Comment by Wiseman on The Bedrock of Morality: Arbitrary? · 2008-08-15T02:01:25.000Z · LW · GW

@J Thomas: "Why would anybody think that there is a single perfect morality, and if everybody could only see it then we'd all live in peace and harmony?"

Because they have a specific argument which leads them to believe that?

You know, there's no reason why one couldn't consider one language more efficient at communication than others, at least by human benchmarks, all else being equal (how well people know the language, etc.). Ditto for morality.

Thomas, you are running in to the same problem Eliezer is: you can't have a convincing argument about what is fair, versus what is not fair, if you don't explicitly define "fair" in the first place. It's more than a little surprising that this isn't very obvious.

Comment by Wiseman on Is Fairness Arbitrary? · 2008-08-14T06:22:37.000Z · LW · GW

"Giving N people each 1/Nth is nonetheless a fair sort of thing to do"

How can we know this unless we actually define what "fair" is, or what its bedrock is? Or are we just assuming that roughly, "fair" means "equal proportions"?

Comment by Wiseman on Inseparably Right; or, Joy in the Merely Good · 2008-08-09T22:17:45.000Z · LW · GW

@Eliezer: "As this is what I identify with the meaning of the term, 'good'..."

I'm still a little cloudy about one thing though Eliezer, and this seems to be the point Roko is making as well. Once you have determined what physically has happened in a situation, and what has caused it, how do inarguably decide that it is "good" or "bad"? Based on what system of prefering one physical state over another?

Obviously, saving a child from death is good, but how do you decide in trickier situations where intuition can't do the work for you, and where people just can't agree on anything, like say, abortion?

Comment by Wiseman on Anthropomorphic Optimism · 2008-08-06T03:36:38.000Z · LW · GW

Are we really still beating up on group selectionism here, Eliezer?

I think this fallacy needs to be corrected. Yes, group selection is real. Maybe not in the anthropomorphic way of organisms "voluntarily" restraining their breeding, but in terms of adaptation, yes, individual genomes will adapt to survive better as per the requirements of the group. They have no choice BUT to do this, else they go extinct.

The example Eliezer gave of insect populations being selected for low population, actually proves group selectionism. Why? Because it doesn't matter that the low group population was achieved by cannibalism, so long as the populations were low so that their prey-population would not crash.

Saying group selection isn't real is as fallacious as saying a “Frodo” gene cannot exist, despite the fact that it does, in reality.

Can we correct these misconceptions yet?

Comment by Wiseman on The Meaning of Right · 2008-07-29T21:53:00.000Z · LW · GW

This post is called the "The Meaning of Right", but it doesn't spend much time actually defining what situations should be considered as right instead of wrong, other than a bit at the end which seems to define "right" as simply "happiness". Rather its a lesson in describing how to take your preferred world state, and causally link that to what you'd have to do to get to that state. But that world state is still ambiguously right/wrong, according to any absolute sense, as of this post.

So does this post say what "right" means, other than simply "happiness" (which sounds like generic utilitarianism), am I simply missing something?

Comment by Wiseman on The Gift We Give To Tomorrow · 2008-07-17T16:30:40.000Z · LW · GW

Evolution is not mindless or stupid. Rather, it gets more intelligent as time goes on and intelligence in species increases.

Why? Because as the intelligence in an organism increases, that intelligence becomes a real selection pressure for other organisms around it. For example, human beings mentally decide to be with friends with like mindsets often, thus increasing that persons genetic fitness.

If human beings are directly part of the selection pressure in evolution, evolution cannot possibly be called stupid.

This is how love can evolve out of nothing, from evolution that is initially stupid, because evolution evolves reality to require love to survive, by nature of reality's increased complexity and increased intelligence.

Comment by Wiseman on Whither Moral Progress? · 2008-07-16T08:41:35.000Z · LW · GW

Eliezer: Wiseman, if everyone were blissed-out by direct stimulation of their pleasure center all the time, would that by definition be moral progress?

Compared to todays state of affairs in the world? Yes, I think that would be enormous moral progress compared to right now (so long as the bliss was not short term and would not burn out eventually and leave everyone dead. So long as the bliss was of an individual's choice. So long as it really was everyone in bliss, and others didn't have to suffer for it. Etc. etc.)

Comment by Wiseman on Whither Moral Progress? · 2008-07-16T05:32:36.000Z · LW · GW

Since the actual source of the meaning of "morality" is simply about achieving happiness, humans will eventually link political philosophies which increase happiness with "morality".

Subhan's challenge is easy to solve if you accept that morality is not epiphenomenal, and actually grounded in concrete, mechanically-driven happiness.

Comment by Wiseman on Rebelling Within Nature · 2008-07-14T06:22:54.000Z · LW · GW

I don't get this side debate between Eliezer and Caledonian.

Caledonian's original comment was "Deeper goals and preferences can result in the creation and destruction of shallower ones", which cites a common and accepted belief in cognitive science that there is such a thing as hierarchical goal systems, which might explain human behavior. Nothing controversial there.

Eliezer responds by saying that emotions, not goals, have to be flat, and further, that "each facet of ourselves that we judge, is judged by the whole", which is only ambiguously related to both goals and emotions.

Now Caledonian, did you mean something other than just generic goals to explain this conflict?

Or Eliezer, do you really believe that a goal system is necessarily flat, or that emotions == goals? If so, under what pretense?

Comment by Wiseman on Timeless Identity · 2008-06-03T20:58:19.000Z · LW · GW

In that case I don't think MWI says anything we didn't already know: specifically that 'stuff happens' outside of our control, which is something which we have to deal with even in non-quantum lines of thought. Trying to make choices different when acknowledging that MWI is true probably will result in no utility gain at all, since saying that x number of future worlds out of the total will result in some undesirable state, is the same as saying, under copenhagen, the chances it will happen to you is x out-of total. And that lack of meaningfull difference should be a clue as to MWI's falshood.

In the end the only way to guide our actions is to abide by rational ethics, and seek to improve those.

Comment by Wiseman on Timeless Identity · 2008-06-03T20:13:24.000Z · LW · GW

Kaj - there is a more cheerful answer. And this is it: Many-Worlds isn't true. Although Eliezer may be confident, the final word on the issue is still a long way off. Eliezer has been illogical on enough of his reasoning that there is reason to question that confidence.

Comment by Wiseman on Timeless Identity · 2008-06-03T17:14:54.000Z · LW · GW

Err, how can two copies of a person be exactly the same when the gravitational forces on each will both be different? Isn't the very idea that you can transfer actual atoms in the universe to a new location while somehow ensuring that this transfer doesn't deterministically guarantee being able to determining which person "caused" the copy to exist (I.E. the original), physical nonsense?

While molecules may not have invisible "unique ID" numbers attached to them, they are unique in the sense of quantum evolution, preserving the "importance" of one atom distinguished from another.

Comment by Wiseman on The Dilemma: Science or Bayes? · 2008-05-13T20:59:06.000Z · LW · GW

I am interested in the answer to John Maxwell's question as well.

In that vein, let me re-ask a question I had in a previous post but was not answered:

How does MWI not violate no-faster-than-light-travel itself?

That is, if a decoherence happens with a particle/amplitude, requiring at that point a split universe in order to process everything so both possibilities actually happen, how do all particles across the entire universe know that at that point they must duplicate/superposition/whatever, in order to maintain the entegrity of two worlds where both posibilities happen?

Comment by Wiseman on Many Worlds, One Best Guess · 2008-05-11T22:29:02.000Z · LW · GW

Question: how does MWI not violate SR/no-faster-than-light-travel itself?

That is, if a decoherence happens with a particle/amplitude, requiring at that point a split universe in order to process everything so both possibilities actually happen, how do all particles across the entire universe know that at that point they must duplicate/superposition/whatever, in order to maintain the entegrity of two worlds where both posibilities happen?

Comment by Wiseman on Collapse Postulates · 2008-05-10T23:30:17.000Z · LW · GW

Dustin: "Good God, he's even making up his own contradictions now."

That is a meaningless comment, and adds nothing to this discussion. The whole point I believe, of Caledonian's argument is that the statement "MWI -is- collapse" is not a contradiction, so long as the differences in the theories/interpretations of QM can never be substantiated with experimental evidence, ever, because the theories themselves don't allow for it, rather than we just haven't seen those experiments yet.

That said, I don't think that's the case with MWI. If you are saying something about reality that supposedly is true, and has an effect on the rest of reality, I find it unlikely that if it were true, it wouldn't eventually result in experimental evidence that proved that.

But if it can not be shown that MWI would result in experiments that explicitly differentiated it from non-local collapse, than Caledonian's point remains valid, or at least valid enough that there's no reason to be nasty about it (Eliezer, Dustin).

Comment by Wiseman on Collapse Postulates · 2008-05-09T17:41:20.000Z · LW · GW

Bob: But multiple worlds are observed, in subatomic phenomena. That's what superposition is. There is experimental evidence for multiple worlds.

How does the experimental evidence favor MW over a possible collapse function with non-GR-violating non-locality?

Comment by Wiseman on Collapse Postulates · 2008-05-09T17:18:42.000Z · LW · GW

4 points:

If collapse actually worked the way its adherents say it does, it would be:

  1. The only non-linear evolution in all of quantum mechanics.
  2. The only non-unitary evolution in all of quantum mechanics. 3.... WHAT DOES THE GOD-DAMNED COLLAPSE POSTULATE HAVE TO DO FOR PHYSICISTS TO REJECT IT? KILL A GOD-DAMNED PUPPY?

Not a valid argument. The physics of the universe are what they are, at the microscopic and macroscopic levels. If it so happens that there is some non-GR-violating non-locality going on (don't complain, just cause you can't imagine it, doesn't mean it's not possible), then your list above simply would be wrong, and there would be no violation of "traditional physics" to complain about.

In any case, since from the perspective of each world we have non-determinism, and the only world we are acting on is our own, why is it necessary to explain many worlds for the purposes of AGI?

Well, first: Does any collapse theory have any experimental support? No.

Neither does MW, they are both interpretations.

I'm going out on a limb on this one, but since the whole universe includes separate branching “worlds”, and over time this means we have more worlds now than 1 second ago, and since the worlds can interact with each other, how does this not violate conservation of mass and energy?

Comment by Wiseman on Identity Isn't In Specific Atoms · 2008-04-19T15:26:42.000Z · LW · GW

Wiseman, there's only one amplitude distribution. One. Not two. Not three. One, in all the physics we know.

I do understand this Eliezer. But my point is even though it's just one distribution, there is still a description of differentation within that one distribution, otherwise the universe would be just one electron, or something like that. So since there is differentation within the distribution, and since those differentations are tracked and consistent due to the non-random laws of this universe, isn't that really the same as "identity", in that the "differentations" are always 100% unique?

Comment by Wiseman on Identity Isn't In Specific Atoms · 2008-04-19T05:53:01.000Z · LW · GW

Isn't each particle or amplitude configuration unique because only it has its exact relationship to every other amplitude configuration in the universe? Doesn't that sufficiently make each amplitude configuration at a specific spatial-temporal locality different from every other one, in that the universe can "tell" one from the other?

Comment by Wiseman on Can You Prove Two Particles Are Identical? · 2008-04-15T16:07:44.000Z · LW · GW

Ben Jones: Well that's just plain wrong.... QM is the most experimentally validated theory we have, but one of its implications is the relative identity of quanta.

The experiments show specific results, but it may be possible that some properties of the particles aren't interacting with any aspect of the experiment, thus QM would still be correct in the explanation for the original experiments, but not complete, as they don't explain the additional properties. So it is entirely possible.

The generality "invalidating one aspect of a theory can't invalidate the whole" may be a bit too extreme, but for practical purposes most theories are complex enough that that usually won't happen, it and it certainly wouldn't in the case of QM and particle identity.

Comment by Wiseman on Can You Prove Two Particles Are Identical? · 2008-04-15T04:33:50.000Z · LW · GW

Scott, I'm not dismissing QM's accomplishment, because yes it's significant, the point is simply that it's still just a theory, and so long as that's what it is, dismissing the possibility that it is incomplete, or wrong, is not scientific.

Eliezer, I get that you are highly confident in QM. Obviously, QM has a lot going for it. But that still doesn't mean that QM can't be incomplete, or even wrong. Of course, reality is what it is, but our mental representation of it can be arbitrarily accurate or innacurate, and we can continue to fool our selfs into thinking that "This is the point in which my scientific knowledge is complete", but that is completely unscientific. Now that is elementary cognitive science that I'm sure you agree with. So it is curious why you can't imagine how there might possibly be some high-level theoretical component to particle physics which QM simply doesn't take into account, despite how confident you feel that you haven't missed anything in the math or logic backing up the theory.

And making the claim that one aspect of a theory being wrong invalidates the whole, is just as presumptuous as saying that a theory is simply correct, no questions. So let's not go there.

Comment by Wiseman on Can You Prove Two Particles Are Identical? · 2008-04-15T01:27:58.000Z · LW · GW

Eliezer: There can be properties of the particles we don't know about yet, but our existing experiments already show those new properties are also identical

According to a specific theory, the experiments do, yes. But again I beg to know why you have 100% confidence that right now you think our understanding of sub-atomic particles is totally complete, such that there can't possibly be anything about particles that we haven't taken into account in our experiments so far. More specifically, I really doubt that any experiment will show two particles are exactly the same with absolute certainty, unless you subject the two particles to all possible interactions within this universe, which of course is unlikely in any experiment.

Comment by Wiseman on Can You Prove Two Particles Are Identical? · 2008-04-14T23:33:07.000Z · LW · GW

Well then, if philosophers must be more cautious about their philosophies, because observable evidence might prove them wrong, then this goes equally for the physicist's arguments as well: Observable evidence might prove him wrong in the future. Since it is always true that "You might be wrong", then it is never valid to say you can prove that two particles are exactly the same, since future theories or evidence may show there are properties of a particle we just don't know about yet, and how to test for them. Therefore Eliezer's argument against Philosopher Bob is also wrong, making me wonder what exactly the point of this post was in the first place, other than the obvious "Observable evidence might prove you wrong" (no offense meant)

Comment by Wiseman on Can You Prove Two Particles Are Identical? · 2008-04-14T17:44:49.000Z · LW · GW

Eliezer, I may be missing something here, but it seems you did not really disprove the philosophers argument. Yes according to physics status-quo of understanding, there might be a way to prove absolutely that two particles are the same, but who says the status-quo is complete, and how can you ever know that it is? That is the philosphers point I believe.

Comment by Wiseman on The Tragedy of Group Selectionism · 2007-11-12T20:43:00.000Z · LW · GW

Windy, according to my logic, yes, to a certain degree all adaptations contribute to some sort of group survival, thus negating the importance of drawing the distinction between group and individual/K selection as some sort of fundamental difference in the mechanics of evolution.

That doesn't mean I'm saying 'group selection' is not a valid area of study, it still needs to be resolved how some adaptations which seem detrimental to the individual end up being good for the individual by proxy of the being good for the group. This is not so much a redefinition of 'group selection' as it is lowering the expectations of what group selection can be expected to accomplish, namely not being able to resolve some impossible logical paradox.

"Actual decreased fitness" does not mean "all will die". If it is logically impossible for "actual decreased fitness" to evolve, how do you explain worker ants? (ignore for the moment whether it's kin or group selection or what, just consider what the fitness of the workers is.)

If you are talking about genetic fitness, the pure ability to continue the genetic line, yes it does mean eventually all will die. I am not giving any importance to an arbitrary definition of 'health', which is not always important to genetic survival. If the organism reproduces successfully from generation to generation, then it is fit, period. The more it reproduces successfully, the more fit. Existence of the genome in an active form is the only important factor.

So to reinforce the impossibility of the paradox, if the group is able to continue its existence generation after generation via the survival of the individuals within that group, then the individuals must themselves be 'fit', mustn't they? No matter the bizzarity of how they are able to reproduce, they do, which is why the group survives.

Worker ants are explained because through the breeding structure of an ant colony, the worker ants behavior ensures a genome very similar to it's own will continue to exist. It effectively is protecting its own genome even if won't actually get to reproduce with its exact genome.

Comment by Wiseman on The Tragedy of Group Selectionism · 2007-11-12T18:11:00.000Z · LW · GW

Wiseman's misunderstanding of group selection demonstrates why this would have been an important distinction to make.

Windy, the point you referred to from Caledonian is not different than my own, so clearly it is you who is misunderstanding something here.

I "get" what group selection is, as you know, at the high level it's not a difficult concept. But my point in an earlier argument is that the idea of group selection can logically only mean one thing, and it is not the idea that somehow the group can flourish while the individuals are slowly dying out, due to actual decreased fitness, that is a logical paradox that cannot be resolved. There seems to be exceptionally high expectations from group selection in this sense. Unrealistic expectations.

If you take away that paradoxical definition of group selection, and consider the only logical alternative, 'group selection' now becomes how can the group of individuals evolve in a way in which changes how the individual survives to benefit not just itself but also the group, but not the degree to which the individual survives. In this sense of group selection, evolution at the 'gene level' is not forbidden from partaking in group selection. Remember, if the degree to which the individual was able to survive decreased, if it was actual decreased fitness, we arrive back at the paradox where somehow the group is flourishing while all the individuals of that group are dead.

Comment by Wiseman on Natural Selection's Speed Limit and Complexity Bound · 2007-11-08T23:49:00.000Z · LW · GW

Eliezer: "If the entire human genome of 3 billion DNA bases could be meaningful, it's not clear why it would contain <25,000 genes"

I wouldn't say we know enough about biological mechanics to say we necessarily need more protein coding-DNA that protein-regulating DNA. If you think about it, collagen the protein is used in everything from skin, tendons, ligaments, muscles, fascia, etc. But you can't code for all of those uses of collagen just by HAVING the collagen code in the DNA, you need regulating code to instruct when/where/how to use it.

Also, as I explained earlier, it seems doubtful that you could ever calculate the maximum sustainable DNA that actually codes, unless you know how many mutations are detrimental. You might be able to come up with a mathematical relationship, but not an absolute amount that would rule all that human DNA is junk.

Comment by Wiseman on The Tragedy of Group Selectionism · 2007-11-08T23:18:54.000Z · LW · GW

"Once you are dealing with hominids, which may be the most important example, indeed "enforcement" may well be important. There is a growing lit on how reciprocal altruism ultimately depends on punishment of free riders, that is, enforcement."

That sounds to me like an example of an "Evolution Fairy".

Comment by Wiseman on The Tragedy of Group Selectionism · 2007-11-07T23:48:25.000Z · LW · GW

TGGP, your description of what group selection is is not in contradiction with mine. I merely described one isolated group, but the concept can apply to more than one of course. Imagine two groups of foxes and rabbits, one in which restraint is developed and selected for because of the greater health of their youth in times of famine, and one in which restraint is not in any gene, in which case the health of that population is generally lower than the restrained group, but still alive because it is not competing with any internal restrained-breeding individuals. This concept even works when the fox groups are isolated and the rabbit population is shared (however unlikely, that is possible.)

As for your last comment,

"However, all those populations would be vulnerable to the overbreeding mutation suddenly appearing, so it would not be a good explanation."

...I addressed the mechanics of why this wouldn't be a problem to group selection in my first post.

Comment by Wiseman on The Tragedy of Group Selectionism · 2007-11-07T22:28:39.000Z · LW · GW

Ok Kaj, I agree fast-breeders will at some points overwhelm slow/restrained breeders, at times where food is plentiful and greater than the amount needed to sustain the current fox population. But as long as that breeding goes unrestrained, the ecosystem enters a state which there exists less fox food than needed. As soon as that happens, restrained breeders have an inherint advantage because they waste less energy developing innevitably unviable fetuses. The important thing about this rule is it applies to any situation where they is less food than needed to sustain the current fox population. Even if it's only 99% enough food, the rule still applies. When I say 99% enough food to sustain the current population, I litterally mean that, and not states where there's less food so every fox has to go hungry sometimes. I mean metabolically, can the available food possibly sustain the current fox population? If not what's the advantage of giving birth to more cubs than could possibly survive anyway? How is that behavior going to lead to greater spreading of your genes? I don't see how it could.

I know it sounds like I'm repeating myself, but I just can't think of another way to state it. Perhaps it will come to me later.

Comment by Wiseman on The Tragedy of Group Selectionism · 2007-11-07T21:47:13.000Z · LW · GW

Kaj, fast breeding does not just incur a cost on the cubs, but on the mothers developing the cub fetuses. No matter the dearth of rabbits/food, as long as it's less than the amount needed to sustain the current fox population, the less energy and time spent by a fox mother developing unnecessary fetuses, the less likely she will die before child birth. You can't just calculate the raw probability of cubs surviving by saying "Each cub has X% chance of surviving, therefore the more cubs, the greater total chance that some will survive". A cub is taken care of primarily by it's mother, by nature of non-group selected genes. If each cub has roughly equal capability of aquiring food from the mother, that leaves the same amount of food for a larger number of cubs than the restrained breeding fox families. If 6 cubs have to share the amount of food that can only sustain 1 cub, it's likely no cubs will survive. Even if some cubs manage to horde more food than others, there still can only be so many surviving cubs based on the amount of food available, which will be the same amount as can survive from the restrained-breeder families. That means that the unrestrained breeder-mothers just spent much more energy and time producing the same amount of viable cub offspring as the restrained breeders, leading to a worse long term outlook for the survival of that unrestrained breeding family.

Comment by Wiseman on The Tragedy of Group Selectionism · 2007-11-07T19:53:06.000Z · LW · GW


Believe me, I fully see the obvious, but false, contradiction that you point out. Please understand I considered that when I first wrote my example.

It is ONLY a benefit to the individual because it's also a benefit to the group. Under ANY OTHER circumstances, a fox would do better for itself, and only itself, to reproduce more. But because the other foxes, the group, are around, the individual fox has to evolve for selection pressure not just from the non-fox enviroment, but the fox-group enviroment.

The benefit to the group is not a side effect, it's the cause. Without the group, the fox who reproduced more would not die out. The existence of the group is causing the selection pressure to select foxes who reproduce less, therefore benefitting the whole as much as the individual.

There is no group without the individual. Isolating the group, as if it has no relationship to the individual is purely illogical. To say that genes can benefit the group while at no point contributing to the survivability of just the individuals is a violation of the very basics of evolution. You don't need math to prove that.

Comment by Wiseman on The Tragedy of Group Selectionism · 2007-11-07T19:08:11.000Z · LW · GW

Constant, It's group selection because the individual is essentially making a sacrifice to reproduce less, to benefit the group. It happens blindly, through normal evolution of selecting the individual, but how else do you expect it to happen?

Comment by Wiseman on The Tragedy of Group Selectionism · 2007-11-07T18:42:24.000Z · LW · GW

No group selection? I believe the math in Eliezer's post is wrong. Here is how a hypothetical fox/rabbit population could evolve restrained breeding through group selection.

Picture a geographically isolated fox/rabbit population. At some level, this is guaranteed, simply because there's not an infinite amount of land on this planet to inhabit. Even if the entire planet was one continent with just rabbits and foxes, then that's the isolation geography. So at some point there won't be other foxes getting to eat the un-eated rabbits from the restrained fox population.

Start with a balance of rabbits and foxes. Perhaps this is because foxes are newly migrated to the area. Whatever. The foxes feast on the rabbits, because they are so easy to catch. The rabbit population drops to something that can metabolically support only 5% of the current fox population. As the foxes die out, any fox that has genes to restrain its breeding, is going to do better than foxes that don't, because it will spend less energy developing fox fetuses that won't survive anyway because there isn't enough food to go around. THIS IS THE KEY. If we assume all foxes are roughly equal at catching prey, then any fox family with constrained breeding will have more viable offspring because their mothers didn't die out trying to give birth to 6 foxes with food for only 2. Or the baby foxes, will go up stronger because food for 2 foxes is spread for just those 2, and not 6.

Now after this initial die off of foxes, the rabbit population will rebound. So won't the non-restrained breeders just take over again? No. As soon as the non-restrained breeders get large enough to diminish the rabbit population, the restrained breeders will have the same advantage they had the last time around. And even MORE of the unstrained breeders will die out removing even more of their genes from the gene pool.

Eventually, the non-restrained breeding genes become so rare it's as if they never existed. Only when they randomly pop up due to mutations would the cycle start again.

And here's where something almost magical happens. Every time those unrestrained breeders go crazy and eat all the rabbits, it does, to a certain extent, harm the survivability of the restrained breeders. Not as much as the unrestrained foxes, but enough. That means that any gene that will suppress the initial growth of an unrestrained fox population, will spread itself throughout the fox population. Perhaps a gene will arise that builds multiple chemical/hormonal systems in the fox to specifically restrain breeding, making it exceedingly difficult for any one mutation that un-restrains breeding to actually CAUSE unrestrained breeding.

Group selection. Tada.

Eliezer, just because the raw mechanics of evolution are very simple, doesn't mean bizarre and conceptually complicated things can't happen in the real world mechanics of evolution. Even if they SEEM counter-intuitive to the principles of evolution.

Comment by Wiseman on Natural Selection's Speed Limit and Complexity Bound · 2007-11-06T07:37:00.000Z · LW · GW

Hi Erik,

It's not junk DNA, it merely has usefulness in many different configurations. Perhaps if the mutation would be to skip a base pair entirely, rather than just mis-copy it, it would be more likely to be detrimental.

Comment by Wiseman on Natural Selection's Speed Limit and Complexity Bound · 2007-11-06T06:31:00.000Z · LW · GW

OK, Let me make my point clearer, why we can't calculate the actual complexity limit of working DNA:

1.) Not all mutations are bad. Accepted knowledge: most are simply neutral, a few are bad, and even a fewer are good.
2.) If the mutations are good or neutral, they should effectivly be subtracted from the mutation rate, as they do not contribute to the "one mutation, one death" axiom because good/neutral mutations do not increase death probability.
3.) The mutations will not accumulate either, over many generations, if they are good/neutral. If a mutation really is good or neutral, that's EXACTLY what it is. It's like it never happened, it effectivly doesn't count in the "one mutation, one death" calculations.
4.) We do not know exactly how many mutations are good/bad/neutral. THUS we simply cannot come up with a specific upper boundary to the amount of working DNA in a genome.

Did Eliezer take this into account in the calculations in this article? Or am I missing something here?

Comment by Wiseman on Natural Selection's Speed Limit and Complexity Bound · 2007-11-05T20:04:47.000Z · LW · GW

Disagree. Any genome that has lower copy fidelity will only be removed from the gene pool if the errors in copy actually make the resultant organism unable to survive and reproduce, otherwise it's irrelevant how similar the copied genese are to the original. If the copy error rate produces detrimental genes at a rate that will not cause the species to go extinct, it will allow for any benificial mutations to arise and spread themselves throughout the gene pool at 'leisure'. As long as those positive genese are attached to a genome structure which produces mutations at a specific rate, that mutation rate genome will continue to exist because it's 'carried' by an otherwise healthy genome.

Sexual reproduction supports this concept very well. Fathers share only a portion of their actual genome with their offspring, (effectively a very low copy fidelity from parent to offspring.) And yet this is the most powerful type of reproduction because it allows for rapid adaptation to changing enviroments. However it arose, it's here to stay.

Comment by Wiseman on Natural Selection's Speed Limit and Complexity Bound · 2007-11-05T18:32:09.000Z · LW · GW

If a species can deal with detrimental mutations for several generations, then that simply means that the species has more time to weed out those really bad mutations, making the "one mutation, one death" equation inadequate to describe the die off rate based purely on the mutation rate. Yes, new mutations pop up all the time, but unless those mutations directly add on to the detrimental effects of previous mutations, the species still will survive another generation.

To add on to my other argument that we "know too little" to make hard mathamatical calculations on how big a functional genome can be, we also shouldn't work under the assumption that mutation rates are static. Wikipedia's "Mutation rate" article states the rate varies from species to species, and there is even some disagreement as to what the human rate is. There is NO REASON why a species can't evolve redudent, error correction copy mechanisms so the mutation rate is right at the sweetspot, providing variation but not so much as to cause extinction.

AGAIN, I still advocate that the original point Eliezer made can't be proven untill we know exactly how many mutations are detrimental. As a neutral mutation simply doesn't count, no matter how many generations you look forward, and benificial mutations can counter detrimental ones.

Comment by Wiseman on Natural Selection's Speed Limit and Complexity Bound · 2007-11-05T07:23:57.000Z · LW · GW

Scott A. I wasn't suggesting DNA would magically not mutate after it had evolved towards sophistication, only that the system of genes/DNA that govern a system would become robust enough so it would be immune to the effects of the mutations.

Anway, evolution does not have to "correct" these mutations, as long as the organism can survive with them, they have as much a chance of mutating to a neutral, positive, or other equally detremental state as it has of becoming worse. As a genome becomes larger and larger, it can cope with the same ratio of mutations it always has. The effects of the mutations don't "add up" as is assumed by Eliezer, they effect the local region of DNA and its related function, and that's it. If an organism happens to have a synergetically enhanced group of detrimental mutations, then yes that one will die, but showing empirically that that would happen more often than not, I thin, would be very difficult.

In any case, I still don't see where the ~25 megabyte number comes from. Wouldn't you need to know precisely how many mutations were detrimental to work that number out? And I'm assuming it's reasonable to say we don't have that information?

Comment by Wiseman on Natural Selection's Speed Limit and Complexity Bound · 2007-11-05T05:37:19.000Z · LW · GW

Actually, Scott Aaronson, something you said in your second to last post made me think of another reason why the axiom "one mutation, one death" may not be true. Actually, it's just an elaberation of the point I made earlier but I thought I'd flesh it out a bit more.

The idea is that the more physically and mentally complex, and physically larger, a species gets, the more capable is it is of coping with detrimental genes and still surviving to reproduce. When you're physically bigger, and smarter, there's more 'surplus' resources to draw upon to help in survivial. Example: There is a rare genetic disorder that causes some people to have no finger prints. This mean's that their manual dexterity is greatly reduced because of lack of friction in the fingers. And while detrimental, this is a historicaly prevelant case that has not gone away just because it's bad for an individual. You can learn to avoid situations where failure in manual dexterity could be fatal, etc.

I also believe it's possible for long standing sections of DNA to evolve and become more robust to mutation once they have "proven themselves". Meaning if a certain series of genes/DNA that serve a benificial function are around long enough, they will become more refined and effective, and especially robust. However this is accomplished specifically, which of course I don't know, I don't see why it's mechanically impossible. Thus, large sections of DNA could essentially be "subtracted" from amount of DNA to be mutated per generation.

Any flaws in this logic?

Comment by Wiseman on Natural Selection's Speed Limit and Complexity Bound · 2007-11-04T22:23:17.000Z · LW · GW

Eliezer, I see two potential flaws in your argument, let me try and explain:

1.) The copy error rate can't directly translate mathematically into how often individuals in a species die out due to the copy error rate. We simply can't know how often a mutation is neutral, good, or detrimental, in part because that depends on the specific genome involved. I imagine some genomes are simply more robust than others. But I believe the prevailing wisdom is that most mutations are neutral, simply because proteins are too physically big to be effected by small changes. Either way, I can't see how anyone knows enough about this to be confident in coming up with specific mathematically calculated numbers.

2.) One bad mutation does NOT equal one death, as far as I see it. Greater intelligence leads to greater capability to cope with detrimental circumstances. Sickle-Cell-Anemia is detrimental, but people live and reproduce with it, and have for generations. But it's almost entirely detrimental, especially if your risk of Malaria is low. It's true, organisms with non-detrimental versions of the genes will gradually take over, but that doesn't mean the detrimental versions can't survive on their own and with just a lower population cap.

And not referring to you in saying this Eliezer, but this whole “Most of the DNA is junk” mantra reeks of conventionalist thinking, a classic form of bias, and has always annoyed me when I saw it in science programs and news articles. Current scientific knowledge knows more about proteins than any other aspect of the function of DNA, so it follows that people will focus on this and gloss over the importance of the other functions of DNA. If you know something very concrete about DNA: proteins, that are amazing enough in themselves, it's very easy to justify the case that the rest is simply junk DNA. I doubt that, I think we just do know what it does yet on a mechanical level.