RSSCategory: Evolution

The long slow development of the eye

January 21, 2013 | By | Reply More
The long slow development of the eye

Anti-evolutionists like to point to the eye as though it is proof that God exists, in that the eye is so complex that it requires a designer. There are many problems with this argument. For instance, just because eyes are incredibly complex doesn’t mean that “God” exists–perhaps we just don’t know enough to explain eyes. The lack of an explanation is merely the lack of an explanation.

But we actually do know a lot about the evolution of eyes, as David Attenborough explains in this 3-minute video.

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Dan Dennett: More on the brain as a computer

January 16, 2013 | By | Reply More
Dan Dennett:  More on the brain as a computer

Daniel Dennett had this to say, at Edge.org:

The vision of the brain as a computer, which I still champion, is changing so fast. The brain’s a computer, but it’s so different from any computer that you’re used to. It’s not like your desktop or your laptop at all, and it’s not like your iPhone except in some ways. It’s a much more interesting phenomenon. What Turing gave us for the first time (and without Turing you just couldn’t do any of this) is a way of thinking about in a disciplined way and taking seriously phenomena that have, as I like to say, trillions of moving parts. Until late 20th century, nobody knew how to take seriously a machine with a trillion moving parts. It’s just mind-boggling.

The idea is basically right, but when I first conceived of it, I made a big mistake. I was at that point enamored of the McCulloch-Pitts logical neuron. McCulloch and Pitts had put together the idea of a very simple artificial neuron, a computational neuron, which had multiple inputs and a single branching output and a threshold for firing, and the inputs were either inhibitory or excitatory. They proved that in principle a neural net made of these logical neurons could compute anything you wanted to compute. So this was very exciting. It meant that basically you could treat the brain as a computer and treat the neuron as a sort of basic switching element in the computer, and that was certainly an inspiring over-simplification. Everybody knew is was an over-simplification, but people didn’t realize how much, and more recently it’s become clear to me that it’s a dramatic over-simplification, because each neuron, far from being a simple logical switch, is a little agent with an agenda, and they are much more autonomous and much more interesting than any switch.

The question is, what happens to your ideas about computational architecture when you think of individual neurons not as dutiful slaves or as simple machines but as agents that have to be kept in line and that have to be properly rewarded and that can form coalitions and cabals and organizations and alliances? This vision of the brain as a sort of social arena of politically warring forces seems like sort of an amusing fantasy at first, but is now becoming something that I take more and more seriously, and it’s fed by a lot of different currents.

I’ve posted on these issues before, but Dennett’s article advances the topic much further.

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Looking Forward?

November 7, 2012 | By | 2 Replies More
Looking Forward?

As usual, Florida is still undecided, a mess. According to NPR, though, it is leaning heavily toward Obama, despite the shenanigans of the state GOP in suppressing the vote.

I didn’t watch last night. Couldn’t. We went to bed early.

But then Donna got up around midnight and woke me by a whoop of joy that I briefly mistook for anguish.

To my small surprise and relief, Obama won.

I will not miss the constant electioneering, the radio ads, the tv spots, the slick mailers. I will not miss keeping still in mixed groups about my politics (something I am not good at, but this election cycle it feels more like holy war than an election). I will not miss wincing every time some politician opens his or her mouth and nonsense spills out. (This is, of course, normal, but during presidential years it feels much, much worse.) I will not miss…

Anyway, the election came out partially the way I expected, in those moments when I felt calm enough to think rationally. Rationality seemed in short supply this year and mine was sorely tasked. So now, I sit here sorting through my reactions, trying to come up with something cogent to say.

I am disappointed the House is still Republican, but it seems a number of the Tea Party robots from 2010 lost their seats, so maybe the temperature in chambers will drop a degree or two and some business may get done.

Gary Johnson, running as a Libertarian, pulled 350,000 votes as of nine last night. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, got around 100,000. (Randall Terry received 8700 votes, a fact that both reassures me and gives me shivers—there are people who will actually vote for him?)

Combined, the independent candidates made virtually no difference nationally. Which is a shame, really. I’ve read both Stein’s and Johnson’s platforms and both of them are willing to address the problems in the system. Johnson is the least realistic of the two and I like a lot of the Green Party platform.

More . . .

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Animation regarding Pangea

October 18, 2012 | By | Reply More

How did Pangea break up over the past 250 million years? Check out this animation. Notice India zooming north toward the end of the animation; this land movement is strongly corroborated with extensive fossil evidence.

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Jesus discusses biology.

October 17, 2012 | By | Reply More

I chuckled when I saw this graphic on Facebook:

Why, indeed?  Especially if the world had been carefully planned out by an omniscient and omnipotent being.  Well, I do see a compelling connection between nipples and religion, and it is the Terror Management Theory. 

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Plain Broun Wrapper (or, What’s Really In That Bag?)

October 8, 2012 | By | 2 Replies More

I thought I might write about something other than politics this morning, but some things are just too there to ignore.  But perhaps this isn’t strictly about politics.

Representative Paul Broun of Georgia recently said the following.  I’m pulling the quote from news sources so I don’t get it wrong.

“God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior. There’s a lot of scientific data that I found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I believe that the Earth is about 9,000 years old. I believe that it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.

[More . . . ]

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Paul Ryan’s Unsuspected Latent Darwinism

September 27, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More
Paul Ryan’s Unsuspected Latent Darwinism

Paul Ryan, in a little-noticed interview, said the other day—talking about abortion—that rape is simply another “method of conception.” This is very much in line with Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” remark, although it contradicts Akin’s point—which was, somehow, that the reproductive system of a woman being raped (really raped, not sort of raped or falsely […]

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Stressed out men prefer larger women

August 9, 2012 | By | Reply More
Stressed out men prefer larger women

According to this article at Scientific American, stressed out men prefer larger women.

The stressed out guys preferred a larger body size than their relaxed counterparts – but that was not all. “Men experiencing stress not only perceive a heavier female body size as maximally attractive, but also more positively perceive heavier female body sizes and have a wider range of body sizes considered physically attractive,” explain the authors.

The authors offer an evolutionary explanation. These sorts of explanations are always interesting, but whether they are legit or merely just-so-stories remains to be seen.

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Darwin’s unifying idea applied to cultural evolution.

June 1, 2012 | By | Reply More
Darwin’s unifying idea applied to cultural evolution.

In this video, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins discuss Darwin’s dangerous idea May 9, 2012 at Oxford. Then the conversation turns to memes and cultural evolution. Language appears to be the key, according to Dennett. “Words themselves have replicative norms.”

Check out Dennett’s neologism at the 12 minute mark: “Thinko,” which is a mental version (an incorrect sub-routine) of a “typo.”

Dennett gives an update on the “Clergy Project” (in-the-closet clergy) at the 31 minute mark. As Dennett explains, there are actually two distinct projects in the Clergy Project. The first project involves detailed interview of active clergy. The second project consists of 200 members (50 of them are active clergy), with a waiting list of 60. It functions as a support group.

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