Saturday, March 04, 2006


Why research an 'Internal Evolutionary Mechanism'? (2)

2) Aims

On November 8, 1996 Richard Dawkins was interviewed by Ben Wattenberg on a PBS "Think Tank" program entitled "Richard Dawkins on Evolution and Religion":

MR. WATTENBERG: You have written that being an atheist allows you to become intellectually fulfilled.

MR. DAWKINS: No, I haven't quite written that. What I have written is that before Darwin, it was difficult to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist and that Darwin made it easy to become an intellectually -- and it's more. It's more. If you wanted to be an atheist, it would have been hard to be an atheist before Darwin came along. But once Darwin came along, the argument from design, which has always been to me the only powerful argument -- even that isn't a very powerful argument, but I used to think it was the only powerful argument for the existence of a creator.

Darwin destroyed the argument from design, at least as far as biology is concerned, which has always been the happiest hunting ground for argument from design. Thereafter -- whereas before Darwin came along, you could have been an atheist, but you'd have been a bit worried, after Darwin you can be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. You can feel, really, now I understand how living things have acquired the illusion of design, I understand why they look as though they've been designed, whereas before Darwin came along, you'd have said, well, I can see that the theory of a divine creator isn't a good theory, but I'm damned if I can think of a better one. After Darwin, you can think of a better one.

Intellectual satisfaction derived from a theory in which the 'loose ends' have all been logically tied up can sometimes be a self-deceptive state of affairs capable of lasting a lifetime.

This is particularly true when the need for a theory stems from an unacknowledged and acquired psychological vulnerability.

In some instances, such vulnerabilities can understandably make an individual predisposed towards believing that dieties exist, and indeed, it is an unfortunate aspect of Society that these predispositions continue to be taken advantage of.

On other occasions, the repression of a vulnerability required in order to maintain a sense of a totally independent 'self' may result in a permanent antipathy towards all forms of religion (rather than, for example, simply responding to the needs of the moment).

By way of contrast, intellectual fulfillment is not a goal in giving consideration to the possibility of an internal evolutionary mechanism because the 'journey' is one of exploration rather than explanation. And therein lies the rub: lack of resources to conduct experiments appropriate to the proposed model!

Consequently, an alternative is to argue the case for such testing to be done. At this moment in time three of the ways this approach is being pursued are:

1) To develop the model indicated by the 'anomalies' referred to in Why research an 'Internal Evolutionary Mechanism'? (1) - and hopefully avoid the pitfalls inherent in doing so!

2) Identify those evolutionary phenomena the model is initially most applicable to.

3) Address those cultural factors which are applicable to answering the question "If an internal evolutionary mechanism exists, then why hasn't it been found before?"

Emphasis on any one of the above areas will simply be a function of the exigencies of the moment!

John Latter

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Friday, March 03, 2006


Bits and Pieces

Mundane stuff:

About a week ago I added a "Daily Updates" email feature to the sidebar and today I've added a Guestbook.

In the next few weeks I'll be adding "Add to furl" and "Add to" options along with a search engine for all five categories (the "search this blog" feature in the top left-hand corner only searches the 'category' you are in).

Other than that, I'm calling a temporary halt to 'site maintenance': Google, other search engines, and various blog bots visit this site and learning how to tidy up the code to attract more would just take up too much time (and it's such hard work for someone like me!).

Of slightly more interest:

The evomech calendar contains the schedules for the following internet science/philosophy programs:

Berkeley Groks [USA]
In Our Time [UK]
Philosophy Talk [USA]
Quirks & Quarks [CAN]
Science Friday [USA]
Science Show [AUS]
The Naked Scientists [UK]

I don't bother keeping up with 'what's on this week' - what I like to do is click on the program archive links every so often and then listen to something while working!

Of more relevance:

Modularity and sense organs in the blind cavefish
was posted to the Main Blog today and I hope to begin posting more info regarding the proposed internal evolutionary mechanism soon.

John Latter

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In the News: More info on "'Jurassic Beaver' find stuns experts"

Anyone who read the recent 'Jurassic Beaver' find stuns experts news report might be interested in the following:

Early Mammalian Evolutionary Experiments
Thomas Martin*

Mammals of the Mesozoic era (248 to 65 million years ago) generally are considered to be primitive, shrew-like creatures living in the shadow of the dinosaurs (1). Only after the extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous era (144 to 65 million years ago) did they have a chance to explore a greater variety of ecological niches. During the adaptive radiation that began about 65 million years ago, mammals were able to invade all kinds of terrestrial environments, even the aquatic and aerial realms. Pushing back the mammalian conquest of the waters by more than 100 million years, Ji et al. (2) report on page 1123 of this issue a Middle Jurassic, 164-million-year-old skeleton with a beaverlike tail and seal-like teeth perfectly adapted for an aquatic lifestyle.

Research Article the above Perspective refers to:

A Swimming Mammaliaform from the Middle Jurassic and Ecomorphological Diversification of Early Mammals
Qiang Ji,1,3 Zhe-Xi Luo,2,1* Chong-Xi Yuan,3 Alan R. Tabrum2

A docodontan mammaliaform from the Middle Jurassic of China possesses swimming and burrowing skeletal adaptations and some dental features for aquatic feeding. It is the most primitive taxon in the mammalian lineage known to have fur and has a broad, flattened, partly scaly tail analogous to that of modern beavers. We infer that docodontans were semiaquatic, convergent to the modern platypus and many Cenozoic placentals. This fossil demonstrates that some mammaliaforms, or proximal relatives to modern mammals, developed diverse locomotory and feeding adaptations and were ecomorphologically different from the majority of generalized small terrestrial Mesozoic mammalian insectivores.
The links work OK but email me if you have any problems (I made a typo on the research article url and got "We've redesigned our Web site, and some Carnegie Museum of Natural History pages have gone the way of the dinosaurs."!)

John Latter

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Thursday, March 02, 2006


Re: TalkOrigins resource on Atavisms and Vestigial Structures

After yesterday's brief comments on Atavisms (Retrograde Motion and Evolution) I came across a TalkOrigins resource on Atavisms and Vestigial Organs/Structures (which are another area of interest) and have posted it to the Main Blog.

The page is directly accessible from here and contains the following:
1. Anatomical vestigial structures
* Answers to criticisms of vestigial structures
1. Vestiges can have functions
2. Positive evidence demonstrates lack of functionality
3. Negative evidence is scientific when controlled
2. Atavisms
* Living whales with hindlimbs
* Newborn babies with tails
3. Molecular vestigial structures
4. Ontogeny and developmental biology
* Mammalian ear bones and reptile jaws
* Pharyngeal pouches and branchial arches
* Snake and whale embryos and with legs
* Embryonic human tail
* Marsupial eggshell and caruncle
5. Present biogeography
6. Past biogeography
* Marsupials
* Horses
* Apes and humans
And now for something completely different! San Franscisco's Exploratorium will be providing a live webcast of March 29th's total solar eclipse, info available here.

John Latter

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Retrograde Motion and Evolution

A webpage on Retrograde Motion at Philadelphia's Lasalle University states:

One phenomenon that ancient astronomers had difficulty explaining was the retrograde motion of the planets...

...a planet appears to move from West to East against the background stars most of the time...

...Occasionally, however, the planet's motion will appear to reverse direction, and the planet will, for a short time, move from East to West against the background constellations. This reversal is known as retrograde motion.

Ptolemaic Explanation

This model consisted of a series of concentric spheres, with the Earth at the center...

...To account for the observed retrograde motion of the planets, it was necessary to resort to a system of epicycles, whereby the planets moved around small circular paths that in turn moved around larger circular orbits around the Earth...

...In its final form, the model was extremely complicated, requiring many nested levels of epicycles (etc.).

Copernican Explanation

Copernicus replaced the geocentric universe of Ptolemy with one that was centered on the Sun (heliocentric), with only the Moon orbiting the Earth. His model was still based on circular orbits (and therefore still required further refinement), but it was able to achieve superior precision than the Ptolemaic model without the need for epicycles or other complications. [My emphasis]
If the proposal of an internal evolutionary mechanism is seen as a Copernican expansion upon the Ptolemaic modern synthesis, then in terms of explanatory power alone, obvious areas to zero in on would be any evolutionary equivalents to retrograde motion.

Evolutionary atavisms are among such suitable candidates and have been brought to the fore (for a day or two at least!) by John F. Fallon's kind response to a request for a copy of The Development of Archosaurian First-Generation Teeth in a Chicken Mutant.

In the near future I hope to post a brief explanation of how the proposed mechanism could account for the phenomena reported in the above paper. It won't be definitive but it should make 'operation' of the mechanism a little clearer.

Finally, the 'old' chinese proverb "A picture is worth a thousand words" (apparantly coined as "A Picture's Meaning Can Express Ten Thousand Words" as part of an ad campaign in 1927!) is clearly shown by the two animated gifs on the Lasalle webpage demonstrating the difference between the Ptolemaic and Copernican explanations of retrograde motion.

John Latter

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Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Re: Common objections to 'Internal Evolutionary Mechanisms' (1)

The above link will take you to today's Main Blog post. It begins:

Brief notes on four common objections to current or historical proposals of internal evolutionary mechanisms (if you can think of any more then please leave a comment or email me):

1) Internal Evolutionary Mechanisms are 'Mystical'

2) Internal Evolutionary Mechanisms are 'Lamarckian'

3) "Populations Evolve, Individuals Do Not"

4) Weismann's experiment with Rodents

Naturally enough, as soon as I clicked on 'publish post' I immediately thought of another! But it can wait for another day - I'm still spending quite a lot of time on various blog-related problems and learning how to add additional features.

nb I've used An Error In Associating Lamarck With 'Adaptive Mutations'?
as a 'response' to #2 - the principle of "Words frozen in time should be differentiated from those carved in stone" being applicable to just about anything one might care to think of.

John Latter

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Monday, February 27, 2006


In the News: Reverse/Backward Human Evolution

General Evolution News contains a follow up news article (Claim of reversed human evolution provokes skepticism, interest) to last week's 'Backward evolution' spawns ape-like people

I came across this paper today and thought I'ld post it in case anyone would like more info:

Human hand-walkers : five siblings who never stood up


Human beings begin life as quadrupeds, crawling on all fours, but none has ever been known to retain this gait and develop it into a proficient replacement for adult bipedality. We report the case of a family in which five siblings, who suffer from a rare form of cerebellar ataxia, are still quadrupeds as adults - walking and running on their feet and wrists. We describe the remarkable features of this gait, discuss how it has developed in the members of this family, and consider whether a similar gait may have been used by human ancestors.
John Latter

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Sunday, February 26, 2006


Why research an 'Internal Evolutionary Mechanism'? (1)

1) Background and Perspective: 'Life isn't a rehearsal'

My primary interest is in a specific form of psychological trauma: its characteristics, potential for reversibility, and the insights into the nature of life that effective 'methods of resolution' must necessarily reflect.

For all practical purposes this type of trauma can be considered to originate within the limbic system, a term coined by Paul MacLean in 1952 (see The Triune Brain) and also referred to as the "Old Mammalian Brain" - an indication of the point in evolutionary history when such wounds first became possible.

Indeed, characteristic 'psychological signatures' found in a number of today's cultural institutions can have their historical roots traced although it is worth remembering that such patterns exist solely because of the prevalence of trauma at the individual level (for a topical reference see Evolution: The Horse Whisperer, Richard Dawkins, and Danish Cartoons).

In the mid-1990's a series of meetings took place between myself and a representative of a London-based institue of psychotherapy in which certain 'anomalies', found below the level at which trauma occurs, were discussed. The point of origin of the anomalies, as much as their nature, clearly indicated they pre-dated the evolutionary appearance of trauma. Consequently, the anomalies have no direct relevance to the current 'discipline' of psychology.

The outcome of the discussions was a decision on my part to investigate, when time permitted and more or less as a 'hobby', the current perception of how evolutionary changes occur with an initial emphasis on two particular areas:

1) Previous proposals of internal evolutionary mechanisms and their associated 'methods of testing'.

2) Evolutionary phenomena exhibiting a homeostatic signature consistent with that indicated by the anomalies.

The Model of an Internal Evolutionary Mechanism webpage represents a first attempt to translate the anomalies into terms of conventional evolutionary theory: 'adaptive mutations' anchor the proposed homeostatic mechanism at one end of the evolutionary spectrum and the 'baldwin effect' at the other.

The website was begun in 1998, but owing to other commitments, it has received little attention in the intervening years. The current content leaves much to be desired although the very small trickle of people who continue to join the mailing list may indicate the core concept is understandable despite the inadequacies of the current presentation.

If the proposal of an internal evolutionary mechanism were merely an intellectual idea whose merits were to be discussed in opposition to existing explanations, or reflected an acquired belief (religious or otherwise), then I feel sure more fulfilling ways of experiencing life would spring to mind. After all, life is not a rehearsal and time is the most precious thing that any individual has to spend.

Finally, Marcel Proust said "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes": I feel sufficient evidence exists to give serious consideration to the possibility of an internal evolutionary mechanism, it just needs putting together in a comprehensible way.

John Latter

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