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Paper professes to show how evolution can learn

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A friend draws attention to this paywalled paper, noting that—however it tries to wallpaper issues—at least confronts a problem: The conventional claims about how natural selection can simply “gather” information are inadequate.

It’s nice wallpaper; there’s probably no wall under it. But there doesn’t need to be.

One can say anything one wants about evolution these days and attribute anything at all to it.

From Trends and Ecology and Evolution:

The theory of evolution links random variation and selection to incremental adaptation. In a different intellectual domain, learning theory links incremental adaptation (e.g., from positive and/or negative reinforcement) to intelligent behaviour. Specifically, learning theory explains how incremental adaptation can acquire knowledge from past experience and use it to direct future behaviours toward favourable outcomes. Until recently such cognitive learning seemed irrelevant to the ‘uninformed’ process of evolution. In our opinion, however, new results formally linking evolutionary processes to the principles of learning might provide solutions to several evolutionary puzzles – the evolution of evolvability, the evolution of ecological organisation, and evolutionary transitions in individuality. If so, the ability for evolution to learn might explain how it produces such apparently intelligent designs.

This unification suggests that evolution can learn in more sophisticated ways than previously realised and offers new theoretical approaches to tackling evolutionary puzzles such as the evolution of evolvability, the evolution of ecological organisations, and the evolution of Darwinian individuality. More.

[cue peaceful savannah scenic w. photostock herd animals … ]

But “evolution” is an abstraction. (It is usually presented by new atheists and Christian Darwinists as a religion, but that makes it no less an abstraction.)

(It is usually presented by new atheists and Christian Darwinists as a religion, but that makes it no less an abstraction.)

Who or what is doing the learning? And who wants to pay roughly US$40 to find out what “Darwinian individuality” is?

$40 later, it’s just another canard like the selfish gene.

Friend cautiously suggests, “Whether they have succeeded in demonstrating the relevance of ‘recent work’ is another question.”

If they had, they’d be getting all sorts of prizes, never mind attention. So no.

An abstraction can’t be “learning.” To support the idea, proponents sometimes place the burden of learning on life forms that do not apparently have the mental equipment. See here for a claim that individual hive workers make personal calculations (doubtful, given the organization of insect intelligence)

And then of course there are those scheming mares …

See also: The full Animal minds series

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2 Replies to “Paper professes to show how evolution can learn

  1. 1
    tjguy says:

    If so, the ability for evolution to learn might explain how it produces such apparently intelligent designs.

    It might. But then again, it might not. Is that supposed to be a scientific statement?

    The various codes found in life, some of which are interdependent and can be read both backwards and forwards, some of which are 3D, codes that are self-correcting, etc. might be evidence of purpose and design in life.

    If their statement counts, then so does this one!

    Another possibility is that the apparently intelligent design seen in life REALLY IS intelligent design! I know. That conclusion is a bit far out there! It entails thinking outside the box, but it is the simplest and most logical conclusion.

    Whether you deem that to be a scientific hypothesis/statement or not really doesn’t matter.
    It IS a possible answer and a search for truth will not allow one to simply ruled it out for worldview reasons. IN FACT, it that answer probably makes the best sense of the data!

    Scientists are free to believe what they want. They are free to rule out that answer for whatever they want – even if only because it “violates” their understanding of science. It’s a free world.

    The reader can be the judge of whether such an action – ruling out an answer simply because it violates one’s worldview – is a proper approach to the data or not. And whether it can really scientists arrive at the right answer or not.

    Is that really a scientific thing to do?

  2. 2
    Shamol says:

    Has any substantive response available to this? A popular IFL Science article appeared on the back of this as well.

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