On Wed, Feb 14, 2018 , Lawrence Crowell <goldenfieldquaterni...@gmail.com
> *> we like to make comparisons between biological and molecular biological
> systems with nanotechnology, but there are departures. *
Yes there certainly are departures between biology and engineering
because intelligent designs are, well, intelligent, but the stuff evolution
comes out with is idiotic. Mother Nature (Evolution) is a slow and stupid
tinkerer, it had over 3 billion years to work on the problem but it
couldn't even come up with a macroscopic part that could rotate in 360
degrees! Rational designers had little difficulty coming up with the wheel.
The only advantage Evolution had is that until it managed to invent brains
it was the only way complex objects could get built.
I can think of 5 reasons for nature’s very poor design skills, the last one
is the most important:
1) Time Lags: Evolution is so slow the animal is adapted to conditions that
may no longer exist, that's why moths have an instinct to fly into candle
flames. I have no doubt that if you just give them a million years or
so, evolution will give hedgehogs a better defense than rolling up into a
ball when confronted by the major predator they face today, the automobile.
The only problem is that by then there won't be any automobiles.
2) Historical Constraints: The eye of all vertebrate animals is backwards,
the connective tissue of the retina is on the wrong side so light must pass
through it before it hits the light sensitive cells, and the optic nerve
must pass through the retina creating a blind spot. There's no doubt this
degrades vision and we would be better off if the retina was reversed as it
is in squids whose eye evolved independently, however It's too
late for that to happen now because all the intermediate forms would not be
viable. Once a standard is set, with all its interlocking mechanisms, it's
very difficult to abandon it completely, even when much better methods are
found. That's why we still have inches and yards even though the metric
system is clearly superior. That's why we still have Microsoft Windows.
Nature is enormously conservative, it may add new things but it doesn't
abandon the old because the intermediate stages must also work. That's also
why humans have all the old brain structures that lizards have as well as
3) Lack of Genetic Variation: Mutations are random and you might not get
the mutation you need when you need it. Feathers work better forflight than
the skin flaps bats use, but bats never produced the right
mutations for feathers at the right time and skin flaps are good enough.
And an animal doesn’t need to be perfect or even close to it, all it needs
is to be a little better than the competition.
4) An Advantage on one Level is a Disadvantage on Another: One gene can
give you resistance to malaria, a second identical gene will give you
sickle cell anemia.
5) Evolution has no foresight: This is the most important reason of all. A
jet engine works better than a prop engine in an airplane. I give you a
prop engine and tell you to turn it into a jet, but you must do it while
the engine is running, you must do it in one million small steps, and you
must do it so every one of those small steps immediately improves the
operation of the engine. Eventually you would get an improved engine of
some sort, but it wouldn't look anything like a jet. If the tire on your
car is getting worn you can take it off and put a new one on,
but evolution could never do something like that because when you take the
old tire off you have temporarily made things worse, now you have no tire
at all. With evolution EVERY step (generation), no matter how many, MUST be
an immediate improvement over the previous one. it can't think more than
one step ahead, it doesn't understand one step backward two steps forward.
And that's why there are no 100 ton supersonic birds or nuclear powered
horses, and that’s why we can’t
move our head by 360 degrees.
*> If von Neumann probes do migrate into space and throughout a galaxy they
> probably do so in a pretty conservative fashion. In fact over time they
> would evolve instead of performing in a designed manner.*
A von Neumann probe wouldn’t evolve unless the probe makers designed them
to, and they’d be pretty stupid to do that. Evolution needs mutation,
errors that change the information in DNA when a copy of it is made. The
typical error rate for DNA reproduction is about one error per 100 million
Each nucleotides contains 2 bits of information so that’s one error per 50
One error in 50 million bits is bad, its lousy! Your computer wouldn’t work
it it had a error rate that huge, the internet would not work, our entire
information economy would collapse. But it hasn’t collapsed because Claude
Shannon showed us 70 years ago how to encode information so it can be
transferred and duplicated with arbitrary low error rates, vastly lower
than anything biology managed to come up with. And modern computer
engineers have embraced Shannon’s work with gusto and so would the
designers of von Neumann probes.
John K Clark
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