Category Archives: Science

My thoughts on non-physics sciences — like evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience etc.

Evolution–Inverted Logic

Evolution is usually described as “the survival of the fittest,” or as species evolving to adapt to the environment. To survive, to evolve, to adapt—these are action verbs, implying some kind of intention or general plan. But there is a curious inversion of logic, or reversal of causality in the theory of evolution. This is almost the opposite of intention or plan.

It is easiest to illustrate this inverted logic using examples. Suppose you are on a tropical island, enjoying the nice weather and the beautiful beach. You say to yourself, “This is perfect. This is paradise!” Of course, there is some specific gene containing the blue print of your brain process that leads you to feel this way. It stands to reason that there may have been genetic mutations at some point, which made some people hate this kind of paradise. They may have preferred Alaska in winter. Evidently, such genes had a slightly lower chance of survival because Alaskan winters are not as healthy as tropical paradises. Over millions of years, these genes got all but wiped out.

What this means is that the tropical paradise does not have an intrinsic beauty. It is not even that you happen to find it beautiful. Beauty does not necessarily lie in the eyes of the beholder. It is more like the eyes exist because we are the kind of people who would find such hospitable environments beautiful.

Another example of the inversion of logic in evolution is the reason we find cute babies cute. Our genes survived, and we are here because we are the kind of people who would find healthy babies cute. This reversal of causality has implications in every facet of our existence, all the way up to our notion of free will.

Ref: This post is an excerpt from my book, The Unreal Universe.

Zen and Free Will

Neuroscience has a finding that may question the way we think of our free will.

We now know that there is a time lag of about half a second between the moment “we” take a decision and the moment we become aware of it. This time lag raises the question of who is taking the decision because, in the absence of our conscious awareness, it is not clear that the decision is really ours. This finding has even cast doubt on our notion of free will.

In the experimental setup testing this phenomenon, a subject is hooked up to a computer that records his brain activities (EEG). The subject is then asked make a conscious decision to move either the right hand or the left hand at a time of his choosing. The choice of right or left is also up to the subject. The computer always detects which hand the subject is going to move about half a second before the subject is aware of his own intention. The computer can then order the subject to move that hand–an order that the subject will be unable to disobey, shattering the notion of free-will.

Free will may be a fabrication of our brain after the real action. In other words, the real action takes place by instinct, and the sense of decision is introduced to our consciousness as an afterthought. If we could somehow limit our existence to tiny compartments in time, as Zen suggests, then we might not feel that we had free will.

Ref: This post is an edited excerpt from my book, The Unreal Universe.