In a recent UD thread, several UD members have taken issue with the ID concept of frontloading. Frontloading is a question which certainly merits more discussion than it usually gets, and here I want to clear up a few things regarding frontloading that are usually missed.
I am a big fan of frontloading even though I don’t believe it is entirely true. The reason for this is that, first of all, I think that there are many theoretical systems which are good in a limited scope, but bad in a larger scope. However, it takes the people dedicated to fleshing out the widest scope of their theories in order for the rest of us to see where exactly the theory succeeds and fails, and what its limitations are. I take the approach to watch the frontloaders cook up their most grand of theories, and for myself to take the practical step of eating the meat and spitting out the bone. And, because I find value in their work, I am also willing to help them a little in the kitchen.
Therefore, I wanted to clear up at least a few issues with regards to frontloading. The version of frontloading I am defending here is that of a frontloading to a first organism, which is the universal ancestor to all other organisms. Most of the complaints regarding frontloading in the previous post mentioned have to do with the idea of frontloading into physics prior to the advent of the original organism. Here we will be concerned only with the idea of frontloading as the creation of the first living being with the information to make all the rest.
Mostly, I don’t think that frontloading, at least with regard to the genome, is a theoretical problem. In fact, Hubert Yockey showed using Shannon’s channel capacity theorem that it was certainly within the realm of possibility. I would think anyone who has used a computer would understand this.
Imagine a bare computer. Now imagine a Windows install disk. The Windows install disk is the front-loaded ancestor to all of the applications that come on the Windows operating system. It is a program which contains all the information necessary to create all the programs needed to run a Windows environment. (I use Windows only as an example everyone is familiar with – if you are not using a Mac you should be!)
An additional complaint is that of the size that the genome would have to be to accomplish this. However, it seems that genomes can get almost arbitrarily large without causing organisms metabolic problems. For instance, the amoeba genome (Amoeba dubia) is 100 times the size of the human genome! Given the amount of genetic overlap among genes among various species, it is not inconceivable that an original genome could be built which contained all of the necessary pieces for future diversification.
Note also that frontloading can be used to solve the mystery of the fossil record. With frontloading, organisms can appear suddenly, precisely because the information to build them was already there!
I am often amused at the evo-devo crowd which thinks that evo-devo somehow saves Darwinism. But in reality, every new discovery within the realm of evo-devo actually aids the argument of an intelligently frontloaded system, and moves biology further away from the idea that organisms can increase complexity like magic.
Now, although I find frontloading a possibility for the genome, I have to wonder at its usefulness in other areas, such as consciousness. Just like our hypothetical frontloaded ancestor requires more genetic material than any modern organism, so would it require a greater consciousness than any modern organism, if only latently. I don’t think that the pioneers of frontloading have put much thought into this question, but I think that, at least on its face, this seems to point away from frontloading as being a total solution.
My own opinion is that we will find frontloading of major groups of animals and plants, but not a universal common ancestral frontloading. But nonetheless, I wish the frontloaders well in their endeavors, as they pave the way for new ways of understanding the unfolding of life on earth.