My last post covered Geoffrey Miller’s first book. I summarised his theory that most of the traits that make the human species unique (be it complex language, sense of humour or religious belief) have evolved due to us trying to show off certain qualities to potential mates, leading to sexual selection for those traits. Although what follows is written to be stand alone, you will get more from this post if you read that first, don’t worry I can wait.
In his second book Miller takes what he established about how our minds developed for sexual selection in the past and applies the consequences of this theory for modern society. In particular he looks at what this means for consumerism and develops new theories, as with his first theory the sheer range and amount of human behaviour that these explain and predict is staggering. In my second of this pair of posts I will explore some of these aspects of humanity, as always I will concentrate mostly on what this means for my proposal for a spiritual materialism, but I’m so taken with some of the ideas on display I cast my net more widely than often before. I hope you are equally inspired by at least the potential if not my interpretations, and if not, please, I beg your indulgence.
One of the biggest questions in evolution, and one of the biggest challenges thrown at materialists by believers in a creator, is what makes human’s different from other animals and how can these be explained by natural processes? Over the next two posts I will discuss the works of Geoffrey Miller, who has come up with an overwhelmingly strong answer. Here I give an overview of his first book The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature where he sets out the theory of how we have come to be what we are.
In the follow up I will discuss his second book Must-Have, which explores what this means for modern society and I will look at what these theories mean for my philosophy of Spiritual Materialism. If I have done Miller’s central tenets any justice in my two unfairly brief summaries you will hopefully be as convinced of their merits as very strong scientific theories for their ability to explain so much of what we see, without conflicting with what we know, about human psychology and evolution, and making a vast number of testable predictions. Unfortunately I don’t have the space to present the evidence Miller does for his proposals, you will have to refer to the original works for that.
(There is also a healthy amount of educated speculation based on what we do know, both from myself and Miller, this is included to spark discussion rather than because I am convinced of their certainty.)
Miller’s first wide reaching theory sets out to explain what we see as our uniquely human mental traits (and one or two physical ones too) and thereby very thoroughly covers almost all male and female desires, intentions, interactions and differences. The crux of his theory is that those uniquely human mental qualities; academic intelligence, reasoning, artistic abilities, empathy, humour and ideology, may have developed through evolution of sexually selected traits. Continue reading
My posts generally revolve around my own arguments that I’ve developed for spiritually without belief in a spiritual realm; I’ve done little justice to the fact that this conversation is happening throughout many non-believing communities.
A nice example is this piece by Jennifer Kalmanson of the American Humanist Association on Congregational Humanism.
In my last post I discussed Edelman’s somewhat opaque theory of ‘second nature’, put forward in the book of the same title. This is a way of separating the generalities of human mental life that can be studied by science and the subjective experiences themselves, our internal intuitions, the flashes of artistic inspiration or the intentions of others we gossip and fret about. As these are the type of individual, passing instances that sciences cannot comment on, and researchers have no desire to, it is a way of emphasising those qualities (or qualia) of being human, those that feel dualistic, that avoids the complaints of scientism and reductionism without divorcing them from materialism. This aims to shed some light on the experience and provide us with a compromise between satisfying that nature of ours without denying the evidence that the mind is what the brain does, rather than arising from some non-material element. I also wondered whether it is in this personal, subjective history that science has some limits when exploring some aspects of human life. Continue reading
Reductionism and scientism are phrases thrown around, mostly by people with beliefs that conflict with science, those who’ve been taken in by pseudoscience or who have vested interest against some paradigm in science (such as the anti-vaccine crowd, the climate change denier lobby, certified MBTI® administrators or alternative medicine dispensers). In order to make their arguments unassailable they often use these terms loosely and obtusely; they avoid defining exactly what they are saying.
However, as I will discuss below I suspect by and large they are made by fear and misunderstanding, rather than due to ulterior motives. Furthermore, could some of the criticisms bundled up in these umbrella terms have some merit when used as warnings to avoid potential pitfalls when doing science, or discussing philosophy of science? Here I try to delineate what people mean when they make accusations of scientism and reductionism and I can then discuss to whether my philosophy of spiritual materialism falls afoul of them.
Both are used, then, in a variety of ways, but I think it is possible to cut through the
rhetoric to get at what fears cause people to brandish them so readily. Continue reading
It’s probably a lofty goal.
The always wonderful Jesus & Mo points out two of my tenets far better than I can, 1) that believers have faith because they’ve had emotions, and not the other way round, 2) atheists are accused of not being capable of these emotions.
Several people have questioned me on using the word ‘spiritual’. They remark it is nonsensical or confusing, that even if they understand my use of it in the term Spiritual Materialism, that it will cause confusion for others and I’m doing myself a disservice. This is something I worry about, that passers by on my blog will see ‘Spiritual’ and neglect ‘Materialism’, thinking it is yet another site promoting groundless woo or pseudoscientific babble. Also, it risks falling into the ‘spiritual but not religious’ category, which seems to be disliked by both the religious and non-believers, used mostly as an accusation or accompanied with a roll of the eyes.
I use the word ‘spiritual’ for two main reasons. Continue reading