A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Degrees of freedom in evolution

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 22, 2006

In a previous post I wrote about the program – Gene Pool by JJ Ventrela and others.
If you haven’t checked it, you can get it here.

The program itself, as its author says, focuses on examining how the sexual selection (i.e. the criteria of what looks attractive) when put together with natural selection (the ability to stay alive and reproduce) affects the evolution of locomotion in swimbots.

Looking at those swimming bots today, I was thinking what kind of additions would be nice to see in this application. Here are my thoughts…

The natural selection in the program is based on the ability to stay alive and reproduce (which is basically ability to move towards a selected mate). There is no predator/pray relation – in the simulation there are just herbivores (we can imagine dots which give energy as plants). What would be interesting is to see another type of swimbots – carnivores, which would live in same simulation, but which would not eat the dots, but the herbivore swimbots themselves. Having those two types whose evolution would be closely connected might serve as “boost” for the evolution. Of course the number 2 is not magical, so maybe food chain of several levels would give interesting results also. From how I understand that program works, this shouldn’t be hard to accomplish.

The program allows the user to “tweak ecology”. Among the settings there are such like “swimbot hunger threshold” and “swimbot energy % to offspring”. The user can tweak those per whole pool, but it would be interesting to see how the setting affects the evolution. How? By changing those parameters to be from general for all pool to internal parameters for every swimbot (of course they get to mutate, and be transfered through genes).

This also opens interesting question about the degrees of freedom of the evolution in the virtual simulations – the evolution in the simulations will always happen in some abstract space of possible mutations… It is closed space, and there is just given finite number of mutations, the possible animals that can develop are limited in this abstract space. I wonder in this context, if in the nature there is also similar abstract space of possible mutations, which is set once for all, by the mechanism of the mutations in the evolution, or if this mechanism in the nature itself changes… Does the life and evolution in nature transcend this kind of abstract space?

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5 Responses to “Degrees of freedom in evolution”

  1. noggin said

    Hi.

    If you’re interested in the idea of an abstract space of possible mutations, you should read Dan Dennett’s “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”, and his discussion of the library of Babel.

    There certainly is such an abstract space, parts of which contain possibilities that are limited by current mechanisms. A change of mechanism is at least theoretically possible, and such a change would be like a “portal” giving access to other domains within the total space.

    I think, logically, that life and evolution in nature can’t transcend the abstract space of their own possibilities, but that space is, shall we say, pretty damn big.

  2. Thanks for the comment and for the pointer Noggin, somehow I have succeeded to avoid Dennett, except few papers (and that few years ago), but not on the topic of evolution.

  3. Nick said

    I don’t think evolution in nature is limited. You should read about the leading edge theories of evolution that are coming about due to the human genome mapping and other advances. There are transposons, and epigenetics, as well as retroviruses, involved in our evolution and current gene structures, which are essentially the evolution of evolution… Ie the evolutionary process has evolved in humans and other animals (especially apes) to go on the fast track of evolution. Under the right conditions, our parisitic transposons and retroviruses edit our genetic code.

  4. Nick said

    Edit: based on several lab studies not only do they edit our genetic code, but they do it in a potenially effective manner, it is not completely random.

  5. Hi Nick,

    Sounds like science fiction thing, can you point to those studies?

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