# Evolution as a law, and it's flexibility

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This topic is to expand on my previous posts about evolution and how it is capable of change and to ask questions about evolution/natural selection as a law of the universe. I previously used the term "learning" and improvement, however i will not be using them here since they are baseless assertions. I hope more than one person responds this time!

To suggest that evolution can change over time, I'll write evolution as a simple series of steps or an algorithm (just a basic rough one to get the point across, extremely simplistic and ignores complex things like endosymbiosis etc.)) for early life forms 3.8-3.6ish billion years ago and one for todays descendants. These are the basic core steps of the evolutionary process that applies to all individuals of the population. I'm not going to write natural selection as a step, not really sure if that is appropriate (should be applicable all the time?). 1. might be better off as being an individual, not sure.

3.6-3.8 billion years ago:

1. population

2. mutation rate

3. reproduction

4. cycle back to 1.

This is relatively simple, you have the population which is then subject to a mutation rate and then reproduction occurs natural selection applying.

algorithm for a human:

1. population

2. germline mutation rate

3. non-random recombination (PRDM9 genotype dependent)

4. random assortment of paternal and maternal chromosomes

5. non-random partner choice

6. random fusion of gametes

7. cycle back to 1.

These are the core steps of human evolution (roughly). If one were to do one for bacteria horizontal gene transfer would be in the list. The is just a simple scheme I made up in a few minutes, I realise they are not 100% accurate. Just used to illustrate a point.

Basically the idea is that the fundamental process of evolution is capable of change by looking at the difference in the core steps of evolution from 3.6-3.8 billion years ago and now. An Interesting question is what does the real algorithm look like (the one which changes over time, adding/removing new steps)? How does one come up with a generalised definition/description of evolution when potentially, the algorithm could be altered further over the next billion+ years (such that new mechanisms for evolution arise)?

This part is asking questions about evolution/natural/fitness landscape as laws of the universe. Is evolution like a more complicated biological equivalent of V = I x R for example(of course with randomness in the equations)? Was the fitness landscape/natural selection for all possible environments and all possible animals determined shortly after our universe arose (like physics laws were) or does it arise spontaneously as the environments themselves arise? Is everything subject to natural selection? Was evolution determined as a law of the universe shortly after the universe arose, if so how is the ability to change explained?

I'd like to hear people's opinions to any of these questions. What do you think about evolution and it's ability to change (as an algorithm)? Likely or not?

Even if you think this is trash, I'd still like to hear it, and your reasoning.

Edited by jp255
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well there is evidence that regions of DNA can be made non-recombining, lowering the rate of mutation in that section. (example: 95% of Y chromosome doesn't recombine)

*this was caused by gene transfer from Y to other chromosomes leading to lethal mutations

**most of what you are showing is just systems that evolved to prevent lethal mutations in the genotype due to having chromosomes

Edited by dmaiski
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well there is evidence that regions of DNA can be made

non-recombining, lowering the rate of mutation in that section. (example: 95% of

Y chromosome doesn't recombine)

*this was caused by gene transfer from Y to other

I don't really see the relevance of this.

**most of what you are showing is just systems that evolved to prevent lethal

mutations in the genotype due to having chromosomes

what?

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lets say you have vital genes on a chromosome

these genes are moved off that chromosome during recombination

the child doesn’t have these genes

the child dies

ie. its a lethal mutation

thus a system evolves to prevent such things happening

its why certain regions on chromosomes do not recombine, and there is non random recombination of genes

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jp255,

When I studied astrobiology, one of the things that began to run through my head was the idea that life itself can start to resemble a law of nature. To me, it seems that given a certain set of conditions, life is inevitable. Within that context, it may also be possible that evolution follows as a law of nature. It may be an extremely complicated law, and thus difficult to recognize, but I do agree with the possibility.

The biggest issue, of course, is that we don't have any other examples of life to compare against. If we discover life on Mars, or the Jovian moons or those of Saturn, and this life is shown to have arose independently, then we might have something to measure against. If other life exists within our own solar system, it would not surprise me if DNA was the genetic material. Some scientists have theorized about the possibility of truly alien life; life that does not resemble anything we know. This life would use different chemistry and could be so alien that we would not recognize it as life at all. But, in my opinion, the chemistry of life and its major elements (oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon, phosphorus, sulfur) may force all possible life down a single path as a law of nature, and likewise genetic material and ultimately evolution.

This is not to say that there would not be variations, I expect there would be. But this further complicates the question you pose, as we only have examples of life here. As such, our examples may not represent (and most likely do not represent) the full range of what is possible, and therefor, we may not be able to identify the underlying laws if they exist.

Edited by akh
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Evolution is a process, plain and simple. It may be governed by laws, I can't think of any that might apply

specifically and only to it.

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As such, our examples may not represent (and most likely do not represent) the full range of what is possible, and therefor, we may not be able to identify the underlying laws if they exist.

I agree that we are restricted to observation of life on Earth at the moment and that this is a problem when trying to answer these questions. However, whether or not there are any other life forms, trying to identify to laws is a massive feat itself. To try and come up with an accurate law/equation for natural selection/evolution/fitness landscape would be pretty hard. We can detect some these things without too much difficulty, but to come up with laws/equations which allows us to accurately predict that x trait will rise in frequency by x% in environment y with a d% probability (just an example) seems far off! As far as I know, it is difficult to quanitfy the level of different types of selection that could be operating (infuence of sexual selection seems to be difficult to assess) and there is also the problem of determining the cause of the various types of selection for particular traits (reason why a trait is advantageous). Then there is the fitness landscape, how does one determine what the fitness landscape is for a trait in a given environment and species?

Evolution is a process, plain and simple. It may be governed by laws, I can't

think of any that might apply

specifically and only to it.

Would you mind elaborating on your view? which laws are you referring to when you say you can't think of any which only apply to evolution? And what do you mean when you say evolution is a process? how the process relate to the laws of nature/universe?

To dmaiski: I'm not really sure what your point is in relation to my initial post. The non-recombining region of Y is not relevant to this discussion?

Your posts don't seem correct at first sight to me, so please explain.

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As Ronald said, evolution is a process. In setting up your algorithms you have confused process and mechanism.

You wish to contrast mutation rate with germ line mutation rates. Why make these contrasts? They are simply the way the process is mechanistically imposed on a particular kind of population. At this point in your sequence I would rather see a phrase that said "generation of variety". How that variety is generated is the mechanistic part.

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You wish to contrast mutation rate with germ line mutation rates. Why make these contrasts?

because they are both heritable mutations. Germline mutations are the only ones which are heritable in a human, and thus the ones that are most critical to evolution. That phrase is not necessary for the 3.6-3.8billion year ago algorithm as somatic mutations are heritable, but it is necessary for a human one as somatic mutations are not heritable in humans (and cannot contribute to generation of diversity in the next generation).

In setting up your algorithms you have confused process and mechanism.

At this point in your sequence I would rather see a phrase that said "generation of variety". How that variety is generated is the mechanistic part.

I suppose you are right, "generation of variety" could be substitued in to replace many of the mechanisms I included. I decided to break evolution down into more specific steps to get the point across. I guess it should be the mechanisms of evolution that can change then.I'm not really sure why you would rather have "generation of variety" in there at all, it is quite vague as there are many different ways for this to arise (which was my point). I'd agree that the general process of evolution remains unchanged though.

Edited by jp255
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Evolution without question is a process, and due to the enormous amount of variables, it would be difficult to make predictions based on some fundamental laws or laws. A scientific law, by definition, is a simple pervasive concept. Think, as you correctly examplified above, of ohms law or any other. They are simplistic mathematical equations. Theories, are generally more complex than laws, and have some flexibilty. It is interesting that biology is nearly deviod of laws but has numerous theories. That is mostly due to shear complexity. But it could also be that we have yet to approach different aspects of biology in the correct manner.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2816229/

Edited by akh
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The concept of laws in science are an antiquated hangover from the time when the universe was seen as a clockwork-like mechanism, governed by rigid and clear-cut rules. Heisenberg and chaos and catastrophe theory and the like have changed that view forever. Unless we were to completely change the methodology of science, so that it would be unreasonable to call it science anymore, we shall never have anything more definitive and valuable than theory. Laws are, for the most part, nothing more than quantification of simple relationships established via observation. I would argue they have nothin at all to offer biology except as a crude marketing device.

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The concept of laws in science are an antiquated hangover from the time when the universe was seen as a clockwork-like mechanism, governed by rigid and clear-cut rules. Heisenberg and chaos and catastrophe theory and the like have changed that view forever. Unless we were to completely change the methodology of science, so that it would be unreasonable to call it science anymore, we shall never have anything more definitive and valuable than theory. Laws are, for the most part, nothing more than quantification of simple relationships established via observation. I would argue they have nothin at all to offer biology except as a crude marketing device.

I don't want to make this about semantics. I think there is some ambiguity in the term "law" (irony I suppose) in that there is a mechanistic definition and a definition that only applies under certain conditions. The former is the meshing of gears (clockwork-like) that is the ubiquitous, flawless, true representation of reality. To my knowledge, this definition of "law" does not truly exist in any field of study. I agree, this definition is antiquated

The later definition describes things under certain conditions and is of a hierarchical organization. It is this definition that I was addressing. I assumed that this is the definition (idea) that jp255 was using, as he did specify application at the population level and created different algorithms for the two examples. But perhaps the thread title is misleading or there was not an as clear concept in mind when the thread was started.

Ophiolite, you may be right, the term might not be the best, especially in the study of biology. But I still think there is room for the idea of fundamental organization (law) at certain levels within the study of biology. Do you not agree? And I do think that this can be applied to the study of evolution. Again, we may just be arguing over a nuance in definition. I can see the case for not using the term, and it may be that it is only used today out of convention.

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To akh and Ophiolite, I very much like the thinking that you have expressed in the last two posts on this topic. To me you both express very deep

insight into what might be called a 'law' in Physics, and how to organize the concepts used in physics. Mathematics has a very good way of

organizing the involved concepts but Physics has to deal with physical reality and not just abstract ideas, so it has more on its plate, so to speak.

Reality can be a harsh mistress.

More power to you, and thank you for expressing these thoughts so clearly.

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But perhaps the thread title is misleading or there was not an as clear concept in mind when the thread was started.

There was not a clear concept. I really didn't give any thought to the usage of the word "law" at all when I created this thread. It should really have been a question, as I was hoping for some people to give their opinions on evolution/natural selection/fitness landscape and whether they are laws. I don't really have much knowledge of this topic and I was only suggesting that mechanisms of evolution are capable of change over time. I then went on to ask about the law stuff and how this change might be explained.

But I still think there is room for the idea of fundamental organization (law) at certain levels within the study of biology. Do you not agree?

After having read Ophiolite's informative post I would agree. I briefly looked into chaos and catastophe theory, and from what I read it seems as though that rigid, deterministic laws can give rise to chaos? So it should still be possible that such laws could govern evolution and the universe. Although I did not specically state it anywhere, I was considering both conditional law and clear-cut law as possibilities. Ophiolite said, "Laws are, for the most part, nothing more than quantification of simple relationships established via observation". I would change that sentence so that it said "Currently, laws are...", since it is probably easier to identify conditional relationships that work in one condition than to identify a law which holds in any instance.

I would argue they have nothin at all to offer biology except as a crude marketing device.

I would agree with your argument, but I would again have used the word "currently". Maybe the difficulty of identifying and determining biological laws is too great at the moment. The example I used in a previous post was natural selection/fitness landscape, the difficulty involved in determining the shape of a single fitness landscape (for a given trait, in a given environment, in a given species) alone is a massive feat let alone trying to identify any simple relationships or laws.

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I can hardly believe what a good topic this has turned into. Even people who aren't interested in

Biology may learn from the clear reasoning it shows about how we view scientific thinking.

There was not a clear concept. I really didn't give any thought to the usage of the word "law" at all when I created this thread. It should really have been a question, as I was hoping for some people to give their opinions on evolution/natural selection/fitness landscape and whether they are laws. I don't really have much knowledge of this topic and I was only suggesting that mechanisms of evolution are capable of change over time. I then went on to ask about the law stuff and how this change might be explained.

Nawt tu wurry. The repliers have helped to form it into clear concepts. The dumbest questions are the ones never asked, because no one know how to answer them.

After having read Ophiolite's informative post I would agree. I briefly looked into chaos and catastophe theory, and from what I read it seems as though that rigid, deterministic laws can give rise to chaos? So it should still be possible that such laws could govern evolution and the universe. Although I did not specically state it anywhere, I was considering both conditional law and clear-cut law as possibilities. Ophiolite said, "Laws are, for the most part, nothing more than quantification of simple relationships established via observation". I would change that sentence so that it said "Currently, laws are...", since it is probably easier to identify conditional relationships that work in one condition than to identify a law which holds in any instance.

Look into 'self organizing systems'. I put up a topic in classical physics, "why do spiral galaxies so resemble hurricanes', because it related to some things I am

working on, and it pointed in that direction. Something I was working on and it already has a name. Really nice to know. And remember, all sciences are branches of Physics.

I would agree with your argument, but I would again have used the word "currently". Maybe the difficulty of identifying and determining biological laws is too great at the moment. The example I used in a previous post was natural selection/fitness landscape, the difficulty involved in determining the shape of a single fitness landscape (for a given trait, in a given environment, in a given species) alone is a massive feat let alone trying to identify any simple relationships or laws.

This is a very large area that needs to be clarified. It won't be done in a post or two. As mentioned, Mathematics is much better at how they classify concepts, especially new ones.

Physics has a harder job and is way behind. More power to whoever does this.

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This topic is to expand on my previous posts about evolution and how it is capable of change and to ask questions about evolution/natural selection as a law of the universe. I previously used the term "learning" and improvement, however i will not be using them here since they are baseless assertions. I hope more than one person responds this time!

To suggest that evolution can change over time, I'll write evolution as a simple series of steps or an algorithm (just a basic rough one to get the point across, extremely simplistic and ignores complex things like endosymbiosis etc.)) for early life forms 3.8-3.6ish billion years ago and one for todays descendants. These are the basic core steps of the evolutionary process that applies to all individuals of the population. I'm not going to write natural selection as a step, not really sure if that is appropriate (should be applicable all the time?). 1. might be better off as being an individual, not sure.

3.6-3.8 billion years ago:

1. population

2. mutation rate

3. reproduction

4. cycle back to 1.

This is relatively simple, you have the population which is then subject to a mutation rate and then reproduction occurs natural selection applying.

algorithm for a human:

1. population

2. germline mutation rate

3. non-random recombination (PRDM9 genotype dependent)

4. random assortment of paternal and maternal chromosomes

5. non-random partner choice

6. random fusion of gametes

7. cycle back to 1.

These are the core steps of human evolution (roughly). If one were to do one for bacteria horizontal gene transfer would be in the list. The is just a simple scheme I made up in a few minutes, I realise they are not 100% accurate. Just used to illustrate a point.

Basically the idea is that the fundamental process of evolution is capable of change by looking at the difference in the core steps of evolution from 3.6-3.8 billion years ago and now. An Interesting question is what does the real algorithm look like (the one which changes over time, adding/removing new steps)? How does one come up with a generalised definition/description of evolution when potentially, the algorithm could be altered further over the next billion+ years (such that new mechanisms for evolution arise)?

This part is asking questions about evolution/natural/fitness landscape as laws of the universe. Is evolution like a more complicated biological equivalent of V = I x R for example(of course with randomness in the equations)? Was the fitness landscape/natural selection for all possible environments and all possible animals determined shortly after our universe arose (like physics laws were) or does it arise spontaneously as the environments themselves arise? Is everything subject to natural selection? Was evolution determined as a law of the universe shortly after the universe arose, if so how is the ability to change explained?

I'd like to hear people's opinions to any of these questions. What do you think about evolution and it's ability to change (as an algorithm)? Likely or not?

Even if you think this is trash, I'd still like to hear it, and your reasoning.

Evolution doesn't really have the same context in physics, and evolution isn't a law anyway, it's the process that happens to happen. If I say a wave function evolves over time, I'm not saying that it has constituent parts that somehow are surviving because they are the most fit variables. Evolution is essentially completely random, there's an entire universe of cosmic rays that could ionize a DNA strand the right way to cause a non-lethal mutation.

Edited by EquisDeXD
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Evolution doesn't really have the same context in physics, and evolution isn't a law anyway, it's the process that happens to happen. If I say a wave function evolves over time, I'm not saying that it has constituent parts that somehow are surviving because they are the most fit variables. Evolution is essentially completely random, there's an entire universe of cosmic rays that could ionize a DNA strand the right way to cause a non-lethal mutation.

You've given me a nice opportunity to expand on the notion of evolution as a process, but first I have to reply to some of the things you have said.

A wave function is not a physical system per se so the notion of it's evolution doesn't really apply here. Evolution is essentially completely random.

This is simply not so, evolution is a process, and processes can be 'guided', I can't think of a better word right now. If you've ever tried to define

'completely random' you will know that it is 'like nailing jelly to tree', it's simply impossible to give an unambiguous definition. Mutations may be

random but there are ways to remove 'faulty' ones from the process. That we know.

I'm going to take the definition of 'process' as the one that is used in computer programming, as it can be placed into one to one correspondence

with the one of evolution, and how processes in general work in Nature.

In a computer, a process is simply a running program. Most computers are 'single threaded' so that only one process can run at a time, even

though it may seem to you that many processes are running at the same time on the machine you are reading this with. An enormous amount of

effort has gone into making single threaded machines behave like multi-threaded machines, truly enormous. In the computer you can have

processes that run inside other processes, for instance in Windows you have Service-Host processes, several run on the machine and each one 'hosts'

several processes that run inside or under them. Their purpose is to 'supervise' the processes that run inside them to make them share the machines

limited resources, don't overwrite each others memory space, etc.

Nature doesn't have this single thread problem, so she runs as many threads as she likes. But her processes run inside other processes. Your mind

The fertilized egg changes into a viable organism, much like the execution of a computer program. In the computer, processes have 'methods', specific

ways that tasks are performed, likewise Evolution has 'methods', i.e. mechanisms, and it's very well known that some of these mechanisms can favor

very rapid change when change is required for survival of the genetic line. So evolution does indeed evolve itself, and can guide itself from within as it

were.

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You've given me a nice opportunity to expand on the notion of evolution as a process, but first I have to reply to some of the things you have said.

A wave function is not a physical system per se so the notion of it's evolution doesn't really apply here. Evolution is essentially completely random.

This is simply not so, evolution is a process, and processes can be 'guided', I can't think of a better word right now. If you've ever tried to define

'completely random' you will know that it is 'like nailing jelly to tree', it's simply impossible to give an unambiguous definition. Mutations may be

random but there are ways to remove 'faulty' ones from the process. That we know.

What your essentially saying though is "even though I can roll a die, I can also force a side for it to be on". So what? There's no evidence that there exists such a thing that somehow "guides" all of evolution. Circumstances change randomly which favor whatever happens to have mutated to survive those circumstances before they change again.

I'm going to take the definition of 'process' as the one that is used in computer programming, as it can be placed into one to one correspondence

with the one of evolution, and how processes in general work in Nature.

Well, the word "process" was invented before computers were invented, but it is similar to a system of corresponding takss that need to be met for somethign to happen.

The fertilized egg changes into a viable organism, much like the execution of a computer program. In the computer, processes have 'methods', specific

ways that tasks are performed, likewise Evolution has 'methods', i.e. mechanisms, and it's very well known that some of these mechanisms can favor

very rapid change when change is required for survival of the genetic line. So evolution does indeed evolve itself, and can guide itself from within as it

were.

There's not really any "methods" though, it's that in chemistry you can't combine any atoms you want, specific chemicals will have specific atomic charges and atomic radii which are quantized and can only combine in certain ways, which I think is more like what your trying to say, which still isn't to say mutations themselves aren't completely random.

Edited by EquisDeXD
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What your essentially saying though is "even though I can roll a die, I can also force a side for it to be on". So what? There's no evidence that there exists such a thing that somehow "guides" all of evolution. Circumstances change randomly which favor whatever happens to have mutated to survive those circumstances before they change again.

Well, the word "process" was invented before computers were invented, but it is similar to a system of corresponding takss that need to be met for somethign to happen.

There's not really any "methods" though, it's that in chemistry you can't combine any atoms you want, specific chemicals will have specific atomic charges and atomic radii which are quantized and can only combine in certain ways, which I think is more like what your trying to say, which still isn't to say mutations themselves aren't completely random.

Don't tell me 'what I'm trying to say', I've expressed exactly what I was trying to say. I could use more words and say more things but I'm not trying to write a book here.

The other people who have replied to this thread knew exactly what I meant when I said that evolution was a process, and by the time I had returned to this thread they

had explained it to the OP, and they already indicate an awareness of what I said in my last post, so who is missing what here?

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Don't tell me 'what I'm trying to say', I've expressed exactly what I was trying to say. I could use more words and say more things but I'm not trying to write a book here.

The other people who have replied to this thread knew exactly what I meant when I said that evolution was a process, and by the time I had returned to this thread they

had explained it to the OP, and they already indicate an awareness of what I said in my last post, so who is missing what here?

Yeah, I myself even said it's a process, but, your first paragraph is sort of pointless, all your saying is "ok, we can just drop a 6 sided die on the table and force it to be on one side" even though the actual event of just letting a die roll is random and nothing you say changes that. But you sort of use that in later paragraphs to justify the existence for some kind of "guiding" factor which there is no evidence for. Different products of an evolutionary process such as one species becoming more prominent and therefore consuming more of a particular resource or certain genomes dispersing through a population causing an evolutionary shift which can have highly probable results for a given environment, but that's about the extent of prediction or "guidance", the mutations themselves are completely random, it's kind of hard to factor infinite randomness into a computer, in fact it's technically saying the chances of any particular mutation are 1/infinity, which mathematically is undefined, but in measure theory the different elements of an infinite set have an arbitrary label of 0 such as that something can have a 0 probability but still happen, but can still happen because we can be "almost sure". In other words, there's so many possible random mutations that the probability of any one is technically 0.

If an alien was on Earth around 3.8 billion years ago, they would not be able to predict that humans would eventually be a result, it's random, always has been, always will be. Even if they tried to influence the bacterium and put plasmids in then that they thought would create organisms that would evolve into humans, there's still plenty of room not only for random mutations but environmental pressures like maybe a meteor sneaks up on Earth and makes it hotter or colder or even the selective pressures within species themselves.

Edited by EquisDeXD
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Yeah, I myself even said it's a process, but, your first paragraph is sort of pointless, all your saying is "ok, we can just drop a 6 sided die on the table and force it to be on one side" even though the actual event of just letting a die roll is random and nothing you say changes that.

I don't think what he said is pointless. I agree that the die roll is random and I think he knew that.

But you sort of use that in later paragraphs to justify the existence for some kind of "guiding" factor which there is no evidence for. Different products of an evolutionary process such as one species becoming more prominent and therefore consuming more of a particular resource or certain genomes dispersing through a population causing an evolutionary shift which can have highly probable results for a given environment, but that's about the extent of prediction or "guidance",

Natural selection/fitness landscape is the guidance he was referring to I believe, as you said in that quote, and it does alter the probability that a particular mutation can survive over generations.

If an alien was on Earth around 3.8 billion years ago, they would not be able to predict that humans would eventually be a result, it's random, always has been, always will be. Even if they tried to influence the bacterium and put plasmids in then that they thought would create organisms that would evolve into humans, there's still plenty of room not only for random mutations but environmental pressures like maybe a meteor sneaks up on Earth and makes it hotter or colder or even the selective pressures within species themselves.

I'd agree that such long term prediction like that would most likely be impossible, but prediction over much shorter time periods could be possible.

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I don't think what he said is pointless. I agree that the die roll is random and I think he knew that.

Natural selection/fitness landscape is the guidance he was referring to I believe, as you said in that quote, and it does alter the probability that a particular mutation can survive over generations.

I'd agree that such long term prediction like that would most likely be impossible, but prediction over much shorter time periods could be possible.

It's nice to know that at least someone clearly understands what I'm saying.

A while back people used to say that 90% of the genome was junk'. But now they're getting smarter, they recognize that these were successful adaptations

the organism used in the past and they can be 'revived' so to speak, if the organisms survival requires it, by what mechanisms I do not know.

To my knowledge Darwin, that gentle and caring man, had no philosophy regarding evolution, he simply observed it to occur in Nature. So the notion

of a Neo-Darwin philosophy is to me completely silly.

I think we should disregard any philosophical guidance, no matter who offers it, and just try to understand what mechanisms it works by.

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