Arbtirary thoughts on nearly everything from a modernist poet, structural mathematician and functional programmer.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

On evolutionary models...

I was thinking about evolution on the way home this morning. It bugs me, because Darwin really didn't say anything at all. There's nothing profound, nothing insightful about it. It is a general model for change. "The object most suitable to it's current environment will be the one that survives best, and small changes accumulate (somehow), such that new objects will have traits which suit the new environment better, thus prospering." The object can be an animal, a theory, or anything else; the environment can be any type of environment; the changes can form and be accumulated based on any set of rules.
In essence, it says things change, and certain things change "better" than others.

This is why there is social darwinism, memetics, Popper's Knowledge evolution, etc. I realize that rather than falsifying evolution it provides some circumstantial evidence, but that's not the point. The point is: it doesn't say anything. What we now call social darwinism actually predates the theory of evolution-- in fact, Darwin made an argument that can roughly be summarized as "We all know this sort of change happens in the economic realm, why not here? It's really the same sort of evolution."

You can apply the idea to literally anything that changes. Philosophy, science, marketing, pop culture, art, etc, etc-- Figure out the (intellectual/cultural/economic/political) environment, and you can see why the "victors" are the things that grew.

Is it easier to believe that the universe precisely follows simple, elegant and human discoverable laws, or that we impose simple and elegant structures on an unstructured (or weakly structured... or, dare I say, inelegantly structured) universe? What happens if the universe is simply, but inelegantly structured? If the different pieces sort of "klunk" together, rather than flowing smoothly? Can we really, actually, imagine our universe working that way? Or working according to rules that humans can't discover?

We do it because we need to impose structure on our universe in order to understand it. We cannot cope with-- cannot advance in-- a world without order. So we impose structures on our universe. Obviously, the elegant ones are the easiest to deal with. And this is where memetics/knowledge evolution come from: we learn to use more advanced structures to model the phenomena we are seeing, thus allowing us to account for more of the intricacies.

It's the smart ones who can impose structures on anything that go crazy and search for codes in the newspaper. The idea that there are a few simple laws in the background of all of the workings of the universe isn't that different from the idea that there are a few people in the background of all the workings of man, is it? What's the difference between Templar conspiracies and the search for the TOE? Humans are fickle, while universal laws can't decide-- they can only act?

On another note, I'm finally creating a "science" tag. I'll retroactively place posts in it at some point.

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