About the force that drives the universe?
Evolution By Everyone
Interesting exchange with Dr. David Sloan Wilson at his blog, Evolution for Everyone
The following is slightly redacted, but hopefully not too far out of context:
On the subject of the function of traits, Dr. Wilson had commented that, "Not all traits are adaptive; they can be a product of drift, a byproduct of other traits, or adaptive in the past but not the present."
I commented: But that's the point, at some time in the evolutionary past, all traits were strategically successful behaviors somewhere. The question being, did these organisms then generate their strategies from experience, or if you are to continue arguing that they didn't, what was it that so magically produced them? Or did these first forms somehow cause their functions (as you seem to suggest) and functions somehow caused their strategies in turn?
Dr. Wilson was kind enough to answer: "I have difficulty understanding what you are driving at. If we restrict ourselves to adaptations that evolve by natural selection, it's true that they are strategically successful by definition, but this begs the question of how they evolved in the total population (e.g., by within-group vs. between-group selection, natural vs. sexual selection). If we consider the non-adaptive side of the evolutionary coin, then your statement "all traits in the end evolve from strategically successful behaviors" appears to be just plain wrong. Can you clarify what you are driving at, including what you think I am trying to hide from?"
["Hiding from" was an echo of something he'd said earlier, but I noted it was with reference to the new work being done under the headings of adaptive mutation, or self-engineering, or facilitated variation, or anticipatory systems, etc.]
I then left this answer for the record:
"OK, I'll summarize some of what is being discovered as succinctly as I can without making it an argument: The cells that retain the memory of an experience then pass on that memory to those they have been divided into. Inheritance of acquired memories of experience, no? And many generations appear to be affected - and the effects of this experience can't be completely erased from the genome if the experience itself is replicated or repeated in a particular environment. And this seems one of the ways that cells evolve to anticipate and deal strategically with a multitude of problems. Because it seems to be the present case with most social species that their form of culture is a preserver of learned strategies, some of which by reason of their effectiveness will become instinctive, and our earliest life forms may have started that instinctive process by passing the memories of learning directly through cell division. While later on when sexual selection and the like evolved, the mechanism for passing on what would be needed as socially instructive was a "culture" that required its lessons taught at least by example - and thus evolved our methods of communication for sharing memories that was more efficient then cell memory copying, especially as that original method of procreation did not apply all that well to multi cellular organisms. Which leads one, or at least me, to opine that all evolution from the getgo was and had to have been a social/cultural phenomenon. Learning creates strategies which create forms to fit, which gain experience that strategies adapt to, and through cultural sharing by example or advances in communication, spread the impetus for readaptation throughout the groups accordingly. Cultures assist in the heritability of acquired characteristics: Cultures provide the platform for their strategic development and purpose, and in addition help "spread the word" that accelerates the acquisition of these strategies "instinctively." Strategy is the function of intelligence. The form alone has no intelligence. It can't choose, even though it's a cause of choice. The function chooses form and/or chooses how it will be caused to adapt. There's more of course, but cutting to the chase, I don't think there is a non-adaptive side of the evolutionary coin and that indeed it's more than possible that "all traits in the end evolve from strategically successful behaviors. Posted by: Roy Niles | June 1, 2011 4:43 PM "
If I get an interesting response I'll post it here. Unless I get blown out of the water, in which case I'll deep six this whole posting.
Ok, I got a response from Dr. Wilson that, "This is cool stuff." However, "I think it is too extreme to say that all aspects of evolution are anticipatory. Good old fashioned Mendelian genetics still accounts for a lot."
And I said, "But having an anticipatory function doesn't negate the utility or purpose of these other processes. We, in short, anticipate the accidents of nature - without the one we wouldn't need or have the other."
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