This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Comments by kriton

Go to: The Descent of Edward Wilson (with Polish translation)

kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 70 by kriton

Zeuglodon (and Jos), I think you have a point actually... This discussion started with me disagreeing with Richards claim that indivuduals never copy themselves. I still disagree with this and maintain that you can see a genome level, and that organism and genome can't really be separated in practice.

While it is possible to see a genome level in dividing organisms, it is not necessary to bother about it, and it may indeed not add any important insight (although I don't rule out there may be something I haven't thought of). I used to think it would be important, because many genes are dependent on other genes in order to be adaptive. But the key for me was to consider that those other genes are part of the environment where a gene competes. This is a point often forgotten I think. We tend to think of the environment only as the world outside of the organism. But from the genes point of view, it is everything outside the gene itself.

I do think there is genuine universalism, separate from kin concern and reciprocity, in humans. This universalism is probably genetically coded, and I believe I have showed how such a gene could evolve. It required other genes to be around already and a change in how humans lived, but it was possible, and we can see the result in humans today. Many people are prepared to give to unrelated people on the other side of the world, without expecting anything in return. The concern is limited however, very few would give so much that it makes a substantial difference for their own welfare. That we would only do for kin. People do sacrifice themselves for cultural factors such as religion, nationalism and so on sometimes, but this is probably because those activate the "kin feeling".

Sun, 27 May 2012 09:42:57 UTC | #943797

Go to: The Descent of Edward Wilson (with Polish translation)

kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 60 by kriton

Well, to be more precise, it would be an URK population, that can adapt to the circumstances by adjusting the expression balance between U and K. R and K come first and make it possible for U to be adaptive when the population settles.

co-operate the first time, then subsequently copy the other guy's previous behaviour or something along those lines. This is called tit-for-tat.

This is actually part of why U can be an advantage. The return for helping the starving person may not come until much later, when there is no obvious link to the first helping action. The tit-for-tat-strategy would rather lead to "Hey, I didn't get anything in return, so I'll not try that again". Helping behaviour due to tit-for-tat could easily be extinguished. But U can make people help anyway, and then reap those long-term benefits that tit-for-tat doesn't.

So U can build a culture of helping in the larger community, which can have long-term benefits for the members. If we look at human societies, this seems to be what happened. There is probably also an imitation element. We tend to do what others do, so the helped person would be more likely to help others and so on, and this chain of events can come back to the original person. When we lived in small packs, such chains would only go around your kin, but not so in larger settlements.

This does not mean there is not competition pressure from more egoistic variants, but once again, it should depend on the situation. If there is a lot of competition and stress, and low resources, it would be a better strategy to be more egoistic. But if there is plentiful resources and low competition for you, and the cost of helping is sufficiently low, there could be future advantages in helping even the unrelated. The best would be to have the ability to adopt in the short term, such as with an epigenetic regulation.

I mention stress and competition partly because this could be a reason why many in rich countries are not more generous. We may have plenty more than we can eat, but we are also often under stress, and society is to a large degree based on competition. The feeling that we must compete all the time might well activate K-type genes rather than U-type genes, because in the old days, strong competition pressure indicated that resources were scarce.

Sat, 26 May 2012 21:41:10 UTC | #943705

Go to: The Descent of Edward Wilson (with Polish translation)

kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 58 by kriton

Jos, I'm not saying U is R, if by R you mean a gene for reciprocity. I'm saying U takes advantage of R already being there, it's part of the environment that can make U favorable. Leave those strawmen alone, they have a hard time as it is.

R should have been an advantage already before settling and farming, when people roamed around in small groups, so it should be widespread already.

R makes people help when they can expect something in return. But it is often difficult to know if you can expect something in return. Before settling, it would be unlikely that you got something in return from someone you were not related to, if the favour could not be returned immediately.

Because of this, people would be reluctant to help if they could not expect an immediate return. But when people settled in larger communities, the probability that someone unrelated that you helped from starvation would have an opportunity to return the favour (which he will because of R) increases, because you will probably meet again.

So at the time of settling, people would underestimate the chance of getting someting in return in the future. Now U enters the picture. U makes people help even if they don't expect something in return. But those with U will reap the benefits of their helping, the returned favour, regardless of if this is expected or not. The notU will help less than optimally, since their return-estimate is tuned to the previous situation where you are unlikely to meet again.

This will help U spread in the settled population, and situations like the famine situation will boost the ranks of U further. A part of a population has U, and those living nearby "the U starting point" will interbreed with those who have U, so to some extent it will spread by random spread. When famine strikes, those who have people with U that are not hit nearby are more likely to survive. But those who live the closest to others with U are also more likely than others to have U themselves because they have interbred. Others further away are more likely to die, and then those who are closer to the U starting point (and more likely to have U) can take over the vacant land.

By means of epigenetic regulation, U can be silenced in those who have scarce resources themselves, or experience strong stress or threat, so that way the advantages can be bigger than the disadvantages.

So under these circumstances, there would not be a pressure to reduce the U frequency.

Sat, 26 May 2012 19:19:24 UTC | #943683

Go to: The Descent of Edward Wilson (with Polish translation)

kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 56 by kriton

Jos Gibbons, actually you are missing the point. I'm really discussing two different issues here.

  1. Genes and genomes

  2. Altruism and the numbers 1/2, 1/4 and so on.

On issue 1, I'm just suggesting that the genome perspective could add something to the picture. I'm not saying it would contradict the gene view.

Issue 2 is NOT in itself an argument for group selection, even if there might be such implications that I haven't thought of. It is an argument against the idea that the numbers 1/2, 1/4 can be found in real-world relationships.

Zeuglodon, as I interpret him in #31, argues that kin selection genes establishes strategies that other genes cannot change, because if an U gene comes in, it will be outcompeted. I'm really just saying that a gene in another locus can modify these strategies, and these modifications could make the numbers 1/2, 1/4 and so on unsuitable for describing the actual human condition.

And even if you at least temporarily only get K with U, what happens when a U-free version of K enters the scene? Kiss U goodbye.

Suppose we have two large separated populations of equal size, U-K and notU-K. After a few good years, famine strikes large areas of the territories of both populations. Many families in notU-K starve to death, because they don't have enough close relatives in areas that were not affected. But U-K people in unaffected areas will help those other U-K in affected areas, even if they are not closely related.

When the famine is over, there will be more U-K than notU-K. On the other hand, if the famine lasts a long time and spreads to the unaffected areas, the notU-K in those areas will be better off than the U-K, because they have saved more. So it depends on the situation.

If there are big variations in time and place between scarcity and plenty, this could favor U. Less variation would favor notU. I'm guessing the invention of agriculture would favor U.

And then there is of course the mechanism of reciprocity. If you save the life of an unrelated person when you happen to have plentiful resources, you might get an ally or something important in return. Similar to agriculture, settling in one place would probably favour U here, because if you roam around you may never meet the person you saved again.

So there could certainly be situations where U-K could be favored over notU-K. Again, I'm not claiming anything about group selection on this particular issue. One could simply say that the other genes, and the epigenetic regulation, form parts of the environment where U competes with notU.

Sat, 26 May 2012 17:21:31 UTC | #943668

Go to: The Descent of Edward Wilson (with Polish translation)

kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 54 by kriton

Zeuglodon, judging from comments such as #48 I'm not exactly making myself popular here, but I hope this forum can tolerate one more comment (or two) from my side.

It is because of the gene that a protein comes to be, but it is also because of the protein that a gene comes to be selected for. So I maintain that they can't be separated.

I never claimed to say anything revolutionary, since this is really just multi-level selection. Obviously I would never want to replace the gene level, I only argue that sometimes other levels can also be relevant. Of course genomes build on genes. I totally agree that with sexual reproduction, the importance of the genome level is greatly diminished, if not even irrelevant. I actually don't believe in parsimony in biology, since I have never seen any empirical evidence for such principles in biology. If anything, reality often turns out to be more complex than we think.

The mutation rate per amount of genetic material should be pretty much the same in genes and genomes (with some differences). Many more mutations in a genome, but taking place in a much larger material. If there are 2 mutations in a small viral genome and 20 in a much larger mammalian genome, do you then conclude that the mammalian genome is changing ten times faster...?

Now the r issue. You say:

The only way this is possible is if a new mutant gene arose that coded for this alternative strategy, in which case it would fail to dominate. Any genetic strategy has to work such that it can outdo a rival allele, and that means that kin-oriented alleles will prosper over universally-altruistic ones.

Also, In "Misunderstanding 5" in "12 Misunderstandings of Kin selection" RD says that the Kin gene will outcompete the Universalist gene.

But why could not the new U gene and the old K gene coexist, in different places in the same genome?

They could be producing two totally different proteins, but one could also imagine a gene duplication event followed but mutions in one of the genes. Either way, suppose that we have both genes, and that K influences our behaviour more strongly than U does. The result would be that we care mostly for our kin, but we also care to some degree about all other people. This would be a good description of what most people are actually like.

If U in combination with K has the effect of devoting some resources (not letting others starve as long as your familys survival is secured) to group members that are not close kin, but still actually shares most of the genetic material, the presence of U in the population should still lead to more copies of U and other genes surviving, all taken together.

The whole thing could also be epigenetically regulated. In a situation of plentiful food resources, universalist behaviour should be adaptive. Due to randomness in distribution, some people will always have insufficient food, but in a situation of plenty the cost for the haves to help the have-nots would be small. When the resources are scarce, it would be adaptive to be more selfish and save the resources for yourself and closer relatives, so as to not take the risk of having too little because of spending on the distantly related.

So lots of food could lead to U becoming more activated, and starvation to U being shut off. We know that starvation changes human epigenetic programming, so I don't see why not.

We also know now that there is not a single "intelligence gene" for example, but rather many genes all having different degrees of influence.

Why would altruism, another complex trait, be different and be regulated by a single gene that others cannot coexist with?

Sat, 26 May 2012 14:09:24 UTC | #943653

Go to: The Descent of Edward Wilson (with Polish translation)

kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 25 by kriton

Zeuglodon, how is that different tracks? The gene is useless without the protein, and the genome is useless without the organism. The organism is the vehicle for the genome, but they would not be around without each other and can't really be separated in the physical world.

The genome can be destroyed, but it is by no means necessary. It is perfectly possible for a bacterial genome to go on reproducing itself for thousands of generations. There will be changes over time, yes, just as there will be mutations in individual genes. New variants of the same gene, new variants of the same genome. I don't see how epigenetics would make a difference, since it affects both genes and genomes.

I'm not asking for evidence of altruistic behaviour in general, but evidence that the numbers 1/2, 1/4 can somehow be demonstrated to be relevant in actual such behaviour. You said:

Even when it reaches fixation, the allele will still be programming its host to use the rules of thumb that ensured it got there in the first place.

So is there empirical evidence that people or animals really treat their children like "half a priority compared to yourself"? Are there really such rules of thumb in real life, and are they stable over time?

Do the 1/2, 1/4 numbers apply only when the altruistic gene variant is new and has not yet spread in the population, or are they still relevant even after the new gene variant has spread to a large proportion (say 60%) of the population? Which one is it and why? That's what I would like a clear explanation of.

Fri, 25 May 2012 06:47:51 UTC | #943430

Go to: The Descent of Edward Wilson (with Polish translation)

kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 21 by kriton

Zeuglodon, the unit of replication would be either the individual gene or the whole bacterial genome. But the individual gene is expressed as a protein and the genome is expressed as an individual organism. I argue that genomes can make identical copies of themselves. Why would the resulting organism have to be identical atom for atom? As I said before, I'm not exactly the same as one year ago, but I'm still the same individual from an evolutionary point of view.

And that's not the empirical evidence I'm asking for. I'm asking about altruistic behaviour.

If the 1/2, 1/4 and so on only applies when genes or gene variants are not already widespread in the population, then I think I get it.

But if that is the case, I would say this is something that should be pointed out MUCH more. If altruistic gene variants have been successful, they should be widespread in the human population already. And then those 1/2 and 1/4 numbers should be irrelevant for the current human situation. I don't think I'm the only one who gets confused. It seems you are explaining things I'm not asking about.

Thu, 24 May 2012 22:55:22 UTC | #943372

Go to: The Descent of Edward Wilson (with Polish translation)

kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 17 by kriton

Jos Gibbons, of course you do what? Do you mean that all characteristics must be copied? But what has such an overly stringent definition to do with evolution?

Obviously a bacteria doesn't copy itself molecule for molecule. But so what? It can still make a genetically identical copy of itself, and that is what should matter. I'm not exactly the same individual I was a year ago if we look at all characteristics, and molecule for molecule, but how is that relevant for evolution?

I don't really understand what you are saying about r, but it does not seem to answer my request for empirical evidence for the 1/2 and 1/4 numbers.

It seems to me that it's only "the conditional probability that the recipient of altruism contains an altruism-causing gene given that the altruist does", if the altruist is the only source of that gene. But I just pointed out that in real life we have no reason to assume that the altruist is the only source.

So when a successful gene spreads through the population, the 1/2 and 1/4 stuff should no longer be relevant. It only holds for a newly introduced gene, right ...?

Thu, 24 May 2012 21:54:30 UTC | #943361

Go to: The Descent of Edward Wilson (with Polish translation)

kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 15 by kriton

Comment 13 by Jos Gibbons :

The other problem with thinking clones are replicated individuals, which RD points out in TSG, is that if individuals genuinely replicated acquired characteristics would be inherited, which isn't the case.

Can you prove then that there is no epigenetic inheritance in bacteria...?

Or perhaps you mean "It's only a replicated individual if all characteristics are copied!" ?

Thu, 24 May 2012 20:05:20 UTC | #943346

Go to: The Descent of Edward Wilson (with Polish translation)

kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 14 by kriton

Zeuglodon, I'm not sure, are you agreeing that bacteria can make genetical copies of themselves?

Either way, I'm wondering about this r part. Is there empirical evidence that says those numbers 1/2, 1/4 and so on present themselves in nature? I read the Wikipedia article, but that only said

In 2011, experimentalists found empirically that Hamilton's rule describes very accurately the conditions under which altruism emerged in simulated populations of foraging robots. The accuracy of this first quantitative corroboration of Hamilton's rule is all the more impressive given that Hamilton's model made several simplifications that did not apply to the foraging robots.

But simulated populations of robots isn't really the stuff I'm interested in.

After all, if we were to sequence my genes and my sisters genes, and compare the sequences, we would find that they were much more than 50% similar. Genes are conserved, and my parents would have lots of genes in common that are identical even if they are not related in the everyday sense.

Suppose I have a half-sister, and we look at a gene where the sequence is identical between us. A gene has no clue were it came from, so from a genetic point of view, what does it matter if my half-sister got an identical gene from the same parent as I did, or from another parent?

Thu, 24 May 2012 19:50:32 UTC | #943344

Go to: The Descent of Edward Wilson (with Polish translation)

kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 9 by kriton

You cannot say the same of individual organisms (they die after passing on their genes and never make copies of themselves)

Never? So what about all those organisms that reproduce by division, such as bacteria?

In numbers, we sexually reproducing organisms are just a tiny minority.

Thu, 24 May 2012 18:24:21 UTC | #943329

Go to: Human Societies Starting to Resemble Ant Colonies

kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 16 by kriton

There may be similarities in the anterior part of the brain.

Mon, 07 May 2012 10:07:31 UTC | #940269

Go to: Losing Your Religion: Analytic Thinking Can Undermine Belief

kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 43 by kriton

  • The mean score on the "I believe" scale was 41 in the Thinker group. The standard deviation was 31 (76% of the mean). The mean in the Discobolus group was 62 with an SD of 36 (58% of the mean). There's a lot of overlap between the two groups. I could go on here about what's wrong with their "statistical analysis." Doesn't look like they proved anything to me.
  • Well, analytic thinking is not always so easy... OF COURSE there is an overlap between the two groups. Think again. How could it be otherwise? The standard deviation measures the variation in people's religious views. The participants have different religious views going in to the experiment, and obviously you are not going to change that by having some look at one picture and one looking at another. You are causing a shift between two normal distributions that supposedly were overlapping, and had large standard deviations, before the experiment started.

    If there was no overlap at all, that would mean that all those who looked at picture A would consider God more likely than all those who looked at the other picture. That is not going to happen, of course. But even a shift of one or two standard deviations is a big change.

    The important thing is that there was a statistically significant difference between the two groups, as measured by the t-test.

    Mon, 30 Apr 2012 18:14:18 UTC | #938423

    Go to: Dear E. O. Wilson: Please retire or stick to ants

    kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 47 by kriton

    Let me add one more thing: It's important to remember the difference between selection and evolution.

    Evolution is a very long-time process that contains a very large number of mutation and selection events. Selection does not have to be a process that includes mutation.

    Suppose population a has gene X and population b gene Y instead. They are geographically separated. But land rise or the meltning of a glacier or something else creates a passage. Population a invades and outcompetes population b in 50 years. No significant mutation occurs in this time window, but it's still selection (on the gene level).

    If we are talking about group selection, but not group evolution, the timescale doesn't have to be a problem. Now, two more examples.

    1: Two human groups, each has its own religion that make members avoid infidels in other groups. Group a has gene X and group b has gene Y. Gene X give individuals some advantage in combat. Group a crushes group b in battle and then do things the Joshua way. This is NOT selection on the group level, but the more fit gene has won.

    2: Two human groups, each has its own religion that make members avoid infidels in other groups. Group a has members with gene X, gene Y or gene Z. Group b has members with gene U, gene V or gene W. Now, a group of individuals with genes X, Y and Z can defeat a group with genes U, V and W in the long run, but only if all three types are present and working together in the group. This diversity has arisen because of other reasons than group selection, on the gene level.

    Group selection is now possible because I) the diversity that is already present is such that it can give an advantage, and II) the group is made stable because of the religion.

    Sun, 22 Apr 2012 22:39:16 UTC | #936542

    Go to: Dear E. O. Wilson: Please retire or stick to ants

    kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 46 by kriton

    Jos Gibbons, the important thing is not whether a gene is a "property". The point is that the gene makes its "group", the genome, more successful.

    Of course genomes "do not exist in allelomorphic variations on a locus". But a genome can certainly become increasingly common in successive generations because it outperforms a rival. That's pretty much what happens when organisms that reproduce by cell division compete with each other. Sure, they change a bit over time. But as long as they are sufficiently stable I don't see why you couldn't calculate genome frequencies of, for example, the bacterial strains in your gut flora. Sexual reproduction makes genomes unstable, so that decreases the importance of that level in the organisms that use it.

    Yes, it is insufficient for the occurrence of group selection that entities co-operate. And that's why I have discussed necessary conditions: 1) An advantage of diversity and 2) stability of the group. Regardless of whether the group is a group of genes or a group of individuals, the principle is the same. In practice, human groups are of course much less stable than cell lines, but I'm after whats theoretically possible here.

    So for that reason, it doesn't matter if many civilizations have risen and fallen. If a religion or culture lasted long enough, and kept sufficiently stable over time, group selection would be possible. I repeat, possible. That's all I'm saying. If they stop being stable, group selection would cease to function and it would be competion between genes again. Cross-cultural marriage here works on the group/gene pool level a bit like sexual reproduction on the genome level.

    Sun, 22 Apr 2012 21:51:07 UTC | #936531

    Go to: Dear E. O. Wilson: Please retire or stick to ants

    kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 42 by kriton

    Comment 40 by Peter Grant :

    None of this has anything to do with genes or natural selection.

    Yes it has, because it can make groups stick together over time. Remember the argument you presented against group selection in #33?

    Sun, 22 Apr 2012 20:09:34 UTC | #936508

    Go to: Dear E. O. Wilson: Please retire or stick to ants

    kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 41 by kriton

    Jos Gibbons, it's not only your choice of words, I find it difficult to understand your writings because of the formalistic style also. Suppose you are right and I'm wrong; if I don't understand what you say I will never realize it.

    because being unlike the rest of the group is sometimes more successful than being like them

    Yes, and this is why the diversity appears in the first place. Again, I do not claim that diversity and equilibria appears in the first place because of group selection. I claim that those make group selection possible.

    Competition on the genetic level was necessary for the emergence of a genetic cooperation, absolutely. But once this cooperation was established, and the genes were grouped together in a stable entity (the cell), they replicated together, not individually. The fitness of the individual gene became dependent on the other genes present.

    group selection is when the reason a property has become prevalent is because of how much more successful it makes a group in which it is prevalent than one in which it is not rather than how much more successful it makes an individual with that property than one without it.

    And the gene clearly makes its "group", the genome in the cell, more sucessful. It cannot reproduce on its own. Therefore, it makes sense to regard the genome level as a new level where selection takes place. Again, doesn't mean that the genetic level disappeared.

    Just as genes needed a cell in order to form a new level of competition, individuals need some way of forming stable groups in order to form a new level of competition. I suggested that humans may be special in this regard, because we have things like culture and religion that binds groups together over time.

    So why are you then going on about examples I never mentioned? Mice don't have culture and don't form groups that are stable over time. But humans do.

    Sun, 22 Apr 2012 20:05:22 UTC | #936505

    Go to: Dear E. O. Wilson: Please retire or stick to ants

    kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 37 by kriton

    Jos Gibbons, I am not sure what many of your questions are aiming for. Why do you ask "Such as?" when I discuss the conditions below? Or "Then what?" when the text continues below? Who are "they" in "Do they?" Same thing with "by what process do demes compete in this sense?" In what sense? And did you not in the sentence before assume that they do compete? And since I'm not a native English speaker, I do not understand the term "detracts from the scope". Could you phrase that in another way?

    The equilibrium between competition and cooperation would be constantly changing, because new individuals are added to the mix and leaving the mix, and because other factors (food supply, competition from outside groups) change.

    In a complex and changing environment there will be a large variety of challenges, and a single individual, or a group where everybody is the same, can not meet all these challenges as sucessfully as a diverse group. So the more complex and changing, the more likely that there could be an element of selection on the group level. This does not mean that selection on other levels is no longer important.

    In my view, evolution takes place at several levels, and the importance of these levels have changed over time.

    If we go back to the beginning of life, before cells, there probably was self-replicating molecules that can be compared to single genes. Then there was only the gene level, no genome level, and only or mainly competition.

    But in a cell, for example a bacteria, genes are replicated together when the cell divides. The proteins coded for by genes have different functions and work together in the cell machinery. There is still competition on the gene level, but also cooperation. At the same time, there is competition on the genome level, since different bacteria compete with each other. If cells form colonies, then it would introduce an element of cooperation on the genome/individual level. Increased cooperation could lead to multicellular organisms, and then the epigenome would also become important.

    An example of entities that still only work at the single molecule level could be prions, but cooperation in the form of cells was so effective that it came to dominate completely.

    So there is a gene/protein level, a genome/individual level, and there could also be a gene pool/group/deme level. But only if cooperation gives a sufficiently large advantage will the action start trickling in into a higher level.

    I'm not saying that group selection leads to a mixed equilibrium if there was not a mix there to begin with. There must first be a mix, for other reasons than group selection, and then the diversity of that mix can give a group an advantage if they stick together to a sufficient degree.

    And "sufficient degree" brings us to Peter Grants post. Groups disperse, yes. But this is why I suggested in my previous post that group selection might perhaps only happen in humans. We have developed stuff that makes such group cohesion possible. Culture and, yes, religion. Now, a few thousand years is not a long time in evolution, but I never said the influence was big.

    I think most readers do not know what is meant by deme, intraspecific or allelomorphic, so why not discuss the issue in an uncomplicated way that everyone can understand?

    Sun, 22 Apr 2012 17:30:47 UTC | #936480

    Go to: Dear E. O. Wilson: Please retire or stick to ants

    kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 31 by kriton

    It seems to me that group selection, or selection at the gene pool level, could happen, but only under certain circumstances. It might be that these circumstances only can be found in humans, but perhaps also in some other animals that live in flocks.

    First of all, it must be a situation where relevant competing genes do not completely out-compete each other, but instead exist in some sort of dynamic equilibium. For example, genes that promote competition and genes that promote cooperation can exist in an equilibrium. This is because if everybody else competes, those who cooperate have a great advantage, but if everybody else cooperates, it can be a great advantage to be more competitive. Dominant and submissive, extrovert and introvert could be other examples. One hasn't out-competed the other. This could be because there are direct advantages of being submissive or introvert, or because those traits are connected to to other traits that are advantageous. It actually doesn't matter in this case, the important thing is that there is an equilibrium where no traits, or their corresponding genes, are winning a complete victory.

    If some gene variants are more advantageous than others in all situations, those will dominate completely in the end. But if it depends on the situation which ones are more adaptive, and the situation changes often enough, there might not be enough time to win total victory.

    Second, if there is selection at the gene pool level, it must mean that the mix of genes in one gene pool competes with the mix of genes in another gene pool. But if all the individual genomes in the gene pool have pretty much the same genes, this would really just be competition between individual genomes.

    I would argue then that selection at the gene pool level could only happen if there is what we could call a diversity advantage. There must an advantage of several different types of individuals being present in the group simultaneously, compared to all individuals present being similar. And one diversity mix can be more adaptive than another diversity mix.

    So group selection can only happen when individuals take on different specialized roles, such as happens in human societies. It would probably have to be quite large groups, maybe like a city-state.

    A city-state with some soldiers, some leaders, some traders, some engineers, some skilled craftsmen and so on could be more sucessful than one with only agressive soldier types. If competition only happened on the genome level, the soldier-types would probably dominate, because the other types would be overrun without protection from soldiers. But with that protection, those other types can produce the wealth, the technology, the organization and the motivation that will make their soldiers more powerful and effective than others. This would be a diversity advantage, and that would make group selection possible.

    Sun, 22 Apr 2012 14:29:16 UTC | #936462

    Go to: Everything and Nothing - An Interview with Lawrence Krauss

    kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 21 by kriton

    If "The State Formerly Known As Nothing" (TSFKAN) is really a boiling bubbling brew of virtual particles, popping in and out of existence in a time so short that we cannot detect them directly, does it still make sense to use the word "nothing" to describe it?

    Hey, that sounds like a philosophical question to me.

    It's also a common claim that space and time began did not exist before Big Bang. But if we ask ourselves the philosophical question "What is time, anyway?" I do think that adds something to the discussion.

    If we have a state where absolutely nothing changes, it would be like time was frozen. So time and change seems to be linked. Where there is change from one state to another, there is a passage of time.

    But in Big Bang there seems to be a change frome a state where Big Bang did not happen to a state where it did. How could there be a change from one state to another if there was no time?

    It is one thing to claim that spacetime as we know it began to exist, but a different thing altogether to claim that there was no kind of time at all.

    Philosophical reasoning, it seems to me, is in fact very much necessary in order to sort these issues out.

    Strauss says things like "I have never been sympathetic to the notion that creation requires a creator." and "I find the possibility of living in a universe that was not created for my existence, in which my actions and thoughts need not bend to the whims of a creator, far more enriching and meaningful than the other alternative" but he doesn't seem to realize that thinking about such issues is philosophy.

    So perhaps Strauss should take some time to think about how many important questions actually require some philosophical thinking. But of course, that would require some philosophical thinking.

    Sat, 07 Jan 2012 13:41:01 UTC | #906220

    Go to: Women & Islam: The rise and rise of the convert

    kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 69 by kriton

    But that still doesn't explain why they turn to islam, rather than just doing things their own way. Keen on being a traditional, family-oriented stay-at-home housewife? Well why not just do that? There's nothing stopping you. Dislike revealing clothes and wish to dress in what you think is a modest manner? That, also, is not illegal. Or even uncommon. There are plenty of people who wear cardigans and trousers and sensible shoes, and doing so does not make one in the least conspicuous or sexualised. Tired of consumer culture? Take to reading books or something...

    Perhaps they feel so tired of parts of current culture that they want to reject it in some more radical way? Not only not taking part in it, but also in a way displaying a middle finger to it? Sometimes being against something can be enough to bond people together.

    Also, I guess if you wanted to opt out of consumer culture, people around you would often ask you why you are acting different. You might be alone in what you do. 40 years ago, these women would perhaps have become communists and lived in a collective. Now religion offers a reason you can give to people.

    If you are not part of some ideological system, you may have doubts and feel anxious about your choice; "what's the point of my little demonstration, maybe I should just join consumer society again". But in a religious (or political) movement you have people around you telling you that you are doing the right thing.

    I read in a book about cults (think it was Steven Hassans "Combating Cult Mind Control") that cults sometimes bring people in through "love-bombing", where new recruits get a lot of positive attention. This feels great and may be a new experience to many. But after a while, this positive treatment becomes conditional on following the rules and doing things for the cult. Just like with a drug, you want that love-bombing again, and you will go to great lengths to get it. Maybe a bit like in behaviorism experiments...

    Sun, 06 Nov 2011 21:26:40 UTC | #887983

    Go to: Women & Islam: The rise and rise of the convert

    kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 54 by kriton

    "I used to have all the trappings of success, yet I felt an inner emptiness and somewhat dissatisfied in my life. The entertainment industry is very much about "if you've got it, flaunt it", which is the exact opposite to the more inward-oriented spiritual attitude of my new faith. "

    says one of the women. I think the issue of being inward-oriented can be quite important in some cases.

    As something of an introvert myself, I have often felt that society is more and more becoming a place for extroverts and salesmen. If you want a job, friends, a partner, a place in the debate, you need to be outgoing, networking and be able to sell. Sell yourself, your ideas, your politics, your products... whatever it is you have to offer, it doesn't matter if it's good or not, the important thing is that you can sell it. Nobody cares about your inner qualities, it's all about having a good elevator pitch. Second place is first loser, and nice guys and girls finish last. Humbleness, doubt and nuance are seen as signs of weakness.

    Ok, I know what some of you are thinking. Shut up, you pathetic whiner. But I don't think I'm the only introvert out there thinking like this. And in some way, I can understand why some of them would look for something, anything, some kind of situation where being inward-oriented is not seen as some kind of handicap that needs immediate Prozac treatment.

    I have an interest in science and technology myself, and those are often suitable avenues for the introvert. But there are not that many nowadays. And those fields are becoming more and more about selling too. You must be able to sell yourself, to show that what you are doing can be turned into something useful and profitable as soon as possible. Curiosity and pursuit of truth has little to do with it.

    Yes, I may be exaggerating. But as I said, I don't think I'm the only one wondering if there will be a place for non-macho-hyperextroverted-salesman-types like me in the future.

    No, I'm not defending or suggesting joining a religion. But I don't think it's THAT hard to understand, from a psychological perspective.

    Sun, 06 Nov 2011 18:06:38 UTC | #887937

    Go to: OUT in Afghanistan

    kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 19 by kriton

    I would just like to point out the exact wording of what Gibbon actually said:

    "The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful." --- Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I, Ch. II

    Sun, 09 Oct 2011 14:37:09 UTC | #879162

    Go to: Europe to map the human epigenome

    kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 12 by kriton

    It is very plausible that epigenetic mechanisms is a way to adapt in the short term. For example, if there is a change in the environment so that food becomes more scarce or abundant this could affect how genes involved in metabolism are expressed. Those epigenetic changes could be inherited, and they could be beneficial for the offspring.

    Having an ability for short-term adaptation would be beneficial, so one would expect evolution to produce such mechanisms. However, other than that, does all this have any long-term effects on evolution? And if so, are those effects important or marginal? We don't know this yet. At least, I don't :) There is a lack of evidence for important long-term effects, but who knows what the future brings.

    But the bottom line is that even if there would be such effects, it would not mean that genetic evolution is suddenly unimportant or "Darwin was wrong" or anything like that. It would just be an additional mechanism. New findings in biology often adds more complexity to our models.

    Sat, 01 Oct 2011 20:58:27 UTC | #877015

    Go to: Europe to map the human epigenome

    kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 10 by kriton

    Comment 8 by billzfantazy :

    I read this recently, which was critical of the hype about epigenetics and included a comment by the Dawk himself! (cultural ref: the IT crowd for dyslexics) So does RD think the EU is wasting its money? I'd be interested to know.

    I'd just like to point out that if you think it would be good to understand stem cells and cancer (in this particular project leukemia would be relevant for example), then no, the EU is not wasting the money.

    So please, everyone, don't call yourself "sceptical" of epigenetics if you support stem cells research and cancer research. You would be contradicting yourself.

    Sat, 01 Oct 2011 17:53:47 UTC | #876978

    Go to: Europe to map the human epigenome

    kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 9 by kriton

    Interesting to see what will come of this. I reserve the right to be somewhat skeptical, though not dogmatic, about the " importance " of epigenetics. Important how? Analogously, oxygen is vital for respiration, but color coordination is only so important in dressing.

    ( or, is epigenetics a blueprint? )

    I find it somewhat sad that there is so much ignorance about epigenetics, so let us get this sorted out.

    Without epigenetic changes, the differentiation of your cells would not work. If there was any at all, it would not be stable. Neurons would not be neurons, fat cells would not be fat cells. You would be nothing but a lump of stem cells. So epigenetics is in fact INCREDIBLY important. And the turning on and turning off of different genes is also very, very, important for diseases such as cancer.

    Now, is epigenetic changes inherited from parents to child important in evolution? THAT is a different, and controversial issue.

    Please do NOT mix up the issues of differentiation, disease and evolution!

    And if you want an anology, you could consider the DNA the master blueprint, mRNA copies of the master blueprint, and the epigenetic code an instruction for how many copies to print.

    There are also other such instructions involved, but that doesn't change the basic picture.

    Sat, 01 Oct 2011 16:53:56 UTC | #876965

    Go to: You do not choose what you choose

    kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 42 by kriton

    In my opinion, the best description of the brain would be that it is a "probabilistic signal processor". When we do and think things, there was a certain probability that we would do so, but often other things were also possible, with a certain probability.

    There was a certain probability that i would write something here, but also a probability that I would have skipped it and went for a walk instead. If i write here that I'll go for a walk after writing the message, it will increase the likelihood of me doing so. But I might still play a game instead. And simply writing about that possibility probably affected the probability of doing that, since it activated certain patterns. And so on.

    I think it's quite possible that some genuine uncertainty at the quantum level can be preserved on the mental level. Some processes in the brain may be like a pencil balancing on its point, a small perturbation may make it fall in one direction or another.

    A computer would then be a "deterministic signal processor". Or at least, it would be designed to be. Errors do happen, and that's why we have things like ECC memory.

    So the brain of a criminal would be one that's more likely to activate patterns that lead to crime. But there is always a certain probability that it will not do so, and that probability will be affected by lots of things.

    I feel that when I see things from this perspective, all that talk about choice, freedom and will seems kind of unnecessary. There was a possibility that Sam would have written "elephant" instead of "rabbit", and other words were also possible. As it happened to turn out, "rabbit" won the lottery, and for reasons not known to us it likely had a larger chance than many other words. But there is not much more to it.

    Sun, 12 Jun 2011 14:30:24 UTC | #637573

    Go to: Schrodinger's cat is probably dead

    kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 47 by kriton

    Comment 39 by KenChimp :

    Exactly. Which is why we do not see alive/dead cats, people, places and things popping into and out of existence around us in the world above the nano level. It isn't that such events are impossible, rather that they are so extremely improbable due to what you've just stated that we may as well not consider them as realistic events.

    If we have a real cat in a box, the box and everything in it would interact with the world around it, through gravity and so on. So if an interaction takes place in the box, it would interact with a system that interacts with everything else.

    So in that respect, it's a problematic anology for something that happens among elementary particles, such as a photon going through a double-slit. But perhaps a little modification:

    But if the box and the cat existed in a place where interaction with the rest of the universe was negligeble or non-existent (such a universe of its own), would then perhaps the whole system, from our perspective, be in a state that would not collapse until something from this universe interacted with it?

    Perhaps it only needs to be negligeble and not non-existent? There could be some kind of quantum limit (connected to the uncertainty principle?) An electron has mass, but I think it also shows the typical interference pattern when it goes through a double-slit. Gravity does not seem to interact enough with the wave to collapse the wave function.

    Tue, 07 Jun 2011 15:36:15 UTC | #635421

    Go to: Schrodinger's cat is probably dead

    kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 44 by kriton

    Comment 33 by aball :

    A variant of this experiment places a polarizer in front of each hole. One polarises photons to the left, the other to the right. It is then possible to determine which hole a photon came through by measuring its polarization. When this experiment is conducted, the interference pattern is lost even when the polarization state is not actually measured by the experimenters. The sole presence of the polarizers is enough to destroy the interference effect.

    Even better, if you now place a 3rd polarizer after the screen that scrambles the polarization of the photons from the first 2 polarizers so that they become once again more indistinguishable, the interference pattern is re-instated.

    This is really bizzare because it looks as if the photon knows in advance what stands in its path between its source and the detector. It then adjusts its behaviour accordingly.

    Could one see a photon a bit like a probability wave or probability distribution moving through space?

    I guess then that sometimes the probability wave would interact with the wall between the slits and not go through, and sometimes it would not interact with it.

    So when the wave representing a single photon goes through a polarizer, would the polarizer then polarize the wave, or would it filter out some of the wave, or would the wave simply only go through the polarizer sometimes and sometimes not, with a certain probability?

    Tue, 07 Jun 2011 15:14:22 UTC | #635400

    Go to: Schrodinger's cat is probably dead

    kriton's Avatar Jump to comment 30 by kriton

    From a physics perspective, "observation" (such as looking at the cat) is just a series of interactions between photons, electrons, ions, and all the different molecules that make up our eyes and brains.

    So if we are talking about a real cat in a box, opening the box and looking into it would not change some "quantum wave function of the cat" or something like that, right? The quantum state of everything in the box is what it is regardless of wether we open it or not.

    If an atom has decayed, and emitted a particle (alpha/beta/gamma), and this particle has interacted with something, then whatever wave function of this decay must already have collapsed. The particle can not have both interacted and not interacted.

    The wikipedia article on Schrödinger's cat (under "Copenhagen interpretation") says

    Analysis of an actual experiment found that measurement alone (for example by a Geiger counter) is sufficient to collapse a quantum wave function before there is any conscious observation of the measurement.

    But any interaction should be pretty much the same as a measurement, should it not?

    Tue, 07 Jun 2011 12:59:30 UTC | #635319