Felsenstein presents the 37th Fisher Memorial Lecture

Joe Felsenstein, who posts and comments in The Skeptical Zone, presented the 37th Fisher Memorial Lecture on January 4, 2018. The video recording of his lecture is now available. I’d say that the cover frame, at the very least, was well worth the wait.

Rooting out confusion is much harder than sowing it

Excuse me for attaching to this post a brief rejoinder to a pathetic response to the lecture. Andrew Jones’s “The Law of Zero Magic” appeared in the flagship publication of the intelligent design (ID) movement, Evolution News & Science Today. The title is hugely ironic, inasmuch as the movement conceives of intelligent design as violation of a law of nature, and struggles to devise the law that is violated. The name of the violable law, whatever it might turn out to be, is the Law of Conservation of Information (LCI). That is inviolable dogma. When it comes to the meaning of information, however, ID is absurdly flexible. In 1997, William Dembski proclaimed that complex specified information (a.k.a. specified complexity) is conserved. In 2008, he and Robert Marks proclaimed that active information is conserved, and said nary a word about complex specified information. The gist is that Dembski had gotten things backwards: active information is loosely the opposite of complex specified information. No one in the ID movement has ever acknowledged his error.

Now we have Andrew Jones arguing that Dembski was right, and that Joe Felsenstein, who touched on the “Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information” in his lecture, has gotten Dembski wrong. He not only neglects to quote the full term that Joe used, but also plays mix-and-match with sources addressing the different LCIs. After opening with a link to Dembski’s “Conservation of Information Made Simple” (2012), which addresses active information instead of complex specified information, Jones proceeds to garb his ignorance in affectations of expertise:

[LCI] has been used to argue that evolution cannot create information, and I think that is true, so long as you properly understand what we are saying. But a lot of critics have not understood it yet.

It has been critiqued from a number of directions; a suspiciously large number of directions in fact: usually if an idea is wrong there is just one main thing wrong with it, so I am always suspicious when any idea is portrayed as “wrong in every way” or gets attacked in a scattergun way. You should be suspicious, too. But that is a topic for another day.

The reason that Jones attempts to dismiss, with a wave of the hand and a puffing-out of the chest, the work of conscientious scholars like Joe is that he has not studied the technical details. His article is merely the latest regurgitation of ill-digested ID rhetoric. Had he bothered to scan Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics (2017), which I have read twice, and soon will read again, then he would have known that Marks, Dembski, and Ewert have rebranded specified complexity as a measure of meaningful information, and have attached “conservation of information” to active information. The long and the short of it is that Jones is holding forth in gross ignorance of the subject matter. No one in the know takes him the least bit seriously. And neither should you. I will not return to this topic on another day. It makes my back hurt.

67 thoughts on “Felsenstein presents the 37th Fisher Memorial Lecture

  1. This is nitpicking on Dembski and friends. the great innovative point that ID thinkers make is to press that information being created by evolutionary processes is just plain impossible. SO they strive to show intimately how it doesn’t work. If they make errors , or don’t, its beside the greater point. They are the agents of intellectual change and the oppositionn just reacts and contributes nothing new.

  2. Robert Byers,

    I have a different perspective. While Dembski is accused (rightly, in my opinion) of playing fast-and-loose with concepts and bait-and-switch with definitions, I see the accusers (evolutionists) do the same thing on a grander scale. For example, on the one hand, assuming that humans evolved ultimately from bacteria, it’s passionately emphasized that there was no goal or purpose or substantial qualitative progress in the process (contra Darwin). On the other, it’s asserted that new information is created every step of the way.

    New information without any qualitative addition or progress? What sort of information is that?

    Otherwise very interesting talk, Mr Felsenstein. Thanks for sharing.

  3. @Tom

    I’d say that the cover frame, at the very least, was well worth the wait.

    I still need to watch the video, but I love the movie still already. Thanks for the chuckle.

  4. Thanks, Tom, for the thoughtful comments. Yes, Andrew Jones pulled multiple switcheroos in his post at EN&SP (formerly) ENV).
    1. He started out with the Law of Conservation of Information, which is Peter Medawar’s rather obvious point. Medawar was simply pointing out that if you have a 1-1 transformation, information does not disappear … because you can go back the other way and thus get it back. Thing is, Medawar’s argument has nothing to do with evolution.
    2. He avoided much discussion of the Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information, Dembski’s law. I showed in my 2007 article that Dembski’s use of it to show that evolution wouldn’t work was comparing apples to oranges. Jones does not actually say anything about my argument.
    3. As you note, Jones is mostly talking about Marks, Dembski and Ewert’s papers on Active Information. He seems to think that a Ewert post on that refutes my 2007 article.

    Jones is supposed to have background in computational physics. He should read the technical parts of those articles more carefully. Particularly before making dramatic pronouncements.

    PS — Alan, if you are listening, maybe we could reduce the size of the front page of the two “stickied” posts on the Basener/Sanford work, by moving the comment line in them up to just below the title. A further post on those topics is being worked on but right now the two “stickied” posts are clogging up the TSZ front page.

  5. “The great innovative point that ID thinkers make” is the old idea that watches are complex and have watchmakers, living things are complex and therefore must also have been made. Dembski has tried to legitimize this idea by rigorously proving it, or at least quantifying it. The different ID thinkers have just attempted to do the same using a different approach The various bait-and-switch tactics along with the fundamental reworkings that Dembski has resorted to should be a hint that what he’s trying to do cant be done and to the extent that what he’s come up with is valid, its useless because it doesn’t apply to the evolution of life

  6. I must say that it is somewhat comforting to learn that there is at least one paper by Joe that garners fewer citations than mine.

  7. Joe Felsenstein: PS — Alan, if you are listening, maybe we could reduce the size of the front page of the two “stickied” posts on the Basener/Sanford work, by moving the comment line in them up to just below the title. A further post on those topics is being worked on but right now the two “stickied” posts are clogging up the TSZ front page.

    Just got in, Joe. I’ll do it now.

  8. Tom, thanks for the link! But

    Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics (2017), which I have read twice, and soon will read again…

    You have a masochistic streak, haven’t you? 😉

  9. Erik,

    Sounds a lot like you’ve been reading the wrong literature from “evolutionists” (whatever that might mean), or you haven’t understood very well.

    Erik:
    I have a different perspective. While Dembski is accused (rightly, in my opinion) of playing fast-and-loose with concepts and bait-and-switch with definitions, I see the accusers (evolutionists) do the same thing on a grander scale.

    Here I wonder what the hell is an evolutionist. More importantly for what you mention about them doing the same as creationists on a “grander scale,” then what you mention doesn’t ring a bell.

    Erik:
    For example, on the one hand, assuming that humans evolved ultimately from bacteria,

    This means that I really don’t know who you’re talking about. The issue about it being bacteria, or archaea, or a fusion of organisms on the two sides, or an “urcharyote,” etc, seems still unsolved. So who these evolutionists might be, no idea, but they don’t seem to be evolutionary biologists. Also, an assumption? No. Doesn’t ring a bell. People I know who accept evolution, either don’t know much about the studies on the origin of eukaryotes, or they know a bit, but they don’t go by assumptions, but by the suggested hypotheses from the available data.

    Erik:
    it’s passionately emphasized that there was no goal or purpose or substantial qualitative progress in the process (contra Darwin).

    Definitely not ringing a bell. Contra Darwin? Darwin proposed that eukaryotes evolved because of some goal and purpose? That evolution is about “progress”? I don’t remember Darwin saying any such things.

    Erik:
    On the other, it’s asserted that new information is created every step of the way.

    Really? Wow, those evolutionists are a really mysterious group. Information? Created? Holy crap.

    Erik:
    New information without any qualitative addition or progress? What sort of information is that?

    You’ll have to find those evolutionists and ask them about it. From my perspective, it looks like a conceptual mess.

    Either you have misunderstood quite a bit, or those you call “evolutionists” are a weird group of people I’ve never met.

  10. RodW:
    “The great innovative point that ID thinkers make” is the old idea that watches are complex and have watchmakers, living things are complex and therefore must also have been made.Dembski has tried to legitimize this idea by rigorously proving it, or at least quantifying it. The different ID thinkers have just attempted to do the same using a different approach The various bait-and-switch tactics along with the fundamental reworkings that Dembski has resorted to should be a hint that what he’s trying to do cant be done and to the extent that what he’s come up with is valid, its useless because it doesn’t apply to the evolution of life

    Well yes. Except on the bait and switch thing.
    It is about complexity demanding evidence its from chance and ID thinkers bringing a careful analysis on why chance can’t do it. its the great hunch.
    Right or wrong or right they are on to something. Just like physics there was fits and starts but the hunch was there.
    No fundamental reworkings but tweeking at most. just regular corrections maybe.

    Evolutionism is based on the glory of mutationism. So questioning what mutations can do is a target for those convinced mutations could never turn bugs into biffaloes however selected.
    Amnd sorry Mr Felsenstein math equations won’t save it. they are just non biological systems of adding/subtracting mutations without proving mutations could/did do anything. This math doesn’t prove mutations did/could do this or that but is based on presuming it could/did.
    its like presuming life exists in outer space or presuming it doesn’t. the math can fill a blackboard to show both positions.
    Yet one is wrong! Biology is goo centric and not number centric.

  11. Entropy: People I know who accept evolution, either don’t know much about the studies on the origin of eukaryotes, or they know a bit, but they don’t go by assumptions, but by the suggested hypotheses from the available data.

    For the current purposes, “the suggested hypotheses from the available data” are as good as assumptions. An easy shorthand label for those who accept such hypotheses is evolutionists.

    Entropy: Definitely not ringing a bell. Contra Darwin? Darwin proposed that eukaryotes evolved because of some goal and purpose? That evolution is about “progress”? I don’t remember Darwin saying any such things.

    You would do well to read Darwin then.

    Entropy: Really? Wow, those evolutionists are a really mysterious group. Information? Created? Holy crap.

    Okay,

    Joe Felsenstein: The assertion that “No generation of more than 500 bits has ever been observed to arise in a non design system (as you know, this is the fundamental idea in ID)” ignores that natural selection can put any number of bits of functional information into the genome.

    There, “natural selection can put any number of bits of functional information into the genome.” What does this mean to you? To me it looks like natural selection acts like Zeus and others used to in past eras. Can you clear away my misconceptions, thanks.

  12. Joe Felsenstein,

    My principal objective was to convey, in just a few words, the nature of the game that the ID movement has been playing. The first paragraph (below the video) is what matters. Thanks to Andrew Jones for setting me up perfectly.

    Yes, Jones studied computational molecular physics, completed a post-doc about four years ago, and went to work as a software engineer at Google. You know, as I do, that there are folks who never make the transition from high-performing student (being told what to do) to investigator. His shooting off of his mouth, without bothering to review the technical literature, suggests that, however much science he learned, he doesn’t have the personal attributes of a scientist.

    Jones might be competent to grasp the technical details. If he were to do so, then he would be worthy of further response. But when, ever, have we seen an ID proponent change his m.o.?

  13. DiEb: Tom, thanks for the link! But

    Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics (2017), which I have read twice, and soon will read again…

    You have a masochistic streak, haven’t you?

    A trauma victim revisits the traumatic event, over and over and over.

  14. Erik:
    For the current purposes, “the suggested hypotheses from the available data” are as good as assumptions.

    Then I think we don’t speak the same language. Either way, I think you missed one point, since you followed with:

    Erik:
    An easy shorthand label for those who accept such hypotheses is evolutionists.

    Which hypothesis? That there’s no firm idea about which, if any, surviving prokaryotic lineage might represent the ancestors to eukaryotes?

    Erik:
    You would do well to read Darwin then.

    I have. Darwin didn’t talk about “purposes” or “goals” or “progress.” The mechanisms that he proposed were not conscious beings, but, rather, the interplay between life form variations and the environment.

    Erik:
    There, “natural selection can put any number of bits of functional information into the genome.” What does this mean to you? To me it looks like natural selection acts like Zeus and others used to in past eras. Can you clear away my misconceptions, thanks.

    Sure. there’s a difference between putting information into the genome and creating information. There’s a link between energy and information, so the information is not some magical thing created out of thin air, it is more about the arising of patterns during matter and energy transformations. No magic anywhere.

    Had you checked Joe’s talk, you’d have noticed that Joe starts with the energy from the sun. You ‘d have also noticed that Joe mentions that word: entropy. Well, there you have it: relationship between energy and information. No creation, transformations. Beware, transformations are not magical stuff either, but the reorganization of available materials, which is what nature does when things are out of equilibrium. No Zeus involved.

    I hope that helps clarify things a little tiny bit.

  15. Entropy: Which hypothesis? That there’s no firm idea about which, if any, surviving prokaryotic lineage might represent the ancestors to eukaryotes?

    Theory of evolution by natural selection with its wild common descent hypothesis.

    Entropy: I have. Darwin didn’t talk about “purposes” or “goals” or “progress.”

    Darwin, “As all the living forms of life are the lineal descendants of those which lived long before the Silurian epoch, we may feel certain that the ordinary succession by generation has never once been broken, and that no cataclysm has desolated the whole world. Hence we may look with some confidence to a secure future of equally inappreciable length. And as natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection.” Progress toward perfection looks like a goal. Not for you, of course, but that be just you.

    Entropy: Had you checked Joe’s talk, you’d have noticed that Joe starts with the energy from the sun. You ‘d have also noticed that Joe mentions that word: entropy. Well, there you have it: relationship between energy and information. No creation, transformations.

    You likely mean roughly the half-hour point. He starts with the complete set: Sun, constant flow of energy, and biosphere with pre-existing genotypes (i.e. pre-existing information) capable of all the needed transformations. And the following oversimplifications ensure that nothing truly explanatory or insightful ever enters the talk. He basically says everything always worked the way it is now and we probably have a formula to describe it.

  16. Great talk. I remember well that period of JTB when lots of equations saying not much made me very frustrated at ever finding an all encompassing mathematical theory for evolution. I am a bit wiser these days.

    Erik: And the following oversimplifications ensure that nothing truly explanatory or insightful ever enters the talk.

    I disagree. I think the idea that an increase is biosphere energy content (including evolutionary processes that lead to it) leads to a delay in entropy increase in the universe has profound philosophical and even theological implications.

  17. Another cute point is that iF a Award group and then the speaker consider it important enough to take on ID thinkers then it must mean the iD thinkers are important in modern science.
    THEN I say thats its in a probability curve VERY UNLIKELY that a THEORY of science that is under attack and thus needing such defence will survive the attack.
    i mean if evolutionary biology was a solid theory it would not have such solid opposition. Its predictable by the effective opposition, as the need to respond proves, that the effective opposition will prevail.
    the error is on the evolution side and its being found out in our time.
    NO important and solid OTHER theories of science have serious opposition that needs to be responded too.In even physics, which is quite goofy these days, has such opposition.
    I think one can predict by a probability curve who will prevail in the ID/YEC/evolution contention.
    Probability theory is not irrelevant to origin contentions and finale victors.

  18. THEN I say thats its in a probability curve VERY UNLIKELY that a THEORY of science that is under attack and thus needing such defence will survive the attack.

    …says Byers, blissfully unaware of what that would mean for the supposed science of ID.

  19. Erik:
    Theory of evolution by natural selection with its wild common descent hypothesis.

    OK, this is weird. You seem to have forgotten your first claim: that some people called “evolutionists” assumed that humans descended from bacteria. I clarified to you that, actually, the origin of eukaryotes (which is the closest to your idea about humans), is not that well established. Lots of competing hypotheses, but nothing firm, and that you were therefore talking about some people I don’t know (besides the other confusing, or misinformed, ideas you were blaming on those people).

    Now “evolutionist” is anybody who accepts the theory of evolution [by natural selection] (or just generally speaking?) and common descent (which might mean many things, but I’m guessing universal common descent?). However, neither is based on mere assumptions, but, rather, on loads and loads of data. So, maybe I should suggest you to actually learn about it, rather than claim that both are mere assumptions, because your ignorance about the data and evidence don’t trump the data and evidence. In other words, when you call those “assumptions,” you’re showing your ignorance. Of course, being ignorant is ok, what’s not ok is to be arrogant about such ignorance, pretend to pass it for knowledge, and then make those audacious claims. You’re free to feel whatever you feel against evolution and common ancestry (any of it? you also reject humans and chimps ad being relatives?), but at least make sure that you talk about your disbelief (I, Erik, haven’t seen any evidence that would convince me, have read creationist literature against, therefore, I, Erik, don’t believe any of it.), rather than making universal claims about things you don’t know.

    Erik:
    Darwin, “As all the living forms of life are the lineal descendants of those which lived long before the Silurian epoch, we may feel certain that the ordinary succession by generation has never once been broken, and that no cataclysm has desolated the whole world. Hence we may look with some confidence to a secure future of equally inappreciable length. And as natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection.” Progress toward perfection looks like a goal. Not for you, of course, but that be just you.

    Again, you were talking about bacteria evolving to humans, and then talking about goals, purpose, and progress, which seemed to mean that you think that evolution is “progress” towards humans. In the citation you make, Darwin is talking about evolution as an optimization phenomenon, which can be thought of as such (there’s caveats, but Darwin was just starting to discover the phenomena). But, of course, given that he’s talking about natural phenomena, he wasn’t talking about goals and purpose, but about adaptation to an environment. Pretty far from goals and purpose, and not progress in the sense of “making humans.” You might feel like it’s all right to call the process “goals and purpose,” but then you cannot say that people who know better, are talking “contra Darwin.” It would be “contra your misconception of Darwin,” and that’s a different story. (It’s not either as if Darwin was infallible, just that you’re wrong about this one.)

    Erik:
    You likely mean roughly the half-hour point. He starts with the complete set: Sun, constant flow of energy, and biosphere with pre-existing genotypes (i.e. pre-existing information) capable of all the needed transformations. And the following oversimplifications ensure that nothing truly explanatory or insightful ever enters the talk. He basically says everything always worked the way it is now and we probably have a formula to describe it.

    I forgot to mention that I didn’t go to details because I find it hard to explain the connection between energy / entropy / information. Of course, I didn’t expect you to understand Joe’s talk, which is why I just insisted on the connection, and that this stuff happens when things are out of equilibrium. The point about telling you to look at Joe’s talk, was not so that you’d understand how that works, but so you’d understand that scientists are conscious of such connections, and that they’re not magic. So, focus there.

    Of course you’d miss Joe’s points, and find his methods obscure. So, my advice is that, when confronted with things you might know little about, you should not assume that someone wanted to confuse you, or that they didn’t want to explain anything. You should ask yourself if maybe something went over your head. It seems like iJoe’s talk went over your head, and that you interpret that as Joe’s fault, rather than faulting your lack of an appropriate scientific background. After all, Joe’s audience wasn’t you.

    I hope that helps.

  20. keiths: …says Byers, blissfully unaware of what that would mean for the supposed science of ID.

    Its not the same thing.
    Evolutionism is the reived dogma. its the one taught and presented as a theory of science and even not doubted they say.
    So the curve would not work also against ID/YEC.
    They/we are the barbarians at the gate. It should not be that evolutionary biology must defend itself, as this thread indicates, so much and so hard.
    The curve doesn’t work equally on all ideas but works, as a curve against a dominant idea BUT it should not be working if it would be a prevailing idea.
    Evolutuionism only now is coming under organized scrutiny by well degree-ed thinkers. Small circles are successfully challenging the slightly bigger but still small circle of evolutionism.
    I can’t see how one can’t predict the outcome on this. the opposition is the house now.

  21. Erik: He starts with the complete set: Sun, constant flow of energy, and biosphere with pre-existing genotypes (i.e. pre-existing information) capable of all the needed transformations.

    Interesting that Erik thinks that changes in the frequencies of genotypes somehow cannot bring about any change in the amount of adaptive information in the species. Claude Shannon would not agree.

    Also that he’s obsessed with whether information is “created”. I try to say that evolution is putting information into the genotypes. And not spending time worrying about whether this information is newly “created”.

  22. … and thanks for pointing out the humor in the front page image of the video. I had totally missed it — I was obviously imitating the photo of Fisher, but believe it or not, was totally unconscious of having done that!

  23. Joe Felsenstein: Interesting that Erik thinks that changes in the frequencies of genotypes somehow cannot bring about any change in the amount of adaptive information in the species. Claude Shannon would not agree.

    I don’t disagree with this. I simply point out that it’s trivial to say that a change in one brings about a change in the other – because a change in one pretty much is a change in the other. This tells us nothing about causes.

    You could just as well say that 2+3 “brings about” 5, but actually, 2+3 *just is* 5.

    Joe Felsenstein: I try to say that evolution is putting information into the genotypes. And not spending time worrying about whether this information is newly “created”.

    And trying to say that evolution is putting information into the genotypes could mean two things. Either evolution has god-like powers or, if not, you are giving a plain description of what we observe. And if you are not attempting or implying any causal explanation, then “evolution is putting information into the genotypes” is too strong of a statement.

    Of course it’s the latter, because you start off with the complete package (Sun, flow of energy, biosphere), not saying how biosphere came about or even why it should transform the way it does – you simply assume that it does and always did. In the end of the talk (at one hour point) you list a bunch of really interesting points and leave them unanswered.

  24. Erik: I don’t disagree with this. I simply point out that it’s trivial to say that a change in one brings about a change in the other – because a change in one pretty much is a change in the other. This tells us nothing about causes.

    So, if you agree that changes in genotype frequencies (the “one” referred to) bring about changes in the amount of adaptive information (the “other”), what do you think is the cause of changes in genotype frequencies, if not natural selection?

  25. Sy Garte: So, if you agree that changes in genotype frequencies (the “one” referred to) bring about changes in the amount of adaptive information (the “other”), what do you think is the cause of changes in genotype frequencies, if not natural selection?

    What are causes? I’m saying that natural selection, in order to be a cause, has to walk around and make a selection here and a selection there. It has to intervene in the state of affairs.

    If it does not do that, then it’s a statistical correlation, not a cause. Correlations are not causes.

  26. Erik:
    If it does not do that, then it’s a statistical correlation, not a cause. Correlations are not causes.

    Amen!!!

    So once we realize that NS can not be a cause we are left with RM. The claim then boils down to “stuff happens (randomly)”.

    It just doesn’t seem like a satisfactory explanation for what we see.

    Saying something like “the universe” or “the environment” is the cause would make more sense.

    peace

  27. This is the same old endless and useless argument about natural selection not being a “cause”. When tiny bits of rock settle out of a suspension, does that mean gravity has “caused” sedimentation? I’m happy to say it, and geologists study it. I’ll leave Erik to be Mr. Definition Man and am happy to go off and do science instead. Someone should start a thread on Erik’s argument (actually, we have had multiple such threads here, and very long ones).

  28. Erik: Of course it’s the latter, because you start off with the complete package (Sun, flow of energy, biosphere), not saying how biosphere came about or even why it should transform the way it does – you simply assume that it does and always did. In the end of the talk (at one hour point) you list a bunch of really interesting points and leave them unanswered.

    I’d say those are interesting phenomena (recombination, genetic drift etc). But Erik is being inconsistent. He’s supposed to say that they are not interesting, just as he says that for natural selection. And off we go to the origin of the universe. Sorry, I don”t study that. Silly me.

    Yawn.

  29. Joe Felsenstein: Interesting that Erik thinks that changes in the frequencies of genotypes somehow cannot bring about any change in the amount of adaptive information in the species.

    Adaptive Information. I learn something new all the time. Or I feel as if I should have learned something new.

  30. Erik: I’m saying that natural selection, in order to be a cause, has to walk around and make a selection here and a selection there. It has to intervene in the state of affairs.

    It is true that natural selection does not cause changes in genotype. That is what mutations do. But NS does cause changes in genotype frequencies. Changing genotype happens in an individual, while changing genotype frequencies happens in a population, and they are entirely different things.

  31. Erik: I’m saying that natural selection, in order to be a cause, has to walk around and make a selection here and a selection there. It has to intervene in the state of affairs.

    That makes little sense to me. Natural selection is not a thing that goes around and “intervenes” in the states of affairs. It IS part of the states of affairs.

    Natural selection is a label for a collection of real physical events that have a particular effect on the frequency of alleles within a certain population. One among those physical events, to pick an example, could be when a particularly slow wildebeest drops behind in a fleeing flock and gets overwhelmed and eaten by chasing lions. Nothing has to “intervene” to bring about this event. It’s not like there’s this ethereal substance called natural selection that somehow decides to enter the psyche of the lion, and make it desire to eat slow wildebeest, or “intervenes” to hamstring some particular wildebeest. That would be a very strange way of describing it.

  32. Sy Garte: But NS does cause changes in genotype frequencies.

    No NS merely means that some genotypes will be more numerous and others less numerous. It does not cause anything.

    Joe Felsenstein: Does that mean gravity has “caused” sedimentation?

    I’m not sure I understand the analogy. Gravity is a description of a relationship between things with mass or if we look at it from a Newtonian perspective the force that attracts a body toward other physical bodies having mass.

    Are you saying NS is a force or relationship of some kind between things? What things exactly?

    peace

  33. Rumraket: Nothing has to “intervene” to bring about this event.

    The event was caused by the lions and whatever caused the wildebeest to be weak. NS had no part in it at all.

    It would be more clear and correct to say “the universe” caused the event.

    peace

  34. fifthmonarchyman: The event was caused by the lions and whatever caused the wildebeest to be weak.

    Yes, and such events are manifestations of natural selection.

    NS had no part in it at all.

    Completely nonsensical statement. It is like saying that traffic accidents had no part in the head-on collision of two speeding cars. Uhh, no, that would be an example of a traffic accident.

    It was an instance of natural selection at work. It is events like it that make up natural selection, the components of which the process of natural selection is made.

    It would be more clear and correct to say “the universe” caused the event.

    No, it wouldn’t. The event took place in the universe.

  35. Could we get this useless discussion of whether natural selection “does” anything to a new thread, or better yet one of the several incredibly lengthy previous discussions of that topic?

  36. Rumraket: Natural selection is a label for a collection of real physical events that have a particular effect on the frequency of alleles within a certain population.

    Yes, it’s inscrutable and arbitrary. Just likes the gods.

  37. Joe Felsenstein: Could we get this useless discussion of whether natural selection “does” anything to a new thread, or better yet one of the several incredibly lengthy previous discussions of that topic?

    Sure. What is adaptive information? Is it something you just made up on the spur of the moment?

  38. Mung: Sure. What is adaptive information? Is it something you just made up on the spur of the moment?

    Genetic information that causes an increase in fitness.

  39. Rumraket: Genetic information that causes an increase in fitness.

    If it causes a decrease in fitness does it become genetic disinformation?

    ETA: Would Joe call that maladaptive information?

  40. Leaving aside meaningless taunts: I used the term “adaptive information” here because that’s the term I used for it in my 1978 paper. Basically, functional information (as used by Hazen and Szostak in 2007) with the function scale being fitness.

  41. Joe Felsenstein: Could we get this useless discussion of whether natural selection “does” anything to a new thread, or better yet one of the several incredibly lengthy previous discussions of that topic?

    Yes, the discussion is useless for several reasons. First, you are giving the following disanalogy,

    Joe Felsenstein: This is the same old endless and useless argument about natural selection not being a “cause”. When tiny bits of rock settle out of a suspension, does that mean gravity has “caused” sedimentation?

    It’s a disanalogy because gravity is a force that pulls, i.e. does something, whereas natural selection is a differential survival rate, i.e. an outcome rather than a cause. And earlier you have said you don’t care whether it’s a cause or an effect, so basically you don’t care what you mean. This makes the discussion useless to be had anywhere, in this thread or elsewhere.

  42. Erik

    It’s a disanalogy because gravity is a force that pulls, i.e. does something, whereas natural selection is a differential survival rate, i.e. an outcome rather than a cause. And earlier you have said you don’t care whether it’s a cause or an effect, so basically you don’t care what you mean. This makes the discussion useless to be had anywhere, in this thread or elsewhere.

    I suspect that folks who know about General Relativity will have something to say about that. But back to the real issue I was raising, before discussion veered off into Cause And Effect Land …

  43. Joe Felsenstein: Interesting that Erik thinks that changes in the frequencies of genotypes somehow cannot bring about any change in the amount of adaptive information in the species. Claude Shannon would not agree.

    OK, let me rephrase that without cause-and-effect language, so we can see the real issue.

    Erik thinks that the change in the distribution of genotypes in my model is not interesting because they were all there at the start:

    Erik: You likely mean roughly the half-hour point. He starts with the complete set: Sun, constant flow of energy, and biosphere with pre-existing genotypes (i.e. pre-existing information) capable of all the needed transformations. And the following oversimplifications ensure that nothing truly explanatory or insightful ever enters the talk. He basically says everything always worked the way it is now and we probably have a formula to describe it.

    I calculate the accompanying changes in entropy and in adaptive (functional, specified) information. To Erik it seems that those are not of interest, as no new genotype is popping into existence. Well, there’s no accounting for tastes — Erik is free not to be interested.

    But I think a lot of people would say that yes, changes in distributions of pre-existing genotypes can be changes that we really do care about. If the genotypes were for rates of loss of, say, money, we might care a lot.

    See? Nothing up my sleeve. No issue of Cause And Effect, but something really there to talk about.

  44. Joe Felsenstein: I calculate the accompanying changes in entropy and in adaptive (functional, specified) information. To Erik it seems that those are not of interest, as no new genotype is popping into existence. Well, there’s no accounting for tastes — Erik is free not to be interested.

    But I think a lot of people would say that yes, changes in distributions of pre-existing genotypes can be changes that we really do care about. If the genotypes were for rates of loss of, say, money, we might care a lot.

    I did not say that the talk was not interesting. It was okay. It’s just that in the end you mentioned several really interesting things that you left unanswered.

    And here’s another interesting (dis)analogy you make (genotype and money). It’s quite interesting that you keep doing it. When you make analogies like this, you are actually inviting examination of your premises and presuppositions, but at the same time you refuse to discuss them. So be it.

  45. Mung:
    And what does entropy have to do with it?

    Information is often considered to result in (or result from) reduction in entropy. People who are interested in how flows of energy might (or might not) be connected to changes of information content usually are interested in how entropy comes into it. In the talk I gave a quote from Ludwig Botlzmann that argued a connection between evolution and entropy.

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