Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pop science media: Bruce Thornton on false knowledge

Bruce S. Thornton of the Classics department at Fresno State University in California , author of Plagues of the Mind: The New Epidemic of False Knowledge (ISI Books, 1999), certainly spoke for me when he said,
What makes us recognizably human, then, is not what is natural about us but what is unnatural: reason and its projections in language, culture, ritual, and technology, self-awareness, conscious memory, imagination, and the higher emotions; and, most important, values, ethics, morals, and the freedom from nature's determinism that allows us to choose, whether for good or ill. Nothing else in nature possesses any of these attributes, despite the wishful thinking of those who believe they are teaching chimps to "talk," or who consider a monkey digging up termites with a stick to be "using tools," or who label baboon rump-submission a "social practice," or who subjectively interpret the behavior of animals to indicate the presence of "self-awareness" ore higher human emotions such as love, grief, regret, guilt, shame, or loyalty. For every dog that howls over the body of its dead master there is another that, if necessary, will happily eat his corpse.
Ah yes, ... happily eat his corpse.

The meticulously tailored attendants at the funeral parlour down the street from my home are not, typically, told what to do when the bereaved open the coffin and start to ...

In those few human civilizations when the bereaved serve the dear departed at the funeral feast, no mere animal hunger drives them. They want to absorb the merits of the departed. A misguided idea to be sure, but a distinctly human one.

Sadly, there is no easy path to virtue.

So what to make of the frantic project of the evolutionary psychologists who pretend that all these human qualities are regularly found among the creatures that squeak, howl, and shuffle in the night - warring over boiled-out soup bones in the dumpsters behind apartment buildings?

Just this: There is no going back on being human. You can be a good or a bad human. You can be a stupid or a wise human. But there is no going back on being human.

Get over looking for advisors among lemurs and chimps. They cannot tell you anything you cannot learn from your own life experiences.