Recently, Aurelio Smith had a guest publication here at Uncommon Descent entitled Signal to Noise: A Critical Analysis of Active Information. Most of the post is taken up by a recounting of the history of active information. He also quotes the criticisms of Felsentein and English which have responded to at Evolution News and Views: These Critics of Intelligent Design Agree with Us More Than They Seem to Realize. Smith then does spend a few paragraphs developing his own objections to active information.
Smith argues that viewing evolution as a search is incorrect, because organisms/individuals aren’t searching, they are being acted upon by the environment:
Individual organisms or populations are not searching for optimal solutions to the task of survival. Organisms are passive in the process, merely affording themselves of the opportunity that existing and new niche environments provide. If anything is designing, it is the environment. I could suggest an anthropomorphism: the environment and its effects on the change in allele frequency are “a voice in the sky” whispering “warmer” or “colder”.
When we say search we simply mean a process that can be modeled as a probability distribution. Smith’s concern is irrelevent to that question. However, even if we are trying to model evolution as a optimization or solution-search problem Smith’s objection doesn’t make any sense. The objects of a search are always passive in the search. Objecting that the organisms aren’t searching is akin to objecting that easter eggs don’t find themselves. That’s not how any kind of search works. All search is the environment acting on the objects in the search.
Rather than demonstrating the “active information” in Dawkins’ Weasel program, which Dawkins freely confirmed is a poor model for evolution with its targeted search, would DEM like to look at Wright’s paper for a more realistic evolutionary model?
This is a rather strange comment. Smith quoted our discussion of Avida previously. But here he implies that we’ve only ever discussed Dawkin’s Weasel program. We’ve discussed Avida, Ev, Steiner Trees, and Metabiology. True, we haven’t looked at Wright’s paper, but its completely unreasonable to suggest that we’ve only discussed Dawkin’s “poor model.”
Secondly, “fitness landscape” models are not accurate representations of the chaotic, fluid, interactive nature of the real environment . The environment is a kaleidoscope of constant change. Fitness peaks can erode and erupt.
It is true that a static fitness landscape is an insufficient model for biology. That is why our work on conservation of information does not assume a static fitness landscape. Our model is deliberately general enough to handle any kind of feedback mechanism.
While I’m grateful for Smith taking the time to writeup his discussion, I find it very confused. The objections he raises don’t make any sense.