16 08 2012

It really annoys me when people say “I don’t believe in evolution.” or something similar.  What they mean to say is, I don’t believe man evolved from monkey or something else.

Evolution is an algorithm, like a recipe that can be applied to anything.  Say you’re holding a piece of paper that has directions on how to get to the mall, turn left at X street, turn left at Y street, etc.  Isn’t it ridiculous to say, I don’t believe in directions when you want to say I don’t believe those are the right directions on how to get to the mall?

At the most basic level, evolution requires 4 things, I hope I remember them correctly:

  1. A medium, something to manipulate and which has “memory”.  Like legos.
  2. Something to build the medium.  Like someone to build things with legos.
  3. A selection process.  Like an adult saying “your lego project is cool/shitty”.
  4. A way for the medium to be mutated/changed.  Ie the person building the legos sometimes makes a change.

I thought of an amazing example to illustrate evolution: Starcraft 2 competition games.

  1. The medium: starcraft the game, specifically the strategies used in the game.
  2. What manipulates the medium: players, who enact strategies.
  3. Selection process: wins vs losses.  Losing strategies will be abandoned while winning strategies will grow in popularity.
  4. Mutations: Players will develop new strategies.

So let’s just take a look at how it works.  Starcraft players play with the intention to win.  Let’s pretend it’s the beginning of time and no one knows how to play the game.  Everyone builds only worker units to mine money and attacks with them.  Eventually, someone builds a weak melee unit (random mutation) and finds it wins games.  Other people catch on.  Eventually the entire build order is learned and people develop various strategies, teching up vs rushing, etc.  As people continuously play the game, certain strategies will gain favor, say, DT rushing in starcraft 1.  As these strategies gain favor and dominate current strategies, the current strategies will be abandoned and counter strategies will be developed, say using Zerg with early observers to spot DTs.  You have just witnessed a generation change, in which a dominant species was eliminated by natural selection.

Now, the game developers notice the game is getting boring because everyone is using the same 3 strategies.  They decide to tweak the game settings.  This has a rapid and devastating effect on the environment, allowing new strategies and taking away advantages of current strategies.  You have just witnessed a paradigm shift such as an ice age.

There is a period of upset and unrest as players test new strategies, and the field of play is dominated by several different mutations of strategies.  Over time, the environment  may settle on a few new strategies, but it could be a long long time before new optimal strategies are developed, allowing many strange new strategies to be born in the vie for power.  Thus you will see many new species being born.  Old strategies that may not have been favored before and only been played by a few players, may now have an advantage and start to show up across the field.  You have just witnessed the birth of new species.

Now, applying evolution to life:

  1. The medium: DNA, the map of life.
  2. What manipulates DNA: whatever turns DNA into living tissue.  I’m not biologist so don’t ask me what it is.
  3. Selection process: life or death.  If you’re eaten, you don’t replicate your DNA.  If you can’t get laid, you don’t replicate your DNA.  Etc.
  4. Mutation:  Random mutation due to radiation, mutation induced by taking DNA from a mother and father and mixing it, etc.

This has been my lazy man’s overview of basic evolution.  As a side note, I should mention that evolution is dead in mankind as we have removed step 3, selection, from the process by curing most known diseases, farming the planet, etc. But beware, remember that any shift in the selection process can have drastic effects on the playing field.  Global warming anyone?



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