The Spiralling Flow of Life

In this series of videos Johannas Jaeger gives us some very interesting things to consider. He considers proteins to be pleomorphic assemblies not molecular machines.
Jaeger doesn’t believe in, nor feel the need to propose any extrinsic form of vitalism, but he does accept what Denis Walsh called methodological vitalism. If organisms are purposeful then it is an intrinsic purposefulness.

If we are to gain a meaningful understanding of the organism the machine metaphor will in no way suffice. Life is self-sustaining at all levels. The symbol of the caduceus is apt at so many levels, from the double helix of DNA to the movement of the solar system as it travels around the galaxy. Here is a link to a gif of the motion of the planets relative to the sun. Our hearts take on their form by the layers of muscle being laid down in a helical manner as the blood spirals onward.

The late Gerald D.BuckbergMD, professor and pioneer in cardiac surgery had this to say:

Knowledge develops through analysis, differentiation, or taking things apart. Wisdom evolves by synthesis, integration, or by putting things together, to see with the eyes of the mind.
These steps are not very helpful unless we undertake one other action, which is wholeness: to bring together diversities, to have complementary activity. I believe that we, as cardiac surgeons, are particularly fortunate because we can learn, we can understand, and we can act on the part of our patients.

There are many very intelligent people who consider dynamic processes to be more fundamental than physical matter.

D’Arcy Thompson studied living forms and their morphogenesis and did a lot of work on various animals and plants, comparing forms and applying mathematical rules to determine how one form changes into another.

From the book, “On Growth and Form”, he wrote:

The fir-cone may be looked upon as a cylindrical axis contracted at both ends, until it becomes approximately an ellipsoidal solid of revolution, generated about the long axis of the ellipse; and the semi-ellipsoidal capitulum of the teasel, the more or less hemispherical one of the thistle, and the flattened but still convex one of the sunflower, are all beautiful and successive deformations of what is typically a long, conical, and all but cylindrical stem. On the other hand, every stem as it grows out into its long cylindrical shape is but a deformation of the little spheroidal or ellipsoidal or conical surface which was its forerunner in the bud.

I would say that plant growth is expressed in varying degrees between point-wise radial forces and plane-wise peripheral forces.

To learn about the construction and growth and working of the organism he believes that the physical sciences are our only guide, but in, “On Growth and Form”, he wrote:

Matter as such produces nothing, changes nothing, does nothing; and however convenient it may afterwards be to abbreviate our nomenclature and our descriptions, we must most carefully realise in the outset that the spermatozoon, the nucleus, the chromosomes or the germ-plasm can never act as matter alone, but only as seats of energy and as centres of force.

Life does not so much consist of matter but of processes of dynamic transformations. As the human genome project demonstrated, obtaining the sequences of DNA reveals very little about life. Understanding comes only with the grasp of the movements, transformations and interactions of living forms. And this is just as true whether it is populations of organisms or intracellular molecular complexes.

Life need not and does not break any of the rules of chemistry or physics.

Goethe could see and experience the reality of dynamic, living, nature. The living world should not be thought of as a production line, manufacturing organisms as objects of nature.

In ‘Pluto’s Republic’, Peter Medawar wrote:

When scientific research is studied on the hoof, so to speak, we find that very few theories are utterly discredited in the style of which (for example) Thomas Henry Huxley demolished Goethe’s and Oken’s Vertebral Theory of the skull.

Medawar had made the mistake of attributing to Goethe the same understanding of the archetype as Owen and Oken. But Goethe’s idea of the archetype should not be thought of in the same way. His archetype is not a physical, ancestral form available to be apprehended by the senses. His archetype was an all inclusive dynamic process that does not reside within any one specific manifestation.

This piece makes clear Huxley’s view:

Huxley highlighted that method in his 1858 Croonian lecture, “On the Theory of the Vertebrate Skull,” in which he rejected a theory proposed by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Lorenz Oken in Germany and by Richard Owen in England that the bones of the skull and of spine in vertebrates were serial homologous.

But Goethe did not consider their relationship to be as such. For Goethe a vertebra is as much a transformed skull bone as the bone is a transformed vertebra. It is not that one has developed from the other but that they both express the archetype in their individual way. He could compare them both and picture the reciprocal transformations in his mind’s eye.

He did not examine their static form, but he could see the movement in how they took on their various shapes.

In one of Jaeger’s videos he quotes Dan Nicholson:

Living forms are the expression of a perpetual stream of matter and energy which passes the organism and at the same time constitutes it.

Perhaps he meant something like, “passes through the organism”.

Anyway  John Dupré & Daniel J. Nicholson had this to say:

When considering a particular organism, there is a general tendency to privilege or prioritise the adult stage of its life cycle (for instance, in the context of taxonomic discussions), as this is the period during which the organism most closely resembles a thing by virtue of its relative stability. But we should not forget that the organism encompasses the entire life cycle; indeed, it is the life cycle itself that constitutes the organism. Strictly speaking, it is incorrect to speak of an egg developing into a frog, as the egg is really a temporal part of the developmental trajectory that is the frog.

Nicholson continues his argument here:

It is quite remarkable to observe that, despite the enormous empirical advances that have been made since 1962, our basic theoretical picture of the cell has remained essentially unchanged (see, e.g., Bray, 2009; Danchin, 2009). The standard view nowadays is that the cell coordinates its functions by virtue of a ‘genetic program’ encoded in the DNA that directs and controls the expression of a specific set of RNAs and proteins, which assemble deterministically into stable ‘molecular machines’ that reliably and efficiently execute predetermined operations according to the mechanisms of cell division, endocytosis, signal transduction, etc. Machine analogies and metaphorical references to ‘locks’, ‘keys’, ‘gates’, ‘pumps’, ‘motors’, and ‘engines’ continue to pervade the technical literature (e.g. Piccolino, 2000; Frank, 2011), as does talk of the ‘machinery’ (e.g. Goodsell, 2009) and ‘circuitry’ (e.g. Alon, 2007) that underlies the cellular organization. The machine conception of the cell (MCC) itself is seldom explicitly defended; it has become so engrained in our minds that we simply take it for granted…
As a result, critical reviews have begun to appear that explicitly challenge the reductionistic and deterministic presuppositions of mechanicism and question the coherence of the familiar clockwork image of the cell. Notable examples include Kirschner et al. (2000), Astumian (2001), Woese (2004), Cornish-Bowden (2006), Longo and Tendero (2007), Karsenti (2008), Huang (2009), Mayer et al. (2009), Kupiec (2010), Moore (2012), Bizzarri et al. (2013), Talbott (2013), Heams (2014), Longo and Montévil (2014), Soto and Sonnenschein (2018), and a series of articles by Kurakin (2005, 2006, 2009, 2010). Drawing and building on this burgeoning body of literature, the aim of this paper is to establish the inadequacy of the MCC. From a theoretical perspective, the MCC offers a poor and rather misleading representation of biological reality—or so I will argue.

Rivers flow inexorably downwards, life flows inexorably upwards.

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464 thoughts on “The Spiralling Flow of Life

  1. CharlieM: No, just less developed.

    Less developed implies lower quality?

    CharlieM: I wasn’t making a judgement, it was a pure observation.

    Then you are not making claims about quality, are you? How are you going to make subjective calls on quality without making judgements?

    CharlieM: Well I suppose you must be because I aspire to become a great guy too

    LOL!

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  2. Corneel:

    CharlieM: As an infant my body was full of growth and developmental potential. Now I am old, my body has hardened into forms that reflect the past and no longer has the fresh vigour of youth.

    I am not yet as old as you, but I definitely feel what you mean.

    CharlieM: It is the same with evolution.

    That would require me to accept your premise that evolution is like senescent ageing. But as with your comparison to embryonic development, I do not. Senescent ageing evolves as a consequence of the diminishing power of purifying selection with increasing age. These mechanisms do not operate above the organismal level.
    This is why I told you to drop that metaphor: I know when the comparison between development and evolution makes sense and when it does not. In this case, it does not.

    Like Medawar, you believe in evolution being driven by natural selection (plus drift) acting on genetic mutations. Medawar proposed his theory in an attempt to explain why organisms age. His theory was an attempt to justify aging from a Darwinian perspective.

    I am not trying to justify any theory. Mandelbrot’s fractals do not require any justification. They are an observed phenomenon. Likewise, the pattern of life at the cellular level, the organismic level and the species/kind level needs no justification. It is an observation.

    Cells come into being, potentially multiply, reach a stage where they no longer multiply and eventually die. Organisms come into being, have the potential to produce offspring, reach a stage where they no longer multiply and eventually die. Species come into being, have the potential to produce more species, reach a stage where they no longer multiply and eventually die off. There is coming into being, senescence, and death at all these levels, and we can observe this.

    We do not need to theorise about mechanisms behind these patterns in order to know that the patterns are there and can be ‘seen’.

    CharlieM: Can you give any reasons or justifications for your negative belief?

    The paper received only a single citation in seven years. That’s even worse than my papers.

    I wasn’t asking you why others may have ignored the paper, I was asking you why you were critical of it.

    CharlieM: Do you mean the question about the potential of a mouse to grow to the size of an elephant?

    No, I am still wondering how you imagine the habits and lifestyle of a population made the particular aspects of the archetype we observe today to realize into actuality. You have avoided answering the question for quite some time now. Please don’t ask me to read another book or paper again.

    I can observe this in the same way that I can observe a person and notice features that have their cause in past experiences of that person. If I see a one-legged man I will know that at some point in his past life an external event has lead to this. If I see a mammal with flippers I know that the past history of the species to which it belonged involved an aquatic existence and it has retained that existence. Our hands begin as paddle-like plates during embryological development and then are subsequently sculpted into their more recognisable form.

    The pentadactyl limb is an archetypal structure which we can see has been adapted by different species in various ways depending on the lifestyle they have adopted.

    CharlieM: Have you thought about all the necessary complex, coordinated changes that would be required in this transformation (mice becoming the size of elephants)?

    We know for a fact that such transformations have taken place by the act of accumulating many small changes. Charlie being bewildered by “all the necessary complex, coordinated changes” has never stopped it thus far.

    But you do not know if many of these changes occurred sequentially or simultaneously. A great deal of events need to happen simultaneously to have any effect. Blindly trying to match colours on one face of a Rubik’s cube will not solve the puzzle. You need to be aware of simultaneous effects.

    Here is an apt demonstration of this from the journal ‘Nature’

    CRISPR gene editing in human embryos wreaks chromosomal mayhem
    Three studies showing large DNA deletions and reshuffling heighten safety concerns about heritable genome editing

    Off-target gene mutations are just what they don’t want to see.

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  3. Corneel:

    CharlieM: No, just less developed.

    Less developed implies lower quality?

    You may see it as lower quality but rather than lower, I see it as their qualities being more restricted. For instance they do not have the quality of being able to make self-conscious choices.

    The foundation blocks of a building may not have the same quality of finish as the walls but they are still a very necessary part of the whole.

    CharlieM: I wasn’t making a judgement, it was a pure observation.

    Then you are not making claims about quality, are you? How are you going to make subjective calls on quality without making judgements?

    If I say that a colour blind person has less quality of vision than a normal sighted person, this is not a subjective judgement, it is an observation.

    CharlieM: Well I suppose you must be because I aspire to become a great guy too

    LOL!

    …a great guy with a sense of humour.

    I wonder how many of those little e-coli bacteria sitting in the labs are dreaming of freedom and having ambitions of greatness. 🙂

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  4. Thinking about the human skeleton. The seat of rational thought is contained in the rounded vault of the cranium, a microcosm of the vault of the heavens. The femur, the longest and the strongest bone in the human body, like an arrow aligned with the centre of the earth.

    The long bones of appendicular skeleton with their linear growth are important for mobility The planar bones of the calvaria grow out in all directions and eventually form an immobile case to house the brain

    Ossification centers first appear in areas corresponding to the future eminences as early as 7th and 8th week post conception (PC) and with bone formation spread centrifugally.

    The skull is designed to protect the brain and discourage movement. What little movement there is betweenn the bones of the head enables us to speak and hear. The limbs are designed to encourage movement. Our limbs allow physical contact our moving jaw allows mental contact. The skull is basically an exoskeleton while the appendicular skeleton is an endoskeleton. We have both endoskeletal and exoskeletal features.
    The axial skeleton of the trunk lies between, and links the head and the limbs just as Hermes/Mercury is seen as the intermediary between heaven and earth. The spine has a linear aspect tailing off towards the base and the ribs have a spherical enclosing aspect. Aspects of the polarities above and below in the calvaria and femurs respectively.

    Heart feeling, head thinking, limb willing.

    A baby is all will with very little thinking. Through acts of will it is able to slowly take control of the movement of its limbs and organs of speech. As a person matures thinking comes more to the fore. A toddler will not hesitate to throw himself or herself to the floor with flailing limbs if they don’t get their way. A mature person would never dream of doing such a thing no matter how frustrated they felt. Rationality takes over the will. What was once expressed through the body is now held within the mind.

    Using our legs we are limited to moving about on earth, with our minds we can reach the far corners of the cosmos.

    The polarity of heaven and earth is reflected in the polarity of head and body, mental agility and physical agility. Earthly forces pull life in towards the centre, heavenly forces draw life out towards the periphery. Combined with these forces the rotation of the earth produces a multitude of swirling spirals and eddies in the atmosphere and oceans.

    Life spirals on.

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  5. CharlieM: I am not trying to justify any theory. Mandelbrot’s fractals do not require any justification. They are an observed phenomenon. Likewise, the pattern of life at the cellular level, the organismic level and the species/kind level needs no justification. It is an observation.

    Yep, you are trying to justify your pet theory. You stated that evolving species, like ageing organisms, are gradually running out of potential to grow and diversify. This is not an observation but an inference that relies on a perceived similarity between evolution and the development/ageing of an individual organism. Since this similarity does not extend to the presence of senescent ageing in evolution, your conclusion is wrong.

    CharlieM: I wasn’t asking you why others may have ignored the paper, I was asking you why you were critical of it.

    Because his argument relies on the claim that modern researchers have somehow adopted a “static form of typologic thinking”. That is absolute hogwash.

    CharlieM: If I see a mammal with flippers I know that the past history of the species to which it belonged involved an aquatic existence and it has retained that existence.

    Such an astounding insight! Sadly, you explained nothing: “To explain it all by saying there was a niche to be filled is a very convenient answer that doesn’t explain what is required for an animal to reach a point where it is able to survive from its particular way of living. ”

    Try again.

    CharlieM: But you do not know if many of these changes occurred sequentially or simultaneously. A great deal of events need to happen simultaneously to have any effect.

    I am guessing mouse sized animals do not inflate to elephant size overnight. And surely there is a gradual path from mouse size to elephant size.

    CharlieM: Off-target gene mutations are just what they don’t want to see.

    Yet we see huge variation in many traits, including body size, within virtually any species. How weird. Charlie thinks “all the necessary complex, coordinated changes” to bring such variation about are impossible.

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  6. CharlieM: You may see it as lower quality but rather than lower, I see it as their qualities being more restricted. For instance they do not have the quality of being able to make self-conscious choices.

    The foundation blocks of a building may not have the same quality of finish as the walls but they are still a very necessary part of the whole.

    I don’t understand why you are suddenly so shy about declaring other species to be of inferior quality. Those were your words, not mine. You complained that I focused on quantity over quality, remember?

    CharlieM: Me: Then you are not making claims about quality, are you? How are you going to make subjective calls on quality without making judgements?

    Charlie: If I say that a colour blind person has less quality of vision than a normal sighted person, this is not a subjective judgement, it is an observation.

    No, that’s definitely a subjective judgement. Interesting that you cannot distinguish judgements from observations. Explains a lot, though.

    Anyway, does the shared personality trait of being self absorbed mean humans have superior quality over other species is what I’d like to know.

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  7. Corneel:

    CharlieM: I am not trying to justify any theory. Mandelbrot’s fractals do not require any justification. They are an observed phenomenon. Likewise, the pattern of life at the cellular level, the organismic level and the species/kind level needs no justification. It is an observation.

    Yep, you are trying to justify your pet theory. You stated that evolving species, like ageing organisms, are gradually running out of potential to grow and diversify. This is not an observation but an inference that relies on a perceived similarity between evolution and the development/ageing of an individual organism. Since this similarity does not extend to the presence of senescent ageing in evolution, your conclusion is wrong.

    Can we agree that cells appear, exist for a time, then cease to exist; organisms appear, exist for a time, then cease to exist; species appear, exist for a time, then cease to exist?

    Instead of thinking about ‘evolving species’ in general, I like to think about specific examples. When you mentioned the possibility of mice being born the size of elephants, I began to think about what it would take for this to become reality and I have to thank you for inspiring me to think about this. There are multiple changes that would be required. Changes in morphology, lifestyle, habitat and so on.

    Presuming gravitational forces remained fairly constant one specific change would be them having to give up using their forelimbs as the flexible multifunctional attribute that they are currently. Mice can sit up freeing their forelimbs from the sole task of supporting their bodies. This allows them to use their paws in all sorts of creative ways. Elephants have lost this potential because they need all four limbs to support their bulk. They compensate for this loss by having a prehensile trunk which does an excellent job but having one limb instead of two is always going to be a handicap.

    CharlieM: I wasn’t asking you why others may have ignored the paper, I was asking you why you were critical of it.

    Because his argument relies on the claim that modern researchers have somehow adopted a “static form of typologic thinking”. That is absolute hogwash.

    There are many examples of how attention has been focused on forms as static lumps of matter. It is obvious from the way researchers have treated proteins that they have not been thinking in a way that gives due weigh to the dynamism of these systems. They are only just beginning to take notice of how fluidic proteins generally are.

    CharlieM: If I see a mammal with flippers I know that the past history of the species to which it belonged involved an aquatic existence and it has retained that existence.

    Such an astounding insight! Sadly, you explained nothing: “To explain it all by saying there was a niche to be filled is a very convenient answer that doesn’t explain what is required for an animal to reach a point where it is able to survive from its particular way of living. ”

    Try again.

    Looking at flippers is only the starting point. Flippers must be viewed in relation to the whole animal, its habits, its environment, its relationships with other organisms. It is a matter of getting to know the animal by a slow steady building up of knowledge about it through patient, concentrated examination. Look at this difference between a seal and an otter and how the forelimbs of the former have induced restrictions to its habits.

    CharlieM: But you do not know if many of these changes occurred sequentially or simultaneously. A great deal of events need to happen simultaneously to have any effect.

    I am guessing mouse sized animals do not inflate to elephant size overnight. And surely there is a gradual path from mouse size to elephant size.

    But are you guessing the path would be an accidental one or would it be driven in large part by the habits of members of the population?

    CharlieM: Off-target gene mutations are just what they don’t want to see.

    Yet we see huge variation in many traits, including body size, within virtually any species. How weird. Charlie thinks “all the necessary complex, coordinated changes” to bring such variation about are impossible.

    They are not impossible. They are what was required to bring about the variety that obviously exists.

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  8. Corneel:

    CharlieM: You may see it as lower quality but rather than lower, I see it as their qualities being more restricted. For instance they do not have the quality of being able to make self-conscious choices.

    The foundation blocks of a building may not have the same quality of finish as the walls but they are still a very necessary part of the whole.

    I don’t understand why you are suddenly so shy about declaring other species to be of inferior quality. Those were your words, not mine. You complained that I focused on quantity over quality, remember?

    Because the comparison is inapt. We should not be comparing individual humans to individual bacteria. A more fitting comparison would be between individual humans and individual species or even genera of bacteria. In which case they have many qualities that are far superior to that of individual humans.

    Me: Then you are not making claims about quality, are you? How are you going to make subjective calls on quality without making judgements?

    Charlie: If I say that a colour blind person has less quality of vision than a normal sighted person, this is not a subjective judgement, it is an observation.

    No, that’s definitely a subjective judgement. Interesting that you cannot distinguish judgements from observations. Explains a lot, though.

    So if I claimed that losing the sight in one eye would give me a lower quality of vision, would that be a subjective judgement or an objective observation?

    Anyway, does the shared personality trait of being self absorbed mean humans have superior quality over other species is what I’d like to know.

    It depends if the self-absorption leads to an objective understanding of oneself or if it leads to egotism? And the adjectives superior and inferior should only be applied to specific qualities, not used to generalise.

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  9. In Ancient Chinese philosophy,-

    yin and yang is a concept of dualism, describing how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.

    This is not a dualism of forever opposing contradictory pairs. It is the twin aspect of an actual unity. The yin and yang symbol below encapsulates this beautifully. There is no rigid dividing line, they spiral round each other flowing together. A static image representing movement like the swirling blood of the heart or the cardiac muscles coiling round each other.

    This principle has been recognised from the East to the West. Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

    Polarity, or action and reaction, we meet in every part of nature; in darkness and light, in heat and cold; in the ebb and flow of waters; in male and female; in the inspiration and expiration of plants and animals; in the systole and diastole of the heart; in the undulations of fluids and of sound; in the centrifugal and centripetal gravity; in electricity, galvanism, and chemical affinity. Superinduce magnetism at one end of a needle, the opposite magnetism takes place at the other end. If the south attracts, the north repels. To empty here, you must condense there. An inevitable dualism bisects nature, so that each thing is a half, and suggests another thing to make it whole; as, spirit, matter; man, woman; subjective, objective; in, out; upper, under; motion, rest; yea, nay.

    Whilst the world is thus dual, so is every one of its parts. The entire system of things gets represented in every particle. There is somewhat that resembles the ebb and flow of the sea, day and night, man and woman, in a single needle of the pine, in a kernel of corn, in each individual of every animal tribe. The reaction, so grand in the elements, is repeated within these small boundaries. For example, in the animal kingdom the physiologist has observed that no creatures are favorites, but a certain compensation balances every gift and every defect. A surplusage given to one part is paid out of a reduction from another part of the same creature. If the head and neck are enlarged, the trunk and extremities are cut short.

    Such a simple symbol, but it holds and reveals so much. And even the revelations are arrived at through polarity. Outer sense perception combined with inner perception.through thinking.

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  10. Sorry for the unusual delay in answering. I am extremely busy these days. Hope you have other stuff going to distract you 😉.

    CharlieM: Elephants have lost this potential because they need all four limbs to support their bulk. They compensate for this loss by having a prehensile trunk which does an excellent job but having one limb instead of two is always going to be a handicap.

    Growing to large sizes has also opened up plenty of new opportunities that small animals do not have, e.g. elephants have the ability to manipulate their environment by uprooting trees or digging water holes. Not something you see mice do.

    CharlieM: It is obvious from the way researchers have treated proteins that they have not been thinking in a way that gives due weigh to the dynamism of these systems. They are only just beginning to take notice of how fluidic proteins generally are.

    That is just nonsense. I had to learn the mechanisms of enzymatic reactions, including conformational changes, during organic chemistry classes twenty years ago.

    CharlieM: Look at this difference between a seal and an otter and how the forelimbs of the former have induced restrictions to its habits.

    … and opened up lots of opportunities to adopt other novel habits. There is no reduction in evolutionary potential.

    CharlieM: But are you guessing the path would be an accidental one or would it be driven in large part by the habits of members of the population?

    A combination of mutation, drift and natural selection taking place, as per usual.

    CharlieM: They are not impossible. They are what was required to bring about the variety that obviously exists.

    My point exactly, “all the necessary complex, coordinated changes” must have taken place to generate the observed standing variation within species. Yet you keep insisting mice cannot grow to the size of elephants but will hit some magical boundary.

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  11. CharlieM: We should not be comparing individual humans to individual bacteria. A more fitting comparison would be between individual humans and individual species or even genera of bacteria. In which case they have many qualities that are far superior to that of individual humans.

    Suppose I were to say something like “Those Brittons as a group have many qualities that no single individual Dutchman can match”. Wouldn’t you perceive this to be a mite condescending?

    CharlieM: So if I claimed that losing the sight in one eye would give me a lower quality of vision, would that be a subjective judgement or an objective observation?

    That would be a subjective judgement, because it implies the value judgement that having vision in both eyes is better.

    Look, my youngest son has deficient colour vision (inherited from his granddad through his mother, it’s X-linked, but I digress). Apart from the minor inconvenience now and then this does not hamper him in any way. Would it be fair to say that he has a “lower quality of vision” or does it not matter one iota?

    CharlieM: It depends if the self-absorption leads to an objective understanding of oneself or if it leads to egotism?

    Would evolution aim for “objective understanding of oneself” but steer away from egotism? Why on earth would it do that? I am not seeing the advantage of including appraisals of quality in deciding whether evolution is teleological.

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  12. Corneel: Sorry for the unusual delay in answering. I am extremely busy these days. Hope you have other stuff going to distract you .

    I certainly do, they’re called grandkids 🙂

    CharlieM: Elephants have lost this potential because they need all four limbs to support their bulk. They compensate for this loss by having a prehensile trunk which does an excellent job but having one limb instead of two is always going to be a handicap.

    Growing to large sizes has also opened up plenty of new opportunities that small animals do not have, e.g. elephants have the ability to manipulate their environment by uprooting trees or digging water holes. Not something you see mice do.

    It’s all relative. It is well known that smaller animals have a higher strength to weight ratio. If you are familiar with house mice you will probably know that they can be very destructive relative to their size.

    Here’s Why a Giant Mouse Would Explode and a Tiny Elephant Would Freeze

    CharlieM: It is obvious from the way researchers have treated proteins that they have not been thinking in a way that gives due weigh to the dynamism of these systems. They are only just beginning to take notice of how fluidic proteins generally are.

    That is just nonsense. I had to learn the mechanisms of enzymatic reactions, including conformational changes, during organic chemistry classes twenty years ago.

    The literature suggests the primacy of structure

    There are over 20,000 different proteins in the body (1). How do proteins have so much functional diversity based upon only 20 building blocks? The answer lies in the complexity of primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary structure

    But from a recent article, The Shape-Shifting Army Inside Your Cells, there is this:

    Proteins work like rigid keys to activate cellular functions — or so everyone thought. Scientists are discovering a huge number of proteins that shape-shift to do their work, upending a century-old maxim of biology.

    Structure equals function: If there’s one thing we all learned about proteins in high school biology, that would be it. According to the textbook story of the cell, a protein’s three-dimensional shape determines what it does — drive chemical reactions, pass signals up and down the cell’s information superhighway, or maybe hang molecular tags onto DNA. For more than a century, biologists have thought that the proteins carrying out these functions are like rigid cogs in the cell’s machinery.

    Views are changing and not before time.

    CharlieM: Look at this difference between a seal and an otter and how the forelimbs of the former have induced restrictions to its habits.

    … and opened up lots of opportunities to adopt other novel habits. There is no reduction in evolutionary potential.

    Novel habits such as what?

    CharlieM: But are you guessing the path would be an accidental one or would it be driven in large part by the habits of members of the population?

    A combination of mutation, drift and natural selection taking place, as per usual.

    I know that’s the belief you hold.

    CharlieM: They (all the necessary complex, coordinated changes) are not impossible. They are what was required to bring about the variety that obviously exists.

    My point exactly, “all the necessary complex, coordinated changes” must have taken place to generate the observed standing variation within species. Yet you keep insisting mice cannot grow to the size of elephants but will hit some magical boundary.

    I didn’t say mice can’t grow to the size of elephants, I said that if it did happen it would involve a multitude of complex, coordinated changes and the animal that resulted would bear very little resemblance to a recognisable mouse.

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  13. Corneel:

    CharlieM: We should not be comparing individual humans to individual bacteria. A more fitting comparison would be between individual humans and individual species or even genera of bacteria. In which case they have many qualities that are far superior to that of individual humans.

    Suppose I were to say something like “Those Brittons as a group have many qualities that no single individual Dutchman can match”. Wouldn’t you perceive this to be a mite condescending?

    I would say that it was a fact. Obviously there will be many qualities within a population that no individual could possibly possess.

    CharlieM: So if I claimed that losing the sight in one eye would give me a lower quality of vision, would that be a subjective judgement or an objective observation?

    That would be a subjective judgement, because it implies the value judgement that having vision in both eyes is better.

    Binocular vision is superior to single eyed monocular vision because it provides depth perception.

    Look, my youngest son has deficient colour vision (inherited from his granddad through his mother, it’s X-linked, but I digress). Apart from the minor inconvenience now and then this does not hamper him in any way. Would it be fair to say that he has a “lower quality of vision” or does it not matter one iota?

    A deficiency in colour perception did matter to my best mate when he applied to join the Royal Air Force as an electrician. He failed the medical examination because he could not distinguish red from green.

    CharlieM: It depends if the self-absorption leads to an objective understanding of oneself or if it leads to egotism?

    Would evolution aim for “objective understanding of oneself” but steer away from egotism? Why on earth would it do that? I am not seeing the advantage of including appraisals of quality in deciding whether evolution is teleological.

    Egotism would most likely give one an evolutionary advantage. But evolution has reached a point where creatures can consciously influence further evolution. Humans were looking to the future when smallpox was eradicated. What further control will we have over life as our technical knowledge increases?

    We now have the power as individuals to decide whether to act for our own benefit or for the benefit of the planet as a whole. Darwinian evolution has no interest in the whole.

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  14. CharlieM: Me: Suppose I were to say something like “Those Brittons as a group have many qualities that no single individual Dutchman can match”. Wouldn’t you perceive this to be a mite condescending?

    Charlie: I would say that it was a fact. Obviously there will be many qualities within a population that no individual could possibly possess.

    Well, the Brittish can make a fine cup of tea.

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