Friday, September 17, 2010

Earthquake vs. Evolution

This sort of thing (HT) is actually quite a challenge to evolution. Imagine what a species has to go through to select for earthquake detection: either most individuals that can't detect earthquakes have to die, or else the detectors have to breed disproportionately. With the reliability these toads display, the faculty would have to be selected for extremely strongly - earthquakes massacring toads over and over or somehow causing a huge offspring disparity over several generations.

Both are problematic. Toads are small, thus light and can take to the water. An earthquake doesn't have much purchase on particular individuals. Their response to the quake actually takes them away from spawning, so I have a hard time imagining the earthquake-dodging toads breed a great deal more.

Secondly, every generation without an earthquake is going to damage to earthquake-detecting genes. Genetic drift will reliably erode them. Except for places with very frequent shocks like the San Andreas fault, the ability should die out long before it is put to use.

What all this adds up to is that toads are dodging earthquakes without ever having been selected to dodge earthquakes.

A word on anecdotal evidence. It's still evidence. Don't ignore evidence because it's unfashionable.


Kevembuangga said...

This whole post is totally unwarranted, toads neither predict nor dodge earthquakes.
Did you ever read the first comment???

Alrenous said... respect

Look, if you don't respect my ability to think, what's the point in trying to correct it?

Is there anything I can say that can convince you I've seen something you haven't?

Yes, I did read the comments. So how do you explain my position, given that?

Kevembuangga said...

how do you explain my position,

I guess you are a religious mind, "a challenge to evolution", yeah! paranoia about hidden agency, a well known syndrome.

what's the point in trying to correct it

I am not trying to correct anything (it's hopeless), just letting you know that some others (at least me) think your position is bunk.
Religious minded people tend to wallow in their delusions without restraint...

Alrenous said...

Ha! Excuse me while I die laughing.

No, that's not it at all. I'm glad my detector of mutual disrespect is not on the blink.

I am not trying to correct anything (it's hopeless), just letting you know that some others (at least me) think your position is bunk.

If indeed I were religious, why would I care?

What's the point?

Alrenous said...

I forgot something, possibly the most important thing:

"Is there anything I can say that can convince you I've seen something you haven't?"

You dodged this question.

But until you answer it, I'm forced to assume your position is unfalsifiable. This has two meanings you find repulsive or contemptible.

It is a position of faith, not reason.

It's a good thing I didn't try changing your mind through the tool of debate, as such an attempt is doomed to failure.

Alrenous said...

No, I did that wrong too.

It's a good thing I didn't try to explain my position, as there's no possible explanation you would accept.

I've already been out-grouped. The out-group, after all, isn't 'rational' and can't ever be right about anything.

(I really prefer comment systems with edit functions. I could ghetto edit, but I'm trying it the other way.)

Adrian said...

I like the responses and your consistency. In your second entry on this blog, from 2007 (here),you identified a major obstacle to effectively debating others: you cannot change their mind without somehow changing their axioms. Otherwise you're just talking past each other.

Alrenous said...

It is a relief to know I'm being consistent. It's like a cheap version of independent corroboration. I'm getting the same answer even if I forget I've asked the question before. It's unlikely I'm making the same mistake twice.

I should really get going on that infinite regression update.

Adrian said...

I don't want to pollute your comments section with off-topic questions, so if there's a better place to direct future communication let me know. Anyway, I was wondering about your views of "situated cognition" and the extended mind.

Alrenous said...

I sincerely don't understand how off-topic comments are supposed to be bad.

They can derail threads, but so what? If it was important, it wouldn't be easily derailed and/or it will be returned to in due course. If it's unimportant, then it can be ignored. And finally it's not hard to run two or more conversations simultaneously in asynchronous communication.

Regardless I'm going to post an open thread.

Going for brevity over clarity...

I've never heard the term situated cognition, but I'm betting I have an opinion on it already.

I was right. It seems to be a confusion. Of course almost all knowledge is context sensitive. It's often directly about contexts.

Similarly, of course it's language sensitive. Language is, most generally, simply any system of symbolic representation. Cognition would be entirely impossible without a language in this sense - you'd have to implement thinking directly using the objects of thought, which seems a bit perverse to me.

If that's not clear - or if perhaps I'm not understanding the ideas correctly - assume all their conclusions are correct. None of the conclusions necessarily conflict with bog-standard epistemology, so I don't see the point of getting all fancy and counter-intuitive. I'd have to look further but I don't think I even have to get epicyclesque to handle them.

The extended mind I'm basically all for, but only as a dualist thing, and the empirics aren't there. (Yet?)

It is indeed arbitrary to say the mind is confined to the skull...without the idea of the mind node. Mind nodes, or whatever reality they're my stand-in for, will indeed be confined to skulls. Though, perhaps, not entirely confined. The input of a mind node can basically be anything. From the node's perspective, even the rest of the neuron is environment, not mind. There's no reason the brain couldn't take chunks of the external environment and plug them in too.

adrian said...

If that's not clear - or if perhaps I'm not understanding the ideas correctly - assume all their conclusions are correct.

It's clearer than the articles I've read on the subject. Mind nodes are, as far as I know, theoretical constructs. The reason I asked is because even if it is just a shift of context, it might set the stage for novel insight and discoveries into the mind and/or consciousness. I am looking into getting a neuroscience degree, and eventually applying that knowledge to AI research, and in preparation I have inevitably also come upon the philosophy of mind.

Alrenous said...

Ah. Yes from that perspective even wildly incorrect ideas can be useful. Can my current system really explain everything the new system can? Have I extended my model enough to work with these concepts?

Indeed you may have just convinced me to put in the effort to understand them.

Situated cognition, your confusion cannot stop me! Mwa ha ha ha ha! They do have real thoughts back there somewhere. I just need to find if they're new or not.

Mind nodes are experimentally testable. You should be able to build one, and recognize that it is indeed a non-physical machine.

Though to be honest I'm a bit stumped as to what prediction, exactly, one should look for.

AI, eh? You should have run across Less Wrong by now. If not; I imagine Elizer Yudkowsky would be more useful to read if you're actually in his field. If I think he regularly rolls critical fails, though perhaps not often, so careful about that.

Also don't forget that artificial intelligence is not the same as artificial consciousness. I can't remember if I've written about that already or not.

Neutrino Cannon said...

Deinococcus radiodurans can withstand ionizing radiation levels several orders of magnitude higher than naturally occur on this planet thanks to a quadruply redundant genome and the ability to form some really tough spores. Probably evolved as a response to really nasty drought conditions or something, and it happens to give excellent protection against the radiation.

Alrenous said...


So your hypothesis is accidental earthquake detection, then?

Neutrino Cannon said...

I would say more generally that if there is a trait for which natural selection seems improbable then it probably serves another purpose than is immediately obvious.

Lissamphibian ears are fairly different than ours, and a number of reptiles like snakes are fairly adept at detecting low-frequency vibrations in the ground. Conceivably they could be better than us at picking up pre-quake vibrations or some other cue due to completely incidental details of their sensory systems. When the earth starts doing weird stuff they'd make themselves scarce, not because they had been selected to make themselves scarce when those particular stimuli happen, but because they make themselves scarce when anything big weird and scary happens.

Just one possibility. I realize there are potential issues with falsifiability with the "all extraordinary adaptations are incidental." hypothesis.

Alrenous said...

"I realize there are potential issues with falsifiability"

This one, however, is quite testable.

First: looks to me like you're proposing accidental earthquake detection.

If indeed that's the case, there should be false positives. Other things they're accidentally detecting. They should dodge non-quakes. Similarly, I bet we humans could fake out the system.

The main issue is actually "big weird and scary." The fact a human finds earthquakes weird and scary is hardly evidence that amphibians a tiny fraction of the size find it similar.