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Evolution program

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The Evolution program, Dawkins' BioMorph, or the Dawkins evolution program is a thought experiment and a variety of computer simulations illustrating it. According to Richard Dawkins, biological variations from one generation to the next result from genetic mutations; given enough time, these will give birth to the remarkable complexity of present-day biological life. Without the need of a God or any superior intelligence. To illustrate and demonstrate his point of view, he developed the program called by him Evolution. The program generates symmetrical figures from dots and lines. To human eyes, these figures looks like many objects from the real world like a bat, a spider, a fox and so on.[1]

Overview

Evolving Biomorph, implemented as described in Richard Dawkins (1986). The Blind Watchmaker. In the top bar are shown the nine genes of the experiment.

In chapter 3 of his book The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins presents a computer program labeled by him, EVOLUTION. [2] The program has two auxiliary procedures called DEVELOPMENT and REPRODUCTION.

Data structure

The program has nine "genes" (probably an integer array) numbered 1 through 9. Each of the genes controls one aspect of the biomorph.[note 1] They could take on the value of any integer from -9 to +9.[3] The value of a particular gene might be, for instance, 5, or -8.

Dawkins did not specified all the genes but has left some clues about some of the genes:

  • One gene might influence the angle of branching.
  • One might influence the length of some branch.
  • The gene 9 was specified: It influences the depth of recursion (the number of successive branchings).

Since there are 19 different possible values to each gene, there are 199 different possible biomorphs possible, about 300 billion.[3]

Although Dawkins has not specified the genes of their experiment, in Appendix I of his book he presents an expansion of his algorithm with 16 genes instead of 9. These 16 genes are described as follows[4]:

Gene Description Remark
1 Horizontal extent Affects the horizontal extent of lines drawn in the biomorph
2 Horizontal extent Affects the horizontal extent of lines drawn in the biomorph
3 Horizontal extent Affects the horizontal extent of lines drawn in the biomorph
4 Vertical extent Affects the vertical extent of lines drawn in the biomorph in various ways
5 Vertical extent Affects the vertical extent of lines drawn in the biomorph in various ways
6 Vertical extent Affects the vertical extent of lines drawn in the biomorph in various ways
7 Vertical extent Affects the vertical extent of lines drawn in the biomorph in various ways
8 Vertical extent Affects the vertical extent of lines drawn in the biomorph in various ways
9 Number of branches Maximum number of recursive calls
10 Number of segments
11 Distance between segments
12 2 or 1-sided
13 Up-Down and radial symmetry
14 Scaling factor The larger the value the smaller the biomorph.
15 Mutation size Controls the magnitude of each mutational step.
16 Mutation rate Controls the probability of mutating.


According to Ellen Thro the 9 genes of the Dawkins program are described as follows[5]:

Gene Description Remark
1 Horizontal extent Affects the horizontal extent of lines drawn in the biomorph
2 Horizontal extent Affects the horizontal extent of lines drawn in the biomorph
3 Horizontal extent Affects the horizontal extent of lines drawn in the biomorph
4 Vertical extent Affects the vertical extent of lines drawn in the biomorph in various ways
5 Vertical extent Affects the vertical extent of lines drawn in the biomorph in various ways
6 Vertical extent Affects the vertical extent of lines drawn in the biomorph in various ways
7 Vertical extent Affects the vertical extent of lines drawn in the biomorph in various ways
8 Vertical extent Affects the vertical extent of lines drawn in the biomorph in various ways
9 Number of branches Maximum number of recursive calls

Development procedure

The Development procedure is responsible for designing the biomorph. By following the parameters contained in the genes the routine expands the recursion and forms the figure in question.

One constraint imposed to the routine is that all shapes are symmetrical about a left/right axis. According to Dawkins, he did this partly for aesthetic reasons and partly to economize the number of genes necessary.

Reproduction procedure

The Reproduction procedure forms the children generating mutations. The reproduction is asexual and occurs one at a time. All mutations occur by increasing or decreasing a unit in a particular gene. Therefore, a son differs from its parent by only one unit in one of the nine genes.

Criticism

Dawkins's "evolution program" has been the subject of much debate. David Berlinski states that
A mechanism that requires a discerning human agent cannot be Darwinian[6]

Richard Milton indicates that the Dawkins's computer experiment is not a true representation of random mutation combined with natural selection and it, in fact, falsifies the most important central claim of mechanistic Darwinian thinking.[1] Milton states that:

Indeed, if he set out to create an experiment that simulates evolution, he has only succeeded in making one that simulates special creation, with himself in the omnipotent role.[1]

Intermediate forms

A flaw in the argument Dawkins uses in this algorithm is that, in the same way as the Weasel program, all intermediate forms of life are viable and reproduce as well as others. This is quite distant from what occurs in nature. The genes jump from one functional form, for instance +5, to another functional form, (+4 or +6).

Rorschach inkblots

Richard Dawkins describes his computer program, taking care to remark that it is not using natural selection but an artificial selection. Regardless, what he aims is to show that the complexity found in the natural world does not need an intelligent designer. Let's see how it handles the birth of a biomorph:

  1. Dawkins wants to show that the complexity found in nature has no designer. He firmly believes that natural selection acts as an intelligent designer itself.
  2. For this he uses a computational function that generates computational forms (with a limit of recursive iterations) based on nine parameters which he calls genes.
  3. He establishes a bilateral symmetry as a fixed condition (Hermann Rorschach used the same parameter to develop his ten inkblots)
  4. He chooses a designer as the selective force: an intelligent human being. At each iteration he decides what form will survive.
  5. He selects and defines when to stop and what the figure means.

Dawkins formed many figures, for instance, a swallowtail, a man in hat, a precision balance (seems more like a power transmission tower), a spitfire (why not a mustang P-51?), and many other figures. He chose the phenotypic effects and got a configuration of the genes related to that choice. But it was not natural selection that drove the process but himself. Although he called the process 'artificial selection', it would be fairer to call it human selection.

A reasonably intelligent human being responds to the Rorschach test by finding 2-3 answers for each of the blots. This relates to the capacity for abstraction of human beings. Therefore, the interpretation of the figures generated by Dawkins sounds familiar to the reader. Both can abstract the figures generated as an animal or a familiar object. For example, below are four inkspots from the Rorschach test. For each of them is shown the two or three most common interpretations found in the answers.

Of course it is possible to find even more possible interpretations for the inkspots above. For example, for the four spots above it is possible to see a face of a fox, a face of a boar, a stealth plane, and, with an effort of abstraction, even an 'f' mandolin or a cello! The form itself does not represent anything but the interpretation is given by the brain of the observer. This is the trick used by Dawkins to be convincing to the unwary

David Berlinski presents another example that illustrates very well the point. He describes an algorithm used to help victims to identify their attackers. The software presents many faces while the victim spots the resemblance of facial combinations, like long noses, short noses, blonde hair, black hair and so on. The program continues until the victim recognizes a face among them. It is the presence of the victim that pauses the process.[6]

Experiment

Some toothbrushes flying on blue sky

A simple experiment can be used to demonstrate that even the observation of a chaotic process such as the changing of the shapes of the clouds of heaven can yield the same result.

  1. On a clear day with some clouds in the sky you get to see four or five clouds.
  2. You can select and define when to stop and what the figure formed by the cloud means.
  3. When a form brings an abstraction to your mind take a picture of the cloud and make the interpretation.

Even with no genes, no computer program, you get pictures that make sense. The same will happen if you create random patches like Rorschach using a folded paper and a little paint. Again, the abstraction is in the mind of the observer.

Notes

  1. According to Dawkins, this name was coined by Desmond Morris for the vaguely animal-like shapes in his surrealist paintings (in Dawkins, Richard (1996). The Blind Watchmaker. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.. p. 55. ISBN 0-393-31570-3. )

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Milton, Richard (1992). Shattering the Myths of Darwinism. Rochester, Vermont: Park Street Press. p. 168-176. ISBN 0-89281-732-1. 
  2. Dawkins, Richard (1996). The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.. p. 50-74. ISBN 0-393-31570-3. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Spetner, Lee M (1997). Not by Chance!. Brooklin, New York: Judaica Press. p. 170-174. ISBN 978-1-88058224-4. 
  4. Dawkins, Richard (1996). "Appendix I:Blind Watchmaker - An Application for the Apple Macintosh Computer". The Blind Watchmaker:Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.. p. 335-349. ISBN 0-393-31570-3. 
  5. Thro, Ellen (1993). Artificial Life:Explorer´s kit. Carmel, IN: Sams Publishing. pp. 53. ISBN 0-672-30301-9. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Berlinski, David (2004). "Chapter 14: The Deniable Darwin". In Dembski, William A.. Uncommon Dissent:Intellectuals who find Darwinism Unconvincing. Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books. pp. 276-277. ISBN 1-932236-31-7. 

External links