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Selective pressures 
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Post Re: Selective pressures
DWill quotes Kauffman: “We live in a world whose unfoldings we often cannot prevision, prestate, or predict--a world of explosive creativity on all sides. This is a central part of the new scientific worldview."

I dispute any suggestion that somehow evolution is not deterministic. Even if we cannot see the inner logic of evolution, that doesn’t mean it does not exist. Kauffman extends the radical indeterminism of human freedom into an almost a-causal vision of creativity as radically unpredictable in principle, without a guiding inner material logic. This philosophical separation of spirit and matter is wrong, conceding too much to obsolete religious myths.

We cannot be God, since we lack the omniscience required to predict the future. But Kauffman extends this humility too far, implying that science lacks all predictive power. In fact, science is all about prediction. With evolution, science observes the selective pressures operating on an ecosystem and predicts its future.

It happens all the time. An elephant herd requires an amount of land with specified quality in order to breed. Absent these conditions, the elephant will not breed, to a high degree of probability. Intense rapid selective pressures such as farming, poaching and climate change change the way elephants have lived for millions of years with observable and predicable results. If we manipulate the selective pressures operating on an organism, we often know what will happen. This is the science of ecology, habitat and interdependence, and indeed of psychology seen in lab rats.

One interesting material predictive model for evolution of life is the helium-beryllium-carbon process in stars. Bear with my lay explanation. Hydrogen is constantly fusing in stars to make Helium 4. The helium atoms fuse at a predictable rate to make Beryllium 8, but this is unstable, and almost always it collapses in a fraction of a second back to helium. However, in that fraction of a second, if another helium atom bangs into the unstable beryllium, it forms the stable atom carbon 12. That cosmic alchemy is the source of all life on earth.

The point is that atoms are swishing about randomly in stars, but stars are so big and old that there is a predictable slow rate at which hydrogen turns into carbon, pushing through the tiny window of opportunity provided by beryllium. In similar fashion life on earth obeys the random ordered chaos of nature. But our chaotic world also has these tiny windows of opportunity, chinks of potential, through which an existing order can occasionally squeeze to enter a new higher order of stable complexity, rather like carbon 12 evolving from helium.

We can speak of predicted evolution of stars along the main sequence, with a causal process similar in principle to the evolution of genes and memes. Once a higher order is achieved, it generally maintains that increased complexity until it is destroyed by catastrophe.

My concern with an author like Kauffman, although I have not read his book Reinventing the Sacred, is that too often ‘sacred’ is used to mean there is something basically wrong with the scientific world view, whereas I would rather say that ideas of the sacred should be viewed as an extension of science into the realm of value, using science as a base, and entirely respecting science as far as it goes. Kauffman wrongly elides from the fact that our predictive capacity is limited to the inference that nature is not universally causal.

I prefer to assume the pitiless logic of material causation, and then see how we can explore metaphysical ideas such as love, grace and beauty within a wholly natural framework, conceding nothing to supernaturalism. Nature is sacred.

Selective pressures are remorseless material forces, changing the evolving system with a steady trend. Science is able to identify and measure primary selective trends operating on ecosystems, such as anthropogenic global warming that is sending our planetary climate haywire and causing the sixth extinction.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Tue Mar 19, 2013 7:21 am, edited 1 time in total.



Tue Mar 19, 2013 7:18 am
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Post Re: Selective pressures
Kauffman is scientifically cautious: “We live in a world whose unfoldings we often cannot prevision, prestate, or predict--a world of explosive creativity on all sides. This is a central part of the new scientific worldview." He also is anything but down on science; indeterminance is part of new scientific worldview. He gives full credit to a science that, through discovery of reductive laws, made possible incredible leaps of progress. But as we get to the outer margins, where we become interested in certain questions that seem ultimate, science hasn't been able to help that much; physicists are backing away from theories of everything and realizing that emergence and complexity require a different set of tools.

The part of this that I find most striking, and thought you might, too, is the similar indeterminance in physical evolution and cultural evolution. We can't predict much when it comes to the forms we may see evolving. Using retrospection on what already has occurred is invalid. Would you say that a single animal on earth can be shown to be inevitable or determined, or that a single part of culture can be shown to be so? We seem forced to accept radical unpredictability at the level of creation of physical and cultural forms. It is this aspect of unpredictable creation that Kauffman draws on for his idea of the sacred and of God. I'm not signed on to that part of the idea, though I think it's nice. I don't agree that Kauffman entails any “philosophical separation of spirit and matter" or that he calls upon " obsolete religious myths." Spirit itself here would seem to be obsolete, though.



Last edited by DWill on Tue Mar 19, 2013 7:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Tue Mar 19, 2013 7:46 pm
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Post Re: Selective pressures
We are not talking about 'outer margins' or 'theories of everything'. With selective pressures we are talking about large observable causal factors that are readily predictable if we examine them objectively. So Kauffman's ideas about God and the sacred and indeterminacy do not really affect how a changing environment affects evolution.

Going back to another macroeconomic example, a selective pressure is like a nudge, as when changing central bank interest rates aims to affect inflation and employment and growth. The small change in interest rate is a selective pressure, meaning people will on aggregate tend to respond slightly differently to prevailing incentives, in ways that have large cumulative effects.


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Wed Mar 20, 2013 1:39 am
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Post Re: Selective pressures
When it comes to where evolution is going, we can use science to construct templates, generate scenarios and models, which may have some predictive value or at least enable us to observe more accurately what's happening, but we don't know what's coming next. All the possibilities cannot be, as Kauffman said, prestated. So evolution, whether of culture or of life forms, operates partly outside of natural law. Kauffman thinks we can find common ground in this non-reducible creativity for an idea of God.

He often says, in regard to the emergent flow of our lives, that we live our lives forward. I like that.

I got off of the selective pressures thread, and don't think I have anything more to say about it.



Wed Mar 20, 2013 5:32 pm
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