Design by Evolution

Evolution is Nature’s design process. The natural world is full of wonderful examples of its successes, from engineering design feats such as powered flight, to the design of complex optical systems such as the mammalian eye, to the merely stunningly beautiful designs of orchids or birds of paradise. With increasing computational power, we are now able to simulate this process with greater fidelity, combining complex simulations with high-performance evolutionary algorithms to tackle problems that used to be impractical.

Design by Evolution: Advances in Evolutionary Design

I was like great! A book that will finally tell me how Evolution designs such magnificent designs. But there’s that “problem” word again. Is Evolution faced with design problems that it then solves? And I wonder if, over time, Evolution has learned how to make better designs, advances in evolutionary design. Some folks certainly seem to think so.

This book showcases the state of the art in evolutionary algorithms for design. The chapters are organized by experts in the following fields: evolutionary design and “intelligent design” in biology, art, computational embryogeny, and engineering. The book will be of interest to researchers, practitioners and graduate students in natural computing, engineering design, biology and the creative arts.

We’re talking designer-based design. Intelligent design. Not Nature-based “design”. Not “design” by Evolution. There is a difference, right? Else what are we debating?

22 thoughts on “Design by Evolution”

  1. Neil Rickert

    I’ve long seen evolution as itself a system of intelligent design. And I think Lizzie has made similar comments.

    But it doesn’t start with a particular target and design for that target. We can say it is solving a problem — namely the problem avoiding extinction.

    ID proponents tend to have a very narrow meaning for “intelligent” and for “design”, and evolution doesn’t fit that. But it can be seen as a kind of intelligent design, if we take a broader view.

  2. petrushka

    My own opinion is that intelligence always involves evolution, even in brains.

    There’s a reason why AI trends toward GAs. It’s how to invent stuff.

  3. GlenDavidson

    We’re talking designer-based design. Intelligent design. Not Nature-based “design”. Not “design” by Evolution.

    Not solely by evolution. It has long been understood that EAs aren’t very good at coming up with basic designs, while they can refine designs very well indeed. Plus, one uses EAs to at least aim toward something, while life isn’t necessarily aiming at one thing (some birds refined wings for flight, kiwis ended up with basically useless wings).

    I’ve never thought that calling evolution itself “design” was a good idea, making it a less useful term rather than more so. But if you’re supplying the basic design and then running EAs aimed at refining it, I don’t know why not to call the whole process “design.”

    Glen Davidson

  4. Robert Byers

    There is no design or complexity from chance.
    They are designing things using evolutionary concepts.
    They are using designed concepts that they interpretate as from evolution.

  5. Tom EnglishTom English

    Mung presumably knows that the opening chapter is by Garry Greenwood and me. Excerpts here. The first paragraph of the conclusion:

    We have criticized ID theory for its intrinsic faults. But in the end the only way to understand the theory is as a veiled apologetics. Jews, Christians, and Muslims agree that the God of Abraham created the diverse forms of life on earth, imbuing only humans with a capacity to create ex nihilo. Although some of the faithful accept that religion and science are different belief systems leading to different beliefs, others insist that science must never contradict religion. ID theorists begin with religious beliefs about life and humanity, and attempt to show that contradictory beliefs held by almost all mainstream scientists are wrong. They hide their religious motivation because they hope their theory will find its way into science classes of public schools.

  6. Tom EnglishTom English

    GlenDavidson: I’ve never thought that calling evolution itself “design” was a good idea…

    Agreed. But the snazzy title doesn’t give a particularly good indication of what’s in the book. (Could have been worse — think of A Universe from Nothing.)

    But if you’re supplying the basic design and then running EAs aimed at refining it, I don’t know why not to call the whole process “design.”

    I’ve long tried to explain to Mung that the human who runs the EA, and not the EA itself, does the searching. I need to get back to work on what should (though I would be crazy to think shall) nail the coffin shut on the Searching Weasel.

  7. GlenDavidson

    Tom English: Agreed. But the snazzy title doesn’t give a particularly good indication of what’s in the book. (Could have been worse — think of A Universe from Nothing.)

    Sure, but I wasn’t really addressing the title, which seems ambivalent enough, rather, the general tendency (as seen in the comments) to say that life is designed–by evolution. Not that I think it’s necessarily wrong, it just seems an overly broad meaning of “design” that IMO harms, instead of aiding, understanding.

    I’ve long tried to explain to Mung that the human who runs the EA, and not the EA itself, does the searching. I need to get back to work on what should (though I would be crazy to think shall) nail the coffin shut on the Searching Weasel.

    Yes, the EA, or evolution, is just a seive. You can search with an EA, but it’s just a tool that can serve your purpose.

    Glen Davidson

  8. Allan Miller

    Dawkins went for ‘designed and designoid’ objects. It never caught on, but emphasises the conceptual separateness of evolutionary products from our contrivances.

  9. GlenDavidson

    Allan Miller:
    Dawkins went for ‘designed and designoid’ objects. It never caught on, but emphasises the conceptual separateness of evolutionary products from our contrivances.

    I think it tends to conflate what are generally understood to be rather different phenomena–life vs. machines. But he always fell for the idea that life “appears designed for a purpose” (and for what purpose(s) would that be?), when its virtually a given to most humans that life and “designed things” are very different phenomena.

    Life is oddly limited compared to imagination in some ways (bestiaries indicate as much), while it’s extravagant in other ways (what human would think up peacocks and the birds of paradise?). It does what the mind cannot do, yet we can easily design what nature (evolution) could never produce. Hence our use of EAs to produce what we can’t, while EAs will never best rational conception in the basics of design, either.

    Glen Davidson

  10. Joe FelsensteinJoe Felsenstein

    OK, so I see Mung is interested in a type of Design in which, once a genetic system has genotypes that have fitnesses, no Intelligent Designer intervenes after that.

  11. Joe FelsensteinJoe Felsenstein

    Neil Rickert: We can say it is solving a problem — namely the problem avoiding extinction.

    I disagree. If we have two genotypes that will both survive, but one will produce 10% more offspring than the other, what will happen? Does the evolutionary system stop favoring the latter?

  12. petrushka

    Word lawyering is equivocation.
    It’s an incredibly stupid form of argument.

    Life is designed; design implies a designer, life has a designer.

    Dumb, dumb, dumber.

    I suppose it keeps the left side of the bell curve entertained.

    Honest people use metaphors and analogies to help communicate. Dishonest people look at the limitations of a metaphor and argue that the underlying reality is bound by the limits of the metaphor.

  13. MungMung Post author

    petrushka: Dishonest people look at the limitations of a metaphor and argue that the underlying reality is bound by the limits of the metaphor.

    Thankfully we don’t have anyone like that here at TSZ.

  14. Neil Rickert

    Joe Felsenstein: If we have two genotypes that will both survive, but one will produce 10% more offspring than the other, what will happen? Does the evolutionary system stop favoring the latter?

    Insects species produce far more offspring than homo sapiens. Yet humans are the ones with a booming population.

  15. Joe FelsensteinJoe Felsenstein

    Neil, your argument implies a goal: avoiding extinction. But of two genotypes (say two asexual clones, for simplicity) that both avoid extinction, why would one then be favored over the other?

  16. Neil Rickert

    Joe Felsenstein: Neil, your argument implies a goal: avoiding extinction. But of two genotypes (say two asexual clones, for simplicity) that both avoid extinction, why would one then be favored over the other?

    I’m really not understanding what you are asking here.

    ID proponents generally argue for a very narrow goal (or goals). My only point was that if it is to be called a goal, then it is a very broad goal. As a broad goal, it can have many possible solutions. I’m not seeing why your example, with two solutions, would be a problem.

  17. MungMung Post author

    Neil Rickert: ID proponents generally argue for a very narrow goal (or goals).

    Opponents of ID claim that evolution has solved many problems. However, the claim that evolution has solved, or is even trying to solve, the problem of how to not go extinct is ludicrous in the extreme, as is the claim that there is or even can be a single goal of evolution.

    Every design optimization problem in practice is different in terms of different complexities associated with variables, objectives and constraints.

    – Kalyanmoy Deb

    It’s like you’re trying to keep the teleology but keep it to an absolute minimum.

  18. MungMung Post author

    The first chapter by Tom English and Garrison Greenwood covers a discussion of intelligent design (ID) and evolutionary computation. … It provides examples of how evolutionary algorithms can evolve complex systems that according to ID would exhibit elements of design, but obviously this is not the case since the system evolved from a few very basic rules without human intelligence.

    Heh.

    Is it “not the case” because they do not exhibit elements of design or is it “not the case” because of the absence of human intelligence? Both?

  19. Joe FelsensteinJoe Felsenstein

    Neil Rickert: I’m really not understanding what you are asking here.

    ID proponents generally argue for a very narrow goal (or goals).My only point was that if it is to be called a goal, then it is a very broad goal.As a broad goal, it can have many possible solutions.I’m not seeing why your example, with two solutions, would be a problem.

    In my example both genotypes have achieved the goal — survival. However one has in addition some extra offspring. That genotype will be favored. And favored because of those offspring. So the “goal” is not just survival, but something else.

  20. FrankieFrankie

    Genetic algorithms are evolution via intelligent design.

    Unguided evolution is not a search and GAs actively search for solutions to the problems they were intelligently designed to solve. Unguided evolution cannot be modelled.

  21. FrankieFrankie

    petrushka,

    Word lawyering is equivocation.
    It’s an incredibly stupid form of argument.

    And you and all evolutionists are guilty of it. Nice own goal

    Life is designed; design implies a designer, life has a designer

    So it bothers you that you cannot find any evidence to the contrary. Good.

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