Can Humans Exceed Their Nature?

Sparhafoc

Active Member
https://c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/publications/1187/files/original/LPR2018_Full_Report_Spreads.pdf

60% of all vertebrates have gone extinct over the last 4 decades and those extinctions are directly linked to rising rates of affluence and corresponding consumption. There can be no sensible argument to attribute the preponderance of these extinctions to anything other than human activity.

As fluffy as it may be, our psychology seems to favor excessive or conspicuous consumption, and cultures all round the world place value onto people who possess things others don't, celebrate via conspicuous consumption, and seek tangible reward for their labors creating a spiral of demand withdrawn ultimately from nature's bank.

Will it be our own greed that brings about our civilization's end? Will we fail to master our own consumption, eat ourselves out of house and home, and fall foul of a Malthusian trap? Or do you think it's possible we can bring about societal, political, and psychological changes which focus on stability rather than growth?

If optimistic, when do you think this will begin to be apparent? How can you foresee it occurring? Wouldn't the 'altruistic' nations that put our species' long-term survival ahead of their own immediate wealth put themselves at an extreme disadvantage to societies that refuse to do so? Within the metaphor of the tragedy of the commons, it's rarely noted that the most equitable and therefore desirable cooperative solution still entails maximal exploitation of the resource, so it's generally accepted that independent commissions tend to offer better long term protection managing that resource - but can we do this for all Earth's resources?

Alternatively, is it really just fucked any which way due to the predatory nature of the universe and the fact that we're living on a very small ball of rock with a fragile ecosystem that cannot hope to survive the rise of a machine civilization? Do we need space, not to save us from ourselves, but to glut us on near infinite resources?

Any which way, I think it's worth considering how 'lucky' we are to be alive in this time where we sit at a threshold and can still 'see' the past so clearly even as it shrinks before our eyes, while having the potential to change the future should we find a collective will to do so. A curse, perhaps, but we may live in interesting times.
 

Exogen

New Member
What is meant by our 'nature?'

What exactly is our nature?

The seems to assume we have nature, but never actually spells out what it is and why. I make mention of our more primitive drives, and of our capacity to be reasonable (a prerequisite for morality), but makes no real argument for what our nature is.
 

Sparhafoc

Active Member
Exogen said:
What is meant by our 'nature?'

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nature
Definition of nature

1a : the inherent character or basic constitution (see constitution sense 2) of a person or thing
I always consider it suspect when people want to start by questioning the meaning of words which are already unambiguously defined and ubiquitously used.


Exogen said:
What exactly is our nature?
This thread isn't about defining our nature, it's about the things written in the first post of the thread - remember? Psychological aspects of humanity, like 'conspicuous consumption', 'seeking tangible rewards', boom-bust Malthusian acquisitive patterns.

Exogen said:
The seems to assume we have nature, but never actually spells out what it is and why. I make mention of our more primitive drives, and of our capacity to be reasonable (a prerequisite for morality), but makes no real argument for what our nature is.
Perhaps try engaging with something other than the thread;s title?
 

Exogen

New Member
It helps to define terms though, don't you agree? The question about what nature means is one that matters because it is a loaded word, especially in philosophy. So however you use it, asking for definitions is never suspect, and just the opposite actually as edifications are helpful. And it matters in answering your question, both in the title and in the body of the OP, and more importantly, the pragmatic value of the problem itself i.e. if we don't stop our destructive behavior we have a good chance at killing ourselves and indeed are already in that process. Depending on how you answer that question, then maybe there is no problem, to begin with in regards to our nature because we are just living wrong, might be one response, and as the old saying goes reap what you sow.

The OP seems to suggest that we have a nature, one which favors said excessive behaviors. But how exactly does that work? Like when you say "our psychology seems to favor excessive or conspicuous consumption," is that because of our nature, or nurture, a combination of some sort (and if so in what way), or just poor choices and ultimately circumstantial or normative relativity? It would be question begging obviously to just assert it is our nature, unless you mean by nature simply that which happens. If you say we seem to favor these things, why? Are we slaves for instance to our unconscious drives, or do we have a real moral autonomy? These sorts of questions. It seems to me answering that question is what we should be focused on before we even consider whether or not there is even reason to be optimistic or pessimistic about this.

Maybe the problem of our potential extinction is a lack of moral cultivation, leading to said imbalanced Malthusian boom and bust cycles, and if moral living was more widespread there wouldn't be such sustainable behaviors. If it is in our nature somehow let's say, then living properly in a way that is more in harmony with nature is a pipe dream and our extinction is inevitable one way or another.


I'm just saying I think those issues should be flushed out, as it's always helpful to define terms, and I don't agree that this word is unambiguous, at least not in philosophy. The definition you gave is pretty clear, but that wasn't where I was going with it, as there are still further ambiguities within that generality like the ones I mentioned above. And those differences do matter to the problem posed in the OP in terms of whether or not there is a solution or how we go about it if there is. I'm borrowing the Rortian idea of philosophy as 'edifying discourse,' as I think he's right about that, though I don't endorse the full scope of his post-modernism.
 

Sparhafoc

Active Member
Exogen said:
It helps to define terms though, don't you agree?
Only when they are both pertinent and ambiguous.

Exogen said:
The question about what nature means is one that matters because it is a loaded word, especially in philosophy. So however you use it, asking for definitions is never suspect, and just the opposite actually as edifications are helpful. And it matters in answering your question, both in the title and in the body of the OP, and more importantly, the pragmatic value of the problem itself i.e. if we don't stop our destructive behavior we have a good chance at killing ourselves and indeed are already in that process. Depending on how you answer that question, then maybe there is no problem, to begin with in regards to our nature because we are just living wrong, might be one response, and as the old saying goes reap what you sow.

The OP seems to suggest that we have a nature, one which favors said excessive behaviors. But how exactly does that work? Like when you say "our psychology seems to favor excessive or conspicuous consumption," is that because of our nature, or nurture, a combination of some sort (and if so in what way), or just poor choices and ultimately circumstantial or normative relativity? It would be question begging obviously to just assert it is our nature, unless you mean by nature simply that which happens. If you say we seem to favor these things, why? Are we slaves for instance to our unconscious drives, or do we have a real moral autonomy? These sorts of questions. It seems to me answering that question is what we should be focused on before we even consider whether or not there is even reason to be optimistic or pessimistic about this.

Maybe the problem of our potential extinction is a lack of moral cultivation, leading to said imbalanced Malthusian boom and bust cycles, and if moral living was more widespread there wouldn't be such sustainable behaviors. If it is in our nature somehow let's say, then living properly in a way that is more in harmony with nature is a pipe dream and our extinction is inevitable one way or another.


I'm just saying I think those issues should be flushed out, as it's always helpful to define terms, and I don't agree that this word is unambiguous, at least not in philosophy. The definition you gave is pretty clear, but that wasn't where I was going with it, as there are still further ambiguities within that generality like the ones I mentioned above. And those differences do matter to the problem posed in the OP in terms of whether or not there is a solution or how we go about it if there is. I'm borrowing the Rortian idea of philosophy as 'edifying discourse,' as I think he's right about that, though I don't endorse the full scope of his post-modernism.

Feel free to do whatever you like, but I don't recognize any of your contribution as useful with respect to the thread's actual topic. It's pedantic - I don't mind pedantry at all, it has a place in any discussion. But I don't think any great value is going to be achieved through refocusing this topic to talk about what you want to talk about over what I want to talk about.
 

Sparhafoc

Active Member
Exogen said:
Maybe the problem of our potential extinction is a lack of moral cultivation, leading to said imbalanced Malthusian boom and bust cycles, and if moral living was more widespread there wouldn't be such sustainable behaviors. If it is in our nature somehow let's say, then living properly in a way that is more in harmony with nature is a pipe dream and our extinction is inevitable one way or another.
For me, this bit is on topic and expansive

I am not concerned about our potential extinction, as it's all but certain any which way you look at it given sufficient time.

I am more concerned with the damage done to environmental webs and the consequent effect of that on human flourishing.

But to turn to the question about moral cultivation, insofar as I understand what you mean with those words. To cultivate a morality first requires there to be a morality ready made to cultivate, and I think in environmental terms, we're still in infancy in this regard. We've encountered the negative effects of our industrial civilization for only a few decades, and there's no coherent moral position to be had which also gels well with other social and political imperatives. It's beginning in many parts of the world. If you ever feel guilty for how much plastic you use, or throwing something away, or wasting electricity... it suggests there's some moral framework you've begun to subscribe to even if it's not coherent yet.

However, I don't think this has anything to do with Malthusian cycles - I think that's unarguably a component of all nature; the fundamentally predatory aspect of our thermodynamic universe. We hold dear a conceit that we are something other than natural. as if human is not within that set, but really we're just animals behaving as animals in accordance with a contingent strategy evolved and adapted to over every generation. Humans have produced this incredibly complex intra-specific conflict and cooperation strategy which may seem far removed from nature to us, but also runs face first into a very primal form of tragedy of the Commons; exploit nearby resources before some other fucker does. You can see this exemplified with Trump today with the concept of other countries getting ahead at the expense of the US, regardless of the fact that the US has the world's most powerful economy and consequently must also be benefiting from this arrangement. So therein, I would feel is one conundrum that needs to be answered: how to overcome this deep Malthusian motivation?

To me, the only types of answer we appear to have at the moment are either a) political - our modern systems place the onus of knowing shit onto an electorate ever more removed from the sum of human knowledge, or b) technological - and all too often this is left to the whims of the market in accordance with a.

For all the benefits democracy has brought to us in terms of how we treat ourselves, it doesn't appear to be offering any good long-term solutions of addressing problems that aren't easily fixed given our globe-spanning civilization in conflict with itself.

I have no answer, even if I've been questioning this for years. The notion of a technocracy or of a benevolent, enlightened supreme leader does not seem very desirable based on most of my latent inclinations towards liberty. But if we had to give up some liberty to maintain the continuance of our species, is it something we could expect people to conform to? I expect for some, they'd rather see the world burn. Maybe the self-domestication project humanity has been undergoing will change this quickly enough until it's commonplace for humanity to rank the world and the environment more highly than their own individual desires.
 

Exogen

New Member
Sparhafoc said:
Feel free to do whatever you like, but I don't recognize any of your contribution as useful with respect to the thread's actual topic. It's pedantic - I don't mind pedantry at all, it has a place in any discussion. But I don't think any great value is going to be achieved through refocusing this topic to talk about what you want to talk about over what I want to talk about.
I'm not suggesting refocusing it, but I do think that there is value to be had in understanding our own nature (and what that means in more specific terms) in order to see the best solution, hence the Rorty comment.

I am in agreement that we are natural, and not apart from nature, no matter how far up above our perspective other species may be.
Sparhafoc said:
I am more concerned with the damage done to environmental webs and the consequent effect of that on human flourishing.
That's interesting, why is that?
Sparhafoc said:
We've encountered the negative effects of our industrial civilization for only a few decades, and there's no coherent moral position to be had which also gels well with other social and political imperatives.

Couldn't you turn that around though, and say that it is our lack of moral convictions that consequently produce behavior and thought processes that aim at said social and political imperatives? That begs the question though, what about these moral systems is incoherent? If not a universal reason, can you give one example? One issue that strikes me about morality is that one ethical dilemma seems to be answered by another system. So then, is that not an indication that perhaps the systems are not incoherent but incomplete, and their integration is driven by their failings by themselves as being evidence of a wider and more encompassing notion of the Good? I see it as relevant to answering the question about optimism in regard to our nature, because if there is a way to live morally off of a coherent system, there may be a way to perhaps not burn out so quickly, but maximize the flourishing, perhaps not just of ourselves but of the environment you mentioned and future life. Consider how useful it can be to learn about one's personality type and what makes one tic in that sense, and how this can clarify so much and allow you to make better and more directed choices. Morality, coupled with that knowledge of our nature, would not only be the right thing to do by definition (assuming such a coherent system) but also instrumental in said flourishing.
Sparhafoc said:
I think that's unarguably a component of all nature; the fundamentally predatory aspect of our thermodynamic universe.
By this, I think you mean something like the heat death on the extreme end. But regardless if death is inevitable, why does that mean that the prospect of riding the wave so to speak, living in harmony with the flow of nature (as we are indeed a part of it anyway) not make the most sense? And if there is a coherent morality to be had, it seems, it would have to be coherent with the natural order of things. A surfer rides the wave and then that's it. But it is a waste to not master the waves. You could go out and not ride them at all, or get on your board and wipe out, or get lucky and ride great. Or you could learn to master the waves.

So when you ask


Sparhafoc said:
how to overcome this deep Malthusian motivation?
Maybe this is our nature, and I think it is fruitful to ask that question and define really what we mean by that, but assuredly answering it will be part of I think, though not as important as, mastering the waves, so to speak.

In my frame of mind, that begs the question of why ought we? If we cannot answer that question, then what is the relevance of overcoming our Malthusian motivations if death is inevitable anyway?
Sparhafoc said:
The notion of a technocracy or of a benevolent, enlightened supreme leader does not seem very desirable based on most of my latent inclinations towards liberty.
I am sympathetic to this, very much so actually. Plato's notion of the philosopher king for instance, on one level, seems oppressive to me Then again, the practicality of the obviousness that someone who knows best is better for you than yourself. That would seem to presuppose 'some' notion of the good though, one that cannot be reduced to a mere 'survival strategy' as merely living life to avoid death, be it of oneself of future generations is futile in the final analysis. And if we are to be self-conscious, though we may be a part of evolution no matter what we do, maybe it is the meaninglessness of the evolutionary algorithm itself that forces us to confront a real choice between survival which is impossible, and something more.
Sparhafoc said:
Maybe the self-domestication project humanity has been undergoing will change this quickly enough until it's commonplace for humanity to rank the world and the environment more highly than their own individual desires.
I don't know what you mean by this self-domestication project exactly. I see just the opposite insofar as the lack of awareness of the harsh and brutal side of nature and the reality of finite resources (think the grasshopper and the ant) are not only what keeps one sharp, but keeps one from entertaining fanciful pipe dreams.

I actually have been interested in Unanimous AI, if you've heard of it. If you haven't, briefly, as I understand it, it is the idea of using the algorithms used by swarms of organisms to produce an emergent intelligence at the aggregate level that exceeds the intelligence of any one of the parts, many times greater than the sum of the parts, using a computer program that allows people to interface and act as a swarm in order to answer a given question(s). It has been touted by its inventors as being the answers to defending against the emergence of a super godlike AI, though I'm not convinced., as I see the AI being able to abuse the smarm intelligence itself and simply outnumbering us each with superior nodes to anyone when comparing the two networks. But, I mean that I think it may be a reason to not need to build AIs. Something Sam Harris said about AI comes to mind. He was saying what is the most frightening is our lack of concern for the very real danger AI poses with respect to the singularity. One problem that I see keeps us from abandoning the project despite the issue of not having the proper emotional reaction to the very real danger, is the edge it gives us in competition against ourselves. He or she who possesses the AI first think they win the game even if everyone loses. But swarm intelligence offers a way not only to achieve the same results as AI would in and of itself from a pragmatic standpoint but seemingly without the same dangers (though I would guess it would come with its own set of dangers as any new technology does). The Malthusian trap is there again, for instance, one thing that got me excited about was just using it to make money. The Fruedian reference in Forbidden Planet here of 'monsers from the Id' comes to mind. But what I'm getting at is, this goes back to the question of master, which to me signifies wisdom on some level, the development of a fully self-conscious being (or sufficiently so) which seems to be inexorably tied to some notion of the good, and the realization that there is more to life than mere survival - that mastery is not merely a means to an impossible (avoidance of death) but a path to something greater than life itself? Mastery.

That's more or less where it keeps coming back to in my thought.
 

BrachioPEP

New Member
Subject to definitions and agreeing/understanding terms, in a word, no.

By nature, I am referring to the concept of something natural. If we do or become something which exceeds or is different from that, then we exceed our nature. One could similarly ask if we are or could ever leave the evolutionary boundary, e.g. by self-directing ourselves or other organisms, like genetic or, ‘artificial’ engineering or even combining biology and physics, mechanics and/or computers/code.

By way of explanations, here’s some examples. Presumably, birds and monkeys and fish (I use the terms non-cladistically), are evolved and still a part of the process and without controversy. But many of these are artificial tool users. They use their evolved intelligence to consider, find, use and re-use something for purposes other than which it was intended to progress its needs.

So a stick or a stone or an adapted branch or collection of leaves or man-made objects to use as a weapon, elongation, nest or carrying bag are all, ‘natural’. Natural, in the sense that using only the intellect and what exists, naturally, is a part of their legitimate adaptation and evolution and they do, in no way, leave or exceed the phylogenetic tree.

Now, that our brains have evolved to do and use things to greater measures, is merely a level adjustment. Why should our natural brains, using earthly chemicals in any way our intelligence desires, be it a wheel, computer, aircraft, genetic manipulation or destruction of the planet, not natural? Many animals in the past and present also destroy the ecosystem or environment and make other species extinct, because of their nature. Sometimes it is due to disease (or resistance to it). Sometimes because it overpowers competitors and sometimes (well in the case of one primate, and largest destroyer of humans after mosquitos), we just abuse everything with little regard for the consequences.

The point is, that anything and everything we make, that we call, ‘artificial’, is no more or less artificial than any other lifeform has or does use. An extendable tongue, heat sensors or sonar; sticks made into a curve, shaped stones or coconuts or leaves for warmth (all are a result of evolution, naturally by genetics or naturally as a result of increased brain power to utilise what is around us. Nothing is unnatural, supernatural, of another world or by intervention beyond our planet. Evolution is whatever and wherever it leads.

But with regard to humans, I agree that we should collectively use our intelligence to benefit the world, not destroy it, if we can agree such a strategy. And where we are now, probably makes us the most unintelligent and short lived species. And we are probably the only species who go about doing bad things for pleasure and not need.

Consider the following progressive examples, and see if you can see or justify where one cheats or leaves the beaten track, if at all.
• An angler fish’s rod, the aye-aye’s finger, a chameleon’s tongue, an electric eel, pit viper’s heat sensor, snake’s venom, bat’s sonar etc.
• Collective/team work, like herding.
• Tool use from sticks, stones, shells, leaves and other objects.
• Tool development, like turning sticks or stones into a more specific device.
• Using multiple tools together to produce a different tool.
• Making more advanced or technological tools or devices, like wheels, coupling domesticated animals for transport.
• Using even more advanced tools or objects to make life quicker, easier, better or worse, like medicine or weapons to improve, sustain, change or destroy life.
• Using technology to mix up some of the genes or species.

Whether a, ‘natural’ disaster, disease or modern technology transports a species elsewhere to alter the ecological balance, none are interfering with evolution, because ALL of this (and HGT) is evolution, because it all occurs naturally, on earth, with no interference from outside, starting from inorganic chemicals. The fact that these chemicals can naturally develop into things which
can later understand and change the combination of these same chemicals, is all natural, however amazing.

We did not leave the evolution process when we discovered medicine to change things for better or worse. It is a fluid process. Basically, if you are a being, watching earth from space, then anything in that relatively closed system, is natural and fair game, as it received no external interference, natural or otherwise.

Genetic engineering and combining biological organisms with computer generated or man-made intelligence, still counts, we just need to look for ways to better show this, diagrammatically or expand or restrict our use of the term, ‘natural’. A term that has many variables in everyday usage.

With nature, once in, always in. Until or unless super-nature. If going into a simulator that looks and feels like being on another planet, you are still on and a part of, earth.

With great power, as they say…

[This may not be what the OP meant, in which case, I apologise for going off track.]
 
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