New Civilization News: Natural Selection?    
 Natural Selection?20 comments
picture 10 May 2004 @ 15:56, by Flemming Funch

From FutureHi, abstract of paper, "What is Natural Selection? A Plea for Clarification", by Neil Broom:
I argue in this paper that any evolutionary theory of life that excludes from the living world a primary non-material or transcendent dimension or guiding presence, is no theory at all. The materialist's claim that natural selection supplies this evolutionary 'arrow' but is entirely material in its action, is a fundamentally dishonest claim. If there is no real purposive agenda that natural selection is pursuing then the expression "natural selection" is blatantly misleading and should be deleted from the evolutionary vocabulary.
The paper is very readable and absolutely brilliantly argued, I think. He's right. Materialist neo-darwinism is a bunch of superstituous crap. Well, those are my words. It mostly consists of skipping over the evidence and bending over backwards to try to prove with mere words that life is based on a completely blind and unconscious and random process, and there's no purpose to anything. But that gets a little silly when you try to explain how things that do have a purpose come about. There are no half-eyes or half-flying animals or birds that are half laying eggs that sort of half have unborn chicks inside. Explaining how amazingly complex organs like eyes come about, or how animals end up flying through the air, all by miniscule and completely random accidents, requires arguing in circles for quite a while, until the reader sort or gives up, or decides he agrees with you. It is pretty much the same approach as in Creationism, just with the use of a sort of Anti-God, called Unconscious Randomness. Becomes just as silly as trying to explain that a God decided to create humans out of mud. Or that it is turtles all the way down. Anyway, I'm ranting. Neil Broom argues much more soberly and provides plenty of reference material.

And here, via Frank Patrick's Focused Performance Blog, is a quote from Agent(s) Smith in Matrix Reloaded:
"Without purpose, we would not exist. It is purpose that created us, purpose that connects us, purpose that pulls us, that guides, that drives us. It is purpose that defines us, purpose that binds us."



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20 comments

12 May 2004 @ 03:30 by Emile Kroeger @61.55.134.196 : Blah ...
I argue in this comment that any evolutionary theory that rests on a primary non-material or transcendent dimension is a bunch of hogwash (OK, I won't really argue for this, I only state it loudly :)

Natural selection makes perfect sense to me. I use it in genetic algorithms - you evolve a solution to your problem :) And genetic algorithms, evolutionary electronics and the like can also give rise to truly amazing stuff, sometimes stuff that you can't understand.

I think a lot of this debate would rely on what is purpose, what is material, what is transcendent ... all those things don't really have a strict definition, so it's not easy to have a scientific discussion about them. I'd say that for some definitions of god and transcendence they'd have a place in evolution. But they would be related to things like chaos, emergence, self-organization ... probably not concepts of transcendence and extra dimensions shared by all. I still think it all falls down to words.

However, coming back to evolution, I'd be much more likely to become a neoconservative and love bush than to scrap my understanding of the way we got here through a mechanic process of natural selection (in the very broad sense). My Scientific opinions are based on much more solid, stable bases than are my political opinions. So yes, maybe I could challenge those assumptions, but I'd be hundreds of times more likely to question my political assumptions.  



12 May 2004 @ 08:55 by ming : Natural Selection
Actually I like natural selection too. It is just more about how we think it comes about. Whether it randomly appeared out of thin air, or whether it is a very clever system of keeping self-evolving machines going for a long time.

Ironically, I think that the "material" version of the theories requires a much bigger woo-woo magical god component. Nothing wrong with the mechanism of natural selection. But the ways it supposedly comes about reads as a pamphlet from Jehova's Witnesses to me.

Whereas I think it is perfectly sensible if there's a certain built-in intelligence in everything, which is an emergent property when you put complex systems together in a certain way. Which brings out, eventually, the latent consciousness in the universe. And that all life tends toward purposeful activities of evolution. There's not even any reason to call it spiritual or anything. We could say it is all material. I just don't buy the outside *magic* that the "material" evolution theory requires, but which it avoids talking about.  



12 May 2004 @ 10:25 by Emile @61.55.134.196 : Natural Selection
After posting, I read a bit of that paper, didn't find it that convincing.

Especially the part about Dawkins evolving his eye. The writer claims that Dawkins is adding direction, purpose by only selecting the systems that can see well - therefore purpose doesn't appear out of randomness. I would disagree with his argument (that one perticular experiment doesn't prove appearance of purpose doesn't disprove it either). I guess it would be easy enough to design a toy virtual world (something very simple in 2D) in wich "creatures" (blobs, whatever) can move around, avoid dangers, find each other and mate.

These creatures would have the kind of "seeing tissue" that Dawkins described - that is, if the right mutations occur, something looking like a lens would appear (If the wrong chain of mutations occur, something like a banana may occur, not helping the poor creature). The point is just that creatures who "see" better would have a better chance of avoiding death and of mating. Thus you may have a population who could "evolve" eyes.

True, this would need to be fine-tuned and balanced before it could work, and may demand loads of generations before getting anywhere. But I suspect it'd be possible to do such a thing. At least, it seems fairly imaginable.

And well, I don't know, but his arguments seem a bit weak to me. His key argument seems to be about purpose, about how life is vibrant and dinamic and not purposeless ... I do't feel like going back to find the exact paragraph but it struck me as very vague, unjustified and arbitrary. Natural Selection should also tend to create dynamism, etc. because if you aren't dynamic and active, well, you die off.

Anyway, to come back to what you're saying, I would agree with "built-in intelligence", but in the same sense that Pi and Fermat's theorem are "built-in" in our universe. Actually I pretty much agree with what you're saying (and you state it much better than I can), I just don't have any negative impression of neo-darwinism.

But then I am more interested in the computation aspects of evolution, and the basic essence of it, not with the tricky details of the slimy biological stuff. To me evolution is just something like "reproduction + a bit of change that impacts on the chances of reproduction = improvement", the rest (sex, genomes, mutations, crossovers, species) is just decoration.

Oh and by the way do you know Tierra ? Seems to me a fascinating example of raw natural selection.  



13 May 2004 @ 23:33 by Emile @61.55.134.161 : Whoops
D'oh, I just realised my link to Tierra didn't work in my last post

Some interesting stuff to read here (well written, illustrated, not very long text) :

[link]  



15 May 2004 @ 00:52 by John Abbe @220.247.248.234 : Your selection is my purpose...
"The writer claims that Dawkins is adding direction, purpose by only selecting the systems that can see well - therefore purpose doesn't appear out of randomness."

In the experiment Emile proposes, selection of some kind is still presumably performed - mate-finding & ability to avoid dangers are just different different criteria. If we remove all such selection criteria, if such a thing is even possible, then i would expect to get random results. There's always selection going on, the question is who or what is doing the selecting?

I recently re-read (bits of) Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards, especially the Appendix questioning what intrinsic motivation is, and this post/comments reminded me of it. Behaviorists say there is no such thing as intrinsic motivation, that all motivation comes from responses of the environment. So are the entities of the environment intrinsically motivated? No, they also are also motivated only by external factors. This attempts to externalize all motivation/purpose out of existence, in exactly the mystical way Flemming is getting at.

Trying to lay it all at the feet of some laws of physics is perhaps unmystical, but bad science, leading to explanations that make Ptolemy's epicycles look simple and straightforward.

Kohn doesn't even attempt to offer any clear answers as to what intrinsic motivation is, and it really is equally mystical, but frankly it's more satisfying to say that this thing exists and we don't know what it is, than to say it simply doesn't exist at all. Purpose is everywhere. Mind you, identifying with it strongly is a sure recipe for misery (cf Buddhism); this may in part explain many people's inclination to deny its existence (Skinner certainly seemed equanimous). Myself, i'm more hopeful about all of us enjoying life here when i imagine people being unattached to purpose rather than denying it.  



15 May 2004 @ 06:17 by ming : Randomness and Selection
Randomness can be very useful in stumbling upon latent possiblities that one couldn't have thought of. Or if one just runs through all possible permutations of the elements available, systematically or randomly, one is likely to discover that some of them work and do cool things. But the easily overlooked aspect is that those things are only cool and useful if one measures them against some kind of set of values or an outcome. If the value for what is good or bad is random too, then there's nothing to provide any direction. Yes, maybe you might still stumble on a battery that will run for a million years, or some mechanism that will keep running for a billion. But every little random occurrance and change of circumstances along the way would be likely to throw it off.

And the cool thing about anything that looks like life is exactly its quality of autopoiesis. Lifeforms maintain their general shape and their boundaries, even under changing conditions. Even if all the atoms it consists of get replaced, it is still essentially the same organism. There are trillions of little selection point everywhere. Not just in genes combining. The life of any organism is full of selections. Eat this, eat that, go left, go right. And the truly wonderous thing is that all life forms have in common a criterion of continuation and evolvement and improvement of that life form. There's something there that persists through any change of circumstances. When everything else changes and evolves, it remains constant. Just like gravity doesn't suddenly randomly change into something else, the principle of life doesn't either. It might be represented and utilized and channeled in many ways, but it doesn't randomly destroy itself.

So maybe life is as built into the universe as firmly as Pi is. I think it is. I think consciousness is too. It is inevitable. From the smallest sub-atomic particles and up, everything just happens to be put together in such a way that life will happen, as will consciousness. Which to me means that it has been there all along. I.e. it is built-in, inherent. You could say it is latent, but that doesn't change anything. It certainly isn't a sudden new "random" idea that gets created out of nowhere.

I hope the heated conflicts that often appear between the different views on this might be resolved when we at some point manage to scale up to the whole picture at the same time. It is amazing and somewhat incredible that we happen to live in a universe that so readily divulges its secrets to us. It is amazing and beautiful that it appears to be based on clean mathematical principles. Pi doesn't randomly change every week. It is amazing and wonderful that our own progress follows directly from the laws of the universe. And somewhat surprising and fantastic that it seems to include our ability to figure it out, to eventually understand those laws, and quite possible become so powerful that we in turn can create life and create universes.

The simple answer is that we can do these things because that's the way the universe was designed - for something like us to emerge. The much harder explanation to make would be how on earth such an amazing system can be just a meaningless accident. Because even if you take that as your starting point, you'll have to explain how the system could come about in which such an accident would be allowed to produce such results. If you keep scaling it up further and further, you can not claim that it is all accidents without it ending up being silly and circular.

A model that has as its core concept: "Before that, a random accident occurred", obviously will keep having problems, no matter how long you argue.

Whereas the model of an inherent, transcendent, timeless, intelligent presence actually has a chance of being self-consistent.

It is a matter of natural selection of memes here. You can select a model that says that life is random and meaningless all the way down. Or you can choose a model that says that life is an eternal presence capable of generating meaning. Depending on what you select, you'll follow a different path. And we can take bets on which one turns out to survive best in the long run.  



15 May 2004 @ 22:51 by celestial @131.191.56.165 : LET IT BEE A NATURAL SELECTION
The king has questions. Perhaps one ov you can come up with an answer or all ov you at once. (hehe)
When mankind figures out how to overcome death itself what happens to the evolutionary process? Mankind already can alter the evolutionary process.
Shall we resurect the dead? If so, who shall we resurect first? It should bee a LITTLE bit easier if you have their SKELETON...so...shall it be a pharaoh...perhaps a musician...or a loved one recently deceased?
Take stock ov your choices, though many they bee.  



16 May 2004 @ 06:11 by ming : Resurrection
I do believe that we can influence evolution, or even partially take it over in our local area. But I'm not sure I buy the part about resurrecting anybody. At least not from their genes. To me, growing another person from the same DNA is about as meaningful as reconstructing their car. Sure, they were driving in it, and maybe you get the bumps and scratches right, but that doesn't mean that the driver magically appears.

For the same reason, I'm skeptical about the various attempts of cryogenics and plans to download people to computers. Downloading the state of all the neurons in somebody's brain, and simulating them in a computer, will not lead anywhere useful in my estimation. It is kind of like trying to resurrect me from my e-mail archive. Doesn't address ME at all.  



16 May 2004 @ 22:20 by celestial @131.191.56.165 : Too many misunderstandings
Something I've learned on this site is that when I think I've presented a topic clearly but the reader fails to grasp the idea, then the fault falls to me, not the reader. I need to stop and gather my comments together from different sources in order to present them in logical sequence in a single log. We're all moving too fast in the wrong direction.  


27 Jul 2004 @ 09:08 by Zack @63.162.204.17 : The eye
The eye is an Irreducible Complexity. Meaning every part of the eye must be present and funtioning as it currently is for it to work. The absence or imperfection of one such part renders the entire eye useless. One such example for something like this would be a mousetrap. How many parts make up a mouse trap. After you picture that think of how many parts it takes for the mousetrap to work. The answer should be every part. If evolution were true, the eye would have had to have developed from no eye to the eye of today. But since it is an irriducible complexity the eye would be useless until it got to its present form. Hmmm...The only logical conclusion is that the eye was Created.  


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