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Featured Purpose and function

Discussion in 'Science and Religion' started by Dan From Smithville, Dec 2, 2022.

  1. Dan From Smithville

    Dan From Smithville Out of a hat and into the blue.
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    In a recent thread the concepts of purpose and function came into debate and discussion regarding the origins and evolution of life. From that thread it is clear that different people have different ideas of how each of those terms is defined, used and whether and how they can be observed.

    For the purposes of this thread, I am defining purpose as the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists. There are several definitions, but I found this definition through Google and find it fits closely with my basic definition. Additionally, I thought it was suitable enough as a launching point for this discussion. From my view purpose is a concept associated with an agent. Humans are agents that create with purpose. Of course, there are other living things that do this too. But these are the only things that I know of for which there is evidence to show purpose.

    It is more difficult, as it turns out, to come up with a simple definition for function and many exist depending on the context. There are functions in music and math as well as social events. That these may have some fit to the discussion, I am leaving open. As to a definition for the purpose of this thread, I think the one that applies to engineering is sufficient, but that too can be discussed and debated. To launch this thread, discussion is defined as a specific action that a system can perform.

    I do not interpret purpose and function to be equivalent. I do not see function as the necessary result of an agent, though agents often use function to achieve some purpose. Somewhere in all of this, it is quite likely that the thread will turn to the concept of intent. I intend it to and hope that it functions in some way to achieve that purpose.

    So from these simple beginnings, I would like to increase my understanding and definition of these two concepts through a, hopefully fruitful, discussion and debate. To explore how they are applied and discover what evidence exists to support claims about either. And enhance my view of the relationship between function and purpose and how they are applied to questions like creation, science, and in particular, the phenomena and theory of evolution.
     
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  2. idea

    idea Question Everything

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    I have often heard believers claim only their view provides "Purpose", with a capital "P". I have not heard a clear explanation of what that purpose is?

    To me, evolution leads to increased life forms, diversity, resilience - each new generation of living organisms stronger and more adept than the previous. From bacteria and extremophiles to humans and space exploration - evolution's Purpose is to fill the universe with life.

    Life
    noun
    1. 1.
      the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.

    Our purpose, the purpose of life, is to be alive, and sustain all other life, to fill the universe with life.
     
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  3. JDMS

    JDMS Academic Workhorse

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    I agree with your definitions of those two words. To me, 'function' requires no agent, intent, will, etc. whereas 'purpose' does... unless we are talking about an agent needing to exist to define function in the first place. But that's not a road I wish to travel down... lol.

    And keenly you have noticed how these two words are used in religious or philosophical discussions, so I will use them here for that end as well :)

    For me, I believe that 'helpful' mutations and natural selection occur as a function of evolution, but I do not think they have purpose, as evolution is not an agent and has no goal. There is no purpose to evolution at all, not even the continuation of life (from my perspective that is based on my current education). The continuation of life is just a byproduct of natural processes occuring enough times that it eventually works in (what we would identify as) "our favor".

    Hopefully my reply gives you a little bit of what you wanted to see here! And thank you for another great thread. I'm hoping to see a lot of replies, too :)
     
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  4. John53

    John53 Veteran Member

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    I was thinking about this as I was walking the dog a few minutes ago. Well I think it's the same or similar topic. There's a butterfly here that lays its eggs on my citrus trees and the grubs look like bird poop which is obviously for camouflage. But how does something like that evolve? I think it's perfectly reasonable for someone to think that a creator would have done that on purpose even though I'm a confirmed atheist. Or maybe I just haven't come across a creator God I find to be a reasonable explanation.

    Hopefully I'm on topic and not derailing your thread.
     
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  5. idea

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    I think life is an agent, evolution a function for the agent.

    Inorganic materials evolve too - rocks crumble, settle, form layers, churn deep in the earth - the diversity of elements themselves evolved from simpler beginnings.

    Not all life has a mind, aware? Id, ego, self-awareness - there is an agent it seems, which puts a capital "P" to it all I think.
     
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  6. Dan From Smithville

    Dan From Smithville Out of a hat and into the blue.
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    I had to lay down some sort of definition as a foundation to get things rolling, those seemed to be reasonable choices.

    I would say it the other way. That evolution is a function of natural selection, but we are on the same path. I agree, there is no evidence of a goal and plenty of evidence to call goal or agency into doubt. Some of the results wouldn't rate as goal oriented in my understanding.

    In my view, people can believe a lot of different, even contradictory things, but what we can say with any validity is based on evidence and understanding. I don't see this as slighting belief, but rather, putting context to what we can say and demonstrate with confidence.
     
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  7. Dan From Smithville

    Dan From Smithville Out of a hat and into the blue.
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    I have some ideas about how I want the direction of this thread to go, but I don't think this really strays out of my idea of the intellectual boundaries I had in mind.

    I must think it is reasonable too, since I believe in one. But I do not follow a literal interpretation of the Bible as an explanation and recognize that there is no evidence to positively demonstrate the existence or actions of a creator in the results we call life.

    As to how something like that could evolve, there is evidence. Mutations that influence color and pattern driven by selection that protects those with patterns that look like poop would lead to a population with those traits fixed in and defining of that group. The color and patterns function as a camouflage that protects the larvae from predation. So they grow up to have a greater portion of the offspring that are thusly patterned to persist the species.
     
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  8. idea

    idea Question Everything

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    I disagree, evolution has a clear goal.

    "A goal is an objective or target that someone is trying to reach or achieve. Goal is also the end point of a race or something that a player is trying to put an object into as part of a game. Goal has other senses as a noun. A goal is an aim or objective that you work toward with effort and determination."

    Goal: survival, but more than just survive, increase in numbers, expand.

    It's not random, there is direction, layers of fossils which become more complex, more resilient, stronger. Intent, direction, goals - to fill the universe with life, a beautiful inspirational thing.
     
    #8 idea, Dec 2, 2022
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2022
  9. Subduction Zone

    Subduction Zone Veteran Member

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    I like the definitions in the OP too. And please note, an item with a function may or may not have a purpose. A function is usually obvious. A purpose may not be so obvious. And since saying that an object has a function is not denying that it has a purpose I tend to favor that term in a discussion. Once someone claims that something has a purpose that person has taken on a burden of proof.
     
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  10. JDMS

    JDMS Academic Workhorse

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    I also find camouflage, especially camouflage that includes behavior changes such as imitating the shaking of a leaf, or the swaying of seaweed, to be boggling... even as someone who doesn't believe it was an intentional result of the evolutionary process or the work of another entity. I understand the actual mechanism behind it, though. Mutations in the appearance of the animal lead to a variation of the color or pattern. That color or pattern was less likely to be found and eaten, so those genes had the chance to be passed on when that organism lived longer and could breed more, or compete better. Eventually the majority of that species had pigment camouflage. As for the behavioral camouflage, it could be innate behaviors that are genetic with or without combination with active cognition; i.e animals like Tiarinia cornigera (a species of crab with cryptic camouflage) will cover itself with more seaweed on top of its preexisting camouflage when predation risk is high. They are actively choosing to camouflage themselves further. So, to what extent a camouflaged species is aware of its own camouflage is highly variable. It's very underexplored.

    I do not think another force or agent guided them to developing camouflage in the first place, though. And it's unlikely that most animals are familiar with the concept of evolution either, so it's very unlikely that animals made mating choices based on which one looked the most like a stick, with the intention of their future generation looking like sticks... So, in the end, I believe that camouflage has the function of increasing the animals' chances of survival, but I do not believe evolution did it "on purpose". However, some animals may (or definitely do) camouflage themselves on purpose, and some likely assign purpose or function to it, as their own completely natural agents.

    But yes... despite the fact that I understand/believe all this, I find camouflage to be trippy.
     
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  11. Dan From Smithville

    Dan From Smithville Out of a hat and into the blue.
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    I don't know that I fully embrace the idea, but I can see some sense to it that ties in with my understanding and views. I would see living things as part of the environment and as unintentional agents of selection. I see all things, biotic and abiotic, as part of the environment that can act as agents of selection on themselves and their external environments. I also see environment as those conditions internal to living things that also act to select. But I see this selection as mindless for the most part, or at least there is no evidence to suggest a greater mind at work. There are exceptions to that though. Sexual selection is, not necessarily conscious, but does involve the choice of living agents.

    The wolves of Yellowstone don't intend to restore the park to a more natural, pre-settlement ecology, but they do function to that end as predators. By the action of their needs they maintain the elk population that was apparently acting as--I hesitate to use the word agent again, but language being what it is--an agent of negative impact on the park ecology.

    Evolution in the broad sense is change over time and even the mountains, prairies, streams and oceans undergo that on various scales of time.

    We know that people are agents that act with intent to purpose to create with function in mind. We also create without those things in mind by our daily activities as a group. It is from that example that many try to show the existence of overarching agent.
     
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  12. Dan From Smithville

    Dan From Smithville Out of a hat and into the blue.
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    Thanks. Your input on my choice of definitions is much appreciated. Though if they need expanding or changing, it was my intention that they be examined for just such an event.

    Others have told me that purpose was obvious without any explanation as to how. The claim was just repeated as if I were too blind or stupid to see it or didn't want to see it. But I agree, it I don't see it as obvious or apparent, while function often is.

    So far, that burden has not been carried or carried well. Perhaps that might change in this thread, though I admit to my doubts. But function, is a defensible concept with evidence that can be used to support it.
     
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  13. Subduction Zone

    Subduction Zone Veteran Member

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    It is very hard for people not to anthropomorphize things. To understand events we sometimes use that tool to help us. Unfortunately it can be very misleading at times. Evolution is merely a process. It cannot care. It cannot plan ahead. Evolution is merely based upon what works. When it comes to camouflage one needs to realize that being harder to see makes it more likely that a potential prey survives and passes on its genes more likely. It starts out very simple, but since competition always exists there is an unconscious selection for better and better camouflage. No intelligence necessary.
     
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  14. Subduction Zone

    Subduction Zone Veteran Member

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    Nope! Sorry now they are written in stone forever.

    Okay, maybe not. There is nothing wrong with being flexible and saying maybe we will change this a bit. If someone makes a particular case I can change my mind.
     
  15. Dan From Smithville

    Dan From Smithville Out of a hat and into the blue.
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    Nicely done. There are many examples in the invertebrates, but they have had plenty of time to develop different iterations of camouflage.

    And the diversity of invertebrates arises in a varied landscape of niches, so for those that ask why don't all insects look like poop, the answer is that all insects do not exist in the same environmental niche. Some caterpillars have evolved utilizing the underside of leaves and don't have to expend energy on camouflage or the same type of camouflage due to the protection offered on the underside of the leaf. Not much distance need be travelled to go from one niche to another.
     
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  16. idea

    idea Question Everything

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    It isn't mindless- you and I are communicating with our own minds, which were created by our parents and have evolved through life's experiences. We are self-aware, our ability to think is real, our ability to set goals, invent, progress, our legacy - leave the world better than we found it and all that.

    Hive minds vs individuals - both exist, some prefer group think, others are more independent.. hive of bees worshipping their queen, the solo bear who enjoys honey.

    We think, some have their own mind, diverse views ensure survival - come what may, some version of life will survive.

    Mass, energy, information, mind - the mind, another substance within the universe.

    Length contraction/relativity - it is all the same, all connected. No God, no Savior, no heaven or hell, all connected, the same laws, energy turns into mass then back to energy. Mind turns from one state to another too. Reincarnation might be a good way to put it?
     
    #16 idea, Dec 2, 2022
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2022
  17. Subduction Zone

    Subduction Zone Veteran Member

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    Yes, we have minds. But that does not necessarily mean that a hive mind exists. That is the sort of claim that would require evidence.
     
  18. JDMS

    JDMS Academic Workhorse

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    I think this is a position that could be supported from a spiritual perspective, not is not supported by science currently.

    The current understanding we have about evolution is that it is a process, rather than a force. "Evolution" is a description for the 'process of change as a consequence of competitive pressures for survival and reproduction'. Evolution is a process driven by many things, but not necessarily a goal. In humans, there is on the average about 0.0015 beneficial mutations per individual per generation and about 1.5 harmful mutations. That means that a mutation is 1000x more likely to be a detriment to the animal than a benefit. Mutations that have no effect on the animal occur even more frequently. So, advancement is not the goal, but rather the result of many, many chances for something to "go right" over the course of several million years.

    Also, animals have the drive to reproduce (not evolution itself) because it was a trait most likely to be passed on. If an animal evolved to have no sex/reproductive-drive, it would not reproduce, and so that animal would die without passing on its genes. If an animal had no fear of predation, no drive to drink water, no drive to eat, no drive to X, Y, or Z.... that animal would die, and again, would not pass on its genes. So the continuation and advancement of life is a self-fulfilling prophecy. And this is the beauty of natural selection! It's a bit difficult to swallow, but currently we have no real evidence that there is an agency behind it.

    But if evidence arises, it will of course be considered.

    I hope this made sense! :oops:
     
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  19. Dan From Smithville

    Dan From Smithville Out of a hat and into the blue.
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    I don't have time to go into this paper in detail right now, but if others want to, feel free. But it is an excellent experimental example of evolution and selection in a field population of mice. Evolution driven by the environment acting on the genetic variation within the population and no evidence of intent, purpose or the actions of agents other than those that set up the experiment.

    http://176.9.41.242/docs/genetics/selection/natural/2019-barrett.pdf
     
    #19 Dan From Smithville, Dec 2, 2022
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  20. JDMS

    JDMS Academic Workhorse

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    Yes, even a humble biologist who's taken multiple classes on evolution (maybe I'm referring to myself here, not so humbly... :oops:) struggles to discard anthropomorphism... curses!
     
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