Anything But Human
By RICHARD POLT - THE NEW YORK TIMES
Added: Mon, 06 Aug 2012 01:17:28 UTC
In this philosopher, we have the non-scientific mind -- actually in his case the anti-scientific mind -- displayed in all its lack of glory. He misses one important point after another. He seems to go out of his way to achieve a clean sweep of scientific ideas to misunderstand. If a philosopher is determined to remain ignorant of science and wantonly to misread science so comprehensively, what on earth is the point of him and his philosophy? Very depressing.
Wherever I turn, the popular media, scientists and even fellow philosophers are telling me that I’m a machine or a beast. My ethics can be illuminated by the behavior of termites. My brain is a sloppy computer with a flicker of consciousness and the illusion of free will. I’m anything but human.
While it would take more time and space than I have here to refute these views, I’d like to suggest why I stubbornly continue to believe that I’m a human being — something more than other animals, and essentially more than any computer.
Let’s begin with ethics. Many organisms carry genes that promote behavior that benefits other organisms. The classic example is ants: every individual insect is ready to sacrifice itself for the colony. As Edward O. Wilson explained in a recent essay for The Stone, some biologists account for self-sacrificing behavior by the theory of kin selection, while Wilson and others favor group selection. Selection also operates between individuals: “within groups selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, but groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals. Or, risking oversimplification, individual selection promoted sin, while group selection promoted virtue.” Wilson is cautious here, but some “evolutionary ethicists” don’t hesitate to claim that all we need in order to understand human virtue is the right explanation — whatever it may be — of how altruistic behavior evolved.
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