Monday, November 15, 2010

Stream of Consciousness Post...because I'm too lazy to organize a real post.

JS Allen has a post up about Moral Intuitions with some interesting studies, which he refers to in the context of a discussion about PST.

The post made me wonder if one of the defining characteristics of human nature is the ability to make choices, to live beyond mere instinct. In many ways, that reflects a very Genesis-like thought. The Human story doesn't quite take shape until the humans make a choice. And that choice leads them to the ability to know more than they did beforehand and to make more choices, good and evil choices. And that is then broadened to humanity, in general.

For some reason, when I was asking myself this, the story from Jubilees that portrays the animals in the Garden of Eden as possessing speech, before The Fall, popped into my head. Maybe because I was thinking about what it was that made humans more than merely animals. Speech came to mind.

Something else that occurred to me....that humans care, emotionally speaking, for animals. Do other animals care for animals outside of their species? Animals that seem to express caring for other species are usually animals that have been habituated by humans, dogs especially.

Although KoKo, the gorilla, comes to mind because she was allowed to have cats as pets, which, as far as I know, she never harmed. She also was being taught how to communicate with maybe language acquisition and inter-species emotional bonds are connected?

Or maybe I am grasping at straws.

Still, the point is that Genesis, even for someone like myself who no longer thinks that Adam was a literal person but was a metaphor for humankind, is full of the very same questions and theories that we pose to ourselves, or at least that I pose to myself, today.


Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

One difference between humans and animals that has always stuck in my mind - animals don't anticipate. Oh, they may plan in reaction to natural signals - think of squirrels gathering nuts for a long winter. But I believe only humans are capable of projecting into the future - to anticipate (hopes, fears, dreams, purpose), not just "plan." As proof - have you every known a turkey to set up a 401(k)? I think I've had some 401(k)s that were turkeys, come to think of it.

JS Allen said...

Just catching up on my reader. Funny, it looks like you made the connection from the compatibilism post to Adam here *before* I made the same observation in my comments section. Great minds think alike, I guess :-)

Speaking of animals caring for other species, I can remember at least 3 cases where gorillas in zoos have rescued human children/babies that fell into the enclosures, and there is a pretty plausible evolutionary biology explanation for that.

Prior to Robin Dunbar, some scientists used to say that the thing separating us from animals was that we can process three orders of intentionality. But experimental evidence with chimpanzees shows that they can process three orders.

Another proposed differentiation was the idea that only humans have self-awareness. But so do gorillas and chimps; and it was recently proven that elephants do.

It is definitely interesting to think about what insights about human nature might be embedded in the garden story. With the caveat that these are highly speculative; here are two that are fun to think about, IMO:

1) Religion and science both require 4 orders of intentionality, which appears to be out of reach of any known animal. The garden story talks about humankind's first encounter with God (religion), and also humankind's first empirical experiment (testing the hypothesis about whether the fruit would kill them or not -- science). :-) So the story could be highlighting the thing that most distinctively separates us from animals. Also, note that Adam and Eve were given animal skins to wear, after falling.

2) Conversely, suicide is a uniquely human characteristic. Humans are the only species who will say, "I have every reason to believe 'X' will kill me -- I'm going to do 'X' anyway." Adam and Eve had every reason to believe that they would die from the fruit. There was no ambiguity; and God had never lied to them before. It was the only thing that would kill them; yet the sought it out and ate it. So it could also be seen as the first mutual suicide pact in human history; underscoring a very different characteristic that separates us from the animals.

There are several other, more useful, interpretations that I've written down in the past. But the above two are fun, IMO.