Andrew Walker reflects on evolution and the genesis of human values.
I find it interesting that any talk of evolution seems to have a human value ascribed to it as illustrated by statements such as this: the only criterion is survival of the species. In actuality evolution doesn’t have an end goal in sight. Nor indeed does it necessarily value one outcome over another; it just produces outcomes, whatever they are. No value judgement is required, it is just causes and consequences. Or that is evidently so until further evidence is found.
Whether there is any sentient or cognitive input into the outcomes of evolution other than from the sentient or cognitive inputs of the life forms involved, I leave as an unanswered question. Even the way in which these inputs from the various life forms influence evolution I would say is poorly understood. We know a few that will affect the gene pool, such as choosing to kill or preserve a particular life, or choosing to change the environment, whether done through instinct or conscious thought. These will have consequences, some of which we may know, but there are many causes and consequences we have never thought of.
Life forms including us do have an inbuilt desire for self preservation and/or procreation.
So is this the starting point of a value system? Whether it is or not I shall use it as a basis until a more foundational one comes along. Obviously different life forms have conflicting values regarding self preservation and/or procreation; one value system doesn’t fit all. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say a value system that fits all would be multifaceted.
Human value systems must address both desire and consequence which is quite a task as we don’t fully understand our desires let alone the consequences of any actions we choose. Given such ignorance, any value system needs to both be transparent and flexible to allow change for the greater good. What constitutes ‘the greater good’ is open to interpretation and revision but by necessity it must not be too vulnerable to whim.
The stories we tell about ‘what is’ contain within them the values we hold.
I look forward to seeing the stories unfold as we tease out the values that serve the self, the other, and ‘what is’ for the greater good.
Disclaimer: views represented in SOFiA blog posts are entirely the view of the respective authors and in no way represent an official SOFiA position.
Photo by Eugene Zhyvchik on Unsplash
One amusing hypothetical comes to mind:
What if we humans had evolved from the minor chimpanzees (Bonobos), rather than the major chimps?
Our values and behaviour would certainly be quite different from what they are now.
This makes me wonder more about whether there was more than one life form that emerged from the primordial unknown.
Whether our direct lineage became extinct or to what extent it remains in existence.
A single cell would have different values and behaviors compared to a double celled life form and the complexity would increase along with the cells.
I dont know how complex a single cell is or can be so I am at a bit of a loss to speculate on what our values would be if we evolved through Bonobo lineage.
But like all speculation worth exploring to see where it leads you.
I concluded long ago that the purpose of life is to appreciate “what is” and one of those ways is to keep ourselves amused as we explore it.
I can remember the hullabaloo engendered by Richard Dawkins’ publication of “The Selfish Gene”. Rather than the survival of the species, was it actually the survival of the individual gene which was the goal of evolution?
I also vaguely remember a rejoinder postulating that the goal was really the survival of the gene-pool itself. And that the gene would sacrifice itself for the benefit of the gene-pool.
This latter implied Altruism. Could that implication be another case of mistaken anthropomorphism?