Friday, April 12, 2013

Lightform Evolution ~ Hope, Part 3

(Continued from Intermediate Hope.)

So, evolution, right? Eugenics, colonialism, free markets, total war, factory farming, and evolution: all very real things that happened, and that saw their modern expression in the same set of one hundred years, for good or for ill. What gives us hope about evolution?

Instantly, we know we're in dangerous territory. As we all know, if you raise a question about pop evolution, the United States of Kansas immediately orders its military into action: a two ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments is airlifted by helicopters over the local high school, and dropped upon the Science Olympiad team to the cheers of surrounding football players, while a legion of preachers storms through the school, burning books, molesting the chess team, and stapling corsets and habits over the clothing of all females under the age of 70. All television channels are replaced by the image of a single golden cross, over which a voice in monotone drones the names of this week's condemned souls, who were caught saying "darnit" in the alley outside a bookstore where rots the body of the last guy who tried to sell a contraband copy of The Catcher in the Rye.

But still, like, Galileo, and stuff. Undaunted we sail.

Defining Evolution & Natural Selection

Dictionary definitions of "evolution" and "natural selection" are now notorious among scientists for being too simplified, although they spent the decades during the development of modern science being considered relatively sound by the experts. Come the 21st century, faced by a populace growing a little more wary of missing links, weaponized anthrax, and arcane dialogue, pop-biologists have reached out, condescendingly decreeing the worthlessness of the dictionary, often ignoring the less-consumerized aspects of Darwin's theories, to expand their pet term. Here's Douglas Futuyma, cited through Laurence Moran's page:
In the broadest sense, evolution is merely change, and so is all-pervasive; galaxies, languages, and political systems all evolve. Biological evolution ... is change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual. The ontogeny of an individual is not considered evolution; individual organisms do not evolve. The changes in populations that are considered evolutionary are those that are inheritable via the genetic material from one generation to the next. Biological evolution may be slight or substantial; it embraces everything from slight changes in the proportion of different alleles within a population (such as those determining blood types) to the successive alterations that led from the earliest protoorganism to snails, bees, giraffes, and dandelions.

Within the pop debate, the implication that evolution occurs "individually" is a straw man, leveled at the most over-hyped of anecdotal creationists. All challenges to consumerist evolution do not come from knuckle dragging mouth-breathers from incestuous trailers in the flyover, however many giggles and nods of agreement that earns at Starbucks.

For use here, we'll fix down a definition, and the most defensible one, pieced together from the High Market Priests Gould and Dawkins, of evolution and natural selection: Organisms reproduce, and when they reproduce, random, un-directed mutations occur. These mutations may be beneficial, or they may be harmful. Beneficial mutations will result in more success in reproducing the beneficial traits, while harmful mutations will result in less success. Over 3-4 billion years of the development of life, unicellular organisms have gradually evolved into cattle, stink beetles, and other things. Natural selection is not "random" in the way that uninformed people think of "random," because it inexorably kills off harmful mutations while preserving beneficial ones.

So, there's our working definition.

Ethical Problem With Creationism, Random Evolution, and Natural Market Selection

The problems with popular takes on evolution and natural selection mirror the callousness of the age. Like the invisible hand of Judeo-Christian creationism, the evolution of the market gods is the pulse of society's theme. Consider the now-easily-identifiable link between biblical creationism and the horrors of divine kings:

God created everything. Some people were low, some high. The natural order is a pyramid, with God at the top, kings a step below, nobles a little lower, freemen lower, and serfs/slaves at the bottom.

Creationism makes sense in a world like that: society is structured the way it is because God deemed it so. Some rule, some follow. Some feast, some starve. Some sleep, some work.

The Consumer God offers a slight variation to the essential story of created hierarchies, by allowing for occasional mishaps in the order of things, while preserving the underlying structure of the pyramid. In creationism, a cruel God chooses that some people will be trod open, and others wear crowns of gold. Under pop evolution, nature kills off the vast majority of living things before they are able to reproduce, carefully preventing the spread of "inefficient" mutations that occurred randomly. If we've been paying attention to the world economy for the past hundred years or so, we know that this is the story of the free market: modern governments and economies are built upon the idea of stupid, inefficient people dying off because their lack of quality causes them to fail. This is why evangelical American Christianity, 20th century American Republicanism, American Democratic pop scientists and pop-science-aficionados, and cruel business leaders the world over have been nearly united in their support of open markets.

African children starve, for example, because they're worthless. Thy Will Be Done. If you think that's an extreme example, spend more time at the IMF, or just borrow The Corporation from a friend, and watch some of the CEO interviews. (Seriously, if you haven't ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight, it's time to visit some of the larger boardrooms during a tough quarter. The military people on wake-up pills and Metallica are far sweeter.)

Under pop evolution, it is humane, efficient, and proper to let nature run its course on the un-evolved, because that's what's been happening since the dawn of life: constant vidacide by the cruel face of inevitability, sparing only a Chosen few who are able to reproduce because they are intrinsically better. This doesn't need to be disheartening, because the modern colonialism and exploitative market forces that shaped Darwinism into the cruelty-justifying evolution that is popular now led to an incorrect theory. It is incorrect, objectively disprovable with a bit of intermediate arithmetic, and preserves all of the non-creationist, genuinely-scientific avenues of inquiry that the pop-biologists have been pretending to monopolize for so long. (If you're inclined to foreshadowing, it's also the standard, popular viewpoint in a few generations.)

Scientific Problems With Pop Evolution & Market-Style Natural Selection

So, organisms mutate randomly, and then the mutations that turned out to be good are naturally selected for more reproduction, while the bad ones die off. When the mutations have led far enough, and the changed organisms are unable to mate with the unchanged (or less-changed) ones, speciation occurs: a distinct species has been created, which can only mate with other members of that species.

Alexandra's Story, Part 1 ~ New Lungs

Take Alexandra for our example creature. Alexandra is a primitive ocean-dwelling creature. A modern-day human is composed of around 50 trillion cells, so let's say that Alexandra is far smaller, and contains only 5 trillion cells. Throughout her life, all of those cells die off and are replaced pursuant to Alexandra's genetic coding, perhaps only a few times, perhaps hundreds of times, depending on what type of creature she is. Because we know from our pop-biologists that evolution does not occur within an individual, but only during reproduction, we know that these new cells are all built perfectly, or if not "perfectly," then perfectly enough that they don't change in any way that can be considered "evolution." Mutations and errors occur only during reproduction.

The pop-biologists would probably be willing to concede that one--to admit that the same types of cell variations might occur during the lifespan of an individual organism--and some of them have. Still, it takes a long time for evolution + natural selection to work, so focus just on reproduction, as they do. Let's say that Alexandra is one of the lucky organisms that has a mutation when she reproduces. Her offspring, which we'll also call Alexandra, had a random "imperfection" (a mutation) to one or more cells, which nature might then non-randomly select based on that mutation's evolutionary fitness.

Eventually, a different Alexandra will be able to breathe air, rather than water. At some point between Alexandra's ocean-dwelling life, and Alexandra's amphibious or land-dwelling life, the Alexandra strain had such successful mutations that she gradually, perhaps over millions and millions of years, either modified her strain's lungs or developed new lungs that were able to respirate both air and water, or just air. Many failed Alexandras died prior to the successful quinceaƱera, where she took her first non-mortal breath of air. There's pop evolution and natural selection at work.

Alexandra's Story, Part 2 ~ Factorial Lungs

We've just run into a major problem, though. Alexandra's story is only remotely reasonable if, dazzled by really big numbers (like "4 billion," which really isn't very big in a versal sense), we assume that everything in-between Alexandra's water-breathing and air-breathing had enough time to work out that way.

"Earth air," though, is not an elementary element (heehee), but a cocktail of different elements and compounds. The largest parts of it, nitrogen and oxygen, are elements, as is the included, small percentage of argon, but the carbon dioxide and water vapor are, themselves, chemical compounds. In short, this is a refined set of lungs that Alexandra has to build: one very suited to breathing Earth-air.

No problem; she has millions upon millions of years to do it. So we've got our Alexandra, a successful ocean-going creature of five trillion cells, who already spent billions of years evolving out of the primordial soup, and her generational strains begin mutating. Remember: this is an un-directed mutation. Alexandra does not decide to mutate: she does not decide to develop air-breathing lungs; God does not decree "Let There Be Light And Then Air Breathing Lungs." To pop-biology, random mutations will result in the benefits or drawbacks to each new organism, and those mutations will then be tested against natural selection, which will favor (through reproduction) or disfavor (through death) them.

Five trillion cells. Randomly changing. How many elements on the periodic table? Found in nature, 98, and synthesized so far by humans, 118 (although someone will eventually synthesize quite a few more). How many possible combinations of elements can we form based on only the 98 "naturally-occurring" elements? The problem is a factorial one, expressed mathematically as 98!, which is short for 98 x 97 x 96 x 95 ... x 1. The factorial accounts for all possible combinations of these 98 elements humans have so far found "in nature," without the assistance of human laboratories.

(If you don't remember factorials from algebra class, they express the total potential outcomes in terms of the potential choice in the first slot [hydrogen] pairing with all 97 other elements, plus the pairing of hydrogen and helium with all other elements, plus...and so on. Here's the Wikipedia link.)

98! is 9.426890448883242e+153, or 154 digits long, which is more than a googol and a half's worth of combinations. A googol, incidentally, is 10^100, which is massively larger than 4 billion. If we compare 98! to the time span in which Alexandra went from ocean-breathing to air-breathing, the ratio becomes truly drastic.

What does this mean? It means that, even if we give Alexandra an entire billion years to develop her air-breathing lungs--a full 25% of the time allotted to develop bipedal humans out of unicellular life by pop-biologists--the probability of that evolution occurring randomly becomes incredibly remote.

Why so remote? Because if the mutations were not directed, and were the result of random variations in cells during reproduction, then each one of Alexandra's five trillion cells should have had a chance to mutate. Pop-biologists go back and forth on the rate at which cells "meaningfully" mutate, i.e., the rate at which mutation occurs vis-Ć -vis parts of the DNA that they currently deem important and noticeable. Regardless of the rate as it affects the overall cellular structure, the rate at which mutation occurs in "meaningful" areas is quite small, c. 0.008%--a small percentage, but quite meaningful when compared to Alexandra's 5 trillion cells. Of course, even in the "meaningful" areas, babies are more often born with two eyes than with seventeen, so the changes, say pop-biologists, tend to be tiny and incremental, taking millions of years to produce a noticeable effect even when they occur in important areas of the code.

These profound effects, though, remain ludicrously tiny when compared to the available possibilities for mutation. We'll look at the effects of the math in more detail below, considering just lung development as it relates to elements here.

Alexandra's Story, Part 3 ~ Worthless, Incomplete Lungs

Alexandra eventually develops lungs that allow her to respirate a combination of oxygen, nitrogen, argon, carbon dioxide, water vapor, and trace pieces of over a dozen other elements--Earth-brand air. That development happened, we remind ourselves yet again, because un-directed mutation produced changes in cells that were naturally selected for reproductive success, leading to the speciation of air-breathing Alexandra. At some earlier point, out of those five trillion cells in each Alexandra, say that one or even a few of her (again, "her" the species, not "her" the individual straw-woman) have an incredible amount of luck. Random, un-directed mutations appear, in meaningful areas of her genetic code, allowing a hundred primitive lung-cells to develop in a portion of her body that will not interfere with the functioning of another vital organ and kill her instantly. Not just one lung cell, but a hundred--all at once or over time, as you prefer.

We've got a major problem already: until those lung cells become part of a working lung, and are breathing air, they are a drawback. Those worthless cells use energy, reproduce inside the body, and offer no benefit. Until the "air-lung project" is complete, Alexandra can't breathe air, because if she tries to breathe it on her water-lungs, she dies. So the incomplete lung is an evolutionary drawback. Any Alexandra who begins developing this worthless hunk of cells--this veritable tumor--should be losing out under a system of natural selection. Over millions of years of fierce competition for resources, survival, and mating, how does natural selection not wipe out Alexandra's one hundred, then one thousand, then one million, tiny-tiny-widdle worthless incomplete lung cells, before the working, air-breathing lung is fully developed?

Apparently, natural selection doesn't do that. These worthless extra cells and cellular abilities, over millions of individuals, somehow fail to wipe out Alexandra. Air-breathing lungs do not suddenly spring into place, so while Alexandra passes on this mutation millions of times, until enough cells have mutated to conform to the air-breathing lung, natural selection suddenly seems to come to a stop. All of the other Alexandra-like, ocean-breathing organisms without her mutation are saving on spending. They need fewer calories to survive. They are that much faster. More energy is devoted to muscle strength, scale composition, eyesight, water-respiration, alertness, having sex, and every other pro-survival function you can think of. All of the positive effects of not having that pointless lump of cells should be causing Alexandra to die off, and the exclusively water-breathers to thrive at her expense.

How can we save our model of un-directed evolution and market-style natural selection? Well, we could say that Alexandra was also, while developing these as-yet worthless air-breathing cells, developing more refined water-breathing cells, possibly in some manner of hybrid lung, which gave her an advantage over the exclusively water-breathers.

That is easily disposed of, though, because those organisms that randomly generated only the refined water-breathing cells, and not the refined water-breathing cells alongside the wasteful air-breathing cells, would still do that much better than Alexandra. Under a market-style natural selection regime, Alexandra must lose. Like growing a six-inch mutant stump out of your torso, the protrusion will not only be unattractive to potential mates (until it becomes a functioning arm or leg), it will waste bodily resources the entire time that it is dangling there. It is, therefore, inefficient, and would be destroyed by market-style natural selection. Market-style natural selection thusly begs its own question: it demands functional improvements to selected individuals in order to improve their reproductive success and survival rate, while at the same time barring wasteful non-improvements, which would be first necessary in order to gradually evolve eventual improvements. If random mutations that waste resources do not result in death, then why are the 11 million (oops, 8.7?) species on Earth not rife with half-completed internal structures that never got "finished" mutating, but which didn't result in death by decree of inefficiency?

The instant-marginal-improvement natural selection of pop-biologists bears a non-coincidental resemblance to the requirements of corporation officers--who also sprang from the 19th century--with its insistence that a fierce marketplace will eliminate companies that are slow to react. Why worry about producing highly toxic waste if it makes the product a little bit cheaper? We've gotta survive, right? Profits need to be high this quarter, or maybe this year or decade. Profits a hundred, or a million, years off are not worth thinking about. Grow or go. For market-style tyrants of post-industrial colonialism, the idea of instant-effect natural selection is indispensable. Like the companies that poison their host populations, destroy their employees' families and countries, and wipe out the market for their own products through the purchase of extractive legislative policies, market-style natural selection is self-destructive, unsustainable, and a wholly recent invention of the same deathlords that brought you Dickensian child factory labor.

Again, luckily, it is not true. Natural selection, and evolution--scientific, non-Judeo-Christian evolution--is real, but it is not an un-directed smorgasbord of Hobbesian brokerage-house cruelty.

Alexandra's Story, Part 4 ~ Ammonia Lungs

The problems for market-style natural selection grow far, far worse than that. The inefficiencies of Alexandra's new lung development pale in comparison to the factorial regime those cells should be undergoing. So far, we've been assuming that Alexandra's new cells are developing air-breathing capability. But if the mutations are un-directed--not decreed by God for the planet He designed--then Alexandra's random cellular mutations should be leading her, across the strain of millions of individual organisms, toward a random sampling of mutations across the factorial spread.

More simply put, this means that if one Alexandra-organism developed lung cells equipped to breathe air, another one should have been developing lung cells equipped to breathe pure hydrogen. One pure helium, one pure lithium, one pure beryllium, et cetera. The random possible combinations those cells should be pursuing with their un-directed, non-divinely-inspired mutations numbers at least 98!--although, random mutations shouldn't be limited to merely the elements humans have so far located, but we can humor the non-astrophysicist pop-biologists, and stick with just the 98 they'll allow as "natural."

Anyway. 98!, being as mentioned before 9.426890448883242e+153, is what some people might call one effing big number. How many trillion trillion trillion years should it have taken Alexandra's cells--even if one million cells mutated all together in each case, in an extremely, god-forsakenly unlikely coincidence--to produce not only proto-lung cells in a non-mortal part of each new organism or set of organisms, but to produce proto-lung-Earth-air-breathing cells? Remember that 98! combinations of elements is a 9 with over one hundred and fifty-four digits after it.

Even if a hundred billion Alexandras are reproducing successfully a hundred billion times every day for a hundred billion years, they are coming nowhere near anything approaching a halfway reasonable chance at a slight probability of winning a lottery to be eligible for a one in a trillion chance that they will evolve Earth-air-breathing lungs. (/phew)

Remember, yet again, in the valley of the shadow of pop-biology: Alexandra doesn't know that she's trying to breathe air. Pop-evolution is caused by random, un-directed mutations, ergo cells are not mutating under divine guidance for the ultimate purpose of breathing Earth-air. Instead, these mutations are random. That means that, even if through cosmically astounding luck, in 4 billion years of life on Earth, Alexandra somehow manages to develop a successfully reproducing strain of Earth-air-breathing Alexandras, alongside her in the water should be developing also an equal number of Alexandras with lungs equipped to breathe every other one of those possible elementary choices. Even if, by more vast coincidences, all those possibilities aren't found in nature, how about one in a hundred? One in a thousand? One in a hundred hundred trillion billion? (The latter case would still leave Alexandra supremely outnumbered by alternately-lunged Alexandras.)

Even going that far, we're left with a vast number of Alexandras, all swimming through the water with 99% complete lungs: some of those lungs almost ready to breathe Earth-air with just one more mutation, but far, far more of them ready to breathe pure gaseous ammonia, or solutions of 99% ammonia and 1% helium, or 99% ammonia and 1% phosphorus, and so on. Where are they?

It's easy to tell the silly Bible-thumpers where those creatures are, right? Those ones with the wrong kind of lungs? They died off, right? Wouldn't those non-Earth-air breathing lungs be a drawback? Wouldn't they waste calories and result in less of a chance of reproducing, therefore causing that organism to gradually go extinct?

There we reach our crucial point:

For millions upon millions of years during the market-style natural selection of those air-breathing lungs, countless individual members of the Alexandra species reproduced, millions upon millions of times, with incomplete air-lungs as well as incomplete lungs of many other types.

Those organisms were successful. If Alexandra can drag around a worthless set of lung cells until that final mutation when they start to work, then that means that an organism can indeed spend millions upon millions of years with a major inefficiency--such as an ammonia-breathing lung, or a partially-complete ammonia-breathing lung--and not die off. Under market-style natural selection, an organism has to be able to reproduce successfully, for a very long time, with detrimental mutations, before it could develop complex new structures and so speciate.

So, where are those organisms? How did they know to go extinct once Alexandra had left the ocean and crawled out onto the land? Why do they not appear in the fossil record? Simply put, because those organisms never existed. Evolution and natural selection do not work that way.

Unified Energy Entrapment

The ammonia-breathing, yet successful undersea dwellers, and their many conceivable inefficient kin, do not appear in the fossil record because they never existed. The current take on evolution and natural selection is a sociological construct that mimics the market processes and power dynamics of human society. Inefficient "random" mutations, individual by individual, necessitate an evolutionary history of such colossal proportions that it dwarfs the time reasonably available to life on Earth. Instead of being a process conducted at random by individual cellular components, operating in random isolation within individual cells, themselves operating in random isolation within individual organisms, evolution seems better explained as an interactive process, whereby matter and energy constantly interact to produce patterns and structures that will result in further interaction.

The mutually-interdependent relationship of the biosphere, and of all life we have yet observed, further supports this conclusion. Indeed, the fossil record, dotted with the gaps of innumerable "missing links" that fail to explain seeming coordinated "leaps" in evolution, is ever in want of enough intermediary stages to explain the gradual millions of years of development. Regular early hominids are discovered to the noise of celebratory trumpets, but like so many thirds-in-command of al Qaeda being killed for the First Time Ever, the fossil record displays nowhere near the number of intermediate stages that should have occurred under a stumbling, millions-of-years path to any given new species with organs incredibly more complex than its immediate predecessor. Patterns of strikingly similar evolution shown to have occurred in different regions of the world--regions separated at the time by great natural barriers--further suggest that evolution is integrative, rather than isolated.

Lightform Evolution© (wink) is easily recognizable in the unlikely relationship of honeybees and wildflowers, evolving alongside one another, their reproduction altering based on constant environmental feedback. Organisms evolved Earth-air-breathing lungs, and not ammonia-breathing lungs, because there was air, and by breathing air, they could move about the air and eat and grow and water plants that process the Sun's energy through photosynthesis, and then those organisms could die and feed the bugs that make the soil that the plants use to stabilize their solar panels. The mutually-supportive nature of evolution, and of a natural selection that favors cooperation and survival, is the bane of tyrants, oligarchs, and antilife.

...and, it is the delight of pesticide engineers, biological weapon designers, behavior-altering drug patenters, and market-style pop-biologists, who, unsurprisingly, cheerfully serve and propagandize the warfare state, and its enlightened toys.

The fossil record demonstrates regular mass extinctions of long-established organisms and the organizational systems they formed parts of, but it includes no "false starts," and in no way provides for the legions of partway successful, then failed, creatures that should, by their remains, overwhelm the history of the proportionately miniscule number who succeeded by chance alone.

Moreover, evolution has demonstrated increasing levels of complexity. What market-based natural selection calls "mass extinctions" may be, instead, "mass evolutions," where older organisms are replaced by newer ones. Instead of a process of predominantly failure and death, conjoined with an appropriately morbid terminology, mass extinctions are no more an "extinction" than any evolution: say, the eventual production of a crane from a deinonychus.

Lightspring Echoes

Evolution, and natural selection, are not a process of random mutations leading to a cruel struggle. The awful competition is the dark fantasy of fearful human minds, projecting an updated version of creationism onto the verse. Prions form simple, then complex protein chains because protein chains more efficiently embrace ("entrap," if you prefer colder wordplay) those of Sol's energy reactions which reach Earth. The human body, proportionate to its size, is a more powerful reactor than the interior of a star--stars seem so hot and powerful because they are so massive, but the seeds they have dispersed onto Earth have resulted in the development of gradually more efficient energy processors. Matter is able to conduct energy waves better than vacuum, allowing for more complex meetings of electromagnetism, which we come to know as light, ergo a particle of dust is a more efficient energy conduit than a square millimeter of empty space, ergo energy produces space in which to produce matter in which to complexify matter in which to generate energy, ergo things are.

Evolution demonstrates a purpose: a purpose of complexity, refinement, and consciousness. Vacuum to matter, matter to atom, atom to molecule, to star, to cell; cell to fish to wolf to woman to rest to tasty food to symphonies to love. The human brain gobbles 20% of the oxygen used by the human body, despite making up a much smaller percentage of its weight, and it generates its own electromagnetic fields, lightforming little versions of the same beginnings that created expanding three dimensional grids for us to learn after the last time turned over. Within the complexity of the body, the emotion- and conscience-conduit is the energy locus, just as galaxies are loci within the verse, and stars loci within the galaxies. Even confined in the narrative of market-style natural selection, the trend of evolution to grow more complex--to capture and channel more energy, even in little points on a tiny planet--is inescapable.

Improvement. Warm blood ventilates better in changing temperatures than cold. Nonliving matter, like clothing, provides more efficient shelters to simple consciousness than does living matter, like scales. Hope. Interaction is what brings results--not isolation. There is a direction, and we can play a part in it--we are not condemned to a doomed, vicious struggle through the plastic corridors of a mindless bureaucracy. Endless skies. Evolution, and the natural selection and improvement of all matter, energy, and being, will continue, as it always has. More powerful forms of life will inevitably develop, catching more of the energy spilling into the verse, and cycling it ever more efficiently and dynamically through indescribably complex lightform structures that will channel still more energy into more refined things than our greatest emotions.

You will be there, in part, and I will love you always, as I ever have.


  1. As much as I hate Dawkings, he has developed a pretty good heuristic to illustrate that the combination of random mutation + cumulative selection leads to results much, much faster than limiting attention to random mutations alone would suggest:

    As for life exhibiting trends towards increasing complexity, Stephen Jay Gould develops a pretty good argument of why this is not a tenable position

    Basically his idea is that there is a definite limit to how complex life can be, and this is seen in the distribution of the species by complexity: overwhelming majority of all life is extremely simple, with very few species approaching the "right wall of complexity"

    1. Here are clickable links to passers-by:

      Dawkins' attempt

      Gould's attempt

      Those are more advanced forms of their message. What they did is promulgate ideas based on how cool airplanes were and how stupid Bible-belters were (both ideas partially true), spend years getting money and fame off them, and then, when finally forced to confront mathematics, attempted to pompously re-modulate their ideology using certain mathematics.

      Their further justifications rely on normative judgments, made on faith alone--i.e.:

      1) The "lower limit" of life's complexity is the bacteria that humanity can observe using microscopes and computers developed as of 2013;


      2) The "upper limit" of life's complexity is the humans that humans can observe as of 2013.

      Even if we ignore the history of fact-bending, math-disregarding, and sensationalizing those two particular individuals engage in--and even if we allow them those normative judgments about upper and lower boundaries--their evolved arguments exhibit the same inherent flaws as their original arguments.

      If we allow that smaller trends toward "usefulness" will be preserved while incomplete, we're allowing for the long-term development of almost-complete ammonia-respirating lungs. Example:


      (et cetera)

      This cumulative effect, while assuming the vitality of an end result (a normative judgment, yet again, and of course the capitalist ass uses "Shakespeare" to indicate high achievement), would allow for the vast majority of Alexandras to be nearly-complete non-air-breathers. He has more bolstered the argument against his position than he has supported it.

      This one will break Dawkins in more detail later, but thank you (really) for providing the counterpoint. For those who haven't been watching Dawkins run away from algebra textbooks throughout the 1980s-90s, the original post should give a good introduction to the debate, and we'll use cumulative patterning and normative boundaries as starting points for the next article.


  2. Not bad, but it seems to me that 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.

    And the differences in environment seem crucial. At leas per the conventional above doctrines, small differences in environments are really the #1 reason there are different species of life to begin with. If life has ostensibly common origin, why bother with speciation?
    And what about the amphibian organisms, who developed both lungs and gills?

    (I have no reason to defend Dawkings personally - homie is a very unsystematic thinker, I think best proven in the selfish gene book. Gould is definitely more talented of the two based on comparison of limited writings, though I don't know enough about the intellectual history of either to say anything more in-depth on that)

    1. Speciation is bothered with because a lot of different types of structures are needed to improve energy cycling. A bunch of the same cells in a bucket does nothing, but combine them in the right way and you get a goat--which can chew grass, produce heat, et cetera.

  3. " How many possible combinations of elements can we form based on only the 98 "naturally-occurring" elements? The problem is a factorial one, expressed mathematically as 98!,..."

    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.
    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.
    If you really want to know the probability of a mutation happening you need to work with the probability of a change in the DNA and you need to look what such a change means for the organism.
    The thing is, I think you already made up your mind about this topic. You believe that evolution as it is explained by the "pop-biologist" is unlikely, for whatever reason, and now you try to find explanations for your worldview. Of course I don't know enough about you to draw any serious conclusions.

    (For others reading this, the following is from a comment in
    You wrote: "If High Arka is correct, then the world is a wonderful, growing place, destined for greater things, survival, and filled with interdependence. If Dawkins is correct, then the world is a terrible place, destined for endless extinction, and filled with savage genes who only survive by knocking aside the weak."

    I assume that I happen to have a similiar worldview as Dawkins or maybe an even worse one (;-)) but I still think that both worldviews are right in a way. There are terrible and wonderfull things and both need to be accepted.

    "Dawkins' worldview is a justification for zero-sum economics, colonialism, deforestation, and genocide."

    This is the point where I have to vehemently disagree with you. Maybe some people see this worldview as a justification for anything, but they are making the old is-ought fallacy. Scientists can tell us how the world looks like. They can make theories of how the world developed but they can NEVER make any normative judgements because of this. The new Atheists make such mistakes all the time and it only shows a form of confirmation bias. They might believe in the free market, so they assume it can be scientifically supported. They don't like religions, so they think god can be disproven. It's all the same nonsense.
    There is a line between observational knowledge and politics/morals/ect. and you can't just ignore it and assume that one has logical imlications regarding the other.

  4. dietl, the problems with Dawkings go beyond Dawkings the scientist. While his ideas are probably as good as any in the scientific community, he deserves to be singled out for his activism and for using unfounded extrapolations from his scientific background to become a spokesperson for something extremely dark and dangerous, IMO, which is meritocracy. There is nothing wrong with meritocracy within reason, however he is openly advocating power structures and power arrangements that determine people's faith based on how "bright" (sic.) they are (naturally, in the specific sciency way that he and his compadres like).
    That's the truly scary part.

    If it wasn't for that, evolution would be a pretty trivial topic of conversation: any real scientist knows that there are things science can explain, and things it cannot explain, and the ones that cannot be explained are simply put aside without too much fuss.

    On its own terms, evolution is both an extremely useful and extremely unremarkable theory: it has never attempted to claim to explain anything other than the process through which the current variety of life came to be. That's it. It does not concern itself at all with the origin of life, it does not care (nor can say anything about) life's ultimate fate, and it certainly cannot claim to infer any moral implications from the process.

    (This is one of the reasons I think it is somewhat unfair to put Gould and Dawkings in the exact same category - although both suggest, in different ways, that nature cannot tell us anything at all about morality, Gould is content to leave it at that, while Dawkings apparently gets off on brandishing this insight as a weapon for domination)

  5. "...he is openly advocating power structures and power arrangements that determine people's faith based on how "bright" (sic.) they are."

    That's not only a horrible but also a stupid thing. I knew that Dawkins was a jerk but I was never interested enough in him to hear something like this. It seems to me that he is guilty of commiting the kind of "thought crime" he accuses religions to make.

  6. Enjoyed this post immensely. You may enjoy my own essay on the links between pop-biology and neoliberal capitalism.

    1. It is quite nice. This one's only halfway through it, and looking forward to the rest.

  7. There is no direct link from biological evolution to social Darwinism.
    There is no way to assert an African child starves because it is worthless without assuming a director (i.e. it starves because a director has called it worthless).
    This post is predicated on the assumption that the way biological diversity arose on earth dictates how we should live and defines our morals. That is bollocks.
    I look forward to seeing whether you take my challenge.

    1. Have you ever read The Economist? Similarly, have you looked into the history of Anglo-American intervention in Africa?

      There are directors, some of whom explicitly speak about the worthlessness of the proverbial African child. As this one suggested above, give The Corporation a watch. It's not that long, and some of the executive interviews are quite interesting.