Nov 06 2012

Seeing with Touch

The comic book hero Daredevil was blinded by a splash of radioactive waste, but the radioactivity (a common plot device of the time) also heightened his remaining senses. In addition to a form a echolocation, Daredevil was able to “see” by feeling his environment. How plausible is this idea?

While obviously not resulting in super powers, humans may have the ability to learn new senses. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute recently investigated whether or not people could learn to sense their environment with artificial “whiskers.” Rats and some other animals have a sensory organ humans do not, whiskers, with which they probe their environment. Researchers attached artificial whiskers with position and force sensors to the index fingers of subjects. They then sat the subjects between two vertical poles and asked them to detect with the whiskers which pole was farther back.

On the first day of testing the subjects were able to detect a difference in pole position of only 8cm. On the second day they learned to refine their probing techniques in order to detect a difference as small as 3cm.

I also have previously written about human echolocation – people who have learned to use a functional, if crude, form of echolocation to sense their surroundings.

What these two examples suggest is that vertebrate sensory processing is highly plastic. Our brains process multiple sensory streams in a complex way in order to build a model of the world. Further, the various senses are not just processed separately, but compared to each other in order to create one seamless experience of the world.

In addition, this latest research reflects the connection between our sensory input and our motor actions. This is not surprising – we experience this every day as so-called, “hand-eye coordination.”  In the whisker experiment the subjects learned to modify their physical movements in order to  optimize their probing – slowing down their finger movements, for example, in order to maximize the difference in timing between the two poles.

The question now is – what are the limits of plasticity in terms of learning new ways to process sensory information? Could a blind person, for example, learn to navigate their environment with their sense of touch alone. (OK, time for another geek reference – Miranda from Star Trek the original series was blind but navigated with a high-tech dress that allowed her to feel her environment.) To what extent will their brains be able to construct an actual image of the environment from such sensory information?

Research suggests that brain plasticity is fairly powerful, and while it continues throughout life it is greatest during childhood. Perhaps children who are born blind or become blind at a very young age could significantly develop their echolocation or tactile seeing ability.

All of this also demonstrates how animals can evolve new abilities. Creationists often make the argument from personal incredulity – how can new abilities evolve, because they would be of no use while in their incipient stages. But these examples show how untrue this is. Even a little bit of echolocation can have a survival advantage for a population moving to a niche with no or low light, and that provides an evolutionary toe hold to then improve and refine the new ability. In other words, plasticity can be a bridge to evolutionary changes.

Of course, humans also have technology. We can conceivably enhance new senses with technological aids in a synergistic fashion. In fact, neural plasticity allows us to imagine many ways in which we can merge humans and machines.

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56 responses so far

56 Responses to “Seeing with Touch”

  1. Bronze Dogon 06 Nov 2012 at 11:10 am

    I start to wonder just how much diverse sensory input the human brain can handle. I recall an experiment where they blindfolded some people for months and taught them to read braille. They steadily improved, but after the blindfolds where removed, they started losing the skill pretty quickly. I think part of it was that they were using their visual cortex to read braille (visualizing the bumps, I suppose) but once they regained their vision, it ‘overpowered’ the connections used for reading braille.

  2. Steven Novellaon 06 Nov 2012 at 11:41 am

    Brain processing is finite, and not just theoretically limited but practically in everyday use. Psychologists see an effect called interference by which one task uses up resources that are then not available for other tasks, decreasing performance.

  3. DOYLEon 06 Nov 2012 at 12:05 pm

    This reminds me of a scale representation of the human brain called the
    cortical homunculus.It shows the exaggerated properties of the body as it relates to brain area.I Think it suggests that a great deal of the human brain has evolved and retained a primacy for sensory activity(plasticity).

  4. locutusbrgon 06 Nov 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Couple of questions
    1. Forget radioactive waste, is there research that supports enhancement of senses in cases of loss IE blindness = super smell. You know like your echolocation piece.
    2. Does the research plausibly support the opposite of your above comment where the brain has more resources and is able to suppor,t not just superior use, rather improved senses.
    Again knocking creationist ” how can new abilities evolve, because they would be of no use while in their incipient stages.”

    And Daredevil brings to mind a funny family guy quote that is related…

    Doctor: Mayor West, you have Lymphoma.
    Adam West: Oh My.
    Doctor: Probably from rolling around in that toxic waste. What in God’s name were you trying to prove?
    Adam West: I was trying to gain super powers.
    Doctor: Well that’s just silly.
    Adam West: Silly, yes…idiotic…yes

  5. Bronze Dogon 06 Nov 2012 at 2:06 pm

    @Steve:

    Yeah, just from experience, I know I’ve got limited resources to allocate. Driving takes up quite a lot for me, so I don’t even bother turning on my radio, since I won’t be able to listen to it in depth.

    I suppose another way to phrase my curiosity is that I wonder just how many senses we can maintain while retaining the ability to switch “modes.” If I had a web browser installed in my head that uses my visual cortex for the display, how much trouble would it be to keep both regular sight and web browsing as separate modes for it to operate in, and if maintaining both options would significantly degrade my ability when focused on one.

    Of course, a cyberpunk would probably offer to install extra processor cores and RAM to handle the extra load so I can do both at once in different parts of my enhanced brain.

  6. sonicon 07 Nov 2012 at 11:06 am

    Dr. N.-
    You seem to misunderstand the argument about how complex organs evolve.
    It is not an argument that evolution doesn’t or can’t occur– it is questioning that the changes are due to ‘random’ mutations.

    What good is 1/4 of an eye? one might ask.
    Of course one might ask- “What good is an eye at all?”
    The eye is worthless, of course. We need an optic nerve to go with it. And an eye and an optic nerve are worthless without the brain to interpret the data.

    Now you think it is amazing that an eye could evolve– but actually all three things (and no doubt others– like the eye socket on the skull)– have to come together.

    What are the odds if these changes are independent? (As they would be if mutations are random). I would guess the number is less than (one) over (the number of particles in the universe).

    It might be considered a miracle having happened once.
    But what do you call it when it has happened more than once?

    This is the problem of ‘convergent evolution’. And this is why many researchers are saying mutations are not random and this is what the ‘creationists’ are saying as well.
    The difference of opinion would be what is causing the lack of randomness– of course.

    Read more here–
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121025130922.htm

  7. Aardwarkon 07 Nov 2012 at 1:42 pm

    Sonic,

    Creationists (religious ones, at least) are claiming that Earth is less than 10 000 years old and that all living species were actually created by separate Divine Interventios in 7 days (7 x 24 hours). They also firmly believe that no evolution happens at all, so it’s hardly the same thing as merely recognizing that, at some point, there is non-randomness in evolutionary processes. Of course there is.

    The point of contention is exactly where does the non-randomness come from and how it is brought about. The ‘modern synthesis’ holds that gene mutations cannot be directed, but that does not mean that all organisms have the same potential to evolve in all possible directions within the morphospace.

    The original gradualistic notion, as proposed by Charles Darwin in ‘The Origin of Species’, that major evolutionary changes arise by slow accumulation of small improvements is no longer a widely accepted view among evolutionary biologists. Some four decades ago, the theory of ‘punctuated equilibrium’ was proposed. It addresses the way new features arise in evolution relatively rapidly (on geological timescale, nota bene – this has often been abused by Creationists to mean ‘instantly’), with long (often millions or even billions of years long) periods of stasis in between. According to this version of evolutionary theory, non-randomness may be partly explained by natural selection operating among stable species, and not just among individuals (multiple levels of selection). There is also room for a greater role of phenotypic plasticity, epigenetic inheritance of traits, complex feedbacks within the ecosystem, relationship of evolution and development (‘evo-devo’) and, of course, the importance of large system perturbations (mass extinctions). Oh yes, and all evolutionists also agree there are external constraints on successfuly evolving solutions. They just don’t agree how tight these constraints really are.

    I sincerely recommend ‘The Structure of Evolutionary Theory’ by Stephen Jay Gould for a detailed review of the topic. At least to all that are able to spare the time to read a very long book about a very ‘long argument’.

    My apologies for too many words. I just wished to make a simple point – no one seriously expects that the typewriter-monkey version of evolution is the real answer. The theory of evolution has gone far beyond such a notion, and it is now only quoted by its adversaries, and unfair ones at that.

    There is also another substantial point. Naked photoreceptor cells are, in structural terms, much less than 1/4 of an eye. Yet they are clearly useful to the animals that have just such photoreceptors as ‘crude’ eyes. And these eyes can complexify due to ongoing selection pressure for ‘better’ eyes.
    There is also the question of exaptation of traits (a structure originally evolved as adaptation for one purpose may later aquire a completely different function – see newer discussions about the evolution of feathers in dinosaurs, for example).

  8. BillyJoe7on 07 Nov 2012 at 3:48 pm

    Aardwark,

    Sonic is saying that mutations are directed.
    There is, of course, no evidence for this.
    It is, in effect, an argument from incredulity….

    sonic: ” I would guess the number is less than (one) over (the number of particles in the universe).”

    ….and a quaint interpretation of epigenetics.
    But he never seems to want to respond to the argument against this interpretation.
    At least not the few times I’ve responded to it on this blog.

    Good luck!

  9. Tim Johnsonon 07 Nov 2012 at 4:48 pm

    “The Beginner’s Guide to Echolocation” was just published a few weeks ago and is available on Amazon. This book serves to debunk a lot of the myths of human echolocation. Not only is it possible, but it doesn’t require any special talent or gift. Additionally, anyone can learn this skill, not just the blind. Fully-sighted people can learn this skill as well. The difficulty is in the lack of necessity for the skill which implies that it is not practiced 100% of one’s waking hours, whereas blind people are given the opportunity to train all the time.

    The book covers the mechanics and science of the subject and practical applications. It offers exercises and examples and teaches anyone how to experience the effects of echolocation for the very first time.

    Furthermore it provides detailed lessons for improving your sensitivity and calibrating your senses to different surfaces, objects and environments. Anyone interested in learning how to use “active human echolocation” or just curious about the subject should get this book!

    For more information check it out on Amazon & Kindle:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1478371080/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1478371080&linkCode=as2&tag=ti00-20

    For the blind community, there is an accessible copy at my website (audiobook coming soon): http://www.humanecholocation.com

  10. EOon 07 Nov 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Really an inspiring thing to think about, I always love to read about confirmations of our mind and body’s plasticity.

    I’ve often wondered about this sort of thing while learning a new skill, and in particular while studying foreign languages. In some ways certain skills, like listening in a foreign language, are totally related to asserting a kind of control over your senses. I’m not sure most folks think that way –usually we just think hearing is hearing– but when you are in that 1st year or so of intense study in a language, you realize moments in which you are totally stretching out and reconfiguring your senses to adapt and create some kind of new sense of reality.

    Of course thats a bit of stretching this research out, but…

    When you think of all the things humans may have to learn to do or live with if we leave this planet, this kind of research seems really promising. I for one would love to have access to to some robotic whiskers on Curiosity, if for nothing else than to get a sense of what the wind feels like there.

  11. sonicon 07 Nov 2012 at 11:26 pm

    Aardwark-
    Thank-you for the comments; your verbosity is excused– if you’ll tolerate mine…

    I am aware of Gould and his work.
    Certainly Gould argued for random mutations– from his book “Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin” he states-
    “Darwin’s revolution will be completed when we smash the pedestal of human arrogance and own the plain implications of life’s non-predictable non-directionality.”

    Now if you look at the article I linked to you will find the surprise that it appears that life has evolved in a predictable manner– with the same mutations leading to what is now termed ‘convergent’ evolution.

    Do you see how this is different from what Gould was talking about?

    You might be interested to know that in Richard Dawkins book “The Blind Watchmaker”, Dawkins claims that “… punctuated equilibrium lies firmly within the neo-Darwinian synthesis. It always has…”

    Anyway, my comment was about the argument of how complex organs evolve. I thought Dr. N. was giving a strawman version and I know he doesn’t like to do that, so I was hoping he would get the better version of the argument, which I hope I supplied.

    BillyJoe7-
    When did I say that mutations are directed?
    Did I mention by what?
    (I’m thinking perhaps I’ve had a great insight and forgotten it). :-)

  12. Aardwarkon 08 Nov 2012 at 3:23 am

    BillyJoe7,

    Thanks.

    Sonic,

    Our mutual tolerances having been exchanged, I see that we have narrowed down the area of disagreement to one key question. But it is the very question that governs the current (and possibly future) development of evolutionary theory – namely, what exactly are the operating principles that constrain evolution and how ‘tight’ are they? In other words, is the nature of evolutionary process such that it may allow predictions of its outcomes based on knowledge of the full set of the constraining factors? Or is there an intrinsic randomness (or, better said, a core of non-deterministic processes) that precludes reliable predictions even if all system parameters are to be known?

    Gould obviously favored the latter possibility, as seen from his treatment of the ‘rewinding the tape’ thought experiment. The camp of scientists advocating the former option is led by Simon Conway-Morris, who claims that evolutionary constraints are so tight that, if we ever find life elsewhere in the Universe, we will certainly find humanoids, or even humans.

    Personally, I am closer to Gould’s view in this matter, but I also see that the outlined possibilities are merely the opposing ends of a continuum. Since I tend to dislike sharp dichotomies in complex issues and prefer to think in terms of infinite number of nuanced possibilities, I would like to propose the term ‘less-than-randomness’, at least as a placeholder. It begs the question: How much less-than-random Evolution really is?

    There are two more points that we might discuss. The first – there is not just one ‘Neo-Darwinism’ but many widely differing neo-Darwinisms, depending on what exactly constitutes the ‘neo’ part and what exactly is retained from the original Darwinism. Of course, usually by Neo-Darwinism we mean the standard form of ‘modern synthesis’ – the one that Gould (ironically), among others, attacked as ‘over-hardened’.

    The second – What is the exact relationship of external constraints (recognized in evolutionary theory from the very beginning) and internal constraints (that have to do with how the information about traits is encoded and regulated at various levels?) For instance, we now know that crucial genes that regulate development and ‘body plan’ display a high level of homology in almost all multicellular animals. This was almost inconceivable in the light of original Darwinism and suggests that evolution of complex organs does not start from scratch every time, but co-opts and modifies existent ‘patterning modules’. Those modules could, in principle, allow the changes to be somewhat coordinated, while the gene mutations are still completely random – if a random mutation in gene a changes not merely the quality of trait A, but the way (unchanged) genes b, c,…, z are expressed and how they all work together to produce evolutionary novelty.

    Here is an interesting, if highly speculative, article about such ‘modular’ heritable complexes and their possible role in evolution. It may not be THE answer to the above question, I’m not yet jumping to subscribe completely to this train of thought, but I find it worth reading and recommending.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=pre-Darwinian%20pre-Mendelian

  13. sonicon 08 Nov 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Aardwark-
    The article you linked to is interesting.

    At this point it seems we would be wise to look to the evidence before getting into theory.
    I’ll give two recent papers that lead me to believe we just don’t know enough to be ‘finalizing’ any kind of theory at all–

    http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/07/01/1004139107.short

    http://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/rnabiology/article/18277/?nocache=1093064241

    If pseudo genes aren’t pseudo and epistasis is pervasive–
    Who was predicting that?

    First step in learning– realize that you don’t know. When it comes to how life actually evolves– the evidence is just coming in and it is surprising and I don’t know any theory that is predicting these findings.
    Seems the field is ripe for change.

  14. BillyJoe7on 08 Nov 2012 at 3:08 pm

    Sonic,

    “When did I say that mutations are directed?
    Did I mention by what?”

    I think I’ll just throw the questions back to you.
    Firstly, what do you mean by random?
    Secondly, by what mechanisms could mutations be non-random?
    Or are you just saying that they must be non-random because of the extreme unlikelihood -in your own mind- they mutations are random and still produce the complexity we see today.

  15. BillyJoe7on 08 Nov 2012 at 3:46 pm

    sonic,

    “At this point it seems we would be wise to look to the evidence before getting into theory.”

    Are you saying that this “new” evidence is not falling in line with present theory?
    Please explain exactly why you think the evidence requires a paradigm shift?

    “I’ll give two recent papers that lead me to believe we just don’t know enough to be ‘finalizing’ any kind of theory at all”

    I have read only the abstracts, but I get the drift.
    Explain how the evidence provided in these papers suggests that a paradigm shift in theory is required as opposed to being well and truly subsumed under the modern synthesis/neo-darwinism?

    “If pseudo genes aren’t pseudo and epistasis is pervasive–
    Who was predicting that?”

    Nobody was predicting that.
    But so what. Evolution is more complex than at first sight. Surprise, surprise.
    The point is that its all explained by random mutation and non-random selection.
    If you don’t think so, provide one example where this cannot be the underlying mechanism.

    “Seems the field is ripe for change.”

    You will simply have to do better than just stating that it is so.

  16. sonicon 09 Nov 2012 at 11:25 am

    BillyJoe7-
    I think you made untruthful statements about what I said. I really don’t recall saying that mutations are directed. Did I?
    Because otherwise, it seems like maybe you tried to make another think less of me by telling that person an untruth. Or should I say a lie?
    Do you see where I’m coming from?

    I attempted to give you an easy out with humor, but that seems to have failed.
    No acknowledgement of error, no apology for the detestable act, no explanation at all.

    So let me ask clearly– did you lie about me to another with the intention of making that person think less of me?

    Let’s get that out of the way before moving on– shall we?

  17. BillyJoe7on 09 Nov 2012 at 3:28 pm

    sonic,

    It is possible that I am mistaken, that’s all.

    The problem is that you never clearly state your case.
    However, here you appear to be saying that the accumulating evidence points towards a paradigm shift in thinking about evolution, but you won’t actually say what you think that paradigm shift consists of.
    The other problem is that you seem to talk the language of those who support directed mutation, who characteristically never seem to want to come right out and say so, but go on and on about what is wrong with the present theory, whilst never responding to explanations of how all their examples of what is wrong with the present theory have no effect on it whatsoever, except to show how complex evolutionary mechanisms actually are.

    If I am wrong about this, you could simply say so. Or you could state clearly what you think is wrong or incomplete about “random mutation and non-random selection” and what you think will replace or supplement it.

  18. Mlemaon 09 Nov 2012 at 4:31 pm

    why do we say non-random selection?
    And if selection is made by non-directed forces (nature), then how come it’s not random too?
    Isn’t it all either random or non-random?

    That is: nature is effecting it so it’s not random (that would be true for both mutation & selection) or, nature is just random, therefore it’s all random.

  19. BillyJoe7on 09 Nov 2012 at 11:57 pm

    Mlema,

    Just in case youre not joking:

    Random just means without favouring a particular result.

    A coin toss is random. The result is either heads or tails and neither is favoured above the other. Same with mutation. It is random because no particular mutation is favoured above any other mutation. This is not to say that some mutations are not more likely than others. The physical characteristics of the mutating agent and the physical characteristics of the objects in which the mutations could potentially occur ensure that some mutations are more likely than others. But, within these physical limitations, the outcome is random. Within these physical limitations, nothing directs that some mutations are favoured above any other mutations.

    Selection is not random because particular results are favoured. Mutations that make organisms less able to compete for food or sex within the particular environment in which they arise, are gradually replaced by organisms who do not have these mutations. Mutations that make organisms more able to compete for food and sex within the particular environment in which they arise, gradually replace organisms that do not have these mutations.

    (Please excuse any minor errors, these things are often difficult for me to state, though the meaning is clear in my head)

  20. Mlemaon 10 Nov 2012 at 8:38 pm

    everything is physical. Mutations are just changes that occur as a result of some physical force: chemical, thermal, electromagnetic, etc. These changes then persist for a short time, or, for a longer time. And that depends again on other physical forces. There’s no “selection” – it’s all random and depends upon whatever physical forces are in play at any given time.

    Otherwise you’re attributing some kind of force or consciousness to nature or to life. That is: the ability to favor, or select.

    perhaps just an unfortunate choice of words. However, I still don’t see why it’s “random mutation” and “non-random selection” It’s all either random or not depending on your philosophy. But certainly there’s no “selection” going on. Who or what would be doing the selecting?
    Or am I totally not getting something?

    That is very possible.
    :)

  21. BillyJoe7on 11 Nov 2012 at 3:01 am

    Mlema,

    “Or am I totally not getting something?”

    You asked a question and I gave you an answer but, instead of addressing my answer, you simply repeat your question.
    So, yes, you are totally not getting something.

    Hint: the word “selection” (or “favours”) is an anthropomorphisms, a short cut way of saying what I have said in more detail in my answer. The environment “selects” against most mutations and “selects” for some mutations.

    But this is so straightforward that I suspect you are trolling.

    Cheers!

  22. sonicon 11 Nov 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Mlema-
    The idea that selection is random is basically what Gould was advocating in his book “Full House:…” that I mentioned earlier.

    Douglas Futuyma says it this way–
    “Simply put, natural selection is a consistent difference in survival and reproduction between different genotypes, or even different genes, in what we could call reproductive success.”
    http://www.actionbioscience.org/evolution/futuyma.html

    That is to say that natural selection is really the observation that some members of a species reproduce more than others. (Slightly oversimplified- I give you that, but basically accurate).

    The person who has done the most study of actual living populations in this regard is Joel Kingsolver.
    Two papers of interest-
    Kingsolver, J. G.,H. E. Hoekstra, J. M. Hoekstra, D. Berrigan, S. N. Vignieri, C. E.
    Hill, A. Hoang, P. Gibert, P. Beerli. 2001. The strength of phenotypic selection in
    natural populations. The American Naturalist 157:245-261.

    (This paper is very technical. But the conclusion is that reproduction is what moves evolution– not longevity.)

    And here-
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110307142240.htm

    (This is an article about the actual paper– in this we learn that ‘size matters’. Who knew? :-)
    Oh, and there is a nice picture of a Flamingo to go with it. )

  23. sonicon 11 Nov 2012 at 12:28 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    This has gone off-topic. Allow me to close-
    I suggested that mutations are not random. I linked to an article that explictly states they are “far from random” and explains exactly what is meant and why it is possible to know this now when it wasn’t before.
    I have nothing to add or subtract.

    Now here this— It appears this topic is a very emotional one for you. Perhaps the notion that mutations are random is a cornerstone of your personal philosophy/ religion/ world view and I can understand that you might resent me for suggesting otherwise.

    Please understand– I’m looking at the evidence– new evidence that was not available in the past– and the evidence indicates what it indicates.
    It isn’t me that wrote the article “Far form Random…” about mutations, it was the guys at Science Daily. And this is based on the study of insects that was done.
    I am not a member of the team that did the work on the insect genomes nor am I a writer for science daily.

    In my estimation this paper is just one of many that says that mutations are not random and I believe this finding will be reproduced in other forms– both in terms of the existing genomes (like the study I linked to) and in experimental situations.

    It is possible that this situation will cause you emotional discomfort.

    I have no interest in causing you any emotional discomfort.
    Yet I find this work interesting and I think it is important.
    It is for this reason that I suspect you might be better off if you ignore my future comments.

    Bon voyage!

  24. BillyJoe7on 11 Nov 2012 at 3:48 pm

    sonic,

    How on Earth could I be emotionally attached to random mutation!

    I suspect that this is just an easy way for you to avoid answering the questions I’ve asked.
    It’s just easy to link to articles that supposedly explain what you seem unable to explain yourself and which do not actually say what you think they say.
    Nowhere in that article does it say that mutations are non-random.
    If you think so please post the relevant quote.

    The fact is there is no evidence that mutation is not random. Constrained by the laws of physics, yes, but not non-random by the definition of random that I have given.
    But your refusal to answer these questions once again is noted. You have refused to even give your definition of random – surely something quite basic to a duscussion of whether or not mutations are non-random. You haven’t even bothered to say whether or not you agree with the definition I have given.

    So excuse me if I think you have nothing to back up your claim – oh, I’m sorry, what you claim someone else has claimed!

  25. BillyJoe7on 11 Nov 2012 at 4:06 pm

    sonic,

    Are we even reading the same article:

    “http://www.actionbioscience.org/evolution/futuyma.html”

    Summary: random mutation and non-random selection.
    Where does he say anything different.
    He specifically endorses Darwin’s “dangerous idea”.

  26. Mlemaon 12 Nov 2012 at 9:40 pm

    we draw a line between living and non-living that we’re allowed to move according to our scientific discoveries. We accept that there are both random and non-random aspects of evolution. If we just move the line to include genetic mutation along with the rest of evolution there’s no anxiety about admitting that it’s not completely random. Perhaps we need to go back down the tree to find where non-random first came from random.

    So, I’m sorry BillyJoe for aggravating you. That wasn’t my intent. But let me ask you: do you think “survival” would be a better word than “selection” in the evolutionary equation? (I’m really asking you what you think)

    Also, if you disagree with what the scientists in the Science daily article are saying:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121025130922.htm

    maybe you could say why? or link to some paper or article that refutes what they’re saying?
    thanks

  27. BillyJoe7on 12 Nov 2012 at 11:03 pm

    Mlema,

    “We accept that there are both random and non-random aspects of evolution.”

    Yes, mutation is random, and selection is non-random.

    “If we just move the line to include genetic mutation along with the rest of evolution there’s no anxiety about admitting that it’s not completely random.”

    You can’t just move that line, you need evidence to move that line, and it’s not there.
    Mutation is constrained by physical law but, within those constraints, it is random.
    If you disagree, show me one clear example of where mutation is non-random

    “So, I’m sorry BillyJoe for aggravating you.”

    Are you sure you are not related to sonic.
    He seems to think he upsets me as well.

    “But let me ask you: do you think “survival” would be a better word than “selection” in the evolutionary equation?”

    Selection is fine, but it is not random as explained in my previous response.

    “Also, if you disagree with what the scientists in the Science daily article are saying:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121025130922.htm
    maybe you could say why?”

    I don’t disagree with what these scientists are saying.
    I disagree with sonic’s interpretation of what they are saying.

  28. Mlemaon 12 Nov 2012 at 11:41 pm

    “Mutation is constrained by physical law but, within those constraints, it is random.
    If you disagree, show me one clear example of where mutation is non-random”

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121025130922.htm
    “…knowledge of a species’ genes — and how certain external conditions affect the proteins encoded by those genes — could be used to determine a predictable evolutionary pattern driven by outside factors.”

    “…The researchers found that the genes of cardenolide-resistant insects incorporated various mutations that allowed it to resist the toxin. During the evolutionary timeframe examined, the sodium-potassium pump of insects feeding on dogbane and milkweed underwent 33 mutations at sites known to affect sensitivity to cardenolides. These mutations often involved similar or identical amino-acid changes that reduced susceptibility to the toxin. On the other hand, the sodium-potassium pump mutated just once in insects that do not feed on these plants.”

    predictable = non-random

    the environment affects “selection” – it also affects how genes change – why is that a heresy?

  29. BillyJoe7on 13 Nov 2012 at 6:11 am

    Mlema,

    You have yet to point out to me where the authors say that mutation is non-random.
    If that was the whole point of their article, don’t you think they would have stated that explicitly?
    What they say is that evolution is less than random, not that mutation is non-random.
    Big difference.

    The paragraph you have selected from the article is the only one that gets close to supporting sonic’s interpretation of what the article is saying so congratulations for selecting it. But, even here, the authors refrain from saying that this demonstrates non-random mutation.
    Why do you think that is?

    “predictable = non-random”

    Toss a coin five hundred times and I predict that you will toss roughly two hundred and fifty heads and two hundred and fifty tails. But each coin toss is random as to whether you throw a head or a tail.

    “the environment affects “selection” – it also affects how genes change – why is that a heresy?”

    It isn’t.
    Genes mutate randomly.
    The environment selects the mutations that are favourable.

  30. Mlemaon 13 Nov 2012 at 4:05 pm

    BillyJoe I picked the paragraph above because I didn’t want to copy the whole article. But here are some more excerpts. Maybe you could read the whole article and make a comment on the research and what the scientists are saying about it. That would be greatly appreciated since I’m trying to understand why you say they’re not saying what I think they’re saying.
    thanks BillyJoe

    “Evolution, often perceived as a series of random changes, might in fact be driven by a simple and repeated genetic solution to an environmental pressure that a broad range of species happen to share…”

    “…knowledge of a species’ genes — and how certain external conditions affect the proteins encoded by those genes — could be used to determine a predictable evolutionary pattern driven by outside factors…”

    “‘Is evolution predictable? To a surprising extent the answer is yes…’”

    “Fourteen of these species have evolved a nearly identical characteristic due to one external influence…”

    “…Though separated by 300 million years of evolution, these diverse insects — which include beetles, butterflies and aphids — experienced changes to a key protein…”

    “They used these sequences to predict how the sodium-potassium pump would be encoded in each of the species’ genes based on cardenolide exposure.”

    “Scientists using similar techniques could trace protein changes in a species’ DNA to understand how many diverse organisms evolved as a result of environmental factors”

    “‘The finding of parallel evolution in not two, but numerous herbivorous insects increases the significance of the study because such frequent parallelism is extremely unlikely to have happened simply by chance,…’”

    “‘The fact that many of these solutions are used over and over again by completely unrelated species suggests that the evolutionary path is repeatable and predictable.’”

  31. BillyJoe7on 13 Nov 2012 at 10:48 pm

    Mlema,

    I can’t help but think you are trolling but anyway here is my take:

    “Evolution, often perceived as a series of random changes, might in fact be driven by a simple and repeated genetic solution to an environmental pressure that a broad range of species happen to share…”

    Evolution is random mutation and non-random natural selection.
    The so called “good tricks” are part of the modern synthesis.
    Why shouldn’t organisms that have similar gene sequences evolve similar solutions to similar environmental changes.

    “…knowledge of a species’ genes — and how certain external conditions affect the proteins encoded by those genes — could be used to determine a predictable evolutionary pattern driven by outside factors…”

    Exactly. What’s so mysterious about that. Where’s the problem with that.
    How is that contra the modern synthesis.

    “‘Is evolution predictable? To a surprising extent the answer is yes…’”

    Good tricks. Convergent evolution. They are all subsumed within the modern synthesis. No problem.

    “Fourteen of these species have evolved a nearly identical characteristic due to one external influence…”

    Convergent evolution. Part of the modern synthesis. No problem.

    “…Though separated by 300 million years of evolution, these diverse insects — which include beetles, butterflies and aphids — experienced changes to a key protein…”

    Yes, apparently the environments of these insects have not changed sufficiently over 300 million years for there not to be any similar sequences within their genomes. Are you surprised, considering the similarity in the genomes of all primates for example.

    “They used these sequences to predict how the sodium-potassium pump would be encoded in each of the species’ genes based on cardenolide exposure.”

    Similar gene sequences and similar environmental exposure results in similar characteristics being selected. Are you surprised.

    “Scientists using similar techniques could trace protein changes in a species’ DNA to understand how many diverse organisms evolved as a result of environmental factors”

    Similar gene sequences and similar environmental exposure results in similar characteristics being selected. No mystery.

    “‘The finding of parallel evolution in not two, but numerous herbivorous insects increases the significance of the study because such frequent parallelism is extremely unlikely to have happened simply by chance,…’”

    Not by chance as already explained. Random mutation within the constraints of the mutagen and the genome in which the mutation occurs. Then, non random natural selection acting on these random mutations. They have perhaps demonstrated that there are more physical constraints than previously thought.

    “‘The fact that many of these solutions are used over and over again by completely unrelated species suggests that the evolutionary path is repeatable and predictable.’”

    No species are unrelated to any other species.

    ———————————————-

    So, Mlema….

    Point out to me where the authors specifically say that mutation is non-random.
    You can’t do it can you, because they have made no such statement.
    If that was the whole point of the article, don’t you think there would be an explicit statement that this is so.

    If you think mutations are non-random, what is the mechanism. Certainly the authors don’t offer one, otherwise point it out. What mechanism could possibly cause non-random mutation. In your own words, not a cut and paste, to show that you actually understand what is being said.

  32. Mlemaon 14 Nov 2012 at 12:27 am

    From what I can understand of what you’re saying, you don’t agree with the scientists that the species they studied were unrelated enough to conclude that the same number and kind of mutations happening in all of them in response to a particular environmental element means that those mutations were unlikely to have happened by chance.

    am I understanding you correctly?

  33. BillyJoe7on 14 Nov 2012 at 5:09 am

    Okay, I’m calling troll.
    Your questions are endless and to no purpose.
    Try answering just one of mine and I might think it worth continuing.

    This one:
    Wheredo the authors say that mutations are non-random?

    Bonus question:
    By what possible mechanism could mutations be non-random?

  34. ccbowerson 14 Nov 2012 at 10:12 am

    “From what I can understand of what you’re saying, you don’t agree with the scientists that the species they studied were unrelated enough to conclude that the same number and kind of mutations happening in all of them in response to a particular environmental element means that those mutations were unlikely to have happened by chance.”

    There seems to be a misunderstanding (or miscommunication) : the mutations that occur at any given time are random, but the ones that persist are not random for at least 2 reasons: 1. similar selective pressures 2. there are some shared evolutionary constraints.

  35. BillyJoe7on 14 Nov 2012 at 2:39 pm

    ccbowers,

    I think it’s more that they are reading something into it that is just not there.

    Neither sonic nor mlema have been able to quote the authors saying that mutation is non-random. Because they don’t say that. They are saying that evolution is non-random. No problem. Evolution is random mutation and non-random selection so evolution is non-random. Nothing new here.

    Sonic handles this by accusing me of lying and stomping off. If mutation is non-random, then it must be directed or purposeful and therefore evolution is teleological. I can’t see any other way. if sonic disagrees, then he could simply provide a mechanism by which mutation is non-random but still not directed or purposeful. He can’t. In the past he has simply stopped posting when challenged. This time he stomped off accusing me of lying. But, if it walks like a quack, talks like a quack, and ducks like a quack…

    Mlema handles this by ignoring my question, ignoring my numerous answers to his endless questions and asking yet another question.

  36. Mlemaon 14 Nov 2012 at 4:45 pm

    if mutation is completely random we’re unable to predict how various organisms will adapt to introduced environmental elements – because we’re relying on pure chance to provide a solution to whatever new survival problem arises.

    Instead we find that in diverse organisms, during a specific evolutionary timeframe, there were 33 times more of a specific mutation involving similar or identical amino-acid changes in those dealing with a specific environmental toxin than there were in those not dealing with that toxin.

    our ability to study genetics at the molecular level may be showing us that by understanding the genetics of an organism and the environmental pressures faced by that organism – we may be able to predict the type and number of mutations that can and will occur.

  37. BillyJoe7on 14 Nov 2012 at 10:56 pm

    Mlema,

    It’s a waste of time but here goes:

    “if mutation is completely random we’re unable to predict how various organisms will adapt to introduced environmental elements – because we’re relying on pure chance to provide a solution to whatever new survival problem arises.”

    I don’t know why I have to keep repeating myself but here it is again:
    Random mutation and non-random selection.
    Mutation is random.
    Selection is non-random.
    Evolution = random mutation + non-random selection.
    This means that evolution is not “relying on pure chance” even while keeping mutations random.

    “Instead we find that in diverse organisms, during a specific evolutionary timeframe, there were 33 times more of a specific mutation involving similar or identical amino-acid changes in those dealing with a specific environmental toxin than there were in those not dealing with that toxin.”

    I will simply ask you again:
    Show me where the authors say that this is because mutations are non-random?
    By what possible mechanism or mechanisms could mutation be non-random?
    Read the article again.

    “our ability to study genetics at the molecular level may be showing us that by understanding the genetics of an organism and the environmental pressures faced by that organism – we may be able to predict the type and number of mutations that can and will occur.”

    No problem.
    What evolution has already provided by means of random mutation and non-random selection, constrains future responses. Evolution results in “good tricks”, but the number of “good tricks” are limited. Therefore organisms tend to find the similar solutions to similar changes in their environment. This makes evolution predictable (to a certain extent).
    Read that article again, because this is exactly what the authors are saying.
    No nonsense about non-random mutation. That is just what you and sonic have read into the article.

  38. Aardwarkon 15 Nov 2012 at 3:54 am

    I agree with Ccbowers that there is an apparent miscommunication regarding what exactly we see as ‘non-random’ (I prefer ‘less-than-random’, since there is obviously no full directionality at any level) about mutations.

    (That natural selection is non-random is not seriously in question, since this is the central explanatory principle in all versions of evolutionary theory – a theory that itself evolved quite a bit since Darwin’s time – meaning I fully agree with BillyJoe7 on this point).

    Let me attempt to pin down what seems to me the point of misunderstanding: When we talk about mutations being ‘non-random’, do we mean:

    A) that it is non-random (physical constraints being subtracted) which mutations in a given gene or gene network will OCCUR

    or

    B) that it is non-random which mutations in a gene or gene network will BE FOUND by examination at a given time?

    The difference being that, under B, the non-randomness is the result of a process that retains favorable mutations (favorable to survival/generation of offspring) more than neutral mutations and certainly much more than unfavorable ones.

    (There is also additional complexity in the fact that same mutation may have both favorable and unfavorable aspects, balancing or prevailing one against the other in a context-sensitive way, but let us not go into that just yet. And more complexity is arising from the fact that traits are, in general, derived from coordinated and highly regulated action of multiple genes. But this does not in any way affect the distinction between A and B.)

    It is clear to me that the authors of the article cited (who obviously counted mutations present at a given time, not ALL mutations that EVER OCCURRED), together with The Modern Synthesis (and BillyJoe7), hold B to be true in the absence of any evidence for A.

    And, unless such evidence is encountered (a scientist should always keep an open mind), I have to agree as well.

    One caveat (already stated above in the discussion by multiple posters): the fact that we do not know of any mechanism in Nature that would make the OCCURRENCE of mutations directed to work toward specific goal (again right, BillyJoe7) does not mean that the probability of any possible mutation occurring in a given gene should be assumed to be always the same, since there is a complex interplay of factors involved (here we would have to go into how DNA structure is affected by mutagenic factors – but we are far off-topic already, so I suggest to forgo this for now.)

    The more interesting part of the discussion (if only because the article in question was essentially about this point) is the question of how predictable evolution could be if we had complete (or near-complete) information regarding the intrinsic potential (genetic or otherwise) and the external constraining factors at play. In other words, when the influence of all the above is counted and measured (which we are, at the time, far from being able to do), how much of the outcome is still influenced by ‘pure chance’?

    The jury is still out on this one, and it is not even certain that the answer will be the same for all times and situations, since the whole of evolution is highly context-sensitive. That is, the famous quotation of Theodosius Dobzhansky – that nothing in biology makes sense unless viewed in the light of evolution – could also, arguably, be claimed in reverse – evolutionary theory needs to take into account the biology of the whole ecosystem/biosphere in order to find its sense.

    And, by the way, Mlema…

    That the whole evolution should be governed by pure chance was never proposed or even conceived by any evolutionist, least of all Darwin. This is the aforementioned ‘typewriter-monkey’ straw-man version of evolution, popular among detractors, but essentially meaningless.

  39. BillyJoe7on 15 Nov 2012 at 5:50 am

    Aaardwark,

    I cannot find fault with your summary.

    But I would like to amplify one point:

    “B) that it is non-random which mutations in a gene or gene network will be FOUND by examination at a given time…[and that] the non-randomness is the result of a process that retains favorable mutations…more than neutral mutations and certainly much more than unfavorable ones.”

    …and that this process is called (non-random) natural selection.

    And clarify another point:

    “The more interesting part of the discussion…is the question of how predictable evolution could be if we had complete…information regarding the intrinsic potential..and the external constraining factors at play. In other words, when the influence of all the above is counted and measured…how much of the outcome is still influenced by ‘pure chance’?”

    …but when an actual mutation occurs, it always occurs regardless of the outcome of that mutation, good, bad, or indifferent.
    This is what evolutionary biologists mean when they say that mutations are random.
    (They mean that mutation is non-directed and non-purposeful)

  40. ccbowerson 15 Nov 2012 at 9:48 am

    “if mutation is completely random we’re unable to predict how various organisms will adapt to introduced environmental elements – because we’re relying on pure chance to provide a solution to whatever new survival problem arises.”

    Your conclusion does not follow. You should have read my previous brief post to see why, but let me rephrase. The source of mutation can be random without evolutionary changes being random because 1. selection is not random (similar problems will result in similar solutions) and 2. All living things are contrained by biology – there aren’t an infinite number of changes that can occur because many of possible solutions will be detrimental (or at least a net negative effect).

    Therefore if there are similar environmental challenges and shared evolutionary constraints then we would expect random mutations to be somewhat predictable (though limited by our knowledge and understanding)

  41. sonicon 15 Nov 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Mlema-
    The article I linked to does not specifically state that mutations are not random.
    What it says is that it appears the same (or very similar) mutations have been used to solve a particular problem regarding survival. (Specific gene duplication followed by specific alterations of copied gene.)

    The question that comes up is this– Given random mutations is this what you would expect to find? Put the other way around– If this is what you knew about evolution would you say that mutations are random?

    I believe the answer to both of those questions is ‘no’.

    What the researchers probably expected to find given ‘random’ mutations was that each creature would have a somewhat unique solution to the problem– after all, each solution was supposedly derived by ‘random’ mutations and the genomes are large enough that the resources to produce the needed protein could have developed in a number of different ways. In fact, such sequences are often used to show ‘common descent’ because it is viewed as nearly impossible for such to have occurred by chance.

    And this is part of the problem of ‘convergent’ evolution– which is what I was saying when I directed attention to this article.

    One would have to know this as well–
    “The big problem for neo-Darwinian evolution is that they must show that the probability of getting the right mutations at the right time is large enough to make evolution work. We know the mutation rates (approximately) but we don’t know what fraction of them will be adaptive in any particular situation. It turns out that if we assume the fraction is large enough to make evolution work, then there are too many evolutionary pathways to allow convergent evolution.”
    Lee Spetner

    BTW- you probably know more about this than I do— at what point does one take the inability to apologize seriously?

  42. BillyJoe7on 15 Nov 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Mlema,

    Aardwark and ccbowers have summarised what is wrong with how you think about evolution. It’s exactly what I have been trying to get across to you over the past week. So read their comments and try to understand what they are saying.

    On the other hand, please read sonic’s contributions with a very sceptical eye. He sounds very intelligible about evolution but his interpretations are unrealiable. I will show you what I mean by dissecting his most recent post:

    “The article I linked to does not specifically state that mutations are not random.”
    Not only do they not specifically state that mutations are not random, they do not even imply it, and I doubt that they think so.

    “What it says is that it appears the same (or similar) mutations have been used to solve a particular problem regarding survival.”
    And, of course, appearances are deceptive but not in the way sonic implies.

    “Specific gene duplication followed by specific alterations of copied gene.”
    Yes, this is the superficial appearance of what is going on, but not the reality.

    “The question that comes up is this– Given random mutations is this what you would expect to find?”
    No. Because you have to remember that after random mutation comes non-random selection

    “Put the other way around– If this is what you knew about evolution would you say that mutations are random?”
    Only if that was all you knew. But of course we also know about non-random selection.

    “I believe the answer to both of those questions is ‘no’.”
    He is wrong. I truly hope you can see this.

    “What the researchers probably expected to find given ‘random’ mutations was that each creature would have a somewhat unique solution to the problem”
    He is putting words in their mouths. They say no such thing. All they are saying is that evolution is more predictable than they previously thought.

    “after all, each solution was supposedly derived by ‘random’ mutations”
    Nope. Random mutation AND non-random selection.

    “and the genomes are large enough that the resources to produce the needed protein could have developed in a number of different ways.”
    He is ignoring the physical contraints and the contraints already built into the system by the organisms’ evolutionary history.

    “In fact, such sequences are often used to show ‘common descent’ because it is viewed as nearly impossible for such to have occurred by chance.”
    This interpretation is not supported by the facts. Convergent evolution does not challenge for the modern synthesis

    “And this is part of the problem of ‘convergent’ evolution– which is what I was saying when I directed attention to this article.”
    Convergent evolution is not a problem for the modern synthesis. It is easily explainable by physical contraints, constraints built into the system by the organisms’ evolutionary history, and the similar environments in which these organisms evolved.

    But here is his killer quote:

    “The big problem for neo-Darwinian evolution is that they must show that the probability of getting the right mutations at the right time is large enough to make evolution work. We know the mutation rates (approximately) but we don’t know what fraction of them will be adaptive in any particular situation. It turns out that if we assume the fraction is large enough to make evolution work, then there are too many evolutionary pathways to allow convergent evolution.”

    This is sonic’s quote from Lee Spetner, and it might give you a clue where sonic is coming from. Firstly, Lee Spetner is a physicist, not an evolutionary biologist. He is also a creationionist. Enough said? Here is a short biography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Spetner

    “BTW- you probably know more about this than I do— at what point does one take the inability to apologize seriously?”
    I doubt that you have even paid much attention to what sonic is alluding to here, nor care much about it. He has called me a liar. Frankly I couldn’t care less. It’s simply untrue, but I’m not going to hold his mischaracterisation of me against him because I know that he is simply mistaken.

  43. Mlemaon 16 Nov 2012 at 12:20 am

    Wow. I came to visit, and, planned to simply apologize to BillyJoe for still not understanding why he said he agreed with what the researchers were saying even though he still seemed to be criticizing what I understood them to say. I failed to see why they were surprised and excited about their results when according to BillyJoe the research was kinda old hat – no surprises, that is.

    I’m not sure if it was my sincere attempt at a synopsis that has garnered the generosity of the time each of you has taken to reply to what i said, but I am humbled. You’ve given me more to consider and learn about and I appreciate it. It’s absolutely wonderful to be able to interact in this way with educated people like you. I doubt there will be much more for me to say after I take the time I know it will take me to digest it- if there is you know I will say it! :)

    much obliged

  44. Mlemaon 16 Nov 2012 at 12:23 am

    Aardwark, I hope you are a teacher because you really seem to have a knack for communication (or perhaps just the kind that makes sense to me – but I don’t think it’s just that)
    thanks.

  45. Mlemaon 16 Nov 2012 at 12:23 am

    thanks ccbowers :)

  46. Mlemaon 16 Nov 2012 at 12:30 am

    sonic: your comments always add another dimension to the subject that is very helpful to me.

    “BTW- you probably know more about this than I do— at what point does one take the inability to apologize seriously?”

    this was too cryptic for me to follow until BJ explained it had something to do with him lying. (thanks BJ) I thought maybe I was supposed to apologize for having a thick skull! :)

    this is true for all of us: to err is human, to forgive: divine
    so, just see if you can find some of that divinity for me OK?
    patience too

    cheers

  47. Mlemaon 16 Nov 2012 at 12:33 am

    oh, and BillyJoe!
    thanks again and please see above apology in first comment

  48. BillyJoe7on 16 Nov 2012 at 5:47 am

    Mlema,

    Okay, I was correct right from the start.
    You are a shameless troll.

    It was fun, though, dissecting sonic in front of his unctious and unquestioning acolyte.

  49. Mlemaon 16 Nov 2012 at 6:42 pm

    perhaps your knowledge on this subject is so superior and extensive that’s it’s no longer possible for you to really explain anything about it in a way that someone like myself can understand. You just tell me I’m wrong over and over and repeat a few phrases that I learned in high school many years ago.

    What am I supposed to think other than you want me to change my mind but you’re unable to show me why I should?

    Sometimes when I talk to a person I think is wrong, I try to understand the way they’re understanding something – that way I’m better able to see what they might be missing, and maybe even able to share that with them. For you though BillyJoe it’s all about being correct.

    I still don’t honestly know how you can say you’re “correct” – except that as long as you keep saying “random mutation non-random selection random mutation non-random mutation random mutation non-random selection blah blah blah…” you feel you’ve got the consensus behind you and you are on the side of correctness. But I suppose if you didn’t do that you wouldn’t have spurred me on to reading the article several times. So, thanks for that.
    And again, I apologize that I’m simply not able to gain any understanding from what you say. Obviously others do, but I kinda think it’s because they already know what you’re yammering about.

    Maybe after the first time you say to someone: “it’s useless” you ought to quit. Isn’t that how you’re supposed to handle trolling anyway?

    Now leave me alone will ya? I’m still reading the interview with Spetner that you indirectly linked me to.
    but sincerely BillyJoe, I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

  50. BillyJoe7on 16 Nov 2012 at 11:39 pm

    Yes, absolutely no hard feelings, Mlema. Have a nice weekend also. I actually sort of like you, believe it or not. And sonic amuses me. But things like that do not come across in text. It always amazes me when other posters think they’ve upset me. I never get upset online. I mean how can faceless text upset anyone? And I don’t mind a bit of trolling now and then, though I never do that myself. It sort of keeps you on your toes.

    I have tried time and again to explain things, even almost in point form. I just don’t understand why it is so hard to grasp. I don’t think I am any less clear than ccbowers who is delivering the same message in almost the same words. But you (?pretend to) understand him. And I have to disagree that Aardwark writes clearly. I mean I understand him, but if you cannot understand what I’m saying, if baffles me how you could possibly understand him.

    Also, you voice agreement with other posters without demonstrating that you have actually understood what they have said. And you agree with posters with contrary views. That’s a big red flag for me.

    And I’m not trying to change your mind. And I’m not insisting I’m correct. I’m trying to show you what the mainstream view is. I’m trying to show that sonic’s views are fringe views that have been well and truly debunked, and that the evidence for those fringe views can be well and truly explained by the modern synthesis that those fringe views are purporting to overthrow.

    Regards,
    BillyJoe

    PS: Read Spetner, but, remember, he is no evolutionary biologist and it shows. He knows about probabilities as applied to physics, but it doesn’t translate into evolutionary biology – which is quite a bit more complicated – and he doesn’t even know that he doesn’t know that.

    But I will leave you alone now. :)

  51. BillyJoe7on 19 Nov 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Okay, it seems we are done here.

    But let me just point out in conclusion that sonic:
    1) Has not given a definition of ‘random’
    2) Denies that ‘non-random’ means ‘directed’.
    2) Has not given a mechanism by which mutation could be ‘non-random’ but not ‘directed’.

    Let me also point out that Lee Spetner who sonic quoted favourably:
    1) Also has not given a defintion of ‘random’.
    2) Believes that mutation is ‘directed’.
    3) Believes that God is the director.

    I’m going to remember this thread if this topic ever comes up again.
    Be warned, sonic. ;)

  52. sonicon 21 Nov 2012 at 2:18 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    Bon voyage isn’t going to work, is it? We have had way too many exchanges for me not to at least try to understand better.

    I want to be clear- there is a problem, a problem such that this might very well be my last communication that I ever address to you.
    I don’t think the problem is about the science- but let’s start there.

    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evo101/IIIC1aRandom.shtml
    “In this respect, mutations are random—whether a particular mutation happens or not is generally unrelated to how useful that mutation would be.”
    “Researchers have performed many experiments in this area. Though results can be interpreted in several ways, none unambiguously support directed mutation. Nevertheless, scientists are still doing research that provides evidence relevant to this issue.”

    I like to look at the evidence and discuss it. I know of no experiment or observation that ‘unambiguously’ supports the notion that mutations are not random with respect to survival (fitness), but I have noticed that some of the findings from the actual sequencing of the genomes (something that couldn’t be done not long ago) make the notion less implausible.
    For example, the notion of ‘junk’ DNA is in danger of being tossed as a myth; it seems that might be relevant to this discussion.

    It is does seem clear that mutations are not completely random with respect to when they occur, how they occur, in what locations on the genome they occur…

    I do think this observation about the insect genome indicates that there might be ‘favored pathways’ for the genome to follow in actual fact. While this may not be a necessary aspect theoretically, it does appear to be a fact in terms of how life on earth has actually evolved.

    You are correct about this: I don’t like the word ‘directed ‘ in this case. I find it to be a loaded word that leads to illogic in people. Often people are violently for the concept (theist) or violently against it (atheist) — when passions run that deep the reasoning often gets motivated by philosophy rather than observation.

    At this point I could go on, or I could stop. You will have a rejoinder. In the past I might have responded to that. There could be a back and forth and perhaps some learning might occur. This has been a good arrangement until fairly recently. So while we may have disagreements about this, I don’t think they explain the recent shift in behaviors that I have observed.

    You see, at this point it seems I have done something to upset you so much that you are now trying to hurt me. Maybe I’m over reacting, maybe I’m misinterpreting.
    But you have lied to others about me, you don’t apologize. It seems you again recently said false things about me on a thread. You have attacked people I’m talking to- relentlessly harassing them to the point they tell you to go away… It’s weird.

    Look, maybe you aren’t really upset with me, but certainly you can empathize with why I am concerned about this apparent shift in behaviors- it certainly seems that I have done something to upset you to the point where you would viciously attack someone for communicating with me.

    I feel like a dunderhead for not knowing what it is that I’ve done.
    I feel like I should apologize for not knowing what to apologize for.
    It’s frustrating.

    If you would be so kind as to point out my transgression, I will probably acknowledge the error, apologize for having done that, and determine to cease such behaviors in the future.

    Balls in your court.

  53. Mlemaon 21 Nov 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Sonic, thanks for writing this. i too would like to say to you BillyJoe that I really don’t understand your attacks and criticisms on Sonic. I understand you’re vehemently opposed to discussions that explore the roles of randomness in evolution unless they fit the narrowest definitions of certain words. But you imply that Sonic is saying things that he’s not. I’m starting to think that you are just reading things into what he says. If you read carefully you will see that of all the people that post here he may be the most agnostic in what he writes. I fear you run the risk of blinding yourself to current science by your own fear of threatened ideas. There’s no need to be afraid that someone’s going to prove something that isn’t so. Any ideas that any of us have that are outlandish and unscientific can always be refuted through facts. And there’s plenty of people here who really seem to have an outstanding command of the facts.

    Billy JOe I learned a lot from this conversation. I’m still learning, but not interested in writing about it any more because I don’t like to be simply told: “you’re wrong (without saying in what way)” and “try to understand”. I’m mean, what do you think I’m trying to do except understand? I suppose finding in you someone who I can always manage to irritate may appeal to the curmudgeon in me, and for that I apologize. All I can say is I’ll try to be better. If I try to avoid making purposeless comments, will you do the same?

  54. BillyJoe7on 22 Nov 2012 at 6:24 am

    Sonic,

    I don’t know what more I can say.
    You don’t upset me, you amuse me.

    The only person who has upset me was Jeremiah who trawled the internet looking for clues to my identity, threw hints that he knew where I lived, made veiled threats to harm me and others in my life, and stated that he was an army boxing instructor.

    As I said above, you amuse me. You amuse he how you never come to any conclusions about anything or, at least, to state what your conclusions are. There’s always some study somewhere to throw some doubt on something. I’ve often asked you what you believe to be the case regarding evolution, but it seems untill there is absolute proof (never), you are not prepared to reach a conclusion.

    You think there is evidence that mutations are not random. If I am wrong that this does not also mean that you must believe that mutations are directed, then I would like to know by what possible mechanism mutations could be non-random but also not directed. Without a possible mechanism, non-random mutation is not plausible, especially when evidence for it is easily explained by assuming mutation is random and selection non-random. You don’t like the word ‘directed’ but you don’t offer an alternative. My guess is that your alternative word will mean exactly the same thing. Prove me wrong.

    You won’t give a definition of ‘random’.
    You don’t like the word ‘directed’, but don’t offer an alternative.
    You won’t explain how mutations can be ‘non-random’ but also ‘not directed’.

    And then you link to a creationist.
    Go figure?

  55. BillyJoe7on 22 Nov 2012 at 6:51 am

    Mlema,

    I attack sonic’s musings on non-random mutation.
    I attack him when he fails to give substance to his musings.
    (But ‘attack’ is too harsh a word, there is no malice involved, just a desire to protect the truth)

    In my opinion, if mutations are not random, they must be directed.
    (Please see the accepted defintion of randon in my previous post)
    In my opinion, if mutations are directed, that implies a supernatural agent.
    If sonic has a different explanation, it is high time he expressed it.
    And if he agrees with Lee Spetner who he quoted favourably, it is high time he said so also.

    And really, Mlema, I have patiently tried to explain things to you, over several days and over several posts, even when I was strongly suspicious of your motives. I can’t se that you have anything to complain about.

  56. BillyJoe7on 25 Nov 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Dear sonic,

    The silence is deafening.

    So it seems it’s okay for you cast doubt on modern evolutionary theory every chance you get amongst those who do not necessarily have a good working knowledge about evolution, but it’s not okay for me to show why those doubts are misplaced.

    So I will leave you and your readers and supporters with the following revealing points:

    1) Despite several invitations to do so, you have steadfastly refused to give a definition of ‘random’. You have also refused to say whether or not you agree that the definition I gave, or to say why you disagree. So this is very curious, especially as this whole argument has revolved around whether or not mutations are random. Surely we need an agreed definition of ‘random’ before we discus whether or not mutations are random.

    2) You say that the links and quotes you provided suggest that mutations are not random and, when it is pointed out to you that this is not what the authors are saying, you refuse to discus it any further. You don’t agree that if mutation are non-random it must mean that mutations are directed, but you refuse to offer an alternative word which does not mean the same as ‘directed’. And you refuse to give a mechanism whereby mutations could possibly be non-random.

    3) You provide a quote from someone I’ve never heard of who turns out to be a physicist, not an evolutionary biologist, and a creationist who specifically went to Israel to find evidence to support his creationist views and to find evidence against modern evolutionary theory. And, when this is pointed out to you, you refuse to discus this any further. Why?

    Sonic, it is a waste of time to just cast doubt. You must have a position. All conclusions in science are tentative. That does not mean you can’t have a position. The theory of evolutions by means of random mutation and natural selection is virtually unassailable. Yes, it might one day be disproven, but not by the wishy washy nonsense you have bought to our attention here.

    If you cannot defend the doubts expressed by others about modern evolutionary theory, then it is beyond me why you even bother to bring them up here time and time again. And if you actually agree with those views, it is high time you actually said so and started defending thoses views.

    regards,
    BillyJoe

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