Posts Tagged ‘Scientia Salon’

Anatomy of Discovery

April 9, 2015

Discovery Is Generally Part Of A Logic. Therein A Tale.

Abstract: How does discovery works? It depends if it is about discovering where you put your keys, or if it is about discovering new scientific laws. Differently from the former, the latter always require philosophical jumps. Be it only to discard vast amounts of obsolete neurology. However most of “scientific discovery” is safe, being mostly about filling up the details of huge theories. Most of science cannot be anything else than about small stuff.

***

This is a tale of two scientific practices, at the extremities of the same spectrum. Surprisingly, they are antagonistic: the practice of small science is all too often the enemy of big science (it occupies minds, and leaves no space for the big interrogations). The theory of Ptolemy required at least three “epicycles” within “epicycles” to handle Mars alone. Even then that was not enough and Ptolemy cheated. This complicated logic was small science because the philosophy it used as context was small.

Basic Sketch In Plato Elaborated Further By Ptolemy, 6 Centuries Later

Basic Sketch In Plato Elaborated Further By Ptolemy, 6 Centuries Later

The Ptolemaic system had to introduce weird notions such as the “equant” around which the main orbit would happen at a constant angular motion, and so. This built-up of “necessary” complexities to make work previous “necessities” is not without reminding us of Quantum Field Theory’s weirder and weirder “explanations”, piled up high on top of each other.

An article in Scientia Salon on “the anatomy of scientific discovery: a case study” is ambitious, starting with its title. [Remarks below were not published by a third party as “too advanced for a general audience”. I apparently hold the readers of this site in high esteem!]

The SS article narrates the discovery of “Spontaneous Electric Fields” (abbreviated to “Spontelectrics”). However, while charming and instructive, in a smallish way, it is highly misleading, considering its all-encompassing title.

The article initially makes grand claims about what its purpose is:

“How do scientists discover new phenomena, and, just as important, how do they persuade other scientists… During its course, they do their very best to prove that their discovery is wrong, perhaps because it contradicts some well-established law. They set out to show that their new phenomenon may, in the polite phraseology of science, be an artifact…”

The first mistake here is implicit. The author reduces implicitly science to phenomenology (to “discover new phenomena”).

This is a mistake, it is too reductive. Really Big Science, as found in mathematics and physics, is about enormously complex theories, built upon a few facts. Big science is all about interpreting some facts, and organize that in a theory. A theory and its “laws” can be so strong that they prevent to discover, accidentally or not, anything outside of what it considers “relevant”.

Big scientific theories frame the discourse and reduce the facts that can be “observed”… Or the facts that will try (very hard) to observe. So Big Scientific theories tend to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To an extent that is surprising, theory controls phenomenology. We observe what theory tells us too observe. And how.

For example Aristotle claim that the heavenly bodies were part of an “ether” (not a material body). It was just a step from there to claim the Moon was a signal from god. Islam made it. Thus Muslim specialists spy on the Moon to know when god tells us when Ramadan starts. They observe, but they observe according to a theory.

This is why small science is easy, and big science is hard. Small science, by definition, works within a theoretical model it takes for granted. Whereas big scientific discoveries change paradigms.

The second mistake the author of “anatomy of discovery” makes is to give a virtuous view of science (scientists “do their best to prove” they are wrong).

Actually this is not true at all for really big science. Quite the opposite. Scientists do not “do their best” to prove that all they have painfully learned is wrong. Not only would that be a career busting mood, there is a neurological aspect. Mental inertia.

Big scientific interpretation is a form of neurology, and, scientists or not, people do not tend, or like, to “do their best” to prove their neurology wrong.

Then the author of the Scientia Salon article deflates his claim completely by “restrict[ing] ourselves here to the quite serendipitous, experimental discoveries, those that take place quite unexpectedly.”

It is quite rare that such discoveries break a paradigm. It can happen: the Michelson Morley experiment, an electromagnetic experiment showed that the simplest interpretation of the (then recently devised) ether theory could not be right.

However, looking at history, when the discovery of a really new phenomenon happens, Big Scientific models tend to stay unchanged.

A contemporary example of a potentially giant discovery is Dark Energy.

Dark Energy made the old cosmological model something one does not need anymore (it is its own “cosmic inflation”). I explained this in Billion Year Old Universe”.

The situation right now is that the official theory on cosmology has TWO different inflationary mechanisms. I have just ONE, the one that is observed. My theory is more powerful philosophically, and it’s less complex mathematically, and it depends upon much fewer hypotheses, and mine are observationally grounded.

However “scientists” working in cosmology have been keen NOT to notice my main point, that is that my theory is much simpler in all ways, thus much more powerful. Why did professional cosmologists not notice the obvious? Because they have a vested interest in the established mental order, the mandarins of which, they are. Because, if one adopted a Dark Energy centric model, all of theoretical cosmology (what goes beyond what is observed for sure) would be wiped out. Something that can be wiped out as an error is less honorable.

How is Big Science discovered? Feynman looked at it, and concluded that there was no rule.

However, I think there is. Big science is  generally discovered through Big Philosophy (Special Relativity does not escape the rule; Poincare’ and Lorentz introduced the “local time” theory to discover SR).

Meanwhile, those who really discover the big ideas, having assaulted the neurology of mandarins, will be punished.

They should be thankful.

The painless life is not worth having.

[Take that, Marcus Aurelius!]

Patrice Ayme’

Censored notes on the initial SS article:

Although presented as a big deal in SS, “Spontelectrics” is anything but. It’s just a case of contrary electric fields, the sort discovered by Faraday to explain the “Faraday Cage”. (Actually discovered by Benjamin Franklin, a rare American genius.) Make no mistake: it is interesting.

However, it is thoroughly small science, violating nothing important.

A bigger mystery, still unexplained: how rubbing one material on another can create electrostatic charge. This effect known to the Ancient Greeks require Quantum Physics we don’t master too well.

Another question rejected as irrelevant at SS is the question of why did the Geocentric System reign so long? My answer (not even attempted on SS), partly given in the past, has to do with fascism, intellectual and political. The Ptolemaic System was imposed, and endured, PRECISELY because it was bad.

For the bad, bad is good, and good, bad. So anything favoring the first is good.

Causality Explained

March 29, 2015

WHAT CAUSES CAUSE?

What Is Causality? What is an Explanation?

Pondering the nature of the concept of explanation is the first step in thinking. So you may say that there is nothing more important, nothing more human.

I have a solution. It is simplicity itself. I go for the obvious model:

Mathematics, logic, physics, and the rest of science give a strict definition of what causality, and an explanation is.

How?

Through systems of axioms and theorems.

Some of the sub-systems therein have to do with logic (“Predicate Calculus”). They are found all over science and common sense (although they will not be necessarily present in systems of thought such as, say, poetry, or rhetoric).

WHEN A IMPLIES B, IN A LOGOS, ONE OUGHT TO SAY THAT A “CAUSES” B.

A and B are propositions. They do not have to be very precise.

Precision Is Not Necessarily The Smartest. Semantic Web Necessary.

Precision Is Not Necessarily The Smartest. Semantic Web Necessary.

As it turns out, except in Classical Computer Science as it exists today (Classical CS by opposition to Quantum CS, a subject developing in the last 20 years), propositions are never precise (so a degree of poetry is everywhere, even in mathematics!) Propositions, in practice, depend upon a semantic web.

A could be: “Plate Tectonic” and B could be “Continental Drift”. That A causes B is one of axioms of present day geophysics.

Thus I define causality as logical implication.

To use David Hume’s example: flame F brings heat H, always, and so is supposed to cause it: F implies H. Hume deduced causality from observation of the link (if…then).

More detailed modern physics shows that the heat of flame F is agitation that can be transmitted (both a theorem about, and a definition of, heat). Now we have a full, detailed logos about F and what H means, and how F implies H, down to electronic orbitals.

Mathematicians are used to make elaborate demonstrations, and then, to their horror, discover somewhere something that cannot be causally justified. Then they have to reconsider from scratch.

Mathematics is all about causality.

“Causes” in mathematics are also called axioms. In practice, well known theorems are used as axioms to implement further mathematical causality. A mathematician using a theorem from a distant field may not be aware of all the subtleties that allow to prove it: he would use distant theorems he does no know the proof of, as axioms. Some mathematician’s, or logician’s axiom is another’s theorem.

(Hence some hostility between mathematicians and logicians, as much of what the former use the latter proved, but the former have no idea how!)

Causality, by the way, reflects the axonal geometry of the brain.

The full logic of the brain is much more complicated than mathematics, let alone Classical Computer Science, have it. Indeed, brain logic involves much more than axons, such as dendrites, neurotransmitters, glial cells, etc. And of these, only axonal geometry is simple enough to be approximated by classical logic… In first order.

Mathematics is causation. And the ultimate explanation. Mathematics makes causation as limpid we can have it.

This theory met with the approval of Philip Thrift (March 27, 2015): “I agree exactly with the words Patrice Ayme wrote — but with “mathematics”→”programming”, “mathematical”→”programmatical”, etc.”

I pointed out later to Philip that Classical Programming was insufficient to embrace full human (and quantum!) logic. He agreed.

However the preceding somehow made Massimo P , a professional philosopher, uneasy. He quoted me:

“Patrice: “To claim that mathematics is not causal is beyond belief. Mathematics is all about causality.”

Massimo: It most obviously isn’t. What’s causal about Fermat’s Last Theorem? Causality implies physicality, and most of pure math has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with physicality.

Patrice: “Causes” in mathematics are also called axioms.”

Massimo: “You either don’t understand what causality means or what axioms are. Or both.”

Well, once he had released his emotional steam, Massimo, a self-declared specialist of “physicality” [sic] did not offer one iota of logic in support of his wished-for demolition of my… logic. I must admit my simple thesis is not (yet) in textbooks…

Insults are fundamentally poetic, illogical, or pre-logical. Massimo is saying that been totally confused about causality and explanations is a sacred cow of a whole class of philosophers (to whom he had decided he belongs). Being confused about causality started way back.

“All philosophers, “said Bertrand Russell,” imagine that causation is one of the fundamental axioms of science, yet oddly enough, in advanced sciences, the word ’cause’ never occurs … The law of causality, I believe, is a relic of bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm …”

Russell was as wrong as wrong could be (not about the monarchy, but about “causation”). He wrote the preceding in 1913, when Relativity was well implanted, and he, like many others, was no doubt unnerved by it.

Poincare’ noticed, while founding officially “Relativity” in 1904, that apparent succession of events was not absolute (but depended upon relative motions).

Indeed.

But, temporal succession is only an indication of possible causality. In truth causality exists, if, and only if, a logical system establishes it (moreover, said logic has to be “true”; that, assigning a truth value, is, by itself is a separate question that great logicians have studied without clear conclusions).

When an explanation can be fully mathematized, it is finished. Far from being “abstract”, it has become trivial, or so suppose those with minds for whom mathematics is obvious.

Mathematics is just like 2 + 2 = 4, written very large.

Fermat’s Last Theorem is not different in nature, from 2 + 2 = 4… (But for something very subtle: semantic drift, and a forest of theorems used as axioms to go from side of Fermat’s theorem to the other.)

To brandish mathematics as unfathomable “abstract” sorcery, as was done in Scientia Salon, is a strange, but not new, streak.

There in “Abstract Explanations In Science” Massimo and another employed philosopher pondered “whether, and in what sense, mathematical explanations are different from causal / empirical ones.”

My answer is that mathematical, and, more generally logical, explanations are the model of all explanations. We speak (logos) and thus we communicate our thoughts. Even to ourselves.

The difference between mathematics and logic? Mathematics is more poetical. For example, Category Theory is not anchored in logic, nor anywhere else. It is hanging out there, beautiful and useful, a castle in the sky, just like all and any poem.

Such ought to be the set-up on the nature of what causality could be, to figure out what causality is in the physical world. Considering that Quantum Entanglement is all over nature, this is not going to be easy (and it may contain a hidden clock).

Patrice Ayme’

Deep Science Is Always Born Philosophical

February 12, 2015

NO NEW PHILOSOPHY, NO NEW SCIENCE

Philosophy, and science have the same longing, truth. They go at it in, roughly, the same way. However, the data set philosophy uses, even in its mature form, is much more general. This makes philosophy more “meta”, and thus indispensable to create anything really new in science, be it even a new lab method.

So the debate “Philosophers and Physicists” in Scientia Salon is tongue in cheek.

Einstein offered philosophical considerations in domains far from physics. Yet, if one knows him well, one can see how his general philosophy positively impacted his scientific work.

Epistemology, the study of how we come to have knowledge, is a meta-discipline.

Newton: Mathematician, Physicist, “Natural” Philosopher

Newton: Mathematician, Physicist, “Natural” Philosopher

Yet, epistemology is essential to establish new methods in science. A recent example is datation using genetic material: the practice became more precise, because how we came to the previous knowledge was questioned, and then modified into better knowledge.

Edge science is nearly always entangled with practical epistemology. This makes scientists at the edge of science philosophers of science in a practical sense.

Whether the philosophical method has been useful in Twentieth Century science should not be a debate: Frege, Russell, Poincare’, etc., were also full blown philosophers. Many, if not all, of the top, fundamental physicists, used the philosophical method. The Foundational debates were all deeply philosophical always (as early as Aristotle, Averroes, Tycho, Bruno, Galileo, Newton, Laplace, Gauss, Riemann, Maxwell, Mach, Cantor, etc.).

The fight between Einstein and his sponsor Planck about the photoelectric effect was philosophical.

Bohr defended (his view of) Quantum Mechanics with philosophy (thanks to Born’s interpretation it became permanent).

Better: Karl Popper engaged in a correspondence with Einstein about Non-Locality. Out of that came the Popper experiment and the EPR.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popper’s_experiment

Can philosophy be practical? In science? Sure. Even in mathematics: for philosophical reasons, the Dutch topologist Brouwer rejected some infinite methods in mathematics. This brought, half a century later, mathematics that could be used in ATMs and other machines.

Science is after truth. Philosophy is also after truth. Both are also after defining what truth could be, and what propositions may be formulated and which ones may be provable.

Introducing only observables in physics was attributed to Einstein by Heisenberg, in a heated exchange about the Copenhagen Interpretation, where Heisenberg accused Einstein to have taught him that way.

But Einstein had got the notion from Poincare’. As found in Henri’s “La Science et L’Hypothese” plus Poincare’ papers on what Poincare’ called the “Principle of Relativity”, complete with the constancy of the speed of light, which, latest news, is not really constant (as I expected).

Philosophy is also after truth.

Even the truth that there are no truths about some matters.

Science also excels at the truth that there are sometimes no truth about some matters… and science has learned to overcome that: for example there is no definition, stricto sensu, of elementary particle. Elementary, yes, particle, no… But that does not prevent physicists of discovering them, at least in Feynman diagrams.

The difference between the notion of truth in philosophy and in science is just a matter of degree.

Buridanus established the erroneous labeled “Newton’s First Law” in a treaty he wrote about Aristotle. That same Buridan taught students, and established with them the basic idea of graphs, and what became the Oxford Computing School.

Aristotle, fully admirable and experimentally oriented in biology, was spectacularly wrong about inertia. That became a big deal as his students Antipater, Craterus and Alexander established a fascist political paradigm that was to reign until, well, Buridan’s time.

Thus truth in philosophy, politics, society and science are entangled.

This stays true to this day: “High Energy Physics” was long well financed, in part because the leaders of the military-industrial complex cannot fail to have noticed that they need “high energy”.

So why all the recent aggressivity of second, third, of even lower order physicists against “philosophy”? Simply because incoherent Quantum Field Theory and complete flight of fancy (SUSY, Strings, Inflation Now, etc.) have ruled physics, under the chimp like mood “shut up and calculate”, in recent decades.

Many philosophers of science have directed sharp critiques at this contemporary elite thinking in physics, and their judiciousness has made physicists furious (because they feel threatened, they remember the cancellation of the SSC).

Some insist upon labels. So and so was employed officially as a philosopher: ‘what did he do, I did not read him, I can’t read him, so why does it matter to scientists?’

Feynman was a practical philosopher. He needed his philosophy for his physics. Actually some of his “proofs” in physics use a special, Feynman-made notion of “truth”. According to Feynman-truth, Feynman discovered some things. But somebody with a different notion of truth would view physics differently (Feynman would agree with what I just wrote; actually he basically wrote this, in particular cases, say about E = mc^2, or “virtual””particles”).

French philosophers of science such as Bachelard and then his successor, Canguighelm, were actually scientists: the former as a physicist, the second was a Medical Doctor.

In turn, the one some would view as a glorified parrot, Thomas S. Kuhn, used Bachelard’s notion of “epistemological rupture” (coupure or rupture épistémologique) as re-interpreted by Alexandre Koyré to develop his theory of paradigm changes.

Wikipedia lists nearly 1,000 French philosophers (and they miss quite a few!) Many of these were of a scientific or mathematical background.

 

Here is an example: I claim the Multiverse error is based in a philosophical subtlety, which was missed by everybody. I feel that Planck nearly spotted explicitly the nature of the error, and it’s Einstein, his protégé’, who instigated it (this is rather ironical, as, in the end, without realizing it, Einstein came to be opposed to himself in the debate on the Foundations of Quantum Physics).

A lot of the progress in science, and even technology, has to do with questioning how we know what we think we know. That’s essentially philosophical. The more fundamental the scientific questions, the more one has to question how it is that we got to these conclusions.

 

Here is another example: the end of Cretaceous mass extinction. Alvarez, the geologist son of Alvarez the Nobel in physics, asked his dad how one could prove that there was an impact. The dad answered: Iridium, it’s rare on Earth, but found on asteroids. So Alvarez went to look for Iridium, and found it, thus demonstrating there was an impact.

However, I scoffed. I knew there had been other impacts. I also knew there was the Deccan Traps hyper-volcanism at the same time. The numbers, about the magnitudes did not fit. So, philosophical question: how sure were we that the Iridium did not come from the center of the Earth? I did not see the Alvarez and their followers even consider the question.

Yet, it was impossible they were not aware of it. So this was fishy scientific logic.

Science is about certain knowledge. How do we get there? By making alternatives impossible. The asteroid extinction conclusion cannot pretend to be science, because a (more probable!) alternative was not excluded.

https://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2009/11/21/trapped-by-super-traps/

 

By the way, latest news show that my point of view is winning: yes Iridium can come from the core, yes the extinction’s chronology seems volcanically driven.

In other news, Coel, one of the scientist-professors-commenters and writers at Scientia Salon, said, basically, that scientist are practical epistemologists.

Coel also made a broadside against those who are ravaged by superstition to the point they demand respect for their superstitions, by confusing respect and tolerance (a point I long made).

Should we entertain those fanatics (= those who come from the fanum, the temple), we would have to respect Abraham the would-be child killer, because we are tolerant? Of what? The veneration for those who bind children to offer them to gods, or dogs?

Knowledge, and the search thereof, is more united than it looks.

Knowledge died in Antiquity because epistemology died. And that died, because fascism (“Hellenistic Kingdoms) blossomed.

Patrice Ayme’

 

Pain Is Relative, But Fishes Feel It

February 5, 2015

Armchair philosophers and ethologists are much to be feared. In Scientia Salon, Brian Key, a Professor of Developmental Neurobiology in the School of Biomedical Sciences, Head of the Brain Growth and Regeneration Lab, University of Queensland, argued “Why fish (likely) don’t feel pain”.

I will retort that Brian’s thoughts flow from fishy philosophy.

The author uses neuro-anatomy to over-rule ethology. Instead I will start from ethology, starring some actors of the wilderness:

Very Long Horns, And Very Smart Brain

Very Long Horns, And Very Smart Brain

He starts poorly, by demonstrating wolves are not (likely) smart. Says he:

“Resisting anthropomorphic tendencies:

Grey wolves hunt as a pack. They carefully select their prey, and then perform a series of highly coordinated maneuvers as a team, in order to corral their target. Initially, each wolf maintains a safe working distance from other members of the pack as well as from their prey. They are relentless and seemingly strategic with an overall goal of driving the agitated prey towards one wolf. A cohesive group mentality emerges that portrays logic, intelligence and a willingness to achieve a common goal. Eventually one wolf comes close enough to lock its jaws on a rear leg of the prey, before wrestling it to the ground. The rest of the pack converges to share in the kill. There appears a purpose to their collective behavior that ensures a successful outcome.

But is everything as it seems? A team of international scientists from Spain and the U.S.A. has simulated the behavior of a hunting pack of wolves using very simple rules

Their computer models do not rely on high-level cognitive skills or sophisticated intra-pack social communication. The complex spatial dynamics of the hunting group emerges by having the computer-generated wolves obey simple inter-wolf and wolf-prey attractive/repulsive rules.”

This is, simply said, dumb.

Assuming animals are computer programs may work for humans, but it does not resist careful examination in the wild. I have seen snakes being smart.

Once, by accident, I prevented a very large wolf to kill his prey (long story). The wolf could have jumped on me. He was three meters away. It was sunset, high above timberline in the Alps, kilometers from the first road, hours away walking (I was running, of course).

We looked at each other. I could read the yellow eyes of the wolf, he looked as intelligent as a monkey (not at all dull and agitated like a dog would have been in such circumstances). His eyes were saying: ‘What is a human being doing up here at this hour? What the hell! What is this world coming to? And now what?’

His purported dinner, a chamois, had passed at a high clip, within centimeters of me, going the other way.

It was a magnificent animal, all red, long hair all standing up, with face at least twice wider than a large dog. He was neither panicked nor upset, once the initial surprise was passed. He did not threaten me, and went his way (now the opposite of his initial way).

Anybody who has interacted with fishes know that they behave as if they experienced pain. Another objection: (some) fishes can act in a very clever way. Pain is a big help for intelligence. It’s a more economical hypothesis. Consider:

https://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2014/07/27/diving-into-truth/

Anti-anthropomorphism sounds scientific, but it is actually a contrived hypothesis, insisting, with the Bible, that man is special. Instead of just an animal.

Once I was in an African National Park. I saw a large antelope (Hypotragus Equinuus), obviously in a panic, dash down a twenty foot embankment, on the other side of a wide river. He landed on the 200 foot wide beach, separated from the river itself by dunes… A large lioness followed down the embankment. Then the lioness took a hard left, from my perspective, instead of following her prey, she went ninety degrees! She went full speed for 400 meters or so, and then angled through the field of dunes, along the river, which was much wider there. Meanwhile the antelope, seeing the lioness was not in hot pursuit, had slowed down. But he was confronted to a new problem: a wide river, full of crocodiles.

From my vantage point, I could see at least a hundred trunks floating in the river, each one a croc. The antelope trotted upstream, knowing full well that to swim across meant certain death. Soon it saw the solution in the distance: shallow rapids. He accelerated. By then the lioness was in ambush near the top of the large last dune dominating the narrows.

The antelope arrived at a very brisk pace, scanning ahead to figure out the optimal point. He was obviously doing some fast thinking on the hoof. The lioness was crouched, observing just saw within the grass hidden by the very top of the dune, which she had craftily put between herself and the direction she knew her prey would come from.

I screamed.

The two beasts sprang into action. The antelope understood that there was an ambush, and bounded in an enormous effort, taking a dangerous short-cut. At the same time, realizing apes were foiling her plan, as apes tend to do, the lioness also charged.

She missed.

The antelope climbed on our side of the river, still pursued by the lioness, who took the time to throw us a very dirty look.

This was not my only encounter with very clever wild animals.

I have encountered lions many times. Lions in good standing resist hunting instinct and pangs of hunger, and don’t attack human beings.

Once I was diving as a child in Africa, spear in hand. I caught a lobster. However the critter screamed in such a heart breaking fashion, I did not renew the experience. Another time, I had caught an octopus, and, although mostly dead and hopeless, it made a point to bite me in protest. Yes, it was clearly a protest, because the creature looked dead, and I was inflicting pain at it, at that particular point. (Meanwhile experiences with octopuses have shown that they are extremely clever, and perfectly capable of the sort of reasoning I imputed them; as a species they are limited with very short lifespans and no possibility to transmit culture.)

So animals have feelings and emotions. If we directly interact with them, it’s blatant.

Brian Key uses poor ethology: he claims fishes fight when hooked in a way that show they don’t feel pain. Whereas trapped bears do (because they stop fighting after a while, when trapped). Actually fishes stop fighting after a while.

Then Brian proceeds to say that sometimes human beings don’t feel pain. Once again, anybody who has lived in the wild knows this is true.

Once a famous solo sailor got his foot torn off. He kept doing what he needed to do to stabilize the situation on his boat that had caused him to lose his foot. He stopped the blood loss. He called for rescue. He secured his boat. Once rescue arrived, he felt the pain.

Anybody who has been outside, broke ribs, arms, lost lots of skin, got injected a lot of painful venom, got burned third degree (all of those personal experiences) knows well that pain is felt only when it is advantageous, or safe, to do so. Bleeding experienced rock climbers will calmly exert maximal pressure on the rock, even when they have no more skin, just where they have no more skin… And barely feel it.

Pain is a relative thing, and evolution has gifted us with strong overrides (for example endorphins).

A fortiori so it is, with fishes.

Patrice Ayme’

The (Ongoing) Evolution of Evolutionary Theory

November 14, 2014

The last two essays on Biological Evolution, the fruits of decades of meditation, were proximally suggested by an essay from Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher and biologist (PhD genetics) initially from Italy and now, armed with a PhD in Philosophy (PhDPh?) from the USA, a professor at CUNY.

I thought Massimo unfortunately engaged in the usual Anglosphere trick of attributing the scientific establishment of Biological Evolution to Darwin, not Lamarck. This is fraught with numerous pitfalls, and adverse consequences, not the least of which being that Evolution deniers are thick on the ground in the USA.

Indeed reducing the Evolution debate to Darwin and a handful of finches, is all too reductive. Reductive to the point of eschewing most of the debate on evolution, as I tried to explain in the preceding two essays.

Lamarck established the Foundations of Evolution, and demonstrated, first of all, that it happened. And that it happened over eons.

Darwin and other made more explicit Evolution through natural selection (which is implicit in Lamarck, who, obviously considered it self-evident from what he described).

“Do we not therefore perceive that by the action of the laws of organization . . . nature has in favorable times, places, and climates multiplied her first germs of animality, given place to developments of their organizations, . . . and increased and diversified their organs? Then. . . aided by much time and by a slow but constant diversity of circumstances, she has gradually brought about in this respect the state of things which we now observe. How grand is this consideration, and especially how remote is it from all that is generally thought on this subject!”
[Text of a lecture given by Lamarck at the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, May 1803.]

Lamarck was 57 years old when in 1801 he published his book, “The Inheritance Of Acquired Traits.”

This traits would now be called, genes, somas, prions, transposons, alleles, plasmids, and all what we have not discovered yet…

How these inherited traits are “acquired” is not clear to this day.

In recent decades, it became clear that the situation was at least as complicated as Lamarck had described it, and that the so-called “Neo-Darwinist” oversimplification of the 1960s was a grave error (ironically Darwin was on Lamarck’s side, as he tried to prove “pangenesis”! Pangenesis is pretty much a proven fact now!).

I will suggest in further essays of few more paradoxes and perspectives. Or how strict “Darwinism” contained the germ of its own de-selection as not the fittest theory.

Meanwhile, let Massimo describes it as he sees it!
Patrice Ayme’

Scientia Salon

41J0nOguz-L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_by Massimo Pigliucci

Nature magazine recently ran a “point-counterpoint” entitled “Does evolutionary theory need a rethink?” [1] Arguing for the “Yes, urgently” side were Kevin Laland, Tobias Uller, Marc Feldman, Kim Sterelny, Gerd B. Müller, Armin Moczek, Eva Jablonka, and John Odling-Smee. Arguing for the “No, all is well” thesis were Gregory A. Wray, Hopi E. Hoekstra, Douglas J. Futuyma, Richard E. Lenski, Trudy F. C. Mackay, Dolph Schluter, and Joan E. Strassmann.

That’s a good number of top notch evolutionary biologists, colleagues that I very much respect, on both sides of the aisle. My own allegiances have been made clear in a number of papers [2] and a co-edited book [3]. I have been arguing for some time now for what I consider the moderate-yes side of the debate: yes, evolutionary theory does need (and is, in fact, getting) an update, but that update is yet another expansion along…

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