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Author Topic:   What Darwin Got Wrong
Percy
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Posts: 13126
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 2.2


Message 1 of 10 (546738)
02-13-2010 9:04 AM


The book is What Darwin Got Wrong by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini. I haven't read the book, I don't own the book, I have no intentions of buying the book.

But Fodor and Massimo have an opinion article in this week's New Scientist magazine (Survival of the fittest theory: Darwinism's limits) that presents the fundamental argument in their book, that biology greatly overestimates the contribution of natural selection to evolutionary change. They argue that other considerations have a greater impact on evolutionary change, and they include factors like Kimura's neutral theory (not explicitly mentioned, but certainly included by implication), constraints of physics and chemistry, and constraints from above like "minimum energy expenditure, shortest paths, optimal packing and so on."

The sole provided example is endogenously linked traits. If trait t1 and trait t2 are endogenously linked, then if an organism possesses one of these traits it must have the other. It cannot possess just one or the other. But if only one of the two traits is adaptive then the other will go along for the ride, even though it is neither adaptive or non-adaptive.

Does this sound like Kimura to anyone? And does this sound particularly novel to anyone? Though such possibilities don't get much exposure at the undetailed level that evolution is discussed here, are there many evolutionists here who didn't already know that there's such a thing as linked traits?

I really hated the article (and by projection the book, too) because it seemed like a rather obvious attempt by Fodor and Massimo to garner attention by expressing what we already know, but in an inflammatory way through attacks on natural selection. Obviously they know natural selection is the only way to produce adaptation because adaptation is part of their sole example of linked traits, but throughout the article they attack natural selection relentlessly and conclude like this:

Fodor and Massimo writes:

However, the internal evidence to back this imperialistic selectionism strikes us as very thin. Its credibility depends largely on the reflected glamour of natural selection which biology proper is said to legitimise. Accordingly, if natural selection disappears from biology, its offshoots in other fields seem likely to disappear as well. This is an outcome much to be desired since, more often than not, these offshoots have proved to be not just post hoc but ad hoc, crude, reductionist, scientistic rather than scientific, shamelessly self-congratulatory, and so wanting in detail that they are bound to accommodate the data, however that data may turn out. So it really does matter whether natural selection is true.

Again, how can they argue that natural selection might not be true when their single example of linked traits requires natural selection. Pah!

I'm not familiar with Jerry Fodor, but I'm very familiar with Massimo because he's a frequent guest on the Center for Inquiry's (CFI) weekly Point of Inquiry podcast. CFI is a humanist/atheist organization dedicated to countering the influences of pseudoscience and flim-flammery in our culture. I usually like him because he doesn't oversimplify complex topics, but in the case of this new book he seems to himself have slipped a bit toward pseudoscience.

--Percy

Edited by Percy, : Fix title.


Replies to this message:
 Message 2 by RAZD, posted 02-13-2010 4:08 PM Percy has acknowledged this reply
 Message 3 by nwr, posted 02-13-2010 5:52 PM Percy has acknowledged this reply
 Message 4 by RAZD, posted 02-13-2010 6:47 PM Percy has acknowledged this reply
 Message 6 by Stagamancer, posted 02-16-2010 10:44 PM Percy has responded

    
RAZD
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Posts: 15828
From: the other end of the sidewalk
Joined: 03-14-2004
Member Rating: 1.9


Message 2 of 10 (546766)
02-13-2010 4:08 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Percy
02-13-2010 9:04 AM


Hi Percy,

Does this sound like Kimura to anyone? And does this sound particularly novel to anyone? Though such possibilities don't get much exposure at the undetailed level that evolution is discussed here, are there many evolutionists here who didn't already know that there's such a thing as linked traits?

Sounds like non-biologists criticizing biology ...

.... "imperialistic selectionism"? LOL. If you don't like something rename it?

I'm not familiar with Jerry Fodor, but I'm very familiar with Massimo because he's a frequent guest on the Center for Inquiry's (CFI) weekly Point of Inquiry podcast. CFI is a humanist/atheist organization dedicated to countering the influences of pseudoscience and flim-flammery in our culture. I usually like him because he doesn't oversimplify complex topics, but in the case of this new book he seems to himself have slipped a bit toward pseudoscience.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Fodor

quote:
Jerry Alan Fodor (born 1935 in New York City, New York) is an American philosopher and cognitive scientist. He holds the position of State of New Jersey Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University and is also the author of many works in the fields of philosophy of mind and cognitive science, in which he has laid the groundwork for the modularity of mind and the language of thought hypotheses, among other ideas.

Sounds like non-biologists criticizing biology ...

They should sell well to the creationist crowd.

Enjoy.


we are limited in our ability to understand
by our ability to understand
Rebel American Zen Deist
... to learn ... to think ... to live ... to laugh ...
to share.


• • • Join the effort to solve medical problems, AIDS/HIV, Cancer and more with Team EvC! (click) • • •

This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by Percy, posted 02-13-2010 9:04 AM Percy has acknowledged this reply

  
nwr
Member
Posts: 5143
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005


Message 3 of 10 (546767)
02-13-2010 5:52 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Percy
02-13-2010 9:04 AM


I have not read the book either, and I also don't expect to buy it.

Fodor has an earlier paper "Against Darwinism" which is available online. From that paper, you can see that what seems to bother Fodor, is that intentionality is left out of the neo-Darwinian account.

I am left wondering whether Fodor is using Darwin as a Proxy for Dennett, and opposition to the views Dennett expressed in his book "Darwin's Dangerous Idea", and Dennett's anti-intentionality views expressed in "The Intentional Stance."

Pass the popcorn.


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 Message 1 by Percy, posted 02-13-2010 9:04 AM Percy has acknowledged this reply

  
RAZD
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Posts: 15828
From: the other end of the sidewalk
Joined: 03-14-2004
Member Rating: 1.9


Message 4 of 10 (546771)
02-13-2010 6:47 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Percy
02-13-2010 9:04 AM


and why don't pigs fly?
Hi Percy,

Perhaps this reply should go in the Why creationist definitions of evolution are wrong, terribly wrong. thread ...

Darwinists say that evolution is explained by the selection of phenotypic traits by environmental filters.

You will note that the book is titled "What Darwin Got Wrong" but the argument is about what "Darwinists say" not Darwin?

In effect, the mechanism of trait transmission it postulates consists of a random generator of genotypic variants that produce the corresponding random phenotypic variations, and an environmental filter that selects among the latter according to their relative fitness.

This appears to be their definition of what evolution involves. Like the creationist definitions, it is missing some critical aspects.

We should stress that every such case (and we argue in our book that free-riding is ubiquitous) is a counter-example to natural selection. Free-riding shows that the general claim that phenotypic traits are selected for their effects on fitness isn't true. The most that natural selection can actually claim is that some phenotypic traits are selected for their effects on fitness; the rest are selected for... well, some other reason entirely, or perhaps for no reason at all.

What is missing here is that it is not survival of the fittest, but non-survival of the unable to survive, and that selection removes non-fit traits. Thus many neutral and slightly deleterious traits continue to be passed from generation to generation.

But the effects of endogenous structure can wreak havoc with this theory. Consider the following case: traits t1 and t2 are endogenously linked in such a way that if a creature has one, it has both. ... But it is perfectly possible that one of two linked traits is adaptive but the other isn't; having one of them affects fitness but having the other one doesn't. So one is selected for and the other "free-rides" on it.

And as long as neither are net deleterious both will continue -- selection always operates on the whole phenotype, not on individual aspects of it, so this is no different from neutral mutations getting a "free ride" by not being selected against. This just increases the amount of variation in a population, and gives natural selection a larger playing field when conditions change. Certainly the "free ride" traits do not lead to new species the way that traits subject to natural selection have been known to do.

What we have here is a misunderstanding of how evolution works.

Crucially, however, the evolutionary process in such cases is not driven by a struggle for survival and/or for reproduction. Pigs don't have wings, but that's not because winged pigs once lost out to wingless ones. And it's not because the pigs that lacked wings were more fertile than the pigs that had them. There never were any winged pigs because there's no place on pigs for the wings to go. This isn't environmental filtering, it's just physiological and developmental mechanics.

So because wings cannot evolve in one big "hopeful monster" whack like creationists seem to think, the "origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life" is wrong?

Pretty poor logic for a philosopher.

This shows (no great surprise) that creationists are not alone in making mistakes about evolution based on a poor understanding of what evolution entails.

Enjoy.


we are limited in our ability to understand
by our ability to understand
Rebel American Zen Deist
... to learn ... to think ... to live ... to laugh ...
to share.


• • • Join the effort to solve medical problems, AIDS/HIV, Cancer and more with Team EvC! (click) • • •

This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by Percy, posted 02-13-2010 9:04 AM Percy has acknowledged this reply

  
Taq
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Posts: 5182
Joined: 03-06-2009
Member Rating: 2.5


(1)
Message 5 of 10 (547137)
02-16-2010 4:13 PM


How can one make sense of neutral mutation without understanding and applying natural selection? The authors of the article say that evolution "is explained by the selection of phenotypic traits by environmental filters". So why do they claim neo-Darwinism fails because changes in phenotypes which result in the same fitness pass through this filter?

To use an analogy, they are complaining that a seive doesn't work because fine silt goes through the seive all the while ignoring the rocks that are captured by the seive. They further claim that the seive is useless because the amount of material that goes through the seive far outweighs the number of rocks it captures. At the same time gardners are saying that the seive is useful because it explains why they can separate rocks from silt.

Frankly,they can't see the forest for the trees.


  
Stagamancer
Member (Idle past 1330 days)
Posts: 174
From: Oregon
Joined: 12-28-2008


(1)
Message 6 of 10 (547177)
02-16-2010 10:44 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Percy
02-13-2010 9:04 AM


If trait t1 and trait t2 are endogenously linked, then if an organism possesses one of these traits it must have the other. It cannot possess just one or the other. But if only one of the two traits is adaptive then the other will go along for the ride, even though it is neither adaptive or non-adaptive.

Percy writes:

Does this sound like Kimura to anyone?

No, it sounds like a basic explanation of pleiotropy.
Pleiotropy is when a single gene affects more than one "trait" (an ill-defined term to begin with, btw). If a gene affects more than one trait, and one is adaptive and the other is neutral, then of course, natural selection will increase the frequency of that gene in the population and both traits will go toward fixation. There is no new argument here, and the only reason Darwin didn't bring it up is because he didn't know DNA existed, let alone how it worked.

This is an old argument, adaptation vs. pluralists and it is really a straw man. "Pluralists" argue that "adaptationists" think that every trait that exists has some adaptive advantage. This hypothetical "adaptationist" says that the human nose sticks out from the face in order to hold his glasses. Or he might argue that

RAZD writes:

Crucially, however, the evolutionary process in such cases is not driven by a struggle for survival and/or for reproduction. Pigs don't have wings, but that's not because winged pigs once lost out to wingless ones. And it's not because the pigs that lacked wings were more fertile than the pigs that had them. There never were any winged pigs because there's no place on pigs for the wings to go. This isn't environmental filtering, it's just physiological and developmental mechanics.

No one is arguing that wingless pigs out-competed winged ones, nor that evolution is only caused by natural selection. The real argument is that ADAPTIVE evolution can only be brought about by natural selection. Evolution is a change in frequency of alleles in a population. Adaptive evolution is an increase in fitness of a population. Adaptive evolution will be most strongly influenced by natural selection. Genetic drift can also happen to produce it, but it is most likely incredibly rare (because it involves the random fixation of adaptive mutations which are rare). However, general evolution, i.e. simply change in a population, is probably mostly influenced by genetic drift (a la Kimura).

The argument proffered by these authors is aimed at a straw man. They say nothing new, nothing interesting, and their only stoking the anti-evolution fire. Shame on them.


We have many intuitions in our life and the point is that many of these intuitions are wrong. The question is, are we going to test those intuitions?
-Dan Ariely
This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by Percy, posted 02-13-2010 9:04 AM Percy has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 7 by Percy, posted 02-17-2010 8:53 AM Stagamancer has responded

    
Percy
Member
Posts: 13126
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 2.2


Message 7 of 10 (547208)
02-17-2010 8:53 AM
Reply to: Message 6 by Stagamancer
02-16-2010 10:44 PM


Demoting Natural Selection
Yeah, I know, the Kimura question follows the trait example, but what I had in mind was their demotion of natural selection. Sounded a lot like Kimura to me. Sorry about the confusion.

--Percy


This message is a reply to:
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Stagamancer
Member (Idle past 1330 days)
Posts: 174
From: Oregon
Joined: 12-28-2008


Message 8 of 10 (547226)
02-17-2010 12:10 PM
Reply to: Message 7 by Percy
02-17-2010 8:53 AM


Re: Demoting Natural Selection
Ah, well no worries. I suppose their argument is Kimura-esque, but much less elegant. Either way, the argument they're making is 50 years old and already incorporated into modern evolutionary theory. It has given me an idea for my own book, though: What Newton Got Wrong. It's about how Newton thought gravity was some force of attraction between matter particles, but if you really think about it, it's actually just that space-time is curved by matter. This is going to be revolutionary.


We have many intuitions in our life and the point is that many of these intuitions are wrong. The question is, are we going to test those intuitions?
-Dan Ariely
This message is a reply to:
 Message 7 by Percy, posted 02-17-2010 8:53 AM Percy has acknowledged this reply

Replies to this message:
 Message 9 by Taq, posted 02-17-2010 4:39 PM Stagamancer has responded

    
Taq
Member
Posts: 5182
Joined: 03-06-2009
Member Rating: 2.5


Message 9 of 10 (547250)
02-17-2010 4:39 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by Stagamancer
02-17-2010 12:10 PM


Re: Demoting Natural Selection
It has given me an idea for my own book, though: What Newton Got Wrong. It's about how Newton thought gravity was some force of attraction between matter particles, but if you really think about it, it's actually just that space-time is curved by matter. This is going to be revolutionary.

Such an approach would be an improvement over the criticisms used by the authors in the OP. To use your analogy, you should write a book that criticizes Newton for suggesting that gravity was the only force that matter particles experienced. You should also scathingly criticize gravitationalists for ignoring the weak and strong forces when looking at nuclei. Each year physicists are finding that there is more than just gravity in action when looking at particles with mass, but the dogmatism of Newtonists stifles such research.

That's how silly it seems to me, even if there are some good points here and there in the article.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 8 by Stagamancer, posted 02-17-2010 12:10 PM Stagamancer has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 10 by Stagamancer, posted 02-17-2010 6:23 PM Taq has not yet responded

  
Stagamancer
Member (Idle past 1330 days)
Posts: 174
From: Oregon
Joined: 12-28-2008


Message 10 of 10 (547266)
02-17-2010 6:23 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by Taq
02-17-2010 4:39 PM


Re: Demoting Natural Selection
Fair enough, that does seem a better analogy.


We have many intuitions in our life and the point is that many of these intuitions are wrong. The question is, are we going to test those intuitions?
-Dan Ariely
This message is a reply to:
 Message 9 by Taq, posted 02-17-2010 4:39 PM Taq has not yet responded

    
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