Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Continuing with the purging of links to interesting stories, file these under "Evolution" or "Rockin Darwin's Doodle".

Awesome, awesome, awesome article on the complexity of evolution at Wired. What I love about it is that it completely axes the idiocy of sticking to a strict Darwinian perspective. We all know it doesn't work that way exactly, but that getting the knuckle draggers to understand that much has been an effort spanning decades. This article is refreshing, thought provoking, and a must read. If anyone knows of more like this, complete with some conceptual inter-meshing of self-emergence, multi-level selection, and complex system rules, please post in the comments.

An interesting little (Darwinian) evolution demonstration technique has made its way around the net recently, too. An interesting little classroom oriented setup emulates/performs 'evolution' using a controlled microenvironment and RNA + enzymes. Tweak a variable in the substrate, watch the concentrations of 'adaptive' [my words] RNA increase, isolate the 'adapted enzymes', stress them similarly, wash, rinse, repeat. Medgadget has a nice graphic and rundown, and I saw the story first on Science Daily.

Coming via Mind Hacks, Scientific American has an article about a report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (link to FREE special issue on Evolutionary Dynamics of Wild Populations) postulating that schizophrenia is evolutionarily beneficial.

As a side thought, if bacterial evolution is any sign, the increasingly effective treatments for disorders in general make them less important in determining the fitness of an organism. So, as the environment forces us to evolve, the forces that once kept our survival in check (disease, 'bad genes', weak resistance to +5 fire damage, etc) impact us less. So, the medical hurdles ahead of us are even more difficult to solve and simultaneously the population will require more care. An interesting thing to just consider is identifying the line where we stop pursuing A because the advances made are just too small. Example? The common cold or strep throat. We seem to say, "Meh, good enough. Let's move on to cancer." If we could stop the growth of malignant tumors with 100% assuredness, would we say, "Meh, good enough. Let's move on to AIDS." We all know that the medical industry doesn't make money on actually curing a problem compared to maintaining an acceptable level of homeostasis, so the next time you're opening up to say Ahhh, think about the Good Enough Line. Now, throw schizophrenia back in there, or any cognitive disorder. How will we know the Good Enough Line?

By the way, WTF is up with legitimate sites not linking to the primary literature when they report on a finding. Obnoxious. Instead you have to look up the journal, hope "this month" means the issue in press and not the ahead of press articles, or end up searching for the author, etc.

The Daily Galaxy asks if robot evolution is mirroring the evolution of life. The questions is interesting. If it is, does that mean science is conceding that life has a "designer"? If we say no, aren't we ignoring the impact of our environment on the design of robots? And if we say that they are one in the same, aren't we just dirty, granola eating, sandal wearing hippies? Seriously, though, it might speak to appearance of ordered evolution from many chaotic variables.

Two papers to point out: RNA editing, DNA recoding and the evolution of human cognition in Trends in Neuroscience, and Parallel evolution of cortical areas involved in skilled hand use in J Neuroscience.

And a few fun ones.
- Darwin "Photoshop tennis" on Flickr.
- If you are in New York, the Museum of Modern Art has a special exhibit on technology and science called Design and the Elastic Mind the runs through May 12, 2008 (if you read this after that date, you can find it in the "Past" link on the left).
- Fun tshirt.
- Expose gravity for the scientific conspiracy it is!
- Darwin plush doll. Awwww...

Enjoy, and keep on evolving! You have no choice!

(Update: Just saw that Philadelphia is declaring this The Year of Evolution. Rock on!)
(Update 2: Darwin's papers have been digitized to posted to the web for the first time. Enjoy!)
(Oh, and I would like to add: Fuck Ben Stein for lacking a 1st grader's understanding of science.)

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