Monday, April 15, 2013

Hope 4 ~ Math, Market, & Lightwaves


Overview

Parts 1 and 2 of this series discussed the hyperabundance of energy available to life for use in things like eating nice food and flying spaceships. Most recently, Part 3 introduced Lightform Evolution, or the theory that matter and energy tend to attract one another, resulting in the evolution of interdependent structures that can more efficiently serve as energy conduits. This touched on the market-style evolution fostered to current popularity by the powerful, e.g., what might be considered the standard "evolution" debate.

This Part 4 will begin furthering the discussion pursuant to this framework:

(1) We'll begin by touching on increasing specialization in the sciences, and how it results in limiting permissible inquiry sets.

(2) We'll then turn to probably the most fun, controversial part of Market-Style Evolution v. Lightform, namely, the conflict between mathematical probability and the competitive Marketplace, and how the Market paladins have attempted to save their outlook by inducing models of random change that are both directed and yet still random. hoohah and dietl were both kind enough to provide a defense of the old model Dawkins adopted as his own.

(3) After that, we'll consider why arguments that life has reached, or nearly reached (or that we are currently able to perceive), an upper limit on refinement presuppose normative judgments about potential, both upper and lower. (This would be Gould's narrow hallway.)

(4) Next, we'll expand our scope to astrophysics, and look at the conflict between deductive and inductive reasoning playing out in that discipline, and how it compares to the same in evolutionary biology.

(5) We will close by integrating all these concepts with academia, medicine, exploitative economies, and essential philosophy, and see why Market-Style Evolution is so powerfully, inductively integral to Earth's current elites.

Factory Labor

Scientists used to be people who did science; now, they're only people who have proper degrees, grants, organizational affiliations, and journal-approved publications. They may not even do their science, but instead, serve--like senior professors, judges, lawyers, physicians, project managers, and businessmen--as mere overseers, who collect the results' of their graduate students' work, sit in on university hiring and course-offering committees, occasionally answer a question on NPR, and teach a small-section course for handpicked graduate students, where the students get to "practice being a professor" by presenting their work to other students (while the older, salaried teacher sits there, nodding, before giving bland congratulations, or making an incisive comment about something else that could've been covered). If they're really important, they give interviews to places other than NPR, or put together some of their old research and their graduate students' work into book form, and get it marketed alongside best new fiction.

Working scientists--those without supervisory or tenured employment--quite frequently do well-meaning work, limited by their funding. Funding comes from the government, major corporations, and universities, and it comes based on grant proposals, which are written based on the desire to get funding. In order to get grants, get respect, or get even remotely-acceptable jobs in any field, you must be familiar with highly-specialized journals addressing only a very limited set of concepts. Certain types of specialized chemistry, biology, pharmacology, and particle physics, though intrinsically related, are subdivided within themselves to such a degree that their end-users, and participants, read and become aware only of things that journal publishers will treat as respectable and publish nationwide.

What we now call scientists, then, are--surprise, surprise, just like the rest of the world--economically mandated to be professionally aware of only a very small subset of science. It grows increasingly popular in the twenty-first century to view "scientists" as impartial scions of the enlightenment, lost in the pursuit of knowledge, even though most westerners are otherwise comfortably able to recognize that a tire salesman is not actually interested in the safety of their passengers, but just wants to sell new tires.

Whatever the more dire employment prospects in the humanities, the pressure on new STEM postgrads remains immense. Approaching or in their thirties, saddled with 10 years of debt (and maybe considering wanting stuff like "house" or "family"), and being increasingly overshadowed by engineer drones who can fill most of their job requirements straight out of a bachelor's degree, the financial need to pick a popular focus and start bolstering conventional wisdom can be, understandably, overpowering.

Many, many acknowledged scientists, as a hobby, may venture out of their own professional fields, just as may amateurs. If those scientists, however, inside or outside of their field, begin criticizing conventional, profitable wisdom, their papers stop getting published. Their tenure committee no longer has time to meet. Industry won't touch them. All the vulgar toadying and administrative oversight of "regular" academia permeates scientific research, too.

As a result, and in order to receive the same in turn, established experts adopt deferential, reverent attitudes toward the supposed "experts" in any other field. If you're a really good chemist, at the top of your field, you get respect because of your curriculum vitae, the budget of your lab, and the prestige of your institution. If you attack the fundamentals of a really good physicist's work, you are attacking the very structure that establishes your own expertise. And you are, by definition, being "un professional," because without degrees and publications in the other field, how dare you try to ignorantly apply your knowledge to the separate discipline known as physics?

Criticizing conventional wisdom by coming up with a cheaper kind of dish detergent or local anaesthetic is great, of course. Where science can instantly result in cash in hand, it is not challenged, by either Bible-thumpers or free-traders. Galileo made a lot of money speculating on futures with his telescope, observing ships before they could be seen from port, and that was okay--but turning his telescope toward the sky, and questioning the conclusions that justified elites' hierarchical society, was not okay.

Vis-à-vis more distant topics like "evolution of the past 4 billion years of life" or "the creation of the universe 20 billion years ago," though, the only monetarily-valuable applications of non-evidentiary theorizing are in the publication of popular books, the derision of the ignorant, and other justifications of elite culture. We see, accordingly, massive major-institutional and big-man resistance to any scientific theory which discredits the idea of fierce resource competition.

If you don't think money can make people jump, nod, and spend years working on things about which they're unsure (or which they outright hate), then an entirely different discussion on human nature is in order. Our perception of reality, and discussions thereof, should rise and fall on the merits, rather than on the postulations of experts. Many people do already get that, but a sizable majority, even among the community of people who spent ten years and paid several dozen grand for a paper saying Doctor of Philos--sorry, sorry, "the scientific community"--prefers to let extremely specialized experts decree reality.

This is a major systematic problem in and of itself. As to the issue at hand--"evolution," or more essentially, whether the world is bleak/hopeless or wonderful/hopeful--what we must remember when considering such lofty issues as where we came from (and where we're going) is that the experts who promulgate ideas can indeed be fallible. We may objectively judge arguments on their merits, just as we may read the Bible or Qur'an for ourselves, and draw conclusions thereabout.

Math v. Dawkins - On Cumulative Failsafes

The mathematical improbabilities of randomized evolution were laid out in great detail in Part 3. Ever since Darwin's work began morphing into the Market-Style Evolution we know of today, though, the "that's way too impossible" claim has been made. The late Michael Crichton had, in the written The Lost World, perhaps the cutest analogy, in this case bats to jumbo jets:
If you believe the current theory, then all the wonderful complexity of life is nothing but the accumulation of chance events - a bunch of genetic accidents strung together. Yet when we look closely at animals, it appears as if many elements must have evolved simultaneously. Take bats, which have echolocation-they navigate by sound. To do that, many things must evolve. Bats need a specialized apparatus to make sounds, they need specialized ears to hear echoes, they need specialized brains to interpret the sounds, and they need specialized bodies to dive and swoop and catch insects. If all these things don't evolve simultaneously, there's no advantage. And to imagine all these things happen purely by chance is like imagining that a tornado can hit a junkyard and assemble the Parts into a working 747 airplane. It's very hard to believe.
At first, really big numbers--like millions or billions--were used to amaze the masses into believing that it must be true, but as more and more non-evangelists have used calculators or the fossil record itself to question whether evolution might be less individualized than the industrialists and post-industrialists prefer, the issue of the impossibility of randomness has come again to the fore.

Many pop biologists have run the numbers, too, which is why they've spent the past couple of decades focusing on how stupid some religious people are--often correctly--or on finding "missing link" creatures that prove that these hyper-unlikely random occurrences did actually happen on Earth. I.e., they have conceded that the improbabilities of a randomized evolution are so high as to be essentially im-possibilities, but hoped to find fossils demonstrating that somehow, amazingly, those one in a googolplex mixes did happen on this one particular planet, by nigh-impossible chance alone.

Cumulative Evolution

They haven't found that evidence, which is where heuristics comes in. Generally, in science, when one of these two things happens, a theory is discarded in favor of an alternate explanation, or the theory is heavily modified to account for new findings:

(1) A theory is demonstrated to be almost impossible; or,
(2) Thorough research fails to turn up evidence that a theory demands.

In many non-applied sciences, such as cosmology, theoretical physics, and evolutionary biology, these scientific maxims no longer apply to the mainstream view. Random evolution was theorized, the fossil record was investigated, and when enough intermediary organisms were not located, instead of modifying the theory, pop biologists simply decided that the theory "must" be right, and that the evidence would surely be found later. Similarly, when subjecting the theory to mathematical scrutiny demonstrates its fallibility, Market-Style scientists conclude that the math must be somehow "wrong," because it does not support the conclusion they've already drawn. This is the absolute reverse of science: conclusions are supposed to be drawn on the basis of observed evidence, rather than a conclusion drawn beforehand, and all available evidence fitted into that conclusion.

Pop-biology's response to (2), above, has been to put faith in the belief that the missing links existed, and have simply vanished without a trace. After all, there were glaciers in the past. Evidence of dinosaurs and trilobites still exists in abundance, though, and that abundance stands alongside the vast zero of intermediary creatures that should be there.

The community's response to (1) has been the claim that actually, "random" does not quite mean random, and therefore, random mutations produce the non-random results we have seen. This is where Dawkins' idea of "cumulative selection" came in: an attempt to make the improbabilities conform to a theory whose accuracy has been pre-determined.

Here's a selection from Wikipedia, which draws on Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker to explain his methodology:
The scenario is staged to produce a string of gibberish letters, assuming that the selection of each letter in a sequence of 28 characters will be random. The number of possible combinations in this random sequence is 2728, or about 1040, so the probability that the monkey will produce a given sequence is extremely low. Any particular sequence of 28 characters could be selected as a "target" phrase, all equally as improbable as Dawkins's chosen target, "METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL".
A computer program could be written to carry out the actions of Dawkins's hypothetical monkey, continuously generating combinations of 26 letters and spaces at high speed. Even at the rate of millions of combinations per second, it is unlikely, even given the entire lifetime of the universe to run, that the program would ever produce the phrase "METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL".

Here, Dawkins has acknowledged the near-impossibility of un-directed evolution. Even reducing all the complexity of life down to 28 potential characters--as opposed to a few modest trillions, which would still be far too low--he concedes that there is not enough time in the "lifetime of the universe" to run the program until achieving the preferred Anglophiliac's result. He did the perfect politician's setup, though: he feels your pain; the pain of mathematics, and by taking one of the twelve steps of admitting that there is a problem, this demonstrates his genuine commitment to solving it.
Dawkins intends this example to illustrate a common misunderstanding of evolutionary change, i.e. that DNA sequences or organic compounds such as proteins are the result of atoms randomly combining to form more complex structures. In these types of computations, any sequence of amino acids in a protein will be extraordinarily improbable (this is known as Hoyle's fallacy). Rather, evolution proceeds by hill climbing, as in adaptive landscapes.

This particular passage is quite indicative of Dawkins, and why he's become such a PR-person for pop biology. He, like many others in the field, characterizes any disagreement with his outlook in as condescending a way as possible: i.e., you disagree with me because you're ignorant.

This type of reaction--fake empathy followed by condescension--is a combination of demeaning and understanding, used throughout history by politicians, bookies, and spousal-abusers. It is usually employed in conjunction with a lack of substance. It's not conclusive as to the underlying issue all on its own, of course--Dawkins is frequently considered "just a jerk." Its frequent occurrence throughout this issue, though, should be noted when we consider the debate over inductive v. deductive reasoning later on.
Dawkins then goes on to show that a process of cumulative selection can take far fewer steps to reach any given target. In Dawkins's words: We again use our computer monkey, but with a crucial difference in its program. It again begins by choosing a random sequence of 28 letters, just as before ... it duplicates it repeatedly, but with a certain chance of random error – 'mutation' – in the copying. The computer examines the mutant nonsense phrases, the 'progeny' of the original phrase, and chooses the one which, however slightly, most resembles the target phrase, METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL. Notice his use of "the target phrase."

What Dawkins has done, here, is direct a computer to "prefer" a certain arrangement. He has created a model more like Lightform Evolution than Market-Style Evolution, by designing his example to have a specific direction: an environment that prefers animals end up a certain way (say, humans) or sentences to end up another (METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL). The computer in his program accepts and rejects phrasings based on a desired end-result, e.g., the computer is "god" or "direction," interfering with the entire theory of random mutation and non-directed natural selection that he's supposed to be defending. If something is not random, then it is, quite literally, not random. It will take some dizzying displays of expert logic to get out of this, but remember: we're dealing with the same Market-Style motivations that sell quantitative easing and corporate bailouts as good for common people, and that drop bombs to save their victims. It can be done.

How does Dawkins do it? He suggests that the "computer's preference" for a certain end result is not comparable to an integrated, rather than an individual, evolution, nor to the direction of his preferred strawman Jehovah, but rather, that the computer preferencing an end result is only a metaphor for the way that nature preferences an end result (e.g. a creature that is able to survive). From the same Wikipedia article, here are some selected generations of Dawkins' Weasel destiny:
Generation 01: WDLTMNLT DTJBKWIRZREZLMQCO P
Generation 02: WDLTMNLT DTJBSWIRZREZLMQCO P
Generation 10: MDLDMNLS ITJISWHRZREZ MECS P
Generation 20: MELDINLS IT ISWPRKE Z WECSEL
Generation 30: METHINGS IT ISWLIKE B WECSEL
Generation 40: METHINKS IT IS LIKE I WEASEL
Generation 43: METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL

How can a program with a predetermined end result, making deliberate adjustments to the randomness each time, be considered "random" and "un-directed"? Dawkins' claim is that, if a creature shaped like METHINKS is more life-worthy than a creature shaped like MELDINLS, and a creature shaped like MELDINLS is more life-worthy than a creature shaped like WDLTMNLT, then nature will kill off the WDLTMNLT, and gradually evolve the MELDINLS into the METHINKS.

That, though, is our original problem with Alexandra and her ammonia lungs: if a WDLTMNLT consisting of five trillion cells can successfully survive and reproduce long enough to mutate 1/8 of its cells into a better new form, then it has lived a very, very long time. WDLTMNLT consists of 8 letters. 1/8 of 5 trillion is 625 billion. To change that first letter from W to M is that significant (and remember, Alexandra is a small, simple, example animal, here). The entire time that "W" is mutating into "M," though, the second letter--D--is serving Alexandra well. She is doing an excellent job surviving with that D.

In the Market-Style Evolution regime, we have a twist: WDLTMNLT is going along, reproducing successfully, and altering its W to an M. The new MDLTMNLT strain is superior to the old WDLTMNLT strain, so it does better. Then, a more-striking development: some MDLTMNLTs randomly mutate into MELTMNLTs!

What about the old WDLTMNLTs, though, and the newer (but still un-cool last-year's-model) MDLTMNLTs? They had been successfully surviving for all that time that it took to change W to M, and suddenly, they're dying off, because other models have that E instead of that D. They vanish from the fossil record, leaving no trace, except thought experiments and speculative computer models, that they ever existed. How did they survive so well, and then die off like that? Why does the release of a new specimen invalidate prior ones so handily? Those same species' predecessors had already been competing fiercely for food with other organisms, and surviving the struggle. This isn't just line to line, here--remember that Dawkins is metaphorizing a vast area of time. By the later generations of even exceptionally over-generous experiments, we're talking about millions upon millions of years of survival, in changing geological and meteorological circumstances, dispersed across a wide area. Suddenly, one MDLTMNLT becomes a MELTMNLT, and she's propagating so many descendants that they dominate, speciate, and then wipe out the MDLTMNLTs, which had previously survived millions of years of predators and competition? And that happened with almost all life on the surface of the planet, so that now, we're only left with recognizable words like METHINKS?

Even inside the obscenely alogical, picking-and-choosing, deux ex machina example of the computer preferring a certain result, it stretches the boundaries of the available 3-4 billion years to explain how the following sentence wouldn't also develop: METHINKS IT IS LIKE ZORT A WEASEL. That is the ammonia lung: a worthless development within an otherwise successful model.

If METHINKS IT IS HHHH A WEASEL can survive for the reproductive cycles necessary to produce METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL, then that means a metaphorical difference of four letters is not a mortal difference. METHINKS IT IS LIKE ZORT A WEASEL, then, should be able to survive and thrive, also, alongside METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL. The artificial size boundaries Dawkins placed on the experiment produce only one acceptable end-result: METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL. This is the world of creationism; of God; of divine ordinances; it is not the world of freely evolving creatures.

Nature does not have preordained conclusions, either. It is dynamic, and ever-changing, so that animals evolve along with the plants they are eating, and the weather patterns inside the biosphere in which those plants are themselves evolving (and the electromagnetic patterns around the star that biosphere is orbiting, and so forth, as large as you like).

The reticulorumen, broad molars, synovial joints, descending udders, and hooves all evolve alongside one another, along with the biosphere's drying land, grazing plants that disperse depending on seasonal weather patterns, and masses of other ruminants to safely graze alongside. Even the Weasel program would break if it had to concede that the survival of the mutating individuals was dependent on the near-simultaneous mutation of dozens or hundreds of other individual organisms, in order to form socialization, protection, breeding, warmth, and other networks, without which noticeable deviations from the norm would result in mortality.

The Useless Organ, and the Utter Failure of Cumulative Selection

The biggest problem with cumulative selection is not in additions, though, but in the entire structural process he uses to coax the computer toward the end result. METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL begs the question, and indeed, directs evolution in a way pop-biologists' own descriptions find unacceptable, but even if they are allowed that stretch, cumulative selection is unworkable within itself. Its own rules invalidate it.

Dawkins' program, by metaphorizing survivability in nature with a preferred end result meant to convey impartial natural efficiency, made a fatal flaw: it assumed that a small change toward efficiency was itself efficient, when in fact, a small but incomplete movement toward efficiency is actually an inefficiency.

The Messy Office

Say you realize your office is messy. It's too blighted messy, and you're not getting as much work done because of it. So, you put the laptop on standby, and you get up out of your chair. You get a big trash bag, throw out all the old napkins and soda bottles, and move your skis from last winter out to your car. You come back in, reorganize the filing system, return all your calls, put the ringer on mute, settle into your chair, and get some serious work done. The End.

That's evolution. That's METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL (if we assume Shakespeare is a good end result). We got somewhere good, and productivity is up.

Now, let's try it a different way:

Say you realize your office is messy. It's too blighted messy, and you're not getting as much work done because of it. So, you put the laptop on standby, and you get up out of your chair. The End.

There is no incremental benefit to an incomplete mutation, even if it might produce a positive end result. That's the same problem that Alexandra had in Part 3: until the new lung (kidney, liver, brain, set of gills, alterations to existing lung so it can respirate air, limb, fin, wing, et cetera) is finished, there is no benefit. Getting up out of your chair--wasting calories on a useless organ--is actually detrimental. Until that air-breathing lung is completed, any cells devoted to it are a waste, so there is absolutely no reason for impartial nature to "preference" it into the next generation. The worthless cells are a drawback.

Look at Dawkins' letters again. METHINKS IT IS LIKE I WEASEL is completely and utterly worthless to the organism. In fact, METHINKS IT IS LIKE I WEASEL is deadly. An air-breathing lung with one small hole in it, or designed to safely breathe nitrogen, oxygen, and neon, is going to kill Alexandra.

Consider untreated, severe asthmatics, who have otherwise perfect air-breathing lungs: organs have to strike an incredibly delicate balance to not only be of partial worth to an organism, but to avoid killing that organism during the fetal stage, let alone after it attempts to draw its first breath. Nature could never naturally select METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL unless it was able to divinely preference a change from "W" to "M" in the first section of WDLTMNLT's genetic code, because the change from W to M would not be helpful, and would likely be mortal.

Long before we've written METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL, any incomplete variation on that organ (or even a much smaller development, such as a tiny adjustment in the chemical makeup of the brain fluid) would eliminate those mutated organism(s) from Dawkins' cruel world.

Deadly Randomness

Because randomness is so deadly, we see that random evolution is actually far less probable than our initial math suggested. In order to develop new bodily structures, organisms not only would have to mutate inexorably toward that end (say, working Earth-air-breathing lungs), but also to mutate cells in such a precise order that newly-mutated organisms avoided all potential pitfalls of an incomplete addition. For example, if Alexandra somehow began mutating in healthy new lung cells by the thousands, she would have to mutate them so carefully that they did not connect to her throat until the lungs were functional. If she developed the throat connection first--even a throat connection that would have worked perfectly alongside the right set of lungs--then that connection would attempt to respirate air bubbles into an unprepared body cavity, and kill her. The placement of millions upon millions of new lung cells would all fail if, in a later Alexandra strain, that lung didn't wait until it was absolutely finished before making the connection.

Deadly randomness works well with the cruel, Hobbesian outlook of Market-Style Evolution. It also dovetails with Creationism: if mutations are random, and nature kills the inefficient, then there's no way to reach the end without the kind of divine guidance that Dawkins offered via his cumulative selection. Since the advent of industrial Market-science, we've seen how easily it blends with fundamentalist Christianity to produce modern businesses, militaries, environmental destruction, and wars. All the endeavors of free inquiry, and the requirement of an evidentiary record, have gone out the window in the area of evolutionary biology, where we're called upon to believe in something on the promise of later evidence, or no evidence at all.

Integration Through Lightform Evolution

True "evolution" is integrative. This is why entire systems within organisms' bodies evolve together--why the bats, from Crichton's example, evolved ears and brains capable of echolocation while simultaneously evolving the ability to produce the necessary sounds, or why birds evolved wings simultaneously with light skeletons, feet structured for gripping tree branches, and better eyesight. Without Lightform Evolution, any one of those components would be useless--a perilous waste of resources, rather than part of something good.

This conclusion has nothing to do with Creationism--in fact, it stands against Creationism, while Market-Style Evolution stands for Creationism. Dawkins, and others like him, are forced to divinely direct the development of hypothetical strains in order to explain how modern organisms came to be. Lightform Evolution, taking into account the ways organisms' entire bodies develop in tandem with their environments, is the way to begin overcoming the mathematical impossibilities of market selection: natural selection does occur, and it occurs by "nature," or "Earth" (or "verse") developing more efficient matter-energy conduits.

Modern humans don't bat an eye at the notion that a human brain can direct a bodily cell to do something. Why, then, is it so supernatural to conceive of a portion of the biosphere directing a discrete section of biomass to develop in a certain way? You can't "see" neural connections without cutting someone open or attaching wires, and our current technological limitations on understanding how the biosphere communicates development to sub-portions of itself--organisms--should not make us conclude that the communication is either magic or impossible. The very "genes" that pop-biologists like to attribute the world to are but one tiny piece of the coding that links and coordinates matter and energy. When others are discovered, the stamping and hooting of 21st century human scientists that life develops in independent, random, severable ways will seem as brilliant a conclusion as bleeding patients to cure disease.

A magnet is held above a paper clip. Like magic, the paper clip jumps from the table and attaches itself to the magnet.

Rain falls on the top of a mountain. Like magic, the water rolls down the mountainsides all by itself.

Water recedes from a large area of land. Like magic, creatures develop new limbs and lungs, and crawl out of the water all by themselves.

None of these things is magic, and none of them are random: they are the results of gravitational and electromagnetic forces--light energy--operating on and through matter.

Continued in Part 5, where we'll touch on points 3-4 from above.

4 comments:

  1. So, now what? We still die and likely never regain any insight in the future evolution of matter.

    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.

    So, even we do the thought experiment about how incomplete organ is a hindrance and an inefficiency, it is irrelevant - it simply means that others did not survive.

    Think of how many inefficiencies we have as species: weak throats, eyes, extremely high risk births, extremely long period of out-of-the womb development, lack of fur, etc. And yet we are still doing wine, and we have many cousins with traits that were apparently even less suited to the environment, so they died off.

    What if it is as simple that we didn't "win" - but simply they "lost"? If me and my buddy are being chased by a bear, I don't necessarily have to be a great runner to survive - all it takes is for my buddy to be a slightly slower runner. If so, my offspring may be marginally faster runners than they would otherwise be, and thus increase the likelihood of escaping future bears and increasing the species numbers etc...

    The other thing is that modern animals seem to have appeared only 500 million years ago. Most of the evolutionary drama thus has taken place at the unicellular/bacterial/simple organism level (i.e. not much organs involved). Their sheer numbers and shortness of life seem to permit fairly complex combinations to occur, especially when they've had 1.5-2 billion years for that.

    The difference between the skeleton of a fish and the skeleton of a human may be much smaller and incremental than the difference between cells with and without nuclei, or between uni- and multi-celluar simple organism.

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  2. And the other thing to consider is that the most complex organisms seem most adapted to a wide range of environments - so, the similarities between mammals are probably far greater than their differences. In other words, pretty much like the free market - the more successful you are, the more successful you become. In your case meaning that mammals can afford a wide range of inefficient mutations without having their chances impaired perceptibly. If you got the self-regulating body temperature you are already ahead of the game, and can tolerate useless organs that may require a tad more energy - just like if you have millions, you can tolerate a prolonged recession that would kill off lesser species while doing nothing to you.

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  3. (sorry to keep piling them on, but I can't edit)

    One other thing that you are both right and wrong about - the circulation of energy on earth.

    You are, in a sense right that life (at least the marginal complex part) demonstrates more ingenious and involved ways to process energy.

    However, that doesn't necessarily mean squat from 'earth' (and much less - Universe) point of view. And the reason for this is lays in the laws of the thermodynamics - the energy in the universe is constant (it cannot be created or destroyed), and there is a constant degradation of energy (from higher to lower energy state).

    Wrt to life on earth, the biosphere as a whole is in amazing balance with the energy earth receives from the sun - the energy output of living and non-living matter on earth is exactly the same as the input. It doesn't matter what new life forms occur and alter the energy flows locally, the system is always balanced.

    Humans are the only organism to break all the natural cycles and create a vast imbalance between energy inputs and consumption, but even that doesn't change things much because it is temporary - after we are done with fossil fuels and deforestation, the energy inputs and outputs will have to reset back into balance, and it's going to be painful. We've argued before about the prospects of major improvements in solar technology, and they may come, but from thermodynamic point of view they are quite unlikely

    So it seems to me you harbor some hope that life has a destination much like in Isac Asimov's "the last question"

    http://filer.case.edu/dts8/thelastq.htm

    Which is a very intriguing hypothetical line of thought, but at odds with all of current physics.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for the link. :) Asimov shows well how science's cold futility dovetails with religious creationism. That is, ultimately, where the Market-Style Evolution argument is leading: right back to The Handmaid's Tale. They are running cover for the priests of tomorrow, and our battle over observational science now is an attempt to protect orphans from monastery abuse hundreds of years from now.

      As with the other topic, this one responded more fully here.

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