This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← The Dissent Of Darwin - The World Of Richard Dawkins

The Dissent Of Darwin - The World Of Richard Dawkins - Comments

Lisa Bauer's Avatar Comment 1 by Lisa Bauer

What's up with guys and their obsession with their, uh, testicles? ;)

This must be from 1996 or thereabouts, but very interesting nevertheless.

Wed, 14 May 2008 16:44:00 UTC | #171212

cam9976's Avatar Comment 2 by cam9976

I was particularily intrigued about their exchange of evolution as a positive vs. negative force.

Wed, 14 May 2008 17:08:00 UTC | #171214

nogodsever's Avatar Comment 3 by nogodsever

Saying that natural selection is evil is as stupid as saying that gravity is evil because it will kill you if you fall off of a tall building.

Wed, 14 May 2008 18:35:00 UTC | #171228

Chrysippus_Maximus's Avatar Comment 4 by Chrysippus_Maximus

and it's obviously not essential for survival.


Why are people so stupid as to continue to misunderstand evolution to this degree?

NOTHING IS ESSENTIAL FOR SURIVIVAL. (that is, nothing that has evolved)

What survives is whatever happens to do the best job at surviving...

Just because "it's obviously not essential" doesn't mean it doesn't have an evolutionary explanation...

Ay caramba.

Wed, 14 May 2008 18:39:00 UTC | #171230

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 5 by Cartomancer

What's up with guys and their obsession with their, uh, testicles? ;)
Funny that should come up. By sheerest coincidence I did a little informal survey on the subject with my friends the other day, inspired by a conversation about the castration of Peter Abelard. The results surprised me. Basically I asked them all whether they would, if forced to choose one or the other, rather lose their primary writing arm or their testicles. Funnily enough all the rest of them plumped for losing the arm - I was the only exception here. Repeating the question with eyes or testicles got similar results, although the split was 3-5 in favour of the dangly bits this time rather than 1-7. Hearing took it back to 1-7, both arms got it to 2-7, continence to 2-7 and one or both legs back to 1-7.

This really did surprise me. I would have thought that manipulative limbs, sense perception, bipedal locomotion and freedom from soiling oneself every five minutes were far more useful in modern life than pendulous hormone-producing organs that remain stashed in one's trousers and are never on display. I began to think that maybe natural selection had influenced the mindsets of my friends rather more than I would previously have given it credit for - the "protect the testicles" instinct certainly seemed to override cohereht thinking, despite the rational arguments I made for their lack of value in the grand scheme of things. I certainly would have expected fellow DPhil students to give greater shrift to the pragmatic arguments rather than resorting to such a cliched position. Is there a cultural thing I'm missing here perhaps? Or maybe it's because they were all drinking alcohol at the time and I do not. Could that sway it?

I'm wittering again aren't I?

Wed, 14 May 2008 19:53:00 UTC | #171241

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 6 by Cartomancer

Well, if I was a blind, deaf, incontinent quadrouple amputee I'm not sure I'd ever achieve much that's worth witnessing anyway...

Wed, 14 May 2008 20:05:00 UTC | #171243

Paine's Avatar Comment 7 by Paine

What's that about life on Mars. I'd forgotten about it.

can somebody remind me and tell me why they were wrong?

Wed, 14 May 2008 20:24:00 UTC | #171245

hoops mccann's Avatar Comment 8 by hoops mccann

Actual event(I was there):

After a student complained about the extreme difficulty of an exam, the professor (who should have known better) replied: "that's just one of my little quizzies". Without thinking (I'm sure you all know where this is going), the student (female) replied: "if that's one of your little quizzies, I'd hate to see one of your little testies". After it sunk in, the class laughed uproariously.

Wed, 14 May 2008 20:35:00 UTC | #171250

mejdrich's Avatar Comment 9 by mejdrich

Did anyone else feel like this was more of a discussion than a debate?

I think I liked it.

Wed, 14 May 2008 22:44:00 UTC | #171261

Artful_Dodger's Avatar Comment 10 by Artful_Dodger

However, you go further when you call evolution evil. I would simply say nature is pitilessly indifferent to human concerns and should be ignored when we try to work out our moral and ethical systems. We should instead say, We're on our own. We are unique in the animal kingdom in having brains big enough not to follow the dictates of the selfish genes. And we are in the unique position of being able to use our brains to work out together the kind of society in which we want to live. But the one thing we must definitely not do is what Julian Huxley did, which is try to see evolution as some kind of an object lesson


That settles it. He's a dualist!

Wed, 14 May 2008 22:52:00 UTC | #171262

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 11 by Quetzalcoatl

Artful-

That settles it. He's a dualist!


The statement you quote says nothing of the kind.

Thu, 15 May 2008 00:06:00 UTC | #171268

brian thomson's Avatar Comment 12 by brian thomson

I thought the testicles thing was an example of "good enough" evolution, where they evolved as far as they had to. If your other defences are good, the risk of injury there is minimized, and so is the evolutionary effect. How many guys ever suffer injuries there, sufficient to render them infertile? (Any kids here whose dads were skateboarders?)

Thu, 15 May 2008 00:11:00 UTC | #171269

notsobad's Avatar Comment 13 by notsobad

Just because "it's obviously not essential" doesn't mean it doesn't have an evolutionary explanation...

Not just explanation but also advantage.
and are never on display.

You are doing it wrong :-)
Anyway, I think your friends were joking.

Thu, 15 May 2008 00:42:00 UTC | #171273

Adam Morrison's Avatar Comment 14 by Adam Morrison

Interesting read. I found a lot of JL's points really weak though. When RD says 'That's tough' about evolutionary bio making us feel less special or unique(or whatever) and JL says 'That's not good enough for us anymore' and starts going on about touchy-feely nonsense I think the discussion sank a few levels.

Evolution isn't there to make anyone feel better or worse, it just is. At least that's always been my view.


Re: Stereoroid
My little brother was a skateboarder and one of his friends was grinding down a rail, slipped and burst one of his boys upon splitting himself on the rail. I guess it bleed a lot and he was rushed to the hospital. If I remember correctly the other testicle was fine but I *think* the other one was lost (although I don't remember with certainty). Lol, maybe that's why we have two, one's a backup :D

Thu, 15 May 2008 00:42:00 UTC | #171274

mmurray's Avatar Comment 15 by mmurray

Why is it so implausible that evolution might have got stuck in a dead-end where the only option was to hang the testicles outside the body ? Do we know when the body temperature started to rise above the optimum level for sperm ?

Michael

Thu, 15 May 2008 01:01:00 UTC | #171276

Apeseed's Avatar Comment 16 by Apeseed

Even if the testes were inside we would still be having this argument about the penis. What good is the semen factory without the mechanism to deliver the product. In the absence of a fully retractable penis there can't be much greater cost to having the testes outside also.

Thu, 15 May 2008 01:55:00 UTC | #171292

mmurray's Avatar Comment 17 by mmurray

Even if the testes were inside we would still be having this argument about the penis. What good is the semen factory without the mechanism to deliver the product. In the absence of a fully retractable penis there can't be much greater cost to having the testes outside also.


Great idea. Pants would fit so much better. Seriously isn't the penis less fragile? Could someone test this for us ?

Michael

Thu, 15 May 2008 03:00:00 UTC | #171303

SilentMike's Avatar Comment 18 by SilentMike

PT: What do you make of the existence of a book like this right now?

RD: Nothing very profound. What I make of it is that Michael Behe decided to write it.


Well. Now we know why Dawkins always says he can't identify trends. Who knew what would follow that damned book?

Thu, 15 May 2008 04:07:00 UTC | #171313

nalfeshnee's Avatar Comment 19 by nalfeshnee

While I would have to respect anyone who made an album of duets with flute Grand Master Robert Dick (this is the guy who pioneered multitonal music on the flute), I hesitate to award Lanier any authority whatsoever on scientific matters.

I think Lanier's opinions on science - as on much else - are highly underwhelming. In fact, I'm astonished that he is given the airtime that he is.

For an introduction, check out his rant against Wikipedia (yes, rather than receive credit for his own work, he seems to prefer to get credit for hacking on other people's), a.k.a. "How dare they edit my bio page!". (For an introduction better than I could summarize, see Lanier on Wikipedia, at the talk page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Jaron_Lanier.)

Or, judge for yourself at his Neo-Luddite web "page": http://www.jaronlanier.com/. (Have fun trying to find a link that works.)

In fact, as SilentMike pointed out just now, the chief interest of the article is Richard's comment on Behe's book.

Thu, 15 May 2008 04:22:00 UTC | #171316

Artful_Dodger's Avatar Comment 20 by Artful_Dodger

Quetzalcoatl, I'm sorry but you need to read Dawkins' words more carefully. He says on the one hand that "nature is pitifully indifferent". Is everything included in his definition of "nature"? If so, then there can be nothing IN nature that he can possibly invoke do give us either the inclination to "overreach" our selfish genes or the wherewithal. If his definition of "nature" does not encompass everything, then we are appealling to some quality or property that transcends nature, which is clearly dualistic and even mystical. It is mystical and mystifying because it appeals to an unexplained, unexamined "upper storey" which is exempted from the pitilessness and indifference that define nature. When he says that human being are unique, in what sense does he mean this? Well he says so quite explicitly. We are unique in the sense of having more highly evolved brains. But on what grounds does this allow us to no longer be dictated to by our genes, which are our "natural" legacy. Are we thus moving into a territory where "nature red in tooth and claw" no longer prevails. What is that territory? Where is it, if it is not part of the natural realm, which is pitiless and indifferent?

Thu, 15 May 2008 04:29:00 UTC | #171320

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 21 by Quetzalcoatl

Artful-

Quetzalcoatl, I'm sorry but you need to read Dawkins' words more carefully. He says on the one hand that "nature is pitifully indifferent".


It's you who needs to read more carefully. He said "pitilessly indifferent".

The full quote was:

I would simply say nature is pitilessly indifferent to human concerns and should be ignored when we try to work out our moral and ethical systems.


You said:

If his definition of "nature" does not encompass everything, then we are appealling to some quality or property that transcends nature, which is clearly dualistic and even mystical. It is mystical and mystifying because it appeals to an unexplained, unexamined "upper storey" which is exempted from the pitilessness and indifference that define nature.


There's nothing in the article to suggest that he is appealing to anything that "transcends nature".

When he says that human being are unique, in what sense does he mean this? Well he says so quite explicitly. We are unique in the sense of having more highly evolved brains. But on what grounds does this allow us to no longer be dictated to by our genes, which are our "natural" legacy. Are we thus moving into a territory where "nature red in tooth and claw" no longer prevails. What is that territory? Where is it, if it is not part of the natural realm, which is pitiless and indifferent?


I can't work out whether you're misinterpreting deliberately or not. Dawkins also said this:

One of them is language. Another is the ability to plan ahead using conscious, imagined foresight. Short-term benefit has always been the only thing that counts in evolution; long-term benefit has never counted. It has never been possible for something to evolve in spite of being bad for the immediate short-term good of the individual. For the first time ever, it's possible for at least some people to say, `Forget about the fact that you can make a short-term profit by chopping down this forest; what about the long-term benefit?' Now I think that's genuinely new and unique


Of course we are moving into territory where "nature red in tooth and claw" no longer prevails. But we do so not as a consequence of any mystical, transcendental properties, but thanks to our natural evolution.

Our brains have attained sufficient complexity to enable us to become self-aware. With that, we are able to plan on longer scales than evolution would allow for. We can take short-term disadvantage in favour of long-term benefit. But since evolution is a purely natural, unguided process, it selects for that which benefits the organism in the short term.

You said: "Where is it, if it is not part of the natural realm, which is pitiless and indifferent?"

Pitiless and indifferent TO HUMAN CONCERNS. But since we humans have the attributes I mentioned above, we are able to overrule nature and move forward through society, culture and so forth. But all this is a product of our evolved brains, and therefore a result of nature.

In any case, your assertion that Dawkins is in some sense a dualist is flawed. Quite aside from the fact that he does not mention the concept, there is nothing in the article to suggest that he has that opinion. You are simply cherry-picking parts of his statements in order to try and prop up your floundering dualism idea.

Thu, 15 May 2008 04:45:00 UTC | #171323

Artful_Dodger's Avatar Comment 22 by Artful_Dodger

But since we humans have the attributes I mentioned above, we are able to overrule nature


Rather like someone trying to pull themselves up by their own proverbial bootstraps.

Thu, 15 May 2008 04:53:00 UTC | #171324

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 23 by Quetzalcoatl

Artful_Dodger-

Rather like someone trying to pull themselves up by their own proverbial bootstraps


Firstly, thanks for ignoring the rest of my comment.

Secondly, you undoubtedly intended that to be disparaging, but I agree with it. Why should we not attempt to improve ourselves? Humans have intelligence, self-awareness, the ability to plan, and to create language and culture. Why should we not use the tools that evolution has handed down to us to rise above nature and improve ourselves?

Thu, 15 May 2008 05:04:00 UTC | #171327

Artful_Dodger's Avatar Comment 24 by Artful_Dodger

Quetzalcoatl, you are missing the obvious. If nature is all there is how can we rise above it? What do we rise into? Can't you see that that is why I'm saying that Dawkins is dualistic? You and he are explicitly acknowledging the existence of a sphere which is "above" nature.

Thu, 15 May 2008 05:24:00 UTC | #171337

Incredulous's Avatar Comment 25 by Incredulous

Quetz

I know what you mean, I think everyone else knows what you mean, but Artful Dodger sees only the opportunity to mystify what to us is a plain as the neurons in our heads.

You and he are acknowledging the existence of a sphere which is "above" nature


What's the point?

Thu, 15 May 2008 05:31:00 UTC | #171340

black wolf's Avatar Comment 26 by black wolf

Proposing a behavioral choice sphere or area is not dualism. It is a philosophy, a completely abstract concept. Nobody's implying that this sphere is an independently existing thing. You might just as well claim that literature has an existence above nature independent of printed works. All of it are products of our mind, which is for all empirical evidence a brain function that we conceptualize.

Thu, 15 May 2008 05:37:00 UTC | #171343

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 27 by Quetzalcoatl

Artful_Dodger-

Quetzalcoatl, you are missing the obvious. If nature is all there is how can we rise above it? What do we rise into? Can't you see that that is why I'm saying that Dawkins is dualistic? You and he are explicitly acknowledging the existence of a sphere which is "above" nature


That's not what I'm saying at all, although I acknowledge I could have been more precise. It would be better to say that humans, thanks to our evolution, have the potential to rise above the "short-term" advantage part of evolution. Obviously we are still part of nature and the universe. But we can rise above it in the sense that we don't necessarily have to be purely dictated to by our genes, but are instead able to plan for the future, and build society and culture.

It is not that there is a sphere above nature, that is just the way you seem to be used to thinking of it.

Thu, 15 May 2008 05:37:00 UTC | #171344

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 28 by Quetzalcoatl

Incredulous-

I'm glad somebody gets what I'm trying to say!

Thu, 15 May 2008 05:41:00 UTC | #171346

Artful_Dodger's Avatar Comment 29 by Artful_Dodger

Black wolf, literature DOES have an existence which is independent of printed works. If every single copy of Don Quixote were to vanish from the face of the earth, the story of Don Quixote would remain intact. A great deal of poetry existed in "community" before and sometimes without ever making an appearance on any printed page. Every sentence a writer pens exists in his or her mind before they pen it. Every thought, every word, every number exists quite apart from its physical materialisation. I should have thought that was obvious, even if not directly relevant to the issue under discussion here. But prime numbers are actually among the clearest proofs of the pre-empirical non-material reality of certain truths. And even die-hard materialists like Dawkins find the appeal of the non-material irrestistible, as is evidenced in this article.

Thu, 15 May 2008 05:58:00 UTC | #171354

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 30 by Quetzalcoatl

Artful_Dodger-

Every sentence a writer pens exists in his or her mind before they pen it. Every thought, every word, every number exists quite apart from its physical materialisation.


The existence of a sentence within the mind of a writer IS a physical manifestation, merely within the brain of that writer as opposed to being on paper.

Every thought, every word, every number exists quite apart from its physical materialisation.


Actually, numbers don't exist. They are a concept, they have no abstract existence. It's not like you look out of the window and see a load of "two" passing by.

But prime numbers are actually among the clearest proofs of the pre-empirical non-material reality of certain truths


Wrong. The concept of prime numbers are human expressions of the results of universal physical laws. They don't exist independently of material reality. You're floundering. Have you abandoned the "sphere above nature" argument now?

Thu, 15 May 2008 06:07:00 UTC | #171359