Evolution

News from the front (and back) of evolutionary theory. Lots of bitching about Darwin.

Blake-TheAncientOfDays-Trans292I am in LOVE with evidence of truly complex and sophisticated systems in Biology. It makes me really happy when something strange and amazing shows up revealing higher-order relationships and systems than anyone thought. I love it because life seems more deep and meaningful in a world of higher orders of mind and connectedness. I feel that they exist undiscovered all around us, but it doesn’t seem strange to me that we have trouble seeing it.  We are locked into a level of existence and limited perception that makes it deeply challenging to learn anything beyond the obvious scope of our senses. Often these exciting results suggest something like intelligence or intent. Not always directly, just through a kind of “How in the world could that work?” feeling. I have a naturally joyous response to scientific recognition of elegantly complex systems. To me, it feels like wonderful news.

In this blog, I state things as if with the force of facts, things I only happen to think are true. Things I see around me and want to share. Occasionally I will report on experimental results that I find interesting or even supportive of my position. The difference is, I don’t call what I am doing Science. I am not a scientist and anyone disagreeing with me would be fair to say I am pretty much just talking out of my butt. Maybe even those who agree with me. I am just making this stuff up, but if it resonates with you, it means you see it now too!

My “theories” are true from where I’m looking. I simply observe them. I find them compelling enough to want to share but I make no exaggerated claims about how much they will change your life. One man’s revelation is another’s “Meh”. Sometimes I challenge myself to figure out and describe something absurdly big and complicated… and the best means I have found to do this is to write about it in public. When my name is on it in a place where someone might see it, I feel inspired enough (or embarrassed enough) to keep returning and improving.

But I am not in any way a creationist or intelligent design advocate. “Creation scientists” have named themselves in a way that suggests they are on par with other scientific disciplines but their work begins with tossing out the scientific method. When they teach science they are peddling a “lite” substitute.

If they want to start a church of intelligent design, by all means do, that sounds like a relatively nice, relatively enlightened  theology. But that is the only appropriate place for their efforts because they are committed in advance to an outcome without testing. Because they conflate experimental results out of proportion to the experiment. Because they start with an agenda and reject counter evidence. Because they accept low-quality research that they agree with. Scientists CAN be religious people without in any way tainting the results. They simply practice each in its own domain.

“Creation scientists” are religious lobbyists in lab coat drag.

 

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A Species is often defined as the largest group of organisms where two individuals are capable of reproducing fertile offspring, typically using sexual reproduction.

Species Complex is a group of closely related species that are very similar in appearance to the point that the boundaries between them are often unclear. Differentiating measures include similarity of DNA, morphology, or ecological niche.

Speciation is the evolutionary process by which reproductively isolated biological populations evolve to become distinct species.

Adaptive radiation is a process in which organisms diversify rapidly into a multitude of new forms, particularly when a change in the environment makes new resources available, creates new challenges, or opens new environmental niches. Continue reading

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  • Genotype: The genes present in an organism, potential or expressed.
  • Phenotype: The genes the organism is expressing.
  • Epigenetics: the turning on or off of gene expression via environmental events…”nurture”.
  • Behavioral Epigenetics: The study of how these events in the environment trigger molecular biological changes in our brains. These include: social experience; nutrition; hormones; and toxicological exposures that occur prenatally, postnatally, and in adulthood. 

A common example is the way that twins, born with basically identical phenotypes, vary as individuals in behavior, appearance and health. Nurture, experience and behavior drive the expression of different genes, leading to generally larger changes over the course of their lives. 

The study of epigenetics is a tiny new branch off the tree of molecular biology and behavioral epigenetics is a bud on that branch. Yet it is already a vast and exciting field. Excitement and ferment in science can be measured partly by how many new questions are bubbling up in that area. Most experiments in this area are yielding more questions than answers but that in a sense describes how deep and rich a mine this is for scientists to explore.  The field is seen as holding the potential to explain and perhaps even solve medical troubles, such as mental retardation, autism, schizophrenia, and neurodegenerative disorders, and even social issues, such as aging, addiction, suicide, child abuse, and child neglect. 

 

Food for thought: 

  • This totally relates to my earlier post “Epigenetics changes everything” The idea that a fear could be passed epigenetically three generations forward with no reinforcement still absolutely boggles my mind. It hints at some of the complexity within this system. 
  • In relation to Darwinism – It doesn’t exactly invalidate Darwinism because at its root, Darwinism is a small group of simple truisms that explain very little. But it further reveals how much more elegant and sophisticated life is than explained in classical Darwinism. Not that Darwin himself can be faulted for not have more advanced knowledge. Interestingly, two of Darwin’s losing rivals for a theory of inheritance, Alfred Russell Wallace and Jean Baptiste Lamarck continue to be redeemed by our advancing knowledge. Wallace saw a potential for improving the lot of the poor through this knowledge and Lamarck believed the experiences of  an organism could cause changes inherited by later generations. Darwin himself favored the idea of harsh competition as the driving force. The importance of Darwinism has always been drawing a hard line between nature and theology. The continued social disputes over Darwinism VS creationism just show how hard it is to make any intellectual advances culturally on hot button issues. 
  • If the experience of gruelling poverty causes measurable impact on children (and thus, their entire lives and descendents) couldn’t this be considered cultural child abuse or at least neglect? 
  • A related but separate issue. Darwin was personally a mild and retiring character but he was wealthy and privileged. In his own mind his theory was also a justification for rich vs poor, upper class vs lower class. EG: We are rich and well because because we are fitter. You are poor and sick because you are less fit. H.G. Wells sketched a nightmare projection of this into the future in his book: The Time Machine with the two branches of the human race, the Eloi (rich) and the Morlock (poor). Although Wells was a socialist, Darwin must have had a somewhat similar picture of the future except for him it would have been acceptable. 
  • I’d like to reference my earlier post “The Neuromechanics of Cruelty” for a number of examples of how Darwin was simply acting out the familiar human traits of rationalizing his privilege and seeing it as based on personal merit. As were all the harsher “social darwinists” who followed. 
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Within months there have been some remarkable breakthroughs in Biology that I find very exciting.  First, they’ve discovered a second code language in DNA. Top level language controls which proteins are made and the second language which was hidden WITHIN the first one controls turning genes on and off. Amazing. Huge implications. And besides that, this extraordinary study below indicates a genetic version of updates to the knowledge base caused by the life experiences of the animal. This is like experiential Lamarckism. 
 
If this study holds up it’s huge.
  1. Mice were trained to be afraid of the smell of cherry blossoms (I don’t even want to know HOW).
  2. These mice later had litters which had never been exposed to cherry blossom and when they were, they were afraid of it.
  3. These second generation mice later had litters and their children…were afraid of the same smell.

This is obviously not direct alteration of the genetic code, it’s a methylation change called epigenetics. What it amounts to though is a much more powerful means of shaping evolution than sheer randomness, but one that doesn’t rely on some variety of intelligent design.

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