Anne Dagen


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Sport and dance are better measures of evolutionary development than intellectual pursuits

Daniel Wolpert's research indicates that the brain came into being to enable movement, suggesting that movement has survival value. If movement is the brain's primary purpose, then a species which increases the sophistication of its movement-related abilities is developing the brain along a clear evolutionary path. Species which develop other uses of the brain at the expense of its primary purpose may well be heading towards an evolutionary dead end.

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    Nov 4 2011: sorry, I was probably projecting my sense of disappointment towards our current state onto your comments. As far as what is between greed and aspiration, I imagine it more like a chasm than a line; otherwise we may have already seen how powerful aspriation is and use it as a meausure of success. Ironically, cultures before the use of a token economy seemed to have a higher sense of aspiration. I can think of aboriginal north-american tribes who would make decisions while realizing the implications 7 generation ahead. How deviated from that way of thinking we are - it seems almost absurd. Capitalism, the engine of modern economics, condones the idea that personal worth is measured by the acumulation of money. There may be other values recognized and endorsed but money is the defacto standard of success by which all other values revolve and depend. Even art cannot be created without a sponsor or subsidy - at least this is the common perception.

    I think hoarding is a valid technique for survival but you hit the nail on the head by calling this current state of affairs a fantasy world. I think the emotion we need to address collectively is fear. It has turned us complacent and paranoid. There is a schizm between generations, where we don't listen to the wisdom of elderly people, yet the young, single and educated crowd are angry and trying frantically to make changes while the middle-aged with families are just trying to keep their head down and not stir too much trouble for fear of losing their jobs/status/welfair. It is this latter group that have the most to lose and the most to fear. After all who does not want to provide for their family, send thier kids to college, give them a comfortable upbringing?

    If you're talking about the 1% or even the 5% then I think there is some mental illness going on - but that's just my opinion.
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    Nov 3 2011: I think there is more that just two kinds of intelligence, which may make your arguement more complicated. Also everything we do is done with some kind of "intelligence". Movement without intelligence seems purposeless. Intellectual pursuits without intelligence also seems purposeless :)
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    Nov 10 2011: Kriste, what do you think of the work of the Tucker Centre? Is that taking women't sport in the right direction?
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    Nov 8 2011: The use of tools can be viewed in two ways. It certainly extends our ability to do things. It also extends our abilities to do the things which destroy the habitat on which we depend.

    As to predicting the movement of more than one body, predatory pack animals often do that when they harry a group of animals in such a way that the weaker ones drop behind, making them easier to bring down. On the other side, prey animals will direct the movement of a group in order to circle and protect the weaker and younger animals. Pack animals tend to have a hierarchy, accepting the dominance and, implicitly, the direction of the lead animal.

    Groups of animals will turn on, or eject the different, or clumsy, or disabled, seeing these characteristics as a risk. This suggests that there is concept of beauty which those animals fail to meet, and that beauty is a proxy for fitness to procreate.

    Parasites use their hosts as food suppliers and transport. Numerous animals use tools.

    Most of the measures people come up with as demonstrations of superior human abilities have their logical equivalents in the animal kingdom.

    Is there anything humans use their brains for that animals don't?
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    Nov 8 2011: Depends whether you draw a distinction between direct observation and inference from indirect observation, (which would exclude anthropology of existing tribes).

    I'm not actually looking for a hierarchy, what I am looking for is a wider view of the ideas put forward in the video. If it is true that the primary purpose of the brain is movement, then what does that tell us about the value of the ways in which the human brain is used, comparing those which are movement related and those which are not?
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    Nov 7 2011: Which came first, the belief in gods or dance? Have we any way of deciding whether anthropology gives us a more meaningful answer than scientific research?
    • Nov 8 2011: I don't know if that first question we'll ever be answerable, but for the second one, isn't anthropology a science to start with ?... ;)

      So in this sense, I tend to think that any different point of view or methodology (the distinction in fields of study/sciences being in my opinion a contemporary artifact!!) is always enriching for any subject because it always provides complementary information on it.
      So I'd have to strongly disagree with the distinction you seem to emphasize and moreover the hierarchy you seek...
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    Nov 7 2011: Mankind is not the only species to have sporting competitions, with the winner being rewarded with riches (food, territory) and a choice of mates. Many bird species have elaborate dance rituals. Bees dance to communicate complex sets of direction. What makes that different from human activity? How do you describe the dividing line?

    Actually, the animal examples I gave earlier relate to male striving for dominance and for partners. What do you think that says about women in dance and sport?
    • Nov 8 2011: "How do you describe the dividing line?"

      By our stronger ability not just to use our own body.

      We are the best, species at extending our bodies and our world/environment with tools then with machines, which provide other sorts of movement which didn't necessarily exist before in nature (that is, in the non-man-made environment).

      And as an extension of the above, we're the only species having the ability to predict movement for more than one body, like that main task of any choreographer... with goals as diverse as "the search of grace", "the communication of particular emotions"(not necessarily just fear or attraction), etc.
      I don't think any school or swarm of any other species can have its movement directed AND predicted (as in directed with a goal of the movement of the group representing something...) intentionally by any one and one only of it's members. (I might be proven wrong, but until then I believe we're the only specie capable of INTENTIONALLY using other bodies/mechanisms than our own.)
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      Nov 10 2011: As for women in sport, females have been adopting masculine ways of not just using their bodies, but in all pursuits including intellectual and vocational, to break "traditional" feminine roles and prove themselves equal to males, AKA leveling the playing field. Hard to resist when professional sports players and corporate CEO's make millions of dollars a year and are idolized. Unfortunately, this has come at a physiological, psychological, and spiritual price in the form of depression, chronic fatigue, infertility, severe hormonal problems, and accelerated bone and joint deterioration among other things. However, there seems to be a huge turn of the tide, with "feminine power" and "goddess" workshops sprouting up at least in the US, with a major component being to reclaim the feminine way being and moving in the body.

      All major/most popular exercise and sports methods, for the exception of a few dance methods, were created by men for the male physique, physiology and psychology. Younger generations of women don't know any different since this was the norm since they were born, and they are just following what the "experts" are selling. Tens of thousands of young girls right now are being coached by a male, in a male sport, without regard for their gender, age, menstruation cycles, or developmental stage, and suffering significant pathologies primarily knee, hip and lower back issues.

      Male or female, I feel we are reaching an apex of our experimentation with pushing the limits of the physical body where we are needlessly suffering more than the worth of the practice. Especially in the US, we think just because something can be a good thing, more must be better. But as we have seen with all aspects of society, that attitude ultimately causes waste and is not sustainable. As Gandhi said, "we should not mistake what is habitual for what is natural". We have been using and treating our bodies against nature, effectively limiting natural health potential.
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    Nov 7 2011: Sport and dance are creative expressions that definitely require a level of complex brain function, yet it is how the majority of people function within their bodies in everyday activity that is more significant, including in pursuit of knowledge. Look at a selection of various peoples in different vocations and geological areas, and the fascinating thing is the endless variations of movement, subtle and gross, seemingly more sedentary to hyperactive, that are expressed- all of which are perfectly effective levels of movement to achieve an amazing scope of tasks and creation. If you imagine humanity as one organism, such as cells in our own bodies, the liver cells move, but not like blood cells. Yet all cells are relevant and necessary to the organism during their existence.

    Another thought: people and cultures who live the longest do not push their bodies to the limits of possible physical performance. There's a body-mind-spirit balance.
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    Nov 7 2011: Which types of movement do you think fall outside the aggression / attraction sphere, if you assume aggression covers defence and obtaining food and procreative opportunities? Is ballet any different from the mating dances of birds? Is art different in context from the work of the bower bird?
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      Nov 7 2011: The history of dance in humans was for rituals to communicate with and honor gods and spirits, to tell stories, to celebrate, and sometimes to attract a mate depending on the specific culture and time in history. We could say that in our present time in Westernized cultures, non-professional dancing is used for celebration, exercise, sometimes to attract a mate if in a nightclub for example. But when it comes to ballet or other dance professions, it's function is purely to entertain, left to the observer to decide it's relevance. Sometimes telling a story, sometimes not, just like any other art form.

      Having been born into the world of performing arts, I became conflicted with the purpose of dance as a vocation. Many of these dancers push their bodies to unhealthy, unsustainable limits, often neglecting and harming their mental and emotional health, having to depend on drugs (both legal and not) and other therapeutic and medical procedures to keep them "healthy". Once retired, most I have knowledge about suffer significant pathologies for the rest of their lives. I don't think this happens with birds.
  • Nov 7 2011: As commented on Daniel Wolpert's presentation page :
    I personally don't think our particularity as a species is more complex usability of just our bodies.
    Simply because I don't think we humans have the most complex sensory-musculo-skeletal system to start with.
    What in my opinion makes our "brain bigger" is the fact that we've evolved to greater abstraction, giving more sense to movement than just binary "aggression" or "attraction" a lot of other species only perceive.
    And this abstraction also allows us to make sense of/create/define other movements that wouldn't mean a thing if we only were able to interpret 'biological motion".
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    Nov 4 2011: Is evolution about the desires of the individual or the survival of the species? Do you agree with Daniel Wolpert's theory about the purpose of the brain being movement. If you do, why would the development of sophisticated movement skills not indicate advanced evolution?
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    Nov 4 2011: Hi Anne, I think that this summary of what was said is too simplistic. I do not think that they are better but simply part of a whole picture. While we need to move- what is it that needs to move? We need to move our intellect, our relationships, our babies, our goals. I agree that looking only at intelligence is also only part of the picture but we live in an integrated body.
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      Nov 4 2011: Would you suggest that Daniel Wolpert's theory is missing something? If so, how would it need to be extended?
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    Nov 4 2011: the best measure for evolutionary developement is the speed of how quickley u get u r desire fullfiled, dance and sports are skills which some have and some not, which are not the measure of evolution but certain skills only
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    Nov 4 2011: Some instances of malformity may lead to early death or loss of opportunity to procreate, but removal of those instances from the gene pool doesn't remove the malformity from the gene pool. There are also instances where a .malformity in one set of circumstances is an advantage in another environment. And there are some malformities which are directly linked to other characteristics which have clear survival value because the same gene / gene combination causes both.

    There is an argument which says intelligence leads to recognition of what is possible allied to the ability to make it happen, which leads to desire for the possible and action to make it happen, which leads to greed which leads to over-exploitation of resources which leads to destruction of habitat which leads to extinction.

    Or take tradition. There has never been a younger generation which doesn't think it knows better than the previous generation. That can lead to the breakdown of society. It can also lead to breaking through barriers which the previous generation thought immutable. Today's tribalism can be as much about breaking with old tradition and the creation of new, common-interest, tribes which, being new, don't have the burden or riches of tradition.
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      Nov 4 2011: Even though I can see you are dissapointed in the decisions we make which seem to ignore the environmental consequences of our actions, I don't think greed comes from "desire for the possible" - or at least I can't see a direct connection. One can attain their goals or desired and not have any sense of greed. Greed is an extention of hoarding, which has been a survival technique humans have had since probably before farming the earth. Hoarding works quite well if you want to survive a drought or winter. I think the trouble modern culture has is that, by virtue of capitalism, we believe the accumulation of monitary wealth is a form of survival i.e.It's the responsability of the individual to survive without help from the group. As well, power/influence/wisdom by virtue of having the most stuff also considers one a good candidate for procreation. This has superceded the ability for humans to be empathetic or moral. I think our next evolutionary challenge is to realize that survival requires us to be understanding, aware, moral, critical, and empathetic - which are all intelectual pursuits - sort of. Running away from our problems isn't going to solve anything! (sorry, that was too easy :))
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        Nov 4 2011: Actually, disappointed doesn't come into it, I'm curious about people's thinking on this topic, with reference to Daniel Wolpert's research.

        A couple of questions, based on your thoughts. When it comes to having more than you already have, where do you draw the line between greed and aspiration? And when we use money as an abstract symbol of the type of goods which can be hoarded and then used in time of drought or famine, is this valid in today's economies or are we trying to move into a fantasy world?
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    Nov 4 2011: But there are life forms which move but do not appear to apply intelligence. They just move to procreate or for self-preservation. While those are purposes, they are not the product of intelligence.
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    Nov 3 2011: This isn't how evolution works. It's like saying bats are heading towards a dead end for using fingers as wings, or dolphins using they legs as fins.
    There is no primary purpose, only opportunities. For that reason, there is no evolutionary path in the way you mean it.
    If any twisted malformity has selective value, then it's passed on to the next generation.
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      Nov 3 2011: But some twisted malformities are passed on despite having no selective value. There isn't a known filter which removes malformities which don't have value. How would we know whether use of the brain for intellectual pursuits has survival value?

      For example, movement gives access to food, the ability to escape, opportunities for procreation and diversification of the species. Intellectual pursuits gve television and couch potatos, transport and obesity, industry and environmental damage.

      Can we identify whether a malformity lacks survival value and discourage it's proliferation?
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        Nov 3 2011: Well there is a filter, in fact, which removes useless malformities. If you're a male it's called male competition over picky females. That's one of them. Another is the simple survival of the malformed creature that allows it to reach reproductive maturity. Bear in mind that there is a competition for food as well in the animal kingdom, so any disadvantages on your side favours your competitors, and you starve.

        What is the use of intelligence? Well, for one thing, the sacrifices that our brains require are incredibly huge. If intelligence did not have survival value, then we would have been way better off without it. Think of how women give birth so early in the baby's development, just so that the head may get out of the womb. Think of the cost of such prematures for parents surviving in the wild. Think of our fat heads we need to carry around, how much calories we need to keep the brains spinning...
        So what was the use? Well, it seems our creativity is our only means of survival in the wild. We have no fangs, no claws, no fur. Some thinkers disagree with the idea that creativity is directly rewarded with clever inventions : instead, they believe creativity was rewarded when it allowed the member of a tribe to figure out how to blend in, to serve tradition and thus reinforce culture (hence precious knowledge... )

        A naked dude in the jungle has a ten hour life expectancy. But a tribe with tradition may survive in any climate, provided its tradition are adequate and provided the members of the tribe stick to traditions. So we're culture-carrying animals. This is what we need creativity for. To understand traditions and assimilate cultural knowledge quickly.