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Unread August 14th, 2006, 05:18 PM
ToddStark ToddStark is offline
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 174
Arrow Re: Selling Evolution

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,

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