Monday, March 18, 2013

Existentialism in an evolutionary universe


A recent article in The Chronicle Review contemplates the compatibility of existentialism with evolution.

Evolution and Existentialism, an Intellectual Odd Couple (by David P. Barash, March 11, 2013): For existentialists, there is no Platonic form of the person, no ideal self of which our corporeal reality is a pale instantiation. Rather, we define ourselves, give ourselves meaning, establish our essence only via our existence, by what we do, how we choose to live our individual lives. We have no "human nature," just our own intentions. For evolutionists, there is the idea that living things are a concatenation of genes, jousting with other, similar genes to get ahead.

What would be a codifist perspective?

We (humans) have biologically evolved — as evolutionists believe — but, however it happened, we have evolved to be code inventors (creators of new codes) whereas other animals are living within the codes that nature has dealt them. (Missing, of course, are our cousin and ancestral hominid species which went extinct, which could have been code inventors to some degree.)

There is this dictum cited by some: Biology is the hardware, culture is the software. Biological evolution may have occurred according to codes of nature (physics and chemistry), but, at least for us, it has produced brains that are machines that can produce new codes and new culture.

This ability to make new codes is what makes us free.