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  #1  
Unread January 17th, 2009, 12:09 PM
James Brody James Brody is offline
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Talking Matt Ridley: Darwin Everywhere but...

Matt Ridley has found chaos. A bit of "regression to the mean" could be a helpful idea...

JimB

"The Natural Order of Things"


"Matt Ridley says that Darwinian selection explains the appearance of seemingly 'designed' complexity throughout the world — not just in biology but in the economy, technology and the arts... Even sophisticated, entropy-defying complex systems are subject to the weather-like vagaries of mathematical chaos — and there Darwin cannot help."

More at Http://www.spectator.co.uk/the-magaz...f-things.thtml
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  #2  
Unread January 17th, 2009, 05:00 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Matt Ridley: Darwin Everywhere but...

Entropy-defying complex systems? Sounds like something Obama administration might find helpful.

Be that as it may, Ridley says that
Quote:
Living beings are eddies in the stream of entropy. That is to say, while the universe gradually becomes more homogeneous and disordered, little parts of it can reverse the trend and become briefly more ordered and complex by capturing packets of energy.
“Little parts of it can reverse the trend”? Nonsense. Perhaps he missed the physics lesson on the 2lot. But then the typical neo-Darwinian’s understanding of entropy and 2lot generally seems to be superficial at best. Entropy, simply, inexorably, increases.

Apparently Ridley feels that saying life is the result of bottom up emergence is somehow superior to saying it’s the result of top-down dirigisme, but neither sentiment is terribly explanatory or meaningful. We find ourselves in a finely tuned universe only b/c entropy, inexplicably, is as low as it is/was. The mystery is how entropy ever got to be so low in the first place, thereby making it possible for life to emerge . . . regardless of one’s sentiments regarding bottom up or top down notions.

Ridley also says that “On the internet Darwinian unordained order is now ubiquitous as never before,” but the reality is that the internet, perhaps somewhat similar to the domestication of plants and animals, is far more a product of order imposed by intelligent, sentient beings, albeit, admittedly, not necessarily beings in conscious accord.

Last edited by Fred H.; January 18th, 2009 at 11:43 AM.
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  #3  
Unread January 18th, 2009, 07:07 PM
ToddStark ToddStark is offline
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Arrow Re: Matt Ridley: Darwin Everywhere but...

I'll agree with Fred that "locally defying the law of entropy" seems like nonsense to me, but that's not really how I interpret Ridley. The metaphor is one of trends and streams rather than defying the law.

I like Stuart Kauffman's notion that the universe is endlessly creative because new combinations of things end up having unexpected value. It resonates well with our daily experience in the human realm as well as the apparent frequency of occurence of Darwinian "preadaptations." (Kauffman, "Reinventing the Sacred," 2008)

As Fred probably remembers from our past discussions, I don't personally consider entropy "violated" by natural creativity. Not that I'm an expert, but in my undergrad courses in thermodynamics, I was told that entropy comes from engineering statistics rather than from physics. The classic analogy for extending this to chemistry is that when you have many atoms bunched up in the corner of the room and moving randomly, the probability is that they are going to disperse through the room rather than staying bunched up.

The possibility that they might bunch up again is not much of an issue, but then not all phenomena boil down to atoms moving randomly, so the limits of the analogy can dissolve at the limits of its application. And in fact I think they do.

I might have accepted the "law" interpretation of entropy at that time years ago if pressed, but most of the phenomena of complexity science studied since then pretty directly fly in the face of it, or at least that has been my impression. I find it's just too strong a claim to say that increasing disorder is a universal law and that complexity "defies it" as opposed to simply going against a background trend. Admittedly, the best studied physical and chemical phenomena of "spontaneous order" are relatively minor things compared to the grand results of biological evolution, but even a minor anomaly in science is still an anomaly. And it is potentially something for the ratchet of selection to dig its teeth into.

As a result, you have to either (1) reject the (second) "law," (2) come up with auxilliary hypotheses that qualify it, or else (3) come to the conclusion that I took away from my thermodynamics class years ago, that it isn't a law of physics at all, but a statement of statistical likelihood, inexorable in a sense but certainly not without important exceptions. Or (4) alternatively you can believe in miracles that defy laws sometimes, but I think that's a cop-out for explanations (though surely essential for making sense of events in a human life!).

The Darwinian ratchet operates on novelty on the basis of statistics as well. Not only most mutations, but most living things end up as failed experiments in the long run.

kind regards,

Todd
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  #4  
Unread January 19th, 2009, 12:03 PM
James Brody James Brody is offline
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Cool Re: Matt Ridley: Darwin Everywhere but...

Good to see stuff from both of you.

My own dark hunch is that Ridley is introducing a book and, bored with Darwin, reaches to complexity and the next rock in his stream. Dawkins, perhaps with the same boredom, was driven to attack religion...a most peculiar move when the UK is a cusp for Islam.

As for "chaos," I don't understand it and, perhaps by definition, no one is supposed to. It becomes a scientific exit line when we don't understand what occurs. Skinner had one answer - when you don't understand what happens, it means you haven't looked at the right stuff.

I still scan the arXiv site for relevant things and every so often, there is a bit of order that I can understand.

JimB
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  #5  
Unread January 19th, 2009, 02:47 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Matt Ridley: Darwin Everywhere but...

Todd says:
Quote:
Or (4) alternatively you can believe in miracles that defy laws sometimes, but I think that's a cop-out for explanations.
Or, (5) you can alternatively believe in the unquantified, neo-Darwinian, cop-out notion called natural selection that is little more than a, well, unquantified, cop-out notion that doesn’t predict much of anything except for an obvious, circular truism: survival of the fittest.

Ultimately neo-Darwinian’s seem to think that you can somehow get something from nothingness, so-called entropy defying systems. Now that’s believing in miracles. Money for nothing and the chicks are free . . . I want my, I want my, I want my MTV. It’s all a pipe dream.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we find ourselves in a universe where entropy is indeed inexplicably low, and we simply take that reality for granted. For example, our sun provides us with a huge reservoir of low entropy energy, a hot spot in an otherwise cold background. The earth receives individual photons of high energy/low entropy, utilizes that low entropy energy to reduce its own entropy (e.g. through, among other things, photosynthesis . . . allowing life to evolve), and returns a relatively larger number of low energy (high entropy) photons to space. While life on earth has been able to evolve due to, among other things, the low entropy energy provided by the sun, and entropy on earth may seem to have decreased as a result, overall entropy has undoubtedly increased.

Science and evidence point to the inexorable increase in entropy. The 2lot is far more robust, observable, scientific, quantifiable (statistically) than a notion like natural selection. I don’t doubt that selection pressures can be imposed by an environment; or imposed by sentient beings say in the domestication of plants and animals and/or by the introduction of chemicals/drugs in our attempt to eliminate parasites, viruses, etc.; etc. But let’s be real: neo-Darwinian natural selection is little more the obvious, circular truism, survival of the fittest.

Think of it this way: We find the largest entropy in black hole singularities, where the gravitational degrees of freedom are thermalized along with those of Todd's classroom example of a gas disbursed in a room, i.e. the thermalization of the matter and electromagnetic degrees of freedom. But the singularity from which our unique universe emanated is a much different kind of singularity----it had inexplicably low entropy b/c the gravitational degrees of freedom were not thermalized; and therein is the mystery.

Or think of it this way: If a black hole singularity somehow managed to spawn a universe, it’d be nothing like the unique low entropy universe that we find ourselves in; all there’d be is nothingness from nothingness.



Regarding chaos, the mistake Darwinians seem to make is equating chaos with randomness and/or entropy. So-called chaotic systems aren’t random, they just tend to be unpredictable b/c we humans generally can’t determine initial conditions accurately enough----so predicting say the weather or global warming too far into he future becomes essentially impossible.
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  #6  
Unread January 19th, 2009, 03:23 PM
TomJrzk TomJrzk is offline
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Default Re: Matt Ridley: Darwin Everywhere but...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fred H. View Post
Ultimately neo-Darwinian’s seem to think that you can somehow get something from nothingness, so-called entropy defying systems.
Perhaps, to you, "seem" to think is correct. I don't think that at all.

RNA transcribes DNA and provides a template where amino acids line up and out pops a protein. A protein is very ordered. There is no 'soul' or 'free will' in the RNA and each new protein formed is not a miracle.

2lot merely says that this ordering comes at a cost, namely, the energy the RNA uses in its activity, which adds to the entropy. Simple as that. An 'eddy' in a stream marching toward heat death. The 'eddy' even hastens the march.
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  #7  
Unread January 21st, 2009, 08:17 AM
ToddStark ToddStark is offline
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Thumbs up Technical questions vs. Interesting questions

Fred:

I agree, n/s doesn't predict much that most of us care about. In retrospect, we see too much historical contingency to be able to confidently predict the course of evolution even for relatively clear conditions. That far, I've come to agree with you.

It does seem to explain an awful lot technically, and I tend to agree with neo-Darwinians that it unifies biology, but as you imply, what is the point of all that explanation scientifically if it doesn't make specific predictions regarding things we really care about?

Well, I think in a limited sense it *does* make testable predictions, the journals of evolutionary biology are full of them, but they are of the kind that interest evolutionary biologists rather than most of us who would like to draw grander predictions than EB works with.

Historically, most people didn't find Wilson, Dawkins, Gould and Darwin interesting because they explained changes in the mating patterns of clams when the temperature of the water changes, they find them interesting because of what they read into the implications for what it means to be human and live in a particular kind of universe. And we agree that applying evolutionary biology that far is usually very problematic.

Unfortunately, the two domains of application for adaptation analysis often get lumped together too casually. Evolutionary biologists have traditionally been very careful to distinguish them, but that typically gets downplayed in the media because it makes the topic more technical and less broadly interesting. Most of us care about grand questions, not the details of population genetics.

I certainly think a case can be made and has been made for evolutionary psychology as a science, but I think its *predictions* per se are so far quite limited. There's a lot of biological history that we don't know, and much that we will never know.

That's why we both find this particular forum interesting, afterall. Jim Brody focuses on really interesting implications of evolution to humans. We aren't arguing in a forum about technical predictions made in evolutionary biology, or even the methodological issues for testing "cheater detectors," we're in a forum about "evolutionary psychology" or "clinical sociobiology," which makes bolder and more interesting (to us) claims about how our history has made us what we are.

kind regards,

Todd
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  #8  
Unread January 21st, 2009, 04:17 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Matt Ridley: Darwin Everywhere but...

Todd says:
Quote:
I think in a limited sense [natural selection] *does* make testable predictions.
Neo-Darwinians seem to buy into that erroneous view, but the reality is that all that natural selection (NS) posits is survival of the fittest, or fitness, which is essentially nothing more than a circular truism or tautology of sorts----i.e. fitness is defined by survival.

The problem with truisms is that although they’re true, at least by definition, they’re not science and don’t actually make specific predictions.

Think of it this way: A bona fide theory or natural law will make specific predictions, and if the predictions turn out to be wrong, then that indicates the theory is too. Typically a theory or natural law can be quantified and expressed as an equation where the terms on both sides of the equation are usually defined elsewhere and the equal sign means “is equal to.” The Darwinian notion of NS, OTOH, can’t be expressed as an equation where one side “is equal to” the other, but rather, at best, can only be articulated as a tautology stating that fitness “is defined by” survival.

Even bona fide scientific theories that are not typically expressed as an equation, like say the Big Bang, can be used to make specific predictions that are more than mere tautological truisms. E.g. the Big Bang model predicted CMBR, subsequently discovered in the 1960s---- if it had been discovered that there were no CMBR, then that would have cast doubt on or invalidated the Big Bang model.

NS, OTOH, didn’t predict, nor could have specifically predicted, what Sean Carrol, in his Endless forms most beautiful, 2005, observes is: “The surprising message from Evo Devo”----“that all of the genes for building large, complex animal bodies long predated the appearance of those bodies in the Cambrian Explosion. The genetic potential was in place for at least 50 million years, and probably a fair bit longer, before large, complex forms emerged.”

And yet, after Evo Devo discovered what Darwinism/NS didn’t nor could have specifically predicted, Darwinians can still invoke natural selection to claim that all that genetic potential, that Evo Devo recently discovered, was obvious selected by NS and survived b/c otherwise it wouldn’t have been, well, selected and survived.

But then I suppose that’s the beauty of the Darwinian NS truism----although it didn’t and couldn’t have predicted the specific discovery made by Evo Devo, it also wasn’t, nor will be, shown to be wrong since it is, after all, a truism. (And even a Darwinian/NS skeptic such as I don’t doubt that selection pressures do indeed seem to play a part in evolution.)

Last edited by Fred H.; January 21st, 2009 at 05:46 PM.
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  #9  
Unread January 22nd, 2009, 11:07 AM
ToddStark ToddStark is offline
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Default Re: Matt Ridley: Darwin Everywhere but...

Fred:

Yes, I can see your point that Evo_Devo can be seen as disconfirming certain interpretations of natural selection. A very strictly externalist interpretation where organisms adapt over time solely to their external environment would be thereby disconfirmed, I think.

But if you're saying that you think the field of Evolutionary Developmental Biology is fundamentally inconsistent with the principle of natural selection, I have to disagree. Personally, I don't think it is any stretch at all to say that natural selection as such is fundamentally compatible with the idea that part of an organisms selective environment is its developmental processes (as in Evo-Devo), or that part of its selective environment is determined by its own behavior for example.

To my thinking, there are findings that would potentially disconfirm natural selection as such, (for example finding species of different geological era within the same strata of the fossil record), but for me, having to include internal or behavioral influences on evolution don't count among those disconfirmatory findings, they are legitimate auxilliary aspects of natural selection. Of course the nature of scientific theories is that there is room for disagreement there.

best regards,

Todd
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  #10  
Unread January 23rd, 2009, 12:07 AM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Matt Ridley: Darwin Everywhere but...

Todd says:
Quote:
I don't think it is any stretch at all to say that natural selection as such is fundamentally compatible with the idea that part of an organisms selective environment is its developmental processes (as in Evo-Devo), or that part of its selective environment is determined by its own behavior for example.
Bingo. That’s the beauty of a circular truism or tautology like natural selection/survival of the fittest----it’s a notion that’ll be compatible with pretty much anything. Nothing will ever disprove NS in the eyes of the typical neo-Darwinian. It's not falsifiable.

Todd says:
Quote:
To my thinking, there are findings that would potentially disconfirm natural selection as such, (for example finding species of different geological era within the same strata of the fossil record)….
Nonsense. Finding species of different geological era within the same strata of the fossil record would merely indicate that the species really wasn’t from a different era after all and/or that there was something wrong with, or not understood about, the fossil record.

I don't think you need to worry Todd. I suspect that the only thing that would ever cast doubt on the NS tautology in the eyes of the typical neo-Darwinian would be a decree from Dawkins or a proclamation from space aliens. What this all boils down to is that the typical neo-Darwinian will continue to believe in and argue that the NS tautology is bona fide scientific theory or concept, except for a few exceptions, like Darwinian/atheist William Provine, the Andrew H. and James S. Tisch Distinguished University Professor at Cornell, who acknowledges that he no longer believes in NS.

Last edited by Fred H.; January 23rd, 2009 at 08:58 AM.
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