Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A few more thoughts on Marc Hauser

Perhaps I've said enough already, but this sad, painful story has additional dimensions. Hauser's specialty was evolutionary psychology, and his essentially fraudulent experiments were purportedly telling us something about the cognitive capacities we share with some of our primate cousins. In the context of the cause of science, and the barbarians at science's gate (such as the very interesting visitor to my previous post on Dr. Hauser), there could not be a more sensitive subject.

Biologists claim that our minds and our consciousness are the product of evolution, inseparable from the physical substrate of the brain and created over the eons by a process of random change and selection by reproductive success. I would venture to say that this single claim infuriates the religious more than any other. And I can see that is intuitively very difficult to accept. Our own consciousness seems transcendent. It is awesome and baffling to contemplate the awareness of self, our apprehension of the world, and our own joy and pain. This is just obviously something beyond and outside of the material world. "Delight is to him- a far, far upward, and inward delight- who against the proud gods and commodores of this earth, ever stands forth his own inexorable self," wrote Melville.

And yet, however hard it is, however much it may threaten the meaning we find in ourselves, we have to accept the fact of our evolutionary origin simply because the evidence for it is overwhelming. It doesn't matter whether it feels right, or it's satisfying, or conversely whether it feels humiliating and depressing. It's the truth, and we know it is the truth because so many people have worked diligently for 150 years to understand that truth as deeply as possible and follow it wherever it leads. To betray them all, and offer an unrestricted gift to the enemies of reason and truth, is a failure I do not even know how to characterize.

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