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Evolution is not progress

S. A. Modena samodena at csemail.cropsci.ncsu.edu
Wed Jul 8 21:18:37 EST 1992

In article <3711 at news.duke.edu> una at phy.duke.edu (Una Smith) writes:
>A number of people hated my list, below, and posted
>or sent me private complaints about the anthropomorphic
>aspects of the last 3 items.

I was about to comment on that list last night when our EtherNet connect
went (further) south....

>> 	1. Life
>> 	2. Cells
>> 	3. Multi-vessicle cells
>> 	4. Multi-cellular organisms
>> 	5. The brain
>> 	6. The mind (distinct from the brain)
>> 	7. Culture (in the sense of human culture)

Una's #7 seems to spill a shadow back on #5 and #6 making them appear
anthropomorphic.  On the other hand, "human" is borne in parentheses.
Sort of like a marginal note.  :=)

Without knowing much about what is on Una's mind, I have life experience
reasons to think that #6 and #7 are *not* restricted to Homo sapiens or
to the great apes or even to mammals.  On the other hand, that would be
an uacceptable admission by, for example, a devote, catechismic Catholic...
which aludes to the *nature* of the controversy around the paradigm:
 "progress ?= evolution."

>As Arseny has pointed out, this list is not my own original
>idea, but merely my own interpretation of a common theme.


>I'd like to point out that item 5 (brain) is not a feature
>unique to humans, and whether item 6 (mind) is unique to
>humans (on this planet anyway) is a hot topic of debate.
>Even the last item, culture, does not necessarily belong to
>humans alone.  There are other people who use email and
>who are far better able to debate the fine points of these
>latter items on the list than I.  To those critics who say
>the anthropomorphic aspects of items 5-7 "make the entire
>list suspect", I can only ask:  Why?


In a discussion forum such as bionet.molbio.evolution, it might
be appropriate to note that the unending elucidating of
the fine *molecular* detail of just everthing is a safe habour
from the question on everyone's mind: how is it all strung together
into something coherent...that "something coherent" being the "life" that
abounds around us, whether plant, animal or other.  (There is absolutely
no religious or mystical subtext here: this is strictly a *scientific*
or *systems* question.)

I stated my position above: there is nothing suspect in the list
per se....there is just the challenge of the synthesis of how one goes from
neural transmitters to the "mind."  At least there is something left to do! 
> .............

>or elsewhere argue that, by defining "progress" in the
>right way, it can be made synonymous with "evolution".
>On an off day, I would even take the hard line that not
>even my list of emergent levels of organization fit the
>usual criteria of "progress".
>	Una

In plant breeding, there is "breeding progress."  One has a specific
quantitative or qualitative objective in mind (at least corn breeders
usually do).  The breeder is well aware of performing "genetic engineering."
The notion of evolution doesn't get connected to breeding progress....
yet somehow in the MesoAmerican past one must confront the fact that
an evolutionary event(s) (with the support of or by the intervention of the
human mind?) is associated with Teosinte becoming proto-Maize.  Progress?
Even Zea botanists and Maize breeders don't mix those two words in the
same breath!  I'm not being fair here: the MesoAmericans were in awe of
Maize and the fountain of its genetic diversity and potential to the point
of assigning religious significance.

Now, where do the molecularists stand in this?  Certainly, the discipline is
young...genetic engineering is a minimum of 10,000 years old...but molecular
engineering is fairly recent.  What does the "molbio.evolution" crowd
have to offer?  Certainly not "brain, mind, culture!"  Mitochondrial Eve?
No less controversial or suspect, right?

|     In person:  Steve Modena     AB4EL                           |
|     On phone:   (919) 515-5328                                   |
|     At e-mail:  nmodena at unity.ncsu.edu                           | 
|                 samodena at csemail.cropsci.ncsu.edu                |
|                 [ either email address is read each day ]        |
|     By snail:   Crop Sci Dept, Box 7620, NCSU, Raleigh, NC 27695 |
         Lighten UP!  It's just a computer doing that to you.

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