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James Brody
July 14th, 2006, 05:33 PM
A mixed week: Anne Coulter's latest book bombed Darwians as "liberals" and evolution as "holey" rather than Holy. Coulter is quite radical and I sometimes enjoy her bombast; she's also a bit impulsive. Darwinians fight a two-front battle: traditions to the left reject the notion of human instinct, those to the right dislike our skepticism about top-down designers. "New Scientist" pointed out this stuff several years ago but Coulter probably doesn't read it. (Robin Smith has an intriguing title: "Lies at the Altar" but is a disappointment, a stack of mottos rather than a structure spun from mate selection research.)

Not to worry!

Nature and Discovery Channels already converted our kids, I think, because of the immediacy and salience of what Uncle David has to tell them about choosing partners. I've also found the highschoolers to react "cool" when they hear I'm an evolutionist and, over the past decade, more adults know the word and I can spin Buss into recommendations intended to soothe marital partnerships.

I've probably lost a couple of chanters, however, and I've compromised: if they hear voices, I don't first reach for my explanations of schizophrenia or tell them that magnetic stimulation to their temporal lobe will keep them in church all the time.

Even the chanters still want the utility of mate selection data.

Even the chanters want both their immediate and future kids to have some breaks.

Even the chanters get into the idea that parents are the best predictor and exploratory system for their offspring...

And their Commandments instantiate evolutionary good sense.

I sometimes feel like Screwtape recruiting Wormwoods and, like CS Lewis's character, I ratchet ahead unless there's a war...

Life is good!

JB

Fred H.
July 14th, 2006, 08:11 PM
JimB: Darwinians fight a two-front battle: traditions to the left reject the notion of human instinct, those to the right dislike our skepticism about top-down designers.
Jim, I’d not be terribly concerned about the Left, considering their inclination towards self-destruction, and/or their disinclination towards spawning. Regarding most everyone else, however, the problem really seems to be the blatant, hardcore atheism of the current mutation of Darwinianism—the evidence that our 14 billion year old low-entropy universe, and we sapient beings, are accidents, besides being somewhat unpalatable, simply isn’t all that convincing.

But not to worry brother Jim—I suspect that Darwinianism will evolve and adapt.

alexandra_k
July 17th, 2006, 07:30 AM
Not so very much accidents...

Mutation plays a very small part to evolution by natural selection...

Mostly you have inheritence and differential fitness...

Carey N
July 25th, 2006, 06:35 PM
Mutation is the ultimate source of all variation present within a population . . . without mutation, there would be eventually be nothing for natural selection to select, and evolution would halt.

Perhaps you meant that inheritance and differential reproduction through time are the non-random processes that transform variation generated by random mutation into adaptations . . . ? I would agree with that.

By 'accident', Fred refers to the perspective that there is no universally defined (by a supreme intelligence) meaning to life. This notion is very upsetting to Fred and prompts him to cite great minds of the past that, in their dying years, produced platitudes about the necessity and inevitability of a divine creator.

Fred H.
July 29th, 2006, 09:05 AM
Carey: By 'accident', Fred refers to the perspective that there is no universally defined (by a supreme intelligence) meaning to life. This notion is very upsetting to Fred….
As I noted in another thread, I don’t find the accident scenario to be “upsetting,” necessarily, it’s just that I find randomness to be a rather ineffective explanation, a masquerade for ignorance, like not knowing which Monty Hall door has the prize, or not knowing how/why entropy at the beginning, 14 billion years ago, was so low. But then it’s my view that “randomness” is an illusion . . . although ignorance certainly seems to be real, and probabilities are nothing more than our attempts to quantify our ignorance. Consider Carey: Can one prove randomness? Is randomness falsifiable?

Carey N
July 29th, 2006, 03:57 PM
By randomness, do you refer to an explanation of biological evolution, or of the universe's origin?

If you refer to evolution, then you're mistaken . . . no serious biologist thinks that adaptive evolution is driven by random processes. The generation of variation (by mutation) is effectively random - by which I mean that mutations occur at random with respect to their effect upon organisms (we've had this precise discussion before). Non-random processes, on the other hand, 'select' variants which happen to be better at making copies of themselves, and thereby govern adaptive evolution.

If you refer to the creation of the universe, then I'm not really equipped to enter the discussion, as I'm no expert on astro-physics . . . it's hard to believe that anything with inherent order is created totally randomly, but, on the hand, a non-random process doesn't by any means imply the existence of divinity. In other words, "non-random" is not synonymous with "Creator", as you seem to imply.

Fred H.
July 29th, 2006, 05:01 PM
Carey: The generation of variation (by mutation) is effectively random - by which I mean that mutations occur at random with respect to their effect upon organisms
I’m not terribly clear what you mean by “effectively random . . . with respect to their effect upon organisms,” but if you simply mean that “mutation” is random,” I’m inclined to disagree. As I’ve said, Carey, I just find randomness to be a rather ineffective explanation, a masquerade for ignorance, like not knowing which Monty Hall door has the prize, or not knowing how/why entropy at the beginning, 14 billion years ago, was so low; and that it’s my view that “randomness” is an illusion . . . although ignorance certainly seems to be real, and probabilities are nothing more than our attempts to quantify our ignorance . . . whether we’re talking physics, cosmology, or biology.

As far as I know Carey, we can’t prove randomness, and randomness is not falsifiable.

TomJrzk
July 29th, 2006, 08:53 PM
I’m not terribly clear what you mean by “effectively random . . . with respect to their effect upon organisms,” but if you simply mean that “mutation” is random,” I’m inclined to disagree.Mutation is effectively random, unless and until we can plot the paths of all energetic particles and the DNA in reproductive (sperm and egg) cells.

One cause of mutation is the natural radioactivity of the uranium in the earth. Radioactivity sends alpha particles (protons) in various directions. Occasionally, one of those particles makes a direct hit on a reproductive cell that is still healthy enough to become part of a fertilized egg. This sometimes causes the birth of an organism with a different DNA pattern, which changes the sequence, which changes (or activates or deactivates) a protein which actually affects the fitness of that individual.

(Radiation sickness is not a problem with someone having too much radiation in them; it is the overall effect of many cells being disrupted by the alpha particles that flew through them and chopped up too much DNA and proteins.)

That is what I mean by random mutation. Granted, in a deterministic world, all mutations are actually predetermined. But at a level that naturally appears random to us.

You're welcome, Fred.
I’m inclined to disagree.Then what causes mutation that's not random???

Fred H.
July 30th, 2006, 08:59 AM
Mutation is effectively random, unless and until we can plot the paths of all energetic particles and the DNA in reproductive (sperm and egg) cells
Yeah, like the motions of stars and planets appeared to be inexplicable until Newton discovered his laws of gravity and Einstein discovered general relativity, after which we were able to plot their paths—as usual, Tom has things backwards.

As best I can tell, we can’t prove randomness, and it’s not falsifiable. And so it remains: Randomness is an illusion, although ignorance certainly seems to be real.

TomJrzk
July 30th, 2006, 12:33 PM
Tom has things backwards. "Backwards" is deciding on a philosophy and disregarding facts that are against that philosophy. That is what makes up a Fred. I just gave you a set of facts, you mentioned no fact to dispute mine; you just threw some ignorant shadow at me. This is what I expect from you, Fred. Keep up your excellent example of ridiculous arguments, they fully support my philosophy.

Fred H.
July 31st, 2006, 08:04 PM
[Tom says:] Fred. I just gave you a set of facts, you mentioned no fact to dispute mine; you just threw some ignorant shadow at me.OK genius, let’s try this one last time—saying, as you did, that “Mutation is effectively random, unless and until we can plot the paths of all energetic particles and the DNA in reproductive (sperm and egg) cells,” is akin to saying that which Monty Hall door has the prize is effectively random until Monty tells us which door the prize is behind.

Or, stated another way: Randomness is an illusion, but Tom’s ignorance is painfully real.

Carey N
August 1st, 2006, 12:04 AM
I'm not terribly clear what you mean by 'effectively random . . . with respect to their effect upon organisms,' but if you simply mean that 'mutation' is random . . .'
No, that is not what I meant . . . I would agree with you in abstract that, technically (in the sense that everything is determined, etc. etc.), mutations are 'non-random'. We could in principle predict which/when/where mutations would happen if we knew the exact state of every particle in the universe and were able to model their future dynamics (in practice, of course, this kind of predictive power is beyond reach).

What I really meant by "random" is that mutations occur without regard for their effect upon the adaptive design of organisms (with a few exceptions that prove the rule, but I won't go into them). In other words, mutational processes that inherently benefit organisms don't exist, and most mutations decrease an organism's ability to produce offspring. You could also think of mutation as a process that continually pushes populations toward higher entropy . . . without a complementary process that reduced entropy locally, mutation would result in lower and lower organismal fitness until the population crashed to extinction. This is one of the primary concerns with respect to very small, endangered species, in which selection cannot act strongly enough to combat mutational meltdown.

Natural selection is the complementary process that siphons and preserves order from a pool of mutational disorder . . . organisms that are best adapted to their environments preferentially contribute to subsequent generations, while less effectively-adapted organisms fail to contirbute or contribute less heritable information to subsequent generations (as you may intuit, the difference between the conitrbutions of more-fit and less-fit organisms is directly related to the strength of selection, as described by the mathematics of evolutionary genetics). Deleterious mutations are thus expunged from the population . . . to what extent this occurs depends upon the strength of selection, population size, mutation rate, reproductive mechanism of the species in question (sexual, asexual, etc.) and, in some contexts, immigration/emmigration rates. The details of why certain organisms and traits are more or less "fit" are highly context-dependent; e.g. a lizard that specializes upon swimming and consuming seaweed can do very well in a marine tidal habitat, but the same lizard is pretty screwed in a desert.

So, to re-iterate my meaning: mutations may in principle be governed by deterministic laws, but they don't preferentially benefit organisms or rain down according to a grand design. Rather, mutation is the process that drives populations toward the thermodynamic equivalent of entropy, and natural selection is the process that ultimately resists localized entropy (while allowing universal entropy to increase by the release of metabolic heat, etc.)

Fred H.
August 1st, 2006, 07:59 AM
Carey: So, to re-iterate my meaning: mutations may in principle be governed by deterministic laws, but they don't preferentially benefit organisms or rain down according to a grand design. Rather, mutation is the process that drives populations toward the thermodynamic equivalent of entropy, and natural selection is the process that ultimately resists localized entropy (while allowing universal entropy to increase by the release of metabolic heat, etc.)
Fine post Carey—clear, concise, reasonably rigorous, not agonizingly longwinded. I hope MM, Tom, and Alex are observing and perhaps learn something. I suspect Alex will; but the other two may be a lost cause.

Anyhoo, it seems that we agree that mutation isn’t necessarily intrinsically “random,” but rather, currently, it seems to be unpredictable, at least by us humans based on our current knowledge.

Roger Penrose (in his Emperor’s New Mind), who convincingly argues that human mathematical insight is non-algorithmic, and also doesn’t see how algorithms for mathematical judgment could evolve, writes: "To my way of thinking, there is still something mysterious about evolution, with its apparent 'groping' towards some future purpose. Things at least seem to organize themselves somewhat better than they 'ought' to, just on the basis of blind-chance evolution and natural selection." (p.416). (And others have said similar things.)

Carey N
August 1st, 2006, 09:42 AM
Thanks for the positive feedback. I'm afraid this one's going to be a bit more long-winded. Bear with me.

Some comments on your comments:
it seems that we agree that mutation isn't necessarily intrinsically 'random,' but rather, currently, it seems to be unpredictable, at least by us humans based on our current knowledge.
True that mutations may not be random in the grandest of grand schemes of things, but to really predict which, where, and when mutations will happen would require that we know ths state of all mutagens (UV light, mutation-inducing DNA elements, etc.) everywhere on earth (and elsewhere, since some, e.g. UV rays, descend upon us from the cosmos). To know all that information and document it in, say, a large Excel spreadsheet, seems (based on informal logic) impossible. To really monitor so much information, we'd need a computer that contains more particles than exist in the universe.

This is why I said that, in practice, mutations are not predictable - at least, not by humans. Perhaps I'm incorrect on that matter, but I'm willing to bet that a formal analysis would yield the same qualitative conclusion. Could Someone else predict all mutations? I guess so, but He'd have to be beyond the material realm of this universe, beyond the rules of physics . . . beyond human commentary. Such an entity's existence would not be subject to rational argument.


Roger Penrose (in his Emperor's New Mind), who convincingly argues that human mathematical insight is non-algorithmic, and also doesn't see how algorithms for mathematical judgment could evolve
Well . . . that doesn't mean they didn't evolve! You have to admit that Penrose is somewhat biased (as we all are) in his conclusions. Just because he doesn't see something doesn't mean that we can't see it . . . to the next point:


[Penrose thinks that] there is still something mysterious about evolution, with its apparent 'groping' towards some future purpose. Things at least seem to organize themselves somewhat better than they 'ought' to, just on the basis of blind-chance evolution and natural selection."

Don't get pulled in by Penrose's use of the phrase 'blind-chance evolution and natural selection' . . . it's critical to see that mutations occur effectively by blind chance (in context of the entropy discussion of my last post), while natural selection is a NON-random force that pulls order out of mutational diorder. The term 'blind-chance natural selection' suggests to me that penrose doesn't understand, or doesn't want to understand, what evolution is really about. I'm not saying he isn't a smart guy, but remember that smart guys and girls (especially successful ones) tend also to be stubborn guys and girls.

My correction for Penrose is this: evolution doesn't grope towards any kind of purpose other than increased capacity to populate the biota with copies of oneself. It may appear that evolution has been ascending a ladder of progress*, if one takes a highly anthropocentric view of the big picture, but consider that single-celled oarganisms are still the most abundant (in numbers and biomass), by a long shot, on earth. The only thing evolution does is pull a few pockets of order out of a large pool of mutational disorder (the reason why I can say mutational disorder is that mutations are effectively random with respect to their effects upon the adaptive design of organisms, as discussed in my last post). What else could be expected of a dumb algorithm? The amazing thing is the sheer complexity of organisms that have arisen from this process, which itself lacks any foresight.

So . . . I think there is quite a lot of mystery awaiting resolution in evolutionary biology, but none of that mystery (to me) suggests, hints, leans toward, or in any way implies the existence of a grand design.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

* What does "progress" even mean in this context? If it means greater complexity, then humans are certainly a step forward. But defining progress in that way is really a human-induced artificiality. For evolution, progress is just the continuation of existence, in any self-reproducing form (bacteria, insects, plants, humans, whatever).

Fred H.
August 1st, 2006, 12:04 PM
[Carey said:] Don't get pulled in by Penrose's use of the phrase 'blind-chance evolution and natural selection' . . . it's critical to see that mutations occur effectively by blind chance (in context of the entropy discussion of my last post), while natural selection is a NON-random force that pulls order out of mutational diorder. The term 'blind-chance natural selection' suggests to me that penrose doesn't understand, or doesn't want to understand, what evolution is really about. I'm not saying he isn't a smart guy, but remember that smart guys and girls (especially successful ones) tend also to be stubborn guys and girls.

[Penrose said:]"To my way of thinking, there is still something mysterious about evolution, with its apparent 'groping' towards some future purpose. Things at least seem to organize themselves somewhat better than they 'ought' to, just on the basis of blind-chance evolution and natural selection."
Actually, Penrose was rather vigilant so as to avoid any unnecessary blasphemy regarding the current Darwinian dogma that decrees, as you say, that “natural selection is a NON-random force”—note that he indicated that things organize themselves better than they ought just on the basis of “blind-chance evolution” AND “natural selection." IOW, his “blind-chance evolution” is roughly synonymous with “random mutation,” but he still seemingly pays the required homage to “natural selection.” In fact I think he says somewhere that he’s a strong believer in “natural selection” . . . although I suspect that he too, not unlike me, sees “natural selection,” whether it be a top down or bottom up selection, as ultimately little more than a circular account that really doesn’t explain or predict all that much.

Which leaves us pretty much where we were back in the June 17 2006 post, Re: Implications of Somatic Behavior Choice, where you said: I still think there's a solid case for the argument that natural selection in practice - the process that actually occurs in the real world - is completely non-circular. The bare-bones, generalistic concept of selection as survival of the fittest has always been circular, as you and many other people in the past have repeatedly pointed out, but as soon as you begin to consider ecological detail, that apparent circularity just isn't important at all.
And, exasperated, I responded: OK Carey, I give up, you win: Natural selection’s “apparent circularity just isn't important at all.”

TomJrzk
August 1st, 2006, 12:37 PM
is akin to saying that which Monty Hall door has the prize is effectively random until Monty tells us which door the prize is behind.Pardon me, but your bias is showing. What, or who, plays the Monty Hall role in your metaphor?
Randomness is an illusion.Yes, that's why I said 'effectively random'. Randomness, like free will, is an illusion in a deterministic universe.

Carey N
August 2nd, 2006, 07:54 AM
Actually, Penrose was rather vigilant so as to avoid any unnecessary blasphemy regarding the current Darwinian dogma that decrees, as you say, that “natural selection is a NON-random force”—note that he indicated that things organize themselves better than they ought just on the basis of “blind-chance evolution” AND “natural selection."
This paragraph doesn't make a whole lot of sense . . . for example, how does Penrose know "how things ought to organize themselves" on the basis of mutation and natural selection? That just sounds like a an academic's way of saying "I can't possibly believe that natural selection, lacking any foresight, produced biological complexity."


[Penrose's] “blind-chance evolution” is roughly synonymous with “random mutation,” but he still seemingly pays the required homage to “natural selection.”
"Evolution" (in any phrase) and "random mutation" aren't remotely synonymous . . . any phrase with the word "evolution" in it, twisted though Penrose's may be, should refer to the proceses of change in content of heritable information between generations: selection, drift, migration, recombination, and mutation. Random mutation is a part of the evolutionary process, not a synonym for it.

Fred H.
August 2nd, 2006, 08:53 AM
Carey: "Evolution" (in any phrase) and "random mutation" aren't remotely synonymous . . . any phrase with the word "evolution" in it, twisted though Penrose's may be, should refer to the proceses of change in content of heritable information between generations: selection, drift, migration, recombination, and mutation. Mutation is a part of the evolutionary process, not a synonym for it.
Well Carey, as you yourself have already acknowledged at
http://www.behavior.net/bolforums/showpost.php?p=3990&postcount=4 —
Mutation is the ultimate source of all variation present within a population . . . without mutation, there would eventually be nothing for natural selection to select, and evolution would halt.
IOW, whether selection be top down, bottom up, “natural,” “artificial,” blind, mindless, whatever, it can only select from what is already available; from, in a sense, what already has blindly, directionlessly, “effectively randomly,” changed/mutated/evolved; at least according to current Darwinian dogma.

So I don’t think it sounds like Penrose is necessarily saying, as you opine, that he "can't possibly believe that natural selection, lacking any foresight, produced biological complexity." Rather I think he’s saying exactly what he said: "To my way of thinking, there is still something mysterious about evolution, with its apparent 'groping' towards some future purpose. Things at least seem to organize themselves somewhat better than they 'ought' to, just on the basis of blind-chance evolution and natural selection."

And I’d add that while Penrose indicates that he himself is a strong believer in “natural selection,” I suspect that he, like me, may also see “natural selection,” whether it be a top down or bottom up selection, as ultimately little more than a circular account that really doesn’t explain or predict all that much.

Margaret McGhee
August 2nd, 2006, 02:57 PM
Watching this one form the sidelines I see that Fred states that selection proceeds: . . from, in a sense, what already has blindly, directionlessly, “effectively randomly,” changed/mutated/evolved; at least according to current Darwinian dogma.

It seems to me that the disconnect here is in defining mutation as random - which is effectively true (true at the level of the organism) - and asserting that therefore evolution is random - which is certainly not true.

The theory of evolution is the scientific description of a process, a mechanism, whereby species can change over time to adapt to their environment - which is also changing randomly (unpredictably at the level of the organism).

A mechanism, whether natural or man-made can have many elements working together to provide a function. That one element of the mechanism uses the quality of randomness to provide a source of information that is used by other elements of the process - does not make the process random.

This seems to me similar to a random number generator in a computer game - such as when dealing the deck in free cell. Depending on the deal sometimes the player may win, sometimes they lose. Much like mutations sometimes enhance fitness and sometimes reduce fitness. Since an organism has no way of knowing ahead of time which ones will do better, or just how their environment might change around them, the effective randomness of mutations allows whatever possible designs that come up - to be tried out in the game of life - in the existing unpredictable environment.

Since environments themselves are effectively random at the level of the organism (volcanoes, hurricanes, CO2 concentrations, migration of predators, disease organisms, etc.) what better way could be devised for species to adapt than for each generation to be able to select the best possibilities from a random set.

The result is that species evolve in a very non-random way - always in a way to optimize their survival in their existing environment. The randomness of mutations provides a crucial type of information that allows non-random evolution to proceed - to track a randomly changing environment.

I don't offer this as a better explanation than Carey's. More to see if I've got it right so please tell me if I don't. BTW Carey, I really appreciated your explanation of evolution in terms of thermodynamics. I've never seen that done so clearly.

Margaret

Fred H.
August 2nd, 2006, 05:30 PM
MM: Since environments themselves are effectively random at the level of the organism (volcanoes, hurricanes, CO2 concentrations, migration of predators, disease organisms, etc.) what better way could be devised for species to adapt than for each generation to be able to select the best possibilities from a random set.

The result is that species evolve in a very non-random way - always in a way to optimize their survival in their existing environment. The randomness of mutations provides a crucial type of information that allows non-random evolution to proceed - to track a randomly changing environment.
If, as MM asserts, “environments themselves are effectively random,” which is how I think most Darwinians would generally see things, and if we’re talking about a top-down “natural selection,” as we generally are in Darwinian natural section, then natural selection itself, a product of blind natural forces operating in environments that “themselves are effectively random,” would also, ultimately, be “effectively random.” IOW Carey, MM is effectively showing you, unwittingly perhaps, that if we are to be at least somewhat consistent in our reasoning, then you essentially have it wrong when you assert that Darwinian “natural selection is a NON-random force”—Darwinian natural selection would be as “effectively random” as Darwinian mutations.

(I’m so glad MM is on your side.)

Margaret McGhee
August 2nd, 2006, 05:44 PM
Fred - You keep referring to "top down" natural selection. I can't imagine what that means - unless maybe you're trying to slip some ID in under the door.

Then you say, . . then natural selection itself, a product of blind natural forces operating in environments that “themselves are effectively random,” would also, ultimately, be “effectively random

That's like saying that water at room temperature and pressure, being a product of the gas oxygen and the gas hydrogen - is therefore effectively a gas.

For someone who complains about rigor in others' arguments, you should understand that your saying that something is true is not enough to establish its validity. You need to have some logical connection in the equation to get from one to the other. Or, is that too rigorous for you?

Margaret

Carey N
August 2nd, 2006, 06:44 PM
If, as MM asserts, “environments themselves are effectively random,” which is how I think most Darwinians would generally see things
Absolutely false. This is a ludicrous notion. [To Margaret: I was planning to write a gentle response to your post, but Fred has pushed me into a more aggressive state of mind]

Stop and think for a second . . . if the environment changed randomly, then how could a population evolve to tolerate it? Say, for example, that suddenly a random number generator were used to determine the temperature each day in the range of 0 to 100 Degrees Celsius. One day, it would be, say, 75 degrees, which is well beyond the temperature at which most proteins dissociate. At best, a few bacterial species adapted to life around thermal vents would survive. Then, the next day, the temperature drops to 1 degree, and the only remaining organisms (i.e. the ones adapted to very high temperatures), now have trouble getting on . . . within a few days or weeks, at most, there would be very little or nothing left of life on earth if the environment were "random".

Why do you think that it was only AFTER the earth's atmosphere stabilized that life first got going on this planet?

The features of the environment to which life adapts are the regularities, which exert consistent selection pressures that aren't so powerful that they eliminate every member of the population, rather than just some of them. The more extreme and unpredictable an environmental factor, the more likely it is to wipe out species that were previously adapted to a specific set of environmental conditions. Environmental regularity, not randomness, allows evolution to proceed. The very term "environment" in biology only makes sense with reference to a particular set of conditions and patterns that recur from day to day and year to year. There may be stochastic elements of an environment (e.g. food is randomly distributed in habitat A), but they are generally part of a larger regularity (there is food to be found in habitat A) to which populations can adapt. The greater the degree random facotrs play in a population's evolution, generally, the more likely that population is to crash.

Two extreme illustrative examples:
1)
A cactus plant can live in the desert because it possesses a large suite of desert-specific adaptations, including: water storage structures, deep root systems, thick waxy outer skin, and highly altered, water-efficient photosynthetic biochemical mechanisms. These adaptations are costly and would not be favored if the annual rainfall changed randomly from year to year . . .

2)
Consider the meteor that hit this planet and prompted the end-Cretaceous extinction event (the one that killed the dinosaurs, except for birds). This was a highly irregular, extreme environmental event, and it annihilated a large fraction of metazoan life on earth.

Adaptive evolution proceeds because natural selection non-randomly preserves elements of the variation generated by random mutation. Without environmental regularity, natural selection would be so immensely strong that populations would not be able to respond to it, biological evolution would halt, and life would cease to exist.

The point on which Margaret was heading in the right direction is that the variation generated by random mutation is definitely what gives a population its "evolvability" . . . without varitation from which to select, natural selection cannot mold a population in a changing (or static) environment.

Margaret McGhee
August 2nd, 2006, 07:49 PM
Carey, Thanks for the clarification. As I was writing that I thought it seemed a bit squishy. I said, Since environments themselves are effectively random at the level of the organism (volcanoes, hurricanes, CO2 concentrations, migration of predators, disease organisms, etc.) what better way could be devised for species to adapt than for each generation to be able to select the best possibilities from a random set.

I think what I was trying to say was that . . Since the changes in their environments that species must adapt to are effectively random at the level of the organism - like the changes caused by the meteor that hit this planet and prompted the end-Cretaceous extinction event - what better way could be devised for species to adapt to those changes than for each generation to be able to select the best possibilities from a random set.

I should maybe add that by saying that the changes in their environments . . . are effectively random at the level of the organism - I mean that that meteor was not a random event. It was a mass in the universe that was obeying all the laws of physics. But for the organisms that had to adapt to the changes it caused - it was not something that they could have evolved an ability adapt to - it was a non cyclic, non repeating event - therefore effectively random.

Margaret

Fred H.
August 2nd, 2006, 11:25 PM
Carey: The features of the environment to which life adapts are the regularities, which exert consistent selection pressures that aren't so powerful that they eliminate every member of the population, rather than just some of them.
OK Carey, so apparently you’re talking Darwinian top-down natural selection, i.e. the selection imposed by the environment, an environment that must have your so-called “Environmental REGULARITY,” that we see only here on Earth (so far anyway), along with, I suppose, all the various (known and unknown) natural forces, that may or may not directly impact the “Environmental REGULARITY” itself.

However, I suspect that most Darwinians would consider the fact that there’s an Earth at all with the requisite “Environmental REGULARITY,” to be the result, ultimately, of random or “effectively random” things. So that while you may decree that “natural selection is a NON-random force,” this so-called “force” seems to require, in addition to effectively random mutations to select from, an “Environmental REGULARITY” that is itself the result of “effectively random” things that have occurred over the last 14 billion years—ultimately, eventually, your so-called “NON-random force” of Darwinian “natural selection” ends up being the result of random or effectively random things.

Be that as it may, let me repeat the more interesting point made in my last post to you regarding your misunderstanding/misinterpretation regarding Penrose.

As you, Carey, have acknowledged at http://www.behavior.net/bolforums/s...990&postcount=4 — “Mutation is the ultimate source of all variation present within a population . . . without mutation, there would eventually be nothing for natural selection to select, and evolution would halt.”

IOW, whether selection be top down, bottom up, “natural,” “artificial,” blind, mindless, whatever, it can only select from what is already available; from, in a sense, what already has blindly, directionlessly, “effectively randomly,” changed/mutated/evolved; at least according to current Darwinian dogma.

So I doubt Penrose is saying, as you opine, that he "can't possibly believe that natural selection, lacking any foresight, produced biological complexity." Rather I think he’s saying exactly what he said: "To my way of thinking, there is still something mysterious about evolution, with its apparent 'groping' towards some future purpose. Things at least seem to organize themselves somewhat better than they 'ought' to, just on the basis of blind-chance evolution and natural selection."

And I’d add that while Penrose indicates that he himself is a strong believer in “natural selection,” I suspect that he, like I, fully realizes that “natural selection,” whether it be a top down or bottom up selection, is ultimately little more than a circular account that really doesn’t explain or predict all that much.

Carey N
August 3rd, 2006, 03:49 AM
However, I suspect that most Darwinians would consider the fact that there’s an Earth at all with the requisite “Environmental REGULARITY,” to be the result, ultimately, of random or “effectively random” things. So that while you may decree that “natural selection is a NON-random force,” this so-called “force” seems to require, in addition to effectively random mutations to select from, an “Environmental REGULARITY” that is itself the result of “effectively random” things that have occurred over the last 14 billion years—ultimately, eventually, your so-called “NON-random force” of Darwinian “natural selection” ends up being the result of random or effectively random things.
According to this logic, everything is ultimately the result of random things . . . a quick glance at the adaptive complexity of any biological entity, or the complexity of other non-biological phenomena (earth or non-earth-bound), pretty conclusively reveals that your statement above is an absurdity.

"If you atheists think that the universe wasn't made by a Designer, then it must have been made randomly [this is false], which means that everything in the universe is also random [also false]". Seriously, Fred, that's what you sound like.


whether selection be top down, bottom up, “natural,” “artificial,” blind, mindless, whatever, it can only select from what is already available; from, in a sense, what already has blindly, directionlessly, “effectively randomly,” changed/mutated/evolved; at least according to current Darwinian dogma.
It can only select from what is available, yes . . . but what evolves is a product not only of what was available due to mutation, but also of what natural selection did with the variation at its disposal. Natural selection is the one and only force that leads to adaptive evolution. Without selection, there would be no elegant fit between form and function we see in the biological world - that kind of complexity doesn't just pop into existence due to mutation alone.


And I’d add that while Penrose indicates that he himself is a strong believer in “natural selection,” I suspect that he, like I, fully realizes that “natural selection,” whether it be a top down or bottom up selection, is ultimately little more than a circular account that really doesn’t explain or predict all that much.
Too bad you're not as good at openly reading other peoples' posts as you are at repeating yourself.

Fred H.
August 3rd, 2006, 08:45 AM
Carey: It [natural selection] can only select from what is available, yes….
Good Carey, then it seems we now agree on two things: That selection can only select from what is already available; and that what is available, the so-called mutations, aren’t necessarily intrinsically “random,” but rather, currently anyway, just seem to be unpredictable, at least by us humans based on our current knowledge.

Speaking of selection from only what’s available, I’m reminded of one of my old 4/2002 posts regarding what LeDoux had to say concerning selection vs. instruction as it relates to human “learning”:
Selection vs. Instruction — LeDoux (in his Synaptic Self, 2002, pg. 72-79) writes that, “Pretty much everyone agrees that that the transition from uncommitted, immature initial connections of the young brain to the mature and very specific connectivity that characterizes that of the adult requires neural activity, that is, transmission across synapses…. [The issue is whether] activity initiated by environmental stimulation helps create [instruction] the mature connections or just selects [selection] from the initial set of intrinsically established connections those that will be retained… Is the [synaptic] self sculpted from a preexisting set of synaptic choices, or does experience instruct and add to the synaptic basis of the self as we go through early life?”

LeDoux also writes, as Niels Jern has pointed out, “the history of biology is filled with instances of instructional ideas giving way to selectionist ones… [For example, in the field of immunology] it was once thought that the foreign antigens enter cells and instruct them to make antibody molecules…[but now research has shown that] foreign antigens select precursor molecules from a preexisting pool that can be assembled into a large variety of antibodies… Jerne later applied his antibody logic to the topic of learning… [and] suggested that the idea of learning from experience (instruction) be replaced with the concept that experience just selects from preexisting latent knowledge. Paraphrasing Socrates, Jern noted that ‘learning consists of being reminded of what is already in the brain.’”
And so I suppose that’s kind of how I see Darwinian “natural selection” as it relates to biological evolution—Darwinian natural selection in biological evolution is nothing more than a selection, a selection imposed by environmental factors and various (known and unknown) blind natural forces, of the evolution/diversity/ change/mutation that has already taken place. And from that we conclude that whatever traits are selected must be the fittest, b/c otherwise they’d not have been selected . . . I have to admit that the circularity is rather compelling, and I can see why you and others are such strong believers in such a circular notion.

Fred H.
August 3rd, 2006, 09:07 AM
Carey: According to this logic, everything is ultimately the result of random things . . . a quick glance at the adaptive complexity of any biological entity, or the complexity of other non-biological phenomena (earth or non-earth-bound), pretty conclusively reveals that your statement above is an absurdity.
Well Carey, if you’re saying that the complexity of life and the universe that we find ourselves in, a universe that began 14 billion years ago with inexplicably low entropy, couldn’t be the result of an accident or chance, which implies that there is indeed, after all, some sort of purpose/meaning/ first cause . . . well, hallelujah bro, and welcome to the fold.

Carey N
August 3rd, 2006, 09:24 AM
You built a straw man of evolutionary biology, I knocked it down, and now you're saying that I agree with you indirectly? Your argument tactics are child's play, Fred. Grow up.

Carey N
August 3rd, 2006, 09:36 AM
Removed by user.

TomJrzk
August 3rd, 2006, 09:44 AM
a universe that began 14 billion years ago with inexplicably low entropyThe thermodynamic arrow is often linked to the cosmological arrow (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrow_of_time), as according to the Big Bang (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang) theory, the Universe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universe) was initially very hot with energy distributed uniformly. As the Universe grows its temperature drops, which leaves less energy available to perform useful work in the future than was available in the past. Thus the Universe itself has a well-defined thermodynamic arrow of time. But this doesn't address the question of why the initial state of the universe was that of low entropy. If cosmic expansion were to halt and reverse due to gravity, the temperature of the Universe would once again increase, but it's expected that entropy would continue to increase.We know that the early universe was not "with energy distributed uniformly"; there were fluctuations shown by the infrared survey.

Those fluctuations caused energy to clump due to gravity; those clumps cooled to stars; those stars pressed the energy into the different elements; those elements were spread by novae; those elements made your DNA.

We've been living off those fluctuations.

Fred H.
August 3rd, 2006, 11:36 AM
[Carey to Fred:] Its patently obvious that you don't understand, or don't want to understand, what evolution is . . . I've addressed your misunderstandings time and time again, and all you've done is repeat yourself.

[Tom’s quote from Wiki:] If cosmic expansion were to halt and reverse due to gravity, the temperature of the Universe would once again increase, but it's expected that entropy would continue to increase.
Well Carey, sorry you seem unable to appreciate the various problems and failings in your, IMO, simplistic/superficial and circular understanding of biological evolution, although it does seem to be the currently accepted Darwinian dogma, which is really the only important thing regarding you getting whatever scholastic credentials you’re seeking.

But even Tom, the guy who asserts that we humans are not morally responsible for our behavior, seems to at least have some appreciation for the mystery here regarding the beginning low entropy (which, like it or not, has to be taken into account when attempting to understand and explain life and it’s evolution b/c without that low entropy, there’d be no life, no evolution, no “natural selection”).

Although, admittedly, I do find Tom’s rambling regarding the “fluctuations”—that he declares “we’ve been living off,” claiming that those fluctuations “caused energy to clump due to gravity; those clumps cooled to stars; those stars pressed the energy into the different elements; those elements were spread by novae; those elements made your DNA”—to be somewhat incoherent, not to mention superficial. But then I suppose Tom does often tend to be somewhat incoherent and superficial.

Carey, it may seem that we’ve reached yet another dead-end, but I remain hopeful that eventually you’ll realize that you don’t know nearly as much as you think you know. And always remember Fred’s theorem—Randomness is an illusion, but ignorance, unfortunately, is rampant.

All the best,
Hugs and kisses,
Fred

Fred H.
August 3rd, 2006, 12:09 PM
From JimB’s opening post on “Selling Evolution”:
Darwinians fight a two-front battle: traditions to the left reject the notion of human instinct, those to the right dislike our skepticism about top-down designers….

Not to worry!

Nature and Discovery Channels already converted our kids [to the current Darwinian doctrine]….
Yeah, that Carey sure is a true believer.

Nevertheless Jim, I think that you started a good thread here. At times it seemed that Carey might actually have started thinking for himself, but, alas, the pull of the current dogma, and the admittedly compelling circularity of it all, apparently is still too strong in his life. Plus, let’s face it, getting whatever scholastic credentials Carey’s seeking probably pretty much requires him to buy into the current doctrine, so God bless the lad.

But did you, Jim, get anything out of the thread?

Carey N
August 3rd, 2006, 12:10 PM
Alright - my patience with you has finally, at long last, run out. Good luck with your future exploits, Fred.

TomJrzk
August 3rd, 2006, 12:39 PM
Tom, the guy who asserts that we humans are not morally responsible for our behaviorWe're responsible to our social instincts.
Tom’s rambling...to be somewhat incoherent, not to mention superficial.You need to look up 'incoherent' in the dictionary. Plus, I intentionally keep things simplistic so you can't misrepresent my terms and create diversions.
ignorance, unfortunately, is rampant.Your philosophy is based on an Intelligent Designer, to whom everything you're ignorant of is assigned, of whom you will always be ignorant. That's why ignorance is rampant. And, with that, I'll agree.

TomJrzk
August 4th, 2006, 08:10 AM
Alright - my patience with you has finally, at long last, run out. Good luck with your future exploits, Fred.Yes, Fred has no intention of understanding your points and it can get pretty aggravating. But the rest of us benefit from your clear posts. It's just best to throw up your hands and accept Fred as Fred and keep making your points for our benefit, without worrying whether Fred can be turned to the truth. He can't.

Fred H.
August 4th, 2006, 11:48 AM
Carey: Good luck with your future exploits, Fred.
I’d not be too cynical Carey. (And BTW, good luck in your future exploits too). I think that we can both find at least some consolation in that in this discussion we’ve managed to more or less agree that “natural selection” can select only from what is already available; and that what is available, the so-called mutations, aren’t necessarily intrinsically “random,” but rather just seem to be unpredictable, at least currently by us humans based on our current knowledge. And additionally when you wrote, “a quick glance at the adaptive complexity of any biological entity, or the complexity of other non-biological phenomena (earth or non-earth-bound), pretty conclusively reveals that,” such things could not be the result of random or effectively random things, I am certainly inclined to agree.

So there are various things that we’ve more or less managed agree on, while our primary disagreement seems to boil down to the to ultimate circularity in the notion of Darwinian top-down “natural selection” and that such a notion ultimately doesn’t really explain or predict all that much—I think that that is a very significant factor in evaluating the validity/usefulness of “natural selection” as being a legitimate force/theory/whatever; whereas you, as you’ve stated, indicate that the “apparent circularity just isn't important at all.” (And I’d bet my left testicle that, assuming you live a full life, you’ll eventually agree with me that Darwinian top-down natural selection, as it is currently “explained”/“understood,” is indeed merely a circular notion that ultimately doesn’t really explain or predict all that much.)

Nevertheless, be that as it may, our discussion/debate, I think, was actually reasonably honest and rigorous and I think we both were reasonably consistent in how we see and explained things; certainly more so than in how Tom and MM tend to behave in their various ramblings, and certainly we weren’t so unnecessarily longwinded as Alex tends to be in some of her posts.

And finally, where one stands on these issues seems to depend on how one sees the big picture. Some of us sees things as Roger Penrose—the eminently qualified Oxford mathematician and physicist, who recently also wrote The Road to Reality, A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe, 2005, “the most complete mathematical explanation of the universe yet published”—sees things: "I would say the universe has a purpose. It's not there just somehow by chance." While the rest see things primarily as being random and/or “effectively random”; or perhaps blindly, mindlessly, algorithmically deterministic (essentially effectively random), as Tom claims to see things.

Everyone here should consider buying Penrose’s book—it is undoubtedly the best book on physics and a mathematical explanation of the universe ever written.

TomJrzk
August 4th, 2006, 12:58 PM
aren’t necessarily intrinsically “random,” This is exactly why Carey threw up his arms and signed off. Leave it to you to blast one last parting shot.

You and he DO NOT agree. You're view of non-random is "Oh, then there MUST be some imaginary friend who imparts some intelligence" while his is like my "there are no external guiding forces (even us) so everything is non-random; it's all deterministic".

Yes, I know that you intentionally didn't let that sink in.

Fred H.
August 5th, 2006, 08:59 AM
Tom: You and he DO NOT agree. [Blah, blah, blah, blah] . . . it's all deterministic.
Well, since Tom is convinced that we humans are not morally responsible for our behavior, that any free will is an illusion, that it’s all deterministic, then if in fact Carey and I do not agree, then it is and always was inevitable (deterministic) that Carey an I would not agree. So what’s Tom’s beef? If it’s all deterministic, then it’s all deterministic, period, the end.

Oh, that’s right—that Tom would have a beef is/was itself deterministic. Period. The end.

TomJrzk
August 5th, 2006, 12:14 PM
If it’s all deterministic, then it’s all deterministic, period, the end.Yet again, you miss the point that we still make choices, though it's all deterministic. And surely by now I've said this enough that you actually know that you're intentionally misrepresenting my philosophy:

We all have decision machines in our brains that affect the future. Those decisions that we make are deterministic but we still have to make them. If we don't, a different result would occur.

To illustrate: I could have decided not to correct your misinterpretation of Carey's point; others reading this thread could more likely, then, decide that you and he actually agreed and follow your ridiculous philosophy to its incorrect end. The decision engine in my brain wanted a better future so I took the time to send the post. My brain was compelled by its nature and condition to make exactly this decision.

You are you and I am me. What we are is determined by our genes and environment but what we do is not meaningless in a deterministic universe, it IS the deterministic universe. People that understand that point will not fall into hopelessness, as you seem to think you would. Only we can create a better deterministic future, and it sure would help if people didn't think some supernatural imaginary friend will bail them out after the last human dies.

I feel much more in control of a deterministic universe than I ever did in a universe at the mercy of the whims of something I can't see or touch or even be sure exists.

Fred H.
August 6th, 2006, 08:20 PM
Tom: I feel much more in control of a deterministic universe….
Bingo! The “control” Tom claims to “feel” is also known as free will, choice, moral responsibility. But, unfortunately, such things seem to be fully available only to sane, rational adults able to comprehend and acknowledge that they do indeed have at least some choice and that they do indeed have moral responsibility. Therefore, I suspect that whatever “control” Tom thinks he “feels,” much or all of it may be an illusion. Nevertheless, I still think he has to be held accountable for the incoherent illogical crap that he posts here.

Perhaps someone else here would care enough to call Tom on his nonsense?

TomJrzk
August 7th, 2006, 08:34 AM
Bingo! The “control” Tom claims to “feel” is also known as free will, choice, moral responsibility. But, unfortunately, such things seem to be fully available only to sane, rational adults able to comprehend and acknowledge that they do indeed have at least some choice and that they do indeed have moral responsibility. Therefore, I suspect that whatever “control” Tom thinks he “feels,” much or all of it may be an illusion. Nevertheless, I still think he has to be held accountable for the incoherent illogical crap that he posts here.

Perhaps someone else here would care enough to call Tom on his nonsense?Yes, "feel" is the operative word here. It IS all an illusion. Unless, of course, you're able to describe in what any true autonomy from the chemicals in our brains resides. No, I thought not. Otherwise, your superior moral fumes would not need your meds.

As for "incoherent illogical crap", you're transferring. "Incoherence" could be described by your POV that someone on one side of some quantity of sanity has responsibility while someone on the other does not. Unless you can show that line, you're incoherent. You're not so much full of crap as you are full of wishful thinking. You have no basis for your argument except for your ignorance.

You're wrong, Fred, and will stay that way. Everyone is trying to hold you "accountable for the incoherent illogical crap that" you post here but you refuse to listen and understand. That's why everyone is so exasperated. I know where it comes from so it doesn't bother me as much.

Fred H.
August 7th, 2006, 11:08 AM
Tom: Yes, "feel" is the operative word here. It IS all an illusion.
Hmmm. Tom can’t seem to make up his mind—first everything is deterministic and free will is an illusion, then he declares that he feels much more in control of a deterministic universe, and now he’s back to it’s all an illusion.

Well, OK, whatever—apparently Tom’s back to where this started—Since Tom is convinced that we humans are not morally responsible for our behavior, that any free will is an illusion, that it’s all deterministic, then if in fact Carey and I do not agree, then it is and always was inevitable (deterministic) that Carey an I would not agree.

So what’s Tom’s beef? If it’s all deterministic, then it’s all deterministic . . . except, apparently, that Tom would have a beef is/was also deterministic . . . and that he would assert that everything is deterministic and that human free will is an illusion, and then, discordantly, also declare that he feels much more in control of a deterministic universe, and then again, to add discord to discord, continue to maintain that everything is deterministic and that human free will is an illusion, is/was also, apparently, in Tom’s universe, inevitable/deterministic. Period. The end.

My own view is that Tom’s reasoning and arguing skills are dismal. But maybe that’s just me.

Tom, you have the last word, as incoherent (i.e., lacking cohesion, connection, or harmony; not coherent: incoherent fragments of a story; unable to think or express one's thoughts in a clear or orderly manner) and inconsistent as I’m certain it will be.

TomJrzk
August 7th, 2006, 01:22 PM
Hmmm. Tom can’t seem to make up his mind—first everything is deterministic and free will is an illusion, then he declares that he feels much more in control of a deterministic universe, and now he’s back to it’s all an illusion.

Well, OK, whatever—apparently Tom’s back to where this started—Since Tom is convinced that we humans are not morally responsible for our behavior, that any free will is an illusion, that it’s all deterministic, then if in fact Carey and I do not agree, then it is and always was inevitable (deterministic) that Carey an I would not agree.

So what’s Tom’s beef? If it’s all deterministic, then it’s all deterministic . . . except, apparently, that Tom would have a beef is/was also deterministic . . . and that he would assert that everything is deterministic and that human free will is an illusion, and then, discordantly, also declare that he feels much more in control of a deterministic universe, and then again, to add discord to discord, continue to maintain that everything is deterministic and that human free will is an illusion, is/was also, apparently, in Tom’s universe, inevitable/deterministic. Period. The end.

My own view is that Tom’s reasoning and arguing skills are dismal. But maybe that’s just me.

Tom, you have the last word, as incoherent (i.e., lacking cohesion, connection, or harmony; not coherent: incoherent fragments of a story; unable to think or express one's thoughts in a clear or orderly manner) and inconsistent as I’m certain it will be.Again, you have no facts. Your argument is nothing but attempting to ridicule me, which shows just how weak you are. You can't understand the simple notion that human intelligence is part of the determinist universe. Once again, you are wrong. And I still pity you, it's not your fault.

ToddStark
August 7th, 2006, 11:00 PM
Hi,

Interesting issue regarding randomness and what it means.

To me, probability is in a very real sense the mathematics of randomness. Probability expresses our best efforts to understand the nature of randomness, to provide a way of making decisions based on relative uncertainty about the world.

That said, American mathematician-philosopher Charles Peirce rightly observed that probability is also the one branch of mathematics in which good writers frequently get results that are entirely erroneous.

We can define probability in terms of measure in order to make random events seem sort-of predictable (at least in the long run) but the validity of the answers we get that way depend on the nature of our question. Quoting the odds of events or saying that they have no discernable pattern to us is not the same thing as saying they are not determined by something (or more typically, many somethings).

I think Carey made the point for the Darwinian view eloquently by emphasizing that the point distinguishing it from "intelligent design" is not some abstract notion of "accident" opposed to "design" but the putative manner in which beneficial features arise and spread in a population, directed top-down with an end in sight vs. conforming to selective pressures for survival and reproduction.

True, genetic change is in various ways not random, but it is still important to distinguish change that clearly and directly benefits a species in some way ("hopeful monsters") from change that requires some additional mechanism such as selection in order to plausibly explain its spread through a population.

I'm not sure that even "hopeful monsters" would really make the the case for ID much stronger because of the limited scope of what they can explain in practice. We would be essentially be using these "X-Men" sort of mutations to explain a small set of critical changes, such as radical differences that can lead rapidly to new body plans, but even then the majority of genetic change would still not plausibly be explained without a more gradual sort of selection process, as far as I can tell.

Somewhat of a sideline - There is an intriguing discussion of the philosophy of probability and randomness suitable for non-specialists and math-phobics in Michael and Ellen Kaplan's book "Chances Are ... Adventures in Probability." (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0670034878/sr=8-1/qid=1155005713/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-6729428-5975341?ie=UTF8)

kind regards,

Todd

Fred H.
August 9th, 2006, 09:33 AM
Todd: To me, probability is in a very real sense the mathematics of randomness. Probability expresses our best efforts to understand the nature of randomness, to provide a way of making decisions based on relative uncertainty about the world.
As you know Todd, my own view is that randomness is an illusion, although our ignorance certainly seems to be real, and probability is merely our efforts to quantify that ignorance.

As far as I know, randomness is not falsifiable; and I don’t know of anything that convincingly proves/establishes/confirms that randomness is real, certainly not at the classical level . . . although there is that pesky quantum level “measurement problem,” a “problem” that only seems to arise b/c we are attempting a “measurement” on something (the quantum level wave-particle) that we don’t yet seem to begin to truly understand.

Do you agree that “randomness” may well be an illusion, that there really is no way of proving or confirming that randomness is in any meaningful way real? Or can you provide (succinct and convincing) evidence that confirms the reality of randomness?

ToddStark
August 14th, 2006, 05:18 PM
As you know Todd, my own view is that randomness is an illusion, although our ignorance certainly seems to be real, and probability is merely our efforts to quantify that ignorance.

In a sense it is an illusion, since randomness doesn't really matter for individual events, what matters is the pattern of events over time. Every event just is what it is. For example, even if human mating were random overall (which it isn't, but just say ...) each pairing would still have unique significance to the couple, and its own history.

The technical issue at hand (in probability) is generally not whether something is random but whether events are independent. Tests start with the "null hypothesis" which assumes we got things wrong. You're never proving that you got the right distribution, you are disconfirming the claim that you got it wrong within a given range of likelihood.

It seems to me that quantifying risk and uncertainty based on the law of large numbers has been one of the fundamental tools of modern culture for maybe two hundred years or so. Insurance, quality control, process improvement, stocks, and many other things we take largely for granted all are based on "quantifying ignorance" in some sense. We are ignorant of the details of the causes of lots of these things, or at least we don't always dive into the details, but we still rely on what we know about "the long run."

Individual mutations are not neccessarily "random," in every sense since some regions of DNA may be more likely affected than others in principle (some regions of the DNA molecule may be a larger target than others), or because the functionality of DNA is not evenly distributed so some mutations have much more dramatic effects than others. However, they are "independent" in the sense that the mutations are independent events from the resulting adaptation to the environment that we care about in biology.

I think Carey made the same point, so I don't think I am adding anything really new here?

kind regards,

Todd

Fred H.
August 14th, 2006, 07:32 PM
Todd: We are ignorant of the details of the causes of lots of these things, or at least we don't always dive into the details, but we still rely on what we know about "the long run."
Yeah, I’m inclined to agree, although I’d be a bit more modest and say that we rely on what we “think” we may know about the long run.

It occurs to me that one could perhaps equate an increase in entropy to an increase in randomness—perhaps randomness is “real,” but in the sense that, for example, the huge entropy of a black hole (a virtual nothingness) is some sort of actual randomness.