Monday, July 22, 2013

Does the Binary Feature Signal Greater Complexity?

Titanokorys gainesi from the front. (Illustration by Lars Fields/Royal Ontario Museum)
The largest known animal of the Cambrian Period lived around 541 million years ago.

The unity of organic life can be explained by several paradigms. Evolution is one of them. In science we must go with the paradigm or hypothesis that best aligns with the physical evidence. Creatures with 2 legs, 2 arms and 2 eyes speaks about the the development of bilateralism (as a precursor to greater complexity and hierarchies). Consider how binary language used in computer science has led to great complexity. Random sequences degrade. Binary sets increase complexity.

The earliest fossils are neither vegetation nor animal. They are largely without bilateral symmetry and binary features. In the Precambrian organisms we find neither bilateralism nor any bivalves. With such features emerges the potential for greater diversity and complexity. Too little attention is given to such signals or triggers in the fossil record.

Shown right: Enalikter aphson, Silurian rocks (425 mgrs), Herefordshire (Dorsal-view)

Alice C. Linsley

Metaphysics, anthropology, and biology seem to agree that the binary feature signals greater complexity. The philosopher Jacques Derrida believed binary sets stimulate the mind to explore more complex levels of meaning, and anthropologist Levi-Strauss discovered that the binary sets of primitive peoples represent complex patterns of thought. If we regard symmetry as a reflection of binary sets, the diversity that emerges in the Cambrian explosion might have been triggered by the emergence of binary and symmetrical features.

Biblical Anthropology delves into the oldest layers of the biblical material looking for information that is anthropologically significant in reconstructing cultural antecedents. This approach has proved extremely useful in gaining a clearer picture of Abraham's Nilo-Saharan ancestors. A fascinating aspect of the biblical worldview is its binary feature, which I discuss here.

The binary worldview found in the Bible should not be confused with dualism. In dualism, the entities of the binary set are regarded as equal. In the binary reasoning, one of the entities of the set is recognized as superior in visible ways to the other. It is universally observed that the human male is larger and stronger than the human female. In the binary set Sun-Moon, the sun is recognized as the greater light (Genesis 1). The light of the Moon is refulgent. It reflects the glory of the Sun. Binary sets in the Bible involve a hierarchy. The binary references are often subtle and missed when one reads the text casually. Hot is not pleasant, but most people find cool pleasant. Consider the distinction between the oak and the palm (tamar). The male prophet at Mamre sat under an oak (representing the masculine principle). Deborah sat under a palm (representing the feminine principle). Moses' people were saved when they put the blood of the lamb on the doors. Rahab's family was saved when she hung a scarlet cord from her window. A mother's milk represents life for her offspring. The distinction between life and death is not to be blurred. Therefore, the people are told not to boil a baby goat in its mother's milk (Ex. 23:19; Ex. 34:26, Deut. 14:21). 

The order of creation as described in Genesis 1 speaks of binary distinctions established by the Creator.  He separates light and dark, the waters above ("firmament") and the waters below, the dry land and sea, and from these distinctions emerges the great complexity and diversity that we see today.

Another binary distinction is between humans and plants. Onanism was forbidden because the seed that should fall to the earth is the seed of plants, which spring forth from the earth. The seed of man should fall on his own type (the womb), from which man comes forth.

There is a binary distinction between humans and non-human animals. Bestiality was forbidden as it blurs the distinction between humans and animals. 

I am able to generate this blog post for people to read on their devices is because of binary language. The binary language of computers has brought us a world of great complexity and diversity.

This binary thinking has been studied by other anthropologists, the most famous of whom is Claude Lévi-Strauss who observed binary thinking among preliterate Amazon tribes. In his book, Le cru et le cuit, Strauss explores cultural perceptions of natural/raw-prepared/cooked, and other oppositions within primitive cultures.

Lévi-Strauss dedicated himself to searching for the "underlying patterns of thought in all forms of human activity." He argued on the basis of his anthropological findings that the primitive mind has the same structures or patterns as the civilized mind. These observations culminated in his famous book Tristes Tropiques, which positioned him as the central figure in the structuralist school.

Levi-Strauss and others have noted that the binary sets are the basis of complex thought about the world. Similarly, computer science demonstrates that great complexity emerges from binary language.

Abraham's Nilo-Saharan ancestors named in the the Genesis king Lists observed binary sets in the order of creation, such as east-west, male-female, day-night, dry-wet, raw-cooked, life-death, and heaven-earth. Further, they observed these binary sets as a fixed or unchanging reality. We might speculate that this fixed binary feature led to the metaphysical conception of the Creator as immutable, but we would be getting ahead of ourselves.

The question is whether there is evidence in the history of biological life on earth for binary features being antecedent to the emergence of greater complexity?

The fossil record certainly suggests that this is the case. The earliest fossils (shown below) are neither vegetation nor animal. They are without symmetry and binary features. In the Precambrian organisms we find neither bilateralism nor any bivalves. Once these features emerge we begin to see greater diversity and complexity (the so-called Cambrian "explosion" which lasted 90 million years).

Diskgama buttonii

Among archaic humans we find both bilateralism and a bicameral brain. Add to this the ability to observe binary sets and ponder relationships. The smallest brained Australopithecus would have noted the distinctions of night-day and raw-cooked. He also would have recognized a mystery in that there are in-between moments. There is that mysterious moment just before dawn and that moment when the food is no longer raw, yet not quite cooked. He would have observed that the Sun always rises over a mountain in the east and casts the mountain's shadow, yet there are no shadows when it is directly overhead. Thus to the binary aspect is added an in-between category and the recognition of something mysterious.

Lucy's brain was small, but with both anatomical and external binary features, she had the basis for more complex thought such as mentioned above. Complexity of thought does not require a large brain. It requires the binary feature of the brain and the ability to observe the binary features of the world in which we live. Computer science has shown the exponential increase in sophisticated processes that come from binary language. The sudden increase in organic diversity in the Cambrian Explosion exhibits suggests that the binary feature was a factor.

Additionally, there is another level of complexity that emerges from recognition of binary sets. It is synecdoche in which totality is expressed by contrasting parts. This is expressed in figures of speech such as: "I searched high and low" or "He worked day and night." These merisms reflect greater complexity of thought, yet synedoche is found in the oldest layers of the Genesis material, as has been observed by Cyrus Herzl Gordon. He notes that the phrase “good and evil”( טוֹב וָרָע ) is a merism and this is verified by the context. The serpent urges Eve to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil so that she might become like God who knows everything (Gen. 3:1-5).

Brain size, therefore, is over-estimated in assessments of the complexity of thought among archaic humans. Why not direct attention to the discovery of evidence of recognition of binary features and the emergence of complex thought among archaic humans? This is right up Biblical Anthropology's alley!

Related reading: Theories Abut the Cambrian ExplosionThe Binary Aspect of the Biblical WorldviewLevi-Strauss and Derrida on Binary Oppositions; Was Lucy Human?; Meat Consumption Three Million Years Ago; Questioning the Common Ancestry Hypotheses, Biblical Anthropology and the Question of Common Ancestry; Symmetry

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