[ExI] Evolution "for the Good of the Group"

The Avantguardian avantguardian2020 at yahoo.com
Mon Sep 22 06:42:04 UTC 2008

--- On Sun, 9/21/08, hkhenson <hkhenson at rogers.com> wrote:
> >Ultimately both "selfish gene
> >theory" and "group selection 
> >theory" are extremist views that fail to see the
> >big picture. To 
> >adhere blindly to either view is to ignore mountains of
> evidence 
> >that show merit to either side of the debate. I am in
> favor of a 
> >multi-level selection theory that correctly observes
> that evolution 
> >occurs at *all* levels of complexity from molecules to
> nation-states 
> >and beyond.
> You have to do violence to the concept of Darwinian 
> evolution.  Evolution is change over time in the frequency
> of 
> characteristics, such as the dark morphs of moths in soot
> covered 
> England.

No, I don't think that any violence need be done to Darwinian evolution at all. The gene as a vehicle of heredity was unheard of when Darwin wrote "Origin of Species". It wasn't until many years later that Mendel's "heriditary priciple" was taken seriously and biologists proposed it to be the mechanism of inheritance. If Darwin did not see a need to invoke individual molecules that controlled the destiny of species, I don't see how my ideas are doing any violence to his.

And you are right, it is "characteristics" of critters that are subject to selection. And critters like nation-states have characteristics like democracy, freedom, population, wealth, religion, technology, etc. that genes have very little, if anything, to do with.  
> What is the equivalence of genes, reproduction
> and 
> embryogenesis in nation-states?  Memes?  But if you say
> memes, the 
> damned things don't stick with one nation.

I would say that laws, policies, and cultural norms are analogs of genes but they certainly aren't equivalent. Likewise revolution and colonization are the analogs to reproduction while economic growth and development are the analogs to biological growth and development. Memes are not well enough defined to be useful in my analysis except perhaps in the context  of survival strategy.

Incidently genes don't necessarily stick with one organism or species either. Thanks to viruses, transposons, plasmids, and tranformation (the deliberate uptake and integration of foreign DNA into an organism's genome), you have horizontal gene transfer occuring all the time. It's one of the reasons that antibiotic resistance is becoming so common in bacteria and one of the reasons that the bioconservatives are so freaked out by GM crops.

If you think about, this makes sense even from a "selfish gene" point of view since a given gene neither knows nor cares what organism harbours it so long as it gets propagated. 

> > > "But perhaps similar processes
> > > could operate at other levels of the biological
> > > hierarchy. In this way natural
> > > selection could perpetuate traits that
> > > are favorable not to an individual but
> > > to a social unit such as a flock or a
> colony,"
> > >
> > > Depends.  Does the flock/colony consist of
> related
> > > individuals?  Again, think of bees defending a
> hive.

What about slime molds like Dicty? Completely unrelated individual amoebae have been shown to form slugs together in the lab. Herds of wildebeest composed of many thousands of individuals are certainly not all related to one another and motley packs of stray dogs composed of any breed from poodles to german shepherds will form given the opportunity. 

> Almost certainly there are such ant genes.  But their
> evolutionary 
> function is not to increase the fitness of aphids.  Such
> genes were 
> selected because they increased the fitness of *ants.*

But this is precisely my point. Sometimes cooperating with another critter, related to you or not, is the "fittest" thing you can do!

> The substrate that carries biological information is DNA
> and 
> sometimes RNA.  Persistent patterns of that information
> (that often 
> code for proteans) are called genes.  Dawkins talks about
> the 
> difficulty in deciding just what the replicating
> information is in 
> Extended Phenotype.

That's a weakness of reductionism. You reduce an oak tree and a kangaroo to atoms and you can longer tell them apart. And hemoglobin from a spinach plant is not that different from hemoglobin from a human. You can't solve a jigsaw puzzle by focusing on the individual pieces but on how the pieces fit together. And in biology, some of the pieces belong to ones neighbor.

> You can use "evolution" to describe stars over
> time, but it has 
> nothing to do with the mechanisms of biological evolution.

Nonsense. The evolution of life is courtesy of and *powered* by stars. They are the *source* of all biological evolution to date from manufacturing the carbon atoms that make up life to pushing those atoms through the Kreb cycle. Every calorie that accrues on ones thighs has its ultimate origin in the sun. If under penalty of death, I *had* to worship a deity, guess what that diety would be?

> >While I don't doubt that is certainly part of the
> psychology of 
> >humans, I am not certain how much of that has a genetic
> basis.
> All human psychology has a genetic basis.  Psychology
> emerges from 
> brains.  Brains are the product of genes.  How could it be
> otherwise?

So you are saying that somebody who suffers from a post-traumamatic stress syndrome can pass it on to their kids? Come on. The idea that genes rule the world from the shadowy confines of cellular nuclei is as preposterous as any conspiracy theory. 

> >In science the most water-tight logic must yield to the
> weight of 
> >evidence. That is what distinguishes empiricism from
> formal logic.
> Evidence is interpreted using models.  I know of *no* model
> for group 
> selection that is not better understood by conventional
> gene 
> selection. 

I see you are confusing me for one of the extremists that I criticized earlier. Gene selection is an *very important* perspective, but like any *single* perspectives, it only gives you a two-dimensional view of what you are studying. Same for biologists who *only* look at it from the group selection point of view. You have to walk around a phemenon as complex as life and look at it from every possible angle. Looking at a scene from the forced perspective of a single angle leaves much hidden from sight and can introduce distortions that can turn full grown men into Hobbits. Just ask Elijah Wood. 

> If you can cite an example where there is
> evidence that 
> clearly rules out gene selection present or past, let me
> know.

Well if you consider Bonsai trees as a group, it is clear that there is no gene selection that underlies their phenotype.


> Sorry to be so emphatic, but fuzzy thinking irritates me.

High def TV looks fuzzy when you got your nose up against the screen. Try to see the big picture.

Stuart LaForge

"See them clamber, these nimble apes!  They clamber over one another, and thus scuffle into the mud and the abyss."- Friedrich Nietzsche


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