The molecular view of the world does not genuinely accommodate evolution; otherwise you would find more people like myself. — Carl Woese, 2003 Crafoord Prize winner.

Replies to Cosmic Ancestry, 2003

Prize winner?
Mon, 27 Oct 2003 08:04:32 -0600
From: Stan Franklin

Brig, Here's a passage from Richard Dawkins' A Devil’s Chaplain (page 212).

The evolution of the vertebrate eye must have been progressive. Ancient ancestors had a very simple eye, containing only a few features good for seeing. We don’t need evidence for this (although it is nice that it is there). It has to be true because the alternative - an initially complex eye, well-endowed with features good for seeing - pitches us right back to Hoyle country and the sheer cliff of improbability. There must be a ramp of step-by-step progress towards the modern, multifeatured descendant of that optical prototype. Of course, in this case, modern analogues of every step up the ramp can be found, working serviceably in dozens of eyes dotted independently around the animal kingdom. But even without these examples, we could be confident that there must have been a gradual, progressive increase in the number of features which an engineer would recognize as contributing towards optical quality. Without stirring from our armchair, we can see that it must be so.
The sentence "Of course, in this case, modern analogues of every step up the ramp can be found, working serviceably in dozens of eyes dotted independently around the animal kingdom." caught my attention. If it can, in fact, be substantiated, it would seem to constitute strong evidence in favor of the possibility of evolutionary progress a la Darwin. This might be yet another way of winning the prize we’ve talked about. What do you think?


Mon, 27 Oct 2003 11:51:27 -0600 | To Stan | From Brig

Dear Stan -- Several years ago Dawkins published an article about a fish eye from flat skin in 400,000 generations (Richard Dawkins, "The eye in a twinkling" p 690-691 v 368 Nature, 21 April 1994 -- a review of a study by Dan Nilsson and Susanne Pelger) The steps were morphological, but he suggests that the genomic steps would easily follow. I haven't seen them yet. The key sentence in the Dawkins passage you quote is, "Without stirring from our armchair...".

No, I do not think this would do to win the prize. The prize is for a closed system demonstration. This is a historical reconstruction. The most detailed such reconstruction of the past of which I am aware has to do with antifreeze proteins in an arctic cod. --

But even if such a reconstruction were claimed for a function that is more ...functional (therefore more progressive) than antifreeze activity, the example does not demonstrate the thing I'm after -- _sustainable_ evolutionary progress in a closed system. Here's why I think that --

1) The reassembly may have never actually happened. The genes may have different sources altogether. The evidence is circumstantial.

2) Such a reassembly of code is mathematically unlikely, especially if there are no functional intermediates.

OK Dawkins says there are functional intermediates. But I suspect that there are steps in Dawkins progression where long new strings of code become necessary.

And, sure, some of the steps are possible, if the genomic change is tiny. For example, see the 2nd paragraph under "Discussion" on the page at

3) A reassembly of code may have happened because the genome contains housekeeping programs capable of assembling "new" programs from fragments of them, if all the fragments are present. And maybe the predecessor genes have the secondary job of containing those fragments. But the fragments must be originally supplied to the target genome from somewhere outside itself.

Now, to relax a minute -- OK, if there were scores or hundreds of examples of (genomic, not morphological) historical reconstructions, with short, mathematically likely changes between the steps, then the case (for "a la Darwin") would be much stronger. But there aren't scores or hundreds of examples.

Instead, as the genomes are analyzed, the examples they find are of horizontal gene transfer. [...]Thanks for remaining interested!!! -- Brig

Wed, 29 Oct 2003 17:13:00 -0800 | To Brig | From Stan

[...]The key sentence in the Dawkins passage you quote is, "Without stirring from our armchair...".

To me this wasn't at all the key sentence. It would take a lot of work to assemble a convincing case that the various stages in the evolution of the human eye could be illustrated in the eyes of other existing animal species.

No, I do not think this would do to win the prize. The prize is for a closed system demonstration.

I'm suggesting that such an argument, while inherently not as convincing as a closed system demonstration, might still be quite convincing.

1) The reassembly may have never actually happened. The genes may have different sources altogether. The evidence is circumstantial.

The evidence would certainly be circumstantial, but that's almost always the case in sciences that don't allow for much experimentation, e.g., cosmology, paleontology, etc.

[...]But I suspect that there are steps in Dawkins progression where long new strings of code become necessary.

This would have to NOT be the case for the argument to be convincing. I don't know if he could do it or not. But, I'd be reasonably well convinced if he could.

[...]But the fragments must be originally supplied to the target genome from somewhere outside itself.

This seems to be an assumption that Dawkins wouldn't go along with. [...] I grant you that a genomic reconstruction would be more convincing than a morphological reconstruction, but the latter, if in small steps, might still convince me. And, I don't know how many there are. Dawkins seem to think there are sufficiently many.[...]

Fri, 31 Oct 2003 08:54:14 -0600 | To Stan | From Brig

Right. 400,000 generations for the eye -- assuming photosensitive proteins are already available.

Of course, we already have a fossil record documenting many stages from prokaryotes to primates. And the morphological steps have to be there to some extent. Teeth are no good without a mouth already, for example.

But the process I question, is whether the new genetic programs can be written "a la Darwin."

Imagine a landscape, with DNA sequence as the horizontal plane and survivability as the vertical axis. Near the origin there are some peaks for prokaryotes, where the genomes are small and the species are hardy. Farther out, where the genomes are larger, there are other peaks for more advanced species.

But there is every possibility that the intervening terrain has chasms that cannot be crossed a la Darwin. A chasm only 100 nucleotides wide would take a mutation whose unlikelihood is 4^-100, or ~10^-60, to cross. Not in a billion years.

However, if the missing sequence were supplied a la cosmic ancestry, problem solved. And the morphological step might still look small. In fact, punctuated equilibrium seems to say that many morphological steps are not all that small.

What can I do to arouse your scepticism?

I am a very slow writer. Would a personal visit be useful? There is a positive principle behind this -- an entropy law for encoded meaning. But it is in a very raw state.

Thanks for your continuing interest!
Brig Klyce | Astrobiology Research Trust

Fri, 31 Oct 2003 23:10:35 -0600 | To Brig | From Stan

Brig, I'm already a skeptic. You succeeded on that count long back. And, you're arguing the issue. I'm not. My assertion is that I would find Dawkins proposed demonstration via existing examples of organisms whose eyes illustrate small evolvable steps in the evolution of the human eye at least moderately convincing if he can, in fact, do it. You're arguing that he can't. Maybe you're right. But if he could, it would go a long way toward convincing me of the possibility of such an evolutionary sequence.

I hope this clearly sets forth what I was trying to say.
Stan Franklin | Dunavant University Professor | Computer Science | Univ of Memphis

Testing Darwinism versus Cosmic Ancestry is a related CA webpage.

21 Oct 2003
From: Doug Early

...By the way, you may be interested in the following passage from George Dyson's DARWIN AMONG THE MACHINES explaining the work of a mathematician whose work Dyson admires, Nils Aall Barricelli, one of the first persons to develop computer simulations of Darwinian evolution:

In coding for valid instructions at the level of phenotype rather than genotype, evolutionary search is much more likely to lead to meaningful sequences, for the same reason that a meaningful sentence is far more likely to be evolved by choosing words out of a dictionary than by choosing letters out of a hat. (p. 118)

(Barricelli's "phenotype" consisted of computer instructions for playing a simple game.) I thought this was a good example of the sort of illogical explanation that nevertheless sounds vaguely convincing if you don't think about it too much. The analogy of the dictionary and the hat sounds good, until you realize that there's no explanation of how the dictionary got to be filled with only meaningful words.

Apparently, Barricelli's work led him to the conclusion that searching the initially random genotype for valid instructions was as hopeless as searching for meaningful words by pulling letters out of a hat. He recognized that, for Darwinian evolution to work, it has to operate on something like the phenotypes we see expressed in organisms all around us, which like a dictionary contain only meaningful words, except for the occasional typo. But the problem is that, at least in biology, the phenotype is a more or less exact copy of (the expressed part of) the genotype, so there's no way for the phenotype to be filled with meaningful words if the genes haven't a majority of meaningful letter sequences.

--Doug | EARLY ARTS | Bellingham WA

Can Computers Mimic Darwinian Evolution? is a related CA webpage.
Errata — Doug Early is our most thorough proofreader of Mathematics of Evolution by Fred Hoyle.

Baloney detection
Mon, 25 Aug 2003 20:15:42 +1000
From: Michael Paine

Brig ...Your quote from Nature is interesting but there are tools around to detect bogus research. See ...Michael Paine :)
Michael A. Goldman's quote in Nature to which Paine refers.

Tue, 26 Aug 2003 06:49:23 +1000

...My point is that the tainting of scientific research can be avoided if Carl's gudielines are followed. In Demon Haunted World (I think) Carl also points out the role of speculation ("Preposterous ideas" for Goldman) and disappointment that peer pressure is forcing scientists to avoid announcing their speculations. Part of the fun of being an "outsider" (eg non academic) is that I can speculate!

As for Darwin, I dont think even he realised how powerful the force of natural selection could be. I wrote a program in 1987 to test the concept and was surprised at how directional a selection from random events could be. See (although you might have difficulty running the program now). ...Mike

Sun, 10 Aug 2003 08:14:57 +1000
From: Michael Paine

Brig... Great to see you using the term nanobes on the CA website. ...The Schieber and Arnott claims are interesting but they do not explain the accumulating evidence for live nanobes. Below is an extract from my May 2001 article at concerning the Australian Mars Exploration Conference. No doubt there have been developments since then. ...Mike

(PS I wish the US would go metric - my original 5km was converted to miles, rounded to 3 miles then converted back to 4.8km).

Dr. Philippa Uwins from Queensland University gave a gripping update on her pioneering work on nanobes. Four years ago she reported that she had found tiny organisms within a rock sample drilled from 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) underground. Many scientists thought that "life" could not be so small but the latest research has strengthened her claim that nanobes are alive. Snapshots of nanobes pushing apart layers of mineral crystals and a video of larger versions of the nanobes in motion fascinated the audience at the conference.

Uwins' work may support claims by some U.S. scientists that the controversial features in Martian meteorite ALH84001 are fossilized life forms. Those claims can no longer be dismissed on the basis that the objects are too small to have been alive.

It seems that searchers for life on Mars will need to be equipped with devices that can detect organisms as small as nanobes.

2003, Aug 6: Just balls of protein? — CA's notice of the article by Schieber and Arnott.

Spetner's comment on Steady State
Mon, 30 Jun 2003 16:26:07 +0200
From: Gabriel Manzotti

Dear Brig

I'm following the thread between you and Lee Spetner on the Replies: I would like to make some remark concerning cosmology.

[Brig's … Cosmology today is probably comparable to geography in Egypt's golden age.]... I'm afraid you're right.

[Spetner's …I think that Fred's steady-state theory cannot be defended any more]... There is no actual need today to defend anymore Fred's Steady State as Hoyle himself highlighted its weakness:

"...but, between us, we had given to many hostages to fortune. To see my way through the mathematics, I had assumed a uniform creation tap, while Bondi and Gold had contracted to explain everything, no matter how far distant, in terms of what was known for galaxies and other astronomical objects within the nearest few tens of millions of light years. This was a citadel it was going to prove very hard to defend." Fred Hoyle - Home is Where the Wind Blows - Oxford Un.Pr. Page 403

[Spetner's …But the experiments have been done, and, as I see it, the results refute the theory.]... I think it is important to remind that some of the so called "Refutations" of the steady state are not effective: it could be interesting to know what are the experiments (observations) you refer to as refutations of the Steady State!

[Spetner's …You also mention the possibility of many little bangs]... I presume that Brig refers to the fact that Hoyle has overcome the Steady State by developing in the last years of his life, together with Geoffrey Burbidge and Jayant Narlikar and with the contribution of Chandra Wickramasinghe, the Quasi Steady State Cosmology, a pulsating infinite (extended well beyond the space time horizon if you prefer) universe in which you have to postulate the existence of a cosmic scalar field (as in the SS) bearing negative energy and pressure in order to allow matter creation without violating the energy conservation principle. They've done nothing of qualitatively different from what is normally done in modern cosmology. The reasons to postulate this scalar field are observational and reside in the violent events occurring in presence of strong concentration of matter. This reasons allow HBN to speak of discrete minibangs (fireballs) events that occur preferably near the minimums of the overall oscillations!

[Spetner's …All of this is, in my opinion, outside mainstream science]... Well I don't see this fact as a real measure of condemnation! At least in Cosmology! It would be interesting to discuss what "Mainstream cosmology" really is!

[Spetner's … I would say that it is outside of science and leave out the word "mainstream"]... Why? HBN define a set of hypotheses and, please note, not just any old hypotheses: vice versa they try to follow what Nature (unfortunately for them, I mean Mother Nature, not the magazine) seems to indicate: then they deduce consequences from which they are able to obtain predictions and then proceed to compare them with observations. I don't see what's wrong with that!

Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely / Gabriel Manzotti / Monza - Italy

Tue, 01 Jul 2003 17:29:15 +0100
From: Brig Klyce

[Spetner's …You also mention the possibility of many little bangs]
I presume that Brig refers to the fact that Hoyle has overcome the Steady State by developing...

There was, at least briefly, a theory that the 3-D lacy distribution of galaxies could result from collisions among exploded regions of space. FWIW, that's what I was referring to as a "series of mini-big bangs." ...Brig

From: Lee M. Spetner is the [next below] exchange to which Manzotti refers.

Fri, 20 Jun 2003 16:21:36 +0200
From: Lee M. Spetner

Dear Brig,

Sorry I wasn't able to hear your chat last night. But I have a question to ask you.

Fred Hoyle once made a calculation once that showed that the chances of life forming on earth from random molecular collisions is about one in ten to the 40,000. He also countered a possible argument that there may be some inherent chemical affinity among certain molecules that would tend to favor the formation of life to invalidate his assumption of randomness. This argument was that if this assumed "affinity" is strong enough to overcome the 10^-40,000, then the effect should show up in a test tube in a few minutes. The water volume on earth is greater than that of a test tube by a factor of about 10^24, and a billion years is about 5x10^14 minutes, which means that the chance of life forming in a test tube in a minute by random collisions is smaller than it forming on the earth in a billion years by only a factor of 5x10^38. This would reduce the chance of life forming in a test tube in a minute to only one in 10^40,038. Now if the "chemical affinity" is good enough to form life by overcoming one chance in 10^40,000, then surely something interesting ought to happen in a test tube in a minute.

My question to you is that if we accept Fred's figure of 10^-40,000 for the probability of life forming on the earth, then extending this to the entire universe would increase the probability by only a factor of about 10^20 for the increase in space and a factor of about 10 for the increase in time. That would raise the probability to only 10^-39,979, surely not enough to make anything happen.

I posed this question to Fred as we were riding the train from Cardiff to London, and I said this wouldn't work unless he still held his steady-state theory of the universe. He thought for about 10 seconds, and then said "Yes".

My question to you is, do you also hold with the steady-state universe?

Brig Klyce: Cosmic Ancestry - The Modern Version of Panspermia: Transcript of the ICSD Internet chat to which Spenter refers, 9:00-10:00 PM EDT, 19 June 2003.

Sat, 21 Jun 2003 05:04:01 +0100
From: Brig Klyce

Dear Lee —

I am reluctant to agree that I "hold with the steady-state universe," because I do not endorse any specific theory of it. On the other hand, my theory requires that highly evolved life comes from the eternal past. This means that the whole of existence cannot have come from nothing in the finite past. Furthermore, it must be physically possible for viable life to get here from there. Beyond that I could only speculate. (Has there been a series of mini-big bangs? Is a universe a subunit of something bigger?) But I am confident that the current evidence from cosmology does not preclude every scenario that permits life to come from the eternal past. Cosmology today is probably comparable to geography in Egypt's golden age.

Is this enough of an answer?

Do you remember that I once asked you how, in your scheme, do you explain the progress from lower forms of life to higher forms, as the fossil record seems to document? As I recall, you said that there is nothing to explain, because the process has never been observed. Is that right? I mean, have I recalled correctly what you said? Can you elaborate on that answer?

I have seen praise of your book more than once since we last communicated.

Best regards. ...Brig

Lee M. Spetner, Not By Chance! The Fall of Neo-Darwinian Theory, The Kest-Lebovits Jewish Heritage Library, 1996.

Tues, 24 Jun 2003 20:53:13 +0200
From: Lee M. Spetner

Dear Brig,

I would have answered you sooner, but I've been very busy and your questions require an answer that isn't short. If I correctly understand your answer to my question, you do hold of a steady-state universe, or the equivalent, but you are not prepared to defend it. That's OK. At least I understand the basis of your hypothesis of panspermia.

I think that Fred's steady-state theory cannot be defended any more – there's too much evidence against it, although there are still some smart people who are still trying to defend it. When Fred first proposed it, it qualified, in my opinion, as a valid scientific theory. It could be verified experimentally. But the experiments have been done, and, as I see it, the results refute the theory.

You also mention the possibility of many little bangs and that the universe is a subunit of something bigger. All of this is, in my opinion, outside mainstream science. I would say that it is outside of science and leave out the word "mainstream", but some of this stuff does get published in scientific journals.

I think our problem, i.e., yours and mine, is that we both recognize that there is no adequate scientific theory today that would account for the origin of life. Since we want to have some model of the origin of life, and such a model is not to be found within Science, we look for it outside of Science. You have your way of doing it, based on your premise that the origin of life could emerge spontaneously within the Universe, based on the observed physical laws. You therefore postulate random events because we know of no physical law for the emergence of life. And since the required random events are highly improbable, we need a Universe considerably older than our present understanding of the Universe's age. An infinite age would do just fine.

But you must realize that there is still something missing. Even with an infinite age, it is not really clear that the known physical laws will allow for the emergence of life. We do think that given enough time, anything can happen, but that's just a hope. It seems reasonable now, but who knows if it will hold as we learn more.

Anyhow, your approach is not illogical, but it is outside of Science. You are postulating propositions that cannot be experimentally verified to arrive at a conclusion you predetermined: namely that life emerged spontaneously in a manner consistent with physical laws. In short, your predetermined premise is one of naturalism – that the emergence of life is a natural phenomenon. Do you agree with my characterization of your position?

If that characterization is correct, then I see us, you and me, solving our problem in a similar way, but using different predetermined premises. And that leads us to different results. To build a model of the origin of life, I step out of Science in a way different from yours. My predetermined position is one of creation, or perhaps creations. I won't elaborate on it here, because you may not be interested in the theology. But let me just note that my hypothesis is not a free-for-all. There are constraints, just as you abide by constraints in postulating many universes, or whatever.

I think that's enough for now....

All the best, Lee

Sat, 28 Jun 2003 04:41:57 +0100
From: Brig Klyce

[Spetner wrote]...we both recognize that there is no adequate scientific theory today that would account for the origin of life. Since we want to have some model of the origin of life,...

Not me. Life is here, and that needs accounting for. That it originated is one way to account for it, but the phenomenon — the origin of life — lacks any evidentiary support.

...and such a model is not to be found within Science, we look for it outside of Science.

I look only within science.

You have your way of doing it, based on your premise that the origin of life could emerge spontaneously within the Universe, based on the observed physical laws. You therefore postulate random events because we know of no physical law for the emergence of life. And since the required random events are highly improbable, we need a Universe considerably older than our present understanding of the Universe's age. An infinite age would do just fine.

I don't see how anything in your last 4 sentences is outside of science. But more importantly, it is not my theory. I do not think that an infinite age would make the origin of life probable. I think life only descends from life as highly evolved as itself. So, life as highly evolved as we must have always existed. What appears to be evolutionary progress on Earth is actually the development of pre-existing, highly evolved life.

You are postulating propositions that cannot be experimentally verified...

I understand why you thought so, but you did not fully understand my position. Actually, I see the case against the origin of life as closely analogous to Pasteur's case against spontaneous generation. Pasteur knew that one cannot prove anything to be impossible. All he could do is show how claims to have demonstrated spontaneous generation were flawed by unsterile procedure. For the origin of life, no one is even claiming to have a demonstration!

In short, your predetermined premise is one of naturalism – that the emergence of life is a natural phenomenon. Do you agree with my characterization of your position?

Yes and no. Mostly no, for the reasons given above. However, I understand "naturalism" to mean conducting science as if God does not exist. I think Dembski put it that way. Yes, I think that's how science must be done.

My predetermined position is one of creation, or perhaps creations. I won't elaborate on it here, because you may not be interested in the theology. But let me just note that my hypothesis is not a free-for-all. There are constraints, just as you abide by constraints....

No supernatural intervention is one of my constraints. Logically, sure, supernatural intervention could be happening all the time. But science has been very successful without supposing that phenomenon. (What if Marie Curie had claimed that spots on her unexposed photographic plates were a miracle?) So, I guess I have scientific faith. (Who wrote or said, "People do not want argument or proof, they want belief.")

This does not mean that I think science answers every question. For example, Why is there anything instead of nothing? I suggest that Why is there highly evolved life? may be another question science cannot answer.

I am glad that you were interested, and I hope I've been comprehensible here.

Question for you — how does [what seems to be] evolutionary progress on Earth take place, under your constraints? ...Best regards. Brig

...awaiting Spetner's reply...

Evolution vs Creationism is a related CA webpage.

Evolution of consciousness
Thu, 29 May 2003 23:36:11
From: Malcolm Scott-Wilson

Dear sir,

I came accross your site after having finished reading "Our place in the cosmos" by Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramsinge. I remember reading Fred's book, "The intelligent Universe" many years ago and finding it immensely interesting. I would like to make an observation that occurred to me whilst perusing your site, with regard to the implications of a civilisation eventually becoming cosmic ancestors in their own right when their own advanced technology gives them the ability to launch their own genetic programmes into space. I was struck by the notion that, if we accept the idea that our present society is the end result of a manufactured blueprint, one that would aim for the eventual creation of beings as similar to ourselves as the prevailing planetary conditions would allow, then surely some provision would have to be made to ensure that the evolved beings were psychologically capable of using their technology without destroying themselves in the process. With our own civilisation, we can see that whilst the physical side of evolution seems to have produced a satisfactory result, the evolution of the psyche does not appear to have taken place at all. Beneath the sophistication of our culture, we have changed very little in outlook from the way we were in the earliest of civilisations. It seems to me that, unless this defect is an unfortunate accident and applies only to us,then it must be an unavoidable side effect of the evolution of a sophisticated brain that is capable of selfconsciousness, which must be a prerequisite, surely, for being able to observe and control our own environment, rather than merely living in it as the animals do. Our cosmic ancestors, must surely have been aware of this and would have given some thought to solving the problem. If our physical evolution has been helped by some kind of genetic programming from space, then could there not be some kind of psychological programming that would operate alongside, coded either within the structure of the genetic material or, perhaps by some other as yet unknown means. It struck me that perhaps our notions of religion might not be a somewhat garbled version of a set of verities whose function was to bring an essential rationality to the human mind, a rationality that would be essential if we were to survive the dangers of our advanced technology being applied by an immature conditioned mind. Could the various great religious figures throughout history have been individuals who were uniquely susceptible to infection by a kind of "spiritual" virus and thus were able to see things more rationally, and in a less conditioned way than their counterparts. Perhaps they either became great scientists or great religious teachers. One can't help noticing the similarities that exist at the heart of the major religions, and, unfortunately, also the fact that, so far, they do not seem to have accomplished much in the way of our psychological transformation. Could it be that from our cosmic ancestors point of view, the science of ensuring that intelligent life develops elsewhere in the universe is the eay part-the mere appliance of technology, whereas the psychological transformation that is required before the intelligent beings can survive their own technology, is the hard part. I cant help thinking of some of the concepts of Krishnamurti. Could his message be the clearest version that has evolved so far, of this hypothetical, but necessary instruction. I have often tried to put myself in the place of an outsider who is observing humanity with all its conditioning and is considering how the problem can be solved. What would or could one say? Even if I were myself transformed, could I ever do anything positive to help? It seems unlikely. In one sense this tranformation seems as unlikely an event as the possibility of intelligent life arising from inorganic molecules, yet without it, the possibility of becoming cosmic ancestors in our own turn seems remote. I suppose that we can take heart from the knowledge that as we have got this far then our cosmic ancestors must obviously have somehow solved the problem, and have programmed us to be able to solve it in someway in our turn.

Kind regards, M. Scott-Wilson

Nature "Origin of complex functions?"
17 May 2003
From: Brig Klyce
To: Nature

[The following is the text of a letter to Nature about an article by Richard Lenski et al. in the issue of 8 May 2003.]

Using a computer model to mimic biological evolution, Lenski et al. write, "These findings show how complex functions can originate by random mutation and natural selection" (1). If the sentence is accurate, this would be a major accomplishment with important implications for biology.

The selection process, however, is artificial instead of natural. That is, the digital organisms are bred for their ability to accomplish specific logical functions that stairstep to a desired outcome, the EQU function.

Even so, the generation of a complex function that the original ancestor did not posess seems noteworthy. The number of sequences as complex as EQU is at least ~10^70, whereas only ~10^7 sequences were tested in typical runs of 10^6 generations. Indeed, when intermediate steps were not favored by the selection process, EQU did not evolve a single time in fifty runs.

Finally, the range of the the simulated evolution in the new model is limited to the complexity of the function that was initially specified. In order to evolve an even more complex function, the experimenters would have to specify it in advance. Thus the model is teleological, unlike nature.

Natural selection rewards only one thing — a lineage's capability to survive. Yet, under the standard theory, this reward system is sufficient to produce every complex feature in life, with no obvious upper limit on the level of complexity that can be generated.

For these reasons, a more accurate statement of the result is, "These findings show how specified complex functions can be assembled from simpler components by random mutation and artificial selection." This finding is commendable, but its importance for biology is limited.

1. Richard E. Lenski, Charles Ofria, Robert T. Pennock and Christoph Adami, "The evolutionary origin of complex features," p 139-144 v 423 Nature, 8 May 2003.
by Brig Klyce / Astrobiology Research Trust...

Decision on 2003-05-04739
Thu, 22 May 2003 06:22
To: Brig Klyce

Dear Mr Klyce

Thank you for submitting your comment on one of our published papers to Brief Communications. Regretfully, we cannot offer to publish it.

This section of Nature is extremely oversubscribed, so we can consider only a very few of the critical comments we receive. If the issues cannot be resolved by prior discussion with the authors of the Nature paper, then almost all of these debates are better pursued in the specialist literature rather than in Brief Communications, which is an informal part of the journal aimed at a broad general readership.

Decisions about whether to consider such submissions are made by the Brief Communications editor after discussion with the appropriate specialist editors and other colleagues. Because our staff on Brief Communications are extremely stretched, we are unable to return individual explanations to authors about our decisions.

Criteria that are typically used to judge the suitability of a 'Communication Arising' for Brief Communications are: whether the main conclusions of the published paper are challenged; whether important new data are included to support the critical comment; whether the issues discussed are broad enough to be of likely interest to a general readership; whether the technical points raised are accessible to non-specialist readers; time elapsed since publication of the original paper; whether we have similar comments on the same paper already under consideration. We do not consider comments that confirm or extend the conclusions of papers already published, or that escalate debates that have already appeared in Brief Communications. Comments on articles appearing in sections of the journal that are not peer-reviewed are only rarely considered as Communications Arising.

Yours sincerely, Rosalind Cotter | Editor, Brief Communications

2003, May 11: Computer model evolves complex functions? — CA's notice of the article by Lenski et al.

The second law
Mon, 12 May 2003 14:07:17
From: Devin Harris

Hi Brig,

Your writing is wonderful. I learned a great deal from your article on the second law. I think that you vividly address a key issue which I would say is plaguing science at its present stage of development. I did not realize the distinction between a thermodynamic and what you define as logical entropy was an issue that many other scientists had considered to be problematic. I thought it was just ignored. The central issue in my mind concerns whether or not entropy and disorder are in some way equivalent.

I am presently finishing up a book that relates, something that I have written three times and each time had to begin again, for differing reasons. My own argument, or my proposed solution to this problem, is that rather than order and disorder, there are actually two types of order, what I call grouping order and symmetry order. Please forgive me, as I am always in such an awkward position trying to offer a solution to this problem. Hopefully the words might strike a cord, but my explanation is simple and straightforward if you want to take a look.

Thanks again for the website.

Mon, 12 May 2003 22:52:25

...Brig, your paper on the second law is really good and I am hoping you will get interested in my cosmology theory so that your essay can be rewritten as a chapter in my book. The distinction between thermodynamic entropy and systems moving toward disorder is very significant to my work, and it is an issue that I haven't written about yet and would like to avoid one more chapter to write. It isn't so important to the laymen but it would help convey two orders to scientists. You have obviously thoroughly studied thermodynamics, and from an interesting vantage point, and I suspect you could advise me on several issues. Of course you would not be interested in contributing unless you catch on to my science.

Our websites hit the net about the same time, in 95. I completed my first book in 94 explaining my theory that the universe expands fully to absolute zero and becomes perfectly flat, four years before accelerating expansion was discovered. Caldwell at Dartmouth just put the finishing touches on making my theory sound simply by noticing that there is a critical value of negative pressure of the vacuum energy which would cause the universe to reach zero. I have been impatiently waiting for that realization. His conception of what the end would be like is to me primitive, but that is because a state of flat space has never been considered possible by science, so physicists at present are unaware of any other issues considering the universe actually reaching zero. It will take a few years before more evidence for high negative pressure mounts, but what is going to happen is that physicists will be forced to recognize that absolute zero or flat space is a physical possibility, so it should be considered as a possible state, even though it is an extreme state like the point of the bang where the laws of physics break down. Relevant to the second law, recognizing zero as a state means recognizing a boundary state in the direction of our future, in the direction that time is moving. If there is a boundary state then a system cannot be said to always move from an ordered to a disordered state. Especially considering that we have in the past thought that the direction of time is influenced by disorder, the next question is, why is time moving toward a boundary state?

I hope this kind of thing interests you.

Sincerely, Devin Harris

Order Beyond Chaos: Defining the Two Opposing Types of Order — Devin Harris's referenced webpage.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics is the related CA webpage.

Link to page
16 Apr 2003 10:05:21
From: Herb O. Buckland

Hello,... I just wanted to let you know that I have placed a link to your RNA World page.... The link may be found here:

[17 Apr 2003] ...The information you have posted is extemely interesting for me and others who share in those ideas revolving around life's earliest developmental beginnings. I am particularly intrigued by your analogy of the computer. I was hoping to find a reference to some inkling of what you think about the development of a triplet codon system as apposed to a 2, 7, 18, etc., system and how this might relate to the presence of three families of fundamental particles, three life domains, three germ layers, etc...

It may be that the present usage of a binomial (0's and 1's) in our present computer language needs to evolve into a trinomial form inorder for artificial intelligence to achieve a true consciousness, whether or not we would find this to have an equivalent to our biological form of consciousness.

Sincerely, Herb

Wall Street Journal and Cosmology
Sat, 12 Apr 2003 09:08:32
From: Gabriele Manzotti

Dear Brig:

What a relief, definitely I feel no longer nervous. It seems that there is still something left behind to discover in the cosmos.

I'll run the risk to appear monotonous but ... Speaking at the Vatican conference of 1970 Fred Hoyle made the following comment on the state of physics and cosmology:

"I think it is very unlikely that a creature evolving on this planet, the human being, is likely to possess a brain that is fully capable of understanding physics in its totality. I think this is inherently improbable in the first place, but, even if it should be so, it is surely wildly improbable that this situation should just have been reached in the year 1970" — 1987 IAUS 124..447N - Narlikar - "Alternative Cosmologies"

Also in the year 2003 I dare to presume ... Maybe this quote could be of some interest to the Wall Street Journal, and to the worldwide bunch of poor desperate cosmologists of course.

Sincerely... Gabriel Manzotti... Monza - Italy

2003: Apr 11, "The Wall Street Journal looks at cosmology" is the related CA What'sNEW item.

Commonalities Uniting Science, Philosophy and Religion
Tue, 7 Jan 2003 13:29:55 PST
From: Forelaws on Board

Dear Brig:

In this challenging era for education it is difficult not to view the emergence of unprecedented events, and the commingling of unprecedented events, on the world scene as other than daunting in light of the unsettled times obviously ahead for humanity and all life on Earth.

There is, as you are well aware - laden with hope and promise - a commingling of phenomena emerging on the world scene which is both timely and propitious for humankind, particularly for those committed to education for the present and for the future.

Whichever way one chooses to interpret the commingling of a paradigm shift now underway in biology (astrobiology, to be more specific) with "The Golden Rule is a natural consequence of the recognition of the unity of being" (Esme Wynne-Tyson, The Philosophy of Compassion, Centaur Press, 1970), the resulting "oneness-of-life consciousness/perspective," associated with post-Darwinism, points to commonalities unarguable in their potential for uniting science, philosophy and religion.

A world summit on societal sustainability (to begin dialogue on global unity and related issues) seems eminently in order as humankind enters the twenty-first century with an ever-growing respect for the interconnectedness of all things.

Brig, our generation and countless generations yet unborn are grateful to you and others for your untiring effort in furthering panspermia and the oneness-of-life consciousness/perspective.

In forelawsship,

Robert E. Cobb / Forelaws on Board
PO Box 242, Alton, MO 65606 USA

From: Thomas Ray
Sat, 4 Jan 2003 22:51:30 CST
Re: Evolutionary progress in closed systems?

Brig: [you wrote]...To make macroevolutionary progress, the genome must acquire meaningful new programs and thus grow larger. A lineage undergoing such progress would produce a graph that slants upward over time. But all of the genomes in Tierra become smaller over time — every graph slants downward.

Many evolving digital systems (including Tierra under some conditions) often exhibit an increase in the size of the genomes. This does not necessarily imply progress, but it would be a mistake to hang your test on change of size alone. ...Tom

From: Brig Klyce
Sun, 05 Jan 2003 16:20:21 +0000

Of course you are right, Tom. I discuss the problem in greater depth on my page "Macroevolutionary Progress Redefined..."

2002: Dec 31, "No evolutionary progress in a closed system!" is the related CA What'sNEW item.
Macroevolutionary Progress Redefined... is the last-mentioned CA webpage.

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