problem solving in evolutionary algorithmic processes

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problem solving in evolutionary algorithmic processes

I've been thinking a lot about evolution recently. I just finished reading a book on evolution (Darwin's Dangerous Idea) and I've got a few particular questions. I've only formulated one so far, the rest are just intuitions at this point.

The one question I'm having trouble with is: how do evolutionary processes identify problem solving situations?

Essentially, how do the algorithmic processes of evolution recognize when they're in a "problem solving situation"?

Some things that I've come upon in trying to answer my question is that perhaps evolution is in a constant state of problem solving. It is not that the algorithmic processes ever stop working out "problems"; instead, they continually "work" within their evolutionary process.

However, the problem I have with my own attempt (probably poor) to answer my own question, is that I don't see how the evolutionary processes can ever "stop" at the good outcomes that eventually get produced. Is this where the idea of "fitness" comes in? Do the outside pressures of the environment "cause" the algorithmic process to stop churning out possible solutions to a problem that now has a solution? Or is it the case, that something else determines when the solved problem gets left alone and kept, as a trait to that species (for example)?

Ahh my brain hurts...been at school all day and thinking about evolution along with everything else!

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Hang on...didn't I already

Hang on...didn't I already answer this a while back?

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

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I asked in my other post

I asked in my other post about how an evolutionary algorithmic process could arise without a mind behind it.

I felt that this post was different because I am granting that the evolutionary algorithmic processes can occur without a mind, however, this follow up question was attempting to deal with the following:

Do the evolutionary algorithmic processes ever stop testing possible solutions to an evolutionary problem?

For example, if an organism evolves in a highly beneficial way, and the trait is kept and passed along, do the evolutionary processes stop trying to evolve that feature?

I know that my wording may sound unscientific or off, I apologize. However, I hope that my rationale behind asking such a question is clearer so that it may merit a response.  

If it is still unclear deluded (I appreciate your time to consider my posts) then let me know again, and I will try to either reformulate my question or pose it clearer.

Oh and if you feel that my question is helplessly the same as my first, if you would please just suggest where I may be in error, I would greatly appreciate it. If this scenario is the case, I will do more research (from what I just read) and attempt to find a more specific example of what I am questioning.  

The implication that we should put Darwinism on trial overlooks the fact that Darwinism has always been on trial within the scientific community. -- From Finding Darwin's God by Kenneth R. Miller

Chaos and chance don't mean the absence of law and order, but rather the presence of order so complex that it lies beyond our abilities to grasp and describe it. -- From From Certainty to Uncertainty by F. David Peat


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No, it never steps.  It's

No, it never steps.  It's not even neccessarily trying to solve a problem.  It's not a concious thing, it's just when something good does come along, it'll get passed down.  I am not the most well read on the subject but the vast majority of mutations are negative and don't survive.

The mutations just keep happening and the things that make the vehicle of the gene a more efficient vehicle tend to get passed on since that more efficient vehicle tends to survive longer and produce offspring that ar ealso more efficient suvival vehicles.

The evolutionairy process does not stop trying to evolve since it is not conciously aware of what it is doing, it just keeps producing different changes and the positive ones tend to get kept in the long-term.

I hope this helps. 


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Indeed. The conceptual

Indeed. The conceptual picture that you describe Tarpan is the one similar to what I encountered in my most recent reading on evolution.

It just sounded like Dennett was describing evolution as recognizing there was a problem, and it was working out the solution through evolutionary algorithmic processes. I am not trying to say that evolution has a conscious awareness of what its doing (although it may sound like I am suggesting that). What I am really having trouble with, is this:

If evolution is like a mindless, dumb, problem and solution mechanism that works out many (often failed) solutions to a problem, then can it not recognize when a solution is come upon? 

I think that part of my misunderstanding here has to do with where natural selection comes in, but I'm not sure. Would natural selection explain how things are kept?

And I get that often "benefits" are not passed on not because they are benefits when they are first happened upon, but are usually passed on by blind accident. However, I am trying to figure out how once a benefit is utilized, albeit after a dumb and previously un-utilized combination, does evolution then still run its processes even though the problem side of the formula has been solved? 

Ah I really am trying guys...please be patient. I am getting frustrated with myself at this point. I feel like a fish out of water. I need more books!!!  

The implication that we should put Darwinism on trial overlooks the fact that Darwinism has always been on trial within the scientific community. -- From Finding Darwin's God by Kenneth R. Miller

Chaos and chance don't mean the absence of law and order, but rather the presence of order so complex that it lies beyond our abilities to grasp and describe it. -- From From Certainty to Uncertainty by F. David Peat


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Because there never is a

Because there never is a 'solution' per se.

Take for example the situation of a predator.  The predator and the prey will tend to both cotinually evolve and one will get better at finding the prey and killing the prey, while the prey will be constantly getting better at hiding and surviving. Better, though, is subjective.  Becoming one shade of colour may be advantageous for the prey, but as the hunter becomes better at recognizing that colour another colour may be more efficient.  Hypothetical, but I hope you get what I mean.

Better is not really a ladder so much as it is just simply change that happens to be advantageous for one reason or another. 

Evolution is not trying to solve a problem, it is just constantly changing to make vehicles that survive longer.  Take a look at the AIDS virus for example.  In it's base state it is fine, but then you toss drugs at it and it evolves into a new state.  You then change up hte drugs, and it evolves into a third state that is capable of working with the third drug.  Which state is better out of the first two?  Neither since both are now ineffective due to drug #2.  Now we remove the drugs.  The virus then evolves back into its original state.  In it's 1st state it is more deadly and faster, so it is actually better than it was in the 2nd state.  But the 2nd state was better after drug #1 because the 1st state was totally ineffective.  The 2nd state, however, is actually slower than the 1st state when there are no drugs so the 1st state is, in this case, better.

I rambled a bit there, I hope that made sense.

Natural Selection is what we're talking about.  The mechanism for evolution.  Talking about the good mutations being passed on is what Natural Selection is, not Evolution.  Evolution is just that "it happened" but does not answer "how".  So what we're describing here is Evolution by Natural Selection.

 So it does explain how things are kept in that the vehicle of the gene is a more attractive product, lives longer, or is a bette provider.  But ultimately all that matters is that it is more capable at reproduction.  If it is more capable at reproduction it will produce more children over a couple generations and as long as it passes on it's good mutation i'ts offspring will be more successful at reproduction.

When we are talking about mutations and what is good and bad, we are not talking about things that make us smarter or stronger, we are just talking about what makes us more successful at reproducing.  Being stronger or smarter may be the advancement we get, but ultimately it's just about reproduction and survival of the genes.

Your questions are great and are honestly looking for information.  You won't get attacked for that here.

You have to remember that evolution is not intelligent enough to know that a problem is solved or that it is even solving a problem.  It just happens that the genes that solve problems survive.


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    Indeed. I will have

    Indeed. I will have to consider some things more. Your explanations helped a lot to reinforce some of what I either didn't want to realize or forgot while reading through the book. I know that reading through a book once these days, since I've been drawn to difficult books recently, never feels like enough.

The next book on my palate is another book on evolution and cosmology Vital Dust by Christian de Duve. Then after that, I will probably re-read Darwin's Dangerous Idea..

Don't worry though, I anticipate having more questions in the near future. I just hope they can have some more meat to them, a little more genuine difficulty instead of misunderstandings (on my behalf).  

The implication that we should put Darwinism on trial overlooks the fact that Darwinism has always been on trial within the scientific community. -- From Finding Darwin's God by Kenneth R. Miller

Chaos and chance don't mean the absence of law and order, but rather the presence of order so complex that it lies beyond our abilities to grasp and describe it. -- From From Certainty to Uncertainty by F. David Peat


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I wish you all the best. 

I wish you all the best.  I personally haven't read that book.  I have read a couple of Dawkins books and a lot of online reading as far as evolution goes.  I like Dawkins because he tells a lot of stories to get his points accross.  Keeps it simple, which really is what Natural Selection is all about, simple solution to a immensly complex problem. 


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jread wrote:If evolution

jread wrote:

If evolution is like a mindless, dumb, problem and solution mechanism that works out many (often failed) solutions to a problem, then can it not recognize when a solution is come upon? 

Sure, in so far as we recognize the solution as being reproductive success, and that's it.

It is hard not to anthropomorphize the problem, but all we're really talking about in the end is adaptations that get genes passed on.

Quote:
I think that part of my misunderstanding here has to do with where natural selection comes in, but I'm not sure. Would natural selection explain how things are kept?

Yes, if what is kept helps you get laid more, lets you copulate more, lets you reproduce more and lets your offspring do the same.

Quote:
And I get that often "benefits" are not passed on not because they are benefits when they are first happened upon, but are usually passed on by blind accident. However, I am trying to figure out how once a benefit is utilized, albeit after a dumb and previously un-utilized combination, does evolution then still run its processes even though the problem side of the formula has been solved? 

You really are overthinking the "problem".

Quote:
Ah I really am trying guys...please be patient. I am getting frustrated with myself at this point. I feel like a fish out of water. I need more books!!!  

And thank you for trying, good for you.

I would suggest Dawkin's "The Selfish Gene" as a addition to your reading list.

Selection is certainly more nuanced than mere reproduction, of course, but in reality 95% of it does come down to exactly that.

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    Thanks for your

    Thanks for your comments Yellow. I've begun reading my next book, Vital Dust and I'm really looking forward to what it has in store. It's a combo cosmology/abiogenesis and evolution book on the origins of life on earth. It's very neat so far. Have you heard of it?

The implication that we should put Darwinism on trial overlooks the fact that Darwinism has always been on trial within the scientific community. -- From Finding Darwin's God by Kenneth R. Miller

Chaos and chance don't mean the absence of law and order, but rather the presence of order so complex that it lies beyond our abilities to grasp and describe it. -- From From Certainty to Uncertainty by F. David Peat


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Have not read that one.

Have not read that one. Please share the gist of it with us when you are done devouring it.

 


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jread wrote:I've been

jread wrote:

I've been thinking a lot about evolution recently. I just finished reading a book on evolution (Darwin's Dangerous Idea) and I've got a few particular questions. I've only formulated one so far, the rest are just intuitions at this point.

The one question I'm having trouble with is: how do evolutionary processes identify problem solving situations?

Essentially, how do the algorithmic processes of evolution recognize when they're in a "problem solving situation"?

Some things that I've come upon in trying to answer my question is that perhaps evolution is in a constant state of problem solving. It is not that the algorithmic processes ever stop working out "problems"; instead, they continually "work" within their evolutionary process.

However, the problem I have with my own attempt (probably poor) to answer my own question, is that I don't see how the evolutionary processes can ever "stop" at the good outcomes that eventually get produced. Is this where the idea of "fitness" comes in? Do the outside pressures of the environment "cause" the algorithmic process to stop churning out possible solutions to a problem that now has a solution? Or is it the case, that something else determines when the solved problem gets left alone and kept, as a trait to that species (for example)?

Ahh my brain hurts...been at school all day and thinking about evolution along with everything else!

This is an interesting question. I'm not sure what you mean by problem solving. Genes are basically dumb. There are ontological "problem solving" processes, like when the immune system produces antibodies, but that's not the same thing. I think you might have carried a misconception about evolution here. It's not a goal-directed process with a final concept in mind.

You other question: there are about 30,000 genes in the human genome. Of those, 24,000 have not evolved since our lineage split from that which led to the rodents. These 24,000 genes are responsible for vital traits which are effected by multiple genes, and if a mutation happens, are almost always fatal. Most don't make it past the zygote stage, and of those that do, many of them turn out to be miscarriages. I would hazard an educated guess that a greater proportion of, say, a shark's genome is under a similar condition. Let's assume for the sake of argument that there are 15,000 genes in the shark genome (I'm just making this statement up), maybe 14,500 of them have been under stabilizing selection (where selection produces little or no change) and the other 500 effect relatively minor traits.

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In other words the algorithm

In other words the algorithm solves problems automatically, in that sense, it might work to say that it's always going on (the problem solving). Even if a problem has been solved for the most part (say the majority of the genes in a shark's genome) the same processes that originally lead to the evolution of sharks are now keeping sharks the way they are.

“It is true that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. It is equally true that in the land of the blind, the two-eyed man is an enemy of the state, the people, and domestic tranquility… and necessarily so. Someone has to rearrange the furniture.”


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I don't think what is going

I don't think what is going on is best described as 'problem solving'. Mutations, copying errors, accidental duplication of individual genes, genes being occasionally copied to new locations, not copied at all, etc, just happen from time to time. These changes to the gene pattern happen at a low enough rate that most offspring are not affected, at least not enough to seriously threaten reproduction.

Occasionally these essentially random changes will result in offspring that are a bit better able to produce more offspring, so those will tend to spread thru the population, resulting in a general but usually small nett change in the characteristics of the organism. If the organism is already very well adapted to its environment, little nett change other than small random variation will occur, leading to little or no noticeable 'evolution' occurring.

When a species spreads to occupy a range of locations which are partially isolated from each other, such as number of  adjacent valleys or islands, which restrict the possibility of mating between individuals in different regions, then they will to tend dgenetically rift in slightly different directions, due partly to randomness, but also due to any differences in climate, size of region, differences in the mix of existing plants and animals already there. Eventually the different isolated populations may have gone in different directions long enough that they will be recognised as separate sub-species. If the changes result in them no longer being able to successfully breed with each other, they will have effectively become separate species.

Another mechanism that can lead to new species occurs when a random variation happens to allow the organism to make better use of a particular food source, such as a bird having a slightly stronger, sharper beak which allowed it to more easily feed on some tough but nutritious seeds. Its ancestors would continue to feed on the other seeds, and so still continue as they were, but the new group, once having crossed the threshold of a small but viable change would continue by smaller changes to adapt to better exploit the alternative seeds until they had reached the optimum. Once there is little possibility of further improvement, the shape of the beak works pretty well, then the continuing mutations will not offer any advantages or actually reduce viability, so there will be no further nett change. So now we have two species, with slightly different feeding patterns, where there previously was one.

It was observation of finches in the Galapagos Islands which were obviously fairly closely related but with these sorts of differences in the different species that helped Charles Darwin come up with idea of evolution by natural selection. Once he saw the pattern as I have described and realised how these simple natural mechanisms could lead to new species on this simple level, he realised how it could apply on a bigger scale over longer reaches of time.

Since there is no inherent limit to genetic variation, it is just a continuing process of random changes, where every aspect of the genetic 'code', the number of genes, the particular sequence, their position on the DNA strand, etc is not 'locked down', then given enough time, and the availability of currently a under-exploited food source or local habitat (maybe open savannah grazing, or tree-dwelling, or more dramatic stuff like  the ability to fly opening up a whole new range of options) and a possible intermediate pathway thru viable intermediate forms, then there is nothing to stop evolution leading to life forms arising to exploit those options.

There isn't anything deciding to change and 'evolve' in a particular direction to give rise to a new life-form to fit a new way of living, it is more like water sloshing around in an irregularly-shaped hollow and filling the available space, maybe occasionally slopping over a low barrier into a previously dry hollow.

From time to time, major events like shifts in climate render a whole range of living things no longer optimally adapted to their environment, so the continuing background random variation now has a nett selective pressure on favourable changes, leading to a dramatic increase in rate of evolutionary change. Because of the random element to the changes, and usual reality that there are typically many possible body forms which will be viable under any given conditions, every time such spurts of evolution occur they may well lead to new forms unlike what may have evolved earlier in similar conditions.

All this hopefully gives you an idea how random occasional changes will lead to the wonderful variety of life forms we see today.

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BobSpence1 wrote:I don't

BobSpence1 wrote:

I don't think what is going on is best described as 'problem solving'.

 

That's I think what got me into this type of questioning in the first place. I read and understood Dennett's book, and he's the one who kept referring to this idea of problem solving evolutionary algorithmic processes. I get that evolution is a mindless process, dumb even, but the nagging question lurked behind this idea of Dennett's terminology. I read your entire post Bob and it helped reiterate parts of what I've already read before, and that put my mind more at ease.

 

Also, I tried to make sure that I was not accusing evolution of anything dastardly because I entirely realize that I've only read two books on evolution. 

 

Your response helped me put it even more into perspective Bob.

 

Thanks.

The implication that we should put Darwinism on trial overlooks the fact that Darwinism has always been on trial within the scientific community. -- From Finding Darwin's God by Kenneth R. Miller

Chaos and chance don't mean the absence of law and order, but rather the presence of order so complex that it lies beyond our abilities to grasp and describe it. -- From From Certainty to Uncertainty by F. David Peat


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FulltimeDefendent wrote:In

FulltimeDefendent wrote:

In other words the algorithm solves problems automatically, in that sense, it might work to say that it's always going on (the problem solving). Even if a problem has been solved for the most part (say the majority of the genes in a shark's genome) the same processes that originally lead to the evolution of sharks are now keeping sharks the way they are.

 

Indeed Fulltime. This was what I suspected was going on after getting some help understanding where my question was mistaken. I get that evolution is a dumb process, I was not intentionally leaving that aspect of evolutionary theory to cater to my skeptical questioning. I merely had a problem with this idea of evolutionary problem solving algorithmic processes because Dennett constantly referred to this idea in his book. I realize now that Dennett's use of this term prompted the uneasiness on my part. Thankfully, people here have helped me understand what it was that I was worried about. Evolution can be a dumb process and still incredibly awesome without cheating. Hurray.

The implication that we should put Darwinism on trial overlooks the fact that Darwinism has always been on trial within the scientific community. -- From Finding Darwin's God by Kenneth R. Miller

Chaos and chance don't mean the absence of law and order, but rather the presence of order so complex that it lies beyond our abilities to grasp and describe it. -- From From Certainty to Uncertainty by F. David Peat


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jread

jread wrote:

FulltimeDefendent wrote:

In other words the algorithm solves problems automatically, in that sense, it might work to say that it's always going on (the problem solving). Even if a problem has been solved for the most part (say the majority of the genes in a shark's genome) the same processes that originally lead to the evolution of sharks are now keeping sharks the way they are.

 

Indeed Fulltime. This was what I suspected was going on after getting some help understanding where my question was mistaken. I get that evolution is a dumb process, I was not intentionally leaving that aspect of evolutionary theory to cater to my skeptical questioning. I merely had a problem with this idea of evolutionary problem solving algorithmic processes because Dennett constantly referred to this idea in his book. I realize now that Dennett's use of this term prompted the uneasiness on my part. Thankfully, people here have helped me understand what it was that I was worried about. Evolution can be a dumb process and still incredibly awesome without cheating. Hurray.

Yeah, sometimes a metaphor or an analogy sounds a lot better than it actually is. "Problem solving" is a problematic description, no pun intended. It doesn't necessarily describe the behavior of replicators.

“It is true that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. It is equally true that in the land of the blind, the two-eyed man is an enemy of the state, the people, and domestic tranquility… and necessarily so. Someone has to rearrange the furniture.”


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jread, here's a book for you

jread, here's a book for you that addresses (I think) your question really well...

 Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature  

The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley (Paperback - April 29, 2003)

(Remember, if you order it from Amazon, click the Amazon link on our site, and we'll get a small commission!)

Compared to Dawkins or Dennett, Ridley's style is very easy to read, and he spends most of the first half of the book explaining how natural selection changes organisms in response to peers, predators, and parasites, and how the whole thing creates an odd equilibrium, much like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, who runs as fast as she can, but the landscape is moving just as fast, so she never actually gets anywhere.

Anyway, here's another angle for you to think about.  Evolution only works in reverse.  In other words, a species cannot select for what will happen in the future.  It can only select for what has happened in the past.  In other words, if it appears that humans evolved so that we could form culture and art and literature and music, that's not the case.  We formed culture and art and literature and music because of how we evolved.  They are, if you like, interesting side effects of the adaptations which kept us alive while we were still roaming about hunting and gathering on the savannah.

This 'selection' sounds like an active choice, but it isn't.  If a fish has a thousand babies, and the environment suddenly changes, a few of those fish, through chance, essentially, will have a slight advantage over their peers, and will survive.  A million years later, those few babies will have been the fathers and mothers of a new, radically different species.  Consider, though, that the environment didn't have to change at that time, nor did it have to change the way it did.  Suppose that the environment didn't change.  Those babies with the slight mutation could have been less likely to survive, and could have all died out.  A million years later, there would be an entirely different fish than the one that resulted from a sudden change.  If, in each of these two hypothetical time lines, the fish developed for another billion years,  and in the process, walked out onto land, and eventually developed a brain capable of asking the question of how they got there, each one could make the mistake of thinking that their species was an end goal, when in actuality, it was just a step in a long process that is still at work.

 

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