Intelligent evolution?

If I understand him correctly, he’s claiming that natural selection is not a purely stochastic process, but can be viewed as an information system capable of learning. I’m unsure just how plausible this is.

Well, it is just an opinion piece. Needs research to see if there is something to that opinion.

There is some evidence that evolution proceeds at different paces under different kinds of environmental pressure. This isn’t quite what Gould and Eldridge had in mind with “punctuated equilibrium,” but it fits that description.

There was an NPR radio essay about endangered birds in the Galapagos Islands, and how they are adapting more swiftly to environmental challenges than was thought possible. Apparently, reproductive distress, and being close to extinction, can shove evolution into “high gear” and cause it to try things that wouldn’t be tried in ordinary circumstances.

This is all early stuff at this point, but it’s wonderfully suggestive.

I don’t know if Gould really thought evolution was stochastic, but surely Darwin didn’t? Of course evolution responds to situations, and what works is reinforced.

Evolution by natural selection is not a stochastic process since its very nature involves a feedback mechanism.

Interesting. Well it does certainly fill a bit of a gap in a lot of evolutionary trees. There are plenty of inexplicable results from the fossil record to currently living creatures (including humans) that don’t have a purely stochastic natural selection explanation. Not saying I’m buying it, but I suppose it is possible.

It could be that DNA itself acts like a clunky computer…spitting out a lot of random stuff, but also having the capability to learn from past mistakes and self-correcting based on them along the way. Cells do have the capability to repair errors after all, but also exhibit a very limited capacity to do so.

If you consider that a lot of living organisms display such learning behavior, I suppose it stands to reason that the smallest form of life, a single cell based on DNA, might have that very capability inherent in it, albeit at a small and limited level.

So, at best, I would say evolution is driven by a mix of both…a bit of an intelligent correction mechanism but mostly random. I guess I can’t let go of the random part because there is far more evidence for it.

Oh, and to say that evolution by random natural selection isn’t a stochastic process because of feedback…well OK. Sure. The results aren’t stochastic and are based on feedback (whether an organism lives, whether it can procreate), but the process itself is random. What the article is suggesting is that during the initial phase…when a mutation occurs…may have an intelligent component to it, not the end result. As in, when a mutation occurs within a cell, the cell machinery says it is an error and corrects it, not allowing it to pass on.

Feedback only occurs when an error isn’t detected and the change is passed on, then a new organism with the change is under the pressure of natural selection to first survive, then to procreate. The feedback doesn’t come in until well after any “intelligence” has been applied in the originating organism.

That’s my take on it, unless I am totally missing something. I mean, if someone is suggesting that the mutations themselves are driven by design…that I cannot accept. It makes no sense. They are demonstrably random.

Sounds vaguely woo-ish. Where is the learning system? Or is it being figurative?

The closest concepts I know about are the evolution of evolvability, evolutionary capacitance, and maybe exaptations. None of them involve intelligent planning, though.

As a crude example, an animal might have ancestral genes for living in a desert that aren’t expressed anymore. If the forest turns into a desert again then the animal will have a leg up on other animals that don’t share a similar evolutionary history.

That is only true in the sense that fossils are extremely rare. No scientist expects a complete fossil record of evolution ever to be found, but frankly what HAS been found is astonishing. I’m always wary of talk of “gaps” in the fossil record as that the language of Creationists, not scientists.

As for the article, it is spectacularly lacking in details. I wonder if they are talking about the workings of the epigenome, which is a fairly recent discovery and the focus of a lot of cutting edge research.

If there’s anything to it, it might explain why it took billions of years to go from bacteria to multicellular organisms, and then rapid innovation in the last ~600 million years.

If there’s anything to it, things probably wouldn’t have played out that way. Multi-cellular organism would have arise much earlier.

I don’t get what he’s getting at. What is this “evolution” entity he claims is “leaning?” Where is this “knowledge” stored? What are these “amazing, apparently intelligent designs that evolution produces?” Evolution/natural selection famously produces inelegant, “good enough” solutions by repurposing existing parts.

I’d chalk it up to bad science reporting. Unfortunately, we have an overabundance of that in the world.

They did. There is some indication that atmospheric oxygen levels enable multicellular development.

I’ll bump this thread to recommend a book which touches somewhat on the thread topic:
Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology, by Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden

The book, which reflects very recent science, focuses on chemcial reactions which involve quantum tunneling. For example, the way excitons make their way “magically” to the magnesium ion in chlorophyll uses the same multi-path mechanism sought in quantum computing. But the book might be of interest even without quantum discussion: it goes into rich detail about biological processes at the molecular level.

Some of the ways quantum effects have been demonstrated experimentally or explained:
[ul][li] Substituting deuterium for hydrogen. The two have almost identical chemical properties, but the deuteron is twice as massive as a proton so tunnels with much greater difficulty, so this provides a way for laboratories to infer proton tunneling.[/li][li] Some enzyme processes continue even at very low temperatures. Classical reactions require thermal energy.[/li][li] Many processes, including photosynthesis and DNA transcription, proceed with far greater speed and accuracy than would be possible using classical thermal catalysis. (The error rate in DNA transcription is a Goldilocks rate: much more and reproduction and synthesis would be too haphazard; much less and there wouldn’t be the mutations needed for evolution.[/li][li] Chlorophyll molecules occur in pairs, giving an efficiency related to two-slit diffractions.[/li][/ul]
Especially interesting is explanation for the magnetoreception present in many birds (and butterflies, cockroaches and even some microbes). Until recent work this was very mysterious, because the Earth’s magnetic field seems far too weak to provoke sensation.

Read it!

(GD is the wrong forum for book reviews, but it seemed better to tag along in this related thread than to start a new one.)

Intelligence incorporated in inanimate matter? I’ve heard of it before but it sounds like an insidious form of intelligent design to me. Some sort of New Age animism mixed with Anaxagoras’ ultimate principle of the universe, Nous.

This would probably be a more productive discussion if there were some examples in the OP’s link.

Professor Farnsworth makes the point better than I could:

Sure, but the underlying genetic variations are stochastic. It’s the effect of natural selection that gives the long-term evolutionary process the appearance of ordered direction.

The only way I can see that happening is if genetic variations (mutations) somehow become purposefully directed in each generation, instead of being weeded out by survivability over a long period of time, as in natural selection. And that sounds like woo to me. What would be doing the directing? If it suddenly gets colder, what would cause the next generations of whatever animal to suddenly bear more fur?

Not “bear more fur” – which would be intelligently directed – but “vary more widely” – not at all intelligent, but still wise, in time of crisis. It increases the chance that one of your offspring does produce more fur, and thus the species continues.

The key is that no one predicted this: it’s being observed. No one thought that evolution-modifying code could exist within DNA…but now that we’re observing it (or something like it) no one can really come forth and say it can’t happen.