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LMcCormick's picture

The role of evolution?

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I feel that the role of evolution is an important point that we only touched on briefly.  Dan and Bobby discussed the possibility that vision must be reasonably accurate due to evolutionary pressure*.   This made me wonder how evolutionary theory might apply more generally to our discussion.  Why should the question of shared objectivity stand out side of evolutionary pressure?  We know that a particularly critical gene that encodes an essential protein will be conserved throughout evolution – even across species – because the organism will not survive if this gene is significantly mutated.  On the other hand, variation is common, and necessary, in genes that are not so critical to our survival (for example, differences in eye color).  Perhaps this concept applies to how we construct our perception of the world as well.  It may not be necessary for certain stimuli to be perceived the same.  For example, why does it really matter if my red is your blue, or if people experience different taste sensations in response to the same food (as with supertasters)?  Perhaps people really do construct these “realities” differently in their brains because it just doesn’t matter.  As long as we can all see shades, edges, and construct a meaningful and vivid picture of the world, specific colors are not essential to our survival.  On the other hand, we may have evolved mechanisms to “more objectively” perceive stimuli that are necessary for our survival.  For example, perhaps we have a more accurate and consistent representation of the sensations of extreme heat or cold, because avoidance of these stimuli is critical.
 
            The only way we can know “what is really out there” (or whatever you want to call it) is through collective agreement.  Those that do not engage in this shared objectivity, such as a person with schizophrenia, will be shunned from society.  (As an unrelated point, if a schizophrenic’s “hallucinations” can be controlled by medications, doesn’t this suggest that there is an organic cause to experiencing “incorrect” stimuli and that we have the ability to manipulate it?)  The need to be integrated in society perhaps also creates a selective pressure to observe the world’s stimuli in a unified manner (even if it is not an accurate portrayal of the world).  Without a shared reality society cannot function.  Considering this argument (though I’m not sure I really agree with it), one might wonder how a species that lives a solitary life might have greater inconsistencies in their construction of the world.
 
*As a side note, I agree with Bobby that the example of a water-strider addresses a difference in the interpretation of visual input rather than the stimuli itself.  I feel that a lot of our discussions have wandered from the main point that our brains construct reality from sensory inputs to a discussion of the differences in interpretation of these stimuli by different organisms (as with the water-strider example) and different cultures (as with the epilepsy example) due to unequal experiences.

 

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