Monday, January 2, 2012

Fleas, Logic and Evolutionary Theory

Notes out of Zambia no 3 and Facts and fiction no 2. Jumping from fleas to logical types and evolutionary theory; topping it off with a mystic poem. 2012 has come!

Written by Bert Witkamp

1. I just killed a flea by using a dictionary. Indeed, such action adds an unusual kind of functionality to dictionaries; in this case KRAMERS' Netherlands - English pocket dictionary. It is not a very good dictionary, both in terms of material construction and content. These negatives definitely contribute to its flea killing functionality. Is this the kind of reasoning that leads you 1) into theories of logical types & hierarchies; 2) into the seasonal practicalities of flea life? Fleas love the rainy season & if you have pets they love you too, these fleas; or 3) gets you into evolutionary theory?
2. The flea business is very different from the issue of logical types. Example. You can say sensibly: I know. You can say sensibly: I know that I know. I doubt that the logical sequel "I know that I know that I know" has any real meaning to you and me (perhaps save for the Buddha’s amongst us) but the next one (I know that I know that I know that I know) surely is beyond comprehension. It is logically possible, but practically meaningless: can't relate it to the structure of the mind. This is where the fleas come in. Reality takes over from logic; you can throw a book at fleas, but not at logic; and if you hit the flea well it is dead, and if not, you get bitten (unless you bring your pet in fast). Logic has no feeling, it exists only in the mind, its relation to practical and pragmatic reality always is an issue of debate. I just sprayed against fleas to save the dictionary; and indeed I know that I sprayed. I think I might also know that I know that I sprayed. But beyond that it gets foggy.....or is it mystic?
The best growing chicks get slaughtered first. What has Darwin to say about this?
3. The business of killing fleas by a dictionary did trigger of thoughts about evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory is about living longer as a species (that is very different from living longer as an individual – one of those links with the theory of logical types!). Keeping broiler chickens made me query conventional evolutionary theory. You see, the best broilers (slachtkippen in NL) get killed first, and the poor performers live longest. How does the short life expectancy of the best growers harmonize with the idea that evolution is based on “the survival of the fittest”?  Actually, as you know, evolutionary theory is based on two interlocking principles. The first is that of (random) combination of whatever is possible in a gene pool including fertile (i.e., genetically transmissable) mutation. The second principle is that of the survival of the fittest. Of all the combinations, including mutations, chances of survival are best for those that are optimally adjusted to their environment – in whatever way. You see immediately that there is a heap of statistics in this – going from the random to the structured – in a process Gregory Bateson labeled stochastic. Step 2 definitely is not a random process as the new arrivals land in a structured situation. It also is incredibly complex due to the variety of life forms (organisms) and the variety within organisms.   
4. Getting back to our broilers you might say that these reservations are irrelevant as broilers do not produce off-spring. True. But that does not hold for the next example. The next example is about trees. The best trees in the wild get lumbered and with them their contribution to the gene pool. The survivors are the poorest trees, with less potential for outstanding off-spring. The survivors are trees with crooked trunks, having diseases and whatever unfavourable properties. Now, what is the conclusion? That evolutionary theory does not work, c.q. needs refinement? That the refinement is about what we, species homo sapiens sapiens, (that is: the human being that knows that it knows), do to nature? Mess it up, have no respect for it? Think we are outside of the eco system? Or, if in it, at the centre, at the very heart of it? Big fallacies, both of them, possibly fatal. Why? Because, in the immensity of the cosmos, the largest ecosystem we are part of, we, homo sapiens sapiens, are very small fry. In the cosmos we don't hand out the shots. That is one thing that you should know that you know that you know.......
5. In hindsight - there was no foresight in any of this - would you not agree that one possible extension of this text is in William Blake's
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
The first verse of his Auguries of Innocence, itself a great title. There is all kind of stuff in Blake that I am not so found of. But this is perfection.