Critique of TSW Part 27a The Myth of Exceptionalism

Blog 20150225

Bill uses his indeterministic assumption of absolutism to claim that animals other than humans are not sapient.

I am ever so grateful to Bill Westmiller, whose comments are marked "BW: ". The quotes marked “TSW: “are from "The Scientific Worldview" and my comments are marked "[GB: ".

The Myth of Exceptionalism (Part 1 of 4)

TSW: "Exceptionalism is the notion that humanity, although perhaps once subject to evolution, is no longer completely subject."

BW: This is a strange sentence, because the first provision is equivalent to the second, although they're characterized as contradictory.

[GB: Duh? How can “once subject to evolution” be equivalent to “no longer completely subject”? These two contradictory statements form the basis for exceptionalism. As you will see in many quotes in this chapter, even neo-Darwinists are not sure whether certain biological features have evolved. The Pope, now supposedly a believer in evolution, relies on exceptionalism in imagining that humans were once subject to natural evolution, but that they now have supernatural free will and souls that allow them to escape the nasty grip of nature. The contradiction is obliterated by univironmental determinism (UD), the philosophy and universal mechanism of evolution stating that what happens to a portion of the universe is equally dependent on the infinite matter in motion within and without.]

BW: If we take the assertion as referring to *biological* evolution, then I doubt that any scientist asserts that humans aren't or can't evolve. If it is referring to *intellectual* evolution, I think everyone agrees that new information is constantly modifying accepted ideas. If it is referring to *technologic* evolution, there's no doubt that almost.

[GB: Glad to see that you found some examples of UD. Nonetheless, your compartmentalization shows that you are leaning toward exceptionalism, instead. Try to memorize the definition of UD above, as it is the main thesis of "The Scientific Worldview”. By the way, your statement that “everything is being improved by innovation” is subjective, not scientific. Many folks would disagree. Evolution is motion. It produces just as much destruction (divergence) as construction (convergence) per the Sixth Assumption of Science, complementarity (All things are subject to divergence and convergence from other things).]

BW: There's a case to be made that humans are less subject to biological evolution, simply because we are capable of adapting our environments to our needs, rather than being mere "victims" of natural selection. As discussed earlier, scientific and intellectual advances no longer require prolific reproduction in order to maintain the species. Undoubtedly, our children will live longer, be healthier, and produce more viable offspring. So, to that degree, we have "overcome" the demands of biological evolution.

[GB: Again, this paragraph shows that you are still to understand UD. Univironmental determinism involves every thing during every microsecond of its existence. For us biological microcosms, there is no chance that we could ever be “less subject to biological evolution”, just as there is no chance for any microcosm to be “less subject to evolution”.]   

BW: The statement is also a poor definition. In a universe of inanimate objects, plants are an exception. Although there may be many planets in the "Goldilocks Zone" of stars - which make carbon-based life possible - the circumstance is rare and an exception to the norm of star and planetary systems.

In the context of living things, animals are an exception to the proliferation of plants. Humans are an exception to the proliferation of animals. None of those things are contrary to evolution in the most generic sense: all things change. In the biological sense, humans are not merely animals; animals are not merely plants; and plants are not merely chemical compounds. Exceptionalism just means rare or above the average of a set.

[GB: Those are nice examples of various types of microcosms. Per the Ninth Assumption of Science, relativism (All things have characteristics that make them similar to all other things as well as characteristics that make them dissimilar to all other things). In a universe in which no two microcosms are identical, each dissimilarity makes each microcosm exceptional. In other words, because no two snow flakes are identical, each is exceptional. That, of course, is not what is meant by the Myth of Exceptionalism, which I can restate so that it clearly appears in opposition to UD.

I doubt that indeterminists who subscribe to the Myth consider themselves “microcosms,” xyz portions of the universe subject to all the laws of chemistry and physics. They despise any theoretical analysis that suggests that, like all microcosms, they are completely subject to chemical and physical interactions with the macrocosm. They like to imagine that they have “free will” and “souls” capable of “rising above” earthly existence. The exceptionalism they assume is not some chemical or physical dissimilarity, but an exception to materialism itself.]

TSW:  "Just because we, the Social Microcosm, have consciousness, and thereby appear to be a favored species ..."

BW: You persistently identify consciousness as a unique identifying characteristic of humans, which it isn't. Every vertebrate is conscious: aware of its own actions within an environment. There are 62,305 known vertebrate species, all of them conscious. The distinguishing characteristic of humans is *sapience*, which is why we are called the Homo Sapien species. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sapient

[GB: Sorry, but many of those vertebrates also are sapient. Per the definition, they have “wisdom, understanding…good taste, good sense, discernment, intelligence”. Some of our pets have a lot more sapience than some members of our species.]

TSW:  "The overall picture began with determinism, the belief that all effects have causes, and it must end with determinism. The defeat of exceptionalism is one of the last steps in this program."

BW: Granted, the mystical idea that humans are "favored by God" with sapience is an immaterialist proposition, but it isn't strictly indeterminism: the cause is just supernatural. However, the idea that humans are an "exception" among 62,304 other species of vertebrates is not the least bit indeterministic. The cause is biological evolution.

[GB: Getting closer… But, unfortunately I see no difference between mysticism, immaterialism, indeterminism, and the belief in supernatural causes. Sorry, but your absolutist idea that “humans are an "exception" among 62,304 other species of vertebrates” is straight out of the indeterminist’s handbook. As I just implied, sapience is not an all or nothing characteristic common only to Homo sapiens. Evolution involves the gradual transformation of one microcosm into another. The sapient characteristics of many vertebrates are as obvious as are the vestigial organs left behind during the evolution of many biological microcosms.]

TSW:  Engels: "Man, at last the master of his own form of social organization, becomes at the same time the lord over nature, his own master - free."

BW: One of the few Engels ideas with which you disagree ... and I agree. At least, in the sense that humans are capable of modifying their environment, so are mostly "free" of natural threats to their survival. We don't need to hide in caves from the ravages of weather: we build homes. We don't need to eat the plants we find or the animals we catch: we breed our own varieties and even modify their DNA at our pleasure. So, far from being "detestable", sapience gives us power over our environment. Of course, that isn't to say the "without" (environment) is irrelevant to the "within" (mind), nor the inverse: there will always be forces (matter in motion) well beyond our "absolute command", though probably not beyond our comprehension.

[GB: Egads! As mentioned before, it would be silly to deny that “humans are capable of modifying their environment.” But that is not what is meant by Engels. He is merely repeating the old free will argument in which we are supposed to rise above our earthly strictures to become “lord over nature,” our “own master”, and be “free” from matter at last. How is this any different from the phantasmagorical thoughts of gods, heaven, and living after dying?]

The Myth of Exceptionalism (Part 2 of 4)

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