The Nature of Knowledge


Technically, this chapter is not about philosophy, and if Dr. Binswanger had not evoked evolution as frequently and forcefully as he has to support his views, it would not be necessary and would not be included.

The purpose of this chapter is not to argue against evolution, but to point out those questions regarding the evolutionary hypothesis that must be answered if evolution is to be regarded as a science. Even if it is regarded as science, it would still be wrong to use it to support any philosophical position. [See the "Science, Evolution, and Philosophy," chapter.]

Dr. Binswanger's emphasis on the false idea that induction is a valid form of inference is no doubt driven by the fact that evolution cannot be validated deductively, that is, scientifically. There are no possible repeatable experiments to demonstrate a single hypothesis of evolution, and there is not one observable piece of evidence of the so-called evolutionary process that can be observed.

Paleontological fossils, for example, are not evidence of the evolutionary process. They might be, if evolution itself were already an established scientific theory, but at present they are only evidence of the organisms for which they are the remains, and there is not very much of that. Dr. Leaky said all the fossils there are would hardly cover the top of two lab tables, probably referring to human fossils.

The problem with using fossils as evidence for evolution itself is that it begs the question. When fossils are used to demonstrate evolution, evolution itself is assumed, and the fossils are then explained in terms of the evolutionary hypothesis, and some of those explanations are quite plausible. But it does not matter how plausible those explanations are, if evolution is not assumed as the explanation for the similarity between certain fossils, for example, other explanations would be equally plausible, even as simple a one as the fact that whatever forms of life there are, such as the fact there are general limitations to the forms and configurations that can be viable, and organic chemistry itself is not infinitely malleable. It would be very surprising if similarities between organisms were not generally true, but these observations are not scientific evidence, only grounds for conjecture and hypothesis.

I am not opposed to evolution, I am only for the truth. I'm certain, as it is presently described, evolution is not the complete explanation of either the existence of life or the variety of species, just as I am certain there is no mystical or supernatural explanation for life and the species. Most people today simply accept that evolution is science, (because the evolutionists say it is and it is what the government schools have taught them), and since most people know very little, especially about science, beyond it's obvious successes demonstrated by modern technology, electronics, and medicine, they just assume anything called science must be true, and they certainly do not want to be called anti-science.

While I do not oppose the evolutionary hypothesis I do have a very strong objections to how it is used today: as a basis for explaining human nature, for example, such as their psychology, behavior, values, and even social relationships. I do not swallow that evolutionary "Just So Story," and I do not swallow the, "global warming myth," because neither is science, and the second is nothing but propaganda to promote a political agenda. Evolution, to a very large extent, is used in the same way.

One test for the legitimacy of anything that presumes to call itself science is the extent to which it needs to be promoted, propagandized or enforced by government. None of the principles of physics, chemistry, biology, or medicine needs to be debated, advertised, or enforced. It is true some advances in these fields were resisted and debated in the past, but almost all of that was negative. The sciences did not win by gaining a consensus of opinion or successful promotional campaigns or positive peer reviews—they won by being demonstrably true.

[NOTE: There are two things that differentiate between legitimate science and all that is promoted in the name of science which is not science at all. The first is that all true science has some form of practical application, because it correctly explains some aspect of reality that can be used consistently and reliably. The application need not be technology, so long as it is provides real insight into some aspect of reality. Every technological development that has improved human life is the undeniable evidence of the science that made such developments possible, from painless surgery to vaccination to electronic communication to geo-stationary satellites. The second is that the principles of science are not controversial or debatable. Who would think of debating whether heavier than air flight is possible, or that nuclear energy is possible, or that plastics are possible, or that antibiotics are possible, or that the chemical elements do not have the properties chemistry has discovered they have?]

In every age there is always something that captures the minds of the gullible masses and holds for itself the position of absolute unquestionable authority on truth. In the past it was religion, today it is the pseudosciences: psychology, sociology, evolution, and environmentalism. As it has always been, those who question the popular credulity or threaten to expose the lies (and corruption) of the authorities of orthodoxy are vilified and persecuted.

Life and Science

As far as we know, life only comes from life, and the growth and expansion of life has only one source and cause, which is life itself. Modern science assumes it is possible for life to spring up from non-life (abiogenesis), if the conditions are right, though no one can say what those conditions are, and no one has ever observed such an event. There is really no "scientific" basis for this view, except for an extreme dislike for the idea that life can only come from life, (biogenesis), and because it makes the prevailing evolutionary hypothesis less than scientific. If science, as well as philosophy, are to be based on observation, however, there is no observational evidence that life has ever or can possibly come from non-life.

[NOTE: Philosophy does not reject speculation about such things as origins or even the origins of life, so long as such speculation is not called science or philosophy. There is also nothing in science or philosophy that rejects the possibility of life on this planet having an origin so long as that origin does not suggest that life "emerged" from the physical. Life is not a physical attribute and no arrangement or organization of the physical can produce life. If life, in the form of the organisms found on earth, began here, life would have to have existed in some manner as an essential potential attribute of material existence before being manifest as recognizable organisms. I do not speculate this is so, only that there cannot be real existence void of life. Reality is not contingent, it can only be what it is, and reality includes life.]

It is not within the province of philosophy to speculate about the origins of things, or even if there are origins. (Although it is philosophically correct to deny the possibility of nothingness or even no life.) It is the purpose of philosophy to discover the nature of what is, not how it got here.

[NOTE: I've been told one reason to study origins is to help understand how things are now. That might be if we had a record of how things got here first, like the auto-mechanic asking the customer, complaining of a rattle, if he has hit any really bad bumps recently. For those interested in how things got here, there is only what is here to go on. First, what is here must be understood and perhaps some things might be discovered from that about how they got here. Trying to figure out the nature of things that are here, from how they got here, is simply backward.]

[NOTE: The evolutionary hypothesis has many philosophical and scientific problems that are seldom recognized, much less addressed. Whether those problems are ever resolved or not, the hypothesis certainly should not be used as the basis for assertions about the nature of man, the nature of life, aesthetics, ethics, or social values. Doubts about evolution, however, are absolutely not grounds for speculation about some supernatural or mystical views of origins or anything else.]

The Questionable Nature of Evolution

I have no interest in debating evolution. I do not know what the origin of life or the species is, but I am certain that using evolution as the basis for philosophical arguments is wrong. To whatever degree evolutionists are, or are not, correct in their explanations of origins, using evolution to explain everything in any field, such as Dr. Binswanger does, is a mistake.

I do not accept the evolutionary hypothesis for the origin of life or the variety of species as science. I have no objection to that hypothesis, but I do object to it being called science. Whenever I mention this, someone always asks, what my explanation for how life and the various species came to be is. Well I don't have one, and I am indebted to Dr. Binswanger for providing me with the argument demonstrating that I do not need one:

"The mere fact that one is ignorant of any alternative possibility is not sufficient grounds for claiming certainty; certainty does not flow from ignorance." [Page 273]

Dr. Binswanger's long quote from Ayn Rand on pages 274 and 275 is the definitive argument for why the evolutionary hypothesis, in its current form, cannot be considered a science.

I do not have to provide an alternate hypothesis for the explanation of life and the variety of species to doubt the one popularly accepted. It is enough to know the popular view is full of unanswered questions, improbabilities, and very doubtful assumptions.

There is another point Dr. Binswanger makes that pertains to the evolutionary hypothesis. For most people who reject all mysticism and superstition, evolution provides the only way they can imagine that life and the variety of species could have come about. Dr. Binswanger points out, "The term 'arbitrary' does not refer merely to a state of ignorance but to ignorance taken as an epistemological license, as if the ability to imagine something made it cognitive." (Page 279) Of course this is true even if one accepts something as true simply because they cannot imagine anything else as the explanation for something, such as evolution.

Natural Selection

"In the biological realm, the fundamental factor is natural selection. Natural selection causes and explains the whole "tree of life." It also causes and explains the adaptedness of the structure of organisms on every level of taxonomy; the structure of any particular species of flowering plant, of flowering plants in general, and of the entire plant kingdom. Whether one is seeking to explain the specific shape of the pistil in the rose, the fact that flowers have bright colors, or the presence of chlorophyll in plants, one will find that the contribution made to the plant's survival is the causal factor that forms the deepest part of that explanation. Note that natural selection is a necessary factor; without it, evolution would not have occurred." [Page 301]

To say, "the fundamental factor is natural selection," is just wrong. Before there can be any kind of selection, there must first be something to select from. The fundamental question is not why some species are selected for survival over others, the fundamental question is where do new species come from to be selected?

If evolution is the case, evolution could have no particular objective; it must be just that things that are better at surviving will also be better at perpetuating their species. But if survival pertains to species, this reasoning is circular. Species that survive are those that are "naturally selected" and those that are not "naturally selected," do not survive. What is called, "natural selection," is nothing more than an observation of what happened, not some kind of principal of nature.

The big question of evolution is not why some species survive and are selected, and others are not; the big question is where do new species come from. Natural selection has nothing to say about that. Natural selection does not explain how any of the so-called "survival-advantages" of species came to be. There is only one supposed explanation offered by evolutionists, mutation, and all the actual mutations ever actually observed are detrimental (or neutral, providing neither survival advantage or disadvantage). This is the crux of the evolutionary hypothesis. If evolution is going to claim to be a science, it must be able to provide observable evidence of its fundamental tenet? So far, it cannot. Similarities in DNA are not that evidence. Similarities in DNA are only evidence of those similarities, not how they got that way. To use those similarities as evidence is nothing more than guesswork, or argument from ignorance—"we can't imagine any other possible explanation."

As far as natural selection is concerned, Dr. Binswanger makes survival a basic tenet, and tries to invoke natural selection as evidence. Unfortunately, natural selection does not pertain to survival of individual organisms which it regularly sacrifices for the survival of species. Interestingly, evolution is not for the sake of the survival of species either, since natural selection, if correct, regularly sacrifices species for the sake of new ones. It looks like, if evolution were correct, and natural selection were the method of it, survival would not be the 'objective' at all. The 'objective' would be the emergence of new species. The longest living species, if that were the 'objective,' supposedly evolved long before most recently evolved and existing species, and are plants, not animals.

Survival of Species or Individuals?

Neither Binswanger or evolutionists in general can explain why "survival" or length of life is the "objective" of evolution (which sounds suspiciously teleological). If mere survival were the objective or purpose of life (or evolution), evolution has been going in the wrong direction.

[NOTE: If something survives at the species level and something else does not, there will be some reason for that happenstance. It is certain that reason will not be some objective or purpose on the part of nature but just some accidental difference in the organisms that enables one to survive and other not. However new features or characteristics of an organism come about (if they evolve) they cannot come about, "as a survival feature," but only as a variation. Only after an organism changed could it be known whether the change was beneficial or not. However correct or incorrect evolution is, purpose cannot be attributed to it.]

In terms of length of life or the survival of species, man is an evolutionary failure. Many species of organisms have existed hundreds of times longer than human beings, and many organisms individually live many times longer than individual human beings.

Turritopsis dohrnii, a small jellyfish found in the Mediterranean and in the waters of Japan is genetically immortal, that is, it changes its form to survive changing conditions but returns to its normal genetically identical form and can do this perpetually.

Prokaryotic cell division means all prokaryotes are also genetically immortal. If mere survival were the objective, evolution should have stopped with the procaryotes. Their survival strategy is individualism. Eukaryotes, being part of a "society of cells bound to each other" in a body, means the failure of the society (or some of the cells in that body) dooms them all. Prokaryotes are independent of each other and the death of one has no affect on the others.

The evolutionary hypothesis assumes that eukaryotes evolved from prokaryotes since all advanced organisms are comprised of eukaryotes, but since all advanced organisms do not survive as well as prokaryotes, survival cannot be the reason for the existence of eukaryotes.

Forms of life in stasis, such as seeds and spores, compared to other forms of life can exist almost indefinitely. Endospores are dormant forms of certain bacteria of the firmicute phylum, that can remain viable for millions of years. A seed from a previously extinct Judean date palm was sprouted after nearly 2,000 years. A silene stenophylla was grown from fruit that was around 32,000 years old.

Clonal plants live thousands of years, like the Pando, (Quaking Aspen), found in Bryce Canyon National Park which is estimated to be 80,000 years old.

Most large perennial plants outlive conscious animals both as individuals and as species; for example: the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (5063 years old), the Llangernyw Yew, (4000 years old), and Fortingall Yew, (between 2000 and 5000 years old).

Many aquatic animals are longer living than man. Orange roughy, (deep sea perch), live as long as 149 or 156 years. Bowhead Whales have lived at least to 211 years. The freshwater pearl mussell (margaritifera) can live 210 to 250 years.

Among land animals, the tortoises are the longest living. For example these from various zoos around the world: Adwaita, an Aldabra Giant Tortoise died at an estimated age of 250; Tu'i Malila, a Radiated tortoise, died at an age of 188; Harriet, a Galápagos tortoise, died at the age of 175, and Timothy, a Greek Tortoise, died at an age of 160.

Dr. Binswanger claims on page 37, "An organism's actions are adapted to securing its survival. Consciousness, like the heartbeat, is a biological activity that evolved because it promotes survival." On page 40 he claims, "The ability to abstract, conceptualize, and think is ... pro-survival."

It is very difficult to see how Dr. Binswanger's claims can possibly be true. If, as he says, "Consciousness, like the heartbeat, is a biological activity that evolved because it promotes survival," and, "The ability to abstract, conceptualize, and think is ... pro-survival," how can it be that organisms without consciousness (or heartbeats) survive much more successfully than those with consciousness and conscious animals without the abilities to abstract, conceptualize, and think live much longer than those with those abilities? If survival is the objective, consciousness, heartbeats, and the human mind are all total failures.

It seems almost obvious that the opposite of what Dr. Binswanger proposes must be true. Organisms with very simple natures that can exist in a large variety of environments and have very few requirements are much more likely to survive than very complex creatures with nature's requiring very strict environmental limits and having many varied requirements. Even if evolution is the explanation of the origin of life and the species, survival cannot be a major factor, and therefore, neither can natural selection. If those were the principles, why would nature keep producing ever more complex organism with less likelihood of surviving?

The question does not pertain to evolution itself, but to Dr. Binswanger's use of evolution as a basis for the assertion that everything can be explained in terms of biology and natural selection, which is not a principle but a possible observation of how at least some of evolution works. To use that as the basis of explaining everything about human nature from knowledge to the human mind is fatuous.

Mind Versus Instinct Not a Perceptual Difference

"Homo sapiens evolved from certain primates, and his consciousness is an enhancement of, not a departure from, animal consciousness." [Page 363]

How does he know this? I know evolutionists (perhaps most) claim this, but there is no evidence this is so. Even if it turns out evolution is how "homo sapiens" came to be, it changes nothing about what is known about human nature. It would be the same nature if it were not evolution but something else that was responsible for their existence. It is always wrong to use science, even correct science, to draw philosophical conclusions. There is nothing wrong with using science to illustrate philosophical principles, or as analogies of philosophical principles, or to show how philosophical principles are worked out in science, but no philosophical principle depends in any way on any scientific knowledge.

The human mind is not just a variation or "enhancement" of animal consciousness. With minor contextual differences, human consciousness is identical to animal consciousness. There is only perception. It is not a difference in consciousness itself that differentiates between animals and man, but volition. In all animals, lying between consciousness and behavior is instinct which directs all of an animal's behavior in response to that of which the animal is conscious. Man does not have instinct. Instead he has a mind, which requires and makes possible the ability to consciously choose (volition), to consciously think (reason) and to gain knowledge (intellect), attributes no animal has.

The great problem for evolution is that the mind is not something that could come along gradually, a mix of instinct and volition gradually becoming less instinctual and more volitional. A "mind" that was not free and required to consciously choose everything would not be an advance on instinct, it would be self-destructive chimera. One is either rational or instinctual, a mixture of two would be a form of insanity. All the supposed organism between the strictly instinctual and the ultimately volitional would be insane. Somehow, insanity does not seem a likely method of reaching rationality or survival.

This view that the human mind is not just a variation of animal consciousness is essentially the view Ayn Rand held:

"I am not a student of the theory of evolution and, therefore, I am neither its supporter nor its opponent. But a certain hypothesis has haunted me for years; I want to stress that it is only a hypothesis. There is an enormous breach of continuity between man and all the other living species. The difference lies in the nature of man's consciousness, in its distinctive characteristic: his conceptual faculty. It is as if, after aeons of physiological development, the evolutionary process altered its course, and the higher stages of development focused primarily on the consciousness of living species, not their bodies. But the development of a man's consciousness is volitional: no matter what the innate degree of his intelligence, he must develop it, he must learn how to use it, he must become a human being by choice. What if he does not choose to? Then he becomes a transitional phenomenon—a desperate creature that struggles frantically against his own nature, longing for the effortless "safety" of an animal's consciousness, which he cannot recapture, and rebelling against a human consciousness, which he is afraid to achieve." [The Ayn Rand Letter, Vol. II, No. 17 May 21, 1973, "The Missing Link--Part II"]

"The supposition of man's physical descent from monkeys does not necessarily mean that man's soul, the rational faculty, is only an elaboration of an animal faculty, different from the animal's consciousness only in degree, not in kind. It is possible that there was a sharp break, that the rational faculty was like a spark, added to the animal who was ready for it—and this would be actually like a soul entering a body. Or it might be that there is a metaphysical mistake in considering animals as pure matter. There is, scientifically, a most profound break between the living and the non-living. Now life may be the spirit; the animals may be the forms of spirit and matter, in which matter predominates; man may be the highest form, the crown and final goal of the universe, the form of spirit and matter in which the spirit predominates and triumphs." [The Journals of Ayn Rand. "Part 4 - Atlas Shrugged," "11 - The Mind On Strike," April 26, 1946]

The only difference between the correct view and the view of Ayn Rand is that where, for Rand, it was only a hypothesis or possibility (because she never properly identified the nature of the mind) it is actually a philosophical fact, that the instinctive nature and volitional nature are totally different and not a matter of the nature of consciousness at all. [See the chapters, "Consciousness," and "Mind," and the section, "The Nature of Instinct," in the, "Animal Life," Chapter.]

Pain and Pleasure

"...the conditions that fulfill bodily needs—eating nutritious food, gaining shelter and warmth, drinking when dehydrated—happen to produce pleasure, while damaging physical conditions--a wound, starvation, breaking a limb—happen to bring pain. If the conscious experiences of pleasure and pain have no motivational [power for the conscious animals], if the actions of the conscious animals are not affected by their experience of pleasure or pain, why are pleasure and pain correlated in this fashion with survival needs?

"Clearly, there has been a selection-pressure acting in evolution to align pleasure and pain with actions that promote or impair survival respectively. But that selection can occur only if pleasure and pain have effects on the animal's (or man's) behavior.

"This evolutionary explanation of pleasure from science of what we know by direct introspection: consciousness does something: it has causal efficacy." [Page 50]

No conscious experience "causes" anything, not even in animals. Whatever (and however) an animal consciously experiences things, including pain and pleasure, it does not cause the animal to do anything. What the animal does might be in response to what it consciously perceives, but the behavior is determined by its instinct, not by perception.

Furthermore, it is wrong to base a philosophical argument on what cannot be known, such as what an animal consciously experiences. The surmise that animal conscious perception is much like a human beings is probably true, but it cannot be directly perceived or known.

There is also a mistake here about the nature of pain and pleasure. Generally, pain and pleasure follow actions and are the consequence of behavior, not the motivators of it. Pain generally follows wrong actions, and pleasure follows correct actions, but it is not a principle that choices can based on. Pain, when extreme, might motivate action, but pleasure is generally does not, except in the case of humans who know what pleasure is, and what things produce it and developed a desire for those pleasures.

Awareness is not "causal" as Dr. Binswanger is attempting to make it at all, in either animals (instinct determines action) or humans (volition determines action).

Dr. Binswanger uses the phrase, "selection-pressure," but does not explain what it might mean? Isn't natural selection the observation of the fact that what is most successful at surviving is "selected," because it would otherwise cease to exist? "Selection-pressure," implies some kind of principle of nature that determines what is selected in some teleological sense. Unless Dr. Binswanger is suggesting nature has some kind of purpose in what it does (perhaps determined by an Objectivist diety or spirit) it should be called, "natural-serendipity," (at least for the organisms that survive), since whatever nature does, while determined by natural laws, has no objective, goal, or purpose.

Ultimately, with regard to philosophy, it does not matter whether evolution is valid science or not, since philosophy does not depend on any scientific discovery.