Re: Are we "special"?

Rohinton Collins (
1 Dec 1996 22:47:43 GMT

Paul Crowley <> wrote in article
> In article <> "Phillip Bigelow"
> > Also note one other thing in my list: not a *single* question
> > how "special" our hominid lineage is. That is because,
> > I don't believe that our lineage is that "special" in the first place.
> [from thread: "An alternative to ST and AAT"]
> Why can't this question be scientific rather than
> philosophical? While it has nearly always been posed and
> answered in a philosophical sense, I can see no reason why it
> should not be a scientific one.

It is because the question is subjective, and scientific questions must be
objective for them to be relevant. Philosophical questions on the other
hand are by definition subjective.

> Much will hang on the answer. If we conclude that we are
> "special" then we will be asking a very different range of
> questions about human evolution. We will want to explain
> the origin of those features that make us "special".

What is your educational background Paul? The reason I ask is because this
is a very religious-sounding point of view. If this is so, then this
newsgroup is not for you. If you are a scientist however, then you should
closely examine what you say. Scientists are objective (or should be). No
species is more *special* than the next. But every species is *special* in
the sense that it is unique. For the reasons you give why we are *special*
I could give many other reasons why other species are also *special*. How
*special* is, as I say, subjective. And being a human, it is a naturally
subjective opinion to think that you are *special*.

> Phillip has opted for a particular philosophical stance - in
> line with the whole profession. I suggest that he (and it) may
> well be utterly wrong, and that this is the source of much of
> the deep unhappiness that many laymen feel about the answers
> (or more precisely, the lack of answers) produced by the
> profession. In a sense, we all know that we are "special",
> whereas the profession has, almost perversely, decided
> otherwise and is determined not to provide the answers we all
> want.

Only by being objective, and not including our own biases and prejudices,
may we seek true answers.

> Our "specialness" is manifest in the extent of our culture by
> comparison with that of animals, but that may not be a good
> enough for a scientist. We must be be able to show that we are
> "special" in our physiology. This is entirely possible.

We are only the dominant species on the earth from our point of view Paul.
Ask the ant or the beetle, or the dolphin or whale who they think is the
dominant species (or genera). We have culture, so what? Other species have
a multitude of features that we do not. Who is to say which is more
*special*. Subjective, subjective, subjective. Are you getting the idea?
Every species' physiology is distinct by definition, so what? Your
statements are ambiguous and lack meaning Paul.

> Apparently our central nervous system, including our brain, is
> governed by ~40,000 genes. Each gene is made of about 600
> codons and each codon of 3 bases. That amounts to
> 40,000 x 600 x 3 which is 72 million bases. It is in this area
> that we would differ most from chimpanzees. The major changes
> in morphology, mostly those that concerned bipedalism, would
> have happened quickly. It is in the CNS that selection
> operated over millions of years on millions of mutations to
> produce the distinctive H.s.s. characteristics.

What are you trying to say? It is most unclear. If you are trying to say
that our genome is bigger than other species' then you are most mistaken.
There is some sea worm (I can't remember, but its identity is unnecessary
for this point) whose genome is larger than ours to the degree of several
magnitudes, but it is a less complex organism. It has just picked up far
more genetic baggage than us.

> Another way of looking at our "special" nature is that of Prof
> Frank Tipler: We've good reason to believe that life is common
> throughout the galaxy and the universe. If _intelligent_ life
> was present, it would be here already. Since it is not, we
> should accept that we are alone; and the likelihood of
> intelligence developing on any one planet is *astronomically*
> low.
> In other words, we could not be more "special".
> Paul.

You argument is most illogical Paul.

If you do the maths, there are statistically very many worlds which could
support life. The likelihood of life evolving on these worlds is high,
given enough time (a few billion years). You could argue that sentient
life, which does not automatically imply space-going life, may evolve
sooner or later. But given the limitation of no known way of traveling
faster than the speed of light, it is not surprising that aliens have not
visited the earth.