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Reply #39: Arendt, [View All]

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FarrenH Donating Member (485 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-14-08 03:12 AM
Response to Reply #36
39. Arendt,
Edited on Mon Jul-14-08 04:12 AM by FarrenH
I'm intimately acquainted with Godel's incompleteness theorem and quite familiar with complexity theory and chaos theory. I have both professional and personal interest in these subjects. I certainly don't believe every possible computation is tractable. I've also got a lay exposure to, for instance, evidence for epigenetic inheritance (via Goodwin's popular work) and the transference of genes between organisms, so I'm not inured in the idea that all inheritance is effected via DNA along a vertical path.

I'm sorry, when I wrote the offending paragraph I was in a cranky mood and conflating your earlier post up with someone else's - yes - thoroughly misinformed post, leading me to the mistaken belief that another poster was doing the woo-woo thing of yelling "Quantum! Quantum! Mystery Theatre!" in the same manner as most new age mystics who don't know a God-damn thing about quantum physics. Yes, quantum effects must obviously feature in biological activities. My post wasn't a denial of that. It was questioning whether the understanding of quantum effects is required before we can safely conclude that inheritance, modification and selection are responsible for most of the biological diversity we see around us.

And the truth is it is not. In fact we didn't even need to know about the role of DNA to recognize and accept the centrality of Darwin's insight to biological evolution, which is why his ideas got so much traction long before we had such intimate understanding of cellular biology. The ratcheting effect of inheritance, modification and selection are evident in every system that has these features, biological or otherwise. Logic alone - simple statistical necessity - dictates that a profusion of roughly adapted forms arises from such a mechanism, without extensive evidence of that explosion of forms even being required. It just falls out of the math.

And whether or not you feel that the modern synthesis is just "cataloging interactions without being able to predict or explain them", some general characteristics of organisms are incontrovertible and clearly evident from their phenotypes. Organisms inherit characteristics from their ancestors. Organisms occasionally deviate from prior generations in the characteristics they inherit. Some of those deviations allow viable offspring and are inheritable. We can say these things with certainty from a vast surplus of macroscopic evidence, without any understanding of cellular components. Therefore, we can say with certainty that, given an entire planet of organisms and billions of years, an enormous amount of speciation and diversity will occur. Its a simple mathematical necessity.

My objection here is not to new ideas that may enrich the model, but to the hyperbole that the foundations of evolutionary biology are shifting - a "paradigm shift" is occurring in the same sense that physics has shifted in the last century.

This post has been truncated because I don't want to write an entire essay, but I have to say the following for completeness lest I be misrepresented again. Obviously, the brief descriptions used here give the appearance of only considering individual organisms in an unchanging environment, whereas in reality the environment is largely made up of other organisms undergoing the same process. I recently read some old commentary by Lovelock where he pointed out that both the composition of the Earth's outermost surface and the composition of its atmosphere is entirely driven by the presence of life, so that even the nature and proportion of non-living components of our environment are largely determined by other living things.

I appreciate this. A more elegant description of the evolutionary process would actually be a description of a point (representing the entire biological sphere) traversing positions representing coherent states in an n-dimensional phase space, but that description doesn't lend itself to easy discussion of the issues being examined here.

I suspect you recognise the fact that the e-books in the OP are sensationalist in their approach, but believe engaging the admitted substance embedded therein will be more fruitful that attacking the obviously wild-eyed and hyperbolic packaging. If so, I have to disagree. Many of the people reading the e-books will take more away from the hyperbole around the interviews than the at times difficult subject matter of the interviews, in much the same way that I took a great many misinterpretations of quantum physics away from books like The Dancing Wu Li Masters in my youth.

And considering we're in the age of the Internet, where people can get far clearer and less fluff-ornamented articulation of this material from the blogs of actual scientists, I think its better to simply steer people to such material. I'm sorry that that may involve stepping on some people's toes, but its better to bruise a few egos than support the dissemination of misinformation.
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