Tag Archives: General Relativity

Deriving Natural Selection = Fitness × Acceleration

As you can see from my previous post, I now have postulated a direct relation between Natural Selection and Fitness (N.S.=F.×A.).  This relation follows from the theory.

The short short short version of the theory is this general postulate: one organism’s traits are another’s environment and vice versa.  Hence all competition can be viewed as environmental phenomena.  This gives Natural Selection as a result of Fitness and an environmental factor, which I refer to as Acceleration.

If you want to see the paper as it stands now, you can access it here or below.[6in/120mm ebook formatted]

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Rewrite of Evolution

New theory of evolution!  Hooray!

Patched a bunch of things together to make a nice story.  Fixed the little issue about fitness being circular.  Expanded natural selection to apply more generally.  Causal structure.  Epistemological foundations.  ooOoOO0Ooooooo.

And it’s good fun.  I swear.  Epistemology, history of physics, evolution… makes me happy.  You should really read it.

Download here. [pdf, 304kb]

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Hypotheses Natura Non Fingo

Newton famously wrote [1] [2]:

I have not as yet been able to discover the reason for these properties of gravity from phenomena, and I do not feign hypotheses…  It is enough that gravity does really exist and acts according to the laws I have explained, and that it abundantly serves to account for all the motions of celestial bodies.

as a response to those who challenged him to provide causes of gravity.  He said, “Hypotheses non fingo,” or, “I feign no hypothesis,” or if you will, “I haven’t even a guess.”

Earlier in a letter he wrote:

That one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum without the mediation of anything else, by and through which their action and force may be conveyed from one another, is to me so great an absurdity that, I believe, no man who has in philosophic matters a competent faculty of thinking could ever fall into it.

These passages show that Newton recognized a fundamental causal problem within his theory: that although his mathematics described gravitational physics, it did not provide a causal explanation.  It was not until General Relativity 200 years later was this problem solved.

Recently another major fundamental theory of science has been accused of lacking the proper causal structure:  Fodor & Piatelli-Palmarini’s attack on evolution, What Darwin Got Wrong.  Consider what Fodor says in his recent reply to Block and Kitcher,

A mere chronicle of instances of adaptation would not therefore amount to a theory of adaptation. It would just be “natural history.” We haven’t the slightest doubt that Darwin thought that he had discovered a theory of adaptation. It was, to be sure, a pretty thin theory, as it would have to be in order to apply to evolving creatures as such, whatever their phenotypes and whatever their ecologies.

He is saying that evolution is a mere chronicle of natural history — not a cause of it — just as Newton’s gravitation described gravity without revealing its causal structure.  Later he says,

[Biologists should] give up on the project of finding a mechanism for evolution and study the fixation of adaptive traits case by case. Since all the evidence suggests that they are extremely heterogeneous, this should keep evolutionary biologists busy well into the indefinite future.

This means that biologists should give up on repairing evolution and just try to explain individual phenomena moving forward, just as physics moved forward even as Newton knew his theory was on metaphysical shaky ground.

Hence it is Fodor now saying, “Hypotheses non fingo,”  because he believes he can describe natural history accurately, but also has no guess as to what caused things to work out the way they did.

* * * * *

In light of this analysis, consider this statement from Block and Kitcher’s counter argument:

After our critique, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini have apparently decided that the crucial point is the lack of a “theory” of natural selection. But, as we have noted here, nobody needs a “theory” of the type they demand.

And this from Sober’s recent review [pdf]:

What is the net gravitational force now acting on the earth?  That depends on the mass of the sun, the moon, the stars, and of everything else.  It does not follow that there are no laws of gravity, only that the laws need to have numerous placeholders.  FP may object to my analogy because it is always the mass of these various objects and their distance from the earth that are relevant to the gravitational force that the earth experiences.  My reply is that this makes no difference…

Neither has understood the argument as presented above.  If Block and Kitcher had understood, then they would have recognized that yes, for the vast majority of people, the “‘theory’ of the type they demand” is unnecessary, but it is, nevertheless, of critical importance to the likes of Newton and Einstein.  If Sober had understood, then he wouldn’t have used the worst possible example to make his point:  by saying it is “always the mass of these various objects and their distance from the earth that are relevant,” and not mentioning motion, we know he was only thinking about Newtonian Mechanics.

* * * * *

Should we, with Fodor, believe that we are stuck in a philosophical absurdity?

No.  What I said in my original criticism of Fodor, found in What Fodor Got Wrong (18 March 09),  still applies.  Though the above description of the problem is likely clearer than my analysis based on his claims that Natural Selection is statistical and that the struggle for survival is only a metaphor, the problem of causal structure is the same.  My solution focuses on using individual struggles as local interactions of Natural Selection — like a gravitational field in General Relativity — and hence provides the causal structure that Fodor wanted.

[EDIT 6 April 2010:  I’m thinking I gave Fodor too much credit in this post.  I now think his arguments amount to saying that for each instance of evolution we have, we are merely relaying natural history, not a causal explanation.  The argument I attributed to Fodor above says that evolution by natural selection is natural history.  Fodor must be more agnostic about evolution’s ontology because of how he says it is possible to look for some alternative to natural selection in his reply to Block and Kitcher.  My solution is still viable though:  since I provide causal structure, this also provides how to describe evolution in a causal way.]

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Measuring Fitness

The basic premise is to measure fitness in a conceptually similar way to how we measure mass.  To measure mass we can use a scale to compare the effect of gravity on a test object to an object with an agreed upon mass, or we can compare the test object’s resistance to acceleration as compared to an object with an agreed upon mass.  These methods measure the ‘gravitational’ mass and ‘inertial mass’ respectively.

Gravitational Mass and Selection Fitness

Measuring an object’s gravitational mass requires a uniform gravitational field, e.g. the gravitational field at the surface of the earth.  The gravitational field accelerates things based upon how massive they are: the more massive an object is the greater the force that the gravitational field exerts.  To measure the mass of an object it is placed on one pan of a scale and pre-calibrated masses (objects of known mass) are placed on the other pan.  When the two pans are level the test object has an equivalent mass to the calibrated masses because they have equivalent forces being applied to them by the gravitational field.

To measure fitness we require a similar experimental setup.  First, a uniform gravitational field: according to the General Theory of Biological Relativity ecosystems create large natural selection fields.  A uniform natural selection field requires an ecosystem free from disturbances which could skew the reproductive rates of the organisms.  Secondly we would need organisms with a standard fitness.  A suitable organism would be easily clonable and of a fitness that we suspect our test organism to be near.  That organism’s fitness would be defined as one ‘biogram’ (or what you will).  Lastly we would need to see how the organisms fair in the ecosystem.  Their fitness will be proportional: if both proliferate (or die off) at the same rate, then their fitness will be equivalent, if one does much better than the other then it’s fitness will be proportionally higher.

Inertial Mass and Survival Fitness

Measuring an object’s inertial mass is measuring how resistant it is to acceleration as compared to how resistant to acceleration an object of known mass is.  To measure inertial mass the test mass is attached to a spring clamped horizontally to a stable structure.  The mass and spring are then pulled to one side and let oscillate back and forth: the more massive the object, the slower oscillations.  The number of oscillations per unit of time can be compared to the oscillations per time of a known mass and thence the inertial mass can be calculated.

As above a controlled environment and an organism whose fitness is known (even if by definition) is needed.  However the organisms need to be ‘accelerated’ for this measurement.  According to the General Theory of Biological Relativity environmental conditions will dictate how a species changes over time.  Therefore to ‘accelerate’ a species a changing environment is needed.  Simply put: measuring ‘survival fitness’ is measuring how well an organism or species fairs in a changing environment.  For example a plant that can survive in a wide range of temperatures will be fitter than one that requires a narrow temperature range.  If a test plant proliferates and the benchmark organism withers under a temperature swing, the test organism has a greater fitness.

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NEWS: General Relativity in Evolutionary Biology Final Version and NYC Area Philosophy Mailing List started!!!!!

I’ve posted my final version of General Relativity in Evolutionary Biology to the articles section (and to GroundReport) and I’ve also started a mailing list/rss for philosophy events in NYC. So lots to check out.

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General Relativity in Evolutionary Biology DRAFT

EDIT, July 2015:

See the full draft at the phil-sci archive: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/11557/

Also check out my other Research.

Below are old notes:


I’ve discussed relativity in evolutionary biology with regards to uniform change but, as with the Special Theory of Relativity in physics, we want a theory that covers all change.

This means that insofar as relativity applies to biology under uniform motion, i.e. when a species is reproducing in a regular fashion, we want a theory of relativity that applies to biology even when a species is undergoing non-uniform motion, i.e. when the species reproductive cycle has undergone a serious change.

It is a fundamental equivalence of evolutionary biology that the struggle for survival and natural selection yield the exact same results.  This relationship has yet to be interpreted.  If we consider a person in love, financially secure and who wants nothing more than to raise children for foreseeable rest of his life.  That person may view this situation as the culmination of his struggle to survive and replicate.  That person may equally view the situation to be nature selecting him as suitable to continue life.

For what apparently are good reasons action at a distance is not allowed.  Struggle for survival does not occur at a distance; ‘struggle’ seems to inherently imply some local interaction.  Natural selection, however, is much more amorphous in nature: how exactly does nature select?  I suggest that we think of natural selection as a biofield that acts upon organisms.

Inertial ‘fitness’ and Gravitational ‘fitness’

The fitness of a thing creates a (teeny) natural selection field.  The fitness of a species creates a (small) natural selection field.  The fitness of an ecosystem creates a (large) natural selection field.

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I just figured out general relativity for evolutionary biology

so stay posted, it’s coming soon…

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