A direction to evolution

Discussions on general biology and biological evolution, genetics, zoology, ecology, botany, etc.

Re: A direction to evolution

Postby Serpent on July 13th, 2018, 6:40 pm 

Serpent » July 13th, 2018, 5:27 pm wrote:
wolfhnd » July 13th, 2018, 1:51 pm wrote:I think the fear of being accused of being anthropocentric is distorting this discussion. No where in the discussion did I suggest that humans were the most "evolved" species.

I didn't suggest that you had. I do maintain that many discussions do rest on that notion, and that the word "direction" tends to encourage such a notion.

The only thing that needs to be acknowledged is that the organisms that can from the primordial soup had molecular complexity greater than the local environment.

Otherwise, it wouldn't be living - or distinguishable from its surroundings. But it' only at that point that evolution begins.

A related topic is if complexity reduces stability. It appears to be a universal rule.

Perhaps not directly, since it usually presents in tiny increments. But any change is risky: an individual that differs from the norm may have a slight advantage over its rivals in feeding but be rejected by its species, or operate outside its safety-zone, and circumstances could change back so that the advantage is lost again. And increased complexity is usually costly - in maintenance, in over-specialization, in the loss of another ability.

As it relates to evolution it has been suggested that this rule is captured by the phrase evolved to evolve. This concept also cause great confusion because it seems to imply design.

I don't get that implication - but then, I don't get any meaning from that phrase. Does it mean genetically volatile? In a period of transition from one set of environmental conditions to another? Or not highly specialized?

The adaptation of pathogens to antibiotics has been studied to determine the adaptive mechanism. It would be tempting to assume that the "better designed" individuals would adapt more efficiently but that is not what we find.

I find this confusing, as well. How do you tell which is the "better-designed" individual among germs? For that matter, how are individual germs identified at all?
What we find is that genetic diversity is lower in populations not stressed by antibiotics.

That would be the stable population.
Genetic variation is suppressed by the fact that mutations tend to be out competed.

Of course. In normal circumstances, genetic variation does not have a positive effect: it would subdivide the species. Only a very small percent of mutations are beneficial; many are detrimental, some are fatal.
As the population starts to die off a small number of less stable individuals survive increasing genetic diversity because of an increased mutation rate.

It all depends on what they're becoming fitted to. Any sudden, drastic change in environment usually kills off large portions of the population, if not the entire species. If there is one variant that can survive the change, it becomes the new template. If there are two or more variants that can survive the change, they begin to compete for dominance. Now there are very few bacteria, so there is lot of scope for filling the niche. There may just be one winner crowding out the others, or there may arise two new sub-species.
If this sounds like it contradicts survival of the fittest it is only because the way language is normally used follows different rules.

The problem there, as it very often is in such discussions, is multi-purpose words. We need to be careful to define the terms we're using, and how those terms are used in the given context. If a word has a different meaning in another context, it's too easy to transpose it from one to the other.
(That, btw, is a common misdirection stratagem of some debaters, and a common fallacy in logic.)
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby wolfhnd on July 13th, 2018, 8:00 pm 

Serpent the discussion of bacteria was meant to point out that the survivors had lower DNA replication fidelity. An example some use to argue against evolved to evolve. I'm arguing that chaos is necessary and a property of life related to complexity and entropy.
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby Serpent on July 13th, 2018, 8:56 pm 

wolfhnd » July 13th, 2018, 7:00 pm wrote:Serpent the discussion of bacteria was meant to point out that the survivors had lower DNA replication fidelity. An example some use to argue against evolved to evolve. I'm arguing that chaos is necessary and a property of life related to complexity and entropy.

As i said, I do not understand the phrase "evolved to evolve".
The example you cite is a situation of extreme stress, following a drastic change in environment, plus a massive die-off. It would seem natural enough that it's the normals that die off and some oddballs - or transitional forms (which, in normal conditions would be too few to compete, or to pass on their peculiar trait ) that survive, and their offspring become most fitted to the changed environment.
I agree that chaotic conditions promote change. But then there must be a period of stability, or the population won't reach sustainable numbers again.
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby wolfhnd on July 13th, 2018, 9:20 pm 

The interesting thing is the replication fidelity. As the population recovers replication fidelity returns.
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby Serpent on July 13th, 2018, 10:34 pm 

Presumably because conditions stabilize enough to build up a population of normals. These might be a 'new normal' - that is, biological entities with most of the traits of the original, plus one or two critical alterations. During the crisis, transitional - experimental? - forms are observed, because the population replicates haphazardly, but there are3n't enough of each variant to replicate sufficient numbers to overcome their rivals. It's the stable phenotypes that keep reproducing their own kind, until they become dominant, so the unstable variants are simply bred out.
At least, that's how I imagine the situation in Bacteriaworld. I don't know enough microbiology to say that with any confidence.
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby wolfhnd on July 14th, 2018, 12:17 am 

I could post links to articles on the topic but I assume that the motivation behind the op is not to answer the question of the direction of evolution but to explore the less interesting question of how people perceive evolution.

It is a deep question that in my mind ties physics and biology but I have only a vague notion of how that is and less on what it means.
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby Serpent on July 14th, 2018, 1:45 am 

Right!
It's a very big world, with all kinds of connections that most of us can only follow from our doorstep to the corner and then we get lost.
Basically: Under everything is physics. Once enough of physics gets wet, we get chemistry. When chemistry becomes viscous enough, biology happens, and all hell breaks loose.

I just watched an episode of Silent Witness, where some bad chemistry killed some nice biology, and i didn't doze off once. But I'm done in now. Good night.
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby hyksos on August 5th, 2018, 1:18 pm 

wolfhnd » July 13th, 2018, 10:36 am wrote:Where is Hyksos

We have made some progress in defining the terms.

We need to "think bigger" on this topic than so far has been posted. The questions we should frame are related to whether evolution will always (?) progress in a direction in which to establish a food chain in an ecosystem. If so, is a stable apex predator an "end state" of this progression?
I could plausibly assert that any planet in the universe which hosts life that evolves will necessarily have a bacterial undersystem and a rich diversity of plant life. These assertions seem (at least for now) to be agreeable enough to avoid debate. If "plant life" seems too far reaching, then maybe some kind of photosynthesis that undergirds the system from the star's energy. Ecologists call these things primary producers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primary_producers

More exotic proposals about ecosystems are worthy of speculation. When an ecosystem reaches stable "end state" , will the apex predator always have a primary prey species, and how often does the primary prey act as food -- versus the other things the predator might go after? There are levels of a trophic chain, and is there some upper bound on the number of layers that could appear, full stop, on any given planet?

In computer simulations of ecosystem we see that they are not detailed enough, and therefore will saturate when run long enough. Real organisms are composed of atoms, and the scales between the largest animal and the smallest virus is vast. Nevertheless, even on the surface of the earth, there is a still a sense that saturation is possible. In some sense, "saturation" has already happened in the oceans with bacteria and viruses. Then the land was saturated by plant life and fungus. At each stage of saturation, the next "paradigm" emerges from the last. Is this a coincidence, or a rule of physical nature?

Do all surface life forms go through cycles of saturation followed by paradigm shifts? Is the homo sapien , not an accident of mutation (as Richard Dawkins would assert) but is our species rather a particular paradigm that emerges naturally after the saturation by mammals as apex predators?
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby hyksos on August 5th, 2018, 1:40 pm 

( Follow up ) I tried to google to find out if there were ever any "superpredators" known to science. This would be an apex predator that is so successful at hunting that it decimates the prey population into extinction. Which in turn brings about its own extinction.

Superficial research indicates that no such superpredator is documented.
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby wolfhnd on August 5th, 2018, 7:24 pm 

hyksos » Sun Aug 05, 2018 5:40 pm wrote:( Follow up ) I tried to google to find out if there were ever any "superpredators" known to science. This would be an apex predator that is so successful at hunting that it decimates the prey population into extinction. Which in turn brings about its own extinction.

Superficial research indicates that no such superpredator is documented.


Few predators have only one prey. Few extinctions have only one cause.

Population crashes are more common than most people think because ecosystem equilibrium is often delicate. Crashes however only lead to extinction in cases where the fitness of individuals is somehow compromised.

As to what is necessarily the end state of evolution in any theoretical ecosystem I would imagine that apex predators are not essential. Other forms of population control are conceivable.

http://www.evolutionarymanifesto.com/EvArrow.html

I brought this topic up some years ago as I was interested in traits that made genetic adaptation a characteristic of a species so that adaptation did not rely entirely on trial and error. Epigenetic shows a bit of that in theory but the idea remains controversial. Adapted to adapt would be another way to put it. I can't say I was overwhelmed by the evidence that such a thing exists.
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby zetreque on August 5th, 2018, 8:00 pm 

As far as the mechanism of evolution I don't see a direction.

If we are talking about a direction for individual life it gets kind of confusing when trying to first figure out what individual life is that is headed in a direction.

Briefly touched upon was the "bacterial undersystem."
Would the human species (individual) or any other "higher" life-form exist without bacterial life or other life forms making up the ecosystem it depends upon (reference)? Perhaps if we looked at the entire time-line of life we might see a direction of increasing symbiotic relationships. Reaching the holocene extinction event however we are just going backwards again.

The rainforest is probably one of the best examples of reaching "saturation" on land. If we think about this, we may have long gone past that point because the Earth was probably much more saturated on land during the dinosaur age or prior with a much wetter warmer environment. Climatic factors make a large impact on life. What climatic factors would lead to maximum life? To maximum number of separate species (possibly a separate question)? What climatic factors and situations would lead to higher complexity?, higher intelligence? higher consciousness? Challenging situations might lead to "intelligence."

Would life change (or advance) any if we entered another warm period? Looking at the cyclic periods of extinctions, what has changed after each extinction when it comes to evolution that would show any sort of direction that isn't tied directly to environmental conditions?
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby hyksos on August 5th, 2018, 10:28 pm 

Reaching the holocene extinction event however we are just going backwards again.

The rainforest is probably one of the best examples of reaching "saturation" on land. If we think about this, we may have long gone past that point because the Earth was probably much more saturated on land during the dinosaur age or prior with a much wetter warmer environment.

Okay that's fine. But in this case, we would say that when life takes off on a planet's surface, it will drive itself towards saturated rainforests first. Then over longer periods just begin to cycle endlessly with epochs of symbiosis separated each by epochs of competition amongst individuals. That's perfectly fine with me.

The alternative viewpoint is that evolution is a directionless, aimless wander through a search space of possibilities. (c.r. Richard Dawkins). Dawkins actually stood on a back porch with Daniel Dennett having some sort of spiritual revelation about how implausible it is that human beings exist. He was obviously extrapolating on what he thought was a "fact" that evolution is directionless, aimless, and random -- a process knocked to-and-fro by meaningless random mutations to genes.

Dawkins is wrong, prima facie, that evolution is directionless. Rather academic biology pays no lip service to the idea one way or the other. There is no such thing inside biology acting as some kind of no-go Theorem for a direction.
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby wolfhnd on August 5th, 2018, 11:17 pm 

I still say that order to chaos leads to complexity. When the universe was young it was "simple", when life was young it was simple. Entropy and chaos have a direction because time is not reversible. It isn't the end state that matters it's what happens inbetween. So yes Dawkins is making to much of random for a determinist. Nothing happens in a non random universe it is just static but that doesn't mean time is an illusion.
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby Serpent on August 6th, 2018, 1:26 am 

hyksos » August 5th, 2018, 12:18 pm wrote:The questions we should frame are related to whether evolution will always (?) progress in a direction in which to establish a food chain in an ecosystem.

Unless it produces a biological entity that doesn't need to eat, what options are there?
If so, is a stable apex predator an "end state" of this progression?

Who said there was any "progression"? There is passage of time and there is change, but change is not necessarily progress. How can a web have an apex? If it did, why would it be a predator, when the decomposing bacteria are so much more efficient?

I could plausibly assert that any planet in the universe which hosts life that evolves will necessarily have a bacterial undersystem and a rich diversity of plant life.

Makes sense.

When an ecosystem reaches stable "end state"

What is that supposed to be? Life is continuous. Its end-state is death.

will the apex predator always have a primary prey species

A system doesn't require a hierarchy of predation to work. There are symbioses and complements and exchanges that work better - as in a sustainable aquarium or garden.
Any predator so specialized that it can only survive on a specific prey (or, for that matter, any herbivore that depends on one species of plant) will be vulnerable to the perils and tribulations of its food supply. Unless you can guarantee equable conditions in perpetuity, the system is not stable. Any variation; ant interruption to the energy supply, and your apex predator goes extinct.

There are levels of a trophic chain, and is there some upper bound on the number of layers that could appear, full stop, on any given planet?

Dividing into levels is one method of conceptual organization. It serves the me-on-top attitude and is simple and convenient enough for academic purposes. But it's kind of like the tiny planet model of electrons or the fishnet model of curved space - students who go on to serious physics will have a devil's own time trying to dislodge these false images from their minds. Ecosystem are not pyramids, but intricate networks.

In some sense, "saturation" has already happened in the oceans with bacteria and viruses. Then the land was saturated by plant life and fungus.

I don't get this. There are lots of things living in the oceans that are not viral or bacterial, and lots of life forms on land besides plants and fungi.
At each stage of saturation, the next "paradigm" emerges from the last.

What is a stage of saturation? I thought saturation meant "all of a substance that can be dissolved in this quantity of liquid" or "all of the water this towel can hold" or "all the sitcoms about chirpy nubile single females an audience can stomach". Surely it's a state that can only be reached once?
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby SciameriKen on August 6th, 2018, 10:03 am 

hyksos » Mon Aug 06, 2018 2:28 am wrote:
Dawkins is wrong, prima facie, that evolution is directionless. Rather academic biology pays no lip service to the idea one way or the other. There is no such thing inside biology acting as some kind of no-go Theorem for a direction.


I am not sure what you are trying to say in this last paragraph.

I agree with Dawkins - it is all completely random (Except in some circumstances genetic programs are in place to increase or decrease mutation rates to aid survival). I also agree with the notions he presents about the selfish gene - its not about the organism, but rather that each gene struggles for existence - for replication.

This being said if your argument is that the impacts of random mutation leads to patterns on a macroscale and you wish to call these patterns the direction of evolution then I'd say maybe - but usually when one believes such a pattern exist there will be some organism that breaks it.
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby Reg_Prescott on August 6th, 2018, 10:36 am 

SciameriKen » August 6th, 2018, 11:03 pm wrote:
I agree with Dawkins - it is all completely random (Except in some circumstances genetic programs are in place to increase or decrease mutation rates to aid survival). I also agree with the notions he presents about the selfish gene - its not about the organism, but rather that each gene struggles for existence - for replication.



Leaving to one side the nonsense about "struggling" for the moment, might I enquire how Dawkins (and you) know this?

Empirical studies?

Seems to me he sat back in his armchair and kinda... well, made it up. As David Stove perspicaciously observed in his critique of myriad Darwinian stupidities ("Darwinian Fairy Tales"), science was never so easy.

And stop cramping the philosophers' style. We saw the armchair first.
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby SciameriKen on August 6th, 2018, 12:34 pm 

Reg_Prescott » Mon Aug 06, 2018 2:36 pm wrote:
SciameriKen » August 6th, 2018, 11:03 pm wrote:
I agree with Dawkins - it is all completely random (Except in some circumstances genetic programs are in place to increase or decrease mutation rates to aid survival). I also agree with the notions he presents about the selfish gene - its not about the organism, but rather that each gene struggles for existence - for replication.



Leaving to one side the nonsense about "struggling" for the moment, might I enquire how Dawkins (and you) know this?

Empirical studies?

Seems to me he sat back in his armchair and kinda... well, made it up. As David Stove perspicaciously observed in his critique of myriad Darwinian stupidities ("Darwinian Fairy Tales"), science was never so easy.

And stop cramping the philosophers' style. We saw the armchair first.


Struggling nonsense??? Do you think existence is just a walk in the park?? :)

My support for the selfish gene model is based on my experiences as a scientist (with an emphasis in molecular biology, biochemistry, molecular biophysics, and physiology) observing the world. I'm sure I've run across empirical support in my years but nothing I can recall at the moment. I find this model explains our world quite well. As a disclaimer, I also state I believe in memetics :).

Stove and his book are interesting - but I don't have the time to read and refute a whole book - care to summarize some of his finer points?
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby Reg_Prescott on August 6th, 2018, 12:40 pm 

SciameriKen » August 7th, 2018, 1:34 am wrote:[

Struggling nonsense??? Do you think existence is just a walk in the park?? :)



Do you think rocks struggle? Planets? Or flowers? It's no bed of roses, you know :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04854XqcfCY

Now before we get silly, isn't struggling an intentional concept? I'm not convinced genes possess intentionality. Are you? You'd better have a strong argument.

And ffs, anyone who admires Richard fargin' dimwit Dawkins ain't gonna get me in bed.
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby Reg_Prescott on August 6th, 2018, 12:43 pm 

Genes? These selfish bastards!!!!!

All they do is think of themselves.

Pfft!

(I know your answer. But go ahead, punk.)
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby Reg_Prescott on August 6th, 2018, 12:46 pm 

In case I wasn't clear enough ...


And just the other day I went to see the doctor dressed only in clingfilm. Doc said "I can clearly see your nuts"

But back to the point... "struggling" implies "trying".

Planets don't try to do anything (a bit like my wife). Neither do genes. Or do they?
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby hyksos on August 6th, 2018, 12:53 pm 

What is a stage of saturation? I thought saturation meant "all of a substance that can be dissolved in this quantity of liquid" or "all of the water this towel can hold" or "all the sitcoms about chirpy nubile single females an audience can stomach". Surely it's a state that can only be reached once?

Saturation just means a particular form of life has taken up all the space in an ecosystem, and it's population cannot grow without bound anymore. Two examples : Bacteria have taken over every portion of every ocean. Plant life has "filled" every land mass. Saturation is just a recognition that while resources and space are large , they are not infinite.

"Stages" here would mean for example that trees are saturated on land which, in turn, facilitates the emergence and evolution of tree dwelling primates. There is a strong sense that woody tree saturation must have presaged the evolution of primates by millions of years, or even epochs prior.

So a single stage would be the saturation of trees on land. Then another stage would be the facilitation of primates in that saturated state.

Humans are needy... and modern industrial humans are even more needy. For bacteria, it often comes down to "no space left". But for human population, saturation is a matter of how many acres of farm land and tons of water does it take to support 1 human. It is reasonable to speculate that the "Earth cannot sustain 13 billion people all driving cars to work." There is a number of factors, but I would point at potable water running out.

This is what I meant when I said that there is a "Sense that" saturation could still happen, even while we are composed of tiny molecules.
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby Reg_Prescott on August 6th, 2018, 1:02 pm 

SciameriKen » August 7th, 2018, 1:34 am wrote:Stove and his book are interesting - but I don't have the time to read and refute a whole book - care to summarize some of his finer points?


Ok, let's start with his somewhat startling refutation of Darwinism in Chapter One...

Premise One: If Darwinism was true there would exist everywhere and at all times in all species a constant struggle in which only a few survive (pretty sure Darwin said that)

Premise Two: Humans are a species

Premise Three: There is no such struggle in modern humans (assuming there ever was)

Conclusion: Darwinism is false

Generally, I find premise three gets attacked. But think about it, even in the most extreme examples you can think of, er the bubonic plague, say, it is not true that "very few survived". Maybe a third did.


It's debatable, of course, Ken. And I did say "extreme". All my siblings are fine. How about yours?

What happened: the laws of nature broke down?
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby SciameriKen on August 6th, 2018, 1:34 pm 

Reg_Prescott » Mon Aug 06, 2018 5:02 pm wrote:
SciameriKen » August 7th, 2018, 1:34 am wrote:Stove and his book are interesting - but I don't have the time to read and refute a whole book - care to summarize some of his finer points?


Ok, let's start with his somewhat startling refutation of Darwinism in Chapter One...

Premise One: If Darwinism was true there would exist everywhere and at all times in all species a constant struggle in which only a few survive (pretty sure Darwin said that)

Premise Two: Humans are a species

Premise Three: There is no such struggle in modern humans (assuming there ever was)

Conclusion: Darwinism is false

Generally, I find premise three gets attacked. But think about it, even in the most extreme examples you can think of, er the bubonic plague, say, it is not true that "very few survived". Maybe a third did.


It's debatable, of course, Ken. And I did say "extreme". All my siblings are fine. How about yours?

What happened: the laws of nature broke down?



Premise one seems like a poor characterization of Darwinism. Survival of the fittest should rather be restated as survival of the fit -- meaning its not just the strong that survive, but any that are just good enough. Perhaps the book states this premise a little clearer?

No issue with Premise 2

Premise three I would also join in the masses attacking it. Humans have little selective pressure - our technology has created a moment that we can expand our diversity - in turn this increases the ability of our species to survive future challenges. Selective pressure can come from anywhere though - global warming, disease, an asteroid drastically changing the environment, a group of humans that want to eradicate other humans, etc. We are in a blissful moment -- we should enjoy it :)

Based on this I reject the conclusion of chapter one - is chapter two better?
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby Reg_Prescott on August 6th, 2018, 1:51 pm 

What normally happens in rational argumentation is that the interlocutor sportingly tries anything to squirm out of a predicament.

Two things:

1. Not sure I'm in a predicament, and if I am, it's all David Stove's fault.

2. Kinda drunk (hoping to survive, but we all know the genes are struggling valiantly behind the scenes with their best interests at heart)

3. There are two kinds of people; those good at maths, and those who aren't.


Seriously though, my own position is that we're probably wrong about almost everything, at least that which goes beyond the trivial "the cat is on the mat" and "Hong Kong Phuey IS that mild mannered janitor", self-evident crap.


But as I said, I'm drunk, and you know everything.

I like a person so much more who says "I'm probably fulla shit". As I am.

Bless you all.

By the way, a friend introduced me to this balladeer, Ted Pillman...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hz1VnsOvums
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby wolfhnd on August 6th, 2018, 2:21 pm 

I tend to agree with Jordan Peterson that Dawkins isn't Darwinian enough. There are reasons why some species survive and others do not even if those reasons are not the product of a reasoner. At the scale of species only are lack of knowledge causes us to fail to see the determinist causes and effects.

The problem of scale is inherent to this question because while there are species who are exceptions the overall trend where evolution is actually taking place is towards great complexity. Some species are not evolving or evolving very slowly and they have to be excluded from consideration. This logic is built into question but even so how can you speak on evolution where it is not taking place.

Strictly speaking the genetic modifications that bacteria go through in adapting to changes in the environment is not evolution because new species are not created. The process of taking advantage of random mutations may be identical but the results are not. This may sound like semantics but the question may be too imprecise.
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby SciameriKen on August 6th, 2018, 2:42 pm 

Reg_Prescott » Mon Aug 06, 2018 5:51 pm wrote:What normally happens in rational argumentation is that the interlocutor sportingly tries anything to squirm out of a predicament.

Two things:

1. Not sure I'm in a predicament, and if I am, it's all David Stove's fault.

2. Kinda drunk (hoping to survive, but we all know the genes are struggling valiantly behind the scenes with their best interests at heart)

3. There are two kinds of people; those good at maths, and those who aren't.


Seriously though, my own position is that we're probably wrong about almost everything, at least that which goes beyond the trivial "the cat is on the mat" and "Hong Kong Phuey IS that mild mannered janitor", self-evident crap.


But as I said, I'm drunk, and you know everything.

I like a person so much more who says "I'm probably fulla shit". As I am.

Bless you all.

By the way, a friend introduced me to this balladeer, Ted Pillman...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hz1VnsOvums


lol - I prefer to hold onto my knowledge as a "king of the hill" scenario -- if there is something that can come along and help me understand the world better than dawkinism I'm all for it. Let Stove knock Dawkins off the hill if he can! :D. even if he's drunk!
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby Serpent on August 6th, 2018, 2:53 pm 

hyksos » August 6th, 2018, 11:53 am wrote:Saturation just means a particular form of life has taken up all the space in an ecosystem, and it's population cannot grow without bound anymore.

There is always a limit to population growth, and that limit is affected by many factors, which are not constant but fluctuate - and so does the population of any given species, or type of life that performs a required function in that ecosystem.
What constant would set an absolute upper limit on just one life-form?
Bacteria have taken over every portion of every ocean.

But that is not true. There are bacteria in the ocean, but the ocean isn't full of bacteria - there is also lots of plant and animal and insect life there; there are also bacteria in fresh waters, on and under the ground, in the air and in the plants and animals.
Saturation is just a recognition that while resources and space are large , they are not infinite.

Okay. It might be meaningful to say: this locale - woodlot or pond or meadow - has reached a saturation point for a given species: that it cannot support one more oriole, or one new hippo or one more hare. This saturation would be a function of nesting sites, water toxicity, food supply, etc. Not sure that could be said of bacteria anywhere outside a Petri dish. In a whole ocean, how could you even begin to collect data on its capacity to support bacteria? That capacity fluctuates with every flush of a ship's head.
In a relatively contained environment, like a woodlot or pond, the relationships are more visible. Young orioles must migrate to another woodlot - possibly displacing a weaker pair of finches - or sit out their first mating season. Which they do will affect the woodlot's dynamics. When the hippos move on to a clean pond, the slurry they leave behind has killed all the fish and amphibians, but will fertilize all the surrounding marsh plants, producing fresh food for the next generation of hippos.
Hares are interesting https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/51/1/25/251849
Everything affects everything - natural processes are not linear but cyclic.

"Stages" here would mean for example that trees are saturated on land

But how can you know how many trees a land-mass could support in optimal conditions? Since conditions are not optimal most of the time, trees keep dying, sometimes faster than new ones can germinate. Even supposing we consider only pre-human periods, how can trees keep up a maximum population in spite of weevils, termites, fungi, parasitic ivies, hungry deer and forest fires?

Anyway, even if there is forest as far as you can see, it's misleading to say that trees fill up the land and then a new stage of evolution begins: the trees co-evolve with their pollinators, their predators, their parasites, their occupants and protectors - with all the other life-forms in that forest. It's a continuous, intricately interactive and transactive process. No steps, no stages.

which, in turn, facilitates the emergence and evolution of tree dwelling primates. There is a strong sense that woody tree saturation must have presaged the evolution of primates by millions of years, or even epochs prior.

Of that, you may be certain. But it only takes a couple of trees for a primate to discover that climbing one is an easy escape from hyenas. Whatever is in the environment facilitates a certain evolutionary development. If it's rocks and more rocks, you get mountain goats. If it's cacti, you get iguanas. If it's caves, you get bats. If it's conifers, you get pine siskins. In order to produce a modification that takes advantage of any particular aspect of the environment, you don't need that aspect to fill up the whole environment; you just need an opening; even the smallest niche will have its specialist life-form.

Humans are needy... and modern industrial humans are even more needy. For bacteria, it often comes down to "no space left". But for human population, saturation is a matter of how many acres of farm land and tons of water does it take to support 1 human. It is reasonable to speculate that the "Earth cannot sustain 13 billion people all driving cars to work." There is a number of factors, but I would point at potable water running out.

That's a whole different story. That's not about evolution, but technology. Even our unprecedented fecundity is a function of technology, rather than natural selection. Human saturation is more about using up resources and rendering our environment incapable of sustaining life.
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby wolfhnd on August 6th, 2018, 4:14 pm 

What is technology if not an extension of evolution, is it "unnatural"? Can anything be unnatural?
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby zetreque on August 6th, 2018, 4:49 pm 

wolfhnd » Mon Aug 06, 2018 1:14 pm wrote:What is technology if not an extension of evolution, is it "unnatural"? Can anything be unnatural?


I wasn't going to mention it but the central part of my post was about symbiotic mutualism relationships with the broader ecosystem in mind and technology or AI might come into this discussion at some point.
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Re: A direction to evolution

Postby Serpent on August 6th, 2018, 5:51 pm 

wolfhnd » August 6th, 2018, 3:14 pm wrote:What is technology if not an extension of evolution, is it "unnatural"? Can anything be unnatural?

I didn't say it's unnatural. I said technology, rather than natural selection accounts for the human population explosion.
And, no, something produced by a biological entity may be the indirect result of evolution; it's not an extension. (Unless you find a genetic mutation that enables a spleen to smelt the iron it stores and beat it into ploughshares.) The convoluted brain is a result of the evolutionary process. What that brain enables its owner/occupant to do with its environment is a byproduct. The knowledge accumulates, but it's passed on by deliberate teaching and record-keeping. If a nuclear war wipes out all the books and databases, no new baby will be born with the knowledge to build a rocket or make whiskey. All the post-apocalyptic babies will have only the same quality equipment that babies had in 1200 AD or 12,000 BC.

Nor does natural selection apply to domestic plants and animals: they do not evolve to suit human needs; they are altered to suit human needs.
Any changes and developments brought about by technology - and that includes artificial genetic modification - are outside the realm of Darwinian evolution theory.

I'm familiar with the school of thought that classifies everything as natural, just because it happened in the world or was done by something that happened in the world. But that classification renders the words "natural" and "artificial" meaningless. We know perfectly well what those words mean; we understand the concepts and difference. Taking away the meaning of useful words does nothing more than render entire subjects undiscussable.
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