Informatics Self-Org. Theory The Design of Life

Robustness untangles ‘Evolution’

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(it’s designed to)

These are some thoughts prompted by the recent article Arrival of the Fittest:

Robustness and flexibility are basic design principles. We design modules so that they are robust against minor damage, bad inputs and changes in other parts of the code. This aids ‘evolvability’ of the whole by untangling the knots so that parts of the design can be worked on independently.

Think of Dawkins’ METHINKSITISLIKEAWEASEL parable. The string of text can evolve because each letter is selected independently. The system is designed to evolve. By contrast, in an undesigned bag of chemicals or genes you would have all kinds of cross interaction which means a change in one chemical could have wide-ranging unpredictable effects. The chemical/genetic cross interactions are like encryption: it scrambles and mixes the information, making it non-robust, and ‘sticky’ – non-evolvable. Evolving an undesigned chaotic system is less like selecting individual letters, but more like selecting for the meaning of an entire encrypted message. That is (obviously) not going to work. Nature tends to scramble its ‘codes’. Designers work hard to unscramble/untangle interactions because that makes it easier to make changes without destroying the progress already made in other parts. Why would evolution act to untangle interactions? It cant, it can only make use of the non-tangledness which leads to robustness if it finds it by chance. Once evolution finds it, and if it can keep it for long enough, there would be an accidental selection effect as it starts to find new directly-selectable solutions faster. I think this must be the idea that the author (Wagner) has in mind.

The problem is that robustness aids progress but is not enough to drive it. The key question that determines whether evolution can lead to progress or not is whether innovations are readily accessible. Robustness helps design, but it is obviously not enough to replace it. However, if it is also true that there is ‘treasure everywhere’ when then of course gradualistic evolution is possible. If there are myriad little machines that just happen to contain increasing numbers of the essential parts of a flagellum, then of course a flagellum couldd eventually result, and this is precisely the kind of scenario that most internet Darwinists imagine.

But is it true? There is no a priori reason to think so, and Lenski, for example, is doing a sterling job of proving to the world that there just isnt ‘treasure everywhere’ to drive evolution. Treasure is rare (or designed).

31 Replies to “Robustness untangles ‘Evolution’

  1. 1
    Andre says:

    Really liked this post thank you……

  2. 2
    Box says:

    It’s a great thing that Wagner puts “robustness” in the limelight of attention. The implicit assumption of robustness of an organism has always struck me as a profoundly irrational part of Darwinian narratives.

    By all means, let’s talk about robustness!

    Under materialism an organism is nothing but a bag of chemicals. Now one of the defining features of life is the unexpected balancing act that these chemical processes perform. The unexpected unity of it all. Miraculously, especially from a materialistic point of view, an organism doesn’t fall apart — on the contrary it ‘self-organizes’ — until the moment of death. Wagner may argue that this is ‘explained’ by the most basic selection process of all: “existence”. IOW we don’t observe organisms that fall apart because all those who did are out of existence.
    Note that the balancing act is not a static equilibrium. It is a fluid shifting from one equilibrium to the next. It’s safe to say that during the life of a single cell, the cell is never the same.
    Now, let us take the materialist’s word for it! Let’s factor in the chance that the balance between the innumerable chemical processes is disrupted.
    Each new external or internal (mutation) change is a potential threat for the balancing act. For every external (environment) and internal change (mutation), goes that an organism is unlikely to be ‘ready’ for it, since it cannot have been selected for.
    The Darwinist may object that this is not in accord with what we actually see, that organisms are more resilient to new influences than may be expected from a ‘bag of chemicals’. So much the worse for their materialistic view on life.

    The “wormholes” through the fitness landscape — e.g. from land animal to whale — need to provide a path that is sequenced in such a way that the delicate balancing act of the bag of chemicals is not disrupted. When traversing the wormhole, all the new mutations, all the change in environment has to be somehow in perfect accord with the balancing act.
    In short: to be able to traverse the wormhole the organism needs information for a continued adequate homeostasis (robustness). Where does it come from? The law of conservation of information tells us that the information needs to be accounted for anyway.

    Can we measure homeostasis? How many mutations is an organism likely to handle? How much changes in the environment can an organism likely handle?
    Note that what I really would like to measure is: How many mutations can a ‘bag of chemicals that happens to be in a balance’ likely handle? How much change in the environment can ‘bag of chemicals that happens to be in a balance’ likely handle?

    Conclusion: Not only does the Darwinist need to account for all the information for the reconstruction from land animal into a whale, but he also needs to account for all the information that regulates homeostasis during the entire trip through the wormhole.
    IOW there is also a search for an extremely balanced search. The fitness landscape is riddled with treacherous slant planes and deadly gaping holes.

  3. 3
    keith s says:

    andyjones and Box,

    I would recommend reading the book itself instead of relying on the poorly written review of another review of the book at EN&V.

    Arrival of the Fittest is full of bad news for ID, and you’ll be hearing a lot about it. Might as well read it now so you’ll be prepared.

  4. 4
    ppolish says:

    Be prepared for what, Keith? I read it and imagine it will help ID. I found the most clunky parts of the book were when Wagner tried to mesh Evo Dogma into his “Universal Hyperastronomical Library” idea. Wagner needs to read some Dembski to take his library to the next level.

  5. 5
    ppolish says:

    Last paragraph in the book BTW:
    “When we begin to study nature’s libraries we aren’t just investigating life’s innovabilty or that of technology. We are shedding new light on one of the most durable and fascinating subjects in all of philosophy. And we learn that life’s creativity draws from a source that is older than life, and perhaps older than time.”

    Older than life? Older than time perhaps? Neo Darwinism is no help there. Older than life is Chemistry not NeoDarwin. Older than time is Theology not NeoDarwiin.

  6. 6
    Box says:

    “And we learn that life’s creativity draws from a source that is older than life, and perhaps older than time.”

    So, Wagner provides a rather vague answer to the question: where does the information in “Universal Hyperastronomical Library” come from?

  7. 7
    ppolish says:

    There is a “Hidden Architecture” (chap 6) , Box.
    “Unlike galaxies, which self-assemble through gravitational attraction of cosmic nature, or biological membranes, which self organize through the love-hate relationship of lipid molecules with water, genotype networks do not emerge over time. They exist in the timeless eternal realm of nature’s libraries. But they certainly have a form of organization-so complex that we are just beginning to understand it-and this organization arises all by itself.
    …….
    Wherever metabolisms, proteins, and regulatory circuits are robust, genotype networks emerge.” Pg 176

    Emerge. All by itself. Boom, take that ID.

  8. 8
    Mung says:

    keiths:

    I would recommend reading the book itself instead of relying on the poorly written review of another review of the book at EN&V.

    Is this the same keiths who assured us there’s nothing new in the book?

    Arrival of the Fittest is full of bad news for ID, and you’ll be hearing a lot about it. Might as well read it now so you’ll be prepared.

    This threat, along with your constant threats of your imminent banning, wears thin.

  9. 9
    Box says:

    pp #7: Emerge. All by itself. Boom, take that ID.

    Aha! What an elegant and astonishingly simple solution to the problem! Well, that’s it. Wagner nailed it. ID is busted.
    Thx everyone. It has been fun as long as it lasted.

  10. 10
    keith s says:

    ppolish,

    Be prepared for what, Keith? I read it and imagine it will help ID.

    How can it possibly help ID? It shows exactly why evolution doesn’t require guidance. Random mutation and selection can do the job without it.

  11. 11
    keith s says:

    Mung:

    Is this the same keiths who assured us there’s nothing new in the book?

    You’re pitiful, Mung.

    Here’s what I actually wrote about Wagner’s interview, not about the book:

    Wagner just adds — and this is not original to him, by any means — that the fitness landscape isn’t limited to one solution per problem. We knew that already, though IDers like kairosfocus try to downplay it with their “islands of function” rhetoric.

  12. 12
    ppolish says:

    Random mutations and selection, Keith? Did you read the two important quotes I just posted? Did we read the same book?

    Source older than life? Older than time? Timeless eternal realm? Genotype networks poofing into existence?

    We’re way beyond random mutations and selection:)

  13. 13
    Mung says:

    So the response from keiths is that previously he had not read the book and did not know what was in the book, but now that he has read the book and knows what is in the book, what…?

    keiths:

    Arrival of the Fittest is full of bad news for ID, and you’ll be hearing a lot about it. Might as well read it now so you’ll be prepared.

    We’re waiting. Wondering if you’ve even read it. Waiting for all those devastating arguments against ID in it. Nothing non-Darwinian in the book? Really?

  14. 14
    ppolish says:

    Keith, you were comfortable with random mutation and selection before Wagner weren’t you? Or maybe you had nagging doubts.

    Theistic ID is eternal, “before” Big Bang and
    after. Design in the formation of Chemistry. Design in the formation of Biology. Design in the formation of Consciousness. Design in the formation of beyond Consciousness.

    Wagner posits the “source” of creativity is pre biology. Self Organization emerging from nothing before life began. Random mutation and selection are dependent on this mysterious foundation of Laws & Principles. Wagner connects Darwin Evolution to the fine-tuned Universe. That is ID talk. Dawkins Evolution starts with life. Before life is Chemistry not Darwin Evolution to Richard. How will Ruchard react to to Quantum Woo of Wagnet I wonder. I wonder if Dawkins even reads books beyond his own anymore lol.

  15. 15
    andyjones says:

    Keith, you said

    Wagner just adds — and this is not original to him, by any means — that the fitness landscape isn’t limited to one solution per problem. We knew that already, though IDers like kairosfocus try to downplay it with their “islands of function” rhetoric.

    Actually both claims are true: It is true there is more than one solution per problem. In fact, if you read some of Doug Axe’s papers you will find that for many proteins there are astronomical numbers of sequences that would work. However, despite this, the proportion of sequences that succeed in correctly folding a large protein is astronomically small (something like 10^-70). Therefore kairos’ “islands of function” metaphor is apt. I don’t think it is meant to imply that only one solution works. Its the same with a computer program: there could be very many different ways of coding it, using different algorithms, different variable names, and so on. But functional programs do not happen by chance, and there are limits on the way they can evolve.

  16. 16
    Mung says:

    “Where the modern synthesis has a theory without phenotypes, the embryologists have phenotypes without a theory.”

    – Andreas Wagner

  17. 17
    Mung says:

    “The real mystery of evolution is not selection, but the creation of new phenotypes.”

    – Andreas Wagner

  18. 18
    Mung says:

    “…natural selection is not a creative force.”

    – Andreas Wagner

  19. 19
    Joe says:

    keith s:

    It shows exactly why evolution doesn’t require guidance. Random mutation and selection can do the job without it.

    There isn’t anything of the sort shown in the book. If it did Wagner would win the Nobel Prize as the first to be able to do so.

  20. 20
    Mung says:

    Arrival of the Fittest contains brand-new scientific insights…It is a landmark book that combines original, perhaps revolutionary ideas…”

    – Matt Ridley

  21. 21
    Mung says:

    Arrival of the Fittest reveals the astonishing hidden structure of evolution, long overlooked by biologists, which makes Darwin’s grand idea viable after all.”

    – Philip Ball

  22. 22
    Mung says:

    “A radical departure from the mainstream perspective on Darwinian evolution.”

    – Rolf Dobelli

  23. 23
    Mung says:

    keiths:

    Arrival of the Fittest is full of bad news for ID, and you’ll be hearing a lot about it. Might as well read it now so you’ll be prepared.

    We’re waiting…

  24. 24
    Mung says:

    “The number of potential proteins is not merely astronomical, it is hyperastronomical, much greater than the number of hydrogen atoms in the universe.”

    – Andreas Wagner

  25. 25
    Mung says:

    “…scientists had long since forsworn the biblical accounts asserting that the earth was only six thousand years old.”

    – Andreas Wagner

  26. 26
    Mung says:

    “…can we infer how strongly the dark color affects fitness, a moth’s chances of remaining hidden from birds?”

    – Andreas Wagner

  27. 27
    Mung says:

    The biblical accounts assert the earth was only 6000 years old.

    The definition of fitness is a moth’s chances of remaining hidden from birds.

    Science writing at it’s best. Or not.

    And this is the book that sounds the death knell for ID. Or not.

  28. 28
    jerry says:

    The premise in Wagner’s book is easily testable. All these new proteins should be readily apparent in related genomes. If it is easy to find a new compatible folding protein then the march toward this protein has to be present in related species but which fell short.

    Say two species in the same family, one with a functional protein not present in the other. The species without the functional protein should show evidence of this same protein forming but failing to reach functionality.

    Should be easily testable in the near future if not now.

  29. 29
    Mung says:

    “The revolutions in evolutionary thought are different from other scientific revolutions.”

    – Andreas Wagner

  30. 30
    Mung says:

    fitness, the average number of genes a typical individual transmits to the next generation. (Fitter organisms contribute more genes to the next generation’s gene pool.)”

    – Andreas Wagner

  31. 31
    Mung says:

    So is fitness a moth’s chances of remaining hidden from birds, or is it something else?

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