Removing physics from theoretical biology
October 31, 2013 | James Kohl
Since October 5, I have been banned from contributing posts to the evolutionary psychology yahoo group because people complained my posts were insulting to all evolutionary theorists. For example, see this one. However, after off list notification to one of the intelligent contributors to the group about publication of No entailing laws, but enablement in the evolution of the biosphere, in the context of removing physics from biology, he brought the article to the attention of the group.
The next post to the group came from its moderator. Paleontologist presents origin of life theory. His post contradicted the “no entailing laws” of physics approach to evolutionary theory. What happened next is priceless.
Stephan Pickering wrote: This personal communication from James Kohl is of concise applicability…
Your post to the evolutionary-psychology yahoo group and others (below) was followed by one that returns us to the need for entailing laws of physics in the context of the evolution of the biosphere. Thus, we have authors who posit in the abstract below that “non conservation principles” are at the core of evolution, in contrast to physical dynamics at the same time Chatterjee says “…life began in four steps of increasing complexity — “cosmic, geological, chemical and biological.”
Increasing complexity infers the conservation of molecular mechanisms from physics to biology.
Personally, I find comic relief when a theoretical biologist like Stuart Kauffman discounts the physical dynamics of evolution at the same time a Professor of Geosciences relies on physics to get to biological evolution via his cosmic, geological, and chemical approach. Others may not be amused when some theorists tout the connection from the physical dynamics of life to the biology of life at the same time other theorists deny that connection (e.g., because the physics doesn’t fit into their theory of how self-organization occurs up to and including the self-organization of the human brain).
The problem is that evolutionary psychologists who typically know nothing about physics or biology are left to posit such things as the recently reported snake-centric view of human evolution: Pulvinar neurons reveal neurobiological evidence of past selection for rapid detection of snakes . The snake-centric view clearly results from the conflict between theoretical biology and theoretical physics. That conflict leaves evolutionary psychologists with no physical dynamics and no biological facts to consider in the context of adaptively evolved human brain and behavior.
These psychologists are among those who have laughed at the involvement of what may have been only a metaphorical snake in Biblical Genesis. Yet, many of them will accept the snake-centric theory, which is based on evidence from two primates, as readily as they have accepted other theories of mutation-initiated natural selection, which are based on no experimental evidence whatsoever.
You have my permission to distribute this post across any groups where you think there might be interest in maintaining a connection between physics and biology — if only to eventually refute the snake-centric view and other views of human evolution via mutation-initiated natural selection.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT? Nothing at all. There were no more comments on either the posts by Pickering about extracting physics from biology or on the moderator’s post about Chatterjee’s need to use physics to get to biological evolution.
Abstract: (with my emphasis) Biological evolution is a complex blend of ever changing structural stability, variability and emergence of new phenotypes, niches, ecosystems. We wish to argue that the evolution of life marks the end of a physics world view of law entailed dynamics. Our considerations depend upon discussing the variability of the very “contexts of life”: the interactions between organisms, biological niches and ecosystems. These are ever changing, intrinsically indeterminate and even unprestatable: we do not know ahead of time the “niches” which constitute the boundary conditions on selection. More generally, by the mathematical unprestatability of the “phase space” (space of possibilities), no laws of motion can be formulated for evolution. We call this radical emergence, from life to life. The purpose of this paper is the integration of variation and diversity in a sound conceptual frame and situate unpredictability at a novel theoretical level, that of the very phase space. Our argument will be carried on in close comparisons with physics and the mathematical constructions of phase spaces in that discipline. The role of (theoretical) symmetries as invariant preserving transformations will allow us to understand the nature of physical phase spaces and to stress the differences required for a sound biological theoretizing. In this frame, we discuss the novel notion of “enablement”. This will restrict causal analyses to differential cases (a difference that causes a difference). Mutations or other causal differences will allow us to stress that “non conservation principles” are at the core of evolution, in contrast to physical dynamics, largely based on conservation principles as symmetries. Critical transitions, the main locus of symmetry changes in physics, will be discussed, and lead to “extended criticality” as a conceptual frame for a better understanding of the living state of matter.
Excerpt: (with my emphasis) The question remains how loose RNA and protein material floating in this soup protected itself in a membrane. Chatterjee believes University of California professor David Deamer’s hypothesis that membranous material existed in the primordial soup.
What kind of evolutionary theorist are you? Do you believe in the physics-to-biology of the primordial soup, or the “difference that causes a difference” approach sans physics touted by Stuart Kauffman? I believe that most evolutionary theorists deserve to feel as if they’ve been insulted by anyone who provides them with biological facts. Obviously, they’re going to feel insulted for never having considered biological facts in the context of evolutionary biology whether or not they ever considered physics to be important.