An interesting Telegraph blog by Tom Chivers does its best to explain vision in terms of Darwinian natural selection, but inadvertently produces arguments against it.
What we see is a mental construct of the world around us, as the article demonstrates:
The perception of colour is absolutely central to our sense of vision; to our whole sense of how the world is. Entire industries exist around the best colours to put people in, and which colours go best with which. Statements like “the sky is blue” and “the grass is green” are so basic that they’re axiomatic, fundamental items of knowledge which you can assume to be true even if the rest of the world is turned on its head.
But they’re not true. Colour doesn’t exist. The grass is not green, and the sky is not blue.
That much might be obvious to some people, of course. But it’s worth discussing exactly what “colour” is, what it tells us about how we see the universe – or, more accurately, how we don’t – and how human eyes and brains are set up to interpret it. “Blue” is not a property of denim, or skies, or oceans, but of how our eyes interpret a particular set of wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation, which we call visible light. Red is not a property of blood or cocktail dresses but how our eyes interpret another, longer set of wavelengths.
Indeed, the concept of “red” is a classic demonstration of the hard problem of consciousness: We all know what “red” means even though it means something different to each of us.
We are informed that things are this way because
“The only way you’re able to validate the information is behaviourally: you can say, that was useful, or that was not useful. I behaved usefully towards this thing, or I didn’t,” Lotto says. “And if you didn’t, you died, and you got selected out through evolution.” Natural selection doesn’t care whether you have a true and philosophically faithful representation of the universe. It only cares if you can find food and attract mates and avoid predators.
Which—absent the pious glow of Darwinism accepted on faith—is not a very good explanation at all.
The people who are here today are here today as a result of whatever combination of events actually happened. But Chivers can afford to assume that we all passively accept his Darwinian fairy tale about how that happened (natural selection acting on random mutation). He throws the words “evolution” and “natural selection” around a lot, as a cue to faith.
We accept it as the kind of thing we are taught in school, reinforced by pop science writing, pop progressive religion, and portentous noise from academics.
It’s probably all rot, like any other made up history-with-a-purpose. And the way we see today probably does not depend on this made up history-with-a-purpose, where outcomes supposedly depended mostly on knife-edge survival tests.
The only natural selection that is really at work is this: Chivers’ readers are naturally selected to believe this stuff—if they have a certain sort of background and education, which warns them that they must immediately qualify what they hear as true.
At one point, Chivers mentions:
For instance, a study by Alexander Schauss in the Seventies showed that putting prisoners in a pink-painted cell reduced their physical strength – presumably, because of social associations with the colour pink, of girlishness and femininity. But the colour pink has only been associated with girls for a hundred years or so. We inherit assumptions, both genetically and culturally, which allow us to make sense of the world, but which also force us into certain ways of perceiving, some of which we might prefer to be able to break out of. “Everything is grounded in assumptions. Our assumptions shape us. What we’re really bad at doing is knowing what our assumptions are,” says Lotto.
All our perceptions, then, are grounded in our history – our evolutionary history, which provides us with some of our underlying assumptions, and our personal, culture-infused life history, which provides us the rest.
But the “pink prison” study demonstrates the exact opposite. It was scandalous that evolutionary psychologists were able to get away with claiming such things as
“The reason why girls like pink is that their brains are structured completely differently to boys… Part of the brain that processes emotion and part of the brain that processes language is one and the same in girls but is completely different in boys … ” – Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, p. 208.
when in fact for centuries,
The preferred color to dress young boys in was pink! Blue was reserved for girls as it was considered the paler, more dainty of the two colors, and pink was thought to be the stronger (akin to red). It was not until WWII that the colors were reversed and pink was used for girls and blue for boys… –Dress Maker Magazine
Within living memory (World War II veterans are still alive), the pattern of assumptions that the prisoners were responding to had been reversed, and their expected behaviour reversed within a generation with it. Yet we are expected to credit what we see to long-term “evolutionary” explanations somehow embedded in our genes …
And we are not supposed to notice the problem either.
Nature doesn’t make us that compliant; we choose to be.
With anything to do with human origins, given the policy implications, the best thing most of us can do with our education is stuff it. And no lobby groups with their eye on the education pork barrel or bench-made law should be allowed to stand in the way.
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