Intelligent Design Mind Naturalism Neuroscience Philosophy Physics

How did “wanting” things evolve?

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We take the fact that life forms seek things for granted. We don’t ask why. Agency (“wanting” or “deciding” things) is as hard a problem in physics as consciousness:

Rocks don’t resist becoming sand but plants resist, by various strategies, becoming insect food.

We humans take “wanting” things to extremes. Some of us might spend a lot of time thinking about matters entirely unrelated to survival, like whether Captain Picard ages well in the new Star Trek knockoff.

Captain Picard is a composite invention, an abstraction for which ageing is a mere character concept discussed at meetings. Never mind, some of us might want that abstraction to be portrayed in a certain way. All life forms seem to need and want things; the most intelligent ones want more complex and less obviously necessary things.

All life forms seem to need and want things; the most intelligent ones want more complex and less obviously necessary things. At New Scientist, we are told that wanting things is a “superpower” that physics can’t explain.

But are we asking the wrong questions? “How did “wanting” things emerge?” at Mind Matters News

One commenter elsewhere wrote to say that animals want things because it is their “instinct” to do so. Fine but how do we account for it? Why don’t rocks have that instinct?

See also:

Why the mind cannot just emerge from the brain. The mind cannot emerge from the brain if the two have no qualities in common. (Michael Egnor)

and

Bernardo Kastrup: Consciousness cannot have evolved. How many joules of consciousness would make you a human instead of a chimpanzee? How many more joules of consciousness would make you a genius?

2 Replies to “How did “wanting” things evolve?

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Your sand comparison leads to a question. Some animals do take the rock approach. Turtles and snails survive by using a relatively inanimate shell. This approach is tremendously successful for turtles and snails, but it’s not popular. Most animals survive by ANTICIPATING enemy action and intentionally using complex strategies and counter-strategies and counter-counter….. Why is this escalating complexity so much more popular than being a rock? I’m tempted to say that life WANTS us to become smarter and more complex, and to help our enemies become smarter and more complex.

  2. 2
    jstanley01 says:

    It is my understanding that a rigorous definition for life has been difficult to formulate. Maybe life can only be defined “scientifically” as lumps (or clumps, or accretions, or accumulations) of matter that exhibit teleology — specifically, lumps (or clumps, or accretions, or accumulations) of matter that, to all appearances ,want to survive — as opposed to the lumps (or clumps, or accretions, or accumulations) of matter that do not.

    But what about the agents (that’s us) doing the defining? Why would we do it, other than because we wonder first? And what if terms like “body,” “soul,” and “spirit” represent the fundamental particles, as it were, which serve as conduits for the lumps (or clumps, or accretions, or accumulations) of matter to exhibit teleological agency? And what if there’s really nothing else that can be said about them?

    It’s a wonder (but no secret) how we wonder about the wonder of our wondering, even as despite ourselves, we are wont to play God so dismally notwithstanding the lessons of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_cycle&quot;…

    Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 1 (cont.)
    Sparksnotes rendering in modern English

    [Backstory: Hamlet and Horatio happen upon a (deplorable) gravedigger, shoveling out a hole in a crowded church graveyard, which unknown to them, will be Ophelia’s final resting place, and uncovering bones to be relocated to the charnel house according to the customs of the times.]

    HORATIO: He’s gotten so used to graves that they don’t bother him anymore.

    HAMLET: Yes, exactly. Only people who don’t have to work can afford to be sensitive.

    GRAVEDIGGER (sings): But old age has sneaked up on me, and grabbed me in his claws, and has shipped me into the ground, as if I’d never been like that. (he throws up a skull)

    HAMLET: That skull had a tongue in it once and could sing. That jackass is throwing it around as if it belonged to Cain, who did the first murder! It might be the skull of a politician once capable of talking his way around God, right? And now this idiot is pulling rank on him.

    HORATIO: Indeed, my lord.

    HAMLET: Or a courtier, who could say things like, “Good night, my sweet lord! How are you doing, good lord?” This might be the skull of Lord So-and-So, who praised Lord Such-and-Such’s horse when he wanted to borrow it, right?

    HORATIO: Yes, my lord.

    HAMLET: Exactly. And now it’s the property of Lady Worm, its lower jaw knocked off and thwacked on the noggin with a shovel. That’s quite a reversal of fortune, isn’t it, if we could only see it? Are these bones worth nothing more than bowling pins now? It makes my bones ache to think about it.

    GRAVEDIGGER (sings): A pickax and a shovel, a shovel, and a sheet for a funeral shroud. Oh a pit of dirt is what we need, for a guest like this one here. (he throws up another skull)

    HAMLET: There’s another. Could that be a lawyer’s skull? Where’s all his razzle-dazzle legal jargon now? Why does he allow this idiot to knock him on the head with a dirty shovel, instead of suing him for assault and battery? Maybe this guy was once a great landowner, with his deeds and contracts, his tax shelters and his annuities. Is it part of his deed of ownership to have his skull filled up with dirt? Does he only get to keep as much land as a set of contracts would cover if you spread them out on the ground? The deeds to his properties would barely fit in this coffin—and the coffin’s all the property he gets to keep?

    HORATIO: No more than that, my lord.

    HAMLET: Isn’t the parchment of a legal document made of sheepskin?

    HORATIO: Yes, my lord, and calfskin too.

    HAMLET: Anyone who puts his trust in such documents is a sheep or a calf. I’ll talk to this guy. —Excuse me, sir, whose grave is this?

    GRAVEDIGGER: It’s mine, sir. (sings) Oh, a pit of dirt is what we need, for a guest like this one here.

    HAMLET: I think it really must be yours, since you’re the one lying in it.

    GRAVEDIGGER: And you’re lying outside of it, so it’s not yours. As for me, I’m not lying to you in it—it’s really mine.

    HAMLET: But you are lying in it, being in it and saying it’s yours. It’s for the dead, not the living. So you’re lying.

    GRAVEDIGGER: That’s a lively lie, sir—it jumps so fast from me to you.

    HAMLET: What man are you digging it for?

    GRAVEDIGGER: For no man, sir.

    HAMLET: What woman, then?

    GRAVEDIGGER: For no woman, either.

    HAMLET: Who’s to be buried in it?

    GRAVEDIGGER: One who used to be a woman but—bless her soul—is dead now.

    HAMLET: How literal this guy is! We have to speak precisely, or he’ll get the better of us with his wordplay. Lord, Horatio, I’ve been noticing this for a few years now. The peasants have become so clever and witty that they’re nipping at the heels of noblemen. [emphasis added]

    —How long have you been a gravedigger?

    GRAVEDIGGER: Of all the days in the year, I started the day that the late King Hamlet defeated Fortinbras.

    HAMLET: How long ago was that?

    GRAVEDIGGER: You don’t know that? Any fool could tell you, it was the day that young Hamlet was born—the one who went crazy and got sent off to England.

    HAMLET: Why was he sent to England?

    GRAVEDIGGER: Because he was crazy. He’ll recover his sanity there. Or if he doesn’t, it won’t matter in England.

    HAMLET: Why not?

    GRAVEDIGGER: Because nobody will notice he’s crazy. Everyone there is as crazy as he is. (audience laughs)

    HAMLET: How did he go crazy?

    GRAVEDIGGER: In a strange way, they say.

    HAMLET: What do you mean, “in a strange way”?

    GRAVEDIGGER: By losing his mind. (audience laughs)

    HAMLET: On what grounds?

    GRAVEDIGGER: Right here in Denmark. (audience laughs)

    I’ve been the church warden here for thirty years, since childhood.

    HAMLET: How long will a man lie in his grave before he starts to rot?

    GRAVEDIGGER: Well, if he’s not rotten before he dies (and there are a lot of people now who are so rotten they start falling to pieces even before you put them in the coffin), he’ll last eight or nine years. A leathermaker will last nine years.

    HAMLET: Why does he last longer?

    GRAVEDIGGER: Because his hide is so leathery from his trade that he keeps the water off him a long time, and water is what makes your goddamn body rot more than anything. Here’s a skull that’s been here twenty-three years.

    HAMLET: Whose was it?

    GRAVEDIGGER: A crazy bastard. Who do you think?

    HAMLET: I really don’t know.

    GRAVEDIGGER: Damn that crazy madman! He poured a pitcher of white wine on my head once. This is the skull of Yorick, the king’s jester.

    HAMLET: This one?

    GRAVEDIGGER: Yes, that one.

    HAMLET: Let me see. (he takes the skull) Oh, poor Yorick! I used to know him, Horatio—a very funny guy, and with an excellent imagination. He carried me on his back a thousand times, and now—how terrible—this is him. It makes my stomach turn. I don’t know how many times I kissed the lips that used to be right here.

    Where are your jokes now? Your pranks? Your songs? Your flashes of wit that used to set the whole table laughing? You don’t make anybody smile now. Are you sad about that? You need to go to my lady’s room and tell her that no matter how much makeup she slathers on, she’ll end up just like you some day. That’ll make her laugh.

    Horatio, tell me something.

    HORATIO: What’s that, my lord?

    HAMLET: Do you think Alexander the Great looked like this when he was buried?

    HORATIO: Exactly like that.

    HAMLET: And smelled like that, too? Whew! (he puts down the skull)

    HORATIO: Just as bad, my lord.

    HAMLET: How low we can fall, Horatio. Isn’t it possible to imagine that the noble ashes of Alexander the Great could end up plugging a hole in a barrel?

    HORATIO: If you thought that you’d be thinking too much.

    HAMLET: No, not at all. Just follow the logic: Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returned to dust, the dust is dirt, and dirt makes mud we use to stop up holes. So why can’t someone plug a beer barrel with the dirt that used to be Alexander? The great emperor Caesar, dead and turned to clay, might plug up a hole to keep the wind away. Oh, to think that the same body that once ruled the world could now patch up a wall!

    But quiet, be quiet a minute…

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