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strange wildlife

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  Messages 21-18 deleted by author between 08-18-2008 02:02 AM and 02-22-2008 04:13 PM
Tony Quirke
11:13 PM ET (US)
The answer to your question is simply this: They (we) won't have to handle that. These attempts at creating "life in a test-tube" will fail just as all other attempts have failed.

Hmmm. Zanzibar, I assume you're a Christian. You might wanna consider Genesis 3:22 closely...
Eric K
02:33 PM ET (US)
Well, we're not quite "just an accident". We're a local maximum in a roughly 2^1.5e9-dimensional search space. Natural selection has been searching this space by means of trial and error for 3.5 billion years.

This search strategy has already stumbled across two ways of searching better. The first, DNA exchange, occurs either through sexual reproduction or plasmids. By exchanging DNA, organisms can mix-and-match partial solutions.

The second search improvement was a bit more subtle. Once organisms could learn, they could search "nearby" designs and remember what worked. And once evolution started selecting organisms for the ability to learn specific behaviors, you got a low-grade pseudo-Lamarckianism called the Baldwin effect. If I understand the math correctly, this should speed up evolution.

Natural selection finds "good" solutions (i.e., ones which have lots of offspring) far more efficiently than random chance, because it has memory from one generation to the next (DNA), recombination (sex), and fast local search (learning and the Baldwin effect).

Of course, even with written language and universities, we still can't learn all that fast. Humans can only learn at 1 or 2 bits per second times 6 billion people, assuming they're all awake, studying something useful, and so on. So there's still plenty of room for improvement, which is either impressive or scary.
Charlie StrossPerson was signed in when posted
09:29 AM ET (US)
Macroevolution isn't predictive or deterministic, it's heuristic. To assert that evolution has some sort of goal is to fall into a teleological fallacy. We aren't the "height of creation" -- we're just an accident.
Stephen Shevlin
09:25 AM ET (US)
"In the blog entry Mr Stross uses the two experiments to make NON-DNA/RNA based life (if successful obviously) as "phase-changes" of evolution. Which is it? Does macroevolution predict and require that all life will/must use DNA/RNA or doesn't it?"

This doesn't seem that hard to reconcile. Macroevolution predicts apparently that all naturally evolved life will use/must use DNA/RNA [1]. The word "experiment" means to me some action that is made by an advanced tool wielding scientific intelligent being to test a hypothesis. This is not "natural", rather "artificial". And... macroevolution does not predict that such scientific beings will inevitably arise, that's going to depend on the history of a species and it's predecessors, i.e., conditions, environment, blind luck etc.

As for the blog entry, I think it is true that once the conditions where a species can understand and control it's own evolutionary heritage, then Darwinian evolution will be superseded by something more Lamarckian in character. The question is, is it possible for a species to understand and control it's own evolutionary heritage to the required degree necessary to avoid a Darwinian process.

OBSF: Dear Abbey, by Terry Bisson

Stephen Shevlin

[1] Or some other set of complex chemicals that do the same job. Note I have absolutely no idea whether this hypothetical alternative set of complex chemicals exists.
Ferag NicBhrdePerson was signed in when posted
05:44 AM ET (US)
Zanzibar - embarrassing yourself in a public forum like this will not bring "pride to your family", unless they are all as deeply superstitious and stupid as you are.
Charlie StrossPerson was signed in when posted
05:44 AM ET (US)
Reviewing my original blog posting, I realize it is open to misinterpretation as an invitation for debate. Sigh.

On the subject of "what if you're wrong ...?", all I have to say on the matter is that Pascal's Wager is addressed very effectively by the Many Gods argument ("if there is an afterlife run by some deity or deities, how do you know that the one you decided to believe in is the right one"), and in any event I find the simulation argument much harder to argue against than ancient religious traditions that require a willing suspension of disbelief.

Randy: I don't see any reason to believe humans have souls, either (at least, not in the sense of a persistent immaterial essence that survives the death of the body). That doesn't mean it's acceptable to be cruel to the neighbours, though.
Edited 02-16-2005 05:44 AM
Randy Beck
11:27 PM ET (US)
At the risk of dragging this out, what religious reason is there to believe that these experiments will fail? I'm no expert, but I don't know of anything in the Bible that says life can't be created by science -- especially microbes. My understanding is that most fundamentalists don't believe animals have souls anyway.

The funny thing is, I was going to disagree with Charlie, as I didn't think Christianity would tremble over this. It may very well be a bumpy road for some people.
10:07 PM ET (US)
No need to ask me to excuse you for talking bluntly, it's your blog after all, but based on your last entry I think we can call this thread officially closed. However, if you'd allow me one more parting shot:

If I'm wrong then I'll have spent 75 or 80 years (if I'm lucky) being deeply misguided, die and be worm food from then on; if you're wrong...well you know what us creationists say happens next.

Regardless of your having no use for creationists I will still continue to buy and read your books and try and live my life in a way that will bring happiness and pride to my family.
Edited 02-15-2005 10:09 PM
Charlie StrossPerson was signed in when posted
06:12 PM ET (US)
I hope you'll excuse me for talking bluntly, but I've got no time for creationists of any stripe, other than to concede the unfalsifiability of Bertrand Russell's philosophical variant (which is, in any case, just another argument from solipsism). It seems to me that creationism boils down to either religious faith (which I consider to be deeply misguided) or crude racism. Neither of which are ideologies that I can regard as anything other than pathological.
Edited 02-15-2005 06:13 PM
05:34 PM ET (US)
Mr. Stross, (I can't call you Charles or Charlie because I don't know you personally and you haven't given me permission) my agenda was/is to discuss the topic that was blogged about. You asked a question and, speaking for no one but myself, I tried to answer it. If it was rhetorical and you weren't expecting an answer then I apologize.
Edited 02-15-2005 05:35 PM
Charlie StrossPerson was signed in when posted
01:22 PM ET (US)
Zanzibar, what's your agenda? Are you by any chance a god-botherer of the Christian persuasion?
12:33 PM ET (US)
Perhaps we'll all be overtaken by a Singularity before we ever find out:-)
10:38 AM ET (US)
*double sigh*

Sam your references make my case for me to some degree. I'll highlight only the first and most obvious since this debate has raged for many many years and it's doubtful either of us will be changing their minds anytime soon :)

In my reading of "29+ Evidences for Macroevolution" I read that Dr. Theobald states that Macroevolution is evidenced by the fact that all life on earth uses the same generic mechanisms, in this case RNA and DNA (Yes this is a simplistic reading but hey I'm a simple guy). In the blog entry Mr Stross uses the two experiments to make NON-DNA/RNA based life (if successful obviously) as "phase-changes" of evolution. Which is it? Does macroevolution predict and require that all life will/must use DNA/RNA or doesn't it?
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