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Evolution is not progress?

Thomas Colthurst thomasc at fenchel.geom.umn.edu
Thu Jun 25 19:46:10 EST 1992


In article <1992Jun25.124005.21577 at hellgate.utah.edu> tolman%asylum.cs.utah.edu at cs.utah.edu (Kenneth Tolman) writes:
>
> ...  Lets for a moment define "progress" as the sum total of all 
>functionality exhibited by all species.  (yes, a slippery eel)  Certainly
>at many points during the evolutionary trail this "progress" has been
>backwards- probably due to environmental stress.  But in the long run
>this functionality has exploded upwards.  Especially if you consider the
>technological capabilites to be expanded functionality (which I do).
>Many important functionalities (warm blood, live birth, etc) end up
>slipping through the catastrophes...
>

You tack on that "due to environmental stress" as if it were a mitigating
condition.  All evolution occurs under enviornmental stress.

Also, if you consider technological capabilities to be expanded functionality,
then history hardly shows a record of progress.  Rather, we have billions of
years of no technology followed by the single insignificant blip of homo
sapiens.  

I should reiterate that warm blood, live birth, etc. are important          
functionalities only to specific organisms in specific environment.  A
warm blooded beetle would be an incredibly silly thing.
  
>True, good point. However, a computer program which could switch from one
>set of commands to another on environmental change would be more powerful
>than one that could not.
>

Would it?  "Modes" (which is what I take you are suggesting) don't work well
with organisms for the same reason they don't work well with programs:
they often produce unpredictable output, are hard to mantain,
and are frequently nothing more than poorly disguised design flaws.

Consider:  you have been placed in charge of the design team for 
plankton, V2.0.  Do you add in a feature that allows the plankton to
survive the entire ocean freezing?  This is certainly an additional
feature.  But from the plankton's point of view, it is totally
useless, for obvious reasons.  (And some not so obvious reasons: if say
the ocean did freeze over in a million years, by that time the genes
coding for the feature would have mutated considerably).

Nature's law:  use it or lose it.  

-Thomas C



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