10/29/2004

...of Lore and Fable

I recently posted a science update that included information on the recent discovery of Homo floresiensis on an island in Indonesia. That got me thinking on a rather interesting subject.

Have you noticed that certain themes are pretty much ubiquitous and universal in human lore and fables? I mean almost every culture has myths and legends of dragons for example. Another common topic are "little people". These "little people" have various names in various locations: elves, gnomes and leprechauns for example.

Could it be that these ubiquitous references are based on an oral tradition that goes back tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years to the very earliest story tellers? Perhaps the tales of creatures encountered were passed from one tribe to another as they met during their migrations. These new stories were then incorporated into the verbal history of that new tribe and perpetrated further.

Could Ireland's leprechauns be Indonesia's Ebu Gogo? Taken further, perhaps dragons are tales of Komodo Dragons retold and distorted over the intervening generations. Perhaps ogres, orcs and trolls appear as a result of the recounting of encounters with Homo Neanderthalensis.

These memories and tales could indeed be quite old. I mean we like to think of evolution in terms of the subsidence of one species with the appearance of the next, like flicking a switch. In truth however, evolution is the slow process of mutation from one species into another. An Australopithecus mother doesn't suddenly one day give birth to a Homo habilis child.

We know that Homo ergaster used tools and we know that this knowledge had to have been conveyed from one individual to another in some form. This was going on about 2 million years ago. The point at which our ancestors evolved the ability to convey the subjective and abstract can only truly be a matter of conjecture. We also know that about 60,000 years ago Homo Neanderthalensis used the same set of musical notes for their music that we do (i.e. "do re mi fa so la ti do"), so perhaps our ancestors are not so very foreign after all and perhaps our legends and lore are older than we could imagine.

This is only a theory of course on my part, but I thought it an interesting enough proposition that I would share it with all of you to see what your sentiments were on the subject.

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Blogger Ken said...

Hey G-man,

You should stick with the science posts, they're thought out and interesting. ;-)

Yet another transmission from the "Reality Based Community."
Ken

4:11 PM  
Blogger gecko said...

G-Man, have you ever read Wired magazine? I think you'd like it. I am currently pondering an article about Intelligent Design as opposed to Evolution. Unfortunately, I will have to read or research The Origin of Species; I hope it is not some dry geek read like the ones I had in High School. Do you have an opinion on that? I like your storytelling theory. I'm not one to dwell on absolutes in science; hell, I even believe in ghosts! Maybe these creatures of legend were what they are described as, but evidence just hasen't been found yet (like the legend of the democrats' WMDs!) I can't wait for this election to be over with, so we can get back to whatever reality we are comfortable with!

11:15 PM  
Blogger The G-man said...

Well if you don't like what I have to say, just remember that you asked ;-).

The main problem with claims of intelligent design is that it requires a "designer". Which entails one of two claims. Either a deity or another species. I'll address these seperately.

The design by deity theory has one major flaw. That lies in the perception of deity. Most suscribers to a belief in god, also contend that this being embodies perfection. However if we protract the evolutionary tree, we find all kinds of dead-ends; mistakes so to speak (Homo Neanderthalenis springs to mind readily as does Parenthropis boisei). Further, creatures themselves are imperfect. I mean, why do humans have an appendix for example?

In the second case; design by another species (extra-terrestrials are the most frequently named suspects), one is compelled to ask "who designed them?"

We are quickly coming to an age, where we learn that life is indeed ubiquitous throughout the galaxy. There's already substantial proof that life once existed on Mars, and may yet thrive (The atmospheric methane readings are a strong indicator of an extant microbial ecosystem).

One of the oft voiced arguments against evolution is the law that states "all matter tends toward entropy(chaos)". Interpreted, the contention is that according to this law, creatures would devolve rather than evolve (hence tending toward entropy). But in fact, we see the evidence that supports evolution all around us and undoubtedly, those patterns we see are no more or less complex than say the water cycle. The fact of the matter is that entropy in and of itself is not constrained to be pattern-less. You've perhaps seen a mandelbrot plot. These images are generated with what is called chaos arithmetic. The individual portions of image itself might appear quite chaotic, but protracted on the whole, it portrays a noticeable symmetry and pattern. This is the significance of these figures. The mathematicians who originally wrote the formulae thought that the plot would display none of these qualities. So in other words, chaos only appears "chaotic" when viewed locally.

Did that help any?

11:52 PM  
Blogger gecko said...

No matter whether I like or dislike your answer; I ask the question in order to better understand. Now, whether I agree or not is another matter. However, I wish to explore whether faith and reason can peaceably coexist. From Jonathon Keats: "There's a schism between science and religion, a sense that you have to pick sides, and it threatens to turn us all into fundamentalists of one sort or another," he said. "Science rejects God for want of empirical evidence, and religion rejects the scientific method the moment it contradicts the Bible." That's a braod brush stroke, however the context fits.

You said: The design by deity theory has one major flaw. That lies in the perception of deity. Most suscribers to a belief in god, also contend that this being embodies perfection. True, to me God is a perfect being and all creatures are in effect made in the image of God, however, this is not to imply that God created all creatures to be perfect. I don't think all things made were meant to be perfect.

Also (and here's the wishy-washy religious bent) with the realization that life may very well be ubiquitous throughout the galaxy (universe even) it would be more convincing to me that we all didn't evolve from a bubbling cauldron of prebiotic soup. What would your answer be to the question: If there was intelligent life on other planets in the galaxy who visited earth, what would they look like?

The Wired article pretty much spells out doom for intelligent design in the face of the vast evolutionist community. I personally am more in agreement with natural selection, but it also occured to me that when musing on the intricacies of the composition of simple lifeforms there are clear yet complex patterns. I don't doubt what you say about entropy is true.

Thanks for answering my question!

5:42 PM  
Blogger The G-man said...

I wish to explore whether faith and reason can peaceably coexist.

I believe that they can peaceably exist... In that we don't have people being killed for adhering to one or the other. -BUT- if by "peaceably exist", you mean, "be mingled". I think there comes more of a rub. The central tenets of the two are completely incompatible. The central tenet of religion is faith and of science is the scientific method. So that we're on the same page, here's the definitions of the two provided by the very kindly Merriam Webster's:

FAITH: firm belief in something for which there is no proof.

SCIENTIFIC METHOD: principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.

In other words, religion gains it answers from doctrine and believes them without proof, while science believes no answers without proof.

This is the central dissimilitude the separates the two. In order to allow the both to coexist, one must make concessions on both sides to bring the two into alignment. In doing so however, you corrupt both, as religion without full faith is hypocritical and science without requirement of proof is dissembling.

True, to me God is a perfect being and all creatures are in effect made in the image of God, however, this is not to imply that God created all creatures to be perfect.

But you see, there you've contradicted yourself. In summary, you said:

1. God is perfect
2. All things are created in his image
3. They are not perfect

Putting this in the form of a mathematical truth table looks something like this:

g = p
c = g
c <> p

It doesn't add up, therefore one of the assertions has to be false. Either god is not perfect, or we are not created in his image or we must be perfect. So which article of your faith are you willing to loose to bring science and religion closer together? Do you see my point?

One of the central truths of science is reflected in the phrase: "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate" (also known as Ockham's Razor). This asserts that the simplest explanation for an observed phenomenon is the correct one.

Applying that, it is simpler to say, "things simply exist" than it is to say, "things exist because they were created to exist".

Science has thus far found answers to a lot of questions where religion thought it was the final authority. We know for example that the Earth is not the center of the universe and is not flat. We know that this planet has existed for far longer than 6,000 years and we know that there is no way that representatives of this planet's entire air breathing fauna could have been accommodated in a ship 450' x 75' x 45' (or 1,518,750 cubic feet) even if you packed them tightly.

Also (and here's the wishy-washy religious bent) with the realization that life may very well be ubiquitous throughout the galaxy (universe even) it would be more convincing to me that we all didn't evolve from a bubbling cauldron of prebiotic soup.

But Ockham's razor would indeed cause me to state just that. It is a far simpler explanation to say that under a given set of circumstances, life will always occur.

What would your answer be to the question: If there was intelligent life on other planets in the galaxy who visited earth, what would they look like?

Chances are very good that they would not necessarily resemble us! In order for that to occur the evolutionary path would have had to be exactly the same as ours, which is a statistical impossibility.

it also occured to me that when musing on the intricacies of the composition of simple lifeforms there are clear yet complex patterns.

This is exactly why I made the point of saying that chaos does not by necessity require a lack of a pattern.

The Wired article pretty much spells out doom for intelligent design in the face of the vast evolutionist community.

I would propose that it is not the popularity evolutionist community that spells doom for the theory of intelligent design, rather that it is the advent of incontrovertible proof that has lead to the popular acceptance of its premise.

8:37 PM  
Blogger gecko said...

Let me start my rebuttal by restating what I said. I said that "all creatures are in effect made in the image of God, however, this is not to imply that God created all creatures to be perfect." I could take a photograph of you or make a statue of you. These would be images of you, however would not be perfect copies of you. If God made everyone perfect it would be a very boring world woudn't it?

I think there is more to the definition of faith, but for the sake of arguement, I will go with your definition. Now, are not the tenets of science theory and hypothesis? Do these things not require faith in order to exist? Does not the common man require faith in so and so's hypothesis to believe in some accepted scientific theories? Einstien come to mind.

I'm saying that science has the edge on proven concepts, but it may only be a matter of time before the concept of God is proven also.

11:59 PM  

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