"Higher" life form criterion

[Martin Taylor 990201 8:50]

[From Bill Powers (990201.0618 MST)]

Martin Taylor 990201 01:56 --

What life form is "lower" than what other? And
according to what criterion?

I would rank life-forms in terms of their ability to control their
environments. Human beings are by far the most skillful in this regard.

I think you inadvertently missed an "in" in your comment. I assume you
mean "their ability to control _in_ their environments." Nobody
controls their environment, if by "environment" you mean the sources of
disturbances to their perceptions.

On what basis do you assert that human beings control best of all life
forms?

Just as frequent reorganization implies poor control, rapid evolution
implies a life-form, many of whose members do not control well. To assess
how well a life form enables its members to control, we have to look at
its rate of reorganization--that is, of evolutionary change in the form.
We are a life-form that seems to be evolving rapidly. It's not many tens
of thousands of years since Homo Sapiens (what an inappropriate name:-)
first appeared on the earth. On that basis, we are, according to your
criterion, one of the "lowest" of life forms.

Based on a criterion of how long a life-form has managed to remain
unchanged in the face of great disturbances, I don't think you have
much evidence for your assertion. Depending on how you define "human,"
our form has been around only for one, two, or perhaps five million years,
or much less than one million.

Cockroaches and sharks beat us "hands down":slight_smile: They've been controlling
pretty well in a wide variety of environments without appreciably changing
their form for 300 million years, in the face of disturbances great enough
to destroy, in one case about 95% of all species, and in another case all
the dinosaurs. That's a pretty good record. Those extinct species didn't
have members who could control in the face of those big disturbances, but
cockroaches and sharks could.

I don't think the current behaviour of humans is likely to lead to this
kind of longevity for our life-form, but it's a little early to tell.
On your criterion, there are a few bacteria that probably have the greatest
claim to being the "highest" life form.

You have to find another criterion if you are controlling for perceiving
humans to be "highest." Popeye is our example--we are what we are. So are
all the other living control systems.

I do accept that humans _create_ disturbances in the environments of
other life-forms that their members cannot control against, and that our
influence causes them to be unable to control--to go extinct--in numbers
unprecedented for the last 65 million years. Perhaps that is the criterion
we want--the ability to cause disturbances against which other life forms
cannot control, or, in other words, the ability to win conflicts against
members of other species. On that criterion, perhaps we _are_ the highest
life form.

Morally, it's not a nice criterion, but it's the only one I can think of at
the moment. I prefer simply to regard the notion of "higher" and "lower"
as inappropriate to the comparison of species.

Martin