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Author Topic:   Do animals have souls?
Member (Idle past 5980 days)
Posts: 3228
Joined: 01-09-2002

Message 75 of 303 (306128)
04-23-2006 12:33 PM
Reply to: Message 72 by smak_84
04-22-2006 11:29 PM

Wolves and Trees
Is not a wolf a type of dog?
Well, no, actually. If anything, a dog is a type of wolf. In spite of Crash’s answer to this bit, I think you’ll find that many ecologists/biologists (including me) would argue that Canis familiaris is really merely a sub-species of Canis lupus. The reasoning includes the facts that F1 hybrids of the two species are fertile, and that F2 and subsequent generations tend to “back-breed” to something that closely resembles the original C. lupus ancestor - although containing genetic markers showing more “dog-like” traits. Moreover, a third species, Canis rufus, is also problematic for many of the same reasons. In other words, the soul or essence or whatever else it is that you think determines “wolf” or “dog” simply doesn’t exist.
There's something your mind picks up on that tells it that one thing is different from another, when it compiles the sense images. What is is picking up on? How does the mind know that the sense images for a tree make those sense images mean a tree and not a chair? This would be the recognition of the form.
It’s entirely possible to argue that the canids mentioned above contain some kind of essence of “wolf-ness” or whatever. In fact, that could be a strong piece of evidence you could use with people who don’t know any better if you ever need to use this line of argument again somewhere else. However, once you get into “tree-ness”, the essentialist argument falls utterly flat.
When is a tree not a tree? How about when it is actually a daisy? The family Compositae (daisies) is notorious for developing forms that appear to be something other small flowering plants we think of when we talk about daisies. The black cabbage tree (Melanodendron integrifolium) or the gumwood tree (Commidendrum robustum) are both “daisies” that have decided to become “trees”. They look (sense image - your term) like trees, they fill the “tree niche” in an area where no real trees exist, they have woody stems, etc etc. They are, however, not trees in the sense that you mean the term. They’re daisies with delusions of grandeur.
Worse, how does “essence” explain plants that, depending on habitat, would either be called “shrub” or “tree”? The New Zealand manuka “tree” (Leptospermum scoparium) is either a woody shrub Ficus species (such as F. tuerckheimii or F. hartwegii, etc) that, at different stages of their lifecycle, have the “form” of (or would be called) variously an epiphyte, a vine, or a tree. What is the “real” essence here? Are these plants trees? Are they vines? Are they something else? Inquiring minds want to know.
In short, although superficially it’s easy to claim that organism A has some kind of outward form that reflects some kind of inner essence, once you get into the details of what nature throws up for our confusion the entire concept of essence falls in tatters. Our generic, common terms for different things (such as “dog” or “tree”) simply don’t reflect the underlying reality of what the thing “is”.
Although you recommended to Crash that he pick up a philosophy book or two, my recommendation to you would be to pick up a couple of good biology or ecology books. Maybe start with Wilson’s Diversity of Life and Mayr’s Evolution and the Diversity of Life. You might find them interesting.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 72 by smak_84, posted 04-22-2006 11:29 PM smak_84 has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 77 by smak_84, posted 04-23-2006 1:48 PM Quetzal has replied

Member (Idle past 5980 days)
Posts: 3228
Joined: 01-09-2002

Message 78 of 303 (306158)
04-23-2006 4:50 PM
Reply to: Message 77 by smak_84
04-23-2006 1:48 PM

Re: Wolves and Trees
To be honest here, smak, I'm not entirely clear what your response had to do with my post? Perhaps you'd be willing to flesh out your response a bit. Maybe addressing the specific examples I provided, and showing how an immaterial whatever effects the form - and how those different "forms" I mentioned can be related back to your concept? Thanks.
As to the rest of the argument - although I've been reading your exchanges here, I'm still not quite getting your reasoning. This response appears to me to be a sort of reductio outline of the genotype => phenotype transition but without the critical environment component. However, I admit I'm not sure that's what you're arguing. I mean, you seem to be ending up at the level of "Physics didit", which I guess I can't argue with. After all, biology is based on chemistry which is based ultimately on physics, so it seems you've arrived at a true, albeit trivial, statement. Correct me if I'm wrong, but at this point I don't see how that relates to the essentialist position outlined in the OP.
Some background reading will be quite helpful to deepen my understanding of the topic.
I'm a firm believer in reading. The Wilson book is my all-time-favorite lay treatment of the topic, and the Mayr book gets into the technical nuts and bolts. They make a good complement to each other. Enjoy!

This message is a reply to:
 Message 77 by smak_84, posted 04-23-2006 1:48 PM smak_84 has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 80 by smak_84, posted 04-23-2006 6:03 PM Quetzal has replied

Member (Idle past 5980 days)
Posts: 3228
Joined: 01-09-2002

Message 87 of 303 (306279)
04-24-2006 10:20 AM
Reply to: Message 80 by smak_84
04-23-2006 6:03 PM

Re: Wolves and Trees
The point of my last post is to open the possibility for an immaterial substance that organizes matter (the same thing that causes the attraction between subatomic particles). This immaterial substance could network the particles correctly resulting in whatever - giving a possibility for the form.
I'm still not sure I'm following you. Entirely my fault - age tends to ossify one's brain functions. Or so I'm told.
Anyway, I think one of the difficulties I'm having is over your use of the word "immaterial" (and no, I don't mean to get into a semantic argument, most of which I think are fairly pointless, although I know that's what it sounds like). What you've described here as "immaterial" most physicists would call the strong and weak nuclear forces, etc. At the quantum level it gets a bit spookier, but that's something for you to argue with physicists about. Those are the "organizing principles" that regulate the way particles, and ultimately atoms and molecules, interact. There's nothing mystical about how adenine always pairs up with thymine, or how proteins fold, etc. It's all simply basic chemistry - that's the only way the molecules can interact - and ultimately simply physics: the properties of the various atoms that make up the nucleosides.
Now, getting from basic chemistry to biology, at least in the sense of the way the interaction of all these molecules create the physical form of the organism, is a bit more complicated. There is an additional factor that needs to be taken into consideration. Phenotype - the "form" we see - derives only in part from the basic chemistry of how molecules interact with each other. At the organism level, environment plays a substantial role in what the phenotype finally ends up looking like. Over time (i.e., generations), the environment provides a strong filter on what and how the phenotype is expressed. There is a feedback loop between environment and genotype (chemistry) that has the power to substantially alter the form. It's not an "essence" of the arrangement of particles that creates the form. It's the feedback between the molecules that make up the organism and the environment which presents the constraints on form.
The above, in a grossly oversimplified nutshell, is the basis for the diversity of life on this planet. It is the basis for descent with modification, for speciation, for adaptation, etc. You simply cannot ignore the role environment plays in deriving "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful" (C. Darwin, 1859). The "immaterial forces" which create these forms are nothing without the power of the environment.
Then a soul is a form particular to living things. Thus, since an animal is a living thing - it has a soul (back to the OP).
This is very poetic and all, but you have unfortunately failed to substantiate the existence of such an "immaterial force" as a soul. Especially given the examples I provided in my previous post. Unless you're postulating a "soul" (whatever that is) that is subject to adaptation and modification depending on the action of the environment - which I think is metaphysically untenable - then there can be no soul-thing that molds the physical form (phenotype) of whatever organism to which you're referring. It is the environment (if anything) that molds the form we see, based on the constraints provided by the chemical make-up (genotype) of the particular organism. Over the eons, quite different forms can arise from a single lineage.
In your response to my comment about essence: HUMANS ARE NOT MONKEYS (even if you are playing a trick dresing a monkey up like one).
I'm not sure if this was supposed to be a response to me. I never even mentioned monkeys and humans. My examples were dogs and trees. Besides, I agree that humans aren't monkeys (using the terms generically). We are, however, related to monkeys, because we descended from a common ancestor. We're more closely related to the great apes to various degrees than we are monkeys, based on how long ago the common ancestor of the lineages we see today diverged. For instance, we're genetically closer to Pan than we are to Gorilla. However, we didn't descend from either one, and its been several million years since the split. Our own lineage is actually quite impoverished. There were once quite a few species on the human branch - today there's only one left. Indeed, there are few species left in our family (Hominidae). Kind of sad, really.
You cannot possibly say that the difference between humans and monkeys is only a difference that we make. It's like saying there's absolutly no difference between a human being and a rock.
I certainly wouldn't say that. There are obviously differences between monkeys and humans, just like there are differences between daisies and gumwood trees. However, as with the latter, it's a question of position on a continuum, not some discrete "essence of gumwood-tree-ness". It's a difference of degree, not kind.
As a bit of digression, have you ever had the opportunity to closely observe one of our distant cousins? My work often allows this luxury. If I may be permitted a bit of poetic fancy here - staring into the eyes of an Ateles monkey from a meter away I find I am constantly blown away: by a striking sense of recognition. I truly believe I can see myself reflected in its eyes. For me, we are clearly distant family (taxonomically order for the pedants - I was speaking figuratively). I hope you get the chance someday to see what I have seen.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 80 by smak_84, posted 04-23-2006 6:03 PM smak_84 has not replied

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