".
    Natural systems are the nature that biological systems have become a part of. Scientists like Shapiro, Rose, Margulis, et al, see biological evolution as fulfilling its own acquired purposes and physicists like Smolin see the nature that biology has become a part of as having had some self directed purpose from at least the time of the big bang.
    I mentioned the article in Edge as it offers a good summary of Smolin's newest book on the subject. If you don't care to read either, that's fine with me. The way you seem to deliberately misunderstand what I've said about Smolin's interests is not encouraging. Neither is your apparent ignorance of the findings of the newer breed of evolutionary biologists.
    (Of course I might never have actually finished any of their books and papers, and am making all this crap up.)

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    1. Hey Baron, Sorry if I am causing you to lose your patience, but I also find it rather exasperating talking with a know-it-all, who doesn't know what he's talking about at all. Your initial logi-bable comment wasn’t pertinent. (Yes, "it do get complicated" and most people lost interest at the point where you said this) Smolin would tell you that logic and mathematics do not trump evidence that supports theory. The purpose you are trying (rather unsuccessfully) to articulate is not relevant to my use of the word when I said Nature does not work for our benefit. There is no intentional process or purpose for which we are the “end” result. That was the point the Gould liked to make. I thought you would have known this. I’ve no doubt Lee Smolin would agree. Steve’s closing comment implied that evolution would be moving forward because of these risk takers, that evolution is influenced by this kind of purpose. Evolution just describes how organisms change and it is about how well they adapt to their environment and live to reproduce. It has been argued rather wonderfully that evolution isn’t even about organisms becoming more and more complex. That may be the case for the most part on this planet, but that is because when you start out with simple organisms there is no place else to go except in the direction of complexity.

      You misunderstand the nature of theory. You argue as if everything Lee Smolin has written about is true. He’d be the first to say that that is not the case. You mentioned that you believe in more "modern views" as if modern or new is somehow better. Smolin is just taking part in a dialogue. In order to have a dialogue you need to at least try to understand what the other person is referring to. Rather than trying to talk about theories that you don’t understand (if something is that "complicated" for you, that could be a sign you don’t know it that well), try listening and hearing what the other person is saying.

      I’m sorry that you are having so much trouble making yourself clear. You ought to read more pieces from biology and the philosophy of science. Maybe that will clear up some of your confusion.

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  11. The poignant element to "rule breaking" is that is forces us away from treating as sacrosanct any concept solely because of the historical and/or habitual attractiveness it may have (which is what keeps many stupid ideas afloat). Without that to rely on, each concept becomes weighed merely on its functional or substantial merits (depending on your audience, admittedly).

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  12. While this Patrick person tries to muddy the water here, others may like to read the following article by James A Shapiro at:
    http://www.bostonreview.net/br22.1/shapiro.html

    The title is The Third Way, and begins as follows:
    "The recent reviews in your columns of books by Dennett, Dawkins, and Behe are testimony to the unflagging interest in controversies about evolution. Although such purists as Dennett and Dawkins repeatedly assert that the scientific issues surrounding evolution are basically solved by conventional neo-Darwinism, the ongoing public fascination reveals a deeper wisdom. There are far more unresolved questions than answers about evolutionary processes, and contemporary science continues to provide us with new conceptual possibilities."
    The total of on;y 5 pages makes it an easy read.

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    1. Your link doesn't work little guy. I've decided to read Lee Smolin's book and come back here and explain it to you. It pains me to see you so confused.

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    2. http://shapiro.bsd.uchicago.edu/Shapiro.1997.BostonReview1997.ThirdWay.pdf

      See also:
      http://shapiro.bsd.uchicago.edu/2010.WorksOfTheMind.pdf

      And many more.

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  13. I’m sorry that you are having so much trouble making yourself clear, Patrick. You ought to read more pieces from biology and the philosophy of science. Maybe that will clear up some of your confusion.

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    1. Wow, that sounds familiar Baron my friend. Your a kind and misguided soul. Explain for me again how "all rules are conditionally dependent on a mix of past and present circumstances ...". I don't expect it will make any more sense this time around, but I do like to watch you pontificate. I'm going to make it a point to follow your comments here. And I'm serious about my promise to read Lee Smolin's book and come back here and explain it to you.

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    2. Thanks. I use snipes like yours as opportunities to list books and papers that those others who frequent this site might otherwise assume did not exist. Massimo, for example, thinks Shapiro is a minor figure in biological science. But he will never write a post that deals directly with his and the other adaptive mutationist's ideas at all.

      Sure, come back and explain Smolin's book. Otherwise Massimo's not likely to deal with his philosophical positions either.

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  14. Patrick, I think your comments directed at me are pretty fair ones. Given my background, I'm familiar with the use of the term "contrived," or "forced" in literary criticism, and it's used to convey a weakness or flaw in an actual "work of art," not the commentary on the work of art. There, the debate or argument is whether or not the critical interpretation goes astray in addressing the intent of the artist. (That is why artists, rightly or wrongly, often have nothing but disdain for critics.) But that still begs the question whether the use of "contrived" or "artificial" is appropriate with regard to Steve's piece.

    I think you know what I mean by "boot-strapping." I'm as guilty as anyone in this regard. (See my comments on Ian's recent post. They are off topic, but I couldn't resist putting my 2 cents in.) Ian's analysis is excellent. Still, I happen to agree with another who commented that perhaps the secular/religious controversy is not "dire." So I guess what underlies this is whether we feel a particular subject even merits much attention to begin with. I suppose that is part and parcel of blogging. So guilty as charged.

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  15. Hey Thomas, I guess I am just one of these rule breakers because your rules seem artificial; and I can’t see any reason to go along with them. Of course I can use the term contrived (meaning artificial and forced) when commenting on Steve’s essay. Steve’s piece tells us about rule breakers in the work place and then people in the arts who he thinks broke the rules. It didn’t sound real to me. And I’m not the only one who felt that Steve was making too much of “rule breaking”. Tom D felt Steve was “casting too wide a net”; and Peter was compelled to mention, “Breaking rules for the sake of breaking rules is a recipe for futile chaos”. The point seemed “forced” because Steve neglected to talk about rule breaking in conjunction with doing the job you’re hired to do as a part of a team effort. He also characterized all these rock musicians as rule breakers without telling us in what way they broke the rules. Ezra Pound and the great composers certainly broke with tradition, but it isn’t clear that the rock musicians he mentioned did.

    Steve’s closing sentence felt unreal (or contrived) because evolution isn’t about what you, me or anyone else thinks would improve the human species. There is a value judgment there and as we all know science is about what “is” and not what “ought” to be. No one knows how life will evolve on this planet. Chances are we will be wiped out and the cockroaches will inherit the earth. I feel compelled to comment on statements like this because I am skeptical of evolutionary psychology. I think it’s awfully contrived. It’s not characterized as “just so stories” for nothing.

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  16. Okay, Patrick, I get it, but you're not going to get into one of those marathon exchanges with me where we end up hijacking the blog. I agree with your criticism of me, but apparently you want what? Me to agree with your insistence on using the word contrived? The analogy that comes to mind is that of the remora, if you don't like the "boot-strapping" one.

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    Replies
    1. Hey Thomas,
      I don't care whether you agree with me. You criticized my use of the word "contrived" in your last post. You said, "But that still begs the question whether the use of "contrived" or "artificial" is appropriate with regard to Steve's piece." I'm just responding to that. I like conversations and when someone challenges me like that I like to respond. "Apparently you want what?" To have the last word? Sure, go ahead.

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  17. "Steve’s closing sentence felt unreal (or contrived) because evolution isn’t about what you, me or anyone else thinks would improve the human species."
    If we are among the organisms that have over time contributed to the evolution of ourselves, I'm thinking that we didn't do it to unimprove ourselves.
    Patrick may be presuming that there are accidental forces evolving us as well that purposefully attempt to counter whatever improvements we're making, but if not, he's basing that presumption on pure guesswork. Or maybe he's channeling Ezra Pound.

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  18. Hey Baron,
    You keep moving between physics, biology and the psychological sciences. I know science guys like to imagine the biological processes can be described using just the theories of physics. And much of the processes going on in the human body can be described via biochemistry. But so far, Kant has yet to be proven wrong when he said, "There will never be a newton for a blade of grass". We do not know how the laws of physics can cause organisms to come into being. And some of the greatest laws of biology (including the theory of evolution) , unlike the theories of physics, are non-mathematical. Most people (besides yourself of course) think evolution is helped out by accidents. Have you ever read “The Spandrels of San Marco”? Gould pointed out that the architectural spandrels (the spaces between arches) have no function; they are a consequence of putting two arches together. Once they came into being artists discovered that they are nice spaces to use for painting. They weren’t designed for this purpose they were a nice byproduct (or accident) that artists later coopted for their use.

    There is a Doomsday Clock on the cover of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It is currently set to 5 minutes to midnight. It’s meant to illustrate that these scientists (looking at the political state of the world and the amount of nuclear missiles and material that can be used in the production of nuclear arms) think it’s likely that we will destroy ourselves. My comment about the cockroaches inheriting the earth seems more likely and certainly more defensible than Steve’s comment about people like Keith Richards and Robert Plant moving our species forward to who knows what? Maybe some utopian future?

    Baron, old buddy, not everyone is as hopelessly romantic and dogmatic a guy, like you. Seriously, read some more biology. Stephan Jay Gould could help clear up a lot of your confusion. You might also read some philosophy dealing with the idea of “agency”. And I will read Lee Smolin’s new book.

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  19. Spandrels actually serve a purpose, but since Gould told him otherwise, Patrick will never know the difference between having one and serving one. As another bad example, he thinks the purpose of the Doomsday Clock is to prophecy. How prophecies are fulfilled by accident is something Gould forgot to tell him. That's what happens when you've been taught that accidents take advantage of intelligence rather than the other way around.

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  20. Damn Baron, talk about muddying the waters. You just pull things out of your butt whenever you feel like it. It’s disgusting really, but it’s also funny to watch you operate. Of course a spandrel can serve a purpose. It’d make a nice place for an admirer of yours to paint your portrait. The question is whether the architect put two arches together because he wanted to make a spandrel; or whether he put two arches together because he was interested in having two arches right next to each other, and then he ended up with a spandrel in between. The Spandrels of San Marco is a classic by Gould and Lewontin. You can read about them here along with Dennett’s criticism and Gould’s reply. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spandrel_(biology)

    The Doomsday Clock isn't about prophecy. What are you talking about little man? It's about the possibility of our species (and any number of others too) being wiped out as a result of a nuclear holocaust. Which could be triggered by accident or by human insanity. In which case all those improvements for our species (that your hopes and dreams were going to cause to happen) will never see the light of day. Sorry, accidents, like mass extinctions and nuclear war can really muck up the kind of purposeful evolution you so want to believe is true. But keep hoping little man; it’s an endearing quality. I heard Oprah also believes that hopes can cause things to come into being. She’s been pushing a book called “The Secret” that’s all about the “Law of Attraction” that seems right up your ally.

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  21. If the doomsday clock is about a possibility, and at the same time. as Patrick claims, a likelihood, I can understand why he would find it accidentally meaningful. An accident taking advantage of intelligence for sure.

    But for an article that involves intelligence taking advantage of accident, see this new take on another subject that's troubling for Patrick:
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=physicists-debate-whether-world-made-of-particles-fields-or-something-else

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  22. In the same issue of Scientific American, there's another article that everyone except Patrick might want to read: The Surprising Origins of Life's Complexity, about how organisms can evolve elaborate structures without Darwinian selection.
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-surprising-origins-of-evolutionary-complexity
    (and here)
    https://www.simonsfoundation.org/quanta/20130716-the-surprising-origins-of-lifes-complexity/

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  23. Patrick might like to read this as well: http://lesswrong.com/lw/kv/beware_of_stephen_j_gould/

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    Replies
    1. Oh Baron, He's a hack like you. AI and Singularity are not science. Sorry little guy.

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    2. Eliezer Yudkowsky On Evolution And Mind
      http://www.protsinspace.com/eliezer-yudkowsky


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    3. Hey Baron,
      Check out this book, "Evolution in Four Dimensions"(
      http://www.amazon.com/Evolution-Four-Dimensions-Epigenetic-Philosophical/dp/0262600692/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1375747427&sr=8-1&keywords=evolution+in+four+dimensions) It's nicely written and not as hateful and biased as Yud. And much more authoritative.

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    4. Hey Baron,
      I can see why you and Yud (your computer programmer friend), being authorities on evolution and all, would hate Gould. But how come Gould was given this Darwin Wallace Medal and it wasn’t given to you, Yud and Dawkins? This is a miscarriage of justice, don’t you think?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwin%E2%80%93Wallace_Medal

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    5. That book was one of the first to point out that life forms learn to take advantage of randomness. Note the word epigenetic in the title. I'm assuming that learning was seen by the authors as an intelligent process, not accidental.
      Others such as James A Shapiro have shown how the most primitive of earth's life forms use intelligence to learn, adapt, and engineer their evolutionary processing accordingly. They rather remarkably anticipate the nature of accidental change, and have used that advantage to evolve for four billion years; that evolution allowing for the production of virtually all of the vast complexity of life on earth.
      Thank Patrick for the opportunity to point that out

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    6. Nah, we're not as dead yet as he was.

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    7. Baron,
      You have a confused vocabulary, and dogmatic tendencies. Evolution does not care about yours or Steve's preferences for the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin. No one said that learned behavior cannot be passed on, but that is a far cry from the nonsense you've been spouting. You have taken the authors insights and run wild with them. I can see you can't help yourself. You want to feel important, so every chance you tell the world about intelligent processes. It is amazing that Gould gets so much credit when there are geniuses like you and Yud that are so unappreciated.

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    8. You sell yourself short Baron . . . His words are read by more people, he has actual supporters and he had a genuinely well informed point-of-view. In some ways you are at much deader than he is. His intelligence, I have no doubt, is much more likely to be passed on.

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    9. So Patrick has told us that evolution is not an intelligent process, but intelligence is an evolutionary process. The more people read it, the smarter it gets.

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    10. Oh Baron there you go again telling on me to everyone here. You misunderstand the book I pasted above. But that's no wonder, because you don't read well. The authors do not say evolution is an intelligent process; they say learned behavior can be passed on. There is a difference. Think about it; sleep on it. I think you can get it if you try. Intelligence is an aspect of human personality and reason. Reason cannot be understood via biology alone. That's why I wanted you to look into the philosophy of agency. As much as you would like it to be, evolution is not an intelligent process. Sorry.

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    11. Patrick tells us that learned behavior can be passed on and says that's an evolutionary process, but learning does not presumably involve intelligence, and so even though the passing on of learning evolves behaviors, there's nothing at all intelligent about the process. It just happens. But not accidentally either.
      In short learning doesn't have to involve intelligence, and even if it did, there'd be no intelligent reason for passing it on, and even if it was evolving to a more effective behavioral process, there'd be no intelligent reason for that, and no intelligence is needed to make behavior more effective anyway. Ain't science a wonder or what.

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    12. "Intelligence is an aspect of human personality and reason. Reason cannot be understood via biology alone. That's why I wanted you to look into the philosophy of agency."
      Classic.

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    13. Baron,
      Be patient with yourself. Let's take it slowly. You’re confusing "teaching and learning" with what the authors of "Evolution in Four Dimensions" are talking about, i.e. learned behavior being passed on from one generation to another. They are not the same thing! The first process is NOT a biological process, the second one is.

      Now we are getting somewhere.

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    14. Behavior that is learned for the purpose of it being passed on is the dynamic system that has caused the biological process to exist at all.
      I didn't realize that I'd need to write that down for the benefit of the slower students, but thanks.

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    15. What's interesting here is that Patrick, the self styled scientist, seems almost the perfect foil. Too perfect in a way. If I'd wanted to invent a "scientist" that best represented neo-Darwinism for argumentative purposes, I'd have picked someone who could better defend its principles, or at least seem to, because frankly it's hard to believe that "Patrick" belongs in the scientific community at all. Or the philosophical. And especially not in any evolutionary studies area.
      I imagine someone sitting in a little room at a rehab center where the only book in the library is one by Gould.
      But then somehow he heard of the book by Jablonka and had one of the others there explain it, badly. But I digress.

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    16. Oh Baron,
      You scientistic little man. It has been fun. Say hello to Lee for me. Good luck kicking Stephen Jay Gould and letting the world know he wasn't a real member of the scientific community, I mean the scientistic community. If you get a chance pick up some of those half-read books you got scattered around your apartment. I think you'll find you had Lee all wrong. Maybe you'll discover you're the only one who thinks learning woodshop in high school is an evolutionary process. It's crazy. That's why I know you can let it go. Re-read Evolution in Four Dimensions, not everyone gets this stuff the first time through. Now I know why Massimo finds you to be such an exasperating little guy. Try to listen to what others are saying and avoid commenting just because they used one of your "flash words" - like "purpose" or "learning". You really want to believe that life has a purpose and that there is a purpose to the universe, don't you? The problem is there is no evidence, that is why much of what you say is dogma. What they should of told you back in high school is you have to let go of ideas of how you want things to be and be open to the way things are. I have enjoyed it Baron, really.

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    17. Do they still teach Gould in the MOOCs? Pity.

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  24. Baron,
    You're a wonderfully dogmatic idiot. So that's your problem. You have this religious tenet about ‘intelligence taking advantage of accidents’ and not the other way around. Yes, a clock set to 5 minutes to midnight indicates we are living in dangerous times and the likelihood is high. I’m not surprised that you have your eyes closed and your fingers in your ears. It’s a frightening thought. Your religious dogma has your head so clouded you can hardly think, and with your fingers in your ears you’re incapable of hearing. It’s a challenge getting through to you, nevertheless, I am going to read Lee Smolin’s book and see if I can help.

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  25. Ah, now Patrick's calling another poster here an idiot. Another example of an accident trying to take advantage of intelligence I presume.

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  26. Nah, you're just impenetrable. You mascaraed as intelligent. That's why you draw Lee Smolin like a gun. You use physics to contradict someone who's talking about biology. And you don't use it very well. When someone asks you to quote for them what Lee said about biology, you ask them something like, "When did I say my old friend Lee talks about biology?" You have your dogma that you can hardly articulate; and it frightens you when anyone says something that threatens its truth. For you there is no dialogue; you ignore both context and meaning and harp on words that are a central part of your religious tenets. Yes, I am presuming that there are accidental forces evolving us as well, but not "purposefully" attempting to counter whatever improvements you imagine you're making. We shouldn't be surprised if you evolved into Einstein right before our eyes, huh? And of course I am guessing, after all I am talking about science. Science never has the complete story. It's always (to some extent) guessing. You, on the other hand, pontificate, like a fool, as if you know more than me, Massimo, the now deceased Mr. Gould and his friend Mr Lewontin put together. No one gets it but you, ain’t that right Baron? You are a beautiful mind just waiting happen.

    In his book “Galapagos” Kurt Vonnegut, by way of a virus that made women the world over sterile and a series of accidents (and people taking advantage of accidents) told a fable about how we human’s evolved into “small brained” mammals that bore a remarkable resemblance to seals. The only way you could tell the difference between us and actual seals is if one farted and the others all laughed, then those are humans.

    Why don’t you come down from the pedestal you put yourself on and try to be nice?

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    Replies
    1. Patrick says he's presuming that accidental forces are evolving us as well. "As well" as what I wonder, non-accidental forces?
      Speaking of Lewontin, see Human Genetic Diversity: Lewontin's Fallacy
      http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.174.698&rep=rep1&type=pdf

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    2. You and Yud are taking on all comers aren't you Baron . . . There are no catastrophic accidents in your universe, where you are always progressing and improving. You are brilliant . . .

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permian%E2%80%93Triassic_extinction_event

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    3. Yes, we are, aren't we. Relativatively speaking.

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    4. Nah, you're just being argumentative

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  27. Now boys, try to play nice, or at least not too dirty, ok?

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  28. Thanks Massimo,
    I am through now. . . Our friend Baron thought evolutionary processes are an expression of intelligence in the same way that human reason is an expression of intelligence.

    He has me imagining him standing outside under the stars having a conversation with the universe and the universe is talking back, and assuring him that “Honky Tonk Woman” (We began with Steve imagining the Rolling Stones a catalyst for evolutionary progress) will be passed on to future generations even if all the CD’s and cloud storage copies of the song are lost forever.

    Poor guy, huh? But that Baron is a slippery guy. He'll throw Lee Smolin at you and everyone and anyone who has ever had an opinion on evolution, including his programmer friends (except maybe Stephen Jay Gould - The Baron really hates him).

    The Baron really wants to be right; and he's determined not to let his own ignorance stand in his way.

    You have to admire his persistence.

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  29. Years ago I'd follow the debates between Gould and Dawkins as well as between Gould and Dennett, and marvel at the distinct possibility that all sides of each debate were likely to be essentially wrong, as science was already leaving all three of them behind. Each of these individuals have made their contribution to scientific progress, but science and its philosophical components have moved on and their contributions haven't stood the test of even this shortest time.
    Gould, as a paleontologist, has contributed the most, but as an evolutionist, perhaps the least. Dennett, with his "Intentional Stance" had moved us quite a bit ahead, but then he faltered with his refusal to accept that intentions must depend on the innate abilities to achieve their maker's purposes. Lately he's been reexamining that position so there's still hope. Dawkins, evolutionist wise, is lost beyond redemption.

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    1. I imagine a lot of people here have followed those debates. Of course all three (Dawkins, Gould and Dennett) are, to some extent, wrong. It’s hard to piece together the facts when the fossil record tells you only so much, and it says virtually nothing about how reason, morality and values developed.

      If I asked you in what way science has left all three behind would you start again with Lee Smolin and the evolution of laws or would you stick to evolutionary biology?

      There is a wide range of literature on intention. What is it about Dennett’s “Intentional Stance” that you like? What do you mean when you say “intentions must depend on the innate abilities to achieve their maker's purposes”?

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