Re: The evolution of "evolution"

From: Dace (
Date: Fri 14 Oct 2005 - 22:15:36 GMT

  • Next message: Dace: "Re: [2] The evolution of "evolution""


    > At 23:41 02/10/2005, Dace wrote:
    > >Elsasser wondered if our everyday experience of memory
    > >involves action at a distance over time. To explain ontogenesis, we need
    > >only posit that newly developing organisms are influenced, via bodily
    > >memory, by past, similar organisms, primarily those belonging to the same
    > >species.
    > I've read this several times, and really tried to see if I can
    > somehow make sense of it, but the only conclusion I can come to is
    > that we must have fundamentally different views on what constitutes
    > "an explanation". If you really believe in the above, then it seems
    > to me that you believe in magic. Given that I'm sure you would say
    > you don't, then it must be a linguistic confusion over the meaning of
    > the word "explain".

    This is precisely how Leibniz reacted to Newton's theory of gravity, which implies action at a distance over space. Capitulating to Leibniz and others, Newton agreed there had to be an "ether" mediating the propagation of gravity. This, of course, is false. Newton did make a mistake in his theory but only that gravitational attraction acts *instantaneously* at a distance. As we learn from Einstein, gravity waves travel at the speed of light. However, like electromagnetic waves, no material mediation is required.

    > How can you possibly take a term out of psychology, and then propose
    > that it can explain embryology,

    Don't blame me. Blame Richard Semone and his concept of mneme. As Scott has painstakingly established, this insight-- that personal and biological memory are one and the same-- originated with Semone.

    > Was Elsasser really
    > proposing that the embryo of, say, a dinosaur developing in the late
    > Jurassic is currently, as we speak, exerting some
    > space-time-independent effect on a vertebrate embryo developing right
    > this moment?


    > You see, when I set that against standard developmental biology, I
    > just can't grasp why a sane reasonable person would choose such a belief.

    How could a sane person believe that organisms are machines, that evolution can be reduced to random genetic mutation, that cellular order can be reduced to molecules whose behavior is as random as particles in a gas, and that we ourselves are mere hallucinations generated by our own brains?

    > >If you think I've misstated modern biology, perhaps you should point out
    > >error.
    > Let's see ..... and in the very next paragraph:
    > >With its dependence on accident
    > >in place of adaptation, neo-Darwinism is inherently implausible,
    > That's about as whopping a misrepresentation as one could think of
    > (it's called Hoyle's fallacy after the astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle who
    > made the same mistake). Meanwhile in the real world, by the late
    > 60s, many theorists had become so fixated on adaptation, that Steve
    > Gould felt compelled to write his famous "Spandrels" article and his
    > well-known Scientific American review to redress the balance. The
    > neo-adaptationist Dan Dennett was then moved to respond to Gould at
    > book length in "Darwin's Dangerous Idea". In "Structure of
    > Evolutionary Theory", Gould dissects pan-adaptationism and its roots
    > in laborious detail - you seemed to imply in a previous message that
    > you'd read "Structure", so why the Hoyle's fallacy?

    You're conflating two separate issues. When I say "adaptation," I mean the adjustments organisms make during the course of their lives in order to keep up with environmental changes (which mostly boil down to the adjustments made by other organisms). Those creatures that make the best adaptations are "selected" for survival. By "accident," I mean adaptations that arise from genetic mutations. Thus it's really a question of intelligent versus random adaptation. As I've said, intelligence will re-enter biology one way or another, either via the mind of God or the minds of organisms ranging from bacteria to hominids.

    This is to say nothing about whether or not creatures possess traits that arose outside the context of the struggle to survive. I agree with Gould that not everything can be accounted for by natural selection. I also agree that the organism is not the only level of selection, his other major point in The Structure of Evolutionary Theory.

    > >Mutation is a source of variation, but is it the only source? What about
    > >the life experiences of plants and animals? That doesn't count for
    > >anything?
    > In a nutshell, no. People have looked extensively and found
    > nothing. In the early 70s an Australian immunologist called Ted
    > Steele thought he had found an example in the immune system, but it
    > turned out to be not the case (as detailed in Dawkins' "Extended

    See Hill, Miroslav, "Adaptive state of mammalian cells and its nonseparability suggestive of a quantum system," Scripta Medica, 73 (4): 211-222, October 2000.

    Hill proves that the knowledge gained by particular cells is shared with physically separated cells of the same type. I believe Hill's use of the principle of quantum entanglement is misguided in that entanglement merely illustrates the principle of action at a distance at a different level of organization.

    > Instead
    > >of animals intelligently deciding to pursue a new path that leads, over
    > >generations, to anatomical changes, it's the occasional transcription
    > >during cell division that provides the raw material on which natural
    > >selection operates. It's just kind of a nutty view. Flies in the face
    > >reason. So why is it so widely held?
    > Well. because it's been convincingly demonstrated to be true by
    > decades of scientific investigation. One thing I'm curious about,
    > Ted, on what level do you actually deny the evidence? Do you think
    > you could reinterpret the results of decades of evolutionary genetics
    > to agree with your conclusions? ie. do you think that the experiments
    > were valid but the conclusions wrong? Or do you dismiss the
    > experiments completely, thereby claiming that 100 years of modern
    > biology has been a waste of time?

    Absolutely not. However, it should be noted that the results of experiments can easily be misinterpreted. The main problem seems to be the confusion of necessity with sufficiency. That genes are necessary for development cannot, by itself, prove sufficiency. The same can be said of the brain. That neural memory traces are necessary for remembering doesn't mean a given memory is literally encoded, like words on a page, within array of neurons. To take a mechanistic metaphor, that disturbing the circuitry of a television set can eliminate the TV program doesn't mean the program arises from within the circuitry itself. The circuitry is necessary but not sufficient. It's a simple matter of logic.

    > >Mechanism
    > >posits that something is real if it operates the way a machine does.
    > No, just that there is cause and effect mediated by physical interaction.

    In other words, that it operates the way a machine does.

    > >For starters, it allows for the
    > >possibility that characteristics acquired through life-struggle can
    > >be inherited by descendants. Thus adaptations can be transmitted without
    > >genetic mediation just as light can travel through deep space without the
    > >need for "ether."
    > Again, I find it difficult to get to the end of that sentence without
    > thinking that I'm reading some kind of description of magic.

    Which one is magical? The unmediated transmission of traits or the unmediated transmission of light?

    > on an eye development paper I mentioned:
    > >As you can see, the authors make no claim for having discovered a design
    > >the eye of any species. They merely point out what has long been
    > >established, namely that genes "regulate" or influence development. What
    > >genes do is to cause development to go down one path as opposed to
    > >By causing some proteins to be produced but not others, genes distinguish
    > >individuals from each other. They do not provide the overall plan of
    > >development, only tweaking it one way or another.
    > Oh come on, this is a sophistry! When the gene regulatory network is
    > controlling every single aspect of the developmental process, it is
    > equivalent to design. Developmental biologists can _redesign_ flies
    > at will by manipulating gene expression. Want a fly with feet
    > sticking out of its head, 4 wings and a double abdomen with no
    > vibrissae and and excessive number of hairs? No problem. As an
    > extra we could even make it homosexual and perform a repetitive dance
    > for no apparent reason and show an inordinate fondness for the smell
    > of ether. Think that's science fiction?

    Hell no! I cling to the hope that genetic recombination will enable us to create a bacterium that eats sludge and excretes hydrogen.

    > No, that's the extent of
    > our current control over Drosophila embryogenesis. That's
    > design.

    Not necessarily. It could be that we're tinkering with a blueprint, or it could be that genes themselves tinker with species memory, causing it to manifest one way instead of another.

    > What do you think design should be?

    If developing organisms merely mimic the actions of their predecessors, design is unnecessary. Neither genes nor the migrating cells that contain them need know what sort of body they're building-- so long as they hew to species tradition. The notion that an organism must follow a set of specifications is a clear-cut example of anthropomorphosis. We are projecting our own mechanistic ways onto the natural world. It's no accident that the other design-theory arises from theology, the ultimate exemplar of anthropomorphosis.

    In place of a scientific explanation of life, we substitute life with machine and then explain that instead. All the weaknesses of reductionist theory magically transform into strengths on the assumption that the characteristics of living are dispensable so long as our theory adequately captures the characteristics of machinery.

    > >Genetic reductionism is problematic to say the least. First starters, as
    > >Harry Rubin points out, the sequential combination of genes required to
    > >produce even the simplest organic compounds is vastly more complex than
    > >sort of physical problems that yield to calculation. Gene combinations
    > >"transcalculational."
    > That's just wrong.

    Nobody has ever calculated the correct combination of genes needed for the timing of penicillin production in the haploid mold Aspergilla. That's because the number of possible combinations is 2 to the 1000th power (or 10 to the 300th power), way beyond the realm of calculability. This is to say nothing of the production of multicellular organs out of diploid genomes. See *Reflections on a Theory of Organisms,* by Walter Elsasser, for which Rubin contributes an introduction.


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