Thursday, April 25, 2013

Evolution Responses

Compiling responses to Hope Part 3 and Hope Part 4. Part 5 will follow.

hoohah writes: "...your argument still focuses exclusively on the unlimited opportunities for development that random changes at the organism level allow *in principle* without acknowledging the crucial role of *the specific environments* in which these organisms happen to live at the time of the random mutations occur, which is what determines what developmental paths get sustained."

The specific environments determine what developmental paths get sustained, but also, which ones are created to begin with. As this one said above, if the environment allowed developmental paths to be sustained over the course of so many reproductive cycles that a 99% complete organ was ready to become a 100% complete organ, then organisms at all stage of that organ's development--from 1% to 99% complete--have proven their ability to survive in that environment. The best response to that is to say that it was only the 100% complete versions of that specific organism which were able to finally drive the 1%-99% organisms to extinction, but even if we speculate such an erratic conclusion, it does not explain the absence from the fossil record of the 1%-99% organisms. There should be not only some of those 1-99% organisms, but far more of them than there are of the 100% complete ones, because intermediary stages of development would take so comparatively long.

dietl writes: "My "little" mathematical problem here is that you ignore here that some combinations of elements are more common than others, just like some elements are more common than others. Nearly half of the elements that exist in the earth's crust is oxygen. If you express it mathematically like you did you treat every element as equal, which they aren't."

Exactly! The Earth is equipped with oxygen, and its atmosphere is what we call "air," which is why air-breathing creatures developed. If mutations actually were random, then random genes should be developed that would be configured to respirate not only air, but all other elements and combinations thereof (or at least a reasonable statistical sampling, which would greatly overshadow in numbers the design suited to that rare combination that we call "air"). Under Market-Style Evolution, there's no way for the organisms to "know" that they should be focusing on combinations favoring oxygen (or nitrogen), so the combinational development would be random.

dietl writes: "The other thing is that I don't quite see how this stands in any relation to the cells of Alexandra. Are you suggesting that the cells can form with so many possibilities? I guess not, because mutations are about the DNA and not about the cells themself that change within a generation."

Life has proven itself to be what we would call "resilient." Bacteria are able to live in space, deep-sea-creatures are able to live in zero-light environments of extreme pressure and temperature, and many creatures (amphibians) can breathe both gases and liquids. Cells (bacteria) can even be developed to eat up toxic pollutants.

Ergo, cells can evolve with great possibility. The initial example of Alexandra's lungs is actually a very limited example. Not only should many Alexandras be developing partial ammonia lungs, if mutations are random; Alexandra should also be developing a world full of utterly random things, such as three-jointed arms growing out of her forehead, extra anal openings on her back, and unexplained lips on her elbows. These things would (probably) be detrimental, but according to Market-Style Evolution, we already know that detrimental mutations can survive for millions of years while they're waiting to be "finished."

hoohah writes: "The section on probabilities sounds about right, but the weakest spot is the section on no mutations being beneficial until they are complete --> you are forgetting (or at least getting it backwards) that the only reason why certain traits persisted is that all the members of the species that did not have them (or had another variety), for whatever reasons died."

Take two organisms side by side: a four-appendaged organism developed to climb trees for safety (Group 1), and a four-appendaged organism that has begun, through random mutation, to develop a discrete mass of bone on its backside (Group 2). The bone mass in Group 2 grows over millions of generations, mutating larger and larger, until finally a fifth appendage begins to form: a stump. Because these mutations are random, the stump often sticks out of the left hipbone (Group 2-LEFT), the right hipbone (Group 2-RIGHT), the anal opening itself (Group 2-ASS), the back (Group 2-BACK), and, quite rarely, a convenient distance above the anal opening (Group 2-STUMP). The stump interferes with resting position, is exposed to breakage that can threaten the spine and drastically increase the risk of infection and reduce the ability to run from predators, et cetera.

Now, which organism is more efficient? Which will survive? Group 1, or Group 2? Group 1, certainly. The bone mass upsets everything about the organism, and Group 1 is far more efficient. And even within Group 2, which organism set is more efficient? Will 2-RIGHT or 2-LEFT possibly develop a fifth reaching and grasping appendage that could aid in climbing and fighting off rearward enemies? The interference with bowel movements of 2-ASS might kill it right off, but then again, the bone could become part of the digestive tract, allowing it to process rougher foods, and giving it a better chance. Maybe a strong protrusion in 2-ASS would be a fighting-worthless but mating-worthwhile sex signal, like a peacock's feathers--the longer, thicker, and prouder the protrusion, the more desirable the mate. So, its worthlessness (and the fact that it makes it harder to escape predators) would be overruled by mating chances.

Group 2-STUMP, though, eventually develops a tail. And according to Market-Style Evolution, Group 3-TAIL then proxy-assassinates not only all the intermediate sub-groups of Group 2, but also Group 1, which spent millions of strains being more efficient than Group 2. The stump atop the anal opening turns out to be so good for balancing that it helps with tree movement, even after hindering tree movement for millions of generations, without resulting in the elimination of Group 2-STUMP in favor of Group 1. Why does Group 2-TAIL eliminate Group 1-NO TAIL, but Group 1-NO TAIL does not eliminate Group 2-WORTHLESS, CALORIE-CONSUMING BONE MASS?

Natural selection has to fail to operate on inefficient organisms for millions of potential strains, in order for Market-Style Evolution to work, and step in only when it is "the right time" to kill off the predecessor to the successful new group, leaving no intermediary trace behind. That's what makes it require divine guidance, a la Dawkins' cumulative selection, with a preferred end result choosing what will stay and what will go.

Incidentally, the evidence--the hands-on, scientific, observational evidence--is against random mutation. The fossil record includes Group 1-NO TAIL, and Group 2-TAIL, but it does not include the massive quantity of potential variations on Group 2-PRE-TAIL that it would have to in order to explain the random confluence of bone, muscle, neuron, vein, skin, hair, et cetera, that would be necessary to have randomly developed 2-TAIL through competitive trial and error.

Dinosaurs, for example, evolved into birds. How many millions of years does it take for a set of creatures, its habit vanishing as it undergoes mass extinction of its entire social support network, food chain, and geology, to evolve not only one feather, but bodies covered in them, simultaneously with lighter skeletons, altered muscle and brain structures, and arms turning into wings? And why aren't there extinct species with beaks growing out of their stomachs, hair growing on their elbows, single feathers growing out of their foreheads, or proto-telekinetic nubs at the ends of their tails? How did a few million years of habitat change (or much, much shorter if you adhere to Big Comet theory) cause this ludicrous jump from dinosaur to bird? And why does the fossil record show the "before" and "after," but, like an infomercial for a special new diet, no "in-between"?

Why does the evidence, instead, show us that, as the dinosaur habitat receded, dinosaurs followed an inerrant path toward birds and modern reptiles, leaving no false starts behind?

Did the Devil sponge something out of the file record? When evidence is missing, should we conclude that a theory must be right anyway? Or should we, instead, consider the evidence as we find it, rather than as we want it to be, and conclude, based upon a fossil record of smooth transition, that life is evolving in tune with its environment?

The galileaic conclusion, if you will, is to go with the observed evidence--the openly-accessible fossils and geological record of our planet, and the story they actually tell us at this point in time, rather than our own projections of competitive nothings that led to the evolution of superior western democracy and education.


  1. The argument is pretty decent, and I don't know enough about the finer details of evolutionary theory to keep arguing it, but at a minimum, it doesn't seem that the conventional wisdom ignores the issue of transitional fossils. Wikipeding this baby returns this list of transitional fossils:

    And also one specifically concerning the dinosaur-bird transition

    (Why should random mutations include beeks on the elbow? It seems the preexisting structure of the organism guides the likely future variation - so a variation in the length and type of the beek seems far more likely than a whole new beek showing up elsewhere out of the blue)

    Either way, whether this is the point or no, I personally find little consolation in either interpretation - all that we know is possible thanks to the "self" - regardless of how it evolved, and the ultimate fate of the self is destruction. The only unknown is whether it is simply a random descent in the darkness of entropy, or a reunification with some sort of "ultimate beginning". Either way, the self's gotta go, and there is no way to really judge it adequately from any line of reasoning - since all of them must include the separation of the "self" and the rest.

    Prioritizing and loving life seems like the only obvious response regardless, and offers nothing in return, not should it.

  2. And I know you addressed Gould in the part about complexity, but the reciprocal issue is the fact, as he and others estimate, that overwhelming majority of life is extremely simple - bacteria and insects. He suggests that 80% of all biomass is bacteria. Millions of species of bacteria, hundreds of thousand species of insects. Compare this with a paltry few thousand (!) species of mammals.

    You also suggested the ore complex life becomes, the more efficiently it processes energy. I don't think this is true, and probably can be shown with equations:
    What could be more efficient than a plant or a uni-cellular organism synthesizing their own nutrients and energy directly from sun exposure?

    Mammals are clearly inefficient here: we have to wait for plants to grow, so we could eat them. And of course, energy is lost at every transformation.

    The top predators in particular (including us) have to depend on a complex food chain, at each step of which energy is lost, so they can scoop some concentrated, limited stuff at the top. That's why you need tens of square miles of territory just to be able to support one mountain lion...

    If you extend this reasoning, to humans, how can we blame our own top predators? They are doing the same thing: using the teeming masses of humanity's energy, they defeat entropy locally by sucking up the life from many, to create an ever more awesome and concentrated pockets of "progress" for themselves.

    Surely the blood and sweat of thousands of migrant workers is no big price to pay for the gleaming sky-scrapers in Dubai? Just like the insects, the grass, the deer etc. ultimately cooperate in harmony so that a handful of lions could feast on the highly concentrated energy goodness that is meat...

    1. (Gould is addressed in the series' continuation, forthcoming. As is the reason Market-Style Evolution is so popular to the ruling classes.)

  3. Hi,
    I appreciate how much time you spend in your philosophical blog and you should definitely keep going :-)
    The thing is that I don't really have anything new to add to your responses, so let's focus on the things we agree on:
    -Life is complex and wonderfull.
    -There are billions of possibilities how live could evolve in the future.
    -Evolution has nothing to do with the free-market or any other political theory.
    -There are many misconceptions in the scientific community about the theory of natural selection.
    -It should prove itself against hard critique if it is an appropriate representation of processes in the real world.