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'[OT]:: Make mistakes - the manager says so'
2007\02\15@025745 by Russell McMahon

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I'm suspect that the following should be part of the ethos of many
organisations. There's places where it's not appropriate, but overall
it has its place. My first reaction was very positive, followed
rapidly by a slew of conditional buts, followed by the thought that
you may wish to quantify the range and magnitude of 'mistakes' that
are acceptable, but that it has its place.  As I said :-).




           Russell

___________________


       "I want my staff members taking risks and making mistakes.
That means they're being innovative and it means they're not afraid to
try. Now, I don't want them making the same mistake every week - that
means they're not learning, and that is bad. But I tell them, 'Make a
new mistake every week.' I tell them, 'Show the innovation and
creativity to do something really stupid that you've never done
before.'" - Rick Warren

2007\02\15@031552 by Richard Prosser

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We had a similar speech from our boss a few years ago - before he sold
the company.

It didn't last though the 2 or 3 subsequent changes of ownership but I
think may be heading back that way. Just slightly. The difficulty is
when things don't work out well and people up high want to know what
happened. For some reason they don't always buy in to the "take a
risk" philosophy.

There seems to be direct correlation between business stagnation and
the disencouragement to take risks. It seems obvious now but wasn't
obvious at the time.

RP

On 15/02/07, Russell McMahon <spam_OUTapptechTakeThisOuTspamparadise.net.nz> wrote:
{Quote hidden}

> -

2007\02\15@041443 by Wouter van Ooijen

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> There seems to be direct correlation between business stagnation and
> the disencouragement to take risks. It seems obvious now but wasn't
> obvious at the time.

But taking risks is not the only strategy that can be succesfull: it all
depends on the (external) circumstances. Compare with evolution: a
stable environment favours species that are very well adapted to that
specific environment (risk avoiders). A rapidly changing environment
favours 'general purpose / opportunistic' creatures like rats and gulls
(risk takers). So the problem is when a manager who did well in one type
of environment is put in charge of a company that lives in the other
type of environment. Which can be further generalised: I always wonder
why people think that someone who has proved to be succesfull in one
field will also be succesfull in another field? I would rather think the
opposite!

Wouter van Ooijen

-- -------------------------------------------
Van Ooijen Technische Informatica: http://www.voti.nl
consultancy, development, PICmicro products
docent Hogeschool van Utrecht: http://www.voti.nl/hvu


2007\02\15@061718 by Russell McMahon

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> Compare with evolution: a
> stable environment favours species that are very well adapted to
> that
> specific environment (risk avoiders). A rapidly changing environment
> favours 'general purpose / opportunistic' creatures like rats and
> gulls
> (risk takers).

Hijacking my own thread :-) :

Your example is apposite to the discussion BUT that's not evolution in
any normal sense that you are dealing with :-). Evolution is meant to
be about the generation and then subsequent selection of genetic
material within an individual species to suit changing conditions.
[[FWIW the latter is well enough demonstrated, the former is, as yet
at least, nearly pure hypothesis with no properly demonstrated
mechanism of operation. Ideas about how it might work or does work or
MUST work abound and may be had for free by the bushel without asking.
Just watch and see :-).]].

While people use the tautology* "survival of the fittest" to talk
about competition in all sorts of areas, including inter-species
competition such as you posit, this is not what the term formally
means except in the most general terms. Speciation may occur, the
theory says, as a result of selection pressure, but the eg rats &
gulls versus eg wombats distinction is far beyond this.

* fwiw:  That "survival of the fittest" (SOTF) is a meaningless
tautology, which fact is well recognised by the Philosophy of Science
experts (a discipline unknown to many) who walk away verrrry slowly
making no rapid movements, and  with their hands clearly in sight when
asked to explain or defend this subject, is not generally realised by
the vast majority of people. Those who best know that it is
meaningless are in large part the least desirous that it be realised
so it is generally downplayed.  SOTF means that the fittest are those
who survive and that those who survive are the fittest and ... .
Infinite regress. The term SOUNDS so right at first blush that people
are liable to wade in and attempt to defend it (just watch and see)
when such defence has proved beyond the greater minds of our age (see
above). The default argument at lower levels is something like 'the
concept is so obviously correct that it would be stupid to try to
explain or defend it'. Of such phantasms are fairy castles made - but
they are remarkably effective at blocking progress towards a greater
knowledge of truth, despite their frailty.

SOTF and any such concept only has scientific validity when one is
able to make a priori predictions based on a model. It helps not a
whit to afterwards say "obviously the furcoated ones with long sharp
claws and prehensile tails were the fittest" if we can't say that in
advance. And we have been and are remarkably poor at describing
"fittest" in the real world in advance. Survival of the Survivors [[
SOTS ??]] just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Discretion being the better part of valour, I just deleted aborning
part of a paragraph on Pepper Moths :-). Let's not even start on
finches :-)



           Russell


2007\02\15@072131 by Gerhard Fiedler

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Wouter van Ooijen wrote:

> I always wonder why people think that someone who has proved to be
> succesfull in one field will also be succesfull in another field? I
> would rather think the opposite!

Not necessarily. I think there are a number of traits of being a successful
manager of a company that are common to many if not all fields. It's always
about leading people, about making money, about abstract decisions with
concrete effects.

It's maybe similar to programming. There are certain characteristics that
make one a good programmer, independently of the specific field of
application or the specific programming environment. Then there is the
specialty knowledge of application and programming environment. The balance
of importance between the two depends much on the specific situation.

Gerhard

2007\02\15@072511 by Gerhard Fiedler

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Russell McMahon wrote:

> And we have been and are remarkably poor at describing "fittest" in the
> real world in advance.

That seems to be (loosely) related to the difficulty of describing
"health".

> Survival of the Survivors [[ SOTS ??]] just doesn't have the same ring to
> it.

This is a good one :)

Gerhard

2007\02\15@081305 by Matthew Miller

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Hi Russell,

On Thu, Feb 15, 2007 at 11:33:59PM +1300, Russell McMahon wrote:
>
> While people use the tautology* "survival of the fittest" to talk

Don't you think that you read an awful lot into that phrase? It is not clear
that the phrase is a tautology, do the fittest ALWAYS survive? The phrase
was coined by Herbert Spencer and only included by Darwin in laster editions
of Origins. You seem to have taken what is essentially a sound bite and
equated it with the whole theory of evolution and that is very silly thing
to do.

Take care.   Matthew

--
"Dissent if the highest form of patriotism." -- Howard Zinn

2007\02\15@081916 by Wouter van Ooijen

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> > I always wonder why people think that someone who has proved to be
> > succesfull in one field will also be succesfull in another field? I
> > would rather think the opposite!
>
> Not necessarily. I think there are a number of traits of
> being a successful
> manager of a company that are common to many if not all
> fields. It's always
> about leading people, about making money, about abstract
> decisions with concrete effects.

In the generalisation I was thinking about fields that are more
dissimilar than two management positions, like a movi star, astronaut or
general going into politics.

> It's maybe similar to programming. There are certain
> characteristics that
> make one a good programmer, independently of the specific field of
> application or the specific programming environment. Then there is the
> specialty knowledge of application and programming
> environment. The balance
> of importance between the two depends much on the specific situation.

A lot of 'programming' is similar enough to count as 'one field', but
there are exceptions: the 'buisiness informatics' side is much more
about buisiness than about programming - hence a very different kind of
eduction is required and you'll often find a very different type of
persons. The other extreme is IMHO real-time/multi-threaded programing:
I have had very little succes getting the more general-purpose or even
buisiness oriented programmmer types to understand and master that kind
of programming. I must add that EE types generaly don't make top
programmeres either, but they don't seem to have much (more) trouble
with real-time/multi-threading concepts.

Wouter van Ooijen

-- -------------------------------------------
Van Ooijen Technische Informatica: http://www.voti.nl
consultancy, development, PICmicro products
docent Hogeschool van Utrecht: http://www.voti.nl/hvu


2007\02\15@101829 by Russell McMahon

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> On Thu, Feb 15, 2007 at 11:33:59PM +1300, Russell McMahon wrote:

>> While people use the tautology* "survival of the fittest" to talk
>> ...

and "Matthew Miller" <.....namiller2KILLspamspam@spam@naxs.net> said

> Don't you think that you read an awful lot into that phrase?

No. I read vanishingly little into that phrase.
What I do think is that many people read far too much into it, and are
allowed to do so, and even encouraged to do so by those who know that
they shouldn't. As I said.

> It is not clear that the phrase is a tautology, do the fittest
> ALWAYS survive?

If what you say above made any sense when the phrase was used in the
manner that it almost invariably is, then it would not be a tautology.
But, and I would be surprised if this was not the overwhelming result
that you got if you polled a representative sample of people in either
general life or the biologial sciences, the phrase essentially always
is used to mean that the fittest survive and the survivors are the
fittest. I am somewhat surprised to hear anyone suggest that this
isn't the overwhelming interpretation that is placed on the
expression. (In fact you are not actually saying that - you are just
asking a question :-) - but I take your question "do the fittest
ALWAYS survive" to be rhetorical for practical purposes.) In fact, the
phrase is used statistically - ie it's taken to mean that the fittest
have a higher ovrall survival rate - not that every single "fit"
individual survives at the expense of unfit individuals. This meaning
is even more dangerous than the black and white staement as it better
hides the fact that the statement is without meaning or merit
whatsoever.

Hands up amongst those reading this - who has ever thought that the
expression does NOT mean that the fittest survive, and that the
survivors are the fittest, at least in a statistical sense - or
specifically in a statistical sense?.

Just about every Darwin joke going would fail if this were not the
case - all the "evolution in action", "Darwin awards" and similar are
premised on this concept.

>The phrase  was coined by Herbert Spencer and only included by Darwin
>in laster editions
> of Origins. You seem to have taken what is essentially a sound bite
> and
> equated it with the whole theory of evolution and that is very silly
> thing
> to do.

Ought that not to read -
"You seem to have taken what is essentially a sound bite and equated
it with the whole theory of evolution and that would be a very silly
thing to do." ? :-)

ie first you opine that I appear to have done something, which is
fine, even though I didn't do it, but then you make a categorical
judgement that I *have* done something, which effectively changes your
opinion of probability into an assertion of fact.

I agree entirely that it would be silly to do. Which is one of the
reasons that I didn't do it. But not the major one.

You here are, entirely wisely, acting like the learned experts that I
mentioned who understand these things, sidling carefully away from the
area with your hands where we can see them and not making any rash
moves. ie you are distancing yourself from a manifestly problematic
'populist summary'. A wise move.

But, to set the record straight, no I don't take the sound bite as the
theory - but, as I effectively said - this is what *most people* think
the theory says (or part of it) and it is what people understand to be
a fair description of "natural selection". As I said, evolution has
two major components - speciation by genetic variation and then
selection. As I also said, selection, or 'natural selection" is a well
enough observed and scientifically testable concept. Populations which
have signifcant genetic variation which manifests itself in physical
differences can be subset or skewed in distribution over succvessive
generations by altering conditions. This can be done by intelligent
selection as in "artifical breeding" or by unintelligently controlled
means such as by indiscrimnately using antibiotics and thereby
'creating' new "superbugs". The 'new' bugs are not created and are not
new - they are simply selected from the existing genetic population by
dint of their immunity to the antibiotic concerned. How they obtained
the immunity or whether they ever did "obtain" it in the sense meant
is usually moot.  Speciation is a far more difficult subject. When
most people use the term "evolution", or when they cannot understand
how people can not "believe in" evolution they are liable to be
thinking of selection. As selection is amenable to scientific
modelling and falsifiable experiment then disbelieving in it would be
akin to the rejection of Galilleo's hypotheses re solar orbital
mechanics. ie they MAY be wrong (it might have been all epicycle based
for all they knew) but the odds are that the simplest explanation of
the observed testable data makes sense. When we come to the hard part,
speciation, there is no hard testable data available and we must
either reserve judgement or make leaps of faith.

As long as people are teaching or failing to unteach concepts such as
"survival of the fittest" to our children and young adults, when the
sound bite they refuse to refute is dangerously worse than useless,
then we'll continue to have people mistaking the scientifically
testable for the (so far) unprovable other half of 'evolution' and
we'll continue to reap what we deserve in closed and damaged minds.
Why "scientists" should wish to continue such practices which they
know are false and truth-concelaing is hard to fathom.




       Russell "patriot" McMahon


> "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." -- Howard Zinn

2007\02\15@114206 by Matthew Miller

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Hi Russell,

On Fri, Feb 16, 2007 at 04:16:04AM +1300, Russell McMahon wrote:
>
> > On Thu, Feb 15, 2007 at 11:33:59PM +1300, Russell McMahon wrote:
>
> >> While people use the tautology* "survival of the fittest" to talk
> >> ...
>
> and "Matthew Miller" <namiller2spamKILLspamnaxs.net> said
>
> > Don't you think that you read an awful lot into that phrase?
>
> No. I read vanishingly little into that phrase.
> What I do think is that many people read far too much into it, and are
> allowed to do so, and even encouraged to do so by those who know that
> they shouldn't. As I said.

Encouraged? Well, I checked in a textbook I have (Biology, Miller and
Levine) and "survival of the fittest" is only mentioned once as the name for
this principle:

   "Individuals whose characteristics are well-suited to their environment
   survive. Individuals whose characteristics are not well-suited to their
   environment either die or leave fewer offspring."

This seems like a good description of natural selection to me.

> In fact, the
> phrase is used statistically - ie it's taken to mean that the fittest
> have a higher ovrall survival rate - not that every single "fit"
> individual survives at the expense of unfit individuals.

I do interpret natural selection in a statistical sense, but this could be
from me studying and programming genetic algorithms.

> This meaning
> is even more dangerous than the black and white staement as it better
> hides the fact that the statement is without meaning or merit
> whatsoever.

It seems that the statement is used to give a name to the principle of
natural selection. So naming the quote above "survival of the fittest" is
without merit?

{Quote hidden}

I stand corrected. Certainly I should have worded that differently. A bit of
my trouble is in following your argument. I would agree that many times the
public doesn't understand some area of science (quantum mechanics and the
producers of "What the bleep" come to mind), but well, this is to be
expected... You just seem to be writing a lot about this. :)

> As long as people are teaching or failing to unteach concepts such as
> "survival of the fittest" to our children and young adults, when the
> sound bite they refuse to refute is dangerously worse than useless,
> then we'll continue to have people mistaking the scientifically
> testable for the (so far) unprovable other half of 'evolution'

What is this "other half"? This seems to be rather important, please
elaborate.

> and
> we'll continue to reap what we deserve in closed and damaged minds.
> Why "scientists" should wish to continue such practices which they
> know are false and truth-concelaing is hard to fathom.

I would like to know more about this part. It seems important as well.

Take care. Matthew

--
Q) Why do C programmers put all the code in the "for" statement?
A) Because they can!
      - Dr. Todd Stevens

2007\02\15@191640 by Gerhard Fiedler

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Wouter van Ooijen wrote:

>> Not necessarily. I think there are a number of traits of being a
>> successful manager of a company that are common to many if not all
>> fields. It's always about leading people, about making money, about
>> abstract decisions with concrete effects.
>
> In the generalisation I was thinking about fields that are more
> dissimilar than two management positions, like a movi star, astronaut or
> general going into politics.

I was going more by this part of your message, which talks specifically
about managers in charge of companies:

{Quote hidden}

I'm an EE type, and I worked in desktop, realtime/embedded and business
application programming, both as programmer and team/project lead. While
the realtime issues may be somewhat difficult to grasp for the "normal"
programmers (especially some of the programmers of distributed business
systems, often coming from desktop programming, could enhance their
capabilities quite a bit by understanding more about multitask/multiuser
issues :), I have found that the ones I consider "good" are usually the
ones I'd happily invite for a project completely outside their normal
expertise. Some specialists in certain areas are the exception that
confirms the rule :)

So while there are these different areas, I think there's enough in common
that the good ones can easily cross over.

Gerhard

2007\02\15@192409 by Gerhard Fiedler

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Matthew Miller wrote:

> Encouraged? Well, I checked in a textbook I have (Biology, Miller and
> Levine) and "survival of the fittest" is only mentioned once as the name for
> this principle:
>
>     "Individuals whose characteristics are well-suited to their environment
>     survive. Individuals whose characteristics are not well-suited to their
>     environment either die or leave fewer offspring."
>
> This seems like a good description of natural selection to me.

If I understand Russell correctly, this description doesn't address his
critique, as it only replaces "fittest" with "well-suited to their
environment". It doesn't define this either, other than by saying that
these who are "well-suited" will survive.

The question still stands: is this an hypothesis that can be tested? If so,
one has to make predictions and then observations in an experiment. How do
you predict which ones survive before they did survive? How do you define
"well-suited" other than by "they will survive"? This is supposed to be the
consequence, not the cause of their "well-suitedness", and therefore should
be defined independently, so that we then can test whether actually the
"well-suited" ones survive (according to our definition of "well-suited"),
and not a bunch with completely different traits.

Gerhard

2007\02\15@202450 by Matthew Miller

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Hi Gerhard,

On Thu, Feb 15, 2007 at 10:23:51PM -0200, Gerhard Fiedler wrote:
> Matthew Miller wrote:
>
> > Encouraged? Well, I checked in a textbook I have (Biology, Miller and
> > Levine) and "survival of the fittest" is only mentioned once as the name for
> > this principle:
> >
> >     "Individuals whose characteristics are well-suited to their environment
> >     survive. Individuals whose characteristics are not well-suited to their
> >     environment either die or leave fewer offspring."
> >
> > This seems like a good description of natural selection to me.
>
> If I understand Russell correctly, this description doesn't address his
> critique, as it only replaces "fittest" with "well-suited to their
> environment". It doesn't define this either, other than by saying that
> these who are "well-suited" will survive.

Thank you, as I mentioned in my last message I had a hard time following
Russell's argument and answered parts and deleted the rest. Russell, you are
very loquacious. ;) What you say Gerhard is a valid criticism, but that
doesn't worry me much, the textbook is meant for high school and I wouldn't
expect a great deal of rigor from that level of text.

> The question still stands: is this an hypothesis that can be tested? If so,
> one has to make predictions and then observations in an experiment. How do
> you predict which ones survive before they did survive? How do you define
> "well-suited" other than by "they will survive"? This is supposed to be the
> consequence, not the cause of their "well-suitedness", and therefore should
> be defined independently, so that we then can test whether actually the
> "well-suited" ones survive (according to our definition of "well-suited"),
> and not a bunch with completely different traits.

I am not a biologist, but here is a way that I can imagine testing natural
selection: suppose that I'm interested in thermophilic organisms and want to
know what proteins allow them to survive in such hot environments. Two
populations of organism is made, one normal, the other is engineered to have
a gene turned off that manufactures a protein that I think helps the
organism not unravel in the hot environment.

Both populations of organisms are put in an artificial environment (a
simulated hot spring for instance) and allowed to go about their
business. Later, examine some individuals and deduce which population they
came from. Was the individual from the normal or engineered population?

So, here is the test of the "survival of the fittest" idea. I'll say again
that I think this is a poor phrase, it is taken out of context too often and
based on what Russell's feelings seem to be he has seen this out of context
use quite a bit.

Matthew

--
"You measure a democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the
freedom it gives its assimilated conformists." -- Abbie Hoffman

2007\02\16@185001 by Gerhard Fiedler

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Matthew Miller wrote:

> I am not a biologist, but here is a way that I can imagine testing
> natural selection: suppose that I'm interested in thermophilic organisms
> and want to know what proteins allow them to survive in such hot
> environments. Two populations of organism is made, one normal, the other
> is engineered to have a gene turned off that manufactures a protein that
> I think helps the organism not unravel in the hot environment.
>
> Both populations of organisms are put in an artificial environment (a
> simulated hot spring for instance) and allowed to go about their
> business. Later, examine some individuals and deduce which population
> they came from. Was the individual from the normal or engineered
> population?
>
> So, here is the test of the "survival of the fittest" idea. I'll say
> again that I think this is a poor phrase, it is taken out of context too
> often and based on what Russell's feelings seem to be he has seen this
> out of context use quite a bit.

As Russell said, this type of limited selection is well established and
generally accepted as working. But extrapolating this to life in nature
means getting into a whole different ball game.

I don't think that anybody has been able to come up with a definition of
"fittest" or "well-suited" for life "in the wild" (as opposed to in a petri
dish) that is /not/ based on "survives". As long as this is so, this part
of the "definition" of evolution is a logical short-circuit. Should it be
called a scientific theory as long as it doesn't define what it theorizes
about?

I also don't think anybody has been able to predict the creation of a new
species in a certain environment with any precision -- but this is also
something that should be expected from a scientific theory. If it can't
predict what it claims to explain, is it still science?

Gerhard

2007\02\17@082759 by Matthew Miller

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Hi Gerhard,

On Fri, Feb 16, 2007 at 09:49:38PM -0200, Gerhard Fiedler wrote:
>
> As Russell said, this type of limited selection is well established and
> generally accepted as working. But extrapolating this to life in nature
> means getting into a whole different ball game.
>
> I don't think that anybody has been able to come up with a definition of
> "fittest" or "well-suited" for life "in the wild" (as opposed to in a petri
> dish) that is /not/ based on "survives". As long as this is so, this part
> of the "definition" of evolution is a logical short-circuit. Should it be
> called a scientific theory as long as it doesn't define what it theorizes
> about?

The natural selection that happens in an experiment isn't the same natural
selection that occurs outside my house? Possibly. I think your criticism is
valid. The theory of evolution is contantly being amended, it's not the same
theory as it was in Darwin's day. About predicting fitness, or which
individual will survive if a new organism is found in the wild; well our
knowledge just isn't there yet.

> I also don't think anybody has been able to predict the creation of a new
> species in a certain environment with any precision -- but this is also
> something that should be expected from a scientific theory. If it can't
> predict what it claims to explain, is it still science?

I certainly think the theory of evolution is science. Does this theory
accurately mirror all of the facts we have? No, not yet. It is changing and
being improved, like all of science. Consider seismology, is it a science?
After all, we can't predict earthquakes to any precision at the moment. At
the moment, we can't look at just an organism's genome, measure the
environment and then predict the organism's fitness. I think this is your
criticism and it is a good one, our scientific knowledge hasn't approached
this level of ability yet. Evolution is currently the best theory science
has.

Take care.    Matthew

--
"You measure a democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the
freedom it gives its assimilated conformists." -- Abbie Hoffman

2007\02\17@085753 by Russell McMahon

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>> > Encouraged? Well, I checked in a textbook I have (Biology, Miller
>> > and
>> > Levine) and "survival of the fittest" is only mentioned once as
>> > the name for
>> > this principle:

>> >     "Individuals whose characteristics are well-suited to their
>> > environment
>> >     survive. Individuals whose characteristics are not
>> > well-suited to their
>> >     environment either die or leave fewer offspring."

>  ... doesn't worry me much, the textbook is meant
>  for high school and I wouldn't
>  expect a great deal of rigor from that level of text.

VB :-(

That's where I would want the MOST rigour and was a key part of the
point I was making. When we are establishing foundations in the minds
of future scientists and subsequent Nobel laureates it behoves us to
establish them well. "Give me a child to the age of ten ..." applies
in many fields. If we plant seeds of sloppy practice and unfounded
belief in the minds of the young they will, in many cases, defend
their shoddy beliefs to the death for life. This is the far from
totally invalid complaint about religious brainwashing of the young
and it applies just as well to the look-like-science religions as to
the others.


       Russell



2007\02\17@092530 by Jake Anderson

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Russell McMahon wrote:
{Quote hidden}

Is "survival" really the object of the game?
Reproduction of(by?) the survivors is my bet. (ROTS, nice acronym too ;->)
The ones that live will make babies.

2007\02\17@100754 by Matthew Miller

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Hi Russell,

On Sun, Feb 18, 2007 at 01:56:47AM +1300, Russell McMahon wrote:
>
> That's where I would want the MOST rigour and was a key part of the
> point I was making. When we are establishing foundations in the minds
> of future scientists and subsequent Nobel laureates it behoves us to
> establish them well. "Give me a child to the age of ten ..." applies
> in many fields.

When introducing ideas, usually the simpler ideas are intruduced
first. Newton's laws taught before special relativity for instance. Also,
Newton's laws of motion are still tought even though in special cases they
are completely wrong.

How should the theory of evolution (mutation coupled with natural selection)
be stated so that it is rigorous in your view?

> If we plant seeds of sloppy practice and unfounded
> belief in the minds of the young they will, in many cases, defend
> their shoddy beliefs to the death for life. This is the far from
> totally invalid complaint about religious brainwashing of the young
> and it applies just as well to the look-like-science religions as to
> the others.

Russell, I'm interested in what you think. But, you are talking in such
broad terms that I find it hard to understand exactly what you are
thinking. Can you be more detailed about what you call "unfounded belief"?
In my last message, I asked some other questions too. I don't yet have a
firm grasp on what you take issue on with regards to evolution and biology.
Maybe we should converse directly?

Take care.  Matthew

--
"I know of no society in recorded history that ever suffered because its
people became too reasonable." -- Sam Harris

2007\02\17@181050 by Gerhard Fiedler

picon face
Matthew Miller wrote:

>> I don't think that anybody has been able to come up with a definition of
>> "fittest" or "well-suited" for life "in the wild" (as opposed to in a
>> petri dish) that is /not/ based on "survives". As long as this is so,
>> this part of the "definition" of evolution is a logical short-circuit.
>> Should it be called a scientific theory as long as it doesn't define
>> what it theorizes about?
>
> The natural selection that happens in an experiment isn't the same natural
> selection that occurs outside my house? Possibly.

I think it's the same process, and I believe it is well established that it
happens in the lab and in the wild. To me, it's not the question of
(limited) selection of certain features, it's 1- the claim that this is the
mechanism that created all species, and it's 2- the missing falsifiability
of the theory.

> The theory of evolution is contantly being amended, it's not the same
> theory as it was in Darwin's day. About predicting fitness, or which
> individual will survive if a new organism is found in the wild; well our
> knowledge just isn't there yet.

Science (as I understand it, and I think I'm in agreement with Russell on
this) requires that a scientific theory must be falsifiable. "The most
well-suited of a population will survive (have the most offspring, ...),
where the most well-suited are the ones that will survive (have the most
offspring, ...)" is not falsifiable; it is a tautology.

>> I also don't think anybody has been able to predict the creation of a new
>> species in a certain environment with any precision -- but this is also
>> something that should be expected from a scientific theory. If it can't
>> predict what it claims to explain, is it still science?
>
> I certainly think the theory of evolution is science.

Parts of the field "evolutionary biology" probably are, and part of its
theories seem to be well confirmed (and falsifiable).

> Consider seismology, is it a science? After all, we can't predict
> earthquakes to any precision at the moment.

Again, part of it probably is. For me, it's not the question whether a
field is science (that's a question that can't be answered, at least not
with my definition of science), but whether a theory is a scientific
theory.

In order to get anywhere from here, we probably would have to get to a
mutual understanding of what we mean by "science". To me, creating
falsifiable theories is an essential part of science.

> At the moment, we can't look at just an organism's genome, measure the
> environment and then predict the organism's fitness. I think this is
> your criticism and it is a good one, our scientific knowledge hasn't
> approached this level of ability yet.

The problem I see is that as long as "fitness" is not measurable, not even
remotely defined (other than in the outcome of survival, which is supposed
to be the consequence and not the origin), this ("the survival of the
fittest") does not sound like a scientific theory. To me, a theory needs to
predict something, and this prediction then can be used to try to falsify
it. With anything that doesn't predict something measurable I have a hard
time seeing it as science (even if it is part of a field that commonly or
normally deals with scientific theories).

It may be a hunch that further down leads to a theory, but to me, there's a
difference between a hunch and a theory :)

> Evolution is currently the best theory science has.

If I understand correctly what you mean with "evolution" (this is not
exactly clear here), I do not know what the definition of "scientific
theory" is that makes it one.

Gerhard

2007\02\19@101545 by Matthew Miller

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Hi Gerhard,

On Sat, Feb 17, 2007 at 09:10:21PM -0200, Gerhard Fiedler wrote:
> Matthew Miller wrote:
> > The natural selection that happens in an experiment isn't the same natural
> > selection that occurs outside my house? Possibly.
>
> I think it's the same process, and I believe it is well established that it
> happens in the lab and in the wild. To me, it's not the question of
> (limited) selection of certain features, it's 1- the claim that this is the
> mechanism that created all species, and it's 2- the missing falsifiability
> of the theory.

Regarding 1, I'm not knowledgeable about many of the different ideas
regarding speciation (though the wikipedia page describing it is very
detailed), but I remember reading about a new species of grass that was
discovered that came about due to genome duplication (I forget the name for
this type of event.) So, I wouldn't agree that mutation plus natural
selection creates all species, it seems that a single mutation event can do
that all by its self.

Biology is very complex, and the theory of evolution isn't _just_ mutation
plus natural selection; there is also the idea of common descent. So far, we
have been a bit narrow in our view of evolution. I just want to emphasize
that the theory is large and complex because what it attempts to describe is
likewise. About 2, I disagree that falsifiability is missing. I can think of
several things that could cause the theory to be rejected, my favorite
example is finding a rabbit fossil is Pre-Cambrian strata; this would cause
trouble.

{Quote hidden}

I disagree. "Survival of the fittest" isn't obviously true, so it can't be a
tautology. If this statement was obvious, why was it not stated as such
before Darwin and Russell? I hate to appeal to authority, but since Russell
seems to mention Karl Popper so frequently, here is a page with quotes and
citations of Popper stating that this isn't a tautology:

http://www.don-lindsay-archive.org/creation/quote_popper.html

{Quote hidden}

I agree that this field of biology isn't a quantifiable as is physics, but
then biology isn't as fundamental a science as physics. You also raise
points that I can't address very well. Most of what I know about biology and
evolution comes from reading popular science books and references on the
internet. If I have time, I would like to find a good undergrad/graduate
level textbook(s) to study.

> > Evolution is currently the best theory science has.
>
> If I understand correctly what you mean with "evolution" (this is not
> exactly clear here), I do not know what the definition of "scientific
> theory" is that makes it one.

By "evolution" I mean, in a succinct way, "common descent with modification,
by mutation and natural selection." I guess that I would define "scientific
theory" as an explanation of things we observe, it can be used to make
predictions, and is falsifiable based on testing or observation.

BTW, thanks for the good conversation Gerhard. :)  Matthew

--
"There are different truths for different kinds of people. There are truths
appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths
that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate
for highly educated adults, and the notion that should be one set of truths
available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."
 -- Irving Kristol, anti-American totalitarian.

2007\02\19@124347 by David VanHorn

picon face
It isn't just the fittest though, it's also the luckiest.
Which muddies up the water somewhat.

That, and the quickest to breed.

(see "the marching morons" and "idiocracy")

2007\02\19@211510 by Russell McMahon

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I'll try and spend some time sometime soon addressing in as clear a
manner as I can [[ :-) ]] my thoughts about the various good questions
that people have raised on this thread.

In the interim, read this

       http://www.spaceref.com:80/news/viewpr.nl.html?pid=21933

which is about cosmology, expansion string theory, dark matter,
creation ex nihilo by nihilo and more, as a refresher on how very very
weird our universe is and on how little we know about it, as an
introduction to considering the implications of that thought in areas
slightly closer to home that we don't know about but have theories
about.

I do so like:

   "The conventional theory of the Big Bang says that the newborn
universe was huge, containing more than 10^80 [ten raised to the power
of eighty] tons of matter. But physicists were stumped for an
explanation of where all this matter came from. Inflationary theory
solves this problem by showing how our universe could emerge from less
than a milligram of matter, or perhaps even from literally nothing."

Let's hear it for inflationary theory. This week anyway :-)
_______________________________

Other on this thread:

> It isn't just the fittest though, it's also the luckiest.
> Which muddies up the water somewhat.
>
> That, and the quickest to breed.

Luckiest is just statistical noise and is fine. The water is muddy but
that just means the survivors have to be able to deal with muddy
water.

"Quickest to breed" does not involve muddying at all - it is and
integral part of survival of the survivors and is vector summed into
the equation along with all the other evolutionary drivers.



           Russell

2007\02\20@000603 by David VanHorn

picon face
>
>
> Luckiest is just statistical noise and is fine. The water is muddy but
> that just means the survivors have to be able to deal with muddy
> water.
>
> "Quickest to breed" does not involve muddying at all - it is and
> integral part of survival of the survivors and is vector summed into
> the equation along with all the other evolutionary drivers.


You hear people quoting "survival of the fittest" like it's the only thing
acting in this space, and that somehow when the dolts manage to breed it's a
failure of the theory.

2007\02\20@073524 by Gerhard Fiedler

picon face
David VanHorn wrote:

>> Luckiest is just statistical noise and is fine. The water is muddy but
>> that just means the survivors have to be able to deal with muddy water.
>>
>>
>> "Quickest to breed" does not involve muddying at all - it is and
>> integral part of survival of the survivors and is vector summed into
>> the equation along with all the other evolutionary drivers.
>
> You hear people quoting "survival of the fittest" like it's the only
> thing acting in this space, and that somehow when the dolts manage to
> breed it's a failure of the theory.

Not necessarily. Breed too quickly, and the whole species might run out of
resources and vanish. Seems to have happened, and seems to be happening :)

Gerhard

2007\02\20@090015 by Gerhard Fiedler

picon face
Matthew Miller wrote:

> Biology is very complex, and the theory of evolution isn't _just_
> mutation plus natural selection; there is also the idea of common
> descent. So far, we have been a bit narrow in our view of evolution. I
> just want to emphasize that the theory is large and complex because what
> it attempts to describe is likewise. About 2, I disagree that
> falsifiability is missing. I can think of several things that could
> cause the theory to be rejected, my favorite example is finding a rabbit
> fossil is Pre-Cambrian strata; this would cause trouble.

I think here we come to a point where something that's crucial (to me
anyway) shows up.

When we talk about "hard" science like Ohm's law etc., we're talking about
statistics over many: many experiments, many items. We don't know what
exact way a single free electron takes that moves into a semiconductor (or
anywhere else), but we have a good idea of where they go statistically.
Ohm's law has been observed many, many times and the boundary conditions
are quite well established because of that. So this all works well /on
average/.

But in evolution, we're looking, in a way, at one instance: our planet. If
we had a billion planets that have brought something life-like forward that
we could observe over their life cycle, we'd probably have a much better
idea. (I'm not talking about the many sub-questions of evolution that we
can observe, I'm talking about the part that goes about trying to explain
life on our planet.) We have only this one planet, and we can't just make
some experiments to check out some ideas.

I'm not sure anything that is about one individual instance can be called
science. There is no verification experiment possible -- which is in
sciences where this is possible a big thing: as long as the result of a
theory or experiment can't be reproduced in several places, it's considered
quite preliminary. Try to apply that to the theory of how life on our
planet was created... :)


> I disagree. "Survival of the fittest" isn't obviously true, so it can't be a
> tautology.

This very fundamentally depends on the definition of "fittest". If the
definition is "the survivors", then it is a tautology. So in order for it
to not be one, there must be a definition for "fittest" that is independent
of the status as survivor. Do you know one?

The other thing is that it's a bit more complex, I think. It seems Darwin
never used this term. He was only about reproductive success. This is
measurable. But it's not clear whether it's the only thing that's important
for selection. For example, the reproductive success of the offspring is
also important for selection, and may be negatively impacted by the
reproductive success of the parents. Then there's the thing that mere
individual reproductive success doesn't necessarily lead to successful
selection of this species; it's the species that needs to survive, and too
much offspring can make that less probable. Then there's the question
whether the survival of a species is so important in the overall picture;
couldn't it be that life only prospers where established species give way
to new species regularly, and that the "fitness for life" of a species
includes its ability to bring forward new species and eventually go away
(to not use the limited resources that the newer species need)?

That leaves the big question of "fitness for what" and once we have the
"what" defined, trying to define what constitutes the fitness itself.


> If this statement was obvious, why was it not stated as such before
> Darwin and Russell?

Not sure, but even "Coca Cola is Coke" had a point where it started. Not
everything that started at some point is necessarily useful or "true". It
may be non-obvious, but many stuuuupid jokes are non-obvious... :)


> I hate to appeal to authority, but since Russell seems to mention Karl
> Popper so frequently, here is a page with quotes and citations of Popper
> stating that this isn't a tautology:
>
> http://www.don-lindsay-archive.org/creation/quote_popper.html

Unluckily I don't have access to the sources of the quotes; this page is a
bit brief for our purposes :)  There is a lot of politics and money
involved, of course, and there are a lot of people who get a lot of grant
money in the scientific community that rather would not like to see a very
strict meaning of science being used.

There's also of course the question what use it is whether something can be
called science or not. For me, it's a distinction of method and
applicability. (For others, it is something that's worth a lot of money.)
Science as I see it is essentially about statistics. In some cases the
statistics may have such a small variance that it almost looks like a
deterministic formula, and the deterministic formula may be the more common
expression because of this, but it always is a simplification of the "real"
science. (A very useful simplification, especially if you want to do
something with it, but still.)

Because of this, science doesn't apply (or only in a limited way) where it
is about an individual. While statistics can give some helpful guidelines,
they don't tell what the result is in a single case. Where the single case
matters (as in my health, this planet's future evolution), science can't
really offer much.


> I agree that this field of biology isn't a quantifiable as is physics, but
> then biology isn't as fundamental a science as physics.

Two comments here: IMO it's not a field that is quantifiable or not, it is
a concept (like "electrical current" or "fitness of a being"). Which then
can be used in a theory about how it relates to other quantifiable
concepts. Most fields bring forward concepts that are quantifiable and some
that aren't. (That's why it's difficult to talk about a field as a whole in
this context.) Some of those that aren't later become quantifiable, some
possibly never get there.

The other is that you introduce a distinction between more or less
fundamental sciences. Which to me adds to the confusion about what science
is, rather than helps clarifying it.


>>> Evolution is currently the best theory science has.
>>
>> If I understand correctly what you mean with "evolution" (this is not
>> exactly clear here), I do not know what the definition of "scientific
>> theory" is that makes it one.
>
> By "evolution" I mean, in a succinct way, "common descent with modification,
> by mutation and natural selection."

That's not really a theory. A theory could be "all life on this planet has
one common ancestor, and the various species developed through mutation and
natural selection". In this theory, all terms seem to be reasonably well
defined, except "natural selection". Which brings us back to the question
of the definition of "fitness".

Also, as with all historic theories I have my reservations. Their
methodology is quite different, we can't do experiments with history and
change a little bit here and there to see whether the theory is what is
says it is, the time-invariance that we require from other scientific
theories is not given, we can't test hypotheses under controlled
circumstances. It's that slippery slope syndrome: once you open up the door
of strict scientific methodology, you get all kinds of stuff in there, and
it becomes increasingly difficult to separate generally valid theories from
mere opinion.


> I guess that I would define "scientific theory" as an explanation of
> things we observe, it can be used to make predictions, and is
> falsifiable based on testing or observation.

Some of the things this theory tries to explain take millions of years;
this doesn't bode well for testing by observation :)  Regarding speciation,
I'm not sure much has been predicted that actually has happened. (With
prediction I mean prediction of future events, like we do it in engineering
every day.) In that site with the Popper quote you linked to, they have
this page about historic sciences. They say that the predictions are the
crucial part, and I agree. As long as we can't predict what species will
evolve (in nature) and when, we're in bad shape with this criterion.


> BTW, thanks for the good conversation Gerhard. :)

Likewise... (Just in case: of course everything I write is "IMO"... :)

Gerhard

2007\02\20@090434 by Russell McMahon

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>>> "Quickest to breed" does not involve muddying at all - it is and
>>> integral part of survival of the survivors and is vector summed
>>> into
>>> the equation along with all the other evolutionary drivers.

>> You hear people quoting "survival of the fittest" like it's the
>> only
>> thing acting in this space, and that somehow when the dolts manage
>> to
>> breed it's a failure of the theory.

> Not necessarily. Breed too quickly, and the whole species might run
> out of
> resources and vanish. Seems to have happened, and seems to be
> happening :)

It's all part of attempting to forward guess "fitness".
Who is to say that a "dolt" is not a fitter species (or sub species)
than a 'creature' of higher IQ. And if the lower IQ produces a higher
survival rate (= = fitness, apparently) then what does that say about
the fitness of your high IQ creatures?

:-)


       Russell


2007\02\20@135813 by Gerhard Fiedler

picon face
Matthew Miller wrote:

> I disagree. "Survival of the fittest" isn't obviously true, so it can't
> be a tautology. If this statement was obvious, why was it not stated as
> such before Darwin and Russell?

Another idea here, in addition to the already said about the definition of
"fittest".

Remember those complex models of the movements in our solar system before
they got the great idea to assume the sun stationary and the earth moving?
I'm sure there were a great many "aha" moments and statements of complex,
definitely non-obvious formulas and relationships, yet from our POV today,
we tend to think that they were pretty much up a dead end.

I don't think that whether or not something is obvious is a good argument
for anything. There are probably a large number of tautologies that nobody
yet has thought of -- but that doesn't make them more or less tautologies.
It's their quality, their content, not the moment of first being thought of
that makes them tautologies.

Gerhard

2007\02\20@175816 by Vitaliy

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Matthew Miller, Russell McMahon, et al wrote:

[survival of the fittest, blah blah blah]

This thread had potential to be more practical and less philosophical, until
it was hijacked and turned into something that has nothing to do with the
original post.

Everyone would have been better off if someone had the sense to start a new
thread by changing the subject to:

"[OT]: Survival of the fittest    (was: [OT]: Make mistakes - the manager
says so)."

*Sigh*.

Vitaliy

2007\02\20@214723 by Russell McMahon

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> This thread had potential to be more practical

I disagree

> and less philosophical,

I agree :-)

...

ie YES the subject line could bear changing, BUT the current
discussion does not have a principally philosophical basis. It is hard
or impossible to separate philosophy from 'the rest' here but it's
vital that people do. What is being wandered around the edges of are
things like -

- What do we know?
- How can we know things?
- What tests are valid ways to find things out?
- How should we treat "stuff" that is arrived at by various systems
(whether the system we 'approve' of or some other ones).

While those questions certainly contain deeply philosophical elements
they are also utterly foundational to dealing with hard reality, and
the discovery that it's invariably less hard and less real than we may
at first imagine. It's very much an engineering related area of
discussion - maybe we should change the tag to [EE] :-)


       Russell

2007\02\23@172749 by Russell McMahon

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> I disagree. "Survival of the fittest" isn't obviously true, so it
> can't be a
> tautology. If this statement was obvious, why was it not stated as
> such
> before Darwin and Russell? I hate to appeal to authority, but since
> Russell
> seems to mention Karl Popper so frequently, here is a page with
> quotes and
> citations of Popper stating that this isn't a tautology:

> http://www.don-lindsay-archive.org/creation/quote_popper.html

According to that, and a few other sites, Popper said

"I have changed my mind about the testability and logical status of
the theory of natural selection; and I am glad to have an opportunity
to make a recantation. ... The theory of natural selection may be so
formulated that it is far from tautological."

The source given is

       Natural Selection and the Emergence of Mind, Dialectica
32:339-355, 1978. See 344-346 for this quote.

which I have not got (not totally surprisingly :-)) , and I can't find
a reference to the wider context.

First note that Popper implicitly agrees that in its usually offered
form the statement is a tautology, as otherwise it he would not have
said that it is possible to reformulate it to stop it being one.

However, it is currently generally widely currently agreed (although
not of course by all) that the statement is still an irretrievable
tautology and many fine minds choose, as I originally said, to saunter
gingerly away from the proposition rather than seeking to defend it or
explain it. It may in fact be that Popper could offer a reformulation
and it may even be that he did. If so it would be immensely useful to
hear/see it, as nobody else seems to know what form a useful
reformulation takes.

One way to reformulate it is to destroy its original intent.
eg something like the rather less pithy and altogether cumbersome:

"Overall the fittest survive. To know which is fittest would require a
largely complete a priori understanding of the whole system including
the organisms involved and their environment and this involves a level
of complexity beyond our present ability to deal with and is liable to
continue to do so for the forseeable future."

A neater way would be to find Popper's reformulation .
Any references?

Spoiling my argument :-).
I can imagine a satisfactorary statement that more tidily says that
organisms which tend to survive beter than others do so because they
have characteristics which better match the  gains and avoid the
losses of the system that they are being acted upon by.

eg         Survival is optimised for organisms where f(x)~f(y) is
maximised

where f(x) is an analytic description of the organism and f(y)
describes the environment.

and "~" is here an interaction processing operator (or whatever).

This sounds like it reasonably says what SOTF is trying to say a
little too concisely.




       Russell

2007\02\26@100413 by Gerhard Fiedler

picon face
Russell McMahon wrote:

> One way to reformulate it is to destroy its original intent.
> eg something like the rather less pithy and altogether cumbersome:
>
> "Overall the fittest survive. To know which is fittest would require a
> largely complete a priori understanding of the whole system including
> the organisms involved and their environment and this involves a level
> of complexity beyond our present ability to deal with and is liable to
> continue to do so for the forseeable future."

I also think that as you start thinking about it, there are lots of
principal problems with defining "fittest". It needs a definition of so
many factors (time span, adaptability, ability to create other species,
boundary of the "whole system", ...) that I think the problem with defining
"fittest" is not something that's just a question of time to solve, it
looks more like something that's a principal problem. The fittest of one
may be the unfittest of the other...

It needs the definition of an objective ("fit for what"), and objectives
are not inside the realm of science. So how do you get a definition from
outside science be the basis of a scientific definition?


{Quote hidden}

I don't think so. Looks like too many implicit assumptions. f(y) is not
constant, neither is f(x). You need to take their variations over time into
account. There's also the interaction between f(x) and f(y) -- changes in
either can provoke changes in the other. There are lots of local maxima and
minima, and since time is involved, we by principle can't really say which
one is a global one. Then there's the question of statistics vs
individuality: we're looking at /one/ system (life on earth) and are trying
to come up with general (scientific, i.e. statistical) rules... which,
according to most statistical text books need large numbers (with "large"
being at least greater than 1 :) before we can talk about averages,
probability distributions, variance, significance (the basis of every
scientific theory placed in practice).

Gerhard

2007\02\26@192829 by Russell McMahon

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> I also think that as you start thinking about it, there are lots of
> principal problems with defining "fittest". It needs a definition of
> so
> many factors (time span, adaptability, ability to create other
> species,
> boundary of the "whole system", ...) ...


Indeed.
Even the crudest and arguably most common measure "able to produce the
most surviving descendants" may be a very poor measure of long term
longevity of the parent line. The ability to produce relatively many
offspring may be at the expense of the offspring's own vigour or
ability to compete with others. They may be less fertile or produce a
greater number of genetically inferior offspring either next
generation or further down the chain of descendants.

Hence, the very factors which make a creature compete well for
resources and produce relatively many offspring may be what dooms its
ancestors to extinction. As selection necessarily acts on factors
which are measurable in the current situation and which affect
immediate outcomes, any "hidden" or generationally delayed effects
must be completely 'invisible' to the selection process.

As a probably poor but useful example, inbreeding within a small
genetic group will lead to "hybrid vigour" whereby the statistical mix
of all combinations of "advantageous" and "downright nasty" genetic
results will lead both to creatures with highly desirable attributes
and also to genetic disasters. If you don't care about the bad results
and only consider the "improvements" you may see this as advantageous
overall. However, keep at it for more than a little while and you
start to see the results observed in real life in a number of inbred
communities and in some royal families in times gone by. [[ Both our
Burmese cats are very deaf. I suspect that this is due to very
substantial inbreeding in their recent ancestors. Having observed the
cats behaviour outdoors I am certain that this deafness would have
very very very high anti-survival value in the wilds where they were
threatened by predators, but the deafness probably took several
generations to develop and it may well be that a number of generations
of cats had no deafness problems before this. If so, other
characteristics could have lead to a proliferation of "fitter" cats at
the expense of other less fit cats until they in due course produced
offspring which died out rapidly due to deafness.]]

Selection always stands on a slope and looks for a local maximum to
move towards. If the maximum is isolated, selection has no way of
bridging the valley to the next higher slopes. It cannot "look across
a valley and see a higher slope and choose to go there". Other
systems, such as, it is suggested, mutation, must be used to jump the
chasms to, hopefully, new slopes with higher peaks above them. If the
other available mechanisms are unable to span the gaps then the
organisms upwards path must stop. Punctuated equilibrium suggests that
a development stranded on its own local peak can be "rescued" by the
importation of genetic material from a visiting stranger that has
found some other higher peak to climb. For this to be of any sustained
use either some stranger must stumble on the mother load/ultimate peak
and share the knowledge around OR the combination of the stranger's
attainments plus those of the stranded population must somehow [tm]
provide a path to some new previously unattainable peak wherefrom the
process may, haply, be repeated.


           Russell

2007\02\26@231501 by Russell McMahon

face
flavicon
face
Whoops ... :-)

> Hence, the very factors which make a creature compete well for
> resources and produce relatively many offspring may be what dooms
> its
> ancestors to extinction.

"... ancestors ..." should be "descendants" or perhaps, "ancestral
line.
You knew what I meant.



           Russell


2007\02\27@094243 by Gerhard Fiedler

picon face
Russell McMahon wrote:

>> I also think that as you start thinking about it, there are lots of
>> principal problems with defining "fittest". It needs a definition of so
>> many factors (time span, adaptability, ability to create other species,
>> boundary of the "whole system", ...) ...
>
> Indeed.
> Even the crudest and arguably most common measure "able to produce the
> most surviving descendants" may be a very poor measure of long term
> longevity of the parent line.

E.g. humanity today.

For some time, we have disabled the traditional selection mechanisms, using
health care. In a way, we consider this as an evolutive advantage: we
became many more. OTOH, we stopped to "weed out" the ones with "weak
genes"; people who have a weak immune system and get the flu a lot can have
just as many children as much more healthy ones. Or more, if they want to.
Which, according to the accepted mechanisms of evolution, should mean that
our species is not anymore evolving towards better health. (Which basically
means it is evolving towards worse health, considering mutation.)

This sounds as if (scientific) medicine is working against the (scientific)
principles of  evolution? (This is a rhetoric question :)


The other thing is that for some time, in some places the overall
birthrates are going down. That's probably in part due to the high
population numbers, and seems to be a useful strategy to secure the
survival of the species. But there are also the ones who have many
children. At least in the short and mid term, the ones who have many
children have an evolutive advantage compared to the ones who have fewer
children -- but if their evolutive advantage means that they will determine
the future of the species, they may be the ones who bring the species down.
Or not... but in any case, who's the "fittest" is hard to say, and as long
as we don't know this, it's even harder to say whether it's them who
actually survive, whether short term, mid term or long term (or any other
term).


It may just be that survival is a largely arbitrary process, a lottery, and
that we're kidding ourselves by putting any meaning into it -- maybe we do
that simply because "survival" is such an essential part of /our/ mindset,
and we have a need to see a meaning in it. Since the beginning, part of
every religion was the attempt to put some meaning into who survives and
who doesn't. It isn't really surprising to find this in "science", too, but
it may not hold up to the philosophical rigors of science without quotes :)

Gerhard

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