Re: Are we "special"?

Bill Burnett (
4 Dec 1996 13:30:36 GMT

"Rohinton Collins" <> wrote:

>Paul Crowley <> wrote in article

>> 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.

You're wasting your time, Roh, this has been pointed out to Paul
previously. He doesn't want to accept the scientific alternative to his
anthropocentric reasoning, and I doubt he ever will.


>> 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.

Precisely. One of the "pitfalls" of science is that you don't
necessarily get the answers you *want*. *Wanting* something to be true
has very little bearing on reality.

>> 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.

Note Paul's use of inverted commas around "special". Replace "special"
with most complex/advanced/most highly evolved (what anthropocentrists
really mean) and you're back in an argument from a year ago.

>Are you getting the idea?

One of the pitfalls of talking to Paul is that you don't necessarily get
the answers you *want*. *Wanting* something to be true has very little
bearing on reality. The answer to this question will therefore be "no".


>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.

How many millions of years? Clearly not before the LCA...