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Survival of the fittest.

 
 
Arjen
 
Reply Thu 8 May, 2008 06:20 pm
Sirvival of the fittest is often regard as a way of nature in which the strongest (or, more literally, the fittest) survive and reproduce so as to ensure the continued existence of the species or of the being itself.

In reality things are almost as describe above, but not quite. The predicate "fittest" is an a posteriori jusgement. Humanity "labels" the surviving species or being as "fittest". In reality sometimes a being not nearly as fit as another survives a fight, or a "fit" species can be eradicated by a flash flood for instance. The difference between what the term means in reality and what it means in reality can be quite different: the luckiest.

I mean to seperate the thoughts of a process from the actual occurances. It is not the "fitness" that makes a being or a species survive; it is survival that makes us call them that.
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NeitherExtreme
 
  1  
Reply Thu 8 May, 2008 06:38 pm
@Arjen,
A few similar thoughts from a very old book:

I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come:
As fish are caught in a cruel net,
or birds are taken in a snare,
so people are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them.
Fido
 
  1  
Reply Thu 8 May, 2008 09:16 pm
@NeitherExtreme,
NeitherExtreme wrote:
A few similar thoughts from a very old book:

I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come:
As fish are caught in a cruel net,
or birds are taken in a snare,
so people are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them.

People defeat natural selection, and minimize chance through government and social organization. If Government and other social organizations did not so often fail us, we would not stop to pray, or count our lucky stars. That we must so often count upon hope to save us, and fortune to guide us is a curse against our leaders.
0 Replies
 
Aedes
 
  1  
Reply Thu 8 May, 2008 09:32 pm
@Arjen,
Arjen wrote:
I mean to seperate the thoughts of a process from the actual occurances. It is not the "fitness" that makes a being or a species survive; it is survival that makes us call them that.

So if I take a fish and a dog and I drop them in the middle of the ocean, we cannot say in advance that the fish isn't fitter to survive in that environment, a priori? That would be the occurence, of course, not the thoughts, I do understand the issue you raise.

But what happens when you predict survival based on fitness?

We do this in my subspecialty of infectious diseases quite a bit. Drug resistant organisms are fitter to survive under the pressure of drugs to which they're resistant. That's obvious. But take away that drug pressure and the population reverts quickly to drug sensitive -- and it will do this predictably. Why? Because there is a fitness cost to developing drug resistance, by which it is only advantageous in the presence of drug pressure.

So we can determine in advance which populations will be fit before imposing selective conditions.

Would you still regard this as an a posteriori judgement?
0 Replies
 
Arjen
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 May, 2008 03:01 am
@Arjen,
Percentagewise one can predict which creature will have the most chance of survival, but it tells one nothing of what will happen. Statistics are not something one can use as a soothsayer. They only throw dust in the eyes.

In the medical line of work realising what would boost the odds of certain species (or substrains) can be very valueble, but you are now speaking of a controlled environment. Reality is in no way controlled, nor controllable.

To get to your question if I would still call it a posteriori: yes, I would.

The reason huanity knows certain strains are drug-resistant is because that has been observed. Therefore it is an a posteriori judgement. It also is an a posteriori judgement because one can only say so for sure after having observed said process again.

This is not what the topic was about though. It was about the distinction between reality and what we think in the subject of survival of the fittest. Indeed the difference of what takes place and what humanity deems to take place. No matter how accurate, the two are not the same and no matter if a judgement is equal to what takes place it is always a posteriori.

You seem to be mixing the two up Aedes.
0 Replies
 
Aedes
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 May, 2008 09:11 am
@Arjen,
You bring up judgement of "the fittest" in this thread.

Can't your argument be applied to any adjective or quality at all? It applies just as much to calling something "big" or "red" as to calling something "fit". (Or the superlatives, biggest, reddest, or fittest).

So what do you find unique about "survival of the fittest" that merits its own thread?
0 Replies
 
Arjen
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 May, 2008 09:58 am
@Arjen,
You are right Aedes, I was basing this argument on the thought that universals do not exist as such. I have posted a great text on this by William of Ockham (here) by the way. For anyone who hasn't read it: enjoy!.

I created this topic because of a turn in my discussion with Pyth on Hobbes' Social Contract Theorey (HSCT). It seemed prudent to discuss "survival of the fittest" before continuing. Do you think I should have mentioned that in the opening post?
0 Replies
 
GoshisDead
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 May, 2008 12:55 pm
@Arjen,
The term itself was coined by Thomas Huxley, sometimes refered to as Darwin's Bulldog.
Evolutionary fitness has never refered to the strongest anything. It has always been about Luck. The "random mutations" that in most cases would make an individual in a species less fit to survive, happen to make it more fit to survive in another ecological niche. So things like natural disaster and general environment change factor into survival evolutionary fitness. The point behind the theory of evolution is debunk any claim to progressional evolution, meaning that a better species replaces the one before it, or better versions of the same species replace worse ones. The theory is to show that evolution is random at its heart and is no respecter of strentgh, progression, species, or individual.
Arjen
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 May, 2008 01:11 pm
@Arjen,
Wel said GoshisDead. Allthough I did not know what the reason for the formulation was I think it was well formulated. Do you think the formulation is correct Gosh?
0 Replies
 
Aedes
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 May, 2008 02:14 pm
@GoshisDead,
Arjen wrote:
I created this topic because of a turn in my discussion with Pyth on Hobbes' Social Contract Theorey (HSCT). It seemed prudent to discuss "survival of the fittest" before continuing. Do you think I should have mentioned that in the opening post?
Doesn't matter, it's a good topic. I certainly appreciate your point that at least some prior understanding is required either for determining past selective events or preducting future selective events.

But we certainly recognize this in science, so it's nothing new. Journals and funding agencies specifically require that you declare and define your outcome measures before doing a study. So if you're doing a study to determine fitness in a past era, you need to in advance decide which data in your study sample will meet your criteria of greater or lower fitness. Similarly, in a prospective report (say I predict that mosquitos will be more fit than polar bears if global warming continues), I still need to define that term and there has to at least be some logic to it. The definition and/or the logic will come from prior understanding.

Arjen wrote:
Statistics are not something one can use as a soothsayer. They only throw dust in the eyes.
Well, that may be a bit extreme. Statistics don't provide any access to absolute truth, but in a practical world they do provide confidence and guide practice. And strong statistics provide the direction for future study. Sure, they mean nothing in the absolute because you can never study a denominator of infinity -- but I'm not sure epistemology in the practical world really requires that. We're all comfortable saying to patients that everyone is different and statistics don't predict the outcome of an individual -- after all, we've all seen plenty of exceptions.


GoshisDead wrote:
Evolutionary fitness has never refered to the strongest anything.
Natural selection is the most rapid and extreme influence on genetic evolution. You can see when doing things like haplotype mapping and population genetics that rapid "genetic sweeps" happen in the face of selective pressure. One great example is the rapid sweep of drug resistance that happens in microorganisms once an antibiotic enters widespread use. Another great example in humans is the rapid sweep of sickle cell anemia (as well as numerous other protective genes) that happened at least 4 times in Africa during the last 10,000 to 20,000 years because of the rise of Plasmodium falciparum malaria. However, the dominant force in evolution over time is not natural selection, but rather genetic drift caused by finite populations with non-random mating. This is particularly true in small, isolated populations who have a 'founder effect', i.e. they don't have identical gene frequencies to their ancestral population.

Quote:
The theory is to show that evolution is random at its heart and is no respecter of strentgh, progression, species, or individual.
Well, evolutionary theory as most laypeople understand it is quite a bit different in the age of molecular genetics (and for that matter Mendelian inheritance is a gross oversimplification as well). Mutations are NOT at all entirely random -- but at the same time (as you imply) they're not teleologically directed either (though there may actually be exceptions to this). Fundamentally, though, you are correct that the unit of evolution is the mutation and the selective pressure is exacted on an already genetically heterogeneous population.

One interesting side note is that many organisms have been shown to reproduce more quickly under environmentally adverse conditions (this is actually true in human populations in which there are high infant / child mortality rates). Thus, adverse conditions may lead to higher reproductive rates that introduce a greater likelihood of advantageous genotypes arising. The mechanism for this is being studied closely in animals in the Chernobyl containment area.
0 Replies
 
GoshisDead
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 May, 2008 02:52 pm
@Arjen,
Right Aedes, that's the difference between science and natural selection, while its true that when studying what ifs on a population of polar bears versus mosquitos, or a polar bear population with a calorie conservation tendency versus one without, that proposing the environmental variables would produce a statistical winner between populations, but controlled studies can only witness. Internally the process is subject to whatever mutations and environments present themselves. If the mutations and environments are controlled it is directed evolution not natural.
Aedes
 
  1  
Reply Fri 9 May, 2008 03:13 pm
@GoshisDead,
GoshisDead wrote:
If the mutations and environments are controlled it is directed evolution not natural.
I wouldn't use the word "evolution" to describe intentional types of genetic selection (like breeding racehorses or showdogs, by selecting drought-hardy plants using environmental selection, or by introducing changes at the level of the base pair or gene). These I'll grant are a type of selection, but it's not evolution which strictly speaking doesn't specify artificial versus natural. I mean the megafauna of North America (like sabertooth tigers, wooly mammoths, giant sloths) were hunted to extinction by humans. They clearly weren't fit enough to withstand the selective pressure of humans. Is this evolution? Yes insofar as evolution describes population genetic change over time.

I'd also add that under natural conditions mutations do not happen purely randomly -- but non-randomness is different than being goal-directed, which is not the case. Secondly, selective pressures will maintain certain characteristics in nature, so even the random appearance of an advantageous genotype is not randomly preserved -- and this is in stark contrast to the objections of "intelligent design" advocates. For example, aerobic metabolism has been around for a good 3 billion years, and we have some ancient genes in our own cells called cytochromes that we share with bacteria from whom we diverged that long ago. This method of producing energy has been so efficient and so advantageous in an environment with lots of oxygen that it's by far the dominant form throughout nearly all life -- only archaebacteria are exceptions. So here is an example of evolution that has been non-randomly preserved (the fittest, if you will).
Pythagorean
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 May, 2008 01:25 pm
@Aedes,
Responding to the original post I would say that the term "survival of the fittest" does not, to my mind, refer to the concept of natural selection. I see it generally as a reference to a condition of mankind prior to his exact cultivation of nature and which prescribes a way of behaviouristic tendencies as to how he should act in light of this primal insight. To me it means he who is strongest within a given naturally occuring context, is he who is more likely to survive.

I see it as a way of looking at nature and man without the colour of religion or other intervening doctrine. It is brutal, it is plain and it is honest. In the world of nature might does in fact make right because morality, reason and philosophy are, within a wholly natural context, purely theoretical doctrines and do not bear upon the actual case as it is found in nature apart from man-made law.

And how could it be otherwise? Unless some god were to intervene for reasons of his own the innocent will be crushed by those seeking power as it has always been the case. This is a naturalistic, progressive doctrine and has more in common with ancient Roman and Greek and other pagan social outlooks where a man is mortally measured by gold or by any other standard of practical worth and where human slavery has had its day.


"What, slavery is progressive?", you say. But, whoever said that I subscribed to 'progressivism?'

If might were not the sole arbiter of things (from a purely natural perspective) there would have been no need for Jesus Christ either, and no need for Western standards of justice. Unless metaphysically grounded moral theories can be proven to aid those who brutally quest after power, then the protection of innocent people are unscientific actions. Because only a foundational theory of justice can protect the innocent and such theories apparently posess no scientific validity (unless you can prove the existence of a benevolent god, of course).

--My main point is this: if you believe in god and the metaphysical good then survival of the fittest is void. But if you believe in science alone then there we are left with no fundamental theory which can practically prevent the "abuses of power" on the part of societies and individuals.

-
Aedes
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 May, 2008 02:04 pm
@Pythagorean,
Pythagorean wrote:
if you believe in science alone then there we are left with no fundamental theory which can practically prevent the "abuses of power" on the part of societies and individuals.
Maybe you'll lack a theory, but you'll at least have abundant empirical evidence that both small human societies and animal groups of all sorts come up with social schema that maintain peace; and that both small human societies of all creeds and ethnicities and groups of animals eschew violence against one another. So you can hypothesize that maybe it's really in our nature to treat each other kindly and compassionately, and our problem (perhaps) has been that we have too many fundamental theories.
Arjen
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 May, 2008 02:10 pm
@Pythagorean,
Quote:

Responding to the original post I would say that the term "survival of the fittest" does not, to my mind, refer to the concept of natural selection. I see it generally as a reference to a condition of mankind prior to his exact cultivation of nature and which prescribes a way of behaviouristic tendencies as to how he should act in light of this primal insight.

I think this means that a certain behavorial tendency (which in your example is thought up instead of, as in other examples, conditioning) can be considered more likely to survive a posteriori; thought up or not, educated guess or not. When thought up one may consider the behavorial tendency a "rulebase" for "ethical" (in the widest sense of the word) judgements.

Is that thought on your thoughts correct?
Pythagorean
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 May, 2008 02:18 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:
Maybe you'll lack a theory, but you'll at least have abundant empirical evidence that both small human societies and animal groups of all sorts come up with social schema that maintain peace; and that both small human societies of all creeds and ethnicities and groups of animals eschew violence against one another. So you can hypothesize that maybe it's really in our nature to treat each other kindly and compassionately, and our problem (perhaps) has been that we have too many fundamental theories.


Hi, Aedes.

Let's take slavery for example. When did it start on earth? Compared to the time on earth where societies have done away with the institution of slavery the time in which this institution was in place was much greater if not infinitely greater, isn't this true? And doesn't this fact contradict your assertion as to the "natural" goodness of mankind?
Pythagorean
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 May, 2008 02:47 pm
@Arjen,
Arjen wrote:
I think this means that a certain behavorial tendency (which in your example is thought up instead of, as in other examples, conditioning) can be considered more likely to survive a posteriori; thought up or not, educated guess or not. When thought up one may consider the behavorial tendency a "rulebase" for "ethical" (in the widest sense of the word) judgements.

Is that thought on your thoughts correct?


Yes, suvival of the fittest is thought up. It is a theory as to the nature of things. But I would argue that it is founded upon pure practicality, and is an empirical insight. It is modern and therefore goes hand in hand with the higher cultivation of nature by mankind (which has been wildly successful).

As a theory I would consider it a "rulebase" for the absence of ethical judgements. There are obvious parallells with Hobbes' war of all against all, which removes any conception of virtue and offers up a picture of mankind as he is prior to external imposition of ethics. It could be considered a "rulebase" because it is a theory, an "enlightened" theory.

My point was that we can't disagree with this enlightened theory if we are to accept the hard sciences as the last word regarding the truth of nature and reality as that would be a contradiction -the two go hand in hand.

We are searching for a valid theory of the good which would weigh against the natural and obvious lust for power. In the Republic Plato has Socrates' forthright admission that the cities were in actuality within the grip of evil. And this is similiar to what Hobbes is saying. Plato puts forthe the idea of the philosopher king and Hobbes puts forth the idea of the sovereign who maintains order on the basis of the way men actually are and not the way men ought to be, which is a modern and enlightened philosophy. But neither of them are fooled into thinking that mankind as a whole is good enough to relinquish his own advantage for the sake of the good in itself, or for the sake of virtue.

-
Fido
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 May, 2008 04:10 pm
@Pythagorean,
Pythagorean wrote:
Hi, Aedes.

Let's take slavery for example. When did it start on earth? Compared to the time on earth where societies have done away with the institution of slavery the time in which this institution was in place was much greater if not infinitely greater, isn't this true? And doesn't this fact contradict your assertion as to the "natural" goodness of mankind?


Sir; if I may point to some flaws in your argument they would be: That time is not the same for people without clocks or calenders. In the advance of technology and the march toward self destruction we are much more fleet while they were slow, and they were going at their top speed. The other point hardly proves there was no natural goodness to mankind. Slavery replaced canabolism. It did not replace canabalism out of goodness, but the institution of slavery is a relationship, which is good, as opposed to making meat of man that is no long term relationship. And it is not goodness that frees the slave, and yet emancipation is good. The freed find they are no less slave, and the master finds he is no more slave, and since each finds he must feed others to feed himself, only the form of the relationship between all has changed, and change is good.
Pythagorean
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 May, 2008 04:47 pm
@Fido,
Fido wrote:
Sir; if I may point to some flaws in your argument they would be: That time is not the same for people without clocks or calenders. In the advance of technology and the march toward self destruction we are much more fleet while they were slow, and they were going at their top speed. The other point hardly proves there was no natural goodness to mankind. Slavery replaced canabolism. It did not replace canabalism out of goodness, but the institution of slavery is a relationship, which is good, as opposed to making meat of man that is no long term relationship. And it is not goodness that frees the slave, and yet emancipation is good. The freed find they are no less slave, and the master finds he is no more slave, and since each finds he must feed others to feed himself, only the form of the relationship between all has changed, and change is good.


Hello, Fido.

You seem to be indicated that there is an inherent progress going on. What is the basis of this assertion? Why would such progress be inevitable?

Also, I want to ask a clear question: what is there to prevent a man or some men to pursue their own advantage at the expense of other people who are helpless to prevent it?

-And for the sake of argument let us say that all parties concerned are located out in a wilderness.-

--
Aedes
 
  1  
Reply Tue 13 May, 2008 05:35 pm
@Pythagorean,
Pythagorean wrote:
Let's take slavery for example. When did it start on earth?
Certainly after the advent of sedentary populations, when group size became much larger, in fact probably hundreds of thousands of years later. Institutional slavery is not possible for non-agrarian nomadic societies because that would mean putting energy and manpower into feeding and holding the slaves.

Quote:
Compared to the time on earth where societies have done away with the institution of slavery the time in which this institution was in place was much greater if not infinitely greater, isn't this true?
Well, depends how you define it -- the United States economically depends on brutal labor practices and grossly asymmetrical trade practices at a massive scale -- it's just that we don't see the child slaves in Cote d'Ivoire that produce the cocoa we eat, and we don't see the unemployed rice farmers in Mali who are outcompeted in their own village by subsidized US exports. This IS institutionalized -- we are just sanctimonious about it because the artifice of our national definition somehow makes these things their problem and not ours.

And it IS a test of our priorities and our kindness that we can so constantly and flagrantly ignore the terrible toll of this practice. But it's the same euphemistic crap we go through all the time, like when we call something 'ethnic cleansing' instead of 'genocide' or an 'economic slowdown' instead of 'recession' so that we can somehow shield our conscience from the moral importance of a semantic choice.

Quote:
And doesn't this fact contradict your assertion as to the "natural" goodness of mankind?
No, because first and foremost I'm referring to an innate capacity to differentiate and decide upon good versus bad, rather than the ludicrous notion that we wouldn't know unless we systematized it and taught it to one another. And I'm not saying that historical societies necessarily WERE good to one another -- but they represent the conditions that were extant for the vast majority of human history, and they have fewer variables than modernity, so it is far easier to understand if and how we are innately moral animals.

Remember that humans have only lived in sedentary populations (which allows for population growth) for a tiny fraction of our history. It's hard to develop any kind of social equilibrium when we change so much and so quickly as we have over the last 5000 years (to say nothing of the last 200 years). Certainly social and political systems and philosophy, as well as belief systems and moral schema of all sorts, have developed to systematize treatment of others in larger, growing societies. And yes, with time, ideas of tolerance and liberty and equal rights have become mainstream.

But does this get to the root of the issue? That there is an innate, instinctual way of treating others, that is subverted by the living conditions of modern populations? Have we been unable to develop fast enough to accomodate how the world has changed? Is there something we can learn about organization and social structures in early human groups that can inform our policies better?

I don't say this to suggest I know the answer -- but it IS something that science can hypothesize about and study, and it IS potentially an area in which we can trace the necessity for moral theories back to social conditions rather than congratulating our big brains for coming up with those theories.

In the meantime, I'd suggest you read this article. It discusses the biologically (and evolutionarily) innate aspects of our moral 'sense', the pancultural nature of this sense, and how much of our moral decisionmaking is simply rationalization of 'visceral' moral reactions.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/magazine/13Psychology-t.html?_r=2&ref=magazine&oref=slogin&oref=slogin
 

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