Friday, August 30, 2019

Primitive Prehuman Ancestor's Newly Constructed Face "Mesmerizing" - But Does It Indicate Emergence Of a "Soul"? No

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The first relatively reliable "human like" face of one of our primitive primate ancestors (cf. WSJ, 'Human Ancestor's Face Is Found', August 29, p. A3) is a remarkable milestone.  It's even been described as "mesmerizing"  by  one paleo-anthropologist. This is given that the reconstructed face (left side of image) is incredibly lifelike yet derived from a skull (right side)  of a creature nearly 3.8 million years old "that stood on the cusp of apes and humans."

As the cited WSJ article points out (ibid.):

"The fossilized head bones reveal for the first time the blunt snout, broad cheeks and narrow forehead of a distant human relation called Australopithecus anamensis, who may have vied for survival in the primeval scrub of East Africa at the same time as the iconic human ancestor 'Lucy' and her kin".

According to paleoanthropologist Yohannes Haile- Selassie of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, who led the international team that uncovered the nearly complete cranium in Ethiopia::

"What we see is a very primitive face."

Added William Kimbel, director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University:

"It helps fill out a picture of the earliest human skull in a period that until now has been almost vacant in the fossil record.  It provides a baseline from which we can eventually see the emergence of the human face."

Some religionists, of course, may also see this as the biological cue for the emergence of the human soul.  As I wrote in my recent published  letter to Physics Today,  e.g.

Readers' thoughts on science and religion: Physics Today: Vol 71, No 6

on science and religion and why they are so mutually antagonistic:

"Pope Francis, while he acknowledges Darwinian evolution, is still not prepared to accept the wholly naturalistic process dependent on natural selection—mutation. Instead we read, “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve,” and “He [God] created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws [emphasis added] that He gave to each one so they would reach fulfillment.

In other words, Francis accepted Darwinian evolution, but with a proviso: that a deity had to allow humans to develop according to "internal laws He gave each reach fulfillment" .  In other words the attachment of an essential "individuality" meant there had to be an interjection of a "soul" at some point. As I went on to write: 

"if the role of random evolutionary forces is neglected and the creation of “souls” is given prominence, then the door of inquiry is left open to supernatural agents."

But of course this was precisely the Pope's intention. Because minus  an individual "soul" there is no meaning or basis for an afterlife and without an afterlife the hold of mainstream religion collapses. Declaring "sins", advancing dogmas and so on then becomes an irrelevant pastime for the clergy of whatever religion.

Frank Zindler, in a piece in The American Atheist ('Spirits, Souls and Clones') wrote:

"Catholics must believe that only a scheming deity can make a human soul. They must believe that it is this soul that makes a body human.... If it be admitted that our bodies evolved from the bodies of animals possessed of neither souls nor spirits, and that injections of souls or spirits are unitary acts of a god operating within the limits of space and time, embarrassing questions leap to mind.

It is certain that we are descended, generation after generation, from ancestors who are less human-like as the line of descent is traced back to Homo erectus, Homo habilis, Australopithecus, or even more primitive primates. Nevertheless, it is also clear that no particular generation in this line differed any more from its parent generation than do we from our parents. So how did god decide which generation had become just human enough to warrant the infusion of souls?"

As I also wrote in a blog post last month (July 12):

"As we all know, and can be grown-up enough to say, neither the descendants of apes, or apes themselves possess "souls". There is only a brain, but it is ample to generate consciousness as I already showed in my 'Materialist Model of Consciousness'. Thus, when a human (or ape) dies, that's it. He is gone and there is nothing left - nothing to "punish" and nothing to go on. This hard fact may be why so many evangelicals refuse to accept evolution: they don't want to accept: a) they have no souls, and b) when they're dead, that's it, finito.....

So the most primitive hominid ancestor (Ardipithecus Kadabba) depicted at the lower left, from 6 million years ago - possessed no soul - nor did the evolutionary continuum following onward, i.e. to Homo Habilis and Homo Sapiens (upper right). Hence, when either died there would be nothing to go on, to survive in any afterlife.  Nor would there be some unexpected, magical "break out" point in between,  at which a soul suddenly manifests. "

The quotes  above highlight issues Mr. Zindler also  brought up in a previous American Atheist article, 'Spirit, Souls and Mind', i.e.  that the word "soul" like so many others ("demon", "ghost") was invented  but "refers to nothing in reality".    The central point made later in that article was (ibid.):

"The fact that nearly all words now meaning 'soul', 'spirit',  'life' etc. trace their origins to words meaning 'breath' or 'wind' leads me to conclude the derived meanings were an outgrowth of primitive people to solve a basic biological puzzle, namely, what constitutes the difference between a live body and a dead one?"

At a more fundamental level the answer is neural activity.  Live bodies have this, but dead ones don't.  If we then agree neural activity is mistaken for the presence of what had formerly been called "soul" we are getting somewhere. As this neural basis is more central than taking breaths or inhaling.   Did our prehuman ancestor display neural activity? Of course, at least while alive.  Did that mean it had a "soul" even given its more humanesque face (as opposed to ape face).? No.

Flash now to the announcement in today;'s WSJ ('Neural Activity Similar To Babies Observed In Engineered Models', p. A3)  that "miniature engineered reconstructions of the developing brain" have been made in a lab by which "patterns of neural activity" imitating very young brains, have been recorded.  This from "roughly half pea-sized balls of brain cells known as cerebral organoids"

Basically, "lab-grown human brain models"

These lab grown entities were extracted from human stem cells. Did they possess a "soul"? Well, no more than a human zygote in utero - which the RC Church raises Cain about in reaction to any abortion procedure - precisely became a soul is believed to exist therein.

We also learn:

"The work raises ethical concerns about eventually re-creating brain functions like pain perception and consciousness in the lab."

Raise ethical concerns though it may, the work gets closer to the Materialist Model of Mind I had posited nearly 9 years ago,  e.g.

A Materialist Model of Consciousness (III)

In which I proposed - as I had in my first book, The Atheist's Handbook To Modern Materialism, that :"soul' was rendered totally redundant and consciousness emerged from quantum considerations, in relation to certain molecular transport, for example of Ca ++ ions.   (Physicist Henry Stapp ('Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics') showed that application of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to Ca+2 ions -involved in neural transmissions at body temperature- disclosed the associated wave packet dimension increases to many times the size of the ion itself.)   In other words, there was a role for quantum mechanics.

The takeaway from the cerebral organoid  lab experiments is that electrical- neural activity can be artificially induced in engineered model cells.  Though yes, it might be too early to ascertain whether these organoids resemble an actual developing brain, the experiments do solve one issue: that it is in fact feasible to imitate neural activity from rudimentary brain cells and which has no "soul" component to it. 

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