Oct 31 2017

Conspiracy Thinking and Epistemology

UFOconspiracyJust last week I discussed a study looking at the correlation between belief in conspiracy theories and hyperactive pattern recognition. The quick version is this – belief in false patterns (such as bizarre conspiracy theories) results from a tendency to detect false patterns and a lack of filtering out those detections. The question for psychologists is, how much of an increased tendency to believe grand conspiracies is due to increased pattern recognition and how much is due to impaired reality testing? My assumption would be that both are involved to varying degrees in different people. The study found that there is a correlation between conspiracy beliefs and pattern recognition – which supports that hypothesis, but does not refute the role of decreased reality testing or other variables, such as culture, ideology, and self-esteem.

This week I am going to discuss another recent study looking at belief in conspiracies and their correlation with beliefs about the nature of knowledge (epistemic beliefs). These researchers are focusing on the other end of the equation – the methods we use to assess knowledge and form beliefs, rather than the more basic function of perceiving patterns. They start with a helpful review of previous literature:

There is also some evidence that individuals’ styles of thinking can influence their willingness to accept claims lacking empirical evidence. Individuals who tend to see intentional agency behind every event are more likely to believe conspiracy theories, as are those who attribute extraordinary events to unseen forces or interpret events through the Manichean narrative of good versus evil. Those who mistrust authority, who are convinced that nothing is as it seems, and who lack control over their environment are also more predisposed to conspiracist ideation.

Taken together you may look at these cognitive traits as a strategy or narrative for understanding the world, which can often be complex and overwhelming. There is an underlying assumption that dark forces are controlling events for their own nefarious purposes. Once that assumption is in place it can be a powerful lens through which everything is perceived, one that prevents its own refutation. The conspiracy lens twists logic back in on itself, forming a self-contained belief system immune to external validation or refutation.

For the current study the authors focus on epistemic beliefs – notions about the nature of knowledge itself. I found their results entirely unsurprising, as they are consistent with prior research into conspiracy thinking. The first factor they looked at was faith in intuition or facts. Do you trust your gut feelings about a subject, or would you set aside those feelings if the empirical evidence told a different story? Second they looked at the extent to which subjects believe facts are political vs objective.

They asked subjects to rank twelve statements on a scale of 1-5, four each probing their beliefs about the reliability of intuition, the need for evidence, and the political nature of facts.  They also had them rank seven different conspiracy theories from 1 (definitely not true) to 9 (definitely true) and considered a rank of 6 or higher as belief in the conspiracy. On their list belief in a JFK assassination conspiracy ranked the highest, at 45.7% belief. The Apollo moon landing hoax was at the bottom at 15.3%. I was a bit surprised that almost a third, 30.7%, believe that a New World Order seeks to replace sovereign governments and rule the world.

As you can see in these scatter plots, belief in intuition, lack of need for evidence, and belief that facts are political all correlate with increased belief in conspiracy theories. There is also a tremendous amount of individual variability within these general trends.

For comparison they also correlated epistemic beliefs and misperceptions about political issues that are not specifically related to conspiracy theories. Specifically they look at belief in global warming, that vaccines cause autism, that Iraq had WMD prior to the war, and that Muslims are inherently violent. They also found a strong correlation, similar but not as strong as with conspiracy theories.

This is also not surprising, in part because these political beliefs incorporate conspiracy theories as well. The separation is not clean. Those who reject the scientific consensus on global warming justify that rejection by claiming there is a conspiracy of scientists and politicians to hoax the world for their own purposes. Antivaxers believe the medical profession and Big Pharma are conspiring to sell harmful vaccines.

The authors conclude:

We find that individuals who trust their intuition, putting more faith in their ability to use intuition to assess factual claims than in their conscious reasoning skills, are uniquely likely to exhibit conspiracist ideation. Those who maintain that beliefs must be in accord with available evidence, in contrast, are less likely to embrace conspiracy theories, and they are less likely to endorse other falsehoods, even on politically charged topics. Finally, those who view facts as inexorably shaped by politics and power are more prone to misperception than those who believe that truth transcends social context. These individual-difference measures are fairly stable over time. Although the influence of epistemic beliefs is sometimes conditioned on ideology, this is the exception; in most instances the two types of factors operate independent of one another.

What I like about this study is that it focuses on factors that may be more amenable to education, rather than being deeply ingrained personality traits. Once again, education in science and critical thinking can give people the “conscious reasoning skills” to assess their own beliefs more thoroughly and critically.

127 responses so far

127 Responses to “Conspiracy Thinking and Epistemology”

  1. Lobsterbashon 31 Oct 2017 at 9:39 am

    This is one of the main reasons why having Trump as president is so harmful to the United States and its ability to make good decisions: because he openly fans the flames fueling conspiracy thinking. You can just go down the list of items within these categories (faith in intuition for facts / need for evidence / truth is political) and easily find dozens (hundreds?) of examples of his public statements pushing the limits of relying on one’s gut and relying on extremely poor evidence, and facts being whatever claim he graces with his seal of approval. And he has millions of people going along with him, none the wiser.

  2. daedalus2uon 31 Oct 2017 at 1:13 pm

    The mention of intuition and how much to trust it reminds me of Freshman year at MIT; where one of the most common comments about a new idea was always “that idea is counter-intuitive”.

    I always perceived that to be an attempt to avoid narcissistic injury by externalizing the “fault” of not understanding an idea onto the idea; because the idea was “counter-intuitive”, and not because the Freshman had a lousy sense of intuition that gave wrong answers.

    I always considered intuition to be something to use when you didn’t have enough information, or enough time to use a more rigorous approach. That intuition might be a reasonable first guess, but one that you needed to verify with more reliable means, and if your intuition was wrong, then it was useless (actually worse then useless because it would lead you astray), so when your intuition was wrong, you needed to change your intuition so it would be more right the next time.

    You can actually do this; change your intuition so that it is more right. But it requires not relying on your intuition, or thinking that your intuition is correct until you have verified it with more reliable means.

    It is pretty much what being a skeptic is, don’t “believe” anything until you have verified it with reliable information.

  3. Lobsterbashon 31 Oct 2017 at 1:25 pm

    daedalus2u,

    I think honing one’s intuition is the effective outcome of education. Our brains don’t stash away libraries of sources or references, they stash away a network of generally interdependent axioms. The better we can make that network congruent with the best information and knowledge available, the better we can accurately reason in the absence of information because we have reliable and accurate cognitive maps to fall back on. While still obviously fallible, we can refine our intuitions to be quite good.

    There still needs to be the habit of verification, though.

  4. googolplexbyteon 31 Oct 2017 at 6:47 pm

    “a New World Order seeks to replace sovereign governments and rule the world.”

    What if I think the NWO is just a couple of lads dreaming big?

  5. tmac57on 31 Oct 2017 at 7:29 pm

    Lobsterbash- I swear that you must have been channeling my brain remotely with your comment 🙂 .
    I view ‘gut’ reactions as merely internalized experience and learning (whether or not it is reliable experience or learning) that has generally become untethered from the original sources, and is now more of a vague feeling that acts as a kind of heuristic as to how to react to new information. “That just doesn’t/does sound right” for example.
    You can see the problem right away that if the original influencing set of ‘knowledge’ is from dubious sources, that subsequent exposure to either confirming or refuting data gets run through that previous set point of ‘correct’, ‘incorrect’ logic gates, and tends toward some unreliable conclusion.
    So obviously, the larger problem is an epistemic one, and how do we then try to ensure that we and others are exposed to best approximation of reality when the apparent default is gut testing, rather that reality testing.
    I believe that most people think (if indeed they have thought about it at all) that they are constructing their opinions out of good information, but clearly that cannot be the case, since opinions diverge so radically. We all suffer from the Dunning Kruger effect, biases, and all manner of cognitive shortcomings that have been well documented. So where does that leave us?
    My view is that if we approach each serious question with the understanding of our limited capacity to answer those questions solely with our own relatively small internal data set, that we can proceed, not only using our priors, but rechecking and reconciling our knowledge base as we go.
    As for those who would rather take the easy path of ‘Just knowing they’re right’ I would want to emphasize to them that reality has a way of catching up with those who ignore it, and ask them: Do they agree with the idea of wanting to “know as many things that are as true as possible, and as few of things that are false as possible?” to quote Matt Dilahunty.

  6. Lobsterbashon 31 Oct 2017 at 8:55 pm

    Tmac,

    Yeah, this seems intuitive ;).

    My psych vocabulary is a bit rusty and not accurate, having been out of college for 12 years now. I often find I want to change words or rephrase things after posting, but I guess Steve or WordPress wants to keep it hardcore.

    We agree on the gist.

  7. Rrb55178on 01 Nov 2017 at 11:59 am

    Your implication that pattern recognition is false is completely unwarranted and shows a true lack of understanding about the subject at hand. For starters, thank the people with “hyperactive pattern recognition” for your existence today. It’s that trait that prevented us from eating the same poisonous foods time and time again; Or trying to grab that venomous snake that keeps biting and killing all the other villagers. People need to catch on to patterns or sometimes it means death.

    Also, there have been a number of conspiracy theories which were later proven true; meaning those “conspiracy theories” were actual facts. A number of theories about the CIA have been proven to be true after the release of archived files, such as: MKUltra, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, and the recent release of CIA plans in Cuba. During John F. Kennedy’s presidency, the CIA developed a plan to kill American citizens and blame it on Cuba; effectively inciting a war with Cuba that would appear to have been initiated by Fidel Castro.

    That isn’t a conspiracy theory, my friend. The CIA itself released those records. But that incident happened over 50 years ago, so whatever, right? You know what that plan sounds like? That plan that was verifiably real? The attacks of 9/11 have similar conspiracies, as showcased in Michael Moore’s ‘Fahrenheit 911’. We may not have proof that the attacks on the twin towers were a conspiracy from within, but we also didn’t have proof of the Cuban plans until the CIA released them to the public over 50 years after the fact. The fact that the CIA just released records verifying such a plan only gives credence to theories involving 9/11.

    Trump, like every politician, promised he was fighting for the hard-working middle class. He was going to bring some of our outsourced jobs back to America and boost the economy… What happened? The same thing that happens every 4 years. He lied to get your vote. Why? Because our vote gets people into the most highest-paid positions that have a job menial requirement of sitting around debating things. They obviously aren’t required to meet any educational requirements, as proven by many recent events on Capitol Hill. They aren’t required to come to any conclusions or learn to play nice with each other, a trait we should’ve been taught at age 3.. If they were required to act, we would have our Healthcare Reform figured out already.

    People in power often tailor the truth or completely fabricate it, in order convince others to side with them in their personal agenda. This is a fact and an ongoing issue that has been a part of our culture since early history.

    This issue is not a matter of “hyperactive pattern recognition”. It’s a matter of trust. Without immediate transparency, some people simply have a hard time trusting the government. Obsessing about conspiracy theories is where things become unhealthy, but that’s because the obsession creeped in. Again, nothing to do with “hyperactive pattern recognition”.

  8. daedalus2uon 01 Nov 2017 at 1:19 pm

    tmac57, my experience is that you need to deliberately exclude unreliable experiences from your knowledge base when you encounter them.

    A problem is that a lot of your pattern recognition neuroanatomy automatically self-modifies to “detect” the patterns it is exposed to.

    I think that this is what Nietzsche was getting at when he said to be careful when looking into the abyss, because the abyss looks back into you.

    To perceive what is in the abyss, you need abyss-like pattern recognition neuroanatomy. Expose your sensory systems to the abyss, and they will spontaneously develop abyss-like pattern recognition neuroanatomy. Then you will have a representation of the “abyss” in your own neuroanatomy.

    The way I try to deal with this is by looking at “abyss-like things” via an “emulation”, and not with my “native” sensory neuroanatomy (to use computer metaphors). If you run your sensing of the abyss as an emulation, you have a degree of separation between that emulation and your “native” neuroanatomy that runs your cognition, feelings and emotions. My experience is that you have to do this proactively, before and during exposure to the “abyss”.

    This is one of the reasons I don’t like to watch TV. Everything on TV is so fake. The interactions are between actors pretending to be things that they are not. If you are exposed to fake social interactions, your “social interaction detecting neuroanatomy” “thinks” that they are “real” and self-modifies accordingly. Eventually they become “real”, even though they started out as fake. That is a cheapening of human interactions by raising the inauthentic up to the “real”.

  9. Willyon 01 Nov 2017 at 3:01 pm

    I can’t help but note that apostrophe in the UFO placards is an error.

  10. tmac57on 01 Nov 2017 at 3:05 pm

    daedalus2u- I’m not sure that I totally followed your train of thought there regarding the ‘abyss’. I have only had limited exposure to Nietzsche’s philosophy.

    But the comment “my experience is that you need to deliberately exclude unreliable experiences from your knowledge base when you encounter them.” sounds good, but doesn’t there remain the problem of identifying what constitutes ‘unreliable’ elements of knowledge?
    We don’t have much (if any) first hand access to most of the knowable things in the universe, so we end up relying on ‘trusted’ surrogates (reporters, experts, eyewitnesses ect.) to build what we believe to be a more or less reliable narrative of the world around us. We use that acquired base to form a set of (often unreliable) guardrails for reality that keep us on a path toward a (hopefully) fact based understanding…OUR reality, that is.
    So we skeptics understand that critical thinking skills are key to maintaining a sane, fact based grasp on our world views, but it looks to me like that may be a much more thorny problem than we had previously thought, and way harder for people who do not appreciate logic, critical thinking, the scientific method, and don’t understand the myriad ways in which our cognition and senses betray us on an everyday basis.
    That’s an interesting idea you have about TV fare giving people the wrong idea about real vs fake human interactions. I’ll have to think about that a bit, but it does seem trivially true on some level, because all of our inputs to our minds will have to have some impact, whether it be TV, radio, music, plays, books, sports, games, conversation, lectures, schooling, etc. Any of those can give a person the “wrong” idea about human interactions.
    I can see where a ‘fake’ interaction depicted in a TV show might be potentially more positive and morally ‘true’ than an actual live human interaction with a person of dubious character, a con man for example or a sociopath.
    I’m not exactly sure that there even is such a thing as some pure/real human interaction. It might all just be a cultural construction with some basic common elements that are just instinctual human tendencies.

  11. BillyJoe7on 01 Nov 2017 at 4:22 pm

    I think daedalus means something like the following:
    In the past depressed teenagers cut themselves as a result of some inner drive that they couldn’t quite understand or verbalise. Nowadays, depressed teenagers cut themselves because that is what depressed teenagers do. They’ve seen it on the telly or on social media (which is an even worse source of reality testing). Same with suicide – they make sure that their attempts do not succeed because they’re not really suicidal. It’s just what severely depressed teenagers do.
    Of course, there are genuinely depressed and suicidal teenagers.

  12. Teaseron 01 Nov 2017 at 4:52 pm

    Here is a real time example of a conspiracy theory being actively stoked by a targeted disinformation program using social media and other “news” outlets, these people have been persuaded that this Saturday, Nov 4, 2017- will be the start of a civil war:

    “If you are inside the “alt-right” information bubble, you might be preparing yourself for a civil war to commence this Saturday.

    Since late September, the idea has been circulating on Facebook groups, subreddits, Twitter, and leading conspiracy media outlets that on 4 November, anti-fascist groups will begin a violent insurrection.

    Some websites are telling their readers that antifa groups are “planning to kill every single Trump voter, Conservative and gun owner” this weekend. Hundreds of Facebook posts show how seriously consumers of such media are taking the news, and comments like “One more threat against white people and I swear to God I’m going to take a goddamn car and run over every fucking one of them” are not unrepresentative of the response.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/01/far-right-conspiracy-theory-us-civil-war?CMP=fb_gu

    https://www.snopes.com/is-antifa-planning-a-civil-war/

  13. daedalus2uon 01 Nov 2017 at 5:56 pm

    If you don’t know something, you default to “I don’t know”, and maintain an open mind about it. Not so open that your brain falls out, but open enough that you don’t get sucked into bogus stuff.

    Then you investigate the areas that you defaulted to “I don’t know” about.

    There are significant problems with peer pressure causing people to adopt the values, prejudices and “reality” of the group they are a peer in. Not going along with the crowd is extremely difficult for some people.

    Groupthink is the group adopting something wrong because of social pressures that the members of the group are not aware of and do not counter. Wikipedia has a good discussion about groupthink in the context of the Cuban Missile Crisis. If Kennedy had not taken steps to counter groupthink before then, the Cuban Missile Crisis could have had a different outcome.

    When you “know” something, you need to know each step in the path that takes you from facts to the derived knowledge. If you don’t have the explicit logic that does that, you don’t “know” something, you simply “feel” that it is correct.

    Doesn’t matter how strong your feeling that you know something is, if you can’t point to data and logic to back up every step in its derivation, it is a feeling.

  14. tmac57on 01 Nov 2017 at 8:14 pm

    daedalus- Your last comment put me in mind of the most recent ‘This American Life’ episode #630 titled ‘Things I mean to Know’. It’s an interesting story about epistemology. Though its story line would not be at all new or surprising to veteran skeptics, it is a refreshingly helpful reminder to people in general that we need to be more humble and skeptical about what we think we know. Highly recommended!
    I would say that you seem to be very high on the rational scale in your approach to knowledge, but keep in mind that that is very far from the everyday approach that pretty much everyone else tends to use. It just requires too many cognitive resources for it to be the default mode for the average person. And there is just no hope at all to convince all of society that they just need to be more logical and rational all (or even most) of the time.
    That doesn’t mean that we should throw in the towel, but it does mean that maybe we have to modify our approach and expectations about just what we can accomplish with such a straightforward approach, no matter how much it seems to be the the most expedient one.
    You can only beat your head against a wall so many times before you realize that a new tactic is required to get the result that is needed.

  15. daedalus2uon 01 Nov 2017 at 8:53 pm

    Yes, I appreciate that most people can’t do this (actually, they can, but they choose not to), but this is what I have done my whole life, and it works quite well for me.

    I greatly appreciate Dr Novella’s efforts in being the change he wants to see in the world, and encouraging this type of thinking. With practice it does get easier.

    One of the reasons I come here and to SBM a lot, is because as skeptics, they can only argue from facts and logic. If my facts and logic are correct, they can’t find fault with what I am saying, no matter how counter intuitive it seems to be. 😉

    3 quotes from Arthur Schopenhauer.

    All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

    Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.

    With people of limited ability modesty is merely honesty. But with those who possess great talent it is hypocrisy.

  16. Kabboron 02 Nov 2017 at 7:58 am

    teaser,

    I just read a news story about that and was disturbed by the insanity being peddled by these people. At what point is a person culpable for deliberately spreading misinformation that leads to violence?

    I know the bar is pretty high but when you convince your devotees that there is a specific group of people who plan to wage literal war upon you and your families on a specific date, how is this speech not explicitly “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”?

    I don’t know why this is permissible.

  17. daedalus2uon 02 Nov 2017 at 12:29 pm

    When you derive your understanding from data and reasoning, then with enough data you can be extremely confident in it; much more confident than if you based your understanding on an authority.

    For a data-driven explanation to be wrong, there needs to be an alternative explanation that fits all the data better. If you base your understanding on an authority, if that authority is wrong, then the basis for the understanding collapses.

    This is what YECs do, base how they understand things on “authority” (the Bible). That is why they always attack Darwin, as if scientists accept evolution because of the “authority” of Darwin, and not the astronomical number of facts that have been collected before and since, and which have no plausible explanation other than common descent. Every genome sequenced increases the number of facts that support common descent. For evolution and common descent to be wrong, all of that data, each independent fact, would require a better explanation than evolution and common descent.

  18. chikoppion 02 Nov 2017 at 2:30 pm

    [daedalus2u] For a data-driven explanation to be wrong, there needs to be an alternative explanation that fits all the data better.

    Ehh…I think I get what you’re saying, but “no explanation” is also a possibility. Your phrasing seems to suggest a binary apportionment of belief.

    For instance, there may be simultaneous data-driven explanations that represent varying degrees of confidence (neither are “wrong”). Also, a data-driven explanation can be incomplete or questionable without any identifiable substitution (uncertain, but with no better alternative).

    I tend to regard a Bayesian approach as the more reasonable, with each hypothesis evaluated on its own merits as warranted by the quality and scope of evidence. Rather than a question of wrong or right, I prefer degrees of confidence. The theory of evolution has an extremely high confidence assessment, whereas alternate theories are tragically under-supported.

  19. BillyJoe7on 02 Nov 2017 at 4:26 pm

    daedalus,

    “When you derive your understanding from data and reasoning, then with enough data you can be extremely confident in it; much more confident than if you based your understanding on an authority”

    I guess you must be distinguishing experts from “authorities”, because you couldn’t possibly pore through all the data on your own, do all your own inexpert reasoning using all your own inexpert background knowledge to come to a conclusion about you would be entitled to feel any degree of confidence.

  20. hardnoseon 02 Nov 2017 at 6:04 pm

    Most conspiracy theories are ridiculous, but there is one that makes sense to me — Satan-worshiping reptilians from a distant galaxy have taken control of the central banking system. Invest in gold NOW.

  21. tmac57on 02 Nov 2017 at 7:11 pm

    daedalus- I have to echo some of BillyJoe’s point. The idea that there is some ‘right’ data out there to be understood, is problematic from the standpoint of both experts and non-experts. For the better case, real experts are the people who have spent their lives and education deeply immersed in difficult analysis of data points that may or may not be valid, and trying to constrain the uncertainty gap of those data. But for the worse case, there are motivated, poorly trained people (whether scientists or not), who think that they know more than they really do, but who look for all the world to the average observer as being also an ‘expert’.
    You may be a careful and discerning observer of what goes on in the best case of the scientific world, but don’t mistake your skill at that with what, pretty much, the majority of people are doing. Most people don’t even pay attention to the current state of the world, and those that do have to contend with their unacknowledged biases which are leading them down paths that could be tailor made for them to follow by those who are pros at rhetoric and possibly disinformation.
    Just how confident can you be about data that you come across? How do you go about vetting it, if not by the source (authority)? How do you vet the source? I would not suppose that you would pursue a PhD in every branch of knowledge that you use to inform your world views and opinions.
    The point is that we have to rely on whole swaths of information that we have very little direct knowledge about, and there has to be some expedient choices made about how to go about that. My feeling is that accepting mainstream sources and experts while filtering them through a skeptical lens and checking them against your internal guide rails of experience, is a good start, and learning more in depth about things can really help, but only if you are adept at selecting valid sources. That is a skill set in itself, and may not be so clear cut.

  22. bachfiendon 02 Nov 2017 at 9:07 pm

    Hardnose,

    If you want to come up with a Poe, you need to ensure that it’s at least remotely plausible. Suggesting that Satan-worshipping reptiles from a distal galaxy have taken over the banking system is almost, but not quite, as ridiculous as claiming that the universe is conscious. Or intelligent.

  23. daedalus2uon 03 Nov 2017 at 12:53 pm

    BillyJoe7, I do distinguish experts from authorities. Experts know a lot of stuff, authorities have the reputation of knowing a lot of stuff. Both can be wrong and it is unreliable to rely on either of them.

    Relying on data is not the same as relying on experts, even when it is experts who have collected and collated that data. I don’t need to run the DNA sequencing myself to be able to rely on the DNA sequences that the scientific community has collected. Relying on second-hand data is not quite as reliable as first-hand data, but no data is 100.00000000000% reliable. Data reliability is something that a data-driven understanding of reality needs to account for at all times. Multiple and independent sources can reduce some types of error.

    Looking at correlations between independent data sources is a good way to impute that they are reliable and independently reliable; especially if there is underlying theory that explains those correlations (positive and negative).

    In the case of evolution and common descent; similarities in DNA sequences of extant organisms shows common descent. Patterns of DNA base substitution shows common descent even more strongly. The pattern of DNA substitutions observed in every single genome, is exactly what would be expected from evolution and common descent from common ancestors. The alternative(s) to evolution and common descent are so preposterous as to be nonsensical. The only alternative I can think of is that an Omniscient and Omnipotent Entity created every living thing so as to give the appearance of evolution and common descent. That would require emulating the life cycle of every organism that contributed/interacted with the extant organisms alive today, all the way back to before the Precambrian. Emulating the life cycle of each organism is the only way that “the same” patterns of DNA substitution could be generated. That emulation is astronomically more work than a singular Creation event. Then the question becomes: Why? Why would an Omnipotent and Omniscient Entity go to astronomically more effort so as to troll feeble humans into believing in Evolution and common descent?

    You have to look at all the data, and be able to tell which data is “good”, and which data is “not good”. This is usually pretty easy (once you know enough in that particular area). Usually people’s data is good, even when their explanations and theories are bogus. Having a hypothesis that explains correlations in someone’s data better than their own explanation does is quite satisfying. You have to always be ready to default to “I don’t know”, if and when you can’t fit all the data into a single mutually consistent whole.

    If you don’t have a good reason for rejecting a particular piece of data, you can’t reject it; you need to modify your conceptualization of what you are trying to fit the data into, or modify what potential ends you can use your conceptualization to accomplish.

    Having the “correct” theory isn’t really what is important. What is most important is choosing the correct action based on the data and theory that you have access to, and given the time constraints you have to evaluate the data, theory and potential actions. It takes time and computational resources to evaluate data, theories and to figure out what actions to take. What is important is choosing the optimum actions, given the constraints you are working under.

    Often people pick the “theory” and “data” so as to mandate the outcome they want. If you do this, you are doing it wrong.

    https://arxiv.org/abs/1701.00213

  24. hardnoseon 03 Nov 2017 at 3:48 pm

    “The alternative(s) to evolution and common descent are so preposterous as to be nonsensical.”

    But data supporting evolution and common descent says nothing at all about what drives evolution. THAT is what the controversy is about.

  25. bachfiendon 03 Nov 2017 at 4:15 pm

    Hardnose,

    ‘But data supporting evolution and common descent says nothing at all about what drives evolution. THAT is what the controversy is about.’

    You’ve been informed repeatedly about what actually drives evolution. It’s changes in the surroundings, the environment, of reproductively isolated populations (which includes climate, predators, competitors and prey).

    Change the surroundings and the population will adapt as a result of differential reproductive success of natural variants (either already existing or arising as a result of new mutations), migrate or go extinct.

    This can be studied experimentally, including Lenski’s multidecade experiment of changing the environment by providing an abundance of citrate for a strain of E. coli and the Guppy Project on Trinidad which as part of its study of moving guppies to streams where there are more predators.

    You persist in thinking that according to evolutionary biology natural selection is the driving force – the cause – of evolution, whereas it’s just a guiding or directing force. A mechanism of evolution (and not the only one), not the cause of evolution.

    This is so obvious, I wonder about your intelligence or your motives.

  26. chikoppion 03 Nov 2017 at 5:24 pm

    [hardnose] But data supporting evolution and common descent says nothing at all about what drives evolution. THAT is what the controversy is about.

    There is nothing “driving” evolution. The range of possible outcomes will continue to randomly expand or contract over time as constrained by the environment.

    The environment imposes constraints on the unguided mechanisms DNA, either by non-interference, interaction with existing mechanisms (including those cited by Shapiro, such as histone modification, cytosine methylation, and enzymatic deamination) or positive/negative feedback during replication/reproduction.

    That’s it. There’s no evidence that anything further is necessary.

  27. daedalus2uon 03 Nov 2017 at 6:19 pm

    Here is a pretty good analysis showing that evolution is inherently unpredictable. It can’t have a “driving force”, or “trajectory”. Each mutation changes the background that future mutations have effects in. The ultimate trajectory becomes unpredictable after just a few steps.

    http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/10/20/1711927114.short

  28. RickKon 03 Nov 2017 at 9:03 pm

    “But data supporting evolution and common descent says nothing at all about what drives evolution. THAT is what the controversy is about.”

    Evolution is driven by successful replication. Replicating populations spread. Complexity is simply another dimension in which to spread.

    No guiding force needed other than the physics of the process. It’s quite amazing enough without ghosts in the machine.

    There are real discoveries that lead to real knowledge and they’re interesting to study. But some people prefer invent imaginary forces then sit back and scoff at science for failing to discover them.

    The real world is uninteresting only to those unable or unwilling to learn about it.

  29. hardnoseon 03 Nov 2017 at 9:46 pm

    “You’ve been informed repeatedly about what actually drives evolution.”

    Oh I have been INFORMED. Sorry, didn’t realize I was supposed to believe everything you tell me.

  30. hardnoseon 03 Nov 2017 at 9:50 pm

    “There’s no evidence that anything further is necessary.”

    And no evidence that anything further is not necessary. We don’t have evidence about the cause of evolution.

  31. hardnoseon 03 Nov 2017 at 9:51 pm

    “Here is a pretty good analysis showing that evolution is inherently unpredictable.”

    Why should anyone expect evolution to be predictable?

  32. bachfiendon 03 Nov 2017 at 10:10 pm

    Hardnose,

    ‘We don’t have evidence about the cause of evolution.’

    Yes, we do. The evidence is that whenever the circumstances, the surroundings, the environment, of a species changes, the species changes. It adapts (as a result of differential reproductive success of naturally occurring variants), go extinct or migrate (which is actually the extinction of the species in part of its original distribution).

    This is well known and well understood information/knowledge of evolution. You refuse to be informed about what is understood about evolution. Belief has nothing to do with it.

    The point is; evolution has no future targets or goals. There’s no innate tendency towards increasing complexity and intelligence in biological systems. If either arise – by chance – and it ‘pays’ with greater benefits than costs, then it will persist, perhaps thrive. Otherwise natural selection will eliminate it.

  33. chikoppion 03 Nov 2017 at 10:13 pm

    [hardnose] And no evidence that anything further is not necessary. We don’t have evidence about the cause of evolution.

    You don’t get words, do you?

    “No evidence that anything further is necessary” is the antithesis of “evidence that something further is necessary.”

    There is no “cause” or “driver” or “goal” or “purpose” or anything other term you want to toss in the meaningless word soup of special pleading vocabulary.

    Evolution “happens” because it can. Because that’s how self-replicating systems work according to the laws of physics and chemistry. The “outcomes” of evolutionary processes expand to occupy the potential phenological spaces allowed by time, thermodynamics, and the environment. Organisms will “seem” to expand in complexity until the available degrees of freedom are exhausted.

    There’s no further force required to accommodate the observable results of evolutionary processes.

  34. bachfiendon 03 Nov 2017 at 11:20 pm

    I’m reminded of Richard Muller’s Nemesis/Death Star hypothesis which attempted to explain a 26 million year cycle of minor mass extinctions as being due to an unseen long period orbiting star, which causes a rain of comets impacting the Earth periodically every 26 million years.

    Except the cycle doesn’t exist. Minor mass extinctions do sort of occur, but they’re at about 20 to 30 million year periods, which is about the length of time for specialist species to evolve, and co-evolve, to fill all the ecological niches available.

    And then something terrible unpredictable happens – a large volcanic eruption, a major meteorite strike, whatever – and the specialists go extinct, leaving the generalists.

    Lisa Randall has recently attempted to resurrect the hypothesis, using Dark Matter instead of the Death Star as its agent. It does sort of have the advantage that we do know that Dark Matter does exist (even if we don’t know what it is), assuming that our knowledge of physics is adequate. There’s no evidence that there is an orbiting Death Star. Nor that there’s a 26 million year cycle to be explained anyway.

  35. chikoppion 04 Nov 2017 at 12:05 am

    Here’s another way to think about the appearance of increasing complexity.

    Write the number “1” on card “A.” This represents the simplest self-replicating organic molecule.

    Using a random process, generate an integer from -1 to +1 and add it to card “A.” If the resulting sum is is non-zero, write it on it two new cards.

    Repeat the process with each new card. With enough generations you’ll eventually end up with a distribution of cards that includes very large numbers.

    There’s no “cause” that is producing an upward expansion in the numbers. There’s a finite lower limit and an upper limit that’s bound only by time and probability.

    The same is true for evolution. Complexity will expand among the diversity of organisms so long as it is possible for complexity to expand (so long as there aren’t sufficient negative pressures working against it).

  36. BillyJoe7on 04 Nov 2017 at 1:50 am

    Bachfiend: “natural selection is…just a guiding or directing force”
    Rick: “Evolution is driven by successful replication”

    I avoid using words like “driving”, “directing” and “guiding” in relation to evolution. And, if I do use them, I apply scare quotes to indicate that I am using them metaphorically or anthropomorhically. Evolution happens without any driver, director, or guide. There is no purposeful agent driving, directing, or guiding the course of evolution towards some goal.

    Form his careful phrasing, I think chikoppi agrees. 🙂

  37. BillyJoe7on 04 Nov 2017 at 2:23 am

    hardnose: “But data supporting evolution and common descent says nothing at all about what drives evolution. THAT is what the controversy is about”

    There is no controversy as to what “drives evolution”.
    Nothing drives evolution.
    Evolution happens without any driver, director, or guide.
    There is no cause, purpose, or goal in evolution.
    This is not controversial amongst evolutionary biologists.

    hardnose: “Oh I have been INFORMED. Sorry, didn’t realize I was supposed to believe everything you tell me”

    Being INFORMED means having information.
    Information about the scientific evidence and the probability value of that evidence.
    It has nothing to do with belief.

    “And no evidence that anything further is not necessary”

    Ockham’s razor.
    What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
    Especially when you don’t or can’t even name the thing that you are asserting!

    “We don’t have evidence about the cause of evolution”

    Sorry if you can’t wrap your head around this but…
    …when there is a mechanism for evolution that doesn’t require a cause, and when there is evidence that there is no cause, then we don’t need evidence for a cause.

    “Why should anyone expect evolution to be predictable?”

    If you deny that mutations are “random” (and please don’t misrepresent what evolutionary biologists mean by “random”), and if you believe that mutations are directed, then you do indeed “expect evolution to be predictable” (at least to some degree).
    When you’ve put it in your pipe, then you’re smoking it, even if you are too stoned to realise it.

  38. BillyJoe7on 04 Nov 2017 at 2:45 am

    daedalus,

    Sorry, it is possible I’m having trouble parsing what you are saying.

    For example, in your response, it is not clear to me if you are using the colloquial or scientific meaning of the word “theory”. Because there is no such thing as a “correct” theory. A theory is an hypothesis that has collected sufficient evidence, and no verified disconfirming evidence. The preferred theory is the theory that uses the least assumptions and has the most supporting evidence.

    “Experts know a lot of stuff, authorities have the reputation of knowing a lot of stuff. Both can be wrong and it is unreliable to rely on either of them”

    And I’m still not clear on your distinction between “experts” and “authorities”.

    “Experts…can be wrong and it is unreliable to rely on…them”

    Unless you mean something other than what you seem to be saying, then I just have to disagree.
    Of course the experts can be wrong, but if you can’t rely on them to reach a consensus based on the evidence, then what else can you possibly rely on. Certainly not your own evaluation of the evidence and data as a non-expert.

  39. daedalus2uon 04 Nov 2017 at 10:03 am

    I am using “theory” in the sense that it is used in the paper I linked to. Essentially equivalent to hypothesis.

    The paper I linked to shows that your definition of “preferred theory” is untenable.

    The difference between “expert” and “authority” is social; how other humans perceive the person. If you are an actual expert, what other people think doesn’t matter. To be an “authority”, what other people think is all that matters.

    I think the case that you are talking about, where you want to rely on “experts” for things that you don’t understand is a case where one should instead default to “I don’t know”.

    One may still need to act, even while ignorant, but that is about actions, not about believing in a theory.

  40. RickKon 04 Nov 2017 at 2:35 pm

    BJ7: “I avoid using words like “driving”, “directing” and “guiding” in relation to evolution.”

    Fair enough – advice received and appreciated.

  41. hardnoseon 04 Nov 2017 at 3:21 pm

    You can’t make an artificial self-replicating system that evolves in the direction of greater complexity. Please don’t bring up stupid examples that are obviously nothing like biological evolution.

    I do NOT think evolution has goals. And I can’t imagine why you think we would be able to predict evolution if it were not completely random.

    Life on earth has been studied and is known to have dramatically increased in complexity. Not every individual species, but the entire system.

    I think there is some kind of law of nature that makes this happen. No one knows how or why and no one can explain it. Your theory is just a guess, and you have no evidence at all.

    You use the trick of citing evidence for evolution and for natural selection, and some people fall for it. But you have no evidence at all that shows how or why evolution occurs.

  42. daedalus2uon 04 Nov 2017 at 4:09 pm

    “You can’t make an artificial self-replicating system that evolves in the direction of greater complexity. Please don’t bring up stupid examples that are obviously nothing like biological evolution.”

    Is obviously false.

    Bacteria evolving antibiotic resistance is an example of a self-replicating system evolving in the direction of greater complexity, unless you use contrived and disingenuous definitions of terms.

    The addition of noise to a system, makes the system more complex because the “system” now requires more information to specify it, because that specification requires the original specification, along with a specification of the “noise” that has been added to it.

  43. chikoppion 04 Nov 2017 at 4:35 pm

    [hardnose] Life on earth has been studied and is known to have dramatically increased in complexity. Not every individual species, but the entire system.

    I understand that that elephants did not appear out of thin air as the Earth’s mantel was cooling.

    The complexity of living species expanded outward from the simplest of organisms because short of magic that is the only direction from which complexity could arise.

    How the hell would a world in which complex organisms did not evolve from less complex predecessors even exist?

    You are fixated on an absolutely trivial observation. Life becomes more complex over time because that is the only direction in which complexity can radiate from its origins.

    I think there is some kind of law of nature that makes this happen. No one knows how or why and no one can explain it. Your theory is just a guess, and you have no evidence at all.

    Yeah, it’s the law of no sh!t Sherlock.

    You use the trick of citing evidence for evolution and for natural selection, and some people fall for it. But you have no evidence at all that shows how or why evolution occurs.

    All the evidence. Literally all of it. From every branch of science that is applied to the question. All of it demonstrates that evolutionary outcomes are shaped by the relative success of unguided changes interacting with environment.

  44. bachfiendon 04 Nov 2017 at 4:57 pm

    Hardnose,

    ‘Life on Earth has been studied and is known to have dramatically increased in complexity. Not every species, but the entire system.’

    Define ‘complexity’. What do you mean by it? Do you mean that the number of species has increased? Or the average ‘complexity’ per species existing is increasing? Or the total amount of ‘complexity’ (number of species existing x average ‘complexity’ per species existing, which is the sum of ‘complexity’ of all individual species existing).

    Regardless of your definition, your’re saying nothing more than that 3.8 billion years ago there were nothing other than bacteria on Earth and now there’s bacteria and an afterthought of other species, including humans. There’s probably 10 billion species on Earth, mostly bacteria, with birds and mammals numbering less than 10,000 each.

    Regardless of your measure of ‘complexity’ (and it’s a nebulous artificial measure), it can decrease as well as increase, as in the 5 known mass extinction events in the history of the Earth – as well as the regularly occurring minor mass extinction events. It’s argued that we’re currently in the middle of a 6th human-caused mass extinction event.

    What is your measure of ‘complexity’ immediately prior to the end of the end of Permian mass extinction? And immediately afterwards? During the Cretaceous? After the K-Pg event? Currently? Is it increasing or decreasing?

    Evolution entails adaptation of species to changing environments (as a result of genetic changes in the species), extinction (if the environment changes too radically for adaptation, as happens most dramatically with mass extinction events) or migration. Evolutionary biology is perfectly capable of explaining why species change, including the number and the degree of specialisation of species.

    Evolution happens because of changing environments. If the environments don’t change, then there’s no evolution (species are generally well adapted to their current environments). If the environments are static, unchanging, there’s no innate tendency towards increasing ‘complexity’ or intelligence. But static unchanging environments don’t occur on Earth. Increasing ‘complexity’ or intelligence occurs (or rather, is allowed to survive if it arises by chance in a species) if it ‘pays’ in the changed environment (if benefits exceed costs).

  45. hardnoseon 04 Nov 2017 at 6:51 pm

    “All the evidence. Literally all of it. From every branch of science that is applied to the question. All of it demonstrates that evolutionary outcomes are shaped by the relative success of unguided changes interacting with environment.”

    There is no evidence that demonstrates that.

  46. chikoppion 04 Nov 2017 at 7:05 pm

    [hardnose] There is no evidence that demonstrates that.

    Here are 3.5 million papers to get you started:

    https://scholar.google.com/scholar?as_sdt=1,14&q=evolution+by+natural+selection&hl=en&as_vis=1

    You may want to start with “Understanding Natural Selection: Essential Concepts and Common Misconceptions.”

    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12052-009-0128-1

    When you’re ready for the hard data:

    https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=1,14&as_vis=1&qsp=11&q=statistical+tests+natural+selection

  47. bachfiendon 04 Nov 2017 at 8:36 pm

    Chikoppi,

    ‘Ah, but there’s no SINGLE piece of evidence demonstrating that. Show me ONE single piece of evidence that PROVES that natural selection is the cause of the OBVIOUS increased complexity and intelligence on Earth.’

    (Note – i don’t actually accept what I’ve just written, I’m just predicting what hardnose would have written, if he bothers to reply, which isn’t a given).

  48. Drakeon 04 Nov 2017 at 9:18 pm

    Has HN ever defined ‘complexity’ as anything other than ‘OBVIOUS’ and ‘I know it when I see it?’

  49. MannyDon 04 Nov 2017 at 9:39 pm

    From the original Garnett article:
    “As expected, path coefficients indicate that FI-facts and Truth is political promote conspiracist ideation, while Need for evidence constrains it.”
    Figure 2 indicates that Republican Party Affiliation constrains it as strongly as Need for Evidence. Could someone parse/explain that (statistics not politics) for me as I don’t understand regression analysis very well. Thanks, Manny

  50. bachfiendon 04 Nov 2017 at 10:29 pm

    Drake,

    Probably not.

  51. BillyJoe7on 05 Nov 2017 at 2:09 am

    Rick,

    BJ7: “I avoid using words like “driving”, “directing” and “guiding” in relation to evolution.”
    Rick: “Fair enough – advice received and appreciated”

    Even David Attenborough made that mistake.

    In the following quote from one of chicoppi’s links:
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12052-009-0128-1

    Thirty years ago, widely respected broadcaster Sir David Attenborough aptly described the challenge of avoiding anthropomorphic shorthand in descriptions of adaptation:

    “Darwin demonstrated that the driving force of [adaptive] evolution comes from the accumulation, over countless generations, of chance genetical changes sifted by the rigors of natural selection. In describing the consequences of this process it is only too easy to use a form of words that suggests that the animals themselves were striving to bring about change in a purposeful way–that fish wanted to climb onto dry land, and to modify their fins into legs, that reptiles wished to fly, strove to change their scales into feathers and so ultimately became birds”

    Unlike many authors, Attenborough admirably endeavored to not use such misleading terminology. However, this quote inadvertently highlights an additional challenge in describing natural selection without loaded language. In it, natural selection is described as a “driving force” that rigorously “sifts” genetic variation, which could be misunderstood to imply that it takes an active role in prompting evolutionary change.

    And as did Charles Darwin (from the same link)

    “It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life”

    In fact, it is a very common error, used in at least three settings:
    – by those who misunderstand evolution
    – by those who understand evolution but commit this error inadvertently
    – by those who understand evolution but use it inexcusably as a form of shorthand
    The third setting is inexcusable because these authors WILL be misunderstood by their readers.

  52. bachfiendon 05 Nov 2017 at 2:31 am

    BillyJoe,

    I’d add to your at least three settings in which ‘driving force’ is inadvisably used by those who do understand evolution:

    – in response to persons (such as hardnose), who don’t understand evolution and who use the phrase ‘driving force’.

    Even Richard Dawkins has misused the term in ‘the Greatest Show on Earth’. Hardnose will probably become excited about this, pointing out that ‘see, an authority agrees with my use.’ I notice Richard Dawkins is going to be in Melbourne in February. If I remember, I might ask him how to communicate evolution to the doubters (I probably won’t).

    Irrelevant of course. There are no authorities whose pronouncements are dogma just because they said it.

  53. BillyJoe7on 05 Nov 2017 at 2:53 am

    daedalus,

    “The paper I linked to shows that your definition of “preferred theory” is untenable”

    Well, I would characterize that paper as an opinion of a one person rather than a demonstration that my definition is wrong 🙂

    “I think the case that you are talking about, where you want to rely on “experts” for things that you don’t understand is a case where one should instead default to “I don’t know”.”

    Each to his own.
    If “I don’t know” because I have no expertise in the area, I choose to “rely on experts” who do.
    I don’t see any point in remaining agnostic.

    On a related note, the author of that paper suggests that we should not choose between theories but simply enumerate them, apply probabilities to all of them, and leave it at that (I actually don’t understand his description of how that can be done via algorithms and random number generators). His reasoning is that we tend to cling to theories we choose even when the evidence turns. But, in my opinion, a better solution is to choose a theories with the most supporting evidence (and no disconfirming evidence) and the least number of assumptions AND to be aware that, having done so, we will tend to cling to those theories even when the evidence turns AND to learn to guard against that.

    My worldview includes “the big bang”, “multiverses”, “inflation”, “evolution”, “quantum field theory” and “the standard model”, “special relativity” and “general relativity” etc. I’m not going to give them up easily, but if the evidence turns…

  54. daedalus2uon 05 Nov 2017 at 8:46 am

    Definitions are never “wrong”, they either accurately reflect the meaning of the term as you are using it, or they do not.

    Your definition of “preferred theory”:

    “The preferred theory is the theory that uses the least assumptions and has the most supporting evidence.”

    can only be a statement about your own state of knowledge.

    “If “I don’t know” because I have no expertise in the area, I choose to “rely on experts” who do.
    I don’t see any point in remaining agnostic.”

    But you are remaining agnostic. You are substituting “relying on experts” for “making my own decision based on my own knowledge”, but relying on experts does not cause you to have the knowledge the expert has. The end decision may be the same, but the process of evaluating an expert’s opinion is very different than the process of gathering your own information and synthesizing a coherent world-view that allows you to make a scientific decision.

    You need to maintain the chain of reasoning that allowed you to choose to rely on this particular expert’s opinion, so that if you ever need to update your opinion of this particular expert (suppose he was found to have committed fraud in the topic you are relying on him for his expertise), you can.

    If you base your reasoning on data and not on expert opinion, you may need to reject data that was later found to be flawed, but usually there is lots of data and the data points are independent, so you don’t have “coupled failure” as you do when a “expert” is found to be not an expert or a fraud.

  55. chikoppion 05 Nov 2017 at 10:12 am

    [daedalus2u] You need to maintain the chain of reasoning that allowed you to choose to rely on this particular expert’s opinion, so that if you ever need to update your opinion of this particular expert (suppose he was found to have committed fraud in the topic you are relying on him for his expertise), you can.

    If you base your reasoning on data and not on expert opinion, you may need to reject data that was later found to be flawed, but usually there is lots of data and the data points are independent, so you don’t have “coupled failure” as you do when a “expert” is found to be not an expert or a fraud.

    Is it possible there is a bit of a false choice in this dichotomy?

    Data can be wrong or incomplete. Experts can be wrong or disingenuous. Add to that the data are typically generated by experts, so reliance on the data is partially dependent upon reliance on the experts. Assessing data, including the statistical and experimental integrity, often requires a level of expertise I do not possess. Experts can also disagree amongst themselves and I may have no way of accurately adjudicating the evidence.

    The question of Dark Matter is a good example. There is currently a plurality of expert hypotheses drawn from multiple lines of incomplete data sets. I don’t have the expertise in physics or astronomy to come to my own conclusion with any degree of confidence, even if I were to have complete access to the entire range of available data.

    I can recognize that the totality of evidence is inconclusive and apportion my belief accordingly. The lack of both compelling data points and consensus of expert opinion tells me that I should not have definitive confidence in any of the proposed hypothesis. However, where there is high correlation of expert opinion I can reasonably assume that the data presently favors certain conclusions.

    Certainly what is “reasonable to believe” is different from “what is true.” Part of assessing the totality of evidence is recognizing my own limitations in both scope of knowledge or analytical ability and apportioning belief on a provisional basis as determined from all available data, including the degree of expert consensus.

  56. daedalus2uon 05 Nov 2017 at 10:49 am

    chikoppi, I don’t disagree with any of what you have said. The point of the article I posted was that the goal of applying analysis to data, theories, and what experts and authorities claim is not to derive a theory that is more likely to be correct, but to choose a course of action that (given the constraints available) is more likely to achieve desirable outcomes.

    Whether there is such a thing as Dark matter, and what its properties are, has very limited influence on what actions any particular person should take or not take in their lives. I have taken very few actions, pretty much all of negligible significance, based on my understanding of Dark matter, or what any experts have said about it. For me, choices based on my understanding of Dark matter are pretty much limited to choosing to read or not read a particular paper. People doing research in trying to detect Dark matter may make more substantial choices; what type of fluid to fill their detectors with, and what kind of instruments to interrogate the active volume. The decisions those dark matter researchers are making, still don’t require any belief in dark matter, the point of the research is to gather data that reflects reality, not the belief state of the researcher.

    We can’t know “what is true”, what we do need to do is act, and must make the decision on what actions to take based on the limits of our knowledge and computational abilities.

    That we chose a certain course of action doesn’t change how much information we have (but humans often act as if it does, by believing in something more strongly simply because they have chosen to use a particular belief to act on). It is especially important for researchers to not allow their belief states to influence their data collection and understanding. That is why researchers blind themselves to the experimental protocol while taking measurements.

    My choices, taken in the absence of understanding and data, should not influence the truth value I assign to the data and understandings those choices are based on.

  57. chikoppion 05 Nov 2017 at 11:43 am

    [daedalus2u] We can’t know “what is true”, what we do need to do is act, and must make the decision on what actions to take based on the limits of our knowledge and computational abilities.

    Ah…now I understand what you were getting at.

    I’d add that apportionment of belief still has a roll to play, as the commitment to action can often be moderated based on confidence levels. Assessing degrees of confidence is fundamental to “hedging bets” or otherwise engaging in responsible risk management. It may make sense to respond to an unlikely but high-risk outcome, even though there is a significant lack of certainty, while simultaneously committing resources to the outcome that is more likely given available evidence.

    This is the quadrant assessment of high-to-low cost vs. high-to-low risk. Action is determined is based on the various degrees of confidence among possible outcomes and the particulars of the situation.

    My choices, taken in the absence of understanding and data, should not influence the truth value I assign to the data and understandings those choices are based on.

    Agreed!

  58. hardnoseon 05 Nov 2017 at 11:57 am

    “Darwin demonstrated that the driving force of [adaptive] evolution comes from the accumulation, over countless generations, of chance genetical changes sifted by the rigors of natural selection.”

    Everyone accepts that adaptation can result from genetic changes acted on by natural selection. We can easily prove that theory by considering artificial selection (breeding) which has gone on for thousands of years.

    But that does NOT give us any evidence that complex living machinery can be created by accidental genetic changes (errors) acted on by natural selection.

    No one has created complex artificial machinery with errors acted on by artificial selection. Anything that has been tried along these lines has been extremely unconvincing.

  59. chikoppion 05 Nov 2017 at 12:51 pm

    [hardnose] No one has created complex artificial machinery with errors acted on by artificial selection. Anything that has been tried along these lines has been extremely unconvincing.

    No one has ever created a star by amassing interstellar gasses, therefore we can’t possibly know the principles of stellar formation?! Also, “artificial machinery?”

    Evolution required something on the order of half-a-billion years to produce complex structures from enormous populations of basic organisms. Have we run that experiment in vitro? No. We never will. Fortunately there are many multiple paths to establishing evidence, all of which point to the same conclusion.

    What we have done is to demonstrate how novel variation arises in DNA at the molecular level, how those variations become fixed, and how they migrate through a population over time. We have also demonstrated adaptive change in both synthetic replicating organisms and in computer models (that condense the passage of time to a manageable span).

    http://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005066

    We’ve also inserted synthetic DNA into the genome of existing organisms. That research is just beginning, but if the synthetic DNA contributes to adaptive change then there’s nothing “magic” required to produce novel genomic information other than the ordinary behavior of molecules and proteins filtered through replication success.

    http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/a24879/organisms-synthetic-dna-new-life-forms/

    In summary, a person would have to be aggressively and willfully ignorant to assert there is “no evidence” when mountains of evidence are readily and freely available. The fact that we haven’t replicated a process that requires hundreds of millions of years is a stripe of special pleading worthy of only the Ken (“Were you there?”) Hamms of the world.

  60. Drakeon 05 Nov 2017 at 2:10 pm

    But that does NOT give us any evidence that complex living machinery can be created by accidental genetic changes (errors) acted on by natural selection.

    This assertion is nonsensical. For genetic changes to be acted on by natural selection, living machinery of considerable complexity must already exist–rocks don’t have genes.

    Can HN produce a coherent argument that the world 3.7 billion years ago was significantly less complex (as a system) than ours? That a colony of modern bacteria is significantly less complex than a human being?

    And emphasizing that genetic changes are ‘accidental’ and ‘errors’ is creationist question-begging.

  61. Drakeon 05 Nov 2017 at 3:15 pm

    No one has created complex artificial machinery with errors acted on by artificial selection.

    In fact, ‘no one’ (individual) has ever created complex artificial machinery by design, either. Not from the ground up.

    You can’t invent say, an internal combustion engine, when existing technology is based on sharp sticks and rocks.

    And the way material culture moves from stone, to bronze, to fossil fuels, (and perhaps to stone again) is very much about selection acting on more-or-less random events and chance discoveries. There’s no overarching intelligence or teleology there, either.

  62. bachfiendon 05 Nov 2017 at 3:28 pm

    Hardnose perfectly illustrates Orgel’s second rule; Evolution is cleverer than you are.

    People of his ilk are incapable of appreciating that non-intelligent processes occurring in effectively an infinite number of locations over a period of hundreds of millions of years (which is how long Life had to appear 3.8 billion years ago) can result in something that can evolve, radiate, into an enormous number of forms in the subsequent billions of years.

    He’s happy to accept the hundreds of dog breeds occurring over centuries, but he’s not willing to accept the 10 billion+ species after 3.8 billion years.

  63. BillyJoe7on 05 Nov 2017 at 3:30 pm

    Daedalus,

    “You need to maintain the chain of reasoning that allowed you to choose to rely on this particular expert’s opinion”

    You misunderstood.
    I’m not relying on a particular expert – that would be an example of a version of a well known fallacy, the appeal to authority fallacy.
    I’m relying on the consensus of the experts in the area of their expertise.

  64. BillyJoe7on 05 Nov 2017 at 3:51 pm

    chikoppi,

    “What we have done is to demonstrate how novel variation arises in DNA at the molecular level, how those variations become fixed, and how they migrate through a population over time

    That’s a bad description of how variations become fixed. 🙁
    Variations don’t migrate through a population
    See you own link. 😉

    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12052-009-0128-1

    Variations that arise in a particular population of organisms that improve reproductive fitness in the particular environment in which they occur gradually increase frequency until they become fixed in that population of organisms.

  65. chikoppion 05 Nov 2017 at 4:00 pm

    @BJ7

    Fair enough. I ought not caution against colloquialisms if I don’t go out of the way to avoid them myself.

  66. daedalus2uon 05 Nov 2017 at 4:50 pm

    Relying on the assertions of consensus by authorities is still an appeal to authority.

    Relying on the assertions of consensus by authorities is completely rational when one does not have expertise in that area and one needs to take an action.

    Relying on assertions of consensus of experts does not confer expertise.

  67. hardnoseon 05 Nov 2017 at 7:35 pm

    “And the way material culture moves from stone, to bronze, to fossil fuels, (and perhaps to stone again) is very much about selection acting on more-or-less random events and chance discoveries. There’s no overarching intelligence or teleology there, either.”

    So … cultural evolution requires no intelligence?? Computers were invented by chance, with no creative intelligence to guide the process??

    Yes, I see where you are coming from now. Insanity.

  68. hardnoseon 05 Nov 2017 at 7:37 pm

    “He’s happy to accept the hundreds of dog breeds occurring over centuries, but he’s not willing to accept the 10 billion+ species after 3.8 billion years.”

    All dog breeds are still dogs. No one has created a significantly more intelligent dog, or a dog with abilities beyond the normal abilities of the species.

  69. Drakeon 05 Nov 2017 at 8:03 pm

    So … cultural evolution requires no intelligence?? Computers were invented by chance, with no creative intelligence to guide the process??

    I try to write in such a way that most of the words contribute something essential to the meaning of the sentence. In the sentence you misrepresent, the words ‘overarching’ and ‘teleology’ are there for a reason.

  70. bachfiendon 05 Nov 2017 at 8:10 pm

    Hardnose,

    ‘So… cultural evolution requires no intelligence?? Computers were invented by chance, with no creative intelligence to guide the process??

    I know you have serious problems with reading comprehension, but this takes the cake. The original comment read ‘there’s no overarching intelligence or teleology there, either.’

    The critical word here is ‘overarching’. No one involved in the development of computers had any idea that it would eventually lead to iPads and iPhones doing all the functions of early computers – and much more besides. The early computer developers who weren’t able to predict that the year 2000 would eventually roll around were replaced by computer developers who found it not at all difficult to produce my digital camera which automatically adjusts its date and time setting as i move from one time zone to another.

    ‘All dog breeds are still dogs. No one has created a significantly more intelligent dog, or a dog with abilities beyond the normal abilities of the species.’

    Spoken like the creationist you are. The ‘species’ is the grey wolf. Domestic dogs have abilities far beyond that of the grey wolf, including living in harmony with humans. I certainly wouldn’t call any dog having increased intelligence – if anything my Australian cattle dog is an example of the reverse, whenever she sees sprinklers turned on, even a hundred metres away, she bolts away in the opposite direction.

  71. chikoppion 05 Nov 2017 at 8:37 pm

    [hardnose] All dog breeds are still dogs. No one has created a significantly more intelligent dog, or a dog with abilities beyond the normal abilities of the species.

    And no one will, at least not via evolutionary processes, which require millions of years.

    You really need to wrap your head around the idea that at no point does a species suddenly become a different species with a radically different phenotype.

    Within the Hominoidea (apes) superfamily, the Hominidae family diverged from the Hylobatidae (gibbon) family some 15–20 million years ago; African great apes (subfamily Homininae) diverged from orangutans (Ponginae) about 14 million years ago; the Hominini tribe (humans, Australopithecines and other extinct biped genera, and chimpanzee) parted from the Gorillini tribe (gorillas) between 9 million years ago and 8 million years ago; and, in turn, the subtribes Hominina (humans and biped ancestors) and Panina (chimps) separated about 7.5 million years ago to 5.6 million years ago.

    The common ancestor of dogs and cats, Myacoids, lived about 50 million years ago. It has taken 50 million years for the various (surviving) species of canids and felines to differentiate to the degree that they have.

    And yes, dogs are evolving and domestication by humans has produced significant morphological and behavioral change in a relatively short timeframe.

    http://genome.cshlp.org/content/15/12/1706.full

    I’ll note here with emphasis, “evolving” DOES NOT MEAN becoming more “intelligent.” Intelligence is not an evolutionary goal. It is only a possible outcome.

  72. bachfiendon 05 Nov 2017 at 9:32 pm

    ‘I’ll note here with emphasis, “evolving” DOES NOT MEAN becoming more “intelligent”. Intelligence is not an evolutionary goal. It is only a possible goal’’.

    It is for someone like hardnose who has the delusion that there’s an innate tendency to increased intelligence and complexity within biological systems (without him, as far as I know, ever defining ‘intelligence’ or ‘complexity’. By some arguments, domestic dogs are more intelligent than their grey wolf co-species members because they can tolerate the presence of unpleasant humans and appear to enjoy it), so if any theory can have either or both decreasing, then the theory must be false.

  73. chikoppion 05 Nov 2017 at 9:37 pm

    By the way, some really interesting new research just out on the origins of DNA:

    https://news.unchealthcare.org/news/2017/november/new-theory-addresses-how-life-on-earth-arose-from-the-primordial-muck

  74. BillyJoe7on 05 Nov 2017 at 10:11 pm

    daedalus,

    “Relying on the assertions of consensus by authorities is still an appeal to authority”

    Yep. It’s just not a fallacy. 😉

  75. Drakeon 05 Nov 2017 at 10:19 pm

    Nice link, chikoppi. Abiogenesis is a fascinating subject–I hope there is a consensus as to how it all got started within my lifetime.

    As an aside: I have a neurological condition that is plausibly the result of a protein that has become, in some sense, self-replicating.

    And I’ve never been allowed to donate blood in the US due to an irrational (in my view) fear I may have been exposed to another protein that acts as an infectious agent, while living in the UK during the 80s.

    It’s quite easy for me to conceive of the distinction between life and non-life as fuzzy (analogous to the distinction between some related species) requiring nothing like a universal guiding tendency toward complexity and intelligence to create a sharp break between one and the other.

  76. Drakeon 05 Nov 2017 at 11:23 pm

    …Interesting that the research referenced in the link above was partly funded by the John Templeton Foundation. And I mean ‘interesting’ sincerely.

  77. BillyJoe7on 06 Nov 2017 at 6:50 am

    Yes, I know what you mean. The Templeton Foundation usually funds research with a pro-religious angle. It’s hard to see how research in abiogenesis could have a pro-religious angle. Unless they hope to show that the evidence is against abiogenesis. Unfortunately the TF has the ability to skew research and to make certain ideas appear to have more legitimacy than they actually have.

  78. Drakeon 06 Nov 2017 at 12:29 pm

    Looking at both papers that report the research, it appears the research was supported by a National Institute of General Medical Sciences grant, and ‘publication’ was supported by Templeton. The authors are careful to note: ‘The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.’

    The Biosystems paper seems to make a mathematical argument that the RNA world scenario is too improbable to be correct (I’m relying on the paper’s Concluding Remarks; the actual math is beyond my ability to follow). Perhaps that is what intrigued the TF. However, since the authors are arguing for an alternative and still absolutely natural path to life, it’s hard to see how this supports goddidit.

  79. hardnoseon 06 Nov 2017 at 12:39 pm

    You KNOW that evolution was caused by chance and natural selection, and your evidence is that ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN, GIVEN ENOUGH TIME.

    Using the same method, I can prove that pigs will grow wings, eventually.

  80. Drakeon 06 Nov 2017 at 1:27 pm

    HN, evolution explicitly *isn’t* ‘anything can happen, given enough time.’ Neither, for that matter, is anything else.

    It seems possible a modern pig might be the ancestor of some future flying mammal, although I suspect there are much more probable pathways for future non-bat mammalian flight, if such a thing comes about. But that hypothetical animal won’t be a pig, anymore than a bat is a flying whatever-its-flightless-ancestor was.

    Nor will the wings of this flying pig-descendent grow from its shoulder blades (as you are likely imagining), with front legs still intact and functioning. The genes simply don’t exist (and won’t exist) to make that happen. I’m not an evolutionary biologist, and don’t know if a pig still possesses genes that, with appropriate variations, could result in wings similar to those of flying animals with internal skeletons–if not, that I suppose there won’t be *any* flying pig descendants possible, regardless of wing anatomy.

    Here’s an analogy: the set of all real, positive integers is infinite. But even though the set is infinite, there are an infinite numbers of numbers that are not part of that set, and never can be.

  81. daedalus2uon 06 Nov 2017 at 1:47 pm

    The number of possible ways a few hundred kg of living tissue can be organized is finite. It is a large number, but it is very much a finite number.

    Suppose there are 10^28 atoms in that amount of matter. (10^28)! (10^28 factorial) encompasses all of the different ways that ~10^28 atoms can be put together.

    Pigs with wings are in there somewhere, as long as they are smallish wings. 😉

  82. hardnoseon 06 Nov 2017 at 3:06 pm

    And I never said anything about overarching teleological intelligence! You are arguing with someone else, not me.

    I have said the universe seems to be some kind of multidimensional computer. But you think computers must be made out of either neurons or silicon, and must be confined to our 4-dimensional world.

  83. chikoppion 06 Nov 2017 at 3:07 pm

    [hardnose] You KNOW that evolution was caused by chance and natural selection, and your evidence is that ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN, GIVEN ENOUGH TIME.

    Try actually reading the content behind the links provided. The evidence is specifically what has happened and what is happening, as established by exhaustive methodological research.

  84. Drakeon 06 Nov 2017 at 3:29 pm

    @daedalus,
    I’m not saying that flying pigs (of whatever body plan) aren’t a *possible* outcome of evolution somewhere, only that they are not a *necessary* outcome, not matter how much time is available (which is what would have to be true for HN to ‘prove’ pigs will grow wings).

    Let’s assume the universe contains an infinite number of planets. Out of that infinity of worlds, does one of them have to be populated with flying pigs? Of course not. There could be one planet (Earth) with perfectly normal pigs, while the infinite number of other planets are all dead balls of rock, ice, or gas.

    There’s no requirement that just because a thing can exist, it will (which is what HN seems to be arguing).

  85. bachfiendon 06 Nov 2017 at 3:41 pm

    Hardnose,

    ‘You KNOW that evolution was caused by chance and natural selection, and your evidence is that ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN, GIVEN ENOUGH TIME. Using the same method, I can prove that pigs will grow wings, eventually.’

    You persist in proving that you don’t understand evolution. Shouting, by using capital letters, doesn’t conceal your ignorance.

    I’ll correct your statement:

    Evolution is caused by change in the environment of reproductively isolated populations (including changes in climate, predators, competitors and prey – evolution is still occurring, including in humans) due to the differential reproductive success of natural variants within the population (which may be random as a result chance mating or mutations, or non-random as a result of sexual selection).

    The differential reproductive success of natural variants within the population is largely due to the mechanism of natural selection eliminating ‘non-fit’ variants (which just means the ones which either don’t survive long enough to reproductive age or which don’t channel the resources into reproduction), but sexual selection and chance also affect reproductive success.

    Not everything can happen in evolution. What could happen is constrained by what genetic material is present within the original population. A new flying non-bat mammal could evolve, but it won’t be from a pig. If anything, it’s much more likely to arise in flying squirrels (which glide rather than fly), if natural variants arise in the population allowing them to actively flap their gliding membranes (perhaps by some skeletal muscle mutation) and the novel variant ‘pays’, with benefits (such as the increased ability to escape predators or to get to food sources better than competitors) exceeding costs (such as the increased energy requirements of active flight).’

    Accurate descriptions of very successful scientific theories, such as evolution, tend to be verbose. Your caricature of a description is simple. But also simplistic, and wrong, wrong, wrong.

  86. Drakeon 06 Nov 2017 at 3:43 pm

    …I realize I’m using the word ‘possible’ casually and in at least two different ways, and that probably means I’m not being as clear as I could be. The point is, no one is (or ever has) argued that ‘evolution … by chance and natural selection’ means anything can happen, give enough time. That’s just not true, and wouldn’t be true even if we assumed infinite time and space. It’s a straw man.

    And I never said anything about overarching teleological intelligence! You are arguing with someone else, not me.

    I assumed your ‘universe as some kind of multidimensional computer’ would be at least as intelligent as the human postulating its existence. Perhaps not. Regardless, a universal mechanism that drives evolution (everywhere?) toward intelligence and complexity is, by definition, overarching and teleological.

  87. bachfiendon 06 Nov 2017 at 4:27 pm

    Hardnose,

    ‘I have said the universe seems to be some kind of multidimensional computer,’

    And your evidence?

  88. hardnoseon 06 Nov 2017 at 5:46 pm

    “And your evidence?”

    My evidence is about as good as yours. And at least my theory makes sense.

  89. hardnoseon 06 Nov 2017 at 5:47 pm

    “evolution is still occurring, including in humans”

    Oh really!!?? That might explain why you less evolved humans do not understand my logic.

  90. bachfiendon 06 Nov 2017 at 5:59 pm

    Hardnose,

    ‘My evidence is about as good as yours. And at least my theory makes sense.’ ‘Oh really!!?? That might explain why you less evolved humans do not understand my logic.?

    A person proposing that something exists needs to give some, any, evidence that it exists. You’ve changed the definition of theory to mean anything made up just because it feels good.

    Humans are still evolving. For example, the frequency of genes giving resistance to HIV infection will increase as time goes on.

    You’re absolutely laughable in your stupidity.

  91. BillyJoe7on 06 Nov 2017 at 8:02 pm

    HARDNOSE,

    Again, I’m not really talking to hardnose who is beyond redemption…

    “You KNOW…”

    No.
    We don’t KNOW.
    The preponderance of evidence suggests that…
    And, in the case of evolution, the evidence for The Modern Theory is almost incontrovertible.

    “…that evolution was caused…”

    No.
    What follows is not the cause of evolution.
    Evolution is caused (as bachfiend has pointed out so many times) by changes in the environment which includes changes in geology, climate, predator, and prey.

    “…by chance and natural selection…”

    No.
    These are (again as bachfiend has pointed out so many times) the mechanisms of evolution.
    Random errors in genetic reproduction, and genetic recombination, produce variations in physical, physiological, or behavioral attributes which, if they provide a reproductive advantage lead to a gradual increase in the frequencies of these attributes in the population in which they occur.
    (I avoided using the term “natural selection” because…hey…it’s an anthropomorphism!)

    “…and your evidence is that…”

    No.
    What follows is not evidence.
    It is a conclusion.

    “…ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN…”

    No.
    There are many constraints on what can happen.
    The constraints of physics, chemistry, physiology, biology, and neurology.
    The constraints built up in the genome by evolution.

    “…GIVEN ENOUGH TIME”

    Yes and no.
    Yes…
    If “enough time” means “an infinite amount of time”, then everything will happen.
    In our universe, everything that can happen (within the constraints listed above) will happen.
    But, in a multiverse, in which there are an infinite number of universes generated in an infinite amount of time, and where there are, as a result, essentially no constraints, everything will happen; and they will happen an infinite number of times.
    No…
    But “infinity” is a mathematical concept and doesn’t exist in our universe – or even the multiverse – as far as we know. In the real world, anything cannot happen in the time available until the universe enters its “heat death”.

    THAT’S 5 ERRORS AND 1 YES/NO IN ONE SHORT SENTENCE!
    HOW MUCH WRONGER CAN YOU GET!!!

  92. BillyJoe7on 06 Nov 2017 at 8:07 pm

    hardnose:

    “That might explain why you less evolved humans do not understand my logic”

    😀

    There is no such thing as “my logic”.
    There is just logic.
    And the evidence from your blatherings on this blog over the past ten years suggests almost incontrovertibly that you don’t understand what logic even means.

  93. BillyJoe7on 06 Nov 2017 at 8:11 pm

    hardnose,

    “I have said the universe seems to be some kind of multidimensional computer”

    Non evidence based implausible wild philosophical speculation cannot compete in any way shape or form with the hard won victories of actual science.

  94. BillyJoe7on 06 Nov 2017 at 9:58 pm

    A clarification regarding the “Appeal to Authority”.

    ————————-

    An “Appeal to Authority” can be both VALID and FALLACIOUS.
    The following is a quote from “Rational Wikipedia” which I think is both accurate and easy to understand:

    https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority#Forms

    QUOTE/

    A VALID appeal to authority is based on the following syllogism:

    Premise 1: Experts on a subject are usually correct.
    Premise 2: Experts on the subject have a consensus that P is correct.
    Conclusion: P is probably correct.

    This valid form of Appeal to Authority takes into account the area of expertise, the consensus of experts in that area of expertise, and the possibility that the consensus of experts could be wrong.
    (Experts can be wrong but are often in a position to update their views with ongoing research).

    A FALLACIOUS appeal to authority is based on the following syllogism:

    Premise 1 – People with qualifications are usually correct.
    Premise 2 – Those people say P is correct.
    Conclusion – Therefore P is correct.

    This fallacious form of Appeal to Authority fails to take into account whether these “people with qualifications” are speaking in their area of expertise, whether they are speaking on behalf of the consensus of experts in that area of expertise, and the possibility that they could be wrong.

    ————————————

    The following VALID appeal to authority focuses on why experts might assert something:

    Premise 1 – P is correct.
    Premise 2 – Experts will study P.
    Conclusion – Experts will say P is correct.

    The following hyper-FALLACIOUS appeal to authority is quite possibly the single most common form:

    Premise 1 – Experts say P is correct.
    Conclusion – P is correct.

    /ENDQUOTE

    (I have heavily modified the above quote without, I believe, altering the meaning)

  95. Drakeon 06 Nov 2017 at 11:35 pm

    @BJ7

    Yes and no.
    Yes…
    If “enough time” means “an infinite amount of time”, then everything will happen.
    In our universe, everything that can happen (within the constraints listed above) will happen.
    But, in a multiverse, in which there are an infinite number of universes generated in an infinite amount of time, and where there are, as a result, essentially no constraints, everything will happen; and they will happen an infinite number of times.
    No…
    But “infinity” is a mathematical concept and doesn’t exist in our universe – or even the multiverse – as far as we know. In the real world, anything cannot happen in the time available until the universe enters its “heat death”.

    I’m not sure this is right. Full disclosure: I’m *very* far from an expert in the mathematics of infinity (or the mathematics of anything); I’m basing this on having read Rudy Rucker’s Infinity and the Mind (but my last reading was some time ago, and I don’t have the book in front of me at the moment). And none of this has any bearing HN’s basic wrongness.

    There is an infinite number of sets that are infinite, yet don’t contain any particular number, or any particular infinite set of numbers, you care to name. For example, the number 15 is not a member of the set of all even integers, or the set of all primes, or the set of all irrational numbers, or the set of all numbers divisible by 7, or the set of all numbers that begin with the letter ‘o’ in the English language, etc. The set of all even integers is not a member of the set of all odd integers, the set of all integers is not a member of the set of all irrationals, the set of all real numbers is not a member of the set of all things that squeak when a dog bites them (ok, that last is prob. finite). Moreover, you could ‘remove’ or ‘subtract’ one infinite set from another, and all the sets would still be infinite (as in, removing the set of the odds from the set of all integers leaves the set of the evens).

    In the same way, there *could* be an infinite set of universes generated in infinite time, and not one of them *would* have physics allowing the fusion of hydrogen. The only way that a multiverse (an infinite set of universes) is necessarily completely unconstrained is to specify that every possible universe is a member. Which makes the proposition that everything will happen in such a set of universes tautological.

    The concept ‘infinity’ alone (as I understand it) doesn’t require every thing be a member of any given infinite set, or even an infinite collection of infinite sets.

    Again, I may have the wrong end of the stick here (and I’m open to being corrected). But if I’m right, the bearing on the original post is that even our intuition about abstract concepts like infinity can be wrong, and that it takes detailed mathematical argument (thank you, Cantor) to demonstrate intuition’s error.

  96. BillyJoe7on 07 Nov 2017 at 12:41 am

    Drake,

    If time was infinite, and if the multiverse produces universes with random combinations of physical laws and constants, the set of universes being produced would tend towards infinity and would eventually include every possibility an infinite number of times. That’s my understanding, but I could be wrong.

    “And none of this has any bearing HN’s basic wrongness”

    When you have 5 errors in one short sentence, there’s not much chance you can be anything but wrong. He is wrong on the basics. He is wrong on how the basics play out in practice. He is wrong about the conclusions. You can’t get any wronger than that.

    He is foil against which the truth plays out.

  97. Drakeon 07 Nov 2017 at 12:16 pm

    He is wrong on the basics. He is wrong on how the basics play out in practice. He is wrong about the conclusions. You can’t get any wronger than that.

    No argument there.

  98. hardnoseon 07 Nov 2017 at 12:30 pm

    “These are (again as bachfiend has pointed out so many times) the mechanisms of evolution.
    Random errors in genetic reproduction, and genetic recombination, produce variations in physical, physiological, or behavioral attributes which, if they provide a reproductive advantage lead to a gradual increase in the frequencies of these attributes in the population in which they occur.”

    It doesn’t matter how many times bachfiend points it out, it’s still an evidence-free myth.

    You are saying, for example, that our species evolved into its current form because of environmental changes that caused our abilities — such as language and the use of tools — to provide a competitive advantage.

    Here is one obvious problem with that idea: The homo sapiens that appeared 200,000 years ago were capable of the advanced mathematics that is used today. But there were no environmental pressures causing advanced mathematics to be adaptive. Primitive counting systems were all they needed at that time.

    It is not hard to think of many other problems with the idea that intelligence evolved because of environmental pressures and competitive advantages.

    Yes there is competition throughout nature, and yes some species succeed while others die out. But that does not explain the evolution of increasing intelligence.

    Our technology only became advanced relatively recently. Yes, now we are destroying other species because of our success, but for many thousands of years that was not the case. And, of course, destroying other species is not adaptive anyway.

    And we have so many abilities that do nothing to promote our survival. Philosophy, the arts, spiritual practices, etc., etc. I know you can twist the facts to make it seem like all those things were by-products of the struggle for survival. But it’s just silly.

  99. BillyJoe7on 07 Nov 2017 at 12:47 pm

    As I said, he is ignorant of the basics of evolutionary theory and, as someone else said recently, he insists on demonstrating his ignorance in every comment he makes.

  100. Drakeon 07 Nov 2017 at 1:40 pm

    I’m a shit baseball player, but I believe HN just hit a pop fly even I can catch.

    Mathematics is a specialized set of tools predicated on a general human ability to comprehend and manipulate abstract symbolic representation. Without that ability, we wouldn’t be able to use language; without language, we wouldn’t be human. Mathematics may be arguably more complex than natural languages (and more specific), but only in the way a 747 is more complex than a Wright Flyer.

    The notion that hominids evolved communication of increasing sophistication, and that there was survival value for each stage of linguistic sophistication isn’t hard to grasp. Anyone who has ever traveled with a phrase book realizes being able to communicate even the simplest, concrete ideas is better than nothing at all.

    Really, there’s nothing surprising here at all, let alone problematic. Humans didn’t evolve the specific ability to fly airplanes, yet no one is surprised that we can. Nor is anyone surprised that chimps can’t.

  101. chikoppion 07 Nov 2017 at 1:53 pm

    [hardnose] It doesn’t matter how many times bachfiend points it out, it’s still an evidence-free myth.

    You’ve been provided the evidence an ample number of times, in great detail, including above.

    The fact that you don’t understand something does not mean it doesn’t exist.

    You are saying, for example, that our species evolved into its current form because of environmental changes that caused our abilities — such as language and the use of tools — to provide a competitive advantage.

    Nope. Think about that for just a moment.

    Humans co-exist with many organisms in the same environment. Those organisms don’t share our evolutionary path, but represent an incredible diversity of morphological traits. The “environment” didn’t “cause” the emergence of human cognitive capabilities, but it did set the parameters for what is possible and/or probable given the existing phenotype of the species.

    You can’t examine the many mechanisms of evolution in isolation and expect to understand how particular outcomes arise over time. Stop looking for “a” cause and look at the interplay of all the mechanisms interacting simultaneously.

    Here is one obvious problem with that idea: The homo sapiens that appeared 200,000 years ago were capable of the advanced mathematics that is used today. But there were no environmental pressures causing advanced mathematics to be adaptive. Primitive counting systems were all they needed at that time.

    “Mathematics” is not a biological trait, is it? It is a tool made possible by the availablitity of certain cognitive functions. So long as those functions are 1) not sufficiently costly/deleterious to the species, 2) possible given the existent morphology, then they are a possible outcome of evolutionary processes.

    Our cognitive functions provide many survival advantages that have nothing to do with mathematics. So much so that those advantages outweigh some costs, such as the difficulty expanded cranial sizes caused in giving birth.

    It is not hard to think of many other problems with the idea that intelligence evolved because of environmental pressures and competitive advantages.

    Only if you understand neither intelligence as an expression of cognitive function or the interplay of evolutionary mechanisms acting upon a species.

    Yes there is competition throughout nature, and yes some species succeed while others die out. But that does not explain the evolution of increasing intelligence.

    Not if you completely ignore all the other mechanisms of the evolutionary process it doesn’t.

    And we have so many abilities that do nothing to promote our survival. Philosophy, the arts, spiritual practices, etc., etc. I know you can twist the facts to make it seem like all those things were by-products of the struggle for survival. But it’s just silly.

    None of those things are biological. There is no “philosophy” protein coded for in the genome.

  102. hardnoseon 07 Nov 2017 at 2:39 pm

    “The notion that hominids evolved communication of increasing sophistication, and that there was survival value for each stage of linguistic sophistication isn’t hard to grasp.”

    There is no evidence of any intermediate levels of human-like language.

  103. hardnoseon 07 Nov 2017 at 2:40 pm

    “he is ignorant of the basics of evolutionary theory”

    No I am very much aware of what the currently accepted theory says. I just don’t mindlessly go along with it.

  104. hardnoseon 07 Nov 2017 at 2:41 pm

    “Not if you completely ignore all the other mechanisms of the evolutionary process it doesn’t.”

    ALL the other mechanisms?? You mean genetic drift and … genetic drift and .. was there something else?

  105. hardnoseon 07 Nov 2017 at 2:43 pm

    “Mathematics” is not a biological trait, is it? It is a tool made possible by the availablitity of certain cognitive functions.”

    The first homo sapiens had capabilities very far beyond anything they needed to compete in their environment.

    Intelligence evolves naturally, there is no need for convoluted speculative ideas about why or how it evolves.

  106. hardnoseon 07 Nov 2017 at 2:48 pm

    “Humans didn’t evolve the specific ability to fly airplanes, yet no one is surprised that we can. Nor is anyone surprised that chimps can’t.”

    Not the specific ability, but the potential, which is WAY beyond anything needed for living in the wilderness like the other primates.

    Primitive humans are just as intelligent as we are, even though most can barely count. And their excess intelligence and creativity is used in all kinds of ways completely unrelated to survival and reproduction.

    The theory of evolution by chance and natural selection is reductionist and unscientific. Anyone who actually thinks about it would realize what an empty theory it is.

  107. BillyJoe7on 07 Nov 2017 at 3:46 pm

    ^hardnoses five easy pieces. 😀

  108. bachfiendon 07 Nov 2017 at 4:28 pm

    Hardnose,

    ‘Primitive humans are just as intelligent as we are, even though most can barely count. And their excess intelligence and creativity is used in all kinds of ways completely unrelated to survival and reproduction.’

    Intelligence is very useful in survival. And having high intelligence is very useful in reproduction – it’s something prospective mates look for in sexual selection, one of the mechanisms of evolution besides natural selection. High intelligence is a sign of quality in prospective sexual partners similar to the peacock’s tail.

    I’m currently reading Burke and Wills’ by Peter Fitzsimons, which is an account of the attempt to cross Australia from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpenteria and back in 1860-61, which is one of the incompetent tragedies Australians love to celebrate as a victory (think Gallipoli in WWI).

    The advance party of Burke, Wills and King arrived back at Cooper’s Creek in the middle of nowhere (one member, Gray, having previously died of scurvy) after almost, but not quite, reaching the Gulf of Carpenteria to find that the men they’d left at the depot there had left just a few hours earlier (Burke had told them to stay 3 months, Wills 4 months, they stayed 4 months and a few days, and had to leave because they were suffering the effects of scurvy and lack of food too).

    Burke then proceeded to make very bad decisions, and he and Wills basically starved in the midst of plenty. John King survived, because he was taken in by the local Aboriginal tribe. Australian Aborigines had lived and thrived in the harshest of conditions for tens of thousands of years.

    The European explorers used their intelligence to do things such as knowing how to calibrate their chronometers by observing the eclipse of the Jovian moon Io in order to calculate longitude. The Australian Aborigines used their intelligence to know where and when to go in order to find the seasonal food necessary for survival. The European explorers used their intelligence to take a drink of citric acid and sugar to prevent scurvy (it has of course no effect). The Australian Aborigines used their intelligence to know which plants contained vitamin C so as to avoid scurvy. The Australian explorers used their intelligence to bring along fish hooks and lines, which they proceeded not to use after one unsuccessful attempt, thinking that there’s no fish in Cooper’s Creek, whereas the Australian Aborigines used their intelligence to make fishing nets yielding an easy abundance of fish.

    Intelligence has uses ‘completely unrelated to survival and reproduction’ in ‘primitive humans’? Intelligence has everything to do with survival and reproduction in ‘primitive’ hunter-gatherer humans. Survival in harsh conditions relies on cooperation in one’s social group. Intelligence, in devising and passing on a set of shared cultural values, is very important in maintaining social cohesion in the group. Members of a group expelled for an infraction of the social rules, if it’s bad enough, tend to die, unless they’re taken in by another tribe.

    ‘The theory of evolution by chance and natural selection is reductionist and unscientific. Anyone who actually thinks about it would realise what an empty theory it is.’ You continue to demonstrate that you don’t understand evolution and refuse to think outside your incorrect preconceptions. The only chance involved is the original natural variants within a reproductively isolated population (which may be limited as in the ‘founder effect’ of small groups allowing neutral drift). After that, everything is anything but ‘chance’. What ‘pays’ prospers. What doesn’t, dies. Differential reproductive success by natural selection.

  109. chikoppion 07 Nov 2017 at 4:42 pm

    [hardnose] ALL the other mechanisms?? You mean genetic drift and … genetic drift and .. was there something else?

    Is that the limit of your understanding of evolutionary theory? Natural selection and genetic drift?

    The first homo sapiens had capabilities very far beyond anything they needed to compete in their environment.

    “Very far beyond?” I don’t know what that means. Many species of birds are better flyers than they “need” to be, many species of snakes more venomous than they “need” to be, etc. Why do you think that is?

    Intelligence evolves naturally, there is no need for convoluted speculative ideas about why or how it evolves.

    Except when it doesn’t, which is the case for the majority of species on Earth, including those that have remained unchanged for hundreds of millions of years. Why do you think that is?

    Also, claiming something is “natural” is a meaningless statement. Understanding the particulars of how “nature” works is the purpose of science.

    Not the specific ability, but the potential, which is WAY beyond anything needed for living in the wilderness like the other primates.

    Where did you get in your head that “just enough” is an evolutionary principle? It isn’t. There is what is possible, what is probabable, and what is not possible. There are costs and benefits and positive and negative pressures all acting on the unguided expansion of evolutionary outcomes among isolated reproductive populations.

    Primitive humans are just as intelligent as we are, even though most can barely count. And their excess intelligence and creativity is used in all kinds of ways completely unrelated to survival and reproduction.

    Like what?

    Let’s take music. What is it about innate functions human brain related to survival that might lead humans to enjoy music?

    Or science/philosophy. What is it about the pattern seeking abilities of the human brain that might lead to pursuit of the understanding of cause and effect or the relationship between language and concepts?

    These things are expressions of our evolved cognitive abilities, not the cause of them. Those abilities themselves definitely conferred survival advantages and would have been selected for.

    The theory of evolution by chance and natural selection is reductionist and unscientific. Anyone who actually thinks about it would realize what an empty theory it is.

    Maybe if you’d stop calling it “evolution by natural selection” and actually try to learn the full scope of the modern theory you’d realize that those people who “actually think about it” don’t have as simplistic and limited an understanding as do you.

  110. hardnoseon 07 Nov 2017 at 5:23 pm

    “Intelligence has uses ‘completely unrelated to survival and reproduction’ in ‘primitive humans’?”

    You read it wrong. Intelligence is used for survival and reproduction, but also for many other cultural things that go way beyond survival needs. You can’t explain those things away as somehow resulting from natural selection.

  111. hardnoseon 07 Nov 2017 at 5:24 pm

    “Let’s take music. What is it about innate functions human brain related to survival that might lead humans to enjoy music?”

    If you really try, you can make up all kinds of stories about how natural selection accounts for everything. But that is not being scientific, at all.

  112. hardnoseon 07 Nov 2017 at 5:26 pm

    “Intelligence evolves naturally, there is no need for convoluted speculative ideas about why or how it evolves.”

    “Except when it doesn’t, which is the case for the majority of species on Earth, including those that have remained unchanged for hundreds of millions of years. Why do you think that is?”

    I keep saying this, but somehow it won’t sink in. The system OVERALL evolves towards greater intelligence. This is obvious, to anyone except devoted materialists.

  113. hardnoseon 07 Nov 2017 at 5:28 pm

    bachfiend, I know very well what your theory says. I also know that it’s bogus and you have to engage in convoluted thinking to convince yourself that it has anything to do with science.

  114. hardnoseon 07 Nov 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Another example:

    The great apes, whales, and dolphins — all have much more intelligence than they need for survival. Why does a dolphin need so much more brainpower than a shark?

    All those highly intelligent animals engage in complex social behavior, and it’s a real crazy stretch to say that complex social behavior is all related to survival.

    The evolution of intelligence just happens, in the system overall. No one knows how or why. You just make up your silly stories, and they are silly no matter what famous biologists promote them.

  115. bachfiendon 07 Nov 2017 at 5:33 pm

    chikoppi,

    Agreed. How can hardnose assert that ‘the first Homo sapiens had capabilities very far beyond anything they needed to compete in their environment?’ As if survival in hunter-gatherer societies is easy, compared to specialised commodity trading societies such as ours.

    Hunter-gatherers used all their intelligence, in the same way that we use all our intelligence (sometimes I have doubts about hardnose – to be charitable he uses his intelligence to come up with bogus arguments and ideas), but in different ways. A genius, such as Mozart or Einstein, plunked down in a hunter-gatherer society would likely die very quickly.

    The assertion that humans have excess intelligence to me seems like a corollary to the myth that humans use only 10% of their brains.

  116. bachfiendon 07 Nov 2017 at 5:55 pm

    Hardnose,

    ‘Why does a dolphin need so much more brainpower than a shark?’

    Dolphins are mammals. They rely on ‘quality’ rather than ‘quantity’ in their reproductive success. Sharks have many offspring, which are then abandoned, most of which then die leaving a very small minority to survive to reproductive age. Dolphins have few offspring, which are nurtured for years.

    Sharks are solitary. There’s little need for high intelligence – if they’re large, and smell prey, they eat. Dolphins are social animals, living in groups with learned hunting and protection strategies, as shown by their ability to cooperate to coral schools of sardines into dense balls of fish which are then ‘plucked’.

    As I noted with the story of Burke and Wills, intelligence is very useful in survival. The Europeans used their intelligence to find food, reproduce and develop a common culture allowing them to cooperate. The Australian Aborigines used their intelligence in a different way to find food, reproduce and develop a common culture allowing them to cooperate.

    In the environment of the Australian Aborigines, the Europeans use of their intelligence caused them to die. The Australian Aborigines use of their intelligence allowed them to thrive in a harsh environment for tens of thousands of years.

  117. chikoppion 07 Nov 2017 at 7:19 pm

    [hardnose] If you really try, you can make up all kinds of stories about how natural selection accounts for everything. But that is not being scientific, at all.

    What I can do is hook you up to an MRI and demonstrate that the specific and nearly identical areas of the brain are engaged when listening to music as when listening to speech. I can demonstrate that certain patterns of sounds and pitches produce autonomic responses, including pleasure rewards. I can show you how these correlations between speech and music are sustained across differences in cultural linguistic patterns.

    In other words, music appreciation is a by-product of the cognitive functions necessary for language use, which conferred a very definite evolutionary advantage. I’d recommend Daniel Levitin’s book, “This Is Your Brain On Music.” Or you can remain ignorant and pretend that because YOU don’t know something that no one else must know it either.

    You read it wrong. Intelligence is used for survival and reproduction, but also for many other cultural things that go way beyond survival needs. You can’t explain those things away as somehow resulting from natural selection.

    Ugh.

    The way our brains function, which is what enables the capabilities that relate DIRECTLY to our species’ survival strategies (pattern recognition, theory of mind, social intelligence, language, mirror neurons, etc.) are ALSO the hard-wired functions that define our behavior.

    Why do humans crave certain foods and favors and engage in behaviors to optimize the enjoyment of meals?

    If you don’t understand how cuisine, or music, or art, or poetry is directly related to the evolution of our particular cognitive profile, the profile shaped by evolution, then you really need to consider not why we engage in those behaviors, but how. What are the cognitive functions necessary for that behavior and how would those functions relate to evolutionary success?

    [hardnose] I keep saying this, but somehow it won’t sink in. The system OVERALL evolves towards greater intelligence. This is obvious, to anyone except devoted materialists.

    Cripes but you are dense.

    You know what else the “system” has an “innate tendency” toward? Diversity.

    If the “system” begins at zero intelligence, and intelligence is a possible outcome, then what is the only direction in which intelligence could possibly radiate over time? This is a trivial observation.

    You know what another aspect of evolutionary diversity is? Size. Evolution, which began with only simple microscopic organisms, expanded to fill that possible space to the extent that the cost of size began to outweigh the benefits. This is a trivial observation.

    Pick any phenological attribute, the evolutionary forces are the same.

    “Greater intelligence” is not a goal of evolution any more than greater size is a goal of evolution. Evolution has no goals. It simply expands in an unguided manner to fill whatever ecological spaces are available.

  118. chikoppion 07 Nov 2017 at 7:25 pm

    Heh. “…foods and flavors.”

    Though I suppose humans crave certain “favors” as well.

  119. Drakeon 07 Nov 2017 at 8:43 pm

    “Greater intelligence” is not a goal of evolution any more than greater size is a goal of evolution. Evolution has no goals. It simply expands in an unguided manner to fill whatever ecological spaces are available.

    Moreover, as bachfiend pointed out upthread, *most* ecological spaces on this planet are filled with bacteria and other single-celled organisms. And always have been.

    Outside of Earth, there is no hard evidence of any biology whatever.

    It doesn’t matter much if by ‘system’ HN means the Earth, our solar system, our galaxy, or the observable Universe. For the past billions of years, to some fantastically huge number of places right of the decimal point, there hasn’t been any significant change to the overall complexity of any of these systems. Intelligence, in particular, has been a nanoscale drop in a gigascale bucket.

    If ‘the system OVERALL’ is trying to move to ‘greater intelligence’ and complexity, it’s doing a shit job of it.

    Perhaps the multidimensional computer needs an upgrade?

  120. bachfiendon 07 Nov 2017 at 9:45 pm

    ‘bachfiend, I know very well what your theory says. I also know that it’s bogus and you have to engage in convoluted thinking to convince yourself it has anything to do with science.?

    Ah, hardnose… just when you need a perfect example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, he comes up trumps again, repeatedly.

    If hardnose didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him.

  121. RickKon 07 Nov 2017 at 10:42 pm

    Hardnose said: “I keep saying this, but somehow it won’t sink in. The system OVERALL evolves towards greater intelligence. This is obvious, to anyone except devoted materialists.”

    It’s also obvious because evolution radiates outward, and the only direction to go from zero intelligence is “more”. The only way to radiate outward from a single point is away from that point. The only direction to go from less complexity is more complexity.

    Hardnose, you are no better than a stone age tribesman who, upon being hit in the head by a falling coconut, assumes the spirit in the tree is to blame.

    Grow up.

  122. bachfiendon 07 Nov 2017 at 11:30 pm

    We ‘materialists’ have no trouble recognising that increased intelligence has survival value in increasing differential reproductive success, if the benefits outweigh the costs.

    ‘Non-materialists’ such as hardnose seem to think that increased intelligence has no value at all.

    ‘Hardnose, you are no better than a Stone Age tribesman who, upon being hit in the head by a falling coconut, assumes the spirit in the tree is to blame.’ This reminds me of Jared Diamond’s ‘the World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies’ page 243, when he attempted to camp beneath a very large and very dead tree in the jungle in Papua-New Guinea and was told by his tribesman companions not to do so, because the risk of the tree falling over and killing him during the night was too high, which was true enough.

    Stone Age tribesman aren’t necessarily ‘silly’.

  123. SteveAon 08 Nov 2017 at 10:09 am

    RickK: “The only direction to go from less complexity is more complexity.”

    My original intention was to comment on this and say that it’s broadly true, but not always, and give parasites as examples of organisms that have lost complexity. However, thinking about it, although they have lost features we might regard as complex, have they simply become more complex in different ways?

    Are there any examples of evolutionary change where organisms have become, unarguably, less complex?

  124. chikoppion 08 Nov 2017 at 11:05 am

    [SteveA] Are there any examples of evolutionary change where organisms have become, unarguably, less complex?

    The short answer is undoubtably yes, I think. The longer answer is that it depends on the specific definition of complexity and how it is measured.

    https://phys.org/news/2012-09-evolution-meant-simpler-complex.html

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3840695/

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genome_size#Genome_reduction

  125. RickKon 08 Nov 2017 at 12:25 pm

    Ok, change my statement to:

    “The only way to radiate out from no complexity is more complexity.”

    I wasn’t implying that every evolutionary step moves to more complexity. I was addressing hardnose’s apparent astonishment that the Earth’s biosphere has increased in complexity since its initial formation. There are only two choices, a biosphere that grows in complexity, or no biosphere. It’s not a matter of an overriding intelligence, it’s logic and physics.

    Also, Bach, if the dead tree falls on the camper, it is not indication of a cosmic intelligence. It is an indication that dead trees are more likely to fall down than live trees.

  126. Drakeon 08 Nov 2017 at 12:32 pm

    Not the specific ability, but the potential, which is WAY beyond anything needed for living in the wilderness like the other primates.

    This is arguing that a puddle is perfectly designed to fit a pothole, with the additional incredulity (in all caps): ‘HOW could the puddle have evolved to fit the pothole, before it even fell as rain??!!’

    Here’s another analogy (I like analogies): Wheat is the descendant of a wild grass, evolved (through artificial selection, but that’s not important to the analogy) such that it provides more calories for less work than the ancestral grass. Wheat wasn’t bred for its ability to be chemically leavened, and probably not bred for its ability to be biologically leavened, either. It certainly wasn’t bred for the ability to be made into a paste used to glue posters to construction hoardings.

    Yet all those abilities were, I suppose, ‘potential’ in wheat before it was used in those ways. Not because breeders of the first wheats were guided by some mystic foreknowledge of its future uses, but because the nature of the proteins and starches in wheat happens to allow for a wide range of possible uses.

    Primitive humans are just as intelligent as we are, even though most can barely count. And their excess intelligence and creativity is used in all kinds of ways completely unrelated to survival and reproduction.

    ‘Primitive humans’ no longer exist. All extant human groups are modern–there are modern industrialized societies, modern agrarian societies, modern pastoral societies, and a handful of modern ‘traditional’ societies. There is no such thing as ‘excess’ intelligence and creativity within any of those groups, and never has been.

    That you (hardnose), seem to believe modern traditional societies are unchanged from human groups 200,000 years ago is only evidence of your own blinkered chauvinism, and inability to grasp that cultural evolution is also a thing, and affects all cultures at all times. And is just as blind, purposeless, and based in chance and necessity, as biological evolution.

  127. chikoppion 08 Nov 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Recent update on the still active Lenski E. coli experiment, now at c. 68k generations. Twelve isolated populations. Twelve different evolutionary paths.

    https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/10/evolution-experiment-has-now-followed-68000-generations-of-bacteria/

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v551/n7678/full/nature24287.html

    Random, stochastic mutations allow species to diversify. But selective pressures push them toward sameness, by forcing them to thrive under limiting conditions. The 60,000 generations of E. coli already in Richard Lenski’s freezer have started to show how these opposing forces shape evolution; who knows what the next 60,000 will reveal?

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