Friday, 14 August 2015

A Defence of Offence: Why We Need To Offend

What do we mean by offensive remarks and gestures ?

We live in an extremely interconnected society where we can communicate with a large amount of people, some we have not even met, from varying cultures and places. Our culture is a wondrous array of different idealisms, trends, fads and belief systems with its diversity being shown in people around the world.

With this diversity of ideas and belief systems comes an inevitability, due to ideas contradictory to one another or senses of egoistic superiority, which is disagreement. This happens everyday on the internet where anonymity aids the ferocity of arguments between theists and atheists, supporters of different football teams, groupies of competing boy bands ad infinitum. It also happens in person between members of family, where the traditional views of parents conflict with the liberal aspects of their young or between friends and even strangers. 

As we are humans and have evolved the capacity to feel, for better or worse, during these spouts of disagreement a lot of people react negatively to their ideas being challenged or mocked. This negative reaction is also shown when people are themselves slated with nothing to do with the ideas they think to be true. These reactions vary in intensity and some even use violence to air how 'offended' they feel. 

A mundane example could be that you meet a tourist from a different part of the world who visits your city and upon meeting you describe how great your city is and then he describes how great his city is also. Then you both realise that your own city is better and start to bicker on who lives in a better place, the tourist feels offended and leaves angrily. This is basically the 'patriotic offender' who believes his birthplace is the best solely because he was born there by chance and slates every other country or territory. 

A more pressing and extreme example is when the Western media mocks the prophet Muhammad of the Muslim faith or burns the Q'ran which evokes extreme reactions from the Muslim community because they feel offended that their religious faith and articles are being mocked or publicly disagreed with.  

So offensive acts explicitly challenge or contradict another idea which causes negative emotional reactions from their believers, it also includes ad hominem (insulting each other on personal traits) attacks also. 

Therefore we can say being offended equates to being in a negative emotional state where you feel your own traits and beliefs are being negatively portrayed. The discussion then revolves around whether a persons right to avoid this emotional state weighs more than having the right to challenge other peoples beliefs and traits. We shall come to see that people can avoid being offended and still be challenged at the same time.

An argument against offence based on Bentham's happiness principle

  One simple argument against the right for people to offend and protecting the right to not be offended comes from the greatest happiness principle. This principle states that in a society the general happiness of its citizens should be its main priority.

 The argument goes like this: Being offended is a negative emotional state in which X is not happy, the offender Y gains a small amount of happiness for offending X. It is shown that in general the magnitude of happiness Y gets is smaller than the loss of happiness of any X. So therefore there is a net loss of happiness every time someone gets offended, so the government which looks to put legislation in place to protect its citizens and provide the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people should make offensive acts illegal. 

This is the first argument I thought of against people offending others and it is literally bursting with erroneous assumptions, impracticalities and just shoddy thinking. Firstly, if we play along with Bentham's principle for a moment, we assume that over time restraining offence will lead to a happier society but will it?  I mean some offensive remarks actually do lead to useful debates on hot topics in the society be it vaccinations, education, science and how people should live their lives so maybe allowing offensive remarks can lead to people changing their minds (in light of arguments etc.) in order to live easier and happier lives. So restraining offence might not actually be the optimal way to increase happiness in a society.

I cannot stand the principle of happiness. It assumes that happiness is a precisely measurable quantity and in order for society to place efficient laws there would need to be a 'happiness calculator' for every action a citizen would do. Happiness is a complicated thing, scientists do not exactly know what constitutes the mental state of happiness and they are far from measuring it well enough for it be the base of all law in a society. Also the argument and principle assumes that happiness is the only ultimate goal of a society.. is it?  There doesn't seem to be any evidenced based reason to assign any ultimate goal to a human society. 

So this argument against offence is really a very weak one. I hope to have done it some justice and it is an argument many people do use, they really think that they have a right to not be put in this emotional state of being offended but underneath this thinking there seems to be no strong argument. 

Let's move on to a more challenging argument against offence. 

An argument against offence based on incitement of violence

This argument stems largely from John Stuart Mill's 'Harm principle' which was originally formulated in his great book 'On Liberty'. It is of great contemporary importance in moral discussions and in direct application of laws on hate speech. Mill's words on the principle are exemplary and it would do this discussion justice to show them here: 

‘The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.’ - J.S. Mill (On Liberty (68) ) 
 Let's look at another extreme example which is racial hate speech. If I was to publicly share my hate towards another race either verbally or in written form there would be a huge uproar. People would congregate and share their extreme negative feelings of being offended towards me. As racial hatred has such a deep history of pain, suffering and evil some people on getting offended by my remarks will simply strike me down out of rage as if there extreme feelings of hatred toward me compelled them to use violence to stop me. Who is the wrong?

Well my racial hate speeches obviously led to a congregation of very upset people and those that used violence wouldn't have needed to if I didn't start my speeches in the first place. So it seems my racial hate speeches incited their violence towards me and potentially anyone with me or any passers by out of emotional rage. As violence should be prevented at all times because allowing violence leads to a barbaric and chaotic society we should therefore ban any speech which leads to a possibility of violence. So  offensive speech should be banned because it always elicits a negative response which could lead to violence.

This argument, which I have purposefully constructed weakly for the time being, seems stronger than the argument from happiness as it is true that most humans in today's world do believe that the prevention of violence is a shared interest. However one of the assumptions made in this argument is that all offensive acts are done to cause violence or are intrinsically useless. Another thing to be challenged here is that do all offensive acts carry the same probability of inciting violence? If I offend Paul from my work because I thought his car was ugly is this likely to cause violence?  In that case many people would say Paul is in the wrong if he reacted violently to that remark even though it could be classed as offensive.

We should take a step back and justify why harm and violence are bad things in the first place. Mill argued that freedom should be the basis of a society and this should be in the form of a democracy because no absolute ruler is infallible and knows exactly how a human society should live. People should be able to experiment with their lives as they wish and he argues that this will lead to a diverse society where people will find their own happiness, will take different paths to finding what is true.
To avoid a complete anarchy he invoked the harm principle which stops other people impinging the freedoms of others through the medium of physical harm. If I hurt you I violated your freedom to be harm free or injury free etc. through non-consenting harm I am in a sense minimizing your freedom and this jeopardises the core values of society.

This value of freedom isn't picked out of thin air though. Mill used a utility argument to basically say that as humans are fallible (even scientists) and we do not know the best way to live a life it would be easier and more efficient if many people just experimented on their own accord. If there was no freedom but just a complete absolute ruler where everyone lived the same lives this might not be the best way to live as the ruler is finitely intelligent and may be wrong. So instead of wasting time all living the same lives we should all live different lives.

So going back to our argument then offensive speech that incites violence should be made illegal but not all offensive speech should be banned. This is because we are all fallible and if we cannot challenge and stimulate debate with one another then how can society progress? How can the civilians decide for themselves how to improve their health, wealth and happiness if they are protected from differing and potentially contradicting views just because they might get offended and get angry.  As the society is a democratic one and the government cannot be fully relied on for generating new ideas it is essential that diverse civilians debate with one another on the ideas they believe to be true and useful.

There needs to be a compromise. This is a hard topic to think about and legally it is sometimes done on a case by case basis, there is no universally agreed way to approach the line at which the apparent harm principle acts.

Throughout this debate however we have assumed that being offended is somehow pressed upon us, that we are forced into this emotional mental state without a choice. However I am going to argue that people can make a concious choice to be offended or not and with choice comes a way out of the harm principle for offensive remarks. As the state under the guidance of the harm principle can only exercise power on an individual if he restricts the freedom of another without their consent.

Eradicating the debate all together and defending all free speech

I like the harm principle. It makes sense. It makes sense because at its foundations it takes into account our own fallibility, the ability to test and try, gives power to individuals and allows them to develop in their own way. It implies that any dictatorship will fail over time and lead to a non progressive state whose citizens are not given their own volition to develop physically and intellectually ( I say volition as some choose to run their life into ruin). Most modern democracies use the harm principle in developing laws, some still have mountains to climb in applying it to all aspects of life however. So we will accept the harm principle as something that should be implemented in society and it represents a protection of individuals physical freedom.

Going back to the racial hate speech...the angry mob will no doubt want to commit violence to stop me but surely they can't cause harm to me because they would be restricting my freedom without my consent. By standing and shouting racial hate speech am I harming them?  Well I am not restricting their freedom physically as they can still move around as they please and they can also move away to stop hearing me. So it seems I am not harming them at all because they have a choice to be here or not. If they feel negatively towards me then so what they can choose to be here listening to me. Also I think they shouldn't really feel anything towards my speech and they can choose how they feel. 

Let me elaborate. If someone calls you names at school like fatty or shorty you might choose to feel angry... but why? All you should be worried about is if what they say is true or not... if it is true then they are simply stating a fact and what I do with facts is my own choice, there is no use in reacting emotionally to facts. If what they say is false then it doesn't matter, they are wrong and falsehoods don't apply to the real world. So really any emotional reaction to any remark is a choice and is unnecessary. Of course you can have the freedom to react emotionally to statements but any grief caused by that reaction is of your doing. 

When I talk about truth and false I am working within the confines of analytical and empirical truth. If something is true mathematically (analytically) then it's true due to the axioms of the system, if something is true scientifically (empirically) then there is substantial evidence to the claim being put forward.... if you cannot decide there and then if something is empirically true you should reserve judgement. 

So any offensive remark can be allowed because we have a choice to how we react to such remarks. Also we should only really be concerned with the validity of the remarks. If there is a homophobic parade shouting 'God Hates FAGS!' or 'Gays Are Stupid!' then we can just say well there is no evidence for God so the first one is false or we should reserve judgement (for those agnostics and really bad scientists)  also there is no evidence showing lower intellectual ability in homosexuals so the second one is false. So these paraders look quite silly shouting false or meaningless statements and we cannot get any use out of them so we should use our freedom to walk straight on by. No harm done either way. 

Some people will argue that these remarks are not challenging us in the sense that they can help progress society and these remarks are there just to try and incite violence. However we have already argued against such a response because who are we to say these remarks won't help society when we ourselves are fallible.. if they are shown to be false then that doesn't mean we should ban them... should we ban all false claims according to science? Of course not because science is fallible too but in a 99.9% sort of way i.e. most established theories are assumed to be certain but there is of course a small chance that some experiment in the universe will falsify it. 

Also some will question whether we truly can choose to not be in an emotional state or not. Well I think because we have evolved in a certain way it may seem like this, our instincts are strong. However we can train ourselves easily to become emotionally disciplined and I think most people can control how they think. Of course we can be manipulated visually and audibly but we can choose the way we feel or at least act. 

This part of the argument is the most controversial as modern science cannot really state exactly the proportion of control we have over our emotions. I believe that most medically and mentally healthy or non deficient adults are responsible for their actions and really only explicit physical manipulation can cause another human to commit harm which is itself a harm. 

So allowing all speech even if it is false or appears to have no value to society should still be allowed to be spoken because they do not cause harm in the sense of restricting freedoms and they are not responsible for others causing harm. Only the human or being doing the directing harming is responsible and the state has the right to exert power over him to prevent further harm. 

Friday, 19 June 2015

Why Are Humans Curious?

Our Ancestors

'Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings'
- Salvador Dali

It is an established scientific fact that humans and all living things have evolved, due to natural selection and other selection mechanisms, from organisms which roamed their environments before them. These organisms are their ancestors. The predecessors arise due to a change in the genome of the ancestor over huge periods of time, this change in genome occurs because some genes in the gene pool have done better than others. This change in genome results in a change of phenotype which we can see as a change in appearance or behaviour. 

Humans are by far the most sophisticated produce of evolution, even if that is slightly biased in favour of ourselves. I say this not due to our physical prowess or our ability to live long (a lot of animals do better than us in this department), I say this due to our ability to comprehend the world systematically and use this comprehension to manipulate it for our own desires. 

A lot of modern science, mathematics and even ancient mathematics was developed and explored for its own sake. Humans of the recent past and now express a desire to understand the workings of the universe or multiverses or even completely abstract ones without a direct reward for their selfish genes. This is an oddity, especially when we compare this with every other animal known to man whose every action is, directly or indirectly, to benefit a collection of genes or a single gene.

So how did this come about? How did humans acquire this 'desire' to understand?

One answer is to look at the gradual sophistication and efficiency of the ways our ancestors interacted with the environment and other organisms to enhance their survival. 

Evidence has been put forward that shows capuchin monkeys in Brazil using stones to forage for food, an early sign of tool use by a primate cousin. To use tools requires a complex brain, one that has a sort of software which realizes that the stone is impenetrable (well in the monkey's eyes) and that it can be used to dig out food etc. all this seems very simple to us... because we have that software programmed within out genetic code and it is probably much better than the capuchin monkey's one. This tool use requires a sort of understanding of physics, using objects in a three dimensional space and the concept of a force. However we obviously don't think monkeys study classical mechanics, however evolution has favoured this behaviour and consequently it resembles a sort of intuitive understanding of basic physics. 

Chimpanzees, other primates and some other animals exhibit an ability to recognize patterns. This has obvious benefits to the selfish genes that ride inside them. For example if I am a predator and day after day I see that large numbers of my prey come out at a certain time, it would be most beneficial to me and therefore to my selfish genes that I conserve my energy and only hunt around that time. This seems easy enough. Some organisms can change their behaviour to match this in their own lifetime and this requires a pre-ordained software to allow them to do that. Some organisms cannot and only mutations and tedious genetic selections favouring hunting at this time can move the species to benefit greatly from this prey behaviour. 

So it might be useful to have a pre-ordained ability to spot patterns, find the causes of them and use them to manipulate the environment to benefit the genes. We witness this gradual ability develop over evolutionary time throughout the animal kingdom. It just so happens that the strand on the evolutionary tree which led to human beings favoured extremely sophisticated pattern recognition filters.

So my guess is that the desire to understand is a sort of 'over doing it' by our genetic pattern recognition abilities. In other words evolution has developed this awesome ability to recognise patterns and then we started to use this outside the bounds of our immediate environment. 

It just so happens that a development of language was also important. It enabled us to classify objects and express the useful patterns that our brains saw to other human beings, this was probably because humans lived in close proximity to their family members which share a fraction of our genes so telling them useful things will lead to more of our genes surviving in the future.

These two monumental evolutionary inventions i.e. pattern recognition and language paved the way for the human civilisation that we see today. The ability to record language so as to preserve useful patterns was another huge leap forward for our ancestors.

Do we need to be curious?

'I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men'
― Charles Darwin

This question seems to grate me a bit. If by 'need' you mean do we have to be curious in order to survive I think no. There is plenty of evidence in our modern society of humans not being curious at all but surviving nonetheless albeit barely!  If by 'need' you mean to advance human's ability to comprehend the universe and use it to increase the quality of life, life expectancy and happiness of the human race I think yes, as merely doing things just to survive won't allow us to push beyond that. 

The fact is if we uncover patterns of the universe which help us to live better lives that's great but a lot of the motivations to find these patterns extends beyond helping humans to live better lives. Marie Curie wanted to understand and know about radioactivity and whether or not there was a separate element inside a uranium core, from this yes we can use this in medicine but Marie Curie didn't know that. 

We can be curious and if some humans want to know how the world works just because then go right ahead. It can only enrich us. 

A part of me thinks of the long time future for humans and how our destiny on this planet might not be a nice one either by natural forces creating an inhabitable planet or by our own actions leading to some despicable destruction. Maybe some scientific understanding that came about from scientists trying to know for knowing's sake will grant us the ability to avoid complete extinction and lead to our future survival. 

If this were true then our genes would surely benefit from this. Are our genes great prophets and evolution granted us with curiosity so as to maximise our genes survival far into the great future!? How great then are we? Or shall I say our genes....

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Black Holes: Event Horizons and The World As A Hologram - Part I


Luke Kristopher Davis

Newtonian Gravity

     We all know about gravity: the fact that two objects attract each other with a force proportional to the product of their masses and which gets weaker the further apart they are. This is what Newton essentially discovered. In the classical sense you can picture a tight-rope contest between the two masses and as they exert equal and opposite forces on each other, the lighter mass gets pulled in. If they are of the same mass they normally spin around the middle of the rope. If a mass comes from a long way away at a high speed the heavier mass at rest 'slingshots' the lighter mass, the lighter mass is moving so fast that the tight-rope slips from 'his hands' and continues to move on a new altered path. These little tight rope contests occur between all masses, from apples to stars. Mathematically instead of tight ropes we think of gravitational fields but the basic principle remains the same.

       The Einstein Fabric

      One of Einsteins greatest triumphs is the mass-equivalence principle, famously embodied as E=mc^2. This means you can think of a piece of mass as having an intrinsic energy in space and time. So if I completely destroy a piece of mass, say a kitkat chunky, I will get an energy equal to the mass of the kitkat multiplied by the speed of light squared. 
       In relation to our tight rope analogy, because mass can be thought of as some energy we can think of energy as some mass. Photons which are massless move at the speed of light so they actually have kinetic energy (energy due to motion) so Einstein says that this kinetic energy can be thought of as some mass. So if this energy can be thought of some mass it will be affected by gravity. So a photon actually takes part in tight rope contests with other masses, but they move so fast that in fact we hardly notice these contests. We only notice them when the heavy mass is really heavy which means the photons path through space is noticeably altered. This is called gravitational lensing. 

      Another step we must take is to ditch the tight-rope analogy. It can only go so far and as you may be familiar with gravitational forces now we can take the next step from Newtonian gravity, which is to introduce the notion of space-time. Time and space are normally thought as separate quantities, my time on my watch doesn't depend on where I am in space or my motion through space..surely?. Einstein showed the exact opposite,  that any time you read depends on how you are moving through space and as movement can only be recognized relatively to some other object, time is essentially relative. Every observer has a unique reading of time.

      This means that time and space are intrinsically linked, like two different threads being woven to form a fabric, and they form what is known as Minkowski space-time. This space-time has 4 dimensions which are time and the 3 dimensions of space. Instead of masses contesting with 'gravi-tight ropes' they curve this fabric (as in the picture above) and this curvature affects the motion of other objects. So think of an actual piece of fabric and an apple in the middle, the apple curves the fabric. If I place a grape on the fabric the grape falls inwards to the apple. This is gravity in the Einstein sense and it is the most accurate way to date in picturing what gravity is. Here is a really good video to show it.

Black Holes As Singularities

      So as mass curves space-time, you can start asking how much curvature occurs when a huge huge huge mass exists in the Einstein fabric. Well actually the curvature is so much that it forms a singularity. A point which is so dense that light spirals inwards and cannot escape due to the immense curvature of space-time. So as light cannot reflect off it we cannot see it hence the name black hole. 

      Black holes are formed when there is an object with a sufficient amount of mass, normally a heavy star, such that the object begins to collapse on itself due to the extremely strong gravitational pull. This can be anything, from a star to zillions of kitkats. The collapsing forms an infinitely dense black hole but with finite mass. 

       Let's imagine Marty and Doc doing a little experiment with a black hole. Crazy Doc wants to go in a spaceship so that he gets sucked into the black hole, merely following the curvature of space-time, and Marty is at a safe distance in another spaceship. Doc will send a photon to Marty to tell him he is alright every second or so. As Doc goes closer and closer to the black hole he will accelerate, he will get faster and faster. Doc still sends the photons and Marty picks them up knowing that Doc will be okay. But there comes a point where the curvature is so steep (gravity is so strong) that a photon cannot escape, this means that when Doc sends a photon he thinks Marty has got it but in fact Marty cannot receive it. So Marty does not know how Doc is or where he is. This point is known as the event horizon, a point of no return.

       So does Doc become completely obliterated ? Marty cannot know either way becomes he cannot retrieve any information about Doc beyond the event horizon. So the information Marty has about Doc seems to have completely gone. Is this a problem ? Yes. In part II we see why. 


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo: Frontlines on An Ideological War

Luke Kristopher Davis

Act of Terrorism

Terrorism is a psychological warfare. Terrorists try to manipulate us and change our behavior by creating fear, uncertainty and division in our society.
- Patrick J. Kennedy 

  On January 7th 10:30 GMT two gunmen, believed to be Cherif Kouachi and Said Kouachi, killed at least 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo HQ in Paris. Many of those killed and in current critical condition were cartoonists and workers for the satirical newspaper. The gunmen forced the cartoonist Corienne Rey to open the coded doors leading into the Charlie Hebdo HQ building, once inside they killed a police officer on guard and one staff member. After this, they moved to the meeting room on the second floor killing 8 journalists and 1 guest. Witnesses, one of whom took a video which was uploaded to youtube, heard the terrorists shouting 'God is Great' in Arabic providing even more evidence that this was indeed an act of Islamic terrorism.

Victims from left to right: Bernard Maris, Wolinski, Cabu, Stephane Charbonnier and Bernard Verlhac

   Police rushed to the scene and engaged in gunfire, more police officers died and many more injured. The gunmen, with an accomplice, escaped the scene and a current manhunt of the utmost urgency is being carried out. Paris and indeed France is in a state of extreme emergency.

The Kouachi brothers are the current suspects

What is Charlie Hebdo?

     Charlie Hebdo, meaning Weekly Charlie, is a left-wing, controversial and anti-religious piece of satirical newspaper which was founded in 1970. It was dropping in the 80's but re-founded in 1992 which has grown a circulation of around 45,000. As you can see by the example 'The Father, The Son.. The Holy Spirit' cover, it is by no means subtle or politically correct in its critique of Christianity. It doesn't just explicitly poke fun at Christianity, the form of Religion dominant in the west, but it also blatantly ridicules all religions, the extremism of right-wing dogma and notable topics in culture which they see fit to comment on in their irreverent tone. 

     In November 2011 the previous offices of Charlie Hebdo were fire bombed in response to a piece named Charia Hebdo meaning 'Weekly Sharia' which quoted the prophet Mohammed as the editor in chief. The paper moved offices into Paris and did not cave in to self-censorship, which many citizens demanded, but instead continued its goal in producing news reports which deliberately mocked fundamentalism, Religion and extreme right wing ideas. This choice to not undergo self-censorship was given the thumbs up by the French government itself and many intellectuals agreed, as caving in implies the fulfilling of the terrorist goals, which is to install fear and demand respect for Islamic religion and all that it derives. 

The reason for this attack

     You may suspect that this attack was simply another November 11' and  you wouldn't be wrong. The mocking of the prophet is one of the most offensive things you can do to a Muslim, scratch that... it IS the most offensive act you can do. A large minority of Muslims are blindly intolerant, living as extreme fundamentalists in which they believe the Muslim faith to be true without doubt and anyone who mocks their beloved figure head deserves death. The thing is they not only think that those who mock their faith should suffer intolerable pain and death but some are extreme enough to actually bring this about. 

     January 7th is an event which saw the actualization of this hatred towards a group publicly mocking their faith in such a freely and careless way. This was an attempt to silence that mocking, to point the finger at this massacre and say "you disrespect my faith, which me, my family and my community base our entire lives on... we will kill you... we will take away your lives... your lives worth less than our faith...".

     I must stress that only a minority of Muslims are extreme enough and indoctrinated enough who would actually cause the death of innocent people who were merely exercising their freedom to express themselves. Many Muslims, who are in no question offended by the cartoons, agree that this does not give anyone the right to take lives and that such matters should be addressed in a peaceful voice. An Islamic man justifies my point: 

 In my Islamic upbringing I was taught that the pen is man's strongest weapon. These extremists must know that they can never silence freedom of speech, for it is a stronger weapon than any they'd dare to carry. Why couldn't they answer peacefully through the pen as our prophet likely would have? True Islam condemns such attacks, more so when they are ignorantly and violently carried out in its name. Long live freedom of expression, religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence. - Hamed Saeedi

A casualty of war

      This massacre is a physical expression of memetic alleles colliding and trying to drive the other out as they are both detrimental to each others survival in the whole meme pool. It is a casualty in the war waged between the central idea holding some military authority in the East and the idea which founded the modern Western world as we know it.

   Basically fundamentalism and religion on the one hand, largely represented by Islamic fundamentalism, is in a state of ideological warfare with Freedom of thought and expression. Fundamentalism which is the belief that an idea or theory or any number of statements is 100% true is in direct competition with freedom of thought and expression: the idea that no claims about the world are 100% true due to empirical and scientific doubt and that no idea should be physically impressed on anyone because it might in fact be wrong. In a world dominated by a belief in freedom of thought would lead to its inhabitants being free to express ideas as this stimulates debates, discussions and questions which could lead to an improved living and empirical understanding of the universe. In a world dominated by a fundamentalist belief, due to historical reasons it happens to be an immovable belief in a supernatural being and the validity of ancient texts, we would witness its inhabitants not being able to think outside the confines of their belief due to indoctrination of such belief. Even if some do indeed think beyond the fundamentalism any expression of it would result in death, for this denies the supposed absolute truth.

      So we can see that these two ideas are on an extremely basic level contradictory and any humans believing in them would form two groups with a conflict of interests. Now those who are on the freedom of thought side also assign fallibility to their own belief so in light of this, they will not be intolerant towards the fundamentalists solely because there is a possibility (however small the probability) that they are indeed right. The fundamentalists however believe that anyone who does not believe the absolute truth are committing the highest crime to all humanity, for they are denying what is 100% true... supposedly. So this will result in them doing all they can to either convert or exterminate the other group.

     In reality we have witnessed the fundamentalist side do this very thing, but only really when the other side really mocks the fundamentalists beliefs. Why haven't the fundamentalist side, which not only includes Islamic extremists, tried to wage outright war on the other 'freedom of thought side' ? Well because the sides are not equally matched and are not the same size. The Western world with its huge accumulated economy, population and military power has actually stopped the Eastern world (which most fundamentalist communities at large exist) from going to outright war solely on the difference in culture because the East would surely lose. So going to war would in essence destroy fundamentalist believers, their homes and possibly the survival of the fundamentalist idea itself.

      However the fundamentalism urges believers to still do something in order to convert or destroy those who explicitly contradict their ideas. They do this through acts of terrorism and acts of death (many which include the death of a terrorist) to install respect of their belief through fear of more death and violence and this reduces the power of freedom of expression. I say reduces but it is simply an attempt to reduce the power of freedom of expression. In no way has this mission really been accomplished.

Which side will win ? 

     Looking at this as two memes (ideas) which are competing for their future survival, where such survival depends on their abilities to adapt to selection criteria imposed by human nature. By this I mean that the idea that survives or becomes more  believed in will be more conducive to human life in which it enables humans to live a more long lived, healthier, more knowledgeable and happier life. Showing how these ideas could do that seems hard and almost impossible, but it can be done and I  will outline some reasons as to why I think fundamentalism, be it; Islamic, Catholic, Judaic.... Creationist or any belief system believed in without doubt or consulting the evidence will gradually fade away into the history of mankind.

     First of all what is conducive to human life is most definitely likely to be true. Never has a false principle ever helped humans in manipulating a physical environment or improving their biologically characteristics. This is because if a principle does not abide by how nature works the principle cannot take into affect. For example if I believe that curing a disease took a number of people putting their hands together praying to a supernatural being then of course this wouldn't work...  we would in fact witness those with no natural way of improving their condition simply dying. This is because the principle of praying assumes the existence of an all controlling being and that praying to him about curing someone will cure them. These assumptions have no scientific evidence for them so they are deemed false. This logic can be applied to any principle of this nature and it can be shown (has been shown in many cases) that these principles are in fact completely useless. Principles based on scientific inquiry, repeated experiments and peer-reviewed theories will work much better instead. 

     So the dogmas of fundamentalism which are majorly based on religious ones are principles which assume supernatural entities, beyond the observable world, they assume odd claims about the world which nearly all are either physically impossible, cannot be demonstrated or have no evidence for them. This means that actually they really won't lead to useful advances in human life. Some may argue that what happens if science is believed fundamentally? Well they will face an immediate contradiction in terms as science is based on empirical approximations and no scientific theory by the very nature of science itself can ever be claimed to be 100% right, as there is a possibility of a future experiment which could falsify its claims. So in fact fundamentalism is doomed. 

    Of course the human race cannot know innately the principles which are most conducive to human life but the most logical way is to try different ideas and see whether they are indeed useful. This implies that humans should have the freedom to think of different ideas and they should be put out into the open so that all these ideas can be discussed, some being more favored than others due to their accordance with established ideas or because they can be tested in science or politics with ease and minimal cost. Those least favored would be those which failed theoretically or testing them is extremely costly or those of a fundamentalist nature. Of course those least favored would not be outright exterminated as in a fundamentalist world, but they lay on the top shelf in which they would be sought for if they are the next best thing or other ideas failed to be useful. 

   This is how Western democracy should in theory be run and in fact it runs in a pretty similar fashion to this. Also note how well the West has actually done in economical terms, scientific terms and in the quality of lives that people live. Of course we can do better! But I personally think we are doing better than those in the East which are countries in political turmoil, stricken with poverty in some areas and not boasting the best life expectancy. Political revolutions which have occurred in Egypt, Syria and Libya are actually adopting democratic means to appoint leaders. I think once doubt creeps in and gradually enters the minds of more far Islamic and religious people they will start to question their faith and the ideas which their lives revolve around on. With these questions demand answers and I think the humans in these areas are capable of as much reasoning as I and you are, and once they question their indoctrination they will demand sensible answers with justification. The internet is slowly allowing this doubt to creep in.

How should we then react to this event? 

   We must not give in to terrorism and we must not condone acts of intolerance. Freedom of expression is an extremely valuable principle in our modern world and we all reap the benefits of its success, it is a principle worth protecting with our hearts and minds, together as a unified culture of free spirited human beings. I am out, I am Charlie, you are Charlie, we are Charlie. 

Friday, 2 January 2015

Evolution Will Always End With Intelligence

By Luke Kristopher Davis

Life on other planets

    There is little doubt that there is a finite chance of biological life existing anywhere else in the universe be it in our own solar system or galaxy. A more interesting question to think about is whether the life that does exist elsewhere, arising independently from ours, follows natural selection via the differential selection of genetic material. Basically will it evolve in a similar manner to how life on planet earth has?

    We do not yet know precisely the mechanism or all the ingredients for life to emerge from pools of basic chemistry and physics. However we are pretty confident, we meaning the scientific community, that life arises through the thermodynamic building of complex molecules which then have the special property of replicating themselves. This could arise from special symmetries of the molecular lattice such that when this special molecule is bombarded with other basic ones or after some chemical reaction it splits in two, each being copies of each other and of its parent. Though this is mere speculation on my behalf. Life that could arise on other planets will probably originate through this same process, the building of replicators, and as soon as replicators are built Darwinian natural selection starts to exert itself on these extremely basic forms of life. I only say that life will 'probably' start this way because we do not know any other way that it could arise from basic matter within the confines of our established science. 

    So we are assuming with good reason that life can and probably does exist independently and that it would have emerged from the molecular building of replicators.

How does evolution work again? 

Charles Darwin - Proposed natural selection and evolution

     Let's continue the story on from our basic replicator molecule which copies itself due to some physical mechanism. This copying process is not perfect, there is a probability that some part of the molecular structure will change slightly after replication therefore a daughter molecule will differ from its parent. These molecules will probably exist in a pool of other molecular compounds and elements and the different daughter replicator will change how it reacts with other molecules or how it bonds with other compounds. If the new daughter molecule speeds up the replication process somehow or can breakdown a new source of energy to fuel reactions its type will no doubt out replicate its mother. So then we already see how a slight change in structure can offer advantages for out replicating the parent or other 'mutated' siblings. Over a great expanse of time  molecules would be able to build, through chemical means and interacting with other  replicators, bodies which are capable of moving and sensing the environment (a basic example is plankton). The replicator molecules would chemically instruct their bodies to carry out certain physical actions. In certain environments there are selection criteria which select those replicators which build more advantageous bodies, these bodies are called phenotypes and the selection criteria of the environment impresses itself on the phenotypes which increases or decreases the chance of future replication. The replicator body which is more 'adapted' to the selection criteria will increase its chances compared to other replicator bodies.

      Replicators are known as genes and replicator bodies are known as organisms. Over time and with the statistical spreading of organisms into different environments (or the statistical emergence of separate life on the same planet) they will branch out into species and evolve complexity. The evolution of all the organisms follow from the differential selection of genes which produce more advantageous phenotypes.

Nature has universal tricks for varying environments

      What sort of environment can we expect on other planets ?  Well I will not go to the expense of describing them because the range of possible environments that could foster life is great, and it is not key to the point of this article. All I can say is that in general there will be environments which contain molecules for phenotypic structure and metabolism, a solvent and a replicating molecule which does not necessarily have to look like DNA but may well be very similar to. 

      Even if different planets have different atmospheric pressures, different concoctions of gaseous elements or different amounts of solar radiation and light coming through the sky etc. there will be strong selection criteria which will form similar phenotypic solutions which occured on our planet. For example: the need to move the body through a medium or along it will require limbs or jet propulsion, assuming a wing is a limb. On earth the independent evolution of the wing occurred in birds, insects and bats which resulted in varying wings but similar in function (creating lift). The independent evolution of a particular phenotype tool is called homoplasy in cladistics, in general we call it convergent evolution i.e. similar selection criteria causes a convergence to the same structure. So nature seems to re-use solutions for similar problems. 
     On other planets the need to fly, even if it is through more dense air, will lead to something like the wing. There may even be other ingenious ways for organisms to move through air which us humans cannot imagine but in the unique environment natural selection will carve it out. 

     One thing which I would bet a large amount of money on is the evolution of social behavior and sexual reproduction on life on other planets. Scientists do not completely know how sexual reproduction evolved but because nearly all organisms take part in it sexual reproduction must somehow ultimately bring survival advantages for the genes that instruct them. If this is true, which I assume is, mating dynamics will play out which  will cause the evolution of social behavior. Altruism in some species will most likely evolve, either by hunting in a group or living in close proximity to offer protection, warmth, help with rearing young etc. the point is it will offer some sort of advantage to survival or reproductive power. With the existence of social organisms there are advantages to manipulation either of individuals belonging to their own species or organisms from a different species. This manipulation exists as language: the organism exerts some force on the environment which another organism registers and carries out an interpretation or action.  As we see in bees, dolphins and us use a fairly complex language which arises from manipulation. This evolution in language must first start with the evolution of a complex brain.

Convergent evolution of intelligence

    Simulation of the world is a process which many animals do, it is more cost-effective in terms of time, energy and risk to simulate an event in the world than to try it out for yourself. Young animals with little experience of the world and 'no data' in their memory can have instincts programmed by their genes to get them to make the right choices in early life, and they can have their parents to teach them certain things which they have learnt in their lives. Brains capable of guessing what would happen if an action is taken and choosing the optimal choice based on simulation will be favored by natural selection and an organism which simulates more accurately or records more accurate data will be more favored. 

     Going back to manipulation of other organisms and social behavior it seems simulating brains of other organisms is a much more complicated matter than simulating the seemingly deterministic physical world. So with the evolution of language and simulation mechanism would lead to a very sophisticated control center of an organism. With phenotypic tools which can adequately alter the environment (would have been advantageous in many environments: see Beavers, our ancestors and even ants) and an ability to somehow infer the causal nature of things, which amounts to an innate genetic proficiency of physics, then organisms could somehow manipulate the environment to reduce the exertion of selection criteria. They could build weapons or defenses to fight off predators, herd prey into groups and cultivate them all this arising from rules and language passed down from generations. 

     Using the environment to increase an individuals survival or even group survival (dependent on genes shared) is obviously beneficial to the genes which reside in them. However using rules and tricks passed down by the generations through linguistic means or means other than genetic change, results in a reduction of the power of selection criteria without further genetic selection. Normally a reduction in the power of selection criteria comes with better adapted phenotypes from selecting better genes. If an intelligent organism can even restrict the power of future selection criteria be it disease, food shortages or a new predator by using sufficient intelligence as to remove it or constrain it then this organism will not evolve anymore. Evolution needs selection criteria. 

     I say 'will not evolve anymore'  but of course some evolution will gradually take place. Sexual selection will place selection criteria on the organisms but of course in principle this criteria can be reduced through more manipulation of the environment and even the phenotypes themselves without genetic changes. Also a moderately intelligent organism like ourselves has not completely outdone natural selection as poverty in some parts, disease and smaller environmental effects which we have not yet seen could be still placing selection criteria on gene pools.

    The point is this, with sufficient intelligence and sufficient ability in manipulating the environment, natural selection will have dwindled. This is because the intelligent organism solves the problem before natural selection will. Natural selection occurs in much greater spells of time then say the time between future generations. 

     With a great intelligent organism which reduces all selection criteria by manipulation of the environment then evolution, in the sense of differential selection of genetic material, will have ended. It could happen that such an intelligent organism will modify its genes as to increase its manipulative power over the environment, selecting pre-existing genes from other organisms or cutting some genes out or even inventing new ones. However would we still call this evolution? 

Would such an organism become victim of another evolution?

       Such an organism whose body of accumulated information from generation to generation may become a vehicle for another selfish molecule which is not the gene but a unit of the body of information. So another form of evolution could take place.

       In the collected body of information which we call culture in human terms, has selection criteria for certain types of information in certain types of departments. Say the department of finding another energy resource will have the selection criteria of ideas which seem feasible, then there is selection criteria for those which can be implemented sooner or with less energy. This environment provides selection mechanisms for units of information, surely this resembles the differential selection of genetic material? Surely genes are fundamentally just bits of information however complex. 

       If this scheme were to actually happen the selection criteria would come from the organism itself so it could be argued that the units of this evolution would always be products of the organism and hence the organism is not the one being played in this case it is the player. However it does not seem impossible that the units of evolution in this new scheme could manipulate the organisms for their own survival in the body of accumulated information.

      This of course is not established science so I cannot assign any validity to it as an empirically or mathematically sound idea. However with what we witness within our culture, the control of humans by hostile ideas to kill others and themselves seems to not benefit them but the continuation of the idea itself and its future copies. I think there is some value in this proposed idea and something which needs further study.