Friday, October 16, 2009

The Book of Questions

Via 3QD, Richard Dawkins notes four of his favorite Unsolved Mysteries of Evolution:
The origin of life: It might surprise some of Dawkins' critics to hear that he offers no explanation for what kick-started life in the first place. "That is a complete mystery," he said. Scientists have plenty of suspects to check out, however.

The origin of sex: Dawkins said scientists are also puzzling over "what sex is all about" - in evolutionary theory, that is. After all, sexual reproduction isn't strictly necessary for the evolutionary process to do its thing. Some researchers surmise that sex arose to help weed out harmful mutations or provide more options for propagation.

The origin of consciousness: Where does subjective consciousness come from? Dawkins sees this as the "biggest puzzle" facing biology. Scientists have their ideas, and one of the latest ideas is that consciousness serves as the Wi-Fi network for an assortment of "computers" inside your brain.

The rise of morality: What drives us to do good, even for people we don't even know? The expectation of reciprocity provides a partial explanation, but "it doesn't account for the extremely high degree of moral behavior that humans show," Dawkins said. He surmises that altruism might have arisen as a "mistaken misfiring" of neural circuits involved in calculating the mutual give and take among kin.
It's at least kinda amusing that these four questions are of sufficiently long standing that they are all addressed in the first three chapters of Genesis.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a little surprised that sex and consciousness are that large a mystery.

    I always thought sex had obvious advantages-- it produced the possibility of mutations that would speed up the process of evolution. Am I misunderstanding? Or is he saying that, yes, there's that advantage but the leap seems too large to understand.

    Consciousness suddenly allowed (or increased and turbocharged) Lamarkian evolution-- suddenly, acquired characteristics could be inherited. I could teach my children skills I learned. Once the process of learning/teaching started to be acquired in small degrees, the gigantic advantage seems to me to have led to consciousness. Perhaps the problem here is one last vestigial assumption of human uniqueness.