Quora – evidence for evolution

What is the strongest evidence for evolution to show the creationists that they are wrong?

The question is invalid in a way that few yet understand well.

Jordan Peterson gets much closer than most (both of his books are worth reading, and all of his youtube lectures are worth watching), and in his August 2018 Patreon response at 1:11:38 he gets very close.

Religion doesn’t survive because it explains how the world works, it survives because it gives people effective heuristics for acting in ways that enhance communal survival. That is a different domain.

Ideas like right and wrong are very simple approximations to vastly more complex realities.

Science doesn’t deal with right and wrong. Science is a process of becoming less wrong through a (potentially infinite) set of approximations (or models) that are less wrong than the models they replace.

And living in the real world is complex.

It is of no survival value to have a method of perfectly predicting the position of a predator if it takes 2 minutes to compute, and you only see it 10 seconds before it gets you. Things like computational time and computational energy are really important factors in evolution.

Evolution is essentially the survival of sets of useful heuristics (things that work well enough, reliably enough, and quickly enough) that are better than any of the other variants available given all the specific constraints of that particular context or niche. It seems very probable that all of our likes, dislikes, intuitions, feelings, culture, law, etc come from some level of the differential survival of variants of something.

Religions that have stood the test of deep time seem to have captured some essentially useful sets of behavioural outputs in their structures.

Robert Axelrod gave us the first real glimpses of just how complex and subtle some of those interactions might be, with his early work on games theory.

As complexity theory, computational theory, systems theory and decision theory have developed; people like Stephen Wolfram, David Snowden, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Nassim Taleb, Jordan Peterson, Ray Kurzwiel and many others have allowed us to develop ever more complex and subtle and recursively accurate models of how evolution works, and to gain some idea of just how complex each and every one of us is.

Getting onto that path takes a lot of time (Dawkins Selfish Gene was a profound read for me in 1978).

It means giving up the old and comfortable ideas of Truth and Certainty; and training oneself to be as comfortable as possible with eternal uncertainty, to be respectful of diversity, and to admit that all knowledge comes with uncertainties.

A scientific understanding can be profoundly powerful, but it is not easy, or quick.

Often the time and energy constraints of reality demand we adopt simplifying heuristics. That can lead to profound issues when our legal system often demands that someone be responsible, and has a hard time accepting that fundamental uncertainty will be our eternal companion.

One of the very real issues that many religious people very rightly have with many who profess a scientific understanding, is that they are too arrogant in their claims, and so simplistic as to be a close approximation to wrong in areas that they do not yet even begin to comprehend.

The popular notion that evolution is all about competition is one case in point.

Certainly evolution can involve competition; and it is also true to say that for most complex organisms, the evolution of complexity is far more about cooperation than it is about competition; and we are the most complex things we know.

So many of a religious persuasion are (very rightly) very skeptical of those who use a very simplistic (and essentially wrong) claim that evolution is all about competition and “survival of the fittest” to support behaviours in the economic and business and political realms that are essentially cheating strategies on the cooperative that is human society. I am equally (or more) skeptical – though from a strictly systemic view, based upon balance of probabilities in a vastly complex systemic landscape.

I am all for science.

Science is not about being right.

Science is accepting eternal ignorance; and striving with humility to be a little less wrong every day.

Science is being willing to question anything and everything, if there is reasonable evidence that such questioning is required.

As someone who has had a passionate interest in evolutionary theory and practice for over 50 years; I am clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that the survival of us all demands a universal respect for individual life and individual liberty; and that demands of each of us responsible action in both social and ecological contexts. And there will be as many different variations on those themes as there are individuals in existence. We are in fact that complex.

So rather than trying to be “right”; try a little humility. Try showing respect. Try listening for the deeper truths encoded in the heuristics that apply to domains that may not be of primary interest to us.
In every age, those who see something that is less wrong than the old model, are by definition heretics and “wrong” from within the old model.

Scientific progress demands we allow such things; is in fact predicated upon them. Which is not to say the everyone making such claims is in fact less wrong; but some of them will be – and one has to do the hard work to sort one from t’other; and show some respect to all in the process.

We all make mistakes.

One of the keys to scientific progress is noticing that they are mistakes, and correcting them.
To be able to do that, one must be eternally open to the possibility of mistakes. That is not always a comfortable place to be.

[followed by as replys to comments on my facebook share]

Hi Richard,
What I was trying to say (none too clearly- obviously), is that the simple idea that someone is either right or wrong, is almost certain not accurate most of the time. Most often the model we are using is only an approximation to what is actually present.

For me, all moral values seem to be the result of the survival of something.

[followed by]

Hi Richard,
Deeper than that.
It seems beyond reasonable doubt that all of what we call knowledge is just a simplistic model of something vastly more complex.

Evolutionary epistemology and evolutionary ontology seem to be at root of all that we are – our perceptions, our perceptual models, our experiential reality, our morality, everything. Trace it far enough and you come back to the differential survival of something. Level upon level upon level.

It seems to be what is there.

Posted in understanding | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Scientific theories

Quora – What is an example of a scientific theory? How is a scientific theory developed?

While Glen’s answer captures many important aspects of what the scientific theory is and how the process works, it also misses many aspects.

I choose the example of a scientific theory being the theory that life evolved from inorganic constituents by a process of evolution by natural selection.

A recursive application of evolutionary theory gives us our best understanding of understanding itself, what we are, how and why we think and do as we do.

Evolution as a process starts simple, and rapidly gets extremely complex.

The start is simple enough.

It requires something that can replicate, with some useful degree of fidelity (ie close enough that it can persist, but not perfectly, such that there are variants in the populations that result).

It requires that there be differences in the environment, such that some variants do better in some locations than in others.

Everything that follows is about the differential survival of variants in different contexts.

That process rapidly gets very complex.

As the number of variants increase, then the levels of “strategy” start to happen (strategy in this sense, at this level, is not conscious, but just systems doing what they do). If the risk to individuals in a population comes largely from factors outside the population, then levels of cooperation may emerge and stabilize. Raw cooperation is always vulnerable to invasion by cheating strategies, so there emerges something of an evolutionary arms race between cheating strategies and detection and removal strategies. We see this at every level of biology. In the RNA systems within cells, in the protein systems within cells, in the protein systems on cell surfaces, in the immune systems of complex organisms, in our emotions and our legal and cultural systems (to name just a few).

Cooperation allows for expanding complexity, and the exploration of new systemic spaces of possibility.

Competition tends to drive systems to some set of local minima in the complexity landscape and keep them there.

It seems probable that we are the most complex and the most cooperative systems in existence.

It seems probable that at every level, our understandings and models of the world are driven by many levels of the differential survival of heuristics that worked in our past. All of our ability to make sense of the world, to model the world, to model ourselves and others as actors in the world, seem to be the result of this process of the differential survival of heuristics.

It seems that for every one of us, our experiential reality is a subconsciously created model of reality. That model is partly the result of our biology, partly the result of our “culture”, partly the result of our individual experience, and partly the result of our choices.

Heuristics are not “Truths”.

Heuristics are things that work in practice in particular contexts (at least as well as they do, which in an evolutionary context means well enough to survive better than the alternatives available – often simplicity has a lot going for it, response time is often important in survival contexts – being just a little faster to respond than your neighbor means you are less likely to get eaten, as one example).

For each of us, the heuristics we have worked well enough for our ancestors and those from whom we copied them, that they managed to survive (and survival is not a trivial thing).

That our heuristics worked as well as they did in our deep past, is no guarantee that they will work in our exponentially changing present.

A very simple heuristic is that all things can be resolved down to “True” or “False”, and can be understood in such simple terms.

That is a useful starting place for the exploration of complex systems, it is not any sort of “Truth”.

Reality seems to be far more complex than that. Many levels more complex. Reality seems to demand a more probabilistic understanding.

Reality seems to be a balance between order and chaos, between the knowable and the unknowable – at every level – recursively, potentially infinitely so.

Glen mentioned the post modernists. They seem to have gotten half of a useful idea.

They have understood the idea that all things contain uncertainties, but they have taken that to mean that all things are equally uncertain.
That is not a valid extrapolation; it is not supported by the evidence from biology or systems theory.

Every level of complexity and existence seems to have a requirement for a minimum degree of order required to sustain the boundary conditions that make that level of complexity possible, and sufficient permeability in those boundaries to allow the exploration of the infinities that lie beyond the boundaries, both for the threats and the opportunities contained therein.

There can be no absolute guarantees of security in such a systemic space; and we can learn a lot from our explorations of the past and present (including all of biology, ecosystems, human history, culture, literature etc), and our explorations of the systemic spaces of complexity, algorithms, mathematics and logics.

Hierarchies are a useful way of ordering systems with varying degrees of competency; and they can easily be captured and exploited by cheating strategies on the cooperative entities involved. Hierarchies themselves are not the problem. The problems we have are in the nature of the systems present in specific hierarchies. Those systems must be fundamentally cooperative – all levels, if any of us (even them) are to have a reasonable probability of long term survival.

We are all fundamentally cooperative, and we all have our competitive sides, that can emerge if the context demands it. Our survival seems to be predicated on maintaining contexts that promote universal cooperation. That means delivering reasonable levels of universal abundance and universal freedom, and both of those come with requirements that we each, as individuals, act responsibly in both social and ecological contexts.

When one looks deeply at the systemic structure of the life that we are, and the life that surrounds us, the need for such fundamental cooperation becomes clear for any who take the time to look (and it does take a while – I’ve been doing it for over 50 years).

Posted in Ideas, understanding | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Science and Tech in agriculture

Quora – What are the importance of science and technology in agriculture?

Science and technology enable us to get constantly improve the efficiency of our systems. That can be great, as it allows us to do more with less. It also has dangers as it means exploring novelty, and by definition novelty can contain the unknown and the unexpected.

We are now able to support more people per Ha, over more of the planet, and give them more choices. That is the result of science and technology; a mix of gradual improvement and breakthroughs to new domains.

Science is the eternal process of asking questions, designing experiments, testing, observing and analyzing outcomes. Technology gives us the tools to aid us to do that process with ever greater accuracy and speed. And the more we do that, the more it seems that uncertainty is a fundamental aspect of every level of systems present in reality. Survival seems to require a context sensitive balance between the lawful and the chaotic, the known and the unexplored.

Science is also giving us the beginnings of an understanding of the levels of complexity of the systems we are dealing with. They are deeply, profoundly complex. Every level of system related to and influencing every other level.

Science has allowed us to gain some degree of influence over many levels of systems present. We are improving our abilities mitigate disease, predation, climate variation, etc. By many different mechanisms we are improving yields over both time and space.

The dangers are many. We may modify something the importance of which we don’t understand until it is too late. We may push systems over some tipping point into new configurations from which there is no easy recovery.

There is no escape from such dangers. The unknown is always there, always will be (infinities have that unsettling characteristic). Most of what we consider security is illusion.

The systems space is clear – complexity such as we are is fundamentally based in cooperation. Such security as we have comes from cooperation. Competition is the enemy of diversity and complexity. So we are in an extremely dangerous systemic space (with our competitive market based systems), which influences our agricultural systems as much as it influences every other aspect of the systems that are us and our many levels of culture.

The more we understand what we are, the greater the levels of influence we can have on what is, what we can be and what we become.

Posted in Our Future, Technology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Vit C – in a Skeptics group

A post in NZ Skeptics group – in response to Mike asking about vitamin C

I got sent home to die 8 years ago – palliative care only – terminal melanoma.
I radically changed my diet (now strict vegan, no added sugar, no refined food), and high dose vitamin C.

Haven’t had a cold or flu in that years.

There is a lot of research out there on Vit C.

It seems that in most people it is the rate limiting factor in immune system function (and for some people it can be other things).

Under stress we can use up to 100g per day.

Try it for yourself and see if it works. I did – the medical system gave me no other options.

In my case it seems to have worked.
I am still here.

I am still checking out claims.

[followed by Terry asked – did you have treatment?]

Yeah – 5 operations. Started on my left temple, then into cheek, then into neck – removed SCM complex. They gave up and sent me home after 3 tumours found on liver.

I had heard about Pauling’s work, so went digging. Eventually found a copy of the Mayo clinic study at the Otago medical library, and found that their 10g per day was 4 lots of 2.5g administered 6 hourly. Didn’t reach the threshold of maximum serum concentration (which is about 5g for most adults).

I experimented with anything that seemed to have some evidence that it might work, and didn’t cost a lot.
In my case, have settled on vegan and Vit C – heaped teaspoon in a glass of water twice daily now – was much higher when I had tumours.

I only started alternatives once the medical system ejected me.
Have had only limited contact with the medical system since.
There are serious conflicts within the systemic incentives of using money as a value measure. That the system works as well as it does is basically down to a lot of great people working within it – it seems to work (at least as well as it does) in spite of the rules, rather than because of them (David Snowden – complexity theorist, did some interesting work within IBM which parallels my experience).

[followed by]

One thing to be conscious of if you are using vit C, is that the metabolic half life of Vit C in an animal under stress is about 20 minutes. So a couple of high doses each day allow peak serum levels to be reached, but a little and often is a great idea for sustained activity. I did a quarter teaspoon in a glass of water every waking hour. Set my watch to beep on the hour, and got up and had a glass on the beep – no exceptions.
Last night went to the 40th of a lady who 4 years ago was faced with the choice of chemo and lose her baby, or look for alternative. She chose alternative, sought me out, and I worked with her (no charge – one human being helping another). Mother and child are fine.

We are exceptionally complex entities.
There is some great work being done in the medical field, particularly in the genetic realm.
There is so much conflict between the needs of individual health and the needs of the health system driven by profit (which is optimised not by cures, but by ongoing treatments).

It is a really complex situation we find ourselves in, as the market based system where scarcity is a big part of the value measured is coming into direct conflict the the power of automated systems to deliver universal abundance.

Markets do currently perform many very complex and very important functions in terms of distributed information processing and distributed governance, distributed risk management, etc; and that aspect of distributed and deeply redundant systems is very important for our long term survival.

Couple into that the eternal conflicts present in the competence hierarchies necessary for the operation of complex cooperative systems with the threat of invasion by cheating strategies that corrupt those systems into power hierarchies and cancerous growth of subsystems; and you get the beginnings of a sketch of the world we find ourselves in.

Deeply complex.
15+ levels of complex adaptive cooperative systems.
Every level with complex sets of systems to detect and counter cheating strategies on the cooperative.
Our immune systems are down there in that mix.
Every layer influencing every other layer.

With over 40 years of studying it, I am deeply conscious that what we know of the complexity is a close approximation to nothing given the indications of the complexity actually present.

The more I know, the more I know I don’t know, and the less confident I become about much of what I once thought was certain.

Posted in cancer | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

human evolution

How can you explain the theory of human evolution in simple terms with scientific details and evidences? Is it just a theory?

There is a clear distinction one needs to make.

Evolution as a process can be clearly demonstrated, both in logic and in reality.

It is very easy to demonstrate that if you have something that creates copies of itself (by some process) and there is occasional variation (errors in the copying process from one perspective), and there are different environments available, then the variants will have different survival probabilities in those different environments.

That is simple, and easy to show.

That is evolution in a nutshell.

And as systems build in complexity, it rapidly gets profoundly and recursively more complex.

So in this sense, evolution as a process is a demonstrable fact, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt. We can see it happening, here and now.

What is theory, is the assertion that this process alone is responsible for all the life we see on this planet.

There were no video cameras on earth 4 billion years ago, to allow us to see exactly what went on.

All we have is a few very old rocks (and not many of those, as the earth’s surface is essentially a thin skin on top of boiling rock and is constantly turning over – like the skin on pot of gently simmering porridge). We need to make a lot of assumptions about the sorts of conditions that created those rocks in order to make any sense of what we see in those rocks. The further back in time, the less actual evidence we have and the greater the probability of error in interpreting what data we have.

Yet when one looks at the structure of the molecules of life (and I started my training as a biochemist 45 years ago), then the balance of evidence is very strongly in favor of the theory that all life on earth is the result of the process of evolution by natural selection acting over some 4 billion years.

And that has to rely on some very indirect evidence, as there is no direct video evidence.

Thus we say that the hypothesis that all life on earth is the result of evolution by natural selection acting initially on simple replicating molecules is a theory, and the process of evolution (which we can observe here and now) is a fact.

Posted in Ideas, understanding | Tagged , | Leave a comment


August 11-17 ’18 ~QofDay~ Forgetfulness

Is forgetfulness a curse or a blessing after an age?

For me, always a curse.

And it seems like some of forgetfulness isn’t really forgetting, but just an inability to recall when you want it, it often shows up, just minutes or weeks after you really wanted it.

[followed by]

Hi FOS, OM and Judi,

A lot of truth in what each of you write, and I suspect that there are more things at play also – we are so complex but we like to keep things simple for explanations, so we often over simplify (which is great for easing the burden of decision making, but not so good in keep reasonably accurate models of reality).

Ailsa’s mum has been in dementia care for about 4 years, and it has been really noticeable the difference hydration makes.   If she is at all dehydrated she has no idea who I am.  If she is well hydrated, she knows my name, and we can have a conversation.

We have at least 16 levels of systems, and many instances of complex adaptive systems at each level, and they all interact with each other.    Some effects are small but cumulative over time, and others are self reinforcing (as OM clearly observes), and some can be countered by instantiating other systems.

I can see the systemic possibility of, over time, developing systems to mitigate all the debilitating effects, and enhancing our abilities; and we are not there yet, and we are a lot closer than we were even 10 years ago.   And it seems very likely that it will involve some sort of “Regen Tank”, where billions of tiny robots work though our bodies giving us an “overhaul” at the cellular level.   For the moment, that is still science fiction, but not very far away from becoming science fact.

Can’t come soon enough for me – some of the injuries I am currently carrying I would be very happy to see repaired and the effects mitigated out of my systems (which seem to be me).

I have met people in their 90s who are really sharp – can happen.

And there are lots of risks.

Avoiding canned and heat preserved plant foods is probably a very good idea (or if you must eat them, then slow boil them for at least an hour first to remove all methanol – methanol to formaldehyde seems most likely to be the major source of dementia in our culture, and the main source of methanol in our diets is from the breakdown of pectin in plant matter).   Having a little ethanol with meals seems to be a reasonable mitigator of risk also – as it competitively blocks the enzyme responsible (no more than half a glass of wine on this excuse 😉 ).

So a very complex topic, with thousands of different factors.

And almost everything about being human has a “use it or lose it” aspect.

All competencies degrade if not actually exercised.

And just on a simple numerical basis – the older we are, the more experience we have had, and the longer it is going to take any search algorithm to find what we want – no avoiding that simple aspect of being.

[followed by]

There is the added complication with stem cells that all DNA replication involves errors, and mostly they are not critical.

So part of effective stem cell therapy will be mapping several thousand of our cells, determining what our original genotype actually was, correcting any errors that were their really need correcting, then manufacturing the repaired DNA, inserting it into our own stem cells (which we can now manufacture via a set of chemical triggers) from any cell line), then putting them in the critical places in our body so they take up appropriate roles, then induce apoptosis in the unwanted neighbours.

A somewhat more complex process, and necessary if one is interested in real longevity and high functionality.

And it’s probably 30 years or so before that sort of technology gets tested and fully functional (will want to have done a few generations on animal trials – probably mice – quicker generations).

Posted in understanding | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Assault on ethics

The Assault on Ethics

I seriously question the use of the term “the natural struggle for power”.
As someone who has had a strong interest in the reality and logic of evolutionary biology for over 50 years, the common notion that there is a “natural struggle for power” is not accurate.

As a general rule, the more complex the organism, the greater the role of cooperation in the survival of that species.

We are the most complex, and the most cooperative, species on the planet.

The idea that our existence is little more than the struggle for power is nothing short of a cancer on our culture. It is demonstrably false.

Our survival, as individuals and as a species, is far more about how we cooperate – at every level.

To a good first order approximation, cooperation is the fundamental defining characteristic of human beings.

We have a name for cells in our body that stop cooperating and start selfishly hoarding resources and reproducing without reasonable control – it is called cancer.
It is often fatal if the immune systems evolved to identify and remove it are in any way compromised (and our modern diet compromises our immune systems at many different levels – biological and cultural).

The extremes of market capitalism are exactly equivalent to cancer in our society.

And to be 100% clear, I am not arguing for central control or for equality of outcome. And I am arguing that our survival as a species hinges on us developing systems that ensure that every individual has the resources to survive and to responsibly exercise reasonable degrees of freedom. In the current context that seems best done via some sort of universal basic income. And that is no panacea to all problems, as it comes with a whole new set of problems, but as a set it seems clear to me that they pose substantially less of an existential risk to us all than the current system.

And UBI does in fact need to be universal – every individual on the planet – no exceptions.

Posted in Ideas | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments