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Consequences and Evolution: The Cause That Works Backwards

Posted on November 27, 2012 by James Kohl.

Book Excerpt from The Science of Consequences | The Scientist Magazine®

Excerpts from the excerpt are in bold typeface in my comments:

My comments: A correspondent suggested I read this book preview so that I might better understand the short-comings of my model.

Here’s what the preview points out? “Food tastes good because animals that liked eating survived.” In my model nutrient chemicals epigenetically cause the spoonbill to adaptively evolve pink color. Nutrient chemicals also epigenetically effect the color of the flamingo; they change from white to pink due to their diet.

It would be difficult for me to find better examples for cause that does not work backwards. Whether or not the changes in the genome that code for color are stabilized, the epigenetic effects of the nutrient chemicals cause the color. The color of the spoonbill exemplifies cause from the bottom up: genetic predisposition.

The metabolism of the nutrient chemicals to pheromones controls reproduction in spoonbills and flamingos, which exemplifies cause from the top down: effects of the environmental on genes. Those who think the visual appeal of the color — or anything else but nutrient chemicals and pheromones are responsible for the control of bottom-up nutrient chemical-dependent species-specific top-down control of reproduction have no model for that, yet this correspondent thinks the book preview will help me to understand the short-comings of my model.

The correspondent is known to be an animal trainer, who simply reaffirms the fact that, for him,  having no model is best for comparison to my model for the epigenetic effects that control adaptive evolution via speciation. He prefers story-telling, and what he showed was the shortcomings of story-telling, because the story is about cause that works backwards.

Here’s another part of the backwards cause story: “The connection to the simple rewards of flatworms is evident.” It’s the epigenetic effects of nutrient chemicals and the pheromones that control reproduction via simple rewards in species from microbes to man. The simplest rewards for any individual of any species are proper nutrition and reproduction. The book author expresses this as “Food tastes good because animals that liked eating survived.” — before proceeding to detail cause and effect in reverse. (If ever an animal didn’t like eating food, it did not survive — but that does not mean that it liked food because it tasted good; it means that it ate whatever was available.)

The correspondent appears to think that the mention of B.F. Skinner makes this a better story. I think that shows there is not likely to be another model to compare to mine anytime soon because Skinner is still dead. Unfortunately, that means other behaviorists will remain impoverished by that fact in their attempts to link cause and effect whether their approach is backwards, like this author’s,  or forwards. The behaviorist’s backwards cause helps to explain why, according to this correspondent,  they do not use terms like cause and effect. The problem for them is that they have only stories, not models. They look at an effect and tell a story about what caused it, and typically the cause is their training.

Here’s another part of the backwards cause story:  “Given enough time in this rewarding niche, genetically based structural changes in that beak followed.” Rewritten, it reads: Ecological niche construction precedes pheromone-controlled social niche construction (e.g., in my model).  How could a finch have enough time in any rewarding ecological niche to have structural changes result unless the previously constructed ecological niche was sufficiently rewarding to evolve the prior structural change — the nutrient chemical-dependent one that led to the next change determined by the next ecological niche and the pheromone-controlled social niche.

Here’s another part of the backwards cause story: “Darwin’s finches provide another famous example.” Rewritten, it reads: Darwin raised pigeons, but he never checked them for the role of olfaction. That exemplifies how a theory moves forward despite the fact it is missing a critical link to the molecular biology of behavior of all species. Darwin’s theory may even have been responsible for the early ethologist’s ignorance of olfaction in birds. It’s an example of ignorance on the part of the ethologists, not Darwin, that I think should become famous, because only recently have researchers examined the sense of smell in birds. Darwin did enough, especially with no knowledge of genetics. But can we count the number of researchers who are alive today who also have missed the importance of olfaction in birds — if only because Darwin missed it in his pigeons? If you can count high enough, the number of researchers under-informed by models of genetic cause and effect  might reveal the power of evolutionary theory in the context of story-telling outside the context of cause and effect.

Here’s another part of the backwards cause story:  “Foraging on big seeds, for example, created selection pressure” This suggests that the visual appeal of the seeds created the selection pressure. Is there a model for that? Chemical appeal is always responsible for foraging behavior in my model.

From the preview, I would compare the book to one about a “bizzaro” universe in which everything is merely a version of another reality. The Cause That Works Backwords is not real. In reality, however, this book could turn out to be great fiction for biologists, if any of them read it.

From the preview,  I immediately lost interest in the story. But it does help to make the differences between behaviorists and biologists more apparent, and I admire the way it clearly shows that the behaviorists have it backwards, and that there’s no model for that.



James Kohl
Retired medical laboratory scientist

James Kohl

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