If we look at language, for example, we see structure. If we'd only use sounds to designate things, language would be pretty primitive. Grnt = stone, grntz = dinosaur burger. It would also, paradoxically, be very complex, because we would have to memorize every single word in use. Grammar reduces this complexity by categorizing individual units, classes of words with different meanings and functions, into an overarching system enabling coherent, and even abstract, thought: language. In this light, the Minitrue's crime in Orwell's 1984 is all the more egregious, because the ministry consciously reduces the complexity of language to render exactly this coherence and flexibility of structure impossible. (As a linguaphile, this was one of the most horrific moments of the book for me. Changing history is nothing new; there's the old chestnut about history being written by the conquerors. Just check some of my older blogs and you will see the perpetual clash between conflicting "realities" - or fake news, as some would call it. Abuse and power play have also been with us for as long as we can remember. But taking away what is arguably our greatest ever invention, language? Now that is truly evil.)
The beauty of compartmentalization is that we are able to learn progressively. Take verbs: there is simply no need to learn every single declension of all verbs. If you know the infinitive, you can use rules to construct conjugations you never learned. From a certain level on, these acquired subroutines become ingrained and relegated to a subconscious part of the mind, freeing up space for new information in the process. This is how children learn so much in such a short time: their brains are built to be challenged, used and filled with information. A teacher's most rewarding and important job is to stimulate and guide these processes. As with Orwell's Minitrue, I think it is a grave crime if people are willingly kept dumb, denied the basic right to this, our most extraordinary gift of gab. Hence Carl Sagan's timeless image of science (and, by extension, the desire for knowledge) as a "candle in the dark". (Needless to say, many religions don't want their believers to acquire too much knowledge. Light might well dispel the darkness of ignorance.) A book sale I visit every year has a category of books called "brain food", and I invariably end up taking home some of the choicest morsels. I am convinced that we should feed both our bodies and minds with the healthiest and spiciest sustenance available. The internet, for all its flaws and doomsday scenarios, could be a fantastic tool for expanding our cerebral diet - although it would still require guidance and insight to sift through the muck of its many less salubrious offerings.
True believers often coin the term "irreducible complexity", which usually simply means they don't have a clue how something works, but it sure looks mighty complicated, ergo it must have been created, hence god, QED. It doesn't require a lot of brain cells to spot the fallacy here. Lots of smart, erudite and well-educated scientists have been patiently and tirelessly explaining how every complex machine can be disassembled into subunits: as with everything, it's a matter of cooperation. Our bodies are a beautiful example. Most of the irreduceability magically disappears once we note the corresponding parts and similar functions in other animals. Eyes (the creationist's textbook example of "explain this then!") evolved independently around 40 times, meaning there are about 40 different ways organisms use body parts for seeing or otherwise sensing a light source in various gradations of resolution. On a molecular level, our immune system is a collective of building blocks, so that a tiny set of antibodies is able to defend the body against literally millions of potential and unfamiliar viral & bacterial threats - remarkably simple and impressively effective. Going down, we encounter beautiful and intricate communities on every level, all the way down to the mysterious subatomic world. We are composed of trillions of cells, every single one being a cooperative unit; as a crude simplification, you could view every single cell as a tiny organism that swallowed another, even tinier, one. We are, literally, legion. The complexity arises because of the way all these tiny parts work together to create larger subunits, which in turn combine and interact. At some point something very interesting happened: a kind of feedback loop was created, and we became self-aware. As with everything, this probably wasn't an on/off switch moment but a prolonged and extremely gradual change. This can easily be inferred from the fact that many other organisms have some sort of crude self-awareness system as well. In us, it has really taken off, and I can only recommend Douglas Hofstadter's "I Am A Strange Loop" here if you want to read more about this exciting phenomenon. In manufactured intelligence, many pundits prophesy a similar moment where AI will also close the loop and become self-aware, a point in time usually referred to as the singularity. Hollywood's wettest dreams regularly result in lurid and garish blockbusters about the (usually catastrophic) results of this new dawn of artificial consciousness.
Yet another creationist delusion is that all this complexity would have to arise spontaneously, which only serves to show how little they understand the process of evolution that drives everything. The clearest definition of evolution that I know is "the non-random accumulation of random mutations". So you see there are 2 vital parts: chance and a rigorous culling process filtering out useful adaptations. The image of a whirlwind blowing through a scrapyard, assembling a Boeing 747 by chance, is still one of the most ridiculous arguments I have ever encountered. (Theoretically, there *is* a chance that this could happen, but that chance is so Vanishingly small that we can safely divine it will never happen during the lifetime of our universe. In the same time, we would probably acquire several complete editions by Shakespeare typed entirely by monkeys, and you know how probable *that* is.) A simple illustration: take a ton of Lego bricks. No matter how hard you throw them around, the chance that anything useful or resembling something comes out is Vanishingly small. (This is literally what some muslim fruitcake did in a youtube video I once saw: putting Lego stones in a little bag, rattling the bag and taking out a tiny helicopter. To his tiny deluded brain, this somehow proved the existence of al-lah. Derisory laughter is acceptable at this point.) If you want to build something complex, you have to break down the complexity and build smaller units, connecting them in the end. This is how we make everything, because we learned it from nature. (I'm pretty sure there are some modern artists who try to do it a different way; the results, though charming in their own way, are always the result of serendipity. But then, we should never underestimate that one.) Returning to the language idea I started with, we find the same system at work there. Complexity, long sentences, intricate syntax, layers of meaning: everything can be dissected back to its building blocks and tools. The philosopher Daniel Dennett calls these tools cranes, as opposed to the unexplained and improbable "skyhooks" usually favored by religion. Everything in our life is a matter of cranes building smarter cranes. Newton's "standing on the shoulders of giants" quip could be viewed in the same light, as scientific discovery often builds on the achievements of predecessors. Sure, there might be a happy moment of serendipity, but to make sense of the new discovery it will need to be analyzed, that is: taken apart.
What is more: our brains *need* to work like this. We positively crave challenges. During our lifetime, we encounter lots of subtly different situations, and our brains should be able to cope with all of them. A system of simple cranes that can be used in any combination is priceless because it creates an endless amount of ways to look at things or do things. Animals that don't have this assembly kit in their minds are more set in their ways; there have been many stories about animals dying because they were unable to change a familiar pattern in an emergency. One could even say the very definition of creativity is the possibility to reassemble thought patterns into new combinations and permutations. This is the difference between us and most other animals, although there are many animals that showcase a certain amount of creativity and "out-of-the-box" thinking as well (crows, dolphins, rats, apes...), which makes them surprisingly adept at problem-solving. We tend to anthropomorphize this behaviour but obviously it only points out all the stronger towards our shared genetic heritage.
Humanity's culture is full of games, tales, puzzles, riddles and the like, which shows our insatiable hunger for mental exercise, surprise and suspense. Jokes give unexpected twists to familiar thought patterns, violating our expectations. And even our morality is constructed like this, although you might not like this conclusion. Kant argued about a categorical imperative, but what exactly does the imperative demand? No two humans share the exact same system of values and morals, it's always an individual collection largely dictated by our biotope. (The more contact you have with others, the more complex your system needs to be.) We have an all-important and versatile mechanism enabling us to make choices in all kinds of situations, a part of which is used for creating our morality system. In Salman Rushdie's (excellent) new book The Golden House some characters philosophize about morality being in constant need of calibrating. And speaking of Rushdie: in his first novel, Grimus, the titular character orders his (immortal) followers to develop a personal obsession to cope with the inevitable boredom of immortality. If there is nothing more to learn, do or discover, we die or go crazy. (The same goes for Psychoville's Oscar Lomax, who throws away the last stuffed animal completing his priceless collection because a finished collection would render his existence useless.) The final image of both the bible's Revelations and William Blake's Jerusalem (which is based on Revelations) is the eternal city of light, Jerusalem, where the happy few selected by JHWH can live in unchanging bliss. You can probably guess that this sounds like the worst kind of hell to me, a kind of brain death. It is for precisely the same reason that fairytales always end at this exact moment, wrapping up the uninteresting remainder in the laconic "and they lived happily ever after". How dreary. Not that I do not wish a happy life for everybody, it is just that it will be all the happier when there are always new things to discover, learn or be amazed at. You are more than welcome to your paradise, but don't count me in.