The authors are slightly correct, but mostly wrong. To the extent that they are correct, they have been pre-empted by the concept of the 'meme', which was intoduced by Richard Dawkins. Perhaps the authors should re-read Dawkins' The Selfish Gene and pay close attention to the chapter on memes. (I am assuming they have read it, since they choose to critique Dawkins' concept of 'design'). Human invention certainly undergoes a kind of evolution with successful designs/ideas/behaviors being preserved -- and many of the innovations which bring variation into this process may be random. No one familiar with the concept of memes, or cultural evolution, would dispute that this happens.
The authors suggest that this process of random trials culled by error is sufficient to explain the evolution of human inventions and behaviors. What the authors fail to recognize is that a large portion of this trial-and-error process occurs entirely within the mind. We can imagine a goal, and imagine steps for achieving that goal. The vast majority of possible routes to the goal are so absurdly unlikely to succeed they are rejected without even coming to conscious awareness. The less obviously unsuccessful candidate solutions are considered consciously and most of these are also discarded. Quite often, a novel solution to a problem can be arrived at that has virtual certanty of success. Other times, candiate solutions may need to be manifest in behavior (build it, do it) to see if they succeed. A viable model for creative problem solving is one in which some mental processes generate more or less random variations of an idea, while other mental processes test those ideas in a mental model of reality. The end result of this process is quite often an idea which is successful the first time it is implemented. An excellent example from my own experience is computer programming. I often write whole programs from scratch, to solve new problems, which work the first time. I certainly do not make random trial-and-error changes to some existing program until I get something that works to solve the new problem. Engineers can take ideas about the behavior of known components, mentally put them together in novel ways, and have high confidnece or even certaintly that the new configuration will work. When the first propeller driven ship was built, it was not and accidental discovery. It combined the concept of steam power with a novel use of the water screw for populsion (rather than for pumping water). The important innovation here was made in the mind of the inventor, with full understanding that it would work. The idea of using the water screw may itself have been serendipitous, but the most important trial-and-error processes that resulted in a new ship design occurred within the mind of the inventor, not in a series of failed attempts to build better ships (faster, safer, more fule efficient).
When we say an object is 'designed' we are merely recognizing that a large portion of the random-variation-with-selection went on entirely within the mind(s) of the inventor(s). Quite often the inventor does have a particular goal in mind as well -- in fact it is our goals which set the criterion for success/failure of a design.
The authors are attempting to manufacture a controversy with evolutionists such as Richard Dawkins by proposing that human inventions evolve much as biological organisms do. But evolutionists have been talking about the evolution of 'memes' since Dawkins introduced the concept in the 70's, and have talked about "cultural evolution" for even longer. Furthermore, the authors' propose a mechanism of this evolution of invention which is clearly insufficient to explain the everyday experience of engineers, casual puzzle solvers, or anyone who has simply planned a route from their home to a previously unfamiliar location. Design is simply what we call it when the form of an object (or behavior) evolves mostly within the minds of the inventors. For every surviving line of decent in biological evolution, their are millions of dead ends. If the same were true of human invention, we would long ago have been crushed under the weight of our countless failed contraptions. Fortunately, the overwhelming bulk of those failures have no more substance or permanence than a passing thought.
Finally, I am uncertain what kind of bridge the authors think they are making between creationists and evolutionists. Creationists are not going to be any happier with this notion of evolving designs than they are with evolving organisms. Evolutionists are not in a dispute with creationists over where to draw the line between what is designed and what only appears to be designed. We are in a dispute with creationist over whether biological organisms were designed. Asserting that even human inventions were not 'designed' does nothing to free evolutionists from this dispute.
posted by Scott Graham
April 18, 2010 @ 12:18 PM
Are numbers tools invented through trial and success? Are they mental artifacts? They may represent generalized concepts based on an epiphany similar to a religious experience, but their interpretation depends on learned behavior experiences. They remain without substance or reality, imposing constraints on measurements of values perceived as reality which influence behavior. Belief in the functions of mathematics is the same process as belief religious dogma.
The difference is whether or not the believer becomse convinced of the reality of his belief system, or is open to the uncertainty of inadequate information.
posted by Morton Kurzweil
April 19, 2010 @ 5:15 PM
I am delighted to have, at last, found an expression of the interpretation that I have trying to put forward for some considerable time, particularly in connection with the interpretation of the apparent "fine tuning" of our universe.
To summarise my viewpoint:
The evolution of species is certainly not a random process.
It is driven by random events which produce mutations.
Most importantly these mutations are then filtered by the prevailing environment.
This is the process of natural selection which gives the development of life its direction. Which, in a limited sense, can be equated to "purpose"
In the example of the watch both theists and atheists consistently fall into exactly the same trap.
It is the trap of anthropocentrism whereby any phenomenon that exhibits what can be called "design" or "purpose" must involve a reflection of our own particular mental processes.
As discussed further in my recent book "Unusual Perspectives" (Ch 10) this is a logical error of the "package deal" variety. Both the watch and the eye can be considered to have design or purpose within this model.
We consider ourselves to design such things as watches. This arrogance can only be justified in a very limited sense.
In actuality, watches have evolved! Albeit by a non-genetic mechanism.
They are products of nature and we merely the vehicles for their evolutionary progress.
There is absolutely no need to invoke a "designer". Or for that matter a "creator" of what is quite conceivably a continuous automatic process.
Further indications of a universal "purposiveness" are provided by the observed characteristics of our world which uniquely permit the evolution of life, our species and, perhaps more significantly, technology.
The "fine tuning" of the observed physical constants that critically permit the existence of biology have been discussed by many, a particularly exhaustive treatment having been presented by Barrow & Tipler in "The Cosmological Anthropic Principle"
In chapter 11 of "Unusual Perspectives" this kind of analysis is extended "downstream" to provide, within the context of the unique properties and timely abundancies of the chemical elements, very compelling evidence of further "fine tuning" that not only allows, but essentially makes inevitable, the observed exponential development of technology for which our particular species has been the vehicle.
Several ways to account for this indisputable "fine tuning" have been proposed.
1. Creationists have seized upon the evidence to support the idea of a deity or "higher intelligence". I suspect that anthropocentrism alone promotes this kind of interpretation. Adding any kind of "higher intelligence", of course, makes for a very extravagant hypothesis. But it is not disprovable.
2. The existence of a multiplicity of universes, perhaps infinite, each with a different set of physical properties. So one of them had to get lucky, right? This is favoured by many of those theoretical physicists who choose not to just stick their heads in the sand to avoid the implications of interpretation 1. Again, it can be neither proved or disproved but is even more extravagant.
3. The "anthropic cosmological principle", the non-superstitious version of which seems to boil down to "we're here, because we're here, because we're here...
This self-selection interpretation roughly corresponds to the puddle parable.
By virtue of its tautologous nature it is not disprovable.
4. The Everett "many worlds" model, inspired by the "Schrodinger's cat" kind of dilemma that arises from quantum mechanics. This essentially can be viewed as continual bifurcations of our universe such that, in the instance of the cat, in one of the resulting universes is is dead and in the other, alive. The bifurcations, of course, result in a multiplicity of "parallel universes. Again, very extravagant but probably not disprovable
5. A far more economical model, derived from consideration of the gross evolutionary patterns that we observe in biology and, more recently, technology, is presented in "Unusual Perspectives" the electronic edition of which is available for free download from the eponymous website.
To properly appreciate the reasoning therein, however, it is very important to first discard the anthropocentric mind-set that leads to problems with concepts such as "purpose" and "design". They, like "gods", "intelligence" and "free-will", are merely components of our inherited mental environments that preclude objectivity.
posted by Peter Kinnon
April 26, 2010 @ 6:26 AM
Update Concepts And Comprehension
Life is another mass format.
All mass formats are subject to natural selection.
Natural selection is delayeing conversion of mass to energy fueling cosmic expansion.
Cosmic expansion is reconversion of all mass to energy.
Natural Selection Updated 2010
Beyond Historical Concepts
Natural Selection applies to ALL mass formats. Life is just one of them.
Natural Selection Defined.
Natural selection is E (energy) temporarily constrained in an m (mass) format.
Natural selection is a ubiquitous property of each and every and all cosmic mass, spin array, formats. Mass strives to increase its constrained energy content in attempt to postpone its conversion to energy and the addition of its constitutional energy to the totality of the cosmic energy that keeps fueling the cosmic expansion that goes on since the big bang.
(Comments From The 22nd Century)
03.2010 Updated Life Manifest
Cosmic Evolution Simplified
Gravity Is The Monotheism Of The Cosmos
EOTOE, Embarrassingly obvious TOE, expanding the horizon beyond Darwin And Einstein
Origin And Nature Of Natural Selection
Longevity Schmongevity Genes
It's Not The Procedure, But The Concept That Is Absurd
Longevity Genes Search Reflects Science Decadence
A. For most centenarians, longevity is written in the DNA.
A study of people who live past 100 reveals many genetic paths to a long life.
B. Longevity, survival, natural selection, evolution
- Merriam-Webster OnLine
Longevity = a : a long duration of individual life b : length of life
- Longevity is about survival, which is about "natural selection", which is about energy constrainment, which is about life evolution, which is about cosmic evolution. Every mass is destined to become energy to fuel the ongoing cosmic expansion. This is why organisms and black holes etc., eat, digest energy in mass forms, to avoid-postpone conversion to energy. This is evolution, which is natural selection, which is survival, which is longevity.
- All mass formats age. Life is a mass format. Searching for longevity genes is searching for evolution genes...
C. The search for longevity genes is a reflection of the 20th-21st centuries science decadence
Its concepts and terminology reflect the abandonment of basic science for adoption of the pretentious cancerous capitalist 20th-21st century technology culture.
(Comments From The 22nd Century)
posted by Dov Henis
August 21, 2010 @ 5:34 AM
About once a month at Sigma Xi headquarters, we liven up the lunch hour with an American Scientist Pizza Lunch talk. In these informal lectures, scientists describe new research to nonscientists. The series is light on jargon but heavy on solid science. Each Pizza Lunch offers an in-depth look at its subject, whether it's bedbugs or the smart grid. Click below to read about and download these talks -- and to subscribe!
JSTOR, the online academic archive, now contains complete back issues of American Scientist from its inception in 1913 (as Sigma Xi Quarterly) through 2005.
The table of contents for each issue is freely available to all users; those with institutional access can read each complete issue.
View the full collection here.