11 Jun

Evolution 101

Evidence-of-Evolution

We can’t understand human nature without understanding the forces of evolution that made us who we are. We are the happiest if we design our lives/societies around the human nature, like a glove is designed around a hand. Failed philosophies like Marxism and Objectivism are results of failing to design our societies around what evolution has made us to be.

In a series of future posts, we will dissect the impact that evolution has on our nature. In this post, let us make sure that we have a clear understanding of how evolution works.

Mutations-happen

Take a look at the image above. Let’s start with an animal called ‘Grey Circle’. Due to genetic mutation, the babies of Grey Circle, shown below the horizontal line, are likely to be slightly different from the original (parent). Of the three babies, the White Circle has a mutation gives it a survival/propagation disadvantage (e.g. being born without limbs). The genes of Black Circle were mutated in such a way that it has some special advantages over others (e.g. ability to run faster). And the baby Grey Circle has no advantage or disadvantage over its parent.

Second-Generation-After-Mutation

Over the subsequent generations, White Circle population dies out. But the number of Black Circles in the population increases.

Advantageous-Mutation-Over-Generations

With every passing generation, there are more Black Circles in the population for every Grey Circle.

Inter-Breeding-of-Mutants

Of course, Grey Circles and Black Circles may end up inter-breeding. But for the purpose of this discussion, let’s ignore it.

Domination-by-a-Mutant

Eventually, the Black Circles dominate the entire population as they successfully out-compete the Grey Circles. Thus, a new population is born with a new trait.

Here is an important takeaway:

If a trait is found in all animals, it must have offered a significant advantage in the evolutionary past. After all, all animals without the trait were wiped out across generations.

For example, take human population. Wherever in the world they are found, humans are always intelligent (when compared with other animals), don’t have body fur, have language, etc. Intelligence and language skills must have been so important at some point in our evolutionary past that all proto-humans without these traits were wiped off from the gene pool

Let’s look beyond humans. Every animal in the planet has a strong drive to self-preserve. In the case of sexually reproducing animals, all of them seek mate. We can then conclude that the animals that didn’t bother about self-preservation or mate selection got wiped out from the gene pool.

Mutations-keep-popping-up

Of course, mutation is a messy business. It is never just Black or Grey. Mutations keep happening all the time, in million different forms. Some of the mutations/traits end up dominating the entire population (e.g. intelligence in humans) . Some of the mutations/traits persist in the population, but they never fully dominates the population (e.g. skin color, super-intelligence, schizophrenia). Some mutations/traits get wiped off from the population immediately (e.g. anencephaly) or eventually.

Evolution carries forward that traits that eventually dominate the population. Period. Evolution doesn’t care for good, bad, virtuous, evil, etc. When we hear the phrase “survival of the fittest”, we tend to confuse it with “survival of the superior”, however one likes to define superior. Evolution is blind to anything other than population explosion.

In the next post, we’ll look into three sub-types of evolutionary forces.

22 Oct

Life-force is an artificial construct

Life-Force

Q: What is a life-force?
A: Something that enables an entity to live

Q: What is living?
A: Hanging around till it self-replicates

Q: Like a computer virus?
A: No, a computer virus is not a physical entity.  Only a physical entity can have life

Q: Then, if I design a robot that can self-replicate, does it have life?
A: No.  Robot is made of tin sheets and metal/plastic parts.  It doesn’t have life.

Q: Then who can have life?
A: Only entities made up of organic compounds can have life

Q: Then if I make a self-replicating robot using plastic, does it have life?
A: No, only an organic entity using DNA as a self-replication mechanism can have life

Q: What if we find an alien that uses SNA, instead of DNA, as a self-replication mechanism?  Will it have life?
A: I guess so.  But we don’t even know that aliens exist

Q: Humor me, will you.  We are just doing a thought experiment.  But my alien friend is made up of inorganic material.  Like Transformers.  Or like the cute little Coke-can aliens that come in the movie Batteries Not Included (a must see).  I guess you won’t treat them like machines.  Will you?
A: They have feelings.  So, I’ll treat them like living things.

Q: Bacteria don’t have feelings.  Don’t they have life?
A: Of course, they are living things.  

Q: Then why is my robot not a living thing?
A: Because they are man-made.  Living things are natural.  They are made by God.

Q: Well, if God is responsible for all my actions, can’t I assume that God used me as a tool to get the robot made?  In other words, God made the robot, but used me as a tool to achieve his end.
A: Well, I am not in a mood to go on cooking up any more silly answers.

You see, there are no water-proof definition for life.  Any which way we try to define life, there is always one condition it which the definition fails.  Still, we know a life form the instant we see it.  How we do that is we simply recognize certain characteristics that are common among DNA based self-replicating entities on earth.  Like the way they are shaped, the way they feel for touch, they way move, the way the morph, the way they replicate and so on.  That’s all.

To make matter worse, because we couldn’t understand the complexity of the construction of the living things, we ended up attributing a fictitious force/agent (we seem to have a compulsion to imagine the presence of an agent even when nothing is there).  We assume that the agent called life-force gets into the life forms and makes it do stuff, be stuff, etc.

Of course, all agents must have a purpose.  And who gives the purpose for life?  A super-agent of course.  The mother, or father, of all agents.  The God!  So, the only definition of life that holds water is this: A meta-physical agent, who derives its power and purpose from the God, that drives an entity.

For me, that is way too convoluted.  I would rather go with “life is a figment of imagination of someone who is creatively challenged”.

20 Oct

Religion, Philosophy and Science

Religion, Philosophy and Science

Religion, philosophy and science all try to tackle the same problem: To give us a model of how things are arranged.

Religion uses faith to explain things.  Faith is a product of feeling.  ‘Feelers’ love to claim that feelings come from the heart.  People of religion primarily depend on how they ‘feel in their heart’ to tell us how things are arranged.  Unfortunately, they don’t have a mechanism in place to resolve internal inconsistencies in what they claim.  Whenever they hit up on a dead end or a conflict, they draw a new path.  As a result, religion has million different ways to describe and explain things.  Everything that religion tells us is right and wrong based on who is looking.

Philosophy try to a better model than the religions.  It tries to resolve inconsistencies between ideas using tools of logic.  Unfortunately, philosophy doesn’t have an ‘outside’ way of verifying its proposals.  So, it often went up the wrong tree.  For example, Aristotle thought that the brain is an organ used to cool the body.  And the idea persisted for centuries.

Science takes off where philosophy leaves and uses mathematical modelling and experimental verification for ironing out the bugs in the ideas.  That way, science can’t have more than one explanation for a given situation.  If it does, then the theory is incomplete.

This is how I see Religion, Philosophy and Science:

  • Religion is a sloppy speculative exercise of how things work.  Taking life lessons from religious teachings is like worshiping the false god.
  • Philosophy is an exercise in disciplined speculation.  But almost everything that has been addressed by philosophy has since been scrutinized by science.
  • Science takes an educated speculation and makes a theory out of it.  Of course, there are still many things that science can’t explain.  May be there are many things that science can never explain.

Unlike a philosopher or a religious teacher, a scientist can’t make a claim without doing substantial ground work in first place.  So, science can be painfully flow.  But it has a few advantages:

  • Science is painfully aware of what it doesn’t know
  • It has a process wherein more and more people can be trained to become competent scientists
  • Science can have only one solution for a given situation
  • So, millions of people around the world can work on various aspects of it simultaneously

For these reasons, I use science as my first too to explain the cosmos around me.  If the answers are not available with science, only then do I look elsewhere.  In other words, I don’t hesitate to look at mysticism to give me the answers.  But I do it with utmost caution.

19 Oct

Faith: Everything starts here

Faith

Humor me for a minute.  I promise you, this is not a cheap re-take of the Matrix movie: How do you know that I exist?  How do you know that this blog post you are reading now is not just a figment of your imagination?  How do you know that you are not a schizophrenic, living in your happy imaginary world?

You can’t question where someone puts their faith in.  Faith is beyond logic.  The only time you can successfully question someone’s faith is when their system of faith has an internal conflict.  No internal-conflict, no questions possible.

That’s why an argument about existence of God can never be resolved.  Can you ever resolve an argument if an apple is red or sweet?  Each person has placed their faith in a different reality and the twain will never meet.

There are believers who have placed their faith on existence of God.  And there are non-believers who have placed their faith in non-existence of God.  Few people like me have decided to fence-sit till such time more evidence comes along to sway us one way or another.  Or, who knows, may be we are waiting for some thunderbolt to strike our temporal lobe and show the God in all His shining glory.

We are digressing.  The point of this post is this: You can’t question someone’s faith.  The best you can do is to question the internal inconsistencies in their system of faith.

19 Oct

Cleaning up the mental mess

Clutter

Edward de Bono once said that 95% of human problems are due to error in perceptions.  Our problems vanish the moment we understand them correctly.  Our present understanding of human nature is so twisted, it creates more trouble for us than it solves.  First step towards a happier life, I think, is to unlearn this mess of ideas we have inside our mind.  For, true happiness lies beyond this Mental Mess.

Lucky for us, our understanding of human nature has been improving rapidly over the last twenty years.  For example, so much advancement has come about in brain science from the early 1990’s that it is as if the field was born only twenty years ago.  The cart load of b.s. served out by the likes of Freuds and the Jungs is just getting cleaned up.

Social biology, which studies the biological basis of human behavior is another field that was almost non-existent twenty years ago.  With the help of social biology, we are now able to understand our own morals and values like never before.

Twenty year ago, internet was barely there.  Today, internet and crowd sourcing are opening up new possibilities in the health care industry.  Several massive studies are being organized with the help of volunteers located and connected through the internet.  The scale and depth of researches and clinical trials being done today can only be dreamt of in the past.  Added to this, we now have the additional advantage of dirt cheap genome profiling which was not there even ten years ago.

Another advantage that internet brings us is the study of the online behavior of people. This gives us sample size that runs into hundreds of thousands of people and data unpolluted by subject bias.  Many of these studies are carried out by the industry outsiders.  But they have provided so many new insights into human nature that the specialists are gasping to catch up.

The time is just right for us to start unlearning several faulty concepts and clear up our mental mess.  A decade ago, we didn’t have enough new information.  A decade from now, we will be overwhelmed with too much of information.