Nathan Lents: Why Human Have Such a Needy Diet

I thought we were talking about functional information as in complex phenotypes.

Change is a commonplace. It does not require explanation. Things are changing all the time.

The concern of @colewd seems to be with long sequences of changes. And that’s where pragmatism comes in.

Actually, I don’t identify pragmatism with natural selection. Yes, natural selection provides a bias toward pragmatism. But this only works if natural selection is some kind of driving force, rather than a mere statistical effect.

Biological system have a built-in drive to survive. And that’s what I see as the main source of pragmatism.

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That cannot be right. Natural selection is a phenomenon about populations, not about cell nuclei.

Biological systems are built, at least in part, out of homeostatic processes. And that homeostasis, that effort to maintain stability, is what drives the organism’s behavior. That’s where I look for the source of pragmatism.

I am not sure I need to think about this. Transcription factors in eukaryotic cells contain many proteins and it is a coordinated process meaning all the proteins for transcription must be available.

If you change the DNA binding protein then you need all the other proteins to be available that bind to it. I think you need a knock out experiment here to prove the concept but I would be surprised if it worked on any regular basis.

The change happens to organisms not to populations. In the cell nucleus change is often catastrophic.

The changes themselves are not a description. A description of the changes would be a description.

Changes occur all the time. Yesterday it was raining, today it is sunny. Changes are always there. Pragmatism is, at least in part, the ability to make the best of changes. So I should do my gardening on the sunny day, and the indoors work on the rainy day.

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Thanks Neil. Once again I was stung by my own words. I was referring to the “description of the changes”… the fact that they were deleterious, neutral or beneficial. I don’t see why those details are so often included in the narrative, because the outcome seems to imply the description. Does that make sense?

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I should mention that I’m also an outsider. I’m a mathematician, not a biologist.

The problem with “neutral” and “beneficial”, is that what counts as beneficial depends on the organism and its niche. A particular mutation might appear to be detrimental. And, because of that, the organism might change its behavior and, in effect, move to a slightly different niche. And that overall change might be beneficial even though the mutation appeared detrimental in the original niche.

That is to say, it is complicated.

What is important, however, is for an organism to be able to make the most of whatever changes benefit it, and minimize what changes seem harmful. Natural selection, as a background statistical effect, cannot do that. The organism itself possibly can. And I see that as a kind of primitive intelligence in the organism. And that primitive intelligence is part of what drives evolution.


Those details are part of the traditional narrative of Darwinism. So biologists see it as important to mention them. I’m inclined to agree with you, that those details could be omitted. However, the primary readers of biological research papers are other biologists. And maybe those other biologists do want such details.


I just eat whatever comes along. Mammoth and cave bear do me fine, and I haven’t got rickets yet.


Aye. It’s the scurvy that will get ye!!


A post was merged into an existing topic: Nathan Lents: My Experience With Discovery

Ultimately evolution is all about change… you are claiming it is commonplace and does not require explanation?

I disagree with this.

That there is change does not require explanation. We do find it useful to try explaining particular kinds of change. Evolution is not just change.

I don’t see why there is not need to explain why there is a particular kind of change.
Change without direction might not need an explanation.

I agree we should try to explain particular kinds of change when we can.


End of the day, the path from a single cell organism to the current diversity of life is series of “particular changes”… so if you don’t explain particular changes… you don’t explain anything.

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Interestingly that assumption only been the result of serious philosophical argument in the earlky centuries of such thought. Parmenides denied that change was possible, and Zeno’s paradox (which is still significant enough for Josh to have quoted it to me in the context of evolutionary gradualism) is all about that impossibility.

Change does actually raise problems, as this discussion shows.


But beer prevents scurvy, doesn’t it?

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Nay, beer is not effective against scurvy.

It’s not bad for treating tritium ingestion…