Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A blank slate and no limits

I'm going to give you a pencil, a blank slate and a task.  You are to design a species and the world that it lives in as best you can.  You have no restrictions or other requirements.  Your only limit is your imagination.  How will you design it?  What characteristics will it have?  Here are some things I'll bet you wouldn't do, or at least that you wouldn't do many of them:

  • design the world to be full of a substance while designing the creature to require that substance to survive, then make it incapable of using the vast majority of that substance
  • give it a terribly flawed memory bank, one which frequently fails to properly recall information either partially or completely
  • make it so that it needs to spend one-quarter to one-third of its life in a near-unconscious state, unable to do anything useful, then even harass while it is in this state with frightening and stressful images
  • give it eyes but make it so that it cannot see nearly half the time
  • design it to appreciate the beauty of the world you have created, but also so that it cannot go out for very long without burning itself in some places or freezing to death in others
  • make it so that trivial things constantly re-grow, but that critical systems and parts do not
  • design predators that try to hunt it, then make it so that it cannot see what is behind it
  • design it with a constant urge to explore, yet put much of the world permanently out of its reach due to the incomprehensibly large distances involved
  • make an extremely critical system, that controls all body movement, fragile and with no redundancy
  • make it so that it excretes waste several times a day that is poisonous to it and contaminates its resource supply that you already limited so drastically in the first point
  • make sure that it is prone to starting life with terrible and debilitating defects and illnesses
The list could go on and on.  Would you do these things?  Why not?  Probably because you're intelligent and these suggestions are pretty strange and/or stupid, is that correct?  Yet all of these things are characteristics of humans and the world we live in.  This is what many people argue defines perfection.  They assert that we were created to have all of these traits by a perfect being, and that the design is perfect.  When confronted with a list like this one, these people will then claim that while these appear to be defects in design to humans, that we just cannot see the way in which they are perfect.

Once you make an assertion like that, you are beyond hope for a reasonable conversation and will have a pretty hard time climbing out of the cesspool that you have voluntarily thrown yourself into.  If you assert in advance that everything about our structure and characteristics is perfect and that even if something seems ridiculous, that it is still perfect and that we are wrong, you have made an unfalsifiable claim.  If you believe that apparent good design is perfect, and apparent bad design is just beyond our ability to comprehend its perfection, then no number of examples of poor design is capable of pulling you out of your cesspool until you admit that your fundamental way of thinking about the situation is incorrect.