9 August 2007

Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

Evolution vs. Intelligent Design = non-issue.

Evolution does not define why things happen. 

It is a mechanism whereby some things that happen, may come to persist (and others, not). 

Graded belief

Human thinking appears to have at least two weaknesses; an automatic assumption of dualities (e.g. "Microsoft and Google are both large; Microsoft is bad, therefore Google must be good"), and an unwillingness to accept unknowns. 

You can re-state the second as a tighter version of the first, i.e. the singleton assumption, rather than duality.

We don't even have words (in English, at least) to differentiate between degrees of belief, i.e. weak ("all things equal, I think it is more likely that A of A, B, C is the truth") and strong ("iron is a metal") belief. 

And I fairly strongly believe we strongly believe too often, when a weaker degree of certainty would be not only more appropriate, but is a needed component in our quest for Word Peace TM.

For example, religious folks have a fairly high certainty of what will happen after they die - but can we all accept that as they have not yet died, that something slightly less than "you're wrong, so I'll kill you" certainty should apply?

What is evolution?

My understanding of evolution, or Darwinian systems, revolves around the following components:

  • limited life span
  • selection pressure
  • imperfect reproduction

That's what I consider to be a classic evolutionary environment, but you may get variations; e.g. if entities change during the course of their lifetime, do not reproduce, but can die, then you could consider this as a Darwinian system that is ultimately set to run down like a wind-up clock as the number of survivors declines towards zero.

In fact, implicit in that classic model is the notion of reproduction based on a self-definition that does not change during the course of an entity's lifetime (in fact, it defines that entity) but can change when spawning next generation entities.

Evolution is blind

Evolution per se, is devoid of intent.  I don't know whether Darwin stressed this in his original writings, but I weakly believe that he did; yet I often see descriptions of creatures "evolving to survive". 

As I understand it, game theory is a reformulation of evolution that centers on the notion of survival intent.

Evolution is something that happens to things, and doesn't "care" whether those things survive or not.  The "selfish gene" concept is an attempt to frame this inevitable sense of "intent" within Darwinian mechanics; there is no more need to ascribe a survival intent to genes, as there is to the phenotypes they define.

However, evolution doesn't have to be the only player on the stage, and this is what I meant about "evolution vs. intelligent design is a non-issue".

I don't think there's much uncertainty that evolution is at work in the world.  That doesn't weigh for or against other (intelligent design) players in the world, and that's why I consider the question a non-issue.

Intelligent players can apply intent from outside the system (e.g. where an external entity defines entities within a Darwinian environment, or the environment itself, or its selection pressures) or from within the system (e.g. where entities apply intent to designing their own progeny).

Example systems

I consider the following to be Darwinian systems:

  • the biosphere
  • the infosphere
  • human culture, i.e. memetics

One could theorize that evolution is an inevitable consequence of complexity, when subjected to entropy.  Just as a moving car is not fast enough to exhibit significant relativistic effects (so that Newton's laws appear to explain everything), so trivial systems may be insufficiently complex to demonstrate Darwinian behavior.

This is why I'm interested in computers and the infosphere; because they are becoming complex enough to defy determinism. 

Normally, we seek to understand the "real world" by peering down from the top, with insufficient clarity to see the bottom. 

With the infosphere, we have an environment that we understand (and created) from the bottom up; what we cannot "see" is the top level that will arise as complexity evolves.

This creates an opportunity to model the one system within the other.  What was an inscrutable "mind / brain" question, becomes "the mind is the software, the brain is the hardware", perhaps over-extended to "the self is the runtime, the mind is the software, the brain is the firmware, the body is the hardware". 

We can also look at computer viruses as a model for biosphere viruses.  A major "aha!" moment for me was when I searched the Internet for information on the CAP virus, and found a lot of articles that almost made sense, but not quite - until I realized these described biological viruses, and were found because of the common bio-virus term "CAPsule".


Common to my understanding of what constitutes a classic Darwinian system, is the notion of information that defines the entity. 

In the biosphere, this is usually DNA or RNA, a language of 4 unique items grouped into threes to map to the active proteins they define.

In the infosphere, this is binary code of various languages, based on bits that are typically grouped into eights as bytes.

In the meme space, languages are carried via symbol sets that are in turn split into unique characters, which are then clumped into words or sentences.  Some languages contain less information within the character set (e.g. Western alphabets), others more (e.g. the Chinese alphabet, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, modern icons and branding marks).

When we create computer code, we are laboriously translating the memetic language of ideas into code that will spawn infosphere entities.  This is not unlike the way a set of chromosomes becomes a chicken, other than that we view the infosphere and meme space as separate Darwinian systems.

The alluring challenge is to translate infosphere code into biosphere code, i.e. to "print DNA", as it were.  One hopes the quality of intent will be sound, by the time this milestone is reached, as in effect, we would be positioned to become our own intelligent creators.

Intelligent design

We know that entities in the infosphere are created by intent from outside the system; as at 2007, we do not believe that new entities arise spontaneously within the system.

We don't know (but may have beliefs about) whether there is intent applied to the biosphere, or whether the biosphere was originally created or shaped by acts of intent.

Conspiracy theorists may point to hidden uber-intenders within the meme space, the creation of which is inherently guided by self-intent.

That which was

Just as folks mistakenly ascribe intent to the mechanics of evolution, so there is a fallacy that all that exists, is all that existed.

But evolution can tell you nothing about what entities one existed, as spawned by mutation or entropic shaping of code.

There is a very dangerous assumption that because you cannot see a surviving entity in the current set, that such entities cannot arise. 

Think of a bio-virus with a fast-death payload a la rabies, plus rapid spread a la the common cold.  The assumption of survival intent leads folks to say stupid things like "but that would kill the host, so the virus wouldn't want that".  Sure, there'd be no survivors in today's entity set, but on the other hand, we know we have some historical bulk extinctions to explain.

We're beginning to see the same complacency on the risks of nuclear war.  We think of humanity as a single chain of upwards development, and therefore are optimistic that "common sense will prevail".  Even nay-sayers that point to our unprecedented ability to destroy ourselves, miss the point in that word "unprecedented".  As Graham Hancock postulated in his Fingerprints of the Gods, we may have been this way before.

This blindness applies to malware within the infosphere as well, and the saying "there's none so blind as those who can see" applies.  If we want authoritative voices on malware, we generally turn to professionals who have been staring at all malware for years, such as the antivirus industry.  These folks may be blinded by what they've seen of all that has been, that they fail to consider all that could be.

The Waking Hour


Unknown said...

Have you been through THE LONG DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL?ftzlm

Chris Quirke said...

Perhaps more the "gloomy evening", but I wouldn't claim to have experienced the darkest of nights. I was always too curious to see what was on the next page to consider suicide.

I pragmatically considered suicide as a comforting always-available option, but the irreversibility of it stayed my hand... mind you, it probably helped that there were no firearms to hand at the time.