Monthly Archives: February 2014

Genes, Reproduction, and Mendelian Inheritance

The concept of evolution is rather controversial in certain circles, and I am not here to argue over what it means to be a “theory” or any of the other random pieces of that controversy. Instead, I intend to introduce a few core biological concepts which people associate with evolution, but which are less controversial on their own. We’ll work our way to the truth.

First concept: living beings have genes. Genes are not some magical thing; a gene is just a particular sequence of chemicals with certain characteristics. If you’ve read the blog this far you understand my position on empiricism and the scientific method. Suffice to say that the existence of genes is pretty solid given those foundations; there is trivial, indisputable evidence that these chemical chains exist in all living things.

Second concept: genes get passed on to our offspring. The mechanics of this are neat but not really interesting. In humans, each parent gives their child a copy of half their genes, so the child ends up with a full set. As with the existence of genes themselves, this isn’t really controversial; plenty of reproducible studies have demonstrated this fact.

Third concept: certain genes are correlated with certain properties in living things. For example, we have identified the particular gene that is common to most people with blue eyes (this one). The statistical evidence here is, again, overwhelming.

These three ideas together express what is typically called Mendelian Inheritance, after its discoverer Gregor Mendel. This simply states that, if your parents both have blue eyes, then there’s a pretty good chance (though not a guarantee) that you’ll end up with blue eyes yourself, since they give their genes to you. This isn’t controversial at all: red hair, blue eyes, and other similar characteristics all obviously run in families. This is why.

Roadmap #3: Practical Worldbuilding

Alright, well we’ve now got a solid philosophical base to build on. We’ve also covered the basics of systems theory, which you should expect to basically keep popping up in unexpected places as we continue.

Our next series of topics will be a grab bag of different ideas; some scientific, some mathematical. This is where we can start applying our base to examine actual interesting questions (like the nature of consciousness) and come to some fascinating conclusions. I’ve called this section “Practical Worldbuilding” because it constructs the world at a more practical level than we’ve looked at before, but really a lot of the topics involve human behaviour in one way or another. The topics I plan to touch on include:

  • Genes, Reproduction, and Mendelian Inheritance
  • Random Variation and Natural Selection
  • Stable Strategies, Lethal Genes, and Time Bombs
  • Diversity, Competition, and Change
  • The Selfish Gene
  • The Nature of the Brain
  • The Nature of the Mind
  • Matching Patterns
  • Layers of Abstractions
  • Culture, Memetics, and Lamarkian Inheritance
  • Speedy Variation and Double Pressure
  • Reapplications of Genetic Principles
  • Social Negotiation
  • Game Theory
  • Statistics and Decision-Making
  • Homo Economicus
  • Conflict and Cooperation

As you can see, lots to cover. Allons-y!

Reality as a System

(Note: my roadmap originally had planned a post on Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems, but that’s not going to happen. It’s a fascinating topic with some interesting applications, but it’s even more mathematically dense than a lot of my other stuff, and isn’t strictly necessary, so I’m skipping it, for now. Maybe I’ll come back to it later. Read the wiki page if you’re interested.)

This post marks the final cherry on top of this whole series on systems theory, and the part where we finally get to make practical philosophical use of the whole abstract structure we’ve been building up. I’ve telegraphed the whole thing in the roadmap, and the thesis is in the title, so let’s just dive right in: reality is a system. It’s layed out almost already right there in axioms #3 and #5.

We can also tie this in with our definitions of truth and knowledge. If the absolute underlying reality of what is (forming absolute truth) is a system, then the relative truth that we regularly refer to as “truth” is just a set of abstractions layered on top of the underlying reality.

Dogs and cats and chairs and tables are just abstractions on top of molecules. Molecules are just an abstraction on top of atoms. Atoms, on top of protons, electrons, and neutrons. Protons and neutrons on top of quarks and other fundamental particles I don’t understand. The absolute true underlying system is, in this view, not possible to know. In fact, since we as persons are inside the system (we can in fact be seen as subsystems of it), then we literally cannot model the entire thing with complete fidelity. It is fundamentally impossible. The best we can do is to model an abstraction within the bounds of the entropy of the system. This is in some distant sense a restatement of the circular trap.