Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Evolving Evolution

Now there's a boatload of negativity about all of this. That's because there's been so much hostility about evolution that some folks are afraid to question it at all, and other folks are afraid that it'll turn out to be true, only in a different way than everyone thinks, OR, and this is true on both sides of the argument, 

they're just not paying attention.

Both sides are stuck in arguing about Old Evolution, and they're not even aware that New Evolution is not only out of diapers, it's about ready to go to high school.

Neither side is ready for the argument to change in a dramatic, paradigm-shattered sort of way.

Curious, that.


Remarkably, the place where Lamarck was wrong was in the timing.

He thought (like Darwin) that changes in response to environment would take place over many thousands or millions of years.

Turns out, those changes can happen in one generation.


Mother to child. And hence to grandchildren. Whether or not it continues further remains to be seen. And since we don't really know what's going on yet, well, it remains to be seen.

The Old School Traditionalists are all about "Gradualism", which is that things evolve gradually over enooooormous amounts of time. Sloooowly. Tiny little random mutations that add up to big changes but it takes a looooong time.

So that's Darwin and Larmarck and Richard Dawkins (who is reputedly still alive) and all the high school and college and university textbooks. Mostly.

Then there's the slightly Newer School guys like Stephen Jay Gould (who is sadly no longer alive. I mean, sadly for his friends and family. Hard to know how he feels about it.) who had enooooormous fights with Dawkins about Gradualism, because Gould Didn't Think So.

He said that things went along pretty much as they were for looooong periods of time, and then kinda all at once, evolution happened in a much much shorter amount of time. Fast.

He called it "punctuated equilibrium", which is a fancy scientific way of saying that nothing happened for a looooong time until it was punctuated by big changes in a much much shorter amount of time.

He and Dawkins had big fights. Then Gould died. Then everybody sort of decided that the fossil record was much more about punctuated equilibrium and Gould was right after all.

Dawkins moped about and complained, but he was wrong and Gould was right.

Now, nobody had much of an explanation as to how things which were supposed to happen sloooowly didn't. Happen sloooowly, that is.

But now we kinda do. To review:

As well as being able to respond in specific ways to particular conditions, organisms seem to have evolved the ability to respond flexibly to whatever conditions they experience...

This allows systems such as the immune system, nervous system and behavioural systems (through learning) to adjust to meet whatever environment the individual faces.

And finally: ... developmental bias directs evolution ...

So NOW there's developmental bias and epigenetics and symbiosis and Complexity Theory.

Complexity Theory probably says it best. It says that using self-organization and spontaneous emergence, organisms and systems of organisms solve problems of survival with intent and specificity.

Not randomly. Not accidentally. Not always even genetically. In fact, it could be even mostly not always genetically.

Deliberately and on-purpose.

The universe organizes itself spontaneously.

That is, emergent self-organization is at the root of existence.

What emerges is not only more than, but vastly different from just the parts.

Self-organization results in higher forms of order.

But the process is unpredictable – you don’t know what you’ll get until you get it.

And problems are solved with intent and specificity.

Here's an example. It's about locusts, from in about 2006.

Scientists have finally figured out the exact moment when a jumbled swarm of creatures becomes an organized, unified, and sometimes terrifying, mass.

Examining a group of desert locusts, researchers found that at low densities, the insects were unorganized and went their separate ways. But when the group's density increased, the bugs fell into an orderly line and began to follow the same direction.

When there were a few of them together, they did not coalesce. As the group grew to 10 to 25 members, the locusts got closer to each other, but still did not move in unison.

It was only when the researchers placed about 30 locusts in the arena that the insects fell into a line and started moving in the same direction.

The march of the locusts is a bit of a mystery since they have no leader and each one can only communicate with close neighbors.

When the locusts reached a certain density, a "tipping point", then the self-organization emerged from that density. Not before. Individual locusts don't do this. It's not a genetic thing.

And what we found was something much more than just the sum of the parts, something dramatically different from the parts, almost like a super-organism, one massive locust monster from the deep.

The last sentence in the article is key. It's a bit of a mystery.

We don't know yet how it all happens.

We should probably find some more examples. What a fine idea.

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